Why would Foxconn buy Sharp? It’s all about the iPhone

Japanese electronics maker Sharp has accepted a bid from Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group for it to buy a majority stake in company for ¥489 billion ($4.4 billion), the Japanese firm announced today (Feb. 25). Shortly thereafter, however, Foxconn put the deal on hold “after receiving new material information from Sharp,” it said in a statement.
“We will have to postpone any signing of a definitive agreement until we have arrived at a satisfactory understanding and resolution of the situation,” Foxconn added. Is this a negotiating tactic or a sign that the purported takeover—a bailout, really, given the deep discount offered to Foxconn—has already unravelled? No immediate answer was forthcoming from the companies, but sources told the Wall Street Journal (paywall) that large contingent liabilities at Sharp—worth perhaps billions of dollars—only recently came to light, spooking Foxconn execs. Including debt, the deal could be worth some ¥700 billion overall.
The transaction has been years in the making, with the earliest failed takeover dating back to 2012. Its apparent completion has brought about some controversy in Japan, where foreign acquisitions of domestic tech firms remain unpopular. If it goes through, the deal would mark a key win for both Apple and Foxconn.

Foxconn assembles the iPhone—Apple’s best-selling product and the world’s most profitable smartphone—and also manufactures some of its components. These are goods and services it sells to Apple as part of its “bill of materials.”
The crown jewel in that bill is the screen—by far the most expensive part of an iPhone.

Foxconn doesn’t make displays. But Sharp does. So do LG, Samsung, and other electronics companies, some of whom make Android devices that compete with the iPhone.
By acquiring Sharp, Foxconn could earn an even larger portion of the overall bill of materials for the iPhone. Apple would also benefit from the deal because it could buy iPhone screens from a partner, rather than a competitor like LG, from whom it currently buys screens. It might also be able to buy the displays for less than what LG or Samsung would charge for them, because of bulk purchasing benefits from Foxconn.
This could ultimately make the iPhone much cheaper to make—though not necessarily cheaper to buy. Apple won’t necessarily pass along the savings to its relatively price-insensitive customers.


Consumer Needs, Not Innovation by Itself, Will Drive Design for Motorola and Lenovo

Consumer Needs, Not Innovation by Itself, Will Drive Design for Motorola and Lenovo

It’s rare to hear a company’s executives talk critically about their unsuccessful products. Phrases like “ahead of its time” or “didn’t live up to its potential” are far more common, so when Kouji Kodera, Senior Vice President, Product Management, Motorola Mobility talks about the danger of innovating without thinking about the customer’s needs, and specifically points to the Motorola Aura as an example, it catches your attention.

“The Aura was a beautiful phone whose design was eye catching, it was slim and stylish, and it had an amazing round screen,” says Kodera, “but, the customer wasn’t asking for a round screen. Innovation has to solve a problem; design can’t be the only driver.”

“Of course, it also cost people $2,000 so that was a problem too,” Kodera says dryly, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

motorola_aura.jpgAccording to Kodera, Motorola became a much more consumer-focussed company after it was acquired by Google in 2012, and the subsequent acquisition by Lenovo in 2014 has only strengthened this.

Kodera, and other leading Lenovo and Motorola executives, met with Gadgets 360 at an event in Delhi to talk about Motorola and Lenovo’s products and design thinking.

“The original Moto X brought in features like Moto Voice, which was an innovation that took into account what the customers are looking for,” Kodera added. “It’s very useful if you’re cooking or both your hands are full. So it was an innovation that made sense. Another innovation was Moto Maker, which was a very complex supply chain problem, but it gave customers a unique phone that people loved. At the same time, we didn’t waste effort on trying to be unique. We have a near stock experience, with no bloatware added only in the name of differentiation.”

