As Amazon slashes prices, Bezos sees jump in wealth

AS Amazon marked its “Prime Day” with price cuts across a range of products, founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos saw his net worth hit new peaks, increasing his lead over fellow billionaires.

Bezos’s net worth topped US$150 billion (RM 608.32 billion) on Monday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him the world’s richest person in decades.

The surge in the share price for Amazon – in which Bezos holds a stake of some 16% – has lifted his wealth by some US$50 billion (RM 202.77 billion) this year.

And Bezos has moved into a wealth category all by himself, far ahead of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, worth an estimated US$95 billion (RM 385.27 billion), according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Gates saw his net worth briefly hit US$100 billion (RM 405.55 billion) in 1999, but since then Bezos appears to be the only person to top that milestone.

Historically, Bezos still trails other wealthy individuals such as oil magnate John D Rockefeller and steel baron Andrew Carnegie, whose inflation-adjusted net worth would be more than US$300 billion (RM 1,216.65 billion).

Yet his rise has been nothing less than spectacular since 2014 when his fortune was estimated at around US$32 billion (RM 129.78 billion).

Bezos founded Amazon two decades ago as an online bookseller, and it has mushroomed into one of the world’s most valuable companies. It features retail operations in more than a dozen countries, a major cloud computing division, and operations in digital devices, artificial intelligence, video streaming and groceries.

Amazon’s market capitalization has risen to nearly US$880 billion (RM 3,568.84 billion) in recent weeks, ahead of that of Google parent Alphabet but behind Apple.

This week, Amazon marked its “Prime Day,” a 36-hour period with special discounts for its Prime subscribers, in several countries, touting “more than one million deals worldwide.”

Amazon acknowledged some glitches with the sales day, saying some customers were unable to complete their orders.

Some customers complained they were directed to the “Amazon dogs” error pages featuring canine pictures. Still, Amazon said the day had gotten off to a better start than last year.

Bezos, 54, also owns the private space exploration firm Blue Origin and purchased the Washington Post in 2013. — AFP

Netflix shares dive as subscriber growth misses mark

NETFLIX shares plunged Monday after the leading streaming television service said subscriber growth fell short of expectations in the recently ended quarter.

Membership in the quarter grew 5.2 million to a total of 130 million, matching the same period last year but a million shy of what Netflix had forecast, according to a letter released along with earnings figures.

Netflix shares dropped 14.11% to US$343.97 (RM1,386) in after-market trade, in a setback to the television juggernaut operating in some 190 markets around the world.

“We had a strong but not stellar Q2 (second quarter),” Netflix said in a letter to shareholders.

“Earnings, margins, and revenue were all in-line with forecast and way up from prior year.”

The Silicon Valley based company said it is beginning to “lead artistically” in some categories with its original content, earning enough Emmy nominations this year to break a 17-year top-spot streak by HBO.

Netflix said it made a profit of US$384 million (RM1.5 billion) on revenue of US$3.9 billion (RM15 billion) in the recent quarter, compared to net income of US$66 million (RM266 million) on US$2.8 billion (RM11 billion) in revenue in the same period last year.

Wall Street analysts had expected Netflix revenue to be slightly higher.

“After four consecutive quarters of beating its own guidance, and analysts’ expectations on key metrics such as revenues, profits, and subscriber gains, Netflix disappointed with a weak Q2,” said eMarketer principal analyst Paul Verna.

“This isn’t entirely surprising given rising competition in the video streaming market, where Amazon, Hulu, HBO and others are gaining share of subscription video dollars at Netflix’s expense,” he added.

Competition in the streaming television market includes YouTube, a platform under the umbrella of Google parent Alphabet, and entertainment titan Disney, along with AT&T.

However, GBH Insights saw the Netflix subscriber forecast miss as a “speed bump”, rather than start a downward trend, reasoning that the “content arms race continues to be a major tailwind” for the company.

“While the knee jerk reaction will clearly be negative from the Street’s perspective, we would be buyers of Netflix on this weakness,” GBH Insights technology research head Daniel Ives said in a note to investors.

Netflix has spent billions of dollars on original content, backing films or shows from creators from a gamut of countries and cultures as it strives for broad appeal as a global television service.

“We continue to ramp up our production of non-English originals,” Netflix said in the letter.

