30 March, 2012



Google pushes out Chrome 18 with improved graphics and 9 security fixes

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 09:02 AM PDT


Google has released its latest version of its Chrome browser, version 18, which features better hardware-accelerated graphics and nine security fixes.

Chrome became the number two browser by worldwide market share this past December, surpassing Firefox but still behind Internet Explorer. Each release adds new features and ways to improve security, in hopes of retaining and attracting users. On the security front, Google offered up to $1 million to hackers who would publicly find security cracks in the Chrome browser, with the goal of implementing changes to fix the flaws.

Those welcome security fixes are implemented in this release, including ways to address one low-severity, five medium-severity, and three high-severity issues. Specifics about the vulnerabilities will be withheld from the public until the majority of Chrome users have updated their browsers. The release also includes the new Adobe Flash Player 11.2.

Futhermore, Chrome 18 adds better graphical capabilities to the browser, and which will even make graphics better on older PCs. Specifically, this updates includes hardware-accelerated rendering for HTML5 Canvas for both Windows and Mac computers. The releases also adds TransGaming’s SwiftShader engine, which makes it possible to render 3D web graphics based on the WebGL standard, even on older machines.

“Today's web brings beautiful, rich experiences right into your browser,” Googler Vangelis Kokkevis wrote on a company blog. “With Chrome's most recent Stable channel release, we've sped up graphics and drawing performance for users on capable hardware, and enabled fancier 3D content for other users on older computers.”

Google Chrome Japan ad: Junya Ogura/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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iJapan: Apple ranked as top consumer brand in Japan

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 08:19 AM PDT

For the first time ever, Apple has been ranked the top consumer brand in Japan in Nikkei’s annual brand ranking.

Apple shot up from 11th place last year, and 64th place three years ago, hitting 90.5 points for total brand power among consumers. The news shows that Japan is finally beginning to warm up to the American computer company — most likely due to the rise of the iPhone and iPad. Notably, Google fell from first place to second.

Among businesspeople, Apple ranked second place, with Toyota taking the top spot. Nikkei notes that the iPad and two other Apple products made the list for top 40 brands.

The consumer ranking is particularly significant since Japan has often shunned foreign consumer technology. Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360, for example, have struggled to find ground in the country where Nintendo and Sony reign supreme.

Here’s how the rankings were put together, according to Nikkei: “The Brand Japan 2012 survey had a consumer market category targeting 1,000 brands, as well as a business market category for 500 brands. It was conducted online over November and December of last year. Overall brand power scores were calculated based on the responses of some 52,000 people aged 18 and older.”

The rankings are as follows (with last year’s ranking in parenthesis):

1. (11) Apple
2. (1) Google
3. (2) Uniqlo
4. (7) YouTube
5. (6) Disney
6. (4) McDonalds
7. (3) Panasonic
8. (5) Nissan
9. (39) Dyson
10. (9) Rakuten

Photo via Ivan Walsh/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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The DeanBeat: “Evil” Zynga learns that old labels can come back to haunt you

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PDT

Is Zynga evil?

When Zynga paid $180 million for OMGPOP, the maker of the wonderfully creative Draw Something app, it was a great moment. Zynga was able to land a 30-person creative team that could help lift the company from an also-ran in mobile games to one of its clear leaders. OMGPOP was richly rewarded for its perseverance, having tried dozens of times to make a hit game before Draw Something finally took off and drew Zynga’s attention.

But one OMGPOP employee, Shay Pierce, decided to turn down the offer to be absorbed by Zynga as if it were the Borg from Star Trek. He wrote an editorial in Gamasutra, the online publication for game developers, saying Zynga’s “values are completely opposed to my own values, professionally and creatively.” He didn’t trust Zynga because of a recurring image problem — the widely held impression that the company was “evil.” It fit that definition because it acted in a way that was “destructive to the healthy functioning” of the gaming ecosystem, Pierce said.

“An evil company is trying to get rich quick, and has no regard for the harm they’re doing along the way,” wrote Pierce (pictured above) in a piece that drew more than 100 comments.

“Clearly the industry desperately wanted or needed this voice — someone to publicly reject the idea that Zynga is obviously a good place to land whether by application or through acquisition,” said Ian Bogost, professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a frequent critic of Zynga’s games. “Overall though, any “good vs evil” claim is always oversimplified, caricatured. But it does seem to me that more and more of the games industry — and the world — are pure financial instruments, rather than creators of products and services.”

And just like that, the reputation Zynga has tried hard to craft was back in the doghouse. It seemed like Zynga had outgrown such criticism as it became more of a pioneer in social games and a publisher of original titles. Pierce’s commentary revived allegations hurled at Zynga in the past about cloning games of competitors, spamming users with notifications until Facebook had to shut the messaging down, viewing users as “weak-minded cash cows,” and “chasing the gold rush” rather than making great games. It was a pretty stinging and well-crafted argument.

Much of the negative view of Zynga comes from early articles such as “FarmVillains” and the fact that Zynga founder Mark Pincus was a game industry outsider who saw the value of analytics. He was not a game designer, and now he has become the game industry’s only multibillionaire through Zynga’s initial public offering. The thinking goes that many Zynga employees, including Pincus, are there just to get rich and will sell their stock and leave after their post-IPO lock-up ends.

Colleen McCreary (pictured), chief people officer at Zynga, says that internal surveys show that Zynga employees are happy. More than 80 percent of them agree with the overall mission of the company, according to McCreary’s surveys. She noted that the San Francisco Business Times named Zynga as a finalist as one of the best places to work in the region. Unfavorable attrition is under 4 percent, and the percentage of job offers accepted has been increasing, she said.

A few of Zynga’s best game designers have also come to the company’s defense. Zynga made them available to me to interview, and a number have commented on Pierce’s post. In the past, Zynga employees were frustrated, McCreary said, because the company was in its quiet period before the initial public offering and it had to muzzle everyone in the past. That enabled the company’s critics to define it in the press.

But now the company can talk back. Zynga has hired many seasoned game designers among its 3,000 or so employees. Those developers are hard at work not only doing derivative work but also creating some of the most original and popular games in the world, including such titles as FrontierVille, Empires & Allies, and CastleVille, the Zynga people say.

Mark Skaggs (pictured right) — whose credits include games such as FarmVille, CityVille, and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 — is one of the oldest Zynga game design veterans. In an interview with VentureBeat, Skaggs said that Zynga has become a big target for everyone, much like Electronic Arts was when he worked there. When it began to disrupt the traditional game business, Zynga had lots of detractors. But in the end, rather than ruin the game business, Zynga has elevated its reach toward a billion users, many of whom would never have played traditional console games, Skaggs said.

Skaggs said the anti-Zynga attitude has hurt the company’s ability to recruit some of the best and brightest.

“When we were 100 employees, it was much harder to convince game veterans to join us,” he said. “Trying to convince people to work for us when our best product was Mafia Wars — that was tough. Now we have more applications than we can deal with. The crux of it is that if you are in the industry being disrupted, it will be uncomfortable. Many companies have been disrupted. But the better measure of success is what do the players want? I love delivering games to as many people as possible, making the world a better place.”

He said that Zynga is improving its game quality and is constantly changing. As for cloning, Skaggs says that he has worked at places where he was a “craftsman,” as he is at Zynga, working to make fun games within constraints, and he has worked on his own as an “artiste.” He likes being a craftsman better because nobody played his artiste games. Creating the best version of a game within a genre is sometimes exactly what the market needs to bust open that genre to vast new audiences.

