Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Review: Microsoft’s Touch Mouse And Explorer Touch Mouse

Posted: 03 Sep 2011 09:00 AM PDT

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got a chance to play with two of Microsoft's three touch mouse offerings — the Explorer Touch Mouse and the flagship Touch Mouse — and as far as ideas go, they're absolutely wonderful. But in terms of execution, the whole “touch” part didn’t exactly impress.

When compared to your standard desktop mouse, these two offerings from Microsoft could easily go toe-to-toe. But once we start getting into the touch capabilities of each — especially the Touch Mouse — things start getting a little shaky. Let’s take a look.

Touch Mouse

Features:

  • BlueTrack sensor
  • Touch capabilities… obviously
  • Works exclusively with Windows 7
  • Nano-tranceiver slot on the mouse itself
  • MRSP: $79.95

Pros:

  • Works really well on just about every surface
  • Super comfortable in the hand
  • Sleek, attractive design

Cons:

  • Has a tough time distinguishing left-clicks from right-clicks
  • No XP, Vista, or OS X support
  • Sloppy scrolling

Long Version:

As I said earlier, Microsoft’s Touch Mouse is a wonderful idea. I happen to favor a touchpad over a mouse on whatever machine I’m using — most regularly my MacBook Pro — and the notion that those same gestures could be found on a much more comfortable mouse got me excited. Unfortunately, things weren’t as seamless as I’d expected.

The Touch Mouse offers a number of different touch-based gestures: a single finger scrolls, pans, and tilts, while a thumb swipe will send you backwards or forwards. Obviously, backwards or forwards can mean different things during different activities, but it’s basically the ability to push the back button or the forward button in your browser, or quickly scroll through PowerPoint presentations. Microsoft also added a flick to its single-finger gestures to allow for super speedy scrolling.

This is where the Touch Mouse lost me. It really doesn’t perceive the difference between a slow, smooth scroll and a flick. I got sent to the bottom of the page too many times to count, and even the slow scroll (when recognized) wasn’t all that smooth. Plus, the mouse is actually just one large button, with sensors to detect whether you’re inputting a right or left click. When I hold a mouse, my middle finger (right clicker) nudges right up against that line, but since the Touch Mouse’s line doesn’t actually separate different buttons, it’s easy to miss.

But the Touch Mouse has its great moments, too. The thumb gesture especially wowed me. Even though it made me feel awful for being too lazy to mouse over to the back button, I still used that gesture as much as possible. Whoever said laziness was a sin? Not Microsoft, that’s for sure.

When I met with Microsoft to talk about the Touch Mouse, they used the word “delight” like a zillion times, most often connecting it with the word “control.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand what they were talking about. But after getting hands-on with the Touch Mouse, it really is an entirely new sense of control over your machine that is, in short, delightful. Again, the idea is fantastic. But until they can make those controls more reliable, it’s hard to recommend it.


Explorer Touch Mouse:

Features:

  • BlueTrack sensor
  • 18-month battery life
  • Five customizable buttons
  • Colors: black, grey and “Sangria” red
  • MSRP: $49.95

Pros:

  • Also very comfortable in the hand
  • Solid tactile feedback on all actions
  • Performs well on any surface

Cons:

  • The touch strip always feels a bit… grippy
  • Still sloppy scrolling, but better than big brother

Long Version:

The Explorer Touch Mouse is really more of a stripped down, less expensive version of the Touch Mouse. Instead of the whole front surface of the mouse being touch-capable, the Explorer features a touch strip right down the center, a bit like the Arc Touch Mouse. The strip lets you control vertical and horizontal scrolling, but as I mentioned before, it’s not the smoothest scrolling I’ve ever encountered.

I can’t figure out whether or not it’s the actual mouse itself that isn’t providing a smooth scroll or if it’s the fact that my fingers always seem to stick on the touch strip. Just so we’re clear, I’ll go ahead and disclose that I don’t (repeat: do not) have unusually clammy hands or fingers. Something about the material that this little guy is made of makes it difficult to slide your fingers across it without sticking a bit. That’s not the case with the Touch Mouse, and I really don’t understand why Microsoft didn’t just use the same material (although that was probably a cost-cutting measure to maintain the lower price-point).

One cool little feature that I really enjoyed was the tactile feedback this mouse gives. Obviously, a Microsoft mouse will always have that crisp click feedback for pressing the buttons, but what impressed me was the feedback from the touch strip. When you flick to scroll — and even on slower scrolls — the touch strip imitates the feeling of a scroll wheel found on most basic, totally uncool non-touch mice. It almost feels like there’s a scroll wheel directly below the touch strip, and you’re just feeling the vibrations as it spins along.

Conclusion:

So maybe the actual touch portion of these two mice wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped. But as far as your standard mice are concerned, these two have ‘em beat. When it comes to the every day, basic uses of a mouse, both the Microsoft Touch Mouse and The Explorer are excellent choices (aside from that whole right click vs. left click thing). I really meant it when I said they could perform on any surface. Trust me, I tried as many as I could find.



Founder Office Hours With Chris Dixon and Josh Kopelman: Madbrook Publishing

Posted: 03 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT

everythign-butt-art-clip1atk657-mov-1-1

Brian Snyder is the Founder and CEO of Madbrook Publishing, an educational/entertainment company that publishes Everything Butt Art. Snyder says Everything Butt Art’s mission is to “teach kids to draw, always starting with the butt shape” which is a format that “really engages kids.”

After presenting on-stage during TechCrunch Disrupt, New York Snyder came into our studio for an Office Hours session with Hunch’s Chris Dixon and First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman.

Snyder initially asked the two founders for advice on making his educational content “device-agnostic.” After sharing insights, Kopelman asked Snyder what kind of company he wanted build; “a venture backed company” or a “cash generation business?” Offering his two-cents on the venture world, Kopelman told Snyder “the more you are viewed as a platform, versus specific content I think improves your positioning.” While recognizing that there are successful content based businesses, Dixon agreed with Kopelman and told Snyder “venture style investors are weary of [content based businesses]. [Content] is sort of a bad word in the business because it is sort of hit driven.

