23 November, 2011



Nook Simple Touch to match Kindle’s $79 price tag on Black Friday

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 08:44 AM PST

nook-touch-black-fridayBarnes & Noble will release a limited edition Nook Simple Touch e-reader with a white border for a bargain-bin price of $79 on Black Friday, the company announced today.

The most basic Amazon Kindle now retails for $79, no matter what day of the week is. However, the Nook Simple Touch has several clear advantages, as the basic Kindle does not have a touch screen and features some advertising.

For Black Friday, Barnes & Noble will offer the limited edition Nook Simple Touch in physical stores only until supplies last. Barnes & Noble claims the latest version of the Nook Simple Touch offers 25 percent faster page turns than any other E-Ink-based reader on the market. Amazon has not announced any Black Friday deals on its e-readers, but the online retailer does have many other Black Friday deals.

Barnes & Noble has also listed these other items for discount on Black Friday:

Nook Accessories: Enjoy discounts of up to 44 percent online and in stores on Nook must-haves, including a free Clear Screen Film Kit with purchase of a Nook Color or Nook Tablet Power Kit for $24.95, and a free Nook Simple Touch Power Adapter with purchase of a Lyra Light for $14.95.

Toys & Games: An incredible 50 percent off of any one item in stores from the world's best selection of Educational Toys and Games, and select items online. Customers can choose from LEGO, LeapFrog, Melissa & Doug, and many more. This offer is exclusively available on Friday, November 25.

Top-selling Books: 50 percent off select popular titles online and in stores, including George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones Deluxe Edition, John Grisham's The Litigators, Lee Child's The Affair, David Baldacci's Zero Day, Todd Burpo's Heaven is for Real Deluxe Edition, Annie Leibovitz's Pilgrimage, Peter A. David's The Spiderman Vault, and The Art Museum Book, among others.

Kids & Teens Books: 50 percent of select titles online and in stores, including the bestselling series Maze Runner, by James Dashner, and The Mortal Instruments, by Cassandra Clare, as well as popular picture books such as Dr. Seuss' The Bippolo Seed, Eric Carle's The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, and Maurice Sendak's Bumble-Ardy. Also available is Tom Angleberger's popular Origami Yoda Book series for young readers.

DVD and Blu-ray: 40-50 percent off select DVD and Blu-ray bestsellers and new releases in stores.

Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are locked into the strategy of offering subsidized hardware with the aim of selling lots of content to generate revenues, unlike Apple, which pushes media access to better sell hardware. While Amazon has a bigger presence in e-books, we can't help but love the competition between B&N and Amazon in this space. Because when they fight, we win.

Filed under: mobile

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Dylan’s Desk: The time to start a company is now

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 08:25 AM PST

Girl running a lemonade standMuch of what happens at a startup happens out of sight of journalists and their readers.

It’s not the stuff of compelling reading, either. Running a business involves a vast amount of logistical work, stuff that has to be learned step by step if you don’t already know how to do it.

You don’t find this out in business school. The only way to learn it is by doing it. That’s why, if you’ve got a killer business idea, you should go out and do it.

You don’t find this out by being a journalist, either. Back in the dot-com era, another writer and I got together, decided we had a pretty good grasp on this digital publishing thing, and started a company.

We probably did have a good idea. Our plan was to write and syndicate how-to content like tips and tricks, starting with tech products and then expanding into other categories. We figured we’d sell advertising, and syndicate our content to sites that needed to make themselves stickier, like e-commerce sites. A better-funded competitor, eHow, went on to dominate the how-to category before getting acquired. It’s still around. Meanwhile, syndication turned out to be a decent model for making money from content. We were just 10 years too early.

At least, that’s what I like to tell people. In reality, we had a great idea but no clue how to execute it. Despite great advice from more experienced business people and investors, we were good at the writing and editing business but not so hot at the generating-revenue and organizing-a-team business.

Things you wouldn’t ordinarily think twice about, like incorporating and taking care of our (nearly nonexistent) finances took up a huge amount of time, as we realized that we were out of our depth. We then spent too long talking with lawyers and accountants who cost way too much. Eventually, we realized we didn’t really need such heavy-duty firepower helping us, but by then we had spent thousands on them.

We were convinced we needed to raise a lot of money, and quickly, so we could “get big fast” and then figure out our revenue model. In reality, that was exactly backwards: For our kind of business, we should have stayed small, kept the company simple, built a product that we understood and could sell, and then grown the business once we had some idea what we were doing.

Eventually, we ran into one too many roadblocks (including the dot-com bust) and wound the company down. We didn’t make ourselves or our investors rich, but we did return more than half of what they’d invested to them — which is more than you can say about Pets.com or Boo.com.

But here’s the thing: I think our experience is typical of many, many startups. Unless you’ve been through a startup at its earliest stages before, you have no idea what kinds of unexpected, and possibly stupid, things you’re going to have to deal with. Do you need desks? How is your team going to communicate: on ICQ, AIM, Yammer or something else? Should you incorporate or form some kind of simpler partnership? What happens when a customer asks for an invoice? How do you handle it when one of the cofounders refuses to bathe and smells terrible? (Just to be clear, that last example comes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, not from my experience.)

One of the advantages that entrepreneurs have today is that, thanks to cloud technologies like Amazon EC2 and S3, it’s easier than ever to build a prototype, get a website up and running, and start testing your business with real customers.

It’s also easier, thanks to the examples of companies like Craigslist and 37signals, to ignore the received wisdom about “getting big fast” and raising venture capital. If you haven’t read Rework, the 2010 book by the founders of 37signals, check it out — it’s an excellent book with lots of practical advice for people in regular jobs as well as startups.

But one thing remains the same: Starting a company is a risk. Doing that when you’ve got kids, a mortgage or other obligations is a lot more challenging than it is when you’re in college, or just out of school.

In my case, the entrepreneurial thing to do would have been to learn from my failures and jump straight into another startup. Silicon Valley is full of repeat failures, and one of the strengths of the area is that failing in business is not stigmatized, as long as you learn from your experience. With kids on the way, I didn’t have enough flexibility, so I went back to the lucrative, stable world of journalism. (Ha!)

So if you’ve got an idea for a company — or want to work at a startup, like our new columnist Julia Plevin — do it before you’ve incurred a lot of other responsibilities.

“You can't build a world-changing company in between classes or while servicing six figures of debt,” the president of the Thiel Foundation said this week, when announcing the foundation’s plan to give $100,000 “un-scholarships” to 20 people under 20 years of age. The scholarships are meant to help students with good ideas so they can drop out of college and work on their business.

I think that’s a great idea — and the Thiel Foundation is right. Whether you can get an un-scholarship or not: Do it now.

Image credit: Robert S. Donovan/Flickr

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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HTC reconsidering S3 purchase after it loses patent suit against Apple

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 08:17 AM PST

This isn’t a good week for S3 Graphics. After S3 had its patent dispute against Apple dismissed by the U.S. International Trade Commission earlier this week, the company’s suitor HTC is now having second thoughts about its union.

HTC said that it will “reevaluate” the $300 million S3 purchase, Bloomberg reports — a move that makes clear what the Taiwanese phone maker’s main interest in the company was, and shows just how quickly fortunes can shift in the dirty business of patent litigation.

S3 won a patent ruling against Apple back in July, which centered on the use of image compression technology in Mac OSX. Shortly after that, HTC, which itself is in the midst of patent battles with Apple, announced its intention to purchase the company. But on Monday, the ITC reversed S3′s July ruling and dismissed the case, which means HTC can no longer be certain about the superiority of S3′s patents over Apple.

S3 could still appeal the decision, and it also has another ITC case against Apple in the works, but right now it’s clearly not a very appealing purchase for HTC.

Via The Verge

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Review: Sonic Generations reminds us that yes, Sonic used to be cool for a reason

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

Still Green Hill after all these years

Sonic the Hedgehog has seen better days. After instant icon status and four classic Sega Genesis games in the early 1990s, he’s been steadily running downhill. The Saturn console never gave him a worthwhile showing. The Dreamcast suddenly died out from under him. Since then…well, it's only gotten worse. Sonic has become synonymous with terrible 3D camera control and the strange fascination he holds for certain breeds of Internet crazy people.

Still, his 20thbirthday is a pretty big deal, and Sega's thrown a proper celebration. Sonic Generations is more than just another retro-game collection. In fact, it's a fairly ingenious concept for an old-school revival. More than a few classic franchises could swipe this idea and come up with something fun in the process.

Players who've already tried out the just-released console Generations will be familiar with the basic structure. Think of it as something like a tribute album. Each level is based on a stage that appeared in one of the past Sonic games, from the Genesis original through Sonic Colors for the Wii. The layout is two-dimensional – the game plays almost entirely like an old-fashioned side-scroller – but the graphics have the visual depth of modern 3D. Each stage stars a "Classic Sonic," who runs and jumps like his 16-bit incarnation, or the updated "Modern Sonic," with the boost, dash and slide moves from Sonic Rush for the DS.

