Monthly Archives: December 2012

Samsung To Build A Massive R&D Complex In Silicon Valley

You might finally start seeing some Android phones out in the wild around Silicon Valley. Samsung Electronics Co. just announced a major expansion of its Silicon Valley operations, which includes a gigantic 1.1M square-foot headquarters for Samsung Semiconductor and a 385k square-foot facility for Samsung Information Systems America.

The 10-story SSI HQ will be located just north of downtown San Jose and house the R&D and sales staff for the semiconductor and display businesses. Designed by NBBJ, the complex will include a parking garage and amenity pavilion, which isn’t detailed in the press release, but I only assume will include free food, trendy but uncomfortable seating and free QR tattoos.

SISA is signing a 15-year lease for two 6-story buildings on an 8.5-acre site. Located in Cypress Business Park in Mountain View, the facility, the press release indicates, will be constructed to LEED Gold standards. It also overlooks the US 101, so that’s nice.

Samsung was able to make these moves thanks to significant state and local tax breaks. As The EE Times reported back in August, among the tax incentives, Samsung will also receive a discounted rate from Pacific Gas and Electric.

“Samsung’s expansion in California is great news and it further strengthens the state’s role as a world leader in innovation,” said California Governor Jerry Brown, in a statement back in August. “Here’s a case where government and business work together—and everyone benefits.”

There is a movement to find the next Silicon Valley. But there is no place like Silicon Valley. Just ask Apple, Google, HP, Samsung and the thousands of tech companies located there.

Trade A Bit Of Facebook Privacy For Free Samsung TecTiles, Flip Covers

The gift-giving has ended as we head into the new year, but many of us still need to pick up a few things. For example, if you happen to be a new owner of the Galaxy S III or Galaxy Note II, you probably need a few extra NFC-powered TecTiles and perhaps a brand new flip cover.

Samsung has announced it will give away six free TecTiles and a flip cover for every customer that registers their Galaxy S III or Galaxy Note II to Samsung’s Owner’s Hub on Facebook. That means that you’ll be giving Samsung some personal info, like access to your Facebook Timeline, in exchange for the swag.

A cover is always important, so if you don’t have one already this is a good way to check that off your list. But the real value is in the TecTiles, in my humble opinion.

TecTiles allow you to leverage the power of your NFC-equipped phone. Samsung has made great strides in the NFC department, equipping many of its major phones with an NFC chip. This lets users share photos and other content by simply tapping their phones, as long as both have NFC. They’ve shown this magic in multiple commercials recently.

But if you want to enjoy the seamless wonder of NFC by your lonesome, TecTiles are the way to go. They let you program certain commands to each specific tag, such as a Facebook check-in, changing your settings to enable Wi-Fi, or turning on your ringer. So each time you tap your phone against a specific tag, it initiates that already-programmed action, automating your phone.

Normally TecTiles cost $15 for a pack of five, so this is a great deal, as long as you’re willing to give Samsung a little extra access to your Facebook.

[via Engadget]

Unnatural Acts And The Rise Of Mobile

Editor’s note: Keith Teare is General Partner at his incubator Archimedes Labs and CEO of recently funded He was a co-founder of TechCrunch.

As all predatory, or formerly predatory, men and women know, if you’re at a party and still by yourself at 2 a.m., and the drinks have been flowing, bad behavior replaces etiquette as the crowd shrinks. That’s when desperation to not leave alone kicks in.

There is a new law emerging in cyberspace. As desktop traffic growth declines, and mobile adoption explodes, predatory marketers need to monetize mobile traffic or die trying.

As this law takes hold, bad behavior is replacing smart long-term product thinking. The result is an explosion of unnatural acts of engagement. Facebook allows users to escape its filters (designed to give a good experience) by paying to force their Facebook posts in front of their friends — $7 a time and you’re golden. Twitter sends constant reminders about “what you missed” on its service. Google Plus has notification defaults set to a level that results in constant stream of inane emails.

Users are the net losers in this festival of lowering the bar when it comes to how badly behaved a marketer is permitted to be in order to drive use.

