Google rumored to be planning to buy WhatsApp for a cool billion (Update: Denied!)

Update: WhatsApp denies the rumor
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Digital Trends claims that Google is negotiating to buy the hugely popular messaging app, WhatsApp – with the company said to have rejected initial offers and to be holding out for a price said to be close to $1 billion (via Gizmodo).

Google is on record as acknowledging its weakness in the mobile messaging field, with Digital Trends arguing that the acquisition makes perfect sense.

There are rumors that Google Babel will combine Google’s disparate communication services under one roof, but the platform still needs to do something to innovate in this space; mobile messaging has been taken over by smaller apps and Facebook has made a major push as well. Google hasn’t given an answer to this competition. Even Google Product Manager Nikhyl Singhal confessed to GigaOM in June of last year that “We have done an incredibly poor job of servicing our users here.” Messaging is a huge, gaping hole in Google’s mobile strategy.

Google Voice already offers most of the features of What’s App making the acquisition primarily a subscriber play, but we’re not exactly holding our breath on this one. Remember Google already has some Bable thing being cooked up, so adding something huge like this might put a wrench in the works.

Confirmed. Google Fiber’s next stop: Austin, Texas

Update: Confirmed by KVUE

Venturebeat got the word from some invites that went out this week.

On Tuesday, April 9, at 11 a.m., the City of Austin and Google will make a very important announcement that will have a positive impact on Austinites and the future of the city. We anticipate more than 100 community leaders and elected officials to be in attendance to celebrate this announcement. The event invitation is attached for your convenience. Although we cannot share the details of the announcement with you in advance, we know readers will want to learn more, so we encourage you to join us on Tuesday.

I’d move to Austin.

Google cites $30B in patent privateering losses in campaign against patent trolls

Google today announced in a blog post on its Public Policy Blog that it has asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate and take a stronger stance against patent privateering and patent assertion entities, aka patent trolls. Google linked to a document submittedGoogle-building to the government agencies mentioned above and noted that BlackBerry, Earthlink and RedHat are among other companies backing the request.

Within its post, Google’s Senior Competition Counsel Matthew Bye cited losses of nearly $30 billion a year in the U.S. due to patent trolls and urged companies to help Google create “cooperative licensing agreements that can help curb privateering.”

Trolls use the patents they receive to sue with impunity—since they don’t make anything, they can’t be countersued. The transferring company hides behind the troll to shield itself from litigation, and sometimes even arranges to get a cut of the money extracted by troll lawsuits and licenses.

Google described patent privateering as companies selling “patents to trolls with the goal of waging asymmetric warfare against its competitors.” While it didn’t name any companies specifically in its blog post or document submitted to the FTC, it did link to an article on Bloomberg that mentions Microsoft, Nokia, and Alcatel-Lucent as companies linked to patent privateering.

In the document submitted to the FTC, Google outlined its stance on patent trolls and recommended the FTC initiate an investigation into patent assertion entities and or expand its broader inquiry to include a number of important areas specifically related to patent privateering: Read more

Googlers turn Sergey Brin’s Tesla Model S into a pink Batmobile for April Fool’s Day (Photos)

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Google’s Nathan Johns posted a picture of an all-pink Tesla Model S yesterday complete with the official bat signal on its hood, bat wings as a spoiler, and Chrome’s logo embedded in the middle of its alloys.

This candy-coated Tesla apparently belongs to Google cofounder Sergey Brin. According to Search Engine Round Table, Brin’s beloved and spirited Googlers played an elaborate April Fool’s Day prank last Monday and transformed his zero-emissions car into a cute flashy Batmobile.

Brin—seen driving his Tesla around LinkedIn’s headquarters in the image above (via Brian Li)—is sometimes called “Batman” around Google because of his Batcave-like Google X repository.

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Facebook unveils ‘Home’ for Android phones (Photos)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is live on stage in Menlo Park, Calif., and he just unveiled his company’s new home on Android: called “Home”.

Facebook clarified that it’s not building a phone directly, nor is it building an operating system, instead the company unveiled “Home”. Home is for Android devices, and it is literally the home screen and “soul of your phone,” as Zuckerberg explained. Home is also “family of apps.”

9to5Google posted the first look at “Home” yesterday, but Facebook just gave a quick run down as to what the interface can really do.  For instance: Cover feed, a window that replaces the lock screen and home screen, allows users to navigate by flipping through, double tapping, etc.

Users can double-tap to “Like” a post and comment right from the home screen, and they can tap their own face and swipe to get to apps. Users can also swipe up to see their favorite apps in the launcher. There’s even a screen containing all apps, so they can drag their favorite apps to the launcher. Meanwhile, notifications come from people and not apps. Each notification has a person’s face, and users can collect all notifications in a stack and either swipe or save them.

Facebook also announced a new messaging service called “Chat heads” that works with both Facebook messages and SMS. A chat head appears with in the upper right, where users can tap on them, move them, or stack them. Tapping will bring up messages.

Facebook will launch Home via Google Play on April 12, with download availability coming for tablets in a few months. Facebook will maintain Home “just like the regular Facebook app,” and it promises to issue updates at least once a month with new features.

Only a few devices are ready for launch, including: the HTC One X, One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II, and eventually the HTC One and the Galaxy S4. There’s even a “Facebook Home Program” for phone manufacturers, and HTC, AT&T, Samsung, Sony, etc., have all signed up.

Zuckerberg just handed the stage over to HTC executives to unveil the first device that will officially run the platform— the HTC First. More details on Home are in the press release and videos below.

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Google sells Frommer’s travel guidebooks back to Arthur Frommer

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Arthur Frommer announced yesterday that he reacquired the rights to his travel brand from Google with plans to continue publishing Frommer’s guidebooks.

