Dish’s kangaroo pitchman doesn’t cooperate

Dish Network went kangaroo-crazy at this year’s CES. Not only did a mascot in a kangaroo suit greet attendees at its press conference, but CEO Joe Clayton took to the stage cradling a wallaby, which resembles a small kangaroo.

Whilst Clayton cuddled the marsupial, someone whispered in the audience: “Does PETA know about this?”

The kangaroo schtick promotes the company’s new set-top box, the Hopper, and its smaller counterpart, the Joey. Together, the devices will let Dish customers record six shows at once that can then be watched in four rooms.

Clayton told me after the show he spent his Sunday at a photo shoot at a farm outside of Las Vegas, posing with kangaroos. He said it was hard to keep the animal still and he had to be careful not to step in kangaroo dung.

Meanwhile, Dish hired trainers and photographers to snap photos of attendees with a live kangaroo and wallaby on Monday. The lines proved longer for the wallaby — the kangaroo was jumpy and looked like he’d rather be anywhere than the Venetian at lunchtime during CES.

Tech wrap: Huawei takes slimmest smartphone crown

Huawei, China’s largest maker of telecommunications gear, unveiled the “Ascend” smartphone, touting it as the slimmest on the market as it moves to boost its share on the global consumer market. Huawei unveiled the Ascend smartphones – available in black, white and pink – at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The 6.68-mm thin phone will be available in April 2012 in markets from North America, Europe to Asia and will cost roughly $400, but the final price has not been set, the company said.

AT&T announced plans to launch seven new smartphones and a tablet computer early this year for a new wireless network it is building. The product line-up will include a phone with a 16 megapixel camera from HTC using Microsoft software along with Microsoft-based smartphone from Nokia. AT&T said it will also sell three new high-speed smartphones from Samsung as well as a high-speed phone from Sony and Pantech. In an unusual pricing move, AT&T also announced that it would sell Pantech Element, a waterproof tablet based on Google Android software with a smartphone, the Pantech Burst, for a combined price of $249.

Olympus sued its current president and three ex-directors for several million dollars in compensation, sources told Reuters, as the company seeks to draw a line under one of the nation’s worst accounting scandals. The company filed suit against its president, Shuichi Takayama, with the Tokyo district court on Sunday, along with three former executives identified by investigators as having engineered or helped cover up a $1.7 billion fraud at the firm, the sources said.

‘Devil’ battles Tom Cruise’s ‘Ghost’ at box office

At theaters this weekend, low-budget horror movie “The Devil Inside” will try to push Tom Cruise off his perch at the top of the movie box office. Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” the fourth movie in the franchise, has ranked as the No. 1 film in the United States and Canada for the past two weekends. Paramount distributes “MI4″ and is now bringing competing movie “Devil Inside” to more than 2,200 theaters. The Viacom unit acquired “Devil Inside” for $1 million and expects debut weekend domestic sales around $8 million. The story about a woman who investigates her mother’s exorcisms is the only new wide release for the weekend, as January is typically a slow period for movie-going.

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Tech wrap: Samsung savors smartphone supremacy

Samsung Electronics, the world’s top maker of memory chips and smartphones, reported a record quarterly profit, aided by one-off gains and best-ever sales of high-end phones. The South Korean firm posted 5.2 trillion won ($4.5 billion) in quarterly operating profit, beating a consensus forecast of 4.7 trillion won by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Samsung, which surged past Apple as the world’s top smartphone maker in the third quarter, only entered the smartphone market in earnest in 2010, but its handset division is now its biggest earnings generator.

Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC recorded a worse-than-expected yearly profit decline in the fourth quarter, and the first decline in two years. The former investor darling shocked markets in November by slashing its fourth-quarter revenue guidance, sending its shares down 28 percent in two weeks and 15 percent to date. Investor concerns linger over whether HTC still has the innovative streak that catapulted it from an obscure contract maker to a top brand.

Sony will promote its consumer business chief Kazuo Hirai to the role of president as early as April, taking the title away from Howard Stringer, who is expected to remain chairman and CEO, the Nikkei newspaper reported. Such a move would give Hirai, 51, who made his name in Sony’s PlayStation video game division, more influence over the whole company and its wide range of technology and entertainment businesses, likely cementing expectations he would succeed the 69-year-old Stringer eventually.

Is Scott Thompson the ‘back to basics’ guy Yahoo’s needed all along?