“You want to make games that people want to play, and you should not have preconceived notions of what people want to play,” he said.

Skaggs said it is thrilling for game developers to move fast on a concept and take it into production and into the hands of millions of players and then see the feedback in real-time through highly instrumented analytics. By contrast, console game developers work for two years or more before they get consumer feedback.

Bob Bates (pictured left), chief creative officer for Zynga’s external studios, said in an interview that he is familiar with the “Zynga is evil” attitude. He had his own conflict about it when he left the indie life and joined Zynga in 2010. He was so concerned that he consulted for six months before he joined full-time.

“I understand it,” he said. “I agree it can be a barrier to people joining Zynga. But if you peel back and see people working at Zynga, we have one of the deepest designer bench strengths of any company I have seen. There are external perceptions of Zynga and it didn’t match internal reality.”

On a day-to-day basis, he said, Zynga’s people are not just sitting back waiting for the dollars to roll in. They’re among the hardest-working in the industry, he said. He noted that Zynga’s games consistently beat others that are in the same genre. There can be many reasons for that, such as cross-promotion. But making a better game is one reason that happens, Bates said.

And while a designer may not feel especially creative making some of these social games, the games can unleash creativity in the player.

“You create ways for people to have meaningful interactions,” he said.

The creative contributions of the game veterans do make differences in Zynga games, he added. Bates said he was happy to contribute a more refined storyline — where there’s a love triangle between three characters — in the FrontierVille game. He went on to help with Empires & Allies, a combat game that move beyond its natural hardcore gamer audience to tens of millions of mainstream users.

“We made that game more accessible to more people, starting from a hardcore combat game,” said Bates, who worked on games such as Unreal 2 and Spider-Man 3 and has been designing games since 1986.

Among the other lifelong game designers working at Zynga are Paul Neurath (who worked on titles such as Thief), Mark Turmell (Mortal Kombat), Henry Stern (Magic: The Gathering), Mike Verdu (Command & Conquer), Doug Kaufman (Alpha Centauri), Cara Ely (Dream Day), Brian Reynolds (Rise of Nations), Chris Trottier (Spore), Frank Lantz (Parking Wars), Paul Bettner (Words with Friends), Christy Marx (Conquests of Camelot), Bill Jackson (Age of Empires), Toby Ragaini (Asheron’s Call), Bruce Shelley (Age of Empires), and others. All told, Zynga has 150 game designers and 40 percent of the total employee count is engineering.

“These are heavyweight designers doing good and creative work at Zynga,” Bates said.

Why, Bates asks, would Zynga actively recruit and hire these designers if it had no interest in real game design?

Tim LeTourneau (pictured right), a former Electronic Arts veteran who worked for a decade on The Sims, said in an interview with VentureBeat, “I would never have come to work at a company I considered to be evil. I sit and play Zynga games at night with my wife. That was one of the reasons I came here. EA was accused of being a lot of things. Any company leading a space is bound to have a lot of detractors. The Sims reached more than 100 million players over 10 years. CityVille got to that many in a month. That was why I came.”

A 20-year veteran of EA, LeTourneau said, “There is a way to touch players here in a way we couldn’t in traditional games. On a daily basis, my wife plays Zynga games and she plays those with people around the world. I think that is an amazing thing that Zynga has done. She has friends in Australia and Thailand that she talks with on a daily basis.”

LeTourneau said he wanted to learn how to create games that could do that. The team he works with can make any kind of AAA console game, but they are all choosing to making social games. That focus on social is something new for the game industry and it requires a tremendous amount of creativity, LeTourneau said.

“I haven’t looked back,” he said. “My time here has been really exhilarating.”

Asked about Zynga’s copycat allegations, LeTorneau said, “All games are in some way influenced by things that came before them. Is every first-person shooter a copycat of Doom? I certainly don’t feel like a copycat. And games like FarmVille need to innovate to continue to entice players to come back on a continual cadence. That’s not unlike what I had to do with The Sims.”

All of these defenses of Zynga may seem like rationalizations for working at a company that behaves badly. And Zynga has been accused of copying another company’s game as recently as February. As a side note, some sources have hinted that Pierce wasn’t a team player, and Business Insider wrote a story about how he was going to be fired. McCreary said Zynga’s policy is not to comment on the records of employees. But the Business Insider piece clearly indicated that sources associated with OMGPOP are trying to discredit Pierce. But Pierce noted that Zynga extended a job offer to him, which would seem odd if he was about to be fired.

I corresponded with Pierce via email, and he said that no one at OMGPOP had ever told him he was going to be fired. He believes he was doing good work and never received any indication from his manager or company that he was performing poorly. He noted that he has never tried to take credit for OMGPOP’s Draw Something (CBS News erroneously reported that and an email suggesting that was taken out of context), and he has been clear in saying in his article that he never worked on it. Asked if any of the reaction prompted him to change his mind about anything, Pierce replied, “No.”

As for Zynga’s image as evil, Skaggs said, “I hope people get past it. I don’t focus on it. It comes from disruption. Are people still mad at Apple for creating the App Store? I focus on making games.”

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

Filed under: games, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Mobile marketplace Grabio aims to be a better Craigslist

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 07:40 AM PDT

With Craigslist seemingly ignoring mobile entirely, the race is on for someone to offer the first great mobile marketplace. One contender is Grabio, which initially started out as a consumer to consumer marketplace, but is now seeking out local businesses to flesh out its ecosystem.

Chicago-based Grabio launched version 3.0 of its app on the  iTunes Store yesterday, which now offers inventory from local businesses, user profiles and a more social commerce network, and the ability to make payments from right within the app.

“From the beginning we had the concept that we wanted to make classifieds more social and transparent,” Grabio CEO Horatiu Boeriu said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’re trying to fix what's wrong with Craigslist, and not just trying to bring Craigslist to mobile.”

The free Grabio app works as you’d expect for a mobile marketplace. Once you open it up, you can see people and businesses that are selling things around you and list an item for sale. With the new app, you can create a profile and follow other users, which helps to socialize the shopping experience.

Also new in Grabio 3.0 is an intriguing Wishlist feature, which allows Grabio to alert you when you’re near someone selling a specific item you’re looking for. Unlike Highlight and Foursquare’s Radar feature, Grabio doesn’t run location services in the background for the Wishlist, which saves precious battery life. Instead, Boeriu tells me that the company implemented an Apple API that tracks your location via cell tower. It’s not nearly as accurate as GPS, but the fact that it doesn’t kill your battery and can run when Grabio is completely closed seems like a worthy compromise.

Compared to Zaarly, Grabio’s well-funded competitor that caters mostly to buyers, Boeriu tells me that his app is focused on both buyers and sellers. The company has already formed partnerships with some small and medium-sized businesses to include their inventory in the Grabio app, but it’s actively seeking out more.

“Our value proposition to a business is simple: we bring foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar store at no cost,” Boeriu said in an e-mail.

While Craigslist isn’t much of a threat to Grabio on the mobile front, other apps are hoping to seize the market. The shopping comparison app ShopSavvy, for example, just recently announced its mobile marketplace, Savvylistings. But with a slick design and fast iteration (the first Grabio app launched in August), Boeriu believes his small company can take on bigger and better-funded competitors.

