Monday, October 17, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

CMU Researchers Turn Any Surface Into A Touchscreen

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 09:14 AM PDT

Soon you, too, will be able to talk to the hand. A new interface created jointly by Microsoft and the Carnegie Mellon Human Computer Interaction Institute allows for interfaces to be displayed on any surface, including notebooks, body parts, and tables. The UI is completely multitouch and the “shoulder-worn” system will locate the surface you’re working on in 3D space, ensuring the UI is always accessible. It uses a picoprojector and a 3D scanner similar to the Kinect.

The product is called OmniTouch and it supports “clicking” with a finger on any surface as well as controls that sense finger position while hovering a hand over a surface. Unlike the Microsoft Surface, the project needs no special, bulky hardware – unless you a consider a little parrot-like Kinect sensor on your shoulder bulky. While obviously obtrusive, the project is a proof-of-concept right now and could be made smaller in the future.

So far the researchers have tested drawing and “crosshair” interaction with the system and it has worked well on arms, hands, notebooks, and tables. We’re obviously looking at a research project here so don’t expect shoulder mounted Xboxes any time soon, but by gum if this isn’t the coolest thing I’ve seen today.

The Youtube video is private right now but I’ve contacted CMU.

Project Page



Web Design Community Treehouse Raises $600K From Reid Hoffman, Kevin Rose, And Others

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 09:00 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-10-17 at 2.56.25 AM

The ink is now dry on term sheets signed by web-design education startup Treehouse. Impressively, those term sheets contain the autographs of Kevin Rose, Reid Hoffman, David SzeJosh Elman (Greylock Discovery Fund),  Chamath Palihapitiya (The Social+Capital Partnership) and Mark Suster (GRP Partners).

Treehouse uses short videos, quizzes and badges to help subscribers learn web design, development and iOS development. The service is dual tier, at $29 to $49 dollars per month and Treehouse has already signed on blue chip clients like Estée Lauder and Disney to use its wares.

“Our goal is to help millions of people around the world, who can’t afford formal education, get trained in web design, development and iOS,” says founder Ryan Carson. “This will help them get their dream job or launch their own web-based business. I think we could have a big positive impact on the economy and job market.”

Carson says that the company is already profitable, and only decided to raise funding because it wanted a team of rockstar allies to help it reach the next level. He plans on using the funding to expand Treehouse even further and “take the product to the next level.”



Greylock Looks To Help Portfolio Companies Recruit Talent With New Hires

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 08:40 AM PDT

Greylock

One of a key roles of a VC and investor is to help portfolio companies and startups recruit quality talent. Especially with the current competitive hiring climate, recruiting can be a challenging task for companies both big and small. Today, VC firm Greylock is announcing that it has created a dedicated talent team to help its portfolio companies recruit effectively and succeed in the current battle for talent.

Jeff Markowitz, former managing director of the venture capital practice at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, has joined Greylock as a ‘Talent Partner.’ Markowitz will focused on executive level talent, and will help Greylock’s portfolio companies as well as the VC firm itself to build a network of high-level talent.

Dan Portillo, formerly an HR and recruiting exec at Rypple and Mozilla, has joined as VP of Talent focusing on hiring in product and engineering for Greylock’s portfolio companies.

Clearly, Greylock is taking the battle for technical talent in Silicon Valley and the greater tech world seriously, and is staffing up to help startups wage this war. This is a trend that other top-tirer VC firms are also aggressively pursuing. The firm says that it will be working on several initiatives to help companies build recruiting skills, source talent, leverage networks and more.

Greylock also recently added new talent to its own roster; bringing on Howcast co-founder and former Googler Sanjay Raman as a Senior Associate on the consumer team. He joins other recent hires including former Twitter and Facebook product lead Josh Elman and LinkedIn’s former VP of Search and Platform Adam Nash.




UberMedia Quietly (Inadvertently?) Releases Chime.in, A Mobile Social Networking App

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 08:35 AM PDT

chime

A tipster informs us that UberMedia, the company behind social networking apps like Echofon and UberSocial / Twidroyd, has unintentionally pushed its new iPhone application onto the App Store (iTunes link). This is plausible, because the Chime.in website isn’t accessible yet at the time of writing, although the support pages appear to be live already.

So is Chime.in the oft-rumored challenger to Twitter, which UberMedia has had run-ins with in the past? UberMedia has always denied that it had plans to launch a competing social network, so it’s a question worth asking. And the answer is no, not really.

Chime.in is described on the support pages as an online and mobile network organized around interests, or an ‘interest network’ to keep it brief. Still according to the support pages, Chime.in was “was created for people who are active in social media and looking for a way to engage in conversations and more deeply interact with content related to their interests”.

