WhatsApp introduces six new sticker packs for iOS, Android
Media|: Washington: With the latest update on the instant messaging service, WhatsApp has recently released six new sticker packs for iOS and Android on the sticker store. As reported by Mashable, the feature was first spotted by WABetaInfo, a popular website that posts regular updates around WhatsApp. According to WABetaInfo, sticker packs are available now on the WhatsApp sticker store. A user can access them by opening any chat, tapping the sticker button and the 'more' icon. In case one is not able to spot the new stickers in the store, a user will be able to see them after 30 minutes. Per Mashable, the six sticker packs that have been released on WhatsApp includes egg and chup, realistic rabbit, betakkuma 2, square cheese's daily life, woman cactus, and a burdensome pigeon named eagle. All the stickers look super cute and fun and would certainly make the conversations over the platform more engaging. In related news, WhatsApp is testing a new feature called 'review' that will allow WhatsApp users to preview their voice note or voice message before sending them. The review button feature is currently under development and will be released soon for both Android and iOS users. Moreover, WhatsApp recently also added to the app a new 'Covid-19 vaccination centre' related functionality under its MyGov chatbot to help users find the vaccination centres in their locality.
Signal reveals how Facebook, Instagram collect your data for ads
Instagram rolls out auto-captioning sticker in Stories
Media|World|: San Francisco: Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram is rolling out a new sticker to Stories that allows English-speaking users to add auto-generated captions to their videos. The company said it will also start testing automated captions in Reels soon. Captions have been available in IGTV and the Threads app, and Instagram said it's adding them to Stories and Reels to make them more efficient and inclusive to watch. The feature should be a welcome addition for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, are not native English speakers, or just generally watch videos without sound, The Verge reported. The edit option lists each word of the captions separately. You can tap on individual words to make adjustments. Like other text options in Stories, users can adjust the style and color of the captions after they're generated. People can also edit individual words in the captions to correct spelling, punctuation, or any words that weren't transcribed accurately. Auto captions rarely have perfect accuracy, especially for people with accents or atypical speech, so editing is crucial. There's currently no option to have the text highlighted for better visual contrast, but you can use the Draw tool or a sticker behind the captions to make them easier to see. Other platforms and services have recently added or improved auto-captioning options. Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams all offer automated captions for video calls. Google expanded its Live Caption feature across the Chrome browser in March and TikTok launched automatic captions for US English and Japanese last month.
New Facebook 'Neighbourhoods' feature to connect local communities
Media|World|: San Francisco: Facebook on Wednesday announced to test a new hyperlocal feature called Neighbourhoods that will be a dedicated space to help you connect with your neighbours, participate in your local community and discover new places nearby in the pandemic-hit world. This feature is currently available in Canada and will begin to roll out to select US cities soon. Neighbourhoods is an opt-in experience within the Facebook app so you choose whether to join Neighborhoods and create a profile. To join, you'll need to be 18 years or older and confirm your neighborhood. "You can choose to join just your own neighborhood or, in addition, you also have the option to join your Nearby Neighborhoods to see neighbors and posts from your surrounding neighborhoods," the company said in a statement. When you create your Neighborhoods profile, you can choose to add interests, favourite places and a bio so people can get to know you within the Neighborhoods Directory. You can write a post to introduce yourself, participate in discussions on posts from fellow neighbors and answer Neighborhoods Questions in the dedicated feed. "People can also take on roles within Neighborhoods, including socialisers who spark friendly conversations," said Reid Patton, Product Manager, Facebook Neighborhoods. Admins of local Facebook Groups can add their Group into Neighborhoods to make it easy for people living nearby to find it, and people using Neighbou\rhoods can create or join Neighbourhoods-bounded groups that are accessible within the Neighbourhoods experience. "We built Neighborhoods to be safe and inclusive, with Neighborhoods Guidelines to help keep interactions among neighbors relevant and kind. Neighborhoods have moderators who use these Guidelines to review posts and comments in the Neighborhoods feed," Facebook said. If the post violates Facebook Community Standards, the post will be removed from Neighborhoods. "You can block someone on Facebook or Neighborhoods and we won't inform them".
