Should the App Store Let You Demo Apps? [TheAppleBlog]


Recently, here at TheAppleBlog, we made some backstage changes. Over time we realized that Socialcast was great for sharing and discussing ideas, but not ideal for handling business related tasks. As a result, we made the jump over to Basecamp. It doesn’t have the microblog feel of Socialcast, but it’s definitely easier to organize and communicate.

When we made the switch, my first thought was “I wonder if there are any iPhone apps for Basecamp!” A quick search in the Store reveals 17 Basecamp related apps ranging in price from free to $12.99. As a potential buyer, how can I possibly decide which one is the best value?

One of my issues with the app store is that ratings are very inconsistent. A few complaints over accidental crashes can definitely skew a score, and screenshots really don’t help me understand the app’s look and feel. I need to click around and play a little before I decide the fate of an app’s life on my iPhone.

My question is: why won’t Apple allow me to try an app before I buy it? The availability countdown works great for content rented from the store like movies. I can play all I want for 24 hours, and then it’s deactivated. That would be ideal for apps too. I download it, see how it works, and after some time the app prompts me to purchase when launched. The prompt has a link to the app’s page in the store and I can make my decision. This is often how it’s done on the desktop. Why not the iPhone?

As for Basecamp, I ended up sticking with the free version of Sherpa. It covers the basics and it doesn’t crash. I would prefer to try them all, but that’s impossible. For now…

So, what do you think? Should Apple implement a trial period on all for-pay apps? What do you think are the pros and cons?



HootSuite lets you schedule status updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter

Picture 36HootSuite, which started as a way to navigate your Twitter stream, is broadening its grasp on the social web — it’s adding LinkedIn updates and letting you schedule status updates on the social networks it tracks.

The idea is to become a social media dashboard, so you can update your Facebook, LinkedIn, Ping.fm and Twitter status and track what friends are doing on each network directly from HootSuite instead of visiting each web destination. After LinkedIn opened up its platform yesterday, a number of social media clients including Tweetdeck are adding LinkedIn status updates this week. HootSuite’s Facebook integration lets you see comments in addition to status updates.

The Vancouver-based company behind HootSuite, Invoke Media, also added Twitter lists: you can either import ones you’ve already made or create them using the client’s drag-and-drop feature.

So how does it stack up against the other big clients like Tweetdeck, Seesmic and Brizzly? HootSuite is one of the more professionally oriented social media clients — the kind of user that would want to schedule updates across several networks would probably be a brand or small business. HootSuite also has built-in analytics so a user can track how many others have clicked on links they’ve shared.

hootsuite-linkedin

hootsuite-facebook


Living by the Numbers: What Happens When You Quantify Everything? [WebWorkerDaily]

Just like most people with web access, my life is well documented. If a future grandchild idly wonders what I did last October 24 in the afternoon, some notebook, blog post, or social networking site will hold the answer.

I decided to take this a step further — what if I made a real effort to note down what I did every minute of my life? What if I recorded all the food I ate, the water I drank, exercises I did, and even my happiness? Not such an impossible feat, given that in this Web 2.0 world there’s an app for everything. So I decided to track my life for at least a week to see how feasible it was to do.

Gathering Tools for Life Tracking

Tracking every aspect of one’s life sounds like a daunting task, so I needed to automate as much of it as possible. I started with ManicTime, a downloadable app that tracks computer usage. Among the stats it gathers are the applications you use and the web sites you visit. You can also tag your timeline to better identify what you were doing at any given time. My tags included “digital fiddling,” “email,” “online reading,” “freelance writing work,” “design work,” and “personal writing.”

While ManicTime is tied to computer usage, I also used it to tag the time I spent away from the computer including “sleep,” “eating,” “chores” and “offline reading.” I simply tracked my offline time via pen and paper and tagged it in ManicTime at the end of the day. This was a handy way for me to compile all my time information in one place, as well as take advantage of ManicTime’s statistical features.

Remembering a previous post by Dawn Foster, I also signed up for DailyBurn to track my nutritional intake as well as my exercise. Its food database was quite extensive, so I rarely had to input nutritional information manually.

Next came the most difficult part: tracking my mood. After a bit of research, I found some specific methods over at Kevin Kelly’s Quantified Self blog. The only disadvantage of the proposed methods was that they were too specific. I wanted something simpler and more automated, so I signed up for Track Your Happiness instead.

Findings and Results

By just the second day of my experiment, I was already learning something. To my surprise, I spend most of my waking hours writing, whether paid (freelance work) or unpaid (personal projects). This came as a surprise because most days I feel like I don’t really do anything, so it’s comforting to know that I spend that much time focused on nothing else but putting one word after another.

Here are some other non-work stats, gathered throughout the entire experiment (daily averages):

  • Digital fiddling — 0.54 hours
  • Sleep — 7.67 hours
  • Family time — 2.67 hours
  • Time spent tracking and analyzing these things — 1.10 hours

I was also glad to discover that I always drank more than nine glasses of water per day. My average calorie count wass within the norm (1638 Calories), but I had the tendency to go over my carbohydrate limits per day.

