08 December, 2011



A driving trendsetter

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

This sponsored message is brought to you by Chevrolet.

Chevy Volt

Note: The 2012 Chevy Volt has an EPA-estimated 94 MPGe ; 35 city, 40 MPG highway. Actual range varies with conditions.

The Chevy Volt is unique among electric cars because it runs on two sources of energy. You have an electric source – a battery – that allows you to drive gas-free for an EPA–estimated 35 miles. And there’s also an onboard gas generator that produces electricity so you can go farther. So if you want to drive using only electricity, you can. If you want to drive using electricity and gas, you can do that, too. Hear what one proud Volt owner had to say about how the electric car has reinvented his driving experience.

Meet Billy Bell of Orlando, Florida. One might think he loves his Volt because he's driven more than 1,600 miles without gassing up. That's because through regular charging and keeping commutes within the EPA-estimated 35 miles per charge, Volt drivers are able to achieve extraordinarily low gas usage.

But for Bell, it goes beyond just saving on fuel costs. "I feel more connected to my Volt than I have with my previous cars — and not just because my phone is connected to it," says Bell. He's referring to the fact that iPhone and Android users can download the OnStar RemoteLink mobile app to check charging status, and even schedule future charging times. He also likes the feeling of being the first kid on the block with a new toy, so to speak. Bell was the first person at his company to get an electric car. "My studio installed a level 2 charger for me and then made an announcement that anyone else that drove an EV to work would also get a free charger to plug into," he says. Since charging time is about four hours, it can get done during the work day. "Since then, I’ve had lots of people at work asking me about my car, and my coworkers love to ride to lunch with me."

Going with the Volt wasn't a decision that Bell took lightly at first, however, especially since he traded in a Mercedes Roadster to do it. "Most of my friends probably thought I was crazy. But I work in the tech industry and I’ve always been an early adopter. I’ve been wanting an EV for several years now," he says.

Now that he is an EV owner, Bell has found that being a Volt driver has made him infamous, at least for a little while. "I’d been going to the different charging stations around Orlando, taking pictures of my Volt charging up and then posting them to an album on Facebook called, 'Yeah, but where can you charge it?'" he explains. One of my photos was taken at the local zoo's charging station next to two Prius cars. About a week later, he met a new work hire, who saw the Volt model Bell keeps on his desk and asked if he owned one. "Then he asked if I parked at the zoo the previous weekend." Turns out, the new coworker was one of the Prius owners. "Needless to say, he rode to lunch with me and had a lot of questions about the Volt that day."

Beyond the perception of others, though, Bell is grateful for what the Volt does for him on a personal level. "Driving the Volt puts a smile on my face every day, and I could never go back to a non-electric car.”

Filed under: green, VentureBeat

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Box iOS apps get spruced up with photo and search functions

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

Box iPhone Photo and Video UploadCloud storage company Box updated its iPhone and iPad apps today, realizing that the world outside the office is no longer an oyster, but a giant second office.

Box has seen a 30 percent increase in people using mobile devices to access the company’s file storage, and they blame that increase on the mobile workforce. Our whole culture around communication has changed. Once upon a time, we called house and work landlines and happily left voice messages if the person was unavailable. Now we’re smash-guitars-against-the-wall-mad when someone doesn’t pick up their cell phone. Don’t even get me started if you’ve tried them twice with no success. It’s a game of convenience, which business people of all kinds are taking advantage of, be it while traveling or simply to check that presentation before you’ve tossed back the comforter.

“More businesses are helping their employees work effectively from the road and across the globe, especially considering nearly 60% of all corporate employees access content outside the office with their mobile phones or tablets,” the company said in a statement.

Over a million people have already downloaded Box’s apps, so the company is adding new tricks to the bag. Most excitingly, people are going to be able to upload photos and videos to Box and create folders for them on the go. Sure, you could use this to snap some cool photos of the conference floor at Le Web, or share a pretty sunset from your remote meeting, but there are very functional purposes to this feature. Box uses the example of a construction site that needs to send pictures of its progress back to headquarters. It could also come in handy for the small business looking for its second office and wants to share pictures of the search.

Being able to create folders on the go keeps your photos organized and not floating around your Box storage without purpose. Also included in the app updates is a search function, so you can find the folders or individual files you just organized.

Lastly, you will be able to favorite folders on the go. To favorite a folder or file is to save its contents directly to your phone, so you can access it without internet connectivity. This comes in handy for business people who want to review an announcement on the go, or prepare for a talk when you know you’re going to be stuck in some long tunnels.

The iPhone and iPad apps can be found here. It is free, though you will need a Box account to use it.

Box iPad All Files ImageBox iPad Favorites and File SharingFull Features Overview

Box iPhone Photo and Video Upload

Filed under: cloud, mobile

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Flash sales site Fab.com racks up $40M, now at 1.2M members

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 08:39 AM PST

Fab.com, the flash sales site for design-oriented products, is seeing its pivot pay off in a big way.

The company, which initially started out as Fabulis, a social network for gay men, announced yesterday that it has raised $40 million in a second round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Additionally, Fab says it has grown by a 300,000 new members in the past two months, with a subscriber base of 1.2 million today. In its social network days, Fab struggled to reach more than 150,000 members.

The funding comes just six months after Fab.com launched, and the company says it will be used to “rapidly grow the business” throughout the next year. No big surprise there, but it’ll be interesting to see what else Fab can do to differentiate itself from its flash sales rivals like Ideeli. The company currently offers design-focused deals across categories like jewelry, artwork, and clothes for up to 70 percent off retail prices.

New York City-based Fab.com previously raised $8 million in its first round of funding after becoming profitable at just six weeks old. Existing investors include Menlo Ventures, First Round Capital, SoftTech VC, Baroda Ventures, and Ashton Kutcher. Andreessen general partner Jeff Jordan will be joining Fab.com’s board.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Alibaba Group seeks $4B financing to buy back Yahoo’s stake of the company

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 08:38 AM PST

China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group is apparently seeking $4 billion in debt financing to buy the 40 percent stake in Alibaba currently owned by iconic web company Yahoo.

The news was revealed after Alibaba’s debt adviser Rothschild sent out term sheets to banks, according to a Reuters report that cites people familiar with the matter.

Alibaba, a privately owned group of web-based businesses, is well-known for its online marketplaces for business-to-business international and domestic trade. The Alibaba Group also includes retail and payment platforms, a shopping search engine and data-centric cloud computing services. It employs over 22,000 people in around 70 cities and regions.

While some analysts estimate Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth up to $9 billion, Yahoo is currently exploring the idea of selling the entire company — meaning Yahoo might accept Alibaba’s $4 billion offer. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma (pictured) expressed interest in buying Yahoo in October, but now it appears the company is focused on Alibaba itself.

Meanwhile, several other companies are rumored to be interested in purchasing Yahoo. As VentureBeat reported in November, Microsoft signed a nondisclosure agreement with Yahoo to take a closer look at its financial records, which could indicate the possibility of an acquisition. And in October, search engine giant Google was exploring the idea of a Yahoo buyout.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Raptr names Skyrim “most played” game of 2011

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 08:30 AM PST

Game tracking and social network service Raptr has crunched data from over 10 million users to name Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as the “most played” game of 2011.

While Activision Blizzard’s Modern Warfare 3 actually showed 9 percent more total first-month playtime than Skyrim among Raptr’s user base, Bethesda’s RPG saw significantly longer average play sessions and total playtime per player in its first month, pushing it ahead in Raptr’s “most played” formula.

