01 November, 2011



Google releases GoMo to help retailers make more effective mobile sites

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 09:50 AM PDT

GoMoGoogle wants more website owners to realize the importance of creating and maintaining a mobile website. Today it launched GoMo, a new program to call detailed developers to the mobile web.

Creating a website is oftentimes a nitty-gritty process. You need the right designer, with a shared vision, and lots of communication. But nowadays when your site is done and beautiful, you can’t sit back and enjoy your working creation: it’s time to develop the mobile version. Many websites today overlook the necessity of mobile websites and how pinching and zooming can cost you repeat visitors. This is especially important for eCommerce businesses who will want to optimize websites as mobile purchasing becomes even more widespread.

GoMo will offer participants data on why they should create a mobile website. From there, people can see what their websites look like to others, find examples of great mobile websites, read case studies and best practices, and lastly access a directory of developers who can help make the mobile website a reality.

According to Google, 61 percent of visitors to a non-mobile site on their device are unlikely to return. Whereas, consumer engagement raises 85 percent when a mobile website is available. According to Forrester, mobile commerce, or mCommerce, will reach $31 billion in 2016. Online retailers are going to want a chunk of that.

To kick the initiative off, Google is holding a webinar on “making mobile-friendly websites.” You can register here.

Filed under: dev, mobile

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What killed Microsoft’s Courier tablet? A lack of creative vision

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 09:36 AM PDT

I can’t help but sigh whenever I learn more details about Microsoft’s ill-fated, but much-anticipated, Courier tablet.

The latest tidbits on the Courier debacle come from CNet’s Jay Greene, who interviewed 18 current and former Microsoft execs, along with others working on the project, to give us our most complete look at why the innovative project was killed off.

Before the first iPad was announced, the gadget site Gizmodo reported that Microsoft was working on a tablet with dual 7-inch screens, vaguely resembling a Moleskin notebook. Microsoft was positioning the device as a digital journal that featured a pen-based and multitouch interface, and it would have also made a compelling e-reader product as well — a market the company still hasn’t touched.

As Greene tells it, Microsoft was pursuing two different tablet strategies long before the iPad was officially unveiled. There was the Courier, spearheaded by the two biggest minds behind the Xbox, J Allard and Robbie Bach,  and a more traditional Windows-based tablet project led by Steven Sinofsky, head of the Windows division.

To help decide which project to back, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer enlisted Bill Gates’ wisdom. Writes Greene:

At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates’ waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. Allard, Microsoft’s executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn’t trying to build another e-mail experience. He reasoned that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Allard went on to describe the Courier as a PC complement, instead of a replacement, and that its users wouldn’t need an extensive e-mail application like Outlook. That response led to an “allergic reaction” by Gates, according to a former Courier worker. Several weeks later, Microsoft cancelled the project because it didn’t fully mesh with its Windows and Office plans, sources say.

Now Microsoft is putting its weight behind Windows 8 for tablets, which will start appearing next year. But even though Windows 8 looks interesting, it’s undeniably a rehash of the iPad, whereas the Courier would have been something completely different and, notably, released around the time of the first iPad.

While there’s certainly more to the story (the second part of Greene’s piece is coming tomorrow), Gates’ initial reaction seems fairly indicative of why the Courier didn’t survive. When faced with the choice of something new and innovative, versus something that will tie back into Microsoft’s massive software empire, it seems the company will always choose the latter.

The core ethos behind the Courier was “free create”, which is described as “a natural way to digitally write, sketch and gather inspiration by blending the familiarity of the pen, the intuition of touch, the simplicity of the book and the advantages of software and services,” according to an internal Microsoft book about the project.

Indeed, it’s not surprising that such a lofty philosophy failed to click within Microsoft — I just hope there’s some company out there that can follow through with that initial vision. There’s definitely still plenty of value with the notion of a completely digital notebook.

Writing about the Courier’s death in April, I said “Most likely a future Microsoft tablet will look similar to the iPad, come out several years too late, and nobody will take it seriously.” Yup.

Image via Engadget

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Apple is removing cloud music apps from the App Store

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 09:12 AM PDT

amusicIn the latest example of Apple’s fear of competition, the company has removed an iOS app that allows people to access music stored on Amazon’s Cloud Drive.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive is a direct competitor of Apple’s iCloud service, which stores a variety of content — music, books, photos, contacts, calendars, and more — associated with a person's Apple ID account and pushes it to all their iOS devices.

While Amazon doesn’t have a Cloud Drive iOS app, development company Interactive Innovative Solutions (IIS) has developed an application, called aMusic, that will allow iOS device owners to access Amazon’s service. However, the aMusic app was recently removed due to legal issues with the music industry, according to a report from Evolver.fm.

Unlike both Apple’s iCloud and Google’s Music Beta services, Amazon’s Cloud Drive doesn’t catalog all the licensed music in a person’s account. This is important to music labels because they get a cut off of both those services when people upload copyrighted music to their account. Since Amazon isn’t lucrative for the music labels, they (the labels) have no problem contacting their buddies at Apple to get any Cloud Drive app or service removed.

Normally, I would just blame the music labels for this mess, but Apple is also delaying an update to IIS’ Google Music Beta app, gMusic. “I submitted it 2 weeks ago. Every other update I have submitted within the 2 weeks has been approved in under 8 hours. So not sure what the deal is,” said IIS’ James Clancey in a statement to Evolver.fm.

I can’t entirely blame Apple for its behavior, since it clearly has no incentive to allow its customers to use a competitor’s music service like Music Beta or Cloud Drive on iOS devices. Doing so would give people a reason not to sign up for Apple’s iTunes Match — a $25 per year music service that gives legal access to any songs currently in your iTunes music library.

At the same time, it is getting a little ridiculous to see Apple cutting off all potential competitors in the streaming media front under the assumption that it would take business away. Yesterday, I reported on the ridiculous lengths Apple has gone to hold back iOS customers from viewing streaming video service Hulu on a television set.

I highly doubt Apple’s hardcore fan base is going to stop using Apple services just because there are competitors available. Perhaps some of them will, but not enough to make a significant impact on business decisions.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Google+ Android app revamped with Ice Cream Sandwich in mind

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 08:29 AM PDT

Google-Plus-Android-refreshGoogle has released a revamped version of its Google+ app for Android with design cues taken from the latest much-hyped release of Android.

“We worked closely with the Android team as they developed Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich), so you’ll see the same attention to beauty and simplicity in our new design,” Google Product Manager Ben Eidelson wrote on Google+.

The upstart Google+ social network has a long road ahead of itself if it wants to seriously challenge the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Owning mobile through inventive, strong apps is one key to this process because the line between mobile and social is increasingly blurred. Google also recently boosted the network’s reach by giving Google Apps customers access.

