16 February, 2012



Worried about Windows 8, Google could launch Android 5.0 as soon as Q2

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 09:46 AM PST


Sensing slow momentum with Ice Cream Sandwich and a growing push for Microsoft’s Windows 8, Google might launch Android 5.0, a.k.a. Jelly Bean, in the second quarter of 2012, according to Tiawanese publication DigiTimes.

Based on its previous launches, it would make sense for Google to introduce Jelly Bean in the second quarter, but not necessarily launch it. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was introduced in the second quarter of 2011 at Google’s I/O conference, but it did not get completely official til its legit debut in October. Google’s I/O conference this year is scheduled for late June 27, so it could easily debut Jelly Bean there.

Android 5.0 will reportedly add even more emphasis on tablet features and it could offer dual-boot functionality between Android and Google’s Chrome OS. Google also is coaxing vendors into offering dual-boot abilties between Android and Windows 8. The company might also attempt to bring Android 5.0 to the notebooks and netbooks.

Jelly Bean could face serious adoption challenges, however, based on what we’ve seen with Ice Cream Sandwich adoption. Motorola, for example, has already indicated that it will be taking its time to update many devices to Ice Cream Sandwich. Most of Moto’s phones and tablets won’t see Ice Cream Sandwich by the third quarter at least.

Windows 8 is likely to launch late in the third quarter of the year. Microsoft’s new OS will attempt to bridge the gap between desktop and mobile with the ability to support touch screens and switch between traditional apps and touch-friendly Metro apps.

Android love photo: Lai Ryanne/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Will Intel delay shipments of its notebook-focused Ivy Bridge processors?

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 09:38 AM PST

Intel has told partners that it plans to delay shipments of its upcoming Ivy Bridge processors  for notebook computers, according to DigiTimes. That could disrupt product launch plans for notebook computer makers and throw off Intel’s plans to promote its Ultrabook thin laptops.

Intel declined comment, except to say that is is “on track for our spring 2012 launch, in line with previous guidance.”

If true, the delay could be a hiccup for the computer ecosystem, which is already reeling from the hard drive shortage caused by floods in Thailand.

Intel plans a huge marketing campaign around Ultrabooks, but Intel will only ship a small volume of the processors in early April and mass shipments are not expected to occur until after June.

One of the reasons is that the weaker economy has slowed demand for notebook computers, leaving computer makers with excess Sandy Bridge processors. The delay of the mass shipments will help minimize the impact on computer makers with big inventories.

Most of the big PC replacement trend is unlikely to start until after September. That is when Microsoft is expected to launch its Windows 8 operating system.

“If this is true, this would be challenging for Intel to hit the back to school season with new Ivy Bridge UltraBooks,” said Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.  “This could impact Intel's (computer makers) like HP, Dell, Lenovo and channel partners like Best Buy. Timing would be tighter than the ecosystem would prefer. If the timing is true, this could potentially give AMD an opening with Trinity ultrathins.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Control any screen with a browser: Clik turns your smartphone into the world’s best remote

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 09:10 AM PST

From the minds that brought you Kik, the ultra-fast mobile messaging app, comes Clik: a new platform that will let developers create smartphone apps that can control just about any screen with a web browser.

To prove the value of its platform, the company is releasing a free Clik YouTube app today for the iPhone and Android, which basically turns your smartphone into an addictively powerful Youtube remote control.

Here’s how Clik works: Simply visit clickthis.com in any web browser, scan the QR code with the Clik app (see right), and you’ll be presented with options that directly control what the browser displays. On the Clik YouTube app, you’ll be able to choose from featured videos, as well as search for YouTube videos, that will instantly start playing on the remote screen.

“Basically, we wanted to give you the Airplay experience with the minimum setup required,” Clik (and Kik) Ceo Ted Livingston told VentureBeat in an interview last week.

Clik joins a bevy of similar apps and services that let you push content from your phone to other screens. But Clik differentiates itself with its simplicity and blazing speed. And since it only relies on javascript, it’s completely device and platform agnostic. You could, for example, use your iPhone to control a Windows or Linux computer’s screen, or pretty much any smart TV platform that features a web browser.

Livingston tells me that the company initially began building Clik and the infrastructure powering it two years ago, but ended up using that technology to power Kik. Today, sending messages on Kik is nearly instantaneous. Now with a mature architecture behind it, Clik offers similarly fast control between your smartphone and other screens.

Clik also offers multiplayer capabilities, which could make for some fun parties. Multiple people can scan the QR code image for a single screen to control it, allowing groups to easily share their favorite cat videos.

The YouTube app is just the beginning for the company, as the technology powering Clik can let you push all sorts of content to your screens. With the Clik platform, third-party developers will be able to take advantage of the company’s tech to create apps that can share pictures, music, and potentially even games on remote screens.

Livingston tells me that most of his company will now be focusing on developing Clik. Its Kik messenger app won’t be going anywhere, but now that it’s feature rich and stable, the company is tackling newer challenges building up Clik.

Front remote image via Shutterstock

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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A new door opens for startup investors

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

MicroVenturesThis sponsored post is produced by MicroVentures.

Startup investing used to be only for the rich, only if you knew the right people, and only in deals in your city. Those factors left many interested investors on the sidelines.

But today, it's a lot easier to become an angel investor due to crowdfunding, micro lending and investment sites like MicroVentures which allows you to invest smaller sums alongside others and to invest in deals stretching from Boston to Silicon Valley.

Gone are the days where you have to risk $50,000 or more, receive a personal invitation to invest from a friend and only see a limited number of deals from the few available in your area.

MicroVenture helps investors learn about companies they may never have heard of, and to invest smaller sums, which is virtually unheard of with traditional investing.

The service matches companies seeking money with investors looking to invest anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000 or more. MicroVentures helps investors with the initial due diligence process by filtering startups and then providing documents to help investors conduct their own due diligence prior to making a final investment decision.

The key to winning at angel investing, of course, is to invest in the right startups. To get there, you need:

1) Good deal flow, allowing you to spot potential winners from many potential options.
2) The ability to invest in multiple deals so you gain experience.
3) A knack for spotting potentially successful companies, and more importantly, management teams and entrepreneurs that will succeed.

Getting good deal flow is often the stumbling block for the average person looking to get started in angel investing. And it's one of the reasons Bill Clark launched MicroVentures. He wanted to begin investing, but didn't have access to good deals.

Like others thinking about becoming angels, Clark wanted to invest smaller sums in more companies, allowing him to spread his risk and also increase his chances of picking a winner. And he wanted access to great companies outside of Austin, his hometown.

Today, Clark invests alongside the more than 1,900 investors from 20 states that have joined MicroVentures. To date, investors have put more than $2 million into 13 companies.

If you'd like to join the more than 1,900 angel investors getting in on new deals via the MicroVentures platform, be sure to put "VentureBeat" in the referral code when you sign up and we will send you a $100 gift card after you make your first investment.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Sony PlayStation Vita teardown reveals the guts of the high-end portable gaming device

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 08:49 AM PST

The Sony PlayStation Vita goes on sale in stores next week, but the folks at iFixit have already torn one apart to figure out what’s inside.

If the device takes off, then the teardown will give a clue as to which chip makers might be getting a lot of orders from Sony as well as how easy the system is to repair. The deconstruction also shows that Sony’s device is a modern marvel of engineering that combines high performance with low-power consumption.

Inside is a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 MPCore processor designed by Sony, a quad-core SGX543MP4+ graphics processing unit, 512 megabytes of random access memory from Samsung, and 128 megabytes of video RAM. It has a 5-inch organic light emitting diode (OLED) touchscreen display and a rear multitouch touchpad. It has front and rear 0.3 megapixel cameras, two analog joysticks, and standard PlayStation buttons.

The device is easy to take apart because it has standard screws, lots of connectors, and a modular design. Potential repair problems come from the fact that the liquid crystal display is fused to plastic. The battery is secured to the back case via screws, so users could actually replace the batteries themselves using a standard 3.7 volt battery.

The wireless card (which provides WiFi or WiFi plus 3G connectivity) uses a Qualcomm PM8028 power management chip and a number of power amplifiers from Avago, a Sony antenna switch modulel, an Epcos duplexer, and a Qualcomm MDM 6200 modem chip which supports data rates of 14.4 megabits per second on the HSPA+ network.