It should be noted that Raptr’s data comes from a self-selected group of members who sign up for a free Raptr account, which tracks and shares their gameplay usage with friends. The service does not track PS3 and Wii game usage, meaning console exclusives like Uncharted 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword were not included in the data.

Other heavily played games, as grouped by genre and ranked in descending order of total first month playtime, include:

  • Shooters: Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, Crysis 2, Bulletstorm
  • RPG: Skyrim, Dragon Age 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dark Soules, Two Worlds 2
  • Open-world: Batman: Arkham City, LA Noire, Dead Island, Saints Row: The Third, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
  • Sports: FIFA 12, Madden 12, NBA2K12, NHL12, MLB 2K12
  • Social: The Sims Social, CastleVille, Empires and Allies, Diamond Dash, Mafia Wars 2
  • New IP: LA Noire, Bulletstorm, Homefront, Brink, Rage, Catherine
  • Overall: Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, Gears of War 2, Battlefield 3, Batman: Arkham City

Raptr’s report also shows heavily increased usage for a number of pay-to-play massively multiplayer online games that transitioned to a free-to-play model this year. The service recorded an astounding 1,000 percent increase in players for Warner Bros.’ DC Universe Online in the month after it discarded a paid subscription model, as well as a 2,500 percent increase in total play time. Champions Online, All Points Bulletin and City of Heroes also saw heavy increases in average daily playtime after their free-to-play transitions.

Filed under: games

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Evernote hits more than 20M users

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 08:10 AM PST

evernoteMulti-platform note-taking startup Evernote has now reached more than 20 million users, CEO Phil Libin said at the LeWeb conference this morning in Paris.

Evernote made our list of “10 disruptive cloud companies we're excited about” because the company has taken to solving the simple problem of effective note-taking in an innovative, cloud-based fashion. Just yesterday, the company launched two free iPhone apps, "Food" and "Hello," which help you better keep track of meals and people.

Back in June, Evernote reached 10 million registered users, with more than 400,000 of those paying $5 a month for a premium plan that enables larger uploads and better collaborative tools. It’s unclear how many of the current 20 million users are paying, but Libin did say that about 27% of users who continue to use the service for 40 months pay for it.

Libin, as first noted by SiliconFilter, also said Evernote now has nearly 9,000 third-party apps using its API.

Mountain View-based Evernote has raised $95.5 million in total funding to date, with a massive $50 million round in July led by Sequoia Capital with participation from Morgenthaler Ventures. Evernote became a profitable company 6 months ago, but due to recent hiring and expansion the company is now back in the red. Libin expects the company to go back to black soon.

Filed under: cloud, mobile

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Amazon starts $6M fund to boost Kindle’s indie authors and publishers

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 07:16 AM PST

kindle-79Amazon has started a $6 million annual fund that seeks to encourge more independent authors to publish their works on Kindle first, the company announced today.

Amazon’s Kindle family is on a roll with overall strong sales during Black Friday and the $199 Kindle Fire tablet may already be the number two tablet after the iPad in sales. The next piece of the puzzle Amazon needs to figure out is how to get more authors to publish directly to Kindle before print and other e-reader stores. It hopes to do this with the new fund, called KDP Select.

KDP Select works by giving authors and publishers a share of the fund if they agree to make their books exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days. After the 90 days of exclusivity are up, the books are then eligible to be checked out from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

“By choosing KDP Select, independent authors and publishers have an opportunity to make money in a whole new way and reach the growing audience of Amazon Prime members,” said Russ Grandinetti, VP of Kindle Content, in a statement. “A short 90-day commitment allows authors and publishers to experiment at very low risk. In addition, free promotions are a new tool for KDP Select authors, and we hope to add more such tools over time.”

The monthly royalty payment for each KDP Select title is based on that book’s share of the total number of borrows of all participating KDP books in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. So when more people read your title for free from the Lending Library, the amount of money allocated to you increases. Amazon said it expects the KDP Select fund to be sized at a minimum $6 million for 2012, but it has also already marked down $500,000 to give out before the end of the year.

The Kindle Lending Library has drawn the ire of the U.S.-based Authors Guild, which represents more than 8,000 U.S. writers. The group claims the online retailer is "boldly breaching its contracts" with authors by letting users check out books for free. The Authors Guild mostly appears upset because many major publishers denied Amazon’s request to include their titles in the Lending Library, but Amazon went ahead on the grounds that it would still pay a fee whenever someone checked out a book.

In light of the new KDP Select fund, perhaps Amazon has decided to foster more independent works for the Lending Library so it can build a better a relationship with major publishing houses. It also likely sees $6 million a year as chump change if it can convince people to buy tons of Kindles and consume Amazon content on them.

Filed under: media, mobile

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Edmodo wants to be the cloud leader in EdTech, raises $15M more

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 06:55 AM PST

Education technology is a red-hot market, and both startups and investors are taking note.

Edmodo, a social network for education, stands poised to benefit tremendously from the great shifts taking place in educational delivery. The company announced today that it raised $15 million from  Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital. Greylock partner and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Benchmark Capital general partner Matt Cohler also joined Edmodo’s board.

A typical student will spend 13 years in the classroom before graduating high school, and American taxpayers invested more than $536 billion on K-12 education during the 2005-2006 school year, according to the Department of Education.  At this rate, roughly $7 trillion dollars will be spent on a public primary education by the time today’s kindergarteners receive their high school diplomas in 2024. And that’s not accounting for inflation.

Edmodo is a free tool that allows teachers to create and maintain a private social network for their classroom. It’s available to students and teachers on PCs and any wireless device, such as a smartphone, or an iPod Touch. Edmodo can be used to share educational content, manage projects and assignments, handle notifications, conduct quizzes and create collaborative learning experiences that live long after the school day has ended. The company dubs the experience the “educational graph,” which closely tracks the Facebook’s “social graph.”

Edmodo was founded in September 2008 and has grown to more than 5 million users in the past year — a tenfold increase from just one year ago.

“This is a really exciting time in the education space, with more and more classrooms having access to the Internet,” Edmodo co-founder and chief executive officer Nic Borg told VentureBeat. ”We’re excited to be bringing cloud technologies to the classroom.” At a private event with Hoffman, Borg told a group of reporters that more schools were equipped with Wi-Fi in 2010 than in the previous five years combined.

Edmodo recently demonstrated the scale and flexibility of its educational technology, teaching students about polar bears through a live video stream. In collaboration with Polar Bears International, Edmodo sent five researchers to the tundra to host a series of three live, interactive webcasts that were viewed by students in 1,700 classrooms in 40 different countries, and 48 states in the U.S.

Edmodo will remain free for teachers and students to use, Borg stressed. Ultimately the company has its sights set beyond the classroom. The company wants to be the Salesforce for Edtech, Borg said, and move school districts’ legacy information technology to the cloud. Edmodo hopes to  save school districts money and eliminate the hassles of maintaining legacy IT by selling “premium services,” and replicating these information systems with a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) model.

Each year $40-$50 billion in K-12 education is spent on non-salary expenses, Borg says. Part of this goes to maintain computer systems to handle functions such as grading, attendance and other academic record-keeping. Typically IT procurement for schools is done at a district-wide level. But because millions of students are already using free Edmodo classroom software, the company has  injected itself into school districts from coast-to-coast, avoiding the need for lengthy approvals. How’s that for viral marketing?

