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SwissNano design, best micro parts machine

February 15th, 2015 No comments

Swiss Nano Design multiplo

Those tiny screws that hold together your watch or your smartwatch are infinitely frustrating to grasp position and attach to said watch. Now imagine the precision required to make one of those screws. The smallest screws in the world are made by a machine called SwissNano, by the Swiss megacorp TORNOS , together, with the mind of the innovation consultant Enrique Luis Sardi (Already the inventive mind of many products for LG, CrunchyCup, Swisscopter, Willemin Macodel and many multinational brands).

The SwissNano is a fascinating micro parts fabricating unit, which can produce about two-thirds of the moving micro parts of any watch. In this video, you can see a less than 1 mm screw in its production. Now imagine a person trying to accomplish the same task as this small machine-robot. Therefore, it makes it a masterpiece of design.

nano_parts_Swiss_desing_Innovation

 

Salon EPHJ-EPMT-SMT: l’innovation encore et toujours

September 11th, 2014 No comments

Le treizième Salon EPHJ-EPMT-SMT s’est tenu à Palexpo Genève en juin dernier. Plus important salon professionnel annuel de Suisse dans le domaine de la haute précision, de la sous-traitance en horlogerie-joaillerie, des microtechnologies et des technologies médicales, il s’impose comme une référence internationale.

 

Georges Humard, Raphael Humard, George, Georgy, Enrique Luis Sardi, Stefano Ghiglione, Silvio Marangoni, Sardi Innovation

La nouvelle presse hydraulique de haute précision HUMARD HU6, de la société HUMARD Automation conçu par Sardi Innovation.

Maintenant bien installé à Genève depuis trois ans après dix éditions organisées à Lausanne, le Salon EPHJ-EPMT-SMT n’a cessé de se développer tant en nombre d’exposants que de visiteurs. Les fournisseurs de l’industrie horlogère, qui représentent à eux seuls près de 60% des exposants avec près de 500 entreprises disposant d’un stand sur les 825 du Salon, ont tous conscience que les salons professionnels représentent la troisième source d’information des entreprises après la presse et internet. L’importance pour la Suisse de bénéficier de tels événements est donc capitale pour lui assurer un impact national et international tant sur le plan économique qu’industriel.

Les créateurs du Salon, André Colard et Olivier Saenger, l’ont bien compris et proposent depuis douze ans ce rendez-vous devenu incontournable, organisé désormais par Palexpo, sous la conduite de Barthélémy Martin, chef de projet. Au fil des ans, de nombreuses innovations ontainsi été présentées dans de plusieurs domaines. Cette édition n’a pas dérogé à la règle avec différentes nouveautés.

Les visiteurs ont pu découvrir une nouvelle matière inédite présentée par une jeune entreprise de Sion, CristalTech. Grâce à une technologie de cristallisation développée par cette société, l’osmium, le métal le plus dense sur Terre, pourra être travaillé par les horlogers-joailliers sous forme de plaques de différentes tailles et épaisseurs ou de tubes de diamètres variables. Encore plus rare que le platine, l’osmium pourrait bien être, dans le futur, le métal précieux utilisé pour la réalisation de modèles haut de gamme.

Dans un tout autre domaine, la société Giroud, basée au Locle, a dévoilé un nouveau système de chassage électropneumatique reproduisant à l’identique le mouvement d’une presse d’horloger manuelle. Ce nouveau concept permet non seulement de maintenir une qualité constante, mais également d’augmenter sensiblement la productivité.

L’entreprise Humard, établie à Delémont, présentait quant à elle sa dernière presse hydraulique de haute précision. D’une capacité de six tonnes, cet outil offre une précision encore jamais atteinte pour une telle rapidité d’exécution.

L’ébavurage, le polissage, le rayonnage ou encore le lissage de surface sont autant d’opérations délicates et particulièrement complexes, voire impossible en raison de la petite taille des pièces. ABC SwissTech, à La Chaux de Fonds, a conçu de nouveaux équipements capables de répondre aux plus grandes exigences. Les médias qui correspondent aux outils nécessaires aux opérations de tribofinition mis au point par ABC SwissTech, de très haute densité, de l’ordre de 20 kg/dm3 permettent d’obtenir d’excellents résultats.

Chaque année, de nombreuses conférences et tables rondes permettent également au public de s’informer de l’évolution de la branche, donnant à ce rendez-vous un intérêt toujours croissant.

De Frédéric Finot

Source: Journal Swiss de l’horologerie

Gusto aims to create a better, easier email

June 30th, 2014 No comments

Gusto aims to create a better, easier emailHave you ever wanted to attach a file in an email and you can’t find or access it from your phone? The team behind the new email app Gusto has shared that frustration.

“After years of using mobile email and being constantly frustrated with finding emails, files, and photos on the go, we came up with a sleek dashboard that breaks your digital life down into convenient tabs for easy use,” said Gusto CEO Shawn Schwegman.

Gusto works with any IMAP email provider (Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc.) and automatically saves all the files that have been sent or received. This allows a user to easily access a document and send it from their phone.

This same principle applies to photos. Not only does Gusto show photos you’ve buried in your email, but you can link to Facebook and Instagram to access those photos as well.

“We designed Gusto to combine mobile email with built-in cloud storage so all of your photos, files, and documents are right where you need them when you need them,” said Schwegman. “Just as Google organizes and helps you find the world’s content, you use Gusto to organize and find your content.”

Gusto at its best eliminates a step or two for people using email. Easy access to information all in one place saves time and hassle. Apps don’t have to be complicated to be successful. They just need to identify a pain point for consumers and address it.

“My own personal frustration with email inspired us to produce something better. The more I talked to other people, I realized that they also had this pain. I am constantly on the go and having my life so spread out across other platforms made me think about why an app had to do one single function,” said Schwegman. “Email on the go has never been more important than it is today. Being disappointed in current email capabilities inspired us to build something that simplifies basic functions.”

Gusto is adding features and will eventually use the freemium model to generate revenue. Right now, they are identifying the updates and additions that matter most for users.

There are other email apps like Mailbox, Acompli, or Boxer. Each focuses on something different like cloud services or organizing files into sections. Gusto’s aim is to create one unified view of your life in the palm of your hand.

 

 
By Jeff Barrett

Source: Allbusiness.com

50 Years of providing world-class metrology solutions

May 29th, 2014 No comments

In 2014, Girod Instruments, one of the best Swiss quality provider of metrology solutions, will kick-off a celebration to commemorate 50 years of precision measuring success.

Girod Instruments was founded in 1964 as family business. Today it is still managed by the same family and this gives their customers the possibility to work really closely and to share tasks and responsibilities.

