Mobile applications are a $30 billion business, according to new Market Data from ABI Research.
The market intelligence company reveals that cumulative mobile app revenues are forecasted to pass $30 billion by the end of this year, which is nearly double the amount that was reached by the end of 2011. The cumulative revenue includes money made from pay-per-downloads, in-app purchases, subscriptions and in-app advertisements.
“Consumers’ high interest in apps has for a long time been obvious from download volumes, but it’s 2012 that will go down in history as the year when the economic side of the business finally took off,” said ABI Research Senior Analyst Aapo Markkanen. “We’re no longer talking only about a short-term gold rush. Apps have become a major digital industry.”
It is also important to note that even though Apple was the catalyst behind monetizing mobile applications, Markkanen claims that Android developers are estimated to receive about one-third of annual app revenues.
The rapid pace of the Web, and mobile Web in particular, means the quicker developers and advertisers can get application analytics data, the better off they’ll be.
Mobile customer intelligence solution Kontagent recognized this fact, and used it as the foundation for its latest analytics solution offering, the Kontagent Partner Edition, which it created in conjunction with (and provided exclusively through) mobile advertising and publishing platform Tapjoy.
Now, Tabjoy’s publishing and advertising partners will be able to use the Kontagent Partner Edition to receive “valuable” app data in near real-time. This will provide both developers and advertisers with key insights about their applications, which they can then use to provide better user experiences, improve their acquisition campaigns and maximize monetization.
“Whether you’re an advertiser, small studio or larger publisher, you need access to in-app data in order to understand how to present the right offer to the right user at the right time,” says Jeff Tseng, CEO of Kontagent. “Many fledgling developers are not yet able to afford our enterprise solution, but we hope that by using the Partner Edition, they learn how to leverage data to grow their businesses.”
appMobi, a provider of cloud-based HTML5 mobile development and deployment tools and services, has officially announced a licensable enterprise version of it’s mobile app development and cloud services stack.
The new service, privateStack, was built to aid businesses, government agencies and other organizations in completing mobile application deployments with end-to-end control for enhanced security and more. Many of appMobi’s enterprise customers had expressed interest in creating hybrid, Web-based mobile apps for different audiences, including sales teams, services technicians, executives, operations personnel and customers.
Hybrid apps tend to appeal to enterprises because of how much they simplify app creation and deployment using HTML5, as opposed to the more arcane languages (e.g. Objective C) used by native app developers. However, these requests were often hampered by concerns about data security, service quality and the general difficulty of distributing corporate apps in public app stores. Thus, appMobi came up with privateStack to address these problems. It will provide enterprise CTOs with the ability to support native-quality, cross-platform, HTML5-based mobile apps with total control over hosting geography, security, user authentication and gateways into corporate data silos.
privateStack comes with all of appMobi’s HTML5 development tools for hybrid development with both appMobi and PhoneGap, as well as all of the features from appMobi’s cloud services platform, including authentication, rich media push messaging, mobile app analytics, remote app updates, in-app purchasing, gamification and social network interfaces.
All privateStack applications can be built into iOS and Android store-ready apps or deployed on secure corporate intranets. The service is offered by appMobi as an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) for top-tier update and rapid, seamless scalability. It’s also offered in both managed and custom configurations.
Customers interested in hosting privateStack on their personal corporate data centers can do so thanks to the availability of enterprise source licensing.
Mobile has changed the way we live.
From video games to photography, and even shopping – mobile devices have become an intricate part of every day life for many people.
In fact, a recent Nielsen study shows that 47 percent of American smartphone owners used shopping apps in June 2012. This is why it is important for Web workers to put a focus on mobile if they haven’t already – especially merchants. This is particularly true because consumers aren’t only using shopping apps as an alternate channel to make purchases, but are also using these applications as tools for researching products and locating items at local stores.
“Retailers are finding that consumers are willing to use smartphone apps to enhance their shopping experience, and this data shows usage of shopping apps is growing,” says Don Kellogg, Director of Telecom Insights at Nielsen. “As more Americans use their smartphones while shopping and making purchases directly through apps, retailers should consider personalizing their targeted offerings around the needs of individual consumers.”
And while major e-commerce retailers, like eBay and Amazon, are also behind some of the most used smartphone shopping apps, this doesn’t mean that other merchants can’t learn from these retail-giants’ mobile strategies. For example, eBay’s app features daily deals on its homescreen, which is a good attention grabber for the deal-seeking consumer, while traditional retailers, like Target and Walgreens, drive consumers in stores with their apps by featuring tools that help consumers locate products at a nearby store.
For some more application inspiration, check out Nielsen’s list of top 10 shopping apps from June 2012 below:
Cloud computing has provided app developers numerous new opportunities for deploying their creations and growing their audience.
AppFog is a multi-language Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) built for the deployment and management of cloud-based applications; basically, it provides a direct avenue for developers to publish their work in the cloud. It is an infrastructure agnostic service that provides solutions for Java, .NET, node.js, Python, PHP, MySQL, MongoDB, Postgres, and Ruby, among others, so it’s got something for almost every type of developer.
A reliable, scalable, and fast platform for both mobile and Web applications, AppFog currently deploys over 60,000 apps in the cloud that are used by tens of thousands of developers across the world.
Recently, the company announced a major partnership with cloud computing aristocracy. AppFog will begin collaborating with Rackspace so that its customers can deploy applications to the open Rackspace Cloud, which is powered by the company’s OpenStack operating system.
The AppFog solution is going to be available through the brand new Rackspace Cloud Tools Marketplace, a comprehensive catalog of third-party applications designed to be used in the Rackspace Cloud.
Now, AppFog customers can develop and deploy their apps to the Rackspace Cloud in a simple, efficient, and cost effective way. They’ll receive 2GB of free RAM when they create an account, and the service will take a pay-for-RAM approach after that.
The key to this partnership is interoperability; current AppFog customers deploying their work on other Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers can redeploy the apps to the Rackspace Cloud with zero-code migrations. This provides increased flexibility for AppFog users and helps them avoid vendor lock-in.
One of the really great things about working on the Web is that it can be done from pretty much anywhere, as long as there is some kind of connection. This, of course, has its downsides, particularly when it comes to collaborative projects.
Many companies have tried to find a solution to this problem by creating tools aimed at these professional teams that may not always be within the immediate proximity of one another.
One such tool is Cage, a brand new collaboration application that allows creative teams to present their work for feedback and approval. The app just recently launched its public beta version.
Creative professionals can use the application to easily upload and present files, but they can do far more than that. It also allows them to manage tasks, organize revisions, and receive approvals form team members in a single environment. The public beta version is undergoing a massive redesign and interface redevelopment, as well as introducing a multitude of new or improved features.
Some of these enhancements include the ability to manage, assign, and complete tasks within the app, in-app sharing, a video player with the ability to offer frame-by-frame feedback, support for a wide variety of file types, customizable email notifications, an archive of inactive products, and more.
Since its private beta release in 2011, Cage has been utilized by over 20,000 creative professionals, including employees of Marvel Comics, Electronic Arts, Target, Twitter, and more.
One of the most popular DIY platforms for building iOS, Android and Windows apps is AppMakr - and wouldn't you know, it just keeps getting better.
The platform has released several new features worthy of note but here are the highlights:
- Introduction of a new main menu page that can be customized with a background image or logo, or a live video background that plays on a loop. This could be used for a product demo, application content previews, etc.
- AppMakr has also released a new scrolling menu navigation bar where users will switch from tab to tab through a scrollbar. (see image below)
- Perhaps the most exciting new feature is the release of sub-feeds. Developers using AppMakr can now control their feed layout by merging similar feeds together or adding related subfeeds.
AppMakr has also made it possible to update apps live – only for iOS and Android, has rebuilt its feed parser so feeds can be updated, edited and removed, included the ability to customize content layout of RSS/Atom feeds with HTML, and revamped its photo album feature to render in landscape view.
Gamification and digital coupon company Fanplayr has been on a partnership acquisition binge as of late. It has already signed off on joint ventures with eBay’s X.Commerce platform, Shopify, ifeelgoods, MailChimp and Constant Contact, and now it has added CardSpring to the list.
CardSpring, for the unfamiliar, is a payment platform that helps developers add both Web and mobile applications (including coupons, loyalty programs and digital receipts) to credit and debit cards.
Adding the CardSpring API to the First Data OfferWise solution with Fanplayr’s Gamified “Smart & Targeted” Coupons and Offers platform means that merchants can add Fanplayr coupons straight to a consumer’s payment card. This allows the shopper to turn around and redeem it in real time at the point-of-sale.
The result is a simplified coupon collection and redemption process for both the merchant and consumer, and another step toward improving the digital reward experience for all parties.
With this latest pairing, Fanplayr continues to expand upon its ability to help merchants and retailers reach, influence and convert online shoppers.
Adding background location tracking and geo-fencing to your latest application just got considerably easier.
Popular app development tool provider Appcelerator is including Geoloqi services to its Titanium 2.0 platform. This means that Appcelerator’s 1.6 million iOS and Android Titanium-using developers will now be able to include geo-triggered events into their applications, and Geoloqi’s technology was designed to do so in a simple, battery-efficient way.
Using carrier signals, GPS, Wi-Fi and indoor tracking systems, Geoloqi is able to help apps track where a user is, which means the app can then present messages or trigger actions based on their location.
New Titanium developers can get a two-month free trial from Appcelerator if they register and download the Geoloqi Titanium module by the end of June.
Following in the footsteps of Apple, Google and many others, Facebook announced plans to unveil its own app store in the coming weeks.
This new offering will give developers a new avenue for promoting their work across multiple mobile platforms, while adding another place for users to discover new apps.
The thoughtfully named Facebook App Center will allow users to search for Facebook apps that run on the Web, as well as iOS and Android devices, provided the applications have some kind of tie into Facebook, which at the very least means using Facebook Login.
Apps will be searchable by category and ratings, with the most popular among them highlighted for convenience.
Facebook plans to set the App Center apart from its competitors by offering a social aspect to the discovery process. Instead of showing a single list of top apps that is identical for every user, each individual will see a list of recommended apps based on what their Facebook friends are using.
Developers can charge users for their apps, and anyone interested in building for the Facebook App Center can see the guidelines here.
