Friday, May 11, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch


The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Posted: 10 May 2012 09:17 AM PDT
knobs
Looking to relive your childhood or turn your iPad into a hackneyed political pun? You’d best get over to Ari Krupnik’s Kickstarter. For $60 you get a red or blue case that simulates the actual Etch-A-Sketch knobs, allowing you to perform all of the deft maneuvers to which you’re accustomed. Stair steps? Easy. Long curve? Go for it. Horrible script writing? Bingo.
The product is completely licensed by Ohio Art and the company is trilled with the attention and the high-tech upgrade to their flagship product. They may even manufacture the device in Ohio Arts’ factories.
We are negotiating with a number of contract manufacturers. The most intriguing option is Ohio Art’s invitation for us to use the same factory that manufactures the classic Etch A Sketch. Although it is more expensive than some the other options, we like the fact that they already know and understand Etch A Sketch. For instance, they know exactly what color red to use for the plastic–they simply use the same plastic they use in production!
The case will include a free iPad app that will help you simulate all of your childhood memories in full Retina detail. The project is at $6,000 of a $75,000 goal, so get pledging.
Project Page




Posted: 10 May 2012 09:05 AM PDT
Screen Shot 2012-05-10 at 8.51.10 AM
Minted, the company that is best known for its online marketplace for stationery with prints by individual graphic designers, has launched a new vertical: Art prints.
The art business on Minted is curated in the same way as stationery. Minted holds design competitions to which any graphic designer or artist can submit work, and the submissions are voted on by their peers — the community of artists and designers on the site call themselves “Minties.” Only the top designs as voted on by the community are presented for sale.
According to Minted CEO and founder Mariam Naficy, the expansion into art was really inspired by its “Mintie” community. “As we saw all of this beautiful art streaming in, we realized we weren’t really a stationery retailer, we were a design community. The range and the strength of oru designers was so strong that it can be used in different ways as artwork in people’s homes,” she said. “We realized that many years ago, and this is really an unfolding from our core.”
The competition aspect and the design community is what really sets Minted apart from other players in the space such as Art.com, Naficy said. The pieces will be priced in a middle range, above posters and most standard replica prints but below high-end commissioned artwork.
From a business perspective, it is a really sharp move. Minted has become hugely popular for things such as wedding invitations and holiday cards — which are, obviously, quite seasonal businesses. The art print category is something that could be strong year-round. Minted’s customer base is also primarily female at the moment, as women are more likely to head up purchasing of stationery. Art is something that could appeal more to both genders.
While this is the first vertical Minted is launching beyond stationery, it is probably not the last, Naficy said. “The designers don’t define themselves in terms of product categories. We business people might, but not the designers,” she said. “But they can see their art in a number of design-driven categories. This is just one way that it will unfold.”
Minted, which was founded in 2008 and has 60 full-time employees, has taken on $8 million in two rounds of venture capital funding.
The company held a launch party in San Francisco last night at CEO and founder Mariam Naficy’s home. TechCrunch TV was there, and you can watch the video above to check out the scene and see our interview with Naficy about the new business. In May and December of this year, Minted will give 50 percent of the proceeds from its children's art category to Every Mother Counts, a maternal health advocacy campaign founded by Christy Turlington Burns, who we also had the opportunity to interview (which I have to say was pretty cool, as it’s not every day at TechCrunch that I get to interview a supermodel.)




Posted: 10 May 2012 09:02 AM PDT
Screen Shot 2012-05-10 at 8.30.33 AM
Assured Labor, a mobile-centric job networking startup that was founded at MIT four years ago, is breaking into another Latin American market. The company is launching in Brazil with a localized service called TrabalhoJ√°. This adds to its reach in Mexico and Nicaragua.
“Most of the job sites in Brazil charge job seekers, sometimes up to $50,” said Assured Labor’s CEO David Reich. “We’re totally free and job hunters don’t have to be extorted.”
Assured Labor is a feature phone-based service that helps job seekers land work. The company targets workers that might only have cell phones and lack personal computers or a broadband connection. You can kind of think of it like a LinkedIn for the developing world.
Workers often sign-up in Internet cafes and then the product texts them whenever there are relevant work opportunities that match their skills or what they’re looking for. The service also just started doing voice pre-screenings with candidates. That lets them answer some questions so that employers can vet them before bringing them in for interviews.
Reich started working on the company while in business school at MIT. The company started with a pilot in Nicaragua and then expanded to Mexico. It now has about 250,000 candidates and 5,000 employers and earns revenue from employers, who pay to reach prospective candidates.
The company has raised more than $1 million in funding from angels including former Skype chief executive and chairman Michael Van Swaiij, Kima Ventures and Nexus Venture Partners.




