21 March, 2012



BlackBerry Partner Fund manager Relay Ventures, formerly ATP, announces second $150M mobile fund

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 09:06 AM PDT

ATP Capital, the firm that manages the BlackBerry Partners Fund, Clairmont Capital, and JLA Ventures, is today re-branding itself as Relay Ventures to sex up its image. (And let’s face it, anything is better than three capital letters.)

Relay Ventures is also announcing a new $150 million early-stage mobile fund, dubbed the BlackBerry Partners II fund, which will be platform agnostic and independently managed. The fund will be led by Canada’s Northleaf Capital Partners, and will see participation from Research in Motion (obviously), Corus Entertainment, and Thomson Reuters.

"This re-branding initiative finally unifies the three brands that we've been operating under and the more than $800MM in capital that we've raised," said Kevin Talbot, Relay Ventures’ co-managing partner, in a statement today. "Our new brand brings unity and clarity to our mandate as an early stage venture investor."

Explaining the issue with the firm’s old name, Talbot wrote on the Relay Ventures blog:

In addition to ATP being an acronym for the Association of Tennis Professionals and Adenosine Triphosphate (a coenzyme AND the name of a Japanese alternative rock band fronted by a guy named "Mug"), it stood for Albright Talbot Partners. Clearly, it was not our most creative moment and the name never took hold as an umbrella brand for the various funds that we manage, largely because we never knew or understood when to use it rather than one of the other brands we managed.

Relay Ventures has been ranked as the third most active fund in mobile and wireless by Ridgecrest Capital Partners, behind Sequoia Capital and Intel Capital. The firm has backed 32 mobile companies (with 28 of those being in the last three years), six of which have been acquired, according to co-managing partner John Albright.

Coinciding will all of its new announcements, Relay Ventures will also open an office in Silicon Valley (Menlo Park, to be specific). Talbot recently moved to the Bay Area, and he’ll be joined by new partner John Occhipinti, formerly a partner with Woodside Fund.

Overall, Relay Ventures has made 84 investments since 1996, 42 of which have exited through mergers, acquisitions, and by going public. The firm has raised over $800 million so far.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Cloud ka-ching: OpenView raises $200M fund for big data services

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 08:54 AM PDT


Boston-based OpenView Venture Partners has raised a new $200 million fund with the goal of propping up cloud and operational support for enterprise-class companies, the firm announced Wednesday.

OpenView has a history of funding big data and cloud companies in their expansion stage rather than provide seed funding, and this fund’s focus will be no different. Normally, its investments are targeted at companies that have $2 to $20 million in annual sales.

"We are very excited to launch our third fund and to continue our mission of helping some of the world's best expansion-stage technology companies succeed," said OpenView founder and Senior Managing Director Scott Maxwell, in a statement. "This fund will allow us to continue to invest in the best expansion-stage companies globally while also enhancing our unique platform for serving the needs of the companies we invest in."

OpenView’s portfolio includes companies like Xtium, Balihoo, Monetate, and Mashery.

The company told TechCrunch that it expects to announce its first investment from the new fund next week. It will be an identity-management company out of Texas that utilizes big data and the cloud technologies.

Money flying in the cloud photo: Yuri Shirokov/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals

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DST prepping $1B tech fund with $50M of Facebook stock

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 08:03 AM PDT

DST Tech fund

Early Facebook investment firm Digital Sky Technologies (DST) is attempting to raise $1 billion for a new tech fund — offering a pretty sweet deal for those that participate.

To kick off the fund, DST is putting up $50 million in Facebook stock, which would give other investors a chance to become shareholders of the social network giant. The news comes from a leaked investor presentation obtained by Bloomberg today. The presentation indicates that early investors of this new tech fund will be offered the Facebook stock at a 12 percent discount from internal valuation. Early investors will also pay 25 percent lower management fees.

The new fund, DST Global III, will make non-controlling investments in late-stage private Internet companies that have a valuation of $500 million or more. The new fund is expected to close soon, according to Bloomberg’s report.

Russia-based DST has also invested in several hot tech companies, including Twitter, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Spotify, and Groupon. The firm is likely looking for money after an impressive year for tech startups going public.

The presentation also contained information about DST’s previous fund. The firm invested a total of $792 million across 10 companies, including $175 million total investment in Facebook, $37.5 million in Spotify, and $36.7 million in Airbnb.

Piggy bank image via Joachim Wendler /ShutterStock

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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FreedomPop’s mystery project: an iPhone case with free WiMax data

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 07:57 AM PDT


Mysterious wireless company FreedomPop will soon offer an iPhone case with a WiMax radio inside and free access to a 1GB data plan, according to a TechCrunch report.

FreedomPop will be mimicking NetZero’s just-announced plan to offer a freemium model for wireless service. Users from both FreedomPop and NetZero will get some access free and then pay for more data on top of the free allotment. NetZero has a plan system, while FreedomPop will charge $10 per GB over the free gig of data.

The FreedomPop case will basically act as mobile hotspot, can run up to 30 hours, and can share its connection with up to eight devices. The iPhone case will cost a deposit around $100, but the money can be refunded to customers if they return the case in good condition.

Clearwire, the troubled wireless company that provides Sprint and NetZero with 4G data, will be providing the data for FreedomPop’s device. Clearwire’s WiMax service isn’t as impressive speed-wise as Verizon Wireless and AT&T’s LTE networks, but it’s still generally faster than 3G data networks.

There’s no word on availability for the product, but we’ll let you know as soon as we hear more.

Filed under: mobile

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Galaxy S III may be back on for April, hints Samsung China president

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 07:39 AM PDT

Samsung Galaxy S II

All of this back and forth about the Galaxy S III’s release date is giving me a headache.

After Samsung denied a potential April launch for its new flagship phone, the company’s China president Kim Young-Ha is now suggesting that April is once again a possibility, as Samsung seeks to be more aggressive about its upcoming rollout.

The exec has been chatting with Chinese press about Samsung’s strategy in the country, which is now focused on acquiring more market share, reports The Verge. According to recent reports, Samsung currently holds a 24.3 percent share of China’s smartphone market, while the iPhone only has 7.5 percent. That could change once Apple finally offers the iPhone on China Mobile, the country’s largest carrier, so Samsung is wise to claim more consumers while it can.

I wouldn’t take the exec’s words as fact, but this is the closest we’ve gotten to an official word about the Galaxy S III’s launch so far. It makes sense for Samsung to launch as quickly as possible, otherwise it’ll have to contend with the hype machine for Apple’s next iPhone.

Most recently, we've heard that the Galaxy S III could sport a huge 4.8-inch screen (bigger than Google's flagship Galaxy Nexus) as well as a ceramic case. The phone could be as thin a 7 millimeters, and is expected to feature updated cameras as well. By this point, it's a given that it'll sport Android 4.0 and LTE connectivity.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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10 disruptive individuals who are reshaping the mobile industry

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 07:31 AM PDT

Graphic image showing a hand holding a smartphone.The mobile industry is at an exciting stage: There are enough smartphone customers that there’s a huge field of opportunity for device makers, carriers, and app makers, but the market is still fragmented enough that no one company dominates. In this kind of frothy market, the risks are high, but the potential payoffs are huge, too.

