A new Apple patent application published today (via AppleInsider) details a system for heading off email spam and tracking its source. The tech automates a process many people now use manually, setting up temporary email addresses to be used for web service signups, which can then be thrown away when compromised by a spammy service, and provide clues as to which provider betrayed your trust.
The system would automatically generate disposable email addresses based on the service you want to use it with, and possibly contain an identifier in its construction to let you know where spam is coming from. So, for instance, if you signed up for Service X, the email might be “First.email@example.com.” Managing said email addresses and dealing with cutting off the ones that are subject to spam can be done through web and app graphic user interfaces, as described in the patent, too.
Spam is a problem that only increases the more we use email and the web, and addresses not diligently maintained can quickly become overwhelmed with inbound communications from services not necessarily being responsible with your shared information. Apple may seem like an odd candidate as someone trying to tackle this problem, but the company has iCloud and acts as an email provider as part of that product’s suite of cloud services. It’s in the company’s best interest to minimize spam and help pare down on email address churn – if users can manage to keep one permanent address safe from spammers, they won’t have to change their main contact info frequently, which has benefits in terms of protecting the integrity of iTunes and Apple ID accounts.
Last October, Microsoft’s Skype promised a number of updates to its chat message syncing, and it looks like the service has now delivered on these promises.
For the longest time, chat syncing had been an annoying issue on Skype, as the mobile app would often send you a bunch of alerts for messages you’d already read on your desktop. The Skype team has announced that those days are over. Skype chats are now synced across all your Skype-enabled devices. Besides hopefully clearing up all of those unnecessary alerts, this means you should be able to easily scroll back on your mobile phone to see the chats you had on your laptop earlier that day.
With this update, Skype is also now ensuring that your messages get delivered to your contacts even if you send them while they’re offline. That’s often been an issue with using Skype chats across different time zones. If your contact wasn’t online when you sent the message and then you turned off your computer, chances were your chats would only arrive after you turned your computer back on. Now, Skype says, “you can have peace of mind” that these messages will arrive.
These new features are now available to all Skype users. As Microsoft has been quietly rolling these updates out over the last few weeks, there’s a good chance that you’ve already noticed some changes.
Looking ahead, the Skype team plans a number of other enhancements to the chat experience. The most important is ensuring that you only get notifications on the device you are actively using. Say you are on your desktop and using Skype there, soon, you will not get additional notifications on your tablet and phone as well. In addition, the team plans to ensure that your Favorites list will sync across all your Skype-enabled devices.
I haven’t online dated in a while*, but everyone I know who does it laments the current state of matchmaking technology. When being able to swipe right to express interest in a person is a major technological achievement, you know something is broken.
Y Combinator alum The Dating Ring thinks it has a better way of getting people to meet one another and hopefully start dating, by matching up users in groups of six. After several months of operating in New York City, the startup has brought its group match making service to San Francisco.
The service works like this: Users do an initial consultation with one of the Dating Ring’s matchmakers, and then the company sets them up on a series of dates with five other single people. (For now, it’s three men and three women on each date.)
Initial matchmaking consultations are $25, and each date costs $20. After the specify dates and times available, The Dating Ring sends users invites to group dates. Those dates usually last about two hours at informal meeting places — like casual bars and restaurants — where people can get to know each other better.
The hope is that by having a larger group all meet each other, there’s a higher likelihood of two people hitting it off than there would have been with just two people. (Grouper, also a YC alum, does the same thing, but without the matchmaking.)
Once the dates are done, they give feedback on the other folks who were on the date, and let the company know if there were any attendees they were interested in.
According to co-founder Lauren Kay, the company chooses matchmakers based on their emotional intelligence and receptiveness. The belief is that they are better qualified to accurately determine what users are like than those users would be in some sort of self-reporting manner.
On the back end, The Dating Ring has algorithms that use information from its matchmakers to decide who to place on dates with each other. That data only gets better as it also receives feedback from other members of the dates.
Now that The Dating Ring is in San Francisco, it’s trying to determine where to go next. Kay said it’s looking at cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington, D.C. The hope is that by connecting more people with each other, it might make dating a little more bearable everywhere.
* See here for context
As the wearable tech space hits a boiling point, Jawbone is pressing onward and upward with a new $250 million investment led by Rizvi Traverse Management on the horizon, according to a report.
The maker of the Up wristband, a fitness tracker that pairs to a user’s smartphone, is looking to secure the nine-digit round at a $3.3 billion valuation.
According to Re/Code, general partner Suhail Rizvi may join the Jawbone board as a part of the deal, which would put him in good company. Jawbone’s board members include Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Ben Horowitz, and superstar designer Yves Behar.
Jawbone’s growth has exploded alongside the ever-booming wearables vertical, but that’s not the only thing the company brings to the table.
Jawbone has been successfully offering Bluetooth products to consumers for years, including adorable little Jambox speaker systems and various Bluetooth headsets.
Thus far, Jawbone has raised more than $275 million in venture capital (not including this deal, which has yet to close), along with $100 million in debt and equity financing.
Thanks to the proliferation of smart devices, cloud-based services and more fluid content creation and distribution systems, technology is fundamentally changing the way we learn. Not only is it easier and cheaper than ever before to find, create and consume learning content, but with better digital video solutions storming into every classroom, learning is actually becoming an enjoyable experience.
