Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Gibson Shipping The Firebird X, A Computer Inside A Guitar

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 09:22 AM PDT

Announced at CES 2011, the Gibson Thunderbird X has been a fascinating example of a traditional instrument maker building something that, arguably, is quite revolutionary. The Thunderbird X is essentially a computer inside a guitar. The guitar itself contains a Freescale processor and can run apps approved and sold through the Gibson website. The guitar can model over 2,000 different sounds and styles out of the box and, when coupled with Gibson’s auto-tuning machine heads, you can select any number of tuning possibilities automatically.

Guitar purists are an angry lot and many innovations, including the Fretlight, are welcomed with derision and snark. To be fair, guitars haven’t improved much since Les Paul strapped some strings to a hunk of 4×4. As electronic music has eclipsed “real” instruments, it’s good to see that Gibson is still trying new things. They could just sit back and keep making sunbursts until the end of days, but instead they’re building what amounts to a PC in a solid-body electric.

Gibson is avoiding the problems associated with previous MIDI guitars by making the processor completely upgradable:

User replaceable — built to new universal standards for form, factor and connectivity.
Using our secret Pure-Analog™ sauce, gives the player professional analog sound.
Firmware is user-upgradeable, allowing constant improvements and updates.Provides an arsenal of professional, world-class sounds and effects.

The guitar connects to Bluetooth-capable foot pedals and you can control the audio modeling either on the guitar itself (using toggle switches and the “Gold Knob” with LED read-out) or over a stereo cable connected to your computer.

At $5,570 the Firebird is definitely not for the faint of heart and, given the outcry against the guitar among aficionados (who called this the Firdturd) and the history of failed marriages of electronics and git-fiddles, I doubt this will be wildly popular. However, it’s available tomorrow in stores and – at least from a tech standpoint – it’s pretty darn wild.

Product Page



The Europas Awards For European Tech Startups Launches

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 09:19 AM PDT

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The Europas, the European Tech Startup Awards, were held for the second time December 2010, in London, supported by TechCrunch Europe. It was the culmination of a month of online voting by the European tech startup industry for the finalists, where some 33,126 votes were cast, judges deliberated over the results and over 350 people joined the cream of Europe's startups, VCs and entrepreneurs at a huge awards event. This year it’s getting bigger to get the community even more involved, create an even bigger event, and find the best startups in Europe. You can eneter here and tickets are here.



Vostu Debuts Golmania, A Multi-Player Soccer Game For Orkut And Facebook

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 09:07 AM PDT

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Brazilian social gaming company Vostu is unveiling its first title that mixes casual gaming with social gaming, Golmania. The multi-player soccer game will launch on Orkut and Facebook in English, Spanish and Portuguese

For background, Vostu is one of the largest social gaming companies in Brazil. The gaming company, which now has more than 35 million users, was founded in 2007 by three Harvard classmates: CEO Daniel Kafie, chief scientist Mario Schlosser, and Joshua Kushner (who is also an active seed investor through Thrive Capital). Vostu is backed by Tiger Management, Accel Partners, Intel Capital and General Catalyst. The company has also been embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with social gaming giant Zynga.

In GolMania, players face off in real-time soccer matches powered by Vostu's multi-player engine. The game takes the player on a tour of the world's most famous stadiums, each of which unlocks new environments, game play and soccer tricks. It features a a faster game environment (almost arcade-style) and is aimed at both men and women and soccer beginners and experts.

In terms of social features, players can square off on the soccer field, but cooperate with friends off the pitch to gain energy and money, build out their teams and unlock stadiums. Players cna also unlock soccer tricks and stunts, including the ability to score through flying headers and bicycle kicks, argue with the ref, and tackle players without fearing a red card.

Similar to Vostu’s other games, users can play Vostu titles across several social networks. For example, users play directly inside of Facebook with their Windows Messenger friends and can send gifts and cooperate on their games across the boundaries of the social networks. The gaming company is also partnering with brands for the launch of Golmania. For example, Pepsi will be a launch sponsor of the Portuguese version.

Vostu actually recently acquired MP Game Studio and GolMania is the first Vostu game that the MP team worked on helped combine their experience with casual games with Vostu’s experience with social games.

Later this fall, Vostu will launch its first fantasy game. And you can expect three more games from the gaming company before the end of the year.



Huzzah! A Wooden Frame For Settlers Of Catan

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:49 AM PDT

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When you woke up this morning, did you think that the world would change? Well it did, people. It did. Boardcrafting is a Kickstarter project that will change the way people play Settlers of Catan forever by replacing the easily-jostled cardboard pieces with real wooden markers and pips.

If you’re not familiar with Catan it’s a game for former D&D nerds who want to feel like they’re kind of playing Civilization. We’re a Carcassonne family, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to whip out our sheep and wheat and colonize the island a bit. However, because the game is made of light cardboard it tends to shift and flop around during play, especially on uneven surfaces. That’s where Boardcrafting comes in.

