- Twitter Strengthens Its Mobile Platform: Buys A/B App Tester Clutch.io, Shutting Down Service In November
- VoIP Service KeKu Hits 500K Users, Quietly Launches Group Calling App
- Google+ Hangouts Studio Mode Lets Musicians Stream Concerts With Pristine Sound Quality
- Mobile ‘Personal Shopping Assistant’ Swirl Exits Stealth With 30K Stores Signed On, $6M In Backing
- Google Acquiring Frommer’s Travel Brand: Zagat Integration, Google+ Improvements To Follow
- Author Fights For His Book On The Internet After Slacking Student Pleads For A Quick Summary
- Sprint To Launch The $199, Keyboard-Toting Motorola Photon Q On August 19
- Cory Booker Coming To Disrupt SF, 50 Alpha Invites Available For #waywire
- iPhones Are On Sale Everywhere, But It’s A Horrible Time To Buy
- Instant Messaging Service Imo.im Gets Even More Chatty With New iOS Voice Call Feature
- AppFlow Offers A Beautiful New Take On Mobile App Discovery
- Ads Everywhere! Tremor Video Runs Four-Screen Ad Campaign For GoPro
- Meet The Double, A YC-Backed Teleconferencing Robot With An iPad For A Face
- Reading Is Alive And Well At Social Reading Site Goodreads, Which Just Hit 10M Members
- Deutsche Telekom Ups Its Game As New Global Publisher For Browser-Based Asterix Game
- Mettl Raises $4 Million Series A Funding For Skills Assessment Platform
- Monetization Baby: SoundCloud Planning To Let Users Sell Tracks? Adyen Chosen To Power Payments (Updated)
- 500 Startups Alum MoPix Launches To Help Indie Filmmakers Distribute Movies Direct To Consumers
- Goodbye Moto: Google Will Send Out 4,000 Motorola Pink Slips Starting Today, Part Of Bigger Overhaul
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:51 AM PDT
Have the API wars around Twitter opened on a new front? Today comes news that the social networking site has made another acquisition: Clutch.io, a specialist in A/B testing for mobile apps. The news was announced on Clutch.io’s blog. The founders Eric Florenzano and Eric Maguire say that today was their first day working at Twitter on the company’s growth and international team, where they will “focus our efforts on Twitter’s product at a large scale.” Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Clutch.io users will have until November 1 to port their data from Clutch.io’s hosted service before it gets shut down. And in a nice twist, Florenzano and Maguire also say they’ll make it possible for users to port the whole system so that developers can run the service locally and continue to use it.
With the two now on board at Twitter, the deal sound like a classic acqui-hire, except that Twitter has also bought the IP from the startup. That IP includes “an easy to integrate library for native iOS applications designed to help you develop faster and deploy instantly,” the company says.
With Dalton Caldwell’s app.net nipping at Twitter’s feet and many other debates about how Twitter will develop its API going forward, this acquisition could raise some questions about whether Twitter has some other ideas in mind: will it use Clutch.io’s developer-focused IP in a new developer initiative, or is the intention to keep it as something it can use itself in-house?
Twitter’s past acquisition track record has included Summify, Posterous, Rest Engine and TweetDeck — all services you can see enhancing the Twitter experience either already or potentially down the road.
We have reached out to Twitter to ask the question and will update as we learn more.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:29 AM PDT
We wrote about the official launch of KeKu, a New York-based VoIP telephony startup earlier this year and since then, the company has managed to grow quickly. Today, KeKu announced that it hhas surpassed 500,000 customers around the world who use its free and paid services. The company, which offers Android and iOS calling apps, allows users to make free VoIP calls between its users and also offers cheap international calls to cell phones and landlines by allowing users to assign local numbers to their friends and family.
As KeKu’s CEO Manilo Carrelli told me last week, most of the company’s growth has been viral and is coming from unexpected places, including many Middle Eastern countries, for example, where local and international calls can often be very expensive. KeKu also saw its user base in Canada grow by 400% since its official launch. The reason for this, Carrelli thinks, is due to Canada’s changing immigration patterns. The company is also growing fast in many Caribbean countries where it can often offer cheaper local calls than the national telecom companies themselves.
Another reason why the company is growing quickly, as Carrelli told me, is because many Google Voice users use it to forward their Google Voice calls to an international number. Google itself doesn’t currently have this feature, but because it allows calls to be forwarded to a U.S. number, KeKu users can just forward calls to a local number assigned by the service and cut down significantly on their roaming cost.
Now that KeKu is seeing some nice growth, it’s also starting to work on additional features and services that it can offer to its users. The first of these is an iOS group calling app which lets you set up a group call by just dragging and dropping your contacts into a group and hitting the ‘call’ button. The app is still pretty basic right now, but KeKu plans to use this as the basis for a more fully featured voice conferencing system it hopes to launch in the future.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 09:11 AM PDT
Google wants Hangouts On Air to become the way musicians stream concerts from their garage or the stadium, so today it launches Studio Mode, an option that lets broadcasters optimize sound quality for real-time music instead of voice. Studio Mode makes a big difference, turning the noisy digital gargle into something closer to CD-quality, with seemingly full stereo sound and a higher bitrate. It’s rolling out of the course of the day.
