China’s censorship is in overdrive after a former high-ranking official Bo Xilai was charged today with bribery, embezzlement and power abuse, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Censors have reportedly been taking down unfavorable comments on China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, that criticize the Communist Party or express sympathy for Bo. Many of the deleted posts are shown on the Free Weibo site. The WSJ report also mentions that a note of support from a microblogger in Dalian, the city where Bo started his political career, was later deleted.
It is possible too that some of the posts may have been deleted by Sina Weibo’s “rumor control” team – which aims to dispel false news and information, though in some cases, its hand appears to be forced by the government.
Bo, a former Communist Party politician, captured the attention of Chinese citizens and people from all over the world as details of his allegedly corrupt life surfaced last year – which included links to the mysterious death of a 41-year-old British businessman in a Chongqing hotel room that was declared a murder.
His downfall caused a huge political shockwave that reverberated to the online world, and most comments went through Sina Weibo, with the WSJ noting that back then plenty of posts debated on whether Bo was a criminal or a sacrificial lamb.
Last year, this led to three of China’s most influential Internet companies – Baidu, Sina and Tencent – pledging to “firmly support and cooperate with relevant government departments in cracking down and probing web rumors.”
Subsequently, this time round the comments on Sina Weibo in response to Bo’s news are largely supportive of the government. Several comments say that the Communist Party has made the right decision to charge Bo, and that Bo’s indictment proves the government’s determination to stamp out corruption and that they believe in the Party.
The one-dimensional tone of these comments leaves one to believe that China’s censors have been hard at work. The WSJ report notes that this could be the work of so-called trolls or the “Water Army” – real people who use so-called zombie accounts to post comments online to influence public opinion.
Among other social media services, Twitter is blocked in China. On the other hand, Sina Weibo has more than 400 million registered users and the service enjoys a large profile in China, becoming a force to be reckoned with. This has resulted in Sina Weibo having to walk a fine line between exerting control on the service and letting it operate organically as a forum for dissent and “free”(er) speech. This time round, it seems the government has the upper hand.
Headline image via Mobile Monday Bangkok
Nimbuzz is responding to increasing smartphone adoption in India after it jointly unveiled the first phone that sports a quick-access hard key to its mobile messaging service.
The phone is manufactured by Chinese firm Haier, but will be branded and sold by operator Reliance from Friday. The Reliance CG300, as it is called, is targeted at the mass market and will retail for just INR 2,499 ($42). That’s down to the fact it is powered by the J2ME platform rather than a more expensive platform like Android, though we understand that the price could drop below $40 in the future.
The BlackBerry-looking phone is fairly unremarkable. It includes a QWERTY keyboard, dual-SIM option and dedicated buttons that load Nimbuzz, which has 25 million of its 150 million registered users in India, and Facebook when pressed.
However, at a price point that nearly anyone can afford, Nimbuzz CEO Vikas Saxena is optimistic that the phone can rival entry-level Android devices (which are priced upwards of $100) to appeal to feature phone owners keen to upgrade, as well as smartphones owners intrigued by a dedicated messaging phone.
While Facebook is also present on the phone, Saxena says that social networks offer “a different experience” to dedicated messages services like Nimbuzz, and he doesn’t anticipate being overshadowed.
The hard key is not a new feature – HTC put a Facebook button on two devices back in 2011 with little success, while Nokia’s $72 Asha 210 has a WhatsApp button – but Saxena believes it will become a more common sight as messaging apps continue to replace the SMS experience for many.
Indeed, he says Nimbuzz is working on other devices with hard keys, although he declines to provide further detail. The aim is to provide a more engaging experience for existing users and battle rivals to drive new user signups.
India’s mobile messaging space is heating up with competitors. Japan-headquartered Line launched a local campaign this month, joining China’s WeChat and local services like BSB-backed Hike and Nimbuzz. WhatsApp, which has 250 million monthly active users worldwide, leads the pack in India.
The CG300 is the latest move that Nimbuzz has made to strengthen its relationship with carriers. In recent months the company has inked terms with Mobilink in Pakistan, Hutch in Sri Lanka and Aircel in India; Saxena says the company has partnered with eight telecom firms in India in total.
Saxena believes the device has the potential to sell “millions” of units, but it will remain an India only initiative.