The kind of people who thrive in this world are disruptive individuals. Troublemakers. Shakers-up of the status quo. Yes, we’re accustomed to writing about companies and their products, but true innovation always originates with human beings.

That’s why VentureBeat is naming the 10 individuals below as the Top Mobile Movers for 2012.

We asked for your nominations a week ago, sifted through the suggestions, added a few of our own, and vigorously debated the entrants. The finalists, here, are our admittedly idiosyncratic and (we hope) provocative choices. These 10 people are unusually effective at disrupting business as usual.

In two weeks, at our Mobile Summit, April 2-3, we’ll announce which of these 10 finalists we’re naming as the Top Mobile Mover. So stay tuned.

Want to be part of the debate? Use the form at the bottom of this post to vote on who you think is the most disruptive, innovative person on the list. Let us know what you think in the comments section. Or apply to take part in the conversation in real time at the Mobile Summit. It’s an exclusive conference of just 180 executives and investors, and while the room is filling up fast, we’re still accepting last-minute applications to participate. I hope to see you there.

Without further ado, here’s the list (in alphabetical order).

Jack Dorsey
CEO/Founder, Square; Executive Chairman/Founder, Twitter

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and executive chairman of TwitterAs the founder of Square, Dorsey is revolutionizing mobile payments in a way that much bigger companies had failed to do. A simple white dongle that plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack is all you need, and it’s so cheap to manufacture that the company gives them away by the basketful.

And then there’s Twitter, which we think of as a social network now but which started as a mobile technology company, stitching together groups of people via SMS text messages. Even now, Twitter is one of the most widely-used smartphone apps on any platform.

Most entrepreneurs wait to finish one great company before they start another. Dorsey is doing them both at the same time. And both have made huge waves.

John G. Hering
CEO/Founder, Lookout Mobile Security

John Hering, founder of Lookout Mobile SecurityLong before most people recognized the threat of viruses and trojans on mobile phones, Hering was building a company to stop those threats. Lookout Mobile Security was one of the earliest companies to tackle smartphone security and now offers popular security software for Android phones as well as Android tablets and the iPad.

Like many disruptors, Hering’s not above pulling off attention-getting stunts. His BlueSniper project demonstrated that it was possible to crack into a phone via weaknesses in the Bluetooth protocol — from 1.2 miles away.

Jaakko Iisalo
Senior Game Designer, Rovio

An angry bird by RovioEveryone knows about Angry Birds, which people around the planet play for a staggering 300 million minutes per day. (As of October, 2011, so it’s probably more than that now.) But where did Angry Birds come from? From the fertile (and perhaps slightly twisted) imagination of Jaakko Iisalo, the software designer who came up with the original concept art and then played a key role in developing the early versions of the game.

While many people at Rovio helped build the game, Iisalo’s contribution deserves special mention. It’s worth noting that seldom has one idea led so many millions of people to waste so many millions of hours. If there’s a game capable of reaching a billion players, Angry Birds might be it.

Dr. Paul E. Jacobs
CEO, Qualcomm

Qualcomm CEO Paul JacobsYou might not think about Qualcomm much, but chances are good that you use its products. The company’s 3G and 4G chip technologies, as well as its fast Snapdragon processors, have helped make smartphones cheaper, more accessible, and at the same time more powerful. And Qualcomm played a key role in bringing the first Android-based smartphones to market.

Much of that has been due to the leadership of Paul Jacobs, who has been the chief executive of Qualcomm since 2005. He’s helped transform the chipmaker into a powerhouse in the mobile industry.

Qualcomm also drives new, emerging technologies. For instance, it is developing a new display tech, called Mirasol, which promises the low power consumption of E Ink while offering multiple colors like an LCD. And it’s investigating wireless charging technologies that could eliminate the need for carrying around wall warts.

Jacobs is the son of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs. Don’t underestimate him on that account, though: He holds 40 patents of his own.

Cliff Kushler
Vice President, Nuance Communications

Cliff Kushler, inventor of T9 and SwypeKushler, the founder of Swype, has put his technology in front of an enviable number of people. His first invention, T9, was a predictive text tool to simplify “typing” on 12-key phone keypads, greatly reducing the number of digits you had to mash. It has been installed on more than 4 billion devices since its invention in the 1990s, according to Nuance, which now owns the technology.

Kushler’s next act was Swype, which launched about two years ago and has now shipped on more than 150 million phones. (It, too, is owned by Nuance.) Swype simplifies “typing” on 12-key keypads by letting you zip from letter to letter without the need to waste time by lifting your finger between key presses.

For someone whose inventions are used by billions upon billions of people, Kushler is remarkably non-famous. Friends describe him as “humble, mystic, honorable, and brilliant.” Yet his technologies have made a significant, if subtle, difference in the world. Saving a few seconds might not seem like much when you’re entering a single message, but over time, making it easier to enter text makes it easier for people to communicate, and that is a transformative change.

Scott Kveton
CEO/Founder, Urban Airship

Urban Airship founder Scott KvetonUrban Airship isn’t a household name, but it’s used by a ballooning number of companies to make their mobile apps more useful and more relevant. Its tools combine smart push notifications with geo-location and context information to send just the right kind of messages at the right time, and also enable in-app purchases. Since its launch in 2009, Urban Airship has attracted more than 25,000 customers (companies building apps), sent out more than 10 billion messages, and connected to more than 100 million mobile devices.

Cofounder Scott Kveton is an outside-the-box kind of guy: His previous startup was a bacon-shipping service for consumers. Before that, he ran online identity company JanRain and helped found the OpenID foundation, which supplies the kind of plumbing that makes it possible for you to log in to one site using the credentials of another site.

Mary T. McDowell
Vice President, Nokia

Nokia Vice President Mary McDowellSometimes disruption comes in the form of business innovation, not bleeding-edge technology. Executive vice president Mary T. McDowell leads Nokia‘s Mobile Phones business unit, which accounts for about half of Nokia’s business. It’s not the more glamorous, smartphone side of the business, but it’s the one that affects the greatest number of people. McDowell’s devision supplies technology and services that will connect the “next billion” people to the internet.

For example, the company’s Nokia Asha line, based on Nokia’s Series 40 operating system, is meant to be an accessible, affordable quasi-smartphone, or “Smartphone Lite.” Asha phones are now driving millions of downloads per day from the Nokia store, indicating that people in the developing world are adopting the devices. And Nokia recently celebrated the sale of the 1.5 billionth S40 device, to a young woman in Brazil who purchased a Nokia Asha device.

