27 February, 2012



PlayHaven launches “Zynga in a box” mobile-game monetization platform

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 09:10 AM PST

PlayHaven, a real-time mobile marketing startup that has enabled a four-fold increase in in-app purchases for its game developer customers, is adding new monetization features that will help developers make even more money.

PlayHaven’s new monetization features use analytics and user segmentation to help developers target their best customers with offers that can generate more revenues over the life of the audience members. The company’s pitching the features unofficially as “Zynga in a box,” since, like Zynga does on Facebook, they make actionable analytics available to developers as a convenience. The offers can be changed on the fly, in real-time, to get the best results.

The new features are being added to PlayHaven’s existing in-game marketing platform, which works by adding an HTML5 layer on top of games, which can run in a native format on the iPhone. The layer, dubbed a “dynamic overlay,” is something that developers can easily tweak themselves. That’s important since they don’t have to wait for Apple to approve a submitted update. If the developers want to change a feature for a user, for example, they can do so instantly. Such real-time offers are much more effective, resulting in higher user response.

“You can dynamically change what you show the user at any given time without interrupting the game,” said chief executive Andy Yang. “Publishers can now take control of this completely.”

With the monetization features, PlayHaven can help game companies maximize profits by segmenting and managing customers. The tools can generate real-time metrics and insight that are actionable. Yang said that these features can help sort customers into batches of “minnows,” who can be monetized with ads but never have to pay for anything; “dolphins,” who are regular customers who come back often; and “whales,” who make huge in-app purchases. PlayHaven says it can help convert users to pay via up-sell and cross-sell tactics.

Developers can use the tools to segment their customers by purchase behavior, country or region, device, game version, and level of engagement. PlayHaven will offer virtual-good promotions and the ability to capture emails. Two customers are testing the system now.

“We are not just giving you data,” Yang said. “We let you do something about it in real time.”

San Francisco-based PlayHaven is announcing the new features at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona.

Since our last story in September, PlayHaven has had some good traction. It has tripled the number of monthly sessions by people who play its customers’ games. It has been integrated into 1,200 titles, up 300. And it has doubled the number of employees to 25. New customers include Disney Mobile, Digital Chocolate, Pocket Gems, Halfbrick, Natural Motion, and Breaktime Studios.

Yang says that customers using PlayHaven have seen their daily active users grow two-fold. Their in-app purchases have grown as much as four times, thanks mainly to a feature called “announcements.” And their ad revenues generate the best eCPMs (effective cost per thousand impressions) in the market.

This kind of non-incentivized promotion is working extremely well right now because of a change in the market. Apple has banned incentivized installs, such as those offered by game maker Tapjoy in the past. Apple didn't like the fact that companies could effectively buy their way into top-seller lists by bribing users to accept apps they really didn't want in exchange for rewards in games they really liked. Now that incentivized installs are banned, the non-incentivized promotions are taking off, Yang said.

PlayHaven also has a feature called More Games, which allows a publisher to show more titles to a user without interrupting the game experience, like monetizing with a banner ad without the need for an actual banner. And PlayHaven can run interstitial ads within a game, showing a video ad when a player reaches a certain point.

Yang said that the company is doing well even as developers deal with market changes such as Apple’s recent crackdown on copycat titles and third-party marketing services that use bot farms to push titles higher in the App Store rankings.

Not bad for a company that has had three pivots. PlayHaven started as MyGameMug, a social network for gamers, in 2008. The founders, Raymond Lau, Erik Yao, and Kurtiss Hare, then switched to creating communities for mobile games in 2009. That generated a lot of users but was hard to monetize. During the last change, the founders departed and Yang took over. He is counseled by chairman Mark Jung and advisors Bill Lee, Kevin Dent, and Ken Keller. They encouraged the company to attack the distribution problem by taking a previously developed cross-promotion widget and turning it into the company's main business. That turned into the non-incentivized install business.

To date, Playhaven has raised $3 million. Rivals in the business include companies such as Tapjoy and Flurry.

Filed under: games, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Game investments doubled to $2B in 2011; acquisitions grew 160 percent

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 08:55 AM PST

No matter how you look at it, the game industry is red hot.

The game industry had a record year for investments and acquisitions in 2011, according to an annual report by game investment advisor Digi-Capital. Private placement investments grew 96 percent to $2 billion, spread across 152 transactions. Mergers and acquisitions grew in value by 160 percent to $3.4 billion across 113 transactions.

The average funding round was $13 million, up 17 percent from a year ago. Counting the $1 billion initial public offering of Zynga and the $1.2 billion Nexon IPO, investment value nearly quadrupled. The average acquisition size was $30.4 million, up 38 percent from a year ago. The data is consistent with GamesBeat’s own data that showed a record-breaking year in 2011.

The social, mobile, massively multiplayer online, and middleware sectors led the industry, according to Tim Merel, managing director at Digi-Capital and author of the report.

Social and casual games accounted for 57 percent of the private placement value and 45 percent of the M&A value. Digi-Capital said the Zynga IPO may be the high water mark for social games, as it will become harder to keep and acquire users. Still, some companies such as Wooga and King.com are demonstrating growth in daily active users. In 2012, Digi-Capital expects it will be a big year for social gaming M&A.

Mobile and tablet games accounted for 30 percent of private placements and 27 percent of M&A in numbers of deals, but in value, it accounted for 16 percent of private placements and 4 percent of M&A. Japan’s DeNA grew its 2011 revenue to $1.4 billion and Gree grew to $1.4 billion, showing the potential of mobile games in the world market.

The MMO market accounted for 31 percent of the M&A value and 8 percent of private placements. Nexon led the charge in the space with its IPO as the market shifts toward free-to-play games. Strong Chinese and South Korean game companies are looking at Western companies for M&A and investments.

Middleware, such as tools for publishing games, accounted for 18 percent of the value of private placements and 16 percent of the M&A.

Here’s some other data in the report:
– Mobile and online games will grow from $22 billion worldwide in 2010, or 30 percent of global game revenue, to $41 billion in 2015, or 50 percent of global game revenue.

– Western and Japanese game makers are focused on value via high-quality games where users pay lots of money per title; Asian game makers are focused on high volumes of users, free-to-play business models, and small numbers of dollars per user.

– Asia and Europe will likely take 87 percent revenue share in the online and mobile games market.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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More indication that the iPad 3 is coming: Best Buy drops iPad 2 price by $50

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 08:28 AM PST


National electronics retail chain Best Buy has dropped the price of Apple’s iPad 2 tablet computer by $50 on all models today.

The timing of Best Buy’s sale may be yet another indication that the world’s most valuable company is getting ready to announce the iPad 3. The iPad 3 is rumored to be released on March 7, as VentureBeat previously reported.

The news doesn’t necessarily mean that an iPad 3 is definitely coming, but it would make sense for Best Buy to try to clear its stock of iPad 2s sitting on shelves at retail stores. Others like Walmart and Target continue to sell the current model iPad at regular price ($499-$799), which might be because they have fewer in stock.

The new iPad is expected to have some nice upgrades over the previous model, including a new faster quad-core A6 processor, high resolution Retina Display, an improved camera, and possibly LTE 4G-ready. The iPad 3 is also rumored to be about 1-1.5mm thicker.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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HTC’s One X superphone pushes camera and sound quality above all (hands on)

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 08:14 AM PST


After a few years of losing dominance in the Android phone arena, HTC is on a new mission to add sex appeal and unique features to top-notch phones in hopes of stealing some love from Samsung and Motorola. Enter the HTC One X, the company’s newly-announced Android superphone that emphasizes its camera prowess and Beats audio.

While the device was announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last night, we were able to get our hands on the slick handset at a private event in New York City Monday morning. My initial impressions are that the device is yet another powerful Android phone, but its key features, camera and Beats audio, are what the company is really pushing.

The HTC One X for AT&T, with its dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 4G LTE, runs fast. Flicking through HTC’s Sense Android skin user interface was a breeze, as was opening programs, playing music, and generally all types of multitasking.

