10 April, 2012



Amazon enables in-app purchasing on Kindle Fire & Android devices

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 09:05 AM PDT

Amazon Android Apps

Amazon is rolling out a new service today within its Android app store that will allow developers to set up a shop inside of an application.

We first learned about Amazon’s in-app purchasing service a few weeks ago when it was still in beta testing. The service will allow developers to offer customers both in-app purchases/upgrades as well as subscriptions, and in return, make them more money.

The move will pit Amazon against both Apple's iOS App Store and the Google Play store, which already offer this kind of functionality. The new in-app purchasing takes advantage of Amazon customers’ familiarity with the online retailer’s other payment systems, such as the one-click purchasing.

Why is Amazon interested in offering this kind of service? Well, in-app purchasing is definitely a growing portion of mobile spending. Much like competing app stores, Amazon will take a 30 percent cut of all revenue generated from the store — so, this obviously has the potential to make the company a lot of money.

But as we previously noted, the biggest benefit to Amazon would be in boosting media sales from owners of its Kindle Fire tablet. At $199, the Kindle Fire is a loss-leader and relies on purchases being made via the tablet to generate a profit. An Amazon-branded app store with in-app purchases natural fit.

Check out a demo video of the new in-app purchasing service from Amazon embedded below.

Filed under: dev, mobile, VentureBeat

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Yahoo’s new commander in chief gives details on the company’s restructuring

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 08:56 AM PDT

Yahoo is in for some big changes and a huge shakeup in leadership, according to a memo issued today by Scott Thompson, the company’s still-new CEO.

Thompson (pictured) came to Yahoo from PayPal just a few months ago. The long-awaited placement for Carol Bartz, who left the company in disgrace after a turbulent tenure, Thompson was charged with shoring up a company that was publicly struggling to maintain a diverse product suite.

A big part of that maintenance has been deciding what to keep and what to cut. As Roy Bostock, who was chairman of Yahoo's board at Thompson’s hiring, said at the time, "Scott's primary focus will be… the strategic review process to identify the best approaches for the company and its shareholders."

The company’s executives had an all-day meeting a wek or so ago to determine key details about this restructuring. All those details will be fully disclosed at an all-hands meeting today, however, as much as 14 percent of Yahoo’s workforce already got the memo, colloquially speaking, in the form of a shower of pink slips last week.

With around 2,000 layoffs done, Thompson and the rest of the Yahoo execs have some exciting announcements in store for remaining Yahoo staffers. The company is being organized into three main branches: Consumer products, advertising, and tech. The consumer division will include social products and content. The ad sales department is called “Regions” and will divide (and conquer?) the globe’s brands and ad agencies. The Yahoo tech division will be responsible for — you guessed it — technology and infrastructure, something Yahoo actually seems to be fairly good at. Corporate, those fun cats over in HR and legal, will support the other departments.

And all this magic will begin on May 1 — the Yahoo board certainly isn’t wasting any time.

Thompson’s memo, which appeared this morning on All Things D, reads as follows:

Yahoos –
It's time for Yahoo! to move forward, and fast. And as we do, I want every one of us to keep one thing top of mind: what we do is about our customers, not about us. For Yahoo! to win in our core business, every one of us must put our customers first. Specifically, we must focus all we do on the users who trust us to give them personalized content and communications, and the advertisers who want to connect with our users. To be very clear, our highest priority is winning in our core business and that will earn us the right to pursue new growth opportunities.
To accomplish that we're establishing a new leadership structure, organizing all of our activities around Yahoo!'s customers. Effective May 1, Yahoo! will operate in three groups — Consumer, Regions and Technology — all supported by our established Corporate teams. Each of the three groups will be charged with delivering the best customer experiences and have very clear accountability for getting results.
Our new Consumer group will be all about creating great, engaging user experiences. Our geographic Regions will serve our advertisers and agencies and be accountable for all Yahoo! revenue. Our Technology teams will provide the advanced infrastructure, technology and science to enable our Consumer group and the Regions to deliver our best products and experiences into market, at scale, and fast.
Our success is determined by how well we engage consumers and give them fun and informative experiences that they feel were designed just for them, on all screens. Our Consumer group will include three units — Media, Connections, and Commerce — and each will provide users the uniquely relevant and personalized content and services they expect and deserve, leveraging Yahoo!'s vast consumer interest data. We will redouble our focus on Yahoo!'s competitive advantage — our core, owned and operated (O&O) consumer properties. And importantly, we are bringing dedicated product engineering resources into each unit, much closer to our users.
• Media Our online media presence has long been our company's clearest competitive advantage. Our Media group, led by Ross Levinsohn, will include all our media businesses globally with our marquee properties at the forefront: Homepage, News, Finance, Sports, and Entertainment. We will bring top design and engineering talent and differentiated technology — like Yahoo!'s Publishing Platform (YPP) — into close partnership with content producers and editors. Ross and his team will continue to drive real differentiation into our leading media experiences, including everything from our original coverage of breaking news events to tentpole events like the Royal Wedding and the upcoming Olympics and US Elections.
• Connections will be led by Shashi Seth, and include consumer businesses that connect and inform our users including Search, Communications and Social properties such as Mail, Messenger, Flickr, Answers, and more. The highest priority for Shashi and his team will be to think well beyond how users search, communicate and share online today. The Connections team is charged with fundamentally re-imagining how we design and deliver the next generation of these foundational Yahoo! experiences.
• Commerce We will renew our focus on commerce, and I expect this newly created team to play a critical role in Yahoo!'s future growth. Our Commerce teams will build on Yahoo!'s massive reach and strong consumer relationships, but their charter will go beyond traditional ecommerce. The focus of this team will be driving higher ROI for advertisers and agencies that reach users on Yahoo! by closing the loop for them between user interests, advertiser spend, consumer intent, and purchase behavior. The foundation of the new Commerce group will be Autos, Shopping, Travel, Jobs, Personals and Real Estate. We expect to name the leadership of this business unit shortly.
Advertisers and agencies are the primary customers and focus for each of our three regions. Our regional sales teams will be the advocate and voice for our advertising customers: listening to them and driving their needs into the products we develop. Regional sales must bring urgency and tenacious sales execution to all we do for advertisers. In addition, these teams will leverage our unique and vast data resources to position Yahoo! as the place to connect with users and generate the best, measurable ROI on their ad spend.
• Americas will be led by Rich Riley, who led the team responsible for extraordinary strides in EMEA in recent years putting the region on a path of consistent engagement and revenue growth, as well as meaningful market share and profit gains. Rich will be moving from Europe to our New York office soon.
• APAC, which includes many of our fastest-growing countries and strongest consumer products, will continue under the exceptional leadership of Rose Tsou.
• EMEA will be led on an interim basis by Christophe Parcot, EMEA's regional sales leader, as we commence the search for a new leader for the region.
Americas, EMEA, and APAC will be fully accountable for Yahoo!'s revenue in their respective regions. I expect our Regional leaders and teams to work in very close collaboration with Ross and our other Consumer group leaders to fully align their goals for revenue and engagement as well as their execution, keeping our users and advertisers top of mind.
Our Consumer group and the Regions will continue to be supported by some of the most talented technology professionals in the industry, providing the advanced platforms and technology that allow Yahoo! to deliver great customer products.
• Core Platforms, led by Mark Morrissey, will provide the foundational platforms, technology, and research to enable great customer products and leverage Yahoo!'s vast data stores to enable deep personalization and optimized monetization. Mark's teams will lead Apt, RMX, User Data & Analytics, our content optimization relevance engine (CORE), Yahoo! Labs and other key technology functions.
• Central Technology will continue to be led by David Dibble and include our data center and service engineering efforts, as well as our cloud infrastructure teams.
Yahoo! has made real progress in building modern, scalable platforms and infrastructure, but to move at the rapid pace our customers and our industry require we need more than scalable technology. This is among the most important changes we're making: we must bring some of our best product designers and engineers much, much closer to consumer needs and demands. Many of our top engineers will continue building on our foundation platforms and technology to continue to drive speed and scale. But to ensure we really know and can serve our customers, we'll also deploy top design and engineering talent into our Consumer business units, directly supporting our users' favorite Yahoo! products to ensure we move much faster and meet customer needs with every product we deliver.
Our major corporate functions will continue to support these new groups. Finance, Legal, and HR will remain under the strong leadership of CFO Tim Morse, General Counsel Mike Callahan, and Chief HR Officer David Windley, respectively. As we search for a Chief Marketing Officer, Penny Baldwin will serve as interim leader for the Corporate Marketing and Communications teams. John Kremer will lead a newly-created Transformation team that will ensure full implementation of and accountability for our restructuring and related organizational changes.
Chief Product Officer Blake Irving has decided to leave Yahoo! and will work closely with the new leaders over the next several weeks to ensure a smooth transition. He has made a tremendous contribution to the advancement of Yahoo!'s product strategy and execution over the last two years and I know you will join me in wishing him all the best in the future.
You will hear more from our business leaders about their plans to move each of these groups forward in the coming days and weeks. As we look to Yahoo!'s future, all of us must remember to always keep our customers first in everything we do. Ultimately, only our customers will decide whether we win or lose in the market.
I look forward to speaking with you at our All Hands Tuesday. If you have questions before we meet, please check Backyard for information and answers. If you don't see the answers you need, please post questions on Backyard, or you may email questions directly to the leadership team.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Meet Benedict Van, the con man of Silicon Valley

