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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

The MNO’s nightmare, an iPhone with eSIM, may come true this year April 04 2016

In 2010, Apple tried to bulldoze an embedded SIM card into the industry before it was ready. The company was forced to retreat under intense fire from European MNOs, which threatened to refuse to sell an iPhone with a SIM card that Apple could provision remotely. This would have allowed the user to choose an operator and would have removed the MNO’s control over its most important weapon, its own SIM card.

In 2016, times have changed. Operators accept that embedded SIMs will be essential to make it workable to support huge numbers of connected devices and have signed up for the GSMA’s eSIM specifications; users are demanding greater flexibility in how they choose and swap carriers. And Apple has been introducing the embedded SIM idea more gradually, initially by including its own embedded ‘soft SIM’ in new iPads from 2014, allowing customers to select from a limited number of MNOs.

The newly announced 9.7-inch cellular iPad Pro will include an embedded SIM too, but this will differ from others because it will not be removable – a change which has sparked speculation that the next iPhones will also feature an eSIM, cutting the umbilical cord between the operator and the user.

Despite the rising adoption of the GSMA’s eSIM platform and other trends favouring the new approach, the impact of an iPhone with this capability will still shake the traditional MNOs. Losing SIM control in tablets and wearables is less of a shift to the established model than in smartphones – these items often do not come with their own cellular data plan, or may be part of a bucket deal in which the primary billing relationship still centers on the handset. Even then, some operators have resisted the change – Verizon sells iPads with its own separate SIM, disabling Apple’s, though of course this will become impossible with a non-removable design.

But the smartphone remains the chief source of usage, revenue and opportunity for the operator to communicate with the user and promote other offerings – and that is Apple’s next frontier, argues Ken Hyers of Strategy Analytics. “In itself the new iPad’s eSIM isn’t such a big deal,” he wrote in a blog post. “However, it likely presages an eSIM in an upcoming iPhone, something that operators have been bracing for, for some time. Short of offering its own MVNO, from a carrier perspective an eSIM iPhone would be the most destabilizing change Apple could make to their existing iPhone business model.”

Hyers added: “With an eSIM equipped iPhone a customer need never directly interact with an operator again, instead provisioning service and switching from carrier to carrier at the customer’s whim. Adding an eSIM to the iPhone would be a direct shot across the bow of carriers. With eSIM, Apple’s grip on the customer will become even tighter.”


Ericsson turns up pressure in Apple patents attack May 11 2015

BY CAROLINE GABRIEL, RESEARCH DIRECTOR

 

Ericsson has turned up the pressure on Apple, suing it in three European markets and claiming that the iDevice maker expects special treatment when it comes to licensing fees for standards-essential patents (SEP). Apple currently has no licence for its antagonist's technologies, since their former deal expired early this year.

The escalation of the dispute will bring back bad memories of Apple's last major battle over SEP, with Nokia, which ended in a settlement that was favorable to the Finnish company. That indicated that, while Apple has had some successes in patent infringement actions against Android players, notably Samsung, those have related to non-standardized elements such as displays, user interfaces and device design. When it comes to the technologies inherent in cellular communications, the traditional vendors still hold the upper hand, even in the newer LTE platform.

Apple aims to tip that balance of power in its own direction, a goal which lies behind its aggressive litigation over recent years - if achieved it would significantly reduce the company's costs and increase its overall influence. In complaints made against Ericsson in a California court in January, Apple argued that the price of modern electronic devices is driven by the technologies in which it has power - the operating system, touchscreen interface and so on - which are unique to each design, not by standards-based elements, notably the modem. It said Ericsson "seeks to exploit its patents to take the value of these cutting-edge Apple innovations".

The Swedish giant, one of the biggest holders of SEP assets in the mobile world, has filed suit in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. It claims it wants Apple to license its technologies on the same Frand (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms as everyone else, but that the US firm has refused to do so, since their previous contract expired in January.

Apple, in various counterclaims, has been alleging that Ericsson uses its dominant IPR position to demand "excessive" royalties, accusing the company of "abusive licensing practices". It is also disputing that some of the patents in question are essential to LTE standards at all. It has also passed on Ericsson's proposal to refer the argument over Frand terms to independent arbitration in Texas, an offer which has now expired, helping to spark the new actions.

It seems that the new European actions, as well as opening new fronts (and possibly bringing the European Commission into play in future) are specifically addressing Apple's claims that key Ericsson patents are not SEP.

Gustav Brismark, VP of patent strategy at Ericsson, said in an interview: "Our Frand terms [with Apple] are in line with the other some 100 licensees using our technology. Our policy is to be fair and treat everybody the same in the market. We simply demand a fair royalty."

Ericsson has taken the high moral ground with its offer to take not just this spat, but its entire Frand licensing framework, to arbitration, and so hope to obtain objective endorsement of its approach, at a time when many international regulatory and standards bodies are rethinking how Frand terms are defined. The European Commission, for instance, has been investigating the way that companies such as Samsung license their SEP, and whether this could be construed as giving the patent holders an unfair competitive advantage.

