Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Spanning Adds Gmail Backup To Its Google Apps Backup Service

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 09:02 AM PDT

spanning-logo

Austin, Texas-based startup Spanning launched a new version of its Google Apps backup service today, which now includes business-grade backup for Gmail. Previously, the company provided backup for other Google Apps products, including Google Calendar, Docs, and Contacts, but, says, Spanning Cloud Apps founder and CEO Charlie Wood, “Gmail backup has been, by far, the most requested capability from our existing customer base.”

But Google Apps is already in the cloud – why do you need to back it up?

According to the company, even a company of Google’s size can have issues leading to data deletions. And not all data deletions are Google’s fault – sometimes, the end users themselves are to blame. Then what do you do? User-deleted data isn’t Google’s problem, so it can’t (and won’t) help you recover.

Businesses, particularly the small-to-medium sized companies which currently comprise the majority of Spanning’s target market, still need to be assured that their mission-critical data is securely backed up, whether it’s in the cloud or not.

What’s interesting about Spanning’s backup product is that it doesn’t require businesses to maintain their own servers, nor does it utilize its own servers for data storage. Given that the company is still a startup, and could be prone to its own issues and failures, that latter item is a much-needed assurance.

Instead, Spanning stores data on Amazon’s Web Services, using a combination of Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3 and Elastic Block Store (EBS), which provide 99.999999999% durability.

Spanning backs up data incrementally, and doesn’t overwrite the old backups with new ones. Restorations are made possible from a simple-to-use interface. And it respects user permissions so that I.T. can’t view the file’s contents, they can only restore files when deleted.

In addition, the Spanning Backup site, application, and Google Apps Marketplace listings are certified for privacy and security by TRUSTe, the leading online privacy solutions provider. It’s  also certified under the US-EU and US-Swiss SafeHarbor Frameworks.

Wary consumers can also use Spanning to backup their own Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Contacts, too, if so inclined. It’s only $3/month for an individual account vs. $2.50/per user/per month for businesses. But consumers are not Spanning’s main focus. It’s more interested in providing businesses (SMB up to Enterprise) with a cloud backup solution.

Spanning had previously raised $2 million in funding from the Foundry Group back in April. It competes with a very similar service from Backupify, but slightly undercuts them on pricing – $2.50/per user/per month vs. Backupify’s $3/per user/per month. It also hopes to capitalize on Backupify’s growing pains, we imagine.


Company:
SPANNING CLOUD APPS
Launch Date:
9/2010
Funding:
$2M

Spanning Cloud Apps, based in Austin, Texas, was spun out of Spanning Sync, Inc. by its founder Charlie Wood in 2010. Spanning delivers business class data management for popular...

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Angry Birds In Real Life

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 08:18 AM PDT

1

Sorry, Rovio. A Chinese theme park located in Changsha, Huna China clearly skipped Trademark Infringement 101 and built a very real, very authentic-looking Angry Birds game. Players pull back a gigantic slingshot loaded with plush Angry Birds and let them fly at balloon pigs sheltered in toy bricks. Chances are you need to make your own bird-flinging scream, though.

Angry Birds is a huge hit in China. The game was even part of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival although just in mooncake form. The explosive growth thanks in large part by Rovio’s acceptance of nearly every hardware platform has turned Angry Birds into a culture phenomenon abroad. Nothing says success like an unauthorized theme park game.


Product:
ANGRY BIRDS
Company
Rovio Mobile

Angry Birds is a puzzle video game developed by Rovio, a developer based in Finland. Since its release for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch devices, over 6.5 million copies...

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Company:
ROVIO MOBILE
Funding:
$42M

Rovio is one of Europe’s leading independent developers of wireless games with an ever-growing portfolio of award-winning titles spanning many genres from casual to core next-gen console IP. Their...

Learn more


Pew: More Than A Quarter Of U.S. Adults Use Mobile And Social Location-Based Services

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 08:04 AM PDT

pewinternet

There’s no doubt that as smartphone usage increases, geo-location is becoming an increasingly important technology in consumers’ day to day lives. The Pew Internet Research Project has come out with a new report showing the growing number of U.S. adults that are leveraging location-based technologies in social and mobile apps. According to Pew, 28% of adults use at least one of location-based service that exist in mobile and social media spaces. The report shows the most popular use case of location-based technology is using mobile phones for maps, directions, or recommendations.

Pew reports that 28% of cell owners use phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location (that works out to 23% of all U.S. adults). Only 5 percent of cell phone owners user their phone to check-in to locations using apps like Foursquare or Gowalla.

And 9% of internet users incorporate their location into Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (7% of all adults). And 28% of U.S. adults do at least one of these activities either on a computer or using their mobile phones.

Unsurprisingly, smartphone owners are more likely to use location-based social networks on their phones. One in ten smartphone owners (12%) have used Foursquare, Gowalla, or a similar application and 55% of smartphone owners have used a location-based information service. Almost six in ten smartphone owners (58%) use at least one of these services.

Pew says that younger smartphone owners are more likely to use location-based services in their phone. And Pew says that geosocial services and automatic location-tagging are most popular with minorities. A quarter (25%) of Latino smartphone owners using geosocial services and almost a third (31%) of Latino social media users enabling automatic location-tagging. Pew says that only 7% of white smartphone owners use geosocial services, byt 59% get location-based information on their phones, compared with 53% of blacks and only 44% of Hispanics.

