24 February, 2012



How to attract users to your app and go platinum

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

If you are a struggling artist or developer working on the next great mobile app, your need a strategy for drawing in users.

Keep in mind that buying traffic to convert to users doesn't always add up. Developing for the mobile platform is vastly different from e-commerce, where the potential average revenue per user (ARPU) is considerably smaller, and in many cases non-existent. At the same time, there's a limited amount of advertising inventory, and discoverability remains poor.

If you're considering buying downloads, today's cost per download (CPD) rates range from $1 to $2, which means it would cost you $10 million to $20 million to buy 10 million to 20 million downloads, which is the current benchmark figure for a successful app.

One way of getting around this is to optimize heavily for organic growth without trying to reinvent the "social graph wheel." There are already existing, sizable social graphs (like Facebook), and using them will save you time and money

So what's the trick to get the right kind of growth without breaking the bank? Here are four key tips for taking your app platinum.

Think big

The app you build needs to have huge consumer appeal and real world value. A great example is Onavo. In the face of ever-increasing data charges and operators transitioning to tiered pricing, Onavo takes a unique approach to help customers get the most of their plans. Once installed, the app compresses data to allow users to double or triple their existing data plan. The service claims it can help users save up to 80 percent of their data, which in turn saves them money.

Focus on design and usability

At the end of the day, nothing beats great design and usability. There are over 1 million apps in the iTunes App Store and Android Marketplace for consumers to navigate, so how do you know when your app is ready to test the waters? To stand out you not only need to look great, but have an intuitive user interface (UI) and be responsive. Even the smallest user experience improvements can have an enormous impact on your download figures. Check out Pinterest, the hot virtual pinboard. It has a graphic-intense UI, easy log in procedure, and a great design. With 10 million unique users and a site that drives more traffic than LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ combined, it's a great case study on how to make a product stand out.

Add a social and viral component

Social and viral are two much-touted words, and they are the keys for creating successful mobile applications. What better way to ensure you build up a large user base than to get your users to build it for you? Make it simple for people to invite and share with friends, position your application as a specialty product that allows for self-expression, and be sure to leverage existing social graphs for distribution. For instance, imagine where Instagram would be without the integration of existing social networks. Communication apps are also great examples of this. See Voxer, or my own company Rebtel which has benefited tremendously from over 70 percent of our users coming from referral from current users and word of mouth.

Test your app, iterate on it, and test it again

There's probably no better way to develop a great app than to listen to your users. At the same time, there has to be a balance, as most of the time, users don't know what they truly want or need until you show it to them. Product testing and soliciting user feedback can make a good product great, and a great product even better. And don't be afraid if you need to redesign or re-engineer your product; just be sure to move fast when you do.

The bottom line for any developer is, just like the record industry, you can't buy platinum hit on mobile. So build something with real value, with a great user interface and user experience, and something that proves that the more people use it, the more valuable it becomes.

Lastly, make it easy to share and (if possible) a part of that users' everyday life. You also need listen to your users and iterate fast, or another product can swiftly gain traction on you. If you do all these things then you have a chance to succeed.

Remember, securing a smash hit on mobile can be hard, but with a great team, some help from smart PR pros, and a little dash of the X-factor sprinkled in, you'll be more than ready to satisfy even the toughest of critics.

Andreas BernstromAndreas Bernstrom is the CEO at Rebtel, the largest mobile VoIP provider after Skype (based on revenue). Prior to Rebtel, the Goldman Sachs alum was COO of Taptu, a leading UK-based mobile search engine, and TradeDoubler, Europe’s leading performance based marketing company.

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.

User growth image via ShutterStock

Filed under: dev, mobile, VentureBeat

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Google is done with Clearwire, intends to sell off shares for a huge loss

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 08:53 AM PST

More bad news for the struggling WiMAX wireless network Clearwire. Google is preparing to sell off its entire stake in the company, according to SEC documents filed by the search giant today.

Google originally purchased a 6.5 percent stake in Clearwire back in 2008 for a cool $500 million. The initial appeal of Clearwire was its faster 4G WiMAX wireless network, which has since fallen behind the new wireless carrier standard of LTE. More recently, Clearwire has struggled to pay its operating bills, forcing its majority shareholder Sprint to lend it an injection of cash.

The documents state that Google is seeking to get $1.60 per share for a total of $47 million — less than one-tenth the price it originally paid for Clearwire’s share. On the surface it seems that Google is simply trying to get rid of its involvement in an investment that doesn’t have any growing possibilities for the other parts of its business. However, it’s very likely Google expects Clearwire to fail, which could be one reason for the fire sale on its stake in the company.

Google’s shares will become available for sale February 27.

Filed under: deals, mobile

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Mobile World Congress, here we come! What excites us most about the year’s biggest mobile event

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 08:44 AM PST

More than just a getaway for fine tapas and wine, Barcelona is also home to one of the most important events in the mobile industry, Mobile World Congress. The event, which begins on Sunday at the Fira de Barcelona conference center,  will attract more than 60,000 attendees this year. VentureBeat will be on the ground this year to cover all of the breaking MWC news (and hopefully a few parties).

We’re only one month beyond the Consumer Electronics Show, so it may seem like there’s not much left to announce at MWC. But this year’s CES was a bit of a bore, especially when it came to mobile announcements. It seems that many companies have instead saved their big announcements for Mobile World Congress.

VentureBeat is also in the midst of preparing our second annual Mobile Summit, so it’ll be interesting to see just how much MWC jibes with our predictions for the biggest mobile topics of the year.

Here’s what we’re most excited to see at the show:

The rise of quad-core phones

We’ve known that smartphones featuring quad-core CPUs, like Nvidia’s Tegra 3, are set to make a splash this year, but up until now they’ve mostly been mostly theoretical. At Mobile World Congress, manufacturers will finally be showing off their first quad-core devices, which promise even more computing power and battery efficiency than existing phones. LG has already kicked this off by announcing its Optimus 4X HD smartphone this week.

ARM is also working on its latest dual-core CPU platform, the OMAP 5 chip based on its upcoming Cortex A-15 architecture, and it’s reportedly even faster than quad-core chips available today. Basically, no matter how many cores your next smartphone will have, it’ll likely smoke whatever is in your pocket right now.

Windows 8 for everyone!

