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Cyanogen Goes Fancy

Cyanogen, a “community” Android version that allowed users of older phones to get some of Android’s newer features, is going just a bit more corporate in the wake of its partnership with Qualcomm. The commercial Cyanogen OS and the more community-minded CyanogenMod will become Qualcomm’s Android of choice for its new Snapdragon processors. It is also rebranding in the face of increased interest by average users.

The partnership between Qualcomm and Cyanogen is primarily about making the OS easier to use on the chip-maker’s hardware. From the release:

Cyanogen is widely known through the industry for its commercially distributed Cyanogen OS and the CyanogenMod community distribution. Through the enhanced solution, Cyanogen brings a number of feature-rich enhancements, including a new launcher and personal information management apps across dialer, messaging, contacts, and calendar. The Cyanogen OS experience arrives on the most current Android(TM) 5.0 Lollipop release, and will be available to device makers globally.
But that’s not all: the company has begun rebranding in an effort to look a bit more professional. Like all good orgs going through growing pains, they have abandoned the cute Android logos of old and are now moving forward under the logo above, one that looks like the title card for a space-based video game.

It’s been fascinating to watch Cyanogen grow over the years. It used to be the de facto way to get “open” Android on your phone and it was a hoot trying to reflash your devices in order to get new features unavailable in “vanilla” versions. Like all things, however, new investment and a cool new phone have made the group more commercial.

Posted: 02:54, 2015-Mar-2
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Apple Watch Pop-Up Shop Also Planned for London's Selfridges Department Store

Apple is planning to open a dedicated pop-up shop for the Apple Watch at high-end department store Selfridges in London, according to sources. The shop will likely be located near the entrance of the iconic Wonder Room, a 19,000-square-foot shopping hall that houses a wide selection of luxury jewelry and watch brands alongside a concept store and mezzanine wine bar. 

A section of Selfridges located near the Wonder Room was boarded up earlier this month to allow for construction of the expected Apple Watch pop-up shop, sources say. The store-within-a-store concept will display various Apple Watch models and provide customers with a personalized shopping experience, potentially including One to One service for those interested in learning more about the wrist-worn device. 

Apple is recruiting retail employees from nearby Apple Stores in London to fill Specialist vacancies at an upcoming Central London location, which is likely to be this Selfridges boutique. The pop-up shop is expected to be readied in time for the Apple Watch launch in April and will likely join Galeries Lafayette as one of multiple standalone Apple Watch stores that Apple plans to open throughout Europe. 

Selfridges has the second-largest retail space in the United Kingdom behind competing high-end department store Harrods. The store offers a myriad of designer jewelry and accessories, such as watches, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, pendants and rings. With the Apple Watch positioned at least partially as a fashion item, the department store offers an ideal setting for the wrist-worn device to be displayed.

Posted: 10:36, 2015-Feb-28
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Toddler Allegedly 'Pulled' To The Ground By Strange Force

Even a game of peekaboo is too dangerous.

The parents of a 1-year-old Welsh girl claim their daughter was pulled to the ground by a mysterious force during a game of peekaboo.

Lexi Hood was at her home in Bridgend, Wales fooling around with her parents, Gareth and Charlene, when she appears to suddenly move backwards and fall to the ground, according to the Express.

"She just went shooting back," Gareth Hunt said. "Her arms went out to the side and she went back, as if she has been pushed or pulled."

Hunt said his daughter is very secure on her feet, though we would politely point out that 1-year-olds are known to sometimes lose their balance.

Also, the Express and Mirror report that, according to her parents, Hood shouted "down" when she fell. But the Daily Mail reports that she said "naughty boy," as if she was scolding someone.

You have to keep your story about paranormal activity consistent, people.

So was little Lexi pushed by a ghost or did she just fall? Tell us in the comments and then, depending on your answer, prepare to be haunted by dark spirits for the rest of your miserable life.

Posted: 01:14, 2015-Feb-28
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LinkedIn Sharpens Focus On Education: Self-Serve Widget Lets Users Add Certifications To Profiles

LinkedIn - the social network for the working world - has been working on launching various tools to increase the usefulness and engagement of its platform to its 300m+ users. Today sees the launch of the latest of these. LinkedIn is unveiling a self-service certification feature, aimed both at helping education businesses and institutions spread their name in a more legit way on the site, and for users to enhance their profiles at the same time.

The news comes at the same time that I am hearing that LinkedIn is working on developing a new pilot with online learning companies, where LinkedIn would act as a platform not just for people to show off their achievements, but to actually act as the place where users would do the work to get them, too.

While conversations for this are still in an early stage, the new service being announced today - with the catchy name of Add to Profile for Certifications - could be thought of as a brick in that longer road.

It will let professional education providers integrate a certifications widgets on their sites, and LinkedIn users who have completed courses will, in turn, be able to add these to their own profiles as "proof" of having completed a course.

It is an expansion of a pilot program LinkedIn launched a year ago with a small group of businesses that included Microsoft, Coursera, Lynda.com and others. Today's news effectively means that the platform is being opened to any professional education institution that wants to participate.

It's also an enhancement for LinkedIn on a number of other fronts. To build out the company's jobseeking business, which today accounts for the majority of its revenues, LinkedIn has been making it easier for use their LinkedIn profiles effectively as resume proxies, giving them more flexibility to apply for jobs, for example, on mobile devices. Adding certification badges enhances a LinkedIn profile even further.

