14 March, 2012



Get in line early: New iPad goes on sale at 8 a.m. Friday

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 09:24 AM PDT


Attention Apple fans: Better wake up early on Friday if you want a chance at grabbing a new iPad at the Apple Store. The stores will open at 8 a.m. to accommodate the rush of people looking to get their hands on Apple’s newest device.

As of last Friday, Apple sold through its entire online stock of new iPads, so the only way to get one soon is to line up. If you don’t get one now, you will have to wait at least two to three weeks for an online-placed delivery. Consumers and businesses alike are interested in picking up the new device, thanks to improvements like high-resolution Retina Display, 4G networking, a better graphics chip and voice dictation.

On top of the Apple Store, the new iPad with various models will also be available at Best Buy, Radio Shack, Sam's Club, Target and Walmart. Verizon and AT&T stores will also be selling the new iPad, but only 4G LTE models. Verizon and AT&T will let you buy a device in their stores without buying a data plan, but those models are more expensive than their Wi-Fi only counterparts.

The cheapest model, like previous iPads, will run $499 for the 16GB edition with Wi-Fi only. On the other end of the spectrum, the most expensive iPad will run $829 for 64GB of storage, Wi-Fi, and 4G LTE connectivity.

Man using iPad screenshot: Apple video

Filed under: mobile

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TVShack creator being extradited to the U.S. on copyright violation charges

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 09:09 AM PDT

TVShack extradition

U.K. authorities have agreed to extradite a 23-year-old student to the U.S. on copyright infringement charges, officials announced yesterday.

The student in question, Richard O’Dwyer is responsible for running the site TVShack, which collects links to other sites that illegally host streams of television and movie video content. The site’s .net domain was first seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in October 2010, prompting O’Dwyer to switch to a .cc domain that was set up with a registrar outside of the U.S. — thus not subject to seizure. O’Dwyer then took the site offline back in May after learning that U.K. authorities had dropped their investigation due to the extradition request.

Essentially, TVShack is just a place where people can search for a variety of television shows organized by title, season, and episode. Each episode contains links to sites where you can watch the show illegally — usually without commercial interruption. Clicking the link brings you to one of several different video hosting sites — such as Vidbux.com, Movshare.com, and the recently shutdown Megaupload.com — where you actually watch the illegal stream of content.

The interesting thing about this situation is that there isn’t a prior legal precedent for charging someone with copyright violations when all they’ve done is point to other perpetrators. The U.K. courts, however, found that TVShack could be considered a “nexus” for illegal activity, which is why it approved O’Dwyer’s extradition. Given the fierceness of organizations in the U.S. to claim there is a violation of the basic freedom of speech, I’d expect that copyright holders will ultimately end up losing this case.

The thing I really don’t understand, is why U.S. authorities would want to go after a guy who’s basically doing half of the work for them. You’d think the government would be happy that someone was collecting a nice tidy list of places that were violating copyrights by illegally streaming content, which they could then follow-up on. A strange analogy would be something like Batman deciding to bust a student who posts all the available banks in the city with weak security because it would help heard the criminals into a predictable location — while ignoring the bank robbers’ role entirely.

Via ArsTechnica; Image via Warner Brothers

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Social game Idle Worship takes Facebook gaming to new level

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Idle Games is launching a next-generation social game today dubbed Idle Worship. The title opens up a new genre on Facebook — the once popular “god game” — and it has an interesting and witty approach to social gameplay.

Founded by former ad executive Jeffrey Hyman, San Francisco-based Idle Games is in a “holy war against game that suck or aren’t actually social.” The company’s first game, Idle Worship, tries hard to make social gaming fun, and it is alone in a niche that has proven to be extremely popular with gamers in the past. Hyman’s team has been building Idle Worship for two years with $19 million in backing from Rick Thompson, co-founder of Playdom. Today, the game is finally available to play.

“We looked around and found that social games were derivative, and not truly social, and not aimed at delighting, entertaining, and engaging,” said Hyman, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We decided to create an original game on an original platform.”

If the company pulls it off, it could wind up with a much more engaging mass market game than the Zynga titles that currently dominate the top ranks of Facebook. As such, Idle Games is one of the biggest bets in social gaming.

Thompson said, "Social games are maturing. Idle Worship is the genesis of a new era.”

Playing Idle Worship

In Idle Worship, the player acts as a god with cute little followers on an island. Players can be nice or mean to those followers, much as with the Populous or Black and White god games of the classic PC gaming industry, or the more recent iPhone game Pocket God. The game is as zany and ambitious as Glitch, an online social game made by Stewart Buttlefield’s startup Tiny Speck. Hyman missed playing the early god games and wondered why people weren’t making more of them.

The characters and animations have a hand-drawn, cartoon style that is aimed at both men and women, young and old. The features are intelligently designed and the gameplay is synchronous, meaning it allows for simultaneous play, as well as asynchronous, where you can interact in a turn-based manner with friends who may be offline.

The object is to collaborate with friends and strangers to become the greatest god in the game. You want to build the largest faux religion and vie for the worship of friends, strangers, and a not-so-smart indigenous populace known as Mudlings.

The faith of your followers may rise or wane, depending on your actions. Your Mudlings believe in you only as long as you show your power, regardless of whether you use it for good or bad. You can rule by terror or compassion, protecting your followers from real-time attacks and competing gods.

As a god, you can “flick” a follower, or toss them off of a rival’s island. That’s an example of the cute or sick humor of the game, depending how you look at it. That attack will hurt your reputation, but it will mean your rival player god will have one less acolyte. Meanwhile, the follower will be flicked onto another player’s island. That player may appreciate the gift from you and strike up an alliance.

A smart user interface

The Idle Worship user interface is well conceived. There is no friends bar running along the bottom of the screen, as there is in Zynga games. As a god, you are at the center of the ocean on your island.

You are surrounded by the islands of both friends and strangers. Each nearby island represents the land that your friends are cultivating. But the surrounding islands shift and they change positions based on the gravitational force of your social connections.

If a player becomes inactive, he or she is moved to the outer rim of your archipelago. Those who play frequently and have the most interaction with you are moved closer to your island. The world is not divided into shards, meaning you can play with anyone in the game universe.

That enables you to know at a glance who really wants to play the game with you and who doesn’t. And that stops you from spamming all of your friends with annoying requests. Idle Worship will move strangers close to your island if they interact with you a lot or if they are equally active in the game as you. That helps you make new friends while playing, Hyman said.

In real-time, you can smite your friends’ islands with lightning or cover their domain with harmless bunny rabbits. You can be evil and set your Mudlings’ heads aflame, or rule with compassion. Your Mudlings’ faces will reflect whether they fear you or revere you.

Over time, you can customize your island. You can populate it with creatures such as a Buffaloaf or a Pugapillar. You can build altars to your friends. As a joke, Hyman built an altar to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. You can go fishing to acquire a renewable resource to feed your Mudlings. If you want to play alone, you can put a “shield of cowardice” on your island and friends won’t be able to attack you.

