Twitter buys contextual Android lock screen Cover, but why?

08.04.2014, 9:44

Twitter has purchased the Android lock screen app Cover for an undisclosed sum, the two companies have announced on – where else? – Twitter.

A puzzling development!

“Cover is joining Twitter! Excited for the future of Android and what’s to come,” tweeted Cover’s official account. Twitter welcomed it “to the flock” in reply.

But what exactly is to come? What does the future of Android involve, according to Twitter and Cover?

And does Twitter really think it’s this important to compete with Facebook Home?

Cover was created and launched by former Google employees in 2013.

“We started Cover a year ago because we believed in two things: 1) the untapped potential of the supercomputers we carry in our pockets, and 2) the amazing power of Android,” the company wrote in a blog post discussing the acquisition.

Cover Twitter
Solid math? We’ll see

The lock screen replacement displays six apps contextually on users’ devices based on their actions and locations.

So if you’re driving to work it might show Spotify and Google Maps, while if you’re sitting at home it could swap Flipboard or Feedly in.

The company says the app has been used by “hundreds of thousands” of people since October.

But comparisons to Facebook Home are inevitable.

The house that Zuckerberg built made a play at the Android lock screen early in 2013, turning users’ lock screens into glorified Facebook feeds.

It’s not a bad-looking overlay, but its reception was not exactly overwhelmingly positive. It seems that won’t stop Twitter from making its own play, though.

“Twitter, like Cover, believes in the incredible potential of Android,” Cover said. “They share our vision that smartphones can be a lot smarter – more useful and more contextual – and together we’re going to make that happen.

“We’ll be building upon a lot of what makes Cover great, and we’re thrilled to create something even better at Twitter.”

The existing Cover app will remain available in Google Play for now, but that might change as the companies’ plans progress.

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The rift with Oculus Rift revealed – why Facebook needs a reality check

31.03.2014, 9:42

The “good” and “evil” sides of the tech world clashed this week, with the clean-shaven, youthful and extremely popular makers of the Oculus Rift VR headset agreeing to be purchased by the evil, goatee-bearded, dark forces of the hated Facebook mega-empire.

Some smile, others not!

Many toys were thrown out of prams and as we see every week, there’s always one joke everyone furiously types out and thinks they’re the first with.

This week, it was something along the lines of “FarmVille in 3D! LOL!” that everyone raced to wryly observe first. Plus the fact that legendary PC coder and unmitigated brainbox John Carmack is now a humble Facebook employee caused many simple people some low levels of mirth.

These jokes were even funnier when they were repeated the next day, becoming funnier still by the third day.

But mostly there was anger. Anger about Kickstarter being used to kickstart a $2bn business, anger at Facebook chucking its money around again and anger that the promising VR tech may eventually be used as little more than a new way to get your mum to click on adverts for discounted last-minute cruises around the Norwegian fjords.

Those writing beneath a Valleywag piece suggested Facebook was the “worst possible partner” for the VR firm, fury was vented by those who saw Oculus using Kickstarter as a method of not only building a project, but building a company worth $2bn in a couple of years.

This was accurately nutshelled by commenter I’m Here Mostly for the Chicks, who said: “At this point it’s safe to assume Kickstarter in its entirety is for suckers. Maybe the first few months it was a good outlet for homebrew ideas, but all you’re doing now is subsidising corporations so they don’t have to take risks.”

Reader Greensky was a little more generous about his criticism of the deal, suggesting: “Kickstarter has led people to believe that they’re investing in an independent company. That their contributions are vital in allowing them to get off the ground and to forge their own way. Oculus proves that there can also be Kickstarters whose sole goal is to become popular enough to sell. Which isn’t wrong per se, but it’s also not the nice heart-warming underdog story that most Kickstarters use to get more backers.”

On a more aggressively negative vibe was Economist reader Guest Sensation, who said: “The very last thing humanity needs is a life sucking screen strapped to its face. What a shame people are embracing this technological ‘advancement’. Bye bye family time, hello 3D porn, virtual worlds to waste your life in, and mass media control. Disgusting.”