3DS Generations doesn't do too much with a shifting 3D perspective. The camera gets a little happy here and there in the Modern Sonic levels, just for extra effect. Otherwise it's always looking square at the hero, 90 degrees to one side or the other, and frankly this is how it should be.

Modern Sonic firing off the boost modePedal to the Metal

The appeal of the Sonic games has always been a simple thing. Going fast is fun. Blazing through a level at top speed is even more fun. Complicating this process usually makes it less fun.

There's an argument to be made that the series first went wrong all the way back in Sonic Adventure, that it never should have gone all the way into a 3D world in the first place. A moving camera, more complex levels, more complicated goals and challenges, these things made it harder to go fast. Sonic is as much a racing game as a platformer sometimes, and there's no point in a racing game that makes you go slow.

Intentionally or otherwise, Generations makes a handy illustration of the principle. Classic Sonic, with exactly two moves and two control buttons (although he gains a few new stunts in later stages), is at least as entertaining to play as his new-school slides-on-rails cousin. The Modern Sonic levels have more different things to do, but that often translates into more different ways to go wrong. It's easier to crash into something, miss a jump, miss a target, or otherwise find a way to get stuck, stop, and have to get back up to speed again.

When the Modern Sonic levels move the camera around, it looks cool sometimes, but it doesn't actually do much to change up the experience of interacting with the game. You're still just doing your best to go forward as fast as possible. If anything, the fancy camera effects make the game play less involving – those sequences tend to limit the amount of control the player has over Sonic. The game becomes more like a series of quick-time events until the camera settles back down to its normal position.

If It's Thursday, This Must Be Green Hill Zone

Altogether, Generations includes 14 main stages, a Modern Sonic and a Classic Sonic level for each of seven locations from Sonic games past. The stages drawn from 2D Sonics – Green Hill Zone from the original game, Mushroom Hill from Sonic & Knuckles — are pretty close to their original inspiration, while stages from the Sonic Adventure games and onward do some liberal re-interpretation of the source material. It's pretty neat, actually, to play a traditional 2D Sonic level against the backdrop of something like the Radical Highway from Sonic Adventure 2.

Casino Night -- more like Pachinko NightSome handheld players may feel put out by the fact that the console version has more stages overall. The 3DS game isn't a cut-down port, though. Every level in this version is exclusive and original, and some of them are real prizes. The Casino Night stage from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a little slow and over-complicated, but it's beautiful to look at, and it's fun sometimes to ignore the goal in favor of tooling around with the goofy pinball-machine obstacles. 3DS Generations also gets a level from Sonic Rush (the Water Palace), a game that wasn't represented in the console version.

Many stages have several layers and alternate routes to them, which gives them a touch of replayability. The one really useful thing that Modern Sonic's levels do with their 3D layout is create different parallel tracks, each on a different layer of the foreground. At times there are two or even three routes next to each other, with ways to jump between them at key points in the level. Finding out how to nail every different path through the level is a fun little challenge for dedicated platform gamers.

Long-time fans may still find one omission a little disappointing. Although Generations features a remixed version of the Metal Sonic boss from Sonic CD, it doesn't have any of the game's actual levels, which were some of the biggest and most intricate creations in the entire series. That may well be the reason why they're not in the game. It's also the reason why they should be in the game. Someone on Sega's dev team could have put in the extra effort to include more of the series' very best moments.

Filed under: games

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In time for Black Friday: A holiday gift guide for gamers

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

The holiday season is coming fast. Before you know it, it will be Thanksgiving. People will be doing their Black Friday shopping early the next morning, and then it’s just a few short weeks until the gift-giving season arrives.

That said, it’s time to start looking into what to get for the gamer in your family. Whether they own an Xbox, a Wii or a PlayStation 3 (or all three) there is something great for them. These are some of the holiday season’s coolest gamer gifts. We’ve also added some links to Black Friday deals where applicable. Just in case you plan to do a bit of shopping the day after Thanksgiving.


1) Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PlayStation 3, $59.99) At the top of our list it’s the third installment in Naughty Dog’s award-winning Uncharted series, Drake’s Deception is the game to get for the PlayStation 3 owner in your family this holiday season. The series is known for its action-packed cinematic sequences that rival those of Hollywood movies, great dialogue, amazing graphics and most importantly, excellent gameplay. It’s probably my favorite current-gen gaming franchise and should definitely be at the top of any gamer’s wishlist. If you haven’t played the series, do yourself a favor and check out Uncharted and Uncharted 2 as well. All three games are worth owning, and I recommend you play through each at least once. Here’s our review of the game.

Even though the Uncharted games are relatively short when compared to titles like Zelda and Elder Scrolls, the amount of fun you will get from this game is worth the value. Or, if you are like me, you rarely have the chance to finish some of those longer games these days.


2) Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii, $59.99) This is the game Wii owners were waiting for. The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming’s most beloved franchises. Skyward Sword follows somewhat traditionally in the formula that made the series so popular, but adds new elements such as flying and Wii Motion Plus controls. Even before being announced, a Zelda built from the ground up for the Wii was one of the most highly-anticipated games for Nintendo’s  motion-controlled console. The thought of swinging your Wii Remote like a sword while holding up the Nunchuk as a shield has been a dream to Zelda fans since the first Wii (then codenamed Revolution) teaser trailer. Now it’s finally become a reality. By the way, it’s worth knowing that Wal-Mart is having a sweet Black Friday deal on the Wii. It’s not backwards compatible with GameCube games, but at $99, who can refuse?

I am a major Zelda fan, and I still enjoy the formula. It took a while for the graphics to grow on me, but I’m used to it. Is it the best Wii game ever? I dunno, there are a few gems out there. Enjoyable? Of course it is. For me, at least, as well as many others. Of course, you have to be aware that not everyone, including our reviewer Sebastian Haley, is a fan of the new game.


3) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $59.99) Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls series returns with Skyrim. The gameplay is similar to the studio’s previous games in the series as well as Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Players wander through a vast, open world encountering non-playable characters (NPC) who send them on missions. It’s loaded with side quests to accompany the game’s main story and give the player more to do in the game’s world.  There is so much to do in this game that players will find themselves immersed for hours when they explore the world of Skyrim. Definitely the game for RPG and fantasy lovers. Check out our review of the game and our tips and tricks for Skyrim.

This game ranks high on our list because we love Bethesda’s work, and we love the hours of playtime we get from the series. Just be warned that much like Fallout, it can be very glitchy. Another problem that some players may have with the game is that there is definitely filler. While it’s possible to complete the main story in a matter of hours, it’s easy to get side-tracked and lost in hours upon hours of side quests and random exploration.


4) Kinect (Xbox 360, $149) Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 is already a year old, but it’s a definite must for any Xbox-owning family. It’s Microsoft’s solution to motion control, and works by capturing your body’s movement and translating it into motions for your in-game character. It’s also a great way to get the whole family involved in gaming. I bought mine just after Christmas of last year and I can still have a great time with Dance Central. I don’t play it daily, but it’s a fun way to spend time with the entire family (which you may be doing a lot of this holiday season) or goof off with friends. Some games families may want to try are Dance Central, Dance Central 2 and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012.

If you’re looking to entertain a younger member of the family, you may want to check out Kinect Disneyland Adventures, which our very own Joe Sinicki reviewed. He wasn’t entirely fond of it, but it has its charm and your mileage may vary. It’s also worth knowing that the ideal Kinect setup requires a good deal of living room space, and that players will have to be about six feet from the TV screen and still have a decent amount of space for moving about the room. Wal-Mart will be selling this baby for $99 on Black Friday.

PlayStation 3DTV

5) Sony’s PlayStation 3 24-inch 3D LED TV ( $499) I’d definitely like to have this in my bedroom. It doesn’t sound like a huge TV, but it actually looks a bit bigger in person than you’d expect. What’s cool is that aside from being able to display a 3D image, it has an awesome alternative to traditional split-screen viewing. This display actually allows two users to view two separate images on the same screen while wearing active shutter 3D glasses, it’s what Sony calls their SimulView Technology. Definitely ideal for siblings who enjoy two player experiences, or the college gamer who needs a TV for his new apartment or dorm room. While $500 may seem a bit steep, keep in mind it’s a 3D HDTV with a set of glasses, an HDMI cable and a PlayStation 3 game (Motorstorm Apocalypse). It may not be a living room TV, but it’s perfect for a small space, bedroom or bachelor pad.

Who knows, if you’re really good this year, you may manage to score one of these.


