Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Flurry: Mobile Dating Apps Capture More Flirting Time Than Online Sites

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 09:07 AM PDT

Mobile app analytics firm Flurry has released a report today that examines the use of mobile dating apps vs. online dating sites. Flurry used data from Compete, comScore and Alexa to measure internet consumption of dating sites and used its own analytics data (which now tracks over 90,000 mobile applications) for mobile tracking. With respect to dating, Flurry tracks a large set of dating apps with more than 2 million total users.

Flurry reports that mobile dating apps command more time compared to online dating sites. On average, 8.4 minutes are spent in mobile dating apps vs. 8.3 minutes online. And a year ago, people spent twice as much time on the Internet for dating as they now do in mobile apps. Mobile dating app usage has grown from 3.7 minutes in June 2010 to 8.4 minutes in June 2011. This is further evidence that supports Flurry’s recent report on mobile app usage dominating web browsing.

In terms of engagement, Flurry says that the frequency of consumers checking mobile dating apps contributes to the growth in time spent per day in mobile dating apps. Last year, the average user opened a dating app 2 times per day, a little under 2 minutes each time. Now consumers open a dating app over 5 times a day, but for shorter periods of time, about 1.5 minutes per session.

In terms of unique users visiting sites v.s mobile apps, Flurry finds more people are using dating apps on smartphones than visiting online dating sites are on the web, proportionally. Flurry measured this by looking at the proportion of unique users of dating services versus the total, per platform. For the Internet, Flurry compared unique visitors of online dating sites versus the total number of people using the Internet, which totaled 12% in June 2010 and 13% in June 2011. For mobile apps, Flurry compared unique users of mobile dating apps versus all apps, which resulted15% in June 2010 and 17% in June 2011.

And the report shows that the number of people using dating apps is growing faster than the number using all apps. Overall, the number of unique users of all applications increased 125%, year-over-year, while the number of unique users using mobile dating apps increased by 150% over the same period.

For background, Flurry found the top dating apps and sites are Match.com, eHarmony, PlentyOfFish, Zoosk, Jazzed Online Dating, Skout, and Grindr.

Considering this data, it seems that there’s a huge market opportunity in mobile dating and incorporating local and location-based functionality. And it’s a trend that startups such as LikeALittle has caught onto.

Globant Acquires Mobile And Social Applications Developer Nextive

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 08:51 AM PDT

Globant, an Argentinian software development, IT services and maintenance outsourcing giant has acquired Nextive, a San Francisco-based mobile and social technologies company that works for clients like Zynga, Crowdstar and GSN.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

The news comes a few months after Globant raised $15 million in financing from PE firm Riverwood Capital and FTV Capital.

The deal allows the IT company to expand its services to North America.

Founded in 2008, Nextive’s 130 employees will now move on to lead Globant’s Mobile Studio, adding new practices. The team will be working from their development centers in San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Cordoba.

Globant’s customer list includes companies like Google, EA, Sony, IBM and LinkedIn.

The company says it is currently hiring 120 new employees worldwide per month, and expects to add 200 US-based workers in the next two years.

AOL Editions Delivers A Daily Briefing To Your iPad

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 08:45 AM PDT

The dream of a personalized magazine tuned just for you keeps showing itself on the iPad. Today’s edition comes from AOL Editions, which is finally coming out after much fine-tuning and a silly video. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is also owned by AOL). Editions assembles a digital magazine for you once a day from a variety of online news sources and blogs—The Atlantic, Businessweek, CNNMoney, Forbes, TechCrunch, Cnet, Business Insider, Wired. It is trying to stake a position somewhere between The Daily’s all-original (and expensive) reporting and Flipboard‘s endless pages of prettified RSS feeds and social streams.

AOL Editions is designed to be completed in one sitting. It pulls in 30 to 50 stories across different sections like Top News, Technology, Business, Entertainment, Sports, Local News, and Travel. You pick the sections you want, enter your zipcode, and it does the rest. You can further train the app each time you read an article by tapping on sources and topics you want to follow or hide. The app pulls out a few main topic tags associated with each story for which you can effectively give a thumbs up or down by tapping on a check mark or an X. The next editions will show more stories from those sources or on those topics.  You also can add blogs or news sources via a search box on each section start page as well (but only from sources without paywalls, no New York Times articles appear, for instance).

