09 November, 2011



Washington Post begins publishing VentureBeat articles

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 09:03 AM PST

Washington Post and VentureBeat logosVentureBeat is proud to announce a new content sharing partnership with the Washington Post.

Starting today, VentureBeat stories will start appearing on the Washington Post’s technology page. Stories will be selected by the Post’s editorial staff from among the many articles published each day on VentureBeat.

VentureBeat is the latest partner to join The Post's technology and business section — a list that includes Slate and Bloomberg Business News. VentureBeat will contribute additional perspective to The Post, which concentrates on the intersection of technology, policy and business.

We’re proud of this partnership and see it as a validation of the commitment to aggressive reporting and responsible journalism that is VentureBeat’s hallmark. Rather than just republishing press releases with a thin layer of snarky humor, we’re looking to uncover the real stories behind the news.

VentureBeat’s goal, as always, is to bring you valuable intelligence about what’s going on in technology and business. We talk to sources, check facts and provide context. It’s a formula that’s working very well for us, as our traffic is surging and an increasing number of industry leaders are turning to us for the real story.

We look forward to bringing our mix of tech, business and journalism to the Washington Post’s readers now too.

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Second round of CloudBeat 2011 speakers: Adrian Cockcroft, Amit Singh and more

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST

cloudbeat-promoVentureBeat’s first annual CloudBeat conference is right around the corner. We’ll be delving deep into customer-centric case studies to uncover best-case processes and architectures for companies making the most of the cloud. The conference takes place Nov 30 – Dec 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Silicon Valley’s Redwood City.

We’re thrilled to announce this new batch of CloudBeat 2011 speakers:

Adrian CockcroftAdrian Cockcroft has managed and architected development of personalization algorithms for the Netflix web site and TV-based devices, and led development of a new personalization platform optimized for the cloud. He then moved to the Cloud Systems group as director of architecture, with a focus on performance-monitoring and analysis tools. Adrian is also well known as the author of several books while a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems: Sun Performance and Tuning; Resource Management; and Capacity Planning for Web Services. Between his time at Sun and joining Netflix in 2007, Adrian was a founding member of eBay Research Labs.

Amit Singh

Amit Singh leads Google's Enterprise business. He joined Google in 2010 after nearly 20 years at Oracle in different areas of the business, including product development, channel management, sales, strategy and acquisitions. In his most recent role, as group vice president, he led the Application Strategy Group, responsible for applications acquisitions, shared services and product strategy for North American Sales. He also ran sales and operations for some of the fastest growing acquisitions at Oracle including Demantra, G-Log, Agile, Logical Apps and Peoplesoft HR.

David SacksDavid Sacks is the Founder and CEO of Yammer, Inc. He has been involved in the internet space for 10 years as an entrepreneur, executive and investor, starting with PayPal in 1999. David was PayPal's Chief Operating Officer and product leader, taking the company from startup to IPO and eventual sale to eBay for $1.5 billion. Subsequently, he founded Geni.com, which is creating a family tree of the whole world, enabling millions of family members to connect, share, and document their lives.

Jim McGeeverJim McGeever is responsible for many of NetSuite's internal operations including sales, services, support and administration, and spearheads NetSuite's industry and customer satisfaction programs. He joined NetSuite in 2000 and, as chief financial officer, rapidly built a global financial organization across seven countries and was a driving force behind NetSuite's successful IPO in 2007.

Kris DugganKris Duggan is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for building innovative, fast-growing SaaS companies with thousands of delighted customers. He is dedicated to helping brands on the web increase user engagement by leveraging proven techniques in social gaming and loyalty. A sought-after speaker on gamification, analytics and user engagement, Kris is a thought leader of innovative ways to incorporate game mechanics and social loyalty programs into web and mobile experiences.

Lew Tucker is Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Cloud Computing at Cisco, where he is responsible for shaping the future of cloud strategy and products. He's also currently leading a team working on the Quantum networking service in the OpenStack community. Tucker has more than 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry, ranging from distributed systems and artificial intelligence to software development and systems architecture. Prior to Cisco, he was VP and CTO for Cloud Computing at Sun Microsystems and led the development of the Sun Cloud.

Sam PullaraSam Pullara is an infrastructure engineer at Twitter. He joined when the company acquired Bagcheck, a startup he co-founded. Previously, Sam was an EIR at Benchmark, an angel investor, and the former Chief Technologist at Yahoo focused primarily on grid computing, virtualization, large scale reliable data systems and the implementation of Yahoo's open platform strategy. Before joining Yahoo, Sam worked as CEO of Gauntlet Systems, which developed the first Intelligent Continuous Integration system.

Seating is limited and tickets are going fast. Need more incentive to get to the cloud conference of the year? Grab your ticket between today and Thursday 11/10 at 5pm PT, and you’ll be automatically entered into a raffle for a free Xbox Kinect package. We hope to see you there!

We want to thank the industry leaders that are supporting CloudBeat 2011: Sequoia Capital and Scality as Gold Sponsors, Cloudsoft, New Relic, and Trinity Ventures as Silver Sponsors, and Norwest Venture Partners, Box.net, Loggly, and RedHat as Event Sponsors.

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Kindle Fire will launch with apps for Netflix, Facebook, Angry Birds and more

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST


Amazon has announced that its ridiculously hyped Kindle Fire tablet will launch next week with apps from Netflix, Facebook, Rovio, Electronic Arts, PopCap and more, with several thousand apps available in total.

The Kindle Fire, like the Nook Color and some other Android-based tablets, doesn’t have access to the Android Marketplace so it must provide a separate channel for apps. Thankfully Amazon already has its own Amazon Appstore for Android, which has been accumulating apps since March.

Big-name apps that will be available on day one and run on the Kindle Fire include Angry Birds, Bloomberg, Cut the Rope, Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja, IMDb Movies & TV, Jenga, LinkedIn, Pandora, Plants vs Zombies, Pulse, Quickoffice Pro, Twitter, The Weather Channel and Zillow.

It’s important that the Kindle Fire will launch with support from such heavy hitters because it will help keep it more competitive in the apps department against the Apple iPad 2 and Android tablets that can access the Android marketplace. It also helps keep the tablet at the top of consumers minds in the face of the B&N Nook Tablet launch, which will begin shipping just a few days after the Kindle Fire launches.

The Kindle Fire launches Nov. 15 and runs $199. It will feature a 7-inch screen with 1024 x 600 resolution, TI OMAP4 dual-core processor and 8GB of on-board storage.

Your move, Nook Tablet.

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Nintendo Wii U may support simultaneous usage of two controllers

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 08:57 AM PST

Nintendo is working on upgrading the Wii U to support the simultaneous use of two tablet controllers, according to a story by  Develop Online, which cited an anonymous source.

Slated for a 2012 release, the Wii U is Nintendo’s sixth home console. It was unveiled during Nintendo’s press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011, and it is Nintendo’s bid to remain relevant in the age of high-definition gaming.

The direct successor to the Wii, the Wii U will feature a new iPad-like controller with an embedded touchscreen and will also be the first Nintendo console to support 1080p high-definition graphics. The controller can only be used with the home console, and won’t work if you take it to a cafe.

Previously, Nintendo indicated that while the upcoming console will be able to support up to four classic Wii controllers, technical limitations will only allow one tablet controller to work with the system. Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata also suggested that cost barriers might arise with the introduction of two tablets.

However, it looks as though feedback received from E3 2011 may have prompted a change of heart. “Nintendo now knows that they absolutely need to support two tablets. At E3, they didn’t commit to this, but they know how important it is to make technically feasible to support two screens.” said Develop’s source.

The final edition of the Wii U will be demonstrated at E3 2012. The launch is expected to follow several months after.

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Xbox.com adds new Metro-style social and video sections

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 08:27 AM PST

Microsoft is adding new social and video interface designs to its Xbox.com dashboard, which mimics the company’s upcoming metro-style UI available in Windows 8.

