12 October, 2011

Cadillac’s new CUE car system takes cues from smartphones, tablets

Posted: 12 Oct 2011 09:20 AM PDT
Cadillac on Wednesday debuted its new connected car system, dubbed CUE, with a lot of hints taken from smartphones and tablets for its in-dashboard interface.
The new CUE system, which was launched at the CTIA technology conference in San Diego, shows the way mobile technology is making a substantial impact on well-established systems. While Ford clearly led in this area first with SYNC, Cadillac’s system has its own unique features of its own.
The CUE features an 8-inch LCD touchscreen on the dashboard that allows for entertainment and information to be processed and for smartphones to be connected via Bluetooth. You can browse and navigate through the CUE’s simplistic screens by swiping through and tapping apps much like you would on a smartphone or tablet. There’s a little cubby hole underneath the screen for placing your smartphone.
One of the more interesting features of CUE is gesture recognition. CUE can recognize that your hand is near the console and once your hand is within eight inches, the number of icons on the screens increases to give you more options. There’s also similar features that coordinate with hand motions, like pinch-to-zoom and sense recognition that makes the screen feel like you’re pressing a button more than pressing a screen when you select an icon.
CUE’s first appearance will be in April inside the Cadillac XTS, the luxury brand’s new large car. After that implementation, CUE will head over to other models in the Cadillac lineup.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 09:00 AM PDT
New York City-based Smartling is making its translation services even simpler for small businesses with new upgrades to its platform.
Smartling lets businesses easily create multilingual sites and apps using both professional and crowdsourced translators, but the process of managing translations was previously a bit cumbersome. Today’s updates will simplify the translation process, letting just about anyone create multilingual offerings in just a few minutes.
New features include a Style Guide, which lets site owners create guidelines for their translations, a Progressive Glossary, a continually updated collection of terms that translators can refer to, and complete search engine optimization (SEO) compliance for translated pages. Additionally, Smartling has added management tools for handling crowdsourced translators.
"Quality web translation should be available for any business, not just for major corporations with massive localization budgets," Smartling CEO Jack Welde said in statement today. "With great feedback from our enterprise users, such as SurveyMonkey, we've simplified the traditionally complex and costly translation workflow and re-applied it for the pace of Web 2.0 businesses."
The company offers a free level of site translation for up to 5,000 multilingual page views a month, and you can pay up to $249 a month for 100,000 translated page views. For more heavily trafficked enterprise sites, Smartling also offers custom plans.
Smartling recently announced integration with the website optimization company Cloudflare, which lets Cloudflare customers instantly translate their websites with the click of a button. Smartling currently provides translation services to companies like Foursquare, Kobo, and Threadless.
Smartling recently raised $10 million in funding, on top of a $4 million round from earlier last year. Investors include Venrock, First Round Capital, U.S. Venture Partners, and IDG Ventures.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 08:32 AM PDT
iPhone 4SVerizon is offering its customers the iPhone 4S as an unlocked device, but with one small condition. Customers with an account in good standing for at least 60 days can contact a Verizon rep and request for their phone to get unlocked for international roaming, reports Macworld.
Technically, unlocking an iPhone will allow it to work on any wireless carrier’s GSM network, such as those provided by many international carriers. This is a nice benefit for frequent international travelers because it allows them to swap out their SIM card so that they're only paying local rates for voice and data service.
Contrary to Macworld’s report, Sprint customers who pre-ordered an iPhone 4S won’t receive the device unlocked. However, Sprint is offering its customers the ability to use international GSM networks with the appropriate service plan, reports Ars Technica.
It’s worth noting that the iPhone 4S uses a microSIM card instead of a regular SIM, which means finding one might be a bit more difficult.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 08:00 AM PDT
Marvin the Paranoid AndroidEDITOR'S NOTE: Each week, I'm writing a column on business and technology called Dylan's Desk, while Dean Takahashi is writing a column on video games called The DeanBeat. They are available to newsletter subscribers a whole day before they appear on the VentureBeat website.

In Star Trek IV, Scotty picks up a computer mouse and speaks into it, trying to get the machine’s attention. “Computer! Computer!” When nothing happens, someone tells him to use the keyboard. “How quaint,” is his bemused response.
You might feel the same way in 10 years, if someone hands you a computer without a voice interface. That’s because we’re on the verge of an explosion in interactive, interpretive computer voice control.
“The technology is just beginning,” said Norman Winarsky, the head of the venture arm of SRI, a legendary Silicon Valley think tank. “This is real artificial intelligence and real technology.”
Winarsky was talking to me about Siri, the voice-commanded assistant built into the iPhone 4S and the most impressive part of Apple’s product introduction on October 4. With Siri, you can speak to your phone and ask it to read your most recent messages, make an appointment on the next free spot in your calendar, tell you what $50 amounts to in euros, or point you in the direction of the nearest pizza parlor. You can even give it instructions like “Remind me to call my wife when I leave work,” and because Siri knows both who your wife is and where you work, it will do so, prompting you to call the correct number when you start to leave your office building.
Siri originated at SRI, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg, Winarsky told me. He expects many similar “virtual personal assistants” to emerge in the near future. (He recently called Siri’s launch a world-changing event.)
Norman Winarsky, SRI“Your virtual personal assistant is going to evolve rather rapidly,” Winarsky said.
Siri is more than just a voice dialer or voice command system; it’s built upon an artificial intelligence engine that allows it to interpret what you’re saying, deliver relevant results from various applications and online services, and even engage in rudimentary conversations with you.
Although researchers have been working on artificial intelligence for decades, it hasn’t produced particularly impressive results until recently. One of the reasons that Siri is able to work effectively now is that the iPhone has sufficient processing power and memory onboard, and it has a reasonably fast wireless connection to online resources that it needs to access to provide relevant answers. In a way, like Marvin the Paranoid Android in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Siri actually has a brain the size of a planet.
The technology is not likely to remain an Apple exclusive for long.
Siri came out of a DARPA-funded, $180 million, five-year research project called CALO that was led by SRI. Other institutions were involved, including MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Berkeley. As the research project wound up, SRI began considering how it could spin the technology out into a commercial venture, as it does with many of its most successful research projects.
Siri was spun out from SRI as an independent startup in January 2008, with venture funding led by Gary Morgenthaler of Morgenthaler Ventures and Sean Carolan of Menlo Ventures. A second round of funding brought in Solina Chau of Horizons Ventures. In February, 2010 Siri launched its first product, an iPhone app, and then in April of the same year Apple acquired the company. (The terms were not publicly disclosed, although Silicon Valley buzz had it that Apple paid more than $200 million.)
Winarsky was careful to emphasize that he has no insight into Apple’s product plans for Siri or for any developments to the technology that have happened since Siri disappeared beyond Apple’s event horizon in early 2010. However, he has a good sense of Siri’s background and the potential directions it could take.
“Apple has the ability to use that interface across all its apps,” Winarsky said. So while Siri is integrated into the messaging, calendar and email apps, Winarsky thinks it’s reasonable to expect that Apple will also integrate it into music and movies, adding a layer of personalization so that Siri begins to learn your preferences.
Moreover, it could work with any Apple device. Right now it’s restricted to the iPhone 4S, but when Siri launched, it was running on the iPhone 3GS, which means that, in theory, any current device could support it, including the iPhone 4, the iPad, and for that matter the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The result might look a bit like the “Knowledge Navigator” that Apple confidently predicted in a 1987 promotional video.

