20 March, 2012



Just how smart is your smartphone security strategy?

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 09:44 AM PDT

Mobile in enterprise is transforming how we interact with information, connect with our office networks, and organize our working lives.

We have become so reliant on mobile devices to drive our entertainment, social, and knowledge networks that they naturally begin to intertwine with our work lives, but at what cost?

What are the challenges?

In a recent survey from Symantec, 72 percent of firms believe that employees' behaviour on social networking sites could endanger their business's security. And 91 percent of respondents to a survey said their company allows employees to use their work-related smartphones for personal use as well.

While this demonstrates the utility, practicality, and flexibility of using mobile devices to conduct business (often on demand and on the move), it is also an indication of both the immediate and impending challenges for organizations to ensure they have an adequate infrastructure in place to deal effectively with new security threats as they occur across several platforms.

Indeed, few organizations have a mobile security agenda in place, and many organizations are still unaware of the security threat posed by unrestricted smartphones. Only 51% of employees said their employer has communicated policies and/or best practices to them regarding the security of their smartphones.

The key concern of any organization is ensuring that sensitive information is subject to robust on-device security and encryption. In an era of multi-platform usage in enterprise, the issue of general information security becomes central to an organization's ability to remain secure while maintaining healthy levels of productivity by avoiding excessive network downtime.

Around 73 percent of employees said they use their work-related smartphones to access information that could be considered sensitive or confidential.

What does this mean for organizations?

Half of all organizations are not prepared for the influx of personal mobile devices leading to serious headaches for IT departments struggling to devise an appropriate security policy.

  • Organizations are unable to monitor or control employees' work-related activities on their smartphone, increasing the risk of sensitive company data being compromised.
  • Many organizations do not have user authentication policies on their employees' mobile devices allowing unauthorized access to potentially sensitive company data.
  • Organizations are unable to react to a security compromise or suspicious user behaviour by locking down a mobile device and wiping the contents if required.
  • Employees are taking their smartphones overseas with them and potentially incurring huge roaming charges as organizations are unable to restrict access through roaming controls.

What is the solution?

Your organization needs to be sure that sensitive data is both secure and protected from unauthorized access. Your organization also need to be sure that your data are safe on servers, safe in transit and safe on your employees' mobile devices. Here is what we advise in order to effectively ring-fence your data.

Currently, more than half (52 percent) of all employers have no app management system in place to manage apps on their employees' smartphone.

  • Security policy: Devise a clear and comprehensive mobile security policy. In an era where more and more employees are bringing their own smartphone to work, it is crucial that you have a clear policy in place to effectively deal with a multitude of devices with different approaches to security.
  • Closed-loop system: Help your mobile enterprise flourish and keep your sensitive data secure by enforcing a closed loop system. What does this mean? It means requiring user authentication in order to access enterprise data on a mobile device. It means allowing users access only to the information they should have access to and preventing unauthorized sharing of that information.
  • Track access: Be in control of data security by being able to track access with information due dates and expiration dates.
  • Remote lock: Respond instantly to security risks by remotely locking access to data on specific employee devices or removing access entirely if an employee goes rogue or if the mobile device is lost or stolen.
  • Roaming controls: Install roaming controls on employee smartphones in order to avoid the crippling cost of escalating mobile data charges incurred when overseas.

Are you a smartphone user?

So how do you combat these growing threats to your private data stored on your smartphone? Well, for starters, you had better make sure that you are staying one step ahead of the game by pre-empting security threats. Here are five things you can do right now to instantly boost security on your smartphone:

  • Update: Always ensure your mobile firmware is up-to-date. This means regularly checking for updates to ensure that you have the latest security features to avoid exposing your device to security flaws that hackers are just waiting to exploit.
  • Use an antivirus program: If your smartphone runs Android, Google's open source mobile operating system, ensure that you have an antivirus app such as AVG installed to guard against potential malware lurking behind seemingly harmless apps.
  • Use a PIN lock: Ensure your Smartphone has a PIN lock to access the phone and another PIN to access the home screen after your phone has been lying idle for a couple of minutes.
  • Stay vigilant: Avoid clicking links in an anonymous text message or from an unreliable source within your mobile browser. Such attacks from seemingly harmless sources are on the rise as hackers target smartphones containing valuable personal and financial data.
  • Be wary of apps: Only install apps from reputable sources. This is especially applicable to users of rooted phones or Android devices where apps may be installed from any source. Make sure that you only download apps from an approved marketplace and only after reviewing user comments and ratings for the app.

Kris Swanson is the chief commercial officer for Intuition Technology. Intuition Technology enables organizations to rapidly create, securely deliver, and seamlessly track courses, surveys, assessments, and other content across most mobile devices and tablets. Intuition Technology has successfully delivered over 150 mobile learning solutions since 2006.

Image courtesy of David Hammonds, Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, security

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Game startups: Get ready for the Who’s Got Game startup competition

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 09:37 AM PDT

We’d like to formally kick off our Who’s Got Game contest for the industry’s best game startup. The event will take place during our fourth annual GamesBeat 2012 conference on July 10-11 in San Francisco at the Palace Hotel.

With our fourth annual contest for the best game startup, we’re looking for the best startups in the game industry. We'll choose five to seven finalists who will present live, on stage at our GamesBeat conference. Those finalists will be able to make their pitch about their company to our audience of media, entrepreneurs, investors and industry executives.

An all-star panel of judges will be selecting the most promising startup, based on the following criteria:

» freshness
» innovation
» potential for business success.

The requirements are that the entrant be a startup company in the game space. Publicly traded or large, well-known private companies are not eligible.

Last year’s winner was Kaiju Empire, which was making a social game around crazy Godzilla-style monsters.

This year’s winner will be announced at GamesBeat and be the recipient of a blog post and introductions to game investors in our network.

To register for GamesBeat, please click here. To submit a speaker proposal, click here. And for sponsor information, click here or send a message to sponsors @venturebeat.com. To see our current speakers, check out this page.

Deadline for submission is June 8 at 5:00pm Pacific Standard Time. Here’s the link for the entry form.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

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Intel makes another go at set-top boxes with new Atom CE5300 chipset

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 09:35 AM PDT

Intel TV

Intel has released a new processor targeted at set-top boxes and smart TVs, the company announced today.

The new Atom CE5300 media chip is optimized for watching broadcast video, Internet access and video communication  through a smart TV or set-top box connected to a TV. The new chip marks a new effort by Intel to target the living room.

Previously, the company was involved in producing the chipset inside of the first generation of Google TV devices as well as the Boxee Box by D-Link. However, Intel ceased production of the chips for those (and other) set-top boxes back in October 2011. Part of the reason for this was that manufacturers couldn’t justify raising the cost of the device to pay for the old chips — pushing them to go with ARM technology instead. Consumers also didn’t take notice of the more powerful chipset.

The new Atom CE5300 chip isn’t targeting manufactures like Sony, Logitech and others. Instead, the company is focused on putting the chip into set-top boxes offered by cable and telecom service providers. The first product to feature the new chip will be Amino’s Freedom Live Media Gateway, which is much less impressive than the majority of Google TV devices when it comes to available features.

Intel is also rumored to launch its own line of set-top boxes along with its own streaming service. If true, the business strategy will likely be similar to what Roku is doing.

Via The Verge

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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News junkies turning to apps over the web for their daily fixes

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 09:28 AM PDT

As our culture shifts from a desktop-based paradigm to a mobile one, news junkies are leading the trend with their consumption habits.

New data from engagement and loyalty consulting firm Loyalistics show that news readers are more engaged on mobile apps than on websites and that they are more likely to return to a news app than to a news website.

Data from Neilsen showed that around 70 percent of casual news readers went to a given news site one or two times each month, and less than 10 percent of readers would visit a news site 10 or more times in a month.

By contrast, Loyalistics found that 29 percent of news readers will use a news mobile app at least once a month — a much smaller figure than the 70 percent of mainstream web-based news readers. However, Loyalistics also found that 24 percent of news readers would launch that news app more than 10 times in a month.

These newshounds who download and keep returning to their mobile news apps aren’t the casual readers Neilsen is tracking. Rather, they’re fans of a news brand (for example, the New York Times or Washington Post), and they use the apps for news discovery very much in the same way they would do if they had a physical newspaper subscription.