Kopelman concludes by telling Snyder “the challenge is, if someone is investing now they need to decide are we investing in this hit, are we investing in the Butt Art concept and if Butt Art works great, and if Butt Art fails does that mean the investment fails?” In essence, “am I investing in a title or am I investing in a company?”

Make sure to check out previous episodes of Founder Office Hours which feature entrepreneurs from SchedItProfitablyDispatch.io, and Napkin Labs.


Company:
MADBROOK PUBLISHING
Launch Date:
10/2010

Madbrook Publishing, a 2011 NYC Disrupt Battlefield company, is building an immersive art, education, and entertainment platform that launched with their lead brand, Everything Butt Art. Everything Butt Art uses...

Learn more

Josh Kopelman is a venture capitalist and Managing Partner at First Round Capital . Previously, Kopelman founded Half.com, which was acquired by eBay in 2000. He remained with eBay for...

Learn more

Person:
CHRIS DIXON
Website:

Chris Dixon currently works as the CEO and Co-founder of Hunch. He is also a contributing writer for TechCrunch. He previously was the CEO and Co-founder of SiteAdvisor, which...

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Can Municipal Waste Power Our Cars?

Posted: 03 Sep 2011 05:49 AM PDT

Landfill

One future source of green energy may be as close as the nearest dumpster thanks to companies vying to make fuel from trash. Enerkem, based in Montreal, and Fiberight, in Maryland, hope to turn municipal waste into energy in new biorefineries.

Enerkem has been around since 2000 and owns several facilities in Canada. Its pilot plant, in Sherbrooke, Quebec, turns used electricity poles into methanol, acetates, ethanol and syngas.  Future plants will use municipal waste as a feedstock.

Recyclables are sorted out of the waste and the remaining material is heated to 750 degrees Fahrenheit until it emits hydrogen-rich gas. Carbon dioxide and other impurities are removed from the gas, and a catalyst turns some of the hydrogen into methanol, which can be further processed into ethanol. The heat created during the process can be used to create electricity or boil water.

Fiberight, founded in 2007, focuses on producing cellulosic ethanol. In addition to municipal waste, the company makes energy out of materials such as road fiber and fire retardant panel board.

A future Enerkem plant, in Edmonton, Alberta, will rely on an annual 100,000 tons of the city’s municipal solid waste to produce 10 million gallons of ethanol and methanol.

Alberta’s government is supporting the plant with a $23 million grant, and Alberta Energy is pitching in $3.35 million as well. Oil giant Valero and trash experts Waste Management are both investors in the company. Enerkem hopes to open a plant in Mississippi with the help of $50 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and an $80 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Biorefineries using waste to make fuel may not make a huge dent in landfills anytime soon, but if successful, they could help reduce the amount of garbage that goes to waste.

Photo by D’Arcy Norman


Company:
ENERKEM
Funding:
$143M

Based in Canada, Enerkem is one of the world's leading developers and producers of advanced fuels and green chemicals. As a private company, Enerkem is majority owned by institutional...

Learn more


Daily Crunch: Guard Tower

Posted: 03 Sep 2011 01:00 AM PDT

Amazon Is Only Launching A 7″ Tablet? Genius. (Plus A Mockup!)

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 05:59 PM PDT

Mockup 4

The Amazon Kindle tablet is real. Very much real. As in, MG has held it in his very own hands. I threw together the mockup above based on what he shared with me.

As MG explained, we now know that the Kindle tablet won’t initially ship in both 7-inch and 10-inch variants, contrary to previous rumors. After a change in plans earlier this summer, Amazon only intends to launch with a 7-inch model.

That decision might just be the best one that Amazon could have possibly made — and it ought to have Samsung and all of the other Android tablet manufacturers shaking in their boots.

Before we dive in, we need to establish some numbers. So far this year, the iPad has maintained roughly 70-80% of the tablet marketshare. While certain Android tablets are undoubtedly more popular than others, that only leaves 20-30% of the market for all of the Android tablet manufacturers to split. While Apple sits with the biggest piece of the pie all to themselves, the Android tablet manufacturers are battling for left overs. Even if the entire Android tablet marketshare belonged to one tablet (which, again, it definitely does not), said tablet still wouldn’t have sold even half as well as the iPad.

From this, we’ve learned at least one thing: competing with the iPad by trying to be the iPad.. doesn’t really work.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed something strange. Among my geekier circles, I’m always hearing the same question: iPad, or Xoom/Galaxy Tab/Android-tablet-name-here? Among less tech-minded folks (you know, like the majority of the population) though, the question seems to shift: iPad, or Kindle?

Now, it’s not that the less tech-savvy people wouldn’t like an Android tablet… they just don’t really seem to know they exist. There are just too many strikingly similar tablets, all battling for that one smaller sliver of the pie.

To go all anecdotal again here for a second: just this past Monday — as I do every Monday — I was playing trivia at a pub in the Bay Area. Trivia Night at this pub is something of a huge deal, with around 25 teams (4-6 people each) playing each week. Mid-way through the second round, the trivia master asked: “Two pointer here, folks: What is the name of Motorola’s tablet device? What is the name of Dell’s tablet?”

Three teams could name Dell’s tablet. Six teams got Motorola’s. Out of 25 teams, each made up of a handful of drinking-age adults, less than a third could conjure up the name of one of the biggest Android tablets around. Though we’ll gladly babble on it for days on end, the tablet market is still something of a niche — and in a niche market, recognition is everything. The iPad is the iPad. Everything else is.. well, everything else. If they were to launch with a 10″ tablet, Amazon would be throwing themselves in with everything else.

But they’re not. Rather than taking on Apple on their own court, they’re moving to keep a lock on a game they’re already kicking butt at (the e-reader market), while upping the odds that anyone weighing “iPad or Kindle?” will be swayed in their favor. By launching with a 7″ tablet (and only a 7″ tablet), Amazon is making it clear: they don’t want the Kindle tablet to be the iPad. They want it to be everything the iPad is not.

They want it to be small, and comfortable to read in bed. This is a Kindle, after all. For many folks who just want something to read in bed or throw into their bag to read on the train, the iPad’s nearly 10-inch display can feel a bit gigantic.

