April 1, 2023

E.U. Competition Chief Texting With the Enemy

Joaquín Almunia sometimes sends Eric E. Schmidt a text.

Like his predecessors, Mr. Almunia has the power unilaterally to decide to block mergers or fine companies billions of dollars. But where he differs is in how comfortable he is in personally reaching out to executives across the table — or the ocean — to negotiate settlements that avoid long drawn out battles.

“I have an open phone line, or e-mail line, or SMS line at any moment,” Mr. Almunia said during an interview Monday, adding that by using the available technology, “we tend to understand every day, better, these markets.”

Mr. Almunia, 64, served as the European Union’s commissioner for economic and monetary affairs before being appointed four years ago as the bloc’s competition commissioner. The post is likely to be his last job in Brussels and he does not foresee a return to politics in Spain, where he led the Socialists to defeat in 2000 before resigning as party leader.

But the formal complaint that recently hit his desk, focusing on how Google runs its mobile software business, is the latest sign that Mr. Almunia remains the go-to figure for antitrust enforcement in the world’s technology sector.

That complaint, filed by a coalition of companies including Microsoft and Nokia, accuses Google of using the Android mobile operating system to promote its own products and services in the majority of smartphones that are being sold to consumers.

Mr. Almunia still must decide whether to take up the new complaint, which landed just as he appeared to be reaching the final stages of settlement talks with Google over the way it conducts its search and advertising business. But it would be surprising if Mr. Almunia declined to pursue the case given the rising importance of mobile computing.

In recent years, the European Commission has become a defender of fair play in computing and communications, even as regulatory bodies with far more experience — notably those in the United States — have grown squeamish about using antitrust law to pry concessions from some of the world’s most dynamic companies.

Yet there is a paradox about the way Mr. Almunia has managed his vast regulatory powers that allow him, unlike his U.S. counterparts, to decide punishments without first obtaining judicial approval. In a departure from previous competition commissioners, Mr. Almunia has made a point of avoiding public showdowns with chief executives, or seemingly endless litigation.

Mr. Almunia has made negotiation, rather than confrontation, a hallmark of his term in office in order to avoid dust-ups with U.S. giants like Microsoft and Intel, which were the subject of bitter, decade-long investigations. The change of approach has been most noticeable in the inquiry into Google’s search and advertising business.

Less that three years after formally opening the case, Mr. Almunia said this week that he would test proposals submitted by Google aimed at making it easier for people to distinguish when Google was proposing its own services — the strongest sign yet that the investigation into Google’s search business would end in a settlement and without a fine or a finding of guilt.

Even as his officials burrowed into the inner workings of Google’s hugely successful search and advertising businesses, Mr. Almunia met and spoke with Mr. Schmidt and telephoned other senior representatives, like David Drummond, the company’s chief legal officer, to update them.

His willingness to meet with executives to forge relationships and to gain knowledge about the sector also extends to figures like Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. At a meeting with Ms. Sandberg in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the two discussed “the relationship between the search activity and the social network’s activity, but they were general conversations,” Mr. Almunia said.

Not everyone is happy with how European antitrust enforcement is evolving.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/technology/eu-competition-chief-texting-with-the-enemy.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: HTC, Once Atop Market, Gambles on Windows Phone

Jason Mackenzie, president of global sales and marketing at HTC, said the company was highlighting the new phone's camera.Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times Jason Mackenzie, president of global sales and marketing at HTC, said the company was highlighting the new phone’s camera.

As the first to use Google’s Android smartphone software, HTC, the Taiwanese handset maker, was briefly the top smartphone manufacturer in the United States. It was surpassed by Apple and Samsung.

Now, to vie for a bigger piece of the market, HTC is working with another underdog: Microsoft’s Windows Phone software.

At an event in New York on Wednesday, HTC introduced two smartphones featuring Windows Phone 8, the latest version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system. The phones, HTC Windows Phone 8X and HTC Windows Phone 8S, were deliberately named to raise awareness among consumers that Windows phones even exist in a market that is dominated by Apple and Android.

