Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

“Twitter For Audio” App Spreaker Now Live On Android

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 10:45 AM PST


About a month after its iOS debut, the self-described “Twitter for audio” app Spreaker is now publicly launching Android. The app, which lets users broadcast live over the Internet, is a DIY broadcasting/podcasting solution with social sharing mechanisms built in. You connect the app to your Twitter and Facebook accounts to broadcast live as a status update. Afterwards, you can download the MP3 created to publish it as a proper podcast complete with music and sound effects.

The Spreaker app is unique in that it streams audio in 128 kilobits and includes features like live chat and Skype call-in, in addition to social sharing. There’s also an online web platform that lets you edit the recording, insert sound effects and add background music from a library of pre-licensed content. The finished podcasts can then be downloaded as MP3 files or you can use the  iTunes-compatible RSS feed to syndicate elsewhere.

The freemium service offers two paid levels (Gold and Premium) starting at $19.90. These provide more storage, bandwidth and air time while also eliminating ads. The free version is monetized through Spreaker’s ad partners.

Spreaker reminds me of an app I toyed with in the past, Cinchcast, which had the similar goals of democratizing access to podcasting. But Cinch has since gone B2B, with a heavy focus on business-level tools like analytics, while pitching its services as ideal for corporate communications, meetings and events, marketing, e-learning and the like. Spreaker, however, is meant to be a consumer-facing service.

Podcasts, sadly, are often the forgotten child in the iTunes universe. They’re difficult to monetize for the average user in most cases, and that doesn’t get any easier when they have to compete with the production values of professional content creators. Maybe Spreaker can bring a renewed interest in podcasts. Or maybe no one really finds the average user’s thoughts all that compelling?

The new Android app is available here.

Disney’s Bart Decrem On “Where’s My Water?” And Their Approach To Mobile

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 10:43 AM PST


Disney’s alligator-centric Where’s My Water game made a bit of a splash when it launched in Apple’s App Store this past September, and not for the reasons you may be thinking of.

Sure, it turned out to be a popular mobile pastime (it unseated Angry Birds from its perch atop the Top 25 list for three weeks), but there’s more to it than that. Swampy, the game’s reptilian hero, is the first original character that Disney has developed specifically for a mobile platform.

The company still has high hopes for Where’s My Water, not only because it’s the company’s first original IP for the mobile space, but also because of what its success means for Disney’s vision for the mobile gaming experience. According to Disney Mobile GM Bart Decrem, more and more “guests” — Disney’s name for their consumers — are turning towards smartphones and tablets as their primary source of entertainment.

Disney’s new job then is to create compelling stories and characters that fit not only onto smaller screens, but also into more hectic lifestyles.

“We want to create engagements within the span of a minute,” he said. That isn’t to say that those engagements should lack depth: most Where’s My Water levels can be completed in around a minute, but Decrem’s team has added secrets and easter eggs to reward users for spending more time with the game.

I’ve alluded before to the fact that Where’s My Water was never intended to stay solely on the small screen, and Decrem confirms that the multimedia push is coming.

Swampy’s popularity both inside and outside Disney has paved the way for his migration into other media. According to Bart Decrem, Where’s The Water merchandise will soon see the light of day, and Disney.com and YouTube will be partnering up for a string of Swampy backstory videos. He offered no specifics on when that multimedia push will kick off, but he did mention in passing that he appreciates Rovio’s sense for “doing things at the right time.”

That could be the rationale behind the company’s recent announcement: Disney wants to push Where’s My Water into a whole new set of eyes today with the release of a free version of the game. Far from just being a trimmed-down “lite” version of the original app, Disney Mobile instead designed ten new levels for the free version, and will be rolling out another ten as a promotional campaign over the next few days.

As it turns out, the decision to design a free version from the ground up was an easy one for the team to make. Decrem feels that “lite” versions of games are tacky and too focused on the upsell. Developers should focus on creating quality products without business considerations — your mileage may vary on that one, but it’s a formula that he ultimately feels led to a better product. For a company that has looked to mobile as an incubator for new IPs, keeping those burgeoning franchises in people’s minds can be crucial.

