VinPass: Wine Lovers Can Now Check In

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Today a new social game called VinPass launched. It’s an application for wine lovers to "share wine reviews, win badges and earn real rewards." VinPass uses the ‘check-in’ paradigm popularized by location-based social network Foursquare and extended into other areas by the likes of GetGlue (entertainment) and Foodspotting (food). In a nutshell, you check-in to tasting a certain type of wine. If you write a review, you earn points and eventually unlock badges. VinPass promises that these badges have "tangible value" – including coupons on e-commerce stores, MP3s, ringtones, event tickets and more.

Foursquare is still a relatively geeky app, offering little in the way of tangible value in its badges. But focusing on wine should open up plenty of possibilities to offer value for VinPass.


VinPass has smartly partnered with the French wine industry to launch its social game. The lead sponsor is Wines of France/French Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, which has sponsored 10 badges representing different regions and wines of France – for example “Life Gets Better with Bordeaux” and “Burgundy: 1000 Years of Heritage."

You can ‘play’ VinPass using any one of five web apps (WineLog, Adegga) and mobile apps (Drync, Hello Vino, iRhône). I tested out WineLog and Drync, adding a wine tasting to both. Only Drync gave me a VinPass badge, the ‘Welcome to VinPass!’ pass. I couldn’t see any sign of VinPass on WineLog.

Both however had good Twitter and Facebook integration, an essential component of any new app these days.

It remains to be seen how many "tangible" rewards I earn from VinPass, but I love the idea that I can do this. I am a fan of specialist communities, such as Goodreads for books and FoodSpotting for food. So adding a specialist wine tasting and check-in app suits me to a tee.

Plus I discovered a great new mobile phone app in the form of Drync (also the best app name I’ve come across lately!).


Airbnb’s Soaring Valuation Should Be A Wake-Up Call To Independent Hotels

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Some months ago, before the company was worth a billion dollars, I shared some thoughts on Airbnb.

Specifically, in what some mischaracterized as an attack on the company, I criticized those whose worship at the altar of Disruption is so unconditional that they don’t think Disruptive companies should be hidebound by the law. If Disruptive entrepreneurs are so clever, I argued, they’ll find a way to either work within the law, or to lobby to have it changed, rather than simply flouting it.

In the case of Airbnb, the law being challenged was New York’s S68730-B/ A1008-B (aka the “illegal hotel bill”); a proposed piece of legislation designed to prevent slum landlords from scamming tourists into staying in hastily converted deathtrap SROs. Or, as the Disruption cultists saw it,a desperate attempt by the hotel lobby to drive the mighty Airbnb out of business.

Two recent developments have finally given lie to that delusion. The first is Airbnb’s recent boast that on any given night it books more rooms than the largest hotel in NYC. That impressive sounding claim actually puts into perspective the threat that Airbnb currently presents to traditional hotels. The largest hotel in New York City is the Hilton, with 1,980 rooms – meaning by their own reckoning Airbnb is Disrupting just 0.03% of total New York hotel rooms. This in the city with the highest average room rates in America.

Secondly, as CEO Brian Chesky admitted on stage at TC Disrupt, conversations with New York lawmakers soon revealed that the city had no idea Airbnb even existed, let alone that the proposed law – which was genuinely designed to clamp down on criminals – would negatively impact them.

Realising that the City of New York wasn’t trying to put him out of business, Chesky did some lobbying of his own. The result: legislators have proposed an alternative bill that suits everyone, Airbnb continues to go from strength to billion dollar valuation and Chesky isn’t going to jail any time soon. (By comparison, sharing the stage at Disrupt was Uber‘s Travis Kalanick who boasted that he’s currently facing 20,000 years in jail for his bold defiance of the law. Total number of Uber cabs available to NY Disrupt attendees: 0)

As a permanent hotel dweller, and the son of two hoteliers, I’m conflicted by Airbnb’s modest but undeniably growing impact on the hotel industry. On the one hand, anything that makes it easier for people to pack their entire lives into carry-on luggage and city hop their way around the world – which Airbnb demonstrably does – is a good thing. On the other hand, I love hotels and I want the industry to survive and thrive.

What doesn’t help resolve my conflict is how stubbornly my beloved hotel industry refuses to embrace the same Disruptive ethos that has driven Airbnb to its soaring valuation.

For example, it’s ridiculous that there’s no Airbnb for independent hotel rooms, especially given that smaller hotels have the most to lose from customers shifting to private room rentals. Such a site could foster the same feeling of community as is found on Airbnb while also facilitating better price elasticity: publishing a top line rate, but allowing for private negotiation when it comes to long stays, block bookings or repeat stays. It would also provide an alternative for travellers who want a more homey alternative to soulless corporate hotels but still prefer the peace of mind that comes from a professionally run establishment. (For all of Airbnb’s boasts that no-one has been murdered in one of their rooms, there are still a hell of a lot of freaks out there)

Broadening the disruptive scope still further, I also like the idea of a Zipcar-for-hotels where, for a fixed monthly fee, frequent hotel stayers have access to a set number of hotel nights in whatever city they happen to be visiting. Say, $200 a month for three nights in any city, rising to two or three thousand dollars a month which would allow you to live permanently in any – or all – of the site’s network of independent hotels. To be admitted in to the network, independent hotels would have to agree to honor a fixed rate across the month and to set aside a fixed number of rooms for members (to ensure there was always sufficient inventory). Equally importantly, they would have to offer certain features as standard: free wifi, no resort fees, late check out and flexible cancellation policies, for starters.