Edmodo is based in San Mateo, CA, and currently has 35 employees. Hoffman is a previous investor in the company, and Edmodo has received previous funding from Union Square Ventures and Learn Capital.

Filed under: cloud, deals, VentureBeat

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TinyCo launches Tiny Village mobile game with new cross-platform engine

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 06:00 AM PST

TinyCo is launching a new mobile game called Tiny Village today. It is the first game from the startup that uses the Griffin Engine, which allows the company to build social games once and deploy them on Apple iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and Android simultaneously.

Other companies have created similar engines as well so that they can save on development costs and get their developers to focus on making fun games, rather than wrestle with different mobile platforms.

"Both iOS and Android platforms are exploding in the consumer market," said Suli Ali, Co-Founder and CEO of TinyCo. "In the past, we've developed for iOS and Android separately. We quickly realized there was a better way that didn't require twice as many engineers and twice the amount of development time, or the extra hassle of fragmented development.”

Deploying to both platforms makes sense since Apple has strong monetization while Android has been growing rapidly. Previously, San Francisco-based TinyCo had to port a game from iOS to Android. But that didn’t work so well because the Android versions never had the latest content that was available on the iOS versions. The lag was around six months or more.

So the company spent about six months engineering the Griffin platform, with a focus on making mobile social games. The games run natively so they can have better performance and take advantage of each device’s unique features. By contrast, games written in HTML5 (the latest browser format) often run slower and don’t take advantage of native hardware. The company will now be able to launch iOS and Android games at the same time with content parity.

Others who have similar capabilities are Unity 3D, Sibblingz’s Spaceport, and Zipline Games’ Moai. The Tiny Village game is a casual title that allows users to build a prehistoric village by harvesting resources, building homes and shops, and raising dinosaurs. Players can lead their dinosaurs into battle against bosses or other players.

TinyCo was founded in 2009. In February, it raised $18 million in a first round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz. Other investors are Ron Conway and Keith Rabois.

Filed under: games, mobile

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Waze’s crowdsourced driving data headed to local news, now 9M users strong

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 06:00 AM PST

Waze on broadcast newsThanks to its popular crowdsourced navigation app, Waze is sitting on a pile of valuable traffic data. Today the company announced an intriguing use for that data goldmine: powering your local TV station’s traffic reports.

Waze is launching a program to let any broadcast network take advantage of its citizen traffic data, which gives networks access to instant updates about traffic conditions. The company has partnered with 12 launch stations, which have been featuring Waze’s data in their traffic reports for months, including KABC Los Angeles, KGO-TV San Francisco, and KFAA Dallas.

Waze’s free apps, which are available on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian phones, offers free turn-by-turn directions. But Waze’s true value is in the vast amount of live traffic data. Powered entirely by its users, the crowdsourced data makes Waze a far more useful alternative to standalone GPS units.

"We're thrilled to officially offer up our citizen traffic reporting to broadcasters," Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze vice president of partnerships and platforms, said in a statement today. "We're learning that the best local stations work at startup speed, so we can get each station up and running seamlessly in just under a week."

Waze says it’s providing tools specifically for broadcast stations, including the ability to create branded commuter groups within its apps. This lets broadcasters directly communicate with their viewers, allowing for things like contests to choose a specific user’s traffic report. Waze says that ABC7 in Los Angeles has nearly 3,400 active members in its commuter group. While on-air, traffic reporters use an iPad to get access to Waze’s live data.

The company also announced that its apps are now being used by over 9 million commuters. That’s a jump of 2 million users since October, when Waze announced it raised an additional $30 million in funding. Clearly, the company has been growing like wildfire over the past few years, and this jump to powering TV traffic reports will only further its popularity among mainstream users. Once viewers see what Waze’s free apps can offer, they’ll have a hard time resisting the siren call.

Waze is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and has raised over $55 million thus far.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Cloudera upgrades Hadoop management tools, offers free version for startups

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 05:35 AM PST


Apache Hadoop-focused management service Cloudera has considerably updated its Cloudera Enterprise software and will begin offering a free version of Cloudera Manager that startups can use, the company announced this morning.

Cloudera makes it possible for companies like Samsung, Aol and Groupon to manage and mine loads of unstructured and structured data. It provides its own spin on Hadoop's powerful open-source data management software and couples it with IT support and management tools. With the announcement today, Cloudera is simulataneously helping its customers by giving them a larger tool set for managing Hadoop and giving small companies a chance to use Hadoop for free.

Charles Zedlewski, VP of Product at Cloudera, told VentureBeat that Cloudera Enterprise 3.7, the third version of its management software, is an incredibly powerful program that helps businesses cost-effectively derive analytics from unstructured and structured data sets.

“There is no other solution on the market that can support and manage the full operational lifecycle for the full Hadoop stack with software and support integrated together,” Zedlewski said. “Customers no longer need to cobble together five or six tools & applications to operate a sophisticated Hadoop platform.”

The company identified the four biggest additions to Cloudera Enterprise 3.7 as the following:

Intelligent Hadoop Log Management: Gathers and scans Hadoop logs for irregularities and proactively create events for the operator.
Global Time Control: Correlates cluster-wide jobs, activities, logs, system changes, configuration changes and service metrics along a single timeline to dramatically simplify diagnosis.
Alerts: Alerts on nodes or services in poor health, as well as jobs or activities that are slow or failing; integrates with the central company alerting system.
Support Integration: Takes a snapshot of the cluster state and automatically sends it to a Cloudera support professional to assist with diagnosis and resolution.

As for the new free version — aptly named Cloudera Manager Free Edition — it supports up to 50 nodes and can be downloaded at cloudera.com/downloads. It allows developers and businesses to configure and perform basic management of a Hadoop cluster.

“The goal with the free version is to simply grow the base number of Hadoop users,” Zedlewski said. “We’re not in the business of making money on 20-person startups.”

Palo Alto-based Cloudera has raised an impressive $76 million to date in four funding rounds. The company last raised $40 million with the round led by Frank Artale of Ignition Partners with participation from Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, Meritech Capital Partners and In-Q-Tel.

Filed under: cloud, enterprise

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Zipline Games launches its first Moai-based mobile game Wolf Toss

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 12:01 AM PST

Zipline Games is launching its first mobile game, Wolf Toss, today as part of a test of its new game development platform.

The new game will run on both the Apple iOS, Google Android and Google Chrome platforms and it is the first title to use Zipline’s Moai Game Development Platform  for professional game developers.

The platform is aimed at creating high-performance, fast-action games that run across platforms and so make optimal use of a developers’ resources. Moai, named after the human face carvings on Easter Island, consists of a server-based technology that handles back-end processing tasks such as cloud hosting for games. The other element is a software development kit built around the Lua game scripting language. The whole solution uses an open-source development platform that works well with two-dimensional games. The free-to-play Wolf Toss took about six months to make, including about four months of development.

On the software development kit front, rivals include Moblyng, Epic Games, MoMinis, RealNetworks, Ansca Mobile, Sibblingz, GameSalad and Appcelerator Titanium. On the cloud front, rivals include Heroku.