At first, Microsoft’s decision to unveil its Windows 8 Consumer Preview at Mobile World Congress seemed like a strange decision. For most people, the preview will be just another desktop operating system like past versions of Windows. But the MWC launch is significant when you consider Microsoft’s mobile ambitions with Windows 8 — remember that it’s equally suited for tablets, laptops, and desktops. And with the impending arrival of Windows on ARM devices, which will more closely resemble iOS and Android devices, it’s clear that mobile is a big deal for Microsoft this time around.

Microsoft will likely still make some announcements surrounding Windows Phone, but after the Lumia 900 stole the show at CES this year, we suspect the company will focus more on promoting Windows 8. It’s also worth noting that Microsoft isn’t holding a Windows Phone press conference this year, though it will be throwing a Windows Phone party in Barcelona.

Samsung playing Apple, again, by not announcing what everyone wants

Samsung Galaxy S IIAt CES this year, it seemed that Samsung had reached an apex of hype and excitement for its products, something that’s normally reserved for Apple. Samsung is taking things a step further at MWC by refusing to announce its most highly anticipated mobile product, the Galaxy S III. It could be that the phone just isn’t ready to show off yet, but more likely Samsung aims to control the entire experience of its unveiling with a huge event of its own.

As for other devices, we’re expecting even more Android tablets (seriously Samsung, it’s okay to stop at some point), as well as a potential larger version of the Galaxy Note.

HTC’s focus on fewer, more interesting phones

Once one of the top Android manufacturers, HTC has taken a beating in recent years by Motorola and Samsung. Partially, that’s due to the company’s habit of releasing a slew of near-identical Android phones. Since that’s clearly not a winning strategy for HTC, the company said last month that it will instead focus on releasing fewer, higher quality devices. We may see the first signs of that new strategy at MWC, where HTC is rumored to announce the Endeavor, a quad-core 4.7-inch superphone.

Barcelona surprises

With an event like Mobile World Congress, I’m particularly interested in digging up new and interesting companies that don’t typically get much coverage in the U.S. Being based in Barcelona allows MWC to attract companies that can’t afford the trip for big U.S. events like CES. After the over-hyped press conferences and keynote events are over, I’m looking forward to strolling the show floor and finding some hidden gems.

If you think your company fits the bill, feel free to drop me a line at devindra@venturebeat.com.

Prelude to VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit

At our upcoming Mobile Summit, which will be held on April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif., we’ll be discussing some of the biggest trends in the industry this year. Judging from my packed MWC schedule, I’ll be encountering many of the same themes in Barcelona, like mobile shopping, mobile media, and mobile in the enterprise.

The big takeaway I’m already gathering from Mobile World Congress, as well as our own events, is that the mobile industry is now going through a new phase of maturity. Tasks that we’ve traditionally accomplished on computers are not only moving to mobile, they’re being improved by mobile. And perhaps most importantly, the rise of cheap mobile mobile devices and ubiquitous cellular networks is bringing the promise of computing to just about everyone.

Photo via Christine und Hagen Graf/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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That was quick: Nokia became top Microsoft smartphone maker in Q4

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 08:25 AM PST


After using 2011 as a launch pad to introduce its first Microsoft Windows Phones, Finnish manufacturer Nokia has already become the top Microsoft smartphone vendor in the world, according to Strategy Analytics.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop bet the company on the Windows Phone 7 OS back in February 2011, but it took until near the end of the year to see what the company could come up with on the phone front. The company put out its decently selling Lumia 800 and 710 Windows Phones and soon it will release the big and powerful Lumia 900, one of the most-talked-about products of CES 2012.

Things appear to be in Nokia’s favor with this latest report. Global smartphone shipments using Microsoft smartphone operating system grew 36 percent to reach 2.7 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, with Nokia as the largest manufacturer.

"An expanded portfolio of Windows Phone 7 models such as the Lumia 800, an increased retail presence and highly visible marketing campaigns across several European and Asian countries drove Nokia's growth,” Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, said in a statement. “Nokia is by no means out of the woods yet, and it is still on a long road to recovery, but capturing top spot in the Microsoft smartphone ecosystem is an encouraging baby-step forward for the company."

Do you think Nokia will end up giving Windows Phones the boost they need to compete with iOS and Android?

Filed under: mobile

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The DeanBeat: Creating a pop icon that will never age (exclusive)

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Pop icons like Britney Spears or Hannah Montana inevitably grow out of being role models for young girls, and then send jolts of alarm through parents as the divas engage in more, uh, adult-like activities. Better to create a rock star who never ages or gets arrested for drunk driving.

That’s the thinking behind Spitball Entertainment‘s Miya Mackenzie, an animated character who is the star of a new celebrity role-playing massively multiplayer online game for girls. The big idea is to turn Miya into a pop star with a huge transmedia merchandising brand, but to do it with the lower cost and viral word-of-mouth marketing of an online game, rather than an expensive TV show.

“We asked ourselves, ‘how do you create a character brand?’” said Michael Trigg, chief executive of Spitball, in an interview. “From Angry Birds to Talking Tom, we’re seeing these new branded characters take off in the new age of media. But you don’t want a real person who might be ruined as a role model in the eyes of parents.”

The character Miya plays the role of a young celebrity pop star who serves as a mentor for the gamer’s own character. The player creates a new character who will give Miya a run for her money.

“Let’s make you a superstar,” Miya says in her opening video below.

It may sound far-fetched. But so is Hatsune Miku, a Japanese pop star who is an animated character. In addition to the game, Miya will have animated cartoon episodes and a full-length original pop album, voiced by an actress who is actually in her 30s.

San Francisco-based Spitball is thinking big, but it only has six employees at the moment, including founder Trigg, a former marketing executive at the social network Hi5. He says that character-based brands are a $70 billion market, including the $1 billion empire built around Miley Cyrus’s Hannah Montana. His team includes Jenny Hansen, creative director and former creative director at kids online site SuperSecret, and Manny Marquez, former technical producer at Hi5. Three other team members are working on the technology behind the game. Most of the graphics work is farmed out to an offshore animation team.

If Hollywood agents, insiders and power brokers manufacture the careers of talented singers for public consumption, then you have to figure that you can literally manufacture a character to do the same thing. In the game, you create your own character, picking out features such as outfits and hair. You can purchase virtual goods such as furniture or instruments, and create unique abilities such as dance moves and VIP access.

The team figures that 10-year-old to 14-year-old girls are not well served by social entertainment or TV brands. Parents, meanwhile, are looking for brands that are safe for their kids to enjoy.