Building an island empire?

The game pays homage to other god games, but it is pretty original. Others may try to copy the game, but Idle Games has patented a number of its ideas. Idle Games has created an underlying platform that can be used to host other games.

Earlier this year, Idle Games hired Michael McCormick, the lead designer for CityVille, away from Zynga. McCormick is working on the company’s second and third titles, which will use the same platform, dubbed the Idle Engine, that can run any number of online game worlds.

“We put as much labor and love into the story, making it both cute and disturbing,” Hyman said. “We are going for a broad audience.”

Thompson is the sole investor in the company, which has 80 employees. The game has been live for six months in the Philippines — itself an archipelago of 7,000 islands — as the team tests the gameplay.

Each island that players have created is unique, and those who play often have multiple islands. The game already has 5,000 daily active users.

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, VentureBeat

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DEMO Spring features more global startups, networking

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT

DEMO Spring 2012 is returning to Silicon Valley April 17-19 to rock the technology landscape and put investors face-to-face with quality dealflow from around the world. Register for the 2-day DEMO conference from this post and enjoy a special VentureBeat registration rate of $850 (a savings of more than 50%), good through March 20. But that's not the only reason to attend. Here are five reasons to come to DEMO Spring 2012:

5. Evaluate more tech innovation: See 70 live launches and pitches from more untapped sources, including student, angel-funded, and bootstrapped innovators who benefit from the DEMO scholarship program to launch on the DEMO stage.

4. Get more global investment insight: Connect with innovators from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and all points across the globe who come to DEMO to put their products on the worldwide DEMO stage. DEMO showcases products from concept to market-ready in the enterprise, cloud, consumer, social/media, and mobile sectors.

3. Interact with more influencers: Supercharge your networking in our new Accelerator Lunch Series, which brings you together with like-minded innovators and influencers to explore technology topics of interest to you.

2. Get more sage investment advice: Get feedback on the trends and technologies presented at DEMO Spring 2012 from industry leaders at Intuit; SugarCRM; Redpoint Ventures; Accel Partners; Intel Capital; AARP; Cisco Systems; Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Matrix Partners; Nextdoor.com; Google Ventures; Flite; and more.

1. Experience more start-up excitement: Attend a special viewing of the Microsoft-produced documentary Control-Alt-Compete, which takes you on a wild journey through five start-up launches — including some DEMO alumni! And be there to see the DEMO People's Choice Award and $1 million prize for the best innovator.

Register for DEMO by March 20 and pay $850 (a savings of more than 50%). We look forward to seeing you in April!

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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GE rides the maker movement wave, bringing hardware hacking to SXSW [video]

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 08:57 AM PDT

General Electric set up a hands-on “garage” area at SXSW Interactive this year to get technophiles up to their elbows in hardware, including laser cutters, 3D printers, injection molders, and more.

Linda Boff, the company’s global director of communications, took some time to chat with VentureBeat about how GE is partnering with some of the strongest forces in the maker movement to boost creativity and entrepreneurship and to celebrate the importance of making and manufacturing. The GE Garage at SXSW was just the first of its kind; the company plans to have more of these mobile pop-up garages in Houston and San Francisco during the first half of 2012 and will set up permanent GE Garages in Houston and Cincinnati later in the year.

Check out the clip above, and stay tuned for lots more from SXSW.

Filed under: video

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Dylan’s Desk: Microsoft is about to drive a wedge into the mobile market

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 08:15 AM PDT

Asymco chart showing the growth and decline of PC and mobile OSes since 1975

If the mobile market is a war, the battlefield is shifting.

As VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar recently wrote, it’s no longer a contest between the Apple iOS and Google Android mobile operating systems. Microsoft is about to shake things up in the tablet arena with the introduction of the Windows 8 operating system, which you can download in beta form now. Whether or not Microsoft succeeds, the market is about to change forever.

This new, third factor is a wedge that will dramatically shift the landscape for tablets and smartphones, but in different ways for each.

You can see the stakes of the battle in the graph of computing platform shipments by Horace Dediu of Asymco, shown above. It’s an amazing chart, showing the life and death of computing platforms over the past three and a half decades.

What jumps out at me is how quickly the new, “post-PC” operating systems have taken off. Sales figures for Android, iPhone, and iPad devices have rocketed in just a few years to levels that took Microsoft’s PC platform and the Macintosh decades to reach.

As the PC’s growth has leveled off, Microsoft is trying to position itself to jump aboard the rocket-like trajectories of the newer, mobile operating systems. It’s doing so in a very different way from Apple and Google, however.

Microsoft’s approach to tablet computing is similar to what it’s been touting all along, since the introduction of the ill-fated Tablet PC concept more than a decade ago: Treat keyboard-less tablets or slates as a different kind of personal computer.

Contrast that with Google’s approach, which is to treat tablets as essentially a larger form of smartphone.

Apple’s approach is close to Google’s, with the same operating system on the iPhone and the iPad — but Apple is showing signs of extending that approach even further, to notebooks and desktops, tying together OS X and iOS through its iCloud services over the next few years.

Up to now, with Microsoft more or less waiting in the wings, the battle has been between Apple and Google. They compete on the basis of design, price, flexibility, and openness. Android has been a tremendous success in smartphones, but has so far failed to gain much ground among tablets. Apple has seen tremendous success (and even better margins) in both smartphones and tablets, but may be at risk of losing overall market share thanks to its insistence on closed systems that it controls. It’s precisely that control that makes the iPad and iPhone so beautiful and easy to use, but design and quality only appeal to a subset of consumers.

Once Windows 8 emerges from its beta period and starts shipping as an actual operating system, however, the game will change. The competition will increasingly become one of how much reach these companies can maintain among their developers.

The PC platform wars ended with the dominance of the platform that supported the widest variety of software. The same thing is likely to happen in mobile.

True, there are hundreds of thousands of iOS and Android apps out there already, but if there’s one asset Microsoft has, it is an army of developers and a massive ecosystem of Windows software, both for consumers and on the enterprise side. Having access to that ecosystem will make an enormous difference for many people, because it will allow them to ease into the tablet world with a friendly, Metro-style interface for new apps, without having to give up the ability to run their older Windows software.

The Windows platform will blur the distinction between a tablet and a PC.

On the other side of the equation, Android is already making the distinction between a smartphone and a tablet fuzzy. The Galaxy Note, for instance, is too big to be a decent phone, but too small to be a proper tablet, so writers have resorted to the ugly portmanteau “phablet” to describe it. But really, the nomenclature is beside the point: On Android, the only significant difference between a phone and a tablet is its size.

So how does Microsoft enter this market? By driving a wedge into the one area where both companies have vulnerability: tablets. If Microsoft can capture a chunk of the tablet market by essentially annexing it to the desktop market, it will have a shot at extending the life of the PC as a platform.

