Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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WooThemes Launches WooCommerce To Turn WordPress Sites Into Online Shops

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 09:29 AM PDT


WordPress theme provider WooThemes is launching a new service today called WooCommerce, which lets users install a plugin on their WordPress site in order to turn that site into a professional e-commerce storefront. The system includes a plugin and the company’s theme library, while also offering multiple payment gateway options, settings for configuring shipping rates, coupon support, email templates, a reports panel to track sales and performance and more.

The WooCommerce plugin is designed to work with the existing theme library that WooThemes already provides. The company has over 50,000 paying customers who have downloaded its free themes over 800,000 times. It also serves as a premium theme provider to WordPress.com.

The company is now focused on turning its themes into full-featured applications. To this end, WooThemes has devoted a division of its company, WooLabs, to creating new ways to turn the themes into feature-rich platforms. E-commerce is the first offering from WooLabs. In the future, WooThemes plans to launch an integration of the SupportPress theme,which allows anyone to sell premium suppor, as well as themes that offer the functionality of wikis and those that resemble popular Web apps like Basecamp, UserVoice and Quora.

The first of the WooThemes to receive integration with the WooCommerce plugin are Statua, which allows photographers to sell their prints online, and Diner (integration arriving soon), which allows restaurants accept take-out orders from their website.

WooThemes is certainly not the only e-commerce platform company, but it wants to be one of the easier ones to use, both on the backend, through simplified controls, and on the frontend, through good design.

The biggest competitor on WooThemes’ radar is Shopify, the popular online retail platform. But while Shopify is flexible and extensible, it’s not designed for WordPress sites and it requires a bit of tech savvy to use, the company feels.

This launch comes after WooThemes’ decision earlier this year to refocus all its efforts on WordPress development going forward, citing a lack of knowledge about or passion for building themes for the likes of Drupal, EE or Magento.

WooCommerce is launching today. The code is open source and can be found at http://woothemes.com/woocommerce.

1000memories Expands Beyond Digital Memorials, Becomes A Facebook For The Past

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 09:13 AM PDT


We first wrote about a service called 1000memories back in July 2010. The site was setting out to address a topic that people don’t like to talk about, but is universal all the same: when people pass away, their friends and family members like to remember them and celebrate their memories. That can be difficult though — these people are often separated by great distances, and it’s hard to share antique photos with a lot of people. So 1000memories created a service for digital memorials, where all of these friends and family members can upload their photos and share their favorite memories in a single place.

Now, over a year later, 1000memories is changing things up a bit. Don’t worry, those digital memorials are still a core feature of the site, and all of the memorials that have been created aren’t going anywhere. But the service is adjusting to better cater to the way its users are actually using it. In short, they’re making it a place to share all kinds of digital memories, not just those that concern the recent passing of a loved one.

1000memories cofounder Rudy Adler explains that as people go to create their digital memorials, they often pull out their old shoeboxes full of photos and stumble across pictures of many family members and old friends — not just the one who recently passed away. They’d start uploading all of those to the site as well, but so far 1000memories hasn’t offered a great way to do this.

Today that’s changing: 1000memories is launching a handful of new features that make it better suited to share any sort of antique content with friends and family. Another way to put it: the service is now a social network for sharing memories.

The first feature that will help do this is a section called ‘Shoebox’, which is a feed of everything you’ve uploaded to the site, and what your family and friends have shared as well. To help with this, users will also be able to create memory pages (sort of like profile pages) for anyone, which you can link a piece of content to. And, finally, you’ll be able to set up a family tree that shows how each of these memory pages are linked.

To facilitate the process, in the next few weeks the service will also be releasing an iPhone app: take a snapshot of an old photo or letter using your phone’s camera, and it’ll get uploaded directly to the service. This caused me to raise my eyebrows (I’d think people would want to scan these old photographs to make sure they’re saved at maximum quality), but Adler says that the results are surprisingly good. He adds that the service was inspired to do this, because, again, it’s what its users are already doing.

In a sense, 1000memories is setting out to become a Facebook for the past. In fact, Adler says that Facebook’s recent launch of the Timeline will actually make things easier for them  (it’ll make 1000memories easier to explain).

Distimo’s Latest Report Reveals Mobile App Localization Trends

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 09:09 AM PDT


The latest report from mobile analytics firm Distimo examines in detail the trends surrounding the localization of mobile applications. That is, which app stores tend to have a higher or lower number of apps that are published in just one country alone.

According to its findings, globally, 27% of the most popular applications are popular exclusively in one country in Apple’s App Store for iPhone. Meanwhile, Nokia’s Ovi Store has the highest proportion of apps published in just one country (29.4%) while the App Store for iPad has the lowest (3.4%).

Aside from the Nokia Ovi Store (29.4%), only a small proportion of apps are tailored to one specific country in the other vendors’ apps stores, including iPhone (5.2%), iPad (3.4%), Android (4.9%) and Windows Phone (3.5%). Distimo ignored RIM in this report, it should be noted.