The company has raised $400,000 to date and has moved into Founders Den, a shared space in San Francisco for experienced entrepreneurs. If the game is a hit, Trigg figures he can generate licensing fees and revenues from selling the pop album on iTunes or Amazon. The company plans to exploit social media to attract new players. Three of Miya’s original 10 pop songs are available on her Facebook page.

In the private beta, the Miya Mackenzie game has drawn more than 10,000 sign-ups since December and is gaining more than 1,000 new unique users per day. Those players have logged in 2.2 times per day on average, and 70 percent of them invite their friends. The most engaged users are logging in more than 100 times a month.

“We think our playground virality is really strong,” Trigg said.

If Miya Mackenzie becomes a bona fide pop star, then Trigg will have an interesting problem on his hands. Will he have to hire an actress to become the real world Miya Mackenzie? Sort of like how Lara Croft: Tomb Raider eventually became a real-world star portrayed by actress Angelina Jolie?

“For now, she is only a 3D animation,” Trigg said. “Down the line, we could do fashion, a Miya movie, a concert, and turn her into a lifestyle brand.”

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Dropbox for Android adds automatic photo & video sync, iOS update on deck

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 07:42 AM PST


Cloud storage service Dropbox has handily added automatic photo and video uploads to its popular Android app, and this awesome new feature is on its way to iOS as well, the company announced late on Thursday.

dropbox-androidAndroid has been getting a lot of love this week from cloud storage providers, with Box just releasing a new version of its Android app and giving users who login from Android during the next 30 days 50GB of free storage. And on Monday, Microsoft re-committed that its SkyDrive application would be available across all devices. Dropbox, Box, and Microsoft are offering a sharp contrast to Apple’s still-flawed iCloud service.

The new Dropbox for Android application wants to make your life easier when it comes to backing up and syncing your precious photos and videos. With automated uploads in place, you can feel a bit better if you ever lose your phone or drop it into your beer by accident.

After downloading the new Android app, you can upload via Wi-Fi or cellular network. All photos and videos in their original quality will end up saved in a private Dropbox folder called “Camera Uploads.” And, as with other Dropbox-stored content, those photos and videos become easy to share with your friends and family.

The company did not specify when this smart update was coming to iOS, but we expect it will happen in the next few weeks.

Because photo and video storage can eat into your storage very quickly, Dropbox will gradually raise the free limit of 2GB to 5GB as you add more content.

“To help you get started saving your photos, we'll give you 500MB of Dropbox space for your first automatic upload,” writes Jeff Bartelma, Dropbox Director of Product. “As you take more photos and videos, you can use this feature to automatically upload up to a total of 3GB extra for free.”

Are you a Dropbox user? Will you be trying out this new feature?

Filed under: cloud, mobile

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Russia’s RTP Ventures expands U.S. operations, adds managing directors in New York and Boston

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 07:39 AM PST

It was less than six months ago that RTP Ventures set up a U.S arm in New York to invest $100 million of its $750 million fund. Now senior managing director Kirill Sheynkman has added two new staffers, brining on Murat Bicer in Boston and Jalak Jobanputra in New York.

RTP is the investment vehicle of Leonid Boguslavsky, who ranks right behind Yuri Milner as the second most powerful internet investor in Russia. Boguslavsky has backed massive Russian success stories like the search engine Yandex and Ozone, which is sort of Soviet equivalent of Amazon.

We hear that despite its young age, RTP has been able to get into good deals with big name New York firms, mostly enterprise plays focused on big data. “Things are going very well and we need a bigger staff to be able to handle the deal flow,” says Sheynkman. “My focus is on deep tech, so I’m bringing in fresh blood with expertise in the consumer and social web.”

Bicer, who will be RTP’s Boston lead, was previously with Battery Ventures. He’s held roles as an engineer at finance and wireless companies, helping to design everything from better communication networks to high frequency trading algorithms. Jobanputra was previously the director of Emerging Market Mobile Investments at Omidyar Network, a fund started by Pierre Omidyar, co-founder of eBay. Over the years she’s backed companies with exits to AOL, IBM and Oracle.

There is a seasonality to the venture business, and while the number of new deals has slowed slightly since the end of 2011, New York funds are very active hiring, promoting and raising for the next wave. Spark Capital recently promoted Mo Koyfman to general parnter in New York and hired a new venture partner in Boston. Greycroft just hired Bo Peabody as a venture partner and IA Ventures closed a new $105 million fund. New partners and dry powder means lots of competition for great deals coming down the pipe.

Filed under: deals

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Die Hölle? Apple switches off MobileMe & iCloud e-mail push in Germany

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 07:22 AM PST


Apple has decided to disable the push functionality for all MobileMe and iCloud email accounts connected on any iOS device within the borders of Germany, the company confirmed today.

The reason for the move comes after a German court ruling in early February that determined Apple’s e-mail syncing services violated a Motorola patent. While Apple is appealing the decision, for the time being the push functionally has been disabled for anyone in the country. The patent violation won’t affect syncing for calendar and contacts for German iOS users. The violation also won’t affect push functionality for other e-mail clients like Gmail and Hotmail.

It’s worth noting that iCloud e-mail users will automatically have the push functionality turned off when they enter the country, while MobileMe e-mail accounts will permanently have push cut off until Apple gets this situation straightened out.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, considering Google’s rhetoric about not using Motorola Mobility’s patents to hinder other companies. Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola has been approved by the U.S. and E.U., but the deal has not closed just yet.

Via The Verge

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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Backyard brawl! After losing in China, Proview files lawsuit against Apple in the U.S.

Posted: 24 Feb 2012 04:55 AM PST

The Chinese firm Proview is suing Apple in California to the tune of $2 billion, alleging that the Cupertino giant committed fraud when it used a shell company set up by one of its law firms to buy the iPad trademark in China for just $55,000, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Having purchased a few domain names for big media companies in my day, I’ve always used a third party to cover up how wealthy the big organization behind the purchase really was. Apparently I’m not alone.  ”Remember that big brand owners commonly use reps like this to disguise their purchases. Apple didn't want to reveal itself as a deep pocket for fears of getting taken advantage of; in this case, those fears were certainly warranted!” writes Stan Abrams, who works as a IP lawyer and professor in Beijing, and maintains the blog China Hearsay.

Proview claims that Apple acted with “oppression, fraud and malice” by substituting a dummy firm for Apple, and promising that its business would in no way compete with theirs. The outcome of the case is critical to Proview, which recently filed for bankruptcy.