In effect, it’s Microsoft’s last, best chance to make the leap from the old world to the new.

The mobile platform war is just one of the five big themes that 180 high-level executives and investors will be discussing at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit, April 2-3, at the Cavallo Point Resort in Sausalito, California.

Last year's inaugural event proved to be one of the most important gatherings in the industry, and we’re confident that this year’s lineup will be just as significant. If you are in the mobile industry, you’ll want to be there.

I’m looking forward to the event as a chance to learn more about — and debate — the biggest topics in the mobile industry right now. Plus, it’s a sweet location and a much smaller, more intimate venue than most tech conferences. I hope to see you there.

You can request an invitation here.

Filed under: mobile

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Bunchball personalizes “Flamethrower” gamification for each user

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PDT

Bunchball has made a name for itself by gamifying web sites and business applications so that users are more engaged. Now, the company is personalizing gamification to target individual users with its new Nitro Flamethrower offering.

To date gamification has been one size fits all users. But just as Amazon has begun offering personal web stores to each customer, Bunchball will enable companies to customize their gamification layers and rewards for each person visiting the site.

“This is gamification 2.0 and a big leap beyond what we did before,” Rajat Paharia (pictured), chief product officer of the San Jose, Calif.-based company told VentureBeat.

Version 4.3 of the Nitro Gamification Engine, code-named Flamethrower, is a completely revamped system that sets up filters for customers so they can motivate people with personalized, collaborative, and rewarding game mechanics, said Paharia.

First-generation gamification, as created by Bunchball in 2007, has been similar to first-generation e-commerce, where everyone saw the same storefront when they visited a web site. They got the same deals, displayed items, and recommendations. First-generation gamification offered users visiting a web site the same missions, challenges, achievements, and rewards — all in the name of getting them more engaged with the site.

But Paharia found that as his team created more solutions for enterprise customers, everyone was different. E-commerce vendors now have a different store for each buyer that reflects that buyer’s likes and dislikes, targeted recommendations, and personalized feel.

“In deeper use cases inside companies, we found there was a lot more segmentation of the audience,” Paharia said.

With Flamethrower, each gamification mission, such as getting someone to tweet about the site, can now be tailored for each user. Sites can also tailor rewards for each user, whether that be virtual goods, physical rewards, or various kinds of peer recognition. Inside a big company, different missions can be tailored for lead generators, field sales reps, or enterprise account managers.

Gartner analyst Brian Blau said that gamification is key to any system that helps companies better connect with their customers.

“Today, users expect every digital experience to be personalized, collaborative, and rewarding,” Paharia said.

Bunchball's customers include Warner Bros., Comcast, USA Network, Bravo, and Hasbro. Bunchball’s investors include Granite Ventures, Triangle Peak Partners, Northport Investments, Correlation Ventures, and Adobe. Bunchball has 55 employees and has raised $17.5 million to date. Rivals include Big Door, Badgeville, Gigya, and Crowdtwist.

[Image credits: Bunchball]

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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As legal battle with TV networks escalates, Aereo launches in NYC — We tested it, and it rocks

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 07:53 AM PDT

I’m sitting in my office (by which I mean my kitchen) watching Rachel Ray on my iPad and Kathy Lee on my laptop. These aren’t clips or day or old episodes. It’s live programming that’s streaming to me via Aereo, the web TV service locked in a legal battle with the big TV networks, which launches to the public in New York City this morning.

The setup for Aereo was fast and painless. No apps to download or hardware to buy. That makes it different from services like Sling Box, which requires an expensive set-top box and a monthly subscription to a cable or satellite television service. It’s also why Aereo charges $12 a month.

I logged into the site, authorized my devices (you can have up to 5), and picked a channel. The load time was under five seconds and from there it ran without buffering, even when I adjusted the video quality to high.

There was, however, the painful shock that comes from tuning into daytime TV for the first time in years. These shows are terrible and the commercials are even worse. (For example: if I order a scooter now, I get a free deck of large print playing cards! A class action lawsuit for users of vaginal mesh wipes!)

I connected Aereo to my Facebook account and it found four friends, but I couldn’t figure out what social features to use from there. I wouldn’t mind seeing what show people are watching and recording. I love the inbox feature in Spotify, and it would be nice to drag and drop great episodes of my favorite shows for friends to watch.

The DVR was also drop dead simple. I searched for 30 Rock and The Office, and then set both to record all new episodes, skipping reruns. Aereo gives users 40 hours of DVR with their $12.99 monthly subscription fee. When I see how well the DVR works, I’ll update this post.

I counted 27 channels available now in several different languages, including a bunch I didn’t even know existed like This TV, Qubo, and Livewell. The navigation on both the iPad and laptop was simple and intuitive. Search was interesting: “comedy on Fox” brought up all the right shows, but “NBA basketball” returned results for the NCAA.

We know Aereo investor Barry Diller is excited to duke it out with his old buddies from Fox. But sadly this service doesn’t carry the Court TV channel, meaning I won’t be able to follow the legal battle via Aereo.

Filed under: media, mobile

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Pinterest iPad app and new profile pages in the works

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 07:36 AM PDT


Pin-board social network Pinterest will soon launch new profile pages and an iPad app, important steps that will help the company solidify its status as 2012′s hottest startup.

Pinterest launched in 2010, but in the past six months it has seen astronomical growth and now counts as one of the top 10 social networks. According to recent comScore data, Pinterest users spend an average of 89 minutes per month on the site, which easily beats Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Only Facebook users spend more time than Pinterest users, with an average of 405 minutes spend there per month.

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann said at the South by Southwest Interactive conference that the company is working on an iPad app and redesigned profile pages. The upcoming iPad app is especially important because the company only offers an iPhone app at present. Silbermann said the new profile pages will have better discovery abilities and that users should see them by the end of this week.

The Pinterest team also has plans to release an open API and will add the ability to pin content from sites like Hulu, Vimeo, and Netflix.

What are you looking forward to most from Pinterest?

Filed under: social

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Zynga shareholders to raise $400M in secondary offering

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 07:32 AM PDT

Zynga, the largest maker of social games on Facebook, has filed papers to raise $400 million in a secondary public offering. The money will go to shareholders.

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, certain shareholders will sell their stock in the offering, but Zynga itself will not sell any shares and will not receive and proceeds from the offering.

The purpose of the offering is to facilitate “an orderly distribution of shares and to increase the company’s public float.” The latter means to have more shares available for the public to buy. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs  Co. will handle the offering, while BofA Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, J.P. Morgan Securities and Allen & Co. will assist. The pricing of the offering hasn’t been set yet.

Zynga previously raised $1 billion in an offering in December through its initial public offering.

Zynga, the maker of games such as CityVille and FarmVille, has more than 240 million monthly active users on Facebook, and it has generated more than $1.85 billion in revenue since its founding in 2007, the filing says.