Let’s examine this increasingly desperate effort to engage with users.

1. The key driver is that mobile CPMs are only 15 percent of desktop CPMs. As traffic migrates, seven ads on mobile bring the same revenue as one on the desktop, because the lower CPMs coincide with lower click-through rates.

Mary Meeker outlines the gap in this slide, covered by our own Kim-Mai Cutler:

The possibility exists in 2013 that the absolute revenues of the major players will decline as desktop revenues suffer and mobile revenues fail to make up the difference, even as they grow dramatically. This nightmare scenario is key to understanding what is driving bad behavior by marketers and product leaders. Bradley Horowitz recently made some pretty good jokes about Facebook’s bad behavior, but Google is not immune from this disease, although its large revenues from desktop search possibly delay the impact compared to Facebook.

Indeed, Google, due to its high desktop-based revenues, should be more focused on the trend than anybody. It has way more to lose than either Facebook or Twitter. All three companies are clearly more than capable of facing the mobile tsunami from a personnel point of view. But tsunamis have a way of being hard to handle no matter how good you are. And shortcuts tend to turn into nightmares.

2. 2013 will be the year of the Chief Marketing Officer.

 The need to monetize mobile traffic will dominate Google, Facebook, Twitter and others in 2013. And the pressure is to do it quickly due to the collapse in the growth of desktop-based traffic. Successful CMOs will avoid the pitfalls of driving unnatural acts of engagement and focus on user-benefits derived from monetization strategies. Google did a great job of this in Web 2.0. Adsense and Adwords were a perfect fit for a search-focused user and were crafted to benefit the user, or at least not detract from a user’s goals. Mobile needs to discover a similar organic form of monetization. This is, of course, hard. Mobile is not search-centric. It has several centers – messaging, communications, news, media capture and sharing, entertainment and games. These are all very different and will require unique and new means of developing relationships between users and advertisers.

3. In the absence of long-term thinking, all streams will eventually turn into marketing-infested flows.

This Christmas I received emails from a variety of service providers who had the primary goal of pulling me into, or back into, their service. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. If the email had been on the money, and had drawn me in, I may have even welcomed it. But to a fault these were unnatural seduction attempts. My inbox was rendered unusable by the volume of these solicitations. The worst was sent to an alias I use on Twitter. It wasn’t even in my native tongue, nor a tongue I can read without the help of a translation service. But even those in English were transparent in their inability to really tempt me. Re-marketing is increasing part of these efforts.

I have lost count of how many ads offering me products that I have already purchased have flown past me on various sites and devices recently. Even the ad stream is becoming polluted. Targeting efforts are at the bottom of this trend. But from a user point of view targeting is poor and therefore irritating. The recent attempt by Facebook to alter the Instagram terms and conditions, and privacy policy, was a mistake, and acknowledged, but nonetheless it was driven by these desperate efforts.

 4. Destination site thinking replaces platform thinking.

A major symptom of the frenzy to monetize is that previously platform-centric products are reverting to destination-site thinking. Twitter’s adoption of media embedding, Instagram’s decision to pull its content from Twitter, Facebook’s launch of Poke and Google’s failure to add a write API to its G+ platform all display an “own the user” mentality. AdSense and AdWords would never have been invented had Larry and Sergey not understood the value of providing a monetization platform for others to benefit from, even for users not on Google. This is the type of thinking required today but currently all roads point to several varied attempts to re-portalize; that is to say, to own your own traffic and seek to monetize it. This is the old Yahoo view of the world and it clearly represents a limited mindset that will not scale to the huge mobile opportunity. For Twitter in particular, which has a large global opportunity as a platform, this trend represents a shrinking of its real opportunity.

 5. Platforms steal ideas rather than partner or acquire.

Twitter implemented URL shortening rather than partnering with; Facebook launched Poke rather than seek to integrate with or acquire Snapchat. We will see more of this in 2013. One could argue that Google+ as a whole represents this thinking, the opposite of Google’s prior history as a platform company. This is driven by the same desperation as the other trends. Jason Calacanis has a good post on this topic that you should read if you missed it.

