23 February, 2012



After growing from 1 to 11 million users in 2011, Pulse is working on monetization

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 09:28 AM PST

Pulse, which makes a news reading app for Apple and Android tablets and smartphones, threw a party in the penthouse of the Kimberly hotel last night to celebrate it big growth. “These guys offered to pay me for using our technology,” said Richard Ziade of Readability. “I should have accepted their offer.” He shook his head with a laugh, admiring the view and grabbing a slice of seared tuna off a passing tray.

Since it was founded in a Stanford dorm room in the spring of 2010 by roomates Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta, Pulse has been focused on growing its user base, expanding the number of big media names in its roster and getting its product onto as many mobile platforms as possible. But last night, as investors from Greycroft and Lerer Ventures sipped bright blue “Pulse cocktails”, the talk turned to revenue.

“We are in New York because a lot of our publishing partners are here,” said Kothari. The last time Pulse visited the Big Apple, they were surprised how receptive big media was. After all, they had scrapes with the New York Times, and were briefly yanked from the App Store. All that seems to have changed now. “There is also a lot of inbound interest from Madison Avenue, so we are having discussions about the possibilities for advertising on Pulse.”

One option would be a revenue split similar to what OnSwipe has done, creating a new set of rich media ads that appear in between swipes on a tablet or smartphone. The share of the advertising revenue that Pulse keeps versus the publisher would depend on who does the selling. But if Pulse does try this approach, they could place the them against a broad network of premium content from dozens of publishers, divided up by verticals like technology and culture, with more than 200 million stories read each month.

Kothari said that Pulse recently hired its first director of revenue to run these efforts, stealing him away from Facebook, where he worked on the social networking giant’s mobile efforts. 2012 will be a telling year, when Pulse figures out if there is money to made from all the users and pageviews it keeps adding.

Filed under: media, mobile

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NeuroSky launches Focus Pocus learning app that kids can control with their minds

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 09:24 AM PST

NeuroSky has been launching toys and other products that let you control something with your own thoughts. With a sensor that detects your brain activity, you can make things happen by concentrating, relaxing, or meditating.

In partnership with NeuroCog Solutions and roll7, the company is using the technology in a new wizard-themed game dubbed Focus Pocus. The idea is to help assist children ages 7 to 13 with concentration tasks. It teaches learning fundamentals such as improved memory recall, impulse control, and the ability to concentrate. The title has 12 games and single or dual-player modes.

Joseph Graffi, chief executive of NeuroCog in Australia, describes Focus Pocus as a “game with benefits.” He said it will help kids improve their behavior while having fun. The title is the first in a line of products NeuroCog is creating based on research.

NeuroSky makes the headsets and brainwave-sensing chips that work with the game. Stanley Yang, chief executive of San Jose, Calif.-based NeuroSky, said, “We are always excited to enable partners to develop new and meaningful products and Focus Pocus can contribute so much as a new learning tool.”

In the game, players race on broomsticks, brew potions, and fend off dragons as part of their training to be wizards. Simon Bennett, chief executive of game developer London-based roll7, said the game is a vision for the future of games in health and education. It can report the results back to parents or doctors in real-time. Parents can learn the level of attention and relaxation during the game play. The game incentivizes kids with rewards.

The research showed the game resulted in behavior improvements, based on a study by Stuart Johnstone, an assistant professor at the University of Wollongong in Australia. He found that the training helped minimize distraction and improved overall concentration and behavior as an alternative treatment for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Focus Pocus sells for $149 and requires a NeuroSky MindWave headset that sells for $99. The software is Windows PC compatible.

NeuroSky was founded in 2004. It has raised $18.6 million from W.R. Hambrecht and Tiacom Capital. Last week, NeuroSky said it would try to raise $50,000 via crowdfunding site IndieGogo to fund mobile applications that can help people with special learning needs. Those apps will use NeuroSky’s newest MindWave Mobile headset.

To purchase visit . Focus Pocus is priced at $149 for the software and requires a NeuroSky MindWave $99. Currently the software is PC compatible only.

Filed under: games

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Twitter’s revenue is heading into international waters

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 09:11 AM PST

Talk of Twitter’s revenue sources has dominated the web over the past week, and Twitter is adding yet another stream today with two strategic hires.

Shailesh Rao will serve as Twitter's vice president of international revenue starting in April, and Stephen McIntyre will work on international expansion of Twitter’s brand-new self-serve ad platform. Both new hires are former Googlers.

On its current trajectory, Twitter’s revenue isn’t slated to surpass $1 billion until 2016; however, going global might help to accelerate the startup’s financial growth.

"2012 will be a pivotal year for Twitter and our advertising business,” said a Twitter global revenue president Adam Bain in a statement to VentureBeat this morning.

“These hires are key to bringing our Promoted Products to more markets around the world and helping businesses everywhere get value from advertising on Twitter. I couldn't be more excited."

Rao, who is based in India, most recently worked as Google’s vice president of media, mobile, and platforms for Asia Pacific. Before that, he was the managing director of Google India; and prior to that, as the director of local search, he received the company’s Founder’s Award for the launch of Google Maps and Google Earth across Western Europe and parts of Asia and Latin America.

McIntyre, meanwhile, was one of Google’s key figures for sales in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, where he led a sales team of hundreds for that entire region, selling some of Google’s newest ad products, including Google+ advertising.

With 70 percent of its userbase outside the United States, Twitter has made a wise choice in snapping up these two experienced international rainmakers. With any luck (and with a lot of growth in its user stats), Twitter may catch up to advertising powerhouses like Facebook a little bit sooner than we had previously anticipated.

Still, these erstwhile Googlers have their work cut out for them. Because Twitter’s Promoted suite of ad products don’t fit the conventional, user-irritating ad formats, they’re a harder sell for some media buyers at big brands and agencies.

As eMarketer analyst Debra Williamson told VentureBeat in an interview yesterday, "Those [products] don't fall into the neat buckets that advertisers are used to… You have to actually think about a campaign, you can't just buy a bunch of ads."

Still, mass audiences and global audiences are hugely important to the kids of global brands that account for a large chunk of Twitter’s revenue right now. Having better ways to reach that audience and sell to those brands is definitely in Twitter’s favor.

Filed under: social

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Box bets on Android in business with new update, gives all users 50GB storage free

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST


Cloud storage powerhouse Box has updated its Android app with tons of new features and to celebrate, it will give away 50GB of free storage to any Android user who logs in during the next 30 days.

There has been much movement in the cloud-storage space in the past six months, so Box’s efforts to bulk up in mobile aren’t surprising. Apple recently announced it would directly integrate its consumer cloud solution, iCloud, with its upcoming Mountain Lion Mac OS. Microsoft is on its way to making its SkyDrive product available everywhere and integrating it with Windows 8. Google may also enter the fray with its own Drive cloud-storage service in the next few months. And of course, you've got big players like Dropbox, SugarSync, and Amazon Cloud Drive that continue to innovate too.

Box’s new Android update brings the company full speed into the present with an overhauled user interface, new features, and compatibility with Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the Android OS. The company actually worked with Google to help redesign the user interface to look and act like Ice Cream Sandwich, and even users who have an older version of Android will benefit from the UI upgrade. New features include the ability to comment on files, adding teammates to individual folders, and batch uploading so you can upload multiple files at once.

Those concerned about Android fragmentation need not worry too much, as Box supports most older versions of Android. “What’s great is that Box is not a super intensive application,” Box VP of Platform Matthew Self told VentureBeat. “The experience is fairly consistent across all Android devices.”

Box will also be adding support for four languages — French, Italian, German, and Spanish — to the Android app, which ties to Box’s growing international presence. Self told me that 40 percent of the company’s users are now outside of the U.S. and 20 percent of the company’s revenues are non-U.S.

On top of giving away 50GB of free storage for life for those who login from Android devices, Box will also be giving away 20 Samsung Android tablets to a single company that can compellingly explain how it plans to use Box to improve its daily routines. Two runners-up for the contest will win a Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The new Box Android app is available today in the Android Market, and it will soon be available in the Amazon Appstore, Barnes & Noble Nook Store, LG World, and the Verizon Store.

A few more screenshots from the new Box Android app can be viewed here:

And you can check out a Box-created infographic that describes just how big 50GB is as well:


Filed under: cloud

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Samsung hits 20M Galaxy S II units sold, as world waits for the Galaxy S III

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 08:29 AM PST

Samsung Galaxy S II

Samsung’s Galaxy S II is still selling like wildfire, even though gadget hounds are eagerly anticipating its followup, the Galaxy S III.

The company announced that it has sold 20 million Galaxy S II units since it launched last April, beating out its predecessor to that figure by a full seven months. The news comes as no surprise, since the Galaxy S II already managed to hit its past milestones in record time. It’s also worth noting that Samsung is likely counting shipments to retailers as sales, instead of purchases by consumers.

Samsung made it clear that it won’t be showing off the Galaxy S III at next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but the company is expected to unveil the phone within the next few months. (You can bet we’ll hear something before this April.) The new phone is expected to feature a sharper screen, faster processor, and more.

For now though, Samsung’s still managing to get consumers excited by the Galaxy S II, which has been revamped since its initial launch with new features like LTE and higher resolution screens. The company announced record profit for the fourth quarter of 2011, mainly thanks to strong sales of the Galaxy S II.

