Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:50 AM PDT
uTest, a company known for providing a variety of testing solutions for desktop, web and mobile, is launching a new solution designed to grade mobile apps’ performance under real-world conditions, and then compare the app’s rating with that of its competition. The solution, for obvious reasons (i.e., desperate need) is arriving first on Android, with an iOS version to follow soon. The app testing process takes just a few minutes, the company claims, and will then return a report grading the app on a scale of 1 to 100.
In addition to the score, the report also details any issues discovered during the app download, installation and basic usage. To provide more context, the AppGrader report, as it’s called, also compares the app’s grade to those of the most popular applications in the
Android Market
Google Play store that are found in the same app store category.

The system isn’t designed to replace the testing and QA work developers already do, of course, but is meant to function as more of a final step that can give more insight on how the app will run when actually put into the hands of users. Explains uTest CMO Matt Johnson, this “in-the-wild testing provides ‘last mile’ assurance that the apps work on real devices, under real-world conditions, in a wide variety of locations,” he says. However, there’s no reason why developers couldn’t continue to run AppGrader after the app’s launch, if need be, or as they continue to push out minor updates and tweaks to the app in question.
To use the service, developers just upload the Android APK file to get started, and AppGrader will send out an email notification within a few minutes after the testing is complete. For apps that crash, developers will also be given the device-specific crash log for additional diagnostic details.
For now, the service tests the apps on top Android devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus/Samsung Galaxy S II, Google’s Nexus S, LG Nitro HD, Samsung Galaxy Tab, HTC Thunderbolt, Sony Ericson Xperia, Motorola Droid X2 and the T-Mobile My Touch. Apps are also tested on U.S. carriers AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint.

Although all mobile developers could benefit from more testing tools, there’s more of need to address the Android developer base first. On Android, developers don’t just have to deal with an incredible number of device types in the wild, they’re also constantly challenged by OS fragmentation, too. According to Google’s own statistics, only 4.9% of users are running the latest version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich), 3.3% are stuck on the version just prior (Honeycomb) while 64.4% are on Gingerbread, which was first released back in December 2010. The remaining 27.4% are running versions that are even older, if you can believe it.
To put this in perspective, iOS users update to the latest version remarkably fast. (One report shows 38% hit iOS 5 within 5 days of its release, for example). It’s not entirely fair to make judgements about the users on either platform, however – iOS users have access to upgrades, while Android users, either due to carrier or OEM restrictions, often do not. But it does showcase the greater challenges that Android developers have to deal with when it comes to building apps for a number of handsets and software versions.
uTest’s AppGrader is available now, from here.  The service is free, as the company expects it might entice users to try out the company’s other mobile testing products.

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:32 AM PDT
Screen shot 2012-05-07 at 11.09.04 AM
In one of the most anticlimactic (and likely ineffective) marketing campaigns in history, RIM has today launched its “Wake Up. Be Bold.” campaign in Australia. It began with a group of “protestors” disembarking from a bus outside of Apple’s Sydney store with signs that read “Wake Up.” But don’t get too excited — that’s the most exciting part of the story.
After the long and vigorous rivalry between Samsung and Apple, both in marketing and in the courts, the South Korea-based company was originally blamed for the seemingly out-of-the-blue protest. RIM, of course, kept quiet.
But it was in fact RIM that staged the shit show, which all culminated in the launch of the wakeupbebold.com website, wherein an Australian man explains how business has changed and that to be different you mustn’t just “think different,” but “do different” (which I’m fairly certain is grammatically incorrect), lest you end up “floating through life like a cork in a stream.”

Not only is the ad boring — just a stream of text accompanied by a voice — but it really doesn’t resonate in any way shape or form. At BlackBerry Jam last week, we saw some pretty cool new features that will ship with BB10, including a badass new keyboard and a retro time-defying camera app built with tech licensed from Scalado.
Yet, the ad talks about how business is no longer conducted by briefcase-carrying, cubicle-sitting suits. But if I remember correctly, it’s the old-school business man (likely forced by his big business employer) that still uses a BlackBerry. Way to go for a new demographic, RIM.
What’s worse, the mantra of “BlackBerry isn’t for everyone” is woven throughout the campaign. “We know some people will choose to float on by, and that’s fine,” says the random voice.

Not once throughout the ad does the company make mention of why RIM is ready to take on the iPhone and grab its core customer base (or floating corks, if I may be so bold), and the campaign can’t even really crack a solid joke at Apple the way Samsung manages to do in its campaign spots.
I usually love writing about phone ads, but this was a depressing and disappointing way to open up the week. Thanks for that, RIM.

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:26 AM PDT
Screen shot 2012-05-07 at 16.04.46
Nielsen today became the latest analyst house to call it for smartphones outnumbering more basic devices in the U.S. The company says that in March 2012 smartphones were in use by 50.4 percent of consumers in the country, with Android continuing its domination in the space, accounting for 48.5 percent of all smartphone handsets.
Apple is not a very close second, at 32 percent, but through that percentage it has remained the single-biggest smartphone handset brand.
The 50.4 percentage of smartphones represents growth of about three percent since December 2011, when 47.8 percent of mobile consumers were using smartphones. That seems to suggest that while smartphone penetration continues to grow, the numbers seem to be slowing down a bit in the U.S.
Nielsen also broke out some numbers on how different ethnic groups are using smartphones. Asian Americans, it notes, have the highest usage, at 67.3 percent using a smartphone as their primary mobile handset.
Hispanics were in second place with 57.3 percent of the group using smartphones, with African Americans closely following with 54.4 percent. Whites had the lowest penetration of all, with 44.7 percent.
Nielsen doesn’t really give an explanation for why these percentages play out as they do — but one guess for the lower number among whites is that perhaps they were some of the earlier adopters with previous generations of mobile handsets and so  are therefore slower to convert to the newer devices.
Another interesting point is that apparently women are edging out men a bit when it comes to smartphone usage in the U.S. 50.9 percent of females had smartphones, while among men it was 50.1 percent. Unsurprisingly, younger users are the most smartphone-savvy, with two out of three 25-34 year-olds using more advanced mobile handsets.