When the licensing deal for 2G and LTE patents expired early this year, Ericsson accused Apple of infringing on seven of its essential patents, while its opponent filed suit against Ericsson in California, denying any infringement and challenging the claims of being fundamental to LTE standards at all. However, Ericsson points out that the seven assets at issue in that case are a "small subset" of the total and "would not in any way resolve the wider dispute covering hundreds of patents". The fights cover 2G and LTE standards as well as non-standardized technologies related to cellular communications and wireless modems.

Further legal actions have followed from Ericsson, including the demand for arbitration, several infringement lawsuits in Texas, and complaints at the US ITC (International Trade Commission). The ITC hearings are scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016. Now Ericsson has broadened its attack to its home front with the European suits.

Though Ericsson is not commenting on the sums involved, Reuters calculates that, if the firm wins, Apple would owe between $240m and $725m a year, based on forecast levels of handset sales and royalties per phone. However, any settlement could be affected by broader industry debates about per-device charging - Qualcomm, in particular, is under pressure to shift to charging licensing fees based on the price of the chip, not the whole smartphone. Apple has been in the vanguard of that campaign, which is already influencing patent renewal deals across the industry, and is harnessing the same arguments against Ericsson. The Swedish firm continues to maintain that royalties should be based on "the end prices of entire LTE devices".

"Apple continues to profit from Ericsson's technology without having a valid licence in place," Kasim Alfalahi, Ericsson's chief intellectual property officer, said in a statement. "Our technology is used in many features and functionality of today's communication devices. We are confident the courts in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands will be able to help us resolve this matter in a fair manner."

Ericsson has one of the wireless industry's largest IPR portfolios, with more than 37,000 granted patents, and about the same number of pending applications worldwide. It says it has about 100 licensing deals, covering most wireless vendors and including major cross-licensing deals with rivals such as Nokia.

Apple refused to comment on the latest developments and just referred back to its statement in January, which said the firm had "always been willing to pay a fair price to secure rights", and that almost two years of negotiations had failed to result in a settlement, hence the need to resort to lawyers.


Chips and displays start to turn the Samsung ship April 07 2015

BY CAROLINE GABRIEL

Around the turn of the year, Samsung was forced to make some bold statements of direction as the harbingers of doom leapt on the declining growth and market share in its most important business, smartphones. It indicated that it would put more funds and focus on other revenue streams, particularly chips and displays, and the former strategy already looks to be having some effect.

The mainstay of Samsung's chip operations is memory, but it also aims to grow its mobile processor and modem activities, and its foundry business. Reports that it will use its own Exynos SoC in more Galaxy S6 models than previously expected (at the expense of Qualcomm) shows the company becoming more self-sufficient, though it also needs to sell the product to more third parties to challenge the leaders, especially if its own smartphone demands fall.

Other reports said that Apple, hard as it has tried to cut its ties to its biggest smartphone rival, is swinging back towards Samsung as the primary manufacturer of its mobile processors. Sources say the latest model, the A9, will mainly be made by Samsung in Korea, and also by its partner GlobalFoundries, a blow to TSMC, which was the main foundry for the A8.

Improving sales of chips and displays are already affecting quarterly figures. According to Samsung's preliminary statement of its first quarter results, those two businesses saw growth, even while the mobile unit continued to contract, leading to an anticipated 30% year-on-year drop in Q1 profits - the sixth quarter of profits reduction in a row (though it was better than analyst estimates). Operating profit for the quarter will be around KRW5.9 trillion ($5.4bn), said Samsung, while revenue should fall by 12% to KRW47 trillion. Full results will be reported at the end of April.

Beneath the depressing headlines, the semiconductor unit will post a profit this year, analysts expect, and in Q1, it is predicted to make sales of 11.1 trillion with operating earnings of KRW2.7 trillion. The display division is expected to report operating profit of KRW450bn, boosted by rising demand for ultra-thin displays for affordable smartphones. The higher end OLED screens are mainly used in Samsung's own high end models.

Operating profit at the consumer electronics division, which includes TVs and appliances, is expected to fall, as are earnings at the mobile unit - likely to post operating income of KRW2.3 trillion on sales of KRW27.1 trillion, according to an analyst poll by Bloomberg. Daewoo Securities said Samsung shipped 81m smartphones in the quarter, up 7% from Q414, and its current quarter should be boosted by the shipment of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge from April 10.


Devices weigh on both Apple and Microsoft July 23 2014

iPhone and iPad sales disappoint Wall Street and Nokia hits its parent's profits, but both firms thrive in enterprise

By Caroline Gabriel

Perhaps this is the shape of the future. Rivals Apple and Microsoft reported solid quarterly results, but handsets were not the star in either, while hopes of future growth were focused heavily on enterprise services. Reinforcing the idea that Microsoft's decision to enter the smartphone business with the Nokia acquisition was a miracle of bad timing, it seems that companies must look beyond the competitive and saturating cellphone space for their growth.

