Xiaomi Takes a Slice of the Smartphone Pie

  • Just three years into its existence, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi Technology has a $4 billion valuation and has garnered “Apple-like adoration” from loyal fans, reports Reuters.
  • Founder Lei Jun, 42, helped shape China’s Internet revolution when he co-founded and sold Joyo.cn to Amazon before moving on to Xiaomi Technology. At Xiaomi, Lei has become a Steve Jobs-like figure, as he has marketed his product simply, but in a way that generates “an aura of exclusivity around its products,” notes the article.
  • When addressing comparisons to Jobs, Lei says, “I will take this as a compliment but such kind of comparison brings us huge pressure.”
  • “Xiaomi and Apple are two totally different companies,” he continues. “Xiaomi’s based on the Internet. We are not doing the same thing as Apple.”
  • The company released its second phone in October and has sold 300,000 units. The phone is comparable to Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and Apple’s iPhone 5, but sells for only $370.
  • “Unlike the big domestic smartphone players, such as Lenovo Group, ZTE Corp and Huawei Technologies, which work with telecom carriers to sell a large volume of smartphones, Xiaomi sells most of its phones online and in small batches,” writes Reuters. By limiting quantity and selling in small batches, Xiaomi creates buzz. This demand led to Xiaomi selling its entire batch of 50,000 smartphones in less than two minutes in October.
  • China is expected to pass the United States as the number one smartphone market within the year, but some people still believe the market will be controlled by market leaders ZTE and Huawei, and that Xiaomi’s small scale strategy will hurt its long term outlook.

FTC Mobile Apps for Kids Report Finds Little Progress in Privacy

  • The Federal Trade Commission’s staff report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” analyzes mobile applications aimed at children, and finds that little progress has been made since last year in terms of warning, or even informing, parents about the data collection in applications.
  • The report notes that the applications have interactive features and social media sharing that can send information on the children to advertising companies or analytics companies without seeking parental consent. Some applications do not even disclose the actions to parents, according to the report.
  • “While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes to protecting kids’ privacy, we haven’t seen any progress when it comes to making sure parents have the information they need to make informed choices about apps for their kids,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “In fact, our study shows that kids’ apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents.”
  • “All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job,” he added. “We’ll do another survey in the future and we will expect to see improvement.”
  • The report, which examined disclosures within the app, disclosures on the promotion page in the app store, and at the app developer’s website, found “most apps failed to provide any information about the data collected through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection, and who would obtain access to the data.”
  • “Even more troubling, the results showed that many of the apps shared certain information with third parties — such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number — without disclosing that fact to parents,” according to the report.

Twitter Answers Instagram with Image Filters for Android and iOS

  • Twitter has responded to Instagram’s latest social network assault (making Instagram photos incompatible for immediate viewing on Twitter) by releasing its own line of image filters in an update for both Android and iOS.
  • The eight filters — vignette, black & white, warm, cool, vintage, cinematic, happy and gritty — were designed exclusively for Twitter. Users can also use crop, zoom and auto-enhancement tools, writes The Verge.
  • The filters allow users to preview how their images will look using any of the filters in a 3 x 3 grid (including no filter).
  • The development is “thought to be a direct response to Facebook’s purchase of Instagram earlier this year,” and will only heighten the tensions between the social media giants, suggests the post.
  • “To be sure, Instagram has a massive lead, and a very passionate community,” notes CNET in related coverage. “But Twitter has a nine-figure user base, and now that it is offering filters — albeit just eight, while Instagram has 18 free filters — it can begin to chip away at its competitor’s lead.”

Silicon Image UltraGig 6400: WirelessHD for Next-Gen Mobile

  • Silicon Image’s UltraGig 6400 is a new WirelessHD transmitter that may be small enough and strong enough to break the WirelessHD smartphone barrier, writes Engadget.
  • According to the press release, the UltraGig 6400 is “a complete WirelessHD transmitter for mobile devices that integrates a 60GHz RF transceiver, baseband processor, and embedded antenna array into a single IC package.”
  • The device has full gaming and 1080p video capabilities, but is also small enough for both tablets and smartphones.
  • Previously, people who wanted video output from small, battery powered devices like tablets and smartphones would either “be looking at a WiFi-based option like AirPlay, DLNA or Miracast, which can sacrifice bandwidth and latency, or at a wired connection like MHL, which effectively means tethering ourselves to the TV,” notes the post.
  • The transmitter is one-fifth the size of the older WirelessHD Gen3. It also consumes less power than smartphone’s local displays and “has a mere 5ms latency to allow for interactivity, and shouldn’t add more than $10 to the cost of manufacture,” reports Engadget.

