Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kim Kardashian, an Unlikely Mobile Video Game Hit - NYTimes.com

Check Stephen Colbert's perspective on this meme-of-the-week

"On Wednesday, during its second-quarter earnings call with investors, Glu Mobile, the company that developed the game, said the game generated $1.6 million in revenue during its first five days on the market, in late June. And the hot sales have continued. The game is now the fifth highest-grossing game on Apple’s App Store. The company said it expected tens of millions of people around the world to download the game on their iPhone or Android phones, even through the game is available only in English."
Kim Kardashian, an Unlikely Mobile Video Game Hit - NYTimes.com

Facebook Offers App With Free Access in Zambia - Digits - WSJ

Advancing Facebook's mission to "give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected"; see Introducing the Internet.org App (Facebook newsroom) for more details

"Facebook’s newest mobile app doesn’t compete with other apps, like Snapchat. It competes with being offline.

The social network said Thursday it had launched an Internet.org app in Zambia to provide free access to Facebook and other online services to people who might otherwise have no Internet access. The app is a partnership with India’s Bharti Airtel, and available only to Bharti subscribers in Zambia."
Facebook Offers App With Free Access in Zambia - Digits - WSJ

Palantir Acquires Social Analytics Specialist Poptip - Digits - WSJ

A sign of the social surveillance times; tangentially, see To keep growth going, Twitter wants to be everywhere — and a little more intimate (BetaBoston)

"Poptip, a two-year-old company that analyzes data from Twitter, is being acquired by Palantir Technologies Inc., one of the most valuable and secretive privately-held startups in Silicon Valley, Poptip announced in a company blog post Tuesday afternoon. The acquisition price has not been disclosed.

The acquisition by Palantir, which specializes in large-scale data mining for the FBI, the CIA, and Wall Street firms, reflects the growing value of Twitter’s data as an indicator of social trends. Palantir is known sniffing out money trails, but the acquisition suggests that it’s seeking better ways to understand unstructured data (such as the language in a Twitter post) and to boost its profile among a more mainstream sort of potential clients."
Palantir Acquires Social Analytics Specialist Poptip - Digits - WSJ

Speech recognition’s not my type - Business - The Boston Globe

Excerpt from a speech recognition software state-of-the-art reality check

"After all, similar software has been around for quite a while now, and you can get plenty of it for free. A simple version of speech recognition is built into Microsoft Windows software and Mac OS X. If you use the Chrome browser from Google Inc., you can do Google searches with your voice instead of a keyboard. Just say “OK, Google” and ask your question. (Microphone not included.) But speech controls for personal computers have been popular mainly with people with disabilities or specialized technical users such as doctors dictating the results of medical tests. And despite its excellence, Dragon NaturallySpeaking isn’t likely to change this."
Speech recognition’s not my type - Business - The Boston Globe

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Twitter acquires deep learning startup Madbits — Tech News and Analysis [GigaOm]

Deeply nested Facebook/Twitter competition

"Twitter has acquired Madbits, a deep-learning-based computer vision startup founded by proteges of Facebook AI director Yann LeCun. It’s the latest in a spate of deep learning and computer vision acquisitions that also includes Google, Yahoo, Dropbox and Pinterest. [...]
Details of the acquisition weren’t announced, but one can assume Madbits was able to demand a not-insignificant amount of money. Deep learning is such a hot technology, and good talent is so rare, that Microsoft Research director Peter Lee told Businessweek, “Last year, the cost of a top, world-class deep learning expert was about the same as a top NFL quarterback prospect.” Earlier this year, Google paid $400 million for another deep learning startup called DeepMind."
Twitter acquires deep learning startup Madbits — Tech News and Analysis

Amazon.com: Customer Discussions: Update re: Amazon/Hachette Business Interruption

Excerpt from an Amazon post on its Hachette negotiation

"Keep in mind that books don't just compete against books. Books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

So, at $9.99, the total pie is bigger - how does Amazon propose to share that revenue pie? We believe 35% should go to the author, 35% to the publisher and 30% to Amazon. Is 30% reasonable? Yes. In fact, the 30% share of total revenue is what Hachette forced us to take in 2010 when they illegally colluded with their competitors to raise e-book prices. We had no problem with the 30% -- we did have a big problem with the price increases."
Amazon.com: Customer Discussions: Update re: Amazon/Hachette Business Interruption

