Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Android Market’s “Featured Apps” Seeing Explosive Download Numbers

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 09:11 AM PST


Getting featured in the Android Market is starting to have a meaningful impact for mobile app developers. According to the recent news from fitness app maker RunKeeper, the company saw a 637% increase in downloads since November after just a few days of being a featured app in the Android Market “Health & Fitness” section.

But is RunKeeper seeing the boost because of the New Year’s resolution-making crowd? Or is being featured in the Android Market really bumping up download numbers in the extreme for anyone who makes it there?

RunKeeper’s success story is a great one. On January 1st, the app became featured in the Android Market, which led it to become the #3 “Health & Fitness” app, up from a previous ranking in the 20′s, and #288 in the entire Android Market, which, as we now know, is at 400,000 apps.

It’s certainly a hopeful tale, but one that left us with questions – how much is being featured really worth? Was being a “Health & Fitness” app the real story here?

Apparently not. Another popular Android application, Lightbox, a photo-sharing app that’s sort of like a mashup of Instagram and Tumblr, was also featured in the Android Market over the holidays, starting on Christmas Eve. Says CEO Thai Tran, in the week following its new highly visible status, Lightbox saw over 500,000 downloads to bring its total number of downloads to over 1.5 million.

For comparison purposes, it took Lightbox three months to reach its first 500,000 downloads. More importantly, getting “featured” didn’t always amount to this level of traction. In summer 2011, for example, as Lightbox was working on its first 500K, it was featured in the Android Market for nearly an entire month. And yet, it still took three months to reach 500K.

Lightbox’s growth also mirrors Android’s international growth, Tran notes.  Previously, the U.S. accounted for 55% of Lightbox’s usage, and the U.K. was its #2 country.  But now the U.S. is down to 33% of its usage, and India and Brazil have leapfrogged the U.K. to become its #2 and #3 countries respectively. Lightbox is also seeing traction in Mexico, Malaysia, and Indonesia, says Tran.

But Lightbox’s jump was during the holidays – a time when many people are getting brand-new mobile devices and downloading apps. In fact, Flurry said that 1.2 billion apps were downloaded during the 2011 holiday season.

What about the Android Market’s impact on growth outside of the Christmas/New Year’s rush? For a third example, let’s look at the intelligent, social to-do list Any.DO, which announced in mid-December that it had seen 500,000 downloads over the past thirty days. The increase, says CEO Omer Perchik, was in part due to the app’s featured status in the Android Market. Although he declined to share hard numbers, he did say that during the app’s featured period, Any.DO was seeing “tens of thousands” of downloads per day – something that’s “an order of magnitude” above its normal download numbers.

Other successes include Evernote’s Skitch, which reached 1 million downloads in November, also while it was being featured on the Market. It later hit 3 million by December. Going further back, in July, Point Inside Maps was featured in the Market for an increase of a more moderate 50,000 downloads per week.

So how does an app get featured in the Android Market, developers want to know? That’s easy: build a great app. Any.DO’s Perchik says that he’s never seen unstable, unusable apps getting featured – Google looks for quality. Android Market PM Fernando Delgado previously explained the process, saying that Google has a team of editors and category managers who proactively look at new apps being released on the Market.

“If an app is determined to have high potential, it is thoroughly reviewed to make sure it meets the high bar for being featured,” he says. In other words, it’s Google’s own curation process – not just raw download numbers that help an app make the cut.

IFTTT, A Glue Gun For Sticking Together The Web, Raises $1.5M Seed Round From Top Investors

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 09:00 AM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-04 at 8.19.13 AM

Want to instantly save all your Instagram photos to Dropbox when you take them? What about automatically updating your Twitter profile when you update your Facebook profile? Or, what about sharing any article you read in Read It Later to Twitter and Facebook, staggered by time via Buffer? A small bootstrapped startup called If This Then That has abstracted a simple set of tools to help you do each of these things, and many more.

And now it’s raised a big seed round of more than $1.5 million from some of the top angels and venture capitalists in tech.

We’ve talked about how IFTTT works a couple times already on TechCrunch, but here’s a quick review. The idea is that you choose from any of the enabled services, or “channels” in IFTTT’s terminology, then you choose a “trigger” action, and a resulting “action.” Or as the name suggests, If This [Trigger] Then That [Action]. The resulting set of actions is called “recipe,” which you can also share and borrow with other users on the site (follow the links at the top of the article for more details on the examples I listed).

