Weekend news roundup

14 Feb 2011

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend’s newspapers, including an analysis of Facebook’s and Google’s courting of Twitter, Apple plotting budget iPhones, Sony Ericsson’s debut of a PlayStation phone and how Facebook is helping Irish retailers in need.

The people have tweeted

The Observer, in its assessment of the phenomenon that is Twitter, says we can all blame Stephen Fry. In Twitter, the preening polymath found his true calling, sending out an ever-changing and oddly riveting mix of self-promotion and stream of consciousness, as he tweeted his every thought and photo. His thoughts on the late Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, a picture of a parrot, a call for charity in Sri Lanka, Stephen in a balloon hat, all mixed in with his Wildean wit: “Streets of London fantastically full of young people. Either it’s half-term or truancy in this country is running wildly out of control.” Millions came to watch, millions more joined in. You may scoff but we are all Stephen Fry now.

Twitter is five next month. There are now 190m people using the microblogging website, sending 65m messages of 140 characters or less around the world each day. Knockers may still dismiss the service as silly but Twitter – or some form of it – looks set to be with us for some time to come. For its legion of fans, Twitter is part of a social media revolution that is reordering the way the world communicates, shaking up politics, business and social life and even, some argue, fuelling and co-ordinating historic upheavals from Iran and Tunisia to Egypt. The revolution will be twitterised.

Last week, the California business received another, more concrete, recognition of its status. Google and Facebook are reportedly courting Twitter. The price tag for this still loss-making venture is put at $10bn (£6.24bn). Just two months ago, Twitter was valued at $3.7bn after raising $200m in new financing. In the meantime, investors have gone mad for all things social media and Twitter has become one of the hottest properties on the block.

Sony Ericsson gambles on America

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that Sony Ericsson is betting its new gaming phone will enable the handset maker to finally crack the lucrative US market.

The long-awaited device – which draws on features from Sony’s PlayStation games console but doubles up as a smartphone – is expected to go on sale in April with Verizon Wireless, the leading US mobile operator.

Sony Ericsson, which is a joint venture between Japan’s Sony and Sweden’s Ericsson, has never enjoyed large sales in the US.

The US is the world’s most valuable mobile market, with handset sales worth $38.3bn in 2010, according to Strategy Analytics, the research company. Cracking the US market will be essential if CEO Bert Nordberg is to reach his goal of Sony Ericsson becoming the No 1 handset maker using Google’s Android smartphone operating system.

Sony Ericsson’s new gaming phone is powered by Android – somewhat confusingly, however, it is not called the Sony Ericsson PlayStation phone because Sony wants to retain the PlayStation brand for its own products. The phone will play some PlayStation games, but it will be called the Xperia Play.

Facebook friends rush to the aid of struggling retailer

The Sunday Independent carried an interesting story that revealed the power of social networking in supporting retailers in the current economy. Gents retailer Alan Kelly sent out out a text and Facebook message to 2,500 customers to boost his business. The message was simply headlined: “HELP!”

“I told my client base that I had excess stock that I needed to sell and at bargain prices and it has worked. We have had a few great days’ trading,” said Kelly, of Gentlemen Please, in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

But he had to slash prices to €50 for designer knitwear, jeans and shirts while €500 coats at the luxury end were on offer at €149.

“It had to be done. I was just glad that I was able to offer all the loyal customers who have supported me over the years first notification of the sale,” said Kelly, who believes retailers will have to become more proactive to save their businesses in the teeth of the worst recession in years.

“All clothing retailers have seen a massive drop in turnover compared with 2006 and 2007. I reckon it’s down more than 70pc from the height of the Celtic Tiger,” he says.

Apple developing budget iPhones?

The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is working on the first of a new line of iPhones and an overhaul of software services for the devices, people familiar with the matter said, moving to accelerate sales of its smartphones amid growing competition.

One of the people, who saw a prototype of the phone late last year, said the device is intended for sale alongside Apple’s existing line. The new device would be about half the size of the iPhone 4, which is the current model.

The new phone would be available to carriers at about half the price of the main iPhone repertoire. That would allow carriers to subsidise most or all of the consumer’s cost, putting the iPhone in the same mass-market price range as rival smartphones, the person said. Apple now sells iPhones to carriers for $625 apiece, on average. With carrier subsidies, consumers can buy iPhones for as little as $199 with a two-year contract.

Where the new line would be introduced wasn’t known, but Apple recently has released new products first in the US and a few other markets before rolling out the devices more broadly.

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