Terry Myerson
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft

Microsoft corporate vice president Terry MyersonMyerson has been overseeing the strategy and development of Microsoft‘s Windows Phone platform since 2011, and has been a key player in the business since its inception in 2008, which he became the engineering lead for Microsoft’s mobile group. Noted for his “no-nonsense” approach, Myerson helped lead the charge for Microsoft’s momentous “reset,” when the company essentially threw out everything it had been doing with Windows Mobile and reinvented its mobile operating system from the ground up.

The gamble was a big one, and it’s still too soon to tell whether it will pay off. Microsoft is coming from far behind both iOS and Android, and has far to go before it can even catch the BlackBerry in the smartphone market. But if anything has the potential to be a spoiler in this fight, it’s Windows Phone. Microsoft’s partnership with heavyweight phone maker (and fellow smartphone also-ran) Nokia gives it even more clout.

Windows Phone is early in its lifecycle, but it’s an attractive, responsive operating system that’s getting a lot of notice. You can count on it to make big waves in the mobile market this year.

Andy Rubin
Senior Vice President, Google

Android founder and Google executive Andy RubinFew living individuals have played a more prominent role in the smartphone revolution than Andy Rubin. For his first act, Rubin cofounded Danger Inc., which designed what most of us knew as the T-Mobile Sidekick — the proto-information device that was the tool of choice for savvy texters and data users in the days before the iPhone upended the industry.

Then Rubin founded Android Inc. to create a new, open-source mobile operating system. Before it could release a product, Google acquired it, and Rubin now heads development of the Android operating system. In a few short years, Android has grown to become the dominant mobile OS on smartphones, and it’s picking up speed fast in the tablet arena too.

Ehud Shabtai
CEO/Founder, Waze

Waze founder Ehud ShabtaiWaze makes a driving navigation app with a twist: Its maps and traffic data are all supplied by Waze users. Ehud Shabtai started the company, according to his official biography, because he kept getting lost. A hacker, Shabtai searched for technical solutions, and started building the project that would become Waze.

With more than 9 million users, Waze’s traffic data has become reliable enough that it’s even powering local TV traffic reports. The company has also built in Siri-like voice commands, so you can simply wave your hand in front of your phone and ask it to give you traffic reports.

More than simply powering a lot of users, Waze has the potential to turn into a real community of people who are crowdsourcing map creation simply by driving around. What’s more, it could potentially make traffic overall flow in a more intelligent way. That’s a development worth getting excited about.

Top image credit: Pixel Embargo/Shutterstock. Jack Dorsey photo: Kevin Krejci/Flickr.

Filed under: mobile

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HP shakes up organization, will combine printer and PC units

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 07:13 AM PDT


As rumored yesterday, Hewlett-Packard has announced a major reorganization that will merge its PC and printer groups, a move it hopes will improve performance and profits.

“This combination will bring together two businesses where HP has established global leadership,” HP CEO Meg Whitman said in a statement. “By providing the best in customer-focused innovation and operational efficiency, we believe we will create a winning scenario for customers, partners and shareholders.”

The combined entity of PC and printing units will be led by Todd Bradley, who has served as the executive VP of the PC group since 2005. Vyomesh "VJ" Joshi, a 31-year veteran at HP and the leader of the printing group, will retire.

Whitman is channeling former HP CEO Carly Fiorina with this move, as she also combined the two groups in her stay. After Fiorina left, Mark Hurd came in and re-created the two units.

As my colleague Dean Takahashi noted yesterday, this is a huge change for HP. It could prove to be momentous decision for Whitman or her downfall. Whitman replaced Leo Apotheker, who was fired last September for making poor decisions such as announcing a plan to spin off the PC group.

Investors reacted mildly to the news, with HP’s stock on the NYSE dropping about 1 percent in early trading.

HP logo: Don DeBold/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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4 ways to turn high gas prices into a business advantage

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PDT

We meet again, high gas prices. You seem to show up and eat my operating margins just when they pick up. And I always seem to forget how painful you are after you leave.

There are more than 10 million vehicles in business fleets in the U.S. Yet American businesses seem to exercise a selective amnesia about the pain of high fuel prices, time and again. We forget to act before the next oil crunch.

McKinsey & Co. released a study outlining realistic scenarios in which an oil price spike could be much worse and last longer this time, right as our economy's growth accelerates from a crawl. If your business operates vehicles in a fleet to deliver goods or services, there are solutions to reduce your exposure to volatile fuel prices, and at the same time, create strategic advantages versus competitors who wait to act.

Many efficiency options are in-the-money today, so the time to act is now. Here are four steps to take:

1. Measure
It's hard to modify what you don't measure, so gather data and arm yourself with facts. If your business doesn't track fuel use, fuel economy averages, idling time, daily mileage and fuel spend down to the individual vehicle or even to the driver, this is your first step. Baseline your vehicles so you can examine alternatives and create the financial case to adopt the most cost-effective efficiency improvements.

2. Test all options
Try new things and put a yardstick against your baseline so you can sell your chief financial officer or board with the data. The benefits of many alternative vehicle technologies, such as hybrid powertrains, are greatly affected by the drive cycle or real-world use of the vehicle. Find out from the manufacturer the best applications for the technology and create data-intensive pilot tests to examine real-world financial cases for the technology. While electronic vehicles (EVs) are sexy and offer low operating costs, they may not be appropriate for many applications, including high daily mileage routes. The spread between natural gas and gasoline prices has also widened, but be sure to account for the cost of fueling and charging infrastructure in your analysis.

3. Use financing
Over the past couple of years, solar leasing startups have been touted for marketing lease financing mechanisms that reduce up-front costs of solar panels on homes. Guess what? Lease financing has been available in the transportation sector for 100 years. If capital budgets are tight in your company, even for attractive investments, consider leasing more efficient vehicles. Talk to the vehicle leasing companies and tell them you want to consider leasing greener options. Evaluate the lease of a more efficient vehicle in terms of monthly cash flow, rather than simple payback.

4. Start with the worst MPG vehicles
Once you baseline your vehicle fleet's fuel economy and mileage, consider replacing the least efficient vehicles first, even before their end of life. If a 10-mpg-average delivery van is replaced with a 13-mpg-average option, you have just reduced your fuel consumption by 23 gallons per 1,000 miles driven. You will see quickly diminishing fuel and cost savings once you start replacing 30+ mpg vehicles (click here for an explanation from Duke University professors).

Creating cost advantages
Higher fuel prices can eat into your margins, but all competitors face the same problem. By making your business fleet more efficient, you reduce your exposure to volatile fuel prices. Even better, you can create a cost advantage versus competitors who do nothing. Every dollar you save from vehicle efficiency improvements takes money from oil companies to be reinvested in further efficiency improvements, new products, better warranties, or enhanced customer service. And while laggards' margins continue to suffer, you're investing for the future.

High fuel prices increase the financial case for many efficiency improvements, many of which already exceed corporate hurdle rates. The key to success is finding cost-effective options and then deploying at scale.

Justin Ashton is co-founder and vice president of business development for XL Hybrids. He leads market strategy and serves as the head of sales and marketing. Justin enjoys finding ways to take money away from oil companies in his spare time. 

