Amazon.com has updated its mobile app store to include support for its Chinese customers, a potential signal that the U.S. company may be preparing to sell its Kindle e-readers and tablets in the country.
The update effectively launches a new version of Amazon’s app store built in the Chinese language. The store comes in the form of an Android app, and the company has been promoting it since this past weekend.
The arrival of the new store comes just months after Amazon launched its Kindle e-book service in China last December. Both are key platforms for bringing content to the company’s Kindle devices in the U.S. market. But in China, Amazon has yet to start selling its tablet and e-reader hardware, and its local offices have been mum on a future release date. The company on Monday did not immediately respond for comment.
Despite the absence of official sales, the Chinese market is showing some “pent-up demand” for Amazon’s e-readers, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting. Research data from last year showed that Chinese consumers were increasingly buying the e-readers from overseas markets, he added.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets could also sell well in the country, Natkin said. Apple currently dominates the nation’s tablet sector, but the company largely focuses on the higher-end market. Amazon’s Kindle Fire products, which start at $159, could appeal to many consumers wanting a lower-priced device from a well-known brand, he added.
Lenovo became the country’s second-largest tablet vendor after Apple, with a 14% market share, by its focus on budget tablets, according to analysts.
Though a big name in the U.S., Amazon is, however, a small player in China’s e-commerce market. It faces fierce competition from the local rivals, including Alibaba Group’s Taobao sites and 360buy, another major online shopping mall. Both Taobao and 360buy also sell e-books.
China’s market is also already saturated with local app stores, some of which are operated by handset makers and telecom operators. Amazon’s new Chinese app store has been designed to include more local products. Software from Chinese social networking site Sina Weibo and video-sharing hub Youku Tudou are listed, but U.S. apps including Netflix and Twitter are not.
Citing three unnamed sources, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Amazon is planning to launch the set-top box this fall. However, the report doesn’t say how much the box will cost or how it will stand out from other devices like Apple TV and Roku.
It’s obvious why Amazon would want to launch its own TV box. Existing set-top boxes and game consoles don’t put Amazon’s services front and center, or they don’t offer Amazon video at all.
With its own product, Amazon can steer people toward its Prime Instant Video service and its a la carte video offerings.
Bloomberg claims that Amazon will likely allow competing video services such as Netflix and Hulu on the device, just as it does on the Kindle Fire. Still, Amazon’s own services will get more prominent billing.
But does the world need another cheap set-top box? That depends on what Amazon can bring to the table.
Just to speculate a bit, the company could offer tablet-to-TV streaming similar to Apple’s AirPlay–a feature not found on most competing devices–and it could extend its FreeTime service A to the television to highlight kid-friendly content.
Perhaps Amazon could also dabble in gaming by offering a controller that works with games from its own Appstore for Android.
Most of all, Amazon could undercut the competition on price, just as it did with the Kindle Fire. If the company can offer a sub-$50 set-top box with solid features and a simple interface, it could be a big hit.
Amazon.com Inc has managed to snag more than a fifth of the market for digital music downloads, helped by the launch of its own tablet computers and aggressive pricing, according to an industry study released on Tuesday.
AmazonMP3, the online retailer’s digital music business, had 22 percent of the market for music downloads in the United States in last year’s fourth quarter, research firm the NPD Group said in its Annual Music Study.
That compares with 15 percent in 2011, 13 percent in 2010, 10 percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2008, NPD data showed.
Apple Inc’s iTunes store, which turns 10 years old on April 28, was still dominant with 63 percent of the market in the fourth quarter of 2012. But that was down from 68 percent in 2011 and 69 percent in 2009, according to NPD.
“Amazon’s entry into tablets probably helped,” said Russ Crupnick, senior vice president, industry analysis, at NPD Group.
Amazon launched its own tablet, the Kindle Fire, in 2011, and last year the company rolled out larger versions of the device to compete more with Apple’s iPad.
Amazon is using the Kindle Fire to try to sell more digital goods, such as music, video, apps and games, where iTunes leads.
Amazon, known for low prices, has also taken that approach in music downloads, running frequent price promotions to spur more sales. In 2011, the company offered Lady Gaga’s album “Born This Way” for 99 cents in MP3 format. Demand was so strong that Amazon’s computer servers stalled, forcing the company to run the promotion again a few days later.
