Saturday, July 28, 2012

Apple Officials Said to Consider Stake in Twitter

July 27, 2012 nytimes

Apple Officials Said to Consider Stake in Twitter

Apple, which has stumbled in its efforts to get into social media, has talked with Twitter in recent months about making a strategic investment in it, according to people briefed on the matter.
While Apple has been hugely successful in selling phones and tablets, it has little traction in social networking, which has become a major engine of activity on the Web and on mobile devices. Social media are increasingly influencing how people spend their time and money — an important consideration for Apple, which also sells applications, games, music and movies.
Apple has considered an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars, one that could value Twitter at more than $10 billion, up from an $8.4 billion valuation last year, these people said. They declined to be named because the discussions were private.
There is no guarantee that the two companies, which are not in negotiations at the moment, will come to an agreement. But the earlier talks are a sign that they may form a stronger partnership amid intensifying competition from the likes of Google and Facebook.
Apple has not made many friends in social media. Its relationship with Facebook, for example, has been strained since a deal to build Facebook features into Ping, Apple’s music-centric social network, fell apart. Facebook is also aligned with Microsoft, which owns a small stake in it. And Google, an Apple rival in the phone market, has been pushing its own social network, Google Plus.
“Apple doesn’t have to own a social network,” Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said at a recent technology conference. “But does Apple need to be social? Yes.”
Twitter and Apple have already been working together. Recently, Apple has tightly sewn Twitter features into its software for phones, tablets and computers, while, behind the scenes, Twitter has put more resources into managing its relationship with Apple.
Though an investment in Twitter would not be a big financial move for Apple by any stretch — it has $117 billion in liquid investments, and it quietly agreed to buy a mobile security company for $356 million on Friday — it would be one of Mr. Cook’s most important strategic decisions as chief executive. And it would be an uncommon arrangement for Apple, which tends to buy small start-ups that are then absorbed into the company.
But such a deal would give Apple more access to Twitter’s deep understanding of the social Web, and pave the way for closer Twitter integration into Apple’s products.
Twitter has grown quickly, amassing more than 140 million monthly active users who generate a vast stream of short messages about their lives, the news and everything else. An Apple investment would give it the glow of a close relationship with a technology icon, and would instantly bolster its valuation, which, like that of other start-ups, has languished in the wake of Facebook’s lackluster market debut. In fact, word of the talks comes at a time when some are asking whether expectations for the potential of social media companies have gotten out of hand, and shares of Facebook, Zynga and other companies have wilted.
But Twitter does not need Apple’s cash. Earlier this year, Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive, said the company had “truckloads of money in the bank.”
The truckloads, according to people familiar with the matter, add up to more than $600 million in cash on hand. This comes from the $1 billion in financing it has raised over the years and, more recently, from a healthy flow of advertising revenue.
Regardless, Twitter is widely expected to pursue a public offering within the next couple of years, whether or not it agrees to deals with investors like Apple.
Apple and Twitter are logical partners in some ways. Unlike Facebook or Google, Twitter has no plans to compete with Apple in the phone business or elsewhere. And as Apple has found, social is just not in its DNA.
“Those guys are a great partner,” Mr. Costolo said of Apple in a recent interview. “We think of them as a company that our company looks up to.” Mr. Costolo would not discuss any potential investments or anything else related to the company’s relationship with Apple.
Spokesmen for both Apple and Twitter said on Friday that their companies did not comment on rumors.
If an investment were to happen, Twitter’s chief financial officer, Ali Rowghani, would be instrumental in cementing the deal. Mr. Rowghani joined Twitter in early 2010 after nine years at Pixar Animation Studios, where he worked directly with Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s co-founder.
Ties between Apple and Twitter are strengthening at a time of great uncertainty in the mobile market. Battle lines that seemed clear just a year ago are rapidly blurring as companies push into new areas of the market and clash with former allies.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is said to be working on developing its own phone or core software for phones. Similarly, Google acquired Motorola Mobility last year and is now in the business of building phones.
The jumbled landscape reflects the rising significance of mobile, as more consumers neglect their desktops in favor of computing that fits in their pockets. Eager to win on such a critical battleground, technology giants are rushing to control both hardware and software on mobile devices.
The turf wars have fortified alliances and pushed companies to choose sides. Apple’s dealings with Twitter, for instance, began after its relationship with Facebook soured. In 2010, the company was eager to integrate its Ping service with Facebook, but discussions broke down. Mr. Jobs, the Apple chief executive who died last year, told the technology news site AllThingsD that Facebook had demanded “onerous terms that we could not agree to.”
Apple, which had spent months preparing to hook Facebook into iOS, its mobile operating system, swiftly reworked it for Twitter. One former Twitter employee, who described Twitter as the “lucky mistress” in this chain of events, said the partnership was essentially “handed to Twitter on a silver platter.” Ping, in the end, never caught on with users.
For Twitter, the union has proved fruitful. The mobile integration, introduced in late 2011, made it easy for iPhone and iPad users to sling photos, maps and other media directly to Twitter. So far they have generated some 10 billion tweets. And, in recent months, Apple has also incorporated Twitter features into its operating system for computers as well as its advertising service.
The relationship with Apple is so prized at Twitter that the company assigned a vice president, Kevin Thau, to work with Apple full time, according to an Apple employee who asked not to be named.
Apple’s relationship with Facebook has started to thaw. Last month, the company said it would add Facebook features to the next version of its mobile operating system. Still, the two companies are wary of each other. Facebook, which recently began its own “App Center” and is intent on bulking up its mobile revenue, is likely to continue to bump up against Apple.
Analysts are concerned that Apple may fall behind in mobile software because of increasing competition and a lack of social features. And as Apple has shown, software and content can make or break hardware sales.
“Content was a key pillar in the success of the iPhone,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC. He noted that consumer loyalty to the iTunes library, which many used to store their music collections, helped lift early sales of the phone. “Down the road, social engagement may dictate how consumers spend,” Mr. Hilwa said.
Nick Wingfield contributed reporting.