As for my mood, it appears that I’m a generally happy person — except when I talk to children or work on things I neither want nor have to do. The big surprise, I suppose, is that I’m happiest when I’m planning my business.

Tracking Your Life: Should You Do It?

Here’s the thing I have to admit: except for getting my happiness report, I didn’t finish the experiment. I only lasted until the fifth day, and by then, doing all this tracking was taking its toll on me. I saw that as I tried to keep up with jotting down every fleeting moment, I was getting more stressed. Sure, it only took me roughly an hour a day to track and analyze data, but that’s an hour of my life I’d rather spend on something else.

Quantifying your time, nutrition, and mood can be a learning experience — but you need to know your limits. If tracking your life lessens your enjoyment of it, then either change your approach or only track what’s necessary.

What aspects of your life or work do you keep track of? How do you keep track of them?

Image by karen_d from flickr



Hands-On Look at What’s New in Office 2010 [Screenshot Tour]

Now that we've had some time to play with the Office 2010 Professional Beta, we thought we'd share what's new and useful inside Microsoft's big suite. Take a gander at the pictoral evidence below.

Overall, Office 2010 is not the kind of leap forward that Windows 7 was from Vista (or, for most PC upgraders, from XP). It adds a lot of stuff that's previously been available only through plug-ins, makes performing the basic tasks of opening, printing, and sharing documents a good deal more convenient, and throws in a few new features that will expand the repertoire of those who really know their Office.

The free Office 2010 Professional Beta doesn't include access to Office's online component (ReadWriteWeb has taken a quick peek at them), and we'll mostly be sticking to Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint components on this tour. OneNote fans, you'll get your own peek soon enough! In the meantime, you can check out Microsoft's own video preview (Silverlight is, unfortunately, required).

For even more Office 2010 preview, with those new-fangled moving pictures, head over to Office 2010 in Videos, helpfully compiled into one place from YouTube by Adam.

On to the photos. Click any of them for a bigger (usually much bigger) view

Office as a whole

Many of Office 2010's best new features are present in every application across the suite.

In Windows 7, each app gets a taskbar integration that includes the very helpful "jump lists." Outlook makes the most use of jump lists, offering message templates and common actions. Other apps can have frequently-accessed documents pinned to their taskbar icons.

Backstage View: Hit the left-most tab ("File," usually) in any application, and you get the same sort of functionality as was available when you clicked the Office logo in Office 2007—just five times as helpful. The actions under each heading are broken up into clearly explained items with buttons that are easy to click—no more playing mouse cursor maze with sub-menus.

Under the "Share" tab is one of Office's most helpful features, an option to save to a SkyDrive account. That account, if you'll recall, offers 25GB of space in a nice web package. Saving to the SkyDrive does take a notable bit of time more than making a local save, and should be more automatic and integrated than hidden in the "Share" tab. Still, it's a nice security blanket for very important files.

There's also a "Publish as Blog Post" option in the "Backstage View" that works for most blogs that support remote publishing, although it's not quite a polished setup.

More useful to most users will be the fairly polished and customizable print options:

Editing and pasting text and images: "Paste Preview" gives you options right as you hit Ctrl+V, rather than making you root through menus to fix the garbled text you've just dropped in. From a tiny cursor menu, you can choose to keep or strip formatting and images, and see how it looks instantly:

Once the text is entered, you can apply some neat effects to it while keeping it able to be edited, and similarly see your changes in real time.

Office 2010's photo editing panel is much more powerful than its predecessors. A huge range of image effects can be instantly applied. Heck, if you want to give your images that Apple-like reflected-on-a-white-background look, that's one click. Alignment, re-sizing, cropping, and other tools are no longer sidebar-type actions, but front and center as tools.

Got an image stuck in the middle of a wonky background? Office 2010 can pull it out—sometimes auto-magically, sometimes after asking you to help define where that image actually is

In Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote, there's a built-in screenshot tool that can grab the screen behind the Office window you currently have open, or allow you to switch to the window you're grabbing and then grab just a section of it. That's a nice option for putting together presentations with break-neck deadlines.

Excel

This editor is not an Excel wizard. In fact, he may or may not still be struggling with a COUNTIF() function to mark how many times he took a GPS-tracked walk in October.

Still, the Sparklines feature is instantly recognizable as a really helpful little widget. It turns single cells into mini-charts, which automatically update to reflect changes to the data they're tracking in whatever cell set you select:

Outlook

When you first start Outlook, you don't have to steel yourself for an intensive session with IMAP servers and SSL port numbers. In most cases, you can just point Outlook at your email address and password, and—even with a Gmail account—the app just reaches out and hooks into your email. This didn't work quite so well with our Google Apps-hosted Lifehacker mail, but likely would have worked fine with some manual configuration tweaks.

