The European Union has given its blessing to a consortium led by Sony of America, which will acquire part of EMI Music in a $2.2 billion deal, effectively creating what The New York Times calls "the largest catalog of songs in the world." The consortium, known as Sony/ATV, is a joint venture between Sony and a range of investors, including music mogul David Geffen; the Michael Jackson estate; and Mubadala Development, a firm based in Abu Dhabi.
The seal of approval from the EU comes with several caveats, Fox News is reporting. Among them: Sony/ATV must sell the rights to a handful of publishing catalogues, which would have given Sony/ATV an unfair boost in the European market.
"Sony and Mubadala have offered to divest valuable and attractive catalogues containing bestselling titles as well as works of successful and promising authors," Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said this week, according to the Wall Street Journal. "I am therefore satisfied that the competitive dynamics in the online music publishing business will be maintained so as to ensure consumer choice and cultural diversity."
In a statement obtained by Billboard, Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman Martin Bandier called the news not only "an important milestone on the path to final approval, but a very special day for me, personally. But more than that, everyone at Sony/ATV joins me in recognizing the unparalleled talent and incredible assets of EMI Music Publishing and the great opportunities that lie ahead."
Intel this week took the wraps off the XOLO X900, a smart phone built by Lava, an Indian manufacturer, and powered by an Intel chip. The XOLO X900 – doesn't it sound like a high-grade lawnmower? – is slated to hit shelves in India on April 23. The asking price: 22,000 rupees, or about $424. No word on whether Lava will subsidize the price for users that buy the thing with a data and voice contract.
"The first smartphone with Intel inside is now available to Indian consumers," Intel exec Mike Bell said in a statement. "The boundaries of personal computing are expanding. As we enter the India market with our first smartphone from Lava, the device not only showcases the rich capabilities and user benefits of Intel computing, but also highlights the exciting possibilities of what’s still to come."
The specs on the XOLO X900 are solid: The Android 2.3 OS, a 4.03-inch display, 3G capability, an 8-megapixel camera, 1080p HD video playback, and the 1.6 GHz Atom chip, courtesy of Intel.
It's worth noting here that although Intel has been careful to call the X900 the first India-specific Intel smartphone, some sites have taken to calling it the first Intel handset, full stop.
And that's just plain wrong, writes Bill Ray of the Register. "Intel chips powered a range of BlackBerry handsets, and a generation of Windows Mobile based devices, including O2's XDA II and running right up to the XDA Advantage – which was more mini-laptop than mobile phone," Ray writes. "Even the venerable Nokia Communicator 9000 had an Intel chip in its heart."
In related news, earlier this week RIM took the wraps off the BlackBerry Curve 9220, a budget-priced handset bound for the Indian market. The Curve 9220, like the XOLO X900, isn't exactly bristling with perks – there's an FM radio and a relatively simple camera on-board – but it does come with several social networking features, from a Facebook app to the BBM messaging service.
RIM is targeting the phone at younger users.
Last year, execs from Nokia and Microsoft announced they would team up to produce a new line of smartphones powered by the Windows Phone OS and manufactured by Nokia. Now those same smartphones are finally hitting shelves in Europe and the US. So what's the verdict?
Well, it's a mixed bag.
According to Nokia, the Lumia 900, the flagship of the new Lumia line, is already sold out of online shops in the US – a "function of demand," Nokia says.
But a much-discussed report from Reuters has it slightly differently. Far from thriving, in Europe Nokia is still struggling to keep up with competitors such as Apple and Google, whose Android operating system has posted steady gains for months. "No one comes into the store and asks for a Windows phone," an executive at a European operator told Reuters. That same carrier has sold the Lumia 800 and 710 since December, Reuters reports.
"Nokia have given themselves a double challenge: to restore their credibility in terms of making hardware smartphones and succeed with the Microsoft Windows operating system, which lags in the market," the executive added.
The Lumia line has received a lukewarm reception from critics. Reviewing the budget Lumia 710, one writer called the device "a decent phone that gets the most common smartphone tasks done." But for Nokia, "a decent phone" is not enough. Instead, the company needs an innovative, next-generation device that can siphon some of the spotlight away from the iPhone. (Interestingly, RIM faces much the same problem with its BlackBerry line.)
In related news, in February it was revealed that Nokia had become the largest Windows Phone 7 vendor in the world, topping former title-holder HTC. According to Strategy Analytics, 2.7 million Windows Phone handsets were shipped globally in the fourth quarter of last year, a 36 percent increase from the quarter before. Of those 2.7 million handsets, 900,000 were sold by Nokia.
Long since outstripped in North America by Android and Apple, Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, is launching a new, low-end smartphone in the Indian market. The handset, dubbed the Curve 9220, is not exactly packed with firepower – an FM radio and the BlackBerry 7.1 OS is about as good as it gets – but RIM is betting that the Curve will be a success, especially among teenage and twenty-something users.
"The new BlackBerry Curve 9220 offers a unique mobile experience that young Indians will love thanks to its affordable pricing and unmatched messaging and social connectivity features," Sunil Dutt, Managing Director for India at RIM, said in a statement this week. Dutt pointed specifically to the BBM messaging system and Facebook and Twitter apps.
