Tag Archives: mobile

Nokia Tries to Reinvent Itself, Again, by Taking Over Alcatel-Lucent

Rajeev Suri, Nokia’s chief executive, at its headquarters in Espoo, Finland, says the deal will increase the company’s relevance. “We’ll have the size to become a strategic partner,” he said.

Tucked away down a corridor at Nokia’s headquarters here is a reminder of its 150-year history. A colorful display traces its transformation from a maker of rubber boots in the 19th century to the world’s largest manufacturer of cellphones, whose market capitalization once peaked at almost $250 billion.

Those high-flying days, though, are long gone.

Nokia failed to adapt to the fast rise of smartphones and eventually
sold its faltering handset business to Microsoft. Now, in an effort to remake itself once again, Nokia has turned to manufacturing the telecom equipment that powers the mobile networks of global carriers like Deutsche Telekom and China Mobile.

That strategy will soon face its biggest test when Nokia completes its$16.6 billion takeover of its Franco-American rival Alcatel-Lucent in early 2016.

Nokia shareholders will meet in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday to approve the deal. And despite some resistance, Alcatel-Lucent’s shareholders are also expected to give their support by the end of the year through a share-swap arrangement that will leave them with roughly a one-third stake in the enlarged telecom manufacturer. (Nokia shareholders will hold the remainder.)

The hurdles facing Nokia’s effort are high. The company must sidestep the checkered past of previous costly takeovers in the telecom industry that have often yielded more problems than solutions. Nokia is also confronted with tough competition. Low-cost Chinese rivals and a downturn in spending from carriers worldwide have cut growth prospects just as it edges toward its largest acquisition in years.

Yet, Rajeev Suri, Nokia’s 48-year-old chief executive, says the takeover of Alcatel-Lucent is exactly what his company needs to execute its yearslong makeover. That overhaul has included cutting more than 17,000 jobs, and the sale of unwanted assets like its digital mapping unit.

“When I took over, we were on the brink,” Mr. Suri said in a brief return to Finland between customer meetings in Asia. “Being able to pull off an acquisition that might make us No. 1, now that’s pretty exciting.”

“Through the deal, we’ll grow our relevance with our customers,” he added. “We’ll have the size to become a strategic partner.”

Analysts say both companies do offer complementary expertise: Nokia specializes in wireless networks, and Alcatel-Lucent is best known for its routers and other equipment that is used to create broadband networks.

But as carriers like Verizon Wireless and Telefónica of Spain, which represent the bulk of the companies’ revenue, pull back on mobile networks investments, industry watchers remain concerned that a bigger Nokia may struggle to find new customers to offset the moribund global telecom industry. Sales, including in the United States, have flatlined.

“For Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent, it’s a matter of survival,” said Bengt Nordström, co-founder of Northstream, a telecom consulting firm in Stockholm. “The real challenge is where are they going to find growth.”

History also offers reason for caution. Alcatel’s merger with Lucent Technologies in 2006, for example, led to corporate infighting, dwindling sales and, eventually, wholesale layoffs. And Nokia’s own joint venture with Siemens, the German industrial giant, faced many of the same headwinds, finally culminating in Nokia buying out Siemens in 2013.

“The history of M.&A. is littered with hubris,” said Sylvain Fabre, a telecom analyst at the research firm Gartner in Bristol, England. “But Rajeev and his team have a track record that could make this work.”

Ever since Nokia first announced its takeover of Alcatel-Lucent this year, it has looked to previous deals, including its lackluster partnership with Siemens, to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Jorg Erlemeier, who led Nokia’s integration team, said the deal was specifically structured as a takeover, not a merger of equals, so that Nokia executives would assume lead management roles — a way to avoid confusion over how the expanded company would be run. Mr. Erlemeier’s team, which now numbers more than 1,000 people, has met almost weekly since April, negotiating logistics, corporate structures and possible job cuts ahead of the deal’s completion early next year.

Foreign companies have also had trouble acquiring French corporate giants in the past, partly because the French government holds stakes in a number of so-called strategic assets like the energy and telecom industries. The government, for instance, initially balked at General Electric’s offer to buy the energy assets of Alstom, a French conglomerate.

