Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sprint iPhone Deal

Sprint Corp. came out with the most aggressive offer yet on Apple Inc. iPhone prices by offering a free phone with a trade-in, challenging its larger peers to follow suit or face subscriber losses with bargain-hunting customers.

Starting Monday, new and existing Sprint customers can get an iPhone 8 if they trade in an iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S8 or Samsung Note 8. People with older iPhones, and recent models from Samsung, Motorola, Google Inc. and LG Electronics Inc. can qualify for half-off prices on the iPhone 8, according to a Sprint statement.

After vowing to avoid a repeat of the blistering iPhone price war of last year, Sprint set the lowest price yet this time around. Last week, AT&T Inc. started the battle by offering a buy-one-get-one-free iPhone deal for customers who also subscribe to its DirecTV satellite service.

AT&T’s promotion started Friday and applies to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, among other phones. Neither Sprint nor At&T have said whether their deals will be extended to Apple’s most expensive phone ever -- the $999 iPhone X, aka 10 -- which marks a decade since the company entered the phone business.

With almost every person in the U.S. having at least one phone, the carriers are under pressure to find new customers. Last year, the wireless companies got tangled in cut-throat pricing on the iPhone, an episode the top four carriers didn’t want to repeat. The giveaways took a toll on margins, costing about $200 per subscriber in the second half of 2016, according to Jefferies Group LLC.

“We led the way with free iPhones last year and within a few days, everybody had copied it and we looked at ourselves and said, OK, well, what exactly did that accomplish? Not a lot,” T-Mobile US Inc. Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said Thursday at an investor conference.
So far this year, T-Mobile has stayed true to its vow and steered clear of giveaways. Instead, the company offers a $300 trade-in credit for customers buying the iPhone X, as well as the new 8 and 8 Plus. The trade-in must be an iPhone 6 or newer.

Sprint fell 1.3 percent to $7.59 at 11:30 a.m. in New York, while T-Mobile slid 0.3 percent to $61.01.

The other top carriers have been relatively restrained so far.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nintendo Switch Sales

Nintendo had the best-selling console once again last month, according to the industry-tracking firm The NPD Group. The hybrid handheld/home Switch system outsold Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The system has performed better than the competition in recent months likely due to Nintendo’s supply keeping up with demand.

The Switch debuted in March for $300.

“The Nintendo Switch was August’s best-selling hardware platform,” NPD analyst Mat Piscatella said. “The Nintendo Switch has been the best-selling platform in four of the six months since launching in March 2017.”

When Switch hasn’t topped the chart, Sony has stepped up.

“Sony’s PlayStation 4 was the best-selling platform in both May and June,” said Piscatella. “Sony’s PlayStation 4 continues to be the best-selling hardware platform year to date.”

But while the Switch and PlayStation 4 are doing great, hardware sales overall dropped 6 percent year-over-year to $168 million. That’s because the Xbox One and older systems like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are dragging down sales relative to last August. Sales of the Xbox One are slowing down because Microsoft is preparing to launch the upgraded Xbox One X system November 7, so consumers are likely holding back until that is available. This has not had a significant impact on the overall consumer spending on hardware this year, though.
“Year to date, hardware spending has grown 17 percent versus 2016 to $1.7 billion,” said Piscatella. “Consumer spending on Nintendo Switch and plug-‘n’-play devices, such as the NES Classic, are providing growth.”

That growth should continue moving forward. The aforementioned Xbox One X should give a boost to the revenue Microsoft generates — especially since it is debuting at $500. But Switch should continue to sell at a fast pace as Super Mario Odyssey debuts next month alongside a new hardware bundle that will include the game.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Samsung in Your Car

Samsung has announced a $300 million fund to invest in a range of automotive technologies.

The new Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund will invest in connected car and autonomous driving technologies covering artificial intelligence (AI), machine vision, smart sensors, safety features, cybersecurity, and more. The fund’s first investment will be in Austria’s TTTech, a company specializing in safety, networking, and software integration for ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) and automated driving platforms. Samsung revealed it will invest €75 million ($89 million) in the company.

The Korean electronics giant has made no secret of its intentions in the broader automotive realm and has been ramping up efforts in research and development for products relating to transport for a while now.

Samsung has made previous investments in battery technology for electric vehicles, including investments in California-based Seeo, which develops rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and StoreDot, a company that’s building instant-charging batteries for electric cars. Back in 2015, Samsung went all in on its electric car ambitions when its “materials and energy” subsidiary, Samsung SDI, acquired an entire battery business from Magna International.