Posted: 10 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT
squrl
Squrl has released a new app that has optimized many of the features of its video discovery application for the iPad and made them available on the iPhone. It also hopes to increase engagement by allowing users to seamlessly share the videos that they’re watching with friends on Facebook.
When Squrl released its first app about a year ago, most of its focus was on bookmarking videos and saving them for later. But since then, the company has moved more toward helping viewers find new videos that they might want to watch.
The new Squrl iPhone app simplifies that process even further, by reducing the number of steps it takes for users to key in on channels that they’re interested in. Squrl has narrowed down selected video options into channels that viewers can choose from. Instead of selecting from a wide range of video publishers at launch, users are now given a choice of eight categories: “Make me laugh” for comedy, “Show me the future” for tech news, and so on.
After choosing channels they want to watch, users are asked to connect their Facebook and Twitter accounts on the new app. If they choose to connect with Facebook, the app will also begin seamlessly sharing their activity with their friends on the social network. That’s a big change for Squrl, which TechCrunch knocked last month for “not being social enough.”
Importantly, the app doesn’t share the titles of individual videos users have watched, but instead highlights the publishers or channels that they’re focused on. That was a decision founders Mark Gray and Michael Hoydich made after seeing the reaction to some other video apps which have begun to take over users’ Facebook Timelines. It also seeks to give users more control over what they’re sharing on the network, allowing them to easily turn sharing on or off. The point is not to be spammy, or to make users inadvertently share videos on Facebook that they don’t want others to see.
That said, the hope is that being on Facebook will increase engagement between users, and, well, also increase the number of downloads and installations of the app. So far the Squrl guys have been focused more on the former, driving up the amount of time that their users spend with the app. On that front, things have been going smashingly well. Gray reports that users spend an average of about 50 minutes per session watching videos on the app.
Part of the reason for that session time is that users are turning to Squrl as a way to find videos which they then send to Apple TV via AirPlay. Viewers can browse videos from providers like Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, College Humor, and Funny or Die… And Squrl also recently added publishers such as Khan Academy, BloombergTV, Chow, DIY Network, and the Travel Channel. Amazingly, all those publishers work with AirPlay for now (fingers crossed things stay that way).
There are eight folks on the Squrl team now, and the company has been mostly self-funded to date, although the founders are talking about raising some money in the coming months. Best of luck to them — they’re great dudes.




Posted: 10 May 2012 08:57 AM PDT
joeyhopper
Tell me if this sounds familiar — you’re sitting on a couch watching television, and the commercial breaks seem way longer than the snippets of the show you’re actually trying to watch.
As it turns out, some Dish Network customers have been granted a bit of respite from that advertising onslaught. Users who have their living rooms tricked out with the company’s Hopper DVRs can now automatically skip every commercial break with a single touch thanks to their newly-launched Auto Hop feature.
They’ll never have to sit (or 30-second skip) through another promo for America’s Got Talent ever again… unless they’re the kind of people who like their television live.
You see, that new Auto-Hop functionality only works as part of the DVR’s PrimeTime Anytime feature, which can automatically record and store primetime TV programs from ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC in HD for up to eight days. That’s admittedly a pretty cool concept on its own — users are stripped of the need to set up recordings and make plans around their favorite network television shows, as their box just stores all of it — and Auto Hop makes it less of a headache whenever people actually get to sit down and veg out.
Most of the time, anyway. According to a recent release from the television service provider, Auto Hop works with “most shows recorded using PrimeTime Anytime,” which only stokes the flames of my curiosity: what shows won’t it work with?
Alas, while Auto Hop would be a marvelous addition to the live television watching experience, we’ll just have to settle for the feature as it stands. Dish subscribers who don’t have the prerequisite hardware (or would rather watch TV at the same time everyone else does) still have the standard 30 second time skip to lean on.