Like Prometheus, enterprise-class Web and cloud systems monitoring company Monitis is bringing power usually reserved for the largest of large-scale businesses to everybody else. The company recently announced that it was going to extend all of its enterprise monitoring features into Monitor.Us, its free monitoring service.
Now, businesses of any size will be able to leverage enterprise-class features to gain insights into the performance of their Web systems. This major change will make Monitor.Us one of the most feature-rich free hosted Web and cloud-monitoring systems on the market.
This move was made in large part because of rapid cloud adoption by companies of all shapes and sizes, a switch that makes it more important for businesses to be in charge of their IT systems regardless of location.
Until recently, many of the most powerful Web application performance tools were far too complex (and expensive) for small and medium-sized businesses to even consider, but this makes 77 new features available to virtually anyone who wants them. This opens up a host of benefits for companies that want to leverage Web and cloud systems monitoring, including supporting a smooth transition to the cloud that lets companies know their applications are secure.
The new features include a cloud monitoring service for the free and independent monitoring of cloud apps and environments, a real browser end user-monitoring service that lets businesses conduct full-page monitoring of load speeds to identify individual problems and a custom monitoring service that lets users create their own “types” of monitors for their highly specific individual needs.
Microsoft's Hotmail service now has a Kindle Fire app.
OK, this may not be as exciting as Google releasing a Gmail app for Apple's iPhone, and there is still no native Gmail app for the Fire. But the Hotmail app for the Fire should be a worthwhile release for many owners of Amazon's popular 7-inch tablet due to the addition of Exchange Active Sync.
Unlike Amazon's included email app on the FIre, which merely downloads your messages via POP3, Microsoft's Hotmail app will synch emails, contacts, folders and subfolders, said David Law, Microsoft's director of Hotmail product management, in a blog post.
While the free Hotmail app for the Fire is technically an Android app, the version for Amazon's tablet is different from the standard Hotmail Android app used by more than 3 million people, Law said.
The differences between the Fire Hotmail app and the standard Android Hotmail app have to do with the changes Amazon made to Android to create the Fire-specific operating system it runs on its tablet, which as we've noted before is unlike any other version of Android out there.
"Because the Kindle Fire uses a different implementation of Android, we needed to make some updates to our previous Hotmail app for Android to ensure it worked well," Law said. "Now that we've finished the work and the app is ready, we're excited to give customers a great Hotmail experience on the Kindle Fire."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of the Hotmail app listing in Amazon's Appstore for Android. Credit: Microsoft / Amazon
To stand out with today’s more savvy and sophisticated user, you’ll need to push the boundaries and be disruptive when it comes to the experience you provide. Website Magazine pays close attention to news and events related to API’s and that’s as good a place as any to start. Below you’ll find a list of recently updated/released API’s that you may want to consider integration with your next website or application.
Advertising: Google’s Affiliate Network API enables publishers to look up advertisers and access order and lead transactions.
Answers: Ask500People’s API allows users to vote, create polls and retrive data from the Ask500People website.
Bookmarking: Gimme Bar’s API allows developers to access user collections, get user information, post and access collections.
Social: The Badgeville API allows developers to manage reward programs, access behavior information and manage user information.
Calendar: Online scheduling and appointment setting service MakePlans enables developers to access and integration the sites services into their sites/apps.
Education: The API from Blackboard Collaborate enables developers to integrate the services features into any learning management or content management system.
Tools: Yahoo's Content Analysis API enables users to perform content analysis on text or a URL. The API can extract terms from content and rank them based on their overall importance to content.
Invoicing: The FetchFlow API enables developers to access client information, create and manage invoices and retrieve estimate information.
Feed Search: An API from Q-Sensei offers a multi-dimension search and indexing technology to leverage both structured and unstructured data.
Database: Amazon’s DynamoDB (a NoSQL database) API enables developers to create, update and delete tables from a database.
Media Management: MetaCDN’s API supports user account management as well as functions including creating, retrieving, updating and deleting media elements.
Media Search: The Library of Congress provides access to an image collection that can be incorporated into other apps.
Sony's PlayStation Vita has got me intrigued.
As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.
But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.
If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.
But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.
I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.
The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious.
The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.
There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2.
We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards.
The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.
However, memory cards for the Vita — which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita — are sold separately.
A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.
It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The game Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
The Manhattan Beach start-up provides a suite of tools to help users capture the "entire life-cycle of group events," including invites and RSVPs, group texting, instant photo-sharing in real time and archiving.
During a demo for The Times, co-founders Cyrus Farudi, who is chief executive, and Omri Cohen, who is chief technology officer, said they were trying to create a central location for events that would enable participants to better plan and share their experiences together. Before Capsule, they said, the process was much more disjointed — for instance, receiving an invite through Evite, texting friends individually before and tweeting during the event, and checking each participant's individual Facebook accounts afterward to see photos.
"No one has that complete solution over the marketplace, and I think that's one thing that sets us apart," said Farudi, formerly of Flipswap. Capsule "solves the event life-cycle management problem."
Farudi, 31, and Cohen, 29, said they came up with the idea after having to attend 14 weddings and nine bachelor parties in one year. Founded less than a year ago, the start-up is angel-funded and joins a fast-growing group of emerging tech companies in the Los Angeles area, which some people have dubbed Silicon Beach.
On Friday, a day after Capsule was released to the public, Farudi declined to say how many people had joined but said the launch was "going really well." Capsule can be found at www.trycapsule.com.
– Andrea Chang
Image: Screen shot of Capsule's home page. Credit: Capsule
This week Apple announced a new textbook App called iBooks 2, as well as iBooks Author, a new book publishing app that allows normal people with little to no coding know-how to create impressive ebooks complete with photo galleries, video, 3-D images and other super cool graphic elements.
Nothing too controversial there, right? Wrong. By Thursday afternoon, tech bloggers began to complain about a clause in iBook Author's End User Licence Agreement that restricts how resulting ebooks can be sold, and by Friday the torrent of anger reached a fever pitch.
Here's the offending statement as it appears in the iBooks Author "About" box: "IMPORTANT NOTE: If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple."
In other words, Apple invites you to use its publishing software to do some really cool stuff that most of us could never dream of doing on our own, all for free. Just know that if you decide to sell what you've made, Apple will most likely get a cut of the profits.
Whether this is an unprecedented and gross abuse of power on Apple's part, or simply the company's way of making money off its new software, has been a hot topic of debate in the blogosphere.
In a scathing story headlined "iBooks Author: You Work For Apple Now," PCmag.com's Sascha Segan expressed his outrage over the clause in no uncertain terms.
"With iBooks Author, Apple just made a hideous play to kill authors' rights over their work," he writes. Adding later, "Apple owns the creative process of anyone who uses the tool. If you're looking to create an iBook, you've just given Apple total distribution control over your work. That's as good as partial ownership."
But Paul Carr, writing on the blog PandoDaily.com came to Apple's defense. Sort of. "Apple has released iBooks Author for free with one goal — to get more books into the iBooks store," he writes. "By taking a cut from all of the paid-for books produced in that way, they stand to make more than enough money to justify giving away the tools involved."
He adds that we are of course free to boycott Apple's new software if we don't like the terms of its agreement. "There are a hundred other ways to produce ebooks, and there are a half dozen other platforms on which to sell them. Pick one," he writes. "But we won’t. We’ll pick Apple, and we’ll like it. Because this is Apple, and that’s what we do."
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook on an iPad. Credit: Apple
NEWS ANALYSIS: Alongside Apple stating that iBooks 2 and textbooks on the iPad would reinvent the textbook as we know it, the iPad-maker announced Thursday that it would also attempt to reinvent book-making by way of an app called iBooks Author.
The Apple-developed app, available as a free download from the Mac App Store, (ideally) makes it easy to make books for the iPad. But together, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing, and to continue to build on the success Apple had under the late Steve Jobs.
If you've ever used Apple's Keynote or Pages (or Microsoft's PowerPoint or Word) apps, then you should be able to hit the ground running in iBooks Author. There are templates for different types of book layouts, and adding the interactive 3-D models, photos, videos and diagrams that Apple demoed iBooks 2 textbooks on Thursday is as easy as clicking and dragging a built-in widget — provided you've already produced the video, photos, diagrams and models you want to use.
Want to see what your book looks like before you publish it to iBooks? Just connect your Mac to an iPad by way of a USB cable and you can preview the book on the tablet.
The aim of the iBooks Author app is to make it easy to get these impressive multimedia elements, as well as questionnaires and other educational materials, into a page of text and published as a book on the iPad as easy as possible — whether you're a self-publisher looking to write your first book, a teacher whipping up something quick for a special class, or a publishing powerhouse like the textbook trifecta of McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Before his death, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Apple could disrupt the $8-billion-a-year textbook industry. Jobs said in Isaacson's book, titled simply "Steve Jobs," that the iPad was the tool to make transformation in the textbook business a reality.
According to the book, Jobs' idea "was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple."
Jobs told Isaacson "the process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt … but if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money."
In announcing the iBooks 2 and iBooks Author products, Apple is beginning to bring a piece of Jobs' long-term vision to fruition. The company also noted Thursday that there are currently about 1.5 million iPads being used in schools and more than 20,000 education apps sitting in its iOS App Store.
But make no mistake, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author aren't just about textbooks. The two new apps are working together to entice students, teachers, educational institutions to embrace and buy the iPad in bigger numbers than they already have.
On Thursday, in announcing the new products, Apple made no mention of new discounts on iPads for students or schools — though Apple has offered such discounts in the past on Macs and even created special versions of the iMac for schools. Apple even built the now-defunct eMac line specifically to sell to schools.
Apple wants us to ditch the paperback and hardcover textbooks in favor of an iPad and digital downloads, that much is obvious. But the company also wants the iPad and Macs to become to go-to devices for educational institutions and publishing houses.
Although Apple's iTunes is the world's most popular online music storefront, Amazon is the world's largest seller of e-books. By adding a level of interactivity to books that Amazon and others simply can't match, and by making it easier to publish a book and sell it in the iBooks app directly from iBooks Author, Apple has made a move to challenge Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and Kindle Touch tablet as the preferred platform for self-publishers and digital textbooks.
