17 February, 2012



GamesBeat Only weekly roundup

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 09:16 AM PST

Here's some of the stories that ran only on GamesBeat this week. We're running more stories exclusively on the GamesBeat section of VentureBeat now, particularly when the stories are mainly of interest to game readers. The broader interest stories are running on VentureBeat as well. And please visit the GamesBeat section to catch up on game news. We're ramping up our game coverage, so you'll find more and more news at GamesBeat. Whatever you do, don’t miss Sebastian Haley’s video interview with comedian Jay Mohr (pictured above) from the DICE Summit. We’ve also published a number of reviews this week on Twisted Metal and some of the first PlayStation Vita games.

Here's some of the stories that appeared exclusively on GamesBeat:

Modern Warfare 3 goes free-to-play for a limited time

NAVGTR announces nominees for 2012 game awards

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

Super Stardust Delta: Disable the gimmicks and enjoy the ride (review)

FIFA Soccer will make you love and hate your PS Vita (review)

Lumines Electronic Symphony is the most enjoyable epileptic seizure you'll ever have (review)

With Valentines over, it's time to move on to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3′s latest map

Twisted Metal is the poster child for the used-games market (review)

Bethesda: Over 2 million Skyrim mods downloaded in one week

History Channel launches Top Shot Facebook game to coincide with TV show premiere

Eat Sleep Play: "Sometimes you have to give them what they don't know they want"

Opinions, tears, and expletives: David Jaffe explains why games shouldn't have stories

Jay Mohr: "Ted Price tried to buy my wife" (video interview)

New details and Outland screens from "World of Warcraft within Minecraft" project (exclusive interview)

The DICE Summit in pictures (photo gallery)

And here’s some of our big stories of the week:

The DeanBeat: Crowd-funding gives hope to mid-size game developers

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

Looking beyond Facebook, Zynga hits 15M daily mobile game users

Zynga teams up with Slingo to publish Bingo-slot-machine hybrid game on Facebook

Prince of Persia creator returns to games with remake of Karateka

Zynga's hybrid zCloud lets it get rid of two out of every three servers

Making Fun joins the hidden-object game fray on Facebook with Hidden Haunts (exclusive)

Why Sony's Shu Yoshida thinks the PlayStation Vita will kill it in the U.S. compared to Japan (interview)

Activision's Eric Hirshberg: Turning games into brands and other non-douche moves (exclusive interview)

Filed under: games

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Intel invests in two Brazilian fashion e-commerce sites

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 08:41 AM PST

Intel Capital, the investment arm of the world’s biggest chip maker, said today it has invested in two Brazilian fashion e-commerce sites Coquelux and Fashion.me.

The move shows that the investment craze around online shopping has moved to the emerging markets of the world, where big audiences await. Brazil is the third-largest PC market in the world and Intel wants it to expand for its own self-interest.

Coquelux is an online shopping club that gives members exclusive access to flash events where they can buy premium and luxury goods at a discount. Fashion.me is a social e-commerce platform where users create custom looks from more than 2 million labels and share them in the Fashion.me network.

Intel Capital has invested in five Brazilian startups in the past year and doubled its team of professionals in the region. Since 1999, Intel Capital has invested $75 million in 25 Brazilian companies.

"Intel Capital began investing in Brazil in 1999 and as one of the first private equity and technology venture capital organizations in Brazil, we long ago recognized the need to stimulate the local creation of unique and compelling online experiences to keep pace with Brazil's rapid internet and technology adoption,” said Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and executive vice-president for Intel, in a statement. “The investments in social commerce site Fashion.me and e-commerce site Coquelux build out critical components of the online shopping ecosystem, offering consumers and fashion brands opportunities to create customized online experiences tailored specifically to interests, needs and cultural preferences.”

Fernando Martins, president of Intel Brazil, said Brazilians spend more time connected to the internet than people in any other country.

Fashion.me, originally byMK, was founded in 2008 and is run by Fl├ívio Pripas, founding partner of Fashion.me. Coquelux offers discounts of 30 percent to 90 percent for members of its online shopping club. The company is run by Pierre Emmanuel Joffre, chief executive and founder, who said it focuses on premium and luxury labels that cater to its members’ lifestyle.

Since 1991, Intel Capital has invested more than 10.4 billion in 1,212 companies in 51 countries. Of those companies, 196 have gone public and 291 were acquired. In 2011, Intel Capital invested $526 million in 89 new and 69 follow-on investments. About 51 percent was invested outside the U.S. and Canada.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Are Macs getting a Retina Display? Apple’s Messages Beta app supports high-res images

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 08:37 AM PST


New information from Apple’s recently launch Messages Beta application for OS X may indicated that the company plans to upgrade its line of Mac computers with a beautiful Retina Display.

The Retina Display offers a much better screen resolution for displaying images, HD video, and more. It’s currently only featured on the iPhone 4 and 4S, but we have heard rumors that the next generation iPad will also sport a Retina Display.

The reason some think Mac computers will also get the Retina Display treatment has to do with the iOS-like “@2x modifier” support for images within the developer resources of Apple’s Messages Beta app, according to Macrumors. On iOS, developers can use this to enable high-pixel density images to take full advantage of the Retina Display.

I’m a bit skeptical of Apple adding a Retina Display to any of its Macs, if not only because the company just released a new $999 27-inch Thunderbolt Display with a 2560 x 1440 screen resolution. Giving Macs a Retina Display would make them superior to the Thunderbolt Display’s screen. However, if Apple did decide to go this route I’d expect that the only model to get the Retina Display treatment would be the MacBook Air. A better screen may help some consumers justify the higher price of the Air over other MacBooks. At the same time, the Air wouldn’t cannibalize sales of Apple’s MacBook Pro, iMac, or Thunderbolt Display.

But putting that aside, this information could have something to do with Apple’s initiative to bring its main operating system more in line with iOS. Since the full release of Messages isn’t due out until the release of Mountain Lion OS X, it’s possible that Apple is trying to get developers to make one single application that can be used on a variety of devices rather than making separate versions of each.

What do you think about Apple adding a Retina Display to Macs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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The DeanBeat: Crowd-funding gives hope to mid-size game developers

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Brian Fargo

Double Fine Productions turned video game funding practices upside down last week when it raised more than $1.75 million through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter in record time. That money will go toward the development of a new adventure game that would otherwise never have been made.

Lack of funding has been putting a squeeze on a lot of mid-sized game development companies, but crowd-funding might turn that trend around.

“This could bring a wonderful dynamic change to our industry,” said Brian Fargo, chief executive of InXile Entertainment, in an interview. “It is a very exciting time to be a developer again.”

Fargo has been making games since the 1980s, first at Electronic Arts, then at his own company Interplay Productions, and now at InXile. He owns a variety of properties that are beloved by gamers who grew up with titles such as The Bard’s Tale. His only problem is that he doesn’t run a gigantic video game publisher.

He recently relaunched The Bard’s Tale — originally developed in 1985 and remade in 2004 — on the iPhone and saw an outpouring of appreciation from nostalgic fans. The game made it into the top 10 ranks on the App Store in December. A full remake of the game might be possible if Fargo can raise the money through crowd-funding sources.

But before he takes on The Bard’s Tale again, Fargo is thinking of dusting off his game Wasteland and funding it through Kickstarter. He wants to hear more fan feedback before starting the funding process, but he is seriously contemplating raising money through the crowd-funding process.To do the game right, he would need more than $1 million.

