Friday, January 31, 2014

February ePub

The February issue of our monthly ePub was emailed out today. It contains the first half of our CES coverage and should not be missed.

Let me know if you'd like a copy.

Lenovo Buys Motorla from Google

Lenovo has quickly become a smartphone player by tackling emerging markets as well as China, while strategically leaving the U.S. untouched. That strategy is changing: Lenovo is buying Google's Motorola handset business.

Google confirmed after markets closed on Wednesday that Lenovo has acquired Motorola Mobility in a deal valued at $2.91 billion, just two years after the search giant bought it for $12.5 billion.

Lenovo will pay $1.41 billion when the deal closes in cash and shares, and the remainder will be in a $1.5 billion note over three years.

In a company blog post, Motorola confirmed that Google will retain the "vast majority" of the patents it acquired when it first bought the mobile company in 2011, including "current patent applications and invention disclosures." Lenovo will license the patents as part of an ongoing relationship with the search giant.

So, it turns out that Google's Motorola Mobility purchase was really about the patents after all.
Lenovo, which has been on an acquisition spree and recently bought IBM's x86 server business, just reorganized around mobility, enterprise, PC, and cloud services. Lenovo will beef up its mobile unit with the purchase of Google's Motorola Mobility, the unit behind the Moto X.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chromebook Sales Soaring

Google's Chromebook platform is making significant headway within US education, and is emerging as a contender to Apple's dominance of the market, according to new research from Futuresource Consulting. In Q3 2013, Chromebooks accounted for a fifth of all mobile devices shipped into US K-12 education and early indications show this growth continued in the final quarter of the year, accounting for one in every four devices shipped.

Looking back to 2012, Chromebooks made up less than 1% of all devices shipped within the US education market, while Apple products - including iOS and MacOS devices - captured over 50% of sales. Moving into 2013, preliminary figures show Chromebooks have grown to account for almost 20% of all devices shipped within the US over the entire year, with uptake increasing and more hardware providers now offering variations of the platform.

There are a number of factors that are making Chromebooks appeal to educational institutions in the USA. The biggest of these is the cost of the hardware, and the cost of ownership when compared to other solutions.

"Chromebooks present a number of benefits to the education market which go further than just offering cheaper hardware," says Phil Maddocks, Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. "While savings can be made on the cost of the hardware alone, the majority of the cost savings originate from within infrastructure and device management. As Chromebooks are cloud-based devices, the security, device management, and even core content creation apps such as Google Docs are run in the cloud, which produces cost reduction on both managing and setting up the devices, as well as some software licensing costs."

One of the other major considerations for education in the USA is the use of mobile computing devices for Common Core Assessments in 2014, with both PARCC and SBAC stipulating the use of a computing device to complete the assessments. As well as this, both PARCC and SBAC have stipulated hardware specifications that devices must adhere to, relating to screen size and the availability of an external keyboard. This has also been a driving force behind the uptake of Chromebooks this year, as every Chromebook device fulfils the minimum specification, while touch-based devices such as iPads and Android-based tablets will require an external keyboard to be used for these assessments.

"Chromebooks are filling an important gap within education," says Kate Russell, Research Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. "Along with the inherent reduced cost and the ability to accommodate set specifications, Chromebooks allow schools to provide devices that give students a portal to an ever-growing array of content. As well as website-based content, the devices also allow the user to create individual content using a variety of web apps, as well as providing access to 'Google in Education', which caters for both teachers and students at various grade levels."

Looking ahead to 2014, uptake of Chromebooks is likely to increase as several traditional PC manufacturers including Samsung, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Dell, and Toshiba are all now producing low cost Chromebook devices, with Dell explicitly targeting the education market with their first Chromebook device. While each device features similar hardware specifications, the main differences come in the form of appearance and price, as well as the additional services and support the different hardware manufacturers offer to purchasers. Futuresource expects more hardware providers to launch Chromebooks over the course of 2014, further increasing competition in the market.

