08 May, 2012



Will Viddy (and other video apps) kill the YouTube star?

Posted: 08 May 2012 08:36 AM PDT

While everyone is trying to predict which video sharing app will be the true “Instagram for video,” the massive surge in popularity for video apps could also become a problem for the online video mainstay YouTube.

As consumers move towards mobile video apps like Viddy and Socialcam for viewing and sharing content, their time spent on YouTube seems to be decreasing, according to the latest report from the mobile analytics firm Flurry.

The company found that between December 2011 and March 2012, mobile video app usage jumped 52 percent from 152 minutes a month to 231 minutes (see chart below). Meanwhile, video usage from Google’s sites (mostly consisting of YouTube), actually fell 10 percent.

“While it cannot be concluded that mobile video apps are cannibalizing YouTube, the shift in time spent between these two platforms appears to be a signal of disruption,” writes Flurry marketing VP Peter Farago. “Think of it this way: With every mobile video you share of friends, family, vacations, parties and weddings, you are likely loading another bullet in the chamber for Web 3.0.”

Now that smartphones can shoot video in crystal clear 1080p HD, and 4G networks make it relatively painless to share and view large video files, it makes sense for online video watching habits to change. It’s still too early to tell how much of an impact apps like Viddy and SocialCam are having, but it definitely seems like we’re at a significant breaking point.

Flurry, not surprisingly, found that photo and video apps were among the fastest growing between October and March, jumping 89 percent in time spent per active user. Music apps were second-place with a 72 percent increase, and productivity apps saw a 66 percent jump. Time spent in photo and video apps has grown steadily over the past nine months, going from just 87 minutes a month last July to 231 minutes in March 2012.

Google could certainly turn around and come up with a compelling way to reposition YouTube to better compete against the likes of Viddy. But the company has its fingers in many pots at this point, and it’s going to be tough for the search giant to compete with nimble startups. Viddy, for example, is growing like crazy thanks to plenty of buzz and celebrity support, and it’s reportedly valued around $300 million.

flurry video app usage versus YouTube

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Starhawk developers learned from social games that “analytics is king” (interview)

Posted: 08 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

It isn’t easy to move to a new city, launch a new studio, and create a new game at the same time. But LightBox Interactive has done just that, and now Sony is finally releasing LightBox’s new sci-fi western-style game, Starhawk.

The third-person shooter game debuts today on the PlayStation 3. The predecessor game, Warhawk, debuted on the PS 3 as a multiplayer-only title. But with Starhawk, LightBox has stepped up and created a single-player campaign along with multiplayer and cooperative play as well. The frenetic action game requires you to be a good shot and a strategist at the same time.

During the production, chief executive Dylan Jobe said, the company watched the game industry change and saw the rise of Zynga, which focused on learning from its social game analytics and immediately modifying its games as a result. Jobe said that even after today’s release, LightBox will have a big job ahead of it tuning the game to what the fans want. It will not only have to fix bugs but will also change the game and come out with new content to keep the fans coming back. Game design, it seems, is always changing and never done.

Here’s a transcript of our interview with Jobe.

GamesBeat: How does it feel to have gotten to this point now?

Jobe: It feels great. It’s kind of tricky when you release a multiplayer game like this. I felt the same way with Warhawk. There’s that good feeling of having it done, yet at the same time you know that when you release a multiplayer game, especially to the global community, there’s still a lot of work ahead. There’ll be tuning and fixes and all kinds of thing that we’ll have to address and take care of for the community. So in some respects it’s like we’re done, but in other respects, we’ve just started.

GamesBeat: Tell me about some of the development history here. And also about Lightbox and starting that up.

Jobe: Sure. We are a new studio. Starhawk will be our first game, even though I and my business partners have been working with Sony for many, many years. Even going back to the good old days of SingleTrac. Originally, I actually was not in the game industry at all. I worked as a product designer for AT&T and NCR, National Cash Register, of all places.

But I always really loved video games. So I eventually just thought, ‘Well, I keep making Quake mods and all these things, I want to get into the industry.’ I ended up leaving NCR and going to SingleTrac in Utah. I worked there for a little while and then worked at Incognito Entertainment, where I got to work on Twisted Metal Black and then produced and directed War of the Monsters, and then of course Warhawk, the PSN multiplayer game.

About the same time, Scott Campbell — who was at the time the president of Incognito — and Dave Jaffe wanted to start a new company, Eat Sleep Play. So they went off to create that new company. And I took 12 guys. We moved from Utah down to Austin and from there started LightBox and started developing Starhawk for Sony. We’ve been working on Starhawk for just over two and a half years.

GamesBeat: What were some of the hard parts about starting a company at the same time you’re starting your first game?

Jobe: That’s actually a good question. The hard thing is maintaining the production timeline, because you have milestones due to your publisher, yet at the same time you’re building your company. You have to contend with milestone deliveries, and you have to make sure that build gets out on time, but you also have to make sure that the actual build-out of your space gets done on time. We started doing a little bit of development while we were still in our small space in Salt Lake City. It was kind of a weird jumble, because we had some people still working in Salt Lake City, and we had a temporary space in very startup fashion, one of these rent-a-office places in Austin, while we were looking around for office space.

At the time, the economy was not super great. Credit was pretty much locked up. We were able to get LightBox started without having to take out any small business loans at all. It was tricky to find office space that could accommodate a new studio. That was one of the challenges, but one of the upsides, because it was such an economic downturn, we were able to get a really good price on some of our general contracting, furniture, some of the other costs that probably would have cost a bit more money had we started the company while the economy was doing well. So it was kind of a balance. Managing all that, working with our electricians and everything, and at the same time continuing to deliver monthly prototypes to Sony was definitely challenging. It felt like a strategy game, like a Sid Meier’s video game.

GamesBeat: It seems like it’s pretty tricky to get people to move for your company, too, down in Austin.

Jobe: It turned out way better than I thought it was going to be. So what we did was work with 12 people in Utah. I was very up front with them. I said, “You know, we’re going to be starting a new studio in Austin.” Because at the time we were still Sony employees, Incognito Entertainment was a wholly owned company of Sony’s. I wanted to make sure that I was very up front with all the new employees. I and the business partners ensured that we were able to give everyone a ton of notice, saying, “We’re going to start on this day, here are your new employee packages when you do become LightBox employees, let us know any of your thoughts.” We gave people a ton of fair warning and information.

And as it turned out, everyone moved down with us. It worked out great. So what we did was, we pulled our 12 people down from Utah, but at the same time we were doing remote hiring. So we were able to staff up with about an additional 20 headcount, by doing deferred hires. We were bringing people out to interview, having them come on board, letting them know what was going on, and then we set their start date a little bit later, about the time — and this was all very stressful — about the time that we got our studio done. The furniture was installed, the infrastructure was all in place. We had a bunch of new people start, for what amounted to a kind of overnight transition from about 12 to 30 people. I think we got lucky, actually. At the time there were some studios in Austin and in Dallas that had suffered some hardships. There were people who were looking, on the market, who were kind of fresh blood injected into the Austin scene, and we seemed to be an attractive place to start.

GamesBeat: So how many did you wind up with altogether?

Jobe: Right now we’re at 43. LightBox Interactive is a small team compared to other big shooters. Just like all game developers, we put in long hours.

Filed under: dev, games, gbunfiltered

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How air freshener research led to a new fuel-cell charger for phones

Posted: 08 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

powertrekk chargerFuel cell gadget charger PowerTrekk is finally hit store shelves in the States. Starting May 2012, you can head to outdoor equipment store REI to purchase this nifty device, which charges electronics with only water.

PowerTrekk first debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show 2012. The is a small device can charge cell phones, MP3 players, and eventually laptops with the addition of mere tap water. The key is a special reaction that produces hydrogen on demand, which is stored in a hydrogen fuel cell battery. All you have to do is pour water into the device to start charging whatever your heart desires (so long as it can be charged with a USB cable).

