11 November, 2011



Hulu Plus & ESPN apps coming to Amazon’s Kindle Fire

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 08:42 AM PST

kindlefire appsAmazon’s new tablet computer the Kindle Fire is getting a healthy injection of entertainment and sports content when it launches later this month.

The company announced today that the Kindle Fire will add application support for Hulu Plus, Hulu’s premium subscription service for streaming TV and movie content as well as ESPN ScoreCenter.

The news comes just days after Amazon’s announcement that a slew of popular music, gaming and social media apps would appear on the Kindle Fire. As we previously reported, those apps include Angry Birds, Bloomberg News, 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.

The addition of Hulu Plus to the Kindle Fire makes it more competitive with Barnes & Noble’s new Nook Tablet, which also recently announced it would have the app on its platform.

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.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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iPhone 4S unlocked: newest Apple offering starts today at $649

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 08:05 AM PST

Apple is selling unlocked iPhone 4S units starting today.

Interested parties can nab an unlocked model through the Apple website; shipments are expected to arrive in one to two weeks.

The unlocked devices are contract-free and can be supported by any GSM carrier.

The 16GB model starts at $649, and 32GB and 64GB models are available for $749 and $849, respectively. All capacities come in any color you want, as long as it’s black or white.

With a contract, the phones run $199, $299 and $399, in order of storage capacity.

Apple notes that the unlocked iPhone 4S will only work “on supported GSM networks, such as AT&T in the U.S.” or on micro-SIM cards from international GSM carriers.

“The unlocked iPhone will not work with CDMA carriers such as Verizon Wireless or Sprint,” Apple states in the unlocked device’s marketing copy.

The unlocked iPhone 4S will bring users all the features of the regular iPhone 4S, but users don’t have to enter into a contract with a mobile network or limit themselves to coverage in the United States.

In the event you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, the iPhone 4S is Apple’s latest consumer device, and it features Siri, the magical-when-it’s-not-broken voice control system. It also has lately featured some battery-drain issues, which Apple says should be fixed by an iOS update.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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The DeanBeat: After Steve, will Apple press its advantage in games?

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

Steve Jobs never liked video games, particularly the violent ones. Years ago, when id Software’s John Carmack demonstrated a cool shooting game during one of Jobs’ keynotes, Jobs wouldn’t allow him to show any blood on the big screen.

That approach defined Apple’s stance on games, just at the moment that 3D games were flourishing due to the growth of powerful graphics hardware support. And it doomed the Mac to a secondary position.

No longer. With the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, Apple has a built up a tremendous position in mobile games in just a few years. Its platforms are the target for the best mobile games, such as Infinity Blade 2, pictured above.

Now that Jobs is no longer running Apple, the question is whether Apple will be able to stretch its wings even more broadly in the game market. Apple executives certainly tout games at the company’s press conferences. Epic Games, for instance, was allowed to give a lengthy demo of Infinity Blade 2 at the recent iPhone 4S press conference.

But in many ways, that is thinking small. Consider that Apple has never exhibited at E3, the giant game show held in June in Los Angeles every year. It has also never held a public event where it focuses solely on the games being developed for the iOS platforms. It holds events for developers, but doesn’t make a big splash for the press when it does so. Apple could clearly get a big audience of press and developers if it held periodic game-focused events.

The problem isn’t that Apple lacks game support on iOS. It has roughly 100,000 games available, and it is competing head to head with Android to be the primary target platform for game developers. The problem is that Apple continues to have a very small staff dedicated to games (beyond the testing of them). Indeed, much of Apple’s success with games, especially in the early days of the App Store, has been accidental. It is the gamers and game developers that have pulled the Cupertino company headlong into supporting games with features such as in-app purchases and the (not-so-successful) Apple game center.

Peter Relan, chairman of YouWeb and chief executive of CrowdStar, says that, from a business point of view, Apple has clearly seen the value of games and has supported the category.

“Going forward, I believe they should highlight games more at events, showcase and feature apps like iSwifter, that bring thousands more games to iOS,” Relan said. “Ultimately, Steve Jobs cared about what users would want to do, more than anything else, and games is THE killer app category in the App Store.”

He adds, “Users have spoken convincingly to Apple: I want my MTV. And I want my games!”

Of course, I’m not particularly qualified in telling Apple what it should do. Apple has schooled everyone in the game industry about the disruptive power of digital distribution, rock-bottom pricing, and the wisdom of creating games for a true mass market. The results speak for themselves: According to mobile analytics firm Flurry and NPD data, iOS and Android had only 19 percent of the U.S. portable game market in 2009, compared to 11 percent for Sony’s PlayStation Portable and 70 percent for the Nintendo DS. In 2011, iOS and Android have 58 percent of the market, compared to 36 percent for the DS and 6 percent for the PSP. Nintendo is reporting its first fiscal loss ever, thanks in part to the struggles of its new portable gaming system, the 3DS.

Apple has made improvements for games with iOS 5, the latest version of its mobile operating system. Apple enabled multiplayer gaming in its Game Center and enabled Airplay Mirroring, which allows gamers to display their games on big screen TVs. The new iCloud service also lets gamers take a saved game and pick it up on a different iOS device. Apple’s Game Center has now been used by 65 million players, and more developers are making use of it.

Eric Peng, head of iPhone game developer Playmesh, said that he would appreciate Apple’s help in securing better distribution for games so that they can get noticed and discovered more easily. Apple could take an active role in that process the way that Japan’s DeNA and Gree mobile social networks do in Japan. By addressing distribution, Apple could generate more revenue for itself and publishers and help users cut through the clutter. Apple could also help developers target the right customers, given the wealth of information it has about consumers — much the way that Facebook does.

Peng said that he also hopes Apple will loosen or remove its approvals process for content, opening up to apps the way that Google has. That is one of the factors that has driven developers to Android. And Peng thinks Apple could do more to help game publishers expand internationally.

“I don’t see why Apple wouldn’t benefit by helping developers translate and localize to foreign markets,” he said. “This would create a better user experience for foreign users, which would help Apple sell their hardware better.”

There is room for improvement, particularly in doing a better job at communicating and listening. So here are more suggestions.

  • Apple’s stance on games shouldn’t be passive. It pays to stay in close touch with game developers to see if every aspect of the platform is serving their needs as well as the needs of gamers. Back in the spring, Apple abruptly pulled the rug out from a lot of developers when it banned the practice of offering incentivized app installations, where a user was rewarded with an in-game treat if he or she installed another game. Apple did that to prevent developers from buying their way onto the lists of top-ranked apps, where they could get more exposure. Apple’s ruling may have been the right thing to do, but it was done with almost no public communication to the developers who had come to rely on incentives.
  • Apple’s job is to ensure that it stays ahead of Android and attract more developers. It could, for instance, apply some serious lobbying pressure on Nintendo to get that closed company to support non-Nintendo platforms. Who wouldn’t want to play a Mario game on an Apple device? To cut that kind of deal, you need the CEO of Apple to be focused on it.
  • Apple could also bring more games to the Mac, through virtualization technology. If you have Parallels for the Mac, for instance, you can run Windows games on Mac computers, though not always at the fastest speeds. But Apple could easily pre-install a games-on-demand service such as OnLive on its computers.
  • And if Apple moves ahead with its plans to create an Apple television, or iTV, it could easily implement apps or streamed games on the device so that it competes head on with the game consoles, where most games sold are still at an (overpriced) $60 a piece.

In short, here’s my advice to Apple CEO Tim Cook: Get into the game.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like this column? Subscribe to the DeanBeat online and you can read future columns a whole day before they appear on the VentureBeat website. [Illustration by Tom Cheredar]

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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DC Universe Online gains a million new players with free-to-play transition

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 07:56 AM PST

A million new players have signed up for Sony Online Entertainment’s massively multiplayer online game DC Universe Online following its transition to a free-to-play business model last month, the company said.

