SGN’s 3D Shooter EXO-Planet Elite Comes To The iPhone

Earlier today we learned that SGN, a mobile gaming company that focuses on the iPhone/iPad and will soon be expanding to Android, had raised $2 million from Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures and Xing founder Lars Hinrichs. Today SGN is also making its 3D shooter EXO-Planet Elite available for the iPhone and iPod Touch in the hopes of recreating the success of its hit Skies of Glory. The game runs $4.99, and you can buy it on the App Store here.

EXO-Planet, which was an iPad launch title but wasn’t available on the iPhone or iPod Touch until now, is a third-person shooter set in space, with a nifty grappling hook mechanic that lets players fling themselves to the other side of a room with one tap. Gameplay is primarily multiplayer — hit Deathmatch or Capture the Flag, and the game’s matchmaking system will usually have you playing a game in a few seconds. This update also introduces a single player time trial mode.

We first profiled the game in early April, and it was one of the first games I tried when I got my hands on an iPad. At the time, I wasn’t too impressed — the game looked compelling, but the controls were really difficult. Despite a lifetime of gaming experience, I couldn’t figure out how to get my character unstuck from the magnetic ceiling, and then I somehow flung myself into an endless abyss. Fortunately, it looks like those problems have been fixed, and the game is starting to live up to its potential.

I fired up the iPad version for the first time in months and quickly jumped into an online multiplayer Deathmatch. The game was still a little disorienting for a few minutes, but I quickly got the hang of it and managed to rack up three kills in my first game (I may have died ten times, but that was a lot better than I did the first time I tried to play).

And it looks like the iPhone version is actually better than the iPad version — the smaller form factor makes it a bit easier to control. And the iPhone obviously has a much larger userbase than the iPad, so despite the game’s slow start a few months ago, SGN may be able to turn EXO-Planet into another hit.

Here’s a video review done by the folks over at AppSpy that gives you an idea of how the gameplay works.


Foursquare Check-In Stickers Coming To A Store Window Near You (Video)

How can Foursquare get more people to check into places as they go about town? One way is stickers. Next month you will start to see stickers in storefront windows reminding Foursquare users to check in and unlock specials. Foursquare’s director of business development Tristan Walker flashed one of the stickers in front of my camera when I was visiting the New York offices earlier today.

In the video above (forgive the iPhone audio) he confirms the company will start to ship the stickers soon to popular Foursquare venues. The stickers are part of Foursqare’s new business-friendly focus. They are just regular stickers that say, “Check-in Here on Foursquare” and “Foursquare Special Here.”

I asked Walker what he thinks about QR codes, those 2d barcodes people can scan with their cameras which are on the stickers Google sent out to local merchants a while back. He is not “particularly bullish” that they will catch on anytime soon. (I’ve argued in the past they could become a backdoor check-in for Google, but I tend to agree that cell-phone barcode scanning is still an unnatural act for most people)

And since he’s been Tweeting all day how much he thinks Twitter’s Promoted Trends is a goldmine business model, I asked him about that also. On camera, Walker was a little shy, but he points out that it is a fascinating way for advertisers to get in front of a large portion of Twitter users. Of course, there are also ways to geo-target the promoted trends by city or even neighborhood. Maybe there is a Foursquare tie-in there, Promoted Specials! Nah.


AdMob Deal Breakdown: $530 Million In Stock, $220 Million In Cash

Thanks to an SEC filing, another detail emerged today about Google’s acquisition of mobile ad network AdMob. We already knew the $750 million Google-AdMob acquisition was a cash and stock deal but we didn’t know the breakdown between the two. According to an SEC filing submitted by Google today, the search giant sold $530 million worth of stock as part of the deal, indicating that AdMob (and its investors) may have taken home the remainder, $220 million, in cash (because of some accounting issues, this number may not be exact).

So was AdMob happy with the split between cash and stock? I guess that depends on whether they think Google’s stock will keep going up. Google paid for the bulk of the deal with stock, and the deal will hardly make a dent in its huge cash reserves (the company has $26.5 billion in the bank).