“In almost every single interview I do, the game press asks me if I’ll ever do Wasteland again,” Fargo said.

The 1988 version of Wasteland was a post-apocalyptic role-playing game with large parties. After it came out, Interplay switched over to making Fallout games as single-player titles But Fargo has wanted to make an online multiplayer version of Wasteland for the Internet, where large parties can come together and play the game. For now, Fargo doesn’t think that Kickstarter is big enough to fund big-budget console games.

Gamers might love a particular franchise so much that they will volunteer their own money to invest in the project. And the feedback that comes from something like Kickstarter could give a developer confidence that their game property has legs. If you try to raise money on Kickstarter and the project goes nowhere, that’s a pretty good indication that nobody wants to play that game.

InXile has a variety of properties that could use funding and 15 employees. Fargo shopped Wasteland around to publishers, but they were risk averse and really wanted to games that had a chance to rake in $1 billion in sales. If he does the project on his own, Fargo can make the game edgier, with a gritty world full of moral dilemmas for the players.

“The game industry has separated itself into the huge blockbuster companies and the independent developers in their garages,” Fargo said. “But it’s pretty hard to be in the middle. Is there any business model left standing for the mid-size developers?”

The important thing about crowd-funding is that it gives game companies in the middle an option that can preserve their creative freedom. Indie game developers might also turn to Kickstarter, but it could prove tough raising a ton of money for a game project if the developer is a relative unknown.

Sana Choudary, chief executive of the game startup accelerator YetiZen, said that she had tried crowd-funding with her accelerator’s startups and had a harder time raising money that way than through a conventional investing or publishing deal.

“Most crowd-funding platforms will tell you that the initial impetus must come from the developer’s own network,” Choudary said. “What they don’t tell you is to get to the point where they push the game to their own private lists of backers you need a lot of backing activity. This might still be the best route to go for traditional game developers and lifestyle businesses not wanting to lose control but the skills that often allow some developers to succeed at this kind of marketing are different than the type of skills needed to make game businesses” worthy of an exit.

On the other hand, famous game developers with older properties that can be remade into new games might prove very popular.

“Crowd-funding might give a second life to a whole class of companies,” Fargo said. “You can get a lot more creativity and innovation and you don’t have to kowtow to a major publisher.”

Filed under: games

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Anonymous says ACTA must be killed with fire, hacks U.S. government websites

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 07:39 AM PST

Anonymous Hack

A handful of official U.S. government websites were hacked today in protest of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a highly controversial trade agreement largely cooked up by media companies to protect their precious copyrighted content from being pirated online.

The hacktivist group Anonymous is believed to be responsible for the attack. According to the International Business Times, the group posted a strongly worded anti-ACTA statement as well as an anti-ACTA PSA video from YouTube (embedded below) to business.ftc.gov, consumer.gov, and the National Consumer Protection Week official site (ncpw.gov).

For those who aren’t familiar with the trade agreement, ACTA is an international treaty aimed at giving countries the ability to stop copyright infringement and other forms of intellectual property theft — sort of a standard framework so that all countries around the world can charge and prosecute digital piracy. However, many Europeans (as well as Americans to a lesser extent) are against the trade agreement because it doesn’t directly address or stop piracy in a meaningful way. That’s on top of the fact that most government officials signed (or attempted to) the agreement in secrecy, without input from public discourse, as VentureBeat’s Dylan Tweney pointed out previously. More recently, the German government formally refused to sign ACTA.

The affected government websites are all offline this morning, but we’ve pasted a portion of Anonymous’ anti-ACTA statement below. If you’re in a hurry, Anonymous was kind enough to include a TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) line at the bottom, which reads “ACTA is a downright shitty act. We must kill it. With fire.”

“Even more bothersome than your complete lack of competence in maintaining your own fucking websites and serving the citizens you are supposed to be protecting, is the US federal government's support of ACTA. You really want to empower copyright holders to demand that users who violate IP rights (with no legal process) have their Internet connections terminated? You really want to allow a country with an oppressive Internet censorship regime to demand under the treaty that an ISP in another country remove site content? Well, we have a critical warning for you, and we suggest you read the next few paragraphs very, very closely.

If ACTA is signed by all participating negotiating countries, you can rest assured that Antisec will bring a fucking mega-uber-awesome war that rain torrential hellfire down on all enemies of free speech, privacy and internet freedom. We will systematically knock all evil corporations and governments off of our internet.”

Filed under: media, security, VentureBeat

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Under increasing scrutiny, Apple supplier Foxconn raises worker wages by 16-25%

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 06:26 AM PST

In a statement released Friday, the Taiwan based manufacturing giant Foxconn said that base pay for junior workers was being raised to 1800 yuan per month and could go up to 2500 for those who passed a technical exmination, reports Reutuers.

“As a top manufacturing company in China, the basic salary of junior workers in all of Foxconn’s China factories is already far higher than the minimum wage set by all local governments,” the company’s statement said. “We will provide more training opportunities and learning time, and will continuously enhance technology, efficiency and salary, so as to set a good example for the Chinese manufacturing industry.”

1800 yuan works out to around $280 a month. This is the third raise workers have received since the beginning of 2010.

The working conditions at Foxconn came under attack recently in a long article from The New York Times. Apple CEO Tim Cook at first responded by calling the reports “offensive” in a letter to employees that was leaked to the press. But earlier this week, Apple changed its tune, calling for a new series of independent investigation into Foxconn by the Washington D.C. based Fair Labor Association, a group partially funded by Apple.

Those new inspections are already being called into question, however, after the president of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, praised the conditions at Foxconn, saying after only a few days that "facilities are first-class" and "Foxconn is really not a sweatshop."

"Generally, in a labor rights investigation, the findings come after the evidence is gathered, not the other way around," Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, told The New York Times."I'm amazed that the F.L.A. would give one of the most notoriously abusive factories in the world a clean bill of health — based, it appears, on nothing more than a guided tour provided by the owner.”

Filed under: mobile

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Why iCloud integration on Apple’s Mountain Lion OS fails

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 06:10 AM PST


Apple is making a big deal about how its newly-announced Mountain Lion operating system comes with built-in iCloud syncing and storage. But if you cut through the deafening hype, iCloud is still a woefully limited solution that most consumers and businesses should not take seriously yet.

As much as I commend Apple for prioritizing the cloud by integrating iCloud into Mountain Lion, the company is only shining a bright spotlight on how it’s still way behind the competition when it comes to cloud services. Competitors such as Dropbox, Box, and SugarSync all have a serious edge on iCloud when it comes to file management, platform availability, and sharing files. Google is also likely to enter this fray soon with its own Drive cloud storage product, which we expect to become competitive, too.

iCloud background

Before we delve into just how iCloud is lacking, a little more background on the service: iCloud essentially helps complete Steve Jobs’ vision of a truly connected Apple ecosystem. iCloud users have an automated system for backing up photos, documents, bookmarks, and other files — as long as they stay within Apple hardware and software. To start an iCloud account, you can enable the service in iOS 5 on an iPhone or iPad or inside of Lion OS X. There is also an undercooked Windows-based control panel that works for Vista and Windows 7 OSes. More than 100 million Apple users have signed up for iCloud thus far.