“Like carriers embracing messaging apps, we’re experimenting with ideas to see what kind of retention and engagement ratio we can drive,” he explains. “The idea is to remove any friction and make the service easy to access.”
The device is Reliance branded and, though the operator is preparing a dedicated data plan to accompany it, it will work on any mobile network across the country.
Images via Nimbuzz
NTT Docomo, the largest mobile network operators in Japan, announced today that it will be starting prelaunch operations for an upgrade to its Xi LTE network, offering downlink speeds of up to 150 Mbps – similar to speeds being offered by South Korean operators SK Telecom and LG Uplus for their LTE-Advanced services.
Docomo will start verifying its 150 Mbps LTE service in Japan’s Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture from July 30 onward, prior to the planned launch of the service in parts of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya this October.
Docomo says it has been upgrading its LTE coverage and data transmission speeds consistently, most recently expanding its 112.5 Mbps downlink service to more than 130 cities as of this month. Its latest move has not been termed as LTE-A by the operator, so this is probably an appetizer to the final LTE-A rollout (which is expected to arrive in 2015). In February, Docomo selected Nokia Siemens and Panasonic to upgrade its network with certain LTE-A features like carrier aggregation.
The 150 Mbps service boasts double the speeds of the first LTE network that Docomo rolled out in 2010, though the operator notes it is a theoretical maximum as speeds may vary depending on network traffic or transmission environments.
With its latest move, Docomo has become the first operator outside of South Korea to roll out such high download speeds. Docomo notes that its 150 Mbps LTE network will be compatible with selected handsets introduced from October onward.
Last month, SK Telecom took the wraps off the world’s first LTE-A network offering speeds of up to 150 Mbps, which is now operational in Seoul and a further 42 cities across the Gyeonggi-do and Chungcheong-do districts. Subsequently, LG Uplus introduced a rival service earlier this month, which is currently available in Seoul and a few other major cities, but will be made available across South Korea during the third quarter of this year.
Consumers have been quick on the uptake as they display their eagerness for higher speeds – more than 150,000 subscribers signed up for SK Telecom’s LTE-A service just 14 days after its launch, making for a take-up rate of more than 10,000 new subscribers a day.
So far, only Samsung’s Galaxy S4 LTE-A handset – which launched on the same day as SK Telecom’s LTE-A network – runs on the service, though LG and Pantech are reportedly planning to release LTE-A smartphones soon.
US carriers have also been keen to push ahead with their LTE-A plans, with T-Mobile reportedly saying it will roll out LTE-A features later this year and Verizon talking about next-generation speeds.
Image Credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno via AFP/Getty Images
Despite posting record net profit for the second quarter of 2013 that was up 50 percent year-on-year, Samsung spent its earnings call assuring investors that the company is poised for further growth with its “competitive” line-up of products.
The reason for its defensive stance? There have been lingering concerns that the Korean company simply cannot maintain its explosive pace of growth any longer. In fact, Samsung warned that growth in its mobile business will slow in the third quarter due to the onset of more competition as more products are being rolled out.
Record profit not enough
Samsung announced its 2Q 2013 earnings today with KRW57.46 trillion ($51.7 billion) in revenue, in line with its earlier estimate of KRW57 trillion. Operating profit stood at KRW9.53 trillion ($8.6 billion), also in line with the guidance of KRW9.5 trillion, while net profit was seen at a record-high figure of KRW7.7 trillion ($6.9 billion).
Samsung has experienced phenomenal growth to date over the past year – its revenue increased by 21.9 percent from 2011 to 2012, while its operating profit jumped 85.9 percent and its net profit surged 72.5 percent. This was largely attributed to the roaring success of the Galaxy S3 phone – which hit 40 million channel sales in just seven months. Back in January, the company announced that Galaxy S shipments had topped 100 million, with the Galaxy S3 alone contributing 41 million units.
According to a Guardian report in 2011 citing IDC figures, Samsung shipped just 7.3 million phones in Q3 2010. Fast forward to Q2 2013, and IDC estimates that Samsung – which hasn’t provided figures publicly since Q3 2011 – shipped 72.4 million smartphones during the quarter.
