Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

NYPD Busts 141 Merchants For Selling Stolen Apple Goods

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 09:12 AM PST

iphone-4

New York City is possibly the most dangerous place to take your new iPhone or iPad. Grand larcenies have increased this year in the Big Apple, which NYPD spokesman Paul Browne attributes to criminal’s obsession with stealing handheld devices. But after a sting operation that went down between Tuesday and yesterday, things might be a bit safer in the city that never sleeps.

Undercover officers attempted to sell iPhones and iPads at discounted prices (between $50 and $200) to over 600 stores throughout all five boroughs — including bodegas, supermarkets, gadget stores, etc. — clearly stating that all the hardware had been stolen.

Of the 600 stores solicited by the undercover policemen, 141 merchants were busted for trying to purchase the “stolen” hardware. Over the past year, the New York City subway has been prime real estate for thieves looking to jack smartphones and tablets. With more expensive gadgetry on the market, thieves are making bank selling their stolen goods to small shops.

"That's our intention, to reduce the places where people who steal these things can go and sell them," said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to the NY Post. "If someone is offering you an iPad for way below market value, you have to realize that it's most likely stolen."

An unnamed source from Fort Greene’s 88th precinct mentioned that over half the robberies in the precinct involve iPhones during certain months. Interestingly enough, an ABC News story from last week uncovered that some thieves don’t want anything but the iPhone, asking for cash instead of an Android phone.

What we should learn: Don’t wave your phone around, iPhone or not. Don’t steal people’s phones. Don’t try to sell stolen phones. Don’t try to buy stolen phones.



Will Your College Survive?

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

college

Editor’s note: Guest contributor John Katzman is the founder and CEO of 2tor, an education startup that partners with universities to deliver selective degree programs online to students across the world. Katzman also founded the Princeton Review where he served as president and CEO from 1981-2007.

The Internet will save higher education, but it may kill your alma mater

Peter Thiel believes smart people don't need college, and he's right: There have always been autodidacts who can learn without assistance. Of course, we don't really need supermarkets and restaurants either; we could all grow and cook our own food.

Yet having professionals help us has always been a cost-benefit decision. What are the costs of a great education, including the opportunity cost of four years of work, and how do these costs balance against the impact of that education on your life?

The Internet is the first technology since the printing press, which could lower the cost of a great education and, in doing so, make that cost-benefit analysis much easier for most students. It could allow American schools to service twice as many students as they do now, and in ways that are both effective and cost-effective. For reasons that will be outlined below, however, it will probably end up doing this with half as many schools. And your school, even if it's bumper-sticker worthy, might not make the cut.

Rising Costs

College tuitions have risen 2-4 points over inflation each year since World War II; we stand on the brink of the $250,000 undergraduate education. The rising cost of college was predictable: William Bowen, who later became President of Princeton, first put some math to this in 1966. The problem is not the cost of football teams or palatial dorms; it's a lack of productivity growth. Putting a professor in a room with 25 students cannot become more efficient every year, while almost everything else in society does.

The ability to offer an online program of equal quality to its classroom peers can make education somewhat less expensive and, by letting universities continue to improve productivity at the same rate as other parts of the economy, allow them to hold tuition increases flat to inflation. (Note: Some people argue they can give a perfectly good college course for nothing or for $100 per course; these are simply correspondence courses on steroids, more helpful to those autodidacts than the rest of us. Any college that can be replaced by those programs should be.)

Good distance learning solves other problems as well. There are many more students in the world qualified and able to go to a great American university than spots at those schools. Rather than building billion-dollar campuses in the United Arab Emirates, a school can inexpensively turn the entire globe into its campus.

Investment & Scale

The Internet rewards scale; by trading higher up-front costs for lower marginal cost, market leaders can invest in better technology and service. As a result, there is nothing online that is both great in quality and small in scale. Amazon wasn't originally a better bookstore than the small shops we mourn, but it is now.

This is why the Net tends to consolidate markets. As we've seen with booksellers and travel agencies, industry winners can invest more in great technology and build on their large networks; losers have neither the quality nor the community to keep up.

Traditionally, universities have seen size as potentially dilutive to quality. If you doubled the size of campus and faculty, most would argue that you would make it a less compelling school. However, online schools will be as good as their classroom peers only if they are large enough to afford a substantial and ongoing investment.

Of the universities who launch online programs, a few will thoughtfully navigate the quality/size cycle. They will invest heavily in quality, using great technology, millions of dollars of content and student support. That quality, in turn, will make them popular within their target community (e.g. adult learners, high-achieving students). Finally, that popularity will give them the resources to further improve their programs, enticing more and more qualified students.

Again, a high-quality online education is not free—there are no magic bullets here—but that technology and scale will help turn the tide on costs. As online courses and programs become a larger percentage of these schools, their tuition increases will moderate and eventually reverse.