The majority of the locally published applications in the Nokia Ovi Store target either China or Italy. Two large publishers accounting for nearly 9% of the Ovi catalog in Italy are responsible for this country’s appearance here: “3″ and “Dada.” Combined, they publish over 8,000 apps in Italy, primarily ringtones and wallpapers.

China is more affected by publishing restrictions, says Distimo. In China, games can only be published to the Ovi Store through licensed aggregators KongZhong and Tom Online. Videos can only go through CNR. Together, the three account for 5,845 apps in China’s Nokia Ovi Store.

Elsewhere, the U.S. and the U.K. feature the most locally published apps, with the U.S. having 7,158 apps that are exclusive to the iPhone App Store in the U.S. When the App Store (iPhone and iPad) and Google’s Android Market are combined, the U.S., U.K., South Korea and Japan are about equal in terms of locally available apps.

Despite the high number of locally published apps in the iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad in the U.S., the proportion of local apps is relatively low, says Distimo. 22% of  the 100 most popular iPhone apps and 19% of 100 most popular iPad apps are U.S.-only apps, it found.

China and Japan have the most locally popular apps, the firm reports, and, as a general trend, local apps are very popular in all the mobile marketplaces worldwide.

Distimo also examined the overlap of the top applications in the U.S. iTunes App Store, finding that top apps here tend to be popular in other English-speaking countries, but have the lowest overlap with Japan and China.

Other countries seeing overlap include Mexico and Argentina (overlap 60%), Belgium, The Netherlands and France (51%), and Germany, Austria and Switzerland (57%). China and Singapore have an average overlap of 25%, which is low, but higher than the overlap between China and other countries (average 16%).

The report then further breaks down the top paid and free apps in all the tracked app stores, both in the U.S. and worldwide. You can read more in the report, available here on Distimo’s website.

Company: Distimo
Website: distimo.com
Launch Date: January 5, 2009

We know app stores. Distimo was founded to solve the challenges created by a widely fragmented app store marketplace filled with equally fragmented information and statistics. Distimo was launched shortly after the introduction of the first app store. App stores have clearly shown since that time that they are the way forward for content distribution. The app store model offers an enormous opportunity for developers to get their content out and dramatically improves content discovery by consumers. However, the mobile market...

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Xobni Rebrands Its Product Smartr, Launches Contact Manager For Android And Gmail

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 09:00 AM PDT


Xobni always was a clever name (it’s Inbox backwards), but perhaps it was too clever. Today, the startup that tries to make your email smarter is rebranding its newer products Smartr and launching them out of private beta for Android and Gmail.

These products have been in private beta for several months. The Gmail add-on shows you contextual information about whoever is sending you an email culled from various social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and company databases. It also shows you your relationship history with that contact, a list of pervious email conversations and related contacts, as well as contact search.

The Android app takes over your address book on your phone and delivers similar functionality. It ranks contacts by importance and how often you communicate with them instead of alphabetically. Since it is all managed in the cloud, it can handle thousands of contacts. Different tabs show you contact details, that contact’s recent social feeds, your relationship history, and other contacts you share in common.

A Smartr iPhone app is also in the works. If you buy a Xobni Pro account, you can sync your contacts across Gmail and your mobile devices.

Company: Xobni
Website: xobni.com
Launch Date: September 27, 2011
Funding: $31.8M

Xobni, the word “inbox” spelled backwards, has created a new way to look at your email. Xobni takes the effort out of organizing, searching, and navigating your email. The only thing that has changed with email in the last ten years is that everyone gets more of it. Email is overflowing with information. It’s hard to find what you need. It’s hard to know what you have. Xobni creates an information profile for each person you...

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Sprint’s 4G LTE Network To Go Live Early Next Year?

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 08:40 AM PDT


Sprint is clearly in a tough spot. It’s been a step behind in getting the iPhone which should be remedied soon, but the yellow carrier is also facing a mega-merger between AT&T and T-Mobile that would drop it way below the competition. The good news, however, is that it looks like Sprint has a plan, a piece of which involves the deployment of its 4G LTE network in early 2012.

According to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with CNET, LTE equipment is already going up and workers are field testing as I write. The target launch date is either the first or second quarter of 2012, but it may go live earlier. While the new improved network won’t require any additional capital investment, it will cost between $4 and $5 billion over the next three to five years.

But apparently Sprint’s plan will actually save around $10 to $11 billion over the next seven years. The carrier expects to shut down its iDEN network (for Nextel) by 2013 while installing equipment that can run both its 3G CDMA network and its forthcoming 4G LTE network. The 4G LTE network is based on the same LTE variant as Verizon’s network: FD-LTE.

In the midst of all this AT&T/T-Mobile fun, Sprint has rallied to fight the possible duopoly, painting itself (who cares how sincerely) as the American underdog. Psychologically, this has surely made Sprint customers more loyal, and lured competitors’ customers into at least considering a switch based on principle.

What holds people back is the fact that first, Sprint doesn’t have the iPhone (sorry Android fans, but it’s true), and second that its network just isn’t quite as developed as Verizon or AT&T’s. With the roll-out of a strong 4G network, the launch of the iPhone, and the reported confirmation of unchanging unlimited data, Sprint may just pull off an Appalachian St. vs. Michigan-style upset.

