Friday, January 30, 2015

Apple CEO very bullish on enterprise prospects for the iPad (TechRepublic)

Though iPad sales are down by five million units from last year, Apple sold almost $9 billion worth of the tablets, and Tim Cook thinks that Apple is just getting started. 
Apple sales
Last quarter, Apple sold almost 75 million iPhones worth more than $51 billion. That's a staggering amount, and the smartphone accounted for nearly 70% of Apple's total revenue. The company "only" sold 21.4 million iPads worth just under $9 billion, or around 12% of Apple's quarterly revenue last quarter.
That's down from $11.5 billion and 26 million iPads in the quarter a year ago, and it's led some analysts to wonder if the age of the iPad is over -- if the smartphone and the PC are again squeezing out the device that Steve Jobs said fit in between those two categories.
Don't tell Tim Cook that, though. In Apple's quarterly earnings conference call with analysts, he laid out a forceful declaration that the iPad has a long, fruitful life ahead of it.
While acknowledging that sales had dipped in the short term, in "90-day clips" as he called it, Cook said he was "very optimistic and bullish on iPad over the long run", according to a transcript of the call from Seeking Alpha.
He cited customer satisfaction ratings on the iPad that sometimes touch 100%, something "unheard of" according to Cook. He said that in developed markets like the US, UK, and Japan, half of all iPad buyers are doing so for the first time. And in China, that number is more than 70%. Definitely not a saturated market, and plenty of room for growth.
But aside from the consumer markets, which are huge to be sure, Cook was especially excited about the partnership with IBM that was launched last year.
"I think we're really going to change the way people work," said Cook. "I'm really excited about the apps that are coming out and how fast the partnership is getting up and running."
Earlier in the call, Cook said that IBM will release an additional 12 MobileFirst apps this quarter, to go with the 10 apps that were launched back in December. Three of those will come in new industries, healthcare, energy and utilities, and industrial products. That will bring the total number of apps to 22, and Cook said the two companies are on track to have more than 100 specific enterprise apps by the end of 2015.
These apps are important. As Cook noted, the iPad is more than productivity apps like Microsoft Word or Excel. It is perhaps at its most powerful when there are industry-specific apps that solve a particular problem or help employees work in a different way.
"That's one of the things that working with IBM provides us," said Cook. "They bring a significant amount of knowledge on all of the verticals... I think if we can really change the way people work... the opportunity is enormous."
Cook notes that Apple's iPad penetration across Fortune 500 companies is nearly universal, but that penetration is broad but not deep. There are a small number of employees at each company using iPads, because it may not always make sense for their job. A line technician for a power company might not use Word or Excel nearly as much as an office worker.
But if you can build a custom app for that line technician that's designed around his needs and workflow, that can make him more valuable as an employee and encourage companies to roll out iPads to more of their workforce.
That's why Tim Cook is excited, and that's why the IBM partnership is so important -- to help industries create apps and streamline processes -- and, of course, sell more iPads.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Which Airlines Have the Best Wi-Fi? (PCMagazine)

2014 was a "banner year" for connectivity in the skies, according to a new report from Routehappy.

Expert Traveler's Tips for Packing Lighter

Getting on an airplane no longer means losing touch with the outside world. These days, the friendly skies are more connected than ever before.
According to a new report from airline comparison service Routehappy, 2014 was a "banner year" for connectivity in the skies. Just a few years ago, in-flight Wi-Fi was a rarity, and where it was available, flyers complained about slow speeds and high prices.
"The landscape has since changed dramatically," Routehappy said. These days, in-flight Wi-Fi is widely available on mainline and regional connection flights within the U.S., and it's becoming more common on international flights as well.
Connected Traveler
Routehappy analyzed all commercial flights scheduled to depart on a "typical mid-week travel day," and found that passengers have at least "some chance" of getting Wi-Fi on almost one-quarter (24 percent) of airline miles flown worldwide. On U.S. domestic flights, flyers have some chance of getting service on two-thirds (or 66 percent) of airline miles — up from 38 percent in 2013.