Twitter Reveals Its Master Plan For Growing As Big As Facebook [Forbes]

Twitter's strategy: like Facebook, but without the profits

"It’s also willing to tinker with the core of what makes Twitter Twitter: its strict reverse-chronological organization. Right now, every user’s timeline consists of every tweet (plus or minus replies, depending on one’s toggle setting) by every user he or she follows. Asked whether Twitter would consider a version of timeline that uses an algorithm, a la Facebook’s Newsfeed, to determine which tweets get promoted and which get suppressed, Costolo said, “It’s fair to say we’re not ruling out any changes in product in service to bridging the gap between signing up for the service and receiving immediate value.”

In other words, to overtake Facebook, Twitter is even willing to become Facebook."
Twitter Reveals Its Master Plan For Growing As Big As Facebook

Seattle Takes Oracle's Cloud - NYTimes.com

Oracle goes north to participate in Seattle's cloudy future; still tbd if its strategic focus will be to compete with and/or complement AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud (e.g., directly support Oracle apps on Amazon, Google, and Microsoft IaaS)

"Amazon, of course, is based in Seattle, and has the headquarters of Amazon Web Services there. Across Lake Washington, Microsoft’s cloud business, Azure, is a centerpiece of chief executive Satya Nadella’s plans to spur Microsoft’s growth. Google has also located its cloud business in Seattle, and Century Link [sic -- CenturyLink] increased its cloud presence there when it purchased Tier 3 last year.

These businesses, for Seattle the result of a combination of luck (Amazon and Microsoft were already there) and cooperation with local universities to build skills in areas like distributed computing, are for the most part about infrastructure, the management of lots of computer servers and networks. What Oracle is doing is more about building up the next level: software applications in the cloud."
Seattle Takes Oracle's Cloud - NYTimes.com

Amazon to Invest $2 Billion in India - WSJ

Also see The New Bazaar: Online Shopping Catches On in India With Buyers and Global Investors (NYT)

"Amazon.com Inc. said Wednesday that it will invest $2 billion to expand in India as competition for customers heats up in the fast-growing, South Asian e-commerce market.

"We see huge potential in the Indian economy and for the growth of e-commerce in India," Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon said in a statement.

Investors have been pouring money into India's online retail market as e-commerce seems to at last be taking off in the country. Brokerage Nomura expects online retailing in India to grow 11-fold to $23 billion in the next four years."
Amazon to Invest $2 Billion in India - WSJ

World Cup Gave Twitter a Big Burst in Traffic - NYTimes.com

tbd if the World Cup Twitter traffic bump will last longer than the average U.S. resident's interest in soccer

"The World Cup illustrated Twitter’s greatest strength and its biggest weakness: As with the cable news networks, its traffic is dependent on surges of public interest around real-time events. Twitter said its users sent more than 672 million tweets during the entire tournament — more than during any other event in its history. But the company’s chief financial officer, Anthony Noto, attributed the drop in usage by Americans during the quarter to the lack of galvanizing events like the Super Bowl that occurred in the first quarter."
World Cup Gave Twitter a Big Burst in Traffic - NYTimes.com

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

LG’s Snappy G3 Phone Is Poised to Test Rivals - NYTimes.com

Part of a wave of new smartphone challengers, especially to Samsung; also see, e.g., OnePlus One review: a $300 smartphone has never looked so good (Engadget)

"But will enough people notice? Smartphone headlines are dominated by Apple and Samsung, and few customers in the United States think of LG as a maker of high-end phones.

They should. Last year’s LG G2 was a good phone that got people’s attention, and the LG G3 could make the company a serious challenger. It features the same top-of-the-line processor found in the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One (M8), its top Android competitors, and it does not skimp on any specifications."
LG’s Snappy G3 Phone Is Poised to Test Rivals - NYTimes.com

Zillow-Trulia Merger: Will It Change How We Buy and Sell Real Estate - Businessweek

(location, location, location) * (data, data, data)

"What’s remarkable about both sites is how little they’ve actually changed the selling and buying of homes. That’s mostly by design. Both were founded nearly a decade ago with a healthy respect for the intractability of the real estate market, with its unique dual-agent process (one representing the buyer, and one the seller) and with its multiple listing services (MLS), which has a stranglehold on home listings.

