Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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How To Start Smart: The Five Things To Know When Approaching An Incubator

Posted: 14 Jan 2012 10:00 AM PST

Astrid co-founders Jon Paris and Tim Su

Editor's note: The following is a guest post by Jon Paris, CEO and co-founder of Astrid To-Do. Astrid participated in AngelPad and immediately raised a successful seed round from Google Ventures and other investors. His opinions are his own.

Incubators are playing an increasingly vital role in acquiring meaningful investment for first-time entrepreneurs. TechCrunch reported that elite accelerators like Y Combinator receive on average one application every minute, and AngelPad reminds its participants that it is many times more selective than the Harvard Business School.

Incubators ask for a 2 to 10 percent stake in your company, a sum that could alternatively be used to attract a junior co-founder or provide meaningful ownership to the first few engineers you enlist. In return, incubators offer intensive coaching, networking with other founders, and warm introductions to likely investors. Incubators give first-time entrepreneurs and international teams alike a crucial link to Silicon Valley.

In addition to the giving up meaningful equity there are other downsides to consider before participating in an incubator. Most have a schedule that's built on a demo near the end of the program. While many companies view that external structure as helpful, others can find that working with such a timeline damages their business.

The long lead up to D-Day could mean a delay in fundraising or product lunch, which in turn can translate into missed opportunities. There are other potential pitfalls, from committing too quickly and prematurely to an idea, to trying to scale before properly understanding a market and the company's place in it. And with any robust community, there's the danger of succumbing to groupthink. Founders need to remember they understand their market better than anyone.

For most first-time founders, these downsides are far outweighed by the benefits. Below are some lessons I regularly share with prospective entrepreneurs interested in applying to incubators.

1. Know their interest and expertise

When planning to apply to such incubators as 500 Startups, Y Combinator, TechStars or AngelPad, watch any and every online video you can find of incubator leaders outlining what they are looking for and what they can offer your company. Numerous incubator leaders, including Paul Graham, Thomas Korte and Dave McClure, have explicitly mapped out what they can bring to the table and what kind of companies they are targeting.

Know what's important to the investors: Dave McClure at 500 Startups will want you to have a deep understanding of the micro-economics; AngelPad loves great B2B opportunities; and Y Combinator appreciates founders who have already demonstrated their smarts with submissions on Hacker News. They all will make exceptions, but you should pitch in a way that will resonate with the specific incubator.

2. Understand their challenge

All incubators play an arbitrage game, curating great early-stage startups for the community of larger investors. They need to believe they can readily convince other investors to put in an even larger sum at the end of the program. It is your job to convince them you have the raw material, which usually means great engineers (preferably branded by great universities or companies), beautiful design, strong team dynamics, and an ability to get a meaningful user base. If you have these ingredients, the incubator can help you polish your pitch and get in front of investors.

3. Intros matter

Getting a friendly introduction from someone the incubator knows can prevent your startup from getting buried in the application avalanche. The best intros come from people they trust who have insight into what it takes to start an effective company. Founders, fellow investors or former colleagues (hint: search LinkedIn for shared connections) can help get that needed extra attention. Intros from their friends and family members outside the startup ecosystem will be much less helpful. I got a key intro to AngelPad from the MoPub founders and to Y Combinator through Posterous co-founder Garry Tan.

4. They will be watching closely

Many incubators now require a video submission with your application and will follow up with an in-person or video chat with you and your co-founder(s). While these might cause the incubator to miss great people due to some unconscious bias, they also give a glimpse of confidence, charisma and, perhaps most importantly, your relationship with your colleagues.

The least you can do is ensure that everyone pays attention to whoever is speaking. If the engineer rolls his eyes, yawns or corrects the CEO when he speaks, the incubator might regard your startup as radioactive. If you get a live interview, make sure everyone has defined roles, with the CEO answering all market and business questions, the CTO answering all technical questions, etc. And practice the interview dozens of times. Enlist smart friends to barrage you with questions in rapid succession until you can confidently provide short and clear answers.

5. You'll get a new Alma Mater

Incubator provides fantastic coaching and rich networking opportunities with other companies and investors during their programs. This is especially helpful for international teams that can boast great products and meaningful traction, but lack connections to the Silicon Valley investor community. But the time in the incubator is just the beginning. Months out, the mentors continue to provide trusted counsel and meaningful introductions.

Our incubator class provided us with thousands of dollars in free services and have consistently been among the first to try our new products, provide honest feedback and give them a five-star rating in the App Store. The camaraderie runs deep, fostered by shared experience and an understanding that each companies' success will elevate everyone's status.

Many first-time entrepreneurs succeed without participating in an incubator, in the same way many professionals can have successful careers without going to college. But this will increasingly be the exception. Young companies passing on the incubators can squander time, even years, when they could be building their networks, getting greater market feedback and scale their business with investor dollars.

In the past year, I have seen four great teams with early traction and Stanford founders stagnate while trying to do things on their own. Each had a few connections with the investor community, but they didn't compare to what the best incubators deliver. Don't make their mistake — if you want to build a company with world-wide impact, joining an incubator may be your most important early step toward achieving success.

5 Ways For Startups To Grow Their Brands On Twitter

Posted: 14 Jan 2012 09:31 AM PST

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This is a guest post by Ryan Spoon (@ryanspoon), a principal at Polaris Ventures. Read more about Ryan on his blog at

Last week I began an effort to answer the questions I get asked most frequently by entrepreneurs, starting with how to create an early-stage pitch deck. Today, I address a topic as relevant for early stage startups (vying for consumer attention) as it is for more mature companies (focused on customer relationships):

How to grow your brand on Twitter?

