Archive | March 2014

Timehop, The Place To Reminisce Online, Raises $3M Led By Spark Capital

timehop

While present-focused social networks like Facebook and Instagram make plenty of room for the narcissists in us, there’s not really a dedicated and focused place to reflect on the past.

Timehop, which started out as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, has evolved into a mobile-first startup that surfaces old memories from your social networks. The app will pull up status updates from a year or more ago, reminding you of friends you’ve lost contact with or thoughts you had a year ago on this day.

The New York-based startup says it just rounded up another $3 million in funding led by existing investor Spark Capital. O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures, which had also previously backed the company, participated as well. Andrew Parker, a principal at Spark, joins Timehop’s board.

Timehop’s CEO Jonathan Wegener says that the company will use the round to build out the team beyond seven people and focus on mobile apps. Timehop just shut down its e-mail service last week.

“The big, long-term vision is to be a place to reminisce online,” Wegener said. “Basically in this world, all social networks are real-time. They’re about what’s happening right now, but there’s no place online to discuss the past.”

While the Series A crunch has made fundraising tough for all kinds of consumer-facing mobile and web products, Wegener said it was Timehop’s stickiness that made a compelling case. He said one-third of Timehop’s user base opens the product on any given day, which is a very respectable retention figure.

“Users who try to the product fall in love with it. This helped us make the argument that people are working Timehop into their everday lives,” Wegener said. “At first, people don’t understand why they would want this. But they get really addicted to it. They see it as a mirror of their own life, and a reflection of their past self.”

He said he’s used the app to remember which friends he’s lost touch with over the years. The app will pull up old group photos, reminding Wegener to reach out and reconnect.

Timehop’s earlier investors also included angels like Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, Naveen Selvadurai and Alex Rainert, Groupme’s Steve Martocci and Jared Hecht, Rick Webb and Kevin Slavin.

AWS Adds SDK Support For Windows Phone And Windows Store Apps

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Amazon Web Services continues to enhance support for Microsoft workloads with added SDK support for Windows Phone and Windows Store Apps.

According to the AWS blog, the new support comes with a Developer Preview of the next version of the AWS SDK for .NET. The release of the SDK adds two new enhancements for.NET developers.

A developer can connect Windows Phone or Windows Store apps to AWS services and build a cross-targeted application that’s backed by AWS. With the addition, AWS now also offers SDK support for Windows as well as iOS and Android.

AWS also added support for its “task-based asynchronous pattern,” which uses “the async and await keywords and makes programming asynchronous operations against AWS more easily to do.”

The support follows AWS efforts to show support for running Microsoft Exchange Server in the AWS Cloud as well SQL Server and Sharepoint.

The new support illustrates the competition among the cloud service providers to become the developer center for all devices. AWS is by far the leader but Windows Azure has steadily added more features for supporting iOS and Android.

Asian Mobile Makers Squeeze Apple’s Global Smartphone Share To Its Lowest For 3-Years In Record 230M Unit Q2

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More proof, if proof were needed, that Apple needs a low cost iPhone to get its smartphone momentum mojo back: Cupertino’s share of the global smartphone market fell to its lowest for three years in Q2, according to Strategy Analytics, with just 31.2 million iPhones shipped in the quarter and Apple’s second place ranking declining to a 14% market share – this despite the overall smartphone market growing 47% annually to reach a record 230 million units shipped.

“The current iPhone portfolio is under-performing and Apple is at risk of being trapped in a pincer movement between rival 3-inch Android models at the low-end and 5-inch Android models at the high-end,” said Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, in a statement.

Mawston told TechCrunch it’s not just a low cost iPhone that Apple needs to return to growth, although he agrees that is a requirement for Apple to drive extra volume. Cupertino’s top priority should be a new type of flagship to compete with Samsung’s phablets, he said.

“Apple’s first priority should be a premium-tier phablet with a 5-inch screen because that is where the largest new revenue pool is located,” he said via email. “Apple is losing profit share to Samsung partly because of a lack of presence in the phablet segment. Apple’s second priority should be a lower-cost iPhone to win back some of the customers it is losing to cheaper Android models in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”

“A 5-inch iPhone would generate extra value for Apple, while a cheaper iPhone would deliver extra volume,” he added.

Overall, the analyst said smartphone market growth is being driven by demand for 4G handsets in developed markets such as the U.S. and 3G devices in emerging markets such as India. Asian mobile makers, who predominately use Google’s Android OS, are now clearly dominating the surging smartphone market, with Samsung still in kingpin position – shipping 76 million devices in Q2 to capture one-third of all smartphone volumes worldwide in the quarter – and LG, ZTE and Huawei in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.

The analyst described LG as a “star performer”, with its global shipments doubling year-over-year to hit 12.1 million units in Q2 to take a 5% share. “The popular Optimus and Nexus models have been the main drivers of LG’s success. If LG can expand its retail presence and marketing in major countries such as the US or China, LG could quietly start to challenge Apple for second position,” Analyst Linda Sui added in a statement.

