Facebook yesterday filed S-1 papers with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, a move that brings the social network one step closer to a long awaited initial public offering (IPO). Some analysts have speculated that Facebook, which currently has a membership of upwards of 800 million, could be valued at close to $100 billion – the largest ever for a tech IPO.
That's good news for Facebook employees, obviously. But it's also good news for Zynga, the social gaming powerhouse, which saw shares soar by as much as 14 percent in trading on Thursday morning. So why Zynga? Well, because Zynga titles such as FarmVille and FrontierVille have been historically very helpful in filling the Facebook coffers.
Consider the recently-filed S-1 papers, which show that a whopping 12 percent of Facebook's revenue last year came from Zynga games – a serious chunk of change, no matter which way you slice it.
"Zynga is so important to Facebook that it is cited as a risk factor [for Facebook], with Zynga accounting for 12 percent of Facebook's 2011 revenues," reps for the market research firm BTIG Research wrote to investors yesterday, according to CNET. "Twelve percent equates to about $445 million of Facebook's 2011 revenues, including Facebook's share of Zynga gamers' virtual currency purchases and Zynga's advertising purchases on the Facebook platform."
Interestingly, it's not just Zynga that has benefited from news of the impending Facebook IPO. As Rex Crum of MarketWatch writes, shares of Pandora, Groupon, and Linked In – all companies, like Zynga, that recently went public – also spiked today. The Facebook filing, Crum notes, seems to have temporarily given the Web 2.0 sector "a boost."
An Apple TV set is on the way, possibly as soon as the end of the year. So says Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who has issued a note to investors, identifying the next big Apple iProduct as a branded television set, capable of playing a range of streaming and live content.
"We recently spoke to a major TV component supplier who has been contacted by Apple regarding various capabilities of their television display components," Munster wrote to investors today, according to CNET. "We see this as continued evidence that Apple is exploring production of a television."
In his estimation, it seems unlikely that Apple, which has already revolutionized the smartphone and MP3 player markets, would be content to simply abide by the current market rules. Instead, Munster predicted, would likely seek to change the way content is delivered. "Without a revamped TV content solution, we do not think Apple enters the TV market," Munster wrote.
So is this for real? As CNET notes, Munster has been beating the Apple TV drum since 2009, without much validation. Still, there are plenty of clues to indicate that Munster is onto something. Among them: An October article by Bloomberg News staff, indicating that the Apple TV product was being overseen by Jeff Robbin, the same guy who helped build both the iPod and the iTunes store.
Meanwhile, the Steve Jobs biography published last year by Walter Isaacson contained an interesting snippet about Apple's approach to the TV market. "I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," Jobs told Isaacson. "It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
Still, not everyone is convinced.
"[W]here’s the market for these overpriced Apple TVs?" writes Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZDNet. "There seems to be an incredible amount of rabid Apple fanboyism surrounding these rumors that assumes that people will buy anything that Apple makes, at whatever price point that Apple decides. In which case, why isn’t the iPad an $800 device, and how come Apple is having a hard time penetrating into the living room with the existing Apple TV set-top box?"
In February of last year, Samsung released the Galaxy S II, a handset armed with the Android Gingerbread OS, a 1.2 GHz dual-core chip, and a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen. Critics loved it. Writing in Engadget, Vlad Savov identified the Galaxy S II as "the best Android smartphone yet." More important, Savov added, "it might well be the best smartphone, period."
"Samsung is looking forward to introducing and demonstrating exciting new mobile products at Mobile World Congress 2012," Samsung reps wrote in a statement obtained by TechRadar. "The successor to the Galaxy S2 smartphone will be unveiled at a separate Samsung-hosted event in the first half of the year, closer to commercial availability of the product."
Samsung has remained pretty mum on the details of its new handset, which will likely get an updated version of Android, and some new innards. Over at Gotta Be Mobile, Adam Mills pleads with Samsung to shake things up on the design front.
"I really, really, really hope that Samsung does not go down the same design route it did with the Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy S II devices," Mills wrote. "Let’s mix it up a bit and get rid of the plastic. I realize that it’s going to cost more money to do something different – say aluminum, but this phone needs to be mind-blowing if it’s going to top the Galaxy S II, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5."
