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Amazon Fire TV: Meet Amazon’s Plan To Take Over Your Television

Amazon just unveiled its TV set-top box—and it’s called Amazon Fire TV.

Fire TV features a quad-core processor and a dedicated GPU, as well as 2 GB of RAM for a smooth interface and fast-launching applications and videos. Fire TV also features dual-band Wi-Fi with MIMO, so applications and videos start downloading and streaming immediately. It also supports 1080p HD support and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound, but it also comes with a newfangled remote with built-in Bluetooth.

Amazon will release the Fire TV for $99, starting today.

“Fire TV has three times the power and performance of Apple TV, of Roku 3, and of Chromecast,” said Peter Larsen, VP at Amazon. “It is thinner than a dime. It fits underneath your TV, behind your TV. It fades seamlessly into the background.”

There’s a new feature called ASAP, which predicts what TV shows and movies you’re going to watch and it queues them up so they start instantly. And it learns over time, so this feature will only improve upon use.

Fire TV also features channels from countless content makers, including Netflix, Hulu+, ESPN, Showtime, TED, Disney, and more, which will join shortly after the release of Fire TV. Amazon Studios will also be releasing a number of shows this year, especially in the fall. At Wednesday’s press conference, Amazon previewed 10 new Amazon Studios original series, including “Bosch,” “Mozart In The Jungle,” and “Transparent.”

“This isn’t a closed ecosystem,” Larsen said. “It has a ton of content. But how do you find this content? This is what you do on Fire TV: (speaks) ‘John Malkovich.’ You can now see all of the movies John Malkovich is in, and easily add any of them to my Watch List. There’s a microphone integrated into the remote control so I don’t need to yell across my living room.”

You can even ask for “princess movies,” it’ll even show you all the movies in the Fire TV libraries that have princesses in them.

The Fire TV also has a few other special features, including a special hub for viewing photos from your smartphone, as well as X-Ray, a one-step process that allows Kindle Fire tablet users to see all of the characters and actors in the movie or TV show, the music that’s playing in a scene, and more.

Starting next month, Fire TV will support music apps, including anything you’ve purchased from Amazon. It even shows you lyrics on your television, which are synchronized to every song.

Amazon’s kids app FreeTime has also been adjusted for the Fire TV—there’s a new interface that’s very kid-friendly, and kids can’t leave the FreeTime app unless they use a password their parents have. But this way, it also provides a way for kids to wade through their own content without mixing into shows and movies mom and dad are watching. Parents can even set time limits on their kids, and even customize it for certain days of the week or weekend. FreeTime Unlimited offers high quality age-appropriate content, and unlimited means to explore the content so parents don’t have to play “sheriff” in the living room.

But that’s not all. Fire TV is also great for gaming.

“Millions of people have game consoles, and they love them. But many millions more don’t have gaming consoles because they can’t afford them or they don’t want to pay for them,” Larsen said. “These customers now have to go down to their smartphone or tablet or play their games there, but they’d love to play their games on TV.”

Gamers can play their games on Fire TV with the Fire TV remote, but they can also use the phones and tablets they already own to play games. Many of these gaming features are coming out next month, but Amazon already has a number of important gaming publishers lined up, including Sega, Double Fine, Disney and more—it’ll even have Minecraft, but Amazon Game Studios will also be building games from the ground-up for Fire TV and Kindle Fire tablets.

Amazon even created its own video game controller—the Fire Game Controller—which will be available for $39.99 and will give users Amazon coins so they can get start their Fire TV experience with games to play. Amazon will even allow for multiplayer games, where users can play on the Fire Game Controller and the Fire TV remote control at the same time.

Fire TV games will also be much cheaper, on average, than console games. The average price of a paid game on Amazon Fire TV will be $1.85, according to the company.

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s media event in New York City, which was advertised as an “update on our video business,” various sources said Amazon would release an Android-based TV set-top box that can pull apps from the Kindle Store.

Amazon digital video services spiked in 2011—a whopping 350% growth— because the company started investing in content. Netflix and Hulu are investing in digital video services, and customers are proving how much they love the content—by watching it all on streaming media devices.

Amazon says it sells many media devices on Amazon.com, but the company hears about many forms of frustration from these products. Search is hard, especially for titles that aren’t on “bestseller lists,” but Amazon VP Peter Larsen said customers complain about poor or slow performance of these streaming devices.

“Customers shouldn’t have to tolerate this kind of laggy performance anymore,” Larsen said. “There’s no reason for it.”

The third major problem with TV set-top boxes is that they’re closed systems. Larsen said he owns an Apple TV and an Amazon Prime account, but you can’t access your various accounts—and if you can, you usually have to pay an extra subscription fee (Xbox Live users must pay $60 a year to access Netflix via Xbox.)

