Fishlabs, the German studio behind popular space trading and combat sim Galaxy On Fire games for iOS devices, today announced that it is currently developing a massively multiplayer online game called Galaxy On Fire – Alliances, with real-time strategy components, aiming for a release later this year. The spin-off project is designed to capitalize on the success of the original GOF and GOF 2 games, but starting with a free-to-play model and incorporating massive multiplayer elements like alliances, resource trading and P2P combat.
If you haven’t tried Galaxy On Fire 2, I’d highly recommend you go check it out, especially since it’s free right now as Apple’s “App of the Week” pick on the App Store. Fans of games like Escape Velocity for the Mac and Freelancer for Windows will likely find themselves on familiar ground, but the GOF series, and GOF 2 in particular, does the best job yet of translating that experience to the iOS platform. Plus, while it employs in-app purchases, it does so in a way that only modestly affects gameplay, so you can achieve full enjoyment simply playing through without paying for any upgrades.
Galaxy On Fire – Alliances will be a different beast, as it is designed from the ground up as a free-to-play experience. That means you can bet that in-app purchases will be a more core element of gameplay, and likely something that players will feel more compelled to indulge in. Fishlabs did an excellent job of threading the needle on paid unlockables with GOF 2, however, so I’m very interested to see if the company can pull off the same kind of subtle approach to the F2P market.
Alliances will features three factions, the Terrans, the Vossk and the Nivellians, competing for a newly-explored part of space. Players will engage in tactical combat, diplomatic activity, trading and resource management in order to research and develop new technologies and gain control over these territories, as well as form alliances with their fellow players, which you probably figured out from the name. Fishlabs promises “epic space battles,” and I can’t help but hope this game can somehow live up to the precedent set by EVE online for desktop space exploration sims.
While Galaxy On Fire – Alliances isn’t set for release until the third quarter of 2013 on iOS (after which it will eventually be ported to Android, the developer says), but gamers will get a glimpse at it at GDC in San Francisco at the end of March.
Google Reader, the RSS feed-reading service Google has long since benignly abandoned, has gone completely mad, and Google has yet to acknowledge the problem even as it heads into its second day of unusability. Users are reporting inaccurate read and unread counts, the reappearance of thousands of old, unread items as new, and, in some cases, the return of feeds users had previously unsubscribed to.
According to mentions on Twitter, the problem started at some point yesterday, but many users are just now noticing it this morning, as they return to work and their usual Monday morning routines. The issues, documented to some extent here, effectively make it impossible to use Google Reader, as you can no longer tell which items are new and which are old. Even timestamps seem to be affected. This is unfortunate because Google Reader remains one of the best pure, feed-reading services on the market, and it also powers the backend of many other news-reading apps, such as Reeder or Feedly, for instance, as well as others like Flipboard, which allows for more casual ways of reading RSS feeds.
It’s fair to say that Google Reader is no longer a priority at Google, given the company’s focus on developing Google+ in the midst of an overall shift to consuming news via social feeds, not the “geekier” RSS technology. RSS, as a consumer-facing tool on the front end never caught on with mainstream users. Most still have no idea what RSS means, or why there are little orange “feed” icons on their favorite websites.
That being said, Google Reader continues to have a core, highly engaged audience of more tech-savvy folks. These people, self included, may be holdouts from a previous era of the web – a time when there weren’t Twitters and Flipboards and Google+’s, even, for social news reading and sharing.
Yet while these users are members of a small community (and dwindling), they tend to be active users and influencers. According to some of our previous posts on Google Reader, there are at least a few hundred of these people left who cared enough to comment about Google Reader’s changes – that is, its forced transition to a part of the Google+ infrastructure back in fall 2011.
The beloved network, eventually steamrolled by Google+, was also the focus of a BuzzFeed profile on “Google’s Lost Social Network” just a couple of months ago, demonstrating that there continues to be an ongoing interest in the service, even if Google no longer cares much about its existence…or apparently, its continuing functionality.
We’ve reached out to Google for comment earlier this morning, and are awaiting a response. A message from on the Google Reader forum states: “The Google Reader team has been notified and someone will be looking into this.” Originally we said that message was from a Googler; that is not the case.document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-034832b705be48fb87c0cf49d36befb0').submit();
Google says it not currently looking to create funds to support digital publishers outside France. Google’s comments follow calls last week by Francisco Pinto Balsemao, head of the European Publishers Council, for Mountain View to pay media companies across Europe for displaying their content.
Google has been fighting publishers in European courtrooms for several years, with publishers in Belgium and France bringing copyright cases against it for displaying and aggregating snippets of content in search results and on services such as its Google News aggregator.
Earlier this month Google announced a €60 million ($80.5 million) fund to support French publishers’ digital initiatives — at the same time as announcing it had settled a local copyright dispute. However the company has now confirmed it is not looking to replicate this digital innovation fund support model elsewhere in Europe.
Asked whether it has any plans to create digital innovation funds for publishers in other European countries a spokesman for the company told TechCrunch: “While we are always happy to talk to publishers about additional ideas for driving traffic, engagement, and monetization, we are not currently looking to create a fund outside France.”
Google settled a dispute with Belgian publishers back in December by agreeing to partner with them and help promote their services and content. A similar case was settled in France when Google announced the €60 million fund — although it did not directly link the creation of the fund to the local copyright case. In addition to the fund Google said it would “deepen [its] partnership with French publishers to help increase their online revenues using our advertising technology” — a similar offering to its Belgian settlement.
Google would not comment on what makes the French market different to other European markets but in its blog post announcing the creation of the fund it said it “builds on the commitments we made in 2011 to increase our investment in France” — pointing to the Cultural Institute project, built out of its Paris office, as another example of its investments in the country.
In Germany, draft legislation is currently making its way through Parliament which, if passed, would extend copyright law to cover publishers’ text snippets and require search engines and online aggregators to pay a royalty to license them. Google is lobbying against the extension, calling it “bad law” and arguing that it would break the “founding principle” of the Web’s hyperlink-based architecture.
Sonic Notify Launches Platform For Broadcasters And Retailers To Connect With Mobile Apps Through Audio Signals
Since 2011, Sonic Notify has been working on a platform that will allow broadcasters, retailers, and events organizers to instantly provide users with multimedia content and deals, through audio recognition technology that instantly triggers push notifications and alerts through mobile apps. Now that technology is live, enabling anyone with an app and an audience to begin sending messages and deals to their users or customers.