Earlier this month, Motorola took the wraps off the Droid Razr Maxx, a smartphone with a complete disregard for grammatical convention. This week, the latest Droid arrives in the US, armed with a super-sized battery, a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen, Verizon 4G LTE connectivity, an older version of Android, and a $299 price tag (with the requisite 2-year contract). So how good is the Droid Maxx? Let's go to the scorecards.
"Kudos to Motorola for cramming such a big battery inside a handset that measures .35 inches thick," writes the team at Laptop magazine. "Yes, the Droid RAZR was deliciously thin at just .28 inches, but the RAZR Maxx is still slimmer than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the iPhone 4S (both .37 inches). At 5.1 ounces [0.3 pounds], the Maxx weighs the same as the Galaxy Nexus, but the latter is taller and slightly narrower. What we miss from the original Droid RAZR on the Maxx is the way the back tapers to a small hump at the top, which made the device slightly easier to grip when making calls."
"The Razr Maxx touts a power supply of 3,300mAh, or roughly twice what you get from most high-end handsets in the market today, including its Droid Razr predecessor, which has a 1,780mAh power supply," writes Clint Boulton of eWeek. "This is crucial because the Razr Maxx churns data on Verizon's 4G Long-Term Evolution network. Anyone who has ever tested or owned a 4G LTE Verizon phone, such as the HTC ThunderBolt or Samsung Droid Charge, knows how rapidly those smartphones with 4G radios burn through battery charges. The Razr Maxx... casts aside the rapid-battery-drain concerns and offers a whopping 21.5 hours of talk time and nearly 16 days of standby time."
"As with the Droid RAZR, the Maxx sports an eight megapixel rear shooter and 1.3MP front-facing camera," writes Brad Molen at Engadget. "As mentioned before, the sensors are identical to the previous phone, and as such don't expect to see many different results here. Colors are still muted in direct sunlight, it struggles in low-light situations and indoor images are once again a bit noisy. We were pleased to see only a limited amount of shutter lag, thanks to the phone's continuous autofocus feature. Panorama shots were hit-or-miss, with nearly a half of our images not even merging together without looking blurry or disjointed."
The Razr Maxx runs the Android 2.3.5 operating system, and Jordan Crook of TechCrunch gives the experience a thumbs-up. "Switching between apps, surfing the web, and watching mobile video was all pleasant. I didn’t experience any serious hiccups (other than those freezes), but the usual Android lag still remains," Crook writes. "Luckily, Moto chose to leave Blur out of the equation and laid a rather light, useful overlay onto both the Razr and the Maxx. I say keep ‘em coming like that, Moto."
"The RAZR MAXX’s display has deep colors and high contrast," writes Josh Smith of Gotta Be Mobile. "The colors are brighter than I’ve seen on some phones like the Samsung Stratosphere, but they are not as true to life. While colors are bolder than the HTC Thunderbolt, they’re also less true to reality due to the contrast. That said, watching HD video is a pleasure on this screen and viewing angles are quite wide. One of my favorite things about the Droid RAZR MAXX’s display is that it’s easy to read outdoors, even when the sun is out. The auto brightness setting is smart enough to crank up just the right amount."
The bottom line
"Power users who need to have the longest lifetime possible will have no choice but to pick [the Maxx] – a notion that's just cause for disappointment," writes Molen of Engadget. "At its worst, it's an original RAZR with a $100 extended battery pack attached. At its best, however, the Maxx is proof to every phone manufacturer that it really is possible to make a slender (and absolutely stunning) device that can actually survive more than a full days' worth of heavy use. So what does the Maxx really offer to the rest of the mobile community? A sense of optimism."
Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice shuttered Megaupload, a massive file-sharing operation run out of Hong Kong. The closing put at risk troves of user information, which federal prosecutors originally hinted might be deleted as soon as Thursday. Now comes word that Megauploaders have received a reprieve, giving lawyers for the site some time to sort out what will happen to hundreds of millions of music, movie and media files.