They want it to be cheap. Smaller displays are cheaper right up front, require less plastic for the body, and can get by with a lesser battery and a smaller backlight. More than a year after launch, the cheapest iPad you can buy new will set you back $499. According to the same source whose Kindle tablet we used, Amazon currently has it priced at half that: just $250. Even launching a 10-incher alongside would increase R&D costs, as well as lead consumers to believe that the 10″ model is the flagship (thereby throwing it up directly against the iPad and everything else.)

Meanwhile, they’re moving away from the direction that most other Android tablets have taken. This isn’t a be-all, do-all machine — it’s a new and improved Kindle, just as the name will imply. They’re aiming for simplicity, distilling the homescreen down to a Cover Flow-esque arrangement, making the entire experience all about your books, movies, and other media. And if you happen to want it to do other stuff? Sure, it can do that — they even have their very own App Store! But this isn’t an Android tablet. It’s a Kindle, and it just happens to run Android.

As for Samsung, LG, Motorola, and all the other tablet makers out there: unless they’re happy with whatever sliver of the minority chunk they’ve nabbed so far, they better take this as a shot right across the bow. For Android tablet manufacturers, the next big step will be figuring out how to ensure that the general consumer has any idea that their tablet exists — and here comes Amazon, swooping in with their cheap, small tablet and bringing the iconic, incredibly well-established Kindle brand (and their incredibly powerful distribution channel) with them. Genius.



Video: “Der Kritzler,” An Automatic Scribbling Machine

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 04:40 PM PDT

scribbler

An automatic scribbling machine sounds less than useful, admittedly, but it’s really just the style of line created by this motorized drawing machine. It’s reminiscent of ASCII art, in which heavier characters are used to create darker tones; in this case, the more jiggle added to the drawing platform, the more ink is put on the drawing surface. It’s kind of mesmerizing.

Check out the video (there’s another here):

It’s put together from mostly off-the-shelf parts (Arduino-powered, naturally), though it’s far from simple. The process uses vector graphics and turns it into a tone map, and given a known starting point for the pen, it “prints” by moving the pen along rows and adding jitter to darken the “pixels” to whatever degree is necessary. It looks like it has about four discrete tones it can make — not the greatest range, but in aggregate it works quite well.

You can read how it was put together at the creator Alex Weber’s blog, and he has also put the source, documentation, and so on up on Github.



Call Of Duty’s $50 Per Year Subscription Service Heralds An Expensive Future For Gaming

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 03:42 PM PDT

elite_space

The world’s largest game franchises have become businesses unto themselves. World of Warcraft supports a huge halo industry of gold farming and grey markets. Farmville and its ilk have turned microtransactions into millions. The teams developing individual games like Assassin’s Creed or Gears of War are larger than many entire companies. So it’s not surprising that the stakes keep getting raised.

Call of Duty is among the most popular games in the world, and although selling millions of copies of the game at $40-60 is a real source of revenue, Activision is hoping that their new Call of Duty Elite service will bring in recurring revenue and rally the fanbase. But will that fanbase accept a yearly $50 fee on top of the game itself?

Part of the Elite services will be available for free, like mobile apps, stat sharing and analysis, and official clan creation. But the paid portion of Elite has just been detailed, and what it implies about the new gaming order is equally exciting and discouraging.

The primary draw will be the new content, in the form of maps, modes, and presumably weapons and character decorations. There will also be daily refereed tournaments with prizes like iPads. Activision described a “nine month DLC season” with around 20 pieces of content — a lot by any standard, and perhaps more than even CoD’s fans are willing to stomach. Many developers are already being accused of selling half the game at launch and doling out the rest over the next year or so, and although the boxed game will likely be enough for many, the emphasis placed on after-purchases is distressing.

So far, so predictable, but the larger implications are more interesting. Valve has talked about “games as services,” but their idea of DLC is slightly less money-grubbing than Activisions. The Team Fortress 2 community and the dozens of add-ons they’ve done aren’t an example everyone can follow, but you’re unlikely to find a more satisfied gaming community in the world. This idea of Activision’s puts CoD practically in the territory of Second Life or alternate reality games than anything else. People are already very serious about their “careers” in online games, but the social integration we’re seeing (like Battlefield 3′s Battlelog, above), the increased level of integration with other platforms, and the huge increase in money involved make this next generation of “big” games pretty serious business.

It’s a bit like TV adding premium channels like Showtime and HBO back in the day. You kind of have to commit to it, and the community created is parallel to the more mundane one surrounding networks, but far more dedicated. But there can only be so many Showtimes, especially if the currency in trade is time. Someone with money can afford to purchase all the premium channels, but with Call of Duty, WoW, Halo, and so on all expanding to become entire worlds to live in, a gamer can only do so much. This trend will continue, because there’s a hell of a lot of money in it.

Will we stop seeing “traditional” games that just sell for $50 and then that’s it? Something has to give when companies like Valve and Activision can afford to provide more for the money (though they may extract more from you later). The rise of inexpensive downloadable games on XBLA and PSN seems to offer a middle path. I’d expect way more titles between $5 and $20, hits like Braid and Bastion that don’t attempt to build a platform, just tell a story and have some fun. In the meantime, you’ll be paying more and more for the premium experience of the big dog franchises.

Is it a pro for gamers? Once the pricing and exclusivity hiccups work themselves out, I think so. People really enjoy these deep gaming experiences, and while I don’t share their need to, say, publicize my achievements, I can certainly see the draw. Clearly Activision does too, and they also see opportunity. Let’s hope the transition isn’t too rough. The generation that grew up with cartridges and arcades might have to give way. It had to happen some time.



Google Acquires Digital Coupons/Incentives Platform Zave Networks To Bulk Up Commerce

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 02:49 PM PDT

zavenetworks_groupshot

Since 2006, Zave Networks has been working on digitizing coupons and loyalty rewards programs with products like Zavers. With the rise of smartphones, the market has been exploding. Today, Zave Networks takes their cause to a much bigger potential audience: Google has just acquired them.

