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    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    Reuter site - In Facebook IPO, bankers seek prestige over fees

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    In Facebook IPO, bankers seek prestige over fees

    Fri, Jan 27 17:15 PM EST

    By Lauren Tara LaCapra

    (Reuters) - Facebook's initial public offering is likely to set a new standard for how low investment banks are willing to go on advisory fees to win big business.

    The world's largest online social network is expected to tap public markets for $10 billion in the coming months in an offering that will value the company at up to $100 billion, according to sources familiar with the planned IPO. It will be one of the biggest U.S. market debuts ever, and a prized trophy for the investment bankers seeking to win lead advisory roles.

    That has set up a fierce competition on Wall Street, particularly between the presumed front-runners Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc, which may offer their underwriting services for as little as 1 percent of gross proceeds, bankers and industry observers said.

    That would be far less than the 7 percent fee that smaller deals typically fetch, or the 2 or 3 percent that large deals tend to command.

    "The Facebook IPO will be iconic," said James Montgomery, chief executive of San Francisco-based investment bank Montgomery & Co, which advises tech companies on mergers, acquisitions and private placements.

    Facebook can easily negotiate a 1 percent fee for the entire group of investment banks that will peddle its shares, Montgomery said, "much to the chagrin of the underwriters."

    Such a low fee is practically unheard of for investment banking deals, apart from the offerings of bailed-out companies General Motors Co, American International Group Inc and Ally Financial Inc, which sold shares held by the U.S. government in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

    But Facebook has several advantages that will allow the company to haggle for a lower fee: it will be an easy sell as hoards of investors are keen to jump on the social media trend, and even a 1 percent fee would reap $100 million in revenue for investment banks, sending a lead advisor to the coveted No. 1 spot on IPO league tables.

    "There's no other IPO like this," said Lee Simmons, a tech specialist at Dun & Bradstreet. "It's kind of the 800-pound gorilla for the tech sector."

    The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook plans to file IPO documents with U.S. securities regulators as early as Wednesday, and is close to picking Morgan Stanley as the lead underwriter.

    The typical IPO that raises less than $500 million incurs a 7 percent fee -- what's known as "the 7 percent solution." But as IPOs grow in size, the fee percentage shrinks.

    Investment banks usually earn fees of 4 percent to 5 percent on IPOs of more than $1 billion, but deals from Silicon Valley tend to carry a premium. U.S. tech IPOs of at least $1 billion carried an average fee of 5.8 percent from 2000 to 2012, on average, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    In the case of Facebook -- whose T-shirt-wearing, 27-year-old chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, is said to appreciate status updates more than stock brokers -- it's unlikely advisors will be able to command the standard rate.

    "These Valley types think this whole process could be automated and they don't have to pay 7 percent to these flashy, French-cufflink-wearing Wall Street types," said Eric Jackson, founder and managing member of Ironfire Capital, a technology-focused hedge fund, who has interacted professionally with executives at Facebook and other social-media companies.

    PRICING DILEMMA

    Facebook's offering will be the largest ever IPO from Silicon Valley, as well as the largest global high-tech IPO since the dot-com bubble burst. The most recent U.S. social-media IPO, Zynga Inc, raised just one-tenth of the proceeds Facebook is hoping for.

    Winning a lead advisory role on Facebook has become a make-or-break contest for tech bankers such as Goldman's George Lee, Morgan Stanley's Michael Grimes and Credit Suisse's Bill Brady.

    Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have been in communication with Facebook for months and already offered pitches to its executives in hopes of becoming lead adviser, according to sources briefed on the meetings.

    Wall Street is now waiting to hear who will win the coveted "lead left" title, referring to where the top underwriter's name will appear on the IPO prospectus.

    "Facebook is one of the most well-known brands around the globe," said George Papaioannou, a business professor at Hofstra University who has studied underwriting competition among investment banks. "The underwriters will have to do very little convincing to investors, and that gives Facebook a huge negotiating advantage."

    Investment banking fees are not usually the primary concern for IPO candidates, who must nail down the right offering price and sell shares to the right mix of investors, Papaioannou said.

    If the offering price is too high, the company and its underwriters risk burning IPO investors. If the bar is set too low, the stock issuer risks leaving money on the table. And if the mix is not right -- with more short-term traders than long-term investors -- a stock can become highly volatile in the days and weeks following its debut on an exchange.

    Zynga, which makes some of the most popular online games that are played on Facebook, is a prime example. Co-managed by Goldman and Morgan Stanley, the IPO was priced at $10 a share in mid-December. IPO investors watched the stock fall 5 percent on the first day of trading. Zynga was quoted at $9.72 on Friday.

    Similarly, online coupon-deals site Groupon Inc priced its IPO at $20 a share on November 4, but its shares fell as much as 26 percent in the first two weeks of trading. The stock was trading at $19.78 on Friday. Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse were co-managers of the IPO.

    HANDLE WITH CARE

    The other edge of the IPO sword can cut just as sharply for hot tech stocks.

    LinkedIn Corp, which raised $353 million last May in an IPO priced at $45 a share, watched the stock soar as high as $122.70 on the first day of trading. LinkedIn shares have drifted down to the low $70 range, but the price range to date indicates that the company could have raised another $440 million to $1 billion in extra money if the IPO were priced more aggressively. Morgan Stanley was in the lead left position.

    A sharp fluctuation in price soon after Facebook's IPO "would really embarrass Facebook and the underwriters," given the recent history of social-media IPOs, said Papaioannou

    The Zynga, Groupon and LinkedIn deals garnered fees of 3 to 5 percent.

    To be sure, the banks that are vying for a lead position on Facebook's IPO will have to do more than lowball on price. They will also have to convince the Palo Alto, California-based company that the deal will go off without a hitch.

    As Facebook's size and influence have grown in recent years, its actions -- whether changes to privacy policies on its popular networking site, or its interactions with Wall Street bankers -- have come under intense public scrutiny.

    Goldman's handling of a private sale of $1.5 billion worth of Facebook shares to wealthy clients last year stirred enough controversy that the bank was forced to limit the offering to non-U.S. investors.

    That misstep may have cost Goldman some goodwill with Facebook, industry observers said. And, as a company that makes money from a broad base of users, it also forces Facebook to consider whether its IPO will give unfair advantages to well-heeled investors.

    "Two reasons I think Morgan Stanley will get the lead: one, they have a great retail distribution platform with the Smith Barney franchise and, two, I don't think Facebook is overly happy with Goldman Sachs," said Jeff Sica, president and CEO of SICA Wealth Management, who has bought shares of Facebook in private, pre-IPO markets for clients.

    Morgan Stanley was the top bookrunner for global high-tech IPOs last year, with $2.2 billion in global proceeds and 10.9 percent market share. It also led the pack in U.S. high-tech IPOs, according to Thomson Reuters data. Goldman Sachs was the runner up with $1.9 billion in global fees and 9.2 percent market share, and ranked No. 3 in U.S. high-tech IPOs behind JPMorgan Chase & Co.

    A less measurable but equally important factor in obtaining the lead IPO position is whether bankers can connect with decision-makers at Facebook on a personal level.

    "It's really going to be the banker that understands and is sensitive to Zuckerberg and the executive team's needs," said Dun & Bradstreet's Simmons. "Whoever does that successfully will get the bragging rights, the proverbial brass ring of tech IPOs."

    (Reporting By Lauren Tara LaCapra, editing by Tiffany Wu)

    Reuter site - Former Groupon sales reps countersue over tactics

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    Former Groupon sales reps countersue over tactics

    Fri, Jan 27 19:05 PM EST

    By Jonathan Stempel

    (Reuters) - Former Groupon Inc sales representatives sued by that company after leaving for Google Inc have filed a countersuit, claiming their former employer is pursuing "sham" litigation to keep them from joining rivals.

    Groupon, which runs the world's largest online coupon website, had accused Nikki Dorough, Brian Hanna and Michael Nolan of taking confidential trade secrets when they moved to the world's largest Internet search company. Google launched its own daily deals business early last year.

    The workers maintained that Groupon, by filing its complaint on October 21, was trying to illegally stifle competition and bully workers, as it prepared to "cash in" through its upcoming, eagerly awaited initial public offering.

    "In its stop-at-nothing strategy to take itself public and further enrich its founders, Groupon has crossed the line," the workers said. "The message is clear: don't leave Groupon and if you do, don't attempt to use any of the skills and experience you may have developed while working for us."

    The workers said they are in their mid-20s and decided independently of each other to join Google in the fall. Their countersuit was filed on Wednesday in the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois, where Groupon had originally sued.

    Julie Mossler, a Groupon spokeswoman, said: "We believe these counterclaims have no merit and we remain confident of our case."

    Groupon went public in the first week of November in an offering that valued the Chicago-based company at $12.8 billion.

    It was the largest IPO for a U.S. Internet company since Google went public in 2004 and followed Groupon's having spurned in 2010 a roughly $6 billion takeover by that company.

    According to Groupon, the workers violated a clause in their employment agreements that barred them from working for a direct competitor for two years after leaving.

    The workers believe that clause is unenforceable and unnecessary as none had access to confidential, sensitive or proprietary information.