While the web is now brimming with video-based learning tools, the majority of today’s popular platforms are focused on academic experiences and use cases, offering digital versions of classes, courses and lectures. Curious launched last summer to give life-long learners, hobbyists and curious minds a video-based platform and marketplace of their own.
With “bite-sized” video lessons from over 700 teachers on topics that range from how to sew and Pilates for beginners to how to use Excel, Curious is looking to be the more targeted, navigable and interactive version of YouTube for continuing education. In the other words — the place you go to peruse and discover how-to content on any subject, via the Web or mobile.
While $7.5 million in backing from Redpoint Ventures and former Apple Chairman Bill Campbell and others at launch certainly helps, if Curious hopes to keep pace with the bigs — and the increasing demands on (and for) video-based learning platforms — speedy scaling is key. The startup has been moving quickly to expand its marketplace, both by building out its lesson library and increasing the depth of its subject areas.
Mobile has also been a key early focus for Curious, given how much the learning experience experience for “how-to” content especially can be improved by mobile access. If you’re using Curious to learn how to fix your car’s engine, much of its utility goes out the window if you can’t bring the instruction with you.
Curious launched its first iPad app in August, and with its native iPhone app recently following on its heels, Curious now offers supports for the lion’s share of the iOS ecosystem and allows users to access its library of micro-video lessons while on the go.
With one-third of its signups now coming through mobile and seeing “near triple-digit month-over-month growth,” Curious now has over 5,000 videos in its lesson library, says founder Justin Kitch, and, as a result, it’s ready to take the next step.
A big part of Phase Two, and the ever-present elephant in the room for education startups — and even for those on the “continuing” side of learning — is “proving out the monetization potential” of its how-to learning model, the founder says. To help it do that, Curious is taking on $15 million in Series B financing.
The investment is led by GSV Capital, with participation from its existing investors, including Redpoint Ventures, Bill Capbell and Jesse Rogers. As a result of the new round, GSV Chairman and CEO Michael Moe will be joining the startup’s board of directors.
With the new capital under its belt, Curious isn’t waiting around to get those revenue channels flowing. Today, it also adding a couple of new revenue-generating opportunities for its growing stable of 700 teachers. Along with offering its instructors the ability to sell single lessons, teachers can now bundle lessons into playlists — i.e. courses — to provide learners with a discount on lessons ordered in a series, around a specific goal or theme.
In addition, Curious now gives learners the ability to provide a little monetary gratuity to teachers at the end of lessons, as a little symbolic, digital way to say “thanks, teach and keep up the good work.”
Once a user completes their lesson on, say, how to properly cook an artichoke, they will be able to send their teacher a note and be given the option to include a digital “Tip” consisting of one, two or five “Curious Coins.” The digital currency-based gratuity is accompanies by a “Love this Lesson” icon, which is in turn displayed on the teacher’s profile.
Curious has long said that it isn’t interested in just being a one-sided, consumer-only learning platform with a big, old affordable library of how-to content, but a service provider that supports the other side (teachers) with tools to both share and monetize their lessons. The startup’s new “Courses” package essentially bundles lessons in the sequence they were likely already in (or should have been in) so that learners can master skills and topics in a more comprehensive, holistic way. Curious is making 50 of those Courses available at launch, and plans to expand its roster quickly over the coming months.
Again, Courses are comprised of topics that require multiple, sequential lessons for the learner to acquire the skill, Kitch says. So, while Curious has previously offered users the ability to browse “related lessons” as they go, content can now be presented in a specific order and purchased as a bundle for a discounted rate. According to Kitch, prices will range from $9 to $49 per Course, contain between five and 30 lessons, and like all Curious lessons, belong to the learner for life once downloaded.
Curious is certainly getting down to business (see what I did there?) without wasting any time. In comparison to Coursera’s more measured monetization efforts, or how long it’s taken a platform like Edmodo to start generating significant revenue, Curious appears to moving quickly. First add a big chunk of other people’s money and capital, and then turn right around and make some of your own — not a bad formula if you can swing it.
Below, you can find our recent TCTV interview with Curious founder Justin Kitch, in which he demoes the startu’s new iPhone app.
A new update to the BBM apps for iOS and Android add a laundry list of anticipated features to the messaging platform. BBM Voice makes its first appearance on the Android and iPhone clients, allowing users to make direct voice calls to their BBM contacts via either Wi-Fi or cellular networks; BBM Channels provide message-board style group interactions around a particular topic, theme or personality; plus, users can now share location information with contacts via Glympse, and Dropbox files.
Also new is one-click sharing, which makes it easier for users to send photos, documents, voice messages and other kinds of content to their network connections. The Glympse-powered location sharing lets people send their real-time current whereabouts, complete with timed data availability set by the user, so that you can let a business contact know where you are relative to their location if you’re running behind, but take away that access after say 30 minutes. There’s also expanded emoticon support, with 100 new ones added to help users perfectly convey their feelings without the need for pesky, hard to spell words.