Huawei deepens dive into electric vehicles
China's Huawei Technologies is in talks to take control of a small domestic automaker's electric vehicle unit, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said, a move that would be a strategic shift for the world's largest telecom equipment maker. A company spokesman denied such a step, however. Huawei, which has been battered by U.S. sanctions, is in talks with Chongqing Sokon to acquire a controlling stake in the latter's Chongqing Jinkang New Energy Automobile, said the sources. The move will allow Huawei to make intelligent cars bearing its own nameplate, they added. Jinkang counts U.S. EV brand Seres, formerly known as SF Motors, as its main asset. It would also provide the first evidence that Huawei is looking to go beyond just offering auto operating systems and have an end-to-end presence in the EV business. However, the Huawei spokesman said, "Huawei is not making cars," and added that it was not looking to acquire controlling stakes, although without specifying where. Sokon did not respond to requests for comment. The push into smart cars, if finalised, would signal a major shift in business focus for Huawei after two years of U.S. sanctions that have cut its access to key supply chains, forcing it to sell a part of its smartphone business. Underscoring the shift, the company's rotating chairman Eric Xu announced pacts with three state-owned Chinese carmakers, including BAIC Group, to supply "Huawei Inside", a smart vehicle operating system, at the Shanghai Auto Show earlier this month. The Arcfox Alpha-S electric sedan, manufactured by BAIC Group's BAIC Motor Electric Vehicle Co. and equipped with Huawei Technologies Co.’s HI smart car platform. Image Credit: Bloomberg Huawei's foray into EVs comes as technology firms such as Xiaomi Corp have been stepping up efforts in the world's biggest market for such vehicles, as Beijing heavily promotes greener vehicles to reduce carbon emissions. "As individual consumer demand for smart EVs has been picking up notably since mid-last year, the track is now clear and solid in front of the tech giants," said Yale Zhang, managing director of Automotive Foresight. "Despite of their years of success and experience in smartphone markets, it will still take a few years for them to build a car brand acceptable in the EV sector." As part of the deal, Huawei also plans to buy an undetermined stake in privately-owed Chongqing Sokon Holdings, the biggest shareholder of Shanghai-listed Sokon, said one of the sources. Richard Yu, head of Huawei's consumer business group who led the company to become one of the world's largest smartphone makers and has recently shifted his focus to EVs, is leading the talks with Sokon, said the two people. The telecom giant looks to finalise the deal as soon as July, said the other source. Huawei is also seeking to control the EV brand ArcFox of BAIC's BluePark New Energy Technology, which recently launched its Alpha S model equipped with the "Huawei Inside" system, said the two people and another person with direct knowledge. But BAIC is more keen to have Huawei just as a minority shareholder in ArcFox, they added. A BAIC representative referred the query to BluePark which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. All the sources declined to be named. In February, Reuters reported that Huawei plans to make EVs under its own brand and could launch some models this year. Sales of new energy vehicles, including pure battery electric vehicles as well as plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, are expected to make up 20% of China's overall annual auto sales by 2025. For months, Huawei has been deeply involved in the operation and manufacturing of the little-known Sokon and its loss-making Seres unit. The company aims to launch the first intelligent car under its own brand for mass production at the earliest by the end of this year. Image Credit: Reuters Under the tie-up, Seres's first model, "Huawei Smart Selection" SF5, debuted at the Shanghai Auto Show and received over 3,000 orders within two days after the pre-sale started last week, according to Seres. Huawei is selling SF5 vehicles in its stores across China including its online store VMall.com. The company aims to launch the first intelligent car under its own brand for mass production at the earliest by the end of this year, said one of them. Huawei has high expectations for the model, which is under development based on the Seres SF5, but the existing supply chain of Sokon is struggling to meet such expectations, said the same person. "The supply chain for the auto industry is very long and complicated," said the person. "Huawei does have its strength in software and platform but its ideas can't be realized without solid technology improvements in the supply chain."
Apple faces down 'Fortnite' creator Epic Games in major antitrust trial
Companies|: Attorneys for "Fortnite" creator Epic Games and Apple Inc will make opening arguments Monday at an antitrust trial whose ultimate outcome could affect Apple's fast-growing App Store business. The lawsuit, which Epic brought last year in the US. District Court for the Northern District of California, centers on two of Apple practices that have become cornerstones of its business: Apple's requirement that virtually all third-party software for the world's 1 billion iPhones be distributed through its App Store, and the requirement that developers use Apple's in-app purchase system, which charges commissions of up to 30%. Epic broke Apple's rules last year when it introduced its own in-app payment system in "Fornite" to circumnavigate Apple's commissions. In response, Apple kicked Epic off its App Store. Epic sued Apple, alleging the iPhone maker is abusing its power of app developers with App Store review rules and payment requirements that hurt competition in the software market. Epic also launched an aggressive public relations campaign to call attention to its allegations just as Apple's practices have come under scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators in the United States and elsewhere. Apple has countered Epic's allegations by arguing that its App Store rules have made consumers feel safe and secure in opening their wallets up to unknown developers, helping create a massive market that all developers have benefited from. Apple argues that Epic intentionally broke its contracts with Apple because the game maker wanted a free ride on the iPhone maker's platform. Epic is not asking for money damages but is asking the court to hand down orders that would end many of Apple's practices. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers will preside over the three-week trial in a courtroom in Oakland, California. Epic Games Chief Executive Tim Sweeney and Apple's App Store chief Phil Schiller are expected to attend the trial in its entirety, and the proceedings will also feature in-person testimony from Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and other senior executives at both firms.