DC Universe Online, for PC and PS3, originally required a paid monthly subscription when it launched in January this year. But Sony announced in September that the game was becoming free-to-play, with income being generated through micro-transactions and an optional subscription package. It was a gutsy maneuver, given the potential change in revenues for the title.

This move seems to have paid off, certainly in terms of player numbers. "DC Universe Online’s transition to free-to-play has been welcomed by the community and gamers with heroic enthusiasm. In just one week alone, 1 million new players have joined DCUO, with a 50/50 split between PC and PS3" Lorin Jameson, executive director of entertainment at Sony Online Entertainment Austin, said today.

Under the free-to-play business model, DC Universe Online now boasts a three tier access structure, as detailed below:

Free Access: New players have access to the base game content in DC Universe Online, including Gotham City, Metropolis, and all current raids and alerts outside of dowloadable content (DLC) packs. Free Access lets players create two characters and join a League, among other benefits. Free-level players can also purchase DLC packs, additional character slots and more in-game.

Premium Access: Any player who has spent at least $5 qualifies for the Premium Access level. Premium-level players get additional character slots, additional inventory slots, and higher cash limits. DLC packs, additional character slots, and more can be purchased in-game. All previous subscribers are automatically granted Premium Access.

Legendary Access: Legendary Access provides the most content, features and benefits of the three access levels. Loaded with enhanced features, Legendary Access is available for a $14.99 monthly fee (multi-month discounts available) and includes access to all DLC packs at no extra cost, more than 16 character slots, over 60 inventory slots, the ability to form Leagues, and many other benefits.

With SOE’s solid record of creating world-renowned MMO games, such as Everquest and Free Realms, it will be interesting to see whether this move pays off in the long-term. Getting gamers to sign up for a free-to-play MMO is one thing, but making sure they stick around and spend some money is another challenge altogether.

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Citigroup may close deal to sell EMI for $4.1B today

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 07:51 AM PST

GorillazCitigroup is close to finalizing a deal to sell off major music company EMI Group for an astounding $4.1 billion dollars, according to a Wall Street Journal report that cites anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

The sale will be split into two separate parts. Citigroup is in talks with Universal Music Group to sell EMI’s recorded-music division $1.9 billion, while its publishing division will go to Sony Music $2.2 billion, according to the report.

Citigroup first announced its plans to sell EMI in June after new forms of music distribution and online piracy took a considerable toll on the company’s profitability. The sale would cut the number of giant music labels from four to three: Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music and Universal Music.

Although news of the sale was inevitable (Citigroup seized control of EMI from other owners in February after the company couldn’t pay its debts), it’s unfortunate that EMI will cease to exist just as the company began allowing tech companies and developers to use its music via APIs. In the past month, EMI forged partnerships with both Rumblefish and Echonest.

Citigroup is rumored to announce the later today or this weekend. The sale is likely to face many regulatory hurdles, and could take up to 20 months to get approval.

[Image above of musical group the Gorillaz, from EMI's record label]

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Modern Warfare 3 generates $400M and sells record 6.5M copies on first day

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 07:13 AM PST

Activision Blizzard said that first-day sales of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 set a new all-time record, with the game selling more than 6.5 million and generating $400 million in revenues in its first 24 hours.

Those sales numbers apply to sales in the U.S. and the United Kingdom on Tuesday Nov. 8. The first-day sales beat those of last year’s first-person shooter game, Call of Duty Black Ops, which sold more than 5.6 million units for $360 million in its first day. By comparison, Electronic Arts sold 5 million copies of Battlefield 3, a rival game that debuted Oct. 25, in its first week.

The sales numbers are based on sell-through data from Charttrack and retail customer data. While some game publishers such as Sony count sell-in numbers, which are based on shipments to retailers, Activision Blizzard said its numbers are based on sales to consumers. Call of Duty has now shattered records for day one sales of any form of entertainment for three years in a row.

The game has received critical praise and we’ve given the single-player campaign and multiplayer game high review scores. But Activision is still trying to restore regular uptime for users of the Call of Duty Elite social network, a new online service that has been flooded with too many users since day one. Multiplayer play is functioning normally.

Two years ago, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 sold more than $310 million worth. This time, more than 13,000 stores opened at midnight around the world for the opening day of Modern Warfare 3 sales. Microsoft said the number of concurrent gamers playing multiplayer online set a new record after two days of play.

“We believe the launch of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is the biggest entertainment launch of all time in any medium, and we achieved this record with sales from only two territories,” said Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard.”

Life-to-date sales of Call of Duty now exceed worldwide theatrical box office revenue for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Eric Hirshberg, president of subsidiary Activision Blizzard, said, “Call of Duty is more than a game. It’s become a major part of the pop cultural landscape.”

Activision announced that, on Veterans Day, it is donating $3 million to the Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit that helps place returning veterans in jobs.

Filed under: games

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Clingle takes on Foursquare and Google Huddles with new iPhone app

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PST

ClingleClingle is a new location-based social network that wants to enhance conversations as you check in to places throughout the day.

The service, which officially launched across the U.S. yesterday with a new iPhone app, allows people to leave multimedia messages (text, video or audio) for a specific user or group of users when they check in to different places, which can grow into full-length conversations. Users can also leave messages for others to discover, regardless of their location — sort of like Foursquare’s Tips feature.

But unlike Foursquare, Clingle isn’t focused on a public stream of activity. Instead, its more like Google+’s Huddle feature. Clingle co-founder Puneet Mehta told VentureBeat that the service is best compared with the experience of text messaging that’s been enhanced with GPS and the ability to send video and audio messages.

Mehta said the Clingle has plans to partner with retail and restaurant chains to add support for advanced purchases of items that friends can leave for each other when they check in. And rather than dealing with point-of-sale integration with thousands of merchants, he said a solution can be as simple as providing a proof of receipt. For instance, if I wanted to buy a cup of coffee for a friend who will be at the cafe down the street hours from now (when I’m not around), I could take a picture of my receipt and send it to them. My friend would show the picture to the merchant to receive the pre-purchased cup.

Clingle’s revenue model is based on commission fees and advertising from its merchant partners. However, the company’s main focus for the time being is providing a good experience for its users, Mehta said.

While the service does have potential, it’s going to have plenty of competition from both Twitter and Foursquare, which are adding new features that give its users a more well-rounded experience.

Clingle was developed by MyCityWay, a New York-based startup co-founded by Mehta, Archana Patchirajan and Sonpreet Bhatia. Founded in 2009, MyCityWay has received $6 million total funding to date from BMW iVentures, FirstMark Capital, EDC and IA Ventures.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Revue this: Logitech is done with Google TV after $100M loss

Posted: 11 Nov 2011 02:50 AM PST

Logitech RevueHardware company Logitech’s CEO Guerrino De Luca revealed that the company won’t be producing new or refreshed Google TV set-top boxes in the future, reports The Verge.

In December 2010, Logitech debuted the Logitech Revue, a streaming set-top box with Google’s made-for-television Google TV operating system. The device was intended to make the massive amount of video content  on the internet available (and optimized) for television screens. However, lack of support for Google’s software (along with major TV networks blocking access to their content) caused the Revue to perform poorly in the market.

At a Logitech-hosted Investors Day event Wednesday, De Luca called the Revue a mistake that cost the company well over $100 million in operating profits. The company, he said, intends to allow the device’s current inventory levels to run out this quarter. It also has no plans to introduce another box to replace the Revue.