The new Social section replaces the current “My Xbox” portion of the website. Microsoft said the update will make it even easier to see what your friends are doing on Xbox LIVE as well as provide early access to new features in the Xbox 360 dashboard update, such as the Beacons feature (which lets you mark games you want to play with others).

The new social section will alert users to Xbox Live events, preview articles for upcoming games, new releases in the Xbox marketplace and more. It’s also the place where users can see who else is online — basically a buddy list of friends, family and acquaintances.

The changes to the site are meant to make playing games more social by applying the same elements of communication that people use through instant messenger and social news feeds (from sites like Facebook).

Microsoft is also adding a new video section that lets you browse the Zune video catalog. Any videos you purchase can then be added to a queue for future viewing via Xbox 360, Windows Phone, or a Zune media player.

Filed under: games, media, social, VentureBeat

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AnyClip adds Warner Bros. films to its massive movie moment database

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 08:17 AM PST

Soon you’ll be able to relive any moment from popular Warner Bros. films, thanks to the movie clip startup AnyClip.

The company announced today that it has signed a content licensing agreement with Warner Bros., which will give it access to the studio’s library of films like the Harry Potter franchise, 300, and Casablanca.

AnyClip will tag each film with over 5,000 metadata elements, which will make it easy to find specific moments, characters, actors, objects, and the like. The company now has over 50,000 clips on file from more than 5,000 films. AnyClip already has licensing deals with Universal, Vivendi and independent distributors like Virgil Films.

AnyClip had the lofty goal of letting users find any moment from any film when it launched at the TechCrunch 50 conference in fall 2009, but the company initially had trouble forming licensing deals with studios. In early 2010, it launched a movie quote database, without many clips on hand. Now, after some executive reshuffling — original co-founders Aaron Cohen and Nate Westheimer are out, replaced by former Libox CEO Oren Nauman — the company seems to be regaining its footing.

In addition to giving consumers access to clips from movies they love, AnyClip also gives studios a way to earn money from clips shared around the web. The company competes directly with Movieclips, which managed to snag licensing deals before AnyClip.

AnyClip is also launching a revamped website today, which includes some additional monetization strategies. The company already directed consumers to purchase films online when viewing clips, but now it’s listing more store options, including Netflix and iTunes. The new site will also sport targeted advertising, the ability to purchase songs featured in clips, and other special features.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Review: Thousands of orcs die along with our patience in Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

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This is going to hurt.

Lord of the Rings fans have been waiting a while for their beloved stories to meet a great game. So far, that hasn’t happened, at least not in some time. Electronic Arts had care of the franchise during the heyday of Peter Jackson’s movies, but not much came of it beyond a bad role-playing game and even worse 3D action games.

Now we have Lord of the Rings: War in the North, from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Snowblind Studios, a game that tries to do a little more than just get something out day and date with a movie. It’s better than the average, given the license's troubled history. It’s just not quite good enough.

Snowblind’s bread and butter has been dungeon crawls in the style of Diablo. War in the North's big idea is to marry that style to the cinematic approach of games like Gears of War. In theory, it's not a bad idea, and at first it seems like the combination is going to work, but soon enough things fall apart. Eventually, it just boils down to another game of hack and slash and hack-slash some more.

Orcs. I hate orcs.Welcome to the Dungeon
The people at Snowblind have been crawling through tunnels and caverns a long time. They first made their bones with Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, a sharp dungeon hack sporting a gorgeous graphics engine from the early years of the PS2. Then they took a bit of a wrong turn with Champions of Norrath, a decently-conceived series that suffered from iffy execution – especially in the online mode – and the fact that no console gamer alive gave a lick for anything with the EverQuest name on it.

You can see where War in the North sets out to fix those problems. Online co-op gaming has come a long way on consoles now. The Lord of the Rings license still has some heat underneath it. You can see where the Gears influence comes in, too. Adding a close-in perspective and some story-driven flash seem like good ideas for shaking up the old kill-and-loot formula. At a very basic level, it's not a million miles from some of the thinking behind Diablo III.

So from there begins the adventure. The notion is that our three heroes – an elven wizard, a human ranger and a dwarven ass-kicker, invented specifically for this game – are wandering around in the background of the story we're all so fond of. While the Fellowship of the Ring moves south, they're taking care of business up north, in Fornost, Mirkwood, the Grey Mountains, and other locales only known to serious Tolkien nerds.

The action takes place from a third-person view, but instead of using the high overhead perspective from Snowblind's earlier games, the camera stays low and tucked in close behind the hero's shoulders. At a first glance, then, this looks like a conventional 3D shooter or action game. Equipping and developing the heroes works more like Snowblind's other productions, though, with skill trees to work through for each main character (granting special abilities and bonuses in combat) and a role-playing game (RPG)-style inventory that quickly fills up with lots of randomly-generated loot.

Gotta Loot 'Em All
Not bad so far. Loot heals many wounds, and War in the North dishes out some fine loot. Everything a character wears or wields is visually represented on their gameplay model, from greatswords and bows down to gloves and boots, and those models always look sharp. Since they're most of what we're looking at through the bulk of the game, that's a good thing. There's not much opportunity to customize the items themselves, beyond occasionally slotting in "elfstones" that give certain items a bonus effect, but more complexity than that would probably add more fiddling in static menus than the game really needed.

That sort of thing distracts too much from the action, after all. War in the North tries not to break that up too much. In fact, the way the combat system works encourages a fluid, consistent, constant attack. Stringing together a lot of hits eventually grants a fighter bonus experience points. It also opens up the chance for especially punishing power attacks and finishing blows. Those come with even more extra experience (good) and tend to kill enemies a lot faster (even better).

Going to the Gray Mountains, better pack a sweater.In the first couple of levels, it's fun learning how to game the chain system. The extra experience is worth the extra effort, and the special kill animations look great, as the camera cuts in close and a touch of slow-motion shows all the gory detail of that orc's head coming off. It's similar to what Bethesda‘s Fallout and Elder Scrolls games do for critical hits, but the technical execution here is much smoother. The animations of the attacker and victim blend together well – if a sword goes through a leg, that leg is what gets severed – and the camera almost always puts itself in the best position.

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Asus unveils Transformer Prime Android tablet with quad-core power

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 07:43 AM PST


Chinese manufacturer Asus has officially unveiled its Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the first-ever Android tablet with the Tegra 3 quad-core processor that allows smart devices to provide stunning graphics and power efficiency at the same time.

Asus is looking for any advantage it can to fight against the Apple iPad 2, the Amazon Kindle Fire and top-tier Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The quad-core power of the Tegra 3, which new flagship for Nvidia that will help it transition into mobile chips, might be what it needs because the competition has dual-core chips. The Tegra 3 chip contains four cores plus an additional "companion core" that can handle small tasks and dramatically lower the power consumption of the entire chip.

On top of having a first-of-its-kind processor inside, the Transformer Prime features a 10-inch display with 1280 x 800 resolution, 1GB of RAM, a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat and an 8-megapixel camera with flash on the back. It weighs 1.29 pounds, measures just .33 inches thin and Asus claims it will last 12 hours on a single charge. With these sort of specs, it sounds like the most powerful Android tablet yet.

The Transformer will be available in early December at two price points, depending on internal flash storage. The model with 32GB of internal storage will run $499, while the model with 64GB storage will run $599.

What do you think of the Transformer Prime tablet?

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Google to the rescue! The company will help Android manufacturers in legal trouble

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 07:43 AM PST

Between patent licencing fees (payable to Microsoft) and patent lawsuits (brought by Apple), Android manufacturers just can’t catch a break.

But there is a silver lining: Google chairman Eric Schmidt stated today that Google would help and support those OEMs involved in legal battles.

In a visit to Taipei today, Schmidt stated, “We tell our partners, including the ones here in Taiwan, we will support them. For example we have been supporting HTC in its dispute with Apple because we think that the Apple thing is not correct.”

“The Apple thing” to which the chairman referred is the all-out attack waged by Apple on Android manufacturers.

