CEO Steve Ballmer Leaving Microsoft Within 12 Months

Is a new Microsoft being born? That's one of the questions being raised following news that CEO Steve Ballmer will be stepping down within the next 12 months.

The announcement was made Friday, and the company said Ballmer would continue as CEO until his departure. "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition," Ballmer said in a statement, "but now is the right time." Ballmer became CEO in 2000, taking over from Gates.

A special committee has been appointed by the Board of Directors to find a successor. The committee is chaired by John Thompson, the board's lead independent director, and also includes such board members as Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates, former Bank of America CFO Charles Noski, and Seagate CEO Steve Luczo. A leading executive recruiting firm, Heidrick & Struggles, will work with the committee.

Internal Candidates

Given that Ballmer has said for some time that he intended to retire when all his children had completed high school, which reportedly will not take place until several years from now, a key question is whether Ballmer's departure was his own decision.

In his statement accompanying the announcement, Ballmer noted that the company needs a CEO "who will be here longer term" for the company's ongoing transformation from being primarily a software company to becoming a "devices and services company."

The company said that both internal and external candidates will be considered, which raises the possibility that a CEO from the outside could help reshape the company. Internal candidates include Julie Larson-Green, who oversees devices and entertainment, and Tony Bates, ex-CEO of Skype and now head of business development.

July Reorganization

Ballmer has been criticized during his leadership on various fronts, not the least of which has been Microsoft's inability to obtain a leadership position in the critical mobile market.

Neither the...

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Can Apple Maps Redeem Itself on iOS7?

Seemingly determined to come out with a solution that competes against Google Maps, Apple is on a mapping acquisition streak. The company has reportedly snapped up yet another mapping technology company.

This time, Apple is betting on Embark. Embark is a mobile application designed to make it easy to get around cities using mass transit. Among other features, the iOS and Android application tells users when trains and busses are coming and will send push notifications when services are delayed.

With over half a million users and rapid growth, Embark's mobile application is working to bring urban transportation into the age of the smartphone and has attracted plenty of investors -- including BMW. Embark is available for 12 major transportation systems in the United States and the United Kingdom. Recently, Embark won best transit and mobility app awards from the New York MTA App Quest and NYC Big Apps 3.0 contests.

Stacking Up Mapping Tech

We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his thoughts on Apple's latest mapping acquisition. He told us this is another company in the mass transit arena that also offers the iPhone-maker some useful data and technology, such as offline transit maps.

"This acquisition complements the HopStop acquisition from just a few weeks ago," Sterling added. "This, HopStop and the earlier Locationary buy indicate that Apple is further beefing up its mapping and location data capabilities to try and better serve Apple users and compete with Google Maps. Mapping is one of the key capabilities of mobile devices and, arguably, for the iPhone to remain competitive with Android the core maps on the device must be top-tier."

Apple has struggled to get its mapping software on the right track after an embarrassing debut and plenty of consumer backlash. HopStop brought a pedestrian navigation...

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Apple Files Application for Status Message Patent

Dealing with calls when busy is annoying, and the only solution tends to be turning off the phone altogether, not always the best idea. Apple appears to be addressing this common problem with a new patent filing for status messages that could be displayed to people who are trying to contact you.

The application for the patent, uncovered by Apple Insider, reveals plans for away, available, and busy statuses similar to the ones found on many instant messaging programs as well as on Skype. In theory, this feature could prevent people from receiving calls whenever they are in a situation which prevents them from talking.

The Filing

Apple filed the patent application for the status messages with the U.S. Patent Office. According to the document, it is for "Methods to determine availability of user based on mobile phone status" or in other words, an away message. Not only would the statuses be displayed to potential callers but the other phone's battery life and location would also be made available.

In the filing, Apple described the feature as follows:

"A command is received at an operating system of a first mobile phone for displaying contact information of a remote user having a mobile phone number of a second mobile phone. In response to the command, a request is transmitted to a remote server from the first mobile phone over a cellular network requesting an operating status of the second mobile phone. The operating status of the second mobile phone is received from the remote server over the cellular network. The operating status of the second mobile phone is displayed on a display of the first mobile phone as a part of contact information of the remote user associated with the second mobile phone, where the operating status includes current locality of the second mobile phone."

Privacy Concerns...

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Intel Develops Critical LTE Multimode Chipset

The battle of the mobile-chip giants has moved into a new phase. This week, Intel previewed its new LTE wireless data chipset and said it is on schedule for shipping later this month, potentially moving it into position to take on mobile giant Qualcomm.

The new chipset, the XMM7160, is designed for multimode 4G LTE, and Aicha Evans, vice president and general manager of Intel's wireless platforms R&D, confirmed in a press briefing this week that the product is on schedule. The market for 4G LTE devices is already huge, with about 1 billion LTE mobile phones shipping annually.