    They also contended that Groupon is using them as a "prop," having served a subpoena to Google not simply for information to help its case, but also to "obtain intelligence on a burgeoning competitor" in an effort to preserve market share.

    "These are young people who are industrious, entrepreneurial and trying to earn a living, and Groupon is trying to prevent them from doing that," Steven Molo, a lawyer for the workers, said in a telephone interview. "The law does not allow it."

    Dorough, Hanna and Nolan seek compensatory damages for interference with their current work, plus punitive damages. They also want their non-compete clauses to be voided.

    According to industry tracker Yipit, Google's daily deals business, Google Offers, had $3.5 million of gross billings in November, while Groupon had $154 million.

    Sierra Lovelace, a Google Offers spokeswoman, declined to comment on the lawsuit, noting that Google is not named as a defendant. Google is based in Mountain View, California.

    Groupon shares closed up 2.6 percent on Friday, rising 51 cents to $20.04 on the Nasdaq. The company went public at $20 per share.

    The case is Groupon Inc v. Hanna et al, Cook County Circuit Court, No. 11CH36731.

    (Reporting By Jonathan Stempel; editing by Gary Hill and Andre Grenon)

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Reuter site - Toyota finds way to avoid using rare earth: report

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    Toyota finds way to avoid using rare earth: report

    Mon, Jan 23 04:11 AM EST

    TOKYO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp has developed a way to make hybrid and electric vehicles without the use of expensive rare earth metals, in which China has a near-monopoly, Japan's Kyodo News reported.

    Toyota, the world's top producer of fuel-saving hybrid cars such as the Prius, could bring the technology to market in two years if the price of rare earths does not come down, Kyodo said, citing a source familiar with the matter.

    A Toyota spokeswoman said the company continues to research ways to reduce rare earth usage and has no time frame yet for commercialization.

    Rare earth metals like neodymium and dysprosium are used in the powerful magnets in motors that power hybrid and electric cars, and demand is expected to surge as more of the environmentally friendly cars hit the market.

    China produces more than 95 percent of the world's rare earth metals. Its efforts to limit exports, citing resource depletion and environmental degradation, have alarmed its customers and trading partners and have sent prices soaring.

    Japan accounts for a third of global rare earth demand and is aiming to cut consumption, providing subsidies for recycling and investing in new ways to limit their use.

    (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Risa Maeda; Editing by Kim Coghill)

    Reuter site - BlackBerry maker's CEOs hand reins to insider

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    BlackBerry maker's CEOs hand reins to insider

    Mon, Jan 23 07:51 AM EST

    By Alastair Sharp

    WATERLOO, Ontario (Reuters) - Research In Motion's Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have bowed to investor pressure and resigned as co-CEOs, handing the top job to an insider with four years at the struggling BlackBerry maker.

    Thorsten Heins, a former Siemens AG executive who has risen steadily through RIM's upper management ranks since joining the Canadian company in late 2007, took over as CEO on Saturday, RIM said on Sunday.

    The shift ends the two-decade long partnership of Lazaridis and Balsillie atop a once-pioneering technology company that now struggles against Apple and Google.

    With RIM's share price plummeting to eight-year lows, a flurry of speculation that RIM was up for sale has enveloped the company in recent months. But investors have pointed to the domineering presence of Lazaridis and Balsillie as one reason a sale would prove difficult.

    Activist investors have clamored in recent months for a new, "transformational" leader who could revitalize RIM's product line and resuscitate its once cutting-edge image. It remains to be seen whether RIM has found such a leader in Heins, analysts said.

    "It's the first positive thing that they have done in months," said Charter Equity analyst Ed Snyder, even as he expressed caution over the choice of Heins, a longtime lieutenant of Lazaridis and Balsillie. "My feeling is that it's a figure-head change."

    Michael Urlocker, an analyst with GMP Securities, questioned whether Heins had the right background for the job that faces him. "I am not sure that an engineer as new CEO really gets to the central issues faced by RIM," he said.

    Lazaridis and Balsillie also gave up their shared role as chairman of RIM's board. Barbara Stymiest, an independent board member who once headed the Toronto Stock Exchange, will take over in that capacity.

    The pair, who together built Lazaridis' 1985 start-up into a global business with $20 billion in sales last year, have weathered a storm of criticism in recent years as Apple's iPhone and the army of devices powered by Google's innovative Android system eclipsed their email-focused BlackBerry.

    "There comes a time in the growth of every successful company when the founders recognize the need to pass the baton to new leadership. Jim and I went to the board and told them that we thought that time was now," Lazaridis said in a hastily arranged interview at RIM's Waterloo headquarters, flanked by Balsillie and Heins and with Stymiest joining via telephone.

    DEPICTED AS ORDERLY TRANSITION

    The executives were keen to paint the shuffle as an orderly transition on a succession plan mapped out at least a year ago, and not a retreat in the face of a plummeting share price, shrinking U.S. market share and criticism of their products.

    Both Lazaridis and Balsillie - two of RIM's three largest shareholders with more than 5 percent each - will remain board members, with Lazaridis keeping a particularly active role as vice-chair and head of a newly created innovation committee.

    Lazaridis said he plans to buy an additional $50 million of RIM shares on the open market.

    In the group interview announcing the change, Heins said his most immediate concern is to sell RIM's current lineup of BlackBerry 7 touchscreen devices, deliver on a promised software upgrade for its PlayBook tablet computer by February, and rally RIM's troops to launch the next-generation BlackBerry 10 phones later this year.

    "Their problems are deep-rooted, and it's going to take time," Snyder said.

    In the longer term, Heins, previously one of RIM's chief operating officers, said he would push for more rigorous product development and place greater emphasis on executing on the company's marketing and development plans.

    "We need to get a bit more disciplined in our own processes," he said in a YouTube video posted by RIM. "We are a great, innovative but sometimes we innovate too much while we are building a product." (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUFwhpcrCTw)

    Heins said RIM, which suffered a damaging outage of much of its network last year, has embarked on a global search for a chief marketing officer to improve advertising and other communication with consumers. Consumers now account for the majority of RIM's sales even though the BlackBerry built its reputation as a business tool.

    For RIM critics, the focus on customers may seem long overdue. The company seemed blindsided by Apple's introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and was also slow to launch a competitor to the iPad. When its PlayBook tablet finally hit the market last spring, it was not equipped with RIM's trademark email service. The reviews were scathing, sales were anemic and the company has been forced to offer steep discounts.

    Heins said it would be wrong of RIM to focus on licensing its software or integrated email package, a strategy that many analysts and investors have thought the company might pursue. Even so, the new CEO said the company would certainly be open to discussions of that nature.

    Neither Lazaridis nor Basillie detailed any future plans outside RIM, with Lazaridis particularly eager to point out his still-active role as a confidante to the new CEO.

    Both have other interests outside of RIM. Lazaridis donated hundreds of millions of dollars to set up an independent theoretical physics institute and also a quantum computing institute attached to his alma mater, the University of Waterloo. Balsillie heads a think-tank in international governance and long dreamed of owning a National Hockey League franchise.

    (Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Additional reporting by Edwin Chan in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Janet Guttsman)

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    Reuter site - U.S. shuts Megaupload.com, hackers retaliate

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    U.S. shuts Megaupload.com, hackers retaliate

    Fri, Jan 20 10:33 AM EST

    By Jeremy Pelofsky and Jim Finkle

    (Reuters) - The U.S. government shut down the Megaupload.com content sharing website, charging its founders and several employees with massive copyright infringement, the latest skirmish in a high-profile battle against piracy of movies and music.

    The Department of Justice announced the indictment and arrests of four company executives in New Zealand on Friday as debate over online piracy reaches fever pitch in Washington where lawmakers are trying to craft tougher legislation.

    The movie and music industries want Congress to crack down on Internet piracy and content theft, but major Internet companies like Google and Facebook have complained that current drafts of the legislation would lead to censorship.

    A Justice Department official said the timing of the arrests was not related to the battle in Congress.

    New Zealand police on Friday raided a mansion in Auckland and arrested Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, also known as Kim Schmitz, 37, a German national with New Zealand residency.

    About 70 police, some armed, raided 10 properties and also arrested the website's chief marketing officer, Finn Batato, 38, chief technical officer and co-founder Mathias Ortmann, 40, both also from Germany, and Dutch national Bram van der Kolk, 29, who is also a New Zealand resident.

    New Zealand police seized millions of dollars worth of assets, which included luxury cars such as a Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, from the group, dubbed the "Mega Conspiracy" by prosecutors. They also seized more than NZ$10 million ($8 million) from financial institutions.

    "The FBI contacted New Zealand Police in early 2011 with a request to assist with their investigation into the Mega Conspiracy," said Detective Inspector Grant Wormald from the Organised & Financial Crime Agency New Zealand.

    "All the accused have been indicted in the United States. We will continue to work with the U.S. authorities to assist with the extradition proceedings," Wormald said in a statement.

    The men appeared briefly in an Auckland court on Friday and were remanded in custody until Monday for a bail hearing.

    "We have nothing to hide," Kim Dotcom said from the dock after his lawyer opposed media cameras in the court, reported New Zealand media.