Zillow founder Rich Barton had helped destroy the travel agent business with his previous company, Expedia, but he understood that the real estate market was unique: Buyers and sellers liked getting professional advice on such a large transaction. Instead of trying to revolutionize real estate in one stroke, as local Seattle company Redfin was attempting at the time, Barton set out to change it from within, slowly building an audience by unlocking new kinds of information for buyers and sellers."
Zillow-Trulia Merger: Will It Change How We Buy and Sell Real Estate - Businessweek

Apple Looks to More Content Acquisitions - Digits - WSJ

Read and listen (to podcasts) different

"Apple acquired BookLamp, a reading recommendation app, with its standard response last week confirming the deal by saying it “occasionally buys smaller technology companies but doesn’t discuss its plans.”

BookLamp scans the text of books and recommends to readers books that they may enjoy based on factors such as genre and pacing. TechCrunch, which reported the acquisition, said Apple paid between $10 million and $15 million for the Idaho-based start-up.

Separately, Apple will acquire Concept.io Inc. and discontinue the startup’s mobile streaming-content app Swell, according to a person with direct knowledge of the deal. The purchase price for the two-year-old startup was around $30 million, the person said."
Apple Looks to More Content Acquisitions - Digits - WSJ

CIOs Benefit as Amazon Faces Rivals in the Cloud - Digits - WSJ

A snapshot of a rapidly evolving and relentlessly competitive market domain

"The increased competition gave Amazon the impetus for series of ‘race to the bottom’ price cuts, the main factor behind AWS’s slower revenue growth last quarter, Amazon CFO Tom Szkutak said Thursday.

The price cuts hitting the cloud market, combined with new services from rivals, benefit CIOs who say they need more control and customization over their cloud services. Chico’s FAS CIO Eric Singleton said the retailer is shifting to Contegix from Amazon Web Services because the startup will allow the retailer to pick and choose its servers and storage, enabling the software to perform at an optimum level.

Nonetheless, AWS is growing and working well for many CIOs."
CIOs Benefit as Amazon Faces Rivals in the Cloud - Digits - WSJ

OKCupid Publishes Findings of User Experiments - NYTimes.com

A stark reality check on "how websites work"

"“If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site,” Christian Rudder, president of OKCupid, wrote on the company’s blog. “That’s how websites work.” [...]  The test also illustrates how easy it is for a website to manipulate users without their knowing. The small number of users who received changed compatibility scores, some to 90 percent from 30 percent, were not told about the change before the experiment began. After the test ended, OKCupid sent emails revealing the true compatibility scores."
OKCupid Publishes Findings of User Experiments - NYTimes.com

With Microsoft in Sights, China Starts to Squeeze U.S. Tech Companies - NYTimes.com

Placing some very big bets

"China is still one of the largest and most promising markets for United States tech companies, as well as home to the factories that make devices as varied as iPhones and Xboxes. But tensions between the United States and China have escalated over spying concerns by both sides. And in recent months Chinese authorities have increased their scrutiny of foreign tech companies.

At the same time, they appear to be stepping up their use of laws to help bolster the fortunes of native technology companies."
With Microsoft in Sights, China Starts to Squeeze U.S. Tech Companies - NYTimes.com

Monday, July 28, 2014

​Amazon reportedly taking on Square with credit card reader - CNET

Amazon's credit card reader is expected to launch in a couple weeks; see Amazon’s Ambition in Physical Retail May Go Way Beyond Payments (January 2014, Re/code) for related speculation

"But an Amazon card reader is not too big a stretch, given that e-commerce giant just this week launched a mobile wallet app. Amazon Wallet, however, is still pretty barebones -- for now it's just a place to store select gift and loyalty cards.

9to5 Mac points to reports over the past year from various sources suggesting Amazon is moving into mobile card reading. And Amazon has long been eyeing PayPal's digital payments crown -- something clearly signaled by the introduction last year of "Login and Pay with Amazon.""
​Amazon reportedly taking on Square with credit card reader - CNET

Samsung postpones launch of Tizen smartphone - The Washington Post

The future-collectors'-item value of Tizen devices is going up

"The South Korean company had planned to start selling the phone, the Samsung Z, in Russia this quarter. But Samsung indicated that more time is needed to expand Tizen’s following of app developers and apps.