6. Advertising on mobile becomes a process of force feeding users with messages from desperate publishers.

There is a lot of money in mobile. Apple and Samsung make money from handsets. Apple and, to a lesser extent, Google make money from apps. E-commerce players make money. Carriers make money from data plans. Advertising is so far disappointing both in terms of its scale and its growth trajectory, as well as the value of a CPM. This disappointment forces mobile marketers to either innovate in the meaning of advertising on mobile or to systematically force feed both a large volume of ads, as well as attempt to target those ads in such a way that higher CPMs can be achieved. Everybody becoming an advertiser and paying for one’s attention is one way we see this. Limiting the distribution of a post, and then incenting payment for the post to be seen, is the ultimate in bad behavior. It won’t work out well.

7. Intimacy and long-term relationships are a forgotten goal.

The essence of good behavior is to start by helping the user achieve a goal. The essence of a mobile device is that it is intimate. Unlike a screen on the wall, where an ad can be irritating, but understandable; or a screen on your desk where a well placed and content-targeted ad can be even helpful; a mobile ad is almost always an intrusion due to the behavior it interrupts being mostly personal and intimate. Of course this is compounded by the real estate it steals from the small screen. The short-term revenue win from displaying an ad is offset by the long-term relationship damage done between the user and the publisher showing the ad. The sense of being a “target” rather than a person is a growing experience, as our sensibilities are increasingly offended.

8. Users become cynical.

The net impact of desperation-driven bad behavior is that users become cynical of publishers they formerly embraced. Privacy invasions, behavior changes by apps, and other experiences lead to the assumption that we, the users, are nothing more than ad fodder. The sad thing here is that users want their favorite publishers to make money, so that they can fund the app or service in question. But the crude methods of monetization are leading to alienation, not love.

9. Advertisers become cynical.

The real nightmare for the industry here is that advertisers also become cynical. Upsetting users is not high on the list of advertisers’ goals. As users react, advertisers will run in the opposite direction. The already slow growth of mobile advertising will slow even further and the already large gap between the hours spent on mobile and the advertising dollars focused on it will grow further. Nobody wants this, but everybody is fuelling it. It is time to take a deep breath and collectively think about how to have the opposite impact.

10. New apps and services can grow quickly by offering intimacy and control to users.

Intimacy is the currency on mobile. Intimacy is a great thing, of course. Users love the ability to engage with those they like, love, and admire, and even those they hate and detest, in a personal mobile space. Apps that feed or empower this intimacy have prospered. Apps that trample over it have suffered. Success stories include WhatsApp, LINE, KakaoTalk, WeChat, Instagram, Voxer, Tango, Skype and others. Central to intimacy is control. If a user’s outputs can be accidentally leaked to people outside of their control, the user will not be happy. TVs are not intimate and control is ceded to the broadcaster or service provider. Desktops are more intimate and ads had to be organic to succeed. Mobile is 100 percent intimate, and bad behavior – and I include targeting here – will fail to produce scalable revenues. Doc Searls, in his Vendor Realtionship Management thoughts, has captured much of this thinking. His book “The Intention Economy, When Customers Take Charge” is a must-read book for the class of 2013 CMOs.

11. Mobile revenue can grow, and even exceed desktop CPMs if long-term models based on organic and intimate relationships between users and brands are at the core.

I definitely long for an unpolluted stream that is 100 percent capable of telling me things I want to be told. I also would love a way to tell the advertisers which brands I love, whether it be my favorite airline, movie theater, restaurant, camera vendor or whatever. I would love a way to regulate or control how my favorite vendors interact with me. Throttling them when they send too much or the wrong stuff, killing their ability to reach me when they behave badly, embracing them when they serve me well. Mobile, as an intimate device, is a great area to place the controls needed to realize much of this. And it scales too. Every human being on the planet has intimate tastes and relationships they love. This is true for their relationships to people, brands, products, organizations, and other entities. Two billion smartphones by the end of 2013 and every entity on the planet makes for a very large opportunity to allow users to become the boss, and for brands to enter into adult relationships with the customers who love them. Mobile is the perfect platform for the dream of one-to-one marketing to finally exist.