An HTC representative told me the three things: premium design that makes it feel great in the hand, top-of-the-line 8-megapixel camera with 2.0 f-stop and ImageSense technology, and Beats audio quality. On the design front, the phone does feel “premium.” Its 4.7-inch HD screen with Gorilla Glass is beautiful and is capable of up to 720p video playback. For a phone with such a large screen, it’s still fairly light in the hand, weighing in at 4.6 ounces.

While I wasn’t able to the seriously test the camera sensor for a comparison with the iPhone 4S’ incredible camera/software, the pictures on the phone that I looked at were full of detail and strong on color. The phone does have a super-fast shutter speed as well as the ability to shoot multiple shots per second to make sure you get the perfect shot.

On the camera front, HTC may have been blindsided a little by Nokia’s announcement of its own high-quality camera phone this morning . The Nokia 808 PureView has a massive 41 megapixel camera inside, but in many ways it feels prototypical instead of real.

“We’re not focused on a single feature, we’re focused on the full camera experience,” HTC Director of Public Relations Tom Harlin told VentureBeat. “We know the issues that people have taking good quality pictures on the phone and we’re helping them with faster camera speed and quality pictures in adverse conditions like no light or low light. We’re also excited about consumers being able to take high-def stills while taking video.”

If anything was disappointing about the HTC One X, it had to be the Beats audio. When enabled and using Beats headphones, songs by Jay-Z and Rihanna sounded a little muddled and not nearly as crisp as they should be. That could have been the sound quality on the audio files more than the Beats tech, but it was still a lackluster element. An HTC rep said that these phones are not finalized with software and said the Beats software may end up different from what I tested today.

The HTC One X will be exclusively available to U.S. consumers on AT&T. The device will start shipping in April globally. HTC would not let slip on U.S. pricing and availability –  except that it would land some time in the second quarter.

You can view a full gallery of the HTC One X below:

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Total Immersion shows off cool new augmented reality game platform

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Total Immersion is releasing a new racing game demo that shows off the tools developers can use to create augmented reality games.

With the D’Fusion tools, developers can create games such as a racing titles that exploit a computer’s webcam to superimpose a helmet on your face. And you can use a faux steering wheel — which you hold in front of the webcam — to drive your car. So your gestures make you feel as if you’re driving on a race track on the screen.

For more than 12 years, the Paris-based company — a veteran of the DEMO conferences in 2004 and 2007 — has been delivering augmented reality experiences like this to developers, who in turn can launch games for consumers.

Bruno Uzzan, chief executive of Total Immersion, said in an interview that the new D’Fusion tools enable immersive new applications in augmented reality that can be integrated with Unity Technologies’ 3D game engine.

“Augmented reality is gaining a lot of momentum, from marketing advertisements to integrations with toys,” Uzzan said. “We’re using state of the art computer vision to track faces and detect movements that can deliver much more immersive gaming experiences. Our goal is to bring augmented reality to everyone.”

To create the racing game, the company had to develop much better face-tracking technology than it had before. The inputs from that system had to be integrated into the graphics rendering engine created by Unity. Total Immersion will show off the latest D’Fusion for Unity technology at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next week. The Total Immersion AR Formula 1 game, developed by partner Inside Solutions (Rennes, France), will run on an Intel Ultrabook, which has both gesture detection and a webcam that can track faces.

Total Immersion now has more than 6,000 developers using its D’Fusion platform, and it has more than 100 partners around the world.

The company has raised $12 million in three rounds and became profitable in 2010. More than 1,300 projects — including an interactive Tic Tac-branded billboard in times Square — have been released in the past two years. Total Immersion has 90 employees. Uzzan co-founded the company with Valentin Lefevre in 1999.

Check out the demo of the Total Immersion AR Formula 1 racing game below.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Printing Instagram photos “hugely profitable” for a new wave of entrepreneurs

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Pretty pictures make for comely keepsakes, a fact often forgotten in the rush to digital photo sharing. Now there is a growing momentum around taking lovely-looking mobile photos and turning them into tangible items worth sending to friends and family.

At the center of this mobile photo keepsake movement is Instagram, the iPhone application capturing the imagination of professional and hobby photographers. The application and its burgeoning community have become the muse to dozens of business-savvy entrepreneurs, spawning a side market where third-party players profit by printing Instagram’s treasures.

“It’s been a huge success,” CanvasPop co-founder Adrian Salamunovic said of his company’s new business turning Instragram photos into stunning 12-inch and 20-inch square wall-ready canvases.

After introducing the Instagram canvas-printing service in late November, the company went on to sell more than 10,000 prints in less than ten weeks. “It’s been hugely profitable from an effort to rollout perspective,” said Salamunovic.


iPhone-only application Instagram launched on the App Store in Oct. 2010 and has since become a photo-sharing phenomenon. The application touts a 15 million-member strong community and encourages people to shoot, filter, and share their square-format, retro-styled photos on Instagram and across the web. It’s arguably the simplest, fastest, and most pleasurable way to perfect a mobile snapshot.

Members have also shown an insatiable desire to extend the Instagram experience to the real world, even though the budding startup has no digital-to-print options of its own.

“It’s just not our focus,” Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told VentureBeat. “We’re excited that we’ve started an ecosystem upon which people can build businesses.”

Filling a void

The void left by Instagram is one app makers are anxious to fill. From ordering a colorful calendar filled with your filtered photos to sending personalized postcards, there’s a variety of ways to print Instagrams.

The dozens of companies proffering printed Instagram keepsakes range from new startups like Sincerely and Keepsy to long-time print shops like CanvasPop and Blurb. Even one-man operations such as Hatchcraft, which prints Instagram captures in lovable little frames called “Boo Boxes,” are profiting from the mobile photo-sharers who happily fork over more than few bucks to memorialize or gift their mobile captures.

Hatchcraft’s Boo Boxes popped up almost as instantly as Instagram did. The bamboo shadow box frames, made by freelance photographer Shane Rich, are offered in 4 inch and 7 inch print sizes for $22 and $34, respectively. The Boo Box product was inspired by Instagram, but today the buyer can upload any photo of her choosing. Still, 90 precent of orders come from Instagram users, Rich told VentureBeat.

“I’ve seen a steady 5 percent increase in sales month-to-month,” Rich said. “The majority of the photos I see come through are personal keepsakes: families, vacations, pets, newborns. There always seems to be an increase of sales around gift-giving holidays and the difference in billing address and shipping address on orders leads me to believe that these are popular for gift-giving.”

Gifting Instagram

IGers, as Instagram members call themselves, are more inclined to give than to receive, keepsake startup Sincerely founder Matt Brezina has found.

“The majority [90 percent] of the Instagram photos that we print … are not purchased by someone for themselves, but instead purchased by someone and sent to somebody else,” Brezina told VentureBeat.

Sincerely makes four iPhone applications for the purpose of social gifting by way of mobile capture. The company’s first application, Postagram, initially tailored exclusively for the IG iPhoneographer, gives iPhone owners a simple way to create, print, and ship $0.99 pop-out postcards to friends and family members.

“A printed photo with a short message, sent in the mail, is the simplest and most ubiquitously appreciated gift on the planet,” Brezina told VentureBeat. “Instagram just happens to have some really great photos that people are creating.”

Folks are sending their Postagrams to contacts not on Instagram, Brezina said, as a way to bring these people into the world of the amazing content being created on Instagram. “The comments and likes on Postagrams are in the form factor of text messages and phone calls from your recipients.”

Sincerely, knowing its audience, has firmly enmeshed itself within the Instagram community. The small company recently hired community manager @docpop, a popular Instagram user prior to joining the company, who mans the @postagram Instagram account with the ultimate goal of driving more business. “He shares photos each days, shares tips and tricks … to create great Instragram photos, and he hosts Instawalks,” Brezina said. “For us, Instagram is a content marketing platform.”

Keepsy Instagram calendar

The same strategy holds true for scrapbook and calendar printing service Keepsy, which also integrates with Instagram to allow IGers to create tangible gifts from their pics.

“We’ve also built up a strong following with the community by promoting great photographers in our gallery, as well as trying to develop a genuine photography persona,” Keepsy founder Blake Williams told VentureBeat. “I’m a very active user and have co-opted @keepsy as my personal feed. I very rarely post photos that could be considered promotional, and try to generate interest and good-will through interaction with the community.”

