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Electronix Express Newsletter
January 2008 Issue
Welcome to the January 2008 Issue of the Electronix Express Newsletter
1. Link the Web to TV?
What if you could flip through those Net videos the same way you would channel surf on a TV with a remote? The fact is, Sony's (SNE) Bravia Internet Video Link already lets users do just that. To make the service accessible to anyone who isn't Internet-savvy, Sony bypassed the PC and avoided having to add a keyboard. The service, which launched in August, is free but the hardware is not. Nor is it cheap with a starting price tag of $1,200. Consumers first have to buy a $300 gadget the size of a VHS tape, which attaches to the back of a liquid-crystal-display TV and connects to a broadband line. That's what lets users stream video and other material from the Net. The gadget is only compatible with Sony TVs, so you would have to factor in the cost of a TV. The good news is there are lots of sets to choose from, 25 models ranging from a 26-in. LCD TV that sells for $899 to a 70-in. rear-projection TV for about $6,000.
The online video business for TVs is still in its infancy, so there is not much reliable market data. What's more, most consumers are unaware that the technology even exists. In a recent survey, research firm NPD Group found that roughly 45% of U.S. consumers were clueless about Internet-to-TV services. Among tech companies, the competition for eyeballs is fierce. Sony is up against Microsoft (MSFT), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Apple (AAPL), Netgear (NTGR), TiVo (TIVO), and Sling Media, all of which have plans to deliver Internet content to TVs.
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2. Putting the TV Viewer in Control
Today, watching television is anything but passive. Hundreds of channels means there is more to watch, and roaming through all of the cable or satellite channels every day is enough to cause repetitive stress injury. What's more, the ability to record shows to hard drives and to use home networks and fast Internet connections to stream them around the house or around the world has turned the TV universe into a bonanza where consumers have a lot more power over what they watch, when they watch, and where they choose to watch.
In recent years, companies large and small have sought to invade the living room, coaxing people off the couch by offering new methods of watching TV shows on computers, portable devices, and even cell phones. For example, TiVo's (TIVO) first product hit the market in 1999 allowing consumers the ability to program their TV recordings from an Internet-connected PC. Others entered the scene like Microsoft (MSFT) by launching its first Media Center PCs with Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) in 2002. Most companies are offering add-on gadgets that aim to bridge the hard-to-cross gap between the TV set in the living room and the personal computer. However, the challenge is the thinking of the majority of consumers. According to a research analyst, consumers have drawn a sort of mental firewall around the living room, where for the most part, the PC may not enter, at least not in the permanent manner that a new TV or stereo system might. "No one wants to have to turn on their PC in order to watch TV," says the analyst. However, the push is on to change that thinking. TV programming that used to be viewable only in the home can go anywhere. Recorded shows can be copied to a notebook PC. Live shows tuned in on a home TV can be seen on computer screens thousands of miles away.
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3. Looming Online Security Threats in 2008
As Internet users display more of their personal information on social networking Web sites, and office workers upload more sensitive data to online software programs, computer hackers are employing increasingly sophisticated methods to pry that information loose. In many cases, they're devising small attacks that can fly under the radar of traditional security software, while exploiting the trust users place in popular business and consumer Web sites. For example, the names and contact information for tens of thousands of customers of Automatic Data Processing (ADP) and SunTrust Banks (STI) were stolen from Salesforce.com (CRM), which provides online customer management software for those two companies. These kinds of targeted attacks on Web-based services may constitute the top computer security threats of 2008, according to security experts. "One of the biggest challenges of 2008 will be, how do you do business online when you know there's a bad guy in the middle?" says Chris Rouland, chief technology officer in IBM's (IBM) Internet security systems division. "The personal computer isn't the target of 2008; it's the browser," he says. IBM sees the landscape changing profoundly enough that the company plans to spend $1.5 billion next year to develop security suites that can address a broad array of threats rather than different products aimed at specific security risks.
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4. A Wireless Revolution in India
The number of Indian consumers connecting to the Internet via cell phones more than doubled, to 38 million from 16 million just last year, according to a report by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). "Mobile Internet is increasingly becoming a popular feature in India today," says Diptarup Chakraborti, principal analyst at Gartner Research (IT). And it's got a long way to go in the world's fastest-growing mobile-phone market, where more than 200 million people use mobile phones and 7 million are added to the rolls each month.
