06 February, 2012



Samsung’s Galaxy S III may be just 7mm thick, making it world’s thinnest phone

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 09:42 AM PST

Samsung Galaxy S IIAt some point, the mad quest to create the thinnest phone on the market will end — but not this day.

Samsung is reportedly aiming to make its upcoming Galaxy S III flagship device just 7 millimeters thick, a full 1.49mm thinner than the Galaxy S II and 2.3mm thinner than the iPhone 4S, according to the Korean site ETNews.

The phone could debut as soon as this May, the site says, though as is always the case with early phone rumors, I suggest taking this report with a healthy helping of salt. Samsung already confirmed that the phone won’t be making an appearance at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month (much to the dismay of this reporter, as I’ll be attending the event for VentureBeat).

While it’s nice to see Samsung continually pushing limits with its hardware, I’m hoping the company will spend as much time upgrading the overall level of polish from its flagship devices as well. The Galaxy S II is a gorgeous phone to behold, but in the hand it still feels plasticky and insubstantial, a problem that has plagued Samsung since its first Galaxy S phones. To some degree, Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus feels better, but even that device has too much plastic for my tastes.

And despite the mostly thin case, the Galaxy S III will still feature a slightly protruding 8-megapixel camera like the previous model, ETNews reports. That’s just a fact of life with ultra-thin phones, and it’s one of my biggest annoyances with smartphones these days.


VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Does Facebook really embody “The Hacker Way”? Famous hackers discuss

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 09:25 AM PST

In last week’s SEC filing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg poked a huge hornet’s nest when he referenced “The Hacker Way.”

Some of the pioneers of the hacker ethos and culture have previously defined hacking as having strong connections to tinkering, “playing” with code and systems, and most importantly, absolute freedom.

The kind of freedom those earlier hackers talk about is the freedom to inspect, to look under the hood, to break, to tamper, to share, to fix, to modify, to copy, and to redistribute.

But while Facebook participates in some parts of the larger hacker culture — including using and writing free and open-source software, hosting epic hackathons, and encouraging dissident thinking and individual contributions — it might have been a mistake for Zuckerberg to refer to Facebook as a company that embodies the hacker way.

To dive into this reference, which itself speaks volumes about Facebook’s own culture and agenda, we contacted a handful of well recognized hackers, including PHP creator Rasmus Lerdorf; Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman; and Eric S. Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar and editor of The Jargon File (warning: don’t click that link unless you have some serious time to kill).

We’ve also got commentary from the real hackers at Facebook, the team that works on the social network’s open-source projects, from HipHop to the Open Compute Project.

PHP creator Lerdorf: Facebook should be doing more

The social network was built with open-source PHP, a language created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1995. Because so much of Facebook’s backbone is fortified with this and other open-source projects, Zuckerberg and the Facebook open-source team in particular have long stressed the importance of giving back to the developer community in kind.

In an email exchange with VentureBeat, Lerdorf said that while Facebook’s efforts are not negligible, the company could and should be doing more open-source work, especially within the PHP community.

“Generally, Facebook is a good open source citizen,” Lerdorf said. “They occasionally contribute to the projects they use, and they have open-sourced some things.”

But this reserve praise was tempered by equally reserve criticism.

“We would always like to see more, of course,” he continued. “Specifically I would love to see more direct contributions from Facebook engineers to PHP and perhaps even have an engineer or two assigned exclusively to work with the PHP project.”

Given Facebook’s huge success and heavy reliance on PHP, not only are we certain the company has the talent to spare; it almost seems inappropriate not to give a more substantial offering of time and effort to PHP.

Eric “esr” Raymond: Does Facebook maintain too much control?

While esr chooses not to use Facebook as an individual, he poses some good critical thinking questions for VentureBeat’s readers. In an email conversation, he conveyed his desire for readers to think about these questions and apply the results for themselves:

“As a Facebook user, do I have control of the data Facebook keeps about me?” he wrote. “Concretely: can I examine and modify that data using tools of my choosing which are built for my needs?”

He continued, “Does Facebook act as though I own my online life, or as though it does? Concretely: Can I control what data it shares with other users, with advertisers, and with business partners?”

Clearly, users have relatively little control over their own Facebook profile data; most of how that data is used constitutes Facebook’s competitive advantage as a business, so it doesn’t behoove the company to say exactly how, why, and with whom information is shared. The company does say that most profile data is only used in an anonymized, aggregate form, but that’s about it.

“Does Facebook behave like a tool in my hand, or a firehose designed to spew at me in accordance with other peoples’ agendas?,” the hacker continued. “Concretely: can I write my own client to present a filtered view of the Facebook stream, or have other people do that for me?”