Now, iCloud is getting more hype than before because it will be integrated inside Apple’s next OS. iCloud gets name-checked in the third sentence of Apple’s press release announcing the new Mountain Lion OS, saying, “Mountain Lion is the first OS X release built with iCloud in mind for easy setup and integration with apps.” The company also notes: “Mountain Lion uses your Apple ID to automatically set up Contacts, Mail, Calendar, Messages, FaceTime, and Find My Mac. The new iCloud Documents pushes any changes to all your devices so documents are always up to date, and a new API helps developers make document-based apps work with iCloud.”

Sounds pretty decent so far, right? Yes, until you realize the limitations. First, to get any serious benefit, you must have all Apple devices and not a mix like the majority of users. Those documents that sync across your Apple devices, at this point, have to be from Apple’s iWork suite, which not everyone has or wants to use. And, how long before the document creation or editing app you want to use will have iCloud support? Who knows.

Limited device support

In terms of helping consumers with devices, iCloud is wildly incomplete. Let’s compare iCloud to Dropbox for a moment, just for clarity’s sake. Dropbox, which was once a service Steve Jobs wanted to buy, installs its software on nearly any device (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, etc.) and keeps files available no matter where you access them. I’ll admit Dropbox isn’t perfect — having a “cloud” service taking physical storage space on my computer is a bit frustrating — but it is one of the best solutions available on the market.

But iCloud doesn’t work across platforms, generally keeping you locked inside Apple’s garden. If you have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus and a MacBook Air, for example, iCloud can’t help you stay in sync. If you have an iPhone and a Windows 7 desktop (an extremely common combination), you can’t reap the full benefits of the pairing, even though there is minor Windows access. Basically, to get the best iCloud experience, you best buy an iPhone and a Mac.

Dropbox was unable to provide anyone to talk in-depth about iCloud on short notice, but the company did at least tell me it appreciates what Apple has accomplished but feels its solution is much more complete. “iCloud is a step forward for Apple, but what our tens of millions of users love is that unlike iCloud, Dropbox keeps all your files in one place and lets you access and share them from anywhere,” the company said in a statement to VentureBeat. “Our users also love that Dropbox works with all kinds of devices and apps, not just those from Apple.”

Non-starter for enterprise

And if you delve into the enterprise realm, iCloud is a complete non-starter. Sitting next to enterprise-cloud-solution Box, for example, iCloud is lacking so severely that Box CEO Aaron Levie told me it is acting like a marketing platform to interest users in cloud solutions that it can’t deliver.

“On the enterprise side, iCloud has never been a threat,” Levie said. “Apple doesn’t deliberately go after businesses with this. 90 percent of computers in the enterprise are Windows, while maybe 5 percent of phones are running Windows. You fundamentally have to be open and device-agnostic.”

The often-outspoken Levie makes the case that iCloud is a personal solution only, which is fine for his Apple-loving mother. Levie said it is fine for backing up your photos and music, but when it comes to sharing files with a URL or passing a document back-and-forth, you’re out of luck.

“iCloud is remarkably unsophisticated for sharing and collaboration,” he said. “At this point, iCloud is just data floating between applications.”

Final thoughts

Unquestionably, iCloud is an important product for Apple the company and Apple the ecosystem. But until it gives users access to better file management, sharing tools, and multi-platform functionality, the solution is still short-sighted and over-praised.

I have no doubt the service will get better during the course of the next year. Apple is walking a fine line to meet the needs of novices and power users alike, and it will make steady improvements, as it does with all its software. It’s unlikely Apple will provide iCloud support for rival mobile OSes like Android or Windows Phone 7, but I do believe it will offer more powerful support for Windows 7 and maybe even Windows 8, mostly because it knows how hard it would be to get people to stop using PCs.

“When Tim Cook says this is a long-term bet for Apple, I believe him,” Levie said.

Storm clouds photo: MAMJODH/Flickr

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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The Cookie Monster returns! Google caught tracking Safari users on Apple’s iOS

Posted: 17 Feb 2012 04:56 AM PST

via Flickr user bsabarnowl

Welcome to another edition of yellow journalism with Julia Angwin of The Wall Street Journal. The reporter who brought you the “What They Know” series has got Google with its pants down. The WSJ found that Google managed to get temporary tracking cookies assigned to people using Safarion the iPhone and iPad, even though both Apple and Google told consumers that Safari, by default, blocked this kind of activity.

When it was informed of this story, Google changed its approach and deleted text from its website, which makes it look very guilty.

At the risk of being seen as an apologist for culture of tracking, the dark side of web supported by advertising (that’s how Google pays the bills, remember), this story glosses over a lot of important details in its rush to judgement. The story’s first paragrpah declares that Google “tricked” Apple’s software into letting them track users, which sounds pretty dark on the face of it.

John Battelle has an interesting take on this, “Google and many others have figured out ways to get around Apple's default settings on Safari in iOS – the only browser that comes with iOS, a browser that, in my experience, has never asked me what kind of privacy settings I wanted, nor did it ask if I wanted to share my data with anyone else (I do, it turns out, for any number of perfectly good reasons). Apple assumes that I agree with Apple's point of view on "privacy," which, I must say, is ridiculous on its face, because the idea of a large corporation (Apple is the largest, in fact) determining in advance what I might want to do with my data is pretty much the opposite of privacy.”

Oh, and here’s another interesting tidbit. There appears to be two version of this story floating around on the WSJ’s website. One is co-bylined by Julia Angwin and Jennifer Valentino-Devries. That’s the story currently causing an uproar. Then there is another piece by Valentino-DeVries which covers the exact same material, but dives into more technical detail. The last paragraph of that story reads, “An update to the software that underlies Safari has closed the loophole that allows cookies to be set after the automatic submission of invisible forms. Future public versions of Safari could incorporate that update. The people who handled the proposed change, according to software documents: two engineers at Google.”

That update took place seven months ago.

At Google, one hand often doesn’t know what the other is doing. While the advertising team was exploiting a loophole to get tracking cookies in Safari, another set of Google engineers were closing the loophole. That seems like a fact worth mentioning, especially since they squashed this bug in Safari’s settings more than half a year before this story came out.

Filed under: mobile

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Twitter partners with AmEx to tackle local ad market

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 08:25 PM PST

Twitter has announced a new partnership with American Express to allow small businesses to advertise on the popular social network. The program is due to launch in late March for American Express cardholders and merchants.

Until now, advertisers have had to work with Twitter’s team. This has limited the number of advertisers Twitter could successfully scale to.

If done right, this partnership represents a significant threat to recommendations site Yelp, which is on its road to IPO. As I wrote earlier, Yelp charges some merchants a $600 CPM for advertising that is often lacking in any relevance to the business.

Yelp also requires a commitment of at least three months and charges early termination fees for businesses that don’t meet their commitment. These rates and conditions are so bad that I can’t recommend Yelp for any business.

On the other hand, I recommend that every small business create a Twitter account to connect with their existing customers.

While Yelp’s model most closely resembles a Yellow Pages model, early indications are that Twitter’s product will be more performance driven and accountable.

A number of startups have been pushing small businesses to use their services for new customer acquisition. But tools from companies like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp are not cost effective.

Many small businesses will do just fine using Twitter’s free accounts to build loyalty. But Twitter’s self-service platform offers the promise of a cost-effective new customer acquisition vehicle. Businesses will be able to pay for each new follower and build an ongoing relationship with those consumers.