So far, Grabio has $4.6 million worth of postings on its marketplace (though the company isn’t yet talking total users or other metrics). The company is working on Android and HTML5 web apps, the latter of which will work across any mobile device.

Grabio has been fully bootstrapped so far, but Boeriu tells me the company is now talking with angel investors and VCs about raising its first round.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Reality Check: Foxconn workers upset about new labor standards, want to work crazy overtime

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 06:16 AM PDT

Foxconn factoryFoxconn announced major reforms yesterday after an investigation by the Fair Labor Association found conditions that violated both the FLA’s standards and Chinese legal regulations. But while American’s may be comforting themselves that their shiny new iPhones and iPads are going to be made in more humane factories, the Chinese workers are upset that they will be missing out on the chance to maximize their income.

“Of course, if we work less overtime, it would mean less money,” a 23-year-old Foxconn worker told Reuters. “We have just been told that we can only work a maximum of 36 hours a month of overtime. I tell you, a lot of us are unhappy with this. We think that 60 hours of overtime a month would be reasonable and that 36 hours would be too little,” said another, a 25 year old woman who currently earns around $643 a month.

Foxconn has said it will be reducing workers hours to a maximum of 49 per week including overtime. It promised its 1.2 million staffers, many of whom come from very poor areas of rural China, that it would compensate them for the lost hours and that their wages would not decline. But workers didn’t believe it. These are very young men and women eager to earn as much as possible in an effort to push themselves out of poverty and into China’s burgeoning middle class. ”We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important,” a 25-year-old worker told Reuters.

Filed under: mobile

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Data is the new dating: Yoke hooks 7,000 users to its app in one week

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 04:55 AM PDT

UPDATE: Yoke founder Rob Fishman wrote us to say another 2,000 people joined since last night, and we have updated the headline accordingly.

The hardest part about starting a dating site is getting a crowd of interesting people to join up that can be matched against one another. Some sites resort to buying up sleazy pre-made profiles, but the New York startup Yoke has another approach. It uses Facebook as the base of your profile, and matches you with single friends and friends of friends who share interests. In it’s first week, says founder Rob Fishman, the site has added 5,000 users.

Yoke doesn’t ask users to create a profile, it pulls data on gender, sexual orientation and what kind of books and movies you like straight from your Facebook account. It also hooks in to the Netflix API and looks at listening history from sites like Spotify and Rdio, then compares them to a taste graph made available through the Echos Nest API. Yoke also has their own API that matches users based on what college they went to (Harvard you say, I’m a Yale man myself).

What are the advantages to this approach? It’s super-lightweight. Users don’t spend any time creating a profile of themselves and answering innumerable questions about what they are and aren’t looking for in a new partner. The downside? The service is connecting you with people who never signed up for Yoke and may or may not be looking for a date at all. We know plenty of folks who list themselves as single on Facebook who are most definitely already attached.

“We only have a few thousand people signed up, but that means tens of millions of possible connections,” says Fishman, who previously worked as a social media editor at the Huffington Post. His co-founder, Jeff Revesz, sold his company Adaptive Semantics to HuffPo in 2009 and helped create HuffPo’s commenting system. Yoke is backed by a $500,000 seed round led by Lerer Ventures along with SoftBank Capital. “I’m on there using the service, along with the rest of the team.” They say a good startup always eats its own dogfood, and Fishman promised to update VentureBeat if he finds a new girlfriend via Yoke.

Filed under: social

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Reddit General Manager Erik Martin leads Time’s “100 Most Influential” poll

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 02:19 AM PDT

Erik Martin

It’s hard to deny that community news sharing site Reddit hasn’t had a positive impact on the world. It’s user base is responsible for donating tons of money to good causes. Its employees led the crusade against the intrusive SOPA/PIPA legislation by shutting down for an entire day to live blog congressional protest. Reddit even makes the holidays more merry by running the largest Secret Santa gift giving event in the world.

So, who better to represent all that good than Reddit General Manager Erik Martin (a.k.a. Hueypriest), who was recently nominated for Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. The magazine allows readers to vote on the top 100 nominations, but a team of editors selects the final list.

Martin is currently at the top of Time’s reader poll, with a ridiculous lead of over 105,000 votes at the time of publication. Part of that might have something to do with the site’s co-founder asking Reddit users to join them in voting, and conveniently submitting a direct link to Martin’s nomination page. The site’s user base is very familiar with the concept of judging submissions, and is responsible for bringing in a monstrous two billion page views per month.

The closest tech-industry personality, not counting hacker group Anonymous (18073 votes) or game designer Ken Levine (7038 votes), is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with a measly 4383 votes. Other tech founders on the list that rank surprisingly close to the bottom include Square CEO Jack Dorsey, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, and Tumblr founder David Karp.

“The last place I thought I would find a picture of him smoking a pipe would be on the Time’s man of the year listing,” wrote former Reddit employee Chris Slowe (a.k.a. KeyserSosa) in a comment thread about Martin’s nomination.

Martin is the eldest employee that still works at Reddit day-to-day. He’s been responsible for keeping the site going while parent company Conde Nast slowly realized Reddit’s potential. He’s facilitated the purchase of the user-created Reddit Gifts / Reddit meetups sites, led the charge on Reddit’s SOPA Blackout, and spent countless hours working on things to keep the community engaged in doing acts of good.

More recently, Martin asked the Reddit community to start registering as bone marrow donors in a small effort to help newly hired community manager David A. Croach — as well as others — fight leukemia. In a blog post, Martin writes:

…the doctors say his best chance is for a perfect-match bone marrow transplant. So, that’s what we at reddit are going to help find for him, and we hope some of you join us. A bone marrow transplant’s success relies heavily on the host’s and donor’s immune markers being similar enough that the new bone marrow doesn’t attack its host. This is where we all come in: there hasn’t yet been a good enough match for DAC’s transplant, so we need to get as many people screened as possible to find a good match. In the process, you can register to be on the national bone marrow registry to potentially help out others in this situation. Don’t worry, donation is painless these days.

Despite all of Martin’s effort with the site, handful of Reddit users didn’t want to justify his nomination.

“It’s really embarrassing to be sharing the same website with all of you morons shoehorning him in. You have world leaders, activists, philanthropists, global business giants, and doctors on that list,” wrote Reddit user appleseed1234 in a comment thread. Others felt Reddit users should take credit for the site’s positive impact on the world instead of the employees. Overall, less than 10 percent of people voted against Martin’s nomination, according to Time’s reader poll results.

The voting period for Time’s 100 most influential people poll doesn’t end until April 6. Theoretically, the results could change quite a bit between now and then.

Photo of Erik Martin via Time

Filed under: offBeat, social, VentureBeat

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Comcast removes mention of “private network” from Xbox app FAQ page

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 10:27 PM PDT


Eat your heart out Humpty Dumpty. Comcast has managed to put the Internet back together again with just a few simple keystrokes and mouse clicks. But before you go patting the company on the back, you should know that it’s responsible for fracturing the internet in the first place — or at least implying that it’s fractured.

Confused? Allow me to explain.

Just days ago the cable company launched its Xfinity TV app on Xbox 360, which allows Comcast subscribers to watch both OnDemand and live streaming video content through their gaming console. One of the Xbox app’s big perks is that data from watching those high-quality videos doesn’t count against Comcast’s self-imposed 250GB per month data cap. The company’s FAQ page initially explained that "since the content is being delivered over our private IP network and not the public Internet, it does not count against a customer's bandwidth cap.” In other words, there are two different parts of the internet, according to Comcast.