The design and navigation are pleasing enough once you wait for a minute or so for your edition to be pulled together on the fly each morning.  Readers are greeted by a big cover picture with an old-style magazine mailing label that states their name, town, and the temperature.  Sections start off with large photos and headline typeface. As you flip through the articles, the layouts vary with headlines and excerpts in different column configurations. When you tap on a story, an in-app browser will open up and take you to the original webpage. If the source is owned by AOL (such as TechCrunch or Patch for local news), you get this nice effect that allows you to swipe through all the text within the app, but only half the page is moving because the photo and headline stay still.

In addition to flipping through the edition sequentially, you can also pull up sections to jump to them directly or a full list of articles. Articles can be bookmarked or shared via email, Twitter or Facebook.

It’s a solid effort put out by the mobile team under David Temkin and Sol Lipman from AOL’s West Coast office (which is part of Brad Garlinghouse‘s group). But I have one main issue with it and that is the timeliness of the news in its pages. For my realtime tastes, they can be a little bit stale.

In an attempt to deliver something that is complete and completable, AOL Editions pulls together your personalized stories at the same designated time every day. If that is 8:00 AM, any news that happens after that will have to wait until your next edition “arrives” the next morning (although there is a way to override that and assemble the next edition immediately). If I open AOL Editions and read what I perceive as yesterday’s or even this morning’s news compared to what I can get online, I’ll just stick to the Web.

I, admittedly, am a news junkie whose livelihood depends on being up-to-the-minute on every tech headline, but I don’t think it’s just me. People spot check news apps and sites against one another.  News apps need to be as current as the Web. Those are just table stakes.

While there is a certain satisfaction to being able to complete an Edition (or at least skim every headline and excerpt), it wouldn’t be too hard to add a few updates throughout the day to each section. The Edition could be reassembled every time I open the app, not some predetermined time of day.  The algorithm that selects what stories to present is based on clusters of similar articles across top news sources.  There is no social stream component like you have in Flipboard pulling out the images and text behind Tweeted or shared links.  The benefit of this is that Editions is less noisy than Flipboard, but it is also missing out on the timeliness of the social news feed.   Again, there is a different way to do this.  Instead of showing every shared story in my Twitter and Facebook streams, Editions could show only the ones which hit a certain threshold of likes and reteweets.

As the news-finding algorithm improves, so will the overall experience.

Cloud Solutions Company Appistry Lands $12 Million In Funding

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 08:34 AM PDT

Appistry, a St. Louis, MO-based developer of cloud solutions, has raised $12 million in funding in a Series D round led by private equity firm eXome Capital.

Stuart Mill Capital and other private and existing investors also participated.

The round, which includes term debt, pushes the total of capital raised by Appistry to over $34 million.

Appistry’s flagship CloudIQ Platform applies cloud architectures to ‘big data’ challenges. The solution, which is designed to support data-intensive and analytical applications used by enterprises, basically enables Appistry’s clients to rapidly turn raw data into actionable intelligence.

Appistry customers include FedEx, GeoEye, State Street Bank, Lockheed Martin and multiple US government agencies.

T-Mobile Rebounds With 7-Eleven After Radio Shack Split

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 08:28 AM PDT

Breaking up is hard to do, but T-Mobile and Radio Shack seem to be handling the split rather well, all things considered. After Radio Shack alleged that T-Mo materially breached the terms of their agreement, the two have gone their separate ways. Or at least, they will on September 15. This is more of the awkward, still-living-together phase.

In the mean time, Radio Shack has moved on to the hot red head, signing a deal with Verizon. T-Mobile, on the other hand, is looking more like the desperate dumpee, hooking up with none other than the infamous and quite unexpected 7-Eleven. What a rebound, am I right?

While both parties attempted an amicable break, their public responses to the matter gave off another impression. Here's what Radio Shack's president and CEO had to say about it:

"The addition of Verizon Wireless, in combination with our existing carrier partners, positions us to now offer the best assortment of carriers, rate plans, devices and accessories for every consumer need."

The best carriers, huh? So, T-Mobile wasn't one of the best carriers? And you're gonna rub your new relationship in T-Mo's face? Low blow, Radio Shack… Low blow.

You can tell that things were getting pretty rough between T-Mo and Radio Shack in recent months, based on a statement made by then CFO Jim Gooch calling T-Mobile's products "not competitive with other carriers." Boom. And that was back in March when the two were keeping up the appearance of a healthy, committed partnership.