Verizon to sell Yahoo, AOL for $5 billion to private equity firm
Markets|Companies|: Washington: Verizon announced Monday it was selling faded internet stars Yahoo and AOL to a private equity firm for $5 billion, ending the online media ambitions of the telecoms giant. The deal with Apollo Global Management also includes the entire Verizon Media unit, including the advertising tech operations of the two brands. Verizon will retain a 10 percent stake in the company, which will be known as Yahoo going forward and will continue to be led by chief executive Guru Gowrappan, the company said in a statement. Verizon acquired Yahoo in 2017 for some $4.5 billion, ending the run for one of the storied brands of the early internet. It merged Yahoo into its division with AOL, another star of the early internet era, which Verizon acquired in 2015. Both AOL and Yahoo lost traction - and lofty market valuations - as internet users shifted to newer platforms such as Google and Facebook. Verizon had been seeking synergies from Yahoo's massive online presence and its other media operations including news websites TechCrunch and the recently sold Huffington Post. With Google and Facebook dominating the online ecosystem, "Yahoo didn't do things well and Verizon wasn't able to do much with it," said Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. "Yahoo was a fully formed entity with its technology, and Verizon couldn't make a bird into a fish." Kay said it will remain difficult to break the ad-tech "oligopoly" of Google and Facebook, and that prospects were uncertain for the new Yahoo. "It may be (Apollo) will try to extract something, and put it back on the market," Kay said. New opportunities Executives at Verizon and Apollo said they saw opportunities for the new Yahoo. "We are big believers in the growth prospects of Yahoo and the macro tailwinds driving growth in digital media, advertising technology and consumer internet platforms," said David Sambur, senior partner and co-head of private equity at Apollo. "Apollo has a long track record of investing in technology and media companies and we look forward to drawing on that experience to help Yahoo continue to thrive." Hans Vestberg, Verizon's CEO, said the media unit "has done an incredible job turning the business around over the past two and a half years and the growth potential is enormous." Vestberg added: "The next iteration requires full investment and the right resources. During the strategic review process, Apollo delivered the strongest vision and strategy for the next phase of Verizon Media. I have full confidence that Yahoo will take off in its new home." Apollo has a wide-ranging investment portfolio including real estate, finance and consumer brands. In recent years it acquired the Venetian resort in Las Vegas, the Qdoba restaurant chain and the Fisker electric car company. Monday's deal marks the latest change in ownership at AOL, whose massive valuation enabled the pioneering internet service firm to close a deal for Time Warner in 2001, which was unwound eight years later. AOL operated independently, focusing on digital media and news, until it was acquired in 2015 by Verizon for $4.4 billion.
UAE retains No. 1 position as country with 'fastest mobile network speed'
Markets|Technology|: Dubai: The UAE retains its position as the country with the 'fastest mobile network speed' in the first quarter of 2021, according to the latest findings by Ookla. With a download speed of 178.52 Mbps in March, the UAE overtook South Korea and Qatar in the mobile broad speedtest, continuing what it had done in January and February, with download speeds of 183.03 Mbps and 177.10 Mbps, respectively. The Speed Test Global index assesses over 135 countries on internet speed data done on a monthly basis. Data for the index comes from the hundreds of millions of tests taken by real people using the speed test every month. Mobile network speed is a major contributing factor to the economic wealth and social prosperity of a nation. This achievement has a lot of favourable implications for a enabling environment for future aspirations, country’s ICT agenda, productivity of businesses, amongst others. "Etisalat is proud to contribute to the UAE ranking first in terms of mobile network speed," the telco said in a statement. "This is yet another milestone achievement for the UAE, the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority as well as Etisalat’s testament to its relentless efforts towards its strategy and vision to ‘Drive the digital future to empower societies’."
Ford’s new headlight technology knows when a corner is coming up
Ford has revealed it is testing headlight technology that knows what turns are ahead, so it can adapt the beam appropriately. Headlights that change the angle of their beam depending on where the wheel is turned have been around for a few years now, while Ford itself pioneered the reading of road signs and lane markings as cues for where the road was heading. However, now the Blue Oval says engineers from Ford Research and Advanced Engineering Europe are working on new technology that uses real-time location data to see the road ahead. It claims this allows the car to angle the beam towards the corner even before the driver may have seen it, illuminating any road hazards or vulnerable road users early. This is achieved by combining GPS data with detailed mapping technology to accurately identify bends in the road ahead. A computer algorithm calculates the speed and trajectory of the vehicle so that it can adjust the headlights appropriately. This is all achieved by using the data to create a ‘digital twin’ of the environment around the driver, with accurate simulations of where light is falling used to determine the best way to light the road ahead. If there is no data available on a particular stretch of road, it will fall back to using on-board cameras and steering inputs to determine where to bend the light. Michael Koherr, Ford European lighting research engineer, said: “The predictive lighting technology we are developing now means that one day driving in the dark could be as simple as just following your headlights. “This new map- and location‑based system is the next step on our quest to make driving at night no more difficult or stressful as during the day.”