In a brief statement, Samsung said the postponement is to further enhance the Tizen “ecosystem,” which encompasses developers, consumers and devices using the mobile OS.

The delay is a blow to Samsung’s push to reduce reliance on Google’s Android operating system, which powers Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones and tablets."
Samsung postpones launch of Tizen smartphone - The Washington Post

Surprisingly iPad's Drop In Sales Is Not Samsung's Gain, Welcome To Tablet Transformation

Evidently the tablets-are-dead meme lasted less than a week

"But if not Samsung then which companies are taking up the slack? The big gainer in tablets is Lenovo according to the IDC data.

Lenovo continued to climb the rankings ladder, surpassing ASUS and moving into the third spot in the tablet market, shipping 2.4 million units and grabbing 4.9% markets share. The top 5 was rounded out by ASUS and Acer, with 4.6% and 2.0% share, respectively.

But IDC also make the point that their “other” category is also growing. There are more vendors in the market and more are gaining traction. This section covers 37% of the market overall, which indicates a new phase in market dynamics."
Surprisingly iPad's Drop In Sales Is Not Samsung's Gain, Welcome To Tablet Transformation

Friday, July 25, 2014

Are Tablets the Odd Man Out as Phones Grow and Laptops Shrink? - WSJ

An iPad reality check: according to this Fortune article, the iPad is now a $30B/year business for Apple

"They aren't as essential to many users as smartphones, nor are they as portable. They don't handle many work chores as well as laptop or desktop PCs. And while many people watch videos or read articles on a tablet, it isn't quite a must-have device for many consumers.

In most cases now, tablets are "not a necessity but a want," said Ben Thompson, who writes the technology analysis blog Stratechery."
Are Tablets the Odd Man Out as Phones Grow and Laptops Shrink? - WSJ

HP Makes $50 Million Strategic Investment in Hortonworks | Re/code

The big data big money is still flowing

"That funding round will grow to $150 million and will bring Hortonworks’ total capital raised to $248 million. When it was announced in March, the round was said to value Hortonworks at north of $1 billion and viewed as a possible step toward an IPO in 2015. At the time, Hortonworks CEO Rob Bearden told me that the round “could have been bigger, but frankly we don’t need it.”
[...]
The deal also brings the total of investments in Hadoop companies this year to nearly $1.2 billion: Chip giant Intel led a $900 million round in Cloudera in March, and last month MapR landed $110 million in a round led by Google Capital."
HP Makes $50 Million Strategic Investment in Hortonworks | Re/code

Google's New Moonshot Project: the Human Body - WSJ

From a snapshot of another long-term Google investment

"Dr. Conrad joined Google X—the company's research arm—in March 2013, and he has built a team of about 70-to-100 experts from fields including physiology, biochemistry, optics, imaging and molecular biology.

Other mass medical and genomics studies exist. But Baseline will amass a much larger and broader set of new data. The hope is that this will help researchers detect killers such as heart disease and cancer far earlier, pushing medicine more toward prevention rather than the treatment of illness."
Google's New Moonshot Project: the Human Body - WSJ

Amazon’s Ambitious Bets Pile Up, and Its Losses Swell - NYTimes.com

Perhaps no longer business-as-usual for Amazon -- or perhaps its stock will recover within a few trading days

"The company, which is embroiled in a very public conflict with the publisher Hachette, announced second-quarter losses nearly double what Wall Street predicted. It also warned that the third quarter would be worse. Much worse.

That was enough to make the stock plummet in after-hours trading. Shares quickly fell 10 percent, shaving more than $15 billion in value from the high-flying retailer."
Amazon’s Ambitious Bets Pile Up, and Its Losses Swell - NYTimes.com

Google Glass Road Show coming to Boston - Business - The Boston Globe

A long-term investment

"Next stop: Boston. A team from Google will demo Glass on Saturday at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts. The event is free open to the public, with demonstrations held throughout the day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ridilla, for example, plans to bring several friends to show them what Glass can do.

Glass is still in the prototype phase, and Google remains cagey about the details of an eventual public release. But the Glass Road Show is clearly part of a strategy to inject the device into the mainstream."
Google Glass Road Show coming to Boston - Business - The Boston Globe