The HTC Windows Phone 8S is the smaller of the two phones the handset maker introduced in its partnership with Microsoft.Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times The HTC Windows Phone 8S is the smaller of the two phones the handset maker introduced in its partnership with Microsoft.

“Generally speaking, consumers aren’t aware of Windows Phone,” said Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Windows Phone division, in an interview. “We wanted to increase the awareness of Windows Phone by simplifying that message.”

For HTC, a big bet on Windows Phone is risky. The previous version of Microsoft’s mobile software, Windows Phone 7, has been unpopular among consumers, gaining about 2.5 percent of the American market. HTC was the top American smartphone maker in the third quarter of 2011, but it now has less than a tenth of the market. Apple and Samsung together account for 57 percent of the American smartphone market, according to estimates by Gartner, the technology research firm.

In a previous interview, Jason Mackenzie, president of global sales and marketing at HTC, said the company did not have a strong, iconic brand for its phones, as Apple does for its iPhone and Samsung does for its Galaxy phones.

At the event, HTC and Microsoft focused their discussion on the Windows Phone 8X model, the bigger and more expensive of the two phones. It has a 4.3-inch screen and a wafer-thin body. Mr. Mackenzie said the camera had an 88-degree viewing angle so that multiple people could be seen during a video conference call, as opposed to just one person’s face.

HTC’s new Windows phones will arrive in November. The Windows Phone 8X will cost $200 with ATT. It will be available on T-Mobile USA, Verizon and some global networks as well, and prices are to be announced for those carriers. The price of the smaller phone, the Windows Phone 8S, was not disclosed.

Making the phone game even tougher for HTC and Microsoft, Apple introduced its iPhone 5 just last week and sold two million devices in the first 24 hours it was on sale. But the companies still think they can compete.

“I think consumers are looking for much more than another row of icons, and this is a beautiful experience,” Mr. Myerson said, referring to the new iPhone’s larger screen.

Pete Cunningham, a mobile analyst at Canalys, said that despite Microsoft’s and HTC’s best efforts to improve on branding, the names of the phones were “not the most catchy product names I’ve heard.” He was skeptical about the sales prospects for the phones, and said that both companies would have to be extremely aggressive in promoting them, especially coming after the iPhone 5.

“We’re in a fiercely competitive space, and there’s a lot of good devices out there, and we’ve obviously got the iPhone 5,” Mr. Cunningham said. “Does the iPhone 5 have the best chip set? No. Camera? No. Will it be the best-selling iPhone ever? Yes.”

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/htc-windows-phones/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Microsoft and Nokia Unveil New Lumia Phones

In a screenshot from Nokia's webcast of its event, Kevin Shields, a senior vice president at Nokia, discusses the Lumia 920.In a screenshot from Nokia’s webcast of its event, Kevin Shields, a senior vice president at Nokia, discusses the Lumia 920.

Microsoft and Nokia, two companies that have not gotten much traction in the smartphone market, are hoping for another chance. The companies on Wednesday unveiled a Lumia smartphone that includes the Windows Phone operating system — new models of products that have not sold well.

At a news conference in New York, Nokia and Microsoft showed the Lumia 920, a smartphone that includes its camera technology called PureView and a wireless battery-charging capability. It also briefly introduced the Lumia 820, a mid-priced smartphone with exchangeable covers. The smartphones run Windows Phone 8, the latest version of Microsoft’s mobile software system.

“This is the most innovative smartphone in the world,” said Jo Harlow, Nokia’s executive vice president. She said the smartphone takes better pictures and video, especially in low light, than any other phone camera on the market, and that it would include access to Nokia’s mapping database, which provides maps for 200 countries.

Nokia, once the biggest phone maker in the world, was dethroned by Samsung earlier this year. Based in Finland, Nokia has been trying hard to gain a foothold in the smartphone market with its Lumia line. It tried to make a big splash this year with the Lumia 900 on ATT, which cost $100 with a two-year contract. Both ATT and Nokia backed this phone with an enormous promotional campaign, but sales were still lackluster.

