07 December, 2011



AT&T confirms LTE 4G headed to NYC this month, expects record sales this quarter

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 09:10 AM PST

htc_vivid_samsung_skyrocket_att_LTENew Yorker City will officially get access to AT&T LTE 4G network this month, in addition to several other new markets, the company announced today.

AT&T also said it expects record sales for its fourth quarter. The company sold 6 million phones in the first two months of the quarter (thanks to the iPhone 4S, of course), which means it will definitely break its current quarterly record of 6.1 million phones.

That’s not too surprising, since AT&T managed to sell a whopping 1 million iPhone 4S units in its first five days available. Altogether, Apple sold 4 million iPhone 4S units in its first weekend, and sales through the quarter are expected to soar well past 25 million. AT&T will definitely make up a big chunk of those sales.

By the end of the year, AT&T says it will have 70 million people in the U.S. covered by its LTE network. The company launched its LTE 4G network in just 5 cities this past September. That meant it had some major catching up do with Verizon’s LTE network, which now covers 186 million people in over 175 cities.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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FindTheBest upgrades with even more visual comparisons of almost everything

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 09:05 AM PST

FindTheBest's ski resort comparison shows rating, vertical feet and skiable acres graphicallyFindTheBest, an information site that lets shoppers compare everything from apartments to dogs to venture capitalists, is unveiling a new design.

The new look, created by design firm KKLD, aims to cut through the sometimes cluttered and text-heavy datasets that are FindTheBest’s bread and butter.

“Like any product, you keep adding new features and new features and it winds up looking like Frankenstein over time,” said founder Kevin O’Connor in an interview at VentureBeat’s offices. The new design is aimed at making comparisons clearer, more iconic, more graphical and easier to understand at a glance.

For example, on smartphone ratings, the comparison grids include colored bars to show how many megapixels the camera has and colored clock circles to show how many hours of talk time the battery is rated for. But on college ratings, the charts show pyramids to indicate how well-rated the college is.

It’s a much more approachable representation of the data than FindTheBest’s previous text-centric tables.

The site is built on a Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP foundation (LAMP) running on Amazon Web Services. The underlying technology took two years and a $2 million investment to build. It is aimed at making it easy to create new comparisons and fill them with relevant data, and O’Connor boasts that his company can now add a new topic in about a week at a cost of $1,000 to $2,000.

The site now includes over 700 different comparisons in nine major categories. Each comparison has its own unique data structure, to facilitate comparisons and filtering that’s relevant to that particular class of products, and the data comes from public sources, researched by FindTheBest’s staff.

FindTheBest’s website now gets 3 million visitors per month, a figure that is growing by about 15 percent each month, the company says. It also syndicates subsets of its data to about 50 partner sites. The company has begun to make money from Google AdSense advertisements and from “Buy Now” buttons connected to Amazon.com and Nextag.

O’Connor claims that 15 percent of the site’s visitors go on to visit, call or e-mail one of the vendors listed in the database, a remarkable click-through rate that bodes well for the company’s future revenue prospects.

FindTheBest has raised $6.76 million to date, including a $6 million Series A round from Kleiner Perkins in July, 2011. The company is based in Santa Barbara, Calif. and New York.

O’Connor sold his previous startup, ad network DoubleClick, to Google in 2007 for $3.1 billion.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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NYC companies: Get feedback from VentureBeat and RRE Ventures (Reprise)

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 09:04 AM PST

If you're based in New York and looking to launch your next big tech product soon, join me for a private feedback session in a couple weeks on December 13 with one of the city's most respected venture capital groups, RRE Ventures.

VentureBeat is on a world tour, going country-to-country looking for exciting products. We’re looking for great stories to write about, of course. But we’re also on the prowl to find companies we want to invite to launch at the upcoming DEMO conference, held on April 17-19 in Silicon Valley. I’ve just been to London and Istanbul, and now I’m doing the U.S.A.

This New York session will give your company a great opportunity pitch to, and receive friendly feedback from, a few RRE partners and myself, no strings attached. Then, if it makes sense to talk about launching at DEMO, we’ll introduce you to key members of the DEMO due diligence team.

For 21 years, DEMO has proven to be an incredible launch platform for startups, fast-growth mid-sized companies, and even large-cap publicly traded companies to show off their new tech products to an influential media audience.

The DEMO scholarship program, which effectively makes DEMO free for most early stage companies, and many mid-sized ones, was a big success in the Fall when we introduced it. We’re keeping that program permanent. This way, we can continue to invite the very best companies bar none.

Over the years, names such as Google, Sun, Skype, Adobe, Palm, Netscape, Salesforce, E*Trade, TiVo, WebEx, Fusion-io (recently IPO’d), HP, SuccessFactors (just got bought for $3.4 billion) and many other hugely successful names in tech have launched some of their early products at DEMO. Now it’s your turn.

If you are interested in presenting your company on December 13 at the RRE offices in Manhattan, please fill out this form. If you are chosen, we will get in touch immediately to provide further details and instructions.

We look forward to seeing you in New York!

Filed under: DEMO, Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Verizon launching a Netflix streaming competitor in 2012

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 08:54 AM PST

Verizon Netflix competitor

While Netflix is the leader among streaming video services, the company may face some additional competition in 2012 from cable TV and wireless service provider Verizon.

Verizon is currently in the planning stages for a new streaming video on demand service that will focus primarily on movies and children’s programming, according to a Reuters report that cites unnamed people familiar with the matter.

While details about Verizon’s plans are scarce, it’s likely that the company will go after streaming media rights from Epix. Previously, Epix signed an agreement with Netflix to allow films from Paramount Pictures, MGM, and Lionsgate to streaming on its "Watch Instantly" service 90 days after each film is released on DVD. However, the exclusive agreement ends in September 2012, thus allowing Epix to negotiate with other streaming services.

As more consumers turn to streaming options as their preferred method for watching movies, media companies increasingly see less value in creating exclusive agreements for a single service. A large portion of Netflix’s streaming movie library is also available on Amazon’s Prime Instant service, while its television content library mirrors the ad-supported Hulu service.

Verizon plans to roll out its new streaming service, which is intended to test the waters, in markets that don’t offer the company’s FiOS cable and internet service, according to the Reuters report.

For Verizon, I definitely see the value in creating a Netflix streaming competitor. The company undoubtedly wants to leverage existing FiOS partnerships with media companies to extend service on the web. Verizon is also keenly aware that more people are turning to the web for their video consumption every day. And while it might make business sense, I’m not sure the service will be any good.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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PopCap splits mobile Bejeweled Blitz into separate products to embrace freemium model

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 08:48 AM PST

PopCap is moving to unbundle two different mobile branches of its incredibly popular gem-matching game franchise Bejeweled, splitting the quick-to-play Bejeweled Blitz into a free download separate from the more freeform core game, which will remain pay-to-play.

It shows that, while under the new ownership of Electronic Arts, PopCap is adjusting to the changing popularity of business models. More games are moving toward free-to-play, where users play for free and pay real money in small amounts for virtual goods.

The two games were previously offered as different modes in a unified “Bejeweled 2 + Blitz” download on Apple’s iOS app Store, which was usually sold for 99 cents. The separation, being rolled out today, brings Blitz’s mobile business model more in line with the free-to-play Facebook version, which makes money by selling optional in-game “boost” items to over 2.5 million daily players blitzing through the game’s trademark 60 second bursts.

The mobile version of Blitz, PopCap’s first mobile freemium title, uses Facebook Connect to let players compare scores with friends, and offers a new interface and tutorial system over the previous mobile offering. EA offered a similar split strategy last week with The Sims. The Sims 3 will remain a premium purchase game, while EA will launch The Sims FreePlay with a free-to-play model.

Meanwhile, PopCap will be retiring the best-selling iOS version of Bejeweled 2 in favor of a new version, selling for 99 cents, that includes improved graphics, game modes and achievements.

PopCap says it has sold 40 million copies of the Bejeweled franchise on mobile platforms, putting it second only to the mobile version of Tetris, which is also controlled by PopCap parent EA.