Todd Hooper (pictured), chief executive of Seattle-based Zipline, said in an interview that the Wolf Toss game, which is sort of like an Angry Birds game on steroids, is aimed at showing that the Moai development platform is easy to use. One of the cool features is that Zipline’s own servers can push updates to the game so that the developer does not have to wait for updates to be approved by platform owners, as that can take a long time.

The company hopes to distinguish itself by focusing on high-quality games, not simple stuff, and the Moai tool is suited for developers who want to do that. It will also provide cloud services and let developers use the familiar open source Lua infrastructure. Since Lua is a low-level language, games built with it run fast. The platform lets developers publish to the iPhone and Android at the same time.

“We produce native apps for each platform,” Hooper said.

Jordan Weisman, head of Harebrained Schemes, used the Moai platform to launch a new mobile game, GoGo Kiddo. And Bungie Aerospace used Moai with its first mobile game.

Hooper said that game developers have been fretting about the challenge of building great mobile games and extending them with a cloud-based backend system. Moai lets developers focus on their unique game play and write code in Lua from start to finish instead of switching between multiple languages and architectures.

The cloud part of the platform is important because it enables game developers to quickly make features for multiplayer games, downloadable content, and persistent worlds. All of those features can make it easier for developers to make more money from their games.

Zipline's founders include veterans from Nintendo, Groundspeak and Amaze Entertainment. Co-founder Patrick Meehan is the chief technology officer. The company has raised an undisclosed amount of money from investors including Founders Co-Op and Benaroya Capital.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Jordan Weisman launches Go Go Kiddo “babysitting” mobile app for young kids

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 12:01 AM PST

Let’s face it. Tablets, smartphones and music players have become the new babysitters, taking that job away from television. With that in mind, game developer Jordan Weisman’s Go Go Kiddo startup has launched a new mobile app that entertains kids ages two to five.

The app, which is launching today on the Kindle Fire and other Android devices, delivers a virtual educational playground for young kids. The app has seven mini-games that the kids can play to learn about letters, numbers, and music.

While the overall App Store is crowded, not as many apps have targeted the youngest kids. But then again, not everyone has thought about the demographics like Jordan Weisman, co-founder of Go Go Kiddo.

“As we project forward, we think the future of children’s TV isn’t on TV,” Weisman said in an interview. “The role of the TV will be supplanted by touchscreen devices. We are seeing that change quickly, as children embrace mobile devices and parents hand them to the backseat to make the kids happy.”

Go Go Kiddo is positioned as an environment that parents can trust and kids can explore for hours without getting into trouble. The games teach basic social concepts, develop motor skills, and engage kids with animated characters. The app is available on the Amazon Appstore for Android for $1.99. Extra entertainment packs, including the Snow Go Kiddo activity module, will cost 99 cents.

Weisman, who spoke at our recent GamesBeat 2011 conference about how games have hit their all-time peak, said the company went with the flat pricing because parents don’t trust their kids to play apps with virtual goods, where they can run the risk of running up big bills if the kids buy too much stuff.

Weisman’s founding team includes Dawne Weisman (Jordan’s wife) Joe DiNunzio, and Shane Small. The company has just 10 employees, but it has been busy as it has launched four titles in the past year. The iPhone version has been out for a week and Weisman said the game is seeing good retention.

The game’s mini-activities include Letter Launch, a game that allows kids to hear letter sounds and trace letters; Trace ‘n Race, which lets kids trace a number from 1 to 36 and race against the clock to click on all of the pictures that show that number; Creative Keys, which lets kids play a virtual piano and make a variety of other noises; MyStickerbook, which lets kids take pictures and then decorate them with digital stickers; Go Go Tunes, which are cartoon episodes aimed at teaching topics such as sharing, avoiding bullying, and respecting others.

Weisman has a long history in the game industry. He started making toys and games in 1980, when he founded FASA, which made the Shadowrun and BattleTech toy and game franchises. He founded Virtual World Entertainment, a virtual reality franchise, in 1987 and sold the company to Disney in 1992. He started a video game version of FASA, FASA Interactive, in 1995 and sold it to Microsoft in 1999.

Weisman's last company, Smith & Tinker, was able to raise $29 million in venture capital because its founders — Joe Lawandus and Weisman — are heavyweights in the game and entertainment industries. That company focused on hybrid games that fit in with toys. Weisman also operates Harebrained Schemes, which also makes a variety of games.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Apple job posts reveal Siri’s future: API, sleeker interface and more

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 10:09 PM PST

iPhone 4S SiriIt’s not every company that makes waves over new job postings, but Apple is not every company. Apple has two positions open for iOS engineers to work on the next generation of Siri, the voice-powered personal assistant for the iPhone 4S.

The new posts mention that the engineers will be working on a Siri API, which would allow applications to use the voice recognition functionality to carry out a variety of tasks.

The  contents of the job announcements are important because they indicate the future direction of voice-controlled Apple products on iOS. Apple’s job posts are loaded with enticement for talented and ambitious coders, and they read like marketing material. The company asks:

Want to make the next big thing even bigger?
Want to do the impossible?
Want to be constantly challenged into accomplishing things you know are beyond your reach?

Clearly, slackers need not apply. Since the iPhone 4S launch in October, Siri has captured the public imagination and driven tremendous phone sales. Apple sold 4 million iPhone 4S units in its first weekend alone.

Siri user interface manager Dan Keen used his personal Twitter account to broadcast the job postings, which may have set off the frenzy. Keen was previously a senior software engineer for the iPhone, and has been with Apple since 2006, according to his LinkedIn profile. Keen joined the Siri UI team just three months ago.

The junior engineer position will work to improve the user experience of the Siri results page, and how it appears on the phone. ”Consider it an entire miniature OS within the OS, and you get a good idea of the scope!,” Apple writes. Importantly, they want someone who can squeeze the maximum performance from the phone without draining battery life, or sacrificing on the overall experience.

The senior Siri engineer position reveals quite a bit more about the future of the product.

You will primarily be responsible for implementing the conversation view and its many  different actions. This includes defining a system that enables a dialog to appear intuitive, a task that involves many subtle UI behaviors in a dynamic, complex system. You will have several clients of your code, so the ability to formulate and support a clear API is needed.

It’s unclear whether the API would be used for third-party developers, or strictly for in-house purposes. The prospects are still tantalizing. If Apple develops its own television integrated with Siri, it should be more than enough to keep developer’s hands full for now.

And while Apple is busy preparing for the future of Siri, it would be well-advised to shore up the present. Repeated server outages and other technical issues have led some to call Siri “Apple’s broken promise.”

via 9to5Mac

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Updated: Nintendo shocker: Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto taking smaller role

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 09:05 PM PST

[Update: Nintendo is disputing the Wired report, saying in a statement that ""Video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto's role at Nintendo is not changing" and that "he will continue to be a driving force in Nintendo's development efforts."

The statement goes on the clarify that Miyamoto's expressed desire to pursue more hands-on development is "inclusive of overseeing all video game development and ensuring the quality of all products."]

Legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto said he will be stepping down from his supervisory executive role at  the company in order to focus on smaller, more personal game projects and allow room for younger designers to advance.

In an interview with Wired.com, the 59-year-old creator of venerable Nintendo franchises including Mario, Zelda, and Star Fox, said he was ceding his supervision of Nintendo’s Entertainment Analysis and Development branch, but would not be leaving Nintendo or quitting game development as a whole.

"What I really want to do is be in the forefront of game development once again myself," he said. "Probably working on a smaller project with even younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small."