Friday, July 13, 2012

IBM hands over Symphony office suite to Apache


IBM hands over Symphony office suite to Apache

Hoping to further sharpen OpenOffice's competitive viability against Microsoft Office, IBM is donating the code of its Symphony open source office suite to the nonprofit Apache Software Foundation.
Apache could fold this code into its own open source office suite OpenOffice, on which Symphony was based. In June, Oracle donated the OpenOffice suite to Apache.
"Prior to Apache's entry, there really hasn't been enough innovation in this area over the past 10 years," said Kevin Cavanaugh, who is the IBM vice president for business and technical strategy in collaboration solutions. "It's been constrained because we haven't had a true open source community with a mature governance model."
Using OpenOffice as a starting point, IBM first released Symphony in 2007 as a no-cost alternative for enterprises to Microsoft's office suite. IBM hopes its potential customers will use the free Symphony instead of Microsoft Office and other commercial office suites, and reallocate money they previously earmarked for these paid offerings to advanced IBM services and software instead.
"Our interest is in the restructuring of IT budgets," he said. "It's not a charitable thing on IBM's part. We have lots of technologies pushing the boundaries in analytics, commerce, social software. Every time we free up an inefficient IT investment, we open up the ability for us to offer more efficient investment. "
The Apache Foundation will form a project team around Symphony, and IBM will continue to contribute to the project, as well as maintain their own version of Symphony. "We don't want to dominate the Apache effort, but we are willing to put huge contributions to our engineering resources into this effort. We don't want to do it alone," Cavanaugh said.
Apache's development model will be better suited for both OpenOffice and Symphony than IBM's own efforts, Cavanaugh claimed. "The model of having any one vendor dominate an open [project] has, in my experience, never worked," he said.
The 3 million lines of code IBM developed and maintained for Symphony could potentially offer a lot of value for OpenOffice. Some of the code provides advanced compatibility with ODF (Open Document Format), so that ODF documents can be used in web-based office suites, as well as by Microsoft Office.
Symphony also has a unique user interface model, which could simplify the OpenOffice suite. For instance, it features a sidebar that can allow users to edit the document properties, much like Microsoft's ribbon bar in Office. "We've heard from the community that people are interested in getting their hands on that and using it in OpenOffice," Cavanaugh said.
IBM also has "a tremendous amount" of code that improves the performance of OpenOffice, which is good news given that OpenOffice has, in the past, been criticized for sluggishness. Other bits of code are for bug fixes, so that "it is bullet proof enough to be used by major corporations," Cavanaugh said. IBM also has some enhancements that will help those with visual impairments use the software.
IBM and Apache have not decided yet which organisation will host the downloadable version of Symphony. One possibility is that Symphony may be made available from the site, which will eventually be maintained by Apache.
IBM itself uses Symphony as the baseline office suite for its desktop packages, and uses the software internally as well. The Symphony software suite has been downloaded over 50 million times thus far. It is available in 30 languages, for Microsoft Windows, Linux and Apple Macintosh platforms.

