19 December, 2011



Google and Apple working on wearable computing devices

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 08:48 AM PST

The next wave of computer innovation might be heading to the runway — or at least your wardrobe if tech titans Apple and Google have anything to say about it.

With wearable computing, both companies are aiming to boost sales of smartphones, according to a New York Times report. The wearable technology will add a new level to the user experience by adding a way to collect data that’s currently unavailable.

According to anonymous sources in the report, Google is working on new peripherals that communicate info to a smartphone when its worn in conjunction with a phone running its Android mobile operating system. The company has hired engineers from Nokia Labs, Apple and various universities to work on the project.

As for Apple, the company is also experimenting with wearable technology capable of transmitting data back to its iPhone device. The iPhone itself is already doing some of this. iOS applications from Nike do things like count your steps and calculate fitness goals. One of the concept devices being tested by Apple engineers is a bracelet-like curved-glass iPod.

The fact that a person’s cellphone is often the most relied upon machine in their day-to-day routine is nothing new. Smartphones have replaced wrist watches and alarm clocks. They’re rapidly chipping away at printed newspapers and physical day planners. So, it makes sense to integrate wearable technology into the smartphone.

Either way, the technology is years away from production on a consumer level.

[Photo via Coolest-homemade-costumes]

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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British Telecom targets more than Android in patent suit against Google

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 08:46 AM PST

You can add yet another major company to Google’s patent squabbles: British Telecommunications, which filed suit against the search giant on Thursday for infringing six patents.

BT is aiming higher than most other companies targeting Google — which at this point includes Apple, Oracle, and Microsoft — because it’s not just targeting Android; it’s targeting almost every Google service, including Gmail, Google+ and Google Docs, reports Florian Mueller at FOSS Patents.

“BT seeks damages — even triple damages for willful and deliberate infringement — as well as an injunction,” Mueller writes. “The complaint suggests that Google refused to pay.”

The broadness of BT’s patents may make it difficult to convince a court that Google is doing anything wrong. Take, for example, #6,169,515, which concerns “a navigation system which includes a fixed part and at least one mobile part to provide guidance information to a user.” BT believes Google Maps on Android infringes on this patent, even though it seemingly describes all map and GPS functionality on modern smartphones.

Mueller notes that he wouldn’t be surprised if BT took this battle to German courts, which generally fall on the side of patent holders. Motorola (which Google is in the process of acquiring), recently scored a patent win against Apple in a German court over 3G data transmission.

Photo via S Pakhrin/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Zynga stock pummeled in second day of trading

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 08:42 AM PST

pincus mapSocial games company Zynga’s stock is down nearly 7 percent in its second day of trading on the Nasdaq exchange, a signal of turbulent times ahead for the value of the company.

Zynga’s stock closed on Friday at $9.50 a share, down 50 cents from its IPO price of $10 a share. The weak performance came after a strange combination of hype and criticism for the gaming company, which raised $1 billion at an $8.9 billion valuation with options included.

At time of writing, Zynga’s share price is down to $8.77, down about 7.7 percent from Friday’s $9.50 closing price. In added context, the entire Nasdaq exchange is also trading in the red today and is down about 7 points, or down 0.30 percent from Friday’s close.

PrivCo, a private market research firm headed by Sam Hamadeh, told us at the end of last week that Zynga made several missteps with its IPO that will likely continue to dog the stock. PrivCo’s chief complaint was that the percentage of shares offered by Zynga in its IPO was not restricted to less than 10 percent like LinkedIn and Groupon. PrivCo also felt like Zynga’s long-term commitments to Facebook, which saps 30 percent of Zynga’s revenues on virtual goods, is another flaw in the Zynga business model.

Another critic includes Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.

“I truly think that the underwriters did a poor job of placing the issue with long-term investors,” Pachter told VentureBeat. “The volume traded was over 100 million shares, telling me that a substantial percentage of the buyers were in there to flip the stock rather than to invest. There were likely 20 percent or more of the shares placed with these guys, who took a quick profit at the open and left even weaker traders holding the stock as it went down. The guys who bought after the market opened panicked, and the stock took a long while to stabilize.”

Among the things that will help stabilize the stock include better research, Pachter said.

“You only thought [Zynga] was worth $10 because Morgan Stanley told you so,” Pachter said. “If they priced the deal at $9 and placed all of it with mutual funds, it likely would have traded up to $9.50 or higher, and your question to me would have been different.”

We will update this post at the end of trading with final notes.

Filed under: games

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Review: A Minecraft review isn’t really possible, but we’ll try anyway

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

How the hell do you write a review for a game that’s been out since 2009? A game that you’ve played across many changes, with additions and subtractions, a game without a box, a user manual, or, really, any sort of guiding pedagogy. I’ve personally spent at least 100 hours, probably more, playing this procedurally generated oddity of a video game across the beta and official versions, on servers, my own server, and in single player modes. And yet, I still can’t seem to get a simple handle on it, and why it keeps me coming back for more.

