MediaFile

Tech wrap: Apple teases “Mountain Lion”

Apple released details on the successor to its “Lion” operating system for Mac computers, due out late this summer. OS X 10.8, dubbed “Mountain Lion,” will inherit features already running on iPhones and iPads such as iMessage, Notification Center and AirPlay mirroring, according to an Apple press release. Game Center will give Mac users the opportunity to square off against gamers on iOS devices as well as other Mac users. A new feature called “Gatekeeper” is meant to give OS X users more control over what apps can be downloaded onto their Macs, further distinguishing Apple-approved apps from third-party ones. The plan to introduce more iOS functions to Apple’s desktop and laptop OS comes as Microsoft prepares to make its desktop applications more mobile with a rumored fall release of Windows 8.

Four months after one of Japan’s biggest corporate scandals, police and prosecutors arrested seven men, including the former president of Olympus and ex-bankers, over their role in a $1.7 billion accounting fraud at the medical equipment and camera maker. Three former executives arrested, ex-President Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former Executive Vice President Hisashi Mori and former auditor Hideo Yamada, had been identified by an investigative panel, commissioned by Olympus, as the main culprits in the fraud, seeking to delay the reckoning from risky investments made in the late-1980′s bubble economy.

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason said that the company’s location-based service Groupon NOW will likely not be a material contributor to results in the next one or two quarters. Mason said customers of the company’s daily deals are using Groupon NOW too. However, he stressed that the new service will likely take time to grow. Groupon NOW is a relatively new service that differs from Groupon’s main daily deal business. Groupon subscribers can check on nearby deals that are happening in the next one or two hours, based on their location.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed voluntary steps for automakers that would establish new safety criteria for hands-free calling, navigation, and entertainment systems that have become common in new cars and trucks. The guidelines introduced recommend that automakers adopt technology to disable distracting electronic systems that are accessible to the driver — but not passengers — when a car is moving. The latest government figures show that roughly 10 percent of U.S. traffic deaths in 2010, or 3,092 people, were linked to distracted driving.

Tech wrap: Zappos hacked

Online shoe retailer Zappos told customers this weekend that it has been the victim of a cyber attack affecting more than 24 million customer accounts in its database. The popular retailer, which is owned by Amazon.com, said customers’ names, email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of credit card numbers and scrambled passwords were stolen. The company, which is well known for its customer service, said due to the high volume of customer calls it is expecting it will temporarily switch off its phones and direct customers to contact via email.

Hackers disrupted online access to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, El Al Airlines and three banks in what the government described as a cyber-offensive against Israel. The attacks came just days after an unidentified hacker, proclaiming Palestinian sympathies, posted the details of thousands of Israeli credit card holders and other personal information on the Internet in a mass theft. Israel opened an agency to tackle cyber attacks earlier this month.

A hacker who goes by the name of “Yama Tough” threatened Saturday to release the full source code for Symantec’s flagship Norton Antivirus software on Tuesday. Last week, Yama Tough released fragments of source code from Symantec products along with a cache of emails. The hacker said all the data was taken from Indian government servers.

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.

Tech wrap: Era of .yournamehere domains arrives

ICANN, the body that oversees the Internet’s naming system, gave the green light for organizations to begin applying to name and run their own domains instead of entrusting them to the operators of .com, .org, .gov and others. Up to 2,000 applications were expected for the so-called “top-level” international domains. At $185,000 per application, estimated start-up costs of $500,000 and annual running costs of about $100,000, a .yournamehere domain will be out of reach of the smallest companies and organizations. But applications were expected from cities or regions with strong identities, such as .london and .mumbai, from companies aiming to build a business based on new domains, and from community identifiers like .eco or .gay.

Samsung is open to forging an alliance with troubled Olympus, potentially joining other electronics firms in circling one of the world’s biggest names in medical equipment, sources said. Samsung has ruled out any interest in Olympus’s loss-making camera business, but a company source said that it might consider an alliance with Olympus in other areas. Earlier, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that Olympus was scouting for a friendly investor to take a minority stake in the company, and that Olympus had drawn up a short-list of five potential partners, including Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Japanese medical-equipment firm Terumo, and Fujifilm Holdings.

LG is in talks with various parties on possible partnerships, the head of LG’s mobile business said, as the world’s No.3 handset maker seeks to turn around its struggling handset operation. The  firm, however, remains committed to its mobile business and does not have any plan to ditch the loss-making operation, Park Jong-seok, chief executive of LG’s mobile communications business, told Reuters.

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: 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 Amazon.com’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.

