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Valet protects you from parking tickets with Google’s new location API (exclusive) May 17th 2013, 23:33
MobileBeat 2013 July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CAEarly Bird Tickets on Sale305201_10101224438552417_474352899_n24 hours after Google released three location tools for its app developers, startups are already integrating the APIs into their products.

The founders of Valet stayed up all night to get the brand new API into their app as quickly as possible. Valet launched in April 2013 in the Google Play store to help people remember where they parked. It tags your parking location with a pin and reminds you when to pay the parking meter. You can set a timer for your meter and share the location on social media. There is, of course, no guaranteeing you will avoid fines, but it does cut down on the ‘human error’ often responsible for the tickets.

valetFounder Will Roman recently relocated to San Francisco from Austin to work at another startup. After “losing” his car a few times in the unfamiliar city and getting slapped with multiple parking fines, he recruited cofounder Josh Deffibaugh and the two set out to build Valet.

The app received mention on Gizmodo and a couple of Android blogs for its “simplicity and beauty” and was attracting a good number of users through word-of-mouth. But when Roman and Deffibaugh heard the news about Google’s new location APIs, they saw an exciting opportunity.

“Everyone who drives can appreciate this,” Roman said in an interview. “Parking tickets suck and so does forgetting where you parked on a busy day, when visiting a new city, or after a night of drinking. With integration of the new Google Play Services location API’s, all features can be automated on over 95% of Android devices thereby preventing you from ever loosing your vehicle or getting a parking ticket again. We’re the only parking app in the world to integrate the Google Play Services location API’s.”

The location application programming interfaces (API) are part of Google Play Services, a tool kit for Android developers. Integrating location-sensing features to your app can be challenging and Google’s fused location provider “intelligently manages the underlying location technology” to make building location-aware app easier and less energy-intensive. The technology combines GPS with on-phone sensors like the gyroscope, accelerometer, and barometer to collect your movement data and deliver a more accurate, immediate, and power-efficient application.

Using ‘Activity Recognition’, your phone can figure out whether you are walking, cycling, or driving which has clear applications for fitness apps. The Valet founders realized that the same technology could be used to tell when a car goes from driving to park mode, and can automatically drop a pin in your parking spot without you having to push a button.

“The new location API’s are more accurate, simpler to integrate, and back ported,” Roman said. “They solve a lot of the fragmentation issues of Android and enabled us to cater to the broadest market possible with even better reliability than previously possible.”

Competitors include iCarPark, Car Finder AR, Find My Car Smarter, Car Locator, Where Did I Park. Valet is based in San Francisco, where parking does in fact suck.

Filed under: Business, Entrepreneur, Mobile
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Apple kicks out Bang With Friends from app store with little explanation May 17th 2013, 22:30
MobileBeat 2013 July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CAEarly Bird Tickets on Salebang with friends iphone

Bang With Friends’ newborn iPhone app no longer appears in the Apple App Store, leaving “down to bang” iPhone users wondering why.

The company’s chief executive Colin Hodge told Valleywag that the app recently passed over one million users, but it’s been removed from the store.

Bang With Friends matches you up with people in your network who are, well, interested in having the sex. You sign up for Bang With Friends using your Facebook account. The “service” will only match you up with those willing to service you; otherwise, your activity remains anonymous.

The company only launched its iOS and Android apps last week, bringing the action off the computer and into the mobile world. You’re now able to find out if someone wants you when you’re on the go, but not if you’re an iPhone user, evidently.

It might not be the subject matter that’s giving Apple pause. If the company found Bang With Friends violating any privacy guidelines, or taking data in a way that Apple doesn’t approve of, it would pull the app. We’ve reached out to both Apple and Bang With Friends to figure out what is behind this removal and will update the post upon hearing back.

BangWithFriends’ website only offers that it will “be right back” and is trying to work with Apple to restore the app.

It was also recently uncovered that you can discover just which of your friends use the app on Facebook. All you need to do is type a special URL into your address bar and it will call up all of your friends who match a certain app identification number. This goes against what Bang With Friends claims, which is that your use of the app will remain anonymous.

via Valleywag; Bang With Friends image via Bang With Friends

Filed under: Mobile

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How cognitive science and user empathy powered Google’s design breakthrough May 17th 2013, 19:18
Android design devicesGoogle has gone from a company that approached design through cold, hard data to one that’s employing gorgeous, user-centric interfaces.Design was a big theme at this year’s Google I/O developer conference, with over a dozen sessions exploring design in some fashion. And you can see Google’s new aesthetic focus in plenty of its products — like Gmail’s slight redesign and the upcoming Google Maps refresh — but Android serves as the fastest example of Google’s design turnaround.