Wi-Fi performance varies by airline. In the U.S., 35 percent of connected planes had "good" Wi-Fi that would be equivalent to 3G speeds, 38 percent had "better" service that rivals 4G, while just 1 percent had the "best" quality, which would be adequate for streaming video.
Overall, 52 airlines around the world now offer in-flight Wi-Fi in most regions; in the U.S., Delta and Virgin America earn top honors (though not everyone is impressed).
Delta — the largest U.S. airline — offers "by far" the most flights and flight miles with Wi-Fi due to its sheer number of flights per day, Routehappy said. But Virgin America — a much smaller airline — earned bragging rights for offering Wi-Fi on nearly 100 percent of its flights. If you're traveling across the pond, however, you might be best off with United, which has the most international planes with Wi-Fi, and offers the "best" service.
For more, check out the infographic below.
But is your information safe in the sky? Earlier this month, Google engineer Adrienne Porter Felt released a report that said Gogo Inflight Internet was serving SSL certificates from Gogo instead of site providers—a big no-no in online security. The move could mean that passwords and other sensitive information entered while logged into the Gogo service could have been compromised. See more in the video below.
Routehappy infographic

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Investing in Russia: So Crazy, It Just Might Work (BusinessWeek)

Investing in Russia: So Crazy, It Just Might Work
On paper, there’s no good reason to invest in Russia right now. The country’s dealing with a collapsed currency, plunging oil prices, recession, conflict in Ukraine, sanctions, and a government that’s hard to predict. The MSCI Russia Index lost almost half its value last year, and those losses could continue in 2015 and even into 2016. On Monday, as fighting in Ukraine intensified, the ruble dropped another 2.3 percent against the dollar, to its lowest level since Dec. 16.
For the intrepid, the thrill-seeking, or the very wealthy, however, Russia still has an appeal. Since August, investors have poured $861 million into the Market Vectors Russia ETF (RSX), the largest U.S.-based Russia fund. “In investing, what is comfortable is rarely profitable,” according to investment firm Research Affiliates in a new analysis. “Investing in Russia now is definitely discomfiting, but it might pay off in the long run.”
Here’s the opportunity they see:
Investors are watching Russia’s inscrutable and unpredictable government for any signs that President Vladimir Putin might be ready to make nice with the West or reform the Russian economy. So far, no dice. But, historically the Russian government has been more “business-friendly and reform-minded” when oil prices are low, Bank of America strategist David Hauner said in a Jan. 12 research note. Oil under $50 a barrel could spur Putin to do something about Russia’s economy, famously unproductive and overly reliant on the energy industry.
Sanctions are depriving Russia of the foreign technology and capital it desperately needs, to the tune of $100 billion in capital this year, BofA estimates. But, Research Affiliates notes, those sanctions are “relatively mild” compared with those imposed on Iran, Cuba, or North Korea. And Russia still has relatively low debt and high currency reserves, while it continues to provide much of Europe’s energy. “Logically, this crisis should pass,” Research Affiliates says. 
Finally, in exchange for the extreme risks involved with Russia, investors are getting some outstanding deals. The MSCI Russia Index’s price-earnings ratio is 4, compared with the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index’s 18.1. Based on their valuation, Research Affiliates calculates Russian stocks could return 16.9 percent per year over the next 10 years, more than any other developed or emerging market. 
Then again, the firm also expects Russia to be the second-most volatile market in the world during that time span, after Turkey. Investors may need strong stomachs for quite a while: Without reforms, Bank of America estimates Russia won’t fully recover from this downturn until 2019.

Monday, January 26, 2015

We Are Now Two Minutes Closer to Doomsday (BusinessWeek)

We Are Now Two Minutes Closer to Doomsday
Our leaders are failing, and planetary destruction is nigh.
That’s the message sent today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which moved the historic Doomsday Clock forward by two ticks. It’s now three minutes to midnight. The rising threats from unchecked climate change and nuclear weapons have created the biggest existential crisis for humanity since the Cold War, according to the group. Not since the 1950s has civilization been more imperiled.
The Doomsday Clock was established in 1947 by Manhattan Project scientists who built the world’s first atomic bomb. The idea was to create a visible symbol to help the public understand the threats humanity has foisted upon itself. The group’s Security Board meets twice a year to determine the threat level. Advisers to the board include 17 Nobel prize laureates.
“World leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required,” the Security Board wrote in a statement today. “In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity.”
Since the clock was first set in 1947, it’s been adjusted 18 times. The safest period was from 1991 to 1994, when the clock was 17 minutes from midnight. The last time the clock was this close to the apocalypse of midnight was during the Cold War tensions of the mid-1980s. The clock was last adjusted, by one minute, in 2012.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said the following actions must be taken to roll the clock back:
  • Cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels that would keep global warming below 2C (3.6F)
  • Dramatically cut spending on nuclear weapons modernization
  • Reinvigorate the nuclear disarmament process
  • Deal with the problem of nuclear waste