Eventually, Winarsky hypothesizes that Apple will provide a Siri API (application programming interface) so that app developers can make their own apps interact with you through Siri’s voice-controlled dialogs.
Expect other companies to develop virtual personal assistants as well. Google has already implemented voice-recognition and voice-command capabilities into Android, called Voice Actions, although with a more restricted vocabulary than Siri. But you can bet that Google’s engineers aren’t going to take this challenge lying down.
Meanwhile, SRI has already created a second spinoff company based on CALO research called Trapit, which monitors web sites and news feeds to deliver content to you based on your preferences.
Another company I spoke with, Expertmaker, is also using artificial intelligence to produce better search results and help people find what they want on very large e-commerce sites.
“This is fertile territory. No one can capture AI any more than they can capture math or physics,” said Winarsky.
Winarsky has a vivid imagination for the kinds of tasks that virtual personal assistants could accomplish. For instance, they could be used in airline call centers. Instead of talking to human operators or navigating painful interactive voice-response menus, you could ask something like “Get me a flight on United from San Francisco to New York, in business class, at about 3pm tomorrow.”
It could respond, “There’s nothing at 3pm, how about 4pm?” And if you replied, “4pm won’t work, but 2pm would,” the system would understand enough about the context of the conversation to make the booking.
Similarly, VPAs could act as life coaches. You might crave a grilled cheese sandwich and ask a nutrition app on your phone for advice on whether your diet permits that. It would be able to give you the estimate of the number of calories and suggest that, if you eat the grilled cheese now, you might need to skip dessert after dinner tonight.
Let’s hope that doesn’t give Siri a complex, when we use her vast brainpower to solve ridiculously mundane human problems.
Photo of Marvin: meddygarnet/Flickr. Photo of Norman Winarsky courtesy SRI.
Note: Last week, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs passed away. The news hit me harder than I thought it would, even though we’d all been expecting this moment. It turns out that I have a huge debt in my heart for the man who helped create the Apple II, the Mac, the iPhone and the iPad. So, this week I’d like to point you to a few of VentureBeat’s tributes to this legendary icon of Silicon Valley, who we will all miss.
And finally, I’d like to point you to a heartfelt tribute video produced by Wired’s Gadget Lab, in which Wired staffers (and former staffers, including me) talk about what Apple and Jobs meant to their lives.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 07:25 AM PDT
Poor Research in Motion. Just two days from Apple’s iPhone 4S launch, the BlackBerry maker is in the midst of a three-day long service outage that has now spread to North America.
The outage, which is the worst since 2009 for RIM, could cause many consumers and IT departments to rethink their mobile strategy. Clearly, relying on RIM’s proprietary systems has its drawbacks.
Thanks to the outage, tens of millions of BlackBerry users have been experiencing spotty email, Internet, and BlackBerry Messenger connectivity.
“The messaging and browsing delays being experienced by BlackBerry users in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina were caused by a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure,” RIM said in a statement on Tuesday. “Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested. As a result, a large backlog of data was generated and we are now working to clear that backlog and restore normal service as quickly as possible.”
As Reuters points out, the outage could lead some IT outfits to consider letting employees use their personal devices, instead of buying and deploying RIM hardware and services. Many companies are now trying to integrate personally-owned iPhones and Android devices into their corporate networks. An outage like this could be just the push some progressive IT workers need to convince their companies to jump off the BlackBerry ship.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 07:00 AM PDT
Mark Pincus, chief executive of Zynga, has been out of the public eye for months, mainly due to regulatory restrictions on what CEOs of companies filing for initial public offerings can say in public. But yesterday, he finally got on stage for Zynga’s big games rollout.
Clearly, Pincus was careful to avoid saying anything that would derail the social game company’s IPO (if that IPO happens, he could become a multibillionaire). So his appearance  had to be a carefully planned event. He made no financial projections, and he focused on Zynga’s upcoming games and its goal of “connecting the world through games” that are played on any platform by everyone.
It’s been so long since Pincus has talked that it’s worth making some observations about what he said on stage and how he performed in front of the bright lights.
He hasn’t always been careful or scripted in the past. He is naturally folksy, casual and down to earth when he communicates on stage. And his talk yesterday didn’t seem scripted, although it probably was scrutinized by the company’s lawyers.
He started out with a story about the good old days at Zynga in 2007, when the company first started making games for Facebook. He said the team hired some students from the Culinary Academy across the street to create food in the company’s small headquarters. One of those students, Amelia, later became the fictional head chef in Zynga’s Cafe World game, and she’s now the head chef in Zynga’s sprawling new San Francisco headquarters for 1,700 employees. (The company has 2,500 employees worldwide.)
Pincus described how the team took the old Sega headquarters and converted it into a cool space for Zynga’s employees. At that point in his talk, he asked the crowd of journalists to turn around and look up. There, up on the upper balconies of the building were Zynga’s employees by the hundreds (pictured right). It was a moment when Pincus could recognize the efforts of his staff. He apologized to them for taking away their cafeteria for the day and asked them to go out for an expensive lunch.
Pincus laid the groundwork for all of the presentations by senior Zynga executives. He allowed each domain expert to get on stage to describe their own games. When he introduced the company’s chief operating officer, John Schappert, who was recruited away from Electronic Arts, he said Schappert had fulfilled Pincus’ goal of finding his own replacement. Pincus said hiring Schappert to run the game operations allowed him to focus on helping Zynga employees become entrepreneurs in their current jobs.
Pincus said, “We challenge ourselves every day to how to get you guys to play. You are busy. You are on the move. You don’t have time to sit and play games. But we really think play is this macro theme and activity that we all need to fit back into our lives. Everything behind what we are building is this mission to build a platform for play.”
He added, “For us, it is a really a platform. We are not trying to be a company that is making the next hit game. We would be happy to create the next hit game. But we are trying to do something broader than that. We are trying to have this experience make up a platform for play.” He said Zynga is trying to inspire “socialness,” or getting you to create many more friend connections. He said Zynga is tracking how well teams do at getting you to connect with people in meaningful ways.
Pincus said Zynga’s basic design principles focus on the FTUE, or first-time user experience. The first opportunity for Zynga to make an impression on a player is in the first three clicks of a game. He said that in casual games, you have to sell the player on the whole game in the first three clicks. Overall, he said that five to 15 minute experiences of playing the game should “feel like a meal.” You shouldn’t have to change your routine for Zynga’s sake.
He mentioned that one new initiative, Zynga Direct, which the company has been working on for two years. It is a platform for creating a direct relationship with consumers on the web or on mobile devices for creating more social interactions around and in Zynga’s games. But he didn’t do a great job explaining what Zynga Direct is, mainly because details of that initiative will be revealed later.
Zynga showed off a part of Zynga Direct, dubbed Project Z. Schappert described Project Z as a platform where Zynga will allow players to go to a Zynga destination web site to play Zynga games. Schappert said Project Z was a “social gaming playground,” where players could play under their own gamertag names. But there wasn’t enough to the description of that platform, and some left the event confused. Zynga left a little bit too much mystery on that initiative.
Pincus closed the event saying that Zynga is committed to one vision that hasn’t changed since the founding.
“We want to be the biggest macro bet on social gaming,” he said. “We believe in social gaming. We believe that this is the way everyone around the world will want to embrace play in their lives….We know it is early. We know it is primitive.” He said it will come to life in the next few years and become more mobile, so that you will get something like a World of Warcraft experience in five or fifteen minutes.
If you sum it up, Pincus communicated the vision and came off as personable. But he didn’t fully succeed in providing answers to questions that his own presentation raised.
Check out the video of Pincus below.