Ultimately, Raymond points out, the true hacker way means “to give control to the individual, to respect his or her privacy, to create tools for autonomy and liberty, and to encourage creative re-use of software” — only parts of which make it into Facebook’s product.

“And yes, one of the most basic questions is ‘Does Mr. Zuckerberg publish the source code of his software in a form that can easily be understood, modified, and reused?” Raymond asks. “Because if the answer to that question is ‘no,’ it is very unlikely that users will or ever can have the control of their online lives that they deserve.”

These questions and their inevitable answers formed the foundation of Diaspora, 2010′s open-source answer to Facebook’s handling of user data, privacy, and its own codebase.

Although the Diaspora userbase doubled during 2011, the service is far from mainstream and still constitutes a single tool for the privacy-oriented fringe. Facebook still maintains control of a majority share of the lives of online people.

Richard “rms” Stallman: Facebook’s hacking is not good hacking

“I define ‘hacking’ as ‘playful cleverness,’” said legendary hacker Richard Stallman in an email conversation with VentureBeat.

Stallman has spent the past few decades preaching on freedom in software — not just the freedom to use it, but the freedom to examine it, modify it, and make copies of it, as well. And as the guy who bears the title “The Last True Hacker” — and as a longtime hacker at MIT, where the term was coined in the 1950s to mean “one who creatively tinkers to improve performance” — he’s also been working to reclaim that term from the media.

“I’ve been campaigning since the ’80s to correct the mistake, made by some journalists, which took ‘hacker’ to mean ‘security breaker,’” Stallman said. “I appreciate Zuckerberg’s support for this campaign.”

Stallman continued, “As [Zuckerberg] noted, hacking is not good or bad in itself. It can be done in activities that are good and in activities that are bad. In the case of Facebook, it is bad.”

While Stallman said he believes sharing is good, he doesn’t limit this belief to sharing social updates and photograph; he believes the freedom to share should also apply to copies of published works, including software. “Facebook is no help there,” the hacker wrote to us.

“Facebook is only interested in encouraging people to share their personal data — sometimes with each other, but always with advertisers and Big Brother. Facebook collects lots more personal information than users give it, through surveillance. For instance, every time you look at a web page — on any site! — that shows a Facebook “Like” button, Facebook knows your IP address visited that page.”

In fact, Stallman finds such surveillance so perturbing, he said, “I plan software in the GNU system to block this particular kind of surveillance by blocking ‘Like’ buttons.”

Facebook’s real hackers: the open-source team

Facebook does have a great deal of developer street cred for its participation in the free and open-source software movement.

Some of Facebook’s open-source projects include Phabricator, a suite of web apps for code review, which Facebook uses for its own development; Cassandra, an open source distributed database management system; HipHop, which transforms source code from PHP to C++; the company’s Javascript optimization efforts, called Primer; XHP, a PHP extension that augments the syntax of the language such that XML document fragments become valid PHP expressions; and Thrift, a software framework for scalable cross-language services development, to name but a few.

Today, David Recordon heads up Facebook’s open programs. In the recent past, we conducted a longer interview with Recordon on Facebook’s open source efforts and philosophies.

Due to SEC regulations, Facebook employees are prohbited from discussing the contents of the company’s S-1 filing, so Recordon was unable to talk about Zuckerberg’s “The Hacker Way” comments. But in that last interview, we talked a lot about what it means to be an open-source engineer and advocate at a proprietary software company.

“We release far more of our infrastructure that we develop than any other company like us, Recordon told us in that meeting. "And it's hard. It requires effort to take software for your own environment and make it something that's useful to others, too."

Within Facebook’s engineering team, Recordon described the culture as "very entrepreneurial. We value the impact a single person or a small team can have. Video calling was built by one engineer and one designer. The messenger app was done by a few engineers. Those groups have a huge impact."

Recordon also told us that the company’s contributions to open-source software are a big part of its recruitment process.

"Engineers enjoy working on open source," he said. "Culturally, it allows engineers to talk about what they're working on publicly. Open-source software also allows people to see the kind of infrastructure we build. It gets people in some areas a taste of the code we're running in production."

Around the same time, we also talked to Amir Michael, who leads Facebook’s work in open-source hardware hacking via the Open Compute Project.

"It's natural in an environment where companies are trying to remain profitable to keep some pieces of innovation to themselves,” he said, noting that because Facebook’s advantage lies in its users, not its infrastructure, it was able to be more transparent about certain projects.

“We've contributed back a lot in the software world, “Michael said. “If we share these best practices [in the hardware world], we're hoping that other people can adopt it and have an impact on the environment as well."

Why Zuckerberg’s “hacker” comment has some positive effects

Still, with all the semantic discussion over what constitutes “the hacker way,” we should note that Zuckerberg made use of this controversial term in his company’s most public and permanent document to date. In doing so, he is at least helping software developers to reclaim an oft-abused term that has long been misunderstood by mainstream media and appropriated as a synonym for “criminal.”