Amazon has also benefited from a large base of consumers who buy physical CDs from the retailer. As those shoppers switch to digital music, the company has managed to keep many of them as customers, Crupnick explained.
Amazon sells digital music without Digital Rights Management, or DRM, a technology that limits how people can consume such content. The company’s DRM-free approach boosted demand because it let consumers listen to music on any devices, including Apple devices like iPods and iPhones, Crupnick said.
PayPal, part of eBay Inc, did not disclose a purchase price.
PayPal is a dominant online payments service with more than 120 million users, but its growth has slowed in recent years and the company’s new president, David Marcus, is looking for ways to revive that.
Iron Pearl, a Silicon Valley start-up, analyzes data and develops computer models designed to drive the viral spread of products and services over the Internet, often across social networks such as Facebook Inc.
This niche in the technology world is often called growth hacking, and PayPal’s Marcus said on Thursday that Chudnovsky and Currier are among the leading growth hackers. Other top growth hackers include Chamath Palihapitiya, who helped drive Facebook’s own rapid expansion, Marcus noted.
“It’s time for PayPal to take this very seriously,” Marcus said. “This is a key function of any growth company.”
Technology companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn Corp and Twitter have specific groups of employees who focus on growth hacking and PayPal should too, he added.
Chudnovsky will take on the new role of vice president of growth at PayPal and report directly to Marcus, while Currier will be a “growth adviser” to the company, Marcus said.
Chudnovsky and Currier started Tickle, an early social media company that used online viral marketing and was acquired for $100 million by Monster in 2004.
Chudnovsky also helped design online growth strategies for start-ups such as GoodReads, Path and BranchOut.
GoodReads, a social network for readers to recommend books to friends online, was acquired by Amazon.com Inc, the world’s largest Internet retailer, earlier this year.
As anyone who has accidentally walked into a room full of children can tell you, they’re good at asking the kinds of questions that just keep drilling down. “Why is the sky blue? So why does blue light get scattered more? Then why is the sky red at sunset? Where are you going?”
And although I don’t recommend it, if you were to sit one of these little buggers down with a quarterly earnings reports from EA or Activision, they might soon start asking “Why are violent video games so much more popular than other games?” It’s a tricky question to answer without falling down the why hole. Because shooting stuff is fun. Why is it fun? Because people like military themes where they can be the hero. Okay, but why is that? Because players like feeling ridiculously powerful and enormous guns let them do that. But why is that appealing? Why, why, why?
Well, some psychologists are trying to tease apart the reasons why violence sells without throwing their hands up and shouting “Just because! And I’m not even your real dad!” Researchers Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan describe how they think that the design of violent games – especially shooters – naturally does a pretty good job of satisfying some very basic psychological needs. But not in the way you may be thinking.
In their book, Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound, Rigby and Ryan describe “self-determination theory,” a fairly well established framework that aims to describe why people pursue certain voluntary activities. In part, self-determination theory says that people are motivated to engage in activities to the extent that they satisfy three psychological needs:
- 1. Competence – progressing in skill and power.
- 2. Autonomy – being able to choose from multiple, meaningful options.
- 3. Relatedness – feeling important to others.
What does this have to do with violent shooters? Rigby, Ryan, and their colleagues argue that many of the design principles of good shooters also happen to follow well worn paths to satisfying these three psychological needs. Let’s take a closer look.
Competence is communicated by immediate and unambiguous positive feedback in response to your actions – you see opponents stagger, see blood fly off them, and ultimately see them collapse. The beloved headshot is particularly effective in this regard. Scott Rigby notes, “I’ll often put up a slide with a great screenshot of a headshot, and it always elicits smiles. The smiles here aren’t because everyone is sadistic – they are because this is a moment of mastery satisfaction that all gamers can relate to. The blood may not be the value component, but really is just a traditional way dense informational feedback on mastery is provided.” Information about competence in shooters is also thrown at you in the form of scoreboards, rankings, weapon unlocks, and eventually the outcome of every (relatively short) match.
Autonomy, the second motivator in self-determination theory, is also well served by the design of most popular shooters. Having the option to choose many different paths through a level satisfies autonomy, as does choosing between different classes, different loadouts, or different tactics. In a lot of games you can even choose between different modes, modifiers, or maps, allowing you to satisfy the need to play a game how you please. And if that’s not enough, custom character or weapon skins or models also fit in here.
