Technology Now
The business and culture of our digital lives
Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins expands educational gaming app

Trip Hawkins' educational gaming company If You Can on Thursday released an expansion of its iPad game that aims to teach children lessons about social and emotional behavior. This year Hawkins, formerly the founder and chief executive of games giant Electronic Arts, unveiled the new game, called "If." Trying to meld the best techniques of gameplay with educational objectives, the game seeks to teach children lessons on things such as compassion and bullies by taking them on a journey with a rich, imaginary set of characters. The game will eventually enable children to move through a series of chapters, and on Thursday If You Can released the second chapter of the game. In addition, the game now has a dashboard for parents to monitor their childrens' progress and to help them reinforce lessons in the real world. The game is free to download for the iPad and iPhone, and it can also be played on a Mac or PC. The first chapter is free to play. After that, the games requires a $5-a-month...

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Tablet giants Apple, Samsung feel heat as competitors gain steam

When a company saturates its home market with a once-hot product, expect it to pump up its presence in foreign lands to keep the momentum going. That old-time tactic is proving tough in tablet computers, where leaders Apple and Samsung are under heavy pressure in emerging markets from China’s Lenovo, Taiwan’s ASUS, and other tablet upstarts.   Apple iPad shipments took a dive in the last quarter ended in June, down 9.3%. South Korea’s Samsung recently reported a quarterly tablet  shipment increase of only 1.6%. Lenovo and ASUS, meantime, were up 64.7% and 13.1%. Both companies continue to dominate the global tablet market – heading toward $85 billion this year, according to ABIresearch – but their position is under threat. “We’re seeing a lot of new entrants,” IDC Analyst Jean Philippe Bouchard told The Times. New tablet demand is gaining strength in regions where consumers want cheap devices, he said – not the kinds of products Apple and Samsung make. "It's low margin and high volume...

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Like other tech firms, Twitter's workforce is mostly male

Following in the footsteps of tech giants such as Facebook and Google, Twitter released employee diversity data Wednesday revealing that the social media heavyweight mainly employs white men. Overall, Twitter reported a 70% male workforce, with 90% of tech positions filled by men. Non-tech positions were split 50-50, but leadership jobs for the San Francisco company were also dominated by males at 79%. The company also reported ethnicity data for U.S. employees, revealing a workforce that is 59% white and 29% Asian. Worldwide, Twitter employees around 3,000 people. “We are keenly aware that Twitter is part of an industry that is marked by dramatic imbalances in diversity — and we are no exception,” Twitter executive Janet Van Huysse said in a statement. “By becoming more transparent with our employee data, open in dialogue throughout the company and rigorous in our recruiting, hiring and promotion practices, we are making diversity an important business issue for ourselves.” The lack...

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Six indicted in alleged hack of StubHub customers' credit cards

An international cyber-crime ring was able to take over StubHub user accounts to steal identifying information and use victims’ credit cards to purchase tickets to concerts and sporting events, authorities announced Wednesday. Six people were indicted in connection with the alleged scheme to defraud users on the popular online ticket marketplace. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the proceeds were transferred through a global network of accomplices in the United States, Britain, Russia and Canada. StubHub, an EBay subsidiary, allows customers to buy and sell tickets to concerts, sporting events and other live entertainment. The company, according to authorities, discovered that more than a thousand accounts had been compromised by hackers who were fraudulently hijacking users’ credit cars. StubHub implemented new security measures to stop the fraud, but authorities said the hackers were able to get around the new hurdles by using credit card information stolen from...

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Apple to offer 1 million users beta version of OS X Yosemite

Apple won't officially release its OS X Yosemite desktop software until this fall, but on Thursday, the Cupertino company will give 1 million users early access to a beta version of the operating system.  The last time Apple gave the public beta access a new desktop operating system was in 2000, when it charged $29.95 to try out the first version of OS X. This time, the beta version is free. Apple says it wants users to test drive the software and give feedback. "Your comments will help us make OS X better for all Mac users," Apple says on the Web page where people can go to sign up for the beta program. Twitter: @sal19

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Why iTunes, apps and services may be key to Apple's future

Despite its ecosystem of products, Apple's business relies heavily on the sales of iPhones. In the third quarter results reported on Tuesday, iPhone sales were 52.7% of revenue. But what's the second most important business? That's harder to answer, and it may shift in the coming quarters thanks to the category Apple calls "iTunes/Software/Services."   Right now that category is fourth, behind iPads and Mac. But not by much. The company reported revenue of $5.889 billion from iPads and $5.54 billion from Macs.  The iTunes, etc. category brought in $4.485 billion, up 12% from a year ago, and is coming on strong. "For the first nine months of this fiscal year, the line item that we call iTunes Software and Services has been the fastest growing part of our business," said Apple chief executive Tim Cook in a conference call with analysts on Tuesday. "iTunes billings grew 25% year-over-year in the June quarter and reached an all-time quarterly high, thanks to the very strong results from...

