New iPhones and iOS 7 Team Up for Winning Combo

It's perfectly reasonable to assume that anyone thinking about buying a new iPhone when the latest devices hit retail on Friday would fixate on the hardware itself, especially with Apple trotting out two new models.

Apple is unleashing colorful handsets called the iPhone 5c, priced at $99 to start with a contract. And a brand new $199-on-up flagship phone, the iPhone 5s, brings with it beefy 64-bit computing power, a souped-up camera and the feature most people are pointing to, the Touch ID fingerprint reader.

But the biggest change to come to the iPhone arrives with iOS 7, the operating system at the heart of the newest handsets. As of Wednesday, it can also be downloaded to freshen up the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and the now discontinued iPhone 5 as well as some iPads and the iPod Touch.

Taken in totality, the features new to the iPhone 5s make what I consider to be the best smartphone on the market even better, helped enormously by Apple owning the entire end-to-end experience. In my view, iOS is still simpler to use than Android, and made even simpler in iOS 7. Apple releases the new operating system for all of its phones at one time, while Android updates come to devices in a more scattered fashion. And Apple still claims the most apps.

That said, I highly regard many of Apple's Android and Windows Phone rivals. Nor am I blind to what Apple didn't do and the fact that the company is playing catch-up with some features. It would have been nice, for example, for Apple to include stereo speakers like those found on the latest HTC One rather than the mono speakers in the new devices. The truth is, folks mostly listen through headphones or external speakers.

I'm a little more disappointed that Apple stuck...

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New iPhones and iOS 7 Team Up for Winning Combo

It's perfectly reasonable to assume that anyone thinking about buying a new iPhone when the latest devices hit retail on Friday would fixate on the hardware itself, especially with Apple trotting out two new models.

Apple is unleashing colorful handsets called the iPhone 5c, priced at $99 to start with a contract. And a brand new $199-on-up flagship phone, the iPhone 5s, brings with it beefy 64-bit computing power, a souped-up camera and the feature most people are pointing to, the Touch ID fingerprint reader.

But the biggest change to come to the iPhone arrives with iOS 7, the operating system at the heart of the newest handsets. As of Wednesday, it can also be downloaded to freshen up the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and the now discontinued iPhone 5 as well as some iPads and the iPod Touch.

Taken in totality, the features new to the iPhone 5s make what I consider to be the best smartphone on the market even better, helped enormously by Apple owning the entire end-to-end experience. In my view, iOS is still simpler to use than Android, and made even simpler in iOS 7. Apple releases the new operating system for all of its phones at one time, while Android updates come to devices in a more scattered fashion. And Apple still claims the most apps.

That said, I highly regard many of Apple's Android and Windows Phone rivals. Nor am I blind to what Apple didn't do and the fact that the company is playing catch-up with some features. It would have been nice, for example, for Apple to include stereo speakers like those found on the latest HTC One rather than the mono speakers in the new devices. The truth is, folks mostly listen through headphones or external speakers.

I'm a little more disappointed that Apple stuck...

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Microsoft Joins the Buyback Bandwagon

Microsoft's announcement of a 22% increase in its dividend Tuesday contained an even bigger potential present for investors: a $40 billion stock buyback program.

By announcing its massive buyback program, Microsoft joined a legion of companies opting to use their cash to invest in their own stock.

Companies are announcing buybacks in a big way, increasing them 18.1% to $118.1 billion in the second quarter from a year earlier, says Standard & Poor's senior index analyst, Howard Silverblatt. That's the most since the third quarter of 2007.

Tech rival Apple's $16 billion in second-quarter buybacks was an enormous part of the buyback story in the second quarter. Without its stock repurchases, buybacks would have increased just 2%.

Why the rush to buy back stock? Companies have lots of cash, and buying back stock is a safer play than buying other companies or even increasing dividends. Once a company boosts its dividend, it's reluctant to reduce it, because Wall Street sees a dividend cut as a sign of weakness.

And buying back stock is better than letting corporate cash languish on the books, where it earns little. Right now, companies have a record $1.14 trillion in cash and equivalents.

Making the announcement isn't the same as buying back the stock. Some companies announce buybacks but never buy back the stock, or as much stock as they announced.

Many companies -- particularly tech companies -- use buybacks to fund stock options. And that doesn't reduce the number of shares outstanding, so there is no benefit to shareholders as a whole. Tech companies, which are heavy users of options programs, account for 31.5% of all expenditures for buybacks.

Not all companies are particularly good at buying back their stock. In the second quarter of 2009, near the bottom of the bear market, companies in the S&P 500 bought back just $24.2...

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Review: iPhone Fingerprint Sensor Worth Extra Cost

Passcodes are such a pain that I've relaxed the security settings on my Android phone. I'm willing to forgo the extra safety, just so I'm asked to punch in the code less often. When I got my hands on Apple's new iPhone 5S, one of the first things I tried was a feature that allows you to bypass the passcode using a fingerprint.

I had a lot of fun unlocking the phone over and over again. Who knew biometric authentication could be such a blast?