For Apple, iPhone and iPad sales were strong by most firm's standards, but disappointed Wall Street. As reports mount up about the vendor making record orders for next generation iPhones from its suppliers, the slump in sales of the current models, as users anticipate the new offerings, may be more marked than usual. CEO Tim Cook said there were new products which "we can't wait to introduce", but gave no details. CFO Luca Maestri commented: "We're seeing some purchase delays and we've reflected that in our guidance. It happens. We have to live with that."

Despite hopes for the 'iPhone 6' and other rumored launches like the iWatch, the most discussed source of hope for future growth was the new and important enterprise alliance with IBM, which could ensure that Apple retains its market lead over Android in that segment for the long term, and gains some of the cloud-based services it lacks.

Enterprise cloud was the shining star of Microsoft's quarter too, though CEO Satya Nadella will be well aware of the threat from the IBM/Apple tie-up in vertical sectors. Cloud and corporate software drove the software business to exceed expectations, helped by surprising buoyancy in the business PC space, which also helped Intel's quarter. Revenue from Office 365 and the Azure cloud platform doubled year-on-year and were hailed as "pillars of strength" by CFO Amy Hood. She added that commercial cloud products now have an annual run rate of $4.4bn.

Meanwhile, as Daniel Ives of FBR Capital Markets put it, "Nokia continues to be the black cloud over Microsoft". The former Finnish business accounted for nearly $2bn in revenue in the quarter, but also for a $692m operating loss. Nadella says the phone unit is on track to break even on an operating basis in 2016, a long path for a business which already looked non-strategic to its owner only weeks after its purchase was completed.

So the pattern is clear, despite the huge differences between the two firms - by contrast with the high hopes for business and cloud offerings, device sales are not exciting investors.

Apple's fiscal third quarter, which ended in mid-June, saw revenue below analyst expectations, at $37.4bn, rather than the anticipated $38bn, but up 6% year-on-year. Net income was up 12% to $7.7bn and earnings per share were five cents above forecasts, at $1.28. The company sold 35.2m iPhones in the period, up from 31.2m a year earlier, but this was below Wall Street hopes of 35.78m. Likewise, the iPad came in 1.16m units below expectations at 13.3m, down from 14.6m in the year-ago quarter. The iTunes, software and services segment was up from $4.1bn last year to $4.48bn in revenue, but again, below analyst predictions of $4.53bn.

The iPad is a particular concern, as it is now Apple's second largest source of revenue. Cook said sales hit internal targets, but admitted they were below Wall Street expectations. The tablet remains the market leader but is being squeezed by a host of Android models in many price brackets, as well as alternative 'post-PC' form factors such as Chromebooks. It tends to have a longer upgrade cycle than the handset's typical two years, and rarely attracts operator subsidies. More than half of iPads are sold to first-time tablet buyers, a very different pattern from the iPhone, which depends heavily on the upgrade market.

Amid all these factors, the iPad posted its second quarter in a row of declining year-on-year sales, shifting 13.3m units. Cook blamed weakness in the critical US market, on which Apple is always somewhat over-reliant, and a reduction in channel inventory. However, he said on the analyst call: "We're very bullish about the future of the tablet market, and we're confident we can continue to bring innovation to this category through software, hardware, and services." He said there was strong growth in the BRIC economies and in education, and expects the IBM deal to help too.

Overall, almost 60% of sales now come from outside the US. Chinese iPad sales rose by 51% year-on-year, and iPhone shipments by 48%, though despite the distribution deal with China Mobile, Apple remains in fourth place in smartphones in the country. iPad sales were also up 45% in India. "China, honestly, was surprising to us," Cook said. "We thought it would be strong, but it went well past what we thought."

The company said that, in its fiscal fourth quarter, it expects to bring in between $37bn and $40bn in revenue, which fell slightly short of Wall Street estimates of $40.44bn. But the critical quarter will be the next one, when the new iPhone should make its debut in time for the holidays. Anticipation of a large-screened version is rising along with consensus that Apple will need to do something dramatic this time, to fend off Android competition in key markets. The latest results emphasize the company's critical reliance on its handset, which accounts for about 70% of total profit and contributed over $91bn in revenue last year.

"Apple's fortunes are tied to the iPhone," Michael Binger of Gradient Investments told Bloomberg. With the smartphone market becoming crowded and low-margin, that may not be a comfortable position for the company in the years ahead.

At Microsoft, results generally beat estimates, but profit was hit hard by the acquisition of Nokia's devices unit. In its fiscal fourth quarter, the company reported net income of $4.61bn, or 55 cents a share, including adjustments related to Nokia. Without Nokia-related items and taxes, the figure would have been 66 cents. Wall Street had anticipated 60 cents with the Nokia items and 64 cents without, indicating that the acquisition has had a far bigger negative impact on earnings than expected. Nadella recently announced 12,500 cuts to the former Nokia workforce in a broad refocusing of Microsoft, to focus heavily on the cloud and to de-emphasize most devices, and even Windows itself.