Here's the big view of Outlook's main screen:

Most intriguing of all is the inclusion of a "Quick Steps" toolbar. It's a killer feature that already caught our eyes, and it allows you to perform one-click, multi-step automated actions on any message:

PowerPoint

The most eye-opening feature in PowerPoint 2010 is its broadcasting capabilities. At the moment, it only works with Microsoft's own sharing service, but future plug-ins are promised for other screencasting services. Open the Slide Show tab, hit Broadcast Slide Show, and you'll get a link you can IM, email, or otherwise pass onto anybody with a web browser, and they can see your slide show, slide by slide, as you move through it.

Your guests are, of course, prompted to install SilverLight for a "better" viewing experience, but, as we noted, other services will be integrated for future slide show sharing.

The "Smart Art" clip art isn't exclusive to PowerPoint, but makes the most sense here, as it's meant to help you organize your thoughts visually, rather than find cute illustrations of cowboys and smiley faces:

Streaming video embedding, once a semi-tricky prospect, is now as easy as embedding on a web page. Paste in the embed code you get from just about any Flash-based video site, and it'll play in PowerPoint:


We're not professional-level Office users, but we did find a whole lot new and intriguing in Office 2010. The folks at I'm Just Being Manan and PC World have done their own digging and screen sharing, too.

What's your favorite feature from the Office 2010 beta? Share your finds, and paste screenshots, in the comments.




EU Closes the Books on Qualcomm Probe [GigaOM]


Qualcomm has put another regulatory challenge in the rear-view mirror as the European Commission dropped a 4-year antitrust investigation into the chip maker. The European Union’s regulatory arm said that while it “has not as yet reached formal conclusions” regarding Qualcomm’s pricing policies, the six companies that spurred the investigation had withdrawn their complaints or are planning to do so.

The move follows July’s decision by South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission to fine Qualcomm $208 million for anti-competitive behavior. The European investigation was launched after Broadcom, Ericsson, NEC, Nokia, Panasonic, and Texas Instruments alleged that Qualcomm’s licensing fees were excessive and its tactics anti-competitive. But Nokia last year agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion to use Qualcomm’s technology — settling its dispute with the company in the process — and Broadcom came to terms earlier this year in an $891 million, 4-year deal. So while Qualcomm continues to wrestle with the same economic challenges many of its fellow chip makers face, its regulatory problems are slowly disappearing.

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Small Business Owners Can Engage in Social Media as Customers Too

Editor’s note: This post is sponsored by PartnerUp.

Companies across the globe are hitting the social media scene hard in an effort to better reach their customers and deepen relationships. This kind of activity is visible on sites like Twitter or industry/company-specific online communities.

While many small business owners are acutely aware of this trend and are utilizing social media tools to reach their own customers, they rarely consider the fact that they are in fact customers themselves — customers who have a voice.

As a small business owner, you likely work with suppliers everyday. Chances are, many of the businesses that you work with desperately want your feedback and are harnessing the power of social media to get it. Just think… by engaging with the social media efforts of your suppliers, you can make a direct connection with them and in turn have immediate power over the way you are served.

Here are some examples:

- If you have a complaint over changes a supplier recently made to its payment structure, you can use social media to discuss the issue with other customers—all the while having the eyes and ears of the supplier you’re complaining about.

- If a supplier just launched an exciting new service that will benefit your business but you have a few ideas on how to make it even better, you can use social media to post these ideas and receive feedback from other customers.

- If you just received a new product from a supplier and are having trouble figuring out how to best utilize it and need help, you can use social media to post your questions and receive answers from other customers you’ve used it or the supplier itself.

There’s no doubt that your primary goal in social media engagement should be to connect with your own customers, but isn’t it also beneficial to connect with the businesses that are working to serve you?


Reports Surface of Faulty Core i7 iMacs [TheAppleBlog]


Shattered glass. Flickering displays. Non-booting machines. So-goes the list of maladies affecting Apple’s brand new quad-core 27” Core i7-based iMacs. Threads over on the Apple Support Discussion forums are alive with complaints and debate by affected users.

After hitting the power button, some owners hear the startup chime, but don’t get to boot successfully to their desktop. One particularly high-profile customer was Engadget, who took delivery of a machine that simply refused to boot. They didn’t even get as far as the teasing chime.

A video has surfaced on YouTube of a machine that does boot, but its display ducks out and “flashes” every so often, rendering it impractical (and uncomfortable) for any kind of actual use.

Several customers are reporting shattered or cracked glass on the bottom left hand corner of the iMac’s huge display.

There’s currently no official comment on the matter by Apple (I doubt there ever will be) but the favourite explanation floating around the intertubes is that the packaging for these computers is somehow flawed, leading to damage (visible and otherwise) of their precious contents while in transit.

Gizmodo says:

What’s most plausible is that the packaging just wasn’t designed to handle the size and weight of the giant 27-inch iMac as it gets tossed around the cab of a FedEx truck. Apple has so far been extremely responsive and effective in making repairs and exchanges, but it’s still a discomfiting sign.