There’s 3D porn? *Writes cheque for $2.5bn, phones bank to arrange overdraft facility*

This is all a sign that Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has gone bonkers and is currently on a cash-fuelled spree he’ll eventually come to regret, according to Pondbridge72, who raged: “Paying twice the market price for Instagram and then WhatsApp was one thing. But this latest digression into geek hardware while alienating the very gamers necessary for Oculus to succeed is ham-fisted at best. Florid 5 and 10 year visions disguise an I-know-better-than-the-market intellectual arrogance and inability/unwillingness to take counsel from others.”

Just looked up what “florid” means. It’s a real word. It means “excessively intricate or elaborate.” Nice one, Pondbridge, teaching people about online fury and English at the same time.

STR agreed and was baffled by the decision, eventually concluding: “This is a case study in why no investor should trust their money with a company who has a 29 year old with sole majority control.”

But not everyone’s entirely negative about the sale. $2bn is a lot of money, and Register reader Stu is fantasising about how it might be spent by the newly loaded Oculus team, dreaming: “Well I’ve pre-ordered DK2, and am thinking of cancelling, but I’m coming to realise that Facebook have injected a serious cash flow into Oculus, hence would have a lot more clout in the HW market to demand the screens and other tech they want – specifically it would benefit from curved OLED, ultra resolution, very low latency, and very low persistence.”

Stu then suggests creating a throwaway Facebook profile to use solely for Oculus (and perhaps Tinder at the weekends), although he adds: “Adverts, well if that happens then I’m out!”

Beneath a Guardian piece entirely structured around how bad an idea it all seems, comment turned to whether or not Kickstarter backers ought to get a cut of the $2bn, seeing as they are, in some small way, the original venture capitalists that set Oculus on its way to financial stardom.

Reader Unpleasantmilk contributed the observation that: “People put money into it, to help the company build. Now that company has been sold for billions, why shouldn’t those who helped make it so, profit? This leaves a bad taste, but that is no surprise if *uckerburg is involved.”

And ChrisKS wasn’t happy with Oculus either, raging: “Oculus did exactly the opposite of what Kickstarter is used for, and didn’t actually do what their stated aims were. Look at their Kickstarter campaign and you’ll see that the support was generated by promises of open-sourcing and prototypes being built to facilitate/accelerate games development.”

“It was NOT supposed to be their engine for personal enrichment, but that’s what they used all that money for,” he finished with, probably hitting the keyboard really hard and with a satisfied flourish on that final full stop.

Finally, Facebook’s flaw of letting the most thumbed-up comments float up to the top of response threads meant Zuckerberg’s own announcement of the Oculus deal was instantly hammered by negativity, with Dave Woodruff rising to internet fame with his 1,000+ liked satirical comment: “I’m excited to announce we can’t innovate but we can buy other companies.”

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Oculus CTO John Carmack ‘wasn’t expecting Facebook,’ says it gets ‘big picture’

31.03.2014, 9:31

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, the maker of the Oculus Rift VR headset surprised almost everyone, including the gaming company’s chief technology officer John Cormack.

Better hope so!

The gaming legend has broken his silence on the $2 billion buyout in response to a blog post by Peter Berkman, saying “wasn’t expecting Facebook.” and admitting there are companies “with more obvious synergies” than the social network.

However, he added that he has ‘reasons’ to believe Facebook will do right by the company’s vision to make virtual reality gaming a reality.

In the blog’s comments section, he wrote: “I do have reasons to believe that they get the Big Picture as I see it, and will be a powerful force towards making it happen. You don’t make a commitment like they just did on a whim.”

Carmack did say he met with Zuckerberg a week prior to the buyout being announced, but had no inkling the Facebook CEO was interested in buying the company.

“I wasn’t personally involved in any of the negotiations – I spent an afternoon talking technology with Mark Zuckerberg, and the next week I find out that he bought Oculus.”

He also said he was unconcerned about the privacy implication involved with Facebook’s advertising and data-centric business model.

“I did skip the data mining issue, mostly because I just can’t get very worked up about it,” he added.

“I’m not a “privacy is gone, get over it” sort of person, and I fully support people that want remain unobserved, but that means disengaging from many opportunities. The idea that companies are supposed to interact with you and not pay attention has never seemed sane to me.”

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Facebook announces it’s building drones armed with the internet

28.03.2014, 9:42

While everyone’s distracted by looking through virtual reality goggles like Oculus Rift, Facebook is preparing to fly drones overhead to beam the internet to new places.

To fly above Turkey?