As for why the Revue was a mistake, De Luca blames the Google TV software for not being ready at launch. Google recently released an update to its Google TV software that give it the ability to run web apps and view new content channels, which some critics say is long overdue for a platform that’s been available for almost a year.

“To make the long story short, we thought we had invented (sliced) bread and we just made them. [We made a commitment to] just build a lot because we expected everybody to line up for Christmas and buy these boxes at $300… that was a big mistake,” De Luca said.

Arguably, the most successful set-top boxes in the market have been less powerful, low-priced devices, such as the Roku box ($59-$99). Apple also learned this difficult lesson with its first generation Apple TV set-top box, which were later replaced with a cheaper $99 version with no storage capacity.

The success of Google TV likely won’t come from a set-top box from a large, well-known manufacturer like Logitech, which is something De Luca noted during the event. Instead, it’ll likely be through smaller, relatively unknown companies entirely focused on producing only Google TV-enabled set-top boxes.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Sony CEO: We’re totally working on “a different kind of TV set”

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 09:22 PM PST

Following Apple’s lead, now Sony says it’s been working on a next-generation TV.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer revealed that the company has been investing heavily in reinventing the TV as we know it, despite suffering massive losses in the TV business, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Speaking at a breakfast Thursday morning, Stringer said, “There’s a tremendous amount of R&D going into a different kind of TV set.” He later added that he had “no doubt” that Steve Jobs was working on a TV set for Apple, and that, “We can’t continue selling TV sets [the way we have]. Every TV set we all make loses money.”

Of course, Stringer didn’t give any details about what we can expect from Sony’s next-generation TV, so we’re just as much in the dark as we are about Apple’s TV plans. Rumors are swirling that Apple could integrate its Siri voice commands into its future TV sets, and they’re also expected to pack in the same functionality as the Apple TV set-top box.

Stringer admitted that he underestimated how difficult it would be to get programming ready for 3D TVs — a problem that needs to be solved for 3D TVs to truly take off, he said.

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine what future TVs will look like. Current trends are focusing on making TVs as thin as possible, and TV manufacturers will continue to keep pushing 3D as much as possible. But it’s good to hear that Sony has been investing heavily in figuring out the future of TV, especially since it lost ground in the current generation of flat-panel displays to the likes of Samsung and LG.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Facebook to settle 2009 privacy charge with the FTC

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 04:55 PM PST

Computer KeyFacebook is close to settling a charge with the Federal Trade Commission first introduced two years ago regarding the social network’s privacy practices.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the settlement will force Facebook to stop changing its users’ privacy preferences without gaining “express affirmative consent.” For example, Facebook cannot suddenly say your status updates will be public, but you can go back and make them private if you’d rather keep them out of the public eye.

The company would also have to be audited for privacy by an independent firm for the next 20 years, an agreement similar to Google’s case with the FTC back in march.

This change is an important one for many, whose photos, or private information are currently in Facebook’s hands. Recently, in order to handle privacy more openly, the company introduced privacy buttons to many aspects of the website. Now people can choose who they would like to share a certain status update, or photo with, putting a little more control into the users’ hands. There is always a concern, however, that a sweep of privacy changes could result in a wiping of your own settings, which sometimes take a lot of time to set.

The original charge stemmed from a 2009 complaint when the company made a number of profile features, such as name and friends list, public, forcing users to reprogram their original preferences.

[Computer key photo via Shutterstock]

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Katango, after help from Facebook, gets acquired by Google

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 04:36 PM PST

Would Google+ be a better social network if it were capable of auto-sorting your contacts into Circles? We might soon find out, because Google has acquired Katango, a maker of technologies to auto-organize friends into groups.

“Katango was founded a little over a year ago to develop social algorithms that improve people’s online social interaction,” the startup announced on its website Thursday. “We’re excited to join the Google+ team and carry on fulfilling that mission.”

Yee Lee, Katango’s VP of product, also posted a similar update to Google+. TechCrunch was first to report the story. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition is of particular interest for a few reasons, the obvious one being that Google+ is now better positioned to compete with Facebook and its Smart Lists.

But there’s more going on here, because Facebook is actually an investor in Katango. To understand what happens, you need to rewind to about a year ago.

On October 21, 2010, Facebook summoned the media to a press conference at its Palo Alto headquarters. The event introduced the world to sFund, a $250 million fund to back social innovation. The fund is managed by Kleiner Perkins Caulfied & Byers, but Facebook said that it was contributing financing to the fund and guidance to sFund-backed startups.

The press event also heralded the arrival of CafeBots, the very first startup to receive funding — $5 million to be exact — from sFund. CafeBots remained stealthy and was later rebranded as Katango.

When Katango finally debuted in July 2011, it launched a group messaging iPhone application capable of sorting and organizing a person’s contacts by life stage or activity, and did so by hooking into the user’s Facebook address book. No surprise there, given Facebook’s investment in Katango.

Essentially, Google has acquired a startup with several direct ties to Facebook.

Could Google actually integrate Katango’s Facebook-based people-sorting algorithms into Google+? We put the question to Lee this afternoon, but he declined to comment. It strikes us as highly unlikely. Google has shown no interest in connecting its latest social networking experiment to Facebook’s populous social graph. It’s more likely that whatever algorithms Katango is using will be repurposed for Google+.

So, what will become of Katango and its technology? What does Facebook think about Google purchasing a startup it helped fund and develop? And did Facebook sign off on the deal?

All we know for certain is that Katango’s staff will join the Google+ team come Monday to work on improving Circles. Is it a win for Google? A blow to Facebook? Or just a strategic exit for Katango? Perhaps it’s all three.

Filed under: deals, social

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Norwegians take top prize in startup competition, with a killer presentation

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 04:21 PM PST

When Halvor Gregusson got off the stage, an audience full of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors was cheering and the moderator was giving him a high-five.

Pretty good for a two-minute pitch about a time-tracking tool from a Norwegian startup.

Gregusson’s company, Yast, took the top prize in the Fast Pitch competition today at Under the Radar, a conference held in Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters. The competition, co-sponsored by VentureBeat, gave eight startups (selected from a field of more than 100 applicants) just two minutes to make their case before a panel of four judges, one of which was me. The judges then had two minutes to give their feedback. We showed our votes by holding up one of three pictures of David Hasselhoff, ranging from “Oy vey!” to “Awesome!”

Gregusson’s pitch won the near-unanimous approval of the panel. How did he do it? Impeccable timing, a sense of humor and a continuous soundtrack (taken from the movie The Rock, he told me) that was perfectly integrated into the points of his slides, which auto-advanced as he spoke. (You can watch Yast’s presentation on UStream — it starts around the 8:00 mark in this video.)

In other words, he created a killer presentation, added a soundtrack, and rehearsed it until his timing was perfect. No pushing buttons, no pauses to say “um,” no PowerPoint slides with bullet points.

Screenshot of Yast time trackerYast offers a simple, web-based time tracking service: You just click and drag in a timeline to record how many hours you’ve worked on a project. The company is currently testing a mobile web service that automatically tracks your hours without your having to do anything except bring the web page up on your smartphone. It’s HTML based, not an app, and appears to work with any smartphone, including iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7.

Gregusson’s presentation is based on a 6-minute pitch he gave at a Norwegian startup competition, which had 66 slides and a similar musical soundtrack. It, too got the audience cheering, he told me.

He’d made this presentation after getting low marks from the judges in a previous competition. “We’re never going to invest in this,” one judge told him. At the same time, the judges gave glowing marks to other competitors.

“So I decided I’m going to go back and tell the story of how we made it and the others didn’t,” Gregusson said. “I said, ‘I’m going to make the best presentation you’ve ever seen.’”

