Automakers are increasingly taking center stage at the annual consumer electronics confab+ READ ARTICLE
Shares dip below a dollar for the first time
RadioShack faced the prospect of being removed from the New York Stock Exchange on Friday when its stocked dipped below $1 a share for the first time ever.
The milestone follows a long decline for the one-time electronics retail giant. The company has struggled to adapt to consumers shopping for electronics products outside traditional stores. That evolving market killed off Circuit City in 2009. Other retailers that met a similar fate include Tweeter Home Entertainment and CompUSA.
RadioShack’s stock peaked at more than $75 in the late 1990s. Some of the most dramatic losses have come in recent years. The company lost $400 million in 2013, and, earlier this year, it announced the closing of up to 1,100 stores.
RadioShack’s shares closed at $0.92 on Friday.
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.
What a difference three weeks can make. Analysts who “struggled to see the rational” behind Apple’s acquisition of Beats when it was a $3.2 billion rumor now think it’s a pretty smart move. “Probably the only smart move within the last 3 years!” according to one Apple skeptic.
Below: Excerpts from the notes we’ve seen so far. More as they come in.
Katy Huberty, Morgan Stanley: Apple beats the service drum.“Subscription music service could make the deal a home run, with every 1% penetration of Apple’s 800M account base equating to $960M of revenue. Apple believes Beats offers the right strategy for streaming music as it leverages both algorithms and 200 human curators to create playlists, which differentiates it from competitors.”
Trip Chowdhry, Global Equities: A smart move from Apple, and probably the only smart move within the last 3 years! “Currently, Beats Music Streaming Service only has 250K subscribers — but with Apple’s power in distribution (iOS Devices and AppStore), subscription to Beats Music Streaming Service can easily grow to 20 million subscribers within the next 12 to 18 months.”
Gene Munster, Piper Jaffray: Thoughts on the now-confirmed Beats deal. “We believe that if successful, adding Iovine and Dr. Dre could help propel Apple into the next level in its content offering, particularly in video, which could pave the way for new products including a television. Finally, given that Beats is the largest acquisition of Apple’s history, we believe it could open the door to other larger acquisitions, potentially around Internet services outside of content.”
Daniel Ernst, Hudson Square: AAPL Beats rhythm and blues. “On balance we are not fans of the Beats acquisition, although, we do not expect a negative market reaction to the news, and we concede Apple Beats holds promise to exceed our very low expectations. As a music-focused premium hardware maker with a budding, well-curated service component, Beats does fit well with Apple, and at $2.6B, the cash deployed represents just 1.7% of the company’s 3/31/14 balance. However, in our opinion even within music, there exists more impactful targets like Sonos or Spotify and moreover so many more targets in a vast array of segments either not, or not well served by Apple today including cloud services, security, commerce/payments, television and games.”
Benedict Evans, Andreessen Horowitz: Content Is King? “Music has gone from being a key strategic lever in the tech industry to an afterthought. The same applies to movie and TV libraries — media has gone from being a choke-point to a check-box, commodity feature than every platform has to offer but where none has any particular advantage… So for a platform owner or device maker, the content you can offer is no longer a strategic asset. Content doesn’t sell devices, because they all have the same content.”
Ben Bajarin, Creative Strategies: Apple, Beats, and Content as Differentiation. “What makes Apple’s products stand out is they are differentiated by hardware and by software. Much of their software runs on no other computers than their own. What if they can bring content into this fold? What if they can acquire exclusive deals, even if exclusive for short time windows, that are only available on their hardware and through their software? Then what if they do release lower cost phones in the $350 range? If you are in China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and you are a fan of American music, movies, and even TV, would you pay $100 or $200 more for exclusive hardware, software, and content? Again, while I acknowledge the difficulty or ‘moon shot’ of this effort, content (beyond apps) is an interesting differentiator if done right.”
Graphene is a better conductor. It's transparent. It's lightweight. It's strong. It's flexible and elastic. In other words, it could change the electronics business
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.
In the technology industry, every new product or service seems to come with the promise that it is an innovation with the potential to change the world. Graphene, a form of carbon, might actually do just that.
“Graphene is a wonderful material,” Jeanie Lau, a professor of physics at the University of California at Riverside, told Fortune. “It conducts heat 10 times better than copper and electricity 100 times better than silicon, is transparent like plastic, extremely lightweight, extremely strong, yet flexible and elastic. In the past decade, it has taken the scientific and technology communities by storm, and has become the most promising electronic material to supplement or replace silicon.”
Graphene has already found its way into a number of compelling applications, Lau said. For instance, “since it is both transparent and electrically conductive — two attributes rarely found in the same material in nature — it has tremendous potential as the transparent electrode in monitors, displays, solar cells, and touch screens,” she explained. “Companies such as Samsung that invest heavily in this area have already secured patents, produced prototypes, and are expected to bring products to market in a few years.”
Wearable electronic devices, aviation components, broadband photodetectors, radiation-resistant coatings, sensors, and energy storage are among numerous other areas of active research, Lau said.