This is an “accessory” to Catan that replaces most of the cardboard pieces with actual wood and replaces the chintzy outer frame with a wooden board. The kit is completely hand-crafted by Shandy Brown who explains that the impetus came after trying to play Catan at Google Zeitgeist:

This all started when we took Catan out to Zeitgeist to play on the patio tables. The thin, light Catan tiles did not mix well with the uneven surface and the occasional breezes. It was even worse when I tried to set up the board on a blanket on the ground in a picnic-like-scenario.

From great hardship is forged a masterpiece. The entire kit – tiles, pips, and board – will cost $300 but you can grab tips and pips for a bit less. Unless you’re a hard-core Catan-head this will strike you as wildly expensive but at what price freedom?

The project is almost funded but pop over and help out, won’t you?

Kickstarter Page

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sjbrown/boardcrafting/widget/video.html



GetJar Gold Gives Away $1 Million In Free Apps

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:40 AM PDT

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Earlier this month, third-party mobile app store GetJar announced the public launch of its GetJar Gold Program (previously in beta), a catalog of premium Android applications made available for free. Today, the company is providing an update on the catalog’s success: over $1 million in free applications have been downloaded in the three weeks post-launch, Get Jar says. It has also spurred an increase in GetJar’s free app downloads, too – a 5000% increase, in fact.

The GetJar Gold Program is interesting, especially in terms of how it compares to Amazon’s Android App Store. Where Amazon offers a time-limited "free app of the day" to Android users, GetJar instead provides an entire catalog of paid Android applications for free. Like Amazon, GetJar vets the apps for quality (they must be at least 4-star) and it requires they are ad-free.

At launch, the store had 50 titles available, including Fruit Ninja THD, Age of Zombies, TuneIn Radio Pro, Solo, and Splashtop Remote Desktop. Since then, GetJar has added new program members like BBC Worldwide (Top Gear), Gamelion (Doodle Fit), Konami's (Krazy Kart Racing), Imperio, Handy Games “Guns 'n' Glory,” Herocraft's “Farm Frenzy” and TouchType's “SwiftKey X.”

GetJar Gold makes the apps available for free to users, while paying the developer per download on a consignment style basis. The company itself generates revenue by offering sponsored listings within GetJar Gold to other application developers.

Using a model similar to Google AdSense, developers bid on how much they are willing to pay per install. The bids can be as low as 1 cent or as high as $1.50 to $2.00 per user. The higher the bid, the higher the ranking in the GetJar Gold search results. Also like Google, sponsored apps are clearly labeled and highlighted using a different color (blue).

The GetJar CEO Ilja Laurs says that Gold has been the most successful program in the company’s history, which is not surprising, given how much Android users like their free apps.

GetJar Gold is available on the GetJar.com website, mobile site and as a standalone Android application here.


Company: GetJar
Website:

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Farmeron, ‘Google Analytics For Farms’, Secures 500 Startups Investment

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:32 AM PDT

farmeron

Ever had cows instead of users? You’ve probably never thought about building software for farmers, but Farmeron just raised a round of investment as well as support from 500 Startups, a seed fund and startup aggregator led by Dave McClure. Farmeron is basically buidling an analytics package inspired by the numerous apps you might have used, such as Omniture or Google Analytics, but built for farms.

Farmeron’s solution is a slick web based application in which you, as a farmer, can keep track of your animals, their feeding, deaths etc. Like we all have profiles on Twitter or Facebook, each animal in Farmeron has its own profile as well.



9 Android Phones For Japan: SoftBank’s Entire Fall/Winter Line-up

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:25 AM PDT

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We’ve already shown you the three coolest smartphones Japanese carrier SoftBank announced for its home market today, the LUMIX Phone 101P from Panasonic, Sharp’s AQUOS PHONE 102SH, and the DELL STREAK PRO 101 DL. But SoftBank actually introduced a total of  nine new Android models today (plus a feature phone).

Here’s the carrier’s entire fall/winter line-up for the Japanese market:

Sharp AQUOS PHONE 102SH

Panasonic LUMIX Phone 101P

Sharp AQUOS PHONE THE HYBRID 101SH
(Android 2.3 in waterproof feature phone body, 3.4-inch touch display, 8MP CMOS camera, Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi, infrared, digital TV tuner, e-wallet function, microSDHC slot)

Sharp AQUOS PHONE 103SH
(Android 2.3m, 4-inch display with 540×960 resolution, 8MP CMOS camera, waterproof body, infrared, digital TV tuner, e-wallet function, DLNA support)

Sharp AQUOS PHONE 104SH
(Android Ice Cream Sandwich, 4-inch display with 720×1280 resolution, 12.1MP camera, waterproof body, infrared, digital TV tuner, e-wallet function, 1.5GHz OMAP4460 dual-core CPU)