Right now, Ustream is a popular choice for artists to share their concerts with people at home, but Google could get everyone rocking Hangouts if Studio Mode makes listeners feel as if they’ve traded their crappy old MP3 for vinyl. You can hear the difference in the video below.
Without Studio Mode, Hangouts sound like they’re playing through crappy Apple earbuds no matter when device you’re listening on. Voices crack, drums seem distant, and rich bass and guitar tones sound sound flat and empty. Once enabled, its like you’ve been transported into the room with band. The bass rumbles, vocals retain emotion, and the high frequencies feel sharp and clean.
Studio Mode is available as an audio setting in Hangouts On Air, an extension Google’s video chat service that let people stream to an unlimited audience instead of just 10 people. Only the person running the Hangout has to switch to it to give their whole audience the benefits. Right now the rollout of Studio Mode has only reached 25% of users, so you should see it soon if you don’t already have the option in Hangouts.
The Studio Mode announcement follows a number of other developments around music for the search giant. Last week Google made a major concession to the music industry when it announced it would start reducing the search result prominence of websites that receive copyright infringement notices. These illegal sites have long sucked traffic away from legitimate sources of songs, leading to lost revenue for the big record companies.
Meanwhile, Google took a bit of a stumble in the music arena when it recently declared that the release of Nexus Q music streaming device would be indefinitely postponed. Many thought the product originally given away to developers at the I/O conference had too little functionality to warrant its $300 price point.
Hangouts On Air are already proving popular with musicians, with some creating open mic hangouts where anyone can perform. If Google can get musicians hooked on Hangouts, they might encourage their fans to buy songs and albums through the Google Music section of Google Play. That could help Google turn its fledgling entry into music sales into a real competitor to iTunes and Spotify.
Here’s what Google+ Hangouts On The Air sound like with and without Studio Mode. Going back to the unoptimized sound makes my ears cry, so good job Google. This is a huge improvement.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:56 AM PDT
Add one more startup to the hopefuls looking to corner the market for location-aware offers for shoppers: Swirl Networks today exits stealth mode with a website and free iOS app to help people find the best fashion deals closest to them, lead them to physical stores to make purchases, and then share that experience with others. It may be a crowded space, but Swirl is one to watch: it is hitting the ground running with 220 deals in place with major brands like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Old Navy, covering 30,000 stores and 100,000 items in the U.S.; and a first round of funding totaling $6 million from Softbank, General Catalyst, Longworth Venture Partners and the founders of GSI Commerce, the e-commerce company that sold to eBay last year for $2.4 billion.
While a lot of mobile commerce startups are about mobile-based transactions, the distinctive point of Swirl is that it is squarely focused on offline shopping. Founder Hilmi Ozguc — a serial entrepreneur that sold Maven Networks to Yahoo! for $160 million and Narrative Communications to @Home Networks for $100 million — describes Swirl as “zigging while everyone else is zagging” because that is where the money, and existing pain points, are. Fashion is currently a $400 billion business, he says, but over 90% of it is purchased in store, with only 3% online (and even less so on mobile).
In Ozguc’s mind, there is a clear opportunity to improve on the offline experience using mobile: even though many people now using smartphones, they are necessarily using them to get the best, most real-time and accurate, information about where to shop for what they want, when they want it. Instead (and this may sound familiar to you; it does to me), there are a lot of offers sent, largely by email, for products you may or may not need.
Ozguc describes Swirl as a “personal shopping assistant” — something that can accompany you when you are on the move to help you get to what you need and maybe save some money and time in the process. In that sense, Swirl is right on the money with how mobile seems to be developing. Not only is Apple increasingly enhancing the functionality of its own personal assistant, Siri, but others like Google are also looking to increase the functionality found in handsets to make them more integrated and useful to your everyday life (this will be a key focus for Google with Motorola, the company has said).
In the meantime, the huge rush of individual brands to develop their own apps has left users unable to keep tabs on all of them, and looking for something that will provide a more integrated experience.
In the case of Swirl, the personal shopping assistant will learn over time what it is that you like and what you do not, and suggest products accordingly. Using Facebook integration, it will then share what you buy with your friends, and let groups collaborate on shopping lists. That will help the app remain relevant to users, even on those days when they are not shopping.
With its big-backers, and a founder who has already had two successful exits, Swirl is thinking many steps ahead for how it sees itself growing and making money in the future. Ozguc says Swirl wants to first “nail the experience” with fashion, which he says is the third-largest commerce category, but the aim is to move into other areas like housewares and more. For now, Swirl is staying away from the two biggest commerce areas — gas and groceries — because the experience for shopping for these is so different from fashion. “But never say never,” he says. For now the focus is the U.S. but international will come, too.
And — as you would expect with a company striking deals with national brands — there will be a central, big data element to Swirl. The company is currently developing a dashboard for retailers and brands to be able to see how their promotions and products are playing with consumers. “They have a ton of detail on how people shop online, but brands dying for information on what is happening in stores,” he says. This part, Ozguc notes, is still in development but will be a “big part of the Swirl platform.”