[Gas pump image credit: Melinda Fawver/Shutterstock]

Filed under: green

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Too lazy for Pandora? Songza’s music concierge will suggest the right tunes to match your mood

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 06:02 AM PDT

Back on March 5th, streaming music service Songza released a new feature on its web app called Concierge. “We found in studies that the main thing people disliked about Pandora and Spotify was having to work at discovering new music,” Elias Roman, co-founder and CEO, told me during a visit to the VentureBeat offices yesterday. “They end up listening to the same Bob Dylan playlist four times a day and it’s killing them inside.”

How do you make it drop dead simple for people discover new music? Tell them what to listen to. “We released concierge push new playlists to people, and it’s changed our metrics in a big way. New users are spending an average of 45 minutes on the site. No other new feature has given us such a big boost to traffic or engagement, which has nearly doubled since we introduced concierge.”

The new Songza concierge feature arrives on the iPhone this morning. It takes a look at everything from the day, time, and location when suggesting playlists. “If it’s a Monday morning and you are at the office, it will suggest some upbeat tracks to help you power back into the workweek,” explained Roman. “If it’s a Saturday night, depending on the time and place, it might suggest music for cooking dinner, a dance party mix or a getting lucky playlist.”

The playlists Songza recommends are generated dynamically each time based on a user’s listening history and taste, what they give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Sadly, you won’t be seeing a Songza app inside of Spotify anytime soon. “We love what those guys are doing, and in fact, we’re working on our own platform, but targeting big companies, not consumers,” said Roman.The company is already working with several large players in the terrestrial radio market, licensing out their technology to help them create a compelling digital experience.

Songza falls under the same DMCA digital radio regulations as Pandora, so it doesn’t have to worry about licensing. But unlike Pandora, the company refuses to insert audio ads into its playlists. “We just think that really ruins the experience,” said Roman. The playlists Songza recommends come from 25 music experts (rock critics, bloggers and ethno-musicologists) who work on a contract basis for the startup. Tastemakers like Kesha and Kings of Leon also create playlists.

I played with the concierge a little bit and found it intuitive and fun. It picked out some epic movie music to help me conquer the end of a work day and some upbeat indie pop to make my morning coffee to. “We’re about giving the users choice. Pick a decade, a playlist for pumping iron, one for getting high,” said Roman. “But we realized that people really like it when the experience of music discovery goes from them pulling songs to us pushing them.”

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Red Robot Labs proves location-based games are hot, raises $5M

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Red Robot Labs, a maker of location-based smartphone games, has raised $5 million from Taiwanese media firm Next Media.

The deal is a big endorsement for location-based games, which have struggled to find an audience over the years. But Red Robot Labs’ Life Is Crime game has added a creative animated layer on top of a traditional location map, making the games more engaging and fun to play with others.

Fun is what’s been missing from location gaming. Instead of checking in, like in Foursquare, you commit a virtual crime, like robbing a bank.

Under the deal, Next Media’s game division will publish Red Robot’s Life Is Crime location game in the Asian markets. On top of that, Next Media will use Red Robot’s R2 mobile gaming platform, which makes it easier to publish location-based games.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Red Robot hopes to use the money to accelerate the launch of location-based games in Asia.

"We’ve been looking for a creative partner in Asia," said Mike Ouye (pictured right) co-founder and chief executive of Red Robot Labs, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’ve gotten good traction on the platform, and now we’ve signed up our first third-party developer.”

Pete Hawley (pictured left), chief product officer, added, “The idea here is that we wanted the benefit of a big media company to help us in Asia with distribution.”

Red Robot has been moving fast. It was founded in January 2011 by Ouye and chief product officer Pete Hawley. The team launched its first game on Android in September and raised $8.5 million shortly thereafter. In December, it expanded to Europe with the acquisition of game developer Supermono. It debuted Life is Crime on iOS in January.

Ouye said the game play of Life Is Crime — where users take over physical places and form their own mob rackets — should be suited well for Asia, particularly in dense cities such as Hong Kong and Taipei.

Jimmy Lai, chairman of Next Media, said his company has been looking to expand into location-based gaming but was waiting for the right technology. In this case, R2 makes it easy to layer animated visuals on top of a real map. Next Media has more than 500 creators and artists working on animations, but it has more recently started making games.

Life Is Crime hit No. 2 on the iTunes Free Apps chart on the week of its release. The game has been one of the top 10 highest-grossing Android apps for five months, with over a million downloads on that platform. The game will debut in Hong Kong today and later in Taiwan and Japan.

Red Robot Labs’ other investors include Chamath Palihapitiya, founder of the Social+Capital Partnership, Rick Thompson, co-founder of Playdom, Benchmark Capital, and Shasta Ventures. To date, the company has raised $15.5 million. Red Robot Labs has 35 employees. Rivals included DeNA and Gree.
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, VentureBeat

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Instagram opens up its walled garden, allows photo sharing from rival Hipstamatic

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 05:56 AM PDT

With all eyes on Instagram’s long-awaited Android app, the hot photo sharing startup today announced a surprising partnership with rival Hipstamatic, opening up photo sharing in Instagram from Hipstamatic’s 4 million users.

“When we launched, it was all about Facebook and Flickr and Twitter, and now we’re seeing a huge shift in our user base toward Instagram,” Hipstamatic cofounder and CEO Lucas Buick told Fast Company in an interview. “We’ve never been a social networking company, but we clearly benefit from social networks. So this will be the first app outside of Instagram that lets you into their network. That’s pretty cool for us.”

Both Instagram (free) and Hipstamatic ($1.99) offer are iPhone only and offer photo filters and the easy ability to share your shots — but Hipstamatic also includes other camera tweaks like different lenses and flash options. Hipstamatic has attracted a dedicated community of 4 million users, compared to Instagram’s whopping 27 million users.

The partnership solidifies Instagram’s lead in mobile photo sharing, after seeing explosive growth since it launched two years ago (with only four employees for most of its run). The company is clearly doing something right, if it’s now so big even rivals want in on the action.

As part of the partnership, Hipstamatic users will be presented with the option to share photos to Instagram, along with other social networks. You’ll be able to add a filter and other tweaks as normal from the app, and when it appears on Instagram it’ll show up with a “Taken with Hipstamatic” attribution.

That small bit of text alone could lead to more revenue Hipstamatic, since users who click on it will be directed to the iTunes Store to purchase the app (it’s not sharing any of the revenue with Instagram). And for Instagram, it means the company gets access to a dedicated community of photo nerds who post 48 million photos a month.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom tells Fast Company that users have already been using Hipstamatic to tweak photos before they get uploaded to Instagram, so he just wanted to simplify that process.

“It’s a step in the direction that we’re testing out,” Systrom told Fast Company. “We’ve been very careful about making sure that Instagram photos are about what’s happening right now in your life, and we want to allow for more of those photos to end up on Instagram regardless of where they’re taken.”

