Friday, December 2, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

comScore: One In Ten Mobile Subscribers Now Using An iPhone

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 09:40 AM PST


comScore just released its monthly U.S. mobile data report, which took a look at trends and activity during the three month average period ending October 2011. While Google Android continued to gain ground in the smartphone market (with 46.3 percent market share); Apple’s OEM share gained during this period (perhaps with the introduction of the iPhone 4S and Sprint as a carrier in the market), with one in ten mobile subscribers now using an iPhone.

According to comScore, 90 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones during the three months ending in October, which is up 10 percent from the preceding three month period. And during the time period, 234 million Americans age 13 and older used mobile devices.

In terms of OEMs, Samsung to be the top handset manufacturer overall with 25.5 percent market share, followed by LG with 20.6 percent share and Motorola with 13.6 percent share. Apple took the fourth spit with 10.8 percent share of mobile subscribers (up 1.3 percentage points), while RIM rounded out the top five with 6.6 percent share.

With respect to operating system, Google’s Android OS continued to dominate with a nearly 50 percent market share, up 4.4 percentage points from the prior three-month period. Apple OS share only grew 1 percentage point to 28.1 percent of the smartphone market. And RIM ranked third with 17.2 percent share, followed by Microsoft (5.4 percent) and Symbian (1.6 percent).

As mobile phone usage increases and smartphone adoption grows, more and more consumers are actually using their mobile for functions other than phone calls. In October, 71.8 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers used text messaging on their mobile device, up 1.8 percentage points. Browsers were used by 44 percent of subscribers (up 2.9 percentage points). Downloaded applications were used by 43.8 percent (up 3.2 percentage points).

Accessing of social networking sites or blogs increased 2.2 percentage points to 32.3 percent of mobile subscribers. Game-playing was done by 29.2 percent of the mobile audience (up 1.4 percentage points), while 21.2 percent listened to music on their phones (up 0.9 percentage points).

TechStars 2011 Grad Promoboxx Raises $565K For Brand-To-Retailer Marketing Platform

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 09:36 AM PST


Promoboxx, a TechStars Boston 2011 company focused on brand-to-retailer marketing, has just closed its seed round of $565,000. The funding comes from individual angels Dave Balter, Peter Bordes, Adam Berrey, Jean Hammond and others. In addition, institutions including SK Ventures, Brand Ventures, and Launch Capital have also committed.

The company’s online service allows retailers to quickly set up online promotions, while also allowing brands to set up promotions that are automatically customized for local retailers’ use.

Today, brands spend nearly $30 billion each year supporting retailers with offline materials, including in-store signage, yellow page ads and newspaper ads. But almost none of that marketing money is spent online, even though 90% of all products are still sold through physical stores.

"Brands don't realize the marketing potential of their retailers" says Promoboxx co-founder and CEO Ben Carcio, "with the consumer surge and popularity of shopping local, many retailers have created large followings on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and when combined together, they often have a greater reach than the brands they sell,” he explains.

That’s where Promoboxx comes in. Using its online service, stores can set up retail promotions in minutes, with sweepstakes, coupons, giveaways and other promotions that aim to drive foot traffic to stores. The online dashboard allows retailers to publish those promotions anywhere, including via email or to social networking sites like Facebook. It also supports things like custom Facebook tabs, and Facebook “like” requirements to collect leads.

On the backend, the service offers a drag-and-drop promo builder, real-time conversion reports, custom entry form creation tools, data exports, templated legal contest rules and privacy policy forms, and more.

Brands, on the other hand, can also use the service to set up one promotion that’s automatically customized for an unlimited number of retailers, using all the same tools to tap into the retailers’ local client base.  From the dashboard, the brand can track the promotion impressions, leads and conversion rates across all the retailers involved.

Promoboxx is headquartered in Kendal Square, Cambridge, MA, and is now working with brands like Primesport, Cat Footwear, Bates Footwear, Vertx, and Mattingly Sports. The company’s founders, Ben CarcioSonciary Honnoll, and Dan Koziak, have deep marketing backgrounds, allowing them to bring their expertise to this new company.

Carrier IQ, Samsung, And HTC All Facing Class Action Lawsuits

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:50 AM PST


To say that Carrier IQ has been going through a lot is a bit of an understatement, and it looks like things are only getting worse. PaidContent reports that two class action lawsuits — one from Missouri and the other from Illinois — have been filed against the Mountain View-based company for supposedly violating the Federal Wiretap Act.