Pew reported nearly a year ago that only 4% of online American adults use location-based services. My guess is that number has increased since last Novemeber.



Wibbitz Raises Seed Funding To Turn Articles Into Video Summaries

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 08:00 AM PDT

wibbitz-logo

Wibbitz, a new service that functions as sort of a “play button” for the Web, has just raised a seed round of approximately half a million. The service is similar to former TechCrunch Disrupt winner Qwiki, in that it, too, automatically generates videos on the fly using the content found on a given website.

But unlike Qwiki, Wibbitz is positioned as a tool designed specifically for publishers who want to provide an easy-to-digest video summary of an article or articles’ content.

Disclosure: Roi Cathy, who has written for TechCrunch over the past 5 years, is an investor in Wibbitz via Initial Capital, where he’s a Managing Partner. 

The technology itself is easy to implement: just a single line of JavaScript code is all that’s needed to create the video summary.

Once implemented, Wibbitz takes an article’s text and automatically creates a summary, adding in images from either the website’s own image library, or a public image bank containing images licensed as Creative Commons (i.e., those designated OK for re-use).

The end product is an easily digestible video containing text, images and audio narration, which is surprisingly listenable. Here’s an example. And below, a screenshot.

The video can be shared to Facebook, posted as a link on Twitter, or embedded elsewhere, depending on the publisher’s preferences. It also includes both a Flash and mobile-friendly HTML5 interface, and presents the appropriate version depending on the browser and platform detected.

Wibbitz already has 1,600 sites which have been testing a more basic form of the service while in private beta.  Starting today, the company will be begin accepting registrations from those who want to try it the newer player on their own Web site or blog.

The product will offer freemium pricing, with larger publishers paying by usage. Publishers will also be able to further monetize their content by way of short pre-roll ads, if desired.

While Qwiki’s technology is certainly impressive, Wibbitz’ attempt to address the real-world problem of information overload through video summaries serves as a more practical implementation of the technology’s potential. Think of it like this: Qwiki is a way to consume information about a general topic (e.g. a Wikipedia page), while Wibbitz is a way to consume a single article.

That said, either company could easily expand into the other’s domain at any time. In addition, whether or not the mainstream Internet-surfing audience will go for this idea is still unproven. Qwiki has a great, engaging service and iPad app, but is it a daily “must?” Not really.

Wibbitz, based in Tel Aviv, was founded by Zohar Dayan and Yotam Cohen. Dayan tells us that their technology was already in development before they ever saw Qwiki’s launch at TechCrunch Disrupt in November 2010.

Seed round investors include Lool Ventures, Initial Capital and Kima Ventures. The exact funding amount was not disclosed.


Company:
WIBBITZ
Launch Date:
1/10/2009

Wibbitz is the Play Button for the Web. The Wibbitz platform enables publishers to automatically process a post, an article or a long list of articles into a fun,...

Learn more


Google+ API Launch Still Months Away

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 07:56 AM PDT

google_plus_logo

Developers anxiously awaiting the Google+ API (application programming interface) will have to wait a little while longer, we’re told. Although Google is hard at work on building the tools which would enable developers to build third-party applications for the new social networking service from the search giant, the API’s launch is still “months” away.

The timeframe, amorphous and vague as it is, was revealed by a Google+ project manager to a Google+ developer, who has asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

And it’s certainly disappointing news for anxious Google+ enthusiasts and developers itching to launch or use apps that leverage the network’s unique capabilities, like Circles, Hangouts, Sparks and Huddles.

Last month, for example, we had high hopes that an API was on the horizon, when Sully Taylor, Creative Director for Teens in Tech Labs and Founder & CEO at Sully Creative, released a basic Google+ application for Mac users. He had posted on Google+ that he had “access to private APIs,” which led to a firestorm of speculation about the status of the official Google+ API launch.

Sully later removed the comment from his Google+ profile at the request of Google, saying that it was “misleading.” In addition, Google also told us that no developer has private API access.

And it looks like no developer will for some time yet.

In the meantime, there are several unofficial workarounds available for accessing parts of the Google+ service, including this unofficial Google Plus API on Github and this Java object for accessing a few basics from the network, like profile details, friend lists, and posts, for example. The problem, of course, with using these unofficial methods is that they’re often difficult to build, prone to breaking as things on Google+ change, buggy and incomplete.

That said, given that Google+ launched in late June, an API launch by year-end would be a solid 6 months after the social network’s debut – certainly a reasonable timeframe (even speedy, perhaps) for an API of such scope.


Product:
GOOGLE+
Company
Google

A Google project headed by Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz, Google+ is designed to be the social extension of Google. Its features focus on making online sharing easy for...

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GameStop Affirms Popularity Of Mobile Gaming; Plans To Sell iPhone, iPod, And iPad

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 07:36 AM PDT

ipod-ipad-iphone

Still think mobile gaming isn’t a big deal? GameStop disagrees. Though they may not be as in-depth or graphically stimulating as console or PC-based games, but mobile games are accessible to everyone. My grandma can’t play L.A. Noire, but she’s beat every level of Angry Birds. So it only makes sense that GameStop has decided to put a couple new devices on its shelves: the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

GameStop has made a push into the tablet and mobile gaming space as of late. It started an iOS device trade-in program (for select stores) that is expected to roll-out nationally sometime during this year, reports 9to5mac. The company also said in April it had plans to get into the tablet space, whether that be with a device already on the market or by building a GameStop-branded gaming slate. Turns out, nabbing the iOS trifecta was the best plan.

