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thumbnailAmazon’s Kindle smartphone is coming! It’s 3D! We’ve heard this before! But this time, it’s true! May 9th 2013, 22:53
amazon-boxTake a deep breath, hold on to your hat, and take a seat: Amazon is building a smartphone.Still there?

Sorry for the big shocker. Almost a year after reports that Amazon was testing smartphones in Asia, half a year after rumors Amazon was buying a smartphone chip processor, a year after more reports that Amazon was building its own smartphone, five months after unveiling a notifications system that would look really nice on a smartphone, and six months after probably wild speculation that Amazon was going to unveil a smartphone for the pre-Christmas shopping spree in 2012, there’s yet another report that Amazon is building a smartphone.

But this one has a 3D screen.

kindle fire unboxingThe Wall Street Journal says that Amazon is building at least two smartphones, including a high-end model with 3D graphics and retina-tracking technology so that users can navigate content by “using just their eyes.” Plus an audio-only “streaming content device.”

Harrumph.

Amazon is almost certainly working on a smartphone and almost certainly planning to release it in 2013. There’s just too much smoke for there not to be fire. And having made its bet on digital content being the growth engine of the company’s future success — 12 of the 15 highlights in Amazon’s recent earnings release were about digital content — a smartphone that makes use of Amazon’s recently expanded app store and burgeoning virtual shelves of ebooks, TV shows, movies, and all other forms of digital content makes way too much sense.

But a couple grains of salt.

Amazon hasn’t made its bones in the tablet market by offering the absolutely latest and greatest technology but by presenting a solid product at a rock-bottom price. So I’m a little skeptical about all the wild 3D speculation — especially because that could be a sweet datapoint plant for the company to identify leak sources. And, in reality, a company the size of Amazon, like Apple, is working on many different projects at any given time. Some of them will come to market, and some of them won’t.

ubuntu smartphoneOne company that can’t be happy about Amazon impending smartphone plans, however, has to be Google. Amazon has essentially hijacked Android for its Kindle offerings, taking the open-source mobile operating system that Google has developed, stripping out the Google app store, Google apps, and Google branding, and replacing them with its own offerings. Amazon will doubtless adopt the exact same strategy with any smartphone play — as Samsung might as well.

And, given the fact that Kindle is probably the leading Android-based tablet, it has the potential to do well in smartphones as well.

Of course, incumbent leader in Android sales Samsung might have a thing or two to say about that.

Image credit: Brian Sawyer/Flickr

Filed under: Business, Gadgets, Media, Mobile
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Workspace solutions platform LiquidSpace raises $1.3M in follow-on funds May 9th 2013, 21:34

LiquidSpace raises $1.3M in follow-on investment

LiquidSpace, the two-pronged workspace solutions platform, announced today that it has raised $1.3 million in follow-on investment to the $6 million raised in the company’s second round of funding that closed earlier this year.

Founded in 2010, the San Francisco-based company serves two sets of customers: modern professionals who use the platform to book office or meeting spaces instantly, and companies who employ LiquidSpace to manage their workforce’s workspace needs. It boasts over 2,000 workspaces and meeting rooms in over 250 U.S. cities. It has facilitated over 200,000 reservations thus far.

The follow-on investment comes from two strategic partners: Steelcase and CBRE Group. Both have global experience in workplace strategy and commercial real estate.

“We are thrilled to have the support of Steelcase, the global leader in the office furniture industry and CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm [in terms of 2012 revenue], as we work with Fortune 500 companies to provide a clean, simple solution for evolving their real estate portfolio and workplace strategy,” said Mark Gilbreath, the founder and chief executive of LiquidSpace. ”We look forward to leveraging their insights and experience to advance a demand-driven model that reduces costs for companies and provides employees with more choices and reliable workspace options.”

For the modern professionals, the company provides a web portal and mobile applications through which they can access LiquidSpace’s services. It not only provide workspaces but also collects data and helps customers make smarter workplace decisions based on actual utilization information.

In January, LiquidSpace raised $6 million in second round funding led by GPT Group, with participation from previous investors Shasta Ventures, Floodgate Fund, and Greylock Capital. The total funding to date is $12.385 million.