"Source: Futuresource Consulting"

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Samsung and LG Gain Ground

Netbiscuits, today released its latest quarterly Web Trends Report, revealing big mobile traffic gains for Samsung and LG year-on-year, as Apple device usage stagnated and BlackBerry dropped to its lowest levels to date. The report, based on a sample of over a billion web hits per month rather than device sales figures, also revealed that consumers turned to devices with bigger screens in 2013, placing more pressure on brands to deliver consistent web experiences to an increasingly fragmented market.

Consumers look for more diversity as Apple stagnates
Netbiscuits report showed that Apple’s share of traffic fell slightly to 35.2% in the fourth quarter of 2013, while Samsung showed the greatest gain, reaching 31.6% and LG climbed 2.4% from the third quarter to 4.9%. Across the top 100 devices on the Netbiscuits Platform, Apple commands a 40.6% share with 10 devices. Samsung captures 32.9% but requires more than double (22 devices) to achieve this, with many more local country variants and screen sizes.

Size matters as consumers show an appetite for larger screens
As BlackBerry disappeared from Netbiscuits top ten device list, so too did representation for smartphones with screens under 3 inches. All screen sizes above 4 inches recorded a significant increase in traffic, while the biggest loser was the 3 to 3.9 inch segment, demonstrating how consumers are turning to bigger screens on mobile devices to carry out everyday tasks. This screen size shift means that the average screen size within the top 10 devices has increased from 3.9 to 4.2 inches

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Apple Continues to Fall

If you needed an indicator of just how much the mobile market today is a smartphone market, look no further than the figures put out early today by Strategy Analytics. The researchers estimate that overall mobile phone shipments just under 1.7 billion, with smartphones accounting for nearly 1 billion — or 990 million, to be exact. While the wider mobile market grew only 5% in that time, smartphone units increased by 41% over 2012′s 700 million smartphone shipments.

But it’s not all a rosy picture for smartphones. While 41% growth sounds good, Ken Hyers, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, notes that it is actually down slightly on the 43% growth of a year ago. He says this is because of “high penetration in some major markets like the United States.”

The figures coincided with Apple releasing its Q1 earnings, and the issue of slowing sales in mature markets was something that had a direct effect on Apple. Traditionally a strong player in the U.S., CEO Tim Cook noted today that Apple’s sales in North America declined. And its second-biggest market, Europe (“mature” as well Old World), was up by only 5%.

Apple continues to fall (pardon the pun) and is now at 15.5% for the full year (compared to 19% a year ago) on 153 million units. And although Huawei, LG and Lenovo are all behind Apple, together they are nearly overtaking the iPhone maker in units, with a combined share of 14.6%.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sony Bonds are Now Junk

Moody's said it expected earnings from Sony's core businesses to continue to face "significant" downward pressure.

It said it was especially concerned about the firm's TV and personal computer (PC) business, both of which face "intense" global competition.

Sony, which has been struggling for some time now, lowered its full-year profit forecast by 40% in October.

It said at the time that it expected to make a net profit of 30bn yen ($290m; £177m) in the financial year to 31 March 2014. That was down from its earlier projection of 50bn yen.

"The rating actions reflect Moody's view that, while Sony has made progress in its restructuring and benefits from continued profitability in several of its business segments, it still faces challenges to improve and stabilise its overall profitability," Moody's said in a statement.

Moody's downgraded Sony's rating to Ba1 from Baa3.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gravity and Siggraph

By George Harding

If you've seen the movie Gravity, you know how detailed the opening scenes are, how frighteningly realistic.

"In each of Gravity's nerve-jangling space-walk sequences, only the heads inside the helmets are real. The spacesuits and all background elements-including the Hubble, the shuttle, and the International Space Station-are rendered entirely in photo-realistic CG."

