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Is Apple planning on ditching the Google Maps iPhone app, shown here, for an in-house mapping product? (Reuters)

3D maps coming to iPhone 5, iOS 6: report

By Matthew Shaer / 05.11.12

Sometime later this year, Apple will (almost definitely) release a new iPhone. And according to a new report, that iPhone will run in-house map software instead of the current Google Maps app. Writing at 9 to 5 Mac, Mark Gurman alleges that the new mapping software, apparently simply dubbed Maps, and set to debut with iOS 6, is a "much cleaner, faster, and more reliable experience" than the one provided by Google.

"While Apple has always had full control of the actual iOS Maps application design, the backend has belonged to Google," Gurman writes. "That will change with iOS 6 thanks to their purchases of Placebase, C3 Technologies, and Poly9; acquisitions that Apple has used to create a complete mapping database."

Which brings us to the coolest part about Maps: a 3-D mode developed by C3 and apparently based on "de-classified missile target algorithms." 

9 to 5 Mac has some mock-ups of the mode, and they do look pretty cool, although we'll cop to a little skepticism about the practicality of 3-D maps. We currently use the mapping function on our phones to figure out how to get from the subway to a restaurant, or to help a friend find the correct freeway exit – not to gaze at 3-D renderings of our surrounding environment. (Then again, remember the first time you played with Google Earth? Could Apple recapture that feeling?) 

Anyway, is this 3-D map rumor for real? Hard to say. Apple, unsurprisingly, is remaining mum. But sources do tell John Paczkowski of All Things D that Apple is planning on debuting the Maps app during the keynote address of the WWDC Apple developer's conference. And WWDC is set to open on June 11. So we'll know pretty soon about this 3-D maps, one way or another. 

Follow us on Twitter @venturenaut for more tech news.

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The new Bing results page, which incorporates social search. (Microsoft)

For Bing and Google, the future of search is social

By Matthew Shaer / 05.11.12

Remember Bing?

It's a search engine, introduced in 2009 by Microsoft in order to compete with Google. As of last month, it claimed about 11 percent of the search engine market, leagues behind Google, and just a notch above Yahoo. It's always been hard not to root for Bing: A scrappy underdog, with plenty of fighting spirit and a pretty homepage, which rotates through scenic views of various locales around the globe. Even the name sounds optimistic. (Bing!) 

So for Bing lovers, here's some happy news: Over the new few weeks, Microsoft will roll out a social revamp of Bing, in the mold of Google's Search Plus Your World. In essence, the new Bing search result pages will encompass three panes. The leftmost pane consists of standard search results – the "core" of a Bing search. The center pane will be a "snapshot" – a map, for instance, or an aggregation of restaurant reviews. 

And the rightmost pane will be social results. You'll be able to ask friends for suggestions or sift through an activity feed of Twitter and Facebook posts. 

"Our aim has always been to help you do more with search, and over the past three years we have made exciting strides to realize that vision," the Bing Team wrote in a blog post yesterday. "Today we are taking a big step forward as we begin rolling out what is the most significant update to Bing since we launched three years ago." The new Bing, they continued, will promote social search "without compromising the core search experience."

So how will the new Bing stack up against Google's Search Plus Your World? Well, over at the Verge, Ellis Hamburger, who had the chance to put Microsoft's would-be-Google-slayer through its paces, calls Bing a "futuristic and future-thinking" search engine. Of course, there are still plenty of kinks to be worked out.

But once everything is in ship-shape, Hamburger argues that Bing might yield "social search utopia. Imagine searching for a restaurant you're considering and seeing a few things: reviews from five different websites, organized by star rating inside the Bing Knows bar, then right next to it, a list of friends that have checked in to that restaurant across Facebook and Foursquare, and then even some pictures from Twitter of the restaurant's insane pasta fagioli." 

In related news, Farhad Manjoo of Slate recently attempted to undertake a novel experiment: One week without any Google products. (Manjoo even re-routed his emails from Gmail to a Hotmail account.) The result? It's very, very hard to live these days outside the Google ecosystem. 