As they have announced on their site, “When we had the opportunity to join Google, we felt it was the perfect fit for our company and the perfect opportunity to rapidly drive the deployment and use of our platform to the next level.”

Says a Google spokesperson:

"We're thrilled to welcome the Zave Networks team to Google. They have developed an impressive platform to connect consumers with coupons, special offers and reward programs for their favorite businesses, and we look forward to their joining our Commerce team."

We hear that Zave will continue to offer their services to consumers, retailers, and marketers for now. But the play for Google here appears to be to bulk up their Commerce and Wallet products.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed.


Company:
GOOGLE
Launch Date:
7/9/1998
IPO:
25/8/2004, NASDAQ:GOOG

Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of...

Learn more


Baidu Looks To Leapfrog Google With Cloud-Based Mobile OS (Update)

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 02:47 PM PDT

baidu_logo

Chinese search giant Baidu is reportedly developing a cloud-based smartphone platform in attempt to dip its toes into the mobile pool. Mobile internet users in China totaled 233 million in 2010, projected to reach 957 million by 2014. For some perspective, the total population of both the European Union and the United States was approximately 800 million last year. So in China, mobile is less of a pool and more of a vast ocean.

This should be interesting.

The company is calling its platform Baidu Yi, which translates to “Easy.” Similar to the Bing integration in Mango, this OS is all about search. Smartphones that run Yi will load up a search box within seconds of turning on the phone. Other components will load in the background, but users will be able to perform a web search almost instantly. The system will also offer up to 180 GB of cloud storage space. Sounds nice — but so did webOS. Will Baidu Yi fare better?

Baidu isn’t the only Chinese company looking to get in on the OS game. Local players like Hangzhou-based Alibaba and Shenzhen-based Huawei have announced similar cloud-based platforms recently, but as far as local competition is concerned, Baidu seems unfazed. "To us, cloud computing is much more natural than to an e-commerce company or a telecom equipment maker because we have the capability to handle data, just as Google has, that's why they're so good at it," said Baidu VP Wang Jing to the Financial Times.

Baidu certainly has taken a page out of the Google playbook. But just one. The current version of Yi is based on Android, but the Android you’d see in China isn’t our Android. In most cases (not Baidu’s), it’s called Ophone, a fork of Android, and it effectively removes Google from the picture. The core Android operating system is made up of a Linux kernel, licensed under GPL, with Apache middleware and user stacks. Major components of the upper layers, such as the Android Market, are Google’s to license. Chinese carriers gladly do without those core Google software products and opt to integrate their own or third-party replacements.

In other words, Android’s success in China is a bit hollow, even if it is the basis for Ophone, and now Baidu Yi. What’s more, Mr. Wang mentioned that “it is possible that we [will] launch our own operating system in the future.” Google already has big problems in China, and Android getting left behind entirely (rather than marginally) by its biggest Chinese competitor would only make things worse.

But how does Mr. Wang feel about our other hometown hero — Apple. The company has already tapped China Unicom’s 184M subscribers, and reportedly has plans to launch the iPhone with China Mobile, which has a user base topping 930M as of August 29. Apple only has four (non-fake) Apple stores in the country, but China is its fastest growing market in terms of sales. With those stats, it hardly seems as though Baidu Yi poses a threat.

But nothing is ever as it seems. China is both an irresistible and incredibly dangerous market for American tech companies, and Apple faces a number of obstacles within the market. For one, the Chinese government requires special wireless internet technology (TD-SCDMA) on its mobile phones. And then there’s the massive black/grey market in China for iPhones and iPads.

Baidu’s co-founder and CEO seemed to know back in March that Apple would be one of its main competitors in the mobile space. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr. Li made mention of the new OS as compared to iOS.

“Right now when you power on an iPhone, it takes 45 seconds before you can do anything,” he said. “In the future, one second, you turn on the device, and you can start using the box. That's our mission for the future of the internet.” His plan is to build an OS that uses search as the basis for everything. “The goal is to let people become increasingly dependent on the Baidu Box."

And that’s all we really need: to be even more dependent on our smartphones. Good work, Baidu.

Update: So it would seem that Baidu Yi has gone live. The OS features include an eBooks app called Yue, a Google-places style app called Shen Bian, Baidu-powered maps, and a music app called Ting. Check out the video after the jump to see Baidu Yi in action.

[Image credit: The Register]

[Video credit: MicGadget]


Company:
BAIDU
Launch Date:
11/10/1999
IPO:
5/8/2005, NASDAQ:BIDU

Baidu is the largest Chinese language search engines. Baidu's mission is to provide the best way for people to find information online, including Chinese language web pages, news, images...

Learn more

Company:
APPLE
Launch Date:
1/4/1976
IPO:
1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer,...

Learn more

Company:
GOOGLE
Launch Date:
7/9/1998
IPO:
25/8/2004, NASDAQ:GOOG

Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of...

Learn more


Google Does A Full House Cleaning: Sunsets Desktop, Notebook, Fast Flip And More

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 01:37 PM PDT

GoogleAxe

Well, it looks like the brooms and axes are out at Google today, for a little late-summer cleaning. The company announced via its blog today that some of its products and features will be riding into the sunset in the very near future. This news was previewed by CEO Larry Page on Google’s quarterly earnings call in July, who said at the time that the search giant would be doing a wee bit of spring, er, early fall cleaning.

Okay, so some of Google’s products (that were growing sluggishly or not at all) are being put out to pasture, but what does that mean for Google employees? According its blog, these products will be killed off over the next few months, and some products will be merging into others to become complementary features. For Googlers, all those working on those products will either go with the merge or be reassigned to other “higher impact” projects.

Google’s reason for this spring cleaning is really just to use this as why-the-heck-not opportunity to streamline, shed a little weight, and continue to focus on making the user experience simple for its users. Just hope they don’t overdo it.

As for users, Google says it will reach out to them directly as they make changes.

Google started off by killing off nearly all of its Slide products, and today MG covered the sunsetting of Aardvark, which Google had bought back in February 2010 for $50 milion. Co-founder Max Ventilla said that Aardvark will be kaput by the end of the month.