With the carriers set on a duopoly, there’s no better time to start opening up other retail locations for Apple products. We vote with our wallets, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the iPhone or the iPad.

GameStop recently received some bad press over taking promotional materials out of games and then selling them as if nothing had happened. Understandably, people weren’t too happy about this. But the Internet has a short memory and it seems that GameStop needs to cover all the bases in its physical stores to remain competitive.


Company:
GAMESTOP
Launch Date:
12/11/2004

Gamestop is an American video game retailer with over 6,000 locations worldwide. The company spun off from Barnes & Noble in 2004 and operates as GameStop and EB Games.

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Company:
APPLE
Launch Date:
1/4/1976
IPO:
1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer,...

Learn more


Apple Opening Hong Kong Store, Should Prevent Future Crossbow-Related Smuggling

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 07:30 AM PDT

apple_logo_rainbow_6_color

Apple will be opening a new store in International Finance Center Mall in Hong Kong this quarter. Ming Pao Daily, a local paper, noted that the store should open on September 24.

The store is the first in Hong Kong and should ameliorate some of the crossbow-related smuggling associated with the region.

Businessweek writes that this is the fifth store in China and the other shops have so far generated $8.8 billion in revenue, no small feat. The company has long depended on resellers in the area to support and sell Apple hardware and this store will create a more central location for Macheads to get their fix.

The store should be about 20,000 square feet when finished.



China Unicom To Soon Offer The iPad 3G For The First Time

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 07:12 AM PDT

tips-get-approved-for-loan-modification

China, your savior is on his way. Per a WSJ report China’s certification agency recently gave a nod of approval to the iPad 2 3G. The iPad 2 has been a hit in the China market since its May debut, but outside of Hong Kong, only the WiFi model has been available. This approval paves the way for a China Unicom 3G model and enough coin for Apple to make Scrooge McDuck jealous.

Apple is slowly warming to the massive China market. The iPhone launched in the country a few years after its US release and a recent report indicated China Mobile and Apple are in talks to bring the iPhone 4 to its massive 600 million subscriber base. A China Mobile iPhone, or even iPad, would require a different mobile radio as the government-owned telecom operates on a homegrown wireless standard rather than the GSM/CDMA type used elsewhere.

No word on when China Unicom subs will be able to pick up a 3G iPad 2. The word comes just this morning from the WSJ and alongside the news that search giant Baidu and Dell have teamed up for a series of phones and tablets. China, it seems, is the next great oil field, just sitting there, slightly undercover, for gadget makers to tap for untold riches.



New Startup JPEGmini Reduces Photos’ Size, Not Their Quality

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 07:05 AM PDT

JPEGmini-logo

Photographers, take note. A startup called JPEGmini is introducing a new photo compression technology for JPEG photos which reduces the overall file size (by up to 5 times), while preserving the photo’s quality and resolution.

The technology is designed specifically with the Web in mind, as more photographers, both amateur and professional, use online storage for photo archival purposes. With JPEGmini, photos can be uploaded, emailed and shared faster, while saving on storage and bandwidth costs.

Sounds great, of course. But the question is: does it work?

According to the company, the JPEGmini technology works by analyzing the input image using a unique quality detector which imitates the human visual system. Based on this analysis, it applies the maximum amount of compression which will not cause visible artifacts. The second part of the system is a JPEG encoder, which adapts the JPEG encoding process to the original photos, creating the most compact representation of the photos that is possible under the JPEG standard.

So, to be clear: JPEGmini is not a new file format, it uses the JPEG file format.

And in some cases, it can achieve a recompression ratio of up to 5 times, or an 80% reduction.

The key phrase here is “some cases.” JPEGmini doesn’t always surpass the capabilities of current technology, it seems. Says San Francisco-based professional photographer Jim Goldstein of JMG Galleries, in tests, JPEGmini achieves greater file size savings on larger Web images than Photoshop did. But with smaller images, Photoshop’s “Save for Web” setting (at 60% quality) did better. (More details on the tests here).

This seems to confirm what JPEGmini itself says – the higher the original JPEG photo resolution, the greater the file size reduction it can offer. (Only photos 8 MP and higher can achieve the 80% reduction rate using this technology, for example).

As a professional photographer, Goldstein was also careful to read through the Terms of Service for JPEGmini, which says that if you choose to upload a photo to the site, they can use it to promote their service. This is overly broad, but could be ameliorated simply by adding the line “upon request.”

In addition, it’s worth noting that JPEGmini preserves all the photo’s metadata.

Still, for professionals, the best savings and balance of image quality would come from saving a JPEG for a RAW file, and ideally, doing compressions in batches, not one-by-one as with JPEGmini’s service, explains Goldstein. Correction: JPEGmini lets you upload folders. 