UAE records 183% surge in 'Distributed Denial-of-Service' cyber attacks in 2020: Etisalat's Help AG
Markets|Technology|: Dubai: 2020 wasn’t just the year of the COVID-19 – cyber threats spiked throughout the year and more so as peoples’ lives were spent interacting through digital screens. There were more than 10 million Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks worldwide last year, and the UAE alone saw an 183 per cent spike, according to Help AG, the cybersecurity arm of Etisalat. “This increase has made DDoS attacks by far the most prolific form of cybersecurity threats faced by organizations today,” said the report from Help AG. The government, private, oil and gas, telecom and healthcare sectors faced a particularly harsh onslaught, with attacks targeting specific customers using varying attack patterns. “Public and private sectors across the world are facing unprecedented levels of digital threats which are only increasing year-on-year,” said Stephan Berner, CEO at Help AG. A DDoS attack is an attempt to disrupt the normal traffic of a targeted server, service or network by overwhelming the target or its surrounding infrastructure with a flood of Internet traffic. The attacks are also increasing in scale, with the largest one observed in the UAE measured at 254.3 Gbps. Read More Online security in UAE: Beware, cybercriminals are on the prowl These days there are no rock-solid guarantees on cyber security Top threats In 2020, Help AG identified a common tactic employed by multiple threat actors, using DDoS attacks as a mechanism to distract security monitoring and response teams, before executing the ransomware attack. Help AG also identified a ransomware threat group leveraging built-in features of Windows 10 to initiate attacks. Ransomware attacks Ransomware attacks too have been rising, largely thanks to their high rates of success, which can be attributed to their relative simplicity and their immediate impact on an affected business, as well as the fact that many organizations still end up paying the ransom. Which encourages the malignant actors to continue utilizing this attack method. Vulnerabilities Last year saw a significant rise in the number of vulnerabilities discovered, with a total of 18,353 identified as per the NIST National Vulnerability Database, and a particular increase in critical and high severity vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities that required no user interaction to exploit also increased. Government agencies were the most affected, followed by banking and finance, manufacturing, healthcare, education, and technology, with a significant rise in industrial control system (ICS) vulnerabilities. VPN attacks There was a major incident or new vulnerability identified in almost every single month of the year, highlighting the increasing need for Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) to become an industry standard for cybersecurity. Help AG has identified a number of areas which saw significant investment over the course of 2020. Security infrastructure such as next-gen firewall platforms, application protection solutions and DNS security solutions saw major investment, as did secure remote access systems including VPN, SASE, Proxy, email security, and insider threat monitoring, which collectively enjoyed an over 300 per cent growth year-over-year. In addition, organizations invested heavily in managed cyber defense and strengthening the Security Operations Centre triad, specifically in areas that included SIEM solutions, network detection and response solutions, endpoint protection/detection and response solutions, and vulnerability management. New tech Over the past year, Security Access Service Edge (SASE) and Secure Cloud Enablement have both seen increased uptake by organizations across all industry verticals. The report predicts that these technologies will see continued focus, including secure SD-WAN, email, application and endpoint security, micro-segmentation, Managed Security Services (MSS), and SMB security. “Cybersecurity is not a one-man show. It takes collaboration amongst all responsible actors in the government and private sectors to improve the region’s digital security landscape,” said Nicolai Solling, Chief Technology Officer at Help AG.
Abu Dhabi's Aldar in deal with world's biggest venture capital investor Fifth Wall for 'proptech'
Property|Technology|: Dubai: Abu Dhabi's Aldar Properties has entered an alliance with Fifth Wall - the world's biggest venture capital firm focussed on real estate technology - through a fund operated by the latter. This makes Aldar the first 'limited partner' from the region to invest in Fifth Wall’s European Real Estate Technology Fund. Through this investment, Aldar aims to tap into Fifth Wall’s network of proptech startups in Europe and gain access to latest technologies and trends in the sector. "We believe the new partnership will help Aldar to further drive digital transformation, enhance customer experience, and embed more sustainable practices,” said Maan Al Awlaqi, Aldar’s Executive Director of Strategy and Transformation. “Our investment in Fifth Wall marks the next phase of our innovation journey and will allow us to keep pace with the advancements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution." A whopping $185 billion is expected to be invested in proptech ventures globally before 2025. Since inception in 2016, Fifth Wall has built $1.7 billion in commitments and capital under management.
Amazon quarterly profit triples as online sales boom
Companies|Business|: San Francisco: Tech and e-commerce colossus Amazon on Thursday reported that its profit in the recently ended quarter tripled as online sales boomed. Revenue soared to $108.5 billion, an increase of 44 per cent from the same period a year earlier, as the pandemic revved a trend of shopping online instead of in real-world stores. Profit in the quarter was $8.1 billion, compared with $2.5 billion in the first three months of last year. Amazon shares jumped more than five per cent in after-market trades.
