07 March, 2012



Samsung crashes the iPad HD party, files another suit against Apple in S. Korea

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 08:40 AM PST

Samsung Galaxy S II

Samsung, with some purposeful timing right before the iPad HD launch event later today, said it has filed another lawsuit against Apple in a South Korean court over the iPhone 4S and iPad 2.

The Korean company filed suit against Apple on Tuesday, saying that the Apple devices above infringed on three of its patents. Reuters reports that the suit “covers three utility patents and involves methods of displaying data, the user interface, and short text messages.”

Apple first sued Samsung last year over “slavishly” copying the iPhone and iPad’s design in the Galaxy Tab and Galaxy S Android devices. Samsung called foul, and since then the two companies have been engaged in a seemingly endless legal back-and-forth that has spanned over 30 cases in 10 countries, including Australia and Germany.

Samsung certainly knew what it was doing by filing its latest lawsuit against Apple yesterday, but the move was likely a symbolic gesture, as Samsung hasn’t had the best track record in its litigation against Apple. All of Samsung’s adjudicated claims against Apple were dismissed, FOSS Patents points out, and it hasn’t been able to fight off all of Apple’s claims against it.

Foss Patents’ Florian Mueller notes that Samsung desperately needs to win some of its cases, otherwise its patent portfolio will seem weakened. Mueller also points out that it would be suspect if Samsung ends up winning this latest claim in its home country:

It would certainly be odd if Samsung lost all (or almost all) of its lawsuits in the other eight jurisdictions in which it is suing Apple (United States, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Australia) but then succeeded big-time in its own country. I heard that Samsung accounts for approximately 20% of South Korean GDP. Based on its revenues, I think the figure would be closer to 10%, but the 20% figure might include some indirect effects. Whether the right number is 10% or 20%, if a single company group is so pervasive in a given country, I wonder if it’s even possible to find a single judge who doesn’t have family members who work for such a company or other indirect relationships.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Amazon Prime wants in on the original TV series front

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 08:26 AM PST

Amazon may soon jump head first into creating its own original TV series content that will presumably be exclusive to the company’s Prime streaming video companion service.

The reason for the speculation comes from the job title of  new executive Joe Lewis Amazon recently hired. Yesterday, Lewis briefly listed his title with the company on LinkedIn as “Vice President of Original Television,” according to a report from Fortune. The title has since been changed to VP of Production at Amazon Studios. Also, Amazon posted job listings last month for someone to head up production on original comedy and children’s programming, as Gigaom first reported.

Lewis seems perfect for the role of producing original content for Amazon, should the news prove true. He’s previously worked as director of production at 20th Century Fox, Development Manager at Comedy Central, and former CEO of Bark Industries.

If Amazon is planning to get into producing original content, it would be following several other streaming video services. For instance, Netflix has recently launched its first original series Lilyhammer and has plans to launch Orange is the New Black later this year as well as prematurely canceled cult classic comedy show Arrested Development in 2013. Earlier this month, Hulu also launched its first scripted original series Battleground last month, as VentureBeat previously reported.

Amazon may want to start creating original series as a way to make its Prime Member ship more attractive to customers. The Prime service costs $79 per year and includes free two-day shipping on lots of items sold on the online retail giant's website. At its core, the Prime membership's purpose is to make purchasing items through Amazon more attractive because people feel like they're getting more of a deal since shipping fees aren't factored into individual purchases. The streaming video component is mostly just complimentary, and not a direct competitor with the likes of Netflix and Hulu.However, with the addition of original content, that could soon change.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Groupon’s whale problem

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 08:19 AM PST

I’ve long suspected that Groupon has a whale problem — that a lot of its revenue comes from a small number of customers. New research from ForeSee indicates that this may be the case.

A lot of businesses have whales. Airlines, casinos and hotels rely on whales. Zynga relies on a small number of active players. But there’s an important difference: Zynga’s selling its own merchandise — it doesn’t have to convince someone else to let it sell their virtual tractors.

Groupon is in a two-sided market. It needs merchants to offer deals and consumers to buy them. If you buy 52 deals a year, you’re a great customer for Groupon. But you’re a terrible customer for a merchant, because you’re unlikely to go back at full price. The merchant is doing all of the hard work of serving you (likely at a loss) but has no hope of converting you. If merchants see that the customers they get from deal sites aren’t likely to convert into full-price customers, they’ll stop doing deals. At nearly every step of the process, Groupon’s interests aren’t aligned with the merchant’s interests.

In its survey of 10,000 online shoppers to the top 40 retail Web sites, ForeSee found that 56% of daily deal purchasers (whether from Groupon or other deals sites) had used more than one offer in the last 90 days. (Groupon is a ForeSee client. A ForeSee spokeswoman told me, “the research is not funded by Groupon or in any way influenced by who is a ForeSee client.) Rival daily deals service LivingSocial declined to comment for this story, and Groupon did not respond to a request for comment.

Another indicator of a whale problem comes from Groupon’s S-1. Although the median number of Groupons sold per customer was 1, the arithmetic mean of Groupons sold was 3.2.

Groupon is actively cultivating whales with a new Groupon VIP membership program. That program is a knockoff of a service LivingSocial started testing in December.

There’s even more bad news in the ForeSee study for the daily deal industry. The percentage of people who don’t subscribe to a deal service increased to 40% from 35% in the spring. The percentage of subscribers who bought deals in the last 90 days decreased to 63% from 67% in the spring.

Merchants who are considering daily deals should look at another number: the percent of deal customers who are already customers. According to ForeSee, 40% were already frequent customers before they redeemed a deal.

ForeSee calls that “cementing loyalty.” I call it cannibalization – taking a 75% hit to revenue on what could have been a full-price sale. Cannibalization alone kills the economics of daily deals. Although I’m all in favor of rewarding loyalty, there are much better ways of doing it. Typical loyalty programs pay out 2-10% to loyal customers.

Another 26% of deal redeemers in the survey were infrequent customers of the business. A total of 66% reached by the daily deals were already customers of the business; that’s not what Groupon and LivingSocial’s salespeople are pitching to businesses.

There is some potential good news for merchants in the ForeSee study: 44% of customers who redeemed deals said they have already returned to the business since. Another 47% said they planned to.

However, I see two problems with that survey question. First, it didn’t ask whether consumers would return at full price. More importantly, responses are hard to interpret because people tend to be overly optimistic when answering. They want to think that they’re great customers, not deal chasers.

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

[Whale image credit: electricnerve/Flickr]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Brooklyn’s Spotflux raises $1M to help users regain their privacy on the web

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 08:05 AM PST

Concerns over privacy on the web seems to be reaching a boiling point, with federal agencies and legislators looking into the policies and practices of Facebook, Apple and Google. Today the Brooklyn based startup Spotflux is announcing a $1 million funding led by New Atlantic Ventures and taking the beta label off its product in time for SXSW. And if you had any doubt about what a hot button issue privacy has become, Spotflux is currently leading the voting in the SXSW people’s choice awards,

Spotflux is a browser based plugin that encrypts your connection through a VPN. It also keeps your personal activity from being tracked and your browsing history away from prying eyes. Finally, it checks for inbound threats like malware and spyware. “There is a large gap between what consumers are willing to share online, and what's actually being shared without their consent,” said co-founder Dean Mekkawy. “We created Spotflux to give consumers the opportunity to take back control of their privacy online”

An example of Spotflux in action? When the government of Iran tried to block Internet access for its citizens last month, the more than one thousand Spotflux users in Iran were able to continue accessing the web, while remaining safe from the sort of deep packet inspection that might tip off the repressive regime.