I would expect that, over time, consumers will be able to load electronic offers onto their American Express card directly from a tweet. This would open the door to redemption-based advertising, where advertisers are only billed when an ad delivers a new customer.

I would also like to see Twitter develop a localized version of its user recommendations; when someone is first signing up for a Twitter account, they can enter a location and get a list of recommended businesses to follow.

There are two important keys to success with small businesses:

  • Simplicity of the user interface. Complex bidding and keyword management won’t work. An interface with a lot of form fields won’t work.
  • Marketing. Small businesses need to be aware of the product offering. This is an area where American Express can help, with its large merchant base. American Express is also funding $100 in marketing credit for the first 10,000 eligible cardholders and merchants.

Without both of these in place, a self-serve product won’t work. A third important factor is scale — and only Twitter, Facebook, and Google have the scale that is necessary for success with self-serve in the highly fragmented local market.

The companies that have reached a reasonable degree of success with small businesses have mastered both. Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp all work with a very simple user interface — the telephone. You don’t have to use a computer to manage their ads. They also have an effective marketing program — someone calls you.

But because dialing for dollars is expensive and takes a large team, their marketing programs are also expensive with large commitments.

Twitter and American Express have the potential to deliver better targeted prospects for far less money.

Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social, and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Linden Lab acquires LittleTextPeople for new projects this year

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 07:48 PM PST

Anyone remember Linden Lab? How about its game, Second Life? Well, it was the talk of the middle of the last decade (and winner of a 2008 Emmy award), and it’s making moves again. It’s just announced the acquisition of interactive fiction game studio LittleTextPeople.

What this means is that Linden Lab is now able to diversify its gaming offerings, using LittleTextPeople to support that development effort.

"LittleTextPeople brings a depth and breadth of AI and interactive story development expertise that is a great fit for Linden Lab as we launch multiple new products," said Rod Humble, Linden Lab’s relatively new CEO. "The result of this investment will be a new type of digital entertainment that modernizes the novel as a shared story-telling experience."

The plans, according to the press release, include several new stand-alone projects to be released this year. This is in contrast to the company’s last few acquisitions, like Mark Interactive, XstreetSL, and OnRez, in which the technology was used to enhance Second Life itself.

Perhaps with the new acquisition, Linden Lab is looking for another Emmy Award? LittleTextPeople was founded to simulate and model social practices as well as specific personalities, so perhaps this does have application to an avatar-based gaming system, after all.

"Yes, Richard [Evans] and I now work for Linden Lab, putting our expertise towards new stand-alone products, said Emily Short, Chief Textual Officer of LittleTextPeople, in an email this afternoon. “It’s been a very exciting process, and I’m really looking forward to being able to share with the world what we’re working on.”

Only time will tell, of course, if this results in new games, new interactive fiction, new Second Life features, or an amalgamation of all three.

Linden Lab, based in San Francisco, Calif. Its investors include Globespan Capital Partners, Benchmark Capital, Catamount Ventures, and Jeff Bezos.

Filed under: deals, games, VentureBeat

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Minecraft official LEGO set ready for pre-order

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 07:35 PM PST

More than 5 million people have been playing with virtual building blocks in Minecraft. This summer, they’ll get the opportunity to manually assemble 480 physical pieces with LEGO Minecraft Micro World. The $34.99 toy set comes with four customizable vignettes of Minecraft-themed LEGO pieces and two adorable figures, game character Steve and a Creeper (this monster’s tendency to spontaneously explode remains limited to the computer game).

Danish toy company LEGO published new details and images of its collaboration with Swedish Minecraft developer Mojang. The project started in December 2011 with a pitch to LEGO CUUSOO, a community platform where fans submit ideas for new LEGO sets. Minecraft quickly gained the required 10,000 supporters and became the first CUUSOO submission to pass the review to become a LEGO product.

LEGO Minecraft Micro World can be pre-ordered at the Jinx online store. The idea owner of each realized LEGO CUUSOO project will receive 1% of the total net sales of the product. Mojang has already announced that it will donate its proceeds to charity.

Originally envisioned for the larger 2×2 LEGO brick scale, the final set will be using 1×1 plates with a tile on top for each Minecraft building block. The result is not a perfect cube like in the game, but “the best approximation at the chosen scale”, according to LEGO. Model designer Bjarne Panduro Tveskov added "[it] packs the most Minecraft DNA into the model per LEGO brick."

Real-world merchandise based on computer game IPs is nothing new and can generate substantial revenues. A whole series of action figures is based on Microsoft’s Halo franchise, and Angry Birds publisher Rovio has been particularly aggressive with marketing toys and related products based on its popular game. LEGO and Minecraft seem to be a particularly good fit, as they both have creation and building at their core.

LEGO’s own forays into the computer game market have seen mixed results. The company just shut down its massively multiplayer online (MMO) game LEGO Universe but has seen success with action-adventures based on other IPs. The LEGO group just extended its deal with Lucasfilm to produce LEGO Star Wars computer games for another 10 years.

Filed under: games

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Flickr co-founder announces newest startup & newest funding

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 05:42 PM PST

Caterina Fake (pictured), who previously co-founded photo-sharing megalith Flickr, has just taken the wraps off Pinwheel, her brand-new app.

Pinwheel is currently in private beta; Fake says it’s a way to “find and leave notes all over the world… A note, like a photo, can be a container for all kinds of things. It is the perfect social object.”

The notes users create are pinned to locations. They can be public, private, or shared, either with one person or with an entire group. You can organize your notes into sets, making for great social travelogues or linked-data memoirs.

Also, users will be able to follow activity from specific people and in specific places; they can also follow sets. Following breeds mobile notifications, of course, which Fake says are coming soon.

“Stories, advice, jokes, diatribes, information, memories, facts, advertisements, love letters, grocery lists, and manifestoes can all be put into a note,” Fake concluded. “It is the perfectly constrained, perfectly open thing that you can make into what you want.”

Fake also said she’s got her monetization strategy on lock in the form of sponsored notes. As several location-based apps have already proved, venue-tagged data makes for some mighty attractive local advertising for brands large and small.

We’re including a screenshot or two of the app below.

The startup just closed a round of funding led by Redpoint Ventures with participation from True Ventures, Betaworks, Founder Collective, SV Angel, Obvious Corp, and a few angel investors, as well. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The startup is headquartered in the lovely Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco and is currently hiring iOS developers and content interns.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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66 percent of Brits are scared of being without their phone

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 05:11 PM PST

Are you addicted to your phone? Fearful of loosing your cell signal or having your battery die? You may suffer from nomophobia, the fear of being without your phone. A new study revealed that 66 percent of people in the United Kingom suffer from nomophobia.

Discovered in 2008, nomophobia is defined as the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. When first studied, the phenomenon afflicted 53 percent of respondents. Now, that number has grown to 66 percent, according to a survey conducted by SecurEnvoy, a mobile security service.

Between the genders, women suffer more; 71 percent compared to 61 percent of men. But, men are much more likely to have two phones — compensating for their phobia by having a backup phone. Younger populations are more susceptible too; 77% of 18 to 24 year olds survey takers related to nomophobia.

You have to take these findings with a grain of salt, especially since they come from a mobile security company. But this type of behavior is becoming common. Most of us know at least one person who constantly has their phone by their side. MTV’s real-life documentary series “True Life” even ran an episode about people addicted to text messaging.