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

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Obama steps up fight for online consumer protection with ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 07:22 AM PST


The Obama administration has unveiled a new framework for protecting Americans’ data on the Internet, including a commitment to technology that allows consumers to opt out of tracking, the government announced today.

"American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online," said President Obama, in a statement. "As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That's why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important. For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure. By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth."

Online privacy concerns has attracted an increasing level of scrutiny over the past few months, with Google making a sweeping controversial change to its privacy policies and the Path contact-stealing debacle that eventually exposed other iOS apps that invade your privacy.

The new “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” aims to put a stop to companies taking user data without notifying them and giving people the option to not be tracked. The government said that 90 percent of companies that control online behavioral ads, including Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, have already agreed to the framework to let consumers get out of being tracked online. By making that agreement, these companies will be subject to enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission.

The pillars of the bill are:

• Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.
• Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
• Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
• Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
• Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
• Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
• Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

While the bill is awfully vague, it’s a step in the right direction to help legislators in Congress come up with new ways to protect consumers online. And while the focus of this bill seems to be on advertisers like Google and AOL, it’s a shame Facebook — the company that controls and sells 800 million users’ worth of data — didn’t even get a single mention in the White House’s announcement blog post.

Do you think this is a step in the right direction for online privacy? What else would you like to see done?

Obama vs. Darth Vader photo: Michael Verdi/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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You think Pinterest is big? Here comes The Fancy, with a brand spanking new e-commerce platform

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 07:04 AM PST

The Fancy, a "place to express yourself around things you see that you find interesting," is launching a serious e-commerce business today with its massive database of more than 100 million things and one billion-plus associated data points.

What be The Fancy you might ask?  It's a lot like some other fairly well-known sites like Pinterest and Svpply, in that it's an online social community where friends may gather to share their favorite designs, housewares, fashions, art, food, and really any object that is represented digitally.

What's most interesting about the site however is its numbers:

Pinterest: 11,000,000 registered users with 32,400,000 pins.
The Fancy: 250,000 registered users with 16,700,000 fancies.

That's 66.8 fancies, or dare we say "pins" per person, on The Fancy versus approximately 3 per person on Pinterest.  The Fancy has also had 1 million fancies in the last 7 days (150,000/day) and 100-200,000 unique visitors per day.

Furthermore, in a recent interview with Pinterest superstar Chris Syme, when asked where he gets his content to share, he mentioned the "he gets a ton of stuff from thefancy.com."  Is The Fancy for the tastemakers, while Pinterest is for the tastefollowers?  According to a recent report released by RJ Metrics, over 80 percent of pins on Pinterest are re-pins, whereas the Fancy tells us it sees only around 50 percent refancies.

Getting past the catty competition, the real differentiator launches today.  The Fancy has already built a business model by offering coupons and discounts for liking certain products.  To date, they've had around 400 deals (including discounts on socks).  Today, they're launching a self-service tool that their CEO Joseph Einhorn believes just might be an Amazon competitor.

The user experience will go a little something like this:  a certain number of people fancy a product.  The vendor or creator of that product notices.  The Fancy then offers that seller an opportunity to offer their product to the people who have fancied it directly on thefancy.com, at a discount or a group buying rate.  Alternatively, a vendor may simply set up a virtual storefront on the site.

Regardless, without having to leave the site, a seller may post a sale, a user may buy the item and subsequently calculate shipping and have their item shipped directly to them–this complete solution is the competitive edge.

Einhorn states: “We want to provide Amazon-like convenience through a social filter. Instead of searching for a specific product or type of product, you are learning about products through people whose taste you admire but able to shop those items without ever leaving the site.”

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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America, keep rewarding your dissidents

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Ever since I became an academic six years ago, I have been one of the biggest critics of U.S. competitiveness policies. I documented, for example, that we had our data wrong when it came to India and China's advantages in engineering education and R&D, that we didn't understand how to build innovation centers, and that our assumptions about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship were wrong. I have been particularly vocal about America's flawed immigration policies. I quantified the amazing contribution that skilled immigrants make in the technology industry and raised the alarm about the reverse brain drain that is in progress. I testified, assertively, to Congress, and have been badgering our political leaders to act on these important issues.

My father, a retired Indian diplomat, called me on several occasions to plead that I tone down my criticism. He worried that I would anger U.S. government officials and they would find some way to have me deported. Indeed, this would have been the case in many countries, where I could have ended up in a Gulag — or worse.

But what happens in America?

The Government gives me an official recognition — Outstanding American by Choice — for my "commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans." When I received the call from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director, Alejandro Mayorkas, I had tears in my eyes. He told me that the government appreciated all of my efforts to make the country more competitive and that my criticisms of his department had motived his team to work harder to improve the system.

This is the greatness of America and why this country leads the world: Disagreement and debate are cherished. Challenging the norms, thinking outside the box, and questioning those in power is encouraged and celebrated. The louder you speak the more prominence and respect you are given. Society's heroes aren't merely revolutionaries or political figures, but opinionated, non-conformist entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

This is what distinguishes American children from others and why they grow up to be innovators. From childhood, they are encouraged to pursue their dreams and to challenge authority. So they challenge their parents, then their teachers, and then their government. And they learn to work with each other and compete. There are no barriers to success. If you work hard, think smart, and persevere, you achieve success. And this success is celebrated. Reaping fortunes through entrepreneurial success even has a special label: it's called the American Dream.

America's unique strength is that it also welcomes foreigners. Yes there is some discrimination and there are a few hurdles to leap over. But once you surmount these, you are treated like everyone else. You are given the same respect and have the same opportunities. You can compete in any field. And this is what has been happening through American history: wave after wave of immigrants has landed on American shores, embodied its values, and helped birthright citizens to work harder and think smarter.

Today, America is in a slump. The ups and downs of the economy and rise of new global competitors are discouraging and often cause American's to lose hope. But, as someone who came to the U.S. by choice, and who has studied the warts of this country and its competitors, I have no doubt that the U.S. will continue to prosper and lead the world.

It has to — no other country has the ingredients for long-term success.

Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa is a visiting scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, director of research for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and senior research associate for the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.


Capital image via Blacknell/Flickr

Copyright 2012, WashingtonPost

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Twilio Client for iOS hopes to woo developers with easy calling integration

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Twilio Client iOS

Twilio launched “Twilio Client” for mobile today, giving mobile developers an easy way to introduce calling features into their iOS applications.

“There are a bunch of apps [that allow you to make calls] today” said Twilio’s director of product management Thomas Schiavone. “What Twilio is doing is letting people make a call as a feature of the app.”

What Sciavone is suggesting is that it’s so much work to build an app that lets you call out, that it might as well be its own app like Skype or Google Voice. But Twilio wants communications code to be accessible enough for any developer to use.

Twilio Client was originally introduced to Web developers in July. Using this version, a Web developer is able to integrate phone calls into web apps with just three lines of Java script. These phone calls were device agnostic and allowed for calling between browsers, traditional phones, and the mobile web. The iOS version acts very similarly, making it easy for developers to insert the objective-C (iOS) code into their application and let Twilio do the telecommunications heavy lifting.

When a user makes a call from the application, it is sent to Twilio, which deals with the carriers and delivers the call to its destination. It is meant to be incredibly easy, even for companies that don’t have telecommunications-savvy developers, but do want a calling feature.

“The key thing that we’ve seen from our experience in the past few years is once you let people who aren’t communications developers use communications in different ways, you get some really interesting use cases,” said Schiavone.

After its launch, the Web-focused Twilio client became popular with customer service and call center web apps. The iOS version has struck a cord with the same industry, inspiring RingDNA to create a call center application for “remote agents.” That is, the application ran on an iPad and became the person’s virtual desk. He could put on his headset, take calls, and get information all from the mobile device. Schiavone suggests gaming app developers should include it in mobile games to give them a more console-like feel.

Twilio plans to expand the offering to Android later in the year.

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

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Samsung’s Galaxy Note is big, bold, and hopelessly dorky (review)

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

More than three years after Android launched, all too many Android devices look the same. But you can’t say that about Samsung's mammoth Galaxy Note.

It's far from a perfect phone, but it’s among the most interesting I've seen recently.

With its 5.3-inch screen, the Galaxy Note ($300 with contract on AT&T) sits somewhere between a phone and a tablet.

Samsung didn't just dare to be big with the Galaxy Note, it also resurrected the stylus, a remnant from the Palm Pilot era of mobile computing, and gave it a place of prominence.

While an oversized phone with an archaic input mechanism doesn't exactly sound like an iPhone killer, the Galaxy Note has enough going for it that it deserves a second look. That is, as long as you don't mind looking like a huge dork while using it.

The Good: Crushes other puny smartphone screens

The Galaxy Note sports Samsung's largest Super AMOLED display yet, clocking in at 5.3 inches with a 1280 by 800 display (which means it can display 720p HD video at full resolution). As is typical for a Samsung display, the Note's screen is uniformly gorgeous, featuring bright colors and deep blacks. When it comes to viewing photos or video, the Note resembles a tablet more than a smartphone, which works to its advantage.

The Galaxy Note's unassuming stylus, dubbed the S Pen, is its other major selling point (it's not called the Note for nothing). Powered by Wacom technology, the S Pen allows you to treat the phone just as you would a typical notebook with Samsung's S Memo app. You can jot down text, pictures, or whatever your heart desires.