They’re not the only ones either: handset manufacturers HTC and Samsung have also been named as defendants in one lawsuit each.

For those that have missed the drama until now, Carrier IQ is a “mobile intelligence” firm that provides logging software for carriers and devices OEMs for use in their devices. Carrier IQ claims that they deliver information “on the performance of mobile devices and networks to help the Operators provide optimal service efficiency,” but Android security researcher Trevor Eckhart discovered that CarrierIQ was capable of tracking data that’s more fine-grained than what would be expected for simple diagnostic feedback.

The lawsuits allege that the defendants “intercepted, recorded and collected information concerning the substance, purport, or meaning of the electronic communications transmitted without the authorization of the parties to those communications.” Carrier IQ (obviously) doesn’t agree with this statement; they issued an updated statement last night that states the software “does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS messages, email, photographs, audio or video.”

And what is it that the plaintiffs of these class action suits want? Cold hard cash for all users who have Carrier IQ’s logging software installed on their devices. The text of the Missouri suits filing calls for Carrier IQ and HTC to pay statutory and punitive damages that would reach into the millions.

Meanwhile, Carrier IQ continues to deny that they have violated any laws — according to the company’s updated media release, “Carrier IQ is aware of various commentators alleging Carrier IQ has violated wiretap laws and we vigorously disagree with these assertions.”

To wit, one of those commentators was Senator Al Franken (D-MN), who yesterday called on Carrier IQ to answer a number of questions regarding what they are and aren’t able to monitor on users’ devices. It seems like Carrier IQ’s claims of being beholden to the whims of the carriers has struck a chord with the senator, as he also issued the same set of questions to AT&T, Sprint, HTC, and Samsung. Senator Franken has given each company in question until December 14 to issue a response, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

Strangely, none of the carriers involved were named in either of the lawsuits, though I expect that will soon change. If you want to find out if you your device has Carrier IQ installed on it, check out our article on how to find it and what to do with it.

Mobile Payments Startup Square Wraps Holiday Marketing Effort In A “Gift”

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:45 AM PST

Gift of Square

Looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer this holiday season? Square has launched a new campaign to encourage existing users to give their favorite entrepreneur or small business owner a mobile payments device as a holiday gift. The Square reader comes nicely gift wrapped in snowflake wrapping paper and the purchaser only has to pay $1 (FYI—un-wrapped Square readers are free).

Square tells us the campaign launched on November 15 and has already brought over 20,000 orders for gift-wrapped devices. And as the holiday shopping season kicks off, Square has also noticed a significant uptick in sales at its 9,000 retail partners, which include Apple, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target and Wal-Mart. At these stores, Square readers retail for $9.99 in stores but each purchaser can redeem a $10 credit to their bank account.

For Square, which is now processing $11 million in payments per day, 20,000 readers shipped via the campaign is no small amount considering the company had previously reported that a total of 800,000 readers had been shipped (and activated) by merchants.

With $2 Million In Funding, Senzari Prepares To Take On Pandora

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:36 AM PST


There are two main complaints that always crop up whenever you mention Pandora: its music catalog is too small and it’s not available outside the U.S. That’s room enough for another startup to move into the streaming radio space, at least according to the folks at the new Miami-based streaming music startup Senzari. The service recently launched into private beta in the U.S. and Brazil, with plans to expand further into Latin America, Spain and Australia in the future.

In addition, where Pandora currently offers a catalog of 900,000 songs, Senzari has launched with over 10 million. It also includes Facebook integration, including live chat with Facebook friends.

The new startup is backed by $2 million in funding from undisclosed angel investors in Silicon Valley and Boston (mainly friends and family) and a private equity group in Southern California. It’s the fourth startup from serial entrepreneur Bill Hajjar, who has previous experience in wireless, mobile and the location-based service industries.

Of course, the main value proposition for any new radio service is the same as Pandora’s: people want radio. “80% of the U.S. market would rather have a lean-back experience,” Hajjar explains. What he means is that the majority of listeners want to just push play to enjoy music and discover new bands, not search for tracks and build playlists.