In a statement announcing iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, Apple said as much (without naming Amazon and other e-book rivals such as Google and Barnes & Noble).
"iBooks Author is also available today as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple's iBookstore," Apple said.
The apps are also a challenge to Adobe, a company Apple has been known to partner with and feud with from time to time. Adobe's Creative Suite, Digital Publishing Suite and Touch Apps, available on both Windows PCs and Macs, are some of the most popular tools used by publishing houses and self-publishers looking to create a book, whether an e-book or a book before it heads to print.
Though capable of producing many different types of content for a broader range of devices, Adobe's software can cost thousands of dollars, while Apple's iBooks Author app is free.
Apple on Thursday also released an iTunes U app, which allows teachers from kindergarten to the university level to stream video of their lectures and post class notes, handouts, reading lists, etc., all within the app.
Previously, iTunes U was a podcasting service for college professors who wanted to put up video or audio of their lectures. Now it is one more reason for a teacher to consider an iPad and a Mac as tools to reach students at any grade level. And like iBooks Author, the app is free.
In my opinion, Apple is one of the best companies out there at providing lower-cost products that pull consumers into an ecosystem of apps and gadgets. It's one of the reason the company has so many cult-like followers.
For many Apple fans, their first purchase was an iPod or iPhone. With those purchases comes buying apps, music, movies and TV shows from iTunes. And for many, later comes a MacBook or an iMac computer. This strategy is repeating itself with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.
First, get students and teachers to use more iPads in school by offering affordable and engaging digital textbooks. With iBook textbooks capped at a price of $14.99, I have to wonder whether or not textbooks will become shorter and more narrow, and thus students and teachers we'll have to buy more of them. Second, make it easy for anybody to produce their own iBooks (textbooks or otherwise) and then sell those books in the iBooks app, luring in aspiring authors. When those students, teachers and authors go to download music or a movie, set up a cloud storage service or buy a laptop, a phone, a new tablet — maybe someday a TV — what brand will be at the top of minds? Apple.
iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U, together are a move to fend off Google, Amazon, Adobe and other competitors in determining the future of education, publishing and book reading. Together, the launch of these apps is an attempt to not only maintain but also expand Apple's current success into the company's post-Jobs future.
Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook and an iPad. Credit: Apple
Apple promised to reinvent the textbook and offer a new experience for students and teachers by way of an update to its iBooks app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch on Thursday.
The app update — which Apple is calling iBooks 2 and is already released to the iOS App Store — will allow for textbooks to be sold through the popular app, which in the past sold novels, nonfiction and poetry, but not textbooks.
All textbooks sold through the free app, which is available only to Apple's i-devices, will be priced at $14.99 or less — a stark contrast to the high-priced paper books that fill college bookstores.
But the main allure might not be the price as much as the interactive features iBooks textbooks can offer.
Apple, which announced the iBooks update at a press event in New York at the Guggenheim Museum, said the iBooks textbook exceeds paper texts in terms of engagement, calling it a durable, quickly searchable book that offers easy highlighting and note-taking as well as interactive photo galleries, videos, and 3-D models and diagrams.
Digital textbooks can also offer immediate feedback with questionnaires at the end of chapters and automatically create flash cards of glossary terms for a student to study.
Apple said the move makes sense given that more that 1.5 million iPads are used in schools. "Now with iBooks 2 for iPad, students have a more dynamic, engaging and truly interactive way to read and learn, using the device they already love," said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.
One thing not mentioned by Apple on Thursday was any sort of program that would offer iPads at a discount to students, teachers or schools.
Apple also said there are more than 20,000 education-focused apps available in the iOS App Store.
The tech giant has enlisted the heavyweights of textbook publishing — Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — to sell textbooks through iBooks 2. Combined, the three companies make 90% of textbooks sold in the U.S. Smaller publishers such as DK and the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation will be publishing to iBooks 2 as well.
Just as iBooks does with other types of books, textbooks will offer a free preview of a few pages or even a chapter before a purchase is made.
EO Wilson is also publishing a new book through iBooks 2 called Life on Earth, and the first two chapters of the new title will be free with more chapters coming as they are written.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Textbooks for sale in iBooks 2 on an Apple iPad. Credit: Apple
Multi-channel mobile engagement and commerce solution Digby announced the launch of its LocalPoint platform at the National Retail Federation show this week.
The platform enables brands to create “geo-fences” around their brick-and-mortar stores and other points of interest and embed that data into their applications. This enables Digby, and in turn the brand, to measure app engagement and events such as geo-fence entries and exits, store visits, UPC/QR code scans and other shopping oriented events including store visits. In the end, this enables brands to deliver better (read more targeted) messaging through the branded app.
“Multichannel retailers in particular should recognize that they need a twofold objective with their smartphone presences: enabling sales, but also serving store shoppers,”¹ stated report author Sucharita Mulpuru, VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester Research, Inc. “Because the primary use cases of mobile devices are to support multi-channel experiences (e.g., finding more product information in stores, identifying store locations), it is imperative to include multichannel sales influence in any mobile ROI estimates.”
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers are rethinking the way in which applications are deployed and distributed, and many of these independent software vendors (ISV's) are exploring new licensing models. The most popular of which of course is the enterprise app store and there are solutions already emerging to fill the need.
Cloud commerce provider Digital River this week introduced a white-label app store for enterprises using their Global Commerce solution. Software publishers will be able to sell their own apps, as well as third-party apps, to customers through their own branded app store. The platform includes online payment processing in multiple currencies and by handling entitlements, global distribution, and payouts, Digtal River is enabling their parters to capitalize on the near meteroic growth of enterprise apps.
With the rapid growth of the native app market, many enterprise software publishers have mistakenly believed that to compete, they’re required to relinquish their customer relationships for exposure in “walled garden” app stores.
Joel Ronning, CEO of Digital River, disagrees.
“Merchants have always sought ways to maintain direct relationships with their customers,” said Ronning.
"With the addition of global enterprise app stores to Digital River’s app ecosystem, we can offer the enterprise software market a lucrative alternative to the current model. Publishers who tap into one or more components of our app ecosystem can gain access to multiple ways to distribute, monetize and optimize apps themselves. This enables them to increase profitability upfront and over the long term, as they maintain direct relationships with shoppers.”
Yet, despite Microsoft buying Skype at a price of $8.5-billion in October, you still can't make a Skype call on a Windows Phone handset. However, that will change soon, Skype and Microsoft said in a YouTube video produced at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.
If you're feeling a bit skeptical, you're likely not alone. Skype has been promising a Windows Phone app since April of last year. But a higher level of integration between Skype and its new owner Microsoft is inevitable, if not late.
Rick Osterloh, Skype's vice president of product, said in the company's CES video that the online calling service is working on apps for not only Windows Phone, but also for Microsoft's Xbox gaming console and the in-development Windows 8 operating system.
Osterloh also said that Skype is on an upswing of growth with the service recently passing 200 million monthly users who use more than 1 billion minutes a day. Also on the way is group-calling with up to 10 people on a single call, he said.
Image: A screenshot of a demonstration video of Skype for Android on a Samsung Nexus S smartphone. Credit: Skype
IPad owners, get psyched: The creative people over at Moonbot Studios have just released "The Numberlys," a new iPad and iPhone app that is not quite a movie, not quite a book and not quite a game — although it includes elements of all three.
One might describe it as one of the few storytelling apps that takes into account the iPad's unique functionality.
"The Numberlys " is set in a black-and-white world inspired in part by Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," where only numbers exist until five little guys decide to create the alphabet by transforming numbers into letters. To do this they jump on them, spin them, smash them and pull them apart using various tools.
And you — the reader? the player? — have to help them.
Savvy iPad owners may know Moonbot Studios as the creators of "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," a magical story app that appeared on many top 10 app lists of 2011.
The creative studio, which was co-founded by artist, director and former Pixar employee William Joyce, has been open just a year and a half, but has already established a reputation for excellence. The studio's first project, the short-film version of "Morris Lessmore," just made it on the short list for the Oscars.
I spoke this week with Lampton Enochs and Brandon Oldenburg, two of the three partners in Moonbot Studios, about the company's process and the future of storytelling on the iPad.
Question: So, you guys make movies, paper books, iPad apps. How do you describe what it is that you do?
Enochs: We think of ourselves as a storytelling outfit. We try to generate our own internal projects half the time and the other half of the time we want to work on collaborative projects with outside parties.
Oldenburg: Part of our mission here is to bring the future that never was back to the forefront. There is a sort of retro nostalgic vibe to our company that is rooted in science fiction. We've all grown up reading about all this wonderful fantastic stuff, and then it doesn't come to fruition. We want to bring it to fruition.
Q: The iPad is so new. What is it like working in such uncharted territory?
Oldenburg: It harkens back to the early days of film. It's still very Wild West and experimental right now and it is really exciting.
Enochs: The first movies were a locomotive and a guy running and that was it, and everyone was thrilled. We are still a little bit in that stage, I'm sure.
Q: I imagine there must be tensions between what the creative types think is best for the story and what the programmers say can actually be done. How do you work that out?
Oldenburg: Definitely when you work with scientists, and I'm calling our programmers scientists, everyone has to be open-minded. When you are in a creative brainstorming session you want to go, "yes — and." A lot of times our programmers can seem grumpy, but keeping them engaged in the conversation from the get-go allows you to see what the actual possibilities are.
Q: You've translated "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" into a film, an iPad app and a physical book (not yet released). What do you think about when you tell a story in a different medium?
Oldenburg: It is very important that every time we take one of our stories from an iPad to a book that it is not the same experience regurgitated now on a printed page. We look at things from a kid's logic standpoint. I remember being a kid and seeing a movie and then buying the game for the movie and it was always a letdown. It never lived up to the movie. Kids can smell merch. We don't ever want to create merch.
Q: Have there been any apps that inspire you guys?
Oldenburg: I heard about an album that you can only listen to when you are in Central Park, and it knows if you are there because of GPS, and it would play differently depending on where you walked so nobody would ever hear the exact same album as anyone else. I thought — how beautiful is that.
– Deborah Netburn
As General Motors introduced its first efforts to bring apps from your smartphone into your dashboard at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Ford expanded its Sync AppLink system — which does just that and launched about a year ago.