At today’s competition, I was the only judge who gave Gregusson a less-than-enthusiastic vote, and I held back only because the presentation was so good that it wound up distracting me from the content. As I told Gregusson, “I have no idea if this is a good business or not, but that was a fucking awesome presentation.”

Still, it was a convincing demonstration that presentation skills matter. That applies whether you’re trying to get the attention of a panel of jaded judges, a roomful of entrepreneurs or a boardroom with venture capitalists around the table.

“You will remember this as the day that a Norwegian time tracker won best in show. You’re not going to see that every day,” Gregusson said.

The runner-up was a startup called 71 Lbs., which helps small businesses consolidate shipping information between UPS, the US Postal Service, Fed Ex and DHL, and cut shipping costs. The subject is a bit dry, but it solves a real problem and offers businesses measurable cost savings. That’s pretty good for a service that’s free to use.

Tying for third place were Ecquire, a company that automates the process of moving data from Facebook, Twitter and Gmail into customer relationship management systems; Rentcycle, which hopes to facilitate rentals of things like tools, bikes and tuxedos from retail rental shops as well as individuals; and Matygo, a learning management system that combines video lectures, online courseware and other tools to help people learn programming skills and other subjects.

Other judges included  Christine Legorio, the executive editor of Inc.com; Chris Tolles, the CEO of Topix; and Mark Silva, an executive vice president with Anthem. That high-fiving moderator was David Berlind of TechWeb.

All in all, it was a fast-moving, entertaining and sometimes exciting 40 minutes. More startup pitches should be structured like this.

Image: Photoshop of Yast team members, from Yast’s presentation today.

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Evony gets a real lady in a toga for its online game ads. Is this progress?

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 04:19 PM PST

Evony, the maker of an online-only fantasy strategy game, spammed the entire internet with ads that featured a large-breasted animated game character named Lady Eva. Today, it named a real-life model who will appear in ads featuring Lady Eva.

The question is whether Evony’s bust-centric ads represent the dying past of gaming, its present or its future. The game appeals to young males and the ads fit that demographic. In fact, that was the heritage of the hardcore gaming industry’s marketing for many years, as evidenced by all of the “booth babes” at each year’s E3 show. Many games have treated women as sex objects as a way of selling the games.

But on Facebook and in mobile games, half of the audience is women. Male-oriented ads won’t work in that space, and that is where the growth of the market is.

Flurry found in a recent study of mobile games that 53 percent of mobile gamers were women. Many of the new online games, particularly social games on Facebook, appeal to older women. Mobile games are also finding large female audiences on both smartphones and tablets. While enclaves of male gaming still exist, game companies that follow Evony’s path may find themselves cutting off their future growth potential.

If you consider the evolution of Microsoft’s game business, you’ll see that it moved from a male-focused hardcore business to a broad entertainment business that appeals to everyone. Microsoft’s ads and its E3 events now reflect that diversity.

Evony’s original ads from 2009 were attention-grabbers, with the headline, “Come play, my Lord,” accompanied by renderings, animations or photos of chesty women with minimal clothing. But they had very little to do with the actual game play, which is a free-to-play empire-building game.

The company said that the real Eva was chosen by game players as they voted for the right look for the person to represent the game. She will appear on Evony.com in both real and cartoon ads, and will be featured in the title’s in-game tutorials. Evony is prepping a bunch of ads for the Thanksgiving time frame.

Work on the original game began in 2006. Evony’s two titles, Evony Age I and Evony Age 2, are played in over 167 countries. At one point, the Civilization-like game had 27 million registered users. The sexy ads may have been effective early on, but now they seem to have put the company in the position of limiting its future growth.

Tony Cerrato, marketing officer at Evony, positioned the new campaign as a way to clean up its act. Eva’s images are likely to look more like the above images than the crass ad from the old campaign to the right.

“Of course, many people are aware of our old, discontinued series and to a lesser extent our current series of ads which focus solely on game play,” Cerrato said. “We developed the new campaign after closely studying the effectiveness of our past efforts, while also listening to our players and critics.”

Interpreting that, it sounds like Evony is toning it down. Of course, you could still call it sexist. There is, for instance, no ad featuring a beefy dude in a toga.

Filed under: games

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Valve Steam service experiences security breach

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 03:31 PM PST

Steam LogoDigital game distribution leader Valve just announced there has been a security breach within its Steam database. In a message sent to Steam users, Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell said someone managed to gain access to not only the Steam forums, but to the database containing user information.

Newell adds that the passwords were hashed and salted, and credit card information is encrypted. Currently, there is no sign of data being stolen, but he urges users to keep a close eye on their statements and credit card activity as the company continues to investigate.

Here is the official statement from Valve:

Dear Steam Users and Steam Forum Users,

Our Steam forums were defaced on the evening of Sunday, November 6.  We began investigating and found that the intrusion goes beyond the Steam forums.

We learned that intruders obtained access to a Steam database in addition to the forums.   This database contained information including user names, hashed and salted passwords, game purchases, email addresses, billing addresses and encrypted credit card information. We do not have evidence that encrypted credit card numbers or personally identifying information were taken by the intruders, or that the protection on credit card numbers or passwords was cracked. We are still investigating.

We don’t have evidence of credit card misuse at this time. Nonetheless you should watch your credit card activity and statements closely.

While we only know of a few forum accounts that have been compromised, all forum users will be required to change their passwords the next time they login. If you have used your Steam forum password on other accounts you should change those passwords as well.

We do not know of any compromised Steam accounts, so we are not planning to force a change of Steam account passwords (which are separate from forum passwords). However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to change that as well, especially if it is the same as your Steam forum account password.

We will reopen the forums as soon as we can.

I am truly sorry this happened, and I apologize for the inconvenience.


This is not the first time a gaming service has been targeted in such a breach. Earlier this year, Sony’s online services were hit and shut down in April and remained down partway through the month of May. Back in October, Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE service also suffered an attack that forced Microsoft to put a freeze on some accounts.

VentureBeat has contacted Valve for further comment and we will update as information becomes available.

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Loss leader alert: $79 Amazon Kindle costs $84 to build

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 03:20 PM PST

kindle-79Amazon’s new jaw-droppingly priced $79 Kindle actually costs $84.25 to manufacture, yet another sign that Amazon cares more about profiting on the content it sells rather than hardware.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has made the bet that getting low-cost hardware into hands of consumers will pay off immensely when they buy more digital content to make up for hardware losses. That’s the exact opposite approach of Apple, which makes its money on hardware sales and not as nearly much on content.

The $79 Kindle costs an estimated $84.25 to make, according to market research company IHS iSuppli. This loss isn’t as grievous as the $10 hit Amazon will take for every Kindle Fire it sells.

The new basic Kindle still features an E-Ink screen and shaves off the keyboard from the previous generation, making it 30 percent lighter. The $79 model features some advertising, called “Special Offers” by Amazon. If you want a non-ad-filled basic Kindle, it will cost you $109, which doesn’t make it nearly as good of a deal.

The $79 Kindle’s biggest non-Amazon competition will be the $99 Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch. B&N just announced that it would add improved software and a better E-Ink screen that supposedly displays text 25 percent faster than the previous Nook Simple model.

The complete breakdown for materials on the Kindle can be viewed below:

$79 Kindle Materials

Display Module: $30.50
Main PCB: $30.37
Other – Enclosures / Final Assembly: $15.08
Box Contents: $2.06
Misc Interface PCBs: $0.59
Direct Material Cost Total: $78.59
Manufacturing Cost: $5.66

Total Materials & Manufacturing: $84.25

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Siri hack lets you create shortcuts to apps & system preferences

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 02:32 PM PST

Siri, Apple’s new voice control feature available exclusively in the iPhone 4S, is basically your personal servant when it comes to accessing data through the device. However, there are certain things it can’t do, like pulling up third-party applications and accessing system preferences — that is, until now.

