22 March, 2012



Lost phones will cost consumers $30B in 2012, and other facts about our butterfingers

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 09:36 AM PDT

Lost smartphones may cost consumers $30 billion this year if those phones are not recovered, says mobile security software company Lookout Mobile.

Remember that time the iPhone was “lost” in a bar? Well, it certainly didn’t stop Apple from making a ton of money, but the scenario of leaving the bar and a smartphone behind is an all too familiar one for many consumers. Lookout Mobile surveyed data from its 15 million customers and determined that in 2011, nine million people lost their phones. That’s a lost phone every 3.5 seconds. If it takes you seven minutes to read this post, 120 smartphones will have been lost by the time you finish.

It may actually be the city you live in that brings out the butterfingers in all of us. The top five cities boasting lost phones are Philadelphia, Seattle, Oakland, Long Beach, and Newark, according to Lookout. Where you lose your phone within those cities varies, but one thing stays the same: you’re most likely to lose your phone in places where you’re handling drinks. The top two places overall were coffee shops and bars.

Surprise, surprise — “tech startups” was San Francisco’s tenth most lost phone location.

So, what adds up to $30 billion in cost? To start, each phone costs money. If you don’t have an upgrade and don’t want to open a new account, an iPhone 4S can run you $649.99 — and that’s just the 16GB model. In 2011 alone, Lookout located over $2.5 billion in phones. Antivirus software maker Symantec recently reported its “Honey Stick Project,” on what happens to smartphones are they are lost. Researchers left phones, which was outfitted with monitoring software and GPS, in New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Ottawa, Canada. They fashioned apps that mimicked real apps, but actually sent back data on whether the phone’s “finder” attempted to access personal information.

They did.

Ninety-six percent of people who found the smartphone attempted to access the phone. Eighty-nine percent tried to open personal apps. Only 50 percent actually tried to contact the owner. Banking apps, sensitive corporate information, and whatever price we put on our Facebook data all adds up to that $30 billion cost to consumers.

You can check out Lookout Mobile’s report online for more factoids about lost phones. I leave you with a few of my favorites:

  1. People in London lost $20 million worth of phones during this study. That’s enough to buy 500 royal wedding cakes (as served to the Prince and Duchess of Cambridge at the Royal Wedding in 2011).
  2. In Seoul, Korea, the number one place people lost their phones was in a Martial Arts Dojo.
  3. The dollar value of phones lost in Seattle was still only enough to cover half of Starbucks’ CEO’s salary for 2011.

Image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, security

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VB webinar at 1pm PT to explore Singapore as Asian launch pad

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 09:30 AM PDT

VB Webinar

VentureBeat and IDA Singapore are hosting a free video webinar today at 1pm PT.

There are unprecedented innovation and growth opportunities taking place in Asia, and Singapore is the epicenter of it.

VB Executive Editor Dylan Tweney will moderate a lively discussion with a group of Silicon Valley CEOs about their experience in using Singapore as a hub for Asian expansion. As always, Dylan will be asking the tough questions, so you’ll benefit from actionable tips and lessons learned.

Participants include:

There will be an attendee Q&A segment directly following the discussion, so have your questions ready. The webinar is free to attend and will take place today at 1pm PT.

You can register here.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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Netflix iPad app update preps for HD video streaming

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 09:10 AM PDT

Netflix Screen

Netflix customers will soon be able to stream high-definition versions of movies and TV shows on their iPad, the company said via Twitter yesterday.

Netflix subscribers have been waiting for an update ever since news broke about Apple’s third-generation iPad, which features a new ultra-high resolution Retina Display. The combination of HD videos and the new iPad screen could make you think twice about watching a movie on an older TV set.

While we don’t have a precise date for the HD video availability, it’s likely to happen soon. Netflix recently rolled out an update to its iPad app, which features user interface tweaks, higher resolution movie/TV show artwork, and a handful of other bug fixes. The red navigation bar at the top of the screen is now visible at all times. I can’t say that I really bothered to use it much, but it makes sense for people who aren’t constantly messing with mobile apps (like my mom).

In addition to the visual improvements, the new iPad update includes bug fixes for VoiceOver and video playback when connecting to an external display.

As many long-time subscribers have noted over the past year, Netflix isn’t very enthusiastic about its DVD-by-mail rental business. Staying consistent with that behavior, the latest update removes the ability to rate DVDs directly from your iPad. Although, if you subscribe to a Netflix DVD plan, you probably aren’t concerned with watching movies on your tablet anyways.

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: media, mobile

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The next Ghost Recon has outstanding team play, but the graphics need work (preview)

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier is Ubisoft’s big release this year in the third-person shooter market. The video game is one of the major releases of the year and it should help revive interest in Tom Clancy’s long-running combat franchise, which is in major need of modernization.

It’s appropriate, then, that Ghost Recon Future Soldier isn’t just about contemporary warfare; it takes you into the future with cool technological advances such as stealth cloaking that are meant to give modern soldiers the unfair edge on the battlefield of tomorrow. We recently had a chance to play several of the levels and game modes in a hands-on session with the game’s lead designer.

The game is an important one for Ubisoft because it revives an important franchise for the French video game maker as it strives to compete with much larger rivals Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts. If Ghost Recon Future Soldier sells well, it will help the company grow its war chest and double down on its top franchises. And it will help the company advance the state of innovation in the lucrative multibillion-dollar shooter market.

I had a chance to test a couple of levels with two different modes of gameplay recently. The conclusion: the team-oriented cooperative play is phenomenal, but the graphics of the game may be disappointing to gamers who are used to the visual quality of Call of Duty or Battlefield games. I played the Valiant Hammer and the Firefly Rain missions in the campaign game, and fought in Guerilla Mode on the Mansion map. All told, there are 12 missions, each of them pretty long. The eight main locations include the dusty villages of Africa, the suburbs of Moscow, and the icy territory of the Arctic.

Great team play

The lack of phenomenal graphics isn’t a killer drawback. I’m assured that the bugs I saw will get fixed by the launch. And the experience isn’t all about the visuals. That’s because Ubisoft Paris lead designer Roman Campos Oriola positioned the game as an intelligent shooter, where you combine team tactics, modern technology, and thoughtful strategy in order to beat the various terrorist enemies. You can’t just go running and firing down the street, since a bullet or two will put you in your grave quite easily.

The other thing that is attractive about this game is that a single smart team leader, in our case Oriola, can teach three other players how to fight. You can play the entire single-player campaign game with four-person cooperative play. When we started our missions, Oriola led the way. He sent a small recon drone up into the air to identify enemy soldiers. A marker appeared above each high-priority target, as selected by the squad leader. Then we each identified one target and clicked on it with the right bumper to claim it. Then everyone else could see which unsuspecting soldiers had been claimed. Upon counting down, Oriola told us to fire and four enemies fell just like that — a synchronized kill. It’s not a fair fight, but the odds are tilted against you.

As long as everyone stays in stealth mode and uses a quiet, silenced weapon, you can execute those silent takedowns repeatedly. That helps you get through tough missions where there are armies of enemies that will attack you upon discovery. If you go into a crouch, your invisibility cloak, known as “optical camouflage,” goes into effect. This turns you virtually invisible until you start firing. After that, you’re on your own. It is amazing how much you can accomplish when you stay in a tight group and communicate.


The graphics aren’t nearly as impressive as Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. You can’t run as fast as you can in those games, but then again, you’re not supposed to be able to move fast because the game is so realistic. I noticed this a lot while moving through the water. You could step into and through the water without seeing any wake. I’ll reserve full judgement on this when I see the real shipping game. But it’s a little disappointing that, after so many years of development and long delays in production, this was the best that Ubisoft could do.

Gunsmith mode

Another cool part of the experience is customizing your gun. In Gunsmith mode, you can pick all of the features, from grips to nozzles, that will help your soldier kill more efficiently. I created a gun with a grenade launcher and a stable grip. My scope didn’t work so well, but I expect they’ll fix that bug by the time the game ships. You can use the Gunsmith in both the single player and multiplayer play, resulting in a unique player experience. As you proceed through the campaign, you win credits that can be used to level up your gun. You get a choice of dozens of attachments and components. When you enter the mode, the weapon goes into a freeze frame and you can see all of the parts in an exploded view, where it seems like the parts float in the air.