Many of these features are inherited from the existing set of capabilities of the native BlackBerry OS version of BBM, and were promised back when the app launched on iOS and Android last year. But they’re very welcome additions, and should help provide the network with value add incentives to draw in new users. BBM recently lost its top executive leader as Andrew Bocking departed BlackBerry, and now it seems likely he was hanging around to make sure this update shipped before taking his leave.
Rumors circulated yesterday that the cat was out of the bag on Apple’s next iPhone design: the picture above was one of a series leaked by a Twitter user depicting a supposed redesign of Apple’s redesign. This supposed iPhone 6 had a rounded back more akin to the iPad than the current iPhone, with next to no bezel and a big, edge-to-edge display. But it’s all fake.
The photos appear to actually be advanced renders, which at least one Reddit user convincingly argues are the work of Martin Hajek. Hajek is known for his photorealistic device render work, and in fact he created one for an iPhone 6 with a very similar look back in March, 2013. This new image details the inside of the case, showing some ribbons and other components, and adds a Touch ID sensor to the front and a double-flash to the back (both of which weren’t known about at the time of the original renders), but the rest of the industrial design looks borrowed from the earlier concept.
The renders may not represent what Apple actually has in the works, but this is a redesign I could get behind. The iPad mini with Retina display is essentially a larger version of this as it is, and it’s nearly handholdable or pocketable. Apple has been using the hard-edged and more angular design of the iPhone 5s for two generations now, but it went with rounded edges for the iPhone 5c, and that has proved popular ergonomically with many reviewers.
So would you pony up for this if Apple unveiled something similar come fall? A bigger screen is almost a lock, but ditching the back bevel would also be a nice move in my opinion. Hopefully Hajek proves psychic when we do finally get a real glimpse at what Apple has in store for us next.
Affectiva, an emotion tracking startup with big-name investors, is announcing the launch of its mobile software development kit.
The company says it can analyze a user’s emotions by tracking their facial expressions, and it uses that technology to measure the effectiveness of ads. With the new SDK, mobile developers will be able to add these capabilities to their apps as well.
This means Affectiva’s technology could be embedded into consumer products — a spokesperson suggested via email that the possibilities include healthcare, education, and gaming apps. (Moving into the consumer market was one of the stated goals when the company raised a $12 million Series C back in 2012.)
Existing uses of the technology will continue to be the core of the company’s business, the spokesperson said, but they suggested existing clients are also looking to make a mobile push.
Affectiva can supposedly use the smartphone camera, video footage, or a single image for its emotion sensing. The company said that since the SDK allows processing to take place on the device, rather than in the cloud, apps can can access the emotion data in real time. (For privacy purposes, the facial images are not saved or transmitted.)
The company spun out of the MIT Media Lab and its investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Li Ka-Shing’s Horizon Ventures.
“Mobile is growing exponentially,” Stephanie Tilenius, an executive in residence at Kleiner Perkins said in an email statement. “With social networking and geo-location, our devices are enabled to know who we are, where we are and what we’re doing. However, these smart devices are still missing the key element to understanding human sentiment. As technology innovators, Affectiva is creating a platform for passive and active emotion-sensing — the next generation of social communication.”
Presentation software startup Haiku Deck is finally bringing its software to the iPhone, after a successful run on the iPad. The smaller screen version of the app offers full access to your Haiku Deck library, allowing you to review and play back presentations from your Apple smartphone, as well as providing a remote control mode with access to presenter notes for when you’re showing your stuff at that board meeting or product brainstorming session.
The new app offers a piece that was missing from the original Haiku Deck puzzle, and one that users have been asking for according to the startup’s founder and CEO Adam Tratt. The iPhone app is being used as a content consumption and discovery tool, too, thanks to the inclusion of Featured and Popular gallery sections to let you see what kind of presentations others are sharing and enjoying.
“Last we spoke, we were launching the beta of the web app, and that was all about giving people the opportunity to create new Haiku Decks outside of the context of the iPad app,” Tratt said in an interview. “And increasingly, what we’re seeing on our own site and globally across the Internet is that a significant amount of traffic related to content consumption is happening on mobile, and Haiku Decks by nature are ideal for mobile consumption.”
The new iPhone app offers the ability to remotely control a presentation on an iPad, but also to broadcast from the iPhone to a connected display on its own. What it doesn’t yet offer is the ability to create Haiku Decks, and Tratt says that’s definitely in the works for a later update, but for this first version the focus was on putting out the features that make the most sense for the tight screen real estate afforded by the smaller iOS devices.
“With the iPhone app we wanted to give people who are authoring on the iPad app or on the web more ways to share their decks in a way that renders beautifully on the small screen,” Tratt explained. “And then we also wanted to extend the iPad experience to take advantage of what’s awesome about the iPhone.”
Haiku Deck is slowly building up features and functionality that make it competitive with established products including Microsoft’s PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote. That’s impressive with a small team and a relatively modest funding pool to draw from (Haiku Deck’s last raise was a $3 million Series A round in 2013), and the focus on a deliberate but gradual path of product improvement seems likely to continue to be the business plan going forward.
Media storage startup Streamnation was founded with the idea of making it easy for users to store, view, and share content from the cloud. And now, the startup is making it easier for users to get their content onto its service by connecting with a wide range of other social networks and cloud storage services.
