Weekend news round-up: the great smartphone war, a tweet for online shoppers

6 May 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech news, we find an insight into the patent war between Apple and Samsung, Twitter enables online shopping via tweets, and as Square and Box postpone their IPOs, has sanity returned to tech valuations?

The great smartphone war

For most of us, the Apple versus Samsung case that has dragged on for three years over who copied who is a wearisome business. However, in a feat of vivid writing, Vanity Fair brought the whole thing to life … every riveting detail.

“On August 4, 2010, amid the bustle of downtown Seoul, a small group of executives from Apple Inc. pushed through the revolving door into a blue-tinted, 44-storey glass tower, ready to fire the first shot in what would become one of the bloodiest corporate wars in history. The showdown had been brewing since spring, when Samsung launched the Galaxy S, a new entry into the smartphone market. Apple had snagged one early overseas and gave it to the iPhone team at its Cupertino, California, headquarters. The designers studied it with growing disbelief. The Galaxy S, they thought, was pure piracy. The overall appearance of the phone, the screen, the icons, even the box looked the same as the iPhone’s. Patented features such as ‘rubber-banding,’ in which a screen image bounces slightly when a user tries to scroll past the bottom, were identical. Same with ‘pinch to zoom,’ which allows users to manipulate image size by pinching the thumb and forefinger together on the screen. And on and on.

“Steve Jobs, Apple’s mercurial chief executive, was furious. His teams had toiled for years creating a breakthrough phone, and now, Jobs fumed, a competitor—an Apple supplier no less!—had stolen the design and many features.”

Just the tweet for online shoppers

The Next Web reported that Amazon is rolling out a new way to shop online without leaving Twitter. The service, called #AmazonCart lets you add Amazon products to your shopping basket without leaving Twitter.

“To use the feature, you first have to connect your Twitter and Amazon accounts, which you can do through your social settings. Then, all you have to do is reply with #AmazonCart to any tweet that contains an Amazon product link, and it will be added to your shopping basket. With one eye on localisation, the service is actually called #AmazonBasket for UK shoppers, which makes sense. The feature only appears to be live in the US and the UK for now, however.”

Twitter is not dead, it is just misunderstood

The news of Twitter’s demise has been greatly exaggerated, so says Slate. A piece poses that various commentators’ concerns that Twitter is not growing its user base and other metrics fast enough are missing the point of what Twitter is all about.

“One Twitter user may be followed by millions of strangers whom she feels no obligation to follow back, any more than an evening news anchor feels the need to check in with each of her viewers every night at 6. As a media platform, Twitter’s chief function is to help people keep up with what’s going on in the world, and what influential people are thinking and doing at any given time. In that regard, it’s closer to a news service than a social network.

“That’s no accident: A turning point in Twitter’s development came when early employees excitedly tweeted about a minor earthquake they’d just felt. And CEO Dick Costolo was the founder of Feedburner, an RSS feed management service that was acquired by Google. Twitter is to news as Instagram is to photography.”

The valuation trap

Venture capitalist blog AVC shed some light on the whole tech company valuations situation, pointing out how some big-name tech companies are postponing IPOs, namely Box and Square.

“The combination of sky-high valuations, equally high burn rates, and a disappearing IPO market is not a pleasant one. I am fairly confident that both Square and Box can and will navigate the valuation trap, but it will require making some hard choices in the coming months.

“So the moral of this story is that you can push valuations when you have investors knocking down your door, but unless you are cash flow positive and expect to remain so for the foreseeable future, you do that at your own risk. You will need to find someone to top that price down the road and that person may not be there.”

Watching the detectives

Wired reported on a new automated licence plate reading app that has delighted police in the US. Unfortunately, they are sworn to secrecy on the matter.

“It’s no secret that police departments around the country are deploying automated licence plate readers to build massive databases to identify the location of vehicles. But one company behind this Orwellian tracking system is determined to stay out of the news.

“How determined? Vigilant Solutions, founded in 2009, claims to have the nation’s largest repository of licence-plate images, with nearly 2bn records stored in its National Vehicle Location Service (NVLS). Despite the enormous implications of the database for the public, any law-enforcement agency that signs up for the service is sworn to a vow of silence by the company’s terms of service.

“Vigilant is clear about the reason for the secrecy: it’s to prevent customers from ‘co-operating’ with media and calling attention to its database.”

E-commerce image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years