This is the second wave of bad news regarding Apple’s new 27″ iMac lineup. Late last month reports surfaced on the Apple Support discussion website of incredibly sluggish Flash playback, and claims of a bug causing hard drives to spin down and even of a faulty Snow Leopard installation. You can read those discussion for yourself here and here.

So, if you bought one of these machines as a holiday gift for someone, it’s probably a good idea to open the box and take it for a test-drive, while there’s still time to get a replacement from Apple should the need arise.

Have you been affected by one of these faults?



A Holiday Emergency Kit Keeps You Prepared for Anything [Emergency]

The holidays mean food, fun, and family—but they can also mean stress and frustration. Avoid small disasters by throwing together a holiday emergency kit to aid in rescuing your carpet, meal, or toilets from any unpleasant surprises.

Photo by xybermatthew

In holiday times such as Thanksgiving, the pressure and stress is on to create the best experience possible. It's also true that any problem that could arise often does, and being caught off guard can make it feel like the world is coming down around you. Home guru Bob Vila's weblog advises assembling a few household items that can save the day, or at least your sanity, when a few common holiday emergencies arrive. For example:

  • Hydrogen Peroxide. For wine stains on rugs or dresses. (It's Thanksgiving. Spills happen. Accept it and just be prepared to deal.) And this removal tip gets a five-star rating from readers.
  • CLR toilet and sink de-clogger. Let's face it, a mid-dinner toilet clog is worse than burning the turkey.

Check out the full list from BobVila.com which includes a few saviors when it comes to dull social interactions and alcohol. Do you have anything to add to the items above? What do you keep on hand—just in case? Sound off in the comments.




Google Taps TiVo for TV Ad Data [NewTeeVee]

Google said today that it will improve the precision of its TV Ads system through a new deal with TiVo that will give the search giant access to viewing data from 1.6 million TiVo DVRs. The “second-by-second” information will enable Google to learn which ads are being watched, which ones are being skipped, and when users are changing the channel. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The TiVo data will augment information that Google already collects as part of a partnership with DISH Network, for whom the company also sells local ad inventory. Combined with the data from 4 million Dish set-top boxes, the information from TiVo will give Google a clearer picture as to which ads are being watched by subscribers to its DVR service.

After about a year of testing, Google TV Ads was officially launched 18 months ago to make the TV ad-buying process easier for business that don’t have huge marketing budgets, allowing them to create and upload ads into the auction-based system. Because Google’s TV Ads auction system is based on impressions rather than on pure reach, advertisers only pay when their ads have been viewed.

In addition to its deal with DISH, Google agreed to a “multi-year advertising, research and technology partnership” with NBC last year that made ad inventory available on cable networks such as CNBC, MSNBC, Oxygen and SyFy. Google is also working with the Hallmark Channel, the Game Show Network, Outdoor Channel, Ovation TV and Sky Angel, among others. Altogether, Google says it’s served more than 100 billion ad impressions through the system.

For TiVo, the deal comes at a time when it’s hemorrhaging customers and struggling to maintain its hardware-based DVR business. It’s subsequently trying to leverage its IP, software platform and research data in an effort to add additional revenue streams.

The company was recently awarded $200 million in a patent suit with Dish and EchoStar, and is also going after Verizon and AT&T for DVR patent infringement. Meanwhile, it’s struck licensing deals with Best Buy and Comcast to port its software into their connected devices and set-top boxes. It also sells data gleaned from its users as part of its Stop/Watch and Power/Watch ratings services.

The question remains whether these efforts can offset the loss of customers and revenue that TiVo is seeing in its core business. But we should know more soon enough, as the company reports earnings after market close this afternoon.

Google has fought hard to gain traction in the TV ad space. It will be interesting to see if the addition of more set-top data will translate into more deals for its TV Ads service.



A Tale of Two Hard Drives: Apple’s Secret Weapon? [TheAppleBlog]


In my day job, helping people with computers, I see many failed hard drives. If the computer is under warranty, I’ll always try to get the system manufacturer to replace the drive rather than order a new one for the customer. Recently, two clients came in, one right after another, and it really illustrated the differences between Apple and everyone else when it comes to hardware support. “Lauren” bought a sub-$1000 PC, but didn’t consider the support costs and time involved. If she had, she might have second thoughts about her decision to buy a PC.

The Dell Experience

Client #1 comes in because Windows won’t boot. The minute she turns on the PC, I know the problem. It’s that horrible high-pitched clicking noise that is worse than nails on a chalkboard to any technician. It’s obvious the drive has failed and the solution is to replace it. I booted off a test CD and verified the hard drive failure.