Other technology phobias exist too. You can be technophobic (fearful of all advanced technology), ipovlopsychophobic (fear of having your picture taken), or suffer from logizomechanophobia (the fear of computers). There is an opposite of nomophobia too, its called telephonophobia and if you suffer, you are terrified of talking on the phone.

Part of me wants to say that I’ll believe nomophobia exists when I see it in the DSM V, but part of me understands that people suffer from this daily. Excuse me while I go obsessively check my phone to make sure I haven’t lost my signal and my battery is still strong.

Women with phone addiction image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, offBeat

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Apple gets Hong Kong court’s favor in “iPad” trademark suit

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 04:56 PM PST


A Chinese court is leaning in favor of Apple in a convoluted case over who holds the right to use the term “iPad” in that country.

Chinese manufacturer Proview Technology had owned the trademark, but it failed to transfer the trademarks for “iPad” to Apple, which claimed to have purchased the product name years ago.

“We bought Proview’s worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago,” according to a statement from Apple. “Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple, and a Hong Kong court has sided with Apple in this matter.”

Proview Technology says it has owned the trademark since 2001, but Apple says it made a deal to buy the trademark before the iPad was ever released.

Proview has locations in Taiwan, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Hong Kong and Europe, with its Taiwan office acting as Proview Electronics, an affiliate of Proview. The company says Apple bought the trademark from its Taiwan entity. Since the patent belongs to the Shenzhen office, Proview did not feel the need to honor the agreement.

Judge Hon Poon of the High Court in Hong Kong, however, formally disagreed with that assessment.

All Proview’s entities are run by Yang Rongshan, who was the chairman and chief executive of the company until it went bankrupt in August 2010.

According to court documents, the deal between Apple and Proview occured in December 2009, with the “iPad” moniker selling for around $55,000. Apple says it was led to believe all of the Chinese trademarks for “iPad” existed with Proview Electronics, the Taiwanese entity, as proprieter and thus were due the transfer of ownership.

When the iPad was released, Apple found that some of the trademarks existed under Proview Shenzhen and reported it as a “mistake,” after which Proview demanded Apple pay $10 million for the trademark. China Daily reports a lawyer for Proview suggested that Apple either pay the sum requested by Proview or find another name for the iPad.

The financial clues leading up to Proview’s bankruptcy emerged, including a stop on the sale of its stock on the Hong Kong stock exchange. And since all the Proview entities existed under Yang Rongshan, Judge Poon called foul:

“Here, the conduct of all the defendants demonstrate that they have combined together with the common intention of injuring Apple and IP Application by acting in breach of the Agreement. Proview Holdings, Proview Electronics and Proview Shenzhen, all clearly under Yang’s control, have refused to take any steps to ensure compliance with the Agreement so that the China Trademarks are properly assigned or transferred to IP Application (Apple’s third party trademark purchaser). Instead, they attempted to exploit the situation as a business opportunity for the Proview Group by seeking an amount of $10,000,000 from Apple.”

He went on to say, “It is plain the defendants had the necessary intent to injure Apple.. and their conduct will cause damage to them. Accordingly, I am satisfied that there is clearly a serious question to be tried for the claim of conspiracy.”

hat tip All Things D

Filed under: mobile

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Media companies cling to Facebook, release social news apps

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 04:42 PM PST

Tomorrow’s news organization will be the one that reaches the more than 845 million monthly active users on Facebook, or at least that’s the prediction 11 different media companies are making today.

MTV News, the Today Show, The Daily Show, CMT, MSNBC, Buzzfeed, Mashable, and CBS local affiliates in Los Angeles and New York are among the slew of new and old media organizations releasing news-themed Facebook applications Thursday.

The social news applications are similar in function to the Washington Post Social Reader and the Yahoo News Social Bar, and will give Facebook members the ability to automatically share their media reading and watching activities with friends and subscribers on the social network. The Timeline-friendly apps will also showcase recently consumed content in a box on the member’s Facebook Timeline.

If the success of the first crop of Open Graph applications tells us anything it’s that some of these media companies are in for a wild ride. Several may even awake tomorrow to find an entirely new readership devouring and sharing their content at rapid pace.

“These apps create new ways for readers to discover content, while giving publishers the opportunity to reach new audiences,” Facebook’s director of media partnerships Justin Osofsky said in a blog post on the news apps. “They’re built around news and content people care about and identify with and provide easy ways to control the social experience.”

Yahoo, as Osofsky detailed, has been a beneficiary of Facebook distribution. Yahoo recently released Social Bar, an Open Graph application integrated with Timeline and Ticker. The bar sits above stories on Yahoo News sites and shows readers the Yahoo content their Facebook friends are enjoying. The content application readers consume is also automatically shared on Facebook, drawing new readers into the Yahoo experience.

Social Bar attracted 25.6 million users in its first 75 days, Yahoo chief product officer Blake Irving shared with VentureBeat last week. Yahoo, as a result, sees more than 2 million shares happening every day. More importantly, the lion’s share of application users, Irving said, are between the ages of 14 and 35, with 45 percent of users 24 and under and 60 percent 34 and under. Yahoo users, by comparison, skew a lot older and tend be 35 and older.

“We’re seeing a different demographic coming to the site that we weren’t getting … and, it turns out, they like the content,” Irving said.

Photo credit: Photo Maany/Flickr

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Apple makes iAd more attractive for developers and advertisers

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 04:37 PM PST

Apple iAd

Apple has altered the terms of its iAd agreements in a way that both developers and potential deep-pocket advertisers should find favorable, an Apple spokesperson told VentureBeat today.

iAd is Apple’s mobile advertising network. It places ad spots into iOS apps to generate revenue for the app’s developer.

Apple launched iAd back in June 2010, initially offering developers a 60 percent cut of the ad revenue generated. The company also initially required would-be advertisers to spend a minimum of $1 million per campaign, which was done to ensure that ads on the network were both high quality as well as lucrative for all parties involved. (In other words, no teeth whitening advertisements or click scams.)

Unfortunately for Apple, advertisers weren’t biting, as VentureBeat reported in December.

Yesterday, however, Apple announced new terms for iAd, which included giving developers an additional 10 percent cut of the revenue and lowering the minimum cost of an iAd campaign to $100,000 for potential advertisers, the company has confirmed. Apple said it listened to industry feedback from ad agencies, brands, and developers when restructuring the new terms.

The changes will go into effect April 1, 2012.

Apple said it’s hopeful the revised iAd terms will spark a renewed interest from developers. The new 70/30 percent revenue split Apple is offering is in line with the industry standards, so there’s a good chance more developers will be willing to deploy the company’s ad network on to their iOS apps.

Also, a greater number of advertisers are likely to do business with iAd now that the minimum commitment for a campaign is significantly lower.

We’re guessing the $100,000 minimum is still higher than many other competing mobile ad networks in terms of barrier to entry. However, Apple is attempting to push iAds as a better service and product much in the same way people feel justified in spending a little more money on Apple computers.

With more than 550,000 apps on the App Store and 315 million iOS devices sold, the iAds audience should catch the attention of potential advertisers.

Filed under: dev, mobile, VentureBeat

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Google Drive spotted in the wild, still looks exactly like Google Docs

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 03:48 PM PST

Google’s long-rumored cloud storage solution, Drive, has been spotted on one user’s account. Not surprisingly, it looks about the same as Google Docs and a handful of the company’s other online services.

