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Low key PlayBook launch day

RIM-PLAYBOOK/

Research In Motion’s much vaunted PlayBook tablet got off to a quiet start in North America on Tuesday.

After leaving an empty Staples midtown Manhattan store at about 7:15 AM, we hit the nearby Office Depot. It had no customers looking for the device.  In fact, it was hard to tell Office Depot was even selling PlayBook at all until a store employee directed us to the basement.

It took  a while to find the PlayBook display among the other office supplies.

Once we found it, the display itself wasn’t very impressive, just a basic promotional sign. In fact, the store said that RIM had yet to send it a demo unit.

Instead, the employee handed out a leaflet listing the product’s tech specifications. Apparently, the store had sold three PlayBook early Tuesday.  At about 7:20, a man in a suit came in but it turned out to be a Wall St analyst who stopped by to check out how many people were buying the tablet.  Both analyst and reporter were gearing up to interview each other until they discovered they were on the same mission.

Demand looked better in Canada, where a short line formed outside a Best Buy in Toronto. But at a Future Shop in downtown Toronto, staff waited to welcome PlayBook buyers who didn’t really materialize. The PlayBook was at the far end of the tablet aisle and customers had to walk past an iPad display to get to it.

Tech wrap: Apple sues Samsung over “slavish” copies

An employee of Samsung Electronics demonstrates Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet during a photo opportunity at a showroom of the company in Seoul January 18, 2011. Reuters/Lee Jae-WonApple sued rival Samsung Electronics claiming that Samsung’s Galaxy line of mobile phones and tablet “slavishly” copies the iPhone and iPad, according to court papers. The lawsuit, filed on Friday, alleges Samsung copied the look, product design and product user interface of Apple’s products. Samsung violated Apple’s patents and trademarks, the suit alleges.

Twitter is in talks to buy TweetDeck for around $50 million, The Wall Street Journal reported. TweetDeck is an add-on program that helps Twitter users view and manage their tweets and messages on other services such as those offered by Facebook and Foursquare. Twitter has allowed advertisers’ “promoted tweets”, that show up when users perform searches on Twitter, to appear on TweetDeck as part of a revenue-sharing agreement, The WSJ wrote.

Texas Instruments’s quarterly earnings missed Wall Street expectations by a penny as expenses rose after two of its Japanese factories were damaged in the country’s largest-ever earthquake. The company, which plans to buy analog chip maker National Semiconductor Corp for $6.5 billion, said one of its factories will “soon” resume full production, and added that it expects a strong second half.

The water’s fine, but maybe don’t come in

southshore

Is the Internet turning us into hopeless narcissists, spurring us on to produce a constant flow of image-burnishing tidbits but all the while sapping our ability to create anything meaningful?

No, I haven’t just had a near-death experience, or been tagged by a total stranger in a picture I didn’t know was taken, or had my latest book proposal rejected. The trigger for this heretical notion comes from an e-mail from a friend, a writer, whose own relationship with the Internet is, admittedly, a love/hate one. The email contained a lament that tapped into a thought I’ve sort of had but haven’t, um, had the time to think through.

After recounting a lovely domesticated evening of no particular consequence, my friend opined:

Tech wrap: Google’s spending overshadows revenue growth

Google co-founder Larry Page in a file photo. REUTERS/Rick WilkingGoogle’s stunning 54 percent spending surge spooked investors already worried its new CEO Larry Page may take his eye off the bottom line to chase revenue growth, driving its shares more than 5 percent lower. Investors zeroed in on the stunning surge in expenses to $2.84 billion, which dwarfed a 29 percent jump in net revenue and reflected a record hiring spree, company-wide salary raises, and splurging on everything from marketing to technology. “If the expenses are targeted and result in future revenue streams, then good for Larry. If not, that results in an undisciplined spending approach”, said Colin Gillis, analyst at BGC Partners.

RIM’s PlayBook tablet bombed with influential technology reviewers calling the new iPad competitor a rushed job that won’t even provide RIM’s vaunted email service unless it’s hooked up to a BlackBerry. “RIM has just shipped a BlackBerry product that cannot do email. It must be skating season in hell,” New York Times’s David Pogue wrote. Even though the odd system on the PlayBook, aimed at pleasing security-concerned corporate customers, “is a neat technical feat, it makes the PlayBook a companion to a BlackBerry phone rather than a fully independent device,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg.

Suppliers to Apple began production of white iPhones after a delay of almost 10 months, pointing to a launch date of within a month, two people familiar with the situation said.

Live Coverage: Will Page lead Google’s call?

Wall Street formally meets the new Larry Page-led Google on Thursday afternoon when the world’s No.1 Internet search company reports first-quarter financial results.

The 38-year-old Page has a lot on his plate now that he’s CEO of the company he co-founded thirteen years ago. Will he crack open Google’s $35 billion cash coffers to take on Facebook or to pay off shareholders? Will there be more self-driving cars funded at the Googleplex? Will Page even be on the analyst conference call? Check in Thursday at 1:30pm Pacific Time for a live blog of the highly-anticipated call.

Tech wrap: Yahoo’s CEO-in-waiting?

David Kenny, managing partner of VivaKi, poses for photographers during the Cannes Lions 2009 International Advertising Festival June 24, 2009. REUTERS/Alain Issock New Yahoo board member Akamai President David Kenny is the obvious choice to replace struggling CEO Carol Bartz, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Kara Swisher. Kenny is smooth and well-liked, has deep advertising experience, has a long relationship with Yahoo and its co-founder Jerry Yang and has tech cred as a leader of one of the Internet’s most important infrastructure companies, regularly in contact with media giants, ad networks and video providers that are Akamai’s clients, Swisher argues.