And there are plans to add a mobile commerce element to Swirl eventually, even if it remains one that you use in a physical store. The idea, he says, is to “make it easy to complete the purchase right there, once you've tried something on.”
“We have plans to incorporate payments on the device but right now it's about going into the store and driving sales there,” Ozguc notes. “We didn't want to put too many things into the app.”
It is this combination of big data plus consumer services that attracted Softbank to invest. “We had been tracking mobile-centric strategies for influencing offline purchases. Hilmi and his team came to us with the most technically robust solutions we'd seen,” noted Nikhil Kalghatgi, a partner at SoftBank Capital.
Still, what about all those other companies converging on this exact same space? They are numerous and include big companies like Groupon, Google and Foursquare, as well as a raft of smaller startups, from Shoptiques and Lyst to Shopkick. “I don't think there is any company that does what we do,” Ozguc explains. Fancy does a similar thing, he notes, tying the purchase to a picture that is posted, but merging this with the location element and deals with so many large brands is pretty unique right now. Those deals, by the way, will also translate into some interesting marketing activities to help spread the word about Swirl, although Ozguc did not want to go into too much detail yet about how that would work.
“There is a lot of noise right now in the mobile commerce space. But Swirl is built by people who have done this before, and the noise level will be lower in a couple of years,” Ozguc says. “People will be successful with different techniques but we’re on track to be very focused on the consumer, and right now the female consumer.”
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:48 AM PDT
Google is in the process of acquiring the Frommer’s travel brand from the publishing company John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in what is a further effort to beef up its Google+ business information listings service. The deal is nearly closed, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal, which also speculates that the Frommer’s brand could be merged into Google’s Zagat brand following the completion of the acquisition. (Update: it will be.)
Frommer’s has been up for sale since March, when its parent company announced that it intended to explore opportunities to sell a number of its print and digital publishing assets in its Professional/Trade businesses, saying that they “no longer align with the company’s long-term business strategy.” These included not only Frommer’s, but also culinary, general interest, nautical, pets, crafts, Webster's New World, and CliffsNotes.
The travel brand Frommer’s got its start back in 1957 with the publication of founder Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on $5 a Day,” and later expanded to include a collection of over 300 guidebooks as well as the Frommers.com website. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. picked up the property in 2001. Although not confirmed at this point, it’s probable that Google is only interested in the travel content Frommer’s has amassed, and the book publishing portion of Frommer’s business will cease. As for what Google saw in Frommer’s, that’s not quite as clear. Although its brand is still well-known, the quality of its content can be a little shaky – its reviews, for example, are often outdated. Perhaps the selling price just made the deal worthwhile?
Wiley is agreeing to sell all of its travel assets, including the Frommer’s brand, to Google, and proceeds of that sale will be redeployed to support growth in other areas of its business, the company has confirmed in a release. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
Google previously purchased restaurant ratings service Zagat in September 2011, which published guidebooks and apps with detailed ratings and reviews. Zagat’s content has since been used to improve Google+ – specifically Google+ Local which replaced the company’s previous business listings service Google Places. Like Zagat, Frommer’s and the other travel content seems a natural fit for Google+ integration as well.
Update, noon ET: A Google spokesperson has confirmed the deal, saying that “the Frommer’s team and the quality and scope of their content will be a great addition to the Zagat team. We can't wait to start working with them on our goal to provide a review for every relevant place in the world."
We’re also now hearing that the Frommer’s team will be joining the Zagat team, and indeed the acquisition is related to improvements related to the local search experience across Google. Initially, the Frommer’s content will come to Google under its own brand and will be further integrated with Zagat over time. No definitive decision has been made on the Frommer’s printed guides, but the deal is supposed to enable users discover reviews across Google, which means online.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:40 AM PDT
You never know who’ll you’ll meet on the internet. Maybe it’s the Craigslist killer, or maybe it’s the author of a book you need to read for your summer school assignment. For Yahoo! user ♥ Idiot America ~ ϟƘƦІןן∑x ♥, the latter held true. He (lazily) took to Yahoo! Answers to have someone else review his summer reading book for him, The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep And Never Had To by DC Pierson.
Surprisingly enough, Pierson himself responded to the post.
Now, clearly, the internet has made publishing a difficulty for authors. Traditional publishing houses are bleeding cash, and choose fewer and fewer authors to back. On the other hand, the epub market is flooded with new talent, which makes it difficult for an author to be discovered. It’s a Catch-22 of sorts, which is why services like PubSlush have waltzed into existence.
But what about readers? For readers, the world of books has only become easier. Don’t want to read a physical book? Download the Kindle version. Don’t want to actually read with your eyes? Download the audio version. Don’t understand a certain phrase or passage? Um… Google it.
Could it really get any easier?
Yet still, there are students who see reading as work rather than a joy, which is partially to be blamed on an increasingly visual world, and partially to be blamed on the fact that most of the educational system has yet to fully adopt students’ digital lives. This leaves it up to the authors to defend the value of their work, which is exactly what DC Pierson did.