Tech Industry Calls on Congress to Allocate More Mobile Spectrum

  • A team of tech companies including Apple, Samsung, and Nokia has submitted a letter to Congress requesting that it allocate more spectrum for mobile data, reports The Verge.
  • The letter argues the spectrum addition “is timely and relevant” to discuss alongside fiscal cliff debates.
  • “Now is the time to ensure the incentive auctions are as robust and successful as possible at liberating spectrum,” reads the letter. “We should also turn our collective attention on ways to reap the economic benefits of underutilized federal spectrum assets.”
  • “Other signatories include Intel, RIM, Qualcomm, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, and Ericsson, all of which are members of the High Tech Spectrum Coalition,” notes the post. “The group believes that upcoming spectrum auctions won’t meet the demand for wireless broadband, nor will it be possible to ‘engineer our way out of this problem’ with more efficient technology.”
  • The letter asks Congress to urge spectrum holders to “become more efficient, to share with one another, to vacate, or to lease their spectrum.”
  • An earlier report this year also recommended the government consider sharing spectrum with commercial partners, since it’s “increasingly difficult to find desirable spectrum that can be vacated by federal users.”

High Frame Rate 3D Version of The Hobbit is Insanely Gorgeous

  • Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” shot in 48-frames-per-second HD, “looks nothing like you’ve ever seen before,” writes Wired. “In the 48-frames-per-second version… Middle-earth in 3D looks so crisp it’s like stepping into the foreground of an insanely gorgeous diorama.”
  • The movie will also be released December 14 in standard 24-frames-per-second, but the HFR 3D version allows for more precise images and smoother 3D action because it doubles the “visual data” and decreases blur during quick camera motions.
  • While the 48-frames-per-second approach is great for action sequences, Wired questions its effectiveness during naturalistic scenes. “The flicker, depth of field and imperfect ‘grain’ that lends character to 35-millimeter film historically fostered a collective dreamlike state for audiences who gathered in the dark to lose themselves in images that were never intended to exactly replicate the ‘real’ world.”
  • “In delivering the kind of high-def detail by which every wrinkle gets full attention, fast frame takes getting used to,” suggests the article. “At times, scenes unfold as if part of an extravagantly well-lit, art-directed reality-based series or soap opera.”
  • The 48-frames-per-second method combined with 3D almost makes the film seem something beyond real, suggests Wired, and definitely takes some adjustment for people used to watching standard film.

Annual Internet Trends Report Details Rapid Adoption of Mobile

  • Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins has released her annual “Internet Trends Year-End Report,” in which she concludes that mobile penetration remains on an upswing, driven by interest among children and adults.
  • Meeker reports that 43 percent of children 6-10 want an iPad for Christmas and 36 percent want an iPad Mini.
  • Her report also notes that mobile devices now drive 13 percent of Web traffic, which is a 10 percent increase from her mid-year report, reports TechCrunch. Shoppers also have flocked to mobile, with 24 percent of online shopping occurring on tablets and smartphones.
  • Windows has seen its market share drop because of mobile, as it now only controls 35 percent of the market while iOS and Android combine for 45 percent.
  • Meeker explained that while iPods and iPhones both revolutionized their respective markets, the iPad has grown even faster. “And yet, Android has managed to grow six times faster than the iPhone — up from 4x at her mid-year talk,” writes TechCrunch.
  • Additionally, the report indicates mobile monetization and revenue are growing at 129 percent CAGR and Meeker anticipates a significant upside in the U.S. “for both Web and mobile advertising — to the tune of $20 billion.”