Since there is a finite supply of qualified students, however, other schools will end up suffering.  Their costs and tuitions will continue to rise more than inflation, putting them at an increasing competitive disadvantage. More and more of their students will find it compelling to study online, and the larger programs will have more advanced technology and global communities.  Even their faculties may be drawn away by the reach and research budget of their hybrid peers.

These will all be contributing factors to a consolidation in higher education, a process that will mirror the way the Net has disrupted other parts of society, like bookstores and travel agencies. Every year, schools that are scraping by right now will find the world a little harder. The smartest will merge into other schools; the others will go bankrupt in the time-honored way: very slowly, and then very quickly.

Winning Your Tier

Some might imagine that in this consolidation, the top schools will win and the less prestigious schools will lose. Not so.

Universities and bookstores compete differently. Schools are more specialized—engineering schools don't compete with music schools, for instance—and they are of varying levels of selectivity. Since much of a school's value comes from the interaction among students and between students and faculty, universities both recruit and are attractive to students of similar academic backgrounds. Harvard, in other words, does not compete for students with Devry.

The likely winnowing, then, will happen within each tier of university. Instead of competing for students on a regional basis, online schools targeting adult learners compete on a national basis; so will the elite schools or the schools focused on any particular academic discipline. And within each tier, only the schools that properly navigate the quality/size cycle will survive the shakeout.

Within the elite tier, a few others will have a second chance. Due to their endowment and general excellence, most Ivy League schools might become less central to the global education world, but still be islands of research and learning.  Within other groupings of universities, though, the new competition will be less forgiving.  As states continue to lower subsidies, and as schools with similar reputations step up their competition, this could be a difficult decade for many colleges.

Evolve or Else

Like any other disruptive transition, the move to online and blended universities will bring tremendous benefit to students—better education in more places at lower tuition. However, these changes will be painful for many schools. Most bookstores and travel agencies found themselves on the wrong side of a steadily growing force; the schools that thrive over the next two decades will do so only because they have carefully harnessed that very same force: the Internet.

Photo credit: Musical Photo Man



This Magnetic Art Project: How Does It Work?

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 07:40 AM PST

ferrite_comp2

While I find that I like my ferrite-based Kickstarter art projects to be a bit more automatic, the Ferrite Interactive Liquid Sculpture is still pretty cool. It’s a tube containing a Ferrofluid – a suspension of ferrite particles – that is shock-resistant enough to survive a few tumbles. You can use a magnet to create odd shapes, experience the magic fo magnetics, and you can put it on your desk and toy with it as you wait for 5 o’clock to roll around.

$100 gets you a mini tube while $125 gets you the larger model. Both include powerful magnets for controlling your ferrite experience and all are made by one David Markus, an industrial design student from Georgia.

While the project isn’t very high tech, what it lacks in gizmos it makes up for in creativity. Besides, who, I ask you, who doesn’t like magnets? Who?

Project Page



Technology Cannot Disrupt Education From The Top Down

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST

Education

Editor's note: Guest contributor Patrick Gibbons is a Las Vegas-based writer and researcher focusing on education policy and reform.

Computer technology has penetrated the classroom for thirty years with little impact. After hundreds of "disruptive" education startups, the best innovation in education is still the chalkboard. This isn't the fault of the entrepreneurs, but the fault of an education system which resists innovation at every turn.

Many K-12 education technology startups target teachers and administrators by offering tools to become more productive: Lesson plan sharing, gradebooks, training tools, whiteboards and more. Devin Coldewey called them "practical" in his TechCrunch post "If I Were A Poor Black Kid" Inadvertently Touches On Sad Education And Tech Truths." Coldewey concludes that education needs top-down reforms that utilize these practical technologies. He sincerely believes these technologies can improve teacher and administrator efficiency so the "overworked" staff can gain control of their "oversized" classes in the "pitifully insufficient" resourced schools.

Unfortunately, the top down "practical" approach won’t work for some very good reasons. Essentially, the education establishment doesn’t want to be disrupted and they will leverage the $597 billion spent annually on K-12 public education to prevent true disruption.

To innovate in education, entrepreneurs need to understand some key education statistics. The fact is, despite thirty years of technological progress and innovation, American schools provide the same results with more resources at their disposal. Between the 1959-60 and 2007-08 school year, per pupil spending grew from $2,741 (in 2009 dollar values) to $11,134—an inflation-adjusted increase of 306%. Over that same period the number of students per teacher fell from 26 to 15.3 while the number of students per school employee fell from 16.8 to 7.8.

Finally, while Devin believes public schools have "few computers" the data shows the number of pupils per computer fell from 12.1 in 1998 to 3.8 by 2005.

Despite more money, more teachers and more computers per pupil, student achievement in K-12 education has been stagnant for forty years. So why hasn’t money, teachers and technology worked?

American public education is a monopoly where the bureaucracy and administrators act more like Soviet commissars than corporate CEOs and entrepreneurs. They don’t want to be disrupted—they like things just the way they are.