So perhaps professional photographers don’t have need of JPEGmini, after all. But other consumers might…especially those who don’t own a copy of Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, for example. The technology could be integrated into consumer electronics, like phones and digital cameras, too, as a way to save storage space and bandwidth when saving or sharing photos.

JPEGmini was developed by ICVT, an Israeli startup company based in Tel-Aviv. Its founder, Sharon Carmel, previously co-founded Emblaze, which developed the Internet’s first vector-based graphics player, preceding Macromedia Flash, and BeInSync, a P2P sync and backup company acquired by Phoenix Technologies in 2008. JPEGmini is self-funded.


Person:
SHARON CARMEL
Website:
Companies
BeInSync

As BeInSync’s chief VP of research and development, co-founder Sharon Carmel oversees strategic product development and drives the global market vision for BeInSync’s next-generation anywhere data access solution. Previously,...

Learn more


Atari’s New iPad Joystick Meant For Budget Gamers?

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 07:02 AM PDT

atari_arcade_duo_powered_joystick

ThinkGeek’s iCade certainly has a sense of visual flair going for it, but discerning iPad gamers who could do without the retro throwback may soon have another choice. The existence of the Atari Arcade Duo-Powered Joystick was recently confirmed in the Atari Greatest Hits app’s changelog, hopefully meaning it will make its official debut soon.

Details are still pretty scarce, but Technabob reports that the Atari Arcade joystick sports a largely plastic body with an open design that allows for easy removal of the iPad. At this point it seems likely that, like the iCade, the joystick will (for better or worse) connect to the iPad via Bluetooth to transmit control input.

The joystick, in essence, acts as a Bluetooth keyboard with certain keys bound to different on-screen actions — maybe not an ideal solution as far as control is concerned, but much easier than going through Apple’s MFi accessory certification program.

It’s far too early for judgment calls, but considering the design and button layout, the Atari Arcade joystick may soon see life as a budget peripheral. Discovery Bay Games has yet to reveal the joystick’s price point or ship date, but don’t expect it to break the bank whenever it does start making the retail rounds.



Baidu And Dell Team Up To Take On Tablets, Phones In China

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 06:35 AM PDT

dellstreak5front

Hot on the heels of Baidu's new mobile OS launch, reports are circulating that the Chinese search giant is partnering with Dell to build tablets and mobile phones.

China is a goldmine in terms of potential consumers. With over 900 million mobile subscribers, China is becoming one of the fastest growing tablet markets, as well. As the Google of the Eastern world, Baidu should have no problem marketing hardware under its brand name. And Dell’s business in China seems to have picked up as well, though the name carries far less weight with consumers than Baidu’s.

According to an analyst who spoke with Reuters, Dell may be "grasping at straws" in an attempt to breathe life into its tablet business. The Dell Streak 5 tablet has been discontinued in the States, but a Dell spokesperson said that the company "has a partnership with Baidu [and] the Streak 5 tablet, so the partnership will be in that space." It's not clear whether that means we should expect a Chinese version of the Dell Streak 5 or just another similar minitab.

Either way, Dell and Baidu will face some strong competition in China. Lenovo has seen great success in the Chinese market over the past few years, and Apple has an almost terrifyingly strong presence there. We've heard of girls giving up their virginity for an iPhone 4 and a Chinese teenager selling his kidney for an iPad 2.

With brand dedication like that it may be more difficult than expected to rip people away from their beloved Apple. And the companies won’t have much time to do so, either. Though neither company gave a solid timeline, a spokesperson said we may see the partnership’s first offering in as early as November.


Company:
BAIDU
Launch Date:
11/10/1999
IPO:
5/8/2005, NASDAQ:BIDU

Baidu is the largest Chinese language search engines. Baidu's mission is to provide the best way for people to find information online, including Chinese language web pages, news, images...

Learn more

Company:
DELL
Launch Date:
1984
IPO:
Nasdaq:DELL

Dell develops, manufactures, and sells personal computers and other computer-related products including servers, data storage devices, network switches, software, computer peripherals and televisions.

Learn more


Netflix Lands International Licensing Deal With Miramax For Latin American Subscribers

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 06:19 AM PDT

Miramax

After announcing the rollout of its movie and TV show streaming service to Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean, Netflix is announcing a significant content deal for this international expansion. Film and TV show studio Miramax is bringing its library of hundreds of film titles to Netflix’s Latin American customers via a multi-year agreement. Netflix has been streaming movies from Miramax in the U.S. since May 2011. Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed.This is actually Miramax’s first international licensing deal.

Films that will be available from the Miramax library to Netflix Latin America subscribers will include Chicago, Chocolat, The English Patient, From Dusk Till Dawn, Gone Baby Gone, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Swingers, There Will Be Blood, Amityville Horror, Scream and Spy Kids. The movies can be watched on multiple platforms, including TV, tablet, PC and mobile phones.

The international deal with Miramax is a vote of a confidence after the company suffered a blow when Starz announced last week it would not be renewing a content contract with Netflix next year.

But Netflix has been able to secure some high-profile deals for its fledgling international service, including content agreements with CBS and Telemundo. As we’ve written in the past, striking international content deals is going to be key to the company’s growth beyond the U.S., where it already has major deals in place.

Miramax has actually been looking for ways to digital distribution even beyond Netflix. The studio recently launched a Facebook app that offers movie rentals in exchange for Facebook credits. The studio also landed a recent deal with Hulu.