Evans told news media that data networking through LTE will deliver the first experience of Internet browsing for those people in the world whose only computing device is a phone. She added that LTE costs will not be low enough until African fishermen can afford network data access on their smartphones. That day will mean not only that fishermen benefit, but that the manufacturers have successfully penetrated the fast-growing emerging markets.

103 Megabits Down

The Intel executive also said that "this is the first time that anyone in the industry is rooting for us to succeed," so that Intel can provide a competitive balance to Qualcomm's dominating position.

In addition to simply offering data networking where it did not exist before, LTE can also provide smoother video playback, including high definition video, and better music streaming, gaming, downloads and other high-performance functions. Intel said its LTE chip can download data at 103 megabits per second in ideal conditions, and upload at 49 megabits per second -- a performance good enough to maintain three videoconferences simultaneously.

The XMM7160 is designed to handle 15 LTE bands, which could be a critical factor in its acceptance since there are more than 30 wireless spectrum bands across the...

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Omate Crowdfunds Smart Watch in 1 Day

In just one day, Omate's smart watch has raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter. Wearable technology is becoming more popular, especially in the form of watches and glasses, and the Omate TrueSmart is a prime example of that.

Omate's TrueSmart went up for funding on Wednesday, and by the following morning it had received $160,000, which surpassed its $100,000 goal. Unlike many projects that reach a crowdfunding site, Omate has already put together a working prototype of the TrueSmart, which likely increased its ability to attain backers.

A Tough Market

Throughout the past year, many wearable tech projects have tried to obtain funding either through crowdfunding sites or traditional venture capitalists. Although many of them have either failed or have resulted in sub-par devices, the Omate TrueSmart could end up being successful.

Omate is up against stiff competition from established companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung that are all working their way into the wearable technology market. In fact, Omate put up its project just one week before Samsung is expected to reveal its Galaxy Gear smart watch.

Larger technology companies have yet to come out with watches, but many analysts expect them to have similar features to the Omate TrueSmart. Attaining a large enough audience when going up against international powerhouses such as Samsung will be Omate's most significant challenge.

Wearable Tech 2.0

The first generation of wearable technology devices have been relatively useless to most customers, which has resulted in many of them becoming novelty products instead of mainstream devices. smart watches such as the Pebble and CooKoo have relied on phone connectivity via Bluetooth for most of their features, but the TrueSmart operates differently.

Unlike the devices currently on the market, Omate has developed the TrueSmart so that it will work as a standalone Android device that operates without connecting to a smartphone....

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Teens Crave Digital Privacy, Too

Teenagers crave privacy -- and it's no different when it comes to their data. So says a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The group reports that teens with mobile devices have embraced app downloading -- but many teen app users have taken steps to uninstall or avoid apps over concerns about their privacy.

"Location information is considered especially sensitive to teen girls, as a majority of them have disabled location tracking features on cell phones and in apps because they are worried about others' access to that information," Pew reports.

Nail in the Coffin

We asked Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins for his thoughts on the study. He told us the Pew report is another nail in the coffin of the myth that young people don't care about privacy.

"The majority of teen users have avoided apps because of privacy concerns," Higgins said. "That should be a major wake-up call to mobile developers that incorporating privacy by design is not just important to protect the rights of their users, but also for their own bottom line."

Here are some quick statistics to paint a picture: Fifty-eight percent of all teens have downloaded apps to their cell phones or tablet computers and 51 percent of teen app users have avoided certain apps due to privacy concerns.

Meanwhile, 26 percent of teen app users have uninstalled apps because they learned they were collecting personal information that they didn't wish to share. And 46 percent of teen app users have turned off location tracking features on their cell phones or in apps because they were worried about the privacy of their information.

Teens and Social Media Privacy

Many teens ages 12 to 17 report that they usually figure out how to manage content sharing and privacy settings on their own, according to Pew, but 70 percent of...

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After Sony Shares Plans, ESPN Shopping Internet TV Deals

The Internet TV talks are heating up. The latest news comes from the Walt Disney Co. According to Bloomberg, Disney's ESPN sports network is in talks to offer its programming on Internet TV services like the one Sony announced last week.

Bloomberg quoted ESPN president John Skipper saying the Internet TV provider would have to pay as much as or more than cable and satellite services to get its content. He said Internet TV services would have to buy "the whole suite of products. We're not going to offer one-offs."

By the whole suite of products, Skipper means ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News and the various mobile apps the broadcaster has developed. ESPN has plenty to bargain with as media research firm SNL Kagan reports it is the most valuable channel -- driving the highest subscriber fees -- on basic cable. ESPN 3D is the second highest at $2.71 per subscriber.

Exclusive Deals?

Specifically, SNL Kagan reveals basic cable customers paid an average of $5.06 a month for ESPN in 2012 -- and the broadcaster has nearly 100 million subscribers. That has caused Fox and others to jump in with rival services. By way of comparison, the NFL Network is in sixth place at $.84 per subscriber while ESPN2 is eighth at $.82.