Twitter is the ultimate marketing platform. But the scale of Twitter activity is so extraordinary (250 million tweets per day) that it is quite easy to get lost in the noise… particularly if you are an early-stage startup and/or an emerging brand.

Separating yourself from the masses really begins with the recognition that Twitter is first and foremost a platform for conversation. If you believe that, you avoid the mistake most brands make: treating Twitter as a mechanism to push content rather than create engagement.

And once your goal is to foster conversation and engagement, you can follow these five guidelines:

1. Listen.

2. Be authentic.

3. Be compelling.

4. Find the influencers.

5. Extend off Twitter and onto your site.

In the below presentation, I break down these core themes and provides examples of people and companies successfully using Twitter to drive engagement and grow their brands.

9 Things Every Entrepreneur Needs to Learn From Woody Allen

Posted: 14 Jan 2012 07:21 AM PST


Editor's note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and entrepreneur. He is Managing Director of Formula Capital and has written 6 books on investing. His latest book is I Was Blind But Now I SeeYou can follow him @jaltucher.

I hate Woody Allen. Here's why. Because if you're Jewish and a little neurotic then it has become a cliché that nerdy neurotic Jewish people describe themselves as "Woody Allen-esque" thinking it will attract women. They do this on dating services. The idea is that they will then attract some waif-like Mia Farrow-ish  (or the 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan) blonde who will love all of their neuroses and want to have sex all the time and will, in the ideal case (the 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan, the 21-year-old Juliette Lewis in Husbands & Wives), be the most mature  in the movie and yet still be madly in love with the 30-year-older Allen.

This only happens in Woody Allen movies. And power to him. He made the movies. He can do whatever the hell he wants in them. If Mariel Hemingway wants to have sex with him all the time then no problem. He wrote the movie! It's up to you whether you believe it or not.

And people believed it. Manhattan is considered one of his greats – shot in black and white, skyscapes of Manhattan in every direction which are actually shot from Allen's penthouse apartment. It was beautiful and makes you fall in love with Manhattan.

(Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan when Woody Allen is breaking up with her)

Allen puts out a new movie or two every year. None of them will compete with Star Wars or Harry Potter in terms of gross dollars. But it seems like his studio gives him $10 million, his movie will make $20 million, and everyone is happy and he gets to keep doing what he's doing.

So he's built up a substantial body of work that we can learn from. Why learn? Because clearly he is a genius, regardless of what other opinions anyone might have of him (and I only know him through his work. I don't know his personal life at all). It is interesting to see how he, as an artist and creator, has evolved. To see how his idiosyncratic humor has changed,  how he twists reality further to stretch our imagination. He always stands out and stays ahead of the other innovators. And for other people who seek the same, he is worth observing.

(Juliette Lewis in Husbands & Wives)

Here's some of the things I've learned from him:

1. Failure. Some of his movies are just awful. He admits it. In a 1976 interview in Rolling Stone he says, "I would like to fail a little for the public…What I want to do is go onto some areas that I'm insecure about and not so good at."

He elaborates further. He admits he could be like the Marx Brothers and make the same comic film every year. But he didn't want to do it. It was important for him to evolve. To risk failure. To risk failure in front of everyone. And his movies did that, going from the early slapstick humor of Sleeper to the darker Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point.

One of my earliest memories is having a babysitter while my parents went to a movie. Then when they got home I asked them what they saw and they described a movie where a man falls asleep and wakes up in the future where a giant Nose ruled the world. Woody Allen has been there since the beginning for me. And just the other day I watched Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson (who, despite looking very un-Woody Allen-esque, plays the virtual "Woody Allen" role very well. The movie explores the history of art and how no art form exists by itself but is always influenced by generation after generation of artists before it, dating back hundreds if not thousands of years).

(Scarlett Johansson in Match Point, one of Allen’s best movies)

Woody Allen has also failed spectacularly, in every way we can imagine – personally, professionally, etc. And yet he's always pushed forward, trying to surprise us again and again, and largely succeeding rather than giving up.

2. Prophetic. In a Washington Post interview in 1977 he states, "We're probably living at the end of an era. I think it's only a matter of time until home viewing is as easy and economical as desirable." In the past three days I've watched three Woody Allen movies on my ipad. I don't know if this changed the way he made his movies. But it's clear he never got himself stuck in one particular form or style that would eventually fail to cater to the tastes of the average audience.

3. Flexible. We admire the entrepreneurs who quickly recognize mistakes and then transition their business accordingly (the catch-phrase lately is that these entrepreneurs know how to "pivot"). Allen typically starts off with a broad outline, a sort of script, but it changes throughout the movie. Specifically he states, "To me a film grows organically. I write the script and then it changes organically.I see people come in and then I decide…it changes here. It changes if Keaton doesn't want to do these lines and I don't want to do these- we shift around. It changes for a million reasons."

(Winona Ryder in Allen’s “Celebrity”)

The entrepreneur, the entre-ployee. Relationships in general, all shift and change. You set out in life wanting certain things – the college degree, the house with the white fence, the promotions, the family – but things become different. You have to adapt and be flexible. To say only the lines you are comfortable with and evolve into.

4. Productivity. To put out a movie every year or so, plus plays, magazine stories, books. you would think Woody Allen works around the clock. From a 1980 interview, "If you work only three to five hours a day you become very productive. It's the steadiness of it that counts. Getting to the typewriter every day is what makes productivity."

He states later in the interview that when he was younger he liked to get things out in one impulsive burst but he learned that was a "bad habit" and that he likes to wake up early, do his work, and then set it aside for the next day.