The company’s speciality are Girod Tast lever-type dial indicators.

girodtast, girod-tast, girod tast, swiss quality, girod instruments, Marie-Christine Bouduban

 

Special events will be scheduled for Girod Insturments’ valued customers, suppliers, and employees throughout the year at various locations to allow Girod Instruments the opportunity to personally thank the companies and individuals for their on-going support and commitment over the past half century.

“Girod-Tast has prospered only because of the dedication and support received from our customers, suppliers and employees throughout the years. That’s why we want everyone who has been a contributor to our success to share in celebrating with us”, said Marie-Christine Bouduban CEO of Girod Instruments.

Source: Girod Instruments

Apple’s chief of design Jony Ive expands authority over software

May 28th, 2014 No comments

Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s chief designer Jony Ive, who Steve Jobs called his “spiritual partner,” is gaining more authority over the look of the company’s products.

Ive is taking full control of the team that designs Apple’s iOS software that powers iPhones and iPads. The move coincides with the retirement of Greg Christie, who led software design.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has turned to Ive to set the overall design aesthetic for products, from the shape of the iPhone’s hardware to the look of screen icons. Ive’s first major influence on Apple’s software was last year’s introduction of iOS 7, which featured brighter colors and eliminated many of the realistic designs for applications such as wooden bookshelves and leather-bound contact books.

Christie’s software-design team, which had previously reported to software chief Craig Federighi, will now work directly with Ive, the company said. Christie “has been planning to retire later this year after nearly 20 years at Apple,” the Cupertino, California-based company said in a statement yesterday.

“He has made vital contributions to Apple products across the board, and built a world-class Human Interface team which has worked closely with Jony for many years,” the company said.

Christie, whose name is on several iPhone patents, testified last week in the company’s current trial against Samsung Electronics Co. His departure was first reported by 9to5Mac.com.

Ive, who worked closely with Jobs on products stretching back to the iMac, gained greater control over the look and feel of Apple’s hardware and software after the departure of former software chief Scott Forstall in 2012.

 

By Adam Satariano

Source: Bloomberg

 

Facebook’s hardware push behind the scenes draws Oculus

April 11th, 2014 No comments

Hidden away in Building 17 of Facebook Inc.’s headquarters is a 170-person team that’s toiling away on products not usually associated with a social-networking company: hardware.

Up from just seven people in 2010, the team designs, manufactures and supplies the powerful server computers that handle Internet traffic for the Menlo Park, California-based company. The group has produced hundreds of thousands of the machines, with Facebook last year spending $1.36 billion on its own data centers, compared with $606 million in 2011.

Now the question is whether Facebook can make the leap from servers into consumer hardware when it completes a $2 billion deal for Oculus VR Inc., which produces headsets that let people immerse themselves in virtual games. Consumer electronics is a competitive arena marked by narrow margins, and Facebook would be stepping into a wearables industry where Google Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. are playing. It also involves navigating regulatory restrictions in different countries for what materials can be used and how a product can be disposed of, said Pamela Gordon, president of design consulting firm Technology Forecasters in Oakland, California.

“This is something that Microsoft, Sony, Dell, all of the consumer-electronics companies have had to deal with,” she said. “There’s a huge amount of oversight involved.”

Oculus Optimism
Oculus executives said they are optimistic that Facebook’s experience with servers will benefit them — and that it helped lure them to sell to the social network in the first place.

“Facebook is going to help on the manufacturing side, on the component side, on the supply chain,” said Nate Mitchell, vice president of product at Oculus in Irvine, California. “They don’t have a lot of consumer hardware experience, but they do have experience manufacturing.”

Facebook’s hardware operations echo those of other Internet companies such as Google and Amazon.com Inc., which also have built their own data centers from scratch, often by becoming assemblers of server computers. That has brought the Web companies clout with component suppliers and given them some characteristics akin to hardware makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co.

“The scale of Facebook made them a force very quickly” in hardware, said Mark Papermaster, chief technology officer of Sunnyvale, California-based chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which contributed component designs to a Facebook-led data center effort. “I think that shows they have the capability to really look at any engineering problem they’re facing and really go about that with the industry.”

Melting Machines
Facebook moved into hardware in 2010 when it needed to find a less-expensive way to handle the computing power to transmit data between members of its fast-growing user base. Ready-made servers from Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard weren’t handling the load, and technicians sometimes resorted to making emergency trips to the local pharmacy to buy fans that would keep the equipment from melting.

That was when a small group started out tinkering in a mailroom with an idea for a more efficient basic server. Facebook started building the machines with manufacturers including Quanta Computer Inc. It now has 14 different server models.

In 2011, Facebook began an initiative called Open Compute, where the company and some partners share the designs for more efficient and low-cost computing systems. The approach contrasted with that of Google and Amazon, which have done their hardware in secret.

Cold Storage
Facebook’s hardware group can move quickly. Jason Taylor, a director in the infrastructure team, sent an e-mail in 2011 to his colleagues with an idea for an energy-efficient way to store data long-term, called cold storage. A cold storage facility was up and running at a Facebook data center in Prineville, Oregon, in 19 months, he said.

At Facebook’s headquarters today, engineers in Building 17’s labs are testing ways to fit smaller servers into racks of data storage, blasting electronic equipment with humidity to find the machines’ limits, and cutting up balsa wood and sheet metal to brainstorm designs. The engineers in the labs recently held a multiday hackathon for ideas, an exercise that Facebook is more known for applying on the software side.

The company now owns four data centers filled with custom-made products. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook saved $1.2 billion by using Open Compute-based equipment instead of products from established makers of data-center technology.

‘Core Strength’
Facebook has developed a “core strength of shipping new products,” said Taylor, who leads hardware engineering and supply chain. “Everybody thinks of Facebook as a software company and actually we do a lot of hardware.”

This experience won’t necessarily translate into how Facebook would build virtual reality into something mainstream, said Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research, who has a hold rating on the stock.

“I really don’t think they’re going to try to scale Oculus,” said Ernst, who is based in New York. “Open Compute was a really acute need that they had to build for their business today. Here, they’re making a small bet on the future, but I really don’t think Facebook wants to become a consumer hardware company.”

Taylor declined to comment on the company’s specific plans for Oculus because the acquisition hasn’t been completed. Zuckerberg has said he sees virtual reality as a prime way for people to communicate with each other, after mobile phones.

Virtual Reality
Oculus currently only has a prototype of its headset available to developers and hasn’t set a date for rolling out the product widely. The company is putting the finishing touches on a consumer version of its product, Mitchell said. More than 75,000 software development kits have been ordered by those who want to build programs for the device, Oculus said.

As a small hardware startup, Oculus hasn’t had much bargaining power for the cost of materials in its product, meaning it has had to compromise on quality to ensure consumers can afford the device, Mitchell said.