The device has two 640×480 pixel VGA cameras. The 5-inch touchscreen has an Atmel mXT 224 touchscreen controller, which is attached to the rear touchpad and enables multi-finger simultaneous recognition. The Sony device uses proprietary Sony flash memory cards. The 3G card is actually inserted into a slot in the side of the device for connection to an AT&T 3G network.

Among the chips inside are: Fujitsu MB44C026A; Marvell 88W878S-BKB2 Avastar WLAN/Bluetooth/FM Single-Chip SoC; Wolfson Micro WM1803E audio codec; STMicroelectronics 3GA51H gyroscope; and a Kionix KXTC9 three-axis MEMS accelerometer.

Filed under: games

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Facebook pulls a Twitter yet again by adding verified accounts

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 08:17 AM PST


Facebook will soon begin rolling out verified accounts for high-profile members with large numbers of subscribers, and it will give verified users the option to the use a pseudonym for their name.

Verified accounts were first introduced on Twitter in 2009 and recently on Google+, with the purpose of letting users know they are following the real deal. Facebook copied off Twitter before with its prominent News Feed feature for status updates, so this will be another moment where Facebook is implementing a feature from a rival. Facebook also recently added a new photo viewer that looks suspiciously similar to Google+’s viewer.

The new verified accounts, which were first reported on by TechCrunch, will not show any kind of badge like they do on Twitter and Google+. Instead, the service will let verified users change their names to pseudonyms or nick names, which is perfect for celebrities like Lady Gaga, Eminem, and Prince, but useless for regular folks.

“We are rolling out a minor update to our Subscribe feature,” a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat. “Starting today, we’ll begin testing a verification process for people with a large number of subscribers. Once verified, they’ll also have the option to more prominently display an alternate name (nickname, maiden name, byline, etc.) on their timelines in addition to their real name. This update makes it even easier for subscribers to find and keep up with journalists, celebrities and other public figures they want to connect to.”

Verified accounts will get better placement in Facebook's "People To Subscribe To" suggestions. Facebook will send out notifications like what you see below to users who it wants to be verified. There is no manual way to ask for verification.

To become verified, people who are chosen will have to submit an image of a government-issued photo ID. Facebook claims it will delete the IDs right after verifying them.


Mark Zuckerberg photo: Dylan Tweney/VentureBeat

Filed under: social

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Search engine DuckDuckGo doubles traffic in last 3 months, hits 1M searches a day

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 08:13 AM PST

While Google maintains its dominance in search, despite big efforts by Yahoo and Microsoft, there appears to be room for young upstarts to grow. DuckDuckGo has doubled its traffic from 500,000 searches a day in December of 2011 to 1 million searches a day this week. The company sets itself apart with a strong focus on privacy. It doesn’t keep a search history or attempt to provide personalized results through social networking connections. At its current rate of growth, DuckDuckGo is on pace to pass AOL this year, a remarkable feat given the volume of traffic that flows through AOL sites.

But advertisers are increasingly looking to sell highly targeted ads, meaning DDG’s approach to privacy is a real hurdle in terms of growing a revenue stream. That doesn’t seem to bother Union Square Ventures, one of the top funds in the nation, which invested in DuckDuckGo in October of last year. “Our confidence in Gabriel and DuckDuckGo is informed by having watched the decline of Microsoft’s hegemony in the 90′s,” Brad Burnham, co-founder of USV declared. “We invested in DuckDuckGo because we became convinced that it was not only possible to change the basis of competition in search, it was time to do it.”

DDG differs from Google in that it draws on crowdsourced sites like Wikipedia when establishing authority in search results. It also creates its own pages of content to provide fast answers. As founder Gabriel Weinberg put it, “While our indexes are getting bigger, we do not expect to be wholly independent from third-parties. Bing and Google each spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year crawling and indexing the deep Web. It costs so much that even big companies like Yahoo and Ask are giving up general crawling and indexing. Therefore, it seems silly to compete on crawling and, besides, we do not have the money to do so. Instead, we’ve focused on building a better search engine by concentrating on what we think are long-term value-adds — having way more instant answers, way less spam, real privacy and a better overall search experience.”

Image courtesy of Angela Waye, Shutterstock

Filed under: media

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Apple’s Mac OS X Mountain Lion brings more to the desktop from the iPhone, iPad

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 07:17 AM PST

Apple unveiled its next big cat operating system for desktops today, Mac OS X “Mountain Lion,” which shares even more with iOS than its predecessor.

Like OS X Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion (technically Mac OS X version 10.8) is being positioned as a minor upgrade over last year’s Lion release. For the most part, the new OS looks the same, but it also includes apps that first appeared on iOS, deeper integration with iCloud, as well as the Notification Center and Game Center from iOS.

Developers can get their hands on Mountain Lion today in a preview release, but the rest of us will have to wait until this summer for the software. Apple typically holds events to reveal new versions of Mac OS X, so the fact that the company quietly unveiled the OS today is yet another sign that this isn’t a huge release.

The new OS will bring over iMessage, Reminders, and Notes from iOS, which will all synchronize with their mobile counterparts. Apple is also releasing a beta version of iMessage today, which replaces iChat for instant messaging functionality, for current OS X Lion users. iMessage will let OS X users send free messages to iOS 5 users, and the conversations will also be seamlessly synchronized between mobile and desktop.

Powering synchronization behind the scenes in Mountain Lion is deeper integration with iCloud, which is now also featured on the OS X Finder.

Notification Center will wrangle together all of your application notifications in one spot, much like the popular program Growl. It’ll be accessible from anywhere in the OS with a new two-finger swipe motion. Game Center, not surprisingly, will serve as the go-to spot for all of your games, and will also bring over leaderboards and achievements from iOS.

More than anything, the new Mountain Lion seems dedicated to unifying your experience between iOS and OS X with iCloud. But at the moment, it seems like most of its new additions could have simply been software upgrades to Lion. Expect Apple to reveal more new features for Mountain Lion in the coming months, which will likely justify its standing as a whole new OS.

It’s interesting to consider how Apple is approaching its new OS compared to Microsoft, which is fundamentally changing what a desktop OS can be with Windows 8. Both companies are attempting to bring mobile elements to the desktop, but Apple is taking a more incremental approach (which, admittedly, it always has with OS X), whereas Microsoft is diving headfirst into new territory.

Mountain Lion also adds Share Sheets, which will basically let you share files with services like Twitter, as well as AirPlay Mirroring, which can push whatever is on your screen to an Apple TV. There will also be improvements to how OS X handles apps from the Mac App Store, thanks to new security levels and the addition of developer signatures, which allows the OS to alert you when you’re installing software from unsigned developers.

Apple also isn’t saying anything about bringing its virtual assistant Siri over to Mountain Lion, which for many would be reason enough to upgrade.

Via CNet

Filed under: VentureBeat

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LA Companies: meet with Science next week — last chance to apply!

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

VB & ScienceIf your company is based in the greater Los Angeles Are, and you want to meet with Peter Pham and the team from Science on Thursday, Feb 23, this is your last chance to sign up.

We'll be heading down to the Science Santa Monica offices in three days to meet with 10 local companies as part of our global DEMO tour. If you'd like to be one of those 10, fill out this form by Tuesday, Feb. 21 at noon, and we'll be in touch shortly with more details.

We look forward to seeing you in LA!

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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RGM Group’s ad network keeps growing as premium brands spend more online

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

The RGM Group figures out how to enable premium brand advertisers to target rich people via online ads. And weak economy or not, the company has benefited as those brands shift more of their budgets for chasing wealthy consumers to online publications.

The Venice, Calif.-based company has been profitable ever since Kamran Razavi started it in 2004 at the age of 25. In an interview, Razavi said the company still has momentum and tripled its revenues last year.

“We’ve got a unique model for premium brands,” Razavi said. “We have ads that hit the right person and do so in the right way. We really stand out in that way. We are more efficient when it comes to deploying advertising.”