“Our international originals can be important to specific countries and regions and also play well outside of their home markets.”

Netflix added that while there is an increasing focus in the traditional film industry on superheroes and sequels, the on-demand service can serve a broad variety of tastes. — AFP

A masterpiece of a business laptop

THE LENOVO ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen) deserves its CES 2018 best business laptop award.

It is ridiculously light, beautifully designed, and a pleasure to use. The only thing stopping most consumers getting one is the price.

The laptop comes in two base models: one with an Intel Core i5 processor from RM6,832, and the other with an Intel Core i7 processor from RM7,597.

You know how some cars look like they are going fast while standing still? The X1 Carbon is like that – the laptop equivalent of a hypercar.

The unit we reviewed was black with a semi-grippy satin finish you could only find on devices built with carbon fibre.

This construction makes the X1 light, durable, and does not conduct heat like aluminium or other metals, so it does not get too warm. The unit is also available in silver.

The keyboard on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen) is excellent, synonymous with the legacy and tradition of the ThinkPad name.

If Lenovo ever makes a wireless keyboard this style, I will get one for myself.

Of course, with the signature ThinkPad keyboard comes the signature Thinkpad touchpad and pointing stick (isometric joystick used as a pointing device).

The combo is an acquired taste, but I find them very practical.

For a business-level device, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen) has some features we do not often see on a typical consumer device.

Most of these features are internal such as system controls and administration tools.

However, three external elements stand out.

First is the novel ThinkShutter. Built on the assumption that your laptop’s webcam is spying on you, the ThinkShutter is a sliding door that covers the X1’s webcam.

It is not automatic or motorised.

Second is the fingerprint reader.

If you do not opt-in for a camera that is Windows Hello compatible, the fingerprint reader gives you an alternative biometric login method that is faster and arguably more secure than a password or a PIN.

Third, is the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen)’s ability to dock into a device which grants it more ports, and when connected to another monitor and input devices, effectively turns it into a desktop.

It is a great feature for some corporate environments, but we did not get to test it.

If money were no object, I would recommend the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen) if only for the design and the pleasurable user experience alone.

While the price is a major hurdle, still no other laptop says professional quite like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen).

Phone with plenty of show

HUAWEI’S confidence in its latest smartphone is evident in its naming.

Released hot on the heels of the Mate 10 series and as a follow-up to the P10 series, the P20 series forgoes expectations, skips over 10 naming sequences, and is the best smartphone Huawei has to offer.

This review looks at the P20, the standard unit in the line-up.

On paper, the P20 ticks off all the checkboxes for the buzzwords manufacturers used to tout their flagship phones: a notch, dual cameras, an elegant design, artificial intelligence, and thin bezels.

But Huawei has taken some features a little further than others.

The P20 is designed to be elegant, and it is shows. It is mesmerising to look at, in a box, on a table, on a stand, or in hand. The pink, and twilight variants especially stand out.

They gleam with ever-shifting colours and hues.

In the hand, the smartphone also feels distinctive. It is not as slippery and smooth as it looks, and the different textures between the metal frame, the glass front and the back are easily distinguishable.

The 5.8in FHD+ display does not stand out, but the notch does. It houses the front camera, the receiver, and sensors, but it also takes away space from the screen.

No matter how you look at it, you are getting less, just to save a few centimetres off of the top of the phone.

Then again, this is the same problem with all phones that sports a notch.

With top-of-the-line Huawei Kirin 970 processor, 4GB of memory, and 128GB of storage, the P20 has more than enough power to handle everyday task and more.

Although the EMUI 8.1 – Huawei’s proprietary interface that runs on top of Android 8.1 – app and memory management is not as aggressive as some less experienced customised user interfaces, it could still pose a problem to some apps.

This only concerns specific apps that you would want to always be on, for example, some sports tracker and health apps.

Of all the features on the Huawei P20, its camera has to be the most outstanding.

Instead of using a triple-camera system like the P20 Pro, the standard model uses a remarkable dual-camera system that still touts the Leica brand.

Side by side, I could see noticeable improvements in photos taken with the P20 compared to Huawei’s previous flagship, the Mate 10 Pro.

The AI camera mode has improved, and now the camera also features the ability to record video at 960 frames per second, also known as super slow motion.