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 08:39 AM PDT

The Securities and Exchange Commission has finally tracked down a con man who courted naive investors with “the next Google” and promises of quick IPOs, tricking them out of a grand total of $7 million — or more.

The fraudster’s name is Benedict Van. For at least the past seven years, Van had been going around California, preying on unsophisticated consumers with get-rich-quick claims. Now, the SEC has filed a lawsuit against Van, who agreed to settle the case out of court. One of the conditions of the settlement is that Van may not act as an officer or director at any public company ever again.

Van’s name has been linked to tech startup investment scams for some time. There is even some indication that Van might have been a lifelong con man with a career spanning other verticals, other cities, and other decades, as well.

About a year ago, the California Corporations Commissioner issued a cease and desist order to Van’s companies, HereUAre (previously known as PeopleNet) and ECity. Van had been selling stock in the Palo Alto-based companies since before May 2007 (one of the companies was founded back in 1997).

“Benedict Van said that investors could expect to receive returns of 20 percent in the first 12 months,” the letter reads. “HereUare, ECity and Benedict Van omitted to disclose material facts, specifically that HereUare had never been profitable, had successive years of net losses, lacked revenue history and did not have a proven business model to generate revenue, had few capital resources and was dependent upon future financing to generate the cash necessary to operate its business.”

All these red flags are things that experienced investors would have known to look for, but Van’s victims were hardly what you might call experienced investors.

Seven years ago, an anonymous duped investor set up a blog to warn the world about Van. Calling Van a “super scammer,” the blog’s single post goes on to estimate that Van may have already stolen as much as $10 million from investors as of 2005 and that he also may have been involved in a Southern California real estate scam in the late 1990s.

One commenter on the site describes Van as “a scam artist who preys barely English-speaking people. This guy will tell you lies after lies to get your money. This guy has stole [sic] millions of dollars from unacredited investors who had lost their entire life savings. I know several people who even had to pay off 30 percent to a credit card company because they borrowed money to invest in his fake company.”

The SEC brought its lawsuit against Van on Monday, the New York Times reports. The suit stated that Van, contrary to his own claims, had no venture capital credentials and was hardly running a search engine “three times more powerful” than Google’s.

Van sold shares for $9 each, claiming they would be worth as much as $100 each when HereUAre/ECity went public. Altogether, the SEC tracked down 100 individuals in California and Illinois who had been duped by Van and his schemes.

While the SEC can bar Van from participating in public companies, it waived any fines it could have assessed because Van is apparently too broke to pay any such punitive fees.

We’re a bit surprised that, given the fact Van had already been told by the state to cease and desist selling shares in his fake startups, the federal authorities are letting him roam the streets and only barring him from participation in public companies. Frankly, this is the kind og guy we’d love to see behind bars. But we’ll be satisfied as long as we never again have to write another sad story containing Benedict Van’s name.

Image courtesy of J. Helgason, Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Pretty in Pinterest: Beauty giant Sephora integrates pin-boards

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 08:23 AM PDT

Beauty retailer Sephora has just become one of the first retailers to fully integrate with digital pin-board Pinterest by adding a "Pin It" button to every one of its 14,000 products. Sephora staffers will also highlight their favorite products on Pinterest pinboards. Following a meteoric rise, Pinterest is now the third most visited social network in the U.S. after Facebook and twitter.

Given that Pinterest’s users are overwhelmingly female and Pinterest has been shown to drive considerably more revenue per click than either Twitter or Facebook, the fact that Sephora has pinned its hopes on Pinterest is perhaps unsurprising.

Sephora’s sleek stores have long functioned as the cathedrals of the beauty product world. The French retailer operates more than 300 stores in the U.S. and Canada (and many more globally) and is something of a trailblaiser in integrating technology into its retail experience. Last month VentureBeat reported how the retailer, having noticed the high overlap between its customers and Apple users (70 percent of visits to Sephora’s website are from iPhones) introduced iPads running a custom, in-store Sephora app into 20 stores across the U.S.

The iPad application leverages the iPad’s camera functionality to create a "virtual mirror" that lets users see themselves practicing makeup application as a video of the relevant technique are played below. Shoppers can review their purchase history (to avoid shopping disasters such as buying two of the same lipstick) and product information like ingredient lists. Sephora also invested in iPod touches which can be used for mobile checkout in every store.

Sephora’s website is the world’s biggest beauty store. Mobile shopping grew 300 percent on Sephora in 2011 and the company expects another 100 percent increase this year. iPad traffic was up 400 percent in Q1 2012 compared to Q1 2011.

Filed under: social

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Sony forecasts record $6.4B loss as Samsung overtakes it in U.S. HDTV demand

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 08:08 AM PDT

The pressure is building on new Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai to shape up the electronics giant. The company announced this morning that it will see a record $6.4 billion loss for the 2012 fiscal year (which ended in March) due to a tax hit, double its past projected annual loss of $2.9 billion.

Rubbing salt into its wounds even further, a recent study by ABI Research has found that Samsung has toppled Sony when it comes to U.S. consumers looking to buy new HDTVs. 20 percent of consumers surveyed said they were eyeing Samsung televisions, while 19 percent were looking at Sony sets (down from 27 percent).

Sony said yesterday that it will slash 10,000 jobs (6 percent of its work force) in an effort to regain profitability. Those cuts likely led to the sunnier side of today’s announcement, with the company forecasting an operating profit of $2.2 billion for the current year (ending March 2013).

It seems that this year will be a major transition period for Sony, as it tries to correct the mistakes of the past. The company tapped Kazuo Hirai as its new CEO back in February, who quickly laid out a plan to save Sony. Hirai unveiled his new One Sony restructuring last month, which aims to streamline the company’s innovation and focus it on gaming, mobile devices, and digital imaging.