VentureBeat previously declared shenanigans on Comcast’s “private network” for Xfinity TV content , because both the “public internet” and “private networks” are delivered over the same broadband infrastructure. Since other streaming services on the Xbox do count against that data cap (and don’t have their own broadband infrastructure), Comcast arguably has an advantage. Comcast is essentially treating the Xbox 360 like one of its cable set-top boxes, which also don’t affect that 25oGB data cap.

Earlier today, GigaOM noticed that Comcast had removed all mention of “private networks” from the FAQ page — and just like that, the internet is no longer two segregated parts, (right?). The revised language reads: “The Xbox 360 running our XFINITY TV app essentially acts as an additional cable box for your existing cable service, and our data usage threshold does not apply.”

The truth is, Comcast probably decided it wasn’t wise to imply that its TV service is a separate, private network that just so happens to be delivered through the same broadband infrastructure as its internet service. Some people have pointed out that Comcast’s current TV service isn’t IP-based, and thus, is different from other streaming services. That isn’t necessarily true for its Xfinity TV content. And if Comcast is prioritizing its own video services over competitors by imposing data caps, then it definitely merits investigation by federal regulators.

Humpty artwork via Vertigo/DC Comics

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Hulu app lands on 7 Android tablets, no love for Samsung Galaxy Tabs (yet)

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 07:57 PM PDT

Hulu App Android

Streaming video service Hulu has finally launched its Hulu Plus app on a handful of tablets that run Android OS, the company announced today on its blog.

The app is available for free in the Google Play store, but users must subscribe to Hulu’s premium Plus service to watch anything. The Hulu Plus subscription costs $7.99 per month and gives you access to recent TV shows from four of the five big networks (ABC, Fox, NBC, and CW). You’ll also be able to watch (most) content on a variety of supported devices, such as set-top boxes, smart TVs, and tablets.

Hulu Plus has already been available on Apple’s iOS devices for some time.

Initially, Hulu is offering the service for just seven Android tablets: Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Motorola Xoom, Motorola XYBoard 10.1, Toshiba Thrive, Acer Iconia and LG G-Slate. Noticeably absent is Samsung’s line of Galaxy tablets, which accounts for a large portion of the overall Android tablet consumer market. But fear not, avid VentureBeat reader, Hulu said this is just the beginning of its Android app rollout. (My guess is that the Nexus tabs will be the next to get support.)

The app itself comes with a shiny new user interface that’s far more functional than its iPad counterpart. It’s a lot like the UI from Netflix’s tablet applications.

At the top of the screen is a familiar slideshow of the most recently featured programs. Just below that is a navigation bar for the type of videos (TV, Movies, Clips, etc.). Videos aren’t “clumped” together like they are in the iPad app. Instead, users are given horizontal rows of videos that are arranged by a specific behavior or action, such as recently watched shows, recommended videos, popular clips, etc (see image below). Show pages also get the same horizontal rows treatment, as you can see in the image above.

Let us know what you think of the new app in the comments.

Hulu Android Homepage

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Megaupload kills “Mega Video” lawsuit to concentrate on not being destroyed

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 06:05 PM PDT


Recently defunct file-hosting service Megaupload has decided not to pursue further legal action against Universal Music Group.

UMG first accused the company’s “Mega Video” music video of copyright infringement back in January, sent out Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices to several sites, including YouTube, Vimeo, and even TWiT’s Tech News Today. The Mega Video featured several popular hip-hop and pop stars performing a song that promoted the company’s file hosting service. The video included Kanye West, Will.i.am, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray, and others.

In response, Megaupload filed a counter suit, which it’s now dropping, according to a TorrentFreak report. "The sham takedown notice case will be dismissed without prejudice," Megaupload attorney Ira Rothken said. "Megaupload will be permitted to refile the case if it chooses to do so."

UMG never actually established how the Mega Video was infringing on its copyright. Megaupload originally wanted to exploit that fact as proof that UMG was abusing its power to send out DMCA notices. Had it actually gone to trial, the counter suit could have established important precedents for DMCA abuse by copyright holders.

Rothken said the UMG case was dropped so that Megaupload can focus on much more severe legal woes. The company’s main priority going forward is to fight allegations by U.S. authorities that its file hosting service was knowingly being used as a safe haven for people committing acts of piracy.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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Texas man sues Path, claims it stole more than just his contacts

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 05:26 PM PDT


Another Texas man is suing mobile social network Path, this time saying the company is doing more than just storing address book information.

Oscar Hernandez filed the class action lawsuit in the city of San Francisco, Calif. this week, saying that he and other Path users were “victims of unfair, deceptive, and unlawful business practices; wherein their property, privacy, and security rights were violated.”

According to Hernandez, Path has intercepted his communications to other social networks (Twitter, Facebook) while using the app and saved GPS information that he hadn’t authorized. The filing also states that Path added location coordinates to photos and other posts on his “Path” without his permission, this on top of storing contact information.

The filing specifically points out that among his contacts was personally identifiable information about his children, who are minors.

“Worse yet, all of the Plaintiff’s contact address book and interactions data that was stored on Path’s servers and/or third party servers was stored in an unreasonably insecure manner contrary to accepted standards, in a way that is well-recognized to be easily accessible by even an unsophisticated hacker,” Hernandez and his representation stated in the filing.

Path previously came under fire after developer Arun Thampi found his address book was being transferred to Path’s servers. He and many others made noise around the issue, causing Path to apologize and explain that the contacts were only used to help Path users find friends to add to the service. The situation has prompted Congress to get involved, launching a full investigation into 34 companies creating apps for Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. Path, Twitter, Instagram and many others are included in this investigation.

Recently, another group filed a lawsuit in Texas against 18 of these companies, Path included, regarding the address book scandal.

Hat tip SF Weekly; Image by Robert Scoble/Flickr

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Better search said to be in the works at Facebook

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 04:48 PM PDT

Photo of Mark Zuckerberg's desk after announcing the Facebook IPO.

Seek and you shall find. That’s the promise of an improved Facebook search engine said to be in works at the world’s largest social network.

“Search, really functional and robust search, is sadly lacking within the Facebook interface,” Alitmeter Group digital advertising and media analyst Rebecca Lieb told VentureBeat. “It’s something that could have not only very tangible advertising benefits for Facebook, but also make Facebook a more compelling place for users.”

Roughly 24 Facebook engineers, on a team led by the company’s engineering director Lars Rasmussen (also a former Google engineering manager), are working to vastly improve the social network’s search experience, reported Bloomberg Businessweek, citing two sources familiar with the project.

The revamped search product, according to the sources, would help users better find content posted to Facebook but also allow for the discovery of articles, videos, and other stories that Facebook members have “liked” elsewhere on the web (or presumably read on sites with Open Graph integration).

Little else is known about the improved search engine, but if legitimate, the product could fill major gaps in Facebook’s current user experience, and make the social network more attractive to users, advertisers, and investors.

Keyword and paid search ad placements would be two obvious ways Facebook could immediately capitalize on an enhanced search tool, Lieb said. On the flip side, Facebook users, she said, would benefit from a tool that allowed them to search and reference their own Facebook history.

But the real opportunity for Facebook, Lieb said, would be delivering advertisements influenced by the social graph, similar to what Google is doing with Search Plus Your World.