Then, the company has been building up its relationships with educational institutions, as well as expanding its own role in reaching out to students to grow its user base. So far, the Certification program has not extended to the world of higher learning, but it seems to me that this would be the next logical step, and a smart one, considering that today there is very little you can do in the way of vetting people's claims on the site.

The third key area for LinkedIn here is the fact that these certifications start not within its own walled garden, but on third-party sites. In other words, the company is making an effort here to extend its own "professional graph" beyond that of LinkedIn, creating a tighter and more ubiquitous ecosystem, much like Facebook has done with Facebook connect. That sort of groundwork can longer term be used for any number of other purposes, from advertising through to log-in services elsewhere and more.

Posted: 07:17, 2014-Nov-20
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With Vyte.in, Schedule Meetings Without Long Email Threads

Scheduling a meeting usually takes a few emails. Add a third person, and you are now stuck in an email nightmare. French startup Vyte.in knows this too well, and will let you schedule meetings in a few clicks right in your browser.

"I've worked for 4 years in big companies and small startups - from the smallest to the biggest company, you always have this problem when it comes to organizing meetings." co-founder and CEO Martin Saint-Macary told me in a phone interview. "Project managers can even end up spending half of their time in meetings, and the other half organizing meetings."

Here's how it works when you want to set up a meeting. You go on Vyte.in's website, create an event, add a title and your invitees. After that, you can select multiple time slots directly in a calendar view. And that's it.

Your recipient will receive an email to select the best time slot or suggest another one. The meeting will then automatically appear in your calendar.

But here's where Vyte.in shines. When you set up a meeting and select time slots, you get your own calendar events in Vyte.in's interface, so that you know when you are actually available. If the person you are inviting is using Vyte.in and Google Calendar too, you will also see when he or she is available. All of this is seamless and makes it much easier to pick a time that works for everyone. When you schedule multiple meetings, Vyte.in will automatically avoid redundant or conflicting time slots.

Having to deal with time zones can get quite frustrating as well. I have to translate my time to San Francisco or New York time multiple times a day. With Vyte.in, you pick a time that works for you, and your recipient will see the invite in his or her local time zone.

For now, event creators have to use Google Calendar. But recipients don't need to be Google Calendar users. The team is working on other backends and platforms.

The difficult part for this kind of product is that it only works if it's as straightforward as possible. An email reply only requires one click, while going to Vyte.in's website creates friction. But I think Vyte.in managed to build enough features without over-complicating the product. If the team could add support for more calendar backends, it could become an important tool for many busy people.

Posted: 07:14, 2014-Nov-20
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YouTube Revamps Its Music Awards For Second Year Show

YouTube is bringing back its annual Music Awards for a second festival, with a new format that is designed to better emphasize the role of fans and creators on the service. The YouTube Music Awards last year were directed by Spike Jonze, and hosted by Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts. VICE Media is onboard as a production partner for the event, but it sounds like in addition to the typical star-studded fare, there will also be an effort to involve fan-created mashups, creations and collaborations more directly into the event.

This year's show will once again seek fan feedback to determine winners for the actual awards given away, and YouTube will be releasing new videos on its platform at a channel dedicated to the event as part of the lead up to the show.

The YTMA show goes down in March, and YouTube promises more in the way of details to come in December, along with additional information in January. We'll probably here more about who's directing this time around, as well as about hosts, when those follow-up announcements are made.

YouTube's focus on music includes the recent launch of its YouTube Music Key subscription service and the free YouTube Music dedicated section of its website. The beta for Music Key just started rolling out, and we'll have more to share about our experience with the product later on.

Posted: 07:12, 2014-Nov-20
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Flywheel Gets $12 Million In Series C Funding, Slams Uber And Finds A New CEO

Flywheel, the app that hooks up taxi drivers with riders, announced Rakesh Mathur as the new CEO today. Mathur served as an Amazon VP in the early days, after the "The Everything Store" purchased his e-commerce startup Junglee.

Mathur has brought in a new executive team and $12 million in a series C round of funding from TCW/Craton, Rockport Capital and Shasta Ventures. All three venture firms supported Flywheel's last round for $14.8 million. This puts Flywheel's total bankroll to date at nearly $35 million.

San Francisco's Yellow Cab may not have embraced the app for its own fleet (it made its own). But it is the number one preferred cab app among taxi drivers in S.F. Flywheel has partnered with nearly all of cab companies throughout the city, excepting Yellow Cab, and claims over 80 percent adoption among cab drivers here. Early Flywheel adopter DeSoto Cabs plans to roll out its own fleet of Flywheel-branded cars in the coming weeks.

"The speed, safety and reliability of the taxi community combined with Flywheel's ability to provide rides quickly has created a compelling alternative to Uber in San Francisco," Mathur stated in a release.

Flywheel plans to use the new funds to expand the service in more cities and cab companies throughout the U.S. "We look forward to sharing this offering with taxi fleets across the nation while promoting an equal opportunity culture that rewards the honest, hard working drivers that Uber has vilified," Mathur said, throwing some obviously timely shade on its largest ride-sharing competitor.

Percy Rajani left his position at Humin recently to join the cab startup as CTO. Oneal Bhambani, a concurrent partner at TCW/Craton, joins Flywheel as the new CFO.