Filed under: games

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 07:00 AM PDT
Zynga showed it is open to moving into new genres yesterday as it launched its first game in the popular “hidden object” category with Hidden Chronicles on Facebook.
This genre has untapped potential on Facebook, according to Sean Ryan, head of game partnerships at Facebook. Back in July, Ryan said there were only two hidden object games on Facebook, while there were more than 100 such games on casual web sites frequented by female gamers. That was a lot like leaving money on the table, Ryan said. Zynga is now preparing to pick that money up. As such, the category represents a new area of expansion for Zynga, which needs as many sources of revenue as possible as it prepares for its initial public offering.
These games require you to pull out your memory and keen observation skills to find objects that are hidden in a landscape. As you do so, you can unravel a mystery. Cara Ely, pictured left, is the creative director on the game.
“We think this is going to appeal to a very broad audience like all Zynga games,” Ely said in our video interview below. “Especially people who like puzzle solving, memory games, amazing visuals. It’s a social scavenger hunt.”
While Zynga’s game is an original title, it won’t help the company shake its reputation as a copycat. Playdom, a division of Disney, pioneered the genre on social networks last spring with Gardens of Time. That game still has more than 14.4 million monthly active users. That title is still Playdom’s most popular game, and so it represents a lucrative target for Zynga to pursue. It isn’t a stretch for Zynga because its own fans — the older female players who play social games such as FarmVille and CityVille — are the same ones that play hidden object games.
Of course, hidden object games have been popularized by companies such as Big Fish Games since 2006. Ely herself is one of the veterans and has been making these kinds of games for five years.
Zynga’s game has its own art style, more like a romance mystery and far different from Zynga’s other games. It starts in a place called Ramsey manor and leads the player all over the world. You look at a scene and find as many hidden objects as you can. The game is social because you can issue challenges to friends to see who can find the most objects in a scene within a time limit. The title also has leaderboards and ways to share with friends.
“We’ve got other types of puzzles in the game as well,” Ely said. “We think it will really appeal to people who like solving puzzles.”
Ely said that the basic appeal of hidden object games is that you can cross off a list all of the items that you find. You find a bunch of things, cross them off the list, and then move on to the next scene. Ely didn’t say when the game will debut, and Zynga did not show a live version of the game yesterday. Like other Zynga games, the game will be easy to learn but hard to master, said Roy Sehgal (pictured right), general manager in charge of the studio in San Francisco that is making the game.
“You can have hours of game play within a single scene,” Sehgal said.
Check out our interview with Ely below.

Filed under: games

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 05:00 AM PDT
OpenPrep ScreenshotDigital education company BenchPrep is taking advantage of free informational content with its newest feature OpenPrep.
If you stepped into a classroom of collegians and asked, “How many people have used Wikipedia to research something,” just about all of the hands would be up. Wikipedia, YouTube and other more regulated sources such as Khan Academy Tutorials have acted as a avenues for quick answers and plain English explanations. BenchPrep chief executive Ashish Rangnekar wants to use the information students are already tapping and integrate into the BenchPrep application.
BenchPrep takes content from publishers such as McGraw Hill and soon Pearson, and turns it into an interactive study guide for the iPad, iPhone and Android. With this new feature, BenchPrep’s back-end algorithms find and assign free informational content to appropriate sections of the study guides. For instance, if you are learning about a certain element in chemistry and there is a relevant Wikipedia page, the app will glue the two together. This free content is taken from the above named sources in addition to university websites. Teachers can also upload new or change out old content if they find something more compelling.
“We’ve actually seen a lot of tutors use it,” said Rangnekar in an interview with VentureBeat. “We don’t see this as a product that will replace a teacher. It will actually make that teach student interaction a lot better.”
BenchPrep has primarily focused on test preparation for exams such as the SATs, MCATs, LSATs, and more. The company is looking to move into official certification courses as well as higher education. Because of this origin in test prep, BenchPrep has appealed to tutors and individuals. Rangnekar explained that for tutors, acquiring educational materials can be very pricey. They also are lacking in technological resources, given their self-employed nature. In essence, tutors are limited in their teaching materials. BenchPrep sees its original product in addition to this new feature as a way for tutors to connect and expand their teaching materials.
But free content is a gamble. You may think you’re getting a video on chemistry, but you may be exposed to something more along the lines of anatomy. BenchPrep may also run into trouble with sources that welcome editing from all, such as Wikipedia. These don’t always reflect the most accurate information, and are even banned in certain college classes from being as source for essays. That said, the company is assured that its back-end knows what content it is looking at and can assign it confidently.
The company is also working on aggregating content from the Associate Press through application programming interfaces to layer on top of its content.
BenchPrep competes with other digital education tools such as Kno and Inkling, which make interactive textbooks for the iPad. It is available on the Web, iPhone, iPad and Android, and syncs activity across all devices for grab-and-go learning.

Filed under: mobile

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 01:03 AM PDT
Sony said tonight that hackers have once attacked the company’s online gaming networks, and this time they have broken into 93,000 accounts. The new hack will bring back bad memories from April, when the PlayStation Network and its sister network Sony Online Entertainment went down for weeks because of a hacker attack.
Philip Reitinger, the newly hired chief information security officer at Sony, said in a blog post that Sony had detected attacks on the Sony Entertainment Network, the PlayStation Network, and the Sony Online Entertainment online gaming service. The hacking attempts tested a massive set of sign-ins and passwords against Sony’s network database. Most of those attempts failed, but the attacks succeeded in penetrating 93,000 accounts.
Sony said that a small percentage of the username and password combinations that were tried actually worked. That suggests that the hackers were using a brute force method to attack, and that the database the hackers were using came from outside of Sony.
Sony has temporarily blocked those accounts, which included 60,000 PSN and SEN accounts, and 33,000 SOE accounts. In those cases, the hackers succeeded in verifying usernames and passwords for the accounts. Only a small fraction of the accounts saw activity before they were locked  down by Sony. The company is currently reviewing those accounts for unauthorized access and it will provide more data once it finds out.
Reitinger said that if users have a credit card associated with the account, the credit card number is not at risk of being stolen. But it is possible that hackers have made unauthorized purchases. Sony is now requiring users to reset their passwords for the PSN and SEN accounts. Affected users will receive an email notification from Sony. The SOE accounts that were affected have also been turned off. Affected users will get an email with Sony requiring them to verify their account in order to have it turned back on. Sony is encouraging users to use strong passwords.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Posted: 12 Oct 2011 12:19 AM PDT
Western Digital reported today that the production of its hard drives in Thailand have been jeopardized because of severe flooding in the region near Bangkok.
The company said that hard drive production will be constrained in the current quarter. The company added that its 37,000 employees are safe and so are its actual facilities. But the thread of flooding has caused a suspension of production. How long this will impact production is yet to be determined.
The reports show that global production still carries its risks, since natural disasters are still common around the world. Irvine, Calif.-based WD is one of the world’s biggest makers of hard disk drives. In the quarter ending July 1, 2011, the company shipped 54 million hard drives from its facilities in Thailand and Malaysia. About 60 percent of the production was in Thailand.
Floods have inundated hundreds of villages and towns in Thailand, covering 2.5 million acres of farmland in water.
[photo credit: CNN]

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 09:09 PM PDT
iphone-4s-pricingNot surprisingly, reviewers are gaga for Apple’s new iPhone 4S. While it seems like less of a compelling upgrade for iPhone 4 users, everyone else should find a lot to love about the iPhone 4S, from its new 8-megapixel camera, to the scarily smart Siri virtual assistant.
The iPhone 4S also sports Apple’s new dual-core A5 chip, which first appeared in the iPad 2. Most reviewers found that the new processor led to a noticeable speed improvement over the iPhone 4. And as we reported earlier, the A5 chip soundly trounces all of Apple’s Android competition.
This is my next’s Joshua Topolsky praised the iPhone 4s’ camera in his review:
The iPhone 4S took some of the nicest, cleanest photos I've ever seen from a mobile device. If you've ever thought about using a phone as a replacement for your point and shoot, feel free to start taking that concept seriously. The 4S produced crisp, balanced, colorful photos that were surprisingly low-noise and never over-saturated. The iPhone 4 sometimes seemed to be compensating for its limitations by exaggerating colors, but the iPhone 4S looks and feels like a real camera capturing true images.
One of the most exciting features exclusive to the iPhone 4S isn’t hardware, it’s the new Siri virtual assistant. By all accounts, Siri seems to be one of the most user-friendly, and surprisingly accurate, AI-based solutions ever to reach consumers. The New York Times’ David Pogue writes:
It's mind-blowing how inexact your utterances can be. Siri understands everything from, "What's the weather going to be like in Tucson this weekend?" to "Will I need an umbrella tonight?" (She has various amusing responses for "What is the meaning of life?")
It's even more amazing how Siri's responses can actually form a conversation. Once, I tried saying, "Make an appointment with Patrick for Thursday at 3." Siri responded, "Note that you already have an all-day appointment about 'Boston Trip' for this Thursday. Shall I schedule this anyway?" Unbelievable.
Apple says Siri relies on the new A5 chip to function, which is why it’s only available on the iPhone 4S for now. Still, existing iPhone 4 and 3GS owners will be able to get some of the benefits of Apple’s new iOS 5 software, which will be available tomorrow. Most notably, iOS 5 brings iMessage to other Apple devices, which could seriously disrupt the need for iPhone users to waste money on text messages.
Overall, the iPhone 4S appears to be a no-brainer purchase for most consumers, assuming you don’t mind a smaller screen than most competitors. Current iPhone 4 owners face a tougher decision, since they’ll receive plenty of upgrades with iOS 5. Still, the new camera and Siri seem reason enough to upgrade, especially if you can resell your current iPhone 4 for a decent price (like this writer did).