While initially focused on musicians and concert promoters, Sonic Notify is extending to platform for other types of applications. For instance, it can be used by TV broadcasters who embed its signals to launch content on second-screen applications, and even to trigger interactive ad elements as they watch TV. It differs from a lot of existing audio recognition technologies, like for instance Shazam, in that users don’t have to open the app to access the content or deals sent. Instead, they can receive automatic push notifications within supported apps.
Retail is another area of focus for the company. Sonic is distributing mobile beacons which can be plugged into any outlet and transmit Sonic Signals in stores. Or, retailers can distribute signals through their existing PA systems. Either way, the signal allows customers to receive deals sent to their phones, allowing retailers to upsell customers with in-store conversion tools. It can also allow retailers to sell advertising to partners to target users while they’re shopping.
Either way, Sonic Notify provides an ultra-easy dashboard for broadcasters, retailers, and their advertising partners to build and manage campaigns that can be sent to mobile apps. To integrate with their own or third party applications, those who wish to leverage Sonic Notify’s audio watermarking technology need only insert about two lines of code into those apps to start receiving Sonic Signals. For now, the Sonic Notify system works with iOS and Android apps, but it will soon also work with Windows Phone apps as well.
While Sonic Notify CEO Jonathan Glanz sees a big opportunity in those two markets, he’s fairly agnostic about the types of applications that can take advantage of the technology. In addition to broadcasters and retailers, event organizers and cross-platform app developers can use the technology to share content and information with or between users.
Last summer, Sonic Notify raised $4.25 million from Raptor Group, with additional participation from A-Grade Investments, DEV (Digital Entertainment Ventures), Advancit, Eniac Ventures, Cantora, AngelVision Investors, and new fund GSTech. The company is based in New York and has about a dozen employees there. Existing partners and clients include Samsung, Mobile Roadie, Twitter, Coca-Cola, and Lisnr.
HTC’s new flagship phone is likely called the HTC One, and will probably debut later this month ahead of MWC, and now we have an image of what looks like a render of shipping hardware courtesy of EvLeaks. The HTC One image published today by the well-regarded source of pre-release Android info resembles earlier images but with an active home screen. This weekend also saw an image posted to Flickr with “HTC One” listed in its EXIF data, contributing to speculation that that is indeed what the phone will be called.
The HTC One image posted today potentially reveals a bit more about Sense 5.0, which in earlier leaks looked to have borrowed some design influences from Microsoft’s Windows Phone mobile OS in that it adopted a grid-style interface. Judging by the image posted by EvLeaks, that could be populated by content from social networks, as the photos on the homescreen seem to originate from Facebook contacts. Other noteworthy features include only the presence of a back and home button on the device bezel – curious both because Android moved to soft keys only on stock devices with the latest update, and because it lacks an app switcher button.
That could be a feature particular to Sense, but I wonder whether it’ll be compensated for somehow in the OS itself. Either way, the hardware looks solid; it’s somewhat of a departure for HTC, with what look like chamfered edges that might awaken feelings of familiarity in iPhone 5 owners, and top and bottom panels that look somewhat similar to those on BlackBerry’s new Z10 smartphone. But the speaker grills and screen size look like they could set this far enough apart to keep it unique, despite similarities with other OEM hardware.
In related news, this photo posted to Flickr supposedly comes from a camera in an “HTC One” device, boast a 2.0 aperture and coming in at around 4.1 megapixels, which is in keeping with reports that the HTC One will have a camera that uses three stacked 4 megapixel sensors to deliver better sharpness, dynamic range and depth of color. The image does indeed deliver a pretty good rendering of text for the in-focus area, and fairly low amounts of noise considering that it looks to have been taken in a low-light environment.
The Ultrapixel camera could be one of the features that takes center stage at HTC’s February 19 event in NYC. We’ll be on the ground live to cover the unveiling as it happens next week, so we don’t have long to wait to find for sure out what’s fact and what’s fiction.
Which American politician is most committed to the digital reinvention of government? Yes, there’s President Obama, of course, and Silicon Valley congresswoman Anna Eshoo. But if there is one prominent U.S. politician who has consistently staked his reputation to the digital revolution, it may be Gavin Newsom, the two-time San Francisco mayor who is now the Lieutenant Governor of California. Regular readers will already be familiar with Newsom, both as a Disrupt speaker and as a tenant at the Founder’s Den. And this week he is launching a new book, Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government, a FarmVille-inspired riff which lays out his agenda for transforming American politics.
“People are disconnected from government”, Newsom explained to me why he wrote Citizenville. His commitment is to something called “government as a platform” which transforms citizens into co-producers and dramatically shifts the relationship between these citizens and government. Provocative stuff. Equally interesting is Newsom’s evaluation of Obama’s digital record, his absolute faith in the cloud and his regret at not investing in Twitter.
So is Gavin Newsom a real Internet revolutionary? Or is he just a smart pol riding what he calls the digital “tsunami”?
The Public Radio Player app for the iPhone has been a round for a while now, but today, Cambridge-based Public Radio Exchange (PRX) is relaunching the app with a revamped visual design, new interface and, maybe most importantly, the ability to download episodes of shows so you can listen to This American Life, Radiolab, Car Talk or any of the other more than 1000 public radio programs and podcasts offline.
The redesign makes the app a lot easier to navigate now, but the highlight of this 3.0 release is obviously the ability to save shows for offline listening. While you could, of course, always download the podcasts of virtually all of the popular NPR, APM or PRI programs, the Public Radio Player app makes it quite a bit easier to find interesting shows from NPR affiliates than iTunes. The app, of course, also still lets you listen to your favorite stations online and make donations to your favorite stations (it wouldn’t be Public Radio without it , after all).
Still missing, though, is an official PRX app for Android. While a number of programs like This American Life offer Android apps, PRX itself doesn’t current offer one and cites “capacity and funding to develop for additional platforms at this time” as the reason for this. If you are an iPhone user and you want easy access to your favorite NPR programs, the PRX Public Radio Player is definitely worth a try.
Over the next few months, all of Hearst Digital Media‘s titles are getting a new look.
Tom Smith, Hearst’s vice president of technology and strategy, told me that the whole company is switching to a new publishing platform, which incorporates both responsive design and personalization. The first two magazines to make the switch are RoadandTrack.com and TownandCountryMag.com. (Other Hearst titles include Cosmopolitan, Popular Mechanics, Good Housekeeping, and Esquire.)
The new responsive design is the more obvious change. It’s an increasingly popular strategy for companies to adapt to mobile by creating websites that rearrange themselves based on the size of the screen. And now that the broader redesign is in place, Smith said it will allow his team to experiment and continue tweaking site designs in “smaller increments.”