CamiApp Lets You Digitize Notes On Paper Notepads With Your Smartphone (Video)

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 06:19 AM PDT

Picture 32

Japanese stationery maker Kokuyo has come up with an easy way to digitize and permanently store what you jot down on paper notepads: all you need is a an iPhone (or soon Android handset), a special app called CamiApp (available for free and in English on the App Store), and notepads made by Kokuyo.

The company says that taking pictures of the notes is enough: CamiApp adjusts the quality through using AR markers or a black frame before it lets you tag, edit, email or store your notes on Evernote or Dropbox (as JPEGs).

Kokuyo is currently preparing an Android version and thinks about exporting their CamiApp-optimized notepads.

This video (in English, shot by Diginfonews in Tokyo) provides more insight:



Report: Apple To Blame For The Initial Ultrabook Short Supply

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 05:30 AM PDT

steve-jobs-apple

Apple is seemingly sucking all the air out of the PC market. Major players are weary of launching an entirely new product type even one with such draw as ultrabooks. Digitimes is reporting that the first round of ultrabook orders are fairly light as companies smartly predict that consumers are still enamored with Apple products.

The first round of ultrabook (read: MacBook Air clones) were announced by Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba last week at Germany’s IFA trade conference. These svelte notebooks are built around an entirely new platform developed by Intel, which if pushed onto consumer’s properly, could usher in a new golden age for the Windows PC. But OEMs are reportedly timid and expected to artificially limit the amount of Ultrabooks for the rest of the year.

The Digitimes report indicates that these companies expect to ship less than 50,000 units citing Apple’s current dominance over the space. This will of course limit the companys’ losses if the consumer market doesn’t latch onto the slightly more expensive but incredibly thin notebooks. You see, this isn’t the first time Intel has sold computer makers on the idea of thin notebooks. Intel’s previous ultraportable platform, the CULV, also produced ultra-thin notebooks, but also ultra-high prices. This time around though, prices are more in line with consumer expectations with many even first-gen models available for less than $1000 USD.

In a way the Ultrabook platform is the Windows PC last hope. They offer a brand new form factor with similar performance over the current bulky models. They offer all the portability of a MacBook Air but with Windows. If the Ultrabook movement fails, only Steve Jobs himself will be able to build the PC Windows notebook space back to what it was before Apple hit the big time.



Sony’s 3D Display For Gamers To Arrive In Japan In November

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 05:23 AM PDT

Picture 31

Do you remember the 3D HD display specifically designed for gaming that Sony Computer Entertainment unveiled back in June at E3? It took them a while, but now big S in Japan announced [JP] the final release date for the device in its home market: November 2. For the equivalent of US$582, buyers will get the 24-inch monitor itself, an HDMI cable, and a set of 3D glasses.

A game isn’t included in the Japanese package – a separate set of (active shutter) 3D glasses will cost $78,. PSP games are displayed in full screen, while a system called SimulView allows 2 users to play 3D games on one display but to see full-screen images each.

The display produces images in 1,920×1,080 resolution, comes with LED backlight, offers 5,000:1 contrast ratio, 3W×2ch+5W speakers and two HDMI interfaces.

We’ll let you know when Sony announces the 3D display for markets outside Japan.



Motorola Xoom Prices Are Dropping Fast In Europe As The Xoom Celebrates Its Six Month Birthday

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 04:31 AM PDT

rumpshaker

With the Xoom now officially six months old, a major price drop is likely in the works. Various European tech blogs are reporting sales and/or price drops regarding the first Honeycomb tab. Register Hardware points to Dixons, a popular UK retailer, who is now selling the 32GB Xoom for £329 rather than £500. Blogeee goes as far to say that Motorola will officially cut the price down to £399. As they note, this would place the 32GB model at the same price point as competitor’s 16GB model. Smart, but a tad late.

Retailers in the US, namely Amazon and Best Buy, recently cut the Xoom’s price as well but not as drastic. Amazon lists the 32GB version for $449 while Best Buy has it at $499, which while decent prices, are nothing to skip the first day of school over. Motorola surely knows how to make the Xoom a blockbuster: do an HP and cut it to $99.

The European price cut is right on cue. The Xoom is now six months old and with the holiday season approaching, retailers, distributors and even manufacturers are likely looking to clear some room in their respective warehouses. The Xoom, while receiving a fair amount of pre-launch hype, hit the ground running but then fizzled out as consumers and reviewers found that Honeycomb was half-baked. Here we are a dozen Honeycomb tabs later and the product type is all but generic now, with all Honeycomb tabs looking the same save several trivial differences.

Motorola has yet to make the price drops official but they will. They have to. The Xoom’s arbitrary amount of fame was over months ago. Now it’s time to hit the bargain bin and make way for the next generation — which will follow the same timeline to price cuts.



Cloud Platform Startup Morph Labs Raises $5 Million

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 04:30 AM PDT

Morphlabs

Cloud Platform startup Morphlabs has raised $5 million in Series C funding. The round was led by strategic partners BBT of Japan and a private, Indonesia-based investor group. This brings the startup’s total funding to $12 million.