6) Modern Warfare 3 (Multiplatform, $49.99 – $59.99) While I personally only care moderately about the series, there is know way a holiday gift guide for gamers would ever be complete without a mention of Modern Warfare 3. Say what you will about the series, but there is very good reason that it sells like it does. It does what it does and it does it very well, and that’s okay. Then there’s the multiplayer, which is arguably the series’ biggest draw. Players may spend a few hours on the game’s campaign, but for many, a majority of their time with Modern Warfare 3 will be spent in multiplayer. In fact, some of fans will be hitting up MW3 multiplayer for years to come (or at least until the next CoD game hits).


7) Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $59.99) Rocksteady Studios brings us the sequel to the 2009 hit Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s an excellent series, and I have to say that despite the many Batman games we’ve seen over the years, this is truly one of the first games that makes the player feel like they are in the boots of the Dark Knight.

I’ve never personally been a fan of comics or comic-based games and movies, but the Arkham series definitely doesn’t limit itself to any crowd. Arkham City has a more open world feeling to it and Catwoman is a great addition as a new playable character. Here’s our review.


8) Xbox Live Gold Subscription Card (Xbox 360, $24.99 – $59.99) If you want to win the heart of any Xbox 360 owner this holiday season, get them a subscription to Xbox Live. The Xbox Live Gold subscription cards comes three ($24.99) and 12-month ($59.99) options. No matter which card you get, the Xbox owner in your household will love the extra online gaming they will get with a subscription card. Trust me, as much as many of us love our Xbox Live Gold memberships, we absolutely dread having to pay when the time comes around. Sure it’s not that much when you break it down to what it actually costs per month, but it’s still a pain to pony over the money. When in doubt, this is the safest bet for an Xbox 360 owner, because it’s not limited to any one game or genre, and it’s something they will definitely use (so long as they have an internet connection).

Of course, someone may end up with a bunch of these after the holidays are over. The good news? They stack. So if you get a three month and a 12-month, you can enter both codes for a full 15 months of Gold.

Nintendo 3DS

9) Nintendo 3DS ($169.99) Nintendo’s 3DS got off to a rocky start, which led to a major price drop within months of release. Content was another problem. Perhaps Nintendo placed too much emphasis on third-parties. However, with the release of games like Super Mario 3D Land and the upcoming Mario Kart 7, as well as the current $169 price point, the 3DS is starting to sound like a better deal each day. As more folks begin picking up this little handheld, we’re sure developer and publisher support for the platform will increase just as it did with the orignal DS. Serious bonus points if you get them Super Mario 3D Land (see our review) or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, both of which are excellent games. Target is selling a bundle for $179 for Black Friday, and it comes with Super Mario 3D Land. Best Buy has the Ocarina bundle for the same price.


10) iPod touch ($199 – $399) Say what you will about mobile gaming on iOS devices, but developers are flocking to the App Store for a reason. Sure, we haven’t encountered a full-on console-type experience (yet) on our iPhone, but there is plenty of content available to keep gamers entertained. Best of all, it’s an all-in-one media device, bring along movies, TV shows, music and just about anything else on a device that truly fits in your pocket. The simple, compact design makes it great for gaming on the go while the relatively inexpensive price of most iOS apps makes the iPod touch a great way to discover games you may have otherwise ignored.

The only downside to gaming with an iPod touch is the fact that it has no physical buttons, meaning it’s not ideal for every kind of game. Still, as an overall cool piece of hardware, the iPod touch is tough to match. Target is offering a Black Friday deal for this one. Buy it for $195 and get a $40 gift card. Apple has announced their own Black Friday sale, but no prices yet. We’d expect it to be iTunes and App Store cards with purchases. See our list of the top iOS games of 2011.

Finding That Perfect Gift

Sometimes, figuring out that perfect gift for someone can be tough. It’s great to ask the gamer in your family for some ideas. This is only a tiny portion of what’s out there right now. All we suggest is look around and see what you can find. Those who dare to brave the Black Friday shopping are sure to find even more deals this week. Please leave comments with your own suggestions for gamer holiday gifts.

Filed under: games

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Pink slips galore: Nokia Siemens to cut 17,000 jobs by 2013

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 07:45 AM PST

Nokia SiemensTelecommunications equipment company Nokia Siemens plans to eliminate 17,000 jobs (or 22 percent of its workforce) to save money and remain competitive, the company announced today.

Nokia Siemens Networks, which is a joint venture between Finland-based Nokia and German Siemens, has failed to turn a profit, which has caused both parent companies to reassess the venture’s future. The company was launched in 2007 to compete against telcom equipment manufacturers Ericsson, Huawei and others.

The job cutting measure, which will take place by the end of 2013, is part of the company’s effort to cut $1.3 billion from its annual operating expenses and production costs. Nokia said the cuts also represent its strategy to focus on its mobile broadband and services.

“We believe that the future of our industry is in mobile broadband and services – and we aim to be an undisputed leader in these areas,” said Nokia Siemens Chief Executive Rajeev Suri in a statement. “At the same time, we need to take the necessary steps to maintain long-term competitiveness and improve profitability in a challenging telecommunications market.”

As for parent company Nokia, this isn’t the first round of job cuts taken over the last year. In April, Nokia announced that it was cutting 4,000 positions in Finland, Denmark and the U.K. And more recently, the company announced plans to eliminate another 3,500 positions as part of its overall restructuring plan. The mobile phone company is currently undergoing a major restructuring, which includes switching from Symbian to Windows Phone as its primary smartphone operating system.

[Pink Slip image via Shutterstock]

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Samsung Galaxy Nexus will launch in Dec.

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 07:21 AM PST

galaxy-nexus-verizonSamsung’s hyped Galaxy Nexus smartphone will launch in the U.S. in December on Verizon Wireless, according to a Business Insider report.

We contacted Samsung for more details but a representative declined to provide us with anything exact, saying: “The Galaxy Nexus will be available later this year. Samsung/Google/Verizon Wireless are on track to launch the handset but we don't yet have a firm date.”

The Galaxy Nexus went on sale in the U.K. last week, but consumers in the U.S. still don’t have a release date. The phone is notable because it's the first smartphone to run Android Ice Cream Sandwich, which ups the power of Android with a revamped interface, features like facial recognition, and touch-only buttons in place of normal physical buttons under the screen.

As far as specs, the Galaxy Nexus is top of the line for Android in almost all categories. It has a massive 4.65-inch screen with 1280-by-720 resolution that is capable of 720p HD video playback and Verizon's blazing 4G LTE data speeds. It also includes a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.

Check back with us for the latest on the Galaxy Nexus release.

Filed under: mobile

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Apple Black Friday deals include big discounts on iPad, Macbooks and more

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 07:05 AM PST

It’s time to finally treat yourself to that MacBook Air.

Apple is gearing up for Black Friday in a big way this year, with planned discounts for  MacBook laptops, iMacs, iPads, iPods, and plenty more, reports 9to5 Mac.

According to leaked Apple flyers, the company will offer a $101 discount on Mac computers (bringing the Air down to a tempting $898 entry price), $41 to $61 discounts on iPads (depending on size), and smaller discounts for the iPod Touch and iPod Nano. If you’ve already got the Apple gizmo of your dreams, there will also be discounts on first- and third-party accessories, including $11 off the iPad 2 Smart Cover.

The discounts should be available at both Apple retail stores and its online store. Apple has been teasing its online Black Friday sale for the past few days.

While Apple is joining pretty much every other retailer in America with its Black Friday sale, it’s a particularly rare occurrence for the company to offer any discount. You may be able to land some Apple products cheaper as new models are announced, but typically consumers have to rely on third-party retailers to get their Apple fix on the cheap.

Filed under: gadgets, mobile, VentureBeat

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Big Fish Games first to offer an “all you can eat” gaming subscription on iPad

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 06:44 AM PST

Big Fish Games has become the first publisher permitted to offer a subscription gaming service on the Apple iPad, Bloomberg reports.

Customers will be asked to pay $6.99 per month in order to access dozens of games, such as Mahjong Towers and Mystery Case Files, through the Big Fish app, which will initially require Wi-Fi access to operate. If it works, it could be a new source of ongoing revenue on a platform where it hasn’t been easy to make money in the past.

Traditionally the iPad subscription service, which was introduced in February this year, has been used more for magazines and newspapers. This is the first time that Apple has approved such an "all you can eat" service for games. Paul Thelen (pictured), founder of Big Fish Games, revealed that gaining approval for the service did not come easily: "It took longer than usual to be approved. They needed to be convinced there's a reason to charge customers every month."

At launch, the service will be available for $4.99 per month, which will increase to $6.99 early next year, when more titles have been added. There will also be a free version of the service, which will limit playing time to 30 minutes per day, and will be supported by advertising. The service competes in a way with iSwifter, which is charging a flat fee of $4.99 for access to its app that allows users to play Adobe Flash-based games on an iPad. iSwifter tried a subscription fee, but found users weren’t quite ready for it.