Filed under: games

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Here’s what Apple’s new campus will look like, according to Apple’s full renderings

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 08:35 AM PST

Cupertino City Council has posted renderings for Apple’s new campus to its website.

Steve Jobs himself submitted these renderings to the Cupertino City Council before his death in early October this year.

The new campus, which is being build on a site that had previously been abandoned by HP, is set up to accommodate up to 13,000 employees in a ring-shaped, four-story building set in a lush landscape of grasses, trees and wildflowers.

The space will also include a large restaurant, an auditorium that seats 1,000 people, and research facilities taking up around 300,000 square feet. Altogether, the facility is 2.8 million square feet on a 250 plot.

As Jobs said to biographer Walter Isaacson, he intended the building and its grounds to be “a signature campus that expresses the values of the company for generations."

Here is Jobs making his presentation to the city council:

The city’s response has been nothing but positive to date.

"There is no chance that we're saying no," said Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong as the first spaceship-reminiscent renderings made the rounds. "The Mothership has landed in Cupertino."

Construction could be competed as soon as 2015.

If you’d like to take a look at the renderings yourself, we’ve uploaded that PDF to Scribd (see below). For more detailed plans and drawings and other information, you can check out huge PDFs for the proposal’s introduction, site plan and landscaping and floor plans.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Best Buy and Hooked Media hold contest to find best Android game developers

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

Best Buy and Hooked Media have launched a competition to find the best Android mobile game developers, and VentureBeat is helping out. The Get Discovered! competition will give the winner and finalists distribution on mobile platforms, media recognition and seed funding from Trinity Ventures.

The point of the contest is to find talented developers, who are a scarce commodity these days as competition in the mobile gaming market heats up. Contests of all kinds are emerging as one way that big companies and venture firms try to find the next Angry Birds. Also, as the number of games available on the Android Market soars past 200,000, discovery is becoming a key issue for developers too

The winner will also receive a $5,000 online ad package from VentureBeat.

The competition is open to all game developers, who submit their games by first integrating with Hooked Media‘s discovery platform. During the first part of the competition, the platform will track metrics including user rating, play time, and installations based on recommendations. The metrics will be used to determine the finalists. Then the judges will analyze the finalists.

The judges will be Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product for, Google+; Gus Tai, General Partner at Trinity Ventures; Dean Takahashi (yes, that’s me), lead writer for GamesBeat at VentureBeat; and Margita Labhard, Director of Digital Business Models at Best Buy.

Hooked Media’s platform helps developers increase their game plays and gamers can use it to find new games based on their actual gaming preferences. Semi-finalists will get distribution from Best Buy. Developers can submit their games from now until Jan. 24, 2012. The judging period will run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24, and the competition will culminate in an event at Dolores Labs in San Francisco in March 2012.

Filed under: games, mobile

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“Hello” and “Food” apps let Evernote remember faces and meals on the go

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 07:59 AM PST

In its grand quest to help you remember just about everything, note-taking startup Evernote today launched two free new iPhone apps, “Food” and “Hello,” which will let you better keep track of great meals and people, respectively.

Both apps are still tied to the existing Evernote service — entries are synchronized and viewable from any device that can access Evernote — but they offer useful bits of functionality suited specifically to their purposes.

Evernote Hello, for example, is built around your encounters with new people. The app taps into the way our brains naturally remember people by focusing on faces, time, and context. It certainly sounds more useful than just trading business cards with people you’ve just met, especially for people who typically have trouble remembering new faces, like this reporter.

Instead of a boring list of contact info, the Hello app displays an attractive list of faces. To add a new person to the app, you can either hand over your phone to let the person take a photo (using your phone’s front-facing camera) and add in their contact information, or take a photo and add in the details on your own. The app takes four quick photos of the person, which it uses to create simple animations on its home screen.

Once on the app, you can add an Encounter with the person, which basically is a quick note of when and where you met up. The Hello app is smart enough to display relevant notes from Evernote or the Food app when viewing particular contacts, Evernote says.

I love the concept of the Hello app, though it’s certainly going to be a bit awkward to take photos of people you’ve just met. It may be a bit more efficient, and less awkward, for Evernote to implement contact sharing technology similar to what Bump offers, which lets you trade profiles with people by holding your phones near each other. Still, I can see the value in Evernote’s approach, since it doesn’t require other people you’ve met to set up the app, or even have smartphones.

The Evernote Food app takes a similar approach to charting the meals you’ve had with friends and family. You can create individual meal entries, take photos and notes, and also easily share entries to Twitter and Facebook. It sounds particularly useful for keeping track of new recipes, or documenting a foodie road trip.

While you can access entries from both apps in Evernote’s desktop and web version, you won’t be able to change any data outside of the apps. Eventually, Evernote will likely open up the ability to edit those entries outside of the apps.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Flipboard iPhone app launch takes down entire service

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 07:58 AM PST


After last night’s highly anticipated launch of the Flipboard news reading app for iPhone, the entire Flipboard service has been taken down. In a tweet posted to the offical Flipboard Twitter account, the team admitted that the company’s service has been knocked out from “high demand” and it is “working to resolve the issue as soon as possible.”

Flipboard first gained traction on the iPad because it was a fantastically designed news reader that incorporated social media sites and most importantly, it was free. Over time, it has evolved to include magazine-quality advertising and the ability to include multiple accounts on a single device.

The launch on the iPhone is a big step for the company, which has garnered $60.5 million in funding to date. But the launch appears to be simply too popular for Flipboard’s servers to handle. It’s unfortunate timing for a company that faces steep competition from the likes of Zite, Yahoo’s Livestand and AOL’s Editions.

We will update as soon as we hear more.

Filed under: media, mobile

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Sean Parker invests in online concert startup StageIt

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 07:47 AM PST

As if his involvement with Napster and Spotify wasn’t enough to shake up the music industry, Sean Parker has invested into music startup StageIt, according to a BusinessInsider report.

StageIt is basically an online platform for live concerts. The company aims to help music artists monetize their live shows by focusing on a truly live experience — meaning the concerts aren’t recorded and/or archived for later viewing. Founder Evan Lowenstein launched the company with the idea that people will pay for a unique experience.

The amount of Parker’s investment is currently unknown. Neither Parker or StageIt has confirmed the news, but it does make sense.

While this is his first attempt to shake up the live music space, Parker has a long history of disrupting the music industry’s business model. in the ’90s by co-creating the peer-to-peer file sharing network Napster. More recently, he’s been a prominent investor in streaming music startup Spotify.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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The Last Guardian exec producer quits Sony for social gaming developer Bossa Studios

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 07:30 AM PST

The executive producer of delayed Playstation 3 exclusive, The Last Guardian, has left Sony to become creative director at Bossa Studios, the developer behind Facebook game Monstermind.

Yoshifusa Hayama, who also held the position of vice president at Sony Computer Entertainment for four years, explained the reason behind his move into social gaming: "The future of gaming is definitely online and thanks to recent developments with Flash 11, there is no reason why a social game can no longer be as visually stunning and as compelling as the big console titles."

London-based Bossa Studios was acquired by Shine Group, owned by media conglomerate News Corporation, in September 2011. The developer's first title, Monstermind, is in the spirit of the 80's arcade hit Rampage, and allows Facebook users to lay waste to each other's towns, using a variety of movie-style monsters.

Hayama has spoken positively about the future of Bossa Studios, saying "together at Bossa we have plans to bring a plethora of games to Facebook and eventually other appropriate social media channels, which include 3D elements and can be enjoyed by all age and interest groups.”

The Last Guardian is the latest project by Team Ico, the developers behind classic Playstation 2 games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Originally due to hit stores this year, the game has been hit by a number of delays, leaving it with an unspecified release date. This latest set back comes a week after creator Fumito Ueda reportedly also left Sony, to continue working on the title in a freelance capacity, and casts doubts on the future of the AAA game.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Dylan’s Desk: Pick up the phone now! Supercomputers are standing by

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 07:15 AM PST

Code-breaking computer, the Bombe, used in World War II

If anyone doubted the potential of the cloud, SAP‘s $3.4 billion acquisition of employee performance management company SuccessFactors makes it clear that there’s some hard economic reality to all this fluffy, jargony cloud business.