RIM, of course, is several months away from the launch of the BlackBerry 10 OS, which the company hopes will prevent the BlackBerry platform from losing more market share to competitors such as the iPhone. (Back in late March, RIM revealed that during Q4 of last year, revenue plummeted 19 percent to $4.2 billion, global sales dropped 21 percent to 11.1 million units, and RIM lost $125 million.)
So will the Curve 9220 be enough to hold over RIM until BlackBerry 10 arrives?
Well, maybe, some observers say. RIM's "success in Indonesia shows they have other attributes and capabilities in the BlackBerry platform globally that appeal to different markets rather than just the high-end, mature markets (like North America and Western Europe)," Adam Leach, principal analyst at research company Ovum, recently told Reuters.
The FCC is slapping Google with a $25,000 fine for "willfully" and "deliberately" obstructing a government investigation into the Street View project. The backstory: For years, Google regularly dispatched specially-equipped vehicles to collect photographs and data from streets around the globe. In the process, according to an FCC probe, Google also scooped up a bunch of personal information from un-passcode protected Wi-Fi routers.
Google has apologized and promised that none of the data collected by the Street View vehicles would ever be used. But after one Google engineer – identified in court documents as "Engineer Doe" – invoked the fifth amendment, the FCC accused Google of stonewalling. More specifically, the FCC claims that Google did not make certain internal e-mails available to investigators.
"For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the Bureau’s investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses," reads a portion of a complaint filed by the FCC. Of course, a $25K fine won't exactly hurt Google – by one calculation, Google makes that much in profits every sixty seconds or so.
Still, it does send a clear message. In fact, some privacy advocates think the US government didn't go far enough.
"I appreciate that the FCC sanctioned Google for not cooperating in the investigation, but the much bigger problem is the pervasive and covert surveillance of Internet users that Google undertook over a three-year period," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, recently told The New York Times.
Windows 8, the next-generation Microsoft OS expected to debut later this year, will ship in three distinct "flavors": Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. So says Microsoft communications manager Brandon LeBlanc, who took to the Windows blog this week to tout the "flexibility" of the new Microsoft ecosystem.
"We have talked about Windows 8 as Windows reimagined, from the chipset to the user experience," LeBlanc wrote in a post on Blogging Windows. "This also applies to the editions available – we have worked to make it easier for customers to know what edition will work best for them when they purchase a new Windows 8 PC or upgrade their existing PC."
So which edition will you be picking up? Well, it depends on what kind of machine you own. Windows RT is "the newest member of the Windows family," LeBlanc writes – an OS optimized for ARM tablets and PCs. In practice, that means "touch-optimized" desktop versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, as well as a stripped-down interface and improved battery life. Windows RT is what you'll run on your new tablet.
Windows 8 – plain old Windows 8 – is what you'll run on your desktop. This is the real successor to Windows 7: A workhorse OS with all the niceties, including access to the new Windows Store and Internet Explorer 10. And then there's Windows 8 Pro, which is geared toward business users or "enthusiasts" (read: Windows geeks).
Windows 8 Pro, LaBlanc writes, "includes all the features in Windows 8 plus features for encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity. Windows Media Center will be available as an economical 'media pack' add-on to Windows 8 Pro."
Unlike past versions of Windows, Windows 8 is designed to mix the traditional elements of desktop operating systems with elements from the world of tablets and smartphones – the tiles, the apps, the touch-controlled interface. Microsoft has not specified an exact release date, but smart money is on this fall – just in time for the holiday shopping rush.
French photographer Robert Doisneau, who is being feted with a Google Doodle Monday, is renowned for his work depicting everyday moments in the life of Parisians. One of his most famous photos, “Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville),” a picture of a couple kissing that has graced thousands of postcards and posters, seems to be the epitome of his spontaneous style.
However, after it became a classic photo – forever associated with Paris and romance – it provoked lawsuits, including one that cast the photo’s serendipity in a new light.
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The photo was taken by Doisneau in 1950 for Life Magazine after Doisneau was instructed to get shots of couples in Paris for a spread. Its popularity erupted years later, when a publisher asked Doisneau in 1986 if he could use the photo for a poster and Doisneau allowed it.
At least one couple incorrectly believed themselves to be the two seen embracing in Doisneau’s photo. Jean and Denise Lavergne told him so over lunch one day. At the time, Doisneau said nothing to disprove their statement. Still believing themselves to be the couple, the Lavergnes sued Doisneau for more than $18,000, claiming that he had used their likenesses without permission. A second suit came around the same time from a woman named Françoise Delbart (who now goes by her married name of Françoise Bornet). She sued the photographer in 1993 for a share of future sales and an additional $3,773.
Because of the two lawsuits, Doisneau revealed that the picture had in fact been staged after he had seen Ms. Bornet and Jacques Carteaud kissing and asked them if they could do it again for a photo. Doisneau then photographed Bornet and Carteau, both hopeful actors, in three different locations, which included the final location of near the Hôtel de Ville. After they posed, Doisneau gave Bornet a print of the photo with his stamp and signature.