The deal itself was drawn out due to concerns from the FTC over anti-trust issues. Over six months after announcing its plans to acquire AdMob, Google finally closed the deal at the end of May, a week after the FTC unanimously approved the deal.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Square Delays Mass Roll-Out, Admits They Began Before Things Were “Fully Baked”

When Jack Dorsey’s new startup, Square, was first unveiled in December, there was a lot of excitement about it. And rightly so. It looked like it could revolutionize the way individuals accept payments for their work using their smartphones. But the road to the revolution has been a bit rocky. Today, Dorsey sent an email to the early adopters of Square explaining some of the reasons for delays in getting the product up to speed — and announcing a new indefinite delay.

Of note, he admits that, “we’ve let our excitement get the best of us and have released parts of Square before they were fully baked.” Square had hoped to have the service ready to roll in “early 2010,” but it’s already the middle of the year now and many users are still without units. Dorsey says that while initial hardware shortage issues have been resolved (by sending co-founder Jim McKelvey to China where the devices are made), now a credit processing issue is hampering the service.

As such, Square has decided to halt the mass shipment of Square readers (the little hardware dongle required to read credit cards). They are now “rethinking and expanding our underwriting infrastructure,” Dorsey notes. The main problem now is that to ensure credit fraud doesn’t run wild on Square, they limit transactions numbers — but customers are complaining those limits are too low. Square agrees, so they’re trying to figure out a new way to handle things.

So when might this problem be resolved? “We’re working on the ETA for mass shipments,” Dorsey tells us via email. “We want to make sure the underwriting is solid to manage the fraud and risk,” he continues.

Below, find the full email Dorsey sent to Square users:

Dear Square user,

We announced Square with the phrase: “0 to $60 in under 10 seconds.”

Square’s goal is to enable people to accept payments immediately, everywhere. We realize the amount of time we’ve taken to ship our Square readers has been frustrating, sometimes confusing, and has generated a number of questions. When we announced the company last December, we estimated Square would be ready in the U.S. sometime in early 2010. Since then, we’ve let our excitement get the best of us and have released parts of Square before they were fully baked.

A recent email from our support team to a Square user sums up where we are:

Until recently, we were facing a big hardware shortage, but that is now resolved (we sent our co-founder Jim to China for a couple weeks to arrange better manufacturing, and that did the trick). The problem has transitioned to something we’ve been working on simultaneously, a credit processing and risk issue. We need to strengthen our underwriting infrastructure so that we can handle the huge demand for readers and still manage the risk of chargebacks and fraud. This is the last thing preventing us from shipping readers as fast as we’d like, and we have pretty much the entire team working on it.

The way we are handling the risk of chargebacks and fraud is through transaction limits, but we have received feedback that those limits are too low. We are rethinking and expanding our underwriting infrastructure to address this issue. As soon as we finish, we will send you an email to confirm that you would like us to run a credit check (or you can cancel your request to process cards with Square which will securely remove your personal information). We will then ship your free card reader and activate your account to accept card payments.

We thank you for your continued patience as we work to deliver a utility you can use every day and for allowing us the time to get it right.

Jack Dorsey
Square CEO

Information provided by CrunchBase


SGN Takes Investment From Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures

Palo Alto based Social Gaming Network, which focuses on multiplayer iPhone/iPod/iPad games, has raised a first tranche in a second round of financing – $2 million from Tomorrow Ventures (Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s investment firm) and Xing founder Lars Hinrichs.

The company previously raised $15 million. Founder Shervin Pishevar says this new round is the first tranche in a much larger Series B funding.

Unlike most social gaming companies today, SGN has focused on very high quality games that allow multi-player gaming from different devices. Skies Of Glory is the office favorite. The company will soon be releasing titles for Android devices, says Pishevar.


Twitter Tweaks The Fail Whale Based On TechCrunch Commenter Feedback

Sometimes our commenters are a little insane — but we love them anyway. And other companies do too. And here’s proof.

Twitter has tweaked the Fail Whale page (you know, the page you see all the time when Twitter is down) based on a comment one TechCrunch reader left on a post about Twitter’s downtime earlier this week. Okay, it’s not a huge change, but it’s a very useful one. On the Twitter Fail Whale page from now on, you’ll see a link to the Twitter Status blog below the headline: “Twitter is over capacity.”

