Weekly Digest Issue No. 545
Groupon walks away, Google powers on | iPad 2 for April launch?
Budget gloom brightened by jobs news
Following Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan's draconian Budget on Tuesday, it's difficult to find anything to be cheery about; however, jobs announcements from two multinationals this week provided much-needed good news. First up, Facebook announced it is to create 100 jobs at its Dublin base next year. The social network set up its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) headquarters in Dublin at the end of 2008. It currently employs 200 people in Dublin, working in advertising, multilingual sales support, finance, human resources, user operations and development. It is understood the new positions will be gradually created across these areas over the coming 12 months. In an interview with The Guardian, Facebook's director of online operations Colm Long declined to comment on whether Ireland's low corporate tax rate, which remained unchanged in Budget 2011, was a factor in the jobs decision, saying instead that Ireland is "very business friendly".
Also announcing the creation of 100 new jobs this week was computer maker Dell, which said the new positions will be spread between its facilities in Limerick and Dublin. The PC giant is currently recruiting for up to 100 new staff in sales, services, multilingual technical support, marketing and finance, according to Aongus Hegarty, head of Dell's customer service centre in Dublin, who was quoted in the Sunday Business Post. The new jobs will bring to 2,300 the number of people Dell employs in Ireland. In early 2009 Dell shut down its manufacturing facility in Limerick with the loss of 1,900 jobs.
Along with the Facebook and Dell jobs, a handful of US firms announced Irish expansion plans this past week. Kemp Technologies, which provides IT services to small businesses, is to locate its European sales and marketing headquarters in Limerick, a move that will initially create 10 jobs, with the potential to develop more over the next two years. Meanwhile, Rockwell Automation announced plans to increase its workforce in Ireland by 10 percent by the end of 2011, which will reportedly lead to around 15 extra jobs. Finally, communications software firm Aspect is to open two new facilities in Galway this month. The facilities will provide customer technical support, software production and distribution, and serve as a shared services centre for certain administrative functions.
Eircom maintains 'three strikes' policy
Telecoms firm Eircom this week resumed its commitment to a "three strikes" policy for illegal filesharers, whereby it will ultimately disconnect the broadband connection of persistent offenders. In a statement, Eircom said disconnection was "a measure of last resort and the protocol has been designed to ensure that customers do not find themselves in this position". Eircom's three-strikes policy follows an out-of-court settlement it signed with several record companies last year. The policy, or protocol as Eircom calls it, commenced on a trial basis in June 2010. Since then the number of notifications processed each week has hit 1,000. If an internet user is notified a third time that they have been found to be illegally sharing music, Eircom will suspend their broadband for a period of seven days. Following that suspension, if they continue to share music, Eircom said it would disconnect their broadband for 12 months. The telco has not as yet disconnected anyone.
In a statement, Eircom stressed that as part of this policy it does not monitor customers' activities, "nor will it place any monitoring equipment or software on its network in order to facilitate the graduated response process". It also said it will not provide customers' personal details to any third party, including the record companies. "Our obligations to our customers remain paramount, and the primacy of their rights, in particular their rights to privacy, are reflected in the phased structure of the protocol... Eircom is of the view that these obligations are part of a role that all responsible companies must serve".
Eircom's decision to continue with the three strikes policy comes despite rival provider UPC's recent High Court win over several record companies – during which a judge ruled that internet providers were not liable for a customer's illegal downloading.
Separately, Eircom this week launched MusicHub, which offers free, unlimited music streaming for its broadband customers. The service is also available to non-Eircom customers, though they will be charged EUR6.99 per month for unlimited music streaming. Music downloading is also available, and is charged at EUR5.99 per month for 15 tracks and EUR12.99 per month for 40 tracks for Eircom customers, and EUR11.99 per month and EUR22.99 per month, respectively, for non-customers. The service allows users to download DRM-free music to PCs and laptops and to copy tracks to portable devices.
Stephen Beynon, Eircom's Group Managing Director of Consumer and Small Business, said Eircom is the "first and only internet provider in Ireland to offer online streaming as part of a music service". MusicHub currently features 1 million tracks, and will grow to 4 million in the coming weeks.
Groupon walks away, Google powers on
A busy week for Google started off on a negative note, when news broke that online coupon company Groupon had walked away from a multi-billion-dollar acquisition by the internet giant. Analysts and media were abuzz this week trying to ascertain the reason for the collapse of the deal, with many theories being put forward, including that Groupon wanted to preserve its own culture and pursue an IPO in 2011. However, a report in Forbes, which quoted a source in Silicon Valley, suggested that Groupon may have insisted on a fee which Google would have to pay if the deal wasn't approved by anti-trust regulators. With the speculated deal figure around the USD5 billion mark, it's likely this 'fee' may have been quite high. While Google's dreams of breaking into the local advertising market have been hit by the news, Groupon's status, along with its founder Andrew Mason's, has rocketed.
Google didn't dwell on the Groupon loss for too long. The search giant this week launched its eBookstore, formerly known as Google Editions. The store has "hundreds of thousands" of e-books for sale in the US, with almost 3 million books available for free. The books will be accessible via Google's eBooks Web Reader from mobile phones, PCs or dedicated e-book readers. The store is expected to launch in Europe and Asia next year.
The internet firm also unveiled a new smartphone, developed with Samsung Electronics, along with a new version of its Android software. The new model, the Nexus S, will be introduced in the US in mid-December and sold exclusively at Best Buy retail stores and on Best Buy's website. The move follows Google's short-lived effort to market a handset called the Nexus One, which was discontinued this summer.
Finally this week, Google demonstrated the first laptops running on its upcoming Chrome operating system. The laptops use operating system software based largely on Google's Chrome web browser and are designed primarily to run web-based applications. "We're delivering nothing but the web," said Sundar Pichai, a Google vice president who led the Chrome team, quoted in the Wall Street Journal. At the same event, Google also gave a sneak peek at a new tablet device, which it is working on with Motorola, based on the new version of its Android software, which has been nicknamed Honeycomb. Not a whole lot has been revealed about the tablet, aside from some specs suggesting it will have a 10-inch screen and will feature video chat capabilities. The device is expected to launch sometime in mid-2011.
iPad 2 for April launch?
Meanwhile, the reigning king of the tablets, the iPad, is poised for a refresh, with news emerging this week that Apple is readying the iPad 2 for an April launch. Taiwanese-based IT news site DigiTimes reported that China's Foxconn, which makes components for a number of Apple products, has been notified by Apple that it aims to ship between 400,000 and 600,000 iPad 2's within 100 days. According to reports, Apple had planned to start mass production of the iPad 2 in January, but had to postpone these plans until February, as it had to finalise some firmware details.
The reported April launch date coincides with Apple's practice of releasing new models of its products every 12 months. Since the iPad was released in April 2010 Apple has sold 7.5 million units. Its release jump-started the tablet market and led to a slew of similar devices being launched during the past nine months. An April launch date would also precede the rumoured release of Google's tablet device, which some commentators are viewing as a threat to the iPad's dominance.
Reports suggest that the iPad 2 will feature a high-resolution retina display, which features on the iPhone 4, as well as a front-facing camera for making FaceTime video calls, and a USB port. It's also been reported that the new version of the iPad will launch simultaneously in a number of markets in April, in much the same pattern as the second and subsequent versions of the iPhone did.