Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sony's PlayStation Network Said to Be Near Deal for Hulu's Paid TV Service


Sony Corp. is close to an agreement to carry a paid TV service from Hulu LLC, operator of the second-largest video website, on its PlayStation 3 game console, two people with knowledge of the talks said.

The partnership could be announced as soon as next week, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the arrangement hasn’t been made public.

Access to video-game consoles would give Hulu’s planned pay service a bigger audience and more revenue by making its Internet programming more widely available on television sets. Hulu also is in talks with CBS Corp., Viacom Inc. and Time Warner Inc. to add their TV shows to the website’s subscription service, people with direct knowledge of the discussions said.

PlayStation 3 owners registered for the console’s free Web service, the PlayStation Network, would be able to subscribe to a Hulu service that provides on-demand access to current and past seasons of prime-time TV shows from NBC, Fox and ABC, the people said. Hulu also is in talks to put its $9.95 a month service on Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox, Reuters reported previously.

Patrick Seybold, a spokesman for Sony’s PlayStation Network in Foster City, California, declined to comment on a possible agreement, as did Christina Lee, a spokeswoman for closely held Hulu. Worldwide, the PlayStation Network has 50 million registered users, Seybold said in an e-mail.

Sony fell 1.2 percent to 2,462 yen as of 10:52 a.m. on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The shares of the world’s third-largest TV maker have declined 7.8 percent this year.

Founders, Investors

Hulu, based in Los Angeles, was founded by General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal and News Corp.’s Fox. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners Inc. are also investors in the website.

The site, which now lets computer users watch shows for free and gets its revenue from advertising, is seeking to expand the ways users can view programming, as well as add new shows to attract paying subscribers. The company will need to renew program rights from owners including NBC at the end of 2011, according to Laura Martin, a Needham & Co. analyst. The network investors also offer shows on their own websites.

A subscription would put Hulu in more direct competition with Netflix Inc., which supplies online and mail-order access to movies and past-season TV shows starting at $8.99 a month. Netflix already provides its online movie service on consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo Co., as well as through Blu- Ray players and Roku Inc. devices that connect TVs to the Web.

Hulu Chief Executive Officer Jason Kilar has said his site’s ad-supported model is profitable on a cash-flow basis.

The website garnered $52.4 million in sales in February, with 72 percent going to the content owners, according to estimates from research firm SNL Kagan. That left Hulu with $14.7 million in revenue, $12.6 million in costs and a $2.04 million profit, SNL Kagan calculates.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dell Looking at Google's Chrome OS

PC Mag

Dell is looking toward the future - and that future includes Google's Chrome OS.

This revelation comes from a recent interview with Dell's president for greater China and South Asia, who told Reuters, "We have to have a point of view on the industry and technology direction two years, three years down the road, so we continuously work with Google on this."

Amit Midha also said that he expects Chrome and Android to be part of a "new form of computing" that will be part of innovations in the Dell laptop computer market over the next two to three years. As Reuters points out, the comments seem to align with Dell's plans to release a new smartphone in China in the next few months--perhaps just in time for the Chrome OS's expected fall release.

The exec added that he expects the Dell Streak to launch in China by the end of the year.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

EnerDel Commences Production of TH!NK Electric Car Battery

EV World

OSLO, Norway -- THINK, the Scandinavian electric vehicle maker, makes a further stride towards mainstream volume production this week with the first introduction of award-winning lithium-ion batteries to THINK City EVs in Europe.

THINK and Ener1 have been in active partnership for a number of years, developing and perfecting the match between THINK’s industry-leading EV drive system and the award-winning Ener1 lithium-ion  automotive battery technology supplied by Ener1 subsidiary, EnerDel. The result is Ener1’s development of a dedicated 22kWh battery system for the THINK City – the first pure electric vehicle of its kind to use this new generation technology.

With this cutting edge battery in place, THINK, in partnership with EnerDel, is well placed to further develop global business-to-business opportunities with its proprietary integrated electric drive-train, which is already being tested in Asia by the Japan Postal Service, and by Mazda as part of a Itochu Corporation-led sustainability project in Tsukuba, Japan.

THINK CEO, Richard Canny, said: “THINK’s adoption of Ener1’s battery technology is going to allow us to scale up much more quickly in Europe and also be ready to enter the US market later this year. The volume production of these batteries now underway at Ener1 opens the door for THINK to finally enter higher scale production, now that battery supply constraints are behind us. Not only does Lithium-ion offer all sorts of advantages at the customer level, it also opens up the potentially massive business-to-business market for us as well, which will result in significant volume expansion and international growth for THINK.”

Chris Neal, Director of Engineering at THINK, added: “Ener1’s Lithium-ion technology is a true market leader and an innovation in the EV sector. Thanks to their prismatic design, Ener1 batteries offer solutions that are lightweight, better packaged and smaller, yet with much greater available power and energy density than other technologies. Crucially, fast-charging becomes a possibility with EnerDel batteries, as proven in early tests done by THINK and Ener1, where the battery can be charged up to 80% of its capacity in just 15 minutes. The volume introduction of Lithium-ion is a big step forward for THINK and the EV industry as a whole.”

Ener1 Chairman and CEO, Charles Gassenheimer, who also serves as Chairman of the THINK board of directors, concluded: “The EnerDel THINK partnership combines a cutting-edge lithium-ion battery solution with the most sophisticated EV drive-train in the world, leading the industry with a road-ready electric vehicle solution available for purchase today.”

He added: “Our ancillary drivetrain business, stripping out THINK’s drivetrain technology and combining with the EnerDel solution, is particularly powerful, allowing an impressive time-to-market advantage for third parties. Ener1 continues to leverage its relationships, such as ITOCHU with the Japan Post and the new Ener1-Wanxiang joint venture, to create compelling new revenue opportunities for both companies.”

The latest generation THINK City is a purpose-built, all-electric car designed for urban environments. It can travel at highway speeds and cover 160 kilometers on a single charge (via any conventional household outlet), with zero local emissions. It is the world’s first EV to be granted certification with the European CE conformity mark and EU homologation requirements (M1 certificate). To achieve these exacting standards, the THINK City has successfully completed very thorough testing and validation procedures.

European production of the THINK City is underway in Finland with manufacturing partner Valmet Automotive, which also assembles the Boxster and Cayman models for Porsche AG. First customer deliveries are taking place across Europe in selected key EV markets such as The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Austria and others.

THINK also recently announced plans to establish a U.S. production facility during 2011 in Elkhart County, Indiana, and is working with Japanese partner Itochu on developing operations in Asia.

About THINK:

THINK is a pioneer in electric vehicles and a leader in electric vehicle technology, developed and proven over 19 years. It is one of the few companies that has a ‘ready-to-market’ fully electric vehicle – the THINK City. With its market-leading range, driveability and recyclability, the THINK City is the first vehicle of its type to be granted pan-European regulatory safety approval and CE certification.

THINK is also a leader in electric drive-system technology, and was the first to offer a modular and flexible EV drive-train solution in the business-to-business sector. With its Scandinavian origins and sustainability mindset, THINK is one of the most carbon efficient car companies in the world.

About ENER1:

Ener1 develops and manufactures compact, high performance lithium-ion batteries to power the next generation of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicles. The publicly traded company (NASDAQ: HEV) is led by an experienced team of engineers and energy system experts at its EnerDel subsidiary located in Indiana. In addition to the automobile market, applications for Ener1 lithium-ion battery technology include the military, grid storage and other growing markets.

Ener1 also develops commercial fuel cell products through its EnerFuel subsidiary and nanotechnology-based materials and manufacturing processes for batteries and other applications through its NanoEner subsidiary.

Dell Unveils Colorful Inspiron Laptops

PC World

Dell today announced U.S. availability of the sleek new Inspiron R laptops first launched a few months ago in parts of the world such as Australia and India.

Like Dell's existing 14-, 15- and 17-inch Inspirons, the new R models are geared to carrying out multiple roles, ranging from replacing desktop PCs, to serving up multimedia home entertainment, to acting as take-along workstations on visits to Starbuck's. Yet the Inspirson Rs bring a cooler look and a smoother feel.

Yes, the covers for the Rs come in four different brushed metal finishes with chrome accents, as I saw at a recent press preview event. So maybe you'll be happier to show off your PC to friends. But a lot more significantly, Dell has conjured up some nice usability improvements based on results of consumer tests.