“Facebook is better positioned to do that than either of the major search engines,” she said. “This would be a very complex thing to build. It would have to encompass vast, sorted real-time information. Doing this would not be simple, but it would be smart and it would be monetizable.”

Lieb, who was recently briefed by Facebook on other matters, also said that the social network is in the process of phasing out the “cheesy” advertisements (not to be confused with sponsored stories) that appear on the right-hand side of the page and hawk things such as teeth-whitening and tummy-flattening services. “I could see that real-estate being replaced by search,” she said.

But even if a new Facebook search engine is in the works, odds are that it is still far from completion. “I think that if this were on the calendar, [Facebook] would absolutely announce it because search has great monetizable potential and they could play that up,” Lieb said, adding that she’s not heard from people in the advertising community that Facebook is floating a new search product.

Facebook declined to comment on this story.

Photo credit: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook

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Funding daily: small social networks, kid-friendly games, and college search tool

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 04:23 PM PDT

Conceptual art showing a social network

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 about the funding deals of the day and serving them up here in our new "Funding daily" column.

Kibits raises $1M for micro social networking

Kibits emerged from stealth today with a $1 million round of funding from Google Ventures and Charles River Ventures. The company unveiled an iPhone and iPod touch app for its micro social network service. The service lets people create a small social networks for events such as weddings or conferences.

Famigo snags some seed capital for family-friendly online games

Famigo is like Zynga for kids and families. The service provides family-friendly apps and games for iOS, Android, and the web, and parents can choose which games and apps their kids can access. It announced today it has raised a $1 million dollar seed round from Silverton Partners.

Upclique raises $350,000 to help kids find the right college

College search tool Upclique announced a round of funding from Ancora Group. The search tool connects high school students with college counselors to help them find the “perfect fit.”

InsightsOne raises $4.3M for big-data marketing analytics

InsightOne has raised its first round of funding of $4.3 million from Norwest Venture Partners. The company sells marketing analytics software to small- and medium-sized businesses. Gaurav Garg from Sequoia Capital, former Yahoo chief technical officer Zod Nazem, and Alpha Venturi founder Peter Wagner also participated in the funding.

Hootsuite sells $20M in shares to Omers Ventures

Omer Ventures has purchased a $20 million ownership stake in Hootsuite, a social media management service that counts blue chip companies like Pepsi, Fox, and the NBA among its clients.

If you've got funding news to report, send it our way at tips@venturebeat.com.

Social network image via Shutterstock/De Mango

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Google may sell its own tablets (perhaps made by Samsung, Asus) this summer

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 03:44 PM PDT

Last year, Google CEO Eric Schmidt (pictured) said that the company planned to market its own Android tablets within the next six months. Now the supply chain is rumbling with rumors about who the manufacturer will be.

The Wall Street Journal‘s anonymous sources point to both Asus and Samsung as potential manufacturers for the tablets, which would be co-branded with Google’s logo, and sold in an online store run by Google later this year.

While Google hasn’t named any exact timing yet, Schmidt did say in December 2011 that the project had a six-month waiting period ahead of it. However, Google I/O, the company’s annual blowout two-day conference is slated to take place in late June. Without consulting the office’s Magic 8-Ball, we can expect with some level of confidence to hear more news on the tablet then, as well as the newest Android operating system version, Jelly Bean.

As a refresher, Schmidt told an Italian publication in December, "In the next six months, we plan to market a tablet of the highest quality." Referring to the success of the iPad and the relative lack of success of comparable Android tablets … In mobile communications, the smartphone market, you will see brutal competition between Apple and Google Android. It is capitalism.”

In our recent review of the new iPad, editor Devindra Hardawar wrote, “It feels so much better than any Android tablet that I've tested (and that's a lot of tablets), that it's sort of embarrassing for Google… Android will continue to shine in the low-end market, with devices like the Kindle Fire, but you'd be hard-pressed to consider those direct competitors to the iPad.”

It could be that Google is beginning to feel the same way, based on Schmidt’s “of the highest quality” stipulation. Part of the problem has been that only the most recent Android tablets are using a tablet-optimized operating system, others relying on clunky, poor interfaces of Android versions past. A new, Google-led, best-in-class offering might be able to turn the tide.

Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell

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New RIM CEO: We need substantial change

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 03:02 PM PDT


On his first-ever earnings conference call, newly christened Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins seemed to come to terms with the bad hand he’s been dealt and admitted that the company was in need of “substantial change.”

"I've been the CEO of RIM for just over 10 weeks now," Heins said on the call. "It is now clear to me that substantial change is what RIM needs."

Change is indeed in order. RIM reported disastrously bad quarterly results today, with lower-than-expected revenues. And in a shock, former co-CEO Jim Basillie resigned from the company’s board of directors. Major execs David Yach, Software CTO, and Jim Rowan, COO of Global Operations, were also let go.

In another surprising move, the company said it would not provide quantitative guidance, at least for the next few quarters. Heins said the next quarters will be “challenging,” so the company clearly is setting itself up to avoid falling short of expectations.

Heins said there were several major priorities for the company at this time. First, the company needed to “refocus on enterprise,” and to better play in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) segment. Heins admitted that the company was late to the BYOD movement. RIM, he said, has an edge in security and manageability (through BlackBerry Enterprise Server) of devices, and now hopes to exploit that advantage.

Second, the company will focus on making the BlackBerry 10 OS a real player in the market. BB10 will launch later this year, and Heins said he was “surprised by the beauty of the UI.” Until BB10 drops, the company will push hard to make BlackBerry 7 devices the first smartphone that feature phone owners buy.

Third, he said the company would need to focus on making itself more efficient and find a way to create new partnerships and licensing deals. On the efficiency front, the company will look hard at its production process and supply chain and re-evaluate its deals.

Finally, the company will re-align its staff. Heins noted that the company had a level of complexity that was not conducive to its business. With that, he acknowledged that executives Basillie, Yach, and Rowan would be leaving the company. He wished them well and said he was still searching for a new COO.

While Heins may not have committed to radical change, he is at least moving toward a more prudent and realistic course. Forcing out executives through retirement or resignation shows that those people are finally being held accountable for failing the company, which has seen its stock lose 75 percent of its value in a year’s time. With Heins in control, we should expect RIM to be a veritable roller-coaster ride for rest of the year.

Thorsten Heins photo: RIM Media Gallery

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Oracle buys cloud company ClearTrial, gets closer to big pharma

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 02:52 PM PDT

Megalithic Silicon Valley oldster Oracle just announced its agreement to buy ClearTrial, a cloud-based company in the business of biopharmaceutical and medical trials.

The company will be welcomed into the Oracle Health Sciences Suite, where it will become a key part of Oracle’s comprehensive closed-loop clinical trial management offering, with features guiding the client from planning to payment.

To put it briefly and simply, clinical trials are those fun (and seemingly never-ending) periods of research and development for new medical drugs, devices, and procedures. ClearTrial is just software to help manage that process. Oracle aand ClearTrial reps say the software can speed up the planning process, improve budgeting accuracy, and give all parties involved transparency on timelines and how the trials went.

ClearTrial’s current portfolio of clients includes some of the most well-known names in Big Pharma, such as Botox maker Allergan, Allegra and Ambien maker Sanofi, and AstraZeneca, the seventh-largest pharmaceutical company in the world. Research and clinical trials for products from companies like these can span many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars; ClearTrial gets a microscopic piece of that pie, but it’s a huge pie to begin with.

