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    Tuesday, May 29, 2012

    Reuter site - Opera would cost Facebook over $1 billion: analysts

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    Opera would cost Facebook over $1 billion: analysts

    Tue, May 29 08:21 AM EDT

    By Joachim Dagenborg and Balazs Koranyi

    OSLO (Reuters) - Opera Software would cost Facebook over $1 billion as competition from Google and others could push up the price tag, analysts said on Tuesday, as takeover talk pushed the shares up as much as 26 percent on Tuesday.

    Oslo-listed Opera, coveted for its advanced mobile phone software technology, would be a perfect fit for Facebook but the firm's business is also vital for some of the industry's biggest players so any bid is likely to attract others to the table.

    "Opera would be sensible for Facebook on several levels," Arctic Securities said.

    "It would enhance the now limited mobile experience of Facebook, improve Facebook's mobile monetization problem, help Facebook retain online game developers leaving the social network over the lack of a mobile platform and further improve Facebook's ability to target ads."

    Opera makes various web browsers that work across an array of platforms including mobile phones, tablets, PCs, and TVs.

    The software is available on most phones, including the iPhone and the BlackBerry, and works on various operating systems, including Android, giving Opera the reach Facebook is seeking.

    The browser can compress data by as much as 90 percent, saving consumers on data charges, and has the technology to better display ads, a key factor for Facebook which has struggled to convert its rapidly increasing traffic from mobile platforms to revenue.

    Opera, which has about 200 million Mobile and Mini subscribers, has also built a significant market share in key emerging markets, such as India, Brazil and Asia, where Facebook has been generally weak.

    $1 BLN PLUS?

    It would be such a perfect fit for Facebook, analysts said it would have to pay a hefty premium.

    DNB, Norway's top bank, said the price would have to be double Friday's closing level, or 68.6 crowns, valuing the firm at $1.35 billion, while Danske Bank and ABG Sundal Collier both predicted a price between 50 and 60 crowns a share, or between $1 billion and $1.2 billion.

    At 1139 GMT, the stock traded up 17.2 percent at 40.2 crowns a share, valuing the firm at around $800 million.

    Opera officials have repeatedly declined to comment.

    However, Chief Executive Lars Boilesen last October said he would "love to" further cooperate with Facebook.

    "We are already Facebook's platform of distribution in emerging markets like Africa and India. A big part of the Opera Mini traffic is from Facebook. So we are already their channel in these markets," he said in October.

    "We would love to cooperate with Facebook, but the same goes for Google and everyone else. There are no limits here, because we are the leading mobile client in these markets," he added.

    OBSTACLES

    Still, several obstacles remain.

    Opera founder and top shareholder Jon S. Von Tetzchner said the firm should focus on organic growth.

    "I want Opera to focus on growth and delivering good results; there are big opportunities for Opera," Tetzchner, who holds 10.9 percent of Opera told Reuters. "We have been promised 500 million users by 2013 and I think that's a good goal and the firm should keep going for it."

    "I personally think that an ARPU (average revenue per user) goal of $1 is even modest," he said. "I am not pushing for a takeover."

    Tetzchner said he was not aware of a bid and had not decided how he would react to one but added it would be "undemocratic" for him to try to block it if others supported it.

    Another obstacle could be Google, which has extensive relationships with Opera.

    "A takeover by Facebook will likely send cold water down Google's spine," Arctic Securities said.

    Google is Opera's default search partner for Opera Mini and Opera Mobile worldwide outside Russia/CIS, making the firm a key relationship for Google.

    (Editing by David Cowell)

    Thursday, May 24, 2012

    On Siri (Schwab - News)

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    Reuter site - Analysis: Hard-up telcos get stingy with mobile give-aways

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    Analysis: Hard-up telcos get stingy with mobile give-aways

    Thu, May 24 11:05 AM EDT

    By Leila Abboud

    PARIS (Reuters) - Save up now for that new iPhone: the era of free or cut-price phones when signing a new mobile phone contract may be soon be over in Europe.

    Telecom companies, facing a profit squeeze from fierce competition and regulatory pressures, are taking the knife to the generous subsidies that allow new mobile customers to get the latest smartphones on the cheap.

    Two of Europe's biggest telecom operators, Vodafone <VOD.L> and Telefonica <TLSN.ST>, are using Spain as a testing ground for this big change in their business model, while in France a new ultra-low cost mobile player Iliad <ILD.PA> won clients with a no-subsidy approach.