Basically, it lets people build and maintain communities around their favorite topics.

When you first launch the app, you can actually create an account using either a Facebook or a Twitter profile. That’s where things get interesting (pun intended):

Chime.in's technology also identifies users who Chime about topics you're interested in and recommends them, as well. Chime.in's search function lets you search by person, interest and community so you can choose how you want to engage around a topic you care about.

You can also follow interests, people or a person's specific interests to make it as streamlined as possible to digest content and engage with other users.

Updates on Chime.in, dubbed Chimes, are rich media-enabled, so you can include photos, videos, polls or links and users can view them directly from your stream. Posts can also be broadcast across other social platforms (Facebook, Google+ and Twitter) or saved for users to read later.

At launch, everything you do within Chime.in is public, although the company says on its support pages that it intends to “start layering in more privacy controls” in the future.

I’ve also found a page that clearly shows applications for Android and Blackberry are also in the works (see screenshot below).

As for the question whether Chime.in competes with other social networks; they try to answer that question themselves, too:

How is Chime.in different from existing social networks?

All other social networks are all about connecting with people. Chime.in is about connecting with interests and people – it's an interest network. It lets you tailor the content you see and search for to the topics you care about, so you aren't bogged down sorting through posts you aren't interested in.

Chime.in is also designed to create a richer social experience by integrating multimedia and making it easy join interest-based communities and to engage in real-time conversation.

Why would someone use Chime.in instead of dominant social networks like Facebook and Twitter?

- One of the great things about social media is that you're free to use any platform you want. Chime.in was created to address the need for relevance in social media. As such, it wasn't designed to replace any networks, but to enhance the social media experience with a platform tailored to a clear, specific need.

Given that we allow people to publish Chimes to Facebook, Twitter and Google+, we fully expect not to replace other networks, but to be additive to the ecosystem.

Sounds like they listened to Twitter attentively.

You should be able to give the free app a whirl now if you have an iPhone (iOS 4.0 or later required).

UberMedia was founded in early 2010 as TweetUp (later PostUp) by serial Internet entrepreneur Bill Gross. The company has raised close to $27 million to date.


Company: UberMedia
Website: ubermedia.com
Funding: $26.6M

UberMedia (formerly postup) is the leading independent developer of applications and web-based services that make it easier for users to find, follow and communicate with others on Twitter and other social media platforms. The company is focused on driving innovation in user experiences across a range of online and mobile platforms. UberMedia also provides advertisers and brands with new ways to engage and communicate with consumers via Twitter through its family of apps. Located in Pasadena, California, UberMedia is...

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Company: Twitter
Website: twitter.com
Funding: $1.16B

Twitter, founded by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006 (launched publicly in July 2006), is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to post their latest updates. An update is limited by 140 characters and can be posted through three methods: web form, text message, or instant message. The company has been busy adding features to the product like Gmail import and search. They recently launched a new site section called “Explore” for...

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T-Mobile Announces The Dual-Screen LG DoublePlay, Launching November 2nd?

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 08:30 AM PDT

LG-DoublePlay

While the dual-screen Kyocera Echo didn’t do much to tickle my fancy, a couple dual-screen devices on their way to market, including the Sony S2 tablet, show much more promise. As far as handsets go, T-Mobile just announced the Android-powered LG DoublePlay (codenamed Flip II) smartphone — a split-keybord QWERTY slider with not one, but two, capacitive touch screens.

T-Mobile is calling the DoublePlay the “ultimate multi-tasking tool,” as the dual-screens will allow users do two things at once, such as surf the web on the main screen and update their Facebook on the smaller screen. The screens can also be used in tandem, though I’m unsure how something like a web page, for example, would look across one 3.5-inch screen and one 2-inch screen.

Other specs include a 1GHz Snapdragon processor powering Android 2.3 Gingerbread, a 5-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, auto focus, and 720p video capture, along with access to T-Mobile’s Group Text and Cloud Text services. If the split QWERTY keyboard isn’t your style, the phone also comes pre-loaded with Swype for easier text input.

T-Mobile and LG were unclear about pricing and availability, but according to a leaked T-Mobile roadmap, you can probably expect to see the truffle-colored LG DoublePlay on November 2 for $149 on-contract.


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: LG
Website: lg.com
Launch Date: October 17, 2011

The LG Group is South Korea’s third largest conglomerate that produces electronics, chemicals, and telecommunications products and operates subsidiaries like LG Electronics, LG Telecom, Zenith Electronics and LG Chem in over 80 countries.

