Signs all encouraging for Phelps in comeback

Only time will tell whether Phelps will stick with his comeback and swim at the 2016 Rio Olympics and possibly add to his mind-boggling collection of 18 gold medals.

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But for now, the signs are all good. The 28-year-old deliberately chose a relatively low key meet in suburban Phoenix for his return and competed in just two events but there were enough signs to show he can do it if he wants to.

“On the whole,” he told reporters on Friday. “I think it felt pretty good.

“I was very excited… I felt like a kid again and that was the coolest thing about it.”

Despite his staggering achievements, Phelps and longtime coach Bob Bowman have always been coy about revealing their plans and nothing has changed.

EXCITED

Both insist they have not hatched any long term plans and are sticking to the sportsman’s mantra that they are taking things one day at a time although a clearly relaxed Phelps said he was enjoying himself and his times indicated he was already in good shape.

“I was just kind of literally getting my feet wet again,” he said.

“This is one meet, it’s one race. It’s a long way from whether I decide to continue or not, but this was awesome.

“I’m really excited about how things went and I do know what I need to do if I want to continue and want to swim faster and obviously I like swimming faster and faster every race.”

While Rio may still be more than two years away, Phelps and Bowman did give away some clues about their short-term plans. Phelps will swim again at another USA Grand Prix meet in Charlotte, North Carolina next month before heading to Colorado for intense high-altitude training.

In their previous incarnation, Bowman put Phelps through a torturous training routine to get him into shape to cope with a heavy race schedule but Phelps has dramatically cut back on his workouts this time even though he piled on almost 40 pounds (18 kilograms) in retirement.

And although neither man will talk about which races they may compete in at Rio, Bowman has already indicated that it will be less races and shorter events.

“His training is much different, it’s actually half and in some cases a third of what he used to do,” Bowman said.

“What we’re doing wouldn’t work for 17 swims in eight days but it might work for six or seven swims in shorter races.

“It’s actually fun, I’m sort of experimenting with stuff I didn’t have the guts to do before. Basically, he’s not swimming as far, he’s only been training once a day.”

NO 400 IM

The only thing Phelps would publicly confirm about his future plans was that he was ditching the 400 metres individual medley – the most gruelling, long-bursting event on the Olympic swimming schedule, which he won at Athens and Beijing but lost in London.

“I’m not ever going to swim the 400 IM again. I will guarantee you,” Phelps said. “I’m putting that out there. I’m never swimming the 400 IM again. That will not be a race we will compete in.”

Bowman could not resist poking fun at Phelps, who also vowed that he would never make a comeback after he quit the sport in 2012.

“Is that kind of like I will never ever swim again?” Bowman asked. “I’m just trying to make sure we’re clear on that.”

Gregg Troy, who was the head coach of the men’s team at London, was impressed by what he saw from Phelps.

“He’s the best, it’s simple as that,” Troy told Reuters.

“He’s capable of doing anything he decides he wants to do. He’s actually at the prime age for males, he’s not over the hill by any means. But it’s up to him to decide for himself.”

Bowman was also pleased with Phelps’ return. He comfortably won his 100m butterfly heat on Thursday then finished a close second to old rival Ryan Lochte in the final that same night, showing some unsurprising signs of rustiness.

LOTS OF INTEREST

Phelps was welcomed back to the swimming fold like a long lost brother. Tickets for the event sold out within hours and there were five times more media in attendance than for the corresponding meet last year.

A television station sent a helicopter to hover over the pool just to catch a shot of Phelps in practice while his former team mates and rivals were gushing about his return.

“I’m so glad he’s back.” said Lochte said. “Me and him, we’ve got history.

”When he left swimming, it kind of broke my heart a little because I love getting on the blocks and racing him.

“Racing him against him is so much fun, it’s a challenge and now that he’s back, I’ve got a big old smile.”

On Friday, Phelps went back to work on his technique, opting to swim butterfly in the 50m freestyle heats, which effectively killed any chance he had of making the final against competitors swimming the faster front crawl.

