MediaFile

Home is where the phone is

It hasn’t yet been six years since the start of the smartphone revolution and we’ve already become an “always on” culture. At least, that’s the temptation. Those who submit can be called The Immersives: checking e-mail, keeping tabs on Facebook “friends,” debating on Twitter, snapping photos of food for Instagram. It would be rare if any of us didn’t have at least one toe dipped in the stream.

We are all Immersives sometime: We bury our faces in the small screen while we walk, or come dangerously close to driving blindly into traffic. We can’t get through a meal without virtually leaving the table. We keep our phones on permanent silent to conceal the depth of our addiction. If we even momentarily lose track of our phone, we are as anxious as new parents whose toddler has dipped out of sight.

Immersives are the target audience for Facebook Home, a new version of the social network’s app that was announced this week. Home lives on the front side of the lockscreen — it’s the first thing you see when you pick up the phone. It’s a major release that reveals the extent to which Facebook needs us to stay Immersives to help it meet its bottom line. This decade’s major technological question is:  Who’s in control — our phones, or us?

Facebook is the flagbearer of the former. In a press event Thursday to unveil Home, CEO Mark Zuckerberg sought to position this app as a breakthrough for “us.” Smartphones, he said, are designed around apps and not people. This is clever messaging: A smartphone’s customization is all in its apps. We have little control, on any platform, of what our phone serves up for us the moment we pull it out of our pockets.

Facebook Home is perhaps the first of what Wired’s Steven Levy has already coined as the  ”super apps” — always on, always current, and the first thing you see. Super apps come with an easy sell:  If you are immersed in one thing more than others — Zuckerberg says we spend almost a quarter of our time on smartphones on Facebook — why shouldn’t your phone give you the option to put that app on a virtual pedestal. 

Content everywhere? More like content nowhere

Will Big Media and Big Tech companies ever stop punishing their biggest fans?

Like many people, I woke up yesterday and reached for my iPad for my morning hit of news, entertainment and information, so I could start my day. (And like many, I’m embarrassed to admit it.) Padding to the front door to get a newspaper still sounds more respectable, but my iPad gives me a far more current, rich and satisfying media experience than a still-warm printed Times could ever produce.

Except, lately, it doesn’t. Yesterday morning, I saw the exciting news that Bill Simmons, ESPN’s most popular, profane and controversial writer, had secured an interview with President Obama. Simmons published his interview in podcast, text and video form on Grantland, a longform sports journalism website he founded last year under the ESPN umbrella. I clicked over to the story from my Twitter feed and saw three YouTube excerpts of Simmons with Obama. And that’s all I saw. When I hit play on the videos, I discovered ESPN had set them to be “unavailable” on mobile devices.

Moving on, I tried to read a New York Post headline that also found its way into my Twitter feed. But when I tapped in, the Post webpage that loaded was not the story I wanted to read. Instead it was a notice, which I took as an admonition, that to read New York Post content on an iPad, I would have to download the app, which retails for $1.99.

Tech wrap: Earnings hit as Apple reigns

Quarterly earnings suffered at major technology and telecoms companies in part because of demand for gadgets made by Apple, one day after core suppliers to Apple savored strong earnings results posted by the iPhone and iPad maker on Tuesday.

AT&T posted a $6.7 billion quarterly loss as it was weighed down by a hefty break-up fee for its failed T-Mobile USA merger and other big charges on top of costly subsidies for smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone. While the wireless provider beat analysts’ expectations for subscriber additions, the growth came at a massive cost as its wireless service margins plummeted. On top of the $4 billion break-up package charge, AT&T also took a big impairment charge for its telephone directory business, which it said it was considering selling.

Nokia reported a 73 percent fall in fourth-quarter earnings as sales of its new Windows Phones failed to dent the dominance of Apple’s iPhone or compensate for diving sales of its own old smartphones. Apple reported earlier this week sales of 37 million iPhones for the December quarter. Nokia has sold over 1 million Windows “Lumia” smartphones since its launch in mid-November. Nokia said it expected its phone business’ underlying earnings to be around breakeven in the first quarter, well below analysts’ forecasts, with sales falling more than usual in the seasonally weaker quarter.

Tech wrap: Kodak files for bankruptcy protection

Eastman Kodak, the photography icon that invented the hand-held camera, filed for bankruptcy protection and planned to shrink significantly after a prolonged plunge for one of America’s best-known companies. The Chapter 11 filing may give Kodak the ability to find buyers for some of its 1,100 digital patents, a major portion of its value. According to papers filed with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan, Kodak had about $5.1 billion of assets and $6.75 billion of liabilities at the end of September. Kodak now employs 17,000 people, down from 63,900 just nine years ago.

Kodak’s long decline can be traced back to one source: the former king of photography’s failure to reinvent itself in the digital age, writes Ernest Scheyder. Kodak’s film dominated the industry but the company failed to adopt modern technologies quickly enough, such as the digital camera — ironically, a product it invented. ”Kodak was very Rochester-centric and never really developed a presence in centers of the world that were developing new technologies,” said Rosabeth Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School. “It’s like they’re living in a museum.”