“The most exciting thing about the acquisition is we will be able to deliver a better product at a lower cost,” he said.
By Sarah Frier

Source: bloomberg.com

How to boost customer loyalty with apps

January 31st, 2014 No comments

You know what they say: It’s easier to keep a customer than it is to find a new one. It’s also far cheaper – 6 to 7 times less expensive, according to Flowtown. That’s why it’s essential for every business to have a strategy to boost loyalty and keep customers coming back for more.

One incredibly effective tactic – and relatively cheap solution – is to boost loyalty with the help of smartphones and tablet apps. With the help of an app, your business can secure new leads and increase interest from existing customers.

Ready to get started on your app? The following six tips will ensure your app campaign is a success and prevent it from falling flat among users.
#1: Your App Must be Simple and Easy to Use
Don’t just cram functionality into your app without thinking about the user experience. Your customers will only give your app a short amount of time. If you fail the test, they won’t think twice before deleting and forgetting about your product.

This is why you must absolutely make it child’s play to use your app. Think about it this way (disclaimer: slight exaggeration used here) … if your grandparents would find it impossible to use, try tweaking it until it becomes a little more user friendly.

Do plenty of testing before releasing your app to make sure that others find it intuitive. Get people on board that have used your service before, as well as completely new users. Gauge how they handle your app from the get-go, and if they have any issues, you need to iron them out. Extensive testing will save you from potential fallout and major headaches post-release.

#2: Your App Must Add Plenty of Value
Loads of companies add apps to the marketplace without really thinking it through and then are disappointed to find the project bombing and ending as a dismal failure. The main reason is because most of these apps are missing value.

You need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. With the dizzying number of choices available, why would they choose to clog up their device memory with your app? Ask yourself whether your offer is worth downloading. Ensure that you offer something unique that will make you stand out from your competitors.

In addition, make your app stand out from yourself. What this means is to give customers an incentive to go for the app, rather than simply heading to your website. Your app should not be another version of content that can be found elsewhere. Add something different. Find an angle that will pique customer interest to get them hooked on your app.

#3: Your App Should Be Social
People love apps that have social capabilities built into them. Hook into the popularity of social by allowing customers to engage with others, such as by allowing users to easily share your special deals at the touch of a button.

#4: Your App Should Leverage Existing Loyalty Programs
When it comes to creating effective loyalty programs, you don’t have to develop every bit of functionality from the ground up. It’s expensive, time consuming, and there may already be something better out there ready for you to use straight off the bat.

Great examples of such services are Belly and Loyalty Blocks. These two services allow you to create fully functional loyalty programs for your company, making it an absolute cinch to get yours up and running in a matter of hours.

Combine the functionality of your own in-house company app with a loyalty program and you’ll have an effective one-two punch that will help you to retain customers and find new ones. Some services will allow you to work with their API to create seamless integration, so it’s well worth a look.

#5: Your App Should Be Compatibile
Ensure full-market coverage by making sure your app is compatible with all popular smartphone devices. Not only should your app be available on both the App Store and Google Play, but it should be compatible with BlackBerry and Windows devices.

#6: Final Tip–Don’t Stop Moving
Once you deliver your app, don’t just put your feet up and relax. The app release date is just the beginning. Depending on customer activity and feedback, update your app and respond to what users are telling you. Maximize the return on the connection you have made with your customers, and you’ll find your app’s success will skyrocket.
By Mary Ann Keeling
Source: allbusiness.com

How Google and Facebook design for emerging markets

January 10th, 2014 No comments

One of the first directives from Matias Duarte after he joined Google in 2010 was to commission research into how people around the world use the company’s phones.

At the time, Google was making smartphones for geeks, and Duarte, who was recruited from Palm to lead the user-experience team at Android, was tasked with bringing a more accessible design to the Internet giant’s mobile software.

Designing a device for everyone meant looking outside Silicon Valley.

“The challenge for anybody who wants to develop in emerging markets is just understanding the cultural differences,” Duarte said in an interview today. “The first thing we did was a baseline study about how people use Android. It’s completely different from how we use it in the U.S.”

Google’s mobile group was making a smartphone based on how Americans use them without accounting for the limitations of emerging markets, Duarte said. One of the study’s findings demonstrated that many of the countries where smartphones were starting to take off lacked reliable data infrastructure. That realization prompted Android’s design team to make the system work well even without consistent Internet connectivity, he said.

“There are lots of places where data connectivity is erratic,” Duarte said after appearing on stage at the Accel Design Conference in San Francisco. “We assumed ubiquitous connectivity. While this is the 21st century, that’s still not true in many parts of the world.”

As emerging markets in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America become the biggest consumers of smartphones, Valley companies are trying to figure out how usage there differs. This involves an army of consultants, as well as designers and engineers who must take on the enviable task of trekking through exotic regions to see trends firsthand.

“The biggest challenge for designers is just to have awareness,” Duarte said. “You have to know who your audience is.”

Brynn Evans, a user-experience designer at Google, said the company has begun welcoming researchers into every step of software development. At each stage, designers tweak their products based on what they learn about user habits instead of waiting until an app is released to see how people interact with it, as Google used to do, she said.

Facebook, which recently began an initiative to advance global connectivity called Internet.org, has ramped up its own design research in emerging markets, according to Julie Zhuo, the company’s director of product design.

“We’ve been doing a lot more research in having folks on our team visit a lot of different markets,” she said at the design event. “Recently, we went to Africa, India and Indonesia. We were trying to understand what people value and care about, and a lot of that was reflected in speed. They say, ‘I sit here and open Facebook, and it takes about two minutes. But we’ll just be patient.’”

Designers at the world’s largest social network are working on ways to make its apps transfer data more efficiently and run better on cheap, low-end Androids, Zhuo said. They’ll need to pull off these feats before people’s patience runs out.

 

By Mark Milian

Source: bloomberg.com

Forget TVs. Sharp sees a future in strawberry farming

December 5th, 2013 No comments

 

Sharp, known for its televisions, actually has its origins in mechanical pencils. Its future may rest on a business distant from either of those: growing strawberries in the deserts of Dubai.

The struggling consumer-electronics company announced on Sept. 20 plans to ramp up an experiment it started in July, in which berries are grown in a hermetically sealed farm lit with Sharp’s power-efficient LED lights. Sensors made by Sharp track temperature and humidity, and the company’s Plasmacluster air-purification system, which it markets to consumers, helps protect the fruit by killing germs, bacteria, and mold. Dubai is a logical home for the project, because Japanese strawberries are popular in the Middle East, expensive, and quick to spoil. Sharp says it will collect data on how well its cultivation techniques work to “achieve stable production of high-quality strawberries.”