"Google’s just too good – even beyond search, its products are too useful, too central to the Web to get much accomplished without them," Manjoo eventually acknowledged. "I lasted less than half a day without Google, and it was hell. And that’s the biggest case against switching to Bing. If you’re never really going to escape Google – and if Bing is pretty much exactly like Google – what’s the point?" 

Considering swapping Google for Bing? Drop us a line in the comments section.

And in the meantime, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut for more tech news.

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A new version of the Windows 8 operating system could shut out browsers such as Firefox and Chrome, according to Mozilla. (Reuters)

Windows RT will ban Firefox and Chrome, says Mozilla

By Matthew Shaer / 05.10.12

Sometime later this year, Microsoft will release three version of its latest browser, Windows 8: plain old Windows 8 (for the average user), Windows 8 Pro (for committed geeks), and Windows RT (for use on ARM-based tablet computers). Windows RT, Microsoft has hinted, includes all the usual Microsoft standbys, including Word and Excel, but the whole ensemble will be controlled by a touch-centric interface.

Good news for tablet aficionados. 

And unfortunate news for Google and Mozilla.

According to Mozilla, the makers of Firefox, Microsoft is planning to allow only one fully-functioning browser on Windows RT: Microsoft's own Internet Explorer. Writing on the Mozilla blog, Harvey Anderson, general counsel for the company, lashed out at Microsoft for the slight, and called the alleged move "an unwelcome return to the digital dark ages where users and developers didn’t have browser choices." 

Anderson continues

Why does this matter to users? Quite simply because Windows on ARM – as currently designed – restricts user choice, reduces competition and chills innovation. By allowing only IE to perform the advanced functions of a modern Web browser, third-party browsers are effectively excluded from the platform. This matters for users of today’s tablets and tomorrow’s PCs. 

Of course, Firefox wouldn't be the only one excluded – Google's Chrome would be left out in the cold, too.

Unsurprisingly, Google has said in a statement that it "shares the concerns" raised by Mozilla. "We've always welcomed innovation in the browser space across all platforms and strongly believe that having great competitors makes us all work harder. In the end, consumers and developers benefit the most from robust competition," reps told CNET

It's worth noting that Microsoft has not yet officially commented on the allegations from team Mozilla. Moreover, we're a few months out from the Windows 8 launch, so things could still change considerably. 

Follow us on Twitter @venturenaut for more tech news.

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The Facebook App Center. (Facebook)

Facebook App Center will usher in era of paid Facebook apps

By Matthew Shaer / 05.10.12

Facebook this week took the wraps off a new App Center, an online marketplace in the mold of the iTunes App Store or Google Play. Writing yesterday on the Facebook Developers Blog, software engineer Aaron Brady said the App Center would go live in the next few weeks, both on the Web and in Apple iOS and Android iterations. Of note: Facebook's marketplace, Brady said, will now allow paid apps. 

"Many developers have been successful with in-app purchases, but to support more types of apps on Facebook.com, we will give developers the option to offer paid apps. This is a simple-to-implement payment feature that lets people pay a flat fee to use an app on Facebook.com," Brady wrote.

Of course, for Facebook, the appeal of a centralized app marketplace is clear: It gives users more ways to stay on Facebook, for longer amounts of time. 

But for the regular user, the App Center should be a boon, too. In the past, tracking down Facebook apps was something of an erratic process – this blogger, for one, relied on recommendations from friends. Now everything will be centralized, easily-accessible, and organized. Moreover, as Matt Peckham of Time Magazine points out, the App Center will also allow users to get to know an app before it's installed. 

"Facebook says every app must have an 'app detail page,' designed to let us 'see what makes an app unique' before installing and accessing it," Peckham writes. "That alone should be cause for celebration, in my view, after years of installing Facebook apps and giving them access to various aspects of our personal dossiers just to learn what they are and do." 

In his blog post, Brady of Facebook said that developers would have a range of tools at their disposal – which should help companies improve or streamline their products. 

"We use a variety of signals, such as user ratings and engagement, to determine if an app is listed in the App Center. To help you monitor user feedback, we are also introducing a new app ratings metric in Insights to report how users rate your app over time," Brady wrote. "Well-designed apps that people enjoy will be prominently displayed. Apps that receive poor user ratings or don’t meet the quality guidelines won't be listed."

