08 March, 2012



Gaikai signs up Warner Bros.’ Lord of the Rings Online game for instant demos

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 09:04 AM PST

Gaikai is announcing today it has signed up another partner — Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment — for its game-streaming business where it embeds instantly playable game demos in the web sites of its publishing partners.

David Perry (pictured at last month’s Interactive Achievement Awards) said in an interview at the Game Developers Conference that the deal is a coup because Warner Bros. is signing up so that Gaikai can embed game demos for the Lord of the Rings Online game as well as Dungeons &  Dragons Online. The game is the first massively multiplayer online game that Gaikai has signed up for its game-streaming technology, which could disrupt the traditional game retailing business.

Gaikai can stream heavy-duty games from its centralized servers in data centers to user machines as if the game were run and stored on the user’s own machine. But Gaikai executes the game code in the cloud and the game runs on the user’s screen. The company can play high-quality video games instantly on any web browser, mobile or internet-connected device. No game installation or download is necessary.

For game publishers, this means they can embed a link in a web page. If users click on that link, they can instantly play the game demo. As such, Gaikai enables friction-free, instantaneous game demos that can help sell more video games. Beyond streaming game demos, players can register and start playing the game outright via streaming. The games are free-to-play and so players can start playing them without paying and without waiting for downloads, even on a low-end machine.

It’s also interesting for another reason. Warner Bros. is also an investor in OnLive, Gaikai’s chief competitor in the game-streaming business.

“I was surprised when we got this one,” Perry said.

Perry is one of the speakers at our GamesBeat 2012 conference coming in July.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games

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Hot ad startup AdRoll rebrands, hires engineers away from Rivet Games (exclusive)

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PST


Hot advertising tech startup AdRoll made headlines last month when it hired Google sales director Suresh Khanna. But the company is not done hiring by a long shot and has just brought onboard two top engineers from Rivet Games, a move the company revealed today as its new rebranding goes live.

While ad technology may not exactly be sexy, it will ultimately shape how the web functions. Advertising funds nearly every free web product you get, so the big question for companies is how to improve the process of selling ads while not annoying the crap out of web users. AdRoll might have cracked that code somewhat with display advertising by offering a platform for retargeted ads. Retargeting basically increases the chance of bringing customers back to your online store or site after they’ve left, and its LiquidAds take that a step further by showing users specific products again. AdRoll customers include Microsoft, Hipmunk, BustedTees, and the Portland Trail Blazers.

AdRoll CEO Aaron Bell (pictured) told VentureBeat that a lot of pieces of the AdRoll puzzle are falling into place right now, as the company tries to control its growth. In 2011, AdRoll had a 414 percent increase in revenue, a 400 percent increase in ad impressions, and a 334 percent rise in customers, which now number more than 3,500. It is also now profitable.

The new engineering hires from Rivet Games go hand-in-hand with the company’s growth and controlling the huge amount of data it processes on customers and conversions. Customer needs and demands are growing fast, so the company has to scale up operations with its SaaS platform. Along with opening a new data center, it’s also working to improve its RTBuddha real-time bidding technology.

“It’s hugely important that we’re able to crunch large data sets,” Bell told us. “We think we can be the next [Google] AdWords, and the value we provide is similar to that.”

adroll-logoAs for the re-branding, AdRoll has a new logo (right) and site that are live today. As AdRoll’s profile gets bigger, Bell said the company wants to be taken a bit more seriously. The colors have changed from pink and blue to black and blue, and AdRoll will soon launch a new user interface for its SaaS dashboard.

“This is industry leading technology and we care about keeping up with our customers,” Bell said. “With the introduction of the new branding, and as we continue to scale our technology, we’re looking to attract all kinds of customer segments.”

Together, these latest moves by AdRoll represent a shift from being a lean startup to one that makes waves in its industry. No doubt AdRoll will be a company we’ll be watching this year.

San Francisco-based AdRoll has raised just $4 million in a single round of funding, with backing from the likes of Merus Capital, Accel Partners, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Google throws stacks of cash at hackers to publicly crack its Chrome browser

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 08:02 AM PST


Despite search titan Google asking hackers to publicly break its Chrome browser for past four years, it wasn’t until yesterday that it finally happened — with the company dishing out thousands of dollars to a hacker who cracked Chrome at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.

During Google’s own Pwnium competition, Russian university student Sergey Glazunov won $60,000 for hacking a PC running Chrome. Glazunov discovered a new exploit that only affects Chrome and went around its “sandbox” restriction that is supposed to prevent hackers from accessing an entire computer system, according to ZDNet.

In a separate CanSecWest event called Pwn2Own, hosted by HP, researchers from the security firm VUPEN found a flaw in Chrome in the first five minutes of the competition, according to Pwn2Own’s Twitter account.

Google said it would offer up to $1 million in prizes for Chrome exploits found during its own Pwnium competition, but Glazunov appears to be the biggest winner so far.

Google’s purpose for hosting these hacking competitions is to help the company find out the biggest flaws in its Chrome, patch those flaws, and ultimately make the browser safer. All exploits found during the public competition have to be verified by Google and will no doubt be patched with the latest update for Chrome.

Are you a Chrome user? Have you ever had your credit card or personal data stolen while using it?

Money on keyboard photo: Ruslan Semichev/Shutterstock

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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Highlight’s new features help you find — and save — more people at SXSW

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PST

Highlight, the location-based app stripping the serendipity out of meeting someone, is launching new features today inspired by the popular upcoming event South-By-South-West.

“South-By-South-West is kind of a preview of what the world would be like if everyone had Highlight,” said Highlight chief executive Paul Davidson.

Highlight, which launched in January, allows you to see people — friends or strangers — who have been physically close to you at any point in the day. It senses only those who have the app installed and sends both users a notification when they are in close proximity to one another. When it first launched, it provided a timeline of these “events” and allowed you to review a profile of that individual with data supplied by their social networks. It was a fairly lightweight, albeit somewhat creepy, way of knowing more about your surroundings.

The new features today, however, make the app much more interactive. South-By-South-West (SXSW) is a conference that attracts the kind of people clued-in to the mobile app ecosystem. Davidson, who is headed down to the event, imagined it as an opportunity to “be in a world fast-forwarded” to a time when everyone owned Highlight.

First off, the interface has changed a bit. If you’re passing so many people at one time, you may want to know who is still around. Now, the timeline shows not just who has passed you in a given day and when, but those who remain close are pushed to the top of the list and say “now” next to their listing. In a place like SXSW where people are specifically looking to make connections, this will be handy. In the real world, however, it might have the “you’re standing too close to me” awkward effect, especially if you’re a slight acquaintance with someone. Situations could arise such as, “Saw you were in Starbucks for the last half hour, why didn’t you say hey?”

The app will also now allow you to search for individuals. In the past, Highlight only gave you a run-down of the people you’d seen in your history with the app. Now, if you feel like you’ve seen a person before (I swear I know that guy from somewhere…) you can search your history for his information and where you might have met. Social profiles are also new to the Highlight app, directing people out of the app and onto someone’s Facebook or Twitter for more information.

But while Highlight has prided itself of not being a relationship builder, just an information provider.

“There’s no friend model, there’s no way to remember people, there’s no social currency, and that’s really weird for a social app,” said Davidson. “But it makes sense because it’s not an app to stay in touch with each other.”

Its newest feature, however, seems to change all of that.

People inherently want to remember others, and so Davidson has found people need a way to express to passers-by that they are interested in them. Davidson’s main issue here was finding the right language for such a button. When he first launched the app, he explained the world as a “bizarre-o version of Facebook,” where people do want to stalk and get to know a person without shaking their hand, but while liking or poking someone seems innocuous, it wasn’t the right verbiage.

“‘Poke’ is definitely not right, ‘favorite’ is definitely not right…’bookmarking’ is weird and kind of creepy,” he explained.

So he settled on the app’s namesake — highlighting people. You can click a button and “highlight” an individual to let them know you’re interested in them. Highlights are totally public and those you’ve highlighted are viewable on your profile, as well as a list of those who highlighted you. We asked Davidson if he thought people might use this as an insecure way of hooking up, and while he agreed it was a possibility, he said that wasn’t the intention of the app.

“There’s not really much precedent for this, it’s kind of a way to say people who you haven’t met seem interesting..in sort of way in a lightweight way,” he said, “Like a public endorsement of sorts. I think it’s going to add a lot to the whole ecosystem.”

While SXSW was the inspiration for these changes, Davidson says they were designed to work in any small town where the population isn’t as dense.