That's a quote from the November issue of Popular Mechanics, which goes on to say that "the technology to make this film did not exist. … It forced us to invent our own tools."

The result is nothing short of amazing. See it in 3-D if you can, it's really worth the extra cost.

I attended Siggraph, which is a computer show about graphics hardware and software. Software and hardware is what made Gravity so amazing.

Siggraph has vendors from three areas: software to make television and movies look like real life; hardware required to use the software efficiently; and, companies that use the software and hardware.

The software has the capability to create images and actions that are very life-like. This means viewing angle, lighting, texture, color, shading and action. This is not your word processing type software, but a very complex, featurefull product. It is time-consuming to learn how to use effectively and comes at a significant price. Some examples are Maya, Houdini, Poser and Rhinocerous, names that you probably haven't heard before.

The hardware required to run the software is much faster than what you and I are used to. It is not available in any of the stores you usually shop in. In fact, one part of the software process, rendering, requires banks of high-capacity computers in order to accomplish the work in a reasonable time period. Some examples are Advance Micro Devices, BOXX Technologies, Hitachi Systems, Intel, Nvidia and Western Digital.

The companies that use the hardware and software are better known, such as Disney, Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic, Sony, Dreamworks and Warner Brothers. At Siggraph, each holds a session showing how they created certain scenes in recent movies.

There is much more at Siggraph, as well, including technical sessions, teaching sessions, display of computer-generated artwork, emerging technology, animation festival (a continuous showing of short animated movies of 2 to 10 minutes) and, of course, an exhibition hall for the vendors to show off their wares.

The Gravity movie is one of the most amazing results of using the software and hardware products I saw at Siggraph. You can see these results, too, at the movie Gravity.

Gravity movie by Warner Brothers
Siggraph Conference held annually

Saturday, January 25, 2014

TaxACT Express App

TaxACT has launched a new smartphone app for taxpayers with straightforward situations to prepare, print and e-file tax returns. TaxACT Express™, available for Android and iOS, includes everything consumers need to securely file federal returns easy, fast and free from a smartphone.

"TaxACT Express expands consumer access to free federal tax filing, empowering you to start and finish on a smartphone, tablet or computer," said TaxACT President JoAnn Kintzel. "TaxACT Express has a unique set of features and services that give you the freedom to do all or some of your taxes on a smartphone for free."
Easy, fast filing
The streamlined Q&A interview covers basic information, income, deductions and credits. Express users can start and stop at any time, then pick up right where they left off. Interview questions can be bookmarked, allowing users to quickly and easily return to specific questions.
TaxACT Express supports all of the following tax forms and situations:
  • Wages and salary (W-2)
  • Dependents and dependent credits
  • Interest income (1099-INT)
  • Dividend income (1099-DIV)
  • Education credits and deductions (1098-E, 1098-T)
  • Unemployment compensation (1099-G)
  • Earned Income Credit
  • Retirement Savings Contributions Credit
Taxpayers with additional situations can finish and file with TaxACT Online using a browser or with the tablet app that support all tax situations and all e-fileable forms.
TaxACT Express includes a one-of-a-kind Examiner Series that provides a detailed summary of the topics and amounts that determine the user's total income, deduction, credit and tax amounts.
The app also features a dynamic dashboard with fast navigation tools and key information about the user's returns, including federal and state refunds or amounts owed that update as users answer questions. Users can tap on their refund or liability amounts at any time to view a summary of their return.
After users complete the interview, TaxACT Alerts checks returns for potential errors and missing information. All individual federal returns are backed by TaxACT's maximum refund, accuracy and satisfaction guarantees.
To prepare, print and e-file a state return in TaxACT Express is just $7.99*, a fraction of the cost of other smartphone apps. Payment isn't required until users print or e-file.
Start, file & track your return anytime, anywhere
TaxACT Express is compatible with TaxACT Online solutions, giving taxpayers the unprecedented option to start, file and monitor the e-file status of their returns on a smartphone, tablet or computer - all with the same username and password. Express users can finish and file through the smartphone app, a web browser or through the tablet app. Conversely, taxpayers with simple returns who start in TaxACT Online web and tablet products can finish and e-file in Express.
Regardless of which TaxACT product is used to e-file, all users can use Express' dynamic dashboard to track the status of their e-filed federal and state returns and their federal refund. Users can also check their return and refund status by signing into TaxACT Online, at or with TaxACT's companion apps.
Fast refund options
TaxACT Express and TaxACT Online guide users to their guaranteed maximum federal refund the fastest way possible with free IRS e-file and direct deposit.
TaxACT users can also receive their refund on a prepaid debit card. TaxACT Express is the only smartphone app to offer a prepaid debit card without an enrollment fee.
To download or learn more about TaxACT Express and TaxACT's other mobile apps, visit

