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Facebook Gifts Goes Mobile

After acquiring Karma back in May 2012, Facebook is turning this acquisition to boost e-commerce through the re-launching of the Facebook Gifts platform.

This platform existed years ago, but it only dealt with virtual trinkets. Now, the revamped platform lets users buy and send real gifts straight to their friend’s doorstep using their mobile phone.

However, there’s a catch. Only select users who are in for the initial test for Facebook Gifts will be able to see it on their mobile apps–for now. While the rest of the world may have to wait for an indefinite time as to when they will be able to use this service.

With the tagline, “Celebrate birthdays, new jobs, and other big moments”, Facebook undoubtedly taps on the human nature of feeling compelled to send friends gifts for important life events such as birthdays or job promotion perhaps.

While the desktop interface poses no problem in terms of knowing who’s celebrating his/her birthday or any important life events for that matter, it is only now that these events and birthdays are unearthed and displayed prominently on mobile apps.

Both Android and iOS select users can see birthday notifications displayed on top of the user’s news feed. While both OS let users receive gifts, only those that use Android will be able to send gifts to their friends for the time being.

They can click the Gift link beside the event/birthday announcement. It is quite odd (and the element of surprise beaten) that the recipient can actually tweak the order such as he/she can change flavor, size, color and any other properties applicable to the type of gift.

These alerts, mingling with the rest of the news feeds, will ensure that you do not miss an important event or birthday, while compelling you to spend some bucks to buy your friend a gift. It seems that posting a birthday greeting or liking your friend’s post when he/she gets a job is not enough after all.

Well, of course, this is all about Facebook tapping on ways to increase their revenues. Now having one billion users, Facebook recognizes that a big chunk of these users favor accessing the app by mobile means.

This new platform does not force you to buy a gift, but with the notifications prominently displayed on your app, it may as well be successful in persuading you to buy one, just like the old-style casual gift-giving.

Save Money With ValPak Coupon App

ValPak app adds Passbook integration giving consumers a new way to interact with money-saving coupons.

There is no doubt that e-commerce has seen tremendous success as consumers nowadays prefer using their mobile devices over desktops in accessing or searching certain goods or services.

With this premise, we saw the inception of Passbook, Apple’s take on the mobile wallet.

Passbook is a platform which lets consumers organize and manage key money-saving items such as loyalty cards, coupons, tickets in his or her Apple gadget.

It acts as a virtual wallet wherein consumers can readily access offers in a timely manner as the app is enhanced by GPS technology. Consumers are notified with offers based on their proximity with a given business.

However, even with charts pointing out growth in mobile usage, support for Passbook among developers and companies has not yet picked up.

Giant corporations such as Starbucks and McDonalds have the capability to map out Passbook integration thus have rolled out the system.

However, this is a far cry for small and local business. While it’s a challenge for these businesses when it comes to establishing tracking systems, they can make use of services such as ValPak to solve the issue.

ValPak may have rung a bell. They’re the ones that deliver coupon-stuffed blue envelopes to millions of households. Their digital coupons are also a big hit attracting hundreds of thousands of consumers in a month. And yes, they do have an iOS app.

With the recent iOS 6 updates, ValPak has already integrated Passbook in their app, giving consumers seamless and faster access to coupons and offers of their favorite local stores.

The ValPak app works by displaying local offers and coupons that are within the 25-mile radius from the user’s standpoint. To get the coupons, consumers just have to tap and save it to Passbook using the sharing icon.

Once the coupon has been successfully added to Passbook, it will just alert you if a business is nearby where in you can redeem the coupon.

ValPak says that around 54,000 companies offer these coupons using the “show and save” approach. Customers only need to show the coupon to avail it and save money.

An E-Reader For Only $13?

Yes, you read that right. An e-reader that costs only $13.

As long as you’re fine with it not having WiFi, a built-in rechargeable battery, or touchscreen controls, then the German e-reader, Beagle, might be perfect for you.

Berlin-based startup company Txtr is introducing the Beagle, an e-book reader with an estimated cost of 9.90 euros, or just around $13.

