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Business and Technology News


Fitbit buys smartwatch pioneer Pebble amid wearables shakeup

Thu, 8 Dec 2016 00:37:23 UT

The Redwood City startup, a smartwatch pioneer that struggled against competition from Apple and Samsung, announced Wednesday that it is shutting down. Pebble will sell key assets to Fitbit, the San Francisco maker of health and fitness tracking wristbands. Financial details were not announced, although Bloomberg News reported the purchase price was worth less than $40 million. Fitbit said it is only acquiring key employees, mainly software engineers, and Pebble’s intellectual property, but not the company’s lineup of watches. Pebble gained a following of technology enthusiasts with a record-setting Kickstarter fundraising campaign in 2012, three years before Apple attempted to make smartwatches fashionable to a wider audience with its Watch. [...] Pebble was never able to expand beyond its base of early adopters, especially as Apple and Samsung put marketing muscle behind their products, and the popularity of specialty fitness trackers like Fitbit grew. Research firm IDC said this week that Fitbit topped the overall smart wearables market in the third quarter, with a 23 percent share. Smartwatches are expensive, and they generally don’t provide functions other than those already available in a cell phone. [...] in May, the company introduced new models designed to emphasize fitness tracking in an attempt to lure some of Fitbit’s audience. “Part of the value of being in this crowded space is actually using other people’s research and development efforts and experimenting with them,” CEO Eric Migicovsky said at the time. “The acquisition gives Fitbit an opportunity to expand outside the simple fitness band market,” Jitesh Ubrani, IDC’s senior research analyst for mobile device trackers, said in an email. Advance orders of its Pebble 2 model will not be charged to the buyer’s accounts and will not be shipped. A loyal community of third-party software developers helped Pebble build apps that ran on its operating system and could help Fitbit do the same with its future smartwatches. “It is imperative for Fitbit to restore confidence and trust among Pebble’s developers by articulating a well-laid software strategy,” Wang wrote in a research note.

Business News Roundup, Dec. 8

Thu, 8 Dec 2016 00:08:12 UT

SunPower Corp. is following through with a planned restructuring effort that will reduce its workforce by 25 percent to cut costs after solar prices plunged in an oversupplied market. The restructuring comes as increased panel production worldwide floods the industry, driving down prices 31 percent this year. “It was our first large-scale cell processing facility,” Werner said on a conference call. The company said last month that it was developing a restructuring plan, after reporting its fifth consecutive quarterly loss. First Solar Inc., the largest U.S. panel maker, said last month that it will eliminate 1,600 jobs and that shipments will shrink to as little as 2.4 gigawatts of panels next year, down from its forecast of up to 2.9 gigawatts this year. Werner said some Chinese manufacturers are shutting older factories and shifting to higher-efficiency products that use mono-crystalline polysilicon, instead of multi-crystalline products that are cheaper and less efficient. The number of workers at Tesla’s giant battery factory in northern Nevada has reached only about one-fifth the level that the Palo Alto company had projected would be in place by the end of this year. An analysis presented to state lawmakers before they approved a $1.3 billion tax inventive to lure Tesla to Nevada in September 2014 projected that employment would reach 1,700 at the plant by the end of 2016. A senior executive with Bumble Bee Foods has agreed to plead guilty in a price-fixing scheme, federal prosecutors said Wednesday as they announced a continuing investigation into the packaged seafood industry. The criminal charge against Walter Scott Cameron is the first in what the Justice Department says is a wider probe of anticompetitive practices among companies that sell packaged seafood. Prosecutors accuse Cameron, a senior vice president of sales, of agreeing with co-conspirators at other companies to fix, raise and maintain the prices. The Justice Department is filing a one-count criminal information in federal court in San Francisco, signaling Cameron’s intent to plead guilty. American Apparel set the date for the bankruptcy auction of its manufacturing, retail and wholesale business, probably delaying layoffs that would affect as many as 3,457 employees in Southern California.