But today’s desperation-driven bad behavior, full of unnatural acts of engagement, will sadly have the opposite impact.

Time for all of us to reflect.

[Image via]

Michigan Becomes Latest State To Protect Citizens From Employers And Schools Snooping On Private Social Feeds

Employers and schools in Michigan, the greatest state in the Nation, are now prohibited from asking employees and students for passwords to their personal email and social media accounts. In a win for reasonable privacy and common sense, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder just signed House Bill 5523 into law introduced by state Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton.

“Cyber security is important to the reinvention of Michigan, and protecting the private internet accounts of residents is a part of that,” Snyder said in a released statement on 12/28/2012. “Potential employees and students should be judged on their skills and abilities, not private online activity.”

The bill also protects job and school applicants from having to give out their passwords. Offenders to the new law could be charged with a misdemeanor and charged up to a $1,000 fine.

Bills such as these are in response to a troubling trend that surfaced in 2012. Employers and schools were found asking current and prospective employees and students for access to their online accounts. This was often labeled as voluntary but not complying often had negative effects. Earlier this year, the United States House of Representatives failed in an attempt to ratify a Federal ban, paving the way for states to take up the responsibility.

California, Delaware, Illinois, and New Jersey have similar laws on the books. But remember, there’s a difference between private and personal, and anything you put online will never be completely private — right, Randi?

[image via mittenmade]

Facebook’s High-Stakes Poker Game

Editor’s note: Antone Johnson is a startup lawyer specializing in early-stage consumer Internet and location-based businesses, with particular emphasis on social and digital media. Before founding his own firm, he served as eHarmony’s first VP of Legal Affairs and was one of the original in-house lawyers at Myspace. Follow him on Twitter @antonejohnson.

“Ma’am, we at the FBI do not have a sense of humor that we’re aware of.” – Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black

Is it juvenile to snicker at the obvious double entendre of Facebook’s new ephemeral messaging app, Poke, given its utility for sexting? If so, send me back to repeat sophomore year, but the powers-that-be are unlikely to crack a grin.

Facebook has rightly been accused of creating a slavish copy of Snapchat, a viral sensation that surpassed one billion shared photos last month.  The speed with which Facebook was able to emulate and release a competing app  12 days in the making, according to Facebook’s Blake Ross  is cited as an example of the competitive threat Facebook and other giants pose to new social startups. Yet Poke may turn out to be a poster child for why most multi-billion-dollar public companies try not to break things, and as a consequence, are often precluded from moving fast like startups.

It would be foolish for most companies to build a clone and expect it to succeed at all, let alone approach Snapchat’s massive usage, but Facebook isn’t your ordinary competitor. With its billion active users, trove of personal data and immediate access to their social graphs, the network effects are unparalleled. Facebook also has unique competitive disadvantages on multiple fronts that could render Poke a crippling liability for the company; paradoxically, the more successful Poke becomes, the more it may hurt the company as a whole.

Facebook has grappled with the consequences of its market dominance for years. The recent ruckus over Terms of Use changes for Instagram under its ownership is only the latest example of Facebook’s uneasy relationship with the public on privacy issues. The company’s governing philosophy of stretching the boundaries of personal transparency while simultaneously insisting on the use of real-world identities  coupled with its tendency to ask for forgiveness rather than permission  has drawn the ire of regulators and advocacy groups.

More than any other company, Facebook surely appreciates the extent to which massive use of a social service draws massive abuse, as predators “go fishing where the fish are.” The sheer volume of tragic incidents involving teens at Myspace and Facebook forced the companies to come to the table and strike a “voluntary” deal in 2008 with attorney generals nationwide to address vexing, persistent child-safety issues.  The thousands of smaller sites were largely ignored. Scale can make all the difference between benign obscurity and CEOs being hauled into Congressional committee hearings.