When AppLink made its debut, Pandora was the only app a Sync user could operate via in-dash touch screen. Later, Stitcher radio gained Sync compatibility, which includes voice control as well.
Ford announced at CES in Las Vegas this week that apps for iPhones, BlackBerrys and phones that Google's Android would be added to the AppLink-friendly list, including NPR News, Slacker Radio, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio and Ford's own Sync Destinations turn-by-turn navigation app.
To see NPR News and Slacker Radio in action in a new Ford Mustang GT, check out our video from CES above.
Ford says that more apps that work with Sync's voice recogniton software are on the way. Oddly enough, Sync (which was developed through a partnership between Ford and Microsoft) has no AppLink compatibility with Windows Phone apps.
Just as with GM's in-car-app systems — Chevrolet MyLink and Cadillac CUE — AppLink can use apps only if it’s connected to a smartphone with the app installed, and it accesses data through the phone. Ford isn't selling any AppLink data plans.
For now, AppLink is available only in Sync-equipped Fiestas, Mustangs, Fusions, F-150s and Econoline vans, but the U.S. automaker is considering pushing AppLink out to other Ford brands, such as Lincoln, as well as to vehicles running older versions of Sync.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Ford's Sync Destinations app. Credit: Ford
General Motors, Ford, Mercedes, Subaru and even QNX (owned by Research In Motion) each showed off their respectively differing approaches to getting apps into the dashboards of our cars at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
And while the idea of apps in the car is a dream for some, so far, most of the apps center around replicating smartphone or tablet experiences from the driver's seat.
OnStar, the GM-owned telematics company, has a slightly different idea to piggyback off the work developers are doing building apps for use in both smartphones and cars.
OnStar wants developers to create apps that use its wireless service to actually control cars in new ways that utilize what it already can do — automatic crash response, stolen vehicle tracking, turn-by-turn navigation and roadside assistance for subscribers of its wireless in-car assistance service.
OnStar RemoteLink enables users (who also own select 2010 or newer Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick or GMC vehicles) to view real-time data such as mileage, fuel in the gas tank, oil life and tire pressure from their car or truck. The app also allows users to remotely unlock doors, honk horns, shine lights, start the engine and, of course, contact a dealer.
It's these sorts of capabilities that OnStar is now offering developers through its API, and the first developer to build on that is RelayRides, a neighbor to car-sharing service. A new RelayRides app, which we got a preview of at CES (as seen int he video above), will launch later this year on Apple's iOS and allow car owners to unlock their cars remotely after the person renting their vehicle arrives, or even track where a renter has taken their car.
OnStar's API isn't yet available to all developers; company officials said that would take place in the first half of this year, but what RelayRides is working on shows a bit of its potential. GM said at CES that any developers interested in using the OnStar API should email the company at email@example.com.
RelayRides says its new OnStar integrated app, in both an iOS and Android-friendly HTML5 form, will launch "early this year."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screenshot of OnStar's RemoteLink app for Apple's iOS. Credit: OnStar
Like television makers, leading automobile manufacturers want application developers to imbue cars with some of the energy and innovation seen in smartphones. And like their counterparts in the TV industry, they haven't settled on a standard way of doing so. The mishmash of approaches means that drivers may have to wait longer for their favorite apps to become available in the models of their choice, as different manufacturers follow divergent paths toward the connected car.
The differences surfaced at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, where a host of car brands demonstrated the entertainment and information offerings they're developing. Mercedes-Benz typified one approach, showing off a customized app platform built in-house and curated by its apps team in Silicon Valley. Subaru exemplified the opposite strategy; it chose the apps platform that Aha, a subsidiary of Harman, is developing for car makers and aftermarket car-stereo manufacturers.
Executives at both car companies say they want to take advantage of app developers' work on mobile phones. But they also note that their top priority is safety, which shapes their choices of apps to make available and the way drivers interact with them.
Mercedes is atypical in one important respect: It embeds the equivalent of a 3G Verizon phone into its cars, rather relying on the driver's smartphone for connectivity. The latest version of its telematics software, called mbrace2 and due in April, is the company's first that can be updated remotely. That means new apps can be added while they're still new, instead of subjecting them to the industry's torturous three-year development cycle — a delay that can render an app obsolete by the time it makes it into a car, said Sascha Simon, Mercedes' head of advanced product planning.
It's not an open platform, however, and Mercedes will not publish its programming interfaces for developers, Simon said in an interview this week. But it is making available through mbrace2 a wide variety of apps and services that are relevant and enhance the driving experience — 60 so far, and the number will grow.
These include a widget that lets owners send their car's navigation system points of interest they find while browsing on their PCs or smartphones (a new restaurant, for example), and a streamlined version of Facebook that can write its own status updates based on the car's location and its destination. "You can't stop people from doing it," even if you don't want them using Facebook behind the wheel, Simon said. "If folks will use it, let's make it as safe as humanly possible."
Mercedes also tries to compensate for the distractions that apps present by equipping their cars with technology that can apply the brakes automatically, guard against drifting across lanes and warn drivers about vehicles in their blind spots. But their vehicles are, ahem, more expensive than the average ride.
Connectivity to the car is a two-way street, and Mercedes sees a big opportunity to offer services based on data that apps glean from the car's diagnostic system. These include the ability to trouble-shoot problems remotely and recover stolen vehicles. There are obvious privacy trade-offs to having that kind of monitoring, though, which is why such services are opt-in only, Simon said.
Subaru relies on its drivers' cellphones to supply the in-car connectivity. Although it's using Aha's platform to integrate apps into its cars' built-in audio system and display, Subaru still controls what the user interface looks like and which apps to make available. "It's our car," said David Sullivan, a car line manager for Subaru. "At the end of the day, we answer to the customer."
Because Aha's software platform is online, not in the cars themselves, apps can be updated continuously after the cars are sold, said Robert L. Acker, Aha's general manager. Aha also gives drivers a single, simple set of controls for using all the apps, which include the MOG and Rhapsody on-demand music services, Slacker and Shoutcast online radio services, audio books, Facebook and Twitter news feeds and NPR podcasts. The apps are aggregated into a menu on the car's display, turning them into a "fourth band" alongside AM, FM and satellite radio.
When a driver tunes in one of these services, the car's audio system sends a link through the driver's smartphone to the Internet, pulling content from the driver's account with that service. For example, tuning in Slacker would provide access to the custom Slacker stations the driver created, as well as Slacker's own playlists. To limit the distraction, Sullivan said, Subaru plans to give drivers access just to five preselected favorites per screen. They'll be able to make their selections through voice commands as well as by using the display's touchscreen.
Acker said Aha's goal is to make it far easier for app developers to integrate with multiple car makers, rather than tailoring their software to meet the various manufacturers' technical requirements and design mandates. At this point, though, its only announced partners are Subaru and Honda. It's also available through the car stereos that Pioneer sells directly to consumers.
QNX Software Systems of Canada is another company making software platforms for connected cars. Kerry Johnson, a senior product manager for QNX, said the fragmentation in the industry was a real problem for developers. In his view, three things have to happen before cars routinely support a wide array of apps: Automakers have to give developers more guidance on how not to distract drivers; a software platform will have to emerge that gives developers the right tools and the incentive to use them; and there need to be enough cars with systems that can be upgraded to support apps.
"By 2013 at the earliest, you'll start seeing a base of vehicles that are upgradeable," Johnson said. Whether developers will be motivated enough to write apps for them, he added, is another question.
– Jon Healey
Photo: Subaru's interface. Credit: Harman / Aha
Some times the coolest new things you see at the Consumer Electronics Show aren't gadgets or apps or even 55-inch OLED TV sets (although, admittedly, those are cool). Sometimes they're just technologies, which is what digital stereoscopic displays and gesture recognition were before they became 3D TV sets and XBox Kinect.
A good example this year is Alljoyn, an open-source software project coming out of an innovation lab run by Qualcomm. Alljoyn enables nearby users of an app to interact with each other, even when there's no local data network. Multiple people in the room can join the activity, whether it be playing a game, taking turns in the virtual DJ booth or working on an electronic whiteboard. And unlike collaborating through a congested Internet, there's little or no delay — the users' devices are seamlessly synchronized.
The magic isn't in the short-range communications technology — Alljoyn runs on top of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. What's special is the ability it gives developers to quickly add proximity networking to just about any app, even if they have no expertise in radio communications. For example, it took programmers at Namco only a week to add Alljoyn capabilities to their Pacman Kart Rally game, according to Qualcomm's Liat Ben-zur.
The demos at the Qualcomm booth showed how nearby tablets, smartphones and even a tablet and a connected TV could join in games and productivity apps. Because Alljoyn connects apps, not devices, users can collaborate simultaneously with separate groups on different programs, with no overlap — for example, working on a virtual whiteboard with one team while collaborating on a document with another.
Ben-zur said the potential uses include a wide variety of entertainment, education and business applications. The breakthrough here, she said, is that any developer will be able to make apps that can seamlessly discover and interoperate with related apps nearby. She added, "I believe this is a new Pandora's box for mobile."
– Jon Healey in Las Vegas
Photo: Two tablets play an Alljoyn-equipped version of Spud-Ball by Signature Creative. Credit: Jon Healey
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw a bit of a scramble by TV makers such as Samsung and LG to show off what they working on or releasing in the coming year that would allow us to control our TVs using voice, gesture and facial recognition.
Many technology pundits and analysts have said these sorts of announcements, which also took place at last year's CES, are in response to rumors that Apple is working on an "iTV" that will offer a new way of controlling a TV and maybe even how we pay for or watch channels and TV shows.
But as many video-game lovers out there know, TV voice recognition, gesture controls and facial recognition are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera, which is an accessory to the Xbox 360 home gaming console.
However, Kinect is just getting started, and currently has a small number of apps. And it's still a device that sells for about $150 and requires an Xbox 360, which starts at $200. Make no mistake, there will be a cost of entry to the future of TV.
At CES 2012, Microsoft showed off a bit of what the future may hold for Kinect, the Xbox and TV with demonstrations of its latest Kinect-enabled app for the Xbox, called Sesame Street Kinect (you can see our demonstration of the app in a video atop this article).
Sesame Street Kinect is what it sounds like, episodes of the long-running children's program tailored to use the Kinect camera. And what Kinect can do is really impressive.