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:20 AM PDT
After a disastrous launch and a not-so stellar pivot, Color may finally have found its stride and a rather large core user base. Today, Color and Verizon Wireless have entered a three year deal to bring live streaming video and audio to its fleet of 4G LTE smartphones, including all compatible Android devices and even the iPhone.
Audio streaming will be exclusive to Verizon’s 4G LTE devices and frame rate has also been doubled. The app will also come pre-loaded on the majority of all upcoming 4G LTE Android smartphones. Verizon iPhone users have the choice to download or update the Color app straight from the App Store. That’s all well and good but what’s really interesting about this partnership is that Color will ostensibly be living in the cloud. If Color were to extend the 30-second livestream to 35 seconds, for example, users won’t be forced to update the app to unlock new features.

Posted: 07 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT
Exclusive: RichRelevance, a company that powers personalized shopping experience for online retailers, has raised $20 million in funding led by Crosslink Capital with Greylock Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Tugboat Ventures participating. This brings the startup’s total funding to $50 million.
RichRelevance aims to take consumer shopping data and help retailers leverage this information into a more personalized experience. As e-commerce heats up, and big data strategies enter the market, more retailers want to provide customized online shopping for consumers to drive sales.
The company was co-founded by Sundeep Ahuja Tyler Kohn, Michael DeCoursey and Dave Selinger, who helped architect Amazon.com’s recommendation technology. Selinger tells us that in his additional experience at Overstock.com as Vice President of Software Development and Data Mining, he saw how challenging it was for retailers to use data to give consumers a better experience. And at Amazon, where Selinger helped lead the research and development arm of Amazon's Data Mining and Personalization team, he was able to see the potential value in delivering a personalized UI.
“It’s hard for retailers to get an arm around different data sets and I wanted to help retailers leverage data to make the shopping experience better,” he explains.
RichRelevance offers three distinct ways retailers can add personalization. The first allows retailers to deliver product recommendations via email, or even as users are navigating through the site. RichRelevance takes all forms of consumers, data, including what items you may have licked on, purchase history, shopping cart history, search, and more to help personalize the shopping experience. RichRelevance serves more than 350 million personalized recommendations each day across its merchant networks.
For example, a retailer using RichRelevance could send an email to a consumer with suggestions of what they may like based their interactions with the site, or previous purchases. As Selinger explains, “The goal is to recreate the personal, consumer experience you have with a sales representative in te digital channel.”
The second product RichRelevance offers is focused on personalized advertising. The company will present relevant advertisements to consumers while shopping on retail sites. So brands such as Colgate can deliver an advertisement to a consumer in the midst of making a decision about what’s the right toothpaste. Selinger says the value proposition is similar to ad network. Launched in December 2010, RichRelevance's advertising offerings are used by 3M, P&G, AT&T, Verizon, Toyota and Cisco. The company claims that these ad products can deliver a 60-100% sales lift for the advertised brand's products.
Personalized offers are the final product the company integrates, and serves consumers targeted promotions.
In aggregate, RichRelevance’s clients represent more than 30% of online retail and today the company serves six of the top 10 US retailers in ecommerce, as well as seven of the top 50 leading UK/EU online retailers. Customers include Target, Walmart, Sears, Overstock, The Disney Store and others.
The new funding will be used to further develop RichRelevance’s product footprint, expand markets internationally and for research and development, says Selinger.
David Silverman, Partner at Crosslink Capital, tell us that the company has been able to see success because it is a technically savvy business that has taken advantage of a pop in e-commerce. “The innovation level of what RichRelevance is doing is exponentially better than competitors,” he says. “The company has the best technology algorithmically.”
“Data is the currency in today's omni-channel retail environment,” said David Strohm, partner at Greylock Partners. “Companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have set the stage for what it means to use data to attract and maintain loyal customers. RichRelevance is among this select group of platform companies who can harness data on consumer behavior and insights, specifically shopping and intent data, to change the way that retailers and brand advertisers operate.”
As the e-commerce world becomes even more competitive, retailers are going to have to use their data to help deliver a more valuable experience. And the way to do this is through personalization. Clearly, RichRelevance is in a potentially lucrative position to be one of the go-to technologies to enable this for retailers, who may not be technologically savvy to manage and parse this data into an actual product.