Clocking in at 5mm thick at its slimmest point and weighing 128 grams, the Txtr Beagle is being billed as the world’s smallest e-reader.

The screen, although not touchscreen, is a 5-inch E Ink display and with 800 x 600 pixelr resolution is great for reading even under the glare of sunlight.

Internal memory is 4GB, and the Beagle supports .pdf and .epub book formats, aside from other formats on popular smartphone OS platforms.

“The Txtr Beagle is designed to do best what e-readers are intended for: reading digital books,” the company’s website announced.

Because it does not have WiFi or other networking capabilities of its own, transferring books to the Beagle is done via Bluetooth. Book files will have to be transferred from your smartphone or Android device.

The device requires two AAA batteries which should last for 12 to 15 books for an average reader. According to the company, the lack of many features in the e-reader makes battery life last longer.

The Beagle will be pitted head-to-head versus Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which at $119 has proven to be a popular and more affordable choice. This October, Apple is also rumored to be launching the iPad mini, a smaller and cheaper version of its iPad tablets.

Txtr is currently in talks with AT&T and Sprint as it looks for carrier partners who can subsidize the e-reader like a mobile phone.

Thomas Leliveld, chief commercial officer of Txtr, said in a press release: “So far network operators have not actively marketed eReading. In our view, this is because of the lack of a suitable device, which matches the crucial conditions relevant to the operator business model.”

Newsweek To End Print Version In 2013

Call it another casualty of the digital revolution, or just a transition long overdue, but either way it’s a new kind of Newsweek that will be greeting loyal readers come 2013.

The 80-year-old weekly news magazine will be switching to a “digital-only” format starting in January 2013.

To be called Newsweek Global, the virtual magazine will be made available to subscribers via the Web, tablets, and e-readers.

Some of the Newsweek content will also be available on different Web platforms maintained by The Daily Beast, the online news company it merged with in 2010.

Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek, clarified that this is just a transition for the magazine and not an end to its long history.

As today’s news audience is choosing to turn to the Internet for news and information, Brown said Newsweek needed to make this move to adapt to “the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution”.

“Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” she said. “But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purpose—and embrace the all-digital future.”

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that this year, 33% of Americans got their news primarily from the Internet. Newsweek’s sister company, The Daily Beast, now averages 15 million unique visitors every month.

Meanwhile, Newsweek’s circulation has dropped from 4 million in 2003 to just over 1.5 million two years ago. Print advertising revenue for Newsweek decreased by 70% from 2007 to 2011.

Along with the digital transition, staff layoffs are expected. “Regrettably we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the U.S. and internationally,” Brown added.

5 Tablets Under $250

Tablets are becoming more and more ubiquitous these days, with most train or coach journeys seeming to have at least one or two people working or watching a movie on one of these pricey pads.

Therein lies the problem for many of us – the concept is appealing, but for those on limited budgets or concerned about breaking the bank, the initial outlay of $500 or more for an iPad is a daunting prospect.  Fear not, as the market has matured considerably over the past few years, producing some great budget tablets for $250 or less.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HD has just been released and is a marked improvement on its predecessors.  Retailing at around $199, it’s a solid safe option for those dipping their toes into the water of tablet PCs, with a great interface, 7” crystal-clear HD screen, surprisingly good sound for its size and a curated app store to prevent accidental clogging-up of the device with less-than-authentic software.

The non-HD version, the Amazon Kindle Fire is available in a couple of weeks slightly cheaper at $159 for the very cash-conscious, but the larger screen and extra features make the extra $40 worth paying considering this tablet’s best function is as a media player used in conjunction with Amazon Prime.

An alternative for ease of use is the Barnes & Noble Nook, which comes in at around $179 and offers a similar range of media-playing options via Netflix, Hulu Plus and the growing Nook Store.  Its best feature when compared to the Kindles is its microSD slot, making the limited 8GB of onboard memory a negligible consideration.

For those who want the full, unadulterated Android tablet experience, with full access to the Play Store, the latest Jelly Bean OS and NFC support, you may want to spend your $199 on the quad-core Nexus 7, the definitive 7” tablet.  More comfortable and faster than the Kindle Fire, the lack of restrictions give budget-conscious but tech-savvy users freedom to use this tablet as they see fit.

