Dec 30, 2008

Mktg - Why Ghajini is a lesson in PR

Arcopol Chaudhuri

It began on the night of March 20, 2008.

At the premiere of Race, Aamir Khan made his first public appearance in a haircut that has till now spawned not just hundreds of imitations amongst his fans, but also generated hype of paramount proportions for one of 2008’s biggest releases.

Of course, the film’s distribution strategy proved impeccable. Close to 1,200 prints, the largest number for any Bollywood movie, were distributed in India, giving it a wider reach. But, to be sure, it was hype — and lots of it — driven by a single channel publicity vehicle, Aamir Khan, that led to Ghajini’s blockbuster opening.

In quantifiable terms, the following figures from Esha News Monitoring Services are telling.

From March 20 till the film’s release, Aamir’s haircut for the movie attracted about 18 hours of television coverage. That translates into publicity worth Rs 129.6 lakh (on the basis of media buying rates).

TV news coverage about Ghajini alone totalled about 31 hours, which is about Rs 423 lakh worth of publicity. Out of this, the actor’s 8-pack abs had the lion’s share, totalling 23 hours, translating into publicity worth Rs 417 lakh.

The print media wasn’t far behind. According to Eikona PR Measurement, a division of TAM Media Research, the week prior to the film’s release saw print media devote about 33% of its total Ghajini-related coverage to Aamir’s physique, thus managing to build major hype in every corner of the country.

The above figures give a reasonable estimate of how every time Aamir made a public appearance in the Ghajini look, it translated into publicity and hype for the film.

But not all the hype that led to the film’s bumper opening was due to his haircut, tattooed body or eight packs, since these appearances coupled with the film’s planned marketing activities such as press interviews, were intended promotions.

What was unintended — and this is why Ghajini is a case study — was the advertising
blitzkrieg that Aamir Khan got himself involved in, post his haircut.

The year gone by saw Aamir’s most generous presence in television commercials ever, for the brands he endorses — Tata Sky, Samsung Mobile and Titan watches.

The first two are some of the largest spenders in advertising on television, print and outdoor, and their largesse to spend helped the movie’s cause.

Prathap Suthan, national creative director of Cheil Worldwide, South-West Asia the ad agency for Samsung Mobile, says Aamir’s new look worked both ways and a certain “osmosis” happened.

“When we signed Aamir, Samsung Mobile was going in for a repositioning. Plus his character’s look was central to the film, and we saw it as a big opportunity. So, while it worked both ways, it certainly helped build hype and curiosity around Ghajini.”

Aamir also went out of his way to promote his nephew Imran Khan’s debut Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na by making appearances on TV game shows, promotional events, sporting the Ghajini look.

Sport - Cricket;Proteas make history, beat Australia, seal series

MELBOURNE: Ricky Ponting's Australia are now just one defeat away from losing their world number one crown after South Africa crushed them by nine wickets in the second Test to register their first ever series victory Down Under.

Having taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, South Africa will topple Australia from their top ranking if Graeme Smith's men can win the third and final Test in Sydney.

Resuming on 30 for no loss, South Africa needed 42 overs to score the remaining 153 runs for a memorable win and the moment came soon after lunch when Hashim Amla flicked Michael Clarke behind square leg for two runs.

In a match where Smith struck two fifties, JP Duminy scored his maiden hundred and Ponting scored 101 and 99, Dale Steyn was adjudged Man of the Match for his match haul of 10 for 154 besides the crucial 76 he scored in the first innings.

Graeme Smith was the lone South African wicket to fall in the second innings. The South African captain was trapped leg before by Nathan Hauritz after making a 94-ball 75 with 10 boundaries in it.

Fellow opener Neil McKenzie (59) and Amla (30) remained not out after guiding the team to a historic win.

Ponting, meanwhile, became the first Australian captain in 16 years to suffer a series defeat on home soil. Last time Australia lost a series at home was against the West Indies in 1992-93.

More than their bowling attack, Australia's slim chance of saving the match depended on rain.

Though there was slight drizzle in the morning, play started on schedule and South Africa could not be denied the win they thoroughly deserved.

Ponting once again ignored Mitchell Johnson despite the left-arm seamer being Australia's best bowler of the season so far. Instead, the Australia skipper relied more on Brett Lee and Peter Siddle.

Lee, who is set to undergo a foot surgery, looked in pain and hobbled.

Meanwhile, Matthew Hayden's nightmare continued and the Australian opener today dropped McKenzie in the first slip when the batsman was on 49.

"I have been smiling since the winning runs. It's incredible. It has been a team effort and when it's come to key moment in this Test we've stepped up," a beaming Smith later said.

"JP (Duminy) was incredible and the self belief in the team is flowing. It's an honour to come here and beat a quality unit. We're going to celebrate and enjoy our New Year and not many of us are thinking about Sydney . After all the hard work this year it's incredible to be standing here," Smith said.

His opposite number Ponting was graceful in defeat and he hinted there might be a few changes in the side for the Sydney Test.

"We deserved to be in this position and full marks to South Africa . They won very comfortably, a well deserved series win. Things were looking good for us at one stage, but their tail played exceptionally well and Lee went down through injury.

"We weren't able to convert our opportunities. Let's see what the selectors come up with for next week," Ponting said.

Entertainment - The secret is out on Ash-Rajnikanth starrer

Prithwish Ganguly

The closely guarded secret is out about India’s most expensive film Endhiran, which stars Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The film has the South Indian superstar playing a double role. We also have the storyline of this film.

An informer reveals: “The film has Rajnikanth essaying two roles that of a scientist and the robot Endhiran he creates. The film is essentially about what circumstances propel Rajni to make a robot, his relationship with it and what he wants to achieve through the robot.”

“The film is set in 2200 AD and Rajni is a famous scientist who is madly in love with Aishwarya. Being the best scientist of the country, Rajni is given an important mission of creating robots which will make the living of human races easier. But trouble starts after Rajni makes the robot,” the insider adds. Endhiran has some interesting twists and turns too.

The source adds: “Every film has a twist and the twist in Endhiran comes in with the villain trying to ruin the reputation and fame Rajni garners for creating the robot by abducting it. Rajni tries to bring back his creation but realises that a robot in which he has sowed the seeds of love, has started to fall in love with the girl he loves. The robot creates more confusion in Rajni’s life by chasing Ash all around. Using this to his advantage Rajni finally manages to bring the robot back under his control. He rectifies all the anomalies in the robot’s configuration and regains his reputation in the eyes of his countrymen.”

Entertainment - Rahman revamps his website for birthday

Prithwish Ganguly

Ace music composer AR Rahman hasn’t revamped his official website for about two years, but we have news that work is on to make his website more stylish by including additional features in it. The new, improved portal will be launched on January 6, 2009, which marks Rahman’s 43rd birthday.

A close aide of Rahman revealed that the decision to upgrade his website came after Rahman was nominated for the Golden Globe awards for his score in Danny Boyle’s acclaimed film, Slumdog Millionaire.

And also through his interactions abroad he realised that his website did not have enough juice for his global audiences like his music videos, footage of live concerts, behind-the-scenes stills and videos and also Rahman’s photographs from his concerts and travels. It will also have a link called ‘Rahman’s Recommendation’ in which he will select his top 10 songs from a particular genre.

“Rahman’s official website was very basic and not a lot of work has been done on it for almost two years now. His website did not have many features like live show grabs, his chartbuster videos and even his songs that a composer of his repute should have. People in India and abroad get so much news about him and so we did not want to do anything on the news front in his new website,” says a Rahman aide.

“We wanted to stylise his website and have concert footage, his photographs etc, loaded for his international fans who are deprived of all this. It will be a very up-to-date site now. Rahman too liked the idea and gave a go ahead to the effort.”

Business - Job hiring declines by nearly 22 pc, says’s JobSpeak report

The slowdown has started impacting the job scenario in the country in a significant way. According to ‘JobSpeak’, a report released by, the Overall Job Index in October 2008 stood at 781 as compared to 1000 in July 2008, indicating a decline of nearly 21.9 per cent. Historically, there is a seasonal decline in October, which is around 10 per cent, as recruitment slows down due to the festive season, this year, the slowdown in hiring has been sharper, affecting new jobs by 21.9 per cent. The Index suggests that companies are scaling back their recruitment plans due to the global financial crisis and the current economic conditions.

Commenting on the report, Hitesh Oberoi, COO and Director, Info Edge (India) Ltd, said, “‘JobSpeak’ is a unique initiative to provide our stakeholders and all interested parties an insight into new job creation across locations and sectors in India. In the current economic situation, the Index will be a useful guide to asses the job market, existing opportunities and the upcoming sectors. We will keep this initiative up by releasing monthly reports on trends.”

JobSpeak indicates the industries that have seen a growth/decline in new jobs. Over the past three months, real estate, banking, finance, IT and retailing have shown a decline, while telecom, pharma and hospitality have emerged as attractive options. Some niche sectors, like Government, Defence and Legal have gained attractiveness in recent months.

The index has been calculated based on new jobs added to the site month on month. July 2008 has been taken on a base of 1000 and August, September and October index is compared with the July data.

City-wise Analysis

Metros saw a dip in the supply of new jobs. Besides the impact of the slowdown, Diwali and Dussehra are popular festivals across India, which impact hiring to a considerable extent.

