Tech Check


  Wednesday, 4 Jan 2012 | 12:19 PM ET

Six Ways TVs of The Future Will Become More Intelligent

Posted By: Andrew Eisner|Director of Community HKSCKPVIamp; Content, Retrevo.com
A Samsung television displays Google TV enabled by the Logitech Companion Box at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center January 6, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology tradeshow, runs through January 9 and is expected to feature 2,700 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 126,000 attendees.
Getty Images
A Samsung television displays Google TV enabled by the Logitech Companion Box at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center January 6, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology tradeshow, runs through January 9 and is expected to feature 2,700 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 126,000 attendees.

Aside from 3D, HDTV, and color, changes in television set technology have been slow and subtle over the years, but with today’s changing tech landscape, TVs of the not-so-distant future could be intuitive, interactive devices that “watch us.” With the annual Consumer Electronics Show just around the corner, let’s look at some of the ways in which we can expect TVs to change.

1. TVs Will Watch You and Learn What You Like to Watch

It might take some face recognition technology already being demonstrated in the latest version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich), Apple’s iPhoto and even Facebook, combined with some machine learning and AI technology but imagine how useful it would be if your TV could watch you for a change, learning all about your viewing behavior including likes and dislikes. After becoming familiar with your TV viewing preferences, your TV could become a virtual assistant for you, recommending programs or incorporating recommendations from your network of friends.

2. TVs Will Understand Gestures and Voice

As long as your TV is watching you maybe it will apply gesture recognition technology similar to what Microsoft has developed for its Kinect game controller and allow you to interact with your TV by waving your hand or nodding your head and of course there’s always Apple’s Siri technology so you can have a dialog with your TV using natural language commands to instruct your TV what to do.

3. Recommendation Engines and Proactive Recording

The same recommendation technology we find so useful in web sites like Amazon , Yelp, Netflix , Retrevo and others will find its way into the TV of tomorrow. “Cloud,” recording of shows on a DVR may become less necessary however, for first run shows like news, sporting events and award shows there will remain a need to record shows and whether the DVR is built into your TV or it’s part of the cloud, your TV should be aware of what you record and what you end up watching so it can make recordings for you without you setting up the recording. A truly intelligent TV would record shows for you that you didn’t even ask to record or discover shows in the cloud that it thinks you might want to watch. In other words your TV could tell you, “I took the liberty of recording a new show I thought you’d want to watch.”

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  Thursday, 15 Dec 2011 | 11:52 AM ET

Today in Tech: Reading Tea Leaves on IBM

Posted By: Jon Fortt

IBM says it's buying Emptoris, Amazon gets a bullish call, and Verizon customers finally get the Galaxy Nexus.

Let's have a look at what's driving the sector this morning:

Amazon's been initiated at outperform at Morgan Keegan, with a $210 price target, on expectations it can continue gaining share in North America. Likely to help Amazon gain share? Its scheme to get customers using their smartphones to comparison shop in the physical stores of rivals.

IBMsays it's acquiring Emptoris, a software company that helps customers squeeze value out of the supply chain, right on the heels of its DemandTec and Curam Software last week. Let's take a moment and connect the dots: IBM is buying DemandTec, which helps retailers make more efficient decisions; Curam, which helps governments get more efficient with social services; and now Emptoris, which helps streamline supply chains. IBM is not only getting its Christmas shopping done early, it looks like it's positioning itself for a year where customers will be keen to cut costs.

And Verizon's finally launching the Galaxy Nexus today -- the hotly anticipated flagship phone running the latest version of Android, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich. Cost? $300 with contract.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com And you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt

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  Tuesday, 13 Dec 2011 | 2:47 PM ET

Strong Sales Expected in Cloud Computing

Posted By: Lauren DeLisa Coleman|Socio-Economic Digitalist, Emerging/Mobile Tech Consultant

As we begin to look ahead toward 2012, one of the biggest opportunities in technology is the business of Cloud computing. In fact, respected technology research firm Gartner just released its top 11 predictions for 2012 which included not only a strong forecast of increased revenue for the Cloud industry but also indicated that the game will change significantly in just a few months.