Posted: 10 May 2012 08:21 AM PDT
Isis Mobile Wallet screenshot
Isis, the carrier-led joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, is gaining steam and has today announced a new addition to its mobile wallet: American Express. The Isis Mobile Wallet will now support American Express’ Consumer, Open Small Business and Serve cards, joining Chase, Capital One and Barclaycard, which have previously committed to the program.
A mobile wallet leader has not yet emerged – Square is growing, and Google Wallet has been floundering – but the space is still really new. Although half of the U.S.’s mobile population use smartphones, making transactions via the phone has yet to establish itself as a real, or more importantly, as a better alternative to the swipe. But if there’s a piece of the mobile payments pie to be had, you can be sure the carriers want in. Hence, Isis.
The initiative is slowly moving forward, with its bankcard partnerships having been announced in February, new POS partners Verifone, Ingenico and ViVOtech announced in March, and last summer, its partnerships with payment networks (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express) and device makers (HTC, LG, Motorola, RIM, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson).
Of the new AmEx relationship, the Serve addition may be the most interesting. Serve, as you may recall is American Express’ new digital payments and commerce platform which is, in effect, its own digital wallet of sorts. Serve integrates a variety of payment options into a single account that can be funded by a bank account, debit or credit card. With Isis, the Serve digital platform becomes a bit like a mobile wallet within a wallet. This actually makes more sense, as a real mobile wallet should mirror our offline counterpart and include all the bank cards we use, not just those from a single entity.
Later this year, Isis will roll out its first pilot tests in Salt Lake City and Austin in advance of its public availability. While the moves seem slow to those watching the space, you have to acknowledge that building up the partnerships in advance and then thoroughly testing the product before hyping its launch, may be a smarter way to encourage eventual consumer adoption of the Isis wallet over..well, Square perhaps, and whatever Apple might announce one day, if it chooses to do so.




Posted: 10 May 2012 08:07 AM PDT
Screen shot 2012-05-10 at 11.18.04 AM
You’ve seen the ads. What once was Carly in a pink dress, talking about her myTouch 4G that let her Facebook her face off and while making little “digs” at AT&T, has now become a biker chic badass whizzing by an iPhone biker with a wink and a hat tip. She’s now edgy, and has the leather to prove it.
But T-Mobile is getting punchier on its own. Even in its earnings call today, T-Mo’s CEO Phillip Hume said it himself, “the iPhone is slow, even on AT&T’s network.”
If you can’t join ‘em, might as well start punching, right?
It was just five months ago that the deal between AT&T and T-Mobile fell through, taking what was already a rather fierce rivalry and turning it into an advertising blood bath.
But T-Mobile is choosing to throw some stones with its new pile of rubble, and the refocus may actually pay off. According to the call, the social media feedback on Carly’s new look has been great, but without more real-world action the increase in mindshare means nothing. That said, T-Mobile is adding more than 7,000 doors in the first half of next year, with remodeling of stores still underway.
The carrier is also making a push in the enterprise market. B2B activations are up 15.5 percent year-over-year as of Q1.
Most importantly, T-Mo is putting a huge effort into building out its 4G LTE network to be ready by 2013. Currently, the carrier only touts up to 42Mbps speeds on its faux-”4G” HSPA+ network, which isn’t legitimate 4G LTE by any means, but Hume made sure to point out that T-Mobile 3G is still faster than AT&T 3G.
In fact, the CEO pointed to a test done by PCWorld that claims that “T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 21 service won in the 3G bracket of [the] study, and the company’s high-end HSPA+ 42 service competed reasonably well with other providers’ 4G service.”
T-Mobile plans and prices are already lower and more flexible than most carriers, so if Pinky can stay afloat while building out more stores and a better network, this fight may get even more interesting as time goes on.




Posted: 10 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT
i-dont-want-to-live-on-this-planet-anymore-11372-2560x1600

