Cyber safety start-up Family Zone launches $10 million IPO

Cyber safety business Family Zone, which allows parents to monitor and restrict their children’s internet browsing, will pursue an initial public offering to raise up to $5.5 million to ramp up its sales and marketing.

The company, which has developed a cloud-based control system that works across multiple internet-connected devices, will be valued at about $10 million when it lists in August.

In the last financial year, the business recorded only about $10,000 in product sales, but its product officially launched in March this year and has already locked in a number of major contracts with device manufacturers and telecommunication firms in the US and Asia.

Managing director Tim Levy, who is also the founder of Mo’s Mobiles, was inspired to start the business after his experiences with his own children.

“I had a couple of incidents at home with young kids that got me thinking about cyber safety technologies, and I found that it was really hard to implement protections that were sensible and workable,” he said.

“I was fighting with the kids about what they were accessing … the kids were getting addicted and staying up at night with the iPad under the doona, and then some of the content they were seeing, even on YouTube, was unacceptable.”

ASX mulls tighter listing rules

The Family Zone listing comes as the ASX is considering tightening the listing rules, effectively stopping very early stage companies from listing.

The consultation period on the changes ended late last month, but the exchange is yet to announce a decision on the proposed changes.

Under the changes companies would need to have either $5 million in net tangible assets, a market capitalisation of $20 million or profits of $500,000 in the past year to qualify for the exchange.

The ASX has previously indicated that if the rules were approved, it would try to implement them by September. Family Zone would not meet the market capitalisation test or the profits test, but would still be able to list if it has more than $5 million in tangible assets.

The Family Zone product works with all devices connected to a home network, including mobile devices via an app.

Mr Levy is also targeting third-party access providers such as telecommunications firms and device manufacturers, which will be able to run the software and offer it as a service to customers.

The company has locked in deals with a device manufacturer in southern California, which sells its products throughout the US and Europe, and a company that provides internet to college buildings in Texas and a telecommunications business in South East Asia.

“A key part of the commercialisation strategy is working with partners such as ISPs [internet service providers] and mobile carriers to allow them to quickly resell the Family Zone,” Mr Levy said.

The company expects to start seeing results from the Asian carrier deal in this half of the new financial year. In the next 12 months it will also be focusing on building its sales in Australia and establishing a physical presence in the US state of Texas.

Family Zone has recently appointed tech veteran John Sims as chairman. Mr Sims was previously Groupon’s software engineering head and has also served as BlackBerry’s global sales president.

By: Yolanda Redrup
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Apple’s Mac no longer bucking PC industry’s sales slide

After defying industry trends in recent years, Apple is feeling the slowdown in global purchases of laptop and desktop computers.

Apple shipped 4 to 8 per cent fewer Mac computers during the second quarter of 2016, compared with a year earlier, according to new estimates from two research firms — even while some of its bigger rivals managed to find growth in the PC business.

Apple enjoyed steady increases in Mac sales for most of 2014 and 2015, while the rest of the PC market was in a slump. Although the leading PC-makers sell more units, Apple’s Macs tend to command both higher prices and consumer loyalty.

But Apple has been reporting a dip in Mac unit sales since the end of last year, and estimates released on Tuesday suggest that trend is continuing.

Analysts estimate Apple shipped 4.4 million to 4.6 million Macs in the quarter ending June 30.

PC sales overall have been declining for the last four years, as more consumers and businesses turn to smartphones and other gadgets.

Global PC shipments fell to 62.4 million in the last quarter, down 4.5 per cent from a year earlier, according to researchers at International Data. Analysts at a second firm, Gartner, estimated that drop at 5.2 per cent.

Lenovo, the world’s biggest PC-maker, saw shipments fall more than 2 per cent around the world, to 13.2 million, despite a strong showing in the United States.

But HP, Dell and ASUS all increased their shipments during the last quarter, according to both research firms.

Analysts said those companies benefited from a healthy US market, consumer interest in new laptops running Google’s Chrome software, and seasonal purchases by public agencies.

Microsoft’s new Windows 10 software hasn’t given PC sales much of a boost.

Analysts say that could change in coming months, as the end of a promotional offer means consumers will no longer be able to upgrade older Windows machines for free.

Some Apple fans say an update for the popular MacBook Pro laptop is overdue, while the company has been promoting its iPad Pro tablet, which works with a detachable keyboard.

Apple enjoyed eight consecutive quarters of year-on-year Mac sales increases before posting a 4 per cent drop in units sold during the last three months of 2015. That was followed by a 12 per cent drop in the first quarter of this year.

Macs are a small part of Apple’s overall business, however, since the company makes most of its money from iPhones. Apple will report second-quarter sales on July 26.

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BlackBerry hangs up on the Classic

BlackBerry will no longer manufacture the BlackBerry Classic, a beloved, updated model of the original that made the company a smartphone leader before Apple and Samsung Electronics dethroned it.