Metros that are the bulk provider of jobs witnessed a decline in new jobs to the tune of 16 per cent in comparison to the usual 10 per cent in earlier festive seasons. In the Delhi-NCR region, new jobs fell sharply after maintaining stability in August and September. The job index for Delhi fell from 1000 to 786. Mumbai witnessed a higher setback in October as compared to September and August, the job index fell from 1000 to 715 in October 2008 as compared to July 2008. Bangalore, the IT hotspot, has lost new jobs since July, especially in August, which saw a decline of close to 20 per cent as compared to September. Chennai saw a marginal increase in new job creation during September, however, October saw a fall to the tune of 10 per cent. Hyderabad and Pune bore the brunt of the slowdown, especially in the IT sector and witnessed a decline of over 15 per cent in new jobs during October. Jobs in Kolkata were severely affected with October alone witnessing a decline in new jobs by over 32 per cent. Chandigarh, affected to an extent by the IT industry slowdown, saw a slowdown in hiring to the tune of 35 per cent since July.

Industry Analysis

IT – both the software and hardware sectors – saw a dip in new jobs by almost 25 per cent since July this year. Banking and Financial Services have seen a decline of over 32 per cent in October, while Construction and Engineering have seen a decline in new jobs by almost 22 per cent since July 2008. The Telecom industry, which was looking up in August and September, had seen an increase in jobs, while October witnessed a dip of 17 per cent indexed to July. The fluctuation could be owing to the festive season.

Interestingly, the BPO industry has witnessed a slight bounce back by 10 per cent in October after witnessing a decline in new jobs in August and September. The Pharma industry has been comparatively less affected with a fall in the index of less than 15 per cent. Niche sectors like Government and legal have seen an increase in new jobs.

Functional area Analysis

Across most functional areas and departments, the decline in new job creation has been to the tune of 15-20 per cent. The slowdown has trickled down to most functional areas in October with Sales, Business Development executive, Project Managers, Banking – Insurance, Marketing and HR professionals seeing a decline in online availability of new jobs. September had been a more positive month with Sales, HR, Marketing seeing a marginal increase in availability of new jobs. In October, new job creation for Project Managers and Sales and Business Development Executives fell by a huge margin, indicating the low business sentiment in the market. IT- Software and Banking professionals saw a drastic decrease in online availability of new jobs during October.

Business - India;DTH firms losses may cross 2,000 cr in '08-'09

Ashish Sinha

Gloomy outlook is projected for the direct-to-home (DTH) market in India, catering to over 11 million subscribers. The combined operating losses for 2008-09 may cross the Rs 2,000-crore mark, double of what they were in 2007-08 when the market was serviced by only two players — Dish TV and Tata Sky.

Currently, five private DTH players are offering their services — Dish TV, Tata Sky, Sun Direct, Big TV and Digital TV.

According to the latest projections by Hong Kong-based international media research agency Media Partners Asia (MPA), over $450 million in operating losses is projected between the five players this fiscal.

“We estimate that of the $450 million in operating losses, Tata Sky, Dish TV and Sun Direct will losses to the tune of $350 million while the rest will be shared between Reliance’s Big TV and Bharti Airtel’s DTH arm,” Vivek Couto, executive director, MPA, told Business Standard. “The losses of the new entrants are small because they launched their services in the last four months of 2008. Next year, the losses will be even higher,” said Couto.

In the 2007-08 fiscal, between Dish TV and Tata Sky, the combined operating losses stood at about Rs 1,100 crore, with Tata Sky incurring losses of over Rs 830 crore. In the 2006-07 period, the combined operating losses of both Tata Sky and Dish TV stood at around Rs 550 crore-plus.

According to industry experts, the DTH companies have to take losses on every subscriber they acquire, on account of heavy subsidy given on the hardware. While the range of subsidy varies from operator to operator, it is estimated that on every DTH subscriber acquired, the operator incurs a loss in the range of Rs 2,000-Rs 4,500.

Recently, Dish TV and Tata Sky crossed the 4-million and 3-million subscriber marks, respectively, while Sun Direct TV acquired 2 million subscribers.

“Each of these contenders is burning cash in order to grow subscriber base as part of a mass-market proposition and reach break-even within a five-year timeframe. However, each party will need plenty of more funding, which can be problematic in these constrained economic times,” the MPA report said.

Couto said Sun TV’s international partner Astro has invested more than $132 million in Sun Direct but remains concerned about higher costs as Sun rolls out in northern and western India. “The Astro’s portion of Sun losses is likely to reach $18-20 million in FYE January 2009,” he said.

Business - Q&A Prasoon Joshi

Sapna Agarwal

Advertising is like a mirror. It reflects the present. As companies grapple with the current economic situation of slowdown and liquidity crunch, a recent ING Group television commercial by McCann captures the emotions attached with money and its relevance in our lives. With marketers tightening their belts, McCann has changed its positioning from a supplier of creative ideas to a partner that provides business solutions. The agency does not consider itself a fair-weather friend and wants its clients to partner with it through the highs and lows. Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman, McCann Worldgroup India, and regional creative director, McCann Asia Pacific, updates Sapna Agarwal on the metamorphosis from an idea provider to a business solutions provider. Edited excerpts:

It is believed that during a downturn as companies cut costs, one of the first to take a hit is advertising and marketing expenses. What has been your experience so far?
Advertising agencies work on an annualised fees structure where the clients pay for the number of people and the time allocated to the brand. As such, even during a downturn, they need us to think about their brands. They may have reduced their overall advertising and marketing budget but at the agency level this is not being reflected. Hence, while the outlay for campaigns, advertising and marketing is reduced, the number of “minds” working on the solutions at our end remains the same. A few clients who were thinking of reducing the number of resources are realising that they require our involvement more than ever before and would need the same number of minds working on their brands to maximise the returns.

Is there a change in your strategy to deal with companies that are interested in renegotiating the annualised fees?
We are very clear about our positioning with our clients. We are not only their agencies but also their business partner, and would like to be associated with them through their highs and lows. Ours is a business of solutions and not just ideas.

If you can explain your positioning with your clients...
For instance, we recently proposed a new product launch to one of our clients in Delhi which is in line with the current economic scenario. We are very gung-ho about this solution, and if it is accepted, it will open up many new doors. The extent of our involvement with our clients’ business goes beyond providing brand solutions.

Will the nature of creative work in 2009 differ from 2008?
There will be a drop in the number of new creatives that will be made for a brand. Due to which the teams working on a client account will have more time to develop better creatives and do better work, specially more time would be spent on craft issues. Creativity will flourish and there can be better work expected in 2009. Campaigns will be more chiseled as the team working on the account will have more time for developing and referencing the work being put out. We are also conceptualising some extremely radical campaigns and looking at long-term solutions.

How is it possible to get the same kind of reach and effectiveness with decreased spends?
The answer lies in innovative and radical solutions. There will be more focus on emerging mediums such as digital, viral, radio and outdoor hoardings.

Radical solutions?
We would like to create a buzz which is akin to advertising on the moon. That is, the work is visible to everyone who looks up at the moon. Radical solutions could also mean solutions where clients spend their entire 12 or 24 months’ advertising and marketing budget in a much shorter span but create an impact which gives the brand a new high. The irony is that in times like these, client expectations increase, however, their risk-taking appetite decreases. As a result, there could be conflicts in the approach between the agency and the client, but then solutions emerge organically in such situations.

Are there any changes that you plan to introduce internally?
We have strengthened our team with five new creative directors in the last six months across India. We are focusing on our divisions such as MRM, which is about brand engagement with consumers, Momentum, which handles events and promotions, and McCann Healthcare, which looks at marketing of pharmaceuticals services, health care and medical businesses. Currently, they contribute less than 20 per cent of our overall revenues. In the next couple of years, we expect these practices to account for 35-40 per cent of our overall revenues.

Do you plan to revise your growth rates for 2009?
We grew at 27 per cent in 2007-08. The business this year has also been good. We have won 32 new clients, which is the highest number of new wins in one year for us. Having said this, we do expect a short-term dip in 2009. However, we are also exercising caution as our clients show restraint.

Lyricist, screen play writer, poet and adman. Any time management tips that you could share.
I enjoy my work and work all seven days of the week. Those associated with me are clued in to my working style. However, there is a clear demarcation in my work schedule — during the week days, my focus is the agency, and during the weekends, it’s movies. My friends from the industry (Bollywood) are very accomodating and they are willing to discuss their projects on weekends, and give me enough time to work on them.

Business - India;DTH;Going National;Thinking Regional

Byravee Iyer

Earlier this month, at a press conference in Mumbai, Sun Direct announced its entry into the city and the rest of the country. “To begin with, we expect to have 35 to 40 per cent share of the market in Mumbai,” said chief operating officer Tony D’Silva at the launch. It has similar targets for the rest of the country. For instance, in another press conference in Kolkata a few days later, the company said it was looking to corner 40 per cent of the market.

Sun Direct, owned by SunTV Network’s Kalanithi Maran, is the dominant direct-to-home service provider in South India with 65 per cent share of the market. Even so, its market share target in Mumbai did sound a tad ambitious.

Reliance ADAG’s Big TV DTH, which started in August, claims to have a million subscribers and is aiming at a 40 per cent share of the all-India market by next year. Dish TV, the country’s first DTH service from the house of Zee, boasts of a 46 per cent share of the market. Tata Sky is not talking market share, but remains proud of its 3 million subscribers. AirTel, too, has big plans and targets. If everyone were to achieve their targeted market shares, the math will go haywire.

Given the ubiquitous nature of the business, and the fact that the government restricts exclusive content on DTH, these companies are hoping to get their targets right.

“In all the other markets, companies are able to offer something unique. Here, DTH players are competing not just with themselves, but also with the 14,000 cable operators. So from that perspective everyone is doing everything they can to drive subscriptions,” says an analyst.