So what’s next for Disney Mobile? They’ve got at least one more original IP that will debut on Android and iOS next year, and Decrem says he wants to create a “how did they do that?” experience. If Decrem and Disney Mobile can prove that the mobile space can help nurture new brands, Rovio may have to keep their eyes peeled. Everyone wants to claim their crown, but Disney may have enough money and manpower to really do it.

Brandstack Pulled From The Deadpool, Acquired By DesignCrowd

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 10:30 AM PST


When design marketplace Brandstack was shuttered last month (with the founder blaming credit card fraud), we figured that was the end of the story. Little did I know things were about to go all M. Night Shyamalan with a last minute plot twist.

DesignCrowd, an Australian design crowdsourcing platform that raised $3 million last month, has just announced that they’ve acquired Brandstack and will integrate it into their service (essentially rescuing Brandstack from the deadpool.)

DesignCrowd has just relaunched the product as BrandCrowd, with each leg of the company offering a slightly different service. With DesignCrowd, anyone looking for a design (be it a logo, web layout, business cards, whatever) can create a project request and set a budget while designers make bids and pitch their work. With BrandCrowd, designers offer up their pre-made designs (often brands paired with domain names) for pre-set prices. Same end goal (designers sell, users get designs), differing approaches. In the new year, DesignCrowd says they plan to integrate the two services more closely.

Neither company is revealing the exact details of the acquisition, but I’m hearing that the final price is somewhere in the six-figure range. That may not be mansion and yacht money, but it’s a whole lot better than closing the doors and walking away empty handed.

Making the news even better: in what they call an “immediate gesture of goodwill”, DesignCrowd is repaying all of the Brandstack designers who went unpaid when the site was suddenly and unexpectedly shut down. It’s a happy ending for everyone!

Kayak Consolidates iPhone And iPad Apps; Updates UI, Adds Trip Itineraries And More

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 10:00 AM PST


Kayak is announcing a major update to its iPad app today. The travel search giant has made its iPhone and iPad apps universal, adding a bunch of new features to the tablet version of the app.

The free app has gotten a huge UI makeover, with redesigned flight and hotel search, including an easier to use calendar. The app has been totally redesigned in terms of layout. Kayak has also added car rental search, the ability to integrate Kayak’s trip planning features, and a new autofill assistant helps you complete your purchase on airline and hotel web sites.

Kayak says that while its iPhone app has been the most popular in terms os usage, the iPad app has been on par with its Android app in terms of usage.

The company recently revealed in a new S-1 filing that revenue and profits are both up. Kayak’s IPO is on hold until market conditions improve but it should be interesting to see if the travel search giant can continue to grow.

First Round Capital Wins The Internet With Its Holiday Video

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:49 AM PST

Screen Shot 2011-12-20 at 10.30.25 AM

Okay (First Round Managing Partner Josh) Kopelman, you win.

Every year VC firm First Round Capital gets creative with its holiday video. Its previous video holiday greetings have been riffs on Les Misérables, the Old Spice commercial and dancing through the worst of times.

This year? A parody Rebecca Black’s cult hit “Friday,” performed by First Round portfolio companies like Path, TaskRabbitGet Satisfaction, Mashery and Birchbox. ”VCs in the front seat, VCs in the back seat/First Round you only get one First Round, Everybody’s looking forward to the journey …”

Seriously Josh and team, this is just adorable. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next year you big cheeseballs.

Myriad Alien Vue Brings Android Apps To Your TV Without The Extra Hardware

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:58 AM PST


Myriad Group is probably best known for creating a solution that brings Android apps to some decidedly non-Android devices, and it looks like the Zurich-based company has set their sights on app-ifying yet another screen in your life: your television.

Sorry tweakers, this isn’t the sort of thing you’ll spend a weekend hacking together. Rather, Myriad’s new Alien Vue software (powered by the now familiar Alien Dalvik) is meant for television service providers looking for a bit of an edge against the robust media experiences that Google and Apple can deliver.