Google acquired Frommer’s last summer from the Wiley publishing company, but Skift.com reported recently that the Internet Giant intended to “cease production” of Frommer’s books.

Frommer, 83, originally sold his travel line to Simon & Schuster in 1977. Despite nearly 40 years of separation, Frommer told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he bought his brand back from Google.

“It’s a very happy time for me,” said Frommer. “We will be publishing the Frommer travel guides in ebook and print formats and will also be operating the travel site Frommers.com.”

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Watch Facebook’s phone event live (Video)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will take the stage in Menlo Park, Calif., this morning to show off his company’s “new home on Android,” and you can watch a live stream of the event in the widget above.

The video should auto-play around 10 a.m. PST.

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Samsung confirms 1,400 ‘Samsung Experience Shops’ coming to Best Buy locations by summer

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When we heard late last month that Samsung planned to open Apple-style ‘store-in-store’ locations within Best Buy retail stores it was still only rumor. Today Samsung and Best Buy have made things official for its plans to roll out 1,400 “Samsung Experience Shops” in Best Buy retail stores across the United States. Best Buy plans to have the store within a store Samsung shops up and running by the summer with 900 scheduled to open by May:

Select Best Buy stores will have Samsung Smart Service™, which includes dedicated Samsung Experience Consultants™ and Best Buy blue shirt sales associates to assist customers with purchasing and activating mobile products on the carrier of their choice, understanding their device and supporting them throughout the lifecycle of their product. The specially trained Samsung Experience Consultants will assist with product demonstrations, basic product services, Samsung account set up, warranty registration and post purchase support.

The shops vary in size, with the largest being approximately 460 square feet. Within the larger shops, the Samsung Connected Solutions™ area creates a place for customers to see how easily Samsung devices connect and share content across multiple screens.

It’s not exactly a first for Samsung, having experimented with a number of similar store-within-store locations at other retailers around the globe, but it could very well act as a test ahead of bigger retail expansion plans in the U.S. It’s also something that Google has experimented with in Best Buy and PCWorld in the United Kingdom, which we’re hearing has lead to even much bigger retail plans for the company.

The image above shows what a typical Samsung Experience Shop inside Best Buy will look like. Samsung’s full press release below: Read more

Mozilla and Samsung partner to build ‘Servo’, a next-gen web browser engine

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Mozilla and Samsung announced a partnership today to build a next-generation web browser engine for Android and ARM devices called “Servo”.

Google executives allegedly worried earlier this year over Samsung possibly using its dominance in the handset space to renegotiate revenue cuts from mobile ads and search, but now it seems Google should really have fretted over Samsung joining forces with the competition to create a new Android web browser engine.

Mozilla explained in a blog post what the new engine will do:

Servo is an attempt to rebuild the Web browser from the ground up on modern hardware, rethinking old assumptions along the way. This means addressing the causes of security vulnerabilities while designing a platform that can fully utilize the performance of tomorrow’s massively parallel hardware to enable new and richer experiences on the Web.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 12.35.19 PMAs mentioned by The Verge, Servo will rival WebKit, Google’s browser engine, rather than Google’s Chrome browser.

Servo is built with Mozilla’s Rust programming language, and Mozilla said Samsung has already “contributed an ARM backend to Rust and the build infrastructure necessary to cross-compile to Android.”

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Google Places for Business gets interface update and improved integration

Google refreshed Google Places for Business last night with a new look and feel.

The streamlined interface now makes it easier for businesses to update their information, and a helpful widget will even outline what they should do to fully complete profiles.

Profile edits will also now appear across all of Google’s products, like Google Maps, within 48 hours, but the improved integration doesn’t stop there. The official Google and Your Business blog has the story:

Through this upgraded interface, you will be able to access your local Google+ page to take advantage of social features like sharing photos, videos, or posts. For businesses who also use AdWords Express and Google Offers, managing your ads and promotions is easier than ever. You can check results and make edits directly from your upgraded Places for Business dashboard.

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HTC ‘first’ ‘Facebook Home’ phone to come in multiple colors

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Following up on his first render of the HTC “first” earlier today, @evleaks has published additional renders of the device on Weibo. These new renders show that the device will come in multiple colors: red, white, and a light blue. That’s in addition to the black phone seen this morning. The funky colors seem to match up with what we heard: Facebook and HTC are targeting their phone to the younger crowd.

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Photo of ‘HTC first’ smartphone leaks, sources say it is likely the first ‘Facebook Home’ device

Last week, we reported that Facebook and HTC are teaming up to launch a smartphone: HTC is building the hardware while BG33fUDCQAEBzDh.jpg-largeFacebook is building an experience to run on the device. As we previously reported, this new Facebook interface gives quick access to Facebook functionality like messaging, photos, and contacts. It is called Facebook Home. We also previously reported that the first HTC launch device for Facebook Home would be akin to a slightly larger iPhone 5 with capacitive buttons along the bottom.

Sources who have seen the Facebook/HTC smartphone hardware in-person say it is reminiscent of an iPhone. It includes an iPhone-like “home button” on the bottom center, and this button is surrounded by horizontal function keys on the right and left side. These buttons are said to be capacitive. Above the keys is a display slightly larger in size to the 4-inch display found on the iPhone 5. Recent rumors have pointed to a collaborative Facebook/HTC phone featuring a 4.3-inch display.

Today, @evleaks has published a photo of an HTC device called the “first.” It looks pretty much identical to the Facebook-HTC device that we described last week. Given that the image lines up with what previously heard, we expect the device shown to above to be the first, or one of the first, Facebook Home handsets. Additionally, our original sources are now saying that this device appears to be the FaceBook Home device that they have seen.

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