Microsoft may pay $2.6 billion to Samsung, Huawei, Sony, others to make Windows Phones (Update: MSFT response)
Jan15

Microsoft may pay $2.6 billion to Samsung, Huawei, Sony, others to make Windows Phones (Update: MSFT response)

Update: Microsoft’s communications lead Frank X. Shaw responded to the numbers provided in this post. Scroll down to the bottom to check it out. When Microsoft persuaded Nokia to go Windows Phone, one of key reasons for the  switch was the $1 billion a year in “platform support” payments Ballmer offered to Finns. While the partnership had a very rocky start, by the end of 2013 we could call it a moderate success. At least for Microsoft. Even if from very low base, Windows Phone is growing nicely. Android and iOS still rule mobile, but if the viable third ecosystem ever emerges, most experts agree that it will be Microsoft who will own it. There’s only one problem. Nokia now ships 70 to 90% of all Windows Phones worldwide. And when Microsoft finally acquires Nokia’s mobile division, it will be them making 9 out of ten Windows Phones. While Ballmer&Co may have some hardware ambitions to show off the best Windows can offer and push OEM partners to innovate more, becoming the sole maker of mobile Windows devices is not what they want. So now they are doubling down on “platform support” payments and will start offering a pile of money to smartphone OEMs to make Windows Phones. According to Mobile Review’s Eldar Murtazin, who was the first to tell us about Microsoft’s plans to merge Windows Phone and Windows RT and a major redesign of Metro UI,  Samsung is on board and will get $1.2 billion from Redmond this year. There’s also Huawei, in line for $600 million and Sony with $500 million for their WP8 handsets.  Another $300 million are earmarked to others. That’s $2.6 of hard cash doled out to smartphone vendors to push WP8. Conspicuously absent from the list of major WP8 smartphone OEMs is HTC. But with their current troubles and declining smartphone volumes, they are probably lumped among others. Panasonic’s upcoming rugged Windows Phone might be part of this program too. Will platform support payments work? There’s no way to tell right now. It sort of worked with Nokia and helped to get Windows Phone off the ground. Windows Phone is also getting better and is gaining some consumer traction, especially in the low-end. The key question is what will smartphone vendors do with Microsoft’s money and how committed they will be to their Windows Phone success. The key reason Lumias are doing ok today, is that after it abandoned its own platforms, Nokia didn’t have anywhere else to go. It had to put it al out there to make Windows Phone work. That level of commitment is obviously not in the cards with other OEMs....

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Apple plans to re-launch iPhone 4 8GB for $244 in India, to gain market share
Jan14

Apple plans to re-launch iPhone 4 8GB for $244 in India, to gain market share

Apple is still struggling to gain any significant foothold in India with iPhone. No carrier subsidies and low average income means that their smartphones are affordable only to a very small subset of Indian customers. Late last year Apple had some interesting moves to tackle iPhone affordability problem in the country. One of the most successful – old smartphone trade-in program, that gives you $200+ discount from iPhone 5C sticker price, and got it moving in some serious quantities. Unfortunately, any gains Apple got from its iPhone 5C promotion efforts were brought to naught by the worldwide retirement of the old iPhone 4 8GB. It turns out that despite the old specs, this smartphone was really popular India and competed well with sub-$400 (Rs 30K)  offerings from Samsung’s and others. According to the executive in one top Indian retail chain: Apple’s iPhone 4 8GB model used to rank amongst the top three selling models by unit sales and fight neck and neck with Samsung, but with its exit the company lost much ground That’s why, according to Times of India, Apple decided to bring iPhone 4 8GB back to the country, and will sell it for a very attractive  $244 (Rs 15K) price (via trade-ins). It is not clear where Apple will get enough iPhone 4 units. They have discontinued the production last year and restarting it might not be feasible. One possibility is to collect all the unsold iPhone 4 inventories sitting  in partner warehouses around the world and bring them to India, but that’s just a speculation at this point. According to Times of India, iPhone 4 8GB slaes may restart as early as next week. Source: Times Of...