For many researchers and investors, the ultimate application is graphene-based transistors, the building blocks of modern electronics. But getting there may take some time.
A child of graphite
First produced in a lab back in 2004, graphene is essentially a single layer of pure carbon atoms bonded together in a honeycomb lattice so thin it’s actually considered two-dimensional.
“We generally regard anything less than 10 layers of graphene as graphene; otherwise, it’s graphite,” said Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a lecturer in nanomaterials at the University of Manchester.
Even “graphene” is a bit of an umbrella term. “To oversimplify, there are two major types of graphene,” Michael Patterson, CEO of Graphene Frontiers, said. The first: “Nanoplatelets,” which are powders or flakes made from graphite. These have been around for a while and are “not really super-sexy,” Patterson said. “You mix them into polymers or inks or rubbers to make them conductive.” In flake form, graphene is already on its way to becoming a commodity, Patterson added.
The other type — in sheet or film form — is where graphene’s biggest promise lies. Graphene sheets have “incredible potential for electronics,” Patterson said. In the near term, that potential may manifest in situations where the quantity requirements are “not that great” and where quality or conductivity doesn’t have to be as high, such as in basic touch-screen applications, he said. Products that use graphene in this way could arrive to market in the next six to 12 months.
Looking a little further out, graphene can be employed in membranes used for water desalination. Lockheed-Martin already has a patented product known as Perforene. “It’s real and it works, but it won’t be economically viable until the product reaches an industrial scale where the cost is measured in pennies per square inch” rather than dollars or tens of dollars per square inch, Patterson explained. “That’s where we’re working today.”
‘It’s expensive and low-capacity’
But use of graphene in semiconductors — the technology’s Holy Grail — is likely a decade away.
“Many of the challenges presented by graphene are common to most new materials,” Paul Smith, a patent associate with the Intellectual Property Law Group at Fenwick & West, toldFortune. “The trick is figuring out how to synthesize graphene in a way that first is manufacturable beyond lab scale; second, preserves the desirable properties of the material; and third, can be integrated into a product or technology.”
Synthesizing graphene in sheet form is considerably more expensive and time-consuming than producing graphene flakes. Whereas the latter typically involves a “quick and dirty” process by which bulk graphite is disassembled into millions of tiny pieces, Lau explained, large sheets of graphene are carefully “grown” on substrates such as copper, germanium, or silicon carbide.
Graphene sheets are also prone to defects and “very difficult to make in good quality,” Ron Mertens, owner and editor of Graphene-Info.com, said.
Production capacity is also very limited. “There are thousands of small companies that can make graphene, but it’s expensive and low-capacity,” Mertens said. A round wafer measuring one inch in diameter, for instance, costs about $100, he added.
An even thornier obstacle on the way to graphene transistors is the fact that the material has no “band gap,” an essential property that allows transistors to be turned on and off without leaking electronic charge in the “off” state, said Elias Towe, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Band-gap engineering has been and remains the biggest challenge in the development of graphene transistors and computer chips,” Lau said.
It requires controlling the material almost down at the atomic level, and “that’s really pushing the edges of existing technology,” Patterson said. “In 10 years, we’ll start to see these problems be solved.”
‘It is largely a matter of time’
If graphene is to succeed as a replacement for silicon, every unit of cost and performance will make a difference, Towe said.
“Silicon is hard to displace, with all the billions dollars of investments made in manufacturing infrastructure,” he said. “A replacement for silicon has to offer extraordinary performance at extremely rock-bottom cost to compel industry to change its way.”
Though graphene is just 10 years old — in contrast, use of silicon in transistors dates to the early 1950s — considerable progress has already been made. For example, the largest graphene sheet was produced by hand in a laboratory eight years ago; its width was less than that of a human hair. “Nowadays, roll-to-roll printing of graphene sheets up to 100 meters long has been achieved,” Lau said.
“With the increasing interest, investment, and research in graphene-based technology, I think it is largely a matter of time before the economy of scale kicks in and truly low-cost, large-scale production of high-quality graphene is accomplished,” she added.
The next series of hurdles “can be overcome with time and effort,” said Vijayaraghavan of the University of Manchester. “We’re learning new things every day. There is still much we don’t understand, and still plenty of research to be done.” For example, researchers have only just begun to study the consequences of graphene pollution on the environment and human health.
Still, the possibilities that graphene holds for the nearly $2 trillion global electronics industry are difficult to ignore.
“Imagine a tiny chip, one-tenth the size of a postage stamp, that your doctor could use to test for all kinds of things,” Patterson said. “You’d walk in, and instead of having to give three vials of blood to test for two things and then get the results the next day, your doctor could use one drop of blood to test for hundreds of things and you’d get the results right away. Graphene makes it possible.”
Creating the most popular product of the year will make consumers and investors happy. But making an all-time bestseller can transform an industry and define a business for decades.