The water is confined to a PowerPukk, a small disc that holds the powder and can be sealed up after the water is added. That way you don’t accidentally spill water all over the iPhone you’re trying to charge. The PowerTrekk charger is currently available in parts of Europe and slowly making its way to the U.S. This month, you’ll be able to buy them at REI stores across the United States.

The science behind PowerTrekk was developed by Michael Lefenfeld of Signa Chemistry. Lefenfeld’s grandfather challenged him to create a bathroom air freshener, never realizing he’d wind up with reaction that could produce hydrogen.

“My grandfather was a vain man who had stopped smoking in later years, so he no longer carried matches around. He wanted an air freshener for the restroom,” said Lefenfeld in an interview with VentureBeat.

He used his chemistry background to develop a metallic powder-based air freshener that could go in the toilet. The powder had one key problem though: When combined with water it would ignite. After some tinkering, Lefenfeld removed the combustible aspect of the reaction, but was pleased to discover he could now create hydrogen on demand.

“I started working on the science side, I found that the material would react with water and produce hydrogen in a controllable reaction,” Lefenfeld said.

Fuel cell company MyFC got wind of Lefenfeld’s discovering and saw the great potential in creating hydrogen by mixing water and small amounts of the metal powder. The company realized it could use the hydrogen in a fuel-cell battery set up and wound up developing PowerTrekk.

Signa Chemistry grew out of the air freshener project, becoming a full-fledged business that specializes in stabilizing reactive metals. Other companies took notice of Lefenfeld’s work for consumer applications.

Lefenfeld’s hydrogen-producing powder is also used in Pedego electric bicycles. He hopes that his chemical discovery will be used to replace “noisy gas generators,” and will push forward an overall trend of greener energy solutions.

Other fuel-cell chargers have popped up in the last few years, most notably the Horizon MinPak. The device uses a special cartridge to create hydrogen, but isn’t mass marketed. You can only purchase the MiniPak from Horizon’s website and you must inquire for pricing information.

Filed under: green, VentureBeat

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MakerBot makes a big move to Brookyln’s MetroTech Center

Posted: 08 May 2012 07:38 AM PDT

MakerBot is growing.

Emerging from its modest three-person founding, the 3D printing company is now 125 employes strong — and it needs some new office space.

Hence why Markerbot is moving to the MetroTech Center, a business and academic complex in downtown Brooklyn. A 16-acre site, MetroTech is currently home to the New York City Fire Department headquarters, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Polytechnic Institute, among others.

MakerBot will be taking up the entire 21st floor of One MetroTech Center, a space offering it 31,250 square feet to develop and test new products. The company won’t, however, be leaving its current location behind: A little under half of the company’s current employees will stay at MakerBot’s current office at 87 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn.With the move, MakerBot also intends to expand its staff even further, adding fifty jobs by the end of the year.

That the company has made it this far is in and of itself a success story. MakerBot was born in Boerum Hill, a Brooklyn neighborhood more famous for being home to hipsters and Spike Lee movies than DIY startups.

That was three years ago. Now MakerBot is something quite larger, slowly nearing its goal to make products like the Replicator as common as the microwave.

Photo via MakerBot

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Amobee snaps up AdJitsu for 3D mobile ads you can play with

Posted: 08 May 2012 07:19 AM PDT

adjitsu 3d mobile ads, bought by Amobee

Hot off of its $321 million acquisition by Singapore carrier SingTel, mobile ad firm Amobee today announced that it has acquired AdJitsu, a company that specializes in interactive 3D ads.

As you can see in the video below, AdJitsu’s technology makes ads feel alive. With 3D models, consumers can  explore products from several angles, instead of just viewing a boring 2D ad, or sitting through a video. Amobee says it will leverage AdJitsu’s technology to offer up 3D ads to its customers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

AdJitsu was previously a wholly owned business unit of mobile ad firm CoolIris, and prides itself as the first company to bring 3D ads to the iPhone and iPad.

“Amobee has been a fantastic business partner for AdJitsu,” CoolIris CEO Soujanya Bhumkar said in a blog post this morning. “Coupling the global reach of publishers and advertisers with our unique mobile 3D advertising platform, we can truly impact the global app economy and mobile consumer experience. Our ninja team of 6 achieved this feat in less than a year and on a shoestring (or ramen) budget. The AdJitsu Platform applied the principles of experiential apps, which we so firmly believe in, to mobile advertising.”

I suspect we’ll see all mobile ad firms attempting 3D ads in some form or another. 3D ads unlock the true potential of ads on mobile devices — instead of just passively viewing ads, they’re an experience you can actually participate in. And honestly, I’d much rather see more 3D mobile ads, instead of videos that get in the way of the app or site I’m trying to use.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Couch potatoes rejoice! FanCake app rewards sports fans for watching TV

Posted: 08 May 2012 06:30 AM PDT

Spectators rule. That’s one of the lessons of the ultra-competitive sports marketing business. Kwarter is proving that with today’s launch of an iPhone app called FanCake, which provides sports fans with rewards just for watching TV.

San Francisco, Calif.-based Kwarter is teaming with a variety of companies to deliver an app that allows a sports fan to claim a reward at just the right moment during a sporting event. If a pitcher strikes out three batters in a row, for example, the app will trigger a silver coin to move across the screen of your iPhone. If you tap it in the nick of time, then you will earn the reward associated with the moment.

The point is to take sports marketing a step further by rewarding fans for their loyalty with tickets, merchandise, gift cards and more. The app could be considered a social game because it “gamifies” the process of watching a sporting event. You can, for instance, make a quick prediction about what will happen in the event. If you guess right, you’ll earn a prize.

The rewards program is part of what Internet marketing pioneer Doc Searles calls the Intention Economy, where marketers realize they should pay more to target customers who will be lucrative in the long haul. Raptr, the gamer social network, launched a similar rewards program for loyal users just for playing games.

The company’s partners include Fanatics.com, Kiip, Oracle Arena and O.co Coliseum, ScoreBig, and Total Hockey. Kiip is the rewards marketing firm that allows brands to give gamers real-world, branded prizes when they reach a certain achievement in a game. Kwarter uses Kiip, but it has also created its own rewards program by working directly with brands, said Carlos Diaz, chief executive of Kwarter.

“We’re very excited about offering users rewards for watching TV,” he said. “Our job is to make the community around events more active.”

FanCake will incorporate rewards from its partners and add more over time. Players earn prizes in the app by accumulating FanCake Credits. They do so by checking into games and catching FanCake medals during real-time sports moments. They are also rewarded for making comments during the event. The more fans watch, the more friends they invite, and the better they do in the meta game will result in more credits they will earn.

Users can redeem FanCake Credits for real rewards in the FanCake Catalogue, which features the list of available prizes from the app's partners. Users receive rewards through gift cards and online coupon codes, which players can then use toward tickets, merchandise, and more. Sample rewards include 20 percent discounts at Fanatics, $20 off tickets from ScoreBig, as well as FanCake Rewards boxes filled with logo stickers, a T-Shirt, and other exclusive FanCake items. Gift cards are available from Nike and Papa John’s Pizza, among other brands.

Diaz and Sam Hickmann founded Kwarter in 2011, and it has five employees. The two men created successful companies in France and then moved to San Francisco. They became fans of the San Francisco Giants. But they found that the games were long, and they wanted to think of an experience to make these events more compelling. They also wanted to reward fans who were not at the stadium. They’ve been creating versions of the app ever since. Only recently have they added more game mechanics and the rewards program. The company created separate apps for the iPad and the iPhone.