Right now, the focus is on helping users easily share information between any two services, with phone calls with major sites like YouTuBe and Facebook on the list as well as startups like Diigo and ffffound. The reason the site has been getting traction is that anyone can pretty easily use it for a specific task they need done, that no particular web service is going to build for them. While he’s not disclosing more specific numbers, he says that over 500,000 tasks created, contained in some 14,000 recipes, with 90 million tasks being triggered to date at the current rate of 1 million per day.

As more and more web users become more sophisticated at using multiple sites for specific tasks, IFTTT is positioned to be the glue that binds them together. In and of itself, that’s a promising vision.

But as founder Linden Tibbets tells me, there’s an even bigger idea here, which is plugging the service into the so-called “internet of things” — meaning, connecting the web to physical devices to get more value out of them. A simple example of this, he says, could be outfitting your dog with a GPS-enabled collar, and setting up a geofence that triggers a call to your phone and emails to your next door neighbors to alert everyone about the escape.

That’s off in the future. In the meantime, Tibbets is planning to expand the team beyond its current two employees, and focus on refining core parts of the service. The site is overall extremely well-designed, especially for such an abstract concept — Tibbets worked as a developer at design firm Ideo for years, and that influence shows — but there are still has some rough edges. The simple, big-text interface has managed to guide a wide variety of users through it and get them hooked but some pieces of it, like the curly brackets section for setting up detailed actions, can be confusing to people who aren’t familiar with programming. Tibbets tells me that’s an example of something that he’d like to be able to sit down and figure out a better interface for, once he gets some more employees.

The list of investors includes: NEA, Lerer, Betaworks, Greylock, CrunchFund, Founder Collective, SV Angel, Roger Sippl, Peter Kirwan, Joshua Schachter, David Tisch, Ohad Pressman, and Gunderson Dettmer.

AT&T’s Pantech Element LTE Tablet Leaked, Arriving January 8

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 08:49 AM PST


AT&T is slowly and steadily building up their portfolio of LTE-capable devices, and it looks like yet another has just broken cover. Due to be officially unveiled on January 8, the Pantech Element is AT&T’s newest LTE tablet, and is the first in AT&T’s lineup not to cost an absurd amount of money with a contract.

According to BGR, Pantech’s Honeycomb-powered tablet features an 8-inch display, a dual-core 1.5GHz processor of unknown origin, and 16GB of internal storage. The Element also sports two cameras — a rear-facing 5-megapixel shooter with 1080p video capture, and a smaller 2-megapixel frontfacer for video calling and goofy self-portraits.

The Element is also meant to be one of AT&T’s more rugged offerings, touted as being "waterproof for real life." You shouldn’t take that as carte blanche to take it for a swim though, as BGR reports that the Element can’t actually survive more than a splash on the face.

Strangely, also they mention that the Element has an IP57 waterproof rating, which actually means that the device would be capable of surviving submersion in up to 1m of water. I’m chalking that up to some crossed wires though, as AT&T is reportedly telling reps that it isn’t in fact a waterproof tablet.

At $299, the Element is an easier pill to swallow than either of AT&T’s previous LTE-friendly tablets. While the Galaxy Tab 8.9 and the HTC Jetstream both come from bigger companies, they cost $479 and $599 respectively — more than a little ridiculous considering you’re signing a two-year contract on top of it.

Scott Thompson: Yahoo’s Competitive Advantage Is Its Data

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 08:22 AM PST

Scott Thompson

Is Yahoo a technology company or a media company? Newly appointed CEO Scott Thompson tried to answer that age-old question in his first conference call with Wall Street analysts this morning. It’s both “excellent technology and content, not one or the other,” he says. “Yahoo’s core business,” he continues, is to provide experiences that “engages our users. Everything flows from that.”

Thompson points out that Yahoo still has a strong brand trusted and visited by more than 700 million people around the world. Sometimes they come for news and other content. Sometimes they come for communications and other web-based software. To Thompson, who was PayPal’s CTO before he became its president, it’s all data and Yahoo generates a ton of it.”I feel that this data will be exploitable,” he says. He adds that he has “a lot to learn, but my instinct says that down in that data we will find ways to compete and innovate that the world hasn’t seen yet.”