I first experienced Minecraft as many geeks did – I read about it and was intrigued enough to grab it and download it. I spent the $20 to create an account so I could play the game offline. It seemed worth it, if all the other geek gamers I knew were right.

The game as I played it first was one of “holy crap now what?” I was there, a disembodied blocky arm in a preschool-colored world. There were trees, pigs, cows, trees. I pressed the ‘W’ key and walked and walked and walked. And then night fell. And then I died, only to respawn back where I had started.

It took several of these false starts till I did what any good geek gamer will do – I Googled the hell out of it. Turns out, there was many a guide on “surviving your first night in Minecraft.” They all went something like this – knock the crap out of some trees until they fall apart in weird blocky wood pieces, pop them into your inventory (with that glorious popping sound), and then go find a mountainside with some coal in plain view. Do all this before nightfall, because the monsters come out at night. Sssssss….BOOM. Creepers will get you. Or Zombies. Or spiders making odd straw slurping noises. SOMETHING is gonna get you, so grab that wood, and some coal, and dig into that mountain, my friend. Craft some torches (handy recipes were provided in these survival guides), build a wall between you and the monsters, and pound that torch into the wall. Wait for night to be over. Just ignore all the horrifying sounds outside the tenuous boundary you’ve just created. You’ll be fine.

Rinse. Repeat. And yet? There was so. much. more. to learn.

That is the draw, for me and for thousands of players. Minecraft brings, literally, a whole world of potential. The ruleset is deceptively simple – there’s day, and night. There are monsters, lava, water, and tall things you can fall from or into – all great ways to get to that respawn. If you respawn, all your carefully crafted items are left where you die. Good luck finding them again – the visual aesthetic is unhelpfully regular.

Crafting consists of taking raw materials, putting them into either an inventory or workbench grid, and creating something new out of different ingredients. Sometimes, ore needs to be cooked in a furnace, using coal that’s been dug out of the ground. The recipes are visual and only found on the internet. There is no way, in game, to figure this stuff out. And that’s a good thing. It’s like one big gaming Easter Egg hunt, with only the cool kids getting the best stuff. If, of course, by cool kids I mean folks able to sift through literally thousands of sites, videos and wiki pages. And I do.

Let’s talk mining. If you have any bit of obsessive-compulsive tendencies, you might want to steer clear of this game. I had no idea how compelled I’d be, digging regular pathways down into the game earth. Cube by cube, learning new ways to efficiently cut downward into the skin of the world from friends and YouTube, I found myself paying more and more attention to the patterns I created while digging. Every once in a while, iron, coal, gold, lapis lazuli, and even diamond blocks appeared seemingly at random. I knew, somehow, that if I just figured out the pattern, I’d be able to get all the iron and diamond I needed. Just a little more digging, a little more risk at falling into a lava pit or running into a cavern filled with arrow-shooting skeletons. I’d find the good stuff randomly, at variable intervals — the same reinforcement system that keeps gamblers coming back for more. I dug and dug and found materials, smelted iron weapons, crafted diamond armor, found monster spawners and gloriously brilliant lava flows. I lost my way more than once, over and over in fact – it’s dark down there. I’d carve my way to the surface, digging out stairs leading upward.

My fingers cramped and sore, my eyes craving different colors than the gray walls and earth toned gravel blocks deep within the mountains and mines of my own making, I dug upward for long tens of minutes. I’d crawl, slowly blinking, out of the torchlight and into the full light of day, learning how to build up and up and up and up. I began building platforms in the sky, jumping up and placing blocks of material under my feet that I might get ever closer to the sky, past the clouds, right up to the very tallest point in Minecraft, where no other blocks can be placed.

Minecraft is nothing if not immersive.

The recent 1.0 release has a few differences from the original beta I began playing. It’s got experience points, a new health system that allows players to recharge their health as long as their hunger meter is filled up, a marked change from the one to one “eat a porkshop and gain some health back” days of yore. Now there’s more to manage, but less fear of dying from too many cumulative hits or falls. Just make sure to eat those pork chops. And mushroom stews. And, yes, even cake. The cake is not a lie, it just takes some eggs, milk (in an iron bucket that must be created in a furnace), sugar refined from sugar cane plants and some wheat, which can be grown topside with any sufficient sunlight and water supply.

If I continue to digress, perhaps that’s the point. Minecraft is one continual digressive experience. Once you get the hang of surviving the night, indeed several nights, you then start building and mining. Craft doors, open them with pressure plates, grow your own trees fast with bone meal you’ve pulled from the bones of skeleton mobs you’ve defeated. Build a house, put up bookshelves, create a bed, put paintings on the wall. And don’t get me started on running your own server, inviting some trusted friends, and seeing what the world, continuously pervasive while the server runs, will evolve into. We had a scale model of an actual U.S. aircraft carrier next to a three-story glass building on top of an incredibly organized and labeled multilevel mining operation. I created a castle upon the ramparts of a nearby mountain, while others created a thousand-blocks long tunnel to a new area of the map we christened, “New Holland.” There’s nothing like this game.