Rakesh and Oneal will also serve alongside Rockport Capital's Abe Yokell and Shasta Ventures' Rob Coneybeer on  Flywheel's board of directors.

Posted: 07:01, 2014-Nov-20
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IBM The Latest To Try To Fix Email

IBM wants to take on email and today released its new email product called IBM Verse. It believes like so many before it, that the problem with email is the presentation, not the medium itself, but the real issue is that it’s been abused, used as a communications and collaboration tool it’s just not well suited for.

IBM’s answer is to throw some design sense at the problem, and mix it with analytics and intelligence and when you’re done, you have a smarter and more usable email tool, and it seems to work to some extent, but it doesn’t really address the fundamental underlying issues with email, no matter how pretty or well designed it is.

When you look at its tool kit though, it’s a lot like Cisco’s Project Squared tool I wrote about yesterday in that you can do a number of communications and collaboration tasks all within in a single, well-designed interface. The tool combines email, meetings, calendars, file sharing, instant messaging, social updates, video chats and more.

In that sense it’s like a lot of email and collaboration platforms including Outlook, but it wants to be much more than that and use its analytics capabilities to help you surface the people and email that matter most and see connections among the people who are part of any communications string.

The idea with this approach is to use intelligence to surface the content that matters most to you in your Inbox. The real proof of this application will be in the using. It’s hard to know how well this will work until you try it. IBM plans to even bring Watson into the equation in a future release (it doesn’t say quite when) where you can use Watson to search across the collaboration platform to find the best answers to any particular query.

IBM says Verse is also part of the partnership with Apple to bring enterprise software to the iPad, but even though the people panel across the top looks a lot like iOS 8, IBM told me they developed this interface independently of Cupertino. Perhaps, great minds really do think alike.

The real question is if email is the best way to organize our work lives. Justin Rosenstein, a co-founder at Asana (along with Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz) thinks email is simply an electronic version of paper mail and no matter how you organize it, it’s not the right way to deal with project coordination.

“Email is just an upgrade to the post office. It was never intended as a human coordination tool. While it’s really good for sending letters, it’s not good for coordinating a bunch of people,” Rosenstein told me in a recent conversation. In fact, his company’s tagline is ‘teamwork without email.’

Rosenstein says we’re going about this all wrong. He thinks we should be centering on the graph of work knowledge. He told me that instead of focusing on email, we should be focusing on our work, not a virtual pile of correspondence. Whereas the social graph describes our personal lives, Asana’s work graph puts work at center (tasks, projects, ideas, customers, any unit of work –are nodes). In the work graph, he explained, each of the nodes is annotated with file attachments, conversations, due dates and so forth, and relationships can be mapped between units of work to see how these different elements relate to one another.

It’s worth noting that Rosenstein and Moskovitz’s former employer Facebook, is also working on a similar approach to the problem called ‘Facebook at Work’.

But there are other ways to do this too. Box and Dropbox want to organize work around files. Evernote wants to organize your work around notes.

What all of these approaches have in common is that they are looking at ways to organize our work lives in a way that takes email out of the center. None of these companies have professed to eliminate email, but they want to put it back in its rightful place. The phone hasn’t disappeared as a business communication tool, but it is not the center of our work communication to a large extent any longer. Email is good for longer correspondence that doesn’t fit well in a messaging environment, but it shouldn’t be used as a de facto project coordination and file sharing tool and that’s what it has become.

Which brings us back to IBM, which wants to keep email where it is, smack dab in the center of our work lives (which many workers are perfectly content to do). Can IBM make a silk’s purse out of sow’s ear?

Verse is certainly a big step forward in terms of design, but if you have to rethink the way you do email and retrain people to use email differently, maybe that would be a good point to rethink the role of email in your organization.

It doesn’t mean email is going away. It shouldn’t, but it does mean that we have to reconsider how we use and abuse email and if there might be a better way to work, however you choose to do that.

Posted: 06:55, 2014-Nov-18
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Apple Patents A Mouse With A Built-In Scanner And Display

Apple has been granted a new patent by the USPTO today (via AppleInsider), which describes a mouse with an embedded scanner. The scanner can be used to actually scan images, and display them on an embedded screen, but it also would help the mouse deal with varying surface types and track better in general, thanks to the addition of the kinds of chromatic sensor found in scanners.

The Apple patent describes how use of the scanner’s sensors would allow it to detect different kinds of surfaces and adjust its behaviour accordingly. The tech is sort of similar to the approach taken with its current Magic Mouse, which uses high-accuracy laser tracking to identify surface irregularity and work on materials other than mouse pads. It can already handle basically anything except for glass, so this is just an alternative tech that likely won’t lead to any big changes in how Apple produces its mice.

As a scanner, it would also likely be quite fiddly to use, and other similar products on the market haven’t done very well, so I’d be hesitant to suggest a next-gen Magic Mouse would contain something similar. But the fact that Apple is even working on tech that could incorporate a multi-touch display into peripheral devices, useful for performing direct, small manipulations to content before sending it off to the connected gadgets is interesting.

Peripherals need some kind of change to bring them into the multitouch era more fully, and embedded displays would likely help with those efforts. Plus, if the scanner is thought of not as a traditional scanner, but as an additional input method, then it becomes more potentially interesting as an actual additive experience.

