Today: Facebook announces another acquisition as part of an initiative to improve Internet access with drones and lasers. Also: Microsoft debuts Office for Apple's iPad, but tech stocks continue to suffer.
The Lead: Facebook officially announces new initiative, another acquisition
Mark Zuckerberg kept the spotlight on Facebook by offering a peek Thursday at his efforts to improve Internet access in other parts of the world, detailing plans to use drones and lasers to accomplish his goals with the help of another new acquisition.
"In our effort to connect the whole world with Internet.org, we've been working on ways to beam Internet to people from the sky," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon, his second newsworthy post of the week after his announcement of the $2 billion Oculus acquisition Tuesday.
Zuckerberg explained that Facebook's Connectivity Lab has been experimenting with drones and lasers to beam Internet access to barren areas of the world, part of his earlier announced Internet.org initiative, which he said has connected an additional 3 million people to the Web so far in the Philippines and Paraguay.
"The team's approach is based on the principle that different sized communities need different solutions and they are already working on new delivery platforms -- including planes and satellites -- to provide connectivity for communities with different population densities," Internet.org's news release announced.
The Connectivity Lab received some help in its efforts to use new techniques to increase Internet access in remote areas with the acquisition of Ascenta, a small aerospace company based in Britain that founded by engineers who helped create a record-breaking solar-powered drone named Zephyr. The acqui-hire of Ascenta's employees is not near the league of Facebook's Oculus deal or the $16 billion acquisition of WhatsApp announced just last month, though: Bloomberg News reported that Facebook paid about $20 million for the company.
Basically, Facebook is looking to fly similar autonomous, solar-powered drones over areas with dense populations in order to beam Internet access using free-space optical communication, or FSO, which transmits data through infrared laser beams. Areas with lower population density would receive similar beams, but from satellites.
"FSO is a promising technology that potentially allows us to dramatically boost the speed of Internet connections provided by satellites and drones," the Internet.org announcement read.
Still, it is yet another bet on the future by Facebook and Zuckerberg, which has made those moves a habit of late.
Facebook's stock U-turned after suffering in the wake of the Oculus deal Wednesday, gaining 1 percent to $60.97 after an eMarketer report said that Facebook's first jaw-dropping acquisition, Instagram, grew faster on mobile than Twitter in 2013 and should continue to have a larger mobile user base than Facebook's microblogging rival.
Twitter isn't going quietly, though: ReCode reported Thursday morning that Twitter has told television networks and other partners that deals will need to be exclusive, an obvious assault on Facebook. Twitter has been suffering on Wall Street like Facebook this week, while announcing a host of changes and initiatives, but shares seemed to turn around Thursday, gaining 4.3 percent to $46.32.
SV150 market report: Tech stocks continue to suffer as Office for iPad arrives
Technology stocks continued to sink in the final week of the first quarter Thursday, even as Microsoft announced the long-awaited debut of its Office suite of products for Apple's iPad.
New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made his big Silicon Valley debut Thursday in announcing the expansion of his company's popular suite of software to Apple's mobile products at a San Francisco event. The move is part of Microsoft's campaign to make its software products available on a wider array of popular consumer devices, with Nadella promising, "Over the next three to four weeks, you'll get a much better picture of our innovative agenda." Analysts praised the move, with FBR Capital Markets writing, "overall access to the Microsoft platform could be powerful," and UBS Investment Research saying in a note, "The 'Nadella era' at Microsoft is off to a good start." The move didn't seem to help either company with Wall Street, though: Microsoft dipped 1.1 percent to $39.36 while Apple fell 0.4 percent to $537.46 as Nikkei reported that the iPhone 6 will debut in September with multiple size options.
Tesla Motors fell 2.7 percent to $207.32 as a technical analyst warned of "multiple sell signals" and an NYU finance professor said the company should be valued at about half its current worth, amid growing competition for the Palo Alto electric car maker. In a surprise statement, Tesla battery partner Panasonic told reporters that it has not committed to partnering with Tesla on its Gigafactory plans. Intel declined 0.3 percent to $25.31 after announcing a new partnership with Silicon Valley startup Cloudera on big-data analysis. Google fell 1.6 percent to $1,114.28 and Yahoo gained 0.4 percent to $35.59 after the two Silicon Valley Web powers offered new data about law-enforcement requests for users' information. Los Gatos video-on-demand company Netflix dropped 2.2 percent to $364.18 as the Wall Street Journal reported that rival Amazon is preparing to offer a free, ad-supported streaming service with some of its cache of programming.
Up: Twitter, Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Yelp, VMware, SolarCity, Adobe, Facebook, SunPower, Yahoo, Oracle, Pandora
Down: Zynga, AMD, Tesla, Netflix, Gilead, Workday, Sandisk, Google, Juniper, Cisco, Nvidia, Hewlett-Packard, NetApp, Applied Materials, eBay
The SV150 index of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies: Down 8.18, or 0.54 percent, to 1,510.46
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Down 22.35, or 0.54 percent, to 4,151.23
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Down 4.76, or 0.03 percent, to 16,264.23
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Down 3.52, or 0.19 percent, to 1,849.04
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/jowens510.