A reader forwarded the above screenshot to Geekwire, which also managed to dig up Google’s planned logo for the service (see right). Google refused to comment on the news, which is par for the course when it comes to rumors.

We heard last week that Google was close to launching Drive, so we’ll likely see the service popping up on more accounts soon. It’ll be interesting to see just how Google differentiates Drive from Google Docs, which allows you to upload files of all types and share them with others.

The screenshot above has an option to “Install Google Drive,” which is likely a way to integrate the service alongside your typical desktop folders.

With Google Drive, the search company will be going head-to-head with other cloud storage services like Dropbox and Microsoft SkyDrive. But given that Google is already holding plenty of important files for people via Google Docs, it wouldn’t be too difficult for consumers to trust Google with their other files.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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Yelp will start its IPO at $12-$14 per share

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 03:12 PM PST

Yelp has amended its SEC S-1 filing to show a starting price of $12 to $14 per share of Yelp stock.

The shares will make their debut on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol YELP.

The most recent amendment to the S-1 form was filed today after the closing bell.

The company initially filed for its IPO back in November. In the deal, the company expects to raise $100 million.

The last time the venture-backed startup disclosed its earnings, net revenue for the first three quarters of 2011 sat at $58.4 million, up 80 percent year over year. That figure breaks down to around $40 million in from local advertising revenue, $12.6 million from brand advertising revenue, and $5.4 million from other revenue sources.

At that time, the company had $23 million in cash and saw losses of $7.6 million for the nine-month period in 2011, lower than the $8.5 million losses posted for the first three quarters of 2010.

Yelp has come under criticism in recent days for its practices with regard to small businesses. In a recent VentureBeat editorial post, contributor Rocky Agrawal blasted the company, calling Yelp advertising a “rip-off” for smaller businesses and saying that the company vastly overcharged its smaller customers by around 1,000 times more than the industry standard.

Agrawal also argued that Yelp’s advertising — a huge part of its revenue — is poorly targeted, meaning that not only are advertisers being overcharged in his opinion, but Yelp is also not delivering the promised results.

We’ll keep you updated with news on the Yelp IPO as the date draws nearer, so stay tuned.

Image courtesy of kaszeta, Flickr

Filed under: deals

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New Microsoft trend aggregator reveals we are all horrible people

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 03:04 PM PST

Would you trust the masses to tell you what stories are important? A new site from Microsoft called msnNOW shows you what topics are trending right this very second so you don’t have sort through hundreds of RSS or Twitter feeds. It combs Facebook, Twitter, Bing, and BreakingNews.com to surface the stories getting the most social buzz.

“Social is now the ‘newswire,’ the go-to place for important information and edgy discussion,” an MSN spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We created msnNOW so people can cut through the clutter and quickly filter through the overwhelming amount of information streaming on the Web to find out what's hot, and why.”

By taking out the human editing element and using a program to choose topics based entirely on their popularity with the general public, msnNOW runs into an interesting problem: It turns out the general public is interested in total crap.

The site, now.msn.com, rotates through four stories on top, with well-written headlines such as “Creepy site links rich guys, co-eds” and “Halle Berry’s new movie stars sharks but still seems boring.” To the right of that carousel is a list of top trending keywords, called Biggest Movers, that’s updated every five minutes. The bottom half of the page is a grid of other trending stories that can be filtered by five topics: Fame, Cash, Sweat, Soul, and Wire. The categories seem to be loosely defined, with Bar Refaeli jumping on a trampoline filed under Sweat.

The technology behind the site is a custom tool called Demand Dashboard that MSN’s developers spent a year creating.

“It does all the work to bring together what's emerging online in real-time and identifies acceleration of trends that are becoming more viral. Specifically, it identifies the topic's strength based on total volume or acceleration,” explained the spokesperson. The Demand Dashboard then takes the information it collects on a trend and pushes it down the production line to an editorial team for publication.

What’s especially brilliant on the part of MSN is that each story doesn’t link back to the original site, but to another msnNOW page with an image and a 100-word summary of the trend written by one of MSN’s 20 editors. Videos are embedded above the summary, and there are in-text links back to tweets, local news coverage, or Facebook posts. Once you gulp down the bite-sized nugget of information you came for, you’ll be tempted by delicious-looking links to related stories that cover the page. You might be sucked into a never-ending loop of viral news.

Currently, there are no ads on the site, but that will change in a few months when the plan is to make revenue off of advertising and sponsorships. “Once we are very clear of how people are interacting and experiencing with msnNOW, we will offer advertising experiences that are both useful and beneficial for consumers and advertisers.”

The new site already acts as fascinating view into our collective Id. We are all horrible people wasting time at work, and I totally clicked on the headline “Adele song helps a bulldog through some dark times.” The public’s insatiable appetite for dessert content is a problem online journalists are intimately familiar with. You can spend a week on a serious and deeply reported story, but a slideshow about cats bonding with antelopes will rake in the traffic.

I am confident msnNOW will be a hit, since it’s a nicely designed aggregator of other hits. That doesn’t mean it can’t make me sad for humanity. And that sadness does mean I can’t bookmark it and visit a few times a day.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Good news for Google: Nevada approves self-driving car regulations

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 02:14 PM PST

We’re one step closer to widespread availability of self-driving cars — at least, if you live in Nevada.

The state passed regulations for self-driving cars today that were approved by insurance companies, car manufacturers, police, and others, reports Physorg. The biggest benefactor of the decision will be Google, which debuted its futuristic self-driving cars in late 2010 and lobbied for their use in Nevada last May.

“Self-driving cars have the potential to significantly increase driving safety,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to VentureBeat. “We applaud Nevada for building a thoughtful framework to enable safe, ongoing testing of the technology and to anticipate the needs and best interests of Nevada citizens who may own vehicles with self-driving capabilities one day.”

Bruce Breslow, Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles director, says the DMV is now figuring out licensing procedures for testing the self-driving cars. The test cars will sport red license plates, Breslow said, while the general public will get green plates when the cars are available.

It’ll likely be a few years before normals folks can get their hands on self-driving cars, but Google previously hinted that they could perform tasks like serving as automated taxis and deliveries.

How good are Google’s self-driving cars? The company dropped a bombshell when it first announced their existence, saying the cars had covered 140,000 miles of driving in California with occasional human control. Seven cars drove over 1,000 miles without any human intervention at all. And that was back in late 2010, by now they’ve likely clocked many more miles on the road.

Thus far, there has only been one reported accident in the public with one of Google’s auto-driving cars, but that was entirely the fault of the less-sophisticated human behind the wheel. Google said in December that it received a patent for its driverless cars, but the company will still face competition from other car manufacturers.

Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google's Street View service, previously said that the company's goal is to prevent traffic accidents, give people more free time, and reduce carbon emissions by changing the way people use their cars.

Photo via Mac Morrison/Flickr

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Report claims developers are abandoning PlayStation Vita for Nintendo 3DS

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 01:26 PM PST

Japanese newspaper Nikkei is reporting that developers are abandoning PlayStation Vita projects in favor of the Nintendo 3DS. (Nikkei was also the first to break the news that Sony appointed Kazuo Hirai as CEO, which Sony denied and then later confirmed.)