Nadella built on those announcements during the earnings call, emphasizing enterprise and cloud achievements and promising that the three main Windows versions - Windows 8, RT and Phone - would converge into one. "We are galvanized around our core as a productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world, and we are driving growth with disciplined decisions, bold innovation, and focused execution," he said in his statement. "I'm proud that our aggressive move to the cloud is paying off."


IBM/Apple deal targets Microsoft, hurts BlackBerry July 17 2014

Apple wins most in pact to create 100 exclusive iOS apps for vertical markets and harness IBM enterprise channels

By Caroline Gabriel

Just as some confidence was returning in BlackBerry and the turnaround plans of its CEO John Chen, it has suffered another blow as IBM and Apple team up in its enterprise heartland. The duo, which will create exclusive iOS applications and work together to target vertical markets, will not really be aiming fire at the ailing Canadian company though - their real target will be Microsoft, while Apple will be keen to keep Google's Android and web services firmly in their place too.

The companies hailed their agreement, named 'IBM MobileFirst for iOS', as a "landmark" and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty praised Apple as "the gold standard for consumers", apparently forgetting similar enterprise-focused alliances it has made in the past with companies like Samsung and, of course, Microsoft. If it puts greater resource into this one than some past efforts, Apple will certainly be able to build on its already impressive growth in the enterprise, acquiring a new salesforce, a hugely trusted brand in areas like security, and 100 new iOS business applications.

These 100 apps are the heart of the deal. They will be created jointly by IBM and Apple, exclusive to iOS and tailored to individual vertical markets such as retail, healthcare, banking, transportation, telecoms and insurance. This will give Apple, already a strong player in the enterprise, the ability to target specific segments in a way its current frameworks do not allow.

In addition, IBM's cloud services such as device management, security and analytics will be optimized for iOS. This is where BlackBerry, as well as other mobile management platforms, will feel the pinch - and the move may also prevent Apple being tempted to bring its own expanding artificial intelligence platforms into the enterprise space, rather than keeping them for consumers and Siri. IBM's analytics engines, including the famous Watson machine learning platform, are a critical aspect of its services and mobile-first offering. So it is a considerable coup that Apple has agreed to standardize on its new friend's analytics and big data apps, effectively cutting a hefty market off for other players in this booming area.

Apple has also agreed to tailor AppleCare for enterprise deployments with support onsite via IBM; and use IBM's Fiberlink MaaS360 for mobile device management; while IBM will package device activation, supply and management for the iOS partnership; sell vertical-focused iDevices bundled with its apps; and lend the support of its 100,000-strong consultancy group and its financing arm to push Apple solutions.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said: "We're putting IBM's renowned big data analytics at iOS users' fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple. This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver."


Apple may struggle with this year's upgrade cycle July 15 2014

Delays rumored for iWatch and 5.5-inch iPhone because of major adjustments to design and supply chain

By Caroline Gabriel

The past couple of years have seen Apple struggle with its traditional annual iDevice upgrade cycle. With excited rumors about the next model starting up almost as soon as an iPhone is delivered, the vendor becomes a victim of its own unmatched ability to create consumer anticipation. Months before the expected unveiling of a new upgrade, purchasing of the current handset slows - so if, as reports indicate, some of the hoped-for features are delayed this year, the problem will get even worse.

Reports indicate that both the iWatch and the 5.5-inch iPhones may arrive later than expected because Apple is having to adjust its supply chain to support unfamiliar components, some of them hard to make in the volumes it requires. This not only raises the prospect of new iDevice mass market sales being pushed into 2015, with negative impact on the important fourth quarter, but also shakes confidence in the once-infallible control that Apple has of its components suppliers and manufacturers. It has suffered parts shortages before, but in this intensely competitive mobile market, product delays have a far greater effect than in Apple's heyday at the top of the smartphone tree.

Apple is widely expected to boost its holiday season revenues with larger-screen models for both its premium and 'budget' iPhone families, as well as introducing the long expected iWatch. However, diversifying the iDevice range has its own supply chain challenges, and well respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the iWatch will not ship in volume until late November, rather than September as originally believed.

The product "represents a new level of difficulty for Apple in regard to both hardware and software development", wrote Kuo in a research note, and has involved the OEM adding new (and hard to manufacture) parts to its supply list. That will make it hard for Apple's manufacturers to hit the volumes Wall Street is anticipating for this year - analysts have touted 10m by year end, while the reality may be closer to 2m. If that prediction proves true, Apple will have missed some of the opportunity of the holiday period to shift smartwatches.