The stakes are high for Apple as well. The $2 billion in damages Proview is seeking is chump change to Apple, but a ban on selling iPads in China would be cut into one of the company’s fastest growing revenue streams. So far Chinese courts have ruled in Apple’s favor, refusing to block sales of the iPad.

Both China Hearsay and China Law Blog, however, have criticized the agreement Apple signed, which was with Proview Taiwan, despite the fact that a different division of the company, Proview Shenzen, owns the trademark in mainland China.

“What I find really difficult to believe is that Apple and/or Apple’s attorneys would have done a deal to acquire rights to the iPad trademark in China without having done real due diligence on that trademark. Basic due diligence would have revealed that the PRC iPad trademark was registered to Proview-Shenzhen and at that point, Apple would have required Proview-Shenzhen (not Proview-Taiwan) sign on to the contract to assign or license the PRC mark,” writes Dan Harris, a lawyer at Harris & Moure. Abrams over at China Hearsay called this an “epic fail” on the part of Apple’s lawyers.

The case will now move forward on U.S. soil as well as at a High Court hearing in mainland China expected to take place this coming Wednesday.

Image via Flickr user bfishshadow

Filed under: mobile

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Game Closure raises $12M for HTML5 cross-platform games

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 11:40 PM PST

Game Closure has raised $12 million in a first round of funding for its HTML5-based cross-platform multiplayer game business, which aims to provide tools to developers that can help them deal with one of their most painful tasks: taking a game and spreading it out across many platforms without squandering engineering talent.

The company, which debuted at the Google I/O conference last year, raised the money from Highland Capital, Greylock, Benchmark, CRV, and General Catalyst, said Michael Carter, co-founder of Game Closure.

Last year, the company launched its Popstar Defense game to prove that it could make a single game, written entirely with the HTML5 language (the lingua franca of the web), that could run on web browsers, iPhones, Android phones, Android tablets and iPads. Now it offers a Javascript game software development kit that runs on multiple devices and allows client-server code sharing. The company says it can reduce the time it takes to create game for every mobile platform from 12 months to just six weeks.

The Popstar Defense game was a typical "tower defense" game, where you had to defend rock stars on stage from getting the limelight stolen from some invading rockers. It was a multiplayer game where users can collaborate in real-time, and it used decent two-dimensional graphics. As many as 2,000 moving objects could be on the screen at the same time. The company went on to publish a couple more games to educate the team about the hurdles in developing cross-platform games.

“We continued to work hard on the technology and make it demonstrably the best in the industry,” Carter said in an interview. “Once we got to the stage where everybody in the industry saw that, we were able to raise the round.”

The company can now make tools available to other developers and take some kind of cut in return.

“The industry is going through an extremely fast transition,” Carter said. “The platforms are changing. Expectations of consumers are changing. Business models are changing. We started the company at the ideal time.”

Andy Miller of Highland led the round. He said in a statement that Game Closure has the chance to change the face of an industry.

In a statement, Carter said, “Our series A financing was very competitive and gave us the flexibility to think long and hard about which firm and partner we wanted to work with. Still, I knew Andy Miller was the perfect fit after spending just a couple of hours with him: he recently built, operated, and sold his third company, Quattro wireless; he knows the mobile space inside and out; he just left an operational position at Apple as the VP of the iADs platform; and he’s one of the smartest and most level-headed people I’ve had the good fortune to work with. “

Because Popstar Defense and other games were written in HTML5, there was no need to download a plug-in to run them in a compliant browser such as Google Chrome. The game used the same code across platforms, so a developer didn’t have to do a different version for every new device. Users could send out simple web links to invite other players to join the game.

That's something that the current generation of Facebook games don't allow. With Game Closure, developers can write in pure JavaScript and then use standard HTML5 applications programming interfaces. Game Closure's software development kit can compile, deploy and accelerate the game on a specific device. When the game runs on non-browser platforms like a mobile phone, Game Closure turns to native app technology such as OpenGL. That's important in order to get a game to run at a much faster speed than is possible with HTML5.

It’s similar to the game plan of Sibblingz, which is also creating a cross-platform game development technology. The technology was created by Carter, Martin Hunt and Tom Fairfield. All of them have background at game and web startups such as Meebo. After the company first announced the beta technology in February, more than 7,000 developers approached Game Closure. Game Closure got its start in the StartX student-led incubator for startups created by Stanford University students and graduated in the spring of 2011.

Game Closure has grown from three employees at its start a year ago to more than 26 engineers. The company plans to double in size in the next six months. Game Closure has stepped in where an earlier firm, Moblyng, failed. After laboring for years, Moblyng shut down in December.

Filed under: games

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iPhone 5 may sport a new “micro” dock connector

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 11:29 PM PST

iPhone-5 by CiccareseDesign

Apple may be getting ready to ditch the current dock connector used in iPods, iPhones, and iPads in favor of a smaller version — meaning you’ll possibly have to keep up with yet another adapter to use all the latest accessories for iOS devices.

Annoyances aside, Apple could have a very practical reason for making the change, according to a iMore report that cites an anonymous source. A smaller “micro” docking port would give the company more room for other important components within the iPhone 5, which could be the first device to receive the new dock treatment. And since the iPhone 4S has a much shorter power lifespan than all the models preceding it, the most likely use for that additional space would be to include a bigger battery.

The new docking port is said to be a new design rather than the outdated microUSB standard used by the rest of the mobile phone industry.

It’s also worth noting that Apple is moving away from its reliance on transferring information to its mobile devices through a power cord. As part of Apple’s iCloud push, the company is now enabling more OS software, app, and digital media updates over the air. So the dock connector may end up as little more than a way to charge the device and connect to third-party accessories.

The latest rumors speculate that the iPhone 5 will hit sometime before the end of 2012, and will feature a larger screen as well as a more curvy design.

[iPhone 5 concept image via ciccaresedesign]

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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Game analyst Michael Pachter: The Wii was a bubble, but social gaming isn’t

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 05:24 PM PST

Michael Pachter, an oft-quoted video game analyst, said the social gaming explosion of the past few years isn’t a bubble; rather, the Nintendo Wii was a bubble, where users tried out a hot new fad and moved on to something else.

The perspective runs counter to the buzz that social games are in the midst of a Gold Rush, driven by the initial public offering of Zynga, that will come to its inevitable end as the bubble collapses. But Pachter is making the remarks based on a close reading of sales.

“Nintendo Wii fans are now playing Farmville,” Pachter said. “The Wii was a bubble. The Wii bubble has burst. As for the social bubble, I don’t think it’s a bubble. I play Facebook games with my mother. This is not a bubble.”