    It's a gamble that could boost telcos' bottom lines but could also lose them customers in recession-hit Europe. And it is likely to hurt mobile phone makers if people hold back from buying the latest smartphone, which at 600 euros-plus often costs more than a flat screen television.

    In Europe, telecoms companies' spending on phones more than doubled to 13 billion euros ($16.36 billion) last year, meaning more was spent on phones than on upgrading mobile networks, according to Bernstein Research. Globally, phone subsidies climbed more than 40 percent from 2009 to 2011 to reach $48.5 billion.

    "There is a sense of uneasiness about very heavy subsidies and a realization that they are not good for the industry," said Telecom Italia Chief Executive Franco Bernabe at a conference.

    Vodafone Chief Executive Vittorio Colao said that operators could now scale back their spending since consumers were addicted to smartphones. "There are now very good Android smartphones available with mid-to-low end pricing, so there is much less need today to heavily subsidize handsets to just fuel data growth," he said on an investor call.

    Traditionally, mobile operators buy phones in bulk from manufacturers like Apple <AAPL.O> or Nokia <NOK1V.HE> and then offer them for free or a low upfront cost to customers when they sign a new one or two-year contract.

    Although they usually recoup the subsidy during the contract, some firms are concerned that the approach saps profits, especially as the cost of smartphones creeps up and tech-savvy consumers expect upgrades every year.

    In Spain, where one in four people are unemployed, market leader Telefonica dropped subsidized mobiles for new customers in March and offered payment plans instead so they can buy them themselves. Vodafone soon followed suit.

    Both say they will focus their marketing dollars instead on keeping their customers they already have.

    In France, new mobile player Iliad launched its 'Free Mobile' service in mid-January with no phone subsidies whatsoever and rapidly attracted 2.6 million customers, prompting all of its larger rivals to match the model despite initially deriding it.

    The marketing chief of Vivendi's SFR <VIV.PA> Frank Cadoret predicted up to 30 percent of the French would soon buy mobile services this way.

    U.S. phone companies, including AT&T <T.N> and Verizon <VZ.N>, are watching developments in Europe closely. They are managing to prosper from the smartphone boom because of better pricing power, and have so far adopted less dramatic measures like delaying phone upgrades and imposing fees of $30 when people get a new mobile.

    Sprint <S.N> Chief Executive Daniel Hesse told Reuters that it was too early to tell whether further measures would be needed. "Obviously the subsidies we pay have been going up, up, up... carriers have to take actions."

    Cutting mobile subsidies is not without risk, analysts say, and it's far from certain it will become the norm. They have helped lock-in customers via long-term contracts. Eliminating them means people can leave when they want.

    There is always the risk that some companies will stick with subsidies to entice customers. In Spain, third-place player France Telecom <FTE.PA> is playing the spoiler to Vodafone and Telefonica by keeping subsidies to boost market share.

    And by severing the link between the phone and service, telecom operators are also opening the door for smartphone makers to bypass them to market.

    "The single biggest card the operators have to play in negotiations with smartphone makers especially Apple is that they control distribution of the phones," said Thomas Wehmeier, telecom analyst at consultancy Informa.

    "If they stop subsidizing them, more phone makers could just start selling to customers directly and operators will have even less bargaining power."

    Apple already does this discreetly in its U.S. and U.K. stores in partnership with Barclays <BARC.L>, offering 6 to 12-month financing for iPhones. Retailers could also jump into the fray. Tesco <TSCO.L> ran a full-page ad in a London newspaper to tout its financing plans to customers buying iPads.

    APPLE, SAMSUNG HIT

    But the shift could also hurt phone makers, especially Apple and Samsung <005930.KS>, which make the most expensive smartphones.

    Asian brokerage CLSA estimates that 42 percent of Apple's revenue last year came from telecom companies' mobile subsidies.

    Nokia, trying to make a comeback in smartphones, will need marketing and distribution support from telecoms companies if its new Lumia phones are ever to rival the iPhone.

    People also might trade down to cheaper models, such as the emerging crop of Chinese-made Android smartphones that cost $150-300 instead of $600-800 for an Apple or Samsung. Or they might just keep the one they have for longer, depressing sales.

    In France, phone sales are set to fall from 24 million last year to less than 20 million this year due to Free Mobile's effect, said an executive who declined to be named.