In August of last year, the company’s RGM Alliance division, an ad network that places ads from premium and luxury brands, had more than 250 U.S. publications in its network. Those included Yachting, Luxury Travel, Burda Style, Zagat, Men’s Fitness, Woman’s Day, Elle, Boating, and Esquire (disclosure: and VentureBeat). Now RGM reaches 350 publications, including 34 new sites this year.

RGM now reaches 124 million unique visitors per month, compared to 117 million in August. In May 2009, the company had 21 million users per month at 66 publications. RGM is now the 61st-largest ad-focused ad network in the U.S., according to comScore. RGM expects it will enter the top 50 in the next month.

“We are still profitable and we haven’t had to raise money,” Razavi said.

RGM still screens its web site publishers so that it only reaches users that premium advertisers want to target. Razavi says the alliance continues to be transparent to both advertisers and publishers, with no hidden sites or traffic sources.

One of the big growth areas is custom ads created by one of RGM’s own divisions for the advertisers. RGM has created ads for Jaguar, Lexus, and ForeverMark on RGM’s own JustLuxe site, which has millions of unique monthly visitors. RGM is also expanding into mobile ads for the iPad, iPhone, and other platforms.

The company has 35 employees. Razavi said he is proud he didn’t raise a large amount of money, like other digital media companies do, diluting the entrepreneurial spirit. Razavi himself came from Tiffin, Ohio, and moved to Los Angeles with all of his belongings in the back of his pickup at age 22. Now at 32, he’s still a young buck.

“I hope my story will if nothing else inspire another young buck to venture out on their own and build a company themselves,” he said. “My story proves this is possible.”

For custom content, the CPM (cost per mil, a measure of ad revenue per 1,000 people) is something like $100. For standard ads, the CPMs are around $8 to $10 for the RGM Alliance. Lower-quality ad networks generate CPMs of $3 to $5.

Razavi said that premium markets have recovered since the recession of 2008-2009, and that has helped the company grow. But he said advertisers are still shifting a lot more of their ad budgets to online publications, and that has helped RGM grow even faster.

“On a global level, we still have a recession-like economy, but online ads could grow 23 percent in 2012,” Razavi said. “People are predicting that online will move past traditional media this year.”

Rivals include companies such as Glam Media, Travel Ad Network, and Conde Naste Digital.

Image courtesy of atyp_koK, Shutterstock

Filed under: media

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Small companies can do quick market research with Peanut Labs’ Crowdvibe (exclusive)

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Peanut Labs is launching its Crowdvibe site today to allow anyone to create quick polls or market research surveys with large numbers of respondents in a variety of targeted markets.

Crowdvibe (at the site Crowdvi.be) taps Peanut Labs’ network of more than 50 million consumers on 200 social networks to get users to fill out online surveys that you create. The cost comes out to a dollar per user or less, which is much cheaper and less hassle than setting up an online research campaign. And you can watch results arrive in real-time, with an average of 40 seconds for the first response.

You simply purchase virtual currency that lets you create a survey with one or two questions. The more respondents you want, the more virtual currency you need to purchase. One credit costs 10 cents. 100 untargeted responses cost $125. To get 1,000 untargeted respondents, the cost is about $900. For targeted responses, the price is higher. The web site is in beta testing now.

“As speed becomes more of a necessity, we understand the value of time-sensitive research,” said Noman Ali (pictured below), chief executive of Peanut Labs.

That’s a fraction of the usual cost for scientifically valid consumer market research, and the results you get are far less distorted than online polls, which can be thrown off if a biased party shares a link for the poll among his or her friends, Ali said in an exclusive interview.

“We saw a gap where small and medium business could not get consumer insight the way that the big companies could,” Ali said. “Nothing else can get you data so quickly and cheaply.”

Once you create your questions, you can refine the audience to focus on certain vertical markets, such as retail, electronic and mobile commerce, media and entertainment, consumer packaged goods, consumer electronics, travel and hospitality, or banking and financial services verticals. You can pick the age group of respondents, the income bracket, ethnicity, geography, gender, or other lifestyle characteristics.

“It’s a very simple process, as you just fill out the web form,” Ali said.

Once you release the survey, Peanut Labs populates it into its network of users. It offers incentives to users on a variety of platforms. If they answer the survey, they get some kind of virtual good in return. That enables Peanut Labs to get a good response rate and to ensure that the polling is scientifically accurate, since the links for the surveys are controlled by Peanut Labs and are not publicly accessible.

Users respond by voting for any one of two to seven pre-written answers for the poll.

One cool feature is that you can watch the results for your survey arrive in real-time.

“You can get access to 150 or 200 people in 15 minutes, or 1,000 people in 30 minutes to 45 minutes,” Ali said.

The service is targeted at analysts, creatives, and marketers who want to bridge the gap between social media and market research by accessing a huge network of people, without spending a lot of money. They can get product opinions, brand perceptions, and a bunch of feedback on marketing campaigns, promotional offers, concept tests, and consumer satisfaction. Companies such as Endemol US, Landor, Takasago, Kaptur, and 360i have been using the product in the closed beta test.

The idea for the service started around June last year and the full team started working on it in the fall. The team has 30 people now and will likely grow to 40 this year. Peanut Labs is owned by online research firm E-Rewards.

The social networks include sites such as Facebook and Foursquare. Right now, the product is a generic one. Over time, however, Peanut Labs might be able to modify it so that it could be particularly useful to fashion or game companies.

“That might happen, but it’s down the road,” Ali said.

Image courtesy of winnond, Shutterstock

Filed under: games, media, social

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Memory grand master Ed Cooke gets $1M to teach his tricks at new startup, Memrise

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

There is nothing extraordinary about Ed Cooke’s brain. Sure he can memorize a 1000 digit number in less than an hour, but so can you, he believes. “It’s not like I was born with special cognitive abilities. I trained myself to have an incredible memory, and those are skills other people can learn,” he told VentureBeat by phone. Cooke and his co-founder, the neuroscientist Greg Detre, have raised $1.05 million for a new startup, Memrise, to help the masses leverage Cooke’s legendary memory tricks.

“The hilarious and tragic thing about memory training is you spend so much time inside your head,” Cooke explained. Serious students of memory, like Joshua Foer, who trained with Cooke and chronicled the process in his best seller, Moonwalking with Einstein, wear earmuff and blinders while practising their mnemonic techniques. “But one of the things that makes a something really memorable is if it was fun for you, if you engaged with it.”

Cooke and Foer would tell themselves elaborate stories, associating vivid images with the sequence of numbers they had to recall. Memrise takes a similar tack, teaching people Chinese characters, for example, by transforming each one into a animated sequence.

Instead of having people train in isolation, Memrise incorporates elements of gaming and crowdsourcing to keep users engaged. “We’re not trying to train people to perform the heroic feats of a memory grand master. We want this to be a fun, collaborative experience, like World of Warcraft, that just happens to be about learning.”

Memrise is offloading a lot of the hard work that goes into memory training: generating striking images and reminding the brain to recall the memory on regular basis. Cooke says that returning to a memory is crucial, and the Memrise has algorithms that learn when a student needs a friendly reminder, via an email say, to recall a certain lesson. Prof. Detre has worked on the timing and calibration of the learning curve on Memrise, as well as ways in which to keep very similar memories, whether its words that sound alike or characters that appear very similar, as distinct memories in the mind of the student.

Right now the service focuses on languages, people can Mandarin, French, Spanish, and Italian. The hope is to eventually expand to all topics. The startup recently paired with The Guardian newspaper to help readers memorize different kinds of herbs.

Investors include Avalon Ventures, Balderton Capital, Matt Mullenweg’s Audrey Capital and Lerer Ventures. They’re joined by a host of Angels including Nabeel Hyatt, head of Zynga Boston, Jeff Hammerbacher, former head of data at Facebook, and Bill Warner, founder of Avid.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Bump 3.0 launches today, pared down to just 2 features

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

In a refreshing about-face from mobile apps’ usual version-to-version progression, the team behind phone-to-phone sharing app Bump has amputated all extraneous features from the app, mercilessly whittling it down to only two functions.

The Bump makers saw that most of the app’s users were using Bump for just two things: sharing photos and swapping contact info.

So for the newest version of the app, they simply cut out all the other features.