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Watch An iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S II Take Three Nasty Drops Onto Concrete

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 07:57 AM PDT

samsung galaxy s II

If you read/watch one iPhone 4s vs Samsung Galaxy S II comparison, make it this one. It’s the only one that really matters in real life anyway. As your phone is falling to its potential death, you’re not going to be thinking about processor clock speed, the amount of RAM, or what operating platform it runs. No, the next week of your life is going to flash in eyes as you think about how you’re going to spend countless hours replacing the phone and its contents.

SquareTrade, a company that sells warranties for mobile electronics, started doing these videos a few months back in an attempt to hawk their services. The videos generally end with broken electronics followed by an advertisement — but not this time. This time around only one of the phones shatter. But I won’t spoil their fun. Click through for the video and the surprising results.


Company: SquareTrade
Website: squaretrade.com
Launch Date: October 17, 1999
Funding: $9.7M

SquareTrade is an independent warranty provider for consumer electronics and appliances. It doesn’t matter where you purchased your item, online auction or brick and mortar, the item is eligible for a SquareTrade warranty.

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Facebook, NRDC & Opower To Partner On Energy-Saving Social App

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 07:49 AM PDT

opower-logo

Facebook, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and clean tech startup Opower are today announcing a partnership to develop a new social networking-based energy application that will help consumers monitor, improve and compare their home’s energy usage with their friends and other Facebook users.

The app, designed to improve energy awareness, has the potential to combine the 800 million+ users on Facebook with Opower’s network of over 60 utility partners reaching 55 million U.S. households. However, the social app will start off with just a few participating utilities when it launches in early 2012.

Opower, a software-as-a-service company, currently helps electric and gas utilities understand their customers and how they’re using power. Home owners use Opower’s online applications to gain insights into their usage patterns, set personal goals to reduce consumption and even receive alerts if they’re headed towards a big electric bill at the end of the month. The proactive alerts give customers a chance to reduce consumption before it’s too late.

Now, the new Facebook application will bring some of these same features to the social networking service. Participating users will be able to automatically pull in data from their utility provider in order to benchmark their home's energy usage against a national average of similar homes, compare their energy use with their Facebook friends, enter energy-saving competitions and share tips on how to become more energy efficient. In addition, users will be able to share their energy use, ranking and group participation to their Facebook News Feed.

The NRDC’s involvement will be to provide additional environmental expertise while also seeking out new partners and encouraging consumer participation.

Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), the City of Palo Alto (Calif.) and Glendale Water & Power (GWP) will be the first U.S. utilities to offer their customers the ability to import usage data into the social energy application. Combined, these utilities offer access to 4 million customers, including all of Chicago’s residents.

The NRDC states that improvements to energy efficiency has the ability to generate $700 billion in cost savings in the U.S. alone, but consumer participation is key to making that change happen. The organization is no stranger to the use of word-of-mouth techniques in this area, going all the way back to its Hood River Conservation Project in the 80′s which, at the time, leveraged real-life social networks to spread word of an energy improvement program. Now it hopes to use word-of-mouth on Facebook’s online network to enact similar behavioral change.

The organizations will formally announce the partnership later this afternoon. More information will be posted to Facebook’s “Green on Facebook” page.


Company: Opower
Website: opower.com
Launch Date: October 17, 2011
Funding: $65.7M

Opower is an energy information software company, providing a multi-channel customer engagement platform that delivers energy efficiency gains and other strategic benefits to its utility partners on a sustainable basis. Using behavioral science and patent-pending data analytics, the Opower platform enables utilities to connect with customers in a highly targeted manner, motivating reductions in energy use, increasing energy efficiency program participation, and improving overall customer satisfaction. More than 50 utilities—including 8 of the US's 10 largest—have partnered with Opower...

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CTIA’s New Alert Guidelines Could Mean The End Of “Bill Shock”

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 07:42 AM PDT

phonebill

Obscenely high phone bills have a habit of coming from out of the blue, but that could all change in coming months. According to Reuters, the wireless trade association CTIA is expected to announce a new set of guidelines today under which all wireless carriers must notify their customers when they’re nearing overage territory.

Be it from unintentional roaming, talkative friends or text-crazy family members, nearly 1 in 6 wireless customers have experienced “bill shock,” and the FCC is none too pleased with the situation. They unveiled a similar effort to curb bill shock last year, but the regulatory commission is putting their plans on ice for now.

They’re not sitting out the game for good though — the FCC will reportedly be ready to step in once more if wireless carriers start to drag their feet.

The CTIA guidelines revolve around four types of alerts: voice, data, messaging, and roaming. Carriers will be required to send those alerts to their customers both before they hit their monthly limits, and right when they tiptoe over the line.

Unlike the FCC’s proposed rules, the CTIA’s guidelines puts these alerts into the field much sooner. Carriers will have 12 months to implement at least 2 of the 4 alert types, and another 6 months after that to get the rest of them working. It’s simple enough in theory, but the FCC has stated that the change would require some pretty substantial changes to carrier billing systems.