It’s unclear how Sony will combat Samsung’s new lead in HDTVs, as the Korean company has focused heavily on creating quality displays and building the connected experience in its sets. Sony is looking to streamline its display efforts, but its Google TV partnership could lead to some interesting sets in the next year.

Sony missed out completely on the iPod era of portable music devices, so now it’s aiming to make up for lost time with a stronger lineup of smartphones, which it announced at the Mobile World Congress in February. Gaming is still a cash cow for the company, and it remains one of the better digital camera companies (I love my Sony NEX-5N), so the choice to emphasize its business around the company's three hottest product categories seems wise.

Via Reuters; Photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Amazon damage: Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn resigns

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 08:03 AM PDT


Best Buy head Brian Dunn has resigned from his position as CEO and director, the company hastily announced today. Director G. Mike Mikan will step in as interim CEO while the company searches for a new CEO.

“There were no disagreements between Mr. Dunn and the company on any matter relating to operations, financial controls, policies or procedures,” the company wrote in a press release. “There was mutual agreement that it was time for new leadership to address the challenges that face the company.”

Best Buy has increasingly become a showroom for Amazon, which more often than not sells the same electronics goods as Best Buy but at a lower cost. The company likely realizes how many challenges it faces to keep consumers coming to its stores. Under Dunn, Best Buy recently announced that it would close 50 stores to help it edge back to being a profitable company.

Dunn started as a Best Buy store associate in 1985 and eventually worked his way up to CEO in June 2009. When he started, Best Buy began facing incredibly tough competition from Amazon and Walmart. Dunn did not radically change the company’s strategy to deal with these threats. Still, Dunn leaves on a forcibly upbeat note:

"I have enjoyed every one of my 28 years with this company, and I leave it today in position for a strong future,” said Dunn. “I am proud of my fellow employees and I wish them the best.”

Best Buy photo: Pat Pilon/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google Play Music gets desktop notifications, HTML5 player, with new Labs tweaks

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 07:44 AM PDT

Google Labs, Google Play

In an effort to help spruce up its new emphasis on media, Google has rolled out a new set of Labs today for its Google Play Music player.

The company already has a lab for other popular web services such as Gmail and Maps, which offer users a large collection of customizable features that can be turned on and off.

The Google Play Music’s lab is a bit sparse when it comes to selection, listing only three new lab features. The lab now gives users the option of adding track notifications that pop up when a new song begins playing. You have to be using Google Chrome for this feature to work. You can also rate each song on a scale of 1 to 5, which is hardly a huge addition considering how many other music players already do this.

But the last and most notable feature in the Music Labs is the ability to enable HTML5 Audio playback. This works in pretty much any browser that supports HTML5 Audio, including the mobile Safari browser. Basically, this update makes the Google Play Music site work without the need for flash.

It’ll be interesting to see if Google will be able to grow interest in the service with new labs features in the same way its done for Gmail.

Test tubes photo via Africa Studio/Shutterstock; via Engadget

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Why video games are good for you — the cheat sheet

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 07:31 AM PDT

Relax, parents. Video games are good for you and your kids. So argues Scott Steinberg, author of The Modern Parent’s Guide series for high-tech parenting.

Steinberg, who also serves as a game industry consultant at TechSavvy Global, has launched a free tip sheet for parents on his web site. In it, he talks about the educational, physical, and job-related benefits that gaming offers. He’s not suggest that your kids play the mature-rated Grand Theft Auto series; rather, he thinks that age-appropriate games will result in all sorts of benefits.

"Video games promote exercise and physical activity, encourage socialization and leadership, and foster dynamic problem-solving and decision-making skills – all areas of tremendous benefit to kids and adults alike," Steinberg said.

He says that research supports the positive nature of play, and he notes that the vast majority of titles are now family friendly.

"Parents, politicians and educators frequently criticize video games as an alleged waste of time that distracts kids from healthier activities such as homework and outdoor play," Steinberg said. "But research is quickly demonstrating that gaming can be a perfectly beneficial and well-rounded part of a healthy, balanced media diet."

As noted before, Steinberg said that Harvard Medical School researcher Cheryl Olson, whose research included surveying data from interviews with over 1,000 public-school students, found that "parent-approved video games played in moderation can help young kids develop in educational, social, and physical ways."

Olson argued that even games that are not labeled as educational can encourage planning, problem solving, and creative self-expression, and can spark interest in history or geography. Still more encourage socialization, exercise, healthy competition, and leadership.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Taekman, director of Duke University’s Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center, has concluded that “serious games and virtual environments are the future of education.” Games can help students deal with cultural differences or irate consumers — mainly by enabling people to deal with evolving scenarios, making more informed choices, seeing immediate consequences, and shifts in tactics. The tip sheet offers a bunch of other supporting research as well, pretty much aligned with the views of the game industry’s trade group, the Entertainment Software Association.

"Games can definitely be good for the family," says Patricia Vance, president of The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which assigns video game ratings. "Oftentimes I think parents feel that they're not because video games in the media are portrayed as violent, and hardcore games tend to get the lion's share of publicity. But parents need to be comforted knowing that E for Everyone is by far the largest category. Nearly 60 percent of the almost 1,700 ratings we assigned last year [fall into this category].”

[Image credit: TechSavvy/iStockphoto]

Filed under: games

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Lookout and T-Mobile bring you phones that will scream if lost

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Lookout Mobile Security and T-Mobile are teaming up today to bring you a unique security feature in mobile phones: custom Scream tones.

With the new Scream tones you can try to pinpoint a missing smartphone on a map and then activate a loud noise such as a siren, train whistle, a Star Trek zooming sound, a wolf howl, or a T-Mobile jingle. Once activated, the device will scream at you until you find it.

"Smartphones and tablets are our most personal devices, and as consumers store more information on them, there's an elevated interest to protect them," said Torrie Dorrell, vice president of application, content and games, T-Mobile USA. "Lookout is a great fit for T-Mobile because the app is powerful yet easy to use, and it gives our customers protection across a range of mobile security threats."

Lookout’s app is available in the Google Play store. San Francisco-based Lookout is a mobile security firm that provides antivirus and security features for T-Mobile’s Android customers. The Lookout app protects against malware, spyware, data loss, and device loss. Lookout is available as a preload on most of T-Mobile’s Android smartphones and tablets.

"T-Mobile is a leader in mobile communications, and we're thrilled to work together on enhancing mobile security," said Lookout CEO and co-founder John Hering. "Having the Lookout app preloaded on T-Mobile devices means customers can quickly and easily access content that helps them feel safe and confident to do more with their phones."

Lookout has more than 15 million users in 170 countries across 400 mobile networks. The company is adding a million users a month.

Filed under: mobile, security, VentureBeat

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Insta-growth: Instagram for Android hits 5M downloads in 6 days

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 06:53 AM PDT


The good news for photo-sharing app Instagram keeps on coming. Just a day after Facebook announced that it would acquire Instagram for $1 billion cash and stock, Instagram’s new Android app has attracted 5 million downloads in just six days.

Unless you were stranded in the ocean by 3D iceberg yesterday, you likely heard that Instagram was bought by Facebook only days after launching an Android app and reportedly closing a $50 million second round of funding. Facebook, spurred by a high level of mobile risk, likely sees Instagram as another way it can put its stamp on iOS and Android.

“This is an important milestone for Facebook because it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired a product and company with so many users,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote yesterday. “We don’t plan on doing many more of these, if any at all. But providing the best photo sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.”