The names of selling shareholders won’t be available until later.


Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Verizon will double 4G LTE markets by year end, hints at LTE iPhone

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 07:07 AM PDT


Verizon Wireless was the first of the big four U.S. carriers to deploy a 4G LTE network, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.

The carrier expects to double its LTE market coverage from 200 to at least 400 across the U.S. this year, Verizon CTO David Small tells the Wall Street Journal. Verizon also plans to double-down on 4G by only introducing smartphones this year using its faster network — a potential sign that Apple’s next iPhone will also sport LTE.

Rumors of an LTE iPhone have been around since last year, but immature LTE chipsets likely kept Apple from including 4G (not to mention the complete redesign it would have required). But with the new iPad sporting LTE, there’s little doubt that Apple will also include 4G in the iPhone 5 (or whatever the new iPhone is called).

Verizon expects to cover 260 million Americans with LTE by the end of the year, up from a previous estimate of 250 million. That figure shows just how far ahead Verizon is in the LTE game compared to AT&T, which is planning to cover 150 million Americans by the end of the year.

Come 2013, Alaska will be the only state without Verizon’s LTE 4G service, Small said.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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HTC reveals 16 smartphones getting Android Ice Cream Sandwich update

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 06:31 AM PDT


Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC has confirmed that 16 of its smartphones will receive the update to Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, the company said in a blog post today.

Ice Cream Sandwich includes a much more beautiful design and new features like a better web browser and facial recognition unlocking. We previously have seen estimates from Verizon and Motorola about their respective updates to Ice Cream Sandwich on Android phones and tablets. Now we have HTC adding its own devices to the conversation, although Verizon had already indicated four HTC devices would get the update.

The company describes the timing of delivering the important update as such:

As for timing, we're in the early stages of rolling out Android 4.0 for the HTC Sensation and HTC Sensation XE and upgrades will be more widely available in the next few weeks. The update for the HTC Sensation 4G and HTC Sensation XL will follow. Please note, once we start pushing out updates it will take time for all carriers in each country to get the update. We are working closely with our carrier partners to nail down update schedules for our other smartphones and will have more to share very soon.

And here’s the list of devices getting the update:

• DROID Incredible 2 by HTC
• HTC Amaze 4G
• HTC Desire S
• HTC Desire HD
• HTC EVO Design 4G
• HTC Incredible S
• HTC Sensation
• HTC Sensation XL
• HTC Sensation 4G
• HTC Sensation XE
• HTC Raider
• HTC Rezound
• HTC Rhyme
• HTC Thunderbolt
• HTC Vivid

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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Personal Capital brings its financial smarts to iPad, make sense of your stock options

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Financial advice startup Personal Capital is finally making its way to the iPad after emerging from stealth last August. And good news for startup workers: the company has added a new feature that will help to demystify your stock options.

Similar to other financial sites, Personal Capital allows you to hook in your various accounts and get a clear view of your financial life in one spot. But the startup goes far beyond the likes of Mint with its financial advising aspect, which pairs you up with a knowledgeable adviser for a cost of less than 1 percent of your assets per year.

Personal Capital’s iPad app, available now on the iTunes store, is free to use if you just want a consolidated view of your finances. You only have to pay if you want help from the company’s 10 on-staff advisers (the company is a registered investment adviser with the FTC). Not only will the iPad app let you view your transactions and debt, but it also offers the unique ability to drill down into your investments to see how individual elements are performing.

“The single most important thing for people to track long-term is asset allocation,” Personal Capital CEO Bill Harris — formerly CEO of PayPal and Intuit — said in an interview with VentureBeat last week. “Not only is [our service] the only way to get a view of your multi-institution asset allocation, it’s the only way you can get a multiview [seeing them all in one screen].”

Similarly, Personal Capital’s stock option capability lets you get a clear view of your various options. You can view your vested and unvested value across multiple companies, both public and private. For private companies, of course, you’ll have to plug in information about the company’s stock value. Harris tells me he’s “almost embarrassed” Personal Capital didn’t have this feature available at launch.

“We’re building these products for ourselves,” Harris said, explaining why the company is able to offer features never before seen in the financial tech industry. “We know in our gut what’s possible… we also know what we want.”

The company currently has over 10,000 users, and it aggregates and tracks over $2 billion worth of assets. Harris views Personal Capital more as a financial services company, rather than competitors like Intuit, which he calls “fundamentally a software company.” The company is heavily focused on consumer experience, which comes half from its technology and half from its interpersonal interactions, Harris said.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Personal Capital was founded in 2009. The startup has received $25 million in funding to date from Institutional Venture Partners and Venrock, after bootstrapping itself to the tune of $2 million. The company tells me it still has half of its funding in the bank.

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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If Facebook pays up, experts say Yahoo may go full time patent troll

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 05:33 AM PDT

Yahoo has put the IP squeeze on Facebook, slapping it with a patent lawsuit during the quiet period in the run up to the social network’s IPO. While it’s tempting to see this as the first shot fired in a broader patent war centered around social networking, Lance Lieberman, a veteran New York patent lawyer with a specialty in software, thinks it’s just Yahoo’s first step down the dark path towards life as a patent troll.

“If Yahoo gets a quick settlement here, they will continue to dig into their war chest to see what patents they can monetize,” Lieberman, who works with Cozen O’Conner, told VentureBeat in an interview yesterday. “With a new CEO facing pressure from Wall Street and activist investors breathing down his neck, intellectual property is a way to drum up revenue quickly.”

Numerous critics, from investor Fred Wilson to billionaire Marc Cuban, have lambasted Yahoo for going after Facebook with what they see as obvious, generic patents that would apply to most modern web sites. But that, says Liberman, is exactly the point.

“I’ve looked at the patents, and while they are broad, they aren’t outrageous,” Lieberman said. “The main thing to consider is the effective filing date. While a lot of this stuff might seem obvious now, a decade ago, when Yahoo applied for the patent, it was just a gleam in the eye of Web 1.0.”

As Andy Baio wrote for Wired, Yahoo had a "Patent Incentive Program," with sizable bonuses issued to developers who took the time to sit down with the companies lawyers and draw up patent submissions. “Yahoo assured us that their patent portfolio was a precautionary measure, to defend against patent trolls and others who might try to attack Yahoo with their own holdings. It was a cold war, stockpiling patents instead of nuclear arms, and every company in the valley had a bunker full of them.”

With a massive exodus of technical and executive talent from Yahoo, its intellectual property may soon be its most valuable commodity. “They could morph into a non-practicing entity, similar to a patent troll,” Lieberman said. “From the time it began, Yahoo never had  a focused business like Facebook. They were search, they were a portal, they were social, they were media. So they have a broad swath of patents to call on.”

Image via Flickr user Benimoto

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Adaptive Planning gets $22M for cloud-based performance management

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 04:30 AM PDT

Adaptive Planning, a business performance management company, announced Wednesday that it has raised a cool $22 million in venture capital.

