November 28, 2010

Cox unveils new On Demand, TV Guide

Cox Communications is in the process of unveiling a new edition of On Demand and TV Guide to its customers.

While the new edition of On Demand will largely operate the same, it'll have additional search options, a fresh look and process faster. TV Guide will have a sharper look and a new color palette, the company said.

Historically, consumers have waited several seconds from the moment they switch the channel to On Demand, to when the menu appears. The new edition eliminates that wait time.

In addition, consumers will be able to search by time and theme, options they did not have before. They'll also be able to fast forward in 15 minute increments.

Josh Nelson, vice president of information and network technology at Cox said the new editions are one of multiple upgrades Cox customers should anticipate in the near future. He did not disclose what changes the company is currently working on.

"When you start a migration path, you have to do it at a speed and pace that the audience can handle and adapt to," said Nelson.

Depending on what cable box a customer has, the new version of the TV Guide could already be integrated, the company said.

The rollout began about a little over a month ago and will be completed by the holidays.

Although all previously recorded material will not be eliminated, customers will need to reschedule the recording of any future programs, the company said.

by Megan Neighbor The Arizona Republic Nov. 25, 2010 06:30 PM

Cox unveils new On Demand, TV Guide

Cable, satellite providers aim for innovation

Cable and satellite television are beginning to face challenges similar to those their broadcast counterparts faced when broadband gained popularity.

Cox Communications, DirecTV and Dish Network - the three major television providers in the Valley - are increasing their offerings and attempting to make them more user-friendly as competition with Internet-to-TV streaming devices grow more popular.

New HD channels and movies are popping up on a near-daily basis. On Demand and CinemaPlus features have been streamlined and for-purchase video libraries expanded.

Program guides are beginning to look and feel edgier with different color schemes and more search options. Tile-based icons of movies are replacing bulky images that once cluttered On Demand.

And that's just the beginning of the industry's metamorphosis.

Cox, DirecTV and Dish Network have or are in the process of developing technologies that allow consumers to access TV from their cellphones or computers anywhere, anytime.

The new technologies come at a time when market competition is at its peak with streaming devices such as the Apple TV, Roku Box and Xbox360 becoming more popular. The devices allow consumers to purchase shows or movies via Netflix, Hulu and iTunes and watch them on their televisions.

And according to some industry insiders, that's one of a myriad reasons why cable subscriptions shrank in this year's second and third quarters - an unprecedented downturn for the industry. Other reasons could be the lukewarm economy and the rising cost of TV subscriptions.

Although subscriptions shrank, cable companies are benefiting from rate hikes and consumers who are opting to buy additional channels, movies or other upgrades such as high-definition programming. The average consumer spent $69.41 per month for television services in the second quarter of 2010, compared with $68.33 in the first quarter, according to data provided by SNL Kagan.

Growing competition

By upgrading devices and providing additional services, major television providers are trying to remain competitive in an industry that's becoming increasingly crowded.

With devices that bridge television with the Internet, some consumers have access to movies and shows without a subscription to cable or satellite.

Apple TV, Roku Box, Wii, Xbox and Samsung Internet-connected TVs are among the most popular products that consumers use to access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and iTunes.

The blossoming TV-via-Internet business may be one of several factors leading to a marked decrease in traditional cable and satellite customers, some experts believe.

In the second quarter, the top 12 public multichannel video programming distributors reported a net loss of 55,000 customers. Four of the five largest cable companies - Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter and Cablevision - reported a loss of 518,300 subscribers in the third quarter.

Cox, which is a privately held company, does not report subscriber gains or losses.

Satellite providers had mixed results.

In the third quarter, Dish lost 29,000 subscribers and DirecTV gained 380,000 customers in the U.S. and Latin America.

Despite its loss of customers, Dish reported net income of $245 million, or 55 cents per share, compared with $80.6 million, or 18 cents per share, in the third quarter of 2009. That's because individual customers paid more for their services.

Greg Ralbovsky, a 25-year-old Tempe resident and freelance television producer, stopped subscribing to cable television a year ago to save money. He relies solely on his Xbox 360, a paid subscription to Netflix and his broadband Internet for streaming movies on his television.

"I've briefly considered subscribing again because Conan O'Brien is back on the air, but otherwise I have very little interest in getting cable," Ralbovsky said.

While the new devices don't cost as much as a cable or satellite subscription, they have shortcomings, the most obvious of which is the inability to provide comprehensive content. They also have limited access to the Internet, though Google TV, one of the newer products, boasts free rein.

However, several major networks have blocked content from Google TV users.

The future of television

Whether new products will continue to draw consumers away from the traditional cable and satellite has yet to be seen.

Most industry insiders believe that until more and better content is available online, cable will remain the more popular option.

"Although the technology is here, the licensing for the content is the big struggle," said Mark Goldstein, president of the International Research Center.

Ian Olgeirson, a senior analyst at SNL Kagan, echoes Goldstein.

"Our outlook tends to lean toward multichannel subscriptions remaining the primary method people get their television service for the foreseeable future," Olgeirson said.

New technologies

Just as Internet providers are moving to the big screen, cable and satellite companies also are trying to move content to other devices.

Of the traditional content providers, Dish is the furthest along in implementing television-to-cellphone streaming capabilities, although DirecTV and Cox say they're close on its heels.

This spring, Dish released its latest version of a DVR box that uses "placeshifting" technology to stream video to other sources.

Consumers must have a broadband Internet connection for remote viewing.

Dish will soon launch a "slingloaded" adapter that's compatible with several existing DVR models and allows consumers to watch TV on a smartphone or laptop, the company said.

DirecTV began streaming Sunday football games to portable devices such as smartphones in 2009 and iPads this year, a company spokesman said.

It will introduce an online video service, similar to TV Everywhere, in mid-2011.

With TV Everywhere, customers can access movies and television once they've authenticated their subscription. That content can be watched over a cellphone or computer.

Similar technology will be coming for Cox customers, said Josh Nelson, vice president of information and technology services. "Products of the future really get away from individual devices and start speaking in harmony," Nelson said.

by Megan Neighbor The Arizona Republic Nov. 25, 2010 06:24 PM

Cable, satellite providers aim for innovation

Handheld devices only get smarter

Imagine being able to exchange business cards with another professional just by touching your smartphones together.

Envision bypassing the front desk of your hotel at check-in. Instead, you would use your smartphone to handle the transaction, and then again as a key to get into the room by holding it over the door lock.

And without moving from your stadium seat at a baseball game, picture buying a hot dog with your smartphone and choosing either to pick it up or have it delivered to you.

The scenarios may sound futuristic, but these are real-life examples of mobile applications used in hundreds of pilot tests over the past few years. The technology behind the apps is called Near Field Communication, or NFC. It is expected to be in the hands of smartphone users around the world starting next year, based on recent announcements from some of the world's largest handset manufacturers, wireless carriers and financial institutions.

Until recently, NFC received little attention outside technology circles. Most often, it has been described as the next version of contactless technology for smart cards already used at many retail locations, in public-transit systems and to gain entry into secure buildings in metropolitan Phoenix and around the world.

But analysts and industry players say contactless payments in phones, or "mobile payments," is only the beginning for NFC technology. When fully adopted, NFC is expected to alter how society communicates and functions on an everyday basis.

But before that happens, major hurdles need to be overcome.

Multiple industries have the existing infrastructure to support NFC technology. But as it rolls out to consumers, industry players need to iron out details surrounding payment structures, compatibility and availability of devices, revenue sharing and costs.

"We're all sitting and waiting while the giants position themselves and find their position of strength in the market," said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance. "And in the meantime, consumers have to wait."

What NFC will do

For those who think of themselves as technologically challenged, NFC could be a lifesaver. Co-founders Nokia, Sony and Royal Phillips Electronics Inc. (now NXP Semiconductors) designed the technology with a goal of making mobile devices more intuitive and easier to use.

NFC-enabled smartphones can communicate and share data with other compatible devices by touching or holding a few inches from one another. NFC transfers data up to 424 kilobits per second. The radio frequency at which it operates is about the same as the frequency for WiFi and Bluetooth. That means, for example, an NFC smartphone would automatically sync to a Bluetooth headset by touching the two together.