And for news publications, this means a whole new set of goals for use and engagement on digital properties, Loyalistics points out. Rather than pure traffic, the firm’s blog reads, publications should be shooting for high session times, a large number of articles read, and lots of app relaunches on each mobile device.

Image courtesy of Goodluz, Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile

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Tablet game revenue to hit $3.1B by 2014

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 09:08 AM PDT

Tablet games are expected to grow to $3.1 billion worldwide, according to a new report from analyst firm Juniper Research.

The spending on tablet games is expected to account for a third of all mobile game revenues by 2016, when total mobile game revenues are expected to top $18.3 billion.

For 2011, Juniper estimated that tablet game revenues to be $491 million. The report says that the large screen size and outstanding graphics will motivate users to buy games and in-game items such as virtual decorations. The tablets are particularly appealing for fans of hardcore games.

Tablets such as the iPad are selling for $500 or more, but the prices are dropping. In 2011, tablets sold 55.2 million units, up from 17.6 million, according to Juniper.

Revenues from games for tablets are coming from a variety of business models, including pay-per-download, free games with ads, free games with brand presences, free Lite versions upgradeable to paid, and a free-to-play games with in-app purchases.

Charlotte Miller, author of the report, said, “The tablet is the perfect device for playing mobile games – the screens are large enough for the user to see the action, no matter how big their hands are. Tablet owners also tend to have a larger disposable income, as tablets are often bought outright rather than subsidised by operators. Higher user satisfaction with games and a bigger wallet mean that tablet games look to be highly lucrative.”

The report also identifies challenges. Those include overcrowded app stores, tiered data plans that discourage heavy usage, operating system fragmentation, partial network coverage, piracy, and content regulation.

Filed under: games, mobile

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FindTheBest adds classifieds, helps you comparison shop for new stuff

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT

FindTheBest, an information site that lets shoppers compare everything from apartments to dogs to venture capitalists, is adding classified ads for cars, apartments, jobs, and pets.

The new classifieds fall into five straightforward categories: Cars for SaleJobsRentalsDogs for Sale, and Cats for Sale. According to FindTheBest, outside partners vet all of the data to cut down on scams and false listings.

FindTheBest uses data and statistics to compare schools, electronics, apartments, travel locations, and more. Comparison metrics vary widely between each category, but there is a focus on graphs and icons. For example, laptop ratings include a colored bar that shows processor size and colored arrows for the screen size. Automobiles include a circle for the gas mileage and a colored bar for the horsepower.

Now alongside the comparisons between those 2010 and 2011 Rolls-Royces you’re secretly lusting after, there will classified ads to buy said luxury cars (a few people are actually selling a Rolls, if you’ve got around $300,000 to spend). FindTheBest brings the same icons it uses for the comparison side of the site to the classified section. For example, the Rolls-Royces each had colored squares to indicate their odometer readings.

These new classifieds will contend with Craigslist, a well-used classified listings site. As anyone who has used Craigslist will tell you, it’s full of scams, spammers, and classifieds that often lack relevant details. But it’s also a very popular site to list all sorts of stuff, including jobs, apartments, tickets, furniture, electronics, cars, and services, and it’s a stiff competitor to any other classified services out there. FindTheBest’s classifieds could become more valuable because they are full of information that Craigslist listings lack, such as prices, background information on the item or service, and contact information for the seller.

FindTheBest has raised $6.76 million to date, including a $6 million first institutional round from Kleiner Perkins in July, 2011. The company is based in Santa Barbara, Calif. and New York.

Filed under: social

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Vivox buys Droplet to deliver video chat on mobile

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 08:51 AM PDT

Vivox, a leading provider of voice chat in games, has acquired the video chat firm Droplet.

Natick, Mass.-based Vivox plans to drop Droplet’s technology into Vivox’s VoiceEverywhere platform, which serves more than 80 million fans who generate 3.5 billion minutes of voice chat each month.

The service already provides mobile carriers with the ability to offer voice chat and will now add video, much like Apple does with FaceTime. But FaceTime requires a Wi-Fi connection, it slows the network and it takes a toll on battery life for a phone. Droplet has a patented technology that delivers high-quality video chat across devices, countries, social networks and operating systems “without straining the resources of the mobile network or user’s device.”

"In acquiring Droplet, Vivox is building on its history of improving the communication experience for consumers and carriers alike," said Rob Seaver, Vivox chief executive. "We are committed to providing a high-quality video communications solution for consumers that complements our existing superior voice services."

Vivox has become a popular way for gamers to communicate in large groups in virtual worlds. Vivox supplies the social communications to partners such as CCP Games, Linden Lab, Nexon, Sony Online Entertainment and Wargaming.net. It is available on Twitter and Facebook, and it powers T-Mobile’s Bobsled by T-Mobile social chat technology.

Vivox has 40 employees. Rivals include Qik, which was acquired by Skype (now owned by Microsoft).

Filed under: deals, games

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Encouraged by nearly 500K digital subscribers, NY Times is making its online paywall twice as high

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 08:23 AM PDT

Here’s some crappy news for cheapskates like myself. Apparently emboldened by the nearly half a million people who signed up to pay for online access to the New York Times, the venerable media company is cutting the number of free articles non-subscribers get from 20 per month to just 10. It’s hoping to drive more folks into paying for digital access, as its revenue from traditional print advertising continues to decline.

"Last year was a transformative one for The Times as we began to charge for digital access to our content,” said chairman and chief executive Arthur Sulzberger Jr. “Today, close to a half million people are now paying for digital content from The Times and the IHT. We knew that readers placed a high value on our journalism, and we anticipated they would respond positively to our digital subscription packages. Our commitment to all of our subscribers, both print and digital, is that we will continue to invest in and evolve our journalism and our products, and we will remain a source of trustworthy news, information and high-quality opinion for many years to come."

In its most recent quarter, The NY Times saw overall revenue drop 2.8 percent for the quarter, and profit fall a sharp 26 percent. That’s because the 11.1 percent increase in digital ad sales couldn’t make up for the 7.1 percent decline in print advertising. With that trend likely to continue, the NY Times needs to shore up its business with a new revenue stream, digital subscriptions, which it also leverages to increase its overall print circulation.

The Grey Lady is also being smart by building out stand alone mobile programs like the Election 2012 app, which help it to corner big ad buys and drive new subscribers. But if they really want me to pony up, they will have to end the practice of allowing readers in who arrive from links on Twitter and Facebook, since that is how I discover practically all of my news.

Filed under: media, mobile

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Zoosk integrates gamification into its online dating community (interview)

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PDT

Founded five years ago, Zoosk started to make a name for itself in online dating through Facebook and other social networking sites. Last year, it generated revenue of more than $90 million and was named in the top 50 venture-backed companies by the Wall Street Journal.

Not only has the success propelled Zoosk into one of the top online dating communities, but its features have gotten the attention of millions. Now the company is working to integrate gamification, or the use of game-like incentives such as achievements in non-gaming apps, into its online dating platform. GamesBeat sat down with Shayan Zadeh, Zoosk CEO, to delve deeper into the company’s gamification feature and the Zoosk world. Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation.

GamesBeat: Can you tell me a little bit about why you’ve decided to integrate gamification into the online dating format and how you are doing it?

Shayan Zadeh: Well, as you know, gamification is just a fancy word for giving consumers incentives to perform certain tasks. It’s not even a new thing or a web thing. We all remember the badges we would get back in school. So, the idea is as old as human behavior. However, we have been smart about bringing the same concept into the online dating world leveraging our virtual currency system, we are able to build incentives into the product that help guide users towards deeper engagement and other behaviors we find useful. For example, using a simple popularity system, we are able to drive users to reach out to more members, send more interesting messages, or even purchase virtual currency to advertise their profiles using our boost functionality.

GamesBeat: So, based on how active users are at Zoosk, they will receive incentives for their activities? Also, what type of incentives will the users get in return?

