Google, SAP, Cisco & Samsung Among Potential Tech Buyers For Some Or All Of BlackBerry, Says Reuters

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Google, SAP and Cisco are among a number of technology companies interested in buying up portions — or all — of BlackBerry’s business, according to Reuters, which cites several sources close to the matter. BlackBerry has also apparently asked for preliminary expressions from Intel, LG and Samsung, by early next week. Portions of the business of most interest to potential technology buyers are BlackBerry’s secure server network and patent portfolio, according to the sources.

None of the companies named by Reuters provided comment on its report.

Other tech companies, including Microsoft, Huawei and Lenovo, are notably absent from the list of prospective buyers. Redmond unsurprisingly so; despite being previously linked with a possible BlackBerry bid, Microsoft is now tied up with its own $7.2 billion bid for Nokia’s Devices & Services business. Meanwhile Chinese telco Huawei has faced difficulties in the North American market over national security concerns about links to the Chinese military — likely making a bid for a company that supplies phones to government officials a difficult sell.

An enterprise-focused bidder — such as SAP or Cisco — might make the best fit for BlackBerry’s security-focused messaging handset business at this point, with the consumer smartphone marketplace now primarily centred on Android and iOS. That said, the BYOD trend has been steadily eroding BlackBerry’s enterprise reach, so even here its appeal is increasingly niche.  (Albeit, it does have its own mobile device management software that seeks to tap the BYOD trend, with the ability to manage iPhones, Android-powered devices and BlackBerrys).

Late last month, days before BlackBerry reported a $965 million quarterly loss (due mostly to a writedown on unsold Z10 devices), it signed a letter of intent to go private. Its largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings, is the prospective buyer, tabling a $4.7 billion bid for the company.

Going private also opens up the possibility that a new owner might look to break up the company and sell off its constituent parts, although Fairfax claims it has no plans to do so. But, according to Reuters, BlackBerry is actively shopping itself around to potential strategic buyers anyway — as an alternative to the Fairfax deal. That deal, which values the company at $9 per share, has faced some skepticism from financial analysts — who believe a $7 per share price is more realistic — which may explain why BlackBerry is apparently looking elsewhere now.

Technology buyers are not the only potential bidders for the BlackBerry pie, with private-equity firms also asking the company to provide additional financial details about its various business segments, according to two of Reuters’ sources. However they said BlackBerry is currently focused on taking bids from industry peers.

Despite Google et al apparently agreeing to talk, it’s unclear how much serious interest there is in buying BlackBerry or which, if any, parties will bid. Potential bidders are apparently proceeding with caution, given the level of uncertainty around BlackBerry’s business and questions over the future value of its business assets.

Google’s interest is likely to be in BlackBerry’s patent portfolio. Android has faced renewed legal attacks in recent weeks, with Nokia’s lawyers scoring a preliminary win against HTC‘s Android-powered One flagship device in the U.S. last week. Google’s 2011 acquisition of Motorola was also widely touted as a patent-focused purchase aimed at bolstering Android’s IP defences. So it’s due diligence for Mountain View to at least take a closer look at BlackBerry’s patents. Samsung may also be eyeing those.

However, Reuters notes that the value of BlackBerry’s patent portfolio and licensing agreements is diminishing rapidly — likely to halve over the next 18 months. Which may temper any interest there.

BlackBerry’s patents are estimated to be worth between $2 billion and $3 billion, and its security-focused messaging system services business is likely worth $3 billion to $4.5 billion. The company also has $3.1 billion in cash and investments — however with revenues sliding and more loss-making quarters looming, that cash is going to get eaten up pretty quickly. Reuters cites Bernstein analyst Pierre Ferragu’s prediction that the company will burn through almost $2 billion over the next year and a half.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry’s long-touted plan to extend the reach of its consumer mobile messaging service, BBM, to Android and iOS – perhaps with the hope of creating another business asset it could shop around to buyers – has stalled.

BBM was initially slated to launch on the new platforms globally late last month but the rollout was halted after a leaked version of the Android .apk overloaded its servers. The company has since said it remains committed to launching BBM on Android and iOS but given no new timeframe for when this will happen. In the event, it may be that BlackBerry’s bits get broken up and sold off before BBM is able to make the leap onto other platforms.