The S Pen offers 250 levels of pressure, which could make it very useful to budding artists, and it also sports a button for added functionality. You can, for example, hold down the S Pen's button in any app to pull up a miniature version of S Memo. You can also take quick screenshots by holding down both the stylus' button and S Pen itself on the screen. It's also useful for games where you need a bit more accuracy, like Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds.

I found the S Pen was more useful for drawing than writing, though I'm sure the latter would come easier with a bit of practice. Ultimately, the S Pen can never be as smooth as pen and paper, since you're literally attempting to write on glass.

While the S Pen has issues (more on those below), it's the sort of unique addition I hope to see more of from Android manufacturers. Samsung could easily bring the S Pen to future mobile devices, and it would be even more useful in one of the company's larger tablets. Samsung tells me that the S Pen requires additional hardware to function, so it won't be backwards compatible with existing devices.

In a way, the Galaxy Note fulfills the promise of Microsoft's ill-fated Courier project. The Courier was supposed to be a dual-screen tablet that relied heavily on a stylus, resembling a sort of digital Moleskine notebook. The Galaxy Note is more notepad than Moleskine, but it's still nice to see a device pushing mobile interaction forward (even if it's bringing back an accessory from the past). Sometimes, you just need more precision than your fingers can provide on a multitouch screen.

The Note also supports AT&T's LTE 4G network, which allows the device to reach some shockingly fast speeds. While testing the Note around Brooklyn and Manhattan, I saw download  speeds between 12 Mbps and a whopping 45 Mbps (faster than the premium cable Internet service I use at home). Upload speeds hovered between 2.5 Mbps and 10 Mbps. While these numbers may seem to blow away Verizon's typical LTE speeds, AT&T is likely helped by the fact that it only has a handful of LTE devices out and not too many 4G customers hogging bandwidth.

The Note's camera performance was about on-par with Samsung's current high-end lineup. It took colorful and clear photos, and the 1080p HD video recording looked sharp (though still not as great as the iPhone 4S).

Battery life on the Galaxy Note was surprisingly robust thanks to its large 2,500 mAh battery, which is significantly bigger than typical smartphone batteries. (Still, it's surprising Samsung wasn't able to squeeze in the 3,300 mAh battery used in the Droid Razr Maxx.) I was able to use the device for an entire day on LTE without needing a recharge. That's a good thing, since LTE is typically a huge battery drain on smartphones. Unfortunately, the phone also tends to lose a significant amount of charge overnight, so be sure to keep it plugged in before you hit the sack.

The Bad: Crushes your puny ego

As a mobile computing device, the Galaxy Note offers the best of both the tablet and smartphone worlds. As a phone, it's a bit of a mess.

Samsung was vague about the Note's exact role when it announced the device, but now that it has finally hit the U.S., it’s clear that the company is presenting it as a phone. The problem is that as a phone, it’s just too big. The Galaxy Note is far better suited to being held in both hands like a tablet, rather than being held one-handed like a typical smartphone.

For one thing, it's a pain to hold up to your ear for extended conversations (it makes me long for the slightly concave screens of the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S). Call quality sounded fine, but it's hard to forget you have a huge slab of glass pressed against your face. If you're primarily using a Bluetooth headset or headphones with a built-in microphone, the Note's unwieldiness may be less of an issue.

It's also impossible to use the Note as a phone and not look like a major dork. While plenty of smartphones sport screens between 4 and 5 inches, the Note seems to pass a magical threshold with its 5.3-inch display that instantly makes you look uncool. Instead of projecting the aura of a modern smartphone, the Note feels more reminiscent of Gordon Gekko's iconic and ancient Motorola DynaTAC. The S Pen doesn't help the situation, as it instantly makes you look like a throwback from the PDA era.

You'll certainly get some attention when using the Galaxy Note — just don't expect all of it to be favorable.

I'm also not entirely sure how Samsung reps managed to create neat hand-written notes on the phone, as I found it to be mostly frustrating. It could just be that my handwriting is terrible, or as I mentioned above, it may require a bit of practice. But the S Pen undoubtedly has trouble when it comes to accurately writing letters next to each other. Partially it's related to the glass separating the stylus from the screen, but there's also a noticeable delay before your swipes translate into on-screen results.

I'm hoping that future devices featuring the S Pen can smooth out its current issues, as it has the potential to be a truly powerful accessory.

Another big downside to the Galaxy Note right now is that it ships with Android 2.3.6, and not the much-hyped Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich." AT&T says it will offer the ICS update at some point, but hasn't clarified when. At this point, you're taking a gamble with the Galaxy Note's Android updates, but that's also true for many other Android phones.

The Final Word

It's unclear who Samsung is aiming at with the Galaxy Note, and that may be its biggest problem. It's too large for most hands, and hardcore note takers will still prefer the feel of pen on paper. At the same time, it's nice to see a new Android phone that looks completely unlike any other.

The real question: Is it worth your hard-earned cash? The Note is too large and complex to satisfy smartphone newcomers, and those with more refined tastes will likely lean towards the iPhone 4S and Galaxy Nexus. That leaves a small portion of viable users for the Note.

The Note may not be a home run for Samsung, but interesting elements like the S Pen show that the company can still innovate beyond its more sluggish Android competition.

Specs at a glance

  • 5.3-inch Super AMOLED display at 1280 x 800 pixels
  • 1.5 gigahertz dual-core processor
  • AT&T 4G LTE
  • Android 2.3.6 (with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface)
  • 8MP rear camera, 2MP front camera
  • 1080p video recording (rear), 720p video recording (front)
  • 16GB storage (with support for up to 32GB microSD expansion)

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Luminate gets $10M to add more than just a caption to photos

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

Luminate has created a way to make the trillions of static images on the web interactive. Thursday, the company announced it has raised $1o.7 million in a third round of funding and was launching an image app store.

“Images are clearly the central experience on most sites, but nothing has been done with them since the beginning of the Web,” said chief executive Bob Lisbonne in an interview with VentureBeat, “Images are still static and we want to change that.”

Luminate’s original approach attached relevant ads to images online. The company expanded on that idea and created a platform for publishers to attach any information to a picture, whether it’s an annotation, a link to news stories, or even a display of products that match what you see in the picture. With its apps, Luminate is able to closely identify products and people in pictures. When it can’t find an exact product match, it offers close substitutes.

“Our publishers enable the image apps by adding one line of javascript code to their sites,” chief technical officer James Everingham told VentureBeat. “Our apps then figure out what data is in the image algorithmically and with crowdsourcing.”

The company is now releasing an image app store with 11 apps that can be used to add more context to images. Apps include Editorial Search, which helps people find news related to an image; Twitter Feed, which shows what people on Twitter are saying about someone in a photo; and Music Clips, which link a picture of an artist to their albums. Later this year the company plans to open its platform and app store up to third-party developers so they can create more applications for its products.

Luminate faces competition from GumGum, which focuses completely on advertising attached to images, and Stipple which has a very similar look and feel to Luminate. Stipple is more geared towards advertisers looking to sell images or companies wanting to attach purchasing information to products in photos.

This third round of institutional funding was led by Nokia Growth Partners, with participation from August Capital, CMEA Capital, Google Ventures, and Shasta Ventures. This $10 million round will be used to expand its engineering, sales, and marketing teams. Luminate has raised $28 million to date.

Luminate was founded in 2008 by Lisbonne, who used to work at Netscape as a general manager of the browser division, and Everingham, who came from LiveOps. The company is based in Mountain View, Calif. and has fewer than 50 employees.

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Truveris finds big business battling the rising cost of healthcare, raises $10M

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 05:57 AM PST

The rising cost of healthcare is a national crisis that threatens to sink both individuals and the federal government into long-term debt. New York City based Truveris is trying to bring efficiency and transparency to the fastest growing piece of these costs, prescription drugs.

Founded in 2009, Truveris has attracted a wealth of eager clients, leading to today’s announcement of an oversubscribed second round of funding for $10 million.

“Americans spend more than $300 billion a year on prescription drugs, and until we came along, the cost of these claims was virtually unchecked,” Truveris chief executive Bryan Birch told VentureBeat by phone. “The prescription benefit managers were auditing themselves, which is like asking the fox to watch the hen house.”

Birch had to deal with this personally during his two decades as an executive at healthcare companies like Touchstone, Medco, and Empire BlueCross BlueShield. “I would get these bills, and they never matched up to our contracts. But I had 48 hours to pay, we’re talking 40 to 50 million, so there was really no time or mechanism to contest the costs.”

"With the current system, customers feel forced to pay invoices that don't match the claims data – which is like having to pay your credit card bill without the ability to dispute the charges,” said Somak Chattopadahyay, a partner at Tribeca Ventures, an investor in Truveris. “In this economy, there is no room for error as self-insured organizations, health plans, government agencies and corporations face real liability if they're not fiscally responsible. We invested in Truveris because of its critical role in transforming the claims payment process during an era of dramatic healthcare reform.”

Whenever you buy drugs and there is a co-pay, that is the beginning of a complex chain of costs. Truveris is trying to act as a policeman between the contracts that big corporations and unions have in place for their members’ insurance and the bills that the prescription benefit management firms, PBMs for short, are sending along. By digitizing and structuring this health care data, Truveris makes it easier to scan the numerous complex bills, where there can be as much as a 700 percent discrepancy in the cost of the same drug depending on the pharmacy that fills the prescription.