Zadeh: If I am an active user, it results in me receiving more profile views, more messages, more friend requests, etc. All of these inbound attentions add up as points towards my popularity. So, in this instance, I satisfy an inner need to win the popularity contest by being more engaged. It’s not a monetary incentive per se, but the desire to be announced more popular drives my behavior and we use only inbound actions in this ranking so a spammy user doesn’t game the system. They need to write thoughtful messages that result in the other side responding to them to get points.

GamesBeat: How does this differ from other online dating communities? Isn’t the main idea of any online dating community to be popular and have people look at your profile more to hopefully find a match for yourself?

Zadeh: We are the only site that actually gives you feedback on how you are stacking up against the rest of population, what accounts towards your rank, and gives you a “badge” if you will. So really playing on the gamification on all the elements of it. Another big difference there is that we allow users to purchase advertising on the site using our virtual currency which is fairly unique among online dating companies.

GamesBeat: So, essentially, Zoosk is trying to stay ahead of the competition by offering more ways for people to promote themselves and their profiles?

Zadeh: That’s correct and user response has been great to these features as well.

GamesBeat: We hear Zoosk is planning on enhancing its gamification features. Have those new features been implemented and what are the differences since the early stages of gamification on Zoosk?

Zadeh: No, those changes have not been implemented. At this time, there is not much I can discuss about the upcoming changes since they are in flux and we don’t really know which ones will pass our final user testing.

GamesBeat: Why have you decided to improve on the gamification of the web site?

Zadeh: What we have learned from our experiments with gamification is that you can get more out of the system both for the users and for the business. For example, providing a positive feedback loop on “good engagement” to our users has not only given them more incentive to engage with the product, but also has been driving the members to send more thoughtful messages.

Win-win for everybody and all of this change just by utilizing some gamification principles. So really as any business but especially as a web business, if you are not utilizing these techniques you are not only letting down your shareholders you are also leaving value on the table where your users are missing out.

GamesBeat: Why do you feel Zoosk is better as an online dating community than eHarmony or Match.com? Is it mainly the gamification or is there more you feel Zoosk is better at?

Zadeh: The core differentiation is that we are built as a social network as opposed to the older guys (eHarmony/Match.com) who are a bulletin board.  A good way to think about it is to compare Linkedin versus Monster.com. Both sites help people find jobs or hire employees. The difference is how do you go about it.

Do you build a social graph that helps you achieve that goal or do you simply build a job board where transactions (applying for a job in this case) happen? The same is true when you compare Match.com and Zoosk for example. Our members build a special purpose social graph on the site which consists of people they would be interested in dating.

This graph evolves over time and has history. It allows for a more natural progression of relationships from the initial wink to actually going on a date. It also facilitates unique functionality in online dating world like chatting and online presence without the spam issues where others have failed. So, the graph is really the big difference. Then smart techniques like gamification, etc are just icing on the cake, and these differences have been the reason that we have been able to engage with an audience that was previously deemed unreachable by dating sites.

More than 70 percent of Match.com users are older than 35. They can not really engage with the younger audience. This is despite the fact that if you look at the singles population, most of them are younger than 35. eHarmony is even older. Zoosk for the first time made online dating available to below 35 audience. 70 percent of our membership is younger than 35 years old. a mind-blowing stat for the traditional online dating players.

GamesBeat: Zoosk is starting to offer more services to its community whether your customers are single or in a relationship. Can you tell me a little more about that?

Zadeh: Sure. we are working on a series of features that will allow people in a relationship to continue using Zoosk by building a digital home for their relationship. The idea is to allow members now in a relationship take advantage of features like date ideas, discounts on things to do together, etc.

We see this is a natural expansion of our offering so once we help you find somebody and transition to a new phase in your romantic life, we provide continue support to help build on this new relationship. We are really excited about this new feature set and will have more to share with the press and soon after the user base in a few weeks. We should definitely plan to get in touch in a few weeks when we can share much more.

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, social

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You’re not crazy: New iPad runs 10 degrees hotter than iPad 2

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 07:40 AM PDT

Updated at 9:07 a.m. PT with Apple’s response.

Hope you like your apples crispy. The new iPad actually burns about 10 degrees hotter than the previous model, according to Dutch site Tweakers.net.

While just about everyone who has handled the new iPad has given it high marks (including us), the fact that it runs hot may be a sign of future trouble with the tablet. Several reports around the web on Monday said the iPad can get so hot that it will display an error message and shut down.

The team from Tweakers.net decided to see if they could confirm the heat issue. They ran the GLBenchmark, which runs the machines hard, on the new iPad and iPad 2 for five minutes to get the tablets warmed up and then measured the bodies with infrared camera. After the benchmark test, the new iPad was 10 degrees hotter — at 92.5 degrees Fahrenheit versus the iPad 2 at 82.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

What’s causing the heat increase? The new iPad’s larger battery, 4G wireless networking components, higher-resolution Retina display, a bump in RAM, and new A5X processor are likely all at fault.

Apple, in a statement to AllThingsD, basically has kept mum on the issue:

The new iPad delivers a stunning Retina display, A5X chip, support for 4G LTE plus 10 hours of battery life, all while operating well within our thermal specifications. If customers have any concerns they should contact AppleCare.

Let us know in the comments if your new iPad is running hot and how troublesome it has been for you (if at all).

Via Engadget

New iPad photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Windows 8 to go on sale in October, sources say

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 07:20 AM PDT

Microsoft is scheduled to finish working on the latest version of its operating system Windows 8 by this summer, with a potential launch in October.

Windows 8 is part of Microsoft’s strategy to integrate both personal computers with tablets and other mobile devices — much in the same way Apple has done with its OS X operating system and its iOS mobile OS.

The information about the Windows 8 launch comes from a Bloomberg report. citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter. The report also indicates that the initial roll out of Windows 8 will happen on devices running Intel and ARM chipsets (the same kind of processors used in many mobile devices, including Apple’s). There will only be five ARM devices supported by Windows 8 at launch, compared to over 40 running Intel chips, the report states.

Putting Windows 8 on sale in October would allow Microsoft to take advantage of the busy holiday season. Presumably, that could give retailers selling Windows 8 devices a nice marketing boost. That’s a good thing if you consider how depressed the current PC market is right now.

I’m kind of surprised that Microsoft wouldn’t launch the operating system sooner, especially in regards to tablets. The company is already well behind both Android and iOS when it comes to device adoption. It’s worth noting that Apple just broke a new single-day record for sales of its third generation iPad — and already sold a total of 3 million iPads after last week’s launch. I’m guessing that it’ll take quite a bit longer for as many Windows 8 devices to sell.

Photo: Devindra Hardawar/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.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Tests confirm new iPad’s display is close to studio reference quality

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 07:01 AM PDT

You’ve seen us gush about the new iPad’s Retina Display, but now the screen tech experts at DisplayMate have run their tests and confirmed that it basically blows everything else away.

“Apple has taken the very good display on the iPad 2 and dramatically improved two of its major weak points: sharpness and color saturation — they are now state-of-the-art,” writes DisplayMate President Dr. Raymond Soneira. “Our lab tests and visual tests agree with Apple's claim that the new iPad has ‘the best display ever on a mobile device.’”

While most of the tech press has focused on the new iPad’s increased screen resolution, Soneira says the improved color saturation is “equally responsible for its wow factor.” Compared to the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, which display 60 to 64 percent of the standard color gamut, the new iPad hits a “virtually perfect” 99 percent of the color gamut. And because of proper calibration, the new iPad offers vibrant colors that aren’t overly saturated like some OLED displays.

Soneira notes that with some minor calibration, the new iPad’s screen could qualify as a studio reference monitor — a screen so good that you could use it for accurate representations of color. It’s the sort of feature that appeals to photographers and movie directors, who want to make sure that their images look as good as possible.

Of course, that retina display is also contributing to the new iPad running about 10 degrees hotter than previous versions, leading to reports that the tablet has been shutting down. Brings a whole new meaning to “crisp” resolution.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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OMG Stop! Why Zynga is considering $200M purchase of DrawSomething creator OMGPOP

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 06:06 AM PDT

Welcome to the wild world of mobile gaming, where a new king can be crowned in the span of three weeks, and a struggling company can become the most sought after acquisition on the market.