Samsung has also filed for patents in both the U.S. and South Korea for technology that can be used in electric vehicles. The plans include “tires, motors, as well as on-board electronics for information sharing between the car and driver.”

The company also invested in startups such as Vinli, which is setting out to create an app ecosystem for cars. And Samsung later launched Samsung Connect Auto, which offers in-car services like Wi-Fi to keep drivers online. If there was any remaining doubt about Samsung’s intentions in the connected car sphere, last November the company announced plans to acquire Harman — which specializes in connected car software and services — in a whopping $8 billion deal.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Acronis True Image 2018

By Robert Sanborn

One of the things I have noticed with computers that as the prices of the boxes comes down, so does the reliability inside. The last time I built myself a machine, I have discovered that (besides the Intel processor) using an Asus mainboard, Antec Case, Crucial Memory, and Western Digital Black hard drive while still costing me nearly $900 I could count on the thing running for several years without any problems. But if you look at the machines available today at the lower cost of $299 and up, you see that you are getting one with a warranty of only 90 days and a year if you are lucky. Low prices also means cheaper components. Which also means a much higher failure rate. I got my first IBM PC in 1981 and I have digital images that started with one of the early cameras in 1997. That is over 20 years of pictures stored away. So you could say I am a bit obsessed about keeping things backed up and the software I am using right now is Acronis True Image 2018.

Acronis has been around for years and is one of the more highly rated backup solutions for personal computers and the new version has some nice new features to not only keep things backed up, but give you better protection as well. Of course every new version has its only look and feel and sometimes that can be good or not but I like the looks of the new version, it is easy to see what the status of your backup is and it clearly tells you what has been done and what will be backed up. Another new feature is Acronis Active Protection which is another means and layer to protect your computer from ransomware attacks. It will prevent ransomware from encrypting your files. The Security Dashboard monitors the number of processes that have been flagged as dangerous to let you know what has been blocked. It will be interesting to see how well this program plays with my current network security program Kaspersky.  Another new feature is that you have the ability to do active cloning which means you can clone a copy of your Windows system to an external device while Windows is running. I also use it to back up to an external network attached storage unit so having the WinPE Media Builder allows me to create the recover disc to connect to the storage unit and recover my data. And finally, there is a component for your Wireless mobile device to automatically back it up to your computer or even an attached storage device.

There is a useful cleanup component of True Image 2018 that is quite useful for cleaning out temp files, history, recycle bin, and a lot of the loose ends that end up on the computer, those things that most of us never get around to doing including the hard disk free space.
Acronis True Image is an annual subscription based purchase product if you want more than the simple backup standard version which is $49. The advanced is $49 per year and the Premium is $99 per year.  Big differences beyond the standard is backing up to network or cloud storage; Blockchain certification and electronic signatures; social media backup; and having up to 1TB of cloud storage; and of course, phone support if you need it.

All in all, I still like what I have seen with Acronis True Image and feel confident that it is backing up my data and I can get to it so it is a definite keeper.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Here Comes Xiaomi

Due to the complicated nature of the Asian smartphone market with each country/region having its own set of preferences, needs and spending power, Chinese tech giants like Xiaomi often have to build region-specific devices. These devices are usually only on sale "officially" at that designated country/region, and as such, the software and telecommunication bands are only optimized for that part of the world.

This is fine to the average consumer, who tend to buy phones that are officially available to them in their city/country anyway. But to tech geeks who often import products, this creates issues. The original Mi Mix is a good example. The device was meant to be released in China only, so it only contained the China version of Xiaomi's MIUI Android skin. Because Google is banned on the mainland, Xiaomi's "China ROM" version of MIUI is not optimized to run its apps. You can still install them if you want, but there's no guarantee they will run optimally. To this day, all the Google apps on my Mi Mix 1 have bugs (it keeps asking me for "body sensor" permission every few days).

The Mi Mix also lacks LTE bands in the U.S, meaning the phone can only get on 3G networks with certain U.S carriers.

Thankfully, with the Mi Mix 2, Xiaomi has opened up the phone for a global audience. The Mi Mix 2, as I reported in my review, will come with the "Global ROM" version of MIUI, which has been fully optimized to work with Google. More important, its modem supports 43 network bands, including "all U.S. LTE bands," according to Xiaomi's product management director Donovan Sung.

"We are launching this phone globally," Sung said to me during our meeting last week, before immediately clarifying that the phone will be on sale "officially" only in markets that Xiaomi already has a presence in (that's 40+ countries). But Sung seems to want me to read between the lines: "Well, it won't be on sale in the U.S., but it supports all U.S. bands, if you know what I mean."

