15 December, 2011



Onavo’s Android widget lets you track mobile data usage in real time

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

Now Android users will have an even better sense of just how much precious bandwidth their apps are using.

Onavo, a company known for its iPhone app that compress mobile data, has upgraded its Android app today with a new widget that can give you real-time feedback on app data usage.

While there are a plethora of apps that can report on mobile data usage, Onavo’s is the first to let you see what apps are hogging bandwidth in real-time. This allows you to kill data hogging apps before they wreak havoc on your cellphone bill. The app also adds two other new widgets that can tell you how much of your data plan is left, as well as how much total data each app uses.

Onavo’s updated Android app is available for free on the Android Market. Unfortunately, the new app doesn’t yet offer the data compression capabilities of Onavo’s iOS app (which was so cool we awarded the company the top prize at our MobileBeat 2011 conference) — instead it focuses on keeping you aware of your phone’s data usage.

"When you go to the gas station you see exactly how much gas you have pumped and what it costs – now it's the same for your smartphone,” Onavo CEO Guy Rosen said in a statement today.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Magisto brings its ‘magical’ video editing to the iPhone

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

Magisto - iPhone - Shooting

Cloud-based video editing startup Magisto has launched an iPhone-tailored version of its automated video editing app, the company announced today.

Magisto's free (for now) service automates the video editing process for the untrained or lazy, making it possible for people to submit video clips to the service and let it do the work of cutting the video in an interesting fashion. Magisto scans the clips for noteworthy action and packages it with tricks like transitions and split-screens. Then users simply give the video a title and pick a soundtrack, and the video is ready to share on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or e-mail. And now, you’ll be able to do so on the iPhone.

“Since the invention of camcorders, video has always been too boring or too complicated for the average user,” Magisto CEO Oren Boiman said via e-mail. “Consumers want a way to make great movies. Magisto’s artificial intelligence is that solution [and] Magisto for iPhone is the first end-to-end app that automatically turns plain mobile videos into edited and produced movies, just minutes after they were shot.”

The only problem I’ve seen so far with Magisto is that not every video is actually share-worthy, even with some ‘magical’ editing. For example, a skateboarding video with a mediocre boarder isn't fun to watch even with editing tricks and transitions. Or how about a off-center video of someone playing Modern Warfare 3? Perhaps as people use the service more with their iPhones, they’ll be more discerning with what clips to upload.

On the funding front, Magisto received $5.5 million in second-round funding back in September following an undisclosed first round. Hong Kong investor Li Ka-shing's Horizon Ventures led the second round, along with participation from prior investor Magma Venture Partners.

A few more shots from Magisto’s iPhone app can be viewed below:

And one of the more decent videos I’ve seen from Magisto can be seen below:

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Box releases 3 new security features, partners with Intel to close out 2011

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

Box securityCloud storage company Box announced three new security features and a partnership with Intel today, in hopes of bringing cloud security to a place where CIOs are no longer afraid to adopt.

The cloud is a very useful place to collaborate and share projects, photos and files, quickly. It’s this kind of speed and productivity that businesses are always after, but a lot of IT administrators are concerned about security. After going to a conference for chief information officers in Scottsdale, Arizona, Box’s director of enterprise product marketing Robin Daniels saw the desire for this kind of collaboration, but also saw the fear. According to him, a lot of their employees were starting to use their personal clouds, which obviously made proprietary information at risk for discovery.

“I think this phenomenon has come up really quickly with the rise of people bringing their own devices,” said Daniels in an interview with VentureBeat. “This only started two to four years ago…suddenly employees are on the go all the time.”

Box’s clients make up 82 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and its ultimate goal is to attract more. How best to quell fears and increase interest than by upping security. Today, the company introduced more secure links, more device control from Box’s Trusted Access management system and the ability to create groups for those users connected to an Active Directory.

Box LinksLinks are a favorite with cloud sharing. They are an easy way to give a person, who may or may not be familiar with cloud computing, access to your files. The ease, however, is what scares IT administrators. There’s little to say a link can’t be forwarded on and opened by someone without permission to see the contents of that file. What if someone was sharing some information about that venture firm, which just invested in you and somehow your competitor got a hold of that link.

IT admins obviously love snafus like that, so Box put in restrictions on the links. Before, you could password protect and put an expiration date on links, so they would die in a matter of days. Now, however, you can control what the link receiver can actually do with that link. In particular, these controls look at who you share the link with. Upon sending, you can tell the link to only open if it is in a certain domain. If you want to limit it even further, you can share with only people on that computer. If the content is only to be shared with a group, you can restrict it to only certain people by inviting them to be a collaborator in the folder. If the link has somehow become completely compromised, you can disable it completely.

It’s that ability to reach the IT hand out and yank back sensitive information that administrators want. With the new functions in Trusted Access, Box’s management system, IT administrators can better handle the bring your own device environment. Originally this management system only tracked logins from browsers, but now has jurisdiction over mobile. From here, they can decide which how many devices a particular users can access their Box account from, and monitor the Box activity on those devices. They can see what files have been opened, as well.

Lastly, those Box customers who also use Active Directory, in essence a one-stop-managment-shop for IT administrators controlling Windows computers, can now create groups. Pre-existing groups of people designated in the AD system will automatically sync to Box. Those who login to the Box system will immediately be given permissions based on their AD groups.

The partnership with Intel is also centered all around ease. Intel has a similar solution to the AD called the Intel Expressway Cloud Access 360. Very simply, Box and Intel created a single sign-on for IT administrators to manage groups withing the Expressway. It’s an easier way of going back and forth between the management system and Box, and also allows for similar group and permissions populations based on what has already been set up in the Expressway.

Box is winding down its 2011 initiatives, as mid-December hits, but 2012 will be filled with more engineering hires, and attempts to attract the bigger enterprises to its customer roster. Daniels, who comes from working on Salesforce’s Chatter, a social business product for enterprises, says Box will be focusing on its social aspects this upcoming year. The company also wants to gain more certifications in security, to bring even more comfort to CIOs.

“McAfee uses Box,” said Daniels. “That’s a great endorsement of how we take security seriously.”

The company is launching these features in 2012 and is now also offering unlimited storage to its enterprise clients.

Filed under: cloud, mobile, security, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Makers of the Internet petition Congress to back off on SOPA

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:26 AM PST

Vint Cerf, Esther Dyson, Jim Gettys and a score or two of Internet’s progenitors have written an open letter to Congress protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

These two bills are designed to protect copyright on the web, but they do so at a potentially devastating cost to the online freedoms to which we’re accustomed.

For example, if a website is accused of containing copyright-infringing content such as a song or a picture, the site could be blocked by ISPs, de-indexed from search engines and even prevented from doing business with companies such as Paypal.

In the open letter, which is posted on the website of the freedom-fighting Electronic Frontier Foundation, the group of luminaries writes, “We… have played various parts in building a network called the Internet. We wrote and debugged the software; we defined the standards and protocols that talk over that network. Many of us invented parts of it.”

As for SOPA and PIPA, the group expresses their deep concern over the proposed and revised legislation, which itself is a rehash of last year’s proposed Combating Online Infringers and Counterfeiters Act (COICA), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but never had a vote on the Senate floor.

At the time, Sen. Ron Wyden said of the legislation, “Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile.”

This sentiment is shared by many groups and individuals around the web. Sites like I Work for the Internet and AmericanCensorship.org are organizing grassroots actions to slow or stop the bills’ progress in Congress. And Wikipedia chief Jimmy Wales is even considering a total blackout of Wikipedia to protest SOPA.