“In the previous UI, most people would explore one or two features, and if they didn’t find a place for Calendar or Music in their life, they’d give up the app,” co-founder Jake Mintz told us during a recent visit to VentureBeat’s San Francisco headquarters.

“Since we know these two features do fit into people’s lives, we think it really stands a better chance,” he said.

Mintz was joined by co-founder Dave Lieb, a repeat visitor to the VentureBeat office.

This time around, Lieb told us the crux of the matter: “Bump does less than it used to do, but it does it better.”

“We made those two actions as good as we possibly could. The app now is very much built around content,” he said.

The benefit of leaving all those fun-filled but underused features on the cutting room floor is that the Bump team was able to focus on making sharing contact info and sharing photos a bug-free and beautiful process. It’s also a lot simpler than it was in past iterations.

The team “made big changes to the technology to avoid common usability failures,” said Mintz. For example, a slip-up in the “bump” gesture might lead to an awkward “re-bump.”

But no more.

Also, whereas Bump 2.0 contained a lot of menus, Lieb said, those navigations ended up hurting more than they helped. “We have a very limited amount of time in the app to explain to users how it will help their life,” he said, and especially for getting new users quickly onboard. The menus just weren’t helping.

“What matters for us right now is building a rich experience for the people who really want to use it,” said Mintz.

One of the Bump app features that got cut was app-sharing — that is, the ability to see which apps you and a buddy or new acquaintance have in common. While the feature will remain in the Android app (the Android OS offers a simple API for calling up the full list of apps on the bumped device), the iOS version will not have this feature.

“We put a lot of energy into developing this very elaborate system,” said Mintz of the iOS app-sharing feature. “It would occasionally work perfectly, and when that happened, people loved it, but users were dissatisfied most of the time.”

Another feature that got cut was music-sharing. While the feature had tens of thousands of users, Lieb et al. questioned how often they actually used and returned to the feature. And, after all, tens of thousands was a drop in the bucket of Bump’s 77 million users — not to mention the 2 million photos that get shared on Bump every day.

“Technology is a big enabler, but it can also make things way more complicated,” he said. “We took the great part of technology and kept the simplicity of how you want to share things. Going forward, we’re going to make contacts and photo-sharing an even better experience.”

In fact, the company is so focused on doing few things and doing them well that it’s also limiting the number of platforms the app will be available on. While Bump will be sticking with iOS and Android, the team is panning BlackBerry and Windows Phone — for now.

Lieb said the team would be watching Windows Phone sales figures in the future. Ultimately, however, the startup will only make apps and features that can be well maintained.

Currently, the team is working on separate apps in experimental stages; these new apps attempt to simplify problems that technology has sadly made complex.

You can bet we’ll be following up on that, so stay tuned.

Filed under: mobile

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Kabam looks beyond Facebook for its growth in hardcore social games (exclusive)

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 12:00 AM PST

Kabam made its mark in social games on Facebook, but the company is rapidly diversifying away from the social network as it pursues fans of hardcore social games.

Kevin Chou, chief executive of the Redwood City, Calif.-based company, said in an exclusive interview that the company has now moved its games onto a total of six platforms and it has made some big strategic shifts.

Today, the company is announcing that it will make its games available on Kongregate, the independent game portal owned by GameStop. In doing so, the company is taking its destiny into its own hands, in contrast to Zynga, the social gaming giant which depends on Facebook for more than 90 percent of its revenue.

“Of the new users coming into our games now, the vast majority are coming from outside of Facebook,” Chou (pictured above) said. “In January, we hit a new record for user and revenue numbers, by far.”

While other companies targeted casual gamers on Facebook, Kabam had the unique insight of targeting hardcore gamers, who are also present on the social network. Those gamers are loyal. About 90 percent of them play six days a week. And they spend a lot more money, on average, than your typical user when it comes to buying virtual goods in games. For some of these players, paying just $60 for a console game would be a bargain compared to what they spend in Kabam’s games.

In two years, Kabam’s Kingdoms of Camelot generated $85 million from 15 million players, which makes it one of the top eight strategy franchises of all time. Kabam’s own study showed that social games have taken users away from console games.

Kabam will be launch three of its free-to-play games on Kongregate, including Dragon’s of Atlantis (pictured right). Kongregate has more than 16 million monthly unique visitors, many of them dedicated gamers who are looking for something different to play. Additional Kabam titles The Godfather: Five Families and Thirst of Night are also planned for Kongregate.

The other networks where Kabam is getting users include Google+, Pokki on the Windows PC, and its Kabam.com web site. By moving onto the other platforms, Kabam is searching for both better economics and more core gamers. It is also building its infrastructure so that it can support players in one game universe, so that its games will be playable across platforms and will eventually have simultaneous updates. Chou said this until-now secret game universe has absorbed a lot of Kabam’s investment resources. Chou calls this is “pyramid strategy,” where the game universe supports multiple platforms, simultaneous play, live service, and a single game engine.

Facebook takes 30 percent of the transactions for virtual goods, and game companies typically have to spend a lot of money on Facebook ads to get new users. But other game platforms don’t take as big a chunk of every virtual good transaction. Google+, for instance, takes only 5 percent of the transaction and offers to heavily promote games to its users. Google+ now has 38 titles, including Kabam’s The Godfather: Five Families game.

“Some of these platforms also actively push your game to new users,” Chou said. “That changes the economics.”

It makes sense for Kabam to move beyond Facebook because it targets hardcore gamers, who are a minority of the game players on Facebook. Kabam could spend a lot of money on ads on Facebook, but the universe of possible players was small. So Kabam is seeking out the hardcore gamers on other platforms where they are present.

That has led to a decline in Facebook users. In August, Kabam had more than 12.9 million monthly active users on Facebook, but that number has shrunk to 2.0 million, according to AppData. Meanwhile, the cost of advertising on Facebook is rising.

“We tried to work with Facebook to make the economics work better,” Chou said.

Kabam had a small layoff (restructuring) as it realigned its business units to position itself for a multiplatform  business. But Chou says that rumors that the company is going downhill are incorrect. The team still has more than 450 employees and it just acquired a new headquarters in San Francisco. Chou is using a far different playbook for his business compared to Zynga. While Zynga has 56 million daily active users, Kabam has about 1 million DAUs.

“We don’t design our games to spam your friends,” Chou said. “I’m excited because we are the only company that is seeing the business this way and is executing on lots of platforms.”

Quarterly bookings are up ten-fold since early 2010. The key isn’t about how many users you have, Chou said. It’s about how much money you are making.

“The business is healthy,” Chou said. “Our pyramid strategy is operational now and we feel good about how the technology is scaling across multiple platforms. We have spent 12 months building some unique technology.”

Chou promises big things in 2012. He said the company has been making big investments in console-like 3D games and he believes these games will make a big mark on social networks and web sites in 2012.

“3D will come to the market in a big way,” he said, based on progress that other companies have made with technologies such as Unity 3D, Adobe Flash 12, and Google’s Native Client for Chrome. “The biggest knock against social games so far is that the graphics are nowhere near what can be done on the consoles. They forget that the technology is changing at the pace of the internet. We can deliver a quality experience.”

The new social games will have “next-generation quality” levels, with more synchronous play, where players act in real-time as they compete against each other. The company will also announce more major partnerships this year.

“We’ll announce deals with brands that will put Kabam in a whole different category as a game company,” Chou said.

And Chou said the company is also investing in mobile games, which is exciting because it is growing so fast.

“We don’t  have a product we are ready to talk about but we will have something innovative in that space,” he said.

Kabam was founded in 2006 as Watercooler and funded by Betfair and Canaan Partners. It had around 20 employees for quite a while as it experimented on Facebook, making sports fan pages and sports games. It had a big hit with its first major role-playing game, Kingdoms of Camelot, which quickly pulled in millions of users. Kabam also acquired WonderHill, a San Francisco game company that developed Dragons of Atlantis, which has become Kabam's most successful game to date. Kabam also recently bought Fearless Studios, which was run by ex-Star Wars game developers. Kabam raised $125 million to date.

Kongregate’s users play more than 28 million hours a month and the company has more than 53,700 games on its portal. Jim and Emily Greer started the company in 2006 and sold it to GameStop in July 2010.

