December 31st, 2009
03:41 AM GMT
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The irony of Apple’s wildly successful App Store is that the company resisted the idea of them in the first place. At the iPhone’s unveiling, CEO Steve Jobs spoke of the importance of Apple controlling everything on the device. “The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work,” Jobs told the New York Times.

Almost three years later, over two billion apps have been downloaded by iPhone and iPod touch users. Apps are now the focal point of Apple’s advertising for iPhones. And competitors are following suit: Palm, Nokia and Research in Motion all opened their own mobile software stores this year.

But it’s the App Store that dwarfs them all. With over 100,000 different applications available, we had a hard time coming up with a shortlist of good ones for World Report (though harder still was singling out the bad apps; the bad vastly outnumber the good on the App Store). Thanks to input from experts across the web, here’s what Kristie Lu Stout and I came up with:

Those are expert picks — so since everyone’s having their say, here are my favorite apps from 2009.

Tweetie 2 ($2.99): There’s a reason this app is on everyone’s list. The iPhone’s best Twitter app is fast, powerful, and incredibly easy to use. The only downside? It doesn’t support Push notifications.

Instapaper (Free; Pro edition is $4.99): I’m the sort of person who finds more stories I want to read on the Web than I actually have time for. This is where Instapaper helps: Mark links you’d like to read and Instapaper will download and save the webpage for you to read whenever you want wherever you want.

Ping! ($0.99): The App Store does have great fully-featured IM apps that do AIM and MSN (like BeejiveIM). So why do I use an app that’s limited to iPhone-to-iPhone messaging? Because that simplicity is what makes Ping work for everyone from the tech-savvy (me) to the not-so-tech-savvy (my aunt).

Pocket Universe ($2.99): This astronomy app probably has more information than you’d ever want to know about the skies. But it has one killer feature exclusive to iPhone 3GS users: It knows what direction you’re looking in, so it can tell you exactly what stars and constellations you should be seeing in the skies.

Canabalt ($2.99): I’m a sucker for simple games, and you can’t get much simpler than this: Tap the screen to make your running man leap from rooftop to rooftop. It’s a game that proves the value of simplicity: It’s so easy to learn that anyone can pick it up. The hard part? Resisting the urge to try and top your high score just one more time.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition ($3.99): This scene-for-scene remake of a classic is just as clever, inventive and genuinely funny as it was in the 90s. They literally don’t make ‘em like this anymore: LucasArts stopped making new graphic adventures a decade ago.

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Filed under: BusinessTechnology

December 31st, 2009
12:34 AM GMT
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Sam Goodman is a Canadian who went to China in 1995 to study Mandarin. Along the way, a craving for Western sandwiches made him an accidental entrepreneur, as creating food for foreign students turned into the restaurant “Beijing Sammies.” Goodman eventually opened five locations with a 100-person staff and $1 million in revenue. Goodman got out of the sandwich business and is now a management consultant and chief operating officer of Climate Action, an environmental services company. But his experience as an entrepreneur in China – navigating a nuanced landscape of cultural, political and economic hills to climb – led to his book, "Where East Eats West: The Street Smarts Guide to Business in China."

Goodman shares his short list of top biz mistakes Westerners make in China.

1. Any variation of “doing-things-like-you -did-back-home.”

You’re not back home anymore.

2. Overestimating the mystique of Face and Guanxi (network/relationship)

Understanding the concept of face in China is important, but Goodman says don't over-mystify it. To put it simply, face is appearance over substance. Goodman writes, "It's not just what you say, but how you say it.  Did you say the right things? (What you thought doesn't really matter.)"

3. Misunderstanding how (much) Face and Guanxi affects your business.

"In the West, if you make a mistake it's understood that this happens. If you fall off your horse, you get back on. In China if you do something wrong, your family loses face. That's much more important."

4. Seeing China as one market

"Western Companies need to understand that China is really many markets (just like Europe) with different characteristics."

5. Miscommunication

China is a “high context” communication culture, which is to say the words used is the least important tool. The situation – how, when and who is saying what – speaks more than words.

6. Thinking a contract is binding

"In the West, a contract is black and white. In China, it's relationship based. Don't be surprised if after you sign a contract in China, the Chinese come back and want to re-discuss a clause."