Instagram photos, he said, appear in about 40 to 50 percent of the books that Keepsy prints, though the startup is seeing a growing trend of people mixing and matching their square shots in layouts with traditional landscape and portrait formats.

Altogether, the Instagram-inspired products and services, optimized to create must-own or gift products from mobile photographs, are the reincarnation of the semi-successful digital print shops of the mid 2000s. They are, just as the service they help amplify, very much still in their infancy, but they suggest the emergence of a potentially lucrative market for entrepreneurs more cash-hungry than Instagram and other photo app makers.

Disclosure: The author accepted a complimentary CanvasPop Instagram print and a Keepsy calendar for the purpose of evaluating the products. Previously, Hatchcraft provided her with complimentary Boo Boxes.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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PayPal aims to bring standards into the dirty world of carrier payments

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 07:55 AM PST

Carrier payments — the ability to make mobile purchases that get charged directly to your cellular bill — are convenient for consumers, but for many merchants they can be a raw deal thanks to the big revenue bite carriers often take from purchases.

Ebay aims to change that paradigm and make carrier payments a viable option for many more merchants. Today eBay CEO John Donahoe announced the PayPal Carrier Payment Network at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which will help instill standards for carrier payments across different mobile operators.

PayPal mobile vice president David Marcus explained what the network aims to do on the company’s blog:

The initiative will require that carriers revise standards to help optimize user experience, increase flexibility of carrier payments as a payment method, and increase payout rates for merchants, allowing carrier payments to address the entire digital goods industry, which is expected to grow to $220 billion by 2014 according to Juniper Research.

The Carrier Payment Network is part of the multi-pronged approach PayPal and its parent company eBay are taking with mobile payments. In an interview with VentureBeat at the Mobile World Congress, Marcus also reiterated PayPal’s plans to roll out mobile payments to all Home Depot stores (over 2,000 locations) within the next few months, following a trial run in a few select stores.

Be it carrier payments, or simply picking up that much-needed chainsaw at Home Depot, eBay and PayPal want to be in on the mobile payments action. The companies today also announced two new mobile payment partnerships with Yotel, a company that offers temporary sleep pods for travelers, and Entradas, Spain’s top ticketing company.

Image via Liz Wize/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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A classic startup horror story: the M&A bait and switch

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 07:22 AM PST

 The founder was home in his kitchen cooking dinner when the call came. It was one of those moments when the color seems to drain out of the food in front of you. The voice on the other line was the contact at the company that has been trying to acquire his small startup for several months. "Our engineers looked at what you showed us during the due diligence and told our CEO, 'It doesn't look so hard, we can build it ourselves."

His thoughts flashed to the NDA the two companies had signed. He tried to focus on not exploding in a stream of curses. What about the fancy dinner with the top brass? The handshake deal not to shop his company around to any other bidders? The 12 month roadmap he had laid out for the board? The quickly dwindling cash reserves in his own bank account?

In today's startup industry, mergers and acquisitions are the fastest growing exit for venture backed companies. According to the most recent study by Ernst and Young, the value and volume of M&A in the technology space surged 41 percent in the last year, reaching levels not seen since the dot-com boom. The dangers for startups in the delicate dance of being pursued and purchased by a big corporate entity are many. It requires them to reveal their most intimate details, everything from their financial health to the lines of code that make their products run.

In the world of corporate mergers, AT&T and T-Mobile for example, the parties arrange an expensive break-up fee, like the $4 billion T-Mobile got when the deal fell through. Startups aren't so lucky. "Hearing this guys story, it's just brutal, it makes you sick to your stomach," said Ben Lerer, CEO of Thrillist, who has acquired companies and is an active venture capitalist. "That's why its so important to find seasoned investors. Entrepreneurs have the energy and the passion to stay up all night every night working on the product. A great VC has the battle scars to tell you when to trust the other party and when its better to play things close to the vest."

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Words of Warning

"Sometimes it is innocent and sometimes not so much," said Chris Dixon, whose company Hunch was recently acquired by eBay, and who has seen all sides of these deals as a founder and investor, "Some  companies are known to use acquisition as bait to get info, others are known to follow through and not mislead."

Playing hard to get is one tactic for defending against a bait and switch. " Don't disclose critical technical info until last possible moment, after the letter of intent," Dixon advised. But most importantly, with the uncertainty present in any acquisition, Dixon's strategy is simply, "To run your business as if a deal won’t happen until it is actually closed."

How does a startup ensure a good deal when their only leverage is to walk away from the table? "A lot of this is an art, not a science," says Babak Yaghmaei, a partner at Cooley specializing in startups and venture capital. "I think practically speaking, there’s little that can be done to deal with a “bad player” in a situation like this if the damage to their reputation and board relationships don’t keep the buyer honest."

Like a lot of the investors we chatted with, Yaghmaei talked about the importance of a Letter of Intent. "Proceeding with deep technical diligence without an LOI is probably not the best idea, particularly if the technology build doesn’t create a sufficiently high enough hurdle. I know that LOIs aren’t binding but at a minimum they create a more “vested interest” in the transactions by creating some formality around the process. Also, a seller can (and should) stage the technology disclosure in the diligence process and try (if possible) to not show all the cards until there is a high enough comfort level that the buyer is really interested and engaged."

Going into the acquisition process with eyes wide open is the theme our sources returned to time and again. "Companies are always going to do a build versus buy analysis," said Barry Kramer, a lawyer at Fenwick & West specializing in startups. "What is unusual is to get this far down the path of an acquisition," before the buyer turns their back on you.

For venture capitalists who work closely with corporate partners, this is a minefield startups are going to have to pay increasing attention to in the coming years. "I think you're going to see M&A expanding as one of the primary exits for startups," said Taylor Davidson, a senior associate at the venture arm of the massive ad firm KBS+P. "It would really pay to have an investor on your team who knows the in and outs of this kind of transaction."

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The founder from our story is still looking to sell. He asked for his company to remain anonymous to avoid legal complications over the non-disclosure agreement. But the company had raised a little under $1 million and was well know and respected in the local tech scene. The deal that fell through would have kept his startup intact, but now he’s just hoping for a soft landing for the investors. The team will disband and have already started looking for new positions in the fertile hiring fields of Silicon Alley. We asked the founder to share his experience, in his own words. The letter that follows is a raw account of a classic startup horror story.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Use Pinterest to boost your site’s traffic, without looking like a marketer

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

Social media professionals have spent the last few months trying to incorporate Pinterest into their strategies. We are just starting to figure out the best ways to do it, and calculate if it’s worth all the trouble. In some cases, it’s not.

If you’ve somehow missed the barrage of coverage, Pinterest is a social media site where people can create “boards,” on which they pin pictures they find online, similar to a scrapbook in real life. The various pictures (which usually link back to a site) are often compelling in nature, such as delicious-looking food, stylish clothing, or beautiful scenery. They spread virally through the network when other users “re-pin” them.

When a social media tool first takes off, early adopters wonder if it will be able to attract new users and customers, or whether it is just a passing fad. To find an answer, social media professionals vet new services through the creation, destruction, reconstruction, and perfection of best practices designed to drive traffic. The results are usually measured in page views, ad impressions, repeat visitors, or purchases.

So far, we’ve figured out the following basic “best practices” for driving traffic to your company, brand or site using Pinterest.

Become an active member of the community

Rule number one is to actually use Pinterest like a real user would. As with other traffic driving sites, like Digg and StumbleUpon, promoting just yourself will backfire and your posts won’t get traction.

Use Pinterest to post pictures that you find pretty, useful, or in the case of food, mouth-watering. Consistently use the site every day. Just showing up every once in a while with limited interaction is no way to build a following or develop relationships on the site. How are you supposed to determine whether or not Pinterest can increase your customer base if you don’t engage the site?

This type of approach should be common sense, but you’d be surprised how many marketers stand out like an undercover cop in high school.

