Monday, July 18, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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CNN Joins TV Everywhere, Puts Live News Behind The Log-In Wall

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 08:41 AM PDT

CNN is now broadcasting live 24 hours a day online and on mobile apps for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The live streams are available for both CNN proper and Headline News, but good luck finding them. They are definitely not front and center.

If you go to CNN’s main video page, instead of being presented with a live video stream of breaking news, it shows you canned videos from its “Collections.” These seem to be mostly human interest clips like Anderson Cooper answering viewer questions while thoughtfully looking at his iPad or a segment on the best BBQ in Texas.

To watch live video, you can click on the “Live” tab. And this does take you to some live options, including live feeds which CNN has been offering for a while. But to get the new, fully-produced, 24-hour live stream, you have to “unlock to watch.” Click on that and then it asks for your cable company user ID from Verizon, Cox, Comcast, and the like. If you are like me, you will probably have to dig that out. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

You see, CNN’s 24-hour online video is part of TV Everywhere, the cable industry’s answer to Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and the threat of online video in general. The concept is simple. If you are already paying for a channel on your TV, you should get it online for free. Gradually, more and more TV networks are signing onto TV Everywhere and it will become more compelling over time.

My main issue with TV Everywhere from the perspective of a user is the on-boarding process. For every participating site or channel, you have to log in again with your pay TV ID. My problem is I have no idea what my Verizon ID is even though I looked it up once to sign into HBO Go (another TV Everywhere participant). I have plenty of user IDs I use daily and know by heart. Verizon is not one of them. It would be so much easier if the TV Everywhere consortium let you log in with your Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or AOL IDs—you know, something you use every day. And if you log into CNN, you shouldn’t have to log in again to HBO.

I’m sure it’s a great experience though. But to be honest, I never got past the log-in wall.

Samsung Epic 4G Doppelganger Spotted With Verizon Branding

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 08:37 AM PDT

Hey, look! It’s the Samsung Epic 4G!

Wait, no it’s not. The Epic 4G is for Sprint… but that quite clearly says “Verizon”.

So, what’s going on here? As far as we can tell, it looks like Verizon’s about to launch their own rebranding of the Epic 4G — albeit one that comes nearly a full year after the original.

Our buds over at AndroidCentral dug up a handful of photos and specs on this re-hash.

Here’s what the rumor mill has to say:

  • 4″ 480×800 Display (Just like the original)
  • 4G LTE support (As opposed to 4G WiMax support)
  • 1Ghz, Single-core CPU (Again, like the original)
  • 1800 mAh battery (up from 1500 mAh)
  • Dual cameras: 5 megapixels on back, 1.3 on front (Epic 4G had a 5 megapixel cam on back, but a paltry 0.3 megapixel [VGA] cam on front)
  • There’ve been a few keyboard tweaks: shift and function have swapped places, the silly emoticon key has been replaced with a mail key, and the home/back keys have been switched around.

All in all, it’s a pretty modest revision, but certainly a welcome one. No word yet on pricing — but based on specs alone, I wouldn’t expect this one to break $200 on a 2-year-contract.

Here’s a side-by-side of this new look-alike and the original Epic 4G for comparison’s sake:

Sequoia Leads $10 Million Investment In Dolphin, The Customizable Android Browser

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 08:07 AM PDT

The desktop browser wars are fiercer than ever, with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and *cough* Internet Explorer all in a heated race for users (and new features). But there’s a relatively new market that’s still ripe for a surge in browser innovation: mobile.

All of the aforementioned browsers already have mobile incarnations, but there are some new mobile-only browsers popping up as well. And today MoboTap, the company behind the Dolphin Browser, is getting a big boost: it’s announcing that it’s closed a $10 million Series A funding round let by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Matrix Partners. Sequoia partner Kui Zhou will be joining MoboTap’s board.

The company first launched the Dolphin browser 15 months ago — it's since been downloaded 8 million times, and has 4 million monthly active users (1 million of whom are using the app daily). And it's growing quickly, with 30,000 new downloads every day, which works out to around a million per month. Usage is concentrated in the US, which has 80% of the total downloads, and the remaining user base is mostly in Asia.

The biggest selling point for Dolphin is that it lets you customize your mobile browser, in much the same way you would customize the desktop version of Firefox or Chrome using extensions. At this point there are over 50 Dolphin add-ons available, including and LastPass. Dolphin also supports gestures — you could set it up to take you to TechCrunch every time you drew a big 'T' on your screen, for example. And there’s a nifty ‘Webzine’ format that cleans up the pages you’re viewing. Dolphin uses the ‘Chrome Lite’ browser that’s baked into Android as its rendering engine — it focuses exclusively on the UI and user experience.

