Apple Announces Smart Home Audio Speaker HomePod


Apple is taking on Amazon Echo and Google Home: The company announced a new voice-controlled speaker during its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., on Monday. Dubbed HomePod, the new speaker features voice control and spatial awareness to adapt the sound to different rooms.

“It will reinvent home audio,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

HomePod wants to be the best of both worlds, without being that much more expensive than some of its key competitors: The Apple-made speaker will cost consumers $349, and ship in December in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Apple said it would make the device available in additional markets next year.

Apple did share a few technical details about the speaker hardware. HomePod uses seven beam-forming tweeters as well as an upward-facing woofer for audio playback, and an array of six microphones for voice control. HomePod uses the company’s A8 chip, which Apple also used to use for its mobile devices, and a multicolor LED light on top of the device will signal whenever Siri is listening.

Snap Stocks Tumbles 26 Percent


Snap Inc. added fewer users than projected in the first quarter, a sign that Facebook Inc.’s strategy of copycatting virtually every feature of its Snapchat app is taking a toll on the newly public company. The stock tumbled 26 percent.

In its debut earnings report after a March initial public offering, Snap, whose mobile app lets users send disappearing video and photo messages, said it added 8 million daily active users in the period, for a total of 166 million, with growth from a year earlier slowing to 36 percent. Revenue also fell short of analysts’ estimates.

Snap is working to prove that it can attract a dedicated young audience in the competitive social-messaging market, justifying a market value of almost $27 billion. The Snapchat app initially drew attention for letting people add fun filters and overlays to their mobile photos and videos, virtually turning human faces into puppies or crowning them with flowers. In the past six months, Facebook has adopted many of the same features for its own social applications, including Instagram. To keep wooing users and building up ad revenue, Snap has to move faster than its larger competitor.

“They have to prove that they can keep innovating features, products, and functionality that makes Snapchat engaging for consumers and useful for advertisers,” said Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “All of these innovations that Facebook and Instagram are making could be undermining the growth of Snapchat.”

The company’s shares, which had gained 35 percent since its March 1 IPO at $17, dropped as low as $17.07 in extended trading following the report.

American Idol to Return


ABC has reached an agreement with FremantleMedia to bring American Idol the singing competition that birthed a reality TV movement back.

The agreement comes a little more than a year after the series went off the air after 15 seasons on Fox. ABC announced the deal on Tuesday’s “Good Morning America.” The show will be scheduled sometime during the 2017-2018 television season, possibly on Sunday nights.

It is unknown whether original host Ryan Seacrest will lead the ABC incarnation.

Disney Media Networks co-chairman Ben Sherwood said in a statement that “Idol” will be “bigger, bolder and better-than-ever” on ABC.

Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, said “Idol left the air too soon. ABC is the right home to reignite the fan base. We are thrilled viewers will once again share in these inspiring stories of people realizing their dreams.”

Sony Sees Highest Profit Since 1998


Sony’s recovery is almost complete, with the electronics maker targeting its highest annual operating profit in two decades.

Continued dominance in gaming and strong growth in phone-camera chips will translate into operating profit of 500 billion yen ($4.5 billion) for the fiscal year through March 2018, the Tokyo-based company reported Friday. That was in line with the 507 billion yen average projection by analysts.

Sony’s return to profitability last seen during the years when it dominated consumer electronics validates Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai’s efforts to revamp the company. Since taking the helm in 2012, he steered the company through years of restructuring and put more focus on gaming, camera chips and finance. With the turnaround now mostly behind him, focus is starting to shift to how Hirai plans to switch from fighting fires to igniting more growth.

“They are sticking with the mid-term plan that they had provided three years ago — that plan looked impossible back then, but here we are,” said Atul Goyal, an analyst at Jefferies Group. “We think they can hit 600 billion yen, and expect them to revise higher in the second half of the year.”

Last week, Sony reported estimate-topping preliminary results for the period through March 2017, triggering a share rally. The stock, which has doubled since 2013, is up 15 percent this year, outperforming the Topix Index.

