06 December, 2011



Broadcom breaks into top five for smartphone chip suppliers

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

Broadcom is now one of the top five suppliers of chips for smartphones, according to a third quarter report by market research firm Strategy Analytics.

The Irvine, Calif.-based chip maker joins Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Marvell as one of the top five suppliers of smartphone applications processors in the third quarter. That’s a powerful group, since the apps processor market grew 59 percent from a year ago to $2.24 billion in sales in the third quarter.

Broadcom has been trying to break into the market for a while and replaced Nvidia in the top five. Broadcom’s share grew because of the ramp up of Android products at a major customer.

“We believe Broadcom’s management has now recognized the importance of smartphone apps processors and is likely to strengthen its efforts further in 2012,” Strategy Analytics said. In the long term, Broadcom has the chance to be a strong competitor to Qualcomm.

Qualcomm has the No. 1 spot, with almost 50 percent of the revenue in the third quarter. Qualcomm has a variety of products in its portfolio and strong relationships with phone makers. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors gained strong traction in the quarter and were featured in multiple popular smartphones.

Qualcomm integrates chips into single-chip systems, but it also offers stand-alone apps processors, where it has a 4.3 percent unit stake with its APQ8xxx Snapdragon chips. The APQ product line helped Qualcomm participate in the LTE smartphone market.

Samsung was No. 2 with its dual-core processors and No. 1 in the stand-alone apps processor category, where it has more than 70 percent share. The chips are used in phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Samsung Galaxy Note.

Texas Instruments was No. 3 and showed improvement despite the weakness at its major customer, Nokia. Non-Nokia customers grew 65 percent compared to a year ago. Marvell diversified its base with its new TD-SCDMA smartphone processor.

At sixth place in units and fifth in revenue, Nvidia’s Tegra smartphones showed only modest sequential growth in the quarter. Stand-alone apps processors are 40 percent of total smartphone apps processor shipments, up from 30 percent last year.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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PayPal says “bah,humbug!” to Regretsy’s charity donation mix up

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:45 AM PST

Scrooge McDuck, Disney Christmas CarolOnline transactions company PayPal is taking a considerable amount of heat from critics after forcing Regretsy to refund all donations for its holiday charity efforts, while keeping the initial transaction fees.

Regretsy is a blog that features odd and/or strange items that are for sale through arts and crafts online marketplace Etsy, while also raising money for various charities. For its Secret Santa charity, Regretsy owner Helen Killer accidentally selected the “donate” button — rather than “Buy Now” or “Shopping Cart” buttons — when setting up options for people to make a donation.

Because the money from these donations isn’t going directly to the charity (meaning, donation money goes through Regretsy first before going to the charity), PayPal is making the site refund hundreds of $2 donations. Had Killer selected the “Buy Now” option, none of this would be an issue.

“Because I used the wrong button, they have made me send them everything from bank statements to Articles of Incorporation to affidavits and notarized statements, even though I have been a verified business customer of theirs for 10 years,” wrote Killer in a blog post about the incident.

While PayPal’s policy was put in place to prevent scam artists from taking donations under the guise of being a charitable organization, it doesn’t excuse the company for pocketing the transaction fees.

What do you think about this situation? Should PayPal forfeit the fees?

[via The Consumerist]

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Breaking Skyrim: The best tricks, secrets, and exploits

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:40 AM PST

Free houses, infinite XP, unlimited magic…the list goes on. The Elder Scrolls titles are notorious for being overrun with bugs and glitches. Even the patch that was supposed to patch the game now needs its own patch. But not all of these imperfections are necessarily bad. In fact, a few can be quite humorous, or more importantly, allow the player to reach otherwise-insurmountable wealth and power. Plus, even as Bethesda continues to fix/break the game further, you can always delete the patch from your hard drive whenever you want to use a specific trick.

If you used to be a great adventurer before taking an arrow to the knee, these handy tips, secrets, and downright shameful exploits will get you back on your feet in no time.

1. Infinite magic-casting
Once you've become a master enchanter, you'll be able to drastically improve your weapons and armor. But with a little number-crunching, you can actually do much more than that. By increasing the Enchanter perk to 5/5 and purchasing the Insightful Enchanter perk, you'll be able to decrease the cost of spells by up to 25% or more, per enchanted item. By enchanting a full set of armor, as well as a ring and amulet, you can decrease the costs of spells from a specific discipline to zero, meaning unlimited casting.

But wait, there's more! As a limited time offer, you can get twice the infinite spell-casting ability for the price of one! That's right, if you order before Bethesda decides to patch this, you can use the Extra Effect perk to put two enchantments on any one item. This trick will come in handy when…

2. Easily increasing your magic skills
Raising a magic skill such as Conjuration or Restoration to Master rank (level 100) takes countless hours of in-game playtime. But as with any Elder Scrolls title, there's a way to expedite the process to as little as an hour of mindless grinding. Make sure you have the Mage Stone activated to gain skill experience 20% faster. Resting in a bed (especially one you own) will also add a temporary experience bonus (don't fast-travel or you'll lose it), as will resting with your spouse.

  • Destruction
    If you'd like to level Destruction on your own without involving any other "real" people, you can simply conjure an Atronach and then destroy it with the opposite element. So if you summon a flame Atronach, you'd kill it with a frost spell. Like grinding out any skill, this becomes increasingly tedious when you reach the higher levels, but if you want to have access to the most powerful spells in the game as soon as possible, this will ensure you reach that goal.If you want to level up your Destruction even sooner (like, at the very beginning of the game), you can repeatedly use spells on the NPC that guides you through the caves below the keep during the prologue. He won't die or attack you (as stated in my review), but it will take even longer since you won't have any experience bonuses activated yet.
  • Conjuration
    A bit of north of Dawnstar you'll find Slaughterfish-infested waters. By luring these creatures near the shore you can keep an active enemy near you (required to level most combat magic skills) without fear of being attacked. Unless one of them bugs out and starts "swimming on land," but what are the chances of that happening….right?Now that you've got a friend or two, you can repeatedly conjure Atronachs or bound weapons to level your Conjuration skill. It will take a short while, but you'll save yourself immense time and trouble this way. Plus, once you're a master conjurer, you can permanently summon two elemental "thralls" that will follow you everywhere (whether you want them to or not…).Alternately, you can find any dead body and repeatedly cast Trap Soul on it. This is an equally viable method for leveling up your Conjuration skill, and Trap Soul uses minimal magicka so there should be no downtime whatsoever.
  • Alteration
    Telekinesis is the fastest way to increase Alteration (who uses this, anyway?). Simply pick up any object and hold it until you run out of magicka, rinse and repeat. If you don't have 100% Alteration cost enchanted equipment, this can take quite a while. If you're not a mage you can also wait one hour to "quickly" regenerate magicka, but this will get tedious pretty quickly. If you do have the cost of Alteration spells reduced to zero, you can just go into a populated area and hold down Detect Life and Telekinesis simultaneously (one in each hand) while you go watch some Breaking Bad or whatever.
  • Restoration
    Restoration is best power-leveled in tandem with another skill. For instance, if you want to increase your Light or Heavy Armor skills, you would head to a dungeon with fairly weak enemies (such as rats) and stand there healing yourself while they attack you. Multi-tasking! You can also lower the difficulty setting and anger city guards or even giants/mammoths, but these options may have unforeseen consequences (such as surprise death).
  • Illusion
    Simply nab the apprentice-level Muffle spell and repeatedly cast it for extremely fast Illusion leveling. Anytime. Anywhere.