Friday, January 24, 2014

Back to Normal??

Our system seems to be back online. We'll be back to normal posts again tomorrow so make sure you check us out!!

No Post Today

We apologize to all of our readers but due to circumstances beyond our control we will not have a blog post today. It's probably weather related but our internet connection is up and down and we can't use it.

Hopefully we'll be back to normal tomorrow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Candy" Trademark

Mobile developers that make games with sugary treats might soon get a call asking them to cease and desist.

Yesterday, GamesBeat reported that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the “Candy” mark for Candy Crush Saga developer King. While other companies still have 30 days to prove to the USPTO that this trademark will hurt their business, that’s not stopping King from going after certain games that prominently feature candied treats.

The mobile publisher is petitioning Apple to have certain games that use the word removed from the App Store, whether or not they play like Candy Crush Saga (where gamers must match three or more pieces of sweets to remove them from a field of play). The company explained to GamesBeat that it won’t, however, go after every company that uses “Candy.”

“We have trademarked the word ‘Candy’ in the EU, as our IP is constantly being infringed and we have to enforce our rights and to protect our players from confusion,” a King spokesperson told GamesBeat. “We don’t enforce against all uses of ‘Candy’ — some are legitimate, and, of course, we would not ask app developers who use the term legitimately to stop doing so.”

So what will King go after? One game that King is pursuing is called All Candy Casino Slots — Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land. King has an issue with the title and especially with its icon.

“[The game's] icon in the App Store just says ‘Candy Slots,’ [which focuses] heavily on our trademark,” said the King spokesperson.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

iPad Sales Shift

iPad sales shifted over the last year, with fewer buyers purchasing the aged iPad 2 and more choosing the lower-priced iPad Mini, a research firm said today, citing a survey of 500 Apple customers.

"People moved up to the [iPad] Mini, especially the Mini with the Retina screen," said Michael Levin, co-founder of Chicago-based Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), when asked about the decline in sales of 2011's iPad 2.

"The iPad Mini was not just a small iPad but also a cheap iPad," Levin continued, referring to the $329 price of the original and the $399 of the Retina edition. The iPad 2 also costs $399. "It was a means for people to get an iPad, both more portable and more affordable."

According to CIRP's survey of those who purchased an Apple product in the final quarter of 2013, just 5% said they had bought an iPad 2, down dramatically from 27% in 2012's fourth quarter.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

iPhone Sales

Two new models on the market led to sales of some 55.3 million iPhones in the fourth quarter last year, according to analysts' estimates.

Apple is officially reporting its Q4 results on Jan. 27. Meanwhile, some 27 professional and 17 amateur Apple analysts have weighed in with their projections of sales during the period. According to Fortune, there's not a huge amount of variation among the estimates: The range is 50 million to 59.73 million.

It's not unusual for Apple to break an iPhone sales record in its Q1 — it has done so every Q1 since 2010. Breaking into the 50-million range is new territory for Apple, though. In its fiscal Q1 in 2013, Apple sold 47.8 million iPhones. However, at that time, Apple only had one new iPhone model — the iPhone 5 — for sale. In the most recent quarter, Apple offered the iPhone 5C and the higher-end iPhone 5S. Both models were introduced in September.