The company recorded a net loss of 545.4 billion yen ($5.3 billion) in the fiscal year ended in March and lost 376 billion yen the year before. It fired thousands of workers and cut capital investments by 31 percent in the last fiscal year, when revenue from LCD televisions and smartphones fell to half their level from four years earlier. In those four years, the proportion of revenue Sharp made from the sale of electronic components such as liquid-crystal displays and solar cells rose to 46 percent, up from roughly one-third. Success in agricultural technology could help position it for the shift.

Sharp won’t be dispatching its employees to fruit stands anytime soon. “We will not enter the strawberry selling business,” says spokesperson Riko Ifuku. The company says it will decide if it can create an agricultural engineering business that will focus on factory design, technology to monitor growing conditions, and maintenance services. Sharp also intends to bring in local partners but says it’s too early to name them or discuss specific clients. The company is eligible for subsidies from Japan’s Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry but wouldn’t say how much of its own money it is investing in the agriculture technology.

The farming laboratory isn’t the only way Sharp is targeting agriculture. On Sept. 26, it said it will begin in October to sell a sensor that enables corporate customers to monitor levels of microbes such as bacteria and mold spores in the air. The tool can help food-processing companies perform in 10 minutes facility inspections that usually take hours, according to the company.

If Sharp can win over strawberry growers with its laboratories in Dubai, it could go down as one of the sweetest pivots in recent tech history. Take note, BlackBerry.

 

By Joshua Brustein

Source: Businessweek

Platform turns drawings into apps, no programming necessary

November 28th, 2013 No comments

 

Many businesses could benefit from a custom app that helps customers use their services in more mobile-friendly way, but lack the skills or funds to create their own. Having just reached its funding target on Kickstarter, AppSeed is now enabling anyone to turn their hand-drawn designs into working apps in a couple of clicks.

Developed by Greg Goralski, a professor of Interactive Media at Humber College in Toronto, the system uses templates that mimic a 2D version of a smartphone screen, onto which users can plan out their designs. When they take a photo of their drawing with the AppSeed, the app recognizes the individual elements and enables users to rearrange their sketches using a drag and drop mechanism. Each element can also be prescribed a dynamic function – such as button, drop-down menu, map or text input. The UI and structure can then be tested, shared with others or converted into a layered Adobe Photoshop file for the final design to be added.

Helping designers to more quickly prototype their ideas and aiding novices by using out-of-the-box code, AppSeed offers another step towards making app creation more accessible for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

 
Source: Springwise

Lego slithers into digital age with biting robot serpent

November 25th, 2013 No comments

 

Lego fans no longer need to fret about the cat or dog knocking over their constructions. When bothersome housepets or other pests come too close, they can ward off the intruder with one of their plastic-brick creations.

The R3PTAR, a robotic snake from Lego A/S, can be programmed from a smartphone app to attack felines, canines, and siblings — or simply scuttle along the floor and give them something to chase. Equipped with a snapping mechanical jaw and fangs, the serpent might just send even courageous hounds, pusses and pesky kid brothers packing.

R3PTAR is among the new creations the Danish toymaker is counting on to stay relevant in the Internet age. Broadening its product range to attract older users with more complex — and sometimes conflict-driven — toys is helping Lego grow faster than competitors Mattel Inc. (MAT) and Hasbro Inc. (HAS)
Lego’s success “lies in embracing what digital can do,” Chief Marketing Officer Mads Nipper said over coffee in his toy-filled office at company headquarters in Billund, Denmark. As evidence, he points to the 20 million monthly visitors to Lego’s websites and the 100 million-plus copies of video games sold by its licensing partners.

The toymaker has come a long way from the days when it produced yo-yos, ducks and fire trucks made of wood. The company is still controlled by the family of carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen, who founded the business in 1932. The family also owns part of Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd, the owner of Lego theme parks.

 
R3PTAR Bite
The R3PTAR is part of a 601-piece set introduced last month that includes a programmable brick, sensors, software and motors. Known as EV3, the $350 set is the third incarnation of the Mindstorms series, introduced in 1998. It includes plans for five walking, talking and thinking robots including the snake, the scorpion-like SPIK3R and the Mohawk-sporting EV3RSTORM.

“These robots have attitude,” said product designer Lars Joe Hyldig, who spent about three years developing them. “They can surprise you” by taking on a mind of their own.
While simple enough to be built by 10-year-olds, Lego says many adults purchase Mindstorms for themselves.
“I’m looking forward to buying some of these for my nieces and nephews and “help” them put them together,” fan Tom Cullen wrote on his Twitter feed Sept. 1.

Lego invited an international group of some adult fans to help create 12 bonus models of the new robots, including an electric guitar and a bulldozer, for which building instructions are accessed online.

 
Angry Faces
The fearsome-looking Mindstorms robots are unlikely to stem criticism from some fans that Lego is straying too far from the toys that have engaged children for generations.
According to a study released this year by university lecturer and former Lego employee Christoph Bartneck, faces on the toymaker’s minifigures have grown angrier in the last four decades as Lego has embraced more conflict-based themes. A set based on The Simpsons television series that’s due next year has also irked members of Lego’s online community, who grouse that it’s not appropriate for the company’s target audience.
“Lego, do not make the Simpsons!” a user called Superfox9783 wrote on an online message board. “It is not a kid-friendly theme! If you do, I will boycott your products.”

 
Physical Play
Such concerns aren’t reflected in Lego’s sales, which are outpacing its primary competitors, helped by both new products and growth in Asia. Revenue in the first half of 2013 increased 13 percent to 10.4 billion Danish kroner ($1.89 billion), versus a 4 percent gain at larger rival Mattel and a slight decline at Hasbro, which it overtook to become the world’s second-biggest toymaker earlier this year.
Mattel has a market capitalization of about $14.3 billion and Hasbro is valued at about $6.1 billion.
Lego has doubled its market share since 2008, according to Robert Porter, an analyst at Euromonitor International in London. Among its top rivals, “Lego has been the most successful of all over the past few years,” Porter said.
Lego controls about 60 percent of the construction toy business, which Euromonitor estimates will grow to more than $10 billion by 2017 from about $7.7 billion in 2012. The traditional toy and game industry was worth about $83 billion last year.
Toy construction line Meccano, known as the Erector Set in the U.S., was acquired by Canadian toy company Spin Master Ltd. earlier this year.
Lego is building new manufacturing facilities in China and plans to expand sales there as rising incomes boost demand, Chief Executive Officer Joergen Vig Knudstorp told Bloomberg Television this month.