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 07:01 PM PDT
Nook ColorThanks to its prominent position as a combination e-reader and tablet device that has books, full-color magazines and casual games, the Nook Color’s ownership is now almost 75 percent women, according to a Barnes & Noble executive.
While it was known generally that women buy more Nook Colors, we had no idea it was so one-sided. The surprising number came from Claudia Romanini Backus, Barnes & Noble’s director of developer relations, when I spoke with her at CTIA Enterprise 2011 in San Diego. Backus’ job is to work with developers to get more apps into the Nook’s sparse-but-curated 800-count application market, and this statistic is one she frequently cites to app developers she wants to attract.
“We on the app team make it a point to talk about it,” Backus said. “We want developers to realize this is an area they can differentiate and take advantage of.”
Women buy more e-books than men, with recent research by GfK MRI suggesting women are 52 percent more likely than men to own an e-reader. Why the Nook Color is so much more popular women likely comes down to two of its unique features: an extensive array of digital magazines from most major publishers and fun casual games like Angry Birds. It also doesn’t hurt that the device has a 7-inch screen, which makes it better suited for purses than an 10-inch tablet like the iPad.
The $249 Nook Color’s position as one of the cheapest Android tablets around was upended recently by the debut of the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire, which will launch on Nov. 15. Perhaps the tablet’s female fans will be one area the Nook can continue to thrive. That said, I do expect Barnes & Noble to drop its Nook Color price in the near future or release an updated version of the device or both. Or perhaps it could sell this Nook Color for $199 and a new Nook Color 2 for more.
Since the Nook Color’s launch last year, Barnes & Noble hasn’t released official sales numbers for the device, so it’s hard to see just how many women have purchased one. One report in March suggested B&N had shipped more than 3 million Nook Colors and who knows how many the company has sold since then. Even at the low end, as many as 2 million women likely have a Nook Color.
Are you surprised the Nook Color’s female ownership numbers are so high?

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 06:51 PM PDT
In February 2011, Mobisante got the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its mobile, smartphone-powered ultrasound device. It took the medical device startup another eight months to meet the various FDA guidelines, but now its MobiUS SP1 Ultrasound System is finally available for commercial sales starting this month.
The medical device industry is itching to go mobile, but first it has to get the Food and Drug Administration to pick up the pace. For Mobisante, the process has dragged on for so long that its $7,495 ultrasound system ships with a Toshiba TG01 touchscreen phone running Windows Mobile 6.5 — a device that was originally released in 2009. Businessweek magazine reports the FDA is overhauling its policies on mobile device regulation sometime next year, but until then mobile medical device makers must continue to jump through hoops, slowly.
These types of small medical scanning devices with Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity can be taken into the field, are more affordable and easier to operation than full-sized machines, and images can quickly be shared with other medical professionals at far away locations. Captured images are small, a maximum of 480-by-480 pixels — enough for mobile usage but not a replacement for traditional ultrasound machines. The smartphone can store up to 8GB of images and they files be uploaded over a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, or offloaded via USB.
Because the imaging device connects over USB, the company has not been able to work on a compatible version for iPhones, iPads or Android devices, though Mobisante does hope to expand to medical tablet devices such as Panasonic’s ToughBook in the future, according to MobileHealthNews.
The Redmond, Wash. based startup is going up against much larger manufacturers. GE makes the VScan mobile, a $7,900 portable ultrasound device that looks like a large Motorola Razr flip phone. Siemens sells its Acuson P10 ultrasound system for $8,499.

Filed under: cloud, mobile

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 06:34 PM PDT
More kids are playing video games between the ages of 2 and 17, according to a new market research report.
The NPD Group reported today that the population of kids ages 2-17 grew just 1.54 percent since 2009. But the population of gamers in that age group has grown 12.68 percent.
This growth means that gaming is now a nearly ubiquitous activity for children in the United States. About 91 percent of kids, or 64 million children, play games, up 9 percentage points from 2009.
The fastest-growing age group is kids ages 2-5, up 17 percentage points compared to 2009. Other fast-growing segments are girls and teens ages 15 to 17. Anita Frazier, analyst at NPD, said that kids account for 44 percent of software sales at retail stores so far this year.
Gaming on mobile devices has experienced the biggest growth in the kids category, up from 8 percent to 38 percent. Gaming on traditional portable handheld gaming devices like the Nintendo DS has grown more modestly, from 38 percent to 45 percent. The change is due to the popularity of tablets, iOS devices and Android smartphones.
But despite the growth in mobile apps gaming, kids and their parents spent more than five times as much on retail games across devices than they did on mobile gaming apps for smartphones and other app-capable devices.
The survey was conducted from Aug. 1 to Aug. 15 this year and was completed by 4,136 kids ages 2 to 17.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 06:02 PM PDT
Cloud storage provider Box.net today announced it has closed an $81 million extension to its fourth round of funding, which includes new investors New Enterprise Associates and Bessemer Venture Partners.
The new round gives Box.net, which has evolved into a provider of back-end storage on remote servers for enterprise applications, a lot of cash to make a mad grab in what has become a land rush in the enterprise software space. Box.net chief executive Aaron Levie said the funding will go toward research and development, staffing and other kinds of “marketable” expansion plans. That’s the kind of expansion that’s highly visible and makes it obvious that the company is growing quickly.
Box.net’s latest round gives the company a valuation well north of $600 million, compared to recent filings that suggest the company is worth around $550 million. Earlier this year, Levie turned down a buyout offer for the company that was worth $500 million, as we reported in October, before the company’s first Boxworks conference based in San Francisco, Calif.
In addition to expanding the company’s research and development, Box.net is also starting the “innovation network,” a third-party development community of sorts that uses Box.net as a storage back-end for enterprise applications. Levie said he hopes that any enterprise application developer — large or small — can walk in with his or her specific application and wrap it around Box.net’s cloud storage. Levie wouldn’t disclose any new details about the financial agreements the company would make with developers, but those should emerge sometime later this year.
Box.net will also build a third data center for the company, though Levie said Box.net hasn’t experienced any kind of strain on its networks. The deals with Salesforce.com and SAP were both strategic, meaning the companies will be working together on software in some way.
The enterprise cloud storage provider has more than 7 million users, and 77 percent of the largest companies in the world on the Fortune 500 list have deployed its service in some form. Around half of the $162 million the company has raised to date is still in the bank, investors in the company told me. Even with that much cash around, Levie said there’s still a chance that the company could seek additional funding in the future — though his investors want him to take the company public.
“Obviously, if I’ve learned anything it’s not to say that this will be the last round,” Levie said. “We’re always on the lookout for a good deal.”
[Photo credit: Matthew Lynley]
For a more in-depth look at how Aaron Levie runs Box.net and how the company got its start, check out this VentureBeat profile from earlier this month.