Guerilla Mode

In the Guerilla Mode, our team of four players had to defend a spot on the Mansion map. Enemy soldiers surrounded us and attacked in waves. At first, the waves were easy. But they got progressively harder. One of the things that adds to the realism is the battlefield chatter that comes from your comrades.The chatter isn’t completely idle. At the outset, one comrade will yell what direction the enemy is coming from. If one of your team members is hit, they will yell out for help. You can then revive them, as long as you don’t expose yourself.

In between waves, you have to pick up ammo and grenades from chests on the map. Then a clock ticks down until the next assault wave starts. As many as 50 waves will hit you. If one enemy is giving a teammate trouble, you can fire at the enemy and suppress them, or pin them down so they can’t fire. You can carry a couple of primary weapons and can toss out grenades. I enjoy earning claymore mines and then plopping them down on pathways. I got used to playing defense in my corner of the battlefield. But occasionally, I’d have to fight with one of my teammates for the best spot to snipe. The location that you have to defend rotates sometimes just so you don’t get to used to defense on a section of the map.

If you are shot, your comrades can revive you. If you bleed out and die, your team loses the mission. As you level up, you can get access to air strikes. I got one during the game, but dropped it on nothing because I found it particularly hard to control.

One of the problems in the game is that if you are noisy and give away your position, you compromise your entire team. That is why you can play only with your friends via online co-op. That is, you can’t play with strangers. The reason is that the teamwork required is very involved and it won’t be a fun experience if you play with a stranger who flakes out on you or otherwise screws up your team dynamics.

One really unfair advantage is that you can see the enemy through walls, thanks to either special goggles or your recon drone. You can fire through some of the walls, but not all of them. If you press the A button, you move into cover. You can move from cover to cover and try to outflank enemies. But maneuvering isn’t that easy if you want to do it fast. Too often you run into obstacles and can’t see that you have done so. That’s a typical problem with the third-person perspective. It’s also quite hard to see where an enemy is when they close with you in hand-to-hand combat. Up close, I noticed a lot of graphics clipping. Again, I hope that Ubisoft’s minions take care of this before launch.

The missions

Each of the missions comes with cut scenes and a story that properly motivates you to fight. You have to help a Russian general fend off his own comrades. To do so your team has to take out a bunch of artillery that is being used to pin down the general’s forces. It isn’t easy to get through a mission because all of your people have to survive. You can get a headstart on the mission with a synchronized kill, but very quickly the firefights that ensue become chaotic. I found that my best bet was the flank the enemy as much as possible.

Once in a while you come across mounted weapons, such as machine gun nests. It’s quite fun to man them and spread death throughout the battlefield. But you have to be supported when you do so, or else you’ll be an easy target. The whole lesson of the combat is that the team that has the best coordination is the one that is going to win under heavy fire. You can compete against friends on online leaderboards. In multiplayer mode, eight players can square off against eight. You can pick rifleman, engineer, or scout classes. You can level up your character the more missions you complete.

I enjoyed playing the Firefly Rain mission, where the dialogue among the troops kept me immersed in the real-world feel of the combat. After a while, my teammates became good at launching synchronized kills and sweeping through the enemy formations. But we always had the most trouble in places where the enemies could easily surround us on the battlefield.

The game will be released on May 22. That gives Ubisoft time to fix some of the graphics flaws. You won’t see the problems like water that makes no wakes when you wade into it. Hopefully. We played the game on the Xbox 360. It will also be out on the PlayStation 3 and the PC.

Check out the new trailer below.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Wall Street draws an unflattering portrait of Zynga’s pricey OMGPOP purchase, expects stock to drop

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 08:59 AM PDT

Zynga’s purchase of OMGPOP for a price reported to be around $150-200 million has Wall Street analysts scratching their heads. Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia writes, “ZNGA’s acquisition of OMGPOP, creator of Draw Something (currently the top free/paid App for iPhone/iPad), is interesting. However, we believe it is too early to tell how well the game can monetize beyond the initial spend ($0.99) on the download. If the media speculation of the acquisition price ($150M-$250M) is anywhere close to being accurate, the deal may look expensive. Recall, Zynga previously acquired Words with Friends creator Newtoy for $53M in late 2010. Reiterating Underperform; $7 target.”

That would be a big drop for Zynga, which is currently trading around $14. Bloggers and analysts are still trying to decide if it makes sense to spend big bucks acquiring companies in what is clearly a hits based business. For six years prior to DrawSomething, OMGPOP struggled to create a breakout game. What is the guarantee they can recreate the magic they found with DrawSomething, or that it will last more than a few months (remember the game has only been around for about four weeks).

“While this may be a coincidence, it is interesting that Words with Friends seems to have seen a bit of decline in recent weeks following the launch of Draw Something. In fact, Words with Friends recently lost its position as the top App on iPhone to Draw Something. Another article has speculated that Draw Something has been generating on average $250K in daily revenue in recent days,” writes Bhatia. “We suspect that most of this revenue, at least currently, is being generated from the one-time purchase of the paid version of the App. In other words, it would be incorrect, in our opinion, to assume the $250K daily revenue run rate (if that’s accurate) is sustainable.”

Our own Dean “The Machine” Takahashi nabbed an interview with Zynga’s chief mobile officer Dan Ko. “I saw a husband and wife at the bar,” Ko said. “The husband was playing Words With Friends and the wife was playing Draw Something. It was one of those cultural moments. I knew we were making the right call with these guys. It wasn't just about the game. It was about the team.”

Source: AppData

Filed under: deals, games, mobile, social

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Skype co-founder’s FreedomPop wants to offer freemium mobile broadband

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 08:08 AM PDT


New details have emerged on mysterious wireless company FreedomPop’s plan to give wireless broadband to consumers at little or no cost, according to a report from AllThingsD.

FreedomPop, which has heavy involvement from Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, aims to shakeup the wireless industry by giving away some of its mobile broadband service for free and then offer up to eight different paid add-on services. That makes the company closer to something like Dropbox, which has a freemium model for service, rather than a Verizon Wireless, which makes you pay up-front. "We call ourselves a Webco versus a telco," FreedomPop Marketing VP Tony Miller told AllThingsD. "We're trying to build something more interesting."

The company will buy WiMax wireless service wholesale from Clearwire and an unnamed major wireless company (we’d guess Sprint) to get mobile broadband in the hands of consumers. Originally, FreedomPop planned to buy wholesale from Lightsquared, but that company’s plans have dramatically fallen apart due to the potential for GPS interference.

FreedomPop will give consumers a USB stick for laptops, a mobile hotspot, and an iPhone case with a WiMax radio inside. The company plans to build a case for the iPad as well because the majority of iPad users own Wi-Fi-only models.

On the freemium wireless front, FreedomPop will compete with NetZero, which just launched a new offering to give away a small amount of data each month. NetZero has a plan system, while FreedomPop will charge $10 per GB over an allotted free gigabyte of data.

FreedomPop is expected to launch later this year.

Woman using smartphone photo: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile

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Is HP getting ready for a big split?

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 07:55 AM PDT


HP announced yesterday that it is merging two of its big divisions: the Personal Systems Group (PSG) and the Imaging and Printing Group (IPG), with the resulting group being lead by Todd Bradley (current GM of PSG).

Between them, these two groups represent approximately 50 percent of HP’s revenues. Is this a first step in some greater strategic initiative being implemented by the new executive administration of Meg Whitman, or something less dramatic?

Both groups have been relatively under-performing when it comes to profits, given that the PC hardware business has notoriously low margins. And even the printing business, which in the past generated stellar profits from its extremely high margin consumables business (i.e., ink, toner), has been having some difficulties lately as lower cost competition have impacted profits. Further both have exhibited a downward revenue trend over the past several quarters reflecting market realities, which will not likely have any dramatic upticks in the short term, especially given HP's failure to effectively cash in on the big trends in mobility (e.g., its major failure with the Palm acquisition and subsequent write-offs).