Perhaps it’s because design matters all the more on a small smartphone screen. With Android, Google also had to do something about Apple’s head start with iOS. To get Android to look as good at the iPhone, Google had to radically reshape how it thought of design, and fast. Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” released in 2011, was Google’s first attempt to emphasize design in its mobile OS. Its aesthetic has only become more refined since then.

Google being Google, it’s also obsessively focused on the function of its design. Unlike of the old days, where Google went with the design most people liked through rigorous testing, usability is front and center now, with a new focus on cognitive science and user empathy.

Rachel Garb Helena Roeber Google IO

Designing to delight on Android

Users brought up a slew of design issues in Android’s first few versions, and Google saw the need for a new direction. Enter Android’s new design principles, co-authored by Google’s Rachel Garb, head of interaction design for Android apps, and Helena Roeber, who previously headed up Android’s user experience research team.

“We thought, what if we turned this long list of shortcomings that bum us out into something that actually inspires us to create beautiful and usable designs,” Garb said during a Google I/O panel yesterday.

Enchant. Simplify. Amaze. With Android 4.0 two years ago, those three seemingly simple principles became the cornerstone of Android’s design.

“We all respond emotionally to every moment we experience, and we experience around 20,000 of these moments every waking day,” Garb said. Negative emotions are so powerful they have the ability to shorten your lifespan, while positive emotions are essential for daily life.

Garb’s goal: to make sure Android serves as a fount of positive experiences. That was a big departure from Android’s earlier days, when it was complicated, technical, and far from user friendly.

As one example, Google developed a subtle animation in the Android home screen to tell users when they’ve reached the end of their available screens. If there was no indication, users could get frustrated. The new animation delighted users so much that they ended up playing around with it just for fun.

“Not only did it tell them they did everything right, it also kind of helped establish the virtual spaces and provided the feedback in an elegant, subtle, and non-disruptive way,” Roeber said.

Google also added a full-time writer to the design team to take charge of all of the user-viewable text in Android. With short words, active verbs, and common nouns, the writer helped transform Android into an environment more suited for typical, non-technical users.

For example, a setting that used to read “Use tactile feedback” was changed to the more human-readable “Vibrate on touch.” Similarly, a warning that used to read “You didn’t insert a SIM card” now simply prompts “Insert SIM card now.”

You can see all the new design principles at work in Google Now, Android’s predictive search virtual assistant. Enabling it simply takes one click on your Android phone (Simplify), and afterwards it simply presents relevant information when you need it (Enchant). Its interface is sparse, consisting of only the cards you need to see at any particular time. Google Now also learns from your behavior to get better over time (Amaze).

alex faaborg google io

Better design through science

“All of our evolution has been optimized for the types of things we’re likely to see,” said Alex Faaborg, a Google designer with a background in cognitive science and machine learning. Speaking at an I/O panel focused on cognitive science and design, he discussed a few examples of how tiny decisions take advantage of human perception to create a better user experience.

Gestalt psychology principles play a significant role in Google’s designs. For example, Google is using white space more liberally across its products to group items (consider that bit of space between Google search results). In Android, it’s taking advantage of our ability to automatically complete shapes for things like form entries (boring rectangular boxes are out, now you just see the bottom portion of a text entry line). Similar objects, like the stars and check boxes in Gmail, are grouped together to make them easier for us to scan.

Even those small notifications you get in Google Docs along the side of the edges of your screen are backed by cognitive science. Faaborg pointed out that we see peripheral motion faster than what we’re looking at directly, so it makes sense to keep your notifications along the edges of the screen.

About half of Faaborg’s talk focused on vision, while the other half focused on attention, focus, and memory. Google learned that repetition may be a better way to teach simple concepts to users, instead of just offering a single tutorial up front. For example, a repeated alert in new Android phones tells users where they can find all of their apps. Previously, users would skip through the short introductory screen.