From 2006 to 2010, it seemed like Nintendo could do no wrong with the Wii, which drew non-gamers and casual gamers into console gaming with the novelty of the Wii motion-sensing controller. But sales have declined more recently, and Microsoft has moved into the No. 1 spot in monthly hardware sales for the past year. Pachter thinks many of those fad gamers have moved on to new things such as playing games on iPads. Only the hardcore console gamers remain, and they’re driving games such as Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 to huge numbers. Nintendo is starting to lose money as it takes a beating in consoles and as iPads and iPhones continue to hurt Nintendo’s portable sales.

Nintendo still generates huge revenues each year, and social gaming is still a relatively small part of the U.S. game industry, according to data from DFC Intelligence ($1.1 billion for social games in 2011 vs. $8.8 billion for console software)

Pachter made the remarks at the [A]list Summit on game marketing in San Francisco today. He pointed out that social games are part of the bedrock of games. Social gamers are casual players who play games with friends for a short time each day. Pachter used a casino analogy to describe the importance of these customers to game companies.

Casinos cater to high rollers who love to play complicated games like poker. But the casinos of Las Vegas and elsewhere became huge mass market attractions when they added things such as penny or nickel slots. The people who play these games can mindlessly throw money into the machines “while they’re smoking a joint or getting lap dances,” Pachter joked. But these games draw crowds into the casinos. That’s why there are so many slot machines on the casino floors, compared to the relatively small space for poker players.

Pachter did criticize the social game business for giving away too much for free. Entertainment in Western culture, he said, has never been free, from ad-supported TV to a la carte music sales on the iTunes store. Pachter believes the social game business will pick up much better if it can figure out how to monetize the 98 percent of players who aren’t paying for virtual goods.

We’ve asked Nintendo if they want to comment on the drubbing they’ve taken from Pachter.

[photo credit: Dean Takahashi, from Pacther's earlier appearance at the DICE Summit]

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Apple acquires app discovery tool Chomp

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 04:52 PM PST


Apple reportedly acquired Chomp today, a mobile-application search tool. Because searching through the App Store for something new is a pain in the app.

Chomp is an application itself, as well as a website. It lets you search by keyword for iPhone, iPad, and Android apps, then provides ratings, top free apps, tending applications, new apps, apps on sale, and more. TechCrunch is reporting that Apple will use Chomp’s technology, along with its talent, to redesign how people find apps through the App Store.

The company’s product advisor, Digg co-founder Kevin Rose, tweeted soon after the report surfaced saying, “Woo, Apple buys Chomp, stoked to have been involved! Huge congrats to the Chomp team!”

The App Store has often been criticized for not helping users easily find the application they want– particularly if they don’t know they want it. It is broken down by category, such as utilities, games, business, and it also has “top 25″ lists. But it’s still difficult if you’re a new app developer to get App Store publicity.

The acquisition may show Apple’s intent to use its cash to reinvest in its products, as opposed to giving out dividends. Apple today had its first shareholders meeting since the death of co-founder Steve Jobs. During the meeting, chief executive Tim Cook said the company has more than enough money to run on and is heavily considering how to use Apple’s cash to benefit its shareholders. The amount paid for Chomp is currently unknown.

Chomp is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. and has raised around $2.5 million in funding from Ron Conway, Aydin Senkut (who is also an investor in VentureBeat), David Lee, Auren Hoffman, Brian Pokorny, and BlueRun Ventures.

We have reached out to both Apple and Chomp and will update upon hearing back.

via TechCrunch

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Why you need to be at DEMO Asia next Wednesday

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 04:33 PM PST

DEMO AsiaThe inaugural DEMO Asia is the premier launchpad event for high-tech Asian products.

It’s also a great place for non-Asian companies to launch products into the Asian marketplace.

The event — taking place next Wednesday, February 29 – March 2 at Matrix @ Biopolis in Singapore — will gather an audience of technology press, venture and angel investors, buyers, entrepreneurs, corporate and business development professionals, and other tech professionals.

VentureBeat’s own editor-in-chief, Matt Marshall, is executive producer for DEMO and will be helping emcee the event.

Over 30 companies will launch at DEMO Asia, each hand-selected by our partner team in Singapore. They’ll each have six minutes on the DEMO stage to demonstrate how their product will change the world and vie for the coveted DEMOguru Awards and the People's Choice Award. Another 20+ innovators will be presenting their prototypes in the Alpha Pitch segment, where they’ll have just 90 seconds to pitch.

Judging the pitches will be an accomplished group of DEMO Sages, including the following:

  • Zane Adam, Senior Director, Azure Asia, Microsoft
  • Michel Birnbaum, General Partner, iGlobe Partners
  • Simone Brunozzi, Technology Evangelist, Amazon Web Services, APAC
  • Michelle Guthrie, JAPAC Dir. of Strategic Business Development, Google
  • Rebeca Hwang, Co-founder, Younoodle
  • Arnon Kohavi, Founder, Yarden VC
  • Dr. Gopi Kurup, CEO, Telekom Malaysia Research & Development
  • Vinnie Lauria, Co-Founder, Lefora
  • Jessica Tan, Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore
  • Chris Shipley, Founder, Guidewire Group

In addition to the pitches and networking events, there will one-on-one chat sessions and focus events. These sessions will feature high-level speakers hailing from the consumer technology, social media, digital and mobile technologies, and life/bio-science industries. Speakers include:

  • Jeff Clavier, Founder, SoftTech VC
  • Adeo Ressi, CEO, Founder Institute
  • Robert Kim, Director Consumer Infocomm, IDA Singapore
  • Dr Ni Zhengdong, Founder, Zero2IPO
  • Marc van der Chijs, Co-Founder, Tudou.com
  • Michael Yap, Exec. Director, Interactive & Digital Media Program Office, Singapore.

DEMO Asia is the latest addition to the DEMO family, which has earned a reputation throughout the last 20 years for consistently identifying new innovations that are most likely to disrupt the markets they serve and change the way we use technology.

The event is right around the corner, and tickets are limited. You can grab yours here.

[image via Sprengben/flickr]

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Facebook behind budget on Q1 ad revenue, sources say

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 03:52 PM PST

Source: https://www.facebook.com/zuck

Zuckerberg's desk

Facebook’s newest advertising product, expected to be unveiled on Feb. 29, leaked to the web yesterday. The ads themselves would appear to be a natural evolution of the company’s primary money-making business, but perhaps there’s more to these new sponsored stories than meets the eye.