Setting aside the debate over what proportion of usage and growth is driven by sexting, the ability to send images that disappear after no more than 10 seconds using an app that alerts the sender if the recipient takes a screen shot, removes some psychological barriers. The percentage of total “snaps” involving nudity may be low, but the possibility that interactions could take that turn at any moment undoubtedly adds a charge to the hormone-flooded young brain. Speaking from experience at Myspace, a site that banned outright nudity from inception, our young user base had seemingly infinite desire to push the boundaries and circumvent those rules at every opportunity. They also knew that to freely exchange nude images they had to go elsewhere: From ImageShack or Photobucket to Kik or MMS. Today, Snapchat is that elsewhere; tomorrow it may be Poke.

There’s nothing inherently problematic or illegal about sexting between consenting adults, but minors are another story. Law enforcement is currently grappling with a head-on conflict between the realities of teen behavior and the legal status of sexting images: Possession and distribution of child pornography is a serious felony – one of the FBI’s highest enforcement priorities – punishable by lengthy prison sentences and registration as a sex offender. Authorities often use discretion not to prosecute peer sexting incidents among teens, rightly viewing those laws as disproportionately harsh for the context. Yet that doesn’t mitigate the fact that a service such as Snapchat (and now Poke) at any given time is guaranteed to be in possession of thousands or millions of images the FBI considers to be “contraband.”

If there is one existential threat to Snapchat, assuming its continued popularity and eventual revenue model, this is it. Even if we instantly became comfortable as a society with sexting among teens as relatively benign (fat chance), there will still be interactions between adults and minors. As it scales to tens of millions of users and ugly headlines begin to appear about creepy use by sexual predators, it’s a certainty that law enforcement will come knocking with search warrants in hand for records in cases of suspected underage porn and solicitation of minors.

Encryption keys be damned; under the right kind of court order or warrant, services will be compelled to retain and produce some images and data for specific users. (Privacy advocates may be outraged at the concept that “ephemeral messaging” isn’t completely ephemeral, but consider how you would react if a 35-year-old man were sending pictures of his genitalia, however ephemeral, to your 13-year-old daughter.)  This is why Snapchat, like most social media services, includes “CYA” language in its privacy policy:  “We may share your personal information with third parties… [to] comply with laws or to respond to lawful requests and legal process.”

These issues aren’t new, of course. Myspace at its peak received hundreds of law enforcement subpoenas and warrants each month. We also employed and ultimately outsourced an army of image reviewers. Age and identity verification have been thorny challenges throughout the age of social media. That didn’t stop state attorney generals from ganging up on MySpace and Facebook in 2007 to demand action on child online safety.  The pressure to “do something” was intense, and companies resist such demands at their peril.

At scale, the gravest threats are political and reputational. When asked, “What are you going to do about this?” the acceptable CEO answer is not “nothing.” Snapchat and its investors may have thought a few moves ahead in this chess game, but if they have a brilliant solution to prevent the kind of abuses that come with scale, I’d love to hear about it.

Returning to Poke, Facebook faces a unique competitive disadvantage from its long history dealing with child-safety issues, its ubiquity, and unparalleled scale. Simply put, Facebook will be held to a higher standard than startups from day one. Unlike Snapchat and others, Facebook can’t plead ignorance or lack of resources to address abuse issues that accompany explosive growth. In fact, no other company in the world has access to the same range of resources and depth of knowledge in the area of online social interaction among teens and adults.

This is not a technical problem that can be solved by engineering or sheer resources. It’s a byproduct of a legal regime that makes the same interaction perfectly legal between two adults; not-really-legal-but-essentially-unstoppable between two minors; and a felony involving prison time and sex offender registration between an adult and a minor. Anything Facebook does to make the product cleaner or safer is likely to degrade the user experience, add friction to new user registration, and so on. These tradeoffs could well keep Poke a “PG-rated” product with the accountability of real-name, real-identity culture, while the more adventurous remain over at Snapchat  at least until it too gets called on the carpet.

Intel’s Cable TV Service And Set Top Box Will Soon Roll Out City By City

Intel is preparing to launch its rumored virtual cable TV service and set top box and has a plan to overcome licensing hurdles. Rather than roll out nationwide, the launch will happen on a city-by-city basis so Intel has more flexibility in negotiating licensing with reluctant content providers, according to a video industry source. The Intel box may also eliminate a core frustration with DVRs.