GS1 Pilot Program Shows How RFID Can Track International Wine Shipments

GS1 Pilot Program Shows How RFID Can Track International Wine Shipments

GS1 Italy and GS1 Hong Kong have completed a project demonstrating how EPC technology could improve supply chain management, through greater visibility of crates of wine being shipped from Europe to Asia.
By Claire Swedberg

July 3, 2012—Based on the results of an international pilot using EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and readers to track shipments of wine from Europe to Asia, GS1 Italy and GS1 Hong Kong have determined that radio frequency identification technology could make the supply chain more visible, to the benefit of wine producers, importers and distributors—and the researchers also speculate that those benefits could extend to retailers and consumers. The two groups recently completed the pilot, which consisted of testing an RFID-enabled supply chain of wine between Italy and Hong Kong. The solution employs Electronic Product Code (EPC) passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags placed on bottles of wine, cartons and pallets, as well as temperature sensor tags placed in cartons and on pallets, and affixed to the wall of an Italian vineyard warehouse.

The project commenced in June 2011 and ended last August, while analysis of the data lasted until February 2012. It involved tracking wine products from four Italian wine companies to two Hong Kong importers/distributors (Watson's Wine Cellar and Summergate Fine Wines), and ultimately to wine shops in Hong Kong. Azienda Agricola Le Macchiole, an Italian vineyard and wine producer, participated in the pilot, along with Ceretto, Barone Ricasoli and Marchesi Antinori.

Passive RFID tags were attached to each bottle, carton and pallet.

The two GS1 agencies aimed to determine how well imported products could be monitored using an RFID solution to track the bottles from when they were shipped from the wine producer until they left the local importer, en route to the wine shop.

Italy is the third highest wine-producing country worldwide, producing 4.06 billion liters (1.07 billion gallons) of wine in 2011, 2.1 million liters (531 million gallons) of which were shipped to Hong Kong.

The pilot was intended to determine how well the sharing of RFID data between supply chain members could meet the needs of a growing industry. The Hong Kong wine sector has been growing, according to a USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN report published in 2011, which reported that the dollar value of wine imports has more than doubled since 2008.

Typically, bottles of wine travel from the vineyard warehouse to a distribution center, and then on to a seaport in Italy for exporting. The goods are received at the Hong Kong port, and are directed through a warehouse and finally delivered to wine shops. The two GS1 organizations wanted to ascertain whether the technology could provide better information regarding whether there is sufficient stock to fulfill orders at the Italian vineyard's warehouse; determine how well RFID could be used to document when wine leaves the DC in Italy, is loaded onto a ship and arrives at a port in Hong Kong; and evaluate inventory levels at the Hong Kong importer.