The introduction of upgraded ad formats, according to one prominent financial analyst, is a last-ditch effort on Facebook’s part to meet advertising revenue budget goals for the first quarter of the year.

“We’ve confirmed with sources close to the company that Facebook is indeed behind its projections for ad revenue for the first quarter,” financial data company PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh told VentureBeat. “It certainly doesn’t look good for Facebook frankly.”

VentureBeat cannot independently confirm Hamadeh’s statements on the sluggish performance of Facebook’s ad business.

Documents leaked Wednesday (included below) reveal that Facebook plans to introduce an “Upgraded Premium Ads” product that will replace its existing “Classic Premium Ads.” Facebook marketing materials suggest that the new ad formats — there are six in total — will increase an advertiser’s engagement rates by as much as 40 percent.

“These documents, coupled with other rapidly rolled out changes that boosted the pervasiveness and intrusiveness of Facebook ads…are evidence that the company is struggling to meet its financial projections as its IPO looms imminently,” a PrivCo blog post dissecting the new ad formats concluded today. “Facebook is clearly choosing to increase its ad intrusiveness and frequency to pad its numbers short-term in preparation for its IPO and first quarter results post-IPO trading, at the cost of user experience and long-term growth.”

“These are the types of actions ad-supported companies save for a Rainy Day,” Hamadeh added. “It should be a red flag for investors that Facebook apparently considers that Rainy Day to be now.”

Facebook’s advertising business is a risky one. VentureBeat previously spoke with Peter Adriaens, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan's Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, who argued that the social network should have identified low click-through rates on ads as a risk in its S-1 filing with the SEC.

A report published Thursday by market research firm eMarketer projected that the social network would bring in $5.06 billion in ad revenue in 2012. The figure represents a 60 percent jump from the $3.1 billion it made from ads in 2011, but, according to eMarketer, also suggests a significant drop-off in ad revenue growth rates.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Photo credit: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook

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Blockbuster adds to Dish Network growth, but retail stores are headed for death

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 03:48 PM PST


Satellite television provider Dish Network has Blockbuster to thank for ending a nearly two-year drought of new subscribers, according to the company’s fourth quarter earnings report.

Dish beat analysts’ estimates by adding 22,000 new subscribers and boosting earnings to $313 million, compared to $252 million during the same period a year ago. The company’s revenue also increased to $3.63 billion or 13 percent compared to last year.

Dish purchased the ailing, bankrupt video rental company for $228 million back in April with the intent of integrating Blockbuster’s streaming and DVD-by-mail service into its television subscription business. Dish customers get a free three-month trial of the Blockbuster service, which allows them access to over 100,000 streaming videos and one physical disc rental at a time. After that it’s $10 per month added to the existing television service bill.

And while the recent quarterly earnings show the success of this strategy, Dish executives told investors it’s planning to close a third of Blockbuster’s brick-and-mortar retail store locations when their leases expire later this year. The news isn’t exactly surprising as retail stores don’t fit into Dish’s business strategy and face increased competition from RedBox’s DVD and Blu-ray rental kiosks.

Other traditional television providers are increasingly taking notice of how streaming video services are impacting their customer growth. Earlier this week, Comcast announced its own streaming video service Streampix that will be exclusively available to existing subscribers (in some cases for free). But without the well known branding that Dish’s Blockbuster service has, its uncertain if Streampix will deliver the same kind of results for Comcast.

Dish executives also discussed the company’s plans to enter the wireless internet market as a way to further diversify the business and grow revenue.  Last year, Dish made a bid to acquire wireless spectrum company TerreStar for $1.4 billion. However, the deal is still awaiting approval by the Federal Communication Commission, which should reach a verdict by March 12. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said the company predicts an 80 percent chance of succeeding in the wireless space if the FCC approves the deal.

Photo via trebomb

Filed under: media, mobile

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Tumblr bans blogs that promote eating disorders and suicide

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 02:45 PM PST

Tumblr, a photo-heavy blogging platform that has attracted a lot of teens, announced today that it will ban blogs containing content that promotes anorexia, self-mutilation, and other harmful behaviors.

In a company blog post, Tumblr said that it previously did not have a policy to ban any forms of content. Now the company has taken a stance, saying it strongly opposes messages that encourage eating disorders and other self-harming behaviors. Tumblr said it is no longer willing to host such content.

Starting next week, Tumblr will be prohibiting the posting of content “that actively promotes or glorifies self-injury or self-harm.” Content that encourages self-mutilation, anorexic and bulimic practices, and suicide will be banned, but Tumblr will give blogs that currently host “self-harm” content a grace period to remove content before further action is taken.

The hybrid social network-blog site will also start displaying public service announcements to encourage people to seek professional help when users search for specific self-harming keywords such as “anorexia” or “purging.”

Image via dearbulima on Tumblr

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Apple’s shareholder meeting: no dividends yet, Facebook a “friend”

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 12:48 PM PST

Apple held its shareholder meeting today and discussed its pile of cash, its relationship with Facebook, and how to elect members to its board.

The meeting began with a push from shareholders for Apple to require a majority vote by shareholders in order to usher in new or keep existing board members. The adoption came after much lobbying from a number of majority shareholders, including pension fund Calpers. It’s a step toward breaking down the executive walls at Apple, which were thick after Steve Jobs joined Apple as chief executive for a second time. Last year, shareholders voted for the same, but were shot down by the company. This year, shareholders were deterred from the idea, but overarching desire for more control over the board won out. Today, all board members were approved by majority shareholder vote, but if this had not been the case, any board member failing to gain approval would have been invited to voluntarily resign.

Also on shareholders minds were dividends. Apple reported a $13.06 billion profit in the first quarter of 2012, and the company is sitting on $90 billion in cash. Chief executive Tim Cook explained the cash flow as “more than we need to run a company.” He also assured shareholders that the company is heavily considering how best to spend the money, though it doesn’t look like a dividend is coming any time soon.

One shareholder said Apple shouldn’t administer a dividend but rather reinvest the money in media acquisitions. Acquisitions are another way the company could use its money to create a better product and lift its stock prices, though they wouldn’t provide an immediate payout to stock owners.

Another shareholder brought up the company’s deeper ties with Twitter, particular now that iOS 5 provides options to tweet right in the operating system’s user experience. Cook said that while the integration has been “great for Twitter,” it has also been “great for our users.” But where does that leave the other giant social elephant in the room, Facebook? Cook calls the social network a “friend.”