OMGPOP knew it had to try something drastic with DrawSomething, as it was getting beaten handily by the likes of Zynga and Rovio. Now it has the biggest game on Facebook and a reported $200 million offer from the likes of Zynga and Gree. CEO Dan Porter isn’t ashamed to admit his company was on death’s door.

“It's a weird business, it's more similar to being a VC; it's very hits-based business. You can flatline, but still be always one game away from releasing that title that changes your life,” he told PandoDaily. “It's oddly different than being a startup, where you release something and it succeeds, fails or pivots. You're releasing mini-startups every three to six months, and at some point you get big enough that the odds increase one will get a lot of traction."

The question now is whether OMGPOP should hold out, hoping to grow DrawSomething even bigger, or perhaps strike gold with a second game, or if it should sell while it’s got the #1 game in the space and can command a hefty price. Founded back in 2007, the company has raised $16.6 million to date, so would need at least $150 million to satisfy the early investors.

Does it make sense for Zynga to go around snapping up every company that has a hit? It worked out well in the case of NewToy, the maker of Words With Friends, which Zynga bought for $53.5 million at the end of 2010. That title has gone on to be a massive hit with mainstream cultural awareness. All told, the NewToy staple helped grow Zynga’s mobile footprint, key for the social gaming giant, which is desperate to lessen its reliance on Facebook. As our own Dean Takahashi points out, mobile is by far the fastest growing market for social games. 

We’ll be keeping tabs on the rumors as the week progresses. Remember, Zynga was said to be eyeing OMGPOP once before, back in January of 2011. Instead they raised a big VC round and set out to grow the company. As CEO Dan Porter said at the time: “The goal in the long term is to be the size of Zynga. The space is going to be so big that I think we can build a massive, massive game company on the East Coast.”

OMGPOP hasn’t gotten bigger than Zynga yet, but they have shown they can go toe to toe with them on the Facebook platform while keeping their core strength in mobile gaming on Android and iOS.

Filed under: deals, games

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At $500M in 2012, mobile has become the fastest growing segment of social games

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

As mobile games become a lot more social, the money spent on them is starting to skyrocket. This year, revenue from virtual goods in mobile games is expected to hit $500 million in the U.S., up from $350 million in 2011, according to The Inside Virtual Goods report being released today.

Free-to-play games are taking off in mobile. In those games, users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods, such as the virtual dresses that CrowdStar sells in its It Girl game on Facebook. In social games on networks such as Facebook, virtual goods revenue is expected to be $2.9 billion in 2012. That means that mobile is catching up at a pretty good clip and it explains why so many startups are diving into mobile games.

“Mobile is still hitting its stride,” said Justin Smith, founder of Inside Network, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Social network games are growing more slowly, but they are still growing.”

The report from the Inside Network division of WebMediaBrands measures the spending and usage patterns of social and mobile games.

Smith said that the results of a survey showed that about 63 percent had heard about Facebook Credits, which is the virtual currency used by Facebook for transactions. That was about the same number as a year ago, and it is surprising that the number hasn’t increased at all, given that Facebook Credits are now mandatory in transactions for virtual goods on the social network.

“It means that there are still a lot of new people entering the Facebook world and many of them are becoming familiar with how credits work still,” Smith said.

Smith said that he thought that the people who were active purchasers of virtual goods in Facebook games would likely also be active purchasers of virtual goods on mobile. But that’s not the case. The players who are active purchasers on mobile are a different crowd.

The social gaming audience on Facebook is older and more female. Smith said that very few of the popular games on Facebook have also crossed over to become hits on mobile. That also suggests that the markets are very distinct.

More apps are being created that run across social networks and mobile networks.

“An interesting challenge is how to make an app that is relevant in both realms,” Smith said.

Developers are also moving off Facebook to embed social games in their own web sites, but as they do so, they are embedding Facebook Connect and other capabilities more deeply into their sites. Zynga did that with Zynga.com, which uses Facebook Connect to integrate your friends into the off-Facebook web site and also uses Facebook Credits to handle transactions.

Smith and Charles Hudson’s research is based on a survey of nearly 3,000 players of social games on Facebook, iOS, and Android.

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, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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MyThings picks up $15M to improve display ads

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 05:56 AM PDT


Advertising startup MyThings has closed a new $15 million round to improve its display ad technology in the European market, the company revealed to VentureBeat today.

MyThings personalizes over a billion banners per month, generating an over 150 percent performance increase compared to the retargeting industry standard, the company claims. It’s “retargeting” technology uses non-personal data from a website’s visitors to display relevant products in real-time. The company’s clients include European online retailers such as SDG group (Littlewoods, Very), Zalando, PriceMinister, Orange, Vodafone, Telecom Italia, Carphone Warehouse, and Microsoft Store.

The startup will use the new capital to fuel growth across Europe as well as expand into markets around the world, including Asia and the U.S. MyThings will also use the funding to improve its display ad technology.

The new round was led by Iris Capital, the manager of the Orange-Publicis Venture (OPV) Fund with participation by Accel Partners, Carmel Ventures and T-Venture. Having two of the U.K.’s largest telecommunications companies (Orange and Deutsche Telekom) as financial partners will help MyThings succeed, said MyThings CEO Benny Arbel in an interview with VentureBeat.

“We’ve been working with Orange as a client for a year now, so they were very familiar with our technology and performance,” Arbel said. “Obviously there’s a lot of synergy with both Orange as a media network.” MyThings is in discussion to implement its technology on their ad network, which would be a huge boost to the company.

Founded in 2005, the London-based startup has a total of $22 million in funding to date.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Box rival Egnyte overhauls HybridCloud storage solution for businesses

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT


Enterprise-focused cloud storage company Egnyte has added many new capabilities to its HybridCloud File Sharing service, including a new HTML5 interface, support for 10,000 concurrent users, and better collaboration tools, the company announced today.

Egnyte competes with heavily with Box to attract businesses to its cloud storage solutions. Thus far, Egnyte has helped businesses share more than 1 billion files using the HybridCloud file server, but its focus until today has been on small and medium-sized businesses, according to CEO Vineet Jain. With lots of new features on hand, it can do better to compete in the cloud space and attract big customers.

“We’ve been associated with SMBs and departmental use by players like Best Buy,” Jain told VentureBeat. “Now we are primed for working with the largest companies because of a slew of new products and partnerships.”

With the revamped HybridCloud File Sharing service, the company is emphasizing three main points: simplicity, scalabilty, and security. For simplicity, the company has a new HTML5 user interface that makes navigation easier. Combined with the better mobile apps for iPad, iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone, it will be lot more efficient to work with managed files.

For scalability, the company has boosted the number of concurrent users to access a folder to 10,000 people. Organizations can now have up to 1 billion files stored and there’s support for uploaded files up to 1TB. There are also Egnyte partners like NetApp, Netgear, and VMware that give the IT department more tools for integration with HybridCloud.

And finally, for security, the company has new integration with Sophos SafeGuard, which can add heightened levels of encryption to your files. And if that doesn’t suit your businesses security preferences, Egnyte also works with VMware Horizon Application Manager, OneLogin, Symplified, SAML, and Active Directory.

"Maintaining their own encryption keys allows businesses to control their data securely, and when married with Egnyte's HybridCloud File server, they have the security of maintaining their data both behind the firewall and in the cloud, which is optimal for collaboration between mobile and remote workers, and those in the office," said Matthias Pankert, VP of Product Management for Sophos, in a statement.

Jain said 65 percent of its customers primarily use the company for file server replacement, 28 percent for cross-office collaboration, and 7 percent use it mostly for file sharing. But he could see those numbers change as needs change and the company wins over companies using other cloud solutions.

Unlike Box (and consumer-focused solutions like Dropbox and SugarSync, for that matter), Egnyte does not offer a freemium model. Jain said he wants the product defined as an enterprise solution rather than being in a gray area like competitors. Pricing starts with 5 Employees sharing 150GB at $24.99 per month.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Egnyte was founded 2007. It has raised about $16 million from firms including Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers, Floodgate Fund, and Polaris Venture Partners.

Cloud computing image: winui/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, enterprise

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Averail exits stealth, nabs $6M to improve mobile file management

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 04:30 AM PDT

Mobile content management startup Averail has raised $6 million in its first round of funding and exited stealth mode, the company announced Tuesday morning.