Filed under: cloud

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 05:34 PM PDT
Prior to the launch of its new iOS 5 mobile operating system tomorrow, Apple has released a huge update for its iTunes Mac software.
The iTunes 10.5 update adds support for Apple’s upcoming push into cloud services. While it’s not a true cloud-computing experience, iTunes will now automatically download all purchases made through iTunes and the iOS App Store, regardless of which device the purchases were made on. The update also adds Wi-Fi syncing for all iOS devices.
The only thing this version of iTunes doesn’t have is support for iTunes Match — the $25 a year service that gives legal access to any songs currently in your iTunes music library. The service is scheduled to roll out later this month.
The influx of people updating tomorrow will likely bring Apple’s servers to a crawl. For anyone who doesn’t want to wait an extra half hour to update their device, it’s probably a good idea to download the new iTunes now.

Filed under: cloud, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 04:09 PM PDT
SiriA hands-on video demonstration of the new voice assistant feature Siri on the iPhone 4S is making its way around the web.
Siri, which Apple debuted at its press event last week, is a new iOS feature that lets you ask your phone a question and get an (artificially) intelligent answer. For example, you can ask Siri to send an email to your mother and the automated voice will walk you through the entire process without making you physically pull up the email app or start typing. The feature is much like handing your phone to another person and telling them what to do with it.
While Apple did play a Siri demo clip at its press event, you couldn’t tell if the feature actually worked as intended. But after watching the hands-on video of Siri in action, I have to admit I’m impressed.
The nearly three-minute video was shot at a busy Apple Store in London by Stuff.tv. Despite a fair amount of background noise, Siri was able to determine voice commands like “What’s the weather like today?” and “What is the distance between here and the moon?”. To activate Siri, you have to physically press the button on the bottom of the touch screen, and press the button again when you finish speaking. The video featured two different voices — a woman with an American accent and a man with a British accent. Yet, I’m assuming there will be more choices.
Check out the video embedded below and let us know what you think in the comments.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 03:28 PM PDT
Polycom on Tuesday launched new mobile video conferencing solutions for its customers, with strong mobile apps for Honeycomb Android tablets and Apple’s iPad.
Several startups and major companies such as Polycom, Cisco and Citrix, are heavily expanding the reach and power of video conferencing solutions. With a more mobile workforce and increasing numbers of telecommuters, video conferencing abilities for enterprise and mid-size companies are becoming even more valuable and necessary.
I was able to see the Android application in action on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 on the floor at CTIA Enterprise 2011. At least when it came to seeing the app on Android in a controlled demo, the solution worked well.
Polycom’s video conferencing apps allow an employee to dial into a meeting while on the go and see up to 12 concurrent video streams, including their own. A person using a tablet to call into Polycom’s system will be able to hear more than 350 callers on the line as well.
Surendra Arora, Polycom’s VP of business development, emphasized that Polycom’s video conferencing was now interoperable and the only video app that allows for HD video transmission using the back-facing camera on tablets that support it. (Of course, you’d most likely use the front-facing camera so you can see the conference.)
“The solution is device and OS agnostic,” Arora said. “And the fact that you can use your own device like an iPad or Motorola Xoom, unlike Cisco’s dedicated hardware, makes video conferencing more accessible.”
Arora hinted that the company’s next move would be to bring video conferencing solutions to smartphones. However, he declined to give a timetable for when we could expect to see iPhone and Android phone versions of the Polycom tablet apps.

Filed under: enterprise, mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 03:23 PM PDT
Even as Wall Street is being occupied and corporations are reviled, there is a revolution quietly raging across the country that empowers corporations to be a strong force for good. This week, California joined that revolution when Governor Jerry Brown created two new classes of corporations for businesses that seek to pursue both profit and purpose: Benefit Corporations and Flexible Purpose Corporations.
These new legal structures are revolutionary in two ways. First, they broaden the duty of a company beyond maximizing shareholder value to include maximizing stakeholder value, such as operating the business in an environmental and social responsible manner. Second, they increase transparency and accountability.
Though it is the first state to pass the Flexible Purpose Corporation type, California is the sixth state to approve the Benefit Corporation classification.
Here is a look at exactly what Benefit Corporations and Flexible Purpose Corporations are, and what they could mean for your company.

What is a Benefit Corporation?

The Benefit Corporation is a new class of corporation that allows companies to pursue profit as well as a strong social and environmental mission.
Under current corporate law, a company’s sole mandate is to maximize shareholder value — make as much profit as possible –for its shareholders. If a corporation takes other stakeholders into account in its decision making — such the environment, community, employees or suppliers — and that adversely affects the profits of the corporation, the shareholders may file a lawsuit against the directors of the corporation for failing to maximize shareholder value. Obviously, this poses a huge problem for socially and environmentally responsible corporations.
The new Benefit Corporation structure addresses this problem in two primary ways.
First it mandates that, in addition to shareholders, the board of directors take the environment, community, employees and suppliers into account when they make decisions. This is known as the shift from maximizing shareholder value to maximizing stakeholder value.
Secondly, it mandates a high level of transparency and accountability. Within 120 days after the end of each fiscal year, a Benefit Corporation is required to publish a Benefit Report, which states how the Benefit Corporation performed that year on a social and environmental axis. The Benefit Corporation is held to a third party’s independent assessment that measures social and environmental impact. The most prominent is currently B Labs Assement. The Benefit Corporation has to then share this assessment of its performance publicly, which increases transparency and accountability.

What is a Flexible Purpose Corporation?

Benefit Corporations and Flexible Purpose Corporations are, by and large, similar legal structures. However there is one primary difference between these two pieces of legislation: The Flexible Purpose Corporation (FPC) allows a corporation to select a specific mission, in addition to profits, that it will pursue.
Just like the Benefit Corporation, a Flexible Purpose Corporation broadens the duties of its board of directors, from solely maximizing shareholder value to also pursuing an additional purpose that is clearly stated in the FPC’s organizing documents.
The Flexible Purpose Corporation allows the directors to choose a their own “special purpose,” such as employing people from an underprivileged community. The FPC must clearly state its specific purpose, outline goals to achieve that purpose, and publish an annual report disclosing how well it has achieved that purpose. The premise is that clearly stating the positive purpose of the company and being transparent in an annual report will create better business.
The special purpose chosen by a FPC can be anything that generally benefits society, but can include the following:
  • One or more charitable or public purpose activities that could be carried out by a California nonprofit public benefit corporation.
  • The purpose of promoting positive short-term or long-term effects of the Flexible Purpose Corporation's activities upon stakeholders, the community and society, or the environment.
  • The purpose of minimizing adverse short-term or long-term effects of the corporation's activities upon stakeholders, the community and society, or the environment.

What are the advantages of these structures?

The benefits of these new structures for a company are, first, that it has the ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of all stakeholders without risking a shareholder suit. Second, it allows a company to differentiate itself from any competing companies that are green washing.
The benefits for shareholders are that they can now invest in companies that are serious about running in a sustainable manner.
By mandating that corporations only focus on profits, the current system almost assures a negative outcome for society. By removing mandating stakeholder primacy and increasing transparency and accountability, directors are freed up to use the market as a force for good without risking suit from their shareholders.

How do you become a Benefit or Flexible Purpose Corporation?

If you have an existing company, two thirds of the shareholders have to vote to make a change into either of the new forms.
If you have a new company, you simply register as one of these new classes of corporation. The FPC classification requires that you list your “special purpose” in the organizing documents.

Is it right for your company?