Instagram’s successful launch of Android, which had 1 million downloads in 24 hours, likely helped push Facebook to close the deal. Now Facebook will look even smarter because Instagram on Android’s 5 million downloads in 6 days is one of the most successful launches ever on Android. By comparison, the iOS version of the app took around six months to hit the same number.

Our own Jolie O’Dell made the case yesterday that Instagram needed to successfully move to Android for Facebook to acquire it. The argument makes a lot of sense because Facebook wants to be available to everyone everywhere. To pull the trigger on a $1 billion application buy, that app better be on the two most-popular mobile app platforms, in line with Facebook’s multi-platform strategy.

Filed under: mobile, social

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Chrome OS gets a facelift, proves Google can’t always get its way

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 06:31 AM PDT

Google’s Chrome OS has always been about the web — indeed, the first version of the operating system was literally just a Chrome web browser that filled the screen. But with the latest developer channel update, the OS has received a visual upgrade that makes it look more like a cross between Windows and OS X.

We don’t yet know how many Chromebooks Google has shipped, but it’s clear they haven’t taken off, so it’s no big surprise to see the company steer the OS into something more consumer friendly. Chrome OS is still centered on the web, but now consumers won’t have to change the computing lessons they’ve learned to use it.

The new Chrome OS window manager, dubbed Aura, adds a traditional desktop (along with support for wallpapers), stacked windows, a task manager, and an app launcher similar to Launchpad in OSX. Aura is hardware accelerated, meaning it takes advantage of the Chromebook’s graphics processing instead of the CPU for intensive tasks. Google says the framework will offer “large-scale animated transitions and effects.”

It’s also worth noting that this new interface is appearing about a year after Google announced the Chromebooks, so I expect the company to push the upgrade heavily and announce new Chromebook partners in the next few months.

The visual redesign is a rare bit of exciting news for Chromebook owners, though unfortunately it won’t be available on the original Cr-48 Chromebook prototype (blame that device’s lackluster hardware). The update is available now on the Chrome OS development channel for the Samsung Series 5 and Acer AC700 Chromebooks.

Via Google Operating System

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The average American still loves Google. Twitter…not so much

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 06:16 AM PDT

The tech press has been teeing off on Google recently, ridiculing the company’s core motto, “Don’t Be Evil”, as it compromises it foundational product, search, in the name of social media. But when it comes to the average America, Google is still the most loved tech company by a wide margin.

A recent poll conducted by ABC and The Washington Post found that a staggering 82 percent of people had a favorable impression of Google, with the remaining 18 percent split between “unfavorable” and “don’t know”.

Even Google CEO Larry Page recently acknowledged that it’s tough for massive global corporations to connect with their users. “We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love. But we recognize this is an ambitious goal because most large companies are not well-loved, or even seemingly set up with that in mind,” he wrote in his letter to investors.

Apple, despite its troubles with Foxconn, also nabbed a very high rating, with 74 percent feeling favorably towards the company. When it comes to the straight social media business, there is a lot more tough love. Facebook only managed a 58 percent favorability rating, and a full 28 percent of people felt negatively towards the company.

The company with its work really cut out for it is Twitter, where 36 of people felt negatively about the company, compared 34 percent who liked it and 31 percent who didn’t know. While those in the media and tech circles may think of Twitter as ubiquitous, these numbers show that it is still not well known or well liked among average Americans.

h/t to The Atlantic

Filed under: offBeat, social

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Earliest back-to-school promo ever: Toshiba unveils flurry of tablets and laptops

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Toshiba has a bevy of tablets and laptops ready to launch for the back-to-school season. It’s early to the game, for sure, as school isn’t even out of session yet for this year. But most of the products won’t ship until June, after school lets out. That gives you a lot of time to plan your back-to-school purchases.

The new laptops and tablets reflect Toshiba’s strategy of offering next-generation features that compete head-to-head with Apple devices but are more affordable. The tablets run Android, while the laptops run Windows 7.

“We are cascading premium features down to our low-end models,” Toshiba senior product manager Duc Dang told VentureBeat. “The laptop market has matured and isn’t growing like it once did. So we are adding more value across the different price categories.”

Among the highlights are three new Excite tablets (pictured at top), ranging from $449 to $749. These tablets will run the 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” version of Google’s Android operating system. They will feature 13.3-inch (pictured right), 10.1-inch, and 7.7-inch touchscreens with quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 microprocessors, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass displays, and a bunch of input-output options. Toshiba calls the largest one a “personal mobile gaming tablet,” and it is able to run full 16:9 high-definition content. So far, no major manufacturer has a 13-inch tablet on the market.

The Excite 13 tablet will be available for purchase on June 10 at $649 for 32 gigabytes and $749 for 64 gigabytes. The Excite 10 is available on May 6 at $449 for 16 gigabytes, $529 for 32 gigabytes, and $649 for 64 gigabytes. And the Excite 7.7 will be available June 10 at $499 for 16 gigabytes and $579 for 32 gigabytes. The tablets have a five-megapixel camera on the back and a 2-megapixel camera facing the front.

As for the new laptop families Toshiba is unveiling today, let’s start with the Satellite L800 and the Satellite C800. We expect these devices to have the new generation of Intel microprocessors, dubbed Ivy Bridge. But Intel hasn’t formally introduced those chips yet, and Toshiba can’t say exactly what will be in these machines just yet, only that they are “third-generation Intel Core processors.” Some of the models will also use Advanced Micro Devices processors instead. Those details will come later.

The L800 series laptops will have 14-inch, 15.6-inch, and 17.3-inch displays and come with Toshiba’s stylish Fusion II finish in a variety of colors. The touchpads on these machines are larger and recessed to prevent accidental gestures. The L845 will sell for $449, the L855 for $499, and the L875 for $599. The devices get around 10 hours of battery life, are less than half an inch thick, and weigh 1-2 pounds.

The Toshiba Satellite C800 series is targeted at no-frills customers with budget limitations. The devices will sell for $399 and up. The machines come with 14-inch, 15.6-inch, and 17.3-inch displays. They will have Intel or AMD processors and 500-gigabyte hard drives. They feature USB 2.0 or 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and a Media Card reader and have a painted palm rest. The C series and the L series will be available at the beginning of the third quarter.

Toshiba is also preparing to launch the Qosmio X875 and X875 3D gaming laptops with a “Black Widow” red-and-black design. They will have a black shell and a red backlit keyboard and logo. The laptops are packed with the latest processor technology from Intel and Nvidia, including Intel’s code-named Ivy Bridge processors and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 670M graphics chips. The models have 17.3-inch displays, including one with stereoscopic 3D.

Also coming soon are the Satellite P800 series (pictured right) and Satellite S800 series laptops that are aimed at multimedia and entertainment fans. The P800 series comes with Intel Ivy Bridge processors, Nvidia GeForce 630M graphics, and etched aluminum bodies in “champagne silver.” The laptops will have 14-inch, 15.6-inch, and 17.3-inch screens. The P845 and P855 sell for $799 and up. The Satellite 875 will sell for $849 and will be available at the beginning of the third quarter. The S800 series will sell for $699 and up and be available June 24.

Lastly, the Toshiba 21.5-inch LX815 (pictured right) all-in-one desktop computer and the 23-inch LX835 will be available at the start of the third quarter. The LX815 will sell for $599 and the LX835 for $879. The machines come with Intel Ivy Bridge processors, up to 16 gigabytes of main memory, and up to 3-terabyte hard drives.

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Red Hat and 10Gen partner up to power development of open source data platforms

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 04:49 AM PDT

Two of the biggest names in the open source world announced a partnership yesterday. Red Hat, the North Carolina based provider of open source software for the enterprise and 10Gen, the New York based company behind the increasingly popular NoSQL database MongoDB, are partnering to help developers deliver on the promise of big data and the cloud.

