Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Live From Facebook’s 2011 F8 Conference [Video]

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 09:30 AM PDT

In the weeks leading up to Facebook’s 2011 F8 conference, there have been rumors and leaks and more rumors and more leaks. While we’re pretty sure Facebook will be announcing Facebook Music, Facebook Read, Listened, Watched, And Want Buttons and a slew of Facebook media and partner apps among other things, only Zuckerberg (okay, and a few developers) knows the exact details on what else the company has in store for us today.

In case you couldn’t make it up to the SF Design Concourse Center, we’ll be livestreaming and liveblogging the entire event here, starting at 10 am PST. Stay tuned!


Company: Facebook
Website: facebook.com
Launch Date: January 2, 2004
Funding: $2.34B

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 500 million users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 weeks, half of the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends Dustin Moskowitz and Chris Hughes to help build Facebook, and within four months, Facebook added 30 more college networks. The original idea for the term...

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Review: The Logitech Wireless Trackpad Is My New Best Friend

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 09:19 AM PDT

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“This thing actually works.” That was my thought a few minutes after unboxing the Logitech Wireless Trackpad last week. I had pushed my Logitech G700 out of the way and placed the new trackpad defiantly on top of my gaming mousepad. The future is here, I thought.

So here we are a week later, and I’m thoroughly satisfied with the accuracy of my early statement. The Wireless Trackpad is not perfect. I have an issue that, while totally a first world problem, could be a potential dealbreaker for those with arthritis or a generally wussy constitution.


There isn’t a better Windows trackpad
Large, well-placed buttons that are easy to click
Multitouch gesture support
Claimed (but untested) 4 month battery life

A slight learning curve

Only works with Windows
The plastic tracking surface doesn’t like finger sweat (yes, the tip of your finger sweats a bit. At least mine does)


The Logitech Wireless Trackpad is to Windows as the Apple Magic Trackpad is to OS X. It attempts to bring multitouch trackpad goodness to a desktop environment. And it does. In fact, this Logitech device facilitates the best trackpad experience I’ve ever had with Windows.

Trackpads on Windows notebooks are almost universally garbage. I have found a few that are acceptable, mainly on Acer/Gateway machines, but most are horrible (I would rather get a vasectomy than use an HP trackpad). The difference in experience between a Mac and Windows trackpad is akin to the ride of a Rolls Royce vs a Geo Metro. These well-proven preconceived notions set my expectations for this particular trackpad rather low. I fully expected it to work — Logitech makes good stuff — but I also expected Windows to hamper the functionality.

However, upon opening the Wireless Trackpad, I was pleasantly shocked to find that the device not only works, but it works well. I love it despite a few quirks.

Much like the majority of Logitech products, the Wireless Trackpad is a plug-and-play sort of device. Plug in the USB receiver and it starts working within about a minute (at least on Windows 7). I did have to download a software pack from Logitech’s website to adjust tracking speed and the multitouch options, though.

The device is physically about the size of the Apple Magic Trackpad. They both rest at about the same slight angle, but that’s where the similarities end. For better or worse, the entire glass surface of Apple Magic Trackpad is used for tracking. There’s about a centimeter boarder around the tracking area on the Logitech version and there are two large, easily-clickable buttons placed at the bottom. I prefer the buttons over the clickable surface of the Magic Trackpad, but the plastic surface isn’t as smooth as glass.

Much to my initial surprise, the trackpad works great even on my dual 24-inch monitor setup. I fully expected to hate using a trackpad with such a wide work area. It’s not bad at first, then your hand starts to cramp from keeping three fingers slightly elevated over the super-sized surface. It physically hurt, but for you, my lovely readers, I manned up and pushed through the pain and thus emerged with a new friend. This trackpad has almost fully replaced my beloved mouse.

My G700, which, for reference, is the best mouse on the market, now sits mostly unused, but still in a ready state. You see, I still default to it when I need to get something done quickly. I’ve used a mouse almost daily for 17 years so the movements are second-nature and the tracking is more precise than this trackpad can provide. But for casual browsing, the Wireless Trackpad is actually a bit more comfortable. The multitouch gestures are wonderful in a browser, and as lazy as this sounds, I don’t have to move my arm as much to traverse my 48-inches of screen real estate.

There are some caveats here. Multitouch is not built into Windows as it is in OS X so don’t expect fancy gestures in Photoshop, although two-finger scroll does seem to fully replicate a scroll wheel. Also, hopefully this is obvious, but gaming is impossible on a trackpad; keep your mouse around for Deus Ex.

The Logitech Wireless Trackpad is the Windows Magic Trackpad. Logitech built a fantastic product and it’s priced right at $50. Give it a chance, push through the pain, and you’ll likely love it. But just in case, it’s probably best to buy it from a retailer without a silly restocking fee. Recommended.

Product Page

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Company: Logitech
Website: logitech.com
Launch Date: September 22, 1981
IPO: NASDAQ:LOGI

Logitech designs and manufactures computer and electronics peripherals such as mice, keyboards, speakers, and remote controls.