You should use either of these new forms if you are serious about operating a sustainable business, and if you are comfortable enough to allow the public to see how well you are performing. If you just want to greenwash your business, or want to look socially conscious without actually changing your core business model, then these new classes of corporations will just make you look ridiculous.
I think the best analogy is, if you’re going to be naked, you’d better be buff.
Kyle Westaway is an attorney and social entrepreneur. Kyle is the founding partner at Westaway Law, an innovative New York City law firm that counsels social entrepreneurs. Kyle is a Cordes Fellow. He lectures at Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School. He launched Socentlaw — a blog about the legal side of social enterprise, and has helped build Biographe, a sustainable style brand that employs and empowers survivors of the commercial sex trade.
[Image via Kudryashka/Shutterstock]

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, green

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 02:46 PM PDT
Hipstamatic D-Series is the latest, wait-est mobile application from the makers of hit  photography app Hipstamatic.
The app’s big feature is the 24-shot chasm of uncertainty between snapping a pic and getting to see it.
That’s right, just like in the good ol’ days of film photography, you have to run through a “roll” of film before you get to see your shots.
Gone are the digital previews and the after-the-fact tweaking that made you feel like a decent amateur photographer. Now, you get one shot (as with the original Hipstamatic app) at taking a great picture, and you have to wait to see how you did.
It sounds stupid; however, our token office hipster tells us the kids will eat it up.
The app comes from digital photography app shop Synthetic, a small firm that also made pocket photo booth app IncrediBooth and digital darkroom Swankolab.
In a word, the company focuses on reviving the maddening, infuriatingly slow, hit-or-miss process of analog photography for iPhone users too young to have ever actually needed to develop film. And recreating the experience of shooting an entire roll of film is now part of its retro-meets-modern offering.
“It's an opportunity to bring back the idea that you have this roll of film and you shoot with it, and you think about what you're seeing in the moment, more so than snapping a photo and looking at it, deleting it or taking another one,” said Synthetic founder Lucas Buick to Pocket-lint.
The app is scheduled to be live in the iTunes App Store before the end of the month. Synthetic says 2012 will bring a few new products, as well, so stay tuned.
Image courtesy of johnwilliamsphd.

Filed under: mobile

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 02:13 PM PDT
Chinese mobile manufacturer Huawei on Tuesday announced its 7-inch Springboard for T-Mobile, a new Android tablet that will compete with other 7-inch tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 and the red-hot Amazon Kindle Fire.
Android tablets have failed to make substantial headway against Apple’s iPad, but cheaper Android-based tablets could start to eat into the iPad’s market share since the least-expensive iPad 2 costs a hefty $499. Enter Huawei, which already offers low-priced Android phones in the U.S.
I was able to get hands on time with the new Springboard on the floor of the CTIA Enterprise 2011 show in San Diego. It’s light at 14 ounces and relatively small at 7.48-by-5.08-by-0.41 inches. It felt nice in my hands and the aluminum body felt surprisingly premium compared to Huawei’s cheap-feeling plastic phones. The tablet’s 7-inch screen has 1280-by-800 resolution and pictures and text looked good on it. There’s a 5-megapixel camera on back and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for taking pictures or videochatting.
As far as performance, the device felt slightly sluggish compared to my iPad 2, but it was still fast enough to scroll through and open apps to hardly notice the sluggishness. In runs the Android 3.2 mobile operating system, which is optimized for running Honeycomb on 7-inch tablets. Inside, the machine has a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor and HSPA 14.4 data capabilities that allow for fast processing and speedy T-Mobile “4G” data.
Unfortunately, Huawei and T-Mobile have not yet announced pricing and availability for tablet. That said, Hauwei is known for value pricing, and if it wants the tablet to compete with the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire, it would be smart to keep it under $200 with a 2-year contract. A Huawei spokesperson on the CTIA show floor said it should be available “before the holidays.”

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 01:54 PM PDT
Facebook’s Timeline is possibly the biggest wholesale design change the site has seen. So we called in three top designers to critique the concept and execution.
Last week, we chatted with Facebook product chief Sam Lessin about how and why Timelines came to be, including design inspirations and influences.
Today, we have brought together UX expert Chuck Longanecker of Digital Telepathy, former Google designer and current Backplane co-founder Joey Primiani and Flipboard co-founder and design chief Evan Doll to discuss and dissect Facebook Timelines.

Echoes of infographics, tablet apps & About.me

Lessin told us that scrapbooks and physical photo albums had a big impact on Timeline’s user experience; however, we also saw other influences from modern apps like Tumblr and form factors like tablets.
“I think the cover photo is allowing an improvement of personalization without MySpacing all over everything. Hats off to About.me for influencing this move,” said Longanecker, who has previously pointed to apps such as About.me as good examples of human-at-a-glance profiles.
“The current design iteration of profiles on any network is extremely weak in general and lacks the true personality of meeting someone for the first time or perhaps getting to know them better,” he continued.
“We are a visual group of people, reading someone’s bio and likes/dislikes online does not do us justice… It’s only natural for Facebook to want to visualize this data and enable their users to connect on a level with greater experience-based dimension.”
Doll saw a big correlation between data visualization and Timeline’s UI — no coincidence, considering Facebook hired two infographic gurus specifically to work on the product.
“Facebook is realizing there are huge amounts of data that need to be wrangled for users,” Doll said. “Information visualization is increasingly important for making sense of huge sets of social data. Designers with a strong information visualization backgrounds are very influential and in high demand. We saw a similar problem and found an incredible designer for Flipboard, Marcos Weskamp, with a strong information visualization background.”
And Primiani pointed out the Timeline UI is not unlike a lot of mobile or tablet application interfaces. “We are going to see a lot more web app-like interfaces with larger, visual click-targets and fluid animations similar to mobile and tablet design.”
The young designer also noted, “The higher-resolution media in the feed [is] similar to micro-blogging sites like Tumblr.”

How users will react

Of course, as with every minor user interface or user experience tweak that gets rolled out to hundreds of millions of people at once, users tend to recoil from change.
Lessin said that Facebook users tended to train one another on new features as part of the onboarding process. We asked our panel how they thought Facebook users would react to Timeline.
Longanecker told us, “The interface is a nice improvement, but I am not sure that people want to go back to looking at profiles instead of a better way to curate their newsfeed.”
“There's been a lot of discussion and interest in the new design,” Doll said of the hum and chatter among Facebook’s loyal end users. “This exhibits the strong emotional connection Facebook users have with the product. Most companies would do anything to have a user base so passionate. As with every major Facebook redesign, I suspect people will get used to the new look over time.”
Primiani brought up an interesting design point, saying, “It will be interesting to see how people parse a two-column list rather than one-column. It seems after a few days I’ve gotten used to it, but I’m still concerned that content is being hidden by the other secondary and tertiary UI elements.”
Longanecker concluded that a lot of how users react to the new interface will come down to how much users like the way Timeline portrays them to the rest of the world. Users will have a seven-day window between activating Timeline and publishing their new profiles to work out the kinks and hide any embarrassing stories, but still, too much revelation could lead to a backlash.
It’s the age-old privacy question with a new emphasis on what we’ve uploaded in years gone by.
“It depends on much Timelines exposes about us by default,” he said. “If it’s TMI, and all of the sudden, everyone knows about that time I drank too much at SXSW 2009, we have problems.”
He continued, “In general, I think the most interesting aspect of this new feature is how we will change our sharing. Will we be more specific with our uploaded content or will we just upload less based on the new functionality?”

Ultimately, does Timeline pass muster?