[Photo and image credits: Kabam]

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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Lightsquared’s Hail Mary pass for survival: swapping airwaves with the Dept. of Defense

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 10:11 PM PST


In a last-ditch attempt to keep its wholesale LTE 4G network alive, Lightsquared may be considering swapping its wireless airwaves with the Department of Defense, sources tell the Wall Street Journal.

The FCC yesterday rejected Lightsquared’s application to build a wholesale LTE network in the U.S. because it had irrevocable issues with GPS equipment. The DOD’s airwaves, on the other hand, are farther away from GPS signals and shouldn’t cause any interference, the sources say.

But of course, for such a deal to be made the DOD would have to be willing to swap with Lightsquared. Something tells me the DOD wouldn’t have much use for wireless frequencies that don’t play nicely with GPS, especially since its current airwaves are mainly used for aircraft testing.

Lightsquared is said to be looking at other potential options for turning around its network, but at this point it’s unclear what those would be. The DOD swap would also require Lightsquared to raise additional funds, which would be difficult now since the company will soon have to cough up interest payments on $1.6 billion in secured loans and hundreds of millions in debt.

In related news, Sprint will likely have to return $65 million in prepayments to Lightsquared if it can’t figure out some way to get its LTE network approved by the FCC. The two companies announced a major 15-year deal last year that would have seen Lightsquared pay Sprint $9 billion to help build out its LTE network.

Reston, Virginia-based LightSquared was founded by billionaire Philip Falcone with the goal of reselling its LTE mobile broadband network to others.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Mojang to live-stream game-building for charity

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 08:02 PM PST

In a blog post Wednesday, Mojang noted that they’ll be creating a new game in 60 hours starting Friday, Feb. 17, with the proceeds going to charity. Even more interesting, the development will be streamed live through the Humble Indie Bundle website for all to see. They’re asking for donations, which will benefit a charitable cause as well as net all donators a copy of the game Mojang ends up producing.

They’re looking to get fans to choose the game genre and theme. Genre options up for vote include Dating Simulator and Peter Molyneux, while the list of themes includes Candyland and Steampunk. This looks like a ton of fun already.

Mojang is the highly celebrated maker of indie smash Minecraft, and the Humble Indie Bundle has been packaging independent video games for Mac, PC, and Linux each year, with user-defined and donated proceeds being split across charities, developers, and themselves.

To follow more of the action, besides tuning in to the coding jam on Friday, follow @mojangteam, @humble, and @notch on Twitter for live updates. You can also use the #Mojam Twitter hashtag to submit questions for the team while they code.

Filed under: dev, games, VentureBeat

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Thanks to $1.8 million in crowd-funding, Double Fine Adventure is heading to five platforms

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 06:35 PM PST

Tim Schafer has changed the rules for funding major game projects. Now he is making good on his promise to communicate status updates directly to his fan base.

After collecting more than $1.8 million in crowd-sourced Kickstarter funding for a new videogame, Double Fine Studios founder Tim Schafer has published a video update for the “backers of adventure”. He reveals that the game will be released for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, as well as the mobile platforms iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android.

The increased budget will pay for English voiceovers and translations of the on-screen text into French, Italian, German and Spanish. Schafer also announced that backers of the project will be able to get a version of the final game, which is completely free of Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy protection. Access to beta versions prior to release will be made available on the Steam network only.

Details about new high-profile video games still under development are usually shrouded in secrecy, with new information carefully trickled through PR channels. But Schafer has promised “an honest, in-depth insight into a modern art form” and it will be interesting to follow future public announcements about the game’s progress.

Fans of Schafer’s body of work have also been hoping for a sequel to his 2005 action-adventure Psychonauts. In a recent Twitter exchange with Schafer, Minecraft programmer Markus “Notch” Persson expressed his interest in helping to fund the project. But in a new post on his personal blog, Persson clarified that he has “NO idea if this is actually going to happen.” The budget for Psychonauts 2 would be three times higher than he had originally anticipated. According to Kotaku, it would be in the range of $13 million.

Persson is hoping to meet Schafer during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in early March for further discussions. But he points out that “Double Fine will be very busy for many months with the Kickstarter project” and wishes “Stop hyping over this, internet!” (good luck with that).

Filed under: games

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Hookflash gives you free video calls to LinkedIn contacts (exclusive)

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 05:13 PM PST

Hookflash, an iPad app maker looking to make workplace communication streamlined and more productive, has pivoted to focus on connecting you with your LinkedIn contacts. The company is releasing its inaugural app in March, and it will help you communicate with your LinkedIn connections for free.

LinkedIn is definitely a powerful tool to connect with business professionals and potential clients, but communicating with your connections isn’t always effective. Let’s face it, do you keep on top of your LinkedIn inbox as much as your other social networks? Probably not. Hookflash realized that LinkedIn contacts can be very valuable, but not exactly easy to talk to, so it created an app to fix the problem.

“The value of your communications device or technology is directly proportional to how easy it makes it to communicate with the people in your network and maintain your directory of contacts. LinkedIn is the best service in the world at doing that for you, so we integrated LinkedIn as a directory instead of building our own,” Hookflash chief executive and co-founder Trent Johnsen told VentureBeat. “Hookflash leverages the social aspects of LinkedIn and enables instant voice, video, or text communications with anyone in LinkedIn directory via the iPad — which is increasingly becoming the work tool of choice.”

The app will let you place voice and video calls and send text messages to any of your LinkedIn contacts for free. And it will display LinkedIn profile and activity feed information for each contact in the app, so you’ll know who you’re talking to and what they’ve been doing.

Unlike its competitor Skype, there is no need to build a list of contacts. When you log in to your LinkedIn account in the app, your information will be synced automatically. The app also pulls information from LinkedIn so your conversations have more context than they would with Skype.

Hookflash is slated to be available in the App Store in March. Until then, you can sign up for early access on the company’s website.

Hookflash debuted last year at DEMO Fall 2011. The company is based in Calgary, Alberta and Palo Alto, California and has raised $1.2M funding from Sora Group.

Filed under: cloud, DEMO, mobile

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Google says problem with Wallet prepaid card is “fixed”

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 03:36 PM PST


Google has reopened its Google Wallet prepaid card option, after shutting it down due to two security vulnerabilities that let someone in possession of your phone access your prepaid funds even if you’d cleared all of your data from the app.

Google Wallet allows you to charge purchases using your phone and an near-field communication device. The “Wallet” itself houses either a Citi Mastercard, gift card, or Google prepaid card. The company was forced to disable its 1prepaid card due to a recently uncovered vulnerability that allowed access to the card, even if Google Wallet information had been wiped from the phone.

“Yesterday afternoon, we restored the ability to issue new prepaid cards to the Wallet,” said Google Wallet and Payments vice president Osama Bedier in a blog post. “In addition, we issued a fix that prevents an existing prepaid card from being re-provisioned to another user.”

The company would not comment on the details of the fix.

Google touts the Wallet as being safer than your traditional leather wallet because it comes with a lock on it, a pin number that when entered gives you access to the credit cards within. The now-corrected vulnerability, however, made it easy for a thief to bypass your pin. If your phone was stolen, all the criminal had to do was wipe the phone’s Google Wallet memory. When the application was re-opened, it would prompt the criminal to create and save a new pin. Once they did that, they could reinstall the Google prepaid card. Why? Because Google associates your prepaid card information with the phone itself, not a specific Google account. Thus, your remaining balance would pop up, and that person could go shopping with your cash.

The company assures its users that it hasn’t found anyone taking advantage of the vulnerabilities since they were publicized.

The second vulnerability, however, has not yet been taken care of and probably never will be. It’s an application that can guess the pin on a rooted or jailbroken phone. It was found a day before the more widespread prepaid card issue was uncovered. Google urges its users not to jailbreak their phones, as Google Wallet cannot be protected on phones that have been tampered with.

Zvelo, the company that discovered this vulnerability, however, made the good point that a phone doesn’t have to be rooted before being stolen. Individuals who know their way around a phone (or can get access to YouTube) can easily unlock the phone and run a similar application to get hold of the pin number. Perhaps this will make Google think twice about simply issuing a warning about the security issues surrounding unlocked phones.

via Engadget, Stolen wallet image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, security

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Windows 8 adds more features to help disabled users

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 02:26 PM PST

Microsoft will be adding new features to its upcoming Windows 8 operating system designed to help people with disabilities navigate and better use the OS, the company said in a blog post Tuesday.

