Apple vs. Samsung: Who's selling the most phones?

As Apple and Samsung battle for smartphone market share, numbers matter. The problem, though, can be figuring out which numbers to use and how to match them up.

Samsung shipped more than 20 million smartphones in the last quarter, a source told the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), allegedly outshining Apple, which sold 17.1 million phones. Shipments, however, aren't sales, and therein lies the nub.

Citing a "person familiar with the situation," the Journal specifically used the term "shipped" when referring to Samsung's 20 million smartphones. Samsung is due to post its latest quarterly figures next week, but the company no longer discloses specific shipment numbers for its smartphones. Rival phone maker Nokia reported today that it "shipped" 16.8 million units for the quarter.

However, earlier this week Apple reported that it "sold" 17.1 million iPhones during the same quarter ending September 30, and the Journal also used the term "sold" to describe Apple's smartphone figures.

Looking strictly at the numbers, the Journal said that Samsung beat both Apple and Nokia in the smartphone market. But that statement is based on the assumption that sales and shipments are the same. Comparing Samsung with Nokia is valid if we're talking about shipments. But comparing Samsung with Apple isn't if we're talking about shipments for one and sales for the other.

I've seen the same question pop up over and over again from readers and commenters, both on CNET and other sites: What's the difference between shipments and sales? So many stories and reports use the two words interchangeably. But they're not.

Shipments refer to--or at least should refer to--the number of items a manufacturer or vendor sends to retail outlets. Sales refers to the actual number of items purchased by customers. For hot products, shipments and sales may be virtually identical. In most other cases, however, not every item shipped to a retail store is going to be sold to a customer.

Companies also sometimes fudge their numbers using a sleight of hand called "channel stuffing." In short, this trick lets a business conjure up higher sales figures by shipping more products to retailers than the retailers are able to sell.

Samsung itself got caught doing this kind of number fudging with its Galaxy Tab tablet earlier this year.

Samsung initially announced last December that it had sold 1 million Galaxy Tab units. Then in January, the company said it had sold 2 million units. But during a later earnings call with analysts, a Samsung executive admitted that those numbers didn't refer to consumer sales but rather to the number of tablets the company had shipped to retailers. The executive reportedly used the term "sell-in" to reflect shipments to retailers and "sell-out" to reflect sales to consumers.

Apple said it ended the recent quarter with about 5.75 million iPhones in channel inventory, which refers to the number of units that the company was in the process of shipping but hadn't yet sold, providing further details beyond actual consumer sales.

There's no question that Samsung's lineup of smartphones has proven immensely popular. The company recently said that it has sold 20 million Galaxy S smartphones since 2010 and 10 million Galaxy S II handsets since earlier this year.

Unless a significant number of the more 20 million phones that Samsung may have shipped this past quarter went unsold, it's possible the company did beat Apple in unit sales. But there's no way to know for sure who topped who when the terms "shipments" and "sales" continue to be used as if they were one and the same.

Steve Jobs felt Android was a 'stolen product'

Steve Jobs felt that Android was a rip-off of Apple's iOS and wasn't going to settle any lawsuits with Google or its partners no matter what.
As details emerge from Walter Isaacson biography on Jobs--the Apple co-founder's decision to put off cancer surgery--his hatred of Android may be overlooked. Isaacson's bio launches on Monday and he will detail some of the book Sunday on 60 Minutes. The Jobs biography is published by Simon & Shuster, a unit of CBS, owner of CNET.

    I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

It's worth noting that Apple has more than twice the cash hoard since that Jobs quote. Meanwhile, there are no signs that Apple will back off its Android lawsuits.

Jobs made it clear he wouldn't settle for any amount of money. AP's Michael Liedtke tweeted some choice Android excerpts.

The comments shed light on Apple's series of lawsuits against HTC, Samsung and others over Android. The big question is whether these lawsuits will be settled under Apple CEO Tim Cook. 

Android super smartphones: Too much of a good thing?

The Bionic was supposed to be positioned as Verizon Wireless' flagship 4G LTE smartphone--the first with a dual-core processor--when it launched in early September. But its reign barely lasted a month, and following several recent announcements, it may not even rank as the third-best Android phone in Verizon's lineup by November.

The speed in which new Android devices are hitting the market speaks to the strength of Google's mobile platform. But it also leads to a lot of headaches for consumers who can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options emerging every day. It's like the Best Buy commercial parodying the next great device coming out moments after you buy it, only it's playing out in real life.

Handset manufacturers can't like the pace either. They spend millions of dollar of research and development on the hot new device, only to lose the spotlight after a few days (or, in the case of the Droid Razr, a few hours).

The Motorola Droid Razr was in the spotlight for a few hours.

It was a short reign for the Droid Bionic.
(Credit: Motorola)

"This sort of churn bothers both consumers and OEMs, for whom such a cycle is costly and, arguably, wasteful," said Roger Kay, an analyst for Endpoint Technologies.

For simplicity's sake, let's just look at Verizon's lineup for the holidays. In the past, the carrier has focused its marketing efforts on one big phone, known in the industry as a halo device, since the buzz around it often draws in consumers and drives the sales of other phones.

Past results have been mixed. The first Droid by Motorola was a smash hit, and helped propel Android into the mainstream. Prior to that was the BlackBerry Storm, which sold well but was plagued with glitches and a clunky user interface. Back then, customers knew exactly what was the phone to get.

That strategy has now been thrown out the window, as Verizon has at least four to five high-profile smartphones to offer for the holidays, one seemingly looking to top the preceding one.

Yesterday, Verizon and Motorola jointly unveiled the Droid Razr, a dual-core 4G LTE smartphone that boasts a thinner profile than the iPhone 4S. It represents a massive upgrade over the Droid Bionic, which just hit the market a month ago.

Granted, the Bionic suffered a well-documented series of delays, and should have technically hit the market in the second quarter. But the extra time to redesign the phone and bring it to market seems wasted with the introduction of the Razr. Why would anyone buy the Bionic now?

Several hours after the Razr unveiling, Google and Samsung showed off the Galaxy Nexus, the first smartphone running on Ice Cream Sandwich, which is the latest version of Android. The upgraded operating system is the first to integrate both smartphone and tablet user interfaces, and comes with a raft of new features. The Galaxy Nexus will run on LTE and is expected to also come to Verizon.

The Galaxy Nexus comes on the heels of the Stratosphere, which just launched last week as part of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S II line of Android mobile devices. Samsung clearly took pains to customize the Verizon version of its popular Galaxy S II phone, adding a keyboard and LTE compatibility, yet it is already selling at a discount at various retailers.

Does anybody remember the Stratosphere? A few days ago the Galaxy S II phones were among hottest out there. Today, not so much.

For Verizon, having such a robust lineup--which includes the recently launched iPhone 4S--is a boon, and a stark contrast from the older basic cell phone days, when the hottest devices only ran on the GSM network used by AT&T and T-Mobile USA. Gadget bloggers, and tech journalists such as myself, love the torrent of new devices because it means more to write about.

But the rate at which these new super smartphones are emerging is dizzying. That run of phones doesn't even include the wave of devices hitting the market with the other major carriers. People often hold off purchasing new phones so they can see what's coming ahead; with such a steady flow of new products, they may end up paralyzed with indecision.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the Android world, customers, and handset manufacturers included, could stand to see fewer launches of the next big thing.

Steve Jobs' last big project: The next iPhone

The iPhone 4S is not the last major project that Steve Jobs worked on, according to one analyst. That would be the next iPhone--let's call it the iPhone 5.

The next-generation iPhone "was the last project that Steve Jobs was intimately involved with from concept to final design. For that reason...this product will establish the high water mark for iPhone volumes," Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, wrote in a research note this week. He expects the iPhone 5 to be a "cult classic" because of Jobs' involvement.

In the note, Kumar said the phone will have a slimmer profile and larger screen size but with the same dimensions as the iPhone 4S (the relatively-small 3.5-inch screen is not one of the 4S' best features). The iPhone is also expected to have LTE, or Long Term Evolution--what's sometimes referred to as 4G.

Another source, who I spoke with this week and who claims to have knowledge of the redesign, said the iPhone 5 is a "complete redesign. This is a very large project that Steve dedicated all of his time to. He was not that involved in the 4S because his time was limited."

That makes sense to me. Cosmetically, the iPhone 4S is identical to the iPhone 4. So no big change here. And though the 4S has been revamped on the inside, in some respects, it carries over technology already in the iPad 2: the same dual-core processor, same memory capacity, same accelerometer, same gyroscope, among other similarities.

