Mobile Tech

Microsoft and Yahoo Walk, Cyber-Terror Risk Sticks Around, China Plays Dumb

The battle between Yahoo and investor Carl Icahn heated up a few notches this week. After exchanging a few sharply worded letters with each other, they started writing to investors. The humanity!

Though the two parties have been going back and forth for weeks, both have really been trying to make their cases to investors, obviously. Icahn has been pressing his complaint that Yahoo was foolish not to sell to Microsoft when it had the chance, while Yahoo has been insisting it can do just fine on its own, thanks.

In a letter that addresses investors head-on, Yahoo’s board urges them to vote against letting Icahn have his way. He wants to kick the entire board out the door and install his own regime during a shareholder meeting scheduled to take place on Aug. 1. All of that may be moot, though.

As of Thursday, talks between Microsoft and Yahoo apparently had broken down altogether, and Microsoft really, truly walked away from any possible merger. Yahoo quickly announced it had sealed an ad deal with Google. It’s anyone’s guess what Icahn’s next letter will say.

Listen to the podcast (12:33 minutes).

Vulnerability Sticks Around

If you’ve seen Bruce Willis battle the bad guys in “Live Free or Die Hard,” you might have a sense of the dire situation we’d be in if terrorist hackers gained access to our utility systems — and such a scenario is not unfathomable in the real world.

After it was finally fixed, news surfaced that a vulnerability in some utility control software had been left untouched for five months, leaving water treatment plants, natural gas lines and potentially even nuclear power plant equipment wide open to attack.

Core Security Technologies discovered the problem back in January and immediately alerted the systems management firm, Citect, but in the time it took them to patch it, Bruce could have made another movie or two.

Dumb and Dumber

A day after a U.S. representative called for more protection of Congressional computer systems and accused China of hacking into his files, the Chinese government denied any such attack.

As a developing country, an official said, China does not have the technical know-how to carry out something so sophisticated.

Sounds like a clear case of dumb and dumber, and we’re not quite sure who’s who.

One More Thing

Yes, Virginia, there is a 3G iPhone. It’s coming July 11, and it’ll cost US$199 with an AT&T contract.

That was the big news coming out of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, though it certainly wasn’t the only thing going on there. Apple also showcased its upcoming mobile app store; confirmed a few details about Snow Leopard, its next OS X operating system; and introduced the online service MobileMe. But back to the iPhone.

It will include features that were conspicuously absent from the first model, such as fast 3G network compatibility, GPS (Global Positioning System) and a flush headphone jack. It also appears to be missing things, though — like a video camera and multimedia messaging capabilities.

While the upfront price is just half that of the soon-to-be-obsolete iPhone, the plans cost $10 more per month, meaning that over the course of your two-year contract, you’ll technically spend an extra $40. That comes out to about five-and-a-half cents a day. Watch your step on July 10, because — like it or not — there probably will be campers in front of Apple stores, just like last year.

The Biggest Loser?

AT&T will no doubt attract a flood of new customers eager to snap up a less expensive, more delightful iPhone — but, considering the hefty subsidies it’s providing to drive the cost that low, will the wireless carrier actually make any money off it? In the short term, no.

AT&T admitted that it will actually lose money for a few years, with the iPhone cutting into its profit margins for the rest of 2008 and all of 2009.

AT&T investors were not swept up by iPhone mania, to put it mildly, and the company’s shares took a dive after Jobs unveiled the new model.

Still, AT&T expects to start seeing a profit from the partnership come 2010, and it’s hoping that the speedier 3G phone will encourage users to up their data consumption — and to stick around beyond the two years required in their initial contract.

Palm’s iPhone Alternative

If you’re not crazy about an iPhone but you want a smartphone, Palm would like a word with you.

Just days after all the iPhone action, Palm announced that its entry-level smartphone Centro will be available to a third major wireless carrier, Verizon, for just $99. That’s if you sign a contract, of course, and successfully snag your rebate.

Centro’s not as slick as an iPhone, perhaps, but it does have a few things the iPhone doesn’t — like a video camera — and for $30 a month, you can make it your computer’s wireless modem.

Price could be a factor for a lot of new smartphone users — as could the fact that other carriers will charge you a sharp fee for running to a competitor before your contract’s up.

Follow the Crowd

Are you the type who avoids crowds or seeks them out? Either way, a startup called “Sense Networks” is offering a mobile product that might be of interest. Or it may not, if you don’t like having your every move tracked.