In the long-term, the personalization strategy may be more significant. Essentially, Smith said that Hearst titles can take the data that they already use to show different ads to different audience segments and now target editorial content too.
“That’s something marketers understand,” Smith said – but people are still wrapping their heads around it on the editorial side, so the personalization is relatively limited so far.
One lightweight example involves showing a different set recommended content links to different readers of the same article, depending on factors like their location, what device they’re using, and how they came to the current page. Another possibility: A magazine could create “six different versions of an editorial promotion,” using different headlines and images that are designed to appeal to different audiences.
“We’re not trying to turn editors into marketers,” Smith added. “It’s saying, ‘How do you let them take this capability and express themselves more?’”
The redesign strategy fits into some of the broader trends we’re seeing in online content, with a number of startups working to improve related recommended links and content personalization. It’s also interesting to see these moves coming from a publisher that was previously known for a “contrarian strategy” that kept the Internet at arm’s length.
DISH’s Hopper With Sling Whole-Home DVR Now Available Nationwide, Following CES 2013 Awards Controversy
DISH today formally announced the nationwide launch of its Hopper with Sling DVR device, which allows users to record their favorite shows for later viewing, skip ads and also download DVR’d content to their iPad for offline viewing. The Hopper, which incorporates technology from partner Sling Media, Inc., was recently at the center of a controversy around the 2013 CES “Best of Show” Awards.
The Hopper with Sling made its debut at CES this year, and was in the running for nomination as the “Best of Show” for 2013 from official awards partner CNET until parent company CBS stepped in and forbade it from being considered, due to ongoing litigation between CBS and DISH. The Consumer Electronics Association later awarded the Hopper with Sling the honor anyway, cutting ties with CNET as its official awards partner.
The Hopper with Sling is available free to new subscribers on DISH’s America’s Top 200 or DishLATINO Dos programming packages or above, but comes with a DVR fee of $10 per month for whole-home DVR, and an additional $7 per Joey receiver unit, which can playback content from a Hopper in the same house remotely.
In addition to being able to shuttle content to iPads for offline viewing, the Hopper with Sling also works with DISH Anywhere to provide live and recorded content streaming to tablets, PCs, Macs and smartphones, and can record up to 500 hours of HD content or 2,000 hours of SD video.
The Hopper’s unique ability to allow DISH subscribers to take their media with them on the road as offline-accessible files is not likely to win DISH or Sling any fans among content providers, and the actions of CBS following its nomination at CES are likely a pretty good bellwether of the kinds of reactions we’ll see from the larger industry. But there’s a reason the Hopper attracted a lot of attention at CES both before and beyond the controversy – this kind of unfettered access to content that users are paying for anyway is exactly what subscribers want in cable and satellite service, given the changing, increasingly device-independent nature of content consumption.
Additional investors in the round include Greycroft Partners, SV Angel, Forerunner Ventures, Ralph Mack, Dave Tisch, Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn, and Mass Relevance CEO Sam Decker.
Co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer Wesley Barrow was formerly the director of Eastern sales for Buddy Media, which was acquired by Salesforce last year. Barrow told me that he’s experiencing a bit of déjà vu from the early days of Buddy, because “omni channel retail” (i.e., retail that tries to bridge the online and offline worlds) is at the same stage now as social marketing was a few years ago: “It’s very much still like the Wild West.”
And just as Buddy Media became one of the first calls that a big company made when it was looking to get into social, Barrow is hoping to put Nomi at the top of the list for big retailers. The key to the company’s approach, he said, is an emphasis on CRM-style profiles of each customer and their activity on the web, on mobile, and in-store. That data is out there already and often collected by retailers, so Nomi just needs “layer on” its own view of the existing “passive data”.
CRM is obviously a big strength at Salesforce, but Barrow said the company never had a big retail customer base, because “retailers don’t know who their customers are.” For example, he said that while retailers may know every time you buy something in-store, they don’t know how many times you walked in and left without buying something, or walked by the front of the store without going on. With mobile location data, that’s something they can start to track. He also suggested this data could become a powerful way to personalize mobile loyalty programs.
“In a broad form, what we’re trying to do is really unite online and off into one core view,” Barrow said. “Once you get that core view, you can look at it from a bunch of different angles.”
Nomi’s founders also include CEO Marc Ferrentino (past roles include chief technical architect at Salesforce.com) and President Corey Capasso (co-founder of Spinback, which was acquired by Buddy Media). Barrow said the company was founded in August and is currently working on pilot programs with several major retailers.
After Growing Revenue 270% Last Year, Personalization Startup Sailthru Raises $19M From Benchmark, Adds Bill Gurley To Board
Personalization startup Sailthru has been growing rapidly, with revenues increasing 270 percent over the last year. With that in mind, the company has raised $19 million in new Series B financing led by Benchmark. Along with the funding, the company is adding Benchmark general partner Bill Gurley to its board of directors.
The new funding round brings total financing to a total of $29 million, which included a $9 million Series A round raised in 2011 and a $1 million seed round in 2010. Other investors include RRE, DFJ Gotham, and AOL Ventures.
Sailthru looks to provide actionable information to companies, and so it doesn’t just leverage big data — its uses what it calls “smart data” to provide actionable intelligence and personalization for email marketers and publishers. The company got its startup in email communications, providing publishers and marketers with tools to send data-driven, personalized marketing messages to subscribers of daily deals and other email newsletters. But while it was born out of the desire to provide end users with the best email communications, the startup has expanded to also provide personalized experiences on the web.
Now Sailthru leverages user data not just to create recommendations for users, but to build personalized user experiences for web visitors. That means that it can provide a different homepage experience to users, ensuring that not everyone will see the same content, and that what they see will be based on their interests.
The end result of this smart data is more engagement from end users, who spend more time on publisher sites and see more conversion through sales channels. It also means more targeted ads through Sailthru’s AdFlight product. All of which resulted revenues at the startup growing in excess of 9 percent month-over-month.
Sailthru is looking to accelerate that growth, by taking on the new funding, increasing headcount and opening new offices in strategic locations. The company currently has about 85 employees, but Sailthru VP of marketing Aubrey Sabala told me the company expects to double that number over the next year. It’s also looking to expand its recently opened San Francisco office and grow its presence in Europe in the coming months.