He also qualified for the national championships in California in August, which loom as the first big watershed moment for his long term plans.

The championships double as the U.S. selection trials for next year’s world titles and will be the next big clue to where Phelps’ comeback is heading.

“Let’s just see what’s down the road,” Bowman said. “He has an opportunity if he wants to take advantage of it.”

(This story was refiled to change the word ‘ago’ to ‘away’ in the 11th paragraph.)

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

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Cruise passengers demanding balconies

The Titanic didn’t have them.

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Neither did the snooty Queen Elizabeth 2 or the swinging TV Love Boat Pacific Princess.

But now many travellers refuse to cruise if they don’t have a balcony cabin.

“The first couple times I cruised I had a porthole window, but the third time I went to the balcony room, and I never went back after that,” says Peggy Earo of North Carolina, who on this cruise has a balcony cabin on Deck 2 not far above the ocean swells. “It’s a sense of airiness. It’s very calming and soothing. I like to see the storms and the waves, the sunrise and the sunset.

“I would not come without the balcony. It’s that important to me.”

Earo isn’t alone.

And the cruise industry has taken notice.

Eighty per cent of cabins on the new Regal Princess ship debuting in May will have balconies. Sleek new river-cruise lines are inventing ways to give guests true balconies instead of just a railing. And big cruise lines keep making their balcony (also called veranda) cabins ever more elaborate.

“I would never book an inside stateroom,” says John Safranski of Michigan, who has taken 10 cruises and has an 11th already booked. “It doesn’t get much better than sipping champagne out on the balcony as we cruise into the sunset.”

Balcony cabins cost about 25 per cent more than inside cabins. But that is less of a price difference than a few years ago.

“Back in the day it could have been 75 per cent to 100 per cent more expensive to get a balcony, there were so few of them,” says cruise analyst Stewart Chiron of Miami-based the Cruise Guy.

These days, “it would be crazy to build a ship that doesn’t have them … Without a doubt they are the most popular cabins on a cruise.”

He says what is going away are “ocean-view” cabins – cabins that have window views of the water, but no way to sit outside.

And even inside cabins these days are being tricked out with “virtual balconies”. The new Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas class of ships debuting in November will have soothing video of the ocean broadcast on an interior wall, giving the feel of a balcony cabin if not the bracing reality.

Not that long ago, cruise-ship balcony cabins were for the few and the affluent, if ships offered them at all.

Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas was considered one of the first truly modern cruise ships in 1991. It offered balconies for five per cent of its cabins, and that was a big deal. Ships built in the 2000s offered about 25 per cent to 45 per cent balcony cabins.

Now, all new ships offer balconies on more than 65 per cent of rooms.

And the price differential is shrinking.

The Detroit Free Press looked at prices on seven cruise lines and ships for a typical seven-day Caribbean cruise in November. We found a price premium of 18 per cent-34 per cent over an inside cabin – but deals to be had, such as an $US849 ($A920) balcony cabin price on the new Regal Princess, just $US150 more than an interior cabin.

Frequent cruisers may even be able to get a better deal.

Myron Thompson of Nebraska, for example, is diamond loyalty level on Carnival because he has taken 50 Carnival cruises.

He does not need to book a balcony cabin to get one.

“If you are a past guest and book it early enough, you will get a two-category upgrade,” says Thompson, who once got an aft (back) corner cabin with a wrap-around veranda.

With a balcony like that, a person can see both where they’ve been and where they are going. And it’s a long way from Omaha.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEND THE MONEY TO GET A BALCONY CABIN?

-If the price difference is 25 per cent or less compared to an inside cabin.

-If you are taking an Alaska or Mediterranean cruise with amazing scenery the whole way. Get a cabin on the side that will face land.

-If you want more space. Even a small balcony is like having an extra room; an early riser can sit outside without disturbing a sleeping cabin-mate inside.

-If you get seasick or are claustrophobic. A balcony lets you see the horizon.

-If you smoke. Carnival and Norwegian cruise lines still allow smoking on cabin balconies, although most lines ban it (Cunard’s ban took effect this month).