A new mode was given an official place at the table with the release of Minecraft this past November – Creative Mode. My kids found this mode in an update to the beta at some point. I figured this out because they were flying around their single player worlds, making the most horribly multicolored structures across the land. In Creative Mode, players are given a quite thorough set of the basic building blocks of the Minecraft system, the power of flight, and no monsters to speak of. It’s a Lego-builder’s dream, enabling us all to create a playskool-themed Second Life environment with no restrictions, no challenges other than that of taking what’s in our heads and translating it to the Minecraft play world, one cubey block at a time.

There’s a third mode, of course, for people like me – Hardcore mode. This is, in my opinion, the ultimate purists Minecraft mode. Create a new world, live in it just like Survival Mode, with one simple difference: if you die, there is no respawn. You are finished. Done. That world cannot be accessed again. It’s Ben Abraham’s Far Cry 2 Permadeath experiment writ small and pixellated, and it’s tremendously compelling. I’ve been living in my own private hardcore Idaho since the mode was released, loving every minute of it. I’d surely love to have friends come visit, provided I could trust them not to set me on fire with a lava block they carefully secreted in a metal bucket from some underground lair. Yeah, Hardcore Mode is serious business.

In this official release, there’s also an ending. What? The developers have taken upon themselves to create a “primary win condition,” which is a fancy way of saying ending. In fact, to trigger the ending, you need to build a portal to an alternate dimension known as The End and then defeat the deadly Enderdragon that flies around. See? They even call it The End. Crazy, I know. Why is this even in the game? Might it be a clever statement on the completion needs of a more mainstream audience? I’d like to think so, given the developers’ hardcore indie aesthetic. However, it may just be a way to provide us all with a way to step away from the computer monitor and get some vitamin D, perhaps. Says lead developer Markus Persson, “For survival mode, I’d rather make the game too difficult than too easy. That also means I’m going to have to include some way of winning the game (or some other climax) to prevent it becoming too exhausting.” So there you have it.

So, Minecraft, the review? It’s impossible. There’s only experiential description to keep this reviewer from falling into a recursive, procedurally generated nightmare of Borgesian proportions (and shuddering at each use of the word “you” in a professional review). If we must, then, score this kind of game, we give it a 90/100. Whether you find joy in creating the Taj Mahal in square-ish blocks, building sky castles with friends in multiplayer, or derive an obscure satisfaction of a good life well lived in Hardcore mode, Minecraft abides. The cost is low and the computer specifications are fairly generous. Mac or PC, you can play this game. And you should.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Google+ adds much-welcome features to Pages, activity stream and more

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 07:26 AM PST

google-plus-engineerGoogle+ will add a few major improvements to its service during the next few days, including new activity stream controls, a few welcome changes to business Pages, better notifications and a dramatically better photo experience, the company announced today.

Despite contrary claims from Google, Google+ is a social network that competes with Facebook and Twitter for eyeballs. It has been rapidly adding new features to bring the network up to speed against the competition. One of the most significant changes was adding “Pages” for business and brands a little over a month ago, which was a heavily demanded feature for companies looking to socially connect with Google+ users.

Pages thankfully adds some features that were noticeably missing at launch. Google+ Pages can now have up to 50 administrators for a page, which enhances an organization’s ability to control it. Pages also now have a more powerful notifications flow to keep better track of how users are interacting with the brand, and there’s an aggregated count of users that shows brand +1′s combined with users that have added your Page to their Circles.

Three big improvements for everyday Google+ users have been added as well. First, users can now fine-tune the volume of posts from each Circle that goes into your stream. With a volume slider at the top of the page, you can, for example, make all the posts from your “Good Friends” Circle appear in your stream and only some of the posts from your “Acquaintances” Circle show up.

The other two all-user improvements include a redesigned notifications bar that is easier to manage and a better photo experience using Lightbox. The Lightbox photo program in Google+ now has “improved navigation, enhanced comment legibility and better overall utility,” according to Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product for Google+. The experience looks much better all around and its new photo-tagging abilities rival Facebook.

Three short videos that elaborate on the updates can be viewed below:

Filed under: social

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Joojoo boo-boo: Fusion Garage dumped by its lawyers, PR firm

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 07:06 AM PST

Fusion Garage may finally be done trolling the technology industry. The controversial company, maker of the Joojoo tablet, is in its death throes after being abandoned by its PR company and its lawyers, following issues with its website over the weekend.

