26 May, 2012



iOS, Android, HTML5? How to pick a tablet platform for your app

Posted: 26 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

This story is brought to you by Sourcebits, a Global leader in Strategy, User Experience & Engineering for Mobile & Cloud. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

You’re building a tablet app, and you need to make decisions on what platforms to support. Here’s how to pick the tablet platform that’s right for you … and will result in the most sales of your app.

The choices are well-known:

  • iOS
    The acknowledged market leader for scale and monetization
  • Android
    The strong contender for second place, but with fragmentation concerns
  • Kindle Fire
    Android under the skin, but walled off by Amazon, with its own app store
  • Windows 8
    The dark horse: an intriguing option, but scale and penetration are open questions
  • BlackBerry
    The dead horse?
  • HTML5
    The one ring to rule them all … but perhaps a little lost in a deep cave in the Misty Mountains

For some people, the choice might be obvious. But sometimes there can be market advantages to targeting a less-obvious platform. Let’s look at the alternatives.

Why you would pick iOS

Apple’s iOS is the acknowledged leader in tablet sales. According to Gartner, the iPad will destroy the competition with 61 percent of sales in 2012. So it’s pretty obvious why you’d develop for iPad: that’s where the users are. Not only are the most people on iPad right now, but the types of people are attractive to app developers. Simply put: they have money and they’re not afraid to spend it. That’s an attractive user base.

Also, there’s very good infrastructure in the iOS ecosystem: coding tools, developer ecosystem, publishing and distribution paths, and monetization options.

On the downside, there is a lot of noise in the iOS world. With more than 500,000 apps for iPhone and 200,000 for iPad, your app faces some major challenges getting noticed. That said, if you are a major brand or have deep pockets, you can likely break free from the pack.

Why you would pick Android

If iPad is the leader, Android is the very strong contender … and there’s recent history to suggest that Android may not always trail iOS in the tablet market. After all, Android leads in the smartphone market, after initially trailing the iPhone. According to the same Gartner study cited above, Android will make up about 32 percent of tablet sales in 2012, growing to 37 percent in 2016.

So Android has a very significant number of users. A third of a large market is still a pretty large potential audience, and Android is expected to account for about 35 million tablets this year. (For a caveat about these numbers, see Kindle Fire below.)

There are other reasons to choose Android for your tablet app. There’s less noise in the market — fewer dedicated tablet apps — which means that yours has a better chance to be seen. In addition, if your app is well-designed and user-friendly, it will stand out in stark contrast to other Android apps, which, unfortunately, largely suck.

But also, if you want more control of what you’re developing and how to market it, the fact that there are multiple Android markets and fewer ecosystem constraints mean that you have more freedom in how to build and market your app.

Why you would pick Kindle Fire

In the Android section above, I listed a caveat, and for a good reason: the Kindle Fire accounts for easily 50 percent of all Android tablet sales. That’s one reason for breaking it out from the larger Android pack, but the more important reason is that Amazon pre-loads a Kindle-fire-specific app store on all devices it ships. The Amazon app store makes Kindle Fire a cross between Google and Apple: Android inside, but with an an Apple style, curated, send-us-your-apps-for-approval market.

That said, it’s hard to ignore two things: the sheer number of Fires being sold, and Amazon’s amazing ability to move product. With Kindle Fire users making up large percentages of overall tablet web traffic, it’s clear the devices are in use.

Pick Kindle if you’re an Android developer and you want another sales opportunity for your app, or if you think that your app will monetize better in Amazon’s garden. Content apps would seem to be a good bet with Amazon’s core user base, and some developers see opportunity in the platform.

One caveat for Kindle Fire: be aware that Amazon does implement some questionable marketing tactics which could affect your app’s sales … such as offering it for free.

Why you would pick Windows 8

Windows 8 Tablet is a true dark horse: Currently, there are almost no sales. However, HP is restarting its tablet adventure with Window 8, and Gartner says that Microsoft will move about five million units in 2012.

That number won’t make any developers jump for joy, but Microsoft has a history of being persistent, and it’s got the largest installed base of them all with the Windows PC market. As those customers upgrade to the latest version of Windows, there’s a good chance many of them will move to Windows 8 on tablets, and you might want to be there, waiting for them, when the market takes off. On top of that, the Windows 8 platform, whether on phone or tablet, is definitely an interesting and different take on interfaces of the future.

