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Nintendo to exhibit at 2011 CES after lengthy absence

The Consumer Electronics Association has announced that Nintendo will be among the gaming exhibitors at the 2011 International CES. As noted by Engadget, the company will be making its first appearance at the event in 16 years, and will likely be showing off its upcoming 3DS handheld gaming console. Nintendo has been facing increasing competition in the handheld gaming market from smartphone platforms such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, and last month posted its first interim net loss in seven years. Due to the iPod touch and iPhone, the company has noted that Apple is its biggest competitor now, surpassing even Microsoft, with which it has done battle in the television-dependent console game market since the release of the original Xbox.

Apple planning digital newsstand for iPad

Apple is currently developing a digital newsstand for the iPad that would offer digital magazines and newspapers, according to a new report. Citing two people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that the newsstand would be similar to the iBookstore, and would be separate from the App Store. The report says that the effort is aimed at helping publishers sell subscriptions, as opposed to single issues, and may also draw new customers to the iPad. Talks between Apple and publishers including Time Warner, Conde Nast, Hearst Corp., and News Corp. are said to be ongoing, with control over subscriber data, revenue splits, and pricing issues yet to be decided.

As part of the larger effort, Apple is said to be developing new software to make it easier for publishers to create digital versions of magazines and newspapers, with special emphasis placed on adding interactive content such as high-definition video, and is also working on server technology that would allow the publications to be updated in the background. Curiously, Apple in February forced iOS developer omz:software to change the name of its Newsstand RSS reader application due to what it said was a trademark complaint and later added a “Newsstand” section to the App Store highlighting a variety of publications and reading applications.

MPEG LA: H.264 will remain royalty free

MPEG LA has announced (PDF Link) that its AVC/H.264 video codec will remain royalty-free for Internet video that is free to end-users throughout the life of the license. The group had previously said it would not charge any such royalties through the end of 2015. Mac Rumors notes that Apple owns several of the packages included in the AVC/H.264 portfolio, and has embraced the standard throughout its media product line. Today’s announcement should help the codec’s effort to become the standard video format for HTML 5 content.

AdMob: Apple not yet enforcing ad restrictions

Speaking at the MobileBeat 2010 conference, AdMob CEO Omar Hamoui has revealed that Apple has yet to enforce its new ad restrictions that would effectively ban the Google-owned mobile advertising service from the iOS platform. “They haven’t been enforcing (the new regulations) yet. We’re very appreciative of that,” said Hamoui, according to a Cnet report. He went on to explain that were the restrictions enforced, “it would mean we could not run ads on the iPhone at all,” adding that without the analytical data, AdMob couldn’t even track who had clicked on their customer’s ads, making it virtually impossible to sell any ads at all. In addition, Hamoui had praise for Apple’s new iAds, saying, “the really rich pretty ads they’re doing are making advertisers and agencies think about what mobile means. Anybody getting advertisers interested in mobile is a good thing. It’s not at all a zero-sum game.”

Adobe unveils Apple-friendly digital viewer tech

Adobe has announced its new digital viewer technology for print publishers that allows them to create Apple-compliant versions of their magazines. Debuting with the iPad version of Wired Magazine, which is currently available from the App Store, the technology allows for the inclusion of video content, slide shows, 360-degree rotating images, vertical and horizontal content support, and touch gesture support. The new technology was developed “with input from” Wired, and was likely created in response to Apple’s decision to ban Flash and other cross-compiler solutions from the iPhone OS. The new digital viewer software is expected to appear on Adobe’s Labs service “soon.”

NBC, Time Warner sticking with Flash?