It could be overhyped — and a 50 percent premium over the pioneering cloud company’s market value is a pretty steep price — but an exit of that size is going to make a lot of people sit up and take notice.

Never mind that SAP announced the deal on a Saturday (seriously? don’t people have weekends in Germany?), or that it could, as it’s done with previous acquisitions, wind up burying SuccessFactors in the gigantic edifice of software and overpriced services that is SAP. But let’s be optimistic and assume that this is a smart acquisition. It’s SAP’s first big play in cloud services, and a first step away from the software- and server-centric model that has been so lucrative for SAP for decades.

(Anyway, any company that can get away with charging Hershey’s $115 million for a botched enterprise resource planning deployment — nearly ruining Halloween — is practically bombproof. SAP has also made hundreds of millions of dollars selling software to the U.S. military and the IRS. This company is going to do just fine.)

But it’s not just dollars that make the cloud interesting. In reality, the so-called cloud is simply the back side of the mobile revolution. It’s the Internet-connected computing power that makes it possible for Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, to answer any question you might want to ask (well, almost any question). Without cloud computing, you couldn’t get Google Maps on your Android phone to tell you how to navigate to your destination. Cloud computing lets you use Dropbox to turn your iPad, with its measly 16GB of storage, into a portal to all the digital goods you own.

In short, nothing mobile would be worth much without a massive pile of infrastructure off in the Internet somewhere.

And that means that a surprising and wonderful side effect of moving from servers and software to cloud-based services is that you suddenly open up possibilities for people to use gadgets they actually like.

RehabCare Group, a physical therapy provider with more than 9,000 employees, switched much of its IT infrastructure to cloud-based services recently, enabling the company to replace mobile devices with Apple iPhones and iPads. It then saw a mind-blowing 92 percent reduction in broken devices.

I suspect the reduction was because employees were no longer hurling their outmoded Windows Mobile and BlackBerry phones against the wall in frustration, but perhaps it’s simply that the more locked-down iOS environment helps keep users from messing up their phones too much. Whatever the reason, that’s a shocking benefit. Its one that was driven from the top down, too, not by the IT department.

"When the CEO got an iPhone — that was the changing point," said the company’s chief information officer. "[The CEO] said that it was the easiest-to-use computer that's ever been created, and that nobody had to teach him how to use it."

CEOs — and their egos — are driving adoption of iPads in other companies. "The tablet is corporate bling for executives," Forbes contributor Tom Taulli said during another CloudBeat panel discussion. "When you get the ego going, you can sell a lot of software in the organization."

Want to give your CEO an iPad? You probably also need web-based applications so she can do something with the tablet besides play Infinity Blade II. And that’s where the cloud comes in.

Of course, it helps that our mobile devices have unheard-of amounts of computing power. As Michio Kaku wrote in his book, Physics of the Future, a musical greeting card has more computational power in its tiny, disposable chip than all of the Allied forces commanded in 1945. A cellphone has more processing power than NASA had in 1969, and the PlayStation 3, which costs $300, has computing power comparable to a multi-million-dollar military supercomputer in 1997.

Kaku’s book came out in March, so those analogies are probably already obsolete by now.

“The old paradigm (a single chip inside a desktop computer or laptop connected to a computer) is being replaced by a new paradigm (thousands of chips scattered inside every artifact, such as furniture, appliances, pictures, walls, cars and clothes, all talking to one another and connected to the Internet,” Kaku wrote. “The destiny of computers is to become invisible.”

Of course, the Allied forces used their computing power to decrypt Enigma and defeat the Nazis, while your greeting card is playing “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” And in 1969 NASA was using its computers to put a man on the effing moon, while your smartphone gets used primarily to post updates to Twitter.

And what are we using the historically unprecedented and nearly limitless computing power of the cloud for?

Reconnecting with high school crushes on Facebook and watching Glee on Hulu, mostly.

But I’m sure we’ll find something useful to do with all that power in 2012.

Top photo: This U.S. Navy “bombe” was one of many computers used to decrypt German military communiqués. It was much too large to fit inside a greeting card. Image source: J. Brew/Flickr.

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Filed under: cloud, mobile

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Major 3DS update goes live — adds 3D video recording and other nifty features

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 06:49 AM PST

While the XBox dashboard update is grabbing all the headlines, Nintendo has quietly updated the firmware for its 3DS console, meaning that users will now be able to capture up to ten minutes of 3D video and make stop-motion animations.

This major update has also introduced 'accomplishments' to the device, the closest that Nintendo has yet come to offering Xbox-like achievements.

The update, which is now available directly through your 3DS console, adds new puzzles to the StreetPass Mii Plaza, along with a new dungeon for the StreetPass Quest game. These games are part of the unique Street Pass functionality of the 3DS, that allows users to share Miis and profile information as they pass each other on the street.

The 'accomplishments', added in this update, all relate directly to the Mii Plaza, and include 'meet Mii characters from ten countries' and 'receive a personal greeting'. Given Nintendo's previously reported scepticism about the value of achievements in games, it may be that these accomplishments will not spread beyond the Mii Plaza. But Nintendo is is renowned for springing surprises on its customer base, so nothing is for certain.

Another key feature of this update is the ability to transfer content, including software from the Nintendo eShop, account funds and save data, to a new 3DS console. Nintendo details this process on its support site, and users will no doubt be pleased to see this more flexible approach being taken, especially given the content locking that was seen on the DSi . There are some restrictions to the 3DS  transfer process – up to five transfers are permitted in total and there will be a waiting period applied between each transfer. In addition, content can't be exchanged between systems with different region or country settings.

If you have a 3DS, then it should automatically request an update to this new firmware. If it doesn't, then you can follow the procedure to perform a system update, as outlined on Nintendo's support site.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Makers of Android keyboard SwiftKey get $2.4M for language technology

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 06:05 AM PST

TouchType founders Jon Reynolds, CEO, and Dr Ben Medlock, CTO

TouchType Ltd., which makes a clever keyboard app for Android phones, is poised on the verge of expansion.

The London-based company raised a $2.4 million round of funding led by Octopus Investments, it announced today.

TouchType’s app, SwiftKey X, replaces the default on-screen keyboard with a customized one that has better predictive capabilities about what you’re going to type next.

The underlying technology, which the company calls Fluency, is based on linguistic analysis of millions of web pages to provide more accurate and longer-range predictions than most software keyboards, and it’s this technology that the company is staking its future growth on.

“It’s not an app business, fundamentally it’s a language technology business,” says cofounder and chief technical officer Ben Medlock, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We wanted to approach this as a generic problem: How do we model the way people transfer their thoughts into their mobile devices? So we built the engine around that concept … so whatever platform you’re talking about, it’s fundamentally the same problem.”

As an Android app, it’s uncannily accurate, which has recently helped push it into the number one spot among paid apps in the Android Market. For instance, if you type “a” it might auto-suggest the word “are.” Select “are” and it will suggest “you,” followed by “looking,” then “for.” Pretty soon, you’ve typed an entire sentence with only a few keystrokes and your Twitter followers all know exactly what you’re looking for. (Hopefully the sentence is what you meant to say — but if you are excessively reliant on autocomplete, the onus is on you, not SwiftKey.) The company says its app has saved its customers more than 20 billion keystrokes to date.

“Android has been an incredible distribution network,” said co-founder and chief executive Jon Reynolds, because of the large number of consumer devices running the OS and also because almost every major phone manufacturer is now making Android devices.

SwiftKey also optionally analyzes your own linguistic tics, by looking at your emails and Twitter updates, to hone its predictions just for you.

The company plans on using the funds to continue enhancing the core linguistic technology, adapting it to new languages and perhaps job-specific functions (a version for doctors, another one for lawyers, perhaps). It also hopes to license this technology to the makers of phones and mobile operating systems. While only Android allows customers to replace the default keyboard by installing an app, other manufacturers might be interested in integrating the core TouchType technology into their products. TouchType also plans expand its presence in the U.S. and Asia, a move that ought to help it forge relationships with potential OS and OEM customers.