So, it's probably not unreasonable to expect the iPhone 5 to be a "complete redesign," as the source said--meaning both externally and internally, though probably less so internally when compared with pronounced user-facing changes like the display size. (No telling what kind of plans Apple has on the software front: iOS 6? Siri 2?)

The iPhone 5 should debut around the time of Apple's Developer's Conference in the summer of 2012, according to Kumar's research note.

Microsoft developing a HoloDesk

 Microsoft uses a Kinect to help create a holographic desk that is is calling the HoloDesk. The HoloDesk allows users to interact with 3D holographic objects and they can even operate a holographic touchscreen phone.

It looks like Microsoft is really focusing on new, and more natural ways for people to interact with technology. What started with the popular Kinect controller for the Xbox 360 has led to a project dealing with a holographic desk. The system uses a Kinect, a project, and a webcam to track the user’s face.  There isn’t much information provided about the early stage project, but there is something even better than information, a video of it in action.

The video really is impressive how the user is able to interact with holographic objects in a 3D space. You can see the user tossing a virtual ball from hand to hand, and lifting and manipulating objects in a realistic fashion that aren’t actually there.

The example that really amazed us would have to be when they were showing the potential to use the holographic desk to test early prototypes. The user is able to pick up a virtual phone, Windows 7 phone of course, and was able to interact with the touch screen of the phone.

We saw earlier this week that Microsoft is also working on a technology that they are calling OmniTouch. OmniTouch uses a projection screen and a 3D camera to turn any surface into a touch interface. With OmniTouch and the Holo-desk it is clear that Microsoft is investing a lot of time and money into natural user interface technologies.

As impressive as the HoloDesk looks in prototype form it clearly has a lot of work before it can be used in a real world setting, but it isn’t hard to see the massive potential of this technology.

Hands on with the iCade arcade cabinet for iPad

This April Fool's joke-turned-real product turns your modern iPad into a retro gaming cabinet. It's a fun idea, but is it worth the expensive price tag for some vintage fun?

What originally started out as a ThinkGeek April Fool’s joke has come to life and is now a real retro arcade cabinet made just for your not-so-retro iPad or iPad 2. We all know that the iPad is already great for games, but if there’s one thing it’s lacking, it’s the tactile feel of retro arcade games. If you grew up in the era of Pong and Centipede, there’s no better way to play those in the modern era than with your unashamedly-retro iCade iPad Arcade Cabinet ($99). The cabinet works with Bluetooth and the Atari Greatest Hits app, which offers Missile Command for free, several game packs for $1 and all 100 available games for one in-app purchase of $9.99. We love the idea of this novelty toy, but $99 is a lot to spend on an iPad accessory, so we tested it out to let you know if it will be worth your while.

In our own testing experience, we found that setting up the iCade was not quite as quick and easy as we’d like. Users must first turn on Bluetooth on the iPad, press a series of buttons on the iCade, select the device to connect via Bluetooth, and then enter a passcode to get the two to pair. A few times it took long enough to do this, or one step didn’t work, that we were tempted to abandon it altogether. Once you get the sequence down it ought to make for a quicker pairing, but it will always take at least a couple minutes to get your iPad ready for game play, which is enough to turn off some casual users.

We would also suggest typing in your Apple ID and password in the App Store before you turn on Bluetooth and start the Atari Greatest Hits app with the intention of purchasing games or a game pack. When we tried to make our in-app purchase of a game pack, the iPad wouldn’t open up a keyboard (for password typing) because we were using Bluetooth. We had to exit the app, turn off Bluetooth, make the purchase, then return to the app once again. This makes us want to suggest just coughing up the $10 for all 100 Atari games because then you’ll only have to go through this tedious process once. As soon as you have your games purchased, you’re ready to play. The iCade has a classic red-ball joystick and six other buttons to help you control your way to gaming dominance.

We played some sessions of Missile Command and Pong, and while the controls seemed a little sticky in Pong, you’d probably get used to the tactile controls pretty quickly. Our biggest qualms about this fun novelty gift are the price tag and the time it takes to set up your iPad every time you want to play. If you can stomach both of those issues (the price tag probably being the biggest one) and you’re a big retro-gaming fan, you will probably get countless hours of fun play time out of the iCade. If you’re a bit more of a casual gamer and just think “hey, that looks kind of cool,” we’re guessing that you are not going to end up thinking it warrants spending $99 for the cabinet and $10 on games.

Jobs wanted to ‘destroy’ Android, biography says

According to the forthcoming Steve Jobs biography, the Apple co-founder was intent on destroying Google's Android mobile operating system, as he considered it to be a "stolen product."

It’s hardly a surprise that Steve Jobs was not a fan of Google’s Android operating system, but the degree to which it troubled him may come as news to some.

In Walter Isaacson’s hotly anticipated biography of the late Apple co-founder, the author writes of how, back in early 2010, Jobs expressed his anger in “an expletive-laced rant” when he learned that HTC had brought out an Android operated smartphone that he felt copied many features of the iPhone.

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,” Jobs told Isaacson. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

A report by the Associated Press, which has obtained a copy of the book, says the biography explains the deteriorating relationship between Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

From 2006 to 2009, Schmidt was a board member at Apple – at the same time as being Google’s CEO. Schmidt quit Apple’s board as competition intensified between the two companies in the smartphone arena.

When HTC brought out the aforementioned Android phone early last year, Jobs was furious. In response, Apple took legal action. In one of many interviews that took place between Isaacson and Jobs for the writing of the biography, Jobs said Google’s behavior was akin to “grand theft.”

While Jobs didn’t succeed in destroying Android, the Cupertino-based company has had a measure of success against companies using Google’s mobile operating system. In July the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in favor of Apple and against HTC regarding patent infringement. More recently, courts in Australia and the US ruled in favor of Apple regarding patent infringement by Samsung in relation to some of its mobile devices, which run Android.

HTC has also been suing Apple for infringement of patents, some of which were recently acquired from Google. However, a preliminary ruling by the ITC earlier this week said that Apple doesn’t violate at least four of the patents currently in dispute.

iPhone 4S giveaway!

Have you been lusting after Apple’s latest device? They’re sold out everywhere across the globe, but we have one brand new iPhone 4S to giveaway! All you have to do to enter is just like us on Facebook and leave a comment below, and you’re on your way to winning. Here are the details:

    To enter into the iPhone 4S giveaway, like us on Facebook.
    Then leave a comment below and let us know why you want a brand new iPhone 4S.

It’s that easy. This giveaway will run for one week until 11:59 p.m. on October 27th, and it is open to anyone 18 and older worldwide. Winners will be notified directly via email, so please make sure you use a real email address when posting your entry in the comments section. One randomly selected winner will receive a brand new unlocked 16GB Apple iPhone 4S in black. Good luck!

