Monday, 4 April 2011

Android Market Share Now 1 of Every 3 U.S. Phones

New numbers released by Comscore show that Android-based phones are continuing to take a chunk out of the market share of competing devices. And smartphones based on Google's mobile OS now eat up 33 percent of the U.S. market, or one out of every three phones sold.

RIM was the hardest hit in this latest batch of metrics, dropping 4.1 percent of its market share between November 2010 and February 2011. The company still controls 28.9 percent of the U.S. market, however, which is a far stronger position than its similarly decreasing competitors: Microsoft shed 1.3 percent of its market share to drop to 7.7 percent in total, and Palm went down 1.1 percent to a total of 2.8 percent market share for February 2011.

To note, the indicated numbers are three-month averages, not indications of how well a particular manufacturer did in just one month. Nevertheless, February alone provided strong support for Apple–specifically, Apple's iPhone 4. According to Comscore, the Verizon iPhone 4 was the most-purchased handset in February, and these killer sales helped Apple dig its heels in the sand against the Android advance. The company even improved its market share by 0.2 percent between November 2010 and February 2011.

Although Google's new lead is impressive–Android jumped up seven percent in market share between November 2010 and February 2011–it's important to note that the numbers only indicate growth in U.S. markets.

"I believe Android will be stronger in the developing world than it is in the developed world," said Fred Wilson, venture capitalist and principal of Union Square Ventures, in response to the metrics. "And most of the growth in smartphones is going to come from the developing world in the next five to ten years."

As to why this could spell disaster for Apple at some point in the future, Business Insider's Henry Blodget notes that it's an issue of strategy: Google's Android growth is only compounded as the market standardizes to a common system–like Microsoft for desktop PCs or Facebook for social networking. If Google is able to provide the de facto operating system for a significant chunk of the market, then developers suddenly have an increased incentive to code Android first, others second. Insert downward spiral here.

Once a company has captured the market crown–its platform pushing past the tipping point that separates separating "option" from "industry standard" –it's just that much harder for competitors to unseat the king, even if they manage to release devices that are functionally superior to the status quo.

Google's Android OS is going for the shotgun while Apple's pulling out the laser, and the devices' corresponding market shares are starting to fall in line.
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Google’s news on two fronts and other headlines

The search giant agreed to strict privacy rules to protect user names, e-mail addresses, contacts and location and tracking data emitted by customers’ cellphones and laptops.

When Buzz launched a year ago, some user contacts were made visible to others. Now Google will submit to audits of its privacy practices every two years.

In a shift in strategy to counter the rise of Facebook and Twitter, Google is offering a social aspect to Web searches, allowing users to recommend search results to others. The effort, called “plus one,” would require users to create a public profile.

Business will offer a service for people to store music and video online and access it from multiple devices.

NVR chief executive Paul Saville landed $31 million, among the largest executive compensation payouts in 2010.

Paul Allen’s memoir details a difficult relationship with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. “Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft” was penned without Gates’s support.

Google has partnered with MasterCard and Citigroup to adapt technology in Android devices for mobile payments. Shoppers can wave their phones past a gizmo to pay.

Harry & David, a fruit retailer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with $100 million in debtor-in-possession financing from UBS and Ally Bank and $55 million from others. Poor holiday results reduced the company’s access to credit.

American Airlines is suspending until April 26 two of six daily flights to Japan because of a slump in traffic since the earthquake and tsunami.

United Auto Workers membership rose 6 percent, to 376,612, last year as automakers began hiring. It was the union’s first gain in six years.

Toyota told its U.S. car dealers to stop ordering 233 replacement parts made in Japan because the company is worried about running out of them.

Honda said it will temporarily cut production at its North American auto factories because of parts shortages.

Aflac’s talent search for its next spokesduck yielded 1,000 inquiries. “We’re calling it America’s best job,” said Michael Zuna, chief marketing officer. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who gave voice to the duck for a decade, was fired after making insensitive remarks on Twitter about the disaster in Japan.