TouchType has about 30 employees and has been generating revenue from sales of its apps since 2010. This is the company’s Series A round, following a seed round of about $1.2 million in August, 2010.

Photo: TouchType founders Jon Reynolds, CEO, and Dr Ben Medlock, CTO. Photo courtesy TouchType.

Filed under: deals, mobile

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Twilio is going international, now it has $17M to spend on souvenirs (and new hires)

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 04:30 AM PST


Twilio is ready to get some new stamps on its passport. The company is rapidly expanding internationally as it takes on a $17 million third round of funding, led by Bessemer Venture Partners and Union Square Ventures.

Twilio provides application programming interfaces (APIs) for developers to use to access telecommunications channels. In October, the company made its official move to the United Kingdom and has since had it’s eyes on its next 20 European countries. Jeff Lawson, the company’s chief executive officer says one the biggest queries Twilio receives from its developer community is “when will Twilio be in my country?”

“We launched the company on this notion that we should open up communications,” said Lawson in an interview with VentureBeat. “Our general goal is to make a product that works wherever our customers are.”

One of the main benefits of using Twilio is being able to choose telephone numbers from anywhere in the US to use as customer service hubs, political telephone lines, and other communication needs. Expanding into new countries means developers and companies everywhere can choose numbers not just from the United States, but those countries as well. Currently, the company has rolled out its complete offerings in the UK and the US and have Poland, France, Portugal, Austria and Denmark in a public beta.

Other than being able to choose and use telephone numbers from different countries, having these places be Twilio ready means a cohesive way to communicate across borders. Anyone who has traveled internationally knows that it’s a pain to have to plan for communication, either paying out the nose for international fees, or buying a whole cell phone used just for that period of travel. Texting between countries has also been a pain for many, as different carriers have different text message fee requirements. Twilio currently has an international SMS product in beta, which will make it easy for developers to incorporate text communication between multiple countries. Lawson expects the product will launch in the coming months.

Twilio is also using the funding to hire, as the company is expanding rapidly in its new location. Bessemer Venture Partners and Union Square Ventures both sit on Twilio’s board now. The company’s APIs are used by Salesforce, Airbnb, LinkedIn and Zendesk, whose relationship with Twilio is very close, including shared visions of expanding internationally.


Filed under: cloud, deals, dev, VentureBeat

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Kabam to launch The Godfather: Five Families social game exclusively on Google+

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 03:00 AM PST

In a jab at Facebook in social games, Google and Kabam are announcing that The Godfather: Five Families will be exclusively available on the Google+ social network for 45 days.

The Godfather title is a major game for both Kabam, which makes hardcore social games mostly for Facebook, and for Google, which needs to get exclusive titles to attract gamers to its fledgling game section on its social network. Google is well aware that games are the No. 1 application on Facebook, and it needs to build some high-traffic apps in order to mount a credible challenge to Facebook, which has many times more users at the moment.

The Godfather: Five Families is also Kabam’s first major licensed game. It gives Kabam more credibility as a major game maker and a chance to set itself apart with a major movie franchise in a crowded social gaming field. Kabam’s games are aimed at hardcore social gamers who play six or seven days a week for hours at a time. The launch is an important one for Kabam since the Redwood City, Calif.-based company has lost millions of players in recent months. Dragons of Atlantis is the company’s biggest game with 1.1 million monthly active users, according to AppData. Overall, Kabam has 2.7 million users, compared to 12.9 million in August.

More recent games such as Edgeworld (available on Google+) and Global Warfare haven’t done as well at attracting and holding on to users on Facebook. So the Godfather game represents a chance to reverse that slide. Of course, while Kabam’s presence on Facebook has been sliding, it has been growing on Google+.

“We’re thrilled that Kabam chose to partner with Google to exclusively offer “The Godfather” before it becomes available on other social platforms,” said Punit Soni, the group product manager who leads the Google+ games team. “The story telling and rich graphics makes for an incredible game-play experience that Google+ users will want to share with the people they play with.”

While Kabam has a tiny base of users compared to Zynga, Kabam’s users tend to spend a lot of money. That is why Kabam was able to attract $125 million in venture capital, including an astounding $85 million in a round that included Google in May.

I’ve had a look at The Godfather on Kabam.com and it is one of Kabam’s prettiest games yet in terms of the art style that captures the Prohibition era preceding the storyline of the Oscar-winning Godfather films. In the game, you create your own crime ring and join a major mafia family in New York City. You battle other clans for money, power and respect. The initial game play is fairly addictive. You start as a low-level gangster and join a big family which can confer unique benefits such as extra income from nightclubs.

The Godfather game is more like a massively multiplayer online game played on a social network. The game lets you take a lot of single-player actions such as building your economic base by adding restaurants, steel mills and cement factories. You can hire thugs, couriers or arsonists. And you can build up your estate and expand your territory throughout the neighborhoods of New York. But the game is social in that you can team up with other players to gain protection against larger factions and attack rivals in concert. You gain rank and power by intimidating and collecting from neighbors while gathering weapons, skills and equipment to fight rivals. The player who earns the most Respect points becomes the Don of the crime family. Larry Koh, general manager of the game, said the family faction group has proven particularly strong in beta testing so far.

It is designed from the ground up as a social game, with multiple layers of communities that reinforce playing as an individual. The stronger each family gets, the more bonuses each player in that family receives. Players can use Google+ Circles (a friend-sharing feature) to get help, information and experiences with their family and crew. The style is a lot different from the cartoon-like Mafia Wars 2 game that Zynga just launched on Google+ and Facebook.

Kabam exclusively licensed the Godfather franchise for social gaming from Paramount Digital Entertainment and partnered with Paramount, the owner of the Godfather films, in developing the storyline and game. While the game has a storyline, it is open-ended so players can create their own destinies.

Google will provide promotional support to maximize the game’s visibility to Google+ users. The title is Kabam’s fourth to launch on Google+, and the titles are exceeding expectations, said Chris Carvalho, chief operating officer of Kabam. Previously, the Godfather game launched on Google’s Chrome web store on Oct. 25 and it has been successful there.


Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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In fundamental breakthrough, SuVolta cuts chip power use by 50 percent

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 12:01 AM PST

Fujitsu revealed today that it has confirmed that startup SuVolta’s PowerShrink technology can cut power consumption in a chip by 50 percent without hurting performance.

Fujitsu Semiconductor, a division of the big Japanese electronics giant, is making the announcement today at the International Electron Devices Meeting for chip designers in Washington D.C. When coupled with other techniques for lowering voltage, the technology can reduce power consumption by 80 percent or more. That’s a fundamental breakthrough, and it’s a rare one, since most venture investments go into applications these days, not core technology.

Reducing power consumption is the biggest challenge in electronics today, since it means mobile devices can last longer on a battery charge. Upon being implemented in 2012, the technology could promise much smaller, thinner and more powerful laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Los Gatos, Calif.-based SuVolta, which came out of stealth mode in June, also disclosed the first details of how its low-power transistor technology, dubbed Deeply Depleted Channel (DDC), works. The technology will allow for better low-power chips for at least the next couple of generations through sub-20-nanometer production. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

The DDC transistor (pictured in the graphic below) reduces threshold voltage variability and enables continued shrinkage of chip circuits. The structure on a transistor works by forming a deeply depleted channel when a voltage is applied to the transistor. Fujitsu has been able to use the technology in a test memory chip known as an static random access memory (SRAM), which can operate below 500 millivolts with the SuVolta technology. In that test chip, voltage was reduced two-fold and the signal-noise ratio was improved two-fold.

If it works across all sorts of chips, it could extend battery life on one end of the computing spectrum and reduce the spiraling electrical costs for servers and supercomputers.

The DDC has different regions that allow for different levels of flow of electrical current. The design lowers the operating voltage by 30 percent and results in less “leakage,” or the unintended loss of electrical energy. Overall, the result is that the transistor allows for multiple voltage settings, which is essential for today’s low-power products, said Scott Thompson (pictured left), chief technology officer, in an interview.

