MediaFile

Tech wrap: Apple’s valuation flirts with Exxon’s

Apple shares neared a record $400, a day after the world’s most valuable technology company posted blockbuster results and triggered a spate of brokerage upgrades. Apple’s climb brought the maker of the iPhone and iPad within shouting distance of Exxon Mobil’s market value of more than $400 billion despite the oil and gas producer raking in more than four times Apple’s annual revenue.

“We expect Apple will become the largest market cap company on the planet when the stock hits approximately $445, which is only about 13 percent away from aftermarket levels,” said Gleacher & Co analyst Brian Marshall, based on the assumption that Exxon shares remain flat. Apple shares rose to a high of $405 in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

Intel posted second-quarter revenue above expectations, defying investors’ concerns about slowing personal computer sales. Intel’s revenue in the June quarter was $13.1 billion, up 22 percent over the year-ago period and  above the $12.83 billion expected by analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

EBay reported better-than-expected quarterly results as the company’s main online Marketplace business showed signs of a turnaround and its PayPal unit continued to grow quickly. EBay said second-quarter net income was $283.4 million, or 22 cents per share. That compares to net income of $412 million, or 31 cents a share, in the same period a year earlier.

Apple updated its MacBook Air and Mac mini with next-generation processors and operating systems. The new MacBook Air went on sale starting at $999, with the latest generation of Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, the operating system Lion, and a backlit keyboard. The Mac mini was priced at $599, delivering up to twice the processor and graphics performance of the previous generation, the company said.

Live Coverage: Apple Q3 earnings call

Surprise. Apple is expected to report another dazzling quarter on Tuesday, propelled by strong demand for its bestseller iPhone and the sleeker iPad 2 tablets.

Apple share rose nearly 2.5 percent on Monday to $373.80 in anticipation of better-than-expected results for the fiscal third-quarter, which saw an easing of the supply constraints surrounding iPad2.

The stock, which touched an all time high of $374.65 earlier in the session, appeared to have emerged out of the limbo it has been since Chief Executive Steve Jobs took leave last January for unspecified medical reasons.

Tech wrap: Apple plugs mobile software hole

Users of Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch mobile devices might want to take a minute to do a software update this weekend. Apple rolled out a security fix for its iOS mobile operating software on Friday that plugs a hole that could allow hackers to gain remote access to those devices. The security flaw was discovered last week after a website released code that Apple customers can use to modify the software through a process known as “jail breaking”.

Google said more than 10 million people have now signed up to the company’s new social networking service, Google+. The Internet giant’s CEO Larry Page announced the new user numbers during the company’s second-quarter earnings call on Thursday, remarking that it has been “very well received, because in real life we share different things with different people.” That’s a reference to one of the service’s many features, Circles, which lets users sort friends into different groups (‘circles’)  and share information based on interests or affiliation. The afterglow following Google’s blockbuster results on Thursday extended into Friday, with the company’s shares surging as much as 13.5 percent at one point.

The much-hyped music streaming service Spotify has finally landed on U.S. shores. The UK-based digital music company rolled out its cloud-based service to a limited group in the United States on Thursday. CNN reports that for now the company is only accepting new members to its free service who receive invites from the company, a sponsor or a current user. Spotify has been a huge success with music lovers in Europe for years, but service problems and extended negotiations with record labels have delayed its U.S. launch.  Fortune’s JP Mangalindan explains why he thinks Spotify deserves all the hype.

Tech wrap: Amazon plans Android tablet

Take note, Apple. Amazon.com wants to steal more of your customers. The online retailer plans to release a 9-inch tablet computer this fall that will run on Android software, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The company is building at least 1.5 million Amazon-branded devices for the third quarter and is aiming to ship 4.5 million to 5 million by the end of the year, according to a recent analyst note. The move should help Amazon expand its reach as the world’s largest Internet retailer and increase sales of digital content such as e-books, music and videos, posing more competition for Apple’s iTunes store.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only tech company looking to step up its game against Apple. Microsoft COO Kevin Turner announced at a conference that the software company will open 75 new retail stores over the next two to three years in an effort to take on Apple’s bricks-and-mortar outlets. Judging by a graphic published alongside the TechCrunch story, many of the new stores will be opening in the North East region of the U.S. where the company currently does not have any outlets.

Sony: Our tablets are coming… eventually

Sony teased out a few more details about its new Android tablets — codenamed S1 and S2 — and let reporters briefly handle prototypes.

AT&T will be the exclusive U.S. carrier for the S2, a double-screened device that bears a close resemblance to Nintendo’s DS  handheld gaming device. Sony showed off how users could turn it into a book.

Executives stressed that the tablets can connect to other Sony products, such as Blu-Ray players, TVs and PlayStation content, something Apple can’t offer. Like the Sony Ericsson Experia Play AKA, “the PlayStation phone,” the Adobe-Flash enabled tablets will come pre-loaded with the retro game“Crash Bandicoot”.

Tech wrap: Netflix jacks prices, adds DVD-only option

Netflix subscribers could see their monthly bill increase starting this fall. The company announced it is doing away with a combo plan that lets customers watch unlimited movies and TV shows online and get DVDs by mail for $9.99 a month. Starting in September, current subscribers who want both services will have to pay $7.99 per month to rent one DVD plus an added $7.99 for unlimited streaming, for a total of $15.98 a month. That’s an increase of 60 percent. The new pricing begins immediately for new customers. Old-fashioned types who just want DVDs now have the option of an unlimited DVD-only plan that costs $7.99 for one at a time or $9.99 for two at a time. Good or bad news, depending on how you use Netflix.