Twitter wrote to us to let us know about the change and that it was based on the comment from one TechCrunch reader, Stepshep (Stephen Shepherd). That person left a comment saying:

One would assume that the link to the Status blog would be bigger on the Fail Whale pages. New users don’t read the fine print/have the status blog on RSS. As a side note I use Twitter to login with intensedebate, not anymore.

It was a good question and a great suggestion, and our team made the change this week,” a Twitter representative wrote to us. “We’re listening,” they continued.

This is a good idea, because previously when Twitter would go down, people would often come to sites like TechCrunch to find out why. To be clear, we hope you still do that. But it’s good for those who don’t, to have a link to the Status Blog (which resides on a different server from Twitter itself, so it stays up during downtime) for updates from Twitter on the situation.

So there you go TechCrunch readers, leave a useful comment, and it just may make a difference.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Latest comScore Stats Show Twitter Growth Is Still Strong


Online analytics firm comScore has released its latest batch of data, and this month’s results show that Twitter is still exhibiting strong growth. According to comScore’s numbers Twitter grew from 83.8M unique vistors in April to 90.2M in May worldwide — an increase of 7.6%. By comparison, there was 5.5% growth between March, when Twitter had 79.4M, and April’s 83.8M. To give some perspective, a year ago comScore showed that Twitter had 37.3M million uniques.

It’s important to note that these numbers aren’t necessarily a good measure of the total number of people people using Twitter’s platform (it only includes data for people who have been to Twitter.com, and not any applications that access Twitter through the API). And last week Twitter COO Dick Costolo shared the company’s internal stats, which show that Twitter gets 190 million visitors per month, and 65 million tweets a day. One other caveat: not everyone who visits Twitter.com is actually tweeting (some people are just using the service passively).

Still, while there’s obviously a discrepancy between the numbers, comScore data can be used to track the growth trend. And after a lull in the winter, it’s clear that Twitter is back on track.


Lakers Victory Sets Twitter All-Time Record With 3,085 Tweets Per Second

Twitter has been seeing record numbers of engagement thanks to the World Cup games in South Africa and as a result the network has been going through significant downtime. Today Twitter is giving us some insight into the numbers of Tweets taking place through the platform and the most Tweeted “goals” from the tournament and last night’s Lakers-Celtics championship game.

These goals had the highest Tweets-per-second (TPS) count in the 30 seconds after a goal was scored: Japan scores against Cameroon on June 14 in their 1-0 victory (2,940 TPS), Brazil scores their first goal against North Korea in their 2-1 June 14 victory (2,928 TPS) and Mexico ties South Africa in their June 11 game (2,704 TPS).

These numbers from the World Cup were all time records until last night. It appears that basketball fans may be the most voracious Tweets of all because last night’s Lakers win in the deciding game of the NBA Championship set an Twitter all-time record. The Lakers victory generated 3,085 TPS as the game ended. On an average day, Twitter sees about 750 TPS and 65 million total Tweets a day.

The recent downtime is affecting Twitter in more ways than one. The network just rescheduled its ‘oauthcalypse’ for August because of the heavy usage during the World Cup. And while sports events are helping Twitter reach these records, comScore numbers just released today that show the microblogging network is back on the growth track.

Information provided by CrunchBase


OneRiot’s Realtime Search API Now Indexing Facebook Likes And Shared Content


Unsurprisingly, real time search engine OneRiot is now tapping into Facebook’s recently launched Open Graph API. So now, actions made by Facebook users who publicly share links on their profiles or like stories across the web will now be indexed in realtime search results available through OneRiot’s API and the the third party developers who build apps on top of the search engine’s API.

To date, OneRiot, which just revamped its search engine, has been indexing and ranking links shared by users on Twitter, Digg and MySpace. Last month, OneRiot rolled out a small bucket test on its site to test the addition of Facebook shares/likes and now the startup is opening this data stream via the API for the developer ecosystem to innovate with.

Facebook likes and shares from users who have made their actions completely public will now contribute to the ranking of realtime search results available through OneRiot’s API. For example, a search for “World Cup” on OneRiot will reveal the most popular links about the soccer tournament being shared by Facebook users right now.

