Philips

EU fines Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer $130M for online price fixing

Posted by | antitrust, asus, Boston Acoustics, competition, competition law, consumer electronics, Denon & Marantz, eCommerce, Europe, european union, Gadgets, hardware, Marantz, Margrethe Vestager, Philips, price - fixing, Pricing | No Comments

The European Union’s antitrust authorities have issued a series of penalties, fining consumer electronics companies Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer more than €110 million (~$130M) in four separate decisions for imposing fixed or minimum resale prices on their online retailers in breach of EU competition rules.

It says the four companies engaged in so-called “fixed or minimum resale price maintenance (RPM)” by restricting the ability of their online retailers to set their own retail prices for widely used consumer electronics products — such as kitchen appliances, notebooks and hi-fi products.

Asus has been hit with the largest fine (63.5M), followed by Philips (29.8M). The other two fines were 10.1M for Pioneer, and 7.7M for Denon & Marantz.

The Commission found the manufacturers put pressure on ecommerce outlets who offered their products at low prices, writing: “If those retailers did not follow the prices requested by manufacturers, they faced threats or sanctions such as blocking of supplies. Many, including the biggest online retailers, use pricing algorithms which automatically adapt retail prices to those of competitors. In this way, the pricing restrictions imposed on low pricing online retailers typically had a broader impact on overall online prices for the respective consumer electronics products.”

It also notes that use of “sophisticated monitoring tools” by the manufacturers allowed them to “effectively track resale price setting in the distribution network and to intervene swiftly in case of price decreases”.

“The price interventions limited effective price competition between retailers and led to higher prices with an immediate effect on consumers,” it added.

In particular, Asus, was found to have monitored the resale price of retailers for certain computer hardware and electronics products such as notebooks and displays — and to have done so in two EU Member States (Germany and France), between 2011 and 2014.

While Denon & Marantz was found to have engaged in “resale price maintenance” with respect to audio and video consumer products such as headphones and speakers of the brands Denon, Marantz and Boston Acoustics in Germany and the Netherlands between 2011 and 2015.

Philips was found to have done the same in France between the end of 2011 and 2013 — but for a range of consumer electronics products, including kitchen appliances, coffee machines, vacuum cleaners, home cinema and home video systems, electric toothbrushes, hair driers and trimmers.

In Pioneer’s case, the resale price maintenance covered products including home theatre devices, iPod speakers, speaker sets and hi-fi products.

The Commission said the company also limited the ability of its retailers to sell-cross border to EU consumers in other Member States in order to sustain different resale prices in different Member States, for example by blocking orders of retailers who sold cross-border. Its conduct lasted from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2013 and concerned 12 countries (Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway).

In all four cases, the Commission said the level of fines were reduced — 50% in the case of Pioneer; and 40% for each of the others — due to the companies’ co-operation with its investigations, specifying that they had provided evidence with “significant added value” and had “expressly acknowledg[ed] the facts and the infringements of EU antitrust rules”.

Commenting in a statement, commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who heads up the bloc’s competition policy, said: The online commerce market is growing rapidly and is now worth over 500 billion euros in Europe every year. More than half of Europeans now shop online. As a result of the actions taken by these four companies, millions of European consumers faced higher prices for kitchen appliances, hair dryers, notebook computers, headphones and many other products. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. Our decisions today show that EU competition rules serve to protect consumers where companies stand in the way of more price competition and better choice.”

We’ve reached out to all the companies for comment.

The fines follow the Commission’s ecommerce sector inquiry, which reported in May 2017, and showed that resale-price related restrictions are by far the most widespread restrictions of competition in ecommerce markets, making competition enforcement in this area a priority — as part of the EC’s wider Digital Single Market strategy.

The Commission further notes that the sector inquiry shed light on the increased use of automatic software applied by retailers for price monitoring and price setting.

Separate investigations were launched in February 2017 and June 2017 to assess if certain online sales practices are preventing, in breach of EU antitrust rules, consumers from enjoying cross-border choice and from being able to buy products and services online at competitive prices. The Commission adds that those investigations are ongoing.

