MediaFile

Tinsel town turns deaf ear to Kutcher’s request to plug his start-ups

Ashton Kutcher may have more clout in Silicon Valley than in Hollywood.

The star of movies like “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and now of the hit show ‘Two and a Half Men” told conference goers at TechCrunch Disrupt that he tried to get the studio to plug some of his Internet start-up investments on the show– but they wouldn’t do it without compensation.

Kutcher, who said he majored in biochemical engineering in college, has invested in some of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies. His bets include check-in service Foursquare, bed-and-breakfast service Airbnb, and personalized magazine Flipboard.

He also said he invested in companies that he thought ultimately would contribute to greater happiness in the world– but won’t open his wallet unless he clicks with the entrepreneur. “At the end of the day it’s about the person who runs that company, and whether it’s a person I’d want to spend some time with,” he said.

While sometimes he likes to go stealth to avoid his name getting in the way of potential customers paying attention on the underlying business, he thinks he brings more than just star power to his start-ups.

“I have pretty good connectivity in marketing,” he said. “I have pretty good product savvy.” And when he draws on his network of contacts to call in a favor for one of his companies, “they generally will call me back.”

Tech wrap: Apple ousts Nokia as top smartphone vendor

Apple jumped to the top of the global smartphone sales rankings in the second quarter, ending Nokia’s 15-year run as the lead smartphone vendor, according to new research from Strategy Analytics. Apple sold a record 20.3 million iPhones during the quarter, which amounts to about a fifth of the global smartphone market. Impressive considering its iPhone 4 model was released more than a year ago. Samsung also surpassed Nokia to claim second spot, with 17.5 percent of market share. Nokia fell to third place as its market share tumbled to 15.2 from 38.1 percent a year ago.

As if Apple’s new royalty status isn’t enough, the gadget maker can also lay claim to being the most profitable in the smartphone business. According to a chart on Business Insider, Apple pulled in two-thirds of all profits in the mobile phone sector last quarter. That’s twice as much as Samsung, RIM and HTC combined.

Did Yahoo get a raw deal when it signed a pact with Alibaba and SofBank to resovle a dispute over online payment service Alipay? That’s the case being made by some analysts. The trio announced it had struck an agreement after months of wrangling over the lucrative asset, under which Alibaba gets up to $6 billion if the mobile payments firm goes public or gets sold. But investors are bothered by the deal, saying it reaffirms perceptions on Wall Street that Yahoo has little say in Alibaba, the e-commerce company founded by Jack Ma and which is 43 percent-owned by Yahoo.

Tech wrap: Panasonic profits shaken by quake

Japan’s Panasonic Corp forecast on Monday its full-year operating profit would drop 11 percent to 270 billion yen ($3.4 billion) in the year to March 2012, after the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan hit production and sales. Like many of its rivals, Panasonic delayed its profit forecast due to lack of clarity about the effects of the quake.

Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue will total roughly $2.2 billion in 2011, displacing Yahoo Inc to collect the biggest slice of online display advertising dollars, according to a new study. Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue will give it a 17.7 percent share of the market for graphical display ads that appear on websites, according to a report released on Monday by research firm eMarketer.

The Internet body that oversees domain names voted on Monday to end restricting them to suffixes like .com or .gov and will receive applications for new names from January 12 next year with the first approvals likely by the end of 2012. Experts say corporations should be among the first to register, resulting in domain names ending in brands like .toyota, .apple or .coke. Besides the $185,000 to apply, individuals or organizations will have to show a legitimate claim to the names they are buying.

Tech Summit Q&A, final day: Verizon, Foursquare, LivingSocial

Being social,  going local, and paying for the privilege were hot topics on the last day of the Reuters 2011 Global Technology Summit.

Verizon CFO Fran Shammo got testy when Reuters reporter Jim Finkle asked him if he would reconsider charging mobile customers in addition to their data plans to tether their devices:

Shammo went on to explain Verizon’s decision to replace unlimited mobile data mobile plans with tiered pricing this summer.

Foursquare still struggling to become more than a niche app

USA/When was the last time you played Foursquare? Not the mobile app that lets you check in at a coffeeshop or store in hopes of becoming its “mayor”. But the original game involving a red rubber ball and a grid chalked onto asphalt.

For me, it’s been years since I played Foursquare, and I’m tempted to get a game going with some of my friends who live nearby. That is more than I can say for the mobile app Foursquare. It’s been months since I’ve check in anywhere – in fact, I’d forgotten entirely that I deleted it from my iPhone – and after reinstalling it and trying out its new features, I’m still not crazy about it. It still feels more like a chore than a game, an act of discovery or a way to connect with friends.

According to Compete.com, I’m not alone. In a blog post entitled “I’m the mayor! So what?”, Karen Costa showed some figures suggesting that the number of unique visitors at Foursquare has dwindled from a peak of 1.8 million this summer to less than 1 million last month. Its rival Gowalla has seen its unique visitor count tread water at around 200,000 for several months.

Gowalla shoots for 1 million users with new version of location service

Location service Gowalla launched within days of rival Foursquare in March 2009, only to see its competitor grow to more than 4 million users while Gowalla seemedGowalla 3 Activity Feed left in the dust. This summer’s introduction of Facebook’s location service, dubbed Places, didn’t help the perception that Gowalla was on a challenging road.

But Gowalla, which says it has “north of 600,000” users, has not given up. The Austin, Texas company released a revamped version of the service on Thursday that co-founder Josh Williams says will help bring its number of users to the million-mark by year’s end.

So what’s new in Gowalla 3? For one thing, you can now view check-ins by friends who use other location services, including Foursquare and Facebook Places, directly within Gowalla, as well as check-in to those services from Gowalla. That could provide a common window to keep track of the whereabouts of friends currently kept apart on separate location services.

Google unveils new ads in bid to tap into local merchant market

Google is revamping its efforts to court local merchants, as the Internet search giant faces a growing band of rivals aiming for a piece of the lucrative small business market.

On Monday, Google introduced a new way for local merchants to advertise on its Web site, as well as a variety of additional features to entice small and medium-sized businesses to use Google more often.

Store1Google’s local business center, which allows merchants to provide more information about their business listing on Google, is being re-branded Google Places. According to Google, some 4 million businesses worldwide have already “claimed” their listings among the 50 million generic business listings in Google’s directory of Places Pages