Keeping that in mind, D’Silva is speaking of a regional language strategy. Overall, 70 per cent of the television-watching universe views 12-15 main channels and then a bevy of regional channels. This is particularly true of states such as Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab, Orissa and the four southern states.

Sun Direct conducted a study on consumer content consumption patterns and preferences across genres and regions. Based on the viewership data, the company is offering 36 add-on packages of the most viewed channels according to region, priced between Rs 6 and Rs 195. “We want subscribers to pay only for what they see,” says D’Silva.

Otherwise, too, Sun Direct’s pricing has a regional skew. Its packs are designed in a way that you can choose all the regional languages you want —an à la carte My Pack — to go with the Jumbo Pack buffet. Set-top boxes are free and there is a 600-strong call centre in all major regional languages.

Different strokes
It is a game in which every player is following its own course while chasing the same goal. Tata Sky, a predominantly Tier-1 player, is betting big on interactive services, including kids’ education, matrimony services, gaming, quiz, astrology and cookery. Dish TV is launching similar interactive services. “Besides, we’re the only DTH player in the country that provides live television in the sky (Kingfisher Airlines), vehicles (cars, buses, yachts, ships) and railways,” says Dish TV’s chief operating officer Salil Kapoor.

Big TV’s trump card is its movie library. “We have 32 channels showcasing 24/7 Hollywood, Bollywood and regional cinema,” says Sanjay Behl, group head, brand and marketing, Reliance Communications. Aiding the venture is the group’s entertainment business and its alliances with production houses Sony Pictures and Walt Disney.

Aware of the challenge, Sun Direct is ramping up its distribution, especially on the back of a less-than-perfect festive season, during which it ran out of stocks owing to snowfall and the Olympics in China (from where it sources set-top boxes).

“We are now available across the retail bandwidth, in telephone booths and even cycle shops. We had no stocks during the festive period so we could not capitalise on it. We’re hoping to make up for that now,” says D’Silva.

The afore-mentioned efforts have not come cheap. The company has so far spent Rs 2,000 crore on manpower, infrastructure and distribution. “At the current ARPU (average revenue per user) of Rs 90 — and if the rupee-dollar rate stabilises — we will break even in five to five-and-a-half years,” says D’Silva.

D’Silva is unperturbed by the massive distribution networks of Big TV and AirTel, which are part of groups that operate nation-wide mobile telephony. “They haven’t utilised their network so far,” he says.

Falling down
All DTH companies are sailing in the same boat — one that is rocking under the burden of Rs 2,500 crore in cumulative losses, thanks mainly to subsidised set-top boxes and low ARPUs. “The potential is huge, with 112 million television homes, of which 75 million have cable connections,” says Smita Jha, media consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “This is similar to an infrastructure business, which requires massive investment and long gestation periods. Initially, discounts are essential as the DTH players are competing with 14,000 cable operators.”

The game could be anyone’s. “None of these players offer anything unique. Consumers are only going to pay for niche channels. So a regional approach won’t matter much. What really matters is the price point. And Sun’s price point will appeal to consumers,” says an analyst who didn’t want to be named.

Sun is offering free set-top boxes. Not surprisingly, competitors have made their products more affordable. Tata Sky has slashed the price of its set-top box from Rs 3,000 in February this year to Rs 1,499. “What’s more, now we have a package for as low as Rs 99 with 54 channels and all our prices are inclusive of taxes, unlike that of the other players,” says Vikram Mehra, chief marketing officer, Tata Sky.

Dish TV’s set-top box is priced at Rs 1,490 with packs ranging from Rs 99 to Rs 275 a month.

Some, however, point out that even though these companies subsidise set-top boxes, they are bundling their packages with other charges. Sun Direct is charging an installation fee of Rs 1,000.

D’Silva sees things differently. “As we are charging channels à la carte, we can afford to subsidise the set-top box. One can either subsidise the channels or the set-top box, and we have chosen to do the latter. We believe DTH is not a rich man’s product. It is a product for everyone,” he says.

That perhaps explains why, despite the huge market share in the south, Sun Direct’s ARPU languishes at Rs 90, well short of the market average of Rs 200.

D’Silva’s got a plan to address that. À la carte packages, he hopes, would push the ARPU up to Rs 125-130 in six months. Further, the company hopes to add 10,000 new customers a day and, by 2009, have at least 3 million subscribers.

Mktg - India;Download X’mas, New Year ringtones while you wait for a bus

The next time you are waiting at a bus stop in Mumbai or Delhi, don't be surprised if you get a message asking you whether you would like to download wallpapers and ringtones.

JCDecaux India has done an innovation at bus shelters in Mumbai and Delhi using Bluetooth technology. In Mumbai, the bus shelters carry the message: “MMRDA and JCDecaux wish you Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year”. In Delhi, it is NDMC that joins JCDecaux in wishing you.

A Bluetooth instrument is fitted inside the MUPI (multiphoton ionisation) unit placed close to the shelter and connected to a remote server. As soon as a Bluetooth activated handset is detected (within a range of 10 metres), a message is sent asking whether the user would like to download wallpapers and ringtones. If the user presses ‘yes’, he can proceed to download wallpapers and ringtones on the Christmas theme.

JCDecaux executed its first flagship innovations at the ICICI bus queue shelter and the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai and Kasturba Gandhi Marg and Connaught Place in Delhi, in partnership with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), respectively. JCDecaux owns the media rights to both these shelters and the innovations were carried out after seeking the approval of the two concessionaires.

The approximate cost of installing Bluetooth technology ata bus shelter is Rs 10,000. The innovation was put up on December 24 and will continue till January 2, 2009.

Pramod Kumar Bhandula, managing director, JCDecaux India, says, “2008 has been a significant year for innovations for JCDecaux India. Eye-popping innovations for the Louis Vuitton Trunk and Kingfisher Airlines planned at the Bangalore International Airport surprised the audience.

“Continuing its trend of innovative campaigns on bus shelters in Delhi, JCDecaux has announced its arrival in Mumbai with its first Bluetooth oriented innovation, which has received an overwhelming response. JCDecaux India will continue to create such astounding innovations for our clients and the public.”

JCDecaux regularly carries out innovations during the festive season. During Diwali, the rooftops of two bus shelters in Delhi were decorated with gift boxes and lights.

Mktg - Maruti Suzuki offers lessons to promote safe driving

Suzuki celebrated its 25th birthday this year – the first Maruti 800 rolled out on Indian roads in December 1983. To celebrate the occasion and highlight its concerns about road safety, last week, Maruti launched a corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign, called National Road Safety Mission.

Under the campaign, Maruti will provide driving lessons to five lakh people in the next three years. Of these, around one lakh people will be from the underprivileged sections of society, who are keen to take up driving as a profession, and they will be taught free of cost.

Maruti already runs two Institutes of Driving Training and Research (IDTR) in Delhi and 47 Maruti Driving Schools (MDS) all over the country. While the IDTRs have been set up in collaboration with the Delhi government, the MDSes have been set up with the support of Maruti’s vast dealer network.

Maruti Suzuki has already imparted safe driving skills to 450,000 people through its training institutes. The National Road Safety Mission will utilise the services of these institutes.

“We realise that training 500,000 people is a small contribution when you look at the scale of the problem. We hope to be the catalyst for other organisations to join the road safety effort,” says Shinzo Nakanishi, managing director and chief executive officer, Maruti Suzuki India, in a press statement.

“By involving underprivileged people, we seek to improve their employability in the market and give them skills that will increase their chances of landing a job,” a company spokesperson tells afaqs!

Maruti Suzuki has come out with a new logo created specially for the National Road Safety Mission.

It will promote the initiative through various media and applications will be accepted on a first come first served basis.

Mktg - Diet with sweets this season

Savia Jane Pinto

Health and physical fitness are on everyone's mind and most FMCG brands are helping those on the heavier side to maintain healthy lifestyles.

After its last shapely ad with brand ambassador Bipasha Basu, Sugar Free Natura has introduced a variant, Sugar Free Natura Diet Sugar, which can be used in everyday food.

The TV commercial opens at a dining table, where a man and his son are waiting for breakfast to be served. The father is supposedly on a diet that has been enforced by his wife. At the breakfast table, the son teases his father about the diet that will start today. Dad makes a face and, just then, Mom walks into the room and places a covered bowl on the table. Dad sneaks a peek while she is speaking into the phone and finds a bowlful of cookies. He is really happy and sings to himself, while his son calls out in complaint to his mother.

Next, during lunch in office, Dad sees laddoos in his lunch box and again begins singing to himself because he's glad that his wife has forgotten about the diet she'd planned for him. In another instance, instead of losing her cool over his sweet tooth, his wife ignores him eating brownies.

The shot moves to the kitchen where Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, who is also the brand ambassador, is explaining to the wife that the new Natura Diet Sugar can be used just like ordinary sugar, but without all the unnecessary calories.

The ad has been created by Rediffusion Y&R.

"The idea is to equate Natura Diet Sugar in some ways with ordinary sugar," says Ramanuj Shastry, national creative director, Rediffusion Y&R. Unlike the pills (Sugar Free Natura), Natura Diet Sugar is in crystalline form and can be used in the same quantities as ordinary sugar.

Ganesh Nayak, executive Director, Cadila Healthcare, says, "The idea is to project the product as a ‘choose to use’, rather than a ‘need to use’ product. Hence, instead of showing an overweight husband, we've used a concerned wife with a husband who enjoys the happier side of life with sweets." And this is where brand ambassador Kapoor steps in. As a culinary expert, Kapoor's word will be taken seriously.