Thompson also emphasized the need to keep and attract great talent to once again build innovative and even “disruptive products.” (I don’t know that I’d call PayPal innovative over the past few years on the product front, but that is a different discussion). He plans on talking to both employees and customers before deciding what to do with Yahoo. But he kept coming back to this point of data as a competitive weapon.

“Data is a very hard concept to understand unless you are in the middle of it,” he explains. “There is tremendous value if you can organize and interrogate data at the scale Yahoo has it.” Inside all of that usage data from 700 million users he expects to find the answers to building better products and delivering more value to advertisers as well.

Like any new CEO, Thompson is asking investors and observers to “give me some time on this.” The always-impatient market didn’t find much solace in his words (the stock is still down around 2 percent as of this writing, and dipped down even further during the conference call).

But the message was load and clear. Yahoo is no longer for sale, it will proceed to sell off its Asian assets, and it will be up to Thompson to rebuild Yahoo as a premier destination on the Internet. Part media company, part technology company—it’s all about turning data into useful, compelling, and entertaining information. If he can do that, he will prove all the Yahoos wrong about the future of Yahoo, or its lack thereof.

Chairman Roy Bostock: Expect Yahoo To Remain A Public Company

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 07:59 AM PST


As you may have heard, Yahoo finally has a new CEO: PayPal president Scott Thompson will be serving that particular, unambiguously difficult role.

We hopped on the conference call Yahoo orchestrated for the occasion, and picked up on some interesting things said by Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock on the future of the company.

Bostock said, in no uncertain terms, that Yahoo is currently, and will likely stay a public company. In other words: so much for the full buyout scenario.

According to our notes, Bostock said:

“I do not envision not being a public company going forward.

I think we'd have one hell of a challenge [to take it private]. We are a public company, we expect to run it as a public company going forward. It is kind of a moot issue going forward.”

Bostock also – somewhat – addressed Yahoo’s oh-so-important Asian assets, claiming that the appointment of Thompson as chief executive in these tumultuous times for the company will not be causing any slowdowns or delays in any of the processes currently underway:

“In looking at the alternatives in the review, whatever alternatives we are looking at, there will be no slowdown or delay in that process. Scott will climb onboard, has caught up to those processes. There will be no delay as we move forward.

[This] will not be a distraction for Scott. He will jump on the running boards of the car as it is moving along.”

And we’ll be standing by the side of the road to see what happens to it next.

Zynga Brings Social Gameplay To Concealed Object Puzzles With Newest Facebook Title, Hidden Chronicles

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 07:59 AM PST

Hidden Chronicles

Hidden object games, such as Where’s Waldo, have been popular in all mediums with a variety of ages of game players. But it’s a genre that social gaming giant Zynga has left untouched, until now. Today, Zynga is launching its first hidden object Facebook game with a social twist, Hidden Chronicles. The game, which will roll out to the public this morning, allows players to find hidden objects, solve puzzles, and unlock mysteries, combining memory, skill, and social gameplay.

In a nutshell, players unlock new locations by completing quests, mastering scenes, solving puzzles, and restoring an estate, Ramsey Manor. Players will earn coins, experience points, and unique items to help them customize their estate.

As you begin Hidden Chronicles, you’ll receive a letter from your ‘Uncle Geoffrey.’ who has died and said in the letter that he’s left something for you at his estate, Ramsay Manor. At the estate, you’ll be greeted by his assistant who tell you that Geoffrey died under suspicious circumstances, and that you will need to solve mysteries in order to uncover the reason why he died.

You’ll then enter a parlor, where you need to find hidden items in the scene. Once you’ve completed the task, the fire place opens to reveal a secret room where you will take on your next quest. As you progress through the game, it becomes more difficult to uncover the hidden objects.

Many of the hidden object scenes include mini-games, from jigsaw puzzles to concentration games, where players can unlock and solve these puzzles and be rewarded with coins and points. In total, there are 50 scenes within the game.

In terms of social, Zynga says that while hidden object games are largely single-player experiences, Hidden Chronicle has been developed with a multi-player, social layer. You can visit your friends' in-game estate to hide gifts and challenge them to play 'FastFind' scenes and find the most hidden objects within 60 seconds. You can also use your friends’ help to unlock various scenes and areas where hidden objects are concealed.

