Almost every day we hear about out-of-town tech companies opening branch offices in Austin.  

What does that mean? Could the next Facebook, Google, or Apple start and grow in Austin? Will Austin even be the next Silicon Valley? Or are we a "tech colony," a place where global companies can find a ready supply of highly-trained tech workers who will work for less than workers in California or New York?

Salaries are lower here, even for tech specialist in high demand, and although Austin is often billed as a "lower cost of living" area, it may not seem that way to those facing high (and rising) rent, home prices, and property taxes.

In Silicon Valley, researcher and writer Vivek Wadhwa studies competitiveness as an academic discipline.  He says he’s pessimistic about the tech future of many U.S. cities and regions, but not Austin. He says Austin has done everything right and should continue to grow. More than advantages like Texas' favorable tax climate, the stream of patents spinning out of UT, or ample investment capital, he says it’s the human capital that gives Austin an advantage.  

Lithium Technologies

It's no secret that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way companies interact with their consumers.

Corporations and small businesses alike need to have a plan for handling customer interactions via the internet  – at least that's what one Austin startup believes. And a big technology company is buying into the idea.

Lithium Technologies, a California-based company, announced it acquired Austin startup Social Dynamx this week.

Social Dynamx was founded last year by a group of Austin software industry experts as the “industry’s first purpose-built social customer care platform.” That's a fancy way of saying Social Dynamx’s technology assists companies in monitoring conversations via social media sites in order to respond fittingly to customers' comments or complaints.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News.

The social trivia game Qrank (pronounced "crank") is no more.

Co-founders and Austinites Rodney Gibbs and Michael Baird posted a  message titled “Goodbye” on the game’s website on Monday, and announced that that morning’s edition would be the last of the daily quiz.

Qrank had been voraciously consumed by a legion of loyal players since 2010. As explained on the game’s website, the goal was to “choose 15 of the 20 possible questions and answer them quickly and accurately to beat your friends and earn achievements.” The game was available on Facebook and as a mobile app.

But while Qrank maintained close to 25,000 “likes” on Facebook and more than 8,500 Twitter followers, interaction with all of those fans waned over the last several months.

The second-annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco conference comes to an end today.

SXSW Eco is an offshoot of the wildly-popular SXSW festival that takes over Austin for a good chunk of March each year, and has since grown from its roots in music and film to encompass technology and education.

SXSW Eco is still a comparatively smaller affair, viewed against the whopping $190 million in estimated economic impact SXSW brings overall. But this year’s festival expanded its focus onto five themes: Scalable, ecological solutions; collaborations between disparate communities on global issues like climate change; advances in technology and design; green economics; and visions for an environmentally sustainable future.

The team with KUT News’ StateImpact Texas has been filing dispatches from Eco, starting with an interview with Michael E. Mann, a Penn State University professor whose work includes the iconic “hockey stick” graph showing a rise in global temperatures since the dawn of the industrial age – work that his made him a target of climate change deniers.

The national unemployment rate decreased to 7.8 percent in September. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. added 114,00 jobs last month. This means the number of unemployed in the U.S. is now 12.1 million. It's the first time this year that unemployment has fallen below 8 percent.

So what does this mean for Austin? As KUT News reported last month, Austin added 5,900 jobs in August, and local unemployment dropped to 5.9 percent, well below the national average.

But what about the already employed in Austin? According to staffing agency Robert Half International, technology professionals are expected to salary increases of about 5.3 percent. Administrative staff may see salaries rise by 3.5 percent. And accounting and finance salaries could jump 3.3 percent.

In an widely-circulated blog post titled "Hardware is Dead," investment banker Jay Goldberg shocked the tech world by describing what he discovered in a tiny stall inside a Chinese electronics market. In a room full of vendors hawking computers and parts, Goldberg found an Android tablet computer – essentially a non-Apple iPad – for only $45.

Speaking with KUT News, Goldberg says he was surprised by the device's high quality and low price. "I would consider it a device that anyone in the U.S. would be comfortable using," he says. "It was a seven-inch device. It ran the latest version of Android. It was WiFi only, it had a nice screen, and a very snappy processor, so it responded to your commands, quickly."

That’s what Dell is up against, trying to make money, in a ruthlessly competitive global market, by manufacturing desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and servers. Dell's stock price shows its struggle, dropping from more than $40 per share in 2005 to around $10.

At Dell headquarters, spokesman Jess Blackburn says the nature of Dell’s business has changed, and the company is undergoing a transformation.  "Our strategy, which we have been particularly focused on, is taking Dell from more of a hardware company to a full service, comprehensive solutions provider."

How much of a "public relations disaster" has Apple's new mapping software been?

Big enough that the famously proud company has apologized — and suggested that users can turn to arch rival Google Maps instead.

In a message "to our customers" posted this morning, CEO Tim Cook says:


A small Austin-based technology company, Javelin Semiconductor, has landed its largest contract to date – thanks to a burgeoning relationship between Central Texas and South Korea.

Javelin Semiconductor was picked to produce a power amplifier for Samsung’s new Galaxy S Duos. Robert Wagner, a spokesperson for Javelin, partially credits the company’s continued partnership with Samsung to Austin’s connection to Seoul, South Korea.

“There’s a good relationship in general between Austin companies and Samsung in Korea. So we get some good recognition from the Korean side of Samsung, that we’re this Austin company and they’ve had good success with other local Austin companies like Silicon Labs.”

The Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Susan Davenport agrees. Davenport says that in addition to the success of local companies, the University of Texas has been influential in building Austin’s cluster of technology and talent – which companies like Samsung are now enjoying.  

Moments ago in San Francisco, Apple's Phil Schiller unveiled the latest incarnation of the company's massively popular smartphone.

The iPhone 5, said Schiller, is "the most beautiful product we've ever made."

Of course, you want to know what's different about this model: Essentially it's thinner, lighter, faster and also has a bigger screen than the iPhone 4s.

The device also comes equipped to work with faster wireless networks like LTE, which AT&T, Sprint and Verizon carry.

The AP adds:

The iPhone 5 will give a nice boost to U.S. economic growth in the last three months of this year, according to a new note from JPMorgan.

A lot of thought goes into giving your smartphone a distinctive look and feel, from the shape of the speaker — square, round or oval — to where to put the buttons — side, front or back.

But industrial designers like Robert Brunner say he doesn't have a lot of room to be creative.

"Because you're really being so heavily driven on maintaining a minimal physical size," he says. "So you really get into this very fine envelope of a few millimeters that you have to work with."

KUT News

It has been more than two decades since a Texas university was selected to lead one of the National Science Foundation's prestigious engineering research centers, but the University of Texas at Austin has broken the streak.

UT-Austin has been selected to receive an $18.5 million federal grant over five years to establish and lead a center they are calling the Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies, or NASCENT. It will focus on developing manufacturing processes for microscopic computing technology that the center's leaders, Roger Bonnecaze and S.C. Sreenivasan, said could lead to foldable laptops and wearable devices.

The NSF's engineering research centers are strategically placed partnerships between the government, academia and industry. Led by UT-Austin, the partners that make up NASCENT include the University of New Mexico and the University of California at Berkeley as well as private companies like Texas Instrumnets, Lockeed Martin and others.

The largest corporate employer in Central Texas, Dell, has sent out pink slips to an undisclosed number of workers. 

Despite acquisitions designed to broaden the company’s enterprise services, a slowing global economy, tough competitors, and a shift from desktop to mobile computing have hammered the Round Rock-based company’s sales, says industry analyst Shannon Cross.

“What hurt them most recently is just a dramatic slowdown in PC sales. Right now there’s a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace. China slowed dramatically for both HP and Dell in the most recent quarter. You’ve seen a lot of pricing pressure coming from some of the Asian competitors like Lenovo, Asus, and Acer.”

KUT News

One of the biggest employers in Central Texas is cutting jobs.

Dell let affected employees know about the reductions yesterday. The company says the cuts are in an effort to remain competitive and become more efficient.

“We recognize any reduction is significant for impacted team members and their teammates, and we are working to minimize consequences,” Dell Marketing Director David Frink says.

Dell isn’t revealing how many or which positions are being eliminated. Frink says some employees may be able to work elsewhere in the company.

Apple. Samsung.

Friends? Enemies? Frenemies?

The nature of the relationship is an important question in Austin, where Samsung recently announced it will spend at least $3 billion retooling its Austin Semiconductor Plant to produce advanced processor chips.

Industry rumors say that a primary purpose of the Austin retooling is to make electronic innards for Apple's iPhones and iPads, though Samsung does not not confirm that. Worldwide, Samsung is the biggest supplier of iPhone and iPad processing chips. In fact, many analysts say that Apple could not produce the iPhone without Samsung.

But how does that cozy relationship fit with a bitter court battle that has raged around the globe?

The Federal Trade Commission has finalized a settlement with Facebook in which the social media leader agrees to get users' approval before making any privacy changes and agrees to periodic third-party audits for the next 20 years on how it handles user privacy.

We told you about this settlement back in November, but today, Reuters reports, after a period of public comment, the settlement has become official.

The City of Austin has agreed to participate in the first ever Google Place API Developer Challenge.

If you’re a developer, designer or generally tech-savvy, you’re officially invited to the challenge. But there’s something quite different about this event. It is specifically designed to help communities and governments run more efficiently through the use of technology. The idea is to make public information more accessible and useful, so developers will have access to Google’s database to make it easier to build applications on services like Google Maps.


When Texas A&M left the Big 12, many assumed the rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns left with it.

Now the two Texas colleges are facing off again, but this time there’s a chance both schools – and the public –  could win. Yesterday, UT-Austin and Texas A&M were awarded grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop cheaper natural gas vehicles.

UT’s Center for Electromechanics received more than $4 million to engineer new ways to refuel natural gas cars at home.

Bush Library Wrestles with Presidential Emails

Jul 2, 2012

The Dallas Morning News reports on a challenge facing the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University: How to archive the first Internet-age presidency? The Morning News writes that 200 million emails – 80 terabytes – from the Bush administration are set to be archived, but they must be reviewed and redacted; the center has a goal of processing 600,000 to 900,000 emails annually.

Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

In Texas, nearly one million households still are not using the Internet. More than 38 percent of Texans are still not connected to high-speed Internet at home, even though they could be. And with 11 percent of the Texas population completely unconnected, a lack of digital literacy is a real issue.

The Connected Texas Broadband Summit, being held today in Dallas, is for anyone who wants to address those issues. 

“We want to help plan to create initiatives and momentum behind expanding broadband in areas where it remains gapped, and in areas where digital literacy and broadband adoption lag behind,” explained Jessica Ditto, Director of Communications for Connected Nations.