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Baby Monitoring 2.0: Evoz Starts Shipping

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 09:13 AM PDT

evoz logo

Evoz, the modern baby monitoring system that works over iOS, will finally start shipping on October 4th. Unlike traditional, walkie-talkie-like baby monitors, you don’t need a separate receiver to use the system –  you can just use your own iOS devices, like your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, to function as both the monitor and receiver.

Or, if you have only one iOS device, you can buy the Evoz hardware monitor, and use your own device as the receiver.

The coolest thing about Evoz is not how it keeps you from having to buy extra hardware – it’s that it has all the conveniences of a modern mobile application. The app alerts you to cries, monitors your child’s sleeping behavior to derive patterns and even connects you to a network of experts to help you with your concerns.

Also, because the system is built for iOS devices using Wi-Fi and cellular connections instead of limited range wireless devices like old-fashioned baby monitors, the monitoring works anywhere you have Internet access.

In addition, the system tracks your child’s sleeping and crying patterns, matches that information to the data anonymously collected from others of the same age, and shows you where your child fits in. If you your child is colicky, for example, Evoz’ data would easily show it. (Oh, Evoz, where were you 20 months ago, when I wondered why my kid cried so darned much?) 

While the geeky, cry analysis functionality probably has more appeal to nervous, first-time parents who want to monitor…well…everything, Evoz’ network of baby experts has broader appeal. Evoz partnered with sleep consultants and will be adding additional “baby experts” and behavior specialists to its network, allowing parents to reach out with questions. Initially, this functionality is available via email only, but will later be available over phone as well.

The system includes an online interface, mobile app and the optional Evoz baby monitor for those who need it. The monitor is $120, which is more expensive than many off-the-shelf baby monitoring systems. However, with the extra functionality it offers, many parents will think it worth the upgrade.

Parents get access to 30 minutes per day of free listening or $3.99 per month for unlimited listening (over 2 iOS devices). A package deal that includes unlimited listening, the monitor, alerts and dashboard access is $160 for 6 months.

The next version of the app will include video monitoring, the company says.

Pre-orders are being accepted here.


Company: Evoz
Website: myevoz.com
Funding: $150k

Evo captures crying & sleep data to create a personalized, remote online parenting experience. Evo tells parents how their child is sleeping/crying/eating compared to other babies their age. Based on the specific insights parents are connected with relevant information & direct contact to the right child raising professionals. Smartphone data interface: http://bit.ly/dP5TxA , http://bit.ly/g1NxyI Evo enables the data service with the FIRST baby sleep device. With this device parents know what is happening with their baby wherever they are by...

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Facebook Founding President Sean Parker: Smart Lists Represent A Change In Philosophy

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 09:05 AM PDT

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There’s still an hour to go until Facebook’s f8 keynote kicks off, but the last two weeks have already been filled with Facebook news, including the launch of a revamped News Feed and Facebook’s real-time Ticker.

Another, slightly less prominent launch, was the introduction of Facebook’s Smart Lists. These group your friends automatically based on criteria like location and employer — and they also make it very easy to build your own custom lists, providing uncannily accurate suggestions that makes the list-building process far less tedious. They’re a big deal.

Yesterday, Facebook’s Founding President Sean Parker took to his Facebook profile to share his thoughts on the introduction of Smart Lists. Parker left the company years ago, but he obviously has a lot of insight into the way Facebook has viewed Lists in the past (not to mention a large stake in the company), so the posts are definitely worth reading — especially because he points out many of the ways they could still be improved.

Here are a collection of his relevant status updates (reprinted with permission):

Finally, a useful and well integrated list capability… The idea that a list is really a way of filtering your feed, first and foremost, is one that I’ve wanted for quite a long time.

As for lists, it’s still too painful to use. I’d like to see list-building surfaced even more prominently. The context menus that appear on hover over every username should appear instantly, without the tedious delay. When the context menu appears the list-membership dialog should be expanded by default and if the user belongs to any lists at all, these should be clearly indicated.

Even more confusingly, subscription within a given list should behave the way it sounds: as an all or nothing feature. This would make sense if subscription existed as a part of the list feature, but in Facebook’s model it’s actually two completely independent concepts. The only place where users might want to adjust the “degree” of subscription is in Facebook’s algorithmic “news feed” … but past evidence indicates that we have, in practice, no fucking idea what “more” or “less” of a given person’s updates really means.

On the topic of list building, which seems to be a hot topic at the moment. It’s not that lists are a huge breakthrough. It’s just that they represent a departure from the philosophy that Facebook has had for years… specifically the idea that users don’t want these tools, they don’t want to think, they don’t want to do anything that might be construed as work to get a better experience. When in fact this is exactly what Facebook users wanted all along — control. The ability to sort and filter their network of friends in whatever way seemed right to them, without being at the mercy of Facebook’s seemingly arbitrary black box news feed algorithms. I suspect that most users won’t get too fancy with these tools, they’ll just use them casually to sort the wheat from the chaff, building a list of of “close friends” who they actually care to follow and leaving the rest to Facebook’s cyborg intelligence. What I do think will become clear with time is that while Facebook was doing a piss poor job of making these decisions on our behalf, most users never paid it much heed until they were given a taste of the alternative in the form of a simple toolset to do the job for themselves.