Google announced that Kansas City, Kan., won the company’s contest to build a one-gigabit-per-second network in a U.S. city — with connections more than 100 times as fast as the U.S. average.

Nokia escalated its allegations against Apple, saying its rival violated patents “in virtually all of its products.”

Ally, former finance arm of General Motors, said it is preparing an IPO as it seeks to repay billions in government aid received during the financial crisis. The IPO could raise up to $100 million.

Former Galleon Group portfolio manager Adam Smith testified that the firm used insider tips as an “edge” in a strategy to make money when company revenue figures differed from the Wall Street consensus. Jurors in the criminal trial of Raj Rajaratnam also heard that he had a pipeline to nonpublic information about Goldman Sachs.

Families of those killed in the Deepwater Horizon blast are reaching settlements of $8 million to $9 million.

AMC’s “Mad Men”will not return this summer as expected. Contract talks will delay the fifth season until early 2012.


Nasdaq and ICE made an aggressive counter bid to buy NYSE Euronext; the offer tops the deal agreed upon with Deutsche Borse.

EBay agreed to buy GSI Commerce in a $2.4 billion deal to bolster eBay’s position against rival

Berkshire Hathaway’s proposed $9 billion acquisition of Lubrizol will trigger millions of dollars in payments for the specialty chemical company’s top executives. Lubrizol chief executive James Hambrick could receive $97.3 million, based on his stock-based compensation package.

Warner Bros. is in advanced negotiations to acquire the popular movie ratings Web site Flixster for $90 million, signaling a big push into social networking by the network.

GE agreed to pay $3.2 billion for a controlling stake in French equipment developer Converteam as it continues to position itself as a major player in what’s expected to be a 20-year boom in oil and natural gas demand.


Lennar, the homebuilder, posted a $27.4 million profit in the first quarter, beating a prior-year loss of $6.5 million.


Jobs report showed signs of strength as the U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs in March; the unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent, a two-year low.

Americans increased spending 0.7 percent — more than forecast — in February as incomes climbed.

U.S. consumer confidence dropped more than forecast in March as fuel costs surged to a two-year high.

New-car sales were up in March, and Ford’s sales beat General Motors’ for the first time in more than a year.


Congress and the White House worked on a compromise spending bill — with $33 billion in cuts to the budget — to avert a partial federal shutdown April 8.

President Obama proposed steps to cut U.S. dependence on oil, including subsidies for cars that run on natural gas.

The Supreme Court will take up a sex discrimination class-action case against Wal-Mart that may involve as many as 1.5 million women seeking back pay that could total billions of dollars.

Federal regulators proposed mortgage lending rules that would force lenders to do a better job of ensuring the quality of loans.

Ohio’s legislature voted to limit public workers’ collective-bargaining rights. Gov. John Kasich (R) is expected to sign it.

Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke told lawmakers that, having received an “extraordinary volume” of comments, the Fed would miss the April deadline for a rule capping debit-card “swipe fees.”

An FDA chemist was charged by the SEC with insider trading; he allegedly made as much as $3.6 million using confidential data about drug approvals.


David Sokol, one of Warren Buffett’s top managers and a possible successor at Berkshire Hathaway, resigned after helping to negotiate the acquisition of a company whose shares he had purchased. Sokol, 54, bought about 96,000 Lubrizol shares before recommending the company as a takeover target, Buffett said. (Buffett is a director of The Washington Post Co.) Buffett said that he did not ask for the resignation and that Sokol’s stock purchases were not unlawful.

Jack Dorsey, former Twitter CEO, will return as product chief and executive chairman.

James Murdoch was named News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer — the No. 3 job — possibly positioning him to one day take over the company.

Robert C. Ryan, the Federal Housing Administration’s chief risk officer, was tapped as the agency’s acting commissioner. Outgoing FHA Commissioner David H. Stevens is leaving the agency to head the Mortgage Bankers Association.

UP: 3.6 percent in Washington home prices

Region’s gain bucked the trend as home prices in 20 metro markets fell an average of 3.1 percent from a year ago in January, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index.