For ease of use -- especially among those who spend a lot of time in front of computer screens -- Dell has replaced the earlier keypad to a new one with raised keys, Jonathan Guttell, a Dell product marketing manager, told me at the event. A dedicated 10-key number pad -- available on the 15R and 17R only -- offers gamers more keys for shortcuts.

To make it handier to plug in drives and other outside peripherals, Dell has moved one of the USB ports to the back, leaving the other US ports on the right-hand side of the PC.

To keep kids from wrecking the machine, the new frame is more solid, and the touchpad is now easily wipeable and "smudgeproof," Guttell said. The new touchpad also comes with integrated scrolling and gestures.

A Webcam, once available for Inspirons only as an option, is built into the R models. Also built-in are SRS Premium Sound and multiple media card readers and types of wireless connectivity.

Bundled software includes Dell SafeLocal, for backing up the factory image of the software the comes with the PC; DataSafeOnline, for backing up data to (and recovering it from) the cloud; and DellDock, for organizing music, photos, and other media and putting the most commonly used apps on top.

Dell is offering high definition (HD) resolution on all systems. In addition, Intel Wireless Display -- for cable-free connection to HDTVs -- is an option on the R models.

I haven't had much hands-on time with these laptops, so I can't speak to their performance. With that said, the specs include a range of Intel Core i3 and i5 mobile processors; up to 1GB ATI graphics; and hard disk drive (HDD) capacity of up to 640GB on some models.

Also in the Inspiron Rs, Dell has replaced the DDR2 memory of previous models with DDR3, supposedly for faster task performance. Up to 8GB of DDR3 is available.

Pricing starts at $449. The R series will be available to U.S. customers through Dell's Direct and FastTrack programs, and starting on June 25 at retail partners such as Fry's Electronics.

The U.S. lineup of Inspiron Rs doesn't include the 13-inch model being sold in some other countries, but it adds a 17-inch model, said Anne Camden, a Dell spokesperson.

Also in some other parts in the world, Dell is selling an AMD-powered R model called the M501R. Camden told me that Dell also expects to sell the AMD version in the U.S., but only at retail.

The proverbial bottom line? If you already own an Inspiron laptop -- or a comparably outfitted notebook PC from some other vendor -- maybe the enhancements in the Inspiron R models won't add up to the need to rush out a buy a new PC. But if you've been shopping around for a new Windows 7 laptop, anyway, these new Dell Inspirons models seem to offer a lot of power, features, and usability for the price.

Oh, and one last thing. If you're not into metallic covers, colors like Mars Black, Peacock Plue, Lotus Pink, and Tomato Red are optionally available in the US on some models.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Microsoft’s Lag Time to IPad Leaves HP, Dell Looking

Bloomberg Business Week

Microsoft Corp.’s failure to deliver a tablet-friendly version of Windows is forcing big computer makers like Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. to rely on rival software to help them keep up with Apple Inc.’s iPad.

Windows 7, the most recent version of Microsoft’s operating system, is too unwieldy for an iPad-like device, said David Daoud, an analyst at IDC. A lighter edition won’t be ready until the fourth quarter, giving Apple almost a year’s head start in the burgeoning market for tablets.

“The Windows world needs to respond,” said Daoud, whose firm is based in Framingham, Massachusetts. “They will have to play catch-up.”

The iPad’s success caught much of the PC industry by surprise. Within two months of the April 3 release, Apple sold 2 million iPads -- more than IDC expected for the entire tablet industry in 2010. To catch up, Dell and Hewlett-Packard are turning to Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Taiwanese manufacturers that build most of the world’s PCs said they’re dissatisfied with Microsoft’s current lineup.

“We don’t have any choice for now,” said Joseph Hsu, chairman and president of Taipei-based manufacturer Micro-Star International Co., a maker of laptops and computer parts. Windows 7 is too powerful and consumes too much energy from batteries, he said.

The iPad, which can display books, videos and the Internet on a thin touch screen, will reach sales of 5.5 million units this year and jump to 13 million next year, according to Macquarie Group Ltd.

‘Feedback Is Fair’

John Kalkman, a vice president in the Microsoft division that works with computer makers, said the feedback from PC manufacturers is “fair.” Later this year, Microsoft will release Windows Embedded Compact 7, which will require less processing power and reduces the drain on batteries.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, has tried for more than a decade to build a market for tablet-sized personal computers. Chairman Bill Gates predicted in November 2001 that the tablet would become the most popular form of PC within five years.

Demand for the Windows tablets currently sold by Hewlett- Packard and Dell has been lackluster, according to IDC. Before the iPad made its debut this year, the researcher had been forecasting that sales of tablets would decline to less than 1 percent of the overall PC market in the U.S. IDC had predicted total shipments of just 523,000 tablets.

Passed by Apple

Microsoft, passed by Apple as the largest technology company by market capitalization this year, fell 26 cents to $26.32 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard rose 3 cents to $48.01 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Round Rock, Texas- based Dell declined 1 cent to $13.99 on the Nasdaq.

Intel Corp., whose chips run about 80 percent of the world’s PCs, hasn’t helped Microsoft’s cause. The chipmaker’s most energy-efficient tablet-ready processors don’t run Windows 7 -- and won’t until early next year.

Hewlett-Packard spokeswoman Marlene Somsak declined to comment on sales of tablets and notebooks based on Microsoft software. Dell spokesman Jake Whitman said Microsoft Windows, used in the company’s Latitude tablets, “helps provide a flexible and intuitive tablet-PC computing experience.”

Streak Product

Dell will begin selling a combination smartphone and tablet with a 5-inch (13-centimeter) screen in the U.K. this month. It should be in the U.S. later in the summer. Called the Streak, the device uses Android and Qualcomm Inc.’s Snapdragon chip.

Hewlett-Packard, the industry’s leader, acquired Palm Inc. to gain its own operating system for portable devices. Hewlett- Packard is also using a Qualcomm chip in a new Android product called AirLife, which it began selling in Spain this year.

Both companies plan to continue offering Windows tablets.

At Micro-Star, Hsu is waiting for Windows Embedded Compact 7. It also will be compatible with ARM-designed chips, the basis for products from Qualcomm, Texas Instruments Inc. and Nvidia Corp. ARM’s technology also is used in the A4 processor, which runs Cupertino, California-based Apple’s iPad.

Microsoft’s Windows 7 requires a full PC processor to run effectively. Chips of that class need a fan to keep cool and a big battery to keep them going for longer than a few hours.

Atom Chips

Micro-Star is developing a tablet that uses Atom, an Intel processor originally designed for low-cost netbooks. The trouble is, it lacks the power to provide the same kind of smooth video and Internet speeds as the iPad, Hsu said.

Microsoft’s Kalkman suggests manufacturers use a more powerful chip with two processors, a setup known as dual-core.

Asustek Computer Inc., the Taipei-based maker of Eee discount PCs, has a Windows 7 tablet with an Intel dual-core chip. It can run for six hours. Still, that’s about half the 10 hours offered by the iPad.

Intel plans to improve battery life by releasing a dual- core version of Atom for tablets early next year. It will use half the power while offering enough processing to provide smooth video and fast Web surfing.

“We’re very excited about the tablet segment -- we see it as an opportunity for Intel to expand its business,” Matthew Parker, a product manager for Intel, said in an interview.

Even the next crop of products -- Windows Embedded Compact 7 and Intel’s Atom chips for tablets -- may not help the companies achieve the dominance they’ve enjoyed in PCs, said Michael Gartenberg, a partner at Altimeter Group, a research firm in San Mateo, California. Neither technology was originally designed for tablets, he said.

“Because Microsoft is so entrenched in Windows, they seem to be missing these larger opportunities,” he said. “Same for Intel -- they’ve been very focused on PCs and PC-like devices.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Samsung Electronics Aims to Double Its Smartphone Share in Fourth Quarter


Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s second-largest mobile-phone maker, aims to more than double its share of the smartphone market, helped by the introduction of its Galaxy S model.

Samsung intends to raise its market share for smartphones to more than 10 percent in the fourth quarter from its current level of less than 5 percent, Lee Donjoo, senior vice president of company’s Mobile Communications Division, said in an interview in Seoul yesterday.

A 10 percent market share may lift Samsung’s ranking among smartphone makers to fourth from fifth, surpassing Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC Corp., which had a 7 percent share in the fourth quarter of 2009 according to an April 20 CLSA Ltd. report. Nokia Oyj, the largest smartphone maker has a 40 percent share. Global sales of smartphones will rise 36 percent to 247 million handsets in 2010, research firm ISuppli Corp. said in April.