Techniques like this are needed because the manufacturing gains of shrinking chips — where, per Moore’s Law, the observation that the number of transistors on a chip doubles with each generation every couple of years — isn’t reducing costs or providing performance gains like it once did. Thompson said he believes that the transition between chip manufacturing generations will slow down, so chip makers will need a solution like SuVolta’s to make continued advances.

Bruce McWilliams, president and chief executive at at SuVolta, said the technology, which is available for license, has drawn a huge amount of interest from chip makers and designers.

"For the industry to enjoy continued advances in mobile electronics, core technology must keep advancing," said Bill Joy, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "SuVolta has invented a breakthrough [process technology] to solve the semiconductor industry's greatest challenge – power."

SuVolta’s backers include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), August Capital and New Enterprise Associates. SuVolta believes it can offer foundries — such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. — an alternative to a rival revolutionary Intel technology known as Tri-Gate. The alternative is an important one because other chip makers want to keep up with Intel. To do so, they would ordinarily have to invest billions of dollars in chip manufacturing technology and build a new factory. But SuVolta’s technology can be used in existing factories with existing equipment and existing chip designs, Thompson said. Were it not for this kind of technology, Thompson said, “the foundries would be five years behind Intel.”

Intel announced Tri-Gate earlier this year and said it will use 3D structures to pack more (FinFET) transistors into a given space and allow it to cut power consumption by 50 percent and improve performance by 37 percent. SuVolta attacks a problem called transistor variation. It minimizes the electrical variation in each of the millions of transistors on a chip. On the manufacturing level, SuVolta merely tweaks the "recipe" for making a chip. The result is that it reduces the variation in voltage for a chip, allowing for efficiency improvements.

PowerShrink will be in production with Fujitsu in 2012, but others are also looking at the technology as well. SuVolta was founded in 2006 under the name DSM Solutions and has 45 employees. To date, the company has raised $58.6 million. SuVolta originally pursued a technology called JFETs to reduce power in digital products. But the company concluded that wouldn't work because it required customers to invest in new infrastructure. The company brought in McWilliams and then Thompson, who then crafted a product strategy that was more realistic. That led to the May 2010 funding of $22 million from KPCB, August Capital and NEA.

SuVolta has 50 employees. Broadcom, Cypress Semiconductor and ARM have publicly endorsed SuVolta’s technology.

Filed under: mobile

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Audiosocket’s MaaS storefronts make purchasing licensed music easier

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 09:05 PM PST

audiosocketMusic startup Audiosocket launched its Music as a Service (MaaS) storefront today, which allows the company’s clients to create their own branded storefront where people can license music for digital media projects.

Previously, Audiosocket partnered with social video site Vimeo on a MaaS storefront, which makes it simple for people to find and license music for online videos. Now, Audiosocket is offering other partners the chance to set up their own storefront. The company already has partnerships with IndieFlix, LearnCreate and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY).

Each Audiosocket MaaS storefront contains the company’s catalog of over 35,000 songs from emerging artists. All the songs were personally selected by the Audiosocket team, so you don’t necessarily have to sort through lots of crap. Thus, it can save you time when attempting to find the one song that makes your independently produced teenaged melodrama worthy of airing on a major TV network geared toward hipsters with specific musical tastes (e.g. the CW).

Songs are priced reasonably depending on the intended usage. Non-commercial use (such as home videos) is $1.99 per track. There’s also $100 film festival fee, which allows the buyer to use the song when entering any of the big film festivals across the country. Prices get steeper when it comes to theatrical releases, DVD and Video on Demand — topping out at about $2,500.

Audiosocket’s MaaS is especially useful for organizations like IndieFlix, which has a high volume of users (a.k.a. independent film directors) seeking music to put into their films. But perhaps the biggest selling point for purchasing music through an Audiosocket MasS storefront is its ability to ensure you have the proper licensing. Audiosocket President and founder Jenn Miller told VentureBeat that licensing can cause lots of headaches for digital media companies, who don’t always gain the correct licenses for the music they want to use in projects.

“It’s very difficult to actually get the proper rights to license music for anything from personal content creation to professional films and videos…streaming, (etc.)”, Miller said. “We get access to 100 percent of the rights (to songs) by getting the musician to sign an agreement beforehand.”

Founded in 2008, the Seattle-based startup has raised a total of $750,000 in seed funding to date. The company plans to close a second $2 million round over the next few months.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Xbox Live users unable to get online, linked to new dashboard update

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 09:03 PM PST

[Update: at 1245 am Dec. 7 -- Access to Xbox Live restored. Some features such as Zune and Xbox Live Marketplace having difficulties.]

If you were planning on getting the new Xbox Live Dashboard update today, you’ve either 1) got it, and can now rant about how much you love/hate it, or 2) run into an error message that prevents you from getting on the Xbox Live online gaming service at all. The latter seems to be affecting an alarming number of users, and has been for some time.

Don’t bother resetting your internet though, it’s not you. The error code, 3524 0000 0080 0200 8015 1909, appears when trying to connect to the premium Xbox Live service. Xbox Live’s Director of Programming Larry Hyrb tweeted, ”Some Xbox Live members are getting a connection error when signing in to Live. We are aware of the issue and the team is working it!” Users can also check the current status of all Xbox Live-related services, including Xbox Live itself, here.

Possible workarounds include trying to start a multiplayer game through titles like Battlefield 3, which will prompt you to sign in to Xbox Live (not all games prompt you automatically however, such as Gears of War 3). Others are reporting that repeatedly trying to find a “break” in the high volume of traffic eventually works, though neither is a sure-fire method. You can also download the update from Xbox.com to a USB drive and install it locally, but that still doesn’t ensure that you’ll be able to get online. Downloads of any other kind (DLC, trailers, etc.) from Xbox.com also seem to be disabled, currently.

We’ve reached out to Microsoft for an official statement on the cause and a more specific time for when they expect the service to be back online. Chances are the high number of people attempting to download the new dashboard has strained the servers and the issues should resolve as the night goes on, but when will these gaming companies learn? Battlefield 3, Call of Duty Elite, and now Xbox Live (again) have all suffered frustrating and embarrassing server outages recently.

About the update: Microsoft’s new Xbox Live dashboard comes with a redesigned interface that resembles the Metro interface in Windows Phone 7 smartphones. The block and tile interface can be controlled with a traditional controller or voice-commands via a Kinect motion-sensing system. The update is the biggest yet for the Xbox 360, and will also offer dozens of new movie, music and TV options in the coming weeks. You can read more about it here.

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Flipboard launches sleek iPhone app with new ‘Cover Stories’ section

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 09:01 PM PST

flipboard-for-iphone-welcomePopular iPad news reading application Flipboard has made the move to the iPhone and while it retains its smart and simple design, it also has added a new Cover Stories section to boot.

Flipboard’s application first gained traction on the iPad because it was a fantastically designed news reader that incorporated social media sites and most importantly, it was free. Over time, it has evolved to include magazine-quality advertising and the ability to include multiple accounts on a single device. But the company has finally decided to evolve further and bring its news-and-photo experience to a second device with the iPhone.

"The iPad is an amazing device that challenged us to rethink how people discover and share social news,” said Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard, in a statement. “With the iPhone we redesigned Flipboard for a new use case, where people want to find the things they care about even faster and multiple times every day. Flipboard for iPhone puts all the power of Flipboard in your pocket.”

For the iPhone app launch, the Flipboard team has added a new section called Cover Stories. The Flipboard team wants Cover Stories to be first place you open to discover content being shared by your friends on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The company describes it as a “section that learns from a reader's interaction with the content, created for when people want to quickly check for interesting news or updates.”

The most recent additions Flipboard added to its application included Tumblr and 500px connections, as well as multiple accounts that would let your family members get in on the Flipboard action. The ability to login from a personal, cloud-based account extends to the iPhone too. The company also launched its app in China just a day ago.