Will you be using the App Center? Drop us a line in the comments section. And in the meantime, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut for more tech news.

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The Google doodle Wednesday honors the memory of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, otherwise known as King Tut. (Google )

Howard Carter, the original Indiana Jones (+video)

By Matthew Shaer / 05.09.12

A Google doodle today depicts a besuited gentleman in a stylish hat, gazing at an array of artifacts, including a gilded tomb and a very familiar-looking sarcophagus. So who's the dude in the suit? None other than Howard Carter, the British archaeologist that discovered the final resting place of Tutankhamun, or King Tut. 

Carter was born in 1874, the son of a painter. He nursed an early interest in archaeology, and according to his obituary in the Times, he journeyed first to Egypt at the age of 17, as a kind of understudy to Professor Flinders Petrie. Eventually, he became Inspector General of the Antiquities Department for the Egyptian government, and began digging around the Valley of the Kings, west of the Nile River

There he discovered the tombs of Hatshepsut, Tehuti-mes IV, among other ancient dignitaries. When a dispute forced Carter to leave the service of the Egyptian government, he signed on with George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, otherwise known as the Earl of Carnarvon. Carnarvon was an amateur Egyptologist, and he accompanied Carter on his digs, providing essential financial support. 

In 1922, Carter unearthed the tomb of Tutankhamun, not far from the tomb of Ramesses VI. The tomb was filled with various gilded objects worth billions of dollars. But the real prize was the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun, who was found to be only a teenager at the time of his death. Shortly after the tomb was discovered, a rumor began to spread that the whole place was cursed.

The curse myth was perpetuated by the sudden death of the Earl of Canarvon, who apparently died of an infected mosquito bite.

It's worth noting that Carter never really believed in the superstition. He died many years later in London, and was buried in the Putney Vale Cemetary. On his tombstone, the following words were carved: "May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness."

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Google has received permission to begin testing driverless cars in Nevada. Here, an image from the program that steers the cars, courtesy of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. (Reuters)

Nevada allows Google to test driverless cars on public streets

By Matthew Shaer / 05.08.12

Cue the Jetsons jokes. 

According to the Las Vegas Sun, Google has received permission from the Nevada state Department of Motor Vehicles to immediately begin testing a fleet of driverless cars on public streets. The Sun says six autonomous cars have been outfitted by the team at Google: six Toyota Priuses, an Audi TT and a Lexus RX450h. All the driverless cars will receive red license plates, with an infinity symbol on the left of the plate.  

“I felt using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the car of the future," Bruce Breslow, the director of the Nevada DMV, said in a statement. "The unique red plate will be easily recognized by the public and law enforcement and will be used only for licensed autonomous test vehicles."

So should we be scared? Are hacker-controller robot cars about to overrun the United States

Breslow said that Google's petition was approved only after a special DMV delegation – apparently dubbed, in a nice Orwellian twist, the Autonomous Review Committee – thoroughly reviewed the company's "safety plans, employee training, system functions and accident reporting mechanisms." And each car bristles with a range of sensors and computer equipment, which can sense obstacles such as other cars, bicycles, and guardrails. 

Furthermore, as Sky News notes, the cars are not really driverless. At least two Google employees will be required to sit in each vehicle. Those employees have the ability to override the computer controls. 

In related news, the Federal Aviation Administration recently gave official approval to a flying car – or "roadable aircraft" called the Terrafugia's Transistion. It's all happening, folks: Driverless cars, flying cars.

Someone go fetch Astro

Follow us on Twitter @venturenaut for more tech news.

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JK Shin, president and head of Samsung's mobile division, unveils the Samsung Galaxy S III. (Reuters)

Samsung, reigning smart phone champ, preps Galaxy S III

By Matthew Shaer / 05.04.12

Yesterday, Samsung took the wraps off the Galaxy S III, a svelte new smartphone equipped with a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos processor, and a June launch date.  