“We need to invent and simplify on behalf of customers,” Larsen said. ”We created an experience that offered state-of-the-art power and performance so you can sit back, relax and lose yourself in the director’s world.”

Prior to the event, our sources close to the situation said Amazon’s device is “one of the most powerful set-top devices,” and even made mention that it would be tiny, but not a dongle—it would be more like Apple TV, but reportedly “zippier.” Our sources added Amazon’s set-top streaming box would be newsworthy for its price point, and the company would offer special features or discounts for its Amazon Prime members.

At one point, the Wall Street Journal said Amazon would unveil a free, ad-supported streaming service, but Amazon flat out denied those rumors at the time. And yet, it makes sense for Amazon to launch a set-top box that could leverage apps from Amazon’s various digital catalogues, including the Kindle ecosystem. Also, Amazon’s media streaming service, Amazon Prime Instant Video, features 40,000 movie and TV titles, according to Amazon.

Rumors leading up to the event differed when it came to price—some said Amazon could release an extremely competitive set-top box, around the same price or lower than Google’s $35 Chromecast, while other reports said Amazon’s device would be a “premium” gadget that would be more expensive than Chromecast, but still cost less than Apple’s $99 solution.

“Amazon already has a media ecosystem, they already have an ad network, and they already have a tested monetization strategy,” said Mark Hoelzel, a research analyst for Business Insider Intelligence. “Plus, they have 20 million Prime Members who would see a sub-$35 streaming device with unlimited Prime streaming as a no-brainer.”

All images by Dave Smith for ReadWrite

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Marin Software’s Context Connect Helps Advertisers Identify Trends & Take Action

Marin data released today suggests that many residents shopped online during the polar vortex. However, that same data revealed missed advertising opportunities. Marin has announced a new tool to keep advertisers relevant in the face of such events.

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Improve PPC Performance Now: How to Take Advantage of Seasonality

Matching your ad copy and landing pages to the current season, a holiday, or current events will make your ads fresh, relevant, and stand out from competitors. It’s also a simple and effective way to boost click-through and conversion rates.

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Take Your Sitelinks to the Next Level With Descriptions

Providing ads with more detail improves the overall user experience. Sitelinks help users get to exactly where they need to go, and are a great way to boost your average CTR. Here are some keys to success when implementing descriptive site links.

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Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results? by @billbelew_com

One of the first things all new and prospective clients want to know is how long it take for a content marketing strategy to see real organic results on Google (yes, I know they aren’t the only search engine). Some want to know how long it will take to get from zero, as they don’t […]

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Bill Belew

Professor, Speaker, Author, all-around old man. Fresh from teaching a 48-hour MBA course in Marketing with Social Media at a graduate school in Silicon Valley, Bill delivers insights from recent, real and relevant case studies. Bill has been working in social media for more than 8 years and has more than 90 million unique visitors from organic search to his network of sites and in a variety of niches. He knows what works, what doesn’t, what can kill a site, and what can cause it to grow. Bill has a network of 5000+ Meetup followers in the heart of Silicon Valley. He is an international in-demand speaker.

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New Fitness Trackers Will Record Every Breath You Take, Every Move You Make



ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

Simple step trackers are going the way of the dinosaur, as a new generation of fitness devices cram more sensors and smarts into smaller and smaller shapes. This next wave will track our movements in three dimensions—and that’s a crucial difference.

Why? Because the kind of vigorous exercise that really advances our health is multidimensional, too. 

As someone who sprints up stairs, lifts weights at the gym, and dabbles in yoga and bodyweight workouts, I’ve long been dissatisfied with fitness trackers that count steps and stop there. And I’m not alone: One friend clipped his wrist-based Nike FuelBand to his shoes to get points for a bike ride. I’ve heard similar tales of gyrations done in the name of counting gyrations.

Tracking What’s Next

Atlas Wearables, Lumo BodyTech, AmiigoMoov and others are among the companies whose devices promise to work with the way we actually move—and quite possibly displace incumbents like Jawbone and Fitbit.

Two key developments are enabling these new devices: small sensors and big data.

Moov, for example, packs an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer into a package the size of a few quarters. The addition of a magnetometer allows it to consistently orient itself to the Earth’s gravity, Moov cofounder Nikola Hu told me. That means Moov can accurately track the motion of a fist jabbing through the air during a cardio boxing workout, with a virtual coach comparing your punches to a real boxer’s recorded movements. Moov started taking preorders Wednesday for its $59 device, which the company hopes to ship this summer.

Atlas’s tracker uses multiple accelerometers and a heart-rate sensor to track not just your movements—it counts sets and reps of exercises for you—but also the vigor with which you do them. Even though the device sits on your wrist, Atlas says it can detect distinct patterns that let it tell a pushup from a deadlift. The company is taking preorders on Indiegogo through March 8 for the $159 device, which it plans to ship in December.