According to CNET, executives at Carpathia Hosting and Cogent Communication, the two companies responsible for actually hosting the Megaupload data, have agreed to hold on to the files for full two weeks. "The hosting companies have been gracious enough to provide additional time so we can work out some kind of arrangement with the government," Megaupload lawyer Ira Rothken told CNET.
It's worth noting here that the reprieve does not necessarily mean that users are guaranteed to get their data back – it does, however, mean that Megaupload attorneys may be able to negotiate its release. In an interview with Wired, Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Julie Samuels said it was "unclear" what kind of access authorities had to user files.
The government has accused Megaupload of dealing in pirated content, and costing copyright holders approximately $500 million. Megaupload chief Kim Dotcom, formerly known as Kim Schmitz, is currently imprisoned in New Zealand, along with three other Megaupload employees. Reps for the site have called the allegations against Megaupload "grotesquely overblown."
Twitter yesterday announced that it would invoke the right to censor messages on a country-by-country basis. In a blog post, Twitter reps said the move was necessary to abide by the laws of "countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression." In the past, Twitter was forced to strike clean objectionable tweets on a "global" scale – the offending message, in other words, would disappear across the board.
With the new technology, Twitter can preserve content in some countries, while preventing it from being seen in others. "We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why," Twitter reps wrote. "We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld."
Perhaps inevitably, the announcement has been met with tremendous push-back from certain corners of the Web, where thousands of Twitter users have banded together to rage against the new policy. For most of the day, #TwitterBlackout has dipped on and off the trending topics list on Twitter – a reference to a grassroots protest planned for Saturday, January 28.
Up in arms over Twitter censorship? Join the blackout, and stay away from Twitter for 24 hours.
Of course, as some users have noted, 24 hours may not be enough to get the message across. "Why boycott it just for 1 day If you really think it's wrong?" one hardliner asked, in a tweet captured by the Guardian. "[T]alk about a week or a month & I shall take you seriously." Another added, coyly: "Surprised there's not more outrage about #twittercensorship – although maybe there is and the tweets are being blocked."
"Let’s be clear: This is censorship," York writes. "There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law. Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content. Google lays out its orders in its Transparency Report. Other companies are less forthright. In any case, Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor). And if they have 'boots on the ground,' so to speak, in the country in question? No choice."
Facebook, the most popular social networking site in history, is apparently very close to going public. So says the Wall Street Journal, which reports today that the company could file papers for an IPO as soon as Wednesday.
"At a valuation between $75 billion and $100 billion, Facebook is looking to raise as much as $10 billion, said people familiar with the matter," the Journal reports. "The final valuation will be determined by a variety of factors, people familiar with the matter cautioned, such as investor demand for social media, the IPO market and the health of the European economy."
With a $100 billion evaluation, Facebook would be worth as much as McDonald's Corp, the Journal added.
In a separate dispatch, the New York firm PrivCo estimates that Facebook will price its stock between $38 and $40, with Morgan Stanley leading the IPO. Big news for Facebook, obviously, which has been the subject of IPO rumors for months now.
Of course, as Todd Wasserman of Mashable noted back in late December, social media IPOs did not fare particularly well last year. Of the 19 social media IPOs of 2011, approximately 82 percent were trading at or below their opening day prices, Wasserman writes. Still, it's worth noting that Facebook is not just any social media service. It's the social media service – a tech juggernaut that has absorbed new users with an astonishing alacrity.
"The Facebook IPO will be a significant milestone for the Internet and technology industry as Facebook is one of the fastest growing and prominent companies, now with more than 800 million users," writes Tomio Geron of Forbes. "Private companies hoping to go public are closely watching the potential offering, as are venture capitalists hoping to see returns on their companies."
Zynga, the San Francisco-based developer behind FarmVille, has released a range of popular parlor games in recent years, including Zynga Poker, Chess with Friends, and Words With Friends (the Scrabble-based game that it acquired from a smaller developer). The latest addition to the company roster is Zynga Bingo – a game which has already been described by one blogger as a "visually beautiful" experience.