Averail co-founder and head of marketing John Drewry told us the company wants to make management of files across Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices work better in the enterprise. He said consumers are seeing more solutions for managing files than the enterprise.

“Organizations keep documents in many places,” Drewry said. “Employees are struggling with mobile collaboration, and we want to help solve that problem.”

I pointed out to Drewry that cloud-based file management providers like Box and Egnyte were already taking on this challenge with gusto. Each of those companies provides a variety of solutions to help companies share and store documents securely for enterprise users, including across mobile devices. But Drewry said there were still pieces missing.

“We don’t think a one-size-fits-all solution works for all companies,” Drewry said. “Box and Egnyte are tackling a part of the problem, but the cloud is not where all your content is.”

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Averail’s $6 million in funding comes from Foundation Capital and Storm Ventures. Paul Holland, General Partner at Foundation Capital, and Tae Hea Nahm, Managing Director at Storm Ventures, will join Averail’s board.

The company will announce its software solution in the “second half of 2012.”

Business women using phone: Stephen Coburn/Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, enterprise, mobile, VentureBeat

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Grand Cru raises $2M to build free-to-play Supernauts superhero game

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 04:00 AM PDT

Grand Cru is announcing today it has raised $2 million in seed funding to build a kids online adventure game called Supernauts.

The company is entering a crowded field, but Grand Cru chief executive Markus Pasula said in an interview with VentureBeat that the company is trying to bring kids entertainment into a more modern, cross-platform environment. Supernauts is the first in a series of games.

“We didn’t think any of the popular social games were very fun,” Pasula said. “The timing is perfect for doing something technically more advanced.”

Harri Granholm, creative director at Grand Cru, said, "It’s frustrating to look at the current state of social games when you know what’s possible in true multiplayer environments. We saw a huge opportunity there and set out to do it right. We want everybody to stop clicking cows and start sharing adventures and make things together. We think people are ready to try something more interesting."  Supernauts is a persistent virtual world sandbox game where players can create their own puzzles, games, and hideouts.

The money for the Helsinki-based startup comes from Idinvest Partners and Playdom co-founder Rick Thompson, who has backed a number of social and mobile game startups recently.

The game is about superheroes, but it is non-violent, which means it will appeal to younger age groups. The superheroes go around the city solving problems. The title will debut simultaneously on mobile devices, the web, and Facebook. To be a true modern game, a title has to be available on the platforms where users want to play it, Pasula said.

Grand Cru was founded in May 2011 and has 11 employees. It’s headquartered in the bohemian district of Helsinki called Kallio, which has the most bars per capita in Finland. Rivals include Sony/Media Molecule (maker of Little Big Planet), Zynga (CityVille), Sulake (Habbo), Mojang (Minecraft), Roblox, and others.

Players will be able to create their own superhero or heroine and use a “zapper” to build or destroy environments block by block. They can create unique content such as virtual hideouts together. And they will be able to move to a new platform and pick up where they left off.

Pasula said the game has the same world-building features that make Minecraft so addictive, the user-generated content that makes Little Big Planet fun, real-time multiplayer, and a very approachable art style. The world is persistent and can be accessed via a web browser, from Facebook, and from mobile devices. For technology, Grand Cru is using the Unity 3D game engine on a custom C# server for the cloud.

The company’s original backer was Lifeline Ventures, which inveted in 2011. Guillaume Lautour of Idinvest Partners led the latest round. Other investors include Thompson; Nicolas Beraud, founder of Betclic; Anil Hansjee, former head of mergers and acquisitions for Google EMEA; and Henric Suuronen, former studio head of Wooga games. Finland’s public funding programs TEKES and the Nordic Game Program also provided support. Pasula said he was happy about how the funding came together.

Lautour said that Idinvest is actively looking to fund game studios in Nordic countries because of the well-known talent pool there. He heard from game industry veterans about Grand Cru and decided to reach out to them because of their reputation. He saw their demo at the time and considered it to be “really stunning” for a four-month effort. He said the technology choices made by the team were good.

Five of the founders, including Pasula, previously worked at Mr. Goodliving, a Finnish game developer, for more than six years. Real Networks, which owned the studio, closed it in 2011. Mikko Wilkman from Sulake, maker of Habbo, joined the crew to form the new venture. They got funding before they had a PowerPoint deck ready. The team conducted a lot of focus tests to find out what players really wanted in creating their own spaces within games.

Supernauts is expected to launch later this year on the web, iOS, and Android. Pasula said that he is very excited about tablet platforms such as the new iPad.

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, mobile, social

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PlayPhone enables instant multiplayer across Android and iOS devices (exclusive)

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 09:50 PM PDT

PlayPhone is announcing a technology today that will enable instant multiplayer gaming across iOS and Android devices. The technology will be part of the company’s mobile social gaming network and is now available for developers to implement in their games.

San Jose, Calif.-based PlayPhone will enable fast-action multiplayer games, even between players on different platforms and carrier networks, with only 250 millisecond delays over 3G and 4G networks, chief executive Ron Czerny (pictured) told VentureBeat. That’s fast enough to enable fast-action multiplayer games, he said.

“We consider this a major engineering feat,” Czerny said. “This is just one part of a multiple layered gaming network. It’s not easy to copy. It is like what Yahoo did for web games in 2000 and what Microsoft did for console games with Xbox Live. This new infrastructure is a major event for mobile game developers.”

Doing multiplayer gaming right is hard because mobile phones have limited data bandwidth and it often takes a good connection to do multiplayer action properly. Flying, racing, or shooting games are particularly hard to do right, but Czerny says it will be possible with his technology.

PlayPhone has launched the InstaMultiplay capability as part of its latest free software development kit (SDK). Developers who implement it will be able to more easily implement cross-platform multiplayer gaming and player matchmaking. Developers won’t have to worry about building their own back-end servers because PlayPhone handles that for them. When players initiate a game, they are connected to PlayPhone’s servers. The cloud-based platform supports Android, iOS, HTML5, Adobe Air, Unity, and in the near future Windows Phone 7 (Mango). PlayPhone does not plan to add cross-platform play with PC players, as the focus is all on mobile.

“The platform is so big on mobile, why play on anything else?” Czerny said.

PlayPhone’s social layer provides developers with better game discovery and community features. It also has a virtual economy, with a virtual payments system that allows users to buy virtual goods within games. The company has around 5 million monthly users for its current mobile games and hopes to make money from the social platform by taking a cut of the virtual goods revenue.

The mobile InstaMultiplay is working in a test game that PlayPhone created called Pipe Bomber Max. I played it yesterday with Czerny, with cross-platform play between an iPhone and an Android phone. It worked fine. One phone quickly located the other after Czerny logged into the game. With a single button push, each of us joined a multiplayer game, where we had to tap on the screen rapidly to send bombs to the other player. The game play was instantaneous and there were no hiccups. At the time we were playing, 37,000 players were online on PlayPhone’s social network.

The system can connect players with random live opponents or computer-managed robots. It lets friends challenge each other instantly over 3G or better connections. You can add or invite friends via email or Facebook. And you can hang out in a game lobby waiting to be challenged. Developers can self-publish on PlayPhone’s platform, or PlayPhone can publish for them. PlayPhone gets developers the advantage of preferred distribution in the AT&T app store.

PlayPhone’s backers include Menlo Ventures, Cardinal Venture Capital, Coral Group, and Scale Venture Partners. On Friday, VentureBeat reported that PlayPhone bought mobile marketing firm SocialHour for $51.5 million in stock. Rivals include DeNA/Ngmoco, Gree, and PapayaMobile. PlayPhone has more than 2,000 developers and is adding 15 – 20 a day, Czerny said.

[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.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

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AMD launches server processor for web-hosting providers

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 09:01 PM PDT

Advanced Micro Devices is launching a new server processor family today that targets companies that serve lots and lots of web pages to users.

The new AMD Opteron 3200 series processor family is aimed at changing the economics for single-socket servers used by dedicated web-hosting providers that operate huge data centers. AMD says its new chips offer 60 percent better performance per dollar and 19 percent less power per core.