We’re glad to see hackers portrayed by the young CEO as heroes rather than criminals.

Also, Facebook’s special strain of hacker culture is worth examining in its own right. The company is famous for prizing the iconoclastic work of small teams, for valuing the best solution regardless of provenance, for moving quickly, and for fearlessly building new systems and features from the ground up.

While Zuckerberg’s hacker ethic lacks the purity of its philosophical forebears, it marries some of the principles of hacking with the competitive advantage of a huge, global business. Whether the hacker ethic itself demands purity is another discussion for another day.

Filed under: dev

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From Google to Facebook, online privacy concerns aren’t going away (infographic)

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 09:14 AM PST

goog-privacy-thumbEver since Google announced a new, controversial privacy policy two weeks ago, interest in online privacy has spiked as more people question how Google and other companies are managing your data.

Google announced last week that it would change its privacy policy by combining 60 policies into one, with the changes going into effect March 1. While simplification of hard-to-read policies is nice, Google has attracted criticism because it will now combine user data across all of its services, including search, Gmail, YouTube, Google+, and Google Docs. First the U.S. Congress voiced concerns about the changes, and on Friday, European regulators jumped into the privacy dog pile.

And Google isn’t the only big tech company being questioned. Facebook, which controls (and sells) an incredible amount of data people voluntarily submit, has also attracted the eye of the regulators in the U.S. and abroad. In the a huge November settlement, the FTC found Facebook's privacy practices from 2009 to be deceptive and in violation of federal law. In 2009, Facebook set friends lists, photos, and other info to a default publicly visible setting, even if the person had already designated that info for friends only. The company has since hired two privacy officers and given more notice to users when changes are happening, as it did with the Timeline feature.

Keeping track of all these privacy issues can be challenging, but we’ve got our hands on an infographic by Frugal Dad that outlines some of the biggest privacy issues that have come up in the past few years. Maybe more importantly, the infographic also outlines some important ways to protect yourself online, including changing passwords frequently, using more caution with public computers, and turning on cookie notices.

Take a look at the full infographic below:


Filed under: security

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iPhone tops US handset sales, Android attracts more newbies, says NPD

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 08:15 AM PST

iPhone 4S 1

Corroborating what just about every other research firm has noted by this pointed, the NPD Group announced today in its latest report that the iPhone has become the best-selling handset in the U.S. during the fourth quarter.

No big surprises there, but the group also pointed out another interesting statistic: Despite the iPhone’s dominance, first-time smartphone buyers still overwhelmingly jump to Android.

In the fourth quarter, Apple overtook LG and Samsung with the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, and iPhone 3GS, which all took the top three spots respectively in smartphone sales. Apple last month announced that it had sold a whopping 37 million iPhones during the quarter, thanks to the iPhone 4S launch and the holiday shopping frenzy. The iPhone accounted for 43 percent of smartphone purchases, compared to 48 percent for Android, according to NPD.

When it comes to smartphone newbies though, the figures look much different, with 57 percent going for Android and 34 percent going iPhone.

"Android has been criticized for offering a more complex user experience than its competitors, but the company's wide carrier support and large app selection is appealing to new smartphone customers," NPD’s Ross Rubin, executive director for Connected Intelligence, said in a statement today. "Android's support of LTE at Verizon has also made it the exclusive choice for customers who want to take advantage of that carrier's fastest network."

I suspect Android’s big lead with newcomers is the availability of both cheap handsets and pre-paid phones. But with Apple’s low-end iPhone offering getting better every year (the iPhone 3GS is now free with contract), new smartphone buyers on a budget will likely begin to realize the iPhone is just as good a deal as a lesser Android handset.

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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The free ride is over: Facebook likely adding mobile ads “within weeks”

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 07:43 AM PST

facebook-android-phoneWith Facebook’s financial situation firmly in the spotlight after its IPO filing, the company will finally address the problem of generating revenues from mobile users by introducing mobile ads in the next few weeks.

One of Facebook’s biggest risks Facebook listed in last week’s IPO filing was “mobile,” and the company said it generates no “meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products.” One solution would be to launch a Facebook-branded phone that would help the company better control the experience and serve up new ad products. But a more reasonable and quick solution is to start serving ads through its popular mobile apps and the mobile version of the web site.

The company will launch mobile ads, called “featured stories”, within weeks, according to the Financial Times. Essentially, Facebook’s will start putting ads inside of your News Feed that look similar to other stories with no way to block them. That’s quite a similar approach to what Twitter does with its “promoted tweets,” and its likely the smartest way to immediately start generating mobile revenue while working on other advertising products.