On the EFF site, the open letter continues:

If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties’ right and ability to communicate and express themselves online…

Senators, Congressmen, we believe the Internet is too important and too valuable to be endangered in this way, and implore you to put these bills aside.

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Review: Grand Theft Auto III: 10th Anniversary Edition is faithfully executed on iPad

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:24 AM PST

It’s been 10 years since Rockstar brought its seminal franchise, Grand Theft Auto III, to the PlayStation 2, the 3rd dimension, and the homes of a record number of gamers. GTA 3 earned quite a number of perfect review scores upon release, and continues to influence game design even now.

With Grand Theft Auto III: Tenth Anniversary Edition, Rockstar now brings this open world sandbox game to mobile platforms, complete and unabridged. This is the GTA 3 that took the gaming world by storm, the first to feature a 3rd person perspective, and the first to star Liberty City, the setting of many future games in the series. The game will play on smartphones and tablets, including iPad 1 and 2, the iPhone 4 and 4S, and a number of Android devices, including the Samsung Galaxy R, the Samsung Tab, and the Motorola Xoom.

I was able to review this version on an iPad 2, a high-end device that really allows the game to shine. Rockstar has spared nothing in this translation to the small screen – there wasn’t a single hitch in the game’s motion or control or fluidity of animation. The opening music, the story of a robbery gone bad, the escape from the prison van – all is identical to the original game. There’s a certain nostalgia factor at play here that I’m sure the developers are just fine with. A note for note port of this nature is both positive and negative, however. Let’s start with the good stuff.

First, the game’s voice talent is still amazing, even by present day standards. There’s a host of professional actors, some of them big names like Robert Loggia, Kyle Maclachlan, and Michael Madsen. While current generation gamers are used to high-end talent gracing their top tier gaming experiences, this was a bold move ten years ago. It paid off in spades, as the cut scenes between every mission are compelling and interesting enough on their own to keep me progressing through the sometimes repetitive or frustrating missions.

Another great thing about this game? The lip synch seems amazingly close to flawless. Compared to a more recent game like Oblivion, or even Skyrim, for that matter, this ten year old game shines. The lips of the characters move in ways we expect them to move. For me, this small fact helped sell me on the story a lot more than if I had been taken out of the moment with just plain puppet-like mouth movements. The character body models, however, are another story of puppetry, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The soundtrack garnered praise when GTA III was first released, and continues to be held up as a model to emulate. The music is top notch, both the composed-for-the-game original music as well as the licensed tracks included. These songs play whenever cars are entered and driving happens, along with some hilariously satirical commercials and DJ voice over work, e.g., “all the songs you were tired of 20 years ago: Flashback FM” captures the reality of the dumbing down of radio ten years ago, as do the frequent references to corporate ownership of the stations being played in the car. Simply brilliant. Playing it on the iPad made it super easy to plug in some headphones and chair dance my way around Liberty City.

Unfortunately, as with any authentic port, the things that were rough in the original are still present. Colors are drab, polygons are low, and the character animations, while praised by several reviewers upon the original game’s release, are severely limited in their variability and scope. These days, we expect stuff on the level of Infinity Blade, perhaps to our collective detriment. Even still, I found myself chuckling a little at the puppet-like movements of my own and other supporting characters’ heads, torsos and hands. In the first scene, the character who escapes the prison van along with me has bandaged hands and cannot drive. His hands look like cotton balls rather than bandaged hands, to be honest.

I don’t envy developers who need to adapt their control systems to touchscreens. Just a quick look at a service like OnLive shows there’s a lot of room for improvement when moving from the console to a mobile device, even when it’s a larger device like the iPad. Rockstar has done an admirable job giving players different control options here, and I was able to find one that didn’t completely suck.

First up, there’s the walking around and camera control. There’s a rudimentary AI camera control that tries to orient things in an intuitive way. If that’s not enough, players can touch and drag on the screen to move the camera around. Virtual onscreen buttons are available to have the main character jump, sprint, shoot, and get into cars. The virtual analog stick for movement appeared when I placed my thumb on the left hand side of the iPad screen, no matter where I set it.

Then there’s driving. Players spend a ton of time driving in this game – not surprisingly given the title, right? The iPad version of the game lets players choose either an analog or digital steering scheme as well as an accelerometer based steering control scheme, which can be available even while steering with the virtual analog stick, for example. I’m a big fan of NOT moving the screen around as I’m playing a game, so I stuck to the analog and digital schemes, more often choosing the non-analog controls simply because they worked best for me. But driving is still loose and tricky, regardless of the car chosen. And when I say chosen, I mean the car most likely to be nearby when I need one.

There are a ton of different cars to steal and drive, from cop cars to muscle cars, delivery trucks to soccer-mom mini vans, even fire engines, ambulances, taxis, and boats. Each car type has its own feel and unique driving characteristics. Unfortunately, they all are a fair bit on the super-touchy side. At best, driving a cop car let me drive fast and have a relative decent amount of control through turns. At worst, the minivan felt like a top heavy beast of ponderous weight, and the sedans felt like they were being driven across an ice field that had just gotten a little friction-eating dusting of powdery snow on top. I’ve played a couple of the other games in the GTA series (Liberty City Stories and San Andreas, if memory serves), and they had the same sort of loosy goosey feel for me, so I’m guessing this is the way it’s supposed to feel. That knowledge didn’t make it much more fun to play, but it certainly allowed me to get into the crashing, smashing, and running into walls, other cars and pedestrians with a certain elan.

And that’s just the thing, here. The joy of Grand Theft Auto III is stealing cars, maybe doing amission or three, but then hopping in a taxi and picking up rides, jumping firetrucks over the ramps and boards discretely placed all over town, and, yes, running over people as often as possible, especially police and pimps. Prostitutes I figure have enough problems, so I steered more toward escorting them to their various destinations as often as I could, and took great pains to not run them down. Unless of course my wanted level was high and I needed to get the heck out of the way quick.

But don’t get me started on the shooting controls. They’re horrible. Calling them controls gives them way more credit than is warranted. But that’s how they were in the original game – there’s an auto-aim system that isn’t automatic and doesn’t aim well. Run towards an enemy, tap the shoot button, and if lucky, hit the intended victim. More often than not, I hit bystanders or nearby walls, getting smacked by baseball bats or shot from impossible distances by the evidently cheating artificial intelligence character who obviously has a much better aiming system than I do.

So, while the game looks and plays like a Playstation 2 port, which it is, there’s something still fairly compelling about the gameplay itself, even after ten years. I found that I was still interested in playing through the character missions, racking up money and respect, earning my way to bigger and better jobs – regardless of the funky puppet-esque animations and repetitive, mostly frustrating missions where the car and shooting control systems weren’t up to the tasks I was being asked to perform. Even as I repeated missions three, four, five times, due to funky control issues (seriously, virtual buttons are hard to use regardless of the game in question), listening to the prostitute tell the made wise guy mechanic, “I’m bored, when ya gonna drill me,” kept me going. I continued to play the game past all mission frustration, just by driving around the city, jumping over ramps, and listening to the radio, hopping from carjacking to carjacking to change stations.