So, by combining these two businesses which are heavily weighted towards the consumer market, is HP drawing a line in the sand between its future and its past? Is it positioning the business for a sell off (unlikely as it's probably too big for anyone to acquire profitably) or a spin out (the more likely scenario)? Is HP about to pull a Motorola, who last year split in two along similar consumer (mobile devices) and business (primarily infrastructure) product lines?

As of HP's Q1 2012 report, the Services group was approximately the same size as PSG but had nearly twice the profitability. The Enterprise Servers Storage and Networking Group, together with the Software Group, was approximately the same size as IPG with nearly equal profitability. And both are doing relatively well in light of a recovering business spending environment and need for infrastructure improvements in emerging markets.

I would argue that if HP is moving down the path of splitting up, it is the right move to make. The real growth opportunity for HP and its shareholders is in services, software, and higher margin hardware (e.g., servers, cloud-based systems, networking, storage). This is where the market is increasingly shifting its spending.

Further, by segregating PSG and IPG, HP can more clearly focus its R&D and marketing on its longer term strategic competition such as IBM, Oracle and SAP. SAP currently is not in the hardware business (and is unlikely to be in the future), but Oracle's acquisition of Sun has not been terribly profitable, and in the longer term I predict it will likely undertake a similar hardware divestment. And of course, IBM makes hardware, but wisely got out of the low margin end of the business by selling it years ago to Lenovo (who has done well with it, by the way).

If my speculation is truly the motivation behind this move (and not just executive shifting and the retirement of IPG's Mr. Joshi), then I applaud the move. A divided HP could actually increase its focus and improve overall performance for both entities after a split. It would let HP Enterprise focus on its expanding (and profitable) services and software business and face their strategic threats head on. And it would let the HP Consumer group (PSG/IPG) focus exclusively on competing with the likes of Lenovo, Samsung, and other rising emerging market stars (including Apple) that are clearly becoming existential threats to HP's long term profitability.

HP has done this before, when it split off its test equipment and medical equipment groups to form Agilent in 1999 so it could concentrate on the emerging market for PCs and servers. So making this move now would not be unprecedented. Of course, only time will tell if the split actually takes place, but don't be shocked to wake up one day in the not to distant future to see HP split itself in two.

HP logo: Don DeBold/Flickr

Jack Gold is the founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, based in Northborough, Mass. He covers the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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New iPad charging too slowly? Blame the big-ass battery (and new specs)

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:55 AM PDT

The race to find something disastrously wrong with the new iPad is on (it’s already confirmed as a decent crotch warmer), and now there’s word that there may be issues with charging its battery.

The new iPad is apparently very slow to charge, and even worse, it barely charges at all during regular usage, reports PC World. The tablet takes almost six hours to reach full charge, PC World’s Melissa Perenson found, and you can forget about playing games or watching video if you want it to successfully charge.

But before we raise the pitchforks, it’s important to note what’s different with the new iPad. It sports a battery that’s almost 70 percent bigger than the iPad 2′s (11,560 mAh versus 6,944 mAh) — the largest we’ve seen yet in a tablet — so it makes sense that it would take forever to charge. Apple bumped up the battery’s size (and made the new iPad slightly thicker) because its Retina Display, faster A5X processor, and LTE connectivity are all big power drains.

In PC World’s testing, the site found that two versions of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 took almost as long as the new iPad to charge, and both of those only have 7,000 mAh batteries. The slow charging in Samsung’s tablets is far less excusable.

The upgraded hardware in the new iPad also explains why the tablet is slow to charge during use. I’d imagine that merely powering the Retina Display saps much of the power the iPad is taking in while charging. Hopefully, Apple will be able to further optimize the new iPad’s battery through software updates. And if the slow charging becomes a big problem for more users, Apple could release a fast charging accessory (similar to what some rechargeable battery packs use).

These battery issues shouldn’t keep you from buying a new iPad — it’s still the best tablet out there. Software updates could fix some of the charging issues, and it’s not too difficult to get in the habit of charging it overnight. And as a casual iPad user, the issues haven’t noticeably affected the way I use the tablet.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Senators hear Verizon & Comcast’s weaksauce argument for approving the $3.6B spectrum deal

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:53 AM PDT

Verizon, Senate hearing

At a senate judiciary committee hearing Wednesday, top executives from Verizon and Comcast reaffirmed their stance that consumers would benefit from the approval of a billion dollar spectrum deal between the largest U.S. carrier and the country’s biggest cable television providers.

Last year Verizon agreed to spend $3.6 billion to obtain a portion of spectrum currently owned by SpectrumCo, a joint venture that consists of Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc., Bright House Networks, and Cox Communications. That deal is currently under investigation by anti-trust regulators due to concerns that it could stifle competition and impact consumers negatively.

If approved, it would mean that 61 percent of all spectrum in the U.S. (which is used to transmit data via cell phones, GPS devices, radios, broadcast TV stations, and more) would belong to only two companies, Verizon and AT&T. And because this is the only nation-wide portion of the spectrum available for the next several years (if not longer), it also means there likely won’t be many new companies emerging as competitors in the wireless market.

“This deal seems to completely abandon the goals of the Telecom Act,” Senator Al Franken said, in reference to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Telecom Act attempted to make it easier for companies to enter into the business of communication services and expand competition.

Verizon’s argument for why the deal should be approved was pretty weak. During the hearing, Verizon Executive VP Randal Milch said his company would dutifully spend billions of dollars to build out SpectrumCo’s spectrum into a viable wireless network. This in turn would generate more money for Verizon by improving their overall wireless network and charging customers to use it.

But currently, Milch argued, the spectrum is “nothing” because the cable companies aren’t doing anything with it. Seriously, he actually said “right now we have nothing. It’s nothing.”

Franken was quick to respond to Milch’s comments, saying of course its something.. it’s a valuable addition to Verizon’s wireless business. “That’s the reason you want it. Right? OK.”

During the hearing, there were also questions about the cable companies’ intent for purchasing the spectrum six years ago.

“When Comcast and the other cable companies… bought spectrum at the FCC auction in 2006, there was hope that the cable companies would develop competing wireless service,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Herb Kohl. “Instead, these cable companies decided that it would not be economical to spend the resources to deploy this spectrum and enter the wireless market.

Kohl went on to point out that selling this spectrum to the largest wireless company is essentially the opposite of what regulators intended when they agreed to auction it off in 2006.

“Spectrum is government granted public airwaves to be used for the public interest,” Kohl said. “Is it in the public’s (best) interest to sell this spectrum to Verizon, the nation’s biggest wireless company, which will keep it out of the hands of any of the competitors.

“Wouldn’t it have at least been better to have a public auction for this spectrum?” he added.

Kohl also voiced the senate’s “disappointment” over comments made during Comcast shareholder meetings that suggested Comcast never intended to deploy a wireless service. The FCC has regulations against companies that purchase spectrum for its value or allow spectrum to be “warehoused” (intentionally not using purchased allotment of spectrum for strategic advantage over any competitors).

However, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said wasn’t at all the case. In fact, Cohen claimed that SpectrumCo met with every single carrier about deploying a wireless network using its spectrum. The company’s original intent was to have an integrated communication service that included cable TV, broadband Internet, home telephone, and wireless, he said.

Despite concerns over an anti-trust investigation, Comcast determined that the best way to utilize its investment in the spectrum was to partner with Verizon. As the largest wireless company, Verizon could not only offer the most money, but it could also position itself as the best suited to deploy a wireless network using the spectrum.

Screenshot of Senate hearing via Senate.gov

Filed under: deals, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Nvidia retakes crown of world’s fastest graphics chip with Kepler launch

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

With the debut of  its code-named Kepler project, Nvidia is retaking the crown today as the creator of the world’s fastest graphics chip. Most people may not care about that, but hardcore gamers who play the latest games will be happy about it.