Morph Labs offers a Platform as a Service (PaaS) that virtualizes the application environment through the use of open source technologies. The startup offers a server appliance, the mCloud Controller, which helps clients with provisioning, billing and virtual machine management.

The company plans to use the funding to expand to the south east asia region, and will be opening data centers in Indonesia and the Philippines. Morph Labs currently has 10 data center clients.



Seedcamp Flexes Upwards With Its Biggest Week Yet

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 04:11 AM PDT

IMG_5062

Seedcamp Week, the annual week-long session run by Europe’s oldest tech startup accelerator, has kicked off in London, and it looks like the biggest yet. In particular, this week sees changes to the way Seedcamp has operated in the past which indicates a clear uptick in how the European tech scene is fairing.

When Seedcamp first started in September 2007 – the same Week TechCrunch Europe launched – it funded six out of 20 companies that pitched.

This week 16 of the 20 Seedcamp companies presenting this week have already received the initial Seedcamp investment. Seedcamp normally invest €50,000 (for 5-10%) as standard but sometimes they invest less for less of a stake, (though these exact terms are not usually disclosed).

The contrast with last year is that 13 companies got the investment and there was no follow-on funding.

Another change is that last year there was a competition by all the teams for investment. This year the four remaining that haven’t had the initial investment (out of the 20) will be interviewed at the end of the week.

And, at the end of the week, the companies considered by Seedcamp and mentors to be the top three of all 20 will receive a cash prize, which they can use as a part of a ‘follow-on’ round. The winner gets €25,000, second place gets €15,000, third place wins €10,000.

Lastly, there are no “new” teams at Seedcamp this week. All of them have appeared at Mini Seedcamp days already at events around Europe. In years gone by there were always a few wild-cards – this year, this is the “creme de la creme”, if you will.

Now, after four years you would think we would be starting to see some exits among former Seedcamp companies and a new eco-system develop around it. But only Mobclix was acquired last year for a reputed $50m – a pretty good “European” exit.

Meanwhile many former Seedcamp companies are still going, though exits are, as I point out above, thin on the ground.

However, we shouldn’t worry. As a Seedcamp investor told me yesterday “We might see an exit soon form a former Seedcamp companies, but we’re relaxed about that. We’d rather see these companies build up to the point where they can knock it out of the park.” I think that’s the right take on this. It’s unusual for companies to see liquidity events in this short time period, and it’s better not to focus on an exit anyway.

In addition, the trend amongst the companies chose this year are a mix of evolution on existing business models and disruption of traditional industries.

So thus, GrabCad is targeting the traditional sector of engineering. Farmeron is about targeting the agriculture sector. Vox.io is about the evolution of the third generation of telephony – you get the picture.

But I’ll be exploring the startups selected in a separate post shortly.

(Above, Seedcamp’s Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Saul Klein, Reshma Sohoni)



TechCrunch As We Know It May Be Over

Posted: 06 Sep 2011 12:32 AM PDT

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This is a post I never thought I’d have to write. Unfortunately, I do. And the worst part about it is that it should be Michael Arrington writing this post, not me.

But he can’t.

TechCrunch is on the precipice. As soon as tomorrow, Mike may be thrown out of the company he founded. Or he may not. No one knows. And if he is, he will be replaced by — well, again, no one knows. No one knows much of anything. Certainly no one at TechCrunch. This site is about to change forever and we’re in the total fucking dark. I’ve been able to piece together little bits of information here and there, and it’s not looking good. Hence, this post.

By now, if you read TechCrunch, you likely know about the nuclear situation that has exploded over the past several days. Mike unveiled an investing entity known as the “CrunchFund” with full AOL support — so much support, mind you, that they’re the largest backers of the fund — only to have his legs kicked out from under him due to what can only be described as nonsensical political infighting and really poor communication. To make matters worse, some Journalists (with a big “J” and even bigger senses of entitlement) have proceeded to pile on, despite having no real knowledge — at all — of the way TechCrunch actually works. And now here we are.

Earlier this evening, I wrote a post on my personal blog attempting to explain to those outside our company how TechCrunch actually works from an editorial perspective. The notion that Mike, or anyone else, investing in a company would dictate some sort of giant conflicted agenda is laughable. Literally. If Mike tried to get me to write some unreasonable post about a company he had invested in, I would laugh at him. But he would never do that. Ask Loic Le Meur. Ask Kevin Rose. Ask Shervin Pishevar. Ask Airbnb. Ask countless others. He didn’t get to where he is by being an idiot. He has gotten to where he is by being honest with his readers. Even if everyone doesn’t always agree with him, he has been honest. And he’s brought forth information that no one else has, even when it’s probably not in his best interest to do so.

AOL may be on the verge of changing all of that.

Again, none of us know for sure — including Mike — but I have a really bad feeling. In my post earlier, I wrote, “These things tend to flare up every few months, and they ultimately end up meaning nothing.” That was premature. These situations have arisen in the past — multiple times — and they always have led nowhere. But now I think this time actually may be different. Arianna Huffington is already on record as saying she’s looking for a new Editor-in-Chief to replace Mike (who technically was co-Editor along with Erick — even though the title has never meant much). And there are conflicting reports as to whether or not Mike actually works for AOL — let alone TechCrunch — anymore.

As someone who has helped build TechCrunch into what it has become, this entire situation is insulting. I can only imagine how Mike feels.