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Apple is working on Optical Image Stabilization and improved Autofocus for iPhone camera
Jan10

Apple is working on Optical Image Stabilization and improved Autofocus for iPhone camera

Apple never cared much about megapixel count in iPhone cameras. They started with 2 megapixels in the original iPhone, when Nokia was already shipping smartphones with 5 megapixel modules. It took Apple 3 years to get to by then standard 5 megapixels in iPhone 4. And its latest iPhones are still stuck with 8 megapixel sensors, when every other flagship smartphone comes with 13 megapixels or more. Despite that, every iPhone review comes to the conclusion that Apple’s handsets are among the best camera phones out there, handily beating any rival Android, with only viable competition coming from Nokia.  Which proves that Apple was right to focus on better lenses, bigger pixels and sensors, advanced image processing algorithms, and not the pixel count. The only thing disappointing about 8 megapixel iPhone 5S  camera was the lack of optical image stabilization, which allows for much better low light performance and better videos. But the lack of OIS in iPhone 5S doesn’t mean that Apple is doesn’t care about it. In fact, we can now confirm that Apple is indeed working on optical image stabilization and improved autofocus system for iPhone cameras. Yesterday Apple’s patent application called “VCM OIS actuator module” was published on USPTO. It describes how Apple plans to go about adding OIS and improved autofocus in future iPhones. Apple will be using voice coil motor actuators to move the camera lens in various directions around the optical axis to provide both – better autofocus and OIS: Actuator module may have integrated therein a mechanism to provide the AF function and a mechanism to provide the OIS function. The AF mechanism is configured to both move the lens along the optical axis and actively tilt the lens. The lens tilt may be used to compensate for parasitic lens movements due to, for example, tilting of the device within which actuator module is implemented. The OIS mechanism is configured to move (e.g., shift) the lens in directions orthogonal to the optical axis to correct for handshake motions in the center of the image. By shifting, as opposed to tilting the entire camera (e.g., the lens and image sensor together as a rigid body), the associated image sensor substrate can remain stationary, substantially simplifying both camera manufacture, size and packaging in the mobile electronic device. It is unclear how far Apple has advanced with its OIS/AF system. But patent filing dates show that they have now been working on it at least since early 2012, and should be pretty far along towards a viable commercial product. Yesterday’s rumors about iPhone 6 camera with OIS point towards the same, as well. Source:...

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Samsung’s growth stalls in Q4 2013. And things may get worse this year
Jan07

Samsung’s growth stalls in Q4 2013. And things may get worse this year

Samsung’s growth has been slowing for a while now. Especially in the high end of their smartphone range. And now, it seems, it has stalled. Today Samsung has announced its preliminary results for Q4 2013, and they are really bad. Profits came in at 8.3 trillion won ($7.8 billion), which is way below 10 trillion won analysts had expected, and is the first decline in more than 2 years. What’s even worse, is the slowdown in Samsung’s overall sales. They came in at 59 trillion won ($55.2 billion), and were unchanged from the previous quarter. Which is really really bad news, since in consumer electronics the fourth quarter and Holiday Shopping Season – is the time vendors sell way more stuff than in the quarters before. Compared to Q4 2012, Samsung managed to eke out a bit of growth. But only measly  5% – from 56 to 59 trillion Won. And it will get worse this year. In Q4 2013 Samsung had Galaxy Note 3 to boost sales numbers. Early December they announced that they have shipped 10 million of them, starting in late September. But those shipments to carriers and wholesale partners seem to have failed to find adequate end customer demand, just as I was afraid of. It will be a very long wait for the next Galaxy Note 3 sales milestone announcement. With Holiday Shopping season in the West over, and no new high profile handset on the horizon, the only place Samsung may go looking for growth in Q1 – is China. They have their own gift giving season coming up, which usually provides Q1 sales cushion for any electronics vendor who is able to crack the market. But this year Samsung is facing a much more challenging competitive environment in China too. China Mobile’s iPhone 5S will make things complicated for Sammy at the high end, while local vendors like Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo, Coolpad and Xiaomi  will be squeezing them from the bottom with new mid to low-end offerings like Red Rice, Glory 3 and Nubia Z5S. With competitors now covering all distribution channels and price ranges with viable alternatives, looks like Samsung is in for a very challenging...

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Galaxy S5 may come with Sharp’s 2K 560 ppi LTPS display, instead of Samsung’s own AMOLED
Jan06

Galaxy S5 may come with Sharp’s 2K 560 ppi LTPS display, instead of Samsung’s own AMOLED

Since the first Galaxy S launched back in 2010, Samsung has been using its own AMOLED displays for its flagships. But things might be different for the next generation Galaxy S5 smartphone. Chinese Tencent reports that Samsung has chosen Sharp’s 5.25” 2K Ultra HD 560 ppi LTPS display panels for SGS5. The reason for the switch? Samsung’s SDI subsidiary has encountered some serious production/yield issues with its 2K AMOLED displays and can not make enough of them to meet the projected Galaxy S5 sales volumes. That, and Samsung’s strong focus on getting its flexible AMOLED production to a mass market scale by 2015 prompted it to turn to Sharp for 2014 flagship screens. Samsung also bought a 3% stake in Sharp back in spring of 2013. Souce:...