Posted: 07 May 2012 07:43 AM PDT
Social loyalty platform PunchTab, which raised its $4.4 million Series A in November, is rolling out its new platform for agencies, allowing them to run customized incentives campaigns to promote customers’ brands on any social network. That’s a differentiating factor between PunchTab and some other social loyalty plays which often only focus Facebook and Twitter. With PunchTab, agencies can also target popular networks like Instagram and Foursquare, for example. The fully branded programs are available both as standalone experiences or embedded in Facebook.
The company has already signed up some notable customers in Q1 of this year, including Arby’s, eBay, and the Toy Industry Association.
PunchTab, for those unfamiliar, allows publishers to dole out reward points to users who engage with the company or brand through the usual means: visits, Facebook likes, tweets, comments, etc. Visitors can later redeem the points they earn through a customized rewards catalog. The company also allows its business customers to build a user community on their own websites and blogs through the use of special PunchTab badges, which reward users for their participation.
The new product for agencies will officially arrive on Tuesday and will be called the “Agency Campaign Manager.” According to PunchTab founder (and YouSendIt founder) Ranjith Kumaranwill, the product will allow for easy execution of social incentives programs for web, social media and mobile. And it will include a full analytics dashboard to measure campaign performance, too.
Currently, Arby’s is running an incentives campaign with a $10K grand prize for the launch of their new sandwich, and is using PunchTab to encourage customers to post pictures of their dining experience on Instagram tagged #gourmazing. In the first four days of the campaign, over 4,000 posts were added to Instagram. Because Arby’s wants to drive foot traffic as well as awareness on Facebook and Twitter, PunchTab is also monitoring Foursquare checkins in addition to Twitter hashtags and friends invited via referral links.

eBay is also using PunchTab to promote its Green Driving initiative by giving away a 2012 Prius, with a goal of generating Facebook messages that will send traffic to a page on green.ebay.com.

Meanwhile, The Toy Industry Association used PunchTab to build buzz on its blog by rewarding users for engaging in the community. It then allowed attendees to continue to play at the Toy Fair in New York by rewarding Foursquare checkins at sponsoring hotels and restaurants, and gave away a grand prize of airfare + hotel stay on New Year’s Eve in New York.
PunchTab now powers over 8,000 loyalty programs, Kumaranwill tells us. That’s up from the 3,000 it powered in November, to give you an idea of its growth. It also now reaches 22 million consumers every month, up from 7.5 million, also in November.

Posted: 07 May 2012 07:41 AM PDT
There are plenty of travel sites out there, but have you ever noticed that almost all of them help you get where you’re going and then leave you all alone in the dark once you actually arrive there? What spots are must-see, what food is must-eat, and which shops do you absolutely have to pop into?
There really isn’t a great way to efficiently and reliably plan out a trip itinerary on the web, except of course for the new travel site and service, Fathom. And thanks to a new partnership with Kate Spade, Fathom is about to get a whole lot more fashionable in destinations like New York, L.A., London, Tokyo and Tahiti.
The site is a streamlined guide to the cities you want to visit, curated by former DailyCandy editors who can shed more light on food and good travel than most of the user-generated content out there. The core idea is tightly edited lists of places to go, food to eat, and things to do.
“24 is the magic number,” said founder Pavia Rosati.
The service compiles lists of 24 travel ideas, including old favorites, new finds, and multiple price points to make sure you can find what you’re looking for without sorting through a mess of madness. Rosati describes Fathom as the type of information your best friend would give you if they lived in the city you were traveling to, but couldn’t be there with you.
There are various features on the site, like Post Cards, which is set up around the structure of “I travel for the…” They are basically inspiration for the traveler. The idea is that even if you don’t know where to go for your upcoming vacation, you can figure out something great once you know your favorite part of travel, whether it be food, fun for the kids, shopping, or relaxing.
Fathom also features a store that lets you bring your favorite destinations back to you, with highly curated products. You can shop by destination, traveler, category or activity, meaning you can shop for a Safari or get your favorite mustard that’s only available in New Orleans.
Fathom has also just partnered with Kate Spade to bring Spade-themed travel guides to five locations, including New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London and Tahiti. If Tahiti sounds like the word that doesn’t belong, that’s simply because Kate Spade is working with a Tahitian-inspired print this year.
Each guide will have five sections, with five to eight suggestions for each category (sleep, eat, drink, shop, and explore). The guides will also feature itineraries, cheat sheets, and clever packing lists.

Posted: 07 May 2012 07:33 AM PDT
Design-friendly online invitations and stationery startup Paperless Post has raised $6 million in funding from RRE Ventures, SV Angel, Tim Draper and others. This brings the startup’s total funding to $12 million. Previous investors include Ram Shiram and Mousse Partners.
The startup is sort of like the anti-Evite, aiming to allow consumers to create sleek, design-focused, personalized invitations that deliver the same quality as paper stationery. Users can send out invitations for any occasion and monitor as guests receive and reply to their invitations. The New York company was launched in 2009 by brother and sister team James and Alexa Hirschfeld.
The startup offers specialized invitations for specific types of parties (i.e. birthdays, weddings, bridal showers), as well as greetings for occasions (sympathy, birthday, congratulations).
Not all invitations and greeting cards on the site are free; Paperless Post recently rolled out premium designs as well (the platform previously was paid-only). The free product is more simple, explains James, with invitations delivered directly in the email without the trademark envelope opening. Paid invitations include more design value and other features.
James tellus is that he and Alexa started the company because they felt that there was a gap in the online invitation market for a more design-centric, personalized invitation experience. “There needed to be a platform that allowed self-expressions through design without advertising,” he says.
As for the future, the company, which has sent 60 million invitations over the past three years, will be providing more social toolsto enhance engagement between friends connecting over Paperless Post. Alexa explains, “We’re thinking a lot about receiver and what we can build for them.” This includes calendar integrations and more. The company is seeing 100 percent year over year growth.
And she says that the new funding will also be used to move the platform entirely to HTML5. Currently, 30 percent of Paperless Posts’s traffic is mobile.
Paperless Post faces competition from Punchbowl, Evite and others.