“Samsung may easily meet the target as the handset market is sharply transferring to smartphones and the hardware features of the Galaxy S are pretty competitive in the market,” said Lee Sun Tae, a senior analyst at Meritz Securities Co. Ltd. in Seoul.

Samsung is now “more optimistic” about its 2010 smartphone battery sales, which may exceed initial targets, Lee said. “The market response to the Galaxy S from Europe is good,” he said, without elaborating.

Shipment Target

The Galaxy S, which runs on Google Inc.’s Android operating system, went on sale last week in some European countries. The phone has a 4-inch display screen, bigger than the iPhone’s 3.5- inch screen, as well as an e-book reader, a 5-megapixel camera, a high-definition video recorder and player, and a top of the line cell phone battery, according to the company’s website. About 110 mobile operators around the world will offer the phone, Lee said.

Samsung, which shipped 227 million mobile phones and mobile phone batteries in 2009, said Feb. 4 it aims to triple shipments of smartphones this year from 6 million, without providing specific figures.

Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung dropped 1.8 percent to 815,000 won as of 10:12 a.m. Seoul time. The benchmark Kospi index fell 0.7 percent.

Samsung plans to offer a tablet computer, to be called the Galaxy Tab, in the third quarter, Lee said, without giving details of the operating system or laptop battery type.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fighting PC Delays, Hourglass by Hourglass

NY Times

Soluto, based in Tel Aviv, aims to minimize computer slowdowns with new software. From left are its officers Roee Adler, Ishay Green and Tomer Dvir

FORGET about desperate housewives. To witness true frustration, watch desperate PC users trying to type, send e-mail or work on a spreadsheet, only to be delayed by those pesky hourglass icons for seconds or even minutes until their computers finally respond.

Now Soluto, a company based in Tel Aviv, aims to help these PC owners with an unusual program intended to minimize irritating slowdowns. The software runs in the background on PCs, collecting data on delays in program responses and sending the information to company servers for analysis, said Tomer Dvir, a co-founder and the chief executive.

As its first service, the company is offering a free program intended to solve a classic computer problem: a slow boot or start-up time. (The program is at the company’s Web site,

Roee Adler, the chief product officer, said the program analyzed the boot-up process, recording how long it took and suggesting ways to trim the time. “Often you can cut your boot in half, or even more,” he said.

I tried the Soluto program, and by following its recommendations, cut my boot time to 1.44 minutes from 2.40 minutes. I removed some applications from the boot sequence, letting them run after the boot was over. I “paused” other applications that I don’t use on a daily basis — for instance, an application that automatically updates Google products. Instead, I’ll wait until the company lets me know when there is an update. (Soluto divides the possible changes in the boot into “no brainers,” “potentially removable apps” and “required, cannot be removed.”)

The company is also working on solutions to other slowdowns, like interruptions while working on Excel or typing in Word when another application suddenly commands Windows resources, causing a timeout. Finding the source of delays is often tricky, Mr. Adler said, because Windows runs on many different computer models; each has its own complement of downloads and devices, all jockeying for attention.

To find the source of each slowdown, Soluto uses a statistical approach, Mr. Dvir said. “Over millions of machines and millions of users, the problems start to repeat themselves,” he said. “There may be 10,000 people with the identical problem, and one of them will find a solution.”

Those millions of users are still in the future, as are their solutions to Windows problems. To acquire those users, Soluto plans to offer free versions of all its products, Mr. Adler said. As it runs on users’ machines, the program will analyze problems and publish solutions. The program won’t reach in and fix the problem directly; the user will have to do that. But if the initial program for boot optimization is any guide, Soluto will be offering suggestions for fixes, letting users know what others have chosen. A premium version that fixes problems automatically will be available for a charge, he said.

Soluto’s approach to PC frustration is novel and highly promising, said Robert Scoble, a video blogger and a former Microsoft employee. “This is innovation at a deep level; they are bringing in the crowd to augment solutions to Windows problems,” Mr. Scoble said.

If Soluto realizes its plans, he said, large companies will be likely to pay for its services. “If each employee saves a few minutes on each machine,” he said, “the hours saved will be worth a fee.”

Soluto also plans to publish lists of machines and software configurations that cause PC problems. That, too, he said, would be worth paying for.

The company has raised $7.8 million in two rounds of financing, Mr. Adler said. Large investors include Bessemer Venture Partners and Giza Venture Capital.

Once the initial, boot-optimization program is in full swing — it is now in a beta or test phase — the company will move on to the next slowdown problem on the agenda — for example, delays in using spreadsheets — Mr. Dvir said.

Soluto, he said, does not require users to register, or provide an e-mail address or any demographic information, he said. “All the information is gathered anonymously,” he said.

SO far, the company is doing an intriguing job, said Ed Bott, author of many books about Windows. “The need they’ve identified among users really resonates with me,” he said. “They have a long-range plan to address many issues of frustration. It’s an original and promising approach.”

The program now has a limited user base, he said. “But the more people who use it, the more valuable it will become,” he said, both to them and to the company.

Many other services, including, for example, PC Pitstop, are already on the market to optimize boot-ups and other processes. The PC Pitstop scan is free, said Dave Methvin, the chief technology officer, “and will tell you what it thinks needs to be done.”

“If you decide you want us to do the work,” and fix problems automatically, he said, “you purchase the product,” either for optimization (Optimize, $29.99) or a complete tune-up (PC Matic, $49.99).

Typically, delays on PCs occur because applications like vendor updates are battling for resources. “When you have 10 of those running in the background,” said Mr. Adler at Soluto, “they add up.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Texting While Driving: Teens are NOT the worst Offenders

Associated Press

If you're about to warn your teenager about the dangers of texting or talking on the phone while driving, a new report suggests you look in the mirror first.

A study released Friday by The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project says adults and teenagers are equally likely to have texted while driving. And adults are more likely to have chatted on their phones while driving.

The study found that 47 percent of adults who text reported sending or reading texts while behind the wheel. In a 2009 Pew study, a lower number - 34 percent - of 16- and 17-year-olds who send texts said that they did that while driving.

Because not everyone has a phone or sends texts, the report said the findings indicate that 27 percent of all U.S. adults have sent or read texts while driving and 26 percent of all U.S. 16- and 17-year-olds have done so.

The study also found that adults are much more likely to chat on their phones while driving: 75 percent of adults with mobile phones said they talked and drove. Fifty-two percent of teenagers with cell phones said they did so in last year's study.

That would translate into a finding that 61 percent of all U.S. adults talk on the phone while driving, while the 2009 study indicates that 43 percent of all 16- and 17-year-olds do likewise.

Mary Madden, a senior research specialist for Pew and the study's lead author, said that while many educational efforts that emphasize the dangers of distracted driving have targeted teens, the findings show a need to educate adults, too.

"I think all of us can identify with that temptation to stay connected during those idle moments in the car. ... The reality is, even if the car isn't moving, a delayed response to a green light or at a stop sign can still result in an accident," she said.

The Pew study didn't take into account that some drivers may be using handsfree devices such as Bluetooth headsets when they talk and drive, but Madden pointed out that simply having a conversation can be a distraction.

Even when not driving, adults are still engrossed in their phones: The study said that 17 percent of adults who have cell phones reported walking into other people or things because they were so busy using their phones to text or chat.

The survey used telephone interviews with 2,252 adults between April 29 and May 30. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

Nokia Sits Out Smartphone Revolution as Customers Flock to Apple IPhone 4‏

As Apple Inc. struggles to meet demand for the latest version of the iPhone, Nokia Oyj is still waiting to ship its only model that may compete.

The Finnish company has announced just one handset, the N8, from its new high-end line based on revamped Symbian 3 software, while Apple’s recently unveiled iPhone 4 is flying off virtual shelves with 600,000 pre-orders and other vendors are rolling out models with Google Inc.’s Android software.

“The smartphone revolution has started and Nokia is not there,” said Helena Nordman-Knutson, a Stockholm-based analyst at Oehman. The N8 “will be old when it’s out because everybody has taken the next step.”

The world’s largest mobile-phone maker yesterday lowered revenue and margin forecasts, citing competition in the high-end smartphone market and showing that its fortunes in the application-rich iPhone segment may not turn before 2011. Chief Executive Officer Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo has struggled to deliver on a touchscreen model on a par with the Apple device.

Nokia said in April that the N8 will be shipped sometime in the third quarter. It is also slated to introduce a second line of high-end devices running the MeeGo operating system developed with Intel Corp. at an unspecified date this year.