Obviously, in such simplistic form, each of those ideas probably deserves to live and die on the back of a paper napkin; there’s a reason why I’m not an entrepreneur any more. But my broader point stands: it’s inevitable that an equilibrium will eventually be found between sites like Airbnb and traditional hotels — that point will be reached far more quickly, though, once hoteliers start to take lessons from their Disruptive rivals.

Google has 99 problems, but PayPal’s lawsuit ain’t one

This post is by Tom Cheredar from VentureBeat

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Google WalletDuring a live demo at the D9 event Tuesday, Google said it views its new Wallet service as entirely different from the new point of sale devices PayPal is reportedly developing with major retailers.

Google is probably hoping the court will feel the same way when reviewing the recent lawsuit filed by PayPal’s parent company Ebay against the search engine giant for allegedly stealing trade secrets about mobile transactions.

The lawsuit was filed just as Google revealed its plans for Google Wallet, which allows consumers to use their Android smartphones for transactions and coupons.

When All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher — noting the lawsuit — asked how Google Wallet was like PayPal’s efforts, Google executive Stephanie Tilenius explained that Google Wallet is “integrating at the point of sale.”

“We’re not actually distributing new point of sale devices… (like credit card machines)”, she said, which is what PayPal has indicated it was working on in regards to mobile transactions.

Instead of swiping a credit card’s magnetic strip for transactions, Google Wallet uses a smartphone’s NFC chip, which was described as a unique identifier that can be assigned to credit accounts.

Google also stated that it would monetize Google Wallet through its Groupon-like service, Google Offers, which allows vendors to offer special deals to consumers.

Since Google isn’t directly profiting from its Wallet platform or creating point of sale devices for store vendors, the company doesn’t seem worried about the outcome of a legal battle — even if some of its top executives violated contract agreements with previous employers.

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On iCloud, Baby

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Apple did something really odd today. Something they almost never do. They pre-announced the agenda for the keynote of one of their events, WWDC, taking place next week. Yes, they probably did this in an attempt to set expectations — read: no new iPhone coming — but in doing so, they also managed to do something even stranger: they outed a completely unreleased product. iCloud.

So what is iCloud? Apple only states that it’s their “upcoming cloud services offering.” Of course, a number of other details have been rumored for months now. I figured it was a good time to break down what we know — or what we think we know about what’s coming. Erick did a bit earlier. I’ll do a bit more.

Ultra Mega Datacenter

The talk about Apple’s cloud strategy really began when it was revealed that they were building a massive datacenter in North Carolina about a year ago. That datacenter only recently was completed and brought online. And it’s thought that Apple poured over $1 billion into it.

At 500,000+ square feet, it’s something like five times larger than Apple’s other datacenters. And yes, it is believed to be the main hub for iCloud (though they are thought to be building another large datacenter in California as well).

iTunes in iCloud

The most talked-about aspect of iCloud is definitely the music portion of it. Because Apple has been negotiating with the music industry for months — and because rivals Google and Amazon have as well, a number of things have leaked about this service.

Right now, it’s believed that Apple either has three or all four of the major music labels signed up for a service that would allow Apple to stream music from their servers to users’ computers, iPhones, iPads, etc. Unlike Google and Amazon (which don’t have the label deals yet), Apple’s service will apparently allow a program (likely iTunes) to analyze a user’s computer and see what songs they have on their hard drive. Those songs would then be mirrored in iCloud — meaning no uploading would be required, a hugely important detail.

Another potentially huge detail is the talk that Apple’s deal with the labels may even include non-iTunes-purchased songs in users’ iCloud. This means that music obtained through other means (read: piracy) may still work with the system. That would be a big win for Apple, and one you can bet they’re paying for.

But not so fast. While the label deals are signed (or will be this week), Apple still apparently does not have the publisher deals signed. While generally less talked-about than the label deals, the publisher deals are still vital for a full-fledged service. Apple may be able to get these done this week as well, or it may take a little while longer. After years of being pushed over, it seems the publishers are negotiating harder than usual this time.

We had originally heard that Apple’s plan was to launch their cloud music service at their annual music event in the fall. But now that we know for sure that iCloud is being formally unveiled at WWDC, it seems likely that they will at least mention it there, and probably preview it. But that doesn’t mean it will be ready to go. In fact, it may require iOS 5 (I have no actual details here, just thinking out loud), which also isn’t due until late summer or early fall (though it too will be shown off at WWDC).