NEC MEDIAS CH 101N
(Android 2.3, 4-inch OLED with 480×800 resolution, designed specifically for female users, waterproof body, 8MP CMOS camera, Wi-Fi, infrared, digital TV tuner, e-wallet function, 1.4GHz MSM8255 Snapdragon CPU)

Kyocera HONEY BEE 101K
(Android 2.3, 3.5-inch screen with 480×800 resolution, designed specifically for female users, waterproof body, 5MP CMOS camera, Wi-Fi, infrared, digital TV tuner, e-wallet function, 1.2GHz MP5225 CPU)

DELL STREAK PRO 101DL
(Android 2.3, 4.3-inch AMOLED with 540×960 QHD resolution, 8MP CMOS camera, 1.3MP sub camera, Wi-Fi, 1.5GHz dual-core MSM8260 CPU)

ZTE STAR7 009Z
(Android 2.3, 3.8-inch screen with 480×800 resolution, waterproof body, 5MP CMOS camera, Wi-Fi, digital TV tuner)

PANTONE 4 105SH
(feature phone, 2.9-inch LCD with 400×240 resolution, 0.7-inch OLED sub-display, 3.2MP CMOS camera, microSDHC card slot)



Search Engine Blekko Raises $30 Million From Russian Search Giant Yandex And Others

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:13 AM PDT

blekko

Search engine Blekko has raised $30 million in new funding Yandex, MLC Private Equity, and existing investors U.S. Venture Partners, CMEA Capital and PivotNorth Capital (Ashton Kutcher is also a previous investor). This brings Blekko’s total funding to $55 million. Yandex’s CEO Arkady Volozh will join Blekko’s board.

Blekko launched last year as the shiny new search engine that wanted to take on Google. The search engine differentiates itself from Google by giving users tools to do new types of searches that they can't do elsewhere. Blekko offers unique query refinement tools to human editors called Slashtags (i.e. /news or /date or /amazon or /blogs) to filter results to what you are looking for (you can read our full review of the platform here).

Earlier this year the search company expanded its efforts to eliminate spam from search results and banned pages from well-known content farms as well as blocking pages from 1.1 million domains that were generating spam. The company has also signed partnerships with Topix, fellow search engine DuckDuckGo and recipe search engine Foodily.

Blekko has also integrated social data into results, as well as Facebook comments. The company also considering integrating Twitter data into results as well.

Volozh says of Blekko: "We love blekko and think it's a great product – a quality search engine that organically combines search algorithms with expert opinions. We believe the outlook for this approach is strong and that the blekko team is poised to make it a success."

"Yandex is a partner and investor that shares our mission of making search the best experience it can be," said Rich Skrenta, CEO of blekko. "Having access to one of the world's top pools of search talent and the fantastic products they have built will help us grow blekko in the U.S."

The search engine currently indexes approximately 3.5 billion URLs, which pales in comparison to Bing and Google, which are both over 15 billion. But one of the key advantages to using Blekko is that it is such a thorough spam blocker.


Company: Blekko
Website: blekko.com
Launch Date: January 6, 2007
Funding: $24.2M

Blekko is a search company founded by Rich Skrenta and his core team from previous company Topix and Netscape’s Open Directory. Blekko was founded halfway through 2007 and has already earned itself an angel round from Baseline Ventures and two ex-Googlers.

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Q: When Will Quora Release An iPhone App? A: Now.

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 08:00 AM PDT

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Quora can be an addiction. You visit the site just to see what’s going on, 30 minutes later you’re still there. Today, the addiction goes mobile. Finally.

The service has just released their first iOS native app. Tailored for the iPhone and iPod touch, I can safely say that it’s awesome. I’ve been testing it out for the past few days, and my own personal usage of the service has already skyrocketed. Why? A few reasons.

First, the app is fast — really fast. “That was one of our top two or three goals from the beginning,” co-founder Charlie Cheever says. He notes that they achieve speeds better than you see on their site because they made a few trade-offs in terms of live updates and overall content. But they’re also doing a lot of pre-fetching, guessing what you might look for next. Personally, I love that you can hop from stream to question page and back again without having to reload everything as you do on the web.

The second thing I love about the app is that it’s location-aware. Quora recently turned on the location element of the service, and the app takes full advantage of it. Clicking on the “Nearby” tab brings up a list of topics in the area around your current location. This will be fantastic for traveling.

The third thing is push notifications. If I ask a question, I want to know when I get an answer. But I don’t want to sit around at my computer all day waiting. The iPhone app gives you a good way to untether yourself. There are notifications for other actions on the service as well. “We try to strike the right balance between letting you know about important and interesting things on Quora that you would want to know about and not overwhelming you and blowing up your phone at all hours,” Cheever notes.