Probably the most productive schedule is to wake up early – do your work before people stop showing up at your doorstep, on your phone, in your inbox, etc, and leave off at the point right when you are most excited to continue. Then you know it will be easy to start off the next day.

I read in a recent interview that it takes Allen a month to write a comedy and three months to write a drama. On three to five hours a day it shows me he writes every day, he's consistent, and he doesn't waste time with distractions (going to parties, staying out late, etc)

5. Avoid outside stimulus. Every day right now I make a huge mistake. I start off with the loop: email, twitter, facebook, my amazon rank, my blog stats, my blog comments. My wife Claudia asks me: "did you finish the loop yet?" And I think it will only take a few seconds but it actually takes about twenty minutes. I probably do it ten times a day. That's 200 minutes! 3 hours and 20 minutes! Ugh.

Here's Allen's description of when he won an Oscar for Annie Hall. First off, he didn't go to the Oscars. Why get on a plane (8 hours door to door), and go to a party where he would feel uncomfortable, to win an award he probably didn't care much about (although it magnified his prestige in Hollywood, the city that paid his bills):

In a 1982 interview with the Washington Post he states that he went to Michael's Pub to do his weekly jazz clarinet playing although he says "I probably would not have watched anyway" just to see everyone he knows hunched down in the audience waiting for hours to see who would win. He states that he had "a very nice time" at Michael's. So for him his pleasure came first. Rather than the anxious watching and waiting.

But then, when he got home, he didn't even care. He went out the back way of Michael's so he skipped all the photographers, went home by midnight, had "milk and cookies,"  went to sleep. And then he TOOK THE PHONE OFF THE HOOK. Who even does that now? In an age where we (or, I should say, "I") literally sleep with my iPad and phone in the bed. He took the phone off the hook on Oscar's night, went to sleep. In the morning made his coffee and toast. Got the NY Times, and then finally opened it up to the entertainment section where he saw he won the Oscar. It's in this way that his productivity (compared with the lack of productivity many of us suffer now because of the constant influx of outstide social stimulants) was kept at a very high point.

(Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristy Barcelona)

6. Imperfection. Allen has stated many times that none of his films were exactly what he wanted. That they were constantly imperfect. It's almost like he's the imperfect perfectionist. He wants things just right and he tries very hard to get it that way. But he knows it will never happen.

That said, he doesn't give up. He states in 1986, "we go out and shoot…again…and again…and again if necessary. And even at that rate, all the pictures come up imperfect. Even at that meticulous rate of shooting them over and over again, they still come out flawed. None of them is close to being perfect." Ultimately, he says, all his movies prove to be "great disappointments".

And yet, knowing that he will always experience the same thing, he goes out, stretches his boundaries of where he's comfortable failing, and does it again. And again. Knowing nothing he will do will be the masterpiece he initially conceived.

Nothing comes out exactly how we want it. But we have to learn to roll with it and move to the next work.

7. Confidence. I watched Husbands & Wives the other day. It wasn't a funny movie. It wasn't a pretty movie. I watched it with Claudia and by the end we were thinking, ugh, I hope that doesn't happen to us in ten years. Meanwhile, the movie itself was jarring. Instead of being shot traditionally it was shot with a hand-held camera. It was edited with lots of jump-edits, where you're looking at a character and suddenly she's an inch over because some small piece of film was cut out. The editing itself became part of the jolting and jarring in the story. It was as if the story was not just being told with the acting and the writing but with the way it was shot and edited.

It reminded me of something Kurt Vonnegut once said. He's usually considered an experimental author. But, he said, to be experimental, first you have to know how to use all the rules of grammar. You have to be an expert first in tradition. It also reminds me of Andy Warhol, who was a highly paid, very straightforward, commercial artist, before he went experimental and started the pop art phenomenon.

Allen says about Husbands and Wives in a 1994 interview (note: Husbands and Wives was his 20th movie): "Confidence that comes with experience enables you to do many things that you wouldn't have done in earlier films. You tend to become bolder…you let your instincts operate more freely and you don't worry about the niceties."

In other words: master the form you want to operate in, get experience, be willing to be imperfect, and then develop the confidence to play within that form, to develop your own style. You see this in Kurt Vonnegut too as he transformed from the more traditional "Player Piano" in the early 50s to "Slaughterhouse Five" a novel about World War II that includes aliens who can time travel.

8. Showing up. As Allen famously stated: 80% of success is “showing up”. Nothing more really needs to be added there except it might be changed to “99% of success for the entrepreneur is showing up”. What do you have to show up for: you have to find the investors, you have to manage development, you have to find the first customers, You have to find the buyers. They don’t show up at your door. You show up at their door. Otherwise your business will just not work out. Let’s take Microsoft as one example among many: Bill Gates tracked down the guy in New Mexico to build BASIC. Bill Gates put himself in the middle when IBM wanted to license an operating system. He just kept showing up while everyone else was skiing.

9. The medium becomes the message. I mentioned this in the point above but it deserves further elaboration. The jump-cutting, the hand-held camera, every aspect of the film became woven in with the story. Allen states: "I wanted it to be more dissonant, because the internal emotional and mental states of the characters are more dissonant. I wanted the audience to feel there was a jagged and nervous feeling." In this he shows not only his own evolution as a filmmaker but what he's borrowed from the artists before him – not only Godard and Bergman who did their own experimentations, but musicians like Profokiev where the dissonance itself is so tightly wound with the music it becomes a part of the music, as opposed to just the notes being played. This is underlined in his latest movie, Midnight in Paris, very highly where Owen Wilson, the main character, pinpoints the roots of his own art by going back further and further in time.