Don’t expect unfettered access to the Android Market, though: a Myriad rep tells me that Alien Vue is only compatible with about 80% of the Android apps that are available in the Market. Alien Vue is also compatible with HTML5 web apps, and plays especially well with Android apps that were designed for use with Google TV. Service providers can customize and rebrand their own Alien Vue individual app stores too, and it seems that the app selection will remain consistent even across companies.

According to Myriad, use of the Alien Vue service doesn’t require any additional hardware beyond your existing set-top box, though the service does play nice with Android tablets if you were looking to control your media while skimming TechCrunch.

Some television providers have already played with the concept of delivering apps to customers (DIRECTV comes to mind), but in those cases, apps have to be specifically written for that platform. That in and of itself isn’t a huge stumbling block, as apps on TV are still likely to be seen as more of a novelty than an actual desired feature. Still, being able to capitalize on apps that already have established audiences is an interesting twist, especially when those apps are being delivered from your cable company instead of a hardware vendor.

It’s an ambitious idea (and one I never expected from Myriad), but we’ll have to see how well it performs if/when a television provider decides to run with it in the coming months.

In Which We Reveal The Top CES 2012 Trends Without Breaking Embargoes

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:53 AM PST


CES 2012 is going to be a crapshoot of predictable products. How do we know? Meetings, lots and lots of pre-show meetings. Like previous shows, Apple will not be present in person but still has a major presence. Consumer electronic companies are seemingly trying to build product lines and feature sets that compete directly with current and future Apple products. It’s as if these companies are prematurely releasing items just to head off Apple. The iPad took them by surprise and they’re not going to let that happen again — even if that means announcing and releasing half-baked products.

So, what can we expect to see at CES this year? What are we going to cover live at the show? Read on.

MacBook Air Clones

First up, every computer company will debut several ultrabook models. These slim notebooks will drop into both business and consumer product lines. Most computer companies’ ultrabooks fit within Intel’s definition of the product as an ultra thin notebook void of optical drives and built around a mobile Intel chipset. However, the term “ultra” looks to be a major buzz word next year as it’s used in other product names as well just without the word “book” following it.

Larger screened ultrabooks are also on tap. Look for 14-inch and larger models. Just like it we predicted, many of these models feature prices lower than current models and in some cases, dramatically lower. 2012 will be the year of the ultrabook, for better or worse.

So-called Smart HDTVs

Google chairman Eric Schmidt previously stated that by the summer of 2012, “the majority of television you see will have Google TV embedded in it.” At the time the Schmidt’s comment was certainly laughable given the sorry state of Google TV adoption. But that’s set to change with CES 2012 where his statement will be somewhat validated.

From what we’ve seen, several major manufacturers will debut Android powered HDTVs that feature little to no Google TV 2.0 design elements. We’re not sure how much Google TV underpins these smart TVs, but the majority of what we’ve seen has been labeled as Android TV, not Google TV.

The companies debuting smart TVs at CES are seemingly determined to get the jump on Apple this time around. If Apple is in fact releasing a smart HDTV product in 2012, these companies will be ready with their own models built around Android. Ironically, since there are several such TVs coming from different manufacturers, the smart TV market might collapse prematurely under the weight of half-baked models all trying to outdo an Apple HDTV that doesn’t even exist yet.

Android Tabs And More

Even with the Kindle Fire currently getting all the attention, the Asus Eee Transformer line is the Android fanboy favorite. The original Transformer tablet was cheaper than others, featured great specs and, most importantly, a keyboard dock that turned that tablet into an Android netbook of sorts. Now, a year later, several other manufacturers will debut their own take on the dockable product. They’re all about the same: slim casing, quad-core, ICS. The keyboard docks add additional I/O ports and an additional battery.

Predictably, these tablets and the others we’ve seen, mostly run on quad-core platforms with the Nvidia Tegra 3 as the clear favorite. Ice Cream Sandwich is of course present, and most of the tabs are set to ship within the early months of 2012 at $399 to $499 price points.