3. Infinite XP and Quickly Max All Skills
Are these power-leveling exploits still not fast enough for you? Or perhaps you're more the warrior/thief type? Then say hello to my little friend: Oghma Infinium, the most game-breaking glitch of them all. Hopefully you haven't already completed the Discerning the Transmundane quest and used the Daedric artifact that you're rewarded with.

Watch the following video for a quick and easy explanation on how to max all of your skills out at 100 in mere minutes:

4. The bucket thing
Skyrim's first–and perhaps most humorous–exploit to go viral was a little trick involving buckets. By taking a bucket or cauldron and placing it over the head of almost any NPC, they become completely blind to any criminal act you may commit in their presence. See the attached video for a few examples.

While this is now old news, there's a lesser-known addendum that will make selling all your newly-acquired stolen goods a bit easier.

Filed under: games

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Final Fantasy VII remade using Unreal Engine, looks bad

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:32 AM PST

A modern Final Fantasy VII remake is easily the most-requested video game of our generation. There’s even a long-running petition with over 65,000 signatures. I’m more of a Final Fantasy VIII fan personally, but I’d happily take either or. Sadly, the official word from Square Enix is that giving fans what they want would essentially be too hard, so instead they’re going to continue making easy sequels that no one asked for in the first place.

Not content to wait around for the inevitable, however, a group of fans have remade the opening sequence to the beloved RPG using the freely available Unreal Developer Kit. I’m not going to lie, it’s not terribly impressive, especially when held up to the Square-developed PS3 tech demo from a few years ago, or even the fan-made Duke Nukem 3D remake that was so good 3D Realms officially gave its blessing to be released (though that seems to have changed).

All of the videos are below for you to decide yourself:

Fan-made Unreal Engine version

Square-made PlayStation 3 tech demo 

Comparison video with original and PS3 versions side-by-side

Fan-made Unreal Engine Duke Nukem 3D remake

While the Final Fantasy VII Remake project may not yet be yielding impressive results, you may still find the behind-the-scenes process detailed on their site somewhat interesting. Likewise, budding remakers eager to take the Unreal Engine for a spin themselves and get cranking on that reimagined Chrono Trigger can download it here for free.

Filed under: games

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Fixing Skyrim would take a lot of time, according to developer

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:31 AM PST

Bethesda Softworks is undoubtedly looking at numerous game of the year awards for their epic role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but their long-running history with releasing utterly broken games continues to dampen any design achievements. While there is no end to the list of complaints, bugs, glitches, exploits, and miscellaneous issues players have experienced, the severe slowdown that’s demolished the playability of the PlayStation 3 version (see video below) has endured the recent patch intended to fix it.

In fact, that patch brought with it a number of new problems, including rendering magical resistances useless and backwards-flying dragons. The slowdown is caused by an ever-expanding save game file. After a few hours of playtime, the save file gathers too much data for the PlayStation 3 to handle, causing the gameplay to stutter so drastically that a manual reset is required, which temporarily dumps the extra information causing the slowdown . This specific issue doesn’t affect the Xbox 360 or PC versions in any notable way.

Recently, a member of Obsidian Entertainment–who previously developed what is arguably one of, if not thee buggiest mainstream game ever released, Fallout: New Vegas, for Skyrim publisher Bethesda Softworks–has spoken out on the cause, and the hypothetical cure. Answering questions on his personal Formspring account, Obsidian’s Project Director Josh Sawyer explains:

The Xbox 360 has a unified memory pool: 512 megs of RAM usable as system memory or graphics memory. The PS3 has a divided memory pool: 256 megs for system, 256 for graphics. It’s the same total amount of memory, but not as flexible for a developer to make use of. It’s not like someone wrote a function and put a decimal point in the wrong place or declared something as a float when it should have been an int. We’re talking about how the engine fundamentally saves off and references data at run time. Restructuring how that works would require a large time commitment.

To be clear, Sawyer is not a Bethesda employee or spokesperson, and he’s referring specifically to Fallout: New Vegas, yet he does directly connect the two games (Fallout and Skyrim) to the PlayStation 3 memory issue. This revelation is particularly troubling, especially given that previous Bethesda titles using older engines suffered from many similar issues that Skyrim’s new, highly-touted Creation Engine failed to address. Project leader Todd Howard stated in an interview that the development team reached all of the technical goals they set for themselves and “kept going.” Apparently making sure that their game worked properly at launch was not on that list.

Meanwhile, Bethesda has (somewhat) acknowledged they may have screwed up their multi-platinum technical Jenga tower:

To be safe, we are prioritizing code side fixes right now over data fixes. Quest and balance issues are usually data, and those will start rolling in a large way with the January updates. We all know this is a huge game, and everyone has a different experience. We’ll continue to do everything we can to make the game better and better for as many people as possible every day. We’ve also realized that with the millions upon millions of people playing Skyrim, we need to treat our updates with greater care. If we get too aggressive trying to fix a minor issue, we run a risk of breaking something larger in a game like this.

Unfortunately, most Skyrim owners without access to the internet have no way of patching their game. I don’t how care how good a game is (and yes, it can be very good), it’s absolutely unacceptable for a product to hit the market in such unbelievably poor condition, regardless of how ambitious it may be or how well it ends up selling. It took me all of about three minutes to encounter my first glitch in Skyrim, and about five hours before I reached a quest that couldn’t be completed, just like in Oblivion; you can’t tell me that an entire team of QA testers didn’t notice that this game was fundamentally unready to be released.

Filed under: games

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Zendesk upgrades help desk app for Android phones, tablets

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:30 AM PST

zendesk-androidCustomer help desk management startup Zendesk has launched a new version of its Android app that includes a new design, real-time updates, photo attachment support and improved access to support activity, the company announced today.

Zendesk made our recent list of “Top 10 disruptive cloud companies we're excited about” because it is enabling small and medium-size companies to create on-demand help desks and cloud-based call centers. The company’s smart and simple web apps and its mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry are helping businesses compete with much bigger players in the area of communications.

The new Android application from Zendesk mimics its already good iPhone and iPad applications and works for most Android phones and tablets. Using design philosophies similar to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, the company has simplified the interface and wants to make it almost fun to use. The company emphasizes the following Android updates:

• Real-time updates give customer support agents the power to take up-to-the-minute action on support requests.
• Improved access to the support activity that matters most. Now up to three views of the must urgent support requests can be pinned to the Zendesk dashboard, allowing immediate visibility into priority support issues, such as requests that have been deemed urgent or unanswered.
• New attachment capabilities mean customer service representatives working out in the field can take pictures of hardware, etc., and attach to the support activity thread, greatly increasing the speed in which a customer support issue can be resolved.

"As adoption rates for Android continue to explode, we want to continue to elevate the usability and effectiveness of this popular mobile application,” said Adrian McDermott, Zendesk's vice president of product and engineering, in a statement.

The company took a big step in mid-September by partnering with Twilio to create Zendesk Voice, which lets companies set up cloud-based call centers for much less money than regular call centers. Zendesk Voice is available in the U.S. and Canada, with calls billed at 5 cents per minute. Representatives from Zendesk and Twilio also appeared on stage together at VentureBeat’s CloudBeat conference last week to explain why the two companies are “best buds in cloud.”

