Research In Motion reported yesterday on its fiscal fourth quarter results, and the results aren't good: revenue plummeted 19 percent to $4.2 billion, global sales dropped 21 percent to 11.1 million units, and in Q4 alone, the company lost $125 million. Meanwhile, Jim Balsillie, once the co-CEO of RIM – he was replaced by Thorsten Heins earlier this year – is stepping down from the board of directors.
RIM, of course, is the manufacturer of the BlackBerry line of smartphones, which for many years sold solidly in the US and abroad. But RIM has recently weathered a series of missteps, including the launch of its ill-fated BlackBerry PlayBook, and since last year, its market share has been slipping. So can RIM reverse course, and again viably compete in the smartphone wars?
Maybe. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Heins, the new RIM CEO, said the company would seek to get back to its roots: devices that appeal to businesspeople, not the lay consumer. "We plan to refocus on the enterprise business and capitalize on our leading position in this segment," Heins said, according to IDG.
Meanwhile, the company will focus on the release of BlackBerry 10, an operating system formerly known as BBX, which is expected to launch later this year. Details on the new OS are thin, although word is that RIM will begin providing prototypes to developers this spring. (EWeek has published a good run-down on what BlackBerry 10 phones must include if it wishes to compete with Apple and Android. Hint: bigger screens, no physical keyboard.)
There's only one problem, Eric Zeman notes over at Information Week: RIM may be running out of time.
"RIM's BB10 smartphones won't reach the market until close to the end of 2012," Zeman writes. "By then, Apple will have fielded the iPhone 5 and Google will have at least unveiled (if not actually released) the next version of Android. Apple and Google are the reason RIM is in its current state. Their touch-screen, media-centric smartphones have won over consumers and business users alike, who've adopted them by the hundreds of millions."
Sony is refusing to comment, but according to one new report, a successor to the PlayStation 3 is already in the works, and on target for a late 2013 launch. Citing anonymous sources familiar with the new console, the gaming blog Kotaku has published a preliminary run-down on the PlayStation 4, which has allegedly been slapped with the codename of Orbis.
Among the purported specs on the Orbis: a resolution of 4096x2160, which, as Kotaku notes, is "far in excess of the needs of most current HDTV sets." The Orbis – or PS4, if you'd like – will "also be capable of playing 3D games in 1080p. Some game studios may have already received development kits for the Orbis; "more finalised beta units will be shipped" by the end of the year, Kotaku adds.
But the most interesting revelation has to do with a crack-down on used games. Games for the new console will reportedly be available as a PlayStation Network download or as a disc. But "[I]f you buy the disc, it must be locked to a single PSN account, after which you can play the game, save the whole thing to your HDD, or peg it as 'downloaded' in your account history and be free to download it at a later date," Kotaku writes.
This would, of course, drastically affect the used game market: You can't trade-in a downloaded game, nor would anyone want to buy a second-hand game that's already been "locked" to another account. So is Sony actually considering taking a similar approach with its next console? Maybe, Ian Paul writes over at PC World.
"While these are only claims from anonymous sources at this point," Paul writes, "the idea that console makers are looking to destroy or at least restrict the second-hand gaming and rental market is not surprising. The move could push more users toward using Sony's PSN Store to download game titles."
In January, the New York Times published a long investigative piece examining the working conditions at several Chinese plants owned by Foxconn, which manufactures iPad and iPhone parts for Apple. Among the findings: Foxconn employees "labor in harsh conditions," live in overpacked dormitories, and work "excessive" overtime – sometimes standing "so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk."
The article was damning, and under fire from critics, Apple eventually agreed to hire the Fair Labor Association to conduct an outside audit of its China-based suppliers. That was last month. This week brings news that Apple exec Tim Cook, who took over the reins of the company from the late founder, Steve Jobs, has journeyed to China for the first time in his tenure as CEO.
"Tim is in China meeting with government officials. China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth there," Apple spokesperson Carolyn Wu told Reuters today. Meanwhile, Apple said Cook had spoken with vice premier Li Keqiang.
Other details of the trip remain murky: Apple has not made Cook's itinerary public. However, newly released photos show that on Wednesday, Cook made at least one trip to a large Foxconn factory.
Cook is also likely to discuss with Chinese officials an ongoing legal showdown over the iPad trademark. A Chinese company called Proview has claimed that it owns the mainland China trademarks for the iPad; Apple says Proview is "misleading" Chinese customers.
According to a batch of papers filed this week in US District Court in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh resident Brandon Price stands accused of impersonating Allen, and convincing Citibank customer service to send him a replacement credit card, which Price then attempted to use to rack up $15,000 in purchases.