The company most recently announced its Grid 10 tablet and Grid 4 smartphone, following an obnoxious early marketing campaign where it masqueraded as “TabCo.” But Fusion Garage, and its CEO Chandrasekar "Chandra" Rathakrishnan (pictured), are best known for working together with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington to develop the “CrunchPad” tablet, a project that famously fell apart. The company went on to release its tablet as the Joojoo.

Fusion Garage’s PR agency issued the following statement to Engadget: “Unfortunately, none of our efforts have resulted in any communication from the company to the customers. Given all of this, we don’t have any other choice but to cease working with FG effective tomorrow.”

Arrington, now writing at his personal blog Uncrunched, points out that Fusion Garage’s law firm Quinn Emanuel filed last week to drop the company due to nonpayment. From the filing:

Quinn Emanuel seeks leave to withdraw as counsel of record for Defendant Fusion Garage PTE. Ltd. ("Fusion Garage") because Fusion Garage's non-payment of attorneys' fees and associated costs and a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship have made it unreasonably difficult, if not impossible, for Quinn Emanuel to continue to adequately and properly represent Fusion Garage in this matter.

Meanwhile, customers awaiting their Grid 10 tablets are reporting that they haven’t received anything yet, and that the company has been unresponsive about the status of their orders.

We’ve dropped a line into the company to see what’s up, but given its current state of affairs, I don’t expect much of an answer. It seems yet again, the company has bitten off more than it could chew, and Rathakrishnan finds himself in the middle of controversy.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Review: Should you buy Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST

World of Warcraft could soon be feeling a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of subscribers suddenly cried out and started heading for a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars: The Old Republic is an impressive and easy to play new competitor that makes great use of the Star Wars license. It is the most promising new massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) ever since World of Warcraft claimed the genre's throne seven years ago.

The Old Republic developer BioWare obviously studied the market leader's playbook and relies on many tested game play mechanics, but also added excellent storytelling, dialogue choices and companion characters in the tradition of the studio's renowned single-player RPGs. The result is an engrossing and addictive online game that is particularly welcoming to solo adventurers and newcomers alike.

Having one of the most prolific science fiction universes to play with doesn't hurt. Set thousands of years before the events of the Star Wars movies, The Old Republic delivers an original take on George Lucas' saga. It’s lacking the star power of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader or Han Solo, but allows players to create their own Jedi Knight, Sith Warrior or Smuggler in the mold of those iconic characters. Among the 17 worlds are recognizable movie settings such as Tatooine, Hoth or Coruscant.

Big bet in the toughest gaming market

Electronic Arts has much riding on The Old Republic, which was a major reason why the publisher purchased development studio BioWare (and the now defunct Pandemic) for $860 million in 2007. The game's budget is reportedly in the range of $100 million dollars. The payoff could, however, be substantial, as users must shell out a monthly subscription fee ($12.99 – $14.99 depending on the term length) if they want to continue playing, as the $60 game comes with just one month of included server access.

Electronic Arts management has repeatedly stated that the game would be profitable with half a million subscribers, a modest amount in light of World of Warcraft's 10 million player numbers. But it's a big gamble on a business model that hasn't worked well for most others. MMORPGs like EverQuest II, The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online switched from mandatory subscriptions to a free-to-play model with optional in-game purchases and reportedly increased both player numbers and overall revenue.

Climbing the ranks in the Empire and the Republic

At the beginning of the game, players pick one of two sides for each of their game characters, the "good" Galactic Republic or the "evil" Sith Empire. Each faction offers four starting classes which are mirrored on the other side. The Jedi Knight is a lightsaber-wielding melee fighter like the Sith Warrior, the Smuggler shares his cover abilities with the Imperial Agent, Troopers use similar gadgets to Bounty Hunters and Jedi Consulars cast force magic tricks just as Sith Inquisitors do.

At level 10 players choose between two advanced classes with slightly different strengths. For example, a Bounty Hunter can learn additional healing skills by becoming a Mercenary or gain tanking abilities instead by picking the Powertech specialization. Further character customization happens in three class-specific skill trees, where bonuses and additional skills are unlocked by spending points.

For my Sith Inquisitor, I chose the Sorcerer advanced class, which offers the trees Corruption (healing), Lightning (dealing damage) and Madness (weakening enemies). In order to get access to one of the top skills by character level 40, I need to limit my point spending to one of the three trees. Being able to specialize a character class in this way is a welcome feature, though the way to the top-tier skills doesn't allow as many interesting choices as World of Warcraft's sophisticated talent tree system.

Leia buns and Maul horns

Character creation also offers a good deal of visual customization, with several prominent Star Wars races to choose from. For example, by selecting the Zabrak race and tweaking the horn and tattoo patterns, I was able to create a pretty convincing Darth Maul wannabe. And devotees of Princess Leia's hairdo will be delighted that her classic buns are one of dozens of hairstyle options to choose from.