After having spent a few years on the retail side of the wireless industry, it’s refreshing to see some of the onus fall on carriers instead of customers. It won’t be a quick rollout, nor an especially easy one, but it’s one that will give consumers some much-needed information — after all, isn’t one heinous phone bill enough?



Grockit Gets A $7 Million Venture Infusion And Launches Video Q&A Site Grockit Answers

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 07:33 AM PDT

Grockit logo

Social learning startup Grockit raised its fourth round of funding, a $7 million series D, with current investor Atlas Ventures leading the round. Existing investors Benchmark and Integral Capital also participated, with new investors the NewSchools Venture Fund (an education fund backed by John Doerr and Reid Hoffman) and GSV Capital CEO Michael Moe. The round is much less than the $33 million education startup Knewton just raised, and in fact is the same amount as Grockit’s series C funding in May, 2010 was also $7 million

Grockit is building out a set of online social learning services. It began with test prep for the SAT, GMAT, and LSAT, then moved onto high school AP classes. It’s latest service is Grockit Answers, a site that creates a Q&A page for any videos on YouTube. Here is one on the credit crisis. The videos get chaptered based on the point at which each question is raised or answered, and the community can supply their own answers. “Anyone ca ask a question or answer,” exlpains Nivi, “and pin it to that point in the video.” Grockit itself has collected 3,700 educational videos on its YouTube channel, which founder Farb Nivi claims is more than Khan Academy.

Grockit is all about students, teachers, and tutors aswering each other’s questions online. About a week ago, Grockit passed its 10 millionth answered question, and the number of chat messages going across the site is approaching 100 million. Out of its 1 million total registered users, about 25,000 to 50,000 are active in any given month, which suggests that most students use it to prepare for a test and then move on.


Company: Grockit
Website: grockit.com
Funding: $17.7M

Grockit is an online social learning game company. It currently offers GMAT and SAT test prep games. Grockit believes that people learn better through peer-to-peer situations instead of teacher-to-student, and they are building their companies' products around this idea. Grockit is a play on the word 'grok' which means to understand something so well it becomes part of you. Their main competitors include online courses offered by The Princeton Review and Kaplan.

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Gorgeous Photos, Tablet Browsing: 500px Debuts New iPad App

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 06:59 AM PDT

500px-icon

Toronto-based photography community 500px, the Flickr alternative which recently raised $525,000 in Series A, is now available on the iPad in app format. The new app includes all the feeds you would find on the site, including the feeds for Popular, Editor’s Choice, Upcoming and Fresh photos, plus access to your own photos and those belonging to your friends, the ability to like, favorite and comment on photos and much more.

According to 500px’s Creative Director, Evgeny Tchebotarev, the community has grown 20 times over the past 12 months, and now serves 54 million pageviews and sees 6.6 million visits per month. The iPad app is the first step at reaching a larger global audience through additional platforms, he says. Plans for iPhone and Android versions are also in the works.

The new app was built using the two-month old  500px API, which is already in use by a few third-party applications, including ISO 500, PhotoStacker for 500px, and 500px Land.

In addition to the above-mentioned features, the app also offers sharing options for Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and email, the ability to view full-sized or maximized photos, landscape and portrait modes, safe browsing to filter out nude photos and support for slideshows. Future releases will add support for account creation (including registration via Facebook), photo descriptions and EXIF data support, the ability to move a photo while zoomed in, advanced image caching, uploads from iPad and offline support.

Although open to anyone, 500px is designed more with the needs of professional photographers in mind, and has attracted a growing community of Flickr switchers. The focus with 500px is on ease of use, design and tools that appeal directly to those who make a living from their photos, like the ability to create your own portfolio and blog, and the ability to sell your photos online.

For those interested in the new 500px iPad app, you can download it here from iTunes.


Company: 500px
Website: 500px.com
Funding: $525k

500px is a photographic community powered by creative people from all over the world that lets you share and discover inspiring photographs.

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Samsung Galaxy Nexus, HTC Vigor To Launch November 10?

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 06:55 AM PDT

GalaxyNexus

As the iPhone 4S hype has peaked and is returning back to stable levels, users from the other school of thought are getting pumped for their own massive event. Ice Cream Sandwich, and the next purely Google phone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, are due to make an appearance in just two short days.

Though we’re sure to get some clarification on already-leaked specs at the debut, we might have access to launch dates and pricing just a bit earlier than that.