“Windows 8 is a product we design for an incredibly broad spectrum of people around the world,” wrote Microsoft Windows head Steven Sinofsky. “One of the areas where we have worked to deliver an even greater level of innovation is in ensuring that Windows 8, particularly the new Metro style experience, is accessible to everyone regardless of their physical abilities.”

Microsoft will be adding features such as an updated version of Magnifier, which helps people with low vision. This product is actually in Windows 7, but the company admits there are still a few issues that need to be fixed with high contrast colors. You can see Magnifier in action above pin-pointing a certain part of the Windows 8 screen.

Another big feature is a better version of Narrator, which can read back the actions that are happening on screen, thus helping those with visual impairments. The company said it is redesigning Narrator to respond faster to movement on the screen, support more languages, and read more controls. On a related note, the company will be doing what it can to improve speech recognition.

As someone with a partial hearing disability, I commend Microsoft on adding and improving features to help people with vision and hearing difficulties. The idea that technology progresses so fast but still remains inaccessible for those with some disabilities is extremely disconcerting. But hopefully we’ll see this type of support progress further with all OSes across laptops, phones, tablets, and other connected devices.

You can watch a full video below of how Microsoft is implementing these new features:

Image courtesy of Yurchyks, Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile

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Nvidia beats earnings predictions but lowers forecast

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 02:19 PM PST

Nvidia reported earnings today that beat analyst forecasts for the third fiscal quarter ended Jan. 31, but it lowered its outlook for the coming fourth fiscal quarter. While demand for high-end graphics is strong, the hard-drive shortage is partly affecting the company’s ability to sell graphic chips.

The world’s biggest maker of stand-alone graphics chips for PCs has been benefiting from a boom in high-end gamer PC sales at the same time that it is pivoting into the mobile processor market with its line of Tegra processors.

The company said revenue grew to $953.2 million, up 7.5 percent from $886.4 million a year earlier. Net income was $116.0 million, or 19 cents a share, compared to $171.7 million, or 29 cents a share, a year ago. Non-GAAP earnings were $158.1 million, or 26 cents a share, compared with $142.4 million, or 24 cents a share a year ago. Analysts were expecting non-GAAP revenues of $950.5 million and earnings per share of 19 cents.

While Nvidia beat that target, the company lowered its fourth fiscal quarter revenue expectations to $900 million from $930 million, down from prior guidance. Gross profit margins will be 49.2 percent, plus or minus 1 percentage point. Part of the problem is the hard drive shortage that is curtailing PC production, but another problem is yields on the newest generation of graphics chips.

For the year, revenue was $4.0 billion, up 12.8 percent over the previous fiscal year. GAAP gross margin for the year was 51.4 percent, up 11.6 percentage points. Non-GAAP gross margin was 51.9 percent, up 6.8 percentage points. Nvidia’s stock has fallen in after-hours trading about 4.45 percent to $15.45 a share.

Nvidia has a tough balancing act. The PC market has slowed because of the growth of the smartphone and tablet market, but chips for PCs still command a higher value. In that market, Nvidia has to race ahead on graphics to compete with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which are both combining graphics and processors on a single chip.

In the mobile market, Nvidia is competing against a larger group of players, such as Qualcomm. Nvidia is in the midst of launching its Tegra 3 smartphone and tablet chip. It hopes to set itself apart with a focus on heavy-duty graphics and quad-core processing. Nvidia is also targeting the PC processor market since Windows 8 will run on both ARM-based and Intel-based chips when it comes out later this year.

“We have established our position in the mobile market,” Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia, in a conference call with analysts. In 2011, earlier Tegra chips shipped in 14 phones, 34 tablet computers, and with 18 of the top 20 carriers. Tegra 2 was the first chip with dual cores, or processing brains.

Meanwhile, Nvidia said two major supercomputers will be using Nvidia’s Tesla family of graphics processors for the enterprise. Nvidia plans to announce its first Tegra 3 phones at the Mobile World Congress event in Spain.

While the hard drive shortage will clear up by the end of the first half, new challenges will arise for Nvidia, said Patrick Moorehead, an analyst and president of Moor Insights & Strategy. One problem is Ultrabooks, the Intel-sponsored thin laptops that will use powerful chips but are unlikely to use separate chips for graphics, Moorehead said. The other challenge is competition from Qualcomm, which is readying a new version of its Snapdragon chips for later in the year.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Cisco warns EU of video chat’s bleak future under Microsoft/Skype

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 02:08 PM PST

Cisco's warning

Networking technology giant Cisco has filed an appeal with the European Union today over the October approval of Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype.

Cisco, along with Italian VoIP provider Messagenet SpA, is challenging the decision to approve the merger because the European Commission failed to place important conditions on the deal regarding interoperability of video communication. The main worry from Cisco is that Microsoft will exclusively integrate Skype’s video communication into its enterprise-level Lync video and voice communication software. Thus, consumers and businesses using competing software (like those offered by Cisco) wouldn’t be able to communicate.

“Imagine how difficult it would be if you were limited to calling people who only use the same carrier or if your phone could only call certain brands and not others. Cisco wants to avoid this future for video communications,” wrote Cisco SVP of Video and Collaboration Marthin De Beer in a letter posted on the company blog. “We believe standards-based interoperability will accelerate innovation, create economic value, and increase choice for users of video communications, entertainment, and services.”

And while Cisco may be sincere in its advocacy of open standards, the company was rumored to have been unsuccessful in forming an agreement with Microsoft to provide interoperability between Cisco video services and Skype, according to an AllThingsD report. This might explain why Cisco has waited until now to voice its concern over the EU’s decision in October.

Cisco is quick to point out that it doesn’t oppose the merger, but argues that tougher conditions are necessary to avoid any one company controlling all video communication standards.

You can read the full letter from De Beer about Cisco’s decision to file an appeal with the EU below.

In the past decade video communications has moved out of the realm of science fiction to become commonplace in our homes, at work, and on mobile devices. Yet we remain some distance from the goal of video calls being as easy and ubiquitous as phone calls are today – across any network and between all devices.

Imagine how difficult it would be if you were limited to calling people who only use the same carrier or if your phone could only call certain brands and not others.  Cisco wants to avoid this future for video communications, and therefore today appealed the European Commission's approval of the Microsoft/Skype merger to the General Court of the European Union.  Messagenet, a European VoIP service provider, has joined us in the appeal.

We did not take this action lightly. We respect the European Commission, and value Microsoft as a customer, supplier, partner, and competitor. Cisco does not oppose the merger, but believes the European Commission should have placed conditions that would ensure greater standards-based interoperability, to avoid any one company from being able to seek to control the future of video communications.

This appeal is about one thing only: securing standards-based interoperability in the video calling space. Our goal is to make video calling as easy and seamless as  email is today. Making a video-to-video call should be as easy as dialing a phone number. Today, however, you can't make seamless video calls from one platform to another, much to the frustration of consumers and business users alike.

Cisco believes that the right approach for the industry is to rally around open standards. We believe standards-based interoperability will accelerate innovation, create economic value, and increase choice for users of video communications, entertainment, and services.

The video communications industry is at a critical tipping point with far reaching consequences. Just three years from now the world will be home to nearly 3 billion Internet users, the average fixed broadband speed will be 28 Mbps, and 1 million video minutes (the equivalent of 674 days) will traverse the internet every second. As video collaboration becomes increasingly mainstream, multiple vendors will have to work together to enable global scale and broad customer choice.

For the sake of customers, the industry recognizes the need for ubiquitous unified communications interoperability, particularly between Microsoft/Skype and Cisco products, as well as products from other unified communications innovators. Microsoft's plans to integrate Skype exclusively with its Lync Enterprise Communications Platform could lock-in businesses who want to reach Skype's 700 million account holders to a Microsoft-only platform.

At the heart of this opportunity is a question about the model for interoperability. One approach allows each vendor to decide how they will interoperate. Another approach aligns the industry around open standards defined by non-partisan governing bodies. The answer will be critical to whether and how quickly video calls become "the next voice."