But streaming radio doesn’t have to battle against the paid music subscription services, like the increasingly popular Spotify, MOG, Rdio or Rhapsody, Hajjar says. Both can co-exist.  It’s the like the difference between buying CDs versus just flipping on the (terrestrial) radio.

Still, taking on the newly IPO’d Pandora is no small matter. That’s why Senzari is focused on Pandora’s weakest spots, mainly its catalog’s size and the market it serves. Hajjar says Senzari has managed to secure the licensing rights for radio webcasting in the U.S., Brazil and Spain, which allows it to operate outside the U.S. (Spain’s launch comes later this month).

It also has a strategic partnership with RED Viacom, which represents ad sales for other Viacom properties, like Nickelodeon, VH1, MTV and Comedy Central. However, this partnership is only in Latin America right now.

As for Senzari’s web-based player, it’s not too bad (except that it requires Flash, that is). The uncomplicated user interface is easy to navigate and it pulls in photos from Flickr and to provide an interesting background image to complement the music. While opinions are subjective, of course, coming from Pandora, I prefer Senzari’s darker colors and minimal feel. If anything, it looks more like Spotify’s desktop app than it does an online player. (See comparison shots below).

Also like Spotify, Senzari is focused on deep Facebook integration. You can see what friends are listening to (radio stations, though, not custom playlists) and like Pandora, you can post what you’re listening to on your Facebook profile. But Senzari goes a step further: it also functions as a Facebook instant messaging client, listing your Facebook friends in a column to the right of the player. You can click to see what they’re playing or simply start a chat session. Full Open Graph integration is planned for January.

Each station is personalized to an individual user, not just via your playing behavior, but also using data pulled in from your Facebook user profile and “likes.” That means your “Adele” station may be different from your friends’. To allow you to experience broader music discovery, you can favorite your own station but also subscribe to those built by others. An “Activity Feed” section is also available, which, much like Pandora’s (for those who authenticate with Facebook), shows you who’s listening to what and when.

As Senzari is still in private beta, there’s no advertising interrupting the radio streams just yet, but later, the site will feature a combination of takeover ads, banners and audio ads. Mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android will arrive early next year.

In order to get into Senzari, you’ll need an invite from a current user, sent to you via Facebook. TechCrunch readers, however, can go to to get in today. This link will only be good for 24 hours starting now.

How Zynga Stacks Up To Japan’s Social Gaming Giant, GREE (Hint: It Is Less Profitable)

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:25 AM PST

social game profits

With Zynga launching its IPO road show today, all eyes are on the social gaming goliath Mark Pincus built on the Web. But the future of social gaming, as with so many things these days, is mobile, where Zynga admits (in its S-1) that it has “limited experience.” All you have to do, however, is look to Japan’s social mobile gaming companies like GREE and DeNA to see how much more lucrative social gaming could be once it goes mobile. I was just in Japan this week for a TechCrunch Tokyo conference, where I interviewed GREE founder and CEO Yoshikazu Tanaka (see video clips below). GREE is publicly traded in Japan with a market cap of about $7.6 billion, so we can compare its financials to Zynga.

Zynga has many more users worldwide than Gree (227 million monthly actives for Zynga versus about 27 million for GREE), but GREE’s economics are much more favorable.  GREE’s revenues are actually higher than Zynga’s (about $400 million in the September quarter versus $300 million for Zynga) and it is much more profitable. The slides in this post, which I obtained from Gumi,  a hot Japanese mobile gaming startup, illustrate the stark difference.  The slide below compares quarterly sales between Zynga, GREE, and DeNa (it is missing the last two quarters for Zynga, which would keep going up along the same trajectory at $279 million for June and $307 million for September). GREE expects annual sales to hit $1.7 billion this fiscal year.

The slide at the top of this post, though, is the real eye-opener. It shows how much more profitable mobile social gaming is in Japan than Zynga’s predominantly Web-based social gaming.  Again, the slide misses the last two quarters for Zynga, when profits were $1.4 million and $12.5 million, respectively.  Both GREE and DeNa are smoking Zynga on profits, with about $200 million each in the last quarter.

How can this be when Zynga has so many more users than either of the Japanese companies? Only 6.7 million of those 227 million monthly active  users (54 million daily active) are paying customers. For mobile social games, at least in Japan, it is much easier to extract revenue from users (mostly through the sale of virtual goods, leveling up, etc). The monthly average revenue per user for both GREE and DeNa is between $4 and $5, which is more than three times as high as Zynga’s (see slide below).  Those are averages across all users.  The average among paying users is about $50 in Japan, with some addicted users paying twice that much.