Fortunately the computer is under warranty. No big deal, Dell should replace the hard drive. I call Dell. After 20 minutes on hold, I’m not getting a live person, so I try the online chat and wait and wait and wait. Eventually, someone comes online. The first obstacle is that the client is a student and the father bought the computer via his work. Dell will not assist us until we tell them the owner of the computer and the shipping address. Arrrgh. So we play a multiple choice game for about 20 minutes trying to find out which name and address it was under.

We are now at about an hour. When we get the “correct” answer to the shipping address, our tech then begins to help us. I explain that the hard drive is making a high pitched clicking noise and the system doesn’t show a hard drive. First, the tech wants me to try a special diagnostic that is preformed off the hard drive. Of course the hard drive is dead, so we go back and forth with that I must be doing something wrong. His English was so shaky that I often didn’t understand his questions. (How does one answer ”Is this issue not facing now?”) Eventually the tech believes I’m doing it right and then asks me to boot off a CD that come with the system, which of course the client doesn’t have. We’re supposed to look for the disks and contact them again, but I refused. The client didn’t know where the disk is and we needed this resolved.

Eventually, the support person realizes we don’t have the disk, but he now wants us to open up the computer and reset everything. We’re now at the 1.5 hour mark. Eventually the agent agrees the hard drive should be replaced. Thank you! However, they must ship the hard drive to one of their contracted field techs per her warranty. Actually, that’s lucky; sometimes you have to ship the computer back to Dell. Her warranty was “upgraded” to include on-site repair. The tech will then contact her to set a time to install the hard drive. Three days later, there was no contact from the tech, no hard drive. Fortunately, I gave her a loaner and got her up and running.

We tried calling Dell to no avail. There was no record of the request for the hard drive. Eventually we contacted Dell “Unresolved Issues” and the hard drive was shipped. Total time on the phone: three hours. Delay in hard drive replacement: almost two weeks. The time involved on the chat I assure you is very typical and it’s not just Dell. I see it with HP/Compaqs as well. Service is simply not part of their deal.

The Apple Experience

My next client had a Macbook. I could hear it was the same problem immediately. Ironically, it was the same brand and size of hard drive as was in the Dell. I entered her serial number on Apple’s support web site, and it showed the computer was still under warranty. We then set up a “Speak to an Apple Expert” call-back for about 20 minutes later. On the dot, the technician called. I explained the loud noise and told the tech I booted off the Leopard DVD and the hard drive showed errors. He agreed to ship a new hard drive the next day. Total phone time was less than five minutes and it was 30 minutes from problem diagnosis to closure and less than 24 hours from the time I called until the new hard drive arrived on her doorstop. Again, this interaction was very typical.

For the sake of argument, let’s say these clients didn’t use a consultant to solve their problem. The Mac client could have made an appointment with a genius if an Apple store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider for the repair. The PC client has no physical store she could go to unless she bought that PC at a store that also offered warranty repair.

The phrase “Penny wise and Pound foolish” comes to mind. Did the first client end up saving money because she bought a PC?



Adconion Media Group buys Joost assets, ending a long saga

adconionContent network firm Adconion Media Group said today that it has acquired the assets of Joost, the online video service founded by Skype founders and the subject of a lawsuit drama this fall.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. The company was founded by Skype and Kazaa founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. Adconion, which has 300 million monthly unique users, said it will pursue Joost’s new strategy, announced in June, of focusing on providing white-label video platforms for other companies. Among Adconion’s deals: it will provide the exclusive display and video ad-serving solution for European firm Goldbach Media Group.

Joost caused a stir earlier this summer when chief executive Mike Volpi left the company to join Index Ventures. Then Friis and Zennstrom sued Volpi, Index, and eBay for engaging in a deal that allegedly took the technology that belonged to the Skype founders. They also sued Volpi for using insider information. eBay eventually sold Skype to an investor group, but only after Index Ventures was jettisoned from the group.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Adconion said it will continue to operate the Joost web site. Meanwhile, the Adconion.TV division will add Joost videos to its library of professionally-produced video content used by 2,000 publishers. Adconion inserts pre-roll video ads into those videos. Prior to the Joost deal, Adconion was serving 80 million video streams per day to those 2,000 web sites. We covered the company when it made another acquisition and raised money.

In a statement, Adconion CEO Tyler Moebius said, “Video is a top priority for our company, and through the acquisition of the Joost assets we will be able to provide advertisers, content owners and website publishers with an end-to-end global video platform and cross-channel video and display ad-serving solution.”


What Apps Should Twitter Acquire?

According to a statement made today by Twitter's co-founder Biz Stone, the company is interested in acquiring more companies to expand upon their current core set of features. At a news conference held in Tel Aviv, Stone was quoted as saying that acquisitions are "something we are definitely interested in. We made an acquisition last year that turned out to be an outstandingly good decision."

The acquisition he's referring to is Twitter's purchase of Summize, a real-time search engine that has now become search.twitter.com. Since that original purchase in summer of 2008, Twitter has made no other moves or indications that they were interested in buying other companies, seemingly more focused on quashing bugs, acquiring funding, and partnering with major search engines like Bing and Google. Meanwhile, the ecosystem of Twitter applications exploded, and now includes hundreds if not thousands of apps powered by or integrated with Twitter's service. But which of these apps deserve to become an official company offering?