We caught up with Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, to get his thoughts on the rush toward Internet TV. He told us Sony may be the first to do a deal with Viacom, but few of these providers are interested in doing an exclusive deal, at least for long.

"None of them, for example, has an exclusive deal with traditional pay TV providers, at least by choice," he said. "Assuming the deal has been done, though, it would represent progress by at least one other over-the-top provider after Intel to...

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Ex-Windows Chief Sinofsky Puts on VC Hat

Less than a year ago, the rumor mill was churning about a clash between Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Windows Chief Steve Sinofsky that seemingly caused Sinofsky to leave the company in November 2012. Now, the former president of both Windows and Windows Live will be working with Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Sinofsky is joining the firm as a board partner, in what he calls a "unique" role. In the new position, Sinofsky will represent the firm on the boards of portfolio companies, when called upon, but will not be a full-time member of the firm.

"I'm relatively new to the VC world and have a lot of learning to do -- and I am very excited to do that," Sinofsky wrote in a blog post. "I can't think of a better place to do this than a16z [short for Andreessen Horowitz], as they share the commitment to learning and sharing that learning, for example through all the blog posts the GPs write."

A Team Player?

Sinofsky brings 23 years of Microsoft experience to the table. While in Redmond, Ballmer credited him with building an "incredible foundation" with new releases of Microsoft Office, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft Surface, Windows Server 2012 and Halo 4, as well as the integration of services such as Bing, Skype and Xbox across all the company's products.

But for all Sinofsky's success, he tended to ruffle feathers. Upon his departure from Microsoft in November last year, Enderle Group principal analyst Rob Enderle told us Sinofsky wasn't the right man to help Ballmer connect the dots in building a homogenous solution that crosses services on the backend, hardware on the front end, with Microsoft at both ends in between.

Andreessen, however, seems to believe Sinofsky is the right guy for the board partner role. In his blog...

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Apple iCloud Services Hit in Thursday Outage

Apple's multiple iCloud services started showing signs of trouble late Wednesday and continued into Thursday. At the time of this writing, there is no official word from Apple on what caused the problem, but the outage clearly affected a range of popular iCloud services.

How serious was the effect? One can play the numbers and show a glass half-full, as Apple said this service glitch affected less than 1 percent of users, which is true. But here is the glass rather empty: 1 percent could be close to millions, as iCloud users total hundreds of millions, with reports of close to 300 million members.

Those affected by the outage were scrambling unsuccessfully to do their favorite iCloud tasks as they sat down to breakfast on Thursday.

Oh No, Did You Send Me a Cat Pic?

Backup & Restore, Documents in the Cloud, iWork for iCloud, Photo Stream, iPhotoJournals all were affected, as was the ability to send or download iMessage attachments, according to an earlier official status update page from Apple.

For a very brief period, users had been unable to make iTunes purchases (Apple said that 16 percent of users had been affected). Apple also noted a brief period that took place on Wednesday when some users may have been unable to create Apple IDs.

At the time of this writing, according to Apple's official system status page, the company's use of the past tense jumped out into view, as it suggested relief for affected users -- Apple noted that for multiple services less than 1 percent of users "were" affected.

Not for a Minute

iCloud is a popular suite of cloud storage services, a successor to MobileMe. Users can store photos and other types of content using iCloud.

Thursday's service problems were frustrating for affected users in that the problems did not last...

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Samsung Smart Watch Rumored for Event Sept. 4

Will your next smartphone be on your wrist? The possibility of that happening may increase, if rumors that Samsung will release a smart watch in early September are accurate.

The reports center on an event that Samsung has planned for Sept. 4 in Berlin, two days before the giant IFA consumer electronics show there, and one week before Apple is expected to unveil its new iPhone. According to Bloomberg News Service, the Android-based device will be called the Galaxy Gear, and it will be able to make phone calls, surf the Web, e-mail and perform other functions we now associate with smartphones.

Bloomberg cited "two people familiar with the matter" who remain unidentified. Samsung has reportedly been working on several forms of flexible displays, but Bloomberg says that the initial version of this device will not utilize such technology. Samsung confirmed to news media several months ago that it was developing a smart watch.

'Tipping Point'

Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that he was "absolutely expecting to see smart watches from a variety of vendors" soon. The "tipping point" has been reached, he said, since the "technology in smartphones has gotten small enough" that useful functions can be handled by small, wearable devices.

He pointed out that "consumers are already walking around with these small computers in their pocket," meaning smartphones, and now some of that work can be offloaded to small companion devices like a smart watch. Greengart said it wasn't clear if Samsung was actually going to unveil its smart watch on Sept. 4, but he was expecting the next version of the Galaxy Note tablet to be shown then. Reports indicate that the next Note, the Galaxy Note 3, will be a combination smartphone and tablet.

No one actually knows how big the market for smart...

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