Then again, T-Mo hasn't exactly taken the high road. It's clear from the releases and the chain of events that it was Radio Shack who initially broke off the agreement. Whether it was actually about a contract breach, or simply poor sales disguised as a contract breach, Radio Shack dumped T-Mo. But T-Mobile has had trouble accepting that, issuing the following statement:

"After careful consideration, we decided that in order to increase the effectiveness of our retail network and in line with our sales strategy, T-Mobile will exit RadioShack retail locations, effective September 15, 2011. We are currently focused on higher return national retailer opportunities and we expect to announce new channel growth in the coming weeks, which will more than double the number of RadioShack doors currently offering T-Mobile products and services."

Well, that statement is just loaded with coded resentment. According to this response, T-Mo was the one who decided to bounce out of there. After all, the pink carrier is interested in "higher return national retailers." Which is no problem at all, because T-Mo will "more than double the number of Radio Shack doors" selling T-Mo gear. With 7-Eleven.

7-Eleven does have some experience selling prepaid phones and calling cards, and will add 8,800 new locations to T-Mo's map. Still, that doesn't really compare with the reach it had with Radio Shack, and T-Mobile will certainly need to rope in a few more partners before it can ever get back in the game completely. Plus, 7-Eleven won't really aid in growing the T-Mo customer base, since no one will be signing any contracts in a gas station. Plus, the only phone being sold through 7-Eleven is the LG GS170, a basic flip phone that'll go for $29.99.

But T-Mobile's knight in shining armor is on its way. AT&T is in the midst of appeasing the FCC and the DOJ to get approval to officially acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion. While Verizon and Radio Shack seem to be totally over it, that tune may change when AT&T and its betrothed take the number one spot among national carriers.

HTML5 Ad Builder Sprout Acquired By InMobi

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 08:01 AM PDT

Sprout, a company that offers an easy-to-use platform for building HTML5-based ads, has been acquired by mobile ad network operator InMobi. Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Sprout had raised a total of $10 million from Global Venture Capital, Polaris Venture Partners, Global Venture Capital, and Mitch Kapor.

Sprout got its start as a builder for Flash-based widgets that could effectively serve as miniature, embeddable websites (they were used primarily for marketing purposes). In 2010, the company made a major change: it decided to move away from Flash and focus entirely on HTML5, allowing advertisers to create animated and interactive ads that will play on nearly any device.

Their timing as good: two weeks later, Steve Jobs penned his famous ‘Thoughts on Flash’ letter, making it very clear to advertisers that if they wanted to reach iOS users, they’d have to do it using HTML.

Sprout will retain its branding and remain an independent company after the acquisition, and the SF-based team of 15 will all be kept on board. InMobi will be integrating Sprout’s ad builder into their platform — which InMobi VP of Marketing James Lamberti says will be happening in short order.

InMobi recently announced that it’s reaching 83 million mobile consumers in the United States through 6 billion monthly ad impressions.


Dare Mike’s Executive Assistant To Do Anything You Like — For The Labradors!

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 07:58 AM PDT

Today’s the day Mike Arrington’s new assistant Greg will be wandering the streets of Silicon Valley, doing everything — and anything — you ask him to do.

We’ve already received a bunch of hilarious tasks (dares?) — but we want even more to make sure Greg is thoroughly embarrassed occupied, so please keep them coming. Since all of the money is going to charity, the Golden Gate Labrador Retriever Rescue, we are going to give priority to those suggestions that offer the most money.

Want Greg to streak through Union Square wearing TechCrunch boxers? That could go for $200, wouldn’t you think so? Take a shot every 15 minutes? That could go for a good $10 a shot, and be worth every penny to watch, right? Don’t do it because you want poor old Greg to get drunk or naked in public: do it for the Labradors!

We’ll choose Greg’s first challenge around 11am PT and we’ll keep going for at least a couple of hours — even longer if we receive enough amusing and entertaining tasks. To get Greg to do your bidding, just tweet your task and what you are bidding using the #ZaarlyGreg hashtag. I’ll be following him with a TCTV camera crew to record the tasks, and I’ll also update this post from 11am on whenever anything ridiculous happens (which will probably be often).

Send your tasks and bids via Twitter right now: hashtag #ZaarlyGreg

Disclosure: TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is an investor in Zaarly. You can read about his investment policy here.

Movie Streaming Service Zediva Shuttered Over Legal Battle With MPAA, Vows To Keep Fighting

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 07:49 AM PDT

There goes Zediva. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the video streaming start-up by ruling that the company violates copyright infringement. The injunction will effectively shut down Zediva, but due to a legal technicality, it won’t officially be issued for another week.