Educators knew the online revolution would eventually envelop the physical classroom, but a torrent of near-revolutionary developments in the past month are proving that change is coming quicker than anyone imagined. In just 30 days, the largest school system in the U.S. began offering credit for online courses, a major university began awarding degrees without any class time required, and scores of public universities are moving their courses online. The point at which online higher education becomes mainstream is no longer in some fuzzy hypothetical future; the next president’s Secretary of Education will need an entire department dedicated to the massive transition.
For over a decade, admissions-selective universities (e.g. not the University of Phoenix) resisted giving credit for their overwhelmingly popular online courses. Established with just 50 free online courses as a proof-of-concept, MIT’s groundbreaking Open CourseWare project quickly expanded to 1,700 courses through a worldwide consortium of universities in just three years [PDF]. To date, MIT’s Open Courseware has a staggering 125 million lifetime visitors. Online education startup Coursera, which added interactive video, homework, and peer learning communities to courses from top-tier universities, has amassed more than 2.5 million users in only nine months since its debut in April 2012.
Then, last month, the California State University System, the financially broken/largest education system in world, swung open the gates, piloting a few online courses for credit, at the super-low cost of $150 per course. Earlier this year, I attempted to predict how California’s partnership with online course provider ,Udacity, would succeed and cascade into a movement that would radically replace most of the physical college experience.
I was wrong about one thing: the otherwise scientifically prudent community of higher education didn’t wait to see if the pilot was successful. Just three weeks after California’s announcement, The American Council on Education, a consortium of roughly 1,800 accredited universities, announced it was also piloting cheap online science courses at three more universities, including Duke and the University of Pennsylvania.
Perhaps most disruptive of all, the University of Wisconsin is offering a fully legitimate college degree without any class time required. So long as students can pass some tests (and pay the associated costs), they can learn from anywhere in the world.
To give readers a sense of how abrupt this change is, online education pioneer and founder of the YouTube-based learning website Khan Academy, Sal Khan, opined about a test-based college degree at Aspen Institute’s big-think Ideas Festival two years ago. No one, even those on the cutting edge of digital education, considered that they were talking about the very near future.
The semi-sad impact is that we’re acting quicker than we’re thinking. It can take years to assess a single course, let alone an entire restructuring of the education system. A review of research by the Department of Education shows pretty definitively that “students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
More relevant to the Massively Open Online Community courses (MOOCs) being piloted in higher education, a team of researchers from that replacing a physics teacher with lectures from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist nearly doubled test scores [PDF].
Still, in education it’s well-known that successful pilots tend to fall apart upon scaling. Educational experiments work great with the best teachers and students, but they struggle when pilots move beyond the highly dedicated walls of an experiment.
In short, we have almost no idea how this will affect our educational system. What we do know is that the unknown is coming — very, very quickly.
With Dual Mice And Collaboration In Any Window, YC’s Screenhero Gives WebEx And Screen Sharing Apps A Run For Their Money
We all love the idea of being able to connect and work with people in our always-online day and age, but ironically, when it comes to document collaboration, a lot of the software designed to aid in that — WebEx, GoToMeeting and the rest — is actually more geared to presenting rather than actually letting people work together on things, in real time, or focused on documents within a particular platform, like Google Docs.
Enter Screenhero. Part of the current batch of Y-Combinator startups, Screenhero is launching with a way of letting two (and potentially more) people work on documents, or even each other’s computer desktops, in possibly the easiest way to date, by simultaneously giving each collaborator an independent cursor and mouse, and complete control over a document, as if it were his or her own.
Below is an example of what I saw when co-founder J Sherwani shared his desktop with me. We were chatting in Screenhero’s own messaging service, as well as in a PowerPoint document. (note: I don’t have PowerPoint software installed on my own computer; in that sense it’s also a way of sharing apps.)
Available now as a free beta to use on Apple Mac computers, a Windows version is currently in alpha testing and will be available soon.
Those who use Screenhero for the first time may be taken aback at just how easy it is for someone to become a user on your desktop. It works via a desktop client app; and like Skype, you create contacts for quick connections (these are not listed in a directory at this point; you connect by sending another user an invitation). After you have initiated a session, you drag an icon on to the window that you want to share, or you select the entire screen.
“Think of it like letting someone into your house,” says Sherwani. “Some people you let only into one room; others can go anywhere they like.”
Once you take that simple step, that’s it: you then have another mouse/cursor appearing on whatever it is that you have selected to share. That person can then effectively use that window at the same time, and in the same way, as you do.
So, for example, if you shared an open Word document, the other person could start typing, erasing scrolling and printing that document, as if that document existed on the remote computer. And, like a little mouse, you can chase after the second person undoing all the changes. Similarly, sharing a full screen lets a person access your whole desktop in the same way, but across the whole range of apps that you may have open at the time.
Screenhero’s approach, which uses Google’s VP8 video compression standard and WebRTC for network transmission, is in contrast to other existing solutions like Skype, GoToMeeting, Join.me and Google Hangouts, which variously require you to pass control to another user, or somehow both be able to use a single mouse at the same time.
In the perennial question of whether a startup has created a feature, or a potential platform, Screenhero is bullish on the latter.
Given that there are so many other ways of connecting to people online today, Screenhero’s founders wanted to pick one function first, and make that perfect, before considering how and if other features would get added in. “We wanted to make one thing that works better than anything else that is out there,” Sherwani says. “Right now we don’t have audio or video chat but that’s because you can use Skype.” They have, however, already turned on a chat feature.
Sherwani says the intentionally limited feature set is just for the short term. “Our long term vision for this is to make Screenhero your fundamental communication platform, eventually replacing Skype,” he says. “Every time you have an instance to say ‘Come here and take a look at this’, you can screenshare with Screenhero. Even when people are in the same room, we’ve found that it can be better than physically coming over to someone’s desk. That switchover can be time consuming compared to staying seated and sharing your workspace.”
The initial use case for Screenhero was in the developer community, specifically for paircoding, and it was borne out of the need of the four co-founders, all developers, to work together remotely. J Sherwani, Vishal Kapur, Jason DiCioccio and Faraz Khan all worked together on iTeleport, a premium app ($24.99) that lets iPhone and iPad owners remotely access their Mac or Windows PC desktops using their iOS devices.
iTeleport is where the four first got the bug for making remote access apps, and while some of that work has helped inform the creation of Screenhero, it will remain a separate entity — one that is apparently bringing in millions in revenues today. “It was quite a decision to start a new company from scratch but we were excited enough about the new idea to do so — we felt there was a much bigger opportunity with Screenhero,” says Sherwani.