Searching, writing a post, and adding a question are all in the same middle tab. “That’s been a tricky interface to get right,” Cheever concedes. But it works pretty well. When you go to add a question, you first must search to make sure it doesn’t already exist, just like on the site. When you add the question, you can easily tweet out, send to Facebook, etc.

Another great feature unique to mobile: Shuffle. When you hit the bottom of your main Quora feed, you’ll notice an option to “Load More…” or “Shuffle”. Clicking on Shuffle takes you to a random question. “It’s kind of bottomless,” Cheever jokes. Right now, the shuffle is totally random, but Quora is thinking about tailoring it to your likes eventually.

The app was built by a couple of Quora employees (one engineer and one designer) over the course of a few months. Yes, it’s iOS-only for now. “We get a lot of traffic to our website from iPhones, so that made sense,” Cheever says.

You can read more about the new app here. And you can find it here.

Click to view slideshow.


Lego Tries Augmented Reality With “Life Of George” Game

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 07:58 AM PDT

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Lego (or LEGO if you’re adamant about trademarks) has just dipped another toe into electronic gaming with their clever “Life Of George” iOS title. The game uses 144 pieces and a piece of cardboard covered in a dotted pattern. The game is simple: George shows you a picture from his travels and asks you to recreate it using Legos. You have to dig around in your box of pieces to recreate the image and then take a picture of it on the Playmat. Using a brick recognition system from Eye-Cue, the game awards you points for speed and accuracy.

The game is oddly addicting and great for kids. The pieces are bit small so it’s aimed at ages 12 and up but it’s also a great way to build teamwork with one player – maybe a parent – calling out the pieces and the other player putting the object together.

The game marks Lego’s further attempts at capitalizing on its strong lead in children’s toys into new markets. The impetus for Life Of George is based on the success of the Lego series of video games (Lego Harry Potter, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego My Dinner With Andre) as well as its quiet but apparently popular Lego Universe, a brick-based MMO. By adding a casual game like Life of George, with it’s candy-coated graphics and clever gameplay, you grab the kids who may not want to bring their entire Lego collection to Grandma’s but still want to play with their blocks. As a parent, I find that the game is also helpful in teaching counting and hand-eye coordination as you need to find blocks as quickly as possible and then smoosh them together.

Naysayers will note that George does not offer much in the way of imaginative play and I’d agree. But, as we all know, making the thing on the Lego box is often far more exciting than making another “car” using the big green board and a bunch of bricks. There’s a reason behemoths like the 1200-piece Millennium Falcon exists: people love to build things with Lego, but they don’t always want to be structural engineers.

To be clear, Life Of George is a casual game in the vein of Cut The Rope or Angry Birds. You play it for a while, maybe forget about it, maybe dump all of the pieces into the main Lego box down the line. However, at $29 plus a free iOS download (a price I suspect will go down over time) it’s a fun way to interact with your Lego using electronics.

Click to view slideshow.

Herr George has a Facebook page and his game is available on October 1st.



Compete: Social Networks Grow Audience As Netflix, Daily Deal Sites Lose Traffic

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 07:31 AM PDT

compete

Compete.com, a Kantar Media company, today released its ranking of the top 250 websites for August 2011 (click here for the top 50).

We can’t repeat this often enough, but take these stats with a grain of salt when it comes to accuracy.

We’ve looked at the top 250 all the same, because the list tends to depict trends also visible with other analytics service providers, such as comScore and Google Trends.

According to Compete.com data, which is pulled from its PRO Enterprise edition, notable traffic increases registered in August 2011 were to Facebook.com, Bing.com, YouTube.com, Amazon.com and eHow.com (all up roughly 4 percent month-over-month) and Twitter.com (up about 12.7 percent month-over-month and over 27.5 percent compared to August 2010).

Microsoft also appears to be on fire: traffic data for Bing.com, Live.com, MSN.com and Microsoft.com suggest steady traffic increases for all. Another winner: Weather.com, with traffic up 16.4 percent month-over-month and 34 percent compared to August 2010.

Some of the traffic losers include blogging platforms such as Blogspot.com (down 5.5 percent compared to July 2011) and WordPress.com (down 2.7 percent) as well as information websites such as YellowPages.com (down 7.8 percent) and iMDB.com (down 6.6 percent).

Other notable ‘losers’: Netflix.com (down over 4 percent compared to July 2011) and daily deal sites Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com, which are down 28.6 percent and 4.25 percent month-over-month, respectively.

It’s worth noting that all of the websites who’ve seen their traffic decrease in August 2011, according to Compete, are up (some significantly) year-over-year – with the exception of iMDB.com.

Honorable mention goes to Myspace.com, which is down over 55 percent compared to August 2010.


