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The US Federal Trade Commission is suing Amazon for not having enough safeguards in place to prevent children from racking up millions of dollars worth of virtual currency and in-app purchases.

FTC chair Edith Ramirez said in a statement: “Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission. Even Amazon’s own employees recognized the serious problem its process created.”

Amazon  keeps 30 percent of all in-app charges, the FTC said in its complaint. The case “highlights a central tenant” of consumer protection laws in the U.S., that companies should get customer permission before charging them, said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, during a press conference about the lawsuit.

Amazon, in a letter to the FTC July 1, said it was “deeply disappointed” that the agency was moving toward filing a lawsuit. “We have continuously improved our experience since launch, but even at launch, when customers told us their kids had made purchases they didn’t want we refunded those purchases,” wrote Andrew DeVore, Amazon’s associate general counsel.

This is not the first time the FTC went after a company over in-app purchases by children.  In January 2014 Apple  provided full refunds to consumers, paying a minimum of $32.5 million, to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that the company billed consumers for millions of dollars of charges incurred by children in kids’ mobile apps without their parents’ consent.

Likely Amazon will have to make a token payment to make the FTC complaint go away. Given that Apple has the larger ecosystem and more user engagement, the likelihood of having to pay the same amount or more is not viable.

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Samsung has been releasing so many tablets this year, its hard to keep track of the good, bad and the ugly. The Galaxy PRO, the Galaxy Tab and now the Galaxy Tab S are all vying for your attention. Is there anything compelling about this new one worth writing home about?

Bad puns aside, the Galaxy Tab S comes in a 8.4 and 10.5 inch edition. These models have ultra high-resolutions (2560 x 1600) with a Super AMOLED display. This certainly puts the iPad Air on notice, as they only have 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. According to Samsung, the Tab S’s display has a more accurate color range, better contrast, and higher outdoor visibility than an LCD display. Maybe with resolution like this, we may finally start seeing some of the Retina enabled magazines and comics finally make the jump to Android.

The Tab S models weigh slightly less than their iPad counterparts, with the Tab S 8.4 coming in at 10 ounces or 294 grams, compared to the Mini Retina’s 331 grams. Meanwhile the Tab 10.5 is a solid 465 grams, or 4 grams less than what the iPad Air weighs. Samsung is touting the fact that these are the lightest and slimmest tablets they have ever made.

Underneath the hood is a Exynos 5 Octa, an octa-core mobile CPU that splits duties between a 1.9 GHz quad-core processor and 1.3 GHz quad-core processor. It has a 64 bit architecture, so it should solidly multitask and play any game you can throw at it. It also has 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal memory and SD Card support for up to 128GB. It is obviously running Android, and the latest version with 4.4 Kitkat.

You can shoot some video with the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera (with flash) and a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies and video chats. It also has a neat fingerprint sensor, that will allow it to take advantage of all the companies now offering fingerprint unlock functionality. The big rumor right now is that PAYPAL is spearheading a new system to take advantage of this.

Samsung has been going into overdrive with making arrangements with content providers. These tablets will be bundled with Kindle for Samsung, Marvel Unlimited, Milk and Paperfold. Other apps such as Group Play, S-Note, S Translator, Samsung Link, Scrapbook, Story Album and Video Editor are pre installed, while Gear Manager, Gear Fit Manager, Samsung Smart Switch, Samsung Level, E-meeting, Kids Mode, Kids Piano, S-Console, Hanshow, Hancell and Hanwrite are available to download.

Are these new tablets worth it? Well it is the lightest and thinnest they have ever made, it also has the highest resolution. 3GB of RAM and a super quadcore chip is actually fairly solid. If you have something a few years old and like Android, this may float your boat. The downside is not much content takes advantage of this high resolution on the Android ecosystem. Likely, you will not have a ton of developers porting their content exclusively for this, like they do the iPad Mini with Retina or the iPad Air.

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prime music

Amazon has officially unveiled Prime Music, which is exclusively available to members who pay the annual $99 Prime subscription fee. The service is competing against a number of established players in the market, such as Spotify and Beats Music.

Prime Music has a catalog of over one million tracks, contributed from Warner Music Group and Sony Music – as well as from large independent labels.The largest label in the world, Universal has not contributed any material.

Amazon has their work cut out for them competing against Spotify, Deezer and soon to be acquired by Apple, Beats Audio. These two companies have over 20 million tracks, and have highly developed curated playlists.