The new chips will take PC technology a leap forward as the chips make their way into new gamer desktops and other high-end machines. But Nvidia paid more attention to balancing the system’s power efficiency, and so new computers based on the machine will not only be fast; they will be more power efficient, fitting in a smaller space and operating more quietly.

The next-generation chip is called the GeForce GTX 680 and it is the result of 1.8 million man-hours of work over five years. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia and analysts say that it has taken the crown from Advanced Micro Devices’ code-named Tahiti chip, or formally known as the AMD Radeon HD 7970. The 680 is just one of several new models of chips based on the Kepler architecture. Already, new laptops are being introduced with Kepler-based notebook graphics chips, dubbed GeForce GT 640M.

As an example, Nvidia’s Justin Walker, senior GeForce product manager, said in an interview with VentureBeat that a single graphics card with the new chip can run Epic Games’ high-end game demo, Samaritan, without any visible flaws. And it can do so using a power supply that consumes 195 watts. Last year, it took three Fermi-based GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards running on a power supply with 730 watts to run the same demo.

“This is the fastest and most efficient GPU (graphics processing unit) ever built,” Walker said. “It’s a game changer for us.”

The combination of performance and power efficiency means that Nvidia will likely score a lot of wins in Ultrabooks, which are the Intel-based laptops that are thin like the MacBook Air but affordable and fast. Nvidia’s new GeForce 600M series of Kepler-based graphics chips will be used in the notebook computers. Both the desktop chips and the laptop chips are available now. And the days of loud fans or exotic power supplies may be numbered. The 600M series will likely be used in Ultrabooks with Intel’s upcoming Ivy Bridge processor.

“The energy efficiency we got with Kepler was a big win,” he said.

Rene Haas, general manager of Nvidia’s notebook graphics division, said that, contrary to popular believe, laptops with stand-alone graphics chips are not disappearing despite the introduction of combo microprocessor-graphics chips from Intel and AMD. In 2011, computer makers shipped 75 million units of laptops with stand-alone graphics, Haas said. Nvidia has four mobile chips in the 600M family: the GeForce 640M, the 620M, the 660M, and the 675M. Laptops with those chips will be able to play all of the top 30 PC games, Haas said.

Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, said that up until this point it was tough to get discrete graphics chips into Ultrabooks because of the power constraints.

“Kepler decreased power by half at the same performance point and also enables sophisticated power sharing between CPU (central processing unit) and GPU,” he said.

The previous GeForce GTX 580 had a total of 512 cores, with 32 streaming multiprocessors in each core. The 680 has 192 streaming multiprocessors in each core and eight cores altogether, for a total of 1,536 cores. Full told, the 680 has more than 3.5 billion transistors, the basic components of electronics, compared to 3 billion in Fermi.

Kepler can run three high-definition monitors in stereoscopic 3D, whereas it took two Fermi boards to do the same thing. AMD’s graphics chip can run six screens at the same time, but Nvidia’s Walker said that the only time six screens is useful is at a trade show. Gamers don’t want to play with six screens because the bezels between the screens are too disruptive, he said.

Kepler chips are based on the 28-nanometer process at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. That compares to 40-nanometer technology used in the previous generation Fermi chips, which debuted in March 2010. Nvidia says that the 680 is 300 percent faster in DirectX 11 tessellation performance and 43 percent faster in cutting-edge games such as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, compared to AMD’s Radeon HD 7970. Many games run about 20 percent faster.

Walker said the 680 has twice the performance per watt of the GeForce GTX 580. The 680 also has some new technologies, including a “streaming multiprocessor block,” known as SMX, that is more power efficient. The new FXAA and TXAA antialiasing technologies help get rid of the jaggies, or jagged diagonal lines in games. And they do so without slowing the overall speed of the graphics chip as much as in the past. The 680 can also now run 3D Vision, Nvidia’s stereoscopic 3D solution, in a single graphics card.

Kelt Reeves, president of Falcon Northwest, a maker of high-end gaming systems, said,"The GTX 680 lays down what should be whiplash-inducing speed at the sound of a whisper. Even at full throttle, it doesn't heat up. In the immortal words of Obi-Wan describing a lightsaber, it's 'an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.'"

Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, said that he recently used a GTX 680 to demo a preview of the Unreal Engine 4 for select developers. That took place at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Manufacturers making graphics cards with the 680 include ASL, Asus, Coloful, ECS, EVGA, Gainward, Galaxy, Gigabyte, Innovision 3D, Jetway, Leadtek, MSI, Palit, Point of View, PNY, Sparkle and Zotac. The cards will sell at $499. Computer makers shipping laptops with the new chips include Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.

An Acer Timeline Ultra M3 laptop uses the GTX 640M graphics chip and it weighs 5 pounds, is 20 millimeters thick, and has an eight-hour battery life. By comparison, in March 2010, you could buy an Alienware laptop with a GeForce GTX 285. That machine weighed nine pounds, was 50 millimeters thick, and had three hours of battery life.

A big question is how fast Nvidia will be able to bring down the prices. Nathan Brookwood, analyst at Insight 64, said, “No doubt about it,Nvidia has reclaimed the single-chip performance crown. The high-end is a small niche with big bragging rights. The challenge will be to move the new technology to mainstream price points.”

Jon Peddie, analyst at Jon Peddie Research, said that the bragging rights for having the fastest graphics chip are always fleeting. But he is impressed with how much faster Kepler is compared to the older Fermi chips.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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People are playing mobile games at home — especially in bed

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Mobile games rule in the home these days, and the most popular place to play them is in bed.

MocoSpace surveyed 15,000 of its mobile social game users and found that 96 percent of them play mobile games at least once a day at home. About half, or 53 percent, choose to play in bed. If mobile games come between you and your loved one, well, you’re not alone.

The survey shows that mobile games aren’t just a distraction; they’re becoming a mainstay form of entertainment and a cultural fixture.

About 83 percent of respondents said they play waiting for an appointment. About 72 percent play while commuting by train, bus, or car. (The latter probably don’t drive so well). About 64 percent play at work. 46 percent play in class and 25 percent at the gym.

Of those who play in the home, 41 percent play in the living room, 5 percent in the bathroom, and 1 percent at the dinner table. About 52 percent play for more than an hour per day, and 32 percent play for more than three hours a day. About 10 percent of respondents said they play mobile games for more than three hours a day at work.

About 62 percent said they play social games; 53 percent play action; 40 percent play puzzle, and 28 percent play casino games.

“This report should make every console gaming company nervous," said MocoSpace co-founder and chief executive Justin Siegel. “Mobile gaming is not a companion to consoles; it's attacking them on their home turf: the couch, the La-Z-Boy, and even the bedroom."

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

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Spotify doubles its app library with a mix of blue chip partners and third party developers (sort of)

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 05:24 AM PDT

The number of Spotify apps jumped from 10 to 22 yesterday, with the launch of the company’s second wave of apps. There are more partnerships with big names music brands, as there was in the first ten apps. But there are also some playful apps created by third party developers (sort of) which show the direction that Spotify is headed in trying to expand into a full fledged music platform. Below is a nice summary from Ellis Hamburger:

  • Classify: classical music organized by genre, instrument, mood, composer, and more
  • The Complete Collection: 150 album booklets available, with details about who wrote and produced your favorite pop songs
  • Def Jam: 26 years of Dem Jam recordings and information in one app
  • Digster: match Digster playlists to your listening history and Facebook likes, then turn on full screen mode for partying
  • Domino: highlights artists throughout Domino’s storied history
  • Filtr: builds playlists based on the tastes of your Facebook friends
  • Hot or Not: decide which of two songs is hot or not, then ascend the rankings as you mark more songs correctly
  • The Legacy Of: a “visual feast” containing history’s most acclaimed musicians
  • Matador Records: an interactive guide to the New York music label, including all of its albums and music
  • [PIAS]: experience new albums and curated playlists from the indie label
  • TweetVine: born from a London hackathon, TweetVine scans Twitter for #NowPlaying hashtags to show you what people you’re not friends with are listening to
  • The Warner Sound: the complete Warner music experience, which includes Green Day, Cee Lo Green, Wiz Khalifa, and Fun

The apps from Matador and Domino work much like the earlier creations from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, curated music except instead of a magazine, it’s a label that is doing the selecting.