Highlight was founded in January 2012, and recently received a round of funding from Benchmark Capital, the same venture firm Davidson for which he served as entrepreneur-in-residence. The app is available worldwide.

Photo via 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

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.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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DOJ may sue Apple and others for e-book price fixing

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 07:54 AM PST


The world’s most valuable company, Apple, is being accused of conspiring with five major book publishers to raise the price of e-books, which could lead to a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The antitrust case deals with Apple’s “agency model” of selling apps and e-books in which the publisher sets its own prices for their products while giving Apple 30 percent of every sale. Yet, Apple placed a stipulation on the book publishers that they cannot sell an e-book title for a lower cost than what’s available through Apple’s iTunes bookstore, according to a Wall Street Journal report that cites unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

The outcome of the DOJ lawsuit threats could mean cheaper prices on e-books for consumers from the publishers involved. It could also mean lower revenues for publishers, which includes Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group; Penguin Group, Macmillan, GmbH, and HarperCollins Publishers.

The DOJ has been investigating e-book pricing since last year. If the news is true, the antitrust lawsuit warning would mean that the DOJ was unable to reach an agreement with both Apple and the publishers on a solution. However, it’s likely that all parties involved will reach a settlement because taking the case to court would be far more expensive and give the companies a dose of negative PR.

Tablet image via Shutterstock

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Apple switches from Google to OpenStreetMaps in new iPhoto…but forgets to give credit

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 07:30 AM PST

As we reported recently, after Google raised the price to access their maps API, a lot of companies have been switching to OpenStreetMaps when adding geo-data into their services. Now it seems like Apple has joined the club, using OSM in the new iPhoto for iPad and iPhone. But as intrepid blogger Alistair Aitchison points out, Apple didn’t bother to credit the creators of these maps, and is using two year old out of date information.

The image tiles themselves use quite an interesting, quasi-retro style. Nobody would be surprised if they were told that Apple had been acquiring their own sets of map data in order to launch their own map product, dispensing of their need to rely on Google Maps in their operating systems. But have they?” writes Aitchison. With a bit of sleuthing he finds that Apple’s maps overlay perfectly onto OpenStreetMaps. “Oh, of course – Apple haven't been gathering their own map data at all – all they've done is render Open Street Map data with their own stylesheet, miscategorised the status of some ways, conveniently forget to include any copyright attribution, and pass it off as their own!”

The folks behind OSM were a little more tactful in their blog post about the discovery. “The OSM data that Apple is using is rather old (start of April 2010) so don't expect to see your latest and greatest updates on there. It's also missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap's contributors; we look forward to working with Apple to get that on there. But we're delighted to see another prominent map user make the switch to OpenStreetMap, and look forward to many more.”

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment. For context, both foursquare and StreetEasy have switched from Google to OSM since the price hike, and both announced the change in blog posts supporting the open source effort.

Filed under: dev, mobile

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NFC mobile payments to hit $74B by 2015, says Juniper

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 07:11 AM PST

Near-field communications (NFC) payments are off to a slow start here in the U.S., but Juniper Research believes that they will reach a whopping $74 billion by 2015, and in the process will help to spur on the mobile payments revolution.

“Our report demonstrates the spectacular growth we see across all segments of the mobile commerce market,” Juniper’s David Snow, and the author of the Mobile Commerce Markets predicting the NFC explosion, said in a statement today. “Four of these segments (money transfer, physical goods, NFC and coupons) will more than triple in transaction value over the next three years, whilst digital goods, banking and tickets will still on average, double over the same period.”

The figure adds some granularity to Juniper’s past prediction of the mobile payment market totaling $670 billion by 2015. Juniper’s prediction on NFC is a sign that the technology won’t end up dominating the mobile payment market as some would hope — the mobile payments firm Isis and Google Wallet are both banking heavily on NFC.

NFC was initially the hot topic for mobile payments, but with so many other methods of payments available, including SMS, carrier billing, and QR code scanning, it’s now being approached as just one tool among many for mobilizing purchasing.

Juniper also notes that SMS will help to spur on banking, something that’s already happening in several countries throughout Africa. The report also indicates that mobile coupons area will see the highest growth during the next few years, even though it’s the smallest mobile commerce segment right now.

NFC payments image via Shutterstock

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.

Filed under: mobile

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Peter Molyneux departs Lionhead Studios and Microsoft to found 22 Cans

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 06:48 AM PST

Peter Molyneux

Peter Molyneux, one of the most recognizable names in the video game industry, has announced that he will be leaving Lionhead Studios, the company he founded 15 years ago.

Taking his place will be the studio co-founder Mark Webley. Molyneux also held the position of creative head at Microsoft Studios Europe, another title he will be relinquishing. There is no announced replacement for this position yet.

Peter Molyneux was the driving force behind Lionhead Studios’ games. Both Black & White and the Fable series were incredibly ambitious, original titles that sprung from the seemingly evergreen mind of Molyneux. Of course, emotional narratives and character-driven plots weren’t always his focus. Molyneux co-founded Bullfrog Productions in 1987, a company that would release Populous, the first ‘god game,’ for the PC in 1989. The incredible success of Populous, along with a continuous stream of blockbuster hits afterward, led to the eventual acquisition of Bullfrog by EA in 1995.

Molyneux eventually parted ways with Bullfrog to found Lionhead. His team’s first game there, Black & White, further expanded the ‘god game’ genre that Molyneux helped create. Lionhead, like Bullfrog, was eventually absorbed by a much larger company. This time it was Microsoft after the success of Fable on the Xbox. The Fable series has since become a staple RPG series of the Xbox 360.

Now Molyneux has taken leave of the company he helped create yet again, and founded his third game company, 22 Cans.

Although his games have often been met with mixed results, possibly because of the impossible odds Molyneux often stacks against himself, there is no question that he is a true visionary in this industry. In fact, our very own Dan Hsu interviewed the founder of 22 Cans at GDC just days ago about Fable: The Journey. Check out the interview and see for yourself just how much this designer cares about the worlds he has helped craft.

Although the direction 22 Cans will go is still a mystery, we here at GamesBeat cannot wait to see wait Peter Molyneux has in store for us next.

We received the following statement regarding Peter Molyneux’s departure:

Lionhead Studios Founder and pioneer game developer Peter Molyneux has made the decision to leave Microsoft. While his decision was a difficult one, he felt the time was right to pursue a new independent venture. As co-founder of Lionhead and an integral part of Microsoft Studios, Peter was the creative visionary behind the blockbuster "Fable" franchise, and one of our most passionate and influential developers for the Xbox 360 platform. He has made an indelible mark on the games industry and we wish him all the best of luck in his future endeavors. Lionhead Co-Founder Mark Webley will assume the role of studio manager, while Peter will remain a Creative Consultant on "Fable: The Journey. The development of "Fable: The Journey" remains on track to be one of the year's most anticipated Kinect for Xbox 360 titles."

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

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Add 1GB of RAM to the new iPad’s killer specs

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 06:31 AM PST

Along with an ultra-high resolution Retina Display, quad-core graphics, and LTE, Apple’s new iPad may also feature a major memory upgrade of 1 gigabyte of RAM, sources tell the Verge.

Apple has actively avoided playing too much of a specification battle with its iOS devices, choosing instead to focus on upgrades that consumers will see more immediately. But the RAM upgrade makes sense when you consider the new iPad’s 2048 by 1536 Retina Display — a resolution that will require lots of additional memory to handle games and complex apps.

If true, the news means the new iPad has double the memory of the iPad 2′s 512MB of RAM and four times more memory than the original iPad’s 256MB RAM. Coupled with the new iPad’s A5X processor, which adds quad-core graphics (and we assume a slightly faster CPU), and it seems like Apple’s tablet won’t have any trouble chewing on 1080p video or graphics-rich games.

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.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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What Silicon Valley can learn from a failure in public policy

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PST

Across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., sits Washington National Airport (DCA). It’s one of my favorite airports. Two of the three terminals are bright and airy. It’s not as congested as other airports on the East Coast. Security lines aren’t usually an issue. It’s connected to D.C.’s Metro system more efficiently than BART is connected to San Francisco International Airport. If you don’t want to take Metro, downtown D.C. is a cheap taxi ride away.

But as of today, you can’t fly there nonstop from San Francisco. It’s illegal. DCA is covered by a perimeter rule that restricts most flights further than 1,250 miles. It’s a stupid rule that has outlived its original purpose. It’s the kind of thing that Silicon Valley needs to pay attention to as it expands into heavily regulated industries like finance and medicine. As Washington pays more attention to things like privacy and online advertising, Silicon Valley will have to pay more attention to Washington to ensure that laws make sense.

