MediaFile

Sprint: When all else fails, call a magician

davidblaineAfter bigger rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T stole the limelight at the Consumer Electronics Show with promises of multiple advanced phones for this year, now Sprint Nextel is trying to grab some attention with a stunt of its own.

In an intentionally mysterious invitation, the No. 3 U.S. mobile provider says it has enlisted the help of illusionist David Blaine to show the world how “Sprint’s making the Impossible Possible” at a New York Event scheduled for February 7.

Sprint’s promising that the event will be “a lot of fun” but it is mum on whether Blaine plans relive his Times Square encasement in a block of ice or his vertigo stunt in Bryant Park.

Instead the operator, which has been working for years to narrow customer losses, will embark on “yet another industry first.”

Will it finally report net growth in contract customer numbers? Sign an iPhone distribution deal? Make the troublesome Nextel network disappear? Or simply unveil a new gadget?

The world wants cheap but stylish phones. Can Android deliver both?

KOREA/Cheap and stylish are more likely to be antonyms when describing mobile phones. But the global market will reward a smartphone that can deliver on both fronts, a goal that Android phones seem best suited to reaching.

That is one conclusion to be drawn from a survey from Nielsen on mobile phone usage by 15-24 year olds around the world. The survey had some interesting insights, such as Italy’s position as the market with the highest percentage of young people owning a smartphone (47%). The U.S. was the only major market surveyed where smartphone owners were more likely to be female (55%) than male (45%).

Only one in six smartphones owned by people in the age group surveyed were purchased by parents, so the results can help shed light on what features appeal the most to consumers under 25. For the most part, those features varied by country.

Palm Chief promises “hits” for HP

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Six months after Hewlett-Packard announced it was buying smartphone pionners Palm  for $1 billion, technology watchers are still waiting to see just what emerges from the high-profile marriage.

Palm chief Jon Rubinstein still isn’t tipping his hand on any details around smartphones and tablets that are due next year from the new HP unit. But he certainly made no effort to manage expectations on Tuesday at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

“It’s absolutely a hits business…We have several products that will clearly be hits when they come out,” said Rubinstein, who predicted “tremendous growth” in devices based on webOS, the Palm platform that HP acquired when it bought the company this year for roughly $1 billion.

PayPal sees early promise from mobile experiment

jetpack2The “mobile wallet” concept has been bandied around for years as a promise that one day “soon” we’ll be able to leave our purses at home and pay for everything via the cellphone.
Of course we were also meant to to get to work using Jetpacks and have robots cleaning the house by now too.
However, with credit card companies and banks desperately looking at new avenues for growth, they’re starting to talk up mobile with a vengeance as they all battle  for a dominant place in the fledgling mobile payments industry.
And since they’re doing it, online payments provider PayPal has joined the fray because if consumers really want to move their lives to the cellphone, it can’t limit itself to the desktop.
Interestingly PayPal says it is seeing early signs of mobile success in an area where it looks to make an old fashioned bank service  – check cashing – more convenient.
The unit of eBay says it handled $100,000 in checks from its mobile customers in roughly a day and a half after it kicked off its mobile check cashing service, which allows you to add money to your PayPal account by just taking a cellphone photo of a physical check and using the PayPal mobile app.
Roughly a month later, PayPal says it processed over $1 million worth of checks.
This is a pittance in comparison with what banks handle — U.S. banks processed $30.6 billion of checks in 2006, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, implying $2.55 billion worth of checks every month.
Still PayPal is happy enough with the result that it is already looking for ways to improve the service, specifically by reducing the check-clearing window from six days, where it currently stands.
It  is also experimenting with other services aimed at expanding beyond eBay auctions and other online transactions where it is most popular.   One is allowing consumers to pay for goods in a store by using a mobile PayPal app on their phone, which would require the vendor as well as the consumer to open a PayPal account.
For this service PayPal says it has signed up 200 merchants in just a few weeks. In comparison the credit card industry has convinced retailers to install contactless payment terminals in all of 150,000 locations in about five years.
The idea with contactless payments is that you can wave your phone to pay instead of having to fumble in your wallet for a credit card. Paypal is also trying out this method for size via its partnership with a company called Bling Nation, which lets you spend from your PayPal account by slapping a “Bling” sticker to the outside of your phone and waving at the machine.
“We don’t know which will take off so we’re experimenting,” said Laura Chambers, a senior director for PayPa.l But she noted that “merchants aren’t excited about hardware upgrades.”
At a New York event where the company showcased their mobile services, a bunch of which were launched on October 6, Chambers said that this year would be a year of experiments for her company.
And since mobile operators have a direct relationship with their customers, Chambers said PayPal is also in talks with U.S. operators about how they can work together.  She would not disclose any details but said:  “There’s a great opportunity to replace the wallet and for the mobile phone to become the wallet.”

