AdMob CEO: Apple’s New Mobile Advertising Rules Will Hurt Developers

Yesterday, All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka pointed out the possibility that Apple could be limiting Google-acquired mobile ad network AdMob from selling ads on the iPhone and iPad platform. The language was a little vague in Apple’s new developer licensing agreement, but indicates that only “independent” ad-serving companies will be able to serve ads. AdMob could be prevented from showing ads because it is not independent as a part of Google, which “develops and distributes mobile devices and operating systems.” AdMob founder and CEO Omar Hamoui told us hours before Apple’s new terms of the agreement came out that nothing good would come of disallowing AdMob to serve ads. But today the company has officially responded to the potential issue.

Hamoui confirmed that the current Apple developer terms “would prohibit app developers from using AdMob and Google’s advertising solutions on the iPhone.” AdMob is wisely using the developer angle to help boost its case. The post states that the new terms would hurt both large and small developers in terms of revenue. Essentially, competition is good for developers because the more ways they have to make money, the better.

AdMob argues that less competition results in decreased innovation and lack of progress. Separately, there’s the question of what happens if an independent ad network, like Greystripe or Millennial, gets bought by Microsoft or another large tech giant. The rule seems arbitrary.

AdMob does have a point, but ultimately Apple can decide to let whoever they want serve ads on their devices. But this clearly comes across as anti-competitive, which is ironic considering that the Google-AdMob deal was nearly crushed by the FTC for anti-trust grounds.These types of moves could lead the FTC to get involved if Apple products continue to dominate the mobile advertising market.

Here’s the full text of the announcement:

Apple proposed new developer terms on Monday that, if enforced as written, would prohibit app developers from using AdMob and Google’s advertising solutions on the iPhone. These advertising related terms both target companies with competitive mobile technologies (such as Google), as well as any company whose primary business is not serving mobile ads. This change threatens to decrease – or even eliminate – revenue that helps to support tens of thousands of developers. The terms hurt both large and small developers by severely limiting their choice of how best to make money. And because advertising funds a huge number of free and low cost apps, these terms are bad for consumers as well.

Let’s be clear. This change is not in the best interests of users or developers. In the history of technology and innovation, it’s clear that competition delivers the best outcome. Artificial barriers to competition hurt users and developers and, in the long run, stall technological progress.

Since I started AdMob in 2006, I have watched competition in mobile advertising help drive incredible growth and innovation in the overall ecosystem. We’ve worked to help developers make money, regardless of platform – iPhone, Android, Palm Pre, Blackberry, Windows, and others. In the past four years, AdMob has helped tens of thousands of developers make money and build real businesses across multiple operating systems.

I’ve personally worked with many iPhone app developers around the world, including one who created a fun and simple game in the early days of the App Store. He built the app because he was interested in the challenge. He built this single app into a multi-million dollar advertising revenue stream with AdMob, hired a whole team, and turned a hobby into a real business.

We see these stories all the time. We want to help make more of them, so we’ll be speaking to Apple to express our concerns about the impact of these terms.


SponsorPay Raises Further $4.6m For Its Virtual Currency Ad Solution

SponsorPay, Europe’s leading provider of advertisement-based payment systems, has secured a further €3.8m (approx. $4.6m) of funding.

The new round comes from Hasso Plattner Ventures, Moscow’s Kite Ventures, and Team Europe Ventures who are the original backers of the Berlin-based startup.

The injection of capital solidifies SponsorPay’s dominant position in Eurpope, having recently acquired its equally young rival, Hamburg-based GratisPay, in early February. The combined properties’ customers cover the majority of the major online and social game publishers across Europe, including Gameforge, Bigpoint, InnoGames and Frogster.


Topguest Rewards Travelers For Check-Ins At Hotels, Airports, And More

Location based services are moving towards establishing rewards program for check-ins; Foursquare just announced that it would be testing rewards offers to users this week. Topguest, which is backed by the Founders Fund, has an interesting take on the LBS arena; the platform gives travelers loyalty points and rewards for check-ins on Foursquare, Twitter, Gowalla, Yelp, Loopt and even Google Latitude.