When vendors implement their own protocols and selectively interoperate, they push the burden of interoperability to the customer.   We respectfully request that the General Court act on our concerns and for the European Commission to ensure the proper protections are put in place to encourage innovation and a competitive marketplace.

[Image illustration by Tom Cheredar via The Drill Down]

Filed under: deals, enterprise, VentureBeat

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Flexible screens, here we come! C3Nano raises $6.7M for next-gen displays

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 02:00 PM PST

C3Nano, a company that makes the technology behind some of those transparent, flexible screens y’all are so crazy about, has just announced a $6.7 million round of funding.

The young company’s carbon hybrid-based ink and film is currently under evaluation with several Asian manufacturing companies.

“For a while it was difficult to talk to investors about OLED or flexible displays, but finally these products are reaching the market,” said C3Nano chief executive Cliff Morris in an email conversation with VentureBeat. “This creates downstream opportunities for novel materials companies such as C3Nano.”

C3Nano produces an interesting line of films and inks that act as transparent conductors. Other materials used in consumer electronics displays are based on carbon nanotubes, which the C3Nano team says have conductivity issues. They say  their own films and inks, however, are “a high-performance, low-cost solution [that is] remarkably robust, making it an attractive option for emerging flexible and stretchable electronics.”

The CEO revealed that the company, which was founded in 2010, currently has paying customers in Korea and Japan. “These are great gateway countries for launching new display technologies,” he said.

Morris said the company is particularly excited by “applications that further integrate the display and the touch sensor into one device. Solution-coated ink such as ours serves those markets well, because normally the device producer is trying to lower their overall cost by either reducing their material and process cost or reduce cost through simplicity of design.” C3Nano, he noted, is able to do both.

The new financing will give the startup the ability to quickly build out its technical staff, complete its initial product, and provide resources for production volumes.

Phoenix Venture Partners led this round of funding with participation from GSR Ventures, an existing investor. To date, the startup has raised more than $10 million. Phoenix Venture Partners’ Dr. Nobi Kambe will join the C3Nano board.

To see the kinds of technology C3Nano is developing in action, check out this CES demo from Samsung:

Image via DVICE.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Pinterest keeps and engages members better than Twitter, data shows (exclusive)

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 01:46 PM PST

To pin or not to pin: That is not the question on Pinterest.

In fact, according to data gathered by e-commerce analytics platform RJMetrics, Pinterest retains a remarkably high percentage of new users who go on to use the site at high rates and stay active on the site long after they’ve joined.

Pinterest is the digital pin-board site that has attracted droves of arts-and-crafts enthusiasts (many of them women, but some of them rich British men) who frequently “pin” products, recipes, and fashion finds to their personalized boards. The startup has kept quiet on its fast-track to Internet fame, but, thanks to third-party analysts, we’re learning more about the reasons behind its rapid rise.

In a report published Wednesday, shared exclusively with VentureBeat, RJMetrics founder and CEO Robert Moore looks at the behaviors and activities of the startup’s members. The data show that Pinterest retains and engages users two to three times more efficiently than Twitter did at the same time in its history. What’s more, the pins represent a ide diversity of content spread across a smattering of sites. Arguably most intriguing, however, is that 80 percent of all pins are re-pins, meaning that an overwhelming majority of content shared on site is recycled between users.

“Pinterest is conducive to sharing,” Moore said in an interview with VentureBeat. “There’s a very low barrier to sharing [pins] with everyone who is following you,” Moore said of the re-pinning phenomenon.

The site, he added, is structured so that members become creators themselves by “liking” the pins of the people they follow. The end result is a powerful network effect that eclipses the retweeting activities of Twitter users. For comparison, just 1.4 percent of tweets were retweets at a similar time in Twitter's history, according to another study.

Moore and RJMetrics also looked at the content behind pins, and the data tell a story that might be the opposite what you would expect. Instead of pins pointing predominantly to a single source, such as Etsy or Amazon, as has been theorized, pins feature a diversity of content from more than 100,000 different sources. Etsy is indeed the most popular domain and powers just over 3 percent of all pins, but the low percentage came as a shock to Moore.

“There is a high correlation between Pinterest usage and Etsy usage, but I was expecting a much higher percentage,” Moore said. “There is an extremely long-tail effect at work here … and Pinterest is not dependent on any one platform.”

Google ranks second, accounting for around 3 percent of pins, but most Google links point to Google Image Search results, which, as the report points out, should really be attributed to third-party domains where those images originate. Flickr is the source behind 2.5 percent of pins, Tumblr represents 1.1 percent, and image gallery site weheartit.com accounts for 1 percent of pins. Amazon cracks the top 20 list, but ekes out less than half a percent.

The data also highlights how pinning activities remain consistent over time, making Pinterest unique among social networking sites, which usually see much higher natural attrition rates. The net attrition rate on Pinterest is close to 0 percent, RJMetrics found.

“This either means that no one who starts using Pinterest ever stops or — more likely — that users who continue to use Pinterest become so much more engaged over time that their activities fully make up for those of any users who leave,” Moore concludes in the report.

Altogether, the findings tell the tale of a startup that is anything but a flash in a pan. “This is evidence that Pinterest can do some pretty amazing things and grow really large in size,” Moore said. “This is not a Chatroulette … once people start using it, they don’t stop.”

Pinterest, Moore added, has the potential to grow to hundreds of millions of members, and fast.

Moore speculates that the young company will implement a more lucrative system than affiliate link-swapping for cashing in on the pinning activities of its highly engaged members. He believes it could easily enable members to purchase products featured in pins directly on the Pinterest site. This, he argued, would make Pinterest a more commercially viable application than Twitter, which is much older and larger. Twitter, however, may be forced to monetize in a way that could negatively affect the user experience, such as by adding ads to the stream of tweets viewed by its users.

RJMetrics collected and analyzed nearly 1 million pins from a random sampling of Pinterest users to arrive at its conclusions. The company is confident that its sample group is representative of the larger Pinterest population.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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How one dev used 90% of his Windows Phone code to port a game to Windows 8

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 01:13 PM PST

We’ve been hearing for some time that Microsoft is aiming to make developing apps across Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 dead simple, but it’s another thing entirely to see that in action.

Rick Walrond, developer of the Windows Phone word game AlphaDrops, reports that he was able to use 90 percent of his original code when porting the game over to Windows 8. You can take a look at the port in action below.

Walrond says that he managed to complete the port in just two weeks, though for now it only supports the single player mode of AlphaDrops. It’s a sign that other Windows Phone app developers could easily reuse their code on Windows 8, and it’s also the sort of thing that could attract more developers to Microsoft’s struggling mobile platform.

“The good news for existing Windows Phone Silverlight developers is that the underlying code is very similar,” Walrond said in an e-mail interview with VentureBeat. “I suspect that if you have an XNA game [the Windows phone development environment for more graphics intensive games] that it wouldn’t be that easy, but developers will save a lot of time when porting from Windows Phone Silverlight. I was able to wire up the Windows 8 App to the exact same web services and databases which would allow for cross-platform competition and leader boards.”

Still, the Windows 8 development process wasn’t entirely rosy for Walrond. He says that the development environment was “buggy and incomplete,” and that he was only able to implement some of the features he wanted in the app by using HTML and Javascript (which Microsoft is pushing for in Windows 8 apps).

I asked Walrond if there’s a chance Microsoft will ever consider making it easy for devs to port apps from Windows 8 back to Windows Phone.

“In terms of porting from Windows 8 to Windows Phone, things begin to get interesting,” he said. “Remember that Microsoft is pushing HTML/Javascript. I suspect that Microsoft will add this combination to Windows Phone as well and also with the introduction of Visual Studio 11, I’m hoping they will also add more of the Asynchronous programming functionality to the Windows Phone dev kit. If they do these two things, porting from Windows 8 to Windows Phone will be dead simple with the exception of user interface and resource differences. But with HTML/Javascript, porting from other platforms including the web may be just as easy”

As far as things stand today, Walrond says he’d likely be able to use a decent amount of his code if he first started building AlphaDrops on Windows 8 and then ported it to Windows Phone.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Google+ scores Digital Chocolate’s Gangs of Boomtown as an exclusive social game

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 01:11 PM PST

Digital Chocolate is launching its new social game Gangs of Boomtown as an exclusive title for Google+. The title is the third that Digital Chocolate, the game company headed by Trip Hawkins, has made for Google’s social network. But it is the first that will be exclusive to Google+ for 30 days.