    HACKERS RETALIATE

    Vocal critics of the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Protect IP Act (PIPA), quickly showed their opposition to the shutdown of Megaupload.com, with hackers attacking the public websites of the Justice Department, the world's largest music company Universal Music, and the two big trade groups that represent the music and film industries.

    "The government takes down Megaupload? 15 minutes later Anonymous takes down government & record label sites," a member of Anonymous said via Twitter.

    Representatives with the Justice Department and Recording Industry Association of America declined comment on the attacks. Officials with Universal Music could not immediately be reached.

    Motion Picture Association of America spokesman Howard Gantman said his group was working with law enforcement to identify the attackers.

    The Mega Conspiracy group was accused of engaging in a scheme that took more than $500 million away from copyright holders and generated over $175 million in proceeds from subscriptions and advertising, according to the indictment unsealed on Thursday.

    "In exchange for payment, the Mega Conspiracy provides fast reproduction and distribution of infringing copies of copyrighted works from its servers located around the world," the indictment said.

    U.S. Justice Department officials said that the estimate of $500 million in economic harm to copyright holders was on the low end and likely significantly more.

    The allegations included copyright infringement as well as conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit racketeering.

    RACKETEERING, MONEY LAUNDERING

    If convicted, the maximum penalties are 20 years for conspiracy to commit racketeering and to commit money laundering and five years for each count of copyright infringement and five years for conspiracy to commit copyright infringement.

    The companies charged, Megaupload Ltd and Vestor Ltd, were both registered in Hong Kong and owned either in large part or solely by Dotcom. A lawyer who has previously worked with Megaupload was not immediately available for comment.

    Megaupload has boasted of having more than 150 million registered users and 50 million daily visitors, according to the indictment. At one point, it was estimated to be the 13th most frequently visited website on the Internet.

    Users could upload material to the company's sites which then would create a link that could be distributed. The sites, which included video, music and pornography, did not provide search capabilities but rather relied on others to publish the links, the indictment said.

    Users could purchase memberships to the site to obtain faster upload and download services, the primary source of revenue. Material that was not regularly downloaded was deleted and financial incentives were offered for popular content, according to the charges.

    The web page with the link to the copyrighted material would include advertisements, another source of revenue.

    If copyright holders complained about a specific link to the website, prosecutors said that Megaupload.com would remove that link but scores of others existed to the same material, according to prosecutors.

    Other material found uploaded included child pornography and terrorism propaganda videos, according to the indictment. The U.S. government's investigation began in March 2010.

    (Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Jim Finkle in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz and Yinka Adegoke, and Mantik Kusjanto in Wellington.; Editing by Gary Hill, Phil Berlowitz, Michael Perry and Mark Bendeich)

    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Reuter site - Rick Perry to drop presidential campaign: report

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    Rick Perry to drop presidential campaign: report

    Thu, Jan 19 09:40 AM EST

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry was poised to drop his run for the Republican presidential nomination later on Thursday, CNN reported, and he scheduled a news conference in South Carolina for 11 a.m. EST.

    Perry entered the race in August and briefly was at the front of the pack of Republican candidates, but a series of gaffes and controversial statements during the campaign undermined his standing in polls. CNN cited two unnamed sources in saying Perry would drop his candidacy later on Thursday.

    Perry's reported decision comes ahead of Saturday's Republican primary in South Carolina. Perry's poll numbers remain low in that conservative Southern state where he had hoped to revive his campaign.

    Perry had roared past former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to take the lead in polls of the Republican candidates after entering the race.

    His conservative views and support from the grassroots Tea Party movement had seemed to position him as a top contender in the race for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

    But Perry, who had never previously lost an election, foundered after several poor debate performances in which he was hammered by his rivals over his immigration policies and for ordering that young girls in Texas be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted virus.

    He was ridiculed after a major debate stumble in November when he could not remember one of the three government agencies that he had repeatedly said he would eliminate if elected president.

    Turkey condemned as "unfounded and inappropriate" on Tuesday comments by Perry this week that the country, a close U.S. ally, is ruled by Islamic terrorists and questioning whether it should remain in the NATO alliance.

    (Reporting By Will Dunham)

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Reuter site - Asian firms may eye RIM platform; Samsung denies interest

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    Asian firms may eye RIM platform; Samsung denies interest

    Wed, Jan 18 00:51 AM EST

    By Alastair Sharp and Miyoung Kim

    TORONTO/SEOUL (Reuters) - Research In Motion is not on Samsung Electronics Co's immediate shopping list, but the ailing Blackberry maker may still be attractive to Asian smartphone makers looking to compete against Google's Android, the world's fastest growing mobile platform.

    Samsung said on Wednesday it has no interest in buying RIM or licensing its operating system, refuting a tech blog report that Canada-based RIM was looking to sell itself to the South Korean technology giant.

    Shares of RIM, which has long been the subject of takeover speculation with its stock valuation lingering at multi-year lows, jumped more than 10 percent on the blog report, but fell back after Samsung's denial.

    Product delays and profit warnings have eroded confidence in RIM, once at the cutting edge of smartphone technology for business users, and its management.

    But RIM, still valued at above $9 billion, may hold enough allure to interest Asian vendors like LG Electronics Inc, HTC and ZTE, which don't have their own platform, said a source at a major Asian handset maker.

    "As we don't have our own platform, it's (RIM) an attractive option to look into and we're flexible about anything," said the source, who has direct knowledge of the matter, but who declined to be named as he is not authorized to talk to the media.

    Samsung has its own platform called bada and is seeking to boost its presence by merging it with a platform backed by chipmaker Intel.

    "We haven't considered acquiring the firm and are not interested in (buying RIM)," said Samsung spokesman James Chung, adding that Samsung had not been approached by the Canadian firm for a takeover and was not interested in licensing RIM's mobile platform.

    The Boy Genius Report website cited an unidentified source as saying RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie was meeting with companies interested in either licensing its software or buying a part or all of RIM, with Samsung leading the pack.

    After Samsung's denial, Nasdaq-listed RIM shares tumbled 5.3 percent to $16.55 in extended trading, after closing up 8 percent at a 6-week high of $17.47. The stock rose as much as 11.1 percent.

    LICENSING DEAL?

    Samsung may not be interested in buying RIM outright, but some analysts say that adding BlackBerry software may be a good fit with its strategy of bolstering software capability and adding corporate subscribers.

    "We see RIM licensing BlackBerry 10 and charging $10 per device," Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said in a note, referring to RIM's operating system.

    "Samsung and HTC would do this to gain access to RIM's subscriber base, diversify away from sole dependence on Android and create more enterprise exposure. BlackBerry 10 is effectively an Android derivative and, therefore, many bridges are possible."

    Samsung has traditionally focused on growing its business from within and has no track record of major deals in recent years. In 2008, it withdrew a $5.9 billion unsolicited bid for flash memory card maker SanDisk due to the U.S. firm's deepening losses and uncertain outlook.

    But it has since become more flexible on M&A as the hardware-focused firm seeks to boost its software capabilities to counter Apple and Google.

    "It'd be helpful for Samsung or HTC to license BlackBerry OS so they can gain access to the corporate space," said Vincent Chen, an analyst at Yuanta Securities.

    Shares in Samsung slid 1.1 percent in Seoul on Wednesday, underperforming the main KOSPI share index, which slipped 0.3 percent.

    Jefferies' Misek said RIM could announce a deal within three months, and the appointment of a new chairperson could speed up the process. A spokesman for RIM declined to comment on the blog report.

    Balsillie and fellow co-CEO Mike Lazaridis also share a role as board chairman, but, after pressure from investors, a committee made up of the rest of RIM's board is due to report this month on possible changes to the unusual structure.

    RIM already turned down takeover overtures from Amazon.com Inc and other potential buyers because it prefers to fix its problems on its own, people with knowledge of the situation told Reuters recently.

    RIM's shares have jumped nearly 40 percent since December 21, when Reuters reported such interest, but the stock is still down almost 75 percent from a year ago.

    (Additional reporting by Clare Jim in TAIPEI; Editing by Frank McGurty, David Chance and Ian Geoghegan)

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Scarcity of women causes men to spend more, save less

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    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Reuter site - Hulu challenges cable with first original drama

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    Hulu challenges cable with first original drama

    Sun, Jan 15 16:05 PM EST

    By Yinka Adegoke

    (Reuters) - Hulu, the popular online video service, has taken another step to becoming a full-fledged alternative to cable television by commissioning its first scripted original TV show to go live next month.

    The new political documentary-style drama "Battleground" is set in Wisconsin and executive-produced by JD Walsh, Hagai Shaham and Marc Webb. It follows Hulu's first original documentary series Morgan Spurlock's "A Day In The Life."

    The majority of Hulu's programming to date has been licensed from its parent companies, News Corp, Walt Disney Co and Comcast Corp's NBC Universal, as well as other program makers.

    Andy Forsell, Hulu's programming executive, said Spurlock's show had been a success based on data it collected on its audience, but he declined to reveal the program's view counts.

    Spurlock's series is being followed up with a second season and being joined by another six-episode documentary series called "Up to Speed" by Richard Linklater, who is perhaps best known for movies "Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock".