Rivals include PrePlay, GrabFan, Viggle, and PlayUp. Kwarter is trying to create a better user experience with a focus on gameplay, original artwork, messaging, and navigation. Kwarter has raised $1 million to date from Kima Ventures and private angel investors.

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, gbunfiltered, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Comixology expands its digital comics dominance with exclusive Marvel deal

Posted: 08 May 2012 06:02 AM PDT

Marvel Comics

Marvel Entertainment, the company that brings you Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Avengers, has signed a new deal to exclusively sell single issue digital comics through Comixology.

What does that mean for comic fans? Well, a great deal of people already use Comixology to buy digital comics, as VentureBeat previously pointed out in our guide to digital comics. But the new deal with Marvel means the few people who weren’t already using the service will probably start. Comixology currently has a similar deal to sell exclusive single issue comics with DC, the industry’s second largest publisher accounting for nearly half of all comic sales.

So basically, anyone who wants to buy a digital comic book from Marvel or DC must use either Comixology’s line of mobile apps (iOS, Android, Kindle Fire) or go through the publisher’s own digital store. The deal with Marvel is for multiple years, and does not include sales of graphic novels, which have traditionally been treated more like regular books in the digital space.

The two companies also announced that the “free digital copy” Marvel has been offering on some of its physical issue comics will now be available on Comixology. Essentially, Marvel places a code inside the physical copy that can be redeemed through Marvel’s website. You have to have either a Marvel Comics or Comixology account to activate the free digital copy, but it’s exactly the same download you’d get when paying for the digital copy alone. I noticed that this functionality was enabled about a month ago, but apparently the company is just now making an official announcement.

With this new agreement Comixology is in a pretty good spot. The company’s iOS apps are routinely topping the list of highest grossing in-app purchases, with 65 million total issues downloaded since launching. Compared to the same quarter in 2010, that’s a 450 percent increase, the startup confirmed to me. And in March, Comixology added Nerdist’s Peter Levin to its board of advisers.

Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Filed under: media

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Crowdfunding raised $1.5B last year — and is on track to double in 2012

Posted: 08 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT

crowdfunding industry reportUntil Kickstarter started gaining attention for giving people a place to raise huge amounts of money very quickly, the term crowdfunding didn’t mean much. Now, crowdfunding has become a full-fledged industry, contributing $1.5 billion to new ventures in 2011. That total includes pledges from average people backing quirky projects like the Pebble smartwatch as well as seed funding for startups.

The first ever Crowdfunding Industry Report, from research firm Massolution, reveals that crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter and Crowdfunder, raised $1.5 billion spread out over one million campaigns in 2011. Of that $1.5 billion, $837 million came from North American investors.

The Crowdfunding Industry Report examined four types of crowdfunding worldwide: equity-based, donation-based, lending-based, and reward-based.

Equity-based crowdfunding, in which funders get a stake in the company, raised the most money per campaign in 2011. This sector grew at 114 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). Donation-based crowdfunding projects, where contributions went towards a charitable cause, raised the most money overall, $676 million.

In North America the majority of crowdfunding was for reward-based projects, like those found on Kickstarter, where the investor receives a tangible item or service in return for their funds. Globally, there are more reward-based crowdfunding platforms than any of the other three types.

Crowdfunding is gaining traction as a viable way for startups to bypass venture capitalists and raise money from other sources. The high CAGR and large amounts of money raised per campaign for equity-based crowdfunding bode well for startups, according to the report.

Adding fuel to the fire is a shift in the legal climate. Crowdfunding from unaccredited investors was highly restricted prior to President Obama signing the JOBS Act in April, 2012. Under the new law, friends, family, and strangers can more easily use a crowdfunding platform to invest in a startup in return for shares of the company, and companies can have a higher total number of investors before triggering public disclosure regulations that would ordinarily impel companies to list their shares on a public market.

"Driven by equity-based and reward-based crowdfunding, our forecasts indicate total funds raised will nearly double this year. Additionally, the passing of the JOBS ACT will have a profound effect on the growth of crowdfunding in the U.S. In 2013, we expect securities-based crowdfunding to bring new sources of funding to many startups and early stage businesses," said Carl Esposti, chief executive of Massolution in a statement.

However, 89 percent of investors reported participating in only one or two campaigns, which could affect the ongoing success of crowdfunding. Investors tend to return to the same crowdfunding platform they used previously, instead of branching out. It’s unclear if there is any sort of dissatisfaction with the crowdfunding process or if investors are simply putting larger sums of money towards one goal instead of spreading their wealth around.

At the end of April 2012, 452 crowdfunding platforms were operating around the world, according to Massolution. The research firm expects that number to rise to more than 530 by the end of 2012.

 Hands holding up cash image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Expensify takes on TripIt, integrates trip itineraries into expense reports

Posted: 08 May 2012 05:57 AM PDT

Recognizing that expenses are travel and often inextricably linked, expense-tracking startup Expensify has released a new trips feature that automatically cobbles together helpful travel itineraries from your various receipts.

Expensify Trips, making its debut in the company’s iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry mobile apps today, acts as an intelligent assistant, parsing travel information from receipts to build trip-based itineraries that can be turned into expense reports with a single click.

“You can think of it as a simplified TripIt, but integrated directly into your expense report,” Expensify founder and CEO David Barrett told VentureBeat. “If you’re using Expensify, you are already forwarding this exact same information to use in the exact same way. All we’re doing is providing you a better way to look at it.”

Expensify is a San Francisco-based startup seeking to make expense reports cool by making mindless what was once excruciating. The company imports credit card transactions and bank account information, scans uploaded photos and emailed receipts to pluck out relevant data, and does most of the heavy-lifting for its users.

Trips is an upgrade that’s simple in logic but sophisticated in implementation. You, the professional, book a flight, reserve a room, and forward the travel documents to Expensify as you normally would. Now, however, the service fishes out trip details to build a travel itinerary accessible from the mobile apps. You’ll get flight reminders, key details about your trip, and a little extra peace of mind. Upon return, because Expensify knows you just completed a trip based on travel dates, the startup will follow up with an email notice that prompts you to turn your trip into an expense report.

“We know your hotel, your airfare; we know your car rental. We know all of the credit card purchases between those dates. We know all the receipts that you scanned between that period,” Barrett said. “We have a very, very good sense of all these expenses that you’ve incurred while on this trip.”

Trips is co-powered by Expensify’s SmartScan technology and itinerary-reading expert WorldMate. The new trips feature tacks on travel-itinerary features made popular by apps such as TripIt, which was acquired by Expensify competitor Concur last year. If you want all the niceties and extras in your itinerary, such as maps and weather info, you’ll want to stick with TripIt — a fact even Barrett admits.

“We bet on simple. We think that the problem … is getting the key pieces of information in your hands when you need them most,” he said. “We’re not going to go and build this bloated experience like TripIt, we’re just going to keep it really focused on just the key pieces of information.”

Founded in 2008, Expensify has raised $6.7 million across two rounds of funding and has a staff of 17. The startup currently processes $2 million in daily expense reports. Expensify has 950,000 users spanning 140,000 companies, is inching closer to profitably, and does not expect raise additional funding, Barrett said.

“Expensify is kind of boring in that respect …we’re just on a good path.”

Filed under: mobile

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Andreessen Horowitz bets big on Belly, an offbeat consumer-loyalty startup

Posted: 08 May 2012 04:30 AM PDT


What started as a quirky loyalty program at one Chicago comic hideaway has spread to 1,400 locations in nine months, and can now count on the loyalty of one of Silicon Valley’s hottest venture capital firms.

Belly, a digital loyalty program for small businesses, today announced a $10 million round of funding, financed entirely by rapidly-rising Valley heavyweight Andreessen Horowitz.