By “really small,” Miyamoto said he meant a project that could be both started and publicly shown next year, something that wouldn’t “require a five-year development time” he said.

Miyamoto has been with Nintendo since 1979, when he helped design little-remembered arcade game Sherriff, the start of a career in which he was involved in some way with almost all of Nintendo’s most successful releases. His direct impact on any particular Nintendo game has dwindled somewhat as he’s moved into an executive role at the company,  though, spreading his work across high-level supervision of many teams working on high profile releases, including the recent Super Mario 3D Land and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Still, Miyamoto’s inspiration and guidance for the company are important enough that Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has said he’s barred Miyamoto from public discussion of his personal hobbies, for fear rival companies will cotton on to his next inspiration.

Speaking to Wired, Miyamoto stressed his stepping aside was the only way the young developers underneath him would be able to mature into the Nintendo leaders of tomorrow.

“Unless I say that I'm retiring, I cannot nurture the young developers," he said. "After all, if I'm there in my position as it is, then there's always kind of a relationship. And the young guys are always kind of in a situation where they have to listen to my ideas. But I need some people who are growing up much more than today."

Filed under: games

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DEMO Asia is holding auditions — beginning today!

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 06:16 PM PST

In Feb-March of next year, I’m heading to Singapore to attend DEMO Asia, a new event we’ve created to showcase the most disruptive technology companies in the Asia Pacific region.

Our DEMO partners in Asia are doing an excellent job revving up for the event.

Now they’ve opened the application process for companies seeking to launch there Feb 28-Feb 2. Many of these will be startups from Singapore and from surrounding countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Some of them will be new companies that haven’t had the opportunity to present at such a large-scale event.

The DEMO Asia team will be holding auditions for those companies wanting to launch products there. If you’re a company interested in auditioning, send an email to the DEMO Asia team expressing your interest, and they’ll respond soonest.

December 8th and 15th will be the next audition dates.

DEMO Asia is also an excellent launchpad for companies throughout the world hoping to launch in the Asian marketplace. As part of the DEMO experience, we’ve also created a way where companies that launch in Asia also get access to the DEMO event in the U.S., and in DEMO Brazil. And vice versa. Companies that launch in the U.S. at DEMO, get the right for free access to the DEMO Asia and DEMO Brazil events. 

I’m really looking forward to seeing amazing new companies surface throughout this program. Things are looking very exciting in Asia!

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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LivingSocial closes $176 million round. How far off is an IPO?

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 06:15 PM PST

Daily deals site LivingSocial has closed a monster $176 million round of financing, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission today. VentureBeat has learned that the $176 million is the first tranche of  $400 million the company hopes to raise over the next weeks and months to finance continued operations and expansion.

We reported in mid-November that the company was looking to raise $200 million at a $5 billion valuation. Investment bank JP Morgan, Lightspeed Ventures and Amazon.com all participated in the current round. One year ago this week, Amazon invested $175 million in LivingSocial. The daily-deals site has raised a total of $808 million in private funding and has spent $353 million to buy companies such as SocialMedia.com, TicketMonster and Urban Escapes. The current investment values the company at $6 billion.

LivingSocial is the No. 2 daily deals site in the U.S. after Groupon, which filed for an IPO in November. One of the criticisms of Groupon has been that it is very costly to have that many sales team members, and LivingSocial follows the same model. LivingSocial is based in Washington D.C. and claims to have a human sales representative in every city with a deals presence, according to Bloomberg.

Earlier this year, LivingSocial also had plans to file for an initial public offering, which would value the company at $10 billion, but scaled back its plans due to economic uncertainty. The outstanding $224 million the company plans to raise should allow it to further delay IPO plans while it seeks out future growth and waits for the public markets to settle.

Filed under: deals

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Dust off your Logitech Revue: Google TV Honeycomb update is here

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 06:12 PM PST

Logitech RevueFor those of you letting your Logitech Revue collect dust on a neglected shelf next to the DVD player, it’s time to break out the feather duster.

The Logitech Revue, a Google TV-enabled set-top box, is getting updated with Android 3.1 Honeycomb, the company announced today.

The new update gives Revue owners access to a new Google TV user interface, the Android Market, improved content search functionality and better overall performance. The addition of the Android Market is perhaps the most notable addition because it lets people download hundreds of Android applications on their HDTVs, including the recently launched Google Music app and Netflix. Over 50 apps are optimized specifically for the Google TV experience.

The update is free and will be delivered automatically to Revue owners via high-speed internet connection when they turn the device on. The update should roll out to all Revue owners by the end of the week, according to Logitech.

The Honeycomb update is probably the last significant upgrade planned by Logitech. Despite being the best Google TV-enabled device on market, the company announced plans to discontinue the Revue once the current stock sells through. Both critics and Logitech’s CEO have said the previous version of Google TV wasn’t ready for public consumption, which contributed to a slow consumer adoption rate and dismal Revue sales. The company dropped the price of the Revue from its initial $299 price point to just $99.

With the Honeycomb update (as well as comparable pricing with Apple’s severely limited $99 Apple TV set-top box competitor), many think the Revue is a great bargain for anyone looking for a Google TV solution.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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OnLive launches games-on-demand app for smartphones and tablets

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 06:00 PM PST

One of the pipe dreams of every gamer is to be able to play console-quality games on tablets and smartphones. Well, that day has come, as you can now use an OnLive app to run full versions of games like L.A. Noire and Batman: Arkham City on an iPad, iPhone, or Android tablets and smartphones.

OnLive is announcing today that it will be able to run console-class games on tablets and smartphones by streaming full console games to the devices from web-connected data centers. The service functions much like how OnLive streams high-quality games-on-demand to desktop computers and laptops. But now the service has been tuned to work with Wi-Fi or 4G-connected mobile devices, which typically have much less capability to run a high-quality game. Tablets supported include the iPad 2, HTC Flyer, HTC Jetstream, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom and the Amazon Kindle Fire.

OnLive’s hope is to disrupt the mobile game business, where developers haven’t been making games at this quality level. Of course, OnLive’s games — accessible at rental, full purchase, or subscription prices — will cost a lot more than many 99 cent or free mobile games. But these new OnLive games will raise the quality bar far above high-end iPad games such as Infinity Blade II, which just debuted in the App Store. Players will also be able to start playing on a PC, shift to a tablet, and then pick up where they left off when they get back to the PC. The OnLive games are instantly playable; no download is needed.

“Gaming on mobile devices will never be the same,” said Steve Perlman, chief executive of OnLive, in an interview. “We are delivering on our mobile vision.”

The games aren’t stripped down mobile versions. They are the console games themselves, formatted to run on the smaller screens. Steve Perlman, chief executive of OnLive in Palo Alto, Calif., said in an interview that it took a considerable amount of work to make it possible to run the high-end games on such low-end computing devices. Not all of the games are touch-enabled, but OnLive is in the process of converting a number of them so they can run with touch controls. And it has a wireless controller that can be used to play the games that don’t have touch controls. Full told, more than 150 games are available for play on OnLive on mobile.

I’ve had a good look at a number of games, including Defense Grid Gold and Virtua Tennis 2009 with the touchscreen and Unreal Tournament with a wireless controller. They run with fluid motion on the iPad 2.