Commenting on today’s EC decision, a spokesman for Philips told us: “Since the start of the EC investigation in late 2013, which Philips reported in its Annual Reports, the company has fully cooperated with the EC. Philips initiated an internal investigation and addressed the matter in 2014.”

“It is good that we can now leave this case behind us, and focus on the positive impact that our products and solutions can have on people,” he added. “Let me please stress that Philips attaches prime importance to full compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations. Being a responsible company, everyone in Philips is expected to always act with integrity. Philips rigorously enforces compliance of its General Business Principles throughout the company. Philips has a zero tolerance policy towards non-compliance in relation to breaches of its General Business Principles.”

Anticipating the decision of the EC, he said the company had already recognized a 30M provision in its Q2 2018.

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Anker’s Spirit earbuds are wireless and waterproof

Posted by | anker, audio engineering, earbuds, electrical engineering, Gadgets, headphones, Philips, TC, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Anker, a battery maker turned accessory house, recently released the $39 Spirit X earbuds under their Soundcore brand. Aimed at runners and other heavy sweaters, the earbuds are completely waterproof under the IPX7 rating, a classification that means it can stand up to 1 meter of submersion.

What this means is that you get a surprisingly cheap and rugged set of workout earbuds that you’re not afraid to get a little dirty.

I tested a pair and found them quite nice for running. The rubber ear hooks kept them in place and the sound quality was not horrible, especially compared to my previous pair of Philips corded headphones. The sound quality, while a bit muffled, is what you’d expect from a standard pair of sports headphones, and the rubber earbuds stayed in place quite nicely. The company claims the headphones have a 12-hour battery life, which is about right — I used them for a few days and saw little change in the battery level.

A small flap on the bottom of the control bar hides a micro USB port for charging and there are three buttons — volume up, track advance and volume down. There are no voice prompts, but there is a built-in microphone for calls.

These are not swimming headphones. The IPX7 rating means they’ll stand up to sweat and rain but not a few dozen laps in the pool. An aqua-phobic nano-coating keeps the drops out of the inside of the headphones and should let you keep trucking long after other headphones have rusted out.

Long thought of as a bargain Amazon brand, Anker is expanding its reach and understanding of the market. By building inexpensive gear for those who don’t mind a slight trade-off in audio quality, they’ve hit an interesting spot in the headphone market. While this won’t beat your high-end over-ear headphones with all the trimmings, sometimes a $40 pair of daily wear earbuds is all you need.

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The NEEO universal remote is a modern Logitech Harmony alternative

Posted by | Android, Apple, apple remote, Assistant, ethernet, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, hardware, harmony, iPhone, Logitech, logitech harmony, Philips, Remote Control, Reviews, Sonos, TC, technology, Universal Remote | No Comments

The advanced universal remote market is not a very crowded market. In fact, for a while now, Logitech’s Harmony line has been pretty much the only game in town. Newcomer NEEO wants to upset that monopoly with its new NEEO Remote and NEEO Brain combo ($369), which is a system that can connect to just about any AV system, along with a smorgasbord of connected smart devices including Nest, Philips Hue, Sonos and more.

NEEO’s two-part system includes the Brain, which, true to its name, handles all of the heavy lifting. This is a puck-shaped device with 360-degree IR blasters dotting its outside perimeter, and which has one IR extender out (there’s one in the box) for connecting devices held within a closed AV cabinet, for instance. This central hub also connects to your Wi-Fi network, and setup requires plugging it into your router via Ethernet to get everything squared away, similar to how you initially set up Sonos speakers, if you’re familiar with that process.

Most of the setup work you need to do to get NEEO working happens on your phone, and that’s where it becomes apparent that this smart remote was designed for a modern context. Logitech’s Harmony software has come a long way, and now you can do everything you need to do from the iOS and Android app, but it’s still somewhat apparent that its legacy is as something you initially setup using a desktop and somewhat awkward web-based software. The NEEO feels at home on mobile, and it makes the setup and configuration process much better overall.