Facebook’s mobile presence is staggering, with more than 425 million monthly active users active on mobile devices. Its users have access to the service through mobile sites, feature phone products, and smartphone apps on Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile. In the S-1 filing last week, it claimed that the Facebook application is the "most frequently downloaded app across all major smartphone platforms in the United States," according to a third-party report. The company believes usage across mobile will continue to grow, especially with young users, so it needs to start monetizing that usage.

While users will likely be vocally upset with the inclusion of ads on mobile like they were with Twitter, those users will likely not leave because of it. If I had to take an educated guess, they’ll just complain bitterly about the change to their friends on Facebook and then get over it a few days later (like they do with every major design change).

What do you think about the inclusion of advertising in your mobile News Feed?

Facebook on Android phone photo: Johan Larsson/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Verizon and Redbox join forces on new video rental service

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 07:40 AM PST

redbox, verizon

Verizon and Redbox are teaming up on a new video rental service that will directly compete with Netflix, the companies announced in a joint statement today.

The new service will allow people to access streaming video through Verizon, while also taking advantage of Redbox’s DVD & Blu-ray rental Kiosks. At this point it’s unknown if both services will retain their own branding or forge a single brand to unify the service. However, we do know that the companies have formed a new limited liability company (LLC) for the new rental service — with Verizon holding a 65 percent ownership and Redbox holding a 35 percent.

Rumors of a Verizon/Redbox partnership first surfaced in December. And while the new service will definitely be able to compete with Netflix and Blockbuster, it’s unknown if it will adopt a similar pricing plan (e.g. unlimited rentals for a monthly fee). It’s possible that Verizon/Redbox will create a credit-based payment service with options to rent physical media (DVD, Blu-ray), purchase digital downloads or gain access to a video stream, as VentureBeat previously reported.

The partnership does make a lot of sense, especially when it comes to the streaming aspect of the service. Verizon already has several content deals with major television networks from its broadband TV service FiOS, and renegotiating those deals to gain streaming licensing would be easier and (possibly) less costly. If you combine those relationships with Redbox's major movie studio relationships, you have enough reach to rival Netflix in a big way. Not only that, but Verizon has access to lots of cash to pay for those streaming deals, which might become a hurdle for rival Netflix if its international expansion isn’t successful.

Redbox was always in a better position than Netflix’s DVD-business because it distributes its movies through kiosks rather than sending discs through the mail. Since shipping DVD’s through the mail has a large (and ever-increasing) operating cost, Redbox isn’t spending nearly as much money. The Verizon partnership also allows Redbox to avoid becoming obsolete since it now has a streaming video alternative — which is particularly important as the trend of people switching from physical media to streaming increases.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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With just 0.4 percent growth, the chip industry reaches record $299.5B in 2011

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 07:28 AM PST

The chip industry grew a scant 0.4 percent in 2011, but that was enough to push it to a record $299.5 billion for the year. That wasn’t a bad performance given a weak global economy and disasters in Japan and Thailand.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the chip industry’s trade group, said the sales for 2011 compared to $298.3 billion a year earlier. Growth in chips is critical for the economy since semiconductor chips are the backbone of everything electronic.

Worldwide chip sales in December were $23.8 billion, down 5.5 percent from the prior month. Fourth quarter sales were $71.5 billion, down 7.7 percent from the prior quarter and down 5.3 percent from the same period in 2010. All sales numbers represent a 3-month moving average, a statistical smoothing tactic.

"Between the natural disasters in Japan and Thailand and the overall impact of a weak global economy, 2011 presented a number of major challenges for the semiconductor industry. Despite these setbacks the industry showed resiliency and posted year on year growth with record-breaking revenues for 2011," said Brian Toohey, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association. "The health of the industry is a direct reflection of the pervasiveness of semiconductor innovations and their applications in almost every aspect of modern society."

The industry saw strong demand in segments such as the optoelectronic, sensor and actuator, and microprocessor markets. All showed solid year over year growth. Lamps and image sensors drove growth in the optoelectronic market to $23.1 billion, up 6.4 percent over 2010. Optoelectronic applications bring energy efficiency and low cost in a wide range of products including mobile devices and cameras.

Sensors and actuators, currently the smallest semiconductor market segment, showed the highest year over year growth at 15.5 percent to $8.0 billion in 2011. Sensors can be used to convert temperature, pressure or acceleration into electrical signals. They are growing in consumer electronics, medical devices and automotive systems. Micro-electro-mechanical systems, or MEMS sensors, are popular for tilt controls in smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Microprocessors, used in PCs and other computing devices, grew 7.5 percent to $65.2 billion in the year, thanks to strong enterprise computing demand. The industry is expected to grow in 2012 as it recovers from the supply chain disruptions related to the flooding in Thailand.