 
Colored Bricks
In response to growing demand in emerging markets, the new robots now come with native language editions for Russia, China, Korea, Japan, Spain and Denmark. They used to speak just English, French, German and Dutch.
Lego is now gearing up for Christmas. The company gets 70 percent of its revenue in the last two months of the year. To remain atop Santa’s gift lists, the company recognizes, it must continue freshening its lineup, though without alienating traditional fans.
“It’s very much front of mind,” Chief Financial Officer John Goodwin said while showing off products such as the recently introduced “number train” for toddlers. “We have to keep that newness.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be a place for the traditional colored building bricks that have long been synonymous with Lego, Goodwin said.
“We still think physical play is going to have a key role even in a digital world,” he said. “Physical creation is something that’s just wired inside all of us, and the joy you get from that can’t fully be replicated via a virtual experience.”

 

By Katarina Gustafsson

Soure: Bloomberg

Screw it

November 21st, 2013 No comments

 

More and more products are using motion activation technology and becoming more intuitive. Good examples are smart phones, video games, segway scooters and most recently screwdrivers. It’s nice to see this technology implemented on a low cost scale because it makes motion activated tech accessible to a larger percentage of us, gadget addicted individuals.

Black & Decker and InvenSense (provider of gyroscopes for Nintendo’s Wii MotionPlus) came together to create the Gyro 4V Max, a motion-activated screwdriver. To use this screwdriver you only have to turn your wrist once to the right or to the left to activate the screwdriver, which will start moving at several different speeds controlled by a gyroscope.

It might seem like a splurge to buy a screwdriver that can start turning on its own without pressing a button, however if you have a lot of screwing to get done, the price tag of $40 could be totally worth it.

 

By Andrew Krauss

Source: InventRight

Orange oil tires are good for you

November 14th, 2013 No comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You already know that oranges are good for your health, but did you know they are also good for the environment and for your wallet? As it turns out, now you can purchase eco-friendly tires made with a renewable resource in their composition: orange oil directly extracted from orange peel.

Orange oil tires use orange oil as a replacement for part of the petroleum commonly used to manufacture tires. Such process reduces the amount of petroleum used to make tires. In addition it enhances tire grip and diminishes rolling resistance; two crucial components for a high performance tire. Less rolling resistance gives you better fuel efficiency.

 

By Andrew Krauss

Source: InventRight

Real-time translator could be the end of awkward foreign language interactions

November 7th, 2013 No comments

 

SIGMO is small speaker that automatically translates up to 25 languages in real time.

The device – which is small enough to hold in between two fingers – is connected to users’ smartphones via Bluetooth. It also comes with an app that uses voice recognition software to convert spoken sentences into text, translate them using a service such as Google Translate, then convert them back into sound using a natural speech simulator. When the device is connected, users simply say a phrase into the device and get an instant translation in the language they’ve set on their smartphone.

The SIGMO – which recently reached its funding target on Indiegogo – is currently available to pre-order for USD 50, although its evident that the system will have its limitations. The device could be useful for tourists wanting to ask native residents simple questions, but a more developed version could provide real-time conversation translations for both business and social scenarios. Are there other ways to bridge the gap between different cultures using technology?

Source: Springwise

No check, please!

November 4th, 2013 No comments

 

The waitress was nowhere in sight as my wife downed the last of her margarita at El Toro Blanco in downtown Manhattan on Sept. 25. It was getting a little late and a little cold. We were ready to go. So we stood up and left.

As we speed-walked to the subway, I felt the same illicit giddiness as when I last skipped out on the check. Although the Pizzeria Uno I sprinted out of in 1998 has yet to bring charges, El Toro Blanco caught up with me quickly. A few minutes later, a message popped up on my phone telling me that my credit card had been charged the full amount, plus 20 percent tip.

El Toro Blanco is one of about two dozen upscale New York restaurants using Cover, an app designed for solving the very specific, very First World problem of having to wait around for your check. It’s pretty simple: When I showed up at the restaurant, I checked in with the app. The waitress greeted us, and I told her we were going to pay with Cover. Surprisingly, she knew what I was talking about and was able to find me in the restaurant’s system. That’s it. The only other time I used my phone during dinner was when I Googled “epazote.” (It’s a Central American herb. If you have a chance to put it on your tamales, do it.)

Cover isn’t the only company trying to eliminate the middleman. Chili’s Grill & Bar is expanding its effort to use tablets instead of waitstaff. It offers the same basic promise—you don’t need to find a human when you’re ready to pay the check—but there’s a tablet sitting with you the entire time, showing you images of chocolate cake and tempting your children with video games that cost extra.

Square Wallet allows you to pay at some coffee shops by syncing your smartphone with the register via location services. But you still have to wait in line. PayPal recently launched an updated app so you can order and pay in advance; then your Jamba Juice is ready when you walk in the door. The one company that has been on this from the get-go is Uber, the car service app that takes care of payment ahead of time and lets you jump out the second the wheels stop rolling.

Cover makes money by lowering restaurants’ credit card transaction fees (because it serves as an extra identity check on the people who’ve signed up) and by keeping a percentage of those savings. And it will likely be good for business. When you know the price of that extra beer isn’t going to be staring you down the minute you stop chugging, you’re more likely to buy it. And there’s also evidence that people tip more when they think about it less. The NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission found that riders tip more on credit card transactions. Chili’s has shown that its tablet system also increases gratuities. With Cover, you set your default tip and have to manually change it during your meal if you’re either unhappy or ecstatic about service. Warning, cheapos: It won’t let you go under 18 percent.

Cover wants to be known for its simplicity, but it might be too simple. When the El Toro Blanco bill arrived on my phone, it was just a lump sum, with only the tip and tax broken out. Did I get charged for an appetizer I didn’t order? Did the waitress mistakenly add another round of drinks? I’ll never know. But if that’s the price of not making that awkward signing hand motion ever again, I’ll gladly make a standing reservation.

 

By Joshua Brustein

Source: Businessweek

The man who made video vames big business

October 28th, 2013 No comments

 

For some, video games and the name Hiroshi Yamauchi may mean little. Apple’s Steve Jobs is more likely to spring to mind as a genius creator. Yamauchi, who died on September 19th aged 85, didn’t like or even play video games. However, from the 1970s onwards the diminutive Japanese businessman transformed Nintendo from a small business into a global icon. His influence is greater even than this; he took the video game medium and launched it towards the multi-billion dollar global industry we know today.

It is his business practices which spearheaded this success. Utilising a mixture of intuition, creativity, and occasionally savage business acumen he sent Nintendo to the top of the world. Through diligent methods he also amassed a fortune worth $2.1 billion, making him the 13th richest man in Japan. For a company with such small beginnings, the transformation is a remarkable achievement. Here’s a brief history of an amazing man and his business ethics.
Small Beginnings

Hiroshi Yamauchi was studying at Waseda University in 1947 when he got the call to join the family company, which at the time specialised in making playing cards. Young and inexperienced, Yamauchi nonetheless rose to prominence in 1949 at the behest of his grandfather. He was company president of Nintendo in his early twenties, a promotion resented by long-term employees. It wasn’t long before they went on strike; refusing to defer, Yamauchi fired the staff who questioned his authority. It was the brutal decision-making of a man who knew how he wanted to run his business.

