Google News: Updated OS, New Google TV Partners, Cloud Music Service

Google has been making headlines the last few days as product and service announcements continue to emerge from the Google I/O 2011 conference in San Francisco (live streaming, photos, announcements and a Twitter feed are available on the Google I/O site).

Much of the news is surrounding OS changes, the availability of cloud-based Music Beta, and a potential revitalization of Google TV.

Gizmodo reports that the Android Marketplace may have the greatest impact on Google TV when it launches later this summer: “At first, it’ll just be apps from Google-approved developers to set standards. The most awesome kind of app we’re going to see are multi-screen apps — apps specifically designed to span your Android phone/tablet to the TV. Google’s going to pushing them totally hard as a huge part of what makes Google TV special. Think things like poker games on the big screen, with individual controls on your own phone/tablet. And other crazy ways to control Google TV from your phone from app developers.”

Some of the recent Google announcements include:

  • The anticipated Google TV update to Android 3.1 will be available this summer.
  • There are new hardware partners for Google TV (for example, Samsung and Vizio are joining Logitech and Sony as hardware vendors).
  • Google has added movie rentals to the Android Market, accessible from Android devices and the Internet (similar to YouTube’s new rental service).
  • Android@Home framework for home automation is a future platform that will enable interaction with home media equipment, dishwashers, cars, lights, security systems and more via any connected device.
  • The next version of Google’s Android operating system, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, will merge the phone and tablet versions of the OS.
  • The beta version of Google’s cloud music service is now available (and like Amazon’s earlier launch of a similar cloud service, Google is forging ahead without approval of the major music labels).

Check out the posts below for more details…

Related Engadget post: “Google announces Android@Home framework for home automation” (5/10/11)

Related Ars Technica post: “Google announces Android Ice Cream Sandwich will merge phone and tablet OSes” (5/10/11)

Related ZDNet post: “Google TV getting update to Android 3.1, access to Android Market this summer. Will it be enough?” (5/11/11)

Related Gizmodo post and video: “Google Music: Upload and Stream All Your Tunes From the Cloud” (5/10/11)

Related All Things Digital article: “Google Launching Its Cloud Service Tomorrow, Without Big Music’s Approval” (5/9/11)

Related GigaOM post and video: “Google Forces Roku to Take Down Its YouTube Channel” (4/21/11)

Related WSJ article about gathering info from mobile phones: “Apple, Google Take Heat” (5/11/11)

Related Engadget post: “Google TV shows off new Honeycomb UI, plans for Market, SDK; opens up remote app source code” (5/11/11)

Related New York Times article: “Google’s Digital Music Service Falls Short of Ambition” (5/10/11)

Warner Bros. Ramps Up Digital Everywhere with Flixster Acquisition

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group announced it has acquired social movie discovery site Flixster, which also includes premium movie reviews and news site Rotten Tomatoes (that Flixster acquired from News Corp. last year). Financial terms were not disclosed, but The Wall Street Journal recently cited Flixster’s value between $60 million and $90 million. The Flixster deal marks the next step in Warner’s “Digital Everywhere” strategy.

As recently reported on ETCentric, Warner Bros. plans to release its Digital Everywhere app by this summer with hopes that the app will serve as the ultimate destination for purchasing all digital movies. The app gathers the ways a consumer can rent or purchase movies and organizes an individual’s library of movie titles and TV programs. It then provides access to this library from any Internet-connected device through the UltraViolet cloud authentication system.

According to TechCrunch: “Flixster’s popular cross-platform movie discovery application on mobile platforms has seen 35 million downloads to date and Rotten Tomatoes is seeing 12 million unique visitors per month. The Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes will remain fully independent, says Warner and the Flixster team will stay in San Francisco and the Rotten Tomatoes team will continue to work autonomously in Los Angeles.”