It lacks a camera, but for those for whom the ability to take snaps is essential in any tablet they purchase, $225 or so will net you the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, so long as the courts don’t ban its sale again.  The Galaxy isn’t radically different from the Nexus 7, though Google’s tablet does have a slight edge over the Koreans’ offering for those who don’t care too much about the lack of a camera.

Apple’s Maps App Loses Its Way

Last month saw the launch of the iPhone 5, which went relatively smoothly overall with handsets selling out at record pace, though 5 million in the first three days still fell short of Wall Street projections.

Less smooth was the release of iOS6, which affected existing iProduct users as well as those with deep enough pockets to acquire the new hardware, with headlines dominated by stories and embarrassing screenshots of Apple’s less-than-polished iOS6 Maps app.

Google’s own Maps app comes shipped with Android phones and was also pre-loaded onto Apple handsets up until the iPhone 5’s release, with Apple until now providing their own Maps software, but leaving the real fight over mass-market map and navigation software between Google and Microsoft’s Bing Maps.

Notwithstanding the importance of making a fresh entry into this hotly-contested corner of the market, it seems strange that such an obviously broken application would be allowed to ship with a new handset at a time when Apple is fighting for market share against the Android OS and embroiled in disputes over patents with Samsung.

The embarrassment of the Maps scandal has already prompted Apple CEO, Tim Cook, to issue a public apology to its users, no more than one week after the launch of iOS6 and the iPhone 5.

In an open letter, he admitted that Apple “fell short” on their commitment to delivering “the best experience possible to our customers”, promising to work “non-stop” until their Maps app lived up to the company’s standards for making their products “the best in the world”.

Diplomatically, in what is a pragmatic and probably smart move, Cook suggested that users take advantage of Bing, Google and other competitors’ offerings while they worked on fixing Maps.  This openness and honesty is probably the only way that Apple is going to draw users back to their new and improved Maps when it arrives, but one thing is for sure: in the current tablet and phone market, Apple can ill-afford another software release as poor as this one.

JK Rowling’s E-Book Suffers Glitch

JK Rowling’s high hopes of charming millions of new, adult-aged readers with her new book “The Casual Vacancy” were dashed by an unexpected glitch in the e-book version..

Made available on September 27 in the United States, the e-book suffered technical problems specifically on the publishing end which involve the font size, color and margins.

The heavily anticipated e-book version can only be viewed in two ways: either the text is too large that it does not fit the screen; or it is too small and illegible that it cannot be read at all.

A lot of eager early birds who have pre-ordered the e-book are left disappointed with the outcome as they pour out their confusion and questions in different social media platforms. Some have even gone to the extent of using a magnifying glass just to make out the e-book’s text.

Hachette Book Group, the novel’s publisher, acknowledged the fault being on their end and immediately made necessary steps to correct the glitch after they were informed of the technical problem by consumers and retailers.

“As soon as [we were] made aware of these issues, a replacement file was uploaded to all e-book retailers,” said the publisher in a statement.

A new and fixed version has been provided to the retailers. For those who have purchased earlier, they would have to wait until an updated version is available from their respective retailers and reload the e-book all over again.

The glitch may have just added to the hubbub on the hefty price tag of $17.99, which puts “The Casual Vacancy” way above the usual price range of e-books. Yet even with the lofty price tag, the e-book has top charted sales before its release.

It can be remembered that this is Rowling’s first adult novel, a big step away from the fancied Harry Potter series which catapulted Rowling’s success as an author.

With the release suffering a major glitch, Rowling may also have to contend with tough reviews, yet we may have to wait if it hurts sales in the upcoming days.

Apple Releases New iPhone5

September 21st saw the release of the fifth and latest incarnation of the Apple iPhone series, the iPhone 5.

Expectations were high and the surrounding hype arguably greater than ever for the latest smartphone launch from the Cupertino sleek tech vendors, and following a slew of recent bad publicity surrounding the ongoing patent war with Samsung the inevitable question is, “How successful was the launch of the iPhone 5?”