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. *Deep breath* No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.No. No. No. No. No. No.
What the hell is this mess? Nokia, a company struggling to rebrand its image to survive in the iPhone world, should not turn to hip-hop parodies for help. I mean, I’m always up for a good chuckle. My wife tells me I’m a fun guy. But this thing makes me want to retract every nice thing I’ve written about Nokia.
The story goes that this video was shot in a Nokia Boston office in a desperate plea for viral attention for Nokia’s developer conference. I guess it worked. It will no doubt enter the Internet halls of shame and flanked by Rebecca Black and Chocolate Rain. However, this video, The Nokia Lumia Rap, truly challenges the timeless adage of there is no such thing as bad publicity — even Gizmodo thinks it’s bad.
Update: They pulled the video, which is probably for the best for humanity and Nokia alike. It must be somewhere online. Checking.
Update 2: Until the video resurfaces, here are the wonderful lyrics courteous of Nokia fan site, My Nokia Blog.
LYRICS
dev, dev, city kid, city kid
dev, dev, dev city kid, city kid, dev
dev, dev, dev city kid, city kid
Mutha on the beat
Hah!
[Verse 1:] – Smixx
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
ten ten ten twenties and we flippin' bits
100 deep coding hard no guest list
Nokias who we're messin wit
Got my other bits messin' with my other bits
Codin' all night figure we ain't ready yet
Make it work too dope I ain't selling it
Decoder's fresher than another stick a peppermint
Dope sweater we the first kings killin this
Young money young money gettin' bounty rich
We got that Metro on this ish
you know what it is
[Chorus:] – Smixx (Cory)
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
ten ten ten twenties and we flippin' bits
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
Been codin' since a youngin now I'm gettin' rich
[Verse 2:] – The Product (Christian)
I'm a money makin' star
buy the club rounds on my card
Got the sick rims on my brand new car…
y'all dev's get out walk the boulevard
I get my apps done pronto
Push it in the mornin' and I'm gonzo
Hanchos gonna make it rain buy a poncho
You ain't gettin' money made but you want dough
Head phones on tilt seat back
Steady codin' on it keys get tapped
lovin' this platform, some too packed
d/l numbers going up like gas
Hot damn pull away from the pack
Localized it so I'm big in japan
Tat t-t-t-tatted up gettin stacks
Steve Balma love's me
you know how it is
[Chorus:] – The Product (Christian)
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
hacking code on them apps and I'm getting cheques
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
dev city kid, dev, dev city kid
ten ten ten twenties and them fifties Smixx
[Verse 3:] – Smixx (Cory)
I want a lumia in my pocket
so I'm ready to win
I choose to rocket
and not just contend
I see the leaderboard
and want my name at the top
just to know that I brought it
to know I've still got it
that I've snagged my reward
and man I'm not bored
when I'm out for blood
and I'm going in hard
I want to build an experience
not just another app
this whole mobile thing
is not just another fad
Nine hunnids, hunnids
Nine hunnids, hunnids
Nine hunnids, hunnids
Nine hunnids, hunnids
Update 3: I love my job.





Posted: 10 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT
mixpanel-logo
Y Combinator-backed analytics startup Mixpanel can now add Andreessen Horowitz to an already-impressive list of investors.
Mixpanel previously raised $1.75 million from Sequoia Capital, Square COO Keith Rabois, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, and Bebo co-founder Michael Birch. Now Andreessen Horowitz has led a $10.25 million Series A, with participation from Levchin, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, and Yammer CEO David Sacks. (It looks like Sequoia sat out the current round, though I’ve emailed Mixpanel to confirm.) Andreessen Horowitz’s Peter Levine is joining the company’s board.
"We've watched [co-founder Suhail Doshi] and his team at Mixpanel transform the company from an innovative startup to one that delivers the most advanced solution we've seen for mobile and web analytics,” Levine says in the press release.
Doshi has pitched Mixpanel as an affordable, innovative alternative to old-school analytics companies like Omniture. Back in February, he told me that Mixpanel was tracking 4 billion actions for its customers each month. Less than three months later, Doshi says that number is now more than 7 billion. A lot of that growth has been on the mobile side. In fact, Doshi claims that aside from Instagram, most of the high-profile, hit smartphone apps use Mixpanel. Two new customers include Path and Viddy — and since Socialcam was already a customer, that means Mixpanel is serving the two big apps duking it out for dominance of mobile video sharing.
The next big update to the product will involve making Mixpanel data more actionable, Doshi says — so, for example, instead of just helping gaming companies identify which players are “whales” (i.e., the biggest spenders), it will also help them figure out what to do with that knowledge. Doshi also says he wants to start spending a lot more aggressively on recruiting employees. That’s a normal part of the plan when a company raises money, but Doshi lays out a particularly ambitious vision.
“Not only do we want to spoil our current employees, but we think we can out-compete Google and Facebook in terms of making it an awesome place to work,” he says.