And this is what it will look like:

Company: Sprint Nextel
Launch Date: September 27, 1999

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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Apple Officially Announces iPhone Event: October 4

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 08:32 AM PDT


It’s finally confirmed: Apple’s next event will be held on October 4. And they’re not even being coy about the topic — the invite says, “Let’s talk iPhone”.

In typical Apple fashion the invite is cleverly presented: The date is indicated as part of the iOS calendar app, the time by the clock, and the location (it’s being held at Apple’s campus) by the Maps icon.

Rumors have been swirling about the launch date of the next iPhone, with plenty of speculation that it might be released in September, or maybe announced in September and then released in October, or perhaps that it would be an all-October deal (never before have I seen such earnest debate over calendar dates). The October 4 date was first reported by AllThingsD last week.

Image via Engadget

Disney’s Appmates Turn The iPad Into An Interactive Playmat

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 08:29 AM PDT


I wasn’t much for playing with toy cars as a kid — you’d have found me parked in front of a Sega Genesis, if anything — but I suspect Disney Mobile’s new line of Appmate iPad peripherals would have been just the thing to change my mind.

The Appmates and the iPad work in tandem to create a pretty novel play experience. Featuring the likenesses of characters from Cars 2, the Appmates are miniature figures with special sensors mounted on the bottom.

Those sensors (patent pending, naturally) identify each particular figure to the iPad, so it will know the difference between Tow Mater and and Lightning McQueen even if you don’t.

By gently pressing the figure down on the screen, the corresponding app essentially turns the iPad into an interactive playmat. Since the iPad can differentiate between characters, players will hear different bits of narration and dialogue depending on the figure they’re using.

The app itself takes a sandbox approach to the Cars world: players can engage in races with other characters, complete missions to pick up some virtual cash, or just tool around scenic Radiator Springs. It’s an incredibly cool concept, and one that you can believe Disney will milk in coming months.

The last time we heard from Disney Mobile was during the launch of “Where’s My Water?”, an iOS game starring a brand new character who they hoped would hit an Angry Birds level of ubiquity. The plan seems to be working so far, as Where’s My Water? has since overtaken Angry Birds in the Top Paid Apps chart. If the Appmates gain the same kind of traction, expect to see them everywhere just in time for the holidays.

Google Ventures, Foundry Group Put $1M In Yesware, Email Tracking And Productivity Platform For Salespeople

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 08:15 AM PDT


Yesware, a startup that helps track email and improve productivity for salespeople, has raised $1 million in funding from Google Ventures, Foundry Group and other investors.

Yesware is a suite of productivity services that work where salespeople do – in their email and on their phones. The application is available for Gmail and smartphones and provides email analytics, customizable templates and CRM integration to help salespeople close more deals faster. Yesware works in conjunction with a number of popular CRM platforms including Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle CRM, Highrise and others.

Yesware includes customizable email templates for every stage of the sales process, from prospecting to closing the deal; automatic synchronization between smail and CRM Systems; activity-cased reporting to provides objective metrics on how individual salespeople build rapport with customers, and email tracking.

The application’s racking features report on the time, number of times, location and platform that the recipient opens an email. Yesware will prioritize email conversations by customer engagement so salespeople can spend more time with interested prospects. The application also comes with a companion Android app.

As Matthew Bellows, CEO and founder of Yesware tells us, the beauty of the application is that it provides both an intelligence and productivity layer on top of Gmail and CRM products.

Yesware for Gmail is free to individual salespeople and available for sales teams, on a per-seat subscription basis. Yesware for Android is available for a one-time purchase price of $4.99 via the Android Market. The company’s customers include KissMetrics, StackOverflow and others. The new funding will be used towards product development.

Rexly Takes Its Social Music App To The iPhone

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 08:05 AM PDT


When social music startup Rexly launched at Disrupt NYC last May, we called it the social music discovery app that Ping should have been. It shows you what your friends are listening to on iTunes, but filters the stream in an attempt to surface the best stuff. Up until now, you had to log into Rexly’s site to experience it. But today it is releasing its iPhone app, Music With Friends, which takes over your iPod player and incorporates all sorts of social features.

As you listen to the songs and playlists on your iPhone, Rexly scrobbles them and they show up in a feed that your friends can see. Similarly, you can see a feed of all the songs your friends are listening to who use Rexly, or the most popular songs overall. But instead of just spitting out an unfiltered stream of the ost recent songs in your feed (although you can see that too), the default filter is Rexly’s “magic” stream. It shows you songs from friends or other people you are following you’ve designated as super trustworthy in regards to their musical taste.

The ability to tell the app which people you “Supertrust” is a way to get around the problem we already see in Facebook since the recent launch of music-sharing apps and its Ticker, which is overflowing with all of your friends bad Spotify music choices. (Facebook addresses this issue with its own Music Dashboard). Just because they are your friends, does not mean they have good taste in music. Rexly lets you pick which of the people you follow you trust, and highlights their listening stream.