As former Apple chief Steve Jobs told his biographer, “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

In response, Schmidt stated earlier this year, "They are not responding with innovation, they're responding with lawsuits… We have not done anything wrong and these lawsuits are just inspired by our success."

In addition to Apple’s lawsuits (against Samsung, Nokia and HTC), Android is also under fire from Microsoft (via licensing fees and a Motorola lawsuit) and Oracle (which is suing Google itself for use of the Java language in the Android stack).

Taiwan is a hotbed as far as the mobile and Android supply chains are concerned. It’s also home base for HTC, which has for the past year been shelling out royalties on Android devices to Microsoft, of all entities.

As part of its plan to assist OEMs and protect Android, Google has announced its intentions to acquire Motorola Mobility, which itself controls a rich vein of patents.

Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell.

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Barnes & Noble cries foul on Microsoft for Android patent trolling

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 07:24 AM PST

Barnes & Noble has appealed to U.S. regulators to put a stop to Microsoft’s collection of patent royalties for Android devices.

"Microsoft is embarking on a campaign of asserting trivial and outmoded patents against manufacturers of Android devices," wrote Barnes & Noble, maker of the Android-running Nook line, in an letter to the U.S. Justice Department's chief counsel for competition policy.

"Microsoft is attempting to raise its rivals' costs in order to drive out competition and to deter innovation in mobile devices," the letter continued.

Microsoft’s hilarious but likely offensive (to Barnes & Noble) response included the statement, “We would be pleased to extend a license to Barnes & Noble."

Last year, Microsoft made a deal with HTC to receive patent licensing fees for all of HTC’s Android phones. The deal protected HTC from a Microsoft lawsuit and also gave it access to Microsoft’s deep portfolio of patents.

By May 2011, it was estimated that Microsoft was making five times as much on Android patent licensing as it was on its own line of Windows Phone 7 devices.

Back in September, Microsoft negotiated more patent licensing deals with ViewSonic and Acer for their Android smartphones and tablets. By last month, Microsoft’s patent deals were collecting revenue from licencing deals on half of all Android devices.

Brad Smith and Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's general counsel and deputy general counsel, wrote at the time that the deals were “reasonable and fair to both sides,” stating in a blog post, "Our agreements ensure respect and reasonable compensation for Microsoft's inventions and patent portfolio. Equally important, they enable licensees to make use of our patented innovations on a long-term and stable basis."

Barnes & Noble maintained in its letter that these actions and others constituted a concerted effort to "raise [Microsoft's] rivals' costs and prevent Android-based devices from taking away sales of Microsoft's Windows operating system."

Microsoft's patent claims against Barnes & Noble will be the subject of a trial set to start in February 2012.

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Dylan’s Desk: Welcome to the age of integration

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 07:00 AM PST

Not what is usually meant by vertical integration. Photo by Dave Campbell/FlickrApple understands it. Amazon understands it.

But nearly every other gadget manufacturer is missing the point: It’s not about the specs any more. It’s about the ability of devices to deliver a seamless, integrated, easy-to-use experience that combines plenty of desirable content and useful services, with a minimum of hassle.

Call it “vertical integration” or whatever you want, it’s the strategy employed by successful companies like Apple, Amazon, Nike and Microsoft to make some of their products nearly unbeatable in the market.

Apple’s iPad is not the world’s most successful tablet because of its hardware engineering (though that helps). It’s successful because it’s locked into the iTunes marketplace, giving it a vast, built-in library of music, movies, TV shows, audiobooks and apps. That connection is often restrictive, but it also offers many people more than enough content to choose from, and it’s easy to use.

It’s also why an Apple television could become a serious competitive threat. By turning television channels into apps, it could bypass the cable box (and the cable company), letting viewers interact with Internet-based, streaming content (browsing through shows, for instance) via an app that runs on their iPhone, iPad or computer and delivers the shows to their television.

Similarly, the Kindle Fire will be a serious competitive threat to other e-readers and tablets (if not the iPad), as I’ve written before, because it’s matched with a huge library of e-books and music, plus Amazon’s small but growing library of movies and Android apps.

Nike+ is by far the most successful health and fitness monitoring tool on the market, despite the fact that other devices have more capabilities or offer platforms that are more open and more flexible. Why? Nike+ combines the massive reach of Nike’s shoe business with a simple, easy-to-use online service that lets you track your walks and runs and share data with your friends. It helps that it ties into Apple’s hardware as well.

Microsoft has done a similar trick with its XBox 360, following the model laid down by Sony and Nintendo and making its console successful by tightly integrating it with an online network, a huge array of game titles and accessories (most notably Kinect) that are unparalleled in the market.

You don’t have to be a giant company to pull off this kind of integration, though. Square is a remarkably successful payment-processing company in part because of the easy tie-in between its card-reading hardware (a tiny dongle that’s so cheap the company gives them away by the basketful, for free), its app, and Square’s online services. That integrated system gives Square the ability to build new products, like its point-of-sale device or a consumer wallet product, which build upon the installed base of its existing customers.

It’s the tie-in between hardware, software and services that gave Square its first leg up. It would have been far less successful if the company had concentrated on selling card-reading hardware, or apps, without first figuring out how to link everything together in an easy-to-use way.

Why is vertical integration suddenly so important? For the same reasons that it’s suddenly so easy to start a social network or an app company: There’s lots of wireless infrastructure out there , processing power is abundant and cheap, and cloud services make it easy to deploy server resources flexibly.

In other words, if it’s easy to make a cloud-based social network that customers access through an iOS app, it’s also that much more feasible to integrate cloud services into a specialized piece of hardware.

And for now, at least, consumers seem more taken with specialized gadgets that are simple and easy to use than they are with complex devices that can do anything but are hard to figure out.

So when you’re handicapping new hardware products, ask yourself what I ask: How well does it integrate with software and online services?

For example, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet is a promising-looking device, only $50 more than the Kindle Fire and even more powerful under the hood than the iPad 2. Too bad Barnes & Noble doesn’t have the same kind of media library that its competitors do. Books, yes, but the company comes up short in other content and in apps (and you won’t even be able to install standard apps on the Nook Tablet).

The Jawbone Up is another interesting example. It tracks your every movement throughout the day, using the same simple accelerometer technology that’s built into every other fitness-tracking device. It comes with an iOS app, and it may well be very well-built, easy to use and good-looking. But its success or failure will depend on the extent to which it’s able to integrate with a larger array of Internet-based services, so you can add apps to it, track new kinds of data, or integrate that data into other health and fitness tracking apps.

So this holiday season, and when I go to the Consumer Electronics Show in January to check out the gadgets that are coming up in 2012, I’ll be looking for devices that do more than just wow me with the specs. You should too.

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Photo: Not an effective form of vertical integration for gadgets. Photo by Dave Campbell/Flickr.

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Adobe confirms mobile Flash is dead, will focus on apps and HTML5

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 06:35 AM PST

Adobe has confirmed that it will cease development of Flash on mobile devices, saying that it will instead focus on HTML5 and apps for mobile platforms.

News about mobile Flash’s demise hit last night from ZDNet, and Adobe confirmed the report in a blog post this morning.

The announcement comes after Apple boldly chose not to support Flash on the iPhone in 2007, citing concerns about the technology’s performance. Now it seems Steve Jobs was right all along.

“Over the past two years, we've delivered Flash Player for mobile browsers and brought the full expressiveness of the web to many mobile devices,” wrote Danny Winokur, Adobe VP and General Manager of Interactive Development. “However, HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively.  This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.”

Winokur says that Adobe will continue to let Flash developers package native apps for all major app stores using Adobe Air, but it is ceasing development of the Flash Player for Android and the BlackBerry PlayBook. (Now I’m sure plenty of tablet makers are regretting listing Flash capabilities as a feature.) The company says it will continue to release bug fixes, as well as let licensees of its source code release their own Flash-like products.