Chinese mobile maker ZTE also took a 5% share in the quarter, shipping a record 11.5 million smartphones to take fourth place for the first time, while Huawei shipped 11.1 million handsets to also grab 5% and take fifth.

Android 4.3 Includes Hidden App Permissions Manager That Could Bolster Privacy & Security

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As expected, Google officially confirmed Android 4.3 at its event on Wednesday with Android chief Sundar Pichai. Among the new features/improvements in the update are a redesigned camera interface, Bluetooth Low Energy support, performance improvements such as smoother animations, and multi-user restricted profiles. But there’s apparently something else that Google didn’t talk about. Android Police has unearthed a hidden app permissions manager that allows users to selectively disable certain permissions for apps.

The feature is apparently called App Ops, and lets users toggle app permissions – such as location and the ability to post notifications – on and off for individual apps. Android Police notes that a developer has already created an app (available here on Google Play if you have Android 4.3 installed) that foregrounds App Ops, and has been having a play around with it.

The basic idea of the feature is apparently to give Android users more flexibility over what apps can and can’t do, allowing them to choke off battery draining features, say, or rein in irritating notification behaviour. If Google does decide to fully implement App Ops as a user-facing feature, there are potential big benefits here, from a security and privacy point of view, being as it could give users fine-grained control over what each app can do.

Apps they might otherwise have been tentative about installing could presumably be fine-tuned to fit their tastes now – which may also have some developer benefits, if it helps drive overall installs.

However Android Police notes that while App Ops does work, the feature is clearly not ready for the prime time yet – while testing it with the Facebook app they found certain app permissions only appeared in the permissions list once the app had made use of them, for example. Such messiness likely explains why Google has hidden App Ops and wasn’t ready to talk about it on Wednesday. We’ve reached out to Mountain View to ask for its plans for the feature and will update this story with any response.

Another possible complication attached to the feature is user confusion if a user doesn’t realise that the reason a particular in-app feature isn’t working is because it has been toggled off at source. A similar problem can occur on some Android devices with the quick settings in the notification tray overriding the main setting for things like silencing sounds/ringtones. Add in per app permissions and the potential user confusion is enormous. Android Police notes that one way for Google to get round could be to include some kind of system notifications warning users when App Ops is limiting app permissions. Although that would get old pretty quick if users get nagged every time they open an app with restricted permissions.

It is also possible that the App Ops feature has been created by Google to power the multi-user restricted profiles feature it did announced on Wednesday, which allows for parental controls to be implemented on Android devices.

The Android platform also has the most malware activity associated with it of all the mobile platforms, so the App Ops feature could be something Google is lining up to help bolster security concerns attached to Android. For instance, the feature could allow users to block apps from making calls – to kill off premium rate phone call/SMS malware – or trace which apps have been making calls to identify rogue software.

The iblazr Flash Illuminates Your Smartphone And Tablet Photos, Preventing Black Square Syndrome

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 8.38.19 AM

A new Kickstarter project wants to let a little light shine in on your mobile photos – much more than the built-in flash on devices like the iPhone 5 can provide alone. The iblazr is an external flash that uses four high-output CREE LED lights to provide a whole lot of illumination via a small piece of hardware that plugs into your gadget’s headphone jack, easily outgunning the iPhone’s flash, and giving the flash-less iPad something to shine on photographic subjects.

The iblazr is entirely synchronized with your device’s camera shutter, too, thanks to a proprietary free app for iOS and Android. It has a number of different features, including photo and video modes, a constant light mode, changeable brightness, and a built-in, USB rechargeable battery that lasts up to 1,000 flashes. The iblazr recharges via a flexible USB cable, and it even works without a smartphone or connected device at all, providing you a tiny pocket flashlight as well.

If you’re serious about your Instagrams, or about not carrying a dedicated camera around and still getting good shots, the iblazr looks to be a smart option, as it offers less chance to result in red-eye than the built-in flash, more than doubles the brightness possible and can even act as a fill flash for daylight outdoor shots to prevent exposure from becoming unbalanced between light and dark background and foreground.

The iblazr includes its own free app, but its creators also made it open source, and are offering SDK access before its general release to backers. Already a number of apps are signed up on both Android and iOS to take advantage of the accessory, so it’s possible your favourite mobile photography app will be able to take advantage, too.

iblazr is the product of a team based in Kiev, Ukraine, which includes a number of designers and engineers who have worked on hardware and software projects related to camera and photography gear before. Two of the team members were the first to solve flash synchronization issues with external devices on the iPhone, making the iblazr’s tricks possible.

The startup is looking for $58,000 in funding, and has raised nearly half so far. $39 is the price of admission for a pre-order pledge, which gets you one white or black iblazr with charger, with an expected ship date of December, 2013.

Personalized Financial Planning Service LearnVest Raises $16.5M From Accel, American Express And Others

LearnVest

LearnVest, a personalized financial planning program, has raised $16.5 million in strategic funding from existing investor Accel Partners, and new investors: American Express Ventures; Claritas Capital; Ed Mathias, founding member of The Carlyle Group; and Todd Ruppert, Former CEO & President of T. Rowe Price Global Investment Services. This brings the startup’s total funding to $41 million.

