Thursday, February 6, 2014

Boot up: Foxconn bribery charge, tablet numbers, hard drive life, and more

Stock indicators fall in Taipei, Taiwan stock indicators fall in Taipei. Manufacturers there are looking for post-PC revenue. Photograph: Wally Santana/AP

A burst of 8 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

Taiwan prosecutors charged several former Foxconn Technology Group employees with taking bribes, in the latest setback for the manufacturer of iPhones and other popular gadgets.

Prosecutors said Thursday that they detained a former Foxconn general manager for allegedly taking kickbacks from suppliers. Prosecutors said three other former Foxconn employees were released on bail. Prosecutors declined to provide detail on the suppliers.

Prosecutors said they had no plans to investigate Foxconn's clients, finding no evidence in the yearlong investigation that they were involved in the alleged bribery.

Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, said it would fully cooperate with the investigation. "Our internal investigation found these violations to be limited to the procurement of consumables and accessory equipment related to a small part of our business," Foxconn said. "The employees in question are no longer with our company."

There were an estimated 78.45 million tablets shipped globally in the fourth quarter of 2013, increasing 25% on quarter and by 29.8% on year, according to Digitimes Research.

iPads accounted for 29.7% of shipments, brand models launched by vendors other than Apple for 36.6%, and models launched by white-box vendors for 33.8%, Digitimes Research indicated. Android-based models took up 51.2% of the shipments, iOS-based 44.9% and Windows-based 3.9%. 7-inch models accounted for 31% of the shipments, followed by 9-inch models with 25.4%, 7.9-inch models with 19.7%, 10-inch models with 15.8% and 8-inch models with 7.6%. In terms of touch solutions, GF2 accounted for 41.5% of shipments, GFF for 38.6%, OGS for 9.8% and GG for 9.5%.

Among vendors, Apple had the largest global market share at 29.7%, followed by Samsung Electronics with 17.4%, Amazon 5.4%, Lenovo 4.2%, Asustek Computer 2.8%, Google 1.4%, Acer 1%, Dell 0.8% and Hewlett-Packard 0.5%.

A judge has determined patent-holding company Vringo is entitled to additional royalties from Google in a patent infringement case involving Google AdWords.

The order stems from a case brought by Vringo subsidiary I/P Engine in 2011 that claimed filtering technology used in Google AdWords violated two of its patents. A jury found in favor of I/P Engine, awarding it $30.4m and running royalty payments of 3.5%. The case is I/P Engine Inc. v. AOL Inc., 11cv512.

Google claimed to have updated the AdWords system in May 2013 in such a way that the patents were no longer applicable and said it should not be subject to royalty payments after that point.

In a Memorandum Order issued yesterday, U.S. District Judge Raymond A Jackson disagreed writing, the modified version of AdWords "is nothing more than a colorable variation of the infringing system." As such Vringo is "entitled to ongoing royalties as long as Defendants continue to use the modified system."

1990s patents, previously used against Microsoft too.

Samsung and Google have reached a broad deal to license one another's patents.

The agreement, announced on Sunday, covers the two companies' existing patents as well as those to be filed over the next 10 years. Samsung and Google didn't say whether the deal covers all of their respective patents. But they did say it extends beyond mobile, and covers multiple product categories.

While noteworthy, Google and Samsung have already been largely on the same side of the global patent wars. Apple has focused its legal attention on Samsung rather than Google directly, though its arguments have sometimes centred on how Android is a copy of Apple's iPhone operating system.

Nonetheless, both companies used the opportunity to highlight the deal as an example of choosing cooperation over litigation.

Because Backblaze has a history of openness, many readers expected more details in my previous posts. They asked what drive models work best and which last the longest. Given our experience with over 25,000 drives, they asked which ones are good enough that we would buy them again. In this post, I'll answer those questions.

Spoiler: Hitachi or Western Digital did the job (3-5% failure rate in three years). Seagate showed a 26.5% failure rate in three years).

Dusan Belic:

This year we should see the first Ubuntu smartphone launched with demo devices most likely being on display at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. As far as we know, China's Meizu may be just one of the launch partners with more OEMs likely to join the party in no time at all. Here we want to explain why we think Ubuntu smartphone(s) will change the game for good.

Comment from Francisco Jeronimo, smartphones analyst at IDC: "Unfortunately these are not strong enough. Lack of MOs [mobile operator] & Vendor support, not strong value for common users & need for big pockets of cash will impact Ubuntu Smp [smartphone] success."

Jonathan Greenberg has been hearing that Taiwanese manufacturers are most focussed on how they can increase the revenues they got from making things that aren't PCs:

In my work, I have always found visiting Greater China to be an important antidote to the Valley's echo chamber. It is one thing to write a blog post, it is quite another to run a mammoth manufacturing enterprise on that same basis. They supply chain tends to take a very 'grounded-in-reality' approach to operations. This is not always to their benefit, but I like hearing both sides of perception.

So I think there is more to this 'data' than just another headline in on an ongoing theme.  If, in fact, we are seeing the Taiwanese complex seriously disengage from building PCs, it will have important implications for the whole industry. As much as everyone in the Valley (and I am as guilty of this as anyone) has been prophesying the end of the PC era, PC sales are still very large. However, if the ODMs begin to disinvest in their PC production, we will likely see an acceleration of PC declines. The PC complex is built on steady increases in volume, and optimized for economies of scale. If the best minds and most-skilled engineers at the ODMs turn their efforts to other products, this will no longer hold true.

Mike Develin digs into Google Trends:

This trend suggests that Princeton will have only half its current enrollment by 2018, and by 2021 it will have no students at all, agreeing with the previous graph of scholarly scholarliness. Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth.

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