IN PICTURES: Samsung Galaxy S III launch

Samsung has released its eagerly awaited Galaxy S III at a media event in Sydney. Hosted by Jessica Rowe, the event saw key presentations by Samsung Electronics Australia vice-president of telecommunications, Tyler McGee and Samsung Electronics South East Asia, Oceania and Taiwan president and CEO, Gregory Lee. Guests also had the chance to be serenaded by Jessia Mauboy, live on stage. Sales of the smartphone start today.

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Google adds Zagat reviews to push local search

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Google on Wednesday added the Zagat restaurant review content to its Google+ social network, as it rolled out a new local search feature that takes on services such as Yelp.

The Internet giant added a “Local” tab to its Google+ social network to allow users to search for specific places or browse for nearby businesses or services.

“If you click on a restaurant, or a museum (or whatever), you’ll be taken to a local Google+ page that includes photos, Zagat scores and summaries, reviews from people you know, and other useful information like address and opening hours,” Google’s Avni Shah said in a blog post.

“Google+ Local helps people like my husband turn a craving — ‘Wow, I need brunch’ — into an afternoon outing: ‘Perfect, there’s a dim sum place with great reviews just two blocks from here. Let’s go.’ It’s integrated into Search, Maps and mobile and available as a new tab in Google+ — creating one simple experience across Google.”

Google, which bought the popular Zagat review operations last year for a reported $125 million, will compete against services such as Yelp, which offers local business reviews, and Open Table, which has restaurant reviews and reservations.

Yelp, which went public this year at a $15 initial public offering price, fell four percent to $16.40 in morning trade. Open Table slid five percent to $37.10.

The Zagat reviews, which had been available by paid subscriptions, will now be free, the website said.

“We’re excited to announce today that our content is now free on Zagat.com and a cornerstone of the new Google+ Local experience,” the creators Nina and Tim Zagat said.

“Now, the world’s highest quality reviews are available to more people, whether they are at their desks or on the go.”

Analyst Greg Sterling said the new service improves on the “Google Places” which it replaces.

“These are major changes that Google is making in the fabric of Local — for both consumers and marketers,” Sterling writes on the Search Engine Land blog.

“They will enhance the consumer experience with a relatively small adjustment and learning curve. People will be able to go on using Google as they have but get the benefit of the richer pages and Zagat ratings.”

But Sterling said the Google service might be limited on Apple’s iPhones because Apple is expected to replace Google Maps in June with its own maps service.

“None of this experience will probably ever show up on the (Apple) iOS map,” he said.

“Instead, Apple users will be able to access this Google+ Local experience through the Google Places app and the Google+ app on the iPhone.” Read story

Sony announces rugged yet stylish Xperia Go

Sony has announced a new mid-range smartphone called the Xperia Go, offering premium specifications in a rugged and water-resistant design.

Replacing the Xperia Active, the Go features a 1Ghz dual-core processor and runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), upgradeable to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) at some point in the future.

But the Go’s headline feature is the hard-wearing design of the handset, which has been achieved without making it look ugly or bulky.

The 3.5-inch Reality Display features scratch-resistant mineral glass meeting international standards for protection against dust and water immersion.

According to Sony, the sleek and stylish handset offers the “highest level of dust and water resistance in a smartphone”.

Other features include a 5MP fast-capture camera with LED flash and autofocus, which goes from sleep to shoot in just over a second.

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Users can access the Sony Entertainment Network, as the phone comes pre-loaded with apps for the Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services for songs and movies respectively.

“With Xperia Go, consumers can watch the latest movies and TV shows in razor-sharp quality and with super-fast performance,” said Sony.

“Its sleek and stylish design means durable and water-resistant smartphones no longer have to look bulky and ruggedized.”

The Xperia Go will be available in the UK from the third quarter of 2012, offered in black, white and yellow. Pricing has not yet been announced.

The handset will be marketed in the US as the ‘Xperia Advance’.

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Blackberry-maker on the brink, laying off workers

RIM, the maker of Blackberry’s is expected to make significant lay-offs. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

  • Blackberry-maker RIM issued a dire warning about its business
  • Will lay off a “significant” number of employees
  • Business eroded as customers went to iPhones and smartphones

BLACKBERRY-maker Research in Motion has hired a team of bankers to help it weigh its options as its business erodes in the face of an exodus to the iPhone and Android smartphones.

RIM issued a dire warning about its business Tuesday, saying it is losing money for the second-consecutive quarter and will lay off a “significant” number of employees.

The company based in Waterloo, Ontario said it has hired J.P. Morgan and RBC Capital Markets to help it evaluate its options. Those including partnering with other companies, licensing software and overhauling its business, it said.

RIM made no mention of selling of the company. But new Chief Executive Thorsten Heins did not rule that out after RIM’s last earnings report in late March.

Colin Gillis, an analyst with BGC Financial, said the company is in a downward slide that’s not slowing. He said he doesn’t see any buyers for RIM coming forward soon.

“Unfortunately, it falls into the too little, too late category,” Gillis said. “It doesn’t mean somebody won’t try it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be a savior for the company either.”

The statement from RIM did not detail the coming layoffs, other than to say the company expects “significant spending reductions and headcount reductions in some areas throughout the remainder of the year.”

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said he expects RIM to announce as many as 5,000 layoffs soon. The company has about 16,500 employees now after cutting 2,000 jobs in July.

RIM said the company looks to save $1 billion – even as it transitions to its much-delayed “BlackBerry 10” software platform expected out later this year.

RIM’s stock fell 7 percent, or 80 cents, to $10.43 in extended trading following the release of the company’s statement. Before Tuesday’s announcement, the stock had lost almost 75 percent in the last year.

The company that pioneered the smartphone market with its BlackBerry phones is facing the most difficult period in its history. RIM’s U.S. share of smartphones dropped from 44 percent in 2009 to 10 percent in 2011, according to market researcher NPD Group.

It still has 78 million active subscribers across the globe, but Apple Inc.’s iPhone and smartphones from companies including Samsung and HTC that use Google Inc.’s Android software are gobbling up market share.

“The on-going competitive environment is impacting our business in the form of lower volumes and highly competitive pricing dynamics in the marketplace,” Heins said in Tuesday’s statement. He said the company will likely post an operating loss when it reports its fiscal first quarter results on June 28.

Heins, formerly a little known chief operating officer at RIM, took over in January after RIM founder Mike Lazaridis and longtime executive Jim Balsillie stepped down as co-CEOs after the company lost tens of billions in market value.

RIM has tried to make phones with touchscreens that resemble the iPhone, but those offerings have largely flopped. And so has RIM’s tablet, the PlayBook, which uses the very software that will be in the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

The company is following the same trajectory as struggling Finnish handset maker Nokia and California-based Palm, both of which attracted consumers with trend-setting phones and technologies in their heyday, only to be outmaneuvered by competitors. In Canada, there is fear that the nation’s biggest technology company could go the way of former Canadian tech giant Nortel, which declared bankruptcy in 2009 and was picked over for its patents.

RIM was “the leader and this is what happens in the technology cycle of creation and destruction,” Gillis said. “They rode the first wave of the smartphone revolution and Apple is riding the next one.”

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