While both companies focus on open-source software, they are no slouch in the business department. Red Hat recently hit a big milestone, becoming the first company based around Linux to hit a billion dollars in annual revenue. Last September 10Gen raised a fresh $20 million in venture funding and has been expanding its Manhattan office and hiring like mad.

“Enterprise customers are looking for robust platforms to develop and deploy their next-generation of applications,” said Max Schireson, president of 10gen. “As a leader in the NoSQL community, MongoDB is well-matched to the scalability and agility that developers demand, and through collaboration with Red Hat, expect to create the leading open source enterprise solution for companies deploying next-generation applications.”

The companies hope that clients will become joint customers who can benefit from 10gen’s leading NoSQL database and the performance, stability, and security of the Red Hat platforms, enhancing investments in both firms.

“Web and enterprise developers need solutions that allow them to rapidly deploy applications that deal with large amounts of data in flexible public or private cloud environments,” said Scott Crenshaw, vice president and general manager of the cloud business unit at Red Hat. “Combining Red Hat’s technology stack with 10gen’s MongoDB NoSQL database will help developers to deliver on the promise of big data and cloud technologies.”

Image via Flickr user Tim Fields

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Autonomy’s private cloud, the largest of its kind, surpasses 50 petabytes

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 04:45 AM PDT


Enterprise software and services player Autonomy‘s private cloud for businesses has now surpassed 50 petabytes to extend its lead as “the world’s largest private cloud,” the company announced this morning.

HP loudly announced its decision to buy Autonomy back in August 2011. And when the $10.3 billion deal closed in October, HP immediately folded Autonomy into its offerings for enterprises. The Autonomy buy was spearheaded by former HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who was later booted from the company. The expensive Autonomy purchase may have been one of the reasons Apotheker was canned, while another was his exploration of spinning off the company’s PC business. But after his replacement, Meg Whitman, took the reins, HP did everything it could to give the successful enterprise-focused company even more resources, especially when it came to the cloud.

Autonomy’s private cloud service, which has more than 1,000 customers, has grown at an incredible rate since HP announced its intent to acquire the company. It amounted to 31 petabytes in August 2011 and now stands at 50 petabytes, meaning the company grew its private cloud size 38 percent in nine months. Those 50 petabytes of data (equal to 665 years of high-def video) are stored on 6,500 servers in 14 data centers across the world.

“In terms of content stored under management, we believe no one else is even close to matching our offering,” Mike Sullivan, CEO of Protect at Autonomy told VentureBeat. “We have 1 billion pieces of content coming in each day.”

Sullivan said that with HP behind it, Autonomy has been able to speed up previously held plans to serve more customers and integrate with HP’s services and infrastructure. Using its Intelligent Data Operating Layer (IDOL), the company’s private cloud can recognize patterns in all the structured and unstructured data in takes in each day. IDOL enables “marketing and revenue optimization, archiving, data protection, eDiscovery, and information governance,” the company says.

Private clouds like Autonomy’s differ from public clouds like Amazon’s because they clearly separate usage for each organization, whereas users of public clouds have to share resources. (Amazon, by the way, reached a new growth peak with its Simple Storage Service (S3) last week and is now storing 905 billion objects.)

Sullivan said Autonomy’s private cloud gives businesses and government organizations much more security than they could get with public clouds. Nine out of 10 of the world’s largest banks use Autonomy’s private cloud for financial data, and it has attracted government agencies in the U.S. and Europe.

“We’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Sullivan said. “We know we have to offer a high level of security.”

Clouds photo: Paul Bica/Flickr

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Iran plans to cut itself off from the Internet permanently

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 09:30 PM PDT

Photo of barbed wire

Iran plans to disconnect itself from the Internet and replace popular services like Google, Yahoo, and Hotmail with homegrown, Iranian services, according to a report in the International Business Times today.

The IBT writes that Reza Taghipour, the Iranian minister for Information and Communications Technology, announced the plans in a statement. According to the statement, the first phase of the project will begin in May, when the government will block access to Google, Hotmail, and Yahoo, replacing them with government services like “Iran Mail” and “Iran Search Engine.” Within five months, the country will effectively have lost all Internet access to the outside world, and Iranian residents will have access only to a government-controlled intranet.

The government is already accepting applications for Iran Web Mail accounts, which require you to enter a first and last name, postal address, and phone number. (Here’s an English version of that form via Google Translate.) We can guess that Iranians aren’t thrilled about the prospect of giving up Gmail for a state-sponsored (and presumably monitored) alternative.

Taghipour said the Internet “promotes crime, disunity, unhealthy moral content, and atheism” and that the government plans to eliminate these net-based “scourges.” Ars Technica adds that the country is also concerned about digital espionage and sabotage, a possible reference to the Stuxnet worm that damaged Iranian nuclear facilities in 2011.

At the beginning of what would become known as the Arab Sprint, Egypt took the then-unprecedented step of cutting off all Internet access. It was a short-lived move, however, with access restored after five days. Other countries have temporarily shut down SMS text messaging or limited Internet access for regions or cities, the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders states. “Shutting down the Internet is a drastic solution that can create problems for the authorities and can hurt the economy. Slowing the Internet connection speed right down is more subtle but also effective as it makes it impossible to send or receive photos or videos. Iran is past master at this,” Reporters Without Borders adds.

This isn’t the first time that the country has curtailed Internet access. In February, Iran cut off access to all secure web (HTTPS) connections.

The country has also detained and sentenced to death the creator of a photo-sharing site, Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian citizen and resident of Canada. A website and Twitter campaign to release Saeed Malekpour has drawn international attention, but it has not been updated since March 11, so Saeed’s fate is not known.

That’s a discouraging thought, especially on a day when the creator of another photo-sharing site, in a far less repressive country, earned a reported $400 million for his efforts.

Barbed wire photo: grendelkahn/Flickr

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Court revives critical keyword-advertising lawsuit against Google

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 05:28 PM PDT

Google Search

Google got a dose of bad news today, as a court revived a longstanding trademark infringement case against it.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has decided to address whether Google is in violation of trademark infringement for selling other companies the rights to use a copyright-protected brand name as an advertising search term.

Right now, clients of Google’s AdWords service can buy any number of specific search terms — terms people would type into a Google search bar — in an effort to drive traffic or attention to their website. The paid links are displayed somewhere near the regular search results. You don’t need to own a trademark in order to buy advertising for the term. In other words, if I wanted to buy advertisements that popped up whenever people searched for “Coke” or “Pepsi,” I could do that, even though the companies that own those trademarks might not be happy about it.

Rosetta Stone Inc., the company best known for producing language learning software, first filed the trademark lawsuit against Google in 2009, claiming that selling brand names as search terms would confuse consumers. It was dismissed a year later by a Virginia district court.

Today, the appeals court overturned the earlier decisions, thus reviving claims that Google could have directly infringed on Rosetta Store and diluted its brand.

“A reasonable trier of fact could find that Google intended to cause confusion in that it acted with the knowledge that confusion was very likely to result from its use of the marks,” wrote Chief Judge William Traxler in the decisions for the court panel. Basically, that means Rosetta Stone has to prove that Google purposefully sold the search term “Rosetta Stone” to a competing software company that resulted in confusion to people wishing to buy language education software.

“We’re very pleased with the opinion, and we think it is an important precedent,” said Rosetta Stone’s lawyer Cliff Sloan.