One other potential wildcard: what if Apple unveils a version of iTunes that works fully in the cloud — as in, in the web browser?

Rumors of has persisted for years. And while iTunes the desktop app will undoubtedly still be required for a long time to come for iDevices, iTunes in the cloud could offer some basic functionality, such a music-streaming over the browser.

iMovies in iCloud

Earlier today, CNet’s Greg Sandoval had a story about Apple’s hopes that the movie and television studios will also get on board with their iCloud offering. Unlike the music side of things, there hasn’t been much stated about this side of the coin. But it’s arguably even more important.

For years now, I’ve been complaining about the untenable model Apple has in place with regard to iTunes and films/television shows. The issue is that they take up way too much space on hard drives. If these services were as popular as Apple hoped, everyone would run out of hard drive space very quickly. There needs to be a cloud solution here.

Sandoval notes that while the sides are talking, and some are thought to be close, there are some big holdups. One is the idiotic HBO rule (where movies can’t be on sale online when they’re being aired on HBO). This rule is a hold-over from a different era and should be eliminated. But that’s Hollywood.

Another issue is, of course, piracy. Sandoval quotes Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes as talking favorably about a cloud solution for movie storage, but only with the Ultraviolet system in place. For those unaware, Ultraviolet is a new form of DRM that is backed by all the major studios and several device manufacturers and content sellers.

Unfortunately, Sandoval leaves out one key detail: the one company not on board with Ultraviolet is Apple. They have their own DRM system that they’d prefer to use. This is going to be a hold up — especially with studios like Time Warner. They have to know that if they back Apple and UV, it will undercut the latter. So do they try to force Apple on board with UV? That probably won’t work too well.

iDrive in iCloud

Presumably, iCloud will replace MobileMe (which itself replaced .Mac and iTools). At its most basic, MobileMe is storage space in the cloud (on Apple’s servers) and a syncing service. A main front-facing version of this is iDisk.

This system currently works fairly well, though for whatever reason, it’s not nearly as seamless as other third-party options like Dropbox. One can only assume that Apple will try to remedy that with iCloud. While there haven’t been many hints of it yet in OS X Lion, don’t be surprised if iCloud is tightly intertwined into the new OS. As well as iOS 5.

And expect the other MobileMe services (email, calendar, address book, Find my iPhone) to make the leap over the iCloud as well. And don’t be surprised if the most basic ones become free — more on that below.

And what about this: what if Apple offers developers some storage space on iCloud for their own apps? This could allow them to use Apple’s services rather than another third-party like Amazon S3. It’s pure speculation, but it doesn’t sound so crazy, does it?

Gallery in iCloud

One element that could get a larger revamp is the Gallery functionality currently baked into MobileMe. Some of it is good right now, but most of it is too clunky. While we know that Apple is going with deeper Twitter integration in iOS 5 to easily tweet out pictures (among other things), they likely want a better solution of their own as well. A revamped Gallery offering could do this.

One thing we’ve been hearing whispers about is that Apple is thinking about how best to share moments (pictures and images) with those people close to you. Think: Path instead of Flickr. Apple could do this via a new photo-sharing app, but it would probably be easier to bake it into the Photos app. There would then be a web-component to this, obviously.

Location in iCloud

Along those lines, another element that there have been whispers of for a while is a location service that Apple could offer. Think of it as “Find my iPhone” but for people. In other words, it could be something like “Find my child”, or “Find my friends“. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about this in recent weeks, but Apple was definitely working on something in this space. It could be a part of iCloud or it may not.

iWork in iCloud

Another aspect of Apple’s current cloud services that is often overlook is While it’s been out there for a while, Apple has never felt comfortable enough to truly tout it (it’s actually still in beta — very Google-like). Maybe now’s the time.

We just saw the iWork suite of apps come to the iPhone today, so perhaps Apple is gearing up for more of a push in this direction. If they want to keep up with Google Docs as well as continue to compete with Microsoft Office, Apple will have to do this sooner or later.

Voice in iCloud

Another aspect of iOS 5 that we’ve heard some talk about is the Siri integration. Apple acquired Siri last year, and is believed to have put that team to work on some new, cool services for iOS 5. Some of those may be based in iCloud, some may not. But one piece of underlying technology, created by Nuance, is definitely believed to be a part of iCloud.

Ever since the Siri acquisition, Apple is believed to have been in negotiations with Nuance on everything from an acquisition to a big-time partnership agreement. It’s now believed that the latter is in place and could be announced at WWDC.

From what we’ve heard, Nuance software is already running on Apple’s servers in their North Carolina datacenter. It’s believed that Apple could offer third-party developers access to this technology (which may or may not happen at WWDC). This could well be a vital part of the backend of Apple’s iCloud strategy.

Notifications in iCloud

We’ve also heard that the notification system in iOS is getting completely revamped in version 5. Apple famously took their time building their current Push Notification system — it took them about a year to complete it for iOS 3, months longer than anticipated.