Google+’s new Android app features an overhauled interface that’s smoother than before and actually looks a little more like the iOS Google+ version now. Google claims the app has fixed several bugs and improves battery life, navigation and notifications. You can also sign out of the app for the first time and save time by adding people to a circle from a circle profile.

The new Google+ app runs on any Android phone with the Froyo version of Android or higher.

Take a look at the Google-provided gallery below for a closer look at the new app:

Filed under: mobile, social

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A native Gmail iPhone app means one less killer exclusive for Android

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 07:22 AM PDT

Finally, iPhone users could soon get access to the rich Gmail experience that Android users have had since the beginning.

Google is close to launching a native Gmail app for the iPhone, MG Siegler reports. The app may already have been submitted for approval by Apple, and if so we could see it very soon.

This is big news for several reasons: Up until now, iPhone users who rely on Gmail have had a subpar mail experience on the device. You can set up Gmail as an Exchange server (this is my preferred method), which gives you access to Google Calendar on the iPhone as well, but you don’t get access to useful Gmail features like Priority Inbox. Google also updated its mobile web version of Gmail in 2009, which has been steadily upgraded, but still lacks the speed and features of a native app.

A full-fledged Gmail iPhone app won’t be able to take the place of the iPhone’s built-in mail application (thanks a lot, Apple), but it could still offer a lot of useful features for Gmail addicts like myself. As Siegler points out, it’ll likely offer push notifications, which can alert you whenever you get a new e-mail. But for me, the real killer feature would be Priority Inbox support, as well as the ability to easily flag and access my e-mail labels.

The app could also get some Google+ integration, since Google is now trying to shove its new social network into all of its services. Siegler also notes that while Google hasn’t had the best track record with its iPhone apps (though I still give the company credit for supporting other platforms, unlike Apple), this one is shaping up to be killer.

And when the native Gmail app is released, Android users will have one less feature that they can lord over iPhone owners (strangely, Gmail is still separate from the native mail app on Android). Together with Apple’s recent acquisition of C3 Technologies — which will allow the company to overhaul its mobile maps apps to feature cool 3D buildings like the Google Maps app on Android — it seems like Apple is making some big strides towards filling in the few gaps where it lags behind Google.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Massive ad network Adknowledge acquires AdParlor to get into the Facebook ad game

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 07:11 AM PDT


Massive online ad network Adknowledge has acquired Facebook advertising provider AdParlor, a move that will give Adknowledge a much better handle on the quickly growing social ad space. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

“AdParlor has had impressive traction with Facebook ads and is at one billion impressions a day on Facebook,” Adknowledge CEO Scott Lynn told VentureBeat. “It was an easy sell.”

Adknowledge operates the fourth largest marketplace on the web where advertisers and sites can connect. We heard back in January that Adknowledge had raised $200 million in debt and private equity so it could pursue a set of acquisitions to strengthen aspects of its huge network.

Toronto-based AdParlor, which is one of leading Facebook ad management services, makes a ton of sense for acquisition. Though it has made incredible strides in the long-tail advertising in display ads, casual gaming and e-mail, Adknowledge wasn’t providing a large level of service with social ads. Since Facebook has more than 750 million members and its advertising abilities improve constantly, Adknowledge’s team knew it wanted to dig in deep in the growing space.

“We’re thinking long-term about how big this space will get,” Lynn said. “With Facebook’s users spending an average of 30 minutes a day on the site, there’s a major opportunity here for advertisers.”

Kansas City, Mo.-based Adknowledge was founded in 2004 and has additional offices in Los Angeles, New York and London. AdParlor’s team will stay in Toronto but that office will become Adknowledge’s Toronto branch. Adknowledge won’t officially disclose revenue numbers at this time, but we’ve reported previously that the company earns more than $300 million in revenues annually. And with AdParlor in hand, we’d expect that number to keep rising up.

Filed under: deals, media

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oneDrum collaboration platform brings Microsoft Office to the cloud

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 06:57 AM PDT

Software platform oneDrum, launching today, takes collaboration software where it needs to go: backwards.

Rather than make users learn new tools to work in remote teams, oneDrum is an online tool that seamlessly allows users to share and edit documents in programs such as Microsoft Xcel, Powerpoint and MS Word, spanning as far back Microsoft Office XP, which was released in 2002. With oneDrum, users get the fast and easy functionality of programs like Google Docs, but for the most popular desktop apps.

"We designed oneDrum to be insanely powerful and with as few compromises as possible,” says oneDrum co-founder and chief executive officer Jasper Westway. “Users want files to be accessible and editable offline, and co-authoring, file sharing and chat messaging are all experiences that people have become accustomed to and need for productivity."

It’s important to remember that while personal computing races ahead, there are tens of millions of business technology users who are still stuck with applications their companies can’t easily update, because it would be cost prohibitive to update Windows software company-wide at an organization with 1,00o or more employees.

Without divulging names, Westway told us that one of America’s top five management consulting firms had approached them about using their software to make their business teams more efficient. While on a tour of Silicon Valley, with a delegation from the UK, oneDrum was meeting with everyone. Well, almost everyone. Westway says Microsoft was the notable exception, because they would be a direct competitor.

Westway says he sees a future for the company where oneDrum is the technology that companies use to make their desktop applications collaborative and social. Software developers who may use the product to collaborate with their teams may be building on top of it down the line, for consumers to use.

The oneDrum platform was developed in the Stirling University Innovation Park, adjacent to a college campus, and Westway says college students were regularly tapped as beta testers, both to see what could be broken, and also to gauge how people not involved in the creation would use it.

A Windows version of oneDrum is available today, with a Mac version expected to be launched in beta some time in Q4 of 2011.

[Image Credit: noonday/ShutterStock]

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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SaveUp makes paying your debts addictive and fun

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 06:54 AM PDT

It can be pretty hard to get people to do what is in their best interest, and nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to managing personal finances.

Launching today, SaveUp creates powerful rewards for people who log on to the website to track and manage their spending to save money. Unlike most loyalty programs out there that give you credit based on how much you spend, SaveUp rewards you for how much you save.

“When you come to SaveUp, it’s like a fun rewards loop that gets you thinking about your finances in a positive way, everyday,”  co-founder and chief executive officer Priya Haji told VentureBeat. On SaveUp, users are enticed to save money, and pay down their credit card debt, reduce the balance on their auto loans, or pay their mortgage, through the accumulation of daily points. These points can be redeemed for gift cards from SaveUp partners, or to used play games on the site, where more points can be won. The whole process is supposed to be simple, different and fun, instilling responsible financial behavior all the while.

“We’re tapping into certain human behaviors, but trying to harness them to help people achieve their goals,” says Haji.

Haji says the idea of offering a $2 million grand prize comes from premium bonds, a savings and investment program in the UK, where families, get the chance to win a large cash purse for saving money. The downside, however, is that depositors lose interest compounding, but 1 in 3 families are participating. SaveUp participants earn the same interest on their savings accounts as before, and can win some pretty nice prizes such as a trip to Hawaii, or a home theater system, as well as gift cards redeemable at a variety of merchants.