Posted: 06:51, 2014-Nov-18
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Music Hardware Maker ROLI Acquires JUCE, A Key Music Industry Framework

ROLI, which makes the innovative Seaboard Grand, a completely new type of keyboard musical instrument, has acquired JUCE, a long-time C++ framework which has, over the last few years, come to be used by most of the leading audio companies such as Korg, Pioneer, Arturia, Akai Professional, and M-Audio. Terms were not disclosed.

The significance of this move may be lost on the average tech observer but I can assure you that anyone in the music production industry will be bowled over by this news. What it means is that ROLI now owns one of the fundamental music platforms existing today.

The acquisition will enable ROLI to both expand the Seaboard’s compatibility with existing 3rd party software, and develop JUCE as a toolkit for creating next generation interfaces for music. Julian (“Jules”) Storer, founder of Raw Materials Software which makes JUCE, will be joining the ROLI team as Head of Software Architecture and will continue as the Editor-in-Chief for all things JUCE.

Earlier this year ROLI, secured a $12.8m (£7.6m) Series A financing, led by Balderton Capital (investors in LoveFilm and Kobalt Music Group), alongside FirstMark Capital (investors in Pinterest and Shopify), Index Ventures (investors in Sonos and Soundcloud), as well as strategic investor Universal Music. It was one of the largest ever investments in a music hardware company,

The Seaboard GRAND has soft rubber keys which can bend a tune not unlike you can bend the strings on a guitar. It’s a genuinely radical departure from normal keyboards and has been variously described as “the piano of the future” and won multiple awards.

ROLI CEO and Founder, Roland Lamb, made the announcement today at Slush in Helsinki, one of the largest gatherings for European startups and investors.

Lamb said: “At ROLI, our larger vision is to reshape interaction. To do that, we need to transform every technological link from where people create inputs, to where computers create outputs. That’s a tall order, but acquiring and investing in JUCE is our most significant step towards this challenging goal since we invented and developed the Seaboard.”

Posted: 06:34, 2014-Nov-18
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Finexkap, Offering Working Capital to SMBs In France, Raises $22.5M

Finexkap, a web platform offering working capital to small businesses in France, has now raised $22.5 million, comprising of a $7.5m Series A equity round and a further $15m, which will be used to finance the platform’s first flurry of deals. Finexkap is the first French working capital financing platform to purchase SMEs’ receivables on the web through refinancing

The company is pushing at an open door. Short-term financing issues are responsible for more than 25% of French corporate bankruptcies.

Some $4.1m of the Series A round was contributed by GLI Finance, and the total amount of $7.5m equates to a 26.44% ownership stake in the business. The Series A funds will be used to ramp up the platform’s data and product operations, marketing, and hire personnel.

Other investors included Finsight Ventures, a Fintech investment fund and private investors and family offices in the Fintech space.

Posted: 06:33, 2014-Nov-18
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Shark Tank-Backed GrooveBook Acquired By Shutterfly For $14.5 Million

GrooveBook, a photo-printing app and subscription service that creates personalized photo books featuring up to 100 of your photos, shipped monthly, has been acquired by photo printing giant Shutterfly for $14.5 million. The smaller startup is probably best known for as the photo book app from TV’s “Shark Tank,” where founders Julie and Brian Whiteman pitched their uniquely-designed photo books, which have a groove in the side making them flexible – and also cheaper to print.

On the show, the startup scored a deal from Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary for a $150,000 investment for 80% licensing rights only. GrooveBook, which had acquired over 18,000 subscribers in the 8 months before the show, benefited from the exposure and grew its business to 500,000 paid subscribers post-Shark Tank, the company said in a later update.

Shutterfly tells us today that GrooveBook has more than 1 million downloads, 200 million photo uploads and GrooveBook subscribers have grown 15 times since appearing on Shark Tank.

Today, GrooveBook offers an iPhone and Android app that lets customers print photos from their mobile phone. The 4.5″ x 6.5″ GrooveBooks are then shipped out for $2.99 per month.

The company’s concept was interesting enough, but the app and service had mixed reviews. On iTunes, for example, the app held just a 2.5-star rating with customers complaining about its low-quality picture and paper quality, and technical issues with the app.

By joining Shutterfly, the smaller company will now have the resources of Shutterfly’s scale when it comes to photo printing, which may help get costs down even further, and boost its previously slim margins. A quote GrooveBook founder Brian hints that the company was not yet in the black. He said that by joining Shutterfly and “leveraging their technology platform, expansive manufacturing footprint, and expertise in quickly scaling brands, we will be able to scale GrooveBook operations and grow it into a profitable, nationally recognized brand.”

GrooveBook is one of several photo-focused startups Shutterfly has acquired over the past couple of years. Others include ThisLife, R and R Images, Tiny Prints, Penguin Digital, MyPublisher, Treat, Wedding Paper Divas, BorrowLenses, and more.

Posted: 08:12, 2014-Nov-17
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Sony announced a new imaging sensor today that the company says will improve smartphones cameras. The Exmor RS IMX230 is a stacked CMOS sensor that packs 21-megapixels into a small 1/2.4-inch design. One of the key talking points of Sony’s new chip is its 192 point phase detection autofocus, which makes it easier to shoot photos or video of a fast moving subject with your smartphone.