    In a worst case scenario where all operators kill subsidies, some $24 billion would be wiped out of the mobile phone market, said Pierre Ferragu, analyst at Bernstein Research.

    "We don't think that is likely to happen though," said Ferragu. "Operators in Europe aren't getting rid of subsidies but just offloading them to partner banks via financing plans, so we think consumer behavior won't be affected too much."

    EXPERIMENTS

    How it all plays out will depend on how consumers react and how telecom operators position themselves in each market.

    In France, 25 year-old Natalie Reynaud says she recently bought her own iPhone 4S and signed up for Free Mobile. "I like that I can switch operators freely and not be tied into a long contract," she said, adding that mobile subsidies offered by France Telecom or SFR didn't tempt her. Reynaud also passed up a consumer loan offered by Free Mobile in partnership with a local bank because she didn't want to pay interest.

    France's established firms, France Telecom, SFR, and Bouygues Telecom <BOUY.PA> plan to keep subsidies for their mainstream business as a way to attract clients.

    "People have finally realized that premium smartphones cost the same price as a television! Few people want to lay out that sum at the beginning of their contracts," said Olivier Roussat, who heads Bouygues Telecom.

    But he admits firms will probably have to cut subsidies over time. "If the French market heads to average monthly bill around 20 or 30 euros a month, it's obvious that we won't be able to subsidize mobiles."

    In Spain, it's too early to tell how the three-month old subsidy shift will evolve. In the first quarter, which included only March under the new policy, Telefonica lost 170,000 mobile subscribers, Vodafone lost 90,000, while France Telecom gained 130,000 subscribers.

    José María Álvarez-Pallete López, who heads Telefonica's European businesses, told investors that the company knew it would lose customers initially but felt this was the right thing to do to keep its most valuable subscribers and improve profits.

    "We think this is a change that is needed at a sector level," he said.

    A Bernstein analysis predicted that Telefonica and Vodafone could potentially add 25 percent to operating profit in Spain.

    But a sales clerk at a Phone House store in Madrid said that she had seen more customers opting for Orange since Vodafone and Telefonica got rid of subsidies. "People are in a hurry to pick up the iPhone from Orange, because they are afraid that Orange will also cut the subsidies in a near future," she said.

    (Reporting by Leila Abboud, Robert Hetz in Madrid, Sinead Carew in New York, and Kate Holton in London. Editing by Jane Merriman)

    Sunday, May 20, 2012

    Reuter site - Historic Facebook debut falls flat

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    Historic Facebook debut falls flat

    Fri, May 18 20:53 PM EDT

    By Alexei Oreskovic

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The historic initial public offering of Facebook Inc did not go as planned on Friday, as the social networking company's sky-high valuation combined with trading glitches left the stock languishing near its offering price at the market close.

    Facebook shares began trading late Friday morning and opened 11 percent above the $38 offering price, but after peaking at about $45 slid rapidly at the end of the day to close at $38.23. The IPO was the third-largest in U.S. history and valued eight-year-old Facebook at $104 billion.

    The surprisingly weak debut of a stock that analysts had predicted would climb between 10 and 50 percent is not likely to dent the business prospects of Facebook, which boasts 900 million users and is upending business practices and social relationships around the world.

    But the unexpected developments were a clear setback for Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter on the deal, which sources said was forced to defend the $38 price level by buying shares on the open market. Many market participants said they expected the stock to remain under pressure next week.

    The offering also proved an embarrassment for the NASDAQ: the opening was delayed as the exchange struggled with a huge volume of orders, and for much of the day there were long delays in order confirmation. The SEC said late Friday that it was reviewing the situation.

    Social media companies and Internet companies that had hoped to benefit from a Facebook halo effect were instead dragged down Friday, with social gaming giant Zynga dropping almost 15 percent.

    Analysts said Facebook may simply have over-reached in raising the IPO price range, pricing at the top of the range and increasing the size of the offering earlier in the week.

    "The underwriters got greedy on behalf of selling shareholders and bumped the price high enough that they didn't get much of a bump on the first day," said Bill Smead, chief investment officer at Smead Capital Management, which did not buy Facebook shares in the IPO. "They increased the size of the deal and that really did a number on it."

    Skeptics have argued all along that a valuation of more than $100 billion -- about equivalent to Amazon.com Inc and exceeding that of Hewlett-Packard Co and Dell Inc combined -- was far too high for a company that posted $1 billion in profit and $3.7 billion in revenue in 2011.