Friday, January 23, 2015

The next LED revolution is upon us, and it is ultraviolet (Asian Review)

TOKYO -- It took a decade of work and the help of two Nobel laureates, but industrial pump manufacturer Nikkiso is finally gearing up for the mass production of deep ultraviolet light-emitting diodes.
     These deep UV LEDs emit even shorter wavelengths of light than blue LEDs, and they have promising applications. Nikkiso envisions applications for its deep UV LEDs in three broad fields.
     First is the environmental field, where the sterilizing effects of deep UV radiation can be put to use disinfecting water and sewage. This is already done using mercury lamps, but the new LEDs have many advantages: They are smaller and can run on lower voltage, around 5-7 volts. They are far more durable, lasting more than 10,000 hours, compared to around 3,000 to 5,000 hours for mercury lamps. Finally, they do not use toxic mercury.
     The second field is medicine, where Nikkiso anticipates a wide range of applications in addition to the sterilization of medical instrumentation.
     One example is dermatology, where selective dosing with different wavelengths of deep UV radiation can be used as a form of light therapy to treat skin disorders.
     Another example is the measurement of the purity and density of proteins and DNA by combining the LEDs with photodetectors.
     And Nikkiso has already incorporated the LEDs into its kidney dialysis machines as a way to check for the elimination of waste materials from the blood.
     Industrial applications are the third promising field. Used with UV-hardening resins for bonding and coating processes, the LEDs can improve the efficiency of the production line because they can reach stable output much faster than mercury lamps, which take more time to warm up.
     But even as the company works to propose applications in these fields, it also intends to utilize the deep UV LEDs in its own products.
     Together with its pump technologies, Nikkiso has developed a module that can be fitted to food machinery to sterilize water on the move.
The hard road
It was clear from the start -- Nikkiso first began developing deep UV LEDs in 2006 -- that it would be difficult to grow crystals of uniform properties in order to mass-produce high-quality versions of the elements.
     For help and guidance, the company turned to Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University and Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University, both of whom shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics for their work on blue LEDs with Shuji Nakamura of University of California, Santa Barbara.
     "We doggedly pursued the research, just like these pioneers," recalled Shigeo Maruo, who heads the company's R&D subsidiary Nikkiso Giken.
     With the guidance of the two future Nobel laureates, Maruo and the staff at Nikkiso Giken fine-tuned their mass-production technologies and began selling samples of their deep UV LEDs in 2012.
     Nikkiso completed a 2.2 billion yen ($18.5 million) production facility in Ishikawa Prefecture this past June that is now in trial operation. Full-scale mass production of the LEDs is expected to start in April.
     "We're confident of the performance of these LEDs," Maruo said, "and the next step now is to ascertain customer needs."
     With rivals like Asahi Kasei also developing deep UV LEDs, this nascent market is likely to see intense competition in the years ahead.
     For Nikkiso, that means continuing to boost performance and explore new fields for its deep UV LEDs.
     "To lead a market," Maruo said, "you always need to be thinking about the next move."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A change of paradigm in TV : Internet TV is on (BusinessWeek)