Related Warner Bros. press release: “Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group to Acquire Flixster” (5/4/11)

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Flixster Update: Warner Bros. Very Interested, as Yahoo Drops Out of Bidding for Social Movie Site” (3/28/11)

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Warner Bros. Expands Test of Movies on Facebook” (3/28/11)

Game Developer Hopes to Reform Computer Education with $25 USB Stick PC

Game Developer David Braben, founder of UK-based Frontier Developments, has been working on a project to facilitate computer programming curriculum in schools. Braben argues that computer education has shifted from programming toward basic computer use skills. Usage training is important, but its prevalence has resulted in a lack of knowledge regarding basic programming skills and an understanding of computer architecture and hardware.

To address this issue, Braben has developed a small $25 USB stick PC with a HDMI port on one end and USB port on the other. By plugging the HDMI socket into a TV or monitor and connecting a keyboard via USB, the stick provides a fully functional machine running Linux. The stick can handle web browsing, run applications, and much more. Braben hopes that such a device can be distributed to students for free so that computer courses can be developed around its use.

According to Geek.com: “The hardware being offered is no slouch either. It uses a 700MHz ARM11 processor coupled with 128MB of RAM and runs OpenGL ES 2.0 allowing for decent graphics performance with 1080p output confirmed. Storage is catered for by an SD card slot.” The photo above shows the Raspberry Pi device with an attached 12 megapixel camera module. (The Geek.com report also includes an interesting video interview with Braben.)

Braben’s USB stick PC plans to be distributed through a charitable foundation called the Raspberry Pi Foundation. He hopes to distribute the device within the next 12 months.

Based on its cost and portability, we could see a range of applications outside the classroom.

New Olympus LS-20M Camcorder Features Dual Mics and 1080p Video

This week, Olympus announced its new LS-20M pocket camcorder that boasts 1080p HD video recording and 24 bit/96 hHz linear PCM audio recording using two condenser mics. Engadget reports that the handheld’s “relatively high-end audio specs should help it go toe-to-toe with Zoom.” (The $300 Zoom Q3HD Handy Video Recorder was introduced late last year.)

According to the Olympus press release: “The HD video compression format makes it easy to upload videos to Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, Vimeo and other web-based content sharing sites, and the resolution offers remarkable detail on modern home theatre systems.” The LS-20M can record audio in stereo as WAV and MP3 formats. It is 5.3 inches in length and weighs 5.4 ounces.

The new camcorder also includes “Magic Movie” special effects settings such as Rock, Sketch, Pinhole and Pop.

In the wake of Cisco’s announcement to discontinue the Flip camera line, the Olympus LS-20M is a potential replacement for consumers and a possible new tool for mobile reporting. The device will be available by June 2011 for MSRP of $300.

Related Olympus press release: “New Olympus LS-20M Unites High-Definition Video and PCM Audio to Capture Sights and Sounds Like Never Before” (5/3/11)

Related Engadget post: “Zoom’s dual mic-equipped Q3HD camcorder now available for $300” (11/2/10)

Interactive Film: Reinventing the Traditional Music Video

The era of digital music distribution and a shift toward reality TV airing on pioneer networks such as MTV has left the traditional model for music videos in limbo. There is no longer a standard approach to production, budgets, distribution or, for that matter, a clearcut means of generating an audience or revenue.

Today’s music videos may need a new name — and perhaps even a new genre to call home. Innovative artists are leveraging a host of Internet-enabled technologies to break barriers regarding what is possible in short-form visual storytelling. One of the more interesting approaches is taking shape in the form of user control with help from interactive technologies sponsored by Google, Intel and others.

In The Wall Street Journal this week, John Jurgensen provides a fascinating snapshot of the last 30 years of music videos and what has led to this change, citing compelling new approaches from directors such as Spike Jonze and Chris Milk. Jurgensen describes several new approaches to what is being called (for the time being, anyway) “interactive films” — including a new Devo video that enables a 360-degree view of various scenes, a director’s chair feature for newcomer Andy Grammer’s video that allows viewers to select scenes, and a video for Swedish pop artist Robyn that copies fans’ tweets and integrates them into a 3D animated collage.