You can check out the rest of Pierson’s response here, and if you’re an author I’d suggest
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:19 AM PDT
You know what Sprint’s LTE handset line-up has been missing (aside from more network coverage outside of Texas)? Some variety! Nearly all of Sprint’s LTE devices are monolithic, all-touch slabs of plastic and glass — it wouldn’t hurt to mix things up a bit, and that’s exactly what the carrier did.
On the off chance that your thumbs still yearn to pound out text messages on a physical QWERTY keyboard, Sprint has just announced that the recently-revealed Photon Q will hit store shelves on August 19. The Droid 4 lookalike will set interested customers back $199 with two-year commitment, and the truly devoted can pre-order their units today.
Looking past the laser-cut keyboard, the Photon Q also features a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor (Sprint hasn’t specified which one), a 4.3-inch qHD ColorBoost LCD display, NFC support, plus an 8-megapixel camera on its rear end. To top it all off, the Photon Q appears to sport the same lightly-modified take on Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich that pleasantly surprised me when it appeared on the Atrix HD.
Really, if it’s anything at all like the Atrix HD, then the Photon Q should be a real treat. I have to wonder how well the thing is going to sell though — the QWERTY keyboard is a distinct plus for certain users, but its price tag puts the Photon Q right alongside flagship devices like the Galaxy S III.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 08:15 AM PDT
We are thrilled to announce that Newark Mayor and part-time superhero, Cory Booker, will be speaking at our annual conference, Disrupt San Francisco, September 10-12. In anticipation for his talk, he’s given TechCrunch readers 50 invites to the Alpha version of his breakout personalized video news platform, #waywire (the first 50 people who send an email to email@example.com will receive an ALPHA invite code).
In addition to his speedy rise to prominence in the Democratic party, Booker has established himself as one of America’s most compelling political speakers, churning out viral hit after viral hit. We’ve included his Stanford commencement speech below to give our readers a taste of what he’ll be bringing to San Francisco.
In addition to speaking about #waywire, he’ll also speak about Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark schools and his widely praised approach to social media engagement (what other politician shovels snow off a driveway in response to a tweet?).
We’ll have a more thorough review of #waywire very soon. Hope to see you in San Francisco!
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 07:59 AM PDT
The iPhone is on sale at multiple retailers. Sprint cut $50 off the price of the 4S while the Verizon and AT&T models are $20 through Target. The aging iPhone 4 is only $50 from Best Buy. Best of all, Apple Stores are reportedly matching these prices.
But it’s a bad time to buy an iPhone. The new one is coming next month. You can wait. Plus, that means the older ones will get an even bigger price cut than what retailers are offering right now.
iPhone sales are slowing thanks to a steady stream of iPhone 5 rumors and leaks. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted this on Apple’s most recent financial conference call. Retailers are likely feeling the heat too and price cuts are an easy way to drum up some sales. But with all signs pointing to a new iPhone launching next month, it’s simply silly to buy an iPhone right now.
Retailers are trying to offload the current stock with as much margin as possible. If Apple follows its past pricing scheme, the iPhone 4S will drop down to $100 and the iPhone 4 will either be $50 or, perhaps, free with a two-year contract.
This isn’t anything new. When new products come out, the price of the old one drops.
However, there are times when you simply cannot wait a month. What if your young son gives your phone a soda bath? If you simply must purchase an iPhone now, AT&T is the best bet right now thanks to its 30 day return policy. Verizon and Sprint only offer a 14-day window. Theoretically, a person could purchase an iPhone 4S now (or anytime in the next month) and then return it for an iPhone 5 next month. But it could be tricky. The retailer would have to have the item in stock to do the exchange and finding an iPhone during its launch week has proven difficult in the past.
Still, the best bet is to skip these sales and just wait until next month. If your current iPhone is borked, just grin and bear it for a month.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 07:54 AM PDT
Cross-platform messaging service Imo.im has been keeping quiet lately, but the company piped up earlier this morning to reveal that its iOS app has just gotten a substantial update. When pecking out messages just doesn’t cut it any more, iOS-based Imo users can now call each other over their Wi-Fi or mobile data connections.
While the update is likely welcome news for the service's nearly 700,000 daily active users, it may seem as though Imo is a bit behind the curve. The mobile messaging space is a crowded one after all, and plenty of strong competitors — Viber, Nimbuzz, etc. — have long since offered voice calls between users.
Though the company is arguably late to the party, CEO Ralph Harik doesn't seem to mind much. For now, Imo's ace-in-the-hole continues to be its ability to aggregate messages from multiple popular messaging services (from Skype, Facebook Chat, and Google Talk all the way down to Steam) in a single app. It's an approach that other services have tried over the years — remember eBuddy? — but Harik still sees it as a way for Imo to stand out in the crowd.
This new release brings the iOS client in line with the Android version, which was updated with voice call functionality back in February. It was perhaps the most practical choice to make at the time — CEO Harik says the company focused on Android first because it was easier to iterate, and the team wanted to ensure that they worked out as many issues as possible for bringing the feature to iOS.