The point of my earlier post was twofold: 1) to dispel the assertions being made by The New York Times and others about our brand of reporting. 2) To provide everyone with some insight as to how TechCrunch actually works. If we have anything close to a trade secret, that’s it. The magic at TechCrunch happens because the writers have very little oversight. Instead, the emphasis is placed on hiring the right writers in the first place and putting them through a trial-by-fire to see who emerges. Those that have, my peers, are the best at what they do. And that’s why TechCrunch has soared.

Mike Arrington has enabled all of this. He brought in Heather, he brought in Erick, he brought in the rest of us. He built TechCrunch out of thin air. He’s made enemies along the way. He rubs some people the wrong way. But there is no question that the entire space is better because of what he’s built. And there’s also no question that what he’s built needs him.

Could TechCrunch survive without Mike Arrington? Probably. We’re doing so many pageviews now, and the machine is so profitable, that you can plug in other parts and it will run. But without him, it will not be the same. You might not think you’ll miss what he brings, but you will. Quite often, you never even see what he brings. But it permeates the entire site.

If AOL tries to bring in their own Editor-in-Chief to run TechCrunch, it will be a colossal fucking mistake. The old adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — if AOL throws out Mike and tries to install their own despot, it will be breaking it just so they can fix it. And they might not like the end result. It may run, but it will never purr with the precision at which we purr right now.

I can’t believe this is even a possibility. But it is. And so I’m writing this at the eleventh hour to let you, our readers, know before you find out via a press release. I don’t know, maybe I’m hopeful that the collective voice of millions of loyal readers can change a company’s mind. Maybe that’s naive. But it’s worth a shot. We owe that to Mike.

AOL seems to think that by cutting off the biggest conflicts — ones so big that they’d obviously have to be disclosed — that they’ll be a bastion of integrity in the editorial landscape. What a bunch of horse shit. The conflicts we need to worry about are the ones not disclosed. They’re far more prevalent and they do actually deceive readers because they’re far more subtle. But that’s an impossible task. AOL can’t fix that — no one can. So instead they’ll slaughter the lamb everyone can see to gain puffery amongst the old media peers who also live to die another day.

It has almost been exactly one year since AOL acquired us. At the time, they promised not to interfere with the way we do things. For 11+ months, they’ve kept their word, and things have run beautifully from our end. Our business is one of the few sterling ornaments on their mantel. Now they may break their promise to us. And if that promise is broken, it will break TechCrunch.


Company:
TECHCRUNCH
Launch Date:
11/6/2005

TechCrunch, founded on June 11, 2005 by Michael Arrington, is a network of technology-oriented blogs and other web properties.

Learn more


The New York Times’ David Carr Is Wrong About TechCrunch, But It’s Not His Fault

Posted: 05 Sep 2011 11:00 PM PDT

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There should be a word for an op-ed that is so ambiguous that all sides are able to use it to support their argument. A “failure” perhaps.

When I wrote my post criticizing Tim Armstrong and Mike Arrington’s handling of the CrunchFund launch, I thought I’d made my point pretty clear. My point being that, while there was no suggestion that TechCrunch would write favourable editorial about CrunchFund companies, there would still be a damaging perception to the contrary.

But then, in today’s New York Times, David Carr (no relation) wrote a piece entitled “A Tech Blogger Who Leaps Over the Line” in which he accused Mike of a variety of ethical violations, and then quoted me as follows…

‘One of the sharpest critiques of this conflation came from Paul Carr, who happens to write for TechCrunch (and is no relation to me). He savaged Mr. Armstrong for fumbling the announcement and sacrificing TechCrunch's editorial credibility, and said he was worried that "investors will gain influence over how CrunchFund-backed companies are covered on TechCrunch."’

No. No. No.

I have a huge amount of respect for David Carr. He’s one of the good guys in media criticism and 9.5 times out of 10, he gets it right. This was not one of those times. Here’s what I actually wrote in the post…

“The investors in the fund know they're on to a good thing — by investing in the 'CrunchFund' they get to at the very least piggyback on TechCrunch's reputation to get deal-flow. At best, if it turns out we are as ethically flawed as our critics would like to think, those investors will gain influence over how CrunchFund-backed companies are covered on TechCrunch.”

The key phrase there was “if it turns out we are as ethically flawed as our critics would like to think”. My suggestion, of course, being that we’re not. But just in case that was unclear, I later added…

“Again, TechCrunch writers have no involvement with the fund, and Mike has always been most critical of the companies he's closest to. But the important thing is that there's a perception of risk in not taking money from the fund. And there's a perception that taking investment from the fund will result in positive coverage. The fact that neither is true is not the point.”

In fact, there were a whole bunch of other errors in Carr’s piece, including describing Robert Scoble as a VC and using incorrect dates to imply that Mike encouraged TechCrunch writers to plug companies in which he’d invested without disclosing the fact. For much of today, Mike and those who support him have been demanding corrections — as well they might.

In particular, Mike is delighting in the irony of a New York Times writer attacking TechCrunch for a lack of disclosure when the Times regularly covers the Boston Red Sox without disclosing that they have a minority stake in the team. One might also note that the Times and the Huffington Post Media Group (as represented by Bill Keller and Arianna Huffington) have been at war over ethics for months now.