Posted: 07 May 2012 07:29 AM PDT
Hot on the heels of its $70 million round, Evernote is making quick use of the new funds: today it announced that it has bought Penultimate, a digital handwriting app designed for the iPad. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Phil Libin, Evernote’s CEO, tells me that it is a cash-and-stock deal “to acquire the whole company.” Ben Zotto, the founder, will be joining Evernote as part of the deal.
While many acquisitions of this kind often lead to the original app getting shut down, that doesn’t appear to be the case here: Evernote says that it will extend Penultimate to become available on “more platforms and devices,” while at the same time using Penultimate’s technology to enhance handwriting functions on its own app.
Penultimate is a clever buy for Evernote because not only does it give the company new technology — but also potentially an opening to a wider base of users. Penultimate is the fourth-best-selling app for the iPad of all time, the company says, and most definitely the best-selling handwriting app.
“We have big plans for Penultimate that will both enhance the app and bring more capabilities into Evernote,” said Phil Libin, Evernote’s CEO, in a statement.
Penultimate, if you are not familiar with it, is a nifty app that looks like a notebook and lets users write with their fingers or with a stylus, with the ability to change paper and pen styles. It already had some integration with Evernote before today’s news: users could save notes directly to Evernote from the app.
It also dovetails nicely with Evernote’s own integrated, multi-media approach: users can incorporate pictures and other things into their hand-written notes, which as you can see from the picture above, sometimes are the only thing that will work for a note-taker.
Penultimate sells for $0.99 in the App Store.

Posted: 07 May 2012 07:07 AM PDT
Well, this morning seems like it’s going to be all about sequels. Not only do we have a shiny new Droid Incredible to wait for, AT&T has just pulled back the curtains on a new device in their Focus series of Windows Phones — the LTE-friendly Focus 2, which will launch on May 20 for a mere $49.99 with a two-year contract.
The Focus 2 may lack the star power and the marketing muscle behind devices like the Lumia 900, but it has managed to turn a few heads in recent weeks back when it was still known as the Samsung Mandel.
Neither AT&T nor Samsung have disclosed some of the juicier technical details, but the Focus 2 sports a 4-inch Super AMOLED display presumably running at the standard 800×480 as well a 5-megapixel rear camera and a VGA front-facer.
Early reports also pointed out that the device only comes with 8GB of internal memory, though whether or not that little detail has carried over into the final build is still frustratingly unclear. All of that fits nicely into a glossy white body (longtime readers may recall how fond I am of those) that comes in at just under 11mm thick.
AT&T aficionados may recall that the Samsung whipped up two Focus Windows Phones last year, the budget-friendly Focus Flash and the slightly-more-robust Focus S. I half-expected AT&T and Samsung to keep that trend going with yet another pair of differently-targeted Windows Phones, but this year AT&T already has those premium bases covered with devices like the Lumia 900 and the HTC Titan II.

Posted: 07 May 2012 06:59 AM PDT
comScore -1
Online and mobile research company comScore just released its newly rebooted and retooled Mobile Metrix report this morning, which examines mobile media usage across both apps and mobile web browsing. According to the new data, Google sites led as the top property on iOS, Android and RIM devices, reaching 96.9% of the U.S. mobile audience, followed by Facebook, Yahoo sites and Amazon sites. But apps dominated in terms of usage, says comScore, with 4 out of every 5 mobile media minutes spent in apps.
As far as which apps led the way, not surprisingly, built-in system apps came out on top, as did Facebook. But Facebook isn’t #1 – depending on the platform, the App Store or the Android Market holds the top spot, followed by either Google Search or Maps.
On the iPhone, iTunes was the top app, with 99.9% reach (what, did someone figure out how to delete iTunes off of their iPhone?), and was followed by Google Maps, at 91.2% reach. Facebook, meanwhile, was in the #3 spot, with an 80% reach. On Android, the rankings were a bit different – the Android Market…excuse me, Google Play store…was #1 (93.2% reach), followed by the Google Search app (84.1%), Maps (74.5%), Gmail (71.4%), and then Facebook (68.9%). Clearly, the numbers show that Android users gravitate towards Google’s own branded apps.

ComScore also looked at social networking properties by audience size, a measurement determined by both app usage and mobile site visitors. In this case, Facebook was an easy winner, with the average Facebook mobile user engaging for over 7 hours via browser or app in March. Twitter saw 25.6 million mobile users, engaging for nearly 2 hours during the month, but this statistic didn’t include usage by third-party apps (of which there are many), so may not be as accurate. People visiting Twitter on their computers spent only 20.4 minutes on Twitter.com, which comScore says highlights the importance of mobile engagement for brands. However, again, Twitter.com metrics are not the only way to account for Twitter users who engage on a Mac or PC – there are dozens of client applications, available both as desktop applications and those which run in the browser, neither of which were counted here.