Company: Compete
Website: competeinc.com
Funding: $33M

Compete, Inc. is a provider of analytics, research, and business intelligence. Compete gathers web behavior information from users who sign up at their site, then analyzes these data to create customized reports for client companies. Compete also offers a free web analytics tool for the general public at Compete.com. Compete has several competitors in enterprise-level web analytics and market research, including Nielsen/NetRatings, Hitwise, comScore, and Quantcast. Amazon’s Alexa is the other major player in the public analytics...

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New NFC Spec Makes It Easier To Swap Contacts, Save Data To Phones

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 07:25 AM PDT

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Mobile users with NFC-enabled devices will no longer need a special application in order to exchange contact details or other types of data between their phones thanks to a new NFC specification which has just been released.

The non-profit industry association The NFC Forum has published its 16th specification today, this latest being a standardization of the Simple NDEF Exchange Protocol (SNEP) to use peer-to-peer mode for data exchanges. For users, this means less compatibility problems between devices, and for mobile app builders, it means simplified development.

Without getting overly technical (the full spec is available here, if interested), the new specification extends the NFC data exchange format (NDEF), which previously described how data, like a website URL for instance, would be moved from an NFC tag to a NFC-enabled phone by tapping or waving a mobile device within close proximity to the tag.

NFC, or “near field communication,” refers to the wireless technology that allows data exchange over short distances. It’s the backbone to the many upcoming mobile wallet systems, like Google Wallet, Visa’s wallet or the carrier-led initiative Isis, which just announced partnerships with all major Android device manufacturers.

With the new specification, devices from different manufacturers would be interoperable when it came to exchanging data. That means, for example, assuming the iPhone 5 includes NFC, you could tap your iPhone to an Android user’s phone to exchange contact info, pictures, URLs, or any sort of supported data. And you wouldn’t necessarily need a special app to do so, although apps like Bump at least provide an attractive front-end to the data exchanging experience. (Bump does not use NFC currently, but it could support it in the future, if the developers chose). Instead, the data-exchange via NFC option could be built into the OS, similar to how Bluetooth is made available today.

The NFC Forum suggests contact exchanges as one possibility for the new spec’s use, in addition to “collecting movie posters for later use.” That is, a mobile user could tap posters with NFC tags while walking by and later tap their NFC-enabled TV to watch the trailers they saved. (Yes, please!)

That said, support for NFC is still years out, according to most forecasts, and until Apple’s announcement next month, we don’t know if the iPhone 5 will include the technology. Still, there’s a lot of momentum in the space, and the reactionary nature of the Isis announcement seems to imply Apple’s forthcoming participation. Good news, then, that the new (fingers crossed!) NFC-enabled iPhones will now be able to work with my Nexus S.



T-Mobile Joins Verizon, Takes Samsung’s Side In Apple Patent Suit

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 07:06 AM PDT

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It looks as though the carriers are ready to weigh in on the Apple vs. Samsung case, with Verizon and T-Mobile both voicing their opinions over the past week. Since the original showdown in April — when Apple sued Samsung over Galaxy tablets and smartphones — Apple has had the upper-hand, winning an injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany, delaying the same GalTab multiple times in Australia, and winning a preliminary injunction on three Galaxy smartphones in the Netherlands.

After watching the events play out, Verizon and now T-Mobile have said that they play for Samsung’s team, and would like to keep Samsung’s products on their shelves.

On Monday, Verizon filed paperwork with the Northern District Court of California saying that a ban on Samsung products, or Apple’s efforts to do so, would hurt the carrier’s ability to roll out its 4G LTE network.

“That investment depends on consumers having access to devices that can make use of that network,” Verizon said in the filing. “The accused Samsung devices are among the few products that can access Verizon Wireless’s next-generation high-speed network.”

On Wednesday T-Mobile followed suit, filing its own paperwork with the court asking that Samsung products be left alone, reports Reuters. T-Mobile’s main concern, according to the filing, is holiday sales this year.

The pink carrier “prominently features” the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy S II in its marketing campaigns, says the filing, and an order in Apple’s favor would “unnecessarily harm” T-Mobile and T-Mo customers. “At this late date, T-Mobile could not find comparable replacement products for the 2011 holiday season,” said T-Mobile in the filing. “These investments cannot be recouped easily.”

After six months of world-wide bickering between Apple and Samsung, and countless other patent wars spring up all over the place, the carriers are surely getting worried about how these cases may affect their businesses. The court is expected to make a ruling on October 13.


Company: T-Mobile
Website: t-mobile.com
IPO: DT

T-Mobile is a mobile telephone operator headquartered in Bonn, Germany. It is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. T-Mobile has 101 million subscribers making it the worlds sixth largest mobile phone service provider globally.