Though a wife mulling over her husband's dietary habits is a common premise with other FMCG categories such as cooking oil, Sugar Free generally uses the family route to convey the brand message, and the housewife is considered the main protagonist of its campaigns.

The bright side of Sugar Free has always been that you can give into food cravings without having to worry about gaining calories. "If the husband were left to his own devices, he'd never stick to his diet. But when the wife, who is generally in charge of the kitchen, finds an alternative to the unnecessary calories that her family is taking in, there's nothing like it," says Ambika Nehru, executive creative director, Rediffusion Y&R.

We asked a few other creative people what they thought of the ad.

Manoj Deb, executive creative director, BBDO India, thinks that the idea is good. The fact that the husband thinks that his wife has forgotten about the diet, while she actually hasn't, is a nice way to treat the thought, he says.

Titus Upputuru, senior creative director, O&M, isn't too impressed though. He says, "Even though I'm gobbling down loads of home-made, rich cakes and cookies these days, I wasn't pulled out of my chair to go buy it (Natura Diet Sugar), but have just bought a five-litre pack of oil."

Upputuru goes on to quote Bill Bernbach, "Bernbach once said, ‘If the ad goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.’ I would change that to, 'If the consumer goes unconvinced, everything else is academic.'”

Other media vehicles such as print and radio and below-the-line activities such as sampling will also be utilised.

Lifestyle - Amid Economic Pain, a Drop in Plastic Surgery

Nancy Shute

People are cutting back on cosmetic surgery and other elective surgeries in response to the dismal economy, reversing the booming popularity of tummy tucks, eye lifts, and breast implants, which have soared in popularity in recent years, particularly among younger people and the middle class.

When polled in October, 62 percent of members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons said their business was down 20 percent or more from the year before. "I expect it's more than that in some areas, a 40 or 50 percent decrease," Michael McGuire, president-elect of the ASPS, said last week. That's particularly true in areas like New York, California, and Florida, which led the surge in popularity. A small survey by the society in October found that 60 percent of respondents said the economy had had an impact on their plans for cosmetic surgery. That's not surprising, given that cosmetic procedures aren't covered by insurance.

People may be shunning surgery not only because of the cost but because of the downtime for recovery. "Now, you just even don't want to take the time off [from work]," says Alan Gold, president of the American Society of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons, a group of doctors who specialize in cosmetic surgery. "You don't want them to think they can get along without you for too long." That holds true for noncosmetic elective surgery as well, Gold says, including carpal tunnel surgery, which is usually performed by plastic surgeons, and hernia repair. Although insurance usually covers these operations, deductibles and copays can be enough to make a patient think twice.

John Canady, director of the cleft lip and palate center at the University of Iowa, says one part of his work as a plastic surgeon has stayed stable: repairing birth defects. He adds, "People still get injured, people still get different kinds of malignancies and need reconstruction." Younger doctors and those who went into the field just to do cosmetic procedures are having a harder time, he says.

Alas, the fact that demand is way down doesn't mean that it's easy to find a two-for-one boob job. Surgeons say they are being more flexible with payment plans but that they don't see widespread discounting.

And as with all medical procedures, safety should always trump cost. Someone contemplating a cosmetic procedure should make sure the physician is board certified and has years of experience in the procedure in question. That's particularly true because doctors without experience in cosmetic procedures started offering such operations in recent years in an effort to boost their bottom line. "Consumers should do their homework," Canady says. "Cosmetic surgery can have complications."

The demand may be deferred, not denied. Alan Gold, who says he saw a similar downturn after 9/11, predicts that business will revive with the economy. Those who desire cosmetic procedures "are people who are concerned about their appearance or are concerned about age-related changes," he says. "They may defer that desire, but the desire isn't lost."

World - Why Britain Increasingly Worries About Pakistani Terrorism

Thomas K Grose

LONDON--That Britain faces a very real risk of home-grown Islamic terrorism has long been known. But now, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not only publicly hinted at the extent of the problem but bluntly charged that most U.K.-based extremists are linked to Pakistan, some 3,700 miles away.

According to Brown, fully three quarters of the serious radical Islamist plots under investigation in the United Kingdom have connections to the South Asian Muslim country. Published reports say they total more than 20, and the government reckons that at least 4,000 British Muslims have received training at terrorist camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan--among them, most infamously, Mohammed Sidique Khan, one of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London.

Islamabad's inability to keep a lid on its extremist elements was highlighted last month when a gang of Pakistani terrorists attacked a number of sites in Mumbai, killing more than 170 people.

Brown described a "chain of terror that links the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan to the streets of Britain and other countries of the world." As if to underscore Brown's point, Rangzieb Ahmed of Manchester was convicted last week of running a three-person, al Qaeda terrorist cell and arranging to send British citizens to training camps in Pakistan. Another man, Habib Ahmed, was convicted of being a member of al Qaeda.

This situation poses a delicate situation here. More than a million people of Pakistani heritage call Britain home--only Saudi Arabia has a larger Pakistani expatriate community--and clearly the vast majority are law-abiding citizens who eschew terrorism.

"However, there is a significant number who are radicalized," says Farzana Shaikh, an expert on Pakistani affairs.

One question is where they are indoctrinated by violent Islamism. Is it here in the United Kingdom or on trips to Pakistan?

"There's a lot of evidence that a lot of it takes place in the U.K.," says Gareth Price, head of the Asia Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. For instance, Britain's prison system has been called a breeding ground for budding Islamic extremists.

Then again, young British Pakistanis who fall into trouble with alcohol or drugs are sometimes sent by their parents to stay with relatives in Pakistan to straighten them out. "And they are vulnerable to brainwashing there," Price adds.

Shaikh says that "economic deprivation" and "social exclusion" among British Pakistanis may play a role in radicalizing the community's young men. Many of Britain's Pakistanis are not fully integrated into wider society. They live in low-income neighborhoods where joblessness is high and poor education rampant.

But that's also true for some of Britain's other Asian Muslim communities, such as the Bangladeshis. Though they tend to be marginalized, too, their communities are not hotbeds of radicalism. "That says something about Pakistan," Price says. "That it's not a Muslim problem in general."

One factor may be that more than half of Britain's Pakistanis have ancestral ties to Kashmir, the disputed territory that's a source of tension between Pakistan and India. So it's possible that resentment over that festering feud plays a role in turning some young British Pakistanis toward Islamism. The now banned Pakistani extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the Mumbai terrorist attack, has targeted India in the past as part of its campaign to force India to give up its claim to largely Muslim Kashmir.

But Shaikh argues that anger over Britain's role in the Iraq war has been a far more potent marketing tool for Islamic extremists: "There's no question that the war in Iraq has radicalized many [British] Muslims."

On a trip to Pakistan last week, Brown offered President Asif Ali Zardari a "pact against terror." He proposed that Britain would help train Pakistani security forces in bomb-disposal and anti-car-bomb tactics and help them work to improve airport security. The pact would also include $9 million ineducational materials to help counter antiwestern propaganda dispersed by Pakistan's militants.

The "hearts and minds" educational element of the pact is a good idea, Shaikh says, because many Pakistani children are subjected to Islamist "brainwashing" at the more radical mosque schools, or madrasahs. The problem, however, could be getting the materials and teachers to where they're most needed. Many of the worst-offending madrasahs are in the country's vast tribal areas that border Afghanistan, a mountainous, inhospitable nether world where al Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent.

Britain says it wants to help Pakistan root out and quash its terrorist camps; it also wants permission for British police to pursue terrorist suspects in Pakistan. "That's not likely to happen," Price says, because Pakistan's intelligence network probably won't cooperate.

Elements within Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency and its military are suspected of abetting some terrorist factions, particularly Lashkar-e-Taiba, in the past.

Zardari has pledged that he won't allow Pakistan to become a terrorist launching pad. "But so far he's been unwilling or unable to crack down" on the extremists, Shaikh says.

And that's a home-grown problem for both Zardari and Brown.

World - US;Wanted: More science and math teachers

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo

New Bedford, Mass. – Jeremy Kennefick and Geoffrey Gailey are both new science teachers, one a career-changer, the other fresh out of graduate school. Both are teaching in high-poverty districts, where the needs are greatest. And both are surrounded by a rare level of support – financial incentives, mentors, and groups of other new teachers to consult with as they grow in the profession.

It's no easy task to recruit people with proclivities for science into schools – and to keep them long enough to nurture a talent for teaching. But over the next decade, schools will need 200,000 or more new teachers in science and math, according to estimates by such groups as the Business-Higher Education Forum in Washington. Already, many districts face shortages: In at least 10 states, fewer than 6 out of 10 middle-school science teachers were certified when the Council of Chief School Officers compiled a report last year.

"We desperately need more qualified ... science and math teachers, because of retirement,... overcrowded classrooms ... and people teaching out of [their] field," says Angelo Collins, executive director of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) in Moorestown, N.J., which offers fellowships for teachers in these fields.

The United States is not only facing a dearth of future homegrown scientists and engineers, she and others say, but increasingly, everyday citizens need science literacy.

The programs supporting Mr. Gailey and Mr. Kennefick are small, but their approach is likely to reach a much larger scale if President-elect Barack Obama is able to carry out his education proposals. He wants 40,000 scholarships to draw undergraduates and career-changers into high-needs schools. He would put special emphasis on science and math teaching. And he's praised teacher-preparation programs that offer a high degree of mentoring.