For every song in your stream, you can listen to a 30-second sample, give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down (which further trains Rexly’s algorithm) or leave a comment. You can also share the song on Twitter or Facebook. Ping, which launched with no social sharing features outside of iTunes, now only lets you share on Twitter. Until Apple and Facebook resolve their differences, Rexly is positioning itself as a bridge between the two.

Rexly’s biggest drawback, however, is the 30-second sample. It really isn’t competing against iTune’s native Ping feature more than it is against all of the new social music apps on Facebook (Spotify, MOG, Rdio, etc.). They allow you to listen to the full song when a friend shares it (at least for anyone who is a subscriber to one of the services—and even if you are not, Spotify is giving away free 6 month trials). But that is more an obstacle set up by the music industry than Rexly. If all of these new music sharing apps actually result in more sales for the labels, they might finally take down that barrier. And Rexly plans to add your friends’ activities on Pandora, Spotify, Rdio and other music streaming services so it will be able to piggyback on their efforts as well.

Company: Rexly
Website: rexly.com

Rexly’s singular goal is to make their users happy, by connecting them with the music that moves them the most. Rexly strives to rock musical worlds by collecting the most meaningful data and applying the most powerful recommendation techniques, in an environment that respects privacy and reveres individuality. Over time, Rexly will add new data sources and experiment with new recommendation techniques, all in the name of providing their users with the information you need to know what music...

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With A Foothold In Emerging Markets, Peak Games Climbs Up The Rankings; Raises $11.5 Million

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 08:00 AM PDT


Peak Games, a social gaming company that designs titles that target emerging markets in Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa, and South America, is making some significant announcements today, including acquisitions, partnerships, funding, and snapshot of the company’s continuing growth.

For starters, the company announced today that it has closed an $11.5 million series B round of funding, led by existing European venture investors Earlybird Venture Capital and Hummingbird Ventures. This latest infusion of capital brings the startup’s total investment to $19 million. According to the Peak Games team, the round will be used to continue expanding into emerging markets, to complete game studio acquisitions, and ramp up hiring and user acquisition.

Along with its funding announcement, Peak Games is today sharing the news that it has made two strategic acquisitions in the past few months, acquiring hardcore strategy game studios, Umaykut and Erlikhan, in an effort to continue bringing emerging markets (both studios are Turkish) to social gaming. Sidar Sahin, CEO of Peak Games, says in reference to Peak’s acquisitions, that one (among many) of the reasons the startup is focusing on core games is high ARPU and profitability. “The core games we’re running see up to $0.30 to 0.40 daily ARPUs”, Sahin says, “which is 10 to 20 times higher than resource management or casual games, for example”.

Founded in 2010, Peak Games has sought to both develop its own intellectual property, with games like Okey and TrendKiz as well as to partner with other big social game developers, like RockYou, which created Zoo World 2, The Broth (creators of Barn Buddy), and MagnetJoy (Pet Party), to create and publish versions of their games aimed at local, foreign markets.

Because of its international focus, much of Peak Games' early growth came thanks to games based on traditional Turkish and Arabic card and board games (like Okey, which is Turkey's most popular online social game with 4.5 million monthly active users), but the company’s recent moves aim to make it more broadly applicable, both to hardcore gamers (with Umaykut) and to female gamers with titles like TrendKiz. And grow it has: Peak Games currently reaches over 16 million monthly active users, according to AppData, up from 10 million MAU in May, and has grown to the sixth largest social gaming company in the world.

As Turkey has become the fourth largest Facebook market, with over 30 million users (which represents over 87 percent of the online population), and as the market in the Middle East and North Africa continues to adopt Facebook and social networking at a breakneck pace (with the region expected to reach 250 million users by 2015), Peak Games seems well poised to take advantage of this burgeoning market.

By creating a portfolio of games available in the region’s local languages and are tailored to its cultures — along with its plan to bring social games to mobile platforms in these mobile markets, Peak Games is setting itself up to be the envy of the social gaming giants like Zynga and EA, which have predominantly U.S.-based user bases.

The U.S. social gaming market may be nearing saturation, and if this proves to be the case, Peak is off to a serious head start, especially considering the headway it has made in the Middle East. The company is still far behind wooga, which has over 35 million monthly active users and is well-established in the European gaming market, but the future certainly looks bright.

Company: Peak Games
Website: peakgames.net
Funding: $6.5M

Peak Games creates engaging and culturally-relevant social games aimed at players in emerging markets such as Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. With more than 10M active players drawn from one of the world's the fastest growing social gaming markets, Peak Games already ranks as one of the 10 largest social gaming companies globally. Through its mixture of original IP, including Okey – the most popular game in Turkey, Okey Plus and IkonKiz and licensed games such as Kom┼ču...

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Professional Content Sharing Platform SlideShare Goes Mobile With New HTML5 Site

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 07:59 AM PDT

Upload & Share P

Pandora, LinkedIn, Box.net and many others are moving to HTML5 to give users a cross-platform, rich media experience. The latest to participate in this tend is SlideShare, a sharing platform for business documents, videos and presentations.

SlideShare lets anyone share presentations and video and also serves as a social discovery platform for users to find relevant content and connect with other members who share similar interests. The company also has a huge enterprise following, and companies like IBM and others use the platform to curate content from all of their employees and partners on a branded page.

