10 December, 2011



10 of the most anticipated video games of 2012

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

Looking back, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't agree that 2011 was a great year for video games. It was a year that brought us Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Minecraft finally left beta, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 slugged it out in a grudge match for military shooter supremacy, and soon hundreds of thousands of Star Wars fans will be able to visit Tatooine and blast a few Sand People in Star Wars: The Old Republic. But now that the year is coming to a close and we've all done some science, improved our kill/death ratios, and filled our Skyrim houses with severed heads, it's time to start looking forward to 2012. Here, in no particular order, are ten of GamesBeat's picks for most-anticipated titles of the new year.

BioShock InfiniteBioShock: Infinite
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: TBA 2012

The original BioShock, developed by 2K Boston (now known as Irrational Games) in 2007, was an instant classic that introduced gamers to the dystopian underwater city of Rapture, an Ayn Randian experiment in Objectivism gone horribly wrong. The 2010 sequel BioShock 2, developed by 2K Marin, had the unenviable task of living up to the high standards set by its predecessor and was met with generally positive reviews. But with creative director Ken Levine and the team at Irrational back behind the wheel, there is a definite buzz surrounding the development of BioShock: Infinite, which trades the dark ocean depths for the blue skies and American Exceptionalism of the early 1900s.

In Infinite, players take on the role of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent tasked with rescuing a woman named Elizabeth from the floating, weaponized city of Columbia. Levine says in order to bring Columbia to life, Irrational needed an entirely new game engine, along with brand-new animation and AI systems. It also had to rebuild and expand the arsenal players will use in the game to accommodate indoor and outdoor firefights at 30,000 feet. "The only thing gamers can be certain of is this: the rules of the BioShock universe are about to change,” Levine said.

Mass Effect 3Mass Effect 3
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: March 6, 2012

An ancient alien race called the Reapers is destroying everything in its path. Earth has been captured. The galaxy is on the verge of total annihilation and Commander Shepard is the only one who can save it. No pressure.

The third and final installment in BioWare's critically-acclaimed sci-fi trilogy will be the culmination of a journey many gamers began four years ago. As Commander Shepard, players will lead a counter assault against the Reapers, deciding along the way which planets to save and which alliances to form or abandon as they battle the alien threat – and they won't be doing it alone. For the first time ever, multiplayer is coming to the Mass Effect universe. The game will feature a 4-player cooperative mode that lets players take on the role of elite soldiers sent to protect resources and assets needed in the war effort. It will also feature a new system called Galaxy at War, which will link all Mass Effect games and applications back to the single player campaign and the BioWare Social Network.

Diablo III Witch DoctorDiablo III
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC
Release Date: Q1 2012

There should be a giant asterisk next to this game because, hey, it's Blizzard. This is the same developer that took 12 years to release a StarCraft sequel…and hasn't finished it yet. Blizzard is a company infamous for taking its time, so I won't be surprised if Diablo III's release date gets pushed back. With the game already in closed beta, however, more delays seem unlikely. It shouldn't be long now before gamers everywhere are once again dungeon delving for shiny loot and challenging the fiends of the Burning Hells. The Diablo series is the granddaddy of point-and-click action role-playing games and Blizzard says it wants to build on everything it's learned since the release of Diablo II to create the best experience to date.

Halo 4Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: Holiday 2012

Master Chief is back!

Although details on the game are scarce, we do know that Halo 4 will supposedly kick off a whole new trilogy for the franchise called the "Reclaimer Trilogy." It will also be the first game in the series not developed by Bungie. Microsoft Game Studios subsidiary 343 Industries is taking over. According to the official description at Xbox.com, events in the game will take place during the aftermath of Halo 3 and Master Chief will have to "confront his own destiny and face an ancient evil that threatens the fate of the entire universe."

Borderlands 2Borderlands 2
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: Fiscal 2013 (April 2012 – March 2013)

Gearbox Software's Borderlands became a breakout hit in 2009, selling several million copies. It was notable for its cel-shaded art style and shoot-and-loot gameplay, as well as its threadbare storyline and dim-witted AI. However, Gearbox says Borderlands 2 will be an epic sequel, and it has an ambitiously crafted story in the works for those who make the return trip to Pandora. The game will also feature all-new characters, skills, environments, enemies, weapons, and equipment. Don't worry, though, Claptrap and his sexy dance will be back. I know you missed it.

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THQ lays off 30 following lower-than-expected uDraw sales

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 07:05 PM PST

uDraw GameTablet for WiiTHQ has laid off 30 people from its Play THQ development team, including executive of kids-family-casual games Martin Good.

Play THQ is the team behind the uDraw GameTablet (pictured above). The system was viewed as an innovative addition to the Wii game console that could bring out the artistic side of younger players. But sales during the season of huge blockbusters were weak.

VentureBeat first heard of the layoffs on Twitter and contacted THQ to confirm the story. In a statement, THQ said that lower-than-expected sales of the device have led the company to take the difficult, but important, step of reducing the number of employees that support the brand. The company adds this will allow them to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and increase the focus of the organization.

WWE '12 and Saints Row the Third are two of the top games this holiday season and we also have another huge hit coming up in February with the launch of UFC 3,” THQ said. ”We want to make sure that we are focused on maximizing the sales and profitability of these titles as well as the broader pipeline of titles that matter most to our future.”

Earlier this week, THQ updated its outlook for its fiscal 2012 third quarter, which ends on December 31. Due to uDraw’s weak sales, the company says it now expects to report net sales for the third quarter approximately 25 percent below its previously announced guidance of $510 million to $550 million.

THQ expects to announce fiscal 2012 third quarter results in early February 2012 and will provide an update to its fiscal 2012 fourth quarter and full year guidance at that time.

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Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer running retail divison until Johnson replacement found

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 05:25 PM PST

Apple Grand CentralSince Apple lost its head of retail, Ron Johnson to department store JCPenney, the company has been on a search for a replacements. In the meantime, someone needs to be at the retail beast’s helm, and that’s chief executive officer Peter Oppenheimer.

Johnson left Apple for JCPenney in November after being hired by the company in June. Finding a replacement is important, as Apple’s retail division is largely successful and a huge part of Apple’s outward brand. However, Johnson seemingly put the ball in motion for Apple’s retail plans. It doesn’t seem to have stopped the company as it opened its latest retail store in New York City’s famous Grand Central Terminal today. Indeed, this retail store is one of the largest for Apple, sitting at 23,000 square feet.

Apple is currently using Egon Zehnder International’s services to find a replacement for Johnson, according to 9-to-5-Mac. The company has also denied promoting Steve Cano, a key player in Apple’s retail division, to senior vice president of retail.

Instead, Oppenheimer is taking charge, outside of his usual financial responsibilities. He will lead Steve Cano, Jerry McDougall and Bob Bridger and is only a temporary choice until Apple finds a permanent filler. His title also remains the same, and reports to Tim Cook.