Voice Control Is The Unwanted Future

A smaller but still notable trend for the 2012 CES involves Siri clones inside new product types. Using off the shelf systems, companies have developed “me too” voice controls. From what we’ve seen, none best Apple’s system in any way but the sheer numbers state that, for better or worse, voice controls will be a major trend next year. And since many perform worse that Apple’s system, consumers will no doubt instantly discredit the usefulness of voice controls in general.

Several smart TV concepts have optional voice controls. Using a mic embedded in a remote, viewers are supposedly able to control certain functions with just their voice. We haven’t seen any demos but the company’s limited descriptions lends us to believe that the feature set is very limited and is probably more of a novelty than a useful feature.

But don’t fret, friends. CES 2012 will be huge. We didn’t ruin all the fun. We’re still going to be there, reporting with a constant live video stream. It will be the biggest collection of exciting gadgets and tantalizing products assembled to date. Items like voice controls and smart TVs will likely fade to obscurity shortly afterwards, just as 3DTVs did last year. The real star of CES is the odd, unusual, and paradigm-busting item that defies the popular trends. That’s why we love CES.

Tune in Sunday, January 8th (around 4:00 PST) as we kick off our live video coverage of the 2012 International CES. Like previous years, we’re going to livestream all of our tomfoolery as we roam the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. There will be giveaways, tweetups and, of course, a drinking game. It will be great fun for all.

Casio Cancels Its CES 2012 Press Conference

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:43 AM PST


Hopefully you weren’t looking forward to Casio’s CES 2012 press conference. It’s not going happen. The Japanese manufacturer just sent us a note indicating that while they will still be at the show, “we are not prepared yet to announce our future plans.”

Casio used an 45 minute long press conference to announce several cameras at CES 2011. The highlight, at least in Casio’s eyes, was in-camera and online picture editing tools that attempts to simulate HDR modes. CES 2012′s press was originally scheduled for 1:00 pm on Monday, January 9th. Seeing how many outlets were left underwhelmed by last year’s odd demos of crappy picture modes (full video here), it’s not that surprising that Casio pulled its upcoming press conference if the company wasn’t fully ready.

Thank you for not wasting our time, Casio. Thank you.

(Founder Stories) Charity: Water’s Harrison, “We Were Going To Run Out Of Money In Five Weeks”

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:19 AM PST

Founder Stories Charity Water 2.mov

As the founder of Charity: Water, Scott Harrison has overseen substantial growth since launching his non-profit five years ago. He tells Founder Stories host, Chris Dixon that since 2006 Charity: Water has raised “about $50-million” and “helped 2-million people” gain access to clean water.

However, just eighteen months in things were a bit rocky. Harrison says the organization was dangerously off-balance and was “going to run out of money in five weeks.” Donors were supplying his non-profit with cash, but earmarking it specifically for water projects. Funding for staff was bone dry.

At the 11th hour, something unexpected happened. Bebo, founder Michael Birch and his wife agreed to meet with Harrison. Harrison says Birch “absolutely shocked me two days later by wiring a million bucks to the account with a kind of note, you know saying, here build the business.”

And build he has -

Harrison says Charity: Water has grown at “100% this year in a tough economy” but points out, “no one who works at Charity: Water is motivated by money.” He adds, “our shareholders [are] 8-year old school children in Bangladesh who aren’t in school because they’ve gotta get water for 4 hours in the morning and then do it again in the afternoon, so that keeps us going.”

Make sure to watch this entire video to hear more of Harrison’s insights and be sure to catch-up on episode I of this interview here. Episode III is coming up.

Past Founder Stories interviews featuring Mayor Bloomberg, Billy Chasen, Kevin O’Conner, Kevin Ryan and many other founders are here.

Brightkite Winds Down, Says It Will Come Back With ‘Something Better’ (Again)

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:14 AM PST


Remember Brightkite? Launched with the help of TechStars back in August 2007, the location-based ‘check-in’ service once rivaled the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla, but never really got the traction it needed to keep on competing and win the day: the startup killed the check-in functionality about a year ago to focus on group texting.