Let me give you an example from my research in Clark County Nevada (you may know it as Las Vegas) home of the fifth largest school district in the nation (operating budget of over $2 billion!).

In 2009, I interviewed several local principals. One principal discussed how his purchase request for new Dell computers was denied by the district bureaucrats because the computers came with 21 inch monitors. District rules prohibited monitors larger than 19 inch—despite the fact that Dell was selling the 21 inch monitors for less than the 19 inch. There were many similar stories of frustration.

Anyone who has ever run their own business should immediately see the problem. Principals have little control over the resources in their school. Everything from teachers to textbooks is rationed by a central office commissar – sometimes approval requires the rubber stamp of several bureaucrats (up to seven in Clark County). The central control of public schools is an essential ingredient to prevent disruption—it allows the establishment to build alliances by co-opting players from the teacher union to the for-profit corporation.

The result means technology is treated as a cost, not a means to increase productivity and reduce costs. Using technology to actually increase productivity and reduce costs would mean reducing the demand for teachers, administrators and central office commissars. Co-opted for-profit corporations also prefer the larger, less competitive market because it is easier, and cheaper, to sell to the "edublob" than hundreds of thousands of autonomous and competitive schools.

In other words, you can’t sell technology that increases productivity and truly disrupts—only technology that pretends to do both.

For the disruptive education startups, forget about selling to the public school districts. Take your products to the entrepreneurial schools—private schools, virtual schools, charter schools, home school networks or even directly to the students. These schools and organizations only exist by convincing parents to enroll their children—they are hungry for ways to improve.

Finally, if you are up to the challenge, figure out ways to improve access to high quality teachers. In a country where it is almost impossible to fire bad teachers, the teacher quality gap in the United States is a major problem. According to Eric Hanushek at Stanford University a good teacher averages 1.5 years of learning gains from their students while a bad teacher averages just 0.5 year gains. In other words, a good teacher gives a 1 year learning advantage for their students compared to bad teachers. Now multiply those results over several years.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of education startups trying to attack the problem from the bottom up. Several tutoring services like WizIQ, Udemy and BlueTeach (to name a few) connect teachers with students. At the other end you have peer-to-peer education networks like Student of Fortune and OpenStudy. There are also startups mixing tutoring with adaptive-learning (the program adapts to provide lessons covering the subjects where the student is most deficient) like Grockit and Sophia Pathways. There are even specialization services like CodeAcademy which provide students a platform to develop computer programming skills.

Finally there is, Khan Academy, a free service offering more than 3,000 lessons on YouTube. Khan also integrates quizes to assess student ability and redirects students to the relevant lesson when they struggle.

Not all of these programs will succeed, but they’re all bypassing the flawed school system to offer education services whenever, wherever to whoever. This is the only way to have a chance at disrupting education.

Image credit: Getty Images/Sean MacEntee.



Street By 50 Headphones Review: Loud Enough For Everyone (Literally)

Posted: 18 Dec 2011 05:00 AM PST

Street By 50 Headphones

Short Version

The Street by 50 headphones get the job done when it comes to sound quality and volume, but there are a few quirks that didn’t sit well with me. When all is said and done, a decision to buy these headphones all comes down to how serious you are about music and how often you use a pair of cans.

Features:

  • 45mm driver
  • Memory foam ear cushions
  • Black and blue color flavors
  • Removable cord with mic and play/pause button
  • MSRP: $299.95

Pros:

  • Solid sound quality
  • Mostly comfortable fit
  • Even in blue, they look pretty slick

Cons:

  • Everyone around you can hear your music
  • Not great for talking on the phone
  • That price tag is ridic

Long Version

Hardware:

If appearances matter, then 50 Cent certainly knows what he’s doing. I love the look of Street by 50 headphones, and think they actually have an aesthetic advantage against the new Beats by Dre cans. They’re equally as comfortable, too. Some over-the-ear headphones become too heavy, while others are either too lose or too snug to deal with. I find the Street By 50 cans to be just right in terms of fit, likely due to their ultra-flexible polymer construction. And ultra-flexible is no understatement. These things can really bend when stressed, and shouldn’t break unless broken headphones is the intended goal.

Along the inside, there are faux leather-lined memory foam cushions for the ears and the headband. Overall, they fit very comfortably but I would like it to be just a tad tighter around my ears. I notice that when I press even slightly on the ear cups the sound is way better, and way louder. My colleague Matt Burns (reviewing Sync by 50 wireless) would disagree with me, as these are apparently one of the first pairs to not feel too tight for him. So clearly, to each his own.

I played around with both the blue and black models of Street by 50 at my hands-on demo with 50 Cent a few weeks ago, but wound up with a Shadow Black pair for the review. I’d say the black versions look much better with the bright blue removable cord that comes with them, though blue-on-blue may work for some people. The mic feels just a tad too high on the cord, but the play/pause button still has a nice tactile feedback despite the fact that it lies nearly flush with design.