Sprint HTC EVO Design 4G to launch October 23rd for $100

Sprint announced on Wednesday that it will launch the HTC EVO Design 4G on October 23rd for $99.99 with a new two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate. The EVO Design 4G offers a 1.2GHz processor, a 4-inch qHD display, a 5-megapixel camera capable of recording HD video, a 1.3-megapixel camera for video chat, support for Sprint’s 4G WiMAX network and Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). Additional features of this Sprint world phone include 3G/4G mobile hotspot support for sharing your connection with other Wi-Fi devices, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity and an aluminum unibody design. Read on for the full press release from Sprint.
Sprint Expands Award-Winning HTC EVO Family with HTC EVO Design 4G, First EVO with World Phone Capabilities
HTC EVO Design 4G debuts Oct. 23 for less than $100 – offering high-end 4G capabilities at an easily affordable price
OVERLAND PARK, Kan., & SEATTLE – Oct. 19, 2011 – Sprint (NYSE: S) continues the award-winning HTC EVO™ family legacy with the addition of HTC EVO Design 4G™, the first EVO family member touting World Phone capabilities. HTC EVO Design 4G boasts many of the “must-have” features of its predecessors, including Sprint 4G and a large touchscreen display, while sporting a slim, pocket-friendly aluminum unibody design at an easily affordable price.
HTC EVO Design 4G goes on sale Oct. 23 for just $99.99 (excluding taxes) with a new two-year service agreement or eligible upgrade and after a $50 mail-in rebate via reward card1. It will be available in all Sprint sales channels, including Sprint Stores, Web Sales (www.sprint.com) and Telesales (1-800-SPRINT1).
“Priced at under $100, HTC EVO Design 4G is the perfect device for consumers looking for both the benefits of 4G and the latest in device style,” said Fared Adib, Sprint vice president-Product Development. “When matched with one of the Sprint Everything Data plans, our customers will unlock the value of unlimited without worrying about the cost or surprises on their monthly bill.”
Designed for customers who want to stay connected and be entertained, HTC EVO Design 4G combines the acclaimed HTC Sense™ experience with a stylish and robust feature set to make the 4G experience more accessible than ever. Other key features include:
·        Android™ 2.3, Gingerbread
·        HTC Sense – Award-winning user experience taking social networking, navigation and customization to new levels
·        Aluminum unibody design gives the HTC EVO Design 4G a slim, streamlined profile –guaranteed  to get attention and nicely compact in your hand, pocket or bag
·        1.2GHz processor
·        4-inch qHD capacitive touchscreen display
·        Dual cameras: 5MP rear-facing camera/camcorder with flash and HD video recording and 1.3MP front-facing camera for video chat
·        World Phone capabilities to make and receive calls and texts, and to access email and news from locations around the globe
·        3G/4G Mobile Hotspot, supporting up to eight Wi-Fi enabled devices on the Sprint 3G or 4G network
·        Wi-Fi® b/g/n capable
“With HTC and Sprint working together, the smash-hit HTC EVO 4G introduced the world to the possibilities of 4G,” said Martin Fichter, vice president product management, HTC Americas. “With the introduction of the fifth addition to the EVO family – HTC EVO Design 4G – HTC is expanding its diverse portfolio of 4G smartphones on Sprint’s powerful 4G network.”
HTC EVO Design 4G requires activation on one of the Sprint Everything Data plans plus a required $10 Premium Data add-on charge for smartphones. Sprint’s Everything Data plan with Any Mobile, AnytimeSM includes unlimited Web, texting and calling to and from any mobile in America while on the Sprint Network, starting at just $69.99 per month plus required $10 Premium Data add-on charge – a savings of $40 per month vs. Verizon’s comparable plan with unlimited talk, text and 2GB Web, or $10 per month vs. Verizon’s 450-minute plan with unlimited text and 2GB Web. The Mobile Hotspot option is available for an additional $29.99 per month and supports up to eight Wi-Fi enabled devices simultaneously2. (Pricing excludes taxes and surcharges.)
Sprint was unbeaten among major wireless carriers for customer satisfaction according to results from the 2011 American Customer Satisfaction Index. In addition to tying for first place among wireless carriers, Sprint was also the most improved company in customer satisfaction, across all industries, during the last three years, according to the survey.

40% of Android phones are returned? ‘Absolutely ridiculous’

TechCrunch on Wednesday published a report claiming to reveal “Android’s dirty secret,” and quite a secret it was. According to the report, which cited a person familiar with handset sales for multiple manufacturers, between 30% and 40% of many Android handsets are returned by consumers. “Plainly put, these figures are absolutely ridiculous,” a source told BGR. We spoke to multiple well-placed sources following the publication of that story, but in reality we didn’t have to know the claim was ridiculous. If return rates were in fact “approaching 40%” as the report suggests, vendors wouldn’t just be bailing on Android, they would be going out of business. Handset returns are a huge deal in the wireless industry because every single device returned by a customer costs the manufacturer money. It also costs the carrier money in the event the device was sold through a carrier, and it costs the third-party retailer money if the device was sold through a third-party retailer. Read on to find out how many Android devices are really being returned.

Earlier this month, Google revealed that Android activations have reached 550,000 devices per day on average. While this figure does not directly correlate with Android handset sales, we can use it to get a pretty good idea of how many Android phones are being sold these days. There are some great Android tablets out there and Google TV is nifty, but smartphones easily make up the lion’s share of those activations. Conservatively, let’s say 90%. So that means about 14.85 million Android smartphones are sold each month. If “many” of those phones were returned, it would spell huge trouble for manufacturers. Assuming each return costs the manufacturer $50 — which, according to two of our sources, is a very low estimate — that means Android handset return rates of 30% to 40% would cost vendors hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars each year. Outlandish.

So what’s the real number? It’s tough for us to give an across-the-board estimate, of course, but that’s why we have sources. We have been told by three very reliable sources that a safe estimate for Android’s global handset return rate is “in the low single digits.” That’s a pretty far cry from 30% or 40%, we’d say. Of course not all phones are created equal and two sources did mention that some manufacturer bungles have resulted in higher return rates for individual smartphones. By “higher,” we’re talking teens… not 40% or even 30%.

It’s entirely possible that the source of TechCrunch’s story misspoke. Perhaps he or she was referring to the return rate of Android phones in a single retail shop. To think that 40% of many Android handsets are returned across the board, however, is crazy.

UC Davis iPhone tweak turns camera into disease spotting microscope

A MacGyver tweak to the iPhone by researchers at UC Davis transforms the 5 megapixel camera into a medical-grade microscope capable of detecting blood disorders

A new tweak for the iPhone by researchers from the University of California transforms the five-megapixel camera on the Smartphone into a powerful microscope capable of detecting blood diseases. The best part? The enhancement cost the researchers less than $50.

UC Davis physicist Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu and his team of researchers created the smartphone microscope by combining the camera with a 1-millimeter-diamter ball lens which they embedded in a rubber sheet and taped onto the iPhone’s camera. The ball lens, at 5x magnification, has the same power as a toy magnifying glass, but boosts the smartphone’s ability enough to deal with features on the level of 1.5 microns—small enough to identify certain blood cells.

The Optical Society explains that this is possible for two reasons: “First, ball lenses excel at gathering light, which determines resolution. Second, the camera’s semiconductor sensor consists of millions of light-capturing cells. Each cell is only about 1.7 microns across…enough to capture precisely the tiny high-resolution image that comes through the ball lens.”

The Davis team’s discovery isn’t the first smartphone-microscope development, but Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu says that simplicity and low-cost were his goals. Initially, the team tried using drops of water on the camera’s lens the water kept drying. The ball lens they eventually used cost $30-40, but the price could be lowered if mass-produced.iphone = bottom 3 slides

The iPhone microscope still bows to high-priced laboratory options as you can see in the pollen and plant stem slides. The iPhone 4 microscope is on the bottom, and a commercial-grade microscope took the top images.   But Wachsmann-Hogiu believes the device would be valuable in rural areas with little access to lab equipment. The camera is good enough to detect disorders such as iron deficiency anemia or the banana-shaped blood cells of sickle-cell. Field workers would put blood on a slide, take a picture with the iPhone and send it out for analysis.

The researchers are already thinking of ways to tweak the tweak, such as adding larger lenses to detect skin diseases and creating software for instant feedback. They’re also looking at the capability of switching the ball lense for a spectrometer to measure oxygen in blood and diagnose chemical markers. The team plans on presenting at the Frontiers in Optics meeting in San Jose, held in two weeks.

Robotic vehicles are the future, says scientist who has developed a self-driving car

A team of scientists at Oxford University have developed a self-driving car that it believes takes a step toward improving road safety and cutting traffic congestion.

Although being asleep at the wheel of a car is a situation that wants to be avoided – especially if it’s moving along at the time – it is something that could one day be a not altogether uncommon sight on roads around the world, if scientists at Oxford University have their way.

The team of scientists have equipped a Bowler Wildcat car with cameras, radar and lasers to help it “see” the world around it.

Project leader Professor Paul Newman told the BBC that the car can drive without any human intervention, and that one day the technology it utilizes could help toward cutting down on road accidents and traffic congestion.

Self-driving cars of one form or another have been around for a while – last year Google said it’d developed one which had covered more than 140,000 miles in the US – though Newman’s vehicle differs from Google’s in that it has fewer sensors and relies more on 3D maps of streets.

The Oxford University professor says his team aims to “enable a new generation of robotic vehicles that can make the roads safer, less congested, cleaner, and personal transport more accessible. We do this by making smarter cars.”

Newman believes that when the road is long and straight, and not much is happening up ahead, it should be OK to take your eyes off the road. “If the going is slow, why can’t I watch the show I missed last night, Skype with the kids, read a book or send that last email and elect the car to handle the drudgery of the trip for me?”

He can even imagine a future where car manufacturers are engaged in an “arms race” as they try to achieve the record for the greatest number of minutes of driving without any human intervention.

“You can imagine one company advertising a model of car which, on average, drives itself for 10 minutes a day and then another manufacturer will come out with one that does 15 minutes,” he said.