MOS Microprocessors, part of the integrated circuit category, which are predominantly used in PCs and other devices that need processing capabilities also experienced year-over-year growth, with an increase of 7.5 percent in revenue to $65.2B making it the second largest semiconductor market segment for 2011, behind Logic. Strong demand in the enterprise computing segment drove microprocessor sales.

"This year our industry will invest billions in capital expenditures and in R&D, which will pay off both in the short and long term.  In fact, reinvesting a large percentage of revenues is a hallmark of the industry. It's this combination of R&D investment, top engineering talent, high exports and cutting-edge advances that have made the semiconductor industry a cornerstone of the innovation economy," said Toohey.

[photo credit: tech digest tv]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google wants to make sci-fi a reality with “Solve for X,” a conference for radical tech ideas

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 07:17 AM PST

We can never accuse Google of thinking small. The search giant today unveiled a website for “Solve for X,” a conference for big thinkers to discuss “radical technology ideas for solving global problems.”

Yes, it sounds ridiculously geeky, but it’s the sort of project from Google that could end up creating some truly next-generation technology and solutions. (Let’s not forget this is the company that is already pioneering self-driving car technology.) Google seems to be aiming directly at the people who get hot and bothered over the much-hyped TED conference (this reporter included).

This conference may have something to do with Google’s poaching of senior Apple director Simon Prakash for a “secret project,” though right now it’s unclear if he’s working on Solve for X.

The Solve for X conference seems to go hand-in-hand with Google X, the company’s secret lab for fantastical endeavors. The Solve for X site isn’t yet open to the public, but you can sign up to be alerted when it does. Google has released a short promo video (above), and other clues have popped up over the weekend as well, like instructions for presenters hidden within the CSS code of the site.

Richard DeVaul, a “Rapid Evaluator” at Google, also divulged some details about the conference on his Google+ page. It seems Google already held an inaugural conference over the weekend, with talks on “transforming education, 5x improvements in agriculture through better decision support, synthetic biology and carbon-negative biofuels.” DeVaul says that Google will have videos of the presentations on a YouTube channel up later today.

Via Android Police

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Lumosity sees brain games taking off as 20 million sign up for mental gymnastics

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Kunal Sarkar, CEO of Lumosity

Lumosity released impressive growth numbers for its online brain training games. The company has added 6 million additional members since June 2011 for a total of 20 million registered users.

Speaking to VentureBeat, Lumosity chief executive Kunal Sarkar disclosed that the web site of the mental fitness program saw almost 9 million unique visitors in January 2012 (including users of the company’s mobile apps). Since starting Lumosity.com in 2007, user numbers have roughly doubled every 10 months. Brain games are a big trend these days as companies try to combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s by combining fun with improved mental health.

“Brain games” have been a casual games staple since Nintendo popularized the genre with its 2006 DS cartridge Brain Age, a puzzle game collection inspired by the work of Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima. But Nintendo never claimed that the Brain Age games have been scientifically validated.

Lumosity takes its brain training more seriously. The company offers a series of online courses that help users improve core mental abilities. They include over 35 mini-games that are entertaining enough to quickly hook new users. The design is driven by academic research and each game is an exercise to improve specific areas such as problem solving, memory training or quantitative reasoning. Some courses are designed for medical conditions such as Traumatic Brain Injury. As users become proficient in a game, it is automatically adjusted to increase in difficulty in order to continue to stimulate brain development through ongoing challenge.

One of Lumosity’s three founders is neuroscientist Michael Scanlon who oversees the company’s Human Cognition Project. Its goal is to establish Lumosity among researchers as a platform for learning about cognitive enhancement and brain performance, with results helping to improve the online brain exercises.

Over 190 researchers are currently conducting research on Lumosity, which has already collected 320 million data points across its 20 million users. This results in independent articles such as the finding of the University of New South Wales in Australia that Lumosity can improve attention in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Sarkar believes this “ecosystem of researchers” adds to Lumosity’s scientific core competency and sets the service apart from competitors such as Posit Science, Cognifit and Fitbrains. Credibility in the academic world is an important asset since the benefits of brain game exercises are still being scientifically debated.

Lumosity just launched its first TV advertising campaign on several cable networks. Due to the broad appeal of the idea of becoming smarter through training, and a growing general awareness of the concept, Sarkar is optimistic about future growth: "Consumers are increasingly interested in brain fitness, whether it's to be sharper, remember more, or to perform better at work, school or everyday life”. He also sees potential for localized versions of the service although it’s not currently a focus of the company. About half of the visitors to Lumosity.com are already from outside of the United States.