(Photo: Reuters – of American stuntman Eric Scott hovering over London using a Jetpack)

Apple’s Jobs goes after Google, tablet rivals

It’s not often Steve Jobs shows up on a routine earnings call. And when he showed up on Monday’s, he made a splash.

Coincidentally showing up right after the company’s shares racked up their largest post-earnings fall in recent memory, Jobs thrashed Google’s Android mobile operating system and a clutch of competitors rushing to stake out territory in the explosive tablet market he helped create.

Tablets with 7-inch screens are too small for adult-sized hands and would flop with consumers, he argued.

SanDisk on bullets and phone wars

Eli HarariWatch out for that smartphone! The iPhone, Android phones and the like are the weapons of the latest technology war, in the view of  flash memory maker SanDisk, which supplies the memory chips that hold pictures, video and apps to the phone makers.

“We sell them ammunition. There is a war going on and we sell the bullets,” Eli Harari told the Reuters Global Technology Summit.

And bullets are selling briskly, even in the developing world, where people without computers are buying $20 phones and then adding a gigabyte or two of memory to hold all their pictures, the CEO said.

Microsoft’s Kin tries to improve your social life (video)

kinMicrosoft officially entered the feature-phone wars on Monday, unveiling its new Kin device at a media event in San Francisco.

It’s tough to stand out in the exploding phone space these days; just keeping all the new gadgets straight takes some work. Device makers are increasingly targeting specific slices, such as gamers or video lovers.

Microsoft made it clear who its target demographic is. BlackBerry can have the middle-aged businessman and road warrior, and Apple’s iPhone can have the trendy folks who can’t do without their 175,000 apps.

Apple: AT&T a “great” partner (but will they get the tablet?)

appleiphoneFew relationships in the technology world are as closely scrutinized as that between iPhone maker Apple and its exclusive U.S. carrier, AT&T. Complaints about AT&T and its network have reached a crescendo in recent months, and most analysts believe it is only a matter of time before rival Verizon Wireless gets the iPhone, perhaps as early as this June.

When Apple executive were asked about AT&T on a conference call Monday — following its strong December quarter results — Apple executives played nice, to no one’s surprise

“AT&T is a great partner,” said Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook.  He continued: “in the vast majority of locations we think that iPhone customers are having a great experience, from the research that we have done. As you know, AT&T has acknowledged that they are having some issues in a few cities and they have very detailed plans to address these. We have reviewed these plans and we have very high confidence they will make significant progress towards fixing them.”

CES: Palm’s webOS could maybe work for a tablet but…

rubinsteinandpre

Since everybody else seems to be doing it, Palm chief Jon Rubinstein was asked if he might add tablets to the company’s line of smartphones based on webOS.

We were left us a little bit wiser, but not that much, after his response from the question from Kara Swisher of All Things Digital on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Rubinstein’s first reaction to the tablet question was this:

“We’re a very small company so we’ve limited resources and need to stay focused.”

Apple iPhone China debut underwhelms some

Apple’s iPhone launched in China last Friday with plenty of fanfare, but the sales numbers so far appear a little light. China Unicom, the iPhone’s carrier in the country, said Tuesday it has signed up 5,000 iPhone subscribers since the launch, below what some analysts were expecting.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster called the China launch a “disappointment.” He was expecting something in the range of 30,000 units. “We believe that eventually China will emerge as a major market for iPhone sales but it could take a year or two to gain meaningful unit traction as it did in the U.S.,” he wrote in a research note Tuesday.

The iPhone is Apple’s biggest growth story, with more than 30 million units sold worldwide since its launch in 2007. China represents a huge market opportunity for Apple, which is starting with about 1,000 places selling the iPhone.