My takeaway – study the history of the form you want to master. Study every nuance. If you want to write – read not only all of your contemporaries, but the influences of those contemporaries, and their influences. Additionally, draw inspiration from other art forms. From music, art, and again, go back to the influences of your inspirations, and go back to their influences, and so on. (See also, “Steal and Get Rich”)

The facets that resonate with time, even if it's hundreds of years old, will resonate with your work as well. It's like a law of the universe.

(Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris)

In today's day and age, we want to transform decades of work into years or even months. Allen built up his career over five decades and kept at it persistently, even when scandal, or a bad movie, or a bad article, would cast gloom over his entire career. But he shrugged it off.

So what can we learn from Woody Allen?

  • Wake up early
  • Avoid distractions
  • Work three to five hours a day and then enjoy the rest of the day
  • Be as perfectionist as you can, knowing that imperfection will still rule
  • Have the confidence to be magical and stretch the boundaries of your medium.
  • Combine the tools of the medium itself with the message you want to convey
  • Don't get stuck in the same rut – move forward, experiment, but with the confidence built up over experience.

The same can be said for successful entrepreneurs. Or for people who are successful in any aspect of life. Is Woody Allen a happy man? Who knows? But he's done what he set out to do. He's made movies. He's told stories. He's lived the dream, even when it bordered on nightmare.  I can only be so lucky.

Daily Crunch: Into The White

Posted: 14 Jan 2012 01:00 AM PST

Tech News Can Be So Dramatic

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 09:19 PM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-13 at 5.55.09 PM

So I tend to think of news in this industry as falling into two basic categories 1) Boring as fuck 2) So hyper-dramatic I feel like I need to take a ton of anti-anxiety medication just to read Techmeme.

While tons of crap posts this week have fallen into the former category, a few have fallen into the latter, mostly MG Siegler’s work surrounding Google’s failed efforts at, well, anything.  All of MG’s posts have been, to borrow a phrase, “very well done” — Mostly because they lean into the drama.

The fact that tech news can be so crazy histrionic is a byproduct of the personality game that this industry essentially is; It’s all about conflict and genius and conflict. I mean here Google is incorporating its social initiatives into its own search results and everyone is acting like its going around murdering children. I mean, it’s enough to unfriend Google on Facebook!

This heightened sense of drama around a seemingly mundane series of events is part of what makes the Hitler “Downfall” meme so funny important. The Hitler in the tribute clip above is so enraged at Google+’s transgressions, “It’s definitely going to change the way I share stuff.”

And, for the record, MG and Mike are not “starting a new TechCrunch.” They are really really busy being VCs.

Via/ Parislemon and a bunch of people on Twitter. 

WalkScore Raises $2M To Rate The “Walkability” Of Potential Housing

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 04:36 PM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-13 at 4.24.47 PM

You might have seen the subtle brag at the bottom of Craigslist apartment searchposts — WalkScore 99! WalkScore 100! WalkScore 85! Well, why should you care about whatever a WalkScore is? Because the score rates accessibility by foot to things people want to access by foot like restaurants, theaters and public transit for any address in the US, Canada and New Zealand.

Useful right? Well it made sense to investors, who’ve just angel funded the company to the tune of $2 million — those investors included Shel Kaphan, Rudy Gadre, Edward Yim and Geoff Entress.

Today over 10,000 real estate sites like Zillow and Estately use the rating to bulk up their listings, even though “for the most part, the experience of trying to find a place online continues to be all about price and bedrooms,” WalkScore CEO Josh Herst told GeekWire .

As someone who just snagged an apartment, I can safely say that it is also about cool places close by, accessibility to friends and fun things to do in your downtime. WalkScore, ftw.

ITC Sides With Motorola In Key Apple Patent Suit

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 04:19 PM PST


Back in fall 2010, Apple filed suit against Motorola alleging that the company was violating several of its patents with its flagship line of Droid smartphones, all of which run Android. The case was filed with the US International Trade Commission — a favorite battleground for these smartphone suits, as it has the ability to block potentially infringing devices from import into the United States.

Today, Motorola has gotten some good news: the ITC has released its initial determination on the case, and it is ruling in Motorola’s favor. The news was first broken by CNet. As the CNet article reports, this is only an initial determination, and won’t become final until it’s been voted on by the ITC’s full committee.

Of course, this is only one of the legal assaults Apple has unleashed on Android hardware partners — its other targets include major vendors Samsung and HTC. But while Apple’s spray of attacks may have initially seemed like they could pose a major obstacle to the growth of Android, the courts haven’t been particularly cooperative in its mission to destroy Google’s smartphone platform.

Last month a judge ruled in Apple’s favor in its case against HTC, but the ‘win’ only applied to minor patents that HTC says it has already worked around. Likewise, while Samsung temporarily had its Galaxy Tab 10.1 banned in the European Union for looking too much like the iPad, it managed to work around those issues, in part by adding a thicker bezel (yes, really).

In light of the news, Motorola issued the following release:

Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: MMI) (“Motorola Mobility”) today announced that it has received notice that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in the U.S. International Trade Commission ("ITC") action brought by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) against Motorola Mobility has issued an initial determination. The ALJ ruled in favor of Motorola Mobility, finding no violation for any of the three Apple patents listed in Apple's suit.

"We are pleased with today's favorable outcome for Motorola Mobility," said Scott Offer, senior vice president and general counsel of Motorola Mobility. "Motorola Mobility has worked hard over the years to develop technology and build an industry-leading intellectual property portfolio. We are proud to leverage this broad and deep portfolio to create differentiated innovations that enhance the user experience."