The best reason to develop for Window 8 right now, however, might be this: Microsoft may be willing to pay you. Or guarantee a certain level of revenue.

Just don’t expect huge download numbers.

Why you would pick BlackBerry

This is a tough one. Projected sales for BlackBerry tablets are even lower than Windows 8 tablets, at under three million. And while the underlying operating system, QNX, is geekishly interesting, those numbers will not make your finance department happy.

The one reason to pick BlackBerry: similar to Microsoft, RIM may finance your development as it struggles desperately to remain relevant in the tablet space. But don’t be shocked if the platform disappears under your feet before the end of 2012.

Why you would pick HTML5

I wasn’t sure I would include HTML5 in this list, as it’s not a platform in the same sense as the above ecosystems. However, it deserves a mention.

Pick HTML5 if you believe that the app explosion we’re currently seeing in mobile is a passing fad, and that the power of the internet will eventually triumph over each niche ecosystem.

Theoretically, all the tablet platforms listed above support HTML5 applications. But while in theory there is no difference between theory and reality … in reality there is. Be aware that there are differing levels of support for HTML5.

Perhaps worse, there’s no defined distribution, marketing, or monetization model. But if you can solve those problems, you can sell your services to just about anyone: tablet users, web users, even smartphone users.

Making your selection

Ultimately, the platform you choose will determine how you build your app, and how you market it. Most importantly, it will determine who you can sell it to. Almost certainly you will choose, either initially or later in your app’s life cycle, a multi-platform strategy.

Picking the first platform well is your key to success.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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VBWeekly gets a visit from the undead, which is appropriate since we’re talking Facebook

Posted: 25 May 2012 07:25 PM PDT

This week’s VBWeekly got a little goofy, while our anchor Jolie O’Dell was traveling to the East Coast. We hit on some serious stories, including more on the Facebook drama unfolding post IPO, and a sexual harassment lawsuit that hit venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. But that was all interrupted when some undead buddies showed up to chat with GamesBeat Editor in Chief Dan “Shoe” Hsu.

Also, there’s a chance I’m crying in a veil.

Here’s the recap:

  • Kleiner Perkins partner Ellen Pao made light of a lawsuit she filed against the venture firm this week. Pao claims she was sexually harassed and retaliated against when she brought the issues to light.
  • Facebook can’t catch a break following last week’s IPO. The company is being sued by its shareholders and is considering a switch from the NASDAQ stock exchange — which delayed its IPO by 40 minutes due to technical issues — to the New York Stock Exchange.
  • Zombies come to chat with us after a San Francisco Zombie Walk put on by gaming company Zynga.

Hope you enjoy the show!

Filed under: VentureBeat, video

Disgruntled gentleman honestly thinks he can strip Google of its trademark

Posted: 25 May 2012 04:52 PM PDT

Over in the land of slightly crazy lawsuits, a man from Arizona filed a lawsuit Friday to make “Google” a generic word, Paid Content reports.

David Elliot filed the complaint in the United States District Court of Arizona. Elliot is a ”third-party beneficiary” of Chris Gillespie, who lost a lawsuit against Google earlier this month. The search engine filed a complaint against Gillespie for registering website names with the name google in them, including “googlegaycruises.com," “googlestarbucks.com,” and "googlechevron.com.” Gillespie was forced to hand over more than 750 domains.

Now, Elliot is countering, saying the company name has become a common transitive verb that refers to searching the Internet for content. The exact wording from the suit is as follows:

“The term ‘GOOGLE’ is, or has become, a generic term universally used to describe the action of internet search with any search engine.”

He has a point — most of us don’t say “I’m going to Bing it” — but it’s hard to prove that we use the verb “to google” in reference to other search engines.

Google won the trademark for its name in 1997 and has continued to earn several trademark certificates to keep ownership of the term “Google”. But a trademark is not a lifetime guarantee, and companies can lose the legal rights to a word if it becomes synonymous with a generic product or service. In his suit, Elliot mentions a 2010 report from Google in which the company allegedly said it was well aware of this risk.

Examples of once trademarked terms include aspirin, escalator, and even heroin. Once people began calling every moving set of stairs an escalator, the company holding that trademark lost its legal rights to the term. Several brands, including Kleenex, Xerox, and Band-Aid, have used extensive campaigns to prevent their trademarked terms from becoming so generic that they’d lose legal protection.