San Franciscans have to fly to Washington Dulles Airport (IAD), which is an additional 20 miles from downtown. It can cost $75 in a taxi. United fliers have to deal with the dumps that are midfield terminals C and D, which were designed to be temporary when they were built in 1983.

The perimeter rule was put in place in 1966 to ensure Dulles had a future. Back then, there was nothing that far out. But it stays in place, despite the fact that Dulles is now a major international airport and an East Coast hub for United.

The rule has changed over the years due to pressure from politicians. Yes, Congress and the Department of Transportation are micromanaging airline service at DCA.

As part of the FAA reauthorization recently signed into law by President Obama, the Department of Transportation is opening up 16 slots beyond the perimeter. United is using two of its slots for new service between DCA and SFO. But the timing of the flight isn’t designed for Silicon Valley’s increasing cadre of technology executives dealing with government.

Virgin America is applying to provide service from SFO, but is competing with other airlines who want to use the available slots to fly to other cities. “Our schedule will definitely be designed for San Francisco point of origin,” said David Cush, CEO of San Francisco-based airline Virgin America, who thinks the route is important to the technology industry.

“I don’t know of any sector of the economy that has more important issues than the tech sector when it comes to Capitol Hill, whether it’s cybersecurity, whether it’s privacy issues or anything else,” Cush said. “When the tech companies here want to go to Washington to have the dialogue they should have with Washington in guiding policy, they have to fly into Dulles and take that extra 75 to 90 minutes in each direction. … Tech companies based here in the Bay Area are at a disadvantage.”

The perimeter rule stays in place for two primary reasons:

  • Politicians who represent less densely populated areas who fear that more economically efficient use of aircraft will deprive places like Norfolk of nonstops from DCA.
  • Wealthy and influential residents in the neighborhoods around DCA who wrongly fear that flights to the West Coast will require larger planes that generate more noise and cause more congestion.

The rule uses arbitrary conditions instead of putting in place restrictions that measure accomplishment of a goal. (e.g. viability of Dulles). Nearby residents use a poor proxy (distance) for what they actually are concerned about (noise). With advances in technology, the same aircraft that fly from DCA to Chicago can fly to San Francisco. Newer aircraft are actually quieter than some of the older aircraft that fly within the perimeter. But the rule doesn’t take into account changes in technology.

“30 years ago it was very difficult to have an aircraft that could actually fly too much further than that out of National because of the short runway,” Cush said. “Of course technology has changed since then so you can fly transcons with narrow-body aircraft.”

“We have the opportunity to right 30 years of poor policy,” Cush said. He encourages Bay Area residents to write to their local Congressman to express their support for granting the slots to Virgin America’s proposed service.

And if SFO does get a convenient nonstop flight to DCA, it will be easier for tech companies to prevent stupid things like the perimeter rule from being enacted in the first place.

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.

[DCA Airport image credit: Grad Student 2007/Flickr]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Flockthere tracks your friends; tells you if they’ll be late for dinner

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PST

A new location tracking app for Android and iOS called Flockthere has just announced the launch of its public beta.

“My co-founder, Sanjeev and I were determined to start a company and we’d meet at different locations several times per week to talk about our ideas,” Flockthere co-founder Dan Nguyen told VentureBeat in an interview, “When we kept meeting, one of us was always late, usually Sanjeev, and I’d be trying to call or text him when I was waiting. He wouldn’t be able to answer because he’d be driving. We looked for an app to solve this problem, but didn’t find anything, so we created Flockthere.”

It’s a common scenario: You make plans to go to a restaurant with a group of friends for dinner and tell everyone to get there at eight. A few friends show up early, a couple more arrive right on time, and there are always a few stragglers who are lagging behind or get caught in traffic. Usually you make a few phone calls and send a few texts to wrangle everyone together.

If Flockthere has its way, you won’t need to text or call your friends. Instead, you can see their phone’s GPS location with the company’s mobile app. Flockthere lets you create a group of friends or family – also know as a “flock” – by entering their phone numbers or email adresses. You can then track each person’s movements en route to a specific location, such as a restaurant or event center. Once you create a group, those you’ve invited must elect to share their location with you through the app. Flockthere covers all of the bases by providing a browser version for those who don’t have the app installed.

Flockthere also includes group text messaging, so the entire group can get updates at once. Each person in the flock can also choose to stop updating their location, so no one else can see where they are.

Nguyen tells me that the app’s accuracy depends on a phone’s GPS capabilities. Flockthere also relies on WiFi networks and your cell ID to track your location. If you loose a signal while in a flock, the app will update your location as soon as you regain cell coverage.

Flockthere’s biggest competitor is Apple’s Find My Friends, a very similar location tracking app. Between Flockthere and Find My Friends, the functionality is almost identical, though Find My Friends doesn’t have group messaging. The company is hoping to set itself apart by offering location tracking on Android, iOS, and nearly every mobile browser, not just iOS.

Location based apps can undoubtedly cause privacy concerns. Apps like Flockthere and Find My Friends can be helpful tools, but they also follow a trend of revealing a lot of information about ourselves online. Flockthere says that it doesn’t store any information about your flocks, nor can your location information be compromised.

The company launched its alpha version in November 2011, and was in the iTunes in December 2011. The company has been bootstrapped so far.

[Top image credit: xpixel/Shutterstock]

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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Chartbeat moves past the pageview with redesign focused on engagement

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 04:58 AM PST

As a struggling Chartbeat addict, I can tell you that watching the number of people flooding onto your site or story can be a rush. But like any great high, it fades too fast, especially when you can’t figure out how to keep them coming back. I got a look at the new version of Chartbeat yesterday, the popular realtime analytics tool, and was encouraged to see a new suite of tools that focused on ways to engage and respond to readers so they return again and again.

“We know the pageview sucks,” said Chartbeat’s Alex Carusillo. “Sure everyone likes to see big numbers, but you can’t predict a pickup by Drudge Report that will send a huge wave of one time readers. We think it makes more sense to focus on the readers who are deeply engaged and driving other readers to your site.”

The big change is a new field in the dashboard that tracks the average amount of time readers are spending with each story. You can take a look at an example from investor Fred Wilson’s blog AVC below (he doesn’t mind sharing his numbers).

Watching the numbers from VentureBeat yesterday, I saw certain stories that weren’t getting the most traffic, but were keeping readers on the site for two or three times VentureBeat’s average.

“This is very different from the engagement you see in Google Analytics,” Lauryn Bennett, Chartbeat’s head of brand. “They are looking at when someone enters a page and when they exit. But is that person actually paying attention to your site, or did they just forget and leave open a tab in their browser.” Chartbeat looks every few seconds to see if the visitor is clicking around to measure engagement.

Chartbeat has already released a specialized product, Newsbeat, for publishers. Right now the team is testing out similar products for e-commerce and gaming companies. And the new version of Chartbeat is going to break out analytics for visitors arriving through mobile sites and apps as well. “You need to understand how your audience is engaging with you, no matter what platform they are using,” Carusillo said.

And, as if Chartbeat didn’t already monkey with my ego on a daily basis, the team has built in a new tool that tracks the performance of your site against its peer group, in our case other tech blogs. You can see the average for direct traffic, search and social across similar sites and where you rank by comparison.

“We want to help companies do more than just track their performance minute to minute. We’re trying to real time expose data in a new way so companies can make informed decisions about where it makes the most sense to invest for the long term,” Bennett said.

Image via Flickr user rosmary

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Wanderfly re-launches with a Pinterest-inspired travel site

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 07:56 PM PST

Wanderfly, a travel recommendation search engine, re-launched its service Wednesday with a whole new site. The company is doing away with details like hotel prices and is offering picture-heavy travel guides for cities instead.

Wanderfly’s new site is full of visual travel guides that include restaurants, hotels, and places of interest. Guides are curated by the site’s users. You can follow different users to see what they recommend. The company offered beta access to travel bloggers and brands such as the History Channel to build up the guides.

It’s hard to ignore the Pinterest influences on the new site. Places and accommodations are presented with large pictures, that look just like “pins.” Each recommendation is tagged, so you can search categories like “family-friendly” or “offbeat” and find exactly what you’re looking for. Each city has what looks like a Pinterest board that gathers all the landmarks and businesses recommended by the community. When you come across recommendations you like, you can save them to your own city collections.