[via 9 to 5 Mac]

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Google goes to Hollywood with new mobile movie search experience

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 05:15 PM PST

It’s almost that time of year when we take off from work to celebrate the holidays. Of course, year-after-year we quickly realize that we’re left with far too much time to spend with family, and so we take a trip down the street to see what’s playing at the local cinema.

Now Google is offering up its own escape route with an enhanced mobile movie search experience.

When you query movies or theater names on Google in your iOS or Android browser, you’ll get back a colorful and finger-friendly movie poster ribbon that’s designed to help you zero in on flick to see faster.

“For each movie, you'll see the movie poster, a short summary, ratings and the nearest theaters and showtimes,” Google engineer Toshi Tajima explained. “Designed to help you quickly browse what's playing in theaters now, this information instantly updates as you slide through the movie posters — no need to wait for a page to load or to use the back button,” he added.

Results even feature cast details, full film summaries, and, when available, movie trailers (though trailers do redirect and open in YouTube), which makes the whole experience remarkably similar to IMDb, albeit faster, a tad more convenient and tailored just for movies currently playing in nearby theaters.

Yes, we know you have plenty of movie-related applications to choose from on both Android and iPhone — Apple even has its own newly-introduced iTunes Movie Trailers app for this purpose — but we also know that many of you still start your movie queries on Google simply out of habit. So consider this an early Christmas gift from the GOOG.

[Image via David Gallagher/Flickr]

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Siri helps Apple sell 30 million iPhones in Q4, shares could hit $510 (analyst)

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 04:54 PM PST

Analysts believe Apple is on target to sell 30 million smartphones by the end of the December quarter, beating previous estimates of 28 million phones. Sales of the highly-anticipated iPhone 4S have no-doubt been fueled by Siri, the voice-powered virtual assistant, which appeared in mid-October on the new Apple smartphone.

UBS analyst Maynard Um sees strong sales of Apple’s mobile devices pushing the company’s share value above $510 per share during the next 12 months, with a strong buy rating, according to Apple Insider.

The iPhone wasn’t Apple’s only cash cow — more than 12 million iPads were also sold this quarter. Um said it was “achievable” for Apple to sell 13 million iPads in the quarter, exceeding his original estimates of up to 12 million.

Apple smartphones account for 10 percent of all phones in the U.S., and iOS devices make up 28.1 percent of the smartphone market. Android commands 46.3 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, fragmented across devices from manufacturers such as Samsung, Motorola and HTC.

We recently reported that anticipation for the iPhone 4S — which many people thought would be the iPhone 5 — likely resulted in a temporary global slowdown in the growth of smartphone sales during Q3. We also reported today that the iPhone 4S dominated online smartphone buzz for the year.

There there seems to be no end in sight for the good, revenue-filled times at Apple. The company today opened its largest retail store in New York’s Grand Central Station, welcoming swarms of eager holiday shoppers and die-hard fans. This week Apple also posted two job openings for Siri engineers to help design the future of the voice assistant, and, we imagine, continue to fuel record profitability.

Filed under: mobile

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Angry Birds turns two this weekend. Rovio celebrates in style.

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 04:34 PM PST

The smash hit mobile game Angry Birds turns two on Dec. 11, having been downloaded over half a billion times since launch. To celebrate the occasion, Rovio is offering up new levels, menus and special ‘birdday’ achievements, which will be made available in an iOS update.

There will be 15 specially themed birthday levels appearing on iOS this Sunday, and all existing episodes of the game will be unlocked. Updates for other platforms will be following soon.

Finnish developer Rovio has teamed up with Barnes and Noble in the U.S., with special events and giveaways taking place in stores on Dec. 11, from 11 am to 3 pm. Toys 'R' Us will also be offering discounts on Angry Birds plush toys on Sunday, and will be giving out a code that unlocks an Angry Birds Google Chrome bonus level.

Angry Birds celebrations will also be hitting the Apple store in Ginza, Japan, where Rovio chief marketing officer Peter Vesterbacka will give a presentation on Angry Birds' success story.

The story of Rovio's rise to the forefront of the gaming world really is quite remarkable. In December 2009, Rovio was just a small Finnish developer. Two years down the line, Angry Birds has become the most popular app ever, the company has been valued at over $1 billion  and Hollywood has apparently been knocking on the door.

Not content to rest on its laurels, Rovio is continuing to expand its Angry Birds franchise in a variety of directions. Vesterbacka has likened the company to Disney, stating  "We're building an integrated entertainment franchise where merchandising, games, movies, TV, cartoons and comics all come together. Look at how Disney got started. Steamboat Willie created Mickey Mouse, then they added more characters. You can see the same pattern today, but everything is happening much, much faster."

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Motorola wins latest patent spat against Apple in Germany

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 04:15 PM PST

A German court sided with Motorola in a patent lawsuit against Apple today, granting an injunction against the iPad and iPhone maker. Apple said it plans to appeal the decision.

Motorola’s lawsuit, which was filed in April 2011, accuses Apple of using patented cellular data transmission technology in its iPhones and 3G iPads without paying. Motorola can pursue the injunction by posting a $133 million bond, prohibiting Apple from selling the offending devices in Germany unless Apple removes the technology.

“We’re going to appeal the court’s ruling right away. Holiday shoppers in Germany should have no problem fiddling the iPad or iPhone they want.” Apple said in a statement.

Apple has defended its use of the technology on FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) terms. When a technology is classified as FRAND, the owner of the patent is required to license it to other companies for a fee, since the technology is considered essential to an industry. And Motorola does in fact license this same patent (a “method for performing a countdown function during a mobile-originated transfer for a packet radio system”) to other companies.

Apple is offering to pay the fees going forward, but it’s too little too late. The company has used the technology in its 3G products, without coughing up payment, for years. Apple fought against paying past due amounts, causing the German courts to side with Morotola.

This is just the latest court decision in a back-and-forth patent battle between the two companies that goes back years, and will most likely continue well into the future.

Gavel image via Shutterstock

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WebOS will live on in HP tablets, according to CEO Meg Whitman

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 04:01 PM PST

hp touchpadHewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman says tablets are still in the cards for the newly open sourced WebOS, despite lackluster sales for the mobile operating system’s original product, the Touchpad.

Whitman and investor Marc Andreessen of venture firm Andreessen-Horowitz explained to The Verge that HP is not ready to give up on WebOS devices just yet. It believes the operating system is only going to get better with more hands contributing to its development under the new open source model. These potential devices include tablets, but not smartphones, as the company has become disenchanted with the mobile product.

“In the near term what I would imagine – and this could change, in full disclosure – is I would think tablets, I do not believe we will be in the smartphone business again,” the duo told The Verge.

The timing is still on shaky ground, even internally for HP. Whitman was careful to explain that the company couldn’t promise anything for 2012. Producing the device will require team formation, which Whitman says will take time to carefully construct. She also noted that the new teams would go in a “different direction than we’ve been taking it in the past.”