-If you plan to spend a lot of time in your cabin and prefer privacy instead of crowds.

-If you can afford it. A deluxe balcony may just be gilding the lily. But even a small balcony makes you feel grand.

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Wladimir Klitschko’s Olympic hopes hit

Ukraine’s undisputed world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s hopes of competing in the 2016 Olympics have been dealt a blow after he failed to get permission to take part in his country’s qualifying competition.

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The executive board of the Ukrainian national boxing federation have never given permission to either Klitschko or his older brother Vitali to take part in qualifying for the Games in Rio de Janeiro, meaning he has missed the deadline, according to the R-Sport news agency.

“The possibility of the participation of the Klitschko brothers in Olympic qualifying as professionals is something that has never been examined,” Ukraine’s boxing federation press service stated.

That comes as a blow to the 38-year-old, who had earlier been quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency as saying: “I hope that international amateur boxing’s ruling body will be kind to me, and that I will have enough health and motivation to perform at the Olympics in two years time.”

The 38-year-old, who won gold at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, said he spoke to his former coach, Emanuel Steward, during the 2012 London Olympic Games and that he had encouraged him to box again in Rio.

Steward subsequently died in October 2012.

“It was our joint dream with Emanuel (Steward) and I hope I will be able to fulfil it,” Klitschko said.

“I already have an Olympic title and it would be terrific to repeat this experience 20 years later.”

Klitschko, who has lived in Germany since the 1990s, had the chance to take German citizenship and represent the country at the Olympics but he also failed to inform Germany’s boxing association about his intentions in time.

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Dairy demand widens trade surplus

New Zealand’s trade surplus has widened as Chinese demand for dairy products continues to soar, driving the monthly and annual export receipts to new records.

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The trade surplus was $NZ920 million in March, from a revised $NZ793m in February, and $NZ732m a year earlier, according to Statistics New Zealand.

The annual trade balance was a surplus of $NZ805m, or 1.6 per cent of exports.

Economists polled by Reuters predicted a monthly surplus of $NZ937m and an annual surplus of $NZ920m.

Exports climbed 15 per cent to $NZ5.08b in March, for an annual increase of 8.5 per cent to $NZ50.07b. That was the first time New Zealand’s international sales topped $NZ5b in a month and $NZ50b in a year.

Milk powder, butter and cheese exports advanced 45 per cent to $NZ1.53b in March for an annual increase of 31 per cent to $NZ14.92b, while casein and caseinates gained 17 per cent to $NZ93m for an annual lift of 7.5 per cent to $NZ988m. Dairy products accounted for about 30 per cent of all exports.

“While March tends to be the peak month for exports, this was also a record high in seasonally adjusted terms,” Westpac Banking Corp senior economist Michael Gordon said in a note.

“Dairy products were down nine per cent by volume, but there were increases in exports of meat, oil and machinery.”

Meat and edible offal sales rose 12 per cent to $NZ731m for a 4.1 per cent annual gain to $NZ5.5b, while exports of logs, wood and wood articles gained 14 per cent to $NZ385m for an annual lift of 24 per cent to $NZ4.05b.

Imports rose 13 per cent to $NZ4.16b for an annual lift of 5.5 per cent to $NZ49.26b. The monthly figure included a one-off $NZ216m import of a drilling platform.

Exports to China jumped 31 per cent to $NZ1.13b in March for an annual gain of 51 per cent to $NZ11.19b, or 22 per cent of all exports.

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MKR semi final tops 2 mill viewers

The semi final of Seven’s My Kitchen Rules topped two million viewers on Monday.

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The cut-throat episode, in which Adelaide pair Jessica and Bree beat Melbourne twins Helena and Vikki, attracted 2.005 million viewers.

The SA mums will take on trash-talking travellers Chloe and Kelly in Tuesday’s $250,000 winner-takes-all grand final which is expected to attract about 2.5 million viewers.

The Seven Network series has been a standout in the ratings and the other networks have wisely avoided clashing with MKR this week.