Finally, relatedness is most obviously important in multiplayer games where you can feel like part of a successful (or, perhaps more likely of pickup games, incompetent) team bound together by opposition to a common foe. To the extent that shooters communicate your contributions in the forms of scores, points, server-wide notifications, or MVP awards, relatedness will be satisfied – to say nothing of what you can get out of text and voice chat. But even most modern shooters have single player campaigns that somewhat mimic this and put you in the role of someone important to those around you.
Of course, none of these motivators is unique to shooters. They show up in good game design across all genres and themes. But violent shooters usually hit on all three, and Rigby and Ryan believe that’s there’s a big overlap between what makes an effective shooter and what satisfies multiple facets of all three of these psychological needs. So while RPGs might nail autonomy, platformers may demand competence, and MMOs may allow the most relatedness, violent shooters fire on all three cylinders.
“[Violent games] are fun not because of the blood and gore,” write Rigby and Ryan, “but because games of war and combat offer so many opportunities to feel autonomy, competence, and the relatedness of camaraderie rolled up into an epic heroic experience.” But, that all said, do shooters satisfy all these motivators so well because they’re violent?
It’s an important question, and Ryan, Rigby, and their colleague Andrew Przybylski published a 2009 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that addresses it. Part of their research involved a clever experiment where they modified Half-Life 2 to create a high-violence version of the game’s multiplayer and a low-violence version. The high violence version is pretty much what you’d expect. The low violence one, though, was created by changing the bullet-spewing guns into “tag” tools that players would use to zap opponents. Once tagged, foes would freeze and float up into the air for a second before being harmlessly teleported to a “penalty box” where they would wait to respawn into the game. So the main difference – arguably the only difference – between the two groups was how much violence there was in the game. Everything else was the same: the level layouts, the controls, and all the other stuff that satisfied competence and autonomy (unfortunately they didn’t examine relatedness). Only the violence was teased out of the equation
What did they find? Well, a lot of things. But one interesting finding was that the games in either condition were found enjoyable and both games satisfied the basic psychological needs of competence and autonomy. Even whether or not a person was naturally aggressive and normally enjoyed violent games didn’t matter once you accounted for competence and autonomy.
To me, this is vastly interesting and argues for alternatives to the go-to trope of violence and gore if you’re looking to draw people to games. It’s not the bloodshed as much as it is feeling like you’re able to make what you want happen on-screen. It’s not fetishising guns and explosions as much as it is the ability to use tactics and choose among meaningful options on the road to victory. It’s not the military themes as much as it is feeling like you’re an important part of a team.
Sure, war and military heroism are themes and experiences worthy of exploration, but there are other options that can be just as effective. Gamers may be happy to just keep buying the same game over and over again without understanding a thing about self determination theory, and publishers may only want to greenlight games that look like smash hits from the past without caring about mechanisms for satisfying psychological needs, but developers who think about these things and play around with them can definitely do something both great and different.
Google Inc will offer a new version of its Nexus 7 tablet powered by Qualcomm Inc’s Snapdragon processor around July, according to two sources, as the software giant pushes deeper into the cut-price mobile hardware market.
Google is aiming to ship as many as eight million of the Asustek-made tablets in the second half of the year, throwing down the gauntlet to other low-end tablets such as Amazon.com Inc’s Kindle Fire and Apple Inc’s iPad mini, the sources with knowledge of the new product said.
Google, which gets almost all of its revenue from online advertising, wants the aggressively priced Nexus tablets to be a hit as more Nexus users would mean more exposure for Google’s ads.
The latest version will have a higher screen resolution, a thinner bezel design and adopt Qualcomm’s chip in place of Nvidia Corp’s Tegra 3, which was used in the first Nexus 7s released last year, the sources said, declining to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
In a blow to Nvidia, Google weighed both U.S. chipmakers’ processors but finally decided on Qualcomm’s for power reasons, one of the sources added.
Qualcomm and Nvidia are competing aggressively in the tablet market as they seek to expand from their traditional strongholds of cellphones and PCs respectively.
A Google spokesman declined to comment on its new tablet. Qualcomm and Nvidia also declined to respond to questions.
While Amazon is not confirming any such project, it recently hired a former Microsoft executive, Charlie Kindel. Kindel headed up the Windows Phone application platform and developer relations, although his role at Amazon is still a mystery. The close proximity of Kindel’s name with the Kindle product line has been hard for bloggers to overlook. He also blogged about his new job on April Fool’s Day, saying “Part of the following is true.”