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Duolingo offers language-certification tests via mobile devices

Duolingo, the free language-learning service, is releasing an app called Test Center that lets users take a standardized test on their mobile device and potentially earn certification for their English skills.  Test Center is designed to make standardized tests more accessible to Duolingo users, particularly those outside the U.S., who want to apply for jobs and schools that require English certificates. Previously, you could get a language certificate only by physically going to a center and paying at least $250 to take a test, Duolingo Chief Executive Luis von Ahn told The Times.  "Most of these tests are usually being taken in developing countries, and there, $250 can be up to a month's salary," von Ahn said. "You have to invest a month's salary in order to get ahead."  Initially, Duolingo will offer free standardized tests while the service is in beta, but eventually it will charge users $20 a test. Test Center will be the second source of revenue for Duolingo, a Pittsburgh...

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Apple fiscal third-quarter revenue growth driven by iPhone, Mac sales

Apple posted strong fiscal third-quarter results driven by iPhone and Mac sales. The company on Tuesday reported quarterly revenue of $37.4 billion and net profit of $7.7 billion, or $1.28 per diluted share. Analysts had expected profit of $1.23 a share. That revenue was up from $35.32 billion a year earlier, and at the high end of the $36 billion to $38 billion forecast from Apple. However, it was slightly below analysts' forecasted revenue of $37.98 billion for the quarter. Apple reported that it sold 35.2 million iPhones, up from 31.2 million a year earlier. That topped the consensus analyst estimate of 35 million, but fell short of some of the more optimistic projections. For instance, Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty estimated that 39 million iPhones were sold during the quarter. Perhaps most troubling for Apple, though, was another dismal performance by the iPad. Apple sold only 13.2 million in the quarter, down from 16.3 million in the previous quarter and 14.6 million a...

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Microsoft's profit takes a hit as new strategy takes shape

The purchase of Nokia’s mobile-phone unit cut into Microsoft’s profit, but a surging cloud business and a new effort to launch its applications on a greater number of gadgets kept analysts optimistic about the company’s prospects. The maker of Windows, Office, Xbox and a number of mobile devices said its fourth-quarter earnings per share were $0.55, behind estimates of $0.60, with the Nokia acquisition costing about $0.08 a share. Sales for the quarter reached $23.4 billion, up 18% from the fourth quarter of last year, with a $2-billion boost provided by Nokia’s acquisition in mid-April. Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, described the mixed results as relieving for investors amid a “choppy environment.” “As integration goes on between Nokia and Microsoft, there’s going to be those unexpected speed bumps, but the street is looking through that,” Ives said. “You see a lot more optimism around shares.” Part of the reason for optimism continues to be new chief executive Satya...

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Will laid-off Microsoft workers end up at startups?

Flexible work arrangements and better prospects to grow their skills could attract thousands of recently laid off employees at Microsoft to jobs at startups. At least that’s what helped persuade Chandra Shekaran, a general manager in Microsoft’s Bing search unit, to jump to El Segundo-based Velocify last January. “I just felt after 15-plus years, my rate of growth could be accelerated in a startup environment,” Shekaran said recently. “It was a very different company from when I started, and I forced myself to leave.” One of Shekaran’s former bosses, Satya Nadella, became chief executive of Microsoft in February. Last week, Nadella axed as many as 18,000 positions, aiming to make the company more nimble. Forced out the door, the employees are poised to see plenty of demand from quickly growing startups, Shekaran said. He’s hoping to hire some of them to start an engineering office in the Seattle area, where about 1,300 Microsoft staffers were let go. “We want to use the talent wherever it...

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The 10 L.A. startups that raised the most money this spring

Led by Swagbucks’ $60 million round of fund-raising, 35 Los Angeles County startups raised more than $330 million from April through June in what was a booming second quarter for startup investment nationwide. The money is flowing to fewer firms, but it’s coming in bigger chunks as investors help successful startups expand operations to new locales. Nationwide, five of the richest deals came from the Bay Area with ride-sharing company Uber’s eye-popping $1.2 billion round of fundraising leading the way. The next closest amount was Airbnb at $450 million. Los Angeles attracted about half as much venture capital investment as New York and Boston. The trio of regions together account for about half of what Silicon Valley received, according to the The MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association based on data from Thomson Reuters. Within Los Angeles, nearly half of the venture capital funding raised went to startups in Santa Monica, according to...

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Apple's swagger returns as fever around new products builds

It would be unfair to say that Apple has got its mojo back this summer, since I'm sure the company and many of its fans would say it never lost it. But as the tech giant prepares to release third quarter earnings Tuesday, it's certainly riding some serious momentum.  One indicator is the stock price. A year ago, the company had seen its stock fall almost by half, creating a cloud of gloom around Apple and causing some whispers about the leadership of Chief Executive Tim Cook.  Now, the stock has regained nearly all those losses. Cook has soothed the nerves of activist investors such as Carl Icahn who were threatening a revolt. Those rebel voices were quieted by an increase in share buybacks and dividends. And the company even announced it intended to spend $3 billion for Beats, finally opening its massive cash coffers to make what would be the most expensive acquisition in its history when it closes in the coming weeks.  A year ago, Apple observers fretted as the company reported a big...

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