The Nine Network’s The Voice, which has launched on Logies night for the past two years, will start on Sunday. Network Ten’s MasterChef will start next Monday.

My Kitchen Rules was the number one show by a long way on Monday. The next highest placed show program on the OzTAM overnight ratings was Nine News (1.232 million).

Seven News (1.230 million) was third and Seven News/Today Tonight (1.152 million) was fourth.

Even though MKR finishes tonight, Seven has ensured there is no respite for reality show junkies.

The network will launch the second season of the renovation series House Rules on Wednesday.

Most watched shows on Monday

1. My Kitchen Rules (Seven) – 2.005 million

2. Nine News (Nine) – 1.232 million

3. Seven News (Seven) – 1.230 million

4. Seven News / Today Tonight (Seven) -1.152 million

5. A Current Affair (Nine) – 1.151 million

6. Nine News 6:30 (Nine) – 1.145 million

7. The Big Bang Theory (Nine) – 1.117 million

8. The Big Bang Theory rpt (Nine) -1.047 million

9, Home And Away (Seven) -1.036 million

10. ABC News (ABC1) – 905,000

* Source OzTAM

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Billy Connolly tells of cancer diagnosis

Funnyman Billy Connolly has revealed he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease on the same day.

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The 71-year-old comedian looks at customs and beliefs surrounding death in a new ITV documentary, Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off, in which he describes how he received the double diagnoses.

The week began with hearing aids and pills for heartburn.

The Scottish star tells the program: “It was a funny week I had.

“On the Monday I got hearing aids, on the Tuesday I got pills for heartburn which I have to take all the time.

“And on the Wednesday I got news that I had prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

“They told me on the phone, they said, ‘Look we’ve had the result and it’s cancer.’ And I said, ‘Oh nobody’s ever said that to me before’.”

He told Radio Times magazine: “I remember I went through to the bedroom to answer the phone, and (wife) Pamela (Stephenson) was behind me – I thought she was gonna catch me.

“And she sort of held me, and I went, ‘Oh Jesus…’ But when we went into the living room I went, phrrhrht.”

Connolly, who has since been given the all-clear after treatment for prostate cancer, dismissed a claim the drugs he had to take for Parkinson’s caused on-stage memory loss in Belfast last year.

“Oh that was bullshit! It makes me so f****** angry!,” he said.

“I’ve lost my train of thought all (through) my career! It’s what makes me different from everybody else – ‘Where was I, what was I saying?'”

He added: “I just ramble off and come back ages later.”

Connolly said that he uses notebooks to improve his memory.

“I’ve put myself on a strict regime of crossword books.

“They remind me of everything. I have to train my memory,” he said.

“I’ve got a notebook with all the words I tend to forget.

It’s the same ones cropping up again and again.”

In the Radio Times interview, Connolly refused to say whether he would vote for Scottish independence – but said that he is “deeply suspicious of patriotism”.

“I don’t have great belief in the Union of England and Scotland.

“But I have a great belief in the union of the human race,” he said.

“I’m not gonna say. It’s too important for people like me to put in their tuppenceworth,” he said.

“I’m really tired of people saying England won the war and calling Britain England. I think that does more harm…

“But you must remember that the Union saved Scotland.

“Scotland was bankrupt and the English opened us up to their American and Canadian markets, from which we just flowered.

“And I dislike patriots. I’m deeply suspicious of patriotism.

“People following the band, you know? I don’t want to be part of it… It’s paved with fools.”

Connolly also talks about his own death in the ITV documentary.

“I don’t think I want a resting place. I want to be scattered to the wind,” he says.

“Actually, I’d like to think we could have the coffin in a hearse, empty. And the real me being buried somewhere by pals, quietly, with a tree on top of me.”

* The first part of Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off airs in the UK on May 7th at 9pm on ITV.

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Alves backed by FIFA president Blatter on banana drama

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and several top players have come out in support of Barcelona’s Dani Alves, who ate half of a banana that was thrown at him in a racist gesture during his side’s 3-2 weekend win at Villarreal.