Over the following decades he led the company on several unsuccessful business experiments which almost caused bankruptcy. However, once Yamauchi brought engineer Gunpei Yokoi’s creative mind to the fore, Nintendo found its true calling. With Yokoi’s highly imaginative toys proving to be a hit the transition was complete — Nintendo were officially into entertainment only. With a technological revolution around the corner, Nintendo were now poised to make their move.
Making History

As technology in the ’70s improved, Yamauchi made one of his most prescient decisions. Realising entertainment could be part of electronic products he began experimenting with the burgeoning video game industry. Initial efforts proved reasonably successful and Nintendo produced Arcade Games and the Game and Watch franchise. Radar Scope, Space Fever, and Sheriff were minor hits in Japan, and with this new found success the company expanded to America. The games did not prove to be a success in the US, which left Nintendo once again facing financial collapse. A star games developer was needed.

In 1977 Yamauchi had realised the potential of a young designer named Shigeru Miyamoto. He took a risk in 1981, with the company facing its second major fiscal disaster, and let Miyamoto design what became Donkey Kong. An enormous hit, the game also prompted the attentions of Universal City Studios. They claimed Nintendo had breached their copyright on King Kong and launched a lawsuit. This backfired disastrously when American courts ruled the King Kong franchise was in the public domain, and that Donkey Kong clearly did not impinge on the King Kong film. Suitably shamed, Universal Studio’s mistake is often selected for one of the most embarrassing moments in gaming history.

With this potential disaster skilfully averted, Yamauchi continued bringing in a talented team of creative minds. In particular, the pairing of Miyamoto and Yokoi would earn the company their reputation under Yamauchi’s leadership. By 1983 Nintendo was way ahead of the field; the president had launched three R&D departments who competed for innovation, excellence, and Yamauchi’s blessings. This company leadership was matched with an industrial development process, and an intuitive awareness of what would enthral the public. The Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System – NES) launched in 1983. By 1985 it made it to America, and it was in Europe from September 1986. It was a sensation, and Miyamoto’s landmark games (Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda) easily stood out in the gaming world. Meantime, Yokoi’s invention the Game Boy (when matched with the official rights to Alexey Pajitnov’s Tetris) was launched in 1989 to staggering global success. Whilst facing some competition from rivals Sega and their character Sonic, Nintendo moved to crush them with the release of the NES’s successor. The Super Nintendo (SNES) was released in 1990 and was another phenomenal hit, allowing Nintendo to dominate the industry up until 1995.

It had been a meteoric rise to success, but such crushing domination rarely lasts. From 1996 onward Nintendo has been succeeded in popularity by the likes of Sony and Microsoft, but the company’s N64 and Gamecube consoles were critically well regarded. The creation of Pokemon maintained its global icon status, and the series continues to be a major hit for the Game Boy. Since Yamauchi’s retirement, Nintendo has released the very popular Wii and 3DS (a development of the Game Boy). The Wii U is their most recent console, and it launched the Next Generation console battle. Slow sales aside, it is the usual merger of creativity and outright escapist fun, matched with new technology to inspire the industry.
Legacy

Always one to push for genuine excellence with products, Yamauchi also made the unusual decision it was artists who made excellent games, not technicians. Shigeru Miyamoto proved him right. Despite having no engineering background, and what you’d expect to be a pertinent dislike of video games, it was Yamauchi alone who decided which games would be released. This innate knowledge of what would drive the public wild turned Nintendo into a world famous brand.

Although he retired in 2002, the legacy he has left behind is indelible. Video games simply would not be what they are today without his endeavours. Millions would not be playing on Grand Theft Auto 5 right now, the Xbox One would not be just around the corner, and the industry would still be mired in a “geeky” image, rather than being the billion dollar earning trend it has become. However, Yamauchi, above all else, should be remembered for striving towards perfect products and customer service. An example of this is the NES’s customer support line, which ran for 24 years, long after the console was obsolete! These attributes will certainly never be forgotten by Nintendo.

 

By Alex Morris

Source: AllBusiness

Solar Impulse plane starts bid to cross US

May 3rd, 2013 No comments

A plane powered only by the Sun has set off from San Francisco on the first leg of a bid to cross the US with no fuel.

The Solar Impulse craft will stop in Phoenix, Dallas, St Louis, Washington DC and New York in the coming weeks.

The team’s plane has the same wingspan as an Airbus A340 but weighs only as much as an average car.

It has already made a day-and-night flight lasting more than 26 hours, and the team aims to eventually circumnavigate the globe in 2015.

The plane took off from Moffett Field on the edge of San Francisco Bay at 06:12 local time (13:12 GMT). It should take about 19 hours to complete the first leg of the American crossing to Phoenix.

The craft’s wings and stabiliser are covered with nearly 12,000 solar cells, which in daylight hours charge an array of lithium-ion batteries in gondolas that hang below the wing.

Together, these provide power to the plane’s four electric motors and allow flight in daylight and night conditions.

The HB-SIA craft is being piloted by Bertrand Piccard, a co-founder of the effort, who is perhaps best known for being the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a hot-air balloon, in 1999.

The trans-America bid is the first attempt of its kind with a zero-fuel aircraft.

Together with co-founder and entrepreneur Andre Borschberg, the pair of Swiss pilots have racked up a number of world records and milestones in recent years.

The first night flight of a solar-powered craft in 2010 was followed by a first international flight in 2011, and first inter-continental flight in 2012.

The two will share the job of flying the plane between each of the stops of the tour.

The launch on Friday is to serve as the start of the pair’s Clean Generation Initiative, an effort to encourage policy-makers and businesses to develop and adopt sustainable energy technologies.

“We want to show that with clean technologies, a passionate team and a far-reaching pioneering vision, one can achieve the impossible,” Dr Piccard said at the announcement of the mission in March.

 

Source:  www.bbc.co.uk/

A universal language for robots

October 28th, 2012 No comments

- Tired of waiting for the day when an android will show up and start doing your laundry, like Rosie the Robot on “The Jetsons”?

So is Scott Hassan. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur and early Google architect is trying to fast-track innovation in the personal robotics world with his 50-employee company, Willow Garage. Their first robot, the PR2, hit the market in September.

Hassan hopes the PR2 will give the robotics community what the desktop computer provided programmers in the 1970s: a standardized tool for creating all sorts of applications.