Investors punished Nokia, sending its shares down 9 percent to 7.22 euros in Helsinki yesterday, the lowest level since March 9, 2009. The stock drop put the market value of Nokia at 27 billion euros ($33.3 billion), below the $34.4 billion of rival Research In Motion Ltd. and Apple’s $240 billion.

Margin Forecasts

Nokia yesterday said its second-quarter handset revenue and margins will be “at the lower end of or slightly below” its earlier forecast range of 9 to 12 percent. The Espoo, Finland- based company also cut its outlook for 2010 for the second time this year. The full-year adjusted operating margin in handsets could come in below the 11 to 13 percent range forecast earlier, mainly because of its weakness in high-end smartphones, it said.

Sales in the devices and services division may fall below 6.7 billion euros in the second quarter, Nokia said.

The lowered outlook is “an implicit statement that the Symbian user experience won’t be fixed this year and MeeGo won’t arrive in time to make a difference to 2010 either,” Gartner Inc. analyst Nick Jones said in e-mailed comments.

‘Out of Patience’

The less-than-perfect implementation of the company’s strategy might prompt calls for management changes, he said.

“It’s looking now as if 2010 won’t be the year in which Nokia’s problems get fixed and I suspect investors are running out of patience and will want to hold someone accountable,” he said. “That makes me wonder if the recent reorganization may not be the last of the executive changes we’ll see in 2010.”

The company never comments on speculation, said Nokia spokeswoman Arja Suominen. On May 11, Nokia said it was promoting Anssi Vanjoki, a 20-year company veteran, to head a new smartphone division.

Nokia’s outlook showed that the company’s fortunes are not likely to charge in the immediate future, analysts said.

“What this did is crystallize people’s awareness that the portfolio in the third quarter is not going to be that much better than in the second,” said Stuart Jeffrey, an analyst at Nomura Securities. “So it’s all or nothing in the fourth quarter.”

The company expects the fourth-quarter margin to rise above the average for the year, Chief Financial Officer Timo Ihamuotila said in a teleconference yesterday.

Not About Volumes

“The smartphone unit is in trouble and has been for basically two years now,” said Tero Kuittinen, an analyst at Greenwich, Conn.-based MKM Partners. “The question is whether they can stabilize the situation there and I think they have a shot at doing it in the second half of the year.

Nokia held on to its smartphone market share of 41 percent in the first quarter as it introduced cheaper models and trimmed prices. It expects its share of industry handset revenue to decline this year, after earlier saying it would increase. It still expects unit market share to be flat.

“It’s not about volumes anymore -- the competition is taking place over the money,” Nordman-Knutson said. “Of course you can take market share by redefining the smartphone segment and adding volume through massive price reductions.”

The market share of Symbian, Nokia’s main smartphone operating system, fell to 44.3 percent in the first quarter from 48.8 percent a year ago, according to market researcher Gartner. Although mostly on Nokia phones, Symbian is also used by Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Ericsson. IPhone’s share rose to 15.4 percent from 10.5 percent, while Android soared to 9.6 percent from 1.6 percent.

Not ‘Fully Baked’

The N8 will enter the market at 370 euros ($443), about a third lower than the 550-euro price tag of the N97, last year’s flagship device. The company has unveiled low-end smartphones phones costing as little as 135 euros this year.

CFO Ihamuotila said that the company is aiming for multiple Symbian 3 products in the second half, not just the N8.

Nokia allowed some handset reviewers to demo the N8 at events in London and Singapore this week. The events were followed by a spate of blog posts on the device.

“Nokia has put together a growling multimedia powerhouse, but the OS is so far from being fully baked; we can still see the dough,” Engadget, a closely followed blog said.

SlashGear, another popular blog, said the device was “decently peppy,” adding that it “isn’t perfect yet.”

“It doesn’t mean Nokia will never come back, but it does say they will not come back in 2010 or not before the fourth quarter,” said Nordman-Knutson. “We can’t expect one single phone to change the world for them.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

TSMC Takes Stake In US Solar Energy Firm, Enters Technology Tie-Up

The Wall Street Journal

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSM), the world's largest chip contract maker by revenue, is increasing its presence in the clean energy industry by taking a stake in U.S.-based Stion Corp. and tying up with the company for the licensing, supply, and joint development of thin-film solar photovoltaic module technology.

TSMC, which has been pushing to expand into renewable energy, said its unit VentureTech Alliance Fund III will invest US$50 million for a 21% stake in Stion, according to a joint statement Wednesday.

The move is the latest example of a Taiwan technology giant expanding into the fast-growing solar-energy industry, as companies seek to both diversify from their core business and also ride the "green" energy wave.

In May, Taiwan flat-panel maker AU Optronics Corp. (AUO) and U.S.-based solar-panel maker SunPower Corp. (SPWRA) formed a joint venture to build and operate a US$1.2 billion solar-cell plant in Malaysia.

TSMC said in December that it would pay US$193 million for a 20% stake in a Taiwan solar-cell maker Motech Industries Inc. and in March said it will invest an initial NT$5.5 billion to build its first light-emitting-diode factory.

Under the agreements with Stion, Stion will license and transfer its thin-film technology to TSMC, while TSMC will provide a certain quantity of solar modules to Stion using the technology. TSMC and Stion will also work together to enhance the thin film technology through joint development, the companies said in the statement.

"Working with Stion, TSMC gains a robust thin film technology with inherent low-cost structure," Rick Tsai, TSMC's president of new businesses, said in the statement.

Stion President and Chief Executive Chet Farris said the collaboration with TSMC will enable Stion to increase its operations and achieve market leadership, without giving further details.

Stion was founded in 2006 and is backed by venture capital investors, including Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, General Catalyst Partners, and Braemar Energy Ventures, according to the statement.

Samsung to Release its Fastest 512GM Notebook SSD

Computer World
It claims the drive boots nine times faster than hard disk drives

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. next month plans to begin shipping its first solid-state drive (SSD) to use toggle-mode DDR (double data rate) NAND to achieve higher performance for laptops and high-end PCs.

The new 512GB drive has a maximum data read rate of 250MB/sec. and a sequential write rate of 220MB/sec.

"At these speeds, two standard length (approximately 4GB each) DVD movies can be stored in just a minute," Samsung said in a statement today.

By comparison, Intel's X25-M consumer-class SSD has a sequential read speed of 250MB/sec and a write speed of 70MB/sec., according to the company's specifications sheet.

Intel interleaves 10 parallel NAND flash channels to achieves its high performance, along with Native Command Queuing, which enable up to 32 concurrent operations on discount notebooks.

According to Gregory Wong, an analyst with market research firm Forward Insights, Samsung's toggle mode NAND uses a synchronous interface as opposed to an asynchronous interface of standard NAND, thereby permitting a higher bandwidth.

"In order to achieve the performance, they don't need to run as many chips in parallel so there should be power savings," he said. "They're limited by the SATA 3Gbit/sec interface so they can't get much faster. If they went to SATA 6Gbit/sec, then it'd be much faster."

Samsung is using a 30-nanometer (nm) lithography technology to develop NAND flash chips with 32Gbit capacity that are combined to achieve the high overall capacity of the drive.

Samsung said it has gained power efficiency through its new controller, specifically for toggle-mode DDR NAND. The resulting power throttling capability enables allows for high performance without any increase in power consumption over the 40nm-class 16Gbit chip NAND-based 256GB SSD it has sold previously.

Samsung said the new SSD will deliver faster OS boot time and application access, "showing an approximately nine-fold improvement in random performance over hard disk drive."

The new 512GB SSD comes native with 256bit AES data encryption algorithm for security. The drive also takes advantage of Windows 7's TRIM feature, which allows the operating system to tell an SSD which data blocks are no longer in use so that it will not waste time attempting to access them.

The new controller also analyzes frequency of use and preferences of the user to automatically activate a low-power mode that can extend laptop computer battery life for an hour or more, the company said.

Dong-Soo Jun, executive vice president of memory marketing for Samsung Electronics, said the "state-of-the-art toggle DDR" technology "will enable Samsung to play a major role in securing faster market acceptance of the new wave of high-end SSD technology."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

E-Book Readers Bomb on College Campuses

Bloomberg Business Week
Amazon's Kindle and higher education were supposed to be a perfect match. But students say they're unimpressed

Hopes were high last fall when the Amazon Kindle DX was distributed to a group of students at seven universities around the country in a classroom pilot program for the electronic reader. With students able to download class materials and textbooks easily onto the slender 10.2-ounce device, many thought the era of carrying heavy textbooks would soon be over. Just a few months later, their hopes were dashed, as students reported that the Kindle was a poor replacement for a textbook, hard to use in the classroom, and difficult to navigate.