I think I’ve said enough for one night… But just to be absolutely clear, lest anyone misinterpret my ranting, I’m incredibly happy with where the product is headed and this is a proud moment to be an owner and friend of the company. Regardless of whether you’re exhilarated or aggravated by the recent changes, there’s a lot more good things coming down the pipe… Looking forward to f8…”


Company: Facebook
Website: facebook.com
Launch Date: January 2, 2004
Funding: $2.34B

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 500 million users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 weeks, half of the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends Dustin Moskowitz and Chris Hughes to help build Facebook, and within four months, Facebook added 30 more college networks. The original idea for the term...

Learn more

Sean Parker is a serial entrepreneur and a managing partner at the Founders Fund. As one of the two founders of Napster, Sean helped architect and manage the peer-to-peer file sharing application to become one of the largest on the net. Parker subsequently helped found and manage Plaxo, a VC-backed contact management application company. More recently, Parker worked as the Founding President of Facebook before moving on to join up with Peter Thiel at The Founders Fund,...

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Rally Commerce Launches A Cloud-Based, Do-It-Yourself Groupon For Online Retailers

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 09:02 AM PDT

logo

Group buying platforms aren’t hard to find on the Web, but there’s been a growing backlash against the daily deal model, with some consumers and merchants finding the process to be more akin to highway robbery than good business. From high commissions fees and little control of deal details and analytics to low margins and branding concerns, some online retailers and national brands are shying away from group buying platforms.

Launching today at the Daily Deal Summit West is a platform called Rally Commerce that hopes to address these concerns as well as a market segment that is somewhat ignored by Groupon and its claque of clones: eRetail. Online retailers represent a $200 billion market — a big business, to say the least — so Rally Commerce is looking to become a “do it yourself Groupon” for eRetailers to better create, control, and profit from their own group deals and flash campaigns.

Daily deals today are still more focused on local deals and driving traffic to brick and mortar stores, while online merchants have tended to use daily deals more infrequently as part of their marketing strategies. “Over the past few months, we’ve heard top online retailers express frustration with current group deal technologies, particularly when it comes to having control and ownership of their own promotions”, said Rally Commerce CEO Henry Wong. “Rally was conceived to specifically solve these issues and is designed from the ground up to empower merchants, instead of dictating to them”.

Thus, Rally is offering a secure SaaS commerce platform that offers eBusinesses the ability to easily create deals, take advantage of word-of-mouth social distribution, and showcase those deals on Facebook, mobile, or their own standalone site. Obviously, web merchants want to be able to track conversion rates and measure the success of their deals, so Rally enables customers to take advantage of comprehensive analytics on demographic, performance, and conversions — as well as track word-of-mouth promotions on Facebook.

The fact that Rally is a SaaS platform takes a bit of the weight off launching a deal mechanism for online retailers, as the startup hosts the platform so that all eBusinesses need to do is set up their store. That means that there’s no IT integration required. Just a few hours after signing up, online merchants can begin launching deals, after which they control everything and don’t have to worry about space or any of the nuts and bolts of deal creation or publishing.

Another cool facet of Rally is its white label functionality: The startup’s API enables businesses to create customized deal stores on their site or tie them directly into the platform so that they can offer their own solution to merchants. Existing white label deal platforms are solutions for publishers, not for online retailers and merchants, so Wong said that he thinks Rally will be well-positioned here in terms of offering a unique value proposition.

Rally was co-founded by Henry Wong and Lou Kerner, and brings a veteran ad and sales team to the space. The truth is that the daily deal and group buying space is still early in its evolution; there’s a lot of room for innovation and maneuvering. With Rally offering a white label solution, social graph integration, self-service deals, analytics — all from the cloud — the value proposition here seems high. Ah, but how much will it cost? Wong said that merchants will be paying 10 percent commission fees on average.

Check out Rally Commerce at home here, and let us know what you think.



Greylock, IVP And Benchmark Capital Are Part Of Dropbox’s $4 Billion Valuation Round

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 09:02 AM PDT

dropbox

A month ago, we revealed that Index Ventures will lead Dropbox’s new, massive funding round, which values the company at $4 billion. Now TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington has revealed in a Tweet that venture firms Greylock and Benchmark Capital are also part of the round. We’ve also heard from sources that IVP is part of the round as well. We’re still unclear how large the round will be.

As Michael reported in August, the company was reportedly valued at one point at $5 billion or more. But the uncertainty in the financial markets and Dropbox’s desire to get specific investors on board resulted in a lower valuation.

We’ve also heard there’s a relatively large investor syndicate, so perhaps more firms will be participating in the round. Dropbox previously raised $7.2 million from Y Combinator, Hadi Partovi, Ali Partovi, Pejman Nozad, Accel Partners, and Sequoia.