Kindel confirmed to GeekWire that he was hired by Amazon to be a director of “something secret.”
Kindel’s LinkedIn page says he is at Amazon as a “general troublemaker in the tech & mobile space … hiring developers, program managers and product managers.”
He could not be reached for further comment.
Just about all that’s known about the reported smartphone is that it will have a 4.7-in. screen and run a custom version of Android, much like the Kindle Fire tablet.
Yankee Group analyst Boris Metodiev said on March 27 that he expects Amazon to sell a smartphone at a low price, with the hope of making money by selling digital content as it has with the Kindle Fire. Metodiev cited a report in DigiTimes that Amazon was developing a 4.7-inch smartphone that could be released in 2014.
When Crytek opened its new Crytek USA studio, it picked up a number of the staff from Vigil when THQ hit bottom. Now, it looks like those former Vigil studio members might be lucky enough to see Crytek acquire the Darksiders franchise that these folks poured their hearts and souls into.
Crytek is apparently looking to buy the rights to the Darksiders franchise. This is not to make a new Darksiders game, but is in the spirit that the people who created the game might as well own the IP if someone if going to get it.
Former Vigil boss, David Adams, now the head of Crytek USA, went to Twitter to announce the news that Crytek would be bidding to acquire the franchise because the IP belongs at home with is creators, according to the Twitter posting.
While it is far from assured that Crytek will acquire it, the courts and the legal wrangling will determine how it shakes out. Still, it is nice thing to see that some of the former Vigil crew could end up with the IP being under the roof where they work again. It does not get anywhere close to a new Darksiders game, but it would be nice for the Vigil folks to have something good come their way.
In buying Goodreads, Amazon gets a community of bibliophiles primed to buy and recommend books – one of its key areas of business.
Based in San Francisco, Goodreads is a social network site that lets bookworms catalog and review books. Co-founded by Otis Chandler, whose family once published the Los Angeles Times, Goodreads has more than 16 million members, who have generated more than 23 million reviews.
“We’re looking forward to inspiring greater literary discussion and helping more readers find great books, whether they read in print or digitally,” Chandler, who also serves as CEO of Goodreads, said in a statement.
Terms of the deal, expected to close in the second quarter, were not disclosed.
It is impossible for anyone to be anonymous on the internet when your mobile phone reveals everything about in over about four phone calls.
According to Nature, an international team led by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that data derived from mobile phone networks, using just the location of radio masts, could identify the vast majority of people from just four pieces of information. While an anonymised dataset does not contain name, home address, phone number or other obvious identifier, if individual’s patterns are unique enough, outside information can be used to link the data back to an individual.
Looking at data collected over 15 months from 1.5 million people, the boffins worked out that human mobility traces are highly unique. This means that a list of potentially sensitive professional and personal information that could be inferred about an individual knowing only his mobility trace.
It is possible to work out the movements of a competitor sales force, attendance of a particular church or an individual’s presence in a motel or at an abortion clinic.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc is stepping up plans to combine its physical stores with online technology, testing the use of lockers to hold merchandise ordered on the Internet until shoppers pick them up, as the world’s largest retailer tries to catch up with e-commerce leader Amazon.com Inc.
While Wal-Mart is the leading retailer overall with $466.1 billion in annual sales, it trails Amazon and a handful of other retailers when it comes to selling goods online.
Wal-Mart is on track to surpass $9 billion in annual online sales this year, Neil Ashe, chief executive of its e-commerce unit, said on Tuesday.
Until recently, Wal-Mart has not broken out its online sales, and prefers to look at overall sales and the growing trend of shoppers ordering online and picking up in its thousands of stores.
“We can build e-commerce equivalent to anyone in the world,” Ashe said. Mixing the company’s expanding online capabilities with its knowledge from running stores for 50 years “creates a commerce experience that no one else can do.”
One way the company is blending its massive retail footprint with the faster-growing online marketplace will be to test the use of lockers. Starting this summer, it will put lockers in about a dozen U.S. stores to hold goods ordered online until shoppers pick them up, Ashe said.
The test is one of many steps the retailer is taking to link its growing e-commerce business with its thousands of stores around the world, Ashe told a group of reporters at the company’s e-commerce media day in San Bruno, California.
Barnes & Noble Inc said it would give away a free Nook Simple Touch e-reader to any customer who purchases its high-definition Nook HD+ tablet, a sign it may still be suffering with excess inventory of the unpopular e-reader.