Since 1969, children around the world have sat in front of TVs repeating back the alphabet, colors, words and numbers to characters on Sesame Street (I did it when I was a child). Until Sesame Street Kinect, which is set to release later this year at an unannounced price, the characters on the screen couldn't respond to the viewer's actions. Now, to a limited extent, they can.
The demonstration we saw featured the Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster characters prompting viewers to interact by either saying certain words or moving in certain ways.
For example, we took part in a demonstration in which Grover drops a box of coconuts and asks that the viewer pick them up and throw them back to him.
I f the viewer stands up and moves in the way that they would throw an imaginary coconut (don't throw a real coconut unless your trying to break your TV) then Grover catches each one in his box, even reacting to how hard the Kinect interprets the viewer's throw to be.
The experience was a lot of fun for a room of four adults, and I imagine kids will enjoy this sort of thing too. Jose Pinero, am Xbox spokesman, said a similarly interactive app from National Geographic is coming this year as well.
Although Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox consoles and more than 18 million Kinect cameras, the tech giant realizes it has something bigger than just video games on its hands with Kinect.
Both Kinect and Xbox Live are headed to Windows 8 later this year. Hopefully, that will mean more interactive "two-way TV" apps like Sesame Street Kinect, and more apps related to media outlets such as ESPN and National Geographic.
There are also rumors that the company is working to get Kinect built directly into TVs, which would very likely place Xbox Live and Kinect in direct competition with Google TV and Apple's expected entry into the TV market. That's a living-room showdown I'd like to see.
Photos: Sesame Street Kinect in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Are you the kind of person who loses your keys all the time but always seems to have your phone nearby?
Treehouse Labs has a leash for you. Its new lost-and-found system, Bikn (pronounced "beacon"), is basically two low-powered radios talking. One is on the case you put on your iPhone; the other is on the tags you attach to your stuff — or your people. Then the Bikn app connects them.
Some folks consider the ubiquitous smartphone a kind of leash. Now you can actually "leash" your favorite devices — and your two- and four-legged family members who might wander off — using the same device.
The kit performs two functions — tracking and "leashing." You can set a perimeter of near, medium or far. When your tagged person or item moves out of the established perimeter, an alarm sounds.
The $99 kit comes with two tags and the case. Additional kits come in pairs of two tags for $49. You can "leash" up to eight items.
Of course, you have to keep track of your iPhone — but I suppose that's what Find My Phone is for.
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
As Republicans focused on the Iowa caucuses and President Barack Obama made a pitch to Iowans of his own over streaming video on Tuesday, the Obama 2012 reelection campaign took its message to Instagram.
The president's campaign staff, which is also looking to reach voters on Tumblr and Google+ (along with a few Republican rivals), has posted two photos thus far, both of the president speaking with Iowa's caucus voters via video chat, making his case for another term in the White House.
Although Instagram — a photo-sharing app known for retro filters that allows people to share photos with one another from their iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads — is new territory for Obama, the move by his 2012 campaign shouldn't come as a surprise.
In the 2008 election, Obama's team was so well known for its use of Twitter, Facebook and blogging to help build up an overwhelming amount of support that the Technology blog described Obama as "the first social media President." And over the last four years, the White House has made great use of the photo-sharing site Flickr.
Instagram, which has seen its more than 5-million users share more than 150-million photos, said in a company blog post that it is "excited to welcome President Barack Obama to Instagram" and that it looks "forward to seeing how President Obama uses Instagram to give folks a visual sense of what happens in the everyday life of the President of the United States."
The Obama 2012 campaign is also looking for supporters to share their photos with the @BarackObama Instagram account by tagging their photos with "#obama2012," Instagram said.
The company also made sure to point out that political coverage on Instagram has been on the rise over the last year as the 2012 presidential election gets closer.
"News organizations such as NBC News, ABC World News and the Washington Post have been sharing behind-the-scenes photos at debates and town hall meetings across the country, offering a unique look into the 2012 elections," Instagram said.
Among the most interesting photos shared so far by news organizations covering the election on Instagram would have to be Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker's shot of Republican hopeful Mitt Romney typing on his Apple iPad in an airport.
— Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of President Barack Obama's first Instagram photo. Credit: Obama 2012 / Instagram
LG Electronics is set to debut an 84-inch "ultra definition" 4K television at next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
And yes, the new TV set will be a 3-D TV as well. LG is calling the new 4K display "ultra definition" or "UD," to signal that this set can output a higher resolution image than current high-definition televisions.
So what is 4K exactly? It's the resolution that many believe will be the next step in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Today's current HD TV sets are either 1080p or 720p — each number indicating the amount of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle.
As the name suggests, 4K resolution images have 4,000 lines of resolution, but this time the name refrences horizontal resolution. Many of today's top digital cameras used by filmmakers are shooting in 4K.
"LG is pushing the limits of home entertainment innovation with this 3D UD TV," said Havis Kwon, the president and CEO of LG's home entertainment division, in a statement.
LG 84-inch 3-D TV will actually offer a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, which by some standards is considered worthy of being called 4K.
The huge TV will also run apps using LG's Smart TV software, which offers more than 1,200 apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Major League Baseball, and it will make use of LG's motion-sensing TV Magic Remote, which allows users to operate the TV using voice recognition or motion gestures.
The so-called UD TV will debut alongside two other massive LG sets at CES: a 55-inch organic-LED TV and a 72-inch LED-backlit 3-D TV. LG hasn't yet offered prices or details on when these TV will make it to store shelves.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A model next to LG Electronic's 84-inch "ultra definition" 4K television. Credit: LG Electronics
Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system has reportedly passed 50,000 published apps, hitting the milestone just 14 months after its launch.
The 14-month time frame for 50,000 apps is second only to Apple's iOS, which hit 50,000 published apps in 12 months, according to a report from All About Windows Phone, a website that tracks Windows Phone apps and hosts a Windows Phone app directory as well.
Google's Android reached 50,000 apps published in its Anroid Market in 19 months, the report said.
For its part, Microsoft declined to comment on the report, neither confirming nor denying that it has passed the 50,000 mark. All About Windows Phone, a site not affiliated with Microsoft, said it compiled its data "from our own tracking system," which is also used to power its directory of Windows Phone apps.
"It took just over a year to get to 40,000 apps, but just 40 days to add the next 10,000 apps," showing increased growth for the Windows Phone operating system, Rafe Blandford, who runs the All About Windows Phone site, wrote in the site's report.
But just because more than 50,000 apps published doesn't mean that every Windows Phone user has access to all of those apps, Blandford said.
"Of the 50,126 items published to the Marketplace, just under 6,000 are no longer available," meaning they were removed by Microsoft or withdrawn by the publisher, he said. "In addition, some apps are only available in select markets. This means the number of available items to a consumer, in a given market, is lower than the number of published items."
In the U.S., about 42,655 apps are available for download, the report said.
Of the apps published to the Windows Phone Marketplace storefront, about 58% are free, compared with about 69% of apps being free in Google's Android Market and about 43% free in Apple's iOS App Store, Blandford said.
Both Android and iOS have published about 10 times more apps than Windows Phone so far, he said, though the two rivals have been offering downloadable apps since 2008.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Foursquare app running on a Windows Phone handset. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Got an Apple iPhone this Christmas? Well, you're doing pretty well for yourself. It may or may not be Santa Claus' smartphone of choice and you successfully avoided waiting in long lines as many Apple fanatics do once a year when a new iPhone launches.
But marketing and hype aside, the iPhone is one of the best smartphone lines on the market and each of the devices currently available — the 3GS, the 4 and the 4S — run iOS 5, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. With that in mind, here are five places to get started if you're a first time iPhone owner.
1. Photography apps: Apple's App Store (the only place you can get iPhone apps), with more than 140,000 apps available, is a major bragging right for the iPhone versus its competitors, but not all apps are created equal. However, no other smartphone platform can currently match the iPhone for slick apps that produce fun and artistic photos. The best place to start is likely Instagram, which combines a solid selection of filters to make photos look like they were shot on vintage film cameras and a social network of other users so you can see the world through other lenses. Hipstamatic is another popular choice, which takes the vintage filter approach to another level with the ability to mix and match digital lenses, flashes and film choices to create a more customized look than in Instagram. Another app, called SwankoLab, allows you to alter photos already taken using a simulated dark room.
2. Games: The iPhone is also arguably the best gaming smartphone out there and the choices here are plentiful. Angry Birds is one of the most popular games available on smartphones and is a good place to start. But other choices such as Robo Surf, Cut the Rope, Tiny Wings, Bumpy Road and Kosmo Spin are worth checking out too — each combining unique art styles, enchanting soundtracks and simple touch screen controls. For those looking for a bit more of a gaming challenge, the third-person shooter Minigore and puzzle game Scribblenauts impress. The sword fighting games Infiniti Blade and Infiniti Blade II show what the iPhone is capable of with detailed 3-D graphics and fast-paced action.
3. Music: Apple's iTunes allows for easy music buying, but there are plenty of other music related apps worth checking out as well. Shazam can listen to and then identify thousands of songs. Band of the Day is a great way to discover new music. Soundtracking is a unique social networking app that allows you to share what you're listening to with others, as well as check out what tunes they like. And if you're a Spotify Premium subscriber, the Spotify app is a must.
4. Built-in Twitter: If you're a big Twitter user, as I am, or even if you're new to Twitter, you're likely going to appreciate that the social network is baked into iOS 5. Checking out a website you care to share in the iPhone's Safari web browser? You can tweet that directly from Safari without having to go and open up a Twitter app. Same goes for photos, videos and locations in the maps app.
5. Ask a friend: As always, talking to a buddy can generate suggestions that may line up with your interests on just about anything — same goes here. Ask a friend who uses an iPhone what they like about the phone or available apps and you're bound to find something you may enjoy too.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A newly purchased iPhone 4S smartphone outside an Apple Store in New York. Credit: Michael Nagle / Getty Images
If you're heading to New York any time soon, we suggest you pack a warm hat, and also download The Gaits, a new music app that provides a musical accompaniment to a walk along New York's High Line park with the help of four composers and the listener's footsteps.