But who would play a non-Force character when Jedi and Sith classes get to swing customizable lightsabers and use crowd pleasers like Force Choke or Lightning? I would, because BioWare made the regular guys sufficiently powerful and cool. The Trooper/Bounty Hunter classes are pretty badass with gadgets like sticky grenades, flamethrowers, missiles and jetpacks. Smugglers/Imperial Agents have a unique cover mechanic that grants them defensive bonuses while they are hiding behind objects. It's somehow hard to believe that a single Imperial Agent is an equal match to a Jedi Knight, but for the sake of game balance I'll gladly swallow it.

According to BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka, the studio's core vision is “to deliver powerful, immersive experiences that engage our players emotionally”. For years The Old Republic's developers have been emphasizing that they would bring a “fourth pillar” to the MMORPG table, with “story” joining genre staples “exploration”, “combat”, and “progression.”

It's not that other MMORPGs haven't incorporated intriguing story lines. Just look at the massive Warcraft fiction. But truth to be told, compared to the standards of modern single-player games, the story presentation in MMORPGs sucks. The typical quest in World of Warcraft is introduced as a text window that hardly anybody bothers to read. Who cares why I have to kill a dozen baddies anyway? Well, in The Old Republic I actually care and find myself seduced by the cinematic storytelling.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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ZappoTV’s new iOS app makes watching mobile videos on your TV easier

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 06:14 AM PST

ZappoTVConverging media startup ZappoTV is releasing a public version of its media center application for iOS today.

The ZappoTV app lets you combine your media content via mobile device and watch it on an internet-connected television. You can also access podcasts, photos and videos from social networks (Facebook, Picasa and Flickr) and all the stuff that’s currently on your computer or smartphone.

ZappoTV solves the problem many people have of transferring over their digital media collections to the big screen so it can be watched at a relaxing pace with friends and family. And while there are many solutions for this fix, ZappoTV’s aim is to make this process simple. This is something Apple has also picked up on, as its Apple TV has boosted its screen sharing capabilities with recent software updates.

“These ( ZappoTV) are technologies that were originally built for home networking purposes. What we did was extend that home networking protocol to include everything that’s available on the internet,” ZappoTV founder and CEO Jan van Ottele told VentureBeat. “Unlike some of the expensive competitors, our software doesn’t require a long-term commitment.”

Founded in 2009, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup’s platform currently supports a variety of connected TVs, media players and media center solutions, including the Western Digital Media Players, Xbox 360, Popcorn Hour, LG Connected TVs, and Samsung Connected TVs.

Check out a video demonstration below of the ZappoTV platform in action.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed invests $300M in Twitter (update)

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 06:11 AM PST

Hot on the heels of Twitter’s $800 million sixth round of funding, Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and his firm Kingdom Holding have announced a $300 million investment in Twitter.

But the investment is actually a secondary deal, meaning Alwaleed bought the shares from existing Twitter investors, reports Fortune’s Dan Primack. That means Twitter won’t be seeing any additional funds from the investment.

Referred to as a “strategic stake,” or more than 3 percent in the company, the investment is Alwaleed’s first in a social networking site, but he also has holdings in Apple, General Motors, and News Corp. Alwaleed is the largest individual investor in Citigroup.

“We believe that social media will fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years,” said Ahmed Halawani, KHC executive director of private equity and international investments, in a statement today. “Twitter will capture and monetize this positive trend.”

Update: The investment suggests Twitter’s valuation is at around $10 billion, given that Alwaleed is willing to spend $300 million for at least 3 percent of the company. That’s a big jump from Twitter’s ~$8 billion valuation from September.

The news follows Twitter’s latest round of updates, affectionately dubbed “new new Twitter,” which aim to make the service more accessible to mainstream users. The injection of new funds could help Twitter to speed up development, and make it better suited to compete against Facebook in the fight to attract a general audience. Facebook is expected to raise $10 billion through an initial public offering (valued at $100 billion) early next year, according to the latest reports.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Chip executive outlook reveals bleak times ahead

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 09:01 PM PST

Semiconductor industry executives worry that profits and revenue are sinking and they don’t plan to hire as many people as they did a year ago.

That’s not particularly encouraging, as the semiconductor industry — the source of chips that go into everything electronic — is the backbone of the tech economy. About 41 percent of chip industry executives say they expect revenue will grow more than 5 percent in 2012, compared with 78 percent a year ago and 87 percent in 2009. About 30 percent expect profits to increase by more than 5 percent in the next 12 months, compared with 37 percent last year, according to a survey by accounting firm KPMG.

The Semiconductor Business Confidence Index, a metric based on survey data, measured 46, compared to 60 in 2010 and 61 in 2009. The higher the number, the higher the confidence. This index has risen from 36 in 2008, the year the global economy imploded. That means that the forecasted conditions for the chip industry won’t be as severe as the beginning of 2009.