Posted: 10 May 2012 07:49 AM PDT
androidfundasia17
Mobile ad and monetization platform Tapjoy is announcing a new $5 million fund – the “Tapjoy Asia Fund” – which aims to support development and marketing of free-to-play mobile games on both iOS and Android. The new fund is an extension of the company’s earlier $5 million push from June of last year, which encouraged developers to port their iOS games to Android.
The first fund arrived at a time when Apple had begun cracking down on incentivized downloads – programs which rewarded users with virtual items or coins if they would install another promoted application. At the time, it seemed as if Tapjoy was hoping to kick-start Android development efforts mainly due to Apple’s move to ban iOS apps that used pay-per-install ads. The fund eventually resulted in 155 new apps being developed, the company now claims.
The newly announced Asia Fund will not be solely focused on Android, but will support any developers throughout Asia building free-to-play games on Android or iOS. These developers will have access to working capital, distribution via Tapjoy’s ad network, access to Tapjoy’s Ad Marketplace, Tapjoy’s in-house gaming and virtual economy expertise, consulting and optimization support and real-time reporting.
Tapjoy already has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul to help support the developers who apply. The company says it will choose the fund’s recipients based on their gaming experience and talent.
The company now reaches over 20,000 mobile applications and 600 million consumers, and has thousands of developers using its ad-funded payment platform and app discovery marketplace. Tapjoy doesn’t just rely on incentivized installs to attract users today – it also offers users virtual rewards for other actions, like watching videos, subscribing to services and participating in other ads.




Posted: 10 May 2012 07:31 AM PDT
LetsWombat_Logo_TC
When I think of product sampling, I remember the glorious days of wheeling around the grocery store with my mom and picking up every cheese and meat-laden toothpick in the building. My mom hated it. She was quite organized, and knew exactly what she wanted from the trip, while I was busy begging for the salami I just discovered or the special water crackers I sampled with a cube of Colby Jack.
She didn’t run off and buy the stuff I had sampled (probably because she never actually tried it), and I obviously wasn’t old enough to throw down cash for a box of crackers.
But clearly, product sampling can be big for a brand if it hits the right demographic in the right setting, which is exactly the business proposition of a new startup called LetsWombat.
The idea is relatively simple, though the tech and analytics behind it are far from it. In short, LetsWombat talks to a brand about the demographic they’d like to reach. Perhaps my new all local and organic beef jerky (can beef jerky be organic?) company wants to reach hungry, lumberjack style men between 18-35.
LetsWombat has a database of all the events happening all over the place, and can see that the annual Wing Bowl — an equally entertaining and disgusting show of food-to-mouth-to-belly talent — is going down next week. LetsWombat contacts the organizer and sets up my product sampling of my delicate and extraordinary beef jerky at the contest, offering up a natural and unobtrusive way for consumers to check out my product.
That, in and of itself, is fine and dandy, but I’d need some metrics on how the campaign worked. LetsWombat is able to track the social media conversation during and after the event for me through a mobile web app, which tracks impact including reach, feedback and ROI.
The startup just finished its pilot program with 10 brands, and will continue providing its service to various brands with a focus in the snack and beverages market.




Posted: 10 May 2012 07:28 AM PDT
whaletail
The WhaleTail, not to be confused with the whale tail made popular by Midwest girls, attempts to make holding a tablet or notebook a bit easier. The $50 device suctions onto a flat surface and then provides a flexible tail, a whale tail if you will, for additional handheld support and table top mounting. The thought is that these devices are so sleek and smooth that users need a bit of help holding them. Fine, okay.
This is actually a growing trend. Several upstart companies are outing similar devices that attach to he back of tabs and smartphones to assist when holding. I can only assume there’s a market for such items. Tablets are hitting more demographics as companies start utilizing them in different use cases that often require users to hold them for extended periods of time. They’re mostly utilitarian devices where the WhaleTail takes it to the other end of the spectrum. It offers a large round bottom to form to a user’s hand and a flexible tail for additional support.
Do you need this in your life? Probably not. Would it make your life better? Perhaps if you hold your iPad precariously and need a little extra grip.




Posted: 10 May 2012 07:27 AM PDT
hellofax logo
When Google Drive launched at the end of April, a wave of partner apps launched too. Now Y Combinator-backed HelloFax, the startup behind one of those apps, says its Google Drive app has seen rapid uptake, with 51,000 installs in about two weeks.
In fact, the company says that number makes it the most-installed of the Google Drive apps. The claim seems a little odd at first, since there are other apps in the Google Drive section of the Chrome Web Store that show a much higher user count — LucidChart, for example, for example, has 332,930. However, HelloFax says those user counts don’t show an app’s strength on Google Drive specifically, because some were previously available as Chrome extensions.
So to get the true “lift”, HelloFax looked at the competition’s user numbers on the day Google Drive launched, and tracked how much they’ve grown since then. On that front, the company says it comes out as the winner by a strong margin — the runners-up are Pixlr Editor and SlideRocket, which have supposedly grown by 33,000 installs each. (It’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, however, because someone who installed those extensions prior to the Google Drive launch can now use them with Drive — no additional install required.)
As for the app itself, it sounds like it mirrors the general HelloFax goal of enabling users to send, receive, and sign faxes online — just, in this case, from Google Drive. It includes 50 free outbound faxes a month, as well as unlimited signing and unlimited signature requests.




