Facebook gains Mobile App Developer Team ahead of IPO

Mobile consumer app developer Lightbox, known for its Lightbox Photo mobile app, has announced that it is joining Facebook, but that Facebook did not purchase the company. Still it looks as if it is shutting down its operation and will release as open source portions of its code.

Seven employees will join Facebook but no user data or technology will come with them. The deal, is not that surprising although before the IPO is a bit of a surprise. Facebook is just days away from its IPO and it has talked about mobile apps pretty much non-stop for the last few weeks.

Demand to be included in the IPO is great, and it was recently reported that the company recently is raising its initial public offering from $34 to $38 a share, a move that will raise as much as $12.8 billion and give the company a valuation of as much as $104.2 billion.

Some cracks in the IPO facade
While it has been relatively smooth sailing for Facebook and its executives doing its pre-IPO road show, they have run into a few issues and more seem to be bubbling to the surface. At the most obvious level is its admission that it has almost no revenue from its huge mobile presence and that will be its top priority going forward.

This of course is very important to app developers looking to leverage Facebook’s huge presence in the mobile space. How will Facebook seek to monetize this area and will it tap app developers as a potential source?

As should be expected with an event that has generated as much attention as the IPO, there are two sides to the analysts positions on the company, with some saying that the valuation is simply too high for a company with this type of business model while others say it is not high enough. Will it have the staying power of AOL and Second Life or Apple and Microsoft? Who knows and we will probably not know for years to come.

Of course the fact that Facebook’s offer of 337.4 million shares is already oversubscribed says a lot about the impact of these types of warnings. Hold on, it has just been reported that the company is adding an additional 85 million shares to the offering, bringing the value of the IPO to an estimated $16 billion.

However its mainstream model has taken a high profile hit this week when General Motors said that it would cease advertising on Facebook. The giant car maker revealed that it had spent a total of $40 million on advertising, with $10 million going directly to Facebook, yet it sees no real results from that effort. Instead it will continue its use of the free pages that Facebook provides.

A second troubling sign could be seen in the results of this recent Associated Press/CNBC poll that shows a large number of people see Facebook as a fad. Of course I have to wonder if that was also true with the automobile and the telephone? Still 51% also have a favorable opinion of the company and the difference in opinion on a wide variety of topics facing the company is strongly divided, with users much more favorable to the company than non-users. The poll has a wealth of data that can be seen here.

So why do we care about Facebook here at Mobile Sports Report? Well take a look for a sports league on it. It has the usual such as the NHL and NFL but also a huge number of sports that might not readily come to mind such as Foosball and Disc Golf. Many sites list apps or other programs in links. It presents a huge opportunity for app developers to leverage social media to enhance and advertise their products.

One recent example of that opportunity is that the Facebook travel app Gogobot has just hit 1 million registered users, according to Mashable. Now fad or not but 900 million users, or whatever the number is now, is a huge market and something that a developer wants to exploit. As with all markets it is good to know the positive as well as the negative.

U.S. Justice Department Charges Apple, 5 Publishers with Price Fixing

High flying Apple, whose market value recently topped $600 billion, has been hit by charges from the United States Justice Department alleging that Apple and five publishing partners have engaged in price fixing.

The charges allege that Apple and five publishers: Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin Group (USA), and Macmillan conspired to end competition on ebooks and set a higher price, with Apple being guaranteed a 30% commission on each sale.

The deal was reached in 2010 the reports said, right when Apple introduced the iPad and was aimed at Amazon and was intended to limit Amazon’s ability to discount ebooks, which it was then selling at $9.99 for new and recently released offerings.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal three of the publishers have already reached an accord with the Justice Department and have said that they will terminate any such agreement with Apple. Those are Hachett, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins.

The overall outcome of this will be interesting to see. In the past the Justice Department has gone after some other major players in hi-tech, notably IBM and Microsoft, and has won its cases. Apple has been increasingly litigious in recent years but this is a much bigger foe than someone such as Samsung or Motorola Mobility.

However when you ask people about what Apple does, very few would mention that it makes a competitive e-reader. In fact some may not know that is a very valuable use of the iPad, showing that this is not really a major market for its products.

So why not settle? It has been reported that three of the publishers already have, but also that Apple has been fighting the charges. I suspect that in the long run Apple will find that it is cheaper simply to tag along on the settlements negotiated by its former partners.