The newly hot image pinboarding site Pinterest reached 7.5 million smartphone visitors who engaged with the brand for nearly an hour. (And this despite a number of anecdotal and app store review complaints of app bugginess, some of which were only recently addressed by the company through a mobile app update – Imagine what Pinterest could do with a killer app!).
Foursquare trailed Pinterest, with 5.5 million mobile visitors engaging at an average of nearly 2.5 hours. And Tumblr reached an audience of nearly 4.5 million who engaged for 68 minutes during the same time.
As with anything, methodology is an important consideration here. With the new comScore Mobile Metrix 2.0 reports, the company is bringing its Unified Digital Measurement to smartphone devices, which combines both sever-side and panel data to provide a snapshot of mobile web and app usage on smartphone devices. This is combined with census data to determine that the above metrics apply only to U.S. adults, age 18 and up.

Posted: 07 May 2012 06:45 AM PDT
When we first took a look at the HTC One S, we felt that it was just another Android phone, despite the quality hardware. With today’s introduction of the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE, the same sentiment rings true.
All the specs you’d expect are present and accounted for, including Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and HTC’s Sense 4 overlay, but I have yet to find a really stand-out feature on this third-generation device.
Of course, Droid Incredible 4G LTE (what a mouthful) owners will enjoy 4G LTE speeds courtesy of Verizon, which is a huge step up in its own right, but LTE will soon be a standard so we can’t get too excited over it. And since HTC made this bad boy, it will certainly come packed with Beats Audio integration.
Past that, a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 powers the device, with a 4-inch qHD LCD display up front and an 8-megapixel camera round the back. There’s also a front-facing camera for video chat, but what is actually kind of cool is a new feature called HTC Video Pic. Essentially, it lets you snap pictures while you’re recording HD video, like you would on some new point-and-shoots.
You’ll have an extra 32 GB of external storage as an option, and the mobile hotspot feature supports up to 10 devices. Pricing and availability are still quite unclear, but the phone will be available in Verizon stores and online in “the coming weeks.”

Posted: 07 May 2012 06:42 AM PDT
groupon logo
Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason today posted a letter to shareholders with some updated figures on how the company is doing, and a more specific outline of what Groupon plans to do to to move beyond daily deals: ”To become the operating system for local commerce.”
The move is a significant one as Groupon attempts to shore up investor confidence amidst a series of accounting issues, and the fact that some believe interest in the basic service of daily deals is beginning to wane.
It also underscores some of the challenges Groupon still faces as a company. Mason notes that at the moment there are “10 million geo-located subscribers engaging with Groupon every month who have yet to make a purchase.”
“Though the six months since our IPO have been rocky to say the least, the fundamentals of our business have continued to improve,” wrote Mason in the letter.
Mason’s letter today (on Groupon’s blog and also filed with the SEC), is a long one, and here are some of the highlights.
First he took investors through some of its milestone usage figures:
  • The company has now sold 170 million Groupons to date and counts 33 million active customers and 250,000 merchants in 48 countries.
  • In 2011, $2 billion in business sent to “Main Street” small merchants.
  • Also in 2011, 11 new products launched, including a several that take the company away from the daily deals format Groupon Goods, Getaways, Rewards, Now!, and Scheduler.
  • 11 acquisitions, including several in the mobile space in the year.
Meanwhile, Mason’s description of the next phase for Groupon is light on the specifics of what it will do, but essentially, the plan is for the the company to integrate those acquisitions and more in an attempt to create a platform for local commerce — which Mason says is a multi-trillion-dollar business.
“Today, Groupon is a marketing tool that connects consumers and merchants. Tomorrow, we aim to move upstream and serve as the entry point for local transactions,” he writes.
Mason notes that there have been several key achievements already in its plan to develop a platform. Among them, he says the company is continuing to hone its personalization algorithm. (His example is the area of SmartDeals in Chicago, which he says have a 50 percent higher purchase rate than emails sent without them — and if that means less offers for vajazzles for me, well then that’s awesome news.)
Mason says that Groupon is now rolling out SmartDeals outside of the U.S., with a broad rollout planned by the end of 2012.
Mobile is another area where Groupon is going large — not just in terms of acquisitions. That’s because apparently, according to Mason, the average Groupon mobile user spends more than 50 percent more than those who are not using mobile.
He notes that last month (April) nearly 30 percent of North American transactions were completed on mobile devices — although that doesn’t seem like much of an improvement than four months ago when it was 25 percent.
Mason doesn’t go into detail on this here, but Groupon has, among other acquisitions, bought companies that bring it closer to the point of sale so we may well see the company offering more services here and trying to be more active in the mobile payments space.
Mason also noted that its non-daily deal service — Groupon Now — has recently passed the 1.5 million items purchased mark. That’s a fair distance still from Amazon and other companies that are more established in straight e-commerce, but it’s a start.
Groupon Rewards, the company’s loyalty program, has now signed up about 30 percent of all eligible daily deal merchants.
And the company’s booking management service, Groupon Scheduler, is in the process of being upgraded, Mason says, with plans to offer “a fully automated yield management system for every local business.”
He notes: “Scheduler embodies our intent to provide every mom and pop store with powerful technology solutions that were once reserved for sophisticated corporations with multimillion-dollar budgets.”
“The company has seen revenues grow by 415 percent over 2010 to $1.6 billion in 2011, noted Mason, with its operating margin still showing the company at a loss — but significantly less so than before: it’s now at -14 percent for the full year compared to -134 percent a year ago. In terms of earns per share that loss is down to $0.12 compared to $0.48 a year ago.