Today, Streamnation is launching a new, unified media stream that will bring together all of your photos and videos stored on services like Instagram, Facebook, iPhoto, Google Drive, Google+, Flickr, Lightroom, Aperture, Picasa, Dropbox and OneDrive. By simply entering in your login service for each one, you can seamlessly have that content added to your Streamnation account.
Once that’s done, users will now be able to back up all of their media, regardless of where they choose to initially share it. And they will also be able to have their media automatically pulled into their Streamnation account from those other services once uploaded. Media is then viewable through the Streamnation website, as well as through apps for Windows, Mac OSX, iPad and iPhone.
In addition to hooking into other services, Streamnation has added a new, “timeline” view of all your photos and videos, making it easier to keep track of what you’ve taken photos of or shared at a particular time or event.
While providing users with easy ways to access and share their media, Streamnation is also aiming to be the cheapest cloud storage service out there. New users get up to 20 GB of storage free. They can pay for additional storage, starting at $4 a month for 100 GB and going up to $19 a month for unlimited storage.
When you think about it, it’s odd that wearable tech makers are so obsessed with wristbands. Most wearable tech products currently focus on fitness, and the most popular cardio exercises–biking, running, swimming–are powered by the lower body.
Husband-and-wife team Jimmy Leu and Beatrice Chu created Flyfit, a fitness monitor that is worn on the ankle, after Chu, an avid cyclist, got annoyed that other fitness trackers weren’t accurately recording her workouts. Several of the bestselling fitness trackers, including the Nike Fuelband, aren’t even recommended for cycling.
Flyfit just launched its Kickstarter page today and wants to raise $90,000 by March 25. The early bird package starts at $89 for the first 200 supporters and includes a tracker and two interchangeable ankle bands. Shipment of mass produced Flyfit bands are scheduled for August, while beta test versions will be sent out in May.
Flyfit is one of the latest entrants to the wearable tech market, but its creators want to differentiate by focusing specifically on measuring different leg movements for cycling, swimming, running, or stair climbing. Plus, it will appeal to people who dislike wristbands, which are meant to be worn all day, but tend to get in the way while typing, irritate your skin, or snag on sleeves.
Chu says that she wanted to create an ankle monitor after realizing that her wristbands did not register movements accurately if she gripped her bike’s handlebars too tightly. For avid cyclists, the Flyfit is meant to be a portable alternative to cadence sensors that are installed on bicycle frames. Leu points out that this is especially handy if you use a bike lending service, like Citi Bike in New York City, or workout at the gym. Like a cadence sensor, the Flyfit lets you track distance, speed, and rotations per minute (RPM).
The app connects to an iOS app with Bluetooth 4.0/LE and lets you see your exercise data in real time, as long as you are willing to keep your eye on your smartphone while working out. Flyfit’s creators are working on an Android app and its development will be speeded up if the project reaches its $150,000 stretch goal. They also plan to open Flyfit’s API, add an online racing game so you can compete with your friends, and perhaps integrate it with other apps like Nike Run Keeper.
The tracker consists of a hardware module that is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery and interchangeable bands that are currently available in five colors. It has a simple LED panel that lets you check what activity you are tracking and battery life. The Flyfit claims to have an eight-hour battery life with real-time syncing and can run up to a week in off-sync mode.
The Flyfit may remind some people of the infamous ankle monitor worn by certain celebrities, like Lindsay Lohan, while under house arrest. The Flyfit is small and easy to hide, however, and can be worn over or under socks, so I can definitely see it appealing to people who are intrigued by wearable tech but sick of the ubiquitous wristband.
Lenovo may be getting Motorola’s handset business after buying the company from Google for around $3 billion, but it won’t be getting the company’s current CEO Dennis Woodside – the 10 year Google veteran will depart both companies for Dropbox, where he’ll be its new Chief Operating Officer.
Woodside joined Google in 2003, and was in charge of the search giant’s ad sales before being shifted to lead the Motorola team when Google acquired that business in 2011. He oversaw the development of the Moto G and Moto X phones during his tenure, and helped the company spearhead some experimental product development, including around Project Ara, a modular smartphone concept design that’s highly user-customizable.
Thus far, Motorola has been run by co-founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, as CEO and CTO respectively. The founding executives both come from a technical background, as the WSJ notes, and Woodside could provide them with some much-needed expertise in managing a large workforce to help the company handle its rapid (but declining) pace of growth.
There’s a high likelihood that a Dropbox IPO is in the works, and Woodside’s appointment could be part of those efforts, too. The company raised $350 million at a valuation of $10 billion, according to the WSJ, which is $100 million more than originally reported when the round was discovered back in January.
Really, it makes a lot of sense that Woodside wouldn’t follow Motorola to its new home – he’s a sales focused executive who was parachuted into the smartphone company to help to try to shape it up after Google acquired the business. Woodside heading to Lenovo doesn’t make much sense, either for the new owners of Motorola, or for Woodside himself. At Dropbox, he has a chance to become part of the origin story of what could become the next big tech giant, if the cloud storage startup can put down the pedal on continued growth.