The iPad service may just be the start of the Big Fish subscription initiative, as the company has designed its application so that it can be easily modified to work on Android tablets and smartphones, as well as internet connected televisions. According to Thelen, an Android version of the app should be ready by the first quarter of 2012.

Big Fish Games was founded in 2002 and is now one of the leading developers and publishers of casual games. The company distributes more than two million games per day worldwide, and last year generated $140 million in sales revenue. Thelen revealed that most of its sales are from downloads to a PC or mobile device, with about 75 percent of customers being women over the age of 30.

The company is currently in a position to pursue a public offering, according to Thelen: "We're at scale, have great momentum and remain in a position to pursue a public offering or any number of alternatives if the markets allow". It will be interesting to see whether this subscription service will prove to be successful, and helps the company to meet that goal. If it does prove to be a hit, then other publishers in the mobile gaming market will no doubt start looking to develop similar models of their own.

Filed under: games, mobile

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Amazon selling every smartphone, except the iPhone, for $0.01

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 07:57 PM PST

Amazon is selling every smartphone it carries (except the iPhone) for one cent, from now until Monday, when buyers sign up for a new two-year contract.

Among the smartphones being offered in this pre-Cyber Monday sale are the Motorola Droid Razr 4G, the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G Touch.

In October Amazon listed all its Verizon phones for one penny, with the notable exception of the iPhone 4.

Android devices are quickly outpacing iPhones as the most popular category of smartphone in the world.

One of the reasons is that Android phones are frequently offered for very low prices. By contrast, Apple is slow to discount its products, which might account for why Amazon’s one cent sale doesn’t include the iPhone.

Filed under: mobile

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Ceva doubles down with investment in motion-gesture recognition firm

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 05:39 PM PST

The investment brings eyeSight's gesture recognition software to CEVA's software solution.

Chip and hardware designer Ceva made a minority equity investment in gesture recognition firm EyeSight Mobile Technologies, the companies announced today.

While more mobile technology companies are exploring gesture recognition options, the implementation of touch-free solutions further taxes the processors of mobile devices, leading to reduced battery life. Any alternative that can extend the battery life of mobile electronics while implementing new gesture recognition software is a welcome innovation in the field.

Ceva manages a flexible hardware platform – Ceva-MM3000 - that can be installed in a variety of multimedia devices, ranging smartphones to digital televisions. The solution essentially takes some of the heavy computing work off the shoulders of the main device, significantly improving power efficiency. EyeSight's hand-gesture recognition software can be used with any device that features a camera, including portable game consoles, enabling these electronics to provide players with an experience similar to Microsoft's Kinect.

Under the new investment agreement, EyeSight's touch-free solutions will be available to users of the Ceva-MM3000 platform. Given the computation-intensive requirements of gesture recognition, the partnership with EyeSight seems only natural.

For example, Korean phone maker Pantech recently integrated EyeSight's hands-free technology into its products to make tasks such as answering the phone while driving easier – a simple wave of the hand will do the trick. The integration of the Ceva-MM3000 platform could reduce the workload tackled by the phone's main central processing unit (CPU) and further extend its battery life, despite the complex nature of gesture recognition.

"Semiconductor vendors require higher performance, lower power and more flexible processor solutions to successfully incorporate advanced gesture technology into their product designs," Gideon Shmuel, CEO of eyeSight, explained in a statement from the company. "Our strategic partnership with Ceva brings together our industry-leading gesture recognition technologies with the industry's most advanced ISP and video platform to offer the Ceva-MM3000 users a powerful, software-based solution that delivers dramatically improved performance."

With Ceva's investment in pocket, EyeSight has now accumulated more than $4 million in investments, completing its second round of funding.

Filed under: deals, games

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Microsoft will make a Kinect just for Windows hackers

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 05:21 PM PST

Person interacting with a Kinect in an art gallery

Microsoft is embracing the DIY future with a special version of the Kinect hardware and firmware made just for Windows.

That means it will soon be even easier for tinkerers to create PC-based programs that turn them into giant blob-men or give them enormous virtual breasts. Or, on the less silly side, developers could more easily use Kinect to give robots 3-D vision using Windows-based development tools instead of janky code downloaded from god knows where.

The new Kinect hardware for Windows will have relatively minor modifications. It will have a shorter USB cable and a special USB adapter, to ensure better compatibility with standard USB hardware. And its firmware will include a special “Near Mode” to allow the Kinect sensors to work at closer distances, as little as 50cm with good fidelity or 40cm with some degradation. That means Kinect will work better for people who are sitting close to it, in front of computer monitors, rather than across the room, as it was originally designed to be used.

Kinect is Microsoft’s unusually hackable 3-D scanner/sensor, originally made for the Xbox 360. Its sophisticated combination of visual and infrared cameras make it a powerful device for sensing the size and shape of a room, the posture and movements of humans within it, and for detecting and recognizing voice commands as well as gestures. Shortly after its launch in November, 2010, hackers quickly discovered that it was fairly easy to hack the Kinect, which has a standard USB interface, reverse-engineering it to make it work with non-Xbox hardware. After an initial period of knee-jerk disapproval, Microsoft decided to embrace the Kinect-enabled future, going so far as to release a software development kit for Kinect programmers, in June, 2011. Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has even touted the potential for Kinect programming, saying the platform will be increasingly open to developers.

Image credit: Matthew Miller/Flickr

Filed under: dev, games, VentureBeat

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FCC Chairman Genachowski seeks hearing on AT&T/T-Mobile merger

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 04:33 PM PST

julius-genachowskiFederal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski has requested a trial-like hearing for the proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger after deciding that the deal would hurt consumers.

The FCC’s hearing would be yet another roadblock for the beleaguered telecom merger. On top of the Department of Justice seeking to block the deal, the attorneys general of seven states also signed off on the measure back in mid-September. AT&T rival Sprint has also filed its own lawsuit.

Genachowski and his staff concluded that the merger would end up causing the telecommunications industry to be over-concentrated, and thus want a hearing that will make AT&T prove the deal is "in the public interest." The hearing would be presided over by an administrative law judge who will weigh the evidence and render a judgement. After that, the FCC will make a final decision.

It might be tough for AT&T to prove the deal will work in the public’s favor. At present, there are four major carriers in the U.S., with Verizon at No. 1, AT&T at No. 2, Sprint at No. 3 and T-Mobile at No. 4. If AT&T and T-Mobile customers are combined, AT&T becomes No. 1, Verizon No. 2 and Sprint becomes far and away the smallest major carrier.

“The FCC’s action today is disappointing,” AT&T said in a statement. “It is yet another example of a government agency acting to prevent billions in new investment and the creation of many thousands of new jobs at a time when the U.S. economy desperately needs both. At this time, we are reviewing all options.”

Do you think the AT&T and T-Mobile merger should go through?

Filed under: mobile

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Google to Wave, Knol, and Gears: Get off my lawn

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 04:30 PM PST

Google axeGoogle is canning Wave, Knol, Search Timeline and Google Gears, along with a slew of other features in order to build up fewer products with more integrated features.

“Our aim is to build a simpler, more intuitive, truly beautiful Google user experience,” the company explained in its third blog post concerning the sweep.

These products did not take off for Google as originally anticipated, so the is letting them die out, leaving room for more important projects such as Google+, which is starting to see deeper integrations with successful Google products such as YouTube.

Wave, one of the products getting killed off, was a similar product to Google+ in that it allowed you to collaborate with friends and coworkers on a presentation or document. You could have conversations around a topic and introduce supplemental materials, but the product never really took off. Google+ now also has communication and collaboration features such as the screen and file sharing aspects of Hangout, Google+’s video chat client.

Wave will be completely turned off on April 30th, but those who want to save their files can download PDFs of them.

The company is also replacing products such as Gears, favoring baked-in HTML5 features that allow you to work offline. Gears allowed Gmail and Google Calendar users to sync these products with an offline client, which cached e-mails and calendar updates. You were then able to read and respond to e-mails, which would be placed in your outbound box to be sent upon reconnection to an internet connection. Now, however, Google says there is a built in Chrome feature, which allows you to work in this same capacity, but does not exist as a separate product from the browser.

Knol was another collaboration tool, which Google hoped would improve web content. Similar to Wikipedia, it allowed topic “experts” to provide information and insight into that topic. Another axed product, Google Search Timeline allowed you to see the history of a results for a search term in graph form. Google is now directly Timeline users to Google Trends for this sort of information.

Google recently killed off  Buzz in another “out of season spring cleaning.” More products may be on the chopping block in the future.