TweetVine is a third party app created by Matt Larsen and Matt Schofield (ok technically these guys work at Universal Music), two U.K. music developers who were at Spotify’s recent hackathon in New York, and this is where things get interesting. The app is a discovery tool based on what’s trending, helping Spotify users expand beyond the limited social graph of Facebook that now makes up Spotify’s only social integration. Larsen has a very detailed blog post up on what it’s like working with the Spotify API that all aspiring music developers should check out.

The Spotify platform still isn’t as open to third party work as Facebook, iOS or Android. But this new class of apps show a lot more of the playful indy spirit, with apps like Hot or Not encouraging users to engage with the music. We’ve heard that Spotify is hoping to open up to third party developers within the month, so check back for details. The big thing holding Spotify back now is that none of the apps are available on mobile, where it’s seeing its biggest growth in usage.

Filed under: media, mobile, social

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Contractor-hiring service oDesk raises $15M

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 04:30 AM PDT

Outsourcing service oDesk, which brokers jobs between freelance workers and businesses looking to outsource, announced today it has raised $15 million in its fourth round of funding.

“oDesk helps find and match clients with contractors and helps them work together as if they are in the same office,” said Gary Swart, chief executive of oDesk in an interview with VentureBeat, “We can prove how much time is worked and guarantee the contractor gets paid, even if we don’t collect money from the client.”

Many startups and large companies are choosing to outsource work to contractors to cut costs and find better talent. As a result, services like oDesk have popped up and grown a large community of freelancers looking to find work. oDesk has found itself growing quickly and edging out its competition, which includes freelance contracting sites Elance and PeoplePerHour. Swart tells me that oDesk has doubled its business each year since 2007 and currently has a community of 1.6 million contractors. He also says its community of freelance workers earn $300 million each year.

While Swart tells me that oDesk is the largest company in the contract hiring space, it is not without competition. Elance is one of its biggest competitors with more than 120 percent growth from 2010 to 2011. Elance secured $15 million in funding in January 2012, proving that the online contracting industry is growing.

oDesk and Elance have different business models, but both compete for similar contractors and clients. oDesk focuses on longer projects and only offers hourly paid jobs, while Elance contractors must bid on either flat rate projects or hourly jobs, most of which provide short-term work.

The $15 million round oDesk received was led by Henry Ellenbogen of T. Rowe Price, Benchmark Capital, Globespan Venture Partners, and Sigma Partners.

“We’ll use the funding to continue to scale the business, developing new products our customers want, and hire more people,” said Swart.

oDesk has 75 full-time employees and 200 equivalent full-time contractors, and it manages and pays its staff using its own platform. To date, oDesk has received $44 million in funding from T. Rowe PriceBenchmark CapitalSigma PartnersGlobespan Capital Partners, and DAG Ventures. The company is based in Redwood City, Calif.

Outsourcing image via ShutterStock

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iPhoto for iOS hits 1M users in less than two weeks

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 06:15 PM PDT


Apple‘s iPhoto application for the iPhone and iPad reached one million users in the less than two weeks since its release, according to the Loop.

The company announced the iPhoto app at its March 7 third-generation iPad launch. The app fills a hole in the company’s mobile offering that was previously filled by filter-loving photo apps such as Instagram and other editing software. iPhoto, which already exists on Mac computers, lets you color, edit, re-size, crop, enhance, and add a variety of filters to photos.

iPhoto on iOS is different from its Mac counterpart, however. It takes advantage of the touch screen, and lets you edit specific areas of a photo by swiping a finger. For example, if you’d like to brighten just one face in your photo, you can swirl your finger over the face and make the specific enhancement. You can select various brushes and tools from the bottom of the screen (pictured).

Organizing your photos is different as well. You still have various albums, which are kept on a shelf that looks similar to Apple’s Newsstand. But now you can also put photos into “journals” and share them over iCloud via a public link. You can supplement the photos in a journal with various data, including the date each picture was taken, a map to the location in the photo, what the weather was like that day, and more.

As the Loop notes, Apple is counting users here, as opposed to downloads. The app costs $4.99 to download and is only compatible with the iPad 2, the iPhone 4, and more recent devices.

Image via Heather Kelly

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After 35 draws, OMGPOP finally got it right (interview)

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 06:01 PM PDT

Zynga acquired OMGPOP today for a reported $200 million. It was a clear statement that, as powerful as each of these companies are on their own, they still need each other.

New York-based OMGPOP created smartphone hit Draw Something, where you can draw a picture and get a friend to guess the word that the image represents, similar to Pictionary. The game fits the touchscreen interface of smartphones and tablets and has been a huge hit with 20.5 million daily active users, eclipsing Zynga’s Words With Friends. In the last week alone, players have created 1 billion drawings.

But OMGPOP doesn’t have a full network of hot games to cross promote the same way Zynga does. So tying up with Zynga will ensure that Draw Something can last longer in the top charts. Zynga, meanwhile, has almost 3,000 people working on games. It dominates Facebook but can’t make every hit.

Here’s a transcript of our interview with David Ko (pictured below left), chief mobile officer at Zynga, and Dan Porter (pictured right), chief executive at OMGPOP.

GamesBeat: Why did this acquisition look good to both of you?

Ko: I have a tremendous amount of respect for these guys. They have been doing amazing social and fun games for quite some time. People have focused on Draw Something. Equally important was the team built around it. We really had visions that were aligned. We are both doing games that are social and connect the world. It just worked out.

Porter: For us, looking at Zynga’s With Friends franchise, it’s the only other franchise in the space that is doing the same thing we are doing. The opportunity to join with that and scale up was super exciting. Mobile social is a really exciting space to be in. We really want to be part of the leader in that space.

GamesBeat: How do you put a value on a game like Draw Something that is growing so fast? Henry Blodget observed that if you had waited a little longer, OMGPOP could have had a $1 billion valuation.

Porter: At the beginning of the football season, the Eagles were the dream team and should have gone to the Super Bowl. From the synergistic standpoint, it made a lot of sense. We have a personal responsibility to make this game great and more fun. Our players are happy, and when they’re happy, we are happy. It’s a strategic fit and it’s a platform to make other games. Whatever number you come up with, someone will think it is too high and someone will think it’s too low.

GamesBeat: On the Zynga side, how did you identify this as something you really needed?

Ko: We are in our quiet period and can’t comment on the price. There are billions of apps downloaded a month on Android and Apple. You have hits all the time. They come and go. We have distinguished ourselves by focusing on games that are high-quality, social, and engaging. We pushed out 15 games in the last two quarters alone on mobile. One thing that impressed us about OMGPOP was that they really got the social aspect. On my way here, in the airport — I wished I could have taken a photo without being a creepy guy — I saw a husband and wife at the bar. The husband was playing Words With Friends and the wife was playing Draw Something. It was one of those cultural moments. I knew we were making the right call with these guys. It wasn’t just about the game. It was about the team.

GamesBeat: Dan, how did you get this game just right so it would take off? The Rovio guys talk about how Angry Birds was the 52nd game they designed.

Porter: This was our 35th or 36th game. It was a culmination of all the things we learned from our mistakes. I tell investors that if you want to invest in a startup, you have to expect the first couple of games won’t work. The team has to gel. They have to learn how to work together. We did a lot of  ’out there’ stuff with OMGPOP and learned a lot. We did quasi-iterative play-testing on the game. That was super important. We made a game we wanted to play. We really wanted to basically take a risk and try something different. There is a lot of me-too stuff out there. We saw a huge opening out there and no one besides Zynga was in that space. That combined with all our learning and our social DNA. That was important to how the game took off. It took longer than we wanted — over four years. We had 20 million registered users. We had awesome user feedback. We have people watching Twitter for all of the comments and if somebody said anything about it, we heard it. You might have four readers on Twitter. But if you say something about the game, we totally read it and totally respond.