Being able to play this on my iPad is also a good thing. While it would be nicer to play with a physical controller, for five bucks, I can’t complain. I can take this with me wherever I go, dropping into the heady open spaces of a game that gave us all a glimpse of the future of gaming. GTA 3 is, after all, the spiritual ancestor of such current generation console hits as Red Dead Redemption and the like. Just think how far we’ve come in – really – just a blink of an eye. Ten years has come and gone, and we’re still playing games that are influenced by this specific one. I highly recommend grabbing this game for the simple pleasure of rolling down the streets of Liberty City, listening to the commercials on Head Radio, and trying to run over only the pedestrians that we choose to. Heck, we should steal a cop car and play vigilante while we’re at it. Overall, this one deserves an 85/100, for a solid port of a groundbreaking game to mobile devices for a fantastic price. While the controls and visual/graphics engine are feeling a bit long in the tooth, we’d be hard pressed to find anything for mobile devices that is as deeply compelling and console-like as Grand Theft Auto 3: Tenth Anniversary Edition for any price.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Universal yanks TWiT’s ‘Tech News Today’ episode from YouTube due to Mega Video clip

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:18 AM PST

TNTUniversal Music Group has taken action to remove a recent episode of Tech News Today from YouTube because it contained clips of a MegaUpload video that Universal claims violates its copyright agreements.

Tech News Today is a web show hosted on Leo Laporte’s TWiT’s web TV news network. In the yanked episode, the show’s hosts were simply reporting on the strange war between Universal and MegaUpload of a music video (dubbed the Mega Video), which features several music artists and celebrities like Kanye West, Will.i.am, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams, Snoop Dogg and many others. The episode, which aired Monday, contained two clips and only one of them contained audio.

As VentureBeat previously reported, Universal contacted YouTube with a Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown notice, claiming that the work infringed on their copyright and demanding that it be removed immediately. Now, it seems the company is going after any video that has referenced clips as well. This is kind of strange, considering that show’s like TNT were simply providing standard reporting and commentary on the issue, which is generally accepted as fair use when it comes to materials in question of copyright infringement.

“In 10 days a daily news show is worthless, so Universal was able to censor this episode of Tech News Today,” show host Tom Merrit told The Verge.

The funniest part about this entire situation is that the Mega Video itself was an advertisement for the Hong Kong-based cloud and media storage company, MegaUpload. Every time Universal removes something with clips referencing the Mega Video, it’s essentially providing free advertising to the company it’s suing, while inadvertently painting itself as the bad guys.

While you might not be able to watch Monday’s TNT episode on YouTube, the video is still available to view on TWiT.tv.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Want to spend 3 months in Amsterdam? Sign up here

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:08 AM PST

Think Amsterdam and “startup hub” isn’t the first thing that springs to mind, but that may be about to change. Not one, but two startup accelerators just opened for business in the Dutch capital.

Throw in the burgeoning Appsterdam movement, the world-class local creative industry and the unique Amsterdam “vibe” and you get an intriguing mix for startup founders.

Startup Bootcamp Amsterdam is a Techstars affiliate. The first Startup Bootcamp launched in Copenhagen two years ago and the franchise will be established in five European cities by next year. There is a strikingly low number of Danish founders among the Copenhagen alumni but relatively high numbers of female founders. This year’s teams came from everywhere from Ireland to Latvia. One all-female team, Supermama, hailed from Egypt.

The Amsterdam accelerator will be run by Patrick de Zeeuw and Ruud Hendriks, both of whom served on the management team of  mega TV production company Endemol (the inventors of Big Brother, Fear Factor, Deal or no Deal and many other TV formats) before starting their own media companies. While entry is open to all kinds of startups, Startup Bootcamp Amsterdam is therefore likely to skew towards media, with many mentors coming from the media and entertainment worlds. International mentors from the European startup bootcamp network will also participate and the accelerator will operate a partnership with Chinaccelerator giving all participating startups access to China and other Asian markets.

Vodafone Netherlands is an investor in Startup Bootcamp Amsterdam. Teams receive a maximum of €17000 per team and 6 months free office space in return for 8 percent of equity. The accelerator program operates for 3 months and the application deadline is February 12th.

Local rivals Rockstart also come from the media world. Founder Oscar Kneppers started Bright, a glossy Dutch-language tech magazine in the spirit of Wired. You can see this heritage in the slick design of Rockstart ‘s website and intro video (full marks for using a Scottish narrator). Kneppers sees the accelerator as only the first step towards establishing Rockstart as a total startup “brand” with Rockstart media, academy, angels and even a Rockstart festival. “Startups are the rockbands of business,” he says. The Rockstart summer program, an option where startups can stay on after the initial accelerator program, will also involve 3 weeks in Silicon Valley.

Rockstart’s mentor list is a who’s-who of the local tech scene and is heavy on 20-something Dutch entrepreneurs. The Rockstart team insist that these are often most useful mentors for new startups. The final 20 teams will be profiled by a HR firm who will evaluate their strengths and whether they will work well together and this data will influence the selection of the final 10 teams. During the accelerator program itself, the teams will also work with the HR firm to build profiles of the next three people they need to hire post-funding.

Partners include Microsoft Bizspark and Deloitte. Teams receive up to €15,000 (€5,000 per founder) and 6 months of office space in return for an equity stake of 8 percent. Applications close on January 6th and applicants are expected to have built a minimum viable product.

In a final twist in the accelerator face-off, Rockstart just poached former Startup Bootcamp Copenhagen associate Rune Theill

So established European accelerator chain or scrappy, startup megabrand in the making? Sign up here.

Note: Ciara is a volunteer mentor for both Startup Bootcamp Amsterdam and Rockstart

Filed under: deals, dev, Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Facebook may reach $1B profits this year, has $3.5B in cash, says report

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:07 AM PST

With $3.5 billion in cash on hand, Facebook is swimming in success and may manage to reach $1 billion in profit by the end of this year, according to a report.

The social network giant had $714 million in net income on revenue of $2.5 billion between January and September of this year, a source with knowledge of Facebook’s financials told Gawker. Given that trajectory, it seems likely that Facebook will pass $1 billion in profits — or at least get agonizingly close — by year-end.

While exact details on Facebook’s financial history are fuzzy, the company is on track to earn double what it reportedly made last year, and quadruple what it made two years ago.

Facebook also has plenty of money in the bank: $3.5 billion, according to the report. That doesn’t compare with a massive war chest like Apple’s $81.6 billion, but it’s certainly enough to make big acquisitions when necessary. And as Gawker points out, it’s an amount that would make the likes of Yahoo and Adobe jealous.

Gawker’s source also reiterated previous reports about Facebook’s upcoming IPO, in which the company is said to be raising $10 billion at a $100 billion valuation. Basically, expect Facebook’s pocketbook to grow next year, and for some big spend acquisitions to follow.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

For publishers, the next consoles mean new digital revenue streams

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

SFuture consoles will offer more digital revenue opportunities.ony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 weren't designed with a wide array of post-release revenue opportunities in mind, which has caused a number of video game publishers to implement slipshod measures such as online passes or subscription services. This won't be an issue for the next generation of consoles, with analysts predicting future PlayStation and Xbox devices will provide the appropriate infrastructure for companies like Electronic Arts and Activision to double digital revenue.

Publishers have turned to a variety of post-release approaches to maximize revenue – Warner Bros. used online passes with Batman: Arkham City and Mortal Kombat, Epic pre-sold "seasons" of downloadable content for Gears of War 3 and Activision created its own subscription service for the highly regarded Modern Warfare 3. Regardless of the means, these digital content packages serve two purposes – first, to provide video game companies with ways to generate additional digital revenue and second, to stem used product purchases.

