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Research Firm Clarifies: iTunes Sales Are Not Collapsing

Reporters misunderstood data released in a recent market report, Forrester Research says.

Media reports of plummeting sales on Apple Computer's iTunes music store are untrue and based on a misinterpretation of data released in a recent market report, the research firm that published the study says.

Forrester Research on Wednesday tried to set the record straight after some media companies reported that its study on iTunes showed that song sales fell 65% during the first six months of the year. "For the record, iTunes sales are not collapsing," Josh Bernoff, analyst and author of the report, said in his blog.

While an analysis of credit card transaction data showed a real drop between January and the rest of the year, the number of purchases counted was too few to draw the conclusion that sales were plummeting. "That point was just too subtle to get into these articles," Bernoff said.

The media reports, which started surfacing a couple of days ago, coincided with a 3% drop in Apple's stock and led to a "clearly upset" Apple calling Forrester, Bernoff said.

What Forrester's research did show is a leveling off of iTunes sales, which has been running about 20 songs per iPod since the digital music players went on sale. The number has gone up lately to 23, Bernoff said.

In addition, the median transaction is just $2.97, with a third of all purchases amounting to one song. The top 34% of iTunes customers account for 80% of all purchases, Forrester said.

Apple isn't in trouble because its money in the digital music business comes mostly from iPods. ITunes is meant as a complement to the player, Forrester said.

Instead, Apple's leveling off at about $1 billion a year in worldwide sales on iTunes is an indication that even at 99 cents a track, most consumers still aren't sold on the value of digital music, Bernoff said. Also, iTunes's annual sales don't nearly make up for the drop in CD sales in the U.S. alone, which is down $2.5 billion.

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IBM Promises New Memory Chip Technology

Scientists from IBM, Macronix and Qimonda announced joint research results that give a major boost to a new type of computer memory with the potential to be the successor to flash memory chips, which are widely used in computers and consumer electronics like digital cameras and portable music players.

The advancement heralds future success for "phase-change" memory, which appears to be much faster and can be scaled to dimensions smaller than flash – enabling future generations of high-density "non-volatile" memory devices as well as more powerful electronics. Non-volatile memories do not require electrical power to retain their information. By combining non-volatility with good performance and reliability, this phase-change technology may also enable a path toward a universal memory for mobile applications.

Working together at IBM Research labs on both U.S. coasts, the scientists designed, built and demonstrated a prototype phase-change memory device that switched more than 500 times faster than flash while using less than one-half the power to write data into a cell. The device’s cross-section is a minuscule 3 by 20 nanometers in size, far smaller than flash can be built today and equivalent to the industry’s chip-making capabilities targeted for 2015. This new result shows that unlike flash, phase-change memory technology can improve as it gets smaller with Moore’s Law advancements.

The new material is a complex semiconductor alloy created in an exhaustive search conducted at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif. It was designed with the help of mathematical simulations specifically for use in phase-change memory cells.

A computer memory cell stores information -- a digital "zero" or "one" -- in a structure that can be rapidly switched between two readily discernible states. Most memories today are based on the presence or absence of electrical charge contained in a tiny confined region of the cell. The fastest and most economical memory designs – SRAM and DRAM, respectively – use inherently leaky memory cells, so they must be powered continuously and, in case of DRAM, refreshed frequently as well. These "volatile" memories lose their stored information whenever their power supply is interrupted.

Most flash memory used today has a "floating gate" charge-storing cell that is designed not to leak. As a result, flash retains its stored data and requires power only to read, write or erase information. This "non-volatile" characteristic makes flash memory popular in battery-powered portable electronics. Non-volatile data retention would also be a big advantage in general computer applications, but writing data onto flash memory is thousands of times slower than DRAM or SRAM. Also, flash memory cells degrade and become unreliable after being rewritten about 100,000 times. This is not a problem in many consumer uses, but is another show-stopper for using flash in applications that must be frequently rewritten, such as computer main memories or the buffer memories in networks or storage systems. A third concern for flash’s future is that it may become extremely difficult to keep its current cell design non-volatile as Moore’s Law shrinks its minimum feature sizes below 45 nanometers.

The IBM/Macronix/Qimonda joint project’s phase-change memory achievement is important because it demonstrates a new non-volatile phase-change material that can switch more than 500 times faster than flash memory, with less than one-half the power consumption, and, most significantly, achieves these desirable properties when scaled down to at least the 22-nanometer node, two chip-processing generations beyond floating-gate flash’s predicted brick wall.

At the heart of phase-change memory is a tiny chunk of a semiconductor alloy that can be changed rapidly between an ordered, crystalline phase having lower electrical resistance to a disordered, amorphous phase with much higher electrical resistance. Because no electrical power is required to maintain either phase of the material, phase-change memory is non-volatile.

The material’s phase is set by the amplitude and duration of an electrical pulse that heats the material. When heated to a temperature just above melting, the alloy’s energized atoms move around into random arrangements. Suddenly stopping the electrical pulse freezes the atoms into a random, amorphous phase. Turning the pulse off more gradually – over about 10 nanoseconds – allows enough time for the atoms to rearrange themselves back into the well-ordered crystalline phase they prefer.

The new memory material is a germanium-antimony alloy (GeSb) to which small amounts of other elements have been added (doped) to enhance its properties. Simulation studies enabled the researchers to fine-tune and optimize the material’s properties and to study the details of its crystallization behavior. A patent has been filed covering the composition of the new material.

The technical details of this research will be presented this week at the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineer’s (IEEE’s) 2006 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco (Paper 30.3: "Ultra-Thin Phase-Change Bridge Memory Device Using GeSb" by Y.C. Chen et al. Wednesday morning, December 13.) This paper was also one of only five to be chosen for the "Highlights of 2006 IEDM" session at the IEEE’s International Solid-State Circuits Conference, which will be held in San Francisco in February 2007.

Source: Playfuls

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Nintendo sued over Wiimote

A Californian company called Interlink Electronics has launched a legal case against Nintendo over the Wiimote.

Interlink was granted a patent in February 2005 for a "trigger-operated electronic device" which the company claims is violated by the Wii remote.

You may be right in thinking the whole trigger issue isn't going to hold much water, but Interlink's patent also included a pointing sensor to check where the device was pointing. It's this part of the patent Nintendo might have more trouble defending itself against.

As usual in such cases the plaintiff wants cash and a ban on the Nintendo product.

Source: The Register

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iRiver S7 is a dud

iRiver has a brand new model up its sleeves with the S7, but judging by the hardware specifications, it is not a release for you to get thrilled about. The S7 targets those who are on a tight budget as it does not come with any sort of display despite being the same size and shape as that of the S10. The S7 even features a similar navigation controller like the D-click on the S10. Features of the S7 include support for MP3, WMA, ASF, and OGG file formats, while the SRS WOW HD audio effects help enhance your music. This Korea-only MP3 player will come with a maximum memory of 1GB and retails for approximately $99. All in all, the S7 is nothing much to shout about and won't do much to dent the Shuffle's crown.

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