The PlayStation Vita saw immensely disappointing sales when it launched during the holiday season in Japan last year. The Vita’s seven-year-old predecessor, the PlayStation Portable, has continuously sold better than the newer model. Sony has placed higher expectations on the European and US launch, technically underway now if you buy a premium bundle but officially happening on February 22.

Speaking to Gamasutra, Scott Rhode, senior vice president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, suggested the report was “largely exaggerated.”

“There’s always going to be the hot platform of the moment in our industry,” Rhode said. “There’s always going to be reason to talk about a story like that. You can, whatever — rewind two years ago. Every developer you knew was selling — going towards — I was going to say ‘selling their soul’, it almost came out — to go build games for Zynga and the Facebook platform. And there’s another time when you see everyone is going to do smaller iPad games, or iOS games in general. Then it was PS3, it was 360, it’s Vita, it’s 3DS. It’s always, constantly changing. It’s not something that concerns me whatsoever.”

With an immediate sales slump equating to negligible attach rates in the PlayStation Vita’s own backyard, the report may carry more weight than Sony would like to admit. We’ll know over the coming months based on the number of Japanese games being announced for the handheld (or not announced, as the case may be).

Image via Gamerant

Filed under: dev, games

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Applied Materials beats earnings as chip industry orders brighten

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 01:22 PM PST

Applied Materials is the bellwether of bellwethers for the electronics industry, as it is the world’s largest maker of chip manufacturing equipment. So it’s good to know that the company beat earnings expectations today for its first fiscal quarter ended Jan. 29.

Applied said its non-GAAP net income was $240 million, or 18 cents a share. Analysts were expecting net income of 12 cents a share. Sales were $2.19 billion, compared to analyst estimates of $1.97 billion. After hours, Applied stock is up 5.75 percent to $13.97 a share.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials chief executive Mike Splinter said that Applied’s results were driven by strong capital investments by chip makers, who in turn are being bouyed by global demand for mobile devices.

He said the company sees solid order momentum and an improved outlook for the company’s fiscal second quarter that ends at the end of April. For the second quarter, Applied expects sales to be up 5 to 15 percent from the first quarter. Non-GAAP net income will likely be 20 cents to 28 cents per share.

On a GAAP basis, the company reported sales of $2.19 billion, down from $2.69 billion a year ago. Net income was $117 million, or 9 cents a share, on a GAAP basis, compared to $506 million, or 38 cents a share a year ago.

Non-GAAP net income was $240 million, or 18 cents a share, compared with $484 million, or 36 cents a share a year ago. During the quarter, Applied acquired Varian Associates, which generated $270 million in orders and sales of $200 million. It contributed 1 cent a share to non-GAAP earnings per share. Applied’s business of making equipment to build liquid crystal displays was weak at $104 million, down 39 percent from a year ago. Solar manufacturing equipment orders were $33 million, down 62 percent, thanks to over-capacity in the industry.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Hulu Plus lands on Nintendo Wii, 3DS support coming soon

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 01:19 PM PST

Nintendo’s Wii game console gained some significant ground as a streaming video set-top box with the announcement of a new Hulu Plus channel launching today.

While the Wii does have a channel that allows you to browse the internet, Hulu’s main website is unavailable as is also true for the majority of mobile devices and set-top box web browsers. The new Hulu channel fixes that, provided that you sign up for the $7.99 monthly premium Hulu Plus service. The service provides early access to current TV shows from major networks (ABC, Viacom, NBC, Fox, CW) as well as additional video content not available to free-Hulu users. Wii owners can sign up for a two-week free trial of Hulu Plus, which is similar to promotions Hulu offers to owners of other devices supporting the official Hulu Plus app.

Along with Netflix, Hulu Plus is the second major streaming video service available on the Wii. Having both of those services could make the game console more attractive to people who’ve been itching to buy an inexpensive set-top box. At $149, the Wii is less expensive than a Boxee Box ($199) and a bit more than an Apple TV ($99). However, neither of those aforementioned set-top boxes have a Hulu Plus channel yet, nor do they offer the vast selection of video games available on the Wii.

In addition to the Wii channel, Hulu is also scheduled to launch on Nintendo’s 3DS handheld game device later this year.

Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat

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Apple blesses Twitter as the social network of Mountain Lion, shuns Facebook

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 01:17 PM PST

The apple of Apple’s eye, Twitter, will soon be the default social graph and social network for all iOS and Mac devices, as Facebook once again gets the shaft.

Apple has integrated Twitter into OS X Mountain Lion, the next-generation operating system for Macs announced Thursday and slated for summer release. The decision has profound implications for Twitter and will, should recent history repeat itself, help it dramatically increase signups and tweet volume across the world.

Twitter will be baked into the new Mac operating system in much the same way that is weaved into the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad experience today.

After signing into Twitter once, members can tweet links, photos, and content from the share button built into Apple’s Safari, Notes, Reminders, Photo Booth, and iPhone apps, and from third-party apps that update to support the integration. Twitterers will also receive notifications for Twitter mentions and direct messages on the desktop, and notifications will appear in the new Mountain Lion Notification Center.

If this all sounds trivial, consider that Twitter is attributing an enormous amount of its recent new user and tweet volume growth to iOS integration.

“iOS 5 makes Tweeting easier than ever,” a Twitter spokesperson told VenterBeat Thursday. “Since the launch we’ve seen signups more than double and the number of Tweets sent increase over 90 percent.”

Apple released iOS 5 with Twitter integration in October 2011. Four months in, Twitter is clearly reaping the benefits of being the favored social network. As I said at the time, “It's as if Apple reached down in a God-like fashion, grabbed Twitter with its almighty hand, and lifted it up to the social networking heavens.”

Flickr and Vimeo may also soon experience the advantages of having a friend in a high places. The photo and video sites are also integrated into the Mac OS X Mountain Lion sharing experience.

Noticeably absent, however, is Facebook. Apple and Facebook, we hear, are actively attempting to mend their complicated relationship, but neither is talking openly about Mountain Lion integration.

“iOS is an important platform for Facebook and we have a good relationship with Apple, working closely with their developer relations team on our Facebook and Messenger apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat. “As you know, we don’t comment on what we might or might not do in the future.”

This post was updated at 5:03 p.m. Pacific with a comment from Facebook.

Photo credits: Mara earthlight/Flickr and Apple

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Amazon is building a 3M square-foot campus of towers

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 01:01 PM PST

Amazon is buying up real estate in three city blocks in Seattle and plans to build a million-square-foot office tower on each block.

The company signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the property owners several weeks ago, and that agreement included options to purchase even more property in the future. The Seattle Times says this is the biggest real estate deal Seattle has seen in years. Though the seller declined to disclose the exact terms of the deal, a representative of the real estate group said the deal was “off the charts” and that the facilities were going to be “world-class.”

The company’s growth is undeniable; over the past several years, Amazon has become a mainstream titan of e-commerce, and its cloud services for web hosting are omnipresent in a world populated with apps.

However, the company did post dramatically lower-than-expected profits for Q4 2011. The year-end numbers included a huge 58 percent dip in net income. Still, in terms of revenue, Amazon brought in $17.43 billion in sales, up 35 percent year-over-year, with Amazon S3 growing at a rate of 193 percent year-over-year.

A significant chunk of that revenue can be attributed to sales of the company’s Kindle line of tablets and e-readers. In fact, tablet and e-reader ownership saw enormous increases over the 2011 holiday season, with Kindles selling at a rate of a million each week during at least some of that period.