On Wednesday the company demonstrated a feature called Nokia City Lens, which allows people to point the Lumia camera at restaurants and other local businesses and see reviews digitally overlaid on top of the image. It also showed the Fatboy, a pad that the phone can be placed on to charge its battery.


Microsoft used Nokia’s new phone to rehash some new tools in Windows Phone 8, like the ability to stitch together multiple images into a panorama with a feature called PhotoSynth. Later in the event, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said the new Lumia devices foreshadowed a big year for Windows.

“This is a year for Windows,” said Mr. Ballmer, referring to phones, tablets and PCs that would soon run Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8. “All of the devices are designed to be beautiful and functional, to work for you in your personal life and your professional life.”

The companies did not disclose prices or release dates for either of the phones, but said they would arrive in some markets in the the last three months of this year.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/nokia-microsoft-smartphones/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Google’s Coup Shifts Mobile Alliances

Those companies have made plenty of money selling millions of devices powered by Android, Google’s mobile operating system. Analysts and industry specialists say the deal could sour relations between Google and its partners, who have helped Google beat Nokia and Apple to win the biggest share of the mobile software market.

“They can’t be too thrilled to find that suddenly, these companies are no longer partnering with Google — they’re competing with Google,” Michael Gartenberg, director of research at Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, said referring to the telephone makers. “No matter how Google tries to spin it, they’re competing.”

Larry Page, one of the founders of Google who recently became chief executive, provided reassurance in a company blog post, saying that the acquisition would “not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform,” meaning that any manufacturer will continue to be able to use it. He added that Google would run Motorola Mobility as a separate business.

Analysts, however, warned that it is exceedingly difficult for a company to both license its products and compete with those licensees at the same time. They pointed to Apple’s attempt to license its Mac operating system in the mid-’90s, and to Palm’s unsuccessful effort to split itself into separate software and hardware companies.

Google previously tried to enter the hardware business with its Google-branded Nexus One smartphone that it designed and sold through its Web site, rather than stores. But the phones were met with a lukewarm reception as customers were unaccustomed to buying phones without handling them first.

The Motorola deal will help cement Google’s status as a mobile player, not only among competitors but also among consumers, said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray.

“It changes Google from being just the company they turn to for search,” he said referring to consumers. “It makes them the company delivering their mobile experience in a post-PC world.”

The deal will only add to the flux in the market for mobile telephone software, where Android has surged recently. It had a 43.4 percent global share in the second quarter of this year, up from 17.2 percent a year ago, according to Gartner. Apple’s iOS devices captured an 18.2 percent share, up from 14.1 last year, while the former heavyweight Research in Motion, which makes BlackBerry devices, slipped to 11.7 percent from 18.7 percent.

The acquisition may lead some hardware makers to cast their lot with Microsoft, which is pouring resources into becoming a serious mobile competitor. Nokia has already done just that, betting on Microsoft and abandoning its own mobile operating system.

Others may try to strike out on their own and create operating systems, rather than risk becoming dependent on Google. Samsung has dipped a toe in those waters, releasing phones that run on an in-house system called Bada. HTC already had a team of engineers dedicated to customizing the version of Android that it uses on its phones, called HTC Sense.

Meanwhile RIM is struggling to move to a new operating system, QNX, to try to revive its smartphone and tablet offerings.

A statement by Peter Chou, chief executive of HTC, the Taiwanese phone and tablet manufacturer, was typical of the partners’ reactions. “We welcome the news of today’s acquisition, which demonstrates that Google is deeply committed to defending Android, its partners, and the entire ecosystem,” he said.

Google stands to gain much from Motorola. Owning a hardware manufacturer could help Google better integrate its software with tablets, where it has struggled to gain footing against the iPad. Google also may be able to better integrate its services — books, music, games — into Android devices.

Analysts say that the move could bolster Google TV, Google’s poorly received attempt to wed the Web with home television sets. Motorola has a strong presence in the set-top box market, which Google could leverage.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=734a16f0f39cf648144a2857adf09b6b