How big of a market is this? "Everyone online today has lost control of their privacy.  Big companies like Facebook, advertisers, employers and governments look at everything you do online," said John Backus, founding managing partner, New Atlantic Ventures. "We invested in Spotflux because of these emerging privacy concerns and its universal appeal to the 1.2 billion people using the Web. Consumers, policy makers and activists are fighting the privacy issue hard but they often face a daunting and cumbersome process. Spotflux has removed the burden for more than 100,000 customers across 121 countries – before its formal launch – demonstrating that consumers are actively seeking a more secure, more private, more open Internet." With the initial round of funding, Mr. Backus joined the board of directors.

Right now the service is drop dead simple, one click to download, one click to install, and toggle to turn it on or off. Mobile is the next big step the company would like to take. Eventually they will craft a sort of freemium model, allowing for some granularity in terms of privacy settings or a version that works with governments and enterprise.

There will also be a process of educating users. “When you go to a site and see, oh 10 of my friends have liked this, it’s because there is a tracking cookie that identifies you,” says Backus. “So when that stops working, users will have to think hard about the trade off of allowing themselves to be followed around the web.”

Filed under: security

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TechStars founder David Cohen turns “power angel” — raises $28M fund

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PST

David CohenSo-called “power angels” have emerged as a force in the U.S.  technology start-up scene. They bring money and relationships to help promising start-ups get to the next stage.

David Cohen,  founder of TechStars, a well-known incubator of start-ups, has emerged as one of them — and he’s doing it by focusing his energies outside of Silicon Valley.

He’s just finished raising his own second seed fund, totaling $28M, which like his first fund is completely independent from TechStars.

TechStars has its own fund, which awards every start-up in its program $100,000 in seed funding.

Cohen’s separate, private fund gives him a lot of fresh capital to invest both in TechStar companies, and non-Techstar companies, as he wishes. The second fund gives him considerably more fire power than the small $5m personal fund he’d raised in 2009, which is still so young that it is only now bearing fruit.

Techstars was an early player in the incubator craze. Paul Graham’s  Y Combinator, now based in Silicon Valley, was early and has generated incredible buzz here. Techstars has a slightly lower profile, perhaps in part because its activities are so widely distributed geographically — but its reputation is also solid. Cohen himself has also been low-key. Go to the TechStars site, and you’ll have a hard time finding a picture of him, or even a reference to him, after clicking around for a while. He’s developed a record of being a steady player, focusing all of his attention on the companies he backs.

Nine of the first 30 TechStar companies have seen an “exit,” according to Cohen, in an interview with VentureBeat. These include Brightkite (bought by Limbo), Filtrbox (bought by Jive, now public), Intense Debate (Automattic/Wordpress), madKast (ShareThis), SocialThing (AOL), DailyBurn (IAC/Mindspark),  OneForty (HubSpot), and Sensobi (GroupMe).  Occipital sold “RedLaser” to eBay, but still operates as an independent company otherwise.

Other TechStar companies include SendGrid, Orbotix, Next Big Sound, CrowdTwist, OnSwipe, CourseKit, and Localytics — all apparently growing and well funded.

As for Cohen’s personal record outside of the TechStars activities, he invested “single-digit” millions in the group-messaging app, GroupMe, which was a big success. Founded in mid 2010, it was acquired barely a year later by Skype for a reported $85 million. He also backed SimpleGeo, which was sold to Urban Airship. He had another exit, which has not yet been disclosed by the company.

Other non-TechStar companies he has backed include Uber, YesWare, BigDoor, and Twilio. TechStars companies he has also backed with his personal fund include SendGrid, Next Big Sound, and Orbotix.

TechStars operates in five markets, NYC, Boston, Seattle, Boulder, and  Texas (which is where TechStars’ ”cloud” focused program is based).

Last year, TechStars announced that a syndicate of a dozen VCs had agreed to back each TechStar companies with a check of $100,000, on top of the $100,000 note that TechStars gives each company.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Nuance targets medical transcription with $300M Transcend acquisition

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 07:38 AM PST

Continuing its trend of large company purchases, the voice recognition company Nuance announced today that it will purchase Transcend, a popular medical transcription company, for $300 million in cash.

The deal follows Nuance’s recent purchases of rival Vlingo and the alternative keyboard company Swype. Nuance has built up a habit of acquiring smaller companies to expand its voice technology portfolio, but it has been criticized for bullying some of those companies through lawsuits. The company’s technology also rose to prominence recently since it powers Apple’s virtual assistant Siri.

"The acquisition of Transcend will expand the delivery of our innovative voice and Clinical Language Understanding solutions especially to small- and mid-size hospitals," Janet Dillione, Nuance’s general manager of Healthcare and executive vice president said in a statement today. "With Transcend, we will drive change and improvement to the way these hospitals capture and leverage clinical information. The acquisition is a natural extension of Nuance's existing healthcare business, and will strengthen our solution and services portfolio, as well as enhance our profitability."

Nuance says that it will acquire Transcend at $29.50 per share, a 30 percent premium over the companies average share price from the past 90 days. Both boards have already approved the merger, and Nuance says it expects the purchase to add between $140 million and $150 million in revenue for the fiscal year 2013.

First aid screen image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Verizon likely installing 4G LTE at Apple Stores to boost iPad HD

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 07:35 AM PST


Verizon Wireless is likely in the process of quietly installing 4G LTE networking equipment in Apple Stores around the country, a move that would help better sell the iPad HD with LTE data speeds.

Both AppleInsider and Cult of Mac have reported that technicians have begun upgrading Verizon equipment that is already present at Apple Stores. The equipment’s purpose is to give customers looking at the iPhone and iPad better carrier service and faster data speeds.

All kinds of rumors have been swirling for iPad HD event scheduled for 10 a.m. PT today in San Francisco. We expect that the iPad HD will feature a super-high-resolution Retina Display, a faster processor, 4G LTE networking, better cameras, and improved software.

The 4G LTE rumor especially lines up when you think about the iPad delivering content fast no matter where you go. As my colleague Devindra Hadawar writes, it makes sense for Apple to finally move beyond 3G with the iPad 3. The iPad is already a “magical” device to consumers, but the addition of an always-on 4G network as fast (and in some cases faster) than their home broadband would make it seem downright miraculous. More so than the 4G smartphones on the market, the iPad 3 could end up being the killer LTE device that AT&T and Verizon have been praying for.

We’ll see today if the rumors for the iPad HD (or iPad 3) hold up. Stay tuned to VentureBeat for posts coming at you live from Apple iPad’s event.

5th Avenue Apple Store in New York: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile

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Dylan’s Desk: Design goes minimal, online and off

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PST

Homage to Mondrian by Kent Wang/FlickrLast year’s big fashion trend was the color block, and this year’s tech trend follows suit: It’s the square.

More precisely, it’s the big, colorful rectangle filled with a solid color (like Windows 8) or a photograph (like Pinterest).

Mondrian would have been proud.

What this signals is the triumph of the grid and the disappearance of overt user interface cues like window borders and menu bars.

Designers, take note: When I wrote almost two years ago that the hot new trend was “undesign,” I was attacked by some of the smartest hipsters in Brooklyn. But I was right. My point was not that design had become less important, but rather that it was becoming subtler. Instead of pages crowded with links, buttons, and display type of all different sizes, designers were simplifying their layouts. The smartest designers stripped away the nonessential elements of their designs, leaving clean pages that let the eye focus on whatever images or words had been put there by writers and editors. Why? Because if the designers didn’t simplify their web pages, readers were going to use utilities like Readability and Instapaper to do it for them.

The undesign trend followed the introduction of the iPad, which made web browsing a far more immediate and concrete experience than it is on a desktop. Suddenly you’re holding a web page in your hands, with very little interface getting between you and the page you’ve called up. That makes extraneous design elements look even worse than they used to. Thus: undesign, a minimalist, tablet-friendly approach to website design.

Squares are similar. Like undesign, they come from the mobile world. One of the first apps to embrace this sort of rectangularity was Flipboard, which launched in mid-2010. It transformed the process of browsing RSS feeds into a magazine-like experience by putting stories into a boxy, more readable layout. The app’s home page is a straightforward 3×3 grid of photo squares. The iPhone app (and now the iPad app too) extended that concept with “Cover Stories,” a feature that blows up your channels’ biggest stories into an extra-large image with coverlines superimposed on it, just like a magazine.