Major Apps Designed to Data Harvest Apple iOS Users

Is there a mole in your iPhone?

Are iPhone apps stealing data off your smartphone?
In a general sense it looks like the answer is yes, even if you as an individual are unaffected. A series of studies has shown that it looks like the market as a whole has not been immune to this problem but it is running rampart and is lead by some of the leading app developers.

While to some it might seem that harvesting data such as contacts is a minor issue consider that may use their smartphones for both work and personal use and there could be a good deal of proprietary information on the phone.

While the current list of offenders comes from the world of corporate app developers the next generation destined to exploit this issue will no doubt be hackers, something that could pose a major issue to all concerned.

A study by VentureBeat comes after a developer called Path was caught in the act harvesting names, numbers and e-mail addresses and storing that information on its servers. Venture Beat found that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that it is very likely that an iPhone user has one or more of the apps involved.

VentureBeat used a program called mitmproxy that is a traffic monitoring utility to observe data traffic and found that a host of applications were uploading personal data from the iPhones, in some cases unencrypted.

A list of some of the players is a who’s who of apps, much over shadowing the much smaller and less popular Path. Included in this list is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Foodspotting, Yelp, and Gowalla. They do not all do exactly the same thing but it is an interesting read over at the VentureBeat site.

At the same time it appears that Google has developed work around for safeguards in Apple’s Safari browser that enable Google to place tracking cookies that circumvent Apple’s default privacy settings. The workaround affected not just iPhones but Mac computers, iPads, and iPod Touch.

Google has said that it has disabled the code that enabled the actions and said that it was unintentional. However a complaint has been filed against the company with the FTC.

Apps for the iOS platform from Apple are in violation of Apple’s guidelines, which prohibits the app from sending information about a user without their permission. The company said that it is working to tighten this up in the future, according to Enterprise Mobility Today.

However it is not just iOS apps that are an issue here. The Federal Trade Commission has just issued a warning that smartphone apps can invade a child’s privacy and advocates are calling for greater safeguards. I wonder if this market segment, largely left to its own devices will start to see the advent of more, and increasingly tougher regulations due to the actions of a few developers.

HP First to Fail in Tablet Space

Hewlett-Packard has indicated that it is departing the PC business and it looks to jettison its TouchPad tablet device as well. The company said that it will focus on its strategic priorities of cloud, solutions and software with an emphasis on enterprise, commercial and government market. One of the early pioneers in the PC space this move is probably a sign, much like IBM’s departure from this space a few years back, that the overall market is both mature and changing.

Most mature markets see a reduction in the number of suppliers, and as Scott McNealy, once CEO of Sun Microsystems said years back, the PC industry is now just a distribution system for Intel and Microsoft. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs recently said that the issue with a number of the tablet makers is that they are touting speeds and feeds, just like in the PC’s heyday, rather than focusing on tight integration of hardware and software and seamless user experience.

Yet it was just two months ago that HP released its TouchPad tablet, to poor reviews and reports of very poor sales, it should be noted. Built on the WebOS operating system it gained via its $1.2bn purchase of Palm last year, it looks like it is flushing all of that away. There are reports that the company has sold just a fraction of its already built tablets, compared with Apple’s estimated 9 million plus in the last quarter.

For tablet users it means one less offering, and for developers’ one less operating system that they might have to consider. It is likely that the market will break down to two major operating systems, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, probably leaving Blackberry and any others out in the cold. Currently market researchers are predicting that Apple will maintain the lion’s share of the market for the next few years and then the Android wave will overtake them. This is a market that, according to market research firm Informa, will experience a ten fold growth by 2015, with an estimated about 87 million Android tablets sold in 2015, compared with 90 million iPads, according to the estimate.

Remind anybody of the PC market? For HP, think they might spin off the business? I have a good name for it, Compaq.

Could Twitter + Mobile Phones Kill ESPN?

Seeing the news today about ESPN teaming up with Foursquare to provide a platform for fans at events is evidence that The Mother Ship of sports is doing all it can to keep astride of the latest trends. But as our purposely provacative headline asks, is there a new “broadcast” paradigm emerging that could allow Twitter and fans on mobile phones to become the dominant method of disseminating sports news, opinions and information?