The Lumo Lift could correct your posture—and do much more.

The Lumo Lift could correct your posture—and do much more.

Lumo is making a posture-oriented device, the Lumo Lift, that aims to prevent you from slouching. But the company could have greater ambitions: At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, founder Monisha Perkash demonstrated to me how a companion app for the Lumo Lift can accurately track your body position. A next-generation product might analyze your form throughout a sequence of yoga postures.

And I recently met with Stéphane Marceau, the CEO of OMsignal, which is planning a line of athletic shirts which will measure a full range of biological signals, down to your breath. It also takes much more detailed heart-rate signals, capturing the minute fluctuations known as heart-rate variability that provide deeper clues to your health and physical performance. The company plans to take preorders in the spring and ship its shirts this summer.

OMsignal’s shirt will even measure your breaths.

OMsignal’s shirt will even measure your breaths.

Fitness entrepreneurs have a lot of choices these days—build your own, or just rely on the sensors built into smartphones and smartwatches. Jamo, for example, introduced a dance-fitness app earlier this week that relies on the iPhone’s built-in accelerometers to tell you if you’re matching an instructor’s sweet moves. And Focus Trainr uses sensors in the first-generation Samsung Galaxy Gear to analyze your movements in a way that’s conceptually similar to Atlas’s approach. The “peculiar but impressive” wrist devices Samsung unveiled this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona promise even more fitness-related applications. 

A Flood Of Personal Data

While several of these hardware startups have succeeded in taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in preorders, it’s not clear if they’ll make the leap to the mass market the way simpler fitness trackers have. One big problem is taking all the data they’re generating and actually making it useful.

OMsignal, from what I’ve seen of the shirt’s companion app, gets closest to this idea with its “OM index,” a metric for stress. Even with simplified indexes and measurements, though, we can easily get more data without getting more information about our bodies. The best apps will provide context and behavioral cues.

As a gym rat, I’m drawn to the sheer butchness of the Atlas device. But I can’t recall ever struggling to count sets and reps. (I use a simple and efficient app, GymGoal, to do that.) I would like a device that doesn’t just evaluate my form but coaches me with audio prompts in the middle of an exercise to drop lower in a squat, say, or make sure my chest touches the ground in a pushup.

Or better yet, how about a device that can capture my workouts and report back high-level observations to my personal trainer, so I don’t have to do the fiddly work of analyzing the data and massaging it into usable form? It’s clear that inventors are doing clever things with the latest hardware, taking advantage of the ever-dropping cost and power consumption of sensors. But when it comes to tracking our performance in the gym, they must remember that their competition is a mirror, a notebook, and a pen.

Images courtesy of Atlas Wearables, Lumo BodyTech, and OMsignal

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How Facebook Plans To Take Over The Internet

Imagine people in developing countries thinking Facebook is the gateway to the Internet. They would log into Facebook to access email, Wikipedia pages, weather information, and food prices. If they wanted additional services like the ability to stream video, they can buy it with a simple click—through Facebook.

That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Internet.org

At the Mobile World Congress on Monday, Zuckerberg delineated some of his plans for moving forward with Internet.org, the initiative led by Facebook to bring Internet connectivity to poor countries around the world. 

While Zuckerberg touted the altruistic vision of his company’s goal to connect the next one billion people, it’s important to note that the project isn’t just for the sake of bringing basic services to those that don’t have it, but rather bringing millions of additional eyeballs to Facebook and its advertisers. 

“[We are] making it so that we can increase the amount of up-sells to subscriptions when they’re using these basic services,” Zuckerberg said in his keynote. “They will come to a link that isn’t included in the basic services package; a popup that says, ok if you want to consume this, you have to buy this data plan.”

Facebook is making a long-term promise to both data carriers and advertisers—Zuckerberg said the next one billion people to attain Internet access will not be as affluent as those already on Facebook, thus making it harder to monetize the company’s services. Zuckerberg said the social network will subsidize Facebook, Messenger, and other services like weather or basic news and information, and then provide up-sells in applications to deliver the whole package—like a gateway drug. Those up-sells are where carriers and Facebook make money.

“The reason why they’re not on [the Internet] is they don’t know why they would want to get access to it,” Zuckerberg said. “[We will show] people why it’s rational and good for them to spend the limited money that they have on the Internet.”

How WhatsApp Fits Into Internet.org

Facebook recently spent $19 billion to acquire the mobile messaging application WhatsApp, an application Zuckerberg claims will be one of the few services to amass a billion users in the future. He claimed that, by itself, WhatsApp is worth more than what the company paid for it.