NBC and Time Warner have told Apple that they won’t be converting their online videos to the iPhone- and iPad-friendly H.264 format, according to a New York Post report. Citing unnamed sources, the report claims that Time Warner, NBC Universal, and several other large media companies have said they will not convert their video libraries over to a non-Flash format, citing expense and the fact that most other devices support Adobe’s software. The report also claims that the media companies feel they are in a better negotiating position following the announcement of Google TV, and the expected launch of Flash-compatible tablets from companies such as Dell and HP. Notably, CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, has reformatted its online videos to be iPhone- and iPad-compatible, and is listed on Apple’s page of “iPad ready” websites, alongside fellow Time Warner property Sports Illustrated.

Key Xbox, Zune execs leaving Microsoft

Microsoft has announced that Robbie Bach, president of the company’s Entertainment and Devices (E&D) Division, and J Allard, senior vice president of Design and Development for E&D, are leaving the company. Bach will remain with the company through the fall to oversee the transition, while Allard will take an official advisory role at the company. Both Bach and Allard were instrumental in the creation and continued development of the Xbox and Zune brands, and through the E&D division also oversaw the company’s mobile phone efforts, including Windows Phone and the KIN project. A recent report claimed that Allard made the decision to leave the company after it decided not to move forward with its Courier dual-screen tablet concept, which Allard had championed.

FTC clears Google/AdMob deal, cites Apple’s iAd

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it has closed its investigation into Google’s proposed acquisition of mobile advertising company AdMob. According to announcement, the Commission found the deal “unlikely to harm competition in the emerging market for mobile advertising networks,” and that “although the combination of the two leading mobile advertising networks raised serious antitrust issues, the agency’s concerns ultimately were overshadowed by recent developments in the market.” Most notable among these recent developments was Apple’s announcement of its iAd service, through which, the statement notes, “Apple can leverage its close relationships with application developers and users, its access to a large amount of proprietary user data, and its ownership of iPhone software development tools and control over the iPhone developers’ license agreement.” Google signed an agreement to purchase AdMob last November in a deal worth $750 million; Apple CEO Steve Jobs said earlier this year that Google “snatched” the company away from Apple because Google didn’t want Apple to have them.

Report: 26% of web video now available in H.264

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Over one quarter of the videos on the Internet are now available in H.264 format, according to the latest analysis from MeFeedia. Based on the company’s checks of its video index, 26% of videos available on the web are now available in H.264 format, compared with just 10% in January. Notably, most sites that support HTML5 automatically detect iPad users and switch to a compatible format, many recent news stories are available in H.264 while most older news content has yet to be re-encoded, and there is very little HTML5 supported episodic content available from major TV networks. MeFeedia’s video index includes over 30,000 sources, including Hulu, CBS, ABC, YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, MTV, and CNN. [via Fortune]

Verizon and Google working together on tablet

Verizon Wireless is working with Google to develop a tablet computer that would compete directly with the iPad. The Wall Street Journal reports that the development was confirmed by Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam, who declined to discuss details on the timing or manufacturer of such a device. “What do we think the next big wave of opportunities are?” Mr. McAdam said in an interview. “We’re working on tablets together, for example. We’re looking at all the things Google has in its archives that we could put on a tablet to make it a great experience.” Google declined to comment on the WSJ article, apart from saying that anyone can use its mobile software to create phones and other devices.

Apple to shut down Lala on May 31

Lala.com, the music streaming service Apple purchased last December, will be shutting down on May 31. Around the time of Apple’s acquisition, it was said the company wanted to use Lala’s technology and streaming expertise to offer a streaming service on iTunes in addition to the its normal purchase and download model. According to the site, Lala users will receive iTunes credit for all money spent purchasing web songs, wallet balances, and unredeemed gift cards. Lala launched in June 2006 as a CD trading service before re-focusing on digital music uploads and streaming the next year. [via Engadget]

HP acquires Palm for $1.2 billion

HP and Palm have announced that they have reached an agreement for HP to purchase Palm at a price of $5.70 per share, or a total price of roughly $1.2 billion. The deal has been approved by both respective companies’ boards of directors. The announcement states that the “combination of HP’s global scale and financial strength with Palm’s unparalleled webOS platform will enhance HP’s ability to participate more aggressively in the fast-growing, highly profitable smartphone and connected mobile device markets. Palm’s unique webOS will allow HP to take advantage of features such as true multitasking and always up-to-date information sharing across applications.” Former Apple senior vice president and current Palm CEO and chairman Jon Rubinstein is expected to stay with the company; the move will put HP into direct competition with Apple in the smartphone category, where Palm’s Pre and Pixi smartphones compete with the iPhone.