A former mortgage loan officer, Kennefick majored in psychology and has coached youth basketball leagues. He saw science teaching as a more fulfilling option, and then happened across Teach! SouthCoast, a partnership between the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth College, and several school districts, including that of New Bedford, where he now teaches eighth-grade science at Normandin Middle School.

He's receiving a $5,000 scholarship – funded by a federal grant – in exchange for teaching in the district for at least three years. Twice a week, he takes classes with a group of 20 who will earn their teaching licenses within a year.

"It's a heavy load," says Karen O'Connor, who oversees several such programs at UMASS's Center for University, School, and Community Partnerships. But the principals needed math and science teachers right away, and the new teachers have told her, "I wouldn't trade it for anything, because I could apply exactly what I was learning the very next day in my classroom." They continue to receive mentoring in their second and third years.

Strolling between desks, Kennefick takes an eighth-grade class through the key differences between plant and animal cells. "Any of you guys use aloe moisturizer? Aloe has a high content of vacuoles," he says, explaining the parts of a plant cell that store water, salts, and proteins. Soon he's got the kids working in groups to fill in a worksheet.

It's "100 percent different" from his first week of teaching, he says. "I came in thinking I would teach the same way I was taught" – by lecturing. Now, he's learning how to reach students who learn visually or through hands-on work.

Kennefick's class includes a boy excited about marine biology and a girl aspiring to be an obstetrician. It's an area where gang recruiters compete for students' attention, he says, and each day is a challenge.

Principal Jeanne Bonneau sees the benefit of Kennefick's "real world" experience. In addition to his love of science and of kids, "he has a great work ethic ... and good organizational skills," she says.

Most teachers who leave the profession do so not because of pay primarily, Ms. Collins says, but because they feel isolated, or the working conditions in their school are poor, or they start to see it as a professional dead end. In addition to tuition assistance and summer stipends, the KSTF fellowship tries to address those issues in its extra professional-development support for new teachers like Geoffrey Gailey.

He arrived at The Engineering School, a high school in Boston, with a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in teaching from Cornell University. But classroom management in his biotechnology classes has been the biggest learning curve, as it usually is at the start.

To illustrate natural selection, he gave students "critters" with forks for mouths, and had them try to pick up uncooked rice. Then he gave some of them spoons, to show that the critters who could get more rice would live and pass that trait on to future generations. "My first-period class got a little out of control and there ended up being rice everywhere," he says.

Now he's reflecting on how to improve the labs to keep students focused. He can tap peers and mentors for ideas.

The KSTF fellowships can be renewed for up to five years and $150,000. Out of 128 awarded since 2002, fewer than 20 individuals have left teaching, Collins says. By comparison, about a third of new science and math teachers typically leave the profession within three years.

World - The Strategic Price of Israel's Gaza Assault

Tony Karon

At hot war in Gaza was not how Israel was supposed to appear on the strategic agenda of Barack Obama when he takes office in January. Its leaders had hoped to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the back burner of the new Administration, which Israel hopes will make Iran's nuclear program its overriding priority in the Middle East. Instead, the weekend bloodbath in Gaza - the deadliest since Israel occupied the territory in 1967 - casts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an urgent crisis demanding a response from Washington. It also highlights the failure of the Bush Administration's and Israel's policies on Hamas in Gaza.

The air strikes that began Saturday, in which Palestinians claim at least 280 people have been killed, marked a dramatic escalation of the high-stakes poker game between Israel and Hamas. Over the past seven weeks, each side has calculated the odds of outbidding the other. Hamas - and the civilian population it represents - paid a heavy price in human casualties over the weekend, but it may nonetheless retain a strategic advantage. The radical Palestinian movement that governs Gaza appears to have underestimated Israel's readiness to launch a military campaign in response to an escalation of Palestinian rocket fire onto Israel's southern towns and cities. This is, however, an Israeli election season in which polls show voters moving so quickly to the right that even the hawkish front runner, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, is losing support to parties more extreme than his own. Still, the factors that restrained Israel from launching an attack on Gaza until now remain in place, and the likelihood of an escalation in the confrontation in the days and weeks ahead - and the negative regional backlash it may promote - will probably mark a diplomatic setback for Israel. (Read TIME's top 10 news stories of the year.)

Israel launched Saturday's strike knowing that Hamas would respond with a fusillade of rockets, possibly using some of the longer-range weapons smuggled into Gaza over the past year to strike Israeli towns such as Ashdod and Ashkelon. Hamas may even activate suicide-bomber cells in East Jerusalem or the West Bank. Israel had prepared for the first possibility by deploying additional air-raid protection in towns as far as 25 miles (40 km) from the Gaza border. And it will probably follow up the air strikes with ground attacks aimed at neutralizing as much as it can of Hamas' military capability. But Hamas has good reason to expect that Israel's military campaign will be limited, and it believes it can come out ahead in the strategic equation despite the heavy cost in blood that will be paid by its own leaders and militants, as well as by Palestinian civilians.

The rocket barrage by Hamas that preceded Israel's air strikes began with the unraveling of a cease-fire, brokered by Egypt, that had been in place since June. Although Hamas said the truce expired on Dec. 19, it began firing rockets earlier, in response to an Israeli raid on Nov. 5 aimed at stopping Palestinians from tunneling under the boundary fence. Hamas needed a truce, but one on more favorable terms than what had applied in the preceding six months. During that time, Israel had largely stopped military attacks in Gaza but kept in place a crippling economic siege as part of a Bush Administration–backed campaign to pressure the Palestinian civilian population to overthrow the Hamas government it had elected in 2006. (See pictures of the Middle East crisis.)

The cease-fire proved to be untenable. "Calm for calm" - as Israelis call the agreement to simply refrain from military strikes and rocket fire - didn't work for Hamas, since it was unable to deliver economic relief to the long-suffering Palestinian civilian population. Indeed, the renewed campaign of rocket fire by Hamas was widely interpreted as a bargaining tactic aimed at securing more favorable truce terms, particularly lifting the economic siege. Israel, in the meantime, suffered from confusion in its goals. On the one hand, it wanted to destroy the Hamas government; on the other hand, it sought to coexist with the movement in order to ensure security along Israel's southern flank - hence the combination of "calm for calm" and the unrelenting economic siege. But even "calm for calm" represented what Israel saw as an unacceptable humiliation, as Hamas continued to hold the kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit as a hostage - for more than two years now - to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Israel's current offensive underscores the strategic quandary it faces in Gaza. By striking Gaza now, Israel has pushed the conflict with the Palestinians back to the top of the priorities facing the Obama Administration. Israel's offensive in Gaza will provoke an upsurge in hostility on the streets toward the U.S. and Israel from Lebanon to Pakistan, making life difficult for those inclined to cooperate with Washington (foremost among them, the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas) while offering an opportunity to U.S. foes to improve their own standing in Arab and Muslim public opinion. President Obama will take office with the Israeli-Palestinian issue once again clearly functioning as a driver of regional instability, demanding action - and, perhaps, new thinking - from the incoming Administration. (See pictures of the world reacting to Obama's win.)

There are other strategic downsides to Israel's launching a military offensive in Gaza at this time. Israel has acted in response to pressures to protect its citizenry from rocket attacks, but it is probable that such attacks will continue and possibly intensify as a result. That will draw Israeli ground troops into Gaza, where they, too, will suffer casualties at the hands of Palestinian gunmen. The Palestinian civilian death toll will be far higher, which will, in turn, isolate Israel on the diplomatic front - even those Arab regimes that would have been discreetly pleased to see Hamas dealt a harsh blow (because they fear the Islamist movement is becoming a model for those challenging their own governments) will be forced to distance themselves.

The air strikes will also give President Abbas no choice but to break off peace talks with Israel, although neither the Israelis nor most Palestinians treated them as any kind of serious peace process. Still, the Israeli offensive is likely to boost Palestinian political support for Hamas and to further weaken Abbas. In the weeks preceding the strikes, Israeli security officials warned that there is no end game, because a limited campaign would be unlikely to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, and a full-blown ground invasion would find Israel forced to reoccupy the territory on a long-term basis.

Hamas knows that Israel's military intervention is unlikely to be a ground war to the finish. It will hope that, like Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006, simply surviving an Israeli onslaught will help it emerge politically victorious. Israel will hope to sufficiently bloody the movement to put it on the defensive and make its leaders prioritize their own physical survival over pressing Israel to ease the siege. And hundreds more people could die in the weeks ahead as the two sides look to win the battle of wills. The renewed confrontation is likely to strengthen the far-right forces in Israeli politics and end the largely symbolic Bush Administration–orchestrated peace talks between Israel and President Abbas. (See pictures of Gaza on the brink.)

So, when he sits down at his desk in the Oval Office in January, President Barack Obama will be confronted with compelling evidence of the failure of the Bush Administration's and Israel's policy on Hamas rule in Gaza - with an urgency to bring fresh ideas to the table.

World - 500,000 New Citizens for Spain?

Lisa Abend

Ludivina GarcÍa's father fought on the side of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, and was imprisoned in one of Franco's concentration camps before he escaped to Mexico. Now, thanks to a change in Spanish law, the Mexican-born GarcÍa, 63, is busy compiling the paperwork to obtain the citizenship she feels she has been unfairly denied all these years. GarcÍa is already recognized as a Spanish citizen through marriage. But having her nationality acknowledged as her birthright is a matter of honor. "It's not redundant," she says. "I've always had an identity conflict, and now I have the chance to resolve it."