In terms of competition, Flipboard now has to contend with Yahoo’s Livestand app, Zite (which is now owned by CNN) and Editions by AOL. Google is rumored to be launching its own social magazine reader app as well.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Flipboard has raised $60.5 million to date. Its last funding round was in April for $50 million at a reported $200 million valuation.

The Flipboard app for iPad has been downloaded 4 million times, and the company says its customers make 650 million “flips” (page turns) per month.

Take a look at the gallery below for more screens from Flipboard’s sleek new iPhone app:

Filed under: media, mobile

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Poor RIM: Loses BBX trademark dispute, settles on “BlackBerry 10″ for new OS

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:55 PM PST

RIM BBXIt seems that Research in Motion can’t even name an operating system properly without stumbling along the way.

The BlackBerry maker has been fighting a legal battle over the BBX trademark for its latest operating system, but today a US federal court ruled in favor of existing trademark holder BASIS International. The official name of RIM’s new OS will instead be BlackBerry 10, the company announced on its BlackBerry Developer Relations Twitter account tonight.

It’s a minor change, but I think the BBX branding would have better conveyed that RIM is attempting something bold and new with its next OS, which is based on the BlackBerry PlayBook’s QNX software. BlackBerry 10, on the other hand, just sounds like yet another RIM OS — not anything revolutionary.

Ultimately, the name of RIM’s new OS doesn’t matter nearly as much as how well it will compete against iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of the PlayBook’s operating system, but RIM still needs to make significant changes to make the software palatable for its smartphones.

RIM still hasn’t divulged when we can expect BlackBerry 10, but right now the best bet is around June 2012, when the company is expected to launch its next-generation BlackBerry London smartphone.

Photo via Dekuwa/Flickr

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Consumer Reports and Facebook users agree: AT&T is America’s worst wireless service

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:31 PM PST

America’s most unpopular cell phone company has hit a new low. AT&T Wireless was rated last in customer experience by subscribers of Consumer Reports for the second year in a row.

And people don’t like AT&T on Facebook very much, either.

Consumer Reports surveyed  66,000 magazine subscribers who responded with their experiences using contract and non-contract wireless service. Twenty two carriers were  evaluated overall, but only four provide service nationwide: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

“We’ll of course evaluate and learn from the Consumer Reports survey,” a representative for AT&T told VentureBeat. The representative also pointed out a number of improvements that AT&T has made to its network over the past year, investing billions of dollars on capital projects.

The representative also touted the future benefits of the company’s hoped-for merger with T-Mobile, which enjoys a slightly better customer rating.

“As customer demand continues to skyrocket, our proposed T-Mobile merger will enable AT&T to improve our customers' experience even more,” the representative said.

AT&T bid $39 billion to takeover T-Mobile, but the deal has since run into regulatory difficulties, and may not happen.

Mobile carrier Verizon came out on top in survey responses, with Sprint following at a close second. T-Mobile was rated third. Verizon was also the top-rated national carrier in 2010 according to Consumer Reports subscribers.

A non-scientific examination of Facebook “hate” pages ranks national wireless carriers in almost the same order as the Consumer Reports Survey.  The page for the group I Hate AT&T has 5,382 likes, while I Hate Verizon has only 404 likes. So while AT&T is America’s second largest mobile phone carrier with 100.7 million subscribers, it is 13 times more unpopular than Verizon, which has 107.7 million subscribers.

Sprint Wireless is the third largest American mobile carrier with 54.3 million subscribers. While Consumer Reports readers preferred Sprint to T-Mobile in terms of customer satisfaction, the Facebook audience does not.  I Hate Sprint has 1,234 unsatisfied subscribers on its Facebook page. Meanwhile, T-Mobile has a measly 33.73 million subscribers, and is the only one not to support the iPhone. But T-Mobile haters have liked the page I Hate T-Mobile 746 times, almost twice as much as Verizon haters.

Industry watchers have long blamed the iPhone for AT&T’s customer complaints.  AT&T was the first wireless carrier to begin offering the iPhone when it was first launched, and has since suffered under heavy data usage. However, Verizon has been offering the iPhone since late January of 2011, and has been able to maintain its customer satisfaction.

It’s worth noting that the proportion of Facebook haters to wireless subscribers is miniscule. However the ratio of haters to subscribers from one carrier to another is very revealing, and is a good gauge of customer satisfaction. The anti-AT&T page has 1 member for every 18,710 mobile subscribers.  Verizon has 1 hater for every 264,851 subscribers. The ratio of AT&T haters to customers is still more than double that of Sprint, which has 44,003 customers for every member of I Hate Sprint on Facebook.

Clearly AT&T’s troubles are not all the iPhone’s fault.

Image via I Hate AT&T

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Microsoft offers Windows 8 developers a better deal than most app stores

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 07:38 PM PST

windows-8When Microsoft Windows 8 launches in 2012, it’s going after developers with one thing that truly matters to many of them: money.

The new operating system will feature the Windows Store to sell third-party apps. It’s a direct competitor to Apple’s App Store for OS X and iOS devices, the Android Market and numerous other app marketplaces.

Unlike most such marketplaces, which charge developers 30 percent of their sales, Microsoft will charge a lower, 20 percent rate on sales over $25,000.

“We want to return the most money we can into the hands of developers, and we want to provide the best economics of any platform,” said Microsoft corporate vice president Antoine Leblond. Speaking at an event in San Francisco tonight he said, “It’s the most significant developer opportunity ever.”

The Microsoft event was the first time financial terms for developers have been discussed. Developers whose apps make more than $25,000 will receive 80 percent of revenue generated, as opposed to the industry standard 70 percent. If an app sells less than that amount, the developer will only get 70 percent.

While Apple has a significant headstart in the mobile apps marketplace, Microsoft is also hoping to lure developers with the enormous reach of its current desktop operating system. Windows 7 licenses are on 500 million devices worldwide, Microsoft said.

Microsoft also announced today that developers can begin submitting their apps to its Build Windows Contest, which opened today as well.

Windows 8 will be available for public beta testing starting in late February, 2012.

Check out a video preview of the Windows 8 store.

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Xbox 360 dashboard update suffers slight delay (updated)

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 06:32 PM PST

Xbox Live Dashboard

Update, 6:32pm PST: The update is here. Major Nelson has tweeted the following: “We are a go! The #XboxUpdate is currently on its way to all 35 million Xbox LIVE members around the world.”

2nd Update: 8:29 pm PST: Major Nelson says some users are getting a connection error message upon logging into Xbox Live (yes, happened to Dean Takahashi).

It looks like Xbox 360 users will have to wait just a little while longer for voice-activated Bing searches and TV content on their consoles.

The Xbox 360 dashboard update scheduled to go live today has been slightly delayed, according to Director of Programming for Xbox Live Larry Hryb, aka Major Nelson. “We are still working to get the release out,” he said on Twitter. “Stay tuned, we'll have an update this afternoon (PT) on when it will begin rolling out.”

The update was originally scheduled to go live at 10 a.m. Eastern and will include a new user interface, more entertainment options, integration with Windows Phone 7, and more. Microsoft has been billing it as “the future of TV,” but not all of the promised content will make it into today’s launch. EPIX and TODAY (MSNBC) in the U.S., LOVEFiLM in the UK, Sky Go in Germany, Premium Play by (MediaSet) in Italy and Telefonica España – Movistar Imagenio in Spain will roll out today, according to an open letter from CVP of Xbox Live Marc Whitten. However, big name U.S. providers like Verizon FiOS and HBO Go will have to wait a little longer. Whitten says Xbox will continue to roll out more entertainment content in the coming months.

There is no word yet on why it was delayed. VentureBeat has contacted Microsoft and will provide an update when one is available.

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Mobile payments are on fire today, where will they be in 2015 (infographic)

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 05:10 PM PST

Mobile PaymentsWe just can’t give enough love to mobile payments as we watch the world move from cash to credit to cardless. Intuit is feeling the evolution too and created an infographic to explain just how much mobile payments are growing and where they’ll be in 2015.