Cara Ely, Creative Director of Hidden Chronicles, compares the social game play to that of its Scrabble-like social game Words With Friends, in which players can challenge each other.

Another distinction you’ll find in the game, says Ely, is the distinct art style of the imagery in the games. Scenes are designed in a soft photorealism that's much more realistic and visually engaging than some of Zynga’s previous games. Zynga’s also worked on improving animations as well as the game soundtrack to convey a more realistic game experience.

The creative team behind Hidden Chronicles includes co-creator Ely, former creator of the popular Dream Day Wedding series of hidden object games, narrative designer Jane Jensen, creator of the Gabriel Knight series of PC games, and art director Margaret Foley-Mouvais, former art director for titles such as "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Godfather," and lead product manager Nancy Hang.

Hidden Chronicles will be available in 15 languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Swedish, Thai, Dutch, Norwegian, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Danish.

Ely also explains that Zynga structured the game more like a season of TV show. “You have a story written and an outline of where it will go, and new characters will be introduced as you play,” she says.

In terms of mobile, she adds that there could be potential for the game to live interactively in tablet devices, but there are no current plans to bring Hidden Chronicle to Android or iOS yet.

Paypal Shreds Ostensibly Rare Violin Because It Cares

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 07:55 AM PST


When we last left Paypal, the company was busy destroying Christmas for a bunch of kids. This week they’re shredding violins into bits while taking money from unsuspecting sellers. When will we stop trusting these guys? When they kill a puppy?

Regretsy reader Erica sold an ostensibly rare violin to an eBay buyer who paid using Paypal. The buyer disputed the authenticity of the instrument and asked for his money back. Rather than handle it amicably with Erica, the buyer went to Paypal who advised them to supply proof that the item had been destroyed and they would refund the money. The buyer then shredded the violin into chowder and sent a handsome photo to Paypal and Erica. Paypal refunded the money.

This left Erica in a tight spot. She no longer had the money and the item she was attempting to sell was shredded. Actually, that’s the end of the story: violin shredded, money taken away. It is, in a word, heartbreaking.

Now a lot of this story isn’t out yet and I have a line in to Paypal about this, so before we get out the pitchforks lets discuss what happened. Paypal has a well-documented policy that it does not allow the sale of fakes through its service. This applies, presumably, to Mucci purses and Drada wallets and fake Bolex watches. However, no one in this situation was in any position to objectively appraise this piece and Paypal could not confirm or deny the accuracy of the buyer’s claims. To reduce this argument ad absurdum, what if this was a painting or sculpture attributed to Raphael and was really made by Michelangelo? In any case it’s real and Paypal’s CSRs have no business passing judgement on these things, let alone take the buyer at his word. Paypal, in their zeal to perform customer server theatre, is judge, jury, and proxy executioner here.

Erica might be a total faker. The buyer may be in the right. But it’s not Paypal’s job to appraise violins. My understanding is that Paypal is a proxy between two parties and a better solution would be to hold the money in escrow – less shipping – so the violin can come back to the owner and the cash then goes to the buyer.

MetroPCS Launching Live Mobile TV Service Later This Year

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 07:26 AM PST


Today, MetroPCS has announced a partnership with the Mobile Content Venture (MCV) on a new service that will bring live digital television to the carrier’s customers. The service, called Dyle Mobile TV, will be available on phones that are pre-loaded with the Dyle application, starting first with unnamed, Android-based Samsung devices.

MCV is a joint venture dedicated to facilitating, on behalf of 12 major broadcast groups, a national mobile content service that delivers live television to mobile devices.

Dyle Mobile TV is the consumer-facing brand launched by MCV earlier this year that will deliver live mobile television content from 15 major broadcast groups including Pearl LLC (Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media) as well as FOX, ION Television, Bahakel, Univision, Telemundo and NBC. At launch, MCV expects to offer the mobile video service on more than 72 stations in 32 markets covering more than 50% of the U.S. population.

The content will include live national and local sports, news and entertainment offerings.

The Dyle logo (pictured) is meant to indicate to consumers that the technology needed for live, mobile TV is available on the device in question.

The Dyle service works using ATSC technology, which is more commonly known as “a TV tuner.” This allows the phone to receive digital television (DTV) signals – the same signals that stations adopted during the digital TV transition.