So when you ‘check-in‘ at a hotel, frequent flyers’ lounge, board a plane, or rent a car you would would be able to collect a reward from a program you participate in. Topguest will give travelers loyalty points from established programs, such as Intercontinental, Starwood, or Delta’s programs.

You don’t actually have to download a separate application to take advantage of Topguest. You sign up for Topguest with your accounts on the various LBS services you use, and points are automatically credited from all of applications you used to check-in on Topguest.

The biggest challenge for Topguest (besides competing with the rewards programs of the location-based services themselves) will be striking meaningful partnerships with airlines, hotels, and rewards programs. But the startup has already signed on a premium partner-Andre Balazs’ Standard hotels. A Topguest users who checks in on any supported geolocation application and stays at all four Standard hotels in a week will receive a complimentary week stay at The Standard Hollywood, Downtown LA, Miami Beach or New York. Users are also eligible for 25% off their next reservation after 10 check-ins at any Standard hotel, bar or restaurant. Other location-varied rewards include spa treatments, Standard boutique discounts, and cocktails. And the startup has also signed up three other top loyalty programs as well that will be announced later this summer.

Of course, the number of people who will stay at all four Standard hotels in one week is extremely limited. But the rewards for check-ins at Standard bars and restaurants is actually compelling.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Zynga’s FrontierVille Looks To Recreate The Success Of FarmVille In The Wild West

It’s been almost exactly one year since social gaming powerhouse Zynga unleashed what was destined to become an online phenomenon: FarmVille. The game has 70 million monthly active users, many of whom are total addicts. But some gamers are doubtless ready for a new fix, and today, they’re getting just that — Zynga has launched FrontierVille, a Wild West themed game that shares many similarities with FarmVille, but with some new twists designed to instill a greater sense of adventure. We discovered the game back in April when it was still in early testing stages, but it hasn’t been available to the masses until now. To get a better understanding of what FrontierVille brings to the table, I stopped by Zynga headquarters yesterday for a full rundown of the new game, including a thorough demo.

If you’ve played FarmVille, you’ll be right at home in FrontierVille. Many of the same game mechanics are here: you can purchase and harvest crops, and in order to maximize your harvest and in-game bonuses you’ll have to check in at regular intervals throughout the day. But it also has some key differences. For one, the game obviously has a different theme (and it’s one that hasn’t already been pioneered by another popular game, which appears to be a first for Zynga). Perhaps more important, from a gameplay perspective FrontierVille has a number of new features designed to help add a feeling of spontaneity and a better social connection with your in-game friends.  In order to better understand how this differs from FarmVille, I asked FrontierVille GM Brian Reynolds to run through the main differences:

  • One of the biggest changes in FrontierVille involves your neighbors (basically, the friends you’ve connected with in the game, who are always shown in a panel at the bottom of your screen). In FarmVille when you visit a friend’s virtual farm, your potential actions are quite limited — you can’t do much to engage with your friend’s plot of land. In FrontierVille that dynamic has changed. You can now swing by a friend’s plot of land and tend to some of their chores, like harvesting their crops. Doing so gives you a reward, and also helps them save time. There’s one caveat to this though: your friend will have to approve your actions before they take effect (some players prefer to trudge through these tasks on their own).
  • Another social gameplay element is the notion of “hiring” your friends, which entails paying some in-game money to have a buddy harvest your plants or do other tasks. In reality your friends aren’t actually sitting at their computers doing this “work” themselves (which would be pretty boring). Instead, you’re merely controlling their in-game avatar. The social element of this stems from the game’s stat system: over time you can accumulate multiple kinds of experience points, based on how much you’ve engaged with your friends and what you’ve accomplished in the game. The more points you have, the more ‘work’ you do for your friends when they hire you, which in turn makes it more likely that your friends will be looking to hire your avatar.
  • FrontierVille is also putting a much bigger emphasis on its storyline. Soon after you start the game, you’ll encounter a letter from your betrothed who is stuck “out east” — it’s your job to build up your home and garden so that they can come out and join you. Once that happens you can start having children, who you design to look exactly as you want them to. Family members can be used to help decorate your land (which sounds a little weird, I know), and can also help speed up the rate at which you collect resources like wood. In addition to these story elements, there are also new missions that are designed to help mix up gameplay. For example, the game may instruct you to harvest flowers (something that you may not normally do) for the purpose of making a bouquet to woo your spouse.
  • Finally, there’s a new set of features that Reynolds refers to as the “living world effect”. In short, these are events that are beyond your control, which help the virtual world feel more alive. Log off for a few days, and you’ll find that you may have some weeds growing in the yard. Trees will grow larger over time, and eventually they’ll start to drop seeds where seedlings will start growing. And an array of creatures like snakes and bears will sometimes encroach on your territory. They won’t ever actually harm your property, but they drain energy when you’re close to them.

