Zynga reports disappointing earnings

Facebook has changed our lives, and few companies have benefited from this development more than Zynga, the company that brought you FarmVille. There are tons of people on Facebook playing annoying (to most of us) but addictive (to some of us) games that clog up our timelines, unless you block them of course.

The problem for Zynga is that it’s getting harder and also much more expensive to develop the new addictive games, and that led to disappointing earnings, which then led to its stock getting crushed. That then led to the further decline of Facebook’s stock as well, making this a very tough week for social media companies.

As gadgets keep evolving and as new social media platforms evolve, companies like Zynga can rocket to success, but then it’s hard to keep up that pace. Consumers are incredibly fickle these days. Just ask phone makers like Blackberry and Nokia. You’re on top of the world, and then Steve Jobs puts out the iPhone and soon your high-flying company is staring into the abyss.

Zynga is trying to avoid that fate. One of their latest games might help them, as Zynga Poker was launched for Facebook and has taken off as the #1 poker app on iOS. The key here, however, is that Zynga is looking past casual gaming. As the feds try to sort out online poker regulations, Zynga is one of many companies that want to take on the most popular poker sites. They want a piece of what could be a very large pie when we finally get uniform poker regulations. They’ll have to battle the big casino companies of course, but this could be a much-needed boost for a bruised social media star.

The Hunt for Red September Looks to Recreate the Submarine Experience

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a submarine commander.

Ok, that’s a lie. But I did watch a lot of “Das Boot” in high school, and I’ve always preferred the “Star Trek” style of space combat (submarine style) to “Star Wars” (airplane dogfighting). Now usually when I draw such a vague fascination with something tangible that I don’t feel like putting the effort forth to actually achieve, I turn to video games to feed the need. However, the world of submarine simulation video games are all mostly in the same family as the “Microsoft Flight Simulator” games. Which is to say, they’re so incredibly realistic, by the time you get a handle on them, you would have been better off actually becoming a real captain/commander.

Well now, in a weird meta twist, where video games have failed to properly create an entertaining simulation of real life, real life has stepped in.

The creative geniuses at 1.21 Jigawatts are looking to defend their Red Bull Creation contest crown with their new invention “The Hunt for Red September.” It’s a built to scale submarine model simulator that requires a player to operate the right series of valves, levers, and buttons (as instructed by an on board voice system) in order to prevent a series of disasters. Fail to complete the simulation in its 2 minute time limit, and the model sprays you with an absurd amount of water as punishment. Even cooler is the social interaction features, which allows people to tweet “depth charge” to the simulation causing the entire machine to rock back and forth via hydraulics, and allows for the ability for enough people to tweet for a torpedo to attack the sub, the incoming progress of which can be followed via an onboard LCD screen.

Now if this sounds awesome, it’s because it is. However, this is no friendly game. Players have mere seconds to properly multitask the required functions in the right order before becoming drenched with water bursts. It apparently takes some serious skill to complete the simulation, which is only appropriate as it matches the skill put into this project in the first place. The team built this model in just 72 hours out of mostly spare parts, with the intention of winning the 2012 Red Bull Creation contest, and therefore making it to the Maker Faire in New York this September.

While there are no current plans for this model beyond that, I’d personally like to see Fortune 500 companies start using one in lieu of job interviews.

They Still Haven’t Built a Better Mousetrap, But Logitech Has Built a Better Mouse

I remember my old computer science teacher telling me that the computer mouse is a handicap. Her theory was that since so many features can be accomplished quicker using keyboard hotkeys, relying on a mouse to navigate your digital world was only for technologically illiterate people who don’t have a working knowledge of keyboard shortcuts. Now while she was clearly pretty hardcore in her beliefs, I’ve got to admit that I do find myself thinking back to that theory when I use a computer, as I catch myself more and more often not relying on the mouse as a default.

There is, of course, one notable exception. As well designed as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have made their controllers over the years, there is still no gaming controller that can compete with the mouse and keyboard set up. It’s the perfect marriage. The keyboard’s comfortable and familiar array of buttons allows for a wide range of features literally at your fingertips, while the mouse provides a level of fluidity and pixel perfect accuracy that no console controller could ever hope to match.

Now accessory mainstay Logitech may have made the mouse even more useful to gaming. That’s because their new G600 gaming mouse takes some of the functionality away from the keyboard, and gives it back to the mouse, just where my old teacher always said it belonged. Equipped with 20 buttons (and a “G switch” that can double button functionality) this mouse was specifically designed to allow MMO gamers to easily access hot key features. Generally though, this little gadget is useful for all types of genres, especially RPGs and RTS games that also rely heavily on quick key access. Not to mention it boasts the extreme durability, rapid movement speed, and pinpoint accuracy you would expect from a gaming mouse, as well as vanity features like customizable color LED color schemes for the buttons and tracking.