The current system leaves a lot to be deserved and a revamping will be much welcomed. Presumably, this will now run over Apple’s new cloud infrastructure as well. A lot of developers would love more control over these notifications as well.

Game Center in iCloud

One element of iOS that has been very underwhelming has been Game Center, Apple’s iOS gaming network. Right now, it’s little more than a leaderboard with a clunky system to play games with other users. Might Apple use iCloud to turn the service into a more worthy Xbox Live and PSN competitor?

Activation/Syncing in iCloud

A wildcard for iCloud is if Apple will finally offer the ability to activate devices without tethering them to a computer? If that’s the case with iOS 5, it may also rely on Apple’s new server system. Also interesting could be app syncing, which you can do now, but it’s more of a manual process through the App Store. This would bring iOS closer in functionality to Android in this regard.

Pricing of iCloud

The big question about iCloud from a consumer perspective will be around pricing. Right now, MobileMe is $99 (or $149 for a family pack) for a year. For individuals, this includes 20 GB of space spread over all the various services. That won’t be nearly enough space if iCloud is to include music storage — let alone movie/TV storage.

But remember too that with mirroring, Apple isn’t actually storing many copies of individual songs for users. Instead they’ll have one (or a few) central repositories that users will access depending on their ownership rights. This will keep the costs lower for Apple and, in turn, for users.

Apple likes to keep things simple. Because of that, it seems unlikely that they’d offer a many-tiered plan for iCloud pricing. Instead, I suspect they may have two (or three) options. At the base may be a free option with Calendar, Address Book, Bookmarks, iBooks-sync, Find my iPhone, maybe even email. Above that may be a paid option at the $99 price point, or slightly higher (perhaps monthly?). This would presumably include iCloud music and perhaps more iDisk storage. Maybe they’d have another tier if they can get the movie/TV studios on board.

If Apple were to offer developers space in iCloud to use for their apps, this would likely have a different pricing structure, that could be tier-based.

Hey! You! Get off of iCloud

The fact that Apple is unveiling iCloud alongside major revamps to their two flagship OSes (iOS and OS X) suggests deep ties to those two OSes. And the fact that this is taking place at WWDC suggests that Apple will have plenty of new things for developers to work with in the cloud.

It still seems pretty likely at this point that all of this will just be a taste of what’s to come. This will be Apple previewing services for developers to begin to help guide them how to utilize these new tools. Don’t be surprised if new builds of both iOS and OS X Lion are released to developers with iCloud integration as well. Final releases for consumers would come later (in the summer for OS X and in the fall for iOS).

The fact that Steve Jobs will be on stage for the unveiling seems to speak well for the state of iCloud. There’s no way he lets Apple repeat the disaster that was the MobileMe roll-out. He must think iCloud is a winner right off the bat.

We’ll be there next week covering all of this live.

HP offers an enterprise dashboard for CIOs

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Hewlett-Packard is announcing software that information technology managers can use to get a dashboard-like view of their enterprise operations.

The new software combines 50 different key performance indicators (KPIs) that show chief information officers the state of their enterprise in terms of how computing power is being used. The effort is aimed at making it much easier for chief executives and chief information officers to get a real-time snapshot of the enterprise and make decisions more easily.

Marge Breya, general manager of HP Software, said that HP makes software that measures about 150 different KPIs that can be used to gauge the health of an enterprise. This first batch of 50 will bundle together four different software packages into a single suite. That software will be used to “operationalize, measure, and improve IT performance.”

“The problem is that a lot of companies spend 70 percent of their time on operations and just 30 percent on innovation,” Breya said. “We can turn that around with this kind of real-time information.”

The effort has been underway for about a year. But the program accelerated under Leo Apotheker, the new chief executive of HP who previously ran software giant SAP. Breya herself came over from SAP about six months ago.

Under Apotheker’s strategic plan announced a couple of months ago, HP is putting more emphasis on software and creating all of the building blocks necessary to run connected enterprises. HP’s software business is just 3 percent of sales. But it’s a $3.5 billion business, enough to rank HP as the sixth largest software company.

The goal of the HP IT Performance Suite is to give a comprehensive view of the enterprise, enabling what HP calls an “instant-on enterprise” that embeds technology in everything it does to serve customers, employees, partners and others with everything they need.

The suite includes the new HP IT Executive Scorecard, aimed at managing and improving the development of applications, infrastructure, operations management, security, information management and financial planning and administration.

The software lets executives do financial planning, analysis, project and portfolio management, and asset management. It can measure data in real time such as how much availability or reliability a data center has. Or it can measure how much energy is being consumed or how much payback a company is getting on capital expenses. Rivals include IBM.

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Angry Birds to invade TVs this summer with Roku

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angrybirdsYes, Angry Birds is now officially everywhere. Streaming video set-top box maker Roku has announced that it’s partnering with game maker Rovio to bring Angry Birds to televisions this summer.