    Concerns about Facebook's earnings potential were highlighted by General Motors' announcement this week that it would no longer buy paid advertising on Facebook.

    "You don't need more than a small pencil and napkin to do a valuation on this, to say there are heroic assumptions in earnings growth to keep this at $100 billion, much less $115 billion or $120 billion," said Dave Rolfe, fund manager at River Park Wedgewood Fund, which does not own shares in Facebook.

    "I know there's a lot of excitement and exuberance, but it seemed today that the market is starting to do some hard valuation math early on."

    Facebook's opening day on Wall Street does not bode well for the stock's performance in the days ahead, said Channing Smith, portfolio manager at Capital Advisors Growth, which does not own shares in Facebook.

    "If you're an investment banker or if you're long the stock, I would definitely be a bit worried as we walk away to the weekend," he said.

    The weak IPO may also give pause to private investors in Silicon Valley who have been pouring money into next-generation Internet companies at very high valuations in the hope of eventually taking them public.

    MEDIA CIRCUS

    At Facebook's headquarters in Silicon Valley, the day began with company founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, 28, symbolically ringing the opening bell for stock trading on Friday morning.

    Wearing his trademark black hoodie, Zuckerberg, whose shares are worth nearly $20 billion and who retains voting control over the company, hugged and high-fived Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, who is credited with bringing crucial business discipline to a company founded in a Harvard dorm room.

    The area outside Facebook's offices was packed with photographers, more than a dozen television trucks, and a TV news helicopter hovering overhead.

    Outside Nasdaq headquarters in New York, crowds also gathered, even as exchange officials struggled to sort out trading problems that left investors guessing whether their buy and sell orders had actually been executed.

    The IPO minted thousands of new paper millionaires among Facebook's 3,500 employees -- and a handful of billionaires among its founders and early investors. More than half of the proceeds of the IPO will go to existing shareholders, including early backers such as Accel Partners and Russia's DST Global.

    In the run-up to the IPO, demand from institutional investors was strong, and many analysts had expected an influx of retail investors keen on owning a slice of a cultural phenomenon regardless of price. But that did not materialize.

    "Flippers who waited all day for a pop that did not come decided to throw in the towel and get out," said Mohannad Aama, managing director at Beam Capital Management LLC in New York.

    "That group also includes people who over-extended themselves in getting more shares than they can afford to hold -- whether they got it from the syndicate or from the open market once it opened around noon."

    Still, from Facebook's perspective, the stock performance could be seen as reflecting smart pricing: Zuckerberg and early investors pocketed maximum gains and left little of the easy money on the table.

    "You want to price the offering correctly. Institutional buyers get a little bump and the company raises the right amount of money," said Kevin Hartz, co-founder and CEO of Eventbrite, an online ticketing startup that is integrated with Facebook's platform. "If the stock has a massive bump on day one, that means you misread market demand and the company could have raised more money with the same amount of dilution, or could have raised the same amount of money with less dilution."

    BATTLE OF THE GIANTS

    Facebook faces many challenges as it takes its place beside Google, Apple and Amazon as one of the giant public companies defining the next-generation Internet economy. Google in particular views Facebook as a mortal threat and is moving aggressively to integrate social networking features across its products.

    At the same time, scores of young companies are building new products and services, in some cases on top of the Facebook platform and in some cases in competition with it, and attracting huge amounts of investment capital.

    A handful of such so-called Web 2.0 companies, including Zynga Inc, LinkedIn Corp, Yelp Inc and Groupon Inc, have already gone public, and others have been acquired by the industry giants. All of those stocks fell on Friday in sympathy with Facebook's weaker-than-expected debut.

    In an indication of the land grab now under way in the Internet world, Facebook in April spent $1 billion to acquire Instagram, a tiny photo-sharing company with lots of users but no revenue. A Facebook rival, social scrap-booking site Pinterest, raised money earlier this week at a valuation of $1.5 billion in a sign that venture capitalists and other private investors still see enormous potential in Web 2.0 companies.

    Many of Facebook's users spend hours a day on the site and share enormous amounts of personal information. That in turn enables Facebook to target its advertising to people's specific interests, and many analysts believe the huge store of personal information gives Facebook an advantage that Google and other cannot match.

    "Literally everything you see on the Internet, you could see inside Facebook -- but done with much more of the social graph built into it," said Siva Kumar, CEO of e-commerce company TheFind. "In a way, they operate the mall, and everybody in the mall will pay some way or the other to Facebook."