    The challenge for Hulu is to ensure it can generate a return on investment in expensive content like scripted drama, which is typically more costly than producing a documentary or reality show.

    "We can make the economics work, I've got a budget for originals but there's not the same pressure as a traditional network since we don't have worry about filling airtime," Forsell said.

    The original shows will be available on Hulu's free Web service rather than just to its paying Hulu Plus subscribers as the start-up increases its user base and builds its reputation for original programming. But Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar said the dual revenue model of advertising and subscription fees is key to Hulu's future.

    "At scale, our model allows us to profitably pay content owners approximately 50 percent more in content licensing fees per subscriber when compared to other similarly priced online subscription services," Kilar said in a blog post on Friday.

    PAYING SUBSCRIBERS

    Hulu said on Friday it had more than 1.5 million paying subscribers at the end of 2011, and revenue grew 60 percent to $420 million.

    Early last year, Kilar forecast that Hulu would generate around $500 million in revenue during 2011. The revenue miss was indirectly blamed on a "soft advertising market" in the second half of the year.

    Like other Web companies trying to bring more TV shows and movies online, Hulu is in a race with rival Netflix Inc to buy and develop more content to add to and maintain its subscriber base.

    Kilar said the company will spend around $500 million on content in 2012 covering new content acquisition, re-licensing existing content on the service and originals. It is an increase from the $375 million it said it spent last year.

    Netflix, which has some 23 million U.S. subscribers, said last March it had secured exclusive rights to the 26-episode television series "House of Cards" a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher.

    It was reported last year that Netflix would spend around $100 million to produce the show.

    Services like Netflix are increasingly being recognized as direct competition or replacements for premium cable channels such as Time Warner Inc's HBO and CBS Corp's Showtime.

    (Reporting By Yinka Adegoke, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

    I blog, I tweet, I rock. I think I'm Rupert Murdoch.

    Here ye here ye, Rick Perry says Pee Pee

    Reuter site - Rupert Murdoch turns to Twitter to attack Obama

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    Rupert Murdoch turns to Twitter to attack Obama

    Sun, Jan 15 13:11 PM EST

    By Ilaina Jonas

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Media baron Rupert Murdoch used his new Twitter account this weekend to attack the Obama administration's opposition to parts of proposed legislation designed to combat Internet piracy.

    "So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery," News Corp's chairman and chief executive officer posted on his personal Twitter account Saturday.

    Murdoch, whose media empire includes Fox TV, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Studios and the Sun newspaper in Britain, continued with several tweets, attacking Google as the "Piracy leader" for streaming movies free. In later tweets he called Google a "great company."

    Google could not be reached for an immediate comment. The White House declined to make any other comment beyond their statement issued Saturday.

    At issue are the concerns White House officials raised on Saturday about elements in the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) pending in Congress.

    Google and Facebook already have decried as heavy-handed and Hollywood studios and music labels say is needed to save U.S. jobs.

    In a blog posting, three advisers to President Barack Obama said they believed the act and similar bills could make businesses on the Internet vulnerable to litigation and harm legal activity and free speech.

    "Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," said the officials, including White House cyber-security czar Howard Schmidt.

    The House of Representatives' SOPA bill aims to crack down on online sales of pirated American movies, music or other goods by forcing Internet companies to block access to foreign sites offering material that violates U.S. copyright laws.

    U.S. advertising networks could also be required to stop online ads and search engines would be barred from directly linking to websites found to be distributing pirated goods.

    Those who support stricter piracy rules reacted strongly to Saturday's White House statement, which darkened prospects for legislation already expected to struggle to clear Congress in an election year.

    Schmidt and the other advisers said the Obama administration was ready to work with lawmakers on a narrower, more targeted approach to online piracy to ensure that legitimate businesses -- including start-up companies -- would not be harmed.

    Murdoch, who opened his Twitter account this year, has used it to colorfully opine on a number of topics. Tweeting last week, Murdoch praised New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's latest proposal to overhaul the city's public schools, but referred to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo as "chicken Cuomo."

    He also admitted in a post to his company's mishandling of social network MySpace, which News Corp bought in 2005 for $580 million. Today the site is nearly irrelevant.

    "...we screwed up in every way possible.." Murdoch posted last week.

    (Reporting By Ilaina Jonas, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

    Reuter site - Perry defends Marines accused of urinating on corpses

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    Perry defends Marines accused of urinating on corpses

    Sun, Jan 15 15:14 PM EST

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry, scrambling to keep his U.S. presidential bid alive, accused the Obama administration on Sunday of over-reacting to a videotape that shows four Marines appearing to urinate on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

    "These kids made a mistake. There's not any doubt about it. They shouldn't have done it. It's bad," Perry told CNN's "State of the Union" program.

    "But to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top," said Perry, who faces a possible make-or-break performance in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on Saturday.

    The U.S. Marine Corps named an investigative officer last week to decide what, if any, charges to bring against the four Marines shown in the widely circulated videotape.

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other members of the Obama administration have denounced the action by the Marines.

    "Defiling, desecrating, mocking, photographing or filming for personal use insurgent dead constitutes a grave breach of the (law of armed conflict)," Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, who heads day-to-day Afghan operations, wrote the troops last week.

    Perry, a former Air Force pilot, said the four Marines should be appropriately punished. "But going after them as a criminal act, I think (is) really a bad message," he said.

    Suggesting that armed conflict can alter personal behavior, Perry noted that "there is a picture" of legendary Army General George Patton urinating in the Rhine River in Germany near the end of World War Two.

    "Although there's not a picture," Perry added, British Prime Minister Winston "Churchill did the same thing on the Siegfried line," a massive wall of German defenses.

    (Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Sandra Maler)

    Reuter site - Hacker says to release full Norton Antivirus code on Tuesday

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    Hacker says to release full Norton Antivirus code on Tuesday

    Sat, Jan 14 13:12 PM EST

    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A hacker who goes by the name of 'Yama Tough' threatened Saturday to release next week the full source code for Symantec Corp's flagship Norton Antivirus software.

    "This coming Tuesday behold the full Norton Antivirus 1,7Gb src, the rest will follow," Yama Tough posted via Twitter.

    In the past week Yama Tough has released fragments of source code from Symantec products along with a cache of emails. The hacker says all the data was taken from Indian government servers.

    (Reporting By Frank Jack Daniel)

    Reuter site - Romney opens 21-point lead in South Carolina: Reuters/Ipsos poll

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    Romney opens 21-point lead in South Carolina: Reuters/Ipsos poll

    Sat, Jan 14 20:45 PM EST

    By Jeff Mason

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has opened a wide lead over his rivals in the South Carolina primary election race, trouncing Newt Gingrich and gaining momentum in his march toward the party's nomination, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows.

    Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, could all but quash his rivals' presidential aspirations with a victory in South Carolina on January 21 after winning the first state-by-state nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

    Voters in South Carolina - who have favored Republicans in nine of the last 10 presidential elections - appear to have shrugged off attacks on Romney by rivals who accuse him of killing jobs as a private equity executive for Bain Capital in the 1990s.

    The poll showed 37 percent of South Carolina Republican voters back Romney. Congressman Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum tied for second place with 16 percent support.

    Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, has fallen far back after holding a strong lead in South Carolina in December. He was in fourth place at 12 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos poll.

    "In primary races things can change quickly but it does look like Romney is in position to win South Carolina, and if he wins ... that's sort of the end of the road for most of his challengers," Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson said.

    MITT VS NEWT FEUD

    Romney is clearly winning a feud with Gingrich that began in December before the Iowa caucuses and has become the most bitter fight in the selection of a Republican challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama in November's general election.

    In a question asked of Republicans and Democrats, the poll found South Carolina voters would favor Romney over Obama by 46 percent to 40 percent.

    Asked who they would choose if the nomination contest were solely between Romney and Gingrich, 62 percent of Republicans picked Romney and 30 percent went for Gingrich.

    Senior Republican figures and business executives have berated Gingrich for painting multi-millionaire Romney as a ruthless corporate raider. Many Republican voters are also turned off by the attacks, highlighted in a video documentary produced by a funding group that backs Gingrich.

    "I think those attacks are misguided. The process of any economy has long been one of creative destruction. Some things grow and some things disappear," said Steve Matthews, a lawyer from Columbia, South Carolina, who plans to vote for Romney.

    Romney argues that many more jobs were created by Bain than were lost in his time there.

    Santorum, who surged into second place in the Iowa caucuses before fading in New Hampshire, got a boost on Saturday when Christian conservative leaders meeting in Texas endorsed him.

    After Gingrich, Texas Governor Rick Perry placed next in the Reuters/Ipsos poll with 6 percent support. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who was third in the New Hampshire primary, came in the lowest in the South Carolina poll with 3 percent support.

    "Even if Romney loses South Carolina by a point or two, he's got the organization, he's got the financial backing to do the long battle of attrition that other challengers really don't," said Jackson of Ipsos.

    Romney's campaign announced this week it raised $24 million in the last three months of 2011, while Paul raised $13 million and Gingrich raised $9 million. Obama is way ahead of the Republicans in fundraising.