Before you dismiss the idea as crazy, remember that when ESPN debuted in 1979 it was seen as a place where you could watch Australian Rules football and exercise videos. Nobody at the time was guessing that ESPN would eventually replace the major networks or newspapers atop the sports-media scene, but some 30-plus years later that has come to pass.

The way that happened is a long story but one of the key reasons for ESPN’s surge to the top was its ability to satisfy the insatiable American appetite for sports coverage, news and opinions, through strategy (a 24-hour focus on sports) and technology (cable TV). I remember watching SportsCenter one night in the mid-80s when I worked as a sportswriter at a daily newspaper, and hearing my legendary editor Dan Creedon say about the show, “you know, these guys are killing off what we do.”

After watching 30 minutes of highlights and scores on TV moments after the games had finished our typeset page of baseball box scores — which wouldn’t be read until the next morning — seemed hopelessly quaint. Now I am wondering if Twitter and ESPN are at a similar inflection point.

Though ESPN is as out front as possible when it comes to the Web and mediums like Twitter and Facebook, the ability for anyone with an Internet connection to be able to “broadcast” their news, views and opinions at any time at all takes away some of the exclusivity and insider status that ESPN and all other established media brands currently hold.

And while established “voices” in the sporting media will no doubt retain or improve their popularity via the exposure of social media, an area where ESPN has no exclusivity is in direct fan-to-fan or friend-to-friend contact, which has become a huge part of how we enjoy sporting events both live and from the couch. No longer do you have to watch a game and listen to Brent Musberger drone on with Tostitos-laced commentary; you can “gather” a group of BS-trading friends on Twitter, via text message or even in a video chat to share your own observations and comments.

Twitter also allows fans to cherry pick the best content from any major provider who is covering a sport or an event, making Twitter a default aggregator that can take commentary from media types, teams and even the athletes themselves — all at no cost to Twitter. ESPN, meanwhile, needs to keep paying huge fees for exclusive broadcast rights. Which business model would you invest in, going forward?

Though ESPN is probably not going to run out of money anytime soon it’s also worthwhile to think that we probably never imagined that the cable channel that once highlighted caber-tossing would someday run its own awards ceremony or broadcast major league baseball games or take over Monday Night Football. So while it might be unlikely to view Twitter as a potential competitor to ESPN I think it’s worth considering that the “Twitter Channel” is already with us. How it grows and where it goes — especially in the world of sports — is going to be an interesting trek to follow.

Mobile Sports Viewers Winners in AT&T ‘Sideloading’ Move

The Samsung Infuse supports applications from sources outside AT&T Marketplace

The Samsung Infuse 4G is the first AT&T device to support app 'sideloading.' Photo source: Samsung.com

AT&T finally backed down, and not a moment too soon (for its own sake).

The wireless giant said today it will allow AT&T smartphone customers with Android mobile devices access to sports and other applications through the Internet and well-stocked but unsanctioned app stores.

Before today’s move, AT&T had a long-standing policy to prohibit applications unless they were downloaded through AT&T AppCenter, which is a proprietary marketplace run by the communications giant. The Samsung Infuse 4G is the first AT&T device capable of running applications from other sources, which is a process called “sideloading.”

According to a Wired.com report, pressure from Amazon.com forced AT&T’s hand.  Greater than 3,800 Android applications, including a new version of the blockbuster Angry Birds game, were unavailable to AT&T users because they could not access Amazon.com’s newly launched Amazon Appstore for Android.

While Angry Birds was clearly the driver, NFL team-themed clock widgets, free TackMaster horse racing selections, and Mixed Martial Arts applications were also beyond the reach of AT&T customers before today’s move.  

Although The Samsung Infuse 4G is the first AT&T device to allow sideloading, the HTC Inspire 4G, Samsung Captivate, HTC Aria and LG Thrive are other AT&T devices slated to receive new-found downloading freedom through a network software upgrade, according to Wired.com.

AT&T’s move is good for mobile sports consumers. As sports apps continue to emerge as key for many smartphone users, restricted access to marketplaces could enable cellular phone service providers to tack a surcharge onto popular or niche-oriented applications that enable viewing. Wouldn’t it suck to pay $9.99 to view a season’s worth of broadcasts of your favorite team only to discover that your neighbor purchased the same application for $7.99 because his wireless communications provider supported sideloading and yours didn’t?