One of the more notable recent examples is The Wilderness Downtown, directed by Chris Milk and set to the Arcade Fire song “We Used to Wait.” Viewers can enter their home addresses, and by using Google’s maps and street visuals, they essentially personalize the experience with “virtual fly-overs” of their childhood homes (for Google, it has become a way of showcasing new functionality of its Chrome browser). Milk has reportedly been working for five months on another secret project funded by Google that puts control of the content in the hands of viewers. It is expected to debut next week.

The article also points out an interesting shift in distribution (and generating ad revenue):

Three out of four major music companies now channel their videos through Vevo, an online video player and distributor launched in late 2009. After years of licensing their videos to sites all over the Web — and seeing measly financial returns — the labels now rely on Vevo to distribute their videos online and sell ads against them. By focusing on slick presentation and sponsored video premieres, the company has pushed ad rates higher. Vevo, whose traffic includes the videos it funnels into sites such as YouTube and Facebook, is the biggest music provider on the Web, attracting 54 million unique viewers last March, up from 37.5 million in the same month last year, according to ComScore Video Metrix.

According to WSJ, the labels are starting to see financial results from the Vevo model, albeit relatively small. For example, a label whose videos accrue 10 million streams via the online player could collect approximately $70,000.

Identifying the next generation of short form video and its audience’s expectations — whether or not in the form of online interactivity — may become vital to new content production and distribution. As consumers continue to adopt tablet PCs and more dynamic media, this may prove to impact more than just music.

Related: Click here to view Chris Milk’s interactive film “The Wilderness Downtown.”

Related: Click here to view another interactive experiment from Milk, “The Johnny Cash Project.”

Reporter Abandons Bulky Production Equipment and Opts for iPhone

Washington DC reporter Neal Augenstein discusses how and why he has abandoned his collection of bulky production equipment to report via his Apple iPhone 4. Augenstein is an award-winning reporter with WTOP-FM and a frequent contributor to CBS News Radio. Thanks to new apps and progress in digital recording tools, he’s been able to ditch much of his older equipment for professional broadcasting via his smartphone. According to Augenstein: “Now, with the Apple iPhone 4 and several apps, I can produce intricate audio and video reports, broadcast live, take and edit photos, write web content and distribute it through social media from a single device.”

For those interested, the write-up provides a simple step-by-step overview of the tools Augenstein is using with his iPhone and iPad for audio capture, video capture, photography, mobile VoIP, and Twitter integration.

Augenstein addresses whether his new approach is working: “A year in, iPhone-only reporting isn’t perfect. While audio editing works great, with the phone’s built-in microphone I’d estimate the sound quality of my field reports is 92 percent as good as when I use bulky broadcast equipment. Getting better audio for my video is a real challenge. And if I ever have to cover a story from a subway tunnel or location where there’s no WiFi or cell coverage, I won’t be able to file until I resurface.”

The PBS MediaShift post features several iPhone-generated audio reports from Augenstein in addition to a very helpful video tutorial regarding how he performs audio editing on his iPhone 4.

Immersive Labs Introduces Recognition Software for Targeted Billboard Ads

Manhattan start-up Immersive Labs is introducing artificial intelligence software created to analyze viewers of digital billboards in order to customize “smarter” messages with targeted ads. The system takes into account age, gender and facial features of passers-by as well as environmental conditions and online data (on a cold day, for example, imagine targeting ads for a hot cup of coffee at a nearby Starbucks). The company has already tested the ads in New York’s Sony Style Store, and has plans for a Hudson News Kiosk in John F. Kennedy Airport.

Facial recognition is not new, nor is the ability to detect the composition of a crowd, but Immersive uses the information to deliver targeted advertising based on these characteristics teamed with online information (such as whether a nearby sporting event has recently concluded). Additionally, the software considers other local data including weather conditions and social media updates from sites like Twitter. It also measures how long someone looks at the billboard. According to Immersive Labs, by collecting data the software actually “learns” and improves over time.