The camera interface has also been altered and now mimics the swipe-to-change camera mode we have seen used by another phone maker.

Nevertheless, HDR mode, which makes a noticeable difference, still lacks an automatic option.

For those who are looking for a phone that could take excellent pictures, the P20 is a natural choice.

But if you are looking for a phone with a complete set of premium features including wireless charging and a headphone port, look elsewhere.

Going cashless explained

ACCORDING to the most recent report by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), there are 40 e-money issuers – five banks and 35 non-banks.

You and I know them as e-wallets, a blanket marketing term for that app on our smartphones that we can use to pay for things without using cash.

With such a plethora of e-wallet options, those who are looking to go cashless will be hardpressed to know which one to use.

The country’s journey towards going cashless began with the Malaysian Chip Card Initiative in 2015.

This is the same initiative that made us all renew our credit and ATM cards, and turn them into contactless-enabled credit and debit cards.

At the same time, it also encourages merchants to install contactless payment options at their point of sales (POS) terminals.

In other words, since 2015, Malaysians already have the most convenient cashless payment options in their wallets.

It is open-loop, which means it is accepted wherever cards are already accepted, and it is not dependent on third-party apps.

However, according to BNM’s Financial Stability and Payment System Report 2017, “certain market segments, such as lower-tier merchants who are more cost-sensitive, may continue to prefer to accept cash, which is often perceived to be cost-free despite the hidden economic costs”.

However, in addition to being cheaper than using cash, going cashless could also help with enhancing tourism in Malaysia by enabling visitors to shop without the need to convert their money and, as Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggested recently, could also help to curb corruption.

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Perry Ong (right), Mastercard country manager for Malaysia and Brunei, about contactless payments, e-wallets, and the future of going cashless.

“There are two basic types of e-wallets: a stage wallet and a passthrough wallet,” Ong explained.

“A stage wallet is where you put money into the wallet and spend that money.

“A passthrough wallet, on the other hand, is like a receptacle which holds your cards and gives you a direct link to your source of funds.”

Each e-wallet type has its advantages and disadvantages.

Most e-wallets we see today are stage wallets. The biggest drawback of this type of e-wallets is that they cater to a proprietary closed loop.

“Users are tied to the e-wallets capability to sign up merchants,” said Ong.

In other words, most of the 40 e-wallets registered with BNM are competing for users, both merchants and consumers, to come into their walled garden, but they are not compatible with each other.

In Malaysia, Touch ‘n’ Go is the most prominent example of a stage type e-wallet as it is the only electronic toll collection (ETC) operator for all highways in Peninsular Malaysia and is accepted at almost all commercial parking lots.

Although it is prevalent, it is not generally used outside of transit, transportation, and toll applications. This is an example of a closed loop.

Elaborating further, Ong said: “Let us take the story of China. The reason why Alipay and WeChat Pay are so successful there is that they are taking advantage of their existing pool of users.

“WeChat has a large number of users. In China, they are as ubiquitous as WhatsApp is here. Alipay has commerce.”

Step out of China, and you will find that neither Alipay nor WeChat Pay is as prevalent.

However, one way Alipay is trying to do to gain a foothold in Malaysia is by partnering up with Touch ‘n’ Go.
Ong added: “Without mincing words, I can tell you that the biggest ambition for Mastercard is to enter the transit and toll market.

“Being a part of everyday transactions develops consumer behaviour.”

He said that Mastercard intends to enter the parking payment market this year, and promises no surcharge and no minimum charges.

However, the system to be used has yet to be finalised.

Samsung Pay, on the other hand, is an example of a passthrough wallet.

“In Malaysia, Samsung Pay is king without Apple Pay and Google Pay. It even works with wearables,” said Ong.

It works by tokenising your credit, debit, and bank cards, creating virtual cards you can use in conjunction with touchless payment systems.

It builds on the strength of existing banks and services, and grants its users direct access to their funds.

“On top of that, Samsung Pay does not charge the consumer nor the retailer for using it,” said Ong.

“Samsung Pay rewards its users with points which can be exchanged for vouchers or Samsung products.”

Ong also hinted of plans by Mastercard Asia Pacific to launch a partnership wallet by the middle of next year.

Microsoft urges regulation of face-recognizing tech

SAN FRANCISCO: Microsoft’s chief legal officer on Friday called for regulation of facial recognition technology due to the risk to privacy and human rights.