The main allegation in Carr’s piece – that Mike has behaved unethically with regards to disclosures – is flat wrong, and it should be corrected. And yet, tempting as it is to fight fire with fire, I’m not sure it’s fair to make Carr the enemy of the piece here or to conflate Carr the writer and the New York Times the organization. To do so is to risk appearing hypocritical.

For one thing, TechCrunch has been guilty — at least once — of using duff evidence to make allegations of wrong-doing against an innocent company. When it happened, we took steps to correct the piece — just as David Carr and the New York Times are (slowly) correcting the errors in their piece. Also, just as Carr is incorrect to assume that TechCrunch staffers write puff pieces about companies their boss invests in, there’s no evidence to suggest that Carr wrote his attack on Mike at the behest of Bill Keller. Finally, it’s hardly David Carr’s fault that the New York Times doesn’t disclose its interest in the Red Sox any more than I am to blame for everything that happens at TechCrunch.

No, if we should be criticizing Carr for anything (and we most certainly should) it’s for trying to cover a Silicon Valley publication from New York, and for failing to understand what makes TechCrunch such a unique editorial beast.

Carr’s assumptions about TechCrunch are based on how just about every other newsroom in the world works. In most other news organizations, the editor wields a huge direct influence over what appears in print or online. There’s a daily – or at least weekly – editorial meeting in which stories are approved and there is at least one level of editorial oversight before something is published. Certainly there are very, very few editors who will permit — let alone encourage — even senior staffers to write posts opposed to the publication’s party line. If TechCrunch were an organization like that, it would be perfectly logical to infer wrongdoing when a contributor writes glowing things about a company in which the editor-in-chief has invested.

But TechCrunch is not an organization like that.

For one thing, TechCrunch writers edit and publish their own stories. We don’t have a morning editorial meeting in which Mike — or anyone else — signs off on stories; we don’t have an editorial work flow at all in fact. Generally speaking, Mike doesn’t see stories until they appear on the site and if he has any input on what’s written it’s given after the fact. I have never, ever known Mike to tell even the most junior writer what line to take on a story. A personal example: I once wrote an extremely negative post about a company in which one of Mike’s friends is a significant investor. I heard nothing from Mike when I posted the piece. It was only months — literally months — later that he mentioned to me in passing how many calls he’d received complaining about the piece and demanding that he “do something” about me. Mike had laughed them all off: he doesn’t interfere with his writers.

In terms of disclosures, this hands-off approach will inevitably lead to perception problems. TechCrunch writers generally hear about Mike’s investments around about the same time that readers do. For that reason, it’s perfectly possible (likely, even) that one of us will write and publish a favorable (or negative) story about an Arrington investment without realizing it. That’s what appears to have happened in at least one of the examples that Carr cites as so damning.

In fact, in every single case where the writer of a piece has been aware of a conflict, it has been disclosed. And in every case where Mike is aware that a contributor is working on a story about one of his investments, he’s either remained absolutely silent on the story, or he’s immediately disclosed the fact to the writer. The only real ethical conflict at TechCrunch comes where Mike writes a post about a company in which he is an investor. Of course he’s going to be biased — which is precisely why he goes out of his way to over-disclose his interest.

(Incidentally, Carr’s mention of LikeALittle in his piece is particularly amusing given how vocal I’ve been about how much I hate that stupid company. I learned about Mike’s investment a couple of weeks ago and it goes without saying that next time I mention them – perhaps in a post entitled “What the fuck were you thinking, Mike? They’re AWFUL” – I’ll be sure to disclose the relationship.)

Still, as I wrote last week, the founding of the CrunchFund does raise serious problems with the perception of conflict; and that perception threatens to tar us all. For that reason it’s only right and proper that Mike relinquishes his editorial role and chooses a successor — something he agreed to do, even before this madness exploded.

But here’s the thing that David Carr doesn’t understand, that Arianna Huffington doesn’t understand; that no-one except those who have actually worked at TechCrunch can possibly understand: TechCrunch is not a publication with a single voice. TechCrunch is a collection of writers, brought together by Mike Arrington to write about the technology industry as they see it. Mike’s brilliance as editor has been to give writers everything they need to do their jobs — an office, a platform, a salary and the confidence that he has their back if everything goes to shit — without ever once demanding they share his opinions or his biases. If you wonder why I, and other writers at TechCrunch have so much loyalty for Mike; that’s why.

That’s also the reason that, even had Mike stayed as editor-in-chief, I can’t imagine a world in which he would exert pressure on any TechCrunch writer to take a particular line on a story. Nor can I conceive of a universe in which he would punish — so much as grumble at — a contributor who wrote something that embarrassed him.

By contrast — and you can quote me on this, David — I just about zero confidence that either of those statements will be true for whoever Huffington Post Media Group might nominate to replace him.

[Last minute update: As if summoned by the Gods to prove my point about TechCrunch's lack of central control and discussion, it turns out that MG Siegler (who was also mentioned in David Carr's piece) was busy posting while I was still busy writing.  On his personal blog, he's written a great piece rebutting Carr, explaining how TechCrunch really works and calling out those who make wrong-headed assumptions based on other organizations. Go, read.]

[Image credit: Haxorjoe]



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