In order to retain control of the trademark, Google has to keep the term “google” associated with its company, search engine, and other services. Considering that when most of say we are “going to google something,” we actually go to Google.com to conduct our search, it might not be hard for Google to win this case. You can read the full filing below.

Google sign image via Flickr user Niall Kennedy

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Instagram picked up 78 percent more uniques in April — thank you, Facebook

Posted: 25 May 2012 04:26 PM PDT

A billion dollars will buy you a lot of things, and, in the case of Instagram, one of those things happens to be exposure to millions.

In April, Instagram’s website saw a 78 percent uptick in unique visitors in the U.S., making the web property of the photo-sharing phenom the highest gaining site on the Internet for the month, according to analytics firm comScore.

Instagram.com, comScore found, had nearly 14.6 million unique U.S. visitors in April, up from 8.2 million in March. The unique figure and the massive gain are remarkable feats considering that Instagram’s bread and butter is its mobile applications for iPhone and Android.

click to enlarge

April was quite the month for the photo-sharing app. On April 3, Instagram released its long-awaited Android application. Just days later, Facebook announced that it was buying the young company for roughly $1 billion in cash and stock (we found out later the exact breakdown is $300 million in cash and 23 million shares). Both events likely contributed to an onslaught of Instagram activity that enhanced the service’s already powerful network effect — users post photos in the app and push them out to other social networks where folks click to view images on the web.

So there you have it: Facebook plus Android equals Instagram as top-gaining web property.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Instagram. Sure, we suspect the company-within-a-company now has well over 50 million users, but founder Kevin Systrom and crew might not be tickled by the fact that the purchase price, which isn’t official until the deal closes later this year, is yoked to Facebook’s currently underwhelming share price. The Instagram deal, for instance, was valued as high as $1.27 billion when Facebook opened at $42 a share. Now, at $31.91 a share, the deal sits at $1.034 billion, a difference of $236 million.

Photo credit: Ashton Pal/Flickr

Filed under: social

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Yahoo actually makes a good decision with death of Livestand

Posted: 25 May 2012 01:51 PM PDT

Yahoo Livestand

After all the turmoil Yahoo has gone through in the past month, the company is finally making moves on a legitimate plan to consolidate its resources on a handful of successful products and services crucial to its bottom line.

Today Yahoo announced that it’s shutting down digital magazine news app Livestand, which it only launched back in November 2011.

“When we discontinue products, it will be so that we can focus on opportunities where we lead and where we can create the most meaningful experiences for people using our products, and for our partners, developers and advertisers,” Yahoo stated in a blog post. “One of the first decisions we’ve made along these lines is to discontinue our personalized digital newsstand app, Livestand for iPad.”

Livestand was facing plenty of more popular competitors, such as Flipboard, Editions by AOL, Pulse News, Zite, and Google Currents. But even in a crowded market, Yahoo didn’t need to be focusing its efforts on side projects like this. The company said it still plans to focus on creating a more mobile web-friendly experience for its existing products. As we said at the beginning of the year, Yahoo can start by revamping Flickr.

It’s nice to see new CEO Ross Levinson actually doing something to lessen the company’s glut of useless services and products. But the work is far from over.

Fortunately, we’ve comprised a list of 10 products Yahoo needs to immediately shut down. (Well, it’s actually only a list of nine, since Livestand is now dead.)

Filed under: media, mobile

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Cisco kills its business-focused Cius tablet

Posted: 25 May 2012 01:15 PM PDT


Cisco plans to effectively kill off its misguided Cius enterprise tablet, the company has announced in a blog post.

“Cisco will no longer invest in the Cisco Cius tablet form factor, and no further enhancements will be made to the current Cius endpoint beyond what's available today,” OJ Winge, a Cisco Senior VP, wrote on the company’s Collaboration blog. “However, as we evaluate the market further, we will continue to offer Cius in a limited fashion to customers with specific needs or use cases.”

The Cius tablet debuted in June 2010 as the first Android tablet that was meant for the enterprise market. The tablet was bundled with Cisco software like WebEx, Cisco Quad, Cisco Show, and an application for instant messaging. It was also capable of 720p HD video with Cisco TelePresence.

But like many other Android tablets, the Cius never really took off. Instead, Apple’s iPad has come to dominate the enterprise for tablet usage. With apps as inventive as data visualizer Roambi and LinkedIn's surprisingly sexy social experience, there seems little reason to invest in a tablet that can’t access all that.