It's also compatible with current smart-card infrastructures, meaning consumers could use their smartphones to make purchases at retail locations that have Visa PayWave or MasterCard PayPass point-of-sale terminals; buy tickets at public-transit systems that have readers at kiosks, such as the Valley Metro light-rail's Platinum Pass program today; and enter secured buildings, such as business establishments. Hence the term "digital" or "mobile" wallet.

"NFC has the contactless payment functions but is so much more than that," said Vanderhoof of the Smart Card Alliance, a non-profit, multi-industry organization with 170 members worldwide.

Unlike other contactless technologies, NFC switches among three modes of usage, according to the NFC Forum, which was co-founded by Sony, Nokia and NXP in 2004 and sets NFC specifications.

In card emulation mode, the chip stores information in the same way a smart card does. In reader/writer mode, the chip reads and runs data similar to how point-of-sale terminals read smart cards to complete payment transactions.

This is where merchants and advertisers can benefit from mobile payments via NFC, Vanderhoof said.

"That terminal could also send an ad or a coupon to the phone," he said. The customer could instantly redeem the offer or save it for later, as opposed to being forgotten in the wallet or thrown away.

Einar Rosenberg is chief technology officer of Miami-based developer Narian Technologies, an application developer and consultancy firm.

"It creates the easiest and most personal way to interact with your environment," Rosenberg said. "NFC could be involved in practically everything in your life."

Narian, who has been in the NFC business for nine years, is piloting a handful of multiplatform apps it hopes to launch next year.

Among them are apps for:

- Diners to place orders at restaurants from their NFC smartphones before the waiter gets to the table.

- Shoppers to page an employee for assistance to the exact spot they are standing in a grocery store, describing why they need help and even their appearance.

- Patients who have a hard time remembering to take their medication. The smartphone would show a reminder photo of which pill to take and even could let a pharmacy know when a refill is needed, all by tapping a phone to an NFC tag on the pill bottle, Rosenberg said.

Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo placed third in one category of the NFC Forum's annual Global Competition this year with an idea to embed NFC tags in health-care equipment, such as blood-pressure monitors and scales. NFC phones could grab a person's medical data from the tag and transfer it to health-care providers via its mobile network to track the patient remotely.

In another category, Artesis University College of Antwerp in Belgium placed second for an app that allows schoolteachers to program information and exercises into NFC tags. Students then could tap NFC-enabled devices together to bring up information.

NFC's third mode of usage, called peer-to-peer mode, allows devices with NFC chips to share and transfer data with one another almost instantaneously by being touched or tapped together.

For example, a phone could transfer a photo to a laptop by tapping the devices together. That same laptop could then print the photo by touching it to an NFC-enabled printer.

"We'll be able to sit in our living rooms and our TVs and smartphones will communicate and we'll be able buy things off the TV right from our phones," said George Peabody, director of emerging technologies at Mercator Advisory Group.

Initially, mobile payments likely will be the first way consumers use NFC because it's familiar, he said. As it seeps into different industries over the next five to 10 years, he said, NFC will be as commonplace as GPS and Bluetooth are today.

"It'll be the kind of tool we won't even think about in five years when we use it," Peabody said. "By 2020, we'll be approving our payments on our mobile handsets by our gestures and by our voice."

What we're seeing

A few countries, such as Japan, have been using mobile payments, especially in public transit, for years. But this should not dim the excitement about NFC, said John Devlin, analyst at ABI Research.

Japan's technology, called FeliCa, only has card emulation mode, he said. But next year, smartphones all over the world will start to include all three capabilities.

Nokia, for example, has announced it will begin introducing NFC-enabled smartphones in 2011. Google Inc.'s CEO Eric Schmidt said the new version of its Andriod operating system would support NFC, while Jim Basillie, CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd., said they'd "be fools" not to include NFC in future products. Although Apple has been tight-lipped, industry speculation and patent applications indicate the next-generation iPhone 5 also will be NFC-equipped.

When NFC smartphones hit the worldwide commercial market next year, it won't be the first time, said Peter Preuss, marketing committee chair of the NFC Forum. When Nokia launched the first NFC phone in 2007, specifications weren't fully in place and stakeholders couldn't agree on a business model to support the technology, he said.

"The manufacturers were saying, 'We can't implement this if the market isn't ready,' " Preuss said. "They realized that bringing NFC to market would require a broader-based effort, including organizations from wireless carriers to financial services providers to application developers. That tempered their initial excitement somewhat."

But now it's been gaining traction again. The NFC Forum has more specifications in place and also has created a universal symbol it hopes will be widely adopted as an easy way for consumers to identify where NFC services are located.

Worldwide shipments of NFC handsets are expected to hit 25 million next year, Devlin said - a huge jump from April's prediction of 5 million.

Last week, the U.S. joined the ranks of wireless carriers in pockets of Asia and Europe that have committed to deploying NFC starting next year.

In a joint venture dubbed Isis, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA are working with Discover Financial Services and Barclays PLC in the U.K. to roll out a mobile payment network, using NFC, in certain markets within the next 18 months.

Although left out of Isis, financial giants Visa and MasterCard have been dabbling in their own mobile payment trials for about two years.

Visa, with mobile payment technology firm DeviceFidelity, has run pilots with removable MicroSD cards equipped with NFC that leverages its PayWave program. MasterCard has done similar pilots with its PayPass program via NFC tags in the form of stickers.

Other industries have started committing to NFC as well. Assa Abloy, the world's largest lock supplier, recently launched a pilot with a hotel chain in Sweden in which guests can check in, enter their rooms and check out all through an app on their NFC-enabled phones.

"This is not rocket science," said Tam Hulusi, senior vice president of HID Global, a business unit of Assa Abloy. "The rocket science is getting all these people to talk to each other."

Barriers and hurdles

Credit-card fraud is a top concern for Americans. For many, the thought of keeping all their card information on a mobile phone is unsettling, especially when the action of swiping a physical card isn't considered laborious.

But experts say if stakeholders properly educate consumers and retailers, privacy concerns over NFC will dwindle and its ease of use will drive demand.

Payment systems using radio frequency ID, or RFID, have raised security concerns in the past because the wireless broadcasting range in which it transfers data is relatively large. However, NFC by definition is a short-range wireless technology, and therefore is inherently more secure, Peabody of Mercator said.

Also, unlike magnetic strips on the backs of plastic cards, payment credentials change with every transaction using NFC, he said.

"Because they're unique and not static, they're not useful and can't be reused," Peabody said.

In addition to uniqueness, he said, NFC-enabled handsets will have multiple security layers, such as pin codes now and eventually voice and finger recognition for authentication.

But what if the phone is lost or stolen? That hasn't been worked out quite yet, he said.

"We're going to need to have a way to wipe or kill a phone and then consumers are going to need to know how to do that," Peabody said. "That could be one thing the Isis venture could bring to the market."

Phones will also have to be replaced within a shorter time frame, and there needs to be some form of an external back-up system that restores an individual's content to the new phone, he said.

Although the technology itself is ready for deployment, the final issue is getting other industries to play nice.

"The business relationships between mobile operators and financial institutions still haven't been worked out," said Vanderhoof of the Smart Card Alliance.

U.S. carriers want a share of the debit and credit card transaction fees charged to merchants, which means financial institutions either have to raise those fees - and risk losing clients - so they don't lose revenue, or take the loss to keep customers, he said.

Isis plans eventually to welcome other carriers and banks into the venture, but Vanderhoof said that still could exclude the banks that don't agree to its terms. And if the NFC chip is embedded into the phone, the consumer could be restricted to which bank it uses for mobile payments.

"But consumers don't want to be limited to what they can use," he said.

Some financial institutions have already found a way around this is by offering NFC-enabled removable SIM and MicroSD cards, such as what already have been seen through pilots launched by Visa and MasterCard. This year, Visa also extended its program to the iPhone via a case equipped with a slot for its MicroSD card. These types of situations all will work themselves out eventually, and in the end, it only gives consumers more options, said Rosenberg of Narian.

"At the end of the day competition will drive the compromise," he said. "Consumers will only benefit from this."


How NFC might affect your world

Near Field Communication offers new revenue-generating opportunities and easier ways to reach and serve consumers. As with any new technology, issues can arise when changing from an old way of doing things. Here is a look at the potential impact in four sectors.