[Axe photo via Shutterstock]

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Pandora stock dips despite meeting Q3 earnings expectations

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 03:59 PM PST

pandora nyseStreaming music service Pandora‘s third quarter earnings met Wall Street’s expectations  but still suffered a drop to its stock price in after-hours trading.

The company made a total of $75 million in revenue for the quarter (beating the $71.4 million estimate from analysts), which is up $8 million compared to the previous quarter. As for net income, Pandora stayed flat — also beat analysts’ estimates of a 1 cent per share loss.

Pandora’s guidance for the fourth quarter of 2011 is $80 to $84 million in revenue. The company predicts a non-GAAP net loss of 2-4 cents per share. Its guidance for the year is $273-$277 million in revenue, and a non-GAAP net loss of 2-5 cents per share — up from the 5-7 cent loss it reported in the previous quarter.

Fourth quarter guidance is for $80 to $84 million in revenue with non-GAAP net loss between 2 and 4 cents per share.  Fiscal 2012 guidance is $273 to $277 million in revenue with a non-GAAP net loss of 2 to 5 cents per common share. That's up from a previous guidance of a net loss of 5-7 cents per share.

Pandora reported that people listened to 2.1 billion total hours for the third quarter of 2011, a 104 percent increase compared to the same period last year (1 billion hours). The service has 66 percent of the country’s internet radio market and 40 million active users.

The company is very optimistic about growing revenue through its Pandora for Business partnership with DMX as well as opportunities to grow local radio advertising revenue.

“We’re just now reaching the share that give us the opportunity to enter local radio advertising,” said Pandora CEO Joe Kennedy during a quarterly earnings call. He added that the company is in a good position with a presence in most of the major markets for local radio.

Despite reporting decent numbers for the quarter, Pandora stock still slid over three percent to $11.42 per share.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Southeast Asian online game market expected to be worth $1 billion by 2015

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 02:52 PM PST

The Southeast Asian online game market is expected to generate revenues of $1 billion by 2015, a figure that is effectively double the $474 anticipated revenues in 2011, according to research group Niko Partners.

Free-to-play games, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods, were the most successful within the region, Lisa Comas Hanson,  managing partner of Niko Partners, said. Many of the games are played in internet cafes known as iCafes.

“Games that require payment are not successful, except among a small elite group of rich hardcore gamers,” she said. “There is a Korean game called Point Blank that has taken the region by storm. The most popular iCafe game, however, is Defense of the Ancients.”

While Southeast Asia audiences are interested in social gaming, most of the gamers are in their late teens or early 20s and they focuse on hardcore games. Founded in 2003, Niko Partners is based in Silicon Valley and Shanghai; it is known for a specialization in Chinese and Southeast Asian markets.

Southeast Asia’s growing profitability has apparently not gone unnoticed. Today, Japan-based mobile social game network DeNA announced a strategic partnership with VNG, Vietnam’s largest Internet company, in order to bring exclusive social games to Mobage, DeNA’s global social gaming platform.

Originally founded by five people, VNG now boasts of 1, 500 employees with offices in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi as well as a projected 2011 revenue of $90 million. VNG is responsible for the operation of Zing, a web portal that sees more than 15 million monthly unique visitors.

Under the agreement, VNG Corporation is slated to develop social games for exclusive distribution on Mobage. This will consist of the release of at least three social games for smartphones in 2012.

In September, DeNA had acquired Hanoi-based Punch Entertainment. DeNA Asia Managing Director Tetsuya Mori said, “Vietnam has a surprisingly strong Internet startup and game developer community. DeNA believes that Vietnam will produce world-class developers and VNG is undoubtedly the strongest candidate.”

A world-leading online service company, DeNA operates the Mobage social gaming platform, various social networking services and e-commerce websites. Currently, Mobage serves over 32 million users in Japan with over 1, 500 game titles for smartphones, feature phones as well as PCs.

Filed under: games

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RuneScape, the world’s most popular free-to-play MMO, gets a facelift

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 02:43 PM PST

Jagex has today announced a brand new website and logo for its free-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), Runescape. The browser-based game currently has over 175 million registered accounts, and is recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s most popular free-to-play MMORPG.

The makeover is about how to keep users coming back, which in turns leads to better monetization. Despite being free-to-play, RuneScape offers players the option of purchasing a monthly membership, which provides a host of premium benefits. It also generates revenue through adverts that appear above the playing screen for free users. With many MMOs now rushing towards such free-to-play business models, including DC Universe Online, Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard has recently offered some words of caution: "It’s less about what’s the right model, less about how to take money from a customer’s wallet, and more about what kind of gameplay you have that’s conducive to that type of monetization mechanism."

The new RuneScape website is described as a complete overhaul, and as well as providing a fresh look, it also offers players some features that have not been seen before:

- The RuneScape Wiki: The manual has now been moved over to the new, community-editable wiki. Even if you've never used or edited a wiki before, it's really easy to do. Follow the link for details of the basic requirements for editing, and for guides on how to get started.

- The Events Section: There's a whole new section devoted to the organisation and advertisement of events. The Jagex Community Engagement team, clans and individual members of the community can put up details on the events feed and place a location pin into the events map to direct prospective attendees.

- RuneScape News to the Fore: News, media and social networking activity feeds have been given pride of place on the new front page, ensuring that up-to-the-minute RuneScape information is readily available at all times.

Alongside the new look website, Jagex has also created a nifty new logo for its game, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in style this year, at the Runefest event in London.

With so many publishers starting to experiment with the free-to-play business model, in which just 3 percent of players typically spend money, Jagex is obviously hoping that RuneScape's new look helps to keep it ahead of the game.

Filed under: games

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Loosecubes updates its office-sharing portal with new review and ranking features

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 02:32 PM PST

Loosecubes, a website that lets companies sublet empty office spaces by the day or week, launched new ranking features today aimed at gathering detailed review information from renters. That data will be used by the office-sharing startup to make its workplace listings more effective.

Renters can now review a space’s potential for productivity with categories such as noise and Wi-Fi strength. There are rankings for “coolness,” which include the overall vibe of the space and the neighborhood. A community category wants to know what your co-workers were like, and if there was a potential for networking. Loosecubes has also added Facebook comments to the profiles of particular spaces, and a feature that will show who the regulars are at a particular location.

“Through shared workspace we’ve seen a lot of really great relationships formed both personally and professionally, co-founder Anthony Marinos told VentureBeat. “Because the vibe is more open, sparks fly.” Marinos says creating community is just as important as helping businesses rent out excess space.

Services such as Getaround (rent out your car) and Airbnb (rent out your home) have helped popularize the idea of collaborative consumption, another term for sharing for profit. There are lots of things in our garages or closets we own but never use, and there’s a good chance someone nearby could use them. With smartphones and social networks it’s easier than ever to connect to a pool of people who can harness the idling capacity of all that stuff. And now office space is no different.

Loosecubes has more than 1,300 listings spread across 534 cities worldwide, and its inventory has increased by 150 percent in the last six months, according to Marinos. Loosecubes’ website now lists an inventory worth more than $50 million, co-founder and chief executive officer Campbell McKellar told VentureBeat. And in New York City, where the company is located, there are more Looscubes locations than Starbucks. Loosecubes recently surpassed rival Regus in the number of office locations it offers. Marinos says that the average number of weekly reservation requests has increased by 600 percent since April.

Loosecubes is ideal for businesses that have extra space and want to make money renting it out. It’s common for new startups to rent desk spaces from a larger company until they get funding, or until they hire more people and outgrow the situation. Generally these arrangements are formal and somewhat longterm. Loosecubes makes it possible for entrepreneurs to rent space only when they need it.

Perhaps best of all, Loosecubes has a sweet portfolio of well-known companies renting out spare office space. As hard as it may be to get your resume in front of the decision makers at today’s hot startups, with Loosecubes you can work alongside Silicon Valley stars such as HotelTonight, Task Rabbit and Rickshaw Bags in San Francisco. In New York, the roster of Loosecubes office spaces includes Weldbilt Studio and the DUMBO Spot, both of which are in Brooklyn.

To date, Loosecubes has raised $1.2 million from Accel Partners, Battery Ventures, and friends and family.

Filed under: green, social

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Heroku debuts SQL database-as-a-service for developers

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 02:10 PM PST

Major platform-as-a-service provider Heroku has expanded its offerings with the new Heroku Postgres standalone service for developers who work with SQL databases, the company announced today.

Heroku has offered developers already using its service tools with PostgreSQL for several years, but now any development team wanting to use Heroku’s database service can use it regardless of where their applications are hosted.

The company claims the service is battle tested because it has “successfully and safely written 19 billion customer transactions, and another 400 million write-transactions are processed every day” it said in a blog post announcing the service.