Signing up for Lumosity.com is free, but after three days of the individualized training plan developed upon registration, a subscription is required to continue. Single months cost $14.95 and a full year commitment brings the monthly fee down to $6.70. Subscriptions are Lumosity’s only revenue source, the website is free of advertising.

Sarkar did not want to reveal how many of his 20 million users are actually paying subscribers. He believes that customers are fine with the pricing once they understand the science and the benefits of the program as they’re not paying for self-indulgence (as in ‘playing games’) but rather for self-improvement, similar to going to the gym.

Lumosity has more than 50 employees and was founded in 2005. It launched its website in 2007. Total funding to date is $36 million with investments by Menlo Ventures, FirstMark Capital, Harrison Metal and Norwest Venture Partners.

Filed under: deals, games, Uncategorized

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Meteor Games to publish high-end online game Hawken in December (exclusive)

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Hawken is one of the coolest online games in development for publication on the web. Adhesive Games, the startup studio that is making the game, is announcing today that its Meteor Entertainment division will publish the game as a free-to-pay title in December.

Hawken is a “mech shooter” title, a sci-fi multiplayer game where users get into large walking robots and shoot each other with heavy weaponry such as rockets. The title looks beautiful and it has been in the works for more than a year, and it is one of the first in what could be a wave of web-based games with stunning visuals. The company is betting that the combination of outstanding visuals and the free-to-play model could be disruptive for console games.

Khang Le, the co-founder and chief executive of Adhesive Games in Alhambra, Calif., said in an interview that the game is a fast-action mech combat game in the first-person shooter genre.

“This game has been a labor of love that we’ve worked on for 18 months,” Le said. “There hasn’t been a good robot game in a while and nothing that looks like what we’re trying to do, which is more like Call of Duty multiplayer.”

The visuals are so cool that a YouTube trailer created by the company has been viewed more than 1.9 million times.

Among the comments on YouTube are:

"Just shut up and take my money."
"I was thinking badass the whole time!"
"F***ing sick! Open beta immediately!"

Le said that his team was inspired by the business success of League of Legends, a web-based free-to-play game created by Riot Games. That title did so well that China’s big social network Tencent bought Riot Games — which has published only that one fantasy fighting game with console-like visuals — for nearly $400 million. Web-based free-to-play games are popular in Asia, but League of Legends proved the model could work in the West.

The title is the first one created by Adhesive, which was formed in 2010 and has 11 employees in Alhambra and 12 in Seattle. Le co-founded the company with K. Jonathan Kreuzer (Technical Lead), Dave Nguyen (Designer/ Artist) and Christopher Lalli (Animator).

Le previously worked on a game development team called Offset Software that was working on a fantasy action game known as Project Offset. Intel acquired the company because it needed a team of game makers to create software to run on its Larrabee multi-core graphics chip, which was intended to be the heart of a video game console. Intel had a deal in place to make the chip, but the design for the chip ran off schedule and Intel ultimately canceled the project. After that, Le left and recruited former team members to begin work on Hawken, starting in 2010.

The team worked on Hawken without pay at first. They released the video and were stoked by the great response on the web, Le said. The title already has 1,400 Twitter followers and 4,000 Facebook fans.

The action takes place on a post-apocalyptic human-colonized planet that has been industrialized to the point of collapse. This crumbling world is the setting for a hunt for vital resources and a brutal battle for survival. While many mech-based games, such as the aging Mech Warrior series, have relatively slow action, Le said the action of Hawken is fast-paced and relatively short.

Le said that the game is designed to run on a wide variety of computers. Those with good PCs and decent broadband connections will be able to play the game at 60 frames per second. But those with older PCs and slower connections may experience the game at around 30 frames per second.

The key to the monetization of the game is the virtual goods model, where users play it for free and then pay real money for virtual goods such as better weapons, armor, and defenses. The game will have a variety of mech types, game modes and world maps for its initial release on 12/12/12, or Dec. 12.

The game looks cool in part because Adhesive has licensed the Unreal Engine 3 from Epic Games to power the PC version of the game. Le said the company intends to operate Hawken like a service over a number of years. But it won’t be a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Rather, like League of Legends, will be a session-based game, which short sessions where players battle each other for 15 or 30 minutes.

Le said the Meteor division has been set up to distribute and publish server-based online games that will be able to scale to large numbers of users. Meteor is a proprietary online publishing platform and Hawken will be its first title.

Closed beta registration is now open at www.playhawken.com.So far there are no director competitors, though a title called MechWarrior Online project is under development. Piranha Games is creating that title as a free-to-play game for the PC. Work on that game began in October, 2008, so Hawken and MechWarrior Online are in a race to the finish.