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“I take these things with humour and try not to make a big drama out of them. What was the point in complaining?” he said afterward.

Alves is dark-skinned. Some fans have begun to make racist statements at games by throwing bananas at black players, implying that they are monkeys.

Alves then claimed that the energy given him by the banana helped him to contribute to Barca’s late comeback win.

Blatter tweeted on Monday: “What Alves had to tolerate is an outrage. There will be zero tolerance (of racism) at the World Cup.”

What @DaniAlvesD2 tolerated last night is an outrage. We must fight all forms of discrimination united. Will be zero tolerance at #WorldCup.

— Joseph S Blatter (@SeppBlatter) April 28, 2014

The player’s 64-year-old father, Domingos Alves, has shown that clever responses to racism run in the family.

“I plant mangoes, coconuts, melons, watermelons, passion fruit – and now I’m going to plant bananas,” he told media in his native Brazil.

He added he would be telling his son “not to eat any more bananas on the pitch.”

Alves’ mother Lucia Ribeiro added she was proud of her son’s reaction, which she said was “a slap in the face for prejudice.”

Alves himself joked on Twitter that “my father always told me to eat bananas to avoid getting cramp.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, which is the host of the World Cup later this year, has joined the widespread outrage about the incident.

“The player Dani Alves gave a daring and strong response to racism in sports,” she said in a series of Twitter messages, adding that such racism had become “unfortunately common.”

In addition, several players have backed Alves’ reaction. Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero posted a photo of him with Brazilian female player Marta eating bananas in support.

Alves’ Barca and Brazil colleague Neymar – who missed the game through injury – posted a picture of himself holding a banana in a demonstration of solidarity. This gesture was repeated on Instagram by Chelsea’s Brazilian trio of Oscar, David Luiz and Willian.

Meanwhile, fellow Brazilian internationals Hulk, Fred and Lucas Leiva displayed their support through their social media accounts, with Leiva writing on Twitter: “Congratulations on your attitude yesterday. We are together in this fight against racism.”

Villarreal officials have said they have identified the banana thrower and have hit him with a lifetime ban.

Brazilian footballer Neymar Júnior, who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona, posted a photos on Instagram in support of Alves. 

Agüero has joined in on the trend of eating Bananas to support Dani Alves last night. #NoToRacism pic.twitter广西桑拿,/txXIOBlzBS

— ManCityPhotos (@ManCityPhotos) April 28, 2014

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Favreau on working with Downey Jr

On the set of Iron Man 2, Gwyneth Paltrow shouted the crew and director Jon Favreau mouth-watering meals from the famous Kogi BBQ food truck to say thank you.

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As Favreau tucked into their short rib tacos, little did he know that years down the track the owner of Kogi food truck – chef Roy Choi – would play a huge part in one of his films.

After Favreau wrote his latest movie Chef (which he also produces, directs and stars in) the foodies among his staff pointed out the similarities between the main character’s story and what actually happened to Choi in real life.

Favreau says like his character, chef Carl Casper, Choi had traditional training and went to the Culinary Institute of America.

“He had worked in a very big hotel kitchen and he was working his way up the ladder when it all fell apart, and he came back,” he says.

“He was actually a trailblazer in the food truck area.

“He was the first guy to match it up with Twitter and use social networking, so there are tremendous parallels to the story I had written.”

Favreau reached out to Choi for help to learn the tricks of the trade and make sure the film captured the chef culture authentically.

Choi was on set every day – first as a consultant then as co-producer – making sure the filmmakers got everything right, from the knives to the way Carl ties his apron.

“He related very much to the story and he liked my movies,” Favreau says of Choi’s decision to come on board.

“He was my mentor and we’ve been buddies ever since.”

Choi wasn’t Favreau’s only buddy on the Chef set.

The cast also features Scarlett Johansson, who Favreau first worked with on Iron Man 2, as well as Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr.

The two shared the screen frequently in the Iron Man films, with Favreau playing Iron Man (aka Tony Stark)’s onscreen bodyguard, friend and chauffeur, Happy Hogan.