Say hello to the G Pro 2, LG’s new flagship smartphone — leaked aplenty up to now but officially confirmed today by the mobile maker. The Android 4.4 KitKat powered 4G quad-core device packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.26 GHz processor, 3GB of memory and a 13MP rear camera with an optical image stabilization feature to support better snapping.
It’s (yet) another high end smartphone that’s practically all screen, with LG inflating the size of the pane vs last year’s model — bumping it up from the 5.5 inches of the Optimus G Pro to a 5.9 inch full HD pane.
That screen is clasped on two sides by an extra slim bezel of just 3.3mm, with LG touting “an industry-leading screen-to-frame ratio of 77.2 percent”, showing how marginal form factor design parameters have become if makers are shouting about squeezing more screen onto the slab.
Definitions of how large a screen a smartphone must have to qualify for ‘phablet’ status vary — and are likely themselves moving goal posts as more and more smartphones get bigger — but according to Juniper Research at least 5.6 inches are required. By that definition LG has upgraded the G Pro from big smartphone to proper phablet with today’s sequel.
(The G Pro 2 is not close to the biggest phablet on the market. Sony, for instance, outted a 6.4 inch whopper last year — with its Xperia Z Ultra – a phone so big the company also makes a Bluetooth companion accessory for, y’know, actually making/receiving calls.)
Aside from its big screen — which does not feature a bend, as LG’s recent curvacious foray, the LG G Flex, does — the G Pro 2 sports the same rear key controls the company stuck on last year’s G2. A key placement that’s either wildcard genius or the worst idea in smartphone design history, depending on your view. Just don’t press the phone down on a table and hope it stays powered on.
The most notable other addition to LG’s new flagship is an unlocking feature called Knock Code, that lets users devise their own sequence of touchscreen taps (aka a ‘knock pattern’) to unlock the device. Which is presumably another reason for LG to beef up the screen size — so users have enough space to get a-knockin’. (Another feature that makes use of the big pane is a dual-browser mode.)
LG says anything from two to eight taps can be used to form this knock pattern, on any portion of the screen. And it reckons the tech supports 86,367 ‘knock’ combinations.
With Apple adding its biometric TouchID system to its flagship iPhone 5s home key, so users can unlock their phone with their fingerprint, rival smartphone makers are clearly stretching themselves to come up with security differentiators of their own.
Elsewhere, the LG G Pro 2 lavishes care and attention on the camera and photo smarts of the device, with anti-shake functionality and larger and more sensitive sensors front and rear.
Other image capture features include 4K ultra HD video recording; an 120fps HD video recording feature that supports slow-motion editing; a ‘magic focus’ feature to select the depth of focus after a photo is taken — a la Lytro, presumably; improved flash for more natural shots/selfies; an up to 20 continuous shots burst mode; and a gallery collage feature for uploading multiple shots.
It’s not clear which markets outside LG’s stamping ground of South Korea the LG G Pro 2 will land in as yet, with LG saying global availability has not yet been determined. It will be showing off the handset at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona — where TC will be on hand to get hands on.
Today at the Palais des Congrès, Microsoft held its first demo day in front of investors and journalists. Investors in the room included well-known business angels, such as Xavier Niel, Marc Simoncini and Jacques Antoine Granjon — they took the stage for a short panel and gave advice to the startup teams in the room.
Microsoft started working on its startup accelerator in Paris two years ago. Formerly called Bizspark, it was recently renamed to Microsoft Ventures Accelerator. It’s a three-month program to help early-stage startups in various ways with workshops, a co-working space, a demo day in front of investors and more. Here are the startups that presented today.
Youmiam is an online platform to share recipes, a sort of Soundcloud for recipes. It’s a very visual experience. Youmiam’s take on the recipe website is quite different as many recipe websites bet everything on SEO and content farm strategies. The key differentiating element is that it’s easy to create a recipe, and embed it on a blog. The company plans to localize the product in more languages and work on its recommendation engine next. It recently raised 410,000 (€300,000). More about Youmiam here.
TraxAir tackles unpaid royalties to electronic music artists. It identifies music played by DJs and live bands. For example, if a DJ plays a set, the club can use TraxAir’s technology to detect all the songs in the mix and report that to collecting societies. The company plans to release a plug-and-play hardware product to simplify the data collection and help collecting societies to redistribute the correct amount to the correct artists. They are looking for $1.1 million (€800,000) to launch in about seven months.
UBQT is a way to follow events online, stitching together tweets, photos, videos, articles and more. At heart, UBQT’s interface is a feed that works on a computer and on mobile — it mixes up different kinds of content from different platforms (Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Instead of targeting attendees, the company targets people who cannot attend but still want to experience the event. Everything is available on a single platform.
Speecheo is a tool that creates a smart link between speakers and the audience. When you attend an event, you take notes, record the conference and download the slides. But all this information is separated. Moreover, it’s hard to interact with the speaker. Speecheo records everything, you can highlight a part of the talk, highlight tweets and more. At the end, you get a nice summary of the talk. And it provides feedback to the speaker.
Tracktl is an app to manage the music playlist of your house party. You plug a computer to the stereo, and then everyone can search and add a song with their phones. You can upvote songs, see what’s coming next and more. For now, Tracktl is a web app that works on every phone, and targets house parties only. The company has plans to extend to bars and public places.