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A roundup of the Super Bowl and tech, by the numbers

Posted: 05 Feb 2012 10:59 PM PST

Super Bowl 46 is history now and here’s a roundup of all of the internet-related reports. Roughly 100 million watch the Super Bowl every year, making it one of the most viewed events in the world.

Twitter reported that there were an average of 10,000 tweets per second in the final three minutes of the game. That beats the Royal Wedding at 3,966 tweets per second and Osama Bin Laden’s death at 5,106 tweets per second.

Social TV startup Bluefin Labs said it saw 11.5 million comments during the game, up six fold over last year.

The official Super Bowl Twitter account has just 37,871 followers. Some 50 employees and volunteers manned the Super Bowl Command Center for social media.

The NFL has about 2.8 million Twitter followers and 4.5 million Facebook NFL page likes. Verizon added 400 additional 3G and LTE antennae for 3G and LTE service. AT&T added 200 new cell sites in Indianapolis.

InMobi reported that 40 percent of respondents to its survey said they used mobile devices in response to TV ads and 45 percent estimated they would spend 30 minutes or more on their mobile devices during the game. About 39 percent said they would use their mobile devices in response to TV commercials. About 27 percent said they downloaded a Super Bowl mobile app; and 30 percent said they used mobile devices most during commercials.

During the 6:30 pm EST to 8 pm EST time block, H&M’s Super Bowl commercial site was the fastest with a response time of 1.7 seconds to load the whole page, while Honda’s was the worst with 40 seconds required to load the full page, according to the SmartBear AlertSite.

For the first time, the Super Bowl was shown online via legal streaming technology, giving home viewers the option of watching the game on the web or on the TV. In advance of the showing, federal authorities took control of a number of domains for unauthorized sports-related streaming sites, no doubt helping NBC and the NFL get more views. We don’t have numbers yet on how many people watched via the web.

[photo credit: Metrowest Daily News]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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With $50M raised, Nicira disrupts Cisco and Juniper with network virtualization

Posted: 05 Feb 2012 10:15 PM PST

Network virtualization start-up Nicira is coming out of stealth mode today and it has an impressive set of customers who evidently believe that it can disrupt the likes of Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks. The idea is to become a company that can offload data networking demand as needed in the age of cloud computing.

If it lives up to its billing, as some of its customers say it does, it can save tens of million of dollars in spending on data centers and network infrastructure.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nicira has secured $50 million in investments from Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and NEA, as well as VMware founder Diane Greene and venture capitalist Andy Rachleff.

The customers include NTT,eBay, AT&T, Fidelity Investments and Rackspace.When those customers get hit with too much demand, their quality of service degrades and users start complaining about their inability to access data networks. Nicira offloads the network, coming to the rescue of its customers within minutes so that they don’t have to spend tens of millions of dollars building new data centers to handle the variable load.

It’s a new version of virtualization, but one for the whole network. With virtualizaiton software like VMware, a single computer can use translation software to behave as if it were dozens of different computers at once. Each “virtual machine” is a compartment within the computer that serves a particular user. But since that user isn’t using the computer, the computer can be rededicated to serve other users. It’s a more efficient way to use computers and serve users. The virtual machines can be created as needed to serve the demands of users within minutes.

Nicira’s network virtualization works in the same way, but serving the owners of huge networks instead. Service providers like AT&T often have to add new network capacity when they are overloaded. Nicira steps in as a kind of middleman, providing the network capacity as needed in an on-demand fashion. This gives networks a lot more flexibility.

You would think that big companies such as AT&T, which helps other companies handle data traffic overflow problems, would have built their networks in a way that provides such flexibility. But apparently not. So Nicira is providing the network virtualization and says this kind of advance is a huge one.

Stephen Mullaney, chief executive of Nicira, says that the virtual network decouples the physical network hardware, so that the different parts of the network can be reprogrammed on the fly to behave as needed. It can do something like cobble together two different networks to behave as one.

With Nicira to help the network handle extra load, customers don’t have to go running to the likes of Cisco, Juniper and Hewlett-Packard to get faster and faster servers and networking hardware. Nicira calls its technology a “Network Virtualization Platform.” It says it can help its customers avoid service disruptions that have become all to common.

"Network virtualization is the biggest change to networking in 25 years," said Mullaney said. "NVP provides the final pivotal piece to cloud computing, the most transformational change to IT in a generation. And the largest most forward-thinking cloud providers are laser-focused on operations and economics, the two benefits Nicira delivers."

Nicira was founded by networking research leaders Martin Casado and Nick McKeown from Stanford University and Scott Shenker from University of California at Berkeley. With its usage-based subscription model, customers pay for what they use and pricing is adjusted accordingly. NVP software has been available since July 2011.