The API, which powers over 100 realtime web and mobile applications, has also been updated with improved monetization algorithms to optimize revenue for every individual third party developer. One Riot has added self-optimizing algorithms to determine which ads will be displayed to different third party applications, based on the behavior of their users, helping to increase click-through rates and engagement.

It’s not surprising that that OneRiot is now tapping into the Open Graph API for its own API. The startup’s API, which is used by over 100 applications, drives close to 97 percent of OneRiot’s search volume.

OneRiot has also ventured into the advertising world with RiotWise, an ad format which places content in an emphasized position in their realtime feed. The search engine also launched a pilot program of RiotWise Trending Ads, a stream of ads that correspond to trending topics as they emerge across the social web, that has since been integrated into the search engine’s API. And the startup recently launched self-refreshing realtime trending ads and a self-service version of RiotWise.

Information provided by CrunchBase


CrunchGear Reviews Toy Story 3

We don’t do many movie reviews here at CrunchGear, mostly because we’re into gadgets and movies are, in a way, the anti-thesis of the physical. Semantics aside, Toy Story 3 was great.

The story is simple: Andy, the toys’ owner, is leaving for college. His toys, resigning themselves to a life in the attic, prep themselves for the coming change but, instead of the must and heat of the rafters, they end up in a garbage truck. Only Woody is going with Andy to college, and when he sees his friends in danger he runs to save them.

The tale winds through a day care center overrun by misfit toys, the home of a little girl who owns a gruff toy unicorn and a sad clown, and then to the very maw of heck itself – the incinerator at the city dump. All of this is tinged with the sadness of growing up and leaving behind things that you loved as well as hope for better things to come.

Read more…


Millennial Media: Apple OS Drops By 33 Percent In May But iPad Impressions Grow 160 Percent

Mobile ad network Millennial Media, which claims that its network reaches 82 percent of 72 million mobile web users in the U.S., is reporting that iPad ad requests grew 160 percent from April to May with global Apple ad requests dropping 33 percent in May. Apple OS U.S. ad requests dropped by nearly 14 percent month-over-month after an 8 percent decrease in requests in April.

That being said, the Apple OS is still the leading mobile operating system in Millennial’s U.S. network, with a 48 percent share of Smartphone impressions. RIM’s BlackBerry remained the second largest OS on Millennial’s network for the tenth consecutive month with a 3% increase month-over-month and a 19 percent share of impressions. Android’s share rose by 5 percent to a 15 percent share of impressions for the month of May.

Android total ad requests grew by 15 percent in May, which is slower growth than the OS has seen. Last month, Android saw a 77 percent jump in impressions, and a 72 percent jump in May. But the jump in impressions for Android over the past six months is staggering, with requests having grown by 338 percent since January.

Android Smartphone manufacturer, HTC received the largest share increase month-over month for the second month in a row with a 2.5% impression share increase in May, rising to the fourth spot of the Top 15 Manufacturers. Apple leads the manufacturing list but dropped by 10 percent in terms of device impressions. In terms of type of device, the majority of ad impressions took place on smart phones (46 percent), with Feature Phones seeing 35 percent of ad impressions, and Connected Devices, like the iPad, seeing 20% of impressions.

Millennial added a new measurement this month, focusing on mobile developer channels and trends. For May, Gaming apps placed in the number one spot and accounted for 58 percent of app revenue on devices. Social Networking claimed the number two spot and experienced a 124 percent growth on Millennial’s network since the beginning of 2010. The Entertainment channel, which placed in the number four position, has experienced the largest percentage of growth in 2010 – a 648 percent increase since January and is expected to grow with the summer blockbuster movie season. In May, of the developers who focused on a single platform, 56% were focused on Apple and 29% were focused on Android.

If Millennial’s numbers are accurate, Android impressions may be slowing down in terms of growth. Of course, we need to see another few months of slow growth before determining making any definitive judgements but it should be interesting to see if Android’s growth plateaus. The significant growth in iPad impressions is also significant as the device is growing in usage.

As one of the largest mobile ad networks in the arena, Millennial has been seeing strong growth, just launching an iPad SDK, and is now one of the largest mobile ad networks in the space. The Baltimore-based startup is growing; in February Millennial Media acquired mobile metrics and analytics firm TapMetrics. Additionally, the ad network raised $16 million in Series C funding last November.