While industrial robots have thrived for decades, home and office robots have largely remained a distant science-fiction dream. Why? Personal robotics engineers typically build their own machines from scratch, sinking a ton of time and money into their robots before they can even think about programming them to do anything clever, like playing pool or making pancakes. And then, if a personal robot hits the mainstream — like Honda’s popular Asimo — the codes and schematics remain carefully guarded secrets.

The PR2, on the other hand, is equipped with an open-source software code, called ROS for “Robot Operating System,” which lets users share knowledge and build on each others’ work. It also comes with heavy-duty computers, wheels, arms, cameras, range finders and touch sensors.

“People can stop reinventing the wheel, and they can start doing new things right away,” says Keenan Wyrobek, co-director of Willow Garage’s personal robotics program. “It’s a huge unmet need for the industry.”

Researchers have already trained PR2 robots to perform a number of new tricks, including sorting socks, fetching beer, playing pool, tidying up, flipping pancakes and playing “With or Without You” by U2 on a keyboard and snare drum.

Last spring, Willow Garage spent $4.5 million giving away PR2 robots to researchers at 11 universities, including Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, and to Bosch, the German industrial giant. The think-tankish company has also paid stipends for dozens of robotics engineers to live in Menlo Park, Calif., for two to three months at a time, learning ROS and working on PR2 projects.

That’s all on top of the tens of millions of dollars it took to design and build the PR2, which officially went on sale to researchers two months ago. Each robot’s price tag is $400,000. The price drops to $280,000 for developers that have a demonstrated history of contributing to open source communities.

Neither price tag allows the company to come close to turning an immediate profit.

Willow Garage is focused on the long haul, Wyrobek says. “We’re an atypical company,” he explains. “Our founders see plenty of opportunity in five to 10 years in the industry, if we can get it started.”

For now, they’ve certainly got access to seed capital. Hassan, Willow Garage’s founder, helped write the initial software code for Google with Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Stanford University. He later started eGroups, an e-mail list management website, which was bought in 2000 by Yahoo for stock worth $413 million. Hassan’s personal wealth has been estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars — maybe billions.

While he could afford to bankroll the company on his own, outside observers believe he’s got folks lining up to help.

“They don’t need a lot of money, but my guess is they have a lot of investors interested,” says Aaron Saenz, a blogger who writes about robotics for SingularityHub.com. He points out that some 400 Silicon Valley and Google millionaires showed up to watch Hassan unveil the PR2 beta version in May.

Hassan is mum on financial and most other matters, declining most requests for interviews — including one for this article. “He’s the ‘close-the-door-I’m-programming’ guy,’” Wyrobek says.

Setting the short-term future aside, Willow Garage wants to tap the power of crowdsourcing to grow its own R&D department exponentially. Its vision is to spur smart people around the world to work together. That puts Willow Garage at the center of a gigantic spider web of sorts, ready for the day that Rosie the Robot could become a reality.

“They’re not naïve to the fact that eventually they’re going to be in a wonderful position to make tons of money,” Saenz says. “They’re constantly at the cutting edge. When the opportunity arises, whatever it is, they will be there.”

 

By Jennifer Alsever
Source:  http://money.cnn.com

BlackBerry Creator Lazaridis Puts $100 Million Into Nano Labs

September 21st, 2012 No comments

 

Mike Lazaridis, whose invention of the BlackBerry smartphone more than a decade ago redefined the way people send e-mail, is drawing inspiration from the early days of computing for his next act.

Backed by his $100 million donation, the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre opens tomorrow in Waterloo, Ontario, aiming to recreate the conditions that made AT&T Inc.’s Bell Labs a hive of technological innovation in the early 1960s and laid the groundwork for the success of Silicon Valley.

The new research center is designed to produce breakthroughs in the science and technology of things approaching the size of an atom. It’s “absolutely” going to be the Bell Labs of the 21st century, Lazaridis said yesterday in a telephone interview. “That reality got clearer and clearer to me as we got closer to the ribbon-cutting.”

Lazaridis, who resigned as chairman of struggling BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM) in January, says he’s now devoting most of his time to help get the Quantum-Nano Centre off the ground and to form a cluster of cutting-edge research with the decade-old Institute for Quantum Computing andPerimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, both founded with a total of more than $250 million of his own money and additional funds he helped raise.

The facilities will be enough to lure the brightest minds in the field to Canada, Lazaridis said.

No Mountains

“We can’t offer them ocean, beaches or mountains, but we can try and offer them the best environment, the best collaborators, the best equipment that would be conducive to them making the breakthroughs of their lifetime,” Lazaridis said. “One of the best ways to describe this is we’re trying to break the known laws of physics.”

The technology Lazaridis is talking about is designed to redefine the boundaries of Moore’s Law, the principle — associated with Intel Corp. (INTC) co-founder Gordon Moore — that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Quantum computing and nanotechnology would allow medicine to be delivered to individual cells, could create minute energy sources and could even produce self-healing materials that could be used in a nuclear power plant, he says.

“It’s getting more and more difficult to make smaller devices as we approach the size of an atom, but it’s also getting more expensive to build those devices,” he said. “You know you’re at the limit when those two things happen. The only way we can break through those barriers is quantum computing.”

Possible Investments

While Lazaridis said he’s considering investments in nano and quantum technology, he wouldn’t say when or how much he’ll invest. The 51-year-old still owns 29.7 million shares in RIM, which are worth about $214 million, according to an April filing.

“I do have the funds to invest in both angel and venture capital, but I’m being very, very strategic,” he said.

While Waterloo does have some local venture capital that startups can tap, it lacks the billion of dollars in venture capital that investors are willing to risk in Silicon Valley on local startups. That doesn’t faze Lazaridis, the son of Greek immigrants who immigrated to Canada as a boy and started RIM while still at the University of Waterloo in the 1970s.

“The venture capital will find its way to those individual entrepreneurs or companies that are interested in commercializing these discoveries,” he said.

Valley’s Roots

Bell Labs, founded in 1925 and now part of Alcatel-Lucent, had its operations in New York City and the New Jersey suburbs, an area that hasn’t been able to seize the mantle of technological innovator held by California’s Silicon Valley, home to Intel, Apple Inc. and Google Inc. Bell Labs alumni such as William Shockley helped bring the research center’s innovations to the West Coast.

In Waterloo, other companies are championing the growth of the technology industry as RIM continues to shrink, with users switching to devices from Apple and Samsung Electronics Co.

Desire2Learn Inc., a local online-education software startup, raised $80 million in venture funding this month from investors including Menlo Park, California-based New Enterprise Associates Inc. Waterloo-based OpenText Corp., a 20-year-old maker of business software, saw revenue grow 17 percent to $1.21 billion in its most recent fiscal year and employs more than 4,500 workers worldwide.