The Washington Post and news services
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.Kinect turns Google’s Gmail Motion April Fools joke into reality

Yesterday, Gmail users woke up to see Google’s exciting new Gmail Motion web mail. In Google’s demo video, it showed a webcam that could recognize body motions and hand gestures to trigger actions in Gmail. In my opinion, it sounded like a great idea. In reality, it was only an April Fools’ Day gag by the cunning jokesters at Google. Less than 24 hours later, a bunch of researchers who have dabbled in getting the Xbox 360 Kinect sensor to work with Windows applications has turned Gmail Motion from a joke into a real working product. Called SLOOW, short for Software Library Optimizing Obligatory Waving, the hack gives you all of Gmail Motion’s ridiculous gesture commands, including the “licking an envelope” to send an email and “pointing backwards” to reply to an email. From the video demo, it looks to be pretty awesome. If you’ve got a Kinect and this hack intrigues you, you can download it right here. Video of the working Gmail/Kinect motion mash-up after the jump.

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Google's Larry Page must mend image of firm, self

Tackling Google's mounting public perception challenges should sit high on the "to do" list as co-founder Larry Page steps into the CEO role on Monday, observers say.

A series of antitrust probes, privacy blunders and regulatory slaps have scuffed its shiny brand and could undermine its ability to compete over time. Some wonder, however, whether the task of reversing that suits the Mountain View wizard's talents or temperament.

As the big brain behind the key innovations of the world's most successful search engine, no one doubts his bona fides as a technology engineer and visionary. Many say Page, 38, has also matured into an efficient behind-the-scenes manager in the 13 years since co-founding the company.

But it's no secret that Page has a deep aversion to dealing with the news media and lacks the grace and polish that tend to come standard in Fortune 500 CEOs. By various accounts, Page can be awkward, aloof and dismissive of those who don't see the world in the unique way that he does.
Investigations' harm

Therein lies the challenge for Google at this critical moment in the company's history. Increasingly, regulators, rivals, judges and consumer advocates are showing they don't view the world through Google-tinted goggles.

"Their image is on a downward slide," said Rob Frankel, author of "The Revenge of Brand X." "When you couple that slide with a guy like Larry Page, who may not be the most skilled or motivated person to deal with it, there could be trouble."

As it is, the European Commission and the Texas attorney general's office have begun antitrust probes. Senators are calling for public hearings on Google's competitive practices. Agencies around the globe have investigated the company over the so-called Wi-Spy incident, in which Google collected unauthorized user data over Wi-Fi networks.

Late last month, a federal judge rejected a legal settlement that would have allowed the company to forge ahead with the world's biggest digital library, citing antitrust and other concerns. Last week, Google agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its Buzz product employed deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises.

These are no small challenges for a major consumer brand. Each new investigation threatens to further undercut Google's image as a company primarily intent on bringing the benefits of technology to the world, a critical asset for a business that depends on customer trust.

Any ultimate concession, law or especially an antitrust decree would restrict the company's ability to maneuver in an incredibly dynamic industry, like buckling leg weights on a ballerina.
'Horrible public image'

These are tests that require a full-throated defense from a company's most high-profile figure, some analysts say. They demand not just someone who can eloquently articulate Google's position, but someone who cares to. Since his ascension was announced in late January, Page's quotes have been more elusive than apps for Android tablets.

"A CEO has to be the public face of the company, and he doesn't seem to want that," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, whose recent clients have included Google competitor Microsoft.

"But he has to do that job," he added. "Right now, Google has a horrible public image, and he's got to fix that."

Google maintains that its product choices are driven by what's in the best interests of consumers, but these days it chiefly delivers this message through the e-mailed prepared remarks of public relations staffers. A spokesman declined to comment for this column.