There are three main ways SaveUp will make money. Paid sponsorhips from brands such as Virgin America, GameStop, and Banana Republic, whose products and services are offered as rewards, if one revenue source. SaveUp will also make money by referring customers to financial institutions. The third revenue stream comes from partnerships with financial institutions such as Bank of the West, that will have its own customized version of SaveUp. Bank of the West has more than 5 million depositors.

Haji sold her first company, World of Good, to eBay. World of Good is a marketplace where local artisans from around the world sell crafts that are making a positive impact, such as by supporting indigenous craftspeople. Partnering with eBay made Haji focus on how SaveUp could create a scalable business model while affecting positive change, she says. And financial services is an area ripe for innovation, “It’s fun to be doing something purely digital,” Haji says. And for most Americans, the idea of a gamified solution to our collective financial woes couldn’t come at a better time.

SaveUp has 11 employees, and has received $2 million in funding from BlueRun Ventures and True Ventures.

[Image Credit: UrosK and Szasz-Fabian Ilka ErikaShutterStock]

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Vimeo launches Perks program to add more value to subscriptions

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PDT

vimeo-perksPremium video sharing site Vimeo has added a new program called Perks that gives paid subscribers deals on professional video equipment and software, the company announced Tuesday.

Vimeo’s revenue comes from a combination of advertising and paid subscriptions, so the company is always looking for new ways to make its subscriptions a high value. The Perks program is purely a play to keep the company’s Pro and Plus subscribers satisfied and to attract new ones; the company will earn no money from it. A Vimeo Plus subscription costs $59.95 a year and gives users 5GB of a video storage, while a Pro subscription costs $199 a year and gives users 50GB of storage.

To make Perks work, Vimeo has partnered with B&H Photo, Kessler Crane, Red Giant Software, Letus Direct and GarageCUBE to give users discounts on cameras, software and video accessories. There’s also specific packages and bundles available that can bring the cost down further.

“The value is really appealing to our users because the cost of a subscription can be paid for with a Perks discount,” Blake Whitman, Vimeo’s VP of Creative Development told VentureBeat. “This encourages anyone who is serious about making video and lets them see the value in a Vimeo subscription.”

Whitman says the Perks program is just “phase one” and will continue to add vendors as it grows. But he also noted that the list will remain tightly knit with retailers the company trusts and feels comfortable recommending to its discerning users.

“By offering a curated list, we can help people decide what equipment could be the best fit,” Whitman said. “We don’t want to offer everything under the sun, just the best equipment for our users.”

Vimeo has been owned by IAC, which also owns companies like Match.com and The Daily Beast, since August 2006. The company doesn’t reveal subscriber numbers, but Vimeo does currently have 8.7 million registered users. On top of that, it attracts 58 million unique users per month, and that doesn’t include embedded views across the web.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Philip Rosedale’s new startup creates marketplace for small, fun jobs

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PDT

From the maker of Second Life, here comes an interesting new startup. Coffee & Power says it is creating an online marketplace where people can buy and sell small jobs.

The San Francisco-based startup is the brainchild of Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab and its virtual world Second Life. The marketplace can connect workers in a way that Rosedale says is fast, low-friction, and fun. The market has its own virtual currency and payment system, live communications and public chat, a game-like rating and review system, and a real-world facility where users can meet and work together.

“What can you do for someone else, right now? There are so many amazing and useful things that we could all do for each other if we just had a way to quickly find, explain, and pay for them.” said Coffee & Power cofounder Rosedale in a statement. “The remarkable range of jobs and services in Second Life was the inspiration to create Coffee & Power — we wanted to bring the same thing to the real world.”

The new company is today launching its web site, iPhone app, and its co-working space on Market Street in San Francisco.

Part of the idea is to bring the benefits of the virtual economy and virtual community to the real world.

Rosedale (pictured at right) said, “Work is really about directly providing value to others, not where or when you do it. Coffee & Power provides a shared space, both virtual and physical, where people can meet and do small, interesting jobs for each other.”

Coffee & Power's listings, called "missions," range from software development services to hula-hoop lessons and custom artwork. It reminds me of Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk service, which lets people farm out jobs. Other rivals are Zaarly and TaskRabbit.

All of these services recognize that the workforce is changing. The company says that the number of telecommuting professionals is rising 16 percent a year and 25 million Americans now work remotely at least one day a week. Full-time mobile workers are now 14 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Coffee & Power has built most of its own tools from the ground up. Its marketplace uses modern social media, matching buyers and sellers through live communication, rich profiles and reputations, connections to social networks, and searchable transaction histories.

People can also use the virtual currency to spend the money they earn by purchasing services from others. The virtual currency thus drives trade even further. To try out the service, users can give free missions, or gifts, to friends from their social networks. Those gifts range from an expert review of a resume to a Tarot card reading.

Coffee & Power beta users have already exchanged over $10,000 in hundreds of missions, which included creating custom Halloween costumes.

Coffee & Power operates like a farmer’s market. It aggregates interesting sellers of a variety of small services in one place, allowing buyers an easy place to browse for services. It has a live chat space for buyers and sellers so they can share feedback and develop trust. Buyers and sellers use the same persistent identity with transparent transaction histories. That helps people vet each other. The site operates on virtual currency and has a cafe-style public co-working space at 1825 Market St. in San Francisco, with free coffee, power and Wi-Fi networking. As it expands, the company will acquire more places to work.

User 'CynthPop', pictured at top, sells copywriting services on the site. She said, “Coffee & Power is the perfect mix of personal and professional — far better than just posting an ad or a resume because people get a snapshot of who I am and what I do without having to dredge through a lot of information."

Besides Rosedale, co-founders include Ryan Downe (formerly of Linden Lab) and Fred Heiberger (formerly of Accenture, CIBT and Siren Systems). The company has four other team members and a group of 50 engineers who have built the platform via Coffee & Power’s micro-contracting development platform. The company was started earlier this year, and it raised $1 million from investors including Mitch Kapor, Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, Kevin Rose, and others.

Downe (who formed the progressive rock band Moth Vellum and was former product marketing head at Linden Lab) and Rosedale got the idea after they worked for over a year, by choice, out of coffee shops and bars. They wanted to constantly change locations but still get some serious work done. Downe observed that all you really needed was “Coffee & Power,” or a cup of coffee and electrical outlets, to do work. They created an iPhone app that let them save pictures and locations of good cafes to a database. As they progressed, they looked for more ways to innovate with decentralized workforces.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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CSR demos technology for tracking mobile devices indoors

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PDT

CSR is adding the new feature of indoor tracking to its line of SiRFusion location technology, the company announced today.