The other core component of the NEEO system is the NEEO Remote. This is a fantastic piece of industrial design, first of all. It’s a sleek rectangle crafted from aerospace-grade aluminum that oozes charm, in a way that nothing in the current Logitech Harmony lineup can come close to matching. The minimalist design still doesn’t suffer from the ‘which way is up?’ problem that the Apple Remote faces, because of subtle design cues including bottom weighting and the presence of ample physical buttons.

A NEEO Remote isn’t necessary for the system to work – you can just use the Brain along with the companion app for iPhone or Android, but the remote is a joy to hold and use, thanks to its unique design, and it features a super high density display that’s extremely responsive to touch input and pleasingly responsive to touch. NEEO took a lot of time to get this touchscreen experience right, and it pays off, delivering a clear and simple control interface that shifts to suit the needs of whatever activity you’re running at the time.

The NEEO Remote also has an “SOS” feature so that you can locate it if you happen to misplace it, and it can even be configured to recognize different hands if you want to set profiles for distinct members of the household, or set parental control profiles limiting access to certain content or devices. This kind of thing is where NEEO’s feature set exceeds the competition, and shows a particular attention to modern device use cases.

One NEEO Remote can also control multiple NEEO Brains, which is another limitation of the completion. That means you can set up NEEO Brains in each room where you have devices to control, and carry your remote from place to place instead of having to have multiple. The NEEO Brain is still $200 on its own, however, so it’s definitely still a barrier to entry.

NEEO otherwise does pretty much everything you’d expect a smart remote to do in 2018: You can set recipes on the deice itself, including with triggers like time-based alarms or motion detection (without using IFTTT). You can connect it to Alexa, though that functionality is limited at the moment, with more updates promised in future to make this better.

The bottom line is that NEEO offers a competent, intelligent alternative the big dog on the block, Logitech’s Harmony system. Logitech’s offering is still more robust and mature in terms of delivering Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, as well as rock solid performance, but NEEO has some clever ideas and unique takes that will serve more patient and tech-forward users better over time.

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Philips releases outdoor connected Hue lighting

Posted by | economy, Flashlight, Gadgets, Home Automation, hue, Light, light emitting diodes, lighting, Philips, TC, technology | No Comments

 Philips Hue products are going outside. Available for purchase this summer in the U.S., the lighting company has a range of new outdoor lighting products extending the world of Internet of Things to the great outdoors. These products mark an important change for the Internet of Things world. As Wi-Fi range and consumer demand increases, products such as these will become more available.… Read More

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Europe opens antitrust geo-blocking probe into Valve, others

Posted by | antitrust, asus, bandai namco, capcom, competition law, consumer electronics, Denon & Marantz, eu, Europe, european commission, Focus Home, Gadgets, Gaming, Koch Media, Philips, Pioneer, Steam, TC, Valve, ZeniMax | No Comments

European Commission European antitrust regulators have opened an investigation into the Steam games distribution platform operator, Valve, and five PC games publishers to determine whether geo-blocking agreements between them amount to a breach of the region’s competition rules. Read More

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The Sengled Pulse is a clever but problematic take on whole-home audio

Posted by | Bluetooth, bulb, computing, Gadgets, Home Automation, lifx, Philips, sengled, Software, TC, technology, wireless | No Comments

bulb_page_b_sec_1 Sengled is the latest manufacturer to jump into the smart bulb space and their products, while a bit behind the curve, are clever and – most important – cheap. Their smartest smart bulbs are $10 cheaper than the arguably top-of-the-line Philips LIFX bulbs and they also offer the Pulse, a pair of bulbs containing an LED light source and JBL Bluetooth speakers for about $100.… Read More

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Philips intros a smart health product ecosystem

Posted by | Gaming, Health, Philips, Wearables | No Comments

Philips Connected Health Philips is no stranger to health. In fact, Philips Healthcare (nee Philips Medical Systems) comprises a big chunk of the multinational corporation, providing some serious industrial equipment for hospitals, from CT scanners to defibrillators. It’s no surprise, then, that the company’s been angling to make progress in the booming consumer wearable space – or that it’s… Read More

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