However, with Apple’s iAd platform entering the mix, the mobile ad network space may be facing some significant changes. At the moment Millennial seems to be in a good place with Apple’s new iAd policies on outside networks advertising on the iPhone. But Millennial’s future may be in question if the network is looking to be acquired by a major tech giant, like Microsoft. But the FTC is reportedly looking into Apple’s iAd policies to determine if they are anti-competitive, so an big exit for Millennial could still be a possibility.


Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital Opens For Business with $8.5 Million Angel Fund

Last August we broke the news that angel investor Chris Sacca was expanding his operation and bringing in outside capital to leverage his investments. This has been a bit of a trend recently – successful angels like Ron Conway, Jeff Clavier and Mike Maples have all transitioned from pure angel investors to raising funds.

Sacca’s fund, called Lowercase Capital, was meant to be a $6 million fund. But he’s closed on a total of $8.5 million based on heavy demand, he says. Part of that demand is surely due to the fact that Sacca has transferred some of his earlier angel investments – including Twitter – to the new fund. His investments include SimpleGeo, Fanbridge, DailyBooth, Posterous and Stickybits.

Sacca’s investment philosophy is fairly simple – It’s cheap to create new companies relative to ten years ago, and there are lots of investors to choose from. He promises to invest more than money, though. Like other hyper-successful angels, Sacca says he’ll go to work for you, too:

We dive in to work with teams that obsess over user experiences, customer happiness, and that, to quote Paul Graham, “make something people want.” Along with relatively small amounts of money, we give them the time, attention, and the empathy that catalyze winning outcomes for all involved. Rolling up our sleeves, we help design front pages, invent new services, prioritize product features, negotiate partnerships, and deal with the everyday professional and personal challenges of startup life.


Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff Uses Twitter To Announce Execution

A sign of the times, although many may find it distasteful, or much worse: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used a mobile Twitter client to send out a tweet announcing the impending execution by firing squad of convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner.

As the BBC notes, quite a modern way to announce a very old-fashioned death.

In total, the AG sent out 3 tweets about the event from his iPhone only a couple of hours ago, the most recent one an all-too-familiar (on Twitter) self-promoting one.

1) A solemn day. Barring a stay by Sup Ct, & with my final nod, Utah will use most extreme power & execute a killer. Mourn his victims. Justice

2) I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.

3) We will be streaming live my press conference as soon as I’m told Gardner is dead. Watch it at www.attorneygeneral.Utah.gov/live.html

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this in comments.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Does The iPad Change Everything? Publishers Chime In

We’ve fiercely debated the merits of the iPad (here and here and here and here) and whether Apple’s “magical” device will transform the mass market. The question, of course, is not whether the iPad is the leader in the tablet market but whether the iPad will become the iPod of its market. And if the iPad is indeed the iPod, how does that shape the digital strategy of publishers?

At the Big Money Untethered conference in New York this Thursday, a cluster of top publishers including Donald Graham (CEO, Washington Post), Carolyn Reidy (CEO, Simon Schuster), Vivian Schiller (CEO, NPR) and Sarah Chubb (President, Conde Nast Digital), gathered to answer those questions and evaluate the explosive tablet market (according to Forrester Research, there will be 59 million tablets in use by 2015). We pitched a simple question to the panelists, does the iPad change everything and how is it transforming their business? Their answers in the video above.

Excerpts :

Vivian Schiller, CEO, NPR

It’s definitely a transformative device…[iPad] is the most distributed, well known tablet, there’s no question other manufacturers will come in with other variations of the tablet but the idea of this new form factor is a really exciting one.

And for us, the way that it’s transforming our business is we have created an application for the iPhone, excuse me for the iPad, there’s too many i’s out there! That is really designed specifically for the form factor of the tablet…and it is designed for the size and scale of the iPad…it’s been tremedously popular we’ve had over 350,000 downloads so far and there are only 2 million iPads in circulation. So what is that 1 in 6?

I would never bet against Apple.

Carolyn Reidy, CEO Simon & Schuster

I would say that it has transformed our industry because it is the first reader that has enabled us to combine text with video…It’s the first thing that will enable us to do children books, to make digital children books, to make enhanced e-books, and to actually make a combination of video and reading book that is not an app. In our world it’s very difficult to do an app it gets lost…the audience for a book is not the size for most of these apps that sell hundreds of thousands.