With millions of music tracks to choose from, it can get overwhelming when you try and discover new music. Amazon Prime Music is launching with hundreds of “Prime Playlists” created by Amazon’s editorial team, grouped by genre (Pop, Alternative & Indie Rock) as well as context (Happy & Upbeat, Party Time & Entertaining, Work, Study & Reading and more) Most of the playlists have older tracks on them and new ones will take six months from their release to become available on the new Amazon service.

Amazon Prime Music will be available to listen offline and doesn’t need an internet connection once the content is downloaded. You will also be able to scintillate your ears on any of the Kindle Fire tablets, and iOS. I was told an Android app is incomming, but is not available yet.

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The iPad Air 2 is poised to hit production next month and a number of manufacturers have chimed in on what will be different on the next iteration of the Apple tablet. The overall design should remain consistent with the first generation Air, but the internal components and hardware will be upgraded.

The iPad Air will maintain the same LG display screen with a resolution of 2048×1536 pixels. This will insure that magazines and comics will continue to be delivered in the HD format, making content look more vibrant than Android.

Many industry analysts agree that the rear facing camera will be enhanced from the current 5 MP version to an updated 8 MP edition, which will also include a larger sensor for improved low-light performance. iOS 8 will also bring photography updates to both Apple’s existing and next-generation iPad Airs, in the form of new panoramic and time-lapse modes.

Finally, the iPad Air 2 will have a new A8 processor which will speed things up, but also draw less power, so battery life will be increased. It will also include the same Fingerprint Sensor/Touch ID that was included in the iPhone 5S.

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Amazon has been running an installment program for the last six months for their e-readers and Fire tablets. It allows customers to pay monthly for the device instead of all at once. In order to drive more sales to the new Fire TV the company has quietly unveiled a new installment plan starting at $19.20 US.

The Fire TV is only available in the US and features a 1.7 GHZ quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. It comes with a remote control that has voice functionality and X-Ray for Movies. It retails for $99.99 straight up and likely Amazon is offering this installment plan in order to surpass Apple TV and Roku in the valuable Electronics category.

Reviews of the Fire TV have been largely positive, and Amazon has been on a rampage to promote its new device. Earlier this week, the company released an advertisement for the box featuring 15 minutes of Gary Busey talking to things in his house in order to promote the Fire TV’s voice search function.

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Kobo is discounting their entire lineup of tablets in preparation for Fathers Day. Customers in Canada will be able to save $30 off the Kobo Arc 7HD 16GB, $50 off the Kobo Arc 7 HD 32GB, and $100 off the Kobo Arc 10HD. The offer is available at Indigo, Chapters, Coles, Future Shop, Best Buy, Staples and The Source from May 28 – June 18.

When customers purchase one of these new tablets they will get six digital magazines for free via the Kobo Magazine Store.  These include -  Golf Digest (June), Wired (June), Popular Science Digest (June), Field & Stream (June), Men’s Fitness (June), The Hockey News (May).

Kobo tends to give discounts like this each major holiday, the last one was Mothers Day. The Canadian based company should be announcing their next generation hardware devices in October.

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The Blackberry Playbook and Blackberry 10 smartphones all have the Android Runtime built into the OS that gives developers an easy avenue to port their apps over for inclusion into Blackberry World. The most recent 10.2 update for all current generation phones can now load in APK files directly, which simplifies the entire process. Today, Blackberry has confirmed the Android runtime will soon be updated to Jellybean 4.3, which will allow more apps to be able to run effectively.

The new Blackberry SDK is out today for developers to incorporate it into their apps. The runtime has been upgraded from Jelly Bean 4.2.2 and with it users can log in to Android apps that require authentication right from the BB10 accounts settings page. Users can also manage which apps have access to which accounts. The SDK also has support for NFC and Bluetooth LE.

To get started, developers will have to grab the BlackBerry 10.3 Beta SDK OS for BlackBerry 10 devices. The company’s Android Tooling page has updated command-line tools and plugins for Android Studio or Eclipse to develop Android apps for BB 10.

All Blackberry phones should receive the 10.3 update in the coming months. The big rumor from CES 2014 was that Blackberry was creating a dedicated Android section in Blackberry World, to have control over app distribution. Right now the vast majority of phone users are using alternative markets such as Amazon or Good e-Reader.