By giving up on mobile Flash, the company will be able to focus its efforts on technologies best suited for specific platforms. That means it’ll continue to push Flash as a compelling technology for desktops (the company lists “advanced gaming” and “premium video” as examples), while apps and HTML5 cover its mobile work.

Adobe will also push to make HTML5 more capable: “We will continue to leverage our experience with Flash to accelerate our work with the W3C and WebKit to bring similar capabilities to HTML5 as quickly as possible, just as we have done with CSS Shaders,” Winokur writes. “And, we will design new features in Flash for a smooth transition to HTML5 as the standards evolve so developers can confidently invest knowing their skills will continue to be leveraged.”

In September, Adobe announced that it will allow developers to package Flash content for iOS by transforming it into HTML5. At the time, that news was taken as a win for Apple, since it meant Adobe would give up on trying to bring Flash to iOS altogether.

Despite all of Adobe’s assurances about Flash’s viability on mobile over the past few years, we’ve yet to see the technology perform on mobile as well as it does on desktops. Flash is still a slow performing battery hog on most devices. While dropping its mobile Flash ambitions is certainly a black eye for Adobe, and a validation of all of the complaints Steve Jobs brought up in his infamous “Thoughts on Flash” missive, the company will be better off in the long run. And for consumers, it means we’ll finally get to see some real mobile innovation from Adobe.

Image via Comic Vine

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Old Navy doles out deals to Shopkick app users

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PST

Discount shoppers, rejoice. Mobile shopping startup Shopkick has added Old Navy, a Gap Inc. brand, to its arsenal of retail partners, the company announced Tuesday.

With the Shopkick iPhone or Android app, you earn rewards points, called “kicks,” by just walking into any one the startup’s partner stores — no purchase necessary. These can be redeemed for special offers and deals. Participating retailers are provided with a small hardware box capable of verifying an application user’s presence in their stores.

Old Navy will introduce Shopkick’s walk-in-to-check-in points and rewards system at nearly 1,000 of its U.S. locations, and will offer users $10 off of a $40 purchase from November 10 to 13.

The Shopkick system, released in August 2010, is a hybrid consumer and business service designed to attract more foot traffic to stores. The apps boast 2.5 million active users.

“Old Navy customers are mobile-savvy, leveraging smart phone technology and apps on a daily basis,” said Kate Dickman, senior director, digital marketing at Old Navy said in a statement. "Using Shopkick, we're able to share our latest fashions and deals with her in a straightforward, relevant way. It's another powerful tool to help keep Old Navy top-of-mind while offering us real evidence that she's come into our store for those particular items.”

In addition to Old Navy, Shopkick has partnerships with American Eagle Outfitters, Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, Macy's, Simon Property Group, The Sports Authority, Target, Toys"R"Us, West Elm and The Wet Seal, which makes it accessible to consumers at more than 4,000 locations.

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Stalk your coworkers’ every move with Yammer’s activity stream ticker

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 04:30 AM PST

If eavesdropping on the music-listening and video-watching behaviors of your Facebook friends on its real-time ticker satisfies the stalker within, you may experience equal delight (as much as possible in a work environment, that is) from Yammer’s newest tool.

Yammer, the social network for companies, has introduced a Facebook-inspired ticker, giving you the ability to spy on — ahem, track in real time — your coworkers’ every action, both inside and outside of Yammer. The company has also added other less-creepy collaboration features.

Just as Facebook’s ticker hooks into third-party social services for behavioral updates, Yammer’s “activity stream ticker” syncs with Salesforce, Box, Expensify, Tripit, Zendeck, Badgeville, Sharepoint, NetSuite and Spigit actions to provide you with work-related activity notifications you can follow like a hawk.

“We’re launching ticker for enterprise, which is inspired by what Facebook did … but I think it’s potentially more powerful in the enterprise,” Yammer founder and CEO David Sacks told VentureBeat. “It’s about what your coworkers are doing in their business apps … It’s pretty mind-blowing when you get that kind of ambient awareness of what all your coworkers are doing.”

Yammer users can see what content their coworkers are creating, have a quick glimpse at what files their contacts are modifying, find out when a friend completes an expense report and even get notified when a fellow staffer is going on a business trip.

As far as enterprise social networks go, Yammer is top dog. The startup is fast-approaching 4 million verified corporate users and has successfully penetrated 80 percent of the Fortune 500. But why stop at social networking? Why not create workplace collaboration and file-sharing tools and steal away another part of the enterprise market? That’s exactly what Yammer has in mind.

“We’re bringing content into the social graph,” Sacks said. The startup has just added two content-specific modules for enterprise users: Pages and Files. Pages is meant to be Yammer’s answer to the wiki, Sacks said, and allow for collaborative content creation à la Google Docs, but with the social fabric of Yammer.

Yammer users could already add files, but starting Wednesday each file uploaded to a company social network will get its own dedicated URL, which means a staffer can upload a new version of a file but the original URL will remain unchanged. Yammer users can also now follow files to keep track of changes.

“Yes, we’re definitely going to be in conflict with more players, especially in the wiki space,” Sacks said of the new direction. “I don’t think our ambition is to be your file cabinet, so much as your social layer, and to be the way that information gets discovered in the company.”

Okay, so it sounds like Yammer wants to stick to its social roots and isn’t (yet) interested in killing off the Basecamps or Box.nets of the world. We’re almost convinced. But, if social is Yammer’s beat, is it anything more than a social network plagiarist?

I put the question to Sacks. “Where the originality comes in is how we apply [social networking] inside the enterprise,” Sacks rebutted. “There’s substantial originality in creating an entirely new category of enterprise software that didn’t exist before.”

[Image via albyantoniazzi]

CloudBeat 2011CloudBeat 2011 takes place Nov 30 – Dec 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, CA. Unlike any other cloud events, we’ll be focusing on 12 case studies where we’ll dissect the most disruptive instances of enterprise adoption of the cloud. Speakers include: Aaron Levie, Co-Founder & CEO of Box.net; Amit Singh VP of Enterprise at Google; Adrian Cockcroft, Director of Cloud Architecture at Netflix; Byron Sebastian, Senior VP of Platforms at Salesforce; Lew Tucker, VP & CTO of Cloud Computing at Cisco, and many more. Join 500 executives for two days packed with actionable lessons and networking opportunities as we define the key processes and architectures that companies must put in place in order to survive and prosper. Register here. Spaces are very limited!

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WildTangent’s Android rent-or-buy game app now available worldwide

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 12:01 AM PST

Beginning today, Android mobile device owners from across the globe will be able to rent, purchase and play games for free through WildTangent‘s Games App, a highly curated service for mobile games. 

The idea is to give users access to some high-quality games from established publishers Glu, GameHouse and HalfBrick, making the process of game discovery easier on a platform where there are thousands of titles that are hard to sort out.

As previously announced, WildTangent’s Games App will not be as well-populated as Amazon’s 13, 000-strong Android app store but will instead feature approximately 75 to 100 hand-picked titles. Based off their extremely successful online/PC service, WildTangent’s latest offering is the first of its kind on the market.

Redmond, Wash.-based WildTangent holds patents on the ability to rent media through use of digital currency, which may limit others from duplicating the service.

“Just like movies and music, consumers prefer to own some titles, rent some and watch some for free, and we’ve brought these same options to games,” said Sean Vanderdasson, senior vice president at WildTangent. “With our new Android service, game developers will expose their games to the widest audience possible, using the most comprehensive business model in the games industry.”

Thus far, responses have been extremely favorable, something that can be potentially attributed to the fact that a rental system may be just what the Android marketplace needs.

“We believe they’ve come up with a great idea, a rental model that can satisfy most customers by letting them try and find the right content,” said Polarbit chief executive Mitri Wiberg.

Consumers utilizing smartphones or tablet PCs with Android OS 2.2 can download the WildTangent Games App by going to www.wildtangent.com/GamesApp. Currently, the app supports only the English language but it looks as though plans to localize both the app and its content are in the works.