Rumor: Whitman Is In As HP Head

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 08:59 AM PDT

10172279

Multiple sources are reporting/positing that Meg Whitman, former eBay head, will be sitting in the CEO seat at HP after today’s market close. Current CEO, Leo Apotheker, will get a $35 million pay out and wend his merry way to his next blood-letting.

HP’s stock is not yet reacting to the news although it closed at a 24 last night after futzing around in the 22s for most of yesterday morning.

UPDATE – A tipster writes: “Just had a meeting with our HP Regional Rep and it was disclosed that during morning conference calls HP will be announcing his resignation shortly.”

Whitman resigned from eBay in 2007 and has extensive consumer experience with stints and Procter & Gamble and Disney. HP needs a firm consumer hand to guide it into relevance. While business software is a great money maker – there’s a seemingly sucker born in upper IT management every minute – HP has long been known as one of the last purveyors of mass-market, commodity machines for the masses. Sadly, many of those hardware gambles don’t pay off (Palm, Voodoo) but HP makes PCs that people use. There’s no reason to spin the hardware brand off and hopefully Whitman knows it.

As Erick wrote HP made a huge mistake in the Hurd firing and subsequent Apotheker pick-up. In the end HP is still a massive player in the hardware market and they should ignore it at their peril.



As Bing Bleeds Billions, Microsoft Applies Tourniquet

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 08:43 AM PDT

chart-bing.top

Bing is not a bad search engine. I repeat: Bing is not a bad search engine. But when you’re wondering directions to a place, shopping for something new, or just curious about what this or that means, you’re likely not thinking to yourself: “Oh, I’ll Bing that.” No, no, no. You Google that sucker. Because Google is a verb. And Bing is not.

Herein lies the problem for Microsoft. Microsoft has lost $5.5 billion on Bing since its 2009 inception. Currently, losses are at about $1 billion per quarter. But wait — it gets worse. Before Bing was ever a not-quite-household name, Microsoft’s online services division had made no money whatsoever. In fact, CNN Money calculates that since Microsoft started showing off the books for that division in 2007, the company has lost a total of $9 billion.

But even with Microsoft losing billions, there’s still hope for gaining market share, right? Eh, not quite. It is true that Bing has risen from an 8.4 percent share at its launch to a current 14.7 percent market share, reports comScore. The problem is that big bad Google has lost .02 percent share during that time period, currently holding 64.8 percent of the market. So where’s all this market share coming from?

More than half of that 6.3 percent market share has come from Yahoo!. The only problem there is that Bing powers Yahoo search, so gained market share is actually just the cannibalization of a search partner. Awesome.

So to summarize, Microsoft was losing billions before Bing, continued losing billions with Bing, increased market share was only eating up its own success through a search partner, and there are no signs whatsoever that rival Google has been affected. Yeah, it’s not looking too good.

But apparently Online Services boss Qi Lu has a plan. First on the list of things to do is integrating Bing as much as possible with other Microsoft products. The partnerships with Nokia and Facebook, and the implementation of Bing search in Xbox 360 are all steps in the right direction. You see, the more use Bing gets, the better it is at intuitively searching. The end-result is meant to be something very non-Google. “We’re not trying to out-Google Google,” Lu said.

Instead, Microsoft wants Bing to be a search tool that does away with what Lu calls “caveman speak,” or the need to use prepositionless, article-free noun-based queries to find what you’re looking for. Lu wants you to ask Bing a question in natural language. From there, results will be less of a links list and more of a set of options, from which you can choose which direction to take your search.

If you’ve ever played with the Bing iPad app, you know what I’m talking about. For example, a search for “burrito” will bring up different filters than a search for “Yankees tickets.” Burrito offers up recipes, local burrito joints, along with your classic web, images, and video tabs. Yankees tickets, on the other hand, brings up the official Yankees ticketing site, along with all the different places to buy tickets with comparable pricing. In other words, Bing wants to get you what you want faster, in fewer clicks.

That’s all well and good, but Google remains a problem. Bing boss Stefan Weitz elaborated, saying, “Our challenge is that no one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I really wish there was a better search engine,’ That’s why, for us, it’s always been about figuring out how to accomplish more than we thought was possible with a search engine. Eventually, people will expect to do more with search, and if they can’t, they’ll be disappointed.”

But again, at what point does someone hop on Google and get so disappointed with results that they say, “Maybe I should try Bing.” When I can’t find what I’m looking for on Google, I assume it’s a fault of my own query, and try try again. At no point do I pull up Bing.

Then again, once you’re used to Bing it actually has some advantages over Google, the intuitive filters I mentioned being one of them. But people have to have used it to know this, and be accustomed to it for Bing to become their go-to search engine. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, Google owns nearly all of the mobile search space, with a Google search bar built into the iOS Safari browser and a nice little Google search bar on the home screen of almost any Android device.