In developing countries like those Internet.org is targeting, many people rely on SMS communications due to a lack of data services. WhatsApp is already popular in many emerging markets, including those in South America and Asia where Facebook’s growth was stagnating. 

While exploding in popularity, WhatsApp was facing pressure to monetize. It already had a subscription-based business model, but in order to handle the influx of customers, WhatsApp would’ve needed to focus on building out a business model. With the Facebook acquisition, WhatsApp was given the opportunity to focus exclusively on growth without worrying about revenue models, since Facebook is footing the bill.

The Next One Billion

“Connecting the world” is Facebook’s vision—one that can’t be achieved without the support of other organizations, including the six telecom companies it partnered with for the Internet.org initiative. 

Zuckerberg said the organization is looking for an additional three to five partners to bring on board, ones that will bet big that Facebook subsidies of social services will pay off by up-selling their data plans. In most underdeveloped countries, 2G and 3G data networks are already available; people just don’t understand the value of the Internet yet.

“One thing I think is easy to take for granted is that most people in the world don’t have access to the Internet,” he said.

In order for Facebook’s strategy to work, it will have to make Internet relatively affordable, and provide incentives—like free Facebook access—for people to use it. Cheaper infrastructure, easier accessibility and up-selling additional data use will ultimately grow the company into a global Internet provider. 

A Facebook phone may have failed in the U.S., but it might just work in international markets. By using Facebook as an on-ramp to the Internet, the next one billion people will use social logins not just to control various apps, but their entire Internet usage. 

Lead image via screenshot of Zuckerberg’s keynote at the Mobile World Congress

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Why Twitter Might Take A Page From Facebook—Literally

Twitter and Facebook want to trade places with each other, as we’ve noted before, which is why the two companies continue borrowing features from one another. In the latest chapter of this social rivalry, Twitter is reportedly testing a major redesign to its user profiles that would make it look a lot like, well, Facebook.

On Tuesday, Mashable’s assistant features editor Matt Petronzio reported a big update to his Twitter profile page, which swapped a vertical column of tweets and user information for a “floating card” structure that resembles Facebook’s Timeline profiles, which were introduced in late 2011. Google has been similarly accused of copying Facebook’s user profile design for Google+.

It’s not uncommon for Twitter to roll out experimental features to select groups of users before releasing a major update to the public. But even if these features never see the light of day—it’s only “testing” this redesign, after all—Twitter users should probably brace themselves for further changes that stress visuals over the company’s traditional emphasis on text.

Now that its shares are publicly traded on the stock market, Twitter faces intense scrutiny from investors on a regular basis. At its first-ever earnings call earlier this month, Twitter admitted slow growth despite increasing revenues, and investors promptly hammered the stock down 25%. (It’s since recovered a bit.) So the company is now charged with finding new ways to retain and expand its online audience

Last month, Twitter rolled out an update to make its desktop client look more like its mobile counterpart. Before that, Twitter overhauled its messaging platform and updated its search functionality to include a new “Discover” section on the mobile site. Twitter has been swift about releasing these updates over the past few months, so the company could move quickly with these redesigned user profiles, especially since they’re already in the news cycle.

But new user profiles on Twitter, should they happen, would only be the latest chapter in the ongoing tale of mass convergence in the social sphere. As we reflected late last year, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest are all more similar than they are different, especially when it comes to user features. And as these major platforms develop, they continue to copycat features from one another just to keep up with users’ changing social tastes.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Twitter rolls out Facebook-looking profiles; as my colleague Matt Asay noted yesterday, Twitter wants to be more like Facebook (for its approachability with casual users), and has been willing to make changes to become a friendlier service, even if it never becomes a hub for friends to congregate online, which is how Facebook succeeds.

Redesigned user profiles wouldn’t change the way people use Twitter, but it might make the platform look more familiar to Facebook and Google+ users—since their profile pages look nearly identical—and thus more approachable to new users. Twitter would also enjoy some additional exposure from the news cycle by implementing these changes—you’re welcome, Twitter—even if the new profile designs are far from innovative or “new.” Plus, it would be a good way to get back at Facebook for introducing hashtags last year.

Lead image courtesy of Reuters

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Telenav Thinks Scout Can Take On Google Maps

Last week Telenav acquired Skobbler for roughly $24 million in cash and stock. Skobbler is based in Berlin, Germany and is to OpenStreetMap (OSM) what Red Hat is to Linux according to Ryan Peterson of Telenav. For those not aware, OSM is the Wikipedia of digital mapping. It relies on a global force…



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Take Your Mobile App Marketing Campaigns to the Next Level With Deep Linking

The benefit of using deep links for mobile apps is the ability for marketers to bring users directly to a specific location within the app. Here are 10 reasons to use mobile deep linking, and how to use mobile deep linking in your app.

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