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Apple and Samsung Tied as World’s Largest Smartphone Makers in Q4 2014

The latest numbers from Strategy Analytics reveal that Apple tied Samsung during Q4 2014 to become the world's largest smartphone maker based on global shipments. According to the report, both Apple and Samsung shipped 74.5 million smartphones during the three-month period of October through December. Apple's number is an official figure from its financial results, while Samsung's number is an estimate since the company stopped reporting smartphone shipments a few years ago. The research firm adds that Apple and Samsung were last tied in smartphone market share in Q4 2011.

Apple Samsung
Apple experienced a record-breaking first quarter of the fiscal year because of strong demand for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The larger screen sizes of the two new smartphones were a major selling point for many consumers, attracting more new customers and Android converts than ever before. Meanwhile, Samsung reported a 27% quarterly decline in earnings earlier today amid tough competition from both Apple and up-and-coming Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi and Huawei.

Strategy Analytics claims that global smartphone shipments grew 31% annually to eclipse a record 380 million units in the fourth quarter. An estimated 1.3 billion smartphones were shipped worldwide in 2014, with strong growth in emerging markets such as China, India and Africa. Apple has experienced a lot of momentum in China, noting that its online sales in the region for 2014 were more than the previous five years combined.

Apple Samsung Mobile Vendors Q4 14
Apple also surpassed Microsoft to become the world's second largest mobile phone vendor on the strength of the United States and China. Apple's 74.5 million smartphone shipments placed ahead of Microsoft's 50.2 million units shipped, but were behind Samsung's market leading 95 million units shipped. Apple and Samsung have global mobile phone market shares of 14.5% and 18.4% respectively.


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Following Apple’s Record Quarter Announcement, Samsung Reports Profit Drop

On the heels of an earnings call that saw Apple announcing record earnings, rival phone maker Samsung today announced its own results for the October to December period, reporting a 27 percent quarterly decline in earnings.

Samsung saw net profit of 5.3 trillion won ($4.9 billion), compared to 7.3 trillion won last year, marking its first annual earnings decline in three years and its fifth consecutive quarter of decline. Apple, meanwhile, announced record earnings of $18 billion, largely due to the success of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

iphone_6_plus_6_side_by
Overall, Samsung's 2014 profit was at 25 trillion won, down from 36.8 trillion won in 2013. Samsung did not announce mobile sales numbers, but Apple sold a record 74.5 million iPhones during the quarter.

Market research has suggested that Apple's share of the smartphone market in Asia rose dramatically after the launch of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. According to a recent report, Apple gained significant share in Japan, China, and South Korea, countries where Samsung has previously dominated due to demand for big screen smartphones.

While Samsung's mobile sales were down 64 percent year over year, its semiconductor division earned 2.7 trillion won due to high demand for the chips that it sells to companies like Apple, boosting earnings from the previous quarter and helping it meet guidance and beat analyst estimates.

Chip maker Qualcomm also reported its own earnings today [PDF], and noted the loss of a major customer thought to be Samsung. Samsung's Galaxy S6 is unlikely to feature the Snapdragon 810 processor due to issues with overheating, and the South Korean company may opt to use its own chips instead.

Samsung expects continued growth in its mobile division in 2015 in emerging markets, and it also plans to introduce "new materials, innovative design, and differentiated features" in its devices to drive sales.


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FTC Levies $40M Fine Against TracFone for Throttling Unlimited Data Customers

tracfone_4In recent months, the Federal Trade Commission has taken a significant interest in carrier throttling practices and today handed down a ruling that could have future ramifications for carriers who throttle their unlimited customers.

As reported by Re/code, the FTC has ordered prepaid wireless carrier TracFone to pay $40 million to consumers who paid for unlimited service and were then throttled after reaching certain data limits.

TracFone advertised "unlimited text, talk, and data" for $45 a month under the brands Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, and Telcel America, and until September 2013, did not clearly disclose its throttling policies that saw customers experiencing data speeds that were cut by up to 90 percent, thereby violating the FTC Act.

While this ruling only affects TracFone at the current time, there are several other carriers that have similar practices for their unlimited customers. AT&T and Verizon no longer offer unlimited data plans, but continue to provide unlimited data for many people who remain on grandfathered plans. AT&T has engaged in throttling practices for years, often cutting off customers who exceed 5GB of LTE data usage.
"The issue here is simple: when you promise consumers 'unlimited,' that means unlimited," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "This settlement means that Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, and Telcel America customers will be able to get money back from the company for services the company promised but didn't deliver."
Last year, Verizon planned to throttle its high-usage unlimited data LTE customers, sparking interest from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who said he was "deeply troubled" by the decision. Verizon ultimately reversed course and opted not to throttle its unlimited customers, but the FCC's attention was already roused, and the agency began questioning all carriers on their unlimited throttling practices.

The government's interest in carrier throttling practices led the FTC to file a federal complaint against AT&T in October of 2014, accusing the carrier of misleading its smartphone customers by charging them for unlimited data and then going on to reduce data speeds. Based on today's TracFone decision, AT&T may also be facing hefty fines in the future, and the FTC's ongoing interest in carrier throttling of unlimited customers could finally put an end to the practice.


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FTC Levies $40M Fine Against TracFone for Throttling Unlimited Data Customers

tracfone_4In recent months, the Federal Trade Commission has taken a significant interest in carrier throttling practices and today handed down a ruling that could have future ramifications for carriers who throttle their unlimited customers.

