The Tech News Blog

October 12, 2014

Netflix Moves 4K Streaming Into $12/mo Family Plan

The Top 50 Geeky TV Shows Streaming on Netflix Looking to stream some Ultra HD films from Netflix? Not a problem. However, if you're not yet a Netflix subscriber, checking out the company's 4K offerings is going to cost you a bit more nowadays.

According to reports, Netflix is no longer offering streaming 4K content for new subscribers to its standard streaming plan—at $9 a month. If you want the super high-resolution streams, you're going to have to pony up for the company's "family" streaming plan, starting at $12 monthly. The change officially went into effect last month.

"We decided to move 4K UHD video into our four-stream plan for new members who sign up and care about the highest-quality video Netflix offers. We have a modest and growing catalog of titles in 4K, including 'House of Cards,' 'Breaking Bad,' 'The Blacklist' and a slate of upcoming Netflix original series," said a Netflix spokesperson, as reported by Variety.

What Netflix isn't saying outright, but should be pretty much assumed, is that it costs more for the service to make and obtain 4K content. These extra costs are passed on to subscribers in the form of slightly higher monthly payments required to access the 4K content.

However, there's a silver lining for Netflix die-hards. If you've been watching 4K content on Netflix before early October or so—and you're on Netflix's standard monthly payment plan—then you'll still be able to access your super-high-resolution streams without having to switch up to the more expensive plan. Netflix is officially grandfathering in anyone who falls into this category, and they should be able to watch 4K content at the cheaper rate "indefinitely," notes Variety.

That said, there isn't a ton of 4K content to view on Netflix at the moment. That's not to say that Netflix isn't trying—the format has quite a bit of time before it becomes super-popular, after all—but right now, titles like Ghostbusters, Smurfs 2, and a documentary series called Moving Art are just a few of the titles one can grab in 4K definition. That's in addition to the entire run of Breaking Bad, as well as the second season of Netflix's original series House of Cards.

Netflix, in general, doesn't tend to talk about how much 4K content it has available for streaming.

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October 12, 2014

Rumor: Microsoft Planning to End Surface Production?

Surface Pro 3Here's a rumor that has surely produced some eye rolls in Redmond— according to DigiTimes, Microsoft is planning to end production of its line of Surface tablets due to poor sales.

What's more, the tech site's unnamed sources claim that the "first- and second-generation Surface tablets are estimated to have created losses of about $1.7 billion" for the software giant.

Interestingly, DigiTimes itself has labeled its story a "rumor," which it rarely does when reporting information gleaned from its "upstream supply chain" sources in Asia. Microsoft declined to comment when contacted by PCMag.

However, a spokesperson for the company did point to a recent post on Microsoft's Surface blog as something that would "provide insight" into the company's commitment to its tablet line and especially to its business customers who rely on the Surface Pro 3.

In that post, Microsoft's Brian Hall lays out the case for businesses to purchase Surface tablets, which include pledges to maintain security and reliability with the platform, and to keep updating it with new software, including Windows 10 when it arrives.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, questioned the likelihood of Microsoft pulling the plug on the Surface.

October 10, 2014

Report: Apple Supplier GT Might Ditch Sapphire Business

Apple Watch

Following Monday's bankruptcy filing, GT Advanced Technologies is reportedly ramping down production of its scratch-resistant sapphire material.

The company, which has about $85 million in cash, is hoping for debtor-in-possession financing, which would allow it to stay afloat and pay its employees.

Lawyers representing the company reportedly asked a court to seal crucial bankruptcy documents—a move that will keep investors in the dark, which Reuters called "highly unusual."

"GT has a strong and fundamentally sound underlying business," CEO Tom Gutierrez said in a statement on Monday. "[This] filing does not mean we are going out of business; rather, it provides us with the opportunity to continue to execute our business plan on a stronger footing, maintain operations of our diversified business, and improve our balance sheet."

October 8, 2014

Apple Sends Invites for Oct. 16 iPad Event

iPad Invite

Get excited for some iPad news, Apple fans.

The Cupertino tech giant on Wednesday afternoon sent invites to an Oct. 16 media event, where it's widely expected to unveil its next-generation iPad lineup.

"It's been way too long," the invite says, perhaps a reference to the fact that Cupertino only just held a media event on Sept. 9 for its new iPhones.

The invite provides no other details. It will be held on Apple's campus, instead of the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, where Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It's also expected to be a more low-key event than the iPhone unveiling (no U2 concerts this time).

The date itself isn't a surprise; it was first tipped last week by The Wall Street Journal and Re/Code, both of which have reliable track records with Apple event rumors.