The French government, however, owns less than a 4 percent stake in Alcatel-Lucent. And Nokia has guaranteed it will maintain job levels in France and has created a $105 million fund to support local tech companies, efforts that have so far tempered concerns from French politicians.

“I’m realistic; this is something that had to be done,” said Philippe Camus, Alcatel-Lucent’s interim chief executive, when asked about the pending takeover. “We’re in a global market. Not all European champions can be French.”

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That used iPhone? Here’s what happens before you buy it

When it came time for Caleb Gonsalves to buy a new iPhone earlier this year, he didn’t run to the nearest Apple store. Instead, he headed to the website of reseller Gazelle to search for a used iPhone 6, saving himself money and the pain of waiting another year for his wireless contract to end.

“The idea I could just sell back a phone [an iPhone 5S]…and put the money to a new phone that was discounted…was amazing,” said Gonsalves, a 27-year-old executive at a tech startup based in Boston.

He ended up trading in a 32-gigabyte iPhone 5S for $216 and applied the cash to help pay for a used 64GB iPhone 6 from Gazelle that cost $401. At the time, a new version of that phone would have cost $749.

Gonsalves isn’t alone when it comes to buying and selling used phones online.

As the US wireless market moves away from traditional two-year contracts, more consumers are upgrading their phones at a faster clip, while looking for ways to do it on the cheap. Device resellers like Gazelle are benefiting from that trend by offering affordable alternatives in used smartphones. Since the iPhone 6S hit the market in late September, about 100,000 iPhones have been traded in to Gazelle, a level in line with the typical trade-in number during “S” generations, the company said. Apple tends to do major redesigns every other year, opting for more subtle changes in the off-year denoted by the “S” in the product name.

Most of Gazelle’s business revolves around the iPhone, but it also buys and sells Android devices. And it’s not the only company in this market. eBay, uSell and various other companies also have businesses related to used mobile devices.

Gazelle, based in Boston, got its start offering consumers a place to sell their old or unwanted electronic wares. Last year it opened up an online storefront to sell them back to you, and it has since moved 50,000 iPhones.

“As subsidies have been taken away from carriers, folks are realizing their iPhone habit is a $650 habit, not $200,” Gazelle Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Welch said. “There has been an explosion in demand for high-quality used phones.”

To see what happens to those iPhones before they reach new buyers’ hands, CNET visited Gazelle’s facility in Louisville, Kentucky, for a behind-the-scenes glimpse.

To sell a smartphone, consumers go to Gazelle’s site and describe the phone’s condition as “broken,” “good” or “flawless” and then receive an estimate for its value. The company then sends a prepaid box to the consumer, who has 30 days to return it with the phone to the Louisville facility. The long window allows sellers to lock in a high price before the newest iPhone is announced, but gives them time to upgrade before sending off the old phone.

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How a startup’s tiny dots could lead to better smartphone photos

With tech called quantum dots, InVisage promises to surpass the limits of today’s image sensors and vastly improve digital photos and videos. The first devices with its technology should arrive in early 2016.

The future of photography is arriving here with a steady drip, drip, drip.

At least that’s the plan for InVisage Technologies, a 75-person startup that hopes its exotic new material known as quantum dots will dramatically improve smartphone cameras when it arrives in devices in the first quarter of 2016.

“It’s revolutionary on a number of fronts,” said Chief Executive and co-founder Jess Lee, who will unveil the company’s first product on Wednesday.

In an exclusive look into its operations tucked inside a drab office building in the heart of Silicon Valley, InVisage showed CNET how it makes the tiny particles in an ultra-clean lab where staff wear coats, gloves, booties and hairnets to protect the material from contamination.

InVisage’s product, the QuantumFilm image-sensor chip, begins with a chemical reaction that fills a vial with an inky black liquid drop by drop. Concentrated, 1 fluid ounce is enough to make enough image-sensor chips for 10,000 cameras. The quantum dots themselves are less than 5 nanometers wide — small enough that more than 20,000 of them side by side would be only as wide as a human hair.