But it's not merely about how Google articulates its motives or responds (or doesn't) to criticism. A holistic approach to public relations starts with the product, not the press release.
It would take a prolonged investigation and trial to determine whether Google has actually abused market dominance under antitrust laws. But the conclusions of the FTC and the judge in the Google Books case suggest the company is at least testing the boundaries of privacy and copyright rules. In other words, there's a perception problem, because there's a reality problem.
Trying to rewrite law

Google Books was reportedly Page's brainchild. It's the perfect example of everything that people find both wonderful and worrisome about Google. Few can dispute the immense social good promised by such an ambitious project: essentially making the corpus of world knowledge instantly searchable by anyone.

But Google was tripped up chiefly through its execution, by storming ahead and copying the professional labors of others, without their permission. Its proposed legal settlement was even more audacious: seeking to essentially rewrite how copyright law works through an agreement between private parties, while granting itself a "de facto monopoly" over digitized works for which an author can't be located, Judge Denny Chin wrote in his opinion.

The settlement "would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission," he said.

The message floating out to select publications is that Page wants to return the company to its entrepreneurial roots; to kick-start its innovation engine. That's a good thing, of course. But Page and Google may need to recognize that different rules and different lenses apply for a startup in a Menlo Park garage and an almost $190 billion company that dominates the search market.

Increasingly, Google might have to seek consensus and partnerships to achieve its goals, rather than simply unleashing disruptive technologies on the world.

That may mean Page will have to learn to empathize with, rather than dismiss out of hand, those who don't see the world the way he and Google do. And it could mean sometimes - and maybe even a lot of the time - he'll have to plead his case in the court of public opinion, or else the other kind.
Need for turnaround

Some believe this is all well within Page's capabilities, if he chooses to work at it.

"I've seen a lot of CEOs exhibit complete turnarounds," said Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group, specifically mentioning Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Others are dubious, including Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of the just released "The Googlization of Everything."

"I think that with Larry Page taking over Google, it's going to be more arrogance and more idealism, at the very moment when he should be humble and realistic, in order to get through these very real regulatory pressures," he said.

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Google to limit carriers’ Android flexibility. Good.

Google has finally gotten fed up with the humiliating alterations its Android operating system has been subjected to by wireless carriers. So says a Bloomberg Businessweek story by Ashlee Vance and Peter Burrows that reports on a new set of rules Google will enforce on mobile partners who want the equivalent of most-favored-nation status.

“There will be no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software. No more partnerships formed outside of Google’s purview. From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google’s most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans.”

The story reported that the Mountain View, Calif., company was requiring that other firms licensing its Linux-based operating system sign “non-fragmentation clauses” to grant it veto power over their tweaks to the operating system.

Having seen many of these tweaks -- from harmless but sometimes unappreciated alterations such as Samsung and HTC’s TouchWiz and Sense overlays to outright mutilations of Android, such as Verizon’s excruciating Samsung Fascinate, which hard-wired its search button to Microsoft’s Bing -- I have no problem with Google’s change of heart.

The users I hear from don’t want any more extras from those companies. As Windows PC buyers have said for years, they want to be able to choose a clean, uncluttered configuration of the standard operating system. That’s what I loved about the Nexus S phone I reviewed late last year. And that’s why some Android users, myself included, have taken the radical step of installing a third-party build of Android to replace the limited, carrier-installed version.

This is a risk I worried about when Google announced Android. My column at the time emphasized the benefits of Android’s openness to users but fretted that carriers “could always choose to revise it to lock out any tinkering by their customers.”

It’s true that Google promised something different at Android’s launch. Its Nov. 5, 2007, press release states that “the Android platform will be made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products.”

But Google has always had one constraint on the carriers: access to its Android Market. Until now, it’s been extraordinarily lenient with that authority, even allowing them to replace such core Android programs as its browser, calendar and contacts applications with their own.

(Manufacturers can opt out of the Android Market, resulting in such oddities as the no-name Android tablets that arrived in stores last fall with older versions of the operating system and no easy way to install add-on software.)

It cannot possibly be a surprise if Google now moves to exploit that limited leverage to fix problems with its product. So why the vitriol over this move?