It’s been quiet about Brightkite ever since, and the company’s two founders moved on long before the pivot to group texting was announced, starting a new venture dubbed Forkly (our review).

Now, a reader tells us, it appears Brightkite (which remained the name even after their 2009 merger with Limbo) is changing course again. The company’s mobile apps are no longer available on the App Store or Android Market, and the website displays only a logo and this not super-reassuring text:

This is not goodbye… we’re just moving on to something better.
Watch this space. We have an update coming soon.

I hate to say it, but can’t resist the pun: looks like the future isn’t going to be Brightkite.

I’d get in touch with Brightkite to see what’s up and if we can deadpool them yet, but I frankly don’t know who could answer that question, or how to contact anyone at the company for that matter.

Don’t Let Your Company’s Sound Be Stolen, Trademark It With Trademarkia

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:02 AM PST

Trademarkia Sound Logo

Most people don’t realize you can trademark sounds. Intel’s chimes, Yahoo’s yodel, and Taco Bell’s bell toll are all locked down, but only about 700 sound trademarks exist. That means the signature sounds of tons of companies could be stolen and trademarked by squatters. That includes an app’s boot up noise, a sound from a commercial, or a pronunciation of a company’s name. Bootstrapped trademark registration startup Trademarkia can help. It just launched a sound trademark service where you can listen to existing trademarks and apply for your own.

Trademarkia has grown into one of the top 5 legal sites on the web. Launched at TechCrunch 50 in 2009, its sales will soon cross $50 million, and it now counts 3 million page views a month and 1.5 million uniques a month. It allows people to register, oppose, and monitor trademarks and more.

Trademarkia went to a lot of trouble to create its sound trademark service. It digitized the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s catalog of analog sound trademarks, and hired musicians to re-record those from up to 70 years ago that only had a description. It’s actually the first company to ever digitize sound trademarks.

The company’s CEO Raj Abhyanker tells me that “before today, only large companies who had sophisticated trademark attorneys registered sound trademarks. Many trademark attorneys don’t even know you can. Tens of thousands of businesses use sounds to identify themselves without trademarking them. It leaves them exposed.” So if you use a unique sound to identify your company or product, pay a few hundred bucks through Trademarkia and buy the legal rights to it.

Report: Older Gamers Buy More Virtual Goods Than Younger Counterparts

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST


Mobile gaming community MocoSpace is releasing the results of a new study focused on virtual goods consumption and engagement by age. The report found younger gamers (25-35) spend the most time playing social games, but gamers over 45 years of age buy exponentially more virtual goods than their younger counterparts. The study surveyed nearly 500,000 gamers on MocoSpace's network of 22 million users.

Basically, MocoSpace is reporting that age directly correlates with amount of money spent on virtual goods within social games. The older the gamer, the more virtual goods were purchased. Gamers over 35 years of age, who made up 18 percent of gamers surveyed, were responsible for 42 percent of all virtual goods spending. In contrast, 18- to 25-year-olds, who made up 43 percent of those surveyed, were responsible for only 18 percent of virtual goods purchases.

The report shows that the 25- to 35-year-old is by far the most active social gaming demographic, spending nearly twice as much time gaming as any other group. Those 45 and older spent the least amount of time playing games.

Interestingly, a trend emerged from the study showing younger gamers are less likely to spend on virtual goods, while older gamers are much more likely to buy that sword or shield to advance in a game. Of course, it’s important to consider that older demographics may have more disposable income, or a desire to progress further within games via virtual goods to save time.

The results also highlight that different monetization methods may work for different age groups. If younger gamers spend the most time, an advertising-driven model may be more profitable than a purely virtual goods-based approach.

MocoSpace is backed by SoftBank, and has raised $10.5 million in funding.