“It is not unexpected to see the industry take a breath after two strong years following the economic and industry downturn," said Gary Matuszak, KPMG Global Chair for the Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice. "Executives continue to pursue their growth agendas, and will be acquisitive, but remain very apprehensive about the direction of the economy."

During the first 11 months of 2011, 98 semiconductor merger and acquisition deals were announced, down 8.4 percent compared to a year ago, according to a separate report by the Global Semiconductor Alliance, a trade group.

In the KPMG survey, capital spending, R&D spending, and hiring are lower than in the past. Only 27 percent of executives expect capital spending to increase more than 5 percent, compared to 46 percent a year ago. About 33 percent expect more than 5 percent growth in research and development, compared with 47 percent a year ago. And 19 percent predict work force growth of more than 5 percent, compared with 29 percent in 2010.

In other data from the survey, semiconductor executives believe in the increasing importance of the U.S. market. In 2008, 38 percent of the executives said the U.S. was an important market for revenue growth, behind China (79 percent), Taiwan (44 percent) and Japan (40 percent). But now 50 percent believe the U.S. is an important market — second to China at 60 percent and Japan at 37 percent. A year ago, 47 percent believed the U.S. was important. Wireless communications, computing, and consumer applications are providing the strongest demand for chips.

"China's decrease in importance might be the result of the Chinese government's tightening in lending but it is clear that the industry sees the China and U.S. markets as the two most significant global end markets for growth,” said Ron Steger, partner in charge, KPMG Global Semiconductor Practice.

Increasingly important are the alternative energy and medical application markets for chip makers. That suggests that the trough in renewable energy may be bottoming out.

KPMG surveyed 155 business leaders in October and November for the survey. Half the companies in the survey have revenues of $1 billion or more. About 64 percent of chip executives say revenue will be hurt 3 percent or more by counterfeit products. A third said the impact was 5 percent or more. A third of the respondents said there will be an increase in the number of intellectual property infringement cases.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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TV features emerge as Apple holds meetings with media companies

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 08:21 PM PST

apple television mockup

Apple may be deeper into the television project than we thought, as the company is reportedly visiting media companies to share its technology plans.

Since Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was released, people have been buzzing about what the late Apple chief executive suggested was Apple’s next adventure: televisions. Many have speculated what an Apple television could be like. Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée sees it as another box, supporting applications, a function that has recreated how people use mobile phones. Others envision classic Apple designs, product marketing, and being told what they want without ever knowing they wanted it.

Today, however, the Wall Street Journal reported that the television’s features may already be in the works. According to the Journal’s sources, Apple is visiting media companies in a sort of technology pitch roadshow. These companies want to know about Apple’s plans, which are generally kept extremely confidential, in order to know whether the TV venture is worth joining.

So what are the features that may be in the television, according to these sources?

Voice controlled channel surfing may be the answer to every remote-loser’s prayers. The feature sounds similar to what the Xbox Kinect can currently do — read your motions to determine actions. This, plus voice response technology may be integrated into Apple’s TV of the future, though the company has reportedly said this function would take a lot of developing and time.

Streaming sync would serve the tv-watcher on the go. Ever been walking out the door when suddenly Luke finds Laura has come out of her delusional state and wants to come home to raise Lu Lu (any General Hospital lovers in the audience)? With Apple’s television, you wouldn’t have have to miss a single soap opera second, as your streaming show would sync between devices. Turn off the TV, the show would be waiting for you on your iPad where you left off, according to sources.

Compatibility with your existing Apple products. Having the new Apple-made television may not make the current Apple TV device superfluous. Instead, it may actually use the set top box, which competes in the realm of Roku boxes, for streaming Netflix, YouTube and connecting you to your other content in the cloud.

Apple mobile device control further pushes Apple’s reported television from the remote control. According to the Journal’s sources, Steve Jobs wanted a television that could be linked to his existing mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad, perhaps even the iPod touch. According to the Journal, this could potentially be executed by connecting the TV and those devices using AirPlay, Apple’s wireless technology, which already connects many of its products.

Streaming media from mobile devices directly to the television, would remove the set top box from the quation. This feature would allow anyone watching a YouTube video, listening to a song, or watching a movie to transfer that viewing experience from one screen to the next without having to route it through a box, such as the Apple TV.

DVR storage within iCloud tops off the potential features list. Using this feature, you would not have to download rented or purchased movies more than once to view them on different devices.

Some have wondered if Apple will include Siri in its television plans, perhaps as a way to understand your voice, aiding the first reported feature. In order to make these plans come to fruition, however, Apple will need to convince media companies to jump on board, and if we’ve learned anything from iTunes, that will take a lot of effort.