However, much to the chagrin of consumers, these strategies haven't always been implemented seamlessly – games have been launched missing codes and glitches have prevented players from accessing content. This is because these post-launch programs were designed as stopgap measures to provide a solution to a problem that was inconceivable when the PS3 and Xbox 360 launched.

"Unfortunately, in 2005 it was impossible to foresee that digital opportunities that exist here today in 2011 and it has been difficult for both Microsoft and Sony to facilitate the necessary technological implementations to foster true digital growth on a base technology designed nearly six years ago," explains Jesse Divnich, vice president of capital research and communications at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research.

"[Online passes, DLC and subscription services are] part of a structural change of how publishers will recoup their investments," Peter Warman, CEO at Newzoo, added.

Moving forward, Divnich anticipates the next generation of video game hardware will provide publishers with infrastructure that will better enable them to capitalize on their intellectual properties after their products have hit retail shelves. It's all about penetration – video game companies want online services that enable them to engage consumers through a variety of digital touchpoints.

"Ultimately, consumers will take their favorite game or parts of it across all screens. Training your character and buying virtual items on your mobile phone during the day, preparing for the battle online with friends on the big screen in the evening," Warman suggests.

This translates into a revenue rainfall for major publishers. EEDAR estimates the big video game brands will be able to generate 20 to 30 percent additional revenue on their products through new digital initiatives, up from the 10 to 15 percent standard set by current video game hardware.

A growing number of consumers are purchasing post-release DLC.Divnich says: "It is safe to say we have high expectations that both Microsoft and Sony will continue to implement new technologies and services that will facilitate significant digital growth in the future."

Moreover, consumers won't be able to resell this type of content – another win for software manufacturers.

"Cutting out the middle man and preventing second-hand trading is accelerating [the development and adoption of digital revenue models]," Warman asserts.

As many as 51 percent of current-generation console owners purchased post-launch DLC in 2011, up from the 34 percent who did so two years ago, according to a recent EEDAR study, highlighting the growing interest in digital content packages.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Rebecca Black, Google+, Ryan Dunn, top Google’s Zeitgeist 2011

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:45 AM PST

Hang your heads in shame Internet-goers. In a year of revolution and widespread economic distress, the fastest-rising search term on Google was YouTube “sensation” Rebecca Black, known for her awful “Friday” music video.

Google released its 2011 Zeitgeist today, its annual collection of the global search term data of the year. Following Rebecca Black was the budding Google+ social network, and in third place was Jackass star Ryan Dunn, who died in a car crash earlier this year.

As with every Zeitgeist release, Google offers in-depth data about the year’s top ten search terms. For example, searches for Rebecca Black peaked during the week of March 20th, two weeks after her infamous music video was released. Now isn’t your life more complete knowing that?

Other popular search terms included Casey Anthony, the much-anticipated game Battlefield 3, and the non-existent iPhone 5.

This is the 11th time Google has put together its Zeitgeist, and as always, it never fails to be fascinating. What’s most interesting to me is that you can plainly see the increasing influence of the web on society every year. Even though it didn’t dominate search terms, Google was wise to point out just how much its search engine mattered when it came to tracking the revolutions throughout the Middle East this year.

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Facebook Timeline goes live for all, gives you 7 days to hide your shady past

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:32 AM PST


Facebook’s much-ballyhooed Timeline feature, which gives you a look at your entire history on the popular social service, has gone live for everyone in the world who wants it, the company announced this morning.

Timeline was announced in September on stage at the f8 conference, and it might be the most ambitious feature Facebook has introduced since the News Feed. The feature exchanges your profile page for a scrapbook-inspired listing of your history on Facebook, telling the story of your life in a collection of photos, status updates and more.

A week ago we heard that Facebook had nearly 1 million people who were already using Timeline and that the feature was being rolled out in New Zealand. But now everyone who wants a go can do so. To turn on Timeline, go to the Introducing Timeline page and click the green “Get It Now” button at the bottom of the screen.

For those that are worried about friends looking through your Timeline and seeing some not-so-appealing status updates from your past, Facebook gives you a 7-day “review period.” You can delete or hide anything on the Timeline before anyone else gets a peek, so no one sees pictures from the time you got married and then divorced 72 days later. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can also highlight special occasions like graduating or getting a job.

Timeline also gives you access to a new Activity Log, which lets you see all your posts and activity since you started on Facebook in a streamlined fashion. You are the only person who can see your activity log. From the Activity Log, you can also hide, delete or feature posts and photos.

A full video explaining Timeline and the 7-day preview process can be seen below:

Filed under: social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Prezi lands $14 million to save us from death by Powerpoint

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 12:28 AM PST

Zooming presentation tool Prezi just landed an investment of $14 million from Accel Partners and previous Danish investors Sunstone Capital. Prezi is one of those rare startups which actually has revenue. The company has been cash flow positive since 2010.

Known primarily for its online presentation software, Prezi also offers Prezi Desktop for offline editing, PreziMeeting for real-time collaboration, and the Prezi Viewer iPad app.

Prezi will use the new funding to accelerate growth (The company expects to double in size in the next year) and get Prezi on to more devices. Demand is increasing in Europe and Asia, in particular, so Prezi will also use some of the cash to adapt the product to local markets.

Prezi was originally the brainchild of architect and visual designer Adam Somlai-Fischer who used a zoomable user interface to explore the "big picture" overview of a floor plan and then zoom into the detail of individual rooms. He teamed up with Hungarian professor Peter Halacsy to create a zooming presentation tool for the rest of us. When Prezi launched, Sunstone Capital’s Christian Lindegard Jepsen commented that it was "addressing a huge and bored market".

Prezi is non-linear. You throw all the elements of your presentation – pictures, keywords and videos – on to the same surface as if you were pinning them on to a corkboard.  Then you can group them, zoom in and out and create different paths through the various elements. After a lifetime of Microsoft Powerpoint, Prezi is like going from black and white to glorious color (Yes, I am an unabashed Prezi fan). It’s only after using it for the first time that you realize how restrictive traditional presentation tools like Powerpoint can be.

“Slides are an idea which is 250 years old, ” says CEO Peter Arvai. “People in Europe used to paint them on glass. People have been stuck in old metaphors.” Arvai argues that presenting hasn’t caught up with the possibilities offered by digital technology. People have to learn to use the unique features of any new metaphor or medium. When radio first came out, presenters read books out loud since there was no existing format for a radio program.

“One of the nicest things that users say about Prezi is ‘I use Prezi because the audience asks me more about what I have to say.’ They lean forward and discover a space,” Arvai continues. Prezi users have come up with all kinds of novel uses of the tool such as Korea’s Prezioke (Prezi Karaoke) and the Prezume (a resume created using the tool).

The company’s business model is also unusual. Prezi users pay for privacy. All Prezi presentations are by default public and only premium users can restrict access to them. Prezi currently has 7 million users, the majority of whom are in Europe and Asia, although the U.S. is still the top single country of origin.

The company is a notable European success story. “I am very proud of being one of the first Hungarian companies to work with a top-tier American VC like Accel,” says Arvai. “Silicon Valley, while still the capital of startups, is getting much more competition in terms of where great ideas come from.”

Prezi is based in San Francisco and Budapest, has 50 employees, was founded in 2009 and previously raised $1.5 million from Sunstone Capital and TED Conferences.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Smule releases Magic Guitar for Apple mobile devices

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 10:23 PM PST

Smule has made its mark creating tactile music-related apps for Apple’s mobile devices and today it continues that streak with the launch of Magic Guitar.