Founded by Alexa von Tobel, LearnVest originally debuted back in 2009 at TechCrunch50 as an online guide aimed at teaching women to become more financially savvy. As we wrote a few years back, the startup was Suze Orman blended with personal finance site Mint.com. Last year, LearnVest pivoted slightly to aim for both men and women, and became a full-fledged investment advisor.

As von Tobel explains, LearnVest is now more like Weight Watchers for your finances. The company offers the LearnVest Action Program, which is a seven, step by step program that takes you from cutting expenses to budgeting for goals to investing your money. All users get a certified financial planner who gives them specialized attention based on their financial needs and goals. Von Tobel adds that each of these advisors has gone through training and is empathetic to all financial situations. Financial plans starting at $89 for the budget version. The five-year plan is $299 and the portfolio builder is $399.

From the sounds of it, it looks like LearnVest may get a huge marketing boost from AmEx to push its financial planning product. “We believe strongly in the mission of LearnVest Planning to provide accessible financial advice,” said Harshul Sanghi, Managing Partner, American Express Ventures, in a release. “As we seek to expand our portfolio of products across American Express, we believe LearnVest Planning can be an important partner in helping us to bring customers more convenient, affordable and transparent ways to manage their money.”

With headquarters in New York City, the company has now opened a west coast office in Phoenix, Ariz., to serve as a hiring and training hub for the company’s team of financial planners. In addition to the investment, LearnVest Planning is debuting Workplace Solutions, a financial wellness platform that companies can offer as an employee benefit.

Mathias and Ruppert are advisors, as is Susan Lyne, AOL’s Brand Group CEO and Vice Chairman of Gilt Groupe (and our boss’s boss’s boss); and Ann Sardini, former CFO of Weight Watchers.

There are plenty of startups that want to disrupt wealth management, including Wealthfront, Betterment and of course, Mint. But von Tobel says that LearnVest Planning is really focused on a broader demographic because the program triages individuals for financial health and then gives them an action plan. She believes that LearnVest is the most hands-on financial planning program you’ll find.

YouTube brings full-length movies to the UK

YouTube has been offering movies in the US for a long time that users can rent and watch right on the website. Those movies were only offered in the US and Canada until now. YouTube announced this morning that it would be offering movies for rent in the UK. UK fans appear to get the same Hollywood and British flicks that we get here in the States.

Movie fans in the UK can now join fans in the US and Canada in watching films like The Dark Knight, Reservoir Dogs, and new flicks like Hanna, Fast Five and Red Riding Hood. British classics like Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are offered along with other films. UK fans can hit Youtube.com/movies to see what is available to watch.

Fans can also check out YouTube Movie Extras with behind the scenes video for free. Other content includes cast interviews, parodies, clips, remixes and more. If you are a movie fan in the UK, you can start streaming the flicks today.

First Look at the Nexus Prime Boot Animation (Video)

It seems like today is the day for Ice Cream Sandwich leaks! This time around someone has allegedly gotten their hands on the boot animation from the upcoming Google Phone – the “Nexus Prime” – and loaded it onto their Motorola Droid Bionic.

The animation, which plays every time an Android-powered smartphone is booted up, looks like it shares its color pallet with the boot animation on the Motorola XOOM. Instead of the XOOM’s “Honeycomb hexagons”, this animation features a series of squares arranged in a pulsating circle. Take a look at the video and let us know what you think in the comments!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYRM4nCMWCk

LG’s True HD IPS display is apparently the best phone screen ever

You may’ve noticed that recently unveiled LG Optimus LTE comes with an 4.5-inch True HD IPS display with 1280 720 pixels (16:9, 329 ppi) HD resolution. The Korean company thinks they have the best screen technology in the industry, the fact that’s been confirmed by international product testing and certification agency – Intertek. Apparently, True HD IPS displays perform better than AMOLED in areas of color accuracy, brightness, battery efficiency and performance. Yes – in case you wonder – they included Samsung’s Super AMOLED Plus in the analysis as well and LG’s screen topped the chart.

Anyway, we like how it sounds and can only hope the Optimus LTE will be exported from the shores of the Korean peninsula sooner rather than later. Aside from packing such a powerful display, the Optimus LTE also comes with a dual-core 1.5Ghz processor, 1GB of RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity, 8-megapixel camera on the back, front-facing camera, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS and so on.

Orange and T-Mobile join hands with 3G coverage

Everything Everywhere getting there

Orange and T-Mobile have extended their joint reach by making it possible for their respective customer bases to use 3G signals from both networks.

When the companies joined forces under the Everything Everywhere banner in 2010, they underwent a “big switch-on” and opened up the 2G channels – voice, basically – to patrons right across the board.

From next week, though, the group is extending its effort to 3G for faster data rates.

Users could benefit from faster internet and data speeds in a greater range of areas, EE claimed.

The scheme is set to roll out regionally over the next few months along with further 2G improvements that apparently “allow customers to keep talking in more places”.

Virgin Media, which has had a long-standing signal sharing arrangement with T-Mobile, has already announced it will make use of Orange’s 3G connections sometime in 2012.

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