Month: February 2017

27 Feb

Chen poised to launch new BlackBerry phone as sales keep sliding

BlackBerry Ltd. Chief Executive Officer John Chen has presided over five new phones during his two and a half years running the company, none of which have managed to turn around steadily declining smartphone sales. Some analysts are wondering who would buy a sixth.

BlackBerry is hosting a live online event on July 26. Although it hasn’t confirmed phones will be on the agenda, Chen said Tuesday the company would talk about them in the next “week or two” and Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard said last week the next phone launch was “very, very imminent.”

Chen has said he’ll unveil two phones between now and March 2017, both running Google’s Android operating system. A “mid-range” handset selling for about $350 is scheduled to arrive before September. It’s a response to tepid demand for its first Android-powered phone, the high-end Priv, which Chen said had a limited audience. In Chen’s first full quarter as CEO, which ended Mar. 1, 2014, BlackBerry sold 1.3 million phones. In the most recent quarter it sold 500,000.

A new phone highlights an apparent contradiction for BlackBerry: the company has consistently said its future lies in sales of security-focused software, which recently overtook hardware as the dominant source of revenue, yet it keeps coming up with new phones. This despite the fact that some analysts say the company should cut the money-losing hardware business altogether.

Right Formula “A lot of people are looking at it and saying ‘Wow I don’t know why they’re even in that business,’” John Butler, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone. Chen “clearly has been struggling to find the right formula for the hardware,” Butler said.

BlackBerry reported fiscal first-quarter earnings on June 23 that broke even, compared with the average analysts estimate of a 6-cent (U.S.) loss. Revenue in the quarter was $424-million, including software sales of $166-million that were 21 per cent higher than the same period last year. Shares of the Waterloo Ontario-based company have dropped 31 per cent in Toronto this year to $8.82 (Canadian) for a market value of $4.6-billion.

The company needs to keep making phones for its most important government and corporate customers who see BlackBerry handsets as the most secure on the market, Chen told journalists on Tuesday at an event in New York to show off its software products. If it cut phones completely, those clients might abandon its software as well, he said.

Hub System “There’s a certain number of customers that want to have the whole integrated product,” Desmond Lau, a Toronto-based analyst with Veritas Investment Research Corp., said in a phone interview. “They may be trying to milk that for as long as possible in order to ensure that the software revenues are maximized.”

Chen has said he wants the company’s hardware unit to be profitable by September and recently restructured the unit to include revenue generated by licensing some of its hardware-related software like its BlackBerry Hub notification system.

“It looks like they’re trying to make it work in every which was possible,” Lau said. The focus on large business and government clients makes sense since BlackBerry has lost traction with regular consumers, he said.

Wishful Thinking

“They’re not in a position to capture much consumer share just by making another Android device,” he said.

Earlier this month BlackBerry announced it was ending production of its Classic phone, a keyboard-equipped device modelled after the most popular phones from BlackBerry’s heyday in the late 2000s. The announcement came just days after the U.S. Senate said it would not provide BlackBerrys to staffers any more. Chen said he went and spoke to the Senate and explained his plans for the new phones.

“They really want to test out our new products,” he said. “Everybody made it sound like we’re getting out of the handset business. It could be wishful thinking on some peoples’ part but it’s not true. Not yet at least.”

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23 Feb

Dear Milo: The six stages of lifetime-ban grief from fellow Twitter exile Charles C. Johnson

By now it’s probably seeming more real to Milo Yiannopoulos, formerly @nero on Twitter and now banned for life, that the little blue bird is never coming back. His followers will find new heroes, his enemies will stop caring about his tantrums; it’s all coming to an end.

If you missed it, Mr. Yiannopoulos has been banned from Twitter after Ghostbusters and SNL actress Leslie Jones was subjected to a campaign of racist and sexist harassment seemingly at the direction of the Breitbart writer and champion of so-called “alt-right” politics on the Internet.

There’s maybe only one member of the right-wing blogosphere who knows exactly what the next year of Mr. Yiannopoulos’s life is going to be like now, and that’s Charles C. Johnson.

We reached out to Mr. Johnson, 27, who lives in California, to find out what it has been like to become Twitter famous for right-wing online trolling, and then have all that access taken away. “I was the canary in the coal mine,” he says, speaking from the Republican National Convention. “I’m the man who was banned from Twitter before it was cool.”

Some might recall that for a hot minute in 2015, Mr. Johnson was the subject of think pieces on whether Twitter is a mall or a public square, whether it was a free-speech paragon or just another media company trying to sell ads. “Chuck,” as Mr. Johnson also goes by, was referenced in passing this week as new waves of those think pieces sloshed around pondering Mr. Yiannopoulos and those same questions about Twitter’s role and responsibility in our social-media society. “A moment of silence for the dearly departed Milo Yiannopoulos. May he rest peacefully in his Twitter grave next to Charles C. Johnson,” wrote Teddy Wilson, a reporter for the non-profit online news agency Rewire, on Twitter.