“And finally, we brought the Moto 360,” he says. “Not only was it the first Android Wear smartwatch, but it was one of the first that was round, that actually looked like a watch. The screen technology we first made for the Aura finally found a fitting home.”

new_moto_360_lead.jpg“Android is now quite mature, and does not need much skinning,” added Kevin McDunn, Director of Product Strategy, Motorola. “In fact, if Android absorbs some of the innovation we do and makes it the standard, we are quite happy to retire our features.” After highlighting some of the features of Motorola’s features, such as the Moto display and water resistance, McDunn also talked about some of the features of Lenovo’s lineup, such as the Pro mode on the Lenovo Vibe Shot.

The camera is one of Motorola’s big weaknesses – and not just the UI – and McDunn acknowledged this, along with the fact that Lenovo’s Vibe UI could use some streamlining. “We’re now starting to integrate the two companies more closely, and although we’re certainly not going to lose the distinctiveness that makes each brand so great, we’re looking at the best of both worlds,” says McDunn. “You’re going to see improvements where Motorola can learn from Lenovo, and vice versa.”

“Imaging was a particular issue, and in the last 12 months we’ve worked on that quite closely, and today our image quality is much better than it was,” he adds. “We’re going to continue to bring regular improvement to all aspects of our devices, and going to make them better.”

In all this talk of regular improvements though, it’s hard to imagine any kind of disruptive change in the world of smartphones. It’s a far cry from just over a decade ago when there were dozens of form factors, with Motorola’s own Razr being a notable example, as the flip phone came at a time where every second phone you saw had a candybar design.

lenovo_smartcast.jpgMcDunn however feels that there is still scope for innovation, though it can take place in unexpected ways. He gives the example of the Lenovo SmartCast – a concept smartphone that is like an ordinary Android phone, but with one unique feature. The SmartCast has a projector built in that you can use to create a 15-inch display on a wall or a table. That’s not the unique part though, since we’ve seen such phones before.

With the SmartCast, you can also interact with the projection – this augmented reality feature means that you can, for example, project a small keyboard onto your tabletop, and use it to type instead of relying on an on-screen keyboard. The functionality is fairly straightforward, and the implementation is fast and without noticeable lag.

Of course, the Smart Cast is no replacement for a physical keyboard – it’s just a projected image, and you can’t exactly touch-type – but the potential it offers is quite interesting.

It’s an impressive example of how innovation can bring something completely new to the market, but it’s not clear if we need something like this yet, or if, like the Aura’s round screen, this is something that the company needs to find a proper fit for before hitting the market.


Nexus 5X, iPad Air 2, Intel Compute Stick, TVs, and More Tech Deals

Nexus 5X, iPad Air 2, Intel Compute Stick, TVs, and More Tech Deals

This week’s best deals feature a smartphone, tablets, and a PC, apart from other gadgets.

1. Apple iPad Air 2 128GB Wi-Fi and Cellular
If you are in the market for the high-end variant of the iPad Air 2, Paytm is offering a cashback of 8% on the 128GB Wi-Fi and Cellular variant. You can grab the tablet for as low as Rs. 53,217 (effective). The same variant of the iPad Air 2 normally sells at the Rs. 57,500-57,800 price point. The iPad Air 2 is powered by Apple’s A8X chip along with the M8 motion co-processor. It features a 9.7-inch Retina Display. There’s an 8MP primary camera at the back and a 1.2MP front-facing camera for video calls. This variant allows you to use a cellular connection so you can get internet access while you’re on the move.

Price: Rs. 53,217 (MRP Rs. 59,900)

Link: Paytm

2. Intel Compute Stick

intel_compute_stick_top_ndtv_credit.jpgIf you’re looking to setup a barebones computing environment, the Intel Compute Stick is one pretty decent option. You can simply hook it up to any monitor, attach a keyboard and mouse, and you have a working computer. Initially sold at the Rs. 8,000 price point, you can now grab the Intel Compute Stick for as low as Rs. 6,969 (effective) at Paytm using code ACC15. The Intel Compute Stick is powered by the Intel Atom quad-core processor, supported by 2GB of RAM. It comes with 32GB of on-board storage and runs Windows 8.1 out of the box. It includes a micro SD memory card slot for adding additional memory, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity.