Filed under: cloud, deals, VentureBeat

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Best Buy’s Super Bowl commercial highlights mobile tech innovators

Posted: 05 Feb 2012 08:04 PM PST

Best Buy, Super BowlElectronics retail company Best Buy decided to forgo the regular celebrity spokesperson for its annual Super Bowl commercial in favor of highlighting mobile technology innovators.

During this year’s Super Bowl game, the company aired a 30-second commercial titled “Phone Innovators. The commercial  featured a handful of heavy hitters, including camera phone inventor Philippe Kahn, text-to-speech inventor Ray Kurzweil, SMS message innovator Neil Papworth, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, Square founder Jim McKelvey, and Shazam creators Chris Barton and Avery Wang.

However, the big highlight of the commercial was definitely the appearance of Words With Friends game creators Paul and David Bettner. A flight attendant hushes the two men during their introduction — poking fun at 30 Rock actor Alec Baldwin, who was removed from a plane months ago after refusing to turn off his phone while playing a rousing game of Words With Friends.

Best Buy said it decided to swap out its regular celebrity endorsement for this year’s commercial after noticing the outpouring admiration from people after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ death in October. Best Buy Marketing chief Drew Panayiotou previously told Reuters that "Silicon Valley inventors are today's stars."

We’ve taken the liberty of embedding both the 30-second Best Buy Super Bowl commercial (as well as the extended cut) below.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Windows 8 UI is dropping the ‘Start’ button

Posted: 05 Feb 2012 02:45 PM PST

Windows 8 preview

Microsoft has removed the “Start” menu button from its upcoming Windows 8 operating system, according to a consumer preview released earlier this week.

Start ButtonThe Start button. which made its debut in the Windows 95 version of the OS, sits on the far left side of the “Live Bar” (see screenshot above). The Start button was one of the primary methods used for people to navigate to computer settings, applications, stored files, and more. The leaked screenshot, obtained by PCbeta, reveal that Microsoft has removed the button. This was probably done as part of Microsoft’s Metro-style UI effort to make the user interface more intuitive across multiple devices.

While the Start button may be gone, the button’s core functionality will be retained using a “hot corner”, according to a report from The Verge. The hot corner, which you activate by either touching or mousing over one of the screen’s four corners, will supposedly activate a start-style menu screen when the operating system is both desktop and Metro UI mode.

The Live Bar, which allows you to pin frequently used programs to, will continue being used in Windows 8, according to the report.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Micron appoints new CEO in wake of Appleton’s death

Posted: 05 Feb 2012 11:17 AM PST

Micron Technology said yesterday it has appointed D. Mark Durcan to replace chief executive Steve Appleton, who died Friday when the small experimental plane he was piloting crashed at the Boise airport.

Durcan was previously Micron’s president and chief operating officer. While the loss of Appleton, the long time CEO, is devastating, the largest American manufacturer of memory chips has had the advantage of having stable management for a long time. Part of the reason is that its Boise, Idaho-based location is far removed from other chip companies that might poach employees. But Micron has also been an exceedingly well-run company in a volatile price-sensitive industry.

Durcan, 51, will be joined by Robert Switz, who will succeed Appleton as chairman of the board. And Mark W. Adams will serve as president. Switz has been a director since 2006 and is the former CEO of ADC Telecommunications.

Adams joined the company in 2006 and was most recently vice president of worldwide sales.

Appleton’s shoes will be hard to fill. He was a popular executive who was awarded the chip industry’s highest honor, the Robert N. Noyce award, by the Semiconductor Industry Association last fall. Appleton helped galvanize industry and government action against foreign memory chip makers that were

During that award ceremony, Analog Devices chairman Ray Stata said that Appleton was a “daredevil at heart.” Appleton flew stunt planes, raced motorcycles, wakeboarding, scuba diving and offroad racing. He was a black belt in taekwondo. In the Tecate Score Baja 1000 offroad race, Appleton finished first in the dune buggy race.

But that daredevil life took its toll in the end. On Friday, Appleton was killed while attempting an emergency landing in a Lancair IV-PT turboprop plane.

“We are deeply saddened by Steve’s loss and will miss his hand at the helm,” Mr. Durcan said in the company’s statement. “I have provided the board my ongoing commitment to work with the management team and continue to move the company forward.”

Durcan has been president and COO since 2007 and was previously Micron’s chief technology officer. He joined the company in 1984. In past interviews, Durcan explained that Micron has been able to stay ahead in the memory chip business not because it spent the most money on manufacturing. Rather, it has honed its design skills so that its chips could be built with fewer steps and therefore had lower production costs.

“We are fortunate to be able to appoint someone with Mark’s operations and technical leadership experience to serve as the company’s CEO,” said Switz. “Mark has been instrumental in Micron’s success in his role as President and COO and has garnered the respect of the company, his team members and the industry at large.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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