Investor confidence in Nokia appears to be on the upswing. A narrower third-quarter loss and an upbeat forecast from the mobile phone company pushed its shares up eight percent Tuesday morning.
And, indeed, there is good reason to celebrate Nokia’s third-quarter earnings. The company once again posted an increase in sales of its Lumia smartphone, shipping 8.8 million of them during the quarter. That’s a nice bump up from the record 7.4 million it sold in the quarter prior, and a vast improvement over the 2.9 million it sold during the same period a year ago.
Another highlight: Nokia’s handset sales in North America. There, the Finnish company recorded sales of 1.4 million units in the third quarter. That’s nearly triple the number it sold in the second quarter, and far more than the 300,000 units it shipped in the year-ago period.
Now, 1.4 million smartphones shipped in North America isn’t exactly a triumph in absolute terms – companies like Apple and Samsung shipped many, many more – but it’s progress, and a promising development for Nokia’s device business, which is to be acquired by Microsoft early next year. Great news for the software giant, which is paying $7.2 billion for it in the hope that Nokia’s smartphone expertise will make Windows Phone relevant in a market dominated by Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.
Many people are waiting for expected upcoming smartwatches from Apple and Google to take the wearable category to the next level. Or at least as much of a next-level as you can expect from a first-generation product. “It seems as though the whole product category has moved on to Activity Tracking 1.1, but hasn’t quite graduated to Wearables 2.0,” AllThingsD‘s Lauren Goode astutely observed.
Until that next level arrives, today’s wearable gadgets offer limited activity-tracking accuracy and somewhat forced integration with phones. Trying out the notifier watch Pebble or the often-buggy Jawbone Up can feel like beta-testing prerelease prototype products. At best, the products provide the user with a little push to be more active.
In an attempt to compete with what’s available today, and to carve out space before the biggies hit the market, a couple of new bands are currently raising money via crowdfunding by trying to be excellent by being more specific.
The Memi is kind of like the Pebble watch, but specifically for women. It’s based around notifications, not fitness. The big appeal is the simplicity of the design: A simple metal bangle that vibrates to indicate incoming calls and texts from people on a preapproved list. There’s no display.
Based in Atlanta and New York City, Memi launched on Kickstarter three days ago, and has raised just over $20,000, with a goal of $100,000.
“A lot of these smartwatches are trying to do more. You’re getting pinging and dinging, vibrating and lights. We’re taking a different approach, for women who want to unplug a little more,” said Memi co-founder and president Margaux Guerard, who formerly worked in luxury marketing with brands like Bobbi Brown and Diane von Furstenberg.
Guerard’s pitch is that Memi will allow women to leave their phones in their pockets or bags, and only pull them out when they know that a call or message is important. Memi is also meant to be pretty.
“Timeless jewelry is metal,” Guerard said. “And really nothing else in this space is metal.”
Kickstarter pledgers can currently get Memi bands for $125.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum is Push, a new wearable band for bodybuilders.
Made by a startup from Toronto, Push is worn on the forearm, so the wrists can be left free for weight-lifting. An onboard accelerometer and gyroscope detect the force, power and velocity of each exercise.
Why couldn’t this just be done with a smartphone and a strap? The accelerometer is higher-quality than those found in smartphones, and the device needs to be worn with the band right up against the skin to get the best measurements, according to Michael Lovas, Push’s chief design officer.
Push will also offer a belt to measure exercises that don’t involve the arms, though Lovas said the forearm should cover most of the big lifts, including squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, clean and jerk. The default size should be small enough to fit women, he said.
Indiegogo backers can buy the device for $149. Push is also planning to sell through coaches, who will pay a monthly fee to set up a fitness portal for their athletes and observe their progress.
Push has exceeded its Indiegogo goal of $80,000 Canadian dollars, with 18 days of fundraising to go, and more than $94,000 CAD pledged.
We smartphone users have all developed our own tricks for quickly swiping through pages and folders of apps to find what we need. But the reality is, even if Waze has home-screen placement, you have little reason to use it while not driving. And you’re unlikely to watch Netflix at work. Or to check the weather after you get dressed in the morning.
Cover co-founders Edward Ho, Todd Jackson and Gordon Luk
An Android app called Cover has developed a new version of the Android lock screen that adjusts based on each user’s habits around time, place and other factors.
With permission, Cover monitors users’ daily activity. Then it picks the six apps it thinks users are most likely to want at any one moment, and lines them up on the left side of the phone.
If you plug in your headphones, for example, the six will likely include your favorite music-streaming apps.
Cover also loads the apps in the background, so users can swipe each icon to enter directly into the app – to see the latest photo in your Instagram feed, perhaps, or the current entry on your calendar.
At the moment, there’s no way to edit Cover’s choices manually, so, if there’s some app you use all the time but don’t want people to see, or some app you really should use all the time but forget to, you’re out of luck.
Cover establishes three different modes – home, work, driving – with their own associated wallpaper and ring volume, which users can set themselves.
There’s also a quick way to multitask by swiping down a drawer of most frequently used apps from the top right.
When you go through all its gestures and adaptations, Cover sounds like a whole new UI for Android, and in some ways it is. But, from what I saw in a demo, this doesn’t seem to be new feature overload, just a few carefully selected tweaks.
You’ll have to try it for yourself to see – but that likely won’t be today. Cover is accepting signups on its website, and will gradually invite new users. It should be available to everyone “within a couple months,” said CEO and co-founder Todd Jackson.
Jackson and his two co-founders have the kind of resumes that seed investors love. Jackson was the lead product manager of Gmail, and also did a stint at Facebook; co-founder Edward Ho was an engineer at Google for five years, and before that, he worked on a small but influential tool called Yahoo Pipes; Gordon Luk worked on Yahoo’s Upcoming and Brickhouse back when those were hip, and had his own game studio. (Jackson and Ho worked together on the ill-fated and much-maligned Google Buzz … but that’s bygones in tech time.)
As such, they’ve raised $1.7 million from First Round Capital, Harrison Metal, Max Levchin, Scott Banister, Charlie Cheever, Keith Rabois, Dave Girouard and Alex Franz.
The question is, what is the opportunity for an independent app maker to change the core user interface of the phone in a way that mobile operating systems should probably be doing themselves?
And another thing: While the Android opportunity is clearly huge, it’s not always the cleanest – given the mess of older versions, and the often-clunky preloaded apps and interfaces from different handset makers. That seems problematic for a UI overhaul.
For starters, Jackson said, Cover is made to work all the way back to Android 2.3, a.k.a. Gingerbread. He shrugged off compatibility problems, saying they just take a little work.
Jackson defined success for Cover as “if we can sprint over the next year or two, and get a million people, or five million people to love Cover. If when you switch from HTC to Samsung, the first app you add is Cover, and the phone knows you immediately. Like SwiftKey. They’re doing great, have millions of users in their own right, and deals where they ship with the device.”
For a tour of the app and more on Jackson’s perspective, here’s a video interview with AllThingsD‘s Ina Fried: