Week in review: Some surprises amid economic gloom

Consumers' love for their cell phones could save some companies during the recession. Plus: Obama lays first piece in energy policy puzzle.

Amid what seems to be a never ending stream of dire economic news , a few rays of sunshine poked through the gloom this week.

Amazon.com beat Wall Street's fourth-quarter revenue and earnings expectations , posting strong holiday sales amid a weak economy. The company's CEO, Jeff Bezos, expressed particular gratitude that demand is strong for the company's Kindle e-reader (which, we surmised this week, we may see a new version of on February 9).

In another despite-the-troubled-economy moment, AT&T and Verizon Communications both reported strong growth in their cell phone businesses, as it appears people can't do without their phones, even in tough times.

Despite a 26.3 percent drop in profits, which was mostly attributed to increased expenses, AT&T managed to grow revenue across the board with wireless providing the biggest benefit. And Verizon posted a 15 percent increase in profit for the fourth quarter, thanks once again to growth in its wireless business and new fiber to the home services.

Notable was Verizon's announcement that 37 percent of new retail devices sold during the fourth quarter were smartphones. The quarter saw the company's launch of the much-anticipated BlackBerry Storm , which is supposed to be Verizon's answer to the iPhone.

And if Verizon is looking to smartphones as a savior, Dell, it appears, may soon be following suit. While we've been hearing rumors of a Dell smartphone for some time now, this week brought more details . Sources told the Wall Street Journal the PC maker has had a group of engineers working on the phones for more than a year now, and that the team produced prototypes built on Google's Android operating system and Microsoft Windows Mobile.

Speaking of Windows, Microsoft said Saturday that users will have until February 10 to download the Windows 7 beta. Reporter Ina Fried got it to run on a Mac Mini using Boot Camp, then decided to press her luck by trying to load it onto a virtual machine on her iMac-- with mixed results .

iLife '09 comes to life
Also on the Mac front, Apple shipped the latest version of its iLife software, iLife '09. All new Macs will come with the updated software, which included updates to iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand. The package will let users do things like sort photos by the faces of subjects and take inexpensive music lessons from well-known artists. CNET's Jasmine France outlines some of the features in this photo gallery.

Google had an unveiling of its own, announcing the release of its offline e-mail service to Gmail users, and thus beginning a new chapter in its attempt to make its online Google Apps service appeal to business customers. Reporter Stephen Shankland took us on a guided tour of the service.

Obama's green gestures
President Obama made lots of headlines in his second week in office, taking, among other things the first moves in a multi-pronged strategy to reshape energy policy and spur technology innovation. He ordered the Department of Transportation to establish rules by 2011 to raise fuel efficiency to an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. And he ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review the denial of a waiver that would allow California and other states to set limits on tailpipe emissions.

The measures could lead to higher fuel-efficiency standards in vehicles and increase demand for new technologies, like electric cars. The stimulus plan now making its way through Congress also includes a number of tax incentives and direct investments around clean-energy technologies.

And what would Obama's first 100 days in office be without a computer threat emerging in his name? Fortunately, it appears the " Obama worm " shouldn't be much cause for worry.

Also of note
Sources: AT&T, Comcast may help RIAA foil piracy ...Intel files $50 million suit against insurance firm...Microsoft: More Zunes coming in 2009 ...Apple awarded key multitouch patent ...Google fakes out Chrome for Hotmail support...Weathering homes the next big green industry ?...iTunes Plus lets users upgrade individual songs ...BlackBerry Storm customers complain ...Study: Click fraud closed 2008 at all-time high .

About the author

Leslie Katz, senior editor of CNET's Crave, covers gadgets, games, and myriad other digital distractions. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

 

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