According to an anonymously leaked Verizon document published by Engadget, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the HTC Vigor (codenamed Rezound) are going for a minimum advertized price of $299.99 on-contract. Both phones are also slated for a November 10 to May 10 MAP period, suggesting they may launch as early as November 10. But before we go any further, it’s worth practicing a little cynicism in this case, since this leaked document could have been whipped up in Word in about five minutes. Then again, the model numbers seem to make sense, so we’ll just venture forward with caution.

As far as that November 10 launch date goes, nothing’s set in stone. Even if that’s when the Galaxy Nexus and Vigor’s MAP period begins, the actual launch may come a bit later as we’ve already seen Ice Cream Sandwich and the Nexus event get pushed back once. Either way, it should give you a little extra time to start saving up.


Company: Google
Website: google.com
Launch Date: July 9, 1998
IPO: NASDAQ:GOOG

Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of online tools and platforms including: Gmail, Maps and YouTube. Most of its Web-based products are free, funded by Google’s highly integrated online advertising platforms AdWords and AdSense. Google promotes the idea that advertising should be highly targeted and relevant to users thus providing them with a rich source of information....

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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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Freelancer.com: Facebook App, 3D, HTML5, And Cocoa Jobs On The Rise

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 06:38 AM PDT

freelancerlogo

Freelancer.com is poised to release a report later today with a list of the 50 fastest-growing outsourcing jobs for the third quarter of 2011, based on 114,455 jobs that were posted on the site during that time.

We got an early peek at the report, which suggests content and AdSense-related jobs are on the rise again after a drop last quarter, following Google’s Panda update. Categories like ‘ghostwriting’ (up 22 percent), ‘blogs’ (up 17 percent) and ‘reviews’ (up 16 percent) showcase that trend.

Product Description and Adsense projects increased by 43 percent and 76 percent, respectively.

Other interesting findings from the report:

- Facebook and Social networking projects were up 32 percent and 36 percent, respectively
- HTML5 projects are up (again) an impressive 38 percent, with Flash jobs declining 10 percent
- After posting 20 percent growth last quarter, Android grew just 8 percent this quarter
- iPhone projects grew only 3 percent; Blackberry and Symbian jobs were both down by 6 percent
- Jobs related to Apple products are in vogue, with Cocoa jobs up 55 percent and Objective C up 23 percent. Meanwhile, Java jobs fell 13 percent, while PHP-related jobs were up 3.3 percent.
- 3D jobs increased 64 percent, the second largest gain in the top 50


Company: Freelancer
Website: freelancer.com

Freelancer.com is an outsourcing marketplace for small business. The platform connects over 2.5 million employers and freelancers globally from over 234 countries & regions. Through its website, employers can hire freelancers to do work in areas such as software, writing, data entry and design right through to engineering and the sciences, sales and marketing, and accounting & legal services. The average job is under $200.

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iPhone 4S First Weekend Sales Exceeds 4 Million, Doubles The Pace Of The iPhone 4

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 06:14 AM PDT

iphone4sx-large

Apple just announced that it sold four million iPhone 4S handsets over the last weekend. The phone hit stores on October 14th and it took just three days to move the massive lot. Incredible.

Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior VP of Worlwide Product Markteting notes, "iPhone 4S is off to a great start with more than four million sold in its first weekend—the most ever for a phone and more than double the iPhone 4 launch during its first three days."

Moreover, Apple just announced that 25 million are already using iOS 5 and over 20 million have signed up for iCloud.

The iPhone 4s will hit even more countries in the coming weeks. It will be available in more than 22 countries after October 28 and more than 70 by the end of the year. Apple previously noted that it was prepared for a massive launch and it seems as if the company delivered. After the busy first weekend, the phone is still on backorder at most carriers and retailers with the Apple Store indicating a 1-2 week shipping delay.

[image credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP]


Company: Apple
Website: apple.com
Launch Date: January 4, 1976
IPO: October 17, 1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007. Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with...

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Wahanda Secures $5.5 Million From Fidelity Growth Partners Europe

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 06:02 AM PDT

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Wahanda, an online health and beauty marketplace, has secured a £5.5m Series B investment round led by Fidelity Growth Partners Europe (FGPE), a pan-European venture and growth equity investor. As part of the deal Davor Hebel, a partner at FGPE, joins the board of Wahanda. This investment makes Wahanda the 800 pound gorilla of this space in the UK, with the opportunity to now build out what is in effect the Open Table for the health and beauty sector. Wahanda last raised a Series A back in 2008 with $2m from Ambient Sound Investment.



Look Out Uber: GroundLink Launches An Affordable, Mobile Private Car Service For New Yorkers

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Screen shot 2011-10-17 at 1.46.53 AM

TechCrunch readers may be familiar with Uber, the on-demand cab/private car service that lets users bypass the annoying process of waiting for cabs or expensive prospect of renting a limo — all via your mobile device and SMS.