PostgreSQL is open-source database software, but the Postgres standalone service is Heroku’s customized approach to delivering it without locking customers in. The company explains:

We believe deeply in the value of open-source software, and believe it is even more critical in the context of a database service. We are committed to running off-the-shelf, community PostgreSQL – unforked and unmodified. Rest assured that any standard libpq client will run flawlessly on our service. Should you ever decide that you want to go back to being your own DBA, you can; there is no technical lock-in.


Heroku Postgres offers six pricing plans. The cheapest is $200 a month with a 1.7GB cache while the most-expensive option runs $6,400 a month for a 68GB cache.

Take a look below at Heroku’s video to see database provisioning on Heroku Postgres:

Image courtesy of superamit.

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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Google+ is now coming to Google News

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 02:09 PM PST

Google is bringing its Plus social tools into Google News, one of the company’s more popular web search tools.

Previously, Google News had been showing users the unobtrusive +1 button next to articles to let users upvote or recommend particular items.

With the addition of today’s features, signed-in Google+ users will easily be able to see the articles their friends have been reading and sharing, as well.

In the Google News Spotlight section, users will now sometimes see articles their Gmail contacts and Google+ friends have publicly chosen to +1. Each user’s profile picture is visible next to the headline in question.

Also, you can choose to +1 the stories yourself as well as sharing and commenting on the articles with your Google+ circles.

“We hope this change helps you find more great articles to enjoy, and gives more power to your +1s,” wrote Google software engineer Erich Schmidt on the compay’s official blog.

Google has for some time had a plan to slowly incorporate its Google+ social features into all the company’s web applications. The general rollout of Plus features across Google-powered web properties started last month with Google Reader, a somewhat maligned and questionable relevant RSS reader.

Next, the company pulled Plus integrations into Blogger, its widely used CMS and blogging platform. Soon, you will be seeing more Google+ integrations in heavily used sites such as YouTube.

Since it’s eventually going to be part of everything Google does on the web, some have determined Google+ usage to be practically unavoidable, or at least inevitable.

"We think of Google+ as a mode of usage of Google," said Google executive Bradley Horowitz in a recent interview with VentureBeat.

He went on to say that the Google+ features around other Google products will serve as "a way of lighting up your Google experience as opposed to a new product. It's something that takes time to appreciate, even internally. It's easy to think of Google+ as something other than just Google, and I think it'll take more launches before the world catches up with this understanding."

Image courtesy of seng1011.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Asus Transformer Prime is the first Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablet

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 01:51 PM PST

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime might end up being the first tablet to feature Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich.

Although Lenovo was reportedly rolling out an Ice Cream Sandwich-powered tablet by the end of 2011, Asus is saying its newest offering will be the first to feature Ice Cream Sandwich. While the tablet will ship with Android 3.2 (a.k.a. Honeycomb), the manufacturers say it will be upgradable to Android 4.0 immediately.

The Transformer Prime (if you don’t read that and immediately envision the character depicted in the above image, I weep for your sad, sad childhood) is a quad-core, 10.1-inch beast. It’s a third of an inch thick and weighs around 1.3 pounds.

The tablet is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3, the first-ever quad-core processor for mobile devices; and Nvidia promises that as a result, the tablet will deliver lightning-fast apps, gorgeous video, responsive gaming and an extra-long battery life — up to 18 hours, in fact.

For you picture- and video-happy types, the tablet comes with an 8MP rear-facing camera and a 1.2MP front-facing camera. And if you’re more interested in text and productivity, the Transformer Prime comes with a mobile dock featuring a full-size QWERTY keyboard and touchpad.

Here’s a video showing Ice Cream Sandwich running on the tablet.

You can pre-order the Transformer Prime today from Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers. Tablets come in champagne and gray colors and 32GB and 64GB storage capacities. The former capacity is selling for $499, and the latter for $599. We don’t yet know when the units will start to ship.

As you may recall, Ice Cream Sandwich is the first Android operating system intended to work on both tablets and smartphones, as well as a range of other connected devices. Apps built for Ice Cream Sandwich should be able to scale from device to device and from form factor to widely varying form factor with little or no effort on the developer’s part.

The first batch of Ice Cream Sandwich tablets will test this promise thoroughly within the next few months.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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iPhone 4S already the second most popular cameraphone on Flickr

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 01:09 PM PST

iPhone 4S 1Apple’s fast-selling iPhone 4S is now the second-most used cameraphone on the popular photo-sharing service Flickr, according to the site’s Camera Finder page.

The iPhone 4 is actually the most-popular camera of all on Flickr now, but the iPhone 4S has yet to crack the top 5 list of most-used cameras on Flickr, which features traditional cameras like the Nikon D90 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in second and third place. But give it a few more months and we fully expect the iPhone 4S to start gaining a lot of ground, mostly because the 8-megapixel shooter on the iPhone 4S is one of the best cameras ever seen on a smartphone.

On the cameraphone-specific list, the iPhone 4S has now beaten out the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and HTC EVO 4G. The iPhone 4S camera is set apart from its predecessors with an 8-megapixel sensor that captures pictures up to 3264-by-2448-pixels in size, a new IR filter and a redesigned lens. Thanks to new hardware and updated software, Apple claims photos on the 4S have better white balance and greater dynamic range that improves color accuracy than what could be offered with the iPhone 4.

The chart below shows how quickly the iPhone 4S has been adopted by cameraphone users on Flickr.


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Oracle, Amazon, IBM, Nimbula and more to speak at CloudBeat 2011

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 01:08 PM PST

CloudBeat 2011

VentureBeat’s conference on the revolutionary potential of cloud computing is coming up fast. There’s still time to join us and learn how companies are using internet services to empower employees, serve customers, and deliver tangible value to investors.

Cloudbeat 2011 takes place next Wednesday, November 30 and Thursday, December 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City. We’re really proud of the world-class lineup of speakers we have planned.

Here’s the latest batch of experts we’ve added to our agenda:

Rick SchultzRick Schultz is Vice President of Technology Product Marketing at Oracle. In this role, Mr. Schultz is responsible for defining and driving the global market strategy for Oracle's technology business, spanning Oracle Database, Oracle Fusion Middleware, cloud computing, business intelligence and analytics, big data, security, management and virtualization, operating systems, developer tools, and the Java platform. He also leads the marketing efforts for Oracle's engineered systems products including Oracle Exadata Database Machine, Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud, Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine, Oracle Big Data Appliance, and Oracle Database Appliance.

Adam SelipskyAdam Selipsky joined Amazon Web Services in May 2005 as Vice President for Product Management and Developer Relations. He oversees developer support, product strategy, demand generation, evangelism, and marketing communications. Before joining Amazon Web Services, Selipsky served as a Vice President in several areas for RealNetworks. Selipsky was also a partner at Mercer Management Consulting, specializing in business strategy for telecommunications and technology companies.

Lew Cirne is the CEO and Founder of New Relic. He is a seasoned entrepreneur, technologist, and enterprise software pioneer who founded Wily Technology in 1998. Lew served as Wily's chief executive officer for the first four years and subsequently as its chief technical officer. He invented its flagship performance management solution, Introscope, and played a key role in Wily's 2006 acquisition by CA, Inc. Most recently Lew was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Benchmark Capital. He holds seven patents, including four related to Wily's core technology.

Jeff LawsonJeff Lawson is co-founder and CEO of Twilio, where he brings over 10 years of entrepreneurial product leadership experience. Before Twilio, Jeff served as Product Manager for Amazon Web Services, and has held founding executive roles for NineStar, Stubhub.com, and Versity.com

Andrew ReichmanAndrew Reichman is a principal analyst at Forrester Research. He serves Infrastructure & Operations professionals. His focus is on data storage systems, networking, and management software, as well as the business processes required for effective storage management. He pays special attention to cost and business intelligence issues related to complex storage environments, working to enable IT operations groups to maximize operational and financial efficiency.

Anjul BhambhriAnjul Bhambhri has 23 years of experience in the database industry with engineering and management positions at IBM, Informix and Sybase. She is currently IBM's Vice President of Big Data Products, overseeing product strategy and business partnerships. Previously at IBM, Anjul focused on application and data lifecycle management tools and spearheaded the development of XML capabilities in DB2 database server. In 2009, she received the YWCA of Silicon Valley's "Tribute to Women in Technology" Award.

Chris PinkhamChris Pinkham, CEO of Nimbula, is a senior technology executive and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience building Internet and large infrastructure environments. Chris started his career co-founding South Africa's first ISP, TICSA/Internet Africa, which was sold to UUNET in 1996. Most recently Chris initiated and managed the development of Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which has emerged as the undisputed leading public Cloud Infrastructure. Prior to that, Chris was Vice President of Engineering at Amazon.com, responsible for global IT infrastructure.