Google’s image search has also had a dense, tiled layout since mid-2010.

Instagram made ordinary smartphone photos into precious mini-artworks, not just by adding filters but also by cropping the images down to perfect squares.

Pinterest has a photo-centric layout that stacks up images with a minimal amount of text about each one right below the photo.

Tumblr’s Inspire Well theme offers a flexible grid of tiles that predates Pinterest by about a year.

And now Pingram mashes up Instagram photos with a Pinterest-like layout, completing the circle of hipsterdom.

The above sites are part of what might be called the “visual web,” which is basically just like the web we all know, except more image-centric. But the trend is not limited to websites.

Windows Phone 7 introduced Microsoft’s “live tiles,” a color block layout where each block gets real-time updates with data from the application it represents. Sometimes that data is a photograph, or a grid of photographs, and sometimes it’s a snippet of text. Combined with a large, striking, sans-serif font, this tiled layout is striking and a sharp departure from the icon-centric approach of the two dominant smartphone operating systems, Android and iOS.

Windows 8 extends the live tile metaphor, making it the centerpiece of the next version of Windows and taking the first step towards eliminating the desktop metaphor. Since Windows is the world’s most popular operating system, that’s a significant endorsement of the grid of rectangular tiles approach to laying out information.

A host of iPad and tablet apps now use blocky, image-centric, rectangular or square-grid layouts, including Pulse, Feedly, CNN’s news app, and the BBC’s news app.

What these designs have in common is that they make interfaces recede. Gone are the buttons, but gone too is the chrome: the title bars, scroll bars and window borders that used to be ubiquitous in graphical user interfaces. By the same token, the cruft that piles up on most websites — sidebars, navigation menus, widgets, and more — is stripped out, leaving content and ads front and center.

That makes sense for phone- and tablet-based interfaces, where the interface elements appropriate to mouse cursors are unnecessary or downright difficult to use. Why use scroll bars if you can just tap on the page itself and push it up or down? But it’s increasingly a good way of making your content stand out, regardless of platform.

If you’re designing an app or a website, pay attention to this trend. Big, colorful rectangles are in, and excessive interface is out.

Top image: Kent Wang/Flickr

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Bankrupt Bitcoin exchange Tradehill suing red hot payment startup Dwolla for $2M

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 05:08 AM PST

One of the reasons that small startup are loathe to announce big funding rounds is that plaintifs and patent trolls always come out of the woodwork. Payment startup Dwolla, which recently closed a $5 million round of funding led by Union Square Ventures, is now defending itself against a $2 million lawsuit from defunct Bitcoin exchange Tradehill, as first reported yesterday by Betabeat.

Tradehill alleges that it went out of business in large part because of “chargebacks”, payments that Dwolla cleared and then took back. It says that this fraud amounted to $94,000 in losses, and that Dwolla also refused to release an additional $70,000 of funds it had in a Dwolla account. How does that add up to $2 million in damages? Tradehill says that these losses contributed directly to the company’s bankruptcy and forced them to sell valuable domain names for which they had traded $1 million in equity.

Dwolla’s CEO Ben Milne released a statement last night saying that it has not been served formal notice, and that Tradehill is attempting to smear it in the press:

First and foremost, it is important to note that neither Dwolla, nor any of its management or investors, have been served formal notice of any potential lawsuits. It is also noteworthy that a party making unfounded allegations would likely notify the media of litigation prior to advising the party that it says caused it harm. That said, if served, we will vigorously defend all allegations of wrongdoing in the traditional venues of the judicial system.

It does seem that a suit was filed in California, a copy of that can be found here.

The crux of the case seems to be Dwolla’s policy around chargebacks. In his statement Milne said that they have always been clear about how this was handled. But in a blog post he wrote on March 30, 2011, Milne noted to merchants that, “Remember, these are cash-based transactions! No credit card fees, chargeback concerns, or signing necessary!”

A bitcoin wiki says that in June of 2011, right as things were falling apart with Tradehill, Dwolla changed their terms of services to include: “The receiving party of a transaction may be subject to chargebacks occurring within the account if claims are made by the sending party or by the financial institution. In the event fraud occurs, funds may be reversed and arbitration will begin with both parties.”

Filed under: security

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EA lines up three Battlefield 3 expansions for 2012

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PST

Electronic Arts announced last night that it will launch three new expansions for Battlefield 3 as it tries to establish the game as a year-round service for die-hard fans.The first for this year will be Battlefield 3: Close Quarters, and EA demoed the game last night.

To compete against Activision’s Call of Duty Elite social network for hardcore fans of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, EA is lining up enough new online content to keep players busy throughout 2012. Such fierce competition has become a staple in the multibillion-dollar first-person shooter modern combat game market.

The next expansion to hit the Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 will debut in June, said Karl Magnus Troedsson, general manager of EA’s DICE studio in Sweden. The expansion will have maps, weapons, achievements, and vehicles. He spoke at a party at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Moreover, EA will also unleash a new service where players can rent a server on the consoles. That will allow them to host their own custom servers and set them up exactly how they want them to play, Troedsson said.

EA launched Battlefield 3 in October and sold more than 12 million units. That fell short of rival Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3′s sales numbers, but it was a record for EA. To keep gamers playing, EA is launching multiple expansions to give players a better multiplayer experience. In December, it launched the Back to Karkand expansion.

Close Quarters, the second expansion, will be all about infantry fighting.The maps will have more destructible environments, 10 more weapons, and it will focus on short-range combat.

A third expansion of the year will be Battlefield 3: Armor King, coming later in the year, emphasizing vehicle combat. It will have big open maps where you can drive vehicles such as tanks and jets. A third expansion, Battlefield 3: End Game, will come later in the year. That one is still secret in terms of its content.

Troedsson said that Battlefield is all about the big war, or the “hammer,” while Medal of Honor is about the personal experience of war, or the “scalpel.”

Filed under: games

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Adobe launches Shadow, a new toolkit for mobile developers

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 10:25 PM PST

Tonight, Adobe has unveiled Shadow, a convenient new set of tools for mobile web developers to find and fix cross-platform problems.

First, Shadow lets you see one app running across an almost unlimited number of devices. You pick the devices and sync them via WiFi with your desktop computer, and when you open a web page and turn on Shadow, those devices will “follow” your clicks through each page, allowing you to see what’s broken, what works, and how the whole shebang looks on a range of smaller screens.

Additionally, while you’re there, you can see and edit code from the browser on a per-device basis. That order form lookin’ fugly on the Droid X? No problem; just open the code editor for the Droid you’ve got synced up and nip that fugly so-and-so in the bud.

“Web pros are really struggling right now,” said Adobe exec Bruce Bowman in an interview with VentureBeat. “It takes them a lot more time when they have to think about other platforms. They’re also struggling with the pace at which the landscape is changing."

Yes, the changing-landscape problem has been around for a while, ever since the Android OS came along and declared yes, consumers, you can have a choice of smartphone hardware. And while consumers love the choice of the current smorgasbord of tablets and smartphones and laptops and web browsers, the variations in screen size and features and rendering can wreak havok on a designer and/or developer’s workflow.

And as many devs look away from native apps and toward mobile web development, Adobe is siding with them. “Shadow is targeted at the open web as a platform,” Bowman continued. In the not-too-distant past, another Adobe exec, Danny Winokur, wrote, "HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms."

So, with Wifi pairing, synchronous browsing, sleep “deprivation” for synced devices, remote inspection of code, in-browser code editing and debugging, Bowman said, Shadow “allows [developers] to work with the same precision that they have on the desktop."