Kuo also suggests that the 5.5-inch iPhone may also be late. Apple is reportedly planning to launch two models, both with larger displays. The 4.7-inch model would go ahead as expected, this fall, if the reports are right, but the 5.5-inch version could be pushed back into next year. AppleInsider, quoting Kuo, said there may be issues with the in-cell touch panels and with the quality of color on the display. "The new in-cell touch panels may have issues related to touch sensitivity on the edges of the panel as displays become larger in size, making the 5.5-inch model a much greater technical achievement for Apple to accomplish," says the research note. The larger smartphone is expected to sport a sapphire front panel to make it scratch-resistant but Kuo suggests this is not passing the tests for being shatter-proof.

Even if both sizes make their debut in September as expected, and ship in volume during Q4, analysts are bracing for the biggest freeze ever on sales of current models, in the run-up to the launches - making it even more important that Apple can meet that pent-up demand quickly during the fourth quarter, before Samsung intervenes with a tempting new Galaxy.

T Michael Walkley of Canaccord Genuity wrote in a research note that "our surveys indicated growing consumer anticipation for new larger-screen iPhones. Based on our analysis of global iPhone sales by region, we believe consumers slowed the pace of iPhone upgrade purchases during the iPhone 5 and 5s product cycles. We believe the extended replacement rates combined with new larger-screen iPhones position Apple with its large installed base for record iPhone 6 sales. Recent history definitely indicates that Apple's September quarter iPhone sales will slow ahead of the iPhone 6 launch."


Google I/O tips: Android 5, Fit and Quantum Paper? June 24 2014

Event expected to refocus on its developer roots with programs to expand Android's reach further into wearables and across platforms

By Caroline Gabriel

Google's annual I/O developers' conference kicks off tomorrow, and is expected to echo Apple's WWDC in more than one respect. For a start, insiders say there will be fewer glitzy consumer product launches and more focus on the actual developers, a pattern that was seen at the Apple event too - indicating that, as smartphones start to look uniform, mobile players need to compete by pushing the boundaries of their software platforms and user experiences. And that means getting developers excited.

The next release of Android is likely to make an appearance, following a firm I/O tradition, and no doubt named after a sweet starting with the letter 'L' (to follow the current KitKat, or 4.4, iteration). It is actually more important whether it is called Android 4.5 or 5.0, since Google is under pressure to deliver a major upgrade this time, as Apple achieved with iOS. For both companies, it will be essential to reshape their smartphone-focused platforms to support completely different experiences - embedded and wearable devices, video-intensive user interfaces, new intuitive search mechanisms powered by deep learning, and so on.

These technologies are starting to take shape in the labs and even in some high profile gadgets like the Nest thermostats, but they need a rich unifying base of apps and web services, something Google will try to encourage with Android Wear, Glassworks and other efforts to extend its software in all directions. Its developer community, and those which have previously been loyal to iOS or Windows, will be looking for some clear and inspiring directions this week.

Some more fundamental changes programmers want include replacing the ageing Dalvik compiler and making 'Android RunTime' (ART) the default in order to help software run more efficiently and prolong battery life. And there may also be an update to OpenGL ES, the 3D programming interface for Android. Efficient graphics languages are vital to modern platforms, to support gaming and other multimedia apps, and adapt mobile platforms for TV, so many will be looking for a new Android to introduce a convincing response to Microsoft's DirectX 12 and Apple's Metal.

There will almost certainly be comprehensive support for 64-bit processors and the ARMv8 architecture this time, pushing Android towards higher end products. This will rob Intel of a headstart it has made in 64-bit Android, but make such capabilities more available and standardized.

The other important tactic for mobile and web players is to expand their platforms into new devices and user bases, notably the internet of things (IoT). Apple was surprisingly low key about its HomeKit and HealthKit services for embedded devices when it launched them earlier this month. Google is likely to be far more flamboyant about its response, Google Fit, which is expected to make its debut at its annual developer conference, I/O, next week.

The search giant has already showed its hand in the smart home with its expensive acquisition of the Nest connected devices firm, but of course its real interest is in the data such gadgets generate, and the services it can layer on top of those. It is expected to add to its home platform at I/O, but also to move into health and fitness monitoring.

According to report, this service will collect data from a wide range of fitness-related trackers, monitors and applications, including smart watches. The platform will aggregate biometric and performance data and feed it into analytics software, and Google is likely to surround its system with a range of wearables manufacturers (and perhaps even buy one, given its recent love affair with making devices).

On that front, Google Fit is likely to integrate closely with devices which are announced or planned for the existing wearables platform, Android Wear. One of the reported products, the Moto 360 smart watch, is still Google's own, at least until Motorola is sold to Lenovo, while LG is expected to be preparing a G Watch, with inbuilt pedometer and touch sensor.

Apple will not be sitting still either. Its history says that it succeeds best when it has platforms and devices in tandem, as with the iPod and iTunes a decade ago. It is widely expected to release the long expected iWatch in the fourth quarter and to tie it closely to HealthKit and to health monitoring applications.