GamesBeat: How do you keep something like this going?

Porter: I think the game is very social. It connects people. So we can focus on what are the features we can do that will make the game even more social. The second thing is you are always trying to make the game run faster. You are always trying to improve it. We can add little things that will make you smile. That stuff is really important to us.

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

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Vevo music video service nets 3.5B monthly views after relaunch

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 05:42 PM PDT

Less than two weeks after a relaunch featuring deeper ties to Facebook, music video service Vevo is seeing a record number of video views per person and is now netting 3.5 billion total views a month.

Vevo, the independent music video company created in partnership with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and the Abu Dhabi Media Company, has seen video views per person jump 70 percent and Facebook sharing climb 100 percent since its March 9 relaunch, CEO Rio Caraeff said in a video interview with paidContent.

The video service, which is now attracting 45 billion views a year, also plans to expand beyond the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to six additional countries in 2012 and is seeing the fastest growth on mobile and tablet devices, Caraeff said.

The new Vevo experience, seen on web, mobile, and television (by way of a new Xbox application), is rich with Facebook-infused personalization features. When you log in via Facebook, for instance, the service scans your Facebook activity to create playlists from shared or “liked” artists and tracks.

It’s a rather brilliant integration that takes advantage of Facebook users’ previous listening actions and provides the easiest way yet to sit back and stream. Of course, since the entire experience exists on top of Facebook’s Open Graph, video viewing behaviors are pushed back to Facebook, creating a powerful, viral loop that Vevo is clearly noticing.

Vevo is just one of many companies feeling the Facebook effect. Pinterest, Viddy, Foodspotting, and several others are all noticing remarkable upticks in activity and new users since releasing applications on Facebook’s new Open Graph platform.

Vevo, according to paidContent, made $150 million in revenue in 2011 and has paid out $100 million in royalties in the last two years. Thirty percent of video consumption in the U.S. is now happening off of YouTube, Caraeff said.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Funding daily: social media promotions, a stealth mobile network, and train travel

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 04:15 PM PDT

fast trainAt 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.

PromoJam raises first round of funding

Social marketing service PromoJam snagged $1.2 million in its first round of funding Wednesday.  True to its name, PromoJam helps businesses run promotions online and on mobile phones. Its clients include Rock the Vote, Avon, and Blackberry. Investment firms Golden Seeds and Band of Angeles led the round.

SilverRail grabs $15 million for train travel (that’s right, train travel)

SilverRail, a company trying to bring back the popularity of train travel, raised $15 million today. The company offers online services to railways and travel agents to manage train and high speed rail travel. Canaan Partners led this second round of funding, with participation from Sutter Hill, Accel Partners, GrandBanks Capital, and Brook Ventures.

ItsOn files a form D

From the Securities and Exchange Commission, ItsOn filed a form D Wednesday for $7.9 million in equity financing. ItsOn, which has a stealthy-looking website, is a mobile network technology company. It looks like this is the third round of institutional funding for the company, which is based in Redwood City, Calif.

Have funding news for us? Send us a tip to tips@venturebeat.com

Train image via Shutterstock

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Facebook tries to stop unfriending fad with new alternative

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 03:51 PM PDT

All Facebook friends are not created equal, and today the world’s most popular social network is giving its members a more socially acceptable way to separate more of the folks they maybe sort of like from those they actually care about.

Facebook has made the “Acquaintances” Friends List, first introduced last year when the company revamped its lists product, capable of auto-determining the “friends” you probably want to see fewer updates from.

The new tool automatically identifies the buddies you don’t interact with much and lets you add them in bulk to the Acquaintances list.

As a quick refresher, posts from friends relegated to the Acquaintances list appear less often in your News Feed, and you can even choose to share your updates with all friends, minus acquaintances. Better still, the folks on this semi-like list have no clue their updates have been banished to the dark spaces of Facebook, which means you can prune your Facebook friends without fear of any awkward social consequences.

Of course, the update is as good for Facebook as it is for you. The soon-to-IPO company would surely prefer its members maintain friendships, even loose ones, rather than unfriend folks — a growing trend in the world of social media. The feature, then, is a well-timed defensive move that could counter the unfriending movement before it takes over the network.

Photo credit: swallows+amazon/Flickr

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DirecTV launches complimentary streaming video service on the iPad

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 02:47 PM PDT

DirecTV iPad

Satellite television provider DirecTV today rolled out an iPad app update that allows subscribers to stream movies anywhere.

The company added streaming functionality to its iPad app last fall, but subscribers were restricted to watching their programs on the same home Internet network as their main DirecTV receiver. Basically, until today, you couldn’t watch anything on your iPad unless you were at home.

The update allows people to watch OnDemand content from a select number of premium movie channels, including HBO and Showtime, as well as DirecTV’s Audience Network. You still won’t be able to watch live channels when you’re away from home, and the selection of OnDemand videos doesn’t include television content at this time.

The company hasn’t made an official announcement about the update, but the new feature mimics what other TV service providers are doing. As consumers increasingly gravitate toward streaming video services such as Netflix, traditional TV providers are launching their own free streaming services to retain existing subscribers and attract new ones.

This strategy has been a successful one for the third-largest TV service provider, Dish Network, which reported an increase in subscriber growth for Q4 2011 due largely to Blockbuster's DVD-by-mail and streaming video rental service bundles.

And Dish isn't the only provider expanding its streaming service presence. Last month, Comcast launched its Netflix-like Streampix service, which will be free for customers with bundled TV/Internet/phone service packages and will cost $5 more per month for those with only a single Comcast service.

We can reasonably assume DirecTV will eventually make more TV shows available through its new “DirecTV Everywhere” streaming service.

In addition to the streaming video, the DirecTV iPad app also contains new social features. For instance, there is now a social widget that aggregates video watching activity from your Twitter and Facebook friends as well as the ability to check into a show you’re watching via Miso.

The app is available now via the iTunes App Store. If you’re a DirecTV subscriber, let us know what you think of the new app in the comment section.

Via SolidSignalBlog / Engadget

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Recruitment trend we hate: Asking for Facebook passwords during the interview

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 02:46 PM PDT

We’ve come to expect the intimate inspection of our social media profiles by recruiters and hiring managers, but some  are now asking applicants for their Facebook login information during interviews.

A fascinating story from the Associated Press reveals that some HR pros are either asking applicants to hand over Facebook login credentials (including user names, passwords, security questions, etc.) or asking applicants to log into their Facebook accounts on a company computer. Other recruiters might ask an applicant to add them as a friend on the social network.

“To me, that’s still invasive,” said Robert Collins, a corrections officer, in the AP report. “I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it’s still a violation of people’s personal privacy.”

Not only is the password-requesting practice egregious to job applicants; it’s also in violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service, which states: “You will not share your password… let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.”

While it does violating the website’s terms of service, the practice of asking for website login credentials doesn’t technically violate the law. Employers generally can’t ask applicants questions about certain protected statuses, such as race, gender, age, religion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy; but just about anything else is fair game. However, gaining access to a Facebook profile would mean applicants were passively handing this data over to employers without interviewers even having to directly ask.

Unfortunately, the invasion of privacy isn’t limited to Facebook. Some companies are asking to access other social networks, and even applicants’ email accounts.

All of this is designed to let HR folks see into the more private aspects of potential employees’ lives — you know, the kind of thing you might purposefully hide from such prying, professional eyes. While most of us with career aspirations have cleaned up our profiles across a variety of websites (specifically to appeal to our professional colleagues), some of these employers seem to think that digging below that veneer is equivalent to making reference calls or conducting a background check.

The AP said these types of requests are more common among security and law enforcement professions, but many companies use third-party apps to scrape applicants’ social data from the site. Sears even has a custom-built application that uses Facebook to let applicants log into Sears’ own jobs site.

While any applicant has the right to refuse these requests, most choose not to because they don’t want to risk losing the job opportunity — making it even more difficult for normal users to distinguish between public/private and personal/professional online identities.

Hat tip to VentureBeat reader and Apple product manager James, who pointed out Facebook’s password-related TOS note.