Reminiz is a facial recognition startup. For example, you sometimes wonder who this actor on TV is. With Reminiz, you can launch the app and recognize the person by pointing your camera at a TV or a magazine. You get a biography, his or her Twitter account as well as his or her songs or movies. On pre-processed movies, you get a 98 percent success rate. The company currently focuses on entertainment, but plans to offer this technology for home automation or business purposes.
Speekr allows you to send location-based messages. You can choose precisely where the person will receive the message. This way, your recipient will get your message at the perfect moment. You can send a text, a video or a song. The app only allow you to add 12 people in the app to communicate only with your closest friends and family members. Speekr will sell in-app purchase upgrades to unlock features and stickers. The company is raising a seed round.
Streami provides everything you need to organize an event. With Streami, you can create your event in one unit dashboard, push it directly to Facebook, synchronize RSVP statuses and send messages. The company also provides a video player to live stream your event with relevant information right next to the video. You can also track social network activity. The company is asking for around $540,000 (€400,000).
SmartNotify allows you to send the right messages through the right communication channel. You select the group you want to interact with, type the message and hit send. SmartNotify remembers how people like to be contacted. The platform handles text messages, emails, text to call, tweets and more. In the future, SmartNotify is a paid application and targets the healthcare market — these customers communicate a lot. The company is raising $500,000 right now.
Back in the summer we covered Fuel3D’s Kickstarter campaign for a high res scanner that can turn real world objects into 3D models with accurate geometry and colour — a companion device for the rise in ownership of 3D printers (which of course need 3D blueprints to print).
Fuel3D went on to raise more than $300,000 via its Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and today the technology that came out of the U.K.’s Oxford University has further added to its war chest for continued development and getting the product to market — snagging $2.6 million in early stage financing from a syndicate of private investors, led by Ben Gill of London-based Chimera Partners.
It’s also talking early IPO, with plans to follow this tranche of external funding with a mezzanine financing round, expected to take place before the summer — and, possibly, an initial public offering as early as 2015.
“We have established a core group of shareholders that have taken a long term view on the technology and management of Fuel 3D Technologies,” said Gill, commenting on the funding in a statement. “The 3D printing market is the focus of significant investor interest at the moment, and Fuel 3D’s disruptive technology feeds that interest from a unique angle. We are actively exploring a number of interesting financing options, including the possibility of an early IPO.”
Fuel3D said the big response to its Kickstarter campaign, which had only been aiming to raise $75,000 so pulled in 4x that original target, helped it draw interest from the broader investment community.
“We had a phenomenal response to our product on Kickstarter and the attention this generated led to many enquiries from the broader investment community,” said Stuart Mead, CEO, Fuel 3D Technologies, in a statement. “We have always been confident that our technology has the potential to revolutionize the industry and are delighted to have found a group of ambitious and well-resourced investors who share our vision.”
While Fuel3D is not the first to build a high resolution 3D scanner by any means, its focus on making such high end tech affordable — putting a sub-$1,000 price-tag on the device for its Kickstarter campaign — is presumably what’s especially exciting investors here.
The expected retail price of Fuel3D’s device will actually be $1,500 — albeit, that’s still far below rival high res scanners which it says retail for $15,000+.
Fuel3D’s device also breaks from the relatively rigid turntable model for scanning objects, such as the rival Photon 3D scanner, allowing for more freestyle scanning. So, for instance, human faces can be captured in situ — i.e. on people’s necks — without having to do any kind of separating of head from body.
The other focus for Fuel3D is on capturing accurate colour and detailed texture, offering wide scope for its scanner beyond the 3D printing space — i.e. for use by 3D artists, animators, game designers and so on.
Fuel3D’s original Kickstarter campaign was aiming to ship to the earliest backers in April, with additional shipments penciled in for July and September as it worked through to fulfill orders.
Infogr.am, which has built a platform for easily creating infographics which can be embedded on sites, has secured a $1.8 million (€1.34 million) investment led by Point Nine Capital with participation from Connect Ventures and HackFwd (the accelerator fund which closed last year but continues as an investment vehicle for former Xing founder Lars Hinrichs). The cash will be used for expansion in the U.S. via a new sales and marketing office. The announcement was made at TechChill, the new startup conference for the Baltics in Riga, Latvia. The funding appears to be the largest to date from a company based out of Latvia.
Clearly this is on-trend. Visually, the startup, which is best-known as an infographic marketplace, raised $8.1 million in Series A funding only last month.
The startup is poised to launch real-time data support and Google Drive integration allowing infographics to be created based on live data: handy for financial sites. Other plans include developing a video info graphic generator.
Companies that have used the platform include The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera and Yahoo.
The service has both free and paid versions and claims about 1 million users who have created over 1.7 million ‘infograms’.
Competitors include PictoChart and Tableau though the latter would perhaps be best described as more complex and harder to learn
Infogr.am was founded 2 years ago by engineers Uldis Leiterts, Raimonds Kaze and Alise Semjonova.
Switzerland-based Lemoptix — which develops technology that enables micro-projectors to be embedded in mobile phones, automotive heads-up-displays, and low-powered wearable displays — has raised an undisclosed new round of funding from existing investors and new strategic investor, Swisscom Ventures, the venture arm of the Swiss telco.