But let’s say, by some stroke of the imagination, Bing starts gaining more market share. Profitability is still a good ways down the road. According to analysts who spoke with CNN, Bing will need at least 25 to 30 percent of the market to start making some dough. But Weitz said that Bing has something Google doesn’t: flexibility.

When Google makes a tweak to its search, the shock waves of that minor change affect an entire ecosystem of searchers, advertisers, and sites. Google has to be extra careful as it tries to improve, so as to not confuse or scare its billions of users. Bing, on the other hand, can experiment all it wants and not risk upsetting anyone. You know, since no one really uses it.

I’m not saying Bing is a lost cause — quite the opposite. As I’ve said numerous times, Bing is a great product. But getting people to change a habit as entrenched as eating and sleeping is a more-than-daunting task. Good luck, Microsoft.



With Swampy The Alligator, Disney Takes Aim At The Angry Birds Empire

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 08:27 AM PDT

swampy

While most studios team up with developers to create games that support existing properties, Disney is going the opopsite direction with the release of their latest iOS game. Their goal for Swampy the Alligator here isn’t just to snag the top spot for app purchases: they want to see him break into movies and merch too.

In short, they want this alligator to be like the Angry Birds.

Swampy stars in Disney Mobile’s “Where’s The Water?”, and while he lives in the sewers, he’s (ironically) a bit of a clean freak. Players must direct water into Swampy’s shoddy plumbing by cutting paths through the ground, all so Swampy can get his much-needed shower.

A few quick minutes playing the game has confirmed my suspicions: it already seems to have the same addictive charm that made Cut The Rope and Angry Birds such efficient timewasters.

Methinks that’s exactly what Disney Mobile GM Bart Decrem had in mind. Formerly the CEO of Tapulous, makers of one of iOS’s first rhythm games, Decrem has a very keen awareness of what gives a mobile game the “stickiness” that keeps players coming back.

He notes in an interview with the AP that the mobile space is huge with Disney’s target audience, saying that “this is where a generation of kids is growing up.” He thinks it’s important for Disney to be able to tell compelling new stories on a platform that kids are falling in love with.

Decrem has also said that one of the goals of the launch was to “incubate new characters that can cross over into other Disney business units like movies and merchandise.” Even if Swampy doesn’t quite make it, it seems it’s now a priority for Disney Mobile to take on the Angry Birds.

Angry Birds, if you’ve been lucky enough to live under a rock for the past few months, has spawned a truly obscene amount of merch. Angry Birds clothing, toys, and (less officially) Chinese moon pies have all been spotted, and there’s even word that a movie is in the works. It’s a lofty goal for Disney to shoot for, but one that they’re uniquely equipped to take advantage of if Swampy’s fame transcends his game.

Assuming the interest is there, a Swampy movie could become a reality sooner than expected because Disney can essentially do all the production work in-house. Of course, the company also already has the connections with manufacturers to quickly (and cheaply) churn out gobs of Swampy merchandise. Disney has proven themselves to have considerable muscle when it comes to cross-promotion too, so if this app happens to take off, expect to see Swampy toys in your kid’s Happy Meal before too long.

The game has just gone live in the App Store today, and it’ll run you $.99 — we’ll have to see if Disney’s ambitions are realized, but it’s a great timewaster nonetheless.



Uber Brings Its Disruptive Car Service To Chicago

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 08:24 AM PDT

Uber

Uber began testing in Chicago a month ago, but today the startup is officially launching its disruptive service and fleet of black cars in the Windy City.

In case you aren’t familiar with Uber, the service allows you to order a black car to come to your location via an Android or iOS app. You can actually track your car as it comes to your location as the app tracks the car via GPS. Payments are handled automatically by charging the card you have on file (no swiping necessary and gratuity is includes), and it costs at least 50% more than a taxi. The service has a loyal following in San Francisco, and debuted in New York and Seattle recently.

Uber’s Chicago model is very similar to that of San Francisco and other cities. The service is providing access to a number of different types of vehicles, including Lincoln Town Cars, Escalade SUV's and Mercedes S550 sedans (I actually rode in one of these luxury Ubers last night). Typical wait times range between three and ten minutes and pricing is less than 1.75 times a taxi’s fare. For basis of comparison, Uber pricing in San Francisco is around 1.6 times the average fare and 1.75 times the fare in New York City.

CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick tells me that he believes Chicago can be the highest growth market for the car service. Because of the nightlife, the awful weather for seven months of the year, and the large number of sports arenas in the city; demand for Uber could be great. Kalanick may be right. For anyone who hasn’t lived in Chicago, it can be impossible to find a cab when the weather drops below 30 degrees and the wind chill is in full effect (and that happens a lot and for multiple months). And finding cabs around Wrigley Field or Soldier Field after a game or event can also be a trying experience.

Prior to the company’s official launch today, over 1,000 users signed up to use Uber in Chicago.

Kalanick also tells me that in Chicago, there’s much less regulation around black car industry, and drivers who own one or two cars are allowed to exist (as opposed to other cities where there are more restrictions on drivers). Because of this flexibility, Kalanick explains that the integration of Uber with drivers is much more seamless for both parties.