The company says it will offer all three current Angry Birds games (the original, Rio and Seasons) on a new product this summer, launch an Angry Birds video channel, and sell merchandise for the series via its store channel. Roku is also looking at the partnership as the first step towards offering other popular casual games on its devices.

Roku is still being cagey about the casual gaming plans for its current and older generation players — the big problem there being that Roku’s current remote control isn’t suited to game playing at all. There also aren’t any details about the company’s next-generation player plans, but you can expect at least one model to come with some sort of gaming controller.

Rovio previously announced that it will be bringing Angry Birds to game consoles, and it’s already available on the PSP (in a version that’s also playable on the PS3). But Roku is promoting the fact that it’s delivering the first true Angry Birds TV experience.

We’ll be exploring the most disruptive game technologies and business models at our third annual GamesBeat 2011 conference, on July 12-13 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. It will focus on the disruptive trends in the mobile games market. GamesBeat is co-located with our MobileBeat 2011 conference this year. To register, click on this link. Sponsors can message us at To participate in our Who’s Got Game? contest for the best game startup, click on this link.

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Survey shows 37 percent of companies using the cloud

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About 37 percent of companies are already using cloud infrastructure, or web-connected data centers, to run their information technology operations, according to a survey by Advanced Micro Devices.

About 63 percent of those using the cloud store data in the cloud that is worth more than $250,000. And 63 percent said they are already seeing benefits from cloud deployments. Those results suggest that a lot of companies have begun to trust cloud technology, despite risks associated with cloud infrastructure occasionally going on the blink.

Some companies are refusing to deploy the cloud. For those, security and loss of data are the biggest concerns. Recent incidents such as Amazon’s big cloud outage and Sony’s PlayStation Network attack are likely to stoke those fears.

AMD conducted the survey to find out more about companies’ plans to deploy cloud technology, which relies upon servers that use AMD chips. The survey is based on interviews with 1,513 information technology professionals during the month of March about their plans for deploying cloud technology. Each company interviewed had more than 100 employees. The bulk were in the U.S., while the rest were in Europe and Asia.

About 75 percent of the companies that are using the cloud said they already had the expertise internally to deploy the cloud. But of those who are investigating it, only 39 percent have that capability. John Fruehe, director of product marketing for servers at AMD, said that suggests that IT technology providers need to do more to help companies implement the cloud.

About 92 percent of the participants said infrastructure was an important part of the rationale for deploying cloud applications. About 46 percent said that a strategic shift in information technology policy was a reason for moving to the cloud.


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ViewSonic Proves Honeycomb Runs on 7-Inch Tablets

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ViewSonic made good on a rumor from earlier this month and debuted its ViewPad 7x tablet running Google Honeycomb at Computex in Taipei. The 7-inch slate is powered by Android 3.0.1, the same version I used on Acer’s 10.1 tablet for my review. The company hasn’t yet announced a price point or launch date for the small tablet, but at least it has proven that Google’s tablet platform can officially run on smaller-screened devices.

The ViewPad 7x ought to be far easier to carry than larger Honeycomb tablets, as it weighs in at a scant 380 grams (0.83 pounds). The tablet runs on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 processor, includes HSPA+ integration for mobile broadband connectivity, a pair of cameras, support for 10 multi-touch points on the display and HDMI output. Essentially, the device offers nearly everything found in its larger peers, but in a more portable package.

Of course, that now includes Google’s tablet system, which Acer is reportedly having problems with for its A100, another 7-inch tablet that is expected to run Honeycomb. Last week, DigiTimes reported that Acer found software compatibility problems with Honeycomb on the smaller display of the A100. ViewSonic hasn’t mentioned any such issues, although a video from Engadget shows Viewsonic opted to use a third-party user interface for the ViewPad 7x.

Unfortunately, the ViewSonic product manager in the video demo didn’t delve too deeply into the ViewPad’s software, so it’s difficult to predict what the Honeycomb experience will be like on the device. However, even before the fourth quarter availability of Ice Cream Sandwich – the version of Android that will unify tablets and smartphones — Google has included ways for Honeycomb to handle different screen sizes. The Fragments API will allow an application to dynamically adjust how it displays information and windows based on a device screen size or resolution, for example.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d):

Google Offers is the business plan behind Google Wallet, and it’s live tomorrow

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google-walletWhile demonstrating their new mobile payment product Google Wallet today, and Google executives offered some insight into how it will make money.

Google executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt gave the demonstration with Google vice president Stephanie Tilenius at the D9 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Users should be able to tap their phones against compatible point-of-sale devices and use the app to make payments. They should be able to use the Wallet app to redeem offers from Google’s upcoming deals product Google Offers. Schmidt and Tilenius said the Offers will be the real moneymaker for Wallet — in fact, Google doesn’t plan to charge a fee for the app or for transactions.

They also emphasized that they see Google Wallet as something that isn’t limited to Google’s Android phones (although that’s where it works for now). Wallet is an app that should hypothetically work on other smartphones, Schmidt said: “There’s no intent to favor any one platform.” Does that mean we’ll see Wallet on iPhones, Windows Phones, and BlackBerrys anytime soon? We’ll see.