Dish’s New Sling TV Service Could Free You From Cable

Joseph Clayton, Dish Network's CEO, speaks during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 5. 
Joseph Clayton, Dish Network's CEO, speaks during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
on Jan. 5. 
Dish Network is making the first big news in what’s likely to be a busy year for the future of television. At the International Consumer Electronics Show on Monday, the company unveiled its Internet television service, a $20-a-month alternative to cable that’s the most ambitious play for cord-cutters to date. The service, confusingly, is named Sling TV, even though it has no direct connection to the Slingbox, another device aiming to appeal to people fed up with the restrictions of cable. Sling TV will be available on a range of connected televisions, streaming boxes and sticks such as Roku, and mobile devices.
Dish has been working on the service for four years, says Joseph Clayton, the company’s chief executive officer. It spent much of last year lining up deals and developing technology to insert targeted ads into live streams. The company had originally said the service would be ready in 2014. A lot was happening while Dish was putting the finishing touches on Sling TV. HBO and CBS announced they would begin selling standalone streaming subscriptions, and Sony launched PlayStation Vue, its own cable replacement service.
Dish’s big advantage is a deal with Disney, giving it access to ESPN’s channels, which are arguably a necessity to draw viewers away from cable. The basic Sling TV package offers about a dozen channels, including Disney, ESPN, Food Network, HGTV, TNT, CNN, and TBS. It also features Internet video from Maker Studios, which Disney bought for $500 million last March. Viewers will be able to pay extra for additional channels grouped by themes like sports or children’s programming. For years, Internet television services have struggled to get off the ground because they couldn’t get rights to content. The introduction of Sling TV is evidence that this is changing.
What the service won’t have are broadcast network channels. Dish is leaving those out to avoid paying hefty retransmission fees for content that’s available elsewhere. “It was a very strategic decision for us not to force people to pay for those networks again when they already have alternatives,” says Roger Lynch, a Dish executive who’s becoming Sling TV’s CEO.
For many viewers, the lack of broadcast content will make Sling TV just one part of a patchwork solution to television. “It’s going to confuse them, and in some instances upset them. They won’t understand the logic of it,” says Jimmy Schaeffler, an analyst with Carmel Group. “In the end, it’s a lesser product, but it works.”
As with any Internet television service, there’s a question of who the target audience is. Clayton says Sling TV will appeal mostly to millennials who currently aren’t paying anything for television. “This is a market segment that is not being tapped by the entire pay-TV industry today,” he says. But he also acknowledges that programming partners have expressed concerns that the cheap service will inspire people to move from more expensive subscriptions. “Quite honestly, I think there will be some cannibalization,” he says, “but not a lot.”
Aside from the subscription fees, Dish hopes to bring in significant revenue from advertising. One of the last things holding up the service’s launch was technology that allows it to insert advertisements into the live stream based on data the company has on viewers. This could allow Dish to charge more for ads. At some point, says Lynch, the company is likely to offer a free version of the service, minus the most attractive content like ESPN, supported entirely by ad revenue.
Dish is risking more by starting an Internet TV service than, say, Sony, which doesn’t have to worry about losing subscribers elsewhere. That said, change is coming whether pay television companies like it or not. Television subscriptions dropped for the first time in 2013. The number of people paying for satellite or cable continues to shrink, albeit slowly for now. Those viewers are migrating to Internet television, and Dish wants to be there when they do.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Regulations Implement Relaxed Trade and Other Policies Toward Cuba (Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Revised U.S. government regulations implementing recent changes in U.S. trade and other policies toward Cuba will take effect Jan. 16. These regulatory modifications do not lift the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba but do allow additional trade-related activities. Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg will be conducting a webinar on this topic, "Cuba at the Crossroads: New Policies, Laws & Potential Opportunities" on Feb. 19. For more information and to register click here.
The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has issued a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to facilitate travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, facilitate the provision by travel agents and airlines of authorized travel services and the forwarding by certain entities of authorized remittances, raise the limit on certain categories of remittances to Cuba, allow U.S. financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, authorize certain transactions with Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, and allow a number of other activities related to telecommunications, financial services, trade and shipping. Highlights of the changes made by this rule include the following.
- authorized travelers may import no more than $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in alcohol or tobacco products
- certain micro-financing activities and entrepreneurial and business training, such as for private businesses and agricultural operations, are authorized
- commercial imports of certain specified goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs are authorized
- the regulatory interpretation of “cash in advance” is changed from “cash before shipment” to “cash before transfer of title and control” to allow expanded financing options for authorized exports to Cuba
- a general license authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide additional services incident to Internet-based communications and related to certain exportations and reexportations of communications items
- a general license authorizes foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain trade with Cuba
- airlines may provide authorized air carrier services without the need for a specific license from OFAC
- U.S.-owned or –controlled entities in third countries, including banks, may provide goods and services to individual Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba provided the transaction does not involve a commercial exportation of goods or services to or from Cuba
Similarly, the Bureau of Industry and Security has issued a final rule making the following amendments to the Export Administration Regulations.
- new license exception Support for the Cuban People (SCP) authorizes the export and reexport to Cuba of certain items, including building materials for use by the private sector to construct or renovate privately-owned buildings; goods for use by private-sector entrepreneurs such as auto mechanics, barbers and hairstylists, and restaurateurs; tools and equipment for private-sector agricultural activity; items for the establishment and upgrade of communications-related systems; and certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications and hardware (only items designated as EAR99 or controlled only for anti-terrorism reasons are eligible for this license exception)
- existing license exception Consumer Communications Devices (CCD) is amended by eliminating the donation requirement, thereby authorizing exports or reexports of certain communications items (e.g., computers, mobile phones, televisions, radios and digital cameras) for commercial sale or donation to eligible end users in Cuba
- license exception Gift Parcels and Humanitarian Donations (GFT) is expended to authorize exports of consolidated shipments of multiple parcels for delivery to individuals residing in Cuba, thus eliminating the requirement to obtain individual validated licenses for such parcels
- a general policy of approval is established for exports and reexports to Cuba of items necessary for the environmental protection of U.S. and international air quality, waters and coastlines

