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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BET Awards App Wields Fun Social Gaming Mechanics [VIDEO]

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[More from Mashable: 5 Free iPhone Gardening Apps for Your Green Thumb]

The 12th Annual BET Awards ceremony airs July 1, and fans and celebrities are already preparing for the broadcast with the show’s first-ever mobile app. The app for Android and iPhone was released this month and features gaming elements tied to voting for the show’s nominees and predicting the order of performers.

[More from Mashable: 7 Apps You Don’t Want to Miss]

One game lets users vote with the slide of a finger, by shooting disks into a moving goal. The more disks a user makes in 15 seconds, the more votes he or she will tally for a specific nominee. The high scorers for each nominee will have their Twitter avatars and handles featured in the game's top-left corner for all users to see.

"Our audience really loves the prospect of being famous, so that's a theme we think about a lot when we develop new products," Brandon Lucas, BET’s VP of mobile, told Mashable ahead of the app's launch.

The Line-Up, is a fantasy sports-style game. Users can predict the order of the award show’s performers, compare their lists with friends and celebrities as well as look at it during the broadcast to see if they've won any prizes. Both games allow players to share their scores and line-ups to Facebook and Twitter.

The app also includes a clickable timeline of every BET Awards, videos of memorable moments, in-depth artist profiles and curated tweets.

"Our main goals in doing this app were to deepen our viewers’ connection to the show and to give them more reasons to tune into the live broadcast," Lucas says.

SEE ALSO: App Lets Rappers Record Songs, Put Them Up for Public Vote

The Black Entertainment Television Awards honors African-Americans in music, movies and sports.

This story originally published on Mashable here.

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A battle for Internet freedom as UN meeting nears

WASHINGTON (AP) — A year after the Internet helped fuel the Arab Spring uprisings, the role cyberspace plays in launching revolutions is being threatened by proposed changes to a United Nations telecommunications treaty that could allow countries to clamp down on the free flow of information.

For months, dozens of countries have been meeting behind closed doors to debate changes to the 24-year-old treaty. The U.S. delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications to be held in Dubai this December has vowed to block any proposals that could permit online censorship or undercut the Internet's current governing structure.

Yet those assurances have failed to ease fears that bureaucratic tinkering with the treaty could imperil Internet freedom and diminish its role in economic growth, according to legal experts and civil liberties advocates who have been tracking the discussions.

Russia, for example, has proposed language that requires member states to ensure the public has unrestricted access and use of international telecommunication services, "except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature," according to a May 3 U.N. document that details the various proposals for amending the treaty.

The wording of this provision could allow a country to cite a U.N. treaty as the basis for repressing political opposition. The provision also appears to contradict Article 19 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says people shall have the right to access information "through any media and regardless of frontiers."

A senior U.N. official said Friday the amended treaty will not create any barriers to information online, but acknowledged that the Russian proposal has not yet been rejected. Any proposals that cannot be agreed to by all member states will not be included in the final document, said Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, the U.N. agency that oversees the treaty.

An amended treaty would be binding on the United States if it is ratified by the Senate. But approval is not automatic. The treaty, known formally as the International Telecommunications Regulations, is sure to be scrutinized by lawmakers wary of its potential impact.

The ITU does not operate like the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has the power to veto resolutions to which it objects. The ITU works on a consensus basis. Proposals can be stopped from serious consideration if enough countries voice their objections. More than 190 nations will attend the Dubai conference and the U.S. delegation is seeking support for its positions at the preparatory meetings that will continue until the conference convenes.

"It is important that when we have values, as we do in the area of free speech and the free flow of information, that we do everything that we can to articulate and sustain those values," Philip Verveer, deputy assistant secretary of state and U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy, said in an interview.

The drafting and debating of proposals in preparation for the Dubai conference have taken place largely in secret. Public interest groups have criticized the process and said it runs counter to development of sound public policy. In response to calls for transparency, two research fellows at George Mason University's Mercatus Center launched the website earlier this month as a way to make leaked documents available publicly.

The secretive nature of the talks has sparked rumors the U.N. is plotting to take control of the Internet. Toure has called the takeover rumors "ridiculous."

Independent, nongovernmental organizations including the Internet Society, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and the Worldwide Web Consortium have for years served as the Internet's governing bodies. They handle core tasks like network and domain name administration and establish Internet policies, standards and rules based on input from the public and private sectors. This system allows the Internet to evolve organically and react rapidly to changes in technology, business practices and consumer behavior, according to open Internet advocates.