Hat tip the Wall Street Journal

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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The Web is a student’s primary source as universities adopt the digital age (infographic)

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 06:51 PM PST

Young studentEducation must evolve as curriculum changes, and new subject information becomes available. But it also must change to adopt the Web and accept that students are using it for just about everything.

Students learn in totally different ways now that the age of the Internet is upon them. The knee jerk reaction after receiving an assignment is to consult Google, as opposed to hopping off toward the library. Not surprisingly, 93 percent of students prefer using online search to surfing the card catalog at the school library. In fact, 83 percent turn toward the Internet not just for convenience, but because the library itself is actually closed. E-education has become a form of self-teaching, as has been the regular Wikipedia visit.

But it’s not only students who are getting into the e-education. Teachers are taking advantage of social media to connect with their students. 90 percent of teachers use social media in their classes, and 20 percent of those faculty members actually assign projects that involve commenting or posting on social media websites.

Whole universities are starting to set up programs dedicated to the Internet. Well known schools such as the University of Virginia, New York University and the University of Texas already provide classes for learning about search engine optimization and marketing. These have otherwise been in-the-field learning experiences, that are now being taken inside the classroom.

Indeed, admissions offices are putting the word out about their universities through social media as well, and no doubt learning more about their candidates through Facebook and Twitter.

Check out the infographic below to see how the Internet is helping to evolve our education practices.

How Has The Internet Changed Education?

Young student photo via Shutterstock

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Consumers will lose $10M to cyber crime this holiday season

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 05:37 PM PST

Weird Christmas GuyOver $10 million will be intercepted by cyber criminals this holiday season, as consumers turn toward the Internet for their presents.

Online shopping around the holidays has increased 10 percent since the same time in 2010, to around $30.9 billion dollars spent thus far in the season, according to a report by comScore. Specifically days like Cyber Monday, which raked in $1.25 billion, and Free Shipping Day, which totalled around $1.72 billion, draw people away from store windows to open up computer windows. Indeed four days this season have seen over $1 billion in spend each.

According to security company F-Secure, cyber criminals are particular alert during these periods of mass spend, and will quietly steal more than $10 million of a total $60 billion in expected sales.

Let’s break this down, though. If online holiday shoppers make up 148 million people, who then spend $60 billion in total, and the amount of money taken by cyber criminals equals $10 million, really, that’s a cost of around 6 cents each. The problem arises, however, when individuals are targeted for larger sums, while others are left alone.

In order to make sure you’re not one of the targeted ones, F-Secure recommends visiting sites directly, instead of using search engines. That is to say, type www.bestbuy.com into the address bar, instead of doing a Google search for the site. This is because of a redirect scam, where criminals take a link to a legitimate website and redirect you to a website that may act just like the site you intended to visit, but is actually monitored by a thief.

There are 35 reported cyber attacks every hour, according to F-Secure. Check out the infographic below for more information on holiday cyber crime and how you can protect yourself.

F-Secure Holiday Infographic

Christmas creepy crawly via Shutterstock

Filed under: security

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Facebook releases iPhone update 4.1, Timeline has arrived

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 03:46 PM PST

Facebook appIf Facebook had a Timeline, today it would read, “became friends with iPhone.” The company released an update to the application today, supporting Timeline, along with a couple new improvements.

The update, 4.1, allows people to view Timelines like they would on the mobile and regular websites. The company released updates to its Android application and mobile websites on Thursday, shortly after the Timeline itself rolled out worldwide. Why Facebook decided to wait on the iPhone application is unclear, but it is here and promises to have “faster performance.” Along with the Timeline, friends lists are now added to the black navigation bar in the app. You can add people to your lists, as well as view all your lists in one place.

In addition to friends lists, Facebook has built in support for the “subscribe” feature. Just like lists, you can view who has subscribed to you, if you have the  the subscribe feature turned on, as well as those who you subscribe to in one place.

Navigation has gotten a little less interrupted as well. Instead of clicking the notifications button and being taken to a new screen, now notifications and messages appear in a drop down box. The box is easy to click out of and you can easily return to the page you were on. Photo upload time has also become faster, and commenting has become sleeker.

The Next Web reports that Apple has not yet updated its iPad app, however, it plans to soon. You can download the iPhone app here.

Hat tip The Next Web

Filed under: mobile, social

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Facebook’s Android app beating out iPhone for daily usage

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 01:52 PM PST

facebook for android dauFacebook‘s Android app passed the iPhone in daily active users today, but is still trailing behind when it comes to monthly activity.