Samsung smartphones with Dyle will be available later this year in MetroPCS markets and surrounding areas including: Atlanta, Ga.; Boston, Mass.; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Detroit, Mich.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Miami, Fla.; New York, N.Y.; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Francisco, Calif.; and Tampa, Fla.

Mobile TV services haven’t always fared so well. Qualcomm’s mobile TV unit FLO TV, which provided white label services to Verizon and AT&T announced it was closing up shop in 2010, and was officially discontinued in March 2011. AT&T ended up purchasing $1.93 billion worth of wireless spectrum from Qualcomm that had been used for the service.

Will value-conscious MetroPCS customers want mobile TV service, then, when it will almost certainly come at an increased monthly cost? That remains to be seen.


The Scott Thompson Effect: Yahoo Trades Down 2 Percent On CEO News

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 07:03 AM PST

Yahoo! Stock Chart

After months of searching, Yahoo announced its new CEO this morning: Scott Thompson, former president of PayPal. The market’s initial reaction? Yahoo shares are trading down 2 percent from yesterday’s close of $16.29 as the market absorbs the news and tries to make sense of it.

Thompson is an operator and a technologist. That might just be what Yahoo needs at this point. We’ll see if the market reacts more positively to his remarks during a conference call which is just about to start.

More soon.

Roku’s Streaming Stick Makes Your Dumb TV Much Smarter

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 07:00 AM PST

Screen shot 2012-01-03 at 3.06.16 PM

Smart TVs are great and all — who doesn’t want a dash of WiFi with their daily dose of reality television? — but the segment will face challenges in the market. For one, a $49 Roku LT is a much better value proposition than a $1,000+ smart TV. Secondly, the hardware moves at such a rapid pace that even with solid software updates, your smart TV will likely be outdated much sooner than you’re ready to buy a new one.

But even with the hardships to be faced by the smart TV segment, Roku still wants a piece of the pie. Enter: the Roku Streaming Stick. It’s a little USB drive-sized stick that packs a processor, memory, software and WiFi to virtually transform your regular old television into a Smart TV, with access to all of Roku’s 400+ channels. The new offering streams video in 1080p, and thanks to a Broadcom mobile chip, Roku claims that you shouldn’t see any difference in performance between this and its other boxes.

Unfortunately, the Streaming Stick loses many of the extra ports you’d find on Roku’s other streaming boxes. But the real drawback is that you’ll need an MHL-enhanced HDMI port on your TV to get the Streaming Stick working. If you haven’t heard, MHL is a proposed industry standard that uses the HDMI port on a television to deliver power to mobile devices while they’re plugged. In other words, you’ll need a relatively brand new TV.

In my opinion, this is a tough catch. The whole point of getting the Streaming Stick is to be able to have what feels like a brand new TV, without, you know, actually buying said brand new TV.

Roku this year introduced gaming onto its platform, and the same will be available to owners of the Roku Streaming Stick. Since the Stick can be used with your current TV remote, gamers will need to shell out a few extra bucks to get the Roku Gaming remote. Luckily, that one should work fine with your TV so you won’t have to switch back and forth all the time.

Roku said that the Streaming Stick will hit shelves in the latter half of 2012, but wasn’t clear about pricing. But from what we’ve seen out of Roku before, I would expect that the Streaming Stick should go for no more than $100.

Eved Raises $9.5 M To Expand Its Online Marketplace For Meeting & Events Industry

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:54 AM PST


Chicago-based Eved, an online marketplace for the meeting and events industry, has raised $9.5 million in a Series B round by New World Ventures and MK Capital. The funding will be used to scale and expand the company’s proprietary platform which provides those in the event industry supply chain with a sourcing, marketing and e-commerce solution.

For service providers, Eved enables them to meet demand from buyers for lower pricing and better value from suppliers. Meeting suppliers can use Eved to expand their business online, grow their companies and maintain their margins. Meanwhile, event professionals can use Eved to find suppliers, send and track RFPs and manage their supplier networks.

Companies can also use Eved’s online marketplace to buy directly from suppliers and track those purchases via e-invoices.

According to Matt McCall, New World Ventures partner, Eved allows industry companies to save as much as 25% of current costs. “Eved's platform is disruptive technology that greatly reduces manual labor hours by incorporating efficient business practices and developing business relationships,” he says.