As reported by Re/code, the FTC has ordered prepaid wireless carrier TracFone to pay $40 million to consumers who paid for unlimited service and were then throttled after reaching certain data limits.

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"The issue here is simple: when you promise consumers 'unlimited,' that means unlimited," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "This settlement means that Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, and Telcel America customers will be able to get money back from the company for services the company promised but didn't deliver."
Last year, Verizon planned to throttle its high-usage unlimited data LTE customers, sparking interest from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who said he was "deeply troubled" by the decision. Verizon ultimately reversed course and opted not to throttle its unlimited customers, but the FCC's attention was already roused, and the agency began questioning all carriers on their unlimited throttling practices.

The government's interest in carrier throttling practices led the FTC to file a federal complaint against AT&T in October of 2014, accusing the carrier of misleading its smartphone customers by charging them for unlimited data and then going on to reduce data speeds. Based on today's TracFone decision, AT&T may also be facing hefty fines in the future, and the FTC's ongoing involvement in carrier throttling of unlimited customers could finally put an end to the practice.


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Sony’s ‘Music Unlimited’ Service Shutting Down After Failing to Emerge as Viable iTunes Alternative

Sony announced on Wednesday that it will be shutting down its Music Unlimited on-demand streaming music service ahead of launching Spotify on PlayStation Music. Music Unlimited will shut down in all 19 countries it operated on March 29, 2015, with nearly all of the countries among the 41 regions that Spotify for PlayStation Music will be available upon launch, including the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

Sony Music Unlimited App
Music Unlimited launched in December 2010 on PlayStation Network in several countries worldwide, and the service was later extended to iPhone [Direct Link], Android, PlayStation Vita and other devices and platforms. In February 2011, it was reported that Sony viewed Music Unlimited as a potential iTunes Store alternative and that it was considering pulling music from Apple's platform if its own service became successful.
"If we do [get mass take up] then does Sony Music need to provide content to iTunes?" Mr Ephraim asked. "Currently we do. We have to provide it to iTunes as that's the format right now."

"Publishers are being held to ransom by Apple and they are looking for other delivery systems, and we are waiting to see what the next three to five years will hold."
The on-demand streaming music landscape has gone through significant change in the past three years, however, and Music Unlimited failed to remain competitive with industry leaders such as Spotify, Rdio, Pandora and Beats Music. Music Unlimited users with active subscriptions will continue to have free access to the service through the March 29 closing date.


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Marissa Mayer Says Yahoo Would ‘Welcome the Opportunity’ to Become Default Safari Search Engine

Yahoo AppYahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer, during the company's quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, expressed interest in Yahoo becoming the default search engine in Safari. Mayer recognized the significance that getting Yahoo in front of Mac, iPhone and iPad could have for the search engine, referring to Apple's default web browser as "one of the premier search deals in the world if not the premier search deal in the world."
"The Safari platform is basically one of the premier search deals in the world if not the premier search deal in the world," Mayer told RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney. "We're definitely in the search distribution business. I think that we've stated that really clearly in the past and I think with Mozilla and also in addition we brought Amazon eBay on board with smaller distribution partnerships in Q4."
Google renewed its search partnership with Apple in 2010, although the contract is reportedly set to expire in 2015 and, supported by the fact that Google Maps and YouTube are no longer stock iOS apps, Apple is speculated to be considering a number of options. Back in November, it was reported that both Microsoft and Yahoo were courting Apple to become the default search engine in Safari.
"We're in the search distribution business and anyone who is in that business needs to be interested in the Safari deal. The Safari users are among the most engaged and lucrative users in the world and it's something we would really like to be able to provide.

We've worked really closely with Mozilla to ultimately bring to their users an experience that they designed and that they feel really suits those users and we would welcome the opportunity with any other partner to do the same, particularly one with Apple's volume and user base."
The New York Times, citing various reports from analysts, suggests that Google losing its Safari contract may not have much impact on the company's bottom line. The two important factors involved are how much Google is paying for its Safari search engine deal, and how many users would simply switch back to Google if Apple switched to Yahoo or another search provider as default.


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Quad-Core 2012 Mac Mini Mysteriously Reappears on Apple’s U.S. Online Store [Updated]

Apple today has mysteriously added back a 2012 model Mac mini to the Apple Online Store for $699. The over two-year-old machine still has the same hardware specifications as it did in 2012, including a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 4GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 4000. The listing also shows that the computer ships with OS X Mavericks installed.

2012 Mac Mini Apple Online Store
It is unknown if the outdated Mac mini has mistakenly resurfaced on the Apple Online Store, or if Apple intentionally reintroduced the model on its website. One plausible reason that Apple may be making this older Mac mini available for purchase again is to provide customers with a quad-core option, as the existing 2014 models are each powered by dual-core Intel Core i5 processors.

The entry-level Mac is listed as out of stock in the United States, and MacRumors could not find the model listed for sale elsewhere after spot checks of the Apple Online Store in Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and several other countries. Apple still offers a refurbished version of the same 2012 Mac mini for $589 on its website, although that model is also currently out of stock.

Update 11:30 PM PT: The 2012 quad-core Mac mini appears to have disappeared from the Apple Online Store for the time being. It is unclear if it will officially return or if its appearance was a bug.


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