Weekend news roundup

13 Sep 2010

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers.

iPad versus e-reader wars begin

The New York Times wrote that the popularity of the Apple iPad, on which people can read books, surf the internet, watch videos and enjoy thousands of apps — all in full colour — has shaken up the market. “It’s forced e-book reader manufacturers to innovate,” said Paul Semenza, a senior vice-president for DisplaySearch, an industry researcher in Santa Clara, California.

Major e-reader companies like Amazon.com, which sells the Kindle, and Barnes & Noble, seller of the Nook, have not announced that they are offering colour versions, or that they are committed to a specific technology for doing so. But some smaller entrants in the market have said they will be using liquid crystal displays, just as the iPad does.

Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester thinks sales of e-book readers, whether in colour or black and white, will withstand competition from the iPad and others. “We see the market bifurcating into two separate arenas with two different price ranges,” she said — with one group opting for multifunctional slates like the iPad, and the other for e-book readers.

Colour is not likely to be the most important lure for those bookish buyers. “When you ask e-book consumers what are the features they care about, it’s not colour,” she said. “Market expectations are driving that innovation. Readers care more about features like durability.”

To Veto or not to Veto

The Sunday Independent reported that Minister Batt O’Keeffe has promised to veto any threat to Ireland’s 12.5pc corporate tax rate following the European Commission’s shock decision to publish proposals on tax reform.

Asked if the Government would take the nuclear option and veto any attack on our corporate tax rate, the minister said: “Yes, we will use the veto if necessary.”

The minister’s commitment is likely to torpedo renewed EU efforts to twist Ireland’s arm into dropping its opposition to a common corporate tax rate within Europe.

“I am heading to North America with the IDA next month, promoting Ireland as a location for multinationals,” said O’Keeffe. “On my last visit to the States, we had to give the US companies assurances that there would be no change in the tax rate.

“The last thing we need is this latest development. Our statements to US investors will be virile and strong. The 12.5pc rate is a constant and will not change”

O’Keeffe pointed out that he had several allies. “Already, 12 countries have lined out against harmonisation, so we do not expect to need the veto.”

New Nokia CEO vows to take on Apple and Google

The Financial Times reported how Nokia’s incoming chief executive has promised to hit back at Apple and Google in their own backyard, as he tries to revive the fortunes of the world’s largest mobile phone maker.

Stephen Elop, a Microsoft executive who will take over from Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo later this month, said Nokia had to raise its game in the US market, which now leads the world in smartphone technology.

Nokia’s investors had been demanding change at the top because of the ailing Finnish group’s failure to provide an answer to Apple’s iPhone or the fast-growing range of smartphones featuring Google’s Android operating system.

Elop, a 46-year-old Canadian who will be Nokia’s first non-Finnish chief executive, acknowledged that innovation in the mobile industry had shifted to the US, where the group has struggled to compete.

“There are new patterns of communication and innovation taking place first in North America,” Elop told the Financial Times.

“That’s a shift from years before when the development of the mobile industry tended to start in Asia and move through Europe and then to North America. Now there’s fresh innovation in North America and it’s critically important for Nokia to be participating in that market.”

The true story of Facebook

The Observer carried an interesting feature that debunks the movie version of the Facebook story as told in the forthcoming film The Social Network.

Although it was intended solely for Harvard, Facebook expanded more rapidly than either CEO Mark Zuckerberg or his roommates could have imagined. Facebook is still only six years old but today it has more than 500 million users and an estimated value of $33bn. Zuckerberg owns 24pc of the stock and is a billionaire three times over at the age of 26. Along the way, he has faced accusations of betrayal and plagiarism from former friends and colleagues. He has been portrayed as a megalomaniac, a genius, a soothsayer and a sociopath. But to many he remains simply the computer nerd who set up Facebook as a way to get a date.

Now his story has been adapted for the big screen by West Wing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and the director David Fincher, whose credits include Se7en and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Titled The Social Network, it is based on a book, The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich, for whom “this is the ultimate geek-becomes-success story. Mark Zuckerberg was the smartest guy in the room but he wasn’t the coolest. At college, everything revolves around that (being cool). That’s why people become writers, that’s why people become rock stars and that’s why people start Facebook.”

The release is being rigorously controlled before it opens the New York film festival later this month, but one critic on the selection committee has called it “big, brash and brilliant” and compared it to All The President’s Men, while Rolling Stone magazine critic Peter Travers has hailed it in a tweet as “the movie of the year that also brilliantly defines the decade”.

Anger over Eircom small cash hikes

The Sunday Independent claimed that Eircom has flouted a request by the telephone regulator to abandon its plans to clamp down on householders who pay their phone bills in small cash instalments.

The phone company is forging ahead with plans to force customers who pay their bills in weekly cash instalments to pay a minimum of €20 a time.

Paying bills in cash instalments in post offices is a method favoured by many elderly people and social welfare recipients who survive on weekly State payments, and who must budget their income accordingly.

ComReg, the agency responsible for regulating telecoms, has asked Eircom to reverse its decision because of the impact on “vulnerable” customers, “in light of the serious and well-grounded concerns voiced by many stake holders”.

Eircom, however, has ignored the request and will circulate letters to customers this week advising them of the change, which comes into effect from 1 October.

Eircom has angered lobby groups representing the elderly and the unemployed, who say it will add to pressures on people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Software piracy a ruse in Russian crackdowns

The New York Times reported that Russian police authorities are using the ruse of countering software piracy to crack down on outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years by confiscating their computers.

Generations worth of work to protect the Siberian wilderness were seized by Russian police from prominent environmental group Baikal Environmental Wave who are battling President Vladimir Putin’s decision to reopen a paper factory that had polluted nearby Lake Baikal, a natural wonder that by some estimates holds 20pc of the world’s fresh water.

Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organisations that back the government.

As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.

Interviews and a review of law enforcement documents show that in recent cases, Microsoft lawyers made statements describing the company as a victim and arguing that criminal charges should be pursued. The lawyers rebuffed pleas by accused journalists and advocacy groups, including Baikal Wave, to refrain from working with the authorities.