“Palm’s innovative operating system provides an ideal platform to expand HP’s mobility strategy and create a unique HP experience spanning multiple mobile connected devices,” said Todd Bradley, executive vice president, Personal Systems Group, HP. “And, Palm possesses significant IP assets and has a highly skilled team. The smartphone market is large, profitable and rapidly growing, and companies that can provide an integrated device and experience command a higher share. Advances in mobility are offering significant opportunities, and HP intends to be a leader in this market.”

“We’re thrilled by HP’s vote of confidence in Palm’s technological leadership, which delivered Palm webOS and iconic products such as the Palm Pre. HP’s longstanding culture of innovation, scale and global operating resources make it the perfect partner to rapidly accelerate the growth of webOS,” said Jon Rubinstein, chairman and chief executive officer, Palm. ”We look forward to working with HP to continue to deliver industry-leading mobile experiences to our customers and business partners.”

USA Today, others to run iPad-specific ads

USA Today, along with several other large companies, is preparing to run online advertisements specially-formatted for the iPad. The company will run its ads through mobile ad platform AdMarvel, which teamed up with rich media advertising firm PointRoll—owned by Gannett, which also owns USA Today—to create the ads. Max Mead, VP of business development at PointRoll, said that the iPad “has a large enough screen that you can do more with an ad. With an expandable ad, it’s almost the size of a sheet of paper or a desktop screen.” Mead said USA Today will join “an automaker, a large retailer, a large CPG conglomerate, and a pretty large hotel chain” in launching iPad-formatted ads. “You could very easily run pretty much the same ad as you do on the iPhone on the iPad,” explained Mead, “but that would not really be fully leveraging the potential…You have an opportunity on the iPad to do a lot more.” [via AppleInsider]

Apple MobileMe director leaves for mobile entertainment company

Pablo Calamera, former director of MobileMe for Apple, has left the company to join mobile entertainment group Thumbplay as Chief Technology Officer. Calamera had spent ten total years with Apple, the most recent stint being 2006-2010, and has also worked with Sidekick-maker Danger and WebTV. In his new role with Thumbplay, Calamera will have oversight of all technology initiatives for the company, including its recently launched Thumbplay Music, a cloud-based music subscription service offering on-demand access to more than eight million tracks under license from EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and more than 25,000 independent labels. Thumbplay Music is currently being offered in the U.S. as an invitation-only private beta; the company says the service will be available on iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry devices in the first quarter of 2010. [via AppleInsider]

Warner sees slower sales growth after pricing change

Warner Music Group has revealed that unit sales growth on the iTunes Store has decelerated since the move to a variable pricing scheme. AllThingsD reports that industry-wide, year-over-year “digital track equivalent album unit growth” was 5% in the December quarter, down from 10% in the September quarter and 11% in the June quarter. As iTunes makes up the majority of Warner’s digital revenue, growth is slowing in that metric, as well, with digital revenue up 8% year-over-year in the December quarter, compared with a 20% growth rate in December 2008. Warner CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. said that music downloads are a “mature” business, and that the pricing change has been a “net positive” for the label, but also suggested that, looking back, the move to raise prices wasn’t the best idea during a time of recession. Apple announced the move to a variable pricing scheme, under which individual tracks are sold for $.69, $.99, or $1.29, in January 2009, although the changes didn’t take hold until April 2009.