Also hitting the road are:Google Desktop (or the quick search box), which will be discontinued September 14, “including all the associated APIs, services, plugins, gadgets, and support; Fast Flip, the service designed to innovate in the news content browsing space for the web and mobile; Google Maps API for Flash (nooooooooo), which Sarah covered earlier here; Google Pack (a.k.a. Google Fannypack); Google Web Security; Image Labeler; Notebook (which we haven’t exactly loved since the beginning), all of the data from which will be exported automatically to Google Docs; Sidewiki; and Subscribed Links (developers will be able to access data in Subscribed Links until September 14).

For more, check out MG’s post here and Google’s blog post here.

Excerpt image courtesy of SEO-Social Media.


Company:
GOOGLE
Launch Date:
7/9/1998
IPO:
25/8/2004, NASDAQ:GOOG

Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of...

Learn more


Amazon’s Kindle Tablet Is Very Real. I’ve Seen It, Played With It.

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 01:26 PM PDT

Amazon-android-580x356

It’s called simply the “Amazon Kindle”. But it’s not like any Kindle you’ve seen before. It displays content in full color. It has a 7-inch capacitive touch screen. And it runs Android.

Rumors of Amazon making a full-fledged tablet device have persisted for a while. I believe we were one of the first to report on the possibility from a credible source — the same person who accurately called Amazon’s Android Appstore. That source was dead-on again, it just took Amazon longer than anticipated to get the device ready to go. They’re now close.

How do I know all of this? Well, not only have I heard about the device, I’ve seen it and used it. And I’m happy to report that it’s going to be a big deal. Huge, potentially.

First of all, before every commenter asks, no, sadly, I don’t have any pictures to share. That was the one condition of me getting this information. So instead you’ll have to rely on my prose to draw a picture of the device in your head. Or you can just look at a BlackBerry PlayBook — because it looks very similar in terms of form-factor.

So here’s what I know and what I saw:

Again, the device is a 7-inch tablet with a capacitive touch screen. It is multi-touch, but from what I saw, I believe the reports that it relies on a two-finger multi-touch (instead of 10-finger, like the iPad uses) are accurate. This will be the first Kindle with a full-color screen. And yes, it is back-lit. There is no e-ink to be found anywhere on this device.

Earlier this week, reports suggested that a 7-inch Amazon tablet could be released in October, with a larger, 10-inch version to follow next year. That’s somewhat accurate. As of right now, Amazon’s only definitive plan is to release this 7-inch Kindle tablet and they’re targeting the end of November to do that. The version I saw was a DVT (Design Verification Testing) unit. These have started floating around the company. It’s ready, they’re just tweaking the software now. If it’s not in production yet, it will be very soon.

Originally, Amazon had planned to launch a 7-inch and a 10-inch tablet at the same time. But that plan changed this summer. Now they’re betting everything on the 7-inch. If it’s a hit, they will release the more expensive 10-inch tablet in Q1 2012.

So how much will the 7-inch Kindle cost? $250.

Yes, Amazon has been able to trim the cost of the device to half of the entry-level iPad. And it will be the same price as Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color, which this will very obviously compete with directly. Both have 7-inch color touch screens. Both run Android.

And this is where things get really interesting. As anticipated, Amazon has forked Android to build their own version for the Kindle. Simply put: it looks nothing like the Android you’re used to seeing.

The interface is all Amazon and Kindle. It’s black, dark blue, and a bunch of orange. The main screen is a carousel that looks like Cover Flow in iTunes which displays all the content you have on the device. This includes books, apps, movies, etc. Below the main carousel is a dock to pin your favorite items in one easy-to-access place. When you turn the device horizontally, the dock disappears below the fold.

Above the dock is the status bar (time, battery, etc) and this doubles as a notification tray. When apps have updates, or when new subscriptions are ready for you to view, they appear here. The top bar shows “YOUR NAME’s Kindle” and then the number of notifications you have in bright orange. It looks quite nice.

There are no physical buttons on the surface of the device. You bring up a lower navigation menu by tapping the screen once. This can take you back home, etc.

But the key for Amazon is just how deeply integrated all of their services are. Amazon’s content store is always just one click away. The book reader is a Kindle app (which looks similar to how it does on Android and iOS now). The music player is Amazon’s Cloud Player. The movie player is Amazon’s Instant Video player. The app store is Amazon’s Android Appstore.

Google’s Android Market is nowhere to be found. In fact, no Google app is anywhere to be found. This is Android fully forked. My understanding is that the Kindle OS was built on top of some version of Android prior to 2.2. And Amazon will keep building on top of that of that over time. In other words, this won’t be getting “Honeycomb” or “Ice Cream Sandwich” — or if it does, users will never know it because that will only be the underpinnings of the OS. Any visual changes will be all Amazon.

They are not working with Google on this. At all.

There is a web browser (of course), and while it’s styled a bit to match the Kindle UI, it looks pretty much the same as the Android’s WebKit browser. Yes, it has tabs! And yes, Google Search is still the default (the Kindle also has its own search tool to find content on your device).

Overall, the UI of this Kindle felt very responsive. You can flick through the carousel seamlessly. This is something Amazon has apparently been working on quite a bit, I’m told. And they continue to. Some of the page-turning touch mechanics still needed a bit of work in the version I used.

I believe the visual web reading app Pulse will be bundled with the Kindle. A game like Angry Birds may be as well. Again, it uses Amazon’s Android Appstore, so all of the content accepted into that store will play well on this device. Apps, games, content, you name it. Amazon creating their own app store is starting to make a lot more sense, and looks potentially very smart (as anticipated).

A few more bits about the hardware:

I believe it is running on a single-core chip (though I’m not 100 percent sure). My understanding is that the 10-inch version, if it comes, will have a dual-core chip.

I also believe the device only has 6 GB of internal storage. The idea is that this will be more of a “cloud device” for things like music and movies. The storage is meant for storing books and apps There were a few references to an SD card expansion, but I couldn’t find a slot on the hardware itself.

This initial version of the device will be WiFi-only. Amazon is supposedly working with carriers to possibly product 3G-enabled versions (as they have with their other Kindles), but that won’t be the case at launch.

I’m not sure what the battery life is like (I only played with it for about an hour), but I imagine it is very good and in line with other tablets — 10 hours or so.