Jacob Weisberg, Chairman, The Slate Group

I think when the history of the era is written, it’s the Kindle that will be seen as the breakthrough device…even though it’s already been superseded in many ways by the iPad…It was really the Kindle that ushered in the post-Gutenberg and showed that a printed book was no longer necessarily the best way to read a book.

The iPad is a great toy…Everybody wants one, but the question is, is everyone going to need one?…In the short to medium term, I think the iPad is going to be very dominant…but long term I’m not sure I would bet on it as the dominant device because I think Apple does have the tendency to make the same mistake again and again, which is that it likes closed systems….It doesn’t like the messiness of the internet but unfortunately messiness is part of what makes the internet the internet.

Sarah Chubb, President, Conde Nast Digital

I think that the iPad is transformative because it’s changing how consumers think about the mobile web and how they think about content consumption…

To me it’s not really about the iPad itself, it’s about consumers seeing that they can do things differently and enjoying it which will make them do it more…Even just one year from now, we’re going to look back on it and many, many things will have changed as a result of that.


Y Combinator Gives A Crash Course On What It’s Like To ‘Work At A Startup’

Tonight at its headquarters in Mountain View, California, Y Combinator invited dozens of programmers to a new event called Work at a Startup. The event, which was announced last month, is meant to help expose programmers to what they should expect when they go about joining a startup (YC’s Paul Graham thinks that a lot of them tend to join more established companies like Microsoft simply because startup life seems so nebulous). The event is complementary to Y Combinator’s Startup School, which is meant to help entrepreneurs start a company from scratch. My notes from the event are below, and you can watch an archived video of the event here.


The event kicked off with a talk from Graham, who detailed what programmers should think about when they’re debating whether or not to join a startup.

Graham says that the two main things that prospective employees should be gauging are fun and money. You obviously want to maximize both, and the startup end of the job market is the “bargain”, because you can have fun and make a lot of money. Assuming, of course, you pick the right startup.

The second thing you need to figure out, Graham says, is whether or not the startup lifestyle is really for you. In general, he’s found that startup founders who join a large company after being acquired aren’t as happy in their new home as they were when they were running the show. The reason? Bureaucracy. There are meetings and you have to ask for permission to get things done — things that aren’t issues at most startups.

Graham says that some people (and all founders) are like that. But others aren’t. The way to tell, he says, is to ask yourself if you like the prospect of having (and implementing) many ideas at work, in which case a startup is probably the place for you. If you don’t think having ideas are a part of the job, then he says you’re probably better suited for corporate culture.

The next step is figuring out which startup you want to work at. Graham says this is actually a lot like being an investor, the difference being that investors are giving startups their time and money, while you’re giving them your work. So how do you tell which startups are promising? The secret, Graham says, is to look at the founders — even if they have an unsexy company or domain, if you have great founders, the company is more likely to go on to great things.

Alright, so you’ve found a great startup — can you expect to make a lot of money? This varies a lot, depending on how early you’re joining. Graham says that if you’ve found a startup that you want to join, you should do it quickly, because things can change fast (and the amount of equity you can expect can drop precipitously). He relayed an anecdote about a company Yahoo was thinking about acquiring for $1 billion a few years ago. After mulling it over for a few months, Yahoo agreed to pay $1 billion, at which point the company told them they’d grown and now wanted $2 billion (the unnamed company sounds a whole lot like Facebook). Moral of the story: don’t sit around thinking about things too long when startups are involved.

As for how much equity you can expect, Graham says that at the high-end, for a one-founder company with no employees, you may be able to get 50%. From there, things drop quickly — if you’re talking to a company with two founders and angel funding, you may be able to get 5-10%. Post series A, it’s hard to get more than 1%. The trade-off here is risk — most companies never get to their Series A.

Ultimately, Graham says that when you’re joining a startup, you’re looking for a company that is undervalued for the stage it is at, and that’s most likely to eventually IPO. Of course, that’s all easier said than done.

The event then switched to pitch mode, when over thirty startups gave a whirlwind series of presentations telling the audience why they should join them (it was like a speed dating job fair for startups).