Also, the company has been heavily promoting its Amazon Prime service, which bundles free and fast shipping for e-commerce customers as well as a slew of premium content in the streaming video category, including shows from Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, and other networks.

Image courtesy of leungchopan, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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WebMobi helps anyone build a mobile app, no experience required

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 12:38 PM PST

WebMobi, a new mobile application builder for businesses, has added integration with online storage provider Box to easily collect customer information.

WebMobi helps businesses create apps for all the major mobile platforms without the need to understand coding. All you need to do is drag and drop the features you want in your app. To make the process extremely easy, businesses can choose from several pre-made app templates that already have specific features included, such as forms, calendars, or surveys. Apps created with WebMobi can be updated in real-time with no approval process from app stores needed. The company will even host the app on a domain for you.

The company announced today it has added integration with Box, so customer data can be stored and organized in the collaborative file-sharing service. The Box integration is used for one particular type of app build, a mobile form. A mobile form app can be used to collect customer data such as payment information, survey responses, customer feedback, and login information. Once a customer enters their information, the data is sent to a spreadsheet in the business’s Box account. Employees can then use the data as needed and collaborate on projects.

WebMobi will soon add https security to securely send data to Box, where encryption will keep your information safe.

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

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Rackspace to add SharePoint services with strategic acquisition

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 12:18 PM PST

In a strategic move to appeal to clients of Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration platform, website hosting company Rackspace has acquired SharePoint911, a SharePoint consultancy.

With this acquisition, Rackspace will be adding more SharePoint support to its already robust suite of cloud tools, bringing even more revenue opportunities to the company.

Microsoft SharePoint is a central application platform for common enterprise web requirements. Although it’s not the most popular kid at school when it comes to cloud technologies, it’s used by the majority of Fortune 500 companies. Also Microsoft managed to sell nearly 40 million SharePoint licenses over the past six years.

The Wall Street Journal reports that all of SharePoint911′s employees, some of whom are Microsoft MVP-certified, will now be working at Rackspace.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Rackspace did confirm the deal with VentureBeat.

“For several years, Rackspace has focused on providing managed SharePoint infrastructure,” said Rackspace CTP John Engates in a statement today.

“We are thrilled to have the world-class expertise of SharePoint911 on our team to give us greater application delivery service capabilities. SharePoint911 will add the talent and expertise to our teams to make SharePoint deployments easier for our customers while increasing their scalability and performance through better integration of the workload and infrastructure.”

SharePoint911 was founded in 2004. Founder Shane Young said the team recognized and built upon “the principle that the complexities of SharePoint should not limit the solution's success within an organization.

“With the support of Rackspace, we look forward to continuing that mission and spreading our capabilities within Fanatical Support to our current and future customers.”

Image courtesy of Toria, Shutterstock

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Groupon to launch $30/year VIP program — but will anyone actually pay?

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 11:02 AM PST


Groupon is in the process of testing a new VIP service that will cost $30 per year and give users early access to deals, easy refunds, and more, according to a Business Insider report.

The company reported poor-to-mixed results with its last quarterly earnings, so it is likely looking for new ways to generate revenue and ways to keep users buying more deals. VentureBeat columnist Rocky Agrawal rightly pointed out last week that the company continues to lose money and keeps changing how it wants to be measured.

Perhaps VIP access, which could generate revenue outside of deals themselves, is a step in the right direction. VIP access will give users early access to deals, the ability to buy expired deals, and the ability to get refunds for any Groupon no matter what.

The service is being tested in only a few markets right now, but it will likely expand further over the next few months. The company said it is specifically targeting “addicts” and will give those users a 3-month free trial to test the service out.

However, as someone who gets barraged with Groupon deals daily, I’m not sure how many people would actually buy into this. You already get a ton of opportunities to buy deals, so would you really want to shell out $30 more a year? Aren’t many Groupon users already penny-pinchers anyway? What do you think?

You can read an introductory Groupon VIP letter below:


VIP man image: olly/Shutterstock

Groupon VIP letter image: Business Insider

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Who needs a nanny? Parents turn to tablets to rear children

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 11:01 AM PST

No nanny? No problem! Modern-day parents are increasingly employing tablets to entertain, teach, and occupy their children, according to survey data gathered by analytics firm Nielsen.

Seven out of 10 children under 12 (70 percent), in tablet-owning households used a tablet during the fourth quarter of 2011. The figure represents a nine percent increase from the third quarter, Nielsen found.

The most popular activity among young children is far and away playing games. More than three-quarters of kids, or 77 percent, are playing downloaded games. Thankfully, 57 percent of parents also indicated that their growing babes are using educational applications.

Here’s something fun: The tablet also seems to help parents with the often headache-inducing task of keeping kids quiet and occupied while traveling or dining out. Fifty-five percent of parents indicated that their children used tablets for entertainment while traveling, and 41 percent of parents said the tablet served as a pleasant distraction for their kids at restaurants.

Of course, there’s bound to be a subset of the parental community that frowns upon on the tablet’s growing role in (and out of) the household. Is a child frequently entertained by an iPad or similar device less likely to socialize or play nice with other kids on the playground? Will these young, impressionable minds opt for technology over interpersonal communication later in life? All are great questions with unknown answers.

For now, the convenience of placing a tablet in front of a child is one too tempting for a growing percentage of parents to pass up. And the tablet just might be a viable and cheaper alternative to a babysitter or full-time nanny, so long as you don’t expect it to clean up after your kids.

Photo credit: Wayan Vota/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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With Messages beta for OS X, Apple is truly on its way to killing SMS

Posted: 16 Feb 2012 11:00 AM PST

In addition to the announcements about Apple’s next operating system Mac OS X Mountain Lion, the company rolled out a beta edition of its iMessages chat app today.

Apple previously launched its iMessages for the iPhone and iPad as an answer to RIM's popular BlackBerry Messenger Service. The app lets you send text, pictures, contacts, and video over 3G and Wi-Fi connections to anyone with an Apple ID or one of the other third-party messaging services. One big perk to using Messages is that it doesn’t charge you for each individual message, similar to the way wireless carriers do with SMS. Now, Apple wants to bring this functionality to the desktop in an effort to bridge the gap between conversations on mobile devices.

The new Messages beta replaces Apple’s native OS X instant message client iChat, which aggregates the IM functionality from several third-party services (Google Chat, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Jabber accounts) into a sole location. Personally, I prefer using other IM applications (such as the open-source Adium) so I never paid much attention to iChat anyway, which I’m guessing the majority of other Mac users did as well. That said, I might actually use the new Messages app in addition to my preferred IM desktop client.

Unlike iChat, the Messages app doesn’t just focus on communicating with people who appear online at the same time that you do. Both the new desktop app as well as the iMessages iPhone/iPad counterpart emphasize short back-and-forth responses similar to SMS conversations. The app still has a buddy list of contacts, but the chat window looks nearly identical to the iMessages iOS apps.

People who never use instant messenger but frequently send texts will probably end up using this app. It’s also likely that far fewer SMS messages will get sent over the course of time, especially if you consider the rising cost of texting plans. That’s a good thing for Apple and a very bad thing for wireless carriers, who draw a large amount of revenue through texting services.

The Messages beta app is available now via Apple’s official site, with the full release due out with the launch of OS X Mountain Lion.

Image courtesy of senai aksoy, Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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