Unless you work in accounting or as a business manager, you probably won’t find Adaptive Planning’s services all that exciting. But for small businesses, services like Adaptive Planning can help track which decisions were a huge mistake and which ones really paid off.

Founded in 2003, the company started out offering software for companies to plan and report business performance to figure out if their decisions were paying off. When cloud computing became popular, Adaptive Planning created a software-as-a-service product with dashboards, analytics, and other visual data representations.

Cloud-based Adaptive Planning specializes in helping businesses that want to measure their company’s performance but may shy away from cloud technology. The company claims its services are so easy to use, it takes four hours to train an admin user and just 30 minutes to train the end-user, or the typical employee or non-tech savvy executive. The company is going after Excel’s business, trying to lure businesses away from using spreadsheets to report and analyze financial and performance data.

“The new funding will allow us to scale our direct sales and partner channels worldwide and to deliver a broad set of new performance management capabilities — across CPM, business intelligence, functional planning and reporting, and more,” said Adaptive Planning chief executive officer John Herr in a statement.

The company's competitors include Oracle and SAP, which offer high-end solutions for tracking business performance. Host Analytics and Infor also compete in the space, offering corporate performance management services to smaller businesses.

Adaptive Planning is based in Mountain View, Calif. and has more than 50 employees. This latest round of funding comes from new investor Norwest Venture Partners, and previous investors Cardinal Venture Capital, Clairmont Capital, Monitor Ventures, and ONSET Ventures.

Judging panel image via Shutterstock

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Brian Fargo’s Wasteland 2 raises $502,000+ in a day on Kickstarter

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 10:44 PM PDT

Double Fine Productions ended its campaign on crowd-funding site Kickstarter today, raising $3.3 million from more than 87,000 donors. But gamers can keep on giving.

Brian Fargo, chief executive of InXile Entertainment and a veteran game-maker, has raised more than $502,000 from 8,000-plus donors in a campaign to raise money for Wasteland 2 on Kickstarter.

Fargo was inspired to raise the money to finance his new game after Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions successfully staged a similar campaign to fund their next game. Schafer plans to use the money to fund a new adventure game that traditional publishers have shied away from.

The 1988 version of Wasteland was a post-apocalyptic role-playing game. It was a single-player game with lots of characters. After it came out, Interplay switched over to making Fallout games. But Fargo has wanted to make an online multiplayer version of Wasteland for the Internet, where large parties can come together and play. Fargo still has 34 days to go in his campaign, which set a $900,000 goal.

Pledges are for $15 or more. Fargo said in his Kickstarter video that Wasteland was made in the golden age of games when creativity was at its peak.

He hasn't had any luck getting traditional game publishers to fund the game. The video makes light of the problem of how publishers aren't taking risks on medium-sized indie efforts these days.

"Did you do Angry Birds?" the faux kid producer asks Fargo in the video.

"Would I f***ing be here if I made Angry Birds?," Fargo replies.

As envisioned, Wasteland 2 is a turn-based, top-down, role-playing, party game set in a Fallout-like post-apocalypse game.

"This really might be a last chance for a Wasteland 2," Fargo said.

With respect to other game Kickstarter projects, Rusel DeMaria has one going to finance the writing and publishing of the third edition of his High Score video-game history book. And Exato Games is running a Kickstarter campaign for its Guncraft game. Cipher Primes is raising $60,000 for its Auditorium 2 game. Josh Hughes is also raising money via Kickstarter for an indie rhythm game. But Fargo's is the most ambitious of the new crop.

 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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With Mowgli’s Songster social game, you can create your own music (exclusive)

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 09:01 PM PDT

You can let your inner rockstar out, now that Mowgli is launching a music-creation social game called Songster. The Atlanta-based company is releasing the game on Facebook and touting it at the SXSW event in Austin, Texas.

Mowgli hopes to help gamers escape the powerful gravity of Zynga games on Facebook and try something new where they can collaborate to create songs, art, and videos. If they succeed, they can say that innovation still lives in social network games. Stop making fake farms, Mowgli says, and start making real songs.

The company is launching the game at a South by Southwest  event co-hosted by the Quantum Collective at Rusty’s.

"We wanted to allow players to create something real: something players can produce themselves and show off outside the game — truly great music," said Marshall Seese, Jr., chief executive and founder of Mowgli Games. "People play games on Facebook to entertain themselves and connect with one another. So we wanted to make Songster a game that's not only fun, but also lets people create real music they can call their own while engaging in an exciting storyline about a rising musician."

Seese is a recording artist with Backspace Records. He wanted to create a social game that lets users create something tangible. Players follow the story of a fledgling musician working his or her way up through the ranks of the music business. They play gigs at frat houses and proms. And eventually they launch a worldwide tour. Along the way, they make music and then share the songs they’ve created on friends’ Facebook walls.

Mowgli has created a SongGrid where players drag and drop five second or ten-second sound clips. Mowgli also created the SongPack, a way to package 20 loops of music (drums, bass, lead, and vocal) to work together to form a song.

Mowgli says you don’t have to be a stage musician or even know how to play an instrument. You just create your own music track. The virtual music world will double as a promotion and distribution channel fo rising bands and artists. Indie artists Gordon Voidwell, Anoop Desai, Connor Christian and Southern Gothic, Distal, Klever, and Uncrowned have created song packs for the game that players can use to remix.

"This active experience with the music drives a deeper bond between the player and the artist whose song fueled the song pack," said Seese.  "Users are then more likely to share their version of the song on Facebook because of the sense of ownership they feel over their creation.  Songster has a lot to offer both social gamers and musicians.  It's going to be exciting to see where this product goes."

Seese, Adam Kunz and Mike VanBeneden launched Mowgli in 2010 and raised $550,000 from angel investors. The company is named after the protagonist in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Mowgli has 9 full-time employees and four contractors. Rivals include Breakout Band, SongHI, and Zya Music.

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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Siri ads “false and misleading,” according to class action lawsuit

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 07:09 PM PDT


“Siri, call my attorney,” was probably not what Frank M. Fazio said when he filed his class action lawsuit against Apple. Fazio says commercials for Siri misled him into buying an iPhone 4S and now he, and others with him, are suing the smartphone maker.

“[Apple's] advertisements regarding the Siri feature are fundamentally and designedly false and misleading,” the complaint against Apple reads, “The iPhone 4S’s Siri feature does not perform as advertised, rendering the iPhone 4S merely a more expensive iPhone 4.”

According to the complaint, Fazio has had trouble getting Siri to behave and provide the same functions it does in its commercials. He specifically mentions booking appointments, finding restaurants and looking up guitar chords. He is also unhappy with Siri’s inability to understand his requests, as well as long wait times. Apple’s commercials show a highly responsive Siri that replies almost as soon as you’re done speaking. As the Washington Post points out, however, Apple does disclaim its commercials with “sequences shortened.” This could mean that lag times and any repeat attempts to connect with Siri are left on the edit room floor.