The new 6.0 edition of the browser, which launches today, also brings with it an important new feature: it's free. Up until now Dolphin has been available as a freemium product, with an ad-supported free version and a premium version available for $4.99 that removed the ads. Now the company is focusing on getting as much distribution as it can, so it's getting rid of the ads entirely and making the premium version free.

The company says that it will be using the new funding for three things: it'll be growing the team, which already numbers nearly 100 between offices in San Francisco and Beijing. It's going to focus on building out new partnerships, which means we can probably expect it to come pre-installed on some handsets in the future (at this point all of its growth as been through downloads on Android Market). And, finally, it's going to launch on other platforms — an iPhone app is in the works.

Dolphin will obviously see competition, both from other startups and from the big browser vendors themselves (I’ll be surprised if the mobile browser that ships with Android doesn’t support extensions in the next year). But competition is only a good thing here, and there will be hundreds of millions (billions, even) of users to go around.

Social Gaming Startup Lolapps Merges With Publisher 6Waves

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 08:01 AM PDT

Social gaming companies Lolapps and 6waves have agreed to merge operations to create a larger network of social gaming applications on Facebook and the web. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Together, Lolapps and Hong Kong-based 6waves attract 35 million monthly active users around the world. In particular, 6waves bring international reach to Lolapps, and the combined company will now have offices in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom.

The combined company will be branded as 6waves Lolapps, but 6Waves and Lolapps will continue to function independently. CEO Rex Ng will become the CEO of the newly merged company, with Lolapps CEO Arjun Sethi reporting to Ng.

According to VentureBeat, Lolapps also recently acquired a Flash games creation engine from Sean Cooper Games and hired its creator. As of March, the company’s game Ravenswood Fair had 25 million monthly active users across a number of social networks.

Both companies are profitable. Lolapps is backed by Polaris Venture Partners and Ron Conway and 6Waves raised $17.5 million from Insight Venture Partners.

Blackboard Buyer Providence Equity Acquires Personalized Online Learning Platform From PrepMe

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 07:30 AM PDT

Digital learning company Ascend Learning is acquiring PrepMe’s adaptive learning platform and virtual classroom SaaS. Ascend is actually owned by Providence Equity Partners, which just acquired Blackboard for $1.64 billion. Financial terms of the PrepMe deal were not disclosed.

As we wrote in our review of PrepMe’s offering, Coursification is a web-based application for personalized online learning courses. What differentiates Coursification from other course management and online learning platforms is that it helps teachers offer a tailored, personalized curriculum to each student based on their performance and learning schedule.

Each online course begins with a diagnostic assessment that identifies student learning gaps (specialized to the subject). After the diagnostic test, each student receives a personalized study schedule, which the teacher can simply import into the platform. The schedule is customized based on student proficiencies and the duration of the course.

As students complete their assignments online, their comprehension is evaluated in short quizzes and longer tests online. PrepMe’s platform will store and analyze every interaction between the student and the curriculum and adjust the study plan based on progress the student has made. The platform also offers the ability to message and chat with teachers within Coursification and the ability to send files as well. Similar to Blackboard and other online learning SaaS offerings, PrepMe allows teachers to upload source materials, tests, quizzes and more. Over 100,000 students have used courses built on PrepMe's platform and it has been deployed internationally for both core subjects and elective courses.

Judge Rules: HTC Infringed On 2 Of Apple’s Patents

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 07:09 AM PDT

The patent battle between HTC and Apple that had been so quiet for so long has really heated up in the past few weeks. Apple filed yet another ITC complaint against HTC just last week, and this week a judge has ruled that two of the ten proposed patents Apple presented in its case were infringed upon by HTC.

Despite HTC’s dismay over the filing, share prices began falling after Apple filed its second complaint on July 8, spurring a 15 percent decrease. Share prices fell 4.1 percent after the infringement ruling this weekend. But HTC hasn't thrown in the towel. The company plans to stage a share buy-back for September to bring what Macquarie Group analyst Daniel Chang calls "near-term support." In the mean time, HTC has an appeal planned for July 16.

If you're unfamiliar with the ITC import ban process (which you likely should be), it goes a little something like this: Administrative Law Judge Carl Charneski decided on July 15 that HTC was in violation of certain Apple patents. From there, Charneski's ruling goes before the International Trade Commission's six-person board in Washington, where HTC will launch an appeal. At that point, it's in the hands of the commission, which could decide to ban U.S. imports of some HTC phones running the Android OS.

[via Bloomberg]

Amazon Launches Kindle Textbook Rental Service, Allows Students To Store Notes In The Cloud

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 06:28 AM PDT

Amazon is now allowing students to rent textbooks on their Kindle and Kindle apps. The e-commerce giant is launching Kindle Textbook Rental today, which allows students can save up to 80% off textbook list prices by renting textbooks from the Kindle Store.