Samsung sees chip profits up, mobile sales down
Companies|Business|: Seoul: Samsung Electronics Co Ltd said on Thursday it expects chip profits to increase but mobile profits to drop in the current quarter, as a global chip shortage affects its businesses in different ways. Samsung, which reported a 46 per cent rise in first quarter profit, said it expected memory chip earnings to improve “significantly” in the second quarter, as “market conditions improve on the back of strong server demand” as well as robust demand by other applications. However, profit and sales at its mobile business are likely to drop in the second quarter versus the first due to supply issues for some components and a fall in flagship smartphone sales, the world’s top maker of memory chips said in a statement. Samsung said its chip plant in Austin, Texas, has resumed full production after a winter storm shutdown in the first quarter, but its System LSI Business, which designs logic chips such as mobile processors, will likely continue to be affected by the production disruption this quarter. The System LSI business plans to expand its use of outsourced foundries and strengthen cooperation with its in-house foundry to secure production capacity, Samsung said, noting the current global chip shortage could persist in the second half. “Samsung Electronics’ own foundry is saturated with orders, it cannot handle the demand volume,” said Park Sung-soon, an analyst at Cape Investment & Securities. “So it is increasing the volume of outsourcing despite having an in-house foundry.” Smaller cross-town rival SK Hynix said on Wednesday it will bring forward planned capital spending, but warned supply increases from the investment will come only next year, pointing to a prolonged global semiconductor shortage. Samsung’s forecasts came as it posted a 9.4 trillion won ($8.48 billion) operating profit in the January-March quarter, its highest first-quarter operating profit since 2018. The result, which was slightly ahead of the company’s estimate earlier this month, was driven by a 66 per cent profit surge at its mobile business to 4.4 trillion won. The jump was led by sales of its flagship Galaxy S21 smartphone series, while profit also soared at its television set and home appliance business, buoyed by continued stay-at-home demand. Profits at its chip business, however, fell due to the cost of ramping up domestic production as well as losses at the Texas plant following the storm-related stoppage in mid-February that blunted the benefits of strong demand. First quarter net profit rose 46 per cent to 7.1 trillion won. Revenue climbed 18 per cent to 65.4 trillion won. Samsung’s shares fell 0.4 per cent in early trade on Thursday, in line with 0.3 per cent fall in the wider market.
Apple soars past sales, profit targets with strong iPhone demand
Companies|Business|: Apple Inc on Wednesday posted sales and profits far ahead of Wall Street expectations and announced a $90 billion (Dh331 billion) share buyback as customers continued to upgrade to 5G iPhones but warned that supply constraints from a global chip shortage would cost it billions in revenue in the current quarter, hitting Macs and iPads. Sales to China nearly doubled and results topped analyst targets in every category, led by $6.5 billion more in iPhone sales than predicted and Mac sales about a third higher than estimates. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said the company sees an economic recovery coming. “I think the US will be very strong. Certainly, all indications that I see would be very positive on the US economy,” Cook said. The results came the midst of a global semiconductor shortage that has hobbled US automotive manufacturers but that so far had left Apple, a major chip buyer known for its supply chain expertise, unscathed. Cook said in an interview there was no supply constraint impact in the fiscal second quarter, but Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told investors on conference call that constraints could cost the company $3 billion to $4 billion in revenue in the fiscal third quarter. On the conference call, Cook said the shortages “affect primarily the iPad and the Mac. And so we’ll have some challenges in there in meeting the demand that we’ve got.” Maestri said Apple, which stopped giving formal financial guidance a year ago amid pandemic volatility, expects revenue for the quarter ending in June to grow by “strong double digits” year over year, said Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri on a conference call. Maestri said the company expects a steeper-than-usual decline in revenue between its fiscal second and third quarters because of the unusual timing of its iPhone 12. Apple thrived through the coronavirus pandemic as home-bound consumers stocked up on electronic devices and signed up for paid apps and services for fitness and music, and sales shot up even higher as Apple released 5G iPhone models last fall. For the fiscal second quarter ended March 27, Apple said sales and profits were $89.6 billion and $1.40 per share, compared with estimates of $77.4 billion and 99 cents