Chips with the light-detecting layer of quantum dots will outdo today’s image-sensor technology, Lee said. First, their better dynamic range can handle highlights and shadows better, letting you avoid the glare of overexposed faces in the sun while still discerning the subjects in the shade. Second, a fast-acting “global shutter” avoids the Jello-wobble effect that hurts today’s videos taken when the subject or camera is moving. Last, QuantumFilm-based cameras can be made thinner so phone makers can avoid the protruding camera lens present even on today’s top-end phones like Apple’s iPhone 6S and Google’s Nexus 6P.

Cameras are crucial to smartphone-powered activities like sharing photos with friends and family. We post more than 80 million images a day on Instagram alone. But image quality often falls short. Look no farther than Apple’s “shot on iPhone 6” ad campaign to see how smartphone makers push camera improvements to try to stand out in a crowded market.

“Image sensors are critical to smartphones,” ranking third in importance after battery power and the display, said InfoTrends analyst Ed Lee. “People continue to take more and more photos, and it’s going beyond just memory keeping and social sharing” as people use phones to search, scan and tryaugmented reality apps that add a digital layer to the real world.

‘Extremely difficult task’

InVisage won’t have an easy time meeting its ambitions. It’s going up against giants like Sony, which according to analyst firm IHS, accounts for about 42 percent of the $9.6 billion image-sensor business. Success requires increasing production to thousands of chips a day while maintaining quality. And it’s been tough developing InVisage’s technology. In a 2010 interview with CNET, Lee said he expected QuantumFilm image-sensor chips to arrive in 2011.

“Succeeding in the market will be an extremely difficult task for InVisage,” said IHS analyst Brian O’Rourke. “The image sensor market is ferociously competitive. The last startup to succeed in this market was OmniVision, which started in the 1990s.”

Even if it took five years longer than hoped, InVisage is fledging from the nest now, with help from more than $100 million raised in venture capital.

“While we’ve been taking longer to come to market than we originally predicted, this is brand-new technology,” said Lee, who previously worked at OmniVision.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) fabricates most parts of each QuantumFilm chip, but InVisage completes the job by adding the quantum dot layer. Lee wouldn’t identify which companies are buying its chips but said they are “aggressive early adopters…looking for a way to differentiate.”

Initially, InVisage expects to charge smartphone makers the same price as the latest silicon-based sensor technology. In the longer run, it expects to lower manufacturing costs.

InVisage is starting with smartphones but plans to power traditional still and cinema cameras, too.

“We have high interest in the high-end space,” Lee said. “It’s a personal goal of mine to get our technology into those hands.” High-end products have big marketing value for mainstream products, he added.

Quantum whats?

Today’s image sensors are specialized computer chips with a layer of silicon that is sensitive to light. The more light that strikes each of millions of pixels on the image sensor, the more an electrical charge builds up for that pixel. Circuitry converts that charge into image data.

QuantumFilm uses a super-thin layer of its light-sensitive quantum dots instead of silicon. Each dot is made of a semiconducting material that conducts electricity or not depending on its environment. Different dot sizes are sensitive to particular colors of light.

One of the biggest quantum dot advantages is better dynamic range — the span between the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights. QuantumFilm can record image details at brightness levels that would overwhelm a silicon sensor. Specifically, QuantumFilm remains sensitive to detail even as it absorbs up to eight times as much light, or up to three stops in photography terms. That translates into a sensor that better captures reality without resorting to multi-exposure “HDR” high dynamic range tricks.

QuantumFilm also has a useful feature called global shutter that reads each pixel of video data simultaneously. That can bring realism to videos otherwise spoiled when the camera holder or subject is moving.

Another perk: Because quantum dots are laid down in a continuous film, the number of pixels on a sensor isn’t baked into the hardware. A smartphone could be set to capture images with a maximum number of pixels for fine detail then changed to a smaller number of larger pixels for better low-light performance.