Belly is the maker of a small business- and consumer-friendly rewards system and universal loyalty card. For a monthly subscription fee, the Chicago-based startup tailors programs around store culture to create rewards. To simplify management, it issues each location an in-store iPad display. Customers can use their Belly card or the Belly mobile app to “scan-in” to locations, earn points for each visit, and view rewards.

The rewards can sometimes be a bit unusual. For instance, at AllyCat Comics, the Chicago comic store where Belly got its start last August, a Belly customer who makes 50 purchases earns the opportunity to punch the owner in the gut.

With a growing but still small presence in eight major markets, including the just-added metros of Boston and New York, Belly needs money for expansion. The extremely young company will use its new funding to expand to new cities, form new partnerships, and hire top-notch engineering talent, founder and CEO Logan LaHive told VentureBeat.

Belly’s premise seems promising enough. Who actually wants to carry around loyalty cards? And aren’t rewards more fun when they encapsulate everything you love about a locale? The problem is trickier to solve in practice, however, and Belly’s current strength is less in its ability to be a universal loyalty card — support at 1,400 locations does not a universal system make — and more in its novelty. There’s something to be said for walking into your favorite boutique, scanning a barcode at an in-store iPad display, and finding out that you’re eligible for something fun.

To date, Belly has attracted 200,000 active users who have checked-in via scan more than 800,000 times. The startup now sees roughly 10,000 store check-ins per day, LaHive said. But competition abounds, so Belly’s biggest challenge will be differentiating itself and finding mainstream audiences.

Belly, which employs a team of 50, previously raised $2.87 million in funding, mostly from Lightbank. Jeff Jordan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, former chairman and CEO of OpenTable, and former president of PayPal, is joining Belly’s board.

In the video below, the owner of an Austin, Texas-based frozen yogurt store talks about how Belly has helped her business.

Filed under: deals, mobile

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Want to try your hand at Windows Phone development? This should make it easier

Posted: 08 May 2012 03:00 AM PDT

Microsoft has just released hundreds of pre-built mobile app components, open-source projects, and SDKs for Windows Phone development into the wild.

The new components and APIs come via Verious, a marketplace for plug-and-play bits and pieces for mobile applications.

And from what we’ve been hearing from mobile developers around the world, this library of goodies couldn’t have come at a better time.

Developers are intrigued by Windows Phone’s gorgeous interface — the legendary Woz even said his Nokia Lumia handset was more like a friend than a phone.

But at the same time, developers are hesitant to make big investments of time, energy, and company or personal resources when the platform is still relatively unstable. The Lumia line, which put all Nokia’s eggs in Microsoft’s basket, has been notoriously underperforming, even to the point that some shareholders are suing the company. Why would a developer have any confidence that a Windows Phone app might be successful?

Today’s news takes some of the edge off that roadblock, at least cutting down development time significantly. Verious worked closely with Microsoft to get these components together and launched, and here are some examples from Verious’ Windows Phone collection:

  • The largest existing collection of Metro-style icons, which is generally sold for $499
  • A package of eight Silverlight UI controls to greatly reduce development time
  • A collision detection system/physics engine for games, simulations, etc.
  • A few mapping and charting tools

Don Pitt is a VP at Verious; in an email conversation with VentureBeat, he said that now is, indeed, an interesting time to dip one’s toes into the Windows Phone waters.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest in the platform with developers. You are correct that the Metro interface has a lot of them excited. We’re hearing that the Metro UI is an evolution of Visual Studio, so it is an easy transition for many developers.”

Ah, Visual Studio — don’t get me started. I love Visual Studio, and I was surprised to learn as a fairly green developer that quite a few (non-Microsoft) developers appreciate Visual Studio, as well.

However, there’s an existing and quite large community of Microsoft developers out there, too, especially in the enterprise; and Pitt points out that they might also feel quite comfortable developing for Windows Phone.

And of course, there’s the millions-strong army of general developers who can create hybrid mobile web apps for Windows Phone — and just about any other platform. Verious is also releasing a slew of HTML5 goodies today for mobile developers, and Pitt sees the convergence as highly beneficial.

“Hybrid HTML5/native apps is a big trend, that only becomes more compelling when you add a third platform like Windows Phone to the mix,” he said. “For companies that want to be on all three platforms (iOS, Android, and Windows Phone), they have to look at leveraging web technologies so that they have some shared assets across platforms. This is helping drive our component model and is a big reason why we are launching both Windows Phone and HTML5 categories at the same time.

“I definitely think that companies looking to move to Windows Phone from other platforms will look to web technologies to ease the transition.”

Of course, native functionality is still necessary for accessing certain hardware components — for now. But the mobile web is gaining a fearsome amount of traction these days, and it looks like Verious is right on trend.

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Elemental Technologies raises $13M to expand web video delivery

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:46 PM PDT

Elemental Technologies has raised $13 million to expand its business of creating the infrastructure for delivering video on the web.

Portland, Ore.-based Elemental makes video processing servers that tap the computing power of graphics chips and other processors to convert and deliver video over the web to large numbers of users.

Norwest Venture Partners led the round and joins existing investors General Catalyst, Voyager Capital, and Steamboat Ventures — all of whom participated in the round.

Elemental also appointed Kevin O’Hara as chairman of the board, working with chief executive Sam Blackman (pictured). Internet service providers, content programmers, broadcasters, live event producers, and enterprises are the customers for Elemental’s machines.

"Elemental's ascendance in the Internet Protocol (IP) video delivery market over the last two years has been well-documented and something we have watched closely," said Robert Abbott, general partner at Norwest. "When combined with the clear growth trajectory of the over-the-top video and TV Everywhere markets and its deep technology differentiation, we believe now is the right time to invest in Elemental."

Elemental was founded in 2006. Its customers include Comcast, Disney, Eurosport, and HBO. The company has 70 employees and has raised $29.6 million to date.

Filed under: deals

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Hey you guys, MasterCard has a digital strategy too: PayPass Wallet Services

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:28 PM PDT

mastercard paypass wallet

Now that almost every payments-related company has a digital wallet of its own, it’s about time MasterCard showed off its digital plans.

The credit card company unveiled PayPass Wallet Services today at the CTIA conference in New Orleans. Just like the Verifone Sail mobile payments platform announced earlier today, MasterCard’s digital wallet feels very familiar to PayPal’s Wallet, Google Wallet, and a plethora of similar solutions.

It consists of the PayPass Acceptance Network, which includes PayPass Online and the company’s existing contactless payments service; PayPass Wallet, a secure digital location to store credit cards, bank cards, and the like; and PayPass API, which lets MasterCard’s partners connect to the PayPass network.

The whole point of PayPass Wallet, as well as all of its competitors, is to give you a single location to store your payment information. If you’re looking to buy something online, or in-store, you’ll ideally tap into your digital wallet instead of opening up your actual wallet. If you’ve ever opted to pay for something via PayPal on a new shopping site, instead of filling out your shipping and billing info by hand, you can understand just how convenient a robust digital wallet can be.

Eventually, PayPass Wallet will offer features like seeing information about a product before purchase, setting up spending alerts and controls, and receiving coupons and targeted offers. MasterCard acknowledges that there won’t be just one digital wallet winner, which means it may be able eke out some market share amid the many competitors.

The company says it will make PayPass Wallet Services available to its partners in the third quarter of this year. It will first launch in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Samsung gets competitive with $49 Focus 2 with 4G LTE

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:19 PM PDT


Samsung and AT&T have announced the Samsung Focus 2, a $50 Windows Phone with 4G LTE that will help bring the fledgling OS to the masses.

Windows Phone has been getting more attention lately with Nokia’s push into the market with the Lumia 710, 800, and 900. While the 900 has been getting the most play because of its huge marketing push, the 710 has quietly been doing well because it’s cheap. Now the Focus 2, which costs just $50 with a two-year contract, can join the 710′s club and be a less costly device for the many Americans who don’t want to pay a lot up front.