Putting The Google-Is-Ripping-Off-A-Kenyan-Startup Story In Perspective

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 04:14 PM PST

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When you think about what Google, the 32,000-employee search engine conglomerate, is strategically focused on these days, here’s one thing that doesn’t come to mind: an initiative to get more Kenyan businesses online via manually grabbing data from a local startup that’s trying to do something complementary.

I’ve been looking into the well-researched story that Mocality, a Kenya-based business listing service, published this morning. There are certainly serious issues it brings up, as Google has admitted. But there’s nothing anywhere near the same magnitude as, say, the press fallout and antitrust probe around the new Google+ search integration, or the Motorola acquisition, the Android patent licensing issues, or the many other efforts and problems it has happening every day.

The gist, as Robin covered this morning, is that Mocality had its own program for gathering offline business information and posting it as a proprietary and searchable online database. The problem was that Google was taking this data (thereby breaking the startup’s usage terms), saying it was partnering with Mocality (which was not true), and offering businesses their own web addresses, sites, and web usage tips (which Mocality doesn’t do). While Google’s Getting Kenyan Businesses Online program may have been helping to bring more Kenyan businesses online through this strategy, it was benefiting from Mocality’s work without asking permission, without giving anything back  in exchange.

Oddly, as Mocality discovered, the effort was so extensive that a Google-affiliated call center in India was at one point calling Kenyan businesses, trying to say that Google was working with Mocality to do things like provide them with their own web sites.

Here are some reasons I’ve pieced together for why this whole thing was most likely done by some rogue local employees and/or contractors, who did not have the permission of anyone with significant authority at Google.

- The Getting Businesses Online initiative is two years old, and highly local in the twenty-odd countries it operates in. There are organizational protocols in place to ensure local branches stay true to company-wide policies — or at least that’s my understanding after talking to a source close to the company. The problem in this case is that they were broken.

- What about the Indian call centers? Google provides them as a resource to its thousands of employees around the world, so the Kenyan operation could have simply directed people at one of its Indian call centers to make the calls. A twist here, according to the source, is that there’s no record of Mocality in the materials provided to them. That seems to have happened outside of official channels.

So, I’m currently prepared to take Google’s response at face value:

We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality's data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites. We've already unreservedly apologised to Mocality. We're still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we'll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved.

If there’s any takeaway, it’s that Google needs to improve its management of its local getting-businesses-online projects. It is possible that Google has some big, broad, secret effort to steal information from others in order to bring more businesses online, but the evidence for that does not currently extend beyond the Mocality issue (if then). But, if you know of anything, tell me about it in the comments.

In the meantime, maybe people shouldn’t be freaking out and and acting like the entire company is complicit.

Anyway, it’s back to our regularly scheduled coverage of all of the other issues: antitrust claims, patent wars, the question of whether mobile apps or social features will displace Google’s core search business as the key way that we all find information on the web, etc. etc.

LG Styler Refreshes Your Stinky, Wrinkly Clothes With Steam

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 03:29 PM PST

If you needed any more proof that the future is already upon us, take a gander at the LG Styler. It looks like a refrigerator at first glance, but opening the door reveals that it isn’t meant for food — rather, it’s your clothes are meant to go inside.

While we first thought the Styler was just a concept design, it turns out that the handsome clothing refresher has been on the market in South Korea for a while now. Still, LG spent these months wisely by making sure the Styler is ready for a stateside debut.

Here’s the Styler in a nutshell — if you have some clothing in need of some gentle de-wrinkling, throw it in the Styler and wait until the 39 minute cycle is complete. While you’re having lunch and reading TechCrunch Gadgets, the Styler will gently steam your clothing to get rid of any unwanted wrinkles and odors. It even has a depository for what our LG rep refers to as “aroma sheets” that imbue your clothing with certain scents, though it also seems like users will be able throw in their own scented materials.

Everything is controlled by a lighted touch UI on the front of the Styler, which actually helps tie together the Styler’s minimalist design, with settings a plenty for different materials and items. The Styler certainly lives up to its namesake, and with any luck it’ll soon pop up in a hotel (or a Home Depot) in the near future.

Droid RAZR MAXX To Launch On January 26th?

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 03:24 PM PST

Droid RAZR Maxx

While there wasn’t much to say about the recently announced Droid RAZR MAXX to begin with (it’s essentially the Droid RAZR with a bigger battery and more storage), Motorola and Verizon decided to leave out one key bit of detail: the launch date.

While it’s still not 100% confirmed, Motorola’s own RAZR MAXX product page now pinpoints the big day as January 26th.

Don’t go lining up outside of the Verizon store on the 26th or anything (this could very well be a placeholder, or a lingering detail from before the date went all tentative), but would-be MAXX buyers should keep it in mind.

[Via DroidLife]

A Million Developers On A Million Keyboards: Ecosystems Require R&D Density

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 02:53 PM PST


Walking around CES this week it’s easy to see the future: just look at the components being sold in the nether regions of the show. These include specific things – Bluetooth powered electrical cords, for example – and “pieces” like smaller motherboards, cases, and materials. When planning a launch line-up, major manufacturers peruse catalogs of potential hardware and materials solutions to decide what to create next, then task their hardware designers to choose the proper parts in order to build in the features that meet their initial requirement. Does this TV need a 64-inch LED backlit screen? Four HDMI ports? A blue bezel? Designers figure out which parts fit where and place their assembly order with a factory. It’s been like this for decades.

When I write that Samsung could be the next Apple, I meant that Samsung seems to have finally bucked this trend, at least in part. The problem with the above shop-design-build process is that there is little synergy among various business units. The mobile guys have a certain menu from which to pick while the TV guys have a different menu. The phone OS has always been different than the TV “OS” (really UI, but TVs need a little code in them). Work may be duplicated multiple times, even from year to year.

