News Under the Sun is a weekly column rounding up all the events in the mobile industry. Want the news but don't want it every day? Subscribe to our weekly Facebook or Twitter page.
New IPad, New Problems
The new iPad flew off shelves this week, but not without problems. Some customers claim the device gets too hot, switching into an emergency mode until it cools down only hours into use. Apple did not respond to the claims, but grumbles are mounting online, which may lead to bad press.
New iPad buyers also discovered an irritating quirk about the old iPad Smart Cover, which automatically puts the tablet into sleep or active mode using magnets. The new iPad's magnet polarization does not work with the old cover, meaning people who buy the new tablet must also buy a new cover.
The overheating problem and the cover snafu are Apple's mistakes, but the biggest concern with the new iPad stems from networks' data plans. People with 4G LTE iPads can burn through their monthly data packages in hours by streaming movies or downloading data-heavy apps, resulting in huge overage costs or data throttling. This problem is not unique to the iPad, but the device's high-profile and expectations make it a target for the brunt of the criticism.
Apple Aims to Please Shareholders, Critics
After amassing a huge money surplus, Apple is offering $45 billion in dividends and buy back options to its stockholders, which the company hopes will bolster its power. Apple will ramp up its own worth by buying the stocks back, and the dividends will attract new stockholders.
One thing potentially hurting Apple's stock price is its role in the Foxconn controversy. Headlines about worker safety issues continued as NPR's This American Life retracted its hugely popular episode about employee abuse in the Chinese factory based on Mike Daisey's well-publicized report. Although he admitted to making up large swathes of the Accessori Apple, older sources verified past abuses, and Apple is still working to improve the factory conditions.
Apple reported progress in Foxconn's working hours, with most employees clocking less than 48 hours, well within the acceptable time. The company highlighted its plans to continue improving factory conditions and emphasized this improvement was just one step towards a better labor environment.
Meanwhile, rumors swirled about a larger screen for the new iPhone. South Korean newspaper Maeil Business reported Apple placed an order for 4.6-inch displays with Samsung and LG. These rumors contradict analyst predictions that the screen will be 4 inches, but Apple has yet to confirm any details about the device. The iPhone 5's specs are still a mystery, and rumors are likely to increase as the release date draws closer.
Google Revamps Android, Woos App Developers Amid Privacy Debate
Google is readying "Jelly Bean," or Android 5.0, for release later this year, although most Android users have yet to upgrade to "Ice Cream Sandwich," or Android 4.0. Ice Cream Sandwich gathered good reviews, but runs on only 3 percent of Android phones. Now, Google runs the risk of flooding the market with too many versions of its OS if Jelly Bean premieres before ICS takes off.
Google, which updates its operating system to stay current, causes problems for app developers. Some programmers are moving away from Android because the open platform allows for too many variables.
On the other hand, app developers are showing increased interest in Google+, choosing the fledgling social network over Facebook to test out new programs. Google+ features software that helps developers integrate apps to its interface, and although its audience is smaller than Facebook's, the attention illustrates the advantages of working with the newer site.
Verizon Defends Deal as Spectrum Crunch Continues
Verizon and Comcast defended their spectrum deal to government officials this week over objections from competitors. The carrier wants the spectrum to support its LTE network, which is especially important since the new iPad and next iPhone runs off 4G. Cementing this deal will help Verizon stay ahead of competitors, raising concerns from lawmakers about a potential monopoly.
As smartphone and tablet users grow frustrated with their carriers' data throttling and excessive overage charges, alternative service providers are cropping up. FreedomPop is one such service, offering free data packages and affordable unlimited deals. The start-up, backed by a Skype co-founder, plans to make money from other services by offering data deals at inexpensive prices, much like Skype provides a core free service and generates revenue with side ventures.
Like FreedomPop, NetZero is also offering alternative data packageswith the purchase of a wireless hot spot device or modem. NetZero has not made news since its dial-up heyday, but the Internet service provider is staging a comeback by offering low-cost mobile Internet access without contracts.
Alternative data providers are responding to customer demands for unlimited data plans, but a new study suggests most users do not need unlimited data. According to Consumer Reports, almost half the unlimited data users at AT&T would have no problem switching to a smaller plan.
Some users are fine without unlimited data, but the popularity of March Madness streaming underscores the shift in entertainment to mobile devices, leading to ramped up data usage, especially on LTE devices.
Amazon, Microsoft Plot Tablet Takeover
Amazon is prepping for its next Kindle Fire release, with rumors swirling about a larger screen size. The Kindle Fire outsold competing Samsung tablets last year, although it failed to keep up with the iPad. If Amazon makes key improvements to its older model but keeps its competitive price, it could take over a larger share of the tablet market.
Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to release Windows 8 in October, a strategic release date that positions the new devices as hot new products just in time for the holiday season, as well as allowing time for hype over the new iPad to fade away. Microsoft is partnering with Nokia to release Windows 8 tablets, and both companies are betting big on their success.
Twitter Turns 6, Social Networking Turns Increasingly Public
Twitter celebrated its sixth birthday, marking its ascent from small start-up to global phenomenon. The site's remarkable growth is spurring rumors that it may follow Facebook and file for an IPO, as it shows no signs of slowing down.
Twitter became an important part of the controversial case against Rutgers student Dharun Ravi, convicted this week of bias intimidation and a number of other charges against his roommate, Tyler Clementi, who later committed suicide. Ravi's tweets are featured prominently in the case, illustrating how social networking behavior leaves a permanent digital record.
Google Wallet, Pay Anywhere Clash in Mobile Payment Race
Google is looking for a leg up in the mobile payment race, and may start paying carriers to use Google Wallet. Google is talking with Verizon and AT&T about revenue-sharing agreements to launch its mobile payment service ahead of other contenders like Isis and PayPal. Right now, Google Wallet is only offered on Sprint Nexus phones, and the company hopes to change that by offering other carriers a slice of its profits.
Meanwhile, mobile payment start-up Pay Anywhere slashed prices in a bid to lure customers away from PayPal, Square and Google Wallet, undercutting the rival companies' processing fees by a penny. The lower prices may attract attention, but Pay Anywhere will need to do more to distinguish itself, as Google Wallet enters into agreements with carriers and PayPal and Square offer affordable mobile registers for merchants.
Angry Birds Hits Space, Theme Parks, Wal-Mart
Finnish game maker Rovio launched "Angry Birds Space," its first full-fledged sequel, hoping lightning would strike twice. Good reviews from critics and users are pointing to another hit, though it is too early to find out how many people downloaded the game based on its own merits and who bought it because of their appreciation for the original.
Either way, the Angry Birds brand is booming, and Rovio announced a partnership with Wal-Mart and plans to open U.K. theme parks. If "Angry Birds Space" proves as addictive as the original, the brand's popularity is likely to continue growing.