Yet for countries still grappling with how communications have been transformed by the Internet, ITU and the treaty are viewed as the best avenues for plugging themselves into the global information economy. For developing nations that don't have an effective broadband infrastructure, bureaucratic and regulatory measures can allow them to benefit financially from the Internet traffic that electronically crosses their borders.

But treaties are static instruments that often are unable to adapt and adjust to the fast pace of Internet innovation, said Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at the nonprofit Internet Society. "Further, we do not believe that we should simply take the 1988 regulatory model that applied to the old telephone system and apply it to the Internet," she said.

A proposal offered by a European association of telecommunications network operators would put pressure on content providers such as Google, Facebook and Netflix to offset the costs of delivering Internet traffic to end-users. That traffic increasingly includes bandwidth-hungry video, and the proposal from the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association essentially argues that the investment needed to expand and improve data delivery should be borne by the operators and the content providers.

Verveer called the proposal unworkable and said it would have unintended consequences, such as blocking Harvard, MIT and other universities from putting courses online at no cost to users in places where access to education is already limited. "If it became necessary to pay in order to make these courses available, they would predictably become less available, which would be very unfortunate," he said.

Even what appear to be minor alterations to the treaty can have far-reaching consequences. A coalition of Arab states has proposed expanding the treaty's definition of telecommunications by adding the word "processing." The change, if made, would expand the treaty's reach and "essentially swallow the Internet's functions with only a tiny edit to existing rules," Robert McDowell, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, said late last month at a congressional hearing.



International Telecommunication Union:


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New York City's Getting a Tech Upgrade

New York City is looking to double down on its status as a technology-first metropolis as city officials announced this week five new initiatives with the goal of expanding New York's booming tech sector.

The initiatives, introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and developed in partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, include a variety of plans to further develop broadband access and incorporate technology into the City's public policy:

[More from Mashable: Judge Dismisses Apple vs. Google Smartphone Patent Case]

1. ConnectNYC: Small and medium-sized companies in buildings with poor broadband wiring will compete with one another to win free "fast-track wiring" from the City. The competitions will be based on need -- those businesses that can prove they need faster, more reliable broadband connectivity in order to keep growing will get fast-tracked. The City is ironing out a partnership with Time Warner Cable to do the actual wiring.

2. WiredNYC: A building certification program that will grade and record broadband infrastructure in more than 300 office buildings over the next two years, which the city believes will make the commercial real estate market more transparent. You can think of it as the city's restaurant health grading system for high-speed enterprise broadband.

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3. NYC Broadband Connect Map: The City will collect data from various sources to develop a "crowd-sourced, dynamic map" that will show the availability and speed of broadband throughout the five boroughs. The idea? To clearly show Internet providers where the demand for better services exists.

4. Broadband Express: The City will reduce "regulatory hurdles" (read: bureaucratic red tape) to make life easier for Internet Service Providers seeking permits for street operations and other expansion projects. The City believes the program could "facilitate nearly 25,000 broadband-related permits" over the next two years.

5. CitizenConnect: A public-private partnership to spur mobile app developers to create new software to help New Yorkers access job listings and other "worker support programs" by setting up development competitions. Many of those services are already available online, but the City believes that mobile apps will increase their use as mobile devices have "much higher penetration" in New York City than other Internet-capable devices, such as computers at public libraries.

SEE ALSO: New York City Now Fastest-Growing Tech Hub [INFOGRAPHIC]

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg framed the five initiatives in terms of economic development.

“The growing technology industry is diversifying the City’s economy and creating the jobs of the future,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a press release.

“To support those jobs, we need to help the industry get the resources it needs – whether that means more qualified engineers or broadband connections. But encouraging investment in broadband will help more than just the tech sector – it will make sure more businesses and more New Yorkers can get connected.”

Rachel Sterne, the City's chief digital officer, told Mashable that New York City has been working closely with leaders in other cities to share ideas on integrating technology into public policy.

"I think it's a testament to the enormous momentum in the technology sector here that many cities do look to New York City for guidance," said Sterne.

"We find that the exchange of ideas is always very helpful. We've realized we have a shared goal of realizing our digital potential. We've shared our lessons learned and our plans - access to technology, bridging the digital divide, opening up data sets, education measures such as Cornell NYCTech as well as how we use digital media to engage with the public."