Though Harik wouldn't reveal how large a swath of the company's Android userbase has made voice calls, he seems hopeful that this new iOS push will help drive usage of the feature "dramatically." While the Imo app is available for BlackBerry users too (sorry Windows Phowners), there's no word yet on whether or not voice calling will make the leap to that platform any time soon.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 07:27 AM PDT
AppFlow, a beautifully designed app that helps users discover new apps and games for their mobile phone, is making the big leap from Windows Phone to iOS today. Yes, there are a lot of these types of apps out there, but AppFlow’s attention and focus on design really makes it stand out from the pack. It’s attractive, fluid, makes interesting use of gestures, and most importantly, it can actually help you find new apps.
Up until a month ago, AppFlow was a Hungarian-based company, but the founders recently relocated to Redwood City, California. “Entrepreneurial spirit is not that popular in Hungary,” admits co-founder Balint Orosz of the move. He and his other two co-founders Akos Kapui and Laszlo Zold had previously been doing freelance software development for others, but they knew they wanted to try their hand at making something for themselves, which is how AppFlow began.
“We’re app developers, and we saw that app discovery isn’t really the way it should be. A lot of people are trying to solve this, but we have a different idea,” says Orosz. “We’re very focused on the visual aspects, so we decided to start on Windows Phone 7 to try out our concept of visual browsing.” By visual browsing, he’s talking about something that’s very different from Apple’s own App Store with its search bar, app results, and lists. AppFlow instead delivers a feeling of immersive exploration of apps – more of a true app discovery interface, not an app search engine.
Despite Windows Phone’s lack of market share (or perhaps because of it), the original AppFlow app was a relative hit on that platform. It saw around 400,000 downloads and was serving up a good number of the total app downloads occurring on Windows Phone, too. However, an app that only lives on Windows Phone can’t really be a game changer, the team knew. But since the proof-of-concept app was able to generate interest there, the team decided to take their app concept over to iOS.
The new iOS app is designed more for what Orosz describes as “emotional users” – people who connect with an app because of visual elements, not star ratings or download stats. “They like the screenshots, they like the name,” he explains. “In app discovery, everybody is going to search or recommendation that blocks your browsing…you can’t really go deeper into the content,” he says of the competition. “You can’t really browse through the App Store. But the users who behave like this – those are the hardcore app downloaders,” he says.
In AppFlow, users have a “bucket” where they can save the apps they discover when browsing, as well as a section called “My Flow,” which contains the apps from all the other users and lists they’re following. AppFlow has a Twitter-like model where users follow others on the service to see what people recommend. To kick-start this process, the company has created placeholder users and lists so there’s already content to explore. These “users” have names like MusicMichelle, PhotoAppSophie, ITAddictTim, SocialSam, BusinessBen, and so on to indicate what kind of content their lists contain.
Orosz says these “users” will continue to update AppFlow with their own curated content, but the hope is that, in the future, they will play a smaller role in app discovery as more “real” users come on board. Today, there are 25 users in total and 700 lists to explore across sections like “Hot Apps,” “New and Impressive Apps,” “Top Paid Apps,” “Trending App Lists,” and more.
But the most notable thing about AppFlow is the experience of using it – something which you have to try for yourself, really. The screens slide and transition fluidly, taps and gestures let you navigate quickly, and content in the app is detailed enough without feeling overly cluttered with information. It’s definitely a different feeling than you usually get in iOS applications.
Now based in California, these young, first-time entrepreneurs are dialing down their side projects for clients and are looking to raise funding in order to focus on AppFlow going forward. You can download the app for yourself from here.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 07:00 AM PDT
Very few advertisers are able to take advantage of the ability to reach viewers on multiple screens. In the days leading up to and during ESPN’s X Games in Los Angeles, Tremor Video showed how it was done, with a four-screen ad campaign for video camera maker GoPro.
GoPro’s campaign ran from June 26 through July 1, in effect trying to build up anticipation among fans during ESPN’s X Games. As a big sponsor and advocate of the kind of action sports that take place during the games, GoPro saw an opportunity to show its cameras in action. So in addition to its usual TV ads, the company ran a bunch of online video ads featuring raw footage shot from GoPro cameras during practice sessions before the games.
But knowing that its audience is young and tech-savvy and on-the-go, GoPro wanted to make its ads available in as many places and devices as possible. So it teamed up with Tremor on the ad network’s first four-screen campaign. GoPro delivered 15-second versions of its current TV commercials ahead of the event, as well as a 30-second spot of a GoPro BMX athlete during practice, with all footage shot by its cameras. Tremor delivered video ads to audiences online, as well as mobile phones, tablets, and connected TV viewers that were checking out X-Games content.
Since each platform provides different types of experiences for consumers, interaction with the campaign varied by device. But for the most part, each were overlay ad units designed to get viewers to click through and engage with other GoPro content. Users who clicked through were able to access GoPro’s Video of the Week, and Tremor was paid on a cost-per-engagement basis.
Let’s face it: Multiplatform is the future of video, and we can expect more ad campaigns like this. Tremor’s shown that it can do it once, so it’s well-positioned to deliver video ads across any device that an advertiser wants to hit.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 06:31 AM PDT
Teleconferencing has changed the way business is conducted. Small companies can hire talent in another city, large corporations can save money by having international meetings in a conference room, and managers can keep tabs on off-site workers through services like Lua. But as technology never rests, neither does the teleconference industry, and Y Combinator-backed Double Robotics proves it.