Part of the desire to continue the tablet may come from HP’s success with the Touchpad’s discounted sales. WebOS is actually a desirable operating system for tablets. It’s popularity originally stemmed from the ability to multitask — a gripe many have had with Apple’s iOS. Multitasking is the ability to load and use an application while another is open. This is particularly appreciated when it comes to web browsing. Instead of waiting for a page to load, you can leave the page as you would on a computer and return to find it ready for action.

HP is having another sale of its Touchpad starting December 11. This sale takes place only on eBay and features $99 and $149 Touchpads, which have been refurbished.

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YouTube buys a friend in the music biz

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 04:00 PM PST

YouTube has purchased music royalty processing startup RightsFlow for an undisclosed sum, the companies announced Friday. Another day, another acquisition for YouTube parent company Google, right? Not so fast, this deal has big implications and could make YouTube a much more music-friendly place.

RightsFlow was founded in 2007 and operates a copyright compliance system that manages a database of more than 30 million song licenses. Think of the company as a content licenser (and digital debt collector) that ensures publishers, record labels, artists and songwriters get royalty fees whenever their copyrighted tracks are used.

“By combining RightsFlow's expertise and technology with YouTube's platform, we hope to more rapidly and efficiently license music on YouTube, meaning more music for you all to enjoy, and more money for the talented people producing the music,” YouTube product manager David King said in blog post on the acquisition.

The popular video streaming site is not exactly known for its copyright-obeying user base. Earlier this year, it instituted a new program called YouTube Copyright School to slightly admonish and better educate members on proper copyright code-of-conduct.

Ideally, today’s news will mean that more copyrighted music would become YouTube-friendly, which could lead to fewer video take-downs and less user-admonishing. One can only hope.

YouTube was previously a client of RightsFlow, but as the company’s new owner, it remains to be seen how this deal will affect other RightsFlow clients, which include Rhapsody, Zynga and Clear Channel.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Why Google native client will make game developers and consumers happy (video)

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 04:00 PM PST

Eric Kay, engineering manager at Google

Google announced on Thursday that its “native client” technology is ready, and it will allow game developers to get heavy-duty games to run in web browsers.

This video with one of Google’s technical gurus gives a full explanation of the significance of this technology. In essence, native client has turned web games played on the Chrome browser into a high-end gaming platform.

Square Enix and a a bunch of other game companies showed their support for the effort and demonstrated games with 3D graphics running in the Google Chrome browser. Native-client games will be able to take full advantage of multicore microprocessors, whereas most web content today can’t.

Eric Kay (pictured right), engineering manager at Google on the native client project, said that native client games will be able to reach a much wider audience of users who play games in browsers but don’t want to buy game consoles or invest in expensive gamer PC hardware. Chrome has 200 million users now.

Kay said the benefits of running a game natively in the Chrome browser is high performance, security, and the ability to port older games to the system easily. Developers can use a variety of familiar programming tools.

The Unity 3D game engine will now include a check box that a developer can click in order to make a Unity-based game run on the Chrome browser. That’s pretty darn simple. It means developers don’t have to waste a lot of time rewriting games and other apps for the web, only to see them crawl in slow motion. Besides games, photo and video apps will also benefit from the native client technology.

Here’s our video of Eric Kay below.

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Lame: Verizon is abandoning its FiOS TV & internet service to pursue wireless partnerships

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 02:46 PM PST

Communications giant Verizon is scaling back efforts to grow its FiOS television and Internet services, according to comments made by the company’s Chief Executive Lowell McAdams during the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York Wednesday.

McAdams said the company will end its wireless LTE partnership with DirecTV in favor of new agreements with major cable companies Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House, reports the Washington Post.

Under the terms of that new agreement, Verizon will pay the three cable companies $3.6 billion to license a portion of wireless spectrum currently not in use. In return, the cable companies will cross-market Verizon’s phone, video, Internet and cell phone services to its customers.

Verizon also plans to stop building out the infrastructure for its FiOS services, McAdams said. There are two main reasons for this decisions: One, FiOS directly competes with big cable companies, and two, Verizon would rather spend its money expanding its wireless business instead of the expensive costs associated with building out the FiOS infrastructure.

McAdams said Verizon intends to maintain and promote FiOS within existing markets. However, judging by Verizon’s current strategy, it seems more likely that the FiOS portion of the business will get split up and sold off eventually. That’s sad considering the lack of high-speed Internet options available in the U.S.

Filed under: deals, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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No bonanza: November video game sales grow a scant 0.4 percent

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 02:27 PM PST

U.S. retail video game sales were only slightly up from a year ago, growing 0.4 percent to $3 billion this year, according to market researcher NPD Group. Even though growth wasn’t huge, software sales were up 15 percent and the industry will probably greet the report with some relief because sales didn’t shrink during one of the most critical sales months of the year.

Roughly 40 percent of game sales occur in November and December, in a typical year. The November sales follow a 1 percent growth in October, a 6 percent drop in September, a 23 percent drop in August, a 26 percent drop in July and a 10 percent drop in June, NPD reported.

Not surprisingly, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 took the top sales figure, with sales 7 percent above Call of Duty Black Ops a year ago, said Anita Frazier, an analyst at NPD.

Total video game hardware, software, and accessory sales at retail stores were $3.0 billion in November, up 0.4 percent from $2.99 billion a year ago. Overall console video game sales (excluding PC games) were $2.93 billion, down 0.5 percent from $2.94 billion a year ago. Sales were about three times as much as sales in October. Such growth from October to November is typical.

Game hardware sales were $982.4 million, down 9 percent from $$1.08 billion a year ago. Game software sales were $1.67 billion, up 15 percent from $1.45 billion a year ago. Accessory sales, which in earlier months this year were up thanks to strong sales of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing system, were $273.8 million, down 34 percent from $414.4 million a year ago. Kinect and Sony’s PlayStation Move launched a year ago, generating huge accessory sales last year.

If you throw in the sales of PC, console and portable games, the total is $.1.74 billion, up 16 percent from $1.5 million a year ago.

Frazier said that a decline in the average retail price in all categories with the exception of portable hardware held overall sales down. She expects that December sales will be flat to down 3 percent.

The bright spots of the month were some of the big new releases such as Activision Blizzard’s Modern Warfare 3, which was the top-selling title of the month. That was followed by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from Bethesda Softworks, Battlefield 3 from Electronic Arts (the top seller in October), Assassin’s Creed Revelations from Ubisoft, Just Dance 3 from Ubisoft, Madden NFL 12 from EA, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception from Sony, Saint’s Row the Third from THQ, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword from Nintendo, Batman: Arkham City from Warner Bros.

"This is the fourth consecutive month in which the Xbox 360 has been the top selling hardware system,” Frazier said. “The gap between 360 sales and sales of the next best selling platform was the largest we've seen since December 2008 when the Nintendo DS was the top selling system.”