Performance:

Sound quality on these things was pretty great. Even tracks that are poor quality on my computer sounded much better through Street by 50. And when I put them to the ultimate test — Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction, of course — I was left feeling like there was a club in my head.

But there are some issues. For one, these aren’t “noise cancelling” headphones in the traditional sense. They do, however, feature “passive noise cancellation.” Straight from the owner’s manual: “Our unique shape and earcup design do provide passive sound isolation with lower background noise.” To a degree, this is true. I heard much less background noise wearing Street by 50 than I did with my Apple earbuds. However, if you’re really serious about blocking out the world you may run into some trouble on a plane or in a super noisy environment.

But perhaps my biggest beef comes from the outside in. While some are obsessed with blocking out outside noises, others are more concerned with how much others can hear their music. Anyone with a music library as embarrassing as mine knows what I mean. With Street by 50 headphones at even 75 percent volume, passersby can hear every note and every word of the song your listening to. No problem.

I also noticed that using the mic to talk on the phone isn’t all that pleasant. I’m not sure why, but many people had trouble hearing me and and everything sounded much more garbled on my end.

Conclusion

It’s clear that Street by 50 headphones aren’t for the casual listener. It’s difficult for anyone who isn’t serious about music to justify the price tag, especially since casual activities like listening to music on the train and talking on the phone are tedious and annoying. But if music is your passion and comfort is important, these may be what you’ve been looking for.



Five European Startups To Watch

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 10:32 PM PST

Euro map

Editor’s note: Guest contributor Amit Shafrir is president of Badoo, a social network for meeting new people based in London with 130 million users.

Silicon Valley is famously, and rightly, proud of its place as the spiritual home for startups. And it has an inspiring and awesome track record that's tough to beat.

However, as the recent Le Web conference proved, European tech hubs like London, Berlin and more recently Paris, can now also lay claim to breeding world-class entrepreneurs. There's a sense that Europe is finally getting its groove on when it comes to startup innovation, and that's exciting to watch and be a part of. (When even Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is getting in on the action, you know that Digital/Tech is having a moment…)

Loic Le Meur's mission for Le Web—to bring the best of Silicon Valley to Europe—is a laudable one. As Loic says in this TCTV interview, European entrepreneurs are eager to learn from the best and the brightest in the US. And if you look at the headlines from this year's Le Web, you'll see the usual bold-faced American names, such as Google, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Twitter, Flipboard, and Instagram.

But hang on a second. Shouldn't it work the other way around too? Shouldn't we in the States also look to the European startup renaissance for ideas and inspiration?

After all, some of the most successful start-ups on stage at Le Web weren't just the Valley wunderkinds, flown over to show the Euros how it's done. They were the European companies that are innovating in the fields of commerce, lifestyle, and social networking. Not content with just providing local versions of Facebook or LinkedIn, they are creating new businesses for a sophisticated consumer audience. And proving they can be profitable.

With Spotify as a notable exception, there wasn't a ton of excitement or buzz about those European startups over here. And I have to question why that is. I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

In the meantime, here is my own attempt to try and help redress that balance. Below is my own take on five of the European startups we should be paying closer attention to in 2012:

Social gaming:

Wooga: One of the hottest companies to emerge from the Berlin tech hub, Wooga is Europe's largest social games developer and the third largest in the world. Wooga recently launched the mobile version of its game Diamond Dash, one of the top 10 social games on Facebook, and hopes to reinvent mobile game app distribution through smarter use of Facebook's app notifications.

Online Music:

Deezer: Spotify might be making all the headlines over here, and they certainly had a good showing at Le Web this year. But French mobile music-on-demand site Deezer seems intent on giving them a run for their money, announcing their expansion to 130 more countries at Le Web, taking the total to 200 around the world. Interestingly, this doesn't include plans for the US. Deezer's CEO, Axel Dauchez, is focused on smartphone users and doesn't see enough growth happening in the States compared to other countries and territories. However, this decision might be better explained by its competitors' well-documented struggles with US music labels.

Soundcloud: Headquartered in Berlin, fast becoming a hub for the online music industry and with two Swedish founders, Soundcloud is one of the German capital's most prominent start-ups. The company is growing at a rapid pace, with over 8 million people creating and sharing sounds across its platform. With its focus on the mobile platform and apps, Soundcloud looks set for an even bigger 2012.

Personal Finance:

Wonga: UK-based short-term online loans company Wonga (the name is a British slang term for cash) is on a tear and looks set to keep growing as the UK economy continues to falter and the need for such a service increases. Wonga closed a massive $117 million round back in February, for further expansion in the UK.

Photo-Sharing:

Eye-Em: Unlike the much-hyped Color, Berlin-based Eye-Em has seemingly found a way to make photo-sharing on your smartphone, well, a smart idea. It's still early days, but the company is growing fast, and is another one to watch.