San Francisco-based Zendesk has raised $25.5 million in three rounds of funding, with a $19 million round in December 2010. The company’s venture backing comes from the likes of Matrix Partners, Benchmark Capital and Charles River Ventures.

Filed under: cloud, mobile

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EU investigates Apple and e-book publishers for “cartel” behavior

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:01 AM PST

Apple is once again in hot water with the European Commission, this time over its pricing strategies with e-book publishers.

The EC announced today that it has begun formal antitrust investigations into Apple and five major book publishers —  Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Macmillan owner Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck — to determine how they arranged e-book prices.

“The Commission will in particular investigate whether these publishing groups and Apple have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition in the EU or in the EEA,” the EC wrote in a statement today. “The Commission is also examining the character and terms of the agency agreements entered into by the above named five publishers and retailers for the sale of e-books. The Commission has concerns, that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.”

The investigation likely sparks from a coordinated effort years ago between Apple and publishers to abolish Amazon’s then-typical $9.99 e-book pricing, Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt notes. Now, new e-books are often priced between $12 and $15 — with high-demand titles, like the recent Steve Jobs biography, selling for around $17 at launch (very close to its hardcover price).

Apple and the five publishers are already facing a class action lawsuit in California over the pricing change, which claims that they were “terrified” by Amazon’s low e-book pricing. Apple was a particularly useful co-conspirator because it was launching its iBooks store at the time. According to the suit, the publishers agreed to an “agency model” deal with Apple, which let them determine e-book pricing while Apple took a small cut. They also allegedly agreed not to sell e-books at prices lower than what Apple offered.

I’m not a legal expert, but it seems clear that something fishy went down with the launch of the iBooks store and the sudden emergence of more expensive e-books. If the EC’s investigation is successful, there’s hope that further exploration will occur in the U.S. and that someday we may finally see the return of cheap e-books.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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HP acquires web-to-print company Hiflex to bolster its cloud imaging solutions

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 07:52 AM PST

Meg WhitmanHP has acquired German print and cloud solutions company Hiflex for an undisclosed sum, the company announced today.

The buy isn’t too surprising if you’ve been paying attention to new HP CEO Meg Whitman’s comments in the past month. In mid-November, Whitman spoke about rebuilding the company’s financial position and acquisitions. She said: "No large acquisitions in 2012. Nothing the size of Autonomy, and maybe more like sub-$500 million." That suggests the Hiflex deal is a small buy rather than anything substantial.

HP made the move to acquire major enterprise software player Autonomy for $10.3 billion in August, so the company is still digesting that deal. That acquisition was made under former HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who was ousted and replaced by Whitman.

Hiflex was founded in 1991 and is headquartered in Aachen, Germany. The company’s focus is on “web-to-print and management information systems solutions for printing services.” Hiflex also dabbles in cloud computing services that relate to imaging. The company said its users represent all areas of the graphics industry, including “commercial printing, periodicals, newspapers, labels and packaging.”

"HP wants to break the traditional barriers of how and where business customers print, making it easy for them to produce custom or personalized materials anywhere, anytime," said Vyomesh Joshi, HP’s executive VP fop Imaging and Printing Group, in a statement. "Hiflex's technology provides a powerful platform to deliver on this goal as part of our overall cloud printing strategy."

A promo video for Hiflex can be viewed below:

Filed under: cloud, deals, enterprise

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Vostu pays undisclosed sum to Zynga to settle copyright infringement lawsuit

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 07:09 AM PST

Ahead of its upcoming initial public offering, social gaming giant Zynga has accepted a settlement in a copyright infringement lawsuit it brought against Brazilian social game maker Vostu, which it had accused of blatantly copying some of its most popular games.

As part of the settlement, Vostu will make changes to four of its games and pay an undisclosed sum to Zynga. Vostu will also drop a counterclaim it had made against Zynga.”The parties are pleased to have settled their disputes and to now put these matters behind them,” the companies said in a joint statement.

A Vostu spokesperson declined to comment further on the details of the settlement or which of its games would be changed under the terms of the agreement.

Allegations of game copying are widespread in the social and casual game industries, with popular titles quickly spawning copycats that slightly tweak the concept or gameplay in some small way. Zynga’s own FarmVille is widely considered to be a much more successful copy of Slashkey’s  previously released social game Farm Town.

But Zynga’s lawsuit, originally filed in June, accused Vostu of taking more than simple inspiration from Zynga’s titles by copying games including FarmVille, Zynga Poker, PetVille, Cafe World, and CityVille right down to key gameplay features and even structural glitches found in the titles.

At the time, Vostu called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said its titles were “chock full of original content” that had been “individually created.”

The settlement comes at a crucial time for Zynga, which will finally offer its long-mulled IPO starting December 15, though at a price much lower than previous expectations.

Vostu, which has offices in New York, Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires is backed by $46 million raised last year by Accel Partners and Tiger Global Management, among others. The company claims over 25 percent of all internet-connected Brazilians play its games, including recently launched soccer sim GolMania.

Filed under: games

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With Eric Schmidt as backer, HealthTap raises $11.5M for mobile patient-doctor Q&A network

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST

HealthTap has raised $11.5 million in a first round of funding to expand its expert online physician community, which answers questions that patients pose online or via smartphones.

The backers include Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors fund and Mohr Davidow Ventures, while Mayfield Fund led the round.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based HealthTap’s interactive health network started just two months ago and it already has more than 6,000 doctors and 500 healthcare institutions. Patients ask questions and physicians answer them. That by itself is pretty mundane. But HealthTap motivates the doctors to stay engaged because it rewards them with a better reputation and peer recognition.

Ron Gutman, chief executive of HealthTap, said in an interview that the idea for company came about because searching for authoritative health information on the internet is a frustrating experience since users don’t trust the answers they find. Doctors can be much better at answering direct questions, but they are notoriously busy and technology-phobic.

“The goal is to transform healthcare in this country,” Gutman said. “People who use the internet for health information find it useless because they don’t trust it. There are 1.2 billion health searches every month, but the real trusted information comes from doctors.”

HealthTap “gamifies” the process of answering questions, giving the physicians reputation points for their answers. On top of that, physicians can simply tap a button on a mobile phone if they agree with an answer that another doctor gave. Doctors who earn a lot of “agree” buttons can grow their standing among peers.

In the network, anyone can ask health questions online or on a mobile app. They can get answers from U.S. doctors across 100 specialties for free.

HealthTap will use the money to accelerate growth, recruit talent, and engage more physicians and patients in its online HealthTap community.

Tim Chang, managing director at Mayfield, said in an interview that Gutman has a track record of working for seven years in the field, dating back to work he did at Stanford University. Chang said that no other service has gotten doctors so engaged in answering questions and the reason is the “gamification of health.” The physicians stay engaged because they enjoy giving answers, getting rewards, and getting peer recognition. And the network taps mobile apps, which make it easy to respond.

“The ‘aha’ that caused me to invest is not just Ron’s vision for health 2.0 and gamification,” Chang said. “It was also that he was able to get doctors to care in a way that no other startup has been able to.”

In the past, drug companies often tried to bribe doctors with money. But HealthTap also taps into the same kinds of motivations that keep people playing games. The apps feed the doctors’ pride, altruism, and vanity.

“We call this the virtualization of healthcare,” Gutman said. “Instead of using strangers to do crowdsourcing, we call this ‘trust sourcing.’”