“There has been an obvious problem with a lot of money leaking out, but the process was a black box, and the PBM industry is largely unregulated,” said Scott Johnson, a managing partner at New Atlantic Ventures, an investor in Truveris. “It’s exciting when you find a private company that is a great investment and, by offering clients more information and choice, is also tackling the national problem of rising health care costs.”

Image via Flickr user anolobb

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Immersion improves touch feedback in mobile phones so you can feel a maraca shake

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 05:30 AM PST

More than 400 million mobile phones give you vibrational feedback thanks to technology from haptics (touch sense) firm Immersion.

Now the San Jose, Calif.-based Immersion is improving the nature of touch feedback in mobile phones with HD Integrator, which allows for much deeper integration of touch into Android devices. The technology can now be customized for consumers and take advantage of new high-fidelity actuators. Developers can now create realistic and engaging effects like the feel of a shaking maraca (pictured).

The technology helps create a “mental model.” The sense of touch can help convey a mental model in the same way that someone walking up a hill feels that the hill is steeper, compared to a person who is walking alongside a path in a sideways manner on the hill. Mental models can help communicate information and influence behavior. The tactile sensations of a shaking maraca can fill in the gap of what is happening.

"With HD Integrator, (gadget makers) can easily incorporate dynamic HD haptics throughout the Android user interface, resulting in a more responsive and higher quality haptic experience," said Dennis Sheehan, vice president of marketing for Immersion.  "HD Integrator harnesses the capabilities of high fidelity actuators to serve as a communication channel to the user, an engaging entertainment platform, and a point of distinction."

With the HD Integrator, a user interface can feel metallic, soft, or springy. Gestures such as finger swiping can be performed both on the screen or with the phone itself. And animations can be transformed into “multi-modal” experiences with cool sound and touch effects. The technology can layer effects so that you can distinguish the feel of an explosion or gunfire happening at the same time in a mobile game.

Andrew Hsu, the father of the capacitive touchscreen, previously told VentureBeat that he believes the future of mobile screens lies in haptics, rather than gimmicky features like 3D.

Immersion was founded in 1993 and it has about 100 employees around the world. Its technology appears in game consoles, automotive controls, medical simulators and mobile devices. Customers include Samsung, LG, Nokia, Pantech, Fujitsu and Toshiba.

Haptics has evolved over the years from a simple buzz vibration for alerts on your mobile hone to programmable haptics, where you feel different effects when scrolling or swiping. And HD haptics now include a broader range of distinct effects, fast response time, enhanced realism and dynamic effect capabilities. All of that means is that the sense of touch feedback is getting better.

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After dismal Q4, T-Mobile reveals a $4B “challenger strategy” to roll out LTE in 2013

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 05:12 AM PST

T-Mobile took a beating in its fourth quarter earnings yesterday, but there is hope on the horizon in the form of a new “challenger strategy” that involves a massive revamp of its business and a $4 billion investment to arm itself with an LTE 4G network by next year.

“We want to be known for delivering the best value in wireless because of the advanced technology we deliver at an affordable price," T-Mobile USA CEO and president Philipp Humm said in a statement today. "Over the next two years, we're prioritizing and investing in initiatives designed to get T-Mobile back to growth in the years ahead — beginning with the transformation of our network."

T-Mobile lost a whopping 802,000 contract customers in the fourth quarter, and its revenue fell 3.3 percent to $20.6 billion, its parent company Deutsche Telekom announced last night. The company is the only major U.S. carrier that doesn’t carry the iPhone, and T-Mobile pointed to that fact as one of the big reasons for its poor quarter.

The move to LTE will be a big change for T-Mobile, as the company has been heavily better on HSPA+ technology for its so-called 4G network so far. HSPA+ is actually a slightly upgraded form of 3G, but T-Mobile (and AT&T) have taken to labeling it as 4G to describe its faster speeds. The company says it will continue to expand on its HSPA+ network, but clearly the focus is now on creating a killer LTE experience (likely with the hopes of landing an LTE-enabled iPhone within the next year or so).

The carrier will have to install LTE equipment in 37,000 cell sites and reallocate its available spectrum to prepare for LTE. $1.4 billion of its $4 billion network investment will occur within the next two years. T-Mobile says that the bundle of spectrum it received from AT&T as a part of its takeover breakup fee will be the “key catalyst” for its spectrum juggling. It’s also moving forward with its retail store remodeling plans (see image above).

Additionally, the company says it will “aggressively pursue” the B2B market by increasing its sales force by 1,000, courting new MVNO partners (companies who use its network for their own cellular service), and increasing advertising spending.

T-Mobile is holding a call later this morning to discuss more details about its “challenger strategy,” so stay tuned for more.

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

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NComputing triples the number of people who can use shared thin-client computers

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

NComputing is marching forward with its mission of driving computing costs toward zero. Today, the maker of thin-client shared computers is announcing a system that allows three times as many users to work on a single machine at a third of a cost of a personal computer.

The M300 3-in-1 thin-client kit exploits several innovations, including version 2.0 of NComputing’s Numo chip, which essentially packs the capability of three computers in a single chip for a thin client.

These thin clients use a single PC that acts as a server. The PC carves out time slices for each user, like the old mainframe computers which performed tasks for different users one after another, allowing many users to share one machine.

The machine built around the ARM-based A9 Numo 2 chip lets three people use the same machine simultaneously at one-third the cost, one-third the power, and one-third the networking ports compared to PCs.

“It’s about lowering the cost of computing,” said Raj Dhingra, CEO of NComputing, in an interview. “This is changing the game for thin clients.”

The machine is available worldwide and is targeted at local workgroups from 3 users to 45 users in places such as classrooms, labs, libraries, shared offices, business centers and call centers.

The M300 exploits the second-generation Numo 2 chip capability, which triples the user count and dramatically offloads processing from a server and minimizes the amount of power required.

“Our magic sauce is reducing the bottlenecks in the system,” Dhingra said.

The M300 also leverages the Numo 2 chip to support three users on a single Ethernet port using a single power plug. And it also uses the latest incarnation of the vSpace server software, which now supports up to 45 concurrent desktop sessions on a single host PC. Together, these technologies enable the M300 to lower cost of acquisition and energy costs by more than 75 percent. It cuts networking costs by 67 percent and reduces support costs by up to 75 percent, Dhingra said. Information technology professionals can install it in a matter of hours.

Earlier versions of NComputing’s technology now have more than 20 million daily users in 140 countries. The company has raised more than $150 million in funding and competes with rivals such as Wyse.

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Cyborg anthropologist’s startup brings people & computers closer together

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Longtime cyborg anthropologist Amber Case has spent the better part of a the past several years researching how people connect to computers; now, she’s launching a startup to make those connections more seamless than ever.

“I’ve been talking about the history of mobile and computers and the increasing connectivity between technology and human beings,” Case told VentureBeat in a recent phone call. “But people still weren’t building the solutions for real-life problem-solving in these sectors.”

Case saw a huge technology gap (and a corresponding huge opportunity) in the areas of location and proximity. “Location is an invisible interface,” she told us, “and I wanted to build something to bring that to life.”

Case’s new company is Geoloqi — pronounced “geo-low-key,” because it’s intended to be easy to use. With this startup, she told us, “I’m taking what I’ve learned in cyborg anthropology and applying that directly.”

The Geoloqi platform is device agnostic, language agnostic, location-source agnostic and carrier agnostic. It gives devs a complete location toolkit (which includes geofencing), battery management features (long a stumbling block for GPS-heavy apps), and real-time data storage and analytics.

The startup has been the buzz of the Internet for a couple months, but today marks its official launch as well as the availability of its fully agnostic SDK for iOS and Android, as well as its proprietary API.

Case describes Geoloqi as a complete stack of geolocation tools that allows developers to unlock the full potential of real-time, location-based services.

We asked Case about similar toolkits such as those from NeuAer or SimpleGeo (which was recently acquired by Urban Airship). “SimpleGeo never had persistent background GPS or true location-based analytics or true geofencing,” said Case, “and I think people really wanted those. There was this missing piece that needed to be there in location.”

Case’s missing link is currently aimed mostly at large enterprises and government organizations.

“You can send an alert to everyone in a certain location if there’s an emergency,” Case offered as an example of how Geoloqi could be used. “A security team could use it to track and communicate with each other. You can request a cab and watch it arrive in real time. You can use it to limit access to files based on location, such as only letting someone access a file if you’re at your headquarters.”

Case said the technology could also be used for home automation.

Currently, some of Geoloqi’s customers military/security customers are using the platform for personnel recovery. “When they’re deployed, they need to make sure they’re safe,” Case explained. “If there’s a sniper, they can draw a geofence. And if someone is within that boundary, they get an alert.”

Geoloqi has a long queue of would-be customers in the retail, government, and security verticals, but Case couldn’t reveal the exact number of clients when we spoke. Currently, the startup has six full-time staffers and is recruiting heavily.

“We’ve raised $350,000, and although we’re making a good chunk of revenue … we’re poised to grow very quickly,” said Case, adding that future, larger rounds of venture capital are definitely “a possibility.”

Also, Case and team are engineering strategic partnerships to bring their product to other verticals such as healthcare — which in turn would add up to more revenue for the young startup.