7.  Long term goals with no term implementation

"Large corporations come into China with a 'long term strategy", then bleed money month after month, year after year always thinking that things will turn around in a few years and the bleeding period is necessary to 'lay a foundation'."

8. Confusing language skills with management or business skills

A good Mandarin or English speaker doesn’t necessarily mean they have a head for business.

9. Assuming price and quality are connected

"Westerners tend to think: the higher the price, the higher the quality. In China, asking a high price is an issue of Face."

10. Managing by remote control

In his book, Goodman writes, "Folks here like to make deals eyeball to eyeball with people they know who also know other people they know."

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Filed under: BusinessChina

December 28th, 2009
06:51 AM GMT
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The end of a year (or the start of a new one) is a time of reflection, a time to reassess life and your financial portfolio.  Last year was tough for the global economy but a lucrative one for investors in stocks or gold.

So what about 2010?  These are some of the trends to consider when investing.

1) Interest rates are bound to stay low. With governments trying to encourage economic growth, financial experts expect central banks to keep money cheap.  What does that mean?  "People are getting no return on their cash, no return on their bank accounts," Keith Wade, economist at Schroders, told me.  "They will continue to look for yield."

2) Emerging markets will be in focus. With fund managers concerned about sluggish growth in the U.S. and Europe, many say they will hunt for higher returns in places like Asia.  Asia has been recovering faster than the West.  Stocks and property have run up in the past several months and brokerages like UBS believe the trend will only continue all year.  Some governments have taken measures to rein in speculators, but in places like Hong Kong, their hands are tied.  This city's monetary policy tracks the U.S. because its dollar is pegged to the greenback.

3) The U.S. dollar will likely stay weak but be prepared for a few surprises. Richard Duncan, author of "The Dollar Crisis," argues the U.S. economy is structurally flawed and too burdened with debt, which hurts the prospects for the dollar.  He says with the U.S. government borrowing so much to finance its massive spending programs plus two wars, the outlook for the dollar will only worsen.  However, with so many financial experts down on the dollar, some are starting to wonder if the greenback might swing in the other direction at least for a short while in 2010.  One theory is that the dollar makes a comeback as investors flee to dollars to shelter themselves from market volatility.

And given the lingering fears of another Dubai debt crisis or a double dip recession, there will be no shortage of market jitters.

December 28th, 2009
06:42 AM GMT
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With the revision of China’s 2008 GDP to $4.5 trillion, the nation now is poised to overtake Japan as the world’s second largest economy.

With 8 percent growth forecast for 2009 and Japan’s economy, which stood at $4.9 trillion last year, emerging from its worst recession since World War II, economists predict that China soon will stand second only to the United States in total economic output.

“It is only a matter of time before China's total economic volume surpass that of Japan given China's robust growth,” Xu Lianzhong, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission, told state-run media.

If it overtakes Japan, it will complete a dramatic five-year economic rise that saw it leap-frog the economies of the United Kingdom in 2005 and Germany in 2007.

The power of such rankings, however, is more emotional than substantive. China’s explosive growth reflects newly created wealth, not a zero-sum game: The gains of China were not the cause of equivalent economic losses among the world’s top economies. Indeed, the growth of China has been a boon to all developed economies across the world.

Still, the emotional weight of such rankings is strong. Whether China’s economy has already eclipsed Japan may be subject to debate, but the opening of the Wuhan-Guangzhou bullet train line this weekend gives China sole claim to the fastest trains in the world – once a point of pride in post-War Japan.

And on Sunday, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao made his strongest statement yet to state media that China won’t bow to foreign pressure to float the value of its currency – which implicitly suggests China now has the clout to weather criticism from its top trading partners.

So once it overtakes Japan, will it also overtake the U.S.? Most economists say yes – but not anytime soon.

China’s total economy is still one-third the size of the U.S., and conservative estimates don’t see its total output eclipsing the U.S. until around 2025.

Also important to keep in mind what Xu Lianzhong, from the National Development and Reform Commission, told China state media: “What matters more is the per capita figure, and in the case of China, the total figure has to be divided by 1.3 billion.”

Even if China has already eclipsed Japan in total economic output, the average Chinese income in 2008 was $3,200 – compared to $38,000 in Japan.