November 2011 was the best on record, topping November 2008, which was the previous record. Skyrim sold abut 500,000 units, topping the previous title, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, by five-fold. Batman is also outpacing sales of its predecessor. Battlefield 3 is also the best-selling Battlefield game of all time now.

Nintendo’s Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS sold more than 625,000 units, making it the fastest-selling portable Super Mario title in U.S. history. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword sold more than 600,000 units in the first week of sales. Nintendo also said the Wii has now sold 37.7 million units in the U.S. The 3DS handheld has sold 2.37 million units, after eight montsh on the market.

Sony said that hardware sales were up 70 percent from a year ago and software sales were up 30 percent. Microsoft said that Xbox 360 hardware sales hit 1.7 million units in November, up 23 percent from a year ago. In the month, Microsoft said it had 49 percent of the market share and its sales were more than double the second-place company. Microsoft said it sold 960,000 Xbox 360s in the week of Black Friday, including 800,000 sold in one 24-hour period. It also said it sold 750,000 Kinect units during the week of Black Friday.

Ubisoft was clearly one of the winners with two games in the top five games. Sales of Assassin’s Creed Revelations are up over last year’s title, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, by 10 percent. Ubisoft’s Just Dance 3 was the No. 1 game for the Wii in November.

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Why a streaming movie service from Verizon & Redbox is bad news for Netflix

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 01:56 PM PST

A Verizon streaming service has the potential to ruin Netflix’s domestic and international business aspirations — and quite possibly destroy the entire company.

On its own, Verizon doesn’t seem like a threat to other streaming video services. But now the cable company’s rumored streaming strategy includes a partnership with video-rental kiosk company Redbox, and the possible acquisition of an existing streaming video service.

When rumors of Verizon starting its own streaming movie service surfaced earlier this week, I dismissed the idea that it could compete with market leader Netflix in any meaningful capacity. I reasoned that Verizon’s motivation for creating this type of service is financial opportunity, while Netflix is focused on creating a better product. And even if Verizon’s streaming product turned out to be superior, consumers are comfortable with Netflix and many would likely stay with the leading service.

I’ve changed my mind. By combining forces with Redbox, Verizon could conceivably crush Netflix. The partnership will create a credit-based video service with options to rent physical (DVD, Blu-ray) or streaming media, according to a TechCrunch report yesterday. A beta version of the service is said to launch in April 2012, followed by a full launch in late May.

Arguably, neither Verizon nor Redbox has much experience operating a streaming service, which is why Verizon is interested in purchasing a pre-existing streaming media service. At the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York Wednesday, Verizon chairman Lowell McAdam told attendees that the company strongly considered buying popular streaming service Hulu earlier this year. McAdam also said Verizon could still acquire a streaming service in the future, which would presumably lay the groundwork for the Verizon and Redbox streaming service.

Why should these recent developments scare the bejesus out of Netflix? Essentially, it comes down to these three main points.

Access to Money

Netflix has a cash problem. Last month, Standard & Poor’s lowered Netflix’s credit rating from BB to BB- due to higher than expected costs from its international expansion, combined with expensive content agreements with media companies. To pay for those content deals, Netflix sold nearly 2.9 million shares at a discount and issued debt that can be converted into stock, which should raise about $400 million. Additionally, the company revealed it will lose money next year for the first time in a decade. If you combine that with customer backlash from increased subscription fees and a failed attempt to spin-off its DVD-by-mail rental service, its easy to see why the company’s stock is plunging.

Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t really have much of a choice at this point. Expensive streaming content deals are essential for Netflix to retain current subscribers and draw in new customers. The problem with this strategy is that more streaming video services are entering the market to meet consumer demand, meaning Netflix competitors will eventually have a near-identical library of content. Additionally, Netflix’s exclusive content agreements, such as its deal with Epix, are set to expire over the next two years. With more competition from other streaming services and a smaller pile of cash, it’s unlikely that Netflix will be able to renegotiate those exclusive contracts. At a certain point, Netflix is going to run out of cash.

Verizon, on the other hand, does not have a money problem. The company has several lucrative businesses, including its wireless carrier and FiOS cable TV & broadband Internet service. That means that, unlike Netflix, Verizon has plenty of money to spend on content agreements. The company can simply buy its way into the streaming video rental business through content deals and acquisitions, then sustain itself long enough for Netflix to lose the lead.

Relationships with Media Companies

As I previously mentioned, part of Verizon’s motivation for jumping into the streaming media service market is the potential for financial gain. The company already has several content deals with major television networks, and renegotiating those deals to gain streaming licensing would be easier and (possibly) less costly. If you combine those relationships with Redbox’s major movie studio relationships, you have enough reach to rival Netflix.

This means the Verizon and Redbox video service will be in a position to negotiate content deals that give it an edge over Netflix. The edge could take the form of exclusive streaming rights, or faster availability of new DVD and Blu-ray releases. The point is, the combined might of Redbox and Verizon is able to compete more directly with Netflix on both streaming and physical media rentals.

Evolve or Die

It’s pretty easy to understand why Redbox wants to expand into the streaming-video side of the business. The company’s rental kiosks are losing revenue because a growing number of people prefer to watch video on the Internet via a computer, set-top box, smart TV, tablet or smartphone. To remain competitive, Redbox must evolve into a physical and streaming rental service. If news of Redbox’s partnership with Verizon is true, then that necessary evolution will be much easier.

Verizon is also struggling to evolve. Companies like Comcast and AT&T are expanding their presence in the wireless network market, which is currently dominated by Verizon. This rumored Verizon streaming service would allow the company to grow its presence as a content provider. It’s also worth noting that both Comcast and AT&T have streaming media options that will probably grow more prominent in the future. With Netflix showing its weaknesses, now is the perfect time to launch a streaming video service.

A partnership between Verizon and Redbox would be mutually beneficial and help both companies evolve for the purpose of staying competitive.


The short-term consequences of Netflix’s missteps over the last few months were customers getting angry and critics calling the executive management team incompetent. Reasonably, the long-term implications could be a new Verizon video rental competitor.

Even if Verizon decides against launching a Netflix competitor, eventually another giant company with deep pockets will.

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ABC News to poll Republican-debate viewers via TV-tagging app IntoNow

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 01:47 PM PST

Republican presidential hopefuls will square off Saturday night at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Conversations about the debate are sure to trickle over onto the social web, and ABC News, which is broadcasting and moderating the event, will gauge viewer reactions in real-time by polling them via TV-tagging application IntoNow.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to bring the ability to engage a widespread audience leading up to the presidential [elections],” IntoNow co-founder and Yahoo product manager Adam Cahan told VentureBeat. “This is the first multi-screen debate experience spanning TV, web and mobile devices with the ability to inform, interact and engage audiences.”

IntoNow, a social TV application for iPhone, Android and now iPad, was acquired by Yahoo in April 2011. The application uses patented technology to listen to and “tag” — a.k.a. identity — millions of television and movie titles.