Amazon says that students can customize rental periods between 30 and 360 days, so students only pay for the specific amount of time they need a book. And students can extend the rental time if they ened more time to use the textbook. The company says that “tens of thousands of textbooks” are available for the 2011 school year from publishers such as John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis.

The company is also extending its Whispersync technology so that students can get to keep and access all of their notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud, even after a rental expires.

Savings, says the company, amount to up to 80% off the print list price on a 30-day rental. For example, an accounting textbook costs $109.20 to buy the actual book, but starts at $38.29 to rent the textbook.

Kindle Textbooks can be read across both the Kindle devices and Amazon’s free Kindle Reading Apps for PC, Mac, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Android-based devices.

I’m curious how much of a threat this service will be to textbook rental giants Chegg and BookRenter, which both allow students to rent hardcover and paperback textbooks at low prices. For example, Chegg has an e-book option that could be competitive to Amazon’s new service. Other startups like Kno and Inkling are trying their hand at the digital textbook arena.

Report: Fujitsu To Launch World’s First Windows Mango Cell Phone In Japan Next Month

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 06:25 AM PDT

First, Fujitsu-Toshiba unveiled the world’s first Symbian/Windows 7 dual boot cell phone in May, now this: Japanese business daily The Nikkei is reporting that the same company is ready to out the first handset in the world running on Windows Phone Mango, the mobile OS that Microsoft officially unveiled in May.

And despite Microsoft’s announcement that the first Mango phones won’t be available before fall, Japanese mobile carrier KDDI will be rolling out the so-called IS12T in their local market as early as next month.

According to The Nikkei, the device will be waterproof, sport a 3-7-inch LCD screen and come with Facebook and Skype pre-installed (in Japan, KDDI is a strategic partner with these two companies).

The IS12T will carry a price tag of “US$380-505″. We’ll keep you posted, also including possible announcements by Fujitsu-Toshiba if their Mango handset will hit markets outside Japan, too.

Acer Plans Smartphone And Tablet Push Into China

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 06:01 AM PDT

After switching up its Touch Business Group chief back in April, Acer has decided to set up an office for its mobile products in China, to better take advantage of the country's growing smartphone and tablet market.

Acer has long been a beast in the Chinese PC market, but has yet to fully establish its presence as a smartphone or tablet maker. As the third place PC maker, Acer holds 9.2 percent of the PC market in China, whereas its smartphone share was too small for research firm Analysys to calculate. Former HP exec, Dave Chan, will take over the new Touch Business Group in China.

After a rather underwhelming performance out of the Acer Iconia tablet, Acer will need more than a new market to pick up its tablet business. On the other hand, Acer is one of the few manufacturing partners set to deliver a Windows Phone 7 "Mango" smartphone later this year, which could boost the company significantly if Windows Phone 7.5 is all it's cracked up to be.

[via PC World]

Exent Launches GameTanium Mobile, An All-You-Can-Eat Subscription Service For Android Games

Posted: 18 Jul 2011 05:57 AM PDT

Not all Android games are created equal. Whereas the buck-or-two entry fee might score you hours of fun and quality design with one game, you could just as easily end up bored, frustrated, and a buck lighter with another.

While most developers turn to demo/”lite” versions to pitch the full versions of their game, a company called Exent thinks they have a better solution: an all-you-can-eat, Netflix Watch Instantly-esque buffet of Android games. Like most real-world buffets, though, the success of this one is going to boil down to the selection, quality … and, uh, whether or not it gives you food poisoning.

To get started, Android handset owners download the GameTanium Mobile app from Exent’s site. As it’s technically an alternative to Google’s own market, it’s not currently allowed to be distributed in the official Android Market (which may pose a bit of a problem for handsets that have had their non-Market app downloads disabled at a firmware level. In other words, most AT&T Android phones.)

Once installed, GameTanium charges $4.99 a month for unlimited access to their collection of Android games, which they say is made up of just over 75 games at launch. At a cursory glance, the selection seems to be made up heavily of casual options like Treasures of Montezuma and Farm Frenzy, though we’re seeing at least two racing games (Wave Blazer and Raging Thunder) and one fairly popular action game (Parachute Panic) thrown into the mix for good measure. New games should be added each week, says the company, with the selection topping 200 by the end of the year.

Exent’s launch is going straight to the consumer today, but their end goal seems to be getting carriers to add this service to their handsets out-of-the-box. These are the same people who power Verizon’s fairly obscure Verizon Games service, so connecting with the carriers probably won’t be too much of a battle.

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