Co-founder Christy Liu tells me she wants Wanderfly to be more personalized and easier to use than TripAdvisor, with less noise and suggestions from only people you know and trust.

Wanderfly competes with a whole host of other travel sites, including the behemoth TripAdvisor, which has a large community and a lot of reviews. Gogobot offers personalized travel recommendations, accompanied by photos, and Gtrot has a very similar look with Pinterest-style layout and uses your Facebook data to personalize your search results.

Wanderfly was founded in 2009 and has raised $1.4 million from Jason Calacanis, James Bailey, Roger Dickey, Dave Morin, StartupAngel, Charles River Ventures, and MentorTech Ventures. The 12-person team is based in Brooklyn, New York.

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Apple TV 3 impressions: What took so long?

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 07:28 PM PST

Apple TV screen

Earlier today Apple debuted the third version of its Apple TV set-top box, which enables higher-definition video playback, a new user interface, and some additional integration with the company’s iCloud service.

Overall these are nice changes, and they show the device is coming into its own. But most of what’s new about this Apple TV version is purely cosmetic and shouldn’t have taken over a year to see the light of day.

For instance, the ability to watch videos in 1080p is hardly a new concept for set-top boxes. Many competitors — such as the Boxee Box, Roku, Playstation 3, Western Digital WD Live, and Logitech’s Google TV Revue — already offer the high quality video. And since you can purchase 1080p HD movies and TV shows from the iTunes store, Apple fans have been increasingly annoyed that those purchases weren’t available (in 1080p) on the Apple TV. It’s also worth noting that, as was discovered in September 2010, you can play 1080p quality videos on Apple TV, but the output resolution remains 720. That said, this seems like a minor upgrade.

The reason Apple held off so long on enabling the 1080p playback probably had something to do with the notion that the old Apple TV’s hardware wasn’t good enough to support the high quality video without affecting the user experience. With the new version of the device, Apple has replaced the A4 chip with the faster single-core A5 chip. And while Apple hasn’t indicated that it’s upgraded the device’s RAM, I’d expect some kind of improvement over the 256MB offered in the old model.

When it comes to the updated user interface, there’s really no reason Apple couldn’t have pushed it out sooner. The old UI was mostly columns of text-based options you could scroll through that sat underneath pretty cover-style artwork along the top of the screen. At best I would describe this as acceptable for 2010, but not at all for any stretch of time in 2012. By comparison, the new interface is much more focused on images that I can easily identify from across the room. It’s similar to what I’ve come to love when using my Roku box. This doesn’t change the fact that Apple could have offered a sleeker, more TV-friendly UI at least six months ago.

The new UI also helps Apple further its goal of having the combination of iTunes and iCloud serve all of your digital media needs. The only problem with this is that Apple TV owners were not able to experience it sooner — like when Apple launched the iCloud service in October 2011.

Judging from the comments on VentureBeat’s Facebook Page, most people are still angry that Apple has yet to add access to a full App Store to the Apple TV. Earlier this year, Google rolled out its Android App Store (now called the Google Play Store), which allowed third-party developers to create “app channels” made specifically for a TV watching experience. Right now, the only way to get a third-party channel on the Apple TV is to work with Apple directly and then have them approve it. Apple is pretty particular about who it lets in. Only eight different third-party app channels are available on the Apple TV, and I doubt more will be added prior to the new Apple TV model hitting shelves next week.

Check out the demo video embedded below that VentureBeat’s Heather Kelly shot during the Apple event earlier today.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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UGrokIt can tag everything you own to keep you from losing your stuff

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 07:02 PM PST

UGrokit launched today to let you tag the stuff you lose the most with thin radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags so you can find them with a sensor.

Several years ago, object locating systems such as Click N’ Dig could be found in catalogues and specialty retailers such as Brookstone. These systems use radio frequency to find keys, remotes, and other items by attaching a plastic disk receiver that can respond to a signal. Products like these are still around, but one of their hurdles to wide adoption is the size and cost of the receivers. Click N’ Dig, for example, costs about $40 and comes with four receivers, but no others can be added.

UGrokIt is making object locating systems a bit more scaleable, with unlimited RFID tags that are thin, washable, and can stick or attach to basically anything.

Co-founder Carrie Requist hopes that its technology will reach more people than RFIDs have in the past, because the cost of each tag is much lower than others out there. She told VentureBeat that she wants to see how researchers and students use the technology when it becomes available.

UGrokIt’s system (picture above) comes with a “Grok,” an orange RFID scanner that connects to a smartphone and sends out the radio signal, and RFID tags that can either stick to an object or loop around a cable or keyring. The tags use a small chip and a flat antenna that don’t require any electricity and cost $1 each. The Grok is powered by an app that records each item that has a tag assigned to it.

The system, which is available to reserve now, won’t come cheap. Expect to pay about $159 for the entire UGrokIt system when it releases.

Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based UGrokIt was founded by Carrie and Tony Requist and has been self-funded so far.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Facebook’s tips for getting your mobile game noticed

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 05:30 PM PST

Mobile games are so plentiful that discovering the right one has become a nightmare. But Facebook believes that it has a solution in layering its own social network on mobile gaming platforms such as the iPhone and Android. By making games more discoverable, the social network believes it can justify its existence in the mobile world.

Half of Facebook’s 845 million users — roughly 425 million people – are mobile users. Facebook’s app on mobile lets those people connect with friends and share photos. But the app has also turned into a great way to get games noticed, said Gareth Davis, platform manager at Facebook.

“Our goal is to help consumers find your app,” said Davis in a talk at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco today. “We have 60 million people discovering apps and games on mobile. We are committed to games on the platform, both desktop and mobile.”

The Facebook mobile platform launched in 2009 and has been evolving ever since, adding social channels, web payments, and a variety of new distribution features. The Facebook app is available either as a mobile web app or a native application on various mobile devices. Among the latest features: native linking, where a developer can direct traffic from Facebook to a native app and an easy payment system with the world’s carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Softbank, KDDI, Orange, and Telefonica — that’s rolling out soon. Mobile partners among game makers include Zynga, Electronic Arts, Wooga, Glu, Storm 8, and others. And Facebook’s app works on 2,500 mobile devices.

Davis said that Facebook sends 2 million people a month to Wooga’s Diamond Dash, largely by sharing game content to Facebook’s various features.

“We surface the game for users,” Davis said. “They click on that and it takes them to the game or, if you are not an existing user, to the game in the App Store.”

The first part of embracing Facebook is using its single sign-on system that authenticates a user’s identity and links him or her back to their Facebook account on the desktop. Then the developer’s game can send information out to a user’s friends, the user’s news feed, and be found in search. It can send out game notifications, requests, and be found through bookmarks, Open Graph, and Timeline. People see it and they click through to the app.

“As soon as the player uses an app, we create a bookmark, which you can search and find,” Davis said.

You can, for instance, include a feature in your game that posts activities, such as playing a word in Zynga’s Words With Friends, to a user’s activity feed. Other players can see it and click into the game. You can use analytics from Facebook to measure everything inside the game to improve engagement and monetization.

In free-to-play games, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods, Davis said developers should use retail-grade merchandising. That means you should use tricks like having something cheap for a $1 purchase in the store as well as things that are expensive, such as a $200 decorative item that only “whales,” or high-monetizing players, will buy.

Here’s Davis’s full list of tips:

1. Add login with single sign on for bookmark and search. Make it easy for people to sign on to your app in one click if they’re already logged into Facebook on their phone.

2. Single app ID. Use the same Facebook app ID for your games on all platforms to make it easy for users to play across platforms. When you do this, people can play with their friends in the same game no matter if they’re on the web, desktop, or a mobile device.

3. Publish via Open Graph. Publish compelling game actions to Open Graph, such as game scores and achievements. Use “player beat friend” and “player won” stories to allow players to celebrate and brag, and get greater distribution through Timeline and News Feed.

4. Requests. Use the Request channel for user-to-user invites and exchanges like gifting and turn notifications. The Request channel automatically triggers a notification on iOS through the Facebook app.

5. Use all social channels. Use all the social channels (https://developers.facebook.com/docs/channels/) available to you, including requests and bookmarks, so you get maximum distribution from all channels.

6. Native, deep Linking for native distribution. Decide if you want to take advantage of native linking, which will drive all feed stories and request notifications to your game in the App Store or Marketplace. This is done via a simple update to your game settings on Facebook. You can also implement deep linking support so that clicking on a game story takes the player to a specific piece of game content, such as the specific word played.