Help others

If you see someone pinning something you like a lot, "re-pinn" it — meaning re-share it. If people “like” your pins and boards and “re-pinn” your images, do the same back for them to build good will.  Re-pinning is similar to a "re-blog" on Tumblr, a retweet on Twitter, or a share on Facebook. Consistently interacting with folks this way is directly related to whether or not you develop meaningful relationships online.

Know who to follow

Identify people and brands that have similar interests to you and watch them over time. Then, gradually engage them and interact with them, even promoting their posts through re-pinning, in the hopes that they might eventually notice the things you post and "re-pin" you as well. Follow these people on Facebook or befriend them on Facebook. Get to know them and talk to them. This is the heart of social media, and should come naturally. If you don't want to make friends with people, maybe this type of job isn't for you.


Pin a variety of items and create a wide-selection of boards. Mix in the content you wish to promote among the various items you are pinning to your boards. Over time, this traffic can build upon itself as new people find you, check out your pins, and click trough to your site. You can also attempt to bring extra traffic to images of your products on your site or blog by placing a “pin it” button near your photos.

Is Pinterest right for your site?

Yes, Pinterest is hot and the “It” social network of the moment, but it’s not for everyone. Do you run an online men’s lifestyle magazine, replete with pictures of scantily clad beautiful women and sports articles? It will be rough going on Pinterest for you. Don’t expect a lot of traction, at least not yet. There’s been a lot of talk about how the vast majority of people using the site are women, but that may not last forever. More and more men are signing up every day. Will we someday see just as many boards showing the best in men’s fashion as we do for women? Not anytime soon, I’m afraid.

Gauging the potential of Pinterest

The verdict is still out on whether Pinterest truly sends meaningful traffic to web sites. In recent weeks and months, an avalanche of articles have appeared about Pinterest. One report claims the site can now bring more traffic than Google+, Linkedin, and others combined. I spoke with one online marketing exec at a clothing company who said Pinterest has rapidly moved into the same territory, referral-wise, as Tumblr and Facebook for her company's site. These anecdotes are noteworthy but they remain few and far between at the moment. Hard information is scarce and most folks are at the very nascent stages of determining just how many visitors the site sends. They can’t say for sure if spending time on Pinterest has truly been “worth it.”

Many digital PR professionals are lumping Pinterest in with sites that stimulate traffic sometimes, but not always. Quora and Tumblr come to mind here.

I am of the opinion that all of these sites have potential to drive traffic. It is simply a matter of whether or not you have the time to invest in testing a site for traffic generation purposes, and whether you find that the time spent at the site is worth whatever traffic you are able wring from it.

John is a writer and social media consultant who has worked at Village Voice Media and NBC. He is now Vice President of Business Development at Hasai Inc.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Meteor Entertainment raises $10M to fund Hawken online mech game (exclusive)

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Meteor Entertainment has raised $10 million in a bid to launch a downloadable online game called Hawken. Aimed at hardcore gamers who battle each other online, Hawken is a fast-action shooting game where players can equip themselves with giant armored mech robotic suits and pummel each other in the ruined cities of a toxic planet.

The large amount of funding for a studio that has only one unpublished game in the works is a big bet, but one that the backers are making with a great deal of confidence. The investors include Benchmark Capital and FirstMark Capital, the same investors who backed the highly successful Riot Games, maker of League of Legends, a downloadable web game that was so popular that China’s Tencent bought Riot for more than $400 million last year. At the time, Riot had just a million users, but the company was valuable because of its fast growth — it has more than 35 million downloads now and four million to five million daily active users — and the hardcore gamers were willing to spend real money for virtual goods in the free-to-play title. The investors call the sector the “core free-to-play market.”

“We were tremendously thankful to be associated with Riot, but we viewed the market as much bigger than a single title,” Mitch Lasky, a partner at Benchmark, said in an exclusive interview. “We think that $8 billion to $10 billion will migrate away from packaged goods games and free-to-play will be a lightning rod for those dollars.”

Hawken is being developed by Adhesive Games, a small team in Alhambra, Calif., and it will be published by its parent company, Meteor Entertainment, which is headed by chief executive Mark Long and has staff in Seattle. Long hopes to accomplish something similar to Riot by targeting Hawken at hardcore gamers. On top of high quality, the team hopes it can disrupt traditional hardcore game companies via digital distribution on the web and the free-to-play business model. And Meteor is building a hybrid cloud publishing infrastructure that will be able to host other games too.

“We are seeing the rise of the direct-to-consumer model, where all is downloadable and free-to-play,” Rick Heitzmann, founder and managing director of FirstMark Capital, told VentureBeat. “You can disrupt the business with a free-to-play title. Gamers are willing to pay via virtual goods to do that. League of Legends is a fantastic title, but it is just one game and one genre that has blown up. We think it’s possible to produce very high quality games that have huge audiences that are willing to pay.”

Lasky added, “It’s a phenomenon akin to other incumbent areas like music, TV, film, and newspapers, where the internet is disrupting both
business models and consumption patterns. We have seen it happen again and again. The internet levels the playing field.”

Hawken is scheduled to launch on Dec. 12, or 12/12/12. The title drew a lot of attention last year because the team posted cool game play videos on YouTube that collectively garnered more than 1.9 million views. Khang Le, chief executive of Adhesive Games, told us in an interview that the game is akin to Call of Duty multiplayer combat, but for mechs.

Among the comments on YouTube are:

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

The developers are now enlisting gamers for the closed beta test; more than 200,000 have signed up already. The money will support Meteor’s expansion over the next year and make it possible to publish Hawken as a free-to-play game.

The title is Adhesive’s first. The studio was formed in 2010 and has 11 employees in Alhambra and 12 in Seattle. CEO Khang Le co-founded the company with K. Jonathan Kreuzer (technical lead), Dave Nguyen (designer/artist) and Christopher Lalli (animator).

Le previously worked on a game development team called Offset Software that was working on a fantasy action game known as Project Offset. Intel acquired the company because it needed a team of game makers to create software to run on its Larrabee multi-core graphics chip, which was intended to be the heart of a video game console. Intel had a deal in place to make the chip, but the project ran off schedule and Intel ultimately canceled it. After that, Le left and recruited former team members to begin work on Hawken, starting in 2010. They continued the work without funding as a labor of love.

“They were an incredibly passionate and competent team,” Lasky said. “Lots of things suggested to us it would be a big hit.”

Heitzmann added, “They were scrappy. The fact that they did their demo with 10 people is remarkable. “

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

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

The content was so good that Lasky was sure the right route was to raise funding so that Adhesive and Meteor could remain independent. Now the company plans to create new assets such as graphic novels, videos, and even a feature film.

The key to monetizing the game is the virtual goods model, where users play it for free and then pay real money for virtual goods such as better weapons, armor, and defenses. The game looks cool in part because Adhesive has licensed the Unreal Engine 3 from Epic Games to power the PC version. Le said the company intends to operate Hawken like a service over a number of years. But it won't be a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.

So far there are no direct competitors, although a title called MechWarrior Online project is under development. Piranha Games is creating that title as a free-to-play game for the PC. In digital publishing, rivals include Valve, Electronic Arts (with its Origin service), and Nexon. Meteor has 34 employees, including 11 in Alhambra and 23 in Seattle.

Lasky said he started looking for the Hawken team at the suggestion of his brother, who saw the game play video. But the team didn’t have a web site at the time and Lasky had to track them down via a job posting in Alhambra, where “I camped out on their doorstep.” At the time, Le was looking for publishers and “we talked him out of that,” Lasky said.

Then Lasky and Heitzmann helped recruit Long, who was previously chief executive of Zombie Games in Seattle. Long pulled together a publishing team to host the game, handle the marketing, and undertake merchandising.

As for the state of gaming, Lasky said, “This is the most chaotic period in the game industry I can remember, and chaos is good for investors and startups. This year, I don’t think there will be a galvanizing event like Zynga’s initial public offering. But there will be a series of small events that will look significant in retrospect. Social and mobile games are clearly lower risks. But if you find an extraordinary game like Hawken, you can build a defensible competitive position.”