The Focus 2 measures 10.98 mm and weighs 4.3 ounces. For specs, the Focus 2 features a 4-inch Super AMOLED display, a 5-megapixel camera that can shoot 720p video, and front-facing camera for video chat. Its best feature, and one that’s rare for a $50 phone, is the ability to run on AT&T’s super-fast 4G LTE network.

Frankly, it’s an impressive offering for $50. That said, if we had to buy a Windows Phone on AT&T, we’d jump for the $100 Nokia Lumia 900, simply because its the best $100 phone on the market. The Lumia 900 offers a brilliant 4.3-inch screen, a fantastic Nokia build, and 4G LTE speeds.

Filed under: mobile

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HzO’s waterproofing tech can save any phone from a fall in the toilet (video)

Posted: 07 May 2012 07:21 PM PDT

At the CTIA wireless conference this week, a lot of the tech advances we’re seeing are superficial and nonsensical. Not HzO, which showed off its incredible waterproofing tech to many folks tonight.

HzO provides a nanotech-engineered coating that protects phones and tablets from serious water damage, and it claims its solution is 100 times thicker than any similar water-resistant coating on the market. Its tech will soon be available for Apple and Samsung phones and tablets.

I decided to take one of its coated devices for a spin, a Samsung Android phone with its back cover removed. Watch the video above, and you’ll see me dunk the phone in water. I made sure to do it myself so there was no trickery involved. While tossing the phone in water, all I could think about was how many times I’ve heard someone say they dropped their phone in a sink, bath tub, or toilet. This could be one heck of a pre-emptive measure.

After dunking the phone without its back cover successfully with no apparent damage, I also thought about the market potential. Eventually, manufacturers like Apple and Samsung could team up with a company like HzO and make all of its phones waterproof or give consumers that option before shipping. Or, a step further, nanotech coating every major smart device could just become a standard feature we come to expect from our gadgets.

Filed under: mobile

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Hackers disrupt the gameplay of Zynga’s YoVille social game

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:46 PM PDT

Hackers broke into one of Zynga’s older social games, YoVille, and they were able to disrupt the gameplay for a group of fewer than 1,000 players. The social-game company acknowledged the security problem but said it had addressed it.

While the damage is contained, the idea of a security flaw in a Zynga game is scary, since all of them are digital, and protecting them is essential to the company’s livelihood. Nils Puhlmann, chief security officer at Zynga, said in an interview that sensitive information about players was not compromised.

“Credit card numbers are not an issue here,” said Puhlmann. “It is more a case of YoVille players disrupting other YoVille players.”

The incidents occurred over the course of a couple of weeks during the course of April, and Zynga essentially had the problem solved after that, Puhlmann said. In the incidents, some players were able to break into the in-game accounts of other players and deplete their inventory of belongings in the game in a matter of 30 minutes or so, according to one of the players affected.

YoVille has about 230,000 daily active users, or 1.5 million monthly active users. The game was originally posted in 2008 and once had millions more players.

“We detected unusual activity in YoVille, and it coincided with reports from a small number of users,” Puhlmann said. “We analyzed the reports. We found that a small number of vulnerabilities that contributed to the unusual activity. The game team patched these vulnerabilities immediately.”

Zynga had to go through a couple of rounds of iteration before it was able to close off the exploits that players used to attack other players. This naturally caused a lot of consternation inside the game, where players complained about the attacks in forums and felt like Zynga wasn’t doing anything. For a time, players were angry because Zynga had not solved the problem. A group that allegedly took credit for the hacks went by the name The Best YoVille Hackers.

“[Zynga] support often doesn’t help them and give them their stolen items back,” said one player who contacted VentureBeat. “This is a major problem in the gaming world.”

Puhlmann said the infrastructure that was vulnerable and exploited was separate from the security systems that protect more sensitive information such as player identity or credit card information. Puhlmann said the company has investigated the thefts of digital goods and restored them to everybody who lost something at this point. At least that is the case where losses have been verified, Zynga said.

Puhlmann said the malicious activity was limited to YoVille and did not extended to other games. During the process of patching, the game was not taken down. During the course of the investigation, some players were banned, Puhlmann said.

In a statement, Steve Lurie, general manager for YoVille, said, “First and foremost, we want to thank our YoVille players and ensure they have the best experience possible. Since we first identified abnormal activity a few weeks ago, securing YoVille and restoring the games of the affected players have been our top priorities. We quickly searched for and identified the vulnerabilities we believe attackers used to harass our players and patched them immediately. Fortunately, no sensitive player information was at risk, and our assessments indicate that fewer than 1,000 YoVille players were impacted. We will remain vigilant in our ongoing security efforts."

Filed under: games, social

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Funding daily: Baby, you can charge my car

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:28 PM PDT

Welcome to our quick and dirty daily funding news column, where you can see a snapshot of the startups that received investments today. We’ve got two funding news stories for you on this warm San Francisco Monday. If you crave more details for each story, can click the links in each paragraph.

If your company has funding news to share, send it over to tips@venturebeat.com.

Coulomb Technologies raises $47.5M to charge your electric vehicle

Electric vehicle charging station manufacturer Coulomb Technologies has raised $47.5 million in fourth-round funding to keep your electric cars running as they gain popularity. Coulomb Technologies made its way in the green tech market by providing on the go, outdoor charging stations for EV owners who didn’t want to charge solely at home. Braemar Energy Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers led the funding round, joined by Toyota Tsusho Corporation and existing investor Rho Ventures. Voyager Capital, Siemens Venture Capital GmbH, Harbor Pacific Capital Partners, and Hartford Ventures also participated.

Customer loyalty software Sweet Tooth gets funding

Points and rewards program software creator Sweet Tooth has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from OMERS Ventures, MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, and Points International. The company creates loyalty programs for online retailers.

Electric car charging sign via Flickr user Justin Pickard

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Google gets a license for self-driving cars in Nevada

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:26 PM PDT

Google self-driving car

Nevada has approved Google’s application for a license to test its driverless cars on Nevada’s roads today, a big step for the project and for autonomous cars overall.

The license will allow Google to drive these cars across the state under a few preset conditions: Two people, — one behind the steering wheel and one with the ability to control the car — must be in the vehicle at all times. Google must also retain a $1 million insurance bond and make very clear where the car will be driven.

Nevada recently approved regulations surrounding these self driving cars, which received the green light from insurance companies, car manufacturers, law enforcement and other agencies.

"Self-driving cars have the potential to significantly increase driving safety," a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat at the time. "We applaud Nevada for building a thoughtful framework to enable safe, ongoing testing of the technology and to anticipate the needs and best interests of Nevada citizens who may own vehicles with self-driving capabilities one day."

The license plates that self-driving cars will have in the state of Nevada are different from regular cars. They will be red with an infinity logo in the center. When car companies begin selling these vehicles regularly, civilian license plates will be green with the same infinity symbol. Test vehicles will remain red, however.

Google has hinted at it the self-driving car being used for things like deliveries and taxi services, but there’s a huge potential to help the disabled and elderly as well. In March, the company released a video of the autonomous vehicle escorting a legally blind man from his house to wherever he wanted for the day (his first stop was Taco Bell).

If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below:

hat tip Ars Technica; Self-driving car photo via Zack Sheppard/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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EA chief suggests that Zynga overpaid for OMGPOP/Draw Something

Posted: 07 May 2012 03:30 PM PDT

Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello took a not-so-subtle shot at Zynga today during EA’s conference call with analysts. He said that EA would not pay a large amount of money “just to buy a brand” or to buy an “instant one-hit wonder.”