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Filed under: Business, Deals, Enterprise, Mobile
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thumbnailApple supplier Pegatron hiring 40,000 new workers May 9th 2013, 21:32
chinese workersManufacturer and Apple supplier Pegatron is increasing its China-based workforce by 40 percent over the second half of 2013, according to a Reuters report.Since the company already employs 100,000 workers to manufacture components and devices for customers like Apple, Dell, and HP, that translates to 40,000 new workers. And since Apple is widely expected to be releasing not only an updated iPhone 5 but also a cheaper, plastic-bodied iPhone in the fall-to-winter time frame, that translates to speculation that Pegatron is gearing up for big orders.

This fits both with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s announcement during the company’s recent earnings call that Apple would not bring out any new products until the fall and with recent rampant rumors of new iPhone models.

And, says Reuters, Pegatron’s CFO Charles Lin indicated that 60 percent of the company’s 2013 revenue would come from the second half of the year.

Apple needs new products, badly.

Canalys’ numbers for smartphone, tablet, and laptop sales for the first quarter of 2013 show that Apple’s growing only 7.6 percent in smartphone sales, while the industry is growing at a 64.3 percent pace. And while Apple sold 37 million iPhones, Samsung shipped is growing its smartphone shipments by 64.3 percent.

Apple’s not interesting in market share for the sake of market share, but at some point market share has to impact the overall health of an ecosystem. And without a strong app, media, and device ecosystem, smartphone manufacturers are in deep, deep trouble.

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Congress finally introduces a smartphone unlocking bill that doesn’t stink May 9th 2013, 20:20
MobileBeat 2013 July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CAEarly Bird Tickets on Sale

For someone running on less than two hours of sleep, smartphone unlocking activist Sina Khanifar is feeling pretty good.

That’s because members of Congress today introduced “Unlocking Technology Act of 2013“, a new bill that would make it permanently legal for you to not only unlock your smartphone, but also circumvent the digital rights management on any device (as long as there’s no copyright infringement).

The bill comes after 114,000 people, along with the White House, decried the Librarian of Congress’s decision to outlaw smartphone unlocking last October. As one of the primary activists opposing the ban, Khanifar is, in a word, enthused. “This new bill checks all the boxes,” he told me.

Unlike previous bills (which Khanifar previously described as “Band-Aids” ) the latest bill tackles all of the largest issues activists have identified in the current laws. In addition to legalizing smartphone unlocking, the latest one also legalizes unlocking tool as well. This, Khanifar, says, is a big deal. “Every bill we’ve had so far has only tackled one piece of the issue. This one gets all of them,” he said.

California representative Zoe Lofgren, one of the bill’s proponents, says the legislation is all about consumer rights.

“Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased. If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law, there’s little reason to hold back the benefits of unlocking so people can continue using their devices,” she said in a press release.

“It’s such an important consumer right to modify devices after you buy them,” Khanifar said, noting that there many hackers who have learned how their devices work by taking them apart.

Khanifar isn’t alone in his appreciation for the bill. Public Knowledge legal affairs vice president Sherwin Siy also praised it, noting it “not only makes it clear that consumers can, of course, unlock their phones without fear of legal repercussions; it also addresses a longstanding problem with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”

Filed under: Mobile

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thumbnailSmartphones up 37%, tablets up 106%, and Samsung growing smartphone shipments 10x faster than Apple May 9th 2013, 19:09
Android samsungGlobal shipments of smartphones, tablets, and laptops hit 308.7 million in the first quarter of 2013, with 216.3 million smartphones, 50.5 million laptops, and 41.9 million tablets shipped, according to the latest numbers from Canalys.Once again, Android accounted for 75.6 percent of all smartphone shipments, and once again, Samsung is killing it.

The Korean smartphone king grew smartphone shipments by 64.3 percent year-over-year while shipping 82.2 million tablets, smartphones, and notebooks combined. Meanwhile, mobile rival Apple grew its iPhone shipments by a shockingly low 6.7 percent, hitting single digit growth in a market which has overall growth of 37.4 percent.

Let me say that again: Apple is at single digit growth in a market growing at almost 40 percent.

Android meets Wall-E. Source: John Koetsier
Android meets Wall-E.

If there’s any doubt why Apple’s stock in moldering in the mid-400′s after hitting highs last year of over $700, that’s why. And with Tim Cook basically telling Wall Street that Apple won’t ship any significant new products until this fall, or even 2014, the situation is not likely to change.

‘Despite its slowing growth, Apple still shipped over 37 million iPhones,’ Canalys analyst Pete Cunningham said in a statement. ‘But HTC and Samsung have raised the bar with their latest handsets and Apple needs to respond with its next iPhone. The iPhone user interface is now six years old and badly in need of a refresh.”