The chip-making company is demonstrating the technology today at the Locations & Beyond Summit in San Francisco. CSR has pulled together several different technologies to create reliable and accurate indoor navigation possible, according to chief marketing officer, Kanwar Chadha.

The company’s SiRFusion platform and its SiRFstarV mobile chip architecture amount to the latest navigation technology that customers could use in smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to track a person’s location as they’re walking through a big building like Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Chadha said in an interview.

“Indoor has been a much tougher problem to solve,” Chadha said.

CSR — a big chip maker that was gained heft with the mergers of CSR, Sirf, and Zoran — hopes that puts it at the center of a hot market.

"Our research clearly indicates that location has quickly gained traction with consumers as an essential contextual component for many of the applications they use and depend upon with their mobile devices," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a market analyst firm. "The SiRFusion platform will shine a bright light into what until now has been a location dead zone.”

The motion-tracking system for indoors isn’t perfect, but it puts together as good a fix on a person’s location as it can with three technologies: navigation data from the Global Positioning System (GPS) and other satellite info services; WiFi radio network triangulation; and motion-sensing devices in the smartphone itself, such as gyroscopes and compasses. Separately, each one of these systems has its own limitations. But together, they can do a decent job.

Chadha’s demo features a smartphone containing the first chip using the SiRFstarV design created by CSR. That chip uses the  wireless network to tap the brains of the servers of the SiRFusion platform, which gathers information from multiple sources to make its best guess about where a given person is located.

GPS can track your location outside by determining your position relative to a satellite network. But once you go inside, the network can no longer locate you, and it doesn’t work as well in urban canyons, or streets in between skyscrapers. The system also uses cellphone network and WiFi network location systems, such as those used in the Apple iPhone, to determine your location. But those don’t work in areas beyond the range of WiFi or in a cell phone reception dead spot.

Lastly, the sensors inside a phone can offer clues as well. A compass can indicate what direction you’re walking. And motion sensors such as gyroscopes can tell if you are moving or not. If you add all of that up, the signals can be fairly accurate about your location, inside or outside. Once the technology figures out where you are, it can compare your location to known location information, such as a map of big casinos in Las Vegas that show the outlines of the buildings.

“The result can be very reliable,” Chadha said. “We think this takes location to the next level.”

Effectively, CSR’s platform is a cloud computing solution, mashing up a bunch of data sources and computing them together to get some really useful information. What’s useful about it? The data could be computed in real-time to show whether you’re walking in the right direction inside a giant building, from a casino to a parking lot. It isn’t fool-proof, but it works well enough, Chadha said.

Chadha said the systems will use only anonymous and voluntarily supplied location information as it is broadcast from users’ devices. It will then use that information to improve its database. The CSR SiRFstarV family of chips will debut sometime next year with the new indoor location platform.

Of course, if you turn your phone off, no one will find you. And if you lose all connections to the outside world, you won’t be able to find your indoor location at all. But overall, the SiRFusion platform is self-learning and self-sensing.

“If two of the elements are there, it can be accurate,” Chadha said.

CSR has also announced a new version of its car navigation and entertainment platform, the SiRFprimaII SoC. The platform can be used to create better and cheaper location-aware car entertainment systems. The chips support all global navigation satellite systems as well as features such as WiFi or Bluetooth. The chip has a 1-gigahertz ARM A9 application processor, or twice the speed of the previous chip and several times more graphics power. The chip will begin manufacturing in 2012, and parts that can be built into cars are targeted for 2013.

Filed under: mobile

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Appcelerator raises $15M, now largest third-party app publisher on iOS, Android

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 12:01 AM PDT

Skipping past the obvious “acceleration” puns, things are looking good for Appcelerator, maker of a cross-platform app development software.

The company announced today that it has raised $15 million in a third round of funding led by Mayfield Fund, Translink Capital, and Red Hat. Appcelerator also revealed some stats demonstrating tremendous growth for its Titanium development platform, including the fact that it’s now the largest third-party app publisher on both iOS and Android.

Appcelerator says that the funding will be used to expand into Europe and Asia, as well as to help build up the Titanium platform.

Titanium allows developers to easily create native and HTML 5 web apps for mobile, tablets, and desktops. And developers are clearly jumping on Appcelerator’s platform: The company says it now has over 1.6 million developers in its ecosystem (many of which came from its acquisition of Aptana in January), over 30,000 apps published (a six-fold increase over last year), and its apps are on over 30 million devices. Appcelerator’s employee numbers also skyrocketed, jumping to 100 from just 17 a year ago.

The company is also looking to support other platforms with its app development, including connected TVs by the end of the year, VP of marketing Scott Schwarzhoff told VentureBeat in an interview last week. NBC is apparently already asking the company about using its tools to develop a Google TV app, which shouldn’t be too difficult since GTV is Android-based. As for Windows Phone 7, he said “it wasn’t a question of if, but when.”

Appcelerator also snapped up the HTML 5 platform maker Particle Code last week — which was funded by this latest round — in an effort to ramp up its own HTML5 development offerings.

The third round of funding comes about a year after Appcelerator’s last round of $9 million. The Mountain View, Calif-based company has now raised around $24 million, including this latest round.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Why Hulu Plus isn’t available on Apple TV yet

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 08:44 PM PDT

It’s only fitting that, on Halloween night, we find out the reason streaming video service Hulu Plus has yet to make its way to the Apple TV is that Apple is apparently scared of the competition.

Hulu could take business away from Apple’s TV show and movie purchases via iTunes. Apple’s $99 set-top streaming media box was also recently upgraded to permit  customers to take advantage of past purchases, which can be downloaded through Apple TV’s iTunes store using Apple’s iCloud service.

A native Hulu Plus app for Apple TV has been ready to roll out to users for at least a month, according to a report from 9 to 5 Mac. However, the development is on hold despite the absence of any technical problems.

Although Apple TV allows a native app from streaming video service Netflix, it isn’t much of a threat. Netflix does have a large TV offering but its prevented from streaming the most recent season of all TV shows currently on the air.

Apple also restricts the Hulu Plus iOS applications for the iPhone and iPad. The iPad version is unable to take advantage of high-definition video playback when devices owners use an HDMI iPad adapter cable with their television sets. As for the iPhone version, users are unable to use the new Airplay feature, which lets people mirror their phone’s screen with a television screen that’s connected to an Apple TV.

Another reason Apple might have delayed Hulu Plus on Apple TV could be the streaming service’s efforts to sell itself during the last few months. Hulu’s owners — News Corp., Disney, Comcast and Providence Equity Partners — initially put the service up for sale in June but eventually decided to call off the auction. Some of the potential bidders in that auction included direct Apple competitors like Google. Apple could just as easily have waited to see how the situation played out before agreeing to add the service to Apple TV.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Smule to make beautiful music with $12M in funding

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 07:51 PM PDT

Music app maker Smule today announced a new funding round of $12 million to support future expansion plans, and to hire more employees.