per share, according to Refinitiv data. Apple shares rose 3 per cent in extended trading after the results. IPhones were the biggest driver of growth, suggesting consumers are upgrading to 5G, said Haris Anwar, senior analyst at Investing.com. “Stimulus cheques and the successful vaccine rollouts are certainly helping to boost consumer demand for tech gadgets across the board," he said. "This environment will last for at least another year providing a solid platform for Apple to expedite its growth.” While Apple’s business is booming, its App Store, one of its fastest-growing businesses, has come under increased antitrust scrutiny because of Apple’s in-app payment rules and app review policies. In the coming weeks, Apple will defend a high-profile antitrust lawsuit brought by “Fortnite” maker Epic Games, while European Union antitrust regulators are set to chare the company following a complaint by music streaming service Spotify , Reuters reported this week. Macs and iPads - two product categories that Wall Street rarely counted on to supply growth - both benefited from consumers working from home and remote learning. On top of those trends, Cook said Apple customers were responding strongly to the company’s M1 chip, its first in-house processor for Mac computers. “Both of those things happening at once really supercharged the Mac sales. The last three quarters on Mac have been the strongest three quarters ever in the history of the Mac,” Cook told Reuters. Apple raised its dividend 7 per cent to 22 cents per share, a penny ahead of estimates, as well as announcing the $90 billion share repurchase. Google-owner Alphabet Inc announced a $50 billion buyback on Tuesday. Apple said iPhone sales were $47.9 billion compared with analyst estimates of $41.4 billion, according to data from FactSet. Sales of Macs and iPads were $9.1 billion and $7.8 billion, respectively, compared with FactSet estimates of $6.8 billion and $5.6 billion. Apple investors are looking for growth from Apple’s accessories business, which includes products like AirPods headphones and its new AirTag trackers, and its services business, which includes its App Store and new offerings such as paid podcasts. Sales in the segments were $7.8 billion and $16.9 billion, respectively, versus estimates of $7.4 billion and $15.5 billion. Cook said the company has 660 million paying subscribers on its platform, an increase from the 620 million in the fiscal first quarter. Apple recently added new paid offerings such as its Fitness+ workout service. Apple’s sales in the greater China region during the fiscal second quarter, which included the busy Lunar New Year shopping season, were up 87.5 per cent to $17.7 billion, compared with a 57 per cent rise in the previous quarter. Shares of Apple are up some 93 per cent over the past year, compared with a 61 per cent rise for the Nasdaq 100 index of which Apple is a component. The array of products and services eased investors’ valuation concerns that Apple relied too heavily on iPhone sales, turning Apple into a $2 trillion market capitalization company two years after it hit the $1 trillion mark. The rise has cooled this year despite Apple reporting its first ever quarter with more than $100 billion in sales in January, with Apple shares rising only 3.9 per cent since the start of the year versus a nearly 10 per cent rise for the Nasdaq 100, as investors have questioned whether Apple shares are too expensive relative to other tech stocks.
Facebook smashes revenue estimates, issues Apple change warning
Companies|Business|: Facebook Inc beat Wall Street expectations for both quarterly revenue and profit on Wednesday but warned that growth later this year could “significantly” decline as new Apple Inc privacy policies will make it more difficult to target ads. The company’s shares were up 5 per cent in extended trading. The world’s largest social network has blasted Apple over its requirement that iPhone app developers begin asking users’ permission to collect certain data for ads, saying the change would harm its business and hurt small companies that rely on personalized advertising. At the same time, it has built shopping and e-commerce features within Facebook and Instagram, which are expected to bring additional revenue to the company and make its ad inventory more valuable. Total revenue, which primarily consists of ad sales, rose to $26.17 billion in the first quarter ended March 31, beating analysts’ average estimate of $23.67 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Facebook had previously cautioned investors that the iPhone changes could lead to a slowdown in growth. Monthly active users on Facebook rose 10 per cent to 2.85 billion, matching analyst expectations. Net income for the first quarter came in at $9.5 billion, or $3.30 per share, compared with $4.9 billion, or $1.71 per share, a year earlier. Analysts had expected a profit of $2.37 per share. Facebook said its total expenses for the year would be in the range of $70 billion to $73 billion, as it invests in consumer hardware products like Oculus virtual reality headsets and infrastructure.