Tablets are one area of slight comfort for Cupertino.

Apple retains 46.4 percent of the tablet market, Canalys says, shipping 19.4 million tablets. That’s down from 58 percent market share in the first quarter of 2012, and once again, in a market growing at over 106 percent year-over year, Apple grew less than others — about 60 percent growth year-over-year.

‘Spearheaded by Google and Amazon, the commoditization of the tablet market has happened far quicker than that of the wider PC market,’ Canalys analyst Tim Coulling said.

The upshot?

Without significant new Apple products, major new product categories, and a much more intense Apple effort to produce a wider range of phones and tablets that the market is looking for right now, Apple share will continue to drop.

And one other interesting tidbit in the Canalys data:

Calculating operating system share over all “smart devices,” lumping in smartphones, tablets, and laptops does provide interesting insights. With that view of the industry, Microsoft ends up with an 18.1 percent OS market share — a very different proposition than high-90-percent share in the laptop/desktop world.

Image credit: Louish Pixel/Flickr

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ME Clock debuts ‘ultimate digital life coach’ to retrain your brain May 9th 2013, 18:16
Mark in BedWe could all benefit from a life coach sometimes to keep us motivated and our spirits up. ME Clock launched an IndieGoGo campaign today for its “ultimate digital life coach,” which helps people achieve their personal goals.ME Clock combines hardware and software to serve as a “personal trainer for your mind.” The system is designed to help people break bad habits and make lasting positive changes. The ME System 24 provides a specific sequence of mind empowering exercises, behavioral modification. learning techniques, yoga moves, music and meditation. It looks like a digital alarm clock radio but has far greater ambitions than waking you up to Top 40 tunes. The accompanying apps deliver the audio content to your smartphone.

“The self-improvement industry is a 12 billion dollar a year industry in the US alone,” said founder Mike Squirrell in a Q&A.” We want to remove the never-ending burden of accumulating hundreds of self-help books and courses that cost people a lot of money and usually yield little effect, not to mention therapy. Our aim is to change the face of 21st century psychology and brain-training by giving everyone access through technology.

Squirrell spent 10 years researching and developing the ME system at his practice in London where he provided integrated medicine, personal development and behavioral training to clients looking for “sustainable transformation.” People are always striving to be thinner, richer, happier, fitter, smarter, less anxious, and more confident and Squirrell said that bad habits and negative thoughts are what inhibit people from achieving their goals. There is a whole field of study called positive psychology that centers around breaking these patterns. The ME Clock incorporates these techniques into a simple training system that customers can embark upon independently.

meclockThere are twelve “ME Programs” geared towards your specific goals, including thin, happy, calm, rich, love, energy confident, and smart. Each program has three separate levels which take between one and three weeks to complete and ME Clock will guide people through various mental exercises throughout the day. People can pick and choose the apps to suit their ambitions.

The self-help industry is massive and largely conducted offline in books, seminars and workshops, and private sessions. Sure the idea of becoming “the ME you want to BE” invites cynicism and eye-rolls. Affirmations are not for everyone, but there are millions of people out there are looking to improve their lives in one way or another. Popular devices and tracking apps like Fuel Band, FitBit, Endomondo, MapMyFitness (and on and on) are a different incarnation of this idea. They also provide people with information and social motivation to sustain positive habits. However, Squirrell said these systems are geared towards tracking, rather than “fixing,” and fixing requires mental training. That is where MEClock comes in.

ME Clock is hoping to raise $75,000 through the IndieGoGo campaign. The company is based in London and currently has 6 employees.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, Gadgets, Health, Lifestyle, Mobile
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thumbnailTesla Model S outscores every other car in Consumer Reports ratings May 9th 2013, 17:54
Tesla Model SAnd the good news keeps coming for Tesla.Just a day after the company reported record sales and its first-ever quarterly profit, Consumer Reports announced that the electric vehicle manufacturer’s Model S has received the highest test rating of any car in its 2013 car ratings. And just to put a cherry on top, the notoriously tough Consumer Reports writers say that the $89,650 Tesla Model S comes close to, and just may be, the best car ever.

“This car performs better than anything we’ve ever tested before,” Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of testing says. “Not just the best electric car, but the best car. It does just about everything really, really well.”

Wow.

Because the batteries are in the floor, the car’s center of gravity is very low, Consumer Reports says, giving it superb handling. The Model S, which seats 7 with an optional jump seat, has “impressive power,” and uses half the energy of a Toyota Prius, for a 200-mile range.