Debate viewers who use the app to tag the ABC News broadcast will be presented with poll questions, related news content, candidate profiles and discussion streams all tailored around the event. ABC News will use the application’s poll feature to query live audiences and gauge reactions to candidates’ debate responses, and then use the collected data to pose follow-up questions.

So you may hear an ABC News moderator say something like, “Candidate X, our live data suggests only 33 percent of Americans agree with your stance on X…,” we’re told.

The news network has been aggressively promoting IntoNow on the air (Yahoo is a sponsor of the event), includeding a prominent mention on flagship show Good Morning America. It will continue to promote the app and its poll questions during the live broadcast.

The Republican debate airs Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC and will be streamed online.

Filed under: media, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Node.js core contributor explains why it’s ready for the big time (video)

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 01:42 PM PST

Hanging out with Paul Querna, a longtime Node.js core contributor and Rackspace’s systems architect, is more fun than a basket of kittens.

In this video interview, he and I chat about how far Node has come in a relatively short period of time. In fact, Node recently became the most popular code repository on GitHub, eclipsing Ruby on Rails in its number of watchers.

We also discuss whether the “OMG Node is the next Ruby!!!” hype has any merit.

Check out the clip above, and stay tuned to VentureBeat for ongoing coverage of the fabulous apps and interesting communities around Node.js.

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

Filed under: dev, video

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Sales tax doesn’t change online shopping behavior (study)

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 12:17 PM PST

Taxing online purchases would do little if anything to change consumer behavior and would not return shoppers to “main street” shops, according to a new Gartner report.

Gartner analyst Sucharita Mulpuru writes that eight percent of survey respondents would change their shopping behavior and about 25 percent would change retailers because of taxes. The report, published today, is titled “What You Need to Know About the Online Sales Tax Debate.”

E-commerce continues to soar in popularity, and brick and mortar shops have been complaining that their customers are leaving them for online retailers who enjoy tax benefits. The report dispels this myth. Less than 10 percent of all shopping is done online, wrote Mulpuru, and ”A significant portion of transactions online already collect sales tax because people purchase from online stores of physical retailers like BestBuy.com or Walmart.com.” Tax laws vary from state to state, “[S]o the real amount that is being ‘lost’ is a small fraction of total e-commerce sales,” she wrote. Retailers are collecting taxes to be in compliance with state laws and often do so without the customer’s knowledge, by sacrificing their own profit margins.

Black Friday online shoppers spent $816 million dollars this year, an increase of 26 percent from 2010, according to comScore. Cyber Monday was the biggest online shopping day in American history, with more than $1.25 billion dollars in sales in 24 hours. Overall holiday shopping this year is expected to reach $20 billion or more for the 2011. The U.S. value of all economic activity in the U.S. in 2010 was more than $14 trillion dollars, so e-commerce still represents a small, but growing sector.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Facebook announces the HipHop Virtual Machine

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 11:53 AM PST

Facebook has just announced the HipHop Virtual Machine. We’re not talking about Kanye — not this time, at least.

HipHop is Facebook’s open-source source-code transformer for PHP.

This means that Facebook found a way to make huge applications built in PHP — an easy-for-humans-to-read programming language — run a lot faster by translating the code into a language that’s easier for computers to understand. Facebook itself is built in PHP, so HipHop is part of Facebook’s plan to make its own applications and social network a lot faster.

What the company is announcing today is a new execution engine for PHP that will make both development and code execution faster. Right now, Facebook tells us that the HipHop Virtual Machine is 60 percent faster than the current HipHop interpreter, with a 90 percent reduction in memory cost.​

On the Facebook Engineering blog, Facebook engineer Jason Evans writes that the company is currently using the HHVM internally for everyday software development.

“We expect HHVM to rapidly close the performance gap with hphpc-compiled binaries over the coming months as the dynamic translator stabilizes and matures,” Evans said. “In fact, we predict that HHVM will eventually outperform statically compiled binaries in Facebook’s production environment… The first 90 percent of the HHVM project is done; now we’re on to the second 90 percent as we make it really shine.”

Want to check it out for yourself? It’s all open-sourced on GitHub. So far, around 20 people have contributed to the HHVM project.

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

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LeWeb in an uncertain Europe offered a good reminder that bubbles burst

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 11:44 AM PST

Rob Jonas is vice president and managing director, Europe & Middle East, for mobile ad company Inmobi.

A grey and overcast industrial suburb in the north of Paris this week played host to Europe's premier digital economy conference and networking event, LeWeb. While the European economy outside looked increasingly uncertain (suffering from what Google's Eric Schmidt referred to as "the European experiment's rough patch"), inside there was a very different feeling. More than 3,000 entrepreneurs, leaders, investors and visionaries were expected to attend over the three days, to discuss the impact of Social-Mobile-Local technologies, or SoLoMo as they are now commonly known.

This year's attendees seemed sanguine about the fact that the digital economy is creating its own bubble — one that is more than a little reminiscent of that seen a decade ago. Companies are proudly proclaiming massive growth in user numbers; however, those are the only figures on the agenda. Questions around revenue or even profit are often a moot point, only up for discussion at a "to-be-disclosed" point in the future, once they have finessed their product, user experience or business model.

These dynamics aside, we are clearly in the midst of another wave of disruption in computing. Communication, media consumption and mobile are at the heart of this. Mike McCue from Flipboard unveiled the iPhone version of his product on Tuesday morning, highlighting that more than 20 percent of iPad users have Flipboard installed to allow them to consume media.

Andrey Andreev of Badoo revealed annual revenues of more than £100 million from his mobile social network, which is particularly strong in Latin Europe and America, while Phil Libin talked of the 20 million Evernote users who are becoming more profitable over time. These darlings of the venture scene are eminently representative of a broader trend – the switch to mobile devices. A trend that Eric Schmidt defined with the statement, "All the best engineering is going on to mobile and mobile apps."

Despite its European location, there was a very US feel to the whole event this year, challenged only occasionally by local European businesses such as music and mobile focused Deezer. Axel Dauchez, CEO of this French business unveiled an ambitious plan to launch in more than 200 countries by mid-2012. The only market he is not launching in is the US, which he cited as having only 10 percent of global music consumption and around 15 percent of mobile handsets, making Europe and Asia more compelling markets for his business.

Amid the exuberance, perhaps the most cautionary note came from George Colony, Chairman and CEO of research firm Forrester. Although bullish on the App Internet economy, he portrayed many players in this space as fighting for the scraps from a rapidly consolidating market. In Forrester's view, Apple is dominant, Android is a challenger, and Amazon's Silk platform on the Fire device is a wildcard entrant with potential for disruption. While Microsoft didn't make it onto the slide, there was recognition that it had a role to play even if it is as yet unclear exactly what this role might be.

More interestingly, Colony portrayed a social media landscape where consumers are reaching saturation. Citing research from the US, Colony pointed out that social media is more popular than volunteering, praying and exercise, and it challenges shopping and childcare in terms of time spent. In short, we are reaching the limit of how much time we can realistically give to social media. A shakeout is coming that will sweep away the low value forms of social media.