    The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online from January 10-13 with a sample of 995 South Carolina registered voters. It included 398 Republicans and 380 Democrats.

    Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online surveys but this poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 5 percentage points for Republicans and 3.4 percentage points for all voters.

    (Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in South Carolina, Editing by Alistair Bell and John O'Callaghan)

    Friday, January 13, 2012

    Reuter site - Anti-virus maker AVG files for $125 million IPO

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    Anti-virus maker AVG files for $125 million IPO

    Fri, Jan 13 12:48 PM EST

    By Himank Sharma and Brenton Cordeiro

    (Reuters) - Anti-virus software maker AVG Technologies NV filed to raise up to $125 million in an initial public offering, looking to cash in on the increased demand for technology IPOs.

    AVG, which is known for its free suite of anti-virus products, monetizes its large user base through targeted advertisements and by driving traffic to online search companies such as Google Inc and Yahoo Inc.

    "The whole 'freemium' model has been effective in gaining subscribers, so their strategy seems to be less focused on growing the subscription revenue - if you look at the growth rate year over year." William Blair & Co analyst Jonathan Ho said.

    Under the 'freemium' model, a company provides a free basic service and charges for more advanced features.

    For the first nine months of 2011, AVG's subscription revenue rose marginally to $130.1 million, while its platform-derived revenue almost doubled to $68.02 million.

    The Netherlands-based company, which is backed by Intel Capital, Grisoft Holdings and private equity firm TA Associates, had 106 million active users as of September 30, 2011, according to the filing. But only 15 million users paid for its services.

    Analyst Ho, who follows internet security companies such as Symantec, said demand for security software stocks was on the rise given some of the recent concerns related to widespread hacking.

    "I think that (there is) strong demand for security, given the recent cyber-security headlines, and that's giving the folks (a) chance to take advantage of the high valuations these stocks are attracting."

    Friday's filing comes less than a month after Avast Software BV, another Europe-based anti-virus software maker, filed for a $200 million IPO.

    Earlier last year, data security firm Imperva Inc raised $90 million in its IPO. The stock has climbed over 66 percent since its debut.

    "The momentum in the IPO market in the U.S. and the demand for such deals is much higher than Europe and they will definitely achieve a much higher valuation here than in the European market," Josef Schuster, founder of IPOX Schuster, a fund that specializes in investing in newly public companies, told Reuters.

    AVG reported a net income of $99.7 million on total revenue of $198.1 million for the nine months ended September 30.

    Yahoo accounted for 21.6 percent of the AVG's total revenue in 2010, while Google contributed less than 10 percent to its revenue in the fourth quarter of the same year, the filing said.

    AVG, which plans to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "AVG," competes with Symantec and McAfee, which was acquired by Intel Corp.

    The book-running managers for the AVG offering are Morgan Stanley & Co, J.P. Morgan Securities and Goldman Sachs & Co.

    The proposed offering is expected to consist of ordinary shares to be sold by AVG and certain selling shareholders. The filing did not reveal the number of shares to be sold in the IPO or their expected price.

    The amount of money a company says it plans to raise in its first IPO filings is used to calculate registration fees. The final size of the IPO can be different.

    (Reporting by Brenton Cordeiro and Himank Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Maju Samuel)

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Reuter site - GPS dogtags and glass PCs: the show's hits and misses

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    GPS dogtags and glass PCs: the show's hits and misses

    Thu, Jan 12 18:59 PM EST

    By Bill Rigby and Edwin Chan

    LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - This year's Consumer Electronics Show turned out to be the largest on record, despite a slow economy and what many industry pundits agree is a dearth of genuine scene-stealers.

    But as with most years, avid - and hardy - attendees can always find a few gems that stand out from the inevitable tidal wave of headphones, Internet-enabled home appliances and gadget casings.

    Here are a few high and low moments, compiled by Reuters from the Las Vegas show floor:

    Hits: - Tagg, a GPS-enabled dog or cat collar so you need never lose your beloved companion again. A minute GPS unit clipped to pet collars will send an alarm text or email to your app-installed smartphone should Snuggles wander outside of a prescribed zone.

    - Hewlett-Packard's all-glass-encased Spectre was probably the most eye-catching of the so-called 'Ultrabooks' and drew throngs of onlookers. Intel is hoping the new generation of ultra-thin, instant-on, lightweight laptops - essentially a riposte to Apple's MacBook Air - will safeguard its market share as tablets and smartphones encroach on its traditional personal-computing turf.

    - The Tobii, which tracks eye movements to execute commands - what it calls "gaze interaction" - taking gesture-controlled interfaces a step further and upping the sophistication ante. Along with Nuance's voice controls and Microsoft's Kinect gesture-recognition technology, it offers an alternative to the fast-getting-old keyboard-mouse input model in an era of touchscreens. Zoom, auto-center, destroy virtual asteroids - moving just your eyes.

    - Samsung Note, the beefed up "phablet" with a 5.3 inch screen that sits somewhere between a phone and a tablet. It may seem unwieldy held up to one's ear, and the screen - at half the iPad's size - might seem wanting as well, but its sleek lines, pin-sharp Android apps and unique shape drew in the crowds.

    - Nokia's Lumia 900 phone, running Windows, marked the once-mighty Finnish handset maker's return to the U.S. market - and Microsoft's biggest phone gambit yet. People clamored for a feel, but demos were limited and there is no release date yet.

    - Massive, 55-inch "OLED" TVs from Samsung and LG, which are both cautiously hopeful the costlier, but crisper screens will re-energize a faltering global TV market after flat sales in 2011. Bonus: look at them sideways and they almost disappear.

    Misses - Microsoft Corp signed off after 14 show-opening keynotes with a bizarre, news-free presentation featuring a "Twitter choir" and a Q&A anchored by Ryan Seacrest. The company is reportedly revamping its marketing organization.

    - Panasonic Corp's combo digital photo frame and Skype terminal. "The idea of some engineer who has been locked in a room for 10 years," one observer quipped.

    - Dish Network Corp's stunt with a fidgety live kangaroo onstage, to launch its new "Hopper" package. For a video, click on http://blogs.reuters.com/mediafile/2012/01/09/dishs-kangaroo-pitchman-doesnt-cooperate/

    - A Samsung Electronics Co Ltd's fridge that streams Pandora and Twitter. It's OK to take a break from the Internet every now and then.

    - And last but not least: Sony Corp's strange "Wedding Invitation" promo for its Internet-enabled TVs. Verbatim from the invite: "Internet plopped down on one knee. After nervously fidgeting around, he blurted, "I can haz marriage?" and presented TV with a giant ring. She, of course, said yes. And the rest is history."

    (Reporting By Poornima Gupta, Sinead Carew, Liana Baker, Tim Kelly, Miyoung Kim and Noel Randewich; editing by Andre Grenon)

    Reuter site - "Drip-casting": Mobile's answer to network logjams

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    "Drip-casting": Mobile's answer to network logjams

    Thu, Jan 12 18:13 PM EST

    By Sinead Carew

    LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The wireless industry is looking at new ways to deliver mobile video services and charging consumers as it tries to boost usage without overloading networks, a top Verizon Wireless technology executive said.

    The shift, which will happen as early as this year, involves a new concept the executive, Shadman Zafar, described- as drip-casting, where video is sent gradually to devices such as tablets.

    This will come hand in hand with so-called smart charging, where operators would not charge for certain data downloads, Zafar said in an interview with Reuters at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

    "This is where the industry is generally looking," said the executive, who recently joined Verizon Wireless from parent company Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N>, where he oversaw product development for the FiOS television and Internet business.

    Under the model he described, consumers would order a video on their wireless device before they expect to watch it. The service provider would then gradually send the video to the consumer in a way that does not put too much strain on the network. This would involve sending the data in off-peak times or choosing network routes with little traffic, Zafar said.

    In return for the delay, the customer would not be charged for the download, he said.

    Such options could make consumers more inclined to watch video on phones or tablets since the biggest U.S. operators, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc <T.N>, charge for data usage on a metered basis.

    "The idea would be that you don't get charged for certain data because the carrier would handle it differently," Zafar said.

    The ability of the carrier to charge different prices for differing types of traffic could have other applications, too, according to the executive.

    Zafar suggested the possibility of services where a content provider attracts new customers by paying for their wireless access to a website or service, similar to 1-800 calls on the telephone.

    "You could end up creating new models," Zafar said, noting that Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> already does something similar by including the cost of wireless e-book downloads into the price of the book.

    While Zafar declined to comment on specific plans for Verizon Wireless, he expects to see such services very soon in the industry.

    "All these technologies are real and ready to go," he said. "This year, you'll see a lot of innovation."

    Zafar, who joined Verizon Wireless at the start of January, will be responsible for coordinating with a joint venture Verizon Wireless is seeking to set up with cable operators, including Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> and Time Warner Cable Inc <TWC.N>.

    The companies are seeking regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of Justice for the venture, which was announced in December as part of a bigger agreement under which Verizon Wireless is buying spectrum from the cable companies. It has promised to let the cable operators resell its wireless services.

    Zafar declined to disclose the venture's products except to say the goal is to collaborate on offerings none of the companies could have developed on their own.