How else can technology change cities? Share your ideas in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Nikada

This story originally published on Mashable here.

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Sony, Panasonic to cooperate on OLED televisions

TOKYO (Reuters) - Rival Japanese television makers Sony Corp and Panasonic Corp said Monday they will cooperate to make OLED (organic light emitting diode) sets as they battle Korean rivals Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics for pole position in the next-generation TV market.

The race to garner a lead in OLED, widely touted as the successor to liquid-crystal displays, will depend on which company is able to mass produce screens at a price that will attract consumers to the new technology.

Sony and Panasonic said in a statement they will develop technologies to fabricate the screens and aim to establish a mass-production process in 2013.

Both Samsung and LG Electronics have displayed 55-inch OLED prototypes, with the sets expected to go on sale this year at a rumored price tag of as much as $10,000, or about four times the cost of an equivalent LCD model.

An executive at LG Display, a flat-screen maker 38 percent owned by LG Electronics, told Reuters earlier an internal study indicated consumers would start buying OLED TVs once the price falls to 1.3 to 1.4 times that of an LCD set.

Shipments of OLED TVs may reach 2.1 million sets in 2015 from just 34,000 this year, according to research firm IHS Inc.

Hammered by their Korean competitors in LCD TVs, Sony and Panasonic stand a better chance of competing in the next generation market by combining their OLED technologies and development budgets. Losses on TVs at Sony have mounted to around $12 billion in the past decade.

Sony pioneered OLED technology, which boast sharper images and do not need backlighting, selling the world's first OLED TV in 2007. It halted production of the $2,000 screens three years later amid the post-Lehman global downturn. Sony still makes OLED screens costing as much as $26,000 for high-end customers.

Panasonic plans to invest about 30 billion yen ($373 million) in its Himeji plant in western Japan for a test production line of OLED panels, an industry source told Reuters last month.

Shares in Sony, which makes Bravia TVs, and Panasonic, which sells TVs under the Viera brand, fell in Tokyo on Monday. Sony dipped 2.4 percent with Panasonic down 0.6 percent.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Samsung sees higher Q2 handset earnings; U.S. supply crunch to ease

SEOUL (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co expects sales of its new Galaxy S III, launched at the end of last month as a main rival to Apple's iPhone, to top 10 million during July, making it the South Korean group's fastest selling smartphone.

It also predicted earnings from its handset division would be higher in the current second quarter than in January-March, countering market concerns that tight supplies of the new Galaxy model and the weak global economy would pressure earnings at Asia's most valuable technology firm.

Shares in Samsung dropped 4.2 percent on Monday to a four-and-a-half month low, after more brokers cut their quarterly profit outlook, citing concerns over its chip and telecoms businesses. The benchmark KOSPI stock index was down 1.2 percent.

"The overall market condition was challenging due to euro zone issues and tight supply of components ... but (our) second-quarter results will be better than the first quarter," JK Shin, head of Samsung's mobile division, told reporters.

Profit from Samsung's mobile division nearly trebled in January-March to $3.6 billion, accounting for 73 percent of group operating profit.

"Looking beyond its current weakness in the chip sector, it appears investors are also worried that global macroeconomic woes may eat into handset sales in the second half," said Han Seung-hoon, an analyst at Korea Investment & Securities.


Samsung kicked off global sales of its Galaxy S III on May 29, but shipments have been affected by the tight supply of parts such as the handset casing for the pebble-blue model.

In the United States, where sales were launched last Thursday, major carriers including Sprint Nextel Corp, T-Mobile and AT&T have not been able to offer the Galaxy with 32 gigabytes of memory, partly due to tight supply.

"Due to overwhelming demand for the Galaxy S III worldwide, Samsung has informed us they will not be able to deliver enough inventory of Galaxy S III for Sprint to begin selling the device on June 21. We are working closely with Samsung on a delivery schedule to support our launch," Sprint said on its web site. It has yet to start shipping pre-orders for the 32 GB version.

"We're getting far better reviews on S III than we did with its predecessors globally ... and supply simply can't meet soaring demand. We've sent executives and staff to almost all our (component) suppliers to ensure a smooth offering and hopefully things will get better from next week," Shin said.

Samsung launched its first Galaxy model two years ago in a rush to counter Apple's iPhone success. Then, Samsung's smartphone market share was below 10 percent. It has since overtaken Apple, and the company said in late April that new Galaxy smartphones would "substantially contribute" to second-quarter results.