Airbnb scales back its fights with regulators everywhere

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 23:37:20 UT

Airbnb has always operated under a cloud of legal uncertainty as it battled city governments over how to regulate its short-term rentals, but the San Francisco company has been kicking it into high gear to clear the situation up in recent days. On Wednesday, it released a report laying out its approach to local regulations, trying to capitalize on a weeklong stretch in which it agreed to enforce limits on rentals in London and Amsterdam, dropped a lawsuit against New York City, and praised new rules in New Orleans as a potential nationwide model. In general, it says it wants to collect taxes, and will help cities enforce limits on how many nights per year people can rent out their homes. “The senior management knew this day would come,” said Max Wolff, a market strategist at 55 Capital Partners, an investment management firm. The general climate for tech companies and a rash of bad press related to racial disparities on Airbnb’s site left the company in a progressively weaker position and it was sullying its good name by being obstinate. [...] while Uber was effectively able to frame most opposition as complaints from the taxi industry, Airbnb has had to contend with angry neighbors and community activists in addition to hotel chains.

Instagram hits trolls; Sprint’s ‘Pokémon Go’ pact; woes

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 23:26:43 UT

Instagram soon will offer more tools to help users limit abuse by removing comments and filtering out followers. CEO Kevin Systrom said in a blog post that people will be able to turn off comments on any item, as well as offering a heart icon for them to show that they like something. Across social media, comments are often a breeding ground for bullying and trolling: Four in 10 Internet users have experienced online bullying, with comment sections and social media sites being among the most common venues, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center. Racing after “Pokémon Go” characters might be hazardous to your health, but it’s OK to go into a Sprint. Game publisher Niantic of San Francisco has announced a deal with Sprint to offer various in-game rewards and phone charging at 10,500 Sprint, Boost Mobile and Sprint at RadioShack stores across the U.S. A news release says the deal will start Monday, the same day Niantic is releasing more “Pokémon Go” characters.

Nonprofit journalism groups gear up with flood of donations

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 23:05:52 UT

From local public radio affiliates to established watchdog groups to startups that focus on a single issue, nonprofit, nonpartisan media is having a moment. Just what is motivating these donors — whether it is a partisan response to the election of Donald Trump or a broader concern over the viability of a troubled industry — is a matter of speculation, executives say. Independent accountability journalism is gaining new support among many Americans mulling the election’s outcome and the country’s political divide. [...] for the growing number of nonprofit journalism organizations, the moment may provide the kind of opening they have needed to take on a much larger role for a field that continues to face significant financial challenges and sinking public trust. Nonprofit newsrooms have long sought to position themselves as civic resources, relying on the same skills as newspapers and television stations, but without profit motives or a dependence on advertisers. With a president-elect who has shown a willingness to attack the press, and a proliferation of fake news that has shaken the public’s confidence, news executives said the watchdog role would be more important than ever. With the influx of cash, ProPublica has already begun beat coverage of hate crimes and the growing influence of white supremacy, two issues that the election brought to the forefront.

Lawmakers change tone on AT&T and Time Warner deal

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 22:54:42 UT

At a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that was being closely watched for how megamergers will be viewed in the coming Trump administration, members of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that oversees regulatory agencies that decide on mergers said the deal merits tough scrutiny. [...] in a change from previous comments, they also questioned whether traditional ways of evaluating mergers are growing outdated as Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google become huge media outlets that threaten the television industry. “We want to ensure that competition thrives in this critical market and we don’t stifle innovation or deter the emergence of cutting-edge technologies that customers demand,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who heads the full Judiciary Committee. When the deal was announced, days before the presidential election, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee issued strong cautionary statements about it. During the hearing, the companies pitched a message that catered to the new administration: a populist promise of lower prices and the potential to build more wireless infrastructure through the merger. Consumer groups rejected the characterization of AT&T and Time Warner as disadvantaged rivals, saying a combined company would have too much negotiating power over competitors on licensing rights to Time Warner’s networks like HBO and CNN. [...] streaming providers like Sling TV and Hulu would face a major new competitor, with AT&T’s access to 110 million wireless and satellite subscribers and premium television networks under the same roof. “Last time I looked, Google and Facebook weren’t charging me $200 a month to get those apps,” said Gene Kimmelman, president and chief executive of Public Knowledge, a consumer group, at the hearing.

Starbucks to boost number of shops, add more food to menu

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 22:35:13 UT

Starbucks outlined its five-year growth plans to investors on Wednesday, about a week after it announced that Howard Schultz, who has built Starbucks into a global brand with 25,000 locations since joining the company more than 30 years ago, would step down as CEO in April. Starbucks has been facing increasing competition from Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s as those companies offer more specialty coffee drinks. Starbucks also wants to get more customers to buy lunch at its shops by offering organic soups and adding more sandwiches and wraps. An app update next year will use artificial intelligence technology to let customers order by voice and have the app respond immediately with a message.