For those worried about the “creepiness” factor, Immersive CEO Jason Sosa explains that mapping facial recognition is strictly anonymous. “We take privacy very seriously,” he says. “The information we’re collecting is purely numerical. It’s nothing that’s going to be identified to any one individual person.”

Immersive Labs emerged from TechStars, a mentorship-driven seed stage investment program.

Related CNN Money 2-minute video report: “These ads know exactly who you are” (4/13/11)

Related Huffington Post 2-minute video report: “At Immersive Labs, Ads Watch Who Looks At Them” (4/26/11)

Related Network Advertising Initiative study: “Study Finds Behaviorally-Targeted Ads More Than Twice as Valuable, Twice as Effective as Non-Targeted Online Ads” (3/24/10)

Redbox Hopes to Increase Revenue with Video Game Offerings

Redbox announced that it will begin offering video games for the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 21,000 of its 31,800 self-service kiosk locations around the country starting June 17.

According to the company’s press release, Redbox has been testing video game rentals alongside movie offerings at 5,000 locations since August 2009. “Redbox has rented more than one million video games in less than two years at these locations, underscoring the popularity of video game play in America,” said Mitch Lowe, president of Redbox.

Redbox parent company Coinstar Inc. believes the select market testing suggests that the company can potentially “increase revenue by replacing 10% to 15% of the DVD slots in its kiosks with games.” (Each machine holds between 70 and 200 titles.)

Games – ranging from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Mortal Kombat to Super Mario Galaxy and Star Wars III – will cost $2 per night (compared to the $1 rental fee for DVDs and $1.50 for Blu-ray discs). For a complete list of initial game offerings, visit the Redbox Games page.

Related Home Media Magazine article (with interesting financial stats): “Redbox to Increase Video Game Presence” (4/28/11)

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Predicts a Gigabit to Homes by 2021

At this week’s Wired Business Conference in New York, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings discussed his company’s growing success and its reliance on the evolution of bandwidth-related technologies. Netflix recently announced its first quarter earnings (up 88 percent with revenues at $719 million). The subscription-based rental service added 3.6 million new customers during the quarter, double the growth from one year ago.

Hastings indicated that streaming was always the goal of Netflix, but the technology was not ready when they launched the subscription service in 1999. Based on number of hours viewed, the Netflix streaming option surpassed its DVDs for the first time in Q4 2010. This is due to a larger selection of streaming content and improved bandwidth to subscribers.

Hastings has been waiting for this moment. “We took out our spreadsheets and we figured we’d get 14 megabits/second to the home by 2012, which turns out is about what we will get,” he explained. When asked about the next ten years he added, “If you drag it out to 2021, we will all have a gigabit to the home.”

Hastings was also careful to point out that he does not see Netflix streaming as a competitor to cable, which is why his service focuses on older movies as opposed to new releases, sports, or news (although Netflix is experimenting with original programming). “It would start an Armageddon battle, and we would not emerge alive from that battle. So we are concentrating on our niche,” he said.

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Swears He’s Not Going to Kill HBO: ‘We Compete Like Football and Baseball'” (5/6/11)

Related Engadget article: “DirecTV asks its customers what they like so much about Netflix, could launch competitor” (4/26/11)

Related ReadWriteWeb article: “Netflix Letter to Shareholders Shows It Couldn’t Care Less About DVDs” (4/25/11)

Related TechCrunch article: “Netflix Earnings Up 88 Percent, Adds 3.6 Million Subscribers” (4/25/11)

Related Home Media Magazine article: “Marvel Superheroes Stream on Netflix” (4/29/11)

Apple Plans Cloud-Based Music Service

Apple is planning a cloud-based music locker service that will enable its customers to stream music to multiple devices. The Wall Street Journal reports that what makes the Apple proposal different from Amazon’s recent Cloud Drive rollout is that Apple is seeking paid licenses from the labels for its service (Amazon started its service without gaining such approval).