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Microsoft Surface Mini may have Kinect like somatosensory tech, Intel Bay Trail CPU and 8” 1080p display
Dec17

Microsoft Surface Mini may have Kinect like somatosensory tech, Intel Bay Trail CPU and 8” 1080p display

The smaller Microsoft Surface Mini tablet has been rumored for months. First we expected it to show up together with the second generation Surfaces.  Then learned that Mini has been pushed to spring 2014, because Microsoft had to pull tablet team members to finish the new XBox for Holiday Season launch. And now we may know why Microsoft had to transfer people from Surface Mini to do the XBox stuff. According to WP Dang, a Chinese website with a pretty good track record of Microsoft leaks, Surface Mini is getting Kinect like somatosensory technology. When released, the Mini will be able to recognize people’s faces, human hand movements, and should work much smoother than “Air Gestures” currently available on Samsung flagships like Galaxy S4 and Note 3. WP Dang also says that Surface Mini will come with 8” 1080p display and Intel Bay Trail CPU, so it should run full Windows 8.1. Though ARM based Win RT Mini version might be in the works too, similar to what Microsoft did with bigger Surfaces this fall. I am not sure whether Kinect like stuff is actually needed on a tablet. But you’ll never know before you try it. And Microsoft really needs to do something to set its slates apart from iPads and Androids. Who knows, maybe the face recognition and well working touchless controls will do the trick. Source:...

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Confirmed. China Mobile already has 45 million iPhones on its network
Dec16

Confirmed. China Mobile already has 45 million iPhones on its network

Apple’s China Mobile deal is as good as done. iPhone5S and iPhone 5C will launch on the world’s biggest carrier this week. Even without an official announcement, China Mobile has the new iPhone promotion/pre-registration page running for several days already. Why  is everybody making such a big deal about China Mobile iPhone? Because of the sheer size of it. In early September we told you that China’s biggest carrier already had 42 million iPhone customers on its network. None of those customers were able to access CM’s proprietary 3G TD-SCDMA, and had to rely on the slow 2G GPRS/EDGE or Wi-Fi to deliver their data. Now that number has been confirmed and updated by Reuters. According to the news agency, China Mobile now says that it has 45 million iPhone users. All of them still unofficial, stuck on GPRS/EDGE. How many of them, do you think, will rush to upgrade the first day iPhone 5S is offered by their carrier? Especially with those big subsidies we told you about last week. Most analyst estimates put the iPhone gains to around 17-20 million units from China Mobile deal. Which, to me, sounds way too conservative. Even if half of the current CM iPhone user base upgrades their handsets to 4G capable devices with in a year, we are already looking at 22.5 million new iPhone sales. Add the new customers heavy promotions and subsidies will bring as soon as China Mobile iPhone 5S is announced, and 30 million+ sold within next 12 months is a very real possibility. Via:...

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Nokia abandons Peter Skillman led Android adaptation plans, refocuses on wearables, smart glasses for 2015
Dec16

Nokia abandons Peter Skillman led Android adaptation plans, refocuses on wearables, smart glasses for 2015

We told you back in September that Nokia was still working on its own cheap, heavily customized Android phone. TheVerge has confirmed this last week, telling us that Android based Normandy phone is “full steam ahead” for early 2014 launch. Now the Chinese site that first brought the news about Android Asha still in the works – C Technology – chimes in with more info about the project. According to them, Nokia has been working  on several cheap Android prototype devices, including Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 based 7” tablet. Android customization effort has been lead by Nokia’s Peter Skillman, head of Ux design. However, Nokia has now shelved android smartphone and tablet plans. According to CTech sources, the decision to shelve work on Android devices was made without direct Microsoft intervention. Android development was done under the Nokia CTO office, which stays with Nokia and is not part of Microsoft deal. So those Normandy phones will not be moving to Redmond anytime soon. However, in my opinion, now that Nokia shareholders overwhelmingly approved the sale of Nokia mobile division to Microsoft, as did most of world’s regulatory agencies – the decision to abandon the project is the logical outcome. According to the terms of the contract, Nokia is not allowed to sell phones, smartphones or tablets under its name for the next 2 years. They could theoretically create a mobile Android device under a new brand, but given the level of competition in the market, competency, manufacturing, logistical and distribution base that is transferring to Microsoft, it makes little sense.   Instead, according to CTech, Nokia has some big plans for its CTO office R&D  activities. It will focus on the new emerging technologies like wireless power transmission, low power electromagnetic energy generation, flexible displays, graphene sensors and augmented reality to enter the newly forming wearable computing field. The current Nokia smart watch project may be going to Microsoft, but the more far off wearables are staying. In fact, Nokia smart glasses may already be on the product roadmap for 2015 release. All of this sounds pretty interesting, and gives me hope that Nokia will be back in consumer electronics space in a few years. Oh, and the news that Nokia CTO office with R&D departments under it will have a lot of things to do besides patent trolling, are even better. Via: C...

