MediaFile

Tech wrap: Apple cares, says CEO Tim Cook

Apple has never turned “a blind eye” to the problems in its supply chain and any suggestion it does not care about the plight of workers is “patently false,” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said in an email to employees. Cook was responding to a report in The New York Times about working conditions at Apple’s main contract manufacturer, Foxconn, in China, an issue that for years has been a thorn in the company’s side.

Facebook plans to file documents as early as Wednesday for a highly anticipated IPO that will value the world’s largest social network at between $75 billion and $100 billion, the Wall Street Journal cited unidentified sources as saying on Friday.

Jon Rubinstein, who was instrumental in crafting Apple’s iPod music player, has left Hewlett Packard after two years on the job there. Rubinstein was CEO of smartphone maker Palm when that company was acquired by HP in 2010. He last held a product-innovation role within HP’s Personal Systems Group headed by Todd Bradley.

Samsung Electronics posted a record $4.7 billion quarterly operating profit, driven by booming smartphone sales, and will spend $22 billion this year to boost production of chips and flat screens to pull further ahead of smaller rivals.

Tech wrap: Apple earnings lay waste to expectations

Apple’s fiscal first-quarter results blew past Wall Street expectations, fueled by robust holiday sales of its iPhones and iPads. Apple sold 37.04 million iPhones and 15.43 million iPad tablets, outpacing already heightened expectations for a strong holiday season. Sales of iPhones and iPads more than doubled from a year ago. Revenue leapt 73 percent to $46.33 billion, handily beating the average Wall Street analyst estimate of $38.91 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Apple reported a net profit of $13.06 billion, or $13.87 a share. Analysts had expected Apple to earn $10.16 per share.

“This is all about innovation, you have to out-innovate and delight the customer. Apple is the only company that knows how to do that. The guidance is phenomenal,” said Trip Chowdry at Global Equities Research.

Yahoo’s net revenue and profit fell slightly in the fourth quarter, the struggling Internet company’s last quarter before new Chief Executive Scott Thompson took the reins. Yahoo said it earned $296 million in net income in the three months ended Dec. 31, or 24 cents a share, compared with $312 million, or 24 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Yahoo, which fired former CEO Carol Bartz in September and appointed Thompson in January, projected that its net revenue in the first quarter would range between $1.025 billion and $1.105 billion.

Tech wrap: New RIM CEO says no drastic change needed

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins, who joined RIM in 2007 and previously served as a chief operating officer, said during a conference call that he would hone the current strategy rather than abandon it. “I don’t think that there is some drastic change needed. We are evolving … but this is not a seismic change,” Heins said. RIM’s U.S.-traded shares tumbled as investors wondered whether Heins could reverse the BlackBerry maker’s decline, closing the day down 8.5 percent.

The founder of file-sharing website Megaupload was ordered to be held in custody by a New Zealand court, as he denied charges of Internet piracy and money laundering and said authorities were trying to portray the blackest picture of him. U.S. authorities want to extradite Kim Dotcom, a German national also known as Kim Schmitz, on charges he masterminded a scheme that made more than $175 million in a few short years by copying and distributing music, movies and other copyrighted content without authorization. Megaupload’s lawyer has said the company simply offered online storage.

The Supreme Court ruled that police cannot put a GPS device on a suspect’s car to track his movements without a warrant. The high court ruled that placement of a device on a vehicle and using it to monitor the vehicle’s movements was covered by U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence. “A majority of the court acknowledged that advancing technology, like cellphone tracking, gives the government unprecedented ability to collect, store, and analyze an enormous amount of information about our private lives,” Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union said.

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.

TV 2012: A tale of two sets

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the era of big, it was the hour of small. It was the age of complexity, it was the era of simplicity. It was an epoch of freedom, it was a time of tyranny. It was the season of two dimensions, it was the moment of 3D. Everything was before us — and we have seen it all.

With apologies to Dickens, there’s a whole lot going on in the world of television, the medium that has dominated the world’s attention for three generations and was supposed to — at the very least — become an also-ran to the Internet. Convergence (in the 1990s’ sense of the word) is happening, but with no clear winner: Computers became TVs, and TVs are becoming internet-connected computers.

Likewise, TV programming has been in something of a renaissance for a decade — yeah, sure, for every Mad Men there’s a Work It (or 20 of them) — and even the experimentation in programs has something to do with technology, which has made it possible to watch on demand, and in places and at times of our choosing, and enabled new competition that entertains us with things that aren’t on TV at all.

Tech wrap: Apple reveals child labor at some suppliers

Apple revealed its suppliers in response to harsh criticism that it was turning a blind eye to dismal working conditions at partner factories. Apple’s audit found six active and 13 historical cases of underage labor at some component suppliers. It also found a number of other violations, among them breaches in pay, benefits and environmental practices in plants in China, which figured prominently throughout the 500-page report Apple issued. Other violations found in the audit included dumping wastewater onto a neighboring farm, using machines without safeguards, testing workers for pregnancy and falsifying pay records.

“I would like to totally eliminate every case of underage employment,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told Reuters in an interview. “We have done that in all of our final assembly. As we go deeper into the supply chain, we found that age verification system isn’t sophisticated enough. This is something we feel very strongly about and we want to eliminate totally.”

Enraged Chinese shoppers pelted Apple’s flagship Beijing store with eggs and shoving matches broke out with police when customers were told the store would not begin sales of the iPhone 4S as scheduled. Apple said later after the fracas at its store in Beijing’s trendy Sanlitun district that it would halt all retail sales of the latest iPhone in China for the time being, but said the phones would be available online. Sales at Apple’s other store in Beijing and three in Shanghai went more smoothly, with stocks quickly selling out.

Shadowing a fund manager at CES

More than 140,000 people descended (or will descend) on Las Vegas this week to kick the tires on a new wave of consumer electronics gadgets. Of those, a relatively small contingent (estimared? 3,500) are portfolio managers and other financial professionals earnestly seeking to place informed bets on the Next Big Thing.

We tagged along as Hampton Adams, head of research and a portfolio manager at Pasadena, California-based Gamble Jones Investment Counsel, hiked around a CES showfloor spanning 30 football fields in a pair of comfortable loafers, taking a first-hand peek at the technology industry’s latest offerings.

Inevitably, Apple always features high on Adams’ agenda even though the consumer electronics trendsetter isn’t even officially there. He wants to see what might be gleaned about Apple from its competitors.

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.

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.

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.