Although the Apple version has yet to go public, insiders report that it will work differently than the Amazon Cloud Drive and Player, which acts much like an external hard drive. Through deals with the labels, the Apple service will allow for a single master copy of a song to be stored on its servers, that can then be shared with multiple users (the Amazon service requires users to upload each song they want to access remotely).

“The idea is that Apple will let users store songs they’ve purchased from its iTunes store, as well as others songs stored on their hard drives, and listen to them on multiple devices,” reports WSJ.

Recent rumors suggest Apple will charge users an annual subscription fee, possibly in the area of $20.

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Amazon’s Cloud Music Move Isn’t Earth-Shaking” (3/29/11)

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Amazon’s Cloud Service Is A) Legal B) Illegal? C) Probably Here To Stay” (3/29/11)

Related Los Angeles Times article: “Price war! Amazon launches 69-cent MP3 store for top-selling tunes” (4/28/11)

Related TechCrunch article: “Behind the Scenes: Record Label Demands from Amazon” (4/29/11)

Related CNET article: “Expect Apple to charge for music cloud” (4/26/11)

Projected Facebook Earnings Raise IPO Speculation

Facebook Inc. is expected to have its initial public offering as early as next spring, while projected earnings and evolving online advertising models continue to raise speculation about the company’s overall value. The social network’s business is growing faster than its forecast of several months ago when Goldman Sachs Group and Digital Sky Technologies invested $1.5 billion. The Wall Street Journal reports the Internet company may earn as much as $2 billion in 2011.

Facebook was launched in February 2004 and claims more than 600 million active users today. According to WSJ: “Goldman’s and Digital Sky Technologies’ investment reported early this year was at a share price that implied a $50 billion valuation for Facebook. The people familiar with the company’s recent finances said they thought its profit was growing at a fast-enough clip to justify a valuation of $100 billion or more when it goes public.”

Additionally, eMarketer estimates that Facebook will earn ad revenue this year of $4.05 billion, more than doubling last year’s $1.86 billion. According to comScore, 31 percent of all online display ads in the U.S. for the first quarter of 2011 appeared on Facebook.

Wedbush Securities analyst Lou Kerner estimates the company’s value in the public market at $112.9 billion. “Part of our bullishness for Facebook is our belief that it is still in the embryonic stages of advertising,” he said.

Related San Francisco Chronicle article: “Why Google Should Buy LinkedIn, Now Before It’s Too Late” (5/3/11)

Related Mashable article: “One Year Later: What Marketers Have Learned About Facebook’s Open Graph” (4/26/11)

Related CNBC article: “Facebook Launches Deals Program, Rivals Groupon” (4/26/11)

Xbox 360 Now Includes Hulu Plus Service

Last week Microsoft announced its Xbox 360 will include subscription movie and TV service Hulu Plus, starting April 29. The subscription cost will be $7.99 per month (with limited advertising). Additionally, Xbox LIVE users will receive a one-week free trial sponsored by Jack Link’s Beef Jerky.

Hulu Plus will also add Kinect support, enabling users to control programs with their voice or via physical gestures. According to the Hulu blog: “With Kinect for Xbox 360, you can simply say ‘Xbox, pause’ or use gestures to rewind, pause and fast forward your way through your favorite shows.”

In related news, Gamasutra reports that a record number of Xbox 360 console sales contributed to Microsoft’s 13 percent year-on-year revenue increase for the first three months of 2011. A new quarterly record for the gaming console was set, as 2.7 million Xbox 360 units were sold (up from 1.5 million for the same period last year).

For complete details, visit the Hulu Plus on Xbox LIVE page.

Watch the video demo on Engadget“Hulu Plus on Xbox 360 launches tomorrow, all members get a free week thanks to beef jerky” (4/28/11)

Related PC World article: “Making Sense of Streaming Media Options” (4/30/11)

Related Home Media Magazine article: “Six Questions with Microsoft’s Senior Spokesman, Jose Pinero” (4/29/11) Featuring everything from Netflix to ESPN, Microsoft wants Xbox to be the media hub in the living room. Jose Pinero, senior spokesman for Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, chatted with Home Media Magazine about where live TV fits into the Xbox 360’s future, how the addition of Kinect might be a game-changer in the console wars and whether a Blu-ray Disc drive will ever be included in the Xbox.