Sony’s new hardware also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging for high-resolution photos and 4K video recording. This functionality will help shutterbugs capture better results in backlit environments. While Sony has its own line of smartphones and tablets, the company’s sensors are also used in multiple mobile devices, including Apple’s iPhone and multiple Android handsets. We’re pretty sure the Japanese electronics maker will use this new tech with its Xperia platform, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up in other gear as well.

Posted: 08:11, 2014-Nov-17
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Google implementing app approval process for Android TV apps

Earlier this month, Google started accepting Android TV app submissions to the Play Store, but today, another detail about the app submission process was revealed. According to the Android developer documentation page, Google will pre-screen and approve all submitted Android TV apps. After the approval process, the apps will then be distributed for download on the Play Store (via Android Police).

Before distributing apps to the Play Store on Android TV devices, our team reviews apps for usability with a DPAD (apps) and Gamepad (games only) and other quality guidelines.

Google says that it is implementing this measure to ensure that apps work seamlessly with a DPAD and Gamepad, in addition to following all of the other presented quality guidelines. Apple, of course, reviews every app that is submitted to the App Store, but at this time, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of Google doing the same for Android phone and tablet apps.

Google taking the extra steps to review all Android TV will ultimately create a much better experience for the end-user. Ideally, doing this will also help Android TV avoid the same fate as Google TV, which suffered from a very poor selection of optimized and quality apps, even months into its consumer availability.

In our review of the Android TV-powered Nexus Player, we noted that the platform has a huge potential in the long-run, but still has some bugs to iron out, including the lack of apps.

Posted: 07:48, 2014-Nov-17
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Antidate Is A Dating App With An Asymmetric Twist

The dating app space is cooking nicely, fueled by the ever-rising profile of swipe-to-like darling Tinder. And by the halo effect of single adults dabbling with one dating app inevitably ending up in bed with a few others. Apps like Hinge and Happn, to name two.

Well meet another new kid on the dating app block, called Antidate. It’s aiming to stand out by putting a gender-skewed, asymmetric twist on the in-app experience.

The twist is that male users are visible within the app to women — including having their location plotted on a map — but women aren’t visible until they send an expression of interest to a guy, such as starting up a chat or tapping on a guy’s profile to say hey. So women get to filter out unwanted advances and guys get to sit back and way for women to come calling.

“When we first talked about a dating app, Tinder hadn’t launched and the only mobile dating apps we knew about were the gay ones like Grindr. We knew girls wouldn’t want to be viewable on a map so came up with the idea of an asymmetric experience for guys and girls,” says co-founder Mo Saha.

“We started thinking about the concept of a two-way mirror: what if the girls could see the guys on a map, but the guys couldn’t see the girls until approached by a girl via a chat or ‘tap’ alert. The girls’ location would never be revealed.

“We knew that guys were tired of making the first move all the time on dating sites and in the real world and girls were sick of receiving a barrage of unwanted messages. We also knew that online dating conversations are five times more like to continue if started by a girl. We had stumbled on a way of flipping the first move through the app so guys had to do very little and girls were way more in control.”

Currently Antidate is for straight dating only, although the plan is to expand to a LBGTQ offering in time — once they’ve figure out how best to flip expectations in the various non-hetro dating spheres.

Although in development for about two years thus far, Antidate has only been out in beta on iOS for the past few months, as the pair of London-based long-time friends behind the app have been testing it out on their friends. It’s a bootstrapping startup, with the duo working on the app around their respective day jobs in the ad industry and as a lawyer.

A full version of Antidate launched last week, although they still aren’t planning a proper marketing push til Christmas. They are now on the hunt for investors, though.

Unusually the app is not free, with a £0.69 cover price. Saha tells TechCrunch that’s intentional, to filter out rubberneckers. “We reckon if people are prepared to pay for the app, they are going to be more serious about using it — so that was the real reason behind charging.”

It’s still very early days for Antidate, with few users on board as yet to flesh out the experience. I counted 26 guys visible in the offline mode (plus a preponderance of hipster beards), and only up to four visible on the map view at any one time. But – beyond the app’s mainstay party trip of flipping conventional expectation by requiring women make the first move – it has a few thoughtful ideas which may help it grab some more attention and start to scale.

Tricks such as a real-time selfie requirement which time stamps photos, to try to avoid people posting out of date pictures for their profile. (The real-time selfie requirement is slightly undermined by the app auto-applying a filter to your selfie which can result in a slightly less than au natural shot but a smattering of ‘mood lighting’ is obviously intended.)

It also has a feature where users can rate whether someone they have met via the app resembles their photo or not. Another ‘on trend’ feature is ephemeral messaging — so missives between prospective dates vanish into the ether after 24 hours — to “encourage spontaneity”, says Saha.

Antidate users must also be Instagram users. A profile on the latter photo-sharing service is a requirement for usage – which also acts as a filter on the pool of prospective dates (and evidently boosts the beard count).

“We decided to go Instagram only for launch as we wanted to reach a younger, social crowd who know how to make a good looking profile,” adds Saha.

Posted: 07:47, 2014-Nov-17
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Either Amazon knows exactly what it’s doing, or it’s completely out of its mind.