"An individual identifying himself as Paul Allen called the customer service department of Citibank," according to a complaint filed by the FBI. (Hat tip to the Register.) "The caller stated that he had misplaced his debit card at his residence, but did not want to report it stolen. The individual then successfully ordered a new debit card on the account of Paul Allen and had it sent via UPS."
Monitor readers will remember that in a Data Breach Investigations report released this week, a team of analysts at Verizon noted an uptick in cybercrime and stolen online identities. As David Postman, a spokesman for Allen, told BusinessWeek today that the Allen incident is "a reminder that anyone can be a victim of this. It certainly is a surprise and reason for everyone to make sure that all that stuff is properly cared for and monitored," Postman added.
If convicted, Price faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.
The Kindle Fire has been a success for Amazon – so much so that the Pew Research Center, in a report released earlier this year, estimated that the release of the Fire single-handedly helped drive up tablet sales nationwide. Now comes news that Amazon is prepping three new Fire tablets, including an upmarket 8.9 inch device with a high-resolution screen, which would presumably compete with the recently-launched Apple iPad.
Amazon plans to hit a range of price points (and prospective audiences), according to the China Economic News Service. Two of the new tablets would measure 7-inches, just like the current Fire, but one would get a screen resolution of 1024 by 600, and the other would clock in at 1280 by 800. Meanwhile, the "high-end" Fire would measure 8.9-inches, more in line with the iPad, and ship with a 1920 by 1200 display.
Still, it certainly makes sense that Amazon would want to get a piece of the ballooning luxury tablet market currently dominated by Apple. Some analysts have predicted that Apple could unload 12 million units of the new iPad before the end of the current quarter.
In related news, Amazon today released the Kindle Touch 3G in 175 countries, and in seven languages – German, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and American or British English.
Also: Something of a data hog. According to a new report in the Wall Street Journal, users are finding that the latest version of Apple's popular tablet, which comes equipped with 4G LTE capability, siphons through data at an alarming rate. Now nominally, of course, faster download speeds are a good thing. The faster the download speeds, the less buffering and the better the video quality.
But 4G isn't free – folks who bought an LTE-equipped iPad signed for one of three data plans, each with a different download cap. AT&T, for instance, offers 250 MB for $14.99 a month; 3 GB for $30 a month; or 5 GB for $50 a month. Overshoot those limits, and you pay a fee. And with 4G, it's often really easy to overshoot the limits. (It's worth noting here that it costs nothing to access data via the Wi-Fi antenna on any iPad.)
"It's kind of a Catch-22," one user told the Wall Street Journal. "It streams really fast video, but by streaming really fast video you tend to watch more video, and that's not always best."
Suffice to say this ain't exactly a problem that's going to go away anytime soon. As carriers such as AT&T and Verizon increase the range and capacity of their 4G LTE networks – and as more devices come equipped with 4G antennas – we're all going to have to control our urge to slurp down massive amounts of data. Or else, we're going to have to learn to rely a whole lot more on Wi-Fi.
In related news, the battery meter on the new iPad may not be fully accurate. Dr. Raymond M. Soneira, creator of DisplayMate (hat tip to Ars Technica) recently conducted a test on the Apple tablet and found that the device often keeps charging for an hour after the thing is fully charged. "[I]f getting maximum battery run time is crucial, people need to keep their devices recharging for longer than the screen claims," Soneira told the Ars team.
Google swapped out its regular logo today for shards of violins, guitars, and maybe a little cherry pie in the top-right corner. This kaleidoscope-twisted Google doodle pays respect to the Spanish artist Juan Gris. The digital collage honors three things about Mr. Gris' work: It's colorful. It's beautifully fragmented. And, chiefly, it's fun.
Gris studied art in Spain, but his creative work didn't really take off until he moved to Paris in 1906. There, he befriended Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso, three heavy-hitters of 20th century art. They introduced him to an emerging school of painting called Cubism.
Cubism is a weird but very important art style. For hundreds of years, traditional painters captured life as if they were snapping a photograph – everything was flat, still, and from a single perspective. But Cubists thought that this time-honored approach was, in many ways, unnatural. In real life, your eyes wander. You see the world from shifting angles. Nothing remains frozen in time and space. So the Cubists experimented with ways to break free.
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Picasso and Braque led the way. Their paintings captured scenes from many different perspectives all at once. Yet much of their work feels purposefully exclusive. Without a thorough understanding of the Cubist philosophy, pieces such as Picasso's "Ma Jolie" could be baffling. What is that? The title translates to "My Pretty Girl," but it takes a very trained eye to see why.
Gris used the same ideas, but came up with more whimsical results. Take a look at "Man in the Cafe," painted the same year as "Ma Jolie." The subject is far more identifiable, but also more joyful and frisky. From this piece, we get the sense that Gris enjoys the playfulness of the Cubist style, and wants you to enjoy it as well.