He also alleged that Siri is a drain on data usage and “can easily push users over their data plans.”

Playing with the iPhone 4S in store, however, would show any potential buyer that Siri isn’t as snappy as the commercials imply. Apple has stated that Siri is in “beta” and that the company is continuing to improve the service, but that may not be enough. The complaint points out that Apple only states this in the fine print on its website, which may be considered a lack of information.

The full disclaimer from Apple reads, “Siri is available in Beta only on iPhone 4S and requires Internet access. Siri may not be available in all languages or in all areas, and features may vary by area.”

In order to file for a class action lawsuit, the damages must be over $5 million and include more than 100 participants. Fazio does not know how many participants there are in his class action lawsuit, but it includes anyone else “similarly situated.”

Check out the full complaint below:

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Acer starts selling a laptop with a not-so-secret Nvidia graphics chip

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 06:01 PM PDT

Acer has begun selling its Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3-581TG Ultrabook(thin laptop) — the first Ultrabook that has a stand-alone graphics chip in addition to the integrated graphics in the laptop’s Intel chip. That means the new computer will be thin and light yet still able to run outstanding graphics in games such as Battlefield 3.

The machine runs with Intel’s powerful Sandy Bridge microprocessor. It also uses a discrete graphics chip from Nvidia under the name GeForce GT 640M. The graphics processing unit (GPU) is based on the upcoming Kepler architecture that Nvidia plans to reveal in the near future. The chip has 384 processor cores running at 625 megahertz.

Epic Games referred to the Kepler graphics chip when it showed a system running its “Samaritan” demo, a spectacular 3D graphics showcase animation, last week at the Game Developers Conference. Mark Rein, vice president at Epic Games, said the graphics card was so powerful that it could run the Samaritan demo with one card. A year ago, it took three Nvidia GeForce GT 580 graphics chips to run the Samaritan demo, which is designed to give people an idea of next-generation gaming.

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iTV to sell this summer, says analyst after trip to Asia

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 05:09 PM PDT


Apple just released its newest Apple TV set top box, but the rumored iTV might not be far off. Indeed, one analyst is saying the television may be released in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Peter Misek, an analyst with financial services firm Jeffries and Company, recently took a trip to Asia where he uncovered what he believes are iTV components being shipped to Apple Asia.

"We believe specialty components have begun to ship to Apple's Asia panel suppliers with polarized films, filters, and IGZO components starting to move in small quantities," Misek said in a report. "We expect commercial production in May/June with 2M to 5M builds likely."

In December, the Wall Street Journal’s sources predicted the iTV would come with some nifty features. Given the popularity of the iPhone’s Siri voice assistant, iTV may come with a voice element, such as vocal channel changing. People may also be able to stream content from their devices to the television using AirPort, potentially overriding the need for Apple TV. Given the company’s deep investment in mobile products, the television could also sync programs between different Apple devices, giving viewers the ability to watch a show on the TV, pause, and pick it up on an iPad.

Misek isn’t alone in estimating a May-to-June delivery timeframe. Taiwanese blog Digitimes reported in late December that Apple would begin assembling the iTV in the first quarter of 2012 and sell the product in the summer months.

Given all the anticipation surrounding this product, Misek believes Apple’s stock could hit a high of $699, $100 more than his previous estimate of $599.

hat tip All Things D

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Microsoft launches first accelerator ever, but will give free Azure access instead of cash

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 04:24 PM PDT


Microsoft has launched its first-ever startup accelerator at its Israel R&D Center, with an expressed purpose of helping young cloud-focused companies.

The Windows Azure Accelerator, which was first reported by TechCrunch, will provide space and mentoring like a normal accelerator, but there’s a catch. Instead of seed funds, Microsoft will give the selected companies free access to the Windows Azure cloud platform.

The accelerator acts as part of the Think Next and Microsoft BizSpark programs, which also help startups. Like Microsoft’s BizSpark Plus offering, startups in this new accelerator will get two free years of Azure access worth up to $60,000.

The Azure cloud platform is used by many companies to host and build web applications through Microsoft's own data centers. In this situation, Microsoft is hoping to encourage Azure use with young companies.

Azure was recently hammered in the press for a wide outage on Feb. 29 that has been labeled as a “leap year bug.” However, Microsoft has since apologized for the outage and offered a nice 33 percent credit for the entire month of February to those using the Azure Compute, Access Control, Service Bus and Caching programs.

Microsoft plans to announce the first class from the Windows Azure Accelerator on April 22nd at Think Next 2012.

Microsoft Israel R&D center photo: Microsoft

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Encyclopaedia Britannica wiped out by Wikipedia, selling final print edition

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 04:13 PM PDT

Encyclopaedia Britannica, mortally wounded by the Web and Wikipedia, is ending the production of its print edition in favor of a strictly digital strategy, the company announced Tuesday.

"It's a rite of passage in this new era," Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. president Jorge Cauz told the New York Times.

First published in 1768, Encyclopaedia Britannica has been printing hard copy reference volumes for nearly 250 years, though sales peaked in 1990, according to the Times.

The company is now currently selling its final 32-volume 2010 edition for $1,395, and supplies are limited. Moving forward, Encyclopaedia Britannica will only produce its rich reference guides for the Web and continue to create e-learning curriculum for educational institutions.

“Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now,” Cauz said. “The Web site is continuously updated, it's much more expansive and it has multimedia.”

And yet, Wikipedia is now synonymous with the term encyclopedia, offering all walks of people free access to a not-always accurate, but always current treasure trove of editable articles.

The extremely thorough Wikipedia article on Encyclopaedia Britannica, for instance, serves as the perfect example of why Wikipedia is coming out on top. Ironically, the page could very well become the only thing our children have to remember the once illustrious Britannica by, a point lamented by VentureBeat senior editor Heather Kelly.

But the Britannica will live on in more than spirit. The company told the Times that it has 500,000 customers who pay a $70 annual fee for online and mobile access to its content.

“Today's announcement is not about our past, but our future — and the new ways we're serving our customers,” Cauz said.

Photo credit: Bopuc/Flickr

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PayPal shows off its long-awaited digital wallet (video)

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 03:44 PM PDT

PayPal finally demonstrated its digital wallet at a South by Southwest panel earlier today. The wallet will bring a slew of new features and payment options to the service.

But if you couldn’t make it to the Austin barbecue and beerfest show, the company has also put a (much less exciting) version of its demo online.

In the video, PayPal vice president of global product and experience Sam Shrauger shows off what you can do with the company’s new wallet, some of which is surprisingly cool for a payments service. For example, you’ll be able to purchase something in a store and choose how you want to pay for it later. You can also set up rules to send specific purchases, say anything over $500, to a specific payment option.