13 of Glassdoor's 50 best big companies to work for are in the Bay Area

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 20:43:08 UT

Bay Area workers really love the perks that accompany jobs in the tech industry. That's why 13 of them, including some of the biggest names in tech all landed in Glassdoor's annual roundup of the best places to work in 2017.

Ship traffic, December 8

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 19:59:06 UT

Ship traffic Due to arrive today SHIP FROM PORT Achilles Bulker Puntarenas, Costa Rica CRM Ever Unison Los Angeles OAK Mol Maneuver Los Angeles OAK MSC Michela Long Beach OAK NYK Nebula Los Angeles OAK Due to depart today SHIP TO PORT Ashiya Star Port Unknown SFO Carolina Bolten Port Unknown SFO Cosco Development Xingang, China OAK Dusseldorf Express Los Angeles OAK Gunde Maersk Vostochnyy, Russia OAK [...]

Pipeline, rail projects could bring tar sands oil to Bay Area

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 17:00:00 UT

Planned oil pipelines and rail projects tied to Canada’s tar sands could lead to a boom in tanker traffic along both the West and East coasts and heighten the risk of spills, according to a report released Wednesday by an environmental group. The report, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, argues that if four oil transport projects move forward, the number of tankers and barges carrying crude from the oil sands in U.S. waters could jump twelvefold by 2021. Many of those ships would head to California, the authors argue, because the state’s oil refineries were designed to handle heavier grades of crude. [...] shipments, they say, pose a particular danger, because the most common product shipped from the oil sands — dilbit, short for diluted bitumen — quickly sinks in water, making cleanup difficult. The report comes days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would seek an alternate route for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, which had drawn fierce opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and fossil fuel opponents. Pipeline projects, most notably the Keystone XL pipeline extension, have become flash points in the fight over climate change, pitting environmentalists against the oil industry and construction unions. [...] some pipeline projects that could affect the United States lie entirely in Canadian territory, designed to connect the land-locked oil sands to the global market. Extracting hydrocarbons from the sands requires more energy and releases more greenhouse gases than most oil drilling. Supporters of the Trans Mountain project in particular see it as a way to connect the oil sands to growing markets in Asia after years of being dependent on exports to the United States.

Business News Roundup, Dec. 7

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 00:43:30 UT

Verizon Communications has agreed to sell its data center business to Equinix of Redwood City for $3.6 billion in cash as the company turns its focus to mobile video advertising. Equinix operates as a real estate investment trust, mostly holding interconnected data centers. The sale to Equinix, which is expected to close in the middle of next year, would help replenish Verizon’s cash after its planned acquisition of Yahoo and its bids for coveted airwaves in a federal auction. Hewlett Packard Enterprise has countersued Rhode Island over an unfinished project to build a new computer system for the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles. WPRI-TV reported that HP Enterprise has asked a state Superior Court judge to dismiss the state’s lawsuit against it. Rhode Island sued the company last month after it threatened to walk off the job unless it received more money for the long-delayed project. In its court filing, HP Enterprise disputes the contention that the original agreement required it to deliver a fully functional system. SeaWorld Entertainment announced Tuesday it is cutting 320 positions from throughout the company, part of a continuing effort to sharply cut its costs. The announcement comes almost two years to the day since the Orlando company announced its last round of layoffs, which then affected more than 300 employees. In an email, SeaWorld said the layoffs are part of a restructuring program focused on reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, reducing duplication of functions and improving the company’s operations through proven benchmarks. A company spokeswoman said the cuts will be a combination of layoffs and vacant positions. Ikea’s U.S. division is offering longer parental leave to employees who are new parents, following similar overtures from tech companies as it strives to keep good workers in an improving job market. The furniture chain said Tuesday it will offer about 12,000 salaried and hourly employees in the U.S. up to four months of paid parental leave. Ikea had previously given five days of paid leave to women giving birth, in addition to six to eight weeks of paid disability leave. Paid maternity and paternity leave in the U.S. lags behind standards established elsewhere. Imports of consumer goods including medicine, cell phones and clothing increased, while exports of soybeans tumbled, fueling the widening of the trade gap. Sushovan Hussain, the former chief financial officer of Autonomy, is headed to the U.S. to face charges he schemed to inflate the price of Autonomy’s $11 billion takeover by Hewlett-Packard in 2011. Hussain’s lawyer, John Keker, told a federal judge that his client is eager to go to trial and will travel from England for his arraignment, scheduled for Jan. 12 in San Francisco.