Tech wrap: “DingleBerry” rings RIM’s security bell

Three hackers said they had exploited a vulnerability in Research In Motion’s PlayBook tablet to gain root access to the device, a claim that could damage the BlackBerry maker’s hard-won reputation for security. The hackers plan to release their data within a week as a tool called DingleBerry. In a response to queries, RIM said it is investigating the claim, and if a jailbreak is confirmed will release a patch to plug the hole. The PlayBook runs on a different operating system than RIM’s current BlackBerry smartphones. However, the QNX system will be incorporated into its smartphones starting next year. The PlayBook in July became the first tablet device to win a security certification approving it for U.S. government use.

Samsung is set to resume selling its Galaxy tablet computer in Australia as early as Friday, after it won a rare legal victory in a long-running global patent war with Apple. An Australian federal court unanimously decided to lift a preliminary injunction, imposed by a lower court, on sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 — but granted Apple a stay on lifting the sales ban until Friday afternoon.

Groupon’s shares rose after CEO Andrew Mason emerged from the company’s post-IPO quiet period to share holiday sales numbers. Groupon sold more than 650,000 holiday deals between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, an increase of 500 percent compared with last year, Mason said in a blog post. Groupon closed the trading day up 9.3 percent $17.50.

Tech wrap: EBay acts on Hunch

EBay said it acquired the data analysis firm Hunch to help it develop more recommendation technology for its online marketplace. Hunch analyzes data from social networks like Facebook and from questionnaires to make personal recommendations. EBay said Hunch will help it suggest relevant products for shoppers on its online marketplace. Chris Dixon, Tom Pinckney and Matt Gattis, who founded Hunch in 2009, will stay on at eBay and remain based in New York. The purchase price was not disclosed, although tech blog Uncrunched pegged it at around $80 million.

Hewlett-Packard reported quarterly revenue slightly better than Wall Street estimates, after the bell. The world’s largest technology company by sales said non-GAAP net revenue in the fiscal fourth quarter inched up 1 percent to $32.3 billion. Analysts had predicted revenue of $32.05 billion on average, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Retailers are saving some of their deepest discounts on Black Friday for video game products, with large chains Wal-Mart and Best Buy putting some rock-bottom prices tags on hot games to lure shoppers into stores. To accommodate pressured buyers, retailers are heavily discounting top games, from Electronic Arts’ “Battlefield 3,” to Warner Brothers’ “Batman: Arkham City,” and Microsoft’s “Gears of War 3.”

Tech wrap: Modern Warfare 3 answers call to duty

Activision Blizzard’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ video game racked up more than $400 million in sales on its first day in stores in the U.S. and the UK, beating last year’s record of 5.6 million units, or $360 million in sales of “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” That game went on to sell $1 billion in less than two months.

Apple’s iOS 5.0.1 update did not address all of the battery issues troubling iPhone users, AllThingsD’s John Paczkowski writes. In a statement given to AllThingsD, Apple told the blog that “the recent iOS software update addressed many of the battery issues that some customers experienced on their iOS 5 devices…We continue to investigate a few remaining issues,” according to Paczkowski.

Regulators are investigating the safety of batteries used to power electric vehicles after a General Motors Chevrolet Volt caught fire following a routine crash test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it has asked other manufacturers who make electric cars or who plan to do so for information on how they handle lithium-ion batteries. The request also includes recommendations for minimizing fire risk. NHTSA said it does not believe the Volt and other electric vehicles are at greater risk for fire than gasoline-powered engines.

Tech wrap: Net neutrality closer to reality

Democrats in the Senate blocked a Republican-backed resolution to disapprove of the FCC’s rules on net neutrality. The vote was 52-46 against the resolution. Adopted by a divided FCC last December, the rules forbid broadband providers from blocking legal content while leaving flexibility for providers to manage their networks. The rules still face a court challenge. Lawsuits by Verizon and others have been consolidated. Backers of net neutrality say big providers could otherwise use their gatekeeper role to discriminate against competitors. But Republicans said the rules were an unprecedented power grab by the FCC.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer vowed to stay on as head of the Japanese electronics conglomerate, dismissing reports the longtime helmsman will step down next year and adding that he remained keen on leading the once-dominant corporate powerhouse in its battle to reverse losses and fight rivals. Last week, Sony shocked investors by warning that the company would report a fourth consecutive year of losses and offered few details of its plan to halve losses in its television division, which itself is headed for its eighth consecutive annual loss.

Investigations into scandal-hit Olympus revealed an elaborate scheme for concealing losses on risky bets behind a facade of inflated bank deposits and securities holdings, The Nikkei reported. Sources say Olympus moved the impaired securities off its books — a trick known in Japanese as “tobashi” — to prevent the painful write-downs that would have followed the introduction of fair value accounting in fiscal 2000, Nikkei said. The third-party committee conducting the investigation said it will report its findings early next month. Olympus is waiting for these findings before it reports first-half earnings and issue second-quarter financial statements, the daily reported.