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Last Week In Digital - 10th July 2017

RED announces a smartphone, SoundCloud and Microsoft make cutbacks

10Jul

Red announces ‘hologram’ phone

Camera company RED has announced a move into the smartphone market with its ‘Holographic Media Machine’ Hydrogen One. The device will be modular, and the company promise that it will have holographic capabilities that do not require any kind of glasses to view. The move is a bold one given how difficult it is to break into a well-served smartphone market, and you get the sense that RED will be targeting a niche market rather than trying to wrestle its way into the mainstream.

The phone is very much at the expensive end of the spectrum, going for $1,595 in titanium and $1,195 in the cheaper aluminum. Of course, coming from RED - whose cameras have been used to film Hollywood blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 - the smartphone’s camera will be a key justification of the eyebrow-raising fee.

‘I’ll be completely frank and say I am struggling to get my head around this,’ said Ben Wood, an analyst with CCS Insight. ‘It seems incredibly niche but catering to a very affluent, committed audience who are clearly more than happy to take Red at its word and put down a huge chunk of change to reserve a device they have few firm details about.’ That’s just what we have at present, very few details. It will be interesting to see how much of RED’s grand designs for the smartphone come to fruition - even just a handful of them would make for a very impressive device.

SoundCloud closes London and San Francisco offices

German music streaming service SoundCloud has announced that it will close its New York and London offices. The move is part of a cutback that includes a 40% cull of all jobs - 173 out of 420 - taken in an effort to stabilize the company’s finances and safeguard it for the future. SoundCloud has warned that it could run out of cash in 2017, following a €45 million loss in 2015. Earlier this year, a $70 million credit line from investors gave the company the opportunity to restructure before a seemingly imminent collapse.

Cutting down has allowed SoundCloud to avoid being acquired by a larger company (with Spotify among many others reportedly interested), and CEO Alex Ljung said the move was to ‘ensure [SoundCloud’s] path to long-term, independent success.’ The company hopes that it can find financial stability by increasing the number of subscribers to its SoundCloud Go service, a $9.99 subscription not dissimilar to that of Spotify Premium. There are reasons to be cheerful for SoundCloud, though, with a $700 million valuation and a monthly active user base of 175 million it is well placed to build a sustainable paying base of subscribers.

Microsoft lays off thousands of people

Last week, Microsoft announced that it would be cutting 3,000 jobs as part of a radical reorganization of its sales business. The move is part of Microsoft’s plan to push more resources into the Cloud, an area in which CEO Satya Nadella believes the company can thrive. The layoffs will represent less than 10% of the company’s employees worldwide - some 121,000 - and the majority will be lost in sales outside of the US, according to CNBC. The product Microsoft sees the most growth in is Azure, its cloud computing platform, and the reorganization will see it allocated unprecedented resources.

‘Microsoft is implementing changes to better serve our customers and partners,’ Microsoft told CNBC. ‘Today, we are taking steps to notify some employees that their jobs are under consideration or that their positions will be eliminated. Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time-to-time, re-deployment in others.’ At present, Azure is a money loser and has been for some time. Microsoft is looking to make billions from the Cloud by 2020, though, and this major employee cut could give it the resources to do so.

People to have greater control over their data

According to WIRED, European users of Facebook and other significant social media are set to get a lot more control over their data. This is thanks to a major change to EU data protection law, which comes at a time when data has never been more valuable. Essentially, the EU ruling intends to protect the individual in data ownership, while imposing restrictions onto those who handle data.

‘One of the things we have high hopes for... under the GDPR is how transparency is really delivered to users, particularly by these internet companies,’ Ireland’s data protection commissioner, Helen Dixon tells WIRED. ‘We know from our engagement with them that a lot of them are looking very proactively at how they are going to do the transparency under the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation].’

Articles 13 and 14 of the GDPR are the important ones here - 13 means companies must provide information about where a person’s data is stored, while 14 ‘covers where information about a person has been collected but not explicitly provided by them - this could include combining data from third-party sources,’ according to WIRED. Currently, this information is all available for a fee - £10 in the UK, for example. The new regulation will see it made free and more readily available. 

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