Posted: 10 May 2012 06:57 AM PDT
Screen Shot 2012-05-10 at 08.13.39
It’s easy to miss the launch of the latest movies. You get a week of marketing and by the time you’ve figured out if you want to see it or not, it’s moved off the theatre and you’re waiting for the DVD release. Most movie marketing dollars are spent in these first few days. So MoviePilot, launched out of Berlin, brings upcoming films to fans based on their taste, turning the marketing model on its head and making better use of budgets. It focuses solely on upcoming movie projects and TV shows so that fans are less likely to miss new releases. This gives them a place to gather often long before official homepages are created, finding the right film for its natural audience and the right audience for a film.
Today it’s sealed a $7 million Series B financing, led by leading venture capital firm DFJ Esprit, and continued participation from existing VC funds T-Venture, Grazia Equity and VC Fund Creative Industries Berlin. This will be used to expand in the US and develop the platform.
Tobi Bauckhage, MoviePilot CEO and co-founder says “The campaigns we have already run on behalf of the world's biggest studios have given us a fantastic base to further develop our brand of social marketing services for movies."
So far MoviePilot worked with studios like Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Disney and Paramount in the US and worldwide on movies such as “Chronicle”. Moviepilot.com and sister site Moviepilot.de have a combined Facebook fanbase of 5.4 million.
Disney, Universal and Paramount have been working with the German version of Moviepilot.de since its launch in 2007.
MoviePilot was founded by filmmakers Tobias Bauckhage and Jon Handschin (CPO), as well as former OMDB founder Benjamin Krause (CTO). The company has previously received funding from Grazia Equity, Passion Capital's Stefan Glanzer and Deutsche Telekom Ventures, as well as Peter Read, who previously ran Nielsen Entertainment for the movie studios in Los Angeles.
I interviewed Bauckhage in Berlin:




Posted: 10 May 2012 06:55 AM PDT
jumio-logo
Mobile and online payments and ID verification startup Jumio has received an additional Series B investment led by Citi Ventures, a unit of global financial services company Citi. The funding follows Jumio’s $25.5 million Series B from March, led by Andreessen Horowitz. Although Citi’s investment amount is not being disclosed, to date, Jumio has raised $35.4 million in funding.
Other investors in the company include Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Peng T. Ong, partner at GSR Ventures and founder of Match.com, and Vivek Ranadiv√©, founder of TIBCO.
Alongside Citi’s investment, Jumio also announced that Ramneek Gupta, Managing Director at Citi Ventures, joined Jumio's board of directors as an observer.
Founded by Daniel Mattes in 2010, Jumio is building a platform which uses computer vision and advanced algorithms to identify credit, debit and ID cards which are held up in front of a computer’s webcam or a mobile phone’s camera. In the case of bank cards, via a product called Netswipe, Jumio is able to “see” the numbers on the card, and then automatically enters them into the form on an e-commerce or m-commerce website or within an application. This is arguably more advantageous on mobile phones, where typing in a long string of numbers on a small keyboard can be cumbersome.
A newer product called NetVerify is taking Jumio’s computer vision techniques and applying them to reading ID cards. Netverify allows merchants to confirm a customer's identity in real-time, in order to continue an in-process transaction without interruption, eliminating the need for consumers to scan and fax copies of their ID. Instead, they simply hold their ID up to a webcam, Netverify scans it and the merchant gets an instant verification. This will be especially useful for banking and financial institutions – like Citi, of course.
Both products were launched last year, and Jumio recently announced a string of customer deals covering transaction volume of $154 billion.
As for the Citi deal, the company says that Citi saw a lot of potential for Jumio to innovate in the payment space. Citi Ventures' Ramneek Gupta adds “The Jumio team's innovative solutions for remote authentication caught our attention as soon as we heard about them. We believe their solutions have the potential to help the online and mobile banking industry overcome key challenges related to fraud and identity theft,” he says.
Jumio says it now has deals in the works with customers in the U.S. and Asia which will be announced later this year.




