Apple invests heavily in solar power

Environmentalists will love the fact that Apple is moving in this direction. While large companies like Facebook and Google are looking into it as well, not forgetting that Facebook is building a data center in Iowa that will be fully powered by wind energy, it’s good to see Apple take such an initiative.

Special report: Apple’s ground-breaking bet on its clean energy infrastructure, with exclusive photos

In an unprecedented move — and one that hasn’t yet been repeated by other companies — Apple spent millions of dollars building two massive solar panel farms and a large fuel cell farm near its data center. These projects and are now fully operational and similar facilities (owned by utilities) have cost in a range of $150 million to $200 million to build. Apple’s are the largest privately-owned clean energy facilities in the U.S. and more importantly, they represent an entirely new way for an internet company to source and think about power.

One of the quirky parks of this setup is how Apple is going to keep the grass trimmed nicely.

Apple manages the grass under the panels in a variety of ways, but one of those is a little more unusual. Apple works with a company that ropes in sheep that eat the grass on a portion of the solar farm; when the sheep finish grazing on one spot, they’re moved to the next.

It’s a more sustainable option than running gas-powered mowers across the farm, and also has the added benefit that sheep can get into smaller spaces and up close to the panels. Some companies use goats to eat grass on plots of land, but goats could chew on the farm’s wiring and solar panel parts.

New China reform plan to reinforce the Great Firewall

Wall Street Journal reports that China plans to tighten internet control.

“Following the increasing power of online media, Internet media and industry management has lagged far behind the quick changes that have come with its development. In particular [we] face the rapid growth of social networking and instant communication tools, like Weike and WeChat, which disseminate information rapidly, have a large influence and broad coverage, and have a strong ability to mobilize society,” the explanation in part reads.

The statement goes on to add “how [we] strengthen the legal system and public opinion guidance, guarantee the orderly spread of information online, national security, and social stability, has already become a real and prominent problem.”

Yahoo to join Google in encrypting traffic between data centers

Google has already moved to get this in place, so it’s not surprising that Yahoo is following suit. The good news is that Microsoft seems to have plans to encrypt traffic between its data centers too. The race for privacy is on.

Yahoo Will Follow Google In Encrypting Data Center Traffic, Customer Data Flow By Q1 ’14

The announcement today comes in the wake of Google making similar moves (which began last year). Google began encrypting the traffic between its data centers after the exposure of a joint NSA-GCHQ program known as MUSCULAR, which outlined a system in which it spliced itself into communications between the company’s servers to gather data on surveillance subjects. The MUSCULAR project also targeted Yahoo directly, as shown in government documents obtained by Edward Snowden and exposed by The Washington Post.

Steve Ballmer admits he was part of the problem at Microsoft

The Wall Street Journal interviews Steve Ballmer about his exit from Microsoft.

“Maybe I’m an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on,” the 57-year-old Mr. Ballmer says, pausing as his eyes well up. “As much as I love everything about what I’m doing,” he says, “the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change.”

Ballmer was not forced out according to the report.

The board’s beef was speed. The directors “didn’t push Steve to step down,” says Mr. Thompson, a longtime technology executive who heads the board’s CEO-search committee, “but we were pushing him damn hard to go faster.”

Investors, too, were pushing for transformation. “At this critical juncture, Wall Street wants new blood to bring fundamental change,” says Brent Thill, a longtime Microsoft analyst at UBS AG. “Steve was a phenomenal leader who racked up profits and market share in the commercial business, but the new CEO must innovate in areas Steve missed—phone, tablet, Internet services, even wearables.”

Ballmer was convinced that he had to change the company culture.

Qi Lu, an executive vice president, submitted a 56-page report on applications and services. Mr. Ballmer sent it back, insisting on just three pages—part of a new mandate to encourage the simplicity needed for collaboration. Mr. Lu says he retorted: “But you always want the data and detail!”

Mr. Ballmer says he started to realize he had trained managers to see the trees, not the forest, and that many weren’t going to take his new mandates to heart.

“At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern,” he says. “Face it: I’m a pattern.”

Ballmer decided to step down.

At the board’s June meeting in Bellevue, Wash., Mr. Ballmer says he told the directors: “While I would like to stay here a few more years, it doesn’t make sense for me to start the transformation and for someone else to come in during the middle.”

So far, this decision has been positive for Microsoft and Ballmer, whose Microsoft shares appreciated by $1.7 billion since announcing his retirement.

Michael Bloomberg shares how he got rich

Politicker writes about Michael Bloomberg’s secret to success.

“I’ve always said to my kids, ‘You have to like what you see in the mirror and you shouldn’t worry about what other people say,” said Mr. Bloomberg, returning to a favorite topic during an appearance this morning on his weekly WOR radio show with John Gambling

“Yes, you have to be nice and polite and there’s a common sense and a sensitivity. You don’t insult people and that sort of thing. But you’ve gotta do what you think is right … And in the end, I’ve always believed that is a formula for success,” he continued. “People say, ‘Oh, you know, you’re wealthy now, you have the luxury of saying things that you want to say.’ Um, how do you think I got wealthy? I really believe that.”