GREE shifted from PC games to mobile four years ago. Zynga has a few popular mobile games already, and it is a major growth area for the company.  But can they successfully make the shift? “They have big success already,” notes Gumi CEO Hironao Kunimitsu, “so they think their way is perfect. As a social gaming company, Zynga is most successful. Most of their gaming is for the PC.  But mobile is the future of the Internet.”

The caveat to all of these numbers is that so far they are true only for the Japanese market, which may or may not foreshadow what will happen in the rest of the world. If they are a precursor of things to come, then Zynga’s future profits could very well hinge on the extent to which it can bring its social games to mobile. Bulls might want to buy Zynga at the IPO.  Bears might want to invest in GREE.

TextOnly App Only Gives You The Good Part Of Most Websites

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:04 AM PST


Textonly is, on its surface, a gussied up RSS reader. However, unlike similar “read later” and newsfeed services, this app allows you to read sites in their text-only form, reducing the time it takes to load and view nearly everything. While it won’t do you much good on shopping and media sites, it could help in reading long, image heavy web pages on slow connections.

The service is now available as an Android app that allows you to read only the text of nearly any website. You can try it here for free.

Like ShortMail, this service doesn’t make much sense unless, well, it does. There are plenty of folks out there without high speed wireless data and to strip a site down to its bare essentials is invaluable.

It’s a noble goal and while I’m not impressed with the implementation, the idea seems solid.

Hey Android Tab Makers: Put Them Where People Can See Them

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 07:12 AM PST


That tablets are beginning to supplant the bog-standard PCs in some people’s lives shouldn’t come as a surprise, but what about outside of the home? Tablets are in some ways better suited to certain situations where managing PCs can be a real hassle.

Dan Frommer ran into such a situation not long ago — while at JFK International Airport, Fromm found himself relaxing at the MasterCard Lounge surrounded by a handful of iPads intended for guest use.

When you think about it, the iPad seems perfect for situations like that. They’re small, much easier to maintain than a bank of PCs, and perhaps most importantly, they just work. For a traveler looking to burn through a bit of downtime before a flight, it could be a godsend.

Frommer notes that this is a great opportunity for Apple to expand their iPad business, but I think if anything, an Android-friendly company could fit into that sort of situation even better. Android tablets are often left to compete on price, so a solid volume pricing deal isn’t out of the question for companies with a pronounced business focus like Samsung. The open nature of Android also means it’s much less of a chore to restrict access to certain bits of functionality, so the process of stripping down an Android tablet for use in a very specific context becomes much more feasible.

Recent figures from eMarketer project that the iPad’s dominance of the tablet market will slowly taper off in the coming years. Whether or not this will come to pass is still up in the air, but Apple’s facing some non-trivial competition in the form of devices like the Kindle Fire. It’s by far the shabbier device on paper — smaller, slower, etc. — but it’s priced aggressively and it works well enough for what it was intended to do. A savvy Android tab manufacturer should take that lesson to heart: sometimes a tablet doesn’t have to do everything in every situation, it just has to do enough.

As our MG Siegler adroitly pointed out, specs are meaningless — it’s all about the kind of experience that a device can deliver. An Android tablet could easily pull its weight as a guest-friendly timewaster, or a digital sign, or any other situation where a PC wouldn’t fit. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the right company with the right product to make the right deals.

Amazon Announces Holiday Daily Deals Site, “Flurry Deals”

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 06:55 AM PST


It’s Cyber Monday all month long, at least according to Amazon, which announced its new holiday deals vertical this morning, residing at The site currently features decently discounted items as an extension of the Cyber Monday promotion. But starting this Sunday, Amazon will begin offering category-specific daily deals. It’s even providing an email sign-up form so shoppers won’t miss the sales.

The deals will be grouped into categories, including Sports & Outdoors, Video Games, Tools & Home Improvement, Movies & TV, Toys & Games, Electronics and Shoes & Accessories.

Amazon has also offered deals “previews” through Saturday, Dec. 10th, listing what the daily deal will be for each day from Sunday on. Most of these are obvious holiday gift ideas or general discounts meant to capitalize on popular holiday shopping trends. For example, on Tuesday, shoppers can save over 50% off power tools. (Hello, Dads of America).