Many of the best-selling products were first in a new category. Apple, which has sold more than 500 million iPhones, was the first to introduce a touchscreen smartphone that could seamlessly handle music, web browsing and phone calls. Other bestsellers took a niche market and made it mainstream. Before Star Wars, film was either comedy, romance or drama. The Harry Potter book series was so successful that The New York Times Book Review created a separate children’s bestseller list in 2000 to account for the series’ popularity.
In some cases, top-selling products were a simply better than their competitors. Before the Sony PlayStation, video game consoles were largely cartridge-based. With the advent of the PlayStation, which relied on the new CD-ROM format, game files could be large enough to support 3D gameplay and full-motion video. Lipitor, which has become the world’s best-selling drug with $141 billion in sales, was far more effective than previously-released drugs at lowering bad cholesterol.
A number of these products continue to be dominate their markets. The iPad remains the world’s best-selling tablet, with a 32.5% market share last quarter, despite challenges from Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire and Samsung’s Galaxy tablet lines. The PlayStation 4 has sold over 7 million units since it launched last year, well above the Microsoft Xbox One.
Despite their success, some of these products face challenges. Sales of Pfizer’s Lipitor dropped each year after its maker, Pfizer, lost patent protection on the drug in 2011 and cheaper generic drugs came on the market. The ongoing Star Wars saga may lose its status as the all time best-selling movie franchise to Walt Disney’s Marvel Franchise. The Avengers broke box office records, grossing $203.4 million on its opening weekend.
To determine the best-selling products of all-time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed categories of products widely purchased by consumers and identified individual products that had the highest sales in their category.In some cases, we gathered figures from multiple sources and estimated the final sales figure. In other instances, where one company had a clear market lead, figures reflect data from previous years.
These are the best-selling products of all time.
> Category: Video game console
> Total sales: 344 million units
> Parent company: Sony
When Sony released the PlayStation in the United States in 1995, its 32-bit processor was the most powerful available on the console market at the time. Sony sold more than 70 million PlayStations worldwide by the time the PlayStation 2 was released in 2000. The PlayStation 2 also sold very well in the U.S. and abroad. Sony released the PlayStation 3 in 2006, and it sold 80 million units to retailers by November 2013. The latest generation, the PlayStation 4, has been wildly successful thus-far, already selling 7 million units as of April.
> Category: Pharmaceutical
> Total sales: $141 billion
> Parent company: Pfizer
Pfizer’s Lipitor is prescribed to lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol — high levels of bad cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. Lipitor is classified as a statin, a class of drug used to reduce the risk of heart-related ailments. However, Lipitor sales have plummeted in recent years after its U.S. patent expired in 2011. Lipitor has lost patent protection in other major markets since. In 2013, Lipitor sales totaled $2.3 billion, down from $9.6 billion in 2011 according to Pfizer’s 2013 annual report. Still, since its introduction in 1997, no other drug came close to Lipitor’s commercial success. The closest competitor for all time sales is Plavix, which had slightly more than half of Lipitor’s lifetime revenue, according to Forbes.
> Category: Vehicle
> Total sales: 40.7 million units
> Parent company: Toyota (NYSE: TM)
Toyota announced last month it sold 1.2 million Corollas in 2013, a 5% year-over-year increase. Since its introduction in Japan in 1966 — the car became available in the U.S. in 1968 — Toyota has sold more than 40.7 million Corollas, more than any other car model. The Corolla’s success on the market is likely due to its reliability, relatively low gas mileage, and affordability. The newly redesigned 2014 Corolla is the model’s 11th generation, and it claims to have better gas mileage and a slightly larger interior. Brand new, the Corolla’s starting MSRP is $16,800.
4. Star Wars
> Category: Movies
> Total sales: $4.6 billion
> Parent company: 20th Century Fox
Only “Gone with the Wind” brought in more money than the original Star Wars movie. Combined, however, the original trilogy grossed $2.4 billion, accounting for inflation. When Star Wars: Episode I was released more than 20 years later, it grossed $675 million, considerably more than the later installments — episodes two and three — which each still grossed more than $400 million. In total, the Star Wars movies, including special editions and re-releases, grossed $4.6 billion adjusted for inflation in the U.S. While 20th Century Fox still owns the rights to the original Star Wars, Disney purchased the Star Wars universe — Lucasfilms — for $4 billion in 2012. Disney will release the final three movies under J.J. Abrams’ direction. The first of the three is scheduled to hit the box office in 2015.
> Category: Tablet
> Total sales: 211 million units
> Parent company: Apple
Despite losing market share in the first quarter, Apple’s iPad is still the best-selling tablet. The iPad held 40% of the tablet market in the first quarter of 2013, but only 32.5% in the first quarter of this year, according to market research firm IDC. Close rival Samsung picked up much of that market share. IDC analyst reported that iPad lost some of its market share because consumers are holding onto their tablets for longer rather than immediately purchasing the newest version. Apple sold 16.4 million units in the second quarter alone, and more than 211 million since the iPad was first introduced in 2010.
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