This airborne Internet.org mission is being carried out by the Facebook Connectivity Lab, which has been tasked with building drones, satellites and lasers.

Its goal is to deliver “affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world,” wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a status update today.

There’s certainly a need. Less than three billion people are able to access the internet among a population of 7.1 billion.

Penetration is low in developing countries without infrastructure and government censorship often stymies free and open access. Turkey is just the latest case this month.

Facebook and Internet.org have been able to connect more than three million new people to the internet in the past year through conventional methods.

Countries like the Philippines and Paraguay have seen double the number of mobile data users thanks to the Internet.org’s partnerships with operators, reported Zuckerberg.

That’s a start, but beaming the internet to the entire world requires inventing new technology and experts.

That’s why Facebook is bringing experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center onboard as well as key members of the UK-based Ascenta to its Connectivity Lab.

Ascenta is known for being involved in its early stages Zephyr, a UAV technology that went on to become the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.

This fits right into the scope of Internet.org’s plains, which call for internet delivery at 60,000 feet in the air with planes that are powered by the sun.

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Minecraft creator scraps Oculus Rift plans post Facebook purchase

26.03.2014, 9:31

An Oculus Rift version of Minecraft may have been in the works… until Facebook bought up Oculus VR for US$2 billion.

Oculus Rift

Posting on Twitter, Minecraft creator Markus Persson wrote, “We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal.”

Why? “Facebook creeps me out,” Persson added in the tweet.

He explained his decision further via blog post, stating that he didn’t trust the social media platform.

“Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven’t historically been a stable platform. There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me,” he said in his blog post.

According to Persson, talks about producing a slimmed-down, free version of Minecraft for Oculus began just two weeks ago.

Persson’s decision to can the project goes beyond his distrust of Facebook. He went on to say that he thinks VR is perfect for a social platform, but explained that he doesn’t want to work with social.

“I want to work with games,” he wrote. “I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook.”

And so all may not be lost. With Sony revealing their own VR headset, Project Morpheus, and Microsoft hinting that it has its sights on VR for Xbox as well, Persson might have other avenues for a VR version of Minecraft.

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Facebook buys Oculus: Is this the right move for the leader in VR?

26.03.2014, 9:24

It still hasn’t completely sunk in that Facebook bought Oculus, maker of the Oculus Rift VR headset. A social media marriage with virtual reality? It’s a head-scratcher that’s sure to make the masses furious, confused and compelled to take up arms – meaning we’ll probably see a barrage of snarky internet memes for awhile.

Zuckerberg wants to play!

The deal struck between the two companies is worth approximately $2 billion,(about £1.2b, AU$2.1b), and an additional $300 million (about £181m, AU$327m) in earn-out cash and stock will be paid if Oculus hits “certain milestones.”

With such large sums of dough being doled out, my immediate thought about Facebook buying Oculus is simply that it’s an astoundingly bad idea. It reeks of dump trucks full of easy money for a burgeoning start-up, which admittedly makes sense with the big dogs like Sony’s Project Morpheus in the picture and Microsoft’s wishy-washy VR dabbling.

But in all honesty, virtual reality needs as much time in the limelight as it can get if it wants to stay relevant and not fade away like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, and with the power of Facebook behind it, Oculus is bound to get plenty of air-time. However, relevance doesn’t necessarily mean opting for a social media company acquisition is the right answer.

Public opinion of Oculus is generally high thanks to its modest Kickstarter beginnings. We also can’t forget Palmer Luckey’s early days participating in MTBS forums (Meant to Be Seen) and John Carmack of Doom fame joining the team, furthering the VR startup’s popularity. It’s a textbook tech fairy tale story about the underdog slowly rising to fame.

The same can be said for Facebook’s own humble Harvard inception. Both companies have the entrepreneurial spirit that drives the tech industry – but why do we all roll our eyes at the thought of Facebook likes, posts and its numerous layout changes?

There’s no doubt that Facebook’s numbers are big and that its user base is massive – heck everyone and their grandma is on “the Facebook.” Yet the mention of the “F” word leaves a dirty taste in the mouth.

We all use it but we all abuse it, too. The prevalence of social media has become a permanent fixture in our lives, and arguably has been more negative than positive. After all, where else did the selfie generation develop? And the need to post every mundane aspect of a morning routine? Or more seriously, the addictive, alienating effects of being on the site all the time?