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Filed under: China

December 24th, 2009
09:26 AM GMT
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December 24th, 2009
09:00 AM GMT
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December 23rd, 2009
08:58 AM GMT
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December 22nd, 2009
10:46 PM GMT
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March 9 2009. A date etched on my mind. The day the Dow Jones in New York closed at 6547 – fall of 57 percent since its all time high of more than 14,000. I will always remember the low point of the stock market collapse from the Great Recession of the noughties. In London in the same period the FTSE was down 47 percent, while in Hong Kong the Hang Seng in the same week registered a loss of 63 percent from its all-time high of 21,813.

It is easy to forget that back in spring we feared that worse might be about to befall us. It is only with hindsight, of course, that we can now see that it was the turning point. In the months following, markets rallied strongly. The Dow has gained 57 percent, the FTSE 48 percent and the Hang Seng, which fell the sharpest, has risen the fastest - by 63 percent - from its recession low.

Yet the stock market recovery seems to have been totally divorced from the real economies afflicting Europe and the United States. I recall reading the news in February when there was just a litany of bankruptcies and factory closures. With them came the inevitable job losses.

So, even as I have being reporting stellar gains for equity markets and gold, I have tried to keep at the forefront of my mind the terrible toll this recession is having on jobs, families and homes.  It is too easy to get caught up in the “it’s all over bar the shouting” mentality and forget that there are tens of millions of people who have been reduced to poverty, with homes repossessed, pension valuations destroyed and careers derailed. We forget this at our peril.

But I don’t want to be totally depressing. After all, even in the trenches of the First World War they managed to find some festive spirit. I can do better than just moan. Let us look forward.

The accepted view is that it is going to be a long, hard slog towards recovery. The G20 finance ministers acknowledged this in September, saying “the recovery is uneven and remains dependent on policy support, and high unemployment is a major concern. “ No one really disagrees. But I wonder (well, more like whisper) whether it will be that slow before we start to see real benefits. In this festive period can we not let ourselves believe, for the moment, that 2010 will be better than we fear?

To be sure, in the developed world we will be paying down horrendous deficits for a generation, which will inevitably act as a brake of economic activity. But I think the story of 2010 may well be how feel-good growth returned faster than we had assumed.  If we look at the pace of innovation in technology, for instance the speed with which rival mobile phone makers brought out me-too iPhones, which we snapped up. Or the growth of notebook computers that are rapidly filling our briefcases. The entrenchment of the digital age in our everyday live There is the restoration of bank balance sheets, the return of fledgling M&A activity, and a new role for pacific nations as the engines of growth which is already making a difference.

The response of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, in handling the recession (“I will not let history repeat itself”) showed us that the rules of the game hadn’t changed. But the way we are playing it has changed quite a lot. Individually we are more productive than before. We are more global than our predecessors. We are more prepared. Collectively, policy makers acted like never before. This is not hubris. It is the realisation that the first decade of the 21st century has come and gone, and we are economically bloodied but still standing.

Back to March 9th. A day I will always remember. Forget the stock market fall. I remember March 9th for a much more important reason. It’s my birthday.

Whatever you are up to in the year ahead, be it investing or gardening, in your work and your play… I hope it’s profitable.

Filed under: BusinessQuest Means Business

December 22nd, 2009
01:33 PM GMT
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December 21st, 2009
11:31 AM GMT
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You have to admit gold has kind of stolen the show in the metals sector this year. The traditional safe haven investment raced to settle at a record price of $1,218.30 an ounce in early December. Now prices have fallen off somewhat since then, but the gold bulls and the gold bears are still arguing it out over when we might see $1500.

In all this gold rush though, you may have overlooked the significant gains in other metals. Here are a few to watch in 2010.

Platinum: Platinum prices have made solid gains this year, but some analysts say the precious metal could have more room to grow. Used both for jewelry and industrial purposes, constrained supply is an issue.

Copper: Prices for this industrial metal more than doubled in 2009 after a difficult 2008. Copper watchers expect demand for the metal will continue rising as global economies pick up in 2010. Copper is a key component for building projects, autos and electrical wiring, so it is an essential resource for quickly growing countries like China.

Steel: More, more and more seems to be China's attitude towards steel at the moment. Still the outlook for this essential building material is far from certain. Fitch Ratings predicts in a recent report that demand will recover at a "modest pace" over the 12-18 months, but says high stocks and excess capacity should limit price increases.  Morgan Stanley believes such overproduction should recede though and higher prices are on the horizon, driven by rising raw materials costs and China's booming property sector.

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