    (Reporting By Sinead Carew; editing by Andre Grenon)

    Reuter site - Verizon FiOS: To beat 'em, first join 'em

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    Verizon FiOS: To beat 'em, first join 'em

    Thu, Jan 12 17:54 PM EST

    LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Verizon Communications Inc is pushing hard to move its "FiOS" TV service beyond the set-top box and onto the latest gadgets - from TVs and tablets to gaming consoles - to fend off competition from online video services such as Netflix Inc, Amazon Inc and Apple's Inc iTunes.

    Verizon plans to extend its service to "dozens and dozens" of devices in the next 12 to 24 months, Joe Ambeault, director of product management for FiOS TV, told Reuters in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

    The company announced deals this week to get its service onto "smart" TVs from LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics Co, as well as on Microsoft Corp's Xbox gaming console. Unlike traditional televisions, these sets - which Verizon is testing - have Internet connections that let users stream Web video alongside FiOS content.

    Such partnerships could encourage cost-conscious consumers to end their FiOS TV subscriptions, but Ambeault noted he had no choice, but to compete with Web-based services.

    "I've a whole new set of competitors," Ambeault said, adding that his embrace of these devices is proactive. "It's too late after people are already fleeing."

    Another big source of competition could be iTunes. Apple is widely expected to launch a living-room television as soon as this year. Ambeault does not know if or when that might happen, but if it does, he hopes to make sure FiOS content is available on such a product.

    "We would love to integrate our content onto the Apple TV," he said. "My alternative is to do nothing and ignore the device, and you go there anyway as a consumer ... or be on that device and have a fighting chance and keep your business."

    Ambeault also noted that, if FiOS is associated with innovative hardware, it can help keep consumers interested. He cited a feature on the upcoming LG TV, which allows the user to control the TV by waving a "magic wand" remote control instead of using traditional controls.

    To help ensure FiOS is the service consumers associate with such innovation, Ambeault is planning joint advertising with LG, similar to the way Verizon Wireless features its latest phones in advertisements for its wireless service.

    "If I'm there first, I've a higher likelihood of winning. If I'm not on that device, I'm out of here," he added.

    (Reporting By Sinead Carew; editing by Andre Grenon)

    Reuter site - Internet revolution dawns with .yournamehere domains

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    Internet revolution dawns with .yournamehere domains

    Thu, Jan 12 09:36 AM EST

    By Georgina Prodhan

    LONDON (Reuters) - A quiet Internet revolution begins on Thursday. Organizations can begin applying to name and run their own domains instead of entrusting them to the operators of .com, .org, .gov and others.

    Up to 2,000 applications are expected to be made to ICANN, the body that oversees the Internet's naming system for so-called "top-level" international domains. The window to grab some virtual real estate will close in three months' time, probably for years.

    The most radical move in U.S.-based ICANN's 13-year history is designed to foster competition and innovation, allowing the new domain owners to build new communities, strengthen ties with customers and give consumers more power.

    "It's a fascinating new chapter in the Internet's history," says Jonathan Robinson, non-executive director of Afilias, which is helping with applications and already provides key infrastructure for .org, .info and .mobi.

    "It's opening up new fronts of Internet real estate and that brings opportunity and threat."

    Most of the first wave of applications is expected to come from leading brand owners who see an opportunity to boost their visibility online, or simply fear that others will grab "their" space if they do not do so themselves.

    At $185,000 per application, estimated start-up costs of $500,000 and annual running costs of about $100,000, a .yournamehere domain will be out of reach of the smallest companies and Organizations.

    But applications are expected from cities or regions with strong identities, such as .london and .mumbai, from companies aiming to build a business based on new domains, and from community identifiers like .eco or .gay.

    Melbourne IT, a leading consultancy firm that is preparing about 100 applications for customers, says most interest has come from the financial services and consumer goods sectors.

    "They're looking at it as something they can use as an additional weapon." says the firm's European sales director Stuart Durham.

    "Banks are looking at it for online authentication, to prevent fraud and build trust, while consumer goods makers believe they can use this to become more effective in their online marketing and consumer engagement," he says.

    For example, a customer on a site ending .hsbc could be certain it was genuinely operated by the bank, or a consumer goods maker like Canon might give each customer their own .canon domain to keep details of their purchases and for communication.

    SECRECY

    Camera maker Canon is one of just a handful of companies to have acknowledged they are applying to operate their own brand domains -- Deloitte and Hitachi are others. Others are more secretive, fearing unwanted competition, and ICANN will publish details of applicants only after the window closes in April.

    In cases where more than one applicant has a legitimate claim to operate a domain - for example, .apple could be contested by the iPod maker and the record label -- ICANN will hold an auction.

    The trademark lobby in the United States has some issues with this process. It argues that brand owners will be forced to mount expensive and unnecessary bids to protect their brands online, and has mounted a last-minute offensive to change the rules.

    But ICANN says strict criteria are already in place to protect interests.

    Applicants have to demonstrate that they have relevant intellectual property rights, and detail how they will operate the domain. The aim here is to prevent cybersquatters from buying up valuable ones and then leaving them inactive while they negotiate a profitable sale to a more legitimate claimant.

    The $185,000 application fee is a far cry from the $10 or so needed to register a .com site. Applicants have to fill in a lengthy and complex application form, around which a whole consultancy industry has sprung up.

    "It's not something you can just complete in five minutes online using a credit card, like you can for a .com domain name today," says Melbourne IT's Durham.

    Jeff Ernst, principal analyst at technology analysis firm Forrester, says he is advising customers against a knee-jerk application.

    "I'm not an evangelist for the program myself. I've talked to about 50 companies now in the last six months. There were only about five or six that we found had reason to apply," he says. I'm advising against just doing a defensive registration."

    ARTIFICIAL SCARCITY

    Beyond the big brands, the revolution in Internet naming could give smaller businesses the chance to increase their visibility online.

    With the introduction of geographical top-level domains, a bicycles firm, for example, might boost its profile by winning bicycles.london or bicycles.mumbai, whereas bicycles.com could be prohibitively expensive to acquire from the owner.

    "There's tremendous artificial scarcity that's been caused by the delay in the development of these new domains," says Jacob Malthouse, co-founder of Big Room, a Canadian company which is applying to run the new top-level domain .eco.

    Malthouse believes the changes mean global communities such as the environmental movement will be better able to unite and work together in future. His organization is backed by some of the world's biggest environmental groups, including Greenpeace, WWF International and the Green Cross.

    Malthouse argues that with such backers, .eco would have the authority to certify genuine environmental Organizations and individuals, allowing only them to register a .eco address, and screening out much of the "greenwash" that exists.

    "The environmental community has never had a home on the Internet before," he says.

    "We see .eco as an opportunity for smaller Organizations or smaller businesses. Maybe a .org doesn't really communicate what they do, or .com doesn't communicate it."

    Malthouse says he has been open about his bid to gather the most broad-based and authoritative support possible, to prevent commercial interests from grabbing the domain.

    "I think there's a real risk that private groups will try to force .eco to auction. The way we manage that is by demonstrating environmental community support. That's why we've been so public about the bid," he says.

    CANDY FLOSS

    A handful of potential new domains such as .eco seem likely to succeed but many may turn out to be little used, as was the experience for .jobs, .museum .travel and others in previous, experimental rounds of liberalization.

    The .com domain remains dominant for companies, Tim Freeborn, technology and media analyst at London-based brokerage Xcap points out.

    "The .mobis were a bit of a washout even though people made money selling addresses," he said. "There may be lots of addresses but they just may not catch anyone's imagination."

    Freeborn follows Top Level Domain Holdings, a London-listed company set up to exploit the possibilities of the program, and which is applying for 20 domains on behalf of customers and 30-50 for itself.

    Peter Dengate Thrush, TLDH's executive chairman and a former chairman of ICANN, says the process has been protracted -- six years in the planning -- and skepticism widespread, but interest is belatedly gathering momentum.

    "A lot of people are waking up to domain names in general. The availability of .xxx (for pornographic sites) has alerted a lot of people," says Thrush.

    Some investors are buying TLDH shares as a pure-play bet on the value of the new domains. Its share price has risen 41 percent since the end of November, as fears that the U.S. trademark lobby might derail ICANN's plans have faded.

    Still, the model has yet to be proven. ICANN is likely to take until the end of 2012 to award the first new top-level domains, and in the case of hotly contested ones it may be years before they come online.

    "The main risk is that people and companies will still gravitate towards .com, and the second risk is that the process of sorting out some of the major generics will be protracted," says Mike Jeremy, analyst at London brokerage Daniel Stewart, who also covers TLDH.

    Xcap's Freeborn says: "It feels like candy floss. It's very hard to get a grip on it at the moment. A year from now it should be a lot clearer."

    (Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Andrew Callus)

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    Reuter site - Stratfor relaunches website in wake of attack

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    Stratfor relaunches website in wake of attack

    Wed, Jan 11 13:30 PM EST

    By Jim Finkle

    (Reuters) - Intelligence analysis firm Strategic Forecasting Inc (Stratfor) relaunched its website more than two weeks after an attack by hackers who had stolen data of clients including Henry Kissinger and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

    As the Austin, Texas-based firm re-opened the site on Wednesday, it disclosed that the hackers took credit card data in early December, then returned on Christmas Eve to attack four of its servers, forcing its site offline and crippling its operations.