As well as Fit, there will be wearables action in extensions to Android Wear as well as new gadgets from partners, and many are expecting the full release of the Wear software developers' kit (SDK).

Other predictions for the I/O keynote on Wednesday? Yet another attempt to succeed in TV, renaming the disastrous Google TV experiment as Android TV, though sources are divided on whether there will be an actual box, perhaps Nexus-branded, or an open platform. And extensions to the in-car offering, with support and announcements from Google's partners in the Open Automotive Alliance, the equivalent of Android's Open Handset Alliance.

Some pundits think there may be preview handsets based on the Project Ara modular concept, but it's probably too early for real devices, and Google has already outlined the developer aspects in detail. There may be Google devices on the Nexus front though, probably with details of the much-rumored Android Silver program, a new generation of smartphones sporting the 'pure' Google Android experience and co-developed with partners such as LG. Showcasing that user experience, and convincing the faithful that it remains ahead of the game, will be essential to stop developers' (and the media's) eyes straying disloyally towards alternative Android-based platforms like Amazon's new Fire Phone or Samsung's recently enhanced UI.

As the Android Police blog reports, another interesting development which could make its debut this week is Quantum Paper, which one one level is the latest in a series of Google attempts to unify the Android experience, this time with a set of tools and guidelines spanning all kinds of consumer devices.

However, some reports indicate it will go further and that the search giant will seek to assert its influence over the whole mobile world just as the next wave of user experiences - based around HMTL5 and cloud services - is evolving. "Quantum Paper is a hugely ambitious project, looking to unify and codify paradigms for visual, motion, and interaction design across all platforms, including web, Android and iOS," wrote Android Police.

Of course, if it emerges, Paper will hit the same problems as every other attempt to impose uniformity on a mobile world which is by its nature diverse. Makers of products will continue to want to differentiate themselves and promote their brand; developers will chafe at any limits on their freedom to innovate; consumers are always looking for choice and the next big thing. That will remain true in wearables as in handsets - though in the real internet 'things, embedded workaday items for the smart home or factory, there may be a greater logic to having a harmonized platform and interface. It is just not clear that Google and Android will be the optimal choice.


Apple-Samsung ITC deal - signs of a truce? June 16 2014

Rivals agree to drop cross-appeals against 2013 ITC ruling against Samsung, though no commercial impact

By Caroline Gabriel

There have been a few signs, in recent months, that Apple and Samsung might finally lay down their weapons in their long-running and increasingly futile patents war. The latest comes with an agreement to end one of their US battles, dropping all cross-appeals related to last year's ITC (International Trade Commission) ruling that Samsung had infringed on two Apple patents.

The deal only affects outdated handsets - when it comes to smartphone industry litigation, the courts move far more slowly than the device upgrade cycle - and it may prove to be merely housekeeping rather than a sign of greater truces to come. Or, as some fear, it may be a question of Apple and Samsung dropping irrelevant suits which will have little symbolic or commercial effect, and reloading their weapons for a new IPR battleground, in the internet of things - an area where both are amassing new patents.

The latest ceasefire relates to an ITC judgement that Samsung had infringed two Apple patents related, respectively, to the touchscreen interface and headset plug detection. The original ruling imposed an import ban against guilty products, but in reality, Samsung had already developed workarounds and updated its models. However, it appealed the injunction anyway, indicating how much of these expensive legal battles are about scoring points rather than protecting real revenues. Meanwhile, Apple appealed too, seeking to broaden the scope of the judgement and get even the devices with workarounds barred.

Both those motions have been dropped, and while the injunction is still technically in force, there are no models which are affected by it. It now remains to be seen whether the new climate of compromise extends to other US cases. Some of these are in federal court, including the highest profile cases, held in San Jose under the eye of Judge Lucy Koh. Both firms have consistently used the ITC as a second theatre, and last year

Samsung gained its own ITC import ban over Apple infringement of a standards-essential patent. However, the government vetoed the ruling, claiming concerns that Samsung was abusing its ownership of such patents.

The next hearing in San Jose will take place on July 10, and will address Apple's request for a sales ban on Samsung devices which were found, in the latest round of judgments, to have infringed its IPR. Koh has previously denied such petitions and is unlikely to change her mind this time, but Apple has also filed motions for an amended ruling, a new trial, and larger damages than the $11.6bn it won; while Samsung is challenging the ruling, the validity of the patents and the scale of the damages. The Korean firm is also still appealing rulings from the famous 2012 trial in the same court and last year's retrial over the damages awarded.

It is clear that the San Jose cases will be tougher to settle than the ITC ones, and there has been no progress in that direction despite court-mandated CEO-level talks and repeated pleas from Koh to come to a deal. However, there is rising pressure to make such a deal - partly from the companies' shareholders, concerned at the cost and distraction of lawsuits which deliver no knock-out victories; partly from the ecosystem, which has seen Apple and Google agree to drop all direct litigation against one another.