Now that Cisco has acknowledged that it lost the tablet battle (which we called in mid-2011), it will instead place a higher degree of focus on developing software.

“Moving forward, we intend to double down on software offerings, like Jabber and WebEx, that provide the anytime, anywhere, and any device experiences,” Winge wrote. “We will leverage key learnings and key collaboration experiences native to Cius in our other collaboration products.”

Cius photo: Cisco

Filed under: enterprise, mobile

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GamesBeat Weekly Roundup

Posted: 25 May 2012 01:14 PM PDT

Tomb Raider 2013 Concept

If you follow VentureBeat but don't regularly check our GamesBeat site, here's a list of the best games stories we ran over the last seven days that you may have missed.

This week, game developer 38 Studios laid off its entire staff after ongoing financial troubles, BioWare laid off a number of people working on Star Wars the Old Republic, Take-Two faces a larger than expected financial loss, and Blizzard announces its first patch for Diablo III.

You’ll also find previews for Defiance, Kingdom Hearts 3D, and When Viking’s Attack.

The DeanBeat: Playstudios launches myVegas social casino games with MGM as a partner

Blizzard announces first Diablo III patches and delays the real-money auction house

Kingdom Hearts 3D welcomes casual fans back into the series (hands-on preview)

Bringing back Tomb Raider: Our need to fill the old archeologist's shoes

38 Studios lays off its entire staff

Sony's When Vikings Attack offers goofy street combat (hands-on preview)

Konami kicks off pre-E3 character battle (gallery)

GameFly buzzes into mobile publishing

GREE mobile gaming platform enters open beta, plans two new Moshi Monsters games

Diablo III sets launch-day record

ShootMania Storm is geared for mass, competitive gaming

Take-Two CEO says product delays signal an "unwavering commitment to quality"

Marvel Heroes' online game world will let you smash evil for free

SOE announces free-to-play shooter, Bullet Run…which sounds a lot like Super Monday Night Combat

What does a game "producer" do, exactly? (exclusive)

Plant a money tree in Farmville as Zynga and American Express launch new rewards program

ArenaNet president discusses careful monetization of Guild Wars 2, the least greedy Western MMO

Twilight Zone table to rise again in Pinball Arcade with the help of crowdfunding

Origin offers 90 days of free distribution to successful Kickstarter games


Video game series contract will be tough for Bungie, easy for Activision

Square Enix's Mike Fischer says Activision was "crazy" to abandon True Crime: Hong Kong (interview)

Gaming art for your Facebook Timeline (Part 5: Social and Mobile)

Nvidia expects a "breakout year" for mobile chips

Nvidia CEO describes strategic importance of cloud graphics

THQ releases Metro Last Light cinematic story video

Seagate agrees to acquire LaCie for at least $186M

Take-Two disappoints Wall Street with larger-than-expected loss

Activision reacts to fan response to Call of Duty: Black Ops II (video interview)

BioWare lays off staff on Star Wars: The Old Republic, EA to shift employees [updated]

Trion's Defiance is one story told in an online game and SyFy TV show (hands-on preview)

YoYo Games unveils GameMaker: Studio for cross-platform development

RocketFrog wants to revolutionize online gambling with real-world prizes

How Ghost Recon is gunning to take over the hardcore and social markets (interview)

Are You a Human replaces annoying CAPTCHAs with games

Game of Thrones Ascent aims to please fans with a Facebook game (exclusive)

Filed under: games

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Facebook games now playing in News Feed and Timeline

Posted: 25 May 2012 12:55 PM PDT

Leave it to Facebook to invent yet another way to keep us all glued to the site. The social network has made the status update stickier with the addition of embedded games that people can play as they skim the News Feed or a friend’s Timeline.

Friday, Facebook launched “feed gaming,” or the ability for users to anonymously play miniature versions of Facebook games in the News Feed or on Timeline with just a single click.

Feed gaming is both a feature for application developers and users of the social network. Application developers, with a few code tweaks, can now embed sample versions of their games into the story updates users already post to Facebook, and thus use the game-lets to hook new users.

So Joe Gamer plays Angry Birds as he normally would, but now when he gets a score he’s especially proud, he can post an update to Facebook challenging his friends to try to one-up him. The status update gets distributed, via News Feed and Timeline, to Joe’s friends who can then play the same level inside the update.