"It's an amazing device for recreational reading, but it's not quite ready for prime time in higher education," says Daniel Turner, associate dean of the masters and executive education programs at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business (Foster Full-Time MBA Profile), one of the schools that participated in the pilot.

It appears unlikely that the Amazon Kindle DX will be making a comeback in most college and graduate school classrooms this fall. Over the past few months, results from the pilot programs have trickled in, with most schools reporting that students were dissatisfied with the device as a classroom tool, and that many students had abandoned the Kindle just a few weeks into the experiment. At some schools, more than half the students surveyed said they wouldn't recommend the e-reader to friends for use in the classroom, citing the device's lack of flexibility, slow navigation within readings, and an inadequate file management system. Another problem that loomed over the pilot was the device's inaccessibility to the blind and the visually impaired, due to a complicated menu navigation screen that makes it hard to access the read-aloud feature. Until Amazon addresses these problems, the Kindle is unlikely to be embraced by most of the higher education community, says Tracy Gray, managing director of the National Center for Technology Innovation in Washington.

"This is really emerging technology, and probably in two to three years, these problems will be solved," says Gray. "But right now, makers of e-readers are really just working out the devil in the details."
Not for Case Studies

Of the seven schools that participated in the Kindle pilot, two were business schools, Foster and the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business (Darden Full-Time MBA Profile). Darden worked closely with Amazon to convert many of the case studies it uses in first-year classes to the Kindle format and selected 62 students and 10 faculty for the pilot, says Michael Koenig, Darden's director of MBA operations. While students liked some of the Kindle's features, such as the big screen and the capacity of the digital library to store hundreds of case studies, most students were unhappy overall with the user experience, Koenig says. Although the device allows students to highlight text and make notes, many complained it was difficult to use these features. Perhaps the most pressing problem, he says, was the lack of a folder management structure, which made it hard for students to keep track of the dozens of business cases they needed for class. Concludes Koenig: "When you got to the technical classes, the Kindle just could not keep up."

By the second quarter, most students had abandoned their Kindles, choosing instead to read case studies on their laptop or on paper, Koenig says. In a midterm survey, in which students were asked if they would recommend the Kindle to their fellow students, 86 percent said they wouldn't, while only 12 percent said they would advise friends to use it. Students did like using it for personal reading, however, with 96 percent of the class saying they would recommend it to friends for that purpose.

The pilot program helped Amazon gauge how the Kindle can be a more useful classroom tool, says Stephanie Mantello, a spokeswoman for Amazon. The latest software upgrade for the Kindle includes two larger font sizes, she said. The company is working on an audible menu system to help blind and vision-impaired users navigate, she added. "We will always look at ways of improving the student experience on Kindle," Mantello wrote in an email. "One day students could read all their schoolbooks on Kindle."

Joe Chard, 29, a self-described "tech geek," was itching to use an e-reader in the classroom when he arrived on Darden's campus last fall as a first-year MBA student. When he learned his MBA class section has been selected for the Kindle pilot, he couldn't believe his luck. Says Chard: "I felt like I won the lottery." But he soon realized that the Kindle would not be the ideal tool for the classroom and quickly became frustrated by its slow response time. By the time November rolled around, he had put the device aside in favor of reading class materials in PDF form on his laptop.

"It just didn't have the features or the sort of user friendliness to make it practical, let alone helpful," says Chard, now a second-year student.
"A Device That Doesn't Exist Yet"

Students in the Technology Management MBA program at the University of Washington's Foster School were similarly let down by their experience with the Kindle pilots, says Daniel Turner, associate dean of the school's masters and executive education programs. The school put the textbooks students needed for class on the Kindle but, unlike Darden, chose not to put case studies on the device. The pilot began in January, and students in the program were given the option of using the Kindle for class; 61 of the 77 students, or about 79 percent, decided to participate in the pilot for the first quarter. By the time the Spring quarter came around, only 17 of the original 61 in the pilot chose to continue to use it. Like the Darden students, Foster students had similar complaints about navigation and note-taking, as well as frustrations about the way graphics, images, and formulas were rendered on the device.

"There were some high hopes. It's easy to say they were not fully met," he says. "I think what students are calling for is a device that doesn't exist just yet."

For now at least, the future of e-readers on college campuses looks cloudy. The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind filed a lawsuit last year against Arizona State University for using the Kindle to distribute electronic textbooks to students, stating the device could not be used by blind students. The lawsuit has since been settled, but Arizona State and several of the other universities in the pilot, including Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Oregon's Reed College, and Pace University in New York, have agreed not to use the Kindle or any other e-reader in classes unless the device is fully accessible to the blind or visually impaired. Some universities, such as Wayne State University in Detroit, have passed resolutions stating that the school will not do any business with Amazon unless or until the Kindle is created in a manner that allows for an alternative format for the blind and visually impaired. Other schools, such as Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have passed similar resolutions.

The iPad Advantage

Many universities see the Apple (AAPL) iPad as the next frontier for e-reading devices in the classroom. "The iPads are coming," says Darden's Koenig, who says he expects to see many students toting their iPads to class next fall. Some business schools are already starting to use the iPad in the classroom. IMD business school in Switzerland announced this week that it has already started using the iPad in the classroom. The school piloted the iPad in an executive education program with Allianz Global Investors at the beginning of May, and feedback from the faculty, staff and students was "overwhelmingly postive," says IMD Professor Bettina Buchel. "I think this device will revolutionize executive education."

Other schools will likely follow suit, especially as the iPad becomes more prevalent on campus next year after more students pick them up over the summer, says Gray, of the National Center for Technology Innovation.

"I would hate to be the person at Kindle watching the explosion of the iPad," Gray says. "I think the Kindle is going to have to pedal pretty quickly to find itself competitive with the iPad. It's a game changer."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

AT&T, Apple Struggle to Handle iPhone Orders

The Wall Street Journal

AT&T Inc.'s website, unable to handle the demand for Apple Inc.'s new iPhone on Tuesday, had difficulty processing orders and in certain instances appeared to reveal subscribers' personal information to strangers.

Although the scope of the problem and its underlying cause couldn't immediately be learned, some AT&T customers, who were logged into AT&T's website as themselves ended up in other users' accounts.

AT&T and Apple didn't immediately comment on the apparent glitch.

The security lapse was the second in a week for the No. 2 U.S. carrier, which acknowledged June 9 that a flaw in its website allowed a group of computer experts to uncover the email addresses of thousands of owners of Apple iPads, including prominent officials at companies, in the military and in the government.

The problems Tuesday with AT&T's site took shape as the company's chief executive, Randall Stephenson, was in New York talking to the media and investors.

Asked about last week's iPad incident, the CEO said privacy issues are important and that a failure to prevent more serious breaches of network security would stall the growth of the mobile data market.

"Customer privacy, data privacy is critical," Mr. Stephenson said in an interview before the latest problems became apparent.

Apple's iPhone 4 officially goes on sale June 24, but AT&T and Apple began accepting preorders Tuesday. Almost immediately, would-be buyers began complaining they were unable to complete order requests through AT&T's or Apple's websites.

AT&T said the day was the busiest for online sales in the company's history, but didn't say how many units were ordered. All iPhone 4s that could be preordered for delivery on June 24 sold out, the company said. Customers who order now will get devices on June 25 or later. There will also be iPhone 4s available in stores on June 24, AT&T said.

"I tried ordering in two states," said Chris Freeberg, who was trying to order the new iPhone from a computer in a downtown San Francisco Apple Store. The 27-year-old owner of an original iPhone woke up at 5 a.m. in his hometown of Chicago and tried to reserve the device before flying to the West Coast, but gave up after four tries.

His effort to order from Apple's own store failed, too, so he decided to try again Wednesday. "I'm just ready," he said. "I just want it mailed to me so I can have it on the first day."

The computer outages appeared to be severe in some cases, forcing sales clerks to adopt manual work-arounds to get people signed up.

An Apple store employee in New York City said the preorder system had gone down. Apple stores in Manhattan and San Francisco were letting customers reserve the new phone at the store for pickup when the device goes on sale.

An AT&T sales representative at a New York City store said the preorder system had been down for much of the day. She was taking customers' credit card information and planned to enter it into the system once it came back up. She said similar issues were seen last year when the iPhone 3GS opened up for early orders.

The computer glitches are a black eye for AT&T and Apple, which have struggled to overcome complaints about dropped calls with the iPhone, but it wasn't clear whether they would have any lasting effect on demand for the smartphone.