Gameloft, others cutting back on Android development

Gameloft has said that it, along with other developers, is cutting back on Android development due to the low financial returns seen on the platform. Reuters reports that Gameloft finance director Alexandre de Rochefort, speaking at an investor conference, said, “We have significantly cut our investment in Android platform, just like ... many others.” “It is not as neatly done as on the iPhone. Google has not been very good to entice customers to actually buy products. On Android nobody is making significant revenue,” he added. Gameloft’s App Store offerings generated 13 percent of the company’s revenue last quarter. “We are selling 400 times more games on iPhone than on Android,” Rochefort said. Google’s Android platform has seen increased press coverage lately in part due to the release of several high-profile devices, including the Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Eris on Verizon Wireless.

Google acquires AdMob for $750 million

Google has signed an agreement to acquire mobile advertising firm AdMob for $750 million. Founded in 2006, AdMob has become a leading provider of mobile advertisements on both the iPhone and Android platforms, across both web-based properties and within applications. According to a statement from Google, it believes the acquisition will enhance the company’s “existing expertise and technology in mobile advertising, while also giving advertisers and publishers more choice in this growing new area.” A letter from AdMob founder and CEO Omar Hamoui regarding the acquisition is available online.

T-Mobile halts Sidekick sales after massive data loss

T-Mobile in the U.S. has halted sales of its Sidekick mobile phones after a series of gaffes left users unable to access their data, and in some cases led to the data being deleted permanently. According to Microsoft/Danger—Microsoft purchased Danger, the company behind the Sidekick, in February 2008—the service interruption began on October 2, and continued for the next few days for most users. Some users never had their data restored, however, and T-Mobile has announced to those Sidekick users that “based on Microsoft/Danger’s latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device - such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos - that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger… [O]ur teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.”

T-Mobile at first offered a free month of data service to those affected, but is now said to be letting upset users out of their contracts at no fee due to the problem. The timing of the incident and subsequent announcement couldn’t be worse for the Microsoft/Danger team, which has been the subject of a couple of recent articles describing how Microsoft’s attempt to refocus the Sidekick team on a secret feature phone project, codenamed “Pink,” has been a failure. Both articles contain information supposedly provided by inside sources, who told of disgruntled employees, incompetent management, and a policy of secrecy that kept the team isolated from the company’s other mobile platform teams.

Before the release of the iPhone, several iLounge editors used older versions of Sidekicks, which managed to gain a large share of the teen market and offered real-time AIM, email, and web access, with well-received hardware keyboard. Following the iPhone’s release, however, Danger struggled to move the platform forward with subsequent revisions of the device, despite maintaining a loyal userbase even in the face of strong competition from the iPhone and other more recent smartphones.

FCC Chairman outlines ‘net neutrality’ rules

During a speaking engagement earlier today, Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission, proposed a set of Internet neutrality rules for both wired and wireless connections. The six principles, which are available in full, along with Genachowski’s speech, on the new website openinternet.gov, include a provision forbidding network operators from accessing lawful Internet content, applications, or services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network, a non-discrimination principle stating that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications, and one demanding that providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices. The non-discrimination principle is of particular interest to iPhone owners, as it could pave the way for VoIP and other currently forbidden apps to operate over AT&T’s network.

Sony recruiting iPhone devs for PSP games

In addition to Microsoft’s push to bring iPhone OS app developers to the Zune, Sony is attempting to lure iPhone developers to bring existing App Store titles to the company’s PlayStation Network store. The games would be aimed at Sony’s upcoming PSPgo pocketable gaming system. According to Pocket Gamer, the downloadable titles will be priced at 1, 2 and 5 Euros—roughly $1.40, $2.85, and $7.13, respectively—to stay price-competitive with the App Store. The article goes on to note that ported iPhone games will require some reworking for the PSPgo, to account for the difference in screen resolution—480x320 versus 480x272, respectively—and to map controls onto the PSPgo’s physical buttons. It also states that all games will be required to go through formal Technical Requirement Checks and a two-week quality assurance testing period, and that Sony will actively control the release schedule for games.

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