One other addition is a robust item collection mechanic that’s borrowed from Mafia Wars. Gamers can collect a wide array of special items as they play; collecting a “set” of related items usually gives the gamer a stat boost. It’s also worth pointing out that the game will integrate Facebook Credits, obviously a result of the recent agreement that Facebook and Zynga reached after sparring over the payments system.

So will FrontierVille be a success? Probably — Zynga has these gameplay mechanics down to an art, and I don’t doubt that they’ll be able to attract plenty of FarmVille fans to this new game. What’s more, when you start playing FrontierVille you’ll notice that Zynga has integrated a special invite system that lets you immediately invite all of your FarmVille-playing friends to join you (the logic being that folks who like FarmVille will probably like FrontierVille).

That said, despite the new additions, in many senses this is more of the same. The game still relies heavily on repetitive tasks that are restricted by time, and your social interactions with friends are asynchronous (in other words, you aren’t going to be playing alongside your friends at the same time). There are obviously still a huge number of people that enjoy this kind of game. But these game mechanics are going to get old, and I’ll be surprised if Zynga sees another industry-shaking hit of the same magnitude as FarmVille until they start to mix things up more.

Information provided by CrunchBase


California Primary Election Results: Fiorina And Whitman Prevail, Kelly Out

Former tech executives Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman prevailed last night in their respective races in the California primaries. Fiorina, former CEO of HP, won her campaign as the republican candidate for the U.S. Senate for the state of California, taking 54 percent of the vote. She will face incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer come November. TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld interviewed Fiorina in January, where she spoke candidly of her views on government spending, Sarbanes-Oxley and more.

Former eBay exec Meg Whitman won her campaign as the Republican candidate for the California governor’s race, taking 64 percent of the vote. Whitman will face former governor and current State Attorney General Jerry Brown in November. Both Fiorina and Whitman dropped millions of their own money to fund their campaigns. The LA Times reports that Fiorina spent $5 million on her primary campaign and Whitman spent a whopping $71 million of her own money towards her race.

Another former tech exec, Chris Kelly, was not as successful in his bid to be the State Attorney General. Kelly, who was the former Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook, lost the primary election to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris. Similar to Whitman and Fiorina, Kelly spent some of his own fortune on his race; $12 million to be exact.


Group Buying Site Tippr Acquires White Label Deals Startup FanForce

Group buying site Tippr.com has acquired Austin-based deals site FanForce for an undisclosed sum. This follows the company’s acquisition of fellow deal of the day site ChicagoDeals last week.

FanForce offers a white-label Groupon of sorts, allowing small businesses to create their own deals. FanForce takes care of the promotion of deals and offers, sell the vouchers and collect payments. It’s similar in theory to TC Disrupt startup ChompOn, which launched a few weeks ago. The founders of FanForce will join the Tippr management team, including Samy Aboel-Nil who joins Tippr as President/COO, Dane Knecht who joins Tippr as VP of Product Management, and John Whitmarsh, who joins Tippr as CFO.