A Samsung official told Korea Times: "We are trimming down the number of dispute issues. We no longer want to spend time talking about secondary points. Both firms are trying to find common ground."

Another factor pushing Apple to come to a rapprochement will be its reliance on Samsung for key components such as displays. Despite efforts to broaden its supply chain, Apple still accounts for 9% of Samsung's display sales (up from a year earlier) and is said to be very interested in the Korean firm's innovations in AMOLED technology for wearables.

"As technology shifts toward wearable devices, Apple still wants to keep Samsung as its top-tier parts sourcing channel," another official said.

However, while wearables may provide a new area for the companies to work together - as well as compete fiercely on the actual devices - it may also be a new patents battleground. There is a broad feeling that a new IPR system will be required for the fragmented and immature world of the Internet of Things (IoT), but unless international and industry bodies move quickly to create a new framework, there is the risk that old habits will prevail, based around secretive bilateral licensing deals and litigation.

Apple and Samsung are both filing large numbers of patents related to the IoT, though according to Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science, the Korean giant is in the lead in this respect. It surveyed US patent filings in the smart home market, and found that Samsung has filed almost 150 patents related to home automation since 2000, about double the number submitted by second-placed Sony, and it has a further 60 pending for this year. After Sony come LG and Flextronics, while Google comes in at sixteenth and Apple at thirtieth.

Bob Stembridge, senior researcher at Thomson Reuters, told the Wall Street Journal: "It's a clear area of focus for them. It's not just the volume of innovation, it's the quality of innovation." Samsung has become steadily more aggressive about filing patents, in the US and elsewhere, in areas which it regards as strategic. In 2013, it was the top filer in mobile telephony, semiconductors and smart media, and received more US patents than any other company apart from IBM, according to Fairview Research.


Apple stops hampering third party browsers in iOS 8 June 05 2014

Allows all WebKit browsers, not just Safari, to use an enhanced interface to WebKit, boosting performance

By Caroline Gabriel

The pressures on Apple were clear in the uncharacteristically sober tone of its WWDC developer event this week, and its concessions to opening up iOS 8 - not open by a Google definition, of course, but significantly by Apple standards. An interesting example is the decision to remove brakes on the performance of third party browsers, such as Google Chrome, in the iOS environment.

Specifically, no browser except Apple's own Safari could interface to the iDevice maker's fastest Javascript engine, which prevented browsers like Chrome running at full speed, and also slowed applications which need to open many URLs, like Twitter. In particular, apps harnessing third party browsers could not take advantage of Apple's fast JIT (just in time) Javascript compiler.

This is changing in iOS 8, as reported in Re/code, as any apps using the latest standard WebKit interface - now backed by most mainstream browsers after Opera announced support last year - can now access the Apple Javascript engine. That would provide the ability for users to set their own default browser, though that has not yet been announced and Apple may hold such a counter-cultural concession in reserve for a rainy day.

Apple currently bars anyone from bringing their own browser engine to iOS, which is why developers had to use a separate, slower version of WebKit in order to support non-Safari WebKit browsers.

At least third party apps will be able to run Javascript programs at full speed in iOS, removing the advantage Safari had for itself - an advantage which highlights the increasing gulf between Apple's walled garden approach and the move by the rest of the mobile industry to open web platforms like HTML5.

Apple WebKit engineer Anders Carlsson received a round of applause from WWDC's developer audience when he said Apple had opened up a new, more powerful programming interface, called WKWebView, which was built to allow iOS and OS X to tap into WebKit. "One of the goals we had with this modern API was to take a lot of features that were previously only available to Safari and give you access to them. For example, the full power of the JavaScript Nitro engine," he said, as reported by NetworkWorld.

This is particularly important for Google, which has to use Apple's WebKit on iOS, even though it has its own browser engine, Blink, which Chrome uses on Android, Windows, Linux and OS X. Blink diverged from mainstream WebKit last year.

Apple has made other improvements to its Javascript engine interface, which will be available for all compatible browsers. These include support for a new acceleration technology, FTL JIT; and the integration of some Safari features directly into WebKit - for instance, 60 frames-per-second scrolling using hardware acceleration and CoreAnimation, and some of Safari's gestures, like back/forward swiping and pinch-to-zoom.


WWDC: a quiet revolution underway at Apple June 03 2014

No hardware, but significant moves to open up the walled garden and embrace the cloud; now great devices must follow

By Caroline Gabriel

No new devices, again ... Our immediate reaction to Apple's WWDC keynote was to wonder how many times CEO Tim Cook can get away with vague promises of "amazing" products to come, and not deliver them. No big-screened iPhone, no iWatch - it seems that, with Apple, it is always jam tomorrow, never jam today.