Longer term, you can see how it could be used not just by more than just programmers: designers, consultants, people putting a document or presentation together, customer support agents are all potential use cases. And it has a straight consumer angle, too, in that it can be a light way of incorporating multiplayer options into a game. There are already plans for an API to take Screenhero’s technology into third-party platforms.
There are also plans to add in more mobile elements, specifically around sharing between iPad or iPhone devices and Macs. Sherwani says some of this will borrow from the founders’ iTeleport learnings. There is no plan to merge these products, but iTeleport will continue to exist and Screenhero will integrate with it.
Of course, there will be some who will cry, “Security!” when they consider Screenhero. I admit that it’s one of the first things that crossed my mind: it is so easy to access things that I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to erase someone else’s work or more if someone is maliciously inclined.
There are a couple of answers to this. Sherwani notes that right now there is encryption “baked into the basic version” so that none of the data passed in the app can be accessed by anyone else. They are also planning a premium version with even higher encryption levels.
In terms of what users can do within Screenhero itself, for now, Screenhero’s main purpose is to be used between people who already trust each other enough to work together. But you can see how potentially, in later versions of the service, Sherwani and co. will consider how they may let users “turn off” certain access privileges as and when they are needed. The key point is that they are there for the using now, possibly for the first time ever.
RepairPal, a marketplace for auto repair, has raised $13 million in funding led by Cars.com and Castrol innoVentures, the venture arm of Castrol, BP-owned developer of lubricants for engines and machines. This is the first technology investment for Castrol. RepairPal has raised $20 million to date.
The site was founded in 2007 as Google Health for cars. You can get price estimates for different parts and repair jobs for your car, for hundreds of the most common mechanical repairs. You enter your car year, model, and mileage, and it spits out price ranges for your zip code. There is also a directory of hundreds of thousands of local mechanics, with each shop placed onto a Google Map. RepairPal also provides a centralized online location where your records can be maintained for the entire ownership cycle of your vehicle.
Last year, RepairPal created a marketplace for high quality auto repair, called Top Shop. This features basically helps you find a repair shop you can trust. Each shop is vetted by RepairPal to ensure that customers are getting a fair price and quality repair work and parts. There’s also a minimum of a 12 months or 12,000 miles guarantee associated with any work done by a TopShop.
Shops pay a monthly fee to participate in the program. Currently there are 200 “TopShops” listed on RepairPal’s site.
The new funding will be used towards product development and adding more mechanics to the TopShop network.
Video Distribution Startup Rightster Buys Content Marketing Platform Preview Networks To Push Its YouTube Services Across Europe
A spot of acquisition news in Europe’s digital video distribution space. Rightster, a U.K. video distribution and monetisation startup has made its first acquisition — buying European content marketing platform and movie trailer distributor, Preview Networks, for an undisclosed sum. Rightster said the acquisition will bring major movie distributors, mainstream media agencies and brands including Disney, Havaianas, MTV, Peugeot and Sony onto its books, and bolster its global YouTube Multi Channel Network footprint — enabling it to roll out its YouTube services across Europe.
As of December, Rightster said it has revenues of $1.5 million per month, and has raised $25 million to-date from angel investors including former IBM executive Greg Lock, and the Chadha family. It said it has begun discussions about a $30 million Series C fundraising round — which it hopes to complete in the second quarter. Rightster was founded in May 2011, and now employs 220 people in 12 offices around the world. According to the FT, Rightser is raising a new round to double its R&D team to “about 200 people and extend its rollout across Asia, the US and Latin America”.
Commenting on the Preview Networks acquisition in a statement Rightster said:
Preview Networks, with 35 employees, will add more than 300 rights holders and 2,500 publishers including Disney, MTV and Sony, while extending Rightster’s presence in France, Germany, Italy and Spain as well as the Nordic markets. Rightster is becoming the leading distributor of movie trailers in Europe which provides an excellent platform for the company to broaden the services it offer to this industry as well as extending the reach of the Rightster Sports, Fashion and News solutions across Europe.
Here’s how Preview Networks describes its services on its website:
Preview Networks is a content marketing platform for brands and content aggregation and syndication platform for publishers. We provide the tools for brands to centrally distribute and manage marketing and PR content across media destinations, devices, and commerce platforms; and for publishers to automate content acquisition delivering audience and advertising revenue growth.
Back in October, Rightster announced it had passed 100 million YouTube monthly views, moving up from 16th to 11th position in comScore’s YouTube Partner Channels rankings. It has now describes itself as YouTube’s ninth-largest partner — and its second fastest growing one.
Also today, Rightster announced the appointment of Skype’s Scott Leishman as Global VP of Talent and Resourcing — to support its expansion plans.
In an additional announcement Rightster said it has secured the rights to offer live and on demand Australian Football League games outside Australia and New Zealand.
Other Rightster customers include: “IMG Fashion, which has given it exclusive rights to stream New York Fashion Week; ITN, for which it distributed footage of the royal wedding to 1.5m viewers in 12 countries; and Viral Spiral, a hub for viral videos which manages the Charlie Bit My Finger viral amongst others”.
Rightster’s Preview Networks acquisition release follows below in full.
Rightster Acquires Preview Networks to Accelerate Pan-European Expansion of YouTube Services across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Nordics
Acquisition creates one of the largest YouTube Multi-Channel Network (MCN) footprints, providing audience development, direct media sales and global account management services in 7 languages
LONDON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Rightster, the video distribution and monetisation specialist, today announces the acquisition of Preview Networks, the leading international provider of digital distribution services for the movie industry. The deal extends Rightster’s YouTube services across Europe and makes Rightster the leading distributor of movie trailers in this region. Preview Networks brings over 300 content rights holders and 2500 publishers to Rightster’s global community and broadens Rightster’s geographic presence in key European markets including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Nordics.
Rightster will welcome the addition of Preview Network’s client roster that includes many major movie distributors, mainstream media agencies, and brands such as Disney, Havaianas, MTV, Peugeot and Sony. The deal will allow Rightster to extend its YouTube management and direct media sales capabilities while also enriching and strengthening the solutions it offers to the movie industry.
Rightster’s experience and expertise in digital distribution will be enhanced by the arrival of key talent from the former Preview Networks management team including Andy Chen, Preview Networks CEO, Charles Delamain, COO, Patrick Rodies, CTO and Peter Vilhelmsen, CFO. This group alone brings a combined digital media experience of 28 years and IT experience of 23 years.