Favreau says it was great to work with Downey Jr again, who plays something of an onscreen rival of his in Chef.

“I knew that it was a role where the character was going to beat up on my character a bit,” he says, adding it might not have been enjoyable for Carl, but it was great fun for him and Downey Jr to film.

“He just got to get under my skin as far as he could, but he’s just such a charming guy that even when he’s playing a bastard, he’s so likeable…

“And of course, you want to give Robert a moment to shine and steal the movie and he certainly did not disappoint.”

* Chef releases in Australian cinemas on May 8

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Whittaker’s wins NZ chocolate war

A chocolate war has had a sweet end for Whittaker’s but left Cadbury with the bitter taste of defeat.

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Cadbury tried to stop Whittaker’s from using a Berry Forest trademark in New Zealand, claiming it was too similar to its popular Black Forest confectionary.

But Whittaker’s will be allowed to trademark their chocolate, after a Wellington High Court judge ruled the names were different enough to avoid confusion for consumers.

Cadbury owns the Black Forest trademark, and has used it to sell chocolate with cherry and biscuit pieces in New Zealand for 20 years.

Last year, the Intellectual Property Office ruled Whittaker’s was free to trademark the Berry Forest name for a chocolate which hasn’t yet been revealed.

Cadbury appealed the IPO’s decision to the High Court, arguing the name was likely to deceive or confuse consumers.

The chocolate company said the only difference between the marks was `black’ and `berry’, and even those words shared the same first letter and number of letters.

The risk of the two products being confused was exacerbated by the fact chocolate was a casual or impulse purchase and the chocolates were often displayed next to each other in shops, Cadbury argued.

But in her decision, Justice Rachel Dunningham dismissed Cadbury’s appeal.

Justice Dunningham agreed there were undeniable similarities between the individual marks.

But she said the marks brought to mind different concepts – Black Forest conjured up the gateau of the same name, while Berry Forest referenced a forest full of berries.

“Cadbury’s mark adopts a well-known phrase which brings to mind a specific combination of ingredients.

“It will therefore be recognised in the way that the made-up combination of words in the mark Berry Forest will not be.”

Whittaker’s is entitled to legal costs.

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Closing arguments in Apple-Samsung trial

The high-stakes battle between the world’s largest smartphone makers is scheduled to wrap up this week after a month-long trial that has pulled the curtain back on just how cutthroat the competition is between Apple and Samsung.

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Closing arguments in the patent-infringement case are scheduled to begin on Monday, with the two tech giants accusing each other, once again, of ripping off designs and features. At stake: $US2 billion ($A2.16 billion) if Samsung loses, a few hundred million if Apple loses.

Teams of lawyers on both sides have spent the month trying to poke holes in obscure and bureaucratic patent legal claims, while keeping the eight jurors engaged.

Drawing the most attention in the courtroom and the media are insider emails and meeting presentations documenting the frustration each company faced as they competed for market share.

Less than a year after Apple unveiled its iPhone in 2007 combining a web browser, music player and phone in one swipeable device, Samsung officials noted they were quickly losing customers.

“While Traditional OEMs are busy fighting each other in the Feature phone space Apple is busy making the category obsolete,” said one confidential briefing presentation.

“What makes the iPhone unique is software (applications) and services, beautiful hardware is just a bonus.”

But Samsung fought back, using Google’s Android system, offering less expensive smartphones with larger screens.

“Consumers want what we don’t have,” said a 2013 Apple presentation a few years later, noting that the low-priced, easy-to-view competition was surging ahead.

Throughout the three years of litigation, Samsung’s market share has grown. One of every three smartphones sold last year was a Samsung, now the market leader. Apple, with a typically higher price, was second, with about 15 per cent of the global market.

Although it’s impossible to predict what a jury will do, two years ago a federal jury found Samsung was infringing on Apple patents. Samsung was ordered to pay about $US900 million, but it is has appealed the judgment and has been allowed to continue selling products using the technology.

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