This list doesn't even scratch the surface. I could add other more established names, like Rovio, creator of the hugely successful Angry Birds gaming franchise, or private luxury deals site, Vente Privee.

In short, Europe is no longer just imitating the Valley; it's creating its own narrative for success. And as innovators and business creators in a global economy, the US entrepreneurial community should be sitting up and taking notice.

Map image by blogdroed.



The Top 20 iPhone And iPad Apps of 2011

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 07:52 PM PST

iPhone Apps

Editor’s note: Contributor Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of mobile app discovery services Appolicious, AndroidApps.com and AppVee. With this post, he continues an annual tradition of picking the best iOS apps of the year.

It's telling that Apple chose an app that debuted more than 14 months ago, Instagram, as its "iPhone App of the Year" for 2011. This should not imply that there was a shortage of quality and groundbreaking apps released this year. Far from it.

From social magazines to music discovery apps to console-quality games that players can hold in the palms of their hands, there are hundreds of new titles in the iTunes App Store that will inform, organize, and entertain virtually anyone who owns an iOS device. As more choices become available to different kinds of consumers, however, it's difficult to identify the undisputed champions of the app world.

We picked 20 of the best iOS applications that came out or received significant updates in 2011. The list is a healthy mix of free and paid titles that can run on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. (We will follow up with a separate top 20 list just for games, which are not included in this list).

There are hundreds of additional titles worthy of mention, and we selected our favorites based on the production value of an app more than its popularity on the Top Seller charts. You might take issue with some of the apps included here as well. But with about 600,000 apps available for iOS devices, everyone is entitled to their own favorites.

Here are ours.

1. Flipboard

After launching exclusively on iPads last year, this pioneering social magazine expanded to all iOS devices in December. Significant updates to the app — including LinkedIn integration and the inclusion of many more third-party publishers like Conde Nast — make Flipboard the best iOS app of 2011. The new iPhone-specific Cover Stories feature that showcases what users are most interested in is also a game-changer.

2. Photosynth

Who would have thought that one of the most enjoyable and innovative iPhone apps of the year would be developed by Microsoft. That's the case with Photosynth, which lets users quickly and reliably capture panoramic 360-degree gyroscopic images simply by moving their cameras.

3. SoundTracking

This next-generation music detection app lets users not only identify what song they are listening to, but also seamlessly share the track with friends and followers from Facebook, Twitter and foursquare. SoundTracking also lets users tap into what their friends are listening to and tagging.

4. Google Translate

This language translation app from Google excels above all others for its ability to audibly translate spoken words into other languages. Google Translate's simple and elegant interface translates text between 63 languages and lets users star notable translations and access them for later use.

5. SkyView – Explore the Universe

City dwellers in particular appreciate this astronomy app which uses augmented technology to display stars, planets and satellites that otherwise would be obscured. The dead simple point-and-use functionality, 3D graphics and snippets of celestial background information can make anyone a happy and well-informed stargazer.

6. GarageBand

While Apple created an ecosystem for thousands of third-party developers to innovate and market their wares to iOS devices, the company is also capable of producing its own killer apps. Having GarageBand available on the fly for less than five bucks is music to the ears of working and aspiring musicians and podcasters.

7. Tiger Woods: My Swing

This app, which is also available on the iPad, is arguably Tiger's greatest professional accomplishment of 2011. Users can compare side-by-side videos of their swings next to Tiger's. For those spooked by Tiger's potential skills regression, an option exists to customize alternate "swing lines."

8. iMuscle

Beyond measuring heart rates and determining how many calories are burned during a workout, iMuscle — also available as a separate iPad application — provides more than 450 unique exercises and stretches. Fittingly, the app offers 3D views to help users target the muscles and areas of the body that deserve the most focus.

9. Snapseed

While there were worthy and less expensive photo editing apps released for the iPhone and iPad this year, none were better than the $4.99 Snapseed. The app's user-friendly interface combines a nice mix of basic editing tools and cool effects that will please beginner photographers and experienced shutterbugs alike.

10. Super 8

Super 8 is an innovation in advertising as much as it is a real cool retro camera app. A promotion for the JJ Abrams/Steven Spielberg film of the same name, the app lets users create their own Super 8-style movies on their iPhones (scratch overlays and shaky cameras included). Nice to see a major studio release something more thoughtful than a cheesy commercial.

11. Spotify

Spotify was worth the wait. Three years after launching in Europe, this music streaming service finally made its way to North America in July. The iOS application combines access to Spotify's deep library with great playlist creation and social networking capabilities. Well worth the $10 monthly subscription for hardcore music fans tired of iTunes.

12. Pinterest

Embracing the minimalist style of Tumblr, this blogging app allows users to create virtual bulletin boards of their favorite things. Friends and followers can then re-pin their own comments on words and images that attracted them. This is not an app for the verbose.

13. Quora

A must-have mobile extension to the popular questions and answers site, the Quora app captures information about nearby locations using the GPS capabilities found within iOS devices. Where else can you tap into the collective wisdom of the digerati wherever you travel?