The fingerprint sensor alone is worth the extra $100 you'll pay for the 5S over an iPhone 5C. Both phones will come out Friday. In the week I've had with both, I've also been impressed with the better camera and slow-motion video in the 5S.

The 5C, meanwhile, is largely last year's iPhone 5 with a plastic casing instead of aluminum and glass. This isn't cheap plastic, but a type offering the slippery feel of a shiny ceramic tile. It comes in five colors.

Both phones come with iOS 7, the most radical change to Apple's operating system software for mobile devices since its 2007 debut. Many of the changes are cosmetic, but there are functional improvements such as easier access to frequently used settings and apps.

I will review iOS 7 separately. Many existing iPhone users won't need more than the free update, which is available starting Wednesday. Neither the 5C nor the 5S offers improvements on the screen size, which remains at 4 inches (10 centimeters) diagonally. But new features and new colors may draw you to one of these new iPhones.

IPHONE 5S

(Available in silver, gold or gray; starts at $199 with two-year service contract, or $649 without a contract):

When you set up the 5S, you're asked to tap the home...

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HP First To Embed Leap Motion Tech in PC

If you're reading this on a laptop, in a few years you might be navigating this article by waving your hands in front of the screen. That could be a common mode of laptop interaction, if Hewlett-Packard's embedding of Leap Motion technology catches on.

On Thursday, the companies announced that the gestural technology will be available as part of the HP Envy 17 Leap Motion Special Edition laptop, which features a 17.3-inch 1920 x 1080 screen and will available for pre-order on October 16 for a starting price of $1,050.

Leap Motion's app store software, Airspace, is pre-installed on the Envy 17, as are drivers for the controller. The laptop also features a Haswell Intel Core i7 processor and a one terabyte hard disc. Several Leap Motion-enabled apps are also included, including a drawing program.

Reduced by 70 Percent

This is the first embedded use of the Leap Motion technology in a computer. The company's small controller, which connects to a computer via a USB, went on sale this summer. In January, Leap Motion said that computer maker Asus would bundle its controller with several models, and a deal to embed its technology in some unspecified HP models was announced in April.

The standalone controller, about the size of a pack of cigarettes and priced around $80, offers a 150-degree field of view and a high-resolution capability to track all 10 fingers up to 290 frames per second with 1/100th of a millimeter resolution.

In order to embed its controller in the HP laptop, Leap Motion said that it has reduced its size by 70 percent. The controller sensor resides in the laptop's wrist rest, and is only .14 inches in height. The company also said that it is currently in discussions with other computer makers to similarly embed its technology, but no specific brands...

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HP First To Embed Leap Motion Tech in PC

If you're reading this on a laptop, in a few years you might be navigating this article by waving your hands in front of the screen. That could be a common mode of laptop interaction, if Hewlett-Packard's embedding of Leap Motion technology catches on.

On Thursday, the companies announced that the gestural technology will be available as part of the HP Envy 17 Leap Motion Special Edition laptop, which features a 17.3-inch 1920 x 1080 screen and will available for pre-order on October 16 for a starting price of $1,050.

Leap Motion's app store software, Airspace, is pre-installed on the Envy 17, as are drivers for the controller. The laptop also features a Haswell Intel Core i7 processor and a one terabyte hard disc. Several Leap Motion-enabled apps are also included, including a drawing program.

Reduced by 70 Percent

This is the first embedded use of the Leap Motion technology in a computer. The company's small controller, which connects to a computer via a USB, went on sale this summer. In January, Leap Motion said that computer maker Asus would bundle its controller with several models, and a deal to embed its technology in some unspecified HP models was announced in April.

The standalone controller, about the size of a pack of cigarettes and priced around $80, offers a 150-degree field of view and a high-resolution capability to track all 10 fingers up to 290 frames per second with 1/100th of a millimeter resolution.

In order to embed its controller in the HP laptop, Leap Motion said that it has reduced its size by 70 percent. The controller sensor resides in the laptop's wrist rest, and is only .14 inches in height. The company also said that it is currently in discussions with other computer makers to similarly embed its technology, but no specific brands...

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In-Store App Purchases: Where Mobile Meets the Money

Apple started a mobile app store revolution -- and plenty of people are making plenty of money from the concept. Indeed, mobile app stores will see annual downloads reach 102 billion in 2013, according to market research firm Gartner Inc. That's up from 64 billion in 2012.

Money-wise, total revenue in 2013 will reach $26 billion, up from $18 billion in 2012. And that's even with free apps accounting for 91 percent of total downloads. But the real money is in in-app purchases (IAPs). Gartner said IAPs will account for 48 percent of app store revenue by 2017, up from 11 percent in 2012.

"We expect strong growth in downloads through 2014, but growth is forecast to slow down a bit in later years," said Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner. "The average downloads per device should be high in early years as users get new devices and discover the apps they like. Over time they accumulate a portfolio of apps they like and stick to, so there will be moderate numbers of downloads in the later years."