Apple's iPhone privacy clampdown arrives after 7-month delay
Technology|: San Ramon, California: Apple is following through on its pledge to crack down on Facebook and other snoopy apps that secretly shadow people on their iPhones in order to target more advertising at users. The new privacy feature, dubbed “App Tracking Transparency,'' rolled out Monday as part of an update to the operating system powering the iPhone and iPad. The anti-tracking shield included in iOS 14.5 arrives after a seven-month delay during which Apple and Facebook attacked each other's business models and motives for decisions that affect billions of people around the world. “What this feud demonstrates more than anything is that Facebook and Apple have tremendous gatekeeping powers over the market,'' said Elizabeth Renieris, founding director of the Technology Ethics Lab at the University of Notre Dame. But Apple says it is just looking out for the best interests of the more than 1 billion people currently using iPhones. “Now is a good time to bring this out, both because of because of the increasing amount of data they have on their devices, and their sensitivity (about the privacy risks) is increasing, too," Erik Neuenschwander, Apple's chief privacy engineer, told The Associated Press in an interview. Once the software update is installed -- something most iPhone users do -- even existing apps already on the device will be required to ask and receive consent to track online activities. That's a shift Facebook fiercely resisted, most prominently in a series of full-page newspaper ads blasting Apple. Until now, Facebook and other apps have been able to automatically conduct their surveillance on iPhones unless users took the time and trouble to go into their settings to prevent it - a process that few people bother to navigate. “This is an important step toward consumers getting the transparency and the controls they have clearly been looking for,'' said Daniel Barber, CEO of DataGrail, a firm that helps companies manage personal privacy. In its attacks on Apple's anti-tracking controls, Facebook blasted the move as an abuse of power designed to force more apps to charge for their services instead of relying on ads. Apple takes a 15 per cent to 30 per cent cut on most payments processed through an iPhone app. Online tracking has long helped Facebook and thousands of other apps accumulate information about their user's interests and habits so they can show customised ads. Although Facebook executives initially acknowledged Apple's changes would probably reduce its revenue by billions of dollars annually, the social networking company has framed most of its public criticism as a defense of small businesses that rely on online ads to stay alive. Apple, in turn, has pilloried Facebook and other apps for prying so deeply into people's lives that it has created a societal crisis. In a speech given a few weeks after the January 6 attacks on the US Capitol, Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed out how personal information collected through tracking by Facebook and other social media can sometimes push people toward more misinformation and hate speech as part of the efforts to show more ads. “What are the consequences of not just tolerating but rewarding content that undermines public trust in life-saving vaccinations?'' Cook asked. “What are the consequences of seeing thousands of users join extremist groups and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends more?'' It's part of Apple's attempt to use the privacy issue to its competitive advantage, Barber said, a tactic he now expects more major brands to embrace if the new anti-tracking controls prove popular among most consumers. In a change of tone, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently suggested that Apple's new privacy controls could actually help his company in the long run. His rationale: The inability to automatically track iPhone users may prod more companies to sell their products directly on Facebook and affiliated services such as Instagram if they can't collect enough personal information to effectively target ads within their own apps. “It's possible that we may even be in a stronger position if Apple's changes encourage more businesses to conduct more commerce on our platforms by making it harder for them to use their data in order to find the customers that would want to use their products outside of our platforms,'' Zuckerberg said last month during a discussion held on the audio chat app Clubhouse. In the same interview, Zuckerberg also asserted most people realize that advertising is a “time-tested model'' that enables them to get more services for free or at extremely low prices. “People get for the most part that if they are going to see ads, they want them to be relevant ads,'' Zuckerberg said. He didn't say whether he believes most iPhone users will consent to tracking in exchange for ads tailored to their interests. Google also depends on personal information to fuel a digital ad network even bigger than Facebook's, but it has said it would be able to adjust to the iPhone's new privacy controls. Unlike Facebook, Google has close business ties with Apple. Google pays Apple an estimated $9 billion to $12 billion annually to be the preferred search engine on iPhone and iPad. That arrangement is currently one element of an antitrust case filed last year by the US Justice Department. Facebook is also defending itself against a federal antitrust lawsuit seeking to break the company apart. Meanwhile, Apple is being scrutinised by lawmakers and regulators around the world for the commissions it collects on purchases made through iPhone apps and its ability to shake up markets through new rules that are turning it into a de facto regulator. “Even if Apple's business model and side in this battle is more rights protective and better for consumer privacy, there is still a question of whether we want a large corporation like Apple effectively `legislating' through the app store,'' Renieris said.
Microsoft sales grow on cloud strength, but shares dip