Mr. Johnson is a serial provocateur who has a habit of making false claims that he usually does not retract in the face of evidence. There’s a reason he was once described by Gawker as the “Web’s Worst Journalist” and by The New York Times as “mood slime.”

For instance, back in his tweeting days, he frequently claimed, with no evidence, that President Barack Obama was gay: “Once you accept the premise that Obama is gay a lot of things start to make sense,” he wrote in December, 2014. So take everything he claims with a grain of salt.

The stages of Twitter-ban grief:


On May 24, 2015, Twitter permanently suspended Mr. Johnson, after temporarily banning him three times earlier, in what looks like an escalating series of misdeeds, including falsely claiming that a picture of a young woman he posted was that of a high-profile rape victim. The proximate cause of his final ban was a tweet that was a solicitation of funds to “take out” Black Lives Matter organizer and spokesperson DeRay Mckesson, which many interpreted as a threat against his life or livelihood.

“I was watching Anthony Bourdain, and I went to bed. I woke up, my grandma called me up, ‘Go turn on CNN … They are saying you want to assassinate a civil rights leader!’ Twitter has never given me a reason – to this day – as to why I was suspended.

“They IP-blocked my house, my entire street. Anyone who sets up a Twitter account at my house, they can’t get on. They shut down accounts they think might be affiliated with me. They shut down my company’s account.”

Fast forward to this week: “Milo was like, ‘no, they’ll never ban me … because people like me more than they like you.’ His view was, if you’re a celebrity they will actually protect you on Twitter. I didn’t think that was true. I was like, ‘They’ll figure out an excuse to ban you.’ I had a conversation with him three days ago about how this was going to happen.”


“They say you’ve been kicked off, your account will not be restored. I sent them like 40 messages. I’ve used various Silicon Valley connections, to offer a truce. I’ve actually sent attorneys to send them messages. I’ve offered to cut deals with them where I can just put my account on locked and not broadcast to everyone, just to my followers. I have no problem paying Twitter like a thousand dollars a month or whatever.

“I want to sit down with them and just talk to them. I want 15 minutes of [Twitter CEO] Jack Dorsey’s time. I want them to tell me why I was kicked off. Why is there no Twitter court? Why can’t you adjudicate. If you’re going to suspend somebody’s account, at least give me a reason or an appealable process.

“We used to bust up monopolies in this country, and I think that’s probably what needs to happen with Twitter if its behaviour continues. We expect to file a lawsuit in my case against Twitter in the near future. I’m trying to talk to Milo about essentially joining that suit.”

Anger/Race blaming

Mr. Johnson has written pieces that blame Twitter’s user-growth issues on an explicit policy of being “anti-white.” Challenged again in our interview, he rhymed off what he believes are examples.

Twitter has a policy on not discussing the accounts it suspends in aggregate or in specific, and declined to comment on Mr. Johnson’s allegation of racial bias.

“People have called me the Nelson Mandela of Twitter, which is hilarious,” he says.


“It does affect you, but it affects more your psychology … you get e-mails from people: ‘I’m sorry to see you go.’ I do miss Twitter, I do think it’s a very useful tool for getting out your message. In all honesty, being off of Twitter has hurt me financially. Traffic on my website is up, though my donations are down. The one thing I miss the most about Twitter was the relationships with all these people who send me information.

“In a way, my banning actually made things worse. What it did was created this view of a war on Twitter. Twitter has descended into something much more vicious, like the comment sections on a lot of websites. I think that might also be because of the larger economic forces.

“It’s terrible that people have to deal with racism, anti-semitism, anti-feminist or anti-conservative or anti-whatever views … but this is just part of life now on the Internet. If you get really angry on the Internet, or really sad … maybe don’t go on the Internet. Maybe go outside. Maybe go read a book, hang out with a loved one. These are all things I’ve learned about dealing with the stress of it.”


“Being kicked off of Twitter was a freeing experience. It does make it harder to broadcast your views on things in the moment, but maybe it’s not always good to say what you think in the moment. Maybe less is more. It’s also forced me to build relationships behind the scenes that have actually elevated my career.

“I do enjoy having my day back. I saw Milo a few days ago, he looked a little haggard being on Twitter all the time. I have other friends who have a difficult relationship with their wives or girlfriends because they are obsessed with Twitter. In a way, being off of Twitter forced me to prioritize my business decisions, and my life decisions.

“One thing I like to do now post-Twitter, I like to go for long swims in the local pool or lake … that way no one can reach me on the Internet and it feels really good.”