The back of the device is rubbery — again, it’s very similar to the PlayBook (it’s black as well). The power button is underneath if you’re holding it vertically (which is a bit odd — but it’s obviously to the side if you’re holding it horizontally). There’s a micro-USB port (presumably for powering the device as well). The speakers are of the top of the device (again, if it’s being held vertically).

There is no camera.

So why will people buy this device instead of a Nook Color? Well, beyond the deep Amazon services integration, there will be two other reasons, I believe. First, Amazon is going to promote the hell out of this thing on Amazon.com. Second, the plan right now is to give buyers a free subscription to Amazon Prime.

The service, which Amazon currently sells for $79 a year, gives users access things like free unlimited two-day shipping, and no minimum purchases for free shipping. More importantly for this product, Prime users get access to Amazon’s Instant Video service. There will be more Kindle-related perks, I imagine.

As far as the existing e-ink-based Kindles, all I’ve heard is that they’ll continue to co-exist with this new tablet (though the DX may or may not stick around). They’ll simply be the low-end, low-cost Kindles, whereas this new one will be the high-end one (at least until the 10-inch version comes out, if it does). One source said it doesn’t seem likely that Amazon is going to release a touch-screen e-ink Kindle, like the new Nook, anytime soon. But none of that is confirmed, it’s simply speculation based on the emphasis on getting this new tablet to market.

Oh and one more thing: Amazon has been working on a multi-touch screen/e-ink hybrid tablet device. But that’s nowhere near completion, I’m told. So for now, this new Kindle will have to do.

That’s all for now. I suspect even more information (and pictures) will start leaking out soon — again, the new Kindle is very close to being done. Not only is the device real, from what I’ve seen, it’s solid. I suspect it will be on many people’s holiday wish-list this year.


Company:
AMAZON
Launch Date:
1994
IPO:
5/1997, NASDAQ:AMZN

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is a leading global Internet company and one of the most trafficked Internet retail destinations worldwide. Amazon is one of the first companies to sell products deep...

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Company:
ANDROID

In July 2005, Google acquired Android, a small startup company based in Palo Alto, CA. Android’s co-founders who went to work at Google included Andy Rubin (co-founder of...

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Samsung’s New Android UI Is Ambitious But Flawed

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:53 PM PDT

292900_176466582424542_175674769170390_423152_120874_n

One of the beautiful things about Android is how extensively you can customize things. A quick peek in the Android Market reveals tons of widgets, skins, and launcher replacements, all ready to give the Android device in your life a fresh new look. Shockingly, Samsung has decided to throw their hat into the customization ring with its own launcher replacement called Pure Breeze, developed by their San Jose Mobile Lab.

For the uninitiated, launcher replacements are applications that essentially redo an Android device’s UI, with some doing the job better than others. Samsung’s freshman effort, unfortunately, falls mostly into the latter category.

Samsung says Pure Breeze is all about easy navigation between apps, and it does its best to streamline everything with that thought in mind (for better or worse).

Pure Breeze’s homescreen equivalent is something the San Jose Lab calls “The Kite.” It’s much like your standard homescreen setup, save for a few crucial differences: it’s translucent (which is important), and there’s only one, very long page to scroll. That proved to be a bit of a roadblock for me in the early stages of use; I’d have to resist the temptation to swipe left and right to access other things because there was nothing there.

The app drawer button is centered along the bottom of the screen, and does what it always has before. The difference here is that it comes with preloaded groups for apps, which can be accessed by swiping left and right. Apps can be easily moved in and out of these groups by holding and dragging them around. When pressing and holding an app’s icon, it can also be sent to the trash or to The Kite. Fair enough.

When an app is opening, and the Home button is used to exit it, the translucent homescreen comes into play. It swoops in from a corner and covers it, leaving the app partially visible. This is what Pure Breeze is really about: hitting the Back key makes The Kite fly away again, leaving the user exactly where they were before. Hit the Back key again, and it will take you to the app opened just prior to that. Pure Breeze effectively creates a chain of apps that theoretically allows users to follow a trail back to wherever they left off.

It sounds great, and for the most part, it works really nicely, but there are a couple issues.

Chains can get long enough to overwhelm some less powerful devices, and the translucent homescreen can be awfully distracting when trying to find an app you placed on The Kite. Pure Breeze is just different enough that many users who pick it up will try to do their usual thing and wind up lost. There’s only one homescreen page, so be judicious in deciding what widgets to use. The Menu button, when pressed on the homescreen, brings up the Pure Breeze settings instead of the device menu.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but it seems like a too drastic a shift for so little payoff. The app chaining concept is a novel idea and works surprisingly well, but all the little missteps drag everything down. This is the San Jose Mobile Lab’s first release, and it’s certainly an ambitious one, but here’s hoping future versions will be better thought out.

The app went live in the Android Market a few days ago, and is available in both free and paid versions.



Instagram Adds 50 Million Photos In August, Now Over 200 Million Total

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:40 PM PDT

Instagram-Logo

Instagram is growing like crazy. In June, we noted when the service hit the 5 million user milestone, with 95 million photos uploaded. At the beginning of August, Instagram reached 150 million photos. And now the service has surpassed yet another milestone: 200 million photos.

Given that our last measurement was at the beginning of August, and the site is now well beyond 200M, that means that Instagram added some 50 million photos in August alone.

In keeping with our previous Flickr comparisons, that’s 200 million photos for the 10-month old Instagram, when it took Flickr almost 2 years to reach 100 million photos. Still, that’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, isn’t it? After all, Flickr reached its 100 millionth photo back in February 2006. The iPhone itself wasn’t unveiled until June 2007. And even then, it was nowhere near as ubiquitous a device as it is today.

And as we noted before, Flickr is now well past 5 billion photos, an increase that has also been impacted by the iPhone’s existence.

Still, 200 million photos is another nice milestone for Instagram to reach. And it’s impressive how quickly it got there.