Founded in 2010 to help transform the $263 billion meeting and event industry, Eved now has over 2,500 users including organizations, third-party meeting and incentive companies, event planning and destination management companies, hotels, event venues and suppliers.

Augmented Reality App Instantly Translates Foreign Text On Signs, Menus

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:54 AM PST


If you ever wanted to be able to read text on a street sign or on a menu in a restaurant when abroad, your smartphone might be able to help you soon. Japanese electronics company Omron has developed a smartphone application that can instantly translate (short) foreign texts you come across – firing up the app and pointing the phone’s camera at the text in question is enough.

Omron says that in its current form, the app (which isn’t available yet) can handle English, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. Translations are superimposed over the text shown on the display (in the picture below, you can see three items on a Korean menu shown in yellow Japanese letters).

Users aren’t required to take pictures, as translations are delivered based on live images. Omron says their app can also handle text captured in bad lighting conditions or from difficult angles.

Japanese business daily The Nikkei is reporting that the company hopes the app will be pre-installed on smartphones released within 2012.

Word Lens is a very similar app (available for iOS), and in fact, Japanese companies have been working on mobile translation solutions like this for years.

Ebay Boss John Donahoe To Serve PayPal’s Interim President

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:52 AM PST


Yahoo just announced PayPal President Scott Thompson as its new CEO. That obviously leaves a hole at PayPal as Thompson was currently serving in that role. Well, now that he’s leaving and officially starts at Yahoo on January 9, ebay’s current CEO will step up and also serve as PayPal’s president. He announced the move this morning in an internal PayPal memo (embedded below) where he also wished Scott the best.

Donahoe and the rest of PayPal’s board now has the large task of replacing Scott Thompson. PayPal’s outgoing president oversaw PayPal during a period of massive growth. The company went from 50 million users to 104 active users during his tenure. Thompson, who previously served as PayPal’s CTO, is said to be a geek at heart, which no doubt helped the company’s focus to improve online transactions with innovated technologies.

However, this could be an opportunity for rebirth at PayPal. While the company saw huge growth, they also experienced a backlash in the wake of bad publicity and company practices. PayPal needs a new image — and now, a new president.

As you may already have seen, Yahoo! announced this morning that Scott Thompson is joining the company as CEO, effective immediately. Scott informed me Tuesday afternoon, saying that despite his passion for PayPal, this was an opportunity he felt he had to take. I know I speak for everyone in wishing Scott the best.

I will serve in the interim role as President and will be meeting with the PayPal leadership team this morning to plan a seamless transition. And while I'm sure Scott's decision is a shock to many of you, as it was to me, there is one thing I am certain of: PayPal has an enormous opportunity in front of it and we will not slow down. We will not miss a beat. And we will continue driving the incredible momentum that each of you has helped to create.

PayPal had an outstanding 2011 and a strong close to the fourth quarter. PayPal's vision is clear. Our strategies are set and we have a strong, focused leadership team in place. And across PayPal, we have you — an incredibly talented team, committed to creating the future of money and changing how the world shops and pays.
Let's do it, and take this special business to the next level in 2012 and beyond.

Android Market Hits 400,000 App Milestone Says Distimo

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:50 AM PST


We’re not even a week into 2012, but Google’s Android team may already have reason to celebrate. Just a few weeks ago, Google celebrated their ten billionth Android app download, and now new research from mobile app analytics firm Distimo reports that there are 400,000 apps available in the Android Market.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that free apps make up a considerable portion of that 400,000, and Distimo’s research indicates that the ratio of free to paid apps has jumped from 60% to 68% over the last eight months. Distimo pegs the prevalence of free apps on the current popularity of the freemium app economy, which also isn’t much of a surprise considering the potential payouts inherent to the model.

Interestingly, while the overall number of applications has surged, the average number of applications developed by individual developers has dropped. There are nearly 100,000 registered developers creating rich content for Android, but they create 4.1 apps on average these days as opposed to the five apps per developer seen last year.

This latest milestone also has Android picking up speed when it comes to app submissions. It took only four months for the Android Market to jump from 300,000 to 400,000 apps, compared to the seven months it took Apple’s App Store to hit the same numbers.

Still, that rapid growth may come at a cost for end-users — once a developer is registered, they can begin publishing apps directly into the marketplace. Google can ultimately yank questionable apps that they feel may violate their terms and conditions, but there are quite a few useless apps that manage to stick around anyway.