Price: Rs. 6,969 (MRP Rs. 12,990)

Link: Paytm

3. LG Nexus 5X 16GB

lg_google_nexus_5x_side_ndtv.jpgThe latest Nexus device from Google and LG, Nexus 5X (Review | Pictures), is down to Rs. 26,148 (MRP Rs. 31,990) for the 16GB variant. That’s a pretty decent deal if you are looking to upgrade or switch to an Android device. Nexus 5X comes with a 5.2-inch full HD display and runs Android 6.0 out of the box. The smartphone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC which includes a hexa-core processor supported by 2GB of RAM. The Nexus 5X includes a 2700 mAh battery which is decent enough to last an entire day, depending on your usage.

Price: Rs. 26,148 (MRP Rs. 31,990)

Link: Amazon

4. Samsung SCX-4021S monochrome laser printer

samsung_scx_4021s_monochrome_printer.jpgThe Samsung SCX-4021S laser printer is down to Rs. 7,689 (MRP Rs. 13,000) this week. The monochrome multifunction printer can be a great addition to your workstation at home or office if you don’t care much about colored prints. The printer offers printing, scanning and copying functionalities using the in-built scanner. It can also directly scan and e-mail, eliminating the need to manually go through the entire process. The printer comes with an Eco button which promises to save toner, paper and power.

Price: Rs. 7,689 (MRP Rs. 13,000)

Link: Amazon

5. Lenovo wireless headphone

lenovo_wireless_headphones.jpgIn the market for a wireless headphone in the Rs. 1500 price point? Snapdeal has dropped the price on the Lenovo wireless headphones to Rs. 1,559 (MRP Rs. 4,999). The Lenovo wireless headphones come with a mic and connect to your mobile device or computer using a Bluetooth connection. There’s an in-built rechargeable battery that powers the headphones and you can easily fold them and carry while you’re travelling. If you pay using HDFC Bank debit card, you can get an additional 5% cashback on Snapdeal.

Price: Rs. 1,559 (MRP Rs. 4,999)

Link: Snapdeal

6. Vu 32-inch Full HD LED TV

vu_32_tv.jpgBought a new gaming console this Diwali? You might be interested in a basic 32-inch LED TV that doesn’t break your bank account. The VU 32-inch full HD LED TV is now available for Rs. 17,990 (MRP Rs. 20,000) and if you’ve got an old TV you can even use the exchange offers (visible only on the app) to get even more discounts. VU’s 32-inch LED TV comes with two HDMI ports and two USB ports. The TV can easily be used as an additional monitor for your workstation as well. At this price, it’s a no-brainer that the Vu 32-inch LED TV offers value for money.

Price: Rs. 17,990 (MRP Rs. 20,000)

Link: Flipkart

7. Lenovo Lynx

lenovo_lynx_snapdeal.jpgThe Lenovo Lynx hybrid is now down to Rs. 22,899 (MRP Rs. 53,000) on Snapdeal. The 11.6-inch laptop runs Windows 8 and is powered by the Intel Atom dual-core processor, supported by 2GB of RAM. It comes with a 64GB SSD and a keyboard docking station. The 11.6-inch IPS display runs at a resolution of 1366×768 pixels. Lenovo promises a battery backup of around 8 hours, depending on your usage. The hybrid also includes 2 USB 2.0 ports and an HDMI port. The keyboard dock itself has in-built battery so it doesn’t drain the tablet’s battery. You can also upgrade the Lenovo Lynx to Windows 8.1.


Why the US Government and Tech Firms Can’t Agree About Encryption

Why the US Government and Tech Firms Can't Agree About EncryptionYour phone is getting better and better at protecting your privacy. But Uncle Sam isn’t totally comfortable with that, because it’s also complicating the work of tracking criminals and potential national-security threats.

For decades, tech companies have steadily expanded the use of encryption – a data-scrambling technology that shields information from prying eyes, whether it’s sent over the Internet or stored on phones and computers. For almost as long, police and intelligence agencies have sought to poke holes in the security technology, which can thwart investigators even when they have a legal warrant for, say, possibly incriminating text messages stored on a phone.