7. Social design. Build your app to be social from the ground up so people can find, play, and compete with their friends. Social features will personalize the game for the user, keep them engaged through play with their friends, and help your game spread faster through Facebook social channels.

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

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

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Facebook secures $5B credit facility, $3B bridge loan prior to IPO

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 04:42 PM PST

Facebook has established new multi-billion dollar credit lines prior to its hotly anticipated initial public offering, according to an amendment to its S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday.

A $5 billion credit facility was secured with JPMorgan Chase Bank in late February that will allow Facebook to borrow up to $2.5 billion prior to its IPO. The new credit facility is double the $2.5 billion facility it had established in 2011.

The social networking company’s updated document, spotted by the New York Times, also included details on a recently closed $3 billion bridge loan with JP Morgan, intended to help the company pay taxes on employee shares that vest when Facebook goes public. It also touted a 432 million monthly active mobile user figure, up from 425 million.

“In February 2012 … we entered into a new agreement for an unsecured five-year revolving credit facility that allows us to borrow up to $5,000 million for general corporate purposes,” Facebook said in its prospectus. “Prior to our initial public offering, we can borrow up to $2,500 million under this facility.”

In the fresh filing, we also learned a few more details about Yahoo’s turn as patent troll. According to the prospectus, Yahoo sent Facebook a letter on Feb. 27 accusing the far trendier social networking company of infringing on 13 patents.

“We are still in the process of investigating the allegations contained in the letter,” Facebook said. “To date, Yahoo has not commenced any legal action against us, but it may do so in the future.”

Facebook, as expected, has also added more banks, including Wells Fargo, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, and Credit Suisse, as underwriters. There are now a grand total of 31 underwriters for the IPO.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Apple’s press conference showed a brand unraveling

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 03:33 PM PST

Apple has long been known for its intense focus on consistent branding and beautiful simplicity.

While today’s Apple event unveiled a couple new improvements to an expected lineup of products, it also revealed a certain sloppiness that was absent from former, Steve Jobs-led launches.

This wasn’t anything major, just a few minor but glaring inconsistencies: Tim Cook going for the “rumpled executive” look in an untucked shirt, the ambiguous naming of the “new iPad,” (not iPad 3 or iPad HD), the use of a truly horrible pun on a new product’s landing page, and finally, the tie-dyed Apple logo at the presentation’s conclusion.

These are not the kinds of things I normally care about. They have nothing to do with hardware and nothing to do with technology.

But Apple’s ethos is about so much more than hardware and technology: It’s supposed to be, as this outsider sees it, about aspiration, dreams, desires, the future, even Utopia. In a word, it’s only 30 percent about the tech and 70 percent about the branding.

Think about the company’s meticulous attention to packaging details, the layout and lighting of its signature stores, the exacting control it maintains over partners and apps, the unwavering emphasis it places on design. And all of that was started and maintained by Steve Jobs.

I’m certainly no Steve Jobs fangirl; I hold the guy in appropriate regard for his many accomplishments and also recognize in him his many human foibles. But love him or hate him, he was a visionary and a perfectionist who would be almost impossible to replace.

I think today’s Apple event shows that perfectionism fraying a bit around the edges. The bad pun, the goofy logo, the weird product name — all of it pointed to a leadership that either didn’t understand or didn’t care about consistency in iconography.

Steve Jobs, and the Apple brand under him, were individually and collectively icons. Jobs was a personality and also a caricature of the personality, with his trademark uniform of black turtlenecks and jeans and his signature phrases: “make a dent in the universe,” “think different,” or even “one more thing.” Like icons from Cary Grant to Lady Gaga, he understood that a certain presentation was what the public expected of him.

Likewise, the Apple brand stood for beauty in simplicity. Devices without a cluster of buttons were the uniform. A narrow selection of elegant fonts were the language. And nomenclature was consistent enough to become one of the most hotly speculated-about features of any launch. Would it be called the iPhone 2? The iTablet? The iPhone 5 or the 4S? The 4SG? Think about how little anyone cares about the name of HTC’s next smartphone or Google’s next bit of software, and you’ll see how important that one small detail of nomenclature was to Apple’s iconic position in the world of tech and consumer brands.

Today’s event and the tiny but glaring inconsistencies bring up the impossible-to-answer question: Would Steve have green-lit that?

No one can say definitively whether “resolutionary” would have passed muster under Jobs. Steve is gone. While fragments of him live on in the company’s website and wording and product design, that likeness is destined to degrade over time.

At some point in the future, it’s within the scope of my own limited imagination to envision Apple products that bear little or no resemblance to anything Steve Jobs created.

Last time Apple was without Jobs, it came out with a lineup of duds. Do you remember Apple’s digital cameras, speakers, or video game consoles? Or how about the company’s Newton PDA? While Apple was cranking out those dogs, Jobs came up with Next (later to become the foundation of OS X) and Pixar.

Today, we saw the first cracks in what will eventually become a wholesale break with the past.  What happens next will depend largely on the company’s ability to lead itself now that its founding leader is gone.

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Browser-based games get real 3D graphics with latest Unreal Engine and Flash technology

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 03:33 PM PST

Epic Games did a demo today of Unreal Engine 3 running in the Adobe Flash environment. That means games with good 3D graphics will be able to run in web browsers and inside sites such as Facebook without requiring a user to download the game first.

And that could begin an interesting test. Will the hundreds of millions of users who have embraced simple, two-dimensional games from social game makers such as Zynga also embrace games with great 3D imagery? To run on Facebook or in browsers, Unreal Engine 3 games have to be paired with Adobe’s Flash 11.2 version, which is shipping in the near future. Flash 11.2 is able to tap graphics hardware in a computer, rather than running simply on the PC’s microprocessor.

“Yes, these could have been Facebook games,” said Mark Rein, Epic vice president, in an interview with VentureBeat. “For us, this is important because everybody is in our wheelhouse now.”

The demo used a pre-release version of Flash 11.2.  It runs on every browser, including Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Unreal competes against rival 3D technologies such as Unity Technologies, which has also focused on running on downloadable PC games as well as social and mobile games.

“It works for games of all sizes, small, medium, or large,” Rein said. “This is the year when we reach every platform.”

The newest platform to run the Unreal technology is the Sony PlayStation Vita. Rein showed a version of Mortal Kombat using that environment.

Rein also showed last year’s Samaritan demo, which is Epic’s vision of next-generation 3D graphics in a game. Last year, it took a PC with three Nvidia GTX 580 graphics cards running with a huge power supply and a total hardware cost of about $2,000. This year, the same demo can run on a single Nvidia Kepler graphics card. Nvidia is expected to launch the Kepler technology in the near future.

The company is working on Unreal Engine 4, its next-generation 3D technology, but it isn’t showing it publicly now. It may be shown later this year, and Rein said that Unreal Engine 4 is likely to be running on next-generation console hardware, whenever that hardware comes out. As I was interviewing Rein, I heard the Unreal Engine 4 demo running in the next room. Rein acknowledged that the demo was running but said he couldn’t show it off now. He said that launch games for the next-generation consoles could use Unreal Engine 3, but larger-scale next-generation console games would likely use Unreal Engine 4.

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]

Filed under: dev, games, VentureBeat

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Could Pinterest already be worth $500M?

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 03:12 PM PST

Digital pin-board site Pinterest is scorching hot. People are pinning like crazy. Publishers are benefiting from an uptick in Pinterest-driven traffic. And venture capitalists are tripping over themselves to get a piece of the social property.

But does all this interest warrant a $500 million valuation, especially without any substantial revenue streams to speak of? Absolutely, says private financial data company PrivCo.

As a refresher, Pinterest is the private-beta site that encourages members to “pin” products, recipes, clothes, photos, and other items they love to collections called boards. Launched in 2010, Pinterest has ballooned into a top ten social network that has more than 10 million users who spend, on average, 97 minutes on site each month.

On paper, Pinterest is valued at a rumored $200 million, a figure determined by the startup’s $27 million funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz in October of last year. But the rapid growth of the user base — which skews heavily toward female arts and crafts enthusiasts — and Pinterest’s potential to plug-in a number of different revenue-generating features make it now worth more than double the outdated $200 million figure, PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh told VentureBeat.

“Pinterest’s user base has nearly tripled since [its last funding round], bringing the valuation now, we estimate, closer to $400 million in a new venture financing,” Hamadeh said.

As an acquisition target, and PrivCo makes a compelling argument for why Facebook should pursue an acquisition quickly, Pinterest could tack on $100 million more for its expected value.