The company has built an incredibly creative iPad stand that works as a robotic body double for you. It’s a bit like the Swivl, but built for the enterprise.
Founder David Cann tells me that the greatest competitor to the Double is Anybots — you remember, the robot that made Arrington tolerable to his employees. The biggest difference, however, is price. While Anybots can go for approximately $10,000, the Double only costs around $2,000. “We’re doing it the lean startup way,” said Cann, “rather than the traditional way of developing robotics which is very expensive and complicated.”
But how did the team circumvent such high costs and complexities, you ask?
According to Cann, they applied the same method of developing software to developing hardware, keeping the whole project under their roof. They bought a lot of their own equipment to test and develop the hardware, allowing them to iterate much more quickly than your usual hardware developer.
What’s perhaps most interesting about the origin of the Double was that it wasn’t even a glimmer in the eye of the Double Robotics founders. They were actually developing a product that required partnerships with Chinese manufacturers, and they found themselves increasingly frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t keep an eye on the project.
After learning more about mobile robots, the guys realized that they could visit the factory every day and look over the progress being made.
“We never came out with that product because we decided to pivot,” said Cann. “Mobile Robots are expensive and complicated, and we thought we could do it better.”
The Y Combinator-backed Double, as it were, can extend to 5′ or back down to 3.6′ to be in line with people standing or sitting in the room. It uses OpenTalk to essentially let you video chat with those people.
The Double has a dual-wheel for its base, letting you turn sharp corners and travel around a room or work site all from the comfort of your own home.
You can control the robot through any other iOS device, or through a web interface, which lets you travel throughout the room, decide which height to rest at, and of course, chat with those in the room.
As far as the future is concerned, the Double’s story is as-yet unwritten. Cann explains that they had no idea that mobile robots would be in high-demand by so many different types of users. Clients range from startups who’ve hired talent elsewhere, to major corporations, to doctors who have patients at various hospitals.
Right now the company has put the Double up for pre-order on its newly launched website for $1,999. Though, if you’re a cautious buyer, you may want to wait until Double is available for retail later this year, at the price of $2,499.
Check out how it works in the video below:
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 06:23 AM PDT
Who has two thumbs and wants to play some Megaman on a summer morning while you should be working on your TPS reports? All of us.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 06:16 AM PDT
Goodreads,the site that lets you share the books you’ve read, are reading, and want to read, says it has just hit the 10 million member mark.
That means the company has doubled its registered user base in a little more than a year — 15 months, to be more precise. It took Goodreads four and a half years to reach 5 million members back in May 2011.
Co-founder and CEO Otis Chandler tells me the “main accelerant of our growth this year” has the company’s new Facebook Open Graph app. He also says Goodreads’ book recommendation engine, which it launched in September after acquiring Discovereads.com, has played a big role in the growth.
Chandler notes that “the publishing industry has a huge discovery problem, because books are going digital” and brick-and-mortar bookstores are disappearing. Amazon.com is trying to solve the problem with its own book recommendations, but Chandler says this creates “a huge opportunity” for Goodreads — after all, one of the main benefits of a social reading site is finding friends’ recommendations for books to read, and he has said in the past that Goodreads has “the best book recommendations on the internet right now.”
Goodreads claims to have more catalogued 360 million books, with 22 million (and climbing) added per month. The site sees about 140 million monthly pageviews, Chandler says, and receives about 22 million monthly unique visitors — so Goodreads can deliver a big audience to its advertisers, and also provide them unique data about whether their campaigns are driving engagement in the Goodreads community.
The company also just moved into a new 6,000 square foot office in San Francisco.
As for what comes next, Chandler says the company is building more features allowing readers to update their profiles as they read a book — so they don’t just say what book they’re reading, but how far they are into it, and any thoughts they have as they read. He also says the company is talking to the Facebook team about building book clubs within the social network (Goodreads already runs book clubs/discussion groups on its own site).
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 05:28 AM PDT
Earlier this year, Deutsche Telekom took a step into mobile gaming with a €2 million investment in Flaregames. Today, it’s expanding its in-house online gaming business. The carrier, which owns mobile operator T-Mobile, has announced that a worldwide license to create a browser-based game based on the popular Asterix comic books, as part of a larger expansion of its gaming activities.
The deal will see Deutsche Telekom work with SEE Games (a division of the licensing house SEE Global Entertainment); Asterix book publisher Les Éditions Albert René; and the games developers Sproing, to create an Asterix game that will become the “flagship” brand for the carrier in its new push into browser-based games. That push will also involve “significant” (but unspecified) investments into gaming software development and marketing, Deutsche Telekom says.
The announcement was being made in advance of the Gamescom gaming show that will take place later this week.
Rather than trying to create a whole new brand for the gaming market as, say, Rovio did with Angry Birds, DT has gone for an established, popular character. There have been some 350 million Asterix comics sold, and the stories have been made into eight animated and three live-action movies.
But there is a challenge, here too, apart from the fact that this is a new business area for Deutsche Telecom: there are already a number of online Asterix games on the market — you can see some of them here on Asterix’s own website — and given the advances in games engineering there will be a tall order to top what’s already out there.