By the way, if you’re curious how to keep track of Instagram’s numbers for yourself, Hans Kullin posted a hack on his blog, which involves using the third-party service Inkstagram. The URL’s found there are in sequential order. For example, this is the first ever published Instagram photo: http://inkstagram.com/#/photos/2. (Photo #1 is missing). This is the 150 millionth: http://inkstagram.com/#/photos/150000003, as previously confirmed. In that case, this would be the 200 millionth, but the photo is private, so, sadly, you can’t view it.

As for Instagram, it didn’t even notice the milestone until we pointed it out to them. They must be too busy working on their Android app over there.


Company:
INSTAGRAM
Launch Date:
2010
Funding:
$7.5M

Instagram is a photo sharing application for the iPhone. It allows you to quickly take pictures, apply a filter, and share it on the service or with a number...

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Terrahawk’s M.U.S.T. Is A Mobile Guard Tower In A Shady-Looking Van

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:35 PM PDT

545_Terrahawk_-_CS_Burnt_1280x720__2_w_no_logo_1_

National Security isn’t always about the flashy solutions. Not everything can be rail guns and one-winged drones. Sometimes you just need a sort of seedy-looking van that slowly, slowly turns into a climate-controlled guard tower.

That, at least, is the goal of defense researcher Terrahawk’s M.U.S.T. platform. That’s Mobile Utility Surveillance Tower if you must know. Check out this video of its deployment.

I have to say, it’s different in the movies and such where these things tend to exist. But I suppose in the interest of stability and durability they can’t have big feet that fire out like jackhammers, and a tower that pops up like a jack in the box.

Although it looks like something you can shoot out of, I don’t think that’s really recommended. It’s a fairly vulnerable target — a speeding car or RPG could easily topple it. Terrahawk recommends it for “emergency response, public event crowd control, [and] general surveillance.” It’s got lights, thermal cameras, and ground radar for monitoring borders, so drug runners beware.

They’re doing a big demonstration of the MUST for the House and Senate next Thursday, at which many Representatives will be overheard to say “couldn’t it go a little faster?” And Terrahawk will respond “well, right now your options are taking two days to build a guard tower, or two minutes to put one of our things up.” The Representative will nod and check his phone.



The Killings Continue At Google: Aardvark Put Down

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:30 PM PDT

Aardvark

Google is working fast and furious to streamline their product offerings. Just a couple weeks after killing off all but one of the projects in their Slide division, today comes another death: Aardvark.

Co-founder Max Ventilla says the service will shut down at the end of this month. We broke the news of Google and Aardvark talking in late 2009. By February 2010, they had a deal: Google bought Aardvark for $50 million.

But Google never really did anything interesting with Aardvark, despite the big time potential. It was a type of social search that paved the way for services like Quora and now Jig. Instead of having them focus on Search, Google put most of the Aardvark team on the Google+ project.

Here’s Ventilla’s full letter to users:

As part of the shutdown of GoogleLabs, Aardvark will be shutting down at the end of September.

Aardvark began as a small experiment in a new kind of social search, and over a few years blossomed into a service that made millions of connections between people to answer each other's questions. It was a great experience in seeking to combine a broad vision for the future of technology with a rigorous user-centered design process. Over this time, we learned a lot about creating and maintaining online communities, and how to facilitate sharing of knowledge between people.

We've been excited to share these lessons within Google over the past year, especially as part of the effort behind Google+. It has been gratifying to see how well this project is doing — even in these early stages, Google+ has already become a great place to share knowledge online, eclipsing the original vark.com! — and there is much more to come very soon. In this and other projects at Google, the Aardvark team remains committed to developing powerful tools for connecting people and improving access to information.

Of course, we're also sad to say goodbye to the original Aardvark here at vark.com. Who would have thought that a digital version of a nocturnal burrowing mammal would have engendered so much affection! We're very grateful to the whole Aardvark community for your support along the way.

Onwards,

Max and Damon

p.s. In the spirit of data liberation, we want to make sure that any of you Aardvark users who would like to retrieve your past data from the service can do so. Right now of course you can log in and manually copy anything you'd like to keep. Or if you prefer, you can email us at support@vark.com and we'll send you a bulk dump of your data (please allow time for us to process these). After September 30, there will be no way to retrieve your data, as shortly after that we will delete everything permanently.


Company:
AARDVARK
Website:
http://vark.com/
Launch Date:
7/2007
Funding:
$6M

Aardvark (formerly Mechanical Zoo) is a social search engine, founded by a group of former Google employees. Aardvark that lets users ask questions that are distributed to the social...

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Google+ To Roll Out A Twitter-Like Suggested User List

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:28 PM PDT

Twitter-1

Google’s Bradley Horowitz just Tweeted out a note indicating that Google is about to add a Twitter-like Suggested User list to Google+. From the Tweet: We’re about to pilot a ‘suggested user’-like mechanism on Google+. If you’ve got more than 100k followers on Twitter, DM me – lets talk! As stated in the message, Horowitz is looking for users who have more than a 100,000 followers on Twitter.

Besides what Horowitz wrote, there aren’t too many details on how Google+ will decide who will be on the list. Twitter’s suggested user list has been controversial because those on it were assured to gain thousands of followers a day, and those who are left off thought this was unfair. Twitter then revamped the list last year, and now also allows users to create personalized suggested user lists.

Google has become more brand friendly with verification for profiles of celebrities, public figures, and people who have been added to an (undefined) 'large' number of Circles. It’s unclear yet if the suggested user list will include only verified profiles.

How Google decides who makes it on the list will be very interesting. Clearly Twitter followers are playing a factor of sorts, which is interesting. You have to wonder whether Facebook or other followings on networks will also be used. Horowitz did add that Google has some ‘amazing ideas around context-specific relevance’ for recommendations.



Amazon.com’s Big Redesign Is Arriving Soon For All

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:00 PM PDT

Amazon Picture

For days, our inboxes have been filled with tips and screenshots about Amazon.com’s redesign, which offers a cleaned up Amazon homepage, without the old site’s iconic blue and orange navigation. Instead, the new site features a much bigger search bar, bigger buttons, and less clutter – all changes that practically scream “tablet-optimized!”

The changes, of course, hint that Amazon’s long-rumored Android tablet is right around the corner. The site overhaul is being rolled out just prior to the tablet’s launch, or goes the current speculation.