Google needs to get exclusives like this one to compete with Facebook, which has huge numbers of unique social games on its platform. To get more exclusives, Google is helping to promote exclusive games on its network. It is also charging a smaller commission — 5 percent vs. 30 percent — on virtual goods transactions on Google+ compared to Facebook.

Punit Soni, games lead for Google+, said, “Gangs of Boomtown marks the first exclusive game from Digital Chocolate to launch on Google+. We’re happy to see more of their engaging, high-quality games debuting on Google+. We think our users will really enjoy playing Boomtown.”

Google now has 38 games on Google+, including three exclusives (The Godfather: Five Families, Pirates: Tides of Fortune, and now Gangs of Boomtown). Facebook, by comparison, has thousands of games.

In the game, you start out at Boomtown, a mining town that has fallen prey to the ruthless Assassins Gang. They burnt the town to the ground and murdered your family. You have to save the sheriff by punching out some gang members and taking their loot. You grab a gun and shoot the rest and start repairing the town. The game has reasonably good sound effects, but the animations are pretty ordinary. Players can share their achievements with certain game-oriented circles, but notifications are kept to a minimum.

It’s not a huge coup, as the exclusive is just for a month. But once someone starts playing a game, they’re likely to keep playing it on the same platform. This is the sort of game that grabs the attention of players on social networks. And it’s nice to see a Western social game, since we’re overloaded with Mafia games. It should help Google score even more exclusives in the future.

Mark Dooley, a spokesman for Digital Chocolate, said the company has been working on the title for a while. The game’s Western genre is a wide open opportunity on Facebook. Digital Chocolate’s Helsinki studio, which also made Zombie Lane and Army Attack, developed Gangs of Boomtown.

Filed under: games, social

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Finally, Apple will enforce its rules about apps uploading your data

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 01:07 PM PST

Address book

Apple has finally weighed in on the widespread practice of apps uploading all the data from your address book to their servers: Apple doesn’t like it. At least, not without you granting explicit permission to the app first.

Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Foodspotting, Yelp, Path, and Gowalla have been uploading your contact data, often without making it clear that’s what they’re doing. According to Apple, if those apps aren’t explicit about what they’re doing, they’re in violation of Apple’s App Store rules.

"Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines," Apple said in a statement provided to VentureBeat. "We’re working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.”

The guidelines do not, however, specify any information about encrypting or hashing the data to secure it during the transfer process. The guidelines also say nothing about whether the company can store the data on its servers after uploading it. As long as an app company provides information about how the information will be used, it’s in the clear.

Apple’s guideline 17.1 states that “Apps cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user’s prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used.”

When asked if Apple planned to increase the security measures to protect users’ data during uploads, Apple had no comment.

The story started when Path, a photo-centric social app, was caught sending users’ address book information to their servers and not offering an opt-in upon starting the app. Path issued an apology after the story became widespread, after explaining that the address book was only used to help people find friends on Path.

Since Apple’s guidelines were already in place, any application uploading data like this would be in violation of Apple’s policies. It seems, however, Apple has not been enforcing the issue during its intensive review process. The unspecified “future software release” will presumably put some bigger stakes into the ground, making its rules harder to bypass.

Some of the apps in question have said that they do not store the actual data, but the transfer process still opens the opportunity for cyber criminals to intercept transmissions. Congress recently got involved and is demanding that Apple answer questions about its guidelines.

“This incident raises questions about whether Apple's iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts," congress members G.K. Butterfield and Henry Waxman wrote Wednesday in a letter addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

According to a Congressional spokesperson, Apple has not currently responded to the letter.

Rolodex image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Join Dean Takahashi’s live interview on Spreecast at 2:30 pm PST

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 12:51 PM PST

Join Dean Takahashi as he does an interview with Zaw Thet on Spreecast today at 2:30 pm. Zaw and Dean will talk about what it’s like to be a veteran tech writer in Silicon Valley.

Dean is the lead writer for GamesBeat at VentureBeat and is part of a game trio that include Dan “Shoe” Hsu, editor in chief of GamesBeat, and Sebastian Haley, GamesBeat review editor and executive video producer. They’re ramping up coverage of games, but Dean continues to write about a number of general tech subjects as well as beats such as chips and hardware.

At 2:30 pm, you can watch the Spreecast on the link below and leave comments as the video interview proceeds. You can also watch it later on Spreecast.com.


Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Prepare for a long wait: Motorola reveals disappointing Android 4.0 roadmap

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 12:31 PM PST


If you’ve got a new Motorola smartphone, prepare for some disappointing news. Motorola is taking its sweet time updating its latest devices to the latest Android 4.0 mobile operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich.

Android fragmentation, with devices all running different versions of the OS, is still a rampant problem that means each phone owner with Android has different capabilities. And now, some apps and features only work for Ice Cream Sandwich, the newest version of Android that includes a haltingly beautiful design and many new features like facial recognition unlocking.

According to Motorola’s just-released roadmap, which shows the software update schedule for its phones and tablets, many devices won’t even see Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) until the third quarter of 2012.

The list so far indicates that the Motorola Xoom Family Edition will receive ICS in the second quarter of the year. The Atrix 2, Atrix 4G, Photon 4G, Xyboard 8.2, and Xyboard 10.1 will see the update to ICS in the third quarter.

As for some of the most popular and recent smartphones Motorola has put out, we have no idea when their updates will roll out. The Droid 3, Droid 4, Droid Bionic, Droid Razr, Droid Razr Maxx, Droid X2, and many others are listed as “in evaluation and planning,” so we wouldn’t expect those to see updates until at least the third quarter or later.

If you scroll down the list even further, you can see a graveyard of other unsupported Android devices that never saw meaningful late-stage updates. Some of the worst offenders include the Cliq XT with Android 1.5, the Devour at Android 1.6, and the Milestone at Android 2.1. Those poor phones.

You can view the full list of Motorola’s planned updates in the United States below:


Android Ice Cream Sandwich photo: Abul Hussain/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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Pinterest, Fab, and other apps see huge growth using Facebook Actions

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 12:09 PM PST

In the wake of Facebook’s implementation of Actions, a new way for third-party applications to get their data into your Timeline, many apps are seeing staggering new growth stats.

Already-popular traffic hounds such as Pinterest, Fab.com, Foodspotting, Pose, and several others are reporting increases in new visitors, new signups, and the time each user spends on the site, all in direct relation to their Facebook Actions.

As a brief refresher, Actions allow apps to publish more detailed information to your Facebook Timeline. Instead of showing that you “Liked” a page or commented on activity, your Timeline might show that you listened to a song, tried a new restaurant dish, or bought an article of clothing. These actions give your friends (and big brands and advertisers) a much more accurate picture of your interests, the things you have, the things you want, and the decisions you’re likely to make in the future.

And since the actions are a lot more interesting and colorful than a simple “Like,” they’re driving curious new eyeballs to the lifestyle apps in question.

For example, Pinterest launched its Actions-packed Timeline tools around a month ago. Since then, the number of Facebook users navigating over to Pinterest has grown by more than 60 percent each day.

Team members from fashion app Pose said they’ve seen daily Internet and mobile signups increase five-times over since they launched Timeline Actions. And design-focused e-commerce site Fab.com has experienced a 50 percent increase in traffic from Facebook since its own Timeline Actions integration.

On the arts and entertainment side of things, art-discovery site Artfinder has experienced a 60 percent jump in time spent on the site by new visitors coming from Facebook.

Food apps Foodspotting and Foodily are also seeing growth directly related to Facebook Actions. Foodspotting, which lets users share the dishes they tried and loved in sweet summaries in the Timeline, saw a threefold increase in visits and activities shared on Facebook. Food and recipe site Foodily saw a fourfold increase in new users.

“These apps have a few things in common,” wrote a Facebook spokesperson in a statement to VentureBeat.

“They're built around something people care about and identify with, they enable people to share things they want their friends to see, and they provide easy ways to control the social experience.”

Filed under: social

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