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Unintended Consequences of Cheap Oil (BusinessWeek)

The Unintended Consequences of Cheap Oil

Cheaper oil is  good for the economy — it's basically the equivalent of a tax cut. Unless it's bad for the economy, which can be the case if falling prices spur deflation and hurt countries and companies that depend on oil exports. Whether the impact is good, bad, or a little of both, will depend on how long prices stay low.
If cheap oil is the result of a drop in demand (from an ailing Chinese economy, for example), prices will rise when the economy picks up. If lower prices stem from increased supply (from the shale boom, say), then cheap oil is here for at least a while. Two things are certain: There's still a finite amount of oil in the world, and the economy needs oil to function. That suggests oil prices will increase someday, although no one is sure whether that will happen as soon as the spring or as far off as the 2050s.
Unless something really is different this time. Those are dangerous words, and it's always safer to assume that history does, in fact, repeat itself. There is a chance, though, that the drop in oil prices could inspire a change in energy policy, in which case there may be lasting consequences.
Many economists support increased taxes on oil, largely because oil is necessary and scarce, and excessive use of fossil fuels harms the environment. Among rich countries, America's fuel taxes are the lowest. Many developed countries, often oil-producing ones, actually subsidize fuel. But burning through oil today poses costs in the future, and low taxes and subsidies also diminish the incentives to discover greener, more sustainable alternatives.
Lower oil prices give governments the chance to increase fuel taxes (or cut subsidies) without incurring immediate harm to the economy. Indonesia, Malaysia, and India are cutting their fuel subsidies. The World Bank is encouraging other countries to do the same. It argues that fuel subsidies create distortions that mainly benefit middle-income households and the money is better spent on infrastructure projects. Larry Summers called on America to use this moment to increase carbon taxes. Congress is considering the first fuel tax increase since 1993.
The risk is that we still don't know how long oil prices will last and what exactly is driving the drop. Oil prices in particular bounce around on the whims of the market. Increasing taxes would mean that even if this is a temporary blip, today's oil market will set the tone for years to come. Suppose, for example, China cuts its oil subsidy. When oil prices rise again, Chinese consumers will face higher prices. In response, they ought to use less oil, which would leave more for everyone else. It also would give a comparative advantage to residents of countries that don't increase taxes.
Higher fuel taxes (or cutting subsidies) makes economic sense, and this is the politically opportune time, if there ever was one, to achieve this. But setting long-term policy in response to volatile oil prices can create unintended consequences. Five years from now, some countries will face much lower prices. Others will be paying more. That may alter global trade and development ways we can't predict today.
Schrager is an economist and writer in New York City. Follow her on Twitter: @AllisonSchrager.

Toyota and Nissan Butch Up Their Trucks (BusinessWeek)

Nissan Titan

Nissan Titan
Toyota and Nissan haven’t made much of a dent in America’s booming pickup business of late, in part because they haven’t really tried. Nissan hasn’t overhauled its full-sized Titan pickup in 12 years. Toyota’s more popular midsized Tacoma has been largely unchanged for a decade.
The listlessness is evident in their sales. Titan sales in the U.S. dropped by almost half in the past five years. Last year, sales dipped below 13,000 in 2014—a volume appropriate for an exotic sports car, not a blue-collar truck. The Tacoma has been more resilient, but the model still doesn’t draw nearly as many buyers as it did in 2006, its peak year.
Truck fans were tuned into Detroit this week to look for major new upgrades of both models. The design direction, in both cases, is straightforward: make them look tougher and more truck-like. With aggressive grills and tall, boxy frames, Nissan and Toyota seem to be steering away from the weekend warrior crowd and toward the working class—more lumberyard, less jet-skis by the lake. In short, they are finally going after Ford and GM. 
Stock is an associate editor for Twitter: @kylestock