That was a not-so-veiled reference to Zynga’s $180 million-plus purchase of OMGPOP, the publisher of mobile gaming phenomenon Draw Something, which skyrocketed to tens of millions of users in a matter of two months after its release on the iPhone. But Draw Something’s numbers have slipped by 5 million users in recent days, and that’s made some observers wonder if Zynga paid too much for the acquisition. Riccitiello did not specifically name Zynga in his comments. But some analysts have suggested the same thing more directly.

EA is expecting to launch a major social game this quarter. But the company has seen its share of the Facebook gaming market slump since The Sims Social ran its course during the past year. EA bought Playfish in 2009 for $400 million to get into the social game business, but it has not been as acquisitive as Zynga.

Riccitiello said that he is “anxious” about paying for new hit games and their developers.

“There’s an awful lot of noise around a brand when it rises,” he said. Acquirers are willing to pay 10 times or 20 times a company’s current earnings on such acquisitions, he said. But he thinks that three times or four-times earnings multiples are a more reasonable price. Otherwise, he said, “You have to have a belief that it will last for a very long time.” He said that EA brands such as The Sims, SimCity, and Bejeweled have withstood the test of time.

“We don’t need to buy a brand,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t invest.”

But he said the assumptions of “hockey stick” upward rises in valuations for startups are not reasonable.

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, gbunfiltered, VentureBeat

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A look at AT&T’s home of the future (pics)

Posted: 07 May 2012 03:23 PM PDT


AT&T announced its new Digital Life home automation system this morning, and we got to see the system in action in a New Orleans home during this week’s CTIA Wireless show.

The solution will compete with Verizon's Home Monitoring and Control system and Comcast's Xfinity Home, but from our first look, it’s pretty cool and will likely stack up well. Hacking your house isn’t easy, but Digital Life has apps and cool tricks to set AT&T’s version of the home of the future apart.

Digital Life is centered around apps that control your appliances and security. These apps are built on iOS, Android, as well as HTML5 for other web-enabled devices. Using the apps, you can see real-time feeds from cameras, turn lights on and off, close the blinds, or even lock the door while you’re away. You can even call a 24-hour security monitoring company maintained by AT&T and sound loud alarms by just moving a single sensor. The sensor will also turn on all the lights in the house if triggered.

“This is a traditional security system on steroids,” an AT&T representative told us, taking a shot at ADT, Broadview, and other security companies.

The connections to appliances are created using individual “control modules” that attach to an electrical outlet. You then plug an appliance into the module to create a wireless connection. The control module itself is the least futuristic part of the system, and it looks like a dumb white box. (Check out the last slide in the slideshow below to see how un-cool it looks.)

AT&T will run trials of the new service in Dallas and Atlanta this summer, with a national roll out in 3G-enabled areas coming some time after that. As you enable more appliances for wireless control, the cost will go up, creating a fairly customizable solution. The company refused to talk exact pricing, but I expect the initial setup and the several modules to cost a pretty penny.

Check out the gallery below to see more pictures of AT&T Digital Life in action:

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Neckbeards, rejoice! Dell’s new Linux ultrabook was developed just for you

Posted: 07 May 2012 03:11 PM PDT

I am kicking myself for buying a Windows ultrabook a couple of weeks ago. Now that Dell has announced its Ubuntu-running ultrabook made specifically for developers, this sleek little machine I hold in my hands is no longer fairest in the land.

Yes, it’s true: At today’s Ubuntu Developer Summit, Dell said it was getting back into Linux-running laptops with Project Sputnik, “a 6 month effort to explore the possibility of creating an open-source laptop targeted directly at developers.”

This sexy-as-hell premise includes visions of Ubuntu 12.04 and Dell's XPS13 laptop, a slender speed demon with a 13-inch screen and Intel’s i7 processor.

Dell’s effort is aimed squarely at developers, specifically those working for trendy web startups, said Dell marketing guru Barton George in a blog post (linked above) about the project.

“As we continued talking to customers and developers, the topic of Ubuntu kept coming up, and we came across a fair number of devs who were asking for a Dell laptop specifically based on it.

“To my knowledge, no other OEM has yet made a system specifically targeted at devs, and [Dell] figured it was time to see what that might mean.”

The install image for Sputnik brings, among other things, drivers and patches for hardware enablement (multitouch support, WiFi hotkey support, etc.), a roundup of tools and utilities devs might need, and (soon) a software management tool that will pull profiles from a Github repository.

To give your own input, check out the online brainstorming session for Project Sputnik. We’re hoping that in six months’ time, we’ll be able to update you with news about Sputnik laptops for sale.

Note: The term “neckbeard” is not used with any kind of derision. The author of this post would be a full-on neckbeard if she possessed the necessary Y-chromosomes to do so.

Image courtesy of olly, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Electronic Arts commits $80 million to next-gen console development

Posted: 07 May 2012 02:37 PM PDT

In a call with investment analysts today, Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello reported that his company is investing $80 million in what he called “fourth-gen” console development.

He also expressed a strong opinion that console gaming would continue to gain in the coming years, and that EA plans to get in on the new upswing with this significant investment in research and development.

EA also said that, as a result of its increase in next-generation console investment, it will have a small round of layoffs and eliminate some licensed titles that are not part of that strategy.

This may only indicate strong Wii U development at this time, with Sony playing it cagey and Microsoft not saying much of anything about new consoles coming down the road.

This is, however, the first confirmed commentary on EA’s commitment to the next-generation console business, especially with its increased activity in casual, downloadable PC, and mobile games.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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New iOS 5.1.1 update fixes problems with camera, iPad connectivity

Posted: 07 May 2012 02:31 PM PDT

Apple iOS 5

Apple released the latest update to its mobile operating system, iOS 5.1.1, today. The update fixes a few minor issues pertaining to the camera as well as a bug in the iPad.

Specifically, the update makes the high dynamic range photography capability more reliable when using a shortcut that allows you to take pictures without unlocking your phone. For those who don’t know, HDR in Apple devices takes three photos at different exposures which are then melded together to create a photo that’s evenly exposed and full of detail throughout the range of dark to light. Apple says the update will also make syncing bookmarks and your Reading List in Safari more reliable.

The iPad had a bug in it that switched its data connection from 2G to 3G, which has been patched in the new OS.

A couple other minor fixes include an update to AirPlay, software that streams content between Apple devices, which was having trouble with video playback in “certain circumstances.” Apple also killed a bug that showed an “unable to purchase” message when a purchase had been successfully executed.

iOS 5 was originally introduced in October when the iPhone 4S was released. Its latest update was announced at the newest iPad’s release in March. You can download the update by heading over to iTunes, or in your iOS settings under “Software Update.”

hat tip Ars Technica

Filed under: mobile

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Remember the Megaupload song? Now Kim Dotcom is rapping (video)

Posted: 07 May 2012 02:17 PM PDT

Kim Dotcom

Among the assets returned to Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom were pieces of equipment that he has cleverly used to record a rap song and music video.

The video, titled “Amnesia,” features lyrics from Black Eyed Peas’ producer Printz Board, according to the NZHerald. The chorus is dedicated to a scandal involving New Zealand politician John Banks, head of the country’s ACT political party and current minister for the country’s Small Business and Regulatory Reform. Apparently Dotcom made an anonymous donation of $38,000 to Banks’ campaign, and Banks denied he knew where the money came from. New Zealand authorities are looking into Banks’ involvement, but the outlook doesn’t look good for him.

You’d think someone who was out on bail for massive copyright violation charges (as well as awaiting extradition to U.S. for a trial) would want to keep a low profile. That isn’t the case for Dotcom. In fact, it would be quite out of character for the man. Despite his company’s questionable dealings with copyrighted artists, Dotcom also previously produced the “Megaupload song,” which featured several popular hip-hop and pop stars performing a song that promoted the company's file hosting service. The music video included Kanye West, Will.i.am, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray, and others.