Now, this mouse hardly breaks new ground in the field of gaming mice, as various models over the years have featured available buttons before. What I do love about this one, though, is the overall design Logitech has implemented. Not only does it look slick and smooth, and boasts stats that compete with some of best mice available, but unlike some other, similar gaming mice, this one actually looks like it was designed for human hands. Plus considering how I just cleaned house during the Steam Summer Sale, I’m starting to consider the G600s somewhat hefty $79.99 price tag an investment.

Google’s New Service Looks to Make Mobile E-mail Widely Available

Of all the evil, soulless, money grubbing corporations that ultimately run the world, I’ve got to say that Google consistently finds itself coming off as the most pleasant. Between their exceptional employee benefits, and those awesome Google Doodles, they really do seem like the simple global power next door types.

In their latest move of philanthropy, Google is now offering cell phone users in Africa a service called Gmail SMS. This will allow users without high tech cell phones, or conveniences like WiFi hotspots or 3G capabilities, to send and receive Gmail messages through a phone’s basic text messaging service. The e-mail service is free of charge, and the only incurred fees are tied into a plans standard text messaging rates.

This may not seem like a big deal to most, but it’s a simple gesture that could mean a lot to cell users in certain underdeveloped parts of the world. The technology to do something like this isn’t exactly mind blowing, but for Google to consider that maybe people who can’t afford hundreds of dollars for a phone, and/or may not have any widespread internet services available, might just enjoy actually having a modern convenience now and again is the kind of move that should make similar service providers take notice, bite their pride, and start to offer the service themselves if possible.

Currently the service is available in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, but it looks like the ambition is to offer Gmail SMS to as many markets as possible. Considering the large number of cell phone users in Africa, for those in underdeveloped parts of the continent (and similar areas of the world), the expansion surely can’t come soon enough.

Could Amazon Soon Be Offering Same Day Shipping?

I’ve worked for small retail websites before, and the number one customer question you have to deal with is “where is my order?” While consumers are becoming more and more tech savvy every day, many are still confounded that a digital order, paid with digital funds, still must be physically shipped and that takes (*gasp*) time. Days even, sometimes. Of course, these increased expectations are also a result of sites like Amazon who are able to feature just about every good you could want, at bargain prices, and offer some of the most competitive shipping speeds available with services like Amazon Prime.

And now, the online retail giant may be looking to inflate expectations even more.

Rumors are circulating that Amazon may be looking to set up new distribution centers all across the country. Now you could probably think of a million reasons a company like Amazon would pull of such an incredible expansion, but the official theory is that this is actually an attempt by Amazon to offer same day shipping to their customers.

Maybe I’m just being shortsighted, but I honestly didn’t see this day coming. Being able to process, ship, and deliver an order in a 24 hour period would be an absolute game changer if Amazon can actually pull it off. However, they are going to have to carefully consider what this means for costs. Amazon’s distribution centers are currently set up in low or no tax states, and they ideally pass these savings on to their customers. Setting up shop nationwide won’t only lead to short term major expenses, but long term ones as well when you figure in the additional tax that is incurred on all orders and shipments. Even if the same day service is only available through a paid subscription, the costs may be too great to not eventually impact prices across the board. Not to mention the logistics of handling such quick turnaround on shipments may be too much for a company who only recently saw fit to give their employees air conditioning.

Still it’s impossible to not see the benefits here. The biggest downside to online shopping is the waiting period, and Amazon could virtually eliminate that. Also while this does impact “mom and pop” websites, any retailers who use Fulfilled By Amazon services (Amazon FBA) could see their products arrive quicker, and sell faster than ever (even if Amazon’s stocking fees go up as a result). The how, and how much, questions are looming over this news in a big way, but the fact is that now that the idea is out there, if it’s not Amazon who does it first, they could be beat to the punch. For better or worse then, they may have to take the initiative on this one, and see how their cards fall afterwards.

New York’s WiFi Initiative Expands

Payphones are an oddity on city streets. On one hand, they feel like indispensable parts of the décor. On the other, put one moments worth of thought into them, and you realize they are essentially useless. In an emergency, you may find yourself on a payphone , but the series of “only if” statements that would lead the average person to that point are nearly insurmountable considering the plethora of communication options available to the average pedestrian. Still, there has to be some use for the old payphone booths right?