Posted: 07 May 2012 06:14 AM PDT
Startup Personal, which aims to give consumers control over their digital data, is debuting an iPhone app today, adding to the company’s existing web and Android apps.
Personal is a free web and mobile service that helps you take control of all the digital information about yourself and your life, decide who gets access to it, and use it for your benefit. This information ranges from your passwords, your kids allergies, emergency contacts, credit card info, and more. Basically, any information you may not want to store in email but want to be able to share with your loved ones or friends.
With Personal you can store various information in ‘data vaults’ where you can selectively share certain vaults with people. Of course, all accounts on Personal include a legal guarantee that you own your data in the system. At the very heart of Personal, are what the startup calls ‘gems.’ Gems are nuggets of reusable information that represent the details of your life – your family, pets, car, home, office, food and travel preferences, and more.  You can decide which gems to add to your vault and which to share with others using our grant and request features. And you can download existing data from LinkedIn and Facebook. Personal also has a Gem Gallery, which is where you browse for the gems you need to use.
Using the iPhone app, Personal users can access all of their ‘Gems,” including logins and passwords, grant temporary access to their Wi-Fi info to guests at home or the office so they can quickly log on, give users access to loyalty programs and more.
The bonus of having this information stored in a mobile app is that you can access all of this on the go and share this information from anywhere.
The startup has raised $7.6 million in funding from Steve Case’s Revolution LLC, Allen&Company, and others.

Posted: 07 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Credit card giant MasterCard is debuting a new study today, called the MasterCard Mobile Payments Readiness Index, which analyzed 34 countries and their readiness to use three types of mobile payments: person to person, mobile commerce and mobile payments at the point of sale. MasterCard actually developed a proprietary algorithm that takes publicly available data as well as MasterCard-owned data to rank countries on their potential to adopt mobile payments.
The study showed that while it is still early stages for mobile payments adoption, Singapore, Canada, the U.S., Kenya and South Korea are the most prepared markets to accept this technology. Additional findings include that young affluent consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 years old are the most willing to use mobile payments as they recognize the value of using mobile payments instead of cash or payment cards. While this demographic was predominantly male in most countries, women showed higher levels of interest in countries such as China, Egypt and the Philippines.
The study also revealed that 9 of the 10 markets with the highest consumer scores are in Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa. Of the three mobile payment types, more consumers had actually engaged in m-commerce in 71 percent of the countries surveyed.
In developing economies, consumers are typically drawn to mobile payments for access to the larger economy, both national and global, as well as to a regulated and secure economic infrastructure. Consumers in the developed world are drawn to the convenience of mobile phone payments, says MasterCard.
Partnerships and collaboration among financial institutions, telcos, governments, technology providers and others is also key to reaching critical mass, says MasterCard.

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:17 AM PDT
harmonie logo
The iPad has, quite quickly, become the tablet of choice for enterprises, with some 97 percent of all tablet activations in Q1 of 2012 attributable to Apple’s tablet, according to Good Technology. So it comes as no surprise that apps are rushing into the wake of those purchases to make the iPad more work-friendly.
The latest in that story is a release of some social software from harmon.ie that will make SharePoint, the collaboration software from Microsoft, usable on the iPad, as well as the iPhone. Harmon.ie’s CEO, Yakov Cohen, says this marks the first time that business users can access SharePoint from both the iPad and desktop with the same user experience.
“Until now, you had solutions for business users only for the iPad or only for the desktop but not for both,” he says.
Harmon.ie has carved out a niche for itself as an integrator for enterprises that want to incorporate more “social” collaboration tools into their workflow on Windows but have held off for problems of security on consumer-grade social networks or for the fact that workers are not necessarily going on the internet as much as they are nosing around their own networks working on email.
The company says it already has 1 million people using its existing edition for Outlook, which which adds social features and collaboration to a user’s Outlook mail and calendar applications.
Putting SharePoint accessbility on the iPad gives harmon.ie a lot of potential in tapping a big market that has yet to be served: some 78 percent of corporate America already uses SharePoint, according to Forrester, with half of their workday (yes — half!) spent in email. Microsoft, perhaps understandably, has not created iPad and iPhone support for SharePoint itself.
The new service lets users create a presentation, drop it into SharePoint, send a link to colleagues via harmon.ie in Outlook or IBM’s Lotus Notes. Then users in that worker’s circle can subsequently access those documents on their PCs or their iPads (or iPhones). The system allows for both offline and online collaboration.
The product is available as a free, read-only version, and a full version for $19.99 that lets users edit and collaborate on documents on the SharePoint platform. An MDM version, allowing for more secure connections, will be available in Q2, the company says.
Similarly, support for Android and Windows 8 coming “in future,” says Cohen. (harmon.ie for iPad is HTML5-based, he says, which makes it relatively painless to provision it for all HTML5-based platforms.)