Charlie Muirhead, Founder and CEO of Rightster comments, “Our mission is to simplify the complex business of online video by providing the very best distribution, marketing and monetisation services in the industry. The acquisition of Preview Networks strengthens Rightster’s YouTube video syndication strategy by providing access to local networks in Europe and will allow us to extend the reach of our solutions for Fashion, News and Sports industries.”
Andy Chen, CEO of Preview Networks, comments “The Rightster acquisition is a significant milestone in the story of Preview Networks. Over the past two years we have successfully leveraged our film and entertainment content syndication expertise into the branded content and online advertising space, where video will continue to evolve and dominate. This compliments Rightster’s verticals and overall global strategy. We couldn’t be happier to join forces with the Rightster team.”
Dublin and San Francisco-based Swrve, which offers an in-app direct marketing platform aimed at mobile games developers or anybody making or responsible for marketing an app, has launched SwrveTalk to enable in-app marketing messages to be sent to users on a targeted and measurable basis. It can be employed to do things like cross-promote other titles in a portfolio or to improve conversion of time-limited in-app purchase offers, and so on.
The problem Swrve is setting out to solve is that in-app messages traditionally involve broadcasting in bulk to a large group of users and therefore don’t discriminate and aren’t targeted on the basis of their likelihood to convert. This, it’s claimed, creates wasted inventory, low response rates, and “increased customer churn due to the over-promotion of irrelevant offers”. In contrast, SwrveTalk messages use behavioural and demographic targeting in an attempt to ensure that only relevant messages are delivered to users, thus improving click-through rates, ROI on cross-promotional campaigns, and in-app purchase conversions.
SwrveTalk enables campaigns to be defined across multiple games/apps in a portfolio, specifying when messages are shown, frequency, and exactly which player types they’ll be sent to. How this functionality might be utilised in practice, Swrve gives the example of a player who has monetized well in the past, but is now less engaged, who could be encouraged to try another title/app. Or for users yet to be monetized, they might be shown a time-limited in-app purchase offer to encourage conversion.
Of course, in-app messaging for marketing purposes isn’t anything new — they are just another kind of ad format, after all. However, it’s the way SwrveTalk is integrated with the broader Swrve app analytics platform, enabling the effectiveness of in-app messaging campaigns to be measured and refined, that potentially sets the feature apart. This includes the ability to A/B test those marketing messages so that they can be further optimized for better ROI.
In November last year, Swrve announced that it had raised $6.25m in funding, led by Atlantic Bridge Partners and Intel Capital.
It claims to be used by some of the world’s “leading app and games developers”, including major games publisher Activision.
Magma Venture Partners Completes $100M+ Third Fund Fundraising — Taking Its Total Fund Size To $300M+
Israeli early stage high-tech startup VC fund Magma Venture Partners, whose current portfolio includes online video-editing software developer Magisto, mobile analytics company Onavo, and navigation app maker Waze to name three, has completed fundraising on its third fund — Magma III — exceeding its target of $100 million (it did not specify by exactly how much).
Magma said it manages more than $300 million to-date. Its investments typically focus on digital media, SaaS and fabless semiconductors. The fund is managed by partners Yahal Zilka and Modi Rosen.
Commenting in a statement, Yahal Zilka, co-managing partner, said Magma III would be “an important source of encouragement and funding for Israeli-related entrepreneurs in their initial phases; pre-seed, seed and A-rounds”.
The Magma III fund has so far made four investments, starting in mid-2012 – including “Corephotonics, a developer of smart solutions to enhance mobile device cameras; Xplenty, a provider of easy-to-use Big Data solutions; and two additional companies, one which provides solutions for mobile application advertising and one which developed a SaaS solution to secure the public cloud”.
Magma Venture Partners release follows below.
Magma Venture Partners Completes the Fundraising of Magma III with Over US$ 100 Million
Some Magma portfolio companies: Waze, Hola!, Provigent, Onavo, Magisto, Nipendo and Valens
Magma Venture Partners, the venture capital fund managed by partners Yahal Zilka and Modi Rosen has completed the fundraising of its third fund Magma III, exceeding its target of US$ 100 Million.
Magma manages over US$ 300 million to date, and invests in ICT (Information, Communication and Technology), particularly in opportunities related to digital media, software as a service (SaaS), and fabless semiconductors. Some of Magma’s portfolio companies include: Waze, the crowd-sourced mapping and live-navigation application that began its activity with an initial Magma investment; Onavo, the market leader in mobile market intelligence solutions; and Magisto, which developed a unique, fully automated video-editing application.
Modi Rosen, Magma’s co-managing partner, notes that, “These days, the completion of fundraising a third fund beyond its target is a milestone, and an important step in elevating and accelerating the momentum of innovation in Israeli-related technologies. Our investors’ trust in Magma directly reflects upon the enthusiasm and potential that Israeli hi-tech Start-ups will succeed in generating leading companies in their fields. We continue to invest vigorously in bright entrepreneurs and ground-breaking technologies aimed for large scale markets.”
Yahal Zilka, co-managing partner added, “We expect that Magma III will be an important source of encouragement and funding for Israeli-related entrepreneurs in their initial phases; pre-seed, seed and A-rounds. More specifically, Magma III is a good fit for those entrepreneurs who are looking for a partner in the initiation and creation of large-scale, meaningful companies. Magma’s experience and vision is to accompany and assist innovative entrepreneurs and CEO’s during their first steps, while maximizing their value as they carve their way towards becoming category leaders.”
Magma’s portfolio companies acquired most recently amount to a total value of approximately US$ 1 billion. Amongst these acquisitions are companies such as Provigent, acquired by Broadcom (BRCM); Wintegra, acquired by PMC-Sierra (PMCS); and DesignArt, acquired by Qualcomm (QCOM) in 2012.
Magma Venture Partners was founded in 1999 and is regarded as one of the leading Venture Capital funds in Israel. Alongside Modi Rosen and Yahal Zilka, Zvika Limon and Shraga Katz are also partners in the Fund. All four partners bring a wealth of experience in entrepreneurship, company building, board representation and investments in the ICT market.
The newest fund, Magma III, began investing in mid-2012 and has completed several investments to date. Some investments include, Corephotonics, a developer of smart solutions to enhance mobile device cameras; Xplenty, a provider of easy-to-use Big Data solutions; and two additional companies, one which provides solutions for mobile application advertising and one which developed a SaaS solution to secure the public cloud.
As Facebook’s growth began to accelerate exponentially in 2009 and 2010 and its platform began to emerge, the opportunities for businesses to leverage and apply its social graph in other industries seemed endless. In particular, many saw the social graph as having a fundamentally disruptive influence on eCommerce and it was about that time that investors and entrepreneurs began dumping lots of time and money into building new online storefronts on top of and around Facebook’s burgeoning platform.