Today, a car service is launching a new feature in New York City that it hopes will ride on the growing popularity of Uber as well as on-demand mobile reservation and food delivery services like OpenTable or Seamless to make getting a private car even easier. (Because apparently nobody likes ordering over the phone anymore.)

GroundLink, the New York City-based car service that was founded in 2003 as an aggregator and solutions provider to the ground travel industry, is going mobile today to enable users to book a private car whenever they want — either immediately or at a scheduled time — via their smartphone on iOS and Android.

With its new on-demand mobile functionality, GroundLink aims to offer an attractive alternative to other metro car and cab services by offering full transparency into price before a user books their ride, as opposed to getting hit with a daunting bill once the ride is finished.

GroundLink wants to take hidden fees and long waits out of the equation (a big problem for anyone who’s tried using similar services in NYC), and hike up the transparency by offering flat rates solely based on distance rather than competitors which include traffic (via measuring speed) in their pricing schemes, often resulting in sharp price hikes thanks to fun things like gridlock and toll traffic. Is there really any time in transit to or from New York City (or San Francisco for that matter) where one doesn’t have to deal with traffic?

The flat rate prices for hiring a private car via GroundLink are pretty competitive; for hiring a car to New York city airports, for example, the service is currently offering rides for $49, Boston for $60, and San Francisco at $59. Though, of course, these rates do not include waiting time, stops, tolls, and parking, etc., but, compared to yellow cabs, considering you’ll have your own car and won’t have to deal with some cabby’s oppressive B.O., this is a pretty good deal. (Check out more on the service’s prices here.)

What’s more, according to GroundLink CEO, Charlie Fraas, the service has “ten times more cars in their NYC fleet” than other competitors offering this on-demand mobile functionality seeing as it’s already an established name in NYC. And, as availability is generally the top concern when booking a car on-demand via mobile, GroundLink offers a great value proposition seeing as it’s already available in 5,000 cities and 110 countries around the globe.

The service already has its own well-stocked fleet (of 300 dedicated cars) and will also take advantage of affiliates (over 45,000 transportation providers worldwide) as well to make sure there’s a car available when a user needs one. Depending on where one lives, GroundLink can have a car there in 30 minutes. If you live in the middle of the tundra, though, expect it to take more like 12 hours. (They’re not magicians, people.)

Registered GroundLink users can take advantage of its mobile, location-based “Ride Now” function to order cars in realtime (on-demand) via GroundLink’s apps, or book in advance with “Ride Later”, which lets one set a specific date, time, and location for pickup. In each case (like Uber), riders can track their car’s location (in conjunction with its exact arrival time) and communicate directly with drivers at any point during the process. This feature is launching today in New York City, and depending on results, will launch worldwide sometime in the near future.

The mobile service also offers a social sharing tool so that riders can update friends and followers during the duration of their trip, and leave reviews and recommendations for good drivers and not-so-good drivers.

To celebrate the launch of “Ride Now” in NYC, GroundLink is offering customers who book through ots iPhone or Android apps the chance to win more than $15,000 in cash and other prizes. Starting today, GroundLink's fleet will be stacked with a variety of prizes for five days, including two envelopes containing $1,000 in cash each day. Other prizes include tickets to Yankees, Giants, and Jets games, Momofuku and Peter Luger gift cards, Brooklyn Bowl, Barneys and Tiffany gift cards, etc.

“GroundLink is much more than an app”, said the GroundLink CEO. “We are the first company to deliver access to a global fleet of more than a hundred thousand cars through an app. Until now, business travelers had no way to find a reliable and competitively priced private car service around the country and the globe. With the launch of our mobile apps on iPhone and Android, we’re embracing a multi-platform business model that is unique in our industry”, he said.

For more on GroundLink, check them out at home here.


Company: GroundLink
Website: groundlink.com
Launch Date: October 7, 2004
Funding: $20M

GroundLink is a technology company that built the “OpenTable” of ground transportation. GroundLink aggregates, manages and handles payments for Limo, Taxi and shuttle services worldwide. On the supply side, the GroundLink marketplace aggregates pricing and availability for 45,000 suppliers in the GroundLink network. On the demand side, GroundLink provides its affiliates with a steady flow of jobs through several company-owned retail sites, mobile applications and exclusive partnerships with well-known travel companies like JetBlue, Royal Caribbean, Kayak and Continental...

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Video Collaboration Software Maker ViVu Acquired By Polycom

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 05:45 AM PDT

vivu

Polycom, provider of telepresence, video and voice solutions, this morning announced that it has acquired ViVu, a privately- held video collaboration software company. The deal was signed last Friday, for undisclosed cash consideration, and Polycom expects the transaction to be neutral to earnings.