Smule is the company behind the I am T-Pain autotune app, Ocarina, a very early hit on the iPhone, Glee Karaoke, and many more.

“This gives us some confidence we should put our foot on the gas,” Smule co-founder and chief executive officer Jeff Smith told VentureBeat. Smith said the money will go towards a rapid push to expand its team with more engineers, more product and creative teams, more marketing managers and more business analysts.

In a release issued along with today’s announcement, Smith said that Smule’s board and executive team will be taking more “aggressive steps to dominate the burgeoning market for mobile social music.”

Smule’s free-to-play Magic Piano app has been downloaded to more than 5 million iOS devices, and more than 200 million songs created on Smule products have been shared on the Smule Sonic Network.

“If we saw opportunities to accelerate inorganically, we would pursue that as well,” said Smith,  meaning the company might grow by acquisition, if necessary, though he added that the company did not have any buyout plans in its immediate future.

The music industry is a $65 billion annual pie, and Smith is confident that his young company has what it takes to shift the existing paradigm from the passive consumption of a static product, and one that is controlled by professionals, to one that is interactive, and democratic.

Founded in 2008, the latest round of investment brings Smule’s total funding up to $25.7, according to VentureBeat Profiles. Bessemer Venture Partners, Granite Ventures, Shasta Ventures, and Floodgate. The current round of funding was led by Shasta Ventures.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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HP technologist Phil McKinney to retire so he can advise startups

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 04:38 PM PDT

Phil McKinney, the talkative chief technology officer of Hewlett-Packard’s PC division, announced today he was retiring from HP by year end.

He said in his own blog post he will spend his time promoting his new book, teaching workshops on Killer Innovation, and hopefully taking on board seats and advisory roles at startups “since I will no longer have to worry about conflict of interest or other corporate restrictions.”

While McKinney’s post was positive, his departure will probably be another blow to the executive ranks at HP, which is also losing its longtime chief strategy and technology officer, Shane Robison. HP is in a state of turmoil thanks to a botched CEO hire that resulting in Leo Apotheker getting replaced by Meg Whitman. HP just recently confirmed that it will keep its PC division.

But it’s not surprising that such turmoil at the mother ship is shaking a few things loose from the tree. It’s not clear what McKinney’s departure will mean for any particular technology directions at HP, but McKinney was certainly a passionate techie.

At VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2010 conference (pictured), McKinney touted plastic display technology that HP Labs had created. Now McKinney says he will “help innovators get better at innovating.”

McKinney will stay on through the end of 2011 to meet a number of customer obligations. Carlos Montalvo, who previously reported to McKinney, is the interim CTO for HP’s Personal Systems Group.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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London police use cell phone tracking device to snoop on citizens (report)

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 04:01 PM PDT

London’s Metropolitan Police Force has bought a digital surveillance system used by the U.S. Secret Service and other governments to spy on its citizens’ cell phone activity, the Guardian is reporting.

The system is known as “ICT hardware,” and it comes from a Leeds-based company called Datong. In essence, the device masquerades as a mobile phone network, intercepting communications from individual’s cellular phones gather data and allowing police authorities to remotely shut off phones in a targeted area, the Guardian writes.

The device is a the size of a suitcase, and emits a signal which can blanket an area of roughly 10 square kilometers, causing cellular phones to automatically broadcast the owner’s international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) and international mobile equipment identity (IMEI), as well as the owner’s whereabouts, reports CNET. The device then picks up this data, giving the authorities information on cellphone users’ whereabouts.

“It raises a number of serious civil liberties concerns and clarification is urgently needed on when and where this technology has been deployed, and what data has been gathered,” said Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, in The Guardian.

Others wondered whether such invasive technology made it possible to individually identify suspected criminals based on their mobile phone behavior, when hundreds of transmissions are being intercepted simultaneously.

Datong is selling the snooping device to governments in more than 40 countries in the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific, and the U.S. Secret Service, according to the Guardian.

Attached image is not the device being used by Scotland Yard.

[Image Credit: x-ray delta one/Flickr]

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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Why you don’t need a Silicon Valley zip code to be successful

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 03:17 PM PDT

Map of USAAll too often, Silicon Valley is considered the premier place to launch and grow a technology-based company.  And, no doubt, the Valley has certainly earned its reputation as a hotbed for innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital. One can't deny the long list of successes including Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Intel, Oracle and Google, to name only a few. But look around today and you'll note many technology companies, especially startups, experiencing success outside of the Valley.

Thriving startups are sprouting up across the United States in cities like Dallas, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta, (which is home to my company, Vitrue). These cities are providing startups with an environment for success and producing additional benefits along the way. How exactly? And why does it matter? A few thoughts come to mind…

Big Businesses Are Nationwide, Not Valley-Centric.

Technology startups are doing business with big brands and the vast majority are not located in the Valley. The Fortune 500 companies are diversely spread throughout the U.S. –  to name a few: Texas boasts 51, Georgia has 14, Michigan hosts 22 and Virginia and Minnesota have 20 each. This is extremely beneficial for startups, as proximity to these larger organizations will greatly impact resources available, open doors for new opportunities and support a larger business community. Let's look at the Dallas area to start. This region is home to an important economic community supported by large, global companies and brands like Southwest and American Airlines, Kimberly-Clark, AMR and Exxon as well as more tech-focused companies like AT&T and Texas Instruments. And startups in these areas have access to a whole community of business opportunities. Match.com has certainly been able to find success with its roots in Dallas.

By being close to the action, startups are on the pulse of what works for businesses – and thinking of B2B companies in particular, they're also creating demand for many of the startups' services. I specifically recognize a huge growth area in social media and cloud computing. Companies are grappling with if and how they should incorporate it into their business processes, from CRM to marketing to customer support, and there is a ton of innovation in this space. Zooming in on Atlanta, thriving B2B companies like Red Hat and startups, such as MailChimp and Scoutmob, can leverage potential opportunities presented by neighbors like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS and Delta.

Avoiding Valley Tunnel Vision.

The Bay Area is well-known for its counterculture, protest spirit and an environment that embraces new ideas and risk-taking. But with the growth of the Valley as the hub for technology companies, perhaps we are experiencing a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to innovation and creative thinking. Startups that grow in the Valley are surrounded by some excellent mentors and success stories, but maybe they are lacking the real-world perspective about solutions companies truly need. Many startups are moving beyond this Valley Vision into other major markets and creating objective product pipelines and offering a holistic mindset with the ‘general public's’ enterprise needs in tow. These startups understand that not all customers are interested in the new coolest gadget, but are instead looking for technology solutions that meet critical needs and effective ROI. And this broader perspective works. We're even seeing B2B startups not headquartered in major metropolitan cities finding tremendous success outside the Valley’s zip code: Look no further than Salesforce's acquisition of Radian6, a social monitoring solution, located in New Brunswick, Canada, or the recently acquired RightNow Technologies by Oracle, headquartered in Bozeman, Montana.