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Company: Verizon
Website: verizon.com
IPO: VZ

Verizon Communications Inc. delivers broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America’s largest wireless network that serves nearly 102 million customers nationwide. Verizon’s Wireline operations include Verizon Business and Verizon Telecom, which brings customers converged communications, information and entertainment services over Verizon’s fiber-optic network.

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The Top 6 Alternatives To The Kindle Fire

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:51 AM PDT

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The Amazon Kindle Fire isn’t the only low-cost tablet option in town. Sure, it might be the hot new kid, but there are a multitude of tablets that can be had for $300 or less. Some are cheap and clearly only for enthusiasts. Other tabs are legitimate deals that offer Honeycomb on modern CPUs. Best of all – and Amazon knows this – all of them can run the Kindle app, instantly turning them into Kindle Fire competitors.

Asus Transformer

The Asus Transformer was in high demand caused by a limited supply. Asus underestimated the demand and under-manufactured the tablet. The story goes that Asus ramped up production, but it was too late. The tablet’s 15 minutes of fame had passed and now the tablet can be had for $300 – or slightly more if you want a reputable retailer.

The Transformer is quite a bargain. It’s arguably one of the top Android 3.x tablets and has a slender frame, stunning IPS screen, and tons of ports. There’s a vibrant developer community and a few first- and third-party accessories. The Transformer is a safe, low-cost bet to taste-test Honeycomb. And, like the rest on this list, can run all of Amazon’s Android apps including the Kindle reader.

BlackBerry Playbook


It’s hard to love the Playbook, but if you’re a diehard BlackBerry addict and you like a tablet with a smooth OS and great screen, this may be the one for you. Despite Playbook’s sad storyline – released too soon, email and calendaring apps that didn’t work right, a wonky syncing system – it’s a solid device for BlackBerry users.

Major retailers are currently cutting the PlayBook’s price ahead of a likely official price cut. Staples and Office Depot both currently offer the tablet at $399 with $100 gift cards while Best Buy is selling it for $299 out the door.

The PlayBook ships with the Kobo reading app installed, but the Kindle Cloud Reader allows for Kindle reading experience through just the PlayBook’s (or any device’s) web browser.

Dell Streak 7

The Dell Streak 7 is the oldest tablet of the bunch but it still has some legs. The Android 2.2 tablet is a great small-ish tablet for the Android fanboy. It’s compact, highly customizable, works with a massive number of Android apps – including the Kindle app – and can readily be had for less than $250. Rumor has it that the Streak 7 will even get an official Honeycomb update in the near future – or you could just install it yourself.

Archos 80 G9

Archos has been at the tablet game nearly longer than any other company. Their latest is concocted from their traditional recipe that involves slightly ahead-of-the-curve hardware with aggressive pricing. The slender $299 Archos 80 G9 packs a dual-core 1GHz ARM Cortex CPU, 8-inch screen, and 8GB storage.

However, buyer beware. While the 80 G9 looks great on paper, our early experience with the tablet hasn’t been pleasant. Look for a full review in the coming days but the tablet’s built quality is a bit rough.

Nook Color

There isn’t a better cheap tablet than the Nook Color. Modders have hacked nearly every version of Android onto the ereader (with mixed results) or you could just use the stock OS that already features apps, email, and a fully functional web browser. The stock operating system is capable enough to satisfy most but if not there’s a nearly endless supply of Nook Color mods, hacks and general tomfoolery available. You can even install a Kindle app on the B&N reader. Blasphemy? Sure, but it’s also turns the little reader into the ultimate ereading machine.

Barnes & Noble thought outside the traditional ereader bounds with the Nook Color. Rather than producing just another ereader, they released a trifling, but totally hackable, tablet for half the price of the iPad. It was a hit. That’s what Amazon hopes to do with the Fire and successive tablets.

Velocity Micro Cruz T408


The Cruz T408 runs Android 2.3 on a 4:3 8-inch screen. There’s a 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU, 512 MB of RAM, a front facing camera, and it has an MSRP of only $239.99.

This tablet is inexpensive and feels cheap. I have a review sample sitting on my desk. It’s not an iPad-killer, but could sway some potential Nook Color or Kindle buyers. It’s slightly larger than the Nook Color and the form and fit isn’t as nice. However, the T408 comes with Gingerbread preinstalled, along with a bunch of apps including Angry Birds, Kindle, and Amazon’s Appstore. If you’re buying the Nook Color just to run Android, why not get a larger screen?


Amazon’s grand entrance into the tablet arena will likely steal some of these tablets’ glory. The Kindle and Amazon brands are trusted names, which is exactly what most low-cost tablets lack. The Fire is just a low-cost tablet concealed by fresh UI layer. This strategy is great for most consumers but some buyers, like me, want a little more fun out of our non-iPad tabs. However, here’s hoping that the successes of the Fire and iPad do not influence future tablet innovation and leave us in a world of dumbed-down, mass-market mobile operating systems.