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  Tuesday, 13 Dec 2011 | 11:13 AM ET

Today in Tech: More Warning Signs for Tech in 2012

Posted By: Jon Fortt

New signs of trouble for the PC market, a new boss forMicrosoft's phone division, and new signs that the first half of 2012 may be tough for tech.

Let's have a look at what's driving the sector today:

Intel's warning yesterdayabout PC sales appears to be having a ripple effect: Ticonderoga lowered its price target on Microsoft from $34 to $31, though it's still rated a buy.

Microsoft switches bosses at its Windows Phone division: Steve Ballmer has replaced phone boss Andy Lees with phone engineering lead Terry Myerson. Lees isn't leaving the company, and will continue to report to Ballmer in an assignment driving adoption of Windows 8 and Windows Phone. You've got to think the move, promoting the engineering chief to lead Windows Phone, is designed to speed the development of features Microsoft needs to compete with Apple and Google .

And though gadget shopping season is in full swing, a cautionary tone: ARM, the chip design firm behind the mobile boom, has new ARM 8 core about to launch. But but after meeting with the company, analyst firm Benchmark still fears ARM's royalties will be under pressure in the first half, based on guidance warnings we've seen first from Texas Instruments , now Intel.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com And you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt

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  Friday, 9 Dec 2011 | 11:18 AM ET

Today in Tech: D-Day for HP and a Grand Opening for Apple

Posted By: Jon Fortt

It's decision day for HP's webOS, opening day for Apple's Grand Central retail store, and a rough day for the electronics supply chain.

Let's have a look at what's driving the sector:

Texas Instruments gave a disappointing mid-quarterupdate yesterday that sent the stock down more than 2.5 percent at the open. The Q4 EPS range is now between $.21 $.25 per share, on sales between $3.19 billion and $3.33 billion. The previous range was 28 cents to 36 cents a share on $3.26 billion to $3.54 billion in revenue. The culprit? Weak demand across multiple categories that use TXN's analog chips. Of course, this probably says more about Q1 2012 for the rest of the industry than Q4.

It is opening day for Apple's huge store in New York's Grand Central Terminal. The stats: 23,000 square feet, 315 employees, and rent? 180 bucks per square foot for 10 years.

Coming up later today around 4:30 on Closing Bell, I'll introduce you to Kiip, a startup run by fresh-faced Brian Wong, all of 20 years old. He's got a bright idea about how to reinvent in-game advertising by milking those moments when you feel like a winner.

And, today at 1:30 eastern, HP is holding an internal meeting revealing the fate of webOS, the long-suffering software it acquired with Palm.

My take? The decision shouldn't be whether to keep webOS, but how to do it without breaking the bank.

If HP's serious about the consumer market, owning its own intellectual property Is key. And with tablets like the iPad surging, HP's highly profitable printer revenue looks vulnerable in 2012. As more people buy tablets instead of PCs, they're also going to buy covers and cases (or 3G data plans) instead of printers. HP will need homegrown software to reinvent printing ... and to basically rethink the way information gets shared in the mobile era.

No matter which way it goes, this will go down as a key decision from new HP CEO Meg Whitman.

Share your thoughts -- hit me up on twitter @jonfortt. Have a great weekend.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com And you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt

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  Wednesday, 7 Dec 2011 | 12:15 PM ET

Today in Tech: Uber Expands, Flipboard gets Smaller, and RIM gets (more) Tough News

Posted By: Jon Fortt

Taxi cabs get a serious challenger, Flipboard gets an iPhone app, and developers get a bigger cut of the revenues from Microsoft's upcoming app store.

Let's take a look at what's driving the sector today:

Cannacord Genuity started coverage on a slew of online players:

eBay and Pandora were initiated at a hold, but with price targets at $34 (eBay) and $13 (Pandora), 10% to 30% above where they're currently trading.

Starting at a buy? Zillow ($32 target), LinkedIn ($85 target) and IAC ($55 target).

Another bit of bad news for BlackBerry maker RIM : A U.S. federal court has blocked the company from using the BBX trademark for its new operating system ... software development company Basis had cried foul, because it's called its product BBX for quite a while. RIM in a statement said it will start referring to the OS as BlackBerry 10.