The Magic Guitar app lets you strum your fingers across the screen of an iPhone or iPod Touch and produce electric guitar sounds that make you feel like a rock legend. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is positioning the free app as the instrument that will help you climb the stairway to heaven or the highway to hell. You can learn how to play it just in time to entertain your thrilled relatives as Christmas dinner.

The app joins Smule’s other music apps including Magic Piano, MadPad, I Am T-Pain, Ocarina, Glee Karaoke and Magic Fiddle. You play the Magic Guitar by holding your hone like a guitar neck. Beams of light appear to guide you and you strum songs from The Rolling Stones to KISS. Shake the phone to create vibrato, drag your fingers to bend the pitch, and choose from different sounds and speeds. “No practice is necessary,” Smule says, unless of course you want to be listened to for a long time.

Smule provided videos of the Magic Guitar in action. Those YouTube videos are great marketing vehicles for the company’s apps, as they show users just how simple it is to play them. The song book includes a catalog of artists including The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, KISS, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sublime, Credence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Styx, Poison, Bruno Mars, Train and more.

You can score your way to the top, getting rewards for playing and leveling up to unlock achievements and badges. You can look at the Smule globe and see others near you playing songs, and you can share your performances on the Smule globe, Twitter, Facebook or email.

Check out the faux Jimi Hendrix playing the Star-Spangled Banner:

And Smule co-founder Ge Wang playing Scarborough Fair.

Filed under: media, mobile, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Microsoft changes its Xbox brand and design chief

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 09:52 PM PST

It’s no secret that Microsoft is designing the successor to the Xbox 360, as it needs to keep pace with Nintendo, which is introducing a new console next year. But now it will evidently take on that task without the help of one of the veteran marketing and design experts.

Don Coyner will no longer lead the design and experience group for Xbox, according to Jay Greene at Cnet, which cited two unnamed Microsoft sources for its report. A former Nintendo marketer, Coyner led a methodical process that led to the final industrial design and user experience for the game console that launched in 2005. and I wrote about him in my book, “The Xbox 360 Uncloaked.”

Coyner was reportedly replaced by Emma Williams, who helped create the recently redesigned Xbox Live interface. Microsoft declined to comment on the matter to Cnet. But Coyner apparently hasn’t left the company. Coyner’s LinkedIn profile says he managed a team of 140 hardware, software and user researchers in the Interactive Entertainment Division at Microsoft.

Coyner left Nintendo and joined Microsoft in 1995. He shifted over to Xbox as work began on that console in 1999. He started as a director of marketing for the group and then moved to supervise the design and user experience for the Xbox 360. In that process, he worked under Xbox platform chief J Allard, who has since left the company. Coyner’s job was to make the whole user experience with the console more consistent and unified.

Allard had said that Coyner had been “under-utilized” on the first Xbox and he gave him more responsibility for the second console. In mid-2003, Coyner brought in the industrial designer Jonathan Hayes to oversee the look and feel of the Xbox 360, synthesizing the designs proposed by various teams. Coyner supervised the process of collecting data on gamers and feeding it to the designers so they could improve the product the second time around. He wanted the product to be as well received as a new Apple device.

The first Xbox didn’t win any design awards and it was too big for many home entertainment racks.  He started out by heading a worldwide design bake-off, asking famous industrial designers around the world to submit concepts for the new console. Hayes and the team viewed the work of seven concepts for the Xbox 360 design, but they didn’t like any of them. They invited Astro Studios of San Francisco and Hers Experimental Laboratory to work on new concepts, and their ideas led to the final industrial design.

The unified design won accolades when the console debuted in 2005, as it was more appealing to the mass market and wasn’t as intimidating as the original black Xbox with its acid-green jewel in the middle. Though it came out a year before the Nintendo Wii and the Sony PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 has aged well and it will be the best-selling console in the U.S. this year.

Williams will now head the design and brand strategy of the Xbox group. Microsoft is reportedly planning to launch its next console in 2013, according to Cnet and the Develop game news site.

[photo credit: Wired.com]

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Google+ check-in offers go live on its Android app

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 05:31 PM PST

google checkin offersGoogle recently revealed its social network Google+ will support check-ins for businesses providing discounts through their Google Places page. Today, the capability was launched, but only through the Google+ Android application.

The social network is purposefully getting outfitted with as many Google features as the company can pack into it. Larry Page noted after Google’s quarter three earnings that the Google+ team feels as if it has delivered the “plus,” but is now sewing in the Google. Recently, Google+ and YouTube were paired together for those who wanted to share what videos they were watching with their circles. The Google+ mobile app also recently received search functionality.

This new Google+ feature allows owners to promote their businesses not just on the Google Places page, but through the social network. Google Places lets business owners enter information about their companies, which then turn up in Google searches. On these pages, businesses can offer discounts that must be of good quality, or Google will remove them. Some of these offers must be redeemed at a specific location, think restaurants. When you offer a discount, now, you can force a buyer to check-in to that physical location on the Google+ mobile app to get the deal. Those who do check-in can opt to keep the check-in private, share with specific circles or make the action public.

Google’s intentions were originally uncovered by Mike Blumenthal was surfing the company’s Places help pages when he discovered a couple paragraphs on the launch. They read:

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

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

Google confirmed the move to VentureBeat and Marissa Mayer elaborated at technology conference Le Web saying, “"We think there are interesting ways we can monetize this, but also ways to help our users safe money."

Ah, Google, ever advertising conscious.

[Hat tip and photo via MarketingLand]

Filed under: mobile, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Can Amazon help save Hollywood’s dying DVD business?

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 04:33 PM PST

Would the prospect of streaming your personal collection of movie titles anywhere, including your new Amazon Kindle Fire, entice you to purchase more flicks? Movie studios desperately hope so and are, according to sources, seeking to align with Amazon to make that vision a reality.

Sony, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures are said to be courting Amazon in the hopes that the Kindle Fire-maker will join the UltraViolet alliance, and allow its customers to upgrade their previously purchased movies to the new UltraViolet streaming format, Bloomberg is reporting.

UltraViolet is a DVD and Blue-ray format that lets customers store their purchased movies and TV shows in the cloud for instant streaming and downloading to mobile devices, tablets, internet-connected television sets and Blu-ray players, and video game consoles. All the major movie studios, with the exception of Disney, have joined the UltraViolet alliance, and each began selling their titles in the new format in October 2011.

Apple is not a member of the UltraViolet group — a huge bummer for the studios — and that leaves Amazon as a final-resort, must-have friend for the studios.

Thankfully, Amazon is said to be seriously considering a deal that would let its existing customers convert the movie titles they’ve already purchased via Amazon to the new UltraViolet format for a one-time 99 cents or $1.49 fee. The conversion offer, said people familiar with the matter, could be announced as soon as the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The logic goes that if Amazon, a leading online entertainment seller, hawks and supports UltraViolet, it could entice customers to buy, as opposed to just rent on the cheap via Netflix or Redbox, studio titles. And, in a perfect world, ride in like a white knight to save a DVD business that’s hemorrhaging movie sales to the dark horse digital rental business.

But even with Amazon in its corner, the studios will still likely face a fierce battle in convincing consumers to purchase DVDs.