Steve Jobs springs to mind as someone who succeeded thinking the same way.

Only one in three Samsung smartphone sold are comparable to the iPhone

Apple Insider reports that only one third of Samsung sales are in the same class as Apple’s iPhone.

The Bloomberg report stated that “the company, which overtook Apple Inc. (AAPL) in smartphones, has used sales of cheaper handsets in emerging markets to stoke earnings in mobiles as growth in high-end devices slows amid market saturation.”

As its high-end sales stagnates, Samsung has chosen to expand its low-end sales to boost overall smartphone sales.

In stark contrast, Apple’s iPhone sales were up 26 percent over the year ago quarter, setting a new volume record for the September quarter. All of Apple’s smartphones are “high end,” unlike the outdated, 2008-era Galaxy Y model Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston cited as an example of the “mass-market models” he said were helping to “lift” Samsung’s volumes.

That report described Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4 as having “sluggish sales this year,” and referenced the firm’s “the low-end model-driven business strategy.” The company originally projected that the Galaxy S4 would sell 100 million units a year on its own, before sales collapsed this spring shortly after its launch.

It is important to understand that Samsung targets different segments of the market. For a better picture of the market, the sales of Samsung’s high-end model should be used to compare with iPhone sales.

Samsung’s current sales and future plans consistently describe that only around one third of Samsung’s “smartphones” are actually comparable to Apple’s current iPhones, albeit being a generation behind.

IDC data shows 66% of Android’s 81% smartphone share are junk phones

AppleInsider takes a look at the IDC’s smartphone market figures.

IDC reported that overall “smartphone average selling prices (ASPs) have continued to decline as the appetite for more affordable devices grows. ASPs were down -12.5% in 3Q13, accounting for an average price of $317.”

Apple’s iPhone ASP for the quarter was $635, down from the company’s year ago figures of $675. The company reported selling 33.8 million iPhones, resulting in about $21.5 billion in gross revenues.

At $317 each, IDC’s estimate of 261.1 million smartphones results in nearly $82.8 billion in total revenues. However, these numbers include Apple’s much higher iPhone ASP. Subtract Apple’s $21.5 billion and you’re left with $61.3 billion.

That means phablets accounted for a whopping 54.8 million of the total number of Q3 smartphone shipments, 1.6 times as many phones as Apple sold in the quarter. Multiplied by IDC’s $443 ASP, these phablets account for $24.3 billion in total revenue. That’s more than Apple’s total revenue, but there’s far less profit there because the ASP per premium device is whopping $192 less.

So what does all these figure mean?

This reinforces that about two thirds of the overall smartphone market is represented by extremely low end “mass market” devices that are really only called “smartphones” because the industry has decided that running Android makes a device “smart,” even if it is a product like the Samsung Galaxy Y, with a hard to read, low resolution screen and such anemic processing power and limited memory that it can’t really run apps and can’t be upgraded, with hardware specs inferior to Apple’s iPhone 3G from five years ago.

It is a reminder that the mobile market is made up of different segments. Apple targets a specific segment of the market where it can maximise its profits. Its competitors have to go into all segments of the market to increase the volume they sell to make up for the significantly lower profit margin.

Carl Icahn’s shares worth $2.5 billion

AllThignsD reports that Carl Icahn owns 4.7 million Apple shares.

But in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, released to shareholders last month, Icahn disclosed that his stake has grown to 4.7 million shares, which, as of yesterday’s closing price, would be worth $2.5 billion.

Then again, he did say that it was not personal when he demanded Apple for a share buyback.

European Commission approves internet surfing in the sky

The European Commission announced that airlines will be permitted to deplay 3G and LTE networks on their planes.

The Commission has adopted new rules that allow the latest wireless communication technology to be used by passengers on board aircraft flying over the European Union.

This means that from now onwards, spectrum for 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) communications may be used above an altitude of 3000 metres. Until now only 2G (GSM) has been permissible on-board aircraft flying in the EU, which is impracticable sending large amounts of data (for example sending large attachments, downloading eBooks, watching video).

This comes just a day after the EASA allowed the use of electronic devices during take-off and landing.

Bill Gates on being the editor of WIRED

Bill Gates blogs about his experience as the editor of WIRED for their December 2013 issue.

For me, it was a chance to extend a conversation I’ve been having when I travel to universities and great research companies. How can we harvest additional brainpower to tackle the problems of the poor? What are the problems that are being ignored and need attention? How do we encourage people who are making great progress? The WIRED audience was a great group to continue that dialogue. They’ve already got a bias toward technology and innovation. Could I convince them to channel some of that capacity for the poor?

He also shared some of his thoughts on