Even this past weekend, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that if he were to start Facebook today, he’d start it in Boston… “In Silicon Valley, you get this feeling that you have to be out here. But it's not the only place to be.”

Believe it. Talent is Abundant Outside of The Valley.

Part of the reason we are seeing such great traction with startups outside the Valley is because the qualified talent pool is in no way limited to the Bay Area. Although Silicon Valley might be praised for hoarding top engineering talent, non-Valley startups receive their fair share of talent too, often establishing relationships with renowned engineering and entrepreneurial school programs around the country: think Georgia Tech, Emory and Georgia State in Atlanta; University of Illinois and University of Chicago; University of Texas in Austin; and the quadruple punch of N.C. State, UNC, Duke and Wake Forest in Raleigh's metropolitan area. These non-Valley companies draw in a young, entrepreneurial and passionate workforce, bubbling with innovative ideas. And, hey, with the cost of living in these regions, startups have an advantage of operating at a lower cost and still offering employees a high quality of life in a cool, urban living environment.

Spreading the Wealth is Good for Our American Economic and Innovative Engines.

That technology companies and hotbeds are spreading across America is beneficial to not only startups but to American innovation and economics. According to the Kauffman Index, which ranked the U.S.'s top 15 states with high entrepreneurial activity, New York City was listed as number one, Chicago was not far behind in third place, Dallas came in fourth, and Atlanta listed as number nine (San Francisco was trailing behind at eleventh).

Since its birth, the United States has been a pioneer in industrial, business, and technological advancements for society: Henry Ford and the automobile; Thomas Edison and the light bulb; and Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. But in today's global and increasingly competitive world, many have voiced concerns that America is falling behind with innovation. Although I disagree with that — hello, iPad, iPhone — it is now as important as ever to promote and foster technological innovation and production across numerous cities and locations to help prosper our innovation, technology and economic output worldwide.  And that's good for everyone.

I certainly don't discount the importance of Silicon Valley. At Vitrue, it's a priority to stay connected to the latest technology innovations and companies to keep our product best-in-breed, and many of those connections take place within the Valley. But startups don't have to be "headquartered" in the Valley to grow and thrive. Countless young companies are proof positive you don't need a Silicon Valley zip code to be a success.

Reggie Bradford is founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Vitrue, a SaaS social marketing platform for global brands and agencies. He enjoys speaking about his experience starting a technology company outside of the Valley.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Outfit7 reaches 225M downloads, moves closer to jumping out of mobile

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 03:05 PM PDT

Talking TomOutfit7, creators of the “Talking Friends” mobile games, announced today it has seen 225 million downloads only 5 and a half months after announcing 100 million.

Talking Friends is a set of mobile applications catering to children. These friends come in a variety of animals and fantasy creatures that “listen” to what a child says and repeats the statement. You can make recordings, play with each character’s unique features and buy outfits.

Since the launch of Talking Tom (pictured right) in July 2010, Outfit7 hired on talent agent Ari Emanuel to take these characters from the smartphone to the silver screen, among other media channels. The company is trying to take a Pixar-like approach to its characters, making them appealing for children of all ages. Also since launching, chief executive Andrej Nabergoj left Outfit7 and remains quiet about his endeavors. But the company, with its new executive chairman Narry Singh, believes its latest numbers will boost its growth beyond the mobile grid.

“These numbers are getting us into a very different stage and kind of company,” said Singh in an interview with VentureBeat. “Our users’ lives are obviously not just on the smartphone.”

With Emanuel on board, Outfit7 is executing plans to extend the characters to books, television, movies and more. At the same time, Singh believes the next wave of children’s entertainment may not go from big screen to small, but the other way round. Specifically, we’ve seen Angry Birds creator Rovio team up with streaming television set-top company Roku to bring the popular mobile app to TV.

“We fundamentally believe that for the next Harry Potter … the likelihood of it coming from the mobile market will be much higher than traditional ways,” said Singh.

The company has seen monthly active users triple to 60 million and revenue continues to grow. It has users in over 100 countries, 51 percent of their audience has downloaded 2 or more apps, and 20 percent have downloaded 4 or more. Indeed, the end goal is to have the Talking Friends take on a Pokemon-type model: Gotta download ‘em all.

Outfit7 hopes these numbers will help it reel in more attractive partners in the entertainment sector and expects to make more announcements about its progress with Emanuel as well as which new media channel the Talking Friends will appear in first in the coming months.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Urban Airship acquired SimpleGeo (confirmed)

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 03:02 PM PDT

The rumors are true: Urban Airship has acquired SimpleGeo.

Both companies focus on developer’s tools for cutting-edge mobile technologies. SimpleGeo is a platform for location-based mobile apps, and Urban Airship powers all kinds of mobile tricks, including in-app purchasing, push notifications and more.

“We are confirming that Urban Airship has acquired SimpleGeo in an all-stock deal,” a company spokesperson told us via email. The companies will now operate jointly under the Urban Airship name, and for current SimpleGeo customers, the SimpleGeo products will remain operational and will continue to be offered along with Urban Airships other technology products.

The deal was reportedly worth $3 million, a substantial discount given that SimpleGeo had raised $10 million to date. The companies did not confirm the dollar amounts.

“It was in the back of our minds when we did the partnership in July,” said Urban Airship chief executive Scott Kveton (pictured above) in a call with VentureBeat this afternoon, referring to a co-branded product roll-out the companies started working on over the summer.

“We had a really candid conversation, and the engineering teams were culturally and technically a great fit,” he said.

“As we worked together to offer integrated offerings, things got really exciting,” SimpleGeo CEO (and former Digg CEO) Jay Adelson wrote in a company blog post this afternoon. “It became clear to us that together, we could create services much, much bigger than just push notifications and location.”

The combined companies also stand to increase their market share a lot more than they could have separately.

“We’ve got over 22,000 customers on our platform, and SimpleGeo has 17,000 or 18,000,” said Kveton. “And we just have a more complete solution now.”

Kveton spoke a little bit about the company’s future plans, without giving away any major details about next week’s big product launch (stay tuned for more on that).

“Now what we’re doing is putting together a roadmap,” said the CEO. “We’re gonna be around for a long time, and we’re not gonna pull the rug out from under anybody in terms of services that are being offered … We will be making some announcements next week on the product side — very exciting stuff that our customers have been clamoring for for quite some time.”

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Mendix grabs $13M to fuel fast enterprise app development

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 02:50 PM PDT

mendixLeading Platform-as-a-Service provider Mendix has raised $13 million in its first round of funding, with goals of widening the scope of its app development platform and expanding its international reach, the company announced today.