Apple unveiled a new digital textbook service called iBooks 2, aiming to revitalize the U.S. education market and quicken the adoption of its market-leading iPad in that sector. The move pits Apple against Amazon.com and other content and device makers that have made inroads into the estimated $8 billion market with their electronic textbook offerings. Apple has been working on digital textbooks with publishers Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a trio responsible for 90 percent of textbooks sold in the United States.

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.

Verizon vs Apple: A royal battle

By Aaron Pressman
The opinions expressed are his own.

Last week’s tiff over the Google Wallet app at Verizon Wireless may seem like just another minor dust-up among hardcore phone geeks. But the debate is an opening skirmish in a potentially huge battle, particularly if, as expected, a new iPhone model arrives that runs on Verizon’s high-speed “LTE” Internet service.

At stake is whether seemingly pro-consumer “open platform” rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission to promote choice and innovation on Verizon’s LTE network have any meaning at all.

The rules were supposed to let customers, not carriers, decide which devices and applications they could use on the LTE network. That would seemingly mean that customers who wanted to use the Google Wallet payment app on the Verizon network via the upcoming Galaxy Nexus phone would be allowed to do so.

Tech wrap: Twitter sings about new site

Twitter revamped its website to make the microblogging service easier to use and to help companies better showcase their brands. The new version of Twitter features a redesigned look that the company hopes will make it easier to find interesting content on the service, as well as technological improvements that it said will speed up the service. It also features a revamped profile page, in which a company can highlight specific feature, such as videos or photos. Previously, the profile pages displayed a chronological list of the company’s most recent Tweets.

Apple’s next iPad will be available in February, Business Insider’s Jay Yarrow writes, citing Citi analyst Richard Gardner. The new iPad will feature a screen with twice the resolution of the current model, Yarrow adds.

Verizon Wireless blamed technical problems for an outage on its recently launched high-speed, 4G network, which prevented some U.S. customers from accessing the Internet for about 24 hours. It is at least the second outage since Verizon launched its 4G data service. Trade publication FierceWireless said the company had a major service disruption in April.

Tech wrap: AT&T, Sprint admit using monitoring software

Phone makers RIM and Nokia denied installing on their mobile devices an app which can monitor what users are doing without their knowledge or consent while carriers AT&T and Sprint admitted to using it. The companies responded after a security researcher demonstrated in online videos how the “Carrier IQ” software worked on Google’s Android operating system and said that phones running RIM’s BlackBerry platform and Nokia’s Symbian OS also had the software installed. AT&T and Sprint said they use “Carrier IQ” to monitor network quality.

Blackstone Group and Bain Capital are preparing a bid for all of Yahoo with Asian partners in a deal that could value the Internet company at about $25 billion, a source familiar with the matter said. The potential bid by the consortium, which would include China’s Alibaba and Japan’s Softbank, has not yet been finalized, the source and two other people familiar with the matter said. E-commerce giant Alibaba, whose primary interest is in buying back a 40 percent stake owned by Yahoo, is keeping its options open and said it has not decided whether to participate in a bid for all of Yahoo.

Apple’s iPhone edged past major news events, celebrities and pop stars as the top searched term on the Web in 2011, according to Yahoo. The media company said the smartphone proved more popular than reality television celebrity Kim Kardashian, pop star Katy Perry and singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, who placed in the top five. Casey Anthony, the woman acquitted of the murder of her young daughter after a highly publicized trial, was No. 2.

Windows L8?

Microsoft’s next operating system — provisionally known as Windows 8 — may not hit the shelves until early 2013, one respected company-watcher thinks, giving Apple, Google and Amazon more time to fine-tune their tablet offerings.

That’s later than most people expect for the new OS, which represents Microsoft’s first real foray into the touch-friendly, tablet-optimized world. The feeling is that Microsoft really needs to make its move before Apple’s iPad and tablets running Google’s Android march off with the whole market.

“I think it’s about a year away,” said Michael Cherry at independent research firm Directions on Microsoft, asked when Windows 8 code would be completed.

Tech wrap: Adobe scraps Flash for mobile browsers

Score a point for Apple. Software maker Adobe scrapped its Flash Player for mobile devices after a mutli-year battle with Apple over the merits of the technology, which is used to view videos and play games on the Web. Take a look back at the legendary tech spat in this blow-by-blow timeline that stretches back to January 2007 when Apple launched its iPhone with a browser that was not compatible with Adobe’s Flash player. The company said in a blog post it plans to focus its future mobile browsing efforts on HTML5, a competing technology that is now universally supported on all major mobile devices.

Online business reviews site Yelp has hired bankers to lead an intitial public offering that could value the company at up to $2 billion, several people familiar with the matter told DealBook’s Evelyn M. Rusli. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup will participate in the offering, which is expected in the first quarter of next year, one of the sources said.

Cisco Systems singaled a turnaround on Wednesday when it raised its forecast revenue and earnings above Wall Street expectations as demand from government and enterprises for its network equipment remained resilient despite global economic troubles. Earlier, the company reported quarterly earnings per share that beat estimates, signaling that efforts to revive growth are beginning to pay off.