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Qualcomm Atheros expects a smoother rollout for next-generation WiFi

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 04:30 AM PST

Qualcomm Atheros expects that the next-generation of WiFi wireless networking will roll out in a smoother manner than past industry transitions and with less confusion for consumers.

The new 802.11ac wireless technology, also known as 5G WiFi, promises blazing fast internet access that is several times faster than today’s existing network speeds for 802.11n chips.

Rob Chandhok, Qualcomm president of internet services and senior vice president, said in an interview that the 802.11ac technology will likely see a simultaneous rollout for both access point chips as well as end-use devices. The first wireless networking 802.11ac chip sets are expected to debut late this year or early next year, depending on when the engineering standard is finalized by an industry consortium. This time, there has been less squabbling around the standard among industry players, Chandhok said.

“The adoption is going to be much faster once it’s ready,” Chandhok said. “We’re going to drive this into the market.”

In the past, companies have fought over the standards and they have also rolled out access point chips first before getting device-side chips out into the market.

In advance of next week’s Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Qualcomm Atheros, a division of Qualcomm in San Diego, Calif., is launching its ecosystem support around 802.11ac technology. The company believes its 802.11ac chips will be used for home and office networking, smartphones, tablets, PCs, laptops, televisions, home routers, gateways and enterprise access points.

802.11ac is the next generation of WiFi that operates in the same 5 gigahertz band of the radio spectrum as its predecessors, 802.11a and n. (802.11b operated in the 2.4 gigahertz band, but 802.11ac is compatible with all past versions of WiFi).

The technology is faster because it uses a wider channel for delivering data, at 80 megahertz instead of 40. It uses 256-QAM, a modulation scheme that is four times more efficient than the prior 64-QAM scheme. And it taps multiple antennae using the MIMO spatial stream technology, using twice as many streams as were available before.

With the faster technology, users can sling video from a central hub to a screen in a distant bedroom. They can synch a lot of music or video files wirelessly, and surf the internet without killing the battery life of the device they're using. The full transition to WiFi chips with 1.3 gigabit-per-second speeds will likely take place within the next two years.

Qualcomm has already created one chip, the WCN3680, that will be able to combine 802.11ac technology with standard WiFi, Bluetooth and FM radios on a single chip as a companion to Qualcomm’s 28-nanometer Snapdragon processors. The device will likely have firmware upgrades that capture the final engineering standard and make sure the device is compliant, Chandhok said. A bunch of other chips will be ready for different applications. Qualcomm Atheros will sample its 802.11ac chips in the second quarter. But consumers won’t see them in devices until late this year or early next year.

Filed under: mobile

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After 10M downloads in 1 year, Scan gets $1.7M from Menlo and Google Ventures to perfect QR codes

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 04:30 AM PST

Like most people, Garrett Gee thought the experience of creating and using QR codes kind of sucked. “They were not visually appealing or user friendly,” he told VentureBeat. So as a sophmore at Bringham Young in Utah, Gee and few friends created their own iOS app, Scan, to help users create and interact with QR codes. 10 million downloads less than a year later, and the startup has scored $1.7 million in funding from big names like Menlo Ventures, Google Ventures, Yuri Milner's Start Fund, Social + Capital Partnership, and Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter.

“We came at it from a design perspective and we were young, sort of native to the iPhone,” Gee said. After just three months in the App Store Scan had passed a million downloads. “That’s when the investors came calling.” The company wanted to make it simple for anyone to create a QR code and to find ways to engage with them that took user experience seriously. “Most people are interacting with QR codes using their phones, but a lot of time that took them to a mobile web site that was poorly designed.”

Scan tried to simplify that experience by creating simple interactions linked to social services. Users could scan to “like” something on Facebook or check-in on Foursquare. Along with the funding announcement today, Scan is launching Scan Pages, a three step process that allows user to create a drop dead simple mobile site to serve as the landing page for the QR code.

Along with a ton of inbound interest from investors, Scan also scored some big clients, including NBA teams and pop star Lady Gaga, who used their app to create QR code campaigns. “It’s kind of exciting to think what we can do now that we actually have a budget for marketing,” said Gee.

The vision for Scan goes beyond the QR code, which helps to explain why Google is so interested. “We’re planning to incorporate NFC, barcodes and image recognition like they have in Google Googles,” says Gee. “Basically making it simple and fun to jump from the real world to the web with a click of a button on your phone.”

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Z2Live swallows Big Sandwich Games in acquisition deal (exclusive)

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 02:00 AM PST

Z2Live, the creator of hit free-to-play social games on mobile devices, is announcing today it has acquired Big Sandwich Games in Vancouver, Canada.

The deal will add nine employees to Z2Live’s work force. Terms were not disclosed. But the deal shows that Z2Live is moving fast so it can keep up with all of the rivals rushing into the mobile games Gold Rush.

Z2Live has grown fast since its founding in 2009 with hit titles such as Battle Nations (pictured above), Trade Nations and Metal Storm. Before the debut of Apple's Game Center app for iPhone gamers, Z2Live was attempting to build something similar to offer users an Xbox-live style experience on a mobile device. It received $3 million in funding for the idea. Once Apple came out with the rival network, Z2Live decided to shift their focus and work in internally developed games. Z2Live’s games now have more than 25 million users.

Big Sandwich Games is led by Glenn Barnes and Tyler Sigman, and it will now be rechristened Z2Live Games Vancouver, tapping into a rich pool of talent in the Canadian region.

"Big Sandwich Games clearly executes at a level that meets our bar for quality", said Lou Fasulo, chief operating officer at Z2Live. "The acquisition represents a key part of our long term strategy to build, operate and scale genre defining games."

Z2Live has grown from 16 employees a year ago to 80 now, not counting the Big Sandwich Games team.



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LG kicks off the quad-core smartphone craze with the Optimus 4X HD

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 09:45 PM PST

LG was the first company to show off a dual-core smartphone last year, and it has once again beaten the rest of the pack with tonight’s announcement of the Optimus 4X HD, the world’s first quad-core phone.

The news heralds next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a major event for the mobile industry where LG will be showing off the Optimus 4X. But you can bet it won’t be the only company hawking quad-core smartphones.

2012 is expected to be the year of quad-core smartphones, which will deliver the obvious benefit of more computing power, but also more efficiency when it comes to power. The additional cores will certainly help make smartphones more capable gaming machines, but they’ll also help when it comes to multitasking, as well as when performing heavy-duty tasks like 1080p video recording and powering LTE chipsets.

The Optimus 4X HD is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 processor running at 1.5 gigahertz. We’ve been waiting a while for Tegra 3 phones to hit the market after it was announced in November. Tablets featuring the chip were glimpsed at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, including the Asus Transformer Prime and HTC Quattro. Like all Tegra 3 devices, the Optimus 4X will be able to take advantage of Nvidia’s “4-plus-1″ technology, which offers a low-voltage core for the phone to use when it needs to save power.

It’ll ship with Android 4.0 (we’re hoping this is the standard for all quad-core Android devices), and will sport a 4.7-inch display with a 1280 by 720 (720p HD) display. The Optimus 4X will sport 1 gigabyte of RAM (again, we hope this becomes the standard) and 16 gigabytes of storage.

The phone is expected to launch in Europe in the second quarter, but beyond that we don’t have many details about it. Expect more information to come next week as LG shows off the 4X at Mobile World Congress, and check back here for VentureBeat’s live coverage of the event.

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

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Attorneys general fear Google’s new privacy policy is an “invasion of privacy”

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 06:02 PM PST

More than three-dozen state attorneys general expressed fear, in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page, that Google’s soon-to-be enacted, one-size-fits-all privacy policy is an invasion of consumer privacy and trust.

In a choicely worded missive sent to Google’s chief executive, the National Association of Attorneys General outlined a bevy of concerns around the new policy, slated to go into effect on March 1, and requested an immediate meeting with the company.

Google announced in late January that it would be consolidating 60 different privacy policies into a single policy. Come March, the only way for people to opt-out of accepting the terms is to stop using all Google products, completely. The new policy, Google has insisted, is meant to simplify things, but users, Congress, and now state attorneys general are attacking the policy for granting Google unfettered access to user data across its products.

“Google's new privacy policy is troubling for a number of reasons,” the letter reads. “On a fundamental level, the policy appears to invade consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products.”

Consumers, the letter goes on to state, have no choice should they wish to keep their browsing history distinct from their email exchanges. This makes for an “invasion of privacy” that will be too “costly for many users to escape.”

“Even more troubling, this invasion of privacy is virtually impossible to escape for the nation's Android-powered smartphone users, who comprise nearly 50% of the national smartphone market,” the association said. “For these consumers, avoiding Google's privacy policy change may mean buying an entirely new phone at great personal expense.”

The association also believes the policy leaves consumers more vulnerable to identity theft, and calls into question Google’s decision not to make aspects of the policy, such as sharing data between apps, opt-in for consumers. “Unfortunately, Google has not only failed to provide an ‘opt-in’ option, but has failed to provide meaningful ‘opt-out’ options as well,” the letter states.

“Our updated Privacy Policy will make our privacy practices easier to understand, and it reflects our desire to create a seamless experience for our signed-in users,” a Google spokesperson said in statement shared with VentureBeat. “We've undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google's history, and we're continuing to offer choice and control over how people use our services. Of course we are happy to discuss this approach with regulators globally.”