The app uses the phone's accelerometer to turn each step into the twinkling metallic sounds of electric guitar chords, dulcimer notes, water splashes, car horns and applause. It also uses geolocating technology, so it knows where you are in the park, and when you've stopped for a break on a bench. When you do take a seat, the sounds generated by the app will change to indicate "you are resting now."
The Gaits was developed by four composers and produced by Friends of the High Line and Make Music New York, in association with MATA, a nonprofit that commissions new works from young composers.
In the description of the app on iTunes, the makers suggest you wear small portable speakers while you create and enjoy your personal High Line musical experience. Used this way, the creators suggest that iPhones "become instruments effortlessly played by strolling, sauntering, or sprinting down the High Line."
That's a nice idea, but also kind of weird. However, we'd totally be down to try this with headphones.
Sadly, this app can be used only if you are walking on the High Line, but we look forward to a day when digital composers score all other types of walking experiences. How cool would it be to have an app like this during a hike in the Grand Canyon, or a walk on the Venice boardwalk?
Video: Preview of The Gaits: a High Line Soundwalk, by Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, Cameron Britt and Daniel Iglesia. Produced by Friends of the High Line for Make Music Winter.Credit: YouTube.
Haven't gotten that holiday shopping wrapped up just yet? Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, has plenty of stuff to sell and on Thursday launched a Best of Digital store full of items it recommends.
As the name would suggest, the items for sale in Amazon's Best of Digital store aren't physical goods. The store, which is a section of Amazon's website, has for sale mp3 music files, not CDs; downloadable movies, not DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Apps, games, magazines, e-books (for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course) and software for home PCs are on the list as well.
Launching such a store after the start of Hanukkah and so close to Christmas might seem like odd timing, but "historically, Christmas Day is the largest day of digital sales on Amazon.com, followed by Dec. 26," Amazon said in a statement.
"Last year, from Christmas Eve through Dec. 30, Amazon customers purchased over three times more digital content, including Kindle books, magazines, movies, TV shows music, and digital games as compared to the weekly average for the year," the company said.
Not at all a coincidence, all the digital items (except for the PC software) for sale in the Best of Digital store can be read, watched, listened to, played and used on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet.
"With the introduction of Kindle Fire this season, millions more customers will be shopping for new digital content," Craig Pape, Amazon's director of music, said in the statement. "This year we're making it easier and more convenient than ever to get all the content they want."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Amazon's Best of Digital store. Credit: Amazon.com
For the Kindle Fire, Amazon's first tablet and a hot-selling item, the update promises to improve the responsiveness of touch navigation and the speed of actions on the device, such as loading webpages in the Fire's Web browser.
However, the biggest new feature might be the ability for users to edit what shows up in their "carousel" of recent apps and content displayed on the Fire's home screen.
Before the update, a Fire user couldn't remove any items — books they've read, games and music played, movies watched or websites visited — in their carousel.
The ability to remove items from the carousel was a highly requested feature and in this case, Amazon was pretty quick to deliver — the Fire was released Nov. 14.
The iOS Kindle app updates the user interface for periodicals and text books, with access to the same selection of more than 400 magazines and newspapers that are offered on the Fire, Amazon said in a statement.
For the first time, Amazon is also offering "print replica textbooks" to iOS Kindle app users, which allow for full-color pages and the ability to zoom in and out or take notes as needed, the company said.
And the update also now makes the Kindle iOS app a PDF reader as well, Amazon said, which will allow users to view their own documents — a feature offered by iBooks for some time now.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Ah, there's a bite in the air, the lines are longer at the shopping centers and the shelves seem to have been picked clean. The neighbors' gaudy lights twinkle as if in a synchronized taunt to your bare house.
Yes, the last-minute rush is on to prep for the holidays. As always, there's an app or two to help you. (Sorry, not with stringing the lights, though.)
Searching for a tree
The season has arrived. Hanukkah is here, and Christmas is Sunday. But you're still looking for a tree? Android users can try out one of several free tree-finding apps: Tree Lot Finder, My Perfect Tree and Find My Tree.
The app locates you and, on a Google map, identifies where some tree lots are located. These all seem to be the same app, down to the font. There are some fairly generic instructions on tree care.
We weren't all that impressed with these apps since none of them seemed to include details about some of the tree lots that pop up throughout town. The closest lots listed for, say, Glendale were actually in West Los Angeles, Burbank and Whittier — certainly far from the closest lots.
You might have better luck just looking up from your phone while you drive through the neighborhood.
Making a list
I'm still looking for an app to wrap my gifts for me. No luck yet.
Just keeping gifts straight can be a task for the overprogrammed. Of course, there's always Evernote for every device, for free. But if you're looking for something a little more festive, here are a few options.
Android users can try the All I Want From Santa app, available in English and Spanish on Motorola Xoom, Kindle Fire, and Nook Tablet and Color.
Each child in the house can create a unique account to make a wish list, prioritize the items and send the lists off to Santa. His helpful tech elves forward a copy to Mom or Dad. And, for the etiquette conscious among us, there's a feature to help with writing thank-you cards.
Another Android app that helps with organizing and planning your holiday shopping is Free Christmas List. It includes gift and cost tracking by person and a cost summary.
On iPhone, among the many options is the Christmas List for 99 cents. It's a handy way to keep track of what you have bought for whom, from which store and how much you've spent. You can also track the process — to do, purchased, wrapped, shipped, received.
You can create groups for your gift giving. It's a nice interface, complete with scrollable photo list. And, if for some reason you just must, you can tweet the number of shopping days left by tapping the bird at the bottom of the app.
For budget-conscious shoppers, seeing what you've spent per person and the overall tally can really help keep the shopping in check. You can also share individual lists either via email, on Facebook or with someone else who has the app too.
Better Christmas List, also 99 cents, does much of the same but also includes pass code protection to keep lists secret from snoops and an archive of gifts received in years past, which can be handy.
Sending holiday cards
Think it's too late to send out your holiday wishes?
You can create a virtu-real card on Android phones and iPhones/iPads with the free app Sincerely Ink. The app offers more than 30 photo cards and illustrated designs, including religious, secular, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year themes. You can personalize with your own photo, name and message, and send it to folks right from your contact list. Although the app is free, the service isn't. One card, including postage, goes for about $2.
The folks on your mailing list will get 5-by-7 inch, thick, glossy photo postcards at 300 dpi resolution. Sincerely Ink says their cards arrive within seven days.
And if you want to take it to the next level, Holiday Video Cards by vlix for iOS lets you record a family video greeting, complete with seasonal tunes and effects. You use the video camera on your iPhone — front or back — to record a message up to a minute long. Then you can add text to introduce and close your video. The free app also offers 17 holiday effects and 16 holiday music tracks.
The video is quickly stitched together and added to your camera roll. You can also share it via email, Facebook, YouTube or vlix feed.
The app is compatible with iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S, the fourth-generation iPod Touch and iPad 2.
Since my family is super late with the preps for the holiday, we'll definitely be using this to spread our holiday cheer to our connected family members and friends.
Having holiday fun
One last little fun iPhone app for 99 cents is Santa's Big Helper.
It boasts nine different features: Santa tracker, elf cam, Christmas countdown (clever interface), video elf updates (so awful they're kind of funny), naughty/nice list, letters to Santa, ask an elf, magic compass and Christmas sound board.
The elf cam videos are what make the app worth considering.
You take a picture of your living room or fireplace and, through elfin magic, Santa appears with gifts in hand in your own home.
You have video proof of his visit!
Photo at top: Screen shot of Find My Tree app. Credit: Find My Tree
Center photo: Screen shot of All I Want From Santa app. Credit: All I Want From Santa
Photo at bottom: Screen shot of Santa's Big Helper app. Credit: Santa's Big Helper
Buying a $200 to $400 phone for a child to play with might seem a little over the top, though some families do it. But, parents, buying a cover to protect your own pricey device is probably a smart move for the times you do inevitably hand it over, whether as a learning tool or benign distraction.
Let's face it. If you give your uncovered iPhone to your toddler, you're just asking for trouble. After all, small hands can do big damage to these devices.
But for just about $20, Infantino's HappiTaps and Griffin's Woogie 2 transform your inflexible, vulnerable iPhone into a plush, cuddlier plaything.
Here's a look at the two stuffed-animal cases.
When you pull the HappiTaps case out of the box, you're greeted by a smiling Beary Happi, the case's sweet and engaging character brought to life via free downloadable app. He really comes to life when you open the app and drop your phone into the case.
Although initially the animated face on the phone made me flash back to my fears of Teddy Ruxpin and that living teddy bear from "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" — two stuffed bears with more self-awareness than should exist in a toy — Beary Happi's big green eyes and sweet child's voice won me over fairly quickly.
The Beary Happi app includes more than 150 facial expressions, which actually are quite adorable. He blinks, winks, smiles, sleeps, eats, talks — and has different settings to moderate his expressions and mood from mellow to super chatty.
Peek-a-boo with Beary Happi involves interaction from the child. To reveal the hidden bear, the child has to tap the screen. "Feeding" him means tapping and dragging the food to his little mouth.
For 99 cents, you can get in-app additions such as two additional rattles (yes, your child will be shaking your iPhone in this case), two stories or two songs. Also, an educational game or the bedtime package (a poem, light show, lullaby and auto shut-off) can be purchased for 99 cents.
You can set the app to lock out purchases so that your happy tapper doesn't go shopping for upgrades without your knowledge or consent.
Also, it can be set to "toddler mode" to lock the menu. While the phone is in this case, it essentially impedes your child from leaving the app — they'd have to remove the phone to hit the home button. (You can adjust volume or turn it off, but it does take effort.)
It's a bit of an overstatement to call it huggable. It's a soft, cushioned cover with a miniature body. It might just be soft enough for small hands, though.
The HappiTaps case is advertised for children 18 months and older. It comes with a green hanger to attach it to, say, a play mat or car seat.
I gave it to my 7-month-old to try out. My tech-savvy teether, like babies his age, did try to put the case in his mouth.
Beary is kind of kissable. Unfortunately, there is no protective plastic cover over the iPhone screen, so there's nothing between your child's mouth and that screen — or, for that matter, the screen and any hard surface. Luckily, with an older child, you are probably less likely to have them give Beary Happi the full-on Bam-Bam treatment.