Whether manufacturers manage to make one that allows drivers to get some decent shut-eye on the way home after a hard day at the office remains to be seen.

Microsoft’s OmniTouch turns any surface into a touchscreen

While the Microsoft Kinect has Xbox 360 owners waving their hands around wildly, a team of researchers working at Microsoft have developed a more focused, personal multi-touch device.

With the combined effort of the Carnegie Mellon Human Computer Interaction Institute and Microsoft, researchers have developed wearable hardware that turns any surface into a usable workspace. Similar in design to the Microsoft Kinect for the Xbox 360, the OmniTouch device uses a camera that senses short-range depth, a small pico projector and a 3D modeling system to understand where the user is touching. The projector and the camera have to be calibrated to the user in order for the touch system to accurately match up to the user’s actions. The device can sense when a user’s hand if hovering over the surface as well as understand the depth when a user taps a button on the main surface. 


OmniTouch-keypadThe surface can be anything from a nearby table to something as simple as the human hand. The current size of the device is approximately the same size at the Kinect, but researchers are planning to shrink the device down as they continue to modify the hardware. A demonstration of the hardware showed users dialing a number on the phone interface, likely tying into a future ability to dial a number on a smartphone. Another example alerted the user to a new email and the user had the ability to select a new surface and define a region for the email to appear. Users could also zoom and pan around within the application. 

When projecting the main screen on a surface like a desk or table, the user can bring up a full QWERTY keyboard to type. The user can also use their hand to pull up a secondary pop-up menu to interact with the program on the main screen. The research team completed the OmniTouch prototype while working at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington. For more information and media on the OmniTouch, take a look at one of the researcher’s personal Web page.

Droid Razr vs iPhone 4S: Verizon super-phone showdown

We pit the Droid Razr vs. the iPhone 4S to whether the descendant of one one of the most popular flip phones ever can cut it on a touchscreen, too.
Motorola announced yesterday the super-thin and extra-durable Droid Razr smartphone. Armed with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, a 4.3-inch super AMOLED display, and solid maximum battery life, the device has the potential to be one of the most popular handsets available on Verizon Wireless. But no phone can go without standing against Apple’s new iPhone 4S, which has already broken sales records less than a week after it officially went on sale. So, how does Motorola’s latest offering compare to Apple’s? Let’s break it down in this spec showdown.



Droid RazriPhone 4S
CarrierVerizonVerizon/AT&T/Sprint
ConnectivityCDMA dual-band/4G LTEGSM/CDMA (3G HSPA)
Thickness7.1mm9.3mm
Weight127g140g
Display size4.3-inches3.5-inches
Display resolution960×540960×640
OSAndroid 2.3.5iOS 5
Processordual-core 1.2GHzdual-core 800MHz A5
RAM1GB512MB
Internal storage16GB16GB/32GB/64GB
MicroSDYes (16GB included) No
Rear camera8MP8MP
Front camera
1.3MPVGA
 Video recording1080p1080p
Wi-FiYesYes
GPSYesYes
BluetoothYesYes
HDMIYesNo
Battery life (talk)12.5 hours8 hours
Battery life (video)8.9 hours10 hours
Price (w/2-yr contract)$299$199/$299/$399

Social Networking on Mobile Devices Skyrockets

More than 72 million Americans accessed social networking sites or blogs via their mobile devices in August, a figure that represents a 37% jump from the same time last year, according to data compiled by comScore.

The bottom line: Social networking by way of mobile devices is on the up-and-up.

comScore estimates that nearly one-third of all U.S. mobile users are now accessing social media services, and that close to 40 million Americans are doing so on an almost daily basis.

“This behavior is even more prevalent among smartphone owners with three in five accessing social media each month,” says Mark Donovan, comScore SVP for mobile.

Of course, with the increase in mobile social activities, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are experiencing a measurable influx in mobile activity.

Facebook’s U.S. monthly mobile audience grew 50% year-over-year to 57 million, while Twitter’s mobile user base skyrocketed 75% to 13.4 million monthly users, according to comScore. LinkedIn also jumped to 5.5 million monthly U.S. mobile users, a 69% increase over the previous year.

The most predominant change in mobile social networking behaviors, according to comScore, is that more mobile users are accessing social media via mobile apps. More than 38 million folks accessed a social networking site or blog via an app in August, representing a 126% change from one year ago.

But with 42 million U.S. mobile users accessing social media sites via a mobile browser, the browser still remains the most popular mode of social networking on mobile — for the time being.

Steve Ballmer: “You need to be a computer scientist to use Android”

We've compiled quotes from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who spoke out on Bing, Android, Google+, cloud services, and a number of things at the Web 2.0 Summit.
Steve Ballmer is not known for holding back and at the Web 2.0 Summit on Tuesday, the Microsoft CEO tossed out some decent one-liners. Attacking Google search, Android, Yahoo, and touting the company’s recent purchase of Skype, Ballmer let loose, as he often does. Below are some select quotes.
On Android: “You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone. I think you do to use an Android Phone…It is hard for me to be excited about the Android phones.”
On Apple: “Apple is a good competitor, but a different one…Both [an iPhone and a Windows phone] are going to feel very good in your hand and both going to look very beautiful physically…. but when you grab a Windows phone and use it… your information is front and centre… and you don’t have to scroll through seas of icons and blah blah blah. A Windows phone gets things done.”
On rumors of Microsoft making its own hardware: “We are [only] focused on enabling hardware innovation…We have been very successful enabling hardware innovation and will continue to do so.”
On Bing: “Today I’d issue you all a challenge to go take any search you want and try it out on Bing and Google! Seventy percent of the time you probably won’t care, 15 percent you’ll like us better, 15 percent you’ll like other guy better!”
On Microsoft’s failed bid for Yahoo in 2008: ”Sometimes you are lucky. Ask any CEO who might have bought something before the market crashed (in 2008)… Hallelujah! Putting everything else aside, the market fell apart…. Sometimes you’re lucky.”
On competing with Google in cloud services:  “All in, baby!. We are winning, winning, winning, winning.”
On Google+ and social: “There are a variety of different things that fall under the social banner. We’re adding what I’d call ‘connectivity to people’ into our core products, The acquisition of Skype is big step down that path toward connecting with other people.”

New Xbox due in 2013?

A new report suggests that the next Xbox will be unveiled at E3 2013, with a planned holiday release later that year.

Ok everyone, prepare yourselves for something incredible…a new rumor about the next generation of consoles! Take a moment to regain your composure.

There have been a whole lot of rumors regarding the debut of the next Xbox (loving referred to as the Xbox 720 by everyone but Microsoft), as well as the PlayStation 4. It makes sense, and even if there weren’t any reports to back up those rumors the speculation would be running wild because of the time table alone–not to mention the coming of the Wii U.

A new report coming out of Develop claims that a date has been tentatively planned by Microsoft. If the report is accurate, the next Xbox will be unveiled at E3 2013, with a planned launch window of that holiday season, or early 2014.

The news would be the first confirmation of a release window, but it isn’t surprising. The Xbox 360 debuted in November 2005, and Microsoft has said that it has a ten year plan for their console. A 2013 release would make for an eight year gap, plus, a new console release doesn’t mean that support for the Xbox 360 will immediately stop.

If the console is released in late 2013, it will likely be at least two years before the Xbox 360 comes close to ending its support, probably more. The release date also fits with some of the rumors we have been hearing regarding several Xbox-exclusive developers. Recently an Alan Wake sequel was said to be in development, but it will be for the next generation of console. Lionshead, developer of the Fable franchise and Turn 10, developer of the Forza series, are also said to be developing their next titles for the next-gen.

And if the Xbox 720 is coming in 2013, the PlayStation 4 can’t be far behind. The year lead that Sony gave to Microsoft has proven to be a massive advantage—at least in America, where the 360 has a huge lead in terms of sales. Sony is killing it in Japan, but can’t afford to give any more ground to its competitor.

Originally most assumed that the next Xbox would be released in 2015, but evidence has been mounting that the console will be revealed much sooner than that. The next batch of rumors put both the next Xbox and the PS4 in 2014, then the reports seemed to suggest that both the next Xbox and the PS4 would hit in 2012. A new series of job placement ads on LinkedIn seem to confirm that work is moving ahead at full steam, but 2013 seems like a more realistic target.