Courts dismissed the claims of both the Lavergnes and Bornet in 1993, saying that the photo couldn’t be used to positively identify anyone in it.
Bornet auctioned her print of the photo in 2005, where it was sold for the equivalent of $242,000.
“The photo was posed,” Bornet said in an interview with French media. “But the kiss was real.”
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The Google doodle Saturday depicts a quartet of photographs by the French artist Robert Doisneau, including his most famous work, "Kiss by the Hotel de Ville," which was snapped in 1950. So who was Robert Doisneau, exactly?
Only one of the most recognizable stylists in the annals of modern photography – a Paris-born flâneur who wandered the streets of his home city with his trademark Leica in hand, collecting images of the local street life.
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Doisneau, who would have been 100 today, grew up in a suburb of Paris, the son of a plumber. When his parents passed away, Doisneau went to live with an aunt. He studied lithography, but preferred the camera, and at the age of 20, he sold his first photo essay to a local magazine called Excelsior.
Through the '30s, he did work for Renault, the French auto giant; when he was fired (apparently for being chronically late), he struck out on his own. During World War II, he was conscripted in the army, and later helped forge passports for the Resistance. In the 1940s and 1950s, he settled in the perambulatory rhythm that yielded iconic images like the ones above.
"Doisneau was fascinated by the Parisians who lived and worked around him," reads one 1991 Doisneau obituary. "He pictured them in their own inimitable cityscape, constructing a narrative which paid homage to the ordinary. Through Doisneau's eyes, Paris became a magic circus of occasion and event: an impromptu game of football becomes a decorous exercise in acrobatics, a fallen horse in the road the centre of an accidental carnival."
Of course, it is "Kiss by the Hotel De Ville" that remains forever linked to Doisneau – an image of two lip-locked lovers that appears to have been captured candidly. (In the background, commuters swing through the afternoon light.) But the photo was not serendipitous. Toward the end of his life, Doisneau admitted that the photo was posed, and that two "lovers" were actually models.
Usually tech rumors – and especially Apple rumors – are shadowy things, sourced to anonymous insiders or employees of factories in China or Taiwan. Well, hey, this is a nice change of pace: Philippe Starck, the famed French designer, has told a Parisian newspaper that he is helping Apple design a "revolutionary" product, which will hit shelves in approximately eight months. In other words, Starck is both the progenitor and the subject of the rumor.
What Starck actually said – courtesy of our high school French classes and an assist from Google Translate – is this: "In effect, there is a big project that we're working on together." Starck, invoking Apple's famed "culte du secret religieux" – cult of religious secrecy – declined to comment further. And Apple is staying mum. So is this for real?
Maybe. It does seem extremely unlikely that a highly-regarded public figure would go dashing around dispensing completely false pieces of information. (Starck has in the past designed the interior of Eurostar trains, Parisian restaurants, and the apartments of French politicians. Once he even built a wicked cool toothbrush.) Let's say Starck is partnering up with Apple.
And let's look at the time frame he gave his interviewer: 8 months. That would put us towards the end of 2012, which would be prime time for a new Apple iPhone. (Although the last iPhone launched in the fall, so the successor is probably due in about 6 or 7 months, rather than 8.) On the other hand, as others have pointed out, it could just be a remote control for the (presumably forthcoming) Apple TV.
We'll let you know as soon as we know more.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice filed a complaint in US District Court against Apple and five major publishers. The DOJ says Apple and the publishers conspired to raise the prices of e-books by as much as $5 – a move allegedly intended to prevent Amazon from locking in the price of e-books at 10 bucks. Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster agreed immediately to settle. Penguin, MacMillan and Apple will likely fight on.
So hey, what does this mean for Apple? (We should make clear here that Apple has not officially signaled its strategy vis-a-vis the DOJ, but until we know otherwise, we're assuming that Apple – like Penguin and MacMillan – has no intention of backing down.)
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Well, for one, it could bruise Apple.
"Apple does hurt itself when it thumbs its nose at the courts, the American system, and that could hurt it," Jeffrey Durgee, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, told US News and World Reports this week. Apple's "brand personality," he added is that of "a maverick, but not outside the law."
On the other hand, even if the baseline price of an e-book does return to $10 – which is exactly where Amazon wants it, while publishers want a higher price – Apple might not actually sustain any real damage. Writing for The New York Times, Nick Wingfield argued that it was "doubtful" that Apple would try to meet Amazon at the $9.99 price point.
"That, in turn, would hurt Apple e-book sales but do very little direct damage to Apple’s overall business," Wingfield added. "In the holiday quarter, Apple reported $2 billion in revenue from Internet services – about 4 percent of total company sales – with an undisclosed, but most likely small, percentage of that coming from e-book sales."
That's partly because Apple reps were not present at the various London and Manhattan gatherings where the collusion allegedly took place.
RECOMMENDED: 21 nonfiction books to watch for in spring 2012