Trade dress (the case and “looks” of a device) aside, most hardware is the same. A TV is a TV is a TV just as a phone is a phone is a phone. Sure there are special audio and video design issues and special tweaks manufacturers do to maintain their own levels of quality, but, to paraphrase my uncle, it all comes out of the same pipe.

So the real differentiator, the real money maker, is ecosystem and consumer lock-in.

For years, we gadget bloggers have had a common refrain: lock a bunch of developers in a room and make them build a great product. Ignore everything that came before and everything that will come after. Make something that works great, looks great, and matches consumer expectations and surpasses them.

The problem is that this model does now allow for the standard lock-step design process. It’s a complete anathema to the standard iteration model of product design and, as such, is very expensive and resource intensive.

But a few things are happening that are changing this. First, hardware is becoming easier to build. Kickstarter, for example, shows us that one-off manufacturing isn't as hard as it sounds while companies like Apple have shown that ecosystem matters more than iterative improvements. If it all works together, you’ll see more hardware.

Manufacturers have known this for a long time yet they never truly wanted to pay the cash required to pull off a real ecosystem. It was always easier just to say “Me too” instead of “Me first.”

What seems to be happening – and discussions I’ve had bear this out – is that R&D investment is up and the ecosystem requirement is finally important. A million developers in front of a million keyboards will eventually build something that works correctly. Samsung, with their coffers of Galaxy Cash, are in the right place to attempt this and I think they pulled it off (we shall, however, have to see).

In the end these developers may be forced to go back to the iteration model. But once you have an ecosystem, it’s not hard to keep it going. It’s hard to improve it (witness the overwhelming “Meh” of iCloud) but it’s easy to keep it going once it’s in place.

It seems that 2012 is finally the year that hardware manufacturers understand lock-in. As we approach an era of connected devices, the benefits will be clear: easier content sharing, better device interaction, and improved remote control. What we lose, however, is the single-purpose computing device and, to be honest, I’m fine with that.

[Image: ChipPix/Shutterstock]

All The Little (But Awesome) Things You Definitely Missed At CES

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 02:04 PM PST

All the things

It’s true. CES is out of control. I have no reference point since this was my first show, but from the first second you disembark the monorail and look down over the sprawling campus of the LVCC, you know you won’t see everything. The inkling gets stronger as you enter the building, and find that the Samsung booth is about as big as a mall.

Luckily for you, John Biggs and I ventured into the deepest corners of the show to find the little booths you most certainly missed.




The LightPad


NEC Robot

Party Animals

Bloomberg: iPad 3 To Have Quad-Core CPU, LTE, High-Def Screen

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 02:00 PM PST

ipad 2

You’ve just got to love the timing. First, Apple announces their education-focused media event smack dab in the middle of CES. Now, just as CES is winding down, Bloomberg has “three people familiar with the product” spilling purported details on the next iPad. Whether or not Apple won CES without even being there, they’re certainly trying.

None of the leaked details are particularly new, but that it comes from Bloomberg and they’ve seemingly got full confidence in their source(s) makes them a bit more credible than rumors prior.

Here’s the gist of it:

  • The next iPad (Bloomberg calls it “iPad 3″, though even that detail is of course unconfirmed) is said to have gone into production this month, with production ramping up until February, with a launch in March.
  • It’ll have a quad-core CPU (as opposed to the dual-core A5 found in iPad 2)
  • It’ll have a “high-def” screen
  • Support for LTE (4G)

The most curious bit? The use of the phrase “high-def” instead of “Retina” with regards to the display. If Apple was throwing around the “Retina” term internally, at least one of Bloomberg’s three sources presumably would’ve thought to mention it. If the sources mentioned it, Bloomberg would have squeezed it into the article somewhere — and they didn’t. With leaks like this, what’s not said can be as important as what is. Higher-res screen? Yes. But the absurdly high-resolution that a “retina” iPad would require (something like 2560 x 1920, higher than any monitor Apple has ever made regardless of size)? Probably not.

Hands-On With Blue Microphones’ 2012 Lineup

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 01:31 PM PST

Blue Mics showed up to CES 2012 with three swanky mics. No, really. They look great but that’s because Blue Mics knows how to make a good looking mic. Brian Biggott, Blue Mics’ CTO, sat down with me on the TechCrunch CES couch for a quick chat about the company’s upcoming mics.

The $199 Spark Digital is a digital version of the analog Spark and features a studio-grade mic and USB/iOS connectivity. It’s a tad on the heavy side as well. Blue Mics expects to ship the Spark Digital this spring.

Blue Mics also introduced two smaller mics. The Mikey Digital connects to an iOS device and sports a stereo mic. Plus, there’s a 3.5mm multi-input jack for additional audio sources. The even smaller Tiki mic connects to a computer through a USB port for improved Skype-ing and the like. Look for the Mikey Digital and Tiki also this spring for $99 and $59, respectively.

Not At Any Price: Twitter Denied Data To Google And Bet On Itself

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 01:12 PM PST

Twitter Google Deal Broken

If Twitter continued to sell its firehose to Google, fewer searches would occur on Twitter’s internal search engine where the microblog platform can serve its own ads. That’s why sources familiar with the negotiations tell me Twitter wouldn’t renew the data access deal at any price, or at least set a ludicrously high price to sink the deal. Cash and increased visibility on Google Search was more valuable to Twitter in 2009 when it was still trying to gain serious traction. But by July 2011 Twitter was more established and ready to try monetizing without Google. A firehose deal would have impeded this, so it’s understandable why Twitter walked away.