Tyrannical iPhone owners can now force Siri to launch the aforementioned tasks thanks to a new hack discovered today, reports The Verge. The hack works by adding javascript to a new entry in the phone’s contact list, which Siri does have access to.

To enable shortcuts for preferences and applications, you must first create a new contact and name it accordingly. Then, you’ll need to paste the javascript for that shortcut into the contact’s URL field. Once you save the entry, the shortcut should be accessible by asking Siri to pull up that particular contact, which will allow you to tap the URL link to launch the shortcut.

The process is involved and doesn’t seem too useful since you still have to tap the link to launch the shortcut command. In most cases, it probably takes just as long for you to open up the app or system preference screen manually. I’d imagine that Apple will probably prevent iPhone users from being able to do this in future updates to iOS 5.

If anyone feels like demonstrating their arbitrary authority over Siri using the hack, please link us to a demo video in the comments below. (Or, you could just tell us about your experience.)

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Nvidia says PC gaming in midst of revival

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 02:28 PM PST

PC gaming is experiencing the beginning of a multi-year growth cycle as gamers migrate to the PC, Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang said today in an earnings call. The cause? Better graphics than the aging five-year-old game consoles.

The high-end desktop graphics processing unit (GPU) revenue was higher than expected at $644.8 million of Nvidia’s total quarterly revenue of $1.07 billion.  Nvidia’s high-end desktop business benefited from strong demand as gamers upgraded their computers to play Battlefield 3 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Battlefield 3, which was designed for high-end PCs rather than the consoles, is one of the best-looking titles being released this fall, and it will compete with some of the top games of the holiday season for gamers’ attention.

As we noted earlier, it's quite possible that Battlefield 3 will sell some high-end PC hardware. Valve's Steam product, a digital distribution service, recently conducted a survey of gamers. It found that only 16 percent of its customers have computers capable of running Battlefield 3 at the recommended hardware specification, which requires an Nvidia graphics chip at the level of the GTX 460 or better.

Nvidia believes a new cycle of revival for PC gaming products is at hand because the PC’s graphics are racing ahead of the five or six-year-old game consoles on the market.

Nvidia also launched a new version of its 3D Vision stereoscopic 3D glasses during the quarter. Today, about 550 PC games are 3D Vision ready. There are 100 3D-ready movies as well, and many 3D photos and 3D videos on sites such as YouTube.

“This is likely to be a multi-year cycle driven by advances in PC games,” Huang said in a conference call with analysts.

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Nvidia beats earnings estimates as mobile graphics takes off

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 01:50 PM PST

Nvidia‘s third quarter earnings beat analysts expectations, the company reported in an earnings call today.

Nvidia is the world’s biggest independent maker of graphics chips for PCs, and its results show the overall health of the PC industry. The company is currently expanding into mobile processors with its Tegra line of processors for Android smartphones and tablets. The company recently announced the shipment of its Tegra 3 line of mobile processors as part of an effort to drive innovation in mobile devices.

The company reported GAAP net income of $178.3 million, or 29 cents a share, more than double the $84.8 million, or 15 cents a share a year earlier. On a non-GAAP basis, Nvidia reported non-GAAP net income of $217.0 million, or 35 cents a share.

Revenues were $1.07 billion, up 25 percent from $843.9 million a year ago on a GAAP basis. Non-GAAP revenue was $1.07 billion, up 5 percent sequentially from $1.02 billion.

Analysts had expected non-GAAP earnings of 26 cents a share and revenues of $1.06 billion. Overall, analysts have been wary of Nvidia because Apple, which doesn’t use Nvidia chips, has been so successful in the smartphone and tablet businesses. Android devices are taking off, but the competition with rivals such as Qualcomm is stiff in that market. Eleven smartphones and 23 tablets are now using Tegra.

“Nvidia’s strategy is coming into its own as the world becomes increasingly visual and mobile,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive of Nvidia, in a statement. “Our graphics processing unit (GPU) business accelerated in the third quarter, driven by strong demand from gamers and the professional market. And our mobile business benefited from new devices coming onto the market.”

With Tegra 3 positioned well, Huang said he expects strong growth in the market. For the fourth quarter, revenues are expected to be flat, plus or minus two percent. Gross profit margins are also expected to be flat to up half a percent. During the third quarter, Nvidia’s Tesla processors were chosen to be used in a new 18,000-GPU supercomputer being built by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Consumer GPU sales were up 1 percent from the prior quarter at $644.8 million. Nvidia’s MCP chip set business is winding down, declining to $22.4 million in the third quarter. Nvidia’s high-end desktop business benefited from strong demand as gamers upgraded their computers to play Battlefield 3 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Nvidia believes a new cycle of revival for PC gaming products is at hand because the PC’s graphics are racing ahead of the five or six-year-old game consoles on the market. Nvidia also launched a new version of its 3D Vision stereoscopic 3D glasses during the quarter.

“This is likely to be a multi-year cycle driven by advances in PC games,” Huang said in a conference call with analysts.

Nvidia lost some share in the notebook GPU segment as Advanced Micro Devices came on strong. And Apple isn’t currently using Nvidia chips in its notebooks. Workstation graphics were up 9.5 percent to $230 million. Tegra and other segment sales were $191.1 million, up 14 percent. Nvidia is now ramping up production on 28 nanometer products. The company has $2.75 billion in cash.

Tegra 3, which is three times faster than Tegra 2 and has five core processors on it, is expected usher in a new era of growth for powerful new smartphones and tablets.

“We have more design wins for Tegra 3 today than we had with Tegra 2,” Huang said. He said Nvidia hasn’t won all design wins and lost a recent Motorola design contest. Texas Instruments’ OMAP 4 chip won that deal instead.

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Google teams up with Startup Weekend, provides trainings on Google technology

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 01:38 PM PST

Startup Weekend AndroidStarting today, Google is partnering up with Startup Weekend, an organization focused on fostering entrepreneurship, to host technical training bootcamps for aspiring entrepreneurs across the globe.

Startup Weekend is known for its 54-hour startup events, similar to hackathons, where a group of people come together, brainstorm a product or service idea, and start building it right then and there. The Google bootcamps will take place in advance of the hackathons to better equip participants with technical skills, such as coding for the Google App Engine.

Sometimes Startup Weekend events produce a really promising idea, which then grows into an actual company. But the introduction of Google brings more resources to the startup table.

“Google was once a startup in a garage,” said Mary Himinkool, head of global entrepreneurship outreach for Google in an official blog post, “and Google Ventures is a testament to our ongoing commitment to entrepreneurialism.”

Google’s role in the partnership is to provide training on Google products and services that can be used for developing business ideas. These training sessions will be rolled out over the next several months in a variety of cities across the country. You can find out if Google is visiting your city here. The company is also giving Startup Weekend participants access to its Google Technology User Groups (GTUG), so they can learn from developers already integrated into the Google community. GTUG is an open group where developers learn about any of Google’s technologies and share tips and tricks with each other. Members are potential founders too, and will benefit from a percentage off of all Startup Weekend events.

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The dirty little secrets of audience targeting

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 01:30 PM PST

Ad targeting reminds me of the Chicago voting mantra from the 60's—"vote early and vote often." You may recall that in the 1960 election, the former Mayor Daley of Chicago used the names of tens of thousands of dead people to “vote” for John F. Kennedy. While the ad community isn’t busing in dead voters per se, it is keeping questionable count of who drives online ad results.

As consumers are becoming increasingly social and we head into 2012 marketing planning meetings, it's time to shake out those hanging chads.

What Exactly Are You Measuring?

