Tablet Schmablet: How About a Mud PC?

092209ATDgizmodoThe Wondertablet the guys at Gizmodo showed off last night looks cool. But you can’t actually touch one right now unless you know someone very connected at Microsoft (MSFT).

You know what you can touch? Today? How about a PC you control by shoving your hands in a box full of mud?

Seriously. All you have to do is get yourself to New York’s Nolita neighborhood and drop by Gizmodo’s annual gallery show, chock full of cool, weird and often gloriously useless gadgetry.

Among other geegaws on display: An automated pancake maker, some spark-emitting and dangerous-looking Tesla coils, a “Star Trek” tricorder and a videogame that dispenses beer. And, of course, an array of Apple (AAPL) paraphernalia, including some arts-and-craftsy iPhone cases.

The free show, which runs through Sunday, is mostly a labor of love on the part of head gadgeteer Brian Lam. But I gather it’s now making some money, via sponsorships, for Gawker Media’s Nick Denton. (And if that’s the case, I hope Denton uses some of that money to make sure there’s enough power and air conditioning at next year’s gallery. Also maybe some cots for his charges.)

Lam gave me a mini-tour yesterday afternoon, which I filmed with a Flip camcorder. If want to to see for yourself (it’s much less shaky that way), drop by the gallery at 267 Elizabeth Street.

Vuclip Raises $6M for Mobile Video Search

vuclipVuclip announced today that it has raised a $6 million Series B round of funding led by Jafco Ventures, with existing investor New Enterprise Associates returning. This brings the total amount the company has raised to a little more than $14 million.

Liz did an excellent explainer last year on what Vuclip does, but in a nutshell, the company lets mobile phone users search for and playback video. Vuclip does the transcoding on the fly and on the back-end so all the user needs is a phone with a browser, a native media player and data plan.

Craig Gatarz, Vuclip’s chief administrative officer, told us by phone that the service is getting 4 million unique users a month and delivering a million videos a day to 3,000 different handsets in 150 different countries (the bulk of Vuclip’s traffic comes from India, China and the U.S.).

Vuclip offers both a consumer-facing service with an ad-split revenue model as well as a white-label “powered by” service for the enterprise. The company can stitch a pre-roll to a piece of content on the fly, allowing publishers to target using geography or some other criteria.

The company plans to use its new funding to build out its sales and marketing teams and add to its technology platform.

Based in Milpitas, California, Vuclip currently has 40 employees across the Bay Area, China and India. Competitors in the mobile video space include Skyfire and mSpot.


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i.TV 2.0 Gets Remote Control But Still Lacks Content

i.TV is back with a new-and-improved version of its iPhone app. While version 2 of this free TV app adds some key features, such as virtual remote controls and iTunes integration, it still doesn’t address the quibbles I had with the earlier version. Namely, finding and watching full episodes of your favorite TV shows remains a challenge.

Like the earlier versions, i.TV 2.0 offers a TV programming guide, customized for your cable provider and area, plus info about current movies. You can browse or search for shows, set reminders for upcoming shows, schedule recordings on your networked TiVo DVR, find local movie listings, update your Netflix queue, and watch a (very meager) selection of full TV episodes via YouTube. It also lets you find showings of current movies and helps you buy tickets.

itv-1Once you find a certain TV show or movie and click on it, you’re presented with some basic info about it, plus two options: Details or Watch. Details lets you see photo galleries, credits, reviews, and more information about the title you’ve selected. Watch presents you with the options available for actually watching the show or movie via downloads, Netflix, streams, or upcoming showings.