Posted: 10 May 2012 06:35 AM PDT
Filters
KLIK, the real-time, facial recognition iPhone camera app from Face.com, has released its official 1.0 version today. (The previous version, which debuted in January, was a beta). The production version of the app includes significantly enhanced recognition capabilities as well as – you guessed it! – photo filters. (Sigh, thanks Instagram.)
Despite hopping on the photo-filtering bandwagon, KLIK, if you haven’t yet tried it, is kind of cool. The app lets you take a picture of your friends, which it automatically recognizes, using Facebook as its photo-sourcing database. Of course, that means if your friends aren’t active Facebook users, it will have more trouble ID’ing them – but you’ve got to start somewhere. And Facebook’s 900+ million users is probably the best place (outside of Google images, perhaps) to train your face-detecting algorithms.
KLIK only recognizes faces’ belonging to your friends, however, so there’s no creepiness in what it’s doing. (Darn. I say bring on the creepy. Creepy is progressive.) But with KLIK, you already know the people in the photos, so it’s  just helping you tag them faster. After tagging the photos, they can then be shared to Facebook, Twitter or via email. The photo also appears in an in-app photostream, which shows you pictures taken by nearby friends. You can comment, like and geo-tag the photos in KLIK, too.
The photo-filtering feature, called “Face Filters,” includes a set of artistic filters designed especially for picture’s of people’s faces. It’s actually not so bad.
At the end of the day, KLIK probably won’t become your go-to camera replacement app, and you’ll probably forget to use it after some time. And even though it can face-detect folks in your phone’s camera roll, it’s not a batch process – you have to do things one-by-one. Still, the level of accuracy is impressive, and this is, after all, only the 1.0 release. Stay tuned.
You can grab KLIK from iTunes here.




Posted: 10 May 2012 06:30 AM PDT
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Let’s say you’re a video publisher who wants all the world to have access to your content… But translating videos into multiple languages is time-consuming and expensive — that is, unless you’ve got a team of volunteers to do it for you. One of the most efficient way to tackle the problem is by crowdsourcing subtitles, which is why translation startup Amara has raised $1 million from Mozilla and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Amara, previously known as Universal Subtitles, was created as an open-source platform to allow anyone to crowdsource transcriptions and translations of video content. Its technology has been used by volunteers to translate and create subtitles for more than 170,000 videos, including President Barack Obama's message to Sudan and the KONY 2012 video, which was available in more than 35 languages in four days.
With the funding, the Amara team will be releasing an enterprise version of the platform, which its customers can use within their own organizations — whether it be to collaborate on subtitle creations in-house, or to open up translation to outside volunteers. And with flexible APIs, the system is designed to work with publishers’ existing content management systems and publishing workflows, according to Amara co-founder and executive director Nicholas Reville.
Amara is already working with some major publishers — including news organizations like PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera, as well as educational video providers such as Khan Academy — to make their content more accessible to a broader audience.
While Amara is focused on making content accessible to viewers around the world, there are other benefits to having subtitles for online videos: Doing so can improve SEO, and it makes them available to those who are hard of hearing as well. That’s important particularly as Congress passed a law last year requiring publishers to have subtitles on videos that appear online. All of which is why Amara believes it’s in a nice spot, as publishers will soon need tools to provide those subtitles.
Amara, which was formed as part of an open source project within the Participatory Culture Foundation. It now has a team of about 20 working at the startup, which it expects to roll out to at least 10 more customers over the coming months.