Justin Berk, a meteorologist at the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, said he bounced around between the Towson, Md., Apple store and a neighboring AT&T store, enduring a 40-minute wait before an AT&T clerk manually took his credit card information. "Every iPhone launch has been a debacle," said Mr. Berk. "I'm so frustrated, but I still can't wait to get this phone."

Even as customers showed why the iPhone has been a key driver of AT&T's growth, Mr. Stephenson spent time talking about how new devices are making the smartphone market much more competitive, an indication the wireless carrier is already looking ahead to the day when its exclusive contract to carry the Apple device expires.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Stephenson said 70% of his customers are tied up in family plans, which would make it harder for them to run to the doors in the event a competitor got hold of the iPhone.

He also said AT&T is broadening its slate of offerings, including to new phones powered by Google Inc.'s Android mobile operating system.

"We have a lineup that we haven't disclosed," he said. "There will be other devices that come along, and we'll do just fine."

On Monday, AT&T announced that it would sell its second Android phone, HTC Corp.'s Aria, starting June 20, and Mr. Stephenson said the top handset manufacturers are pouring money in Android in an effort to build the next flagship device.

"You're going to see Android become more and more prevalent in our device line-up," Mr. Stephenson said.

Apple, AT&T Hit with Glitches on new iPhone Orders

Associated Press

Apple and AT&T faced two major problems taking orders for the newest iPhone model just a week before it hits stores: Buyers reported problems registering their orders and an apparent glitch in AT&T's website was steering some customers into strangers' accounts.

Troubles in meeting demand for the iPhone aren't new.

But the latest apparent breach and other recent security foul-ups by AT&T could lead to identity theft - and have consequences for both companies. Customers have called for Apple to allow other carriers to serve the iPhone in the U.S., and the latest problems offer another argument.

The computer systems at Apple Inc., maker of the iPhone, or AT&T Inc., its exclusive U.S. carrier, have had various problems every year since the first iPhone launched in 2007.

Some customers who tried to buy an iPhone 4 on Tuesday said they were met with error messages on the company websites, and lines formed in stores as clerks tried to get orders into their systems.

Despite the problems, orders for launch-day shipments of the iPhone 4 sold out. On Wednesday morning, AT&T's site was no longer accepting orders. Apple's site was accepting orders only for black models, and would only guarantee shipment by July 2. That sets the scene for long lines at stores on June 24, when the phone is released.

The iPhone 4 costs $199 or $299, depending on the memory capacity. It will feature a higher-resolution screen, longer cell phone battery life and thinner design than last year's model.

Japanese phone company Softbank started taking orders earlier in the day, and was also flooded with requests. Softbank spokesman Furuya Katsuhide said that the better-than-expected demand had stressed the company's systems, which slowed both its website and the reservation process at stores.

On, a technology website, several readers posted stories of trying to log into their AT&T accounts to upgrade to the newest iPhone and being sent instead into strangers' accounts. That could set the stage for identity theft scams such as ordering other products under that person's name.

AT&T said it received reports of customers seeing the wrong account information but wasn't able to replicate the problem and was investigating. But the company said the personal information users were seeing in one another's accounts didn't include Social Security numbers, credit card information or detailed call logs.

Just last week, AT&T plugged an embarrassing security hole on its website that exposed the e-mail addresses of people who had bought another new Apple product, the iPad.

And in January, AT&T acknowledged to The Associated Press that a problem in its network was causing some wireless customers to land in strangers' Facebook accounts when they tried to check their own accounts using their smart phones. AT&T said it was fixing that glitch.

It doesn't happen often, but the Internet can forget who is who when multiple people log onto a site at the same time.

AT&T blamed a "misdirected cookie" for at least one of the problems in January. A cookie is a file websites place on users' computers to identify them. If the Internet provider fumbles a cookie and sends it to the wrong computer, the person using that computer will see a Web page he or she wasn't expecting.

Apple representatives didn't immediately respond to requests for comment late Tuesday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Microsoft Dubs its Top-Secret Game Controller: 'Kinect'

LA Times

At a gala event Sunday night, Microsoft unveiled the name of its latest video-game technology:  Kinect.

The unveiling capped a 45-minute performance by Cirque du Soleil at the Galen Center arena, which will be repeated again Monday night before the show is mothballed and sent back to Montreal, Canada, where the troupe is based. In the video above, Cirque du Soleil's artistic director, Michel Laprise, talks about how it approached the project in creating its one-of-a-kind show for Microsoft.

Microsoft is pulling out all the stops in an effort to market Kinect, which the company had previously code-named Project Natal. The device, when attached to Microsoft's Xbox 360 video-game console, lets people play games by gesturing, moving their bodies or speaking. 

Kinect is key to Microsoft's  effort to become the focal point of living room entertainment. Its Xbox 360, when connected to broadband Internet, is already capable of playing on-demand movies via Netflix and also lets viewers rent high-definition movies and TV shows, in addition to downloadable games.

But Microsoft has thus far been saddled with a reputation of being a console for dedicated gamers, not average families. Kinect is the company's bid at attracting people who are too intimidated by its 14-button controller. Microsoft and other game developers are expected to unveil over a dozen Kinect titles this week during the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo starting Monday in and around Downtown Los Angeles.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Software Prospects Fuel Manufacturer of High-End Electric Motorcycles

NY Times

SAN FRANCISCO -- Entrepreneurs trying to capitalize on growing consumer interest in clean, green transportation typically build cheaper and lighter vehicles to serve as entry points to the new carbon-constrained marketplace.

Not Mission Motors.

The Bay area startup, formed in 2007 by mechanical engineers in a Mission District garage, is placing a big bet on high-end performance. The company's first-edition prototype electric motorcycle is selling for $68,995, with the first 50 bikes set to be delivered this year.

Bucking a global movement toward cheap, electric Chinese two wheelers, the Mission One is no scooter. The single-speed bike has been clocked at more than 160 miles an hour and tops out at a relatively stable 6,500 rpm. And it is powered by a lithium-ion motorcycle battery that recharges in a 220-volt outlet in less than two hours.

Mission's business model is a virtual photocopy of Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley-based carmaker looking to sell high-end electric sports cars to wealthy auto enthusiasts worried about their carbon footprints. Like Tesla, Mission intends to roll out at top speed, at the upper end of the market.

The goal, Mission executives say, is to reinvent the modern sports bike without alienating riders used to tailpipe rumbling and speed. The Mission One is less eco-toy than a new way to appeal to adrenaline junkies who demand acceleration to 100 mph in less than five seconds.

So says Mission CEO Jit Bhattacharya, whose top-line Google search result is still his profile on the Stanford University Ultimate Frisbee team. Yet Bhattacharya, 31, who recently took the company's handlebars from Mission founder Forrest North, said the company is not in business for fun and games.

"We wanted to build a vehicle that is going to sell, that is going to get riders excited, and not just because it's green," Bhattacharya said. "You get a riding experience that is unlike anything you can possibly get on a gasoline motorcycle."

It's the software, stupid

The Mission One may be the fastest electric bike ever clocked at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, where it topped out at 161 mph, but Bhattacharya admits the company does not expect to corner the high-end motorcycle market just yet.

As earnest as Mission Motors is about its sleek, whiz-bang bike, the company -- like many Bay area startups before it -- appears to be banking on component and software development to cash in and reward its investors.

Mission has raised a relatively thin $2.5 million from venture capitalists and angel investors since forming in 2007, making it an unlikely competitor with motorcycle giants like Honda and Yamaha. But competing with Honda, which sells the most motorcycles in the world, is not the point, Bhattacharya said.

The advantage of experimenting with electric drive trains and the software that makes them run in two wheelers is the vehicles weigh a lot less than cars, which reduces costs in chassis development and materials. Two wheelers also require fewer components or safety tests and can more easily skirt government regulations.

Bhattacharya said Mission is pragmatic: profitability will follow if the company manages a breakthrough on the electric drive chain or, more likely, the software that lets it communicate with the rest of the bike. That component could then be snatched up by a big bike manufacturer, Honda and Yahama among the candidates, or even attract carmakers less able to drop big research and investment dollars into drive-train experiments.

"We have been approached by car companies that are very interested in our power-train technology," said Bhattacharya, who refused to provide specifics on interested companies, other than to say his engineers are focused on software development "that drives motors, that drives batteries."