Let's take a look at the biggest news from innovators.

Here's one to watch:Uber , a service that lets you order a car service on your smartphone and pay with your smartphone, has announced $32 million in a series B round of funding led by Menlo Ventures, Goldman Sachs and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's private investment arm. (It'll be $39 million by the time the round's over.) I caught up with V.C.

Shervin Pishevar of Menlo Ventures this morning to talk about Uber's plan to expand to 24 more cities in 2012, and asked -- what's Uber's secret sauce?

"They're hiring PhDs. They're hiring data scientists at Uber that are slicing and dicing that data, and basically figuring out what is the optimal way to route cars to consumers fastest," Pishevar said. "Also they see interesting economic indicators of how well a city is doing, how well a neighborhood is doing, based on the volume and traffic of Uber."

Plus, using the service sounds a lot better than hailing a cab.

A couple more headlines to watch:

Flipboard , a startup that's trying to reinvent digital publishing, is expanding beyond its iPad app that's done quite well -- today it's launched an iPhone app that allows you to stay up to speed on your social networks while also getting nuggets from mainstream publications. (The iPhone launch was popular enough that it temporarily knocked the entire Flipboard service offline.)

And Microsoft unveiled details of its Windows Store, its upcoming app store for Windows 8. The minimum price of apps will be $1.49, maximum just under a thousand dollars, and Microsoft will let developers of the highest-grossing apps keep 80 percent of the revenue.

Want to weigh in? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter @jonfortt .

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com And you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt

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  Tuesday, 6 Dec 2011 | 12:16 PM ET

Positive Signs for Apple Retail

Posted By: Jon Fortt
Apple Store
Apple Store

Apple's self checkout revolution may have seemed a bit crazy, but it's apparently working out.

That's what I hear from a source familiar with Apple's retail operation.

To catch you up: You might recall that last month Apple launched a few new retail store initiatives. Among them: a feature in the Apple Store iOS app that allows anyone with an iPhone or other camera-equipped iOS device to scan a bar code on any item on the shelf in an Apple store and pay for it using an iTunes account.

My first thought when I heard about this plan? It's going to make it a lot tougher for Apple to tell shoplifters from legitimate shoppers. In the past, someone walking out of the door with an iPhone case, no bag and no visible receipt was likely up to no good. Now Apple's actually encouraging that behavior.

But when I saw the system in action at the Palo Alto store last month, I saw more potential upside. Apple had reconfigured a couple of things in the store to put more eyes on the door. Plus, the system potentially accomplishes two important things. One, it lets experienced Apple shoppers go through the buying process seamlessly, without the final annoying step of having to flag down an employee to make a purchase. Two, it frees store employees to focus on coaching Apple newbies through the shopping process -- a much more profitable use of their time.

The intelligence I'm getting is that the benefits of the new system are outweighing any negatives.

This new setup could be particularly useful in a store like the one Apple's opening in Grand Central station on Friday. (I hear self checkout will be prominently touted there, which is no big surprise.) And the early success of this self checkout initiative bodes well for Apple's holiday sales. How so? Last fiscal year 13% of Apple's sales came through its retail stores -- and it's safe to assume that percentage is highest during the holiday season.

Apple could probably do $5 billion worth of holiday quarter business in its retail stores worldwide. If self checkout is working, that means it's allowing Apple to add sales in those locations without having to increase labor costs. That's got to be good for EPS.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com And you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt

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  Tuesday, 29 Nov 2011 | 5:49 PM ET

HP Smacks Down Printer Fire Report

Posted By: Jennifer Leigh Parker|Writer, CNBC.com

Hewlett-Packard has refuted what it called "sensational and inaccurate reporting" suggesting hackers could use a newly discovered security vulnerability to spark a fire in some HP LaserJet printers.

Even the Columbia University researchers who discovered the security flaw said today they were not able to set a printer on fire.

The researchers do believe the vulnerability could potentially be used to disable printers and steal personal information.

HP acknowledges a security problem, but says no customers have reported unauthorized access to its printers. The company is working to close the hole.

