Sony reports $1bn annual loss so whats the solution

Sony has just reported its first annual loss in 14 years, having lost 98.9 billion yen (?685m; $1 billion) in the fiscal year that ended in March. It now says it will close three Japanese factories — “one for cell-phone cameras, another for video recorder parts and another for systems used for smart cards” — which means it will close eight factories worldwide by March 2010, reports AP. The story says:

Sony also continued to lose money in its game segment, where its PlayStation 3 home console and PlayStation Portable have struggled against rival offerings from Nintendo Co., the Wii and DS, as well as in some markets against the Xbox 360 from Microsoft Corp.
The company sold 10.06 million PlayStation 3 machines for the fiscal year through March, up 10% from the previous year. It also sold more PlayStation Portable machines, at 14.11 million during the fiscal year, up slightly from 13.81 million.

The company expects to lose another $1.2bn in this financial year, ending March 2010.

The Guardian’s Justin McCurry, reporting from Tokyo, points out:

The losses mark a dramatic turnaround from last year when Sony, which is in the midst of a tough cost-cutting and restructuring regime under its Welsh-born chief executive Sir Howard Stringer, reported a ?369.4bn profit. It said its forecast reflected expectations that the “deterioration in the business environment brought on by the slowing global economy will continue”, adding that the cost of restructuring would add to the losses.

The results are not too surprising. Sony was already having a tough time with the PS3 failing to repeat the massive success of the original PlayStation and the PS2, the decline of the CD-based music business, and increasing competition in the consumer electronics markets from Asian companies outside Japan. Sony, like many other companies, was then hit by the global financial meltdown.

And the big question remains: What can Sir Howard do to turn things around?

Cutbacks can reduce losses but it’s hard to see how Sony can turn round its games business (where the PS3 simply costs too much to make) or find new areas to develop.

YouTube Live from San Francisco, but not from Tokyo

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Google’s YouTube did its first live webcast yesterday, when it put on an event in San Francisco. The “acts” were aimed at YouTube meme followers. As the blurb on YouTube’s blog put it, you could “get all excited over Will.i.am’s appearance; marvel at Chad Vader’s original killer conceit; or deconstruct the intrinsic appeal of Will It Blend?” And so on. “We’re going all-out to celebrate the best that YouTube’s user community has to offer.”

NewTeeVee covered the event in NTV is Live from YouTube Live:

OK, the show is on. Katy Perry just performed “Hot and Cold,” now Beardyman is on beat-boxing. You don’t need us for the live-blog of the mainstage, way better to watch the live-stream (no embed, sorry). But some notes on the scene: People are definitely hyped, and the place is packed (though it’s a pretty small venue… YouTube PR said they’re expecting 2-3,000 attendees). Lots of colorful characters — plenty of skateboarders, but no kittens or puppies so far. Biggest applause since the show started (by far) was for Tay Zonday. Chris and I are across the catwalk from Chad Hurley and Larry Page, who seem psyched.

According to TechCrunch, YouTube did 700,000 streams via Akamai, which could have cost about $25,000, according to a comment from Charbax: not that much for a bunch of multibillionaires with private jets. But there’s nothing new about it, and it’s very small beer compared with, for example, MSN streaming the Live Earth concert, which reached more than 10 million users.

However, YouTube’s Tokyo Live didn’t do as well, to put it mildly. In YouTube Live Tokyo Fails, Mike Abundo writes:

Whereas YouTube Live in San Francisco attracted 700,000 concurrent live viewers, YouTube Live Tokyo attracts none — because it’s not even live. The show was supposed to start at 3pm Japan Standard Time. It is now 7:56pm in Japan, and there’s nary a live stream in sight.

Instead of streaming video, “all we’re getting now are periodic uploads of clips, with artists performing on a cute-but-cramped YouTube-themed stage.”

However, at least Tokyo had something worth watching: 20 minutes of Korean pop princess ?? or BoA Kwon (a local version of the old Britney Spears, before her mental meltdown). In the video she performs her first US single, Eat You Up, which is available for download.

Nogo zone for Passport

“Microsoft’s Passport authentication technology lost a prominent partner this week when eBay announced that it would stop supporting customer logins through Microsoft’s Passport and .Net services,” reports CNet.

“The online auctioneer decided to stop supporting the service after Microsoft made an “architectural change” to its online authentication service, an eBay representative told CNET News.com on Thursday. The company’s withdrawal of support and Microsoft’s changes to the service were not unexpected developments and part of the planned evolution of Passport, Microsoft responded in a statement.”

Comment: Monster.com, the job site, has also left the service, and Microsoft would like to see more leave as it refocuses Passport on serving users of its own Hotmail, blogging and messaging services where large sums are not at stake.

MSN must once have thought it sounded like a good idea to offer to hold 250m people’s credit card details and other information online, but the financial risks involved in holding it must greatly outweigh the trivial amount of income Passport generates. In my view, it’s not even worth the PR risk, considering the bad publicity that would follow a significant hack.