Changes are afoot in Apple’s legal department. The tech giant’s chief patent lawyer Richard “Chip” Lutton Jr. plans to leave the company soon, sources close to the matter told Reuters. So who will Apple tap to oversee the many legal battles it’s fighting against rival smartphone makers around the world? Apple is mum on the matter, but BJ Watrous, a former deputy general counsel with Hewlett-Packard, is now listed as Apple’s chief intellectual property counsel on Watrous’s LinkedIn Web page.

Would Research in Motion be better off as two companies? That’s an idea that was floated on Tuesday by an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, who argued that the BlackBerry maker could spur innovation by splitting itself up into separate network and handset businesses. The Waterloo, Ontario-based firm has fallen behind rivals in recent months, leaving investors hungry for news about how the company intends to reverse its lackluster performance.

Tech wrap: Apple vs HTC, round two

Apple has kicked its intellectual property dispute with Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC up a notch. The company filed a new complaint against HTC with a U.S. trade panel over some of its portable electronic devices and software, according to the panel’s website.  Apple filed a similar action against the company last year and could be trying to strengthen the case against its rival by adding new patents to its claim this time around, notes AllThingD’s John Paczkowski. “It’s another broad warning to the industry,” he writes.“If you’re bringing a new smartphone to market, you had better make damn sure it doesn’t infringe on Apple’s IP.”

The first e-reader to fully integrate Google’s eBooks platform into its design goes on sale exclusively at Target stores across the U.S. next weekend, Google said in a blog post.  The iRiver Story HD lets users buy and read e-books from the service over Wi-Fi and store their personal collections in the cloud. Google offers more than 3 million free titles for download through its eBooks service, with hundreds of thousands more for sale.

LinkedIn, the online networking website aimed at professionals, surpassed Myspace in June to become the second-most popular social network in the United States, according to a new survey from comScore. Just how much more popular is LinkedIn now? According to the figures, LinkedIn had 33.9 million unique visitors in June, a jump of about a half a million from May. Myspace, on the other hand, saw its traffic decline to 33.5 million American visitors, a drop of about 1.4 million users from the previous month.

HP’s TouchPad tablet: The reviews

Hewlett-Packard’s decision to enlist funnyman Russell Brand to promote its new TouchPad tablet in a series of online videos seems to have been the right one. People love the ads. Whether consumers will warm to the device itself remains to be seen, though.

HP pitches the TouchPad as a workhorse that’s a boon to productivity and a marvel of multitasking, but which can also hold its own as an entertainment device. The Wi-Fi enabled tablet, which hit U.S. shelves on July 1 (at $500 for 16 GB model, $600 for 32 GB), is up against some serious competition from Apple’s standard-bearing iPad models and a stable of well-regarded Android alternatives.

HP is smart to trumpet the TouchPad’s ability to play Web video and multimedia formats such as Adobe Flash, which Apple has refused to support on its devices despite demands from its own customers. But reviews of the 9.7-inch tablet, which runs on Palm’s webOS mobile software, could so far be characterized as tepid at best. Overall, they seem to suggest that while HP should be praised for some of the TouchPad’s features, it falls short on too many other crucial elements. Here’s a sampling of what’s been said so far:

Tech wrap: New effort underway in Internet piracy fight

Can slower Internet speeds convince consumers to stop pirating copyrighted material online? That’s the assumption behind a new anti-piracy effort launched this week by a coalition of Internet service providers and groups representing movie studios and record labels.

Under the new initiative,  AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon have agreed to send customers email or pop-up alerts if it is suspected that their account is being used to download or share copyrighted material illegally. Should suspected illegal activity persist, providers might temporarily slow Internet speeds or redirect their browser to a specific Web page until the customer contacts the company.  Time’s Techland blog calls the effort “fairly reasonable” but points out that “it’s only a matter of time before someone is falsely accused of copyright infringement and throttled accordingly.” Users accused can seek an independent review of whether they acted illegally.

A major hedge fund dumped its stake in Yahoo after an ownership dispute earlier this year cut the value of the Internet giant’s China holdings. Back in May, Yahoo revealed that Alibaba Group, its Chinese unit, had transferred ownership of its valuable online payments business Alipay to a company owned by Jack Ma, Alipay’s CEO. “This isn’t what we signed up for,” Greenlight Capital’s head David Einhorn wrote in a letter to investors. “We exited with a modest loss.”

Tech wrap: Apple hits new app download milestone

Apple customers sure like their apps. More than 15 billion applications have been downloaded from the App Store by iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users since its launch in July 2008, according to new figures from the company.

To put that number in context, remember it was just this past January when Apple announced its 10 billionth app download. That means customers have downloaded around 5 billion apps this year alone, compared to the 2-1/2 years it took to reach the 10 billion mark.  Apple can thank its wildly popular iPad for the surge in demand. Of the more than 425,000 apps now available from the App Store, 100, 000 are designed specifically for the tablet computer.

Meanwhile, Apple’s attempt to stop online retailer Amazon.com from using the “App Store” name has failed. Apple filed a trademark lawsuit saying Amazon improperly used the name to solicit developers in the U.S. Amazon responded by saying the term is generic. The U.S. judge who denied Apple’s request argued that while the term wasn’t purely generic, the company failed to prove “a likelihood of confusion” with Amazon’s service.