“Consistency is not critical — you don’t need to build products identical to what’s on the marketplace,” Faaborg noted at the end of his chat, in a takeaway that also tells us a lot about how Google views design now. He urged developers to build innovative designs and trust that their audiences will be able to understand them. “People are smart,” he said.

Is it enough?

While Google’s design breakthroughs have led to some major changes internally, its competition hasn’t been sitting still.

Apple, a company practically synonymous with excellent product design, will likely see a major style evolution now that Jony Ive is in charge of design company-wide. According to rumors, this year’s iOS 7 could be a major overhaul more in line with Ive’s aesthetic (a love of simple and flat designs).

With Windows 8, Microsoft made a radical design shift as well, bringing elements from its slick Windows Phone operating system to the desktop. Microsoft just announced that it sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses in its first six months on the market, which is in line with Windows 7 sales. With its support for tabletsand traditional computers, Windows 8′s design could continue to pay off for Microsoft as personal computing trends change over the next few years.

No matter what Google does, it can’t please everyone. But now, at least, Google is trying.

Photos: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat: Top image: Google

Filed under: Business, Dev, Mobile
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Nokia Lumia 928: Verizon’s first high-end Lumia is pretty, but flawed (hands-on) May 17th 2013, 17:18
MobileBeat 2013 July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CAEarly Bird Tickets on Salenokia-lumia-928

Say what you will about Windows Phone, but the platform’s greatest strength has always been Nokia’s Lumia phones.

And the latest phone in the series, the Lumia 928, is no different. The Lumia 928 is the first high-end Lumia for Verizon, which by default makes it a very important device for Nokia itself. But is it any good? Here are a few first impressions.

A camera to kill for, maybe

Above anything else, Nokia and Verizon are selling the Lumia 928 on the power of its camera. The phone’s 8.7-megapixel shooter “captures amazing blur-free photos and videos even in low light”, according to Nokia, which has gotten in trouble for making lavish claims about its phones’ cameras before.

Some photos, though, are really good.

The Lumia 928′s camera ain’t too bad.

So do those claims hold up with the Lumia 928? Sort of. I took a bunch of shots with the phone, and very few of them came close to the almost-flawless sample shots that the phone teases you with. That’s not to say my photos weren’t nice (the one of the Manhattan skyline is especially good), but they just didn’t consistently match the quality I was expecting. I wasn’t blown away.

Still, the camera is fast, and features like Smart Shoot (which captures a series of images and merges the best ones) and Cinegraph (which is Nokia’s answer to Vine) are neat, if slightly gimmicky, additions. The best part? The Lumia 928 comes with a hardware camera button, which, in full disclosure, I only just now remembered exists.

Nokia is also making a big deal out of the Lumia 928′s Xeon flash, which helps freeze motion in certain kinds of shots. I didn’t get a chance to try this out, but MyNokiaBlog gives a good idea of how it works.


Nokia ditches color for yet another black slab

One of the best, most immediately striking things about the Lumia phones is that they come in a wide, attractive variety of colors. They feel unique, interesting, and fun to hold. That color is gone with the Lumia 928, which, with the exception of its white back, feels like just another black slab. The phone is pretty, but there just isn’t much to care about beyond that. (And the giant Verizon logo on its front doesn’t help either.)

As far as the whole feel-in-hand goes, the Lumia 928 sits right on the line between being solid and uncomfortably bulky. Maybe it’s the squared edges or the plasticky back, but the phone just isn’t particularly enjoyable to hold. For lack of a better word, the Lumia 928 just feels, slimy.

In fact, the Lumia 928 would be a far, far better phone if it had the same aluminum casing as the Lumia 925, which Nokia annouced earlier this week.

One thing I do appreciate about the Lumia 928, though, is its power button, which is placed in the center of its right edge. It’s a tiny thing, but it shows that Nokia puts a lot of thought into how people are using their phones. So thanks, Nokia.

We’ll have a more detailed review of the Lumia 928 very soon.