In a hands-on preview posted at Engadget, Mat Smith faulted Samsung for not upping the design quotient – the Galaxy S III looks not so different from other Samsung phones – but praised the display and predicted that the snappy processor which should help the Galaxy S III "spar for top spot among Android devices." So hey, what will the Galaxy S III mean for Samsung? 

Well, here's where things get interesting. According to a recent report from IDC, Samsung currently owns the biggest slice of the global smartphone market, besting even Apple, its closest competitor. In the first quarter of 2012, Samsung sold a whopping 42.2 million smartphones, compared to the 35.1 million sold by Apple. (As one reporter has pointed out, "every second smartphone sold across the world [now comes] from either Samsung or Apple.") 

But that doesn't mean that Samsung is necessarily earning more than Apple. Over at CNET, Asymco analyst Horace Dediu tells Lance Whitney that worldwide smartphone operating profits are split between only two major players: Apple, with 73 percent, and Samsung, with 26 percent. HTC, in third place, gets 1 percent of the pie. That means that everyone else is either losing money or fighting over a rounding error. 

The reason Apple makes so much money off the iPhone? Carrier subsidies, Dediu says. The iPhone helps carriers stay "competitive," CNET reports, and the carriers are willing to pay a premium for that privilege. 

"Following this value proposition to its logical conclusion would suggest that the industry is rewarding those who can supply computers-as-phones which preserve the cash flows of what is essentially a trillion dollar data services business," Dediu says. "Vendors which cannot offer this solution saw their businesses implode. At least on the high end."

And herein, we return again to the Galaxy S III, which has already inspired an iPhone-worthy puddle of drool. If Samsung can succeed in making its new device a "must-have," as the Apple smartphone is now, it could also start to rack up the kind of carrier subsidies currently enjoyed by Team Cupertino. It's a long shot, of course, but if there's one Samsung phone that could do it, it's the Galaxy S III. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut. And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly BizTech newsletter.

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The Facebook IPO draws nigh. (Reuters)

Facebook IPO poised to be America's biggest ever

By Matthew Shaer / 05.04.12

Yesterday Facebook estimated it would sell shares of the company for between $28 to $35 – enough for a valuation of between $77 billion and $96 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. To put that in perspective, Facebook is about to be the most valuable US company ever to go public: United Parcel Service, by comparison, heretofore the record holder, went public in 1999 with a valuation of $60.2 billion. 

"Many people want to own this unique company, and it has the momentum," Kathy Smith of Renaissance Capital told USA Today. She's right: Facebook has grown at an astonishingly rapid clip since it launched in 2004 in a Harvard dorm room – first to a quarter million users, then a half million, and now, in 2012, to 900 million. Smart money is on the site cresting a billion users before the year is out. 

So is it all smooth sailing for Facebook? Well, not necessarily. As the Wall Street Journal points out, there is some reason to be skeptical about the IPO: revenue at Facebook is down six percent from the past quarter. And CEO Mark Zuckerberg must demonstrate that his business model will be effective in the longterm. "There's still no good understanding for what advertisers are paying for," Morningstar analyst Rick Summer told the Journal today. 

In order to help gin up excitement, and to convince investors that Facebook deserves the high valuation, Facebook exec are meeting with analysts and bankers at institutions such as JP Morgan, which is helping to underwrite the IPO, MSNBC reports. Facebook has also released a long pitch video, featuring a litany of Facebook execs, including Zuckerberg. In the video, COO Sheryl Sandberg stresses the reach of Facebook. 

Every day on Facebook is like the season finale of American Idol, "times two," Sandberg trumpets in the video. 

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Keith Haring honored by a Google doodle Friday. (Google)

Keith Haring: Painter, activist, and one of the original street artists (+video)

By Matthew Shaer / 05.04.12

A Google doodle on Friday depicts a carnival of tumbling, colorful dancers and one very happy dog – a nod to the work of the artist and activist Keith Haring, who would have turned 54 this week. Haring, a native of Pennsylvania, moved to New York in 1978, as a young man, and with his trademark sprawling, tessellating, vibrant creations, he quickly made his mark on the art world. 