Retail: Retailers aren't likely to see reduced debit- and credit-card transaction fees by financial institutions anytime soon. They're hoping for added value by using NFC in their retail locations. And as smartphones make huge strides in popularity, NFC can offer more effective, efficient ways of making sure coupons, advertisements and loyalty cards are reaching and being used by customers.

Health care: With NFC, the health-care industry could more closely track when care providers check in and out with patients, store methods of treatment and even expand ways to monitor patients remotely. When arriving at a health-care facility, patients also could authorize medical records and insurance information via their NFC devices instead of filling out paperwork.

Public transportation: Tickets would be digital, which would cut the cost of buying, storing and distributing paper tickets - and be more eco-friendly. Lines at ticketing kiosks would move faster, and passengers could tap their NFC phones to a smart poster to know what terminal to go to and at what time.

Building security: Security systems at business establishments and residences could be more easily controlled and offer more flexibility. With NFC handsets acting as key cards, employers and residents could deactivate or update one's credentials almost immediately over the air. They could monitor the locations of people throughout the premises and give visitors temporary access.

Firm finds receptive investors in Phoenix

Narian Technologies, and application developer and consultancy firm in Miami, has been thinking about NFC and its possibilities for nine years. The company has more than 280 open-platform NFC apps in the works that are geared toward about 15 unique markets, ranging from health care to restaurants. Einar Rosenberg, chief technology officer, said he has hardly any competitors because other entrepreneurs have focused primarily on mobile payments.

All but one of Narian's investors have been from Phoenix, accounting for 90 percent of investment dollars since 2001. Rosenberg wouldn't disclose their identities, but he said each is a high net-worth individual from occupations ranging from construction to accounting. None has a background in technology, he said.

Narian's relationship with Phoenix came by coincidence when Rosenberg was seeking capital for the first round of funding in 2001. A money manager of wealthy individuals suggested Rosenberg meet with his client, who happened to be a Phoenix native. The investor agreed to half of the initial round and then got others in Phoenix involved for the second and third rounds.

Rosenberg said each round has raised about $1 million. Narian is close to raising a fourth round - with more Phoenix investors - to pilot and launch a handful of NFC apps by the end of next year.

by Kristena Hansen The Arizona Republic Nov. 25, 2010 12:00 AM

Handheld devices only get smarter

Hot electronics

Phillips 3D TV, Asus Netbook, Apple IPod, Sony E-Reader, Creative Labs MP3 Player, HTC F3188

Consumer electronics are again at the top of many shoppers' gift and wish lists. But this year, it's the small stuff that's creating must of the excitement.

Smartphones, tablet computers, netbooks and e-readers are muscling out last year's hot laptops and high-definition televisions as this season's top electronics gifts.

Many of hot gifts this year, such as Apple's iPad tablet computer, the Motorola Droid X smartphone and Kinetic for Microsoft's Xbox 360, weren't available last Christmas.

Other electronic products that were new last year, such as the Amazon Kindle, cost substantially less this year and are in high demand.

In order to give consumers a chance to get their arms around a "robust pipeline of new products," electronics-retailer Best Buy started its holiday promotions almost two weeks earlier this year than last.

As a result, consumers can expect to see steep discounts on laptops and LCD high-definition televisions as retailers seek to close out slower-moving products.

Some of the hottest electronic products this year include:

Tablet computers

These hand-held devices allow users to surf the Internet, watch videos, read newspapers and books, manage photographs and more.

- Apple's iPad tablet computer, which came out in April, is one of the hottest electronic gifts this season and starts at $499.

- Samsung Galaxy Tab, iPad's biggest challenger, is the first tablet computer with Google's Android operating system and is now available in the U.S. for about $650.


The devices allow users to download books from the sellers' proprietary online bookstores.

- Amazon Kindle is the market leader and lets users read anything anywhere for about $100 less than last Christmas. $139 for Wi-Fi; $189 for 3G.

- Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader is Kindle's biggest competitor and is a Best Buy doorbuster on Black Friday this year for $100, or $50 off.

MP3 players

These fit in your pocket, play music, videos and games, and have come along way since Apple introduced the iPod Mini.

- Apple's latest version of the 32-GB iPod Touch holds 7,000 songs, 40 hours of video and can play up to 30 hours of music or six hours of video. $299.

Video cameras

Clunky camcorders have evolved into pocket-size video cameras that can hold hours of video.

- Flip Ultra HD is a pocket-size high-definition camera that holds up to two hours of video on its built-in memory. From $99.


These phones allow users to surf the Internet, take pictures, listen to music, check e-mail, send text messages and make phone calls.

- iPhone 4, the fourth generation of Apple's game-changing wireless phone, has an improved 5-megapixel camera and a front-facing video camera for video calls. $199 for 16 GB with a two-year service contract.

- Motorola's Droid X is a top iPhone competitor, with 4.3-inch display and an 8-megapixel camera. About $200, also with a two-year contract.

Video-game sensors

These sensors allow users to integrate their body movements into the games they are playing. Microsoft and Sony challenge the dominance of Nintendo's Wii this season.

- Kinect for Microsoft Xbox 360 brings video games to life without a controller. $150.

- PlayStation Move for PlayStation 3 video consoles is like Kinect and Wii, only with a handheld wand. $100.

Internet TV devices

These set-top boxes allow users to bypass cable and access television programs and movies on their high-definition televisions via the Internet.

- Apple TV brings TV shows, movies, videos photos from your computer to your television. $99.

- Logitech Review with Google TV streams video and music to your television and interfaces with regular cable TV. $300.

- Roku allows users to stream movies from Netflix to their televisions. $60.


These small, portable, relatively inexpensive computers can be used for e-mail, surfing the Internet and word processing.

- Lenovo IdeaPad S10, has a 10.1-inch screen, 512 MB of memory and battery life of 2.7 hours. About $400.

- Asus Eee PC 904HA has an 8.9-inch screen and battery life of 5.5 hours. Also about $400.

GPS devices

Navigators help users find their way on foot or in their cars.

- Garmin NĂ¼vi portable GPS navigator features an auto navigator, calculator, currency converter, voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions, world travel clock and more. From about $90.

Blu-ray disc players

These players accommodate next-generation Blu-ray format high-definition CDs and DVDs that hold significantly more content.

- Sony BDP-S550 1080 is Sony's newest Blu-ray disc player and offers excellent image quality and a solid feature set. About $500.

3-D televisions

Separate glasses are required and are sometimes included in the price of the TV.

- Panasonic plasma models exhibited the best 3-D picture quality and the least amount of ghosting, according to Consumer Reports. From $2,000 for a 50-inch screen.

- Sony Bravia is an LED-LCD 3-D model that is about $2,000 for a 55-inch screen.

by Max Jarman The Arizona Republic Nov. 24, 2010 12:00 AM

Hot electronics

November 27, 2010

ATM Fraud Gets Even More Brazen: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

Fraud involving debit cards and personal-identification numbers is on the rise as criminals go where the cash is—even targeting banks' own automated teller machines.

Techniques such as "skimming," in which criminals capture card information and personal-identification numbers, have existed for years, often on a small scale. Though the dollar losses still are relatively modest, organized gangs now are pulling off more-sophisticated attacks.

They also are targeting bigger players: Whereas most of the fraud in previous years took place at independent ATMs or at retail points of sale, fraud at bank-owned ATMs made up more than 80% of the breaches in the first six months of this year, says Fair Isaac, which provides fraud-detection software.

Europe, which has faced a bigger problem than the U.S., saw card-skimming ATM attacks jump 24% in the first six months of this year, to 5,743, the largest six-month number since data-gathering began in 2004, according to the European ATM Security Team, a nonprofit group. (Losses from skimming fell 8%, to €144 million, or $197 million.)

Attacks on retailers continue to climb as well. Last month, supermarket chain Aldi said it had discovered that payment terminals in major U.S. cities in 11 states had been altered to allow the skimming of card numbers, cardholder names and PINs between June 1 and Aug. 31 this year.