As for Google Offers, Tilenius also announced that the first deals will go live tomorrow. As previously announced, the program is starting in Portland, and it will expand to San Francisco and New York later this summer.

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Signs Of Twimg, Twitter’s Photo Hosting, In The Wild

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More details have emerged since we originally reported on Twitter’s photo-sharing service, namely that Apple’s new iOS 5 will probably come with a baked in Twitter image sharing feature.

A tipster informs us that one trigger happy Apple iOS designer has already released a test link into the wild (which we’ve seen but are not replicating here). The tipster clued us into a URL that appeared in his timeline, and then quickly disappeared.

While Twitter has hosted individual profile images on for quite some time, the /status_photos/ appendage is new, or relatively so.

A little Googling finds three more signs of this: A test account posting photos on March 30th, a Google cache of the protected Twitter office account posting the above photo on March 31st, this bizarre account posting photos yesterday and a Tweetmeme cache of Twitter designer Coleen Baik posting this photo from her account, with the original tweet nowhere to be found.

If what we’re hearing is correct and the service is just a simple uploader to S3, then the above /status_photos/ links seem to make sense. However we’re expecting that these will eventually get reformatted to something cleaner, like for example.

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Tapjoy says Apple’s ban on promos is killing mobile game profits

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Tapjoy said tonight that Apple’s ban a popular kind of promotion on the iPhone is hurting mobile game developers.

Tapjoy and Apple held talks on the ban in the past few weeks, but Apple’s hard-and-fast ban on “pay per install” incentive promotions remains in place. Apple was concerned that game developers were paying Tapjoy to rocket their games to the top 25 ranks of the App Store, unfairly gaming the system and hurting the quality of the game rankings.

But Tapjoy said such incentivized promotions are common and that their use has enabled game developers to create a predictable and stable business on a platform that has a lot of competition.

How Google won’t become boring (according to Eric Schmidt)

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google foundersGoogle’s position as the hottest company on the Web seems to have been usurped by upstarts like Facebook and Twitter, but the company’s executive chairman and former chief executive Eric Schmidt said today that Google is taking steps to make sure it doesn’t become obsolete.

Schmidt, who was speaking at the D9 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., acknowledged that there’s a standard high-tech narrative — two people start a company, it’s a success, they become rich, the executives quit, ultimately its growth flattens out, and it becomes “quite boring.” Google is fighting against that in a number of ways, he said. First, its executives are open about that danger and talk about how to avoid it. (Co-founder and current CEO Larry Page is reportedly trying to return the company to a startup mentality.)

More broadly, he said Google’s strategy is to “continue to innovate new businesses at scale”. Pointing to Google’s past pattern of continually beating the expectations of Wall Street analysts, Schmidt said that happened because the company’s core business (search and search advertising) remained strong while its “new businesses were going twice as fast.” The Internet makes it possible for a company to launch something new and have it take off very quickly “if you get the product right.” For example, Schmidt said that Google’s display advertising business is growing fast alongside the company’s traditional strength in text ads.

The question of obsolescence seems like a relevant issue for Schmidt, since he stepped down as CEO earlier this year and has reportedly been considered other jobs. Is he getting bored with Google himself? He replied that he plans to stick around at Google for “a long time.” After all, he said, if you look at the most interesting shifts in the world right now, “It’s all about information.”



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Eric Schmidt’s Gang Of Four: Google, Apple, Amazon, And Facebook

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Every technology era has its four horsemen driving growth and innovation. In the 1990s it was Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and Dell. Today, there is anew “gang of four,” as Google chairman Eric Schmidt puts it. They are Google (of course), Apple, Amazon and Facebook, and they are behind the consumer revolution on the Internet today. Not only are all four companies “growing at incredible rates.”

Schmidt notes that all four are together worth about half a trillion dollars, they are all platforms in their own right, and they are all basically spreading their power where before there was only one company who had such influence: namely, Microsoft. But “Microsoft is not driving the consumer revolution,” Schmidt notes (although they still do well in the enterprise).

The Gang of Four compete and cooperate in various ways, but each has its own strengths: search (Google), social (Facebook), commerce (Amazon), and devices (Apple). Although relations with Apple are not as cozy as when he sat on its board, he notes that Google just renewed it maps and search partnership with Apple.

As far as Facebook is concerned, Schmidt says “Facebook has done a number of things that I admire. For years I’ve said we’ve missed something, which is identity.” Facebook is the first generally available identity system that works across much of the Web. Schmidt argues that “the industry would benefit from having an alternative.” Obviously, he wants Google to be that alternative. Also he tries to position Google’s upcoming social features as ways “to make our own products better” rather than trying to go straight up against Facebook. Schmidt made his remarks at the D9 conference.