And this is what disappointed me most about i.TV. I want an iPhone app that offers me full episodes of TV shows, not one that just points me in the direction of them, as i.TV does. And it doesn’t even point me to all sources of these episodes. I selected The Office, for example, and was told that there are 100 episodes available for purchase on iTunes. That’s great, but if I wanted to purchase a show from iTunes, I could just as easily go there. I’d be more interested in knowing that I could buy an episode if I could be sure that a streaming version wasn’t available for free anywhere. i.TV’s streaming directory, meanwhile, is limited. It didn’t list any available streams for The Office, but when I search Hulu and YouTube, I find hundreds of available clips.

tivo_remoteThe new remote control feature in i.TV 2.0 shows some potential, but is right now very limited, too. It allows you to turn your iPhone into a remote control for certain devices. I can certainly see the allure of browsing a programming guide on your phone and then tapping a few buttons to record or watch that show on your TiVo. But right now, the only products that the remote feature works with are the TiVo HD DVR and the TiVO HD XL DVR. i.TV says more devices will be added to that list, and that’s something that would greatly benefit the app. I’d especially love to see the company add support for the DVRs that so many people rent from their cable companies.

i.TV has plenty of potential, and it’s free. If you own a TiVo HD or a TiVo HD XL, you should try it for its remote control features alone. Personally, I’m just waiting for a better selection of streaming video; if the app could offer that, I’d be hooked.


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Pay Up: The Wall Street Journal Tries Charging Web Subscribers for Mobile Access

rupert-murdochHow on earth does The Wall Street Journal expect its subscribers to pay an additional fee to read the newspaper on a mobile phone?

It doesn’t. Except when it does.

Contrary to News Corp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch’s comments earlier in the week, Dow Jones will not be charging customers who subscribe to both its Web and print versions a weekly fee to read the paper on its iPhone or BlackBerry apps.

But if you’re only subscribing to one version? That’ll be a buck a week, starting Oct. 24. The Journal will also start charging mobile-only users $2 a week, which is essentially the same price as a Web-only subscription.

That second charge makes some sense to me. The Journal has always said that it would start charging for the apps it makes for Apple’s (AAPL) and Research in Motion’s (RIMM) handsets. Right now these apps are gratis, which means you can either pay the Journal to read it in print or on the Web, or read it on your iPhone and pay zilch. That had to change at some point.

But while I have to be a tiny bit delicate here–Dow Jones owns this Web site, and I still have some aversion to insulting my employers in public–I don’t see how dunking paying customers a second time makes sense.

I do understand some of the impulse. Publishers of all stripes seem to think that while charging for content on the Web is tough, people are happy to pay for something delivered wirelessly. I think that many publishers are going to be very disappointed when they try this out in practice, but that’s another story.

And I also know that News Corp. has steadily been pushing Dow Jones to raise its subscription prices for the WSJ since it acquired the company, and this strategy sort of dovetails with that.

But seems to me that if I am paying for information, I will expect to consume it wherever I am, at the same price. And you’re starting to hear some publishers say the same thing–see Variety’s comments about subscription plans today in PaidContent.

I don’t actually pay for my WSJ subscription; my employers, who, I should stress, are truly excellent people, have hooked me up–so maybe I’ve got this wrong. Or maybe it’s merely a marketing issue: If you jack up my WSJ subscription and tell me you’re throwing in access to the mobile app for free, I might be okay with it.

But tell me you’re charging me an additional fee to read it on the go and it will stick in my craw. Let’s see if the paper’s paying subscribers feel the same way.

Twitter Goes for Broke, if Broke Means “A Lot of Money”: New Funding Round at $1 Billion Valuation

twitter williams and stoneIs Twitter a billion-dollar company? It is now, according to its investors. People familiar with the company tell me it has raised around $50 million in a funding round that values the start-up, which has no real revenue to speak of, at about $1 billion.

TechCrunch, which first reported the funding, says CEO Evan Williams informed his employees about the new deal at a recent companywide meeting. I’m told the round is all but finished: “If the money isn’t in the bank yet, it will be soon,” a source tells me.

No word on who has invested in the company in this go-round, but it’s almost certain Twitter was able to entice new backers to join its existing investors: Silicon Valley logic dictates that each successive funding round should attract new money.

In February, Twitter raised approximately $35 million in a round led by Benchmark Capital and Institutional Venture Partners that valued it at $250 million.