“An additional 25 percent ‘control premium‘ to acquire the entire company puts us at about $500 million today in an acquisition,” Hamadeh added.

That’s a pretty astronomical figure for a company that has only quietly tested the monetization waters — but maybe it’s not so farfetched, after all.

“With their level of engagement and unique audience, I think $500 million would be a bargain for Pinterest,” analyst and occasional VentureBeat contributor Rocky Agrawal said.

Palo Alto-based Pinterest has 30 employees and has raised $37.5 million in funding to date. The site attracts 12 million unique visitors each month. Investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, FirstMark Capital, Ron Conway, Kevin Hartz, Max Levchin, Jack Abraham, Michael Birch, and other Angels.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Want to pretend your iPhone 4S is 4G? Just install iOS 5.1

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 01:41 PM PST

iOS updateIf you’ve been dreaming of having a 4G iPhone, your wish can be granted today… sort of.

Coinciding with the launch of its new iPad, Apple has also released iOS 5.1 for existing devices. As expected, it adds Japanese language support for Siri, but to our surprise it also made a pretty significant change to the iPhone 4S status bar: instead of “3G” being listed next to AT&T, it now says “4G.”

The iPhone 4S supports HSPA+ networks up to 16 megabits per second, which is just enough to count as 4G in AT&T’s book as well as that of the FCC (even though HSPA+ is not technically a fourth-generation technology like LTE). When the iPhone 4S first launched in October, 2011, Apple revealed that it was working together with AT&T to make the 4G indicator show up.

Notably, the 4G designation will only show up on iPhone 4S units running on AT&T’s network. Verizon and Sprint both use CDMA technology for their 3G networks, and CDMA is significantly slower than HSPA+’s 16Mbps. Compared to the iPhone 4, which didn’t support the faster HSPA+ speeds, my iPhone 4S has performed much better in New York City, with download speeds between 2 and 5 megabits per second. That’s about twice as fast as what I saw on the iPhone 4.

Other new features in iOS 5.1 include a camera shortcut on the lock screen (also previously rumored), as well as the ability to delete photos from the iCloud Photo Stream, which is indispensable if you ever take pictures of your, um, private parts, since iOS can be set to automatically upload any photos you take to iCloud. (According to Cult of Mac writer Charlie Sorrel, the OS update also improves the quality of photos taken by the iPad 2, making them less grainy.)

To download the iOS 5.1 update directly to your iOS device, go to Settings -> General -> Software Update and tap “Download and Install” to begin the download. Tap Learn More to see list of new features included in the update. A pop-up will recommend that you connect to a power source while downloading, but it’s not necessary. The update is 177MB.

Apple also released iTunes 10.6 today, which includes support for 1080p video downloads from the iTunes store.

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

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Alltuition updates the financial aid process, helps you pay for college

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 01:38 PM PST

Alltuition.com launched today at the Launch conference in San Francisco, hoping to to take make the federal financial aid process more user friendly. The company helps you understand college tuition costs and payment options.

Chances are if you went to college in the United States in the last fifteen years, you filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, from the Department of Education to get money to pay for your education. It can be a tedious process with pages of questions. Having just gone through myself a few years ago, I remember hating every step of it.

This is what Alltuition is trying to solve. The company's website walks you through the financial aid process with a much slicker interface than the DOE's. Alltuition also shows you the actual cost of tuition at the university of your choice, including what financial aid will cover, what you'll have to take out in loans, and how much money comes out of your pocket. After you leave school, you can continue to use the website to manage your loans.

Alltuition wants to be the "TurboTax of financial aid," chief executive Sue Khim said today at Launch, where the company presented its idea to a panel of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

Filling out your FAFSA and browsing tuition costs are free, but when it comes time to submit forms to the government and each school you are applying to, you'll pay Alltuition $89.

Alltuition was founded by Sue Khim, Silas Hundt, and Sam Solomon and is in the process of raising funding.

Filed under: enterprise, VentureBeat

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Facebook launches a boatload of new features for apps

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 01:10 PM PST

Facebook is now letting users do most of the things they’d do from a status update, like uploading photos or including locations or tagging people, from just about any non-Facebook app.

Starting today, your apps can add location and friends as properties to any update, photo, or link. To accomplish this feat, the social network has rolled out a whole herd of new APIs and documentation. You have your location-setting API, your friend-tagging API, your improved places search API, and your location-reading API.

“It’s going to allows consumers who are using third-party apps to have a richer and deeper experience with third-party apps,” said Gowalla founder and current Facebooker Josh Williams.

“Now, content that’s coming in from an application can have the same sort of feature-richness on a user’s Timeline that something posted natively would have.”

Williams continued that the new APIs will be saving developers a lot of time. “It’s stuff that devs spend a lot of time building out from scratch.”

Also, he noted, some of the functionality announced today is entirely new, stuff that devs couldn’t do with any amount of time or effort. “Previously [at Facebook], there was this idea of checking in,” Williams explained. “There was a traditional checkin product that Facebook built originally, but that was deprecated to allow adding location to any post. That API has never been available before.”

So, instead of just checking into the places they’re at right now, users can put a lot more meaning and nuance into locations — where they’ve been, where they want to go, where life events happened, and more.

“In the context of a Timeline maps view, you can show, for example, the countries you’ve visited in the past,” said Williams. “I’m excited about the things we’ll see on the Timeline map, i think this will open up new channels for creativity.”

Apps can set location for Open Graph actions and objects or with stream publish stories; friends can be tagged with Open Graph actions or with stream publish stories. Place search now includes optional latitude, longitude, and distance parameters and support for finding posts from friends around a place. And location-reading uses the FQL table location_post.

You’ll also get APIs for larger photo display and inline video playback.

“Speaking as a recent third-party developer myself, we were really excited about taking all this content we were creating and seeing it visualized in this consistent, permanent space,” said Williams of developing for Timeline.

“There are all kinds of niches where Facebook is never going to go, but people really want to see that information represented in the kind of holistic journal that Timeline is… it’s beyond the scope of what we are building internally.”

Image courtesy of pressureUA, Shutterstock

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What the new 4G iPad (and cheaper iPad 2) means for business

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 01:03 PM PST


Apple’s new iPad was announced just hours ago, and while rumors might have spoiled the surprises, businesses that are considering the iPad will no doubt like what they see from today’s event.

A surprising amount of companies are using iPads, with Apple saying last October that 93 percent of Fortune 500 companies have deployed or are testing iPads. Considering that it usually takes forever for technology to be adopted in the workplace, the iPad has gained traction with CEOs bending IT departments to their will. No doubt we will see even more companies getting interested in the device with this new edition.

While the new iPad will include things like a higher-resolution Retina Display and a better camera, the real appeal for businesses will be with the device’s new 4G LTE wireless networking and A5X chip with quad-core graphics and dual-core processing.

Dan Kerzner, senior VP of mobile for MicroStrategy, said he expects that more powerful wireless data capabilities will easily be the most important feature the new iPad will offer. MicroStrategy offers a platform for building mobile business intelligence applications, with the iPad as a major emphasis.

“In business, fast is not fast enough,” Kerzner told VentureBeat. “Even if there is just a half-second gain, that can be the difference between using one device over another, especially in meetings.”

The other big upgrade that could help businesses who use intensive applications is the more powerful graphics processing from the A5X chip. One app that will see a nice boost from the new graphics chip is Roambi, which helps businesses visualize all of their data in incredibly cool ways.

“The innovations in processing speed and graphic capabilities unveiled with the new iPad will allow Roambi to raise the bar for mobile business apps even higher,” Quinton Alsbury, president of Roambi-maker MeLLmo, told us via e-mail. “We plan to take full advantage of this functionality.”

Another important development for iPad adoption in the business came at the end of Apple’s presentation today when it announced the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad 2 would now sell for $399. That price point will make it easier to justify buying an iPad over a netbook or cheap laptop at the same price.

“A cheaper iPad 2 might be the hidden gem of the announcement today,” Kerzner said. “This is a great way to broaden the appeal of the iPad to many more businesses.”

Let us know in the comments below if your business plans to adopt the new iPad (or maybe even the iPad 2) as devices in the workplace.

Businesswoman using iPad image: Apple

Filed under: enterprise, mobile, VentureBeat

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iPhoto is finally available on the iPad

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 12:58 PM PST


Apple released a line of new iLife applications for the iPad today, including a brand-new photo-editing app called iPhoto.

"Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't create on an iPad," said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller at the iPad press conference in San Francisco.

iPhoto has never appeared on the iPad as a dedicated application before, but adding it shows Apple’s commitment to making its mobile devices the only camera you’ll need. The app will take advantage of the iPad’s new five megapixel camera, and high-resolution 2,048 by 1,536 pixel Retina display. Photos exist in the iPhoto app as separate albums on a shelf, similar to the Newsstand. Here, multi-touch gestures help you surf specific photos, view all your photos at once, click to enter the edit interface, and examine multiple photos side-by-side.

These gestures extend into the edit view as well. The user can enhance color, brightness, shift the tilt of an image and more using their fingers. This is particularly useful for lightening a face, or paying attention to smaller details on the photo. You can access the different editing tools by clicking on a set of brushes that pop up from the bottom of the screen (see example in the video below).

Apple’s classic effects that are known to users of the Mac version of iPhoto and PhotoBooth are available in a “swatch” pallet-like menu. These effects include black and white layers, sepia tone, edge blurring, antiquing and more.

Sharing photos is all new through iPhoto as well. You can now make photo journals, or collections of photos Apple hopes iPad users will share, using iCloud. Similar to Dropbox, a distributable link will point friends and family back to your collection, which can include more content than just the edited photos. When adding photos to a journal, users can assign weather data, the date, maps, notes, make favorites and even choose between different image sizes to share. Apple used the example of a trip, associating images with a specific leg of the journey.

The introduction of iPhoto completely the collection of iLife applications available on the iPad. Along with it comes updates to both GarageBand as well as iMovie. Apple announced “Jam Session” for GarageBand, an app for playing, recording, and editing music, today. The feature allows music lovers to connect wirelessly via their iOS devices to play and record music together from remote locations. iMovie also got a spruce-up with a function for creating Hollywood-style trailers on your iPad.

iWork also got a minor facelift with new charts are intended to look better under the new Retina display, as well as landscape orientation for Pages — Apple’s document editor — on iPhone and iPod Touch.

iPhoto and iMovie are only compatible with the iPad 2, the iPhone 4, and later. GarageBand and iWork applications are compatible with all versions of the iPad and the iPhone 3GS and up.

You can purchase iPhoto in the App Store for $4.99. iWork applications are also available for download for $9.99 each.

Check out the video of the editing interface below.

You can also browse some photos from the event:

Filed under: mobile

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Game developers salivate over the new iPad’s specs

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 12:54 PM PST

The new iPad’s high-end specifications are perfect for game developers and will up the ante when it comes to building better graphics into their games.

The new iPad has a much better Retina Display, with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, or enough to display 3.1 million pixels on the screen. That is a million more pixels than a typical high-definition TV that is used to display console games. With quad-core graphics in the new A5X processor, the new iPad has double the graphics capability of the iPad 2.

Apple said the human retina can detect a maximum of 250-300 pixels per inch. The new iPad has 264, which means that images and text look sharp and smooth, much like ink on a page rather than computer images of the past. The original iPad, and the iPad 2, had a resolution of 1,024 x 768 with 132 pixels per inch.

At the event, Apple showed off a demo of Namco Bandai’s Ace Combat flying game running on the new iPad. The game uses 3D graphics with lots of special effects, such as clouds.

In addition to the saliva-inducing specs, Apple’s choice of venue seemed calculated to attract the attention of game developers. Apple scheduled the announcement next door to the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Semyon Voinov (pictured left with CEO Misha Lyalin), co-founder of the Moscow-based ZeptoLab, maker of the Cut the Rope mobile game series, said in an interview with VentureBeat, “It’s cool news. As an artist, the display excites me. Our game already looks cool, but we’ll be prepared with an update right away.”

ZeptoLab’s game uses cartoon graphics, but the physics behind the rope animations in the game consumes a lot of processing power. So Voinov needs and expects more computational power with each generation of tablets.

The good thing is that the improved graphics don’t come at the expense of battery life, which will still last for 10 hours of use, according to Apple.

Epic Games, meanwhile, said its Chair Entertainment division will launch a new version of its Infinity Blade high-end fantasy game series. The new game is Infinity Blade Dungeons and it will take advantage of the new iPad’s power.

"Just like Apple has raised the bar for mobile computing, the Infinity Blade franchise has continually re-defined expectations for mobile gaming," said Epic Games president Michael Capps. "With Infinity Blade: Dungeons we continue the tradition of melding exciting gameplay with beautiful, rich worlds powered by Unreal Engine technology; and Apple's new iPad allows us to push the boundaries even further."

Matt Hulett, head of Real Networks’ GameHouse division, said, “Tablets are the new game consoles and becoming the gaming platform of choice. I’ve been blown away at the graphics and fun of multitouch gameplay. With its new HD capabilities, Apple is accelerating a new generation of kids who will largely skip consoles as their preferred video game experience.”

Jens Begemann, chief executive of game developer Wooga, said he was impressed with Apple. His company has already created a new version of its Diamond Dash game for the new iPad. The company “up rezed” the resolution of its game art, making it compatible with the new Retina Display, but managed to keep it under Apple’s 20-megabyte limit for downloads from the app store over cellular networks.[Update: We hear that Apple increased the memory limit to 50 megabytes now.]

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

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Is Apple bringing the rainbow back to its logo?

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 12:38 PM PST

WalkOff, Apple Logo

At the end of today’s iPad 3/Apple TV event announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook strolled off stage while a colorful version of the company logo appeared on the screen. Keep in mind, this wasn’t an original “rainbow” Apple logo used from 1976 to 1998, but rather an updated version of it.

Our first thoughts were “is that the new Apple logo?”

VentureBeat’s Jolie O’Dell later commented, “Why is the Apple colored like a Windows logo?,” referring to the colorful, wavy windows logo and perhaps more colorful MSN butterfly. Microsoft recently ditched that logo in favor of a new super bland version, which leaves companies like Apple free to resume using the rainbow without fear of having it confused with the competition.

My guess is that it’s not an official logo, since the logo wasn’t displayed everywhere during the event. However, the current monochrome Apple logo came into view just as Apple founder Steve Jobs took back the reigns of the company. A new logo may be in order now that Cook is in the captain’s seat for a whole new era of Apple.

We’ve embedded the photo from the event below as well as past versions of Apple’s logos. Is this Apple’s new logo? Should the company change its logo now that the Steve Jobs era is over? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Top image by Heather Kelly

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Hey bargain hunters: Apple’s 16GB iPad 2 is now $399

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 11:40 AM PST


Apple has announced at its new iPad event that the extremely popular 16GB iPad 2 tablet will now retail for $399 for the Wi-Fi version and $529 for the 3G-enabled version.

The new third-generation iPad that was just introduced will include a lot of things the iPad 2 does not have, including a higher-resolution Retina Display, 4G LTE wireless networking, and a quad-core graphics chip.

But the cheapest model of the new iPad will run $499, a far cry from $199 Android tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. So the new $399 iPad 2 will help get consumers a little closer to that ultra-low price point.

The move mimics Apple’s prior decisions to sell older models of the iPhone at a lower price. AT&T, for example, still sells the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 on contract but for a lower introductory price.

iPad 2 pricing photo: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

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Apple unveils next-generation iPad, Apple TV (updated)

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 11:24 AM PST

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the new iPad at an event in San Francisco, March 7, 2012.

Apple unplugged the rumor mill and fired up new hype machine today, announcing the next-generation iPad and an upgraded Apple TV.

“Apple has its feet in in the post-PC future,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook, kicking off the event by saying that Apple has sold 172 million “post-PC” devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod, accounting for 76 percent of the company’s revenues in the fourth quarter of 2011. “It plays to our strengths, it's what we love to do.”

The headline of the event, of course, was a new iPad, which sports a 4G LGE wireless data connection and a super high-resolution “Retina” display comparable to the one in the iPhone 4.

“We’ve taken it to a whole new level and are redefining the category that Apple created with the original iPad,” Cook said.

As expected, the new display is 2,048 by 1,536 pixels, with a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch. “That’s enough to call it a Retina display,” Cook said. “When you hold it at a normal distance, the retina in your eye cannot pick out the pixels.

The new iPad has Apple’s newest chip, the A5X processor, with a quad-core graphics system, in order to handle the 4X increase in pixels. (The previous version, the iPad 2, shipped with an A5 chip.)

Apple shows a comparison between the pixel density on the old iPad (left) and the new, Retina display-equipped one (right).

Apple shows a comparison between the pixel density on the old iPad (left) and the new, Retina display-equipped one (right).