“We are working hard so that we will soon be able to offer devoted fans a unique experience and breathe new ‘interactive’ life into Astérix,” noted Marko Hein, VP of Games at Deutsche Telekom.
Deutsche Telekom, like other carriers that have moved into areas like TV services, are committed to creating more online content and monetizing it as a way of offsetting declines in more traditional lines of business like voice services. “This game is definitely the flagship of a range of products which will get Deutsche Telekom started in the growing area of game publishing,” Hein noted. It also joins up with the ongoing push away from console-based gaming content into play-anywhere online versions.
The Asterix game will also be available in a free-to-play version on the Deutsche Telekom games platform Gamesload, Deutsche Telekom notes.
The deal also underscores how smaller and regional games publishers are teaming up with bigger companies to improve distribution. Deutsche Telekom to date has 130 million mobile customers, 33 million fixed-network lines and over 17 million broadband lines.
“Working with Deutsche Telekom as the publisher of the browser game is particularly groundbreaking for us. Their coverage and marketing skills at a global level will guarantee that this new Astérix adventure will be a huge success for fans around the world,” noted
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 05:19 AM PDT
So-called talent measurement and management platforms have been around for a while, but they have been making an inexorable move to cloud-based services over the last few years. The Corporate Executive Board Company, based out of Arlington recently acquired UK-based SHL last month, while there are others competing in the space including Interviewstreet and Codility which focus on the segment of “hands-on” coding assessments for engineers.
Now Mettl an online skill assessment platform based out of India has raised $4 million Series A round led by IndoUS and existing investors to accelerate product development. Vani Kola, MD at IndoUS will join the board of the company.
Launched in 2010, Mettl’s talent assessment platform is now in use by a variety of large companies and small startups. It’s mainly used for screening pre-hiresand for employee competency tracking and training.
One of its main differentiators is its "hands-on" assessment offering, wherein companies can setup assessments to measure skills as if the candidates are doing their day job. For example, if a company wants to hire a developer, they can create a custom assessment and judge the candidate's coding skills. Mettl's algorithms then grade that code in real time.
Mettl had earlier raised angel funding from Blume Ventures, Dr. Puranjaya Singh, Naveen Tewari of Inmobi and others.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 04:58 AM PDT
Adyen, the Dutch Internet and mobile payment startup, is trumpeting a big client win today: Its single-click payment solution has been selected by social sound platform SoundCloud. But that in itself isn’t really all that newsworthy. The real story, as we understand it, is that SoundCloud users will soon be able to start selling tracks through the platform.
(Update: In a case of one company’s PR saying one thing, and the other something quite different: SoundCloud has finally responded to my enquiry to say that it’s NOT rolling out a feature to let users sell tracks. Adyen is in fact simply replacing its current premium subscription payment solution. Yawn. The original article follows below.)
With a stated mission to “unmute” the Web, SoundCloud enables users to easily record, upload and share original sound on the likes of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare. The Berlin-headquartered company currently claims “over 20 million” registered users, which include music professionals, book publishers, comedians and journalists, while it’s amassed eight million app downloads. Turning those users into profitability, beyond the premium accounts for producers that it already offers, seems a very logical next step. Especially when you consider that the SoundCloud player is already widely embedded across the Web — in its early days it was sometimes described as the YouTube of audio.
One company’s client win is potentially another’s loss, however. SoundCloud currently integrates with payment startups Flattr and BuySimple — as separate SoundCloud ‘apps’ via the company’s API. With Adyen now onboard, those integrations look a little less relevant.
SoundCloud says it chose Adyen because it needed a payment and fraud management solution that could scale globally, and one that could support multiple currencies. Adyen supports 100 payment methods across Europe, USA, Asia and Latin America. The “cultural fit” of the two companies is also being talked up — they are both European neighbours after all.
Turning on the monetization taps further will no doubt be good news to SoundCloud’s backers. In January of this year we reported on the company’s latest round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers with participation also from GGV Capital. The amount was not disclosed but TechCrunch understood it to be $50 million, giving the company a $200 million pre-money valuation. SoundCloud’s previous investors include Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures, Union Square Ventures, and Index Ventures.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 04:00 AM PDT
Being an independent filmmaker is a tough business. Hundreds of indie movies are made each year, but only a few will find distribution. While the Internet is providing a bigger opportunity for filmmakers to market films themselves, most don’t have the tools or resources to get their content online or to distribute direct to fans. Well, MoPix is here to help.
MoPix, which was founded in 2011, has officially launched to help indie filmmakers distribute their movies to consumers, with easy-to-create iOS and Android apps, as well as sales through its own Roku store. It’s also struck a deal with CDBaby, which will give it access to more than 3,000 films that can be converted and sold as independent apps.
The startup provides a platform through which filmmakers can upload their movies and create custom iOS apps, allowing filmmakers to forgo theatrical and DVD distribution and market the films themselves. So why would a filmmaker even want to do this? In part because finding traditional distribution is hard, and the DVD business is no longer all it’s cracked up to be.