This is a pretty important case because if Google is found guilty, it could drastically change the way things are marketed online. You’d not be able to buy search terms for any number of brands without running into legal trouble. It’s for that reason alone that I expect freedom of speech advocates to come out of the woodwork if the case advances further.

Via Reuters

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Lenovo shows off its best iPad competitor yet

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 05:21 PM PDT

Screenshot from Lenovo's promotional video for the IdeaPad S2109, a new Android tablet
Lenovo showed off its latest Android tablet, the IdeaPad S2109, in a teaser video today.

According to the video, the tablet will have a 9.7-inch display that uses IPS technology for a wider viewing angle (that’s the same technology Apple touted in the iPad 2 last year). It has a 1.3 megapixel front camera, quad speakers, as well as micro HDMI and micro USB ports. The S2109 will be just 8.9mm thick.

It will run Android 4.0, aka “Ice Cream Sandwich,” the latest, tablet- and smartphone-optimized version of Google’s mobile operating system. Lenovo claims it will have a 10-hour battery life.

Most other details about the tablet remain a myster, including price, availability, what processor it contains, or how much memory it will have. However, as The Verge reported, the IdeaPad S2, a slightly higher-end tablet already available from Lenovo, goes for $349, so we can hope that the S2109 will be a bit cheaper.

If so, it could be a worthy competitor to the iPad — even if the IdeaPad does look a bit like one of the slate tiles used on the roof of Hogwarts.

You can check out Lenovo’s teaser video of the IdeaTab S2109 below.

Via The Verge

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Shareholder sues Groupon’s board of directors — on behalf of Groupon

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 05:21 PM PDT

Executives at daily deals company Groupon are responsible for egregious corporate wrongdoing, a new suit alleges.

In a derivative complaint filed last Wednesday in Illinois, Groupon shareholder Theresa Monturano is suing the executives and board members for breach of fiduciary duty and abuse of control. Monturano, on behalf of the company itself, is seeking damages to be awarded to Groupon. The suit also seeks shareholder permission to nominate three candidates for election to the company’s board of directors.

The suit, first discovered by PaidContent, is in direct response to Groupon’s recent accounting restatement, which led to a bevy of bad press and sent its stock price plummeting. The complaint specifically names Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason, co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, and directors Peter Barris, Kevin Efrusy, Mellody Hobson, Ted Leonsis, and Howard Schultz (Starbucks CEO) as defendants.

“What became clear from the restatement in March 2012 was that the Company was not as profitable as had been initially represented,” the complaint states.

Groupon declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Monturano places all the blame on board members, who, the suit argues, “recklessly” failed to follow through on their duties and are now personally liable for Groupon’s subsequent losses.

“By reason of their positions as officers, directors, and/or fiduciaries of Groupon and because of their ability to control the business and corporate affairs of Groupon, Defendants owed Groupon and its shareholders fiduciary obligations of good faith, loyalty, and candor,” the suit states. “Defendants intentionally, recklessly, or negligently breached or disregarded their fiduciary duties to protect the rights and interests of Groupon.”

The derivative lawsuit is likely just one of many legal complaints to come. Last week, investor Fan Zhang filed a class action lawsuit against Groupon in a Chicago court. A securities lawyer VentureBeat talked to last week said we should expect a slew of lawsuits against Groupon from shareholders who felt the company misled them about financials.

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Instagram CEO just made $400 million, or $725,000 per day

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 04:07 PM PDT

Instagram founder Kevin Systrom at Le Web 11

Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom just netted $400 million for selling his two-year-old startup to Facebook for $1 billion.

That’s according to a report by Wired, which cites sources indicating that Systrom holds 40 percent of the company he founded — an impressively large chunk for any entrepreneur at the time of exit, let alone one on his first company.

If true, that amounts to a personal windfall for Systrom of $725,000 for every day since the Instagram app launched on October 6, 2010.

Cofounder Mike Krieger holds a 10 percent stake, according to Wired, which will net him $100 million. The rest of the company’s 13 employees will get a portion of a $100 million stock option pool, depending on how long each has worked at the company.

Investors will do nicely also. Benchmark Capital, which led Instagram’s $7 million first funding round in 2011, has an 18 percent stake, while Andreessen Horowitz and Baseline Ventures each hold about 10 percent, Wired reports.

If Instagram’s Sequoia-led $50 million second round of funding last week actually closed (we’re still looking for confirmation on this), then those investors essentially doubled their money in under a week, because that round valued Instagram at half the $1 billion Facebook is paying for the company this week.

Systrom graduated from Stanford University in 2006 with a BS in management science and engineering, according to Instagram’s executive biography. He interned at Odeo, the startup laboratory Evan Williams founded after he sold Blogger to Google but before he launched Twitter. Systrom also spent two years at Google before founding Instagram in 2010.

Photo credit: Le Web/Flickr

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Twitter open sources its MySQL work

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 03:56 PM PDT

Twitter has decided to open source its MySQL contributions.

For you layfolks out there, MySQL is a big part of what makes Twitter go. It’s how Twitter’s data is stored. And it’s also open-source technology. Twitter uses it heavily, and now the company’s engineers are giving back by releasing the work they’ve put into MySQL back into the open-source wild.

For you non-layfolks out there, you can dive as deep as you please on the Twitter/MySQL GitHub page and in the documentation.

“MySQL is the persistent storage technology behind most Twitter data: the interest graph, timelines, user data and the Tweets themselves,” write Twitter devs Jeremy Cole and Davi Arnaut on the Twitter engineering blog. “Since we believe in sharing knowledge and that open source software facilitates innovation, we have decided to open source our MySQL work on GitHub under the BSD New license.”

The work the team is releasing today revolves around five key elements: Adding more status variables, optimizing memory allocation on larger NUMA systems, improving server-side statement timeout support, exporting and restoring InnoDB buffer pool, and optimizing MySQL for SSD machines.

Twitter engineers also have plans to explain more about their open-source MySQL work soon; at an upcoming conference, Cole will be talking about Gizzard, the cleverly named MySQL framework Twitter devs built and open-sourced just about two years ago.

“We look forward sharing our work with upstream and other downstream MySQL vendors, with a goal to improve the MySQL community,” the dev team concludes.

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Chevy loans Volts to Klout influencers in 6 cities

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 03:48 PM PDT

American car maker Chevrolet is once again turning to influence-tracking startup Klout to promote its cars.

Chevrolet is offering Klout members influential in social media, technology, and environmental topics the opportunity to borrow 2012 Volts for three-day joy rides. The campaign represents Klout's largest national automotive “perk” to date, the companies said.

The perk is being offered in six markets, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Members with a Klout score of 50 or above in one of three subject areas are eligible to sign up.

Klout is the San Francisco-based company that hooks into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social sites to quantify a person’s online reach with a score between 1 and 100. The startup then provides its most authoritative members with rewards in the form of perks, offered up by brands and advertisers looking to gain credibility in social circles. Perks have ranged from free t-shirts and business cards to gratis Windows Phones.

The “Plug In with Chevy Volt” promotion is Chevrolet’s third by way of Klout. The automaker previously loaned out Volts to 20 consumers in the Chicago-area, and later provided 130 people with Sonic loans. Chevrolet has dubbed its prior campaigns a success, and said that it knows of at least one instance where online mentions of its perk led to a new car purchase.

“[Car-related perks] are definitely among the most popular perks we’ve had with Klout, and previous Chevy Perks have done very well,” a Klout spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We had a chance to drive the [Volt] at SXSW and think our users will have a blast testing it out.”

The Chevy Klout perk program will run in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle from April to June, and Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland from July through September.

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Google upgrades Android emulator with better performance and hardware support

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 02:22 PM PDT


Google has upgraded its Android emulator for developers with hardware acceleration and support for a broader range of inputs, the company announced today on the Android Developers Blog.