Currently, Shadow works for iOS and Android mobile devices. "We felt like, because this is such a clear pain point, it was better to get it out sooner than to provide a complete range of mobile clients,” said Bowman. “But we’ll look at the mobile browser share and invest accordingly… There’s no reason we couldn’t create a BlackBerry or a Windows Phone 7 client."

Shadow will support Android versions 2.2 and greater, including Ice Cream Sandwich.

Here’s a video of Bowman talking more about Shadow and what it means for developers.

Image courtesy of Goodluz, Shutterstock

Filed under: dev, VentureBeat

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EA to launch Medal of Honor Warfighter on Oct. 23

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 08:58 PM PST

Electronic Arts announced tonight that it will ship Medal of Honor Warfighter, the next installment in its modern combat game series, this fall.

The title is the sequel to the 2010 reboot of the franchise, dubbed Medal of Honor. Along with the Battlefield series, the Medal of Honor games are feeding the voracious appetite that fans have for modern combat first-person shooter games, which have become a multibillion dollar-market that is led by Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty series.

Patrick Soderlund (pictured), head of the EA Games label and longtime leader at EA’s DICE studio in Sweden, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the new game isn’t aimed solely at topping Call of Duty from its perch.

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “We are in the market to make the best possible game.”

EA’s combat games lagged in the past, but they have shown steady improvement since Battlefield Bad Company 2. Battlefield 3, launched last fall, was an improvement on the previous year’s Medal of Honor (though there were a lot of flaws pointed out by critics) and it was a commercial success with 12 million units sold, more than any other previous EA modern combat game. Still, EA, had some troubles with server issues for Battlefield 3 and critics favored Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which is believed to have outsold Battlefield 3 by millions of units.

With Medal of Honor Warfighter, EA is going to get serious again and apply the learnings from the past, Soderlund said. EA took, for instance, what it learned from the Battlefield multiplayer launch and applied that to the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, he said.

Karl Magnus Troedsson, general manager of DICE, said on stage at the EA event at the Game Developers Conference that Battlefield games were “general war,” or the hammer, while Medal of Honor was more like “the scalpel.” Medal of Honor games involve real-world scenarios like hostage rescues in the Phillippines or the Somalia coast.

Greg Goodrich, executive producer of the Warfighter game, said that former professional soldiers are helping to craft the latest game about “Tier One” operatives who, in the last game, fought Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Tier One soldiers are the best of the best in the American military.

This time, the battle will take place across the whole globe. It will involve “Tier One” elite soldiers from 12 organizations in 10 countries, including the British SAS, the German KFK and the Polish elite soldiers.

“We’re doing this because believe it or not, kids in Poland don’t grow up dreaming they will become U.S. Navy Seals,” Goodrich said.

The goal is to make it as realistic as “the headlines on CNN.” It is also about making the game authentic in terms of replicating the gear, the weapons, and the behavior of soldiers in intense combat. Goodrich said that two dozen members of the U.S. Special Forces are helping to design the game, and two of those members came out on stage to offer their endorsement of the game’s authenticity.

“They were ghosts, the silent warriors who defend freedom around the globe,” Goodrich said as he welcomed soldiers named Kevin and Tyler on the stage.

Kevin said the game would “tell a story” about their fellow warfighters and the battles they went through around the world.

EA showed off a hostage-rescue mission in Isabela City in the Philippines. In the scenario, a team of Tier One soldiers crept up to a big building in a rain-soaked area. They blew open a door and immediately came under withering fire from several directions. The player takes aim at the threats one by one and takes them out, firing through smoke, flying building fragments, and explosions. The team, working with Filipino special forces, clears the building room by room, outflanking when they can.

They toss flash bang grenades and burst into rooms in slow motion, taking out the terrorists before they can kill the hostages. They escort the hostages out into speed boats waiting in the rain. The boats speed off and terrorists in buildings alongside the river bank try to intercept them. The player fires a heavy-calibur machine gun, tearing up the buildings and the terrorists at the same time. When you finally escape, you sigh with relief.

Goodrich said that the Medal of Honor Warfighter game will use the Frostbite 2 engine, which delivers cool 3D graphics, high-end audio, and destructible environments.

“It is the biggest and most ambitious Medal of Honor game in the history of our franchise,” Goodrich said. “Without this engine and the unprecedented support of the special forces community, this game could not be made.”

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]

Filed under: games

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AMEX’s new Twitter integration is “brilliant” marketing

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 08:35 PM PST

Mike Dudas, who works on Google Wallet, was so impressed by American Express’s brand new Twitter program that he tweeted:

AmEx digital marketing & promotion team is playing a different game than any other card networks or issuers. Brilliant…

The new Twitter integration lets American Express cardholder receive special offers by tweeting with a special hashtag. Initial partners include Zappos, the Cheesecake Factory, McDonald’s, Best Buy, Virgin America, and Whole Foods.

Leslie Berland, SVP of Digital Partnerships & Development at AMEX, said the promotion was so popular that they ended up with 17 launch partners instead of the 5 that were initially planned.

In order to redeem a deal, you send a tweet with a hashtag and the offer is loaded on to the account. (A one-time registration process is required to connect the credit card account with the Twitter handle.) For example, to load the Whole Foods offer on to my AMEX card, I tweeted:

I love the cheese and wine at #AmexWholefoods.

The credit appears automatically when the card is swiped. I haven’t had a chance to redeem an offer with the Twitter integration yet, but AMEX has previously announced similar deals with Foursquare and Facebook. When I used an AMEX/Facebook deal to check into a hotel, an email confirming my discount was waiting for me by the time I got to my room.

Just as important as the product launch is that AMEX gets Twitter and is using the Twitter platform natively. As soon as I tweeted, I got a @rakeshlobster mention confirming that the deal was loaded to my card. Instead of a separate landing page to highlight the special offers, AMEX presents them as a list of favorites from the AMEX Twitter account. Each links back to the merchant’s Twitter account. That’s the kind of smart thinking and brand integration I rarely see. (Though they did miss the opportunity to use the Promoted Tweet video for the new launch.)

“With Twitter, we’ve really hit the trifecta. We have a great platform in Twitter,” said Ed Gilligan, vice chairman of American Express. “We know our cardmembers are engaged in Twitter. We’ve been working with them to think about how can we help them move from conversations to commerce. To turn a tweet into a transaction.”

As a test, I tweeted a question for this story to American Express instead of emailing my press contact. In about 15 minutes, I had the answer by direct message.

Because of Twitter’s reach and broad exposure, merchants get exposure to new potential customers. That can be powerful for spreading beyond existing followers on Twitter.

“Twitter being realtime, being viral conversationally as it is, enables a totally new way for us to manifest this technology,” Berland said. “The viral nature of the conversations and the hashtags — that’s very unique to Twitter.

“Whole Foods gets people tweeting about Whole Foods. Best Buy gets people tweeting about Best Buy. To them, it’s a way to really leverage and capitalize on all of the time they spent building their Twitter presences.”

That activity is already happening. Here’s a screenshot of search results for the Whole Foods hashtag:

There are limitations. The current product doesn’t support targeting. For example, a marketer can’t limit an offer to its followers or try to entice away followers of another brand or limit it to people with a certain number of followers. Unlike the Facebook integration, small- and medium-sized businesses can’t yet participate. In the future, Berland imagines the platform being used for things like flash sales.

Along with Square, American Express is the only marquee company that is building products that work for real consumers and merchants today. Google Wallet and PayPal’s new offline initiative require significant changes for merchants in terms of hardware or software and staff training. Google’s NFC remains a technology in search of a problem. With the AMEX offers, clerks and service staff don’t need to know anything about the promotion; it’s all handled on the back end. Staff training is a critical part of the redemption process and is often overlooked. If it takes 5 minutes to redeem an offer, it can annoy customers.

“There’s a lot of conversations going on about what’s happening with NFC, what’s happening with PayPal in the cloud and ISIS and Google Wallet,” Gilligan said. “What they promise is frictionless commerce for the merchant. We’re delivering that now.”