Our panelists did have a few complaints about the new interface and experience.
Longanecker brings up a fundamental concern: “Focusing on a profile may be too passive for live interaction which Facebook has done so well with in the News Feed.,, I am not convinced that Facebook will figure out the apps side of things. I don’t think we need yet another service telling us what our friends are doing.”
Primiani said he dislikes what he called a “heavy” background and containers, which he claimed made the site feel slower than it did in previous iterations.
And, like Primiani, Doll said he is “still getting used to the two-column design for the Timeline. It looks great, but having to switch your attention back and forth can make it tough to keep track of where you are.”
But Primiani sums up the intentions of Facebook’s designers neatly in his verbal thumbs-up: “I think it is a step in the right direction to get an instant snapshot of who this person is as a whole very quickly.” In fact, that’s exactly what Facebook was going for.
“It gives you a sense that your life is a story that you're building with each action you take online,” Doll noted. “It satisfies a very fundamental human need to be a part of something bigger.”
Doll continued to say that he loved the way personal stories were aggregated and summarized — something of a specialty of his. “When you start to think about fitting an entire lifetime into a single view, this becomes essential.”
Longanecker: The order that Stories brings in to your content is positive. It’s easy to become a digital pack-rat and have a disorganized and unusable set of content like boxes of old photographs or journals. Semantics and metadata allow the story to shine through without a ton of effort.
I am glad that Facebook is evolving the way we perceive past content and bringing in the element of time. When was the last time you looked up a post or image that your Facebook friend shared 2 years ago? Now it matters.
Image courtesy of Joey Primiani.
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Filed under: dev

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 01:10 PM PDT
Asus kicked off its first lineup of ultraportable MacBook Air killers today at a New York City event, dubbed ZenBooks for their balance of beauty and strength.
But even though Asus chairman Johnny Shih took great pains never to utter the phrase “MacBook Air” at the event, the specter of Apple’s popular ultraportable was evident.
At first glance, it’s impossible not to think of the MacBook Air when looking at the all-metal design of the ZenBooks. Asus also chose to release 11- and 13-inch Zenbook models, just like the MacBook Air. Indeed, it seems that throughout the entire design process of the Zenbook, Asus designers spent more time trying to emulate and one-up Apple’s design, instead of trying for something truly original.
Asus did manage to deliver some nice features in the Zenbooks not found in the Air, or other ultra book competitors. They feature USB 3.0 ports, which are much faster than the USB 2.0 ports in the Air. Asus also saw fit to pack in free ethernet and VGA adapters with the computers, which typically cost around $40 or more from Apple, as well as a free sleeve.
The Zenbooks feature standby times of two weeks, which Shih claimed were much longer times than the Air, even though Apple lists its standby time as one month. Using Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine 2 technology, the computers can always resume from standby in under two seconds. Judging from the short time I had with some demo Zenbook models at the event, boot times were around 15 seconds, about the same I see from the MacBook Air.
Asus did manage to undercut Apple slightly with pricing at least. The 11-inch Zenbook starts at $999 with a 1.6Ghz Core i5 CPU and 128GB solid-state drive, while the comparable MacBook Air model only includes a 64GB drive. The 13-inch model will start at just $1,099, compared to $1,299 for the 13-inch Air.
Both Zenbook models also weight about the same as their Air counterparts, at around 2.4 pounds for the 11-inch and 2.9 pounds for the 13-inch.
From the short hands on time I had with the Zenbooks, they feel about as solid as the Air (even though they don’t have a unibody metal design). Opening up the Zenbooks was slightly difficult, due to thin edge of the computer (Shih struggled for some time to open up the computer while he was on stage.) The keyboard feels surprisingly comfortable, but I had some trouble dealing with the trackpad, which has separate zones at the bottom for right and left-clicking. The trackpad was at times unresponsive, and doesn’t feel as smooth as the Air’s glass trackpad.
The Zenbooks are also part of Intel’s Ultrabook push for thin ultraportables. An Intel representative joined Shih on stage to praise the computers, and reiterated the company’s prediction that ultrabooks will be the next major wave for computer design.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 12:49 PM PDT
There’s a certain separation between the religious community and the tech community. So when we heard about The Table, a social media startup aimed squarely at churches, we were intrigued.
After all, churches are supposedly here to help their members behave as a community. But if you’ve been to church lately, especially a larger church, you might have noticed how easy it is for individuals to slip into the shadows, not really engaging and not having their very concrete social and physical needs met.
“The biggest churches are the ones that it’s easiest to hide in,” said The Table co-founder Josh Lewis. “My church has 4,000 or 5,000 people. You go in, you sit down, you listen to the sermon, then you drive home. You can get lost in the crowd so easily.”
It’s a problem tailor-made for a social media solution. But churches can be backwards on the tech front, and technologists –
Well, in Lewis’ words, “I worked at Apple for six years, and there’s a lot of… Well, it’s hard to generalize, but the tech sector is not super religious. There’s kind of a schism.”
So it took a special group of tech folks to make a proper tool for religious and what they call para-religious organizations — community-focused non-profits that need to host online community discussions.
The Table is essentially a white-label, private social network for real-world communities. The idea itself isn’t too new; Yammer does a version of this kind of private social networking for the enterprise.
But Lewis said the nature of The Table’s tools were leading to sharing on a new level — interaction took precedence over self-expression, and anonymous, impersonal feelings within the churches using The Table began to fall away.
“When a church creates a Table, it’s just for members and attendees,” said Lewis. “People behave differently — in a really good way — than they do on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a much more intimate place. Because of that, people will post some really sensitive stuff. It was a big shock initially. The kinds of things that people are posting are things I’ve never, ever seen on more public networks. ‘My marriage is falling apart, I’m strugging with substance abuse, I’m considering suicide.’”
Here’s a look at how The Table works for churches:
“Using something like this makes it harder to be a stranger and makes you feel more connected,” said Lewis. “We’re all about slaying anonymity and killing apathy.”
While anyone can post anonymously to a Table network, Lewis told us, “People will sometimes consider posting something anonymously and decide to ‘get real’ and be themselves to their church.”
And there’s one other big difference between these networks and the wider web of connections most of us have online. “The people you’re talking to, you’re seeing them within a week,” Lewis explained. “No other social network really works like that.”
In addition to giving church members a space to connect with one another over life concerns, The Table also brings the the Serve App, which allows members to help one another by providing simple services (such as transportation or cooking) and giving, borrowing and lending items.
“Consumerism in America causes some problems,” said Lewis. “We’ve got so much crap in our houses, and it’s so much cooler to be able to take that and give it away. You could sell it on Craiglist, but there’s something more interesting about making a connection with someone in your community who’s not a total stranger.”
Currently, The Table team has allowed Christian churches to use the software free of charge. Since the application(s) for The Table are, as Lewis said, “so churchy,” the team is working on pay-to-play code licensing and customization with other organizations. “And we’re having internal discussions about whether we’ll serve groups outside churches [such as community centers, LGBT organizations and even community financial institutions], and how that could be done without losing focus on the main idea,” Lewis told us.
“Our team is tiny. We have two developers right now… If we lose focus on what we know — we’re all church people here — the quality of what we’re delivering to the church would drop,” he concluded.
The Table is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was founded around the end of 2007.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 12:06 PM PDT
This year, a jittery global market, a tumultuous IPO window, sinking investor confidence have tested the startup bubble. Now, a new report shows venture capital funds, especially early stage-focused funds, are struggling to raise money to pass on to startups.
According to newly revealed statistics from Dow Jones LP Source, a total of 32 venture funds in the United States were able to raise $2.2 billion during the third quarter of 2011.
This figure represents a 24 percent drop from the Q3 2010; during that period, 40 VC funds raised $2.9 billion.
"As limited partners continue to show a strong preference for investing with only the most prominent firms, the number of funds and the amount of capital committed have shrunk," said Dow Jones VentureWire editor Scott Austin in a release.
"If this trend continues, entrepreneurs will face greater competition for capital and other investors, such as angels and corporations, may find opportunities to invest in deals that, traditionally, would have been done by venture firms."
During the first three quarters of 2011, venture fundraising in the States showed a 9 percent increase; however, more than half of that fundraising ($10.6 billion raised by 90 funds) was wrapped up during the first quarter.
In other words, the second half of the year, which saw massive instability in financial markets around the world, seems to have had a profound and palpable impact on private equity.
An interesting pain point was early-stage funds. Limited partners seemed particularly skittish about this high-risk area, instead favoring multi-stage funds. In early-stage fundraising, 52 funds collected $2.1 billion in the first three quarters, a 41 percent drop year-over-year. Multi-stage fundraising, however, was level year over yearas 28 funds raised $5 billion so far this year.
Outside the U.S., European venture capital fundraising might hit a record low in 2011. So far this year during the first three quarters, 25 funds raised just $1.8 billion. This activity is 31 percent less than the funds raised during the first three quarters of 2010.
Image courtesy of mslivenletlive.