Digital image sensors have evolved slowly for decades, starting with technology called CCD (charge-coupled devices) before moving to conventional technology called CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) chip manufacturing that’s better suited to video and to use in smartphones. The most recent development has been backside illumination (BSI), which flips CMOS image sensors like pancakes so light shines on the back of the chip and electronic components won’t block light.

Lee thinks quantum dots are the next step for the entire industry in the quest for better image quality. “There’s nothing else out there,” he said.

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South Korean telco proclaims it will be world’s first 5G network operator

SK Telecom opens a fifth-generation mobile network research facility in South Korea, where it claimed it would be the first operator of a 5G service.

South Koreans currently enjoy the world’s fastest Internet speeds, so it makes sense that they would be the first to get a fifth-generation mobile network, aka 5G.

SK Telecom, the country’s most widely used mobile carrier, on Thursday declared it would be the world’s first operator of a 5G network as it opened the doors of the 5G Playground, a facility dedicated to researching the nascent service, The Korea Herald reports.

Following 4G LTE, 5G is the next significant update to wireless Internet connectivity. SK reportedly demonstrated speeds of up to 19.1 gigabits per second, nearly 1,000 times faster than the 25 megabits-per-second in which 4G LTE users in South Korea currently luxuriate. That 5G speed would let you download a 2GB movie in fractions of a second.

“SKT will spare no efforts to achieve the world’s first commercialisation of the 5G network,” CTO Choi Jin-sung said at the opening of the Playground.

At the opening of the centre, which was launched in conjunction with tech giants Samsung Electronics, Nokia, Intel, telco infrastructure provider Ericsson and electronics firm Rhode & Schwartz, SK Telecom said it would have a test network running by 2017. That’s ahead of a globally standardised, commercially usable network by 2020.

But SK Telecom isn’t the only telco with its eyes on 5G. If it wants to be the world’s first 5G operator it’ll have to beat Verizon Wireless in the US, which is on track to begin testing its fifth-gen network next year and have some degree of commercial availability in 2017. Australia’s Telstra has pegged 2020 as the year for the commercial launch of its 5G network.

According to Verizon, 5G will offer a connection speed 30 to 50 times faster than the US’ current 4G LTE network. Meanwhile, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg in January said he expected 5G to power a proliferation of Internet of Things gadgets, items that make use of Internet connectivity, due to the network’s ability to interact uniquely with different types of devices.

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Google’s mobile quest may lead to Android, Chrome merger

The tech giant has plans to meld its software for personal computers with its popular Android software for smartphones and tablets, according to a new report. The bottom line: Mobile has taken over.

For Google, smartphones, tablets, laptops and more may all soon answer to Android.

The Mountain View, California, company is looking to bring its Android mobile software to laptop computers, according to a report Thursday by The Wall Street Journal. As part of that push, Google may annex some parts of its Chrome OS software, which mainly powers its Chromebook laptops, with Android, its operating system for smartphones and tablets, according to the report.

The search giant plans to release this newly unified software in 2017, the report says, with Google showing it off for the first time next year. Chrome OS will continue to be available to other companies, but Google will focus on extending Android to laptops, according to the report.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

While this would be a monumental development in the tech industry, it wouldn’t make much difference to consumers. Of all the laptops shipped globally last year, Google’s Chromebooks accounted for around 3 percent, according to research firm IDC. Chrome OS is different from Google’s Chrome Web browser, which is widely used on Macs and PCs.

Android, which Google acquired in 2005, has become the centerpiece of the company’s mobile efforts far beyond smartphones and tablets. The software now powers television-guide menus, car dashboards and smartwatches. For Google, the change would be profound given its roots as an Internet search engine born on desktop computers.

The shift also highlights the importance of mobile devices and the software that powers them. You can now buy groceries, listen to music and hail a ride all from your phone. Most people around the world are doing these things from Google-powered phones. Android runs on four out of every five smartphones globally.

Assuming the Journal’s report is accurate, the next iteration of Android will run on personal computers as well as mobile devices. It will also give PC users access to the Google Play marketplace for third-party apps. Chromebooks will get a new name, according to the Journal, though it hasn’t been decided yet.