I expect Instagram to form similar partnerships with other popular photo apps like Camera+, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being directly embedded in iOS, similar to how Twitter is now a core part of the platform. With a more inclusive API and an upcoming move to Android, it doesn’t seem like Instagram’s crazy growth will be slowing down anytime soon.

Photo Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat (using Instagram)

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Recipe search engine Yummly grabs $6M to find mouth-watering recipes

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 04:30 AM PDT

Yummly, a recipe search engine that would make any recipe hoarder and home chef happy, announced Wednesday it has raised $6 million is its first round of funding. The site compiles recipes from several popular recipes sites so you can browse and search for whatever makes your mouth water.

Finding recipes online is not at all hard: There are hundreds of thousands of blogs and websites devoted to making delicious food. But Yummly its trying to round up tons of recipes and make them easily searchable so users don’t have to wade through all those websites.

“Our vision is to make Yummly one hub to find recipes and cook meals,” said Yummly co-founder and chief executive David Feller in an interview with VentureBeat, “We want to improve the [recipe] finding experience and have built a data platform that understands food.”

What makes Yummly stand out is its semantic recipe search, which understands the context of what people are searching for instead of focusing only on the exact keywords. It also makes good use of multiple search filters to hone your searches. Most prominently are the taste filters (shown right) — sliding bars that let you chose which tastes you prefer such as sweet, spicy, or savory —  which narrow down recipes that fit your taste bud preferences. You can also filter by dietary restrictions, allergies, nutritional value, cuisines, type of meal, price of the meal, and which source the recipe comes from, such as Epicurious or AllRecipes.

“We feel semantic search is incredibly important. For example, if you searched for a fish recipe in Google, it might not understand to include results for salmon, like Yummly would,” said Feller, “Yummly doesn’t need to have the specific keyword to find what you’re looking for, it understands the context of what you’re searching.”

The interface leaves something to be desired; it’s simple, but bland. Though compared to one of its competitor’s, Cooks.com, the website is much easier to read and digest. One plus for Yummly is that it provides nutritional information for every recipe in the same format you’ve see on a food package, so you know where to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Yummly’s search engine draws is recipes from 15 food blogs and websites to make up its recipe results, hoping to save people the time they spend Googling a recipe and clicking through to multiple websites.

However, the company does face some competition from Google’s search engine, which is most people’s go-to place for finding information. Google’s plans for its own version of semantic search could make the search engine more intelligent and powerful and make Yummly redundant.

Yummly attracted funding from Physic Ventures, which led the round. Physic Ventures partner Andy Donner told VentureBeat that his firm was drawn to Yummly because of its semantic search process.

“We were compelled by the natural language scientists who really understood how to take unstructured data and make sense of it, said Donner, “Yummly is able to create meaning from recipes by parsing the data and wow users with highly accurate searches.”

Unilever Corporate Ventures, Harrison Metal Capital, First Round Capital, Intel Capital, The Harvard Common Press, and private angel investors also participated in the funding round. Yummly was founded in 2010 and is based in Palo Alto, Calif. The company has raised $7.85 million in total funding.

Strawberry and chocolate cake image via Shutterstock

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The Daily doubles down on custom app development, hints about move to iPhone

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 04:01 AM PDT

The Daily, which began life as Rupert Murdoch’s first stab at a tablet only newspaper, has found a new line of work as a custom app developer. Today it’s releasing the Android version of its guide to the much anticipated Angry Birds Space, the new game from Rovio that debuts tomorrow. I chatted with The Daily’s publisher, Greg Clayman, about the role of custom apps in his business.

“It’s something we came to accidentally. We built a custom CMS and put together a great team of developers, designers and editors. We realized, doing things like our special app on Elizabeth Taylor, that the team could respond very quickly and build a high quality experience around things besides news.”

Angry Birds Space is the fifth custom app The Daily has created, and like the Pro Football Guide it created earlier, it’s a partnership with a big corporation who can act as a sponsor. “There are a lot of angles for us,” said Clayman. “We can sell sponsorships to these apps, and we have also found that they are a great way to drive new subscribers to The Daily.”

While they haven’t built a paid app yet, Clayman says that is another possibility for The Daily. And while they have only worked with big blue chip partners so far, Clayman says they have considered a self-serve option. “We have a very flexible CMS that makes it easy to publish a sharp app in a short amount of time, but for now self-serve is just something we’ve talked about, not tested. It would be a natural place for us to expand.”

One thing which Clayman says has not been noticed, is that the Angry Birds Guide was published on both iPad and iPhone. “We started life focused on the tablet, and that is still key for us, but our readers rely on their smartphones and tablets at different times and for different experiences, so we are definitely going to be providing them with a full, multi-platform offering in the future.”

As to what The Daily on iPhone might be like, Clayman was coy. “If it resembled the guide we built for Angry Birds, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Filed under: dev, games, media, mobile

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Moxie’s Spaces brings customers closer to your business’ social network

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 04:00 AM PDT


Enterprise social networking player Moxie Software has updated its signature Spaces software suite so it integrates customer responses with employee collaboration into a single offering, the company announced Wednesday morning.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Moxie faces strong competition from Jive Software, Yammer, and Salesforce’s Chatter. Even with so many companies fighting for the business social network spotlight, it still had a major year in 2011, with the addition of 75 new customers and a boost in recurring revenues by 40 percent.

As it grows and fights the competition, Moxie has to keep its software up-to-date and ahead of the curve. The latest version of Spaces tries to accomplish this by providing more ways to interact with customers through your in-house business social network.

"The biggest challenge CEOs face today is getting their enterprises closer to their customers," Moxie CEO Tom Kelly said in a statement. "To provide real benefits, enterprise social technology must deliver real customer value. Our suite makes it easier for organizations to find and deliver the right answer to customers through their channel of choice."

The two big feature additions to the new version Spaces are Expert Connect and Spaces Connect. Expert Connect enables “cross-departmental collaboration for Customer Service and Support, IT, HR and Sales and Marketing to ensure accurate and efficient customer communications across channels.” Spaces Connect, on the other hand, allows for a “comprehensive integration framework with secure APIs and pre-built connectors” and integration with Moxie apps like CRM, ERP, Content Management, HR, and more.

The new version of Spaces will be available to all Moxie customers by the end of March.

Moxie has also provided an infographic showing the state of business collaboration tools and the intersection with customers, which you can check out below:


Business network photo: violetkaipa/Shutterstock

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Blizzard and Netease.com renew deal for World of Warcraft in China

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 06:36 PM PDT

Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase.com have renewed their deal to publish World of Warcraft in mainland China. The deal will now last an additional three years.

That means millions of Chinese World of Warcraft fans can breathe a sigh of relief. World of Warcraft was down for months in China the last time Blizzard made a change. At that time, Blizzard ended its relationship with The9 and switched to NetEase.com, but Chinese regulators didn’t approve the change.