Incidentally, reports that suggest Microsoft is abandoning or withdrawing Passport are simply wrong. It will continue, and I’d guess more than 99% of Passport users won’t see any difference at all. What you might expect to see eventually, however, is a federated version of Passport.

It’s now more than three years since Microsoft implicitly ceded that the centralised Passport architecture was a bad idea and announced plans for a federated system, Open Passport, using standard Kerberos authentication.

The international network of ATM machines is the best known federated system. You can use almost any cash machine in a standard way, but the ATM network and the ATM’s owner do not hold any of your data: that is held only by your own bank.

For a good example of a current federated identification system, see Trustgenix.

Will Paul Allen lead footballs march of the technology squillionaires

Paul Allen (front, right) gives us an excuse to trot out this lovely Microsoft pic. Photograph: AP/MS

Just in case you missed it over the weekend, there was a lot of talk among football fans on the south coast that Paul Allen might be buying Southampton football club.

I’m sure it was the big story for Saints fans – such as Gamesblogger Greg – but of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that a super-rich technology guru had bought into sport.

Nintendo’s Hiroshi Yamauchi bought the Seattle Mariners baseball team and Mark Cuban, the entrepeneur, is the high-profile owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. And, of course, Allen already owns the Seattle Seahawks (American football) and Portland Trailblazers (basketball), though it’s worth wondering what Southampton has in common with America’s north-west corridor.

I reckon it would be fun to see Google’s Sergey Brin (born Moscow, 1973) take on the might of Chelsea’s Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Or how about Richard Branson buying out Middlesbrough (given how often they get their hands on the prize, he could rename them Virgin Reds). Or what if Jeff Bezos bought say, legendary Brazilian footie team Corinthians (because they’re both very close to Amazon, groan).

OK, enough of the lame jokes. Which technology superstars should splash out on sports?

Palms Jon Rubinstein on the Pre, plus other gadgets

Bobbie Johnson presents the last in our series of special live podcasts from the floor the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of the worlds biggest technology showcases.

Today we get down and dirty with gadgets, with everything from recycled mobile phones to sexy laptops.

And if thats not enough, we talk to Jon Rubinstein from Palm about whether the companys new gadget – the Pre – will help it survive.

Joining Bobbie in the pod today are Susi Weaser of ShinyShiny and Tech Digest, and Dan Sung from Tech Digest.

Dont forget to…

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Google Blogger for Microsoft Word

“Now you can use Blogger right within Microsoft Word. Just download and install the Blogger for Word add-in and a Blogger toolbar will be added to Word allowing you to: Publish to your blog; Save drafts; Edit posts.”

Comments: Over at Jupiter Research, Michael Gartenberg says:

Let’s see, there’s the Google toolbar for IE, there’s Google Desktop Search (which works rather well with all of MSFT’s desktop applications), Google Earth (Windows only) and now Blogger for Word. It seems rather than introducing their own browser, operating system or applications for the moment, Google is making sure all of their stuff works seamlessly with the most popular platform and applications out there. Where is the MSN Spaces tool for Word?

Microsoft geek blogger Robert Scoble replies that this is what platform companies are about:

That’s why I was at Google today. Does that make Google sexier than Microsoft? Yes! But, then our Office users today have an application that they can use that they couldn’t have used Office for yesterday. I think that’s called a “win-win-win.” Google wins. Microsoft wins. Customers win.

PS, Google isn’t the only one who can play this game. I work with developers big and small to see if we can make you rich and famous. Who’s next?

Origami a smaller, lighter Tablet PC

“Microsoft and Intel plan to announce next week that several industry partners will make small, light versions of a tablet personal computer, people close to the two companies said yesterday. The machines, which have been the subject of considerable speculation, will be tailored more for consumer entertainment than the larger tablet machines running Microsoft’s Windows that were introduced in 2002,” says The New York Times.

The models to be introduced this year are an initial step to what Microsoft and Intel hope will be a popular hybrid category of computer, a consultant to Microsoft said.

They will be hefty, at about two pounds, and have a limited battery life of three hours or so between charges, the Microsoft consultant said. A new generation of low-power chips, extending battery life to six hours, will come next year. Later models, he added, will come with screens of four inches or so.

Digging deeper into Apples Time Capsule failure figures

The news that Apple will replace dead Time Capsules without question if their serial number lies in a particular range (XX807XXXXXX – XX814XXXXXX) is welcome for those whose machines lie inside that group – which Apple says means they were sold between February and June 2008. The symptoms: “Some Time Capsules… may not power on or may shut down unexpectedly after starting up.” As we have pointed out, this is due to an overheating fault in some of the electronics around the power supply. Inside the Time Capsule (which combines a wireless cable modem with a backup drive), the hard drive is fine (and so is your data), but you need to rehouse the disk to get it back.