Avivah Litan, fraud analyst at Gartner, a research firm, estimates that fraud involving debit cards, PINs and point-of-sale equipment has surged 400% over the past five years. One tactic, she says, has been "flash attacks": Using the stolen information, gangs create thousands of counterfeit debit cards and then dispatch cronies to at least 100 ATM machines in several cities at once. Each withdraws a small dollar amount from several accounts to avoid fraud-detection software, adding up to tens of thousands of dollars in losses.

Until recently, skimming equipment was relatively crude and clunky, attached to card-readers with double-stick foam tape and relying on small cameras to record hands punching in PINs. Newer devices include equipment that fits inside card readers, pinhead-sized cameras and well-crafted attachments that sit snugly on top of ATM card readers and PIN pads, looking just like the real equipment. Bluetooth technology allows the fake card reader and PIN pad to talk to each other, and data drives or wireless technology can make downloading of stolen information quick and easy.

Given such clever engineering, consumers may not be able to tell that a machine has been compromised. Banks may not know either: Fair Isaac says that perpetrators of such fraud often place skimmers on outdoor ATMs on Saturday mornings and remove them before the bank opens Monday. The data is typically passed to crooks in another country within hours.

Better technologies are available: Canada and several European countries, among others, have adopted so-called chip-and-PIN debit cards, with chips built into the card, adding a layer of protection. But American banks and retailers have resisted adopting the technology because it is expensive to replace cards, ATMs and point-of-sale machines.

The chip-and-PIN technology isn't foolproof, and experts say U.S. banks and retailers may instead leapfrog that technology, possibly by using the capabilities of smartphones to verify transactions or to actually make the transactions instead of using a card.

Given scammers' growing sophistication, consumers are at a disadvantage. But there are some steps you can take—beyond becoming an expert in equipment design and appearance—to avoid the traps or lessen the impact if your information is stolen:

• The simplest protection, says the American Bankers Association, is to get in the habit of covering up your hand when you enter your PIN so that a camera can't record what you are typing.

• Use an indoor ATM. Because they are less isolated, indoor ATMs are less likely to be tampered with than outdoor machines.

• Use your PIN sparingly at retailers, and choose the signature option—or a credit card—instead, Ms. Litan says.

• If you don't have time to check your bank account regularly, set up email or text alerts to send you balances weekly or, if you are particularly paranoid, daily, so that you will know sooner if something is amiss. Most banks will refund your losses promptly, but you need to report the violation quickly, preferably within two days and no later than 60 days after receiving a statement showing the fraud.

• You should add your bank's and credit card's customer-service numbers to your contacts so you can access them from both your email and cellphone. Having the numbers at hand will eliminate the frustration of trying to find them when you are traveling or at a public computer.

• If your bank suspects fraud, it needs to be able to reach you quickly. Make sure it has your cellphone number as well as your email address and that your other information is up to date. Taking my own advice, I discovered that my bank had home and work phone numbers that were more than a decade out of date.

by Karen Blumenthal Wall Street Journal November 27, 2010

ATM Fraud Gets Even More Brazen: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

Scope Out These Cyber Monday Deals - The Early Show - CBS News

(CBS) Now that Black Friday is but a distant memory, holiday bargain hunters are gearing up for Cyber Monday, one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, which is now less than two days away.

Cyber Monday starts tomorrow at midnight, when hundreds of "e-tailers" reveal deals and steals on their home pages.

But how can you take advantage of the bargains?

Luckily, Regina Lewis, AOL consumer adviser, shared some tips on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" on how to navigate to the best online deals, while making sure you don't fall victim to an online scam in the process.

Lewis explained Cyber Monday - like Black Friday - is a term coined by the Nation Retail Federation. She explained it's a marketing tool, but is one that offers many legitimate deals for consumers.

According to Lewis, 85 percent of online retailers will offer some kind of Cyber Monday deal, and one out of every six Americans will shop online on Monday.

"There's a lot of momentum going in," she said.

Lewis recommended buyers keep offline rules of thumb in mind when buying online.

"If you are buying big-ticket items - a television, laptop, an e-reader, fine jewelry - prioritize your time by price. Big-ticket items tend to sell out and go first. Otherwise, for other items, I would certainly wake up early. Here's the deadline in my head: 10:00 a.m. Eastern on Monday, before the lunch hour on the east coast when the whole world is going to be shopping and selection is going to go down. You will run into things, like 'Yes. we have that item only in one couple of colors and sizes.'

"If you want variety, wake up early."

"Early Show" co-anchor Dr. Debbye Turner Bell remarked, "At least you can do it in your pajamas!"

But what sites will have the best deals?

Lewis said, "Wal-Mart set an unbelievable precedence on Black Friday with laptops and televisions. They're known for 'how low can you go.' The same is true on their website. What people don't understand is they have tens of thousands of items more, additional things than the store. It's a whole different division of Wal-Mart and I think they will have exceptional prices."

Lewis told Bell it's a good idea for shoppers to join e-newsletters to find out about the latest deals and coupon codes.

She said, "Other sites, like has something called Lightning Deals, which roll out on the half hour. You've got to be quick. I want to remind everybody it's not to have the item in your cart. You actually have to complete the check-out process."

Lewis continued, "It is a good time to register with sites, type in your address, get in your billing process and be fast and up to the tee, if you will, in the check-out process."

Lewis recommended these sites to help you sort through the deals on Cyber Monday and throughout your holiday shopping:


But in the search for a good deal on Cyber Monday, Lewis warned of online scammers.

She offered these three scam signs:

Bogus Bargains: "It's the online equivalent of throwing up a sign in the window that says going out of business when you're really not. Just because you see the term cyber monday doesn't mean it is a legitimate sale. It is only a sale if the price is right. You will see cyber monday plastered all over the web."

Lookalike Sites: "Actually if you go to a site, the Gap is the Gap is the Gap, should be pretty safe. The culprit is fake e-mail confirmations, and they go like this, 'before we ship your recently purchased item we need to confirm a couple of things.' (You say,) 'I have been shopping and I do want it to make it on time, and you to e-mail back pertinent information, your credit card, your social security number. That never happens by e-mail. Watch for those. If they're not addressed to you or they're not from a place you shopped, they're false confirmation emails."

Pitfall of Free Shipping "Free shipping people say, 'You need the code before we give the code, again, you have to hand over information.' You should never have to hand over your credit card information or social security to get a secret code. That's not the way it works. And e-mail tends to be the culprit. Stay in the driver's seat going to websites we've given out, and you'll be fine."

by Regina Lewis AOL Advisor November 27, 2010

Scope Out These Cyber Monday Deals - The Early Show - CBS News

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November 21, 2010

Holiday shopper's key tool: cellphone

Jason Alden/Bloomberg Budget-conscious shoppers are expected to turn to smartphone apps to research products and compare prices.

Shoppers this season will be dividing their attention between the physical merchandise at stores and the virtual goods on the screen of their cellphone.

Smartphones and tablet computers with GPS tracking and Internet access are expected to emerge this holiday season not only as top gifts but also as indispensable shopping tools.

A burgeoning number of Droids, iPhones, BlackBerrys and other devices will be pressed into service this season to make shopping easier, more efficient and more economical.

A National Retail Federation survey found that more than 1 in 4 of the estimated 60 million to 70 million smartphone users in the United States planned to use them to shop this holiday season.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the number increases dramatically, to about half.

The effects on the shopping experience could be enormous as the number of smartphone and tablet-computer users grows.

Deal-conscious consumers who are rapidly warming to online shopping can use their phones and iPads to locate merchandise, get directions to stores, research products and compare prices, all while on the go.

- No more buying a product and then finding out it was cheaper down the street. Shoppers can scan the bar code with their smartphones to check the price of the item at stores all over town.

- Forget about buying an expensive toy and having it ignored by a picky child on Christmas morning. Shoppers can use their phones to check reviews by other consumers to determine whether a gift will be a hit or a dud.

Steve Valdez of Phoenix got a smartphone last Christmas and regularly uses it to research and locate products and to compare prices. Recently, he found a turkey fryer he'd been looking for on sale at Bass Pro Shops.

The new devices are a game-changing technology for retailers, which have been given a new vehicle to inexpensively engage and communicate with customers.

- If an item is moving slowly, retailers can mark it down and blast the sale information instantly to customers' cellphones.

- If a new shipment of a high-demand, previously out-of-stock product comes in, retailers quickly can notify customers of its availability.