Considering the trend towards content discovery on mobile platforms, it would make sense for SlideShare to have mobile offerings. But the startup has not offered any native apps and until today had a flash-based site that could be reached via the browser. Co-founder Jonathan Boutelle tells us that using the Flash-based site was a barrier for users accessing SlideShare from iOS sites. And when determining whether to build a native app for go HTML5, Boutelle said that building a mobile optimized site made the most sense because of the cross-platform capabilities to work on iPads, iPhones and Android devices.

The new HTML5 SlideShare site now renders 30 percent faster and users can view, share, and interact with presentations. Boutelle says the latest version of the SlideShare site uses a patent-pending document conversion technology that renders all the details of a PowerPoint or Word document using nothing but HTML5.

The site also allows visitors to take advantage several features that were previously available only on the desktop version of the site including the ability to copy and paste text; keyboard navigation; full-screen view; and the ability to view embedded documents. Registered users can also view private content, to view content from friends, and favorite content. Any user viewing a slide view page now has visibility into metadata such as the number of views, embeds, and favorites for each presentation, as well as related content and content by the same author. And the homepage now displays a list of featured presentations.

Boutelle says SlideShare continues to see growing engagement, and expects the HTML5 platform to increase usage as well. He explains that HTML5 made sense because the company wanted a lightweight experience for users and wanted documents, fonts, and more to look the same on various browser types. As we mentioned above, this is SlideShare’s first mobile presence and currently the startup doesn’t have any plans to expand to native apps. “We’re doubling down on HTML5 and making this better and bette so it works for everybody,” says Boutelle.

Currently, the site's 60 million users upload tens of thousands professional presentations every day. SlideShare has raised $3 million in funding from Jonathan Abrams, Mark Cuban, Dave McClure, and Venrock.

Company: SlideShare
Website: slideshare.net
Funding: $3M

SlideShare is a community for sharing presentations. Individuals or organizations can upload and share PowerPoint, PDF, or OpenOffice presentations. Anyone can find presentations on their topic of interest. Users can tag presentation, and download or embed them into their own websites or blogs. Users can also share their documents privately. SlideShare lets its users to join groups to connect with SlideShare members who share similar interests. Business presentations make the most of...

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Leading Mobile Device Makers Pledge Support For Carrier-Led NFC Venture Isis

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 07:57 AM PDT


Isis, the carrier-led joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, is today announcing support for its mobile wallet system from the majority of leading device makers, including HTC, LG, Motorola, RIM, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, as well as from NFC hardware provider Device Fidelity.

All of the handset makers are now committed to introducing handsets that will include Isis’ NFC and related technology standards.

Isis represents the carriers’ attempt at inserting themselves into the mobile wallet and mobile payments space in order to compete head on with other mobile wallet providers, including those from credit card companies, banks and platform providers, like Google with its Google Wallet program for Android handsets.

The technology in Isis’ mobile wallet uses NFC, or “near field communication,” which enables short-range wireless transactions at point-of-sale. Instead of swiping a credit card, consumers will be able to simply tap or wave their phone at the payment terminal at checkout in order to complete a transaction, and in some cases, even receive coupons or offers from the merchant.

NFC forecasts vary, with ABI Research estimating 35 million handsets shipped this year, and double that next year. IHS iSuppli has forecasted nearly 550 million handsets by 2015. Meanwhile, Berg Insight AB expects there to be 400 million by 2015. Whatever the true number may be, the consensus is that the technology is years out from consumer adoption.

However, the launch of the Apple iPhone 5 is right around the corner, and it will be a key turning point for NFC’s future, potentially shaking up those analyst estimates. If the iPhone 5 does not include NFC support, then adoption of NFC will lag. If it does offer NFC, the movement will continue its current forward momentum, and likely at a faster pace.

Today’s news from Isis supports the latter theory, given its seemingly reactionary nature. If Apple is moving forward with NFC, competing handset makers would have no choice but to also participate by offering NFC support in their handsets as well. That support doesn’t necessarily have to include a partnership with Isis, of course, but Isis is one of the leading movements in the space.

As for DeviceFidelty, it’s no surprise to see it also officially named as one of the companies powering the Isis mobile wallet, given its position as a leader in contactless technologies, including NFC.

It’s also interesting to hear this news now, when just yesterday, disruptive mobile payments company Square’s COO Keith Rabois boldly declared NFC as having no value, citing lack of merchant interest in the technology. The “merchant adoption” hurdle is valid, of course, but contactless infrastructure is already in more locations than consumers may realize, even if it’s somewhat underused. As of this spring, for example, MasterCard claimed it had approximately 88 million PayPass cards (contactless credit cards) and devices in use at 276,000 merchant locations, plus trials and rollouts underway in 36 countries, including at fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell, plus retailers like Sports Authority, Best Buy, and gas stations like BP and Hess. Visa offers a similar contactless support through In2Pay, but doesn’t publish its numbers.