Moving on

“I’m not as noisy as I once was but I’m very much involved behind the scenes. I’m going on various YouTube channels. The mistake a lot of people make is that you’re no longer present when you’re off Twitter, but there’s a big Internet out there.”

Note: there are still lots of accounts that claim to be Mr. Johnson. One such account is @ChuckCJ0hnson, which retweeted photos and videos from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week that appear to have been taken or made with his co-operation, though he denies he is operating the account.

“I’m not on Twitter under my name. If people want to create fan pages to me, and other accounts, they are free to do that. I have nothing to do with those accounts,” he says.

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19 Feb

Pokemon Go creators working to be ‘respectful’ of reality

The creators of “Pokemon Go” say they’re working to remove real-world locations that don’t wish to be included in the mobile gaming sensation.

The Pokemon Company’s consumer marketing director J.C. Smith said in an interview this week that they’re updating the augmented-reality game so it remains fun for players but respects the real world.

“When something is really popular, we have to figure out the most respectful way to deal with it and make sure that everyone is playing safely and doing things in a respectful manor,” said Smith. “It’s only been two weeks since it launched, and there’s been so much attention and so many people playing that it’s tough to think of all the ways it could affect the world.”

The location-aware game provides virtual rewards for players who visit real sites designated as “Pokestops” in the game. Several locations, such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan and the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., have asked to be removed from “Pokemon Go.”

Since the free game launched July 6 for mobile devices and rocketed to the top of the download charts, some players have injured themselves in pursuit of virtual monsters or have been distracted while playing “Pokemon Go” while driving.

“For us, we’re making sure the play experience is done right,” said Smith. “Initially, there was some server overload, which we’ve worked on. Now, we’re looking at features in the game and how to fine-tune them so that it’s appealing to the fans but also respectful of the private institutions that are affected by it.”

Smith wouldn’t offer a timeline of when updates will come to the game. “Pokemon Go” developer Niantic offers an online form to request exclusions, but changes to the game are not automatic.

For some sensitive locations, change has already come to “Pokemon Go.” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum spokesman Andrew Hollinger said the museum had been removed from the game per its wishes.

Despite the monumental success of “Pokemon Go,” Smith said the mobile game’s triumph isn’t affecting how the Pokemon Co. is approaching future projects based on the 20-year-old franchise, such as a live-action film to be produced by Legendary Entertainment or the upcoming “Pokemon Sun” and “Pokemon Moon” games for the Nintendo 3DS system.

“We don’t need to directly tie anything to ‘Go’ for it to benefit our fans or the brand as a whole,” said Smith. “In the end, the characters are the same. Pikachu in our animated series or Pikachu in our upcoming Legendary film or Pikachu in ‘Go’ are all the same.“’

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11 Feb

Twitter shares rise on report of news streaming deal with Bloomberg

Twitter Inc’s shares rose 6 per cent on Monday after a report that the company is partnering with Bloomberg LP for streaming news, marking the stock’s third straight day of gains following strong results last week.

Twitter and Bloomberg Media will create a service that will stream news produced solely for Twitter, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“(The share movement) is solely because of the Bloomberg partnership. There will be exclusive content streaming on Twitter, and that’s innovative. The market appears to like that,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.

Twitter reported its strongest user growth in over a year last week. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey cited technical changes to Twitter’s timeline as one of the reasons for the growth.

The microblogging service’s user growth had stalled in the past few quarters, prompting the company to take steps to attract subscribers and advertisers alike.

“There is a steady string of positive news on Twitter that is changing the narrative. And as the narrative improves, it makes that much easier for the advertisers to have comfort with the platform,” Richard Greenfield from BTIG said.

Twitter received a setback last month when it lost a deal to live stream NFL games this year to Inc.

CFRA analyst Scott Kessler said the Bloomberg deal could allay some investor concerns following the loss of the NFL deal and the prospects of live video, a big focus area for Twitter.

“I think a lot of people wondered how (Twitter) is going to fill up that hole and what does that say about the future of live video,” Kessler said.

Dorsey snapped up more than half a million of the company’s shares for about $9.5-million, according to a filing on Friday.

Twitter was abuzz with takeover chatter last year involving big names such as Inc and Walt Disney Co . The rumors died down due to the lack of concrete offers.

Including Monday’s gains, Twitter’s shares are now up 6.8 per cent so far this year. The stock had lost about 30 per cent of its value in 2016.

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7 Feb

Uber looks to soar with flying taxis by 2020

After upending the taxi market with its ride-hailing service, Uber Technologies Inc is now aiming for the skies with its flying taxis.

The company expects to deploy its flying taxis in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Dubai by 2020, Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said at the Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas on Tuesday.