Image courtesy of Kristian Peetz, Shutterstock

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Netflix nabs Eli Roth original horror series ‘Hemlock Grove’

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 02:09 PM PDT


Netflix has inked a deal with horror director Eli Roth to create Hemlock Grove, an original series about “murder, mystery, and monsters,” the company announced today.

Hemlock Grove will join other original content being created by Netflix to help them maintain and attract customers in its growing war with HBO and cable companies. Other content being produced includes David Fincher’s House of Cards, Steve Van Zant’s Lilyhammer, and Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black.

The series is based on Brian McGreevy's horror novel of the same name. Set in an old Pennsylvania steel town, Hemlock Grove begins with the murder of a young girl and a search to find who (or what) killed her. As the killer is not found and frustrations mount, two young men begin to search for answers themselves and uncover many disturbing facts.

Roth, who will direct the first episode and executive produce the series, is best known for directing films Cabin Fever and Hostel and starring as the maniacal Donny Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds. This will be his first foray into television; albeit with Netflix as the backer, it’s a bit unconentional.

"Netflix as a platform is the perfect hybrid of cinema, television, and social networking, with the creative freedom to go as dark as the story needs,” Roth told the Hollywood Reporter.

Hemlock Grove will star Famke Janssen from the X-Men trilogy and Bill Skarsgard and debut exclusively on Netflix in 2013.

Eli Roth photo: Inglorious Basterds homepage

VB Live Video WebinarsContemplating expanding your business to Asia? Sign up for a free VB webinar this Thursday 3/22 at 1pm PT. You'll benefit from actionable tips and lessons learned as VB Executive Editor Dylan Tweney moderates a lively discussion with a group of Silicon Valley CEOs about their experience in using Singapore as a hub for Asian expansion. There will also be an attendee Q&A portion directly following the session. For full details, go here.

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YouTube corrects video issues with one-click editing tool

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 01:53 PM PDT

Because a shaky hand or bad lighting shouldn’t get between you and a viral masterpiece, YouTube is swooping in to the rescue with a new video editing option that will auto correct-away your beginner mistakes.

Beginning Wednesday, the Google-owned video property will automatically detect when a video uploaded to the site is shaky or dark and then prompt you to make a one-click video update that will wipe out the issues in question.

The problem-detection tool, which reminds us of the instant image-correcting options in today’s hottest photo apps, could go a long way in eradicating poor quality videos from the YouTube experience, thus making it an essential upgrade as the service propagates from web and mobile to television screens.

You can also expect the magical tool to eventually auto-fix video issues beyond shakiness and darkness, YouTube software engineer John Gregg said in a statement on the feature.

The new video editing option will be introduced to YouTube members on a rolling basis during the next few days.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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OMGPOP chief revenue officer talks turkey on numbers and scaling [exclusive video]

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 01:52 PM PDT

At South By Southwest Interactive, we got to sit down for an interview with OMGPOP chief revenue officer Wilson Kriegel. We talked at length about the small game studio’s meteoric rise to blockbuster success with Draw Something — and about both the financial and engineering repercussions of that ride.

For example, he mentioned that the company’s goal is to get to 100 million users, but when the game started getting popular, the traffic actually crashed Amazon’s AWS. So, what do you do when your game crashes AWS?

Watch on and find out.

Earlier today OMGPOP officially announced its acquisition by Zynga. The company’s CEO, Dan Porter said Zynga’s massive resources will make both scaling and releasing new game features a lot simpler in the near future.

A huge thanks to our buddies at TechZulu who shot, edited, and uploaded this video.

Filed under: deals, games, mobile

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iPhone users consume less data than Android, says Sprint CEO

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 01:44 PM PDT

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse stated in a recent Mobile World Live interview that iPhone users are more profitable for the carrier because they use less data than Android users.

“iPhone customers have a lower level of churn, and they actually use less data on average than a high-end, 4G Android device,” said the executive. So from a cost point of view and a customer lifetime value perspective…they're more profitable than the average smartphone customer."

Hesse stated that iPhone users also bring the carrier some heavy subsidies, which is another big part of how the company determines the iPhone’s impact on its bottom line.

Sprint spent a reported $20 million to bring the iPhone on board last fall. Other terms of the deal reportedly included Sprint’s purchase of 30 million iPhone units.

In yesterday’s interview, Hesse said that gamble has paid off. During the last few months of 2011 “four out of every 10 iPhones we sold are for new customers,” Hesse said. “That's roughly double the rate of either of our competitors, so we're pulling a lot of customers from our competitors."

Last month, the company reported selling 1.8 million iPhones during the fourth quarter of 2011, and gaining 1.6 million new subscribers during the final quarter of 2012, 539,000 of which were under contract. Altogether, the Sprint serves 55 million customers.

Initially, Sprint was plagued with complaints of slow data speeds when the iPhone first debuted on its wireless network. However, unlimited data usage has been a key selling point for Sprint, Hesse said yesterday — in spite of the fact that iPhone users consume less data than their Android-using counterparts.

“The marriage made in heaven is unlimited (data) plus the iPhone," he said. "My plan is to continue for as long as we can, hopefully forever.”

Image courtesy of rangizzz, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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RingCentral integrates with Dropbox, Box, Google to bring faxing to the cloud

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 12:41 PM PDT


Cloud phone systems startup RingCentral has partnered with Dropbox, Box, and Google Docs for what it dubs the “first ever cloud-based, fully integrated fax service,” the company announced today.

The new CloudFax product, which is available for free to all RingCentral customers, will help your business stay connected with clients and companies that still use fax machines. Users can fax documents stored in Box, Dropbox, and Google Docs to multiple recipients and schedule faxes for delivery at a future time. For someone like me who detests fax machines, this is a highly positive development.

“CloudFax is the first in a series of cloud integration capabilities that will change the ways businesses work, grow, and manage,” RingCentral Chief Product Officer Naveen Gupta told VentureBeat via e-mail. “Faxes are still an integral part of the business landscape so we’re excited to innovate by integrating with other cloud services.”

CloudFax adds to RingCentral’s already helpful features like multiple voicemail boxes, call routing, auto-receptionist, extension dialing, call transfers, and smartphone integration. The company essentially makes small businesses appear larger than they are and gives them inexpensive tools to compete with bigger companies when it comes to phone services.

San Mateo, Calif.-based RingCentral last raised a $10 million funding round this past September, bring its total raised to about $55 million. Investors include Scale Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, Cisco, DAG Ventures, and Silicon Valley Bank.

Woman faxing in field: Shutterstock

VB Live Video WebinarsContemplating expanding your business to Asia? Sign up for a free VB webinar this Thursday 3/22 at 1pm PT. You'll benefit from actionable tips and lessons learned as VB Executive Editor Dylan Tweney moderates a lively discussion with a group of Silicon Valley CEOs about their experience in using Singapore as a hub for Asian expansion. There will also be an attendee Q&A portion directly following the session. For full details, go here.

Filed under: cloud

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Pinterest grew 52% to 17.8M unique visitors in February

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 12:37 PM PDT

Love was most certainly in the air for digital inspiration board site Pinterest during the month of February.

The newly crowned princess of the Internet was the object of everyone’s attention and saw more than 17.8 million unique visitors in February from the U.S. alone, according to analytics firm comScore.

Pinterest, which is technically still in an invite-only private beta, first launched in 2010 and emerged as a top-10 social network last year. The site has continued to pick up momentum in 2012 and could be worth as much as $500 million in a sale. The social network for arts, crafts, fashion, and now food enthusiasts encourages members to “pin” products to collections known as “boards” and has hyper-engaged members.

Pinterest experienced 52 percent month-over-month growth from January, when it had 11.7 million unique U.S. visitors and was the third-highest-gaining web property in terms of unique visitors for the month, by comScore’s calculations.

Palo Alto-based Pinterest has 30 employees and has raised $37.5 million in funding to date. The up-and-coming social site introduced its first major change to the profile page late last week and plans to soon release an iPad application and an API for developers.