Game makers actually have a few choices here, so keep an eye out for mini-games, game replays, and level high-score challenges. Angry Birds, Idle Worship, Tetris Battle, and Bubble Witch Saga are a few games already employing feed gaming, Facebook engineer Gareth Morris said in a blog post on the new feature.

The addition of in-feed gaming is the logical next step for the social network, which has openly expressed interest in helping its games grow. Carl Sjogreen, director of product management for Facebook Platform, said at a conference in February that games are the reason millions of users keep coming back to the site.

“It's critically important to us that games are successful,” Sjogreen said at the time. “We have a whole Platform team focused on just making sure games are going well. That includes building games-specific features … to create discovery for games.”

Of course, this all boils down to a new paradigm for game discovery on the social network. Facebook games find you and beg for just a second of your attention. A second turns into the promise of a few coins and soon you’re off installing the full version of the application to collect your rewards. Next you know, you’ve wasted away the workday trying to beat your buddies. Genius, right?

Photo credit: Matt Harnack/Facebook

Filed under: dev, games, social

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For Vivid Live, YouTube gets an Instagram-like tool for the livestream

Posted: 25 May 2012 12:17 PM PDT

YouTube is no stranger to live streaming popular events, such the  Coachella Music Festival back in April. But for its upcoming live stream of Australia’s annual Vivid Live music event held at Sydney Opera House, YouTube is showing off a new tool called Frontrow commissioned by the event organizers to help enhance the experience.

The Frontrow tool mixes elements of Instagram with the exclusivity of big-ticket concerts, and you engage in the experience without ever leaving home. You can zoom in and out using the Frontrow camera tool and snap pictures using filtered views. You can then share those images with friends, post them to social networks, etc. You can’t record clips of the concert and apply those filters in the same way you can with a service like Viddy, but it does give people an additional reason to check out the live stream.

I’ll be curious to see how many of these filtered Vivid Live concert photos end up on Google+, which is currently making a push to become a major competitor to pro photo site Flickr.

The Vivid Live live stream is free to access, and we’ve included a screenshot and short demo video showing off the new Frontrow tool below.

Update 5/25/2012 (2:00 p.m. PT): An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Frontrow was created by YouTube. The Frontrow tool was actually commissioned by the Vivid Live organizers for use on YouTube’s livestream.

Frontrow tool

Filed under: media, social

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Video game series contract will be tough for Bungie, easy for Activision

Posted: 25 May 2012 12:00 PM PDT

The contract between Bungie, the celebrated maker of the Halo series, and Activision Blizzard was unsealed this week in litigation related to Activision’s feud with the co-founders of Infinity Ward, creator and former developer of the Call of Duty series.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, the 27-page document is the most detailed revelation of how to cut a modern deal between a super game studio and a giant game publisher. And based on a look at the contract, it seems like the deal is quite favorable to Activision and very challenging for Bungie, which signed with Activision after spending a decade working on Halo with Microsoft. The deal says that Bungie will make four massively multiplayer online (MMO), sci-fi, fantasy, action shooter games for Activision. The contract speaks volumes about publisher-developer relations.

The contract designates these as Destiny Games #1 through #4. The first game debuts in the fall of 2013, with a sequel following every two years. A major downloadable content (DLC) title (code-named Comet) also debuts in between major releases. Initially, Destiny will be an Xbox exclusive, but the PlayStation 3 version will come out in 2014. Bungie itself will hand off the PS 3 version to another developer. Bungie will own the intellectual property.

But in exchange for that, Kirkland, Wash.-based Bungie gave up a lot. Observers believe the games could easily cost $40 million to develop, with marketing budgets equal to that. If you add in 10 percent for overhead, the breakeven number for sales would be about 4.7 million units, according to one source who declined to be named. To get all of the bonuses, the average Bungie Destiny game might have to sell 13 million units or generate $804 million in revenue including the expansion pack’s sales.

Ben Schacter, an analyst at Macquarie Equities Research, said in a note that the bonus and royalty structures in the Bungie-Activision contract are “meaningful and quite positive for long-term investors” in Activision Blizzard. The game series as a whole must hit an operating margin of 25 percent before Bungie is eligible for meaningful royalties. That means that employees may have to stick around for years before they see a big bonus, and it could be tough for Bungie to hold on to its talent for a long time.