While Mr. Dotcom’s new rap isn’t quite at the caliber of the Megaupload song, it’s still plenty ridiculous. Check it out below and let us know what you think in the comments.

Filed under: media, offBeat, VentureBeat, video

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Come Sail away with Verifone’s new payment platform — yet another Square wannabe

Posted: 07 May 2012 02:09 PM PDT

verifone sail mobile payment platform

Yup, it’s another credit card reader dongle for your phone. After launching the clunky PayWare credit card reader in early 2010, payment provider Verifone is today announcing Sail, a revamped mobile payment platform with a sleek new dongle to combat the similar offerings from Square and PayPal.

If you’ve read our extensive coverage on Square, PayPal Here, and Intuit GoPayment, you already have a sense of what Verifone’s up to. With Sail, Verifone has developed a more flexible way for handling mobile payments directly from your phone. The company is already the go-to payment provider for many businesses, and given the growing popularity of mobile card payments, it needs to make sure it can keep up with young upstarts.

Sail appears to be easier to use than PayWare from the get-go. Anyone can sign up for the service and use the free credit card dongle, while Verifone’s PayWare was only open to users with “merchant accounts.” Sail is also much sleeker than PayWare, which was basically a massive iPhone case with a credit card reader built-in.

The platform allows merchants to integrate their existing payment and marketing systems, and it also works with third-party loyalty and social media services. The Sail platform was developed via Verifone’s purchase of the online payments company ChargeSmart earlier this year.

Verifone will charge the same 2.7 percent transaction fee as Square, but you’ll also have the option of a lower 1.95 percent fee if you pay $9.95 a month.

On the surface, there’s not much beyond Verifone’s trusted name to differentiate Sail from its competitors. That may just be enough for Verifone though. Long-running small businesses will likely be dragged into mobile payments kicking and screaming — but there’s a much greater chance they’ll stick with Verifone when the time comes, instead of some new startup named after a shape.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Electronic Arts beats quarterly estimates but announces weak outlook; stock tumbles after-hours

Posted: 07 May 2012 01:30 PM PDT

Electronic Arts reported its earnings for the fourth fiscal quarter ended March 31 beat estimates. However,  its guidance going forward is weak and the video-game giant is expected to report losses in the current first fiscal quarter. That has prompted EA stock to fall 10 percent in after-hours trading.

On a non-GAAP basis, EA reported fourth fiscal quarter net income of $56 million, or 17 cents a share, on revenue of $977 million. A year ago, the company reported net income of $83 million, or 25 cents a share, on revenue of $995 million. Sales were driven by titles such as Mass Effect 3, the sci-fi action role-playing game, pictured above.

Analysts were expecting the Redwood City, Calif.-based video game publisher to report non-GAAP revenue of $960 million and non-GAAP earnings per share of 16 cents. They expected EA to guide non-GAAP first fiscal-quarter revenues to $577.9 million and a loss of 33 cents a share. Instead, EA expects non-GAAP revenue of only $500 million (versus the expectation of $925 million) and a non-GAAP loss per share of 40 cents to 45 cents for the first fiscal quarter.

On a GAAP basis, EA reported net income of $400 million, or $1.20 a share, on revenue of $1.3 billion. A year ago, it reported net income of $151 million, or 45 cents a share, on revenue of $1.0 billion. In EA’s case, non-GAAP financials are more illuminating because of the way it has to account for revenue from online game subscriptions.

"We are proud to report a strong quarter and a fiscal year highlighted with $1.2 billion of digital revenue," said Chief Executive Officer John Riccitiello, in a statement. "In the coming year, we break away from the pack, with a very different profile than the traditional game companies and capabilities that none of our new digital competitors can match."

"Digital growth drove our margins in fiscal 12 and we project this trend will continue in fiscal 13," said Interim Chief Financial Officer Ken Barker. "We saw more than 20 percent non-GAAP diluted EPS growth in fiscal 12, and are guiding to more than 30 percent growth in fiscal 13 based on the midpoint of our guidance."

The results give investors a view of EA’s financial performance after the launch of its Mass Effect 3 blockbuster sci-fi game and a full quarter’s worth of sales and subscription revenues from Star Wars: The Old Republic, which EA-owned studio BioWare developed over the past six years. The Old Republic is EA’s main competitive thrust against Activision Blizzard’s money-making machine, World of Warcraft.

EA had previously said the vast majority of Star Wars’ 1.7 million subscribers signed up for beyond the initial free trial, with paying subscribers likely numbering around 1.5 million. Analysts believe the game, which cost a reported $200 million to make, has a chance to steal subscribers from World of Warcraft, which has dominated massively multiplayer online games for seven years and has 10.2 million paying subscribers.

EA’s stock fell almost 10 percent in after-hours trading to $13.71 a share. Previously, before the earnings came out, EA’s stock rose one cent a share to $15.13 on Monday. That values EA at $5.01 billion. The company’s stock rose recently on rumors that Nexon had made an offer to buy EA, but that made no sense, Pachter said, as the Japan-based online games giant didn’t have the financial resources to pull off such an acquisition. EA’s big rival, Activision Blizzard, will report earnings on Wednesday.

Still, the very thought that EA could be vulnerable to a takeover is an alien one. Founded in 1982, EA was once the biggest independent publisher of video games. But it now has a smaller market value than upstart Zynga, which is valued at $6.51 billion, and rival Activision Blizzard, valued at $14.31 billion. EA’s strategy has been to continue to produce major blockbuster console games and diversify into digital sales — including mobile, social, and online games — at the same time.

A couple of weeks ago, a rumor circulated that EA was preparing to lay off more than 10 percent of the company’s staff. But EA didn’t announce any major cuts to employment and merely said “there are no layoffs.” The company further stated that it always has projects that are growing and morphing with people coming in or leaving. EA did acknowledge today that there is a small reduction in staffing related to its decision to eliminate some licenses that are not relevant for its next-generation console investment. EA said it is investing $80 million in next-gen console games and it will release a major social game this quarter.

On an annual basis, EA reported non-GAAP fiscal year net income of $284 million, or 85 cents a share, on revenue of $4.1 billion. A year earlier, EA reported non-GAAP net income of $233 million, or 70 cents a share, on revenue of $3.8 billion. On a GAAP basis, EA reported a net profit of $76 million, or 23 cents a share, on revenue of $4.1 billion. A year ago, EA reported a net loss for the fiscal year of $276 million, or a loss of 84 cents a share, on revenue of $3.6 billion.

For the coming fiscal year, analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities expects EA to report non-GAAP revenue of $4.55 billion to $4.6 billion (about four times Zynga’s current revenues) and $1.10 a share in EPS.

EA has likely been hurt slightly (a $5 million sales reduction) by the bankruptcy filing of Game Group, the big game retailer in the United Kingdom. OpCapita purchased GameGroup’s assets on April 1, Pachter said. Riccitiello said that EA had decided to delay the launch of one major unnamed game because of a reconsideration of the company’s research and development priorities.

In the previous quarter, EA’s stock price fell after it gave relatively weak guidance for the fourth fiscal quarter. Big games coming on the horizon include SimCity, Plants vs. Zombies social games from EA’s PopCap division, and other titles to be announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June, Pachter said.

The company said today that Battlefield 3 players are still deeply engaged in the game that launched in October. In March, the game had 6.3 million monthly active users. New content downloads are coming in May and June.

EA said the results for the quarter were driven by sales of Mass Effect 3, FIFA Street 4, SSX, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. FIFA 12′s sales in the fiscal year were the best in history, and its digital downloads and micro-transactions generated $108 million in revenue. The fourth-fiscal quarter digital downloads were up 76 percent from a year ago, contributing $60 million in revenue in the quarter, thanks to Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Star Wars had 1.3 million active subscribers in the first full quarter of the game’s existence.