    Analysts say the company has vast untapped opportunities in mobile computing, where it has been weak thus far, and potentially in other Internet services such as email and search. Zuckerberg, though unproven as a public company CEO, is widely admired as a product visionary who has done a masterful job in continually improving the Facebook experience.

    Skeptics, though, note that only a small percentage of Facebook users respond to advertising on the site. Google retains a big advantage in that regard, because advertising related to specific Internet searches is by nature far more relevant and thus more valuable.

    In Silicon Valley, though, the conventional wisdom is that Facebook and its social media brethren will be an increasingly important force in the business world for many years to come.

    And no matter how the industry dynamics unfold over the long term, the influx of wealth arising from Facebook's extraordinary growth has already helped drive a mini-boom in San Francisco Bay Area real estate. Income tax revenues related to the IPO will cut the state of California's budget deficit by an estimated $2 billion.

    (Additional reporting by Alistair Barr, Noel Randewich, Sarah McBride, Gerry Shih and Edwin Chan in San Francisco, Jennifer Hoyt Cummings, Jessica Toonkel, John McCrank, David Gaffen, Liana Baker, Yinka Adegoke, Ed Krudy and Olivia Oran in New York; Editing by Jonathan Weber, Steve Orlofsky and Tiffany Wu; Editing by Gary Hill)

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    Reuter site - Facebook co-founder Saverin renounces citizenship

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    Facebook co-founder Saverin renounces citizenship

    Fri, May 11 15:19 PM EDT

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, has renounced his U.S. citizenship, according to an Internal Revenue Service report, just days before the company's record initial public offering.

    The news, first published by Bloomberg on Friday, was based on an IRS notice late in April, which names individuals "who have chosen to expatriate."

    Facebook plans to raise as much as $10.6 billion in an IPO that values the company at as much as $96 billion.

    The offering could leave Saverin - who once owned 5 percent of the company - with a hefty capital-gains tax bill.

    Saverin has sold enough of his Facebook stake that he doesn't appear in IPO filing documents that list shareholders who own 5 percent or more of the company, though his holdings are still believed to be substantial.

    He now lives in the Asian city-state of Singapore, which has no capital-gains tax. That compares with a minimum 15 percent rate for long-term capital gains in the United States for people in higher income brackets.

    The Brazil-born Saverin was educated in the U.S. at Harvard, where he co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg and others.

    Renouncing citizenship is a complicated and lengthy affair involving a signed oath and an appearance before a U.S. diplomatic official, according to the U.S. State Department's Web site.

    Giving up citizenship is an irrevocable act, the State Department says.

    (Reporting by Sarah McBride. Editing by Bernadette Baum)

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    Reuter site - Microsoft redesigns Bing, plays up Facebook link

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    Microsoft redesigns Bing, plays up Facebook link

    Thu, May 10 14:29 PM EDT

    SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp unveiled a new design on Thursday for its second-ranked Bing search engine, introducing elements from Facebook and other social networks, as it tries to claw market share from leader Google Inc.

    Slow off the mark in Internet search, Microsoft has racked up losses of more than $6 billion in its online unit since launching Bing three years ago, but has yet to make a mark on Google's dominance of the lucrative ad search market.

    In its latest push to increase usage of Bing, Microsoft is introducing a new, three-column screen design. Alongside the familiar search results displayed in blue to the left of the screen, Bing is rolling out an instant snapshot column, which displays extra information and links most likely to be useful such as maps, reviews and reservation tools.

    To the right, it features a column of users' Facebook friends, giving them the option of asking their advice on a search. Users can also access their contacts on LinkedIn, Twitter and other networks.

    Microsoft, which owns a small fraction of Facebook after an investment in 2007, has been pioneering the integration of social network feeds into Internet search, being the first to allow access to real-time data from Facebook and Twitter in searches.

    Google followed suit soon after and has now integrated its fledgling social network Google+ into its search engine.

    Microsoft, which is losing around $500 million every quarter in its online business, largely because of Bing, badly needs to turn its search engine into a viable competitor to Google. It needs to challenge Google's increasing influence on the Internet and slow the growth of its popular Android mobile operating system, which poses a long-term threat to Microsoft's core Windows product.

    Before rolling out Bing in June 2009, Microsoft's Windows search engine had 8 percent of the U.S. Internet search market, compared with Yahoo's 20 percent and Google's 65 percent.