But seriously, some of these discounts are worth a look, especially if you were planning on buying from Amazon anyway. DVDs and Blu-Rays go on sale for over 60% off. Select smartphones come with a $100 gift card. That’s not too bad. Others are more narrowly focused, like the Michael Jackson “The Experience” game being discounted by $15. Sadly, none of the deals (as of yet) are for Kindles.

Although Amazon doesn’t provide any info on what discounts will be offered beyond the 10th, the company does plan to extend the discounts all the way through Christmas, from the sound of things.

Microsoft Goes After Dads In New WinPho Commercial

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 06:05 AM PST

Kids send the strangest things over 3G networks! In this new commercial for Windows Phone 7, poor old pops is doing the shopping while consulting a list that has been helpfully shared via One Note. Suddenly, cola appears on this list alongside a pound of candy and some huge suckers. Who is hijacking pops’ reverie with their crude hacking? I’ll let you watch to find out. It’s hi-larious!

But what does this commercial mean?

Microsoft has a hard row to hoe, but it’s ads like this that highlight the technology quite admirably. Because the control both the desktop and the phone OS, commercials showing the functionality versus talking up specs make much more sense and are, in turn, much more compelling (remember that Verizon commercial where the geek goes into the store and the salesperson rattles off an Android tablets’ technical specifications? How funny was that?)

There is a certain subset of phone buyer who doesn’t want to go, as it were, mainstream. WinPho is nearly perfect in that respect, dropping stealthily in between Android and iOS like a hale and well-met friend and eating both sides’ market share. While you probably won’t be performing many jackanapes with your Windows 7-powered kids this hardware iteration, I could see a day when Windows 8 and WinPho 7 become the standard in business and, increasingly, at home. Here’s hoping.

via AppBoy

2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Sports Watches To Help Burn Off The Turkey

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 05:34 AM PST


If you’re planning a marathon next year or just full of delicious stuffing and turkey, you may want to look into getting a sports watch. These wrist computers offer GPS, heart-rate, and pace measurements for runners, bikers, and, most recently, swimmers and they can help motivate you to get off your duff and, what’s more, help you shave some seconds off your time.

I’ve used all of these except the Garmin and they range from $350 to about $200. When looking at a sports watch, take into consideration your daily regimen as well as your – or your intended recipient’s – favorite sport. Something like the Nike+ GPS watch is best for runners while the Polar RCX5 works for triathloners. Just starting out? Take a look at Garmin and Suunto for simpler sport computers designed to motiviate you to get off your keister.

The Polar RCX5 – $349 – The RCX5, which I reviewed here and someone did a better job of reviewing this watch here and we both found this to be one of the simplest and most complete sport watches for those in the “high-performance” segment. Out of the box it doesn’t do much but assess your current heart rate. However, coupled with Polar’s various sensors for bikes and shoes as well as their GPS unit, it gives you a full run-down of your activity using a web-based sync platform.

To use it you simply select your sport – running, swimming, biking, or other – and start exercising. There’s little else to worry about. Wireless sync allows you to connect to Macs and PCs to download your workouts and the battery lasts about a year of heavy/mid-range use. Note that this unit does not have GPS built-in and add-ons are fairly expensive.

Garmin Forerunner 610 – $349 – This is Garmin’s flagship running watch complete with built-in GPS, a touchscreen, and Garmin’s unique “virtual training partner,” a little app that pushes you to go faster and farther in your runs.

Buyer Beware: The $399 version of the watch includes a heart-rate monitor (the $349 does not). It is fairly self-contained. You can connect to your PC or Mac using the ANT+ protocol and the watch is rechargeable and lasts about week of heavy use.

Nike+ Watch – $199 – When I first tried the Nike+ watch I found it to be delightfully simple but woefully bad at picking up GPS signals. Subsequent updates have improved the GPS sensing software enough to give this watch a second chance and, because it works with a heart rate monitor and the Nike+ footpod you can use it inside without having to depend on satellites swirling above.

Suunto M5 – $189 – Suunto is best known for their hiking watches but they’ve recently become more adept at building and selling great exercise watches. The M5, for example, is a self-contained training coach. The watch asks you your goals – weight loss, fitness, back hair growth (not really) – and then tells you how many calories – and how long – you need to run. A helpful reminder pops up every day to tell you when you’re supposed to exercise. You actually don’t need to connect this one to the PC very much (but you can) and its handsome styling makes it a nice everyday watch as well.