Contactless infrastructure is an important part to NFC’s adoption because NFC is based on the existing contactless infrastructure around the world. In other words, where there’s contactless support, there can be support for NFC too. This is, of course, assuming that the device in question offers “card emulation” mode, which lets the NFC device behave like an existing contactless card. But that’s the most logical onramp in the contactless to NFC transition, so that will likely be the case with most mobile wallet initiatives.

Tykoon Raises $1.4M To Help Parents Teach Kids Fiscal Responsibility

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 07:55 AM PDT


Tykoon, a sites that helps families engage children in becoming fiscally responsible, has raised $1.35 million in funding from Doug Lebda, RRE Ventures, Rick Thompson, Chamath Palihapitiya, David Bach, and G. Kennedy Thompson.

Tykoon (currently in private beta) is a new social, personalized financial services platform for families where kids can earn, save, give and spend real money. With Tykoon, parents can implement money management via chores, jobs, allowance, spending and giving. Kids can earn money through jobs, chores, and gifts, save based on goals, spend in a kid safe environment powered by Amazon.com and give to charities via the platform.

Tykoon was co-­‐founded by Doug Lebda and Mark Bruinooge. Lebda founded Lending Tree and is currently the CEO and Chairman of Tree.com. He also served as president and COO of IAC from 2005 to 2008. Bruinooge previously served as an executive at Bank of America focused on ecommerce and digital

The platform is initially targeted towards children ages 8 to 12. Tykoon will be available to the public later this Fall.

Huawei Taps Discovery Channel To Build Discovery Expedition Rugged Handset

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 07:38 AM PDT


Huawei has a history of partnering up with brands to build highly targeted phones, a good example being the Red Bull-branded RBM HD rugged phone (otherwise known as the Impulse for AT&T). This time, the company is taking the less caffeine-fueled route, opting for some added credibility with its next rugged handset: the Huawei-Discovery Expedition phone.

Built in conjunction with the Discovery Channel’s lifestyle brand, the Huawei-Discovery Expedition phone is built for the woodsman, indeed. It can stand up against water, dust, and electrical shock, and comes with all the goodies you need to navigate in the wild. A compass, torch, GPS, and a G-sensor are all included. Of course, just because you’re becoming one with mother nature doesn’t mean you don’t want to tweet about it, which is why Facebook and Twitter are also pre-loaded.

We were thinking we’d see a camera, even a low-end one, on this handset as its owners are meant to be surrounded by nature’s beauty. But perhaps the lack of camera will be reflected in a low price.

Huawei says the Discovery Expedition phone will be available during the fourth quarter of this year, though specific carriers, retailers and pricing was not included.

Company: Huawei

Huawei is a leading telecom solutions provider. Through continuous customer-centric innovation, they have established end-to-end advantages in Telecom Network Infrastructure, Application & Software, Professional Services and Devices. With comprehensive strengths in wireline, wireless and IP technologies, Huawei has gained a leading position in the All-IP convergence age. Their products and solutions have been deployed in over 100 countries and have served 45 of the world’s top 50 telecom operators, as well as one third of the world’s population. ...

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Microsoft Files More Patents For Dual-Screen Swiss Army Knife Slider Phone

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 07:30 AM PDT


I could swear that I’ve had a dream about this before, or at least written about it*, but it looks like Microsoft beat me to the patent office. On September 22, Microsoft filed the “Mobile Communication Device Having Multiple, Interchangeable Second Devices” patent, which basically describes a slider-style phone that has replacement components to swap in for the slider keyboard.

What’s cool is that the mobile phone should be able to communicate with any of the secondary devices, whether they’re docked in the phone’s little slide-out drawer or not. Within the picture, you can see a QWERTY keyboard, an Xperia Play-style gaming controller, an extra battery, and an alternate screen. Though they aren’t included in the drawings, Microsoft also included “expansion storage devices, solar panels for charging a battery of the first device, or for directly powering the first device, or medical sensors (surface thermometers etc.)”

The patent goes on to say that “the game controller and keyboard can each comprise a speaker and a microphone to enable mobile phone handset operation. The first device can simultaneously communicate with one or more of the multiple second devices.”

In other words, Microsoft wants to make your phone a Swiss army knife. And the possible implementations of this are pretty far reaching. The game controller is an obvious choice — throw a kickstand on the phone and you have yourself a nice little portable gaming station. And with the Xbox Live integration baked into Windows Phone Mango, it’ll definitely be worthwhile. But something as simple as an extra battery (or possibly solar panels) can make a huge difference in the way we use our devices.

Granted, lots of phones allow for interchangeable batteries, but none let you pop ‘em in to the slider dock. Most of the time you’re trying to get into that back panel while you’re on the go, and the process becomes super tedious. So much so that you, like myself, may actually use the phone less just to avoid it. This technology has the potential to make one of the bigger problems in the mobile world (battery life) a little less difficult.

Of course, Microsoft and others apply for patents all the time, and many of them sit untouched in a vault unless some competitor brings the technology/design to market. However, I’ve been keeping up with some of the latest Microsoft patents and it’s become clear that this detachable dual-screen slider dream is obviously a focus over at Redmond. We’ve already heard about a patent that improves the design of a slider phone to make the keyboard and screen sit evenly. But past that, Microsoft also filed a patent* in July that again describes a mobile phone with a detachable second screen, wherein both components can communicate with each other, detached or not. In fact, some of the same drawings are duplicated within that patent and this most recent one (like the image displayed on the right).