One of the many startups playing in this space was Yardsellr, a startup created by former eBay executives, which aspired to become the “eBay for Facebook” — without the auctions. In 2010, the startup raised $5 million from Accel and when TechCrunch caught up with Yardsellr in the fall of 2011, things seemed to be looking up.
At the time, the social commerce platform claimed that it had grown into a community of over 5 million users, its local sellers were listing 6K new items for sale each day and the platform listed over 120K items for sale in total. However, at the time, only 175K of its 5 million users were active on the site each month — usage or stickiness, which, in retrospect, might have rung a bell.
Fast forward a year and a half and things haven’t been going as well as the founders had imagined. Last week, Yardsellr announced that it would be shutting down operations in the next 60 days.
Why? While Yardsellr may have created a social and gamified channel by which local sellers could increase their ability to make a few bucks selling their wares, there had been too much competition, adaptation from incumbents and the social commerce management business model ended up being less attractive than Yardsellr had hoped.
In its announcement last week, the team explained:
A few months ago, we began to talk to a few other companies who wanted to borrow our playbook. They wanted to turbo-charge their ecommerce business using the Yardsellr strategies for blending games and social with buying and selling. As we looked at the growth potential and profitability of that business, it became clear that it was a very attractive option.
But we knew we couldn’t focus on that business — selling software and services to ecommerce companies large or small — and on our existing Yardsellr business … Today we are turning our attention 100% to the ecommerce services business and we will be shutting down Yardsellr.
Essentially, the B2B services model ended up being more attractive — at least in Yardsellr’s eyes — than the alternative. So, the company has decided to shut down its current model and start fresh with a new one. The post goes on to say that the company will quickly be transitioning to a new business as a result — called “CompoundM” — that will launch in “a few weeks.” Otherwise, everything else on Yardsellr will essentially be shut down in the next 30 to 60 days. More on that here.
It’s a disappointing conclusion for a company that was founded by three former eBay executives — CEO Daniel Leffel is a former manager at eBay, VP of Marketing Jed Clevenger used to run the paid search team at eBay and VP of Community Rachel Makool used to run the community team at eBay. In addition, early investor Michael Dearing of Harrison Metal was a former SVP of eBay. At one point, Leffel had even predicted that Yardsellr could be as big as eBay.
Not quite. In fact, eBay has continued to thrive as many of the startups that have popped up in local commerce, f-Commerce (or Facebook commerce) and the like have been forced to pivot, sell or consider alternative ways to make money. It’s difficult to find a model that is incentivized in such a way that it can convince local merchants to make it their sole destination for selling, especially when there are so many options. Managing that interface between an infinite variety of sellers and buyers is a difficult proposition.
Of course, naturally, in Yardsellr’s case, those merchants have been, unsurprisingly, less than excited to hear the news that one of their sales and distribution channels will be no more. One seller commented on the announcement saying, “I got out of YS months ago, when they raised their fees and started making the sellers pay them. Their customer service sucks, they never responded to any emails and the photons were just crap. It just sucks that a lot of people will be out of money because of this, but at least now they can’t do it to anyone else in the future…”
While another commented, “I agree that things should not have been implied, costs should not have jumped, especially when the possibility of shut down was so high. I’m very glad I didn’t drop any more [money] into buying photons and boosts. This has been pretty much a bummer for me. I have several platforms that I sell on and [Yardsellr] and Etsy have been my best, however, I have 73 sales on [Yardsellr] in less than one year and it is my #1 selling platform. Now I have to figure out where to go next. That’s the part I am struggling with.”
Keep in mind, these are sellers reacting after they just learned that the site was shutting down, so emotions are a bit heated, and some went even further to suggest some foul play — that the company ramped up its sales of Photons to merchants (its virtual currency) even though it knew it would be shutting down.
In its defense, Yardsellr claims that they’re doing their best not to abandon their sellers and will be paying out all the money that is owed to merchants from outstanding transactions. “As always,” it responded to one commenter, “Yardsellr will pay sellers in the method they’ve chosen (Direct Deposit, PayPal or Check) for all legitimate sales with valid tracking,” even though that means that, at the end of 60 days, some merchants who just invested in putting inventory on the site or in buying up Photons, may be left holding.
Naturally, while some sellers even offered to purchase Yardsellr’s platform and help sell it or keep it going, most seemed more concerned about where they would take their business next. In response, Fredrick Nijm of Facebook-integrated eCommerce site Addoway tells us that, within 48 hours of Yardsellr’s announcement, the company had received requests from “hundreds of sellers wanting to shift platforms because they had no place to go.” In response, Addoway built a Yardsellr importer to make it easier for merchants to port their businesses to a new home, even if temporary.
That’s all well and good, Addoway at the very least continues to operate and grow, albeit slowly (the founder claims that its marketplace will hit $1.2 million in sales this year — just about three years removed from its launch), but, overall, it seems to be another example of a growing trend: The struggles of social and f-commerce platforms to maintain a business, especially for those not selling under a B2B or services model.
Yardsellr is the latest in a series of closures and pivots. Done.com, for example, is no longer operational, in spite of a promising team and promising interest from early investors. Furthermore, the Facebook-based social auction site, Boocoo, closed its doors in December, local commerce marketplace, Peddl, closed at the end of January and NBC shuttered its Knight Foundation-backed local news and information marketplace, EveryBlock, after “failing to find the right business model.”
In turn, Payvment announced recently that it was shutting down and, seeing a good deal, Intuit quickly swooped in to buy its team, technology and patents. Of course, in spite of the fact that Payvment had grown to “hundreds of thousands of merchants,” it still struggled to find any traction in f-commerce.
Intuit didn’t want to touch the actual business — just wanted the raw materials, Josh wrote at the time — so they essentially gave their 200,000 merchants to its largest competitor, Ecwid, which, in turn, made Ecwid the Facebook store-builder with the most monthly active users, according to the report.
It’s not a hopeful series of outcomes for those trying to build a profitable businesses around f-commerce, hyper-local networks or social commerce. Zaarly, the much touted and well-funded startup that had focused on building a mobile-first, reverse craigslist platform for local buyers and sellers, launched “Storefronts” last September to give their top service providers/sellers a better way to showcase their talents and wares to customers.
Since then, the startup has completely abandoned its original business to focus exclusively on its merchants service — on becoming a less-crafts-oriented, more mobile-centric version of Etsy. Zaarly Co-founder Eric Koester tell us that they’ve been finding increasing success since pivoting, but there’s still a long road ahead.