A source in the video distribution industry directly familiar with Intel’s plans and content dealings tells TechCrunch the semiconductor company is dead serious about getting its chips into the living room. After its effort to convince smart TV manufacturers to use its chips in the initial launch of Google TV failed a few years ago, it’s decided to go it alone. The source said that Intel was frustrated with “everyone doing a half-assed Google TV so it’s going to do it themselves and do it right.”

The plan is to create a set-top box and subscription TV service that would appeal to people who want streaming TV access but don’t want to entirely cut the cable cord and lose key content like sports.

The service would pipe in both traditional channels and streaming content such as Redbox’s streaming service.

The Wall Street Journal reported Intel’s intent to create a pay-TV service in March, and Reuters followed up in June that Intel’s box may use facial recognition to power dynamic insertion of ads, improved targeting, and performance measurement. Both noted that the stumbling block to a planned launch by the end of 2012 was an unwillingness on the part of media content providers to unbundle channels or programs and license them to Intel.

The city-by-city rollout addresses this issue, as content providers may be more willing to experiment with licensing in select markets first where they have looser deals with traditional cable providers. The plan also lets Intel work around holdouts in key markets rather than having to delay a launch entirely. Intel licensed Comcast’s Reference Design Kit in October to aid development of its TV services, so it might look to lean on that relationship and operate in Comcast markets.

With the strategy in place, our source says the rollout will begin “soon” but couldn’t be more specific. Perhaps Intel will reveal more details at CES next week.

One feature we heard about could be a real game changer for the digital video recorder experience. Supposedly Intel’s technology could allow people to recall and watch any programming aired in the last month on the channels they subscribe to. That means no worrying about scheduling what to record. You could pull up a new show from last night that friends raved about, a sports game you forgot about, or all the recent reruns of a favorite cartoon.

We aren’t positive this is feasible, but if it is, it could convince people to ditch their current set top box for one with Intel inside and out.

Insert Coin: Engadget Is Looking For Some Cool Crowdfunded Projects

Our brothers and sisters over at Engadget are holding their first red hot, super exciting conference called Expand in SF in March. The event will feature all the boring old commercial hardware you could imagine, including the latest from all the hardware greats but, more important, they’re also reaching out to a contingent dear to my heart: crowdfunded gadgets.

Having a brilliant idea isn’t always enough. Bringing a product to market requires support, marketing and above all, funding. Lots and lots of funding – but don’t worry, we might be able to help you get there.Engadget is proud to announce the launch of Insert Coin: New Challengers, a new competition aimed at helping to make those dream gadgets a reality. If you’ve seen our long-running series about the most promising crowd funded hardware, you can imagine that concept taken to the stage for a live competition between the best of the best new inventions.

Remember: this is for unlaunched products only and, knowing the field, this will be pretty competitive, so those with solid sterling-silver iPad stands will have to take a seat. If you’re ready to run with the big dogs, pop over here and submit and let us know how it goes. You know I love the smell of fresh crowdfunded projects in the morning.

The 10 Best iOS And Android Games Of 2012

Editor’s note: Stephen Danos is the associate editor for the mobile app discovery site Appolicious. Follow him on Twitter @sdanos.

This year’s most captivating games either pushed the envelope with state-of-the-art graphics and rich narratives or perfected already proven formulas for touch-based devices. The best titles also bridged the gap between casual and hardcore gamers.

Some developers (Phosphor Games and Vivid Games, most notably) went for realistic 3D graphics that often packed in hours of story-based gameplay similar to console titles. Others like Rovio and RocketCat Games, stuck to churning out repetitive, casual gaming experiences that kept us fully engaged. All being equal, these disparate approaches produced truly riveting games that took full advantage of the features and processing capabilities of mobile devices.

The developers with games in this list should be very proud of their creations. Despite certain genres being oversaturated (such as pick up and play or side-scrolling games) and the unpopular monetization trend of forcing customers to pay for content through in-app purchases, these geniuses managed to make games that are infinitely addictive and rewarding. The picks listed below were curated by Appolicious advisors (most notably gaming guru Andrew Koziara) and members of our user community.