Chief executive officer John Chen introduced the Classic after joining the company in 2013, bringing back the raised-button keyboard that BlackBerry enthusiasts loved, and which his predecessor, Thorsten Heins, let fall by the wayside with his push to full touch-screen devices.

The decision to end production of the Classic is one step further toward eliminating the BB10 operating system, which will now only be running on the Passport model, in a pivot to newer phones running on the Android platform. Chen is also increasingly focused on software as revenue from handsets has declined over the past two years. In the latest fiscal quarter, BlackBerry sold 500,000 devices, compared with 600,000 in the previous quarter.

“The Classic has long surpassed the average lifespan for a smartphone in today’s market,” Ralph Pini, general manager for devices and chief operating officer, said in a blog posting. “We are ready for this change so we can give our customers something better.”

The company is working on two more Android phones, in addition to it’s introductory model, the Priv, including a cheaper option. Still, analysts have called on Chen to cut losses in handsets and get out of the hardware business so it will stop being a drag on revenue. Chen has insisted that the hardware unit will reach profitability by September, but also said the “No.-1 goal” at the company is to ramp software and services.

“The company is under a lot of pressure and odds are good BlackBerry will have to sell or shut down the (hardware) segment,” said Desmond Lau, an analyst at Veritas Investment Research.

BlackBerry is still on track to deliver the next version of its BB10 software next month with a second update to follow in 2017, according to the memo.

One of the biggest group of Blackberry fans over the years has been government workers, due to the phone’s reputation for security and its finger-friendly keyboard. Now it seems even US senators will have to give them up.

An email to Senate staffers last week said that once the company depleted its current stock of about 600 BlackBerry phones, there would be no more more BlackBerrys issued, except in the case of warranty exchanges, according to the Wall Street Journal.

BlackBerry fell 3.3 percent to $US6.54 in New York, extending its year to date drop to 30 per cent.

By: Nicole Piper
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Twitter appoints Facebook veteran Bret Taylor to its board

Twitter has appointed a former senior Facebook executive and Silicon Valley veteran, to its board, as it continues to makeover of its leadership group as it struggles to rev up growth.

Bret Taylor, who joins Twitter’s board as its 10th member, served as Facebook’s chief technical officer from 2009 to 2012 before leaving the company to help found Quip, a workplace productivity startup. Before Facebook, Taylor was a product manager for Google.

“Twitter is the fastest way to find out what’s happening, and beneath its simplicity lies a very sophisticated set of technology,” Mr Taylor said.

“I hope to bring my knowledge and experiences to bear to help Jack and the board push Twitter and its services forward.”

Twitter’s board has been in flux since last year, when co-founder Jack Dorsey returned to the company to take over again as its chief executive.

Since Mr Dorsey’s reinstatement, Twitter has made a series of changes to its board, including recruiting people like Omid Kordestani, a former high-ranking Google executive, and Debra Lee, chairman and chief executive of BET. Other long-standing directors, like Peter Chernin and Peter Currie, left the board voluntarily this year.

Twitter has long faced criticism for its board’s composition, largely over its lack of female and minority members. That has slowly shifted with the appointments of Lee and Martha Lane Fox, a British digital entrepreneur and Mr Kordestani, Twitter’s chairman, is of Iranian-American heritage.

Taylor’s success at Facebook may give Twitter some cover from critics who have voiced concerns about the company’s strategy. Twitter has been struggling with how to increase its audience growth, which has stalled even as other social media properties like Instagram continue to pull in new members.

In a statement on Tuesday, Kordestani said Twitter had added Taylor because of his experience in consumer products and technologies, which would complement the finance and media skills of other board members.

As a Google product manager, Taylor was a co-creator of Google Maps and the Maps application programming interface, used by many companies. He also served on Facebook’s leadership team through its tumultuous initial public offering in 2012.

By: Mike Isaac
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Can HP’s Elite x3 change the size and shape of computing?

Keith Hartsfield may well have the toughest sales job in the tech industry.

The corporate vice-president in charge of mobility products at HP, he’s the man in charge of HP’s ambitious re-entry into the mobile phone business.

On the face of it, that’s a tough job as it is. When HP’s Elite x3 Windows 10 Mobile device goes on sale some time between now and September, HP will essentially be trying to sell a Microsoft-powered phone at the very time Microsoft itself appears to be backing away from the idea.

In May, Microsoft said it would sell its Nokia phone business to the Chinese phone maker Foxconn, a deal which directly affects only its low-cost “feature phones”, but Microsoft officials have also said they are no longer focusing on high-end Windows 10 Mobile phones, at least not in 2016. With Windows 10 Mobile capturing only a tiny fragment of the market in most countries – Windows accounted for just 2.8 per cent of Australian phone sales in the three months to April this year, according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel, and in the US that figure was just 1.3 per cent – the software giant is believed to have narrowed its focus to Windows 10, which has been far more successful and has now been installed on more than 300 million PCs, laptops and tablets around the world, according to Microsoft.