In a scathing post linking to a Businessweek story, influential tech blogger John Gruber labeled Google’s change in strategy “the Android bait-and-switch laid bare” and called Android manager Andy Rubin, engineering vice president Vic Gundotra and departing chief executive Eric Schmidt “shameless, lying hypocrites.”

Well, then.

I understand the annoyance at a company professing a “don’t be evil” motto, in the way that some people gripe about Apple’s bouts of sanctimoniousness. But just like Apple, Google is a publicly-traded, for-profit corporation--not a monastery, a think tank or a nonprofit like Mozilla. (For that matter, many open-source licenses enforce some limits on what you can do with the code in question. It’s rarely a free-for-all.)

I don’t need conspiracy theories here. I find it a lot easier to think that Google, not for the first time, didn’t grasp what sort of companies it was dealing with when it waltzed into this market. Remember, these are the people who had no apparent idea that Google TV would get blocked from the Web sites of major TV networks. If it’s now acting like a red-blooded capitalist instead of a software evangelist--fine.

Cracking down on carriers who want early access to the Android source code seems not an injustice but the only rational response for Google if it wants to keep Android’s quality. Save your outrage if Google stops releasing Android source code at all--for example, if the current hold in releasing the source for the Honeycomb, tablet-optimized version of Android never ends--or if it follows the practice of AT&T and blocks you from installing Android programs outside of the Android Market. But unless you believe in a cartoon vision of “open” when it comes to mobile-phone software, there’s little cause to protest Google’s move and more than a few reasons to support it.

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'Motion-controlled' email and other April Fools' Web pranks

Search giant Google on Friday debuted a "motion-controlled" email system that lets users write digital messages by moving their bodies instead of typing on keyboards, which Google says are "outdated" and "inefficient."

"To open a message make a movement as if you were opening an envelope. To reply, simply point backward with your thumb," the company says in a video demonstration of the product, which seems to be a riff on Microsoft's Kinect gaming system. "To reply all, use both hands. To send a message, lick a stamp and place it down."

In case you didn't notice, Friday was April 1, the day many corners of the Internet start to look a lot like

Google, always the king of digital April Fools' jokes, played several pranks on the hopefully knowing public. Among them: motion-controlled email, a YouTube roundup of viral videos from 1911 and a statement that says Google soon will change all of its fonts to the much-reviled Comic Sans.

"Following some rigorous user testing of 41 different fonts, investigating how each affected user experience," Google writes, "we discovered one font consistently outperformed all others when it comes to user satisfaction, level of engagement, understanding Web content, productivity, click-through rates and conversion rates: Comic Sans."
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Larry Page is fostering Google's start-up spirit

The co-founder of the Internet search giant has begun an unusual afternoon ritual of sitting and working with his top executives on small couches in an open area of the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. Employees, who used to have to stalk Page around campus, can drop by and grab a few minutes of his time.

"Now there are no layers to go through," said Michael Cassidy, director of search product management at Google. "The pace has really picked up. It's a whole new speed of decision making."

The 38-year-old Page, who officially retakes the helm Monday, wants to goose Google into acting more like a start-up again, restoring the rush of innovation that was its hallmark 12 years and about 24,000 employees ago.

"Larry is injecting a level of urgency and a fresh level of energy back into the company," said Colin Gillis, an analyst with BGC Partners Inc. "But this is not an easy journey that he is embarking on. It remains to be seen what will be different under Larry Page."

In a highly unusual power-sharing agreement, Page, his fellow co-founder Sergey Brin and departing Chief Executive Eric Schmidt helped transform Google from a barely profitable start-up with 200 employees into the world's most influential Internet company.

Google still makes gobs of money — nearly $30 billion a year — from its search advertising business and has some of the best minds in the industry working on game-changing technologies. But never before has Google faced so many direct challenges on so many fronts.

Its nimble rivals such as Facebook Inc. are stepping up competition for advertising dollars, and some key executives and engineers have defected to Facebook and other technology start-ups.