It has enterprise-related reliability features, such as error correction code memory, and it can pay for itself in as little as seven months, or 14 percent faster than rival Intel, AMD says. Dedicated hosting providers need their data centers to become profitable faster than ever, said Patrick Patla, corporate vice president and general manager at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD’s commercial business.

He said AMD is offering a server-class product at desktop prices. The launch of the new processor is part of an initiative that AMD launched in November targeting web and cloud customers. The initiative is aimed at creating servers that are densely packed with power-efficient processors. That is why AMD recently bought “micro server” company Sea Micro for $334 million.

The AMD Opteron 3000 series chips are available as 4-core or 8-core microprocessors and run from 2.7 gigahertz to 3.7 gigahertz. A core is a computing brain, and chips these days can have multiple cores on a single piece of silicon. The AMD Opteron 3200 series processor is being used in servers shipping from MSI, Tyan, Fujitsu, and Dell. The 3200 series is based on AMD’s Bulldozer core.

Filed under: cloud

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Groupon’s new Scheduler feature has potential, but two very big IFs

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 06:27 PM PDT

Groupon today launched a wide beta of its Groupon Scheduler product. The Scheduler is an online calendaring tool that allows service businesses such as spas, yoga studios, contractors and photographers to take reservations online. It’s open to all merchants, not just companies that run deals with Groupon. The daily deals company is billing it as a “free trial,” and it’s unclear whether Groupon will eventually charge for the service. Groupon did not respond to two requests for comment on this story.

How the Groupon Scheduler works

Scheduler allows customers to see availability, book a reservation, and get a confirmation email. I created a dummy spa business that lets consumers schedule massage appointments with “Jill.” Feel free to schedule an appointment (but you won’t get a massage.) Scoll down and click the “Book Now!” link at the bottom left side of the page to trigger Scheduler.

Overall, the product is fairly competent and handles simple-use cases well for a beta product. I generally like the management screens on the merchant side as well. The big complaint I had about the product’s user interface was that I couldn’t find a way to point people directly at a booking screen; it seems that Groupon only provides a script link that merchants can embed in their own sites. (That’s why my fake salon has such a clumsy Web page to trigger the booking process.) Many merchants won’t have the technical expertise or resources to do this.

For those that do, Groupon Scheduler provides a “good enough” solution that tackles the basics. More established businesses will likely want to use a dedicated system from a vertical solutions provider like MINDBODY for yoga studios.

But there are a couple of big IFs that need to be answered before I’d recommend businesses start using Scheduler.

Who owns the data?

It’s not clear who owns the data that is in Groupon Scheduler. Can Groupon take a spa’s entire customer database and start marketing competing spa deals from other providers? That would be wrong, but I couldn’t find any terms and conditions that say it won’t. Groupon PR did not respond, and I haven’t yet heard back on a request I sent to customer service.

For a service that is as essential to a business as scheduling and captures personal data, I found it extremely unusual that I couldn’t find an agreement anywhere on the Scheduler site that explains Groupon’s rights and responsibilities.

Until Groupon clarifies what it will do with the data that merchants and their customers enter, I recommend against companies adopting Scheduler.

Will it benefit Groupon customers and hurt regulars?

The other important question is whether Groupon Scheduler just ends up as a boon to regular Groupon customers at the expense of a merchant’s regular customers. As I wrote when discussing Groupon’s whale problem, the business needs of Groupon are often fundamentally at odds with the business needs of the merchant proving the service.

The optimal scenario for a merchant is to make fewer spaces available to discounted customers than full-price customers. In Groupon’s case, this would mean the best product for its merchant customers would treat its deal customers like second-class citizens. I couldn’t find a way to do this in the Groupon Scheduler interface. (The help files do suggest that businesses could use pen-and-paper for regular appointments and only make Groupon inventory available online.) That’s a fundamental conflict that is hard to reconcile.

One of the bigger complaints about Groupon and daily deals in general is that it can sometimes be hard to redeem offers because businesses are too busy. I’ve heard complaints that the next available slot for a house cleaning daily deal was four months later. Groupon Scheduler would make it more efficient to make those appointments. But because Groupon regulars are more likely to know about these tools then a merchant’s regulars, it has a high likelihood of displacing full-priced customers. Groupon could advise merchants to block off space in advance of a Groupon run (as I do in my best practices for running a daily deal), but that goes against Groupon’s interests.

The first of these concerns is resolvable; Groupon needs to make it clear to businesses that the data they enter about customers and their activity will not be used for Groupon’s other businesses. The second concern is a lot trickier.

Until these concerns are resolved, it’s best that merchants hold off on a booking a date with Groupon Scheduler.

Click for a larger view of the back-end interface for the Groupon Scheduler.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Daily dose of funding: social city maps, safer apps, and a dash of Hollywood

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:53 PM PDT

At VentureBeat, we come across a lot of funding news every day. In order to bring you the most information possible, we decided to round up the quick-and-dirty details for the funding deals of the day and put them in a new column. Get your daily dose of deals every evening and stay on top of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley and beyond.

ClearStory Data raises seed funding: First up, ClearStory Data, which launched its first service today and raised an undisclosed seed funding round. The new startup helps businesses without access to statisticians combine and analyze private data, such as sales figures, with public data such as census reports, to make better businesses decisions. Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, and several individual investors led the round. ClearStory is based in Palo Alto, Calif. and has five employees.

CityMaps nabs $2.5M: CityMaps, a service that maps out every business on the blocks around you, officially announced its first round of institutional funding. Dave Leyrer and Dave Levin led the $2.5 million dollar round. CityMaps is going after Google’s little tiny icons you can find on its maps that correspond to the type of business. Instead of small icons, CityMaps uses business names and logos (when available) to map out the businesses on each city block. The company is based in New York City and has a team of 18.

PeerIndex gets $3M in funding: Going up against social influence measurement service Klout, PeerIndex measures how much social influence you have online. Like Klout, it figures out who you influence and in what ways. Also like Klout, it gives you early access to products and services to try out so you can influence your friends to buy them. The London-based company snagged a $3 million first round of funding from Antrak Capital with participation from Tom Glocer, Ken Olisa, and Sherry Coutu.

Stormpath raises $1.5M: Stormpath, a startup that creates user security for apps, raised $1.5 million in seed funding. The company’s products help developers add “identity management systems,” or user log in systems, to any mobile application. The round was led by Flybridge Capital Partners and New Enterprise Associates, with participation from angel investors Andy Rachleff and Len Lehmann. Stormpath is based in San Mateo, Calif. and is run by a two-man team.

Slated grabs $2M in second round of funding: Getting backing for a film is not easy, which is why Slated decided to build a company to connect filmmakers with investors. The service is aimed at both film producers — who can list their film to get funding and exposure — and investors, who can look for projects to invest in. Slated announced today it has raised $2 million in its second round of funding from Slated co-founder Stephan Paternot, Barry Silbert, Logitech founder Daniel Borel, and other private investors. The company has seven employees.

Achieve Cards secures $12.5M: Achieve Card, which makes reloadable debit and credit cards for rebate programs and people without banks, announced today it has raised $12.5 million in its second round of funding from Escalate Capital Partners. The company offers financial services, such as direct deposit and online bill pay to people who don’t belong to a bank. Achieve Card is based in Austin, Texas, and was founded in 2009.

Filed under: deals

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Fab.com hits 3M members and sells 1M daily deals

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:32 PM PDT

Daily deals darling Fab.com announced today it has sold one million items and already hit three million users in the last nine months.

The company does fall into the tired category of daily deals, but it is quickly finding a place in the hearts of online shoppers. Fab’s deal curators find truly interesting items that make you think, “Oh, so that’s what my life could look like if I was really cool.” Chief executive Jason Goldberg expects the company to continue growing rapidly.

“We have Amazon-size ambitions to deliver great design options to people everywhere across all categories at all price points,” Goldberg told VentureBeat in a recent interview.

Fab recently expanded with its purchase of German deals website Casacanda, which provides discounts on “design inspirations.” The purchase was intended to help Fab cross the pond without have to start from scratch. The acquisition added 250,000 members to Fab’s existing 2.3 million customer base. Casacanda, which has been re-dubbed Fab.de, will not be the New York-based company’s only European presence, however.