This makes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s determination to bring Oculus on board as a means to further the social connection, or in his own words during an analyst call, “connect the world … in entirely new ways” less exciting than a site redesign.

No one wants to feel that familiar Facebook animosity for a future-forward device that has such promising capabilities. Or, more frankly, we don’t want to see Facebook screw up a good thing.

To be fair, Zuckerberg did say that Oculus will remain an individual operation and will stay in its Irvine, Calif. headquarters to continue tinkering away on the head mounted display. But it’s clear that Zuck and Co. have big plans for the device as well since the CEO stated VR has “the potential to be the most social platform ever.”

He mentioned sports, education, doctors visits and shopping as just a few of the virtual experiences that are a goggle away with an Oculus at home. This does match up with Oculus Rift’s own goals – to bring immersive VR to every household – but vision is one thing and execution is another.

We see what Facebook wants, but from how the social media platform has evolved, it just doesn’t look very promising.

Regardless, if there’s one good thing that must be said, virtual reality is an exciting space that deserves more attention. Meaning if Facebook has to buy Oculus Rift for VR for people to start noticing, so be it. As long as it opens doors for other companies to join the fold and make it big.

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Facebook hits 1 billion mobile users, 200 million on Instagram

26.03.2014, 9:12

Not only is Facebook forking over around $2 billion for the company that makes Oculus Rift, it’s also stepping out with some pretty heady numbers for its longer-standing properties.

A collage of people!

First up, Facebook’s first true love: mobile. Zuckerberg revealed Facebook now has 1 billion users on its mobile apps. The company repeated its December figure of 945 million monthly users just last week, but clearly it was time for an update.

Furthermore, Zuckerberg said that looking at all mobile phone usage, more than 20% of peoples’ time is spent on Facebook.

The company has made much of its “mobile first” approach, and it appears to be paying off.

As for Instagram, Facebook’s first big payout, the photo sharing service revealed today that it has over 200 million users, with over 50 million joining in the last six months.

Users sat at 100 million when Facebook purchased the tiny team in 2012.

During a call with investors to discuss the Oculus purchase, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Instagram is “already ahead of where we want it to be.”

He assured Facebook wouldn’t be making multi-billion dollar purchases every few months a regular thing, but with Instagram growing, WhatsApp expected to reach 1 billion people and Oculus Rift’s potential as the future of computing, there’s certainly some things Zuck is wiling to spend his bucks on.

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Facebook’s got game: The social network makes its play to devs

21.03.2014, 11:36

Facebook is serious about social. And since, according to Facebook, gaming is social, the social network is serious about gaming, too.

Devs to go crazy about it?

The message came through clearer than a Bejeweled gem at this week’s GDC, and the company has made several plays to woo the game-maker crowd here.

“It’s a great time to be working on games at Facebook,” said Dan Morris, head of North American & Mobile Games Partnerships at Facebook during a media roundtable Wednesday. “We are increasingly understanding thanks to user data coming back to us that games are a fundamental human interest.”

One could argue Facebook has become a fundamental human interest as well.

By the numbers, Facebook has 1.2 billion monthly users. But you already knew that. What you may not have known is that the service also counts 945 million monthly mobile users, and an average of 375 million people play Facebook-connected games a month.

A final number: Facebook figures its website and mobile apps send 735 million referrals to games every day. In the words of Morris, Facebook acts as a “portal into games.”

Facebook has spent the week working to convince developers to go cross-platform, or put their games on mobile and the “Facebook Canvas,” or the desktop browser. As we reported Monday, Facebook’s own studies have found that cross-platform gamers generate 3.3 times the revenue as those who stick to desktop. Engagement is also higher for those who game on both mobile and desktop as opposed to one or the other.

Aaron Brady, games engineering manager at Facebook, said during the roundtable that gaming partners approached the company about wanting cross-platform play, which then prompted the internal studies.

What did the findings reveal? “Yeah, this is big,” said Brady.

The players may be there and they may be paying and engaging, but as Morris acknowledged, there is a “discovery problem … looming large over gaming.”

However, while the majority games may be buried in other app stores, Facebook presents a “unique opportunity” for developers to connect with an audience because of its mobile and desktop audiences, Morris reasoned.