Major Monetization Method

According to Gartner, IAP purchases will drive 17 percent of the store revenue in 2013 and increase to 48 percent in 2017. Much the same as downloads, IAP is expected to post strong growth in 2013 and 2014 and slow in later years. As Gartner sees it, this is because smart devices are reaching more mass-market consumers who are not as willing --- or cannot afford -- to spend on IAPs as early adopters. Nevertheless, Gartner said, IAP will become a major monetization method for apps stores and developers.

Brian Blau, research director at Gartner, noted that free apps currently account for about 60 percent and 80 percent of the total available apps in Apple's App Store and Google Play, respectively....

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In-Store App Purchases: Where Mobile Meets the Money

Apple started a mobile app store revolution -- and plenty of people are making plenty of money from the concept. Indeed, mobile app stores will see annual downloads reach 102 billion in 2013, according to market research firm Gartner Inc. That's up from 64 billion in 2012.

Money-wise, total revenue in 2013 will reach $26 billion, up from $18 billion in 2012. And that's even with free apps accounting for 91 percent of total downloads. But the real money is in in-app purchases (IAPs). Gartner said IAPs will account for 48 percent of app store revenue by 2017, up from 11 percent in 2012.

"We expect strong growth in downloads through 2014, but growth is forecast to slow down a bit in later years," said Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner. "The average downloads per device should be high in early years as users get new devices and discover the apps they like. Over time they accumulate a portfolio of apps they like and stick to, so there will be moderate numbers of downloads in the later years."

Major Monetization Method

According to Gartner, IAP purchases will drive 17 percent of the store revenue in 2013 and increase to 48 percent in 2017. Much the same as downloads, IAP is expected to post strong growth in 2013 and 2014 and slow in later years. As Gartner sees it, this is because smart devices are reaching more mass-market consumers who are not as willing --- or cannot afford -- to spend on IAPs as early adopters. Nevertheless, Gartner said, IAP will become a major monetization method for apps stores and developers.

Brian Blau, research director at Gartner, noted that free apps currently account for about 60 percent and 80 percent of the total available apps in Apple's App Store and Google Play, respectively....

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Does Your Company Need a Chief Customer Officer?

Type "Chief Customer Officer" (CCO) into Google and you'll get about 215,000 results in 0.15 seconds. A relatively new addition to the C-suite, chief customer officers are typically found in customer-centric companies and charged with driving strong relationships with the firm's customers.

The question is: Does your company need a CCO?

Rackspace Hosting, an open cloud hosting company, is one company that thinks the answer is yes. In September, the company hired Taylor Rhodes as its first-ever CCO to lead the firm's Enterprise, SMB and International divisions. He's responsible for the "Sales and Fanatical Support" organizations, worldwide.

Fanatical Support is a phrase that describes the hosting provider's extreme commitment to providing outstanding customer service. In fact, the company decided to appoint a CCO because providing high-end service is so key to the company's overall success.

Relentless Focus on Customers

Rackspace isn't the only tech player to add a CCO to its roster. Earlier this year, Lithium Technologies, a social customer experience company, created the role of senior vice president and CCO, and selected Misha Logvinov for the job. The goal was to build the company's "relentless focus on the long-term success of its global customers."

In his role as chief customer officer, Logvinov is responsible for helping orchestrate Lithium's entire customer value chain. He will partner with the worldwide sales and services organization to drive Lithium's core value of "taking customer success personally." Noteworthy is the fact that he was previously CIO.

"As Lithium continues to grow, our customers demand relentless focus on solving the cross-functional customer experience challenges they face with all technology providers" said Lithium president and CEO Rob Tarkoff. "Misha is a vigorous supporter and staunch advocate of our customers, and as a CIO he is an expert in streamlining internal systems and improving the overall customer success experience."

Weighing the Possibilities

But just...

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Google May Ditch Cookies as Online Ad Tracker

Google, the largest Internet search company, is considering a major change in how online browsing activity is tracked, a move that could shake up the $120 billion digital advertising industry.

Google is developing an anonymous identifier for advertising, or AdID, that would replace third-party cookies as the way advertisers track people's Internet browsing activity for marketing purposes, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The AdID would be transmitted to advertisers that have agreed to basic guidelines, giving consumers more privacy and control over how they browse the Web, the person said, on condition of anonymity because the plan is private.

"Technological enhancements can improve users' security while ensuring the Web remains economically viable. We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they're all at very early stages," Google spokesman Rob Shilkin said. He declined to comment further.

Google's move will be closely watched by the ad industry because the company is the leader in online advertising and its Chrome browser is the world's most popular, having surged ahead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari in recent years.

The cookie -- a small line of text with an identification tag that is integrated into browsers -- for years has been the staple way to recognize users when they visit Web sites. First-party cookies are placed on people's computers by companies that run Web sites, while third-party cookies are from other entities that collect data on browsing activity.

The technology is used by the ad industry to build a picture of people's interests, so more relevant ads can be shown to them online. However, cookies are controversial because tracking technology has become so sophisticated that it has raised privacy concerns.

Apple's Safari browser has blocked third-party cookies since 2003, and the technology giant introduced its own ad identifiers for its...

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