This Week On The TC Europe Podcast: Google Is The Bad Guy, TechStars Invades London, Memoto Becomes Narrative

TechCrunch Europe Podcast

Welcome back to another episode of the most European tech podcast around. This week, we talk about Google’s tendency to be the bad guy in Europe. It has some issues with France’s CNIL around privacy — at least it would be fine if the company paid corporate taxes. This is the TechCrunch Europe Podcast, wherein we European writers discuss tech news, as well as what’s happening in our startup scene.

Also happening this week, it was TechStars first demo day in London! Three of us were there and picked our favorite startups. Finally, Darrell introduced us to Narrative, a lifelogging camera to keep track of everything. Would you buy this very expensive and creepy device?

Join Steve O’Hear, Natasha Lomas, Darrell Etherington, John Biggs, and Romain Dillet to hear what we think about those topics.

We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcast every Thursday.

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Intro music by Espanto.

Hands-on with Google’s latest acquisition: Flutter, a webcam gesture app

A company called Flutter has just announced that they’ve been purchased by Google. Flutter is a simple Windows and Mac OSX app that lets you control popular media players through a webcam. Just put your hand up to stop the media playback, point your thumb right for “next” and left for “previous.” It seems like not many people had heard of Flutter (yours truly included) until Google took the company under its wing, but luckily the app is still available for download, so we snagged it and gave it a quick test.

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The app works fantastically well and hand gesture detection is near-instant. It works with iTunes, Spotify, Rdio, VLC, Keynote, Winamp, Windows Media Player, and, with a Chrome extension, Youtube, Netflix, Pandora, and Grooveshark. Considering the length of that compatibility list, we suspect it’s converting your hand signals into the standard media controls that adorn many keyboards. The homepage of the Flutter website has been replaced with the buyout message, but the original page is still up at https://flutterapp.com/home/.

Navneet Dalal, Flutter’s CEO wrote to its users today:

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Google Launches Web Designer, A Visual Tool For Building Interactive HTML5 Sites And Ads

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Google today announced the launch of Web Designer, a new tool for building interactive HTML5 sites and ads. The company first hinted at this launch in June, but had been quiet about it ever since. Web Designer, which Google calls a “professional-quality design tool,” is now officially in public beta and available for download for Mac and Windows.

As Google notes in today’s announcement, Web Designer was developed to allow advertisers to easily create HTML5 ads for mobile and desktop. Until recently, Google argues, advertisers “didn’t have the tools they needed to easily develop content fit for today’s cross-screen experiences” and Web Designer aims to be the tool to create these experiences.

While this ad pedigree shines through across Web Designer (the default layouts are for DoubleClick rich media ads and AdMob mobile ads, for example), there is nothing in the tool that would prevent you from building interactive single-page sites and animations for other purposes, as well. Some of the features, however, are currently only available for ads, though Google says it plans to expand these tools for other purposes in the future.

At its core, Web Designer is a visual tool, but you can also delve right into the JavaScript and CSS to fine-tune different aspect of your site. Indeed, Web Designer allows you to manipulate all of your code directly in a built-in editor and lets you quickly preview your creations in every browser you have installed on your machine.

The tools come with all the usual visual design tools you’re probably familiar with. Some of the more interesting ones Google has developed for Web Designer include a pen tool for free drawing, as well as a timeline for managing your animations. Web Designer also features the ability to create 3D content using the power of CSS3, as well as a set of pre-built components for galleries, maps and embedded YouTube videos.

For animations, one of the core features of the application, Web Developer features a Quick mode for building animations scene by scene and an advanced mode that gives designers more control over each of the elements on the page.

 

Google’s BufferBox Expands Its Shipping Kiosk Service For Parcel Pickups To San Francisco

BufferBoxOfficial

Last year, Google acquired Waterloo-based startup BufferBox, which provides shipping locker service to make it easy to get things delivered reliably even when you’re not sure where you’ll be when they’re arriving. The startup built its service on the idea that people never want to see another missed delivery door tag ever again, and began rolling out availability in Toronto, a big consumer market near its HQ last year.

