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    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)

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