[Image via bestrated1/Flickr]

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Lam Research buys Novellus Systems for $3.3B to brawl with Applied Materials

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 04:23 PM PST

Two big chip manufacturing equipment companies are getting together so they can take on the giant of their industry. Lam Research said today that it is acquiring Novellus Systems for $3.3 billion in an all-stock deal.

Novellus shareholders will get $44.42 per share, at an exchange ratio of 1.125 shares of Lam for each Novellus share. That is a 28 percent premium above the Wednesday closing price for Novellus.

The two Silicon Valley companies compete against Applied Materials, the multibillion-dollar giant of the industry. All of the companies are fundamental to the success of the $300 billion chip industry and chip makers such as Intel and Samsung, which make the building blocks of everything electronic. The equipment makers such as Applied, Novellus, Lam and others create the multi-million-dollar machines that process chips in hundreds of steps as they make their way through a production line within factories that can cost as much as $4 billion.

Fremont, Calif.-based Lam Research makes equipment that etches patterns in films to define the circuitry within chips. San Jose, Calif.-based Novellus makes machines that deposit layers of film on top of chips.

The timing of the deal reflects a slowdown in the industry, which is being weighed down by the economy at the same time it is buoyed by demand in emerging markets for computers, smartphones, and tablets. The whole industry has been hurt by flooding in Thailand, which has curtailed production of hard drives and slowed demand for Intel’s chips.

The combined company will keep the name Lam Research and will be headed by Lam’s Martin Anstice, president and chief operating officer. The companies want to have annualized cost savings of $100 million by the end of 2013. Anstice is taking over after Lam chief executive Stephen Newberry retires in January. Lam will buy back about $1.6 billion of its stock as part of its deal.

Lam shares closed Wednesday at $39.48 on the Nasdaq, while Novellus shares closed at $34.70. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2012.

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

4 RockHealth startups that will keep you healthy and sane over the holidays (video)

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 03:55 PM PST

The holidays are supposed to be joyous, but they’re mostly a stressful time full of rich meals, grueling travel and over-commitment. It’s easy to neglect our personal health, or let an exercise regime lapse, when we’re busy and its cold and dark outside.

But thanks to cool new technology, it doesn’t have to be this way.

We recently invited four startups from health-startup accelerator RockHealth to share some some holiday wellness tips. The San Francisco-based RockHealth specializes in companies that improve people’s well-being and fitness through technologies that encourage behavior modification. By tapping into the power of our smartphones and the Web, RockHealth companies such as BitGymPipetteSkimble and WeSprout are making it easy and fun for people to take better care of themselves.

The first RockHealth Demo Day was held at the UCSF Mission Bay in mid-November. So far there are 13 RockHealth companies, with another new batch to be announced soon.

With just two weeks until the start of the new year, we hope these tips help you start 2012 on a positive, energetic and healthy note.

Filed under: mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Verizon offering Galaxy Nexus Dec. 15 for $299 (updated)

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 03:14 PM PST

After months of speculation and unconfirmed advertisements, Verizon is finally releasing the Galaxy Nexus December 15 for $299 when you sign a two year contract.

[Update: The device will be available through Verizon beginning at 1 a.m. EST. As part of a holiday special, the company is offering both current and new customers who buy a 4G phone double the amount of monthly data for the same monthly fee -- meaning a 2GB data plan will get 4GB per month. The special runs through the holidays and will include the Galaxy Nexus.]

For those who haven’t been keeping up with the news, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus the latest in Google's flagship Nexus Android phone lineup. The device sports a 4.65-inch display running at 1280 by 720 resolution, a 5-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Under the hood, the Galaxy Nexus has a 1.2-gigahertz dual core processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM. It's also the first phone to run Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich", the latest version of Google's mobile OS. VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar describes it as having everything you’d ever want in a smartphone.

Right now, there’s no word on whether Verizon plans to offer the phone at the $199 price point listed in unconfirmed advertisements that surfaced last month. However, it is the holiday season — meaning Verizon might hold off on further price cuts when people are a little less willing to spend their money.

While details about the Galaxy Nexus launch are still scare, we expect more information to roll out soon. We’ll update this post with any new information as it rolls in.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Cool private companies: 3 software firms making a splash (and cash)

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 02:18 PM PST

As a software securities analyst, Richard Davis spends 200 days a year on the road visiting software companies. He goes to public companies such as Oracle and Salesforce.com, but he also visits up-and-coming software companies he thinks will go public in the near future. In his new column, Davis is going to talk about some candidates he thinks may be ripe for the IPO class of 2012 or 2013.

ServiceNow: IT management platform

The San Diego-founded ServiceNow fits into the "hottest companies on the planet" category (along with Workday, HubSpot, BuddyMedia, MarkLogic, Acquia and a few others I'm not allowed to mention). What is really impressive with this company, is that the firm has built a few-hundred-million-billings company on what I believe is less than $10 million of contributed capital. Getting a lot of money upfront is not necessarily a bad thing, but most of the great software firms of today did not raise a ton of money.

Business-wise, ServiceNow has emerged as a best-in-class enterprise IT service management platform that is rapidly emerging as the go-to IT management platform for service desk staff, the CIO, app developers, IT finance, IT operations and business users. Unlike most other platforms which are a kluge of tools, ServiceNow started from the ground up to be SaaS (software as a service). The system helps users translate IT design and strategy into real life execution. In a world in which cloud architectures are rapidly subsuming legacy systems, ServiceNow looks to be a major disruptive force in the conservative (a.k.a. "old") network tools business. We figure the guys at CA, BMC, IBM and HP are watching ServiceNow. It probably makes sense for you to do so as well.

Approximate size: >$200 million in billings

iContact: Social media marketing

I stopped by email and social-media marketing software company iContact's funky new HQ offices in Raleigh, NC. The firm continues to grow rapidly by selling to small, medium and large customers. iContact's introduction of a free low-end version of its product turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be: a good way to attract trial users, but not something that overturned the economic laws of email marketing. More interestingly, iContact recently announced the launch of a social-media content creation, scheduling and analytics platform.

In some ways, the functionality is similar to what another fast growing social media firm, HootSuite, is doing. What is different about iContact's model is that it is charging nothing for the service if you are an email customer, and offering an add-on monthly outsourcing service that creates and manages social media communications. This strikes us as a logical, and potentially disruptive business model. Zero additional cost for the social media marketing (SMM) adds value to iContact's email subscriptions.

The question we’ve been wrestling with is, how will incremental users of social media marketing tools handle time management? Small business owners are jammed for time, and while they almost certainly engage in social media marketing on an ad hoc basis, if they make the plunge to get fully engaged that means they have to create or find content to Tweet, re-Tweet, put on Yelp, Facebook and similar sites. "Engaged" means you put something out at least twice a week. iContact solves this dilemma for SMB managers with a service that will range between $750 and $2000 per month, depending on the size and complexity of the engagement. Social media marketing is a wide open space and pricing and functionality models are just emerging, so it will be interesting to see who wins.

Approximate size: $50-100 million in revenues

Kinaxis: Supply chain in the cloud

In Toronto, I met with the senior management of this cloud-architected integration platform for sales, operations and supply chain management. Kinaxis addresses a problem that companies have faced for years, that and a couple dozen software companies have attempted to solve. To date, neither party has been especially happy or successful at the effort, respectively. That is until Kinaxis arrived. The firm appears to have developed a platform that combines messaging, business process management and analytics into a unified suite that the firm has branded Control Tower.