But that is to fall into the thinking that often grips Apple watchers, of over-focusing on the hardware alone, odd as that may be when studying the pioneer of the hardware/software 'user experience'. Looking at the software side, there were clear signs of an Apple which is on the defensive, but is putting its pieces in place to fight back against Google. Most importantly, there are clear chinks in the iOS walled garden, as well as the start of a unified PC/mobile experience.

This is a grown-up, sober Apple, and not just because Cook has a less charismatic style than his predecessor Steve Jobs. This is a company which knows it can only rely on the power of its brand and design so far - underneath that famous logo, it needs to adapt its whole platform to the needs of changing world, one in which devices are very cheap and power lies in big data and cloud services.

Apple, for our money, is still moving too slowly in the cloud, but it is making progress in modernizing its platform. The new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 8, is far more radical than its low key design changes would suggest. While iOS 7 made significant changes to the visual impact, iOS 8 is important for opening up new areas to third party developers - notably the keyboard and TouchID. So while Apple's old desire to control all aspects of its experience was there in a much enhanced native keyboard, featuring contextual word prediction, it also opened up to third party keyboards for the first time, something Android has allowed for a long time.

This may not quite amount to Apple's claim that this is "the biggest release since the launch of the App Store", but it does indicate that the firm is gearing up for a world when that famous store may be less powerful, and it will need a fully open web apps platform to stay competitive with Google (the purchase of Beats and its music streaming service is another symptom of this reluctant long goodbye to the downloads model).

Not that Apple is letting go of its preference for native apps and content. One of the features of iOS 8 is to introduce web-like capabilities which will appeal to Android users, but take place in native apps. An example is Extensibility, which lets apps communicate and share data, but in a sandboxed way which maintains secure walls between them. For instance, a user could take a photo with iPhone Camera and add filters from another application, but without actually leaving Camera. That mimics the extensions which browser-based software uses to add features, but remains native.

Another area where Apple has removed an Android advantage of iOS is allowing developers to add new sharing options - sharing images and web pages to any service the programmer chooses, as with Android's 'intents' system, rather than just to Apple-designated apps such as Facebook.

And an important and radical (for Apple) departure was to break down some of the boundaries between iOS and OS X, in a way that Microsoft and Google have already been pursuing. This will be important as the differences between a PC and a mobile device also break down, and the 'post-PC' environment looks for a unified user experience to run across huge numbers of different form factors.

Apple demonstrated widgets running on both its operating systems - in iOS 8, as part of the pulldown Notification Center. And users can now work across the two platforms far more seamlessly, an area where Apple has leapt ahead of Google - for instance, a user could start a document on a Mac and edit it on an iPhone, helped by integrated storage in the updated iCloud Drive.

In addition to the OS changes, Apple unveiled its expected first step into the smart home with HomeKit. This also bears the stamp of the 'new Apple' in relying mainly on third party developers rather than high profile Apple hardware, and making increased use of the cloud. There is no Apple-branded home hub, but instead the system aims to replace that dedicated hub with an iPhone or iPad. iOS-based HomeKit will integrate control for home automation functions such as lighting control, allowing third party apps and devices to work together regardless of their network protocol, and can be voice-controlled using Siri.

A similarly underplayed app was HealthKit, which supports functions such as heart and fitness monitoring and fuelled further speculation that an iWatch is on its way, to respond to Samsung's recent pushes into this area.

As with the revamped iCloud - more open and more like Dropbox - HomeKit and HealthKit show that Apple is embracing the cloud at last, especially as it looks beyond the smartphone and towards the opportunities of the internet of things. However, these launches were given little airtime compared to the core iOS changes, and suggest the firm remains cautious and slightly uncomfortable around the cloud. That will have to change if Apple really is to stay as Google's key challenger in the new mobile world and the IoT.

A more unexpected, but significant, announcement was that of Swift, a new programming language which promises a slimmed-down alternative to Objective-C, the complex if powerful language on which Apple has relied for decades. It aims to attract new developers by making it easier and quicker to write stable, secure apps, billing itself as "Objective-C without the C". It is promising the world to coders - greater power and performance than scripting languages like Python, but with the simplicity of those technologies. Apple claims it has run benchmarks which show Swift code executes more quickly than Python and even Objective-C.

The iOS 8 and Yosemite upgrades combined with Swift and new cloud features all show Apple getting some of its priorities straight and making a bold attempt to retain its control of its platform, while modernizing it and opening it up. Not an easy balance, but it can rely on the huge loyalty of its established developer and user base to help it transition to a fully open web world.

That is, if it comes up with the devices to run the new software, and with sufficient pzazz to placate those loyal gadget buyers, some of whom are getting bored with the same old screen size. Cook was teasing about new product categories, while SVP of software and services, Eddy Cue, said the firm has "the best product pipeline in 25 years".

Apple has made such promises before, and for the past couple of years, has not delivered on them. With iOS 8 commercial availability in the fall, that is presumably when the next iPhone will appear. It had better pack a punch, or the significant innovations in the software platform will not be enough to boost growth again.

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