Haring worked in a variety of media: video, canvas, paper. According to his official website, he was greatly influenced by the artists Jean Dubuffet and Pierre Alechinsky and by the writer William Burroughs. But he also seemed to derive a great deal of energy from the music and street art scenes in New York – one of his close friends was Jean-Michel Basquiat, who also helped bring the high-octane splatter of graffiti into the realm of fine art. 

Haring "was a graffiti artist with a difference," one critic wrote. "Instead of painting subway cars, he drew with white chalk on the black paper pasted on unused advertising spaces, working in a distinctive style that became widely known before anyone knew the artist's identity. From these beginnings emerged a style of illustration that became known throughout the world and a mode of distribution that largely circumvented the traditional art gallery system."

In his later years, Haring became deeply involved in activism. He contributed artwork to hospitals and charity organizations, and in 1989, the year after he was diagnosed with AIDS, he founded the Keith Haring Foundation, which supports organizations involved in AIDS education and outreach. 

Haring died in 1990, at the age of 31. Writing in the New York Times in 2002, critic Robert Smith called Haring "an ambitious talent that was always on the move, making the most of every opportunity." And Haring's influence endures – it is possible to see something of him in modern street artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey, who have in many ways claimed his mantle. 

Interested in catching a new Haring exhibition? Catch a bus or train or airplane to New York, where the Brooklyn Museum is currently curating a show called Keith Haring: 1978–1982. Brooklyn Museum staff are calling the exhibition – which includes videos, sketchbooks, 155 works on paper, and 150 archival objects – the first large-scale exhibition of Haring's work. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut

[Editor's note: The original version of this article misspelled the name of the street artist Banksy.]

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Samsung unveiled its new Galaxy S III smart phone during an event in London on Thursday. (Ki Price/Reuters)

Samsung unveils the Galaxy S III

By / 05.03.12

Seems like just yesterday -- er, eight months ago -- we were breathlessly reporting on the stateside arrival of the Samsung Galaxy S II. But the smart phone landscape changes quickly, and now its successor is here. In a "Mobile Unpacked" event in London on Thursday, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S III handset -- a sleek slice of high-def goodness in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB flavors.

Samsung's new flagship Android phone has an appropriately impressive spec sheet. A 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen (720p resolution) promises exceptional contrast, with the caveat that it'll be a little less visible in sunlight. Take note: This screen is quite a bit bigger than the one found on the Galaxy S II, though it's nowhere near the size of Samsung's other recent release, the Galaxy Note.

There's a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos processor at the heart of the Galaxy S III, and early reports from those lucky enough to spend time with the phone indicate that it is really, really, ridiculously fast. Mat Smith at Engadget notes, "Whizzing around the native apps and web browser was as pleasant as we expected, pinch-to-zoom pinged into action, while multimedia playback was effortless." We should add there there are some rumors that the US version -- which doesn't have an announced American price or carrier compatibility yet -- will rely on a dual-core Snapdragon chip, trading a bit of hardware muscle for 4G LTE compatibility.

As far as bells and whistles, the handset has an 8-megapixel back-facing camera -- apparently similar to the one found in its predecessor -- and also sports a micro-USB port and a microSD slot for removable memory. That latter feature is a rare treat these days; the lack of microSD expansion was one of the main criticisms of the Galaxy Nexus (the other -- the phone's relatively paltry battery life -- is also addressed here. The 2,100mAh battery should keep you going for quite awhile).

Samsung's also touting "natural interaction" features on the Galaxy S III -- for example, you can look up someone's contact details on the screen, then call them just by raising the phone to your ear. The front-facing camera will detect whether someone's looking at the phone and switch the screen on or off appropriately. And the handset features S Voice, a service that'll let you speak to take photos, navigate the music player, and otherwise control the phone. It's pretty clearly a competitor to a certain well-loved virtual assistant.

The Galaxy S III ships with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, making it Samsung's third American handset (after the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon and the Nexus S 4G on Sprint) to run the OS right now -- although Samsung has promised (repeatedly!) that Ice Cream Sandwich will soon be available on other tablets and smart phones.

No word yet on price, but we know the phone will be available in Europe on May 29th, and will hit North America in June. What do you think of Samsung's latest and greatest? Share your kudos and gripes about the handset in the comments.

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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