Sponsor

Apparently, there may be a few apps that have already caught Twitter's interest. Stone told the crowd in Tel Aviv that "our attention is grabbed by some of these developers," and the company plans to "take a hard look at them."

What Companies are on Twitter's Radar?

Which applications do you suppose have crossed Twitter's radar? Some insight may be found on Twitter's "goodies" page where the company lists a handful of apps, widgets, and website buttons which Twitter users can browse through and download. Here, desktop Twitter clients like Twhirl and TweetDeck are promoted alongside mobile applications like Twitterific and PocketTweets.

However, the complete app list seems a little out-of-date when compared with what today's Twitterers are actually using, especially on the mobile front. According to a study from August of this year, iPhone apps like Tweetie and TwitterFon are just as popular as Twitterific - if not more so - as is the Blackberry app TwitterBerry. And the one-time popular Twitter app Twhirl, an Adobe AIR desktop client, has long since been overshadowed by the more robust TweetDeck and similar web counterparts.

Among those web counterparts are the new tools from Seesmic and Brizzly, both of which have been garnering attention as of late, especially when they each introduced support for Twitter's new "lists" feature earlier this month.

But client applications are only a small slice of the entire Twitter app universe. There are also games, blog and email plugins, utilities, analytics and search tools, shopping services, URL shortners, and so much more. Plus, there are sites that attempt to aggregate the chaos into some sort of meaningful structure, like the oneforty.com website, for example, often called Twitter's unofficial "app store" by its fans.

While we could only guess at which applications Twitter would want to adopt as their "official" clients or services, a good guess may involve some of the media sharing tools that have been popularized by a number of Twitter users wanting to share photos and videos in addition to plain text. TwitPic comes to mind as one of the top photo-sharing clients and TwitVid or Tweetube may be considered for video shares. These sorts of acquisitions seem to fit better with Twitter's goal of expanding upon the core functionality of Twitter. Where before, the company was content with its simple 140-character updates, recent changes, including the integration of the URL-shortening service bit.ly, Twitter lists, geolocation features, and a new implementation of the "re-tweet" structure seem to hint at Twitter's desire to add more layers of complexity to the once-basic service.

More Acquisitions Could be Too Much of a Good Thing

However, Twitter needs to be careful not to add too much. Up until now, the service has grown organically, with a lot of its features and conventions implemented by its own user and developer community outside of the official channels. Bog it down too much with extra add-ons and new behaviors, and Twitter may scare off potential new users who already often struggle with figuring out what to do with the service in its simple form. Plus, longtime Twitterers may also be put-off to see their favorite clients or services ignored in favor of whatever companies Twitter chooses to bless through an acquisition deal. And once acquired, competing companies could wither and fade away, unable to compete, eventually leading their developers to cut their losses and move on.

What Should Twitter Acquire?

Earlier this year, we listed ten companies that Twitter should acquire next. Not surprisingly, some of the companies or their features have already been implemented, including bit.ly's URL shortening service and the geo-location feature we mentioned. Meanwhile, another app on the list, FriendFeed, has already been acquired by Facebook, leaving our original list much shorter and now in need of an update.

Given Twitter's intentions to start a shopping spree sometime in the near future, we wonder what apps will make their list. We also wonder if more Twitter acquisitions will end up being a good thing for the company and the community as a whole, or if it will end up stifling competition in what is now a thriving ecosystem of innovation and development. We hope Twitter proceeds cautiously and wisely in this area - any major unwelcome changes have the ability to alienate the very community that made Twitter what it is today.

Discuss


Fring Adds Video Skype Calls on Symbian Phones [jkOnTheRun]

It’s difficult for me to imagine, but I’ve been using Skype for five years now. It’s a must-have tool for me and it became extremely valuable when it moved beyond simple voice calls and gained video capability. It’s about to get even better for many users thanks to fring. The latest version of fring for Symbian devices now integrates video calling over Skype using the integrated camera on your handset. Supported devices include the Nokia X6, N97 mini, N97, 5800, N95, N95 8G and N82 devices.

The folks at fring tell me that this is just the first round of supported devices and that many others will be added — even the iPhone. That one stumps me a bit due to the lack of a front-facing camera. On an iPhone, you’ll be able to see your caller just fine, but he or she will be looking away from you, if that makes any sense. I expect that it would really be a one-way video channel in that case.

Here’s a demo to give you an idea of what it looks like with two-way video.



Smart Grid Stimulus: Chu Expected to Announce $600M in Demo Project Winners [Earth2Tech]

Updated: According to the trade group the GridWise Alliance, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is expected to announce another $600 million in smart grid stimulus funds today. Those are the funds for smart grid demonstration projects — which will enable utilities to test out next-generation digital power grid technology — and they follow the $3.4 billion in smart grid stimulus investment funds announced last month. With this funding the stimulus package will have allocated $4 billion to smart grid technology.