Perlman said that the free OnLive app will now be available across as many as 500 million iOS (iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone) and Android devices in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. OnLive uses a combination of compression and cloud-based computing power to run games in internet-connected servers. Then it sends images from those games at high speeds over the internet to the user’s own machine, which can display them on the screen. To the user, it seems like the game is running on the local machine. In fact, the game is being streamed as if it were a video. Users can play instantly without waiting for downloads.

These streamed games have lots of advantages. A user can log into the OnLive service and his or her saved games from any machine. Publishers don’t have to worry about piracy or used games because each user is authenticated via the online connection. And the user does not need a high-end PC to play high-end games. In June 2010, OnLive launched in the U.S. for players using PCs, Macs and laptops. In the fall of 2010, OnLive launched its Micro Console, which allowed OnLive games to be played on big-screen TVs.

In June at the E3 show this year, Perlman demonstrated OnLive working on Facebook pages and on an iPad. But the iPad was only able to display Brag Clips or allow users to spectate. It wasn’t yet able to reliably games on tablet devices. Users can now rent games for as little as $1.99 for three to five days, or buy them for $49.99, or subscribe to a library of games for $9.99 a month. Now, users can take all of the games they ordinarily can get through their rentals, purchases or subscriptions and play them on the mobile devices. In September, OnLive launched in the U.K.

In some ways, the mobile OnLive isn’t a surprise. HTC invested in OnLive last year, and Perlman has been showing OnLive running on devices such as the HTC Flyer smartphone and the iPad for a while. But Perlman said that OnLive had to absorb the data from the tests over the past year and rewrite a number of its compression algorithms to make the service run more reliably on each individual tablet or smartphone. More devices will be added over time, and more games too.

The L.A. Noire game is a coup for OnLive. RockStar games redesigned the interface for L.A. Noire for tablets and touch. The new design creates a more immersive experience for the user, said Rowan Hajaj, vice president of finance and corporate development for RockStar, a division of Take-Two Interactive. L.A. Noire, which debuted this spring on the consoles, has highly realistic facial animations and lip sync technology, which results in ultra-realistic human characters. The game will be exclusively available on mobile via OnLive as a rental or purchase in the near future.

“We believe that this will not only appeal to current players of L.A. Noire, but also reach a new audience of casual tablet gamers who have never seen a game close to having the cinematic engagement of L.A. Noire,” Hajaj said. “We see our partnership with OnLive as pioneering an entire new era, and new market, in high-end gaming.”

The load times for the games are actually faster than they are on the consoles. Games such as L.A. Noire will run at 60 frames per second.

“L.A. Noire is one of the highest-performance games available,” Perlman said. “We wanted a headline game for this launch.”

You can play a game on an iPad 2 with a Wi-Fi connection. It is playable with as low as 1 megabit per second bandwidth, but 2-3 megabits per second is recommended. You can watch players in spectator mode in the Arena section. You can view Brag Clips, or videos that record your exploits in games. You can navigate to games and tap “Play Game” to get started. The visuals should be as good as what you see on a laptop, gamer PC, or a game console.

About 30 games are playable using a tablet’s touchscreen interface. Some games like L.A. Noire and Defense Grid Gold were either redesigned by the publisher for touch (as “native touch games”) and other games use a virtual gamepad overlay, which has an emulated mouse capability that responds to touch. Games in this category include Darksiders, Lego Batman, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. More touch-enabled games are coming.

With the $49.99 OnLive Wireless Controller, more than 150 games can be played on the tablets and smartphones. Games that work well with the wireless controller include Batman: Arkham City, Saint’s Row: The Third, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Homefront.

OnLive is revealing compatibility with AT&T and Verizon’s 4G LTE cellular service, enabling full high-definition resolution, low-latency gaming wherever there is 4G coverage. The work with AT&T began a while ago as AT&T invested in OnLive. Devices which tap the 4G network and run OnLive games are the HTC Jetstream, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom.That means you can pretty much play OnLive anywhere — indoors, outdoors, in the back seat of a moving car. The Amazon Kindle, which just debuted, is a cool new device. But it doesn’t have much processing power and it doesn’t work with the wireless controller for now.

On 3G devices, the latency is about 150 milliseconds, which isn’t playable for many games. That means you should play on Wi-Fi when using an iPad or iPad 2. But the 4G devices are just about instantaneous, Perlman said.

The OnLive app is available as a free download at the Apple iTunes store and the Android Market starting today. A year ago, OnLive had only about 20 or 30 games available. Now it has more than 150 and will soon be at about 200. Almost every major publisher has already released games to OnLive or is in the process of doing so, Perlman said. Only Activision Blizzard is missing from the list at the moment. Perlman hasn’t yet disclosed how many subscribers OnLive has. But he said, “In terms of growth, it’s happening. We are in that adolescent state where really interesting things are coming out. The shape of our growth curve is not unlike the launch of the Xbox 360.”

In fact, after the tablet and smartphone launch, Perlman said that productivity apps — such as Microsoft Office — will launch on OnLive early next year. To recap, OnLive’s investors include HTC, AT&T, Belgacom, Warner Bros., Juniper, and Autodesk. Partners include Vizio, Dell, GameStart Here, GameSpot, Intel, SRS, ATI Technologies (AMD), Nvidia, and Marvell.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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What’s inside the Xbox update for Netflix

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 04:58 PM PST

To go along with yesterday’s massive Xbox Live updates, Netflix has pushed out a new user experience for the Xbox 360. The Netflix application has undergone a complete overhaul, providing people with a completely new look and several new features.

The new Netflix for Xbox has a similar look and feel to Xbox Live’s new dashboard. The previous scrolling navigation is there, but with a new look that predominantly features stacked rows of movie and TV art, broken down by category. The new style is meant to enhance and improve browsing Netflix offerings with an Xbox Kinect.

Netflix boasts that the updated app displays three times more titles on the screen when you’re browsing and more titles overall in the app. The categories remain largely unchanged; you still see Recently Watched, Queue and all the strangely specific genres that Netflix thinks you like, such as “Witty Independent 20th Century Period Pieces.” Once new feature is that after a few seconds Netflix will show a screenshot of a scene from whatever movie or TV show you have selected on the main navigation screen.

Playing videos with the latest Netflix update has changed. You can now watch a TV show or episode while browsing episodes or reading a description of the video. Once a video has reached its end, Netflix will display a banner below the video that lets you play another episode (for TV shows) or end playback. For those familiar with using Hulu, the banner will seem familiar, as it has a similar look and feel.

If you have an HD TV and/or a surround sound system, the update ushers in better picture and sound quality with support for 720p HD streaming and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  This update also brings Netflix to some Latin America Xbox owners. Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Columbia can now stream Netflix on a Xbox 360.

While the new Netflix look has delivered significant changes to the look and feel of the app, it has also taken some features away. The ability to watch videos with a group of people on different Xboxes, aka the Party feature, is seemingly missing, and that has angered some Xbox owners. Also, while the app shows you on its home screen which buttons to press on the Xbox controller to play a video, there are no such cues with the banner that appears at the end of a video. I can imagine they designed this with Kinect users in mind, but for those navigating with a controller it can be confusing.

Some people, myself included, found issues with video playback in general. It could have just been overloaded servers from the Xbox Live update, but playback was choppy and had issues with freezing.

While this update was meant to seamlessly blend with the new Xbox Dashboard, many have lashed out against Netflix. Over on the Netflix blog you can read comments of complaints about the update, issues with playback and anger over the loss of the Party feature. While the look of the new Netflix is sleek and stylish, it doesn’t seem to be getting much praise.