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

[Top image c/o allbestwallpapers.com]

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Google promises a unified social and mobile game platform

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 07:07 PM PST

Within the year, Google will turn its different game platforms into a single, unified platform that developers can more easily target. That’s the promise made today by Punit Soni (pictured second from right), group product manager for the company’s Google+ social layer.

Soni made the declaration during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

“By next year, we will not be here talking about Google+ Games, Chrome Web Store games, Games for Native Client and Android games,” he said. “We will be talking about Google games.”

That suggests Google intends to unify its web browser, social, and mobile platforms and give third-party developers access to a potentially huge audience. Conceivably, it could use technologies such as HTML5 and Native Client to achieve that cross-platform game performance. If Google does this, it will have a powerful competitor to rivals such as Facebook.

Google+ is already huge with more than 100 million monthly active users and 50 million daily active users. Those users spend over one hour a day on Google, and that activity has lifted the performance of ads by 5 to 10 percent, Soni said.

Game companies are excited about having an alternative to Facebook, but they still want Google to deliver a lot of new ways to promote games to users. Soni acknowledged that and said the company has been working hard to refine the game platform on Google+ since the launch last August. It is, for instance, adding new notification systems that promote games to friends.

Soni said Google will bring cutting-edge technologies into the game platform such as Hangouts (video communication), Native Client (faster graphics on Chrome web browsers), mobile games, and better distribution and discoverability. Google is working on streamlining payments as well. Soni referred to Google+ as a social layer, Google 2.0, powering all of Google.

“It was very clear games was one of the first things we would put up there on Google+,” Soni said. “Games bring people together. They are an important part of how users interact online. Game developers push boundaries, and games are fun.”

Over time, he said, Google will execute on its mission of One Google, with user-centric messaging, and a single home for all of your game playing.

He added, “We realize that gaming is at an interesting point in its evolution and we have technology and platforms to push it to the next level.”

Early on, Google started with baby steps with a curated set of partners who were willing to experiment. Now it is expanding that effort with more viral channels promoting games.

Google also today renamed the Android Market as the Google Play Store. The recently launched eBookstore and music service will be part of the Google Play Store.

Google’s digital marketplace for mobile applications, music, movies, and books is unifying under a new name in an effort to spruce up the shopping experience. The store will make it easier for customers to manage their content and navigate from one section of the store to another.

Beginning Tuesday, the Android Market will be known as the Google Play Store. Google’s eBookstore and recently launched music service will also be part of the Google Play Store. The same selection of books, music, and movies had already been available on Android Market, which serves the more than 300 million Android devices in use today and has more than 450,000 mobile apps, 4 million books, and 13 million songs and movies. Google says 13 billion apps have been downloaded from the Android Market, compared to 25 billion from Apple’s App Store.

Mike Blanchette (second from left), manager of platform operations at Disney’s Playdom, said he would like to see the promotion of games on Google+ reach more users beyond Google’s self-professed gamers, since that will drive game adoption among new users. But Google has to balance the interests of game developers against the interests of non-gamers, who don’t necessarily want game spam.

“Engagement is real good for Google+ and there is potential for massive game communities there,” he said.

Dan Chao (pictured top left), lead designer of Kingdom Age for Funzio, also said on the panel that it was a trivial engineering task to convert his company’s Facebook game Crime City to Google+.

Meanwhile, Colt McAnlis (pictured right), a games-focused developer advocate at Google, told VentureBeat that a number of console game developers are in the midst of porting their games over to Google Chrome Native Client, which enables browser games to take advantage of 3D graphics hardware in computers. Most browser-based games can’t do that well.

Back in October, Chrome had 200 million users and a million new installs a day. Six new native client titles are in the works.

“It’s a vibrant ecosystem,” McAnlis said.

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]

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EA revives Sim City for 2013 launch — with curvy roads

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 06:22 PM PST

Electronic Arts announced tonight that it will bring the beloved franchise SimCity back with a new game scheduled for launch in 2013.

The game will give fans of the long-dormant franchise — and there are probably tens of millions of them — something to look forward to. SimCity and its variants have sold 30 million copies since 1989.

Lucy Bradshaw, head of the EA Play label, said in a press conference at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, that you can wield much more power over everything from individuals in the game to the global label.

“We will do this with the Maxis tradition of playing with a sandbox,” she said. “It is a game first and foremost.”

The game will have a new physics engine that will “blow your minds” in case you want to set loose a dinosaur in your city. You can connect cities with your friends, but if you pollute your air, the neighboring cities will suffer. You can also go online and compare your city with those created by players around the world. EA’s Maxis division is responsible for making the game.

The company didn’t show game play, but it did unveil a trailer for the game. The title will feature ultra-realistic graphics with simulated people, cool-looking water, skyscrapers with reflective windows, fog, clouds, and everything else that a modern graphics engine can deliver. The game will be in full 3D graphics.

The game will also teach social responsibility, so EA announced the game alongside an event promoting the charity Games for Change. If you run out of resources in the game, the logical consequences will follow. That’s an environmental message aimed at teaching everyone about scarcity and trade-offs. You could still build your dream city, but it may be costly for the environment.

“To me, that is as exciting as it is profound,” said Davis Guggenheim, creator of An Inconvenient Truth, in an interview on stage at the event.

On a lighter note, Bradshaw said the game will feature curved roads as she showed a picture of San Francisco’s Lombard Street, the world’s most crooked street. Past veterans from SimCity 2000 and SimCity 4 will be working on the game. (They’re the ones who made the roads all straight).

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Own adds Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook to its point-of-sale dashboard

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 06:21 PM PST

Screenshot of Own's point of sale system showing Foursquare checkins above sales data

Next time you check in to a coffee shop on Foursquare, the store manager might check your Twitter profile, look at your Facebook profile, and send a coupon your way via email.

The only reason this isn’t happening now is that it’s difficult to integrate data about these social networks, and for most restaurant and cafe operators, it’s a time-consuming distraction.

Own, a next-generation point-of-sale service provider, is adding social media integration to its service, which might make the process simpler for store managers.

Own offers its clients a customized Android tablet that acts as a point-of-sale device (replacing the old cash register) and integrates with a back-end, cloud-based service Own provides. That service gives store operators real-time information about sales at each Own “terminal,” aggregating everything into a dashboard that lets them keep an eye on the business from afar. Now, that dashboard will include integration with Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, enabling them to keep an eye on social media chatter alongside their sales data, as shown in the screenshot above.

The social media integration “shows the people behind the numbers,” said Own CEO Verdi Erul Erg√ľn in an interview with VentureBeat.

Own is still in its beta-testing phase, with about 65 trial accounts using the service. It has processed over $2 million in transactions since its launch in October.

Own, based in San Francisco, employs about 20 people. It has received funding from Detroit Venture Partners and other investors. The company was founded in 2009, and launched in September, 2011.

Screenshot courtesy Own.

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American Express transforms Twitter hashtags into savings for cardholders

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 05:43 PM PST

American Express is giving cardmembers one super compelling reason to tweet about promotional offers: instant savings at name brand U.S. merchants.

The company launched a “Tweet your way to savings” program today to encourage members to sync their AmEx cards with Twitter and tweet special offer hashtags in exchange for coupon-less savings applied at the point of sale.

Here’s how it works: An AmEx cardholder can sign in with Twitter to sync her account — a must-complete first step for savings. The customer is then eligible to tweet any of the current hashtag offers to receive savings that are automatically applied with each eligible purchase. No coupon, print or otherwise, is required.

Should you tweet with the “#AmexWholeFoods” hashtag, for instance, you’d get $20 back on your next trip to Whole Foods, as long as you spend $75 or more at the high-end grocery store before April 30.

“American Express is turning Twitter content into commerce by connecting Cardmembers to merchants and delivering real world value to both,” AmEx vice chairman Ed Gilligan said in a statement. “With the continued convergence of online and offline commerce, our closed loop continues to enable us to bring seamless, relevant ways to connect our cardmembers and merchants on the most powerful social and digital platforms.”