We also have a separate list of the best iOS and Android apps of 2012.

Horn (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android $6.99)
The character Horn is a young blacksmith’s apprentice who must defeat giant monsters who are villagers transformed by a horrible curse. Using a melee combat system similar to Infinity Blade, but with major gameplay enhancements like using a crossbow and puzzle-solving, the developers on the Phosphor Games team were truly pensive during Horn’s development. Horn is the best game of 2012 because it combines an imaginative narrative with top-of-the-line graphics, proving that mobile games with endearing stories can be beautiful despite the limitations of iOS devices. Horn appeals to gamers young and old, and is a great title that will enlighten you as to just what your smartphone or tablet is capable of handling. We should note that Horn does suffer a bit on earlier generation Android devices and operating systems.

ARC Squadron (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad free – limited time only)
ARC Squadron is a rail shooter game that combines the retro experience of playing an old Nintendo 64 console game with state-of-the-art graphics geared specifically to touchscreen devices. Powered by the Unreal Engine 3 development toolkit, ARC Squadron has players try their hands (and fingers) in intergalactic warfare. Each area of the galaxy involves a handful of levels with bonus challenge levels along the way, culminating in an epic boss fight. ARC Squadron is very arcade in nature, as scores in each level directly translate into currency that lets players upgrade and purchase new ships, weapons, and skins. Somehow ARC Squadron manages to ape the gameplay of classic console titles like Star Fox 64, yet feel fresh in a mobile media environment.

Angry Birds Star Wars (iPhone, iPod touch 99 cents, iPad $2.99, Android smartphones free, Android tablets $2.99)
Star Wars merchandising, both before and after the Disney acquisition, has never felt so good. The newest edition to the Angry Birds family is just plain awesome. Old birds are re-dressed as Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, Chewie, and the rest. The birds also get all new powers, including shooting blasters and swinging light sabers. The game is a brilliant mix of the old school Angry Birds mechanics and the gravity mechanics of Angry Birds Space (also a worthy addition to any “best of 2012” list). Add all the Star Wars references and visuals (from the original trilogy, only) and you have a game that is out of this world.

Rayman Jungle Run (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android $2.99)
Apple named this Ubisoft title the 2012 game of the year, and for good reason. Many of us were totally praising this game before it was cool. Based on the utterly brilliant Rayman: Origins (a console-based platformer to rival even Mario), this auto-scrolling runner manages to keep all the creativity and bizarre charm of its predecessor, but with bite-sized levels and half of the controls removed. Seriously though, Ubisoft stripped ‘Origins’ down to its core for this simple game, but it’s just as fun and the visuals are just as jaw-droppingly crisp and vibrant as ever. It’s a bit more challenging than other runners, but do not skip this one.

LetterPress – Word Game (iPhone, iPad free)
Move over, Words With Friends. Developed by atebits, Letterpress is an inventive multiplayer word game that mixes the strategies of Boggle and Chess. The virtual board of this game is covered in red and blue tiles, each representing you or your opponent. The objective is pretty basic: change as many tiles as possible to match your color while spelling words. Games end when tiles run out. It helps to both have a high letter count and know when to play defensively, blocking off letters by placing your tiles around them. LetterPress supports asynchronous multiplayer through Game Center, so you can face off against as many players as you desire from all over the world at the same time.

Beat Sneak Bandit (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad $2.99)
Beat Sneak Bandit elegantly combines rhythm games (in which players tap along to the beat of the music playing in the game), with puzzle gameplay and stealth action. You’ll need to tap to the beat to make the Beat Sneak Bandit character take his sneaky steps, and time your way through the game’s obstacles and traps. The game is really a clever take on touchscreen games, has a great art style and musical selection, and is easy to play while challenging to master.