Sense Networks has two products, and they’re for very different audiences. Both gather and aggregate the locations of mobile phones and GPS-equipped vehicles. CitySense then shows where the crowds are gathering, presumably for people who’d like to join them.

The mobile app also matches aspects of your identity — which you apparently provide — to show you where people “like you” are milling about.

The real moneymaker, however, is Macrosense, a location-based analytics application that uses the same data to spot patterns and tell business clients a thing or two about customer behavior — such as where you were before you entered their store or how far you traveled to get there.

A Peek Inside

The operators of a new Web site that launched in beta this week are out to make it the TripAdvisor of the workplace.

The site,, allows current and former employees to anonymously report their salaries, provide detailed company reviews, and rate their workplaces and management teams. Before the beta launch, the site had collected nearly 3,300 company reviews and compensation information from employees at more than 250 firms — including Cisco, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Although some companies will more than likely not be happy to have their employees posting candid reviews and salary information on the Web, Glassdoor CEO Robert Hohman suggested they should embrace the opportunity to learn the truth about employee morale. Businesses and managers can use this real-time barometer to gauge employee satisfaction, he said, and if they find it sinking, use the data to make changes necessary to keep those worker bees humming along.

The Shotgun Approach

HP blanketed its Connecting Your World conference in Berlin with 50 new products covering multiple brands.

Toward the top of the list was a super-thin notebook from its Voodoo line that measures just point-seven inches thick. Hope your wallet’s thicker than that — it starts at $2,100. Next up is a $3,500 monitor, the Dream Color, that can display 1 billion colors — 64 times more colors than are available on a regular LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen.

Also making an appearance was a new, smaller version of the TouchSmart, an all-in-one touchscreen PC made for convenient computing in places like the kitchen — because there’s nothing I like better than to touch expensive computer screens while my hands are covered with greasy chicken parts.

The show wasn’t only about high-dollar products though — new computers from HP’s Compaq and Pavilion lines also debuted.

Intel In a Fix

Has Intel been price-fixing? That’s what the Federal Trade Commission would like to know.

The FTC has started a formal inquiry into the number-one chipmaker’s pricing practices, a move that rival AMD has long requested. The commission recently opened the investigation by issuing subpoenas to Intel and AMD, as well as other parties, including the PC makers who buy chips from the two firms. The FTC has been conducting an informal review for nearly two years now.

AMD is already suing Intel for anticompetitive pricing under antitrust statutes. Though that case has been wending its way through the legal system for some time already, it appears it could be another two years before it reaches a courtroom. Meanwhile, South Korean regulators recently slapped Intel with a $25.4 million fine for violating Korea’s antitrust laws.

Grande Lawsuit

Starbucks’ attempt to increase customer loyalty by offering free AT&T WiFi access has hit a legal snag. T-Mobile filed suit against the coffee chain, claiming that Starbucks has engaged in “willful breach of contract and unfair competition.”

T-Mobile began providing WiFi for a fee in Starbucks stores in 2002. The company says it invested heavily in the infrastructure that is now being used as part of a promotion giving Starbucks customers free WiFi when they buy a Starbucks product or use an affinity card.

Starbucks announced it was switching to AT&T in February, and T-Mobile claims the coffee house and AT&T are violating an agreement crafted to smooth the transition.

They’re also taking unfair advantage of a two-way roaming agreement, the lawsuit claims, allowing paying AT&T customers to get onto the Web through T-Mobile hotspots. In addition to monetary damages, T-Mobile is asking for an injunction to halt the Starbucks promotion in stores that have not yet switched to AT&T.

Brin Books Passage

Not content with merely dominating the world as one of the founders of Google, Sergey Brin has decided to take on outer space as well.

Brin has plunked down $5 million as a down payment-slash-investment in Space Adventures, a company that has sent other high-profile tech gazillionaires into space. The payment reserves Brin a seat aboard a future Soyuz rocket flight.

On the same day it announced Brin’s largesse, Space Adventures also noted that it will begin sending space tourists to the international space station. The company is able to arrange the trips through a partnership with the Russian space agency, but sending tourists to the ISS isn’t a popular idea with the other nations involved in the project.

Also in this week’s podcast: WiMax booster club forms, a virtual Magic Kingdom takes shape, and Gmail floats some ideas.

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