A slew of big brand retailers and popular national chains are currently running hashtag promotions, including McDonalds, Best Buy, Virgin America, Dell, Sports Authority, Whole Foods, and H&M.

The initiative reminds of us of the AmEx-Foursquare hookup, first tested at South by Southwest last year, that incentivizes check-ins with cash-back credits. The program is, in fact, powered by the same AmEx Smart offer APIs. The Twitter version, however, is one that packs a lot more potential exposure for participating merchants, but also demands a bit more social hawking from participating cardmembers.

Two of the bigger offers could be well worth one overly promotional tweet: Dell is offering AmEx customers $100 back on a $599 online purchase in exchange for “#AmexDell” tweets, and Virgin America is giving cardholders 10 percent back on a main cabin ticket should they share the “#AmexVirginAmer” love on Twitter.

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Netflix CEO already talking to cable execs, may become HBO competitor

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 04:24 PM PST

netflix mailbox

It looks like Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings isn’t just thinking about the far-off future for a Netflix-cable partnership. He may already be in talks with cable company executives.

According to Reuters‘ sources, the video streaming company may already be working on cable partnerships, with one cable company reportedly geared up to do a Netflix test run with its subscribers by the end of the year. We recently reported that Hastings believes moving toward a deeper relationship with cable networks is “the natural direction for us in the long term.” It would position the company as a competitor to HBO, offering another on-demand solution for cable subscribers.

“Many [cable service providers] would like to have a competitor to HBO, and they would bid us off of HBO,” Hastings was reported as saying,

It will be a close competitor given the company’s recent forays into original content, such as its own series Lilyhammer and Orange is the New Black. It is also reviving Arrested Development, a cult classic prematurely canceled by Fox, slated for release in 2013. Cable providers afraid of cord-cutters will like the opportunity to take one of their own competitors off the market.

Netflix has had a rocky time trying to find its identity in the streaming video world. In October, it increased prices on its DVD subscription plan by 60 percent and split its physical DVD and streaming offerings into two different entities. The DVD arm, to be named Qwikster, was soon killed off after backlash from its community. The overall kerfuffle resulted in Netflix losing 800,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 2011.

Photo via Hacking Netflix/Flickr

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Twitter founders “Branch” out, back tool for “high quality public discourse”

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 04:21 PM PST

Two men famous for creating a communication tool that inspires pointless banter are lending their celebrity to a little-known company looking to build Twitter’s opposite.

Obvious Corporation, the company created by Twitter legends Biz Stone and Evan Williams after their departure from the information network, has partnered with the three bright young lads behind a higher brow conversation tool called Branch.

“The prototype … enables a smart new brand of high quality public discourse,” Stone explained Tuesday in a blog post announcing the partnership. “Curated groups of people are invited to engage around issues in which they are knowledgeable.”

Branch, like Twitter, is a publishing platform. The private beta product is built on top of the Twitter platform and, as co-creator Josh Miller describes it, is focused tightly around facilitating conversations.

“Every other publishing platform is centered around monologues, the conversation is always secondary,” Miller explained using his own tool. “That doesn’t seem right to us. So we’re flipping that dynamic on its head.”

Obvious is lending the team temporary office space and helping Branch with its technology, product design, and marketing efforts (clearly!). It’ll also be loaning out the seasoned social expertise of Obvious Corporation co-founder and former Twitter VP of product Jason Goldman, who will be taking an active role at the company and journeying with Branch in a few months to set up shop in New York at Betaworks.

Based on Miller’s blog post, Branch appears to have raised an undisclosed sum of seed funding from Lerer Ventures and SV Angel.

Update: BetaBeat unearthed a Form D showing that Branch recently raised nearly $2 million in funding.

Photo credit: *clarity*/Flickr

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iOS 5.1 passes quality assurance, just in time for the iPad HD

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 03:03 PM PST

iOS update

The latest major version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 5.1, has passed a “vigorous quality assurance phase,” meaning it’ll be ready for the launch of Apple’s next iPad (which we believe will be called the iPad HD) in the next few weeks.

The news comes from Will Strafach (@chronic on Twitter), a mobile developer who’s been accurate with Apple details in the past. Strafach says the Gold Master release (the version that will actually ship to consumers) of iOS 5.1 has been in testing for the past three weeks by Apple and its carrier partners.

It’s rumored that iOS 5.1 will offer Japanese Siri language support and a new camera slider function on the lock screen, reports 9to5 Mac. Strafach notes that iOS 5.1 will also include “at least two other new features that have not been publicly leaked.”

Apple is expected to announce the iPad HD tomorrow at a media event, and it’s also expected to be our first glimpse at iOS 5.1. (Here’s everything iPad HD-related we expect to be announced.) There are also clear signs that Apple will introduce a new Apple TV model tomorrow.

The iPad HD will most likely ship with the new version of the OS, and as is typical for Apple, it should be made available for existing iOS devices shortly.

Writes Strafach:

The build number of iOS 5.1 Gold Master is 9B176 according to a very solid source, although three different partners who are testing the Gold Master claim to have slightly (by single digits) higher builds numbers on their copies, I’m assuming that’s because right now it’d make sense for those people to be testing what will soon be released as 5.1.1, so I’ve disregarded the claims.

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual MobileSummit 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 themobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

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Square rolls out sleek new design for credit card readers in NYC taxi cabs

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 12:56 PM PST

We’ve reported on how Jack Dorsey has been able to fulfill his lifelong love affair with dispatch systems by having credit card readers from his company, Square, installed in the back of 30 NYC taxi cabs. It’s part of a pilot program the city hopes will drive down fees. Today the company showed off its new custom design for NY cabbies: an iPad encased in black metal with a vertical slot for swiping credit cards. You can see it above.

Dorsey’s emphasis on design and maniacal work ethic have some people comparing him to a young Steve Jobs. The Square taxi tablet and reader is certainly easy on the eyes. Whether it can delight riders, satisfy drivers, and survive the Big Apple’s byzantine governmental bureaucracy remains to be seen.

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Verizon lists phones & tablets getting Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 12:43 PM PST


Verizon Wireless has released a list of devices that will be receiving an update to the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich.

Motorola already let its ICS-specific roadmap out of the gate, but its estimates were disappointing. Verizon does not say when these devices will actually get the update, but at least we know which current units will get the update some time in the future. Almost all of the devices on Verizon’s list include 4G LTE network connectivity, so clearly the network wants to ensure that top-tier users continue to get the best possible experience.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich includes a haltingly beautiful design and many new features like a better web browser and facial recognition unlocking.

Here’s the full list of Android devices that will get the upgrade:

• ThunderBolt
• Droid Incredible 2
• Rhyme
• Rezound

• Spectrum

•Droid Bionic
•Droid Razr
•Droid Razr Maxx
•Droid 4
•Droid Xyboard 8.2
•Droid Xybaord 10.1

• Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
• Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7

Will your Verizon device be getting the update to Android 4.0?

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LulzSec indictment released with details from Hector Xavier “Sabu” Monsegur

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 12:03 PM PST

Hector LulzSec

The indictment of five purported members of the LulzSec hacker group has been released, along with comments from the unexpected informant: assumed LulzSec “leader,” Sabu (pictured above).

LulzSec is best known for its “50 days of Lulz,” during which the group performed daily cyber attacks on a number of high-profile companies such as PBS and the U.S. Senate public website. The group disbanded thereafter, though its members probably were absorbed into hacktivist group Anonymous. At the time, LulzSec and Anonymous were reportedly “bros.”