"Its all about reaching customers where they are," said Bob Friedland, a spokesman for Toys "R" Us.

A Toys "R" Us iPad application allows youngsters to deposit information about products in the company's toy catalog into a wish-list drop box.

"By reaching out to consumers via mobile applications, digital marketing and social networks, retailers may be able to enhance brand awareness and build traffic and sales this holiday season," said Alison Paul, vice chairman and head of the U.S. retail practice for the accounting firm Deloitte.

Smartphone and iPad users are growing rapidly and the technology is evolving. More shopping applications and new technologies are on the way.

"I constantly shop with my phone," Brian Sherman of Ahwatukee Foothills said on his way into the Nordstrom Last Chance store in Phoenix. He uses the bar-code scanner on his Android phone to compare prices and gets alerts from retailers when the price drops on a product he's interested in.

Sarah Ingham of Phoenix recently used her Android phone to visit two of her favorite stores: the Shop at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the MoMA Store at the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York.

"They have some incredible things," she said.

She browsed to get Christmas ideas and added a couple of items to her Christmas wish lists on file at the stores.

Smartphones are at the top of many people's lists this holiday, with the number in use expected to explode to 140 million users in the United States by the end of 2011, according to the consumer-research firm Nielsen Co.

Such potential has software engineers scrambling to develop new applications, or apps, to help retailers reach and sell to their customers and help consumers navigate the increasing number of online retailers, products and deals.

Outdoor outfitter the North Face is testing a smartphone application that notifies a store when customers come in range so it can reach out and draw them in with offers and deals.

Simon Buckingham, CEO of Appitalism, a clearinghouse for smartphone apps, estimates there are more than 25,000 programs related to shopping and retail.

This year, they include a growing number of applications related to Black Friday, such as TGI Black Friday and Black Friday Survival Guide.

Most major retailers now offer free smartphone applications that allow consumers to connect to their websites with the touch of a button. On the sites, consumers can find the nearest store, check hours, peruse recent ads and fliers, chat on Facebook and Twitter pages, order products and pay for purchases.

For example, Target customers can download coupons to their smartphones that can be scanned at checkout. They also can use their phones to scan products' quick-response codes in the company's Christmas catalog to access more information and make a purchase.

"Target is making it easier than ever to shop, thanks to our innovations with mobile devices," spokeswoman Sarah Bakken said.

Smartphones with Internet access and built-in shopping applications are expected to give a big boost to online shopping in particular, a realm already rapidly gaining acceptance with consumers.

Analysts are predicting a 15 percent jump in online holiday shopping this season as value-conscious consumers turn to the Internet to make sure they are getting the best product at the best price.

Often, they find that online prices can be lower than at brick-and-mortar stores, particularly if the shipping is free. If the best price is at an online store with free shipping, shoppers can use their phones to order and pay for the item.

by Max Jarman The Arizona Republic Nov. 21, 2010 12:00 AM

Holiday shopper's key tool: cellphone

November 20, 2010

High-tech soda fountain makes Phoenix debut

Deirdre Hamill/The Arizona Republic Cynthia Contreras, of Phoenix, helps herself to a soft drink from the new touch screen Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, offering 106 different choices, at Pei Wei Restaurant in Phoenix.

A high-tech soda fountain unveiled Thursday at Pei Wei Asian Diner in central Phoenix will dispense an unprecedented 106 flavors out the front end and real-time consumer data out the back end, according to its creators at the Coca-Cola Co.

Jim Sanders, commercialization group director for Coca-Cola, which is based in Atlanta, said the new drink machine will become the standard.

Jim Sanders, Coca-Cola commercialization group director, described it as the biggest advancement in beverage delivery since self-serve soda fountains were popularized two decades ago.

Dubbed "Coca-Cola Freestyle," the machines are different from traditional soda fountains, which are merely refrigerated water and an ice dispenser connected via tubes to bags of flavored syrup.

Underneath the Freestyle's sleek, glossy enamel exterior is a Microsoft Windows-based computer that receives customer input via a large touch-screen, Sanders said.

Customers begin by selecting a "base brand," he said, using Classic Coke as an example. Tapping the desired logo leads to a second screen where the customer can choose from a variety of mix-in flavors, including vanilla, cherry, orange, grape, peach, raspberry and others.

Unlike other fountain-drink dispensers already on the market that offer what Sanders called "flavor shots," the machines designed by Coca-Cola mix flavors according to exact recipes developed through taste-testing.

"The amount of orange in the orange Coke is different than the amount of orange in the orange Sprite," Sanders said.

Freestyle machines each contain what look like 24 giant ink cartridges, within each a super-concentrated beverage "base" or flavor add-in.

Yes, there is even a base cartridge for Dasani, Sanders said, which includes the exact mix of minerals that give Coca-Cola's bottled-water product its taste.

The flavors for each beverage are mixed with precision via a dispensary system developed for medical purposes, he said.

Each machine also includes data collection, transmittal and alert systems that send comprehensive, detailed information about customer behavior back to Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola doesn't plan to license or sell the new machines to competitors, he said, adding that the company has several patents associated with the new system.

Neither consumers nor business owners can purchase one of the machines. They come in rental form, which includes full-service maintenance, regular software upgrades and access to real-time data.

"It can send a message to the restaurant manager to say, 'Hey, you've got about an hour left on your Coke (cartridge),' " Sanders said.

Coca-Cola will own all the data collected from its customers and intends to use it in a number of ways, such as to develop and test-market products targeted at specific geographic areas or restaurant types, Sanders said.

He indicated that a version of the Freestyle machine also is in development for use by bartenders and food servers, one that could include recipes for alcoholic beverages, too.

Although he would not disclose the monthly fee for a Freestyle fountain, Sanders acknowledged that it would add to the establishment owner's expenses.

Still, he said the company's research showed that the machines inspire more customers to buy fountain drinks, and some are expected to visit particular establishments just because they have a Freestyle machine.

Customers are willing to pay a little more for their beverages, too, Coca-Cola's research shows. Sanders said the company recommends a price increase of about 10 cents per drink to help make the machines more affordable.

Pei Wei brand director Terry Haley said the company, which is based in Scottsdale, was happy to be involved in the Freestyle's Arizona launch at two restaurants, at 701 W. McDowell Road in Phoenix and at 3426 E. Baseline Road in Mesa.

The chain plans to have Freestyle fountains at all of its locations soon.

by J. Craig Anderson The Arizona Republic Nov. 20, 2010 12:00 AM

High-tech soda fountain makes Phoenix debut

General Electric to Buy 25,000 Electric Cars Over Next Five Years - DailyFinance

In a bid to promote electric-vehicle adoption, General Electric plans to purchase 25,000 battery-powered vehicles during the next five years for its own use and to lease to commercial customers, the company said Thursday.

GE (GE) said it will convert at least half of its global fleet of 30,000 vehicles and will partner with its fleet customers to deploy the 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015, in what the Connecticut-based conglomerate called the largest-ever single electric-vehicle purchase commitment.

The first batch of 12,000 vehicles will come from General Motors, GE said, beginning with the Chevrolet Volt next year. The Volt is slated to begin rolling off assembly lines later this month. GE will later add electric vehicles from other manufacturers as they become available, it said.

Moving the Electric Car from "Anticipation to Action"

"Electric vehicle technology is real and ready for deployment and we are embracing the transformation with partners like GM and our fleet customers," GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said in a written statement. "By electrifying our own fleet, we will accelerate the adoption curve, drive scale and move electric vehicles from anticipation to action."

GE said its expertise in fleet management and products, such as charging stations and circuit-protection equipment, puts it in a strong position to help deploy the infrastructure needed to help its 65,000 customers convert and manage their fleets. Along with its partners, GE will use a mix of electric-vehicle technologies to meet their needs, it said.

The enterprise could generate as much as $500 million in revenue for GE during the next three years, the company said.

Boosting electric-vehicle use through the use of fleets will help produce the economies of scale needed to reduce the cost of production and purchase of electric vehicles, said FedEx (FDX) Chairman, President and CEO Frederick Smith. The program will also make electric vehicles more visible and acceptable to the public, he said. Smith is a member of the Electrification Coalition, a group of business leaders promoting deployment of electric vehicles.