Gutman said that all physicians undergo background checks to participate on HealthTap, verifying their medical licenses and good standing in terms of lawsuits or complaints. Approved doctors get a free “virtual practice” from which they can lead an online health conversation. They can also make connections to get new patients for in-person care.

HealthTap was founded in 2010. It launched its beta apps a few months ago with expert discussions focused on pregnant mothers and pediatricians. Then it expanded to 100 different specialties where patients can ask questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The information is free.

HealthTap has 12 employees. The competition is doctors and hospitals who work in traditional ways. Participants include the big providers such as Cleveland Clinic and The Mount Sinai Hospital, as well as small practices across the nation like Women's Care of Beverly Hills Medical Group, to individual physician offices such as the one run by Robert Kwok in Saratoga, Calif.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Sprint plans for 4G LTE phones in second half 2012

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 06:57 AM PST

SprintSprint customers may have to wait longer than anticipated to get their hands on fast new 4G LTE phones.

Sprint CFO Joseph Euteneuer said yesterday that he expects LTE devices to be released in the second half of next year, while speaking at a UBS conference in New York City. Previously, Sprint has indicated a summer 2012 release for its LTE phones.

Euteneuer says it’s likely that the LTE devices will be released in the third quarter (which falls in line with the original summer timeline), and he expects “a number of different models” to be available. Sprint is playing catch-up to both Verizon Wireless, which launched 4G LTE phones earlier this year, and AT&T, which just recently launched its third LTE phone.

Sprint, America’s third-largest carrier, is currently rushing to keep pace with its bigger competitors when it comes to LTE. Verizon has by far the biggest lead, but AT&T also plans to have a significant LTE presence come the end of next year as well. Sprint has said that it plans to cover 120 million people with its LTE network by the end of 2012, and 250 million by the end of 2012. In comparison, Verizon will have around 200 million people covered by the end of this year.

Euteneuer also announced that Sprint has begun operating its first multi-mode radio, which can broadcast both 4G LTE and 3G CDMA signals. He also reiterated that the company plans to continue using WiMax through 2015.

Via Cnet

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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What we learned about hybrids, iPads and underdogs at CloudBeat 2011

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 05:00 AM PST

Last week, VentureBeat hosted its first ever CloudBeat conference. It was a huge success (if we do say so ourselves), with more than 400 executives from cloud startups, leading cloud service providers, and various Fortune 500 companies coming together to talk shop. You can check out complete coverage of panels, talks and sessions here.

A few big themes came up over the two day conference. Let’s take a look at the highlights.

The hybrid public-and-private cloud is the future

Companies are mixing and matching cloud offerings to find their own bespoke solutions. Zynga chief technical officer Allan Leinwand trumpeted the benefits of a hybrid public and private cloud solution at his CloudBeat session. Zynga started out relying entirely on a public cloud service, Amazon Web Services (AWS), to host its server-based social games. AWS’s scalability made it the perfect choice for a new company experiencing rapid growth. Four years later, the social gaming company was so large that it became cost efficient for it to built its own data centers and create a private cloud, dubbed Z-Cloud.

Zynga still relies on AWS and is is now happily using a hybrid cloud approach. Leinwand compared the combo to having different car options: “Maybe one day you want a sports car, maybe another you want a Winnebago … Amazon is making a great platform, but we wanted a sports car for some applications and an 18-wheeler for certain applications.”

Oracle is anticipating a widespread adoption of this type of hybrid cloud approach. Rick Schultz, a vice president at Oracle, talked about the company’s plans for its own public cloud product, launching in 2012. Oracle’s cloud is being built specifically to allow users to easily use it with other cloud services. “Forty percent of Oracle customers already have adopted the private cloud," Schultz said. "But we're seeing the public cloud grow and the interest in the public cloud is growing fast.”

Enterprise hearts the iPad

As more companies are switching to cloud storage and software, it’s allowing a surge in the use of mobile devices for work. Traditionally, getting new technology adopted within a large company was a difficult and timely process. The iPad, iPhone and a slew of Android smartphones are bucking that trend, and the results aren’t as disastrous as many CTOs feared.

Nick Mehta, CEO of LiveOffice, and Forbes contributor Tom Taulli agreed that reason this new tech is being embraced is the push from the big egos at the head of the corporations. "This is the first situation where the top is driving technology adoption," Mehta said. "The CEO gets one, he goes to the IT department and he asks, 'why don't we support this?'"

That personal attachment to the gadgets is driving adoption, and it has another nice side effect too: fewer mistreated devices. Dick Escue, CIO at physical therapy provider RehabCare Group, said he saw a 92 percent reduction in broken devices after his company switched to supporting Apple iPads and iPhones. The 9,000-employee RehabCare was inspired to support iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches when its CEO fell hard for his iPhone. Now its therapists use Apple’s mobile devices in the field when they treat patients.

The little guys are running the show

Our CloudBeat guests and panelists had little love for Microsoft’s collaboration tool, SharePoint. "If SharePoint happened to work, that's what we kind of do," quipped Aaron Levie, CEO at cloud-based file sharing company Box. He wasn’t the only one taking aim at the big guys: Increasingly, cloud computing is a industry where little companies aren’t just keeping up, they’re the ones driving innovation.

For the U.K.'s Meteorological Office, SharePoint was entirely too complicated to take off. The software required a large amount of training and adoption was low among the 1,800 employees, according to Michaela Drummond, an information management and technology practitioner at the agency. “The requirements changed on a daily basis, the teams didn't know what they wanted and didn't know what SharePoint could do," Drummond said. The Meteorological Office switched to Huddle‘s more intuitive collaboration software. "People who can use Facebook can use Huddle," said Drummond. Huddle is six-year-old 60-person startup, and it’s taking on Microsoft.

Levie thinks the lack adoption for SharePoint is part of a larger shift away from vertically-integrated companies that are overloaded by the breadth of their offerings. Instead, CTOs are turning towards smaller companies that focus on just a few core products. "We think the world is moving away from the integrated vertical stack," said Levie. "It drives complacency and cost increases."

Embracing the smaller companies also means IT departments are letting their guards down. Thomas Kelly, enterprise architect for cloud services at Best Buy, discussed how his company embraced rogue applications. "We had 50 applications running on the cloud with no governance … this is where I came in,” said Kelly. Now, BestBuy has brought those applications inside its cloud infrastructure and put appropriate policies in place. The end result is a large company that is unusually nimble when it comes to adopting new technology and changing its cloud capabilities.

Cloud image via Shutterstock

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Mobile payments war escalates as Verizon blocks Google Wallet on Galaxy Nexus

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 08:18 PM PST

galaxy-nexus-verizonVerizon wants to own your mobile identity, which may be why the company has blocked the Google Wallet mobile payments app on the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone.

Verizon is instead banking on the Isis mobile payments platform, which was jointly developed by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Isis was  conceived as a nationwide “mobile commerce network” to replace physical wallets with the phones people already have in their pockets.

“Verizon asked us not to include this functionality in the product,” a Google representative confirmed to VentureBeat.

Both Isis and Google Wallet use near field communications (NFC) chips that are becoming standard in many Android smartphones, including the Galaxy Nexus. Users can make purchases by simply swiping their phone over an NFC receiver at the point of sale. Both Isis and Google Wallet  can be linked directly to credit card cards and gift cards to simplify the purchasing process.