But selling Microsoft-powered phones when Microsoft seems to have given up trying is not even the toughest part of Keith Hartsfield’s job.

No doubt to distance itself from Microsoft’s mobile phone troubles, but also to capitalise on HP’s position as the world’s number one maker of commercial PCs, HP plans to pitch the Elite x3 not as a mobile phone, but as a “next-generation” computer for businesses, designed to free up workers from having to carry around notebook PCs.

A PC replacement

Hartsfield doesn’t just have to convince people to replace their Android or Apple phone with a Windows 10 Mobile phone. They have to replace their PCs as well.

“If I tell you that we’re releasing a Windows phone, you’re going to be like, ‘Yeah, why would you do that?’,” Hartsfield told The Australian Financial Review.

“But if I tell you that as leaders in the commercial computing space we’re going to redefine computing [with a device] that happens to make voice calls and sit in your pocket, that’s something different,” Hartsfield says.

HP says it won’t be selling the device though mobile phone carriers, but rather through its regular computer resellers and integrators. And nor will it be sold just as a phone, Hartsfield says: customers will only be able to buy it bundled either with a “Lap Dock” – a laptop-type device that has no computer power of its own, but which connects to the Elite x3 and supplies it with a big screen, a keyboard, trackpad and an extra battery – or a “Desk Dock”, which connects to phone to desktop devices including a screen, keyboard, mouse and extra storage.

Pricing for the bundles has yet to be set, but HP was aiming to make the Elite x3 and Lap Dock bundle “significantly” cheaper than it would cost to buy a phone and a regular laptop.

Second display

The strategy is based around a feature in Windows 10 Mobile known as “Continuum”, which allows the operating system to create a second display on an external monitor, a display that looks and acts more like a Windows 10 PC than a Windows phone. Many of Microsoft’s own business applications, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, have already been rewritten to work in Continuum, providing users with a phone-like experience when they view the app on the phone’s own screen, and with a PC-like experience, replete with keyboard and mouse control, when they open the same app on a second, larger screen.

“We’re probably leading Microsoft a little bit on Continuum, because I think we’ve had a lot deeper thoughts about how powerful the features can become for next-gen computing. We’re pushing really hard and I think we have a deeper vision of where Continuum should be in the market,” Hartsfield says.

That thinking has been informed by research HP conducted into how people used mobile phones.

Millennials, Hartsfield says, already use their phones as computers anyway, so coming up with a computer that actually is a phone is not as big a stretch as it might sound to older generations.

Personal device

“I would consume media on a phone, but I would never create a spreadsheet on it,” he says. “But the data says that millennials don’t share that opinion. Independent of computing task, almost two thirds of the time they reach for the one-handed device.”

And even for older generations, the phone has begun to replace the PC for certain tasks. HP’s research found that more than 40 per cent of the population of any age will use their phone to reply to an email, even when they’re sitting right in front of a PC with their email app on the screen.

“That’s amazing to me,” Hartsfield says.

“The phone is a very personal device. It’s the only device that you typically hold against your face. It’s the only device that people will take with them almost everywhere.”

Part of HP’s pitch to business will simply be that it’s easier for organisations to manage one, universal device – a phone that doubles as a PC when you attach a screen – than it is to manage both phones and PCs.

“The beauty of the solution from an [IT manager’s] perspective is, there are fewer endpoints. The phone is the only device that has a brain and gets managed. The Lap Dock and the Desk Dock are just dumb peripherals. They’re accessories. There are no brains in them, so there’s nothing to manage.”

Just how many brains there are in HP’s attempt to reinvent computing seems to be something of an open question, though.

Foad Fadaghi, managing director of the telecommunications consultancy Telsyte, says the strategy does present HP with a way to “outflank” competitors in the mobile phone space by harnessing HP’s strength in the enterprise market. However, it faces two significant challenges.

Own device

One challenge is that it relies on enterprises buying the HP phones for their workers, at a time when it’s more popular for workers to supply their own phones. Forty-six per cent of Australian enterprises support the so-called “bring your own device” method of rolling out technology, but only 29 per cent support the “choose your own device” method that HP would rely on, according to Telsyte figures.

The other challenge is that Windows 10 Mobile in Continuum mode simply isn’t as good as Windows 10 as a computer platform.

If workers don’t want to use Windows phones as phones, and if they’re not as good as PCs at computing, then why bother?

For his part, HP’s Keith Hartsfield admits his next-generation computer revolution is still in its early days, with problems that need to be ironed out.

“It won’t be all things to all people, but it will be meaningful for a significant number of people in the beginning,” he says.

John Davidson was flown to Singapore by HP for this story

By John Davidson
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