Google has been telegraphing the move for some time. New Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who led development of Chrome OS in 2009, was also put in charge of Android in 2013. Last year, Google put Hiroshi Lockheimer, Android’s top engineer, at the helm of Chrome OS.

The approach is similar to Microsoft’s strategy with its Windows 10 operating system, which runs across computers, tablets, smartphones and the Xbox game console. Apple, however, has maintained that it wants to keep iOS, the software that powers its iPhones and iPads, separate from its Mac OS software for PCs.

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Why 5G will be the superfast Swiss Army knife of wireless networks

Hans Vestberg, CEO of telecom equipment vendor Ericsson, sees the next decade’s 5G networks being smart enough to know what kind of device is using it, and why.

When it comes to the wireless networks of the future, speed won’t be everything.

The advent of so-called 5G, or fifth-generation, wireless technology will bring incredible speed, for sure, with the industry aiming to see your network connection jump by 100 times. (Yes, 100.) More importantly, the network will be smart enough to act differently depending on how it’s accessed, whether from a heart monitor when you’re relaxing at home or from a self-driving car zipping down a crowded highway.

That’s according to Hans Vestberg, CEO of Ericsson, one of the world’s largest suppliers of telecommunications equipment.

His comments provide a glimpse into what tomorrow’s wireless network will look like. While carriers around the world are still deploying 4G networks, which have brought broadband speeds over the air, there’s increasing chatter about what’s next. In the US, Verizon Wireless has already said it plans to field-test its own take on 5G next year, and the industry is starting to talk about the new kinds of devices and connected services that will spring from the technology.

“Many industries will look at how 5G will transform their business,” Vestberg said in an interview on Friday. “It’s my job to build a network to handle that.”

As fast as Verizon is moving, the industry isn’t expected to invest in the technology in earnest until 2020. The speed and capacity 5G brings could offer a legitimate alternative to the physical connection available via Internet service providers and companies such as Google, which use fiber optics to deliver super-high speeds. 5G is supposed to be even faster.

Depending on the device, 5G may have a range of behaviors, he said. The network has to be responsive enough to tell a self-driving car where to go and how to react to situations that require a split-second reaction. It has to be consistent enough to maintain a connection with a hypothetical chipset in your body that can monitor your vitals, but know to instantly ping emergency services in case something goes wrong. It also has to operate efficiently enough that farms can use sensors that can ping the network for 10 years on a single charge.

In other cases, 5G wireless technology may replace the broadband service coming into your home via wires or cables, Vestberg said. It’s already happening with 4G in some parts of the world, but 5G adds higher speed and capacity. With 5G, carriers could also deliver super-sharp 4K video to the home.

One of the reasons Verizon is holding its test so early is to figure out what kinds of applications can take advantage of 5G, the New York-based telecommunications company said in September.

While 5G may bring many things, it’s unlikely that unlimited data will be one of them. In the US, Verizon and AT&T have already eliminated their options for an all-you-can-eat data offering, while T-Mobile and Sprint have limits in place for excessive users. The curtailing of unlimited plans has more to do with economic issues than technical ones.

Vestberg declined to comment on the plans of his carrier customers, but noted that there was a cost to building out these networks, with players such as AT&T projected to spend roughly $10 billion this year. He also warned that as capacity and speeds have increased, so too has usage.

Ericsson could use the boost in equipment sales. The Swedish company posted a third-quarter profit that fell below expectations as carriers around the world slowed down their network deployments.

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Is the iPhone 6S a smash hit? Apple may offer clues Tuesday

The company’s fiscal fourth-quarter results will reflect just two weeks of new iPhone sales but will still hint at the popularity of the new smartphones.

Apple reports its latest quarterly results on Tuesday. But let’s face it, all anyone really cares about is how the new iPhones did.

Preorders for the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus kicked off September 12, and the company’s fiscal fourth quarter ended September 26. This means that Apple cannot offer a full quarter’s worth of results Tuesday and that industry watchers are instead anxiously awaiting the sales forecast for the current quarter.