This obviously isn’t proof of anything, but it’s surely a sign that Microsoft is thinking long and hard about this idea.

[via Joystiq]

Company: Microsoft
Website: microsoft.com
Launch Date: April 4, 1974

Microsoft, founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, is a veteran software company, best known for its Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft Office suite of productivity software. Starting in 1980 Microsoft formed a partnership with IBM allowing Microsoft to sell its software package with the computers IBM manufactured. Microsoft is widely used by professionals worldwide and largely dominates the American corporate market. Additionally, the company has ventured into hardware with consumer products such as the Zune and...

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Formspring Adds Photo Support To Its Q&A Service

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 07:29 AM PDT


Today, Formspring is adding support for photos to its Q&A service in an update the company is touting as the biggest in the nearly two years since its launch. With the addition, Formspring users will be able to post a photo both when asking a question or when providing a response.

The new feature comes on the heels of several other rollouts for the company, including its official iPhone application launched two weeks ago, and other new sharing features involving profile pictures.

Upon arrival, the iPhone app also included support for posting photos with questions, but that same feature was not available to Formspring’s online users. With today’s revamp, all of the company’s 26+ million users can post photos, whether they’re mobile or not.

To use the feature, you can opt to upload photos from your computer or you can access your PC’s webcam to take a new picture.

It’s a minor but much-needed addition for a site that’s now competing with the likes of Quora, not to mention the pageview-generating giant that is Tumblr. Both Quora and Tumblr support photos (and have for some time), but in slightly differently ways than Formspring.

Quora lets you enhance questions and answers with photos, but discourages the use of photos solely as a way to add “visual interest” to your items. Meanwhile, Tumblr supports photos in questions, through its “Ask Me Anything” feature, but not in answers. It does, however, offer optional “photo replies” for blog posts.

Formspring says the new feature will rollout today, sometime after 10:15 AM PST.

Company: Formspring
Website: formspring.me
Funding: $14M

Formspring helps people find out more about each other by sharing interesting & personal responses. It starts by directly asking people original questions in anticipation of their entertaining or revealing responses. Responses can range from straightforward to surprising, and can lead to understanding and learning more about other people.

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Windows Phone Marketplace Is Now Available In A Browser Near You

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 06:37 AM PDT


All the way back in May, Microsoft revealed that they were hard at work developing a web version of the Windows Phone marketplace. Now that the new Mango update is nearly upon us, Microsoft has officially flipped the switch on their web marketplace for markets across the world.

In true Windows Phone style, the marketplace’s web version sticks closely to Metro UI’s slick, minimalist design roots. Back in the May reveal, Microsoft hinted at “extra visibility [and] more merchandising possibilities” for developers and their applications, and they’ve delivered on their promise with a rotating slideshow of standout apps.

Cosmetics aside, all the expected functionality is all accounted for here: potential customers can sort through the myriad apps at their disposal by category or genre, and each app’s entry provides screenshots and user reviews for the discerning customer. A good portion of Windows Phone apps allow you to try them before actually making the purchase, and playing with a demo version on your phone only takes one click from inside your browser.

Purchasing an app is similarly a one-click affair, since it automatically charges the credit card tied into the user’s Windows Live ID. Once an app has been paid for, it downloads over-the-air to the user’s Windows Phone. Simple enough, right?

The Marketplace is now accessible through Microsoft’s Windows Phone portal, but users may want to be careful: sometimes the temptation to spend hours poking through app lists is too strong to overcome.

Former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya Leads $17M Round In Enterprise Social Networking Platform Yammer

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 06:13 AM PDT


Yammer, an enterprise social network and communications platform, has raised $17 million in new funding led by The Social+Capital Partnership, a new fund established by former Facebook Vice President Chamath Palihapitiya. Previous investors Charles River Ventures, Emergence Capital and U.S. Venture Partners also participated in the round. Palihapitiya will have an observer's seat on Yammer’s board of directors. This brings Yammer’s total financing to $57 million.

For background, Yammer launched as the “Twitter for businesses” at TechCrunch 50 in 2008. But over the past year, the startup has expanded to become a more comprehensive platform for social networking within the enterprise.

A year ago, Yammer added number of applications to its platform that increased its functionality beyond just a communications platform, including polls, chat, events, links, topics, Q&A, ideas, and more. An activity feed aggregates stories about co-worker actions within all of their enterprise apps (both on and off Yammer) and allows users to follow content. Yammer Connect launched to integrate log-ins into third-party applications and the platform also now supports badges and in-line videos.

And Yammer has grown at a rapid pace. It has been adopted by over 100,000 businesses in 160 countries in less than three years, including employees at more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500. Clients including 7-11, Ford, Southern Company, Shell and SuperValu have deployed Yammer this year.

Palihapitiya said of the investment in Yammer: “Social networking is destined to have as significant an impact on the enterprise as it has already had in our personal lives…Yammer is the clear leader in enterprise social networking and is redefining collaboration, sharing and productivity in a way that will disrupt an entire class of existing enterprise applications.”