The contract was dated April 2010, so it is possible that it has been amended. In the document, the royalty payments are based on a series of operating income thresholds. The operating income hurdle is operated as a deficit account. That means that the deficit in one year will be subtracted from the following year’s operating income before calculating any royalty payments. Operating income is the money left over after you subtract game-related development, marketing, advertising, promotion, production and distribution expenses from net revenue. Activision can also terminate the contract if the first game does not sell 5 million units within the first six months.

The contract shows that Bungie is very confident that it can hit the 25 percent operating margin hurdle. For operating income up to $100 million, Bungie will receive a quarterly royalty of 20 percent. For operating income of $100 million to $400 million, the royalty rises to 24 percent. For $400 million and up, Bungie gets 35 percent. If the series hits $750 million in operating income, Bungie gets $25 million. It gets $25 million more if the operating income tops $1 billion. Activision can reduce the royalties if the games come out late. Bungie is contractually required to focus most of its resources and key people on Destiny, and the release of the games may come as either digital downloads or physical disks. The Destiny game is expected to debut on both the Xbox 360 and its successor.

If Bungie’s games hit a 90-plus rating on GameRankings.com, a review aggregator, then it gets another $2.5 million. That tells you that ratings for games aren’t viewed nearly as important as the operating income targets. In other words, making a ton of money from consumers is more important than pleasing the critics.

The contract also showed that Bungie is working on a successor to Marathon, the original Bungie game that became a cult hit after it was published in 1994 on the Mac. But Bungie can devote no more than 5 percent of its staff to work on the Marathon title. In 2018, Bungie is free to work on action shooters other than Destiny as it wishes. And while other developers may work on the DLC, Valve, Gearbox, and Epic are banned from doing any Destiny or Comet adaptations.

Other miscellaneous contract stipulations include: The game will fit into a “teen” rating, each Bungie employee can only receive two Activision games as gifts each year, and Bungie also has to disclose all Easter eggs, or secret rewards, hidden in the game.

We’ve asked Bungie and Activision for further comment on the contract and have not heard back from either party yet.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Facebook testing new “star your close friends” feature

Posted: 25 May 2012 11:11 AM PDT

Facebook users who logged in last night may have caught a glimpse of a new feature on Facebook. The largest social network in the world is testing “Star Your Close Friends,” an experimental feature that will ensure you see more of your closest friends’ status updates.

Star Your Close Friends is simple and intuitive to use. A new area simply appears at the top of your news feed with the title “Don’t Miss the Good Stuff.” When you move your mouse over your friends’ images, you see a grey star. Click and the star turns yellow: you’ve starred that friend.

Now more of his or her status updates will appear on your Facebook wall.

A Facebook representative contacted by VentureBeat told us that Facebook is trying to help users customize what status message they receive: “Yesterday we started rolling this out for some users to help them easily group their close friends into a list.”

Facebook seems to be fairly intelligent about who it presents to users as potential “star-ees.” When I saw the feature last night, the friends I most often interact with were shown by default. But people can also search for specific friends to add ones that are not seen.

One important thing to note: Your friends will not know whether or not they’ve been starred, eliminating a potentially sticky privacy issue.

This new feature potentially solves two problems for Facebook: unseen status updates for close friends, and easy friend categorization.

A starred friend.

The first has been a problem for some time. As we know from Facebook itself, only 10 percent of your friends may actually see any given status update from you. The challenge is so severe that Facebook was actually testing a feature to allow you to pay to ensure that your status updates were noticed. But now, Star Your Close Friends will allow people to make sure they see important news from the friends they care about most, solving a large part of that problem, if only from the perspective of the person getting the status updates.

The second problem, friend categorization, is more of a competitive pressure from Google+. Circles, the way Google+ helps you categorize your connections, has widely been admired and praised. Facebook tried to address this with Smart Lists, but not with any great degree of success. Star Your Close Friends, however, is extremely simple and quick — in fact, it’s easier and more intuitive than Circles. Instead of multiple circles, overlapping circles, and circles with different levels of status update visibility, Star Your Friends is simple and binary: friends are either in or they’re out. And a single click is all it takes.

After starring friends, Facebook adds a new list in the Friends: Close Friends. A helpful pop-up tells you that “Now you can jump straight to your close friends’ photos and news. You’ll also get notifications whenever they post.”

