Weekend news roundup: taxing questions for Apple, Intel’s biggest gamble yet

30 Apr 2012

In our trawl through some of the top tech newspaper articles this weekend, questions have emerged as to whether the internet will be eclipsed by something else in the same way it eclipsed phones, radios and TVs; Apple’s tax affairs are coming under scrutiny in the US; the YouTube orchestra tunes up; and is Intel’s focus on ultrabooks its biggest risk to date?

Has the internet run out of ideas?

The Observer raised an interesting question: has the internet run out of ideas? In a superbly penned piece, John Naughton referred to a book by Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, which pointed to transformative technologies like telephony, radio, TV and film, which all were eclipsed by the internet and asked if the internet itself will suffer the same fate.

“It’s a good question,” asserts Naughton. “The internet was another one of those gloriously creative, anarchic technologies that spawned utopian dreams. Its internal architecture – its technical DNA, if you like – enabled an explosion of what Barbara van Schewick called ‘permissionless innovation’: all you needed to prosper was ingenuity, software skills and imagination. So what the network’s designers created was, in effect, a global machine for springing surprises.

“For the last two decades, we’ve been gratified, bamboozled, astonished and sometimes alarmed by the surprises it has sprung. The first-order ones were innovations such as the world wide web, file sharing, VoIP (internet telephony) and malicious software. In turn, these first-order surprises generated other, second-order ones. The web, for example, served as the foundation for search engines, Flickr, blogging, YouTube, Wikipedia and, latterly, smartphones and Facebook.

“We’re now at the stage where we should be getting the next wave of disruptive surprises. But – guess what? – they’re nowhere to be seen.”

Apple’s taxes come under scrutiny in US

The New York Times carried a hard-to-ignore infographic detailing how Apple manages to pay just US$3.3bn worth of taxes on US$34.6bn in profits.

The newspaper claims that with a handful of employees in a small office in Reno, Nevada, Apple has done something central to its corporate strategy: it has avoided millions of dollars in taxes in California and 20 other states.

Apple’s headquarters are in Cupertino, California. By putting an office in Reno, just 322 kilometres away, to collect and invest the company’s profits, Apple sidesteps state income taxes on some of those gains.

California’s corporate tax rate is 8.84pc. Nevada’s? Zero.

The internet orchestra strings up

The Guardian reported that an international orchestra will be born this summer when musicians meet for the first time in a rehearsal hall on the Suffolk coast. In an unprecedented move, many auditioned remotely in their home countries via videos posted on YouTube.

The Aldeburgh World Orchestra has been created for the London 2012 Festival, in an attempt to bring together talented young musicians from different continents to celebrate the ideals of Olympic excellence.

For two weeks, the 120 musicians, a few of whom will have met before through Aldeburgh’s Britten-Pears Orchestra, are to immerse themselves in rehearsals of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, the Adagio from Mahler’s Symphony No 10, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as well as a new commission for the BBC by Charlotte Bray, an Aldeburgh Young Musician alumna.

They will be preparing to play at Snape Maltings under the baton of conductor Sir Mark Elder, before travelling to Germany and Holland. The orchestra’s final concert of the season will be at the Albert Hall on Sunday, 29 July.

Intel’s biggest risk?

Racing to branch out from traditional personal computers where most of its chips are used, Intel is making a huge bet on ultrabooks, a laptop-tablet hybrid that runs exclusively on its microprocessors, The San Jose Mercury News reported, but asked could this be Intel’s biggest risk?

Although it doesn’t make the devices itself, the Santa Clara, California, goliath has announced a US$300m fund to invest in ultrabook technologies and just launched an ultrabook ad campaign costing an additional “hundreds of million of dollars,” its biggest marketing push since 2003.

Some industry observers have high expectations for the gadgets, including research firm IHS, which predicts the machines will grab 40pc of notebook sales worldwide by 2016. But if ultrabooks flop, some experts say, it will raise major doubts about Intel’s ability to promote its chips for other mobile products, especially smartphones, where it’s been locked out of the market.

“They have to hit this,” said tech analyst Rob Enderle. “If they don’t, they are out of mobile – at least out of the mainstream of mobile products. This is probably the biggest risk they’ve faced since they were formed.”

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