Uber has raised $12.5 million in funding from Benchmark Capital, Founder Collective, First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital and a number of well-known angel investors.

Word on the street is that Uber will be launching in Boston next month and D.C. the following month.



Review: NeatDesk Scanner For Mac

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 08:10 AM PDT

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This thing has been sitting on my desk for most of the summer, like a sad-eyed puppy. It wanted me to review it, but like a petulant, spoiled child, I ignored it. “You’re just a scanner,” I said. “Who cares?”

“You’ll care eventually,” said the NeatDesk For Mac. “And when you do, I may not be there for you.”

Features:

  • 50-sheet scanner
  • Scans multiple sizes
  • Double-sided scanning
  • Automatically categorizes receipts, business cards, and documents
  • MSRP: $400

Quick
Unobtrusive
Quiet

Software is a bit confusing
Paper jams every few batches
Smaller receipts can get crinkled

Then one day I slipped a paper into her maw and then another. Then a receipt, then a business card. I pressed the scan button and in a few seconds I had an OCRed copy of the document on my screen. I could add pages to Evernote or search with a few keystrokes. I could add – and throw away – all of the business cards I collected. I could build expense reports in a few minutes. “Why didn’t you tell me you could do this for me?” I said.

“You never asked,” said the scanner.

Sure, she sometimes jams, sometimes takes two cards at once instead of one. Sometimes my tiny taxi receipts get crumpled up. But it’s never jammed to the point of paper destruction and the NeatDesk has become my de facto spot for holding all of the papers I hold dear. Writing contracts? NeatDesk. Business cards? NeatDesk. Tax junk? NeatDesk.

“I told you you would love me,” said the scanner.

“But it’s not love,” I said. “There are plenty more like you. Before I had you, I had a ScanSnap scanner. A scanner is a scanner is a scanner.”

“I’m really good for receipts and business cards,” said the scanner. “I have a good desktop application, NeatWorks.”

“You are, but your OCR on documents was a bit rough,” I said. I scanned in a document printed in Courier and got back an acceptable facsimile of the same when I pasted the scanned text back into a text editor. However, my handwriting (“PORK LOIN” written in black ink) came back as “pC/<K U\,J" – not quite what I was looking for.

That said, having all of my scanned documents in one place is quite handy. The product is available for Macs and PCs and it is designed to look more like a sexy space pod than a scanner. Curved lines and edges make for a pleasing desktop accompaniment and a simple latch opens the scanner when it’s in need of service. A dedicated power switch makes it easy to turn off and two buttons – Scan and PDF – do exactly what they say. Scan scans a document into NeatWorks and PDF scans it to a folder.

“Look at how I scan receipts,” said the scanner.

“You certainly are good at that. I’m not doubting you’re great for smaller documents.”

“So we’re a couple then,” said the scanner.

“For a little while, until something better comes along. I’m trying to keep my options open, you know. I just want to have fun,” I said.

“You’ll be back.”

“I’m sure I will,” I said.

“Incidentally, it takes 75 pounds of opposing pressure to crush a human femur, less if it’s the bones of your hand,” said the scanner.

“You don’t have the motor for that,” I said.

“I have friends,” said the scanner.

Product Page



IVP Leads $7 Million Investment In Business Insider

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 07:45 AM PDT

Business Insider

Digital media startup and online news platform Business Insider has raised $7 million in new funding. The round was led by new investor IVP, writes the site’s co-founder and CEO Henry Blodget. The company had previously raised funding from RRE Ventures, Allen & Co., Marc Andreessen, Gordon Crovitz, Ken Lerer, and others. This latest round bring Business Insider’s total funding to nearly $14 million.

Blodget says that the company was originally planning to raise $2 million but had enough interest ro raise more. He also reveals that the site is seeing 12 million visitors per month, and around 150,000 users visit every day (each day Business Insider says it has 300,000 to 500,000 unique visitors). And Business Insider, which includes properties Silicon Alley Insider, Clusterstock and others, now employs a staff of 60 (which is up from around 45 in earlier this year).

In March, Blodget said that Business Insider was making a net profit of $2,127, on revenues of $4.8 million in 2010. The revenue number is impressive considering the media startup only launched in 2007. Via increased traffic, new verticals and a conference business, clearly Business Insider is growing fast.

The new funding will be put towards “making the site better.”



Bitsmedia Founder Puts Frenzapp Apps Up For Sale

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 07:32 AM PDT

frenzapp-icon

Erwan Macé, the founder of Bitsmedia, a Singapore-based mobile apps development shop, is putting his mobile apps up for sale as he heads off to Google. You may remember these apps, branded under the name “Frenzapp,” which refers to their use of social recommendations.

The original Frenzapp is an app that helps you find new apps for your iPhone through your friends. It works well, but competes with several others (e.g., Chomp, Appsfire, Discovr, Zwapp, Y! App Spot, Kinetik) in the overly crowded app discovery space.

