Weekend news roundup: iPhone defeats BlackBerry in Canada, juicy IPO for Openet

26 Mar 2012

In our trawl through some of the weekend newspapers’ tech coverage, we note that Apple’s iPhone has surpassed BlackBerry sales on RIM’s home soil in Canada, Openet is planning a massive US$500m IPO, a hot new game teaches you how to run and escape the zombie hordes, and a board overhaul awaits Yahoo!

iPhone shames Blackberry maker on home turf

The San Jose Mercury News has reported that Apple’s iPhone has overtaken Research In Motion’s BlackBerry in Canada, a blow to Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM. The company shipped 2.08m BlackBerrys last year in Canada compared with 2.85m units for Apple, according to data compiled by IDC and Bloomberg.

In 2010, BlackBerry topped the iPhone by half a million. In 2008, the year after the iPhone made its debut, RIM outsold Apple by almost five to one, Bloomberg said.

BlackBerry has struggled for several quarters as iPhone and Android devices have grabbed more market share.

In January, RIM named a new CEO, Thorsten Heins, who launched an aggressive marketing campaign to revive the brand. But analysts say they’ve yet to see substantial improvement.

“Overall, RIM remains under a challenging transition period,” Barclays Capital analyst Jeff Kvaal wrote in a note to investors Friday, calling demand in North America “mediocre at best.”

“The situation at RIM is likely to get worse before it gets better and management is likely to face another challenging quarter,” he said.

Juicy IPO in store for Openet

The Sunday Independent reported that a €500m New York Stock Exchange float by Irish software success Openet would be a big win for stakeholders in the growing tech company.

Analysts expect the firm, which counts the world’s biggest telcos including Vodafone, AT&T and Bell as customers, to fend off buyers and go for an IPO valued at €450m-€500m.

This would make Barry Maloney’s Balderton Capital’s 5pc stake worth around €250m.

Another long-term backer, Cross Atlantic Capital, and its offshoot Crucible, founded by tech entrepreneur Gerry McCrory, would hold a €38m value share.

Original founder and the techie brains behind the operation, Joe Hogan, would be worth some €14m through his stake.

Money man CEO Niall Norton, the former Telefonica CFO who came on board in 2005 and has played a crucial role in drumming up fresh finance, would own a share worth about €7m.

Fortune 500 investor SAIC and US VC The Co-Investment 2000 Fund would have stakes worth more than €40m and €50m, respectively.

Factually speaking, one to watch

The New York Times reported on a new start-up led by Gilad Elbaz which is trying to identify every fact in the world, and to hold them all in a company he calls Factual.

“The world is one big data problem,” Elbaz says from his headquarters, a quiet office 14 floors above the Los Angeles Country Club. He is a slim, soft-spoken man who weaves in his chair when an idea excites him. “What if you could spot any error, as soon as you wrote it? Factual is definitely a new thing that will change business, and a valuable new tool for computing.”

In the booming world of big data, where once-unimaginably huge amounts of information are scoured for world-changing discoveries, Elbaz may be the most influential inventor and investor. Besides Factual, he has interests in 30 start-ups, including an incubator in San Francisco dedicated to big data. Factual’s headquarters, in a high-rise on the Avenue of the Stars, hosts seminars for a data community he hopes to foster in the Los Angeles area.

Elbaz also serves on the boards of the California Institute of Technology, his alma mater, and the X Prize Foundation, which offers cash prizes to teams that meet challenges in space flight, medicine and genomics. The company he sold to Google, Applied Semantics, is the basis of Google’s AdSense business, which brings Google close to US$10bn in revenue annually.

Escaping the zombie horde

The Observer reported on a new smartphone game developed by two Britons, one an award-winning novelist. With funds raised by crowd-sourcing and no budget for marketing, the game has become the world’s highest-grossing health and fitness app during its first fortnight of release, beating even such giants as Nike.

Released just weeks ago, Zombies, Run! describes itself as ‘an ultra-immersive running game for the iPhone, iPod touch, and Android’ with a narrative edge. Instead of focusing on fitness, it casts the user as the struggling survivor of a zombie apocalypse. Players undertake sorties to gather supplies, with the drama playing out in fully scripted audio; success is measured in further segments of the unfolding story.

Sales are expected to top 100,000 soon, despite the full version costing more than £5, and media specialists say the game’s success has many lessons for the industry.

The game is the brainchild of Adrian Hon, founder and head of London games studio Six to Start; and Naomi Alderman, Orange prize-winning novelist and game writer and aficionado.

Alderman says their inspiration was a “learning how to run” course she took in spring 2011. “At the start of the course, the instructors asked us why we wanted to learn to run. Most people talked about getting fitter, but one woman answered ‘to escape the zombie horde!'”

Yahoo! plans board overhaul

The Wall Street Journal reported that Yahoo Inc. said it would appoint three new independent directors to its board in April, as the long-struggling internet company aims to complete an overhaul of its board and leadership while avoiding a proxy fight with an unhappy large shareholder.

With the new additions, plus the departures of four other directors who have said they will step down at Yahoo’s annual shareholder meeting this summer, the board will be composed of 10 members who joined since 2010.

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