MoPix founder Ryan Stoner points out that 5,300 movies got submitted to Sundance last year, but only 232 got shown. Even worse, less than 100 actually got picked up for distribution. Even if you do get distribution, middle men can take up to 80 percent of the sale price, and filmmakers are at their mercy for release dates and pricing. By going through MoPix instead, indie filmmakers get to set their own prices, and collect the vast majority of money that consumers pay for their movies.
The platform comes with a content management system for building mobile apps. It connects to cloud storage systems like Dropbox and Amazon Web Services, allowing filmmakers to easily import files from anywhere. It then walks filmmakers through the process of collecting assets, laying out pages, and organizing content into apps that can be purchased. Users can use the platform to sell those apps on the Apple App Store and Google Play systems. It’s also building support for connected TV devices, like Roku, where users will be able to purchase movies on their own. Filmmakers can set their own price for movies, and Stoner tells me the average price is around $6.99.
For a while, MoPix was offering its service direct to filmmakers, but the CDBaby deal gives it a lot more content to work with. By taking over digital distribution for movies that are part of CDBaby’s FilmBaby division, it has access to more than 2,000 filmmakers who are trying to reach audiences worldwide. That includes more than 3,000 film titles, which it could convert into iPad apps.
Posted: 13 Aug 2012 03:22 AM PDT
With Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility closing in May, Google is now moving ahead on getting its new property in order. The New York Times is reporting that Google is preparing lay off 20 percent of the staff, or 4,000 jobs, and close one-third of its 94 worldwide offices – notifications of which will start to get sent out to employees beginning today (Monday), TechCrunch has learned.
(Update: Google has now posted an 8-K form confirming the cuts and closures, with the SEC noting a charge of up to $275 million for the cuts, initially coming in the third quarter, but also forebodingly noting that additional future charges for a bigger plan to overhaul the business “could be significant”. More details below)
TechCrunch first reported these job cuts would happen back in May, and now we have a bit more colour on this:
For starters, it looks like these cuts are getting made across the board as part of a general downsizing, rather than a strategic move targeting specific areas of the business. In other words, these cuts won’t give us any additional enlightenment about whether Google will continue to pursue Motorola’s set-top box business, or handset making business, or focus mainly on the 17k+ patents it has picked up in the deal. Nevertheless, the main aim of cuts is to return Motorola’s handset unit to profitability.
The 8-K form confirms that in addition to the job cuts, it is planning a big business overhaul. About one-third of Motorola’s 90 facilities will be closed, and the mobile product portfolio will be “simplified” and focused on smartphones, confirming other comments made in the NYT interview. This will mean the likely prospect of more restructuring charges. From the 8-K form:
Google would not comment on when layout notices would start to be sent out, or what areas will be affected, but it did confirm the layoffs as reported in the NYT. A spokesperson said that the main aim is to return Motorola’s longtime loss-making mobile devices unit to profitability:
“While we expect this strategy to create new opportunities and help return Motorola’s mobile devices unit to profitability, we understand how hard these changes will be for the employees concerned. Motorola is committed to helping them through this difficult transition and will be providing generous severance packages, as well as outplacement services to help people find new jobs.”
The NYT piece notes that one-third of the cuts will be in the U.S. with the remaining two-thirds in the rest of the world. TechCrunch understands that Motorola had already been negotiating with key personnel at the company for weeks already.
Dennis Woodside, the Google transplant who is now Motorola’s new chief executive, told the NYT that Motorola will be streamlining quite a lot: goodbye to unprofitable markets, feature phone devices and a wide range of handset models from 27 introduced last year to “just a few” focusing on new features like better batteries and cameras and sensors that can identify people by their voices. That means more people in R&D and probably significantly less in manufacturing centers.
It’s not surprising that the majority of the cuts will happen outside the U.S., since this is what appears to be driving a lot of the decline at Motorola, as it competes against much bigger players like Apple and fellow-Android licensee Samsung.
As Google’s Android has risen to become the world’s most popular smartphone platform, Motorola has not been one of the chief beneficiaries of that rise in the same way that Samsung has.
Moto, in fact, has been on a downward trajectory, with its Q1 global share of mobile sales, according to Gartner, down to 2% worldwide (from 2.1% in Q1 ). At least in the U.S., Motorola still has a ranking, if small, proportion smartphone business. According to figures out from comScore, for the quarter ended June 30, Motorola accounted for 11.7% of all smartphone activity in the U.S., putting it as the fourth most-used smartphone brand in the U.S. But with that number down 1.1% from a year ago, this points to how the company unit sales are actually in decline there as well.
In Google’s last quarterly earnings, the first to include Motorola, Google noted that Motorola posted a GAAP operating loss of $233 million ($192 million for the mobile segment and $41 million for the home segment), equivalent to -19% of Motorola revenues in the second quarter of 2012. Non-GAAP operating loss for Motorola in the second quarter of 2012 was $38 million, or -3% of Motorola revenues.
Google reported Motorola hardware (and other) revenues of $1.25 billion, compared to $3.3 billion a year ago. (Google didn’t post revenues for Motorola from the year ago, so this may not be a straight like-for-like comparison.)
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