But that explanation may not be good enough for the attorneys general. The association is giving Google until Feb. 29, the day before the policy is enacted, to respond to the letter and address its concerns.

via AllThingsD

Photo credit: alancleaver/Flickr

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OnLive delivers ridiculously fast web browsing on the iPad

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 06:00 PM PST

OnLive promised that it would one day run Windows desktop computer apps on an Apple iPad, and today it is delivering on that promise. As an added benefit, it is also launching the world’s fastest web browser on the iPad.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based OnLive Desktop Plus app is finally available for users to download today, after years of development. The app uses OnLive’s cloud service — which the company also uses to deliver high-end games to low-end computers — to stream desktop apps such as Microsoft Word to the iPad. The paid service is also packaged with an Internet Explorer web browser that can transfer data at 1 gigabit per second, and it can handle Adobe Flash applications, which normally don’t run on an iPad.

A 50-megabyte file from cloud storage can be downloaded in less than a second. I watched that happen today and witnessed Flash games running on the iPad. All of that is due to the technology enabled by OnLive’s breakthroughs in cloud streaming services. The browser connection had a download speed of 459 megabits per second and an upload speed of 204 megabits per second. The ping time (roundtrip time for an internet packet) was 4 milliseconds. That translates into instantaneous web browsing.

“Our whole concept of what we think is possible on the web is going to change,” Steve Perlman, chief executive of OnLive, told VentureBeat. “The important thing is we have a new direction in computing and there are a lot of different directions we can take it. One of the outcomes is a ridiculously fast web browser.”

If it works as billed and catches on (here’s our own review), the cloud service is potentially disruptive to a number of different parties in the documents and web-browsing ecosystem. OnLive has built a robust global cloud, or web-connected data centers, that can operate apps on your device as quickly and responsively as if the apps running in the data centers were actually running on your local device. The cloud computes the app in the cloud and sends video of the results through a broadband network to your machine. OnLive says the cloud works so fast that you won’t notice that the app isn’t running locally. OnLive’s servers can process web pages at speeds of 10 gigabits a second, and the company turns around and sends that to the user at 1 gigabit per second.

OnLive first built that cloud streaming service for video games and launched the network in 2010. Now it has expanded overseas, fielded a “micro console” to play OnLive games on a TV, launched game streaming on wireless devices, and now is adding non-game productivity apps that can run at high speeds on devices that normally don’t have the local processing power to run them. All of that represents a huge amount of engineering work. Mobile salespeople can now use Office apps on an iPad with simple WiFi connections.

OnLive will also deliver lightning fast web browsing, which can actually reduce your usage of data 10-fold or more. That’s because the OnLive version of Internet Explorer only sends the user what’s necessary.

For consumers, the free OnLive Desktop app comes with 2 gigabytes of secure cloud storage, and access to a desktop depends on whether the server computing power is available to deliver Windows 7 apps including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The OnLive Desktop Plus app, with the fast web-browsing, sells for $4.99 a month. The OnLive Desktop Plus app is available on the iPad now and will soon come to Android, PC, Mac, TVs, and monitors.

The new service will create yet another revenue stream, in addition to games.

Perlman said the streamed apps aren't stripped-down Office apps or clones of Microsoft's software. Rather, they are full-featured, media-rich Windows 7 applications, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint software. That means you can access the full functions of Microsoft Office, reading or creating documents, while on the run.

As we noted earlier, if it really takes off, OnLive Desktop is ultimately a threat to Intel's consumer microprocessor business, since users will be able to access demanding applications with low-end hardware. They may have no reason to use a high-end PC to access a lot of heavy-duty applications. This phenomenon, envisioned many years ago by people such as Google Chairman Eric Schmidt when he worked for Sun Microsystems, is known as "hollowing out the PC." It means that heavy-duty internet-connected servers, or the cloud, could reduce the need to have a lot of processing power in a PC. The more powerful the cloud, the less power you need in your PC.

Not only could this cloud streaming disrupt the PC, it could also help the standing of the Apple iPad. When the iPad came out in 2010, observers said it was a great device for reading documents, but not for creating them. Now, with OnLive Desktop, creating documents on an iPad is a breeze. You no longer need a PC to do that.

Of course, OnLive will have to outpace Microsoft itself, which is rumored to be working on a version of Office for the iPad.

Perlman started patenting the ideas for this kind of product as far back as 2002. The OnLive Desktop allows you to combine the touch gestures of a tablet with an on-screen Windows keyboard and handwriting recognition. That lets you conveniently view and edit complex documents on a tablet with the same efficiency as if you were editing them on a PC.

While OnLive Desktop and OnLive Desktop Plus target individuals, OnLive is offering another paid version for businesses or power users. OnLive Desktop Pro offers 50 gigabytes of cloud storage, priority access to apps at any time, full-featured accelerated web browsing (at a speed of 10 gigabits a second), and other features for $9.99 a month. OnLive will also have a version for large enterprises. Both services are coming soon, Perlman said.

Rivals for cloud storage or virtualization include Dropbox and Box, but OnLive isn't offering a quick-restore backup service just yet. Rivals for desktop virtualization include Mokafive and Citrix.

“It’s been a long [road] to get here,” Perlman said. “It will be interesting to see how people use this technology. It’s a milestone in the industry where people will finally be able to get it. Instant-action cloud computing can do useful things for you, and its more efficient.”

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]

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The 7 ‘creep factors’ of online behavioral advertising

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 05:53 PM PST

The flood of news stories on the data-collection and online behavioral advertising ("OBA") practices of search engines, mobile apps, brand advertisers, and social networks is giving many people a very distinct feeling: the creeps. Whether the stories are about concerns over Facebook sharing its users' profile details with advertisers, Google bypassing default browser settings, or Target figuring out a teenager is pregnant before her parents do, the natural reaction is to picture the companies' employees as shadowy, green-eyed peepers crouching in the darkness.

The curious thing about OBA practices is that it's difficult to identify the direct "harm" it causes. Courts have struggled with this issue in many privacy lawsuits. Plaintiffs often fail because they can't show legally cognizable harm. For their part, regulators are clearly unsettled by OBA, but even after getting comments from dozens of interested parties for a 2009 report, the FTC was unable to articulate whether or how OBA directly harmed consumers. Academics have done interesting research on the pros and cons of OBA, but the research has not yet translated into any consensus on acceptable practices.

Consequently, industry leaders, privacy advocates, and regulators have not established normative rules based on the harm caused by different forms of OBA. Instead, they have focused on creating a comprehensive "notice and choice" regime. Under this regime, consumers are meant to see how their data is used and choose whether they want to allow such use. This is great, assuming companies participate, but it ignores a critical real-world problem. News today of the California Attorney General’s agreement with major app-enabling companies to alleviate data collection concerns simply with more privacy policy announcements is the latest example of these efforts (in my view largely ineffectual). When it comes to OBA, most consumers are disadvantaged by what experts call "knowledge asymmetry." Even if companies tell consumers exactly what data they're collecting and how they're using it, most people don't have the expertise to understand the full implications.  This reality challenges the notion of "informed consent" and suggests that "notice and choice" are not enough.

But in the absence of concrete harm, how do we distinguish OBA practices that are benign from those that are unacceptably intrusive? Unfortunately, uproar over the latest privacy outrage tends to blur these distinctions. There are, however, at least seven factors that stand out as significant "creepiness" indicators.  OBA that scores high on any of these factors should be scrutinized carefully and, at a minimum, industry leaders should consider establishing guidelines that discourage such practices.

Creep Factor No. 1: Linking behavioral data with unique identifiers

One of the most powerful ways to deliver targeted ads to consumers is to assign a unique identifier to individuals and track their online behavior across multiple sites, platforms, and apps. However, as Apple found when its use of UDIDs (Unique Device Identifiers) resulted in a public outcry, this is also one of the practices consumers find most disturbing. Although Apple is eliminating the use of UDIDs from its development platform, app developers (and their marketing executives) are pushing hard to find alternatives.  Some mobile marketing companies advocate the use of MAC addresses in lieu of UDIDs. Others have proposed an open source UDID alternative. Setting aside security concerns associated with some of the UDID alternatives (MAC addresses? Really?), the problem with these alternatives is they aren't really any less unnerving than the technology they seek to replace.

Creep Factor No. 2: Detail and scope of data collection

Most people have some tolerance for "being watched." After all, we're social creatures, and we understand that, at some level, others will observe what we do and try to gain advantages from what they learn. But there's a point at which data collection can make consumers feel like they're trapped in a kind of Orwellian Panopticon. For example, if a data collection practice is both broad (i.e., relating to behavior in multiple contexts, like emailing, texting, web browsing, and voice calling) and granular (i.e., capturing details of the behavior, as in keystroke-logging), expect a sharp rise in the sale of tin-foil hats, because consumers will do anything to avoid this kind of practice. Just ask companies like Phorm and NebuAd, who partnered with Internet Service Providers a couple of years ago to use deep-packet inspection technology to deliver targeted ads to users. If you want to know how that story ends, you can read all about it in the transcripts of the congressional hearing.