WildCoins, WildTangent’s multi-platform virtual currency, can be used to rent or purchase games. Rental prices will vary; many 24-hour game rental sessions start as low as $.25 or one WildCoin.

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Nvidia launches its Tegra 3 mobile graphics processor

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 10:00 PM PST

Nvidia is formally launching its Tegra 3 quad-core mobile processor for smartphones and tablets. The aim is to make mobile devices much more visually stunning and power efficient.

The chip is the new flagship for Nvidia’s drive to diversify beyond PC graphics into mobile devices. And in a new announcement, one of the major new customers for the chip is Asus, which will use Tegra 3 in its new Android-based Eee Pad Transformer Prime tablet.

Formerly known under the code name Project Kal-El, the Tegra 3 chip has a lot of horsepower for both computing and graphics. It has four cores, or computing brains, plus an additional “companion core” which is used to handle small tasks and dramatically lower the power consumption of the entire chip.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia, the world’s biggest independent stand-alone graphics chip maker, kept the latter core secret until recently, as it considers it a competitive advantage over other chip designs. Each ARM-based central processing unit (CPU) core on the Tegra 3 can automatically turn on or turn off as needed. If the cores aren’t needed, turning them off saves a great deal of power, allowing a mobile device with the chip to operate with a longer battery life.

Matt Wuebbling, product marketing manager for Tegra at Nvidia, said in a press call that the chip can operate with a single companion core at low-power levels and run a high-definition video for up to 12 hours on a single battery charge. Meanwhile, the four cores provide performance that is about three times better than last year’s Tegra 2 on graphics performance with 61 percent lower power consumption.

That is essentially bringing PC-like graphics performance to tablets and smartphones, Wuebbling said. Because the quad-core chip dynamically turns on and off its cores, it consumes less power than many dual-core chips. The companion core runs at 500 megahertz and is powerful enough to handle music and video playback, loading light graphics web sites, and updating background data.

The four cores start running when a device starts performing tasks such as heavy-graphics web browsing, multitasking, and gaming.

“Nvidia’s fifth core is ingenious," said Nathan Brookwood, analyst at Insight 64. He said that the technology extends battery life for next-generation mobile devices and then ratchets up the performance in a just-in-time basis.

The quad-core CPUs are complemented with a new 12-core Nvidia GeForce graphics processing unit (GPU), which can deliver PC-like gaming effects such as dynamic lighting, physics effects, and stereoscopic 3D viewing.

Graphics is Nvidia’s specialty, but it will face a lot of competition from the likes of Qualcomm and ARM itself, which makes its own graphics cores that are licensed by other chip makers. The Tegra 3 supports game controllers and allows consumers to play games on the tablet, smartphone, or connect to a big screen to fully display a game in high resolution. Nvidia’s 3D Vision stereoscopic 3D technology works with the Tegra 3 chip as well. It accelerates Flash Player 11.1, HTML5, and WebGL browsing to enable faster web viewing. It is also quite fast at photo viewing and editing, as well as converting video from one format to another.

Nvidia has highlighted a number of demanding games that will run fast on Tegra 3, including Nvidia Tegra Zone featured apps such as Shadowgun THD, Riptide GP, Sprinkle, Big Top THD, Bladeslinger (pictured right), DaVinci THD and Chidori. By the end of 2011, about 40 games will be available to run on Tegra 3 and 15 more games are under development for the Android Market.

Marek Rabas, chief executive of Madfinger Games and maker of Shadowgun THD, said that the game will take advantage of graphics features such as rag-doll physics, high-quality water simulation, particle effects and more.

The four CPU cores are based on the ARM Cortex A9 core. The memory bandwidth is three times higher than the Tegra 2. The image signal processor runs twice as fast as the Tegra 2. Wuebbling said the Tegra 3 is in production now but declined to say when other customers would make announcements of new devices using the chip.

Sam Williams, general manager at Luma Arcade, said, “This is a recipe for all-day game play,” regarding the Tegra 3′s performance and power consumption. Nvidia has statements of support from dozens of other game makers.

After Tegra 3 launches, Nvidia will launch a new chip every year in the Tegra family. The code-named Wayne chip will launch in 2012. Logan will launch in 2013, and Stark will launch in 2014. While Tegra 3 is about five times the performance of Tegra 2, Wayne will be about ten times the performance of Tegra 2.

Nvidia says the Tegra 3 is two times faster at video transcoding than the Apple A5 chip used in the iPad 2, and it is also two times faster at stitching photos together than the A5.

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Yahoo patents could throw a monkey wrench into Facebook’s IPO hopes

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 06:35 PM PST

Yahoo’s vast library of patents could become quite lucrative for the company if it decides to put pressure on Facebook, which is set to make an initial public offering in the near future.

Yahoo currently owns 1,100 and has 2,661 applications pending. Of those, the most valuable is certainly a patent for pay-per-click advertising, which was originally filed by Overture-owned GoTo.com. Overture brought several patent infringement cases against Google, which Yahoo then took over in 2003 when it purchased the company. Unlike Overture, Yahoo wasn’t as keen on using its newly purchased patents offensively.

Yahoo decided to settle the patent dispute out of court for some Google preferred stock, which the company ended up selling after Google went public in 2004. As Forbes contributor Eric Jackson points out, this was a phenomenally stupid move and Yahoo could have ended up getting much more money out of Google.

With Facebook, it seems that history could very well repeat itself. The giant social network is poised to make an IPO some time over the next calendar year. If Yahoo were to pull the same patent infringement card that it did with Google, it’s likely that the company wouldn’t be so hasty in making a deal to absolve the dispute out of court.

One reason Yahoo might be holding back from using its patents offensively could be due to its search partnership with Microsoft — a Facebook shareholder. However, if Yahoo were to sell those patents there wouldn’t be anything from keeping the new owners from pursuing legal action against other major players in the online advertising space.

Some, however, think it’s unlikely that Yahoo will sell off its patents. The company is in the middle of replacing its management after board members fired former CEO Carol Bartz. It also is in the middle of a possible hostile take over, as board members hint at trying to buy out Yahoo to take it private.

“Generally speaking, the quality of Yahoo’s patents have diminished over time,” said Ocean Tomo Managing Director Michael Friedman, whose company advises on patent and IP purchases. “It would just surprise me if they were focusing on a patent sale, especially given all of the other noise the company is dealing with.”

Without close examination, Friedman said it’s difficult to know if Facebook is in violation of patents owned by Yahoo.

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Yelp brings on big bankers and solidifies plans for IPO

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 06:19 PM PST

‘Tis the season for Internet company IPOs. Veteran local business review site Yelp has signed on bankers Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to lead its initial public offering at a valuation between $1 and $2 billion, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

Yelp could file with the SEC to become a publicly traded company as soon as early 2012, according to the Journal’s sources.

Yelp, founded in 2004, lets users post restaurant and venue reviews. The San Francisco-based company has raised $56 million in funding to date, has 800 employees and makes money through on-site advertising.

In September, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman indicated that the company was interested in going public — and soon. At the time, Yelp was attracting more than 62 million unique monthly visitors, and members were said to be adding 1 million new reviews to the site each month.

Yelp joins a batch of internet startups anxious to put their value in the hands of investors and shareholders. LinkedIn led the pack with a stock market debut in May. Deals juggernaut Groupon followed suit last week, and social gaming company Zynga may file its papers after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Yelp declined to comment on this story.

[Image via Yelp]

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HP is not sure what to do with webOS, says CEO

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 05:53 PM PST

Idiocracy's President Not SureHewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman said she isn’t sure exactly what move to make with the company’s hobbled webOS operating system, reports The Verge.

HP paid $1.2 billion for webOS’ creator Palm in 2010 with the intent to run the operating system on its mobile devices, such as the TouchPad and other mobile handsets. However, the company’s former CEO Leo Apotheker decided to shutter the line of webOS devices months ago. Now that Whitman has taken the company’s reigns, she’s carefully re-assessing webOS’ fate.