Sure, you may be a part of the 62 percent of marketers and ad agencies that plan on spending more money on social media in the next six months. (By the way, congratulations if you are). But, do you truly know what is driving click-throughs? Is behavioral targeting? Re-targeting? Social targeting?  Or a combination of the three?

If you are unable to understand the differences between various audience targeting approaches, we can assume there's some serious excess in your digital spend. Here are a few "dirty secrets" of audience targeting, which when uncovered, will help you better expand audiences and measure results:

Say NO to duplication

Marketers are paying to target the same people multiple times which yields media waste. One classic example is the brand that uses social targeting (either on Facebook or on other parts of the Web) to identify and serve an ad to a new, potential customer. A couple days later, the brand then serves that same person an identical ad through one of its "retargeting" campaigns. This time – after having seen the ad multiple times – the consumer finally bites by clicking on the ad and making a purchase. In this scenario, the advertiser is paying multiple targeting companies for one sale.

Just as alarming as the superfluous spend, is the fact that the brand often has no idea which of the campaigns was most responsible for driving the customer purchase. Before you direct additional dollars to corpse-like programs, take a look at your digital spend and look to decipher what's working and what's not.

Understand the tools in your tool box

Behavioral and social are Different. Social targeting and re-targeting can play nicely together, but are actually very unique. Let's take the voting analogy a step further. Brands will retarget the same consumer multiple times with the same (or similar) ad much in the same way that a politician might repeatedly advertise to the same potential voter – hoping that he or she eventually will cast  a vote for him. Social targeting, however, is used to target and advertise to the many friends of a particular constituent or consumer. And, as marketers we should always have an eye towards expanding audiences and gaining actionable insight.

Capturing Insights Leads to Long-Term Gain

As obsessed as we marketers are with conversions (the percentage of people actually purchase based on an ad), however, we'd be best served in the long-term by not thinking merely about immediate ROI numbers. Rather, long term success comes to those that are equally focused on gaining comprehensive insights from the data captured in their campaigns.

For instance, do you know if your target audience is more inclined to purchase as a result of consuming video or text-based display ads?  And, in this day and age of viral marketing, do you know with whom your customers are connecting with online? Shockingly, many marketers can't answer these questions with a great degree of certainty.

As you're grappling with spend allocation and have inevitably heard about "Voter Counter Shenanigans," during the November 8th elections, think about this: have you found a sensible balance between behavioral and social targeting, and re-targeting?  Are you continuously targeting the same person or expanding your pool of prospects? If you are knowingly doing so, are you wasting your campaign dollars by double-counting your ad conversions? Ultimately, the success of your campaign – whether financial or political in nature – will be dependent on understanding how your target audience consumes and shares information.

Allie Kline is the vice president of marketing at 33Across.

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Google buys Apture to improve Chrome browsing experience

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 01:23 PM PST

Apture, maker of in-page search technology, has been acquired by Google for an undisclosed sum. Apture staff will join Google’s Chrome team and work to improve the browser’s user experience, the startup announced Thursday.

“We were impressed by the Apture team's approach to enhancing the web browser experience, and we think their expertise will complement the Chrome team's efforts in this area,” a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Apture, founded in 2007, raised more than $4 million in funding to help web denizens discover related content as they browse. The company’s “Highlights” plug-in for publishers lets website visitors highlight text and find related information, videos and maps.

“After enhancing more than a billion pages with our products, we think now is the best time to expand our efforts with another team just down the road that shares our vision of making the web better,” the Apture team said in a note posted to its website. “The modern web is an amazing platform, so stay tuned for even more enhancements to your Chrome browsing experience.”

[via AllThingsD]

[Image via singlebrook]

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Standing Cloud raises $3M to help new cloud providers stay competitive

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 01:08 PM PST

standing-cloudCloud application management provider Standing Cloud has raised $3 million in a new funding round, the company announced today.

Standing Cloud is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) company that offers an application storefront and life-cycle management to cloud service providers. The service makes it possible to deploy, manage and monitor web applications like WordPress, SugarCRM, Bugzilla, ChimpExpress, Drupal, Joomla, TWiki and WebCollab.

“This is important because companies in the business of cloud infrastructure and hosting are rapidly moving to the infrastructure as a service space,” Standing Cloud CEO Dave Jilk told VentureBeat. “The bar has been set higher because of Amazon and its application layer. New cloud providers realize they need to be competitive and we’re helping them accomplish that.”

Standing Cloud’s catalog currently includes 100 open-source and commercial applications. The company’s service capabilities support several programming languages, including Ruby on Rails, PHP, Java and Python.

Along with the funding, Standing Cloud also announced that it has also added TechStars Boston mentor Will Herman to its board of directors. Herman previously served as CEO of Viewlogic Systems, Innoveda and Silerity.

"Standing Cloud is well-positioned to fill an essential and growing need in the cloud market,” Herman said in a statement. “Cloud service providers know that they need to offer an application layer for their customers, but have no effective way to build or maintain it. Standing Cloud delivers a solution to that problem today."

Boulder, Colo.-based Standing Cloud was founded in 2009 and now has 19 employees. The new funding comes from existing investors Foundry Group and Avalon Ventures. Including today’s funding, the company has raised a total of $8 million.

CloudBeat 2011CloudBeat 2011 takes place Nov 30 – Dec 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, CA. Unlike  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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Microsoft shifts online veteran to run Xbox marketing

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 12:48 PM PST

Microsoft online business veteran Yusuf Mehdi will become head of marketing for the Interactive Entertainment Division that includes the Xbox game division, the company said today.

Mehdi was previously in charge of the company’s online services division. He will report to Don Mattrick, president of the interactive entertainment business.

Currently the chief audience officer for online services, Mehdi will start his new job as chief marketing officer for the game business Dec. 5. Mehdi has spent more than a decade at Microsoft’s online services business, working on everything from MSN to Live Search and strategic deals with Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and Nokia.

At the Xbox division, Mehdi’s job will be to continue to expand brand recognition for Microsoft as a global entertainment player.

Mattrick said in a memo that Mehdi replaces Mike Delman, who has decided to retire from Microsoft at the end of the year. Delman became head of game global marketing in 2008 and helped move Xbox marketing from a hardcore games brand to a broader entertainment brand for everyone.

“The time is right for Mike and the business to transition as we embark on our next journey to significantly grow our business in the next five years,” Mattrick said.

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Turkey is leading the mobile revolution in the Middle East

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 12:33 PM PST

Man in Instanbul cafe using a cellphone
Developing markets are gaining speed and Middle East countries with young populations are at rise. With populations that are truly enthusiastic towards innovation, they are coming on strong in the technological market.

Lately, emerging markets' key focus area has been mobile. Since 2002, mobile penetration has grown 321 percent in developing countries. Meanwhile, it’s only grown 46 percent in developed countries in the same time period.

As the second fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, the Middle East has an essential part in this revolution. Some say that it even presents greater opportunities for revenue than European markets.

Turkey is taking advantage of these opportunities and leading the way for the rest of the Middle East. Located right between Middle East and Europe, Turkey is unifying this dynamic environment with Europe's high technology.

Editor’s note: VentureBeat editor-in-chief Matt Marshall will be traveling to Turkey next week to attend 4iX, the 4th Istanbul International Innovation Investors Xchange on November 15 and 16. Read more about his trip and how to get in touch with him.

The first steps towards mobile revolution were taken with the significantly high rate of internet consumption in Turkey. According to the most recent statistics, people in Turkey spends the third-longest amounts of time online in Europe, and it has the largest number of internet users in the Middle East. While worldwide average time spent online is 23.1 hours per week, this number reaches 29.4 hours in Turkey.