Zediva should have seen this coming. The company billed its streaming service as a DVD rental over the Internet and proudly proclaimed “New Movies before Netflix and Redbox.” They were essentially working (or so they thought) around several IP and copyright laws by streaming DVDs purchased at retail and then allowing customers to rent the physical DVD and DVD player. They said, this practice was essentially the same method of transmission used by video rental stores. The MPAA disagreed. (so did the judge)

The judge rejected Zediva’s claim that the service was akin to having a DVD player with a really long cable attached. The MPAA’s hounds argued that Zediva was serving up a public performance and did not have the proper pay-per-performance license. Judge John F. Walter agreed and stated, “Defendants are violating Plaintiffs' exclusive right to publicly perform their Copyrighted Works.” and later, “Plaintiff’s argument that On Command’s system involves not “transmissions” but “electronic rentals” similar to patrons’ physical borrowing of videotapes is without merit.”

The MPAA praised the victory in a statement, “Judge Walter’s decision is a great victory for the more than two million American men and women whose livelihoods depend on a thriving film and television industry.”

Zediva isn’t going to roll over, though. The company vowed to keep fighting for those “looking for an alternative to Hollywood-controlled online movie services.”

Android Malware Eavesdrops, Records Your Conversations

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 07:24 AM PDT

Now there's no question that Android's flexibility has endeared it self to many a smartphowner out there, but I'd imagine that not everyone is as cognizant about security as they should be.

Case in point: a nasty new bit of Android malware discovered by security researcher Dinesh Venkatesan at CA Technologies records all of your conversations to your SD card when activated.

The process by which it does this is deceptively simple, at least at first glance. When the infected app is installed, it drops a configuration file onto the device (no word on where specifically in the filesystem it goes) that specifies the "remote server and the parameters." Once the payload is on the device, it is automatically activated as soon as the infected machine makes an outgoing phone call. Venkatesan tested the malware in two mobile emulators with identical results — a new folder appearing on the SD card at /shangzhou/callrecord with .amr recordings of each "conversation".

Scary stuff, no? Well, to be fair, it would be scarier if it weren't for one thing: like every other Android app out there, you actually have to approve the thing before it installs. Honestly, though I try to be aware of these things, I'll often just hammer on the screen when the installation prompt pops up. I'm sure I can't be the only one (although the TechCrunch audience is clearly savvier than most), but with more malware moving into the mobile space, let's all try and exercise a bit more caution, shall we?

The Tiny WIMM Communications Device Allows For Wearable Communications

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 06:55 AM PDT

Like a miniaturized, wearable Chumby, the WIMM micro communications device looks interesting and, given enough support and interest, could actually be interesting. The device looks like a tiny iPod Nano but features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It is supposed to play nicely with your Android phone and runs its own stripped-down version of Android to display messages, handle exercise monitoring, and, presumably, run tiny apps that others will write.

The device isn’t quite for sale. In fact, it’s more of a platform for others to build upon (just like Chumby) and you can write apps for WIMM-compatible devices that should work across the range. The platform is ostensibly open but manufacturers will have to license the technology to build similar tech.

You can develop for the platform using these tools and licensees can use the dev hardware to plan their own WIMM-compatible devices.

Fundamental to the WIMM Platform is an elegant, simple touch screen interface that hides the complexity and power of the underlying technology. The WIMM Module can be loaded with a variety of Android-based Micro Apps created by using an open SDK. In addition, it works seamlessly with Android, Blackberry and iOS devices. For the partner, it offers an open platform that's easily customizable; for the consumer, it offers always-on information at a glance.

Will it take off? I’ve never in my long history seen a working, popular wearable information device but, again, what do I know. Maybe these are the next Star Trek Communicators. You can reserve a dev device here, available Q3 2011, and boldly go where so many have gone before.

Product Page

Chegg Rival CampusBookRentals.com Closes $20 Million Financing Round

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 06:46 AM PDT

CampusBookRentals.com, a company that lets customers from nearly 5,600 college campuses rent textbooks online, this morning announced a round of growth financing with total equity and credit facilities raised of over $20 million.

The company, which competes with venture-backed Chegg and BookRenter.com, among others, says it is growing like gangbusters, having recently moved into a new 57,000 square foot facility to support its growth to over 100 current employees (up from 30 a year ago).