14. Weather+

With mainstays like The Weather Channel and Accuweather already available for iOS devices, it's difficult for other upstarts to find any sunlight. Weather+ shines through the clouds by providing looped visualizations of each type of weather forecast displayed at any time of the day.

15. IntoNow

A Shazam for television, IntoNow identifies what a user is watching on TV merely from picking up signals from its audio track. IntoNow, which was recently purchased by Yahoo!, uses proprietary fingerprinting technology called SoundPrint. The app also makes it easy to share what you're watching with friends and followers.

16. Bill James Baseball IQ

Armchair baseball general managers can now access the Sabermetric wizardry of acclaimed baseball statistician Bill James with this free iOS app (that debuted for $14.99). The level of detail here is unprecedented for any piece of software that can be displayed in a device smaller than a baseball mitt.

17. Google Currents

Google's Flipboard competitor is the best pure news aggregator available for mobile devices. While currently no match for Flipboard in terms of social integration, Google Currents is faster and offers more intuitive customization options with third-party publishers. Not surprisingly, it's also the best way to tap into Google+ profiles from thought leaders like Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki.

18. HBO GO

Beyond the premium content this app serves up to HBO subscribers, HBO GO is pioneering how broadcast and cable networks make programming available to users on-the-go. The ability to tap into an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm from any place at any time is a pretty, pretty, pretty good thing to have.

19. Procreate

Simply the best painting app available for the iPad. The clean and simple interface enables painting in real time. There is enough variety and options to appeal to painting pros as well as talentless amateurs just having some fun.

20. Garmin StreetPilot onDemand

While turn-by-turn navigation technology is not revolutionary, packaging it within a 99-cent app (with an eventual $2.99 monthly subscription) is. The app also features great pedestrian-friendly walking directions.

Top image: Daniel Y. Go



Facebook For Android Finally Has More Daily Active Users Than Facebook For iPhone

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 03:53 PM PST

Android FB Done 2 5

For the first time, the Facebook for Android mobile app has eclipsed the daily active user count of Facebook for iPhone. The Android app launched in September 2009 more than a year after its iPhone sister and has been playing catch-up ever since. Both are developed internally by Facebook. This week the two were briefly tied, but the Android app is now pulling away with 58.3 million DAU compared to the iPhone app’s 57.4 million, according to the AppData tracking service.

With the Android device base growing at 550,000 activations per day and Timeline now available for Android but not yet for iPhone, I expect this gap to widen.


Facebook for Android‘s monthly user count of 85.4 million still lags behind the iPhone app’s 99.1 million MAU. However, this stat isn’t as important as DAU, or stickiness — the percentage of monthly active users that return daily. Android’s stickiness is 68.2%, compaed to iPhone’s 57.9%. This could indicate that Android devices appeal to a younger, more Facebook-engaged audience, or to more hardcore technology users in general. The iPhone’s role as a fashion and status symbol may be drawing less engaged users.

Another explanation for the Android app taking the lead is that Facebook released an official iPad app in October which now has 5.5 million DAU. Though many users likely switched from using the unoptimized iPhone app on their iPad, some probably came from unofficial third-party apps.

Until Facebook for iPhone is updated to support Timeline, some of the app’s users some may stray to the HTML5 mobile site and slow the app’s growth. Meanwhile, Facebook for Android 1.8.1′s ability to access Timeline can help the app grow its lead. For reference, Facebook for BlackBerry has 29.9 million DAU, and Facebook for Windows Phone has 360,000 DAU according to AppData.

User counts of the Facebook apps matter because they can influence where Facebook devotes mobile development resources. For years, features were first released for the iPhone version, possibly because its higher user count made it more of a priority. If the Android app becomes significantly more popular, Timeline might be the first of many features it gets early. [Update: This could set an example for other companies to develop for Android first as well.] And that could sway people choosing what phone to buy.

This is a coming of age moment for Android.



Verizon’s Next DROID RAZR Already Spotted In Their System

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 12:56 PM PST

Maxx Headroom

Because the name “Verizon DROID RAZR by Motorola” seemingly isn’t long enough, it looks like Verizon’s already planning another RAZR with even more words in the name. I kid, of course (does the name even matter? Everyone outside of the tech scene just calls every Android phone “the Droid” anyway), but I pick on the name because it’s pretty much the only thing we know at this point.

Spotted lurking in VZW’s inventory system by the guys at Droid-Life, it looks like the next handset in the DROID RAZR series will be the DROID RAZR MAXX.

Motorola just launched a phone (the HD XT928) in China last week that could pass as the RAZR’s twin, save for two big differences: it has a 720p screen (1280×720, while the original DROID RAZR comes in at 960×540), and a 13 megapixel camera (vs 8.) The current thought is that the HD XT928 and the Droid Razr Maxx are one in the same, though it’s all conjecture at this point.