Oracle already has pieces of the clinical trial-management puzzle in place. For example, Oracle LabPas helps researchers find volunteers (read: human guinea pigs) for studies, and Oracle IRT helps researchers manage things like patient randomization and patient diary data. ClearTrial’s intellectual property rounds out the whole clinical trial offering to include planning, sourcing, and tracking these R&D-type activities.

Oracle, founded in 1977, has disclosed the sale prices of around $2 billion worth of the companies it’s snapped up over the years. For many more deals, like this one with ClearTrial, the price remains unknown.

“Biopharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostic companies, as well as contract research organizations (CROs), are facing increasing pressure to deliver clinical development projects on time and within budget,” said Neil de Crescenzo, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Health Sciences, in a release. “Adding ClearTrial to the Oracle Health Sciences Cloud will help our customers streamline the clinical development process and help them bring therapies to market with greater predictability and at lower costs.”

Image courtesy of REDAV, Shutterstock

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RIM reports ugly Q4 results, Jim Balsillie out from board of directors

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:54 PM PDT


BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion has reported its Q4 2012 results and, as expected, the earnings came in below expectations.

RIM reported revenues of $4.19 billion, way below expectations, and earnings per share ended up at 81 cents, right on the money with projections. RIM sold 11.1 million BlackBerrys, which was just shy of forecasts. A year ago, the company posted much stronger revenue of $5.6 billion and earnings of $1.78 per share.

Among other layoffs, the company’s former co-CEO Jim Balsille has resigned from the board of directors, news that caused after-hours trading on RIM shares to halt temporarily after a nearly 3 percent price spike.

News that Balsillie is out was especially unexpected. Software CTO David Yach and COO of Global Operations Jim Rowan have also been forced out.

Balsillie said in a statement: "As I complete my retirement from RIM, I'm grateful for this remarkable experience and for the opportunity to have worked with outstanding professionals who helped turn a Canadian idea into a global success.”

Low expectations for RIM’s Q4 results were in order. RIM’s stock has lost more than 75 percent of its value in the past year, as Apple and various Android phone makers like Samsung and Motorola dominate the mobile market. The news has been uniformly bad: BlackBerrys have been delegated to second-tier status, the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet has gained no traction against the iPad in the enterprise, and the new CEO of the company, Thorstein Heins, has been hesistant to change course. Heins got on the line for his first-ever conference call after the earnings were posted, and promised “substantial change.”

Wall street analysts low-balled and estimated that RIM would report $4.54 billion in revenue and 81 cents earnings per share (EPS) for Q4 of its 2012 fiscal year, according to Seeking Alpha. However, RIM was somehow able to tread below that.

On the plus side, RIM sold more than 500,000 PlayBook tablets, which is the best quarter they’ve ever had for the device. To be fair, it did sell quite a few of PlayBooks at bargain-bin prices for a loss, but hey, it’s an accomplishment that some people still want RIM products, right?

Photo credit: miggslives/Flickr

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E-books are the fastest-growing area of book sales, especially for youngsters

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:29 PM PDT

New data from the Association of American Publishers shows that a lot of y’all got e-readers over the holidays. Year-over-year, e-book sales have skyrocketed, especially for young adult and kids’ titles.

In January 2011, publishers sold 3.9 million children’s and young adults e-books. One year later, that monthly sales figure is up to a whopping 22.6 million.

For the older set, e-books are also showing huge growth, surging from 66.6 million e-books sold in January 2011 to 99.5 million sold in January 2012.

In fact, adult e-books are set to overtake adult paperbacks as the highest volume product for publishers in America. This past January, paperbacks outsold e-books by less than 6 million units; if e-book market growth continues, it will have far outpaced paperbacks to become the number-one category for U.S. publishers.

As it is, e-books accounted for 31.1 percent of all young adult, children’s, and adult book sales in January 2012, up from 24.8 percent in January 2011.

All in all, January 2012 was a good month for publishers, with overall sales up 27 percent and sales in the children’s/young adult category up 80.5 percent.

At VentureBeat HQ, we’re hardly surprised by these stats. We were watching the white-hot e-reader/tablet/hybrid gadgets market between last November and now, and what we saw completely backs up the e-book sales growth.

For example, we noted that tablet ownership doubled over the holidays — a feat that was in no small part due to the wild success of Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Shortly after Kindle Fire pre-sales began in September 2011, the company announced it was selling the device at a rate of one million units per week.

"Kindle Fire is the most successful product we've ever launched -– it's the bestselling product across all of Amazon for 11 straight weeks; we've already sold millions of units, and we're building millions more to meet the high demand," said Dave Limp, Amazon's Kindle-focused vice president, shortly before the January e-book sales began.

Top image courtesy of Catherine Murray, Shutterstock

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THQ lays off 118 people and downsizes ambitions for Warhammer 40K game

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:22 PM PDT

Struggling U.S. game publisher THQ said today it was laying off 118 people at two game studios, and it had reduced its aspirations for its Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium game.

Previously, the licensed Warhammer 40K game was going to be a massively multiplayer online world. Now it will be an “immersive” single-play and online multiplayer game. That’s a huge change, and it shows that THQ didn’t have enough resources to keep the major MMO effort under way while it was watching its spending in the short term.

“As previously announced, we have been actively looking for a business partner for the game as an MMO. However, based on changing market dynamics and the additional investment required to complete the game as an MMO, we believe the right direction for us is to shift the title from an MMO to a premium experience with single and multiplayer gameplay, robust digital content and community features,” THQ chief executive Brian Farrell said in a statement.

THQ, which is already reeling from prior layoffs, has now let go 79 full-time employees at its Vigil Games studio in Austin and 39 employees at Relic Entertainment in Vancouver, Canada.

More details of the downsized game will be announced later. The whole decline of THQ shows what can happen if a hardcore game company runs into trouble producing hits. In the meantime, makers of online, mobile and social games are chatting on Twitter about offering jobs to those laid off.

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Can big data improve national security? Obama Admin commits $200M to find out

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:13 PM PDT

Positing that data analysis on a grand scale can solve the nation’s most critical challenges, the Obama Administration has kicked off a big data initiative with $200 million in commitments from six federal agencies.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is collaborating with the Department of Defense (DoD), National Science Foundation (NSF), Nation Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Energy (DoE), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to better organize and understand massive volumes of digital data for the nation’s well-being, the Administration announced Thursday.

“In the same way that past Federal investments in information-technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security,” assistant to the President and OSTP director Dr. John P. Holdren said.

Each of the agencies involved are committing resources to developing technologies for big data insight and discovery. DARPA and the DoD, for instance, are specifically focusing on analytics, tools, and algorithms for improving national security and optimizing warfare tactics.

The government is the latest investor in the big-data movement, which has taken off in the technology sector as service providers raise large rounds or get snatched up for tools that dive deep into corporate data pools.

Photo credit: Yampyank/Flickr

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FLA’s Foxconn audit finds “pressing noncompliances” at factories

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:00 PM PDT

Foxconn factory

The Fair Labor Association released its report on Apple’s Foxconn factory audit today, finding serious worker-rights violation and getting an agreement from both companies to take immediate action.

“The findings of FLA's nearly month-long investigation revealed serious and pressing noncompliances with FLA's Workplace Code of Conduct, as well as Chinese labor law,” said the FLA in its report. You can read the full report below.