CampusBookRentals.com, which was started from CEO Alan Martin’s basement back in 2007, says it has been profitable since shortly after its inception and that it has enjoyed triple digital revenue growth of late. The company recently added Scott Klossner, COO & Financial Officer at Backcountry.com, to its board of directors.

CampusBookRentals.com lets student search for books by ISBN, title, author or keyword and offers free shipping to and from their home or college dorm. Admirably, for every book rented the company donates a portion of its proceeds to Operation Smile, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing cleft lip correction surgeries for children in need.

The financing round was led by Level Equity, Five Elms Capital and Cherokee & Walker.

Students Put Out An Issue Of The School Paper Using Tools Of Yore

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 06:43 AM PDT

Remember film? Remember when “cut and paste” actually involved scissors and glue? Remember when typewriters didn’t have a 1 key? Probably not, right? I’m old and I barely even remember that stuff.

Well a group of students at Florida Atlantic University had to learn the old ways again in an end-of-school-year experiment. They used 35mm film, actual typewriters, and an old-style paste-up to put out a full issue of the paper.

To complete the issue, students had to learn the vagaries of editing typewritten text and they had to build their own darkroom in a rarely used men’s toilet. They found the experience confusing at best and disheartening at worst:

I pointed to the lever that would propel the carriage back to the left, while the gears inside would simultaneously ratchet the paper to the next line.

She tapped it lightly.

"No, this is a manual typewriter," I told her. "You actually have to expend some calories."

I slammed the lever to the right, and the carriage flew back to the left margin, stopping with a thud. A look of understanding, laced with horror, crossed her face.

"It's going to be like this the entire time, isn't it?"

"Not at all," I said. "It actually gets worse."

In a nod to the old type-setting machines of yore, they did use an iMac to key in stories and print out columns of text. Sadly, they couldn’t find one of the best aspects of an old-school newsroom – the hot waxer that made pasting up stories a relative breeze.

In these days of miracles and wonder, it’s great to see these sorts of Colonial Williamsburg experiments still happening. I graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1998 and we were still doing all of the things these kids were doing at the Tartan – including running full boards to the printers – until the last days of my senior year. Eventually we began using Zip disks but the hot wax machine and the darkroom still evoke fond memories.

As these skills are lost I wonder what the cost is to our understanding of how content is produced. In an era when the Publish button is right next to the text edit window, where is the care and the thought? I’ll admit that the web and her conceits have made me a sloppy writer but, to be clear, I have the benefit of the endless rewrite and an accepting (sometimes) audience.

I remember Sundays at the old paper: they were quiet. We’d put an issue to bed and that would be that. It would go to press, appear in the academic halls, and we’d start up again next week. Now it’s a constant rush to keep the great beast of the news cycle fed. Sure we are free from the waxers and the linotypes but we’re saddled with new responsibilities, expectations, and an endless clamor.

Check out the entire article here. It’s some funny stuff.

DST Invests $50 Million Into ZocDoc So They Can Finally Get A Decent Logo

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 06:13 AM PDT

Have you heard about ZocDoc? The company launched at TechCrunch in 2007. Their goal – to let people find and book appointments with doctors, dentists and other health professionals online.

The company has raised $50 million in a new round with DST. The company was valued at $700 million or more in this round, we’ve heard from various sources. ZocDoc won’t comment, though, on valuation.

They started off with just a few dentists and 5,000 appointment slots. It took them two years to get to a million available appointments. They now have 5 million over the next 90 days, up from 3 million in February. They’ve also more than doubled the number of employees in the last six months, to 150.

Doctors pay $250 per month to be part of ZocDoc. I’ve tried every way possible to get to a good revenue estimate for the company. It’s simple math once you know the number of doctors in the system, but they won’t disclose the number of average open appointments per doctor, or otherwise reveal revenue.

Some interesting things about the company -

- They were mentioned by the Wall Street Journal in 2007 after launching at our event as part of an article talking about how there was a tech bubble at the time. Of course, valuations from 2007 look downright cute in today’s world.

- The company has an atrocious, ridiculous non-logo. They don’t seem to mind it at all. Apparently it hasn’t slowed down growth.

- ZocDoc wanted to launch as Doctors.com, but whoever owned it wanted $4 million for the domain name, says CEO Cyrus Massoumi. So they bought zocdoc.com for $6 instead.

- DST is on a tear. Forget previous investments in Facebook, Groupon and Zynga. Just in the last several months they’ve invested in Twitter, Airbnb, Spotify, and now ZocDoc.