The two biggest payment players last year were obviously credit and debit cards, with a small, but rising mobile payments only making up 5 percent of purchases executed. But important to note is that as credit, debit and other forms of payment increase, cash exchange decreases. People have long trusted plastic to deliver their currency, so why not trade in the plastic for airwaves? Well, according to Intuit, people will do just that. Cash is expected to drop to just over $1 trillion changing hands in 2015, and alternate payments jumping up considerably to $2.7 trillion, hugely surpassing cash as a trusted method of payment.

Also important to keep in mind is the proliferation of smartphones themselves. Smartphones have permeated over 40 percent of mobile users, but more interesting is the fact that this is mirrored in business owners. 37 percent of entrepreneurs also work through the smartphone, creating a level playing field for people wanting to buy and sell over the phone.

Today, only one in four people are willing to whip out their iPhone or Android to buy goods. What’s to blame? Security concerns top the charts at 64 percent, but an underlying reason is that 46 percent of people just see their phones as devices to call or e-mail people. Perhaps people have not yet adopted the device as a utilitarian device, and instead use it only for its base functions, and perhaps entertainment.

See the infographic for more information on the evolution of the mobile payment:

The Digital Wallet and the Future of Payments [INFOGRAPHIC]
via: The Digital Wallet and the Future of Payments [INFOGRAPHIC]

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Luxury deals site MarkaVIP pries open the door for Arab e-commerce

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 05:02 PM PST

The frontiers of e-commerce are wide open, and the countries of the Arab world could be the next online consumer hotspot.

Luxury deals site MarkaVIP is focused on expanding e-commerce into Arab countries, and its growth has been steady and encouraging. The company today raised a $5 million in Series A funding from Lumia Capital and Invus Financial Advisors to turbocharge its expansion plans.

“It’s an exciting region, and it’s a company we really feel is defining commerce in the region,” Lumia managing partner Martin Gedalin told VentureBeat.

MarkaVIP is an invite-only shopping site that sells luxury goods such as designer clothes for men and women. In 2010 MarkaVIP was founded in Jordan by chief executive officer Ahmed Alkhatib and chief technical officer Amer Abulaila. Prior to founding MarkaVIP, Alkhatib helped to develop the technical infrastructure for printed apparel site Zazzle, and worked at Amazon and eBay.

MarkaVIP has 120 employees with offices in Beirut, Dubai, Amman, Istanbul, Antwerp and San Francisco. The company has more than 700,000 registered users, and adds more than 3,000 new members daily. That’s still a very small audience when compared to e-commerce activity in the U.S. (Cyber Monday 2011 in the U.S. was a $1.25 billion shopping frenzy), but the rapid growth points to a bright future.

While the MarkaVIP concept may mimic flash-sales sites like Gilt Groupe now, its true value lies in its ability to educate the market about online shopping. One of the first hurdles of introducing e-commerce in any new market is getting people to believe that the goods they have ordered will arrive at their home, and that their financial information won’t be ripped off or misused. ”Loyalty” and “trust” are two words Gedalin used frequently when describing why Lumia invested in the company.  Because the MarkaVIP customer base has grown to trust the brand, he says, they are  repeat shoppers. And it’s an affluent customer base because the people are shopping for discounts on luxury goods. ”If you’re a company dealing with high fashion and e-commerce, this is the type of customer you want,” says Gedalin.

Another of the conpany’s strengths is its ability to navigate the nuances of doing business in a region that is joined by language, but where each country may have very different laws. Gedalin says that MarkaVIP has a knowledge base that has created significant barriers to entry for other e-commerce players who want to do business in the GCC region.

Luxury goods are just the start. MarkaVIP’s  investors see it as a platform to for other forms of commerce, building on their innate advantages as an early mover. To learn about other e-commerce experiments in the developing world you can read about VentureBeat founder and executive editor Matt Marshall recent trip to Turkey, where the e-commerce sector is red hot, too.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Why women have to work harder to do startups

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 04:23 PM PST

Startups are not too hard for women. Women just have to work way harder to create a startup.

In the midst of my life as a fundraising CEO, I am going to posit one thing: That the ramen-eating, asocial women entrepreneurs have it harder in starting a VC-backed company because VC funding is harder for women.

A recent op-ed written by Penelope Trunk and published in VentureBeat suggested that women aren’t cut out for entrepreneurship because they are too distracted by childbearing and the desire for “a good house, good clothes and a cushion for emergencies.”

But Trunk overlooked the fact that women are great at management and leadership, and they’re great at the most important aspects of building a new business.

Why women have a hard time as entrepreneurs

A CEO’s job is in a state of perpetual dynamism. In the beginning, you have to have a great idea and to use your impeccable market sense to finesse it into the first version of a business. Then, you have to find the right people, to sell your dream to build a great team, to nurture that team to do great things, and to find partners and customers to evolve your business. In all these tasks, women excel.

If you doubt this, just look at how many more small business owners who are women than men. According to statistics from the White House, women are starting new companies at a rate 1.5 times higher than the national average.

Speaking for my fellow female entrepreneurs, we generally don’t feel more troubled for working just as hard as our male counterparts. We generally don’t feel sad that we can't afford some things.

Entrepreneurs are rare, but all entrepreneurs, men and women, have these values.

Women as a group don’t have a hard time doing startups because of the tasks involved. It’s not the type of work, the amount of work or the low financial returns in the beginning.

Yes, many women have to overcome more barriers to achieve their entrepreneurial goals — as Trunk said, there is an extra burden (and extra joy) in tending to a family and making a home. But that excuse, in addition to being unrealistically old-fashioned, misses the crux of why startup life is more difficult for a woman.

Here’s the truth: Getting funding, the very backbone of almost every company, is harder for women.

The funding question

At the beginning of building a great company, there's institutional funding. For a lot of entrepreneurs, funding helps the company accelerate so that the team can keep on doing what it's great at.

While almost every entrepreneur will tell you his or her least favorite part of the job is canvassing for funding, I will argue that VC funding gives women much more grief than men.

In order to be a good fundraiser — like every good male CEO is — we as women seem to have to overcompensate and overcome and do what is contrary to our very sociologically ingrained nature. Many of my female CEO friends and I thoroughly enjoy what we do, but we agonize over fundraising more than over any other stress of running a company.

Women aren't as good and don't like fundraising because the current mode of fundraising is built by men and for men. Most of the characteristics that are best for fundraising are especially aligned with typically male characteristics — characteristics like asking for what we want without apology or projecting confidence bordering on arrogance.

I've had to fundraise now two times. I get trained by my mentors, almost all of them great entrepreneurial men, to be tougher, more aggressive, more invincible — more like them — when I fundraise. And it's been a great help, because it's not natural to me. So I have been pushed and pep talked and encouraged by these men so I can be half as good as they are at it.

But no man gives me that same advice when I'm building partnerships that create revenue and marketing opportunities for my company or when I think about product and market fit. The traits I have are more "feminine” qualities of leadership: teambuilding, partnership building, thoughtful management, market savvy.

So, like many female entrepreneurs and CEOs, I’m amazing at my job until it’s time to raise money.

Women’s disadvantage in emotionally connecting with VCs

Much of business involves emotionally connecting with your audience. That's why women build companies that emotionally connect with consumers: Much of consumerism is driven by women.

But the “audience” when you’re raising a round of VC funding is, well, men. Women can't possibly emotionally connect with men as well as other men can. That's probably why female VCs fund women-led companies more.

If the VC and angel communities could achieve more gender balance, I think you'd see more female-led companies being VC funded.

Women and risk

The financial drivers that make for a great VC-backed company are very different from the financial drivers for non-VC backed companies. VCs need to look for companies that swing for the fences and make it or break it in four years, creating a bias favoring companies that have a binary end result: go big or go home.

Based on my own experience, I do think women are more risk averse, so I'm not surprised that there are fewer women founding VC-backed companies. In a sense, that's ok. We don’t necessarily need an exactly equal number of male- and female-led VC backed companies. But…

Bridging the gender gap

Society can and should do a better job of encouraging women who want to be risk-takers to follow their dreams.

It's a Silicon Valley societal norm for a 22-year old guy coder to want to be like Zuckerberg. It's a Silicon Valley societal norm to have amazing male VCs.