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Oppo N1 available in Europe for Eur 449. With only a promise CyanogenMod for now
Dec10

Oppo N1 available in Europe for Eur 449. With only a promise CyanogenMod for now

One of the more interesting high end smartphones from China – Oppo N1 – is now available in Europe for Eur 449 through Oppo Style website. Without its its key differentiator – a preinstalled CyanogenMod ROM, just yet. Though Oppo does promise the possibility to install the popular Android ROM via CyanogenMod Installer, soon. The most interesting feature of OPPO N1 – is its 13 megapixel F/2.0 rotatable camera. Other N1 specs include: UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA/HSPA+/HSPA+42 (WCDMA 850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz GSM/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz) Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Quad-Core 1.7GHz CPU 2GB RAM DDR3 RAM Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) 5.9” 1080×1920 FULL HD 377 PPI display 13 Megapixel, f 2.0 camera with 206 degrees rotating angle 16 or 32GB of built-in storage 3160 mAh Full metal frame The 16GB Oppo N1 will cost 449 Euro in Europe, while 32GB version will set you back Eur 479. Looks like a pretty good high end Android phablet for a pretty good price. It would have been even better if Oppo managed to get CyanogenMod version ready in time for the global N1 debut. But with promised easy ROM installation, a good Christmas present for Android fans, anyway. Source: Oppo Style...

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Samsung’s 10 million Galaxy Note 3s sold is another sign of a very challenging 2014 coming up
Dec10

Samsung’s 10 million Galaxy Note 3s sold is another sign of a very challenging 2014 coming up

Samsung shipped 10 million Galaxy Note 3 phablets in about two months, according to their official blog. Which is an impressive number, and trounces already great sales of its predecessor – Galaxy Note 2. There’s no question about it, after inventing the category 2 years ago, Samsung still rules the phablets with nobody else able to come close. On the other hand, there are some worrying signs that Galaxy Note 3 will follow the pattern of Galaxy S4 flagship. Which,  after initial sales surge, headed for a serious slowdown. The first two months after launch looked great for SGS4, too. Samsung managed to ship 20 million flagships between late April and July 2013. But if you look at the details, the sales slowdown was already apparent back then. While it took Sammy 26 days to ship the first 10 million units of SGS4, the second 10 million batch required 40 days, or 2 weeks longer. And we are talking shipments to carrier partners and wholesalers here, not the end user sales. Usually this distinction between end user sales and partner shipments does not matter much. Everybody, including Apple, reports shipments – not the end sales. Except in cases like these, when you have a really hot handset coming up, and every local carrier and reseller is begging for its share of new devices, and as many as early as possible. When forecasted end user demand doesn’t materialize, the OEM is in for some serious order revisions in the month #3 and onwards. This is exactly what happened to Samsung Galaxy S4. Rumors about flagship component order reductions started showing up in late June,  and were confirmed in October. By the time Samsung was able to report 40 million Galaxy S4s shipped, it was selling them at a rate of 5-6 million units a month. Still a very impressive number, but nowhere near the original internal projections. And, what’s worse, less than Galaxy S III at the same time a year before. Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is on the same trajectory. It took them about 34 days to report the first 5 million units shipped, and now its about 41 days for the second 5 million batch. The slowdown is not nearly as serious as with Galaxy S4, but its there nonetheless. And we are again talking about the shipments to carriers and wholesalers. At the height of Holiday Shopping Season, with most of pre-Christmas orders already in. Samsung has put on a brave face during investor and analyst day in November, leaking the plans to sell 360 million smartphones and 100 million tablets during 2014. But those plans have already been revised down...

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