The company gave us a preview of the digital wallet’s features last week, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen it in action. Surprisingly, Shrauger only shows us the desktop interface for the digital wallet, which looks like it will replace the standard PayPal.com user interface (good riddance).

I’m keen on seeing how the digital wallet will change PayPal’s mobile app though. From what I’ve heard, the company’s mobile digital wallet will just be an update to its existing app (that’s certainly an easy way to get existing users onboard).

Through the digital wallet, PayPal and its parent company eBay will continue their multi-pronged approach to nabbing themselves a share of the future payments market. The company is currently dabbling in NFC money transfers and carrier payments, and has recently expanded its pilot payments program with the Home Depot to include all of the store’s locations.

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Kids and video games: Why children should play more

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 03:22 PM PDT

Kids and their damn video games!Parents, politicians, and educators often criticize video games as a waste of time that distract kids from healthier activities such as school, outdoor play, sports, and community service. Just one problem: Research is quickly proving the theory wrong and illustrating that gaming can be a beneficial and well-rounded part of a healthy, balanced media diet.

Moreover, due to their interactivity, at odds with passive mediums such as television, kids' video games can actually be one of today's most powerful tools for sparking learning and creativity. But while gaming offers tremendous potential, it also bears remembering: It takes a running commitment from parents and teachers to actively follow and participate in the pastime to make it a truly safe, healthy, and rewarding part of household life.

As Harvard Medical School researcher Cheryl Olson, ScD succinctly summarizes in Parents magazine, "Parent-approved video games played in moderation can help young kids develop in educational, social, and physical ways." Olson's work, which included surveying data from interviews with over 1,000 public-school students, clearly illustrates the many upsides offered by even seemingly innocuous titles — i.e., not those labeled specifically as "serious games" or "edutainment."

Among the findings she cites are the marked benefits of outings like the Legend of Zelda and Bakugan games, which encourage planning, problem solving, and creative self-expression. Olson also says games such as the Civilization series can spark interest in history and geography, while others encourage socialization, exercise, healthy competition, and leadership. Curiously, she points out, many parents still fixate on the negative aspects of gaming, when in fact the hobby — and many high-profile selections — are now a normal, intrinsic part of childhood and growing up.

"Games can definitely be good for the family," says Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) president Patricia Vance. "There’s plenty of selection. Oftentimes I think parents feel that they're not because video games in the media are portrayed as violent, and hardcore games tend to get the lion's share of publicity. But parents also need to be comforted knowing that E for Everyone is by far largest category [of software]. Nearly 60% of the almost 1700 ratings we assigned last year were E for Everyone, which means there’s a huge selection of games available that are appropriate for all ages."

What's more, kids aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from button-mashing (and not just because the average player is now 37 years old and more adult women play than teenage males). Research from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) actually indicates that video games can help adults to process information much faster and improve their fundamental abilities to reason and solve problems in novel contexts.

A study published in a recent edition of Archives of Surgery also says that surgeons who regularly play video games are generally more skilled at performing laparoscopic surgery. Findings by Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, likewise reflect that video gamers show real-world improvements on tests of attention, accuracy, vision, and multitasking after playing certain titles. No surprise there, confirms Michael Stroud, a professor of psychology at Merrimack College, who explains that games' active demands on our attention and working memory all map well to performing similarly complex real-world tasks.

What's more, experts say, serious games and virtual environments may be the future of education. Not only do students find gaming more approachable and engaging than lectures and PowerPoint presentations, they insist on them. Simulations also provide a more inviting and lifelike context in which to make choices, see results, and apply learning in real-time. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) states that kids actually need more, not less, video game play as a result. Citing games' ability to prepare workers for the increasingly competitive global job market, the organization says that games promote strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, plan formulation, and ability to respond to change.

Ironically, these are the same talents employers now demand from prospective recruits. From Cisco to IBM, NASA to Nortel, government and corporate leaders are increasingly turning to principles of gamification to enhance productivity, sales, and job satisfaction. According to an Entertainment Software Association study, nearly 80% of major employers plan to implement interactive software and games-based training by 2013.

Dance Central 2

Setting aside so-called "serious games" titles specifically designed to teach and inform, even average, everyday outings such as Dance Central 2 encourage families to spend time together and bond over shared interests. Many also interweave positive messages into play that promote ethical and social behavior. Case in point: In a series of experiments published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that participants who had just played a "pro-social" game wherein characters cooperate as compared to those who had just played a "neutral" game (e.g., Tetris) were more likely to engage in helpful behaviors. Many outings — including social and massively multiplayer games of all stripes — likewise encourage cooperation and teamwork. Others, especially motion-controlled titles for the Wii and Wii U, PlayStation Move, and Xbox 360's Kinect, prompt kids to get up off the couch and exercise.

In fact, the best way to make games a safe, fun, and enriching part of everyday life is for parents to take an active interest and involvement in the hobby. Not only does a willingness to go hands-on with specific games and consoles help caregivers stay more informed, they can better understand the capabilities and potential usage contexts various systems/titles offer. It also proves encouraging to children, provides a shared activity all ages can come together over, and fosters greater communication and understanding across generations. From providing safe escapes to fostering interest in subjects like math and science and helping kids see the world from different perspectives, games can be beneficial. But it bears remembering: Like any form of screen time, games should also be balanced with other low-tech activity — playing sports, reading a book, enjoying nature, etc. — and parents should proactively educate kids to potential dangers surrounding the medium.

Ultimately, rather than fixate on sensationalized issues, adults would do well to remember: Video games can be a wonderful pastime for children — one that families should embrace. As with more traditional aspects of parenting, though, finding success with the high-tech hobby requires leading by example. Teach kids safe, healthy, and positive computing habits, and the virtual world will be the whole family's joy to discover.

The Modern Parents Guide to Kids and Video GamesScott Steinberg is the author of the world's first high-tech parenting series, The Modern Parent's Guide, free to download at www.ParentsGuideBooks.com. A professional keynote speaker and the head of business consulting firm TechSavvy Global, he's among today's most-quoted high-tech analysts and is a regular on-air correspondent for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and CNN. He is the creator and host of popular online video shows Tech Industry Insider and Family Tech. His latest book, The Modern Parent's Guide to Kids and Video Games (2012, Power Play Publishing), is 100% free to download at www.VideoGamesandKids.com and is also available on iBooks and Kindle ($3.99) and in paperback ($17.99) editions.

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Devs, set your alarms: Google I/O registration early on March 27th

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 02:53 PM PDT


Google will being registration for its important developers conference, Google I/O, at 7 a.m. PT on March 27, with the event taking place June 27 through 29 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Last year at I/O, Google introduced Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which took the Android OS in a smart new direction. It also used the conference to talk up Chrome browser advancement, to introduce Angry Birds on Chrome, and to show off its Chromebook laptops.

Last year’s tickets for I/O sold out in less than an hour, so demand for the event this year will no doubt be similar or even higher. Set your alarms developers because we know how you like to stay up late and work.