Analysts have downgraded estimates for Samsung's second-quarter smartphone shipments in recent weeks, predicting that sales of the latest Galaxy model have triggered a steeper than expected drop-off in sales of earlier products. They also cited tight supply of the S III model and growing competition from low-end manufacturers such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp.

Shin said Samsung was also doing well in the low-end segment of the smartphone market.

JPMorgan cut its forecast for Samsung's second-quarter smartphone shipments by a tenth to 50 million units.

Samsung sold 44.5 million smartphones in January-March - equal to nearly 21,000 every hour - giving it 30.6 percent market share. Apple sold 35.1 million iPhones, taking 24.1 percent market share.

(Additional reporting by Joonhee Yu; Editing by Richard Pullin and Ian Geoghegan)

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Galaxy S III sales to hit 10 million next month

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Samsung Electronics Co. expects worldwide sales of the latest Galaxy smartphone to surpass 10 million in July.

Samsung's mobile business president Shin Jong-kyun said on Monday that the Galaxy S III will reach the milestone two months after its launch.

The estimate reflects robust demands from mobile operators. Unlike Apple Inc., Samsung does not disclose sales figures to consumers.

The Korean company says the S III will be released by nearly 300 mobile carriers around the world by the end of July.

Samsung overtook Nokia as the world's biggest mobile-phone maker in 2011 and competes with Apple for the top smartphone maker position. It aims to double its smartphone sales this year to nearly 200 million phones.

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Neuroshima Hex tops Android Games of the Week

This was another wonderfully varied week of releases. There is something for everyone in this excellent line-up of very different titles, from board games to physics puzzlers, from stylish platformers to quirky endless runners. Topping off this list is the fantastic strategic game of Neuroshima Hex. We’ve also got the latest from Kairosoft, Noodlecake Studios, and even a rather uncharacteristically cool game from MTV Networks. What are you waiting for? Dive right in! Here are this week’s top Android games.

Well, here is an unusual choice to top off this list. Neuroshima Hex, from Big Daddy’s Creations, is simply the digital version of the tactical board game of the same name. It’s been on iOS for a while now, and it’s finally been released for Android. The game is played with hexagonal tiles on a hexagonal board, and it involves strategically battling things out with up to four other players between four different armies. This game oozes style, and is one of the coolest strategy games around. Definitely don’t judge this game before you play it, even if board games aren’t your thing. At least check out the lite version first.

This adorable little physics puzzler is the latest to be ported to Android via Noodlecake Studios and their “Game a Week Project.” The foozles are simply fuzzy little creatures who can take the shape of a circle or a square – a change which you affect with a simple tap. All you have to do is get all the meanie red foozles off the screen while making sure that all the yellow ones survive. You do this through rolling and using the environment to your advantage, and good timing is key. The art style and other aesthetics are chock-full of whimsy, and there’s no reason not to give this one a shot.

This is a fascinating and stylistic new platformer, brought to us (shockingly) by MTV Networks of all places. You play as Oscura, and your duty is to protect a very important lighthouse which keeps dark forces at bay. When the lighthouse shatters, it’s up to you to collect all the light again. Objects in the foreground are silhouetted against very colorful backdrops, keeping with the light vs. shadows motif. All of the jumping and movement controls are mapped to simple, mostly intuitive gestures, keeping the interface nice and clean to avoid distracting from the great visuals. Anyone looking for a cool platformer should look no further.

This is the latest and greatest Android release from simulation masters Kairosoft. Like Game Dev Story and the rest, it’s up to you to run a specific business, this time focusing on a clothing shop. It’s up to you to grow your business from a small store to a mega popular brand, as usual. Your duties will include running employment, positioning mannequins, and even watching the fashion trends of the world. The usual incredibly colorful and appealing pixel art style of Kairosoft is present, and this is another solid entry in their game library. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but there’s always the lite version of the game to give you a good demo.

This is a very amusing new endless runner type title from GameResort. In it, you fly your alien saucer over rural America, abducting animals and farmers from their homes. As you abduct specimens and collect coins with your tractor beam, you’ll have to avoid buildings and structures, which would cause your ship damage. You do this by swiping around to aim the beam. On smaller devices, your finger can get in the way of this and make things frustrating, but on a tablet, it’s great. There is a huge focus on the in-game currency, used to unlock an absurd amount of things. In-app purchase coins are supported of course, but the game is wacky, fun and free, so definitely check it out.