Here’s Consumer Reports video report:

Tesla’s 17″ touchscreen, which drivers use to control the vehicle’s climate and other systems, is “like a giant iPad,” and almost as simple to use, the report states. And despite the fact that Tesla has only been building cars for a few years, the Model S performs better than vehicles made by manufacturers that have been building vehicles for over a hundred years, Consumer Reports says.

Tesla earned its first-ever profit of $15 million this past quarter on record sales of $562 million. In the earnings release, CEO Elon Musk said that he anticipates demand of 30,000 cars a year in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. But with reviews like this, he may want to revise that number significantly upwards.

One note for those of us who don’t have $90,000 in loose change under the sofa seats: Musk promised that Tesla’s next model will be much more affordable.

“The Model S is priced substantially lower than the Roadster, and our third generation vehicle will again be priced much lower than the Model S,” he said yesterday in a statement.

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Flipboard brings its digital magazine creation tool to Android & the web May 9th 2013, 17:12
FlipboardFlipboard users on the web and on Android devices no longer have to endure the tyranny of reading a digital magazine that was assembled by someone other than them.

Today the company is pushing out a digital magazine creation tool to its Android app and website. The tool, which first debuted on the iPad earlier this year, allows you to assemble news stories, photos, status updates, videos, and other media into a customized digital magazine based on a particular topic, current event, or theme. Basically, you can gut all the boring articles and pictures you don’t like from an existing digital magazine, rearrange content, or provide additional context from other sources. And unlike the iOS version of the app, Android users can do things like “flip” content into their custom mags from other Android applications like YouTube.

One magazine you can now customize into your own publication is the Financial Times, which is entirely available within Flipboard starting today. However, you’ll still need to be a paid subscriber to view FT content.

I never really thought of Flipboard becoming a service that lets people express their creativity, but that’s exactly what this new tool does. The magazine creation tool has also proved quite popular, with over 500,000 custom magazines created by its 56 million total readers.

The new custom magazine tool is available on Samsung Galaxy phones, Nexus tablets, and several other Android-based mobile devices. You can download the new Flipboard app for free on the Google Play store and Amazon Android App store today.

Filed under: Media, Mobile

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RingDNA releases mobile call tracking app to ‘make sales reps smarter’ May 9th 2013, 17:02
MobileBeat 2013 July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CAEarly Bird Tickets on Sale

Howard and KanwarSales professionals rely on phone calls for making connections, following up on leads, and closing deals. RingDNA released a voice communications platform today that provides sales reps with relevant, contextual data when they need it to make the most of their sales calls. The company also announced raising a $1.9 million seed round.

This iPhone app integrates with Salesforce, Twilio, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and company news feeds. When a call comes in, RingDNA delivers CRM data, social media activity, and behavioral marketing information to eliminate “blind spots” and give reps “actionable business opportunities” in real time.

RingDNA-iphone-current-call“Sales reps spend most of their day making and taking calls, but existing mobile CRM apps do little to improve those conversations,” said CEO Howard Brown in an interview. “We don’t see anyone addressing the fact that phone calls and surrounding data are the center of a sales reps’ world. Reps want to know as much as they can about their prospects. Our app focuses on helping enterprise sales reps close more deals by delivering sales intelligence data before, during and after any call.”

RingDNA is not the only startup addressing the demand for data in today’s business environment. Base and Close.io provide comparable products, but Brown said they require switching to a new CRM while RingDNA integrates with existing ones. There are also other products that focus on email, and RingDNA’s approach is “intelligent telephony,” which focuses on the phone as the hub of activity.

Brown previously founded a marketing consultancy called DemandResults and observed the challenges his clients had integrating call metrics from marketing, sales, and service centers into their workflow. Furthermore, he said over 40 percent of sales reps fail to hit their quotas each year. He wanted to build a way to get the right call data to the right person at the right time and improve sales performance as a result.

RingDNA presents users with contacts’ past account history, previous communications, and social data as well as activities from Salesforce. The calls are automatically logged and recorded and the resulting data collected. Executives and marketers can access performance metrics through a dashboard and track what percentage if revenue is closed over the phone, how many inbound calls became leads, and call volume by campaign, channel, or region.

The app was first released to beta testers in August. RingDNA raised $1.9 million from angel investors including people from Salesforce, DropBox, CloudConnect, LeaseStar, Appirio, and Propertyware. Customers include Optimizely, Appirio, and Lease Advisors.