GridWise Alliance’s President Katherine Hamilton tells us that Chu is expected to make the announcement around 12:40PM (EST) today in Ohio, so we can probably expect that the winners of the funds will be posted on the DOE web site around that time. Given the media event will occur where AEP Ohio is based, it could indicate that the utility received a grant, notes Smart Grid Today in an interview with Hamilton. AEP Ohio requested $75 million for a demo project that would include 110,000 smart meters, distribution tech, plug-in hybrid car tech and consumer gear. We’ll be following this closely. More when we know more.

Update: The official DOE announcement says that Chu will be joined by Senator Sherrod Brown, Lt. Gov Lee Fisher, and US Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, and the group will tour the AEP Dolan Technology Center.



In Q3, Uncle Sam was the green IT king maker. Read the, "Green IT Q3 Wrap-up."

What Our Compute Demand Looks Like [GigaOM]


IMPORTANT POINTS Demand for compute power is helping the co-location business despite the recession Half of the colo sites launched since the start of 2008 were more than 50 percent full by mid-year 2009 Expanding co-location sites drives more power consumption

Facebook, Twitter, software as a service, cloud computing and countless web-based applications are all driving the demand for compute power and with it, the demand for…well, computers. The servers running our web applications, crunching numbers or serving up ads aren’t all in company-owned data centers — many are in co-location facilities, which have grown by 1.66 million square feet of floor space since 2008, an increase of 9 percent, according to a report out this morning from Telegeography research. Building and operating a data center is a great proposition right now. Half of the co-location sites launched since the start of 2008 were more than 50 percent full by the middle of this year, despite the recession. London, San Francisco and Los Angeles reported fill rates of more than 80 percent, said Telegeography, a level of demand that isn’t expected to fall anytime soon, especially given the rush by many vendors to build out clouds.

Some companies build them in their own data centers but others host them in co-location facilities. Sun’s cloud is based in Switch Communications’ new facility in Las Vegas, for example.

But what’s worrisome about this demand is how it ties back to energy consumption. Demand for more space indicates that more computers need a home, but the industry is really good at cramming more performance into smaller machines and then stuffing the smaller servers into the same-sized space. It’s less good at making sure those more powerful machines consume an equal or smaller amount of energy, although strides are being made when it comes to improving energy efficiency in the data center (GigaOM Pro, subscription required). The rising demand for real estate for co-location space gives a general idea of how much more compute power we’re using (a lot more than the square feet indicate) and paints a scary future for the power consumption side of the equation.

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Joost Acquired By Online Ad Firm Adconion [NewTeeVee]

After three years of trying — and failing — to make a business out of running an online video portal, Joost has been acquired by advertising and branded entertainment firm Adconion Media Group.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the acquisition will come as little surprise to anyone that’s followed the company’s downward trajectory after launching in 2007 with more than $45 million in funding from heavy hitters such as Sequoia Capital, Index Ventures, Viacom, CBS and Chinese tycoon Li Ka-shing.

The company was rumored to be up for sale back in the spring, with Time Warner Cable topping the list of potential acquirers. From an operational standpoint, Joost has been badly hobbled since June, when it announced that it had laid off most of its staff and was trying to reshape itself as a white-label video management platform.

In its press release, Adconion said that it intends to continue pursuing the video management business, and that the addition of the Joost assets will further “solidify its position in the online video and content syndication market.” Adconion’s business is all about mass distribution of ads and branded entertainment, so having a video management platform like Joost makes sense. The company also said it would continue to operate Joost.com, both as a place to serve its own ads, and as a showcase for branded entertainment content that it produces.



Star Wars: Trench Run Brings the Force to the iPhone [TheAppleBlog]


Star Wars: Trench Run is finally here and this thing is utterly beautiful, packed with authentic audio and video from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and boasting impressive gameplay visuals.

Trench Run is based around the Rebel assault on the Death Star at the end of George Lucas’ classic 1977 movie. Piloting an X-Wing fighter, you begin the game high above the Empire’s dreaded Death Star in an aggressive dogfight with TIE fighters. Once you’ve dispatched them, it’s time to descend into that famous trench and make your approach to a small (two meter wide) thermal exhaust port, which, if memory serves, you’ll find right below the main port.

Oh, and, the shaft is ray-shielded so you’ll need to hit it directly with proton torpedoes. The doubting Dodonna’s amongst you might think that impossible — even for an iPhone — but, y’know, womp rats, T-16’s and all that.

The game starts with a fierce dogfight with TIE fighters above the dreaded Death Star…

…and culminates in the famous trench run.

Trench Run uses the iPhone’s accelerometers to great effect. I’m usually wary of extensive tilt-control. That might be because I’m just rubbish, or because developers sometimes use accelerometers unnecessarily. In Trench Run it’s not too bad, and there are options for adjusting pitch and sensitivity.