And just to spell this out–Twitter’s new investors, along with older investors who have reupped, believe the company will ultimately be worth much more than $1 billion. In order to get a return on their money, they will expect it to hit $3 billion or more.

Feel free to debate the merits of Twitter’s growth prospects, and its chances of creating a real business out of all of those 140 character messages its users create.

But in retrospect, this funding round seems obvious: Twitter’s founders have insisted that they want to build the company on their own instead of selling it to the likes of a Google (GOOG) or Microsoft (MSFT), and they’ve already turned down Facebook. And if they weren’t going to sell, raising yet more money to give the company time and resources to build out a real business is the logical choice.

Here are Williams and co-founder Biz Stone talking to Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D: All Things Digital conference in May. Discussion of the company’s future as a standalone business kicks in around the 31-minute mark.

Another AOL Org Chart Shuffle: COO Partoll, Search Boss Kannapell Out

kim partollThis isn’t the long-rumored round of mass layoffs, but AOL boss Tim Armstrong did let go of two executives today: COO Kim Partoll is out, as is John Kannapell, SVP of search and local media.

Armstrong, who took over the Time Warner (TWX) unit earlier this year and is prepping it for a spinoff that’s supposed to happen by the end of 2009, doesn’t plan on replacing either executive, say people familiar with the matter. Instead, their work will be divvied up among other Armstrong lieutenants.

Partoll’s mobile responsibilities, for instance, will be given to new hire and former Yahoo (YHOO) exec Brad Garlinghouse, while Kannapell’s responsibilities will be handed to newish hire and former Google (GOOG) exec Jeff Levick. Armstrong himself will handle international duties, previously assigned to Partoll.

Kannapell’s departure isn’t a total shock, since he was listed as “acting head” of local during a reorg that Armstrong oversaw in June. But Partoll is a head-scratcher, since she was promoted to her new/old position during that same exec shuffle.

And what about those layoffs? Armstrong is almost certain to make some cuts at some point–and has told employees as much. But people familiar with the company say he hasn’t been focused on cost structure (i.e., cuts) until recently.

With MediaFLO Disappointing, Qualcomm Wants to Become a Mobile CDN

Qualcomm’s MediaFLO mobile television network hasn’t met the chipmaker’s expectations, according to COO Len Lauer, who spoke with me at the Mobilize 09 event last week in San Francisco. He said of Qualcomm’s FLO network for broadcasting mobile television, “We’re not where we need to be. We’re not meeting our expectations.”

He blamed the lack of success so far on the few  FLO-enabled devices available and the long wait for a nationwide network. While he was optimistic that FLO would be on more devices and noted that as of the DTV transition, Qualcomm had a nationwide network, he was also quick to portray the FLO network as more than a television delivery network. Yes, boys and girls, it’s a platform.

If mobile TV isn’t the right use for the separate network that Qualcomm has built at a cost of more than $800 million, Lauer thinks it might be used by carriers to help offload demand for video on the 3G and 4G networks, something I’ve mentioned as a possible strategy on how carriers can keep profiting on their mobile networks (GigaOM Pro, subscription required). “The reason we built this, and we’re starting to get more and more interest from network operators, is for network offload,” Lauer said. He said data usage on carrier networks is up by about 400 percent, more than half of which is streaming video, such as content from YouTube. Lauer said that they can help carriers use the FLO network to deliver broadcast or commonly accessed content to the handset and then cache parts of regularly accessed web sites on the device.

However, the FLO network may not be the only game in town for network offload. With this use case in mind, the GSM Association last week endorsed Integrated Mobile Broadband or IMB as one that might also work for offloading video, and one that’s likely to win more favor among carriers, according to telecommunications analyst Chetan Sharma. That’s because it uses spectrum the carriers already own and makes more efficient use of that spectrum for delivering video, as opposed to the FLO network, which is a completely different network operating on Qualcomm’s spectrum. IMB was also developed in conjunction with several carriers such as Vodafone, Telstra, T-Mobile, Orange and SingTel.


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