Alan MasarekAlan Masarek co-founded and has been an executive member of Quickoffice since the company's founding in 2002, and has served as Quickoffice's Chief Executive Officer since 2007. He has served as a C-level executive and financier for over 25 years, leading technology companies that span corporate, venture and entrepreneurial settings. Mr. Masarek has successfully raised hundreds of millions of dollars during his career and has been instrumental in creating value for his shareholders, generating over half a billion dollars in market value.

In addition to the powerful speaker lineup and actionable content, VentureBeat events are known for their excellent networking opportunities. Forge relationships with 500 industry executives — from the hottest cloud startups and leading cloud providers to the Fortune 500 — including a mix of CEO's, CIO's, CTO's, VP's of product development, analysts, investors, marketers, press, and more. Seating is limited and tickets are going fast. Grab your ticket today!

We want to thank the industry leaders that are supporting CloudBeat 2011: New Relic as Platinum Sponsor, Sequoia Capital and Scality as Gold Sponsors, Cloudsoft and Trinity Ventures as Silver Sponsors, and Norwest Venture Partners, AppDirect, Aryaka, Box.net, Central Desktop, Egnyte, Equinix, Huddle, Loggly, oneDrum, Private Planet, RedHat and Silicon Valley Bank as Event Sponsors.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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Want to know what Ron Conway got up to in 2011? Here’s his full list of investments

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 12:58 PM PST

Someone at or around SV Angel, the investment firm headed by Silicon Valley living legend Ron Conway, has leaked the firm’s entire list of investments to date.

Altogether, according to the SV Angel spreadsheet, the firm placed 75 bets on various startups during the first 10 months of 2011 and counts 290 startups in its portfolio.

The leaked documents also include a list of liquidity events, numbering 71 to date. For you non-math nerds out there, that means Conway & Co. have so far had a success rate of around 24.5 percent.

Being no-life spreadsheet jockeys, we took an hour or two to scrub through the data in Excel, looking for interesting patterns and useful information that entrepreneurs and others might want to take into consideration when pitching Conway and his ilk. Here’s what we found (the tl;dr version is “Move to the Valley, pitch in the spring and focus on social and commerce.”).

From what we can see in the spreadsheets, SV Angel’s activities were concentrated toward the beginning of the year, with activity peaking in March and dropping off dramatically over the summer and fall. Conventional wisdom suggests that very little fundraising occurs during the winter holidays, so SV Angel is unlikely to post very many new investments for the last two months of the year.

As far as verticals are concerned, the hottest verticals for SV Angel’s investments were in ecommerce (including shopping sites and payment platforms) and social media startups. Content platforms, enterprise software, local apps and location and mobile startups also saw their fair share of investments from the firm. Ad startups, gaming companies and video startups were less popular with Conway’s crew.

Geographically, investments were split up with a bit more diversity than you’d expect from a firm with “SV” in its moniker. All told, 42 investments were made in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Silivon Valley, while 26 deals were made with companies from other areas around the U.S. and the world.

For those curious enough to pore over the rest of the data, including other firms that joined in those rounds and the specific startups that did deals with SV Angel, here are the spreadsheets for your perusing pleasure. We have the full text of current SV Angel investments to date, as well as the list of liquidity events.

Filed under: deals

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Slingplayer adds Boxee Box app ahead of Google TV

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 11:45 AM PST

Slingplayer Boxee AppSling Media launched a new Slingplayer application for streaming media set-top box Boxee, the company revealed today.

The Slingplayer is an extension of the company’s Slingbox set-top box, which allows owners to stream content from their cable or satellite television service providers to a variety of platforms. The Slingplayer is currently available via the web, Android devices, iOS devices and Facebook.

Essentially, pairing your Slingbox with Boxee gives you the ability to watch cable through your Boxee Box. Yet, to do that it’ll cost you quite a bit of money. The Slingboxes cost between $179 and $349 and require some kind of cable or satellite monthly service ($50 to $200), while the Boxee Box runs $179. (Although, you can run the Boxee software on a computer for free.) With that said, I’m wondering how many people actually own both set-top devices.

Another thing that strikes me as odd about this announcement is that Boxee users typically don’t like paying for a cable subscription. As we recently reported, Boxee’s CEO points this out in a recent blog post introducing the company’s new Live TV stick.

Still, there’s something to be said for making sure your service is supported on a large number of platforms, which is a strategy that has served Netflix well. In that regard, putting the Slingplayer on the Boxee does make sense. However, I am surprised that the company produced a Boxee app prior to launching one for the Google TV platform, which — unlike Boxee — is intended to complement existing cable services.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Updated: Xoom, the money transfer company, gets a little money of its own: $25M from Sequoia

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 11:02 AM PST

Xoom[Editor's note: Updated with quotes from Xoom's chief executive John Kunze.]

Money transfer company Xoom received a $25 million round of funding today, according to a Form D filed with the SEC. The round comes from existing investors, including Sequoia Capital and Keith Rabois, chief operating officer of payments service Square.

The company allows people from 30 different countries to transfer money to one another without needing a bank account. In lieu of a bank account, you can use a debit card or credit card, though bank account transfers are also accepted. Associated fees are dependent on your country and the amount of money changing hands. Xoom assures privacy and is “accredited by third party privacy organizations.”

This round of funding follows a $33 million round, which closed in March 2010, another “inside round” from this round’s same investors, including DAG ventures, Fidelity Ventures, and New Enterprise Associates. The company stayed with these investors because it’s an easier route to raise money when you have supportive existing investors.

“It was easier to do it as an inside round,” said Xoom chief executive officer John Kunze said in an interview with VentureBeat, “And our business is just on fire. We needed to expedite the raise.”

The company needed to raise the round for working capital to cover expenses in the money transfer business. Kunze cited the speed of Xoom’s transactions as “moving money in seconds,” which becomes taxing on a company’s P&L sheet. The funding will also be used for regular operating costs, as the company expands into new areas of the industry. Xoom recently launched its mobile website m.xoom.com for international money transfers on the go, which Kunze says counts for a third of the company’s Mexican sign-ups. Xoom also recently announced a partnership with Walmart.com to allow online money transfers to Latin America, Europe and Asia through the website.

“[The Walmart partnership] foreshadows a strategy where we are willing to co-brand with offline customers,” said Kunze, “Basically it makes Xoom more ubiquitous.”

In terms of competitors, Western Union takes the number one spot. Xoom sees Western Union as more inconvenient, however, as a physical presence is necessary to complete transactions, as well as a bank account. The company does not, however, look at online transaction companies such as PayPal as competitors.

“We don’t compete at all with [PayPal] because they’re very focused on commercial payment and serving merchants,” said Kunze, “Thought they’re thinking peer-to-peer.”

PayPal’s board of directors includes Keith Rabois, who once worked for PayPal, and early investor Peter Thiel who co-founded the e-commerce payments company.

Filed under: deals

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Rocky’s travel secrets for your holiday travel

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 11:00 AM PST

With the start of the holiday travel season this Wednesday, planes will be fuller, patience shorter and the weather more worrisome. Traveling around the holidays can be a trying experience.

I’ve spent much of my life on airplanes. I’ve flown more than a million miles and earned more than 4 million frequent flier miles. “Up in the Air” felt strangely biographical. Over the years, I’ve developed strategies for coping with the hassles of air travel. I hope you don’t need any of them on your travels, but just in case, here they are:

The 36,000 foot view

  • It’s not about you. Don’t take flight cancellations or being involuntarily bumped personally. No one is out to get you. Running an airline is an incredibly hard business even on a good day. Add in miserable weather and high loads and a lot of people are going to be unhappy. As much as their decisions might inconvenience you, there’s usually (though not always) logic behind the decisions. Decisions take into account numerous factors including number of passengers inconvenienced, crew availability, availability of alternate flights and aircraft positioning.
  • Life’s not fair. The airline business is a business. It’s rarely first come, first served. If there’s a long standby list, the 100,000 mile traveler who walks up 5 minutes before they start clearing standbys will get the seat over someone who flies once a year on cheap tickets and has been waiting 2 hours. Although the rules vary by airline, priority lists typically take into account things like frequent flier status, class of service, previous inconvenience, whether you are in a connecting city and fare paid and time of check in. I’ve often watched as airlines denied boarding to people who booked their tickets months earlier and checked in well ahead of time.
  • OK, it’s a little about you. Despite these priority rules, gate agents do have some discretion to change your priority. If you’ve got a solid reason, it can’t hurt to ask. Customers who were bumped from previous flights sometimes get this kind of treatment. I’ve also seen this done for passengers traveling to distant international destinations with infrequent service. As a no-status, poor college student on a bargain ticket, I once had a kind gate agent bump a passenger off a flight for me because my brother was in the hospital.
  • Be nice. People want to help people who are nice to them. The fastest way to get an agent to not help you is to start making demands, threaten to sue or start swearing. I witnessed one passenger in Las Vegas call an agent a “bitch” under his breath as he walked away. She called the gate he was going to and told that agent about it.

