Our weekly round up of the big news in technology and digital media.
Google announced yesterday that they had agreed to buy Motorola Mobility for about $12.5 billion; a huge sum in its own right, but a 63% premium on Friday's closing trading price.
Motorola Mobility is the mobile division of Motorola, which began trading as a separate independant company in January this year. In the US, they are well known for the Droid, Droid X and Droid 2 handsets, running Google's Android operating system, heavily promoted and distributed exclusively by Verizon. However, tight profit margins in an increasingly competitive market have seen Motorola losing market share over the last few years.
But it seems likely that the purchase wasn't just about the company's manufacturing assets; Motorola hold a large patent portfolio — an area that has caused Google a considerable number of headaches in recent months (as we mentioned last week, and in July when Google bid $4 billion in an auction for Nortel's patent portfolio — and lost.)
In a blog post, Google CEO Larry Page said that;
Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.
However, the fact is that this now puts Google into the phone hardware business; like Apple, Palm and BlackBerry, they are now able to develop integrated hardware alongside their software. Despite some supportive quotes, it does seem that this could potentially create some friction between them and other hardware partners. It will be interesting to see the direction that Google take Motorola's manufacturing in, and whether it will be towards the higher end and more innovative developments (along the lines of the "Nexus" series of Android handsets which showcase Googles operating system) or a lower cost, mass-market approach to the market.
In a related story this week, Samsung have been blocked by a German court from selling Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets in the EU while an alleged patent infringement lawsuit is underway. The lawsuit revolves around the device design (ie. not related to software patents), which Apple claim to be "slavishly copied" from their iPad.
Update: MacUser reports that the sales ban has since been overturned after Samsung complained that the court did not have the authority to issue an injunction against its parent company.
A couple of changes in the workings of some of the big social networking websites; starting with the biggest, as Facebook have started collecting related status updates into "news" stories. If a number of your friends have posted about stories containing the same key words (where the key word has a corresponding Facebook Page— ie. brands), Facebook will group them into a collection. This seems to work regardless of whether the posts tagged the brand names as links, or simply mentioned them, which will increase visibility of brand pages. (While it is possible to post a link to a brand page by preceeding it with an "@" character, this can only be done by users who have "liked" the brand and know about the feature.)
Twitter are making some changes to the way users see activity on the site, with the introduction of new activity streams. One stream ("@username") will show other users' interactions with your tweets (ie. which of your tweets have generated replies, retweets and 'favourites'.) The other ("Activity stream") will show the same sorts of interactions, but related to the people who you are following.
Meanwhile, the latest development in the new kid on the social networking block; Games have been added to Google+. Game playing is a popular pastime on social networks, with Facebook attracting a considerably different gaming demographic to the traditional "teenagers in bedrooms" audience. Whether Google+ (still in a limited "technical trial" phase) will see adoption by similar audiences remains to be seen.
Amazon launch Kindle Cloud Reader, enabling kindle books to be read online via desktop PCs (although only the Chrome or Safari web browsers are supported), or iPads. Notably, the iPad "Cloud Reader" comes at the same time as Amazon have removed the option of buying Kindle books from within the iPad application (to avoid Apple's 30% charge on in-app purchases.) Although the iPad/iPhone application still allows users to store and read Kindle books, they must now visit the website to buy new books. At the same time (although with much less fuss), Amazon are adding social features to the Kindle website, enabling users to more easily let others know what they are reading and share notes.
comScore have published some findings showing the level of usage of QR codes in the US, revealing that users tend to be male, young adults (18-34, with 25-34 indexing highest), and relatively high income groups — probably indicating the kind of people with access to the relevant technologies at the moment. At the moment, the biggest source is printed media (49.4% in magazines or newspapers), scanned in their own home (58.0%.) Although the strength of QR codes clearly lies as a response mechanism, its interesting to note that while it is generally being talked of as an out-of-home experience (where it offers unique opportunities and enables new behaviours), current usage is a little different — perhaps closer to familiar behaviours such as looking up a listed website URL.
Although it seems reasonable to expect these patterns to change as more people get access to capable devices, as Steve noted here recently, they will also face competition from other technologies offering similar experiences.