Apple doesn’t provide estimates for its iPhone sales, but it’s easy to draw conclusions from its revenue forecast because smartphones now represent about two-thirds of its sales. Those numbers and potentially a few candid comments from Apple’s executives could offer up some clues.

The hints will indicate how well the new iPhones are expected to sell in the critical holiday shopping quarter. More importantly, they will help answer the question of whether the Cupertino, California, company and its iPhones have lost a bit of their swagger as consumer enthusiasm for smartphones cools.

The worry is Apple won’t sell as many smartphones as it did the year before. That fear isn’t unfounded. The entire smartphone market is slowing, and China, a key market for the company, has faced volatility in recent months. One-time highfliers Samsung and HTC have struggled, and it’s unclear whether Apple will get dragged down with them.

Apple is expected to sell 48.7 million iPhones in its fiscal fourth quarter, according to a poll by Fortune.

“The recent 6S launch is shaping up to be nothing short of a success, but Apple is used to smartphone market conquests, and the 6S line is falling short(er than the iPhone 6),” Argus Insights CEO John Feland said Friday in a blog post.

Apple declined to comment ahead of its results.

The iPhone has been Apple’s biggest moneymaker for years, but it has become even more important since last year’s introduction of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple’s first big-screen smartphones. Those devices have become Apple’s best-selling products of all time, and they helped Apple report the highest quarterly profit of any public company — ever — in the quarter that ended last December. In those three months, Apple sold a record 74.5 million iPhones, 46 percent more than a year earlier.

When Apple made its fiscal fourth-quarter revenue forecast in July, though, thenumber wasn’t quite as strong as analysts had anticipated. It didn’t help that iPhone sales also disappointed in its third quarter.

Eyes on China

One of the biggest worries for Apple is the slowdown in China, the world’s largest iPhone market. A stock market crash in China and concerns about a slowdown in consumer spending have left Apple vulnerable.

“China has reached saturation — its phone market is essentially driven by replacement, with fewer first-time buyers,” tech research firm Gartner said in August.

Much of the mobile industry’s growth in the future will come from developing markets like India, where it’s harder for people to afford pricey iPhones.

In a rare move, CEO Tim Cook emailed CNBC host Jim Cramer in August to say that despite concerns, Apple had “continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August.” He added that growth in iPhone activations had “actually accelerated over the past few weeks” and that Apple’s App Store posted its best performance of the year in China during the two weeks before his email.

Another sign that it may not be all doom and gloom: Apple revealed last month that it sold 13 million units of the new smartphones in the first three days they were available. That’s up from 10 million a year ago when the previous models first hit stores. Apple benefited this time around from offering its new iPhones in China at the same time they debuted elsewhere.

“We admit that last year’s iPhone success may present [a] tough…comparison for the coming quarter,” Oppenheimer analyst Andrew Uerkwitz said. “However, we think this is too shortsighted a view. We believe Apple’s unique advantages in ecosystem and user experience protect it from a slower smartphone market and macro concerns.”

We’ll find out just how protected Apple is on Tuesday.

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Google, now Alphabet, spells success with mobile, YouTube

Google is known for driverless cars, but when it comes to the tech giant’s immediate future, all signs point to mobile ads and its massive video site. Its latest earnings top estimates.

Google, reporting its first earnings as the new holding company Alphabet, said it owed its profit and sales success last quarter to having six products with more than a billion users apiece.

They are search, the mobile operating system Android, the Web browser Chrome, maps, the marketplace Play and YouTube.

But Google executives on Thursday specifically called out YouTube.

The Google-owned video giant has become synonymous with online video. Every month, more than a billion people, or one of every seven on the planet, visit the site to watch movie trailers, get makeup tips or see cute animals do something adorable.

That appetite for cat videos does more than satisfy our collective dopamine receptors; it’s also good for Google.

So much so that the Mountain View, California, company has been expanding YouTube’s offerings to get you to spend even more time on the site. On Wednesday, Google announced YouTube Red, a subscription version of the service that for $10 a month nixes the ads and gives you access to original shows and movies from top YouTube talent. In August, Google launched YouTube Gaming, a hub dedicated to video game-related content.