Posted: 10 May 2012 06:24 AM PDT
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In the riveting story of consumer electronics, the lowly point-and-shoot camera is about to be cut. Its days are numbered and cheap cameras are becoming increasingly less relevant as smartphones steal the limelight. The point-and-shoot camera will soon be just a supporting character.
Samsung sees the writing on the wall, too. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Han Myoung-sup, head of the company’s digital imaging division, indicated that the massive Korean empire will shift away from “low-end compact cameras” in an effort to concentrate on mirrorless cameras. This bet, which is the correct move by the way, shows the company’s foresight as it’s very similar to the one Samsung made several years ago when it decided to shift away from its own smartphone platforms and instead concentrate on Android. This will pay off big for Sammy.
Mirrorless cameras have so far seen a slow start. The technology forgoes the tradition bulky and complex mirror system found in digital SLR cameras. A properly named mirrorless system sits in its place, allowing the camera body to be significantly smaller than DSLR. In most cases, mirrorless camera bodies are as thin as the compact cameras they’re attempting to replace. The redesigned camera sensor is then paired with an interchangeable lens system, which allows camera makers to deploy higher quality (high margin) glass lenses.
As the WSJ points out, Samsung currently holds just 5% of this growing market, which is projected to rise 60% this year while point-and-shoot sales are decreasing. This focus shift should allow the company the freedom to further explore the market and position their mirrorless cameras as lovely companions for their widely popular Android smartphones.
Samsung’s current mirrorless camera lineup employs several smart features that make the models a compelling companion for current Samsung customers. Samsung is building around a single platform that leverages proprietary sharing functions. A Samsung smartphone can easily share pics to a Samsung TV while a Samsung mirrorless camera is using the smartphone’s wireless connectivity. It’s a family built on sharing and Samsung is the only company with the customer and product base large enough to pull off such a hat trick.
Samsung moved 20 million Galaxy S II smartphones in 2011. Samsung is the leader in TVs for six years running and sold two HDTVs every second last November. Much to Sony’s chagrin, consumers have been latching onto Samsung for the last several years and then just a few months back at CES 2012, the company unveiled its latest innovation that essentially connects all its products. Mirrorless cameras are a big part of that push.
For the most part mirrorless cameras can command a higher margin than point-and-shoots. They’re positioned as a premium product even if the manufacturing cost is similar to cheap p&s models. But right now, the models are still somewhat rare and stuck in a niche spot between the low-end budget cameras and pricy DSLR. Samsung is attempting to break it out and own the market.
This is the right move for Samsung. Moving away from budget cell phones paid off big time. Samsung is in a dominant position in smartphones. Doing the same with digital cameras will likely yield the same result. Look for Samsung to use similar tactics and flood the market with mirrorless cameras targeting different price points. But this is just part of a larger quest for Samsung. The company is attempting (and arguably succeeding) at becoming the global leader in consumer electronics. John put it correctly at CES: Samsung is the next Apple.




Posted: 10 May 2012 06:24 AM PDT
casey's contraptions rovio
Yesterday Rovio announced that it had reached 1 billion downloads of games from its hugely popular Angry Birds franchise — and with it, a little teaser of what might come next from the Finnish developers.
Today the company has confirmed to us some more detail about that, and the clearest sign yet of what it plans for its big follow up. It says that it has bought the IP for the game Casey’s Contraptions — Casey is the guy in the little video clip yesterday, pictured here — from Snappy Touch and Mystery Coconut.
The original title developed by Mystery Coconut and Snappy Touch is no longer available. Rovio’s Ville Heijari, VP of franchise development wrote in an email to me that the new title – effectively Rovio’s follow-up to Angry Birds – will come this summer, first on iOS and Android, then “extending to further platforms rapidly after that.”
“Working with [developers] Noel and Miguel has been fantastic, and this is a game that we all fell in love with from the first play,” Heijari wrote in response to my question yesterday about the video. “The gameplay is a perfect fit in our arsenal with its approachable, fun and highly addictive take on the physics puzzler genre.”
He adds that Rovio is currently reworking and rebranding the title, and “getting ready to re-introduce it in a true ‘expect the unexpected’ Rovio-style launch to an even larger audience.”
Rovio has had a huge success with Angry Birds, not only reaching 1 billion downloads across the different titles and platforms, but also increased revenues tenfold to $106.3 million in 2011.




Posted: 10 May 2012 06:22 AM PDT
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Potter fans will now be able to download all seven Harry Potter books from Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, a service offered free for Amazon Prime users.
From the PR:
The Kindle Owners' Lending Library now features over 145,000 books to borrow for free, including over 100 current and former New York Times Best Sellers. With traditional library lending, the library buys a certain number of eBook copies of a particular title. If all of those are checked out, readers have to get on a waiting list. For popular titles like Harry Potter, the wait can sometimes be months. With the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, there are no due dates, books can be borrowed as frequently as once a month, and there are no limits on how many people can simultaneously borrow the same title—so readers never have to wait in line for the book they want.
The books will arrive in the library on June 19 and you will be able to download and read one book per month.
The move obviously bolsters the Kindle’s value as a “kids ebook” solution and allows the Potter books to gain a bit of a second wind thanks to renewed interest. You can probably also expect to see lots and lots of paper Potter books at garage sales across the country this summer, a disheartening prospect.




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