That means American techies who frequently import devices won't have to worry about whether or not the Mi Mix 2 will work on their networks, whether it's T-Mobile, Sprint or whatever.

This is a big step for Xiaomi to grow in the west. As someone who covers Chinese handsets here on Forbes and on YouTube, I know there is quite a bit of interest in these Chinese devices that seem to pack insane specs (the Chinese version of the Galaxy Note 8, for example, will get a RAM upgrade over the vanilla U.S. editions) at jaw-dropping prices. For almost every one of these devices, the question I get most is, "Does this have U.S. LTE bands?"

Usually, my answer is "No." With the Mi Mix 2, finally, techies can import without fear of network compatibility or Google apps crashing. Xiaomi has freed the phone to Americans, so to speak.

This might come in handy in a few hours as some Americans will probably scoff at the $1,000+ price tag of Apple's new bezel-less phone.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Apple AR

Say goodbye to living in just one plane of reality.

That’s because Apple announced today the release of its ARKit, a set of software tools that makes possible high-quality augmented reality (AR) seen through Apple iPhones and iPads.
It overlays 3D graphics, animation and photo-realistic objects on what we used to call the real world, in ways that take the next step beyond the Pokémon Go phenomenon last year.

With this wide availability of AR, marketing platform Wyng co-founder Wendell Lansford told me via email, AR will change “from a novelty to a viable marketing vehicle, and create new paid and owned marketing opportunities for brands and agencies.”

Its broad availability on Apple devices with iOS 11 (out tomorrow), plus comparable technology that Google is releasing for Androids, means that AR — after years of teasing — is now a full channel for entertainment, advertising, education, games and whatever else multi-plane imaginations can create.

The launch announcement was part of the iPhone 10th anniversary event today, which also featured new iPhones and new versions of the Apple Watch and Apple TV. In addition to the new phone models, the ARKit can work on any iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, iPhone SE, iPad Pro and 2017 iPad with the new iOS. In other words, by next year, an estimated half a billion iOS devices are expected to have this capability.

“I share all the enthusiasm in the world for this new consumer interaction model,” AdColony SVP for Strategy Ryan Griffin told me, including the possibility that AR-based advertising could someday be distributed programmatically.

‘Dive in and learn’
AR “is now on the launching pad” in ways that Pokémon Go doesn’t appear to have been, he added, noting that he had a good deal of experience with that pioneering game.

But, Griffin said, he would advise brands to first “dive in to learn” how consumers will use this new medium, and don’t try to sell things yet.

The ARKit, which was previewed in June at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, utilizes device motion tracking, camera scene capture and advanced scene processing so that the overlays know their positions in the physical world by detecting their position from the device. This means they can get bigger or smaller as you walk toward or away from them, or they can bump into walls.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Vivint IPO

Blackstone Group LP is preparing for an initial public offering or sale of smart-home technology company Vivint, in what's shaping up to be a successful deal for the buyout giant.

Blackstone recently invited investment banks to pitch for a so-called dual-track process that could lead to an IPO or sale of Vivint, people familiar with the matter said. A deal could value Vivint at more than $3 billion, or $6 billion including debt, some of them said. The latter would be about three times what Blackstone paid for the company five years ago.

Vivint sells smart locks, security cameras, burglary-detection systems and other such items and services. Demand for connected homes, cars and other gadgets is rising as the functionality of hand-held devices improves and consumers spend more time on them. Last year, Qualcomm Inc. agreed to buy rival NXP Semiconductors NV for about $40 billion, a deal that would give the tech company more exposure to the automotive industry -- a major area of growth for chip and software providers.

Home security has been a lucrative niche for private-equity firms lately. Apollo Global Management LLC last year bought Vivint competitor ADT Corp. in a nearly $7 billion deal, and is already preparing an IPO that could value the company at well over $15 billion including debt, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Two years after it bought Vivint in 2012, Blackstone took sister company Vivint Solar public. Last year, the maker of solar panels terminated a planned merger with SunEdison Inc. after SunEdison's board began investigating claims from both a former and a current employee challenging the accuracy of SunEdison's financial disclosures.

Private-equity firms often run a dual-track process when they are ready to exit an investment, in part because it can give them more leverage with potential acquirers. Their preference is usually to sell the entire company, if they can get the right price -- an outcome that may be all the more desirable now given recent volatility in the IPO market.