Regulations matter a lot in China. American game companies cannot publish their own titles but have to work with a Chinese partner. Blizzard used The9 to publish WoW in China until 2009 and then switched to NetEase.com, another Chinese firm. That has helped turn NetEase.com into a major Chinese online gaming company.

But NetEase.com is still behind in publishing add-on content for the game. So far, NetEase.com has published the Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm. It also publishes Warcraft III and StarCraft II in China. And now it will also publish Mists of Pandaria, an upcoming add-on for the game influenced by Asian culture.

World of Warcraft is the world’s largest subscription online game with more than 10 million users.

“We’re grateful for the tremendous enthusiasm Chinese gamers have shown for World of Warcraft over the years, and we’re pleased to be renewing our agreement for the game in China,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We look forward to working with NetEase to deliver all of the new features and content of Mists of Pandaria to Chinese players as soon as possible.”

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Walmart steps up with Angry Birds Space promotion

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 06:17 PM PDT

Angry Birds Space, Rovio’s next big game in the phenomenal mobile game series, launches on Thursday with some major promotions from Walmart.

Angry Birds Space will debut in a variety of app stores, but this event marks Walmart’s first in-store promotion with a mobile app. Game clues will be hidden in select limited-edition Angry Birds Space merchandise — including apparel, mobile phones, plush toys, snacks, and more — in more than 3,000 Walmart stores starting March 25.

Walmart is also creating an Angry Birds Facebook page that will become active March 22, and fans who “like” the page will get access to one of four “Golden Eggsteroid” clues, which can unlock secret levels in the game. While that isn’t a big deal by itself, the collaboration shows that Rovio is now so big it can cut deals with the world’s largest retailer. Angry Birds has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon and has been downloaded more than 700 million times.

Walmart has 13 million fans for its Facebook page, so it can help Angry Birds Space get more fans.

Rovio has also cut a deal with T-Mobile. The company’s store reps will demonstrate the game and help fans get bonus content.

“We wanted to give our fans a unique retail extension to Angry Birds Space that rewards them for their eagle eyes,” said Peter Vesterbacka, chief marketing officer and Mighty Eagle of Rovio Entertainment. “Only Walmart can deliver the reach across America for this type of programm and we wish our fans luck as they seek out our hidden clues.”

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Airbnb crashes the London Olympics with buy of U.K. rival

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 05:57 PM PDT

U.K. startup Crashpadder has found a permanent home at temp-stay booking service Airbnb.

Airbnb has acquired the three year-old company, which takes a marketplace-for-spare-spaces approach to travel booking, for an undisclosed sum, the companies announced Tuesday.

Both startups offer nearly identical services and are merging ahead of the summer Olympics in London to satisfy tourist demand. Crashpadder members are being automatically moved over to Airbnb.

“We’ve known the founders of Airbnb almost since we started, and beyond being great guys, they share a common vision that aligned perfectly with ours,” Crashpadder co-founders Stephen Rapoport and Dan Hill said of the sale.

Crashpadder grew to 7,000 hosts in 100 countries and 2,500 cities and became the second largest site for booking unique accommodations in the U.K. Just months before the start of the 2012 summer Olympic Games in London, the acquisition also comes at a highly strategic juncture for Airbnb, a fact not lost on either company.

“We knew that London was going to be a major focus for us in 2012 with the Olympics on the horizon,” Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky said in a statement. “Now, with the addition of the Crashpadder community we are making huge strides to ensure that thousands of Olympic visitors will have a unique and local experience as Londoners open their door to the world during the games and beyond.”

San Francisco-based Airbnb has raised $119.8 million in total funding. The fast-growing startup recently announced that more than 5 million guests have made reservations through its service.

Photo credit: London2012.com

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Funding daily: a Russian travel site, safer electric car charging stations, and mobile app building

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 04:45 PM PDT

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

Oktogo.ru raises $10 million

Oktogo.ru, a Russian Expedia-like site, announced Tuesday it has raised $10 million from VTB Capital, MangroveCapital Partners, Ventech Capital, and ABRT. The site offers online hotel booking and travel services. This new funding brings Oktogo.ru’s total funding to $15 million.

Mobiles Republic closes a $3 million round

Mobiles Republic, a mobile, tablet, and PC application builder, announced it has raised $3 million in its first round of funding. The company’s four apps focus on news, business, beauty, and geek topics, using its TagNav semantic search to find relevant information for its app users. XAnge Private Equity, a French venture capital firm, and Creathor Ventures led the round.

Gridtest nabs some seed money

Gridtest Systems tests the safety and efficiency of electric vehicle charging stations. The company announced Tuesday that is has received an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Pasadena Angels and Tech Coast Angels.

Albeo grabs $8 million

Albeo, a company that manufactures commercial and industrial LED lighting, has closed its second round of funding for $8 million. Braemar Energy Ventures led the round, with participation from Green Spark Ventures and Silicon Valley Bank. The round is split between $6.5 million of equity and $1.5 million of working capital.

Does your company have funding news to report? Send new tips to tips@venturebeat.com. 

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Judge: Apple must be specific if it wants Google to give up Android secrets

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 04:32 PM PDT


Apple was denied permission to compel Google to deliver files about its Android operating system or acquisition of mobile hardware maker Motorola Mobility today after a judge decided Apple was being to broad in its request.

“The motion is vague and overbroad and Motorola's objections are persuasive," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner wrote in a sealed filing, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

The iPhone maker, which has been locked in an intellectual property battle with Motorola, was originally granted the request on March 5. On March 16, after Apple complained that Google had not yet acquiesced, Google’s legal representation, Amanda Williamson, e-mailed an Apple attorney. She stated that Apple needed to specify its demands, and that the request was not well-defined.

Judge Posner shared that sentiment. “If Apple desires a further court order compelling production of data within the scope of the March 5 order, it will have to narrow its request to a manageable and particularized, set of documents," he said today.

Google agreed to acquire Motorola Mobility in 2011 for around $12.5 billion according to a quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The European Union and the U.S. Department of Justice recently approved the deal. However, a decision is still pending in China.

via Bloomberg Businessweek; Image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile

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Apple gave Yelp some Siri-ous love in iOS update

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 04:03 PM PDT

Local business reviews are at your beck-and-call on Apple’s iPhone 4S, thanks to deeper ties between mobile virtual assistant Siri and Yelp’s reviews service.

Yelp, one of a group of third-party services to be integrated into the Siri experience at launch, was given a more dominant role on Apple’s best-selling device in the iOS 5.1 update released earlier this month, Yelp said Tuesday.

Now, if you query Siri for recommendations, say a great nail salon or vegan restaurant, it will return Yelp star-ratings next to local restaurants and businesses results that, on click, will open the application and direct you to a Yelp business page. Prior to the update, Siri would pull from Yelp to return local business results but not send you directly through to the application.

The Apple love could prove pretty consequential for Yelp if Siri users start clicking through to mobile business pages. More exposure and distribution from the powerful phone-maker will not only bring in more mobile users, and advertising dollars by association, but also help the newly IPO’d company win favor from Wall Street.

