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Technology / AI and automation

ROBERTSON STEPHENS CONFERENCE

It’s the turn of Robertson Stephens & Co to host an investment conference focusing on the high-tech sector, and chief executives and chief financial officers have been trotting to the podium in San Francisco and trying out their latest jokes on a fairly receptive audience – and scribes from Reuters and Dow Jones & Co have been on hand to take all the words of wisdom down.

Adobe Systems Inc has dipped a toe or two into the Internet water, but you ain’t seen nothing yet, and the watchword is that April will see a more concerted blitz: chief financial officer Bruce Nakao says the company plans to introduce Internet-specific new products in April to serve both current and new markets for the company; it expects to ship its Acrobat Amber product in the summer, tightly integrated with Netscape Communications Corp’s Navigator; he also said that Adobe’s European business has improved this quarter from the previous quarter, although PageMaker has been experiencing a little slowness in the current quarter, attributed to people believing it is meant for use with the Windows95 operating system only where in fact it can also be used with Windows 3.1, Windows NT and other versions of the Windows system.

Electronics For Imaging Inc plans to broaden its participation in the low-end and high-end of its market, president and chief executive Dan Avida told the conference: the company’s Fiery color server, which connects plain paper color copiers to personal computer networks is now aimed at the mid-range market.

Spyglass Inc believes in the low-cost Internet access device, president and chief executive Douglas Colbeth made clear: Spyglass sees many types of devices besides personal computers accessing the World Wide Web in the coming years, and also expects segmentation on the Web; he said that Sun Microsystems Inc’s Java programming language will play a significant role, but he doesn’t see it fully replacing other programs used for the Web.

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Speech telephony may be AT&T Corp’s bread and butter, but the company sees late this year or early as a period of major adoption of wireless data services, Kendra VanderMeulen, vice- president and general manager of the company’s wireless-data division told the conference, adding that factors driving growth in the market include mobile computing, electronic messaging, the Internet and remote access services: the necessary elements for the increase in adoption of wireless data services include growth in networks, devices, distribution channels and applications, Ms VanderMeulen said; AT&T believes the telecommunications bill will benefit its wireless data services arm.

Seagate Technology Inc sent the legendary chief executive Alan Shugart along, and he said he would not be surprised if the company acquired one or two more software companies this year: he said the software side of Seagate’s business was its fastest- growing segment; it would focus on software that helps store data, manages information networks and provides easy access to data; on the integration of Conner Peripherals Inc, he said the work was proceeding well, with only half as many surprises as the company had expected, but that the process of systems integration such as order processing and inventory management had presented the greatest number of hurdles; realigning the sales force and merging communications systems had been completed, he said, and the companies had reviewed product strategies and put in place a roadmap that I feel pretty good about, he said; By the end of June I want these companies operating in a seamless fashion, Shugart told the assembly.

Spyglass Inc chief executive Douglas Colbeth reckons a cheap computer directly linked to the Internet will soon be a reality – and of course we want Spyglass technology to be inside, Colbeth told the conference: he said Spyglass believed that the Internet would become a major new medium by which consumers access information about a broad range of products, and his company would be making major announcements

in coming weeks outlining agreements to put the Mosaic into consumer devices, including telephones, pagers and kiosks.

America Online Inc senior vice-president, Enterprise Services, Mark Walsh boldly tackled what is seen as the biggest threat currently facing his company: he sought to put to rest market concern that the exploding growth of World Wide Web use on the Internet will force on-line services out of business, saying The Web is really not the competition – it is a pipe, not a place, contrasting it with America Online’s role as a content provider and access provider to the Web – the notion of America Online as a burgeoning entertainment and information provider underpinned the company’s strategy to maintain future growth, Walsh declared; a company goal is to build its brand name recognition, and Walsh often pointed to premium cable television channel Home Box Office as a model – to continue growing, the cable channel had to begin producing original content to make it a must-have service for cable subscribers, and in much the same way, America Online’s new user groups like Motley Fools and Heckler’s Online are winning new subscribers.

Video games software developer Spectrum Holobyte Inc was represented by its new chief executive, Steve Race, who outlined changes in strategy he hopes will lead the company out of what was a dismal financial performance in fiscal 1996 – not least that the only two games players it is now backing are the Sony Corp Playstation, and the personal computer, stand-alone and networked: It’s been a painful year but we’re glad to have it behind us, Race told investors at the conference; to boost prospects for fiscal 1997, Spectrum Holobyte will return to its core simulation, strategy and action adventure games, Race said – We will not be making any more puzzle games; we will not be making any martial arts games; the company has restructured its business operations to focus on geographical markets in North America, Europe and Asia where previously it had based its operations on its game development studios.

Motorola Inc’s message, delivered by Jim Caile, vice-president of marketing for its cellular subscriber group, said the company did not expect its US cellular business to change significantly from last year – in the past two quarters, Motorola has seen its US subscriber growth slow sharply, causing margin pressures in its business: Overall, I still expect to see modest growth in the rest of the world and in our overall business, Caile said, adding that Motorola’s recent announcement of Personal Communications Services equipment will also help increase its customer base.

Sega Enterprises Ltd’s Sega of America Inc, in the person of executive vice-president Michael Ribero, breezed in to say that it expects to sell 1m units of its new Saturn video games player in the US this year – and revealed that the company plans to follow the rapidly-growing trend and come out with a peripheral device for the Saturn that enables it to be used to access and browse the Internet – with modem and browser software, it would be priced in the $150 to $200 range, he said; as for the old 16- bit systems, he reckons they have life left for two, three even four years, adding the transition has been slow due to price – a 32-bit player can range from $200 to $300 more than a 16-bit player and there is a huge installed base of 16-bit players; Sega’s business plan calls for 1.7m Genesis units to be sold in the US in 1996, down from 2m in 1995; the company sold 400,000 32-bit Saturn games players in 1995.

Analogue chipmaker Maxim Integrated Products Inc, Beaverton, Oregon sent chairman and chief executive Jack Gifford along to say that he would continue to grow the company’s earnings at 30% a year based on strong sales of its chips; he does not see any recession looming.
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