The firm is growing rapidly and boasts customers such as Pioneer, Avaya, Jabil, Teradyne, GE Aviation, Flextronics, Casio and Sikorsky. The broadly defined “supply chain” space has been a challenging investment for the past decade, with the only real success stories being Descartes, AspenTech and SPS Commerce. I like this space because companies that reach scale are quite sustainable since they solve difficult problems with substantial software (e.g. no lightweight Internet stuff that you could write over the weekend).

Approximate backlog: >$75 million.

Chart image via Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Windows Phone developers can now enter Microsoft’s Dream.Build.Play Challenge

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 01:54 PM PST

Windows Phone 7Microsoft today announced it’s adding a new category to its Dream.Build.Play Challenge focusing exclusively on games created for Windows Phone. The annual contest gives independent developers the chance to create games for Microsoft platforms and compete for over $100,000 in cash prizes.

Last year, Microsoft says the Dream.Build.Play Challenge attracted developers from around the world, amassing 250 game submissions from 27 countries. Finalists in the competition are judged by a panel of game industry professionals from Microsoft based on three criteria: innovation, fun factor, and production quality.

Microsoft has been working to build up its mobile platform. Earlier this year, the company previewed some Xbox Live games and features that would be making their way to Windows Phone at the annual Gamescom event in Cologne, Germany, including Avatar customization, game add-ons, and parental controls. By opening up the Dream.Build.Play Challenge to mobile game developers, Microsoft can attract new talent to the platform.

The finalists of this year’s Dream.Build.Play Challenge will be able to show off their games during PAX Prime 2012 in Seattle. Registration details will be available soon. In the meantime, Microsoft says developers interested in the competition can find general information on the official website and Facebook fan page.

Filed under: dev, games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Call Trunk now lets you record Skype calls and store them with Dropbox (exclusive)

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 01:52 PM PST

call-trunkCloud-based call recording service Call Trunk will now let Skype users in the U.S. record their voice calls and store them using its new Dropbox integration, the company revealed today.

Call Trunk’s goal is to make it easier for businesses to record and store important phone calls in the cloud. Many times, people may be more forthcoming with details or promises on a phone call rather than through e-mail. All Call Trunk recordings can be accessed online via the browser or through its mobile apps. The audio can notably be stored and accessed using Dropbox, Evernote, Box and SugarCRM apps.

The company debuted its service last year in the U.K. but now is ramping up operations in the U.S. with the new Skype recording for U.S. users. Its Dropbox integration is new and works globally.

"In the past, only large organizations could afford sophisticated call recording technology,” co-founder and CEO Paul Murphy said in a statement. “Today, the launch of our Dropbox integration and U.S. Skype service are two more steps towards creating a more accessible and disruptive technology that will make the spoken word as tangible as written words."

Pricing for the service varies in the U.S., depending on how much recording time you need. On the high end, up to 5,000 minutes of recording a month runs $80 while its smallest package is $5 for 50 minutes a month. The company said its most popular plan is for 2,500 minutes a month for $50.

London-based Call Trunk is self-funded currently. Outside of London, the company has offices in Dallas and Montreal. The company’s exec team is led Murphy, COO Tim Tokarsky, co-founder and VP of operations Angela Clarke, co-founder and chief scientist Darcy Brockbank and VP of marketing Richard Newton.

Filed under: cloud

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Gmail iOS app update adds custom signatures, Scribbles & more

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 01:16 PM PST

Gmail iOS appGoogle has released an update for its Gmail iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch applications today that adds several new features requested by users.

The new features include a new notification sound for new email messages, access to the vacation responder and the ability to set custom signatures, which should be helpful for people who want to distinguish messages sent from a mobile device (e.g. “Sent from my iPhone, please excuse any typos.”). The update also includes support for nested labels and some user interface improvements.

Another big addition users will notice is the Scribbles feature. The feature lets users open a canvas to draw (or “scribble”) something using multiple colors and brush sizes. When finished, the scribble can be attached to an email and sent via the app.

The company first released the Gmail iOS app in November but quickly pulled it from the App Store due to widespread login problems. Two weeks later the app returned, but proved to be a huge disappointment for most people, including VentureBeat’s Heather Kelly. In addition to the lack of support for multiple accounts and poor image message scalability, she called the app pretty useless for anything but plain text messages.

However, Google said it plans to add multiple account login support, banner notifications and a “send as” feature in future iOS app updates.

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

It’s not an investigation: Carrier IQ asked FCC & FTC for meetings to clear its name

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 12:48 PM PST

Carrier IQ, the beleaguered firm that monitors cell phone data, has sought out meetings with both the FTC and FCC in an attempt to clear its name of wiretapping and privacy-violating allegations.

While other outlets are reporting that Carrier IQ is undergoing a federal investigation, the company tells us it contacted these agencies first, not the other way around.

“Investigation is the wrong word here,” a company spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email today. “We sought the meetings with FCC and FTC in the interest of transparency and full disclosure and to answer their questions … Our executives were in D.C. this week meeting with these folks, but we sought out these meetings.”

The company’s executives also took meetings at a number of senators’ offices while in the nation’s capital.

For context, Carrier IQ monitors usage and data on around 150 million cell phones around the world. It collects information that carriers and manufacturers use to improve battery life, device performance and cell coverage. However, some consumers are concerned that the company is gathering too much data — especially since this video seems to show the software logging keystrokes.

While Carrier IQ is under investigation from a couple agencies in Europe, the only legal hot water being splashed on its door in the U.S. comes in the form of a couple strongly worded letters from Sen. Al Franken and a couple class action lawsuits.

While that’s nothing to shake a stick at, it’s also not a federal case, necessarily — and Carrier IQ intends to keep it that way.

"Of course we will comply with all domestic and foreign regulators,” the same rep said to us at the time of the European investigations. “We truly have nothing to hide."

That statement was at least somewhat backed up by the company’s publication of a 19-page PDF explaining how its technology works.

Filed under: mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Here are the top political issues of 2011 as measured by Facebook Likes

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 12:19 PM PST

Between the Arab Spring, the death of Osama bin Laden, hilarious Republican primaries, and the seemingly unending economic turbulence around the globe, 2011 politics provided no end of fodder for public discourse.

If, unlike us, you get your political news from sources other than The Daily Show, you probably share some of that news around Facebook, where it gets Liked and commented upon by your friends (of whom you have many, we’re sure). Hence, Facebook becomes a sort of barometer for what’s important to a huge mass of people at any given time.

The kind and crusty souls at Facebook Politics have listed the 40 most popular web pages about politics that also popped up on Facebook. The top five most popular stories focused on the Occupy movement, the economy, the Arab Spring and Osama bin Laden, in that order.

Here’s a breakdown showing the most popular topics for the year based on Facebook’s list. The topics aren’t sorted by number of Likes per issue or theme; rather, we spreadsheet jockeys just examined the topics of the 40 most popular articles.

Clearly, Occupy was the most hot-button issue for articles that got passed around on Facebook. While most of the posts were of a liberal, pro-Occupy bent, some highlighted criticisms of the movement. For example, CNN told the story of the non-protesting middle class in its popular article “The 53%: We are NOT Occupy Wall Street.” Altogether, Occupy accounted for 10 of the top 40 articles in this year’s list.

And lest you think this is all idle social media chatter, Facebook’s politics staff reminds us that around 88 percent of Facebook users in the U.S. are also registered voters. The platform isn’t just where people gather to talk about political issues; it’s increasingly where politicians themselves are reaching out and solidifying their base.