Posted: 07 May 2012 03:26 AM PDT
Angry Birds Space app screeshot
We all know what a wild success the Angry Birds franchise has been for Rovio, with the best-selling mobile games spawning cookbooks, toys and much more besides. Today the company revealed just what kind of an impact that has had on its bottom line for its really Big Year.
The company today issued a statement that noted that the company made $106.3 million (€75.4m) in revenue in 2011, with earnings before tax at $67.6 million (€48m) — with 30 percent of that coming from its merchandising and licensing activities. Monthly active users of the app are now at 200 million, with 648 million games downloaded in total.
I’m not totally sure — I’m still hunting — but it looks like this might be the first time ever that Rovio has put out annual results like this. It might be because it is looking for some more transparency in the lead up to an IPO. It’s something that has been informally discussed in the press before, with the Mighty Eagle, Peter Vesterbacka, in December telling Reuters that an IPO could come in 2013 on the Hong Kong exchange.
Today, Vesterbacka formally told me that there are “no further comments” on IPO plans.
The $106.2 million revenue figure/200M MAUs are nothing short of an enormous leap for Rovio. In 2010, it reported revenues of $7 million from the period from July to December. GiordanoContestabile from PopCap estimates that Rovio made $10 million in total in 2010. The company announced in March 2011 a Series A investment of $42 million from Accel and Atomico, and at that time it had “only” 40 million monthly active users.
Angry Birds first went live on iOS in December 2009.
Of $106.3 million in revenue, $32 million is coming from what Rovio calls Consumer Products, which includes both merchandising and licensing. Rovio says that it now has 200 licensing partners developing new products and services.
The company looks like it will be putting the gas on doing more of that in the future, even as it launches new games, perhaps beyond the Angry Birds brand:
“The strong growth in revenue clearly demonstrates the popularity of the Angry Birds brand." Mikael Hed, Rovio CEO said in a statement. "The heavy investments made in 2011 to all business areas will be seen in future products. To ensure continuous success we need to be creative and stay focused on entertaining our millions of fans by continuously developing new and innovative products and services.”
The company also ramped up its headcount about tenfold: it now has 224 employees compared to just 28 at the start of 2011.
Release below


Helsinki, Finland – Rovio Entertainment Ltd, the world's leading provider of mobile entertainment and creator of the Angry Birds franchise, today had the pleasure of announcing the financial results for the full calendar year of 2011.
Total revenue amounted to €75.4 million ($106,3 million) driven by strong growth in game download activity and consumer product sales. Earnings before tax were €48,0 million ($67.6 million) or 64% of total revenue in 2011.
“The strong growth in revenue clearly demonstrates the popularity of the Angry Birds brand." Mikael Hed, Rovio CEO said. "The heavy investments made in 2011 to all business areas will be seen in future products. To ensure continuous success we need to be creative and stay focused on entertaining our millions of fans by continuously developing new and innovative products and services.”
The Angry Birds franchise fuels Rovio's performance
The financial outcome of 2011 is very positive for Rovio.  Rovio's different business areas, Games, Advertising, and Consumer Products, are fully rolled out and generated both revenue and profit.
The Consumer Products business area, which includes both Merchandising and Licensing income, generated revenues that represent a about 30% of total revenue in 2011. The company was working together with more than 200 licensing partners on developing new products and services within the Angry Birds franchise.
Rovio's game offerings in 2011 consisted of three games, all based on the Angry Birds characters: Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, and Angry Birds Rio. The games are available as both free and paid versions on all popular mobile and connected devices. The total number of game downloads reached 648 million by the end of year 2011 and the total number of active monthly users, across all platforms, reached 200 million.
The number of employees grew from 28 to 224 during the year 2011.
Market and business development expectations
Future sales will to a large extent depend on the launch schedules and success of new games and initiatives in 2012. As sales of new devices remain the main driver for mobile game downloads, Rovio expects business to continue to grow accordingly.
"We are very optimistic about 2012 due to significant investments in product development, cutting-edge branding, brand protection and corporate infrastructure," Mikael Hed said.
- Currency exchange rates EUR/USD is based on 2011 median of 1,41.
- Rovio Entertainment Oy´s financial figures have been prepared in accordance with Finnish Accounting Standards (FAS).

Posted: 07 May 2012 03:05 AM PDT
security hole
As you may have seen over the weekend, someone has discovered a security hole in FileVault, which arose with the OS X Lion security update, version 10.7.3, back in February: FileVault encryption passwords are now visible in plain text outside of a computer’s encrypted area.
The hole was apparently spotted by someone back in February, although it was most publicly first pointed out by security consultant David Emery on the Cryptome blog a few days ago and the rest of the blogosphere has run with it.
Now, it appears that the problem could be bigger than previously thought: it turns out that the developer who first noticed the hole back in February has discovered that it exists outside of FileVault, too, with at least one other company’s security encryption software, Lion VM, from VMWare Fusion, showing the same behavior.
From earlier this morning, he wrote, in answer to his own thread started in February:
I’m not sure if I can support the assumption that this is an error in filevault.
I’ve just tried logging in as an network user in an newly setup and updated Lion VM (VMware Fusion) and run into the same behavior. Filevault was never active on this system.
Can someone with the following environment please verify:
- OpenDirectory users with Network Home on AFP
- Lion (10.7.3) Clients
- Snow Leopard or Lion Server
- Setup a new machine, or use one that never had filevault enabled
- Login as a (unprivileged!) network user with a Network Home on an AFP share
- logout, login as an admin user
- Check “Console” for log messages containing the string “_premountHomedir”
Please help to get to the bottom of this!
The security hole, as it exists in Apple’s own FileVault (and potentially other) encryption software, means that passwords for the encrypted part of a person’s computer are revealed in plain text to a user who knows where to look. As Sophos’ Naked Security blog notes:
Anyone with access to the disk can read the file containing the password and use it to log into the encrypted area of the disk, rendering the encryption pointless and permitting access to potentially sensitive documents. This could occur through theft, physical access, or a piece of malware that knows where to look.
That is yet another reminder of how, although we hear a lot about passwords needing to be   cryptic enough, ultimately if the encryption falls down on implementation, those passwords will be useless anyway. “How products store, manage and secure keys and passwords is the most common failure point in assuring data protection,” Chester Wisniewski of Sophos points out.
The advice he gives is to upgrade to a full-disc solution, such as FileVault 2 or another, and also to change your passwords if you’re a FileVault user.
It’s not clear how many users have been affected by this security flaw, which follows on another security mishap for Apple last month, when 600,000 Macs were apparently recruited into a botnet after a security update for Java was delayed in its release.
Apple’s been working for some time on improving the security of its operating systems — partnering with the security community to advance that aim — but as the company’s ubiquity continues to grow this will become even more urgent an issue.
We have contacted Apple for a response to this story and will update as we learn more.