The likely reasoning behind the faster development cycle is the Wii U, which is due sometime in 2012. The Wii U will not be as powerful as what most are expecting with the next Xbox and the PS4, but it will be a significant increase over the Xbox 360 and PS3, not to mention the current Wii. The question is, are fans willing to upgrade?

Sales on the Wii have been dropping steadily for a while now, and an update to at least include HD graphics is a must. But the 360 and PS3 both just seem to be hitting their strides. In general, graphics can always be improved, but the systems are both continuing to introduce new features and expand their online footprints. Neither system seems to be close to reaching its maximum potential. With game sales already slumping, and the economy not exactly awesome, will people be willing to shell out several hundred dollars for another new system? Not to mention the games, which, if they follow the pattern of the previous generations, will raise in price, possibly to $70 a title.

The fear of losing a head start and surrendering too much of a lead to Nintendo will likely push both Microsoft and Sony to release their next consoles sooner than they had originally intended. Whether that’s a good thing though, remains to be seen.

Apple’s fall from grace

Apple was a company that could do no wrong. Phones that dropped every other call… Location tracking scandals… Antennagate… A CEO who constantly parked his $130,000 sports car diagonally in handicapped spaces… Apple didn’t have to roll with the punches, the company would simply laugh at the punches or toss the press and public a few crumbs if need be. A week or even a day later, all was forgiven and Apple would continue on its path, making terrific products and mopping up industry profits while whistling to itself contently.

On Tuesday when Apple unveiled its brand new iPhone 4S, the fifth iteration of Apple’s revolutionary smartphone, things felt different. The company’s iconic co-founder was nowhere to be found, the venue was smaller, the applause seemed reticent and the product unveiled was not greeted with arms open quite as widely as they had been in the past. People seemed, in a way, bored.

Reactions from those who spent time with the device at Apple’s press conference were positive, of course, but it didn’t feel the same. What was different this time around? Members of the press and many consumers following the event felt that we were looking at a possible miss from the great Apple. Beyond nitpicking and whining about insignificant specs or other irrelevancies, many level-headed writers and pundits genuinely seemed to think that the iPhone 4S might be the beginning of the end.

Yes, investors were seemingly disappointed by Tuesday’s announcements, but this is hardly uncommon. Buy the rumor, sell the news. That Apple only closed down half a percent on Tuesday exhibits confidence in the company’s management, strategy and portfolio more than it does disappointment in the iPhone 4S.

And what about analysts? The finance crowd adores Apple, so they must have been jumping up and down in their penthouses, right?

“Apple no longer has a leading edge, its cloud service is even behind Android; it can only sell on brand loyalty now,” Gartner analyst C.K. Lu told Reuters on Wednesday. “Users may wait to buy the next iPhone; if they can’t wait, they may shift to brands with more advanced specs.”

“We had expected the company to announce two new devices, an iPhone 5 and a 4-plus,” JP Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz wrote in a note to investors. “We are disappointed that Apple did not introduce a thinner form factor, but we see the feature set improvements in the iPhone 4S and the broader pricing strategy as positives.”

Yes, we’re seeing some negative takes on the news, but have we seen any big names revise their estimates downward significantly? Of course not. Even analysts who were hugely bullish on a redesigned iPhone 5 are still confident that Apple’s reign will continue.

We’ve seen no real negative revisions on revenue projections either. In fact, Apple’s free iPhone 3GS and its $99 iPhone 4 have had the opposite effect in some cases. RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky, for example, wrote in a note Wednesday morning that Apple’s $0 3GS “may double Apple’s global addressable market, and may help address rising mid-market Android competition.”

And some analysts such as Wedge Partners’ Brian Blair had already modeled for this scenario. Blair, as some might recall, hit the nail on the head late last month. “We expect the focus of the new iPhone will be iOS 5, a speedier A5 processor and a higher resolution 8 MP camera with a small possibility of a larger 4 inch screen,” the analyst wrote in a research note on September 21st. Blair saw Apple selling 91 million iPhones this calendar year, and that staggering sum remains unchanged.

Some analysts even think the iPhone 4S and new cheaper iPhones 4 and 3GS will drive sales that exceed already-lofty projections. “While the moderate changes to the iPhone 4S might not drive the type of upgrade cycle that was seen by the iPhone 4, the lower prices of legacy models and broader availability on more carriers are still likely to deliver calendar Q4 phones sales in excess of our 21.5 million estimate,” BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk wrote on Wednesday.

But an interesting takeaway from yesterday’s announcement may simply be that Apple has fallen from grace in some respects. Apple is fallible, even if the 4S ends up being a success. A company that could do no wrong in recent history just, well, did wrong in the eyes of pundits who had previously viewed every Apple product announcement as a gift from the heavens.

It should have been bigger. It should have been better. It should have been more Appley.

There were skeptics after Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007, and after the iPhones 3G, 3GS and 4 as well. But yesterday’s skeptics took a different tone. They didn’t wonder if Apple could succeed or nervously whine about missing features, they collectively shouted that Apple had lost its mojo.

But then there’s the imminent reality check. And from where I’m sitting, the iPhone 4S is oozing with mojo.

Apple’s iPhone 4 provides the most silky smooth user experience on the planet with the firm’s A4 processor running the show. The more powerful dual-core A5 chipset from Apple’s iPad 2 should somehow improve on that already-phenomenal experience, and it will empower Apple’s new golden child, Siri.

It should be noted that I was hugely skeptical of Siri’s significance ahead of Apple’s event on Tuesday, but I’m now singing a different tune. I think the concept and technology behind Apple’s new personal assistant service are phenomenal, and while Siri might not be a huge draw for consumers in the near term, the long-term implications are tremendous. Apple just made smartphones much, much smarter.

On the outside, there is no question that the iPhone 4S is the same device as its predecessor. It might have a revised antenna system, but the similarities are so great that Apple had to include the Newsstand icon in marketing images depicting the phone’s home screen as no distinction would be made otherwise. But is that such a bad thing? The iPhone 4 is still an engineering feat, and I’m not sure a more attractive smartphone exists to this day.

Naysayers said Apple couldn’t cut it selling just one or two smartphone models, and now Apple owns two-thirds of global smartphone industry profits. Led by Apple’s gray-haired iPhone 4, which launched in June 2010, Apple sold more smartphones last quarter than any other vendor on the planet.

The numbers will do the talking over the next few quarters, and I expect Apple’s iPhone sales to continue on the same skyward path right up to next year’s iPhone 5 launch and beyond. As of October 12th, Apple will sell three different smartphone models that range in price from free to $399. The company will address postpaid smartphone buyers from top to bottom, and rumors suggest we may even see an attack on the prepaid market in the near future. No company stays on top forever, of course, but Apple’s new smartphone lineup is hardly that of a company that has begun its descent.

Apple may have fallen from grace in a way, but until competitors can even come close to approaching the allure surrounding Apple devices and the user experiences they afford, don’t expect the company’s grip on the industry to loosen at all.

Samsung Galaxy S II: More diamond, less rough

This is a tough break. Just a day after Motorola unveiled the revival of its iconic RAZR brand, and just hours after Samsung and Google took the wraps off Android 4.0 and the Galaxy Nexus, I decided to finally put my thoughts together on the Galaxy S II review unit Samsung sent me a few weeks ago. Samsung’s Galaxy S II might be the fastest-selling smartphone the vendor has ever released, but it doesn’t have a 7.1-millimeter-thin Kevlar case or a sleek curved glass screen. It doesn’t have 4G LTE speed or a qHD display, and it probably won’t be updated with Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS in the immediate future. But does that mean the millions of consumers who have purchased the device over the past few months should feel that their smartphone of choice has just been outclassed? My thoughts follow below.

It’s a scenario that has become all too familiar: Android smartphone X is unveiled and it has a gorgeous case, specs to die for, a brand new multi-core processor and an ultra-slim case that makes its predecessors look like a DynaTAC. Smartphone fans drool and rush out to buy the new device as soon as it hits store shelves. A few months or even weeks later, Android smartphone Y is unveiled, rendering Android phone X nearly obsolete in enthusiasts’ eyes.

Apropos, recent Galaxy S II buyers around the world were undoubtedly sweating on Tuesday morning as we prepared to see Motorola’s latest and greatest followed by the next-generation Google flagship phone, Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus. Here in the U.S., the Galaxy S II launched just last month so Americans in particular were surely feeling the heat.

When the dust finally settled after the DROID RAZR and Galaxy Nexus had been announced, we were left with two amazing smartphones. They were slim, they were sleek and they left Android fans ready to bite. Unlike product cycles in the past, however, these new flagship phones were hardly a quantum leap past the current crop of Android-powered smartphones. In fact, the cycle of buyer’s remorse may very well have just been broken.