Spun off from the highly respected Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 2008, Lemoptix produces MEMS-based micro-projection technology to enable tiny, low powered projection displays to be embedded in mobile phones, HUDs and other wearables so that content can be displayed on a nearby surface or projected within the device itself, bypassing the typical limitations of physical displays. It then licenses this tech to partners and customers, supporting them through the initial development stages, prototyping, all the way to the industrialisation and production of new products.
Noteworthy, given the recent hype surrounding wearables and Google Glass, Lemoptix says it’s actively developing solutions and collaborating with industry partners in the area of wearable displays for smartglasses-type applications.
“Google Glass (and surrounding hype) has had an incredible effect on the market, which has seriously sparked competing consumer electronics device manufacturers who don’t want to be left behind to take action,” Lemoptix CEO Marco Boella tells TechCrunch. “I don’t know of many of these that wouldn’t in some way or another be looking into or developing these systems.”
He also says that Google Glass-type devices won’t ultimately end up being gadgets, but fit a number of real use-cases for wearable displays, such as in the areas of sport, medical applications, aiding the visually-impaired, security, maintenance, and head-mounted displays for motor cyclists, to name just a few.
“The number of different use-cases eliminates the risks of being dependent on one much-hyped application or another,” adds Boella.
However, he is far less bullish about the smartwatch. “Wearable displays can become the real extension/portal to the smartphone which the smartwatch will never really be in our opinion,” he says.
2013 was the year when the inevitable happened: worldwide sales of smartphones surpassed sales of the more basic (and generally cheaper) feature phone devices for the first time, according to Gartner’s latest market estimates – with 968 million smartphone device units sold to end users in 2013 out of a total of 1.8 billion mobiles sold.
That overall global mobile device total was up 3.5% on 2012′s figure.
The smartphone vs feature phone tipping point was reached in Q2 last year, according to the analyst, when Gartner previously noted smartphones had outstripped dumb phone sales globally for the first time. At that point Android was taking a 79% marketshare.
Now, looking at 2013 performance as a whole, Gartner said sales of smartphones accounted for 53.6% of overall mobile phone sales for the year — cementing their majority position vs feature phones.
Smartphone sales grew 36% in Q4, taking a 57.6% share of overall mobile phone sales in the fourth quarter, up from 44% year-over-year. That’s slightly lowered growth than smartphones were seeing in Q2 (46.5%) but sales of smarter portable handsets which let users download third party apps still outstripped sales of dumber mobiles throughout the year.
Gartner notes that mobile sales in saturated mature regions fell due to weaker demand during 2013, with emerging markets providing the engine for growth.
Smartphone growth for the year was led by adoption in Latin America (which had a 96.1% regional growth rate), the Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific and Eastern Europe, where Gartner notes sales grew by more than 50% in Q4.
The country with the highest individual smartphone sales growth was India, which exhibited a 166.8% increase in Q4. China also contributed significantly to global smartphone sales with a rise of 86.3% in sales during 2013.
Gartner pegged the still growing Android OS’s 2013 global marketshare at 78.4%; vs 15.6% for a continuing to shrink in marketshare iOS; and just 3.2% for Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform (although the ‘third ecosystem’ grew its global share). BlackBerry shrank to a marginal 1.9%.
The analyst said it expects sales of Android phones alone in 2014 to approach the billion mark.
In terms of the top smartphone vendors in Q4, Samsung still leads — taking a 29.5% share in the quarter, although that’s down on the year on year quarter when it bagged 31.1%.
Apple’s second placed share — of 17.8% for Q4 — is also down on Q4 2012 ,when Cupertino took just over a fifth (20.9%).
Gartner’s market data gives third place in Q4 to China’s Huawei, with 5.7% of the market, up from 4.2% in the year ago quarter:
“While the top three mobile manufacturers are dominating the global mobile phone market, their share collectively fell in the fourth quarter of 2013 and yearly as Chinese and regional brands continue to raise their share,” noted Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta in a statement.
Gartner attributed Samsung’s dip in share to a saturated high-end smartphone market in developed regions where its Galaxy-branded flagship handsets have previously been engines of growth. The analyst said the company needs to continue to develop its high end handset proposition, but also needs a clearer value proposition in the crowded mid-range, with simpler interfaces that can stand out on more than price.
Although Apple achieved record smartphone sales in Q4 its overall smartphone marketshare declined in the quarter and the year. However as smartphones took the majority crown from mobile phones in general Apple increased its portion of the latter pie.
Gartner also notes that Cupertino added Japanese carrier NTT Docomo in September, and inked a deal with China Mobile in Q4 — deals which it expects to help raise iPhone grow in Asia.
Third placed Huawei grew its smartphone sales 85.3% in Q4 to retain its bronze position, year over year, with Gartner noting that overseas expansion delivered strong results for the company in the fourth quarter, with growth in the Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific, Latin America and Europe.
Another Chinese phone vendor, Lenovo — which has just acquired Motorola from Google — also saw some strong growth in Q4 (63.1%) and 2013 in general (102.3%). The analyst expects the Motorola acquisition to give the company an opportunity to expand within the Americas, and the patent protection to “expand rapidly across the global market”.