While wireless Web use in India has been climbing for some time, the gains are becoming so pronounced that they're exposing anew the frailties of India's traditional Internet networks and fueling a race for customers and sales among wireless carriers and handset makers. Experts attribute the surge in wireless Web use to a combination of falling handset prices, network upgrades, and an economic expansion. India's economy is growing at over 9%, and younger consumers, especially those working in call centers, can now afford the personal digital assistants and Research In Motion (RIMM) BlackBerrys that, as recently as a year ago, seemed out of reach to everyone but wealthy businesspeople and other professionals.
For all the increased reliance on cell phones to connect to the Internet, there's little danger handsets will replace PCs soon. Mobile connectivity in India is still uneven and is far slower than in other parts of the world. "GPRS is a largely dysfunctional way of accessing the Internet," says Shubham Majumdar, associate director of research at Macquarie Securities, a division of Macquarie Bank (MBL).
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5. Hot Growth: The Chips Have It
Companies connected to the chip sector have been among the biggest drivers of technology industry growth in 2007. Four of this year's 10 fastest-growing tech companies manufacture semiconductors or the materials used to make them, according to a ranking of companies with the fastest gains in share price, sales, and profits and the largest returns on equity. What puts so many chipmakers and their suppliers at the top of the heap? Demand for chips is up, fueled by robust purchases of personal computers and mobile phones. PC shipments are expected to finish the year 13% higher than in 2006, according to researcher Gartner (IT), and consumers are expected to buy as many as 1.1 billion wireless phones, up 13% from the 990 million sold last year, says research firm iSuppli.
Competitive pricing among some of the industry's biggest players, including Intel (INTC), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and Texas Instruments (TXN), kept them out of the upper growth ranks. Instead, some of the biggest beneficiaries are the smaller companies that supply the highly specialized, crucial materials needed to build chips. One of the prime suppliers of silicon is MEMC Electronic Materials (WFR). As Intel and Texas Instruments ramped up production to meet the needs of PC and cell-phone makers, they needed more and more of MEMC's silicon wafers, the dinner-plate-size discs from which individual chips are made. As chip manufacturing surged, MEMC's revenues soared, from $552 million 1993 to $1.1 billion in 1996.
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6. Smart Optical Microchips Could Advance Telecom
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a theory that could lead to "smart" optical microchips that adapt to different wavelengths of light, potentially advancing telecommunications, spectroscopy, and remote-sensing technologies. In the microscopic world photons bouncing off the walls of a cavity couple with ultrapure laser light to build up a measurable force called radiation pressure. This is similar to the pressure that gas molecules in an aerosol can exert. To take advantage of this pressure, the researchers propose machines built from ring-shaped cavities only millionths of a meter in size located on the chip surface. Pressure on the cavity walls gets high enough to force the cavity to move. This movement forms a critical part of an optical micromachine, which adjusts its configuration to respond to light in a predesigned way.
Using the concept, a smart resonator could chase the frequency of the laser light incident upon it. As the frequency of the laser beam changes, the frequency of the resonator always follows it. In other words, this new resonator is like a wineglass that self-adjusts to the pitch of a singer's voice and follows it along through a song. Coupling the resonating cavities with nanoscale cantilevers allows the creation of optical devices analogous to MEMS (microelectromechanical-system) devices.
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7. Report: 1 in 8 Households Ditching Landlines for Cells
More than one in eight households have cell phones but lack traditional landline telephones, according to a federal study that tracks the country's growing dependence on wireless phones. The data, reported twice a year, suggested that the number of households relying solely on cell phones may be growing more slowly than it had in the past. However, the researchers said the slowdown might be due to changes in their survey, including altering the order of some questions and some of the wording.
The report released Monday showed that for the first half of 2007, 14 percent of households had cell phone service but no landline telephones. That was less than 1 percentage point over the second half of 2006. For the second part of 2006, the increase in those households had been about 2 percent over the previous six-month period. The growth of families reachable only by cell phone has been of special interest to the telephone industry, providers of 911 emergency services, and public and private polling organizations. Pollsters typically rely on random calls to households with landline telephones, but some have begun reaching out to cell-phone users, which is more expensive and makes it harder to ensure their samples are truly random. One of the statistics from the report indicates that 59 percent of households have landlines and cell phones, and 24 percent have only landlines. The National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the CDC, involved in-person interviews with people in 15,996 households conducted from January through June of this year.
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