Mendix offers enterprise and mid-size customers its Mendix 3.0 platform, which helps companies plan, develop, integrate and deploy custom-made applications to run smoother. Because of the platform’s flexibility, Mendix’s apps can be deployed in the cloud, locally or through smartphones and tablets. Mendix claims its service helps businesses take apps to market at six times the speed of normal development.

The $13 million round was led by Prime Ventures, with additional participation from HENQ Invest, which provided an unnamed sum in 2006 for Mendix’s seed funding. Some of Mendix’s customers include General Electric, TNT, Royal Bank of Scotland and Adventure Media.

"To date we have always organically achieved triple-digit growth on the results of delivering business value and solving real pain-points for our clients," said Mendix CEO Derek Roos in a statement. "Our customers are looking to increase their business agility and turn to Mendix to jumpstart their productivity and app deployment."

Boston-based Mendix was founded in 2005. The company currently has offices in the U.S., U.K., the Netherlands and South Africa, and claims to have 20,000 users around the world.

Mendix’s quirky video below also illustrates how the company is changing business app development:

Filed under: cloud, deals, VentureBeat

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Google Wallet is hitting the road for a 5-city tour with $10 “bribes”

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 01:04 PM PDT

Google is taking its mobile payment product, Google Wallet, on the road.

The new technology, which allows customers to swipe Wallet-enabled Android phones in front of compatible readers to make purchases, will be available for consumers to test out at retail locations scattered around five U.S. cities. Samsung and Sprint will also be participating in the events.

New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC will each see half-day demo events at various merchants and stores. Some of the retail brands that will feature Google Wallet demonstrations include Duane Reade, Jamba Juice, Walgreens, Peet's Coffee & Tea, and Foot Locker.

Google employee Keren Michelson wrote on the company blog that anyone who wants to try Google Wallet at one of the demos will also receive $10 towards his or her purchase when making a payment from one of the Samsung Nexus S demo devices.

Some events have already taken place, but the bulk of the demos will happen between now and January 12. Google has posted a full schedule of when and where the Google Wallet demonstrations will be happening.

“We're excited to give you a chance to try out Google Wallet and experience paying with a mobile phone,” wrote Michelson.

Wallet itself just launched (rather quietly) last month. It uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to process the payments. Currently, it only works with Citi MasterCard credit cards and with merchants that have the PayPass technology installed. But Google is working with Visa, American Express and Discover to support their NFC credit cards, as well.

While Google is snuggling up to Sprint for support of the Wallet rollout, the other three major carriers are cooking up an NFC payment system of their own. Called Isis, this mobile payment network counts AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon as its parent companies.

And of course, like all other Google products, Google Wallet is going to be getting a shot in the arm in the form of integration with existing Google web and mobile apps. At VentureBeat's MobileBeat 2011 conference in San Francisco, Google executive Stephanie Tilenius said Wallet would be integrated with Google+, Google Offers and Google Maps.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Battlefield 3 sells 5M copies in first week

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 01:03 PM PDT

Battlefield 3, the modern combat game from Electronic Arts, sold more than 5 million units in its first week, the company has announced. At retail, the game has already generated more than $300 million in estimated revenue.

EA said the numbers are based on its own internal estimates and mean that the title is the fastest-selling in EA history. That’s a good start for EA’s battle against Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which debuts on Nov. 8. The grudge match is as big as it gets in the multibillion-dollar first-person shooter market.

While the numbers are good for EA, the company still faces stiff competition. Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty Black Ops sold more than $650 million worth of games in its first five days when it went on sale last year. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is expected to sell two or three times more copies than Battlefield 3.

On Metacritic, a game review aggregator, the game received a score of 85 out 100 on the Xbox 360, 87 on the PS 3, and 90 on the PC. VentureBeat’s own Sebastian Haley gave it a rating of 69 as he called the game EA’s biggest fumble since Medal of Honor.

EA says Battlefield 3 has more than 2.5 million “likes” on Facebook. EA said “server stability was solid in the first weekend,” though it did acknowledged that, on opening day and after that, server problems stopped players from going online. EA said it had its highest-ever usage rates, and uptime “stabilized to roughly 98.9 percent” throughout the weekend. EA said Battlefield 3 fans have executed 73 million savior kills, 48 million revives and destroyed 67 million vehicles.

"We are overwhelmed by the global response to Battlefield 3," said Patrick Soderlund, executive vice president of the EA Games Label, in a statement. "It is extremely gratifying to deliver an entertainment experience that delights our fans, and to have the opportunity to introduce new people to the franchise. Already, we are seeing unprecedented play times and online activity which is very rewarding. This launch solidifies Battlefield as a leading entertainment brand."

DICE, a division of EA, has been making the series since 2002, with the launch of Battlefield 1942. To date, the series has sold more than 50 million units.

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SolidFire raises $25M to boost cloud provider agility and performance

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 12:02 PM PDT

solidfire-dave-wrightSolidFire, a solid-state storage provider for cloud services, has raised a new $25 million round of funding to help improve performance and reliability for emerging cloud providers, the company revealed Monday.

SolidFire sells powerful solid-state hard drives to cloud service providers, which in turn boost performance and reliability of said cloud services. Along with the hardware, SolidFire gives cloud providers tools that can help automate how they use storage systems, which creates a higher degree of management potential.

This round of funding was led by New Enterprise Associates with participation from Valhalla Partners and Novak Biddle Venture Partners. All three firms were previous investors in SolidFire’s first round of funding.

“We’ve architected this solution from the ground up, and we’re making it possible for companies to do cloud computing at a higher level,” Jay Prassl, SolidFire’s vice president of sales and marketing, told VentureBeat. “For us, we want to ensure performance, efficiency and management.”

SolidFire currently offers an Early Access program to cloud companies that are interested in its hardware and services. Companies that sign up for Early Access can get their hands on an SF3010 storage unit, eScanner tool and technical support for testing and integration.

“Just because you use solid-state drives doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for you,” Prassl said. “It’s about what you actually do with solid state. We want companies to be able to move quickly and guarantee a high level of service.”

Unlike also buzzy startup Pure Storage, which targets enterprises with its own solid-state storage solutions, SolidFire’s focus is on solid-state drives and solutions for cloud service providers across the SaaS, PaaS and IaaS spectrum. Prassl named EMC and 3PAR as the company’s biggest current competitors but said SolidFire’s ability to guarantee high levels of performance set it apart.

SolidFire declined to tell us any of its customers but said it was working with “some of the largest cloud companies in the world.” Prassl said that because its clients are in the Early Access program and still evaluating the product, it would be premature to name any names just yet.

The company a strong management force behind it. SolidFire is the brainchild of Dave Wright (pictured above), who previously founded JungleDisk and sold this company to Rackspace in 2008. Prior to JungleDisk, Wright served as Chief Architect for IGN and helped lead integration with Fox Interactive Media when IGN was purchased by NewsCorp in 2005. Another key player on its team is Director of Product Management Adam Carter, who previously led product management at the likes of HP, VMware and LeftHand Networks.