Yahoo has once again gone outside the company to breathe new life into the once-mighty Internet titan: Scott Thompson, most recently the president of eBay’s PayPal division, takes the helm on Monday, January 9th.

The four-month search ends the latest period of uncertainty for Yahoo, which has been struggling to regain its rightful place in the hearts and minds of the digerati — to say nothing of an indifferent Wall Street.

Investors have been sour on Yahoo for a while. The news of Thompson’s hiring was met with boos on NASDAQ, where Yahoo closed Wednesday at $15.78, down 51 cents. With a “fool me twice” attitude, potential will be no substitute for results. And given the spectacular flame out of former CEO Carol Bartz, investor patience must be wearing thin (if, that is, it still exists at all).

Social-studying site Piazza snags funding

Piazza, a Facebook-alumna created site that is trying to bring a little social-networking pizazz to university education, has secured $6 million in funding from Bessemer Venture Partners, Kapor Capital, and Felicis Ventures.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based site, launched last year, is helping university students collaborate in online study groups under the guidance of their instructors. The cash will help Piazza expand beyond the several hundred schools where students use it today, said founder and chief executive Pooja Sankar, and into new study areas. Currently, it has the most traction in science, technology, engineering and math.

The site is free to its users, but Sankar plans to build revenue streams down the line. She envisions charging licensing fees to companies or other noneducational users who would like to use the platform to train employees, for example. Piazza currently has about 100,000 students from several hundred universities enrolled.

Tech wrap: Nook too costly for Barnes & Noble?

Barnes & Noble cut its Nook sales forecast for this year and shocked investors by saying it was considering a sale of the electronic reader and tablet business, sending its shares down sharply. The bookseller has been banking on the Nook for growth, so news that holiday sales of the basic touchscreen e-reader were disappointing raised investors’ fears that Barnes & Noble was struggling to keep up with’s Kindle.  ”They’re going to have to raise capital for Nook if they want to stay viable,” said Morningstar analyst Pete Wahlstrom.

Michael Woodford, the former CEO of Olympus, is dropping his bid to retake control of the troubled company because of lack of support from Japanese institutional investors, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Woodford will announce his decision to give up a proxy battle with management on Friday, the report said, citing an unidentified aide. Woodford was fired as chief executive in October and blew the whistle on a $1.7 billion accounting scandal at the Japanese maker of medical devices and cameras.

AT&T is on track to finish its wireless network upgrade with faster mobile Web services by the end of 2013, having exceeded its target for 2011 by 4 million people, a top executive said.

from Entrepreneurial:

How to sell anything using social media

This article by John Jantsch first appeared on Duct Tape Marketing. Any opinions expressed are his own.

One of my predictions for 2012 is that more people will come to understand that you can indeed do business using social networks and, frankly, I’m already seeing it.

First off, people are getting more comfortable with social media and social behavior. The idea is fading that social media is a pure engagement temple mentality.

Chip start-up SuVolta secures scarce venture capital funding

SuVolta, a Silicon Valley start-up working to slash power used by microchips, has secured $17.6 million in new funding from its venture capital backers to help it continue its research.

The funding round came from existing investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, August Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Northgate Capital and DAG Ventures, and for the first time included Bright Capital.

SuVolta sent along with its news release a graphic illustrating the pace of venture capital investment in semiconductors over more than a decade. Using data supplied by PricewaterhouseCoopers along with estimates for the fourth quarter of last year, it shows that investment in microchips remains much lower than pre-recession levels in 2007 and earlier.

Research in (downward-spiraling) Motion

By Kevin Kelleher
The opinions expressed are his own.

Failure is a funny thing in the tech world. An entrepreneur can get fired from a company he founded and his peers will watch to see what he does with the lesson. A young company can burn its cash like a Viking setting his ship on fire, but be remembered wistfully once it’s bankrupt. For startups, failure sometimes seems like a rite of passage – the painful second act of a three-act story with a happy ending.

But it’s different when a big company stumbles, losing its place at the top of the heap. Nobody cheers you on. You just seem like a stock character in someone else’s legend – the hoary old giant descending so that another can ascend. For big tech companies, failure is the grim final act that can stretch on for years and years. Until no one wants to watch anymore.

In the annals of tech brands that have risen and fallen – DEC and Wang in early computing, Sony in consumer electronics, AOL and Yahoo in the Internet – the declines have taken several years, at least. But few tech giants have fallen as quickly, or as dramatically, as Research in Motion.