Zynga reps said Bingo would go live this week, on a limited beta basis, with a complete version available sometime in the next couple of months. "Right now, we're only letting a limited number of people into the game to make sure our players are getting a primo, Zynga Bingo experience, before officially open the floodgates," Zynga reps wrote on the company blog.
According to Zynga, gamers will be able to choose from a variety of rooms, as in a casino – there's a Vegas-themed room, a pirates-themed room, and (inevitably) a FarmVille-themed room, which will probably be full of Zynga-style cows and pitchforks and rows of pixelated corn. Meanwhile, as in Words With Friends, you'll be able to invite Facebook friends to a friendly Bingo match.
The main difference between old-school Bingo and its Zynga counterpart is the "social aspect," Leena Rao writes at TechCrunch. "When you start the game, you’ll be promoted to enter themed bingo rooms and compete against friends or other random players on Facebook simultaneously, challenging buddies in a race to get B-I-N-G-O faster. Similar to Zynga Poker, players can chat and see which rooms their friends are in."
As Rao points out, in December, Zynga launched its long-awaited IPO, only to see shares fall hard. Since then, Zynga has introduced a handful of new titles, which Rao argues could help boost the company's bottom line.
Call it the long goodbye.
On Wednesday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said his company expected the number of Netflix DVD subscribers to "decline steadily for every quarter, forever," as more users turn to streaming video. Hastings, who was speaking to reporters during a conference call, hastened to add that Netflix would keep the DVD portion of its business "stable," and "very high functioning," at least for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, according to All Things D, Netflix will bulk up its selection of streaming video, and continue to add new unique online content, such as the forthcoming series "House of Cards." In other words, as Peter Kafka of All Things D notes, Netflix will become "a premium cable channel that gives subscribers lots of viewing choices – including some stuff they can’t see anywhere else – but not unlimited choices."
There's certainly room for that kind of service, Kafka adds: "a maverick Internet video service that could upend all of Hollywood and the TV industry sounds pretty exciting." Netflix, of course, weathered its share of woes last year, including a major dust-up over rate hikes and the rushed introduction of a rental service called Qwikster. Considering Hastings' pessimism toward discs, it's no wonder that Netflix tried to break off from DVD rentals and push that leaky boat out to sea. Of course, its current customers hated that plan, so Netflix later cancelled it.
But this week, the company posted some good news: During the last quarter of 2011, Netflix signed up 610,00 new US customers, almost making up for the 800,000 lost after the summer price hike – and bringing the total Netflix membership to 24.4 million. That was enough to beat analyst expectations, and give a nice bump to Netflix stock, Bloomberg News and the Washington Post report today.
Last fall, the tech press – and we include ourselves in this category – got extremely jazzed up about the imminent arrival of the iPhone 5, which many bloggers thought would be thinner and faster and flatter than all other iPhones that had come before. Of course, what Apple actually unveiled was the iPhone 4S, essentially an internally bulked-up version of the iPhone 4, with a better camera and the Siri voice-activated personal assistant.
Have no fear! An Apple iPhone 5 is actually on the way, according to the tech site 9 to 5 Mac, which cites a source at Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer that provides many Apple parts.
"The iPhone 5, as it is currently being called, is now gearing for production," writes Seth Weintraub of 9 to 5 Mac. "The source said various sample devices are also floating around (they vary slightly from one another), so it is impossible to tell which one will be the final."
Still, Weintraub says that all of the sample devices have a few things in common. For one, they all have different body shapes than the current iPhone – although none of the samples are teardrop shaped, as had been previously rumored. And all of the devices have screens larger than 4 inches, up from the current 3.5-inch display. Finally, Weintraub notes, none of the samples are in final form.
In other words, things can change, and they probably will. Apple is known for throwing out finished prototypes because they weren't perfect.
For what it's worth, the rumors floated by 9 to 5 Mac don't seem that outlandish to us. After issuing two phones with identical boxy curves, and identical 3.5-inch displays, Apple is due for a shake-up. And a screen size shake-up is a good way to do that, especially considering the recent arrival of some tremendously large smartphone displays, like the 4.65-inch monster screen on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
Up, up, and away.