Altogether, the pilot was conducted on eight pallets loaded with a total of 630 cases (containing a total of 3,780 bottles), says Linda Vezzani, an EPC specialist at GS1 Italy. GS1 Italy's staff installed an Intelleflex TMT-8500 battery-assisted passive (BAP) temperature-sensing UHF RFID tag at an Italian vineyard warehouse, on the wall on which the wine was stored, and also inserted a single temperature tag within one case on each pallet. Additionally, a temperature tag was placed on one of every set of two pallets before the loaded pallets were shrink-wrapped.

GS1 Italy's staff inserted an Intelleflex TMT-8500 battery-assisted passive temperature-sensing RFID tag in one case on every pallet.

According to Vezzani, a label featuring a Lab ID UH100 passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID inlay (made with an Impinj Monza RFID chip) was attached to each pallet, case and bottle.

First, the shipment to Hong Kong was prepared, at which time employees attached an adhesive RFID label to every bottle. The unique ID number encoded on the tag was then stored in GS1 Italy's Web-based EPC Information Services (EPCIS) software, along with the bottle's stock-keeping unit (SKU). An RFID label, encoded with a Serialized Global Trade Item Number (SGTIN), was also attached to the carton once it was filled (with about six bottles). The carton was then passed through an Impinj Speedway Revolution R420 tunnel reader, and the ID numbers of the carton and each bottle's RFID tag were married to each other. The cartons were loaded onto a pallet, to which an RFID label, encoded with its own Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC), was attached. Next, the loaded pallet passed through an RFID gate, where another Impinj Speedway reader captured the pallet tag's ID number and associated it with the IDs of the carton and bottle tags.

The TMT-8500 temperature tags—provided to GS1 Italy by GS1 Hong Kong—measured and stored the temperature at regular intervals, and could then be read at the wine cellar in Hong Kong as the pallet was unloaded. This enabled the team to determine the conditions to which the wine had been exposed.

In addition, a TMT-8500 tag affixed to the wall of the vineyard's warehouse was read, to capture the temperature history within the storage area while the wine was located at that site.

Once the loaded pallet left the vineyard warehouse bound for the DC, the RFID tags, including the temperature sensor tag, were read again at the Impinj reader gate, and that data was stored in the EPCIS system. The tags were interrogated when the pallets arrived at Watson's Wine Cellar and Summergate, and again before the wine was shipped to the wine shops—each time using a Convergence Systems Ltd. (CSL) CS461 fixed reader installed at the door. Simultaneously, the sensor tags were read using an Intelleflex FMR-6000 fixed reader, in order to capture temperatures and tag ID numbers.

Read data collected in Hong Kong was stored on GS1 Hong Kong's ezTRACK Web-based application, based on the EPCIS standard. That information was then shared with the EPCIS-based data stored by GS1 Italy.

Based on the pilot's results, GS1 Italy determined that the accuracy of supply chain data could be increased from 80 percent (when orders were filled according to a purchase order) to 100 percent, and that logistics management could be improved based on having better knowledge of products' locations.

"This is the first-ever wine-traceability pilot by using EPC RFID in item level to improve global real-time product-shipment visibility," says Emma Chan, GSI Hong Kong's industry and product marketing manager. As a result of the pilot, she reports, the technology proved that retailers in Hong Kong can "achieve full visibility of the whole movement of the wine products, from oversea vineyard to their storage destination, which eventually improved their inventory management and quality assurance."