Companies|Business|: Microsoft Corp on Tuesday met analysts’ quarterly sales expectations and beat profit estimates, but its shares fell slightly reflecting some scepticism about one-off benefits included in the results and high hopes after a year-long rally. By grabbing market share in the booming market for cloud computing and expanding business services such as its Teams collaboration service and LinkedIn social network, the Redmond, Washington company has become one of the world’s most valuable companies, worth close to $2 trillion (Dh7.35 trillion) after a 50 per cent stock runup over the past year. Those services were still in demand during the pandemic, with Microsoft’s Azure cloud service closing ground on market-share leader Amazon Web Services and growing 50 per cent in the quarter. People working and studying from home bought new PCs and video consoles, spurring Microsoft Windows operating system and video game businesses. Net income for the third quarter ended March 31 jumped 44 per cent on a year ago to $15.5 billion. Revenue and adjusted earnings per share were $41.7 billion and $1.95 per share, above analysts’ estimates of $41.03 billion and $1.78 per share, according to data from Refinitiv. Shares fell 2.5 per cent, paring some deeper losses after executives gave a better-than-expected forecast during a conference call with investors. “One-off tax and currency advantages have boosted Microsoft’s third-quarter numbers, and as a result the market isn’t being quite as welcoming of expectation-beating numbers as you might expect,” said Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. Net profit had included a favourable $620 million tax benefit from court rulings in India. “That is the danger of trading on the kind of valuation Microsoft enjoys, 32.8 times next year’s earnings. Disappoint even a little and the market will be unforgiving.” Sales for what Microsoft calls its “commercial cloud” — which contains server infrastructure such as Azure along with cloud-based versions of its Office software — was up 33 per cent at $17.7 billion. Sales for Dynamics 365 customer management, which competes directly with Salesforce.com, rose 45 per cent and the business version of Office 365 added 15 per cent more users. “That’s the fourth consecutive quarter of 15 per cent seat growth on a very large base,” Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said of the Office 365 results for commercial customers. Microsoft has continued to double down on cloud-base software and said earlier this month it would buy artificial intelligence software firm Nuance Communications Inc for $16 billion, excluding net debt, to bolster its healthcare business. Microsoft said Azure, its closely watched cloud computing business that competes with Amazon.com Inc’s Amazon Web Services and Alphabet Inc’s Google Cloud, grew 50 per cent in the quarter, or 46 per cent when adjusted for currency variations. This is down from a currency-adjusted 48 per cent the quarter before but in line with analysts’ expectations of 46.3 per cent growth, according to data from Visible Alpha. Overall sales at Microsoft’s “intelligent cloud” unit that contains Azure were $15.1 billion, above analysts’ estimates of $14.92 billion, according to Refinitiv data. Microsoft Teams has 145 million daily users, up from 115 million in October, Microsoft said. Sales for Microsoft’s productivity software unit, which includes Office and Teams, were $13.6 billion, compared with estimates of $13.49 billion, according to Refinitiv. Sales for its LinkedIn social network were up 23 per cent on a currency adjusted basis, slightly above Visible Alpha estimates of 21.9 per cent, as revenue continued to recover from a sharp decline in job listings and hiring at the onset of the pandemic. Microsoft’s personal computing unit, which contains its Windows operating system and Xbox gaming console, had $13.0 billion in sales, compared with analysts’ expectations of $12.57 billion, according to Refinitiv data. Sales of Windows to PC makers were up 10 per cent, compared to a 1 per cent rise the quarter earlier. On a call with investors, Microsoft forecast fiscal fourth-quarter productivity segment revenue with a midpoint of $13.93 billion, above Refinitiv estimates of $13.57 billion. Its sales forecasts for its intelligent cloud and personal computing businesses had midpoints of $16.32 billion and $13.80 billion, respectively, above estimates of $16.0 billion and $13.26 billion, according to Refinitiv data.
Google ad sales surge 32%, planning $50b share buyback
Companies|Business|: Google parent Alphabet Inc on Tuesday beat quarterly revenue estimates and announced a $50 billion share buyback as the recovering economy and surging use of online services combined to accelerate its advertising and cloud businesses. Alphabet shares rose about 4 per cent to $2,375 in extended trading. The results are the first sign that Google services may hold on to gains in usage brought on by lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions that forced people to shop and communicate online over the last year. Google ad sales surged 32 per cent in the first quarter compared with a year ago, above expectations of analysts tracked by Refinitiv. Cloud sales increased 45.7 per cent, in line with estimates. About 17 per cent of people in the United States, Alphabet’s top region by revenue, were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the first quarter. Activities including in-person dining resumed in big cities in March, and security screenings at US airports had their busiest day in a year. The changes coincided with Alphabet’s overall sales rising 34 per cent to $55.3 billion (Dh203 billion), above analysts’ estimate of $51.7 billion, or 26 per cent growth over last year’s first quarter, when ad sales fell significantly in the final couple of weeks. Alphabets quarterly profit rose 162 per cent to $17.9 billion, or $26.29 per share, beating estimates of $15.88 per share. Earnings benefited from unrealized gains from venture capital investments and slower depreciation of some data center equipment. The share repurchase authorization by Alphabet’s board follows a $25 million buyback program announced in 2019. Ad rebound It was not immediately clear which industries powered Google’s growth in ad and cloud sales, but that topic is expected to come up when analysts question Alphabet executives in a conference call later on Tuesday. Increased ad buying by travel and entertainment companies would be a positive sign as hotel booking services and movie studios are among Google’s biggest spenders. Also of interest could be Google’s update on efforts to reach long-term cloud computing deals with retailers or companies that bought services in a rush last year. Google’s newer consumer subscription businesses, such as an ad-free version of YouTube, also could capture analysts’ attention. Alphabet in 2020 suffered its slowest sales growth in 11 years but posted record profit and upped its cash hoard by $17 billion after slowing hiring and construction. Its shares have surged 80 per cent in the last year, 184th among companies in the S&P 500 index. Privacy and antitrust lawsuits against Google that could result in changes to its ad operations have remained a concern for investors, according to analysts. But resolution remains distant, with one key trial not expected until 2023. The latest dispute emerged on Monday when streaming TV technology company Roku Inc accused Google of engaging in anticompetitive behavior to benefit its YouTube and hardware businesses. Discussions about changing US and European laws to impose new oversight on Google and other companies, especially regarding privacy and artificial intelligence, have lagged as legislators have been distracted by the pandemic.