Yelp, which made its public debut on March 2, has already experienced a tumultuous stock market ride. The site was greeted with a warm, day-one welcome but quickly lost its luster and fell from a $26 a share high to a $19.36 low. The company has started to gain back ground and closed Tuesday at $22.90 a share with a $1.37 billion market cap.

Photo credit: Will Hastings/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Eventbrite launches first hardware product with “at the door” credit card reader

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 04:00 PM PDT


Popular ticketing startup Eventbrite has released a new credit card reader for the iPad to help event organizers create a mobile box office, the company announced late Tuesday.

The At The Door Card Reader, as it’s called, will interact the new At The Door iPad app to allow companies and planners to accept payments for tickets, merchandise, and more. Furthermore, the app will work with the Star TSP143 wireless printers for printing receipts and tickets, which will help complete the mobile box office.

Launching its first hardware product ever will help Eventbrite continue to establish itself as a serious, growing company and make it more competitive with rivals Ticketmaster and Ticketfly. The company recently told us that it doubled its revenue last year, and it issued its 50 millionth ticket in February.

“At The Door transforms an off-the-shelf iPad into a paradigm-shifting tool for managing sales for events,” Eventbrite CEO and Co-Founder Kevin Hartz said, in a statement. “We're essentially taking the devices that are proliferating among consumers and transforming them into perfectly tailored tools for event organizers, at no cost, and with greater impact than anything previously available.”

The card reader will run $10 for organizers, but the cost will ultimately be reimbursed to the purchaser’s Eventbrite account.

Prior to launch, the company tested the reader at events like The Orange County BBQ Festival and the IFPDA Print Fair. The solution will also be used in one the largest Eventbrite events ever at the Governors Ball Music Festival on June 23th and 24th in New York City.

San Francisco-based Eventbrite raised a huge $50 million round in May 2011, with funding led by Tiger Global Management. It has raised a total of $79.5 million, with Sequoia Capital, DAG Ventures, and Tenaya Capital also investing.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Get Satisfaction founders want you to get lucky [video]

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 03:12 PM PDT

Thor Muller and Lane Becker have had a fair amount of luck in their time. The Get Satisfaction co-founders chalk their company’s founding to serendipity, in fact.

Turns out, they want the rest of us to get lucky too. And they’ve so far as to write a book about how to do so.

Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business will be on bookstore shelves soon, and at South By Southwest last week, the duo took some time to chat with VentureBeat about what serendipity means to them and how luck works in the real world.

Check out this clip and our other video interviews from SXSW.

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Square nabs PayPal VP just as the companies become direct competitors

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 02:52 PM PDT


Updated (3:45) with statement from PayPal.

Looks like Square didn’t appreciate PayPal entering its territory. The company confirmed today that it has hired a PayPal vice president to help Square expand abroad and take the competitor on in new territories.

Alyssa Cutright, who served as PayPal’s vice president of products for North America, is joining Square as vice president of international. The announcement comes soon after PayPal launched its PayPal Here product, which competes with Square’s mobile credit card reader.

“Although Alyssa held a product role with PayPal, she was not involved in the creation or launch of PayPal Here,” said a PayPal spokesperson in an e-mail to VentureBeat. “PayPal Here was created by a central global product team led by David Marcus and Hill Ferguson.”

Square declined VentureBeat’s request for comment, but did confirm that Cutright has accepted the position.

Both Square and PayPal Here allow anyone to accept credit or debit card payments via a dongle that attaches to a smartphone via the audio jack. After connecting to the respective mobile application, merchants can use the dongle to swipe a customer’s card and have them sign for the payment on the mobile device’s touch screen. The technology lets small businesses accept payments where they otherwise would have to deal with a clunky point of sale system. It also allows them to be more agile and not have to set up shop in one location.

Square has been a particularly strong voice in this new mobile payments industry, already processing $4 billion in payments a year since it launched in 2010. But PayPal Here has a significant advantage: its international presence. When it launched on March 15, Here became available in the U.S., but also Australia, Hong Kong, and Canada. Cutright will ultimately bring PayPal’s big business savvy and ability to expand to the rapidly growing startup.

Square was created by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and recently took on a $100 million round of funding, bumping its valuation up to $1 billion.

hat tip All Things D

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Holy hard drives! Seagate breaks terabit barrier, 60TB drive coming

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 01:43 PM PDT


Hard drive manufacturer Seagate has become the first company of its kind to reach the storage density of 1 terabit (1 trillion bits) per square inch, an incredible milestone that will lead to even larger hard drives like a 60TB drive.

The company was able to achieve the new density with a technology called heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR). This technology allows drive makers to heat up each magnetic “bit” in such a way that their magnetism does not affect each other. Once the magnetism of each bit has been changed, you can pack them more densely into the same space.

“The growth of social media, search engines, cloud computing, rich media and other data-hungry applications continues to stoke demand for ever greater storage capacity,” said Mark Re, SVP of Heads and Media Research and Development at Seagate, in a statement. “Hard disk drive innovations like HAMR will be a key enabler of the development of even more data-intense applications in the future, extending the ways businesses and consumers worldwide use, manage, and store digital content.”

Theoretically, HAMR allows for densities up to 10 terabits per square inch. Based on this, in the next 10 years we could see a 60TB hard drive made for desktops and laptops.

The maximum capacity of today’s standard 3.5-inch hard drives is just 3TB, while 2.5-inch drives max out at 750GB. The first generation of HAMR drives will most likely at least double these capacities, with 6TB for 3.5-inch drives and 2TB for 2.5-inch models.

For someone who never feels like he has enough storage for music and media, this sounds amazing. Let’s hope Seagate (and other drive makers) can deliver.

Hard drive image: Sergej Khakimullin/Shutterstock

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Zuckerberg a no-show at pre-IPO analyst meeting

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 01:38 PM PDT

Mark Zuckerberg may have completed the ultimate power play in nabbing a majority of Facebook’s voting rights, but the youthful chief executive would apparently prefer to take a back seat as his social networking company courts analysts and investors on the road to a public offering.

Zuckberg skipped a three-hour meeting with analysts and bankers at Facebook’s headquarters on Monday and plans to be mostly hands-off in the selling process, sources told the Wall Street Journal. Facebook COO and company front-woman Sheryl Sandberg and CFO David Ebersman led the meeting.

“In response to a question about his absence … Ebersman said Mr. Zuckerberg preferred to focus his time on developing the service rather than play a role with such analysts,” according to the Journal.

Altimeter Group founder and partner Charlene Li thinks Zuckerberg’s absence from the meeting was a move designed to set expectations early on. Traditional analysts may be put off by the no-show, she told VentureBeat, but they will get over the snub, “as long as Zuck is available to discuss the overall vision and direction of the firm at appropriate points.”

Facebook filed to become a public company on February 1, 2012. The social network, which made $3.7 billion in 2011, will raise at least $5 billion in a May offering with a valuation between $75 and $100 billion. The company is also said to be paying its IPO underwriters a below-average 1.1 percent fee.