Filed under: Big Data, Business, Deals, Enterprise, Entrepreneur, Mobile

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With $3.2M in funding, Dekko unveils a clever tech to insert animations into the real world May 9th 2013, 16:00
dekkoDekko is launching an “operating system for the real world,” which is a fancy way of saying a new augmented-reality system. But Dekko has accomplished this in a clever way. While others put a digital layer on the real world, Dekko inserts animated images such as cartoon characters into the real world, where they can interact with it. The company is announcing this technology for the first time today.

San Francisco-based Dekko is also announcing that it has raised $3.2 million from Bessemer Venture Partners, Echo Ventures, and others. With the technology, you can point your tablet’s camera at a spot and then view an animated character walking around in the real world and interacting with it. You can use Dekko to see animated content in the real world — through a screen, not on a screen. Dekko says the tech can be used for everything from augmented-reality games to mobile tour guides. As pictured above, Dekko builds a digital grid over physical objects using 3D mapping. Then it lets loose animated characters — which you can control — in the 3D space.

“Dekko will help usher in a new generation of apps that work outside the confines of a mobile device, truly merging the experience with the user’s life,” said Matt Miesnieks, the chief executive officer of Dekko. “Previous attempts at this kind of tech have only provided the world with gimmicky, transitory experiences with no real value or staying power. We were promised the moon and given cardboard spaceships.”

Miesnieks told GamesBeat, “We are going to do both the OS and the applications. That’s because we’re trying to tackle the computer vision problems that have to be overcome here. We feel that augmented reality is a gold mine. A lot of people have gone into it, but no one has come out with a nugget yet.”

With Dekko’s software running on top of a tablet, smartphone, or other device, your mobile camera can be used to reconstruct the environment and track animated content within it as it moves about in real time. This allows mobile devices to visually interpret the real world, making possible apps for games, social networks, and travel. While first-generation augmented-reality apps fell short, Miesnieks hopes to fulfill the dream started by the pioneers by being the visual layer for a wave of new wearable computing devices. It could, for instance, be the digital layer for gadgets like Google Glass.

The company was formed in 2011 on the bet that people would want to see animated content not just on a screen but in the real world. There are no competitors per se, but similar projects are being pursued at SRI and Qualcomm. Miesnieks and his wife started the Dekko to build the operating system and apps running on it.

Miesnieks said that the company is working on a proof of concept game called Dekko Monkey, and it is in talks with other big companies that want to create cool mobile apps to show off their devices.

Other investors include Venture 51, Launch Capital, Eniac Ventures, Blumberg Capital, Thomvest, MicroVentures, Zig Capital, and angel investors. Miesnieks has spent the last 15 years working for tech companies in Asia and Europe. He led customer development for the first-generation augmented-reality startup Layar in Amsterdam. He also led teams at Sylantro, Openwave, and Ascend Communications. The company has five full-time employees and five part-timers.

A lot of the work has never been done before, like blending light from the real world with lighting in an animated augmented-reality environment. The technology also has to scale better. Right now, the company can map a real-world area of 10 feet by 10 feet. But Dekko wants to grow that map to include buildings, streets, and cities.

Another challenge is that Dekko will have to partner with some big companies to bring its full vision to the market. Miesnieks wants to merge mobile technology with the real world in unprecedented ways, building digital grids with physical objects and 3D mapping.

The operating system is a shift from apps that operate inside the constraints of a mobile device to apps that (appear) to run outside of the box. Dekko may start with the ability to instantly map an area the size of a table, but it will eventually be able to interpret whole rooms, streets, and cities using 3D mapping.

“Much like iOS marked the shift from feature phones to smartphones, Dekko’s goal is to be the OS for the wearable computing generation,” said Miesnieks. “Dekko will usher in the next wave of mobile by providing developers with a stunning 3D visual layer for wearable devices.”

Dekko has hired specialists from the fields of augmented reality, optical tracking, 3D reconstruction, and user-experience design. The team’s background includes top experts from academic research, Xerox PARC, Twitter, Layar, Electronic Arts, and the New York Museum of Modern Art. The company is currently in talks with the top tier of hardware manufacturers.

Dekko is currently in talks with the top three tier-one hardware manufacturers. It is also creating its own app in the form of Dekko Monkey, where a monkey interacts with the world in real time. You don’t need something like a QR code to interact with the real world. The company hopes to get products out by this summer.

Filed under: Business, Deals, Games, Media, Mobile, Social

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