October 8, 2014

AT&T to Pay $105 Million for Bogus Cell Phone Fees

AT&T Logo Building AT&T has agreed to pay $105 million for adding unauthorized cell phone charges to its customers bills, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission announced today.

AT&T will pay $80 million to the FTC, which will be used for customer refunds; affected customers can go to to seek a refund. AT&T Mobility will also pay $20 million to state governments participating in the settlement, and will make a $5 million penalty payment to the U.S. Treasury.

At issue are bogus charges for monthly subscriptions to things like ringtones, wallpaper, and text messages with horoscopes, flirting tips, celebrity gossip, and more. Most of these charges were $9.99 per month, though in some cases they were as high as $60 per month.

In many cases, customers did not agree to these charges, which were hidden on phone bills, the FTC said. Meanwhile, AT&T colluded with these third-party services to make sure users did not get refunds since AT&T got a 35 percent cut of all sales.

"AT&T told these companies that it would 'help lower refunds' by only providing refunds up to two months worth of charges," Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman of the FTC, said during a Wednesday press conference.

The move comes several months after the FTC filed suit against T-Mobile for failing to stop bogus charges on customers' bills, also known as cramming - charges T-Mobile denies. Will other carriers - like Sprint or Verizon - get also be hit with cramming charges? "Stay tuned," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said today.

Chairman Wheeler said the deal is the largest cramming settlement and largest FCC enforcement action in history. It is notable, he said, because it is co-signed by 51 state attorneys general.

"For too long, consumers have been charged on their phone bills for things they did not buy," Wheeler said today. "It's estimated that 20 million consumers per year are caught in this type of [cramming] trap, [but] it stops today for AT&T."

"Today, we reached a broad settlement to resolve claims that some of our wireless customers were billed for charges from third-parties that the customers did not authorize," AT&T said in a statement. "This settlement gives our customers who believe they were wrongfully billed for PSMS [Premium Short Messaging Services] services the ability to get a refund."

AT&T pointed to a pledge it made alongside Sprint and T-Mobile last year to stop charging for spam or "premium" texts.

"In the past, our wireless customers could purchase services like ringtones from other companies using Premium Short Messaging Services (PSMS) and we would put those charges on their bills," AT&T said. "While we had rigorous protections in place to guard consumers against unauthorized billing from these companies, last year we discontinued third-party billing for PSMS services."

When asked about that pledge today, Chairwoman Ramirez said that "the carriers agreed to stop the premium text messaging services as of January 2014," but today's settlement "applies to all forms of direct-carrier billing, so this continues to be an issue."

As part of the deal, AT&T committed to the FCC that it will obtain express consent from consumers about third-party billing going forward, and revise its billing practices so consumers can easily see what they are paying for, and offer the option on block all third-party services.

October 7, 2014

Samsung Stumbles Amidst Pressure From Apple, iPhone 6

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung is prepping for its first annual earnings drop since 2011, based on a third-quarter profit marking the company's lowest in more than three years.

One of the world's top smartphone sellers, Samsung on Tuesday announced that operating profit likely fell 59.7 percent in the third quarter to 4.1 trillion won ($3.8 billion). Though less of a blow, quarterly sales are also expected to have dropped 20 percent, landing around 47 trillion won ($43.7 billion) for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

The numbers were released ahead of the company's full earnings report later this month.

When Samsung stumbled last quarter—dropping net profits by 20 percent and revenues by 8.9 percent—the company blamed increased competition and an overestimation of the demand for its smartphones.

October 6, 2014

Confirmed: HP Splitting Into 2 Companies

hp logo HP on Monday morning confirmed rumors that it's splitting into two publicly traded companies.

One company, to be called Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, will focus on HP's enterprise technology infrastructure, software, and services. The other company, which will keep the name HP Inc. and the current logo, will comprise the firm's personal systems and printing business. The transaction is expected to close by the end of fiscal 2015.

The move comes as HP approaches year four of its five-year turnaround plan, the company said.

"Our work during the past three years has significantly strengthened our core businesses to the point where we can more aggressively go after the opportunities created by a rapidly changing market," HP CEO Meg Whitman said in a statement. "The decision to separate into two market-leading companies underscores our commitment to the turnaround plan."

Whitman continued: "It will provide each new company with the independence, focus, financial resources, and flexibility they need to adapt quickly to market and customer dynamics, while generating long-term value for shareholders. In short, by transitioning now from one HP to two new companies, created out of our successful turnaround efforts, we will be in an even better position to compete in the market, support our customers and partners, and deliver maximum value to our shareholders."