LeWeb has done an excellent job at capturing the energy of the SoLoMo movement in the US and Europe over the last few days, albeit with limited representation from the big players in Asia that are poised to accelerate into this space. The counterbalance to that energy is a healthy dose of caution that bubbles burst and that operating businesses in a vacuum independent of the global economic environment may be risky. Twelve months is a long time in this industry, but I'll be back next year to see whether the predictions and expectations all come true.

Filed under: mobile, social

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Startup and the city: Fake it until you make it

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 11:32 AM PST

Editor's note: Julia Plevin recently started a job at a startup that's still in stealth mode. She'll be posting occasional columns on VentureBeat about her experiences.

Here's a secret: I don't really know how to do my job.

I might be more embarrassed to admit this except for the fact that I think it's completely normal, especially in the startup world.

Did Mark Zuckerburg know how to be a CEO when he first created Facebook? No, he learned on the job.

When I first became the managing editor of a city magazine in Hanoi, Vietnam, I had no idea what I was doing. I was a writer, yes, but my only experience as an editor had been at my high school yearbook. A friend, who had just taken a fancy job at an art gallery in Hanoi, assured me that I should pretend I knew what I was doing and soon enough I would actually understand my job.

And that's exactly what I did. In the beginning I would fumble deadlines, and I felt more Dora the Explorer than Anna Wintour when I showed up to cocktail parties and sponsored events. But by the time I left the job a year later, I had grown into my Editrix stilettos and could juggle photographers, writers, print deadlines, and story ideas while standing on one high-heeled foot.

When I took my job at this startup, the founders knew that I had minimal high tech experience. But they also knew I had that that "learn how to learn" Ivy League undergraduate experience. (That's another secret: All I learned in college was how to learn.) And they assured me that they would invest in me. Getting to be part of the startup ride, especially from so early on, would be more valuable than any amount of pay.

A startup veteran later told me I was a fool for believing the promise of being invested in. That's apparently the line all startups use to justify paying smart people small amounts of money. But it's been almost three months since I first started working at the startup, and I can confidently say that I've been invested in.

I'm not sure how I became the user researcher for the company, but that's the bulk of what I do now. A few months ago I could not have defined usability or user experience and now it's all I think about.

During my first weeks of work, the startup hired a graduate from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Institute of Design to give me a two-week crash course on usability and design thinking.  We joke that I got my design school education but didn't have to spend the time or money to go back to school. Those two weeks showed me that this company was serious about investing in me.

Now, as the resident user researcher, I'm basically my own manager. No one babysits me or looks over my shoulder to make sure I'm doing my job correctly. I've taken it upon myself to learn how to be a user research guru. I've scoured the Internet for blogs on the subject, ordered a bunch of UX books, sought out Skillshare classes, and tried to find a user researcher group to join.

At times I felt that I haven't been managed enough — I would love for someone to show me how to use Excel more efficiently, to help me brainstorm usability test ideas, and just to give me some general feedback about the quality of my work.

Then I learned the secret to job success, as told to me by a friend at Google: Don't wait around for someone to tell you what to do. Or, in this instance: Don't wait around for someone to manage you.

All of my coworkers are incredibly busy with their own work, and making sure that I'm on task and feeling content isn't quite their number one priority. But if I reach out to them and ask for feedback or help in certain areas, they are more than willing to take the time to work with me.

Now I'm in the process of hiring an intern to help me schedule user interviews, accompany me out in the field and transcribe notes. I realize that once I have an intern, I'll have to manage him or her. Which means that I have to be organized and confident in my own work.

I'm told it's this process of managing up that often forces us to really know what we're doing and not just pretend anymore.

But it makes me wonder, if I'm learning on the job, who else is? Are we all just faking it until we make it?

Kid in suit image via Shutterstock

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Apple’s new Grand Central store is awe-inspiring (pictures)

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 11:24 AM PST

apple store grand central

Apple’s brand-new Grand Central Terminal location opened its doors today to swarms of Apple fans, journalists and tourists.

The new store is a pretty big deal for a few reasons. First, Grand Central is an iconic structure and one of the most photographed landmarks in New York City. Second, at 23,000 square feet, this location is one of the world's largest Apple Stores. Third, the store merges the past and present. Unlike Apple’s other, more modernist stores, in this one Apple’s futuristic iPads and iPhones are coupled with a backdrop of early 1900s architecture.

As I walked around during the opening and was handed a free T-shirt (see below), I couldn’t help but feel that I was inside something special. Perhaps it’s just Grand Central Terminal’s chandeliers and marble and brass facade, but it felt more regal and first-class than any Apple Store I’ve ever been in. The Apple Store’s normal design instincts usually leave me feeling cold, but this location left me feeling warm — and not just because I was surround by hordes of people (and dogs!). It’s the sort of place I expect to find busy every time I walk by.

At least it’s accommodating to its crowds. The massive location has two Genius Bars with 12 seats each, 45 display tables for products, three walls of accessories and 315 full- and part-time employees. Because of the way Grand Central is set up, the Store is sectioned off into different areas that feel disconnected from the others. The store has a room devoted to third-party accessories, a room focused on the Genius Bars and an area called Startup, where the Apple team can help you get a newly purchased iPad, iPhone or other product up and running.

Take a look at the full gallery below:

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google+ launches opt-in facial recognition

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 11:12 AM PST

Way to not tick off the privacy hounds, Google!

For its social service, Google+, the company is rolling out facial recognition features, but only if you want it to.

The new “Find My Face” feature is something you have to specifically opt into.

Find My Face, if and when you enable it, has the ability to find any photos your friends have uploaded that include your face. It will also prompt your friends to tag you if you appear in new and previously uploaded images.

You can choose to accept or reject tags on a one-by-one basis. And you can also turn off the feature anytime.

Facial recognition (and subsequent privacy-related media meltdown) is familiar turf, both for Google and for social networks in general.

When reporters got wind of an upcoming Google mobile app for facial recognition, the reactions around the web weren’t entirely positive. In fact, we said at the time that it “sounds great for stalkers.”

But the Googler in charge of that project, Hartmut Neven, said it wasn’t yet being released for exactly that reason.

"We recognize that Google has to be extra careful when it comes to these [privacy] issues," Neven said. "Face recognition we will bring out once we have acceptable privacy models in place."

In the summer of 2011, Facebook started rolling out facial recognition globally. While we said at the time that privacy concerns around the feature were “vastly overblown,” regulators didn’t quite agree. Several European privacy authorities even opened up an investigation on the matter.

However, by making a simple opt-in procedure, Google will let the “privacy-schmivacy” set enjoy the benefits of the new tech while sidestepping any accusations of dirty dealing from those who take privacy a bit more seriously.

At least in this case, we find that a little explicit permission goes a long way.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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HP open sources webOS, plans for tablets in 2013 (updated)

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 10:49 AM PST

HP TouchPadAfter shopping webOS around to major companies like Amazon and Qualcomm, HP has decided to make the platform available to the open source community, the company announced today.