Filed under: Mobile

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Some photos, though, are really good.

thumbnailA year after IPO, Facebook still down 30% (but the future is bright) May 17th 2013, 16:25
Zuckerberg rings the opening bell on the first day of Facebook trading on the NASDAQA year ago today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg “rang the bell” to open trading in one of the most hotly-anticipated initial public offerings in history as Facebook hit the stock market. And promptly went splat.Today, not that much has changed.After debuting close to $40 and cratering to just under $18 in August, the stock has somewhat stabilized in the $25 region, down 30 percent from its opening-day high. And along the way, the story emerged of how Facebook tried to hide some of the mobile risk inherent in its business and how the company panicked and botched its IPO by using vague positive language in its public prospectus and, apparently, specific negative information about slowing revenue growth to institutional investors privately.

Not to mention the $100 million paid to banks to stabilize the stock — on top of $176 million in IPO fees — for efforts that ultimately failed. And technical glitches that cost the NASDAQ $62 million in compensatory fees.

All of which negatively affected the overall IPO market.

facebook revenuesThat all said, however, Facebook has seemingly nicely recovered from the disaster — at least from a business fundamentals perspective. Revenue growth was strong in its latest quarterly earnings release, with the company booking $1.46 billion in revenue for Q1 2013, compared to about $1 billion a year ago. More importantly, mobile was significantly up, accounting for 30 percent of ad revenues, and Facebook singlehandedly accounted for 6.5 percent of all online ad dollars spent in the U.S.

Not exactly Google numbers, but pretty good nevertheless.

And the company has massively beefed up its advertising options. It’s now posting retargeted ads right in the news feed, once sacrosanct territory. And in a move aimed directly at advertising giant Google, Facebook has launched a self-serve tool that allows advertisers to target its users based on what they actually buy and want to buy offline … which is a significant move to targeting the intent graph that Google hits so well by virtue of being a search engine, but Facebook has often missed since its visitors are on the site to meet and greet people. In addition, as soon as July, Facebook will be rolling out 15-second video ads in the news feed, a product that it will be charging major brands millions of dollars for.

All of which is having an effect.

The consensus recommendation for Facebook is currently a buy, with a price target of $34. Most analysts are in the Strong Buy category, with few or none in the dreaded Underperform or Sell slots. And in the past four weeks, analysts have revised their earnings estimates upward by a factor of 6 to 1.

first-year IPOsSo there’s a lot of positive in Facebook’s future, and there’s a ton of potential. But it’s still challenging when analysts compare Facebook stock with other internet high-fliers like LinkedIn or Yelp, which rose 148 percent and 48 percent in their first years, respectively.

But at least it’s better than Groupon and Zynga, both down around 75-80 percent.

And, I would argue, while there are a ton of challenges and many very significant competitors — primarily Google — the future for Facebook is bright.

Even if the public start was a stubbed toe.

Filed under: Business, Deals, Mobile, Social
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thumbnailPentagon gives green light: Now those hundreds of thousands of iPhones, iPads, and iPods can actually be used May 17th 2013, 15:38
us military iphoneTwo months ago we reported that the U.S. Department of Defense had ordered as many as 650,000 iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches from Apple.Now, after passing Pentagon tests, the devices are actually approved for use.Before authorizing any devices for use in security-conscious military environments, the military requires a very specific and detailed implementation and deployment plan. A large part of that is the creation of policy for approved use as per DoD Directive 8100.02, which says that cellular devices are not allowed into areas where classified information is discussed, stored, or processed without written approval.

And until that happened for the Apple devices, the hundreds of thousands of phones and tablets were in administrative limbo.

“Most of them have not been deployed and are still sitting in a warehouse,” a source I talked to a month ago said. “They haven’t yet been able to build an implementation guide on how to use them.”

T-Mobile iPhone 5Today’s decision, however, paves the way for the U.S. military to actually use the devices in secure areas, and potentially expand their purchase order. It marks a turning point away from BlackBerry devices, which have been considered more secure, and which to date have formed the vast majority of government-issued mobile phones.

The problem with clearing smartphones for use in top secret environments is that they are, essentially, full of radios: Bluetooth, WiFi, cellular.

“With standard consumer devices, there’s no way to prove that the Wi-Fi is turned off,” my source told me.

One solution the DoD had previously implemented for iPads was to hand them off to a second party after delivery from Apple to crack open the cases and “snip the Wi-Fi radio” to disable it, and then close them up again. Apparently, the DoD reached a special agreement with Apple to maintain warranty eligibility, which would normally be voided after opening the case.