Filed under: media

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Groupon releases online scheduling tool for merchants and phone-phobic patrons

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 04:25 PM PST

Talking on the phone is so 2009, but every so often you must power through the pain, pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. And so, newly public Groupon is piloting an online scheduling tool to take the pain away for merchants and their customers.

Groupon Scheduler, as the new tool is called, gives merchants in Sacramento and Miami the ability to accept appointments on the web, so that phone-phobic patrons can skip the hassle of talking to a person and immediately book a date after buying a deal.

Both merchant and customer receive confirmation emails when an appointment is booked via Scheduler, and automated email reminders are sent out 24 hours before scheduled bookings.

The product is currently free for merchants, and integrated into the Groupon experience, but merchants can also optionally use the scheduling tool and “Book Now” buttons to manage their entire calendar, and all of their services (not just the services they’re offering via Groupon), on their own sites.

“We wanted to create a tool that would not only make the Groupon feature process easier for merchants, but also help them run their businesses on an ongoing basis beyond their Groupon deal,” Mihir Shah, vice president of product, said.

Groupon Scheduler actually comes from a small, Vancouver-based company called OpenCal. Groupon acquired the startup in September for an undisclosed sum and waited until yesterday to announce its new purchase.

The new feature certainly fills a small hole in the Groupon experience, but with limited availability, Scheduler will do little to boost Groupon sales or calm investor trepidation. Or maybe it will. The market is showing renewed faith in the company. Groupon opened at $20 a share in November, saw share prices plummet shortly thereafter, but is once again trading slightly above its initial asking price.

[Image via sunface13/Flickr]

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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$99 HP Touchpad sale on eBay starting 12/11, but they’re refurbished

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 03:41 PM PST

BestBuy Touchpad LineDidn’t get your $99 HP Touchpad WebOS tablet the first time around? The company is holding an eBay sale for refurbished Touchpads starting on December 11th.

The company sent out a memo to employees detailing the sale, which prices used Touchpads at $99 for a 16 GB version and $149 for a 32 GB tablet. This follows HP’s late August sale where Best Buy stores sold new Touchpads for the same price. That sale drove people to wait outside of participating stores for hours (pictured right), only to find most Best Buys had only received ten or so tablets.

Originally, the tablet was priced at a hefty $499, which led units to collect dust on store shelves. After the inventory-draining success of its Best Buy sale, HP decided to hold a second sale, but with a catch: People who wanted the touch pad for $149 could only get the sale price if they also purchased a PC on the Best Buy website.

People want iPads or an inexpensive tablet, and HP knows it can minimize its obvious losses by selling the tablet for so cheap. Given the sale history, HP expects the tablets will quickly run out of stock on eBay, and sent out the below memo to its employees. The memo promises the company will not make a general public announcement until the HP employees had their fill the night before. The memo also wished employees “good luck.”

The sale starts at 6 pm central time on December 11. You can only use your PayPal account to buy a maximum of two refurbished Touchpads. No returns, unless your tablet is defective. There will also be packaging available, including a case, charging dock and wireless keyboard bundle for $79 extra. The tablet may sell out quicker with the holidays around the corner and people thinking presents.

Check out the memo, which was intercepted by TechCrunch below:

To: U.S. HP Employees

HP employees will have a chance to purchase a refurbished HP TouchPad via eBay before the sale is announced to the general public. Specifically, the TouchPads will be offered through one of HP's newest marketplaces for close-out and refurbished HP products, the new HP eBay Store.

This product will NOT be available through any other HP stores, such as the Home & Home Office store, Small & Medium Business store, HP EPP or the HP Business Outlet. PLEASE DO NOT CALL ANY OF THESE CALL CENTERS BECAUSE IT DISRUPTS REGULAR SALES ACTIVITIES AND THEY'RE UNABLE TO PROCESS AN ORDER FOR THE TOUCHPADS ANYWAY.

In an effort to give HP employees first chance at a very limited supply of refurbished TouchPads, there will be a short delay between when the product is posted live for sale on eBay and when the general public is notified of the sale.

Refurbished HP TouchPads, both 16GB and 32GB versions, will be posted for sale through the HP eBay store at: 6:00 p.m. (Central Time), Sunday, December 11th. If you are interested in purchasing a refurbished TouchPad, please make yourself a reminder to log-on to eBay a few minutes before the sale starts to make your purchase.

The TouchPads will be available for sale here (under "Laptops"):


Important information about this sale:

There will be both 16GB and 32GB versions available, selling at a fixed price of $99 and $149 respectively…while supplies last.

There is also an optional 3-piece Accessory bundle with a Case, Charging Dock & Wireless Keyboard for $79 (est. value $199.97).

Purchases must be made through the HP eBay store via PayPal only. If you do not have eBay or PayPal accounts, create your accounts before the sale begins to avoid delays.

The product offer will be announced to the general public on Monday morning and is expected to sell-out quickly thereafter, so don't delay.

There will be a limit of two (2) TouchPad SKUs per eBay member, sold on a first come, first served basis.

This sale is not associated with any HP-sponsored employee purchase program and there are no additional discounts for HP employees off the HP eBay store price.

All sales are final. There are no returns unless product arrives defective.

The refurbished TouchPad product comes with a 90-day limited warranty.

Please note that eBay orders only allow one ship-to location per order.

Thank you for your cooperation, good luck to you and don't forget to mark your calendars for 6:00 p.m. (Central Time), Sunday, December 11th.

Filed under: mobile

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Link discovered between online buzz and TV ratings

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 03:06 PM PST

Remember those stream-of-conscious tweets you posted about NeNe’s bad behavior in the latest episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. It turns out that those updates amount to a whole lot more than pointless banter, according to analytics firm Nielsen, which has found a link between between social buzz and ratings.

Nielsen, the TV ratings expert that also runs the social media measurement service NM Incite, looked at 250 television shows and more than 150 million social media sites to determine the relationship between social media and television.

Based on its data, Nielsen has concluded that there is “a statistically significant relationship” between online buzz and TV ratings throughout a show’s season, with stronger correlations among younger folks and females.

Specifically, if you’re in the 18 to 34 bracket, consider yourself among those whose updates are most likely to contribute to a ratings bump on premiere night. You all are the most active social networkers, according to Nielsen, and so a nine percent increase in buzz volume from your group, four weeks prior to a show’s premiere, will cause a one percent increase in ratings.

But your influence over ratings wears off a bit toward the middle of a season, at which time a 14 percent increase in buzz from your 18 to 34 year-old friends merely creates the same one percent ratings boost.

When it comes to our ability to influence ratings, sex really matters, as usual. “At the genre level, 18 to 34 year-old females showed significant buzz-to-ratings relationships for reality programs (competition and non-competition), comedies and dramas, while men of the same age saw strong correlations for competition realities and dramas,” Nielsen said.

Still, all age groups — even dudes over 50, the least buzzy demo according to the company — turn up the volume on their social chatter (but have less influence) by the time a show’s finale episode airs.

The bottom line is this: Lots of social media chatter from the right audiences equates to better ratings. Of course, this means we can expect even more networks to encourage viewers to tweet, Facebook, G+ and gab about shows all over the web. Bravo is already aggressive (and successful) in its Twitter hashtag promotion tactics.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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House passes bill allowing Netflix to take advantage of Facebook’s open graph

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 02:34 PM PST

The U.S. House of Representatives passed new legislation yesterday intended to update an antiquated law that prohibits companies from sharing a person’s movie-rental history.