Posted: 07 May 2012 01:49 AM PDT
Wonga.com, the successful but controversial payday loans provider, is extending its credit service to small businesses in the UK. The move is a smart one given the current economic climate. Banks have been lambasted for not lending to small businesses – Wonga is simply going to try and fill in the gap – and take advantage. Needless to say this could end up being a huge business for Wonga.
Despite attracting the ire of financial journalists – including the Daily Telegraph, which prevented it from winning its Startup 100 awards – Wonga has made as many as 4 million short-term loans to consumers since its launch in 2007.
The new scheme means it will be offering SMEs loans of £3,000 to £10,000 pounds for between one and 52 weeks depending on the application. Interest rates will be fixed at between 0.3 and 2 percent per week, with the risk attached to the loan.
Under the new service, business will have to provide information about their company and its directors, who personally guarantee the loan, as with normal Wonga loans. Wonga says the application takes about 12 minutes, and money can be transferred to the business in around half an hour.
Wonga has a sophisticated automated risk-processing algorithm to quickly tell an applicant if they can have a loan or not. It turns down about two-thirds of applications. This simple application process it being extended to small businesses.
Chief Executive Errol Damelin said: “We wanted it to have all the characteristics that people positively associate with Wonga in terms of transparency, simplicity, ease of use, speed … and we wanted to bring that to small business.”
Wonga has been criticized for charging just under 1 percent per day interest, something which can appeal to vulnerable people. However the company insists it takes these people out of the black hole of dealing with often violent loan sharks on the street, and also mainly appeals to white-collar workers who can usually afford the payments at the end of the month
Wonga does not take deposits and operates under a consumer-credit license, so it is not subject to the capital requirements that banks are. That means it is more free to lend than banks.
Wonga operates in Britain but is looking at Canada and South Africa. The company is backed by Accel Partners, Balderton Capital, Dawn Capital, Greylock Partners, Oak Investment Partners and the Wellcome Trust. The company raised £73 million in new capital a year ago.

Posted: 07 May 2012 01:02 AM PDT
google play app store
Way to blow your own horn, Google. Yesterday a newspaper in the UK, the Independent, ran a short item about how Google was about to reach an app milestone — 15 billion apps downloaded. So we reached out to Google to ask about this… and guess what? It already happened.
A Google spokesperson tells us the milestone was passed “a few weeks ago.”
The last number that Google released with more public declaration was 11 billion downloads, when the store was still called the Android Market, which it announced during its Q4 2011 earnings in January. In April, when Google reported its Q1 2012 earnings, it didn’t mention downloads on Google Play, the newly-rebranded store.
Apple reached 15 billion app downloads in July 2011, and the most recent number for Apple is 25 billion downloads in March 2012.
Doing the basic math, that roughly means that Google is seeing about 1 billion downloads of Android apps per month, while Apple is seeing about 1.25 billion app downloads per month.
So there is still a gap in aggregated downloads between the two platforms, despite that fact that Google has nearly caught up with Apple in terms of total number of apps: Currently Google Play has some 500,000 apps, while Apple has 600,000 apps in its app store.
There are other areas of disparity, it seems: Up to the end of January 2012, analyst Horace Dediu notes, Google has paid developers $320 million compared to $4 billion from Apple.
On the other hand, there seems to be other evidence pointing to the fact that Apple’s download rate is slowing down: Fiksu, for example claims that Apple’s app download rate fell by 30 percent in March.
For Google, the drive to have high volumes of app downloads is two-fold: it demonstrates to developers that this is an active and used platform, so that they continue developing for it. And it gives Google a bigger inventory from which it can potentially make more from advertising, which is the company’s real money spinner.
Data revealed in the Oracle v. Google trial over Java patents last week pointed to how Google’s Android effort was money-losing throughout 2010. Documents in the same case also showed that Google projected that it would make a profit on its mobile effort in 2011 and beyond — although we don’t have updated figures from Google that testify to whether that has been the case or not.
But those records also indicated that the vast majority of that revenue will be coming from advertising, with small but growing percentages also coming from app sales. In 2011, Google projected it would make $492.5 million in ads on Android with $14.5 million in app sales. For 2012, Google projected $804.3 million in ad sales with $35.9 million from app revenue.
Figures from those documents also showed that Google expected a loss of $113 million in 2010 from Android and that it expected to have profits of $64 million in 2011; $248 million in 2012; and $548 in 2013.

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