“We do a lot with them, our users use Facebook an enormous amount,” said Cook at the meeting, “I’ve always thought that the two companies could do more together.”

Shareholders weren’t the only people who showed up to the meeting. Protesters gathered outside 1 Infinite Loop to demand an “ethical iPhone” following recent reports on poor working conditions in Apple’s Chinese suppliers.

Oddly, however, the meeting doesn’t seem to have addressed China or Apple’s new relationships with the Fair Labor Association.

via Reuters, CNBC

Apple campus image Joe Ravi via Wikipedia

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EnerVault raises $15M for environmentally friendly batteries

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 12:12 PM PST

Flow-battery startup EnerVault announced a $15 million round of funding Thursday, which will help the company move forward with its first energy storage system installation.

Flow batteries aren’t well know, but they can be powerful energy storage devices. Instead of the typical lithium-ion battery, which powers most of the devices we use daily such as cell phones and laptops, flow batteries are cheaper and can storage large amounts of energy generated by solar panels and wind energy.

The technology behind them can be a bit complicated to understand if you don’t have a science degree, but essentially flow batteries generate electricity from electrolyte liquid flowing through a fuel cell. The liquid is stored in two external tanks next to the cell, and can be replaced when needed.

EnerVault has been developing large-scale redox flow batteries to power big buildings and support existing power grids. Its current plans involve the development and installation of a one-megawatt-hour flow battery system in the Central Valley of California.

“There is a high level of interest in our systems for addressing the stationary energy storage market,” EnerVault CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Craig R. Horne said in a statement, “Utilizing our patented Engineered Cascade(TM) technology, we are able to develop large-scale energy storage systems needed in a variety of applications with an unmatched combination of cost-effectiveness, safety and reliability.”

EnerVault was found in 2008 and has raised $24.5 million dollars over all from Mitsui Global Investment, Total Energy Ventures, 3M Company, TEL Venture Capital, Commercial Energy of California, Oceanshore Ventures, and US Invest. The company is based in Sunnyvale, California.

Stack of batteries image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, green

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Google+ is now coming to Google Voice

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 11:33 AM PST

Google made a brief announcement today stating that Google Voice would be getting Google+ integration.

On the official Google Voice blog, we read that the two services will be linked by bringing information from your social Google+ circles into your Google Voice telephony account.

“To help make it even easier for you to organize your contacts, today we're adding Google+ Circles to Google Voice,” writes Googler Tom Ford.

“Circles give you more control over how you manage your callers; for example, calls from your ‘Creepers’ circle can be sent straight to Voicemail, only your ‘College Buddies’ circle will hear you rap your voicemail greeting, or you can set your ‘Family’ circle to only ring your mobile phone.”

As Ford points out, it’s actually a highly useful integration with loads of use cases to make life easier for users of both Google-powered services.

Logged-in Google Voice users can now set up new groups, circles, and phone settings in the Groups and Circles tab on the Google Voice site.

This is just one more point in Google’s overarching plan to bring Google+ to every Google web app — or, more accurately, to unify many disparate logins and identities under a single, cohesive umbrella known as Google+. Concepts such as “circles” aren’t just for the social side of Google; they’re being included in every other relevant web app, as well.

In short, Google+ is becoming the “new mode of usage of Google” that its leaders envisioned.

"We have browsers, phones, self-driving cars, TVs," said Google exec Bradley Horowitz in a recent VentureBeat interview. "In many ways, these products have grown up very autonomously and have veered off in different directions, and it's clear that we can now rationalize them and make them coherent and accretive to each other."

Image courtesy of S_L, Shutterstock

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Google said to pick Senior VP Dennis Woodside as new Motorola Mobility CEO

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 11:02 AM PST


Google Senior Vice President Dennis Woodside has been selected to become the next CEO of Motorola Mobility, according to Bloomberg. Woodside will replace current CEO Sanjay Jha.

The move comes just a week after both the U.S. and E.U. approved Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility. There were apparent concerns that Motorola could be given unfair advantage when it came to the Android mobile operating system that is developed by Google and embedded in Motorola phones and tablets. Google says the chief reason it wanted to buy Motorola was for its portfolio of more than 17,000 patents.

According to his LinkedIn page, Woodside started at Google in October 2003 as Director of Business Operations. He has also held the role Managing Director of Emerging Markets, Managing Director and VP of Google UK, and President of Google Americas.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Motorola Mobility CEO Jha, but we will let you know as soon as we hear more.

A Google spokesperson would not confirm or deny the report saying: “As you know, the deal has not yet closed and we won’t be commenting on speculation.”

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Protesters demand “ethical iPhone” outside Apple’s HQ

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 10:57 AM PST

Apple Protesters

Protesters demanding better working conditions in factories lined up outside of Apple‘s Cupertino headquarters today as the company held its first shareholders meeting since the death of co-founder Steve Jobs.

Rights organization SumOfUs.org rallied protesters at the headquarters to hand out petitions signed by 300,000 people demanding an “ethical iPhone.” The action comes after recent larger reports on poor working conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories. One of Apple’s suppliers, Foxconn, has come under fire for its low pay, long hours, and lack of benefits. Recently, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association, where it will pay for both its membership and the audits, a detail that SumOfUs finds objectionable.

"Ethical consumers won't be fooled by whitewashing by organizations like the Fair Labor Association,” said SumOfUs.org Executive Director Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. ” We insist that Apple grant truly independent NGOs full access to its factories to truly independent NGOs, not groups funded and controlled by the corporations they're supposed to monitor."

SumOfUs.org has also published the complaints of two former Apple factory workers who say they were poisoned by an iPhone cleaner, n-hexane, in 2010. The organization held a similar protest spearheaded by the poisoned workers in early February at Apple stores around the United States.

The topic of China was probably on the minds of shareholders at today’s meeting, as well as whether Apple will use its $90 billion in cash to help give raises to factory workers — or dividends to its shareholders at home (the answer was no on dividends). The company is valued at $478 billion. In its first quarter of 2011, Apple made $13.06 billion in profit alone.

Image via SumOfUs.org

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Facebook’s ad revenue will hit $5B in 2012, but growth rates have peaked

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 10:46 AM PST

Facebook is set for a record-shattering initial public offering and, according to a new report, it will bring in more than $5 billion in advertising revenue this year. But Facebook’s financial future may not be as bright as the eye-popping figure would at first suggest.