In connection with its initiative, GE said it will open two learning centers where consumers can learn more about electric vehicles and the technologies used in them. The centers will be situated in suburban Detroit, where GE operates its Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center, and in Eden Prairie, Minn., site of the company's GE Capital Fleet Services business headquarters.

Several other "customer experience" centers will be announced next year, GE said.

by David Schepp November 11, 2010

General Electric to Buy 25,000 Electric Cars Over Next Five Years - DailyFinance

Stocking-worthy e-readers

Odds are good that your holiday wish list includes one of the season's hottest electronic gadgets.

Not the Playstation Move. Not a 3-D TV. But an e-reader.

For the first time, devices on which to store and read books, newspapers and magazines made the Consumer Electronics Association's 2010 "Holiday CE Gift Wish List for Adults." This year, sales of e-readers to retailers are expected to top $1.03 billion, nearly double 2009 figures, CEA reports.

Affordability is a key reason for e-readers' popularity as a holiday gift, said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis with NPD Group, a retail market researcher in Port Washington, N.Y.

Prices have dropped roughly 33 percent. Average cost of an e-reader this year is $161, down from $245 last year, according to the CEA. One of the most popular devices is even less - the latest Amazon Kindle is $139.

Battery life continues to improve. Barnes & Noble says its Nook can go up to 10 days between charges, depending on usage.

Most e-readers are equipped with enough memory to store thousands of books. Other popular features, which differ by brand and model, include adjustable font sizes, built-in dictionaries and high-resolution screens.

The latest trend is toward color. First on the scene will be Barnes & Noble's Nook Color, expected to be available Friday. The device has a 7-inch color touch screen that, according to, "makes reading more engaging than ever."


Basics: Amazon's best-seller weighs 8.5 ounces, has a 6-inch diagonal display size (the unit is 7.5 by 4.8 by 0.335 inches), comes with Wi-Fi and stores 3,500 books. The battery lasts up to a month (with the wireless off).

Cost: $139. (Other versions offering more options are available).

Where available:, Target, Best Buy.

How to download e-books: Wireless delivery via Wi-Fi or cell network, depending on model. Books delivered in Amazon's proprietary AZW format. More than 700,000 titles, more than 550,000 of which are $9.99 or less, at

What you should know: The Kindle has been updated with a high-contrast E-Ink screen (no glare, but light is needed in dim environment). Thanks to the Kindle app, you may access the store from smartphones and the iPad.


Basics: The entry-level Nook weighs 11.6 ounces, has a 6-inch diagonal display size (the unit is 7.7 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches), comes with Wi-Fi and stores up to 1,500 books. You can store additional books on memory cards. The device comes with six text sizes and three fonts.

Cost: $149 for entry level. The Nook Color, due out Friday, retails for $249 and includes color touch screen and Web-surfing capabilities.

Where available: Barnes & Noble stores,

How to download e-books: Wireless delivery. Choose from more than 2 million titles, more than a million of which are $9.99 or less, at

What you should know: Nook apps allow you to read books on an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, BlackBerry, Android smartphones and personal computers. A lending feature allows you to "loan" a book one time, as long as recipient has a Nook or Nook app.


Basics: Apple's computer tablet can double as an e-reader, thanks to iBooks as well as free apps from Kindle and Nook. It weighs 1.5 pounds, has a 9.7-inch diagonal display (the unit measures 9.56 by 7.47 by 0.5 inches). It has an LED backlit color screen. Choose from 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB flash-drive versions.

Cost: Starts at $499 for the Wi-Fi version. A Wi-Fi plus 3G model also is available.

Where available: Apple stores,, Target, Best Buy stores,

How to download books: Download any of the apps for access to a particular store. Apple's iBookstore offers tens of thousands of books.

What you should know: You can read PDFs and watch supplementary videos.

Sony Reader Daily Edition

Basics: The newest top-of-the-line Sony e-reader weighs 9.6 ounces, has a 7-inch screen and comes with Wi-Fi and 3G wireless. It includes 2GB of internal memory, allowing for storage of up to 1,200 books With memory cards, you can expand your library to up to 50,000 books. Battery life is exceptional.

Cost: $299.99.

Where available: The Sony Style store at Scottsdale Fashion Square, Scottsdale and Camelback roads. 480-947-2312,

How to download books: Through the wireless connection to the online Reader store or download e-books from other sites to a computer and save them to your Reader.

What you should know: Works with PDFs. You can listen to music while reading. Other less expensive Readers are available.


E-books at the library

As e-readers become more popular, libraries are offering more digital titles, including current and popular novels.

The Maricopa County Library District offers a variety of titles.

First, download the free Adobe Digital Editions software at adobe .com/products/digital editions; it enables you to download Adobe-formatted e-books to your computer, said Stacie Delcambre, adult-services librarian at the district's Northwest Regional Library in Surprise. Then transfer the book to your e-reader via a USB cable.

Currently, you can use this system to check out library e-books for Nook, Sony Reader, Libre and a few other e-readers, she said. As of yet, its library e-books can't be downloaded onto iPads or Kindles.

You can check out e-books at any county library with a library card; you must be a Maricopa County resident. You can choose your lending period, whether seven, 14 or 21 days.

E-books can't be renewed, Delcambre said. After the lending period has ended, you will no longer be able to access the e-book unless you check it out again.

Read more:

by Sue Doerfler The Arizona Republic Nov. 15, 2010 12:00 AM

Stocking-worthy e-readers

November 13, 2010

Staying connected . . . and safe

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images If a student needs a computer to tote around campus, Best Buy's Geek Squad agent Gerard Gonzalez recommends looking at models with smaller screens.

Buying a laptop can be a great step toward staying connected with friends and family - in addition to enhancing your productivity at work or at school. But being connected on the Internet also has its pitfalls if it's not done safely.

Security threats, including viruses, lurk around every click of the mouse. Hackers intent on prying away personal information are plying their trade on computers and smartphones. Here are tips from Best Buy's Geek Squad to stay safe and connected:

Step 1: Buying a laptop

Think about how you will use the laptop. That will help narrow the selection by brand, size and style. Will the laptop be carried from location to location or will it remain stationary on a desk? If a student needs a computer to tote around campus, for example, Best Buy's Geek Squad agent Gerard Gonzalez recommends looking at models with smaller screens.

What software is important to you? That also will affect laptop choice. Gonzalez recommends students ask their professors what software they will be using in class.

Protect the laptop.Often people choose cases with cool designs, but this does not mean it will protect the computer, Gonzalez said. Choose a case that fits snugly and is well padded. In addition, keep the computer in a secure and locked place when not in use to guard against theft.

Consider a warranty. Examine the laptop warranty before leaving the store to know exactly how long it is good and what it covers. Extended warranties and warranties that include accident repairs should be strongly considered, Gonzalez said.

Step 2: Deflecting security threats Create strong passwords. Do not use as a password anything predictable, such as your birthday or a child's name. Stay away from common password choices such as "1234" or "ABC123."

Be alert to identity theft. Do not put personal information, such as your birthday, address or phone number, on the Internet because everything on the Web can be read, stored or republished.

Use privacy controls on social media. Limit access to your information to only people you know and trust.

Look out for "bots:" "A bot is essentially a network virus," said Eric Percival, deputy Geek Squad agent. "Once this virus is on a computer, it can use that computer and the information on it to send out more viruses to other network contacts. It is a virus that doesn't just attack you, but it uses your system to attack others." To prevent bots from hijacking your computer, don't click on links or open e-mails or attachments from anyone you do not know.

Install anti-software and anti-virus programs."The ones we sell the most of are Webroot and Trend Micro Titanium," Percival said.

Beware smartphone hackers.Avoid threats to your smartphone by not opening e-mails from strangers or clicking on any links.

Step 3: Using social media, other programs

Get closer to friends and family. In July, Facebook reported it hit the 500 million mark in users. It's no longer an exclusive place for young adults; it's a connecting place for people of all ages. If you haven't done so, start a Facebook account at But be alert. Sites such as Facebook are the equivalent of playgrounds for cybercriminals, experts say.

Get on Twitter. Follow friends and family who may be using the service, and follow other people and organizations of interest. Twitter, at, defines itself as "a service for discovering what's happening right now."