Interestingly, Facebook seems to be trying to limit how many friends you star. Not by imposing a hard limit, but by visually indicating in the interface that the user is almost filling up a limited space. Here’s what you see as you add friends before hitting the recommended maximum, and what you see after continuing to add friends. The +2 seems to indicate that you are possibly adding more than Facebook recommends.

Star Your Close Friends is a very interesting new development. Would you welcome this change? I know I would.

Photo credit: UggBoy/Flickr

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Facebook’s next big buy could be browser maker Opera

Posted: 25 May 2012 10:53 AM PDT

Facebook may be looking to buy browser maker Opera Software, according to a new report.

A source told Pocket-lint that the social network wants to expand into the browser space and is looking to acquire Opera to do so. VentureBeat cannot independently confirm Facebook’s interest in Opera, and Facebook declined to comment on this story.

Opera is a Norway-based public company traded on the Oslo Stock Exchange. The company reported revenue of $46.9 million in the first quarter of 2012, and has roughly 700 employees spread across eleven offices, including a satellite office in the U.S. Opera makes an extremely popular mobile browser, including Opera Mini for iPhone. Opera Mini had nearly 200 million users across Opera branded, co-branded, and operator-branded installs of the mobile browser in Q1 2012.

While details on Facebook’s Opera interest are slim, we are certain that Facebook wants a piece of the browser pie, especially on mobile. In fact, months ago we heard a whisper that the social network was actually building its own browser.

That rumor makes sense when you consider a few things. First, the company is expected to release a Facebook-branded phone this summer running some type of custom Facebook operating system, said to be a fork of the Android OS. It follows, then, that Facebook would want to control — read: profit from — how users browse and access its social network on mobile. A Facebook phone running a Google browser doesn’t sound quite right, now does it?

There’s also this key detail: Facebook’s director of product, Blake Ross, if you recall, co-founded Mozilla Firefox and helped build the Firefox browser. The browser guru came to Facebook after his startup Parakey was acquired by the then young social network back in 2007.

But back to Opera. Here’s the kicker: Opera makes money on mobile, the very place where Facebook desperately needs to monetize now that it’s a public company. The software maker said it made $3 million in first quarter revenue from its mobile consumers — up 253 percent year-over-year — and $1.8 million from mobile OEMs. The company also netted $6.9 million in Q1 2012 revenue, up 303 percent year-over-year, from mobile publishers and advertisers.

“Opera expects to monetize this user base and the billions of daily web page traffic generated by these users to a greater extent in 2012 compared to 2011 from advertising, applications and search,” the company said in its earnings report.

But the fat lady has yet to sing in this acquisition play, so stay tuned.

Filed under: deals, mobile, social

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Size matters: Steve Ballmer’s office has an 80-inch Windows 8 tablet

Posted: 25 May 2012 10:18 AM PDT

A giant Windows 8 tablet, among a sea of other Windows 8 devices

Big and small, Microsoft has some pretty major plans for Windows 8.

On the larger end of the spectrum is the hulking 80-inch tablet that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer keeps in his office. The display, which is likely similar to the one seen in the background of the photo above (from Microsoft’s Windows 8 preview event several months ago), has allowed Ballmer get rid of his phone and note paper, Microsoft VP Frank Shaw told Wired UK.

The existence of the device is fueled by Microsoft’s desire to make pretty much every screen a computer, ”Every screen should be touch, every screen should be a computer and should be able to see out as well as see in. That is the way the world is heading [and] those screens are going to be big, small, wall-sized and desk-sized,” Shaw told Wired.

Microsoft says that it has no plans to directly sell such a large device, but that it’s very possible that third-party vendors will pick up the slack. If anything, it proves that Windows 8 can scale from netbooks and tablets, to giant screens.

The notion should sound a bit familiar. Microsoft’s previous attempt at a similarly large display came with Microsoft Surface, touch-enabled tabletop that, while impressive, hasn’t quite hit the mainstream consumer yet.

Via The Verge<

Filed under: mobile, offBeat, VentureBeat

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So long, blind buys: Consmr’s iPhone app gets 100K downloads in just two weeks (exclusive)

Posted: 25 May 2012 10:03 AM PDT

Consmr could help Mr. Burns with his catsup problem

Shopping apps are nothing new, but New York City-based Consmr has a grander vision beyond price comparisons: to inform consumers with an in-depth library of product reviews for things like health, groceries, beauty, and baby items. Think of it like a Yelp for consumer products.