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Five New Cars That Matter at the Detroit Auto Show (BusinessWeek)

The making and selling of cars is game theory on a grand scale—an ongoing exercise in executive brinkmanship based on two questions: What kinds of vehicles are all the other companies making and what kind should we make next? The answers aren't trivial. Launching a new car requires the kind of investment that makes starting, say, a social network seem like a cheap date.
This week, in frigid Detroit, is the annual unveiling of the car companies' biggest bets. They'll reveal their strategies in sleek, shiny new vehicles that the world—and their competitors—have never seen. Some will change a company’s fortunes for decades. Others hint at where the entire industry is heading. Not every car on display is equally portentous: The duds, and there are many, never even make it to the assembly line. When the official press "events" begin tomorrow, these are the five vehicles that will matter most.

Photographer: Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images
Acura NSX
Acura, Honda’s blue-chip brand, makes vehicles that are arguably just as luxurious and refined as BMW's. Drivers, however, remain unconvinced. Acuras sell for about 20 percent less than BMWs do, and in spite of the price premium (or perhaps because of it), BMW still outsold Acura two-to-one in the U.S. last year. Enter the NSX, a space pod of technology and design, and what the the auto industry calls a “halo car.” The glow that emanates from its carbon fiber and computer-tuned engine refracts on all the other Acura models and helps dealers sell more of them for more money. At least, that’s the theory. We won’t know how that strategy pans out for Acura. The NSX won't be available until the late fall (rumored price: $100,000), and any effect it has may take longer to manifest. Either way, it won't stop auto writers from telling you a lot about the NSX this week.

Source: Toyota
Toyota Tacoma
For years, the Big Three didn’t make small pickups, in part because they didn’t want to cannibalize sales of their larger trucks. So Toyota, with its Tacoma, had the segment to itself until just a few months ago, when General Motors rolled out its Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon, all-new, modestly sized pickups. Thanks to some glowing reviews, combined monthly sales of those trucks hit 5,600 in December, almost 40 percent the sales volume of the Tacoma that month. If Toyota wants to keep its status as the only non-U.S. company making a dent in the truck business, it needs the new Tacoma to impress. That may not be as tall an order as it sounds. The Tacoma hasn't had a refresh since 2004, and the new styling is much less car-like, much more aggressive. 

Source: VolkswagenSource: Volkswagen
Volkswagen SUV
Unless one is driving a Golf, Volkswagen drivers aren’t feeling much fahrvergnügenthese days—at least not in America. The brand’s U.S. sales dropped 7 percent in 2013, then fell another 8 percent last year. Volkswagen’s sedans and compacts are still fairly impressive; they just aren’t what Americans want these days. Small SUVs have been the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. of late and Volkswagen’s only offerings in the space were relatively expensive (see: Touareg) or not very well-liked (see: Tiguan). The company desperately needs to check this box to turn its fortunes around in America, and the concept car it unveils this week is intended to prime American demand. Unfortunately for Volkswagen, the big reveal would have been far more useful two years ago.

Mercedes GLE Coupe
In its quest to remain the best-selling luxury carmaker, Mercedes is giving its designers and engineers free rein. How else to explain its newest creation, a burly vehicle with the linebacker looks of an SUV and the graceful sloping roof of a performance coupe? It doesn't have the cargo space for a Costco run and won’t drive nearly as well as a low-slung sedan, but it looks kind of cool—at least some people must think so. BMW has been selling a similar model, the $60,800 X6, since 2008. Last year, U.S. buyers drove off in 4,200 of them, not a lot overall but significant for such a niche vehicle.
The Ford GT is unveiled during the 2015 North American International Auto Show in on Jan. 12.Photographer: Andrew Harrer/BloombergThe Ford GT is unveiled during the 2015 North American International Auto Show in on Jan. 12.
Ford GT
If you can’t buy them, beat them. That was the mantra that created Ford’s original touring race car—the GT40—in 1964. Spurned in a bid to acquire Ferrari, the company made a machine that could best Europe’s finest on the European race circuit. The strategy didn’t make much economic sense, but with four straight victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, it sent a clear message. Ford is back at it with another supercar that will make its new Mustang look like the family’s pudgy uncle. There certainly won’t be many of them and Ford won’t make much, if any, money from them. So why is Ford rolling out a new race car? To show that it can. The company hasn't really taken a risk since before the recession—a conservative strategy that by all accounts paid off—and if any American car company has the right to take a flier these days, it's Ford. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