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On Twitter, the Oscar winners don’t stack up to the Grammys or Superbowl

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 04:29 AM PST

The post-game analysis from the social media set is rolling in, and it seems like the Oscars, while big, didn’t manage to generate nearly as much conversation as The Grammys or Superbowl.

We’re not just using Twitter as a easy excuse to pontificate about current events. As Reuters points out, big growth in social media engagement is one of the key metrics the show’s producers will trot out when they’re selling advertisements for next year’s broadcast.

So if talk on Twitter translates to cold hard dollars, how does the Academy stack up? Social TV outfit Bluefin Labs counted 3.4 million #oscar related tweets, up three fold from the 966,000 they counted in 2011. Meryll Streep’s big win and J. Lo’s plunging neckline were the hot topics to chat about.

But while all that sounds good, it pales a little when you compare it to the Grammys, which managed to pull in 13 million tweets and an astounding 2,300 percent growth year over year. The Superbowl clocked in at around 12 million tweets, with more than 500 percent growth.

Breaking down these numbers is the bread and butter for firms like Bluefin, Trendrr, Getglue and Social Guide. How well this fledgling field works is still up for debate. But Twitter analysis did a pretty great job predicting the winners, nailing best picture, actress, and coming within a margin of error for best actor.

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Digital ad company OpenX acquires LiftDNA

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 03:00 AM PST

Ad company OpenX, which helps publishers and enterprise companies sell valuable ad space, said today it has acquired LiftDNA, which helps find untapped ad sources and track how much money publishers make off of ad campaigns.

OpenX is an ad-serving company that takes a holistic approach to managing ad campaigns and inventory. The company set out to combat a problem most publishers face: the need to manage multiple ad services with different companies.

In February 2011, OpenX launched OpenX Enterprise, an ad server and ad exchange that helps publishers manage several advertising services in one place. When it first launched, the company touted OpenX Enterprise as its first product to beat out competitors like Google’s DoubleClick by offering publishers a more holistic view of their ad inventory.

“Everything is built into the ad server — impressions come up from sales, bids are in one place — no one else does that,” OpenX’s chief executive, Tim Cadogan (pictured above), told VentureBeat, ”Fundamentally, we are different because we are open and neutral from a publisher standpoint, unlike Google whose revenue comes mainly from ads.”

LiftDNA is a supply-side platform that helps publishers find untapped ad revenue and manages insights from publisher’s ad campaigns. With the acquisition, OpenX is releasing a new product called LiftDNA by OpenX, which will offer a large inventory of ads. The product will combine services from both companies, which have been working closely together for several months.

“LiftDNA drives more revenue for publishers, leverages the data and insights in the ad server to be more intelligent, and helps manage ad networks,” LiftDNA’s chief executive, Vadim Telyatnikov, told VentureBeat.

OpenX’s main competitor is Google’s DoubleClick, but the company’s CEO, Cadogan, said both Google and Microsoft are active in the space and that OpenX has its eyes on what those companies will do in the future.

OpenX’s clients include daily-deals site Groupon and Orange-France Telecom. The company has raised $50 million from SAP Ventures, AOL Ventures, Mitsui & Co. Global Investment, Presidio Ventures, Accel Partners, and Index Ventures. OpenX is based in Los Angeles, with offices in New York, Philadelphia, London, and Japan.

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Vimeo launches improved iOS app with full-screen iPad playback

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 01:30 AM PST

When streaming video service Vimeo launched brand-new Android and Windows Phone applications in early January, the company teased that it was also working on a major update for iOS so it could support the iPad. Now that wait is finally up, with Vimeo launching its much improved iOS app today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Vimeo told me back in January that total traffic coming from mobile was at 7 percent in Jan. 2010 and that now sits at 15 percent. So clearly the company has realized how important it is to cater its service to the throngs of mobile users trotting iPhones, iPads, Android phones, and Windows Phones.

"We've seen mobile traffic triple since we launched our original iPhone app in early 2011," said Joseph Schmitt, lead mobile developer at Vimeo, in a statement. "Now, we've taken what we learned while creating our previous apps and applied it to the updated iOS to improve overall design and usability. We're especially pleased with the awesome iPad user interface, which the Vimeo community has eagerly awaited."

Before this update, the company only offered an iOS app to support the iPhone and iPod touch. But now it will work with the iPad, which is especially important because that device is tailor-made for media consumption.

Besides iPad support, the iOS app adds the ability to browse videos while you watch one, making the discovery process better. There’s also a video editor, which is a nice touch especially since the app is free. Additionally, when you edit videos, you can buy and incorporate licensed music from the Vimeo Music Store.

Vimeo has been owned by IAC, which also owns OKCupid, Match.com, Urbanspoon, and The Daily Beast, since August 2006. Vimeo doesn't reveal paid subscriber numbers, but it does have more than 8 million registered users at present.

The iOS app is free can be downloaded from the Apple App Store. The app is compatible with iOS devices running iOS 4.3 and above.

You can see a few more screenshots of the new Vimeo iPad app below:

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Nokia’s 808 PureView blows away the competition with massive 41MP camera

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 12:38 AM PST

You read that right. Nokia just announced the 808 PureView here at the Mobile World Congress, and it sports an astoundingly large 41 megapixel camera.

Nokia is well aware that such large resolution pictures will be difficult to share, so the phone will oversample pictures to a size roughly around a 5 megapixel picture. That means better picture quality without scary file sizes. And if you do dare to take a picture at the full resolution (which is actually 38 MP), you’ll be able to zoom into the picture after the fact without losing much detail.

The 808 PureView runs Nokia’s Belle OS, which could be a disappointment to those expecting yet another new Windows Phone from the company. Jo Harlow, Nokia’s head of smartphones, said that the company will eventually bring its PureView technology to future phones. We can consider the 808 PureView a practice run for the tech, and a new lustworthy device for Nokia fanatics.

The phone features a 4-inch display and a 1.3 gigahertz processor. We expect to hear more about how this phone’s magical camera works in the future. In comparison, the iPhone 4S, and most other high-end smartphones, feature 8-megapixel cameras. The 808 is interesting, but I’m far more curious what PureView will look like once it hits future phones.

The Nokia 808 PureView is expected to ship in May for €450. No word on a U.S. release yet.

Top Photo/Devindra Hardawar

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Nokia hasn’t forgotten about the low-end: Announces Lumia 610, new Asha devices

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 12:14 AM PST

Nokia has impressively repositioned itself as a high-end Windows Phone maker, but the company hasn’t forgotten about the lower-end of the market either.

Nokia officially announced its cheapest Windows Device yet, the Lumia 610, as well as three new Asha S40 devices today at the Mobile World Congress, the Asha 202, 203, and 302. Additionally, the company has announced a major update to its Nokia Life service, which gives consumers in emerging markets access to useful mobile tools.

The Lumia 610 looks like a smaller version of the Lumia 710, and Nokia describes it as the perfect introduction for Windows Phone for younger audiences. The Asha 202 and 203 are touch-screen enabled, with the 202 offering the ever-popular (in Europe and Asia, at least) dual-SIM configuration. The Asha 202 and 203 are touch-screen enabled, with the 202 offering the ever-popular (in Europe and Asia, at least) dual-SIM configuration, while the 302 sports a QWERTY hardware keyboard.

With Nokia Life, which is now available in India, China, Indonesia, and Nigeria, users will be able to do things like easily learn English, or get information on basic health services from doctors. Nokia says it plans to extend Nokia Life beyond four markets soon.

Nokia says the Asha 202 and 203 will retail for 60 euros, while the 302, which is already available, will sell for 95 euros. A Nokia rep tells me the Lumia 610 will retail for around 190 euros without contract when it launches in a few months. At this point a U.S. release is uncertain, but I’m sure some prepaid carrier would love to pick it up.

Photos/Devindra Hardawar

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Gameloft to publish games on Intel Atom smartphones

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 12:00 AM PST

Gameloft, one of the largest mobile game publishers, has agreed to publish games on Intel’s new Atom-based smartphones and tablets.

The move is critical to Intel’s larger ecosystem for its new mobile chips, which have been designed into smartphones from Orange, Lenovo and Motorola. That’s because games are the most popular apps on just about any mobile platform. It’s another sign of momentum behind Intel’s mobile chip efforts.