“The shift to video is a profound medium shift, especially in the context of mobile,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said on a conference call. He said the video site has had “amazing momentum,” especially on smartphones and tablets.

The result is an ever-sprawling video powerhouse that in many ways points to the future of Google. In July, Google CFO Ruth Porat said videos kept people watching 60 percent longer than they did a year ago. On smartphones and tablets — the preferred places for advertisers, aka Google’s lifeblood — the average watch time is 40 minutes. That’s double what it was a year ago, Porat said.

On Thursday, announcing results for the quarter ended September 30, Google said it beat Wall Street expectations for sales and profit, thanks to “substantial growth” in mobile search sales. One of the biggest contributors: YouTube.

Third-quarter sales were $18.67 billion, Google/Alphabet said in a statement. Profit, after adjustments for stock-based compensation and other items, was $7.35 a share. Analysts had estimated $18.53 billion in revenue and earnings of $7.21 per share.

Investors are happy. At 3:30 p.m. PT, Alphabet’s stock jumped more than 11 percent in after-hours trading to more than $725. The company also said it will repurchase $5 billion in shares starting in the fourth quarter.

Earlier this month, Google restructured itself under a new holding company named Alphabet, part of an effort to make it easier for each unit to develop new projects, faster. On Thursday, Alphabet said it will keep reporting financial results for Google’s business — which includes YouTube, search and maps — as a single group. Other businesses, including its X research lab and device maker Nest, will be reported as a combined group known as “Other Bets.”

Still, even with the company’s outsize ambitions, it all comes back to the tiny video startup Google acquired in 2006 for $1.65 billion.

It doesn’t look like Google will slow its expansion of YouTube anytime soon. The site will be a key part of Google’s virtual-reality efforts. Last year, the company unveiled Google Cardboard, a no-frills kit made of, well, cardboard that turns your smartphone into a VR headset. In May, the company said people would be able to directly watch VR videos on Cardboard through YouTube. All you will need to do is choose the VR function from the YouTube smartphone app.

Google can use YouTube as a place to experiment with video, like trying to make it more interactive or immersive, said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner.

“How can Google reinvent video over time?” he said. “That is going to be really powerful for YouTube going forward.”

In the meantime, what are people watching? YouTube lists the top videos of the moment here. Unsurprisingly, No. 1 is the new “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer, which premiered Monday night.

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Shoppers could use mobile phones to look under fruits’ skin

Hyperspectral imaging would allow consumers to check the ripeness of fruit and vegetables before they buy

Shoppers could soon use their mobile phones to check how ripe fruit and vegetables are with an “X-ray vision” camera.

The HyperCam, based on hyperspectral imaging, assessed ripeness with 94 per cent accuracy and could also be used to check for rotting produce in the fridge at home.

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, funded by Microsoft, managed to create a portable hyperspectral imaging camera that would cost $800 (£520).

Hyperspectral imaging uses a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum than an ordinary camera.

The researchers are now working on a version of the technology that shoppers could download on to a mobile phone for about $50.

The technology is already used in satellite imaging, building safety inspection, and to assess if works of art are genuine, but is a highly costly process.

Professor Shwetak Patel, of the University of Washington, said: “It’s not there yet but the way this hardware was built you can probably imagine putting it in a mobile phone.

“With this kind of camera you could go to the grocery store and know what produce to pick by looking underneath the skin and seeing if there’s anything wrong inside. It’s like having a food safety app in your pocket.”

Cameras usually divide visible light into red, green and blue before generating an image.

But the HyperCam uses 17 different wavelengths, including near-infrared, which would flash in sequence when shoppers point it at a piece of fruit in the supermarket.

Neel Joshi, a Microsoft researcher, said: “Existing systems are costly and hard to use so we decided to create an inexpensive hyperspectral camera and explore these uses ourselves.

“After building the camera we just started pointing it at everyday objects,really anything we could find in our homes and offices, and we were amazed at all the hidden information it revealed.”

Other potential uses for the technology include analysing blood vessels and in biometric security, identifying individual people by the unique texture of their skin.

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Is it time to ditch Verizon’s unlimited data plan?