The original Woogie was a bit more like a stuffed starfish or inkblot — soft but flat. Its successor, Woogie 2, has slightly weighted legs and is more versatile in that it can stand or sit, making it more flexible for the many uses of touchscreen devices.
When I tried it out with my baby, we could play videos, have him scroll through photos, and sit and enjoy an interactive audio picture book.
My son was also able to drag the Woogie around without his protective mother being ultra-nervous about whether he'd try his burgeoning skills as an amateur drummer with her iPhone.
Unlike the HappiTaps case, Woogie 2 has a plastic face, allowing a touch-permeable barrier of sorts between the grimy screen of the iPhone or iPod and your little one.
It comes in a couple of colors — blue and pink. The original was a neon green.
This case is more like an actual stuffed animal that happens to also be a case. Your kid could play with this even without the iPhone tucked in it.
Both cases work with current and older-model iPhones and iPod Touch. I have reserved my old 3G iPhone for my baby's use and it fit easily in both.
Although the Velcro closure will hold your phone or player in place, it's fairly easy for even a child under a year old to open and free the device. So as always with children, you'll want to keep your eyes open.
If you are planning on using some incentives to get users to download your mobile apps, you might want to rethink that approach.
According to research from Harris Interactive and mobile advertising platform Pontiflex, only 3 percent of smartphone owners who downloaded an application for unrelated incentives (e.g. free game points) say they use the app often. That’s pretty disappointing and it gets worse.
Of the remaining 97 percent, 62 percent download the app only to receive the incentive and then uninstall the app or never use it again. Of those that keep the app, 17 percent say they hardly use the app.
"These findings highlight the importance of providing mobile app advertising solutions that are native to mobile environments," said Zephrin Lasker, co-founder and CEO, Pontiflex. "First, they clearly show how incentivized app solutions might not be conducive to brands and developers looking to build long term relationships with consumers. Secondly, the results demonstrate that consumers value free apps and express a preference to non-intrusive mobile app advertising solutions."
Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) sent a letter to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook requesting that the tech company immediately remove the "License" app from its App Store.
"I believe this application poses a threat to public safety and national security….It can be used in a way that allows criminals to create a new identity, steal someone else's identity, or permit underage youth to purchase alcohol or tobacco illegally," he said in the letter. "National security systems depend on the trustworthiness of driver's licenses."
The app by DriversEd.com for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad enables users to electronically insert a digital photo and personal information into a template for a driver's license for a state of their choosing; the app contains templates for driver's licenses for all 50 states.
The user is then able to send the digital image of the completed template to an email account; from the email attachment, the image can be printed and laminated, creating a high-quality counterfeit driver's license that is difficult to discern from a legitimate one, according to the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License.
– Andrea Chang
Image: Screen shot from DriversEd.com
Hewlett-Packard said it will make its WebOS software available to the open-source community and Chief Executive Meg Whitman said in two separate interviews that there are plans to create new WebOS hardware — including tablets.
The announcement is the latest reversal for HP after the company indicated over the summer that it was going in a different direction. In August, then-CEO Leo Apotheker said HP would ditch its smartphones and TouchPad tablet computers and was considering spinning off its PC operations. Two months later, HP said it would keep making PCs under new CEO Whitman (Apotheker was fired shortly after his August announcement).
On Friday, the Palo Alto tech giant said that it planned to continue to be active in the development and support of WebOS, and that by combining the platform with the development power of the open-source community, "there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and Web services for the next generation of devices."
The WebOS platform offers several benefits to the ecosystem of Web apps, HP said, including allowing developers to easily build applications using standard Web technologies. For device manufacturers, it provides a single Web-centric platform to run across multiple devices.
"As a result, the end user benefits from a fast, immersive user experience," HP said.
The announcement sparked speculation that HP would get back into the tablet business, and in interviews with the Verge and TechCrunch, Whitman said the company planned to roll out new devices in the future, probably in 2013.
TechCrunch also obtained an internal email Whitman sent out to HP staff announcing the WebOS news. In it, the former California gubernatorial candidate thanked employees for their efforts "under very difficult circumstances during these last couple of months."
Of WebOS, she said in the memo: "Together, we have an opportunity to make it the foundation of a new generation of devices, applications and services to address the rapidly evolving demands of both consumers and enterprises."
So far, HP hasn't seen much success with its TouchPad tablets. The company had high hopes for the device as a rival to Apple Inc.'s iPad and for its smartphones, both based on the WebOS software that the company picked up in acquiring Palm Inc. last year. But neither the tablet nor such phones as the Palm Pri, Pixi and Veer have caught on with consumers, and after Apotheker's departure, HP was forced to slash TouchPad prices to $99, which spurred sales.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was named chief executive of HP in September. Credit: Jose Luis Villegas / Reuters
Let's all agree that amateur food photography has gotten a bit – out of control.
Go out to eat with someone younger than 30 and you can assume that at some point during the meal a phone will come out and a photo of something on the table will be taken. Those photos — sometimes tantalizing, sometimes not — will inevitably wind up on Facebook with a caption like, "Ramen with Deborah. So YUM!"
Amateur food images were always easy to share but not necessarily easy to find again. Would you really look through all your old Facebook photos in order to answer the question, "What's good here?"
And that's where Evernote's new — and free — Evernote Food app comes in. The company describes the app as a way to "preserve and relive memorable food experiences."
The app allows the user to chronicle an entire meal experience like "Dim Sum at Ocean Star" or "Anniversary Dinner at Hatfield's." You can punch in captions as you take photos — "The yellowtail ceviche is INSANE!" — and, of course, you can include photos of the people who share your meal as well. After all, it's not just the food that makes a meal special.
The app will automatically sync with your Evernote account (if you have one), and more importantly, it is also compatible with Twitter and Facebook. If you are going to obsessively chronicle a meal, you'll probably still want the world to see it.
– Deborah Netburn
Video: Courtesy of Evernote.
A day after Amazon announced that it would give shoppers up to $15 for using its Price Check app in a bricks-and-mortar store and buying that item from Amazon afterward, prominent retail groups are lashing out at the e-commerce giant.
The Retail Industry Leaders Assn. said the app unfairly uses bricks-and-mortar stores as "showrooms to then purchase merchandise online from inside the store."
"Central to this tactic is Amazon's continued practice of using a pre-Internet loophole to avoid state sales tax collection, a move that gives them an unfair competitive advantage over Main Street retailers," the group said.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, echoed that sentiment, saying "no retailer can compete with the special treatment" Amazon has by not collecting sales taxes.
"This app is simply another ploy by Amazon to exploit the loophole that allows them to evade collecting state sales taxes," he said.
In September, after several weeks of bickering with California lawmakers and traditional retailers, Amazon agreed to begin collecting sales taxes in the state in September 2012. A new law that went into effect July 1 required online retailers to begin collecting the tax immediately, but Amazon refused to follow through, leading to the two sides cutting the September deal.
On Wednesday Katherine Lugar, executive vice president of public affairs for the retail leaders group, said Amazon's Price Check app promotion was worsening an already unfair advantage during the all-important holiday shopping season.
"Amazon's aggressive promotion of its Price Check App shows the lengths they are willing to go to exploit this tax loophole, and is a stark reminder of why Congress needs to act to protect retailers on Main Street," Lugar said.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A shopper uses his smartphone to check prices at a Toys R Us in New York in November. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press
Research In Motion's next BlackBerry smartphone and tablet operating system won't be called BBX after all.
Instead, RIM is going with the name BlackBerry 10 after a Federal Court in Albuquerque issued a temporary restraining order against the Canadian company, banning it from using the name BBX, which is a trademark of the New Mexico-based software firm Basis International.
Basis sued RIM in October over its use of the BBX name and rather than continue to fight the suit, RIM announced via Twitter on Wednesday that it's moving forward with its new operating system under the name BlackBerry 10.
#BBDevCon Asia Keynote: BlackBerry 10 is the official name of the next generation platform that will power future BlackBerry smartphones!^BZ
Basis uses the name BBx — note the difference in capitalization — as branding for its Business Basic eXtended line of software developer tools. The BBx tools are used to build applications that can run on a number of operating systems that use the Java programming language, including Linux, Microsoft Windows, Apple's iOS and Mac OS X, and Google's Android, according to Basis, which says it trademarked the name in 1995 but has been using it since 1985.
RIM's formerly-known-as-BBX operating system has been under development for months and will be the first OS from the company to run on both smartphones and tablets — an approach taken by Apple's iOS and Google's new Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
The OS now-known-as-BlackBerry-10 is based on QNX, the current operating system found on the slow-selling BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. RIM recently announced a $485-million loss on unsold PlayBook inventory.
BlackBerry 10 will usher in increased touchscreen-based controls to new RIM phones and the OS will enable BlackBerry devices to run Android apps alongside native QNX and BlackBerry 10 apps, apps developed using Adobe's AIR software and HTML5 apps.
The software is expected to arrive on new BlackBerry phones and the PlayBook tablet early next year.
— Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Research In Motion's message on Twitter announcing that its BBX operating system has been renamed BlackBerry 10. Credit: Research In Motion / Twitter
Microsoft has released new details on its Windows Store for Windows 8 — no it's not called App Store a la Apple — which will be its online storefront selling applications to run on Windows 8 laptops, desktops and tablets.
The Windows Store will sell "Metro-style" apps. Microsoft Metro is the design language of flat, actively updating "live tile" icons for apps that debuted last year on the Windows Phone 7 operating system, and is making its way over to the Xbox 360 video game system this week in a software update.
Most Windows 8 Metro apps available in the Windows Store should adhere to touch, stylus or keyboard and mouse input, since they'll have to run on traditional PCs and tablets as well.
Microsoft will also have a tiered system of what its cut of an apps revenue will be. Apple famously takes a 30% cut of revenue for all apps sold in its iOS App Store (for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and Mac App Store (for Mac computers).
Microsoft will take a similar 30% share of revenue for each app sold in its Windows Store, but once an app passes $25,000 in total revenue, the tech giant will drop its share down to 20% for the remainder of time that the app is sold, the company said in a statement.
To access the new Windows Store, the masses will have to wait until Windows 8 officially launches sometime next year. But developers will be able to access the Windows Store, in a beta release, if they've installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview version of the new OS, which is a free download available to all.