Booking your tickets

You can increase your odds for a successful trip beginning with how you book, especially if you’re flying from, to or through places like Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver or the Northeast, which are susceptible to snowstorms.

  • Avoid regional jets, turbo props or other commuter flights. When airports such as Chicago get slammed with bad weather, airlines will cancel smaller planes first. It makes sense — with limited landing and takeoff slots, it’s better to use them for 150 passengers than 50 passengers. If the town you want to fly to can’t be reached on a mainline jet, consider an alternative airport within driving distance.
  • Avoid connections. It may be tempting to save $50 by flying through Chicago or Minneapolis, but each connection increases the risk of things going wrong. It also increases you odds of being stranded in a city that is neither your home nor your destination. Fly nonstop if possible. If you have to connect, try routing through a warm weather city like Atlanta, Houston or Dallas. Be careful to avoid “direct” flights, which look like nonstops but really have a connection.
  • Avoid smaller, startup carriers. Virgin America is my favorite domestic airline, but it’s tough to recommend it for snowy destinations during the holidays. Because they have a small fleet, it’s much harder to recover when things go really wrong, and a lot of passengers are stranded. A legacy carrier like Delta or United can send a rescue plane to reposition stranded carriers — one 747 can carry more than 3 small planes worth of passengers. The majors also have better automated systems for rebooking mass cancellations. This holiday season is likely to be even tougher for Virgin America passengers because the airline recently swapped out its reservation system. (Virgin America spokeswoman Abby Lunardini says the new system will allow the airline to offer automated rebooking in the future.)
  • Book flights for earlier in the day. Delays tend to cascade through the day. If you’re on the last flight out, you have few options.

Travel technology

The travel industry is one of the most eager adopters of technology. With the right tools, you can have a significant advantage over fellow travelers.

  • Sign up for your airline’s text alerts. Some carriers will re-book you automatically when there are cancellations or delays and text the updated information to you.
  • Get the right apps. My must-have travel apps are Kayak, TripIt, GateGuru and Priceline. Kayak lets you quickly search for alternate flights. TripIt keeps tabs on your itinerary. (Pro members get real-time alerts and alternative flight suggestions.) GateGuru will show you all the bars, restaurants and other amenities at the airport. (They are even categorized as inside or outside security.) Priceline can help you get a cheap room if you find yourself stuck. These apps are all available on iPhone and Android.
  • Follow your airline on Twitter. Airlines will post systemwide updates on their Twitter feeds. Some airlines, like Virgin America, actively monitor mentions and will try to help with some concerns. (Don’t waste your SMS on United.)
  • Put your cell phone and laptop chargers in your carry on. If you suffer long delays, there’s a good chance you’ll run out of power. You might need these tools to help book your next flight. If you find that you’re running out of power, look for a “power save” mode, which usually lets you eke out some more use by dimming the screen or throttling the processor.
  • Put a pair of headphones in your laptop bag. With a laptop, headphones and Wifi, you can amuse yourself while you wait for your next flight. I’ve spent many delays watching Hulu. It won’t make your delay any shorter, but it will feel like it.
  • Buy a travel power strip. Finding power in some airports can be a real challenge. And when you do find an outlet, there’s a good chance someone beat you to it. I love my Monster 3-in-1 plus USB power strip.

At the airport

  • Look at the departure boards for other flights to your destination. If your flight is canceled, look to see which gate the next flight to your destination is going out from. If it’s in the next hour, high tail it to that gate and ask the agent to get you on that flight. Again, be on your phone with reservations as you’re walking and standing in line. (A Bluetooth headset is great for this.) If your flight is a few hours away, chances are no one is working that flight yet.
  • Call the airline when your flight is canceled. Usually the gate agent will tell you to go to the customer service desk for help. Don’t do it. At least not before you call the airline. Get on your cell phone with reservations and ask them for help. Ideally, you’ll do this while you’re walking toward customer service or standing in line. It’s a good idea to have the phone number in your speed dial so you don’t have to fumble for it. With advances in technology, a phone rep can rebook you and email a new boarding pass to you. That sure beats waiting in a 90 minute line at the airport! Phone reps generally can’t issue hotel or food vouchers. But if the cancellation or delay was because of weather, you typically wouldn’t get them anyway.
  • Look for an empty gate with an unoccupied agent. Gate agents can help you with other flights, but won’t do it if they’re busy running their own flight. Be polite, ask respectfully and you might save yourself a long wait in line.
  • Consider an airline club day pass. Airlines sell memberships to executive lounges. These provide an oasis from the masses. The agents seem to be among the best trained and more lenient in interpreting the rules. A day pass will cost $35-$50, but can be well worth it when the rest of the airport is a madhouse.
  • Be flexible. If you’re traveling to an area with multiple airports within reasonable driving distance, consider taking flights there. If the change was the airline’s fault, they’ll usually pay to get you where you should’ve been. If it was weather or air-traffic control related, you’re on your own.
  • Call your friends. If you’re stuck and have a well-traveled friend, give them a call. I have a couple of people I can call when I get stuck to look up flight availability, hotels and other alternatives. Because they’re not dealing with dozens of other people, they can look at a wider range of options. Although they can’t rebook your flight, they can give you a good picture of what your choices are. With options in hand, you become a gate agent’s friend by making their job easier.
  • If you have a really sticky problem, try FlyerTalk. FlyerTalk is the ultimate travel resource. It’s populated by ultra-frequent travelers. Many of them know more about airline reservations and ticketing than the typical reservations agent. Do a search to see if your problem is already covered. If it isn’t, pick the appropriate forum for your airline and post your question. Be sure you provide all the pertinent information, but don’t post things like confirmation numbers.
  • Don’t put too much stock in the flight status boards. When there is extreme weather and a lot of cancellations, the flight status boards are usually fiction. The times shown are best guesses and can change frequently. It’s important to know that they can also become earlier. I’ve seen a flight go from a scheduled 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. back to an on time departure. It actually left at 11:00 p.m., so the people who relied on the 12:30 a.m. time missed it. If you leave the gate area, use your cell phone or laptop and check on the flight every 15 minutes or so.
  • If the entire airport is shut down for the day, leave. If you’re at your origin airport, go home. If you’re at a connecting city, get a hotel room. No good will come of waiting in the customer service lines. It will just be a maddening experience. Away from the airport, take a deep breath, relax, get some cocoa (or bourbon) and check the airline’s Web site. Many airlines will post the details of travel waivers and give you online re-booking options.

Most of all, remember that it is the holidays and many people are in the same boat. Instead of whining and moping, chat up your neighbors or head to the bar. I once spent a long delay helping other passengers research alternative flight options on my laptop.

Bon voyage!

Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Xbox 360 dashboard update coming December 6

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 10:52 AM PST

Xbox 360 DashboardMicrosoft has announced that a significant service update for the Xbox 360 will arrive on Dec. 6, bringing with it a newly designed user interface, cloud storage, expanded voice control with Kinect, and more.

Microsoft first revealed that changes were coming to the console during E3 2011. The company’s goal, it said, was to make the Xbox experience even more open, inviting and intuitive to navigate. To that end, 360 owners will now have the ability to search for entertainment using their voice and Microsoft’s search engine Bing, if they own a Kinect. Bing will search Netflix, Hulu Plus and ESPN – as well as the console’s own music, video and Xbox Live marketplaces – to find content, where previously users could search only one category at a time. In a preview of the new dashboard features, VentureBeat’s own Dean Takahashi said the faster navigation is important because 360 owners now spend about 40 percent of their time on TV and video when using the console.

The update will also bring with it a new feature called Beacons. Beacons will allow users to tell their Xbox Live and Facebook friends that they want to play a game, no matter what they’re currently doing on Xbox Live. Then, the Beacon will let them know when their friends want to play the same game or if they are already playing the game.

Microsoft is also making it easier for gamers to access their full profile and game saves through cloud storage. Now, anyone with a Xbox Live account will be able to sign into it from any console and see their saves, friends, Achievements and Microsoft Points, eliminating the need for gamertag recovery.

In addition to the new dashboard features, Microsoft will be rolling out a wealth of new content on an ongoing basis throughout the holiday months, including new customized applications for television, movies, Internet videos, sports and music. Microsoft recently reached a deal with Verizon, Comcast, HBO and other providers in more than 20 countries to bring their television content to the console, a move that will place it in direct competition with popular set-top boxes like the Roku and Apple TV.

The update on Dec. 6 will be free to all Xbox 360 owners.

Filed under: games

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