DOOM Ported to JavaScript and HTML5

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DOOM OK, we’ve seen Linux and a GameBoy Color emulator ported to JavaScript. What’s next? The original DOOM, apparently. Alon Zakai has ported DOOM to the browser. You can play it here. It works in Firefox and Safari.

According to Zakai, “Loading and saving games do work, but only until you leave the page. TODO: Use IndexedDB for persistent storage.”



Zakai compiled the DOOM source code from C to JavaScript using Emscripten and Clang and optimized it with Closure Compiler. The video output is handled by Canvas. You can find more technical details here and the source code here.

I remember when I first read about 3D games on cell phones. Now running Quake on a smart phone is old hat. I wonder what sort of games we’ll be seeing in the browser a year from now.


White Paper: The On-ramp to the Cloud and the Road to Get There

This post is by from ReadWriteWeb

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Sky RampVirtualization is an on ramp to the cloud. But the road to the on ramp is one that organizations are still learning to traverse.

The modern IT organization will get there. The investments in virtualization are being made and they are not expected to slow down.

This white paper from Trend MIcro explores the role of information security that organizations need to think about when adopting virtualization and making that journey to the cloud.



What VCs Can Learn from Startup Genome Project

This post is by Cortney Fielding from GigaOM · Tech News, Analysis and Trends

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What separates the most successful venture capitalists from the rest of the pack?

According to the Stanford University researchers behind the new Startup Genome Project, the biggest difference between the simply good and the absolutely fabulous lies in how each group assesses startups. After interviewing venture capitalists of all stripes over the last five months, the Genome team — Max Marmer, Ron Berman and Bjoern Lasse Herrmann — found most investors rely on a limited snapshot of a few data points (such as team, traction and market).

But after matching that strategy up with investors’ deal lists and track records, they found that practice often led to nowheresville, especially early on:

While these can be good validators that entrepreneurs are onto something, a snapshot of the team and traction can often be misleading. A great set of resumes can’t tell you how well the team actually works together. And traction was often measured in absolute numbers of users and revenue, but those metrics are second- and third-order effects of progress for an early-stage startup. In the early stages of a startup’s conversion, funnel is a much better indicator of future growth than revenue.

The VCs with the largest track record of hits operated under the principle that startups themselves are actually just the process of searching for product-market fit and a scalable business model.

The result: these investors drew conclusions based on “more subtle” data points like the founding team’s pace of learning, the reason the team made certain pivots or major changes in the business, stage-specific metrics and even the body language between the founders.

Here are four other lessons VCs can learn from the report:

1. Don’t get too pen happy. A big check doesn’t help. According to the Genome Report, the average seed round hovered around $100,000, yet the findings suggest a seed round of just $10,000-50,000 reduces the risk for investors and has no negative impact on startups.

The basic idea is that investors should not place a large bet on most types of startups until they see them find problem-solution fit and produce something that at least solves a piece of the problem. This can help prevent investors from betting on teams that look great on paper but ultimately have no chemistry and fail to execute. The constraint of having less than $50K probably even positively influences first-time entrepreneurs, helping them to not get too far ahead of themselves.

2. Analyze the team based on type. Different types of startups require different kinds of teams to make them work, and investors can get into trouble when they fail to account for these subtleties. Startups were categorized as technology-heavy, business-heavy or balanced. The analysis found business-heavy founding teams are 6.2 times more likely to successfully scale with sales-driven startups than with product-centric startups. However, technical-heavy founding teams are 3.3 times more likely to successfully scale with product-centric startups with no network effects than with product-centric startups that have network effects.

3. Count the founders at the table. According to the data, investors over-invest in solo founders and founding teams without technical cofounders, both of which have a much lower probability of success that other combinations. In fact, solo founders take an average of a whopping nearly 70 months to reach scale while teams with two founders are the fastest at around 20 months.

4. Resist the urge to rush. It’s not too surprising, but actually acquiring customers was one of the most often reported challenges that startups cited in this report. The authors believe many startups fail to get customers at the speed they would like because they either “build too many features or they overcompensate for a non-functional product by creating lots of buzz.” Investors need to watch out for these warning signs.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rob Lee.

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A Spacious Office in the Wall [Featured Workspace]

This post is by from Lifehacker

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Wide desks are often hard to come by but exceptionally useful when you require it (like with audio workstations), you want a desk ready for coworking, or you just want the room to create little sections to work. Whatever the case may be, today’s featured workspace provides a wide desk that’s attached to the wall to offer up a wide area without occupying the entire room. More »

Google Adds Superstars, Nested Labels, and Advanced IMAP Controls to Gmail’s Settings [In Brief]

This post is by from Lifehacker

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Three of our favorite Gmail Labs features have graduated and moved on to out-of-the-box Gmail. Superstars lets you assign different levels of stars to an email, making a killer to-do list based on priority; nested labels creates labels within labels, so you can organize your mail by sub-categories; and if you use a desktop mail client, you can now adjust which labels show up in your client and which don’t. The Google Search Box lab has been removed altogether, since there’s already a “Search the Web” button in Gmail. All features are available from Gmails’ Settings page. Hit the link to read more. [Official Gmail Blog] More »

Vudu Taps Peter Gabriel’s The Filter To Power Its Movie And TV Recommendations

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You may know Vudu as the startup bringing high definition movie rentals and rent-to-own services to set-top boxes like PlayStation 3 and the Boxee Box. And most TVs and Blu-ray players. Vudu recently became the second streaming service to receive its own dedicated button on Vizio’s remote controls, following Netflix.