The collective buying space has seen considerable consolidation as of late. Tippr’s competitor Groupon just bought European deal site CityDeal. And with the growing number of similar sites joining the space, I’d expect the consolidation to continue.

Disclosure: My husband is an employee of Groupon.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Twitter Quietly Adds World Cup Theme

If Twitter is fast becoming the world’s watercooler as it is, watch what happens in the next few weeks as the World Cup takes over the planet. And as with any event of that size and – being a football fan at heart – importance, rest assured that hip Internet companies will be scrambling to lay some easter eggs.

Yesterday, we learned that Google has a special surprise in store for those who search for ‘world cup’ – scroll to the bottom if you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours and you don’t know what we’re referring to.

An eagle-eyed reader just alerted us to the fact Twitter itself is also doing its part, by quietly adding a custom ‘South Africa 2010′ theme to its design gallery.

We don’t know how long it’s been there, but here’s how to get it: go to Twitter.com, log on, go to Settings and then click the Design tab. The theme can be found at the bottom.

Update: also, staff picks on the SUL for World Cup (thanks @Orli)

On a sidenote, the official Fifa World Cup 2010 Twitter account is @fifaworldcuptm, the most-used hashtags seem to be #WC2010 and, of course, #worldcup.

(Hat tip to Michel Wester)

Information provided by CrunchBase


CustomMade Connects Custom Goods Buyers With Artisans, Raises $1.15M

CustomMade, which operates an online marketplace designed to connect buyers of custom made furniture, cabinetry, and other products with artisans, today announced it has secured an angel round of funding for $1.15 million.

The funding will be used to expand consumer-based marketing, branch out into other custom verticals and hire more staff for website development and sales.

CustomMade essentially provides custom goods makers such as woodworkers, metalworkers and glass makers with tools to find an audience for their services. For manual workers and other providers of custom services, CustomMade doubles as a local directory and an online window to their work and skills. For consumers, CustomMade can help in locating the right custom maker for the job.

CustomMade co-founder and CFO Seth Rosen says the company was initially looking for venture capital, but decided to hold off because of accelerating revenue growth, and took in convertible-debt bridge round instead. Rosen adds that the round was quickly oversubscribed.

The fresh capital comes from three unnamed Boston-based angel investors – one of the company’s seed round backers led the round with a $500,000 USD investment.

Rosen and the other co-founder, Mike Salguero, purchased CustomMade in 2009 and grew the community of 350 woodworkers to over 1,200 paying custom artisans today, we’re told.


Online Event Management Software Company Etouches Raises Funding

Etouches, a web?based SaaS provider that caters to event organizers, has raised an undisclosed amount of venture capital funding from a group of investors led by Greycroft Partners II (the firm started by iconic VC Alan Patricof).

Etouches started out 12 years ago as a self-funded, independent meeting planning company, but has since transitioned into a full-fledged software company offering a suite of integrated event management and marketing tools designed to implement and support every phase of the event lifecycle. The product is said to currently serve over 2,000 event programs all around the world annually, and is available in 27 languages.

In addition to Greycroft, the investment group that has now backed Etouches with this initial round of funding includes Connecticut Innovations, Rocky Hill and Cava Capital. The company plans to use the funds to increase and enhance product development as well as marketing and sales efforts.

Etouches was founded by CEO Leonora Valvo and counts two noteworthy independent board members: Leon Shapiro, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Operations at Warner Music Group and Christa Carone, Chief Marketing Officer of Xerox.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Today’s Guardian App Could Teach The NY Times A Thing Or Two


We’ve seen how The New York Times became enraged by the audacity of the Pulse iPad application [iTunes] to use it’s RSS feed in one of the best news readers to appear on that device. Controversially, the app was pulled by Apple after the NYT complained, despite being lauded by Steve Jobs. It’s now been reinstated, without the NYT as a default feed. So consider a different scenario: the newspaper that embraces new technology and new ways of reading to the betterment of its audience and the subsquent deep engagement it could garner.