But both platforms aren’t just about payments, they’re about controlling digital identity outside of the home in many more ways

“While mobile payments will be at the core of our offering, it’s only the start,” said Isis chief executive officer Michael Abbott in a prepared statement from September. “We plan to create a ‘mobile wallet’ that ultimately eliminates the need for consumers to carry cash, credit and debit cards, reward cards, coupons, tickets, transit passes, etc, etc,” Abbott said.

The Verizon version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus will sell for $299 with a two-year contract, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Samsung smartphone is among the season’s most hotly anticipated rivals to the iPhone.

Keeping one step ahead of Google is even more important now that the search giant owns Motorola Mobility, and will soon begin shipping handsets preloaded with Android software. Recently Google chairman Eric Schmidt said that owning Motorola would not constitute a competitive advantage for Google — but Verizon is smart not to leave anything to chance.

The mobile payments space is definitely heating up. In mid-November Verifone bought payments technology Point in a deal valued at more than $1 billion. Mobile payments have been a mainstay in countries such as Japan for many years, but thanks to offerings like Isis and Google Wallet, it’s finally beginning to find some ground in the U.S.

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Hands up for Lego Minecraft

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 06:28 PM PST

The indie game sensation Minecraft may soon be immortalized with its very own LEGO sets, if developer Mojang gets its wish. Mojang has submitted a proposal for LEGO Minecraft on the Cuusoo community site, which could see the dream collaboration become a reality.

The LEGO Cuusoo project allows individuals to suggest their own Lego ideas to the community. If 10,000 supporters get behind the idea, it is then reviewed by LEGO, with the possibility of it becoming an official LEGO product, and reaching production.

There are nearly 3,000 supporters already behind the project, making it the most popular on the site, and Mojang must be hopeful that its concept will at least reach the review stage of the process. On the project description page, Mojang state that "Minecraft is about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine in the virtual world. You can build anything you imagine with LEGO bricks in the physical world. Minecraft and LEGO were meant to be together."

Minecraft was officially released on Nov. 11, but has been available to play for over two years in one form or another, and it is now sitting pretty on a Metacritic rating of 94 . With over 4 million copies of the game already sold, the chances of the LEGO project reaching the necessary 10,000 votes seems highly likely.

The LEGO Minecraft project already has a head start over other interesting LEGO Cuusoo concepts, such as 'LEGO The Beatles'  (currently with 4 supporters), ‘LEGO DeLorean Time Machine’ (1194 supporters) and 'LEGO Call of Duty' (9 supporters).

If the project is successful and LEGO Minecraft hits the stores, then Mojang, along with collaborators and LEGO community members suparMacho and koalaexpert, plan to donate the 1% royalties they would earn to charity.

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Ticketfly partnership makes music events more intelligent and more social

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 06:22 PM PST

Ticketfly is rolling out new partnerships today that make the pre-concert experience more social for attendees, and eliminate a lot of the logistical headaches for venues and promoters.

Ticketfly partnered with technology providers Aloompa and Intellitix to make event management smoother at venues, with radio frequency identification (RFID) authentication of tickets and passes, ticket scanning, and box office tools, all of which are available on Android devices and the iPhone.

For attendees, Ticketfly partnered with car sharing service Zimride to help concert-goers find carpools to events right after they have purchased tickets online. Ticketfly is an enterprise technology provider focused on providing end-to-end solutions for music promoters and venues, such as ticketing solutions, email and social marketing tools and analytics.

“Events are inherently social, and we love to facilitate the community-building component,” Ticketfly co-founder Andrew Dreskin told VentureBeat. ”Music festivals are a very interesting and exciting part of the live event landscape in the U.S. You can never pirate the live experience, so people continue to go to music events.”

Dreskin says live festivals have come to the forefront of the music industry in the U.S. with events like the Ultra Music FestivalBumbershoot and the Treasure Island Music Festival drawing crowds both regionally and nationally. Sometimes crowds come from even further afield.

By partnering with Zimride, Ticketfly is expanding access to events and helping attendees reduce their environmental impact at the same time. ”The ability to marry Zimride’s ridesharing solution with Ticketfly will save fans and venues millions of dollars on transportation costs while creating a new community for fans to meet before and after the show," said Logan Green, founder and chief executive officer of Zimride in a statement.

Winter is a slow time for the music festivals, so launching its new integrated product now may give Ticketfly and partners a chance to stomp out any bugs before the festival season ramps up again. In April, Coachella will kick off the music festival season followed by Bonnaroo, Sasquatch, Outside Lands and many more. These major music festivals of the spring and summer will allow Ticketfly and its tech collaborators to see how well their technology has worked together. Some Ticketfly partners are currently providing services to festival organizers such for Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, while Ticketfly certainly hopes to do so with its integrated offering.

The fees paid for purchasing tickets represent a $10 billion opportunity, says Dreskin. The face value of all tickets sold worldwide is more than $50 billion. “That’s pretty juicy,” says Dreskin.

Ticketfly is based in San Francisco, and has raised $15 million in funding. The company has 70 employees and has been generating revenue for the past 30 months, said Dreskin.

Image via Christian Holmer/Flickr

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Starbucks apps account for 26M mobile payments and $110M in card reloads

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 06:00 PM PST

The Starbucks brand may be synonymous with pricey lattes, but the coffee conglomerate has pushed a number of mobile initiatives in 2011 to make its name also stand for digital innovation.

New numbers released Monday suggest that the strategy is working.

Starbucks has now processed more than 26 million mobile payments since January, Adam Brotman, vice president and general manager of digital ventures at Starbucks, told VentureBeat.

Add to that the fact that more than 6 million of those mobile transactions occurred during the past nine weeks — which is more than double the 3 million transactions the company saw in the first nine weeks post release — and the data shows a growing number of consumers are going wallet-free and opting instead to pay for their daily coffee runs with the Starbucks mobile app.

“We’re already out there as the largest retailer doing mobile payments,” Brotman said. “To take that step and roll out [mobile pay], see it adopted, and then see it double … that trend is very exciting to us.”

Starbucks mobile pay, a prominent feature of the company’s iPhone and Android applications, was released in the U.S. in January. Consumers can use the mobile app to load money on to a digital Starbucks Card and present a 2D barcode to pay-by-scan at the register at more than 9,000 locations. The program launched in Canada in November and will land in the U.K. in January 2012.

Brotman was reluctant to reveal the exact number of customers who have paid via mobile, but did say that millions of customers have done so. The mobile pay feature, he said, is especially popular in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and San Jose, all cities that are replete with brand fans and technology early adopters.

Of the $2.4 billion loaded on to Starbucks Cards in fiscal year 2011, $110 million was loaded onto cards via Starbucks mobile apps. The mobile figure equates to just under 5 percent of all reloads, but does highlight a shift in how customers engage with Starbucks cards. “Customers love the ease of [Starbucks card] reload and autoload on their apps,” Brotman said.

Mobile app users are also tapping the company’s e-gifting feature to send the electronic gift of Starbucks from their phones. E-gifting was added to the apps in June — it was previously available as a web-only feature — and now accounts for 10 percent of total e-gifting volume.

The company’s early successes on mobile have allowed it to experiment with apps like Starbucks Cup Magic, a one-off holiday application released in mid November that adds a layer of augmented reality to the in-store experience. An app user can point his device’s camera lens at a holiday character on Starbucks cups, coffee bags or in-store signage, and watch the character come to life. The app has been used in this capacity more than 450,000 times to date, Brotman said.

Starbucks also now has 3.6 million customers in its My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program, and 2 million members have reached the highest Gold level.