Gameloft will make titles that run on Android-based smartphones and tablets with Intel Atom microprocessors.The move isn’t a surprise for Gameloft, which tends to support many different kinds of mobile devices.

Among the games to be published on the Intel phones are Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus (pictured), and Uno. Each title was ported using Google’s Android Native Development Kit and the games make use of Intel’s graphics media accelerator to deliver high-definition graphics. The titles will be available in the Android Market.

“We are pleased to team up with Intel to demonstrate our high performance HD games on new Intel Atom processor-based devices,” said Ludovic Blondel, a vice president at Gameloft. The companies made the announcement at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

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Intel delays next-generation Ivy Bridge processor for laptops

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 11:29 PM PST

A senior Intel executive confirmed an earlier report that the company’s code-named Ivy Bridge laptop microprocessor will be delayed from the spring until June.

Sean Maloney, executive vice president of Intel, said in an interview with the Financial Times that the 22-nanometer microprocessor will not ship in April as had been expected by analysts and computer makers.

DigiTimes reported on Feb. 16 that Intel had told computer makers to expect a delay in initial shipments of the processors, which will be used in Ultrabook laptops, which are thin and light high-performance machines that resemble Apple’s MacBook Air. Ten days ago, Intel declined comment, saying that Ivy Bridge was “on track for our spring 2012 launch, in line with previous guidance.”

It’s not clear why Intel waited this long to publicly confirm what computer makers had already been told. But Intel had never given a precise date for the mass shipments except to say spring. It’s quite a stretch to say that June shipments amount to a spring launch.

"I think maybe it's June now," said Maloney to the Financial Times.

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

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

Ivy Bridge is the successor to Intel’s Sandy Bridge family of chips, and it could be used in a wide variety of computers from laptops to servers. Intel has yet to comment on the Financial Times story.


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New Adobe stats show encouraging signs of life for tablet magazines

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 09:01 PM PST

Magazines on tablets, dismissed by some as a last-ditch effort to save a dying print product, are gaining steam, according to new stats released by Adobe. Tablet-magazine readers are engaged, have long attention spans, and most importantly, actually pay for content.

The company crunched numbers from the 600 publishers that are using its Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) to produce tablet content. Currently, there are 1,500 iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook, Samsung Galaxy, and other Android tablet publications created with DPS, including 12 out of the 20 top-grossing iPad Newsstand titles.

The first promising stat is that tablet publications keep readers’ attention, with 56 percent of DPS content being read for 25 minutes to 2.5 hours each month. Nine percent of readers spend up to 5 hours a month reading tablet publications. One of the reasons for these un-Internet-like attention spans might be interactivity. Tablet publications are packed with slideshows, videos, 360-degree images, and constantly updated content from the web.

These statistics show how far the medium has come in the two years since Apple first launched the iPad, and the almost five months since it rolled out the Newsstand feature — a hub for all digital publications that live on the iPad home screen. With 16 million DPS digital publications downloaded in the past year, tablets are giving hope to publishers that are hemorrhaging print subscribers.

One of the big missteps in online publishing has been putting content online first, worrying about how to make money off of it second. Most pay walls aren’t working, and online ads don’t make the amounts of money print publishers need to fund high-quality content. Tablet publications are trying to remedy that.

"When we push content online, we're inviting people to come into the shop and steal our candy without paying,” said Declan Moore, president of National Geographic Publishing. National Geographic uses DPS to make tablet versions of its magazines. “With the app we have a cash register in place, which we didn't have before."

The cash register doesn’t appear to be scaring off customers used to getting things for free. Adobe found 68 percent of tablet readers were paying for their reading material: 15 percent paid for a single issue, 26 percent purchased subscriptions, and 27 percent are shelling out for a bundle of print and digital issues.

Even with these up-front payments, ad sales remain an important source of revenue for tablet pubs. Adobe found readers are engaging with ads just as much on tablets as they do in print, and one in every five tablet page views is an advertisement.

“Different mediums lend themselves to different types of ads. Online they're in a hunt-and-gather mode, on the iPad they're in a lean-back-and-entertain-me mode,” said Moore. He said tablet magazine ads are more suited for “brand advertising” than online direct-response advertising, where success is measure by click-through rates.

Tablet-magazine advertisements are ahead of online ads in some respects — they are attractive, have high-production values, and can be interactive without being intrusive or annoying. That makes them ideal for big companies like Lexus that are trying to increase brand recognition, not get you to click-through and buy a car right this second.

However, in order for tablet issues to be counted toward a magazine’s general circulation numbers, publishers have to follow rules from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. These regulations are partiality responsible for limiting tablet-ad innovation, and put them behind online ads in areas such as behavioral and demographic targeting.

Interestingly, National Geographic has had impressive success on non-iPad tablets. Moore explained that iPad users own their devices for a variety of purposes — watching movies, playing games, or browsing the Internet. But many Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook owners bought those tablets because they love to read.

The iPad isn’t the only tablet for magazines, and DPS isn’t the only creation option for publishers. Many magazines are using similar tools such as Mag+ (from the makers of Popular Science), Aquafadas, Woodwing, or their own custom solutions (like the New York Times) to create tablet content.

What the tablet publications have in common is they are all hoping to have finally hit on a digital business model that pays.

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ZenCash thanks your customers who pay, nags those who don’t

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 09:01 PM PST

Small business payment management service ZenCash launches Monday, hoping to help startups and freelancers get paid on time.

“ZenCash helps you manage your payment plan of attack and manages the plan for you,” said ZenCash founder Brandon Cotter in an interview with VentureBeat, ”[With ZenCash] you don’t have to be the bad guy, you can let someone else do the dirty work.”

Startup owners and freelancers usually rely heavily on payments from their customers and clients to keep themselves in the black. ZenCash founder Brandon Cotter found that many startups and freelancers he talked to were encountering problems with getting paid, so he sought to do something about it.

ZenCash offers services that reward clients for making payments and go after those that don’t. The company will send out thank you notes and/or gift cards to customers who process payments on time. For customers who delay payment, ZenCash will make phone calls, send letters, and eventually send your dispute to a collections agency on your behalf. Each service has a price attached to it, and you pay per phone call or email sent out. If your invoice has to go to a collections agency, ZenCash takes a percentage cut of the payment amount.

The service integrates with existing accounting software such as Clio, Harvest, and QuickBooks. ZenCash accounts are free for now, but because Intuit charges for access to the QuickBooks API, the company may charge a subscription fee in the future.

Cotter started ZenCash because as a business owner, he found it a hassle to devote time to resolving payment disputes. He also realized that many businesses want to maintain positive relationships with clients and didn’t want to get involved with payment disputes and collections calls.

ZenCash faces competition from accounting services such as Freshbooks that can send out payment reminder emails. Freelancers can get support from sites such as Elance, which will facilitate payment disputes between contractors and clients. And of course, startups can make calls, send out thank you cards, and contact collections agencies themselves.

The company’s founders have invested $500,000 to launch the company. ZenCash is made up of a team of six, scattered across the U.S. and Europe. Its main headquarters is in Dallas, Texas.

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Onavo’s data compression makes its way to Android 4.0 devices

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 09:00 PM PST

Onavo has had something of a split personality for the past year. The company’s iPhone app has won countless awards for its revolutionary data compression capability (including top prize at our MobileBeat 2011 conference), but Android users had to make do with an entirely different Onavo app that helped them keep track of their mobile data.

All of that changes on Monday with the launch of Onavo Extend, a free new Android app that brings Onavo’s data compression technology to Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” smartphones and tablets. Now Android users will be able to shave precious megabytes off of their wireless bills, which will be particularly useful when roaming.

Onavo Extend won’t replace the company’s existing Android app, CEO Guy Rosen told VentureBeat in an interview, which makes sense, since it only works on newer Android devices. Rosen tells me that Ice Cream Sandwich added new features in its VPN API that made it possible to bring over the compression feature. The iPhone, on the other hand, was able to support Onavo’s technology from the start.