Shoppers are clearly biting: the Consmr iPhone app has received over 100,000 downloads in its first two weeks, CEO Ryan Charles told VentureBeat exclusively.

Charles, the former head of mobile at Zagat, launched Consmr’s website a year ago with the goal of populating the site with user-contributed product reviews. By the time Consmr’s iPhone app launched on May 9th, the company had amassed a collection of over 100,000 reviews.

“That was the plan all along,” Charles said in an interview yesterday. He noticed that many competing applications had launched without an extensive review library, and he wanted to offer Consmr’s users something more valuable.

It also would have been more difficult to garner a huge amount of reviews if Consmr launched first on mobile, Charles said. (He points out that the popular foodie app Foodspotting also hit the web first to gather reviews, before going mobile.)

Just like the Consmr website, you can use the iPhone app to search for product reviews. But the Consmr app also allows you to scan a barcode, like so many other shopping apps, to instantly access a product’s page. For such a young app, it’s surprisingly fast and well-designed. It’s simple enough for mainstream consumers to use, but it’s slick enough to impress user interface geeks.

You can share reviews with your friends, and also follow other users to get a sense of their tastes. Consmr taps into your Facebook and Twitter accounts, allowing you to easily find your friends on the service. There are also a handful of celebrities using Consmr, including the online wine guru Gary Vaynerchuk. You can also create private shopping lists on the service (which will likely be shareable in the future).

Charles tells me that he has a passion for curated content in the mobile space. At Zagat, he was responsible for major deals, like the review guide’s partnership with Foursquare.

He was also inspired by how online retailers like Amazon were able to increase sales by letting customers review products. “It [reviews] increases consumer confidence,” Charles said, which was his biggest problem when shopping in retail stores where you have to sift through tens of thousands of product choices.

Consmr is based out of the WeWork Labs in Soho, and the company hasn’t revealed any funding yet (though Charles discussed raising funds last year).

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Dell in acquisition talks with Quest Software, report says

Posted: 25 May 2012 09:57 AM PDT


Dell is in talks to buy network applications maker Quest Software for more than $2 billion, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Quest originally agreed to be acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $2 billion, but those talks may have faltered. Quest’s backup and security software could complement Dell’s products well. BMC, Microsoft, and Oracle are all potentially bidding on Quest too.

Quest’s shares on the Nasdaq exchange are up nearly 4 percent in mid-day trading, bringing the company’s market cap to $2.12 billion. Dell would need to offer up a premium on this pricing to win over the company.

Dell photo: Flickr/Dell

Filed under: deals, enterprise

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Legal battles erupt over Dish Network’s commercial-skipping DVR box

Posted: 25 May 2012 09:48 AM PDT

When Dish Network debuted its new “Hopper” DVR box for subscribers of its satellite television service, the assumption was that it would help grow the viewing audience — not help people avoid the insanely long commercial breaks between recorded programs.

But the Hopper box actually does just that, Authops over the commercials, which prompted broadcast TV stations Fox NBCUniversal, and CBS to file lawsuits against Dish yesterday.

“We were given no choice but to file suit against one of our largest distributors, Dish Network, because of their surprising move to market a product with the clear goal of violating copyrights and destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem,” Fox said in a statement (PDF) to Dish. "Their wrongheaded decision requires us to take swift action in order to aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television.”

But it gets better. Dish has also decided to file its own lawsuit to get approval for its DVR commercial-skipping technology. Dish’s suit also wants the courts to confirm that its DVR Hopper box does create unauthorized copies of broadcaster’s programing that violates copyrights.

In a statement (PDF), Dish Network SVP of Programming David Shull said “consumers should be able to fairly choose for themselves what they do and do not want to watch. Viewers have been skipping commercials since the advent of the remote control; we are giving them a feature they want and that gives them more control."

It’s hard to argue with Shull’s statement, because that majority of people probably do fast forward through the commercial breaks when given the chance. Commercial interruptions have only gotten longer in the last decade, and with the advent of ad-targeting technology available online, those same commercials seem even more out-of-place since they don’t know exactly who’s watching a program.

The main takeaway from all of this? Commercials are too long and don’t apply to the individual viewer. Rather than to continually force the viewing audience to fast forward, switch the channel, or play on their iPhone during a commercial, maybe broadcasters should just address the real issue — make commercials more palatable.

Kangaroo photo via Dave Mitchell/Shutterstock; Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Filed under: media

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