Markit Buys Website And Application Developer Wall Street On Demand

Financial information services giant Markit this morning announced that it has agreed to acquire Wall Street On Demand, a company that has specialized in the design, development and hosting of financial services websites and applications.

Wall Street On Demand is based in Boulder, Colorado, has over 350 employees and claims to provide its services to most of the major brokerage firms in the US, Canada, and Australia.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.


Google Switches On Maps Navigation, Voice Search For More Countries

Google Maps Navigation for Android now works outside the US or UK as the free turn-by-turn navigation system has been switched on for users in Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium (update: and Portugal).

In addition, Google Search by voice is now available for French, German, Italian, and Spanish speakers. English, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese were already supported.

Google also detailed how it goes about adding new languages for Voice Search:

Our goal is to bring Google Search by voice to speakers of all languages. We follow a rigorous process to add each new language or dialect. Working directly with native speakers in each country, we spend weeks collecting spoken utterances to create the specific models which power the service.

Our helpers are asked to read popular queries in their native tongue, in a variety of acoustic conditions such as in restaurants, out on busy streets, and inside cars. We also construct, for each language, a vocabulary of over one million recognizable words. It’s no small feat, but we love doing it.

A side-effect of this approach, Google says, is that if you’re a Spanish speaker in Mexico you may find that the service doesn’t work as advertised because of the difference in accents.

Voice Search works on the iPhone, Blackberry and Nokia S60 devices. Obviously, it also works on Android devices, although you best check the blog post announcing the addition of the newly supported languages to know how you can active it. Also, the application is only available in the Android Markets for France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Google Maps Navigation is available in version 4.2 of Google Maps, on Android devices 1.6 and higher.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Sprint: Yeah OK, We Didn’t Sell That Many HTC EVO 4G Phones

HTC EVO 4GRemember when Sprint said the total number of HTC EVO 4G devices sold on its launch day was three times the number of Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre devices sold over their first three days on the market combined, last Monday?

Yeah, that didn’t really happen.

The company now admits it had “inadvertently overstated” the launch day sales of the HTC phone, and that in reality it was in line with the number of Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre devices sold over their first three days on the market combined. That makes a world of difference.

The press release, which you can still find on the Sprint website, has been updated with the following statement:

This release was distributed on June 7, 2010. It was updated on June 8, 2010. June 4, 2010 sales of HTC EVO 4G marked the largest quantity of a single phone sold in one day ever for Sprint – the record was previously held by both Samsung Instinct and Palm Pr. Launch day sales of HTC EVO 4G were six times greater than launch day sales of Samsung Instinct and nearly twice the launch day sales for Palm Pre. We continue to see sales of EVO 4G outpace sales of Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre.

We originally reported that the total number of HTC EVO 4G devices sold on launch day was three times the number of Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre devices sold over their first three days on the market combined. We inadvertently erred in the comparison. The total number of HTC EVO 4G devices sold on launch day was in line with the number of Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre devices sold over their first three days on the market combined.

In case you hadn’t noticed, we have published three different takes on the HTC EVO 4G so far, by MG Siegler, Matt Burns at MobileCrunch and now Michael Arrington.

The gist of their reviews: don’t buy it.

The news of the numbers mix-up on Sprint’s behalf has now led analysts to also cut their sales predictions, assisted by the fact that the phone has sold out in most outlets across America, while additional stock is low.


Google Calendar Caught In An Infinite Loop For Some Users

Looks like a subset of Google Calendar users are running into the same issue when trying to load the service this morning. Based on a flurry of complaints vented on Twitter, it looks like the service gets caught in an infinite loop and keeps reloading / redirecting for some users, regardless of which browser they use.

From what we can gather, also from the Google Calendar Help forum, clearing cookies seems to fix things (but yelling doesn’t).