The on-screen controls are cleverly implemented; there are no virtual buttons cluttering the screen. Instead, the two main controls (Force Power for slow motion and, of course, Fire) are activated by pressing the left or right hand sides of the screen. Easy.

The few controls are activated by hitting large areas of the screen

Video sequences of the X-Wings approaching the Death Star (S-foils in attack position, naturally) and the spectacular explosion of the Death Star itself (the 1997 bang, by the way) really help set the scene. But it’s John Williams’ breathtaking score that puts you slap bang in the middle of the action.

All Wings report in…

One quibble; the difficulty levels are a bit… odd. The easiest level was selected for me at installation so I bumped it up a level (usually labeled “Normal” but Trench Run goes directly from Easy to Medium.) So, with Medium selected, I dove in… and failed. I’m normally good at this type of thing but after 15 minutes of failure I was starting to hate this game. So I tried again on “Easy.”

10 minutes later I had destroyed the Death Star and defeated the evil Empire. I had finished the whole game. See, once the dogfight’s over, the actual trench run is appallingly easy. THQ Wireless say the game has “tons of replay value” but when the difference between “Easy” and “Medium” is actually “Pointless” and “Practically Impossible” I don’t see myself playing this again any time soon. (Now in your best Yoda voice, croak “That is why you fail.”)

THQ also says there are hidden features in the game. You could always stretch out with your fingers and ask Google what they are, but that’s probably the path to the Dark Side.

If you love Star Wars, this is a game you should own. I doubt it’s worth the $4.99 asking price, but hey, there’s profit to be had, and Lucasfilm ain’t finished beating this Tauntaun just yet.

Star Wars Trench Run is out now. Go buy it – and may the Force be with you.



Roboni-I: The wandering robot that lets you play video games

tom dusenberrySouth African firm Robonica hopes to conquer the hearts of gift givers this holiday season with hybrid entertainment that combines the interactivity of video games and the physical fun of toy robots.

The company’s first product, Roboni-I, is a robot with two wheels that wanders around on its own. Since you can play games with it and engage in robot activities on the web, Tom Dusenberry, head of North America for Robonica, refers to the launch of Roboni-I as the “rise of robotic gaming.”

Combining toys and the web to produce hybrid entertainment is a hot trend. Webkinz dipped its toes in this water by combining plush toys with codes that could unlock fun activities on its web site. Going a step further in interactivity, Jordan Weisman’s startup, Smith & Tinker, launched its Nanovor fighting toys along with a game-focused web site this fall. And Will Wright, creator of The Sims, started his own company to work on entertainment that bridged both the game and toy worlds. Topps has also introduced baseball cards that show 3-D images on a computer screen when you hold them in front of a webcam. And Mattel is launching new toys based on James Cameron’s movie Avatar that do the same thing. Both use technology from Total Immersion.

Dusenberry, the former chief of Hasbro Interactive, says that the company built a lot of smarts into the robot, which has four microprocessors and 16 sensors, as well as the software that makes it versatile. The robot can detect radio frequency identification tags (RFID). It also comes with a remote control you can use to control it and drive it around. And you can also log into a web site where you can play games, explore the surface of a virtual moon, socialize with other players, and make changes to your robot that you can download to it.

robonicaRobonica was founded in 2005 and has 67 employees, including seven at its U.S. division in Boston. It received multiple millions of dollars of funding from the South African government’s innovation fund and its development fund. Dusenberry joined the company in 2008.

The “toy” isn’t cheap at $249.99. But it landed on the cover of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, which caters to wealthy folks who love gadgets. It’s also on sale at Toys ‘R Us, Fry’s Electronics, Amazon.com, Sears, and Robot Shop. It competes against toy robots made by WowWee, which makes smart robot toys that aren’t really programmable. But WowWee’s robots, such as Robo Sapiens, are selling in the millions now.

Those kinds of robots suffer from what Dusenberry calls “day after Christmas syndrome,” which means people get bored with them fast. But Dusenberry says Robonica hopes to keep players interested by adding more games for the players to engage in with their robots. Seven games are in the works, including ones with multiplayer play. One game, Colors, is a race where you try to drive the robot over colored objects as fast as possible. You can actually use the remote control to drive a virtual Roboni-I on a computer in the web-based game (pictured below).

robonica 2“It’s similar to the Xbox, since we have both hardware and software,” Dusenberry said. “The idea is to fuse the best of interactive entertainment with consumer robots.”

So far, Dusenberry says the robots are selling well. Parents are buying them, as are engineers and hobbyists. The latter group has been attracted to the Lego Mindstorms robots, which snap together and are easy to program. Robonica has an object-based programming model that is easy to learn as well.

Robonica plans to sell accessories as well, so players can customize their robots. The next major upgrade for the robot will come in 2010. While the robot is a high-end gift now, Dusenberry says he hopes to hit more of the mass market and international markets in the next year or so.