This is a rather interesting title from developer Inaya Team. It’s not necessarily well designed, per se, but it is a very cool concept. Essentially, this is a gauntlet of completely unconnected random puzzles and riddles. There is little to no instruction available to you as each puzzle/riddle is presented, and it’s up to you to find patterns or type out answers using only one single hint. This game will probably be frustrating to you unless you’re a big time puzzle aficionado who just loves a good challenge. I thought it was pretty awesome, if a bit ungraceful, but I recognize it will not be for everyone. There is a lite version to check out first though, so have at it!

Find more great Android games here

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Smartphones put writing on the wall for paid texts

Text messaging, the simple telecoms service that turned into a global phenomenon, is under threat from free smartphone services and operators need to find alternative revenue streams, analysts say.

The short message service, or SMS, started as a way to use spare telecoms capacity but has become a key cash generator for operators, while offering users a cheap way to keep in touch with friends and family and avoid the expense of voice calls.

But the surge in Internet-enabled smartphones in recent years has led to the rise of free voice, video and text messaging applications that are threatening to send SMS into oblivion.

According to technology research firm Ovum, SMS contributed about 57 percent of non-voice revenues for telecom companies globally in 2009 but this is projected to fall to 47 percent this year.

Ovum estimates the rise of alternative messaging services has slashed $8.7 billion from the revenues of telecom operators worldwide in 2010 and $13.9 billion in 2011.

"SMS in the next few years will contribute less and less to non-voice revenue for operators," said Neha Dharia, a consumer telecoms analyst at Ovum.

"Consumers now have the ability to send text messaging through a variety of ways, such as IM (instant messaging), messaging apps, social networks and so on," she told AFP.

"These products offer greater features and are competitively priced or even free. SMS is a more expensive option in certain markets and the interface is not as user friendly or intuitive as other messaging products in the market."

The surge in mobile Internet, driven by the explosion in smartphones and tablet computers, was a major topic at the four-day CommunicAsia fair that ended in Singapore on Friday.

Mobile devices are on track to replace conventional computers as the primary means to connect to the Internet, speakers said, and offer access to the likes of Yahoo!, Google and Facebook, among others, with their own instant messaging features.

At the same time applications such as WhatsApp, Viber, Tango and the iPhone's Facetime offer free voice and video calls and message services when there is wireless connection.

The changeover has already begun.

Data from Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority showed users in the tech-savvy city-state sent and received a record 2.46 billion SMSs in September 2011 but the number has since been falling and was down to 2.21 billion in March.

"I use it (SMS) a lot less these days," said Joscelyn Tan, 35, a corporate marketing specialist for an electronics company in the city-state.

"WhatsApp is so convenient. Plus it's free and a lot more fun with all the 'emoticons'. I used to have to pay for extra SMS, not anymore," she added.

But it remains a slow process in some of Asia's biggest telecommunications markets.

In a Pew Research Centre survey of mobile phone users in 21 countries last year, Indonesians reported the heaviest SMS usage, with 96 percent saying they regularly send texts.

The vast majority of Indonesia's 240 million people cannot afford smartphones and buy old-model Nokia handsets, which can cost as little as $15, making text messaging a primary means of communications.

But even so the country is also one of the world's biggest BlackBerry markets -- in large part because of its wildly popular instant messaging services.

With a mobile phone penetration rate of nearly one handset for every Filipino, SMS messaging has become an important part of Philippine culture and politics.

Official data shows an average of 15 text messages -- a mix of jokes, chain messages, political or showbiz rumours, uplifting quotes and invitations -- are sent each day by each user, making Filipinos among the world's biggest users.

As well as being harnessed to organise "people power" political protests, text messaging also allows Filipinos to communicate cheaply with relatives who are part of the nine million-strong work force abroad.

Maurie Dobbin, managing director at TeleResources Engineering, said SMS is likely to decline as people increasingly switch to smartphones.

"When the smartphone penetration in these Asian markets comes up... we will see a dramatic impact on SMS traffic," Dobbin told AFP on the sidelines of CommunicAsia.

Smartphones represented only 12 percent of all mobile phones in use globally last year, but accounted for 82 percent of data traffic, said Dobbin, adding that telecom operators needed to adjust as revenues from SMS decline.

"They do need to be more than a dumb pipe," Dobbin said. "They need to be providing value to their customers... their business model needs to change and they need to introduce new products into that."

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