Altogether, the stats show that the company’s Starbucks Card, loyalty, payment, e-gifting and drink builder modules and programs are converging into a single, mobile experience that customers truly love, Brotman said.

[Image via Starbucks/Instagram]

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More than half of mobile purchases are made from the home, trust in mobile growing

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 05:02 PM PST

money house phoneMobile purchases just won’t quit. People are trusting their smartphones more everyday and are buying their goods from an unexpected place: the home.

We heard a lot of about mobile shopping as Cyber Monday rolled through. Many flocked to their phones and tablets to grab the good deals, whether they were near a computer or not. Cyber Monday, which hit an all time high of $1.25 billion spent, wasn’t a stranger to the mobile buyer. PayPal reported seeing record differences between mobile purchases last Cyber Monday and this. But what’s surprising is not the amount spent, or the “record highs,” but rather the places where people used their mobile phones for buying online.

When you think mobile, you think of being on the go, when suddenly you stop and realize you forgot to buy that dress before the Rue La La sale ends. That’s when you pick up the phone, order the dress and then you’re on your way again, back to your busy life. But what comScore found is people aren’t just using their phones for on-the-go-convenience. In fact, 56 percent of those using a smartphone to make purchases do so from the comfort of their own home. This is important because it shows an element of trust being the consumer and the phone. Even though the familiar computer is right by, over half of smartphone users will still grab for the phone to buy.

E-commerce, especially on the tablet is aesthetically pleasing as well. Sites are tailoring their look and feel for the mobile device and new products like Google Catalogs make it more fun to window shop, as in Internet windows (rimshot).

Home trumped “out and about” and work, which tied as the next most widely purchased from locations.

What mobile users are spending their money on varies. Digital purchases such as eBooks and iTunes songs make up 47 percent of items bought through the mobile phone. Clothing, tickets and daily deals follow in order after digital goods.

[House of mobile cash photo via Shutterstock]

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Dell kills its Streak 7 Android tablet in the U.S.

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 04:01 PM PST

If you’re curious how difficult it is to make a successful Android tablet, ask Dell. The company today announced it is killing off its Streak 7 Android tablet in the U.S., while claiming it will still sell the product through retail partnerships abroad. The 7-inch tablet will no longer be available online at Dell.com, as you can see from the screenshot below.

“Mobility products typically have shorter lifecycles than laptops and desktops,” a representative for Dell told VentureBeat. ”We’re looking forward to offering new products and concentrating on expanding our growing mobility solutions portfolio in the future.”

In August the company snuffed its 5-inch 3G tablet model, the Streak 5, because of poor sales. Dell will continue offering the Streak 7 in China and elsewhere, the representative said.

Just how long the Streak tablet line will be available remains an open question. Dell is banking on China as a potentially hot market for its tablets and other mobile devices. In September, the company partnered with Baidu, China’s largest search engine, to make Android handsets and tablets for the world’s fastest-growing mobile market. With this deal, Dell hopes to challenge current market leader Lenovo as well as a surging Apple, whose products are so popular in China they inspire fake Apple Stores.

Android devices are booming in popularity, but it has been notoriously difficult to make an Android tablet a hit. By July 2011, sales of Android tablets had reached the 1 million mark, according to ZDNet, while more than 135 million Android handsets had been activated. Apple has sold more than 40 million iPads since it was released in 2010.

According to Electronista, Dell may be making the switch to creating tablets powered with the Windows Phone 8 operating system, which may make it competitive against Android. Unfortunately, those tablets would not be available until 2012, essentially keeping Dell out of the tablet market until then. The representative for Dell did not comment specifically about any plans to use the Windows mobile operating system, but told VentureBeat its strategy is not tied to any one OS, and in the future it plans to partner with “companies that reinforce and support our vision.”

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Google chairman visits European Commissioner to discuss antitrust allegations

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 03:28 PM PST

Google chairman Eric Schmidt paid a visit to Brussels today to meet with European Commissioner Joaquín Almunia in person.

Google has been prancing in a complicated minuet with the European Commission over its business practices, which some European companies say violate antitrust laws.

While some sources say the EC is getting ready to slap the search giant with a 400-page nastygram, Google is still wearing its poker face and stating it does not expect any formal objections from regulators.

The EC started a wide-ranging investigation of the search giant’s business practices in November 2010. At that time, several parties were alleging that Google was taking unfair advantage of what they called “a dominant position in online search.”

These parties stated that Google was “lowering the search ranking of unpaid search results of competing services” that competed with Google’s own offerings (for example, lowering the ranking of a shopping and product search website while raising the ranking of Google Shopping results). Another allegation is that Google set a lower Quality Score for its competitors’ sponsored links (Quality Scores help the company to set its ad prices; a lower score would mean a lower ad price) and that Google “imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.”

The EC has previously said that although its investigation is quite formal and the allegations quite specifically corresponding to EU laws, “This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of any infringements. It only signifies that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority.”

So far, Google has already turned over thousand of documents in compliance with the investigation.

Some sources, such as the Financial Times, are reporting that the EC’s investigation is about to yield a formal statement of objection, which would significantly escalate the import of the proceedings.

However, to date, Google has had no clear indication that a statement of objection is forthcoming.

A Googler told us that Schmidt’s visit with the Commissioner was “uneventful.”

“We frequently meet with policy makers and regulators around the world. We’re always happy to discuss issues affecting our industry and explain how our business works,” the company said in an official statement.

Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell.

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Carrier IQ now under scrutiny from officials in Germany & UK

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 02:02 PM PST

Carrier IQ, a mobile data-tracking company that can best be described as woefully beleaguered, is now being scrutinized for its business practices by international officials as well as lawmakers inside the United States.

In an interview with VentureBeat, the company stated that the growing privacy concerns are overblown, and welcomed the scrutiny.

San Mateo, Calif.-based Carrier IQ tracks consumers’ cell phone activity, allegedly down to the keystroke, and renders the data usable by mobile carriers and manufacturers. This information is used, say the companies involved, to improve cell coverage, app reliability and battery life.

But others say the software and those who use it violate consumers’ privacy.

The most recent entity to join those aforementioned others is the Bavarian State Office for Data Protection, which just sent a letter to Apple regarding that company’s use of the Carrier IQ software.

These concerns around Carrier IQ’s software were also present in a recent statement from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office. The ICO also plans to make inquiries into mobile carriers’ use of Carrier IQ.

In a statement, an ICO official said, “Being open and up-front with customers about how their personal data is being used is fundamental to maintaining their trust. It is obviously also vital that mobile manufacturers and operators comply with the Data Protection Act.”

Stateside, Senator Al Franken has written letters to both Carrier IQ and several mobile carriers to express his concern over what data is being gathered and how it is being used.

We’ve reached out to Sen. Franken’s office and will keep you updated on the status of his inquiries.

The Carrier IQ brouhaha started when blogger/developer Trevor Eckhart showed a video of Carrier IQ software logging his keystrokes. Eckhart said the software was capable of collecting phone numbers, text messages, web searches, emails — just about any keystroke a user entered on the phone.

As of a year and a half ago, the low-level software was installed on at least 90 million mobile devices around the world.

However, in a recent email exchange with Carrier IQ, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat that Eckhart’s claims were overblown and incorrect, regardless of the video.

“These are diagnostic short codes available for users to dial which cause a mobile device to take specific actions such as upload diagnostics information or check into the servers for updates,” she wrote. “The [Carrier IQ] agent listens for these short codes only.”