Since its initial filing, Facebook has amended its prospectus, secured several billion dollars in additional credit, reconfigured its advertising products to reduce its mobile risk, and is now busy fighting off a patent suit from one-time Valley pal Yahoo.

And while Zuckerberg snubbed analysts, the CEO may still play some part in the larger roadshow when the company travels and presents to fund managers and potential buyers, but executives are undecided on his exact role, a source told the Journal.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Photo credit: John Adams/Flickr

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Venmo, now processing $10M a month, comes out of beta, offers me the world’s smallest bribe

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 01:23 PM PDT

Venmo just sent me a penny. I sent it back of course. VentureBeat is an ethical publication before all else.

The New York based social payment service announced today that it was taking off the beta label after launching more than two years ago. Why put on the big boy pants now?

“We started as just two guys. Now we’re a team of more than twenty on pace to process more than $250 million this year. We felt we had crafted a really great experience and it was time to go public,” Venmo co-founders Andrew Kortina and Iqram Magdon-Ismail told VentureBeat during a phone interview this afternoon.

Unlike its competitor, Dwolla, Venmo charges no fees at all to its users. “We’re more focused on the social experience right now. People are using Venmo to split the bill at restaurants, pay friends back for cabs, even just to joke with one another. The majority of transactions on Venmo are shared with the public,” said the co-founders.

That’s an interesting statistic. At a recent panel I hosted on Big Data, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs all agreed that the golden opportunity in the Big Data space is getting access to consumers purchasing habits.

Venmo says it’s going to stay focused on building a consumer-facing social network for now, no ads or revenue streams necessary. Eventually they hope to create a product for merchants that will tap into that social graph, and build interesting products around mobile payments and loyalty. Merchants would pay a fee.

The company raised a silent round from its current investors (Accel, RRE, Greycroft, and Lerer Ventures) back in August of last year, helping to fund its growth, but it won’t comment on the size beyond describing it as a Series A.

“Our users Venmo each other for dinners, rent, concert tickets, birthday drinks, and sometimes just for laughs,” said the co-founders. “That wasn’t how we expected the product to be used, but its something we believe can be really powerful.” Nothing says smart startup like understanding when your product has uses you never imagined, and pivoting to that strength.

The app introduced a new feature last week that allows users to connect Venmo directly with their bank accounts. I signed up and was able to find a number of friends using the service, plus an $8.00 balance that we have no clue about. It’s like we found a bunch of change behind the digital couch cushions!

Photo credit: gomattolson/Flickr

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Aereo files 2nd countersuit against Fox, PBS for right to transmit broadcast TV

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 01:07 PM PDT


Aereo, which streams local broadcast television to your mobile devices, has filed a second countersuit against PBS, Fox, and two New York broadcasters already embroiled in legal battle with the entertainment tech startup.

Aereo allows people to receive broadcast TV on their mobile devices using a small, Internet-connected antenna. The antenna, which is roughly the size of a dime, transmits signals like any television antenna would. Customers can watch broadcast television in HD, access content anywhere given its mobile nature, and record shows by connecting their Aereo account to their DVR. The service recently launched to the public in New York, the same state in which the company is being sued.

VentureBeat’s Ben Popper tried out the service. You can check out his thoughts here.

The broadcasters believe Aereo is coming in between the companies’ ability to collect fees on cable company re-transmissions.  But Aero, which is backed by Barry Diller, who helped create Fox, says this is a classic case of law needing to keep up with technology. The company sent us this statement when it filed its first countersuit on March 13:

“This case involves nothing more than the application of settled law to updated technology — settled law that establishes conclusively that Aereo's business is entirely lawful. Plantiff's Complaints fails because Aereo merely provides technology that consumer may use to what they are legally entitled to do: (1) access free and legally accessible over the air television broadcasts using an antenna; (2) create individual, unique recording of those broadcasts for personal use, see Sony Cor. of America vs Universal Studios, Inc, 464 U.S. 417 (1984); and (3) record and play back those unique recording utilizing a remotely located digital video recorder ("DVR") to personal devices, see Cartoon Network L.P. vs CSC Holdings Inc., 536 F.3d 121 (2nd Circ. 2008).”

hat tip Reuters; Image via Aereo

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Unlock conference aims to draw the game industry’s elite (exclusive)

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 01:06 PM PDT

Unlock, a new conference in La Jolla, Calif., is aiming draw the elite executives of the video game industry. The two-day event is hosted by the leaders of IGN, GameStop, and Facebook’s game business.

Roy Bahat, general manager of News Corp.’s IGN, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the invite was inspired by other close-knit Internet conferences such as The Lobby, FOO Camp, and Kinnernet. It will use an “unconference” format with some surprises and no formal speakers.

“It’s an unstructured conference, an experiment,” said Bahat. “We’re trying out a format that has worked well in the Internet space.”

The first event will take place April 11-13 at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, a resort in La Jolla, Calif., near the Torrey Pines golf course. The invite list will be short at 50 to 70 people, and the participants will pay a fee of $1,795. The invite-only event will draw both established leaders and up-and-comers.

The themes will be drawn from the participants, and discussions will be led by volunteers from among the participants themselves. In that sense, it’s not unlike our own VentureBeat Mobile Summit.

Sadly for journalists, the event will be off the record. Besides Bahat, the hosts include Chris Petrovic of GameStop and Sean Ryan, the games head at Facebook.

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Ford plugs cars as the next big connected devices [video]

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 12:47 PM PDT

We caught up with Ford at South By Southwest last week to chat about the connected car phenomenon.

After all, at CES earlier this year, high-tech car tech was the talk of the show. Currently, Ford’s in-car computer system, called Sync, has shipped out in more than 4 million vehicles.

Sync-focused Ford engineer Ryan Dauzet talks with VentureBeat in this clip; stay tuned for more interviews from SXSW.

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Beats Audio in talks to acquire MOG music service

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 12:20 PM PDT


Beats Audio, the headphone company affiliated with legendary rapper Dr. Dre, is rumored to be in discussions to purchase music startup MOG, according to multiple reports.

MOG is a subscription-based streaming music service that’s similar to Rdio, Rhapsody, and Spotify. MOG offers a free ad-supported version of the service, an ad-free $4.99 per month web subscription, and an ad-free $9.99 per month web/mobile device subscription.

Despite massive growth from integration with Facebook’s Open Graph, MOG still struggles to compete against the large number of competitors. MOG’s chief executive denied rumors that his company was looking for a potential buyer, as VentureBeat first reported back in February.

The deal between MOG and Beats hasn’t been finalized, according to an AllThingsD report. The acquisition would make sense for Beats, which counts mobile phone maker HTC as its majority owner. HTC already has Beats’ speakers inside its mobile devices. Should the deal go through, a Beats Audio-owned MOG service could also be paired with HTC devices.

Update: BusinessInsider’s Matt Rosoff just pointed out that he first reported the rumor in a report yesterday.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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