According to the FLA, its staff spent over 3,000 hours inside three Foxconn factories — in Guanlan, Longhua, and Chengdu — observing labor conditions, as well as chewing through policies and records. FLA anonymously surveyed over 35,000 Foxconn employees about their working conditions, including overtime hours, pay, health and safety, and the overall environment of the Foxconn factories.

Based on all this data, the FLA found that in all three factories, employees spent more hours working at peak production time than is legal in China, or under the FLA Code. Some workers were not given their 24-hours of downtime, and had to work up to seven days in a row.

Foxconn LoyaltyThe survey revealed that employees are particularly worried about becoming sick from aluminum dust. The FLA believes Foxconn has already put procedures into place, however, to protect workers from the dust, which previously caused an explosion at the Chengdu factory. Workers tend to feel like they don’t have access to the safety committees who make decisions on heath and safety procedures at Foxconn. Committees are intended to be a representation of the broader Foxconn community.

“It should be noted that committees may not be truly representative of the workers, because management nominates candidates for election,” said the FLA in the report.

Workers are, however, paid over the legal minimum in China, though overtime is an issue. The FLA believes 14 percent of overtime workers are not being paid fully for their hours. This is because Foxconn only plays employees based on 30-minute increments. The association makes the point that if a worker spends 58 minutes on the assembly line, he or she would only be paid for a half-hour of work.

After looking at all of these issues, the FLA has asked Foxconn and Apple to take several steps to improve working conditions. Both companies have agreed to the steps, which include opening up avenues between workers and the health and safety committees, and changing the way accidents are reported. Foxconn promises to have all of its employees working the legal amount of hours or less by July 1, 2013, without disrupting wage laws.

Apple made the decision to join the FLA soon after reports about poor working conditions in its Foxconn factory emerged. The move was intended to curb criticism and add a more transparency to Apple’s supplier network, which has traditionally been veiled. Tales of long hours, very low wages, and child and slave labor have been among some of the complaints against Apple, which chief executive Tim Cook says he greatly wants to reduce.

“If we find a supplier that intentionally hires under-aged labor, it's a firing offense," he said at the Goldman Sachs technology conference in February. "We don't let anyone cut corners on safety."

The company promised to publish audits performed by the Fair Labor Association to its website, but some people are still not convinced. SumOfUs, an activist group that has been following Apple’s Foxconn debacle from the beginning, believes joining the FLA is really just a public relations move. Members of the FLA are, in fact, paying members, and thus the objectivity of the FLA’s reports is questionable. SumOfUS doesn’t believe the FLA reports are whitewashed, however, saying:

“A critical report from the FLA will not, in and of itself, constitute proof that a new day is dawning in Apple's supply chain. It will only be proof that the FLA and Apple are smart enough to understand that no one, at this point, is going to be fooled by a whitewash.”

We have reached out to the FLA and Apple and will update this post upon hearing back.

The main FLA report:

First image via ABC’s iFactory, second image via FLA

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Court docs show Android made less than $550M for Google since 2008

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 12:47 PM PDT

Court documents provided by Google show the company made less than $550 million from Android between 2008 and the end of 2011.

These figures pan out to about $10 per Android handset, or roughly $135 million, each year.

iPhones and other Apple-made devices, on the other hand, put more than four times as much revenue in Google’s coffers during the same time period.

The $550 million figure was brought into the light during legal talks between Google and Oracle. Oracle brought a lawsuit against Google in 2010 claiming that the search company had infringed on Java-related intellectual property. The Java IP, including specific copyrights and patents, had only recently been transferred to Oracle when that company finalized its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in early 2010.

Last summer, Google indicated it may have been willing to settle out of court in the matter. An Oracle victory in court could have added up to billions in damages, and given that (as we’d long suspected) Google’s revenue-per-device figure is quite low, any per-device licensing fee would put a significant dent in Android-related revenue.

But Googlers reassure us the open-source operating system is still in no real danger. "From a consumer standpoint, consumers should not be concerned about losing their Android phone,” a Google spokesperson said in a recent phone chat.

“There's no indication that Android is under threat… We're actively pushing back on Oracle to preserve choice in the marketplace in the long term.”

Google announced its annual revenue run rate for Android had reached $2.5 billion late last year. At that time, the total number of Android devices activated worldwide had just reached 190 million.

But that revenue is a drop in the bucket for Google. The search giant made $10 billion in the last quarter alone, and almost all of that revenue came from its online advertising empire.

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Worldwide mobile gaming revenue could reach $7.5 billion by 2015

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 12:41 PM PDT

The mobile casual gaming worldwide market has the potential to reach $7.5 billion by 2015. Smartphone usage is on the rise and so is the prevalence of mobile gaming, according to a report from SuperData.

Asia is currently the largest mobile gaming market, followed closely by the United States. Even though this install base is large, simple feature phones still dominate at a whopping 85 percent.

What’s most interesting in SuperData’s findings is how much money is spent on freemium games that allow players to pay small amounts over time for temporary unlockable items. Female gamers ages 25-34 spend an average of $12.92 a month on micro-transactions which is $5.12 more than men in the same age group.

While in-app purchases are on the rise, ad revenue is still the major money-maker for mobile products. Angry Birds on Android makes $1-6 million per month purely from ads.

Update: Tiny Tower data removed as NimbleBit has never officially released that information.

[image credit SuperData]

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LG’s bendy plastic e-reader display to be released next month

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 12:40 PM PDT

LG Display

We fold our newspapers, bend back our magazines, so why not our e-readers? LG Display has released a new plastic, flexible display that probably won’t let us fold tablets in half, but may bring the bendy-future closer to consumers.

The display, called a plastic electronic paper display (EPD), is six inches tall and supports 1024-by-768 pixels. According to LG, the display “offers users a paper-like reading experience with a plastic substrate that is as slim as cell phone protection film.” It can be bent to a 40 degree angle, is one-third thinner than traditional e-reader displays, and weighs half as much.

LG also alluded to the fact that these plastic displays are cheaper to make than their glass counterparts.

“As EPD gets thinner, lighter, and more durable with the introduction of plastic EPD, E-Books will be able to offer certain unique benefits compared to smart devices and tablets, including reduced eye fatigue and more efficient electricity consumption in addition to lower prices,” LG said in a statement.

The company attempted several drop tests from nearly five-feet off the ground, and found that the screens were more resistant to damage than glass. If you’ve ever dropped a plastic cup versus a glass cup, you can imagine why this would be the case.

The company hopes to ship these screens to manufacturers within the month so they can be released to European consumers at the beginning of next month.

hat tip Engadget

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Order your lottery tickets online for tomorrow’s record-breaking $500M jackpot

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 12:36 PM PDT

Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot $500

With out-of-state hopefuls flocking to California to purchase tickets for tomorrow’s half-a-billion MEGA Millions Lottery Jackpot, lines have been building up throughout the week. Some shops have reported wait times of over three hours. However, California residents looking to throw their name in the hat for the record-breaking jackpot won’t even need to leave the comfort of their home thanks to LottoGopher.com. LottoGopher is the only legal and secure online site that handles ticket orders, even offering services for office pools, where friends and co-workers can combine forces to increase their chances of winning the largest MEGA Millions jackpot in the history of the universe (that we know of).