Microsoft explained the delay in updating its new phone software, partly blaming handset manufacturers for the problem. Microsoft’s JoeBelfiore did not name names, but said the company had started the update and ran into problems on some newly manufactured phones that would not function properly afterward. Samsung, HTC and LG Electronics are the main handset makers of Windows phones. A more comprehensive update, code-named Mango, will be available later this year, featuring performance bumps, live updates and applications that can run in the background while users move onto other programs, he said.

Russian hacker attacks on the country’s biggest blog site and a spy agency’s warning to Gmail and Skype have raised fears that authorities are tightening their grip on dissent in a China-like assault on free speech ahead of next year’s election, writes Thomas Grove. “This is a test drive during a very important year to see if it’s possible to close down websites, in particular social networking sites in case of demonstrations,” said Andrei Soldatov, head of the think-tank Agentura.ru.

Tech wrap: HTC trumps Nokia

An employee holds a HTC Sensation mobile phone during its launch in London April 12, 2011. Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC unveiled on Tuesday a new handset model that offers a library of movies and TV shows via a wide screen that will be available on the Vodafone network. REUTERS/Luke MacGregorHTC launched the HTC Sensation, offering an entire library of movie and TV shows via a wide screen, with a fast 1.2GHz processor. While Nokia, which dumped its once-dominant Symbian software earlier this year after falling behind Apple in the high-end handset market, launched two new models improved with better text input, faster Internet browsing and a refreshed Ovi Maps application, in a bid to stem customer defections while it works on a new offering.

“The new HTC Sensation phone reflects the mountain Nokia needs to climb to close the hardware and software gap with its rivals,” said Ben Wood, research director at CCS Insight. “On the day Nokia unveils the 600Mhz X7 ‘entertainment phone’ it has been trumped by HTC’s Sensation which has a dual-core 1.2Ghz processor”.

Cisco Systems will dump its Flip video camera division, retiring the popular brand rather than selling it in a first step toward reviving a company CEO John Chambers admits has lost its way. The decision to nix Flip, along with a planned folding of its Umi home videoconference business into the more successful TelePresence arm, underscores Chambers’ need to whittle down a money-losing consumer division that also includes Scientific Atlanta set-top boxes and Linksys home routers. Among the steps announced, Cisco plans to combine its lackluster Umi service with its TelePresence system for corporate clients. The company will also change the way it manufactures its Linksys line of networking equipment.

Tech wrap: iPhone 5 home for Christmas, maybe

An Apple staff demonstrates a new Verizon iPhone 4 at Verizon's iPhone 4 launch event in New York January 11, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermidApple’s iPhone 5 isn’t expected to hit the market until Christmas or early next year, according to Business Insider’s Jay Yarow. Avian Securities said in a note, based on conversations with a “key component supplier” to Apple, that the the iPhone 5 should go into production in September and that Apple could also be developing a lower price/lower spec iPhone model, Yarrow writes.

The $214 billion cellphone industry is bracing for a hit to its supply of components as top phone makers get set to report quarterly earnings next week. “We believe the shortages will start to bite in the third quarter, when we’ll get a clearer picture of who is most affected,” said Ben Wood, head of research at CCS Insight.

On average analysts expect global cellphone sales volumes to have grown 10.8 percent in January-March, according to 18 analysts in a Reuters poll. The phone market has recovered from a slump in 2009, but growth is expected to have peaked in the first half of 2010, with a slowdown to 9 percent forecast for 2011, the Reuters poll showed.

A little Internet private time

keepout

We all freaked out a little bit last week over what may have been the worst breach in e-mail address security ever. For me, the rolling thunder of annoyance came in the drip drip drip of e-mail alerts from a number of companies with whom I’ve done business saying that the address I had shared with them for limited, specific purposes had been acquired by a hacker.

A bigger story emerged only later: These were not individual notes, but rather a symphony of breach because e-mail addresses from lots of customers shared with lots of companies were all stored in one place, a company called Epsilon.

Most people probably didn’t realized they had agreed to share their addresses with Epsilon, whose business includes managing marketing mailing lists, by virtue of the contracts they have with thousands of retailers. Nobody really reads privacy agreements and the terms of service because — and let me make a bold assertion here — they are needlessly long and verbose precisely to deter anyone from attempting to do so.

Tech wrap: Wozniak open to active role at Apple

Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Inc., pauses before answering a question from the floor after speaking on ''Innovation and Creativity in the 21st Century'' at a seminar in Singapore March 8, 2011. Reuters/Tim ChongApple co-founder Steve Wozniak told Reuters he would consider returning to take an active role at the consumer electronics giant. Wozniak, a lifelong hands-on engineer, said he liked technology to be relatively open so that he could add his own touches. “My thinking is that Apple could be more open and not lose sales,” said Wozniak, but added: “I’m sure they’re making the right decisions for the right reasons for Apple.”

The Justice Department approved Google’s purchase of ticketing software company ITA Software as long as Google licensed the software to rivals, continued to upgrade it and created firewalls to hide ITA clients’ proprietary information. Google said it would soon bring out a new travel search tool.

Google CEO Larry Page moved to streamline decision-making at the company’s key social network, mobile, Internet software and YouTube product groups. Social networking chief Vic Gundotra, Android head Andy Rubin, Chrome senior vice president Sundar Pichai and YouTube head honcho Salar Kamangar were given a direct reporting line to Page and greater autonomy, according to a source familiar with the matter.