The Galaxy S4 and marketing expenses
This piled on expectations for the Galaxy S4 phone, which has not disappointed – it became Samsung’s fastest shipping device ever when it topped 10 million “channel sales” (aka shipments to retailers) within a month of its launch, and reports from Korean media claim the device has already tipped the 20 million shipment mark.
However, how much goes into pushing these products? A lot, it seems. Samsung acknowledged in its earnings call that the increased expenditure related to promoting its products and tie-ups with distribution channels has taken a toll on the company’s financials, though it did not disclose any figures.
In 2012, Samsung spent $401 million advertising its phones in the U.S. compared with Apple’s $333 million, according to ad research and consulting firm Kantar Media, the Wall Street Journal reported in March this year.
The Korean firm is known for aggressive marketing and advertisements whenever it rolls out a new phone. For the launch of its flagship Galaxy S4 phone, Samsung held an over-the-top press event at New York’s Times Square featuring a live orchestra and a long series of skits.
Worries over market share
Many analyst firms have pegged Samsung as consistently having the greatest market share in smartphones. Strategy Analytics noted that Samsung was the world’s number one smartphone seller for the first quarter of this year in terms of revenue, while IDC has just pinned Samsung’s market share at 30.4 percent for the second quarter of this year according to shipments. However, in its latest report IDC noted that Samsung’s share of the market has receded slightly, going from 32.2 percent last year to 30.4 percent in Q2 2013.
During its earnings call, Samsung executives acknowledged that they see intensifying competition among vendors, resulting in “a certain amount of uncertainty.”
An ABI research report released today noted that feature phone shipments declined 20% year-on-year in the second quarter to 195 million units, as low-cost manufacturers continued to penetrate the up-market with increased device specifications. Senior Practice Director Jeff Orr says:
The second half of 2013 will be defined by fierce competition between price-aggressive OEMs moving toward the middle tiers for increased margins while at the same time top tier OEMs are diversifying portfolios into the middle in search of continued growth.
It is not only Apple that Samsung is facing off against – that analysis would be much too narrow-minded. Indeed, IDC noted that LG’s record haul of 12.1 million smartphone shipments represented a 130 percent year-on-year improvement, while Chinese firm Lenovo charted 130.6 percent year-on-year shipment growth.
Samsung said it would be likely rolling out more mid-to-low-end smartphones during the second half of this year, which may be targeted at keeping its hold on emerging markets. In the first quarter of 2013, Samsung sold a record 12.5 million smartphones in China alone.
Samsung has already been taking steps to cover as many aspects of the smartphone market as possible. Its Galaxy S4 has been rolled out in various versions – the Mini, the Active, the Zoom and the LTE-A.
Concerns over stock price
Samsung executives also addressed the worrying issue of the company’s stock price, which has underperformed the market recently. The Wall Street Journal has reported that brokerages have been downgrading the company’s stock and revising downward their shipping and earnings forecasts, with Samsung’s market value since mid-March declining by nearly $30 billion.
They argued that the current situation is a reflection of global macroeconomic issues that have affected the Korean stock market rather than company issues and that industry experts believe its stock is undervalued, but that the management will closely monitor the stock movement and strengthen its competitive advantage to improve the stock performance.
Future growth opportunities
With the smartphone market approaching saturation, Samsung executives identified the tablet and business-to-business (B2B) market as future growth opportunities. Samsung’s tablets have been posting solid mid-10 percent range growth, with 30 percent quarter-on-quarter growth expected for tablet shipments in 3Q 2013, according to the company. IDC noted that Samsung grew its share in the tablet market to 17.9 percent in the first quarter of this year, taking second place after Apple.
Samsung has also been on a drive to garner more market share in the B2B space, launching a global marketing campaign for business users and getting security approval for the Galaxy S4 from the US Department of Defense (DoD), clearing the way for the device to be used as part of a new policy for US government staff.
Samsung says it has one further flagship device to launch this year, and that’s almost certain to be the Galaxy Note. New versions of the tablet-cum-smartphone device has typically been launched at the IFA trade show in Berlin in previous years, and it is expected that the latest version will be unveiled at IFA 2013 which takes place next month.
The firm says that with this planned launch, it expects to see demand for its products increase and growth to sustain in the third quarter. Will Samsung’s growth ever be as rapid as the past year though? That could be hard to achieve given the amount of competition in the smartphone sector – what with Apple rumored to roll out a lower-priced iPhone and other players coming up with more products.