The law change, which goes into effect this week, is the latest in Spain's ongoing efforts to atone for the mistakes of its past. As part of the 2007 Law of Historical Memory, the Spanish government will now offer citizenship to anyone who can prove that his or her parents or grandparents went into exile during the war and the first decades of the dictatorship that followed. According to the Spanish government, some 500,000 around the globe are eligible. (

During the civil war, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, and the brutal repression that followed, hundreds of thousands of people left Spain because their political sympathies put them on the wrong side of Franco's authoritarian regime. The majority fled to France or Mexico, though thousands of children were also sent to the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States.

Now, the children and grandchildren of those who fled have the opportunity to reclaim the nationality that, in many cases, their ancestors were forced to renounce. "It's a question of identity," says GarcÍa, president of the Descendents of Exiles Association. "Even though I grew up in Mexico City, my school was founded by exiles, and we were always learning about Spanish culture. I grew up feeling Spanish."

Frank Casanova, a resident of Naples, Florida who's grandfather emigrated from the Canary Islands to Cuba, is applying for Spanish citizenship for the same reason. "I was born in Cuba, but I never felt Cuban; I felt Canarian," he says. "I even preferred Canaries music over salsa. It's something you feel in your blood."

Under the law, the descendants have until December 2010 to present themselves at the Spanish embassy in their home countries, and turn in documentation that proves their parents or grandparents fled Spain between 1936 and 1955. They do not need to relinquish their current citizenship.

"We don't have concrete data yet," said a spokesperson at Spain's Justice ministry. "But we're getting reports from our consulates that a lot of people are signing up already." In Argentina, which is home to an estimated 300,000 emigrÉ descendants, demand has been so strong, that applicants have already snapped up all consular appointments through July 2009.

But the new provisions are perhaps most attractive to Cubans. On Saturday, the Spanish news agency EFE reported that hundreds of Cubans spent Christmas night lined up outside the Spanish consulate in Havana, waiting to pick up the necessary application forms. One of them was William, a 38-year-old resident of Havana, whose reasons for seeking Spanish nationality were not purely cultural. "In Spain, you can work, earn money, live comfortably," he told EFE.

And that's not the only benefit of a Spanish passport. "Once you have it, you can leave Cuba and go to the United States, says Frank Casanova, who has five or six cousins planning to do just that. "It's closer, and you have more family there."

That will come as welcome news to the Spanish government, which is currently attempting to reduce immigration into the country. In response to the global economic crisis, Spain's once-receptive labor ministry recently introduced a plan that essentially pays unemployed migrants to return to their country of origin. On December 20, the administration extended the period during which police can detain undocumented migrants and barred legally registered immigrants from bringing over any family member of working age.

But economic concerns shouldn't apply to exiles' descendents, argues Garcia. "We're not foreigners. We're Spanish."

Still, the organization she heads does hope for one form of special treatment. Spain's civil code requires potential citizens to swear an oath of loyalty to both the constitution and the King. But the Descendants of Exile Association sees the latter requirement as "ideological coercion" that restricts freedom of expression, and is asking that it not apply to the citizenship process. "After all," she says, "our parents and grandparents were Republicans."

Lifestyle - China's Consumers: Not Ready to Save the World

Jessie Jiang

By any local standard in the prosperous northeastern coastal city of Tianjin, Gong Haitao, 31, seems to have it all. A production supervisor at a major glass manufacturer, Gong enjoys a steady income, has a decent apartment, a car, and is happily married. But during a recent drive from downtown Tianjin to his suburban home, Gong couldn't stop complaining about life, albeit in a rustic, good-humored way. "If it wasn't for the bad economy, I would have bought a second car and a nicer apartment by now," he says while driving past a grand mixture of construction sites and farms in southern Tianjin. Along for the ride is his wife, Wang Yanfeng, 28, manager of a high-end local beauty salon.

Young middle-class couples like Gong and Wang are key to China's economic future - just as China's future may determine how long the global recession lasts. They are part of the population cohort the government hopes will boost domestic consumption, which takes up a mere 35% of the country's GDP right now, and thereby wean the country away from export-dependent growth. China has long been concerned about its sluggish domestic consumer demand, and has recently vowed to expand it by injecting $586 billion in nationwide infrastructure. But a dwindling confidence in the economy seem to be getting in the way of the government's agenda. Here in the industrial town of Dagang just south of Tianjin, instead of spending more to spur the country's GDP, the Gongs are actually tightening up their wallets for a rainy day. The Chinese have been hardy savers even in the best of times, scoring the highest saving rate among all major countries. Now, more than ever, their money is sitting in banks, unspent. "Call it old-school if you will, but I think putting cash in a bank really is the safest form to keep money right now," says Gong. "And a lot of my colleagues would agree, too." (See pictures of the global financial crisis.)

Gong's increasing wariness of spending and investing comes with good reasons. Throughout this past year, bad investments in ventures and funds have cost the couple a hefty 50,000 yuan (roughly $7,300) - or about one third of their annual income - something inconceivable in the popular mind when the economic outlook was much rosier.

Nevertheless, the Gongs' living standards don't exactly fit into the Chinese definition of frugality. They live in a cozy two-bedroom apartment in downtown Dagang, drive to work everyday in a Kia Cerato that according to Gong, about 70% of the locals still deem a luxury. But they are not carrying a mortgage, which could have easily added another 2,000 yuan (nearly $300) to their monthly expenditures. Gong's parents chipped with their savings to help the young couple purchase their apartment.

Even so, the couple still largely limit their regular spending to necessities like food, clothing and gas, totaling about 4,000 yuan (about $580) a month. That amount is takes up most of Gong's monthly salary. By keeping luxuries down and giving up vacation travel, the couple has managed to save up all of Wang's salary, which normally amounts to about 10,000 yuan ($1,460) a month. "I just like to stay in and watch movies when I'm off from work," says Gong, who describes himself as an indoor person. The farthest trip he's been on in recent years was a one-hour flight to Dalian, a coastal city right across from Tianjin on the Bohai Bay. "Fortunately, [not traveling] saves money, too."

Married for two years, the Gongs say they want to stay childless for another four years, partly because of their financial situation. Like so many other young Chinese couples, having a baby brings additional financial burdens that they are afraid they can't afford. "It's just a possible item in our next five-year plan," says Gong. The next "five-year plan" includes a car and a better health insurance package for his wife, as well as a new apartment in a nicer neighborhood where they can feel secure to walk their dog. But right now, everything is up in the air, because he fears there is a 10% chance of his losing his job because his company is suffering in the worldwide recession. It supplies windows to the globalized auto industry. "If the economy picks up next year, the first thing I'll do is to buy a new car," says a determined Gong. "It's absolutely necessary, and within our capacity. But now we are just waiting for the right time."

World - US;Obama may set new policy on Cuba's aging revolution

Anthony Boadle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Five decades after Fidel Castro toppled a U.S.-backed dictator to take power in Cuba, the Cold War rivalry with Washington could be thawing as President-elect Barack Obama looks to ease sanctions against the communist-run island.

Obama has made clear he favors relaxing restrictions on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, which this week marks the 50th anniversary of Castro's revolution.

Obama could also reverse other steps taken by outgoing President George W. Bush to tighten sanctions on Cuba, such as the prepayment of food imports from the United States, and he is expected to restore migration talks broken off by Bush.

Experts on Cuba believe modest changes in policy will come quickly, but stop short of lifting the trade embargo first imposed in 1962 or allowing all Americans to travel to the island 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Obama, who takes office on January 20, will be the 11th U.S. president to deal with the Cuban revolution in a dispute that has outlived the Cold War and took the world to the brink of nuclear war during the 1962 Soviet missile crisis.

On the campaign trail, Obama said the embargo should stay in place to press for democratic reforms in Cuba, but he said he was open to dialogue with the Cuban leadership.

Cuba has welcomed Obama's proposals as a good first step and President Raul Castro, who took over from his older brother Fidel Castro early this year, has offered to free political dissidents in exchange for the release of five convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prisons as "gestures" to help set up a meeting with Obama.

While such an exchange is unlikely and Obama will not end the embargo without major concessions from Castro, his arrival is seen by some as opening a window of opportunity for improved relations at a time of political transition in Cuba.

"The potential for change is more real than ever," said Katrin Hansing, associate director at the Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute.

An FIU poll conducted in November showed that 55 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami, an anti-Castro bastion that has long backed a hard-line U.S. stance on Cuba, now favor lifting the 46-year-old trade embargo.

Cuba watchers agree the embargo has failed to bring about political change in Cuba, like earlier CIA efforts to assassinate or overthrow Fidel Castro, who retired in February due to illness but still wields power behind the scenes.

Experts say Obama may want to move quickly on Cuba in order to send a clear signal of change in U.S. policy toward Latin America, where U.S. influence has declined under Bush and where the embargo against Cuba is very unpopular.

Obama will meet Latin American and Caribbean leaders in April at a summit meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.


Some U.S. businesses are banking on a better climate for trading with Cuba, which has bought $2.6 billion in U.S. food since Congress approved an exception to the embargo in 2000.

In a letter to Obama this month, a coalition of business, agriculture and trade groups called USA*Engage said it was time for a new Cuba policy and proposed lifting all sanctions and allowing American tourists to travel to Cuba.

The coalition --which includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Retail Federation -- called for an immediate exemption for the sale of farm machinery and heavy equipment to Cuba.

"We support the complete removal of all trade and travel restrictions on Cuba," it said. "The United States could engage in bilateral discussions with the Cuban government."

It further proposed that Obama license direct banking services with Cuba, a major obstacle of the embargo that pushes up the cost of doing business with Cuba.