To promote this year’s event, Google developers have created a fun, interactive game called Input/Output where you can build your own elaborate ball-tossing machine. (Hit the arrow button in the bottom right corner to dig into the source code.) Google will be picking the best machines created with the tool and show them at the conference

Google I/O art: Google

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Picture perfect app Camera+ updates with more goodies for iPhone photogs

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 02:01 PM PDT

The jockeying of the photo-perfecting apps continues. Just days after Instagram announced 27 million users and an eventual launch on Android, the far more intricate photo capture and edit iPhone application Camera+ has released a feature-packed new version.

Camera+ version 3, released Tuesday by iOS development shop Tap Tap Tap, is an upgrade of the application that simplifies sharing to social networks, includes a new interface for the Lightbox area, adds even more photographer-friendly features (focus and exposure locks), an even better one-tap Clarity photo-enhancing option, and APIs that will enable developers to add Camera+ functionality to their apps.

Version 3 also brings with it a new workflow that allows application users to shoot photos continuously without interruption. Captures are saved to the Lightbox as the iPhonegrapher shoots them so she can snap away and then edit and share her shots later.

Camera+, a consistently strong performer on the App Store, currently retails for $0.99 and offers in-app upgrades for a fee. The application has brought in a significant amount of revenue — $5.1 million as of January — in its relatively short life-span, making it the counter to the completely free, but soon to be heavily funded Instagram. The two applications, which no doubt overlap in purpose and function, have taken divergent paths in their approaches to photo-editing and sharing on iPhone, and each has its strong qualities.

Camera+, with its more robust feature set, has attracted a loyal community of several million photographers and happened upon a steady revenue stream. Instagram, meanwhile, has opted instead to radically simplify the photo-editing process, create more of a social network around photo-sharing, and put off monetization for the time being. It’s an approach that has proved popular enough to attract 27 million users in just 18 months — and maybe even a $500 million valuation.

Photo credit: Dirk Dallas, Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Spotify to offer family subscription plans

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 01:56 PM PDT

Spotify Family Plans

Streaming music service Spotify is definitely planning to offer “family plans”, according to recent comments from Spotify Chief Content Officer Ken Parks.

Spotify users have been clamoring for a family subscription option of its premium service, which would allow multiple people to use the same Spotify account independently. Competitors like Rdio already offer family plans, which puts Spotify at a slight disadvantage.

Parks, who pays for three separate subscriptions in his own household, told The Verge that the family plans are definitely coming, but wouldn’t elaborate on the pricing structure or a launch date. He also said that the company’s goal would be to boost overall spending from each household, presumably, without cutting into the individual subscription revenue.

Spotify is built on a "freemium" business model where users can listen to unlimited ad-supported music for free during the first six months, and 10 hours per month thereafter. Ideally, the company wants to convert all those users into premium subscribers, which costs $5 – $10 per month. Depending on the level of access, premium accounts offer unlimited access to music, no ads, and the ability to use the service on mobile devices.

Spotify last reported that it reached a milestone 3 million paying subscribers in January — so the company is currently in pretty good shape without the added option of family subscription plans.

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Why Path will never be a mobile web app [video]

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 01:50 PM PDT

Dave Morin and the rest of the Path team are staunchly on the native side of the mobile-web-apps-versus-native-apps debate, and in this interview, he explains why.

Morin took a few minutes to chat with VentureBeat at South By Southwest; we also talked about the need for simplicity and how Path continues to inform the ongoing conversation about user privacy.

In addition to this clip, we’ve got tons of other interviews coming up from some of the brightest people and most interesting companies represented in Austin, so stay tuned.

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Streaming music service Rdio spiffs up with social-centric redesign

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 01:34 PM PDT

Streaming music service Rdio is getting a revamp. Rolling out today, the updated web interface and desktop-application design plays up social music sharing and recommendations, and cuts down on clicks with a new unified view.

Only paid subscribers will be able to see the new Rdio, which is available immediately. The new look was announced Tuesday at SXSW Interactive in Austin by Rdio vice president Malthe Sigurdsson.

“Machines are a nice help, but they can’t do it alone,” said Sigurdsson of music recommendations, in a subtle dig at the algorithms employed by other music services like Pandora. “No matter how good they get, they still don’t have taste.”

Accordingly, Rdio is putting people front-and-center in its new design. On the right side of the screen is a People Sidebar showing the various friends, musicians, or critics you follow. You are able see what someone is listening to right that moment, and if you are feeling it too, you can click and start streaming the same song.

When you hover over an album or song, you can see who in your network has listened to it. Use that information to decide if you should give new music a try, or to judge your friends for listening to Lana Del Rey.

The entire Rdio user interface has received an overhaul. The main view is now unified, with a navigation bar on the left and a continuous stream of content in the middle that automatically populates when you scroll down. The display will resize to fit your browser, and if you leave the main page to check out album details or anything else, when you return you’ll snap back to the exact spot where you left off.

There are a few other nice bits rolled into the redesign, like easier sharing over Twitter, Facebook, and email, and the ability to create private playlists and share them with select groups of people.

Rdio, which is not making its user numbers public, has a lot of competition from streaming-music companies such as Spotify, MOG, Pandora, and Rhapsody. The service currently has over 15 million songs available. There’s a limited free option, and paid subscriptions start at $5 a month for unlimited web and desktop streaming. The price bumps to $10 a month to add mobile and offline access as well.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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8M Facebook Pages switch to Timeline in first week

Posted: 13 Mar 2012 01:01 PM PDT

Brands are wasting no time switching over to Facebook’s new Timeline Page design. Just one week after the social network rolled out the radical facelift, more than 8 million Pages have already made the transition.

Timeline is the Facebook profile re-imagined in storybook form. Facebook rolled out its new take on the personal profile to all users in Decemeber. Last Tuesday at its first marketing conference, Facebook also gave Page owners — the company’s brand, business, and celebrity audience — the ability to switch over to Timeline-infused profiles to better convey stories to fans.

More than one million Facebook Pages are making the switch to the new Timeline design each day, a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat.

“[Timeline] wasn't ever meant to be just about people, just for humans,” Facebook Timeline product manager Sam Lessin said last week when showing off the design to reporters. “It's a phase shift for the company overall and how we think about identity … We always start with people. We're Facebook, that's kind of what we do … and then we do it for other types of organizations that also have a story and want to be able to tell it.”

Brands big and small, including Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks, Lexus, and Ford, have all embraced Timeline to express their individual brand identities in new ways that will ideally resonate with fans and customers on a deeper, more emotional level. And, at least according to Facebook, the layout, in conjunction with Facebook’s new advertising products, is appealing to Facebookers.

Ben & Jerry's, which used Facebook’s new Reach Generator feature to target fans, quadrupled its normal reach to 98 percent of all fans during a 28-day period and witnessed double the engagement during the same period, a Facebook spokesperson said.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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