In the future, the technology could help retailers predict overstock or out-of-stock events, and provide consumers with quality assurance in stores, by reading a label's tag in order to access data regarding when and where wine was bottled, as well as the temperature at which it was stored.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Exclusive: Yahoo and Facebook Strike Patent Peace Deal


Exclusive: Yahoo and Facebook Strike Patent Peace Deal, Significantly Expanding Ad and Content Partnership

Published on July 6, 2012
by Kara Swisher

Executives at Yahoo and Facebook have completed an extensive strategic deal, as part of a final settlement of their contentious patent infringement lawsuit and countersuit.
According to sources close to the situation, the agreement will include a major expansion of their ongoing partnership, including a joint advertising sales effort, as well as cross-licensing of some key patents between the pair.
The deal has gotten approval from the companies’ boards — in fact, Yahoo’s directors agreed to it this morning in a telephonic meeting. It will be announced sometime later today.
No actual cash payment will change hands under terms of the deal over the patents, in contrast to the $550 million that Facebook paid Microsoft recently in another transaction related to AOL patents.
But sources said Facebook and Yahoo hope there will be significant upside in several possible advertising and other business deals between the pair that could yield large revenues if executed well.
In addition, there is a possibility that Facebook could later pay to license other Yahoo patents not included in this deal.
Discussions to settle the lawsuits — negotiated by Yahoo interim CEO Ross Levinsohn and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, among others — began almost as soon as Yahoo’s board ousted former CEO Scott Thompson, which I reported on in early June and Yahoo officially confirmed several weeks later in a regulatory filing.
The lawsuit was initially waged by Thompson, who reportedly promised directors that a big financial payoff of many billions of dollars could result from the patent lawsuits against Facebook.
At the time, despite strong support by its legal execs, many other Yahoo managers — including those who had crafted an earlier and successful content- and data-sharing agreement with Facebook — were blindsided by the aggressive move by Thompson. That included Levinsohn — who was then in charge of its global media unit — and other top execs.
So, after Thompson was gone and with board support, Levinsohn immediately reached out to Sandberg. In addition, Yahoo’s point person on the deal, VP of strategy James Heckman, met with a number of top Facebook execs including: Dan Rose, VP of business development and monetization; VP of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson; and business development director Chris Daniels.
Such an outreach was a major shift for Yahoo, but was possible due to a newly configured board in the wake of the Thompson departure.
Still, some directors who had pushed for the initial lawsuit that Yahoo unexpectedly lobbed against the social networking powerhouse in March have remained on the board and agreed to the latest settlement.
The reason for the change of heart? While many still felt Yahoo had a strong case, backed by important intellectual property in a range of key digital arenas, Facebook was prepping for a long and expensive battle by girding its patent defenses.
Thus, the possible end of the rancorous legal battle should be greeted with enthusiasm by Wall Street investors, as well as many detractors of Yahoo’s legal action across the tech landscape.
And, indeed, the company’s reputation definitely suffered as a result of the lawsuit, with many techies, both inside and outside the company, decrying Yahoo’s lawsuit.
Many of those engineers, as well as entrepreneurs — key constituencies for Yahoo’s revival — firmly believe a patent portfolio should only be used defensively.
Now, if the deal is approved, the move will have been turned a decidedly negative situation into a potentially stronger partnership.
Among the most notable parts of the deal is an arrangement to jointly sell big events and other packages to advertisers.
In addition, as it has in content, Facebook will allow Yahoo to be the first partner to feature information about its users’ “Likes” in actual display advertising on Yahoo.
Extending and adding to such contact-sharing was apparently one bone of contention in the talks to settle the lawsuits, although there had already been an element of that in a previous partnership between the pair. Yahoo is one of the few Facebook partners with access to information from its social graph; Facebook, in turn, gets user contact data from Yahoo.
Of course, how well the pair works together to deliver better experiences for its consumers and marketing for its advertisers remains to be seen.
But it’s clear that any rocky road in cooperation is much better than the legal quagmire both had been stuck in.
One thing is likely — the successful end to the tensions ups Levinsohn’s chances of getting the permanent CEO job. Directors have not given him the nod as yet, with another candidate — Hulu CEO Jason Kilar — as Levinsohn’s leading rival for the job.

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