The spokesperson also acknowledged that while Carrier IQ collects the data, it’s up to carriers and manufacturers to decide what data they need and what data to use.

“To our knowledge, the data gathered using Carrier IQ software is used only for diagnostics purposes,” she said.

“While there may be additional uses for this diagnostics data, operators well understand the privacy concerns that might come from doing so.”

As for the inquiries from Franken, Bavaria and the ICO, the rep said, “Of course we will comply with all domestic and foreign regulators. We truly have nothing to hide.”

Also, as of Friday, there are not one but two class-action lawsuits against Carrier IQ and the carriers and manufacturers that use it.

While we’re happy to say that Carrier IQ and other companies that perform the same functions can and should be questioned carefully about their respect for user privacy, we’re also noticing a rapid escalation of consumer and lawmaker response to the situation — a response that’s asking some of the right people some of the right questions but rarely waiting for answers.

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Gree shows off its global social gaming platform

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 02:00 PM PST

Eager to compete with rival DeNA, Japan’s Gree has just released new details on its global social gaming platform. The borderless system will give users a single sign-on so they can play games on the network wherever they are and regardless of phone.

The platform won’t be available until the second quarter of 2012, well behind DeNA/Ngmoco’s currently available Mobage platform. For developers, the system will give game makers a target platform to build free-to-play games that can use Gree’s global payment solution and out-of-network cross-promotional opportunities. The idea is to create a social mobile game platform that makes it easier for games to be discovered and spread in a viral fashion. Gree can give developers access to a network with more than 150 million registered gamers around the world.

Gree will make the software development kit available for both iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and Android games.

"This new Gree platform continues to show the commitment we have to building a truly global, free-to-play ecosystem for mobile developers. Our goal is to offer the best social gaming experience to players around the world," said Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief executive and founder of Gree. "Gree worldwide has the largest cross-platform network and this is a step closer to our goal of reaching one billion users."

The SDK will have seamless cross-platform integration and analytics tools. Gree will launch an app discovery portal with new social tools. Users will be able to access features such as leaderboards and achievements.

Available in Q2 of 2012, the new platform will provide developers worldwide with a seamless iOS and Android integration process, as well as rich analytics tools. The unified iOS and Android APIs and app discovery portal will offer games with the next generation of social tools and interaction, and continue to provide all of the most popular gaming features such as leaderboards and achievements. Gree acquired OpenFeint in April 2011 and it offers more than 7,500 games for smartphones.

Gree has been growing fast. Between 2008 and 2010 Gree claims to have seen its sales growth rate increase by more than 4,000 percent. It has 26 million registered users in Japan and, thanks to its acquisition of OpenFeint in April 2011, now boasts 145 million users worldwide. After the announcement of the $104 million acquisition, the two companies explained that they would be creating "a global ecosystem of distribution channels for game developers."

In addition to OpenFeint, which is a wholly owned subsidiary, Gree also has partnership agreements with two very popular social networks in Asia. In April, Gree announced a partnership with Project Goth, the company behind Mig33, a mobile social network with 47 million users worldwide, but with a particular focus on emerging markets like South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.


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Check out Samsung’s transparent and flexible concept tablet (video)

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 12:49 PM PST

Samsung has posted a video demonstrating a rather mind-blowing new concept tablet featuring a fully flexible AMOLED display.

You can see through it, bend it, fold it and roll it up — and of course, you can use it to read books, browse the web, take pictures and watch videos.

Granted, the video above is replete with special effects to show off as-yet unavailable-to-consumers technology. However, we’ve seen Samsung making big investments in flexible screens, and the video above lines up with demos we saw earlier this year:

At the beginning of 2011, Samsung acquired Liquivista, a company specializing in the kind of clear, uber-bendy displays you’re seeing above. The smaller firm used techniques called electrowetting to create displays that are bright, low-power, flexible and transparent.

So when can you start putting these futuristic gadgets on your wish list?

Sadly, that’s not a question we can answer at the moment, but we’d say you’ll be seeing flexi-screens long before jetpacks take off. In fact, flexible screen technology was on Samsung’s list of mobile trends to watch back in March, when Yongsuk Choi, director of Samsung Mobile Display, gave an overview of the company’s future mobile device plans.

Still, at that time, Choi stated that most of the flexible-display technology his company was working on was still in very early stages.

In October, Samsung passed Apple as the top smartphone manufacturer. The company shipped 27.8 million smartphones in Q3 2011. Altogether, Samsung’s current share of the smartphone market is 23.8 percent, largely due to its successes on the Android platform.

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GainSpan nabs $18M from Intel, NVP, Sigma, Opus to develop next-gen Wi-Fi chips

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 12:12 PM PST

gainspanChip developer GainSpan has raised a new $18 million round of funding to help the company create the next generation of ultra-low-power Wi-Fi chips.

GainSpan’s goal is to create incredibly low-power Wi-Fi modules and drivers that are suitable for all kinds of devices, including household appliances. On top of creating hardware, the company also develops embedded Wi-Fi software. The five markets the company said it focuses on are: healthcare and fitness, smart energy, industrial control, commercial/building automation and consumer home.

The new funding round was led by existing investors Sigma Partners, Opus Capital, New Venture Partners and Intel Capital. New investors Hatteras Funds and Mobile Internet Capital participated along with prior investors In-Q-Tel and Camp Ventures.

“Being able to attract such world-class companies is the ultimate seal of approval that we are in the right place at the right time with the right solution,” said Greg Winner, President and CEO of GainSpan, in a statement. “While the debate over what wireless technology works best will continue, it’s hard to argue with powerful financial backers, real customers and proven, innovative products in a hot market.”

San Jose, Calif.-based GainSpan was founded in 2006 and maintains a research and development team in India. With the new funding, the company has raised about $56 million, including a $5 million investment back in November 2010.

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Calling all startup CEOs: What matters most in choosing a VC?

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 12:05 PM PST

Dorsey & WhitneyThis post is sponsored by Dorsey & Whitney.

The investment landscape continues to go through a prolonged roller coaster ride this year, and we’ve seen the IPO window open and narrow on almost a weekly basis. Despite the mercurial ride, investors infused $7.9B in 790 firms in Q3, setting the investing pace on the best trajectory we've seen in the last decade.

Many entrepreneurs are also facing an uphill climb because while VCs are still investing in startups, they are doing so with far more caution and discretion. On the bright side, the micro and early-stage VC market continues to attract new money and announce new funds, providing entrepreneurs with an attractive avenue for capital.

From an entrepreneur's standpoint, deal terms like valuation, dilution, liquidation preference and control rights continue to be important elements in getting a deal closed. But beyond that, we'd like to know: what else is important to you when you're doing a deal? For example:

  • VCs with hands-on startup CEO experience: Some argue that VCs should be battle-tested as a CEO in running their own startup in order to acquire the skills and insight necessary to provide real value to portfolio companies. What do you think?
  • Specialists in their space: As entrepreneurs remain nimble and opportunistic, they are also seeking investors who have a deep understanding of their competitors, customers, and technology. These investors can become real strategic assets in meeting new customers and gaining competitive insight.

What's your opinion on raising funds in this current environment? We invite CEOs to participate in our "Calling all CEOs: 2011 Fundraising Survey."

It's just a few questions (and should take you less than five minutes). As a thank you for participating, you'll receive a copy of the survey results as well as a chance to win an iPad 2!