Today’s approval, however, is for a version of iOS 6 that has likely been customized by Apple and certified by military technologists to ensure security compliance without actually having to snip wires.

Interestingly, according to Bloomberg, the military plans to create its own app store for military applications, which would allow DOD personnel to use commercial hardware but employ tested and approved applications.

photo credits: The U.S. Army via photopin cc, Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: Business, Gadgets, Mobile, Security

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The DeanBeat: Maxthon offers an alternative browser that won’t crash while running multiple games May 17th 2013, 15:00
maxthonMaxthon has carved out a name for itself as a reliable alternative web browser built with the cloud in mind. The company has more than 120 million monthly users for its browser, which isn’t as crash-prone as those made by its rivals.Now the Beijing-based company hopes to transform the web experience further by releasing a WebKit core for Android browsers so they can become better foundations for web-based games. The new release of the browser, which has achieved a billion downloads, will make it work even better with web-based games, the company says.

Karl Mattson, the general manager of Maxthon International, told GamesBeat that the Maxthon cloud browser has carved out a niche among gamers because it allows them to sign into as many as five separate accounts simultaneously. That allows them to play different games at the same time. It is also more reliable since memory-management technology was built into the browser from the ground up. If you’ve ever had a browser crash on you during a game or a multi-window session, you’ll come to appreciate memory management. This is basic plumbing for the internet. And it’s something that is holding up the progress of the game industry, along with the difficulty of making games that can run across various platforms.

“We’ve grown by word of mouth in the gaming community,” Mattson said. “We’re the best browser you’ve never heard of. Now we’re offering the world’s best support for HTML5,” the lingua franca of the web. In a test running HTML5 canvas using the CanvasMark benchmark, Maxthon scored the highest of the major web browsers in running HTML5 pages.

That improved support for HTML5 will make it easier to run both 2D and 3D games in web browsers, enabling games to be written once for the web and run on a variety of platforms. Maxthon is available as an app in Apple’s iTunes App Store and the Google Play store for Android devices.

“Gamers are the canaries in the coal mine in leading support for fast browser performance,” Mattson said.

Mattson said that the browser has become the favorite of pro gamers who play web-based games in professional tournaments. It also offers a split-screen feature on the desktop. Maxthon says it can render web pages on Windows, Android, and iOS faster than any other web browser.

Maxthon is growing in a variety of regions, but its market share in browsers is still below that of rivals like Opera, Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer. The company is now expanding in the U.S. market. Another rival is OnLive, which offers a cloud-based browser that loads pages really fast. But Maxthon doesn’t put quite as much of the computing task in the web-connected data centers, or cloud, itself.

“Our goal is to make the actual software faster,” Mattson said.

Jeff Chen, a student in Singapore, started the browser in 2003 when he created a browser out of frustration. He was tired of the poor performance of the big browsers and found an abandoned browser projected dubbed MyIE. He decided to craft his own browser, dubbed MyIE2. He formed the company Maxthon in 2004 and kept adding features. In 2005, Chen renamed the company Maxthon, and the browser became the first one with tabs. Then it added sandboxed tabs in 2007 for added security. In 2008, Maxthon offered cloud-based services for syncing bookmarks and history.

With memory management, Maxthon allows you to pick up where you left off, no matter what you were working on, with any of your Internet-enabled devices.

“We started with a high-performance web-browsing experience,” Mattson said. “We made a strong commitment in the last year and a half to HTML5 support. We’ve got support in the gaming community because of this. We’re making HTML5 games work really well. As a company, we believe that the browser should change the computing experience.”

That meant that users could log into their browser and access their own favorite web pages and history of browsing from any location. In 2010, Maxthon came out on Android, and it has reached more than 500 million downloads to date on that platform. In 2011, the browser came out on Android tablets. Maxthon is also getting chip makers such as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices to support its software in their hardware. The company received one round of funding from Charles River Capital and WI Harper. Today, the browser is used in more than 150 countries.

Maxthon provides HTML5 support in Android, allowing for high-quality video support and Web GL enhancements. Other new features include the ability to run 2D games at 60 frames per second on devices that can support such graphics. It can also run WebGL 3D graphics.

Maxthon has more than 220 employees and is profitable. Now that’s a company that should be on the radar of all of the major game companies and platform owners.

Filed under: Business, Games, Mobile