“It’s really important to me to make the right decision, not the fast decision,” Whitman apparently said to a room full of HP employees today. She added that a decision would come in the next three to four weeks.

“If HP decides [to keep webOS], we’re going to do it in a very significant way over a multi-year period,” Whitman said — focusing mostly on tablet computing rather than making the ecosystem more “complicated”, according to The Verge report.

The news that HP might not sell webOS is a bit surprising. Previously, we’ve heard that the company was trying to unload the operating system to potential buyers like Amazon.

As VentureBeat previously reported, Whitman said during HP’s quarterly earnings call that the company would decide webOS’ future over the next couple months. Now it seems that the company is moving up that time-table.

[Image above is a screenshot of President Not Sure from the movie Idiocracy]

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Hitachi & LG plead guilty to price fixing, accept $21M fine

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 05:13 PM PST

Hitachi-LG Data Storage, an entity owned by Hitachi and LG, has admitted to 15 criminal counts related to price fixing on components for consumer electronics devices.

The judge in the case sentenced the guilty parties to a $21.1 million fine.

The two companies’ joint venture has been under investigation for the past several years due to concerns about price-fixing collusion on optical disk drives — that is, drives for DVD players, CD players and Blu-ray players, particularly those found in laptops and desktop computers.

The collusion has been going on since at least 2004. At that time, representatives of Hitachi-LG stated in court, the company was working with others to fix prices on optical disk drives sold to companies including HP, Dell and Microsoft.

Although collusion and price fixing of this nature and scale involve more parties than just the joint venture of two electronics manufacturers, Hitachi-LG Data Storage is so far the only company that has been charged by U.S. prosecutors in this particular investigation.

Hitachi-LG was additionally charged with attempting to defraud HP in 2009 during a procurement event.

Hitachi-LG Data Storage, Inc., was founded in late 2000 and shipped its first product during the summer of 2001. The venture does not sell directly to consumers.

The U.S. Justice Department began issuing subpoenas in 2009 to companies such as Sony, Toshiba and even Hitachi itself.

The $21 million fine is small potatoes for a joint venture so amply backed. However, the Justice Department noted in a court filing that Hitachi-LG merited the smaller punitive fine because it had cooperated fully with the investigation, giving “substantial assistance” to government investigators.

Image courtesy of afsart.

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Online advertisers prepping new, more interactive ad formats

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 05:12 PM PST

IAB filmstrip ad formatYou’re about to see big changes in the online ads that appearing alongside your favorite websites, because the standards organization overseeing web ads has just approved new guidelines for the first time in three years.

Advertisers are using a variety of tricks to make ads more engaging: Increased interactivity through rich media, “gamification” of ads and extended video spots are all in their bag of tricks. It appears to be working, as people are spending more time viewing ads, and sometimes ads are more relevant to their personal tastes.

To make all those advances in interactivity into a real business, though, the ad industry has to impose some standards, so publishers and advertisers can work together without having to reinvent the wheel every time. That’s where the Interactive Advertising Bureau comes in. It’s the global nonprofit group responsible for creating the industry-wide standards for the interactive advertising and marketing world.

Yesterday, at the 4th annual IAB Ad Ops conference in New York City, the tone was that of excitement as the IAB council released the first update to its guidelines since 2008.

The IAB is made up of more than 500 media and technology companies responsible for selling 86 percent of the online ads in the U.S. Needless to say, its guidelines carry some clout.

Opening the conference with this announcement, President and CEO Randall Rothenberg announced the update to the industry-standard Rich Media Creative Guidelines, in reflection of the rapid adoption of interactive formats by brand advertisers.  The updates were a result of nine months of work by a cross-industry group, both from the advertising and publishing side.

Understanding that consumers value richer advertising experiences, IAB's changes included the addition of  six recently-launched "Rising Stars" display ad formats, including the “Billboard,” “Filmstrip” (shown to the right), “Pushdown” and “Slider.” The guidelines also added maximum CPU usage as a key metric, increased maximum frame rates for previously existing rich media formats, and increased the allowable length of time that in-ad videos can play.

These changes should make it easier for advertisers, publishers, and any type of content creator in the digital space to understand how to serve the best type of ads and monetize their content while still keeping their audience engaged.

Furthermore, this acknowledges the change in popularity of various ad sizes, but most importantly, the change in where users are consuming their content (i.e. on mobile and tablet devices rather than on desktop).  With the shift to the mobile web, advertisers are being forced to create more interactive and engaging units.

Rothenberg also announced the industry adoption of the IAB Impression Exchange Solution (IES), which ultimately combats billing obstacles.  AdTech, MediaMind, PointRoll and Vindico all committed to joining Google in implementing the technology by Q2 2012.  This implementation will allow publishers and advertisers to detect and resolve differences in their systems used to count impressions and clicks in their digital campaigns, saving time and money across the board.

Other speakers included the CEO of Adobe's latest portfolio addition, Auditude, a video monetization and ad serving platform and separately, John Frelinghuysen of Bain and Company.  Frelinghuysen highlighted an eco-system wide initiative to propose standards for metrics and advertising currency that will enhance evaluation of digital media and facilitate cross-platform comparison for brand marketing.

The conference was a good event for understanding the large amounts of consolidation and technological shifts in the digital advertising space, but IAB might do well by inviting more publishers (as opposed to mostly advertising technologists) to speak at the next event.

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Phorus peels back the curtain on its wireless music playback system of the future (exclusive)

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 05:00 PM PST

Phorus, a stealthy 16-person, Los Angeles-based startup, has plans to make sharing music around the various speakers and devices in your home much easier.

“Phorus?” you say. That’s right. It’s a name you’ll want to remember come January.

The startup is announcing $2 million in its first formal round of funding Tuesday, but plans to reveal, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, partnerships with manufacturers, which will bring its PlayCast music playback ecosystem to market.

“Listening to music should be simple,” said Phorus CEO Dannie Lau in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat. “Today, people can enjoy almost any song they want, anywhere and on any device … but when you get home and you take off the earbuds, some of these things get very complicated,” he added.

“We really started this company to make the whole home audio experience simple and fun,” Lau said.

To that end, Phorus has developed PlayCast, a platform-agnostic wireless technology that will be integrated into speakers and allow end users to stream songs via PC or mobile device over Wi-Fi, and stream to multiple speakers at the same time.

Phorus will face steep competition in the battle to deliver streaming audio around consumers’ homes. For instance, Sonos is planning a holiday season push to make its wireless speaker system front-and-center in consumers’ minds. Apple’s AirPlay technology does something similar, and has the benefit of Apple’s pre-existing brand and retail reach. So what’s the difference?

“AirPlay can only stream to one speaker at a time,” Lau said. “Sonos was a technology created 10 years ago for when Wi-Fi wasn’t working very well,” he explained. “Sonos uses a proprietary wireless system; it’s not based on Wi-Fi. You have to buy, in addition to a Sonos speaker, a Sonos bridge … which makes the overall system quite expensive.”

Phorus, however, won’t be developing or selling its own line of speakers — it’ll leave that job to seasoned manufacturers. So, theoretically, in a few months time you could pick up a reasonably priced home audio system at your neighborhood consumer electronics store and get the added bonus of Wi-Fi streaming via PC or mobile, powered by Phorus’s PlayCast technology.

The startup remains mum about its exact plans for roll out. Lau did say that PlayCast-enabled speakers will come to market in 2012, and that we’ll all hear a lot more about his company at CES in January.

Alas, the startup’s vision for a better home audio experience remains but a dream for the time being.

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Adobe lays off 750 workers to reach financial goals & emphasize digital focus

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 04:53 PM PST

Adobe is handing pink slips to 750 of its full-time staff, the company announced in an earnings report today.

The layoffs are part of Adobe’s plan to restructure the company, placing a larger emphasis on digital media and digital marketing divisions.

The layoffs are occurring mostly in North America and in Europe.

Adobe’s last big layoff exactly two years ago saw 680 workers, around nine percent of its total workforce, leaving the company.