ViVu raised $3 million from Inventus Capital Partners, DFJ and Quest Venture Partners back in October 2009, followed by a strategic investement by chip maker AMD last June.

ViVu has developed software that can be embedded into Web applications such as enterprise, social, and vertical industry applications to enable instant web-based HD video collaboration.

Founded in 2008, the company currently has offices in Cupertino, California and Bangalore, India, and employs about 25 people. Clients include TIBCO and Thomson Reuters.

Here’s how Polycom pitches the acquisition of the company:

ViVu gives Polycom a fast-track to embed HD video into web-based applications through an OEM model, accelerating time-to-market and adoption of Polycom HD video collaboration solutions, and driving awareness of the Polycom brand powering video collaboration inside a wide range of applications.

Polycom will leverage ViVu technology in its RealPresence Platform, a software infrastructure suite for video collaboration.


Company: ViVu
Website: vivu.tv
Launch Date: October 17, 2011
Funding: $3M

ViVu delivers smarter videoconferencing solutions for global communications. The company's browser-based video platform is easy-to-use, affordable and requires zero download – within minutes, people can videochat and share their desktops with small teams or up to thousands of people at once. Fortune 500 companies trust ViVu to power a better online meeting experience than legacy players. ViVu is compatible with PCs, Macs, Linux, mobile devices and the iPad. Go to www.vivu.tv to learn more about smarter videoconferencing.

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Company: Polycom
Website: polycom.com

Polycom is the global leader in telepresence, video, and voice solutions and a visionary in communications that empower people to connect and collaborate everywhere.

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With 400,000 Users Under Its Belt, SohoOS Plans Major Revamp

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 05:23 AM PDT

SohoOS

SohoOS is on a tear. Users are growing at a rate of 30% month-over-month, just recently shooting past 400,000. And soon, the company will make a hard bet on a brand-new design — a complete revamp — aimed at singeing it into the backbone of the small businesses it serves.

Some background: SohoOS offers small businesses a utility suite of applications, for example, invoicing, CRM, and inventory management. The startup, which I’ve been following since its debut, closed a $1.75 million financing round led by Mangrove back in January.

I recently had another chance to sit down with the company, with the revamp being the core of our conversation. It’s a bold bet that is based on insights from the hundreds of thousands of small and micro businesses the company has on-board.

What the SohoOS found out is that small businesses are used to services (think QuickBooks, FreshBooks, InvoiceMachine etc.) that market a particular value proposition, that being, efficient accounting. The premise is that the heart and soul of a small business is its accounting activities. Except SohoOS found that small businesses don’t see it that way at all, and for two main reasons:

First, actual accountants are still very much in the picture. This means that the services such as the ones noted above aren’t a substitute, they’re more like data collection silos. Second, small businesses don’t see ‘accounting’ as the heart and soul of their businesses management activities. Rather, it’s the ‘contact’ they view as the heart and soul. Don’t mistake this as a subtle difference, it’s a holistic difference, and is the one that SohoOS is betting the entire revamp on.

Eran Manor, lead designer at SohoOS walked me through the new design (see screenshots below) where every action is centered around the concept of the contact in question. As Manor put it, they reverse engineered an iPad app to create the new UX for the web application. Sure enough, everything is 1-2 clicks away. The screenshots below aren’t final, but paint a very clear picture of the ‘contact in the center’ approach being bet upon. The new design will be rolled out to all users in the over the next two months.

One other aspect I’ve always like about SohoOS is that unlike the conventional wisdom, of ‘do one thing and do it well,” the company is focusing on several services that are key to the daily management of a small business. These are: invoicing, billing features, CRM, inventory & project management.

The thinking here is that providing these things to a sufficient depth allows SohoOS to appeal to a larger userbase. With the US, UK, and the EU constituting 54% of the userbase, this is a smart move.



5 Product Innovations From CEATEC 2011 In Japan (Video Gallery)

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 05:21 AM PDT

Picture 1

Truth be told, I wasn’t very impressed with what electronics makers showed at the CEATEC 2011 tech exhibition – especially because a lot of the new products were “leaked” to the Japanese press before the event started.

However, here are a total of five of the coolest innovations Japanese companies showed at the CEATEC 2011 in video form, delivered from our friends at Diginfo TV (YouTube channel). All the videos were shot directly on location and are in English.