This summer, Bitsmedia diversified by launching Frenzapp Music to take on Apple’s Genius with better music suggestions. Frenzapp Music was a fairly solid effort, which we said a the time might become “a viable third-party competitor to Ping.”

Now, it and the original Frenzapp are up for sale. Says Macé, these two apps are looking for new “adoptive parents.” (He will continue supporting his third app, Muslim Pro, in his spare time.)

The sale is an IP-only deal, including platform, apps, trademarks and the affiliation deal with Apple. Asking price is $250,000 to $500,000.

Meanwhile, Macé is joining the Google Developer Relations team in Southeast Asia, a decision he explains in detail on his blog. (TL;DR: he loves Google.) 


Company: Bitsmedia
Website: bitsmedia.com
Launch Date: September 22, 2011

With a strong focus on digital entertainment and social media applications for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, Bitsmedia address the Internet, Telecom and Media industries and provides clients with state-of-the-art consulting and technology services. Its services range from the initial conceptualization and product design, the functional and technical specifications to the actual development, testing and distribution of custom applications for mobile devices.

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Gartner: Apple iPad Will Be Top Tablet Through 2014

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 06:57 AM PDT

iPad 2

The analysts at Gartner have released a new report today, detailing tablet market trends and forecasts. Not surprisingly, their findings confirm the obvious: the iPad is killing it. According to the firm, the Apple iPad will account for 73.4% of tablet sales worldwide this year, and no other platform besides Android will have more than a 5% share of the market during this time.

In addition, Apple will continue to have more than 50% of the tablet market until 2014, according to research VP Carolina Milanesi, a stat that she attributes to Apple’s foresight to create this market in the first place, and Apple’s “superior and unified user experience  across its hardware, software and services.”

Milanesi suggests that competitors who don’t deliver a similar experience won’t be much of a challenge to Apple going forward. That said, competitors’ offerings did affect Apple’s tablet sales ever-so-slightly. Apple is projected to have, as noted above, 73.4% of the market in 2011, but that’s down from 83% in 2010.

Meanwhile, Android tablets will account for 17.3% of the market this year, with 11 million units shipped. Last year, Android accounted for 14.3% of the market share.

But Gartner is lowering Android’s forecast from last quarter’s projection, Milanesi said, because the platform has been “constrained by high prices, weak user interface and limited tablet applications.” The reduction would have been even greater, Gartner claims, if not for the success of low-end tablets in Asia and the expectation around Amazon’s Android tablet. (Which, frankly, the firm may be underestimating a bit.)

Not everything seemed entirely on point with the report. For example, Gartner called RIM’s QNX OS a “promising platform” but said the company is “going through a tough period.” That’s more than kind, given RIM’s troubles and plummeting market share. Calling RIM’s current situation “a tough period” seems to imply that the smartphone maker will reach the other side at some point, wipe its brow, and exclaim, “Whew! We made it!” Whether that will actually happen is decidedly unclear.

Gartner is less kind to Windows 8, whose future may be limited by its late arrival. The platform’s best opportunities may be in the enterprise, Gartner says.

As for anyone daring to take on iPad, the focus should be matching screen quality and processing power on the hardware side, with everything else considered “nice to have, rather than essential.” On the platform side, apps, an intuitive user interface and the ability to share content between devices matter most. Good luck, non-iPads. That’s a tough order to fill.


Company: Apple
Website: apple.com
Launch Date: January 4, 1976
IPO: September 22, 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, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007. Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with...

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Sprint To Cap Unlimited Hotspot Data On October 2?

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 06:44 AM PDT

sprint-logo

Rumor has it that the iPhone 5 will be headed to Sprint in the coming weeks. In the lead-up to that, Sprint’s implemented some big cut-backs/price hikes, including a jacked up early termination fee and the discontinuation of Sprint Premier.

But one thing has remained the same, and according to Sprint, it will remain the same through the launch of the iPhone: unlimited data. That is, of course, unless that data is coming through a mobile hotspot data plan, in which case unlimited is no longer an option.

According to a leak out of Sprint Feed, good ol’ yellow will be adding a 5GB cap to their mobile hotspot plans on October 2, with overage charges at five cents/MB. The good news is that this cap only affects the $30/month mobile hotspot data plan, so your regular unlimited data is safe to enjoy. But you should make the most of it while you can — there’s no telling how long Sprint can keep up unlimited data on the iPhone.

Verizon, with one of the most robust networks in the nation, couldn’t keep their word regarding unlimited data when the iPhone hit their network. Sprint is much smaller, and while unlimited data is basically the carrot they’re dangling to lure folks away from the big guns, it’ll be much more difficult to sustain.

Check the image below for a peek at that leaked document.


Company: Sprint Nextel
Website:
Launch Date: September 22, 1999
IPO: NYSE:S

Sprint Nextel offers a comprehensive range of wireless and wireline communications services bringing the freedom of mobility to consumers, businesses and government users. Sprint Nextel is widely recognized for developing, engineering and deploying innovative technologies, including two wireless networks serving almost 49 million customers at the end of the second quarter of 2009; industry-leading mobile data services; instant national and international push-to-talk capabilities; and a global Tier 1 Internet backbone.