What was once an online bookstore is now blanketing the earth with hardware products. Amazon is currently selling a smartphone (the Fire phone), a TV box (Fire TV), five different-color tablets (Fire HD and HDX), and three ebook readers (Kindle). It’s also testing a weird Siri-in-a-box speaker system (the Echo), and a grocery-ordering microphone thing (the Dash).

Some products are experiments. Some, like the phone, are flops. But one is the shining star of the holiday season.

It’s the Kindle Voyage, the latest Amazon e-reader. The price: $200.

Now, until you actually try reading a book on this thing, your first reaction might be a snarky chuckle. Two hundred dollars? For a 6-ounce slab with a black-and-white screen?

Is Amazon not aware of the Law of Diminishing Gadget Prices? Is it not aware of its own pricing history? The first Kindle in 2007 cost $400; today, the basic Kindle goes for 80 bucks.

And now Amazon’s resetting the price graph up to $200. You think, “What are they smoking?”

And then you try it.

E Ink, Inc.
The black-and-white Kindles use a screen technology called E Ink. E Ink can’t display color (only shades of gray), and the screen is slow to redraw itself, so video is out of the question.

On the other hand, E Ink is ideal for displaying words. It looks exactly like black ink on light-gray paper. There’s zero glare, no reflection. You can read this kind of screen in direct bright sunlight — in fact, it loves direct sunlight. Here’s what the Voyage screen looks like next to the iPad Air 2 (the iPad’s brightness is at maximum):

E Ink consumes power only when you actually “turn the page.” At that moment, a quick electronic charge attracts particles into the pattern of characters that you’ll read. Once they’re in formation, they’ll stay that way forever without using any more power. If you could take the battery out of a Kindle, the screen wouldn’t change (nor would it update, obviously).

In other words, you never have to turn off a black-and-white Kindle. Just put it down on the end table and wander away. That’s why Amazon can correctly peg this thing’s battery life at “weeks.” (Specifically, six weeks, with 30 minutes of reading a day.)

Posted: 09:09, 2014-Nov-16
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The Kingmaker Strategy: Pioneered By The Chinese Internet Giants, Coming To America?

A few weeks ago, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba made a number of announcements at its annual developer conference. Several announcements surrounding its mobile strategy related to a Silicon Valley startup called Quixey. What is a $200 billion+ e-commerce giant doing with a startup based in Mountain View, Calif.?

It's the latest example of the kingmaker model we're seeing the Chinese Internet companies execute very well:

1)     Pick a fast-growing leader in an important emerging category

2)     Make a sizeable (more than passive or minority) investment in the company, often taking a board seat

3)     Go "all in" to help drive the smaller upstart to new heights and outright leadership in its category

It's a pattern we haven't yet seen take hold in the U.S. but believe we might.

Alibaba and Quixey Focus on Mobile Search

Quixey is an emerging player in mobile search. Alibaba led the company's $50 million Series D round of financing in October of 2013, taking a seat on the company's board of directors. Since that time, the two companies have been working closely together, with Quixey CEO Tomer Kagan and COO Guru Gowrappan spending a significant amount of time in China.

At the recent Alibaba developer conference, Alibaba announced that Quixey would power mobile search on YunOS, Alibaba's mobile operating system. The two companies are also focused on building out a strong mobile developer network in China. Quixey remains an independent, private and VC-backed company but has Alibaba as an anchor partner for China in addition to the many advantages of Alibaba's global resources.

This deep collaboration between a Goliath and its smaller, upstart investment target is a model we haven't seen historically in Silicon Valley. For the most part, and almost without exception, large technology companies prefer to pursue one of two paths: 1) Keep an "open" playing field, letting many smaller companies compete equally in its ecosystem, or 2) outright acquire an innovative upstart thereby accruing all of the benefits of the strategic alignment to the mother ship.

The key difference in the kingmaker model is component No. 3 above: the Chinese Internet giant's willingness to pick a winner and go "all in."

We've now seen this model take hold and work well several times in the past few years. Beyond the Alibaba/Quixey example, here are a few others:

Tencent and Didi, Alibaba and Kuaidi go after China's Taxi Market

Didi and its competitor Kuaidi are the top taxi-hailing apps in China. In late 2013, Didi raised a round of over $100 million led by Tencent. In Q1 2014, Tencent promoted and subsidized rides on Didi via WeChat and its WeChat Pay feature.

Talk about strategic value: In fewer than 90 days, daily bookings went from 350,000 per day to more than 5 million per day and passenger accounts went from 22 million to more than 100 million (source: TechinAsia). Kuaidi has seen similar growth via its investment from, and partnership with, Alibaba.

Why are the Internet giants so focused on taxi hailing? Beyond the attractiveness of the (very large) market, think mobile payments - taxis represent a daily use case for Chinese consumers.

Baidu and Qunar Align for Online Travel

Not surprisingly, China is the world's fastest-growing travel market, with a double-digit growth rate. Back in 2011, the total online travel market in China was approximately $20 billion in annual bookings, but analysts expected this number to reach $55 billion in 2015 and $75 billion in 2017. With this in mind, in June of 2011, Baidu purchased a majority stake in Qunar, a VC-backed, private company with a lead position in the online travel space.

The two companies also structured a deep, multi-year partnership focused on search traffic and revenue sharing. Qunar remained an independent company, completed a successful NASDAQ IPO in 2013, and today sports a $3 billion market capitalization.