Trump team to talk tech with Silicon Valley leaders

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 00:33:57 UT

The invitation came from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a real estate mogul who has made some technology investments; Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist who was an early and vocal supporter of Trump’s candidacy; and Reince Priebus, Trump’s designated chief of staff. A spokeswoman for Facebook declined to comment on whether any of its executives would attend, and representatives for Apple and Alphabet did not respond to a request for comment. After Trump’s victory, some executives of large technology companies offered conciliatory remarks. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who wrote an open letter to Trump after his election, was among those he named last week to an economic advisory panel that will begin meeting with him in February. Peter Leroe-Muñoz, vice president of tech and innovation policy for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said he is hopeful that the industry can create a productive relationship with the president-elect, even though he was not its choice. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, seems to be working to improve relations with conservative groups. “As a member of Google’s Public Policy outreach team, you will act as Google’s liaison to conservative, libertarian and free market groups,” the listing reads. While it is good that the president-elect is reaching out to the tech community … the proof is still in the pudding in how Trump’s presidency will communicate with, deal with, and work with the greater technology community.

Santa row, Alaska-Virgin a go, and Pandora might get Sirius dough

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 00:32:02 UT

Actor George Takei, not exactly amused by a racist backlash after the mall in suburban Minneapolis hired an African American man, Larry Jefferson, to play Santa Claus. The Department of Justice approved the deal with the condition that Alaska scale back a marketing agreement with American Airlines. Alaska is paying $57 a share for Virgin, or $4 billion after accounting for debt and aircraft leases. Sirius XM Holdings, the satellite radio service controlled by pay-TV billionaire John Malone, has considered deals for Pandora Media and rapper Jay Z’s Tidal as a way to expand into music streaming. “Pandora’s advertising model in addition to the streaming and ticketing is certainly an interesting angle,” Mark Carleton, chief financial officer of Sirius XM parent Liberty Media Corp., said Tuesday at an investor conference in New York.

Hunting for the elusive Hatchimals, the hot holiday toys

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 00:22:10 UT

Two years ago, the creative and design teams at the toy company Spin Master came up with a big idea they called Hatchimals — an interactive furry creature that hatches out of an egg and grows up before your eyes. Coaxing a creature out of its shell “resonates very well with kids,” said James Martin, senior vice president and head of global business at Spin Master, a Canadian toy company that also sells Etch A Sketch and other products. Since their introduction in October, Hatchimals, which have a suggested retail price of $60, have become the hot toy of the holiday season that nobody can find. Desperate parents intent on buying a Hatchimal are standing in long lines at retailers, putting their names on waiting lists, and even buying lottery tickets for the toy. Spin Master worked to generate buzz for Hatchimals with a secretive release, and managed to keep all images off the Internet until the toy officially “hatched” on Oct. 7, which it called Global Hatchimals Day. Company executives also planned for what they thought would be the right amount of product supply to meet the holiday demand. [...] when Santa Claus made an appearance at her family party over Thanksgiving weekend, he “knew to tell her his elves weren’t making very many and they might be hard to come by,” Nigbur said. “There is an irrational exuberance on the part of the consumer with these buying frenzies, which leads to a scarcity of product and crazy high prices,” he said. [...] it may be even a little more because you’ll be getting the first batch of 2017. To those parents who are not able to buy the toy in time, Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician in Pittsburgh and a parenting and youth development expert, said: “It’s a great lesson in delayed gratification.”

Sanofi reportedly considers counter offer for Actelion

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 22:34:04 UT

Sanofi is considering a bid for Actelion, potentially challenging a move by health care giant Johnson & Johnson to acquire Europe’s largest biotechnology firm, people familiar with the matter said. The talks are progressing after the U.S. drugmaker increased its offer, people familiar with the matter said Friday, increasing the pressure on potential counter-bidders to move quickly. In addition to Sanofi, advisers seeking work with prospective buyers have contacted other drugmakers, including Roche Holding of Switzerland and Pfizer, to gauge potential interest in bidding for Actelion, the people said. Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez ruled out a counter offer for Actelion in an interview with SonntagsBlick newspaper published Sunday, saying that the Swiss drugmaker is focused now on acquisitions of less than $5 billion. Sanofi lost out on a deal to buy San Francisco biotech firm Medivation this year, giving rival Pfizer a blockbuster prostate-cancer treatment, Xtandi.