Video 1: Toshiba’s 55-inch, naked-eye 3D TV with facial recognition (our coverage)

Video 2: Sony’s “DEV-3″ binoculars that shoot videos in full HD and 3D

Video 3: Pioneer’s augmentend reality-based car navigation System (our coverage)

Video 4: NTT Docomo’s smartphone jackets that measure body fat, radiation, or alcohol (our coverage)

Video 5: NTT Docomo’s smartphone battery that fully charges in 10 minutes



Digital Media Companies Inuvo And Vertro To Merge

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 05:16 AM PDT

vertro

Digital media companies Inuvo and NYC-based Vertro, both publicly listed, this morning announced a merger agreement whereby Inuvo will acquire Vertro and its ALOT branded consumer applications business in a tax-free exchange of shares at an exchange ratio of 1.546 shares of Inuvo common stock per each share of Vertro common stock.

The combined entity intends to distribute and monetize digital media to millions of consumers across multiple platforms, according to a press statement.

In the combined company, Inuvo CEO Richard K. Howe will serve as Executive Chairman while Vertro CEO Peter Corrao will become president and CEO.

The companies assert that, combined, they can reach over 132 million unique Internet users on a monthly basis, and monetize about 2.5 billion page views per year.

The merger, which has been approved by both companies’ board, is expected to close in Q4 2011 or Q1 2012, subject to satisfaction of the closing conditions.


Company: Vertro
Website: vertro.com
Launch Date: October 17, 1998

Vertro is a software and technology company that owns and operates the ALOT product portfolio. ALOT’s products are designed to ‘Make the Internet Easy’ by enhancing the way consumers engage with content online. Through ALOT, Internet users can discover best-of-the-web third party content and display that content through customizable toolbar, homepage and desktop products. ALOT has millions of live users across its product portfolio. Together these users conduct high-volumes of type-in search queries, which are monetized through third-party search...

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Company: Inuvo
Website: inuvo.com
IPO: October 2, 2010, NYSE:INUV

Inuvo™, Inc., is a leading provider of performance-based online marketing services that delivers customers to advertisers and revenue to publishers across various marketing channels including search, affiliate, lead generation and email. The Company operates as two business segments: Exchange and Direct. The Exchange Segment provides performance-based marketing and technology solutions to advertisers and publishers, while the Direct Segment develops and sells direct-to-consumer programs that are distributed through the Exchange Segment. Through the Inuvo Platform, advertisers drive traffic, obtain leads and...

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RIM Apologizes With Free Apps & Technical Support For Three Days Of Downtime

Posted: 17 Oct 2011 05:11 AM PDT

sadberry

Research In Motion is on a quest for goodwill after last week’s massive outage that left BlackBerry users without service for three days. The company just took to the wires and announced that over a $100 worth of premium apps will eventually be free for a limited time and enterprise users will also net one month of free technical support. RIM hopes SIM 3, Bejeweled, N.O.V.A. and many more will help calm the nerves those BlackBerry users thinking of jumping ship.

"We are grateful to our loyal BlackBerry customers for their patience," said RIM’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis in a released statement. "We have apologized to our customers and we will work tirelessly to restore their confidence. We are taking immediate and aggressive steps to help prevent something like this from happening again."

Enterprise users get a little more compensation in the form of free technical support. If the user already pays for the technical support, one month will be tacked onto the end of subscription. Other enterprise users will be offered a one month trial of RIM’s BlackBerry Technical Support Service – Enhanced Support.

The apps will be free start to appear in the BlackBerry App World starting on Wednesday, October 19th and will be available for download until December 31, 2011. More will be released over the next four weeks.

The initial selection includes:

• SIMS 3 – Electronic Arts
• Bejeweled – Electronic Arts
• N.O.V.A. – Gameloft
• Texas Hold'em Poker 2 – Gameloft
• Bubble Bash 2 – Gameloft
• Photo Editor Ultimate – Ice Cold Apps
• DriveSafe.ly Pro – iSpeech.org
• iSpeech Translator Pro – iSpeech.org
• Drive Safe.ly Enterprise – iSpeech.org
• Nobex Radio™ Premium – Nobex
• Shazam Encore – Shazam
• Vlingo Plus: Virtual Assistant – Vlingo

RIM took a major hit with the latest service interruption and it’s really impossible to tell if free apps will prevent BlackBerry users from defecting to other mobile platforms. Carriers worldwide are compensating BlackBerry users with cash and other offers and it’s not clear if RIM is backing some of those payouts. Users smell blood. Prepare yourself, the class action lawsuits are coming.


Website: rim.com
Launch Date: October 17, 1984
IPO: NASDAQ:RIMM

Research In Motion (RIM) is a Canadian designer, manufacturer and marketer of wireless devices and solutions for the worldwide mobile communications market. The company is best known as the developer of the BlackBerry smart phone. RIM technology also enables a broad array of third party developers and manufacturers to enhance their products and services with wireless connectivity to data. RIM was founded in 1984. Based in Waterloo, Ontario, the company has offices in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

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