In addition to these three examples, Alibaba recently made a $1.2 billion investment in Chinese Internet video leader Youku Tudou, Qihoo took a significant position in adtech leader MediaV, and Tencent owns a significant stake in vertical commerce leader Meilishuo.

This is not to say the Chinese Internet giants are afraid of outright acquisitions. Alibaba invested in mobile browser leader UCWeb in 2009 and 2013, and acquired the company outright in 2014. UCWeb is a core element of Alibaba's mobile strategy, and has gone on to extend its leadership in China and India. Tencent invested in Internet gaming leader Riot Games in 2009 and acquired the company outright in 2011. With Tencent's distribution and user base, Riot Game's League of Legends has gone on to experience enormous success in China.

A Recent Sign of the Kingmaker Strategy Coming to Silicon Valley?

Will we see U.S. companies begin to pursue the kingmaker strategy any time soon? Microsoft famously made a $240 million investment in Facebook in 2007, several years prior to the company's IPO. But it would be a stretch to argue that either side went "all in" with the other, and Microsoft's investment was for a passive, minority stake (though one that turned out to be quite valuable).

On the other hand, Intel's recent $700 million+ investment in Cloudera (in return for an ownership stake estimated to be in the high teens, percentage-wise) is more in line with the Chinese model.

The Chinese Internet giants may beat their U.S. counterparts to the punch, with Tencent and Alibaba leading the charge. In addition to Riot, Tencent has made investments in Activision Blizzard and several other American online gaming companies as well as a few players outside the sector like Fab.com.

Over the past 24 months, Alibaba has invested in mobile video app Tango, e-commerce site ShopRunner, online gaming company Kabam and next-gen television remote player Peel (in addition to Quixey). These have all been minority investments to date, but given the success in China, we may see a more active approach over time.

Given the rising activity from their Chinese competitors, it would not be surprising to see U.S. companies step up their investment activity and potentially even attempt to pick a category winner and "kingmake" an emerging player or two. It's working pretty well for Alibaba (market cap: $230 billion), Tencent ($150 billion) and Baidu ($80 billion).

Posted: 09:14, 2014-Nov-15
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Current Brings A Better Version Of Facebook To The Mac Desktop

A recently launched app called Current turns Facebook into a native application for the Mac desktop. The app offers an alternative to regularly (or perhaps obsessively?) checking the Facebook site in an open browser tab, with support for Facebook Messenger, photos, videos, customizable notifications, and more.

Current is effectively a replacement for using Facebook via the browser, creator Scott Kyle explains. Kyle previously worked at Apple on iOS WebKit and iAd frameworks, so he knows a little something about Apple’s design aesthetic and that shows in Current.

With Current, Facebook feels almost like part of the Mac OS X user interface, with a shortcut in Mac’s menu bar for accessing your buddy list, inbox and notifications. The app also lets you customize these notifications so you can minimize distractions while you’re trying to work. And when you’re ready to respond, each conversation pops out into its own window, allowing you to drag it around your desktop and place it anywhere you like.

The Messenger experience supports group chat and stickers and access to your “Other” inbox – like you would have if you were browsing Facebook on the web.

You can also pop out photo albums and swipe through them, as well as pop out videos, allowing you to watch while you do other things. Meanwhile, the app’s built-in Facebook browser lets you still enjoy surfing through Facebook, but in a dedicated app that supports tabs – and it lets you return to where you were last in the feed, so you’ll never have to lose your place.

As for why anyone would need a dedicated app for Facebook on their Mac? Well, if you’re not sold on the app’s little touches like the pop-out albums, for example, there’s the added benefit of still being connected with your friends without continually getting sucked into the Facebook experience and wasting time. Browsing Facebook on the web can be one of those things that can eat away at your day, and can kill your productivity. Some users even get so fed up with the distraction of Facebook and the “drama” of it all, they temporarily suspend their Facebook account.

Current offers another option. With chat, notifications and friend requests in the menu bar and Mac OS X Notification Center, you can stay in touch without having to constantly check in on Facebook.

The app is a $2.99 download on the Mac App Store.

Posted: 09:35, 2014-Nov-14
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U.K. ISPs Agree To Do More To Filter Extremist Content Online

The U.K. government’s latest crack down on terrorism is once again focusing on the digital sphere, with Prime Minister David Cameron announcing that major Internet companies have agreed to do more to tackle terrorist and extremist material online – by “introducing stricter filters, increased industry standards and better reporting mechanisms”.

Giving a speech in Australia today, Cameron said he was intent on getting Internet companies to be “more pro-active” in the filtering of the content on their platforms.

One incoming measure detailed by the government is a “public reporting button for extremist and terrorist material online” which it said four major U.K. ISPs (BT, Virgin, Sky and Talk Talk) have committed to host. This will apparently be similar to the reporting button which allows the public to report child sexual exploitation on the Internet.

The government also claimed ISPs have agreed to tighten their filters to “ensure that terrorist and extremist material is captured” — in a bid to prevent children and young people coming across radicalizing material online.

And apparently it’s not just ISPs involved in these government-led negotiations. Downing Street said Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Twitter have also agreed to “support smaller industry players to raise their standards and improve their capacity to deal with this material”. Whatever that means.