The authorities haven’t fared well; strong encryption now keeps strangers out of everything from your iMessages to app data stored on the latest Android phones. But in the wake of the Paris attacks, US officials are again pushing for limits on encryption, even though there’s still no evidence the extremists used it to safeguard their communications.

While various experts are exploring ways of resolving the impasse, none are making much headway. For now, the status quo favors civil libertarians and the tech industry, although that could change quickly – for instance, should another attack lead to mass US casualties. Such a scenario could stampede Congress into passing hasty and potentially counterproductive restrictions on encryption.

“There are completely reasonable concerns on both sides,” said Yeshiva University law professor Deborah Pearlstein. The aftermath of an attack, however, “is the least practical time to have a rational discussion about these issues.”

Encryption plays a little heralded, yet crucial role in the modern economy and daily life. It protects everything from corporate secrets to the credit-card numbers of online shoppers to the communications of democracy advocates fighting totalitarian regimes.

At the same time, recent decisions by Apple and Google to encrypt smartphone data by default have rankled law enforcement officials, who complain of growing difficulty in getting access to the data they feel they need to build criminal cases and prevent attacks. For months, the Obama administration – which has steered away from legislative restrictions on encryption – has been in talks with technology companies to brainstorm ways of giving investigators legal access to encrypted information.

But technology experts and their allies say there’s no way to grant law enforcement such access without making everyone more vulnerable to cybercriminals and identity thieves. “It would put American bank accounts and their health records, and their phones, at a huge risk to hackers and foreign criminals and spies, while at the same time doing little or nothing to stop terrorists,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in an interview Monday.

Lawmakers on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence remain on what they call an “exploratory” search for options that might expand access for law enforcement, although they’re not necessarily looking at new legislation.

The FBI and police have other options even if they can’t read encrypted files and messages. So-called metadata – basically, a record of everyone an individual contacts via phone, email or text message – isn’t encrypted, and service providers can make it available when served with subpoenas. Data stored on remote computers in the cloud – for instance, on Apple’s iCloud service or Google’s Drive – is also often available to investigators with search warrants. (Apple and Google encrypt that data, but also hold the keys.)

Some security experts suggest that should be enough. Michael Moore, chief technology officer and co-founder of the Baltimore, Maryland-based data security firm Terbium Labs, noted that police have managed to take down online criminals even without bypassing encryption. He pointed to the 2013 take down of Silk Road, a massive online drug bazaar that operated on the “dark Web,” essentially the underworld of the Internet.

“The way they figured that out was through good old-fashioned police work, not by breaking cryptography,” Moore said. “I don’t think there’s a shortcut to good police work in that regard.”

Others argue that the very notion of “compromise” makes no sense where encryption is concerned. “Encryption fundamentally is about math,” said Mike McNerney, a fellow on the Truman National Security Project and a former cyber policy adviser to the Secretary of Defense. “How do you compromise on math?” He called the idea of backdoors “silly.”

Some in law enforcement have compromise ideas of their own. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office, for instance, recently called for a federal law that would require smartphone companies to sell phones they could unlock for government searches – in essence, forcing them to hold the keys to user data.

In a report on the subject, the office called its suggestion a “limited proposal” that would only apply to data stored on smartphones and restrict searches to devices that authorities had already seized. Privacy advocates and tech companies aren’t sold, saying it would weaken security for phones that are already too vulnerable to attack.

Marcus Thomas, the chief technology officer at Subsentio and former assistant director of the FBI’s operational technology division, argued that it’s too late to turn back the clock on strong encryption, putting law enforcement in a “race against time” to obtain investigatory data whenever and wherever it can. But he urged security experts to find ways to help out investigators as they design next-generation encryption systems.

The idea of allowing law enforcement secure access to encrypted information doesn’t faze Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation – provided a warrant is involved. Unfortunately, he says, cryptographers agree that the prospect is a “pure fantasy.”