I’m a huge fan of HTC’s Sense UI and I typically gravitate toward the Taiwan-based vendor’s impressive lineup of Android phones as a result. Until recently, my weapon of choice was the Sensation 4G and I’m still a big fan of the device. The build is phenomenal, the display is big and bright but not too big for one-handed use, and the latest version of Sense is flat out beautiful. Then, several weeks ago, I reluctantly put my trusty Sensation in a drawer to begin testing T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II. I haven’t touched it since.

I’ll just come right out with it: the Galaxy S II is my favorite Android phone to date.

When it comes to Samsung’s smartphones, I hold a similar opinion of most devices the vendor has launched in recent years. I call them diamonds in the rough.
To put it bluntly, mounting Samsung displays in the cases that often surround them is akin to mounting a flawless 4-carat diamond on the base of a ring pop. Owners of a Galaxy S, a Focus or any number of other Samsung smartphones will know exactly what I mean. The AMOLED displays on these smartphones are some of the best screens I have ever seen on mobile devices. The vibrant colors put competitors’ smartphone displays to shame, the brightness is beyond impressive and the clarity is phenomenal.
The cheap plastics Samsung uses to encase these gorgeous displays, however, might even make Hasbro’s Playskool division blush.
With the Galaxy S II, Samsung has improved the hardware side of the equation dramatically. Granted, there was so much room for improvement that this dramatic change still leaves the device lagging behind some competitive offerings, but the hardware is finally at a point where it is solid enough to pass as a high-end device. In other words, it no longer draws attention away from Samsung’s beautiful Super AMOLED Plus displays.
The face of the Galaxy S II is flat glass, and I might add that it resists oil from the hands quite well. The back of the phone, at least where T-Mobile’s version is concerned, is a nice textured plastic with a slight rubbery feel. It’s not ultra high-end but it is infinitely better than the cheap plastic back on the Nexus S, for example. The bezel around the edges of the phone is still a bit cheap feeling compared to materials you might find on an HTC device, however, and the Galaxy S II does feel a tad light for its size. All things considered though, 99 out of 100 consumers will be beyond happy with this hardware — and as soon as that magnificent display is lit up, the remaining 1% will likely forget all about any inadequacies where the case is concerned.

Samsung’s TouchWiz UI layer is much improved on the Galaxy S II. It is a touch more refined and less cartoon-like, and there are some new widgets as well. Samsung’s widgets can’t even come close to touching HTC’s Sense widgets, but they get the job done and there are plenty of third-party options to fill in the blanks.
This phone is fast. Forget the specs — which are very impressive, mind you — what matters is a device’s performance and the Galaxy S II performs quite well. Moving around the OS still isn’t as smooth as it is with Windows Phone or iOS, but this is an Android issue that not even Qualcomm’s 1.5GHz dual-core chipset can resolve. Among its peers, however, the S II is much more responsive than other high-end Android phones I’ve tested. Apps open and close instantly, bogging is extremely rare, animations are nice and smooth, and data moves over T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 42 very quickly. In and around New York City, I typically saw download speeds between 2 and 4Mbps and upload speeds around 1Mbps.
My only real complaint regarding this phone is the fact that it’s gigantic. T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II is equipped with a 4.52-inch Super AMOLED Plus display and while it is smaller than the screen on some other devices like the Galaxy Nexus or HTC Titan, it’s still too big for my taste. Smartphones are becoming caricatures of themselves, but smartphone buyers seem to love these mega-screens so onward and upward we go. For me personally, 4-inches is the sweet spot. The entire display can be reached with one-handed use and it’s still big enough to provide a spacious canvass.
With displays bigger than 4 inches, one-handed use is no longer comfortable for me. Holding the Galaxy S II in one hand, for example, I cannot tap the menu button without releasing the phone almost entirely from my grip, balancing it on my pinky and hoping it doesn’t drop as I extend my thumb across the device. It’s ridiculous.
But luckily for me, I have two hands.
I am most certainly looking forward to spending some time with both the Motorola DROID RAZR and Google’s new Galaxy Nexus because they really do look like gorgeous smartphones. The RAZR is slim and sleek, truly deserving of its iconic moniker. The Galaxy Nexus is a beast and it will be the first smartphone to launch with Android 4.0. If I was to be denied the opportunity to handle either of these phones, however, I have to be honest — I wouldn’t be the least bit upset. They look incredible, that much is certain, but neither phone brings with it a unique feature set that is compelling enough to draw me away from the Galaxy S II.

Microsoft’s Ballmer: Android phones are boring, overcomplicated

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has never been one to mince words, and the executive shared a few choice thoughts on Google’s Android platform while speaking at the Web 2.0 conference on Tuesday.

“You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone, but I think you do to use an Android phone,”

Ballmer told Federated Media founder John Battelle during an interview on stage. He continued, “It is very hard to be excited, for me, about the Android phones.”

 Despite the platform’s innovative user experience and its slick UI, sales of Windows Phone handsets have not been impressive thus far. Microsoft has been hesitant to share hard numbers and partners have followed suit, but recent estimates suggest Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market may have hit a new low in the second quarter of 2011.

Nokia is expected by many to be the catalyst that helps establish Windows Phone as a major player, however, and Ballmer confirmed that Nokia is set to unveil “a bunch” of new Windows Phones at Nokia World next week.

Google unveils Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich

During a press event in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Google officially took the wraps off of its latest Android operating system dubbed “Ice Cream Sandwich,” alongside the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Android 4.0 combines several of the features already available in the tablet-focused Android 3.x (Honeycomb) OS with the smartphone features available in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). It will power both tablets and smartphones, and it offers several enhancements. For example, users can unlock an Ice Cream Sandwich device using face recognition. Android 4.0 also has a new cleaner “Roboto” typeface and an extensive UI makeover. Read on for more.

The lock screen in Android 4.0 can be used to quickly unlock the phone or launch the camera, and users can also access notifications directly. “Back,” “Home” and “Menu” are now part of the Android virtual user interface and hardware buttons are no longer needed. Button presses have been replaced in many cases by gestures, too. Users can add revamped and resizable widgets, similar to those available on Android 3.x (Honeycomb). Just like in iOS, users can drag icons on top of one another to create folders on the desktop. Ice Cream Sandwich also adds native screenshot capturing; users simply have to hold the home button and tap the volume-down key. The keyboard has improved error correction, better suggestions and an in-line spellchecker, and cut/copy/paste is now also consistent throughout Android 4.0.

Android 4.0 has a new tab management system in the Web browser. Users can keep up to 16 tabs open, view a live preview of each and quickly switch between them. Tabs can be closed by flicking them off of the screen much like webOS or RIM’s tablet OS. Google also automatically syncs bookmarks to your Android browser from Chrome, and users can save pages for offline reading. Gmail has been updated with two-line previews, an action bar for quickly composing a message, searching and more. Finally, Google has added offline search to Gmail in Android 4.0, and YouTube, Maps, Music and Google+ have also been updated.

Ice Cream Sandwich will also provide users with monthly data usage figures, complete with warnings for when a user surpasses a certain data allotment. It can automatically cut off all mobile data should you pass the cap, too.

The camera application offers a revamped sharing UI for quickly sending photos to social networks, and the camera has zero shutter lag. Ice Cream Sandwich also comes equipped with photo editing tools tools for removing red eye, cropping and more. The photo album has a new “magazine style” layout that can be organized by people, geotagged locations or by album.

A new “People” application pulls in contact information and photos from social networks for your whole address book. Whenever a contact updates his or her info, it is also automatically updated on your phone. Any social network can access the new People app using Google’s Android 4.0 APIs, and contacts are easily accessible from a fully revamped phone application.

The Galaxy Nexus is the first Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich phone and the SDK is available now for all Android developers.

iPhone 4S Owners Ask: Where Did You Go, Siri?

Some owners of Apple’s new iPhone 4S are having problems connecting to Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant. Exclusive to the new iPhone, the voice recognition software allows users to place phone calls, check the weather, order car services or even find out the location of the nearest Thai restaurant.

But for many people, the assistant is taking some unapproved time off. ”Siri hasn’t shown up for work today. #c’monapple,” tweeted Rusty Anderson.

Some users started having problems on Friday, the day the iPhone 4S went on sale, according to CNet, with many saying that the app was not connecting to process voice commands. The software requires the use of a Wi-Fi or 3G network to access the Apple servers that power the app’s answers.