- There are obvious comparisons to be made between ZocDoc and OpenTable. One interesting point brought up by a fan of the company is that the health care industry is far larger than the restaurant industry. ZocDoc could be a big winner.

Disclosure: I’m not an investor in ZocDoc, but I’ve asked to invest. Either way, I’m a fan. Bad logo and all.

Zendesk Brings Customer Service SaaS To The Enterprise

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 06:10 AM PDT

Customer support startup Zendesk going after enterprise clients with the launch of a new solution that is tailored to large organizations. Launched in 2008, Zendesk offers a web-based, SaaS-delivered help desk/support ticketing application that gives companies a simple way to manage incoming support requests from end customers.

Zendesk’s new enterprise grade features include unlimited internal usage, so large customers can enable company-wide insight into service operations. The company has also created a specialized platform for parent companies with multiple brands that can centralize their support teams while maintaining branded customer facing support portals.

Organizations can also customize permission levels for a group of agents by allowing or restricting access to specific features within Zendesk, such as access to private comments or
channels, or ability to change ticket fields. And customer support interactions can be automatically archived.

To date, Zendesk has added more than 10,000 customers. The company says some of these clients are large companies, but this is the first time that Zendesk is offering a plan and platform that is specifically tailored to meet the security and scale needs of an enterprise-level company. Pricing for the enterprise plan starts at $99 per agent.

Zendesk has raised $26 million to date from Matrix Partners, Benchmark Capital and Charles River Ventures.

LG’s New Premium 3D TV Set Works With Passive Glasses (That’s A Good Thing!)

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 06:10 AM PDT

If you're a fan of the third dimension, otherwise known as depth, then this new premium 3D TV set from LG may be of interest. The LW980S is a passive glasses set that taps LG's Cinema 3D technology, equipped with a NANO Full LED backlit screen. For those who aren't well versed in 3D jargon, passive glasses means that they don't have to be charged, and are thus, less expensive.

There are two types of passive 3D glasses out in the world. One, you'll recognize from the last decade in movie theaters: a cardboard frame with one red and one blue cellophane lens on each side. Those are called anaglyph glasses, and are most likely not the passive glasses LG has in mind. It's more likely that the glasses will be polarized passive glasses, which are the ones that jumble that 3D image when your head is tilted to the sides. Polarized passive glasses are the most advanced form of passive glasses that can be used on a home TV set.

According to Europe's TUV and Intertek testing agencies, the LW980S has a "flicker-free" screen and is meant to cause less discomfort when viewing. And we all know how important that is. LG even found a way to build in wide viewing angles so that everyone in the room can watch pleasantly.

Unfortunately, the release lacked a few key details like… oh, I don't know… full specs, pricing, and availability. One tech spec that we did manage to get our hands on was the fact that LG's new premium set sports a TruMotion 400Hz refresh rate to keep things smooth and snappy. We'll be keeping our eyes peeled for when this bad boy should hit shelves, and just how much weight your wallet will lose should you choose to purchase. Stay tuned.

Minus Raises $1 Million From IDG Capital To Simplify File Sharing

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 06:00 AM PDT

New York City-based file-sharing startup, Minus, announced today that it has raised $1 million in seed funding from IDG Capital Partners, which the startup plans to use to expand its team and to invest in technology and infrastructure with the goal of creating a simple and universal sharing experience for its users.

There are a plethora of tools out there one can use to share files, from Skype to email, Dropbox, Box.net, and Ge.tt to WeTransfer. The list is long. We covered Sendoid a few months back, a Y Combinator grad offering a cool peer-to-peer, browser-based solution. In light of a crowded space, Minus’ value proposition is that it works on virtually any web-connected device and supports nearly every type of file you can think of.

With Minus, users can easily and quickly share photos, documents, music, videos, etc., simply by visiting Minus.com and dragging the file they want to transfer onto homepage. Once the file uploads, the user receives a shortlink, which they can then share on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, in an email, IM conversations, and more. Minus is also free to use and doesn’t require users to register in order to upload and share files.

That being said, while users can take advantage of unlimited uploads and downloads without registration, there is a 25MB per file limit. If one registers and signs in, which is free, the limit lifts to 100MB per file. Minus Founder and CEO John Xie tells me that, as the startup scales and gains its legs on the backend, the team plans to increase that limit even more. (The site launched in private beta back in October.)