While technology has pushed growing number of U.S. citizens to watch movies through a streaming video service instead of going to a video store, the privacy laws for video rentals haven’t changed in over two decades. The new house bill aims to change that — allowing movie streaming services like Netflix to take advantage of social media features.

Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) in 1988 after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental records were published in a news publication. At the time, the law seemed to make sense because a person’s video rental history does have the potential to affect public opinion about that person — especially when running for public office or being nominated for a public position.

“There’s a greater consumer benefit in clarifying an issue that is affecting privacy. The original VPPA… was hastily written and (came) before any of the social aspects of the Internet even existed,” Netflix Vice President of Corporate Communication Steve Swasey told VentureBeat.

The new bill, which still needs approval by the Senate, allows consumers to give a one-time consent to release their rental data. Such a measure will allow streaming media service Netflix to finally take advantage of social features on social media network Facebook’s open graph platform. Netflix subscribers in Canada and Latin America already have access to the Facebook integration, which lets users see what streaming videos their Facebook friends have been watching.

“The [Facebook features] are available in 44 of the 45 countries Netflix operates in.” Swasey said. “The one country it’s not available in happens to be the United States of America.”

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Microsoft launches Xbox Live app for iPhone users

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 02:19 PM PST

Microsoft has released its official Xbox Live app for Apple’s iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch (iOS) devices.

The free app will allow users to log into their Xbox Live accounts and see their avatars, gamerscores, communicate with friends, and other functions even if they’re far from their Xbox 360 game console.

The app is part of making Xbox Live into a broader entertainment network that is indispensable to people, whether they are playing games or not.

The new app lets you read and send messages to friends, manage your friends list, invite new friends, read and edit a full Live profile, change your avatar features, and view and compare your achievement progress with friends. In other words, it’s just one more way to brag about your game abilities, according to Larry Hyrb, aka Major Nelson, Microsoft’s official game podcaster.

Microsoft launched similar functionality when it launched Windows Phone 7 software a year ago. But making the app available on the iPhone means that Microsoft is no longer religiously promoting its own Windows software. Yesterday, Microsoft introduced its Xbox Companion for Windows Phone 7, which has even more features than the iOS app. You can, for instance, use the Windows Phone 7 app to control your game console and what is displayed on it.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Google+ releases updated Android application, now with search

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 12:19 PM PST

Google+ AndroidGoogle+ released an update to its Android application today, with a fresh set of features including a highly requested search function.

Search is Google’s bailiwick, so it was puzzling that the company’s Android app didn’t originally support what is now considered a basic function of discovery. Now, a bar at the top of the application will allow you to search for any name or keyword to will bring up a post or profile. Photos are not included in the search feature.

The Google+ app has also added instant video upload support again, along with the option to “+1″ photos as well as comments. Chat functions are different as well. Similarly to Gchat, you are now able to see who is online and available to chat, as well as when someone is typing a message to you. The messenger allows you to start conversations by entering a phone number, as opposed to looking up a profile.

The last update is actually a small one, but takes care of a pet peeve of mine in any app, on any operating system: when a link doesn’t open inside the app. Now, posts and photo links tapped on in Google+ stay in the Google+ app.

In a nice bit of timing, Facebook also released its new Android app today, but that update is focused on photos and adding the grey Facebook sidebar that iPhone users have had for awhile.


Filed under: mobile, social

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Facebook speeds up Android app and improves navigation

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 12:16 PM PST

Facebook-AndroidFacebook has upgraded its Android app with better navigation, easier access to messages, and faster photo viewing, the company announced today.

The Android mobile app has always been behind the iPhone version when it comes to design and features. With this newest Android update, Facebook looks like it is finally giving its Android brethren the attention they deserve. The Android Facebook app has been downloaded more than 100 million times, so it’s strange that the app has seen much less support.

In a rather thin blog post, Facebook said three things are emphasized in the update. First, photos and albums can be viewed twice as fast. Second, messages and notifications are now accessible from an icon at the top of the app. Third, there’s a new way to navigate with a left-hand column that displays the news feed, groups, games and apps. The navigation column looks almost identical to the iOS version.

The Facebook app runs on Android 1.5 and up, so most Android phones will work with it. The new app will be live “soon” in the Android Market.

On Android, Facebook now has to contend with Google+ when it comes to mobile features. Google+ on Android lets you do mobile Hangouts with video chat, use Messenger for quick group chats and today it added a search bar that lets users find anything on the network.

A few more looks at the new Facebook app for Android can be viewed below:

Filed under: mobile, social

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Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal opens Friday

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 10:13 AM PST


Apple will open its latest Apple Store location in New York City at the famous Grand Central Terminal on Friday, the company announced today.

This isn’t just another Apple Store opening; it’s a big deal for a few reasons. First, Grand Central is iconic and featured frequently in New-York-based movies and television. Second, at 23,000 square feet, this location will be one of the world's largest Apple Stores. Third, the location will have a different look than most other Apple Stores because of its surroundings.

The store takes over the spot the Metrazur Restaurant held in Grand Central, and Apple reportedly paid $5 million to get the spot. The massive store will offer two Genius Bars with 12 seats each, 45 display tables for Apple products, three walls of accessories and 315 full- and part-time employees. Unfortunately, there will be no public restrooms like most other Apple Stores have.

Business Insider has posted a few photos outside and one shot inside of the store (including the one above). It looks like a place tourists will go when checking out Grand Central.

The Grand Central location’s hours will pair nicely with that of commuters using Grand Central to travel all over New York and surrounding states. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Watch out later this week for a full gallery of shots from inside the store.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Facebook Timeline already has 1M users, but don’t expect to see it stateside anytime soon

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 10:12 AM PST

Facebook is slowly introducing its anxiously-awaited radical redo of the standard user profile, otherwise known as Timeline, by rolling out and testing the feature in New Zealand, the company announced Tuesday.

Timeline was first announced in September and is perhaps Facebook’s most ambitious contribution to the world of social networking since News Feed. The progressive feature swaps out the user’s profile for a scrapbook-inspired, expandable storybook. Timeline is comprised of an extra large cover photo, and uses status updates and special occasions to fill in the blanks of a user’s online and offline life.

New Zealand is the first country to officially get the new Timeline feature. Developers –and crafty users who pose as developers — have had access to the not-ready-for-primetime feature since the big reveal at Facebook’s f8 developer conference. So Timeline already has more than one million users, product manager Sam Lessin said.

But Timeline’s own timeline has been a topic of constant speculation, with the company remaining mostly mum on the subject. Its arrival in New Zealand does suggest that the feature is close to making its worldwide debut. Still, Facebook is not ready to share timing around a wider rollout, a company spokesperson said.

So why New Zealand? For starters, it’s an English-speaking country with a relatively small population of more than 4 million people, so it’ll give the social network an opportunity to kick Timeline’s tires a bit without taking it out for a full test drive.

“It’s far away from our data centers, so we can monitor speed and performance,” Lessin told the NZHerald.

“As a global company, we need to gain perspective and insights from outside the U.S.,” a Facebook representative explained to VentureBeat.

For now, we’ll just have to take the “coming soon” message at face(book) value, which means that we shouldn’t expect to see Timeline widely released for several more months.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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