2011 was a banner year for Facebook in terms of advertising revenue. The social network saw 68.2 percent growth and took home $3.1 billion in ad revenue for year. In 2012, market research firm eMarketer predicts that Facebook’s ad revenue will balloon to $5.06 billion, but the figure represents just 60 percent growth over 2011 and points to a downward spiral in growth rates.

Ad revenue growth will be nearly sliced in half by 2013 and inching closer to zero by 2014, eMarketer estimates. Facebook will make $6.72 billion from ad revenue in 2013 (32.8 percent growth over 2012) and $7.64 billion in 2014 (13.7 percent growth over 2013), the firm predicts.

The dramatic decline in growth rates means that Facebook will need to radically grow its payments business to please future shareholders and continue to post strong annual revenue gains.

In 2011, just $557 million of Facebook’s revenue came from payments, and eMarketer pegged the company’s ad business as generating 85 percent of total revenue. The payments figure is, however, up fivefold over the previous year and suggests that the alternative money-maker could eventually grow to be a big and important business for Facebook.

And while Facebook’s ad revenue growth seems to have peaked, one other thing to consider is that the company is taking an even larger chunk of the overall online ad revenue market with each passing year. Facebook will account for 6.5 percent of online ad revenue in the U.S. in 2012, according to eMarketer, and will increase its share to 7.1 percent by 2013.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Buffer tweets for you, when the time is right

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 10:18 AM PST

Buffer, a social network scheduling service, chooses when to send out your status updates for you and just added LinkedIn to its repertoire, along with Facebook and Twitter.

Several companies have taken on the service of scheduling tweets and Facebook updates, letting you choose which date and time an update goes out. Instead of letting you decide when to push out an update, Buffer takes the scheduling into its own hands and sends out updates at “optimal times.”

Buffer conducted a survey of 2,000 Twitter users last August and found that engagement was up 200 percent for users who scheduled tweets with Buffer, The Next Web reported. The company claims that there are optimal times to send out tweets and other status updates, times when people are more likely to see the content and click on shared links.

Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and so many other services have popped up that let you schedule tweets and status updates for later, though all of them focus on scheduling at a specific time. Services like Hootsuite are more suited to people who want complete control over their status updates, where those who use Buffer are more willing to turn that control over to a piece of software to do it for them.

Buffer was founded in 2011 and is run by a three-man team. The company raised a seed round of $400,000 in December from 19 angel investors including Huddle co-founder Andy McLoughlin, and Thomas Korte and Gokul Rajaram from AngelPad.

Beyond funding support, the company plans to turn a profit by charging for premium services. Buffer is free for up to 10 posts per month, but you can upgrade to the Pro or Premium plans. Pro is $10 per month for several social media accounts and 50 Buffer posts, Premium is aimed at businesses, costs $100 per month, and offers unlimited Buffer services.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Spotify makes its desktop app more DJ-friendly with crossfading & gapless playback

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 10:00 AM PST

Spotify Update

Streaming music service Spotify is launching an updated version of its desktop application today that’s aimed at the casual-to-serious DJ crowd.

Until now, Spotify users listening to playlists hear a momentary silent gap between songs, which some people find disruptive to their listening experience. This would definitely be true for long scores of music as well as albums from artists like DJ Paul Oakenfold (who is apparently a fan of Spotify). In the updated version of the app, Spotify has pushed out a new gapless playback feature that eliminates the pauses between tracks. It’s turned on by default, but users can toggle it off in the settings.

Also useful for the DJ crowd in the Spotify app update is the addition of a crossfading feature, which lets you start the next song before the current one finishes. This kind of functionality moves Spotify from just a social service that lets you share your music playlists to your go-to application for playing music at parties. Aside from the playback functionality the updated app also contains some revisions to the user interface, faster artist browsing, the ability to restore/save the “now playing” queue, and a number of small bug fixes.

Spotify is rolling out the app update to users beginning today, but anyone who doesn’t want to wait can download the preview version for both Windows and Mac.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Playstation Vita could make $2.2 billion this year, if given essential price cut

Posted: 23 Feb 2012 09:57 AM PST

Sony's new PlayStation Vita handheld console will sell 12.4 million units globally this year, bringing in revenue of around $2.2 billion, according to research company Strategy Analytics.

This figure assumes a drop in price from $250 to $180 during 2012, which Strategy Analytics believes will be "essential to stimulate sales and forge a competitive position."

With Sony forecasting a $2.9 billion annual loss for the year to March,  the company will increasingly be looking to its gaming division to help reverse its fortunes. While Vita hardware sales alone may not be enough to bail Sony out, Jai Wu, Senior Analyst at Strategy Analytics, explains, "The real value of the PlayStation Vita is its drive for content revenue growth and its strategic position in Sony's entertainment ecosystem."

"The PlayStation Store will have a vital role in selling games, videos and other content through its online access. We believe that PlayStation Vita will cause Sony's 2012 portable console software revenue to grow by $800 million compared with 2011. Although it's too small a device to turn the company around in terms of financial contribution, we expect it to bring in $2 billion incremental revenue from both hardware and software sales in 2012."

The PlayStation Vita went on sale in the U.S. yesterday, backed by a major $50 million advertising campaign, having been available in Japan since December. Despite a strong Japanese opening, sales have now slowed, and Strategy Analytics predicts that North American and European sales are likely to follow the same trend.

"Sales of the Wi-Fi version of PlayStation Vita at $249 initially exploded, selling more than 300,000 units in the first week of release. But the new console is barely moving 20,000 units per week in its home market after all the hard-core fans made their purchases, mirroring the experience of the Nintendo 3DS."

Vita sales in Japan reportedly dropped to just short of 14,000 for the week ending Feb 19. According to Strategy Analytics, such low sales numbers are linked to the difficulty of convincing consumers "to buy a dedicated game console above the $200 price range in today's economic environment."

The company points to the success of Nintendo's 3DS console, following its August  2011 price cut: "In the time of austerity, consumers are considerably sensitive to prices, and Nintendo proved that a price cut can save a product. Their decision to slash the price of 3DS's from $249 to $169 revived sales of the console."

With smartphones and tablets increasingly dominating the mobile gaming market, Sony has taken a risk releasing a high-end portable gaming device. Wu emphasizes that Sony needs to concentrate on innovation and exclusive first party content, if the Vita is to succeed: "To survive the march of smartphone's entering the casual gaming space, Sony needs to achieve the Holy Grail of inventing innovative new gameplay [while] at the same time investing heavily in exclusive content."

[Image credit: Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images]

Filed under: games

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