Check out the rest of our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide here.

Video: Zynga CEO Mark Pincus Pitches IPO To Investors

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 04:17 AM PST


In traditional form, Zynga’s founder and CEO Mark Pincus had donned a suit for his roadshow presentation to investors. As we reported this morning, Zynga has set the price range of its IPO at $8.50 and $10 per share. Offering 100 million shares, the company plans to raise as over $1 billion. The company could be valued as high as $7 billion.

We can’t embed the video but you can watch Pincus’ presentation here. The entire presentation is 30 minutes and worth a watch if you have the time. If not, we’ve embedded some of the screenshots of the investor presentation slides below.

Also making an appearance in the video is Zynga’s COO John Schappert and CFO Dave Wehner.

NEC MEDIAS PP: Waterproof Android Phone With 4-Inch OLED Screen, 1700mAh Battery, Wireless Charging Support

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 04:05 AM PST

nec medias

Japanese mobile carrier NTT Docomo has announced [JP] it will start offering the Medias PP N-01D on December 9, the latest Android phone in NEC’s Medias smartphone series. And if NEC ever gets its act together regarding its internationalization plans, this pretty cool device might hit the US and other markets soon, too.

NEC is especially proud of the 1,700mmAH battery that’s built into the phone and promises about 630 hours of standby and 380 hours of talk time.

But this isn’t the only interesting spec – here’s a list of the main features of the Medias PP N-01D:

  • Android 2.3 as the OS
  • 4-inch OLED screen with 480×800 resolution
  • MSM8255 CPU (1.4GHz, single core)
  • wireless battery charging support
  • 8.1MP CMOS camera
  • 2GB internal memory
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with Bluetooth Low Energy support
  • Wi-Fi (tethering is supported)
  • DLNA support
  • e-wallet function
  • digital TV tuner
  • infrared connection
  • microSDHC card slot
  • water- and dust-proof body
  • size: 128×63×10.9mm, weight: 135g

Zynga Sets Price Range For IPO At $8.50 To $10 Per Share, Will Raise Over $1B

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 03:11 AM PST


Social gaming giant Zynga has just filed its updated S-1 with pricing information ahead of its roadshow. The price range, according to the filing, will be between $8.50 and $10 per share.

Offering 100 million shares, the company plans to raise over $1 billion. Zynga plans to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol ‘ZNGA.’ At the high end of the range, Zynga would be valued at around $7 billion.

In the offering, CEO Mark Pincus won’t be selling any shares, but investors Kleiner Perkins, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry, DST, Avalon, Google, SilverLake, Tiger Global and others will be selling.

As we reported a few weeks ago, Zynga’s Q3 Revenue came in at $306.8 million for the quarter, which is up 80 percent from Q3 2010. Net income was $12.5 million, down 50 percent from the third quarter 2010 ($27.2 million). Revenue only grew 10 percent from the second quarter, compared to and 15 percent increase from Q1 to Q2.

Daily active users also dropped quarter over quarter to 54 million from 59 million in the second quarter. Average monthly active users dropped to 227 million from 228 million in the second quarter.

The company initially was speculated to debut on the public markets at a valuation of between $15 billion and $20 billion. We reported this week that Zynga dropped its price range (and valuation) amid concerns over larger economic issues, such as fallout out from Europe's financial crisis, and the poor reception that other tech IPOs have had recently.

As my colleague Eric Eldon wrote recently, the lower price could also be aimed at addressing specific investor concerns about Zynga, the company — like declines in its Facebook traffic numbers, and reports about its intense company culture.

Of course, this is just the initial pricing range set by Zynga and the company could up this depending on the response from the roadshow. And most tech IPOs have seen a jump in final pricing prior to the IPO.

French Birchbox Competitor JolieBox Enters UK With Acquisition Of Boudoir Privé

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 02:29 AM PST


JolieBox, which is essentially a Birchbox clone in France, has acquired a British competitor, Boudoir Privé. The news comes a few weeks after JolieBox raised 1 million euros from Alven Capital and Oleg Tscheltzoff.

Boudoir Privé will soon become JolieBox UK and the existing team will be maintained.