Another interesting factor was the news sources for these popular posts. Not too surprisingly, online juggernaut The Huffington Post topped the list with 10 of the top 40 political articles on Facebook this year. Still, overall, online-only or blog-type news sources with no foundation in a traditional journalistic organization represented the minority in this list, or 15 of the top 40 articles.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Netflix updates its iOS apps with a gorgeous new UI

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 11:22 AM PST

Netflix ipad

Netflix released a long overdue update for its iPad and iPhone applications today.

The update features the gorgeous new user interface that first debuted in Netflix’s Android and Kindle Fire apps. The redesigned interface displays twice as many titles on the video browsing screen than the previous iteration. The artwork for each movie and/or television series is also much larger than in the old version. However, this doesn't prevent you from navigating through titles. It looks a lot like what you’d see on Netflix with a web browser, but it works far better on a touch screen.

The biggest change is probably the horizontal row of videos that you’re in the middle of watching but haven’t finished. The familiar “play” button is feature on each of the “Continue Watching” program thumbnails as well as the placeholder for how much of the video you’ve completed (pictured above).

With version 2.0 of its iOS apps, Netflix has also made them available to its international markets. Netflix subscribers in Latin America will now have access to all the same interface tweaks as their U.S. counterparts.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Need to find testers in a hurry? BetaBait has you covered

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 11:16 AM PST


One major issue constantly plaguing startups is finding willing beta testers that can help get a service or site in shape before a public launch. BetaBait, which launched publicly today, wants to help solve this problem by better connecting startups and eager testers.

One of the company’s co-founders is long-time VentureBeat contributor Cody Barbierri. He said he started the company because he saw a clear opening in the market, with so many startups in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley, but not enough tools to help get testers lined up. BetaBait members receive a single email every day that lists several beta web, mobile and social applications.

Membership is free for startups and potential beta users. The company plans to make money from advertisers that “sponsor” a daily e-mail. “At the top of the email, there will be a place for a company to spotlight their product or service,” Barbierri said. “We only allow one ad per day per email.”

Barbierri said there are several companies already out there that help startups launch and manage their beta tests, such as LaunchRock or BetaEasy. But BetaBait isn’t competing with them; instead it’s focused on actually bringing users into a beta test. ”If anything, a startup would want to use us all at the same time,” Barbierri said. “We aren’t providing a tool to connect, we are connecting [testers] to the tools.”

The Bridgeport, Conn.-based company is self-funded at present. Barbierri said the company is working on a small scale presently, but it hopes to attract outside funding in the “near future.”

Fishing photo via Shutterstock.

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Who’s at the top of Yahoo’s CEO shortlist? It might be this Googler

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 11:08 AM PST

Rumors are flying around the web that Google executive Nikesh Arora might become Yahoo’s next CEO.

Two sources close to Yahoo’s board revealed to Business Insider that Arora is one very few top executives on Yahoo’s shortlist of potential CEOs.

Currently, Arora is a senior vice president at Google and the company’s chief business officer. He has worked at such renowned firms as Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile, Fidelity Investments and others.

Yahoo has been without a CEO since early September, when its board fired then-chief executive Carol Bartz. In mid-October, the board hired executive search firm Heidrich & Struggles, the same firm that had unearthed Bartz, to find a new CEO.

We’re used to hearing Arora’s voice in Google’s earnings calls. Before becoming the company’s business chief, he served as its president of global sales operations and business development for about a year and a half. Before that, he was Google’s president of international operations.

Arora received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, India in 1989, and went on to obtain two master’s degrees from Boston College and Northeastern University. He currently holds an MBA as well as the CFA (chartered financial analyst) designation.

While Yahoo looks for a new CEO, talks of an acquisition have been rampant. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma publicly stated that he wanted Yahoo, then he went and started fundraising to the tune of $4 billion to buy back the 40 percent stake in Alibaba that Yahoo currently owns.

A Microsoft acquisition has been much rumored, and we even heard that longtime rival Google was considering making a play for the struggling company.

However, Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang said the company wasn’t yet on the auction block and even showed some signs of taking the company private again.

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

On the eve of its IPO, Zynga starts holiday marketing and launches ForestVille

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 10:54 AM PST

On the eve of its initial public offering, Zynga has kicked off some holiday marketing and launched a new mobile game, ForestVille.

Zynga is launching a promotion with singer Michael Buble, whose album is tops on the Billboard 200 chart for the third week in a row. Fans of Buble will be able to mingle with Buble’s avatar (pictured left) in Zynga’s CityVille game starting next week. They can party with his band as part of a holiday bonfire and get Buble-themed quests. They will also be able to access an exclusive video in CityVille, which has 49 million monthly active users.

Others that have made appearances in CityVille include Enrique Iglesias and the King of Pop, Michael Jacson. Meanwhile, Zynga has launched ForestVille for mobile devices. In the iOS game, users will be able to play in a magical forest where they can build homes for animal characters, create businesses, decorate, and connect with friends. This is Zynga’s sixth mobile-first game, launching soon after CityVille Holidaytown, Dream Zoon, and Mafia Wars Shakedown.

Still, considering that Zynga is hoping to raise about $1 billion at an $8.9 billion valuation or more, these latest moves aren’t particularly impressive.

Filed under: games, mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

En garde! Google strikes at Facebook with new hangouts features

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 10:48 AM PST

Quick, name one thing that Google+ does better than Facebook? The answer is Google+ hangouts, a Skype-like group video chat (and broadcast) feature. Wednesday, the search giant released a number of improvements to make its most-prized social possession more striking.

What’s new? In a nutshell, hangouts are far more accessible.

Users can start impromptu live video chats right from Google+ conversation threads on the web (as pictured below), and on mobile when the new Android app drops in a few days, as well more easily discover and receive notifications for hangouts currently in progress. They can also now call any phone number, not just ones in the U.S. and Canada, to add non-members to their chats.

For the celebrity user, Google+ has improved its beta broadcast feature to enable users to automatically record and then upload the live video stream to YouTube following the broadcast.

Not a G+ user yet? Here’s the skinny on hangouts: They are group video chats that members can use to start conversations with other G+ members — and even non-G+ members — on the web or via mobile. They’re a viable replacement to the conference call or simply a fun way to spontaneously video chat with friends and family members. Select celebrities can even use them to broadcast live to large audiences.

And if you’ve been paying any attention to the social media space in the past six months, then you’re familiar with the Facebook versus Google back-and-forth. Facebook has nothing like hangouts — yet. Which explains why Google would feel compelled to nurture and show off its potentially prize-winning social pony.

The company seems also keen on driving home the emotional appeal of group video chat. It’s a strategy that echoes Apple’s promotional efforts around FaceTime, and it’s one that could go a long way in convincing folks on the bonuses of Google+ over Facebook. Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra, when describing the new hangouts features, put it best: “By bringing people together, face-to-face-to-face, we’re hoping to make the world a bit cozier, and lift people’s spirits a bit higher.”

Is the hangouts strategy working? It may be too soon to tell. We asked Google for metrics on hangout usage, but the company isn’t ready to reveal anything on that front just yet. In October, Google did share that more than 40 million folks use G+, and that 3.4 billion photos had been shared through the social network.

Still, today’s release strikes us as proof that Google has no intentions of backing down in the feature wars and will continue to invest in rapidly iterating on its most compelling feature. It’s almost like Google is channelling hip hop artist Chris Brown and saying, “Look at me now.”

We’re looking, Google.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now