Part of the difference came from Gris' healthy injection of color. "Where Picasso and Braque in the heroic years worked by taking color out, Gris worked by putting it in," wrote the New York Times in 1983.
Gris grew with the other Cubists, eventually embracing the movement's second wave, called Synthetic Cubism. This new push took the same ideas but experimented with new textures and collage elements. He in particular adopted papier collé, where paper is pasted into a collage. In fact, this is the inspiration for today's Google doodle. The search engine combines pieces of Gris' “Violin and Glass 1,” “Bol et Livre,” “Guitar with Clarinet,” and “The Book of Music.”
Just as Gris pasted together snippets of reality, Google pasted together snippets of Gris. It's a fitting tribute to the artist, 125 years after his birth. Happy birthday, Juan Gris.
For more on how technology intersect daily life, follow Chris on Twitter @venturenaut.
SEE ALSO: Google Doodles you'll never see
In a preview video posted by Rovio (and embedded below), astronaut and engineer Don Pettit delivers a brief tutorial on the science behind the Angry Birds series, which debuted in early 2010, and went on to rack up hundreds of millions of downloads on iPhones, Androids, and Facebook.
"If you understand physics, it will allow you to go and get a neat job. Sort of like mine," Petit says, from his perch at the International Space Station, more than 240 miles above earth.
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Angry Birds has long attracted the interest of professional geeks. In Atlanta, for instance, a ninth-grade teacher used Angry Birds to explain the laws of physics to his students. Meanwhile, the team at Wired's physics blog has spent a good deal of time analyzing the accuracy of the science used in the Rovio title (it's pretty accurate, it turns out).
And now, the video from Pettit. In an interview with the AFP, Rovio rep Tiina Mikkonen said the company had been "working with NASA for quite a while already and they're very keen in cooperating with us... They've been helping us with all the physics-related questions around space and gravity." Hard to think of a better endorsement than that: A real astronaut, shilling a game about an army of spacebound fictional birds and their porcine foes.
Speaking of which, Angry Birds Space will be available on Apple and Android devices and on the PC. The game ships with 60 levels, Rovio said, all of which take place in orbit. We'll get you a review as soon as we've had some hands-on time.
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Incidents of "hacktivism" – hacking undertaken for political purposes – accounted for an unprecedented 58 percent of all data theft in 2011, according to the new Data Breach Investigations report from Verizon. The report surveyed 855 data breaches, where a combined 174 million digital records were purloined.
Those breaches were reported both by government websites and corporate entities; hacker collectives LulzSec and Anonymous led the charge.
"Hacktivism has been around for some time but it's mainly been website defacements. In 2011 it was more about going to steal a bunch of information from a company," Wade Baker, director of research and intelligence at Verizon, told the BBC. "Data theft became a mechanism for political protest," Baker added.
In the report, Verizon, pointing to the "Arab Spring" protests, called 2011 "a year of civil and cultural uprising."
Certainly, hacktivists such as LulzSec did hog a good deal of the spotlight last year, mostly by cultivating charismatic online personas – and popular Twitter feeds, where hackers could interact with their fans. "This is the first time we've had hackers who want you to know who they are," Chester Wisniewski, a senior adviser at Sophos, told the Monitor in 2011. "These guys are awesome at PR. It's very impressive."
In related news, Verizon has been tracking an increase in automated attacks, which appear to target mostly small businesses, and not major conglomerates.
"There's some franchise chains, but many times it's mom-and-pop cafés," Verizon analyst Chris Porter of Verizon has said, according to ReadWriteWeb. "These restaurants, retail stores, are really focused on building their business. They want to make sure when a customer comes in, they can charge him. And they're probably less concerned about data protection."
Overheating, reception blackouts, persistent 4G LTE issues.
Such are the problems reported by owners of the new iPad, which was released by Apple last week – and which was quickly snapped up 3 million times over, in just 36 hours. According to reports in PC Mag and Apple Insider, some consumers have reported that the Wi-Fi antennas on the iPad have trouble locating a signal; others have apparently chewed past their allotted 4G data caps in a matter of hours.
Meanwhile, Consumer Reports have found that the new iPad runs "significantly hotter" than the iPad 2. Engineers for the magazine "recorded temperatures as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit on the front and rear of the new iPad while playing Infinity Blade II," the Consumer Reports team wrote this week. By comparison, that's 12 degrees hotter than the iPad 2 ran during that same test.
Speaking to Computerworld, Apple downplayed the issue, and encouraged any users experiencing problems to contact Apple customer service. It's worth noting here that the problem does not seem to be extremely widespread. It's also worth noting we've seen this kind of thing before. In 2010, for instance, Apple was pelted with complaints about "death-grip," which allegedly affected reception on the iPhone 4.
Apple responded by issuing free – and reception-improving – cases to consumers.