There are a lot of conflicting reports on exactly how negotiations went down, stirred up by the launch of Google Search plus Your World (Search+) which favors Google+ results. Regardless of the exact details, the underlying fact is that it the inclusion of tweets in Google Search wasn’t the best thing for Twitter.

[Update: As Liz Gannes points out, Twitter did do a firehose deal with Bing. However, Twitter may have seen Microsoft and Bing as less of a threat, and viewed exposure to Bing's early adopters as more advantageous than exposure to Google searchers.]

Actually, I think backing out of the Google firehose deal was a courageous move for Twitter. It showed the company was willing to bet on continued growth and making Promoted Tweets, Accounts, and Trends work as a major revenue stream. Since these sponsored content types are artificially injected into Twitter Search results and the home page, they wouldn’t have appeared in Google Search.

Unfortunately for the end-user, no deal means Search+ isn’t quite as useful as it could be, as Steven Levy describes. Google has the ability to point to relevant Twitter accounts in its People and Pages Box since they’re not strapped with rel=nofollow, but doesn’t currently. Maybe Google will change that soon in the name of offering the most relevant results. Maybe it will change that years down the road due to pressure from the FTC or Justice Department. By then Google may have weathered the monopoly paradox and accomplished its goal of using its natural dominance in search to grow Google+. We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, Twitter Search still needs a lot of improvement, particularly around surfacing relevant older tweets. Hopefully with time it will come to encompass functionality Google Search could have provided.

As John Battelle says, the politics surrounding data access make it very complicated for anyone to offer comprehensive personalized search. So for now, real-time search remains fragmented and less effective than it could be, but Twitter has a chance to stand on its own two little bird talons.

Hands-On With The LG Spectrum: So Last Year

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 01:04 PM PST

Here at CES 2012, phones are a bit in short supply. At least, new phones are. LG is one of the few companies to officially announce a new smartphone at the show, and I have to say it’s one of the best phones we’ve seen out of LG. Unfortunately, that still leaves the Spectrum quite a ways behind some of the other new phones we’ve seen recently like the Xperia S, Titan 2, or the Galaxy Nexus (of course).

The real stand-out feature here is the 4.5-inch 720p display with a True HD Graphic Engine and Corning Gorilla glass, boasting 326ppi. The phone also touts Verizon’s 4G LTE, which is mostly solid unless it’s December.

The Spectrum has a .4-inch waist line, and a glossy back panel which is a far cry from the more premium feel of the LG Nitro HD. What’s odd is that the Spectrum is actually meant to be an equally high-end phone, but takes prints so poorly and is so obviously plastic that it feels kind of cheap.

Under the hood you’ll find a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 4GB of on-board memory, and 1GB of RAM. The phone also comes with a 16GB microSD card, but the slot itself can handle a card up to 32GB.

The 8-megapixel rear camera shoots video in 1080p, and there’s a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat if that’s your style.

What’s perhaps the worst news of all is that the LG Spectrum will ship with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, and won’t get Ice Cream Sandwich until the second half of 2012. At the same time, most phones we’re seeing with these specs go for around $250 or $300 and the Spectrum can be had for $199 on a two-year contract.

Like most things with LG phones, you win some and you lose some.

Apple Releases List Of Its Suppliers, Discloses Labor Violations

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 12:27 PM PST


Apple has, for the very first time, released a report of its suppliers. There are 156 suppliers listed in the PDF the company published (available here), including big names like Sony, Intel, Samsung and Foxconn (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.), which dragged Apple’s name into the light over questionable labor practices, when fourteen of the company’s workers plunged to their death at the Foxconn factories in 2010.

Since then, the company has been under increased scrutiny, with critics saying it should to be more transparent about the working conditions throughout its supply chain. Today, Apple appears to have answered its critics’ calls.

For more on Foxconn, read John Biggs’ four-part series, “The Future of Foxconn,” here.

With the newly released series of reports from Apple, there’s not only a listing of suppliers, there are also details of Apple’s supplier audits over the course of the past year. In its 2012 Supplier Responsibility Report, Apple says it found fewer labor violations in 2011 than in 2010, based on 229 audits it conducted last year. That’s an 80% increase from 2010. From 2007 to 2010, in fact, the company had only conducted 288 total audits.

The report examines all areas of the supply chain, from components to assembly. There were, as you may expect, several labor violations. These included pay violations, issues with employee benefits, environmental hazards, and even some incidents of child labor.

A few standout numbers:

  • Apple suppliers were in compliance with the max 60-hour work week 38% of the time
  • 93 facilities had records showing that over 50% of their workers had exceeded a 60-hour week (in at least 1 week of the 12-week sample period)
  • 108 of the 229 companies didn’t pay proper overtime as required by law
  • AT 90 facilities, over half the records showed that employees had worked more than 6 consecutive days at least once per month
  • 37 facilities lacked controls to ensure workers got at least 1 day off every 7 days
  • 5 facilities used child labor in 6 cases
  • There were 13 historical cases of underage labor
  • 68 didn’t provide benefits (insurance, free physical exams) as required by law
  • 49 didn’t provide employees with paid leave or vacation
  • 56 facilites didn’t have procedures to prevent discrimination towards pregnant women; 24 conducted pregnancy tests
  • 18 facilities screened for Hepatitis B; 52 didn’t have procedures to prevent discrimination based on those tests
  • 3 facilities lied to auditors or gave them misleading answers and records regarding payroll and workers’ hours; 1 blocked Apple’s efforts to obtain payroll records
  • 112 facilities were not properly storing, moving or handling hazardous chemicals
  • 69 weren’t recycling or disposing of hazardous waste properly; 74 lacked management procedures on recycling and disposal
  • The improper handling of combustible dust led to deaths and injuries at 2 facilites (one has corrected their procedures, the other is shut down); Foxconn lost 4 employees, and 18 were injured while Ri-Teng (a subsidiary of Pegatron) injured 59

Despite these numbers, disturbing as they may be, Apple says things are improving.