Right. City officials in New York City are starting a program that will turn city payphones into free, public WiFi hotspots. To start, 10 booths across the city have already been outfitted with the WiFi upgrade, and based on the success of the initial locations, more could be springing up soon. This initiative comes hot off the heels of the recent efforts undertaken by NYC to find a carrier that will provide WiFi to select subway stations throughout the city, and seems to be part of the larger Bloomberg initiative to turn NYC into a friendlier, ultra-modern, personalized utopia.

Politics aside though, a good idea is a good idea, and this is a great one. The act of ducking into a Starbucks for WiFi service is a prolifically proficient means of getting internet service on the go, that’s been the default method for as long as there’s been WiFi and Starbucks. While the number of users turning to 3G and 4G service are growing every day, for the vast number of WiFi patrons still active, this initiative could prove infinitely useful if the city is truly dedicated to creating enough hot spots.

Although I must say it is odd that roaming street gangs loitering on the corners may soon be replaced by roaming hipsters loitering at the WiFi spots. Some call that progress, but frankly the hipsters scare me more.

Recipe for Innovation – ZipList Mixed Lightly with Pinterest

I have an odd affection for Pinterest. While I tend to ignore other social sites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare for regular surfing, I can’t help but love the concept, design and user involvement of the site, and it always feels like every time I visit, I’m really finding something that catches my interest, even if it is just for a moment.

Of the various topic boards on Pinterest, the most continually interesting one has to be the food board. There’s a term out there called “food porn,” and it’s used when there is food that looks so good, and is so appealing to the eyes, that it causes a rush of endorphins that is the equivalent to looking at pornography. Well, the Pinterest food board is basically a hardcore food porn website, as pinners use it to find and share the best looking food on the web. If you’re smart, you’ll also learn to take advantage of the ability to click on the tantalizing food photos and get the recipe from the source site.

And now, thanks to the handy recipe-saving program ZipList’s new Pinterest-friendly features, you have even fewer reasons not to go recipe cruising on Pinterest. It’s as simple as this: You download the ZipList program and drag the “clip it” feature button to your bookmark toolbar. Then, you just find a tantalizing food image on Pinterest like this:

And you click the clip it button to bring up a screen that turns the image into an ingredient list like this:

From there, you can use the site’s mobile app to bring up your saved ingredient list while you’re at the store, so you can shop for exactly what you need to make the recipe. There’s even a notes feature, in case you want to write down the full step by step recipe for future reference.

The word from Pinterest is that 70% of users say that recipes are their most pinned topic. It’s no surprise, either, as the food industry is booming to the point that it’s being compared in some circles to the rock and roll revolution of the ’60s. So now is a great time to turn your solo food porn adventures into some hot, sweaty kitchen action as you use this program to help you take the bold step into the world of cooking for yourself.

Amazon Looking to Rekindle the Tablet Wars with the Kindle Fire 2

It’s looking more and more like the launch of the Google Nexus 7 tablet is just the start of a firestorm about to hit the affordable tablet market. Appropriately then, Amazon is looking to jump back into the fray by fighting that fire with one of their own.

According to rumors first started by a report in the China Times, Amazon is looking to start production early on the Kindle Fire 2, possibly aiming for a release as soon as this summer. While details are sparse on the upgraded Fire, the word is that Amazon’s Taiwan partner Quanta has received the go ahead to start production on what could possibly be a few different models of the Fire. While all of the models are currently being predicted to retain the original Fire’s 7-inch screen (with the base model retaining the $199 price point), most likely the different units will feature increasingly larger storage capacities and work off an increasing pricing structure similar to the  Nexus 7. There’s even word going around that the most expensive unit of the three will include a built-in camera and 4G capabilities. It’s also hard to imagine that even the base model of the new Fire won’t include a faster processor, better screen resolution, and a longer battery life if it looks to keep up with the standard Nexus 7.

I know a few people that own the original Kindle Fire, and the general consensus that you get from them is that “it does what I need it to do,” That’s a far cry from the original mission statement of the Fire when it was still marketing itself as a rival to the iPad at a much cheaper price. Since then, the smaller, cheaper tablet has established a market of its own with the Kindle Fire being seen as the fore bearer, and even the front-runner, of the new line. Considering, though, that Apple, the company whose iPad helped kick off this new war, is allegedly looking to release their own smaller tablet, the big question is if Amazon would do better holding off and seeing what the industry’s giant is going to bring to the table first before jumping the gun with this 2nd generation Fire. Otherwise, the novelty and name power they launched the Fire with in the first place may not hold up if a rushed product that is only meant to compete with the newest kid on the block eventually turns them into another face in the crowd.