    In the three years since then, Bing has almost doubled its market share to 15 percent, but that has been mostly at the expense of Yahoo, which has had its share whittled down to 14 percent. Google remains around 66 percent.

    Microsoft sealed a search agreement with Yahoo in 2010, which means that Yahoo's searches are actually performed by Bing, with Microsoft paying Yahoo a percentage of search ad revenue.

    (Reporting By Bill Rigby; editing by Andre Grenon and Maureen Bavdek)

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    Reuter site - EBay, Wal-Mart search for revved-up search engines

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    EBay, Wal-Mart search for revved-up search engines

    Fri, May 04 12:36 PM EDT

    By Alistair Barr

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - EBay Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc are developing new Web search engines to better compete against Amazon.com Inc in the fast-growing e-commerce market.

    As more people shop online, they often end up at the top of a website typing in a product name. If they cannot find what they want quickly, they will likely go to a rival website or venture into a physical store.

    "Amazon is on version 8.0 of search," said Scot Wingo, chief executive of ChannelAdvisor, which helps merchants sell more online. "EBay is at 2.0, but they are thinking about how they make this huge leap to 3.0."

    The stakes are high because e-commerce is a huge, fast-growing market, putting billions of dollars in sales up for grabs. U.S. retail spending online grew 13 percent to $161.5 billion last year, according to comScore. Physical retail sales are much larger, but the sector is struggling to grow and losing share to online operators.

    COMING SOON ... CASSINI

    EBay's search technology, known as Voyager, dates back to the first dot-com boom a decade ago. After the company appointed Mark Carges as chief technology officer in 2008, he tested eBay's search engine by typing in "iPod." A car topped the list of results because the seller noted in the listing title that it came with an iPod adapter.

    "Search was clearly broken in 2008," Carges said.

    Since then, eBay has gone on a hiring spree to fix search. The number of employees working in that area has tripled to more than 150. EBay also poached several engineers from Microsoft Corp's Bing search unit, including Ken Moss, who runs the Seattle office, and Hugh Williams, who oversees eBay's new search engine, Cassini, to be rolled out in 2013.

    "More customers, plus better search, means people buy more stuff," eBay Chief Executive John Donahoe said in a recent interview.

    Cassini will trawl full product descriptions, rather than just the titles of listings, and match search queries to photographs of products, while taking into account information about the seller and the buyer.

    By crunching data on what shoppers have bought and browsed on eBay in the past, Cassini search results should be more tailored to their intent. For instance, if a shopper types in "HP," Cassini will know if the person means horsepower or Hewlett-Packard Co, Williams said.

    "Voyager is pretty literal. It takes a query and matches it faithfully against the title of items. It's not intuitive," he said. "Cassini will take the user's query and understand that."

    The search engine project takes time because eBay's online marketplace has so much variable information from millions of listings that are described differently by each seller - something known as unstructured data in the tech world.

    In contrast, Amazon typically starts with a catalog of items it has for sale, including strict product descriptions, which are easier to search.

    THREAT TO GOOGLE?

    Wal-Mart recently launched a new search engine on its website that was built in less than nine months with 10 to 15 developers, according to Anand Rajaraman, who helps run the discount retailer's Silicon Valley tech arm @WalmartLabs.

    The new search technology focuses on groups of related terms and phrases people use when describing products, rather than matching queries to exact words in listings.

    "Wal-Mart's search knows that a backyard chair is the same as a patio chair or a garden chair," Rajaraman said. "These product listings will come up on that search too."

    If eBay and Wal-Mart can vastly improve search on their websites, that could eventually threaten Google Inc, the world's leading Internet search company.

    "Google doesn't want you to go directly to eBay to search for products," said Oren Etzioni, a search expert at the University of Washington's computer science department. "A lot of what funds these search efforts are e-commerce ads. If eBay and others stop advertising as much on Google, that would be a problem."

    A Google spokesman said the company is "very focused on product search." One of Google's latest upgrades to its shopping search uses visual-recognition technology to track down products, especially in the apparel and fashion categories.

    Type "red dress" into Google's Shopping page and frocks sold by retailers like J.C. Penney Co Inc, Nordstrom Inc and Neiman Marcus show up. Shoppers can refine the results by choosing silhouettes, such as "Empire Waist" and "V-neck" on the left side of the page. Google matches those phrases with photos of red dresses with those shapes.