    "It was deliberate destruction," Stratfor Chief Executive George Friedman said in an interview. "Their only motivation in doing that was to silence us. We don't know why they wanted to silence us."

    Stratfor is a private firm that publishes research about international affairs. Prior to the attack it had more than 300,000 paying customers including politicians, military officers, government officials and business executives.

    Friedman said that the company had drawn on its savings to stay in business because it had lost a month's work of subscriptions due to the attacks.

    "As you can see, we are readily capable of not having revenue for a month and our plan is to not have revenue for another month, so we clearly have the resources to survive this and we will," Friedman said.

    Hackers affiliated with the group Anonymous who have claimed responsibility for the attack have said they possess email correspondence of Stratfor's approximately 100 employees that they intend to release.

    A spokesperson for the hacking group said last month via Twitter that the correspondence would show "Stratfor is not the 'harmless company' it tries to paint itself as."

    Friedman said that he would prefer the emails not be made public, but that there were no smoking guns supporting the claims of the hackers that his company is engaged in nefarious activities.

    "If they come out, it is certainly something we can live with," he told Reuters.

    HICCUPS

    Stratfor put its site back online on Wednesday morning, posting new reports on Lithuania's energy strategy and Iraq's intelligence services.

    A Stratfor spokesman said that some subscribers had trouble accessing the site as the company adjusted its bandwidth to meet demand.

    In late December the hackers released credit card numbers belonging to thousands of Stratfor customers, including former U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger. That prompted security experts to speculate that the company had failed to encrypt the data before storing it on its computer system.

    "This was our failure. As the CEO of Stratfor, I take responsibility," Friedman said in an email to customers.

    Stratfor said it would use an outside company to process credit card transactions in the future. It also said that an Internet security firm, Sec Theory, was rebuilding its website, email system and internal infrastructure.

    It also said that investigators with Verizon Communications Inc conducted a forensic review of the attack on behalf of Stratfor and that it was cooperating with the FBI's investigation into the matter.

    Anonymous is a loose-knit group of activist hackers that became famous for attacking companies and institutions that oppose WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

    Anonymous has also been linked to attacks on the websites of the PlayStation store, the Church of Scientology and governments around the globe that it considered oppressive.

    (Reporting By Jim Finkle, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

    Reuter site - Motorola, Lenovo sign on to first Intel-powered smartphones

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    Motorola, Lenovo sign on to first Intel-powered smartphones

    Wed, Jan 11 01:02 AM EST

    By Noel Randewich

    (Reuters) - Intel announced multi-year pacts with Motorola Mobility and Lenovo to develop smartphones and tablets, and said the first Google Android phones using the top chipmaker's processors would go on sale this year.

    Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini said Lenovo would launch a smartphone for the Chinese market using Intel's newest chip in the second quarter of the year, while Motorola will release its phone in the second half.

    The agreements with the U.S. and Chinese consumer electronics makers help shore up Intel's boldest foray into the mobile arena. The company is hoping its new "Medfield" chip conserves enough power to compete with rival smartphones using ARM Holdings' more energy-efficient architecture.

    The world's largest chip maker is also making a concerted push for the likes of Hewlett Packard to go big on super-slim, Apple Macbook Air-like laptops called Ultrabooks, which it hopes will preserve its dominance of the PC market as tablets like the iPad draw consumers away.

    "It is a multi-year, multi-product strategy that will bring both phones and tablets to the (U.S.) marketplace starting with a phone in the second half of 2012," Dave Whalen, a vice president in the Intel Architecture Group, said of the agreement with Motorola.

    "You're going to see us working very closely with them on technologies," Whalen told Reuters in an interview.

    With mobile processors made by the likes of Texas Instruments Inc and Samsung stealing the show, Intel's engineers have been laboring to adapt technology refined over decades for PCs to work better in handheld devices without quickly draining their batteries.

    With its chips so far seen as to power hungry for handheld devices, Intel has found itself left behind in a headlong race to design the brains of tablets and smartphones.

    DANGERS OF IRRELEVANCE

    Intel says Medfield ranks well in benchmark tests against competing chips on the market.

    An ongoing relationship to build smartphones with Motorola could position Intel well in the fast-growing market, even if Motorola continues to make phones using other companies' processors.

    Motorola Mobility has agreed to be bought by Google, which owns the Android platform widely used on smartphones and tablets competing with Apple.

    "We're going to work very closely with Motorola and Google and really figure out what kind of things we can do that are unique and different," Whalen said, mentioning camera and video technology as examples.

    The Lenovo agreement builds on an existing partnership between the two companies focused on personal computers. Lenovo, the world's No. 2 PC maker, has focused its strategy on its home market but on Tuesday, it said it would sell a smartphone for U.S. consumers in time.

    Many on Wall Street deem Intel at a crossroads, where it either has to carve out a share of the mobile market or risk becoming irrelevant in the long run.

    The Santa Clara, California company has made previous attempts at processors for smartphones and tablets that fell short of expectations and were passed over by manufacturers.

    Many Wall Street investors have since taken a "wait and see" attitude toward Intel's efforts in mobile. With the tablet and smartphone market booming -- partly at the expense of personal computers -- investors worry that the chipmaker's setback in mobile could leave it badly positioned for future waves of mobile devices.

    Worldwide smartphone processor sales came to $2.24 billion in the third quarter of last year, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics. That's a pittance compared with Intel's $14.7 billion in revenue in the same quarter.

    But smartphone sales are expected to grow 32 percent in 2012, according to IHS iSuppli, while some experts see marginal PC microprocessor demand growth at best.

    (Editing By Edwin Chan)

    Reuter site - Homeland Security watches Twitter, social media

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    Homeland Security watches Twitter, social media

    Wed, Jan 11 13:37 PM EST

    By Mark Hosenball

    (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's command center routinely monitors dozens of popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, WikiLeaks and news and gossip sites including the Huffington Post and Drudge Report, according to a government document.

    A "privacy compliance review" issued by DHS last November says that since at least June 2010, its national operations center has been operating a "Social Networking/Media Capability" which involves regular monitoring of "publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards."

    The purpose of the monitoring, says the government document, is to "collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture."

    The document adds, using more plain language, that such monitoring is designed to help DHS and its numerous agencies, which include the U.S. Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency, to manage government responses to such events as the 2010 earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and security and border control related to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

    A DHS official familiar with the monitoring program said that it was intended purely to enable command center officials to keep in touch with various Internet-era media so that they were aware of major, developing events to which the Department or its agencies might have to respond.

    The document outlining the monitoring program says that all the websites which the command center will be monitoring were "publicly available and... all use of data published via social media sites was solely to provide more accurate situational awareness, a more complete common operating pictures, and more timely information for decision makers..."

    The DHS official said that under the program's rules, the department would not keep permanent copies of the internet traffic it monitors. However, the document outlining the program does say that the operations center "will retain information for no more than five years."

    The monitoring scheme also features a five-page list, attached to the privacy review document, of websites the Department's command center expected to be monitoring.

    CONTROVERSIAL SITES

    These include social networking sites Facebook and My Space - though there is a parenthetical notice that My Space only affords a "limited search" capability - and more than a dozen sites that monitor, aggregate and enable searches of Twitter messages and exchanges.

    Among blogs and aggregators on the list are ABC News' investigative blog "The Blotter;" blogs that cover bird flu; several blogs related to news and activity along U.S. borders (DHS runs border and immigration agencies); blogs that cover drug trafficking and cybercrime; and websites that follow wildfires in Los Angeles and hurricanes.

    News and gossip sites on the monitoring list include popular destinations such as the Drudge Report, Huffington Post and "NY Times Lede Blog", as well as more focused techie fare such as the Wired blogs "Threat Level" and "Danger Room." Numerous blogs related to terrorism and security are also on the list.

    Some of the sites on the list are potentially controversial. WikiLeaks is listed for monitoring, even though officials in some other government agencies were warned against using their official computers to access WikiLeaks material because much of it is still legally classified under U.S. government rules.

    Another blog on the list, Cryptome, also periodically posts leaked documents and was one of the first websites to post information related to the Homeland Security monitoring program.

    Also on the list are JihadWatch and Informed Comment, blogs that cover issues related to Islam through sharp political prisms, which have sometimes led critics to accuse the sites of political bias.

    Also on the list are various video and photo-sharing sites, including Hulu, YouTube and Flickr.

    While a DHS official involved in the monitoring program confirmed the authenticity of the list, officials authorized to speak for the Department did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

    (Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Eric Walsh)

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    *bout to get me some of that power mat money...* Jay-Zed

    "I like being able to fire people..."

    I'm rich b****!

    Image of new dish dvr. Pseudo on demand type of thing.

    ceo Of olympus *i done ****ed up now...*

    Big ole ultra definition oled HD TV

    Reuter site - Internet body says name expansion won't hurt United Nations

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    Internet body says name expansion won't hurt United Nations

    Mon, Jan 09 16:04 PM EST

    By Patrick Worsnip

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Internet domain name regulators on Monday played down fears by the United Nations and other international bodies that a planned expansion of possible Website addresses could cause them problems, saying safeguards were in place.