Operating profit across the year to March 2017 slipped 1.9% to 288.7 billion yen, Net income halved to 73.3 billion yen as earthquakes in Kyushu a year ago derailed the company’s chip and camera businesses. Revenue fell 6.2% to 7.6 trillion yen.

Games were a big boost, with operating profit climbing 53% to 135.6 billion yen. Sony is leaning more than ever on its PlayStation business. Operating profits for the division are expected to climb to 170 billion yen, accounting for about a third of total profit, as the company cashes in on the PlayStation 4’s later life-cycle stage, typically the most profitable period for consoles. For the first time, sales from online games, downloads and streaming services exceeded that of hardware sales, Sony said.

“Having completed a number of re-organizations, we believe that each of our businesses have achieved independence as individual businesses,” Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida said at a news conference on Friday.

Outside of games, Sony is counting on strong growth at its chip division, where operating profit is forecast to climb to 120 billion yen, reversing a loss. The company controls half of the market for image sensors, the chips inside phones that convert light particles into digital photos and videos. With more models including the upcoming iPhone expected to adopt multiple sensors to improve image quality, analysts say Sony is well positioned to recover from last year’s earthquakes.

“If you look at near-term, dual-camera sensor usage is ramping up,” said David Dai, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. “That’s really good for Sony.”

Lyft lands $600 Million in Fresh Funding


Ride-services company Lyft has raised $600 million in fresh funding, fuel for the company’s growth as it continues to compete fiercely with larger rival Uber.

Lyft said on Tuesday it closed the widely anticipated funding round, which had been in progress for weeks.

The $600 million came mostly from large global investment funds rather than startups’ traditional funding source of venture capital. The round values the company at $7.5 billion, a sharp increase from the $5.5 billion valuation at Lyft’s last financing more than a year ago.

In January 2016, Lyft raised $1 billion, half of which came from General Motors.

Both the funding total and the valuation exceed previous targets. Last month, a source close to the company said Lyft was aiming to raise $500 million at a valuation of $6 billion to $7 billion.

The funding comes from previous investors including Japanese internet company Rakuten Inc and investment fund Janus Capital Group Inc, and first-time Lyft investors including private equity firm KKR & Co., large asset manager Baillie Gifford, and one of Canada’s largest pension funds, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board.

The funding round is an example of the broader trend of how pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, family offices and large asset managers that have traditionally invested in public companies are now putting more of their money into private tech startups in hopes of better returns.

Lyft is Uber’s main competitor in the United States, although Lyft has trailed Uber in market share in most regions of the country. The company has heavily invested in growth, and so far this year has expanded its service to 100 new cities, bringing the total number of cities in which Lyft operates to 300.

Carrie Underwood Leaves Sony


After a 12-year partnership with Sony Music’s Arista Nashville imprint, Carrie Underwood has signed a new worldwide record deal with Universal Music Group, it was announced Tuesday. The seven-time Grammy winner will team up with Capitol Records Nashville as part of UMG for the next phase of her career.

“Already a top tier force in country music, Carrie’s vast talents and creative bravery show that she is an artist who is prepared to take on a wide range of artist challenges,” Mike Dungan, Universal Music Group Nashville chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

The country superstar skyrocketed to fame immediately after winning American Idol in 2005 and has gone on to sell 64 million records worldwide and record over two dozen No. 1 singles. Her debut, Some Hearts, has sold over seven million copies in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen Music. Subsequent studio albums include Carnival Ride (2007), Play On (2009), Blown Away (2012) and Storyteller (2015). Each topped Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and the middle three earned No. 1s on the overall Billboard 200 chart as well.

Recently, the country star celebrated her 100th appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and is gearing up to work on a sixth album.

Aside from Capitol Records Nashville, the UMG family of country labels includes EMI Records Nashville, MCA Nashville and Mercury Nashville. Underwood’s new label groupmates include such fellow superstars as Dierks Bentley, George Strait, Chris Stapleton, Luke Bryan and Lady Antebellum, to name a few.

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