Uber’s flying taxis will be small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically, or VTOLs, with zero emissions and quiet enough to operate in cities.

Flying taxis would cut down travel time between San Francisco’s Marina to downtown San Jose to 15 minutes, compared with the more than two hours it takes by road, Uber estimates.

In an early scale operation, the company can get to $1.32 per passenger mile, a little higher than taking an UberX for a similar distance, Holden said.

In the longer term, Uber expects the cost of taking flying taxis to fall below car ownership.

The company is working with Hillwood Properties to make four vertiports – VTOL hubs with multiple takeoff and landing pads, and charging infrastructure – in Dallas starting next year, Holden said.

Uber, valued at $68 billion, has also teamed up with companies such as Bell Helicopter, Aurora, Pipistrel, Mooney and Embraer to make the flying taxis.

The company has also partnered with U.S. electric vehicle charging station maker ChargePoint Inc. Uber is working on developing an exclusive charger for its network.

Uber, which has partnered with the Dubai government, expects to conduct passenger flights as part of the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The ride-hailing service has recently been rocked by a number of setbacks, including detailed accusations of sexual harassment from a former female employee and a video showing Chief Executive Travis Kalanick harshly berating an Uber driver.

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3 Feb

Canadian tech IPO drought to end as Real Matters files to go public

Real Matters Inc. is set to end Canada’s two-year drought for information technology IPOs.

The Markham, Ont.-based mortgage-services firm filed a preliminary prospectus late Monday to raise an undisclosed sum in an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange. BMO Nesbitt Burns and Infor Financial Group, the company’s past financial advisers, will lead the deal. The last Canadian software company to go public was Shopify Inc. in May, 2015.

“Today, we have established an industry-leading position serving approximately 60 of the top 100 mortgage lenders in the United States; we continue to gain market share, and we believe we have just begun to tap into the potential gains possible by doing more for our clients,” Jason Smith, founder and chief executive of the 13-year-old company, wrote to prospective shareholders in the prospectus. Real Matters had been expected to file since its board approved the process to go public last year.

Unlike many tech firms that go public, Real Matters’ path to an IPO was financed primarily by conservative Bay Street financial institutions, rather than Silicon Valley venture-capital firms. (Its two largest shareholders, with more than 10 per cent each, are Canadian real estate advisory firm Altus Group Ltd. and Toronto fund manager Edgepoint Investment Group Inc.) The company, which has raised $164-million (U.S.) in private capital, said a year ago during its past fundraising round that it was valued at $650-million (Canadian).

The company has staked much of its growth on bringing technology and improved service to the U.S. mortgage-appraisal business. Real Matters assigns and manages appraisers through an online software platform that informs appraisers in its network how their performance statistics stack up against others. The company selectively recruits and screens independent appraisers, keeping tabs on them and paying above-average rates. As a result, Real Matters boasts faster turnaround times and lower error rates than industry peers. The company said it “routinely” captures at least 15 per cent of the appraisal business of new lending clients in the first year, rising to 35 per cent or more after three years.

Real Matters estimates it provides one in 20 residential mortgage appraisals in the United States and has a 16-per-cent market share in Canada, where three of the big five banks are clients. Real Matters’ stated goal is to at least triple its share of the $3.2-billion (U.S.) appraisals market in the United States in the next five years and to increase its 0.4-per-cent share of the $13-billion American title and closing business – which it entered with last year’s purchase of Linear Title & Closing – to as much as 3 per cent.

The firm forecasts 20 per cent to 25 per cent annual revenue growth over the next five years, from a base of $248.5-million posted in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, and is aiming to increase adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of net revenue, up from 18.8 per cent.

Real Matters disclosed that it anticipates revenue in its second quarter ending March 31 to be “significantly lower” than its $78.9-million posted in the first quarter, as rising interest rates have dampened the U.S. residential mortgage market.

But Mr. Smith pointed to Real Matters’ 95-per-cent client retention rate, adding “we focus on the things we can control in order to consistently outperform our competitors, grow market share with our clients and attract and retain franchise clients. We believe that the true value of our business will be realized by building a business that can weather the peaks and valleys and thrive over the long term. It’s working.”

Mark McQueen, president and CEO of Wellington Financial and a Real Matters backer since 2010, said “Whether rates rise or fall next year, Real Matters has a substantial amount of market share to capture. Given the company’s success to date, one can imagine another Shopify in the making.”

The company is also dealing with a personal tragedy following the sudden death last week of 45-year-old chief operating officer Alistair James Blackburn, who joined Real Matters in 2008. The funeral of the married father of two was held on Tuesday in Oakville, Ont. The family asked that donations be made in his name to the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said Real Matters calculates adjusted EBITDA margins as a percentage of revenue; in fact, the firm calculates this figure based on net revenue.

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