Creep Factor No. 3: OBA based on "negative" assumptions

It's hard to envision how regulators would address this issue, since it's inherently subjective, but it's still relevant. OBA is all about making assumptions based on known features of the consumer. However, these assumptions can have negative, positive, or neutral connotations. If the underlying assumptions are negative, consumers will likely find this intrusive. For example, if I'm a marathon runner, I'm perfectly fine getting targeted ads promoting the latest workout app. If I'm a pudgy couch potato…not so much. (I'm a 42-year old attorney who spends most of his day sitting in front of a computer monitor, so you can guess which scenario I identify with.)  Consumers are much more likely to find OBA based on negative assumptions (e.g., you're fat and need to work out) intrusive, not to mention tacky.

Creep Factor No. 4: Sensitivity of data

There's a reason the ancient penalty for peeping Toms was gouging out their eyes. Some data is so sensitive that, even if it's anonymized, consumers will not tolerate its collection and use. For a notably disconcerting example, read the Wall Street Journal's reporting on Neilson Co.'s practice of scraping a private online forum for discussion threads from people suffering from emotional disorders. Neilson was monitoring what consumers were saying about various pharmaceutical products on the forum. The information Neilson collected wasn't tied to individuals and wasn't used for direct marketing purposes. But when the story broke, you could almost hear consumers sharpening their stakes.

Creep Factor No. 5: Impact on operability

This is one issue that courts view as a legally cognizable harm. If data collection and tracking technology significantly impacts the operability of users' computers or mobile devices, as in the case of spyware, adware, and malware, the sense of intrusion can be overwhelming.  Consumers will run, not walk, away from these kinds of practices.

Creep Factor No. 6: Ease of opting out

Zombie cookies are one example of this issue. They're HTTP cookies that are automatically recreated (I prefer the word "respawned"—much creepier) after users attempt to delete them.  This technology can make it virtually impossible for users to opt out of being tracked. Any company using zombie cookies to collect or monetize sensitive information is about as wholesome as John Hinckley, Jr.

Creep Factor No. 7:  Lack of notice

Online apps and services may provide various types of notice to users about what's being done with their data, but it's safe to say that any OBA data-collection practice conducted with absolutely no consumer notice is seriously disturbing. A good example of this is a practice called "device fingerprinting." Device fingerprinting creates a unique identifier for computers, cell phones, and other devices based on a combination of externally observable characteristics like installed font styles, clock settings, and TCP/IP configuration. In addition to being problematic because it creates a persistent, unique identifier (see "Creep Factor No. 1"), this information is collected "passively," and in most instances users can't even detect that it's happening.

There are undoubtedly many other "Creep Factors," but I've tried to identify the worst of them. The point is that not all data collection and OBA poses the same threat to consumers' sense of personal privacy. By identifying specific practices likely to be viewed as intrusive, industry leaders, trade organizations, and regulatory bodies may find it easier to determine the level of notice required, or whether some practices should be prohibited outright. These criteria may also be useful for companies developing OBA and tracking technologies who want to build sustainable businesses. After all, nobody likes a creep.

Slade Cutter is a licensed attorney, Certified Information Privacy Professional, and member of the Mobile Marketing Association’s Consumer Best Practices Committee. His firm, Cutter Law, provides general counsel and compliance consulting services to companies in the interactive media and e-commerce spaces.

[Credit for top image: Zurijeta/Shutterstock]

Filed under: security, social

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Apple, Foxconn and the FLA respond to ABC’s “iFactory”

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 04:59 PM PST

Foxconn factory

Apple, Foxconn, and the Fair Labor Association have each responded to ABC’s “iFactory: Inside Apple” news special, which aired last night on ABC.

The iFactory Nightline episode told the story of Foxconn, a Chinese factory that produces iPads, iPhones, and MacBooks for Apple. The factory has been criticized for poor working conditions and suicide threats. Apple invited the Fair Labor Association, along with ABC’s Bill Weir, to take a look into its assembly lines. The factory, while clean and seemingly safe, still has suicide nets that scale the sides of its buildings to protect employees from themselves. Top complaints from factory workers are low wages, no benefits, and long hours.

The three entities issued one clarification each, and ABC ran the statements on its site.


ABC caught up with a young woman working at Foxconn who only makes enough to visit her family once a month. She explained that she eliminates extra material from the Apple insignia on 6,000 iPads a day, though Apple disagrees with that number.

ABC said: Zhou Xiao Ying admits, “A lot of times I think about how tired I am.” Around 6,000 times per shift, she grabs an iPad housing and files the aluminum shavings from the iconic Apple silhouette.

Apple responded: "In manufacturing parlance this is called deburring. Her line processes 3,000 units per shift, with two shifts per day for a total of 6,000. A single operator at Ms. Zhou's station would deburr 3,000 iPads in a shift."


Thousands of Chinese hopefuls line the Foxconn gates during hiring season. Weir contended that the starting salary for Foxconn employees wasn’t enough to qualify them for regular Chinese payroll taxes. Foxconn says that, with overtime, 75 percent of its employees could hit the tax target.

ABC said: “Starting salary is around $285 a month or $1.78 an hour. And even with the maximum 80 hours of overtime a month, the Chinese government considers them too poor to withdraw any payroll taxes. “

Foxconn responded: "We have over 75 percent of the employees in the category of earning at least 2,200 RMB ($349/month) basic compensation standard. That means they are earning 13.75 RMB ($2.18) per hour. If they work overtime on the weekend, they will earn 27 RMB ($4.28) per hour. In order to reach 3500 to be taxable, they will have to work 47 OT hours to reach 3,500."

"If the overtime hours are in weekdays, they have to work around 63 hours per month to reach that level of salary to be taxable."

"Your statement is only true when applying to the entry-level workers while over 75 percent are already over the probation and earning more than 2,200 RMB basic salary."

Fair Labor Association

Suspicions abound whether the Fair Labor Association will go too easy on Apple, given that Apple is the first electronics company to join the FLA. Additionally, it is paying dues to be in the association and is paying for the audits, which the FLA will perform. The FLA clarified how long it had been in talks with Apple. Weir had interviewed FLA president Auret van Heerden.

ABC said: “Was Apple resistant to this idea when you first approached them?” I ask. “It was a long conversation,” van Heerden smiles. “We’ve been in this conversation for about five years,” he says. Apple joined the F.L.A. on Jan. 13, eight days before the New York Times ran a series examining the company’s labor practices.

Fair Labor Association responded: "The discussions began in April 2007 but stalled in March 2008. We then resumed them in April 2009 and decided to do a small pilot survey so that Apple could get an idea of how our tools might add value to their program. That pilot led to a second activity that I believe contributed to the decision to join the FLA at the end of 2011. I, of course, cannot speak for Apple but I do believe that the decision to join was probably taken some months before (and therefore well before) the New York Times articles."

via ABC

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Bing to embarrass: Feature lets you link Facebook friends to search results

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 04:18 PM PST

Bing and decide? How drab. Instead, you can now use the number-two search engine to embarrass your friends.

Microsoft’s search engine today introduced a feature called “Linked Pages” that encourages searchers to connect to Facebook and start linking search results to themselves.

Linked Pages, as they’re described, are all about helping people put their best face forward in search results, but a supplemental feature that gives (too much?) power to one’s Facebook friends could have the opposite effect. Once a person has enabled the Linked Pages feature they can go on to link any search listing to their Facebook friends.

A Bing Linked Pages search for “idiot,” for instance, will return the usual results but with “Link to me” or “Link to other friends” options. Then, with a simple click of the “Link to other friends” button, you could make possible the realization of the expression: If you look up [insert insulting word here] in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of [insert name of friend you want to punk].

And yes, I played prankster myself to test out the feature; you can see the rather successful fruits of my labor below (though I did “unlink” my buddy shortly after testing). For all of ten minutes, a search for my friend Ben on my Bing yielded the following result:

Of course, the feature was intended for good and is meant to be a way to help people show off the best online attributes of their friends (as explained in this video). Plus, users can always delete the links they don’t like after the fact. Still, the “Link to other friends” feature feels half-baked. It’s so easy to mess with that it almost begs the pernicious youngsters and pranksters among us to partake in a bit of afternoon tomfoolery.

Let’s hope your friends are all well-intentioned — or use Google.

Photo credit: mloberg

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Post-acquisition, SAP and SuccessFactors outline where marriage is headed

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 03:09 PM PST

In what might be the most-jargon-filled press release ever, enterprise-software giant SAP announced Wednesday how it will incorporate and improve SuccessFactors’ enterprise cloud services, after completing its purchase of the company last week.

SAP agreed to acquire human capital-management (HCM) company SuccessFactors for a staggering $3.4 billion in early December. After that announcement, the HCM space exploded with other major buys that could impact SuccessFactors. First, Salesforce agreed to buy Rypple for an undisclosed sum in December, and two weeks ago Oracle plopped down $1.9 billion to buy Taleo.

Over the past few months, SAP and SuccessFactors have been plotting their own integration strategy to better compete against rivals. The companies plan to find new ways to bridge SuccessFactors’ cloud-based Business Execution Suite (BizX) apps with SAP’s human capital management software. To do this, SuccessFactors CEO Lars Dalgaard will begin leading SAP’s cloud software strategy. SAP plans on “boldly investing” in SuccessFactors’ Employee Central product to establish it as “the go-forward core human resources offering in the cloud.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to chat with Dalgaard about what’s coming next, but I did get to speak with two execs who explained what the two companies were brewing. Sven Denecken, SAP’s VP of cloud strategy, told me that there is only a 14 percent overlap where companies are using the SAP and SuccessFactors software side-by-side. Ideally, the company is seeking to better integrate SAP’s mostly on-premise software and SuccessFactor’s cloud-based software, so that large enterprise customers will want to have both SAP and SuccessFactors software. Denecken also noted that SuccessFactors’ strong cloud products will help give SAP a framework for moving its local software experience to the cloud.