Well, at least we now know when the redesign’s rollout will be complete: this month.

(Update: we were subsequently informed that “end of the month” is incorrect, which is what Amazon told us initially. The complete rollout is “TBD,” it says now). 

Amazon has been testing the new design since late August and is now prepared to have it go live to all customers later this fall. This not only includes U.S. visitors, but international customers, as well. It will not disclose the percentage of users who have already received the update, however.

The company believes the updated look will make searching for and discovering items easier. But in particular, Amazon notes that the design is meant to better highlight products like MP3′s, Kindle eBooks, digital games and apps from the Amazon Appstore for Android.

Now, what customers would be looking for those sorts of items, again? Hmm.

In addition, we’re told that the redesigned site will be the default homepage for both tablet and PC visitors, only those browsing from a smartphone would see something different – a mobile-optimized site. Hmm.

If you haven’t seen the redesign yet, check out the old (top) and new (bottom) screenshots below.

Image credit: new site – Stuart Lawder


Company:
AMAZON
Launch Date:
1994
IPO:
5/1997, NASDAQ:AMZN

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is a leading global Internet company and one of the most trafficked Internet retail destinations worldwide. Amazon is one of the first companies to sell products deep...

Learn more


Keen On… It Will Be Really, Really Difficult for Tim Cook to Screw Up Apple (TCTV)

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 11:44 AM PDT

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 10.34.07 AM

If you are sick of Steve Jobs stories, then this interview isn't for you. But, of course, you probably aren't. On one hand, even though Jobs resigned from Apple more than a week ago, there appears to be no let up in the flood of anecdotes about The Great Leader. On the other, we are now seeing the first significant executive reshuffles reshuffles in the Tim Cook era.

But now that the dust is beginning to settle just a little on the Jobs epoch, what exactly is his legacy and what are the principle challenges and opportunities facing Tim Cook? To answer these questions and more, I went to one of the most reliable sources of Apple intelligence, TUAW.com editor-in-chief Victor Agreda, Jr., a guy who spends his whole day making sense of Cupertino's alternative reality.

So, I asked Victor when I caught up with him yesterday, will the authoritarianism, abrasiveness and paranoia of the Jobs regime be normalized under Cook?


Person:
ANDREW KEEN
Website:
Companies
Now.tv, TechCrunch

Andrew Keen is an Anglo-American entrepreneur, writer, broadcaster and public speaker. He is the author of the international hit “Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is Killing our...

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Person:
VICTOR AGREDA
Companies
TUAW

Victor’s introduction to technology was the Apple ][ his dad bought in late 1978. Since then he’s used Amiga’s, Commodore’s, Tandy’s, even a PC and a Mac or two....

Learn more


Will The Next iPhone Be Thinner And Wider? A Gazillion Leaked Cases Say Yes

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 11:31 AM PDT

iphone5casewide

The Internet is awash in purported iPhone 5 cases. Like most iPhone related rumors, it’s hard to decipher fact from fantasy, but the sheer amount of nearly identical cases seem to state that at least several manufacturing houses have the same iPhone dimensions. The image here is a iPhone 4 in one of these many cases. Look different? Yep, this case, and the many like it, are clearly for a phone that’s both thinner and wider.

This isn’t the first whiff of this rumor either. A rather official looking iPhone 5 clone popped up a month ago that was just 7mm thick, 2.3mm less than the iPhone 4. It also shared the same design cues with a rounded edge, slightly convex back and a wider design.

Now, not that any of us in the West truly understand the seedy underworld of Chinese gadget cloning, but it’s entirely possible that, at least from where I sit, these cases and clones are sourcing the same set of unofficial dimensions. Makers are betting that they have the right specs and so they are building out a massive supply ahead of the next iPhone’s launch. But leaked cases have been a major source of leaks for years, properly foretelling even the iPad 2′s existence.

A wider but thinner iPhone would match the current trend of smartphones slightly larger than the traditional form factor. This is something might be something even Apple, who is generally a trend setter instead of follower, might not be able to avoid. But what about MG? He stated over and over again that the EVO 4G’s 4.3-inch screen made the device too big. Would he actually pass on the next iPhone if it’s wider? Shock!


Company:
APPLE
Launch Date:
1/4/1976
IPO:
1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer,...

Learn more


Google Abandons “Maps API For Flash”

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 11:19 AM PDT

google-maps

In more news of Flash’s impending decline, Google is announcing that it’s “deprecating” the Google Maps API (application programming interface) for Flash. This API previously allowed developers to add Google Maps functionality within their Flash-based applications.

However, as of today, use of the API is limited, says Google, with only a small number of applications taking advantage of features unique to the Google Maps API for Flash alone.

The API, which originally launched in May 2008, is similar to the JavaScript version, but designed for use within Flash apps. Developers could use the API for manipulating and adding content to maps through a variety of services, which enabled them to embed interactive maps applications on websites.

The Maps for Flash API isn’t actually being killed off entirely – it’s being deprecated. That means that it will continue to function according to the Maps API Terms of Service, but no new features will be developed, and only “critical bugs, regressions and security issues” will be fixed.

In other words, the API is basically being abandoned.

Flash developers are instead encouraged to migrate applications over the Maps API v3, which offers other benefits like Street ViewFusion Tables integrationPlaces search, and full support for mobile browsers, says Google. And help is being made available on the Google Maps JavaScript API v3 forum.

The move is not surprising, given the limited interest in the API’s unique features, as noted above. However, in some way, the decision seemingly stands in contradiction to other moves Google has made in recent months in support of Flash. For example, last summer, Adobe and Google jointly announced that the Flash Player would soon be built into the Chrome Web browser going forward, thus eliminating users’ need to download, install and update the plugin separately.

Plus, Google’s mobile operating system is known for its support for Adobe Flash, and Flash-based apps.

In today’s blog post, Google also adds that it continues to support Flash as a development platform in Chrome, too, but the link for more details goes to a dead URL.

Maybe that page got deprecated too?

Update: Google fixed the link. The correct URL is http://www.google.com/support/chrome/bin/answer.py?answer=108086.



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