Use Skype to keep connected in long-distance relationships. Skype is an Internet program used for video conversations. "It's personal, over the Internet, and it doesn't cost any extra money," Percival said. "It's very easy to set up. It does require that the computers at each end have a webcam."

by Bambino, Tara Burns and Brittany Watts Special for The Republic Nov. 12, 2010 04:37 PM

Staying connected . . . and safe

Latest Call of Duty sales set new mark

A screen shot from Call of Duty: Black Ops from Activision, in which players fight around the world in the cold war. The game shattered the industry’s one-day sales record when it was released on Tuesday.

NEW YORK - Call of Duty: Black Ops shattered entertainment records this week when it raked in $360 million in its first 24 hours on sale, once again proving that video games have cemented their place in our lives as mainstream entertainment on a par with movies and music.

For the hordes of devoted fans who waited in line at midnight Monday to get their hands on the military shooter, this is hardly a surprise. For them, popping the new Call of Duty into a game console is the equivalent of turning on the TV to watch the Super Bowl or the World Series - except here, they control the outcome.

The game, from Activision Blizzard Inc., sold 5.6 million units the day it went on sale, according to the company. Its predecessor, Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2, meanwhile, sold 4.7 million copies to reap $310 million during its first day on sale last year.

Black Ops went on sale Monday in North America and the U.K.

It costs $60 and works on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gaming consoles. As such, games have an easier time setting dollar-sales records than, say, movies or music because fewer people need to buy them in order to bring in big bucks.

Associated Press Nov. 12, 2010 12:00 AM

Latest Call of Duty sales set new mark

Best HTC EVO Android Apps | Android Tapp. Android App Reviews

Best HTC EVO Android Apps. The hottest and most anticipated Android smartphone of 2010, HTC Evo 4G for Sprint, has finally launched for mass consumer purchase! That said, we’d like to recommend more than 30 of the best Android apps and games for your Evo. Each link has a full Android app review with screenshots, some videos and links to download the apps and games. Let’s get started:

Android Apps Just for Evo:

We know you’ll love the Qik HD and YouTube HD built-in apps, but fring caters to the HTC Evo in a special way as it is the world’s first Android app to offer free video calling via Skype using the front facing camera.

Classic Hot Android Apps:

Here’s some oldie but goodie Android Apps that have been around for quite some time because they’re quite frankly good apps!

Besides hanging out on try AppBrain Market Sync which lets you find Android Apps from their website and sync downloads to the phone plus apps recommendations , manage and search files on your SD Card with Astro File Manager, Twidroid was one of the first and still reigning Twitter clients for Android, ShopSavvy lets you scan all kinds of barcodes to get better pricing on products you may be overspending on, and Exchange by Touchdown still holds the benchmark for Microsoft Exchange email on Android.

High-End Android Games:

There are plenty of fun and addictive games, however we’re sticking to the high-end 3D games you should buy for your high-end Evo!

Many titles from Gameloft are good provided you get the ones from the Android Market as going through their website still is a nightmare; which is the reason why we’re only recommending one thus far, the fast paced 3D racer Asphalt 5. Another awesome 3D racer is Raging Thunder 2, high octane 3D accelerometer game Speedx 3D, dogfight aircraft battles with Armageddon Squadron, slug out online homerun derby with Homerun Battle 3D, shoot it out with Hockey Nations 2010 and throw in some brain twisting horror suspense with Mystique. Chapter 3: Obitus.

Pssst… wanna see video previews of 100 Android games? Check this out!

Drop Your Jaw WOW Factor Android Apps:

These apps top almost everyone’s list even Verizon’s DROID App Showcase because they show sheer innovation in bending possibilities with mobile applications:

Shazam listens to and tells you the song playing, Google Goggles sees your search and tells you what it is, Google Sky Map lets you see the stars from anywhere anytime… literally, and Layar Reality Browser uses augmented reality to convey a host of information, facts and even social on camera.

Music Apps:

There are a ton of cool music and multimedia apps but we’ll only list a few of the coolest:

The HTC music player pwns Android’s default music player but doubleTwist Player and ³ (aka Cubed) Music Player pwns them. Here are some awesome streaming music players that you don’t need to sync any MP3 tracks; Pandora Radio, Slacker Radio, Rhapsody Music or Personal Radio.

Trick Out That Evo Apps:

The HTC Sense user interface with huge digital clock, Contacts, Twitter, and Facebooks widgets are extremely cool on the Evo, but if you want to trick out your phone’s home screen… try a few of these home screen replacement apps:

aHome and Open Home have hundreds of themes and icons packs in the Market, SlideScreen takes the most unique approach of streaming email, calendar, text messages and more to your home screen… no need to open several apps when it’s all in one place. GDE Home puts a different interactive twist on the home screen, and ADW.Launcher gives granular controls over your home screen and app launcher features.

by Antonio Wells June 4, 2010

Best HTC EVO Android Apps | Android Tapp. Android App Reviews

Cox to launch wireless network in 3 markets during holidays

Another major player has the potential to launch a wireless network in metro Phoenix: Cox Communications.

The company announced the launch of cellphone service in three major U.S. markets for the holiday season.

Hampton Roads, Va.; Omaha, Neb.; and Orange County, Calif., will be the first markets to receive wireless service from the cable, Internet and phone-service provider. Cox employees, friends and family in those markets have had access to the company's wireless network since the end of 2009, but the general public has not.

That will change this holiday season, when the Atlanta-based company launches its first public 3G wireless initiative in collaboration with Sprint, said David Grabert, a spokesman for Cox. He did not disclose a specific launch date.

Over the past several months, Cox has opened new retail stores nationwide to personalize the customer's buying experience. Consumers can browse for merchandise such as landline phones, upgraded cables and modems; get demonstrations from salespeople about how to use new products; and watch Cox cable in a TV lounge area.

The retail stores also will be used as a platform to sell and service the company's cellphones, Grabert said.

There are two new Cox retail stores in the Valley - one in Phoenix, the other in Tempe. Within the next few years, all existing metro Phoenix Cox stores will be converted to the new retail-store layout, according to Andrea Katsenes, a Cox spokeswoman.

Although Grabert would not confirm whether Phoenix will be among the next major markets to receive Cox's wireless service, he did say it would happen eventually.

"Our intention is to provide our customers mobility nationwide as part of our bundle," Grabert said.

An agreement with Sprint to use its network has helped Cox enter the wireless market, but the privately held company eventually will develop its own network, Grabert said.

by Megan Neighbor The Arizona Republic Nov. 7, 2010 12:00 AM

Cox to launch wireless network in 3 markets during holidays

Smartphone carriers fighting for Phoenix market

Park Ji-Hwana/AFP/Getty Images In the highly saturated, highly consolidated wireless industry, the top companies are aggressively restrategizing the way they lure customers.

More than 93 percent of American adults own a cellphone today.

Only 28 percent have smartphones.

There lies the business opportunity for cellphone-carrier giants such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., companies that will wage an intense war for customers in the next several months in metro Phoenix and around the nation.

In the highly saturated, highly consolidated wireless industry, the top companies are aggressively restrategizing the way they lure customers. One-third of subscribers switch carriers every year, according to industry research. While carriers' biggest focus will be on the quality and variety of wireless devices they offer, cheaper service plans and faster networks also are part of the equation.

The type of phone, not the carrier, typically drives consumers' decisions for which contract they sign. Today, iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerrys are driving trend. These mini handheld computers called smartphones have made once-novel text and picture messages almost passe, and the growth of the devices has made waves in the industry.

Since 2007, AT&T's exclusive contract to sell Apple Inc.'s iPhone has helped it gain market share and remain the nation's second-largest carrier despite its reputation for a poor network.

News reports and blog posts, however, speculate that the iPhone soon will be available through Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest carrier, as early as January. It could be a boost for Verizon - and brings into question how lasting AT&T's recent rise in the market will be.

Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA are fighting for an expanded share of the marketplace. Neither carrier sells the iPhone, but Google Inc.'s Android technology, common in the phones they offer, has been drawing customers in droves. Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's newest operating system, also will be available through all carriers and has received strong reviews in advance of its launch this month.