As is always the case with app numbers, it’s a question of quantity versus quality. I’d much rather see a slower rate of growth that features more fully-developed apps rather than blistering growth thanks to scores of slap-dash apps. That’s not a knock against Android in particular — Apple has their fair share of crappy apps too — but I think there’s something to be said for emphasizing overall market quality rather than sheer speed of growth. Still, that the’s blessing (and curse) of the Android approach. When everyone can publish an app with very little oversight, plenty of devs will publish phenomenal ones, and many many others won’t.

IBM Buys Cloud-Based Software Testing Platform Green Hat

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:49 AM PST

Green Hat

In its first acquisition of 2012, IBM has announced the purchase of cloud-based software testing platform Green Hat. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 1996, Green Hat allows developers to test software applications prior to delivery in the cloud. Developers can test TIBCO, webMethods, IBM WebSphere MQ, SOA, BPM, SOAP, REST and Cloud applications with the company’s platform as well as Virtualize unavailable applications and test application performance.

Green Hat, says IBM, creates a virtual environment that simulates a wide range of IT infrastructure problems and issues, without the constraints of hardware or software services because the platform is based in the cloud. The virtual test environment can be set up in a matter of minutes versus weeks, and for a fraction of the cost for developers.

According to IBM, software testing represents more than 50 percent of overall development costs, and testing teams often spend upwards of 30 percent of their time managing the complexity of the test environment. Green Hat will join IBM's Rational Software business, and will help Big Blue’s enterprise clients manage software development costs, test cycle times and risk.

Green Hat customers include British Airways, H&M, T-Mobile, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Virgin Mobile.

Enterprise Cloud File Sharing Provider Accellion Secures $12 Million

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:39 AM PST


Enterprise cloud file sharing company Accellion has raised $12 million in a new Series 3 round from private equity firm Riverwood Capital. The company will use the additional funding to accelerate growth, invest in enterprise mobile file sharing products, pursue partnerships and international expansion.

Founded in 1999, Accellion’s cloud-based solutions span public, private and hybrid cloud deployment, for secure, any device access to information while providing enterprise security and compliance. The company’s file-sharing solutions are available to users from the Web, iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry devices.

CEO Yorgen Edholm says 2011 was a profitable year with record revenue – something he credits, in part, to the adoption of consumer-grade technologies in the enterprise.

"The adoption of iPads and the resultant use of unmanaged 'dropbox-type' applications are creating real security and compliance issues for organizations. Smart companies, proactively meeting the challenge and looking for a solution for secure, mobile access to enterprise content, are fueling our rapid growth.”

Riverwood Capital joins Baring Private Equity Partners Asia as key investors in Accellion.

It’s Official: Yahoo Announces PayPal President Scott Thompson As Its New CEO

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:11 AM PST


The search is over. Yahoo just named Scott Thompson as its new Chief Executive Officer, effective January 9, 2012. It’s been four long months for Yahoo after ousting Carol Bartz in September. With this move, interim CEO Tim Morse, will return to his role as Yahoo’s CFO.

Thompson comes from PayPal where he served as president at ebay’s giant payment company since 2008. As Yahoo points out in the announcement press release, Thompson help grow PayPal into a massive force in the online payment scene. Under his leadership, PayPal grew its user base from 50 million to 104 million active users across 190 countries. It’s an impressive feat, no doubt, but Yahoo will certainly present new challenges for Thompson. He’s in for a ride.

"Scott brings to Yahoo! a proven record of building on a solid foundation of existing assets and resources to reignite innovation and drive growth, precisely the formula we need at Yahoo!," said Roy Bostock, Chairman of the Yahoo! Board said in a statement today. "His deep understanding of online businesses combined with his team building and operational capabilities will restore the energy, focus, and momentum necessary to grow the core business and deliver increased value for our shareholders. The search committee and the entire Board concluded that he is the right leader to return the core business to a path of robust growth and industry-leading innovation.”

Thompson needs to hit the ground running. Yahoo needs a clear path. It needs a renewed focus. Yahoo needs help. The company has been adrift lately, lost in the sea and battling takeover attempts. But with a new chief in place, perhaps Yahoo is ready to once again and stand tall (and maybe reinstall its iconic billboard).