In its fiscal fourth quarter, which coincides with the calendar third quarter, Apple reported selling 33.8 mililion iPhones. The perceived strong sales for Apple have prompted analysts to fret that Samsung's results were impacted in the quarter, sending the company's stock price down earlier this month. Samsung's Galaxy S4 is the second- or third best-selling smartphone next to the two iPhone models, according to estimates.

Though Apple's fiscal Q2 tends to be weaker than the previous quarter, Apple began selling its iPhone via China Mobile this month, a carrier with some 700 million customers. As of last week, Apple had already sold "millions" of iPhones through China Mobile, according to China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Slowing Smartphone Sales

For two years now the global smartphone market has continued to be bigger each quarter than it was the last.

In a sign that the market is now starting to mature, though, analysts at TrendForce project that sales from January through March will be about five percent lower than the fourth quarter of 2013. That would be the first time sales would have dropped sequentially since 2011.

TrendForce analyst Wilson Miao said that it shows the smartphone market is growing up and now exhibits signs of seasonality.

As for market share, it’s no surprise that Apple and Samsung continue to dominate. Worth noting, though, is improved performance at LG and Sony, two large players that had been struggling until recently.

TrendForce notes that Sony has done particularly well in Japan (echoing a point made recently by Sony CEO Kaz Hirai.) Its share in Japan has topped 20 percent and its global share in the third quarter rose to about five percent. In the fourth quarter, Sony shopped 12 million phones globally, up 62 percent from the prior year.

LG, meanwhile, used its partnership producing Nexus phones for Google to help grow its share to 4.2 percent globally. In the fourth quarter it shipped approximately 11 million smartphones, a 57 percent year-over-year rise.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

TaxACT for Small Business

TaxACT®, a leading provider of tax preparation solutions, is now submitting small business returns e-filed through its download and new online programs to the IRS.

TaxACT has been accepting e-filed partnership, corporate and multi-member LLC returns since January 6 and began submitting returns as soon as the IRS opened its doors.

Online versions of federal 1065, 1120S and 1120 programs debuted in October when TaxACT released Preview versions of online and download solutions for small businesses, professional preparers and individuals. TaxACT Online returns can be accessed from any browser, allowing users to prepare, print and e-file anytime, anywhere.

In addition to federal 1065, 1120S and 1120 solutions, TaxACT supports 33 states and e-file for 26 states.

After e-filing, TaxACT notifies business owners when returns are received and processed by the IRS and state. The status of e-filed returns is also available 24/7 at and with TaxACT Central, a free companion mobile app.

"You got this" with TaxACT's expert tools and resources
TaxACT's interview provides step-by-step guidance, asking easy questions about business income and expenses. "Small business owners know their business better than anyone, putting them in a perfect position to do their own taxes," said TaxACT President JoAnn Kintzel. "The same confidence they had to open their small business is all they need to conquer their taxes. Answer simple questions about your business, and let TaxACT's expert program do the rest, including maximizing your deductions."

To save time and minimize data entry errors, TaxACT offers several imports, including last year's return, trial balance reports, and investment transactions from several brokerages or CSV (comma separated values) files. The program also includes fast entry tools for Schedules K-1, M-3, and L data, Form 4562, and investment information.

Additional accuracy and time-saving features include:

  • Automatic allocation and updating of Schedule K-1 items as income, deductions and credits change in 1065 and 1120S programs
  • Depreciation reports for current and next year
  • Schedule K-1 import from TaxACT 1065 or 1120S into TaxACT Deluxe (1040)
  • TaxACT Alerts checks for errors, omissions and tax savings opportunities
  • Personalized tax, technical and audit help available every step of the way in the Answer Center, online, by email and via phone

High value, low prices
Also acclaimed for the value of its individual and professional preparer solutions, TaxACT 1065, 1120S and 1120 solutions are priced much lower than other brands - $44.99 per federal return, and $19.99 per state return. Prices include preparation, printing and e-filing.