Read more at TechCrunch Europe.

Video: Anti-Sleep Apnea Robot Pillow

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 01:09 AM PST

robot pillow

Sleep apnea can be a big problem for people affected by the disorder, but there is help from Japan on the way. A team of researchers at Waseda University in Tokyo have developed a robot pillow that monitors the sleep of patients and helps them by touching the face or neck whenever it detects irregularities in the sleep cycle.

The pillow, which is dubbed Jukusui-kun, is shaped like a teddy bear. In Japan alone, about 2 million people are estimated to suffer from sleep apnea (out of a population of 128 million), meaning the target group is quite large.

Teruko Otani from the Jukusui-kun’s research group explains how the pillow works:

In this system, a pulse oxymeter, worn on the finger, measures oxygen concentration in the blood. Also, a microphone in the teddy bear picks up the sound of snoring. The data from these two devices is evaluated by a PC, and reflected in the signal sent to an actuator, so the actuator movement can be varied depending on the person’s condition. The actuator movement helps the person roll over in their sleep, and if their breathing is badly interrupted, it wakes the person up.

This video, shot by Diginfo TV (in English), shows the robot pillow in action:

Daily Crunch: Climb

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 01:00 AM PST

Overview: 11 Startup Demos From The TechCrunch Tokyo 2011 Conference

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 10:04 PM PST

techcrunch tokyo 2011 logo

TechCrunch Japan organized TechCrunch Tokyo 2011 [JP] on Tuesday, a one-day event that attracted a total of 600 people (and will hopefully be organized next year again, possibly as TechCrunch Disrupt Tokyo). The crowd was a mix of people from the local web and mobile industry, Asia, and the US (including TechCrunch’s very own Erick Schonfeld who came to Japan for the first time in ten years).

Apart from presentations and panel discussions (which can be watched here), a few hours of the program were reserved for a total of ten Japanese and one Korean startup to to demo their services on-stage. Here is a rundown of all the services that were shown at the event's so-called "Startup Battle".

TechCrunch Tokyo 2011: Winner And Three Runners-Up

Picotube [ENG/JP] (winner of the Grand Prix – 1 million Yen/US$13,000 in cash)
Best of show went to Picotube, which can probably be best described as for video. The service uses content from YouTube and lets users choose avatars, watch clips together in a virtual theater, create play lists, and rate videos selected by other “video jockeys” (awesome/lame). Picotube is developed by Tokyo-based startup Vettl (which was established in August) and is available in English and Japanese. Vettl plans to monetize the service with virtual item sales in the future.

Crowsnest [ENG/JP] (winner of the NTT Open Lab special prize)
Crowsnest is a social news reader that ranks content based on the number of corresponding links on Twitter. The service, which is available in English and Japanese, indexes and analyzes over 10 million tweeted URLs per day. Users can personalize their news (for example, by letting Crowsnest serve up links from friends or a self-defined category only), search, integrate news items into RSS readers, etc. Crowsnest looks especially nice on an iPad but is designed to be consumed cross-platform.

engraph [JP] (winner of the KDDI special prize)
Created by a high-school student, engraph wants to make the contact lists (address books) on smartphones social. The main idea here is to do away with displaying friends and other contacts in list form and visualize connections in the form of a map instead (see below). Users can access their friend’s email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts by clicking on their picture. A beta version for Android handsets is already available on the Japanese Android Market.

Spoqa [ENG] (winner of the special prize of the jury)
Spoqa is a social commerce app from Korea that lets shoppers collect loyalty points after scanning a QR code at partner stores (limited to Seoul/Korea, at this point). Users can earn additional points by recommending the store in question to a friend from within the app. When the friend patronizes the merchant later, both him or her and the original Spoqa user receive points. These points can then be used for discounts or free items. Spoqa collected a total of 24,000 users since its launch in Korea in early November (free downloads: iTunes, Android). Read more about Spoqa (in English) here.