But the Guardian has also seen the text of an email that was sent to Apple Genius Bars earlier this year, to confirm free work authorisation on dead Time Capsules. And that has a very different range of serial numbers which are eligible for replacement with or without Applecare (Apple’s after-sales warranty extension).

The serials there are xx807xxxxxxx through xx852xxxxxxx – very much broader than those in the statement yesterday.

So is Apple trying to stiff people whose devices have broken down? We’ve been helped in analysing this by Pim van Bochoven, of the Time Capsule Memorial Register, who had a site which crowdsourced serial numbers, purchase dates, sizes and other information about the failed machines.

Pim kindly sent us the (anonymised) dump from his database – so no email addresses or other identifying information – which has 2,500 entries, of which all but 82 have serial numbers. So that’s a sample of 2418 serial numbers.

We analysed the failed devices’ serials against Apple’s public range, and found that a remarkable 2261 of them fall inside it – that’s 93.5% of those with serials (90% of all of them, though it’s reasonable to think that the missing serials would have been distributed in the same way as those of the failed machines – in which case you’d expect that 76 of the 82 fall into the range).

But what about the wider range – up to xx852? Further analysis shows that there are 119 failed devices which have serials between xx815xxxxxx and xx852xxxxxx, and a further 37 with serials above that, or below the xx807xxxxxx range (actually, there’s exactly 1 below it).

The detail of the serial numbers with free replacement: almost all lie in the replacement range. Data: Time Capsule Memorial Register. Analysis: The Guardian.
So in short: Apple is concentrating on the vast majority of failures. It’s clear there was some sort of manufacturing screwup in a batch of devices, but of course that only came to light when they reached their failure point, which was about 19 months after they’d been made. It would be interesting to know whether the fault was discovered at the manufacturing stage – might it even have been a follow-on from the famous flawed capacitor problem? – or whether the end of the largest spike in failures was by chance.

It’s notable, after all, that there are still failures – but what’s not clear is how frequent those failures are compared to the number of devices sold. To figure out the latter, one would need to do some German tank analysis on the serial numbers – but if we can persuade van Bochoven to let us put the database out there, perhaps some can do that, and we’ll know just how out of whack the failure rate was.

We did ask Apple why it had changed the recommended replacement range between its internal note and its statement yesterday. It had not replied at the time this blog post went live.

Freezing chips enables data theft

“A group led by a Princeton University computer security researcher has developed a simple method to steal encrypted information stored on computer hard disks,” reports The New York Times.

It’s pretty simple. Memory chips hold data for a short while after the power is turned off. Cool the chips and they hold it longer.
“Cool the chips in liquid nitrogen (-196 °C) and they hold their state for hours at least, without any power,” Edward W. Felten, a Princeton computer scientist, wrote in a Web posting. “Just put the chips back into a machine and you can read out their contents.”

There’s a technical paper (PDF) about it.

In the net with the Canon EOS5D MkII

The second video filmed by Guardian photographer Dan Chung entirely on a production Canon EOS5D MkII with adapted Nikon lenses. This was the first commissioned piece shot on the camera to run on the Guardian website. You can see his first attempt here.

Hosted here with thanks to Smugmug in full 1080p this will need a fast computer and will take some time to download, so be patient. If you can’t get it to work then you can try a version in lower quality.

It is the story of Wang Chenyang, a student at the Wang Fei Basketball Training Camp at Shi Dai High School, told in his words. Basketball is fast becoming the biggest sport for China’s youth – and teenagers like Wang hope to become its new stars.

This film is not really videojournalism, more of a video portrait. The shoot was far from perfect – shot in only two hours and with only one camera battery as spares were unavailable. The whole thing was a rush.

There were problems with the dolly introducing vibrations, due to rushing to set up. There were also problems with the Steadicam not balancing well despite a day spent setting it up earlier in the week. Worst of all, footage was lost when a 8Gb card failed on me, mostly Steadicam work. Despite all this the film was put together.

Deliberately using high shutter speeds to create the Gladiator look on the action sequences. A lot of the action was shot handheld or on the Steadicam. The footage shows skew issues but it doesn’t ruin the film in the way it might with other subjects. All audio apart from the interview voice over is from the camera’s built in mic. The camera was set to a custom Picture style, many thanks to James Miller and to Matt Jasper of C4 news for the loan of the Wallydolly.

It was edited overnight in Final Cut Pro, using Apple ProRes 422 using Mpeg Streamclip to convert. Basic exposure and adjustments only, no grading. It was originally cut to the same Moby track that Vincent Laforet used for his now famous first 5dmkII film but sadly we could not get permission to use it in time.

The kit used was as follows:
Nikon 16mm f2.8; Nikon 17-35mm f2.8; Nikon 28mm f1.4; Voigtlander 58mm f1.4; Nikon 85mm f1.4; Nikon 80-200 f2.8; Edirol R-09 field recorder; Manhattan HD LCD monitor; Wallydolly; Miller DS20 tripod; Steadicam Merlin arm and vest.