For maximum savings on small business and personal taxes, TaxACT offers download Home & Business Bundles. Each bundle includes one federal business edition, Deluxe 1040 and one State 1040 Edition for $59.99, a savings of over 15 percent. State business editions are offered separately.

Free IRS returns for sole proprietors, self-employed and single-member LLCs
TaxACT offers a free federal solution for sole proprietors, self-employed, single-member LLCs. TaxACT Free Federal Edition has all e-fileable forms, including Form 1040 and Schedule C. Free Edition guides users to all their deductions and credits with an easy, step-by-step interview and personalized help.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

MILC Camera Sales

Why don’t American buyers like Mirrorless-Interchangeable-Lens-Cameras (MILCs)? MILCs are very popular in Asia and in Europe but they seem to be sputtering in the USA. I find this to be bewildering.

I sat next to a Canon camera executive on my flight to Vegas for CES and we had a lengthy discussion on the sales of MILCs, particularly those from Canon. He described sales as “disappointing” and he had several possible reasons for the low number sold. The main reasons he cited are: Canon was late into the game, their camera did not have a viewfinder and Americans are still dSLR users. All three of these seem to be verified by the announcement that the new Canon EOS M2 will only be sold in Asia (for now).

I am reminded of the horrible Pentax K-01 designed by Marc Newson. It was too big and bulky and came in a truly ugly yellow color. It’s sales were also “disappointing” and it didn’t last on the market. I used the K-01 and gave it a thorough workout. The reason it didn’t sell was it was an ugly duckling that was hard to use!

Of all of the digital camera makers Olympus has made the biggest commitment to the MILC format. Their sales are showing some growth and Olympus may, and it is a big may, be turning the corner. I certainly hope so because I love MILCs!!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Samsung and Apple Dominate the Phone Market

Apple and Samsung Electronics tightened their stranglehold over the US market.

Smartphones from the top two manufacturers made up 68 percent of the US market, according to a recent study from NPD Group. Apple's iPhone franchise made the larger gain, rising to 42 percent in the fourth quarter, or seven percentage points higher than the year-earlier period.

Samsung's share rose to 26 percent in the fourth quarter from 22 percent a year ago.

The big two saw their shares gain even as many of their competitors slid back in the fourth quarter. BlackBerry, unsurprisingly, was the biggest loser, with its share down by nearly two thirds, according to NPD. Motorola and HTC were two other losers, with LG the only other top handset manufacturer to see some year-over-year gains.

The share shift comes as smartphone penetration has increased to 60 percent from 52 percent in the year-earlier period, NPD said. In addition, data usage has grown to 6.6GB per month from 5.5GB per month a year ago.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Google Data Compression

Google today is officially announcing the release of a data compression feature for its Chrome mobile web browser which allows you to reduce your data usage on smartphones and tablets, potentially saving you money on your monthly cell phone bill or data plan. The feature is one of several new additions coming to Chrome’s mobile browser, which also sees the inclusion of Google Translate on iOS, support for Application shortcuts for favorite websites on Android, and other fixes.

The data compression feature, however, is the highlight of this forthcoming release. When enabled, it will also include Chrome’s Safe Browsing technology to protect against malicious webpages. Google says the feature will roll out via app updates on the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store over the next few days.

You may recall that Google first began testing the then-experimental data compression feature on Android last March through the Chrome Beta for Android application, and then later expanded those tests to iOS in the fall.

The optional feature, essentially a Google proxy, routes web requests through Google’s servers where the company’s PageSpeed libraries compress and optimize the content. Meanwhile, the actual connection between the browser and Google’s servers is handled by the SPDY protocol for further optimization.