But what’s nifty about Minus is, beyond the easy shortlink sharing (min.uses), that you can drag 100 files at once into the web interface and let them simultaneously upload. While you can’t send gigantic files, and with the 100MB limit you probably won’t be uploading any lengthy videos, a user could presumably upload and share hundreds of images, and then give those links to a few hundred people to browse and download. (Minus also has a “Download as zip” function, which zips your links for you on the fly. Example here.)

Xie told me that, beyond prioritizing scaling, the team wants to keep Minus simple, both in UX and UI, and continue to focus on the sharing aspect of the platform. Since Minus is cloud-based, registered users can create a profile so that once they upload their images, documents, etc., they’re hosted on Minus in the same way Flickr, Dropbox, Scribd and so many others do it. You can check out an example of Xie’s hosted files page here.

And, since launch, Minus has seen some good traction. The platform is currently serving 50 million downloads each month, according to Xie, and has just north of 500,000 monthly active users. What’s more, while Minus may be entering a crowded space with plenty of competition ahead, clearly the team’s resolve is there: Originally hosted on the Min.us domain, the team recently purchased the Minus.com domain for about $115,000. So, for those hoping for a Google-, you’ll have to look elsewhere, Minus isn’t budging.

And for those curious as to what’s powering the startup’s cloudy backend: The platform is built on HTML5 and fully deployed on Django stack on Amazon's EC2/S3, and the team is currently building their own custom CDN solution for serving the needed bandwidth. Developers are welcome.

Minus is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu in desktop app form, has both Chrome and Firefox extensions, as well as a Chrome app, and is available on mobile for Android. Mobile iOS and Windows apps are currently in beta, with updates coming soon. More on apps here.

Samsung To Release Galaxy Tab 10.1 Tablet In Australia Despite Court Ruling

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 05:48 AM PDT

Samsung and Apple are at each other’s corporate throats lately. The latest jab was when the two reached an agreement that barred Samsung from advertising and selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in Australia. But Sammy, like a boss, is planning on selling a slightly different GalTab 10.1 down under as, per a statement released to Ausdroid.net, the GalTab model headed for Australia is slightly different from the one sold in the States where the lawsuit is based.

Ausdroid.net via AppleInsider

Apple Inc. filed a complaint with the Federal Court of Australia involving a Samsung GALAXY Tab 10.1 variant that Samsung Electronics had no plans of selling in Australia. No injunction was issued by the court and the parties in the case reached a mutual agreement which stipulates that the variant in question will not be sold in Australia.

A Samsung GALAXY Tab 10.1 for the Australian market will be released in the near future.

This undertaking does not affect any other Samsung smartphone or tablet available in the Australian market or other countries.

Samsung will continue to actively defend and protect our intellectual property to ensure our continued innovation and growth in the mobile communication business.

This move will likely prompt more work for lawyers on both sides of this case. The Samsung Galaxy Tab en route to the Australian market might be technically different, but probably only in trivial ways. The hardware, look and feel are probably the same, which makes this move by Samsung rather dirty. Got to take care of business, though. Don’t expect this story to end here. Apple will likely counter with renewed vigor.

Apple’s Tech Support Is Not As Good As It Used To Be, Study Claims

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 05:38 AM PDT

According to a study conducted by Minnesota-based research firm Vocal Laboratories (aka Vocalabs), Apple’s lead in tech support quality is slipping, while consumer satisfaction scores for HP are improving.

Vocalabs interviews people by telephone right after a customer service experience, and for this study completed 4,161 surveys between May 2008 and June 2011.

The firm found that Apple continues to lead both Dell and HP in customer service quality for phone-based technical support, but customers are reporting more problems with the automated part of calls.

In interviews immediately following a support call, 58 percent of Apple customers were "Very Satisfied" with the experience during the first half of this year, compared to 47 percent of Dell customers and 53 percent of HP customers.

Apple's satisfaction score is down 15 points from a year ago, while HP has improved 9 points over the past two years.

Says Peter Leppik, CEO of Vocalabs:

"Apple used to be well ahead of the pack in tech support. Now it would be fair to say that they are merely at the front of the pack. Apple used to lead on nearly every metric for support quality. Now there are several metrics where Apple is tied with its competition, or even trails."

It’s worth noting customers remain quite satisfied with Apple's support agents, with 77 percent of customers in the first six months of 2011 indicating that they were "Very Satisfied" with the technician, compared to 56 percent of Dell customers and 61 percent of HP customers.

However, only 24 percent of Apple customers reported being "Very Satisfied" with the automated part of their support calls, trailing Dell with 36 percent and HP with 40 percent.