As a result of today’s news, Adobe says it anticipates it will pay between $87 million and $94 million in pre-tax restructuring charges. These expenses include around $17 million to $19 million to consolidate facilities Adobe is currently leasing, eliminating space the company will no longer need with a reduced workforce.

Adobe is also shelling out between $70 million and $75 million for severance packages.

Between $73 million and $78 million of the leasing and severance charges should be included in Adobe’s bottom line for the fiscal quarter ending December 2, 2011.

In September, Adobe said it hoped to reach quarterly revenues exceeding $1 billion. With four weeks still in the final quarter of the fiscal year, the company said it fully expects to reach $1.075 billion to $1.125 billion in revenues.

"We expect to report record revenue within the fourth quarter target range we previously issued," said Mark Garrett, executive vice president and CFO of Adobe, in a released statement.

Lately, the company has been placing a strong focus on consumer digital tools. In August, Adobe launched Muse, a tool for no-code-required website creation. Then, in October, it turned its focus to tablets with the launch of Photoshop Touch and a DIY iPad magazine creator.

In a nod to the general direction of software on the Internet, Adobe also launched Creative Cloud last month. This service brings collaboration tools as well as classic Adobe creative software into a newly connected environment.

The company also recently acquired digital font service Typekit as well as Auditude, a video ad platform.

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Activision CEO on making Modern Warfare 3 the biggest launch ever

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 02:51 PM PST

Activision Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick said in an earnings call today that the company hopes to break all sales records with its new Call of Duty game for the third year in a row.

The call was related to Activision Blizzard’s decision to raise estimates for the fourth quarter as a result of stronger-than-expected results for the overall company and the new big game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3.

“It was the largest launch in the history of Activision,” Kotick said.

Eric Hirshberg, president of Activision Publishing subsidiary, said in the same call with analysts that the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 game is on track to be the most successful Call of Duty game ever. Last year’s Call of Duty Black Ops sold more than 20 million games and the company also said it sold more than 20 million map packs. Those map pack sales on their own would rank as the year’s third most-popular title, Hirshberg said.

The company raised its earnings estimates for the third quarter because sales of Modern Warfare 3 were ahead of expectations, with preorders for the game significantly ahead of the record-setting preorders for Black Ops.

The game launched at midnight in more than 13,000 stores around the world. Hirshberg said the company could not be more pleased with game reviews (we ranked it at 93) with average ratings coming in at 90 out of 100 on Metacritic.com.

Kotick referred to the Facebook-like Call of Duty Elite social network that debuted yesterday as a “next step in social connectivity.” But the Elite service, which provides socialization and stat tracking for Call of Duty fans, was down because too many people signed up for it. Online multiplayer gaming functioned normally on the first day, however, Hirshberg said. More than 1 million players have been registered for Call of Duty Elite (both free and paid) already, and Hirshberg said the Beachhead Studios team is working hard to keep up with all of the registrations.

Hirshberg said it took a year before Xbox Live and Netflix reached a million paying subscribers. With Call of Duty Elite (which has a free version and a paid $49.99 a year version), Hirshberg expects to hit that number a lot sooner than a year.

Hirshberg said that 1.5 million gamers stayed up until midnight to buy the game, but he did not disclose the total number of first-day sales.

“It shows that the fan base is more engaged than ever,” Hirshberg said.

The company didn’t say which games were coming next, though it is working on a new Call of Duty game for 2012 and it is also working on an online version of Call of Duty for China.

Hirshberg said that there are now more than 92 million owners of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles in the U.S. and Europe. That is helping fuel demand for high-end games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3.

In other news, Activision Blizzard said that digital revenue was $386 million in the third quarter, a new record, and up 25 percent from a year ago. Overall, digital revenue from online games such as World of Warcraft is now about 38 percent of total revenue and more than 50 percent of operating margins.

Hirshberg also said that the Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure toy-game hybrid has sold more than expectations. He didn’t give a number, but said that millions of toys are now in the hands of kids and that all retailers have placed reorders for the product, which is prominently displayed in interactive kiosks in retail stores. The launch has been accompanied by a huge marketing campaign with TV commercials and movie theater ads.

Activision Blizzard closed the quarter with $2.9 billion in cash.

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Take-Two beats Q2 expectations, still posts losses

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 02:38 PM PST

NBA 2K12

Video game company Take-Two Interactive reported a better than expected loss for the second quarter of the 2012 fiscal year, which the company attributed to strong sales from its catalog of titles as well as more online distribution.

Take-Two’s net revenue for the quarter fell 56 percent to $107 million, compared to $245 million for the same quarter in 2011, which benefited from the releases of Mafia II and Sid Meier’s Civilization V and Red Dead Redemption.

Catalog sales — which accounted for 84 percent of overall revenue — were led by the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands, Sid Meier’s Civilization V, Midnight Club Los Angeles and NBA 2K11. New title sales were led by L.A. Noire, MLB 2K11, and Nicktoons MLB. Digital sales accounted for 25 percent of the overall revenue, led by in-game purchases from Grand Theft Auto, Borderlands, Red Dead Redemption and Sid Meier’s Civilization.

“Our second quarter results exceeded expectations, driven by strong demand for the company’s catalog offerings and digitally delivered add-on content that deepens the consumer experience,” said Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick. “The second half of the year is off to a solid start with the launch of NBA 2K12, which received the highest ratings in the history of our industry-leading basketball series.”

On the subject of NBA 2K12, Zelnick did say that the NBA lockout has impacted sales of the title. “It’s not a positive impact but we’re well within the expectations of the title to date,” he said.

Looking ahead, the company is expecting revenues in the range of $1 billion to 1.1 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, and a non-GAAP diluted net income per share of 10 to 35 cents.

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Kobo acquired: Japanese web retailer Rakuten paid $315M cash

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 02:30 PM PST

Rakuten, the largest online shopping mall operator in Japan, has acquired e-reader manufacturer Kobo for $315 million in cash.

In the deal, Rakuten has bought 100 percent of all issued and outstanding shares of Kobo, which makes products that compete with Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle product lines.

Around fifty-eight percent of Kobo was owned by Indigo Books & Music, a Canadian retail bookstore chain. Indigo chief executive Heather Reisman said today that the acquisition puts her company’s balance sheet in fine shape.

In a conference call to discuss the deal, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani (pictured) said that while his company has created “a unique ecosystem” in Japan and internationally, “The e-commerce business is changing quite rapidly.

“We are looking for new strategies, and we started to talk with Kobo … The company is extremely entrepreneurial, fast and strong.”

“We’ve got a shared vision,” said Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis on the same call, noting that this shared vision includes Rakuten’s current users, who he called “50 million potential Kobo customers around the world.”

Rakuten, which bills itself as one of the top 3 e-commerce companies in the world by revenue, will bring Kobo “unparalleled opportunities to extend its reach through some of the world's largest regional e-commerce companies, including Buy.com in the U.S., Tradoria in Germany, Rakuten Brazil, Rakuten Taiwan, Lekutian in China, TARAD in Thailand, and Rakuten Belanja Online in Indonesia, and of course, Rakuten Ichiba in Japan," said Mikitani in a release today.

Serbinis also issued a statement, saying, "From a business and cultural perspective this is a perfect match … This transaction will greatly strengthen our position in our current markets and allow us to diversify quickly into other countries and e-commerce categories."

Mikitani said Rakuten will be working to grow Kobo’s user base around the world as quickly as possible. Serbinis reiterated that Kobo e-readers would remain for sale in large U.S. retailers, as well, adding that the company’s market share is “over 50 percent share in Canada. Our share in the U.S. is … in the high single digits to low double digits.”

Kobo recently announced its Vox e-reader, an app-running, email-serving, web-browsing, color-displaying competitor to Amazon’s Kindle Fire and other tablet and e-reader hybrids.