Google has produced a string of flops including Google Buzz, its flawed attempt at a social networking service, and it has yet to make significant progress in its quest to expand beyond search advertising, which has caused its stock to underperform the market. In recent months it has also come under increasing antitrust scrutiny.

"Page had a vision for an astonishingly powerful technology that could be used effectively for search, and that was brilliant," Gartner Inc. analyst Whit Andrews said. "Now he is going to have to show the world what he has learned in the past 14 years that he can apply now."

Page, who has never been a chief executive of a public company, has not talked publicly about his strategy. Page declined requests for interviews.

But people familiar with his plans say he has an ambitious agenda to narrow Google's focus to key priorities while continuing to roll the dice on risky projects such as Google's investments in cars that drive themselves and in digitizing the world's books.

Google made the surprise announcement in January that Page would take over for Schmidt, a decade after reluctantly handing off that job to him.

Some wonder whether Page, an entrepreneur almost two decades Schmidt's junior, will get to run the company more autonomously than Schmidt.

"Eric did not have the ability to make decisions with the clarity and autonomy of a traditional CEO, like a Jeff Bezos or a Steve Jobs," said Steven Levy, author of the upcoming book "In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives." "The question is: Will Larry be free to make those big decisions or will the decisions still go through a committee? Google has been vague about that."

Yet Google has benefited from the influence of its co-founders, who over the years have helped run the company and put their stamp on it. Schmidt has said he didn't know that Google had bought Keyhole, which became the hugely popular Google Earth, until Brin told him.

It was Page who uncovered a small start-up working on Android and offered to buy the company from its founder, Andy Rubin. Rubin is now vice president of engineering at Google running the mobile software business, a key asset that has given Apple Inc. a run for its money. And Schmidt put the kibosh on Google's building its own browser, but Brin and Page would not give in, assembled a team and ultimately got their way. About 10% of Web surfers now use Chrome, pushing other browsers to innovate in order to compete.

Page has already begun making changes. He had product and engineering managers email him with a list of their projects so he could decide which ones have the greatest potential and should continue to be pursued.

People inside Google say he's trying to speed up Google's sluggish pace and keep new ideas flowing at a crucial moment in Google's history. They expect to see more data-intensive, futuristic projects such as machine translation. And they expect to see a lot more radical attitude on display in the same vein as the note Page wrote to prospective shareholders before Google's 2004 initial public offering: It warned that Google was not a conventional company nor did it intend to become one.

That's what die-hard entrepreneur and Google employee Jonathan Sposato wants to hear. Google has bought two of his companies. The latest was Picnik, an online photo editing service that quickly became one of Seattle's fastest-growing Internet start-ups. Sposato, who had his pick of companies to sell to, said he chose Google because it had the speed of a start-up and the resources to reach millions, even billions, of users.

"With Picnik we wanted to continue to grow the business and continue to make an impact," he said. "Even prior to Larry's takeover, Google ran more like a start-up. Unlike other big publicly traded companies, Google doesn't have the layers and layers of management. And that is a beautiful thing."

Page wants more projects to function like start-ups inside Google, similar to video-sharing service YouTube and mobile software unit Android. Google bought social media company Slide last year for $179 million, and the company operates autonomously within Google.

Google says that even though it has a rap for losing star entrepreneurs to new ventures, such as Foursquare's Dennis Crowley and Twitter's Evan Williams, two-thirds of the founders of companies bought by Google in its 12-year history are still at Google. Google shelled out $1.8 billion to buy 48 companies last year.

Paul Saffo, a managing director at investment research firm Discern Analytics, says Page may have an edge in keeping engineers and their entrepreneurial drive from leaving Google because he is a founder, which carries clout with employees in Silicon Valley.

"All things being equal, they are going to be a lot more likely to follow a founder than they are to follow a professional executive," said Saffo, who owns Google stock.

In his book, Levy calls Page "perhaps the quirkiest person to ever run a $30-billion company."

"Google has had a wild ride over its first 12 years," he wrote. "It's about to get even wilder."
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