Tech round-up: Apple, Sina Weibo, Android and eBay

This was a big week for technology news, which was dominated by one company in particular, Apple Inc.

Apple unveiled a whole host of new products on Monday. Perhaps the most talked about was iCloud, a cloud storage service that allows Apple users to store documents and music online (and stream music), rather than on their own devices. As of this phase, iCloud stores only 5 gigabytes of documents. In order to sync music not purchased through iTunes, users must pay Apple US$25 a year.

Steve Jobs also showed off an operating system update called Lion, which expands how finger-touches can be used to control software. It will be available next month for $30.

In big news specifically for publishers, Apple announced its Newsstand Monday. The Apple Newsstand is a centralised place where all newspaper and magazine subscriptions will be stored. The newsstand is populated as soon as a user purchases news apps.

On Thursday, it was reported that Apple changed its App Store policies that previously said media app developers could only offer content for purchase through iTunes. The iPad maker also deleted language that required media outlets to offer paid content at the same or better rates on iTunes than what they offer elsewhere, which has made it impossible for the companies to offer special deals or even regular prices at rates less than what is offered through Apple apps (Apple takes a 30 percent cut of revenue from all media purchases or subscription transactions that take place through its platform).

It has also removed requirements that subscription-based content must be simultaneously made available as a purchase within the app, when it’s also available in a separate store.

However, Apple will continue to reject any publisher app that contains a “Buy” button that leads a user to a point of purchase outside of Apple.

On Monday, Sina Weibo announced it would launch its service in English later this summer. The so-called Chinese Twitter currently has 140 million users, and will aim to surpass Twitter’s 200 million. Sina Weibo has a 56 percent share of China’s microblogging market, and includes more features than Twitter, such as polling and groups. However, the China-based company may have limited capabilities abroad, it will have to put in place mandatory Chinese censorship regulations to its service in other countries. This may not go over so well, especially in those places that are protected by Internet freedom laws.

In mobile news, Android continues to lead the race of smartphone platforms in the United States, with share increasing by 5.2 percent to 36.4 percent for the three months ending in April, according to the latest comScore data, out Monday. Apple’s iOS came next with its share up 1.3 percent to 26 percent. Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS continued to lose ground, down nearly 5 percent to 25.7 percent.

eBay’s mobile transactions are on track to reach US$4 billion by the end of this year, it was reported Wednesday. Although mobile still accounts for a small part of the company’s revenue, it is growing at a skyrocketing pace. Regarding gross volume sales, the total volume in dollars of transactions across eBay sites reached $610 million in 2009, and under $2 billion in 2010. The figures are expected to boost to $4 billion this year, said Steve Yankovich, the company’s vice president of mobile.

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