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Olympus admits to hiding losses for two decades

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 02:23 PM PST

Olympus admitted today to hiding loses from its investors with acquisitions over two decades, and now the company’s largest shareholder outside of Japan is demanding the resignation of the entire board of directors.

In a press conference in Tokyo Tuesday, Olympus President Shuichi Takayama admitted to the fraud saying, “We have conducted extremely improper accounting.”

Takayama denied any previous knowledge of the coverup, and placed the blame on Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, who has resigned, Executive Vice President Hisashi Mori, who was fired, and auditor Hideo Yamada, who has said he will step down. All three men, and any Olympus employee who has taken part in hiding losses since 1990s, could face criminal charges. The company itself could face stock delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The accounting scandal has rocked the 92-year-old camera and endoscope company, and Olympus shares have plunged 70 percent since the accusations were made public last month.

The revelations came to light when CEO Michael C. Woodford was fired on October 14 after 30 years with the company and only six months as CEO. Woodford accused the Olympus board of making questionable payments of more than $1.5 billion to investment fund advisers under the previous Chairman, Tsuyosji Kikukawa. He said the money was funneled through suspect companies in the Cayman Islands Islands that have since disappeared from the trade register, and that the attempt to hide losses has cost investors $1.3 billion.

The overseas investor demanding heads is Southeastern Asset Management, which owns around five percent of Olympus’ stock. In a statement, the company called for multiple resignations and asked for a general meeting of shareholders: “We request that an extraordinary general meeting of shareholders is called to allow the remaining members of the board of directors and the board of corporate auditors to be replaced as soon as practical.”

In Japan, the illegal practice of hiding losses by investing in dummy companies is a known as a Tobashi scheme. The securities trading firm Yamaichi Securities Co. famously went under in 1997 after attempting to hide over $2 billion in losses this way.

Olympus is now being investigated by the Japanese Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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Blizzard’s flagship game World of Warcraft loses 800K subscribers in Q3

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 02:16 PM PST

Blizzard Entertainment said today that its subscribers for the World of Warcraft online game has fallen 10.3 million in the third quarter, down dramatically from 11.1 million in the second quarter.

That compares to 11.4 million in the first quarter. The rate of loss is alarming since World of Warcraft is a cash cow for parent company Activision Blizzard.

Each WoW player pays about $15 a month, though rates vary around the world. More competition is coming into the massively multiplayer online game market, so Blizzard is focused on taking actions to turn around the loss in users, said Mike Morhaime, president of Blizzard, in an earnings call this afternoon. The Blizzard part of the call was part of a larger trend in which Activision Blizzard blew past earnings numbers for the third quarter.

Blizzard Entertainment announced World of Warcraft in September 2001. It came out in November 2004 after being in development for more than three years and after several delays. The game was immediately a hit with fans of massively multiplayer online role-playing games — or MMORPGs — and ended up killing several other subscription-based online games, such as Tabula Rasa and Star Wars: Galaxies. The game grew like wildfire, eventually reaching a peak of more than 12 million active subscribers.

One of the things Blizzard is doing is introducing a new expansion, Mists of Pandaria, which is expected to debut in the near future. It also introduced the World of Warcraft annual pass, which gives a free copy of the upcoming Diablo III game and other benefits to anyone who signs up for 12 months of World of Warcraft. Blizzard made the announcements at Blizzcon, its annual fan event. Blizzcon drew 26,000 fans to Anaheim, Calif., and another million who watched online.

Morhaime said a huge number of players are in China and that WoW continues to be the most popular online game in the world. He said the previous expansion, World of Warcraft Cataclysm, had content that hardcore users consumed too rapidly. Blizzard is studying ways to keep gamers more engaged with future updates and expansions.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Firefox 8 gets official, adds handy Twitter search function

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 01:39 PM PST

firefox 8Mozilla has released the newest version of its popular Firefox browser today, Firefox 8, adding in a useful Twitter-search ability and disabling add-ons by default to boost performance.

Firefox users have seen quick updates of their browsers ever since Mozilla decided to mimic Google Chrome's rapid release schedule. Six weeks ago Firefox 7 debuted with performance gains, and six weeks before that Firefox 6 hit with extra tools for developers. Mozilla has been a little spooked ever since it started to look like Google Chrome could overtake Firefox as the number 2 browser.

Two big changes are in store for those updating to Firefox 8. First, there is the addition of a Twitter search tool that can be selected from the top right corner, like searching Google, Bing or Wikipedia. Second, Firefox 8 disables add-ons by default and forces users to re-reselect add-ons if they truly want to use them.

“Add-ons installed by third parties present a number of problems: they can slow down Firefox start-up and page loading time, they clutter the interface with toolbars that often go unused, they lag behind on compatibility and security updates, and most importantly, they take the user out of control of their add-ons,” said Mozilla programmer Justin Scott in an August blog post about the decision.

Firefox 8 also adds support for “Cross-Origin Resource Sharing,” which lets developers load WebGL graphics and textures from other domains securely. Additionally, the updated browser offers a faster way to restore windows with many tabs that can be turned on from the Firefox Menu under Options/Preferences.

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Activision Blizzard beats Q3 targets and pins earnings hopes on Modern Warfare 3

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 01:27 PM PST

Video game publisher Activision Blizzard reported better-than-expected earnings for its third quarter ended Sept. 30. Those results do not include revenues from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which launched yesterday with a huge fan reception.

Activision Blizzard raised its guidance for the fourth quarter based on its optimism about the reception for Modern Warfare 3, which we rated as one of the best games of the year.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company is the largest independent video game publisher and its results are a bellwether for the core console video game and PC game businesses. Some companies have performed well in the industry, but the core console video game market has been shrinking for much of the year. Activision Blizzard, like other companies, is pinning its hopes on a stellar fourth quarter.

Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard, said in a statement, "Today, we launched Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which is perhaps the most anticipated video game in history.”

He touted the new online social networking service Call of Duty Elite, (which isn’t working so well today) that “makes playing together easier and more fun than ever before.” He added, “Call of Duty Elite is a truly new form of entertainment combining Facebook-like social networking features and online television shows, offering the most accessible way to play Call of Duty games with other people."

Kotick said that audience for games is broadening and is becoming as important as film and television as a mass market form of entertainment. He said the company is raising the full-year financial outlook due to better-than-expected sales for Modern Warfare 3 and Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures. In 2012, the company expects to launch Diablo III and a new Call of Duty game.

Analysts estimated that the company would report a profit of 2 cents a share on revenue of $558.4 million. But Activision Blizzard came in with a non-GAAP profit of 7 cents a share and revenues of $627 million.

Previously, Activision Blizzard reported better-than-expected earnings for the second quarter ended June 30.

On Monday, Activision Blizzard hit a new 52-week high in advance of the Tuesday morning launch of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. Activision Blizzard is the industry’s most valuable company, with a market capitalization of $15.93 billion. That’s about twice the value of close rival Electronic Arts, which is valued at $8 billion.

Of course, things could change if Zynga proceeds with its planned initial public offering after Thanksgiving, and if Zynga’s valuation comes in at the high-range of estimates. (Those are big ifs).

During the quarter, the company reported GAAP revenues of $754 million, compared with $745 million a year earlier. On a non-GAAP basis, revenues were $627 million, compared with $857 million a year earlier. GAAP earnings per share were 13 cents, compared to 4 cents a year earlier. On a non-GAAP basis, earnings per share were 7 cents, compared to 12 cents a year ago.

Activision Blizzard said that Call of Duty Black Ops, which debuted last year, has been the best-selling game in dollars in the U.S. and Europe for the first three quarters of the year. Black Ops players have logged more than 2.8 billion hours of online game play, up from 2.2 billion in the prior quarter. The total number of unique gamers for Black Ops was 29 percent higher than the previous game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, in the first 11 months after release.

For the full year, Activision Blizzard expects GAAP revenue of $4.33 billion and earnings per share of 76 cents. In the fourth quarter, it expects revenue of $980 million and a GAAP loss of 8 cents a share.

Filed under: games

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