Microsoft is now taking Windows 8 app submissions and has launched a "First Apps Contest," which the tech giant will use to choose the first eight apps available in the Windows Store when it officially opens.
The new Windows Store isn't the first time that Microsoft is taking a stab at replicating the success Apple has had with its App Stores. The much-maligned Windows Vista had an app store called the Windows Marketplace, though both the operating system and the Marketplace never found much popularity.
Still, Windows is the most widely used PC operating system in the world. Microsoft says it has sold more than 500 million Windows 7 licenses worldwide to date and the company is hoping that Windows 8 will continue dominating PCs as well as give the company a significant stake in the growing tablet market that it lacks.
Microsoft also said that the Windows Store will launch globally in 231 markets and more than 100 languages, with the ability to accept payments in 58 currencies.
Follow the jump to see screen shots of the Windows Store in action.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of the Windows Store in Windows 8. Credit: Microsoft
Google's Android Market has passed 10 billion app downloads, a major milestone for the world's most widely used mobile operating system.
"One billion is a pretty big number by any measurement. However, when it’s describing the speed at which something is growing, it’s simply amazing," said Eric Chu, director of the Android Developer Ecosystem, in a company blog post. "This past weekend, thanks to Android users around the world, Android Market exceeded 10 billion app downloads — with a growth rate of 1 billion app downloads per month."
The massive number is even more impressive when considering the fragmentation found on Android, with companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Yahoo hosting Android app stores of their own, in addition to independent app stores such as GetJar.
Apple passed 15 billion downloads from its App Store in July, noting that there are more than 200 million iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users worldwide.
More than 200 million Android smartphones and tablets have been sold and about 550,000 new Android activations take place each day, Google has said.
To celebrate passing the 10-billion-download mark, Google and a number of developers are offering selected apps for 10 cents for a limited time, Chu said.
"Starting today for the next 10 days, we'll have a new set of awesome apps available each day for only 10 cents each," he said. "Today, we are starting with Asphalt 6 HD, Color & Draw for Kids, Endomondo Sports Tracker Pro, Fieldrunners HD, Great Little War Game, Minecraft, Paper Camera, Sketchbook Mobile, Soundhound Infinity & Swiftkey X."
Each day, until the 10-day period is up, Google will offer another 10 apps for 10 cents each, as listed on the Android Market.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A screen shot of Google's Android Market. Credit: Google
The Kobo Vox tablet feels like a missed opportunity.
Over the last year, the scrappy Canadian e-reading company has released the impressive Kobo Touch eInk eReader and polished its Kobo Reading Life apps into worthy rivals to Amazon’s Kindle apps and Barnes & Noble’s Nook apps on tablets and smart phones.
The company is in the process of being purchased by Japan’s equivalent to Amazon, the massive online retailer Rakuten. Despite Kobo’s largest U.S. retail partner, Borders, closing its doors, it seemed that Kobo was akin to a promising, aspiring prizefighter on the brink of being ready to challenge the heavyweight champs of e-reading, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
With the Vox, Kobo has taken a step back, delivering a product that doesn’t come close to its rivals and one that doesn’t match up to the quality I expected given how much I like the Kobo Touch and Kobo reading apps on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS devices.
On paper, the Vox looked like a smart move, selling for $199.99 and featuring a seven-inch touch-screen with eight gigabytes of built-in storage — that’s the same included storage and price as the Fire and the same as the Nook Color (the Nook Tablet sells for $249). Just as the Nook Color and Nook Tablet do, the Vox features with a MicroSD card slot, which can accommodate a card of up to 32-gigabytes in size, if you don’t mind buying one.
Like the Fire and the Nook, the Vox runs a modified version of the Android Gingerbread operating system, designed by Google with phones, not tablets in mind.
But unlike those two others, Kobo has only made minimal changes to Gingerbread, most noticeably pinning reading-related functions to the bottom of the Vox’s Android home screens.
I was hopeful Kobo would deliver a competitive product, but instead I found myself disappointed at just about every turn in using the Vox.
The hardware, from the outside, isn’t bad looking. The back of the Vox is great to hold on to, with Kobo’s signature quilted pattern rendered in a soft and grippy plastic. On the review unit I tested, a light-blue rim of plastic sat between the back of the Kobo and its 1020 x 600 pixel resolution display.
It’s nice to see a company take a bit of risk design-wise, especially when compared with the boring looks of the Kindle Fire. The Vox is also offered with lime-green, pink and black rims.
But once I turned on the device, it was mostly downhill.
The Vox starts up slow, and I failed to ever reach the seven-hour battery life Kobo claims for the Vox. I usually got about four or five hours of battery life, but there were about four times in my week of testing that the device would shut itself off when falling below an 80% charge (a couple of those delays struck when we were shooting the above video).
When the Vox was up and running, it did so sluggishly. Loading apps, menus, Web pages; checking email; opening e-books; turning pages in e-books — everything took place slowly. It felt as though the Vox was always a step, or a second or two, behind my touch input. The display also fails to match the clarity, brightness, color range or viewing angles of the Fire and the Nook Tablet.
Snappy, speedy, responsive — these are not words I would use to describe the Vox. Too often I found myself staring at a rotating gray circle waiting for something to load. This complaint can partly be attributed to lower-end internal specs, such as an 800-megahertz processor and 512-megabytes of RAM, but if tuned enough with the right software, such hardware shouldn’t be so slow.
Kobo has a solid selection of books available for sale, more than 2.3 million titles. Major new releases are often available at a price that meets or beats those of Amazon or Barnes & Noble. But unlike Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Kobo has no app store — instead directing users to purchase apps from the independent online app store GetJar.
Like Barnes & Noble, but very much unlike Amazon, Kobo has no storefront for music, movies or TV shows, either.
Although I like the hardware of the Nook Color and Nook Table, and I like the software and Web services of the Fire, I can’t say that I’m happy with either the hardware or software offered by the Vox. At the same price as the Fire and the Nook Color, the Vox seems overpriced and more in line with tablets that sold for about $130 to $150 a year ago.
I wanted to like the Vox, but I didn’t. Instead, the Vox feels like a prototype, not a fully finished product ready for the masses. And that left me flatly disappointed.
Photo: The Kobo Vox tablet, on top of an Amazon Kindle Fire and a Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
Foursquare launched its "Save to Foursquare" and "Follow on Foursquare" buttons Wednesday in an effort by the New York company to get users to integrate what they do on the Web with what they do in the real world.
The Save to Foursquare button is aimed at online publishers and can enable publications to relate stories and reviews to places listed in the Foursquare app.
"For example, from a user perspective, if the L.A. Times were to use this feature, and I'm on the L.A. Times website and I'm reading a review of a new sushi place at LA Live, then I can click the Save to Foursquare button from the review online and that sushi place will be added to my to-do list on Foursquare," said Jonathan Crowley, who oversees Foursquare's partnerships with media companies. "And then when I'm in L.A. near LA Live and I'm looking at my to-do list, I'll see that sushi place on my list and the L.A. Times review would show up when I am looking at that sushi place in the app.
"So I could go back and read that review if I wanted to remember why it's on my list in the first place. And all of this would take place with the publisher's logo and branding."
As of now the L.A. Times isn't using the Save to Foursquare button, but Crowley's hypothetical example went into practice Wednesday with launch partners such as Frommer's Travel, Eater.com, New York Magazine, Time Out NY and Time Out NY Kids, Time Out Boston, Time Out Chicago, AskMen.com and CBS.
CBS' use of the Save to Foursquare button is something that Crowley said he is particularly excited about because it's a move many people wouldn't expect, he said.
"We wanted to bridge the gap between what you're reading and watching online, and what you go out and do in the real world," Crowley said. "A lot of people don't look at CBS as a local brand, but if you think about it, there are all of these markets out there that have local CBS stations and they're producing a ton of locally focused content, so it actually makes a lot of sense.
"The fact is that the best content creators, the places that know cities the best, are publications like newspapers and magazines and local TV stations. And now we can connect the work all of these publications are doing with what we're doing on Foursquare very easily. It's something we've been working on for a while now."
The Follow on Foursquare button enables anyone with a website to allow Foursquare users to follow that person or business on Foursquare with a simple click, similar to Twitter's follow button, he said.
"The Follow button is even easier to put on a website," Crowley said. "With the Save to Foursquare button, a publisher has to structure the location data of what they're writing about in a certain way. With the Follow button, it's as easy as copying code from our website over to your website. Anyone can do it."
When a person follows someone or something on Foursquare, they'll see that person's or brand's tips when they check in at a location and they'll see lists of things to do by who they follow as well, he said.
"It's all the same as when you've followed a person or a brand on Foursquare before, but now you can follow someone you see on the Web without having to take your phone out of your pocket and go looking for them," Crowley said.
The company also launched a redesigned developer website Wednesday that should make it easier for third-party apps to build on what Foursquare has built and has coming up.
"I think a lot of people look at us as a 'check-in service,' but it's so much more than that," Crowley said. "It's about exploring your city, having a travel guide when you're in a new city, getting brand or friend recommendations wherever you go — and all of this just adds to that.
"We've got a very long product road map, and we're focused on building more of these types of tools that make it easier for people to explore what's going on around them."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of the Save to Foursquare button on NYMag.com. Credit: New York Magazine / Foursquare
Microsoft on the iPad: So far there isn't much of that happening outside of the Bing app.
But that might change next year, according to a report from the Daily, News Corp.'s e-magazine delivered each day to Apple's iPad.
According to some unnamed sources of the Daily writer Matt Hickey, Microsoft is prepping iPad-versions of its Office suite of software.
"With the iPad making up over 80 percent of the tablet market and millions of people worldwide using Office, that could mean big bucks for the tech giant based in Redmond, Wash.," Hickey wrote in his report. "In addition to an iPad-ready version, a new edition of Office is expected for OS X Lion sometime next year."
Microsoft's current Office for Mac offering, Office 2011, lacks the ability to take advantage of new features found in Mac OS X Lion. "A Lion version, likely available via the Mac App Store, is widely expected," the report said. "Windows, too, is due for an update, with Office 2012 currently in beta form."
If Microsoft were to challenge iWork on the iPad (and maybe even iPhone) with Office, apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint could go head-to-head with Apple's own productivity apps.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Apple's Numbers app for the iPad. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles / Los Angeles Times