Keep an eye out and let us know if you spot anything, won’t you?



Zynga COO John Schappert On Going Public, And What’s Coming Next

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 12:28 PM PST

John-Schappert

Zynga is still in its quiet period for another 24 days after going public yesterday, so chief operating officer John Schappert wouldn't answer my more specific questions about the company's future plans when I talked to him last night.

After opening up at an aggressively priced $10 per share, the company had a slight pop before closing down 5% yesterday. But as Schappert emphasizes to me in the interview below, ZNGA is here for the long-term and its investors should be thinking that way, too.

He adds some color to the roadshow video the company has been showing investors over the last couple weeks, discussing the company's expansion plans across social and mobile platforms, and internationally.

TechCrunch: Now you're public — congrats. What's changed now? How do you plan on spending the new money?

John Schappert: Like we talked about on the roadshow, we have a larger bank account to invest in future of gaming, notably social gaming, which we think is where play is headed.

When we think of growth, there are a few different areas. We're investing in existing games to drive bookings [revenue-generating events like the purchase of a virtual good]. We're also working to create new franchises and genres, like Castleville, which we recently launched on Facebook.

That also means more international expansion. We've just started localizing a year ago with CityVille.

TechCrunch: Can you tell me more about your specific approach to localizing by language, country or region?

John Schappert: I can’t go down to country. But CityVille launched a year ago, and it was our first game that was localized into five languages at launch.

Now, we launch in a dozen languages, and we continue to add more. We've built it into the engine.

Related to that, we're making progress with localizing payments. Two months ago, if you were in Europe and purchasing virtual goods in games, you were still buying in US dollars. Now you can buy in the euro and the pound.

International is an area we're going to continue to invest in.

TechCrunch: What about your plans for other platforms — mobile, Google Plus? You're now at 13 million mobile daily actives?

John Schappert: We've invested heavily. We've already talked about growing mobile by ten times to more than 11 million DAUs.

It's still early on Google Plus, we still have hopes that Google will continue to invest there. Hopefully it'll turn into a nice platform.

We're also on Tencent [a leading web copmany] in China. And they're like Google. They're very dedicated to it.

They're both big players with lots of audience, who we've built great social games for.

TechCrunch: Can you tell me any more about how Tencent is going — what are the early results, since it launched a few months ago?

John Schappert: I can’t give much detail on Tencent. It's still very early for us. We've spent a lot of time on localizing localize. even more with content. very early going for us.

But we're very proud about mobile. If you look at AppData, and at our Facebook DAU, and compare our mobile stats to our closest competitor on Facebook, you'll see that we compare quite favorably. We have new game engines on mobile coming out now for CityVille Hometown, FarmVille Express, Words With Friends….

I would say when we look at mobile, we don't separate by saying they're mobile not social. We create social games on every device, so you can play anywhere and everywhere.

TechCrunch: How do you expect ad revenue to grow versus virtual goods, which is currently the core of your business?

John Schappert: We can't provide any forward projections, but in the roadshow we talked about ads, how they've grown 160% — very fast. We do see it as a nice area of opportunity. engagement… all our s-1 stuff. We're reaching 227 million monthly active users. Big brands love that. We're partnered with Dreamworks for Kung Fu Panda, and lots of others.

We offer unique ways to integrate advertisers into games. Best Buy in Cityville was interacted with 110 million times.

TechCrunch: How do you feel about Google's efforts with Android, lately? It's not getting the same results for developers as iOS, even though it is getting bought like crazy.

John Schappert: Google is continuing to improve marketplace, continuing to invest and further develop it. There are also a lot of new devices, and more coming this holiday season with Kindle Fires and iPads and other tablets and phones showing up under Christmas trees.

The activation on all of this is pretty spectacular. I can't break out how Words With Friends is doing on the Kindle but it's a top mobile game. I mean, people play it even when they shouldn't on airplanes….

TechCrunch: What message do you have to investors after seeing how they reacted to your initial offering today?

John Schappert: Our message to investors one day in is the same as on the road. We look at this for the long-term, we're not making short-term decisions. It's not single day or single hour. We're looking at the long-term of play, the long-term of Zynga and connecting the world through games, and that's hopefully what people are investing in — the future of social gaming and play.

TechCrunch: How should people expect you to go about acquisitions and hiring now that you have all this new money in the bank? Are you looking at bigger companies to buy, for example?

John Schappert: People who are thinking about working at Zynga should go to our web site and apply. With respect to M&A, it remains the same — we're actively looking for great teams, studios, IP…. when we find those, it's a great add to our company. Conduit Labs built Adventure World, CastleVille is from Bonfire.

In terms of larger acquisitions? We're looking at a lot of different companies of all different sizes, and we'll see what makes sense.

TechCrunch: Any parting thoughts about what people should understand about Zynga today?