The Cuba Study Group, a moderate organization funded by Cuban American businessmen, has also recommended lifting all travel restrictions and allowing remittances by any U.S. citizen as a way to "strengthen the internal pro-democracy movement" in Cuba.

Carlos Saladrigas, a businessman and founder of the group, believes the best way to promote change in Cuba is through U.S. tourism.

"We should allow the forces of American culture creep into Cuba and then let the Cubans be the agents of their own change. That would put the Cuban government on the spot," he said.

Saladrigas said the U.S. president has wide discretionary powers to engage Havana, even to restore the diplomatic ties severed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961, and allow Cuba back into the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

But lifting the travel ban requires Congressional action and that would be difficult to get passed without clear signs from Cuba that political reforms are forthcoming, he said.

"Is the Cuban government really interested in significant change? I really do not see it."

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Kieran Murray)

Business - Walmart Sells iPhone, But AT&T Offers $99 Price

Jennifer LeClaire

Walmart began selling Apple's iPhone 3G at nearly 2,500 of its stores on Sunday. The news came just before AT&T announced Monday that it will sell refurbished iPhone 3Gs for just $99.

Walmart is offering the black 8GB iPhone 3G for $197 and the 16GB black or white model for $297. Those prices are contingent on a new two-year service agreement -- or a qualified upgrade -- from AT&T.

"We are delighted to bring customers this groundbreaking mobile technology," said Gary Severson, senior vice president of entertainment for Walmart stores. "Our electronics associates have been preparing for many weeks for the arrival of iPhone 3G. We are excited to now help new customers learn more about the features and services that make the iPhone unique."

A New Distribution Opportunity

Like the iPhone 3Gs sold through AT&T, Walmart is offering the latest model that combines all the features of the iPhone plus 3G networking, built-in GPS for expanded location-based mobile services, and iPhone 2.2 software with support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync and the ability to run more than 10,000 third-party applications available through the App Store.

"You can't discount the fact that the iPhone is now sold at Walmart," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy for Jupitermedia. "The breadth and distribution reach of Walmart is so incredibly important that this might become one of the more interesting parts of the story in terms of long-term retail distribution for the iPhone. Getting yourself into that Walmart space is very significant, even if you are only talking about essentially a $2 discount."

Walmart is doing more than selling brand-new iPhones for the cheapest price on the market. It also offers a price-match policy that allows stores to match the price of any local competitor's advertised price. It seems Walmart will not be undersold on the iPhone -- except maybe by AT&T with its refurbished $99 8GB model.

Breaking the Price Barrier

With the $99 price, Gartenberg said Apple has crossed a psychological barrier with the iPhone. Even though the $99 iPhone is refurbished, such products are heavily tested.

Gartenberg said there should be very little hesitation on the part of the consumer looking to save $100 by opting for a refurbished iPhone 3G. Still, some may want a sparkling new iPhone right out of the manufacturer's original box and others may not know they have a choice.

"The moniker of being refurbished is going to put some people off," Gartenberg said. "You have to know that these things even exist. This is not something AT&T is going to go out of their way to tell people about, and it's not exactly something most people might come across in the course of making a phone purchase."

World - Scenic Pakistani valley falls to Taliban militants

Nahal Toosi

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region outside the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.

The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies away from the areas where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive.

"You can't imagine how bad it is," said Muzaffar ul-Mulk, a federal lawmaker whose home in Swat was attacked by bomb-toting assailants in mid-December, weeks after he left. "It's worse day by day."

The Taliban activity in northwest Pakistan also comes as the country shifts forces east to the Indian border because of tensions over last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, potentially giving insurgents more space to maneuver along the Afghan frontier.

Militants began preying on Swat's lush mountain ranges about two years ago, and it is now too dangerous for foreign and Pakistani journalists to visit. Interviews with residents, lawmakers and officials who have fled the region paint a dire picture.

A suicide blast killed 40 people Sunday at a polling station in Buner, an area bordering Swat that had been relatively peaceful. The attack underscored fears that even so-called "settled" regions presumptively under government control are increasingly unsafe.

The 3,500-square-mile Swat Valley lies less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

A senior government official said he feared there could be a spillover effect if the government lost control of Swat and allowed the insurgency to infect other areas. Like nearly everyone interviewed, the official requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by militants.

Officials estimate that up to a third of Swat's 1.5 million people have left the area. Salah-ud-Din, who oversees relief efforts in Swat for the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimated that 80 percent of the valley is now under Taliban control.

Swat's militants are led by Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric who rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islamic law. His appeal tapped into widespread frustration with the area's inefficient judicial system.

Most of the insurgents are easy to spot with long hair, beards, rifles, camouflage vests and running shoes. They number at most 2,000, according to people who were interviewed.

In some places, just a handful of insurgents can control a village. They rule by fear: beheading government sympathizers, blowing up bridges and demanding women wear all-encompassing burqas.

They have also set up a parallel administration with courts, taxes, patrols and checkpoints, according to lawmakers and officials. And they are suspected of burning scores of girls' schools.

In mid-December, Taliban fighters killed a young member of a Sufi-influenced Muslim group who had tried to raise a militia against them. The militants later dug up Pir Samiullah's corpse and hung it for two days in a village square — partly to prove to his followers that he was not a superhuman saint, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

A lawmaker and the senior Swat government official said business and landowners had been told to give two-thirds of their income to the militants. Some local media reported last week that the militants have pronounced a ban on female education effective in mid-January.

Several people interviewed said the regional government made a mistake in May when it struck a peace deal with the militants. The agreement fell apart within two months but let the insurgents regroup.

The Swat insurgency also includes Afghan and other fighters from outside the valley, security officials said.

Any movement of Pakistani troops from the Swat Valley and tribal areas to the Indian border will concern the United States and other Western countries, which want Pakistan to focus on the al-Qaida threat near Afghanistan.

On Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said thousands of troops were being shifted toward the border with India, which blames Pakistani militants for terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month that killed 164 people. But there has been no sign yet of a major buildup near India.

"The terrorists' aim in Mumbai was precisely this — to get the Pakistani army to withdraw from the western border and mount operations on the east," said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author who has written extensively about militancy in the region.

"The terrorists are not going to be sitting still. They are not going to be adhering to any sort of cease-fire while the army takes on the Indian threat. They are going to occupy the vacuum the army will create."

Residents and officials from the Swat Valley were critical of the army offensive there, saying troops appeared to be confined to their posts and often killed civilians when firing artillery at suspected militant targets.

The military has deployed some 100,000 troops through the northwest.

A government official familiar with security issues estimated that some 10,000 paramilitary and army troops had killed 300 to 400 militants in Swat since 2007, while about 130 troops were killed. Authorities have not released details of civilian casualties, and it was unclear if they were even being tallied.

The official, who insisted on anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, disputed assertions that militants had overrun the valley, but said a spotty supply line was hampering operations. He said the army had to man some Swat police stations because the police force there had been decimated by desertions and militant killings.

A Swat militant boasted that "we are doing our activities wherever we want, and the army is confined to their living places."

"They cannot move independently like us," said the man, who was reached over the phone and gave his name as Muzaffarul Haq. He claimed the Swat militants had no al-Qaida or foreign connections, but that they supported all groups that shared the goal of imposing Islamic law.

"With the grace of Allah, there is no dearth of funds, weapons or rations," he said. "Our women are providing cooked food for those who are struggling in Allah's path. Our children are getting prepared for jihad."

Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

Tech - Researchers' vision: restoring sight through artificial retinas

Robert S Boyd

WASHINGTON — Scientists are testing artificial retinas that they hope can restore partial sight to people who've lost their vision to the most common causes of blindness.

Retinitis pigmentosa, which ruins peripheral vision, and macular degeneration, which causes a blurred or blind spot in central vision, affect millions of people, especially the elderly.

Both diseases irreparably damage the retina, the light-sensitive patch at the back of the eye that converts images into signals and relays them the brain.

The government-sponsored researchers' goal is to create sensitive devices that can be implanted in the eye and will let previously blind people recognize faces and read large print.

"Retinal prostheses represent the best near-term hope for individuals with incurable, blinding diseases of the outer retina," said Dr. Mark Humayun , a surgeon at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California , Los Angeles , who's implanted artificial retinas in patients.

Tests of a relatively crude artificial retina began on six patients in 2002. With the aid of these devices, people who'd been totally blind were able to read foot-high letters, tell a plate from a cup, find doors and windows, and navigate around large objects, according to Brian Mech , vice president of Second Sight Medical Products.

The Sylmar, Calif. , company produced the devices for the U.S. Energy Department's Artificial Retina Project . The department has been engaged in biological research since the atomic bomb tests of the 1950s raised fears of radiation poisoning.

This first-generation eye implant, named Argus One, consisted of a tiny camera mounted on a pair of dark glasses and a hip-mounted microprocessor. The bionic gadget relayed images to a silicon chip containing an array of 16 electrodes — conductors of electrical signals — that was surgically attached to the front of the retina. The electrodes created a 4 by 4 pattern of light and dark spots in the visual processing center at the back of the brain.

At first, patients saw only scattered bits a light. With this scant information, plus weeks or months of retraining, however, they learned to make out straight lines, distinguish light areas from dark ones and detect motion. The training was necessary because the brain loses its ability to interpret sight after long disuse.

One retinitis pigmentosa patient, identified as Linda, could shoot a basketball through a hoop and tell which way the offense was moving on a TV screen, Mech said.