Brad Smith made a case for a government initiative to lay out rules for proper use of facial recognition technology, with input from a bipartisan and expert commission.

Facial recognition technology raises significant human rights and privacy concerns, Smith said in a blog post.

“Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge,” he said.

“Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech”.

It could become possible for businesses to track visitors or customers, using what they see for decisions regarding credit scores, lending decisions, or employment opportunities without telling people.

He said scenarios portrayed in fictional films such as “Minority Report,” “Enemy of the State,” and even the George Orwell dystopian classic “1984” are “on the verge of becoming possible”.

“These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products,” Smith said.

“In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses”.

Microsoft and other tech companies have used facial recognition technology for years for tasks such as organizing digital photographs.

But the ability of computers to recognize people’s faces is improving rapidly, along with the ubiquity of cameras and the power of computing hosted in the internet cloud to figure out identities in real time.

While the technology can be used for good, perhaps finding missing children or known terrorists, it can also be abused.

“It may seem unusual for a company to ask for government regulation of its products, but there are many markets where thoughtful regulation contributes to a healthier dynamic for consumers and producers alike,” Smith said.

“It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse”.

Concerns about misuse prompted Microsoft to “move deliberately” with facial recognition consulting or contracting, according to Smith.

“This has led us to turn down some customer requests for deployments of this service where we’ve concluded that there are greater human rights risks,” Smith said. — AFP

First space tourist flights could come in 2019

WASHINGTON: The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights — though neither has set a firm date.

Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests — with both companies using radically different technology.

Moments of weightlessness

Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.

Having paid for a much cheaper ticket — costing US$250,000, (RM1,009,750) with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin — the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 400km from our planet.

The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins — either the Karman line, at 100km, or the 50-mile boundary recognized by the US Air Force.

At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly.

Virgin Galactic

With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.

The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft — the WhiteKnightTwo — from which it will then detach at around 15,000m Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.

Then, the passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.

The descent is slowed down by a “feathering” system that sees the spacecraft’s tail pivot, as if arching, before returning to normal and gliding to land at Virgin’s “spaceport” in the New Mexico desert.

In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California’s Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 21 miles, heading for space.

In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.

The company has now also reached a deal to open a second “spaceport” at Italy’s Tarente-Grottaglie airport, in the south of the country.

Branson in May told BBC Radio 4 that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, Virgin told AFP.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.

On this journey, six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the top of a 60-foot-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory several miles toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 66 miles.

After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.

From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.

Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin’s West Texas site.

But one of its directors, Rob Meyerson, said in June the first human tests would come “soon”.

Meanwhile, another company official, Yu Matsutomi, said during a conference Wednesday that the first tests with passengers would take place “at the end of this year,” according to Space News.

What’s next?

SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport Nasa astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays — a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.

“If you’re looking to go to space, you’ll have quadruple the menu of options that you ever had before,” Phil Larson, assistant dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, told AFP.

Longer term, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years — but the project is still in its early stages. — AFP

Global PC market grows for first time in 6 years: Survey

THE global personal computer market grew for the first time in six years in the second quarter of 2018, driven by upgrades in the business segment, a market tracker said Thursday.

The research firm Gartner reported that worldwide PC shipments rose 1.4% in the past quarter to 62.1 million units, but said it remains unclear if the sector is seeing a sustainable recovery.

PC sales have been sluggish in recent years as many consumers turn to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and hold onto their bulkier devices longer.

Gartner said much of the growth appears to be from businesses upgrading their PCs to Windows 10.

“PC shipment growth in the second quarter of 2018 was driven by demand in the business market, which was offset by declining shipments in the consumer segment,” said Mikako Kitagawa, analyst at Gartner.

“In the consumer space, the fundamental market structure, due to changes on PC user behavior, still remains, and continues to impact market growth. Consumers are using their smartphones for even more daily tasks, such as checking social media, calendaring, banking and shopping, which is reducing the need for a consumer PC.”

The analyst said the PC market may falter in the next two years when the replacement peak for Windows 10 passes.

The report said China’s Lenovo and US-based HP were in a virtual tie for the number one spot in the PC market, each with a 21.9 percent share, followed by Dell with 16.8% and Apple with 7.1%. — AFP