Just like with its iPhone app, Onavo Extend requires you only to turn on its compression capabilities, after which it will seamlessly slim down your data without any more tweaking. You can expect push notifications to alert you of just how much data the app is saving, something that has driven the popularity of Onavo’s iPhone app.

The company’s initial Android app also has a crowdsourced engine that keeps track of apps that hog data. Rosen previously said he hopes to bring over that capability to Apple’s platform eventually.

Onavo is based in Tel Aviv, Israel, and has raised a total of $13 million from Horizon Ventures and Motorola Mobility Ventures.

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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Marvell launches new chips for smartphones in emerging markets

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 08:30 PM PST



Marvell is showing off a bunch of new chips for smartphones, smart TVs, networking, and other gear at the Mobile World Congress event this week. Among the new products is the world’s first TD-HSPA+ modem chip for smartphones used in emerging countries such as China.

Mobile chip makers are dueling to get their chips designed into the latest smartphones and tablets at this week’s event, which is being covered live by VentureBeat’s Devindar Hardawar. Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Intel have all announced big customer wins already at the show.

The new modem chip, the Marvell PXA1202, can triple the data rate for phones connected to TD-SCDMA networks. Phones using the so-called 3.5G technology can download data at rates of 8.4 megabits per second, compared with 2.8 megabits per second for current phones.

Marvell is also launching its LTE multimode modem chip set for phones that can transfer a lot of data at a low cost. The new PXA1802 chip will help address geographic fragmentation problems that have slowed adoption of certain mobile standards. The chip targets China’s TD-SCDMA network technology for mobile phones.

Marvell said it will have a number of new handset design wins for its TD-SCDMA chips for emerging markets such as China. Those designs use a user interface from Marvell dubbed Kinoma.

Kinoma Play is a user interface for smartphones, tablet computers, and other mobile devices. It can be built into a single application or become the user's main interface for operating the multimedia apps on a phone. Kinoma Play is functional, fluid and fast interface. It works great with a touchscreen, letting you do tasks more easily, such as flipping through your music collection or zooming in on a face in a picture. Marvell acquired the small software company Kinoma last year.

Among Kinoma’s new features: the ability to manage your home appliances and lighting from afar. It makes sense for a chip maker to do this because it isn't all about the hardware. Great smartphone software can show off the power of a chip through applications such as photo browsing. Intel has learned that too and is designing entire phones for its first smartphone customers.

“I am very proud that we are a strong driving force behind the evolution of the smart devices people around the world use every day in the home and at work, from mobile smartphones and smart TVs, such as Google TV, to smart appliances, energy-efficient lighting and mobile printing,” said Weili Dai, co-founder of Marvell.

Marvell’s new WiFi platform, Avastar, will be upgraded to handle 802.11ac, which promises much faster wireless networking in the not so distant future, as well as near-field communications (NFC) for more ubiquitous phone-based payment platforms.

Marvell said it is also launching technology to support easier mobile printing via WiFi networks.


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Orange uses Intel chips for high-performance “Santa Clara” smartphone

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 04:01 PM PST

Intel has been the underdog in mobile phone chips for the past decade, but it’s finally making its move. The company is announcing today that mobile network operator Orange will use Intel’s chips in a new exclusive smartphone for customers in the United Kingdom and France.

The world’s biggest chip maker has been trying to break into the smartphone processor market for years, competing against ARM-based processor rivals such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Nvidia, and Marvell.

Orange isn’t Intel’s only new customer. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Intel announced that Lenovo and Motorola would create smartphones based on Intel’s chip and phone designs.

The latter fact is key to Intel’s ability to win new customers, said Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of Intel’s mobile and communications group, in an interview. He said that Intel has amassed a huge amount of talent to create cell phones, from chip designers to phone designers.

Together, they are creating all of the necessary hardware prototypes, or reference designs, that enable phone makers such as Orange to adopt them and then customize them for their own needs. The smartphones are based on Intel’s latest Atom processors, previously code-named Medfield.

The new phone is both razor-thin — only 9.99 millimeters thick — and has high performance based on Intel’s x86 chips that were historically used in personal computers and have now been refashioned with low-power technology to be used in energy-efficient smartphones with long battery lives.

Orange will package a number of locally-relevant apps and services with the smartphone, code-named Orange Santa Clara. The smartphone will have services including Orange TV, Daily Motion, Deezer, Orange Wednesdays, Your Orange, and Orange Gestures. The phone’s processor is beefy enough to deliver fast internet and compelling video performance, Bell said.

The Intel chips are powerful enough to drive high-performance Android smartphones that are aimed at delivering rich entertainment experiences.

Orange has been delivering smartphones under its own brand for more than a decade, and it doubled its Orange-branded portfolio of phones in 2011, with market share rising from 7 percent of smartphones in France and the United Kingdom to 15 percent, said Patrick Remy, vice president of devices at Orange, in an interview.

“We have been working on this for some time and want to bring the mobile internet to even more of our customers,” Remy said. “This phone fits in really well as the next step in our strategy of bringing high performance into products at an affordable price.”

At launch, the Orange smartphone will run Android's Gingerbread platform with a planned upgrade to Android's Ice Cream Sandwich platform. It also has the Intel smartphone reference design and the Intel Atom processor Z2460 with support for HSPA+. The phone has a 4.03-inch display and measures 123 millimeters x 63 x 9.99. It has 16 gigabytes of internal flash memory and weighs 117 grams. The camera can take as many as 10 pictures in a second with 8-megapixel quality, Bell said. The phone also has 1080p video and an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) so you can display the phone’s video on a larger screen. It has 14 days of standby battery life and eight hours of talk time.

“We are thrilled,” Bell said.

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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“World-record” battery could mean cheaper, longer-range electric cars are coming soon

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 03:35 PM PST

There are two major concerns when it comes to electric cars; how long they can drive without needing to stop for a charge and how much they cost. Envia, a lithium ion battery developer, hopes to eliminate both concerns with its latest world-record 400 watt-hour/kilogram battery.

“We have built 400 watt per kilogram batteries, which have been considered the holy grail of electric cars,” said Envia’s chief executive Atul Kapadia said in an interview with VentureBeat, ”This is a milestone that many car companies have wanted to reach.”

To understand the cost of charging and using an electric car battery, you have to understand how we pay for electricity. Power utilities charge by kilowatt-hour, which is 1000 kilowatts of power used every 60 minutes. The industry standard for electric car batteries has hovered between 110 and 140 watt-hours/kilogram, costing between $250 and $350 per kilowatt-hour to operate.

Envia’s new battery clocks in at 400 watt-hours/kilogram, meaning more energy is stored per kilogram in the battery, making it more energy-efficient. The new battery will cost $125 per kilowatt-hour, according to the company. Because Envia’s battery has a higher energy density, it can also travel farther on a charge. The company boasts a 300 mile range with the new battery, higher than previous batteries which delivered 80-100 mile ranges.

Cheaper electric cars on the horizon

Electric cars having begun to gain traction, in large part thanks to Tesla’s electric offerings and GM’s Chevy Volt. However, Tesla’s Model S and Model X cars are still a bit out of the general public’s price range, costing around $50,000. The Chevy Volt, with a $31,000 price tag, is more accessible, but to gain mass appeal the cost still needs to be slashed.

“Tesla isn’t really mass affordable,” said Kapadia, ”The mission of the company is make the electric cars affordable. If you lower the cost enough, the market will respond. Our goal was to halve the price of a 300 mile car, and if you make it half, it becomes viable.”

Envia’s lower cost battery will give GM the chance to lower the cost of the Volt, making it more available to the general car buying public. In addition, other car companies could use the technology to create economically viable cars that could compete with gasoline-powered economy models.

General Motors hasn’t revealed any details on how it may use this technology, or if its done anything already. But being a major stakeholder in Envia, I can only imagine its got something planned.

A few more hurdles to overcome

Electric cars may be the wave of the future, but the technology still has a way to go. For one, you need to charge your car to power it, which can mean higher utility costs and the need to install special charging outlets. Tesla recently came under fire over reports that you could “brick” its cars by letting its battery complete discharge. And while Tesla refuted the claims, it did raise some concerns over whether electric vehicle technology is full ready for mainstream use.