“[We want to] allow a game developer to deploy a game on to the widest possible audience on the day they launch and find as many people on as many screes as they can,” Morris said.

One way the company is helping users discover games is through improved game requests, announced during GDC.

Instead of opaque alerts that don’t tell you anything about what a friend has sent, requests will now contain specific information.

“Tommy sent you a request” will be replaced with “Tommy asked you for a life,” or whatever. This way, gamers can better decide if they want to act upon the request and game developers can see which requests perform and which fall flat.

Facebook gaming
Ohhh, that’s what Anita wants

Morris, Brady and Vishu Gupta, head of games engineering at Facebook, each talked about how Facebook helps push games to users, but we wondered about the flip side. Couldn’t users feel spammed by game recommendations and other forms of marketing when they just want to check their news feed?

“We try to think about what’s the right game for this user,” Gupta offered. “We invest a lot in figuring out what’s the best game for a user to play. It’s more of a quality question than a quantity questions.”

He said the “number of signals is pretty huge” when it comes to figuring out what games to recommend to which users. Past playing history and response to friend game requests are among the signals Facebook looks at before sending recommendations to users.

Facebook seems committed to getting games on both mobile and desktop, not preferring one to the other. Brady noted the company aims for parity between the services and tools it provides game developers for both platforms.

The company didn’t provide a figure on how many games are available through Facebook at the moment, but Morris noted the company’s game front is “seeing more success in more genres than before.”

Many of the top titles are mid- to hardcore games, and “hardcore strategy games” amount to some of the game network’s most successful.

Facebook may have the users and the tools to help developers reach a broad audience, but Morris said the company also has one more trick up its sleeve.

“What’s cool about Facebook as a game matching network is it’s friends,” he said. “It’s games layered onto of the social graph. It’s what’s exciting about our product.”

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WhatsApp CEO: Privacy is ‘very personal’

18.03.2014, 10:58

WhatsApp made a sweeping headlines when it was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion (about £11b/AU$20b). But unfortunately along with the big bucks the messaging service received, it was roped in with Facebook’s questionable privacy principles.

Privacy, privacy, privacy!

Now WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum has come out in a blog post to set the record straight on how WhatsApp’s partnership with Facebook would mean for users’ data and privacy.

“Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication,” Koum wrote. The WhatsApp CEO continued on to say privacy was a very personal matter for him having grown up in the Soviet USSR during the 1980s.

“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible,” he said.

Amongst the information users still won’t have to provide, Koum noted that his company does not need to know anyone’s name, email address, birthday, home address, where they work or live, search history, GPS location – or basically any information that’s ever collected by Facebook.

Koum stated that his company’s “fundamental values and beliefs will not change.” The company head honcho promised his service would continue operating without any of this data, which has never been collected or stored by WhatsApp

“If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it,” he continued. “Instead, we are forming a partnership that would allow us to continue operating independently and autonomously.”

“Our focus remains on delivering the promise of WhatsApp far and wide, so that people around the world have the freedom to speak their mind without fear.”

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Zuckerberg phoned Obama to vent about government spying

14.03.2014, 9:56

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is pissed. Or at least he’s “confused and frustrated,” and it’s not because of our hate for the news feed’s previous redesign.

Obama, we have to talk!

The Zuck took to … you know … to express anger over what he views as damage done and threats posed to the internet by the US government’s spying programs. But he didn’t stop there.

“I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future,” he wrote.

The conversation may not have gone very well: “Unfortunately, it seems it will take a very long time for true reform.”

A strong, trusted and secure internet is essential to helping people connect, learn and speak, Zuckerberg reasoned.

Facebook works to ensure security through encryption, secure traffic protocols and authentication processes, he continued, and other companies and individuals follow similar guidelines.

The government, namely the NSA, has eroded and threatened those efforts. What’s more, it’s bred distrust in internet users.

“The US government should be a champion for the internet, not a threat,”Zuckerberg wrote near the end of his missive. “They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.”

Zuckerberg’s note comes one day after a report that the NSA posed as Facebook as the social network to gather information.

While it may be awhile before the government makes the changes Zuckerberg is calling for, he concluded that we the people can take matters into our own hands. The internet is ours, after all.

“So it’s up to us – all of us – to build the internet we want,” he wrote. “Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure.

“I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.”

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