Mission is currently negotiating with a leading Chinese engine manufacturer, Chongqing Zongshen Power Machinery Ltd., that could result in a cash infusion and springboard the company into the realm of component/software development for a larger company. Zongshen is better positioned to profit from China's obsession with cheap scooters and electric bikes because the company is known for low-cost two wheelers.

Bhattacharya also says a number of other industries have expressed interest in the company's garage-shop technology, including lawn-garden equipment manufacturers and recreational outfits that dabble in three- and four-wheelers.

"The goal of Mission Motors is not to be the company that sells 100,000 motorcycles in five years," Bhattacharya said. "The reason it's not our goal is because it takes a lot of money."

E-bike boom in China

Major manufacturers, meanwhile, have until recently been content to watch and wait as companies like Zero Motorcycles, Brammo, Quantya in the United States and a host of Chinese companies have tinkered with low-end electric motorcycles and scooters, nearly all of which retail under $10,000 and, in China, often for far less.

But that seems ready to change, with Honda saying it will release an all-electric bike and a hybrid model sometime next year, and Yamaha looking at later this year for a new product release.

The focus in this sector is on countries like India and China, where commuters under pressure from local governments to cut fossil-fuel use have turned to e-bikes and scooters en masse. Chi-Jen Yang, a technology expert at Duke University, says 120 million e-bikes, scooters and -- to a lesser extent -- motorcycles are now on the road in China.

Yang said the common perception is that the spike has been driven mostly by e-bikes, but he contests that all the vehicles on the road there are real bicycles. Many are more like scooters or small motorcycles with pedals attached to fool the overseer.

"Pretty much all electric scooters/motorcycles in China are technically classified as electric bicycles," Yang wrote in an e-mail, explaining that pure electric scooters and motorcycles are often banned in Chinese cities because they are unsafe. "They are all equipped with pedals to qualify."

Pointing to pictures of scooters equipped with pedals in his e-mail, Yang said the pedals are often for show, not human pedal power. "These vehicles ... are obviously too heavy to pedal," he said.

As for the Chinese market for scooters and motorcycles, Yang said the demand for e-bikes -- which by some estimates could exceed 200 million vehicles within five years -- has the major motorcycle manufacturers interested, but with the price point so low, the dynamic is more complicated than a layman might assume.

Most of the leading e-bike makers in China, Yang said, are Chinese, which makes it tough for foreign competitors.

"My guess is that the entry barrier for the e-bike market is relatively low and therefore the market is very competitive (which means very low profit margin)," he said. "Such conditions probably put international competitors at a disadvantage."

Eye on policy

As for government's role, Bhattacharya believes the focus should be on infrastructure development and helping consumers finance motorcycle batteries. The cost of the batteries, he said, is coming down but not to the point where electrics are competitive with gasoline-powered alternatives.

For batteries, the consumer pays up front in an arrangement that means lower fuel costs over time compared with petroleum. The internal combustion engine, Bhattacharya points out, is the reverse model, with gasoline costs spread over time to such an extent that drivers take them for granted.

"We kind of forget about paying for gas," he said. "It's just something we do."

Policy could be employed to address the financing aspect of batteries, to spread that cost over a longer timeline, he said. Bigger picture, Bhattacharya is hoping for a price attached to carbon on the federal level and continuing pressure on automakers to raise efficiency standards.

In the meantime, the wunderkind is focused on launching the first 50 units of the Mission One. Who's buying? Bhattacharya isn't saying.

"The list is still confidential," he said, with a laugh.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: Office 2010 Has Many Features to Recommend

USA Today / Ed Baig

Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook are the John, Paul, George and Ringo of software. A half-billion customers have turned these and other programs included in Microsoft's venerable Office productivity software into perennial chart toppers.

On Tuesday, the latest version, Office 2010, hits retail with a dramatic new refrain: Microsoft is simultaneously releasing Office Web Apps, a freebie version with online access to Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheet), PowerPoint (presentations) and OneNote (note-taking).

All that's required is a free Windows Live account and an Internet connection. It doesn't matter if you've purchased the new Office suite or whether you're running a PC or Mac. Consider it Microsoft's answer to a competitive threat from Google's free Google Doc applications. What's more, Microsoft gives you 25 gigabytes of storage, via an online storage locker called SkyDrive. (Business people can also store files through Microsoft SharePoint.)

Microsoft's Office Web Apps don't come close to having every last feature in their desktop counterparts. But they look and behave much the same, including the "ribbon" strip toolbar that graces the top of Office applications.

You'll need Office on your computer when you don't have an Internet connection. But if you buy Office 2010, you can shuttle documents back and forth between cyberspace and your hard drive.

There's a lot to recommend. The ribbon toolbar is now customizable. Multiple people in different locations can edit documents at the same time. You can preview what text, pictures or tables will look like in a document before you "paste" them in from elsewhere. Picture-editing tools are enhanced.

One welcome newcomer is the Backstage View, which you can summon by clicking the File menu. File itself makes a comeback of sorts after being foolishly removed in the last Office. Backstage is a tidy area for managing documents; it's where you can choose, for example, who gets to open, copy or change a document. It's also where you'll find a Print tab showing the Print Preview and various options for setting margins, collating and so on.

Still, I wouldn't call Office 2010 a must-have upgrade for consumers. Folks typically use a relatively small slice of Office features, and that won't change with the new editions. For all my quibbles, Office through the years has been mostly solid.

Office 2010 is sold in three main retail packages, two targeted at consumers. But there's no upgrade pricing.

The Office Home and Student edition, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the underappreciated OneNote, costs $149 for a full retail package with a disc. You have license to "activate" or install it on up to three computers. Alternatively, you can pay $119 for an "activation key" card sold at retail that would let you activate Home and Student on a single machine only. There is no disc.

Office Home and Business ($279 for up to two activations or $199 with a single-activation key card) throws Outlook into the mix.

Meanwhile, Office Professional adds Publisher (desktop publishing), Access (database) and considerable heft to the price, $499 for two activations, or $349 for a key card. But qualified students and academics can get a suite with the same programs as Office Professional for just $99.

A closer look at some of the changes in Office:

•Word. Changes in Word are relatively modest. A newly named Navigation Pane makes it easier to search for text or browse a document by headings. You can apply shadows, reflections and other text effects to dress up a document. Perhaps the biggest thing you'll appreciate is the ability to recover a document you forgot to save before closing.

•Excel. Improvements cover the way you format data or employ so-called pivot tables. The most noteworthy consumer-friendly new Excel feature is called Sparklines, which lets you highlight trends from your spreadsheet data by creating small and simple line charts or bar graphs that occupy individual worksheet cells.

•PowerPoint. The news here is video. You can embed, trim and format videos from within the program. You can play videos in the background of your presentation. You can even broadcast your slides to a remote audience online; they can view your presentation even without PowerPoint.

•Outlook. Like many people, I've used and been frustrated by Outlook for years. Microsoft appears to be listening with helpful new or improved tools. New Conversation View threads together related e-mails. And here's a biggie: If you click on Clean Up, redundant messages within a conversation are sent to the deleted items folder.

Outlook also can make nice with your social networks. You can check out updates from friends in MySpace and LinkedIn (you must download software from those services), and soon Facebook and Microsoft's own Windows Live. Through the Social Connector, you can also conveniently see all the mail and attachments you have with a person.

A handy Quick Steps section on the ribbon lets you, among other tasks, send mail to your manager or workgroup. If Outlook 2010 is connected through your employer to Exchange Server 2010, you might benefit from MailTips, a feature that can save you embarrassment. MailTips might flag you if you're about to accidentally distribute confidential information to people who no longer work for your company.

There's a lot in the new Office to keep Microsoft at the top of the charts. Even if you now can get something for nothing.

Berkeley Varitronics Unveils Wolfhound-Lite Cell Phone Detector


Berkeley Varitronics Systems, Inc. a provider of advanced wireless solutions and products for the domestic and international wireless telecommunications industry, has released a palm-sized cell phone detector called the Wolfhound-Lite.

Company sources added that Wolfhound-Lite is the second product in a line of BVS’s advanced cell phone detection products which can be easily concealed in a pocket or worn on a belt clip similar to a wireless pager.

Security personnel and correctional professionals are instantly alerted to nearby cell phone activity by the vibrations produced by the Wolfhound-Lite. The device works on standard Lithium Ion rechargeable 9-volt batteries which can power the device for up to 8 hours. Security personnel can scan for all cellular voice and text or data transmissions in a hands-free mode.

The use of contraband cell phones by inmates in U.S. prisons has risen remarkably and the number of cell phones confiscated by prison officials has increased within just a few years according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration or NTIA.