The top U.S. bookstore chain last month reported poor holiday quarter results for its Nook business. Overall revenue fell 26 percent as it sold fewer devices, losing ground to products like Apple Inc’s iPad and Amazon.com Inc’s Kindle, and the Nook business’ loss doubled.
The offer is available from March 24 to March 30.
The Simple Touch e-reader, while well reviewed, failed to catch on with customers since its launch in 2011, as digital book buyers have migrated toward tablets, which now offer better reading functions. Returns of unsold Simple Touch devices have repeatedly pinched Barnes & Noble’s results.
The U.S. launch comes more than a month after the phone, called the Z10, went on sale in the U.K. Jan. 31. The U.S. is one of BlackBerry’s biggest markets, especially for enterprise customers, so its reception in the country will be closely watched.
The Z10 has a 4.2-inch touchscreen that dominates the front of the phone. With a minimum of buttons around the edges, it’s very different from a lot of BlackBerry phones of the past that often sported physical keyboards. A version with a keyboard, called the Q10, is due, but BlackBerry 10 first arrives in the U.S. in this touchscreen-only form.
Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the two biggest cellular carriers in the U.S., are promoting the handset on the home pages of their websites. The phone costs $600 at Verizon and $550 at AT&T. Both carriers are also offering it for $200 with a two-year contract.
Great apps and content will be key to the phone’s success and a lot of new content has been added to the U.S. version of the BlackBerry World app store since the phone was unveiled in late January.
On Wednesday the company added apps for Delta Air Lines, Al Jazeera English and The Times, and it followed those on Thursday with Amazon Kindle, OpenTable and The Wall Street Journal. A large catalog of music and movies has also been added to the store in preparation for the U.S. launch, but some key apps are still missing.
BlackBerry says “the coming weeks” will see some of them appear, including CNN, The Daily Show Headlines, eBay, Rdio and Skype.
Apple Inc now operates its largest U.S. data center entirely on renewable energy, with a majority of the power generated on-site from solar panels and fuel cells, the company’s chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, said on Thursday.
The data center in Maiden, North Carolina, which supports Internet storage and Apple’s service-hosting iCloud product, produces 167 million kilowatts — the power equivalent of 17,600 homes for one year — from a 100-acre solar farm and fuel cell installations provided by Silicon Valley startup Bloom Energy.
They are the largest, non-utility power-generating facilities of their kind in the United States, Oppenheimer told Reuters.
“We switched over to these new energy sources in December,” he said. “And we are committed to generating 60 percent of the electricity that the data center will use by making power on site. We are now achieving that goal.”
Apple purchases the rest of the green power needed at the facility.
Apple and other technology companies — such as Amazon and Microsoft — that build and run computer server farms have come under criticism for their high consumption of electricity and other resources. These data centers cater to an explosion in Internet traffic, streaming content through mobile devices and hosting of services to corporations.
Apple has switched many of its corporate facilities to fully operate on green power, including those in Austin, Texas; Cork, Ireland; and Sacramento, California, Oppenheimer said.
The company is building another 20-megawatt solar farm at its Maiden facility with solar panels supplied by SunPower Corp.
Overall, Apple said it has increased the proportion of renewable energy used throughout the company to 75 percent. Eventually, the company aims to use only renewable energy at all its facilities around the world.
Intel has unveiled a new reference design kit for a Web-based TV set-top box. The box will use an Atom processor and Hillcrest Labs’ motion control technology.
According to a press release, the fact that the remote alongside Hillcrest’s Freespace Motion Engine software will give subscribers the ability to control their TVs with “mouse-like navigation and point-and-click simplicity.” Intel is showcasing the software at the TV Connect 2013 conference in London.
Intel thinks that operators want better ways to help consumers find and navigate shows and applications.
“With Freespace, we’re creating an out-of-the box, motion-ready reference solution for operators and OEMs globally,” an Intel spokesman said.
Intel plans to release an Internet-based TV service and box this year. The chipmaker will provide the hardware and services to consumers and that the box would use a camera that could detect who is in front of the TV. Intel’s kit is intended to allow equipment manufacturers to make set-top boxes and media servers based on the dual-core Atom CE5300.
The chip giant says it pre-integrated a media engine, broadcast stacks, virtualization, and motion control technology to reduce testing. Intel intends to make the reference design available to manufacturers next month.