A thread on Apple.com entitled “Siri is not working AT ALL on new iPhone 4S. Anyone else having trouble?” has over 9500 views and 140 replies.

CNet reported that one theory for the software’s failure could be that Apple’s servers are simply too swamped. Over four million new iPhones have been sold since its launch last week.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple blames iPhone rumors for disappointing results

Apple Inc stunned Wall Street by reporting results that missed expectations for the first time in years, blaming rumors of the new iPhone for hurting demand in the September quarter.

Shares of Apple fell 7 percent in extended trading on Tuesday, wiping some $27 billion off the value of the world's largest technology company.

It was Apple's first quarterly earnings under Chief Executive Tim Cook, who took over from Steve Jobs in August at a critical juncture for the company. Apple is battling Google Inc in the mobile arena, as well as other challengers such as Samsung and Amazon.com Inc.

"Investors are going to start to speculate that there is change under way now that Jobs is gone, and that there's trouble ahead. We don't share that point," said Channing Smith, co-manager at Capital Advisors Growth Fund, which holds Apple shares.

"The iPhone is where the weakness was and it's an explainable one. The strong demand for the iPhone 4S set up strong demand for the holiday season."

Apple said it sold 17.07 million iPhones in its fiscal fourth quarter ended September 24 -- well short of the roughly 20 million forecast by analysts. The iPhone is Apple's flagship product, yielding some 40 percent of annual sales.

Revenue rose 39 percent to $28.27 billion, lower than the average analyst estimate of $29.69 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. It was the first time Apple missed revenue expectations since the fiscal fourth quarter of 2008.

Net profit was $6.62 billion, or $7.05 a share. That fell shy of expectations for earnings of $7.39 per share. The last time Apple missed EPS estimates was in the first quarter of 2001, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"Expectations for this company were red-hot, that is why we downgraded it," said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis, who lowered his rating on the shares days before. "The reality is their business is not an annuity. They have to sell their quarter's worth of revenue every 90 days."

"They had a big upgrade cycle with the iPhone, the numbers came in weak. They need to set records every time they report to keep up the momentum."

Apple executives said consumers had postponed purchase decisions until the crucial holiday quarter because of speculation that a new phone was on the way. Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S in early October, and it hit stores last Friday.

Apple -- which typically offers projections so conservative they are disregarded -- on Tuesday forecast December quarter revenue and earnings above Wall Street's estimates.

"There's no question this was a transition quarter ahead of the 4S," said WP Stewart portfolio manager Michael Walker. "With the early pace of iPhone 4S sales, my guess is that disappointment is relatively short-lived."

"I'm not going to call Q3 a throwaway quarter for iPhones, but it was definitely a transition."

A PERIOD OF TRANSITION

Cook started his first earnings conference call as CEO by honoring Jobs, who died on October 5 after a years-long battle against pancreatic cancer.

He said he was "very confident" of posting record iPhone sales in the current quarter. The company moved 4 million iPhone 4S units -- more than double its predecessor -- in its first three days, despite lukewarm reviews.

Another area for optimism for Apple was iPads. The company moved 11.12 million units during the quarter despite attempts by various manufacturers, including Samsung, to capture a slice of the tablet market. Now Amazon.com has also entered the fray with its Kindle Fire tablet.

Acknowledging the competition, Cook said it was "reasonable to say" none of Apple's rivals have gained any traction, and he expected the tablet market to be bigger than personal computer in the long term.

Cook also told analysts that Greater China -- mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan -- was becoming an all-important region for Apple as it has "quickly become No. 2 on our list of top revenue countries very, very quickly." Revenue from the region increased four-fold to $4.5 billion during the quarter.

The new CEO fielded questions on Apple's cash pile of over $81 billion, saying the money provided flexibility for acquisitions and investing in the supply chain.

"That said, I'm not religious about holding cash or not holding it," he added. "It's a topic for the board on an ongoing basis."

Apple's Mac sales saw a large spike during the September quarter but it failed to lift earnings. Apple sold 4.89 million Macs, up 27 percent from a year ago.

Gross margin came to 40.3 percent -- a tad higher than Wall Street's forecast of 39.74 percent. International sales accounted for 63 percent of the quarter's revenue.

"We expected iPhone sales to decline in the September quarter from the June quarter as a result of the announcements we made ... in June, where we said we would launch iOS 5 and iCloud in fall," Peter Oppenheimer, Chief Financial Officer, said in an interview with Reuters.

"That basically created the rumor of the day across the September quarter, especially at the end."

Apple said it expected December quarter earnings of $9.30 a share on revenue of about $37 billion. Wall Street is projecting $9.01 for the period, but it was unclear if that was comparable.

"What is interesting is the guidance is less conservative than usual for their next quarter. It's a timing issue, where it looks like the business that people thought would be in the September quarter is occurring in the December quarter," said Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu.

Apple shares fell to $394.78 in after-hours trading, after closing at $422.24 on the Nasdaq.

Amazon's tablet may be hottest holiday gadget


The Kindle Fire tablet may be the hottest selling gadget this holiday, pressuring Amazon.com Inc's profit margins but giving the world's largest Internet retailer potentially millions of new high-spending customers.
Since Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos unveiled the tablet at a lower-than-expected price of $199 on September 28, some analysts have increased their sales estimates for the device.
Amazon got 95,000 Fire pre-orders on its first day and has been averaging about 20,000 a day since then, email-monitoring firm eDataSource estimated. The device ships November 15.
Technology blog AllThingsD reported on October 6 that Amazon is selling over 25,000 Fires a day, citing unidentified sources close to the company.
"The rumored numbers out on the Web are far too low," said Mark Gerber, an analyst at Detwiler Fenton & Co. "Really strong pre-orders and the surprising $199 price means they will easily do five million units this quarter."
Gerber previously expected Amazon to sell three to four million Fire tablets in the fourth quarter.
Amazon declined to comment. But Gerber and other analysts will be watching closely for clues on tablet orders when the company reports results on October 25.
The company is expected to make a third-quarter profit of 24 cents a share on revenue of $10.93 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
A SECOND TABLET
Peter Rojas, head of gdgt.com and co-founder of gadget websites Gizmodo and Engadget, expects the Kindle Fire to be the hottest holiday product this season, ahead of Roku Internet TV boxes and Canon's new PowerShot S100 camera.
The Fire's $199 price means people who already own Apple Inc's more expensive iPad will buy the device as a second tablet for their family, Rojas said.
"A lot of people started to have more than one computer in the home in recent years and cheaper netbooks fulfilled that need perfectly," Rojas told Reuters. "The Kindle Fire could meet the demand for a second tablet."
Other buyers will be people who dislike Apple or passed on buying an iPad because it was too expensive, Rojas noted.
"They have been waiting for that iPad alternative to emerge and it never did," Rojas said. "Amazon played it smart -- there's just enough dissatisfaction out there with iPad alternatives."
NEW TABLET SEGMENT
Apple's iPad created a new segment of the personal computer market and now Amazon has created a new segment of the tablet market, according to Dominic Field, a partner at The Boston Consulting Group and author of a recent report on the tablet market.
"Our research suggests that $199 is the price point that mass market America was looking for in a tablet," Field said. "This is the point at which it moves from being a very successful phenomenon for early adopters to the mass consumer market."
Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, recently raised his Fire sales estimate to five million units in the fourth quarter, from an earlier forecast of three million.
There was initially a problem with the supply of displays for the device, but this has been fixed, Kumar said.
"They are priming the supply chain for this to be a blockbuster product under a lot of people's Christmas trees this season," he added.
Colin Sebastian, an analyst at RW Baird, has published a fourth-quarter sales estimate of three million Fire tablets, but he said five million units are possible if Amazon avoids production, shipping and other bottlenecks.
MARGINS VS. PRIME
Initially, Kindle Fire sales will dent Amazon's profitability, partly because the company is selling the device close to cost or even at a slight loss.
Dan Geiman, an analyst at McAdams Wright Ragen, expects Amazon's operating profit margin to fall to 1.5 percent in the third quarter from 3.5 percent a year earlier.
However, getting the tablet into as many hands as possible may drive higher sales and profit at Amazon in coming years, Geiman and others said.
The Kindle Fire comes with one month of Amazon Prime for free and the device is expected to encourage more customers to sign up for the service.
The Prime service costs $79 a year in the United States and includes free two-day shipping on eligible Amazon purchases. It also gives members free access to instant streaming of more than 12,000 movies and TV shows.
Amazon has over 12 million Prime customers and they buy at least three times more products after they sign up for the service, according to estimates from ChannelAdvisor, a software provider that helps retailers sell online.
UBS analysts Brian Pitz and Brian Fitzgerald estimate that Prime members increase purchases by five to eight times, a year or more after joining.
ChannelAdvisor expects Amazon to sell more than five million Fire tablets in the fourth quarter and more than 20 million next year.
The UBS analysts have more conservative sales estimates. But if half of Kindle Fire users sign up for Prime, Amazon could end 2012 with more than 20 million "heavy-spending" Prime subscribers, they said.