Update: Google has updated its Apps Status Dashboard and released a brief notice:

We’re aware of a problem with Google Calendar affecting a significant subset of users. The affected users are unable to access Google Calendar, but we’ve provided a workaround below. Google Apps Premier Edition users are not affected by this problem. We will provide an update by June 9, 2010 9:02:00 AM UTC-7 detailing when we expect to resolve the problem. Please note that this resolution time is an estimate and may change.

To resolve this issue, clear your cookies or sign out and then sign back into your Google account.

Google Calendar has been plagued with downtime for an extended period of time last April, and again in May. Does that mean we now get a monthly appointment with the FAIL?

UPDATE 2: Google has resolved the issue.


Don’t Buy The HTC EVO, It Is A Seriously Flawed Device

Let’s start things off with a disclaimer – I love Android phones. Last year I left the iPhone and switched to Android largely because of the amazing usefulness of Google Voice, and only Android devices truly let you take over your phone with a Google Voice app and have the perfect experience. I have extensively tested nearly all Android phones to date.

Around TechCrunch I’m the die hard Android Fan (Jason Kincaid is a close second). MG Siegler irrationally loves the iPhone and it has become an important fashion accessory and self confidence crutch in his San Francisco hipster lifestyle. I’m pretty sure Apple could remove the iPhone’s ability to make calls entirely and MG would still find a way to love it. You can read his review of iPhone 4 here. Summary: “It’s Awesome.”

I was happy to use the TMobile myTouch when I first left the iPhone. When the Droid launched it was a serious step up, and the fact that it’s on Verizon doesn’t hurt either. But it wasn’t until the Nexus One that I began to think that Android phones could stand toe to toe with the iPhone even without the Google Voice boost.

Nexus One uses the Snapdragon 1 GHz core processor, which just rocks. The device is slim and has decent battery life. And it’s a clean install of Android with no messy additional carrier or OEM software to muck everything up. The phone, launched in January, is now ancient by mobile product cycle standards. But it is aging very gracefully.

When MG reviewed the new HTC EVO, which is now selling out in the U.S., I wasn’t surprised he gave it a thumbs down. The device was too big in his opinion, the software too flaky. And the battery life isn’t just bad, it’s 90′s laptop bad. You need to be near a power source at all times.

But the commenters came at him anyway, attacking so viciously that they were actually starting to act like the evil twins of rabid Apple fanboys. “Android Fanboys Have Arrived,” quipped MG.

Well, I’m an Android Fanboy, and I’m telling you not to buy this device. The battery life is abysmal – MobileCrunch calls it a “dealbreaker” and I agree. Yes you can do a few things to get a little extra time out of it, but this device routinely runs out of power while sitting on standby overnight next to my bed. You aren’t just charging this once a day. Or twice a day. You need to be thinking about your next power fix just about any time you are using it. I keep chargers at home, in my office, in my car, and an extra one to suck power from my laptop. That keeps it going, but it isn’t fun.

And it’s more than that. The HTC Sense user interface and all the extra HTC and Sprint software on this device just makes it a joke for anyone that wants to fully control and customize their device. You can get rid of or at least turn off much of it, but it’s a pain to do that. And worse, you can’t upgrade the Android OS to new releases until HTC and Sprint are ready to let you do that. See Gizmodo for a full analysis of the problem.

And all this software trying to work together and in layers really does result in lots of bugs – particularly with photos. Quite often they fail to save and you have to reboot the device.

If you want an Android phone right now, get a Nexus One. In January I believed it was by far the best phone on the market. The new iPhone 4, though, is clearly superior. I’d rather see you buy that device and deal with the Apple dictatorship than get a phone you aren’t going to be happy with. Or wait a few months for a better Android phone. It won’t take long for something even better to come along.

And if you insist on getting an EVO, I highly recommend you pick up a second phone, perhaps a $25 prepaid type device, so that you can actually make phone calls when your EVO’s battery dies.

MG might be the most loyal Apple Fanboy in the world, but his review of the EVO was dead on.