“Bros” must be a loose term, as Sabu, or Hector Xavier Monsegur, was unmasked by law enforcement in June and used to find other members’ identities. For those who have followed the group on social networks such as Twitter, the revealed names are familiar. Jake Davis, known as topiary, was arrested in the UK, spurring attacks done in the name of “Free Topiary.” Ryan Ackroyd who was known on Twitter as lolspoon, and referred to as Kayla, also resided in the UK. Darren Martyn was best known as pwnsauce and Donncha O'Cearrbhail, known as palladium, both lived in Ireland. Jeremy Hammond was better known as Anarchaos.

Hammond is listed in a separate complaint from the larger indictment mentioning the first four.

The indictment claims the group was first active under the name “Internet Feds,” responsible for the attacks on Fine Gael, HBGary, and Fox. That accounts for Count One of the indictment. Count Two follows their actions under the title LulzSec. It reads:

“Although the members of LulzSec and their co-conspirators claimed to have engaged in these attacks for humorous purposes (“lulz” is Internet slang which can be interpreted as “laughs,” “Humor,” or “amusement”), LulzSec’s criminal acts included, among other things, the theft of confidential infromation, including sensitive personal information for thousands of individuals, from their victims’ computer systems; the public disclosure of that confidential information on the Internet; the defacement of Internet websites; and overwhleming victims’ computers with bogus requests for information (known as “denial of service” or “DoS” attacks).”

The indictment specifically mentions LulzSec’s attacks on Sony Pictures, PBS, Infragard-Atlanta, and Bethesda Softworks. The offenses within each attack are obvious: stealing personal information, including usernames, passwords, dates of birth, and more, as well as publishing them publicly in press release form.

It also states that the highly-followed Twitter handle @LulzSec was created by Jake Davis (topiary).

Check out the indictments, individual complaints against Jeremy Hammond and Donncha O’Cearrbhail, as well as Sabu’s information below:

Overall Indictment

Hector Xavier “Sabu” Monsegur Information

Jeremy Hammond (a.k.a. Anarchoas) Complaint

Donncha O’Cearrbhail (a.k.a. palladium) Complaint

Scribds via Gizmodo, image of Hector Xavier Monsegur via Fox News

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Basecamp reboots with bold new interface

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 11:48 AM PST

The app that first made online project management cool back in 2004 has been entirely reworked to better suit the modern needs of today’s project collaborators.

Basecamp, the eight year-old project management application from 37signals, has received a dramatic redesign Tuesday and is intended to emulate the simplicity of using paper.

The new version sports a radical new look with fresh upgrades such as document autosave, file drag-and-drop, and a history feature that includes a full audit log. The tool is also said to be faster than ever and newly tailored to fit short projects.

“The new Basecamp features an entirely new innovative interface. All new code. Brand new tech. And some serious hardware backing it all up,” 37signals CEO and co-founder Jason Fried said in an announcement.

Basecamp, the flagship (and first) product from 37signals, is one of the few online project management tools to acheive brand name recognition across multiple industries. To date, more than 8 million projects have managed by way of Basecamp.

That’s not to say the tool is the best of breed. Many startups have tried to beat Basecamp with better, simpler, or flashier features and interfaces. The task of acquiring customers with a beloved veteran like Basecamp owning the market, however, has proved near impossible for most. But a handful of companies such as Huddle and Yammer are attracting attention for more flexible, real-time collaboration tools, making a Basecamp do-over a necessary step to stay relevant.

We’ve yet to do a deep dive into the new product, but initial feedback from customers is overwhelming positive. “As far as second first impressions, it's a very memorable one,” commenter Justin Kropp said, echoing the statements of others. “The entire experience feels light, easy, and inviting. Every aspect feels more considered than the previous, allowing the UI to make room for what I suspect will be an increase in productive collaboration.”

Some people have called the loss of time-tracking a major misstep, however. “There's no way I could do without time-tracking within my projects. It's like a mirage in the desert,” Bryan Martin said. “So close, but can't get to it.”

The new Basecamp is available today and new users can try it out for free in an unlimited 45-day trial. Pricing then starts at $20 a month. One important thing to note: 37signals has done away with its free tier, meaning once the trial is over, the $20 per month Basic plan is required for on-going access to projects — and that’s another decision that some customers are not too keen on.

Filed under: cloud, social, VentureBeat

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How Google Play stacks up against iTunes & iCloud

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 11:09 AM PST


On the eve of Apple’s much-hyped iPad HD event, Google has fired a shot right at Apple when it comes to media with its new Google Play store.

Google Play will smartly combine all of Google’s other stores like the Android Market and Google Music into one cloud-based marketplace for all media needs. Just like iTunes, Google Play will be consumers’ one-stop shop for movies, games, music, apps, and more.

And similar to Apple’s iCloud (and Amazon for that matter), Google says Play will ensure that all your purchased media is backed up so you don’t have to worry about losing those files again. You can re-download your files across all platforms if you ever move or lose them. Plus, you’ll be able to store up to 20,000 songs for free, a feature borrowed from the departed Google Music.

However, iCloud also offers more in the way of dealing with your already-owned music with its iTunes Match service. With it, you can listen your already owned music from other sources across your iOS devices.


From playing with Google Play today, it appears to offer a relatively smooth experience for browsing and buying media. Unlike iTunes, Play is completely accessible through the browser instead of through a locally-stored program. After toying around with it, I wish there was a way to browse and buy media from Apple through the browser as well.

As for selection itself, Apple is still chiefly king with iTunes, especially when it comes to music. Every mainstream artist and most independent artists make it a priority to have their music on iTunes but not Google. As Google Play evolves and becomes known as the destination for media on Android devices especially, it could eventually catch up to iTunes.

When it comes to music pricing, Play appears to offer downloads at the same price or slightly cheaper than iTunes. Popular albums Talk That Talk (Deluxe Edition) by Rihanna and Jay-Z/Kanye West’s Watch the Throne were both slightly cheaper from Google. For movies, Google Play offers just movie rentals, whereas iTunes offers rentals and digital purchases. Movie rentals appear to cost about the same using both services.

We’d encourage you to give Google Play a spin as well. Let us know in the comments if you like it and how you think it stacks up to iTunes.

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VB Video Webinar: Is Singapore your launch pad to Asia?

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 11:00 AM PST

VB WebinarI just got back from Singapore, where I spent last week helping launch the inaugural DEMO Asia event. Through a series of energetic demonstrations, 76 companies, many of which were non-Asian, unveiled their innovative products to the Asian market.

There's so much momentum over there, and with Singapore leading Southeast Asia’s startup and tech scene, entrepreneurs from the US and around the world are finding huge value in using Singapore as a hub when expanding to a market of nearly 600 million.

VentureBeat has teamed up with The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) to host a live video webinar in which CEOs of promising US companies will share tips and pitfalls to tackling the Southeast Asian market, and why they've decided on Singapore for their overseas expansion.

Participants so far include:

  • Moderator: Dylan Tweney, Executive Editor, VentureBeat
  • Speaker: Ragnar Kruse, CEO, Smaato
  • Speaker: Tom Burke, CEO, Trilibis Mobile
  • Speaker: Yangbin Wang, CEO, Vobile

The webinar is free to attend and takes place on Thursday, March 22 at 1pm PT. You can register here.

There will be a live attendee Q&A segment directly following the discussion, so have your questions ready. I hope you’ll join in!

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Twitter now comes in Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, & Urdu

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 10:49 AM PST

Following the use of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings, Twitter has added more support for a few of the languages of North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East, including Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, and Urdu.

In a blog post, a Twitter spokesperson revealed the new language support is due to the work of a large and diverse group of volunteers.

“Among those who donated their time and translation skills to make right-to-left languages a reality on Twitter [are] a Saudi blogger, Egyptian college students, a journalist at the BBC, IT professionals in Iran and Pakistan, an Israeli schoolteacher, the co-founders of the grassroots #LetsTweetInArabic campaign, academics specializing in linguistics, and teenagers in Lebanon.”