Boulder, Colo.-based SolidFire was founded in 2009 and currently has about 30 employees. It intends to expand its sales, marketing and technical teams in the next year. Including today’s big $25 million round, SolidFire’s total funding now sits at $37 million.

Check out Wright’s SolidFire video pitch below for more details:

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Domo arigato, Google: zooming in on Roboto, the new Android typeface

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 11:49 AM PDT

In the months to come, you will start associating the Android mobile operating system with beautiful design, if Matias Duarte, the Chilean-American designer who currently serves as Google's director of Android user experience, has anything to say about it.

Google’s latest version of the Android OS (called Ice Cream Sandwich), which rolled out earlier this month, represents a drastic new focus on the visual. And a big part of that new aesthetic is Roboto, its custom-built humanist typeface that’s as lovely up-close as it will be on the screen of your mobile device.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment to develop a typeface in-house and to do it with the constraints we had,” Duarte said in a long chat about the Android redesign. While the team had wanted a new typeface for some time, the Roboto face was designed and shipped within a short 6-month time frame.

The previous default Android system typeface, Droid, was created for different mobile landscape. “The standard Android typeface had been designed for low-res, low-density displays,” said Duarte. “The letters had to be very bold in their character: big strokes, regular rhythm, large x-height. Because at smaller sizes, the entire character is rendered so small that without strong characteristics, it becomes mush.”

The evolution of Android mobile devices is one case where hardware advances influenced design.

“Now, we’re approaching the kind of resolution that you’d get printing on paper,” said Duarte. “Droid was so exaggerated that it used up a lot of space on the page, a lot of leading. It ended up looking like a parody of itself, like a child actor with strong features who grows up to look like a caricature.”

Because the entire Ice Cream Sandwich UI is intended to feel like a glossy magazine, and hence has fewer structural elements, the interface is largely defined by the type. For the purpose of giving Ice Cream Sandwich its soul, most of the humanist faces Duarte and the team looked at weren’t structured enough, he said.

As a result, Roboto evolved to have more in common with a standard print design face like Helvetica than its actual digital predecessor, Droid Sans.

“The most interesting aspect of Roboto is the decision to a straight-sided grotesk,” said Duarte. “The letters o, u, e – they’re not pure geometric circles. They have this racetrack shape. That underlying geometry is what defines Roboto.”

On top of that, the team optimized the typeface to be as elegant in large headlines as it was readable for long spans of running text. “We wanted something as good for body text as a humanist typeface would be,” Duarte said. “We introduced quite a bit of variation in the lowercase letters.”

In the end, Duarte concluded, “I’m personally really delighted with what the team came up with. It has a unique character, you can have a discussion about some of the design risks. It’s not generic. But it’s also very effective as a design font. It really does let you appreciate the text and focus on your own content.”

Filed under: dev, VentureBeat

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Are you ready for Kinect-like gesture-controlled phones?

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 11:24 AM PDT

South Korea’s Pantech plans to add gesture-recognition functions to its mobile phones.

The maker of Android and messaging phones plans to use Kinect-like gesture technology from Israel’s eyeSight Mobile Technologies. Pantech plans to include the technology in its Vega LTE series of phones due to hit the market in November.

The folks at eyeSight say that touch input is impractical at times, like when driving or wearing gloves. The gestures can answer calls or play music. Of course, voice activation can handle the same kinds of tasks that gesture controls can handle.

Microsoft developed its Kinect motion-sensing system for the Xbox 360 using in-house development and technology from PrimeSense and 3DV Systems. It also acquired Canesta and licensed patents from GestureTek.

The video is nice in that it demonstrates why you might want to answer a phone with a non-touch gesture, by swiping the air over the phone, if your hands are messy. But the odds of that happening are so low that it makes no sense to add extra cost to a phone just to cover that kind of possibility. File this one under technology for technology’s sake.

Filed under: mobile

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HP is selling ultra cheap TouchPads again (but there’s a catch)

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 11:07 AM PDT

Happy TouchPadHewlett-Packard is offering its previously discontinued tablet computer, the TouchPad, for the low price of $149.

The catch is that you only get that price when you purchase a new PC from Best Buy, according to the retail store’s website.

HP first released the TouchPad at a $499 price point in July to dismal sales, which prompted the company to reduce the price by $100 the following week to spur sales. Eventually, HP decided to get out of the tablet market completely, and it liquidated existing stock of the devices at a low $99 price point, which sparked renewed interest. In fact, the company even decided to produce one last run of TouchPads to meet the new demand.

But now, it seems that HP will begin selling its 32GB TouchPad again  — at least for the time being.

Consumers have the option of buying the tablet at the discounted price of $149 when buying an HP or Compaq PC at Best Buy. The regular retail price for the device is $600, which, as history has shown, won’t make them fly off the shelves.

The move by HP to sell cheaper tablets at a loss is clearly part of the company’s new strategy to boost sales in its PC division. Last week, new CEO Meg Whitman announced that the company wouldn’t be killing off its PC division and would instead continue to grow it as an integral part of the overall business.

The decision to sell tablets again is also likely to help HP recuperate some of the losses associated with the failed TouchPad launch. According to a report by All Things D, the company is taking an estimated loss of $178 per tablet. Also worth noting is HP’s contract with TouchPad component manufacturers, which makes HP accountable for all the cost associated with the halted production of the device.

Regardless of how long HP plans to offer its TouchPad deal, eventually sales of the device will end. Any prolonged death of the TouchPad at this point is likely to minimize the massive losses.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Tianji kickstarts professional social networking in China

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 10:59 AM PDT

The Internet is different in China, says Derek Ling, founder of Tianji, the country’s largest business social network.

Internet use is driven largely by young people in search of entertainment content, and the concept of doing business with strangers is completely foreign to the culture, so the startup had some real hurdles to cross. However, with 8 million users, Tianji, which means “worldly connection” in Mandarin, is seeing the idea catch on with the Internet’s largest user base. The site is adding 380,000 new users per month.

Because of cultural mores, Chinese people need an “excuse” to start mingling with strangers, but just like everyone else, they really do want to, Ling told VentureBeat. “When you create an environment where people can interact and get to know each other, the business part takes care of itself,” said Ling.”People are good at leveraging their relationships once they feel comfortable.”

Tianji has released an infographic with key findings about business social networking behavior in China, a country with more than 500 million Internet users, and 35 percent overall penetration.

Tianji is focused on a core group of web-savvy Chinese professionals who are younger than 40 but have also graduated college, a demographic that Ling said adds value to the community through its existing contacts and work experience. The site is on track to have 35 million users by 2013. To see the full chart, click on the image above.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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