In order to keep up with its growth, Fab plans to add more funding to its existing $48 million, citing that “Amazon raised billions to be what it is today.” Fab’s current investors include Andreessen-Horowitz, Menlo Ventures, First Round Capital, Baroda Ventures, SoftTech VC, SV Angel, Ashton Kutcher, Milk founder Kevin Rose, and The Washington Post Company. Andreessen-Horowitz’ Jeff Jordan sits on the company’s board.

Image via chris.corwin/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Amazon buys Kiva Systems for $775M — prepare for even smarter warehouses

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 02:29 PM PDT

After relying on Kiva Systems’ smart robots and automation technology to make its fulfillment centers incredibly efficient for years, Amazon has finally decided to commit.

The online shopping giant announced today that it’s buying Kiva Systems for $775 million in cash — a move that will surely give Amazon the leg-up in dealing with crowded warehouses, compared to other online retailers.

Here’s how Kiva describes its tech: “Using hundreds of autonomous mobile robots and sophisticated control software, the Kiva Mobile-robotic Fulfillment System enables extremely fast cycle times with reduced labor requirements, from receiving to picking to shipping. The result is a building that is quick and low-cost to set up, inexpensive to operate and easy to change anywhere in the world.”

“Kiva customers will continue to receive service and support after the transaction,” Mary Osako, an Amazon spokesperson, told VentureBeat in an e-mail. “We are still evaluating how and where we will use Kiva technology at Amazon.”

The cynical side of me wonders if Amazon could eventually keep Kiva’s technology all to itself, which would significantly hurt competitors. Alternatively — and far more likely — competitors will just have to get used to relying on Amazon to keep their warehouses in line.

You can check out Kiva’s smart robots in action in the video below.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Reddit Android app gets banned from Google Play app store (update)

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 02:11 PM PDT

Reddit is Fun

A third-party Android app for community news sharing site Reddit has been banned from the Google Play app store today.

Both the free and pro version of the app, called “Reddit is Fun,” have been removed from Google’s store. The reason is apparently that the apps were considered pornographic.

“I got 2 emails from the Google Play Store telling me my apps, reddit is fun lite and pro, have been banned for sexually explicit material,” said the app’s creator Andrew Shu in a Reddit submission post. “I’m not sure how to go about appealing this. After all it’s true that reddit content includes NSFW (not safe for work) content. Not sure exactly why my app was singled out and the other reddit apps weren’t, though.”

This particular situation is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, it’s hard to see how Google would single out a Reddit app because it contains pornographic media when you could easily say the same thing about any web browser application. Reddit doesn’t actually host any media/content, it just provides people with a way to access it.

The second big thing that’s interesting about this situation is that Google is apparently now policing its recently rebranded app store to keep out the unsavory bits — something rival Apple has been criticized for in the past.

Also, the Android store doesn’t have an approval process like Apple’s App Store, nor is it known for having a strict code of order for developers when submitting apps into the Google App store.

We’re reaching out to both Shu and Google for more details. We’ll update the post with any new information.

Update 3/19/2011 (2:47 p.m. PST): App developer Andrew Shu just responded to my inquiries about the Reddit Is Good app getting banned. He told me that Google learned about his complaints via Reddit (and Google+). Reto Meier from the Android Developer Relations team, contacted him to help guide him through the appeal process.

As far as Shu knows, none of the other third-party Reddit apps on Android have been banned, so it seems like this is an isolated incident. It also means Google probably isn’t on a rampage to get rid of anything that could show people pornographic material.

Update (3:39 p.m. PST): A Google spokesperson responded to VentureBeat with the following statement: “We remove apps from Google Play that violate our policies.”

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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6L cuts its development team as it focuses on third-party game publishing

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 02:09 PM PDT

6L, the social-gaming company formerly known as 6waves Lolapps, said today that it has laid off much of its development staff.

Instead of using these staffers to create more in-house games, the company will publish games made by outside developers. 6L was formed last year through the merger of Hong Kong-based 6waves and San Francisco-based Lolapps, the publisher of games such as Ravenwood Fair. 6waves focused on publishing third-party games on Facebook and it recently expanded into mobile games. Lolapps had focused on making social games on Facebook with its internal development staff. We hear about 80 percent of the internal development team has been let go.

That means the “L” part of the name, or Lolapps, is pretty much gone. It’s not clear yet what will happen with the Lolapps founders and their Raven social-game franchise. 6L has about 11.2 million monthly active users on Facebook, with most of the those people coming via games such as Ravenskye City, Give Hearts, and Ravenwood Fair. Arjun Sethi, chief executive of the firm, is still with the company and will be chief product officer.

"6waves Lolapps will now focus on working with independent developers to launch and grow their mobile and social games," CEO Rex Ng, who ran 6waves, said in a statement. "As a result we have restructured the company to focus on key functions which include developer outreach, product advisory, user growth initiatives and our publishing platform. The re-structuring means that we will have more resources to continue our leadership in the social and mobile game publishing space."

Nexon and Insight Venture Partners invested $35 million in the combined company. 6L also bought mobile game firms Smartron5 and Escalation Studios. Those firms will continue to operate and focus on mobile development and expanding into China.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

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Who is protecting the investors in the new crowdfunding bills?

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 01:54 PM PDT

Dollar sign made of little abstract people

Crowdfunding has gained a lot of press over the last few months with the passing of the crowdfunding bills in the House in November and then again a few weeks ago. The bills have generated numerous opinions about how this will spur economic growth by unlocking capital from investors who have never had the opportunity to invest in startups and making it easier for startups to raise capital.

While I generally agree with the benefits of crowdfunding, very few opinion pieces have discussed the risks associated with passing the bill. As the only broker/dealer in the US that is currently allowing investors access to startups through a crowdfunding model, I would like to break down the bill and talk about the risks that crowdfunding brings.

The Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act is the new law that will give startups the ability to raise capital from many investors, both accredited and non-accredited, who can invest smaller amounts than they normally would through traditional venture capital models. The law removes the need to register the offering in each state, which can be very complicated and expensive for the startup. It also will exempt the crowdfunding investors from the company official shareholder count which is critical because after you hit 500 shareholders the company must start reporting your financials to the SEC, which is an expense most startups can't afford.

Here are some of the issues I see with the law as written.

1. In the House bill, the total amount that you can invest in a crowdfunded investment is either $10,000 or 10 percent of your income, whichever is less. I think it is a good idea to put caps on investments, but whose responsibility is it going to be to monitor the total amount invested in one year? There are hundreds of crowdfunding websites that are ready to open their doors when this law passes and investors are going to be members in several of them. Who is going to be adding up the investments they'll be making on multiple sites to make sure they don't go over the limit? Congress added this in to protect the amount of money that an investor puts into these high risk investments and it is a good idea but unless there is some sort of regulated system where these investments are collected the oversight is not going to happen.

2. Who can be an intermediary? Under current regulations, a broker/dealer would have to be an intermediary in these types of transactions. Microventures has been doing this as a broker/dealer for over a year. With the new regulation you would no longer need to become a securities broker dealer to broker these types of deals. It means that really anyone can broker these transactions as long as they follow the guidelines some of which include creating risk disclosures, giving the commission access to the website and outsourcing the capital management. I am for opening up the ability for others to broker these deals but there needs to be some additional guidelines that the intermediary must meet. As a broker/dealer I must submit my financials every month to FINRA, have an annual independent financial audit, and get audited by FINRA periodically. For the industry to be safe for investors there must be some form of checks and balances. Otherwise fraud will become rampant and crowdfunding will be repealed, leaving startups and investors right back where they all started.

3. Who decides whether an investor can make a qualified decision to fund a startup? I don't think the answer is how much money you have in the bank, as it is currently defined, but should instead include someone qualified to review the investor’s profile to determine if they are suitable. I’ll walk you through what an investor on Microventures goes through, so you can get an idea of how we determine if an investor is suitable:

  • The investor first fills out a suitability form which asks education, investment background, financial, and other questions to help us determine if investing in startups is something we are comfortable allowing the investor to do.
  • Once completed we review each questionnaire and then call the investor and have a conversation about the risks before we give them access to our website. During that call we make sure that the investor knows the risks, which means there is a high probability that they might lose their money, and if they can review the deal to make sure it is right for their portfolio.