In an official statement sent to VentureBeat, LottoGopher describes itself as a “unique concierge service that travels to the store to both purchase tickets and redeem the winnings on behalf of users. Winning player accounts are then funded with 100% of their prize money. LottoGopher keeps no portion of the prizes, large or small.” LottoGopher users remain the legal owners of any lottery tickets ordered, and a “sophisticated system tracks orders, ticket transportation and a secure storage vault.”

Mega Millions Jackpot LottoGopherIf you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how LottoGopher benefits from this service. “LottoGopher operates like the Netflix for lottery,” LottoGopher CEO James Morel told VentureBeat. “For a $12 monthly membership fee, our users get access to all of the features on the site and can order tickets for the same $1 price as the store.” A free trial is available for anyone who just wants to make a one-time transaction … such as when there might be a $500M jackpot.

However you decide to procure your ticket(s), good luck tomorrow!

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This chip can count dice-rolls faster than you can

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 11:45 AM PDT

Humans have always been better at seeing than machines. But the age of “embedded vision” is upon us, and machines that see are getting better and better. A case in point is a demonstration project from chip-maker Analog Devices, which showed a vision system can count the numbers for a dice roll faster than any person can.

The picture above shows seven dice and a system with a new dual-core Analog Devices Blackfin chip with vision acceleration. As soon as I rolled the dice, a video camera captured the image of the dots on each die. Blackfin then processed the data and displayed the count on a TV set (pictured right). Each time, it captured the count within a split second, while it took me many seconds to count. It’s not clear what this can be used for, but it’s certainly a cool demo.

Denis Labrecque, DSPs marketing programs manager at Norwood, Mass.-based Analog Devices, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the newest digital-signal processing chips like Blackfin are bringing the cost of computer vision down dramatically.

The new version of the Blackfin processors (with two 500-megahertz cores)  also use very little power, as low as 400 milliwatts. The chip can do something like 25 billion math operations per second. The Analog Devices demo was part of a display at the engineer-focused Embedded Vision Alliance event in San Jose, Calif. today. Embedded vision applications are becoming widespread because of dropping costs and are being used in markets such as surveillance, industrial control, video games, said Brian Dipert, editor in chief of the alliance.

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InsightsOne raises $4.3M for big-data marketing analytics

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 11:41 AM PDT

InsightOne, maker of marketing analytics software for small- and medium-sized businesses,announced today it has raised its first round of funding, totaling $4.3 million.

While Amazon, Facebook, and Google use in-house systems to evaluate their marketing efforts, smaller companies can’t afford to hire dedicated staff. InsightsOne is hoping to cash in on these small businesses that need extra help with marketing.

The company’s founders hail from Yahoo’s consumer data and analytics division. The team modeled the software after what the big companies use, and the hope was to build a just-as-good-as-the-big-guys product for smaller businesses.

InsightsOne offers two products, a marketing analytic tool and a targeting tool. On the targeting side, the company helps businesses figure out which messages to use and how to deliver them to the customers, via email, mobile ad, or website ad. The marketing insights service then figures out which marketing efforts are paying off, by crunching social, mobile, unstructured, and structured data. The company claims that it can offer insights in real-time, so businesses can make decisions quickly.

InsightsOne competes with GoodData’s Extact Target tool, which uses Google Analytics to track marketing efforts through online ads and email campaigns.

Norwest Venture Partners led this round, which will be used to grow the company and for product development. Gaurav Garg from Sequoia Capital, former Yahoo chief technical officer Zod Nazem, and Alpha Venturi founder Peter Wagner also participated in the funding.

InsightsOne was founded in 2010 and is based in Santa Clara, Calif.

Marketing bullhorn image via Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Google gets into market research, turns online surveys into paywall replacements

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 11:18 AM PDT

Brands interested in doing market research and publishers trying to make money on content have a new friend in Google, as the search giant is acting as go-between with a new tool that gives both audiences exactly what they want.

On Thursday, Google launched Google Consumer Surveys, a new product businesses can use to survey online audiences and publishers can host in place of paywalls or ads to generate revenue from site visitors.

The quid-pro-quo system works as follows: Brands, small businesses, and marketers use Google consumer surveys to conduct online market research. Google then places the questions in front of targeted web denizens when they land on a premium content page in Google’s publisher network. The brand pays per response ($0.10 to $0.50 each, depending on targeting preferences), and Google and participating publishers pocket the money made from each response. Even the would-be content viewer benefits, as she doesn’t have to pay or sign in to access news articles or videos that might otherwise be locked behind a paywall.

Here’s why this strikes us as a crafty idea: Google isn’t selling a full-service market research service, but instead a hybrid of the cheap, do-it-yourself online survey products and the expensive, hands-on approach offered by a traditional firm.

On the do-it-yourself side of things, the brand or marketer is responsible for creating the microsurvey questionnaire, determining the type of audience (U.S. only) it wants to target, and identifying the total number of responses it’s seeking. Then, the customer takes a backseat as Google drives the sampling, weighting, and analysis pieces of the process.

In so doing, Google is offering the best of both worlds — convenience, affordability, sample balancing, and analysis — and monetizing publisher content in a way that doesn’t discourage readership and traffic.

Of course, one has to wonder if Google’s controversial new privacy policies are allowing the company to pull from cross-product data to better identify folks to complete microsurveys. Google said this is not the case. The product allows for specific targeting by gender, age group, and geographic regions based on inferred demographics, and custom audience targeting through screening questions. All responses are anonymous, Google said, so they’re not tied to a user’s identity or used for future ad targeting.

At launch, publisher partners include Pandora, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Daily News. Initial brand testers include Lucky Brand Jeans, Tumbk2, and King Arthur (baking products). A Google spokesperson told VentureBeat that it’s too soon to speculate on the long-term status of the product. “Right now, our focus is on rolling this out and seeing how it can help companies and publishers meet their business objectives,” the spokesperson said.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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How important is mobile to PayPal? Mobile VP David Marcus is now PayPal’s new President

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 10:45 AM PDT

If you need more evidence of how vitally important mobile payments have become to PayPal, take a look at the company’s new leader.

David Marcus, previously PayPal’s vice president of mobile, has been tapped to lead the company as president, eBay CEO John Donahoe announced in a blog post this morning.

Marcus hasn’t been with PayPal that long — he only joined the company last July when eBay acquired Zong, his carrier-payments startup, for $240 million — but in his short stint he’s already made his presence known. Marcus helped lead the company to $4 billion in mobile payments last year (up from only $750 million in 2010), and the company now predicts it will reach $7 billion this year. He also helped make PayPal Here, the company’s new triangular credit card reader for mobile devices (and its first physical product ever), a reality.

“He's going to lead PayPal with that ‘founder's perspective,’ to bring start-up energy to PayPal's unmatched global reach and digital payment capabilities,” Donahoe wrote in the blog post. “With David at the helm, we will have an even deeper commitment at PayPal, and across eBay Inc., to be a leading technology-driven and customer-focused product innovation company.”

PayPal certainly isn’t giving up its core business of online payments anytime soon, but it’s clear that there’s a huge growth potential in mobile right now. The company has its fingers in almost every method of mobile payments — from carrier payments (it recently announced a new Carrier Payment Network), to NFC, to purchases via QR codes (using eBay-owned Red Laser). No matter which way the mobile payments market leans, PayPal wants a piece of the action.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Get your discount ticket for Vator Spark

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 10:05 AM PDT

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Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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