Similarly, mobile usage is widespread in this fast-moving country. The number of mobile phone subscribers has increased from 50 million in 2006 to 80 million in 2011, including more than 20 million 3G subscribers.  With the completion of mobile revolution in the country, the overall mobile penetration rate expected to reach 95 percent in 2013, from just 43 percent in 2008.

The high consumption levels indicated by these statistics have gained Turkey significant international attention in the past few years. Well-known corporations such as Vodafone, eBay, Telecom Italia and Intel Capital are only a few of the global tech players that have entered Turkey, and new ones are being added rapidly. In the last year, around $1 billion has been invested in Turkish internet-based companies, ranging from private and group shopping to daily deals.

According to the World Bank, more and more investors are attracted to Turkey due to "a diversified economy, proximity to Europe, integration with European markets, the external anchor of EU accession, and a lengthy track record of solid economic management and structural reform." For example, the government budget for R&D projects almost tripled in the last two years, enabling advancement in both finance and technology. This rapid and prominent progress in Turkey holds an example for the other countries in the Middle East.

In a more tech-friendly environment, companies are trying to satisfy the expectations of a growing audience. Startups have emerged that are taking advantage of this opportunity. For example, P.I. Works is a Turkish company that provides network optimization products used by voice or data wireless operators to increase the capacity and decrease the operating and capital expenditures for mobile carriers. Another well-establish start-up is the social gaming company, Peak Games, leading the gaming world both in Turkey and the Middle East.

Along with the start-ups that are filling various niche markets, financial companies are also pioneers of the mobile revolution, striving to provide their customers with uninterrupted service at all times.

In emerging markets, two types of mobile banking are dominating the mobile world: mobile banking for those without access to traditional banks (the “unbanked”) and mobile banking as a smartphone service. In the rest of the Middle East, mobile is mainly a way for the financially excluded to perform transactions through peer-to-peer lending or person-to-person payments.

But because of Turkey’s more developed mobile market, the emphasis in this country has been on sophisticated mobile banking solutions for customers of traditional banks. In this fast-paced society, people are looking for convenient ways to perform their banking activities. As of June 2010, Turkey had more than 16 million internet banking users who are processing more than 400,000 financial and non-financial transactions per month.  The majority of the internet banking users are inclined to use or switch to mobile banking due to its speed and flexibility. With a share of 40 percent in the mobile banking market, IsBank is converting more clients to mobile banking every day. Banks like Doha Bank in Qatar are going into smartphone banking, following Turkey's lead.

In 2007, Turkey's biggest bank, Isbank, partnered with my company, Pozitron, to create a unique mobile banking platform. With more than 75 different features, the platform Pozitron developed, IsCep, is one of the most sophisticated banking applications in Europe.

Turkey's local market is getting stronger every day and it is ready to face the international competition. Whether it’s mobile banking, mobile games or other services, Turkey is poised for rapid growth in the mobile sphere. And due to its rather young population, Turkey is extremely responsive to technological innovation. The country's youth quickly adapts to new technology and uses it on a regular basis, making Turkey one of the front-runners of the mobile revolution.

As Markafoni CEO Sina Afra said, Turkey "is a big domestic market with many young users who love to spend time online. Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed are heavily used. The Turks spent significant amounts of money online and we all know that this is just the beginning."

Pozitron's Fatih IsbecerFatih Isbecer (fatih.isbecer@pozitron.com, @isbecer) founded Pozitron in 2000 as a software development company. Along with the fast growth of the mobile industry, Pozitron shifted its focus to mobile software development since 2006. Currently, Pozitron serves over 40 clients, mainly in the finance, pharmaceutical and telecommunication sectors in Turkey as well as Middle East and Europe.  Isbecer's success was recognized globally with Endeavor's "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" in 2007.

Yağmur Aniş and Firat Isbecer contributed to this article.

Top photo: Maistora/Flickr

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Collaborative to-do app Any.do puts Reminders to shame

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 12:20 PM PST

Is there a business in making mobile to-do lists more collaborative and less headache-inducing? Startup Any.do formally launches Thursday with a free Android application proffering shareable, voice-operated to-do lists, and $1 million in seed funding to find out.

The startup, founded in 2010, first released a simple to-do list application for Android called Taskos to test the mobile task management waters and determine what mobile users wanted in a lightweight to-do list app.

Taskos became an accidental hit and attracted 1.3 million users, who now create hundreds of thousands of tasks each day. The startup claims that it’s the most popular app of its kind on Android — and that’s what got investors salivating.

“We have a killer team … we’re tackling a huge market … and we came with proof,” Any.do CEO Omer Perchik told VentureBeat. “The combination of the three got us [the] funding.”

Any.do managed to get Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors, Genesis Partners, Blumberg Capital, Joe Lonsdale at Palantir and Aydin Senkut at Felicis Ventures to participate in its first round of funding.

Now, Any.do for Android, a free mobile app hitting the Android Market Thursday, will be the company’s key product moving forward. It comes with three particularly drool-worthy features — shareable tasks, contextual autocomplete and a simple but elegant interface — that set it apart from similarly-purposed applications, including Apple’s new Reminders application for iOS 5.

You can also interface with Any.do using your voice, drag-and-drop tasks, sync with a Google account and choose themes to personalize the experience.

A similar application for iPhone is said to be several months away from release.

“We invested in Any.do because of the strong team and their vision to take the productivity space beyond the task list,” Dror Berman, managing partner of Innovation Endeavors, said of the firm’s interest in the to-do list app maker. “Any.do’s core technology understands people’s intent, and leverages the mobile phone to not just make a list, but to actually get things done — anytime, anywhere.”

How Any.do will profit with its nifty little application is anyone’s guess. Perchik says the startup has a few business tricks up its sleeve, but he isn’t ready to reveal those plans just yet.

As for Taskos, the startup will eventually let users port over their tasks and lists to Any.do, but its ultimate fate remains uncertain.

Ten-person Any.do is based in Israel and has an office in Palo Alto.

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Amazon ups Kindle Fire orders to meet soaring holiday demand

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 12:03 PM PST

kindle fireAmazon has ordered an additional 1 million Kindle Fire tablets from its manufacturers, increasing the total number it expects to ship before the end of 2011 to 5 million. Previously, the company was expecting to ship just 3.5 million, but it increased this number to 4 million in the middle of Q3, Digitimes reports.

Yesterday it was revealed that an Amazon subsidiary purchased Yap, a voice recognition technology similar to Siri that, if loaded onto the Kindle Fire, could help the e-commerce giant contest Apple’s seemingly insurmountable lead in the tablet race. Currently, the only Apple device that supports Siri is the iPhone 4S, and Amazon has made no announcement that the Kindle Fire, or any previous version of the Kindle will offer voice recognition technology.

Amazon quarterly profits were much lower than expected, with a 73 percent decline in revenue, but successful adoption of the Kindle Fire by American consumers is predicted to considerably change this trajectory.

Companies involved in manufacturing the Kindle Fire include Wintek, Chunghwa Picture Tubes (CPT), LG Display, Ilitek, Quanta Computer, Aces Connectors and Wah Hong Industrial.

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New Microsoft Store opening today is way more fun than the Apple Store (exclusive video tour)

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 11:40 AM PST

Microsoft today has opened a new retail location outside of its Washington stronghold.

This store, which is beautiful and entertaining by any standards, is nestled deep in Silicon Valley — a cultural milieu that loves to hate on Microsoft.

If you have any doubts about the store's target demographic, look no further than its location: directly across from the Apple Store in an upscale shopping mall. Microsoft has worked hard to achieve better design, better experiences and more consumer-friendly fun with business-friendly computing power than ever before, and it's never been in a better position to take on Apple in the battlefield of retail.