We are qualified to determine if someone is suitable for an investment because we have gone through the year-long process of becoming a broker/dealer, worked in the industry for several years and have taken several exams like the Series 7, 63, 79 and more. Congress wants to remove this step and let anyone make the determination if an investor is suitable. You don't have to be in the industry to see the issue here. With no one regulating who is approved on your site and the financial incentives that you get for bringing in more investors people who are not qualified are going to invest, make bad decisions and lose a lot of money.

4. One item I completely agree on is outsourcing the cash management. That is something that a broker/dealer is required to do and it works great because it protects the investor’s money while the funding is being completed. If the deal doesn't go through for any reason you are able to have the escrow company return the funds to the investors.

The one issue I have with this is that escrow is expensive. It can cost $5,000 to escrow a deal, which is not typically an issue for a $5 million deal. But a lot of the companies that are going to raise money through crowdfunding will be raising a much smaller amount, say $20,000 to $50,000, and the expense of setting up an escrow fund for each raise or idea will certainly take a big bite out of the money they're needing to make their business successful.

For escrow, the more raises you do the less expensive the escrow fees get, but I have not figured out a way to get them below $3,000 per deal.  The bill could probably address what type of escrow you use, for instance removing the requirement that a bank hold the funds, which might make it less expensive.

5.  One of the interesting restrictions I found in the law is that after an investor makes the investment, they must hold the securities for at least one year without selling, unless you sell to an accredited investor. The holding period is not something new, but I think it is strange to allow a non-accredited investor the ability to invest any potential risky investment, yet restrict them from the ability to sell to other non-accredited investors within the first year.

I hope you don't think that after reading this I am against the crowdfunding regulations. I am actually for them, because I think crowdfunding is the future of early-stage capital raising. It is why I started my business over two years ago. My current business, Microventures, has even more to gain if these regulations pass. The red tape is immediately cut from raising capital, I can advertise my deals on my website to get more investors interested and I can raise money faster for the startups using my platform. My concern is the lack of oversight being promoted in the bill, and that if the government just opens this up like the wild west, the fraudsters will take over and we will all lose in the end.

Bill Clark, CEO and founder of MicroVenturesBill Clark is the CEO of MicroVentures, which is a securities broker dealer that helps startups raise capital by allowing investors to invest small amounts of capital similar to crowdfunding. You can follow him on Twitter @austinbillc.

Top image credit: Higyou/Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Apple sells 3 million new iPads in launch weekend

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 01:41 PM PDT

Apple announced today that it has sold three million new iPads since its launch on Friday, March 16 — the most iPads sold in a launch weekend yet.

The figure comes after earlier reports of “record” sales from both Apple and AT&T. It’s particularly impressive given the remaining iPad stock that many stores had on Friday. For example, I was able to snap up a new iPad around 11 a.m. on Friday by just strolling into my local Radio Shack.

It’s not at all shocking that the new iPad has sold so well. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and the only reason why you wouldn’t want to buy one is if you’re a satisfied iPad 2 owner, don’t have $500 (minimum) to shell out, or if you just don’t care for tablets. If you’ve been holding out for a tablet, however, this is definitely the one to get — especially as the Android competition continues to look slim.

Apple never revealed launch sales for the iPad 2, though analysts placed it somewhere near 1 million units. The company also notably sold over 4 million iPhone 4S units when it launched last October.

The big upgrade in the new iPad is its high-resolution Retina display, which blows away the screen of its predecessors, and pretty much every other computer display for that matter.

As I wrote in my initial hands-on with the tablet, the Retina display finally gives the iPad a feature that you can't find anywhere else. Few consumer computer monitors reach near the new iPad's 2048 by 1536 resolution (Apple's 27-inch Thunderbolt display is one of the few, but it's still not as dense as the iPad). The screen is also far beyond the 1920 by 1080 resolution of HDTVs.

Filed under: mobile

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Foxconn won’t sue for damning radio episode, Steve Wozniak supports Mike Daisey

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 01:32 PM PDT

mike daisey

Chinese manufacturing company Foxconn will not seek legal action against radio program This American Life or actor Mike Daisey for a controversial and recently retracted segment about the factory’s working conditions.

“Our corporate image has been totally ruined,” said Simon Hsing, Foxconn’s spokesman, according to Reuters. “We have no plans to take legal action. … We hope nothing similar will happen again.”

The segment titled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” followed Daisey’s trip to the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. In the program, Daisey mentions conversations and observations, which were later discovered to be false. For example, Daisey recalls meeting a poisoned assembly line worker, a conversation which never occurred, and he claimed to have seen armed guards, which again was disproved. Daisey defended himself saying he is a performer, and that the show was theater, despite the segment being aired as fact.

"I stand by my work,” said Daisey in a blog post. “My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.”

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, however, supports Daisey and likens the performance to his own speech-giving. He explained to CNET that while Daisey inserted fabrications into the act, which runs as a longer show “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” the overall message is important. Wozniak believes it spurred Apple to investigate factory conditions.

Though the retraction did give Foxconn a bit of its reputation back, the China Labor Bulletin isn’t giving the company a free pass. According to Reuters, it still believes that workers are still employed under difficult conditions, others say that the media and stockholders are keeping close watch.

Listen to the This American Life retraction episode here.

Image via Mike Daisey

Filed under: media

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How Amazon can be a friend to small businesses

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 12:37 PM PDT

kindle-fire-appsI’ve been testing out the Kindle Fire tablet for the last several weeks. At $199, it’s a tremendous value. It’s no iPad — I just upgraded to the new iPad as well — but it provides a solid base-level tablet and reader. I can think of a lot of uses for it: an e-book reader, a video consumption device, and a dedicated Sonos controller. But the most exciting use I can see for it would be for Amazon to turn into a device that helps small, local retailers.

Amazon could leverage its massive scale in searches for online commerce to help drive business to local businesses, while simultaneously generating revenue and cementing itself as the place to go to shop online.

Here’s how I see it working:

  • Merchants would use the Kindle Fire to load their inventory on to Amazon.
  • In addition to the standard options consumers have for standard delivery, second-day shipping with Prime, or overnight shipping, Amazon would offer the option to buy locally.
  • When an item is selected to buy locally, the merchant would be alerted via the Kindle Fire and could confirm the order.
  • Once the order is confirmed, Amazon collects payment from the buyer and the merchant sets the product aside. (Larger merchants with sufficient inventory could configure it to auto-confirm orders.)
  • The consumer stops by to pick up the item and shows ID.
  • Amazon keeps a percentage of the revenue.

Amazon already does this for some merchants who sell through the mail; I frequently buy items from third-party sellers through Amazon’s site.

The key is that the Kindle Fire is a simple, inexpensive device that integrates well with Amazon services. Add in the option to generate revenue with it, and it can be an important step in increasing the connectedness of small businesses.

The Buy Local service could be augmented with local delivery from a company like Postmates. [Editor's note: This futuristic, cool, visionary stuff is exactly what we're talking about at the VentureBeat Mobile Summit on April 2-3, where one of the main themes focuses on mobile commerce.]

Amazon has been working to expand its reach into the local market. Its daily deals product, AmazonLocal, is launching a subscriber-acquisition promotion tomorrow, selling $10 Amazon gift cards for $5. Although it has lagged well behind industry leaders Groupon and LivingSocial, this is a sign that it may be getting serious about the deals space. (Amazon sources many of its deals from LivingSocial.)

Beyond local retail there are a number of other compelling services Amazon could offer to make Kindle Fire a must-have for small businesses:

  • Deal redemption tracking for AmazonLocal.
  • Social media management tools for Twitter and Facebook accounts.
  • Scheduling tools similar to Groupon Scheduler.

Amazon and local businesses have had a tumultuous relationship, with some blaming Amazon for the demise of local independent bookstores. But these days, even prestigious independent bookstores such as Portland behemoth Powell’s Books are selling through Amazon. Same-day fulfillment plays to the strengths of local retailers and provides consumers a service that Amazon can’t offer today.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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