Cisco, networking companies deal with more bad news

Wall Street underestimated the effect of cuts in government spending on the networking industry and may have to curtail its expectations again with growing fears of a global economic slowdown.

Cisco Systems, which since last year has warned that government spending cuts will include network equipment, reports its quarterly results on Wednesday. Investors expect a weak outlook after Juniper Networks and Brocade Communications Systems slashed their forecasts.

The companies' shares have been punished in a big selloff for an industry touted as high-growth because of the advent of multimedia streaming, smartphones and demand from China.

Adding to concerns about the economy and government spending, debt ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the United States' long-term credit rating on Friday, citing concerns about the nation's budget deficits and climbing debt.

"If you're an IT manager and you're looking at your capital budget and you see all this craziness going on in the world right now, are you inclined to be little bit more conservative? I think the answer has to be yes," said Jefferies analyst George Notter.

Cisco's John Chambers, one of the most influential chief executives in Silicon Valley, warned investors a year ago of "unusual uncertainty" in the economy and he has continued to be cautious about public-sector spending.

Analysts have also blamed missteps by the world's top manufacturer of routers and switches for the slowdown in its business, saying it was losing market share to rivals including Juniper and Hewlett-Packard. Cisco is overhauling itself and cutting jobs as it tries to revive growth.

But the warnings by Juniper and Brocade underscore how much broader economic issues plague the business.

"John Chambers has been citing slowdowns that weren't showing up in other parts of the industry. So the issue of how much was Cisco-specific and how much was (sector) specific has been a raging debate. Now we've found out Cisco has some company in the slowdown," said BGC analyst Colin Gillis.

IN POOR COMPANY

Investors vaporized almost a third of Brocade's stock value on Friday after the company cut its quarterly forecast because of cutbacks at federal agencies and softer-than-expected corporate IT spending. And late in July, Juniper saw $3 billion of its market capitalization vanish in a single session after it issued a bleak profit forecast.

High U.S. unemployment and the threat of financial crises in Europe have spurred caution among telecom carriers that once rushed to build out infrastructure in anticipation of a boom in bandwidth-gobbling Internet, smartphone and tablet use.

"The market is weakening," said Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu. "Because of this environment, the service providers and corporations want to keep spending on a leash. The lead times are very short."

A recent deal by U.S. legislators to reduce the federal budget means the U.S. government is also likely to buy less networking equipment. Cisco depends on government spending for about a fifth of its sales.

Wu said he was optimistic about the business's long-term prospects as fast-growing adoption of smartphones and other mobile gadgets spurs demand for bigger and better networks and data centers.

Investors sitting on the fence will want to hear Chambers out on Wednesday. Cisco's fiscal fourth quarter runs through July, later than many of its peers, offering investors a more updated look at the industry.

Its global scale and a clientele spanning businesses and government agencies had made it one of the technology sector's bellwethers.

But it has its own issues, or in Chambers words, "lost its way" after spending too freely on consumer initiatives. In July, Cisco said it planned to cut 15 percent of its workforce and sell a set-top box factory in Mexico as part of an effort to slash annual expenses by $1 billion.

Its shares have slid 30 percent so far this year.

Cisco's revenue is expected to be $10.976 billion for the July quarter and $10.994 billion for the current quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Asus' new Android Transformer tablet going quad-core

Asus Chairman Jonney Shih unveiled his company's next-generation Android tablet today, a 10-inch model in the Transformer family that will come with Nvidia's quad-core Kal-El processor.

Shih, speaking at All Things Digital AsiaD conference in Hong Kong, said the model will be 8.3 millimeters thick and features USB and mini HDMI ports, but reserved further details for a formal launch on November 9, according to All Things Digital's report. The tablet is called the Transformer Prime, according to Endgadget.

Asus already has a similar product on the market, the EeePad Transformer, with a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and signature feature, a detachable keyboard that can make the tablet look more like a laptop. It's not clear if the keyboard module for the EeePad Transformer will work with the new model.

It seems likely the new Transformer will come with Ice Cream Sandwich, version 4.0 of Google's Android operating system for mobile devices. Android 3.x, aka Honeycomb, was a stopgap measure intended to help Android tablets reach the market as soon as possible, but Ice Cream Sandwich is a more finished product and won't be out of sync with the OS version running on Android phones. Shih said Ice Cream Sandwich could arrive on tablets "maybe earlier" than the end of the year.

Asus has set high expectations for its tablet family, predicting earlier this year that Asus would outship all other tablet makers except Apple.

Asus also offered a tease video of the Transformer Prime yesterday. It showed a close-up view of the keyboard, including a USB port, and the combination screen and tablet detaching from it.

Nvidia already powers most Android tablets today, and it seems likely that its new quad-core Nvidia chip will be a prime selling point as Android tablet makers strive to compete with Apple's incumbent iPad.

Yesterday, Android chief Andy Rubin said at the conference that 6 million Android tablets have been sold. By comparison, Apple said Tuesday that it's sold 32 million iPads so far.

How Apple screwed up the iPad music app with iOS 5

commentary "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is a motto that Apple should have applied to the iPad's new Music app.

iPad users who updated to iOS 5 may have noticed that the old iPod app is now named Music, a name that makes sense. But other changes to the app have ticked off users by making playing and managing music on the tablet decidedly less user-friendly.

What's even more confusing is that these changes are specific to the iPad. The music app on the iPhone and iPod Touch works the same as always, post iOS 5. I don't understand why Apple would not only tinker with something that worked fine before but only tinker with it on the iPad.

And apparently I'm not the only one.

The Apple Support Forums have seen various discussion threads and posts critical of the new Music App.

One commenter named Trager summed it up as follows:

   " I have no idea what they were thinking. I suppose it still performs the function of playing music, but it's awful for music management now, and they removed the ability to use playlists for navigation while editing playlists. The faux old radio look is pretty bad, but what's really killing me is the navigation stuff. I keep a lot of playlists on my iPad, and not being able to see the list of playlists and the contents of the currently selected one at the same time just *****."

Prior to iOS 5, the iPad's music app worked relatively smoothly.

Your library of music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other content appeared on the left, letting you easily jump from one category to another. Tapping on a specific category displayed the names and thumbnails of each album, podcast, or other item on the right. Tapping on a specific item showed you its contents, allowing you to play a specific song or track.

Tapping on certain items, such as a song, podcast, or iTunes U lecture would display a screen with a larger version of the album art or other image and a full set of controls to play and manage the audio. You could easily jump backward or forward, move to the previous or next track, pause and play the audio, loop or shuffle the selections, and rewind the audio by 30 seconds. A handy button in the lower right let you switch between the image and the names of all the tracks. The interface was smooth and simple to use.

But with iOS 5, Apple got rid of the music app's smooth and simple UI and replaced it with something that simply doesn't work very well.



Now when you open the app, you no longer see your library of music items on the left. Instead, you have to tap among a list of categories at the bottom. If you want to see your podcasts, audiobooks, or iTunes U content, you have to tap on a More category to display them. And unlike on the iPhone's music app, there's no way to edit which categories appear at the bottom on the iPad, so you're stuck with Apple's default choices.

Tapping on a specific item no longer by default displays a full music player with the album art in the background. Instead, you stay on the same screen, only with a stark, minimal set of controls added to the top. You can play and pause the audio, move along the track, jump from one track to another, and control the volume. But that's about it.
Tapping on a tiny thumbnail at the top of the screen does offer a different interface, similar in some ways to the older full music player. Here you can see the full-screen album art and switch between the picture view and a view of individual tracks.
The controls in this full audio player sport a more pleasant look and feel, but still seem half baked. There are no options for looping or shuffling your audio or to rewind 30 seconds. The progress bar that lets you move forward or backward along a song is much smaller than in the previous version, making it more difficult to use accurately.