Filed under: deals

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 11:46 AM PDT
Despite massive growth in both revenue and paying subscribers, streaming music service Spotify made an operating loss of $41.5 million in 2010, reports Reuters.
Spotify, which offers both a free ad-supported and premium subscriptions of its on-demand music service, allows users to share playlists with friends.
One reason for the operating loss could have to do with the cost associated with the music licensing fees Spotify pays to various music record labels for the songs available on its service. Those fees are easily one of the company’s largest expenses.
However, according to the report by Reuters, Spotify is negotiating new lower licensing fees with several U.S. music companies, which should have a positive impact on the company’s ability to make a profit in the future.
Over the past year, Spotify has experienced an even higher rate of growth. After launching the service in the U.S. and adding new integration with giant social network Facebook, Spotify now has over five million active monthly users. Over two million of Spotify’s total active users are paying subscribers.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 11:40 AM PDT
There are three things that matter in Silicon Valley: the people, the technology and the money.
Foundation Capital general partners Charles Moldow and Ashmeet Sidana sat down with VentureBeat to talk about their role in bringing those three things together.
There is a reason why some investors are called “angels.” Venture money and the experienced investors behind it can rescue a startup from irrelevance. It provides an open door for a company to expand its idea, pump more resources into research and development, and hire the talent needed to keep the wheels turning.
Moldow and Sidana have done this for a number of companies and continue to look for more.
Of the kinds of companies Foundation Capital invests in Moldow says, “We’re looking for big market opportunities…deep technology.” In this interview, the duo also discuss VC competition in Silicon Valley — or as Moldow describes it, “coopatition,” a mix of cooperation and competition — and whether we are in a technology bubble.
Foundation Capital has invested in companies such as video rental company Netflix, textbook rental company Chegg, virtual coupon distributor Ebates, and green technology company Silver Springs Networks, which recently filed for IPO.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat, video

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 11:38 AM PDT

Social gaming giant Zynga is breaking away from Facebook and other social networking sites by building its own independent website with Project Z. The company gave press an early look at the service today, which will come out later this year, at its Zynga Unleashed event in San Francisco.
Project Z is basically an independent website that exclusively hosts Zynga games. It uses Facebook’s connect feature to build a social graph of your friends on Project Z. You can then go directly to Project Z to play Zynga games instead of playing them on Facebook.
“Project Z is a Facebook connect platform that leverages your Facebook friends to play in an environment tailored with just your friends,” Zynga chief operating officer John Schappert said. “We learn a lot more about our players, not just from stats but from talking to them, and this is what they wanted.”
Zynga chief executive Mark Pincus mentioned a new service called “Zynga Direct” earlier today, but Project Z is only a small part of Zynga Direct. Zynga Direct is a much larger initiative that will serve as the company’s online distribution service for games.
"It's a platform for a direct relationship with consumers, whether on the web or on mobile, to give you a whole sandbox and create socialness about the games and not just within the games," Zynga chief executive Mark Pincus said.
You can start a game on Facebook and continue it on Project Z and vice versa, always continuing where you left off. Starting today players around the world can create their own “zTag,” a gamer tag for Zynga’s website. The service is still not complete yet, Schappert said, but should be out soon.
Project Z has been in development for two years, Pincus said. The service was rumored last year to be a web portal that would go directly to Zynga games and bypass Facebook and other social networks.
Zynga has built its business on social games on Facebook, and it currently has more than 250 million monthly active users, according to AppData. The company has been so successful that it recently filed to go public so it could raise up to $1 billion, and it made $90 million in income last year.
As profitable and successful as Zynga has been, the company is still heavily reliant on social networking giant Facebook. Facebook takes a 30 percent cut of each transaction made on Facebook through the use of Facebook credits. Because Zynga relies on virtual good sales in its games, it is essentially handing a large chunk of its revenue to Facebook. Zynga recently began adding its games to Google+, Google’s own social networking site.

Filed under: games

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 11:30 AM PDT
Zynga is announcing 10 new social games today, , showing off the firepower of the company recent acquisitions of game development talent.
To date, Zynga has only launched one game at a time. But at the company’s new headquarters in San Francisco today, chief executive Mark Pincus announced that the company is now rolling out a whole slate of games that cover new genres, new platforms, and new formats for the company. All of the games share common roots in that they are social, feature a cartoon style that is looking more and more refined, and are designed to reach a mass market.
The games include titles that are meant for Facebook, mobile platforms, China’s Tencent, HTML5 and Google+. The games include the just-launched Mafia Wars 2, CastleVille, Zynga Bingo (within the larger Zynga Casino), and Hidden Chronicles. New mobile games include Mafia Shakedown, Dream Zoo and FarmVille Express. These are part of a broadside aimed at taking back market share on Facebook from Electronic Arts, which has gained a lot of ground with The Sims Social, as well as new players like Wooga and Kabam.
“We want to be a the biggest macro bet on social gaming,” said Pincus. “We want to give you more of a World of WarCraft feeling, but packaged up in something you can understand in three clicks and five or 15 minutes.”
Zynga has acquired a company a month for the past year as part of an effort to create an army of game developers, who are the foot soldiers in the social game wars. Zynga now has more than 2,500 employees, including 1,700 at the company’s new headquarters alone. That is a huge amount of talent, considering it takes maybe six to nine months for a team of 25 or so game developers to create an average social game (at least that is our guess).
Until now, it seemed like Zynga was far too overloaded with staff, considering how many games it was launching. But the new game launches show that the company is quite serious about exploiting its game developers to the fullest.
Bill Jackson, creative director of Zynga Dallas, previously worked at Microsoft’s Ensemble Studios on titles such as Age of Empires. Now Zynga Dallas is launching CastleVille, the latest in the series of Ville games that have become the mainstay of Zynga’s simulation games.
“CastleVille takes Zynga’s Ville legacy to a new level of social,” Jackson said.
You can build your castle, show it to your friends, and craft things like potions or armor. You can follow the game’s story and its characters. You can trade and barter with friends by visiting their towns. And you have to defend your town against beasts who are outside the walls. The game has more personalized storytelling; players explore the world around them. You meet characters and make them happy and unlock new characters as you progress.
“In short, Zynga is bringing massively multiplayer role-playing games to the mass market,” Jackson said.

Filed under: games

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Posted: 11 Oct 2011 11:12 AM PDT
Social gaming giant Zynga today announced it is bringing its latest online social game, Mafia Wars 2, to Google’s online social network, Google+.
Mafia Wars 2 is a deeper and more graphically appealing version of Mafia Wars, which was one of Zynga’s earliest and most popular games on Facebook, which came out in April 2008. The new game features better graphics, more animations and cartoon-like gun battles. It’s more similar to Zynga’s social games with complex role-playing game elements, such as CityVille and FarmVille.
Zynga brought its most popular online game, CityVille, to Google+ around three weeks ago. CityVille has more than 76 million monthly active users on Facebook, while its nearest competitor The Sims Social has more than 66 million monthly active users.
Zynga has built its business on social games on Facebook, and it currently has more than 250 million monthly active users, according to AppData. The company has been so successful that it recently filed to go public in order to raise up to $1 billion, and it made $90 million in income last year. But the company has been reliant on Facebook and its Facebook Credits virtual currency transaction system. Google+ gives Zynga a way to generate revenue independent of Facebook.
Google's social network attracted a reported 20 million visitors shortly after it launched in June. While it doesn't compare to Facebook's staggering 750 million users or Twitter's sizable 200 million users, those networks have been around much longer.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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