The Columbia researchers found HP's printers contain a flaw that can allow hackers to remotely take control of the devices.

"Any modern printer has a computer inside of it. That computer runs software which is as vulnerable as the computer inside a PC. We found a way to completely re-write the printer's software to do bad things. We were trying to inject security to prevent it from being attacked when we found this major flaw," says Columbia professor Salvatore Stolfo, the researchers' director.

A report on MSNBC.com suggested the flaw could be used to give a printer "instructions so frantic that it could eventually catch fire."

The researchers don't agree. "We were not able to make the printer go on fire. That wasn't the purpose of the research. There is a thermal switch. When the printer reached a critical temperature, it cuts the power," Stolfo explained. "It's not the hardware, it's the software that's the problem."

In its news release , Hewlett-Packard noted that all of its LaserJet printers have a "thermal breaker" that prevents overheating. The company said the hardware protection "cannot be overcome by a firmware change or this proposed vulnerability."

The MSNBC.com report said that in a demonstration, the printer did shut itself down before a fire started, "but the researchers believe other printers might be used as fire starters, giving computer hackers a dangerous new tool that could allow simple computer code to wreak real-world havoc."

HP said it is working to remove the vulnerability. "HP is building a firmware upgrade to mitigate this issue and will be communicating this proactively to customers and partners who may be impacted. In the meantime, HP reiterates its recommendation to follow best practices for securing devices by placing printers behind a firewall and, where possible, disabling remote firmware upload on exposed printers."

The revelation here is that printers can be remotely controlled over the internet. As HP recommends, a firewall is the best way to restricts access to authorized users only. You'll need a password to access it, thus blocking the worldwide web.

If you're using a corporate computer, your server likely has a firewall between it and the Internet. The strength of the firewall on these and other printers, however, is still an open question.

"Printers belong to a class of single-purpose devices, which are ubiquitous. While there is embedded software in them, there is no anti-virus that runs on them. Embedded systems are inherently insecure. The industry should pay attention," adds Stolfo.

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  Thursday, 17 Nov 2011 | 3:02 PM ET

The Case For an Amazon Smartphone

Posted By: Jon Fortt

Now that Amazon has launched the Kindle Fire —which is virtually assured to be the bestselling Android tablet of the year — there's a new rumor afloat: That Amazon is building a phone.

The first real fuel for that rumor came today from Citi analyst Mark Mahaney, who wrote in a note that his channel checks suggest Amazon is using some of the same partners that assemble the Kindle to put together a phone.

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  Monday, 14 Nov 2011 | 2:43 PM ET

Google's Big Amazon Problem

Posted By: Jon Fortt
Android and iPhone
Android and iPhone

Don't look now, but Amazon is stealing Android from Google .

Exhibit A: Amazon's Kindle Fire. It's a 7-inch tablet that runs Android, and it's practically guaranteed to be the best-selling Android tablet of the year, after being on shelves less than two months. (Reviews of the Fire hit the web today. It's available for sale this month.)

Why does this matter? Mobile is a key part of Google's growth strategy, and Android is Google's most important mobile investment.

Here's the strategy behind Google's approach with Android: Google pays to develop the guts of the Android OS, to market it, to put a fresh user interface on it and to develop an ecosystem of apps. In return, it expects hardware makers that use Android to build in Google services.

Usually this isn't a problem. Because if hardware makers want to use any of Google's apps in Android — services like Mail, Maps, Calendar, even the Android Market for apps — they have to include all of them, and follow Google's rules about how they're used.

Enter Amazon. Amazon doesn't need Google. So it has taken Android and built its own interface, apps, and marketplace on top of it. The Kindle Fire can still run Android apps -- but it's out of Google's control, and Amazon has more influence than Google over who gets profit from the platform.

See the problem here? Google has spent a lot of time and money promoting Android, and now Amazon is swooping in and hijacking it.

If you just look at the aggregate numbers for Android adoption, this isn't a problem. But for Google specifically? Google has paid to create Android and to market it, and to create services on top of it. If the Kindle Fire (and its inevitable descendants) are successful, Google will have to pay again to get its services on those devices. If you're a Google investor, that's not ideal.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com And you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt

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