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May
17

Samsung Readers Hub Disbanded

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Samsung is disbanding the Readers Hub that they have owned and operated since they started to seriously focus on Android tablets and smartphones. The South Korean company is suspending their relationship with PressReader and Zinio, two partners they have had since the beginning. Samsung is also closing down their own eBook store that they established in 2012 and relying on Amazon on their custom built Kindle Store, optimized for Samsung devices.

The Samsung Readers Hub was launched at IFA in Berlin Germany back in September of 2010. The essence of the service was to have Kobo, Zinio and PressReader preinstalled on all smartphones and tablets going forward. At the time, these apps were heavily customized to take advantage of specific screen sizes and resolution. It gave customers an all in one ecosystem to buy things right out of the box, instead of relying on Google Play to find the app of their choice.

In 2012 samsung decided to get into the book business themselves and severed ties with Canadian based Kobo. They talked with publishers and small presses and launched their own bookstore towards the end of the year. Their coming out party was at Book Expo America in 2013, where they met with even more publishers and bolstered their catalog to over 2.3 million titles. One of the drawbacks of the Samsung Bookstore is that it wasn’t available in all markets, nor all of Samsung’s devices. It failed to get traction because of poor locationation and mass market appeal.

In early 2014 Samsung made a bold move and partnered with Amazon. The Seattle based company made a custom app for Samsung to distribute on all future phones. In order to get people using the app right away on their new Galaxy S5, Amazon is giving away 15 free eBooks a year, from a predetermined list of 3 titles a month.

The Samsung Books Hub will officially close on July 1st 2014 and all new phones are being bundled with the Kindle app. If you have purchased books from Samsung in the past, you will lose them all. Currently there is no migration plan in the works and that is the price we all pay for licensing digital content, instead of owning it.


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realracing

Apple has unveiled new functionality for all apps in their App Store. Developers now have the option to offer promo codes to unlock all fremnium content within their apps. This is a boon for game testers or the media to give an accurate review of all the ingame content.

Promotional codes have been available for quite awhile. In the past, they were only relevant to downloading a paid app for free. This prevented companies like Zinio or PressReader from giving away free digital magazines or newspapers as part of a promotion.

This new feature is not available yet to all developers and Apple has not updated their main portal yet with all of the latest information. The big app developers have been the first ones to get early access, as evident in the Electronic Arts game Real Racing 3. The company is currently offering a promotion to get 10 gold, worth $1.99, for free.

Games that offer microtransactions like Simpsons Tapped Out or Clash of Clans stand the most to gain. They constantly run television commercials that would allow them to give in-game currency away for free and evaluate if their campaign was successful. I think eBook, newspaper and magazine companies stand to gain the most. Being able to give a few things away for free is a compelling value proposition. For example, there is a ton of companies out there that do the whole Netflix for eBooks or Netflix for magazines, a good way to distinguish yourself is to give away free content. These new promotional codes are a boon for the publishing industry.

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Microsoft has a smaller version of their Surface tablet waiting in the wings. This will allow it to be more pocket friendly and make it a viable e-reader for those of us on the go. Will the Surface Mini be a hit?

The Microsoft Surface Mini was first tipped in an Amazon product page for a protective case. There has been consistent rumors for the last year surrounding the new product that was originally tipped for an official annoucnement in May 2014.

The Surface Mini is thought to be seven to eight inches in size. One of the big hyping factors regarding this new device is the active digitizer Pen that will replace the capacitive one that shipped with the Surface 1 and 2.

Microsoft recently shed some of the bulky file size with Windows 8.1. The more lightweight operating system will allow tablets to get more bang for their buck with storage memory.

One of the big selling points behind the Surface Mini should be the Microsoft Reader app the company is developing. MS has mandated that Barnes and Noble discontinue support for their own app and throw their development might towards Microsoft’s upcoming product. There will be millions of books, newspapers and magazines available to purchase and also allow customers to open up their own eBooks and PDF files.

The Microsoft Surface Mini could be a compelling enough product if the price is right. In the past all of the Windows 8 tablets have been horribly overpriced and hinder mass market acceptance. A recent Gartner report done in 2013 stated that 195 million tablets were sold and Microsoft only accounted for 2.1%.