In order to address this growing menace of cell phones in prisons Wolfhound-Lite has been designed to detect and also locate contraband cell phones without employing jamming technology as it will interfere with authorized communication channels or 911 emergency calls. Jamming is a violation of FCC rules and the CTIA recommendations. Most other solutions need an entire network infrastructure of wireless sensors hard-wired across the facility which may be difficult to deploy and expensive also, said company sources.

The new device features a high speed scanning multi-band receiver in a packet-sized pager configuration with an integrated omni-directional antenna system. This allows correctional personnel to detect a cell phone’s unique RF energy algorithm and lock on it. The device’s bright but discreet OLED display indicates signal strength. Wolfhound-Lite also features a stealth mode which can alert operators with vibration in case any cell phone is detected.

“The Wolfhound-Lite will allow correctional facilities to enforce an affordable NO CELL PHONE USE policy, since each security officer could potentially be equipped with a cell phone detecting watchdog,” said Scott Schober, President and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems. “We believe secure facilities will come to depend on the Wolfhound-Lite to detect and confiscate the increasing number of contraband cell phones being smuggled in prisons that are not only used to threaten public safety, but also contribute to ongoing criminal activity.”

As correctional facilities and prisons make use of steel in large quantities which are not RF friendly it results in inadequate cell phone coverage. This necessitates cell phones to transmit at higher power levels for maintaining connection with nearby base stations. Wolfhound-Lite allows instruments to detect the presence of cell phones discreetly and rapidly.

What is the Best Student Laptop?

Houma Today

“What’s the best laptop?” I get this question a lot. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple.

Much depends who’s using it and for what purpose. This time of year, laptops are being scooped up by grads. Many schools and majors list general computing requirements. This is a great place to start for the right machine specifications. In addition, that alone might help you settle the whole Windows vs. Mac dilemma.

Here’s some of what’s available this year.


Mac users have things fairly easy. Any current Apple notebooks should meet general use requirements. The entry-level MacBook ($1,000) has an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. It also has 2 gigabytes of memory and a 250GB hard drive. A 13-inch LED-backlit screen, built-in webcam and DVD burner round things out. Wireless networking is standard.

Go with a MacBook Pro, if you can afford it. The base model ($1,200) has many of the same features. However, memory is doubled to 4GB. There’s also a backlit keyboard and a slot for SD cards. And the aluminum body is more durable.


Things are more complicated with Windows computers. Many manufacturers make Windows laptops in a variety of form factors. Specifications vary widely. There are also a few different versions of Windows.

First off, watch out for netbooks. These small, inexpensive laptops often use Intel’s Atom processor. They have small monitors and keyboards. They’re also less powerful than a standard laptop. Students need a full-fledged laptop.

I recommend Windows 7 Home Premium or Ultimate. Go for a machine running the 64-bit version. It will be able to support more memory for faster performance. It will also handle multiple open programs better.

Select a dual-core processor like Intel’s Core 2 Duo or AMD’s Turion II. Newer processors may have more than two cores. These top-of-the-line processors are often a waste of money. Most students won’t need anything that powerful.

For 64-bit Windows, go with 4GB of memory. With 32-bit Windows, don’t pay for more than 3GB of memory; it won’t be supported above that level. I recommend a roomy hard drive; 250GB is probably good for most.

A DVD burner can also be helpful. Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port are mandatory. They should come standard. Look for plenty of USB ports and a large keyboard. Small keyboards can make typing uncomfortable.

A large screen is nice. That’s particularly true if you want to add a TV tuner card for watching TV. But if you’re carrying this around, balance size and weight with screen size. A six-pound computer can be a real back-breaker.

Expect to pay at least $600 for a machine meeting these specifications.

Claim educational discounts

Your student should qualify for educational discounts. You can save $100 or more on the price of a laptop. But, it still pays to comparison shop. Start with the school’s bookstore. Manufacturers like HP and Apple also offer discounts directly. You can also try sites like JourneyEd, AcademicSuperstore and Gradware.

Educational discounts also apply to software, printers, discount laptops and other extras. For example, students can get Adobe’s Photoshop CS5 Extended for $199. That’s a savings of $700 off Adobe’s regular price. Check with the computing department before buying software. Some schools have licensing agreements with software companies. You may be able to get software for $10 or so.

Be prepared to show proof of enrollment to get the discounts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nokia Unveils Bicycle-Powered Phone Charger


Nokia unveiled on Thursday a bicycle-powered phone charger.

The Nokia Bicycle Charger Kit, which can be attached to any bicycle, powers up from the pedaling motion of the bike's rider. A dynamo--the electricity generator--is powered by the front bicycle wheel as a rider pedals and transfers electricity to a charger attached to the handlebar, which a phone plugs into.

"To begin charging, a cyclist needs to travel around six kilometers per hour (four miles per hour), and while charging times will vary depending on your model of cell phone battery, a 10-minute journey at 10 kilometers per hour (six miles per hour) produces around 28 minutes of talk time or 37 hours of standby time. The faster you ride, the more battery life you generate," Nokia said in a statement.

The charger can be used to power any Nokia phone with a 2mm power jack, according to Nokia.

The kit comes with two small brackets, in addition to the charger and generator. One bracket attaches to the bicycle's handlebars to secure the charger and a cell phone holder. The other secures the small electric generator to the bike's fork.

The world's largest maker of cell phones said in a statement that its new product will provide "free and environmentally friendly electricity for mobile phones" and will likely be welcomed in areas of the world where bicycles are a transportation staple.

Priced at about $18, the charging kit is set to be available from Nokia online and Nokia phone retailers by year's end.

While its certainly newsworthy that Nokia is offering a bicycle charger, it follows others. In 2007, Motorola demonstrated a bike-powered charger at the Consumer Electronics Show. In September, Dahon unveiled the $99 Biologic FreeCharge for charging small electronic gadgets by connecting to any existing dynamo hub on a bike.

Nokia's announcement came in conjunction with the release of the Nokia C2, a cell phone capable of holding and operating two SIM cards at once to allow for separate phone numbers to be used from one device simultaneously. The dual-SIM C2 allows the user to not only switch between SIM cards, but even swap one SIM card for another, while the phone is on and working.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Google Chrome OS Could Shake Up PC Market

PC World

It's official: Google plans to debut its Chrome operating system in the fourth quarter of this year, although the company has yet to provide an exact launch date. Sundar Pichai, Google's vice president of product management, made the announcement Wednesday at the Computex trade show in Taipei, according to IDC News.

Chrome OS, announced by Google nearly a year ago, is a lightweight, open source operating system designed for netbooks, at least initially. Like its namesake Chrome browser that's steadily gaining market share, Google's new OS is built for speed. Startup times, including access to the Web, should take seconds rather than the minute or longer that most Windows users endure. The cloud-based design should provide quick access to Google's suite of online applications too.

Netbook manufacturers are readying Chrome OS-based devices. Acer, for instance, has announced plans to launch a series of Chrome OS netbooks. And other industry leaders, including Asus, HP, and Lenovo, are reportedly developing Chrome OS hardware as well.

Who Wants It

So does the world need another operating system for desktops? Yes, particularly if the new contender advances the genre. Windows 7, a fine OS for conventional desktops and laptops, is overkill for netbook users drawn by Google's simple promise: Faster access to the Web, online apps with cloud storage, and fewer security hassles.

Given the low-cost appeal of netbooks, early Chrome OS adopters will likely be bargain hunters and perhaps students seeking an inexpensive alternative to a full-size Windows PC. The Google brand will help sway consumers--including those wary of little-known, Linux-based offerings like Ubuntu--to buy Chrome OS devices. Businesses may test Chrome OS portables this year, but mainstream adoption won't occur until 2011 at the earliest--and that's only if Chrome OS delivers on its promise.

Ultimately, Google plans to extend Chrome OS beyond netbooks and notebooks and into the desktop/laptop market dominated by Windows. Given the ergonomic shortcomings of today's netbooks--specifically, cramped keyboards and small screens--consumers who find Chrome OS appealing may avoid the platform simply because they don't like the hardware it runs on. Since Chrome OS runs on both x86 and ARM processors, it's likely that a new crop of thin-and-light laptops--larger than netbooks but slimmer than full-size portables--will soon feature Google's OS too.

Chrome OS is more than simply another Windows or Mac competitor. It represents a dramatic shift away from desktop-oriented PCs to a cloud-based future. It'll be interesting to see how consumers and businesses take to Chrome OS devices--and how Microsoft and Apple respond to Google's latest threat.