Another patient, Terry, spotted the shadow of his 18 year-old son as he passed by on a sidewalk. "It was the first time I'd seen anything of him since he was 5 years old," Terry told Artificial Retina News , a publication of the Artificial Retina Project .

Argus One is still in use, but it's being succeeded by Argus Two, a smaller, more sophisticated device with an array of 60 electrodes, providing a much sharper image to its users.

The newer device is being tested on 17 blind people in the U.S. and Europe , and more patients are being enrolled. At a retina conference in October, patients reported improvements in orientation and mobility. They were able to find a door from 20 feet away and to follow a line on the floor for 20 feet, Mech reported.

Meanwhile, researchers in the Energy Department's National Laboratories are creating a third-generation artificial retina. Much smaller than its predecessors, the device will contain 200 or more electrodes on a thin, flexible film that curves to fit the shape of the retina. Human tests are scheduled to begin in 2011.

"We're aiming for a 1,000-electrode array," said Ray Orbach , the department's undersecretary for science. Such a device would "let a blind patient recognize objects and read large-scale newsprint," Orbach told a scientific conference in early December.

Artificial retinas are still experimental and won't be available for commercial use for years. The devices will cost at least $30,000 , Mech said, and many technical problems remain.

Still, scientists are optimistic about the future of artificial retinas.

"It's exciting to know that one day blind people won't be stuck with darkness," said Terry, who's still using his early model Argus One.

Science - Key gene linked to high blood pressure identified

Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A gene that affects how the kidneys process salt may help determine a person's risk of high blood pressure, a discovery that could lead to better ways to treat the condition, researchers said on Monday.

People with a common variant of the gene STK39 tend to have higher blood pressure levels and are more likely to develop full-blown high blood pressure, also called hypertension, University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers found.

They identified the gene's role in high blood pressure susceptibility by analyzing the genes of 542 people in the insular Old Order Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The researchers confirmed the findings by looking at the genes of another group of Amish people as well as four other groups of white people in the United States and Europe.

About 20 percent of the people studied had either one or two copies of this particular variant, the researchers said.

The gene produces a protein involved in regulating the way the kidneys process salt in the body -- a key factor in determining blood pressure, the researchers said.

Yen-Pei Christy Chang, who led the study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the findings could lead to the development of new high blood pressure drugs targeting the activity of STK39.

"What we hope is that by understanding STK39 we can use that information for personalized medicine, so we can actually predict which hypertensive patients should be on what class of medication and know that they will respond well and have minimal risk for side effects," Chang said in a telephone interview.

People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart attacks, heart failure, strokes and kidney disease.

While STK39 may play a pivotal role in some people, Chang said numerous other genes also may be involved. Many factors are involved in high blood pressure such as being overweight, lack of exercise, smoking and too much salt in the diet.

Several different types of medications are used to treat high blood pressure, including diuretics, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and others. Their effectiveness varies depending on the person, and doctors have a hard time knowing which is best for a particular patient.

Chang said the researchers want to determine how people with different versions of this gene respond to the various drugs and to lifestyle interventions such as cutting the amount of salt in the diet.

The Lancaster Amish are seen as ideal for genetic research because they are a genetically homogenous people whose ancestry can be traced to a small group who arrived from Europe in the 1700s. In addition to genetic similarity, they also maintain similar lifestyles in their close-knit rural communities.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Vicki Allen)

Tech - Watch-shaped mobile for video calls released

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's LG Electronics Monday unveiled what it described as the world's first watch-shaped mobile video phone.

The "3G watch phone" model has a touch-screen dialling system with a camera and a speaker built in to enable users to make video calls over a high speed internet connection, LG Electronic said in a statement.

It also recognises voices, transforms text to speech, has a Bluetooth function and plays MP3 music.

The product has a 3.63-centimetre (1.43-inch) screen and is 13.9 millimetres (0.56 inches) thick. It will be on display at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas from January 8 to 11.

LG Electronics said it plans to launch the handset in European markets sometime next year.

Business - The holiday e-retail satisfaction rankings are in

Charles Cooper

With the nation on edge, you might assume that every Internet retailer worth their salt would have extended red carpet treatment to shoppers during the traditional end-of-year shopping rush.

Wrong assumption.

In fact, more than one-third of the 40 online merchants surveyed in a report on retail satisfaction finished with lower scores than they did during the same period a year ago.

Still, the annual report from Foresee Results found that scores for most of the 40 online retailers it tracks remained the same while one-fourth registered improvements from 2007.

"Holding flat was a pleasant surprise," said Larry Freed, the company's president and CEO. "Obviously, the economic pressures and price concerns were on peoples' minds. But this bodes well after we get past this economic bump in the road and the economy improves."

Amazon and Netflix turned out to be favorites with online shoppers during the holidays, finishing first and second, respectively in the rankings.

Freed noted that higher customer satisfaction ratings often translates into loyalty and purchase intent. Of the 40 websites, who were rated on a 100-point scale, only Amazon and Netflix finished with scores above 80. More than a quarter scored 70 or below, and almost 40 percent saw their satisfaction rankings drop year-over-year.

Beyond the raw numbers, however, no single aspect of customer satisfaction applied across the board as a measure of overall satisfaction. In some cases it was price, in other circumstances the range of merchandise or the functionality of the Web site held sway.

One other takeaway from the report is clear: Despite the strong performance turned in by Amazon and Netflix, the previous gap no longer separates so-called brick-and-mortar outfits, which migrated to the Web, from pure-play Internet retailers.

"Up until a couple of years ago, the pure plays led the way and the multichannel players trailed by significant margins," Freed said. "But they've since closed the gap."

(The following is a partial list of the rankings. You can find the full report on the Foresee Results Web site.)

Tech - The smartphone buzz in '09? It's not a product

There's already a lengthy wish list as users ponder the invention of the "ideal" smartphone in 2009. All well and good. But I submit that next year's most important technology development won't have anything to do with a new feature or application.

Instead, it's going to boil down to whether mobile device makers open smartphones as widely as the personal computer. Manufactures and carriers, scared to death about the possible security implications, may decide that it's wiser to instead keep their devices closed. How long they can ignore the pressure is unclear.

That's because it's only a matter of time before smartphones supplant mobile and desktop PCs--maybe not today, but eventually. A recent report on mobile Web usage forecast the number of highly capable Internet browsers on smartphones expanding from some 130 million units this year to around 530 million by 2013.

Even before the market reaches that point, the implications for smartphone security are likely going to be profound. Not the least because smartphones will face the same sorts of security and virus breaches that have become commonplace in the PC scene. Let's face it, people are creatures of habit and if past is prologue, they'll get lazy about virus protection. Odds are they're going to commit the same stupid acts of omission and commission with their smartphones that they do with their computers.

"Smartphone owners have been sending mixed signals about whether they see the need or the responsibility to deal with security, or whether they see it as the responsibility of carriers to put it in right out of the box," said Jan Volzke, a McAfee exec I spoke with recently.

If you think about how people have used their cell phones, it's basically been for sending messages and communication only. Only recently have devices gotten more complex. When it comes to Internet viruses, worms, or phishing, it's all available.

That's where the pushing and pulling between advocates arguing more open is better and those arguing just the opposite becomes especially relevant. For the companies behind Android, the iPhone, the BlackBerry, and Symbian, more openness means more software development and thus, more creative applications in the market. But as Khoi Nguyen, Symantec's group product manager for its mobile security group, told me, the downside is that this invites the attention of malicious virus writers.

"New technologies are being introduced. Lot of these smartphones have Wi-Fi connections and lots of users will go onto Wi-Fi connections or install voice over IP apps on their devices," he said. "It will be interesting to see how that plays out and to see whether hackers try and take advantage. We expect that they will."

So why haven't there been major smartphone attacks yet?

Chalk it up to the absence of anything approaching the Microsoft "monoculture" in PCs. The smartphone market is fragmented among Symbian, Windows Mobile, Apple, Java, etc., thus making it harder for writers of malicious code to come up with their incarnation of (literally) a "killer app." Turns out then, notes Volzke, that the No. 1 protection in mobile boils down to counting noses: "It's still easier for hackers to make money working on the PC side than on the mobile side...Fragmentation protects us and equals out to a very poor return on investment (for attackers). "

Not exactly a consoling thought but it does mean that we've bought some time. How long, of course is anybody's guess.

Business - Sony Cuts PlayStation 3 Component Costs by 35 Percent

Sony Computer Entertainment has cut the cost of materials used to make its PlayStation 3 game console by 35 percent, according to market research firm iSuppli.

The components used to produce the second-generation of the PS3 console cost US$448.73, based on October component prices, iSuppli said, citing a recent teardown of the system it conducted to see what components are used inside. The market research firm then assembled a bill of materials based on that list of components and estimated prices to arrive at a system cost.

By comparison, the components used inside the first generation of the PS3 cost $690.23, based on mid-2007 prices, iSuppli said.

Sony makes a loss on the sale of each PlayStation 3 console, which sells for $400 on But the loss Sony records for each console is narrowing, and the company may soon reach the break-even point, including other costs associated with manufacturing and sales.

"The PS3 may be able to break even in 2009 with further hardware revisions," iSuppli said in a statement.

Sony managed to cut the material cost of the second-generation PlayStation 3 by using more advanced components. In particular, the consoles use a more advanced version of the Cell processor and other chips made using a 65-nanometer manufacturing process, instead of the older 90-nanometer process. This shift reduces unit manufacturing costs for each chip and lowers power consumption, which means Sony can use a less expensive power supply.

The number of components inside the PS3 has also been reduced, as functions previously handled by different chips have been combined in a single part, iSuppli said.