Yammer founder and CEO David Sacks says that the company, which raised $25 million last November, didn’t need to raise additional funding at the moment. But the opportunity for Palihapitiya to help advise, scale and provide his insight to the company was “invaluable.”

The new funding will be used to scale operations across its offices in San Francisco, London and Melbourne. The company is hiring employees in sales, engineering and customer support. Palihapitiya isn’t the first Facebook alum to join Yammer. Sean Parker is on Yammer's Board of Directors, and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel was the first investor in Yammer. And we know the company has ambitions of being the Facebook for the Enterprise.

Yammer faces competition from Jive, Salesforce's Chatter, CubeTree and others.

“Toilettenpapier Drucker” Is What You Think It Is

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 06:11 AM PDT


If you told me two-and-a-half decades ago that this tow-headed youngster from Columbus, Ohio who spent his evenings looking up at the stars, engrossed in endless wonder at the boundless horizon of the invisible universe, would one day be able to print on toilet paper in his lifetime, he would have spit at you and then kicked your dog. He was a pretty crappy kid. But it has happened: we can now use off-the-shelf components to print on toilet paper. This is the end of history.

The printer uses a few broken CD players, an Arduino board, and good old Toilettenpapier to print messages for posterior. The creator, Mario Lukas, built the printer for hacking contest in Germany and he notes that you can connect it to an RSS or Twitter feed to tell folks what you really think about their content.

I suspect some of our commenters could use this product to express their overt displeasure at having to read free content 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

via Make

CloudFlare Turns One; Launches IPv6 Gateway To Let Websites ‘Join The Modern Internet’ For Free

Posted: 27 Sep 2011 06:00 AM PDT


Put one big, fat candle on the cake. One year ago today, a startup named CloudFlare launched on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, where the startup placed second to Qwiki. (You can read our initial coverage here.) For those unfamiliar with CloudFlare, the startup offers a free service designed to not only boost the speed of your company’s website but also protect it from those nefarious web-born threats that hamper load times and just generally make IT guys grumble. Not a sexy product, but one that’s necessary and integral to the success of web businesses.

To give a quick snapshot of how appealing this service is to eBusinesses: 365 days after launch, CloudFlare is now powering over 100,000 websites, with more than 5 percent of those seeing over 1.5 million monthly page views. From zero traffic to today powering a host of websites that see a collective 15 billion page views per month and more than 350 million unique visitors, CloudFlare apparently has a fairly significant silver lining.

What’s more, the startup quietly raised $20 million in November from NEA, Venrock, and Pelion (and told no press for six months) and in June of this year, the startup saw members of international, swashbuckling hacker syndicate, Lulzsec, sign up for its service. And all this with virtually no down-time.

As CloudFlare aims to silence the threats to performance and security for large and small web properties, in celebration of its first birthday, the startup is launching a new feature that has implications for both. As some are aware, ye olde Internets have been built on IPv4, literally the fourth version (or revision) in the development of Internet Protocol — the very addressing and routing communication standards that make the Internet the Internet.

IPv4 was developed in the 1970s, standardized in ’81, and is still widely deployed, yet it only has the capacity for about 4 billion devices to connect to the network, according to CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince. As IPv4 runs out of space, the world’s web users will be forced (mostly unknowingly) to IPv6, a new standard that is still young and is incompatible with its predecessor.

The solution, says Prince, is a gateway, but typical gateway solutions are hardware-based, sold by companies like Cisco, and cost a boatload. So, today, CloudFlare is launching an IPv6 gateway that doesn’t require site owners to buy hardware, software, or change their existing infrastructure (i.e. a single line of code). And it’s free for CloudFlare customers.

Of course, this doesn’t take companies completely off the hook. Businesses will still have to upgrade their infrastructure in the future to support IPv6, but CloudFlare’s “Gateway” buys them time, allowing them to upgrade on their own schedule — as budgets allow.

According to Prince, more than 10,000 sites participated in the private beta of CloudFlare’s Gateway, which effectively doubled the number of websites that are available via IPv6. The CEO anticipates that, with its roster of 100,000 websites, many of those companies will take advantage of the free upgrade, potentially increasing the total number of websites now on the IPv6 web by tenfold. CloudFlare’s launch of its gateway could prove to be a valuable testing ground for the new standard, providing valuable insight for the inevitable future changeover.

Sounding like a typical founder with outsized vision (and tongue no doubt in cheek), Prince said that the CloudFlare team takes solace in the fact that the startup is doing its part “to save the Internet”. That remains to be seen, but with Lulzsec as one of its customers, I’m sure few will be eager to disagree.

For a snapshot of CloudFlare’s evolution to “Internet Saver/Superhero” (grain of salt needed), see the infographic below:

Company: CloudFlare
Website: cloudflare.com
Funding: $22.1M

CloudFlare is a service that does one thing: make websites better. With a single change to DNS, sites are instantly protected from a wide range of online threats, see an increase in page load speeds, and have their content dynamically optimized across the Internet. CloudFlare’s core service is free.

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