Technology issues aside, electric cars haven’t reached a covetable status among mainstream Americans, who typically want full-featured powerful cars. Though the general population may not be fully on board with electric cars just yet, at least “they cost too much” won’t be a valid excuse for much longer.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S III may rock a 4.8″ screen, ceramic back

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 03:14 PM PST

Samsung Galaxy S II

At this point, Samsung’s Galaxy S III is beginning to feel like the next iPhone — at least when it comes to rumors.

The latest report pegs the phone with a 4.8-inch screen — 0.2 inches larger than Google’s Galaxy Nexus — and a luxurious ceramic back, sources tell the mobile site Boy Genius Report.

The large screen size wouldn’t be too surprising, especially given how much Samsung is trying to push the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note as a smartphone. And the addition of better rear material would certainly help to improve Samsung’s building quality.

I’ve been a big fan of Samsung’s Galaxy S line since it initially launched, but they’ve always felt a bit too cheap and plasticky to me. Even the Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus suffers from cheap feeling plastic rear. A ceramic back would feel better in the hand and be more durable than plastic. It would also give Samsung a way to differentiate the Galaxy S III from Apple’s all-glass iPhone 4(S) design.

At this point, the Galaxy S III is expected to sport a quad-core processor (a given, after all the quad-core phones at Mobile World Congress), better cameras, and may end up being just 7 millimeters thick.

BGR also reports that the Galaxy S III may launch in over 50 markets simultaneously, which echoes HTC’s goal to launch its new HTC One phones worldwide in April.

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The HTC One will be your mobile photo savior

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 12:55 PM PST

Just how much does your smartphone’s camera matter to you? With its latest flagship Android line, dubbed HTC One, the Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC is hoping that a killer camera is just enough to sway you over to its phones.

Those killer features include the ability to take video and photos without switching modes (something that wastes precious seconds), as well as near-instant camera app launching and autofocus. HTC is calling its combined new photo technology ImageSense, which CEO Peter Chou describes as “the power of a true digital camera on your phone.”

Chou unveiled the One series of devices, which includes the HTC One X, One S, and One V, at the Mobile World Congress today to a packed room. He said that taking photos was the second-most common thing consumers did with their phones, so the company saw a huge market reason to focus on helping people take better photos.

Thanks to ImageSense — which is an all-encompassing term to describe tweaks HTC has made to the camera lens, sensor, user interface and software — Chou says that HTC One phones can launch their camera app in 0.7 seconds, and they can autofocus in just 0.2 seconds. Other tweaks are sure to appeal to camera fanatics. For example, the phones can take a burst of photos simply by holding down the shutter button, and they can automatically adjust the flash level to keep subjects from looking washed out.

Perhaps best of all, the HTC One phones will let you easily take a picture while recording a video.

The new camera capabilities will be included in HTC Sense 4, the latest version of the company’s custom Android software. In addition to photos, the new phones will offer Beats integration with music from any source, be it on your device or streamed from the web. The One series will also include 25 gigabytes of free Dropbox storage for two years, and thanks to Sense 4, they will be able to automatically sync music wirelessly from your computer.

The HTC One X is the flagship device in the new series, with a 4.7-inch screen, 720p HD resolution, and quad-core Tegra 3 processor. HTC will also offer an LTE variant of the One X that will run Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 platform. The One X features a unibody polycarbonate design — a necessary upgrade for HTC, as its past phones weren’t the most durable devices.

Not surprisingly, the One S and One V are meant to serve mid-range and low-range customers. The One S is smaller than the X and features an anodized aluminum case. HTC didn’t hype up the One V much at its press conference, but we expect it to eschew the fancy case designs and large screens in exchange for a more affordable price.

HTC is also taking a different strategy this time around when it comes to bringing these phones to the public. Instead of slowly rolling them out across different regions, the One series of phones will launch globally in April. Chou said that 144 carriers around the world have already signed on to offer the phones.

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With the Xperia P and Xperia U, Sony finally has an Android phone for everyone

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 11:17 AM PST

Sony Mobile president Bert Nordberg showing off the new Xperia phones

Sony unveiled two new smartphones tonight at Mobile World Congress, the Xperia P and Xperia U, which will sit alongside the company’s previously announced Xperia S phone.

Altogether, the phones make up Sony’s new “Xperia NXT” brand. More than just being the next generation of Xperia handsets, the NXT series shows how Sony can take command of its mobile future now that Ericsson is out of the picture. The company has already released a slew of Android devices under the Xperia name, but none of them have been smash hits.

At the press conference, Sony CMO Steve Walker described each phone as having “a very unique personality.” Indeed, all of the NXT models have different key features. The Xperia S is the best for viewing HD content, thanks to its 720p resolution display and large 4.3-inch screen. The 4-inch Xperia P sports a screen with the same 720p resolution (making everything look slightly more sharp than the S), and a new technology called “White Magic” that makes it ideal for outdoor viewing. You can also plug the Xperia P into a dock to output its display to a TV, as well as control it via keyboard and mouse.

The Xperia U is the runt of the litter, since it has the smallest screen at 3.5-inches, but its portability (and likely slightly cheaper price) could be appealing to those who don’t want large phones. (Don’t forget that the iPhone 4S still sports a 3.5-inch display as well.) The U is powered by a 1 gigahertz processor and includes “xLoud” sound processing, which will likely help it make your tunes sound better.

All of the phones feature near-field communication (NFC), which will work together with Sony’s Xperia Smart Tags, tiny modules you can place anywhere to easily change your phone’s settings with one tap. For example, you could easily reconfigure your Xperia phone for use in the car by placing a Smart Tag somewhere on your dashboard.

It’s worth nothing that tonight’s press conference at MWC was the company’s first showing with its newly renamed Sony Mobile division. The Xperia P and Xperia U don’t seem that remarkable on their own, but their existence shows that Sony is now getting better about creating a unified Android brand, something that could help the company better compete against Samsung and Apple.

The company’s other flagship phone, the Xperia Ion, is still in the picture, but I won’t be too surprised if an updated version of the Ion eventually falls under the NXT brand as well.

The Xperia S is now shipping globally, and Sony says that both the P and U models will be available in the second quarter.

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LG targets deal seekers, 3D fans, and giant hands at Mobile World Congress

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 10:11 AM PST

Is LG’s new Optimus 4X HD quad-core flagship phone not your style? You’ll have many more options to choose from this year by the Korean manufacturer, judging from its showing today at the Mobile World Congress.

The company unveiled its new L-Style series of Android phones, which target the more deal-savvy mid-range market, as well as an updated 3D phone, the Optimus 3D Max. LG also shows off the Optimus Vu, a 5-inch behemoth that will go toe-to-toe with Samsung’s Galaxy Note.

Unlike HTC, which is now focusing on creating a handful of high-quality Android phones, LG isn’t afraid of flooding the market with several models, hoping for one to catch on. It’s a strategy employed by other Android manufacturers, but at this point it doesn’t seem like the smartest idea (unless you’re consistently releasing stuff people actually want).

The L-Style series includes the L3, L5, and L7 (pictured above), which rank in order from lowest-end to highest. The L3 sports a 800 megahertz processor, puny 3.2-inch display, and runs Android 2.3. The L5 ups the ante with a large 4-inch screen and Android 4.0, but it’s still stuck with an 800Mhz CPU. The L7 offers an even bigger display at 4.3-inches, Android 4.0, and a 1 gigahertz processor. All of the phones boast a thin and striking new design.

For some reason, LG still hasn’t taken the hint that nobody wants a 3D phone. The Optimus 3D Max seems like a slight upgrade to its predecessor, with a brighter 4.3-inch display and wider 3D viewing angle. But it’s still stuck with Android 2.3, which makes the phone seem especially useless by this point.

And then there’s the Optimus Vu (pictured below). It sports a 5-inch screen, much like Samsung’s Galaxy Note, but it’s also presented in an awkward 4 by 3 aspect ratio. That means it feels even bigger in your hand than the Galaxy Note, since the Vu is more on the squarish side. LG has also equipped it with basic range of stylus options — don’t expect the Wacom technology powering the Galaxy Note’s stylus here.

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