BufferBox is now venturing further afield (as teased earlier this year), with a program expansion in San Francisco that takes its kiosk service closer to Google’s home territory. The BufferBox model allows local businesses to essentially become a substitute post office, receiving packages on behalf of BufferBox users during business hours when they’re guaranteed to have someone on staff to accept delivery. Members then get an email notification as soon as the package as delivered so they know when to go to the local business and grab it.

In SF, BufferBox locations include Dogpatch Cafe, Coffee Bar, Noe Hill Market, 7-Eleven, Mission: Comics and Art and more. The service is also tied to Google’s recent Shopping Express service expansion, which allows people in the SF area to get their packages on the same day they place their order.

This marks the first sign of new market expansion since the acquisition of BufferBox last year, which cost the search giant a reported $17 million. At the time, Google said its motivation in acquiring the startup was to help “remove as much friction as possible from the shopping experience, while helping consumers save time and money.” Paired with its same-day service, the BufferBox experience definitely contributes to that ultimate goal, by making shopping online as easy as popping down to the coffee shop on the corner on your way home from work.

Google’s BufferBox business competes in many ways with Amazon’s Locker pick-up service, but the Google version now going live in SF tweaks the model by having humans handle package acceptance, and it has the added benefit of driving foot traffic to local stores. Google is taking its time with the rollout, however, which usually means there’s a lot to work out with the economics of the model before scaling it to any kind of wide coverage. BufferBox says to expect more integration, and more geographic expansion in the future, however.

Microsoft’s copyright bots ask Google to hide Microsoft.com links

The automated system Microsoft uses to send copyright infringement notices to Google has made a series of embarrassing mistakes in recent months.

Its latest error came last week in a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice telling Google to remove Web search links that allegedly infringe the copyrights for Microsoft Office. (TorrentFreak reported on the mishap earlier today.) Among the 635 allegedly infringing URLs, Microsoft listed four from Microsoft.com itself: A SharePoint tutorial, a database conversion tutorial, a page describing how to use digital certificates, and a Microsoft customer support forum thread that discusses license keys.

More troublingly, the DMCA notice listed an open source project for creating and sharing SharePoint sites as infringing Microsoft copyright. Microsoft also asked Google to remove a link to the Wikipedia page on Microsoft Office 2007.

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Google Talk creates awkward moments with misdirected messages

Google has acknowledged a problem with its Talk service that misrouted messages from users to unintended recipients. At 10:30am EDT today, Google reported on its Apps Dashboard that it had “identified an issue with Google Talk messages sent between 22:00 PST and 01:30 PST. Any messages sent after 01:30 PST are unaffected.”

That “issue” resulted in messages typed into a Google Talk or Hangouts chat with one user to be sent to another random person on the sender’s Talk contact list. A number of users reported the problem on the Google Chat product forum, and Ars has gotten confirmation of the problem from other Talk users.

In one incident, a Google Talk user told Ars, an explicit message intended for her boyfriend was delivered instead “to someone I haven’t talked to in months—with a religious username.”

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YouTube tries to rescue its terrible commenters from themselves

YouTube has announced plans to reformat its presentation of comments below its videos to turn them from some of the Internet’s worst dreck to relevant and—even more daringly—useful content. Rather than the chronological organization that the site has always used, comments will now consist of a mix of comments from YouTube personalities, “engaged conversations,” and friends on Google+.

I originally set out to start this article by summing up the most recent slate of YouTube comments on the latest Miley Cyrus video (NSFW) to demonstrate how irrelevant and unnecessarily vitriolic most YouTube comments are. Now having looked at them, I can attest that trying to summarize them would be a waste of everyone’s time. Suffice it to say that there’s a big problem with broadly structured comment systems, and YouTube, one of the worst offenders, is taking steps to rectify it.

The Internet’s comment problem is not a secret; most large online publications are dealing with it daily one way or another. Where some see a system for encouraging discussion and surfacing new perspectives and information, others see an echo chamber of bad grammar, unchecked stupidity, and the constructive interference of emotions that blow up “problems” like whether a camel is funnier than the E-Trade baby or whether a commenter is a lesbian.

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