According to analytics reports by AppData, the Android application had 58.3 million daily active users on December 17, as opposed to the iPhone’s 57.4 million DAU. Indeed, Facebook is the most popular Android app for users 18 and older, according to a Nielsen report. The social network’s app came right after the Android Marketplace as most used application for Android users between the ages of 18 and 44, which means Android users of a wide age range are paying attention to what Facebook is doing in their mobile strategy. Now they’re starting to pay more attention daily.

facebook for iphone dauAndroid in general owns the most market share at around 40 percent proliferation, but when it comes to activity on Facebook’s mobile app, iPhone has rung king. The new shift in daily active users may be a natural favoring of the operation system with the biggest share of voice, but it may also be a lot simpler: Facebook recently updated its Android app. Before Android users had a chance to experience it, Facebook updated its iOS applications with a new sidebar and easier navigation around the app. It was faster, sleeker and Android users were still stuck with the older, slower version. Only 11 days ago, however, Facebook updated the Android app, giving it the faster features and new navigation iOS users were enjoying. When you user experience is made faster and the interface easier, you’re more willing to use the application, right?

On top of that, Facebook released the anticipated Timeline feature on Thursday, and with it another update to the Android app to support the feature. This time, as TechCrunch points out, the iPhone app’s Timeline compatibility was not updated until Sunday. This gave Android users access to an exciting new feature on a device iPhone users didn’t have access to. During this time, iPhone users probably spent more time on their web Facebook versions, if only to play with Timeline.

Now that the app is updated, however, we’ll have to see if the Android daily active users really do continue to surpass the iPhone. For now, the iPhone still owns monthly active users and could pull its daily activity back into step.

Hat tip TechCrunch

Filed under: mobile, social

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Watchitoo is best of WebEx and live streaming, launches layers (exclusive)

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 12:18 PM PST

Watchitoo shopping layer Watchitoo is adding a little flavor to the video conferencing industry tomorrow with its new interactive “Layers” function, including a way to monetize what you’re seeing on the screen.

The company, which competes with the Cisco owned WebEx and Citrix‘s GoToMeeting, is trying to be the less clunky, more integrated option for all kinds of businesses with video conferencing needs. Up to 25 people can interact with the video as a participant or a viewer, and can toggle between the two. The technology exists not as a separate service, like WebEx or GoToMeeting, but rather as code integrated directly into the website. This makes it easier to brand as your own, and since it’s embedded on your website, it’s easier for your participants to find and join the video conference, a criticism of its two main competitors. Businesses can also use Watchitoo to live stream events.

But, just like WebEx and GoToMeeting, interactivity is key for a productive user experience. Like video conference software on the market today, Watchitoo allows you to chat, share desktops, PDFs and videos, but these are only the beginning of what internet collaboration can achieve. To honor that, the company is incorporating what it calls “layers.”

"Like in broadcast television, a layer or multiple layers can now be added on top of the existing streaming content with Layers," said Tom Clark, executive vice president of Watchitoo, in a statement. "Our revolutionary and scalable video streaming platform gives people the ability to apply this functionality to their streaming video with the click of a mouse."

WatchitooThe first layer is a simple identification label, which can be populated with a name, position and company. This then pops up over the video chatter who currently has the floor. The second layer is a multimedia overlay to your video. This is called the Dynamic Visual layer, which lets you insert still and animated images, as well as flash content to help drive home your point or simply get people’s attention (look, it’s a blinky thing).

Another way to get people’s attention is to give them the option to weigh in on an issue. That’s where the third layer comes in: polls. While chatting, the meeting holder can create a poll, which exists over the video image. Polls results are tallied in real time and distributed to the audience, so they can see where their peers stand and the conference holders can receive reactions to their meeting.

What really deviates from the video conferencing norm, however, is the last, e-commerce layer. Businesses use Watchitoo not just for the mobile workforce, which needs a way to connect back to headquarters and has driven much of the innovation in the web conferencing arena. Instead, some organizations are using it to live stream events such as fashion shows. Recently, Watchitoo live streamed the RaiseCache fashion show, which was held to raise money for HackNY, an organization trying to breed technology innovators in New York. This layer allows for organizations such as HackNY to make money off of what is being shown in the video.

Video conference organizers can pop up a checkout box, showing an article of clothing or product the viewer is currently watching. For instance, in a fashion show, you can buy the dress you just saw down the runway right within Watchitoo while continuing to watch the show. This isn’t limited to fashion, however, it can lend itself to a small scale shopping network, or a product launch.

Outside of the obvious competitors who have their own set of layers and functions, the company sees Google Hangouts as a competitor, which falls more in line with Watchitoo’s vibe. Hangouts are a video chatting service, which can be accessed from Google’s social network Google+. Nine people can hangout at any point and time, and any number of people can act as viewers and watch the Google Hangout live. Google Hangouts are much more relaxed than traditional video conferencing software, but have sophisticated collaboration tools that businesses do use.

Watchitoo may not be the perfect solution for enterprises, as it feels more tailored toward the small business that wants to get ahead with a cooler interface and more creative options. Perhaps Watchitoo is the mullet of video conferencing, business in the front, with interesting, fun ways to use it in the back.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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