The move allows third-party companies to use webOS, but HP will still be able to guide development of the platform. HP says it will be an “active participant and investor in the project.”

"webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable," HP CEO Meg Whitman said in a statement today. "By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices."

But while webOS will live on, HP will likely still follow-up the news with more layoffs from its webOS group. After all, with help from the open source community, HP won’t need as many bodies on board to push the platform forward. We heard that the company was close to releasing several new webOS devices before it decided to get out of the mobile business earlier this year.

HP said in a blog post today that it will “explore the viability” of new webOS devices, but I don’t see that happening (aside from the company’s curious obsession with webOS printers). Update: Whitman says that HP hasn’t given up on tablets just yet — it’s working on webOS tablets for later 2012 or 2013, reports the Verge.

The news is particularly good for consumers, since it means we can see webOS popping up on non-HP devices in the future. And if you picked up one of those cheap TouchPad tablets, there’s the potential that you’ll actually be able to receive updates in the future (though intellectual property issues may make that impossible), or upgrade the slate entirely to an open sourced version of webOS.

We reported in September that Amazon was one of many companies in deep negotiations to acquire webOS, a varied group that at times was said to include Intel, Qualcomm, and RIM. HP was actively trying to sell webOS up until last month, when we caught word that it was also demanding a sweet deal to use webOS in its future printers. Now, as an open source project, HP will still be able to throw webOS on its printers (yay?), while also getting development help for free.

HP says it will open source the underlying webOS code and work together with the open source community to define a charter for the open source webOS project. Additionally, HP says it will make ENYO, the webOS application framework, available to the open source community as well.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Zite’s new custom magazine iPhone app raises the standards for reading news on the go

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 10:38 AM PST

Building on the success of its iPad app, Zite is rolling out a new iPhone-optimized version of its personalized news app today.

Zite lets you build a custom digital magazine by pulling in shared links from bookmarking and social sites, such as Twitter, Google Reader, Delicious and Read It Later. It then builds a personalized selection of articles based on activity from your social profiles. Unlike most of its competitors, Zite learns your reading habits by giving you voting buttons for each piece of content. The idea is to give you more of what you actually want to see without having to disregard all the boring and/or uninteresting stuff.

“A lot of services, like Twitter (for example), suffer from giving you too much information if you follow lots of sources or not enough if you follow just a few,” Zite CEO Mark Johnson told VentureBeat. “I call it the Goldilocks Problem. It’s either too much or not enough.” Logically, that would make Zite the just right amount of information, according to the classic fairy tale story.

Initially, I assumed many of the user interface elements from Zite’s iPad app would get lost in translation of the iPhone’s smaller screen, but that isn’t the case. The experience of reading news is just as enjoyable, especially during idle moments throughout the day (standing in line, boring meetings, waiting for the bus, etc.).

The biggest change in the iPhone version is the app’s navigation. Since side bars aren’t practical for the smaller screen, the news sections are displayed at the top. Switching between news sections is done by swiping the section name horizontally, which is nice if you only have one hand free. Articles from each section are arranged in a vertical stack with thumbnails that help break up the text.

Earlier this week, Zite competitor Flipboard also launched an iPhone version of its popular iPad app. The launch was so successful that it actually crashed the Flipboard service for a time. Clearly, people like the idea of a customized digital magazine even if it’s a fraction of the size. Johnson said that isn’t much of a surprise, as a Zite iPhone app was the most requested feature from users.

One thing you won’t find in both the iPhone and iPad Zite apps is advertising. The company does have plans to integrate advertising, but not until the ad spots are useful/relevant to the user and don’t distract from the overall experience, Johnson said. However, he is optimistic about generating revenue through branded channels, which aggregate news related to the brand’s expertise and help promote its own blog posts. The Zite recently launched its first branded channel partnership with health and fitness retailer Lululemon. The channel is also ad-free and requires opting-in to see its curated content.

Founded in March 2011, the San Francisco-based company was acquired in August by broadcast news organization CNN for over $20 million . Zite faces a growing number of competitors, including Flipboard, Editions by AOL, Yahoo's unreleased Livestand and recently launched Google Currents.

[iPhone app screenshots via Zite]

Filed under: media, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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The web can’t shut up about Apple’s iPhone 4S

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 10:38 AM PST

The most talked about smartphone on the web from July to December was none other than Apple’s iPhone 4S.

Apparently, the company didn’t need to introduce a radical new version of its popular device to command a lion’s share of the Internet’s attention (and sales, for that matter).

The iPhone 4S slaughtered the competition when it came to online buzz from blogs, message boards, Twitter, Facebook and online news sites over the past six months. The device captured 40 percent of all buzz during this time period, according to NM Incite, the social media analysis company from Nielsen and McKinsey, and it wasn’t even introduced until October.

And even though Google’s Android operating system commands half of the U.S. smartphone platform market, making it the indisputable OS leader, the web was all abuzz about all of Apple’s iPhones, all the time.

The iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS combined to give Apple 66 percent, or two-thirds, of all mentions about smartphones July through December. By comparison, the top Android devices — the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Droid Bionic and HTC EVO, for example — amassed just 23 percent of online buzz. And just a tiny sliver of Internet mentions paid any heed to Windows Phone devices.

Okay so, buzz may not equate to sales or positive perception — NM Incite didn’t run sentiment analysis on its data — but the bigger picture here seems to be that Apple, more than any other handset maker, continues to be successful at creating a huge online fuss before, during and after its iProduct reveals.

[Image via Obie Fernandez/Flickr]

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Our weekly show: Twitter, video games & hazing the new intern (video)

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 10:36 AM PST

Once again, we join you to bid adieu to another news-filled work week.

This time around, we talk trash about the new-new Twitter, which may (or may not) upset the service’s core users with its top-to-bottom redesign.

Another note of interest: Asian giant Alibaba was partly owned (40 percent, in toto) by Yahoo. At one point, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma said he was thinking of acquiring Yahoo. Now, Alibaba is buying back that 40 percent and keeping mum about acquisition talks. Chess game or cold war?

We also touch on how the heck Skyrim is already the most played game of 2011, even though it only launched on November 11. We also chat a bit about Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong, stepping down from his current role at Nintendo.

Stay tuned for the last few seconds, when we unleash some Nerf-fueled fury on the new intern for no reason at all.

Filed under: video

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Build a product that sells itself

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 10:00 AM PST

This post is sponsored by New Relic, and written by Lew Cirne, Founder and CEO.

My vision for the next generation of enterprise software leaders is this: the product you deliver should be a joy to use. Customers should fall in love with it, be able to acquire it on their own, and have the ability to rapidly implement it without having to interact with someone at your company. This reduces the sales costs by an order of magnitude, which can be passed on directly to the customer. Up front, you don’t have to spend the resources convincing people that they need your product. Nor do you have to make the significant investment in dollars and time installing, configuring and training your customer’s app teams how to get value from the product.