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Barnes and Noble is heavily invested in the Microsoft Windows 8 ecosystem with their Nook Reading app. It allows customers to purchase eBooks and magazines and read them on their computer or tablet, such as the Microsoft Surface. Recently, B&N expanded their Nook Press self-publishing program into a few different companies in Europe. It allows indie authors to distribute their eBooks all over the world. One of the downsides, is that if you live outside of the US and UK, you can’t read indie books on your Nook e-Reader or tablet, the only way you can is via the Windows 8 app. Microsoft has publicly announced the Nook App will be removed in the near future and a new reading app will be developed called Microsoft Reader.

Microsoft Reader will be powered by Barnes and Noble and will allow customers to read and purchase books. There will also be solid PDF functionality so readers can load in their own titles. This entire situation is going to haunt Barnes and Noble because their own customers will have to use a competitors app and implore their base to buy Windows 8 tablets to read the books on the go.

Barnes and Noble has always ran Android in their e-readers and tablets. This worked out well when the only market they focused on was the US. B&N ran software to geographically restrict the ability to buy books from outside the States and UK. This means the actual Nook hardware is tremendously limiting and can only be used in two countries. When Microsoft scuttles the Nook Windows 8 app, where does that leave readers who want to buy and read Nook books? Apparently the situation is more complex.

The only way Barnes and Noble can avoid an unpleasant situation on behest of their Microsoft overlords is if the new Nook Tablets run Windows 8. I seriously doubt this will happen, but it would be the only way Barnes and Noble can sell its hardware outside of their two core markets and allow people to buy and read books on their device. Currently the Nook Windows 8 Reading app is the ONLY way readers in Canada, France, Germany, Spain can buy and read books. Why do you think B&N continues to lose over a billion dollars on Nook hardware sales? They are not appealing to a global audience and actually prevent people from doing business with them. Going the Windows 8 route on their new devices will solve this issue and make them more accessible. If they can develop the first Windows 8 Reading Tablet, it will be a great marketing ploy. Amazon and Kobo both bill their line of Android tablets as reading tablet, running Android. Nook can say, we have the worlds first Windows 8 reading tablet.

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The vast majority of tablets only employ WIFI connections to give you access to the internet. There are only a spartan few on the market in the USA that have data plans to not be so reliant with public hotspots. We reported a few weeks ago that data tablets are going to be hitting the market in greater numbers in 2014 and T-Mobile is ready.

T-Mobile is offering $10 off its most popular internet data plans starting April 12th through the end of 2014. For voice customers, what that means is you can get up to 1GB of 4G LTE data free every month through the end of the year. Combined with the 200MB of free data you already automatically get every month with T-Mobile’s previously announced “Free Data for Life” offer that comes to nearly 1.2GB of free 4G LTE data every month through the end of 2014. If you love living beyond the Wi-Fi zone – and want to keep enjoying that tablet freedom beyond 2014 – you can get it starting at just $10 a month with voice service next year.

This promotion is obviously appealing to people who have a smartphone and want save money on data. This should get more people switching to the network who want to get free data, for the times they are outside WIFI areas. Tablets owners can merely get a very basic plan, inject the SIM card and automatically get 200 MB of free data. If you want to attach the barebones voice plan you can get over 1 GB of data, which is fairly compelling. I Know of a bunch of people who just use their tablet as their primary phone now, using Whatsapp, Line and Skype to make voice calls via Bluetooth.

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Apr
10

Freemium Games Barely Retain Users

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Swrve, a leader in driving engagement, retention and revenue in mobile apps and games, released a 90 day study of freemium games that demonstrated a significant and quick drop off rate of users, providing developers with only a short opportunity to monetize.

The study stated that within 24-48 hours of the first session, only 33.9% of users were active. On day 7, only 16.4% of users were active and as few as 5.5% were playing 30 days later. Furthermore, 45% of new players had less than five session within the game.

Swrve’s results demonstrated that it takes, on average, almost 63 hours till a user’s first purchase. 55% of those who make a purchase do it within the first week of playing and 36% of revenues are produced in just three days. A positive is that 60% of users who buy make more than one purchase.

Swrve stated that it it’s “imperative to make every effort to put the right experiences and offers in front of players from the very moment they begin play in order to maximize the revenue generated in what can be a very short window.”

Swrve calculated that total average spending was $20.62 which helps to produce revenue per install of $0.45. Only 1.5% of players producing 50% of revenues. Furthermore, only 2.2% of all new players make at least one purchase over the time period.

The study can be downloaded here