Product: Kindle Fire
Website:
Company Amazon

Kindle Fire brings you Movies, apps, games, music, reading and more, plus Amazon’s cloud-accelerated web browser Product features: 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, and books Amazon Appstore - thousands of popular apps and games Ultra-fast web browsing - Amazon Silk Free cloud storage for all your Amazon content Vibrant color touchscreen with extra-wide viewing angle Fast, powerful dual-core processor Amazon Prime members enjoy unlimited, instant streaming of over 10,000 popular movies and TV shows

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Priceline Jumps Into Daily Deals Space (Actually, Nightly Deals Space)

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:46 AM PDT

negotiator

Travel discounter Priceline.com is launching a new daily deals service aimed at helping users find cheap hotel rooms. (Or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a “nightly” deals service?)

Starting today, same-day offers for heavily discounted hotel rooms will become available in Priceline’s “Hotel & Rental Car Negotiator” app at 11 AM local time and can be instantly booked up until 11 PM, or until the deal sells out.

To be clear, Priceline isn’t using the group-buying model of Groupon here, which requires that a certain number of people sign up for a deal in order for it to “tip” (meaning become active.) But it certainly is tapping into the instant gratification from discount fervor that services like Groupon, Living Social and others offer.

The deals will show up in the mobile app when a traveler does a search for hotel rooms with a check-in date of “today.” When they buy a deal, they can choose to check-in that day, and stay up to 4 nights at discounts of up to 35% off published prices, says Priceline. The app will also show hotel descriptions, maps, photos, ratings and the current discount rate.

Priceline SVP Marketing John Caine says that the discounter decided to go after the daily deals market after discovering that 70% of Priceline’s mobile customers were looking for same-day check-ins.

Starting today, 3-star and 4-star rooms will be available via the new service in 34 cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Washington, D.C. More cities will be added in the future.

The Priceline mobile app is available in iTunes and the Android Market.

Update: A top Priceline competitor in this space, Hotel Tonight, has just announced that it’s expanding into 14 more markets from the original 23. Good timing!


Company: Priceline
Website: priceline.com
Launch Date: September 29, 1998
Funding: $77.3M

Priceline gives travelers the inside track to travel deals and discounts. With their exclusive deal search technology, priceline aims to deliver more ways to save on airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, vacation packages and cruises than anyone else.

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A Cheerful Memento Mori Clock For Your Home Or Office

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:40 AM PDT

Accurate_clockstraight

Although in this economy you can probably hire someone to walk behind you who will occasionally remind you of your mortality, it is probably a bit more efficient to just put up this Mr. Jones Accurate Clock.

Based on the popular Accurate Watch, the hands of this clock say “Remember you will die” – a sobering thought over a breakfast Pop-Tart and a Pumpkin Chai Latte, but there you have it. It’s available now for $119 at Watchismo and should probably put a spring in your step next time you decide to put off doing that big project you planned to finish. After all, memento mori.

The watch also comes in a Ladies Edition – perfect for exes and mother-in-laws.



Best Buy Kicks Off PlayBook Sale, Cuts Prices By $200

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:20 AM PDT

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We reported earlier this week that Staples and Office Depot are running sales promotions for the ailing BlackBerry PlayBook, and today another big-box retailer has jumped into the fray. CNET reports that Best Buy has begun to sell all models of the PlayBook with a hefty $200 discount.

That price break brings RIM’s 16GB model down to $299, the 32GB model to $399, and the 64GB model to $499.

Unlike Staples and Office Depot’s promotions though, Best Buy’s price cut is a straight discount — no mail-in rebates involved. Best Buy had previously offered discounted PlayBooks in Canada, and they not too long ago lopped $150 off the price of the most expensive PlayBook.

Kicking off a mid-week sale is a bit strange for a retailer like Best Buy, whose sales periods run from Sunday through Saturday. RIM has recently said that “the official retail price of BlackBerry PlayBook has not changed,” and that they have struck promotional deals with retailers that are intended to drive PlayBook sales during the fall season. It could be that RIM’s plans are kicking into gear earlier than expected.

Still, the timing seems more than a little suspect. With yesterday’s announcement of the Kindle Fire still fresh on people’s minds, it’s possible that Best Buy’s mid-week sale was put together as a response to the Amazon tablet. Selling for $199 out of the gate, the Fire kills the PlayBook at the price game, and RIM’s tablet could be fighting for relevance and mindshare come the holidays.

Those looking to nab a PlayBook on the cheap may want to hurry: the 16GB model is already backordered on BestBuy.com. Then again, some people are convinced that a PlayBook fire sale is coming down the pipeline, so choose your deals wisely.

Disclosure: I am a former Best Buy employee, and still appear in Best Buy commercials.