For comparison purposes, in 2010, there were 91 underage workers found working in 10 facilities, Apple disclosed. This year, the company says it found “no instances of intentional hiring of underage labor,” and that facilities simply didn’t have sufficient enough controls to verify age or detect fake documents.

Apple is also opening up access to an independent team of auditors from the Fair Labor Association (FLA), to review its ongoing performance in these matters. The results of those reports will appear on FLA’s website.

The company also expanded its Apple’s Supplier Employee Education and Development (SEED) program to all final assembly facilities. This program, which allows workers to take free finance, computer, English and other classes, has already been taken by over 60,000 workers.

Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan Shows Us Project Fiona And The Blade Notebook

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 12:22 PM PST


We couldn’t go to CES and not see what Razer had on display, and fortunately, CEO Min-Liang Tan was on hand to take us on a quick tour through the company’s booth. In between talking about the company’s new gaming accessories and their Synapse cloud storage system for game settings, we were (thankfully) able to get our hands on the Project Fiona tablet and the Razer Blade gaming notebook.

For the second year in a row, Razer has come to CES with the aim of disrupting mobile PC gaming, but the Project Fiona tablet couldn’t look any more different than its predecessor. It’s a surprisingly light machine, but Fiona was more than enough to handle traipsing through the world of Skyrim with its Core i7 processor. Even so, Devin the indie game maven was particularly enamored that he was able to demo a bit of Terraria on camera.

Razer is testing the waters with the Fiona, and Tan tells us that it could enter production in one form or another if it gets enough of a positive response. Look at the Switchblade for example — though the actual handheld never quite materialized, the concept was integrated into the company’s insane Blade gaming notebook.

We’ve covered the Blade before, but actually seeing it in person is a completely different experience. The computer itself is remarkably thin and light (not to mention incredibly spec’d) but people’s eyes are understandably drawn to the Switchblade UI embedded to the right of the keyboard. While the Switchblade LCD keys don’t depress as deeply as those on the regular keyboard (I’m decidedly picky when it comes to that stuff), the overall experience was one has a lot of potential.

Razer is courting developers with an SDK that will launch alongside the Blade itself in an effort to drive interest in creating apps for the platform, and to that end the company will also be distributing a standalone USB version of their Switchblade UI available to developers. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a consumer model could eventually hit store shelves — Tan wouldn’t comment on products in production, but he admits that it would be totally doable.

Anyway, this is one of our longer hands-on videos since it encompasses most of Razer’s booth, so sit back with some popcorn and enjoy. Trust me, if you’re a gamer, you’ll want to stick around for the whole thing.

With SimpleGeo’s Shutdown Imminent, Parse Swoops In With A Life Preserver

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 12:17 PM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-13 at 2.32.59 PM

Yesterday Urban Airship announced that it would be shutting down SimpleGeo on March 31 2012, only a few months after acquiring the company for around $3.5 million. The news irked plenty of developers — you can find a thread on Hacker News here where some SimpleGeo customers are voicing their frustration.

So what are developers supposed to do now? Urban Airship’s blog post outlines a few options, including a partnership with Factual to port over any Places data developers might have stored on SimpleGeo. But SimpleGeo also has a handful of other classes of data, like Storage, that Factual can’t be used for. Now Parse is stepping in to try to help out (and snag) any customers looking to figure out where to move next.

Parse is a well-funded, developer-facing service that’s designed to help build applications efficiently. It aims to handle the back-end tasks associated with creating mobile applications (things like user accounts and, in this case, server-side storage), which allows mobile devs to focus on the app itself.

In their FAQ announcing SimpleGeo’s shutdown, Urban Airship suggested other tools to handle Storage, including Google Fusion Tables, GeoCommons, Oracle Spatial, and Esri ArcGIS. But Parse cofounder Tikhon Bernstam says that the tools on the list ”are all bad”. He explains that in the case of the aforementioned services, developers will be responsible for migrating their data off of SimpleGeo. He adds that none of these services offer a mobile SDK, and in some cases developers are expected to host the data themselves, or pay for pricey database storage.

Parse’s tool, which they whipped up yesterday afternoon, is a lot easier than that: you just have to enter your SimpleGeo API keys, and it’ll transfer all of your data over in one step. Obviously this isn’t a purely benevolent move — Parse sees an opportunity to get a bunch of new users — but it could help reduce a few headaches nonetheless.

You can see a video of the tool in action below.

TechCrunch Gadgets Finale: Hands On With The Terrifying Parrot AR Drone 2

Posted: 13 Jan 2012 12:15 PM PST

Screen Shot 2012-01-13 at 1.30.50 PM

In our last TechCrunch Gadgets Webcast on the CES 2012 show floor, we interviewed Henri Seydoux, CEO of Parrot. We had the opportunity to watch the drone in action – it was wildly terrifying having this thing floating above our heads while we talked – and we recapped the show including some of our Best of Show picks and, important, interviews with actual event-goers who loved to talk about what they saw.

Finally, we introduced the TC Gadgets CES team: Jordan, Chris, Elin Blesener, Jon Orlin, John Murillo, and our ad hoc intern, David Chrem. Thanks to everyone who watched and special thanks to the CES AOL video and stage team for making this CES our best on record.

Want to see our daily wrap-ups? Watch the rest of the TC Gadgets Webcasts here including our interview with 50 Cent and the folks from GoPro cameras.

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