The two provide a morale boost to the local economy as RIM cuts 5,000 jobs to try to return to profitability. Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins, who took over in January, is counting on a new lineup of phones, due next year, to reverse the company’s fortunes.

Lazaridis, who remains on the board of RIM and runs its innovation committee, says he still regularly consults with Heins, who he picked as his successor.

While he declined to say if he’s happier being able to devote himself full-time to pure science and philanthropy rather than running RIM, he said he’s enjoying his new project.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be part of this adventure,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

By Hugo Miller
Source:http://www.bloomberg.com

Robotic co-worker Baxter joins factory line

September 19th, 2012 No comments

Baxter can work happily alongside human co-workers

A humanoid robot designed to work safely alongside people on factory production lines has been unveiled in the US.

Priced at $22,000 (£13,500), Baxter will go on sale in October.

Its makers, Rethink Robotics, say it can apply common sense, adapt to its environment and be trained in less than 30 minutes to complete specific tasks, by workers without robotic expertise.

Currently factory robots tend to work separately to humans, often in cages.

Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics founder and former director of the MIT Computer and Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, said he hoped Baxter represented a “new concept in manufacturing”.

“Roboticists have been successful in designing robots capable of superhuman speed and precision. What’s proven more difficult is inventing robots that can act as we do – in other words, that are able to inherently understand and adapt to their environment,” he said.

‘New hope’

According to the International Federation of Robotics there are now 1.1 million working robots in the world. In car manufacture, for instance, about 80% of the production is completed by machines.

Equipped with sensors and other software to help it see and understand its environment, Baxter has also been programmed to apply common sense to its environment. For example, if it drops an object, it “knows” it has to get another one before trying to finish the task.

To teach Baxter a new job, a human guides its arms to simulate the desired task, and presses a button to program in the pattern.

If the robot does not understand, it responds with a confused expression.

It is hoped robots such as Baxter can help to bring manufacturing back to the US, much of which has gone abroad to countries where labour is cheap.

“We could offer new hope to the millions of American manufacturers who are looking for innovative ways to compete in our global economy,” said Mr Brooks.

 

Source: www.bbc.com

The New Smartphone Powerhouse: Huawei

August 8th, 2012 No comments

Sales of smartphones are booming, though very few phone makers have been rejoicing. Nokia (NOK) andResearch In Motion (RIMM) have seen their once-formidable businesses collapse into a mess of red ink and layoffs. HTC’s sales have tumbled. Once-proud Motorola Mobility has been acquired by Google (GOOG). Sony (SNE) and LG Electronics (066570) are confirmed also-rans.

Feasting on this wreckage are, of course, Apple (AAPL)and Samsung Electronics (005930), which between them have 54 percent of the global market. The other big winner: Huawei Technologies. A company many Americans haven’t even heard of may well have passed Nokia last quarter to become the third-largest smartphone maker, according to Horace Dediu, founder of equity research firm Asymco. That’s up from No. 7 at the end of last year. “They’re the guys that don’t get a lot of respect because they’re not big in the U.S.,” says Dediu. “But they’re looking at big numbers.”

After it was founded in 1987 by civil engineer Ren Zhengfei, Huawei quickly became China’s high-tech success story by selling telecom gear to phone companies, routinely beating rivals such as Alcatel-Lucent (ALU), Ericsson (ERIC), and Cisco Systems (CSCO) with good-enough products and great prices. Only in the mid-2000s did it start making cell phones. The Shenzhen-based company’s inexpensive, often unbranded models gained traction in China, the Middle East, and Africa.

Huawei kept this low-cost approach as it got serious about smartphones in 2009. The company didn’t try to build its own software operating system like Apple,Microsoft (MSFT), Nokia, or RIM. It used Android. And unlike Samsung, HTC, or Motorola, it didn’t try to differentiate Google’s mobile software with its own tweaks. “Huawei just slapped Android on some hardware and shipped it,” says ABI Research analyst Michael Morgan.

This year, the company expects to triple its smartphone sales to 60 million units, in part by taking a bigger chunk of the U.S. market. Until now, it’s sold handsets costing less than $200 to carriers such as MetroPCS and Cricket that offer pay-as-you-go plans, mostly to lower-income consumers. Last November it landed a deal with a top-tier U.S. carrier when AT&T (T) started selling Huawei’s Impulse phone for $29. On July 11, T-Mobile announced that Huawei would be building two models in the carrier’s MyTouch line of handsets. “We essentially made the market for affordable smartphones,” says William Plummer, Huawei’s U.S. vice president for external affairs. “We’re in a good position because we’ve established ourselves as a trusted partner to carriers.”

Not completely trusted, however. On Capitol Hill, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has been investigating whether efforts by Huawei and ZTE, another fast-growing Chinese telecom equipment and phone maker, to sell to U.S. carriers present a security risk, because the companies may have ties to the Chinese government. The Australian government has banned Huawei from bidding on a national broadband project. Congress has asked the State Department to investigate whether Huawei illegally exported embargoed technologies to Iran. For years, industry insiders have believed that Huawei has access to low-interest loans from the government. Huawei spokesman Francis Hopkins says the company is cooperating with the congressional investigation, gets no favorable loans from the Chinese government, and denies wrongdoing in Iran. It definitely has benefited from huge domestic broadband buildouts, says Jeff Heynen, an analyst with consulting firm Infonetics.

Succeeding in smartphones is not optional for Huawei if it wants to remain a fast-growing company. Its $23 billion-a-year telecom equipment business grew only 3.5 percent in 2011, before tumbling due to the slowdown in China’s economy this year, says Heynen. The company reorganized last year to create a separate Huawei Devices unit to drive what executives say is the company’s best growth opportunity. The division also makes laptop modems and other less-sexy gizmos.

Huawei’s growth rate may make it a plausible challenger to Samsung in smartphone sales, says Asymco’s Dediu. He argues that the Korean giant has prospered largely because of vertical integration; it makes many of the chips and screens that go into its devices. Yet he doubts Samsung has built up enough brand loyalty to withstand a much cheaper alternative. “Let’s not forget that Samsung itself was No. 4 or 5 just a few years ago,” says Dediu. “Samsung ought to be looking over its shoulder.”

As smartphones evolve from novelty technology into just another gadget, Huawei will be well positioned to benefit. “Their devices don’t have to have jet packs to do 90 percent of what most people need,” says Morgan of ABI Research. “The market is coming to them.”

 

The bottom line: Late last year, Huawei was No. 7 in smartphones. Now it may be No. 3—and is pushing hard to sell its inexpensive handsets in the U.S.

 

Source: www.businessweek.com