Filed under: social, Uncategorized

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Zynga buys OMGPOP for a reported $200M

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 12:04 PM PDT

We’ve confirmed that Zynga, the app-studio-eating megalith of social gaming, has acquired OMGPOP, maker of new hit mobile game Draw Something. You know what they say: If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

Zynga eventually wants “to get one billion people to play together, and with this announcement, we’re getting closer to that goal,” said Zynga’s chief mobile officer David Ko in a call today.

OMGPOP recently created Draw Something, a simple Pictionary-like app that saw skyrocketing stats for adoption within days of its release. As of today, the app shop’s blockbuster game was showing the following stats, which come to VentureBeat courtesy of OMGPOP chief revenue officer Wilson Kriegel:

  • 20.5 million daily active users
  • 37 million installs
  • 3 billion drawings created in the game
  • 2,000 drawings per second
  • Most tweeted-about game ever

Ko updated those stats today, stating players have created 1 billion drawings in the last week alone.

Draw Something’s growth was so meteoric that it even eclipsed Zynga’s Words With Friends as the top game on the AppData charts late last week. Now, Zynga has snapped up OMPOP for its very own, and All Things D pegs the sale price at $200 million. Officially, both parties declined to discuss the financial terms of the deal.

We first got wind of the rumored acquisition earlier this week. At that time, OMGPOP CEO Dan Porter told VentureBeat, "I'm not in competition with Zynga. Words With Friends is a great game and has stood the test of time. That's the press angle. My angle is about what makes the game special. You can quote me on it."

The OMGPOP 40-person team will now be Zynga employees, and Porter will be Zynga’s vice president and general manager of the company’s New York office. Porter said in a call today that having access to Zynga’s war-chest of funds and resources will make it easier to bring a slate of new features to Draw Something quickly. Those resources will also come in handy as the game continues to scale out to tens of millions of users, a unique challenge we discussed in detail with Kriegel last week (watch an exclusive video of that interview).

OMGPOP was founded six years ago and initially focused on web-based gaming. The company’s focus later shifted to Facebook games and is now on mobile games. All told, the startup has raised $17 million in venture capital.

Image courtesy of Losevsky Pavel, Shutterstock

VB Live Video WebinarsContemplating expanding your business to Asia? Sign up for a free VB webinar this Thursday 3/22 at 1pm PT. You'll benefit from actionable tips and lessons learned as VB Executive Editor Dylan Tweney moderates a lively discussion with a group of Silicon Valley CEOs about their experience in using Singapore as a hub for Asian expansion. There will also be an attendee Q&A portion directly following the session. For full details, go here.

Filed under: deals, games, mobile

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VentureBeat heads to Tel Aviv next week in search of awesome companies

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 11:10 AM PDT

I'll be traveling to Tel Aviv next week, and I’m looking to meet with entrepreneurs.

I’m setting up meetings during my stay at the Israel Innovation Marathon event on March 27 and 28, and have arranged for several half-hour slots to meet with entrepreneurs, hear their ideas, and provide feedback.

The event itself will worth attending. I’ll be talking with Israeli high-tech investors Zohar Zisapel, founder of RAD, and Ed Mklavsky, founder of Gemini Israeli Funds, among others.

The trip is part of our effort to find the best companies for VentureBeat to write about and also to find the most disruptive products globally to launch on the stage of DEMO, the conference we produce. The next DEMO conference will be held next month.

If you're based in Israel and you’re interested in meeting me while I’m in Tel Aviv, please fill out this form, and we will be in touch with further details shortly.

See you in Israel!

Filed under: DEMO, Entrepreneur

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Twitter tops 140M active users, sees 340M tweets a day

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 11:03 AM PDT

Twitter has more than 140 million active users who send upwards of 340 million tweets each day, the company announced Wednesday on the sixth anniversary of the first tweet.

In six years time, Twitter has become a modern-day water cooler where web denizens flock to discuss current affairs and to watch as breaking news unfolds.

Twitter activity continues to accelerate at rapid pace. The information network took more than four years to hit 65 million tweets per day (in July 2010), but has since seen its tweets per day skyrocket (perhaps Apple can take some credit for that). In January of this year, for instance, Twitter was seeing 250 million tweets per day, which means the volume of tweets sent per day has risen by 36 percent in just two months time.

Today, Twitter is looking to move beyond its status as the web’s sounding board and become a viable business with a long and bright future. To that end, the company has made a deliberate push to fatten up its suite of advertising products, and is not only offering advertisers more ways to target Twitterers (especially on mobile) but has also increased the amount of ad content it shows to users on web and mobile.

Photo credit: Carolyn_Sewell/Flickr

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Why GPS-based smart apps failed to go viral at SXSW

Posted: 21 Mar 2012 11:02 AM PDT

The South by Southwest (SXSW) conferences have given geeks a lot of social inroads over the last few years. They brought us blogging, then microblogging; they were a launchpad for Twitter and Foursquare. Thanks to those web services, meeting at SXSW IRL (In Real Life) turned the geeks hiding behind glowing screens into "friends".

The next evolution of the Internet or so-called "3.0" is supposed to be semantic, smart if you will. Smart, automated social tools were all hyped to go viral at this year's SXSW conference several days ago. These tools promise to turn us, via our smartphones, into all knowing masters of our environment, prompting us to meet new friends at IRL serendipitous moments. But, instead, the big story turned out to be the short lifespan of these apps. All of these Location Based Services (LBS) apps focus on hooking into your friends on Facebook, Linked-In, and Twitter and alerting you when "real" friends entered your "geo bubble" of life. They also suggest new friends or friends of friends that you should meet.

The technology worked – I was alerted to many people that I should meet who "liked" the same stuff on Facebook; but that turned out to be boring, as our common interests turned out to be only fan pages for TV shows or bands. I was also alerted that friends were nearby. Alas, friends that I wanted to see I had already texted or rendezvoused with.

In fact, these apps didn't fly with the social early adopters at the show for an important reason: They caused smartphone batteries to die, leaving attendees at a social conference without the ability to be digitally social. No tweets, texts, photos, or profile updates get pushed when your iPhone goes dark. The problem at hand with LBS apps is that they require the GPS radio to run nearly full-time, have a clear view of the sky to get a signal, and report back to a server their location.

When you're using your smartphone for navigation, your windshield and roof barely block the signal, and typically your cigarette lighter adapter keeps the juices flowing during this peak power usage. When your phone is in your pocket or purse, your body acts as a Faraday cage, blocking GPS signals from reaching it as it struggles to get a position.

I like to say that GPS stops at the door. (Full disclosure: I run a company that's betting WiFi and Bluetooth will steal the market from GPS for location-based apps.) Companies like Google are taking rolling carts with sophisticated WiFi measuring gear through airports and malls, using the retailers' access points to physically map them into a virtualized GPS. This enables the Android Maps application to move the blue dot to about the same spot in which you stand. This results with WiFi working much like the GPS satellite system does to the Maps application on your smartphone when you're outside.

But life is more than your virtual representation as a blue dot. Inside, maps are boring. I can find the bathroom with signs, and the registration desk via arrows. Instead, think of the potential for radio waves as triggers for actions to occur in your phone, or in the cloud – making intelligent decisions automatically while your phone sits in your pocket.  And unlike GPS, which requires a clear view of the sky, Bluetooth and WiFi radios inside your phone work inside the confines of your walls and halls.

Your smartphone has WiFi, which normally requires you to connect to an access point, and Bluetooth which requires pairing to another device to communicate. Using these same radios without the need for connecting, when you walk into a specific space, your dating app could alert you to a suitable match (after you enable ice-breaking in-room digital serendipity), or your social networking or business app could let you know when a friend or to-be customer is within eyesight. Maybe your mobile phone calls could get routed to a landline for drop-free calling. All without compromising your smartphone battery. Now that is true social and smart innovation.

Dave Mathews is a inventor and founder of NeuAer, an open proximity platform that enable apps to become smart via low-power radio waves already found on devices in your environment.

[SXSW image credit:  Kevin Krejci/Flickr]

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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