Most enterprise software companies think about how their product will be used after it's installed, configured, and people are trained on it. The next generation of leaders will spend just as much (if not more) time thinking about and investing in that very first interaction with their product. Immediately after the customer makes the decision to try the product, the very first moment they interact with it should be magical. In today’s market, if you’re not wowing them immediately, they’re on to something else.

Peter Yared said it well at the recent Cloudbeat 2011 conference: the big shift in the cloud is the sales model … not necessarily the functionality of the product. Create a product that delights customers, yet lowers the cost of delivery, deployment and ownership. At the end of the day, if you can deliver a product your customer love, it not only creates compelling value for your users but also for your shareholders.

Here’s the video of my fireside chat with Yared at CloudBeat 2011:

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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The 10 Best Gaming Videos of 2011

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 10:00 AM PST

This year has been a great one for gaming. To celebrate, here are 10 of the finest gaming related videos to have hit the scene in 2011. Some are fan made, some are by big game studios, but all are worth watching. Some are for mature audiences.

Dead Island: trailer of the year?

Few game trailers have elicited as emotional a response as this one, for Dead Island. Moody, subtle and emotionally rich, it turned out to be everything the game was not. Luckily, beating zombies around the head with an oar still proved a lot of fun. As a means of grabbing the attention of the gaming public, this trailer certainly proved its worth, helping Dead Island achieve healthy sales this year, with a possible sequel on the way. Don’t even look at this one if you’re under age.

Mario Kart hits Paris

French comedian Remi Gaillard decided to give the real world another taste of Mario Kart this year, following up his previous turn as everyone's favourite Italian plumber, back in 2008. Taking to the streets (and shops) of Paris, with bananas in tow, Gaillard somehow survives his madcap race intact. Kids: don't try this at home.


Sony rolled out all its stars, and then some, for this great advert, which manages to perfectly communicate the visceral thrill of becoming immersed in a gaming world. Not all the characters on show are exclusive to the Playstation brand, and there are plenty of cheeky cameos to look out for. A reward from Sony, for 'Michaels' everywhere.

Reworking the Angry Birds theme

Pamplamoose is a California based indie duo centered around musicians Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn. Here the duo present their unique take on the Angry Birds theme tune, which has over 3 million views on YouTube. That means only 497 million more Angry Birds players are yet to hear this gloriously chaotic version of the contemporary classic gaming theme.

Stunning Portal live action short – No Escape

Surely a contender for best ever fan made film, Portal No Escape is a wondeful sideways look at the Portal universe, by filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg. If Valve ever think of getting into the movie business, they should seriously think of signing this guy up. Breathtaking stuff.

Filed under: games

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Apple iOS vs. Android developers: Who’s making more money?

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 09:44 AM PST

Dale Carr is CEO of Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia-based ad network LeadBolt.

Android developers are getting just 7% of the revenue that Apple iOS developers are getting, according to a recent article that quoted research by Piper Jaffray. The article's premise was that developers will obviously go where the money is, so Android will continue to struggle when it comes to drawing in more developers. This got me really thinking … could this be right? If it is, who are all the developers on my company's ad network?

It really is amazing what you can do with statistics.

First, the 7% statistic relates to revenue earned from the sale of apps, so it doesn't include ad revenue. Second, it uses revenue numbers from the life of Apple's App Store, which has obviously been around a lot longer and is much further up the growth hockey stick than Android.

Some more stats to confuse the issue:

According to research by Inneractive, click-through-rates (CTR) on iOS are more than double what they are on Android, but the cost-per-thousand (eCPM) is only 30% higher. This would indicate that Android developers are getting more bang for each click. Combine this with another recent statistic that Android generates twice the ad impressions of iOS and you have Android earning more in real dollar terms from ad revenue.

So, perhaps a more considered approach is required in comparing the revenues developers make off the two platforms.

Apple has built a closed ecosystem. It heavily regulates the App Atore and does not look favourably on revenue generated outside of this environment. Ad revenue is the major hole in its "atmosphere". It cannot, for obvious reasons, close the hole. It has tried to be part of the leakage through iAds. Given its current mindset, it is in Apple's interest to control this outflow from its incredibly full bucket.

On the other side you have Android. Open source, open environment, open market. Added to the mix is that Google, the developer of the Android platform, is an advertising company. Wouldn't it be in Google's interest to ensure the ad revenue floodgates open as wide as possible?

The last piece in this puzzle is to look at monetization trends. Almost 90% of all apps that are downloaded are free and involve no in-app monetization. In fact, according to Distimo, growth in the top paid apps for the 12 months to July was only 7% compared to 34% for the top free apps. Apple's recorded revenue comes from a slowing trend for paid apps, while 72% of its revenue is from the 4% of apps with in-app purchase models (note: in-app purchases were only introduced to Android Market in March).

While Apple continues to limit revenue outside of its ecosystem, the continuing proliferation of smartphones (at increasingly lower prices) and therefore the increasing number of app users who will not pay for that usage, means that Apple apps will be forgoing a growing monetization segment. In contrast, Android's open environment, and the ability for developers to use premium ad methods may mean that Android developers are in fact following the money.

Filed under: dev, mobile

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At LeWeb, it’s all hand-wringing: Paris versus London

Posted: 09 Dec 2011 09:33 AM PST

Jan Rezab is the CEO of social media and digital analytics company SocialBakers.

The LeWeb conference is just winding down for another year in Paris. From the major brands to the new startups looking for the big break, everyone’s been here.

The conference began amid a lot of speculation about a possible move to London. That commenced a whole debate around innovation in Europe and the regular debate on Europe vs. Silicon Valley. This was heightened by Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, saying that Silicon Valley needs to have more competitors on the world stage. Schmidt said he believes a number of European cities had the potential, with Paris being the forerunner. Of course, all of us Europeans loved this and strongly believe that Europe is finally living up to its promise.

I'm still completely buzzing from my first panel at LeWeb. I was joined by Victoria Ransom, CEO of Wildfire, and Matthieu Chéreau, founder and CEO of Tigerlily to debate "Going beyond creating a Facebook page". The key takeaway from the panel was data, data and more data. It’s all about having the information to understand how to engage audiences and build lasting relationships. The three of us all believe that the right data provides a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and without data it's impossible to strategically build campaigns that will deliver the best return on investment.

This became even more relevant when Sean Parker stepped onstage and talked about the future of the social web. He claimed that the outcome of the next US election will be determined by social media, and that got me thinking about what has changed in social media since the last election.

Every candidate will be using social media this time around. Having a social and digital policy will not be the differentiator but getting it right and building real engagement will be key. This time around, candidates will have to understand their audiences and develop relationships that are real. What worked for the Obama administration last time will not suffice, but picking the right tools and strategies will give significant results to those that get it right. Once again it all comes back to data and using the data to understanding what's going to work.

LeWeb continues to be one of the best digital conferences in the world, and this year was no different.

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