The Samsung DA-E750 Is A Speaker Dock For Wannabe Audiophiles

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 06:00 AM PST

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There is a surefire way to improve the look and feel of any audio device: add vacuum tubes. These ancient electronic valves drip with nostalgia. Traditionally only high-end analog audio devices employ vacuum tubes as audio nerds proclaim they produce a richer, warmer sound. But Samsung is smart. They know that simply adding several trivial vacuum tubes to an otherwise mundane wireless speaker will increase its appeal (and justify a higher price tag). It’s working on this wannabe audiophile. I want this speaker.

The DA-E750 speaker dock sports a 2.1-channel speaker setup and a 100 watt amplifier. The vacuum tubes are used in a hybrid manner that also utilizes digital amps. Samsung claims this device is the first speaker dock on the market to sport docking stations for both the Galaxy S and iOS devices including the iPad. However, in the provided pic, it’s not exactly clear how that’s done. The speaker dock allows for wireless playback through both Sasmung’s AllShare, Apple’s Airplay and good ol’ Bluetooth. There’s also a USB port for direct playback from a flash drive.

No word on pricing or availability. Samsung will likely release those details next week at CES.

Velocity Micro Shows Its New Tablet And Pico Projector Before CES

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:59 AM PST


While many big companies are putting on big press conferences next week at CES, many smaller ones are getting their new gadgets out there early so people will want to drop by their booth. Velocity Micro just dropped a few new things, and we’ll be sure to swing by their corner of the show if we’re in the area.

They’ve got a pair of budget tablets that won’t really blow anyone away, but their new Shine pico projector looks really nice.

The tablets are the 7″ Cruz T507 and the 9.7″ T510. The latter, it is worth noting, has a 4:3 aspect ratio and appears to be very iPad-ish. Not very original, I’m afraid. The 7″ one is widescreen – and that’s about the only thing between them that differs. They both have a 1.2GHz Arm A8 processor, 8GB of internal storage, HDMI out, and a few other little features. Both run Android 4.0, mercifully. Any tablets at CES that don’t are plain crazy. Strangely enough, neither has Market access – just the Amazon market. The T507 will go for $150, and the larger T510 will naturally be a bit more expensive, though no price has been mentioned just yet. More info here.

Then there’s the Shine, a small projector that’s certainly bigger than the early, ~20-lumen pico-projectors, but definitely smaller than the loud, hot, 1000-lumen “real” projectors. The Shine does 300 lumens at a resolution of 1280×768, which means you can do HD content on a fairly large screen, and not just in the pitch dark like weaker pocket projectors. They’re also claiming good color and contrast, which of course I’ll believe when I see it.

I like its unapologetically gadgety look, with the bright red and the grills. Not as tasteful as 3M’s stuff, but not as boring as some others I’ve seen. Price? “Under $400,” which sounds to me like $399. But we’ll see.

Then there’s the little VMUltra drive – optical drive, 500GB of storage, and a few USB hubs to boot. Very handy for the mobile gadgeteer, perhaps the perfect accessory for someone moving to an ultrabook or MacBook Air.

Like I said, we’ll try to drop by and get a feel for these gadgets when we’re down in Vegas. No promises! But we’ll definitely be reviewing one or more of them, so stay tuned.

Cubelets Promise Robotic Good Times

Posted: 04 Jan 2012 05:55 AM PST

Do you like nature? Do you have a beard? Then you’ll love these things. Cubelets are essentially robotic building blocks. By connecting sensors, motors, and feedback devices, you can create clever little automatons that can interact with the world around them (within reason). Most important, however, is that Cubelets has decided to feature a bearded, Dutch spokes-mountain-man to sell their product, an excellent choice for almost any kit-based robotics project.

Sold by ModRobotics, the kit is available for pre-order for $160. This includes six Cubelets – two sensors, two “action” blocks, and two “brains” including a battery pack. A giant kit costs $520 and includes 20 pieces. They’re made for kids eight and up and run on rechargeable batteries.

These things are clearly very pricey but they are educational and aimed more at schools than at kids who just want to jam blocks together. It is unclear if every package comes with a hirsute Dutch man to help you build your Cubelets, but you would think that for a few dollars more they could ship one out along with a supply of beer and Edam to keep him fed and happy [UPDATE - I checked: it doesn't].

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