CameraMan for Maya: New 3D Camera App

Wes McDermott (“the 3D Ninja”) has released version 1.0.2 of his app for creating handheld camera animations in Autodesk Maya 3D software. CameraMan for Maya is an interesting new utility app for the iPhone 4, iPod touch and iPad 2 (currently available for $1.99 on iTunes).

The app uses the Apple devices’ gyroscope hardware as a motion capture device to control X, Y and Z rotations of the camera. It enables users to adjust the focal length with a slider, record animation, and provides Maya timeline playback controls. The 3D Ninja Blog features a helpful 29-minute video tutorial.

Requirements (according to the CameraMan for Maya iTunes page): Compatible with iPhone 4, iPod touch (4th generation), iPad 2 Wi-Fi, and iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G. Requires iOS 4.1 or later.

Walt Mossberg Reviews New G-Slate Honeycomb Tablet

The new G-Slate tablet from LG (sold by T-Mobile) was launched last week as the first tablet in the U.S. using Google’s Honeycomb software (Android 3.0 for tablets) to offer 4G speed and 3D video. With an 8.9-inch screen, the G-Slate offers less viewing area than Apple’s iPad 2 and the Motorola Xoom, but more than the Samsung Galaxy Tab and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook.

The greatest challenges for the new device may be how to compete with the highly successful iPad — and how to differentiate itself from the other Android-based devices currently on the market. In his WSJ “All Things Digital” column, Walt Mossberg suggests that the G-Slate aims to be different in three major ways: by offering 4G cellular data speeds, enabling 3D video creation and viewing, and featuring an “in-between” screen size as compared to current offerings.

In his review, Mossberg found the performance to be on par with the Honeycomb Xoom, but overall not as good a choice as the iPad 2 (especially in terms of price, size and weight). And regarding the 3D functionality, he writes, “The 3D feature, which requires the use of 1950s-style colored glasses, seems like a parlor trick to me.”

Mossberg reports that the biggest selling point of the G-Slate is the 4G speed, but adds that the current problem with all Honeycomb devices involves a lack of “tablet-optimized third-party apps.” It’s tough to compete with Apple in this regard, considering it already claims 65,000 tablet apps.

Mossberg’s bottom line: “The G-Slate isn’t as good a tablet as the iPad 2. I’d only recommend it for people who want the higher cellular speeds, or who prefer Android.”

Former Apple Engineers Set Out to Reinvent the E-Book

Former Apple engineers Kimon Tsinteris and Mike Matas have created a digital creation tool that might have a dramatic impact on the “frictionless” self-publishing of electronic books. Book apps created with the platform will leverage the sensors, touchscreen gestures, microphone and graphics chip of the iPad and iPhone to create a more interactive experience for electronic reading. The duo’s Push Pop Press is getting an interesting start, with some help from former vice president Al Gore.

According to the Wired Gadget Lab: “Push Pop Press will be a publishing platform for authors, publishers and artists to turn their books into interactive iPad or iPhone apps — no programming skills required.” The app enables users to augment their stories with photos, videos and a compelling variety of interactive features, which could go beyond books to the publishing of magazines and newspapers.

Push Pop Press could become an affordable alternative to the tools featured in Adobe’s Creative Suite, commonly used for creating today’s tablet periodicals. For example, Tsinteris and Matas claim that interactive diagrams, geotagged photos and video content can easily be embedded in a book produced with the tool.

For those who may be interested in seeing the possibilities of Push Pop Press, the app version of Al Gore’s book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, is available for $4.99 via the iTunes store.

You can also check out Gore’s guided tour of the app on the Wired post or the Push Pop Press site. It’s worth the two minutes to see this in action.