Take the survey here.

This post was written by By Ted Hollifield, Partner at Dorsey & Whitney, a corporate international law firm with a strong focus on technology-based startups and venture capital. Ted is a partner in the Palo Alto office. He specializes in corporate and securities law with an emphasis on representing startup companies, venture capital and angel financings, public offerings and IPOs, as well as mergers and acquisitions.

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Facebook may beat Google to adding iOS supported video chat

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 11:56 AM PST

Facebook mobile video chatFacebook’s Messenger application may be adding video chat features, according to a rumor on Italian technology blog iPhoneItalia.

The blog’s source is reporting that Facebook has released a beta test of the new video feature to developers only. The rumor has some credibility since the same source previously said Facebook was planning to let users of its Messenger app chat with friends outside of the social network — a feature which has since been released.

The source grabbed rough screenshots showing the beginnings of a video chat feature, which can be seen to the right. The screenshots look too doctored to put much stock in them, but we can’t immediately rule out the possibility of a Facebook mobile video chat. In fact, it makes sense.

The social-media company’s desktop client already allows for video chatting, and many other companies are still interested in mobile video chat, including Skype, Tango and Google. Google’s social network Google+ has its own popular video chat function, Hangouts. Hangouts allows you to video chat with multiple people at one time for free through the social network. Since launching its Android app, Google+ has supported mobile video chat, but is still unavailable on iOS devices.

If this feature is legitimate, it will be a win for Facebook over Google+’s Hangouts. The source said the chat function will be released on the iPhone 4 and 4S, with no word on other device compatibility.

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GitHub acquires Ordered List, adopts its pretty product lineup

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 11:47 AM PST

Code host GitHub has acquired dev shop Ordered List, hired all its employees and adopted the company’s entire product line as its own.

It’s just a love-fest out there today, people.

And given the developer-focused products Ordered List makes (and the modern-web aesthetic of its design staff), the company seems like a pretty good fit for GitHub, a popular code-hosting and collaboration service unparalleled in popularity amongst developers, especially those of the open-source stripe.

“We’ve been fans of the team for a long time and are constantly inspired by their products, people, culture, and philosophy,” GitHub founder Chris Wanstrath writes today in a post on the company blog.

On the Ordered List blog, founder and CEO Steve Smith writes, “We truly believe that GitHub is one of the best software companies in the world. … We'll be working solely on our products and new challenges at GitHub. Our team will stay together as a unit, continuing to build great software.”

As far as products are concerned, all Ordered List offerings will now be GitHub’s own. The lineup includes Harmony, a system for website creation and management; Speaker Deck, an app for sharing and embedding slide presentations; and Gauges, an analytics system.

New-as-of-today GitHub employees include Smith, Ruby monster John Nunemaker, Jonathan Hoyt, Brandon Keepers and Matt Graham. All of the Ordered List additions hail from and currently reside in Indiana or Michigan.

“We can’t imagine a better group of people to join forces with,” Wanstrath writes. “We’re proud to call their products our own and are incredibly excited about our future together.”

DevBeatCheck out DevBeat, VentureBeat’s brand new channel specifically for developers. The channel will break relevant news and provide insightful commentary aimed to assist developers. DevBeat is sponsored by the Intel AppUp developer program.

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Motorola & Verizon launching two Android tablets in time for holiday shopping

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 11:19 AM PST

Two new tablets are joining the Motorola/Verizon Droid lineup in time for holiday shopping.

The tablets will both be called Xyboard, a punny name that plays well off the current heavy-on-robotics Droid marketing.

One model will apparently feature an 8.2-inch screen, and the other will feature a larger 10.1-inch screen. Both will have 4G LTE connectivity, as noted in a Verizon press release today.

Sadly, few other specs about the tablets have been confirmed. We’re especially interested to know whether the Xyboards will be running Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich, the one-size-fits-all version of Android intended to run on both smartphones and tablets (as well as just about any other connected device).

While Android tablets are still nowhere near market dominance, they are slowly chipping away at the iPad’s market share. As of August 2011, Android tablets held around 20 percent of the tablet market globally.

However, this holiday shopping season in particular, the heavyweight, high-powered tablets in the Android spectrum are also up against a slate of low-cost touchscreen ereader-tablet hybrids. These units, exemplified by Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet, pack a powerful punch that includes games, apps, full-color screens, email, web browsing and (incidentally) ebooks.

Most of the hybrids retail for around $200, and they fit the bill for all but the most graphics-intensive users.

We’ll see where the Xyboards and other Android units fall on the collective holiday wishlist — and whether Android can expand is successful smartphone stake into tablet territory.

Image courtesy of laihui.

Filed under: mobile

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Siemens amps up its smart grid bid with eMeter startup acquisition

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 11:01 AM PST

German electronics giant Siemens has just bought eMeter, a San Mateo-based startup focusing on smart grid technologies for utilities such as power and water.

eMeter, which is led by Veritas CEO and former Oracle executive Gary Bloom, gathers information from two-way meters. The data then travels to utility companies and allows them to make better business decisions, to understand peaks in demand and to read meters automatically.

Consumers can also use the information to find ways to use less energy and lower their bills.

Collectively, the practice of gathering and disseminating energy usage information for greater efficiency and sustainability is known as the smart grid, and it’s been a focus at Siemens of late.

"The acquisition of eMeter will allow Siemens to expand its reach globally in the energy information and meter data management space," said Jan Mrosik, CEO of the Smart Grid Division of the Siemens Infrastructure & Cities Sector, in a statement today.

While Siemens has its own energy division, eMeter’s staff and technology will be part of the company’s Smart Grid division within the Infrastructure & Cities Sector. (As an interesting footnote illustrating Siemens’ scope, this sector alone has 87,000 employees worldwide.)

eMeter has taken a total of $68.8 million over six rounds of institutional funding. JP Morgan advised eMeter in the acquisition.

Filed under: deals, green, VentureBeat

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VentureBeat welcomes Sebastian Haley as lead review writer for GamesBeat

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 11:00 AM PST

As part of our expansion of GamesBeat, we are pleased to announce that VentureBeat has hired Sebastian Haley as lead review writer. If you haven’t noticed, Sebastian has been writing high-quality, witty and critical reviews of the biggest video games of the fall season.

His first freelance review for GamesBeat/VentureBeat was about Batman: Arkham City, where he said Catwoman stole the show in October. Since then, he has written reviews of King of Fighters XIII; The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword; The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; Assassin’s Creed: Revelations; and Battlefield 3.

Sebastian also covered this year’s BlizzCon, several breaking news stories such as the launch issues of Battlefield 3, and has created a starter guide full of tips and tricks for gamers playing Skyrim. He’ll be writing game reviews and producing videos for VentureBeat and helping us turn GamesBeat into a first-class game news and reviews publication. In his reviews, you’ll see a strong dedication to the views of the consumer. Sometimes he leaves the companies and the hardcore fans howling, but his unflinching reviews are always based on a thorough play-through of every aspect of the game. As a result of his thoroughness, Sebastian has an ungodly number of achievement points on Xbox Live.

Sebastian has written for numerous international gaming outlets over the past several years, including the award-winning gamesTM Magazine, Play, Bitmob, and Destructoid, as well as authoring The History of Resident Evil and The History of Halo books for Imagine Publishing. Please join us in welcoming Sebastian to VentureBeat.

Filed under: games

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