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In Brief

Oculus VR, creators of the Rift virtual reality (VR) goggles, closed on a $75 million round of funding from Andreessen Horowitz to bring its product to mainstream consumers, according to Venturebeat. Spark Capital, Matrix Partners and Formation|8 also participated, and Oculus VR previously raised more than $2.4 million in 2012 on Kickstarter. The new money, along with the full-time focus of game icon John Carmack, is a big investment in not only bringing consumer VR to market, but also to make it a viable place for games — not just a one-off novelty product.

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In Brief

Language-learning app Duolingo has released an entirely new version of its app, which introduces more gamified features to keep users engaged. In addition to its existing lessons, the company unveiled a feature called “The Language Coach” — essentially a software taskmaster (mascot Duo the Owl) to keep users on track for goals. There is also a new in-game currency, called Lingots, that offer “power-ups” to users while they learn. The feature leans heavily on existing freemium methodology, but they aren’t necessary to complete lessons. All in all, the app’s gamification is a clear move to keep users coming back for more.

In Brief

Peek is taking its activity booking service to the iPhone, offering users the ability to see nearby trips, meals and activities. The app, called Peek Tours and Activities, offers users a personality quiz to narrow down activities that suit their tastes. Users can also browse all offerings directly by “personality,” subject and an area’s point of interest. The app, of course, works best in an area that is a popular for tourists, so scanning for things to do in a small town may not provide a gratifying experience. But, its curated resources are worth considering while on vacation.

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In Brief

As smartphones finally begin to boom in Japan, so does the cash spent on apps. According to App Annie, the country has overtaken the U.S. as the top grossing country in overall app spending in both the iTunes App Store and Google Play this year. Japan’s combined iOS and Android monthly app revenue has more than tripled year-over-year, thanks to a boom in smartphone penetration. It’s also a market dominated by domestic app developers, like GungHo Games and Line. But, most importantly, Japan isn’t finished growing — making it a ripe market for app sales in the years to come.

In Brief

Do you know about Apple’s “12 Days of Digital Gifts” campaign? American users have been left out of Cupertino’s annual free gift app until now, as it has only been available within select countries. But 9to5Mac reports that this year, the U.S. has been brought in on the fun. iTunes users who download the app will be able to snag a select piece of digital media for free every 24 hours, starting on December 26. The app is available for download now for both iPhone and iPad in the iTunes App Store.

In Brief

Old News, meet New News: E.W. Scripps has announced that it will acquire video-journalism-for-hire startup Newsy for $35 million, with the deal expected to be finalized by January of next year. Newsy has made a name for itself by producing news videos alongside content for websites like the Huffington Post, Mashable and Microsoft, essentially providing a broadcast news team on commission. That strategy will be used to provide video content for the digital versions of the many daily papers E.W. Scripps still owns across the country, a needed service as local papers struggle to keep up online.

In Brief

Benchmark, a leading VC firm that has backed several successful startups like Instagram, Snapchat, Uber and Yelp — has recently raised $425 million for a new fund, according to Fortune. The details in an SEC filing reveal that the new money does come with some changes: firm co-founders Kevin Harvey and Bruce Dunlevie are no longer listed as general partners, and there is a chance a new general partner will join the team. Still, it’s another milestone for one of Silicon Valley’s most successful VCs, and the new money will help support the firm’s kingmaking abilities for the immediate future.

In Brief

The ultimate archive feature has arrived: Google officially announced via blog post that users can now export all of the data from both Gmail and Gcal. The new feature, which is available now for Gcal, will roll-out across all users this month for Gmail and is accessible via the “Download Your Data” tab in the Google settings menu. Now you can keep hoarding your massive email collection without worrying about backing up against Google’s (admittedly massive) data ceiling.

In Brief

For Apple product users, the home may soon be Siri’s domain. Apple Insider reports that Cupertino has filed a patent with the USPTO for a “smart dock” that, when plugged in, continually listens for audio cues throughout the house. It’s a much more function-rich version of docks currently available now, but with easily accessible voice control options that allow users to execute commands via voice prompts. The concept seems like a practical step for Apple to get the most use from Siri, while tackling smart home technology.

In Brief

People have the right to protect the use of our name and likeness, but what do we do about technology that can sense the shape of our face? The Hill reports that the Obama administration and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) will hold the first of a series of monthly meetings in February to discuss “a voluntary, enforceable code of conduct that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology,” according to the NTIA. The proposed policy comes as more companies are building facial recognition technology into their features.

On The Web

We’re all familiar with the smart watches and smart glasses that make up the frontier of wearable tech, but what about a smart wig? Bloomberg says Sony has filed a patent for a “SmartWig,” which could do anything from play music to check the blood pressure of the wearer. The wig could also have a built-in camera, laser, or even a GPS sensor. There are even prototypes in the works, suggesting that Sony is interested in taking this kooky concept to reality.

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