“We believe this deal is not just about entering into the U.S., but more about stepping out of China,” added Gupta.
Gartner said it expects smartphones to continue to drive overall sales in 2014 — with an increasing number of manufacturers will realign their portfolios to focus on the low-cost smartphone sector. That means sales of high end smartphones will slow as rising sales of low- and mid-price smartphones in high-growth emerging markets shift the product mix to lower-end devices. And that in turn will lead to a decline in average smartphone selling price and a slowdown in revenue growth.
The Time Warner Cable sweepstakes might be over. Just a few months after it was first reported that the second-largest cable firm in the nation was looking to be acquired, Comcast, the number one cable provider, has made an offer of $45.2 billion for the company.
The deal will make Comcast, already the largest cable company in the U.S., even bigger. Time Warner Cable has about 12 million subscribers, compared to Comcast’s 22 million. But not all of those customers will be joining Comcast, as the company plans to divest 3 million subs under the terms that the companies have agreed to.
One of the markets it’s expected to hold onto is New York City, where Time Warner Cable is the primary provider in Manhattan. Comcast is already a majority owner of NBC Universal, which has its home base there.
There will be a ton of naysayers who believe that this consolidation would be bad for the industry, will lead to less consumer choice, and would give one company too much control of the market. And to that I say, there’s already pretty much a monopoly in the pay TV market, and one company owning more subscribers in a market it didn’t even compete in doesn’t make much of a difference.
Oh, also: As someone who has been both a Comcast subscriber and a Time Warner Cable subscriber, I think Comcast is actually better positioned to make products and services that people like to use. So it’s not all bad for TWC subs.
Interesting side note: The news popped up on the same day it was reported Apple was negotiating with Time Warner Cable to bring the cable provider’s content onto the Apple TV. So there’s, uh, that.
The Obama administration unveiled Wednesday a long-awaited plan for bolstering the cybersecurity of critical-infrastructure providers — including big information technology and communications companies — and is gearing up to try to enlist smaller Silicon Valley shops in its battle against hackers.
Top officials at the White House presented the so-called Cybersecurity Framework, a 39-page plan for the federal government and critical-infrastructure providers (both private and public) to share more data with each other about cyber threats. It was spurred by an executive order that President Obama signed in February 2013 calling for the National Institute of Standards and Technology and private firms to craft a voluntary framework for thwarting cyber attacks from nefarious hackers and nation states.
The new framework “provides, for lack of a better phrase, a common language to discuss cybersecurity,” Lisa Monaco, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, said in an afternoon presentation.
The plan has three main parts, starting with a “core” set of cybersecurity activities it says critical-infrastructure companies should carry out — which fall under five functions: identify, protect, detect, respond and recover. The other two parts of the framework include “profiles,” which are intended to help firms craft their specific security plans, and “tiers” that label the state of different companies’ cyber-risk-management processes. The program is voluntary, so the Department of Homeland Security is crafting incentives — which are not yet finalized — to make it sweet for critical-infrastructure entities to opt in.
So, that’s what this new framework does for 16 sectors of critical-infrastructure providers — the sizable IT and communications companies, utilities, banks and the like. The administration, though, is not ignoring the smaller technology companies, according to Phyllis Schneck, the deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security.
Schneck said Wednesday at a think-tank event in Washington, D.C., that the cyber-resilience of Silicon Valley companies that don’t fall under the definition of “critical infrastructure” is a “huge, huge part of what concerns me personally.” She cited the links such firms have to Americans’ lives and the innovation happening at them.
“I would like to use this framework as a catalyst to — and we’re looking at this already — address that with the executives and the technologists out on that (West) Coast, to look at how we enable cybersecurity to be part of their decision process,” Schneck said at the event, which was sponsored by the Center for National Policy and The Christian Science Monitor. “This is a key part of our country, I want to learn more about what drives those decisions.”
Schneck, a former chief technology officer at McAfee, said she understands that Washington’s actions are not “a big part of what drives the thought process of Silicon Valley.”
“But, we need to make sure that we take good things in cybersecurity, get their input … (from the innovators in Silicon Valley) … get their opinions, and make sure that we are addressing all that,” she said. Administration cyber officials will travel to northern California “within the next few months,” she said, adding she “will be personally involved.”
The new cybersecurity framework is not as strong as actual law, which is why the administration is crafting the incentives. Those perks could include cybersecurity insurance, technical assistance and grant funding. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday said the framework’s success also will depend on salesmanship.
“Our challenge is for the cyber geeks among us to be able to properly, in plain terms, convey the extent of concerns to the broader American public,” Johnson said at the White House.
Obama issued the cybersecurity executive order last year because he was frustrated that members of Congress could not agree on legislation to either encourage or outright mandate the private sector and government to share more details about cyber intrusions.
The new framework received mixed reaction on Wednesday. While trade groups including the Information Technology Industry Council lauded it, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said much “still remains to be seen in terms of how the cyber framework is implemented and revised, especially the roles that regulatory agencies and departments will play.” The chamber also said the framework will remain incomplete unless Congress passes accompanying information-sharing legislation.
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