Punch Quest (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) (Free)
Punch Quest is an impressive side-scrolling, endless running game where the main objective is to meet monstrous obstacles head-on with a barrage of uppercuts and jabs. Enemies include feeble skeletons, shield-wielding orcs, fire-breathing imps, and spellcasting wraiths. During the game your fully-customizable protagonist collects coins called “punchos” for buying skills, super moves, boosts, and upgrades. There are even bonus levels where your warrior rides a dinosaur that shoots lasers out of its mouth or transforms into a cartwheeling gnome! RocketCat Games, one of the most reliably talented and awesome developers in the iOS gaming space, are is responsible for the Hook Champ games and the excellent Mage Gauntlet.

Real Boxing (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, iPad mini) $4.99
Real Boxing, developed by Vivid Games, delivers a one-two punch of well-designed gesture controls for a touchscreen combined with beautiful, console-quality graphics. Your device’s camera catches punch gestures using the V-Motion Gesture Control System. The game features a surprisingly effective Career Mode, where you develop, train, and customize your prizefighter. You’ll be hard-pressed to find flaws with this game as you build up your fighter and even take him online into real-time multiplayer fights over Game Center.

Jetpack Joyride (Android) Free
Jetpack Joyride, released by Halfbrick Studios on Android in September, is the endless running game closest to perfection. Although it launched and rocketed to the top of the charts on iOS in 2011, the game’s presence in the Android Market was substantial. In Jetpack Joyride you play as the fiery and uber-manly Barry Steakfries who swipes a top-secret machine gun-powered jetpack from a laboratory only to be met by thousands of obstacles including electric pillars, rockets, and terrified scientists. Your goal is to collect coins and get as far as you can before dying. The game has an exceptional sense of humor and an impressive array of interchangeable costumes, jetpacks, power-ups, and vehicles. What sets Jetpack Joyride apart is that behind its simple formula, there’s a hugely addictive mission/challenge system which pushes you to play again and again. The difficulty and learning curve are set perfectly so even casual gamers will never feel overwhelmed.

The Room (iPad, iPad mini) $1.99
With The Room, Fireproof Games delivered the most intriguing puzzle game of the year. Mind-bending puzzles, a surreal atmosphere, and delectable 3D graphics in stunning HD quality make The Room a necessary app for every gamer who owns an iPad 2 or higher. The game works ostensibly as a mystery that you solve using a single finger control scheme through puzzles contained within ornate boxes. It is definitely the most realistic looking game released in 2012, even more so than titles from the Zen Bound series. The Room was designed to be a pick up and play game, and although it is rated 9+ for Infrequent Horror/Fear Themes, it is the sort of game you can play with your family if they’re cool enough and can handle the suspense.

In Case Anyone Cares, Here Are Leaked Shots Of The BlackBerry X10, RIM’s Upcoming BB10 QWERTY Handset

Research In Motion is set to launch BlackBerry 10 and two handsets at the end of January. But at this point, there shouldn’t be many surprises. Nearly every detail of the platform and touchscreen phone has leaked already. And now details are surfacing of the BB10 QWERTY model, too. Meet the X10.

BlackBerry 10 is said to be designed as a touch-first operating system. The mobile OS makes sense on the touchscreen-only Z10 where there is plenty of room for the large app icons and application menu. But here, on the X10′s small screen, it just looks too tight. The action bar, one of BB10′s key features, takes up significant real estate at the bottom of the screen. But what’s RIM to do? The keyboard is one of the BlackBerry’s remaining selling points.

RIM has said from the early days of BB10 development that it would continue to support and produce phones with physical keypads. The company adamantly claims their customers love the QWERTY keypad. And as a former BlackBerry addict myself (I had three), I understand the obsession. The QWERTY keypad begins to feel as comfortable as a trusted pillow. You couldn’t imagine living a different way. But once you make the jump to an intelligent virtual keypad, there’s no looking back. There is just so much room for activities on the larger screen that you quickly forget about the missing keypad.

Thankfully RIM seemingly spent significant time on BB10′s virtual keyboard. It’s good. And the company knows it. For awhile, BB10′s predictive keyboard was one of the few things RIM was showing off to journalists even under embargo. It’s unclear if RIM’s future is in old smartphone designs, but at least the company had the foresight to develop a competitive virtual keyboard. Now all they have to do is convince their die-hard fans to give it a try.

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