SuccessFactors Product Marketing VP Jeff Kristick proudly boasted that SuccessFactors was better than all of its rivals. I pointed out that its new parent company still had some shortcomings in the cloud. Workday, for example, offers payroll software completely in the cloud, where SAP’s payroll software is still on-premise only. That means you’re not tied to any single device with that important HR data. Kristick’s response: Workday is only available in two countries, whereas SAP is legitimately global. Touché.

Married couple holding hands: szefei/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud

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The real Google TV: Google preps fiber pay-TV service in Kansas City

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 03:07 PM PST

Google is one step closer to launching a pay-TV service in Kansas City, Missouri — one of its fiber Internet testbeds — that would directly take on cable and satellite companies.

The company filed for a video franchise license in the city last week, the New York Post reports, a move that could give Google permission to broadcast content to televisions.

A Google pay-TV solution would give the company yet another source for advertising revenue. And unlike the current iteration of Google TV, which works in conjunction with your existing TV service, Google would have complete control of TV content (assuming it can bring aboard content partners).

We first caught wind of Google’s pay-TV ambitions in November, when the Wall Street Journal reported that the company was in talks with media executives from companies such as Time Warner, Disney, and Discovery. The service would run on Google’s high-speed fiber Internet service that’s now being tested in Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, KS.

The pay-TV service could launch within the next few months, a media executive involved in negotiations told the Wall Street Journal. When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson told the WSJ, “We’re still exploring what product offerings will be available when we launch Google Fiber.”

If Google does move forward with a pay-TV service, don’t expect it to look anything like existing cable or satellite offerings. With its fiber network, Google has the potential to offer an a la carte service that lets consumers choose the channels they want. Expect on-demand services to be heavily integrated as well, just like Verizon’s FiOS TV service. And you can bet that Google will make it dead simple to watch TV on your computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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New privacy policy agreement forces apps to disclose data use

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 03:03 PM PST

App store

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has struck a privacy agreement with the top six companies she believes facilitate the creation of the most mobile applications: Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, Microsoft, and Research in Motion. The agreement states that all mobile apps that collect any sort of personal information must create and distribute a privacy policy.

“Your personal privacy should not be the cost of using mobile apps, but all too often it is,” said Attorney General Harris in a statement.

Mobile apps have gone without much regulation for some time, but Harris wants to bring them in line with the “California Online Privacy Protection Act,” which requires commercial websites, including mobile sites, to post privacy policies. The policy should be viewable before downloading an app, as opposed to after, when an app has already been opened.

This means app marketplaces will need to have a separate area for each application to show that particular company’s privacy statement and any other information it would like to disclose. This was already recommended by the Federal Trade Commission in a study on parents, privacy, and downloading apps for children.

Users will also soon be supplied avenues to report companies who are not following the agreement. Those found in violation could be prosecuted under California’s Unfair Competition Law or its False Advertising Law.

In the last few weeks, social photo-app Path spurred a conversation around mobile privacy when a developer found it transferring people’s address books to its servers. Soon after, a number of other companies were discovered doing the same thing, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and others. Apple released a statement saying these companies were in violation of its guidelines. Explicit prior permission is required in order to transfer such information, though it doesn’t specify the need to encrypt it.

The guideline reads, "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."

With this new agreement, companies like Apple must go beyond just setting guidelines. Now, they must require the more than 50,000 app developers currently active in their platforms to create privacy policies, in addition to any newcomers. Currently, the companies are working to deploy the agreement’s guidelines across their mobile app ecosystems.

Attorney General Harris will meet again with these mobile leaders in six months to consider more ways of making mobile privacy more transparent.

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

App store photo via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, security

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Hard drive shortage hurts HP’s quarterly revenue; Whitman still optimistic

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 02:54 PM PST


Hewlett-Packard reported a decline in revenue for the first fiscal quarter of 2012, which analysts expected as the company struggles to turn itself around.

HP’s revenue was $30 billion for the quarter, down from $32.3 million or seven percent compared to the same period last year. Its GAAP diluted earnings per share (EPS) was $0.73, down 38 percent from the prior-year period, while non-GAAP diluted EPS was $0.92, down 32 percent year-over-year. The company said last year’s hard drive shortages impacted the losses for the quarter, which also affected quarterly earnings for Dell and Intel.

Over the past year, HP has suffered from drastic shifts in both management and business strategy. The company’s board fired former CEO Leo Apotheker after poor communication regarding his intention to sell off the company’s PC division in September (among other reasons). The company also faltered over its TouchPad tablet strategy and other mobile devices running Palm’s WebOS operating system. Apotheker was replaced with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who impressed investors by beating analysts’ bleak estimates last quarter.

“In the first quarter, we delivered on our Q1 outlook and remained focused on the fundamentals to drive long-term sustainable returns,” Whitman stated in the earnings report. “We are taking the necessary steps to improve execution, increase effectiveness and capitalize on emerging opportunities to reassert HP’s technology leadership.”

While revenue from services and software did improve for the quarter, Whitman said it wasn’t enough to compensate for the large losses due to changes in the overall market from consumer behavior. People are buying fewer PCs and using printers less, which is forcing the company to look elsewhere for its revenue growth. During the earnings call, she reaffirmed that HP will focus on three main areas going forward: cloud services, security services, and information management.

A summary of the earnings report follows:

  • First quarter non-GAAP diluted earnings per share of $0.92, down 32% from the prior-year period and above previously provided outlook of $0.83 to $0.86 per share.
  • First quarter GAAP diluted earnings per share of $0.73, down 38% from the prior-year period and above previously provided outlook of $0.61 to $0.64 per share.
  • First quarter net revenue of $30 billion, down 7% from the prior-year period.
  • Returned $1 billion in cash to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases.
  • Personal Systems Group (PSG) revenue declined 15% year over year with a 5.2% operating margin. Commercial client revenue declined 7%. Consumer client revenue declined 25%. Workstations revenue was flat. Total units were down 18%, with a 19% decline in desktop units and an 18% decline in notebook units.
  • Services revenue of $8.6 billion grew 1% year over year with a 10.5% operating margin. Technology Services revenue grew 2%, Application and Business Services revenue was flat and IT Outsourcing revenue grew 2% year over year.
  • Imaging and Printing Group (IPG) revenue declined 7% year over year, with a 12.2% operating margin. Commercial hardware revenue was down 5% year over year, with commercial printer units down 10%. Consumer hardware revenue was down 15% year over year, with a 15% decline in printer units.
  • Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking (ESSN) revenue declined 10% year over year, with an 11.2% operating margin. Networking revenue was flat, Industry Standard Servers revenue was down 11%, Business Critical Systems revenue was down 27%, and Storage revenue was down 6% year over year.
  • Software revenue grew 30% year over year with a 17.1% operating margin, including the results of Autonomy. Software revenue was driven by 12% license growth, 22% support growth, and 108% growth in services.
  • HP Financial Services revenue grew 15% year over year, driven by an 8% increase in net portfolio assets and flat financing volume. The business delivered a 9.6% operating margin.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Retickr turns your RSS feed into a desktop news-ticker

Posted: 22 Feb 2012 01:50 PM PST

If you feel that your Mac’s desktop is missing a news ticker displing top stories and your RSS feed, Retickr has got you covered. The company announced Reticker 2.0 and a $1.5 million round of funding.

Retickr is a simple app with a news ticker bar that scrolls headlines across your desktop. You can control what types of news you see, specify RSS feeds from Google Reader, and control the speed of ticker. You can also make the ticker stay on top of all other windows (which can be distracting unless you have a large screen) or you can hide it when you minimize the app.

The colors, orange, black, and navy can be a bit jarring and the app had a hard time pulling the correct thumbnails and titles of the blogs I follow in Google Reader. It seems Retickr works better with the already-available news sources you can choose from when you set it up.

Retickr’s team, co-founders Travis Truett, Brian Trautschold, Adam Haney, and Jared Houghton bootstrapped the business before raising $150,000 in seed money in 2011. The first version of the app was released in August 2011 and faced some mixed reviews from Apple users on the App Store, saying it negatively affected battery life. The company spent the last six months working on improving the app and released 2.0 today.

A search of the Mac App Store reveals that there aren’t many other apps that do what Retickr does. News Ticker for Mac comes close, but just scrolls headlines across your desktop, and it costs 99 cents (Retickr is free for the foreseeable future). No such extension is available for Chrome, and the closest match for Firefox is RSS Ticker, an add-on that displays headlines from your bookmarked sites in your bookmark toolbar.

Now, the company has raised a first round of institutional funding from the same venture capital firm the gave it its seed round, a small incubator in Tennessee called Lamp Post Group. Retickr hopes to use the money to improve upon its product and expand its team.

Retickr is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee and has a team of six employees. It has raised a total of around $1.65 million in funding.

Filed under: deals

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