Samsung may just have to settle for slower growth – which is actually a natural progression after its spike over the past year, but this means investors will have to adjust their expectations accordingly.
Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian via Getty Images
Rumors typically abound in the Chinese tech scene, and Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi has been bombarded by plenty recently – with one report a few days back notably saying that Xiaomi had received an investment of $2 billion from Internet giant Tencent via Russian investment firm DST.
In a bid to dispel these rumors, Xiaomi has confirmed to The Next Web that it will be holding a press conference
on July 30 (UPDATE: the press conference has been postponed to July 31) to announce a product-related partnership with QQ – Tencent’s instant messaging platform.
The press conference was first announced on Xiaomi’s official Sina Weibo account, which said that it will reveal an “important partnership” next week. Li Wanqiang, one of the seven founders of Xiaomi, elaborated on the teaser by saying that Xiaomi will be collaborating with QQ – but only in terms of products and nothing else.
You can see a (very cute) poster uploaded by Chinese media outlet IT 168 that depicts Tencent QQ and Xiaomi’s cartoon figures on something that resembles a wedding invitation and alludes to a “happy marriage”, sent by Xiaomi to members of the Chinese media.
All we can do is wait and see what will be announced.
Xiaomi has been well on the rise recently, and it would not be surprising at all for more collaborations to crop up, riding on Xiaomi’s success – which has been attributed to its ability to inspire the loyalty of many consumers. Its competitively priced phones are sold in batches that, when released in phases, regularly sell out fast, often within half an hour.
The last phones it launched were the Xiaomi Mi-2S and the Xiaomi Mi-2A in April this year, which followed last year’s launch of the popular Xiaomi Mi2 phone.
The handset maker booked RMB13.27 billion ($2.15 billion) in revenue for the first six months of this year, exceeding the amount it recorded for the whole of 12 months, which stood at RMB12.6 billion. The 7.03 million devices sold in the first six months this year was also just shy of the 7.19 million units that Xiaomi sold during the whole of 2012.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Xiaomi will be closing a round of funding at the end of July that values it at $9 billion.
Headline image via Thinkstock
Spy agencies in the UK, Australia and the US have internally banned using Lenovo PCs because of remote access vulnerabilities that were discovered during testing, a new report from the Australian Financial Review alleges.
Chinese technology firms have long attracted suspicion from international governments, with telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE recently coming under suspicion in both the US and UK. Lenovo has grown to become one of the top PC makers, but its popularity with consumers hasn’t translated over to classified government networks.
The ban is believed to extend across the “Five Eyes” group of nations, which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, because their respective intelligence agencies have linked their networks.
While Lenovo hasn’t gone after the required security certifications needed to provide hardware to some of these agencies, AFR’s report suggests there’s more to the situation.
According to the paper, intelligence sources confirmed the ban was instituted in the mid-2000s “after intensive laboratory testing of its equipment allegedly documented “back-door” hardware and “firmware” vulnerabilities in Lenovo chips.”
Details on the discoveries remain classified, but the vulnerabilities allegedly could provide remote access to intruders.
Also of concern is the extent of Lenovo’s ties with the government. China’s Academy of Sciences has a substantial stake in Legend Holdings, Lenovo’s largest shareholder.
Lenovo didn’t immediately respond when contacted by The Next Web, but the company did tell AFR that it did not know of the spy agency ban.
Part of the deep-rooted suspicion of Chinese hardware may come from Western governments’ own interest in creating back doors in their own hardware. For instance, security expert Professor Farinaz Koushanfar told AFR that she had “personally met with people inside the NSA who have told me that they’ve been working on numerous real-world cases of malicious implants for years.” France was also believed to be working on kill switches for its military equipment.
Given that most of this is locked up as classified, we probably won’t ever find out what’s really going on here. Still, given the recent revelations of the deep surveillance structures created by the likes of the NSA, it’s hard not to look at all our technology with a bit of mistrust.
See also: Here’s the letter Apple, Google, Microsoft and others sent to the US government over data requests and UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee says GCHQ is accessing the NSA’s PRISM programme legally
Image credit: Philippe Lopez / Getty Images