    "The stakes have never been higher for whoever can deliver a high-quality shopping search experience for consumers," said Etzioni, who has advised firms including Google and Microsoft.

    Etzioni founded airfare search company Farecast, which Microsoft bought in 2008. His latest project is Decide.com, a product search website that trawls thousands of news articles and blogs to advise shoppers when prices may change or new versions of gadgets may come out.

    "I'm putting my money where my mouth is. We're building a next-generation shopping search ourselves," Etzioni said.

    (Reporting By Alistair Barr; editing by Matthew Lewis)

    Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    Reuter site - RIM offers BlackBerry 10 tools to lure developers

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    RIM offers BlackBerry 10 tools to lure developers

    Tue, May 01 10:23 AM EDT

    By Alastair Sharp

    ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Research In Motion Ltd on Tuesday offered initial software tools to developers looking to create applications for its new BlackBerry 10 platform, moving a step closer to perhaps the most crucial launch in its history later this year.

    Aiming to reverse huge market-share losses to Apple Inc and Google Inc's Android, RIM is essentially starting from scratch with its next-generation BlackBerry 10 devices. The new platform will be compatible with few of the apps available for its existing smartphones, and legacy BlackBerry smartphones won't be able to run apps being created for the new platform.

    RIM already is far behind Apple and Android in getting independent developers and content producers to build apps, making the BlackBerry much less attractive to consumers. RIM is looking to change that.

    "Developers building for BlackBerry 10 will be able to easily create the kind of cutting-edge apps that deliver truly engaging experiences," said Alec Saunders, RIM's head of developer relations.

    To kick-start the effort, RIM this week is handing out a prototype device, known as the Alpha Dev, to developers at its BlackBerry World conference in Orlando. The handset will enable them to test how their creations perform on the new platform.

    Unlike most other BlackBerry models, Alpha Dev has no physical keyboard. It looks like a smaller version of RIM's PlayBook tablet, complete with a touch-sensitive frame that a user swipes to call up a menu.

    While RIM says the hardware it eventually launches will look much different than the prototype, apps built for the Alpha Dev's 4.2 inch screen will allow for a "very seamless transition" to BlackBerry 10 devices, said Christopher Smith, vice-president for application platform and tools.

    The toolkits RIM is offering cover work in native code, the Cascades user interface framework and web-based HTML5.

    Cascades helps in the creation of graphically rich work, while native code gives developers access to core device features such as the camera. Work created with HTML5 - commonly used by developers of web content - is typically transferable to other mobile devices.

    Cascades was developed by The Astonishing Tribe, a Swedish user interface company RIM bought in 2010. It offers guidelines and a "cookbook" where developers can select an effect with a touch and have it written directly into their software.

    For example, a developer can select the speed at which an icon drops down the screen and whether it bounces to a stop without worrying about the algorithms and code behind it.

    RIM said it would add more tools in coming months and apps created with any of the BlackBerry 10 tools will run on the company's poor-selling PlayBook once the tablet is upgraded to the new platform. They will not work on RIM's older smartphones.

    QUICKER DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

    RIM said it had been working with some partners to ensure users have content and apps waiting for them when the devices are launched.

    Among those developers are social fitness app maker Endomondo, magazine store PixelMags, local search app Poynt, and augmented reality company Wikitude.

    Gameloft said it was working to bring 11 games to the new platform, including a puzzle game called "Shark Dash" and a more immersive title, "N.O.V.A 3: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance."

    "RIM has got it right with the BlackBerry 10 platform," said Adam Linford from Truphone, which offers local calling and data rates while its customers are roaming. "The platform's support for open-source components flattens the learning curve, enabling us to build a new application quickly and cost effectively."

    Impressing developers is crucial for RIM, which has expanded beyond its traditional strength in providing mobile email to office workers, only to struggle against the more consumer-friendly iPhone from Apple and the slew of devices that make use of the Android platform.

    Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM has around 15,000 apps for its PlayBook tablet and 70,000 apps for its smartphones or the tablet, compared with 200,000 iPad apps, and half a million for the iPhone.

    A recent survey from Appcelerator and IDC showed less than 16 percent of developers were "very interested" in creating programs for RIM, compared with 90 percent for Apple and 80 percent for Android.

    Earlier on Tuesday, research firm IDC said that RIM's share of the global smartphone market had slipped to 6.7 percent in the first quarter, from 13.6 percent a year earlier.

    (Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Frank McGurty)

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