Naturally, those companies that are still operating in this space will are now left to vie for Yardsellr’s free-floating merchants and to pick up the spoils, though it looks like Addoway has a head-start on that front.
In a way, it’s not surprising that yet another segment of the consumer tech space is feeling the series A crunch and is experiencing contraction and consolidation. (Another example? Ebay’s recent purchase of Svpply). It could be a matter of timing. Facebook commerce may be huge one day, but as of today, consumers are more interested in “liking” articles, writing status updates, sharing photos and connecting with friends — not in using Facebook as a destination for purchasing or commerce. As of now, it seems that social commerce is a service or layer to be integrated into or on top of existing platforms, but that Facebook commerce can’t sustain many businesses in and of itself.
Yes, local marketplaces and commerce continue to be attractive and niche services continue to emerge around local transactions, but hyper-local online services that hope to sustain themselves on local advertising, for example, continue to struggle. There are multiple forces at play here, so it would be reductive to pin the decay of these sites on a single cause, but it is safe to say that the downside of f-commerce, social commerce and local commerce are becoming increasingly apparent. And, as always, when a space becomes overrun by me-too companies and models, contraction seems inevitable — if not necessary.
After a couple early stumbles in building out a mobile gaming platform in the West, GREE did a bit of a pivot with its San Francisco office over the last year. Initially set up after the $104 million acquisition of mobile gaming network OpenFeint, the office is now entirely geared toward building first-party games.
It’s a turnabout for the $3.5 billion Japanese gaming company, which built its business in astonishingly short eight years through being a major feature phone gaming platform. (Yes, eight years is short in Japan where the culture can be averse to risky, new entrepreneurial ventures.) They aimed to replicate that success as a dual game developer and platform in the West with a few big-ticket acquisitions. But now it appears that the U.S. arm is just doing games for now.
“We’re pretty singularly focused on content,” said Anil Dharni, GREE’s senior vice president of studio operations, in an interview from the company’s Mission Bay offices. “The platform — whenever it’s ready for the U.S. market — will get integrated later. The produce spirit and guidance had to happen from Japan.” Dharni was one of the co-founders of Funzio, which GREE bought last year for $210 million.
That change was a bit of a difficult one, with layoffs for several U.S.-based platform focused employees. More senior GREE managers who came over with the OpenFeint acquisition like Eros Resmini recently left to pursue other opportunities. It came around a tough earnings quarter for GREE, which saw net profit actually decline year-over-year on the back of a tougher regulatory environment around game mechanics in Japan.
Dharni said that all of Funzio’s four founders are still working at GREE. (That’s unlike what happened with OpenFeint, which saw its original CEO Jason Citron leave not long after the acquisition closed to work on other projects.)
“Even if you look at the attrition rate from the ex-Funzio guys, overall it’s gone really well,” Dharni said. “All four founders are here and they have pretty significant chunks of responsibility in terms of product.” Some Funzio employees were affected by the recent layoffs however.
Like many other game developers on the iOS and Android platforms, GREE is trying to prove that it’s not so vulnerable to the hits-driven nature of the business by having a network of users that’s so large that it can cheaply distribute games of its own or of other developers. Yet Apple is notoriously controlling of iOS. Even Facebook has had to effectively cede the growth of its gaming ecosystem’s revenues to Apple as players migrate from desktop computers to smartphones and tablets.
This will be a huge challenge for GREE’s platform efforts back in Japan. Can they offer something above and beyond what iOS already gives developers in terms of marketing and monetization that would be worth giving up extra revenue share?
Dharni said, “We feel like platforms in general on mobile can be more or less a commodity and we are looking to see how we can make ours very unique.”
That said, the developer-only route isn’t a bad one as iOS has become more lucrative over the past year.
“It’s 4X and beyond in terms of revenue [compared to a year ago],” Dharni said. A major contributor is the emergence of the iPad as a gaming device, something that other developers like Supercell have said is a huge part of their financial success.
Dharni said that GREE’s Japanese leadership, which have spent years fine-tuning the freemium gaming model back in Japan, helped the U.S. team better understand how to run games as a service.
“While we had been running live games, we weren’t running them at the depth at GREE was,” he said. “What that means is creating new fun and engaging content on a daily or weekly basis. You want your players coming back every week to check what’s new. We conceptually understood this, but didn’t see the extent to which it improves our metrics.”
Android is still lagging iOS on per user monetization, but Dharni said, “We feel that Android is going to grow faster this year.”
Facebook, the platform where Funzio started, may also re-emerge this year as an important way for developers to distribute their work on mobile platforms.
“Overall, it’s still too early to say but some of the test results that are coming in are pretty good actually,” Dharni said. “The ROI is definitely there. It will definitely become one of the top channels for user acquisition long-term.”
Three American companies-Apple, Microsoft and Adobe-have been summoned by the Australian Parliament to explain why they charge higher prices Down Under than in other countries.
The three companies were called by the House Committee On Infrastructure And Communications to appear as part of an ongoing probe regarding the disparity in tech pricing. The inquiry started in May 2012 to examine “whether a difference in prices exists between IT hardware and software products, including computer games and consoles, e-books and music and videos sold in Australia over the Internet or in retail outlets as compared to markets in the U.S., UK and economies in the Asia-Pacific.”
Ed Husic, a member of the Australian House of Representatives, says that some estimates suggest Australian prices on some products are up to 60 percent higher than in the U.S. Husic told Kotaku Australia that “in what’s probably the first time anywhere in the world, these IT firms are now being summonsed by the Australian Parliament to explain why they price their products so much higher in Australia compared to in the U.S. Adobe, Apple and Microsoft are just a few firms that have continually defied the public’s call for answers and refused to appear before the IT Pricing Inquiry.”
This is the latest development in a long-running dispute between Australian lawmakers and U.S. tech companies over unequal pricing. Back in August 2011, Apple Australia managing director Tony King agreed to speak with Husic about higher tech prices in Australia. MacRumors says pricing disparities back then included the MacBook Air, which was 15% more expensive in Australia and some software, like Adobe’s CS5.5 Design Premium, which was nearly 75% more expensive even when accounting for currency exchange. Husic said, however, that he had struggled to pin down a meeting with Apple reps and the Cupertino-based company was accused of “snubbing” Australian consumers, media and the Parliament by continuing their pricing strategy. According to the Australian Financial Review, Apple blames “layers of Australian taxes, warranties and copyright holders for higher local prices.”