CES 2015: Drones, Drones, Drones (PCMagazine)

DJI Inspire 1

LAS VEGAS—If you're into drones, CES 2015 offered up a virtual smorgasbord of remote-controlled flyers at which to ogle.
They ranged in size from one with the footprint of a business card all the way up to a huge model that's being targeted for military use. The breadth of drones available is quite staggering, and not every model is a simple toy or a device that's only useful for aerial videography and photography.

DJI is the first name that comes to mind when you're talking about drones. Its Phantom 2 Vision+$1,108.00 at Amazon impressed us with its easy handling and slick integration with smartphone apps. DJI has opened up its SDK to outside developers, and I was able to speak to two of them at the show.
Bryan Field-Elliot of PixiePath is working on software that controls fleets of Phantoms from one Web-based application. He says that it opens up commercial use from anything from package delivery to aerial selfie services, but a more immediate, practical application is search and rescue operations. A group of Phantoms can be set to fly in a set search pattern, which could save the lives of stranded hikers. Check it out in the video below.
Lorenzo Marteletti is a sales director at Pix4D, a company with surveying software that, in the past, has been able to create 3D maps of objects on the ground for more expensive, commercial drones. Now that DJI has opened up the Phantom SDK, it's working on bringing that software to the relatively inexpensive, compact drone market. Lorenzo showed a demo that mapped a small village in Germany. He's able to draw vectors along lines in the model to precisely determine distances between points, which is useful to track progress in the construction industry.
CES bug art (update)
And there's filmmaking, the obvious application for a flying camera. Damon Webster, a photo blogger and video producer, won't go on a location shoot without a drone—they're less expensive and more versatile than rented helicopters. He opts for larger models that are able to mount a mirrorless system camera; the 4K-capable Panasonic GH4 is his current body of choice.

DJI is attempting to compete with these high-end rigs with its $2,900 Inspire 1, our favorite drone at the show. It's got an integrated 4K video camera with a fixed 20mm wide-angle lens. Using a larger model like the DJI Spreading Wings S1000 and a system camera like the GH4 does add the ability to use lenses of varying focal lengths.

Check this video: 


Harwar Military Drone  Hubsan ProtoX Ghost MaxAero Venture 1
Hubsan X4 Pro Micro Drone 2.0
Parrot Bebop Q500 Typhoon
Trace Hexo+
Hubsan ProtoX FPV Zano Nano Selfie Drone

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cuba and Florida's Present and Future Challenges and Opportunities (FCBF Forum)

A Forum to Enhance Florida's Strategic Thinking and 
Planning on Cuba

Present and Future Challenges and Opportunities

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
7:30 am-2:00 pm
An informal Q&A luncheon with the panelists will follow
MACC Doubletree Airport Hotel - MACC 1
711 NW 72 Ave Miami, FL 33126
You are Invited
We are pleased to offer a compelling one-day program to enhance the State of Florida's strategic thinking and planning on economic development opportunities and possibilities that would be feasible with a future opening on Cuba and as allowed by U.S. law. The Forum is an opportunity to identify and assess possible future trends in trade and key sectors while analyzing implications for the state of Florida and its vital industries. The Forum will enhance Florida's thinking on implications following a change in U.S. policy.
Panel of Experts
Insight from Washington DC
Mr. Marc Wachtenheim, President W International

The Economic Impact to the State of Florida
Mr. J Antonio Villamil, President, The Washington Economics Group

Importance of Cuba to Florida's Companies
Mr. Giora Israel, Senior V.P., Carnival Corporation

Key Sectors Infrastructure & Industry Cuba & U.S.
Mr. Teo Babun, President, Babun Group Consulting

Cuba Mariel Threat or Opportunity?
Mr. Emilio Morales, Principal, The Havana Consulting Group

Where is Cuba going?
Mr. Jose Azel, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Cuban and CubanAmerican Studies, University of Miami

Florida Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association, Inc.
Ph: 305-499-9490 | Fx: 305-499-9491

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