Yesterday, we went down to Santa Clara to check out the company's newest digs — and to interview Microsoft marketing manager for retail stores Mika Yamamoto about where we can expect to see Microsoft stores in the near future (hint: just about everywhere within the next couple of years).

If you'd like to check it out for yourself, the new Microsoft store is near the Nordstrom anchor store in the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in Santa Clara.

Music courtesy of Incompetech.

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Apple warned the British voice behind Siri to keep silent

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 11:28 AM PST

There’s a real person behind the British voice of Siri, Apple’s wildly-popular voice assistant for the iPhone 4S. He was surprised as anyone to learn this, when he heard his voice on television in a commercial.

The voice in question is that of John Briggs, a former technology journalist, who says he “fell into” voiceover work, in an interview with The Telegraph. Biggs recorded 5,000 sentences over the course of three weeks for British firm Scansoft (now part of Nuance).

"I did a set of recordings with Scansoft five or six years ago, for text-to-speech services," says Briggs. "Five thousand sentences over three weeks, spoken in a very particular way and only reading flat and even. Then they go away and take all the phonics apart, because I have to be able to read anything you want, even if I've never actually recorded all those words."

Briggs was later asked by Apple not to mention that he was the voice of “Daniel,” the Scansoft project for which his voice was recorded. Briggs told the Guardian that a representative for Apple told him, “We’re not about one person,” and asked him to keep silent about his voice work for the company. Briggs had a contract with Scansoft, not Apple, which is why he chose to disregard their request, and go public. Nuance, which bought Scansoft, partnered with Apple on the development of Siri.

Siri has different voices for different English-speaking regions, with a female-sounding American English interpreter, a male British English voice, and a female Australian English assistant. The American Siri voice is completely computer generated.

Scansoft paid Briggs a handsome sum of money for the three weeks of work, so he’s happy, even after being asked to keep mum. "I love Apple's products and I think Siri is a game-changer."

[Recording Studio Image via ShutterStock]

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Why Twitter has a problem going mainstream

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 11:16 AM PST

Nick Bilton of the New York Times recently wrote about why Facebook works for all while Twitter works for some:

… [My sister] never really took to Twitter. When I asked her last year why she rarely Tweeted, she said, "Twitter is too confusing."
That complaint, which I have often heard from others who work outside the technology industry, never made sense to me. That is, until now.

This learning curve is certainly one of the barriers to mainstream adoption for Twitter. But I think there are more fundamental problems that could trip Twitter up on the road to mainstream adoption.

First, consider the following stats:

  • In a recent study by Yahoo Research, 50 percent of the most influential tweets consumed are reportedly generated from just 20,000 elite users — though these posts do not always originate from these 20k accounts.
  • Nielsen estimated that user-retention rates were around 40 percent. This, more than the number of total Twitter users is the most critical of numbers in this discussion. A lot of people are checking out this Twitter thing, but judging by this stat, many have no idea what to do with it when they get there.

To be sure, Twitter is a modern day sensation, experiencing hyper-growth to the 50 million users it has to date, helping to topple governments the world-over (Malcolm Gladwell's speculation notwithstanding). But the holy grail of any consumer product or service is mainstream adoption. 50 million users is nice, but [Facebook's] 800 million is nicer. Mainstream adoption brings with it the kind of industry leadership position that helps you stave off disruptive newcomers and gives you the ability to expand into new areas.

So Twitter has two key questions to answer for the mainstream audience (think non-techie):

  • Why should I sign up?

And, when I get there:

  • What should I do with it?

First, why should I sign up?

When Apple first launched the iPad, it was introducing an entirely new computing paradigm to consumers. What do I need a tablet for?  How do I use it? Apple was faced with a significant education/evangelism challenge that it had to nail if it was going to see significant consumer uptake.

Apple met the challenge by showing users of the iPad in various users scenarios — using email, browsing the web, buying books — so as to educate the market about how to use the new device.

It might be time for Twitter to do the same. Maybe Twitter should develop some TV and traditional print ads that show the mainstream audience how Twitter could be used to enhance their lives. Different use cases could be used to appeal to distinct kinds of users:

  • 'Inform Me' Users: These users want deep and timely information on the world around them. They want links to content that go beyond what the traditional television news and the same tired bookmarks can provide them (but may not know that Twitter could be the answer to their quest). I had my own aha moment as to the power of Twitter the night Bin Laden's death was announced. I was messing around on Twitter while watching a baseball game when the news broke on Twitter that the President was to announce Bin Laden had been killed. While tuning in to the mainstream news immediately after this occurred, it was clear they were getting their information from Twitter themselves.This situation seems tailor made for a TV commercial. It couldn't have been scripted better. The news broke on Twitter. Someone on the ground in Pakistan unknowingly tweeted about the raid as it was happening. Commentary and analysis from numerous sources followed, and the mainstream media clearly fell short of what Twitter could do in both speed and breadth of information. There are numerous ways a clever ad could convince 'Informed Users' that they could benefit from signing up to Twitter. For a percentage of 'Informed Users,' Twitter is the exact thing they have been looking for, they just don't know it yet.
  • 'Social' Users: Social users are socially active online users who are always looking for ways to stay in closer touch with friends. Their portion of the ad should, of course, show how Twitter can enhance their personal relationships and stay in closer touch with friends.
  • Celebrity Watchers:  Some of Twitter's most-followed users are celebrities (think Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian…). Celebrity watchers are enamored with connecting with celebrities, and their portion of the TV ad could show how they could hear directly from their favorite personalities.
  • Learn-From-the-Experts Users: These users might be delighted to find out they can learn directly from the experts in their field, hear their take on industry developments or read what the experts are reading.

Of course there is crossover – users who fall into multiple categories – but that's the beauty of a commercial that would address multiple user scenarios and is just another argument for why a TV ad showing the multiple use cases makes sense.

So that's the 'why should I sign up'? problem.  The 'what should I do once I get there?' is a whole 'nother blog post, but it starts with better guidance to the user once they log in for the first time (grouping interesting users by category, as Twitter does now, is not enough). And educating users via TV ads about what they can get out of Twitter before they sign up will help them to pursue what they are looking for once they do.

Nathan Safran is a former Analyst at Forrester Research in their Consumer Product Strategy group. While at Forrester, he authored research studies on trends, consumer attitudes and behaviors toward technology adoption and use. Nathan blogs on the intersection of business, technology and psychology at exceljockey.com.

Filed under: social

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Apple releases iOS 5.0.1 update that fixes iPhone 4S battery problems

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 11:11 AM PST

iOS updateApple issued a software update to its iOS 5 mobile operating system today, which should fix problems with the iPhone 4S battery life.

As VentureBeat previously reported, some iPhone 4S owners were experiencing a problem with the phone’s battery life, which would randomly and dramatically decrease — even when the phone isn't in constant use. Apple confirmed that the problem was due to bugs in iOS 5 and not related to hardware issues. The company said a fix might take several weeks, but obviously it’s arrived much sooner (to the delight of users who don’t enjoy carrying around a dead iPhone all day).

A quick scan of Twitter and Facebook shows that not all iPhone 4S owners with the problem are reporting that the update fixed their phone’s battery issues. However, some have commented in Apple help forums that uninstalling and then reinstalling your contacts from Google, Mobile.me and/or iCloud may correct the battery life problems.

You can download the new iOS 5.0.1 update by syncing your device with a computer running iTunes. Alternately (and probably more conveniently), you can download the update directly through your device by navigating to the general tab in the settings app.

In addition to the bug fixes, the iOS update also gives original iPad owners the ability to use the multitasking gestures that are available on the later model.

[Photo by Devindra Hardawar]

Filed under: mobile

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