    The world body, the International Monetary Fund and 26 other organizations last month wrote to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, asking it to stop addresses like ".un" or ".imf" from being seized by "cybersquatters."

    Cybersquatters register addresses that appear to belong to others, sometimes in the hope of selling them to those who have a more logical claim to them.

    ICANN, an independent non-profit body, is due to begin accepting applications on Thursday for a hugely expanded number of options for top-level domains -- the code to the right of the period in a URL, such as ".com" or ".org."

    "We're very sensitive to those concerns," ICANN president Rod Beckstrom told reporters, referring to the objections by international bodies. "We'll be responding to that letter."

    Beckstrom said that if anyone applied for a top-level domain using a trademark or service mark owned by someone else, the owner could file a complaint to a panel of intellectual property experts, who would decide who had rights to the term.

    "If (those who registered the domain) have no rights to that term, then you're in a very good position," he said. "So you don't need to apply for the term for a top-level domain because you're concerned that someone who has no rights might apply."

    DEFENSIVE SPENDING

    Private corporations are also worried about increased potential for Web addresses falling into the wrong hands. A top executive of the U.S. Association of National Advertisers, Dan Jaffe, has warned there might have to be enormous "defensive spending" by companies to buy up each version of their name.

    Purchasing a top-level domain will cost $185,000, but Beckstrom said that with annual fees to ICANN added in, the cost would rise to over $400,000 over the first 10 years in payments to ICANN alone.

    In their letter to ICANN, the international bodies said: "The IGO (intergovernmental organization) community concerns relate to the increased potential for the misleading registration and use of IGO names and acronyms in the domain name system."

    Jamie Hedlund, ICANN vice president for government affairs, said that while international organizations did not have trade marks for their names, terms protected by international treaty would receive the same protection as trademarks.

    "If the United Nations is protected by treaty, (and) someone

    applies for dot-unitednations, they'll have lost their $185,000 application fee because ... they don't have the right to use that name," he said.

    ICANN, based in Palo Alto, California, was created in 1998 by the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton to take over domain name regulation from the U.S. government.

    It reported to the U.S. Commerce Department until 2009 but says it is now an international non-profit organization representing the world's 2 billion Internet users.

    Beckstrom described the application period, which will run from Thursday until April 12, as "the most significant opening in the history of the domain system" and said it was designed to promote competition.

    ICANN says the exercise could raise the number of generic top-level domains from about two dozen now to hundreds.

    (Reporting By Patrick Worsnip; editing by Todd Eastham)

    Reuter site - Samsung unveils new tablet, available via Verizon

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    Samsung unveils new tablet, available via Verizon

    Mon, Jan 09 19:38 PM EST

    LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co unveiled its latest tablet using a 7.7-inch OLED display on Monday, and said the product will be available through U.S. mobile carrier Verizon Wireless.

    The device is the Korean electronics giant's first tablet using organic light emitting diodes (OLED), which boasts better picture quality than mainstream LCD flat-screens.

    (Reporting by Miyoung Kim and Poornima Gupta)

    Reuter site - Apple's Siri puts voice-enabled search in spotlight

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    Apple's Siri puts voice-enabled search in spotlight

    Mon, Jan 09 19:37 PM EST

    By Poornima Gupta and Sinead Carew

    Las Vegas (Reuters) - Apple Inc will again dominate conversations at CES, the world's biggest technology showcase. Only this time, the talk is extending beyond iPad and iPhone chatter to include "Siri," the voice app that is capturing consumers' imagination.

    Apple's dulcet-voiced, speech-controlled personal assistant, a key factor in making the iPhone 4S a blockbuster, has breathed new life into the once-obscure and oft-maligned world of speech-recognition technology.

    Siri, which can do everything from taking dictation for text messages and entering calendar appointments to answering general-knowledge questions, has intrigued users. Experts say it demonstrated emphatically that voice recognition has moved beyond the days of misheard commands, narrowly defined keywords and anguishingly slow speeds.

    The smartphone industry is now scrambling to match and better Apple's offering. Google Inc and Microsoft Corp will likely want to cash in on an explosion of interest in an area they have invested in for years, without getting anything like the attention Siri is attracting.

    "All the mobile phone manufacturers are investing in speech, expanding investments in speech, creating more elegant designs and integrating it more deeply into phones," said Michael Thompson, senior vice president for mobile at voice-recognition specialist Nuance.

    Thompson was coy about his company's future plans but said he expects voice to be a central topic at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as device makers jostle for attention from investors, media and consumers.

    While voice is expected to be used in many areas of consumer electronics, the technology is particularly pertinent to cellphones because it simplifies functions from Web surfing to typing.

    Internet merchants like eBay are also jumping on the bandwagon. And reports have emerged about a voice-control for TVS from South Korea's LG Electronics just before CES, which will open its doors in Las Vegas this week.

    Many companies at CES are not yet ready to showcase products that can match or outdo Siri, Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said. But he said he expects the current flurry of activity to result in big voice product advancements in coming years as the technology is perfected.

    Apple's rivals are planning to ship phones with improved speech technology in the fall, in time for the 2012 year-end holiday season, said Thompson at Nuance, which supplies and licenses technology to Apple but has its own voice app.

    Even traditional PC makers will jump on the bandwagon: Intel announced at CES on Monday it will adopt Nuance's "Dragon NaturallySpeaking" voice-command technology on ultra-thin laptops -- dubbed UltraBooks -- coming out this year from the likes of Dell and Hewlett Packard.

    "Voice as an input mechanism is going to be more and more useful and more and more prevalent," Golvin said. "Consumers have a lot of bad historical experience with it. They are going to encounter good voice interfaces more and more."

    BANDWAGON ROLLS ON

    Experts say the technology will evolve as more consumers get acclimated to it.

    The interest in voice is already sparking acquisitions, with Nuance setting its sights on phones based on Google's Android operating system. Last month, it bought Vlingo, a developer of voice-control apps for a phones based on Android.

    Android phone manufacturers -- all major rivals of Apple -- include Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, HTC Corp and Motorola Mobility, which Google is buying.

    In the meantime, some developers are helping phone makers bridge the gap. A new app called "Ask Ziggy," launched a few weeks ago on Microsoft Windows-based smartphones, is generating buzz among users as it allows them to update Facebook, Twitter, answer texts and questions -- all through speech.

    The free app helps a Windows phone mimic Siri's features and is already one of the top downloaded apps in its category.

    "There's been a lot of interest globally," said Ask Ziggy developer Shai Leib, who told Reuters his inbox has been flooded with feedback from users, some even from Microsoft employees.

    Leib plans to incorporate speech technology further in the app, to make phones completely hands-free. Microsoft's gesture-based Xbox Kinect gaming system has also raised the possibility of using hand gestures to manipulate screens and execute commands -- the so-called "Minority Report" interface named after the Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle.

    "With the success of the Microsoft Kinect and Apple's Siri, new ways to interface with CE devices have suddenly become top of mind," Ben Arnold, NPD's director of industry analysis, wrote in a blogpost last week. "I expect several companies to exhibit products using some of these new interface methods in an effort to differentiate themselves."

    Leib argues there's nothing to stop smartphones also adopting gesture-recognition.

    "The next level is to improve the speech, grammar and make the answers a little bit more conversational," he said. "The possibilities are amazing, especially with Kinect."

    "I am looking forward to see what's going to happen with Windows 8 and if there are going to be future updates on the Windows phone that can recognize gestures."

    HISTORY OF SPEECH

    Apple was not the first to incorporate speech on phones. Google has had speech-recognition applications for Android smartphones for more than two years, and is now possibly trying to beef up its capabilities through the recent acquisition of a company called Alfred.

    Alfred uses artificial-intelligence technology to sift through the Web's vast trove of data and recommend restaurants, bars and other real-world places users might like. Some experts say the technology could provide an important building-block that Google could pair with existing voice-recognition technology to create its own answer to Siri.

    E-commerce companies are also playing catch-up, not wanting to be caught flat-footed should consumers become more comfortable using voice to search the Web and shop online.

    EBay is planning a voice and image-based search function for its online market and "Red Laser" price-checking mobile software.

    EBay Chief Executive John Donahoe has said he believes Siri is just the beginning, and sees a future where users can speak their preferences into phones to narrow down shopping choices.

    Dan Miller of San Francisco-based Opus Research agrees. He was particularly intrigued by reports last November of an acquisition by Amazon.com of Yap, whose software coverts voice to text.

    "The clock is ticking. In the next year or year and half expect a talking Kindle that supports commerce," Miller said.

    Miller, who has studied voice technology for about 25 years, said he is gratified by the sudden spotlight on voice as he recalls years of consumer frustration over automated customer service systems.

    "We're really happy to see this much positive attention," he said, "As opposed to "Oh the machine doesn't understand me."

    (Reporting By Poornima Gupta and Sinead Carew; Editing by Edwin Chan and Steve Orlofsky)

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