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Build-A-Bear Releases Kinect-Capable Teddies

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 06:33 AM PDT

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Microsoft and Build-A-Bear (a store where children can taxidermy the flayed corpses of teddy bears killed in the wild) are working together to create Kinectimals Now With Bears, a Kinect-connected game for the 360.

As the title suggests, this is Kinectimals… with bears. The bears have special tags that will cause them to appear within the game, allowing you to virtually control them and play with them. Considering the high price of Build-A-Bear toys, it seems like a bit of a stretch to think parents will hit the store just for these Kinect-capable teddies but, to paraphrase the Bible, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for the mall is open weekends and it does have a ball pit and treehouse play center” and, in corollary, “What baby wants, baby gets.”

via slashgear



Gadget Sites: Ease Up On The Watermarks Already

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 05:54 AM PDT

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Here’s a little inside baseball for you all but I wanted to get a pet peeve off my chest: all these darned watermarks on gadget imagery. It got pretty egregious this morning over at BGR where they posted some pictures of some purported iPhone 4S parts that (surprise) look very much like iPhone 4 parts. I was struck, however, by the plethora of watermarks boldly slapped onto the face of the image, one from some site in India (no URL so I don’t know what it is, thereby reducing the value of the mark) and a big honking watermark for BGR. So BGR got the images from some dude in India and they made them theirs by marking their territory, much like a cat sprays that musk stuff in your closet to ensure you can never wear your clothes again.

Watermarks were originally designed as advertisements: if your site was tiny, you’d watermark stuff in order to spread the word about your site, not to c-block others from using your images. They also helped in assessing ownership down the line when you did a Google Image Search of Steve Jobs riding a unicorn and it turned out to be watermarked by GDGT. I’m totally down with an unobtrusive image once in a while (we do it sometimes, down in the corner, at 30% opacity, mostly on images we take ourselves) but come on. Why not go totally bonkers and add one of those right-click preventers in Javascript that were so popular in the early oughts?

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled coverage. Thank you for giving an old man the floor for a moment. I’ll go back to yelling at my lawn.



NTT Docomo’s Cases Make Smartphones Measure Radiation, Body Fat, Alcohol

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 05:45 AM PDT

Picture 1

Japan’s biggest mobile carrier NTT Docomo unveiled a few pretty interesting smartphone add-ons today. Perhaps most notable are a set of special cases the company developed to not provide extra protection but to add unique functions to the handsets they are used with.

These jackets essentially turn smartphones into dosimeters, and there are three of them: one to measure radiation, another that keeps track of the user’s body fat and muscle bulk, and a third model that measures the alcohol content in the user’s body (plus bad breath).

NTT Docomo says that sensors built into the cases do the actual job, while the smartphone itself serves as the interface and displays the results. Needless to say, all data can be saved for future reference.

This jacket, for example, helps measure radiation:

The company plans to showcase the cases during the CEATEC Japan 2011 exhibition next month.

Here’s a video from Penn Olson shot at Docomo’s CEATEC preview press conference today:

Via Penn Olson



Thoora Releases Intelligent Content Discovery Engine To The Public

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 05:35 AM PDT

thoora

Since its launch in 2009, content discovery engine Thoora has been in private beta. But today the site, which combines aggregation, curation and search for personalized news streams, is stepping our of private beta and is now public.

There’s no doubt that there is a content overload when it comes to news sites, blogs and social networks. Thoora discovery engine that gives users a new way to discover, monitor and share news from the web on specific topics.

Thoora’s patented engine scours 28 million online sources and uses more than 100 signals to find and rank content. Thoora allows users to curate results by topic, and the engine learns from that curation, and starts delivering a more personalized feed.

You can build topics with multiple keywords, curate content by 'favorite'-ing or removing articles, posts, and specific sources, filter by Twitter stream, and more. Users can also share their Thoora searches to their social networks, including Facebook and Twitters.

So what took Thoora so long to launch its product to the public? The startup says that there’s been an explosion of social media and content since 2009 and Thoora was working on integrating this into the application. The startup was also working on its proprietary technology that curates and aggregates news.



Oracle To Acquire GoAhead

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 05:23 AM PDT

goahead

Oracle this morning announced that it has acquired GoAhead Software, which sells packaged service availability software to network equipment providers (NEPs) and other players in the commmunications industry. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

GoAhead, a privately-held company based in Bellevue, Washington, provides software that speeds the time to market of carrier-grade services that need to be always available at all times.

The company claims its software has seen over 100,000 deployments by NEPs to date.

Customers include Motorola, LG-Nortel, Alcatel and Oki.

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close before the end of 2011. Until the deal closes, each company will continue to operate independently.


Website: oracle.com
Launch Date: September 22, 1977
IPO: NASDAQ:ORCL

Oracle is an enterprise IT company with a specialty in database management systems.

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