You may also know Peter Gabriel, the British rocker who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a part of Genesis. Also the man responsible for Sledgehammer. What you may not know is that Gabriel is the front man and lead investor in a rapidly proliferating recommendation service called The Filter. Or that today The Filter is officially announcing that it has been tapped by Vudu to power its recommendation engine.

The Filter is already providing its recommendation technology to an impressive list of clients, including Sony Music, Nokia, Comcast, Warner Brothers, NBC — and now it’s added Vudu’s huge library of HD movies to the list. As my colleague Mike Butcher wrote last year, The Filter’s main business model involves becoming a white label personalization engine for mass audiences. As such, it needs partnerships like these to prove that its technology is able to scale into the billion-request level. Today’s announcement is further indication that the UK-based business is well on its way, considering it currently reaches more than 200 million unique users across multiple devices.

Through the new partnership, The Filter will offer Vudu subscribers a personalized video-on-demand experience based on customers’ previous viewing habits. The service is a little bit Amazon, a little bit, and a little bit Netflix, serving its users with recommendations that are based on purchase data, consumption data, combining a wide array of statistical and rule-based analysis with artificial intelligence techniques that both learn and forget — all in an effort to provide smarter recommendations while protecting user privacy.

In the case of Vudu, The Filter’s recommendation engine will generate targeted and timely video recommendations from Vudu’s selection of streaming movies and TV shows. And seeing as the competitors in this space, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube included, collectively reach a massive audience and are trying to differentiate their services in an effort to provide the best streaming movie (and movie recommendation) option, The Filter is becoming a big part of the conversation.

Vudu was acquired by Walmart last year (for an estimated $100 million-plus), as a play into the Internet-ready TV sales market, so The Filter may now count Walmart as a channel through which to reach new users. And Walmart is, well, a larger-than-average corporation, that may one day sell its products (beyond movies and TV shows) through a service like Vudu, using The Filter to recommend everything from movies to a new pair of pants. Or a new rifle. Look out!

Amazon’s Android Appstore Gets Another Huge Exclusive: Plants vs Zombies

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If you were among the first wave of people to buy an iPad last spring, there’s a good chance you spent a lot of time playing one game in particular: Plants vs Zombies. PopCap’s smash hit was one of the first games on the iPad and it did extremely well, and it’s also seen a lot of success on the smaller iPhone/iPod Touch form factor. Now, some 16 months after its release, the game still ranks #27 on the App Store’s list of top paid apps. It’s not Angry Birds, but it’s easily one of iOS’s most popular games ever.

And today, finally, Android fans are getting a chance to smack down some cartoonish undead. The application just launched on Amazon’s Android Appstore, and you can download it right here (it’s free today, and will be $2.99 starting tomorrow). Oh, and you won’t find it on the official Android Market for another two weeks. Unfortunately it isn’t currently optimized for tablets, but it should still work fine.

The launch is a big deal for two reasons. First, Android gets another AAA game title, giving users one less reason to look longingly at their iOS counterparts. And it’s also another big marketing push for Amazon’s Appstore, which is a direct rival of Google’s official Android Market.

Amazon’s Appstore launched in March, offering users a slightly different experience from Google’s official Market. Apps on Amazon’s store are all tested to ensure a baseline level of quality, and Amazon also provides recommendations and steep discounts on some apps. These are great features and it’s nice that Google has some competition when it comes to app distribution, but Amazon has its work cut out for it.

The Amazon store takes advantage of the fact that Android is an open OS — through a process called sideloading, you can install any application you want without requiring Google’s approval. To access the Amazon store, users visit from their phones, then download and install the store client from there. Unfortunately the process is a bit cumbersome — you have to dig through your Android settings and tap a checkbox that allows for installation from “Unknown sources”, complete with a warning that you are potentially exposing your phone to more malicious applications. Most users aren’t going to bother with this unless they have an incentive to.

Which is why Amazon is working with developers to offer exclusives like Plants vs Zombies and Angry Birds Rio — and they’re also giving away one application free every day. This is a good tactic for building early traction, though in the longer term Amazon will need to work out partnerships so that its Appstore comes pre-installed on devices (it will obviously come pre-installed on whatever Android devices Amazon builds itself). Because no matter how many neat games Amazon offers exclusively, that “Unknown sources” check box is a big hurdle.

This isn’t the first grade-A title that made waves on the iPhone and was later ported to Android: Doodle Jump has been available since March 2010, Angry Birds arrived last fall, and Flight Control came out in April of this year.