In conflict-torn areas of the world, Twitter execs and others are hoping that social media can help bring people together and unite them over commonalities. As the company wrote of the #Jan25 tweets, “A single tweet can bring you closer to neighbors and heroes, immerse you in political change or disaster relief.”

Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and is spoken in western India and parts of Afghanistan. Arabic is a variety of dialects is spoken throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Farsi is the official language of Iran and is spoken widely in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as by communities in Bahrain, Yemen, the UAE, and elsewhere. Modern Hebrew is, along with Arabic, an official language of the State of Israel and is spoken by most of the eight million people in Israel.

Here’s a map we made to illustrate Twitter’s new geographic reach:

Right-to-left translation efforts began in earnest in January 2012. Before then, right-to-left languages were not available for crowdsourced work in the Twitter Translation Center, where hundreds of thousands of volunteers work to bring Twitter to more languages and geographies.

Image courtesy of gezzeg, Shutterstock

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What Google Play means for Android developers

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 10:24 AM PST

In this morning’s huge Google Play announcement, we learned that the company was drastically restructuring how consumers access content across devices.

The Google Play app is giving users access to apps, games, music, books, and movies all from a single dashboard that can be accessed from just about any web-connected device, including phones and tablets.

But in the process, the company is scrapping the Android Market, a move that’s sure to raise questions for Android developers. As Android-side Googler Kenneth Lui pointed out in this morning’s blog post on the Android Developer site, the company and its army of third-party devs have already put a ton of time and effort into making the Market useful for consumers and profitable for devs.

What’s changing with Play?

While the familiarity of the Android Market is disappearing for all Android users within the next seven days, to be replaced by the Google Play store and cloud-based storage system, Lui wrote, “Apps and games remain the core of Google Play, so we'll continue investing in new ways to connect users with their favorite apps, and developers with new customers.”

Google is hoping to drive even more eyeballs (and revenue) to developers by integrating the same store across all devices, all platforms, and all media types. For example, consumers can download an app or game on the web and send it to a mobile device, all rather seamlessly. Here’s a consumer-focused demo on how Google Play will work for Android apps:

Android Market login credentials will be identical to those for Google Play, and the infrastructure of the Market won’t change. For developers, this is a UI change, not something that will require any heavy lifting. You don’t have to re-publish apps or change anything about the way you currently publish apps; rather, all your Android Market apps will simply become Google Play apps without your lifting a finger.

Devices running Android 2.2 or higher will get OTA upgrades over the next week.

“As we grow and promote Google Play around the world, we'll be marketing your apps and games at the same time,” Lui concluded. “Our policies have not changed and our goal is still the same: to create a great, open marketplace for distributing Android apps.”

Image courtesy of laihiu, Flickr

Filed under: dev, VentureBeat

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Why Google is killing the Android Market & Google Music

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 10:02 AM PST

Wrapped up in today’s huge Google Play announcement was an interesting tidbit: Google is scrapping the Android Market and Google Music as independent brands or apps.

You can also kiss the company’s branded eBookstore goodbye.

“On your Android phone or tablet, we'll be upgrading the Android Market app to the Google Play Store app over the coming days,” read the company’s official blog post, which continued to say that the apps and games you currently run will now be branded as Google Play games and Google Play apps.

The same goes for Google Music songs, which will now be Google Play songs. And your Google eBookstore titles will now be Google Play ebooks.

Over the next seven days, the Play app will start to replace both the Market and the Music apps. Here’s a video about the Android Market/Google Play switcheroo:

It may seem like mere semantics or an exercise in branding, but it gives a strong hint at part of Google’s underlying philosophy these days, something new that’s been brewing over the past year or so.

Google’s range spans a hugely diverse array of products. These guys are the Procter & Gamble of the Internet; they’ve got TVs, cars, an Internet utility, an energy investment branch, and a slew of web apps from the professional to the mobile to the entertainment-related. How can they manage and maintain such an ecosystem if each app has its own brand and back end?

Google’s rolling redesign to give its web apps a more consistent look and feel was the first inkling of this push toward unification. Google+ social layers popping up in a bunch of web apps was another. And the recent privacy policy kerfuffle? More of the same: Everything is being unified and made consistent, and for the most part, consumers stand to benefit.

For example, in the new Google Play music side, you’ll be able to buy and play back tunes from a single app. In the past, you could only download music from the Android Market, then you had to go to Google Music to play it back.

A source close to the matter said it’s easy to see this trend as giving users a single, beautiful experience that spans all of Google’s products. We’re getting a consistent, “Googley” user interface and design, as well as some consistency of features across multiple apps, from search to that black bar atop the screen. It’s supposed to make navigation easier on the front end, and on the back end, we’re seeing more interoperability between Google products.

As Google exec Bradley Horowitz told VentureBeat in a recent interview about the diversity of Google’s products, “We were making a lot of bets in a lot of places, now we're harvesting the bets that have paid off and weeding out the others.

“There's an art to that which is greater than the sum of its parts. It's a natural oscillation that is very user-focused."

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Google unveils Play, one big umbrella for all movies, games, music, apps, & more

Posted: 06 Mar 2012 10:00 AM PST

Google Play is the company’s biggest launch since Google+, and it’s built on some of the same principles.

First, here’s what Google Play is: It’s a web-based system for buying and consuming content, from e-books to music to movies to apps to games — basically anything you’d want to run on a mobile device or in a browser. It replaces the Android Market for purchasing apps, books, and music. It also supplants the storage and playback features of Google Music and other Google content products, and extends them with new features and an enhanced, unified user interface.

Play lets you sync files from device to device; you can buy content once and use it anywhere your Google account lets you sign in. It’s an online store, but it’s also a cloud-based storage system. And it looks like it’s going to be very easy and very fun to use.

Google Play will let you store up to 20,000 songs in a web-based account you can access from anywhere, free of charge. In addition to storage, you’ll be able to buy new music from a library of millions of tracks. You’ll have access to the nearly half a million games and apps for the Android mobile OS, as well as a large e-books selection and movies to rent.

In a blog post this morning, the company stated, “Entertainment is supposed to be fun. But in reality, getting everything to work can be the exact opposite — moving files between your computers, endless syncing across your devices, and wires, lots of wires. Today we're eliminating all that hassle with Google Play, a digital entertainment destination where you can find, enjoy and share your favorite music, movies, books and apps on the web and on your Android phone or tablet.”

This is Google’s approach to entertainment. It’s intended to “just work” and to require minimal storage on the consumer’s part. It’s also intended to be a one-stop shop for all entertainment content. For now, video is limited to movie rentals. As Google hammers out a better relationship with film and movie content creators, we might expect to see purchasing options and TV shows in the future.

And there’s no better way to plug a new launch than offering you, dear consumers, a massive load of deep discounts on the media and apps you love most. To kick off the Google Play launch, the company is cherry-picking movies, apps, games, music, and books to be sold at a fraction of their original price for the next seven days. Some of the content will go for as little as 25 cents.

Like Google+, Google Play is all about bringing many disparate elements under one big, happy umbrella. Google currently has an marketplace for apps, a standalone music storage and playback app, an e-bookstore, and a few other properties for getting you to buy media and app content. But the company can do a lot more (and offer you, the consumer) a lot more if they can bring all those capabilities into a single mega-app like Google Play.

Plus, the app adds cross-device syncing, a feature we have loved in Google Music and that has been long overdue for content like films.

One conspicuously absent aspect was any mention of Google TV, which might stand to benefit most from a little simplification and unification. We’ll keep our ear to the ground, but a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company isn’t making any Google TV-related announcements today.

However, you can expect to see some Google+ integrations with Google Play in the weeks and months to come. This fact was confirmed by Google and by our good friend and longtime source Captain Obvious.

If Google Play is easy enough for average people to use (and if it’s fun enough to offset the inevitable change-related consumer angst), we think the company just might have a huge success on their hands.

Time will tell. In the meantime, here are some fancy screenshots:

Top image courtesy of ra2 studio, Shutterstock

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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