House Approves Senate Resolution to Keep Internet Free of UN Control

  • The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a Senate resolution introduced by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) asking the U.S. government to oppose United Nations Internet control.
  • The legislation was introduced in anticipation of the UN conference on telecommunications, where some speculate an updated international telecom treaty could allow for United Nations control of the Internet.
  • The 397-0 vote shows the overwhelming bipartisan support against such legislation.
  • “I think that we are all very, very proud that there is not only bipartisan, but bicameral support underlying this resolution, and there is complete support across the Executive Branch of our government,” said Representative Anna Eshoo (D-California). “In other words, the United States of America is totally unified on this issue of an open structure, a multi-stakeholder approach that has guided the Internet over the last two decades.”
  • “The 193 member countries of the United Nations are gathered to consider whether to apply to the Internet a regulatory regime that the International Telecommunications Union created in the 1980s for old-fashioned telephone service,” added Representative Greg Walden (R-Oregon).

Scout: Adobe Announces New Cloud-Based Tools for Game Developers

  • Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription service will now offer Adobe Scout, a cloud-based set of tools for game developers, reports VentureBeat.
  • “The tools enable developers to access a centrally located suite of tools for making their titles,” explains the post. “The aim is to streamline the game-development process from creation to final deployment.”
  • Adobe Scout helps games run faster because it “uncovers granular internal information in ActionScript-based mobile and browser content to unlock significant performance optimization opportunities,” according to Adobe.
  • The Creative Cloud service also includes Adobe Flash C++ Compiler, the Adobe Gaming SDK, and trial versions of Flash Professional CS6 and Flash Builder 4.7 Premium.
  • The Flash C++ Compiler takes code from PC, Xbox, PlayStation 3, and iOS game engines and converts them so they are compatible on all browsers using the Adobe Flash player.
  • Adobe hopes to convince more developers to use Flash, and argues that “using Flash makes developers more productive when it comes to cross-platform experiences,” notes VentureBeat.
  • The post includes two videos detailing Adobe Scout and the Adobe Gaming SDK.

Real Money Gaming Market: Zynga Looks to Nevada for Gambling License

  • The world’s leading provider of social game services has begun the process of pursuing a gambling license in Nevada, offering hope for the recently struggling company, writes Wired.
  • Zynga hopes a ruling by the Justice Department last year will help the company obtain the license, as the ruling allows states to legalize online gambling within state borders.
  • “This filing continues our strategic effort to enter regulated R[eal] M[oney] G[aming] markets in a prudent way,” wrote Zynga chief revenue officer Barry Cottle. “We anticipate that the process will take approximately 12 to 18 months to complete. As we’ve said previously, the broader U.S. market is an opportunity that’s further out on the horizon based on legislative developments, but we are preparing for a regulated market.”
  • “Zynga announced a partnership earlier this year to offer gambling in the United Kingdom,” notes the article. “At the time, the social games company indicated the move was part of a broader ambition to offer more gambling globally.”
  • Wired cautions that even if Zynga obtains a gambling license in Nevada, investors should temper expectations. The company is still losing customers rapidly, and would need to apply for other licenses if it wishes to expand to other states.
  • Zynga is struggling in its traditionally successful Facebook market, where its revenues declined 20 percent last quarter, while other game makers saw revenues increase 40 percent.

Microsoft Unveils Socl Network with Focus on Images, Video and Captions

  • Microsoft released its new social network called Socl on Tuesday, but VentureBeat suggests the site has “no clear purpose.”
  • Microsoft’s Fuse Labs research team originally designed the site to appeal to those with educational interests (i.e. design students), but then redesigned the site with a larger focus on helping people connect through shared interests.
  • “Socl helps people find and share interesting Web pages by extending the search metaphor, create rich posts by assembling montages of visual Web content and provides rich media sharing and real time sharing of videos,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. “We encourage users to reimagine how everyday communication and learning tools can be improved by researching, learning, and sharing in their everyday lives.”
  • Socl in some ways emulates Pinterest’s concept of collecting pictures around a common interest or topic, but Socl “both simplifies and complicates” the process by bringing search into the equation, writes VentureBeat. Linking the interest to search helps users find pictures, but often users end up with “collages that look a lot like search results pages.”
  • Socl also allows users to participate in online video viewing parties, but the feature amounts to little more than “a semi unique foil for Google+ Hangouts,” according to the post.
  • “The overall aesthetic is quite appealing, but Socl strikes me as more novel than useful,” concludes the reviewer. “People do, as history instructs us, seem to get a kick out of novelty on the Web.”