TechCrunch Tokyo 2011: The Best Of The Rest

Here are the six services that didn't make the cut at the event:

  • Mina Ome [JP], a social gifting service that lets a group of people buy and send a present to a friend (the more people decide to take part, the cheaper the present becomes for everyone)
  • Qiita [ENG/JP] a platform to collect and share programming knowledge for software engineers
  • Spothon [JP], a yet to be released smartphone app that lets multiple users share information and emotions during sports events in real-time (“mobile public viewing”)
  • Wishscope [ENG/JP], a social wish list that works a bit like Zaarly in the US (read more about Wishscope here)
  • Sumally [ENG/JP], a stylish “Wikipedia for products" that just launched an iPhone app (read more about Sumally here)
  • Nana [ENG/JP], a yet to be released iPhone app that lets users create, sing and share songs (“communication via music”)
  • Misoca [JP], an invoice management system that lets users create and send snail mail invoices to clients from within the browser

Videos from TechCrunch Tokyo 2011 can be viewed here, while some pictures from the event can be found here.

Theicebreak For iPhone Wants To Make Your Already Great Relationship More Awesome

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 08:12 PM PST

Screen Shot 2011-12-01 at 7.33.17 PM

In the same space as BeCouply and Tokii, social “network” for couples theicebreak is now available on the iPhone — for those that want to stay hyper-connected their SOs via mobile.

Upon opening theicebreak gives you two options: First is the option to answer an “icebreaker” or a question related to your partner, your relationship or your personality — like, “What are the best words to hear from your partner?” or “What’s your favorite thing to do when the weather gets cold?” You also have the option to “capture today’s moment,” or share a picture of something you saw during the day that “amazed you.”

Aiming to improve communication, affection or excitement within a relationship, theicebreak lets users share privately with their partners and/or anonymously with all users. If your partner isn’t on theicebreak, the app will loop them in via email where they can still receive your answers to their questions and your moments, even if they don’t participate themselves.

And participation pays off, literally (!): Every time you complete an action on theicebreak you earn $10 in theicebreak coins. When a couple earns $500 in coins, they receive a 20% discount for up to $20 of a date. All they need to do is mail in the receipts from a date-type outing and the company will send them a check for up to $4. Cute.

The app will eventually include Wishlists, a popular site feature that functions like a Pinterest for the relationships, allowing the couple to curate lists of stuff like where they want to go on vacation or what they want for Christmas.

theicebreak aims to enhance, not replace the communication couples have already, “Making your already great relationship more awesome,” founder Christina Brodbeck tells me. In addition to the features above, users have a Stats section where they can rate their relationship satisfaction levels daily and a Vitals section which lists couple-relavent information like Birthdays, Clothing preferences and Ring size .

PSA: Couples might not want to use this around terminally single friends. Because it would be insanely annoying.

Apple Sends’s App To The Dog House For Untaxed Subscription Payments

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 07:42 PM PST

Match Removed From App Store

Those looking for love won’t find it in the App Store. Apple has removed‘s iOS app because it allowed the lonely to pay for Match subscriptions with a credit card through an external link rather than using the in-app purchases system. That meant Apple wasn’t getting its 30% cut. In June Apple revised its policy to state that “Apps can read or play approved content that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app, as long as there is no button or external link in the app to purchase the approved content.” Apple and are now negotiating how the app must change before their relationship can be rekindled and they can have an earth-shattering makeup revenue split.

You may remember the controversy back in February when Apple unveiled its original subscription policy which required apps to offer their website subscriptions through the in-app purchases system at an equal or lower price. apparently dodged the 30% tax on in-app purchases by displaying a button to pay them directly. This was the exact type of behavior Apple banned with its June policy revision, but I guess it took a while for it to notice was messing around on the side.’s app primarily serves as a mobile access point to its subscription-based web service. Those who’ve already downloaded it can continue looking for their soulmate through the app. Still, new users could create an account and start paying within the app, so the removal may be taking a small toll on’s onboarding rates. That’s a problem since they have high churn rates.  See, any successful matchmaking service permanently solves the problem it address — married people don’t need marriage apps. Even a temporary removal from the App Store can also have a lasting impact since it causes an app to fall off the leaderboards, reducing discovery potential. will have to decide whether to stop allowing users to signup and pay through the app, or agree to pay Apple’s 30% tax. The former seems more lucrative.  If you’re setting up your profile on the go, you’re probably not putting your best foot forward, you won’t meet people, and you’ll stop paying anyways. Even better, could provide limited functionality in the app and only offer the full experience if they’ve paid online, but not offer any link or button to its web payment system. This way it could still hook up with new users through the app, but be free to collect 100% of their subscription fees. You could call it an open relationship.

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