But there's no such norm yet for women. And until there is, I applaud organizations like Women 2.0 and Golden Seeds and female heav(ier) VC firms like Kleiner Perkins in promoting an ecosystem dedicated for, and built by, women… and men.

Julia Hu is the founder of Lark Technologies, the company that makes the “silent un-alarm clock.” As a serial entrepreneur, she focused on growing early stage start-ups in consumer products and cleantech space. Prior to co- founding Lark Technologies, she was a Sustainability Chair for global startup incubator Clean Tech Open, where she launched its national sustainability Program to provide sustainability mentorship, education, judging, partnerships and environmental initiatives to startups all over America. She received her Masters and Bachelors at Stanford in Engineering, Engineer Management, and Design, and is a MBA Candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google to add local deals to Google+ mobile check-ins (updated)

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 04:13 PM PST

Google Offers

Update: A Google spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that location-based deals will be coming to Google+ next week:

“While prepping for a test of a new check-in offer feature, we published a support center article a little early and have since removed the article. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused. Please stay tuned for roll out of this feature for merchants, which we’re targeting for next week.”

The Google+ social network may be adding features to its mobile app that will allow users to claim deals when they check in at locations, according to a Google support document.

One year ago this week, Groupon rejected a $6 billion buyout offer from Google. Even without the daily deals acquisition, Google has been attacking local commerce from all sides. Google Offers launched soon after the Groupon deal went pear-shaped, and the company continues to buy smaller deals sites, such as TheDealMap, that give it skin in the game. Now Google may finally be gluing together all those pieces into something that will capture elusive local dollars.

The Google+ check-in offers feature was first discovered by blogger Mike Blumenthal, who found it listed in the documentation for Google Places. The link appears to be broken now, but Blumenthal copied this text, which shows Google explaining how businesses can sign up to start broadcasting location-based offers to customers:

If your customers have to visit your locations in order to do business with you, you can request that they check-in on Google+ in order to redeem your offers. They can choose to share the check-in publicly or with some of their circles, which helps spread the word about your business on Google+. They can also choose to keep their check-in private and still redeem an offer.

If your customers do not have to visit your location, for example if you serve homes or businesses by delivery or by callouts, you can keep this option off (set to "No") and customers will not be asked to check-in when they redeem offers. We use the Service Areas and Location Settings setting on your listing to determine if you have a service area for offers that have already been created. When you create new offers, you can choose whether to allow a check-in during redemption.

TechCrunch has screenshots of a self-service page for business owners to create their own offers. Daily deals and location-based check-ins have been moving closer together for some time. Last week we reported that Foursquare was integrating Scoutmob deals into its service. That news was followed closely by the announcement from deals aggregator Yipit that the company would also be bringing location-based deals to Foursquare, from sites like Gilt City and dozens of smaller players.

If Google is indeed getting ready to turn on an integrated mobile/local deals product, it has a lot to draw upon. While the company was also unsuccessful in an earlier bid to buy Yelp, Google added the Zagat guidebook its portfolio of local offerings for a reported $151 million.

With a little more glue and some good fortune, consumers may see something truly remarkable in the near future.

Filed under: deals

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Game-breaking bug in Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword–how to avoid it

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 04:03 PM PST


The formula for this year’s big games seems to be something like this: launch a blockbuster, include game-breaking bugs. Those who have played Skyrim can probably agree. The latest game to be hit with a major bug? The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

First the bad news: this bug is game-breaking. This means that if you are unfortunate enough to stumble onto this one, there is very little you can do. Actually, according to Nintendo, there is nothing you can do. Your save file is pooched, and you must restart the game.

Now the Good News: Nintendo is very aware of it, and they have found a workaround. You must simply avoid the specific sequence of events that triggers this nasty bug.

The following is the official statement from Nintendo on how to avoid trapping Link forever:

We have been made aware of the issue that results in being unable to progress in the Song of the Hero quest. If the game has been saved after completing the sequence of events, it will no longer be possible to proceed through the game on that save file. The only options at that point are to either start the game over or to use an earlier save file to continue.

The situation is caused by performing the following sequence of events during the Song of the Hero quest:

1. At the beginning of the quest, go to Lanayru Desert to retrieve the song of the Thunder Dragon.

2. In the Lanayru Mine, speak with Golo the Goron.

3. Complete the Thunder Dragon’s event, and receive his song.

4. Before heading to the forest or volcano regions, speak with Golo in the mine again.

5. At this point, the forest and volcano events will no longer occur, making it impossible to continue.


• This issue WILL NOT OCCUR if the Fire and Water Dragon songs have already been collected before collecting the Thunder Dragon’s song. Talking to Golo in the Lanayru Caves will also NOT trigger this issue.

• If the game has been saved after completing the sequence of events, it will no longer be possible to proceed through the game on that save file. The only options at that point are to either start the game over or to use an earlier save file to continue.

I wish I had a better answer, but I’m afraid there currently is no other fix available. I can assure, however, that we are documenting all feedback we receive on this issue. Thank you for your patience and support.


Sharon Matheny

Yeah, it’s not wonderful news, but at least it’s avoidable. The other bummer is that it’s not something that can be fixed with a quick patch. Just one more thing for our very own Sebastian Haley to diss about Zelda (Just messing with ya, Haley).

(Via Zelda Informer)

Filed under: games

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Poshmark sees your closet as the next big e-commerce store, launches with $3.5M

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 03:46 PM PST

Posh PartyAny good spring cleaner enjoys weeding out a load of clothes, shoes and bags that still have life in them, but are just taking up closet space. Poshmark launched today with $3.5 million in funding to let anyone sell their old items.

Founder Manish Chandra, who also founded Kaboodle, explained that when he entered his closet, he saw bags of unopened items, barely used handbags and nice shoes collecting dust, and he realized closets all over the country probably look the same. For Chandra, however, eBay seemed too involved a process to list all of the items he wanted to sell. He created Poshmark, which allows anyone to list their items easily by taking a picture of the item,m uploading it directly into the app, choosing a list price and adding a title. Boom, you’re selling your clothes online.

“I look at this very similarly to what happened with Webex,” said Navin Chaddha, managing director at Mayfield Fund, in an interview with VentureBeat. “People used to travel to hold meetings, then webex came, people didn’t need to travel.”

What Chaddha is suggesting is that because mobile is so prevalent in our lives, we won’t need to use the computer, let alone hold in-person Tupperware or trunk shows to sell our things. Instead, we’ll just need a smartphone.

The Poshmark team built a new e-commerce environment from scratch, including its payments system. Once you’ve listed an item and an interested buyer purchases it, Poshmark will hold the payment itself. It then sends a shipping label to the item seller, who must print and ship the item accordingly. How to ship, what company to use, and other decisions are already made for the seller, which certainly takes some of the edge off getting your item to the buyer. One the item is received, Poshmark releases the payment to the seller and the transaction is completed. Poshmark uses Braintree to handle credit card payments.

The application is aimed at women, with words like “fashionistas” being throw around. All hail the dude who wants to join the app’s real draw: the “Posh Party.” Similar to companies such as Stella and Dot, which sell jewelry through individual entrepreneurs who put on home trunk shows, Poshmark has theme events such as Holiday Sparkle or Capes & Coats.

Items unsold during these parties become a sort of living collection, which people can shop until all the items have been snapped up. Otherwise, items are found through following other users who either list clothes and accessories they’d like to sell, or repost other people’s items for sale if they find them interesting. You can have discussions around an item as well, using the comments field. Like Twitter and Facebook, you can call out another user in the comments by using the “@” and then that person’s username.

“The power of that mobile phone and thinking how ubiquitous it is, it makes it possible for people to be disengaged and then engaged [with Postmark].” Chandra told us of how people are using the application.

According to Chandra, one woman made three sales while sitting in a bar in Atlanta. Another woman bought two items while taking a cab ride in New York City. This kind of behavior makes it possible for businesses to form.

“I think it’s very likely that women will start businesses,” said Chandra. “We want any woman to convert her closet into a live boutique.”

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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