As the company hikes the price of its grandfathered unlimited plan, CNET’s Marguerite Reardon helps a customer figure out his options.

A price hike on Verizon’s unlimited data service may be the last straw for customers clinging to their grandfathered plans.

The company said earlier this month that after November 15, it’sbumping up the price of its unlimited data plan by $20, bringing the cost to $50 a month. With text messaging and voice services figured in, a customer’s bill could easily top $100 a month.

Verizon’s price hike is the latest in a series of moves the carrier has made to encourage grandfathered customers to ditch unlimited plans and switch to its tiered offerings, which cap how many videos and songs a customer can download or stream to a smartphone. It’s also an indication of the growing cost of delivering data services to consumers. The bottom line? Good deals on data are tough to find.

In this edition of Ask Maggie, I let a Verizon customer on an unlimited data plan know what his choices are.

Dear Maggie,

I’m a grandfathered unlimited data plan customer with Verizon. With the company’s price hike for this service just around the corner, I’m exploring my options. My data usage is usually around 10GB to 12GB per month. Should I hang on to Verizon’s unlimited service, switch to one of Verizon’s tiered plans, or drop Verizon altogether for Sprint or T-Mobile and hope for the best?

Thanks,
Joshua P.

Dear Joshua,

Starting next month, you and the few remaining Verizon customers still subscribed to unlimited data plans will be forced to pay a lot more for wireless service.

For most of these customers, unlimited data plans are overkill, since the average consumer uses only about 3GB of data a month. But for a small group of customers who need 10GB or more, sticking with an unlimited plan could be a better option.

Plans compared

Verizon recently rejiggered its monthly data plans. It now offers five sizes: small, medium, large, extra large and extra-extra large. Given your usage habits, you’d need an XL plan, which offers 12GB of data for $80. Once you add in the $20 cost of connecting a smartphone to the plan, your monthly service would cost $100 a month. This is comparable to what you’d pay under Verizon’s new pricing for your unlimited plan. But because the unlimited plan gives you wiggle room if your data needs increase, I’d recommend sticking with it. That’s assuming Verizon is the only service available to you.

Another option is to leave Verizon and switch to either Sprint or T-Mobile, which still offer unlimited data plans to new subscribers. Before you cut ties with Verizon, make sure either Sprint or T-Mobile offers service where you live, work and travel. Network coverage from these carriers has traditionally been better in cities than in suburban and rural areas.

The best way to know if the service will work for you is to try it. T-Mobile offers a weeklong free trial, and Sprint has a 14-day guarantee. You could also consult with friends who are Sprint or T-Mobile subscribers, perhaps even inviting them over so you can test the coverage.

The plans are competitively priced. Sprint last month increased the cost of its unlimited data service by $10, but at $70 a month, it’s still the most affordable. T-Mobile’s unlimited data service is $80 a month.

However, T-Mobile’s unlimited plan offers the better value if you plan to use your smartphone to create a mobile hotspot, which shares your cellular data connection with other devices via Wi-Fi. Included in T-Mobile’s monthly plan is up to 7GB of mobile hotspot usage.

Sprint’s service includes only 3GB of hotspot usage. Each additional gigabyte costs $15 a month, so it would run you $130 to get the amount T-Mobile offers. Verizon’s unlimited data plan prohibits turning your smartphone into a mobile hotspot.

The take-away

Under Verizon’s tiered offerings, a typical customer, averaging 3GB monthly, would pay a total of $65 a month. That’s a significant savings over the $100 they’d pay under the unlimited data plan.

But you’re not a typical customer. Your data usage is high enough to warrant an unlimited plan. There’s no question you’d get a better deal from Sprint or T-Mobile, but you need to see if those carriers work for you.

In spite of all this, one thing is clear: The days of the unlimited data plan are numbered. Verizon, which stopped offering unlimited data to new customers in 2011, continues to make it difficult for its grandfathered subscribers. Sprint and T-Mobile are also succumbing to the economic pressures of offering unlimited data services. Both companies now slow down connections for customers who use more than 23GB of data per month.

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