TechCrunch contacted all four Internet companies but at the time of writing three had failed to respond, while a Twitter spokesperson declined to comment — after claiming to know nothing about “any such arrangement beyond our existing guidelines for law enforcement“.

U.K. ISPs such as BT, meanwhile, already offer parental controls — allowing parents to apply light, moderate or strict filters to inbound Internet traffic to block specific types of content such as pornography, drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

But the government’s announcement suggest an expansion of their filtering efforts is on the cards — although it is not clear exactly how ‘extremist’ content will be defined, and whether filtering of such content will be opt-in or automatically applied by ISPs. All of those details are apparently tbc. So the core of today’s news is that ISPs have agreed in principle to do more — whatever more ends up meaning. And the U.K. PM has banged a public drum about cracking down on terrorist content online. This, folks, is politics.

None of the ISPs or Internet companies TechCrunch contacted for more details were exactly keen to talk. Most declined to comment in detail saying they were waiting for statements to be signed off, or that it was too soon to talk about specifics. Some seemed genuinely surprised the government had made the announcement at this point, as if they’d pulled the trigger early.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office also couldn’t provide specific details like a timeframe for implementing the public report extremism button, characterizing the deal with ISPs as a “high level agreement”, and adding that the government is delighted ISPs are taking a role. “We now need to sit down and work out how it will work in practice,” he said.

He added that government-led negotiations with other Internet companies such as social media outlets were aimed at encouraging “some of the larger firms to take a leading role” — whether by sharing best practice or resources with smaller web entities to help them identify and remove extremist content.

The spokesman pointed to the sophistication of terrorist group ISIS’ use of social media as one impetus to get social platforms to do more to combat extremists online. “There’s a hugely important role for the likes of Facebook,” he told TechCrunch, adding: “This isn’t about censorship of freedom of expression, it’s about tackling extremist, terrorist media.”

Figuring out how to define extremist content is something that has clearly yet to be determined, and will be a key requirement for moving these agreements in principle forward. The spokesman suggested there may be a need for independent oversight or pre-agreed definitions. “It hasn’t really been formalized or discussed. It will certainly have to be,” he added.

The U.K. already removes thousands of pieces of online content, with a dedicated law enforcement unit called the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) instigating the removal of more than 55,000 pieces of online content in the four years since it was set up — some 34,000 of which have been removed since December 2013.

But evidently the government wants a more pro-active response to combat viral online propaganda tactics being used by groups like ISIS, and is applying pressure to major Internet companies to help. This is clearly going to be controversial, given the difficulties of defining extremist content and the resulting risks to freedom of speech and expression online. But that’s not going to stop the government trying.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Sky said: “We’re exploring ways in which we can help our customers report extremist content online, including hosting links on our website.”

BT also provided a statement, saying: “We have had productive dialogue with Government about addressing the issue of extremist content online and we are working through the technical details.”

A Virgin Media spokesperson added: “We’re exploring options that will enable more extremist content to be filtered and reported online. We’ll continue talks with Government as we work through the technical details.”

Posted: 09:34, 2014-Nov-14
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Former TechCrunch Co-Editor In Chief Eric Eldon Heads To Hyper-Local Journalism Platform Hoodline

Eric Eldon, who stepped in a few years ago to lead and stabilize TechCrunch after the departure of its founder Michael Arrington and many key staffers, has quietly been been dipping his toes back into journalism.

This time it’s not about tech startups.

He’s going into local journalism with Hoodline, a startup that grew out of a hyper-local blog about the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood called Haighteration. As a former resident there, Eldon followed Haighteration closely and ended up connecting with its creator Andrew Dudley, a Harvard-educated developer who also had media experience after stints at entertainment blogs like Flavorpill.

Dudley had the right mix of technical skills and civic interest that Eldon often has looked for in a technical partner. They then started working on ways to build out Haighteration into a broader network and platform for local content called Hoodline. They’re now covering a number of neighborhoods including the Castro with a network of local bloggers and writers.

There have been more attempts at building a hyper-local media network than I can really count. There are big corporate efforts like AOL’s Patch, early efforts like Outside.in (which AOL later acquired) and then some big venture-backed startups like NextDoor, which is less reliant on journalists and uses discussion boards.

It’s a tough problem and a market that’s proven hard to sustain with the kinds of local advertising and classifieds that once used to financially support city newspapers.

Eldon says he’s not looking to compete with big metropolitan newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle. Hoodline is specifically focused on neighborhoods and their main retail corridors. He says that neighborhood news is a core building block of democracy that’s suffered, and that there’s demand from people to know about what’s happening a few blocks away, whether that involves hard-hitting news or profiles of local personalities.

The company isn’t talking about funding, except to say that it’s raised enough to launched some interesting products in the coming weeks. The current business model involves some advertising, but Eldon has always disdained purely ad-based models for supporting editorial products.

Disclosure: Eric and I have worked on-and-off together for five years. Actually, our grandfathers even worked together at Silicon Valley’s first very big tech company, Hewlett-Packard, more than 50 years ago. So we’ve been involved in Silicon Valley for a very long time and have mutual interests in the long-term financial sustainability of journalism and about the tech industry’s civic responsibilities. He’s helped me on a lot of pieces including that 13,000-word story about housing. So yes, this is kind of totally biased.

Posted: 09:34, 2014-Nov-14
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