The video game publisher also said it generated digital revenue of $1.2 billion in the fiscal year, up 47 percent over a year ago. The operating margin on the digital revenue was 10 percent. Another 40 percent increase in digital revenue is expected for the fiscal year ended March 313, 2013.

Origin, EA’s platform for online games and services, has registered 11 million players and generated $150 million in its first 10 months. EA ended the quarter with $1.3 billion in cash, down from $1.6 billion a year ago. EA also ended the quarter with 9,158 employees, up 20 percent from 7,645 a year ago.

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, gbunfiltered

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Facebook starts roadshow, faces challenge of turning hype into trust

Posted: 07 May 2012 01:13 PM PDT

Save the rumors and speculation for another day, folks. Today, Facebook formally kicked off the the all-important roadshow leg of its initial public offering preparations with an investor meeting held in New York.

Last Thursday, May 3, the social network set its opening range at $28 to $35 share for an offering that could value the company as high as $96 billion. (The IPO is expected to happen later this month, with May 18 the likely date.) The preliminary pricing was followed up with a roadshow video that was light on information but heavy on emotional impact. Now, Facebook has taken its dog-and-pony show on the road — literally — hoping to prove to investors that, despite declining revenue, it’s bigger than the hype.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and chief financial officer David Ebersman, outfitted in Wall Street-worthy suits, hosted an hour-long presentation in front of a packed room of investors Monday. Hoodie-wearing CEO Mark Zuckerberg, surrounded by security, also made an appearance and spoke for roughly 10 minutes, according to reports. Some investors, however, left feeling “unsated,” according to tweets by CNBC journalist Kate Kelly.

And if you care about the little details, the meeting, held over lunch at a Sheraton New York Hotel on 7th Avenue in Manhattan, started late, was kicked off by the roadshow film, and was said to include a Cobb salad and cookies.

On to more serious matters. Facebook and Zuckerberg fielded questions about its advertising-heavy business, and will likely continue to face a barrage of questions about the social network’s recent revenue hiccups and its pricey acquisition of Instagram as the road show continues.

“Investors will want to understand business fundamentals, not hype,” Gartner research director Brian Blau told VentureBeat. “Being hip, hyping your company, and hoping for a good future is a risky way to build a business.”

In the first quarter of 2012, Facebook made $205 million in net income on $1.06 billion in revenue. The revenue figure represents a six percent dip from the previous quarter, and the income number means that Facebook made $28 million less than it did in the same quarter last year. The company also rushed to close a surprise, reactionary $1 billion acquisition of Instagram, driven entirely by Zuckerberg.

“Given that Facebook missed earnings last quarter they need to show that the future of ads and credits revenues can be sustained, rather than saying ‘just trust us,’” Blau said. “I believe investors will have some level of trust given the potential and opportunity that Facebook has already shown, but company performance is a key aspect of the public market and without clear signals as to their future, investors could have reason to be skeptical and may take a more cautionary approach.”

Photo credit: Crunchies 2009/Flickr

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian won’t invest in Facebook because of its CISPA support

Posted: 07 May 2012 01:10 PM PDT

Alexis Ohanian

Facebook is just now kicking off a roadshow meant to drum up interest in its forthcoming initial public offering, which is estimated to bring the social media giant between $9.4 billion and $11.8 billion. However, there is at least one high-profile person in the tech world who isn’t impressed: Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

In an interview with CNN today, Ohanian (pictured above) said he was holding off on any investment in Facebook due to its support of cyber security bill CISPA, although he noted that he definitely “understand(s) the business value of what Facebook is doing.”

“We’ve never seen a company like this before, ever. It knows things about our private lives that no one else does, and one of the big issues a lot of us in the tech community has had with Facebook of late, has been their support of bills like CISPA,” Ohanian said. He added that CISPA will make it very easy for a company like Facebook to hand over that private information to the government without any due process.

“So, that’s why I’m going to be holding off,” he said.

CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, seeks to give American companies more legal breathing room when collecting and sharing consumer data while defending against Internet security threats. Essentially, the bill's goal is to encourage companies to share information with the government that may help it fight and prevent cyber security attacks. But the language in the bill is far too vague when it comes to distinguishing how the government can use that information, leading critics to brand it as “evil.” The bill also doesn't provide an adequate description of what's considered a "security threat."

Despite those aforementioned issues, CISPA passed in the House last week with amendments that make the bill even more vague. Facebook has also stood firm on its stance of support for CISPA, despite the bill’s amendments.

Ohanian isn’t the only person who’s not happy about CISPA or Facebook’s support of it. The site he helped start, Reddit, is also trying to help educate the masses about CISPA.

Photo of Alexis Ohanian via Alec Perkins/Flickr

Filed under: deals, security, VentureBeat

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Android über alles: Google’s OS now makes up majority of all smartphone sales

Posted: 07 May 2012 01:05 PM PDT

Android accounts for 61 percent of all smartphone sales, according to data published today by NPD Group.

That number is trailed by the 29-percent stake claimed by iOS devices, and RIM and Windows Phone are nowhere close.

These figures for the first quarter of 2012 represent healthy growth for Android, which had previously slumped to a 49 percent share of smartphone sales.

Smartphone sales still only make up 66 percent of all mobile phone sales, but that’s just sales of new devices. Separate research from Nielsen shows that as of March 2012, more than 50 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones, up from 47.8 percent at the end of 2011.

Also from Nielsen, we learn that for currently activated smartphones, Android grabs 48.5 percent of the market, a healthy lead on Apple iOS’s 32 percent.

Other highlights from Nielsen’s numbers include:

  • The ladies: 50.9 percent of female mobile subscribers used smartphones compared to 50.1 percent for men.
  • The (relatively) youngsters: More than two out of three people ages 25 to 34 have a smartphone.
  • Asian Americans: This group leads smartphone adoption with 67.3 percent using a smartphone as their primary mobile handset.

However, other Android-related news today (Google getting a partial guilty verdict in a landmark court battle with Oracle) has us wondering how much market domination is worth if your product ends up getting nickel-and-dimed into unprofitability.

via Cnet

Top image courtesy of laihui, Flickr.

Filed under: mobile

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Apple television is like a big Thunderbolt display, says source

Posted: 07 May 2012 12:09 PM PDT

Apple Television

It’s a bird, it’s a plane! No, it’s an Apple iTV prototype! A Cult of Mac source claims to have seen the rumored Apple television and says it looks just like the Thunderbolt display, but bigger.

According to this source, the television is equipped with two pivotal elements that will put Apple’s mark on the device: iSight and Apple’s voice-controlled assistant Siri. The iSight camera will be used for making Facetime calls, while Siri could represent an evolution of remote controls from handheld devices to built-in voice-enabled software. The television is also “much larger” than the Thunderbolt display, according to the source, though specific sizing details are not available.

Apple television side viewIt has been long-expected that Apple would release a television using Siri, though the company has not yet graduated the software off of its latest smartphone. As for Facetime, the source says the camera has the ability to follow you around the room, as well as zoom in on your face so you won’t have to sit right next to the screen for the person to see you clearly. Whether or not it will be able to detect and follow more than one person is unknown.

Rumors about an Apple television have been swirling for months. Analyst Peter Misek said he spotted television parts slowly being shipped to Apple’s manufacturers on a recent visit to Asia. He believes the television could debut as soon as this summer, though that target seems unrealistic now. Others say Apple has been in talks with Epix, a movie channel backed by three major studios, for a streaming deal that Netflix currently monopolizes.

Cult of Mac warns that the source is “well placed,” but the tips don’t always pan out. The source often gets early access to prototypes, which Apple may not use in the final product.

via Cult of Mac; Mockup images via Dan Draper

Filed under: media

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