The wireless data standards supported by the new iPad will enable data speeds up to 73 Mbps, the company said. The previous version supported EV-DO and HSPA, while the new one adds HSPA+ (for a maximum throughput of 21Mbps), DC-HSDPA (42 Mbps), and LTE (73 Mbps). The device weighs 1.4 pounds (about the same as the previous model), is 9.4mm thick, and has enough battery power to run for 10 hours, or 9 hours while using 4G wireless data, according to Apple.

There will be two versions in the U.S., one available on the AT&T Wireless network and the other on Verizon Wireless. Both versions are capable of connecting to 3G networks around the world, and can also function as Wi-Fi hotspots (carrier permitting).

Pricing is similar to the previous model, the iPad 2, with a Wi-Fi-only version at $499 for 16GB of storage, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB.

iPads with 4G and Wi-Fi support will cost $629 for a 16GB model, $729 for 32GB, and $829 for 64GB. They will be available on March 16, and Apple is accepting pre-orders starting today.

The old iPad 2 will remain on sale, for $100 less than the new iPad’s price — in other words, it will start at $399 for a 16GB Wi-Fi-only model.

The iPad also includes an iSight camera (on the back) with auto face detection, auto exposure lock and auto focus lock. It records video at full HD resolution (1080p), and the A5X processor can also be used to stabilize images or do dynamic noise reduction on the fly.

There’s a new key at the bottom that is also a microphone, and the iPad now supports voice dictation in English, French, German, and Japanese. You simply tap the key and speak, and it will translate your speech into text on the screen.

"I hope you can see why we believe the iPad has enormous potential and why it is the poster-child of the post-PC world,” Cook said at the conclusion of today’s event.

Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the new Apple TV at a press event, March 7, 2012, in San Francisco.

Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the new Apple TV at a press event, March 7, 2012, in San Francisco.

New Apple TV

The company is also updating its Apple TV set-top box, although the upgrade fell short of the revolutionary overhaul that some observers expected. It now supports 1080p (full HD) resolution, up from the previous versions 720p. It’s also integrated into iCloud, Apple’s internet-based data storage service, which now has 100 million customers, according to Cook. It will offer TV shows from Apple’s partners the day after they air, much like the competing service from Hulu. Apple TV also includes the iTunes “Genius” feature, which will recommend movies for you based on what you’ve watched.

The new Apple TV will be available next week for $99, and Apple is accepting pre-orders starting today.

iWork and iLife

Apple is updating its software suite for the new iPad. iWork will have better charts, slideshow builds, and transitions. Each app within the iWork suite is still $9.99.

In the iLife suite, Apple is updating Garage Band with a “Jam Session” feature that enables up to four people to play together, using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to link up their iPads.

iMovie for the iPad now sports a “trailer” feature for making movie previews, just like the Mac version of iMovie. You select some clips, fill out an outline and tap on “story board,” and the app tells you exactly what shots you need.

There’s also a new iLife app, iPhoto for iPad, which provides new, gestural photo-editing tools. It also supports “photo beaming” as a way of sharing photos, and integrates with iCloud for storing and sharing photos online. It is available in the App Store starting today, for $4.99.

“Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't create on an iPad,” said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller.

Other news

Cook also touted the company’s retail stores, which he said hosted 110 million customers in the last quarter alone.

Cook said there are currently 585,000 apps in the iTunes app store. "Great apps lead to more downloads, which leads to more great apps, which leads to more great downloads,” Cook said.

A customer in China downloaded the company’s 25 billionth app recently, winning a $10,000 prize that Apple had earlier offered.

We expected that Apple’s newest iPad will likely be called the iPad HD, although it appears that Apple eschewed that name in favor of simply calling it the “iPad.” It’s the latest iteration of what was the first commercially successful consumer tablet, which first launched in the spring of 2010. Although Android tablets have been chipping away at Apple’s market share, the iPad remains the most popular tablet model, and a new version is likely to sell many millions of units.

Since its launch in 2010, over 55 million iPads have been sold around the world. Apple CEO Tim Cook explained recently at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference that it took Apple 22 years to hit that milestone with its Mac computers.

Indeed, Apple’s mobile products are creating a halo for the rest of its brand all around the world. The company recently reported a 111 percent jump in iPad sales to 15.433 million units sold in its first quarter 2012 earnings, contributing to the nearly $100 billion in cash the company is sitting on.

Rumors about the iPad have been flying for the past few weeks. We’ve speculated on what kind of screen, operating system, processing chip, and wireless standard it will support. The biggest rumor touched on the iPad’s display. Over the weeks, many hoped for the 2,048 x 1,536 Retina display on the new iPad, departing from the original, modest 1,024 x 764 pixel screen, and the company delivered.

It was also rumored that the new iPad would take advantage of LTE 4G, a wireless standard already supported by companies such as AT&T and Verizon. Until today, the iPad had only made use of 3G.

The iPad’s biggest competitors are Android tablets. Some currently run on 4G, and some 2,048 x 1,536 pixel Android tablets were announced at last week’s Mobile World Congress.

Tablets are branching out of their competitor landscapes, however. Cook believes these devices will overtake the PC market due to consumers’ desire for applications and portability. Over 170,000 apps are already optimized specifically for the tablet. The company recently hit 25 billion downloaded apps in the App Store, taking into account both iPhone and iPad apps.

Apple TV was also ready for a spruce-up since its initial launch, right around the same time as the original iPad in September 2010. The device allows owners to stream content purchased through Apple to a high-definition television, but it hasn’t exactly been a big seller for Apple. Still, according to a report by Strategy Analytics, Apple TV accounts for a third of all connected televisions. On Tuesday, rumors of the upgrade circulated as 98 percent of retailers no longer had the old Apple TV model in stock.

Photos: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

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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The new iPad: Apple schools tablet makers again with Retina Display, quad-core graphics, LTE 4G

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 10:33 AM PST

Apple’s iPad has been a transformative tablet device, but it was cursed from the beginning with a low-resolution display. That changed today with the launch of the new iPad, Apple’s third-generation tablet, which adds an ultra-high resolution Retina Display and LTE 4G connectivity.

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the new iPad at a media event in San Francisco today, where he also announced an updated Apple TV set-top box. “We think the iPad is the poster-child of the post-PC world,” Cook said.

Almost boasting, he reminded the audience that Apple sold 15.5 million iPads last quarter, more than any PC manufacturer sold in their computer lines.

The new iPad (not called the iPad HD or the iPad 3, as we had suspected) features a new screen with a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels, a huge bump over the previous iPad’s 1,024 by 768 screen. Apple says it features 264 pixels per inch, which is smaller than the human retina can discern at a normal viewing distance, and which will make text look sharper than a newspaper. By comparison, magazines are usually printed at 300 dpi, only slightly higher resolution that the new iPad’s display. The iPhone 4′s Retina Display is denser still, at 324 pixels per inch. Since you’ll be holding the iPad farther away from you than an iPhone, Apple says the Retina Display name is still justified.

The tablet also features a new processor, Apple’s A5X, which features quad-core graphics capabilities and a dual-core CPU. The company says it offers four times the graphics performance of Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3. At the event, Namco showed off a new iOS game called “Sky Gamblers,” which features console-like quality graphics. Epic Games also showed off Infinity Blade: Dungeons, a new version of the popular iOS title featuring HDR gaphics.

As expected, Apple updated the iPad’s camera capabilities: It can now shoot 5 megapixel photos from a rear camera as well as 1080p video. The rear camera sports backside illumination (for better low-light performance), a 5-element lens, and a hybrid IR filter.

Apple also added LTE 4G capabilities, with a maximum theoretic speed of 72 megabits per second. The iPad HD will also support HSPA+ speeds up to 21Mbps and dual-carrier HSDPA for up to 42Mbps. Basically, it’ll be very fast on many mobile networks.

Apple showed off an updated version of iWork as well. You’ll be able to edit 1080p movies within iMovie now, and Apple is finally bringing iPhoto to the iPad as well, with a slew of editing features.

Despite all of the powerful new hardware, the new iPad still features a 10-hour battery life and thin 9.4 millimeter profile (slighly thicker than the 8.8mm iPad 2).

It’ll start at $499 like the current iPad with Wi-Fi only, and $629 for the LTE 4G models. The updated iPad will ship on March 16, with pre-orders starting today. Apple is also still keeping the iPad 2 around, though it’s dropping to $399 for the 16GB Wi=Fi model (and $529 for the 3G model).

Photo: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

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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