As for the management structure, Whitman and HP Chief Financial Officer Cathie Lesjak will hold their positions with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. When the split is complete, Whitman will also serve on the board of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and Pat Russo will move from Lead Independent Director of HP to Chairman of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

Meanwhile, Dion Weisler, executive vice president of HP's printing and personal systems business, will lead HP Inc. as President and Chief Executive Officer. Whitman will also serve as non-executive Chairman of HP Inc.'s board.

HP said the enterprise business will focus on areas like the cloud, big data, security, and mobility, as well as create "unique technology deployment models for customers and partners based on their specific business needs." On the consumer side, HP plans to get into 3D printing and other "new computing experiences."

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October 5, 2014

Rumor: HP to Split into PC/Printer and Corporate Hardware/Services Businesses

hp logo It's back! By that, we mean a resurrected 2011 plan by Silicon Valley giant Hewlett-Packard, which is now rumored to be spinning off both its PC and printer business into a separate company.

The news arrives in the form of a report from the Wall Street Journal, where sources inside HP claim that the deal could be announced as soon as Monday. It's presumed that both companies—the PC/printer company and the corporate hardware and services company—would each be able to perform better by having more of a laser-like focus on a few overall areas instead of being stuck together in one giant, overarching company.

The move isn't unprecedented for HP; as mentioned, HP was considering a similar move just a few years ago—only, this time, just HP's PC division was going to split from the main company. The move also isn't unprecedented for Silicon Valley as a whole. eBay, in fact, just announced that its spinning off its PayPal business from the auction house, with the latter becoming a full, publicly traded company by the latter half of 2015.

Back in 2011, however, CEO Meg Whitman decided to keep HP together as a single, functioning unit. She made her announcement roughly one month or so after she took over the company's top spot.

"HP objectively evaluated the strategic, financial and operational impact of spinning off PSG. It's clear after our analysis that keeping [Personal Systems Group] within HP is right for customers and partners, right for shareholders, and right for employees. HP is committed to PSG, and together we are stronger," Whitman said in a statement.

According to the latest rumors, Whitman will become the chairman of the PC/printer company—whose name has yet to be revealed—and will stay on as chief executive of the corporate hardware and services company. It's alleged that HP board member Patricia Russo will become the chairman of the corporate hardware and services company, while current HP executive vice president Don Weisler will step up and become the CEO of the PC/printer company.

HP's printing and personal systems group pulled in just around half of HP's total revenue for its 2013 fiscal year, or $55.9 billion. That seems like a lot on paper, but HP's PC sales aren't shooting through the roof; in fact, the company ceded the title of the world's largest PC vendor (by shipments) to Lenovo last year. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, total sales for the printing and personal systems group were down 7.1 percent in 2013.

October 4, 2014

Redbox Instant Shutting Down Oct. 7

Verizon Redbox Instant Google TVNetflix has bested another one. The streaming service from Redbox and Verizon, Redbox Instant, is officially throwing in the towel.

Those who subscribe to the $6-per-month service received an email today informing them of the pending shutdown. Redbox Instant also updated its website with brand-new "goodbye" language.

"Thank you for being a part of Redbox Instant by Verizon. Please be aware that the service will be shut down on Tuesday, October 7, 2014, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. Information on applicable refunds will be emailed to current customers and posted here on October 10," reads the new message.

"In the meantime, you may continue to stream movies and use your Redbox kiosk credits until Tuesday, October 7 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. We apologize for any inconvenience and we thank you for the opportunity to entertain you."

While it's hard to say just how long the shutdown was in the works, Gigaom noted that Redbox Instant's recent credit card troubles—specifically, credit card fraud—didn't much help the service. Not only have new customers been unable to sign up for the past three months, but existing customers have been unable to update their payment information. In other words, anyone with an expired credit card was simply booted off the service—not the most ideal of business plans.

October 4, 2014

Sprint Announces Layoffs, Number of Affected Employees Unknown

Sprint LogoThe nation's third-largest wireless carrier has announced that it'll be cutting jobs, though it hasn't yet identified just who will be getting the axe—or how many people. 

The company made notice of the layoffs in a regulatory filing published with the Securities and Exchange Commission this Friday. The layoffs are expected to hit both management and non-management positions, and Sprint expects that it'll spend around $160 million or so during its second fiscal quarter on severance-related costs.

Just to put that number in perspective, Sprint spent more than $165 million during the fourth quarter of last year on severance costs related to the loss of 300 to 500 jobs from its retail divisions. However, it's unclear if the severance package for former Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who left the position in early August, will count as part of the $160 million Sprint is estimating to spend on its latest round of layoffs.

If so, notes the Kansas City Business Journal, his $40 million severance package or thereabouts would eat up about one-fourth of that estimate.

Sprint is expecting that I'll be able to complete the layoff process by the end of October.