Getting ahead of the competition also means offering a better variety of subscription plans, especially those that are prepaid, at cheaper prices. Carriers won't bring in as much revenue per user, but they hope it keeps customers from switching to competitors.

Along with inexpensive plans, consumers are now demanding faster network speeds. Each of the major carriers is racing to be the first to deploy the largest and most reliable superfast 4G - or fourth-generation technology -network.

Although Arizona may not be known for its "early adopter" crowd like California, its technology-hub neighbor to the west, wireless competition in the next year could shape the market in the state for years to come.

Modern necessity

Consumers aren't willing to give up their mobile phones, even during a recession. The average U.S. wireless subscriber used about 824 minutes per month last year, compared with 160 minutes in Europe, according to international group CTIA-the Wireless Association.

One in every four U.S. households - 24.5 percent - used only wireless phones in the last half of 2009, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of more than 630 wireless models in the U.S., according to CTIA, the growth trend is being driven by popular smartphones such as iPhones, BlackBerrys and, more recently, Android models.

In the third quarter, 28 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones, up 3 percent from the previous quarter, and 41 percent of those who bought a new mobile device were smartphones, according to The Nielsen Co.

Casey Thormahlen, an analyst with IBIS World, said that ever since the iPhone launched, carriers knew that consumers usually sign contracts based off which device they want, not carrier.

"AT&T has benefited the most because of its exclusivity with Apple," he said.

The iPhone saw explosive growth after its summer 2007 debut. It had 28 percent market share last quarter, according to Nielsen, which was 2 percentage points shy of dethroning Research in Motion Ltd. BlackBerry's long-standing lead. AT&T also reported a record 5.2 million iPhone activations out of a total 8 million for the same quarter.

But it's likely consumers won't see carriers with similar exclusive contracts in the future, Thormahlen said.

"Manufacturers can sell more devices if they're sold through everyone," he said.

Newcomer Android, Google's operating system that debuted in late 2008 with the T-Mobile G1 by HTC, is a prime example. Made by nearly all major manufacturers and sold by most carriers, Android eclipsed both the iPhone and BlackBerry, who nearly tied for second place, in unit sales to new users in the third quarter, Nielsen said.

But with speculation that a Verizon iPhone will happen early next year, which neither Verizon or Apple have confirmed, Credit Suisse predicted last month that Verizon could gain about 4 million new subscribers next year and that roughly 1.4 million AT&T customers would make the switch.

It wouldn't necessarily be a hit to other platforms, said Roger Entner, a Nielsen analyst.

"It's choice and variety," Entner said. "Apple is a very admired brand, but not everyone wants to have an iPhone."

Entner said Android would keep up, especially because consumers have their pick among different models, carriers and prices. In contrast, there's only one model iPhone on one carrier today.

Windows Phone 7, an upgrade from the Windows Mobile operating system, also should not be underestimated, said Chris Percy, vice president of AT&T's Southwest region headquarters based in Phoenix.

People should take the disappointing Windows Mobile and "erase it from your memory banks," Percy said. "I think they're going to hit a home run with this one."

Consumers will also see big improvements in phones compatible with super-fast 4G networks as carriers roll them out, said Chris Nicoll, analyst at Yankee Group.

Users will experience speeds that allow faster downloads and uploads, high-definition video streaming, video-conference calling and devices acting as WiFi hotspots for multiple devices at one time.

"They'll be entertainment powerhouses in your hand," Nicoll said. "With 3G, all the pieces weren't in place for the multimedia experience it promised."

Thormahlen said carriers would also expand the types of wireless devices offered, such as tablet computers - Apple's iPad went on sale through Verizon last month - and e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Carrier competition

Mergers and acquisitions used to be a key way for carriers to gain subscribers. Verizon became the largest carrier when it merged with Alltel last year. AT&T grew to the size it is today after acquiring Cingular Wireless in 2005.

Now, most of the dealmaking is done. Smaller carriers are scarce, and because nearly everyone has a cellphone, the battle for subscribers is getting more ferocious.

Nearly one-third of wireless subscribers switch providers each year, according to IBIS, meaning carriers will continue to drop prices of monthly bills and handsets, offer more variety of package deals and especially push prepaid plans.

With more than 93.2 million subscribers, Verizon Wireless is the nation's largest carrier. In Arizona, the company has invested nearly $1 billion - $60 billion nationally - in its network in the past decade, according to Verizon spokeswoman Jenny Weaver.

With about 2,700 employees, a Southwest region headquarters and customer-service center in Chandler, Verizon, based in Basking Ridge, N.J., ranked 50 in this year's Arizona Republic 100, which is a list of the state's largest employers.

Dallas-based AT&T, however, has invested $375 million in its network between 2007 and 2009 in the state. It ranked 99 in this year's Arizona Republic 100, with 950 employees statewide.

"We've seen tremendous growth in the last three years," Percy said. "In my opinion, we get a really bad rap about our network, but we're proud of what we've done."

AT&T has been making serious gains on Verizon. In the third quarter, it added 2.6 million subscribers, bringing its total to 92.8 million and $31.6 billion in revenue, a nearly 3 percent increase from last year.

Verizon added less than 1 million subscribers with revenue at $26.5 billion.

Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint, the third-largest carrier with 48.8 million subscribers, and Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile, fourth largest with 33.8 million customers, have smaller networks and a less tech-savvy customer base, making it hard to get ahead, Thormahlen said.

"Only one or two carriers can really dominate in this industry," he said.

Together, these top four carriers will make up 90 percent of industry revenue this year, an IBIS annual report said.

The CTIA said that the average monthly wireless bill in the U.S., including voice and data, was about $48 in June. The number of prepaid users has grown more than 5 percent since 2007 and accounted for $13.9 billion of more than $155 billion total for the industry in 2009, CTIA said.

The 4G effect

Besides the handsets and the carriers' deals, network quality matters to potential customers.

Phoenix will be one of the first markets to get Verizon's 4G network this year, and the upgrade is expected to be fully deployed by the end of 2013. AT&T, in turn, promises improved network speeds nationwide by year's end, followed by a 4G rollout starting in mid-2011.

Sprint's was the country's first 4G network. Its rollout is still under way, although T-Mobile beat it to the Phoenix market last month with a network upgrade offering comparable 4G speeds.

If the term "4G" sounds confusing, that's because it is.

Simply put, it means faster service for more complex smartphone activities. Current 4G speeds seen so far range roughly between 5 and 21 megabits per second, Nicoll said. He said 4G was largely a marketing term right now.

"It's an upgraded speed from 3G standards and it requires a new network, so they're just calling it 4G," Nicoll said.

Advertisements have been tossing around terms such as LTE, WiMax and HSPA+, with little explanation, Nicoll said. Simply put, they're terms for different 4G technologies. Carriers also use different technologies for 3G - Verizon and Sprint currently use CDMA, while AT&T and T-Mobile run on GSM.

Sprint's WiMax network, through its Clearwire subsidiary, was the first 4G network in the country. Its rollout, which started in late 2008, has been slower than expected, and its Phoenix arrival date is anyone's guess.

"Consumers will see a quicker rollout of the Verizon network and also AT&T," Nicoll said.

In Las Vegas, regional carrier MetroPCS Communications Inc. this year launched the first LTE network, which is projected to become the dominant technology worldwide.

AT&T is expected to launch its LTE network in mid-2011 but in the meantime will boost 3G speeds through a nationwide software upgrade to HSPA+ technology.

Because its speeds are comparable to those of WiMax and LTE, T-Mobile recently started calling its HSPA+ network "4G" instead of "4G-like," Nicoll said.

LTE and WiMax will mature over time, Thormahlen said, eventually far surpassing HSPA+ speeds.

Sprint adds a $10 monthly surcharge for those who own 4G devices - such as the HTC Evo, the nation's first 4G phone - regardless if users have access to the new network. Verizon has not yet announced prices for its LTE network.

Analysts say prices will drop as it becomes the mainstay technology and is adopted by all carriers by the end of 2012, essentially replacing 3G.

How successful each carrier's rollout will be in attracting customers remains a toss-up, Entner said.

"How will it all change the ballgame?" he asked. "That's the big question."

by Kristena Hansen The Arizona Republic Nov. 7, 2010 12:00 AM

Smartphone carriers fighting for Phoenix market


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