Hipmunk Now Reducing Agony On Android

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:03 AM PDT

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Hot flight search startup Hipmunk is about to land on Android. The app will be available for free, and you can install it right here.

I’ve tested the app and it looks great (it’s a nice reminder that Android apps can be slick and well designed, even if a lot of them aren’t…). And it works just as you’d expect: enter your destination, departure/arrival dates, and choose from coach, business or first class. The app will present Hipmunk’s grid of flights, which you can sort by Agony, Price, and Time. Oh, and all flights carrying life-sustaining Wifi are clearly labeled with nice orange icons.

As with the iPhone app, which was released in February, the Android app has one catch: when it comes time to actually purchase a flight,  you can’t do it from within the app. Instead, you can either buy tickets from the carrier’s mobile sites via the Android Browser (which really isn’t that bad), or you can finish things up from your desktop — the Android app gives you a passphrase that’s associated with the flights you’ve chosen, you just need to key it in at finish.hipmunk.com (you get the added bonus of feeling nostalgic for your NES).

Also, the Droid-ed out Hipmunk logo is pretty awesome.


Company: Hipmunk
Website: hipmunk.com
Funding: $5.22M

Hipmunk is a travel search site that aims to take the agony out of travel planning. Their mission is to help people book travel faster and more efficiently. Hipmunk was designed to help people who are overwhelmed with pages of irrelevant search results. Hipmunk presents flight results in a visual "timeline" that allows people to select the best flight for them at a glance. Hotel results are shown on a map so that people can view where in a...

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Goldman Sachs Leads $20M Round In Social Media Marketing Platform Networked Insights

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:00 AM PDT

networked-insights

Networked Insights, the developers of a marketing decision platform has raised $20 million in new funding led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management. This brings the startup’s total funding to nearly $30 million.

Founded in 2006, Networked Insights' SocialSense platform analyzes social data help brands strategize and spend on marketing, advertising, research and product development. Networked Insights says it’s able to mine data from 750 million people and billions online conversations on a monthly basis, which enables marketers to harness insights and streamline research for future advertising campaigns. Networked Insights makes sense of this massive amount of data to figure out were brands should spend media dollars, whether that be TV, mobile, social etc.

To data the company has helped form $5 billion of media spend for companies like Samsung, MillerCoors, MTV Networks, Kraft and Starcom MediaVest.

The company says they plan to use the new funds to invest in developing machine learning technologies, sentiment recognition technologies, and more. Networked Insights will also be boosting its IT architecture.      


Launch Date: September 29, 2011
Funding: $9M

Networked Insights fuels insights relevant to content, consumer behavior, and marketing strategy. SocialSense, the company’s social media listening platform, analyzes the social web to help agencies and brand marketers make better strategic and tactical decisions. Using proprietary analytics, SocialSense discerns engagement and sentiment around specific topics and themes that are relevant to a brand. Unlike social media monitoring, SocialSense shows its customers what’s hot, what’s new, and what’s changed, without having to read a single post. The company was incorporated...

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Real Estate Platform Trulia Debuts Android Tablet And Rentals Apps

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 06:00 AM PDT

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Real estate search engine Trulia is expanding its mobile offerings today with a new Android tablet app as well as an Android app devoted specifically for rentals. The company already offers comprehensive iPhone, iPad, Android and mobile web apps that feature much of the functionality of the site.

Trulia's Android tablet app is similar to the iPad app in that it uses the full screen to display property photos and a large, interactive map with properties. Unique to Android, the app allows you to view property slideshows on the tablet's entire screen. You can also see where restaurants, schools and other points of interest are in relation to homes for sale or rent and access the agent’s contact info for the property.

Because rental information is such a desirable portion of Trulia’s business, the company is launching a dedicated app for this vertical. As Trulia explains, renters generally operate on a much shorter timeline than house hunters, so they need to move even more quickly and have real-time access to properties that may only have a brief window of time-on-market.

The app shows rental properties in your area, and you can save or nix properties via the apps. Color-coded "markers" will show you what properties you've yet to view vs. previously viewed properties. You can also add your own photos and notes to properties as you tour them and access search alerts for recently listed properties from the app.

The company says that it is also developing for the Amazon marketplace and intend to be in the Amazon app store in November. Trulia, which is profitable, has raised $32.8 million in funding. Last year, the company acquired geodata startup Movity, and traffic has been steadily growing over the past year.


Company: Trulia
Website: trulia.com
Launch Date: January 5, 2004
Funding: $32.8M

Trulia is a nationwide residential real estate search engine. Apart from a simple search for homes for sale in a particular city, zip code, or area, Trulia allows users to access local real estate data (sales prices, schools, most popular neighborhoods). They also feature a tool named HeatMaps that lets us compare prices & popularity by neighborhood, city, county, or state. Lastly, Trulia users benefit from their own Q&A service Trulia “Voices”. The service allows members to post and...

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