In surveys held between May 2008 and June 2011, 40 percent of Apple customers reported a problem with the automated part of the call, nearly double the 21 percent rate from a year ago.

If you agree that Apple’s tech support isn’t as good as it used to be, please press 1.

Startups On TV: TechStars Teams Up With Bloomberg To Offer An Inside Look At Building A Business

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 04:23 AM PDT

Move over American Idol, and move over Survivor? There’s a new reality show (okay, documentary-reality series) in town, but luckily no one’s getting voted off the island. In this tech TV version, it’s startups and their founders iterating, scrambling through feature sets, and competing for the affections of investors.

It’s a great premise, as the reality surrounding an early-stage startup can be a kinetic one: It may not quite be the car chase in Bullitt, granted, but it’s certainly tense, fast-paced, and, if founders play their cards right, can have significant bearing on the future success of their company (for the better).

But, by and large, the early evolutions of startups — and the role that the big technology incubators have in fostering this growth — happen behind closed doors. Or in low rent, shared office space, with lots of empty pizza boxes. Now, thanks to a partnership between TechStars and Bloomberg TV, all eyes will get a comprehensive peek at what it’s like to be on the founding team of a startup going through the gauntlet at a top technology incubator.

This “reality-documentary” miniseries, called “TechStars”, will premier on September 13th at 9 p.m., with the six episodes running through October 18th. It will air on Bloomberg TV, both on cable and the web.

As to the participants: The series will feature the eleven startups that participated in TechStars’ New York City program, which ran from January of this year through early April and includes OnSwipe, Immersive Labs, Nestio, Veri, ToVieFor, Shelby.tv, RedRover, MigrationBox, CrowdTwist, FriendList, and ThinkNear.

David Tisch, Managing Director of TechStars in NYC and David Cohen, Founder and CEO of TechStars, who are both featured in the show, tell me that viewers can expect a real glimpse into what it’s like to be a TechStars company: “Everything is 100 percent real and representative” of what it’s like to be a part of the incubator.

TechStars had been approached by several networks looking to do reality-type shows on the incubator, but ultimately chose Bloomberg TV, they said, for the reasons cited above. They wanted it to be an objective, fact-based series that captured the actual essence of what it’s like to be a founder going through an incubator, rather than something that’s over-produced and skewed in favor of dramatization. Bloomberg seemed the right fit.

Of course, that being said, both Cohen and Tisch assured me that there will be some drama — startup drama, of course. Yes, there will be a few pivots. But, not to overstate: This will hopefully be an “objective” look at what it’s like taking an idea to execution, developing a workable business model, finding users, and discovering the best way to pitch to investors.

Viewers can also expect to see cameos by many of the TechStars mentors in NYC, including Foursquare Founder Dennis Crowley, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC, Chris Dixon (Founder Collective, Hunch), Alexandra Wilson (Gilt Groupe), Gary Vaynerchuk and “dozens more”. You can check out the TechStars mentor list here.

What’s more, it should also be interesting to watch as Bloomberg TV's board of judges, along with Cohen and Tisch, and many of the TechStars mentors dissect business models and offer startups and their founders pointed criticism and advice as they move through the program, reality-show style.

All eleven of the startups make an appearance in the series, though some are on camera more than others. TechCrunch has covered a few of these companies, which you can check out here for OnSwipe, Nestio, Immersive Labs, Veri, and ThinkNear. Seven of the eleven TechStars Winter Program startups have also gone on to raise funding, with a few more soon to close, Tisch and Cohen said. So, there could be a good demo day finale in store. As long as it’s better than the last episode of The Sopranos, I’m in.

Applications for the Boston winter program and NYC spring program are open now, and you can apply here.

For the “TechStars” trailer, look out, video below:

New Layar Vision Recognises Real Objects And Displays AR Objects On Top

Posted: 02 Aug 2011 04:22 AM PDT

Recently a few startups have started to appear with mobile apps allowing you to point a smartphone at an object and view some kind of augmented reality object or information associated with it. Usually they’ve done this by being activated by some kind of QR code or similar. Others have started to appear with apps where no code is needed. Blippar is one such startup that is poised to release an iPhone ap that does just this. But for the user behaviour to take off we need a platform with real existing traction.

Thus today Layar, the largest of the mobile augmented reality platforms, is launching Layar Vision. As implied, Layar will now be able to recognise real world objects and show digital content on top of them. It works particularly well with posters, magazines and newspapers.

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