John Schappert: A lot of people watch things and don’t watch follow-up. But what we’re most proud of is follow-up. Our users stay engaged — we have five out of the five top games on Facebook today, and some of the titles are not new — and that's something very few people can say.

[Schappert avatar via Zynga.]



This Is Not The Net You Thought You Knew

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 11:11 AM PST

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You know how the Internet works, right? Of course you do: you’re a TechCrunch reader, a power user. You know what that “HTTP” means in your address bar (if you’re not using Chrome.) You know that behind the scenes, the Domain Name System translates your requests for domain names like techcrunch.com to numeric addresses like 76.74.254.121, and secure connections are encrypted by SSL. You know that web servers send HTML, the lingua franca of the Web, over the wires (or the air) to your computer, and that web developers write JavaScript to control what your browser does with it.

…Unless you’re actually a techie. In which case you probably already know that the above description — let’s call it the Classic Web — is increasingly completely false.

What follows is a little technical, but bear with me, I have a larger point. (Also, even if you’re not a techie yourself, you need to have some understanding of what today’s tech does, and how it does it, in order to make intelligent decisions.)

Why doesn’t Chrome show the iconic “http://” before web addresses any more? Because it, like Amazon’s Silk and soon Firefox, doesn’t necessarily use HTTP any more. Instead, where possible they use Google’s far-faster replacement, SPDY, which also lets servers push data to browsers, instead of having to wait for requests.

That Domain Name System? It’s increasingly actually DNSSEC, an extension which guards against the massive security holes in the original system.

And your so-called secure connections? Well, SSL was actually replaced by TLS some time ago, which fixed some security holes, but not the biggest: browsers automatically accept security certificates for any site from literally hundreds of different authorities, any of which can be, and often are, compromised. Yes, this is insane. The EFF’s Sovereign Keys initiative might eventually solve the problem; in the interim, Chrome is more secure than other browsers, because it lets site owners specify which certificates are OK.

(Do I sound like I’m telling you to use Chrome? Not exactly. I mostly use Firefox, because Chrome doesn’t support any equivalent of Firefox’s security- and sanity-enhancing NoScript plugin, and probably never will.)

As for JavaScript — sure, all browsers run it, but almost no developer writes pure JavaScript any more. Instead we use library frameworks like jQuery, which has more or less conquered the world, or use higher-level languages like CoffeeScript (which I dislike, for these among other reasons) or even Google’s contentious new language Dart, which both compiles to and is ultimately intended to replace JavaScript. Unfortunately, almost no one outside of Google seems to like it.

In Google’s defense, their new server-side language Go is widely admired — even though, ironically, it signally fails the “The name of your language makes it impossible to find on Google” test — and their Native Client tech is powerful and interesting. Alas, I can’t see any other browser supporting it anytime soon.

But at the end of the day, your browser is still mostly getting and rendering HTML, right? Don’t be so sure. For one thing, “vanilla” HTML is a smaller and smaller part of the average web page. For another, it’s increasingly HTML5, whatever that means.

What’s more, there’s an interesting trend towards web servers that serve no HTML at all. Battlefield 3′s “Battlelog” web site is pure JSON between client and server. My former co-worker Michael Dykman (whose co-workers generally, without provocation, suffixed his name with “the greatest programmer who ever lived”) has developed a pure XML/XSLT web framework, Gossamer: as its introductory rant says, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could handle page requests from web browsers with the same simple elegance the web service model provides?

The Classic Web is beginning to look like a kludge. Mostly because it was. Slowly, fitfully, three-steps-forward-two-steps-back, the tech community is finally refining it into something more secure, streamlined, and powerful. The last time something like this happened was when AJAX support hit modern browsers. Non-techies don’t realize it, but it was that innovation which ushered in Flickr, Google Maps, and the whole Web 2.0 boom. I expect HTML5 — greatly aided by the little-known back-end iterations I’ve tried to itemize above — to have a similar effect on the web and everything we do there.

Including, maybe, the much-foretold, long-forestalled decline and fall of the Empires of Apps. But more on that in next week’s column…

Image credit: QbiT, Flickr.



Gillmor Gang 12.17.11 (TCTV)

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 10:00 AM PST

Gillmore Gang test pattern

The Gillmor Gang — Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, John Taschek, and Steve Gillmor — celebrate the freeing of Heather Harde, the health of realtime, the obsolescence of Office, and the gamification of deep enterprise apps. It never ceases to amaze how some people rescue defeat from the jaws of victory, but Techcrunch’s loss of its business leader is our gain.

As @scobleizer shows on his undulating realtime screens, Techcrunch past present and future continues to be at the bleeding edge of the social wave. Just as Microsoft continues to box itself into an innovation-free corner and give disruptive energy room to thrive, so too does AOL watch value flow from editorial through the technologies it uncrunched and onto the social mobile platform. As the crowd of another era shouted, the whole world is watching. The revolution will be streamed.

@stevegillmor, @scobleizer, @kevinmarks, @jtaschek
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor



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