“The Android emulator is a key tool for Android developers in building and testing their apps,” Android team members Xavier Ducrohet and Reto Meier wrote on the blog. “As the power and diversity of Android devices has grown quickly, it's been hard for the emulator keep pace. Today we're thrilled to announce several significant improvements to the emulator, including a dramatic performance upgrade and support for a broader range of hardware features, notably sensors and multi-finger input.”

One of the biggest improvements is built-in GPU support. Android devices are increasingly relying on the graphics chip to boost performance, so now the emulator will be able to take advantage of hardware acceleration to create a more realistic simulation. As an added bonus, OpenGL apps can now run inside the emulator.

Another improvement is new hardware support to better test apps. Developers can tether an Android device and a test an app in the emulator using inputs on the tethered device.

There’s also added CPU performance in the emulator. Ducrohet and Reto Meier write:

We've also improved the CPU performance of the Android emulator. Hardware floating point operation has been available for system images since Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), allowing CPU operations to be emulated roughly twice as quickly. Last week's r17 developer tools release included x86 system images and host drivers (available through the SDK Manager), allowing the emulator to access the host CPU natively and offer significantly faster execution. We're working on providing emulator support for more hardware features including Bluetooth and NFC.

Check out the videos below to see the new emulator in action:

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Google, Facebook and the MPAA take sides in a copyright case over the DMCA safe harbor

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 02:08 PM PDT

Big dogs like Google, Facebook, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and now the Motion Picture Association of America have all filed briefs in an obscure copyright case currently being heard by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. At stake: what does a service have to do when a takedown notice is filed, and should that site have an additional burden to block repeat offenders?

The actual dispute is between myVidster, a relatively unkown video bookmarking service, and Flava Works, an adult film studio. Flava Works brought suit against Marques Gunter, owner of MyVidster. While Gunter responded to takedown notices from Flava Works, he did not do anything to stop users from repeatedly posting links to copyrighted work that had already been taken down.

The crux of the issue is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA (.pdf file), which says that services like Youtube, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. are not responsible for copyrighted content posted by their users, so long as they respond to takedown notices in a timely manner.

But in this case, Judge John F. Grady wrote, “Gunter removes videos from myVidster that are listed in DMCA notices, but goes no further. Beyond his mechanical response to the notices, Gunter refuses to concern himself with copyright protection. It is true that service providers are not required to police their sites for infringement, but they are required to investigate and respond to notices of infringement—with respect to content and repeat infringers.” He ruled that Gunter was not protected under the DMCA.

This is obviously a concern to companies like Google and Facebook, which would have to make a substantial investment of time and money if they wanted to keep all copyright offenders off their services, and have until now relied on the DMCA for protection.

Image from Flickr user watchsmart

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Starbucks apps account for 42M mobile payments (exclusive)

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 01:34 PM PDT

A novel new way to pay by iPhone or Android at Starbucks locations is proving too convenient for caffeine-crazed customers to pass up.

Starbucks has processed more than 42 million mobile payments since the U.S. launch of its mobile pay program less than 15 months ago, the coffee company shared exclusively with VentureBeat.

Starbucks released “mobile pay,” a prominent feature of the company's iPhone and Android applications, in January 2011. Customers use the mobile app to load money on to a digital Starbucks Card and then present a 2D barcode to pay at the register. Baristas simply scan the barcode using the scanners they already have at their cash registers. Mobile pay first launched in the U.S., but has since migrated to Canada and the U.K., and Starbucks recently made it available to customers ordering from drive-thru windows.

In December 2011, Starbucks revealed that it had processed 26 million mobile payments. Adoption continues to grow expotentially, the company said.

Drive-thru scanners

The program, which takes a more simplified approach to mobile pay than the yet-to-be significantly embraced NFC-based services from companies such as Google and Isis, has been such a huge success for Starbucks that the company continues to test top-secret, in-store technologies around payments in its research and development lab.

“You’re going to see us as a company that will push the envelope around mobile pay,” chief digital officer Adam Brotman told VentureBeat. “We want to innovate in that area before others catch up.”

For Starbucks, mobile pay is one of 10 core digital businesses that the coffee conglomerate attributes to enhancing its relationship with customers. A few weeks ago, Starbucks promoted Brotman to the chief digital officer role, the first position of its kind at the company, and consolidated all of its digital businesses under a single digital ventures umbrella, led by Brotman.

“Howard [Schultz] noticed that over the past several years there has been a real seismic shift in the way we interact with our customers through digital,” Brotman said. “There has been such a seismic shift, that we needed to pull it all together and make it priority.”

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Commodore founder Jack Tramiel dies at 83

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 01:29 PM PDT

Jack Tramiel, a huge figure in computer history and founder of Commodore, died on Sunday at the age of 83, according to Forbes.

Tramiel was both a visionary and controversial figure as the founder of Commodore International and the former chief executive of Atari Corp. He was a Holocaust survivor and turned out to be a tough businessman. His life was like a chronicle of the tech industry.

He was born as Jacek Trzmiel in Lodz, Poland in 1928. After the Germans invaded in 1939, his family was moved to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, where he worked in a garment factory. His family was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was examined by the notorious doctor Josef Mengele. Tramiel survived the labor camps while his family members died. At age 16, he was rescued from the camp in April 1945 by the 84th Infantry Division. In 1947, he emigrated to the U.S. and learned how to repair office equipment in the U.S. Army.

He bought a typewriter repair shop in 1953 in New York and renamed it the Commodore Portable Typewriter Company. The business later became famous in tech circles when it launched the Vic20, Commodore PET, and Commodore 64 machines in the 1980s. The latter went on to be one of the best-selling computer models of all time, and it was a favorite among early video game fans, including a number of people who became famous designers in that industry.

In 1984, he resigned from Commodore and started Tramel Technology (deliberately misspelling his own last name to make the new company easier to pronounce) with the aim of creating a next-generation home computer. Tramel then bought the consumer division of Atari from Warner Communications and renamed Tramel Technology to Atari Corp. In the late 1980s, Tramiel stepped away from management of Atari, and his son Sam took over. Sam had a heart attack in 1995, and Tramiel returned to run the company. He sold Atari in 1996.

I had a chance to interview Tramiel at the Computer History Museum on the 25th anniversary of the Commodore 64; although, that interview is no longer online.

[Photo credit: PC Magazine]

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Why Instagram pursued a $50M round just before its Facebook acquisition

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 12:54 PM PDT


Photo-centric startup Instagram was rumored to be raising huge second round of funding over the past month, which makes the news of its $1 billion sale to Facebook a bit surprising.

The rumors of the round, which haven’t been confirmed by Instagram, indicated that the startup closed a $50 million second round at a hefty $500 million valuation led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Thrive Capital, Greylock, and Benchmark. That round apparently closed just before the Facebook deal, indicating that the company was probably in talks with both investors at the same time.

Many people are left scratching their heads over why Instagram was bothering with such a large round while knowing that it was being courted with an acquisition  offer from social network giant Facebook. But, it actually makes perfect sense, according to venture capital adviser Christine Herron.

In a blog post about the timing of the funding coinciding with the Facebook acquisition, Herron writes:

“The reason is simple: playing chicken with a potential acquirer can drive a much higher valuation. And more importantly, the acquisition is more likely to close quickly and successfully if the target company has a war chest of cash and a strong, fresh investor group… it’s smart to use an impending investment valuation to drive a higher acquisition valuation. Strategic/acquisition values are typically much higher than investment values. eg, as of today, Instagram is worth more to Facebook than it is to Sequoia, because Facebook gets strategic value in addition to market value.”