From a marketing perspective, Apple was actually quite savvy this time around, with the iPhone 5 reveal and official release date announcement taking place just nine days before the smartphone hit the shelves.

Two million loyal customers decided to pre-order the iPhone 5 when sales opened on the 14th and the now ubiquitous Apple Store lines began to form in the run up to midnight of launch day.  So far, so good.

After the marketing and PR success of the announcement and launch came the iPhone 5 reviews.  Critical response was overwhelmingly positive, highlighting in particular the improvements many felt were lacking in the iPhone 4S – a larger, 4” screen, faster processor, new software (iOS 6) and ultrafast 4G LTE support (though the latter is, as always, often restricted by poor provider data coverage).

The initial honeymoon period in the press was short-lived however, as focus shifted towards the buggy and often downright incorrect Apple Maps and hardware incompatibility with older iPhone accessories without an as yet unavailable $40 adapter.

These criticisms will do little to dispel the impression some have of the iPhone as a prime example of style over substance, but the numbers don’t lie: two million pre-orders and 5 million units sold within three days of the launch mean that consumers still value Apple as a brand and the iPhone as a product.  The smartphone wars are far from over.

Microsoft Unveils ‘New Era’ Logo

There’s a lot of changes being introduced over at the Microsoft stable this year, and one of the most readily-obvious would be the new Microsoft logo.

It’s the first time in 25 years that Microsoft is tinkering with its logo; the current italicized Windows name with the wavy four-colored flag has been in use since 1987.

The change isn’t that radical or too far removed from the previous Windows logo. Microsoft probably took a hint or two from the Gap’s infamous logo change two years ago, which was abruptly reversed a few days later because of overwhelmingly negative feedback from its customers.

Microsoft decided to simply update the existing logo, but retain most of the familiar elements. The colors used for the previous wavy flag have been carried over, but are now solid boxes in a more streamlined facade, forming one big box. The blue square stands for Windows, orange is for its Office product line, and green represents Xbox (we’ll let you know what the Yellow stands for, as soon as Microsoft figures it out).

The updates started in February of this year, when the company hired design agency Pentagram to rehash the Windows logo, as reported by Sam Moreau, principal director of user experience for Windows. Moreau wrote that one of the designers from Pentagram had asked them, “your name is Windows. Why are you a flag?”

In a blog post, Jeffrey Meisner, general manager in charge of brand strategy for Microsoft, said the the updated logo “represents a new era for Microsoft”.

“This is an incredibly exciting year for Microsoft as we prepare to release new versions of nearly all of our products,” Meisner wrote further. “From Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 to Xbox services to the next version of Office, you will see a common look and feel across these products providing a familiar and seamless experience on PCs, phones, tablets and TVs.”

A New Chapter For Reading Rainbow

Reading and kids don’t always go together—in fact, it can be downright impossible.

So how do you get kids excited about reading? Well, if you grew up in the ‘80s and ’90s, you might remember a little show called Reading Rainbow.

The beloved TV show stopped airing in 2009, but it’s next chapter started in earnest with the launch of a new iPad app.

Reading Rainbow’s iPad app was created by RRKidz, a startup co-founded by Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton and producer Mark Wolfe. The duo licensed the Reading Rainbow name and content from WNED.

“Television was an ‘80s medium,” Burton said. So after the show ended, he and Wolfe asked themselves, “What would today’s technology be?”

The obvious answer was tablet technology, specifically the iPad.

The Reading Rainbow app is very true to the original TV show, keeping the focus on books and dialing down the bells and whistles normal apps would have to keep users engaged.

While the Reading Rainbow app does have animation and games, the books are still the “heart and soul” of the experience.

The app also features “video field trips”—basically showing new video segments in the style of the old show—and users explore content through floating islands with different themes.

The Reading Rainbow app is available for free, and which gets kids access to one book and one video per island. After that, a subscription fee of $9.99 per month for unlimited access applies.

Now a whole new generation can explore the wonders of reading.

Take a look, it’s in a book. The Reading Rainbow!