Google Puts Emphasis on Original Channels with YouTube Redesign

  • YouTube has redesigned its site with a new focus on subscriptions, original content and individual channels.
  • The site now resembles the “white and grey color scheme and sparse layout found in apps like Google+ and Google Now,” writes The Verge. Google encourages subscriptions and says it is “just like adding your favorite shows to your DVR,” underscoring the shift towards a more personalized YouTube experience.
  • “YouTube is even better when you subscribe,” suggests the video site on a page titled YouTube Is Getting Better. “Now when you subscribe to your favorite channels, we will add them to your Guide and make them available on every page of the site, and on your mobile device, tablet, and TV.”
  • The actual viewing experience is also a bit different, as the video plays closer to the top of the screen and playlists have been moved to the right of the screen to make it easier to find videos on the same channel rather than just related videos.
  • “This is no ordinary channel guide,” the site explains. “The YouTube Guide puts the channels you love at the top of the list and always shows you how many new videos are waiting for you.”
  • “With YouTube investing heavily in its own original channels, it only makes sense that it would try to make that content as easy as possible to access and navigate through, and the new design is a big step in that direction,” writes The Verge.

Toon Boom: How AMPAS Views the Influx of Animated Film Submissions

  • While computer animation may lead to tremendous box office success, it may not lead to Oscar success, as the Academy has proven it considers not only beauty and technical advances, but the traditional art of hand drawing.
  • Bill Kroyer, a governor on the Academy short films and feature animation branch told Variety that “a lot of the older members have a real hunger for what they consider to be art in animation. Anything hand-drawn and hand-painted immediately has an impressionistic, very unpredictable quality to it that makes it very difficult to come up with a computer film to which audiences will respond in the same visceral way.”
  • But while the Academy loves traditionally hand drawn films, it has also proven it loves stop-motion films. This is relevant this year as “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman,” and “Pirates!” all fit into this category. The Academy has traditionally loved stop-animation because the frame-by-frame hand manipulation is sometimes seen as even more artistic than hand drawing.
  • There have been more animated film submissions than ever this year, with 21 films vying for just five spots, notes Variety.
  • And while CG may dominate among the big screen feature films this year, there are also 56 animated shorts that represent “unbelievable quality and unbelievable variety,” says Kroyer. “Everybody thinks CG is going to take over. Not in short films. We have every medium you could think of, and the quality level is remarkable.”

Hallmark is the Latest to Enter the Expanding Movie Streaming Business

  • Hallmark Instant Streaming is a new service that offers hundreds of Hallmark Hall of Fame titles at a lower cost than Netflix and other streaming services.
  • The Hallmark service is currently free for a week, and then will be available for $4.99 per month or $35.99 annually. While the price is far below Netflix, Hallmark does not have nearly the same library as Netflix.
  • “Hallmark Instant Streaming will also be available as an app on streaming devices via Roku, Boxee and iPad,” writes Variety. “Other content partners listed as part of Hallmark Instant Streaming include Bud Greenspan Films, Dale Carnegie Training, Odyssey Networks, Thomas Nelson Publishers, and Successories. No major studio partners are listed.”
  • The service also includes SpiritClips, a subscription service Hallmark acquired in March that offers “family-friendly short films, movies and documentaries,” notes the article.
  • Hallmark is entering a crowded market not only in terms of streaming services, but family-friendly streaming services, as Toys R Us recently announced its own service with a 4,000 movie library.

Intended for Education, India’s Aakash 2 is the World’s Cheapest Tablet PC

  • The Aakash 2 is a $20, 7-inch tablet developed by Indian company Datawind. According to Quartz, the device is “almost as capable” as the Nexus 7 tablet while selling for just one fifth the price of Google’s device.
  • CEO Suneet Tuli admits the hardware is “nothing too extraordinary,” since “the key focus is breaking that price barrier.”
  • There is a 4 million order backlog in India for the device, but Tuli believes his company will fill these orders. He also predicts that within a year there will be similar devices on the global market for under $50.
  • The device is targeted for Indian students, as Datawind sells the device for $40 to the Indian government, which then either gives them to students or re-sells them for $20.
  • “This may not be the perfect initial deployment, but the vision isn’t just for engineering students, the vision is from engineering students all the way down to all 220 million students, or potentially 360 million Indian kids across the country that should be in school,” Tuli notes.
  • The tablet has “standard Android apps” as well as ebooks and other educational applications. The Quartz post includes a 7-minute video in which Tuli discusses the tablet.