If the new round did close, Sequoia essentially made a $50 million “gamble” that doubled its money virtually overnight. For Instagram’s part, its pursuit of the $50 million Series B meant that if the Facebook acquisition didn’t go through, the company would still be in a good position to become a successful startup going forward.

Casino photo via VojtechVlk/Shutterstock

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What Facebook’s world-class engineers will do to Instagram

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 12:36 PM PDT

Facebook is home to some of the best, brightest hackers in the world. Its brain trust of developers is pretty much legendary, and with today’s Instagram acquisition, some of those developers will be spending time on Instagram now, as well.

“We will try to help Instagram continue to grow by using Facebook's strong engineering team and infrastructure,” wrote Facebook chief executive (a hacker himself) Mark Zuckerberg in this morning’s announcement. And Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom noted in a blog post, “We'll be working with Facebook to evolve Instagram and build the network. We'll continue to add new features to the product and find new ways to create a better mobile photos experience.”

Think about the contrast: Facebook’s campus holds thousands of staffers, including a highly trained army of crack engineers. In fact, Facebook is so dedicated to excellence in engineering that it hosts the annual Hacker Cup, a speed programming competition that requires participants to solve algorithmic puzzles of maddening complexity.

Instagram, on the other hand, has 13 employees, total. They’ve labored hard and well to produce an app that’s loved by 30 million users around the globe, but now they’ve also got the resources of one of the world’s engineering giants.

So, what will Facebook’s engineers be able — and likely — to do to Instagram?

Bug squashing and feature fixes

While Instagram’s team is probably delighted on a strippers-and-blow scale that the staff has remained so tiny right up to a mind-blowing $1 billion acquisition, they have likely had their hands more than full for the past two years. Having a small group of engineers can make bug-squashing a long, slow process filled with not-as-fun-as-they-sound hackathon weekends. In a brief poll of my Twitter followers, current Instagram power users complained about crop features not working well, among other minor but frustrating issues.

We predict that Facebook’s army of mobile devs will first devote their attention to fixing these kinds of clumsy features and squashing any bugs that exist, particularly in the just-launched Android app, which has received its share of complaints about usability issues and bugs.

No interface changes

Facebook is known for its best-in-class engineering team, but only recently has devoted more of its attention to modern, beautiful web design, too. While Facebook’s own Timeline designs are getting much, much better, the site is still seeing heavy user interface competition from newer, more agile apps such as Flipboard and Path.

As a result, we don’t think Facebook will be giving the Instagram team too much input on interface and design, which most users don’t seem to complain about much, anyhow.

Deeper Facebook integrations — but not at Twitter’s expense

We’re sure some of Instagram’s technological ties to Facebook will deepen post-acquisition. How did we come up with that stunning leap of logic, you might ask? Well, we’re somewhere between psychics and geniuses, plus we have a Magic 8 Ball in the newsroom.

But seriously, it would be boneheaded to not presume that Facebook sharing from Instagram will get smoother, shinier, and more interesting now that the two companies are one big happy family.

However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it quite clear in today’s announcement that any relationship with Facebook will not change Instagram’s relationship to other social networks. Twitter sharing will still be there, as will the app’s connection to Tumblr.

A mobile web app — maybe

We’ve been seeing a huge push by Facebook to bring the mobile web to the same level of user experience and technological elegance that you’d see on any other mobile platform, including iOS and Android.

“What we’re not seeing is developers really embracing that mobile web ecosystem the way they’re embracing native…. How can we help them understand the mobile web as a viable option?" asked Facebook mobile developer relations dude James Pierce in a recent on-campus meeting with press.

However, Pierce further noted, a mobile web app isn’t the right solution for every application, particularly apps that require hardware and camera access, as Instagram does. “There’s no one answer,” Pierce concluded. “We have that conversation on a one-by-one basis with individual developers.”

Facebook is working with a consortium of mobile heavyweights to bring better tools and benchmarks to the mobile web. In the next few months or years, projects like Ringmark might bring the mobile web up to the standard that an app like Instagram would require. At that time, it wouldn’t make sense to hold back the hordes of mobile web users from participating in Instagram, as well.

Basically, Facebook’s M.O. (as expressed to VentureBeat by Facebookers themselves) is to collect every user of every smartphone in the world. iOS is a big part of that. Android is a big part of that, too, which is why Instagram’s recent move to Android was so important for this acquisition. And the mobile web, believe it or not, is even more important to Facebook than iOS and Android put together.

A decent web presence

Many users would love to see Instagram get a better web presence. While Facebook’s emphasis these days has been all about mobile, the web is that company’s wheelhouse. It’s entirely possible that Facebook’s engineers might make an Instagram web presence that is both beautiful and functional, perhaps beefing up the Instagram APIs along the way.

A gorgeous Timeline integration

Timeline, Facebook’s new look and feel for profiles, is all about images. We can imagine Instagram’s Timeline integrations getting a lot prettier over the next few weeks.

Already, Instagram photos are flooding Timelines at a rate of six photos per second. Since how the images appear on the Timeline is all about structured data — and since how the data is structured is the responsibility of the third-party developers — we can imagine Facebook’s engineers will have a lot more time and resources to make how Instagram photos appear on the site much better organized and more visually interesting, especially for at-a-glance consumption of multiple photos.

Top image courtesy of Diego Cervo, Shutterstock

Filed under: dev, mobile

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5 alternatives to Instagram for Facebook haters

Posted: 09 Apr 2012 12:20 PM PDT


Now that the news of Facebook buying up Instagram has made its way around the Internet, you may be looking for an alternative to the uber-popular photo sharing app. With all of Facebook’s privacy issues, some mobile photographers may shy away from using an app owned by the social network.

We’ve rounded up five alternatives to Instagram that allow you to photograph, filter, and share your favorite things. Most of them give you more control over the privacy of your photos and all them allow you create an account independent of your Facebook account, giving you more control.


True to its name, this iOS and Android app offers several photo filters for your camera and a social network to share your pics. What makes Hipster unique is that it creates postcards out of your pictures with special borders and text.


Pixlr-o-matic is for photo-filter maniacs. The app, available on Android and iOS, offers a plethora of filters, lighting effects, and borders for your photos. Each effect is more fine-tuned than Instagram’s filters. Pixlr-o-matic is missing a social network however, but you can share you pictures to Facebook.


Lightbox gives you more freedom with the camera on your phone, letting you choose installed camera apps that have their own photo features. Once you take a picture, you can add one of a dozen photo filters and share pictures to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, and Foursquare. Photos can also be uploaded directly to Lightbox’s cloud, so you can view them on a browser. The app also gives you more privacy settings than other photo sharing apps. Available for Android only.


This app was many Android users’ answers before Instagram hit the Google Play store. The app offers multiple photo filters and a decently large community of people sharing pictures. Beyond photo filters, the app lets you put meme and text overlays on your photos and eliminate blemishes and red eyes, using photo editing tools from Aviary. PicPlz also features instant DropBox uploads. Available for iOS and Android.

Retro Camera

Instead of applying retro filters after the fact, play around with older cameras with Retro Camera. The app, available for the iPhone and Android offers five vintage cameras, including a Pinhole Camera and a faux Polaroid, the Xolaroid 2000. The app creates small postcards that can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and via email, and you can upload the full pictures to a social network through the Gallery app on Android, or the Camera Roll on an iPhone.

Check out the gallery for screenshots of each app.


Do you have a favorite photo filter and sharing app not listed here? Leave it the comments below.

Filed under: media, mobile

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