Razer Pulls In $50 Million In Capital From IDG And Accel

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:58 AM PST


Gaming hardware company Razer has been on our radar for quite a long time: they’ve made high-end gaming peripherals like mice and keyboards for years, and have recently expanded into more esoteric devices and game-specific partnerships. They’ve been running under their own steam this whole time as what’s called a “successful business,” but they’ve decided to take a big funding round to expand their reach.

IDG-Accel, specifically their joint China Capital Fund, has chipped in to the tune of $50 million, a minority investment that allows the fund to join the board at Razer, and allows Razer to expand further into the whole-systems business, something that requires considerably more R&D and space to manage.

Razer tells us that the new money and board member shouldn’t affect day-to-day operation, and says the investment was “fairly straightforward,” though they wouldn’t say whether it was contingent on any goals, markets, or products.

The money will largely be used for R&D, particularly in gaming user interfaces and systems. The company has been putting more effort into partnership deals, like World of Warcraft branded mice and keyboards, and most recently they put out a full-on gaming laptop, the Blade, with a built-in touchscreen and LCD keys among other things. Presumably more systems like this or product partnerships with larger OEMs will be enabled by the cash infusion.

And the fact that the fund is China-focused is not trivial; the Chinese gaming market is exploding and is considerably more PC-based than the US and Japan, where consoles are more popular. PC gaming is the primordial ooze from which Razer emerged, and although it is still going strong here, it’s going stronger in China and Razer likely senses the magnitude of the opportunity.

Intuit GoPayment Now Allows Merchants To Receive Money On A Prepaid Visa Card

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:53 AM PST

Intuit GoPayment

Intuit has made an interesting move today with its mobile credit card reader GoPayment reader. Intuit is allowing merchants to keep and receive funds on a prepaid credit card as opposed to depositing the amount in a bank account.

Launched two years ago, GoPayment offers a complimentary app and credit card reader to allow small businesses to conduct charges via their smartphones. GoPayment, which competes directly with Square, is available for iOS, Android and Blackberry phones and the card reader simply plugs into the audio jack of a phone or tablet. The credit card data is also encrypted, (and never stored on the phone).

Similar to Square, the GoPayment mobile payment app is free and the basic service has no monthly, transaction or cancellation fees, and offers a 2.7 percent rate for swiped transactions. Intuit and Square actually both eliminated the per transaction fee.

With the Intuit GoPayment Prepaid Visa Card, merchants and retailers can have the funds they collect with GoPayment deposited into their GoPayment Card account. They can then use the card to make payments online, in stores and withdraw cash at ATMs everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

So who does this arrangement work for? For smaller businesses or individuals who don't have a business bank account and still want to conveniently separate the money they make with GoPayment from their personal finances, this could be a good option. Using the prepaid card can also help merchants start accepting payments quickly as there is no bank account required to sign up. Those who prefer using a business or personal bank account can still choose to have their funds deposited into their bank account. And for the millions of U.S. consumers who are “unbanked,” a prepaid Visa card allows them to accept payments for a business without a bank account.

This makes GoPayment especially friendly for fledgling entrepreneurs or businesses who want to accept payments but don’t have a business bank account.

Fly Or Die: The New New Twitter

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:49 AM PST

Twitter Fly Or Die-tc_upload.mp4

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a new, new Twitter world out there and we’re just living in it. The new Twitter interface is very, for lack of a better word, “appy” and although the desktop apps are abysmal, the website is pretty strong and interesting. This week Erick and I take a closer look at this improvement and assess its value in our lives.

Changing a web interface is a big deal and it seems that companies are no longer squeamish about mixing things up. It’s interesting, as well, to see Twitter head towards the tablet-style interface as more and more Tweeters head off the desktop and go mobile.

Amazon Saves Christmas With Free Expedited Shipping For The Kindle And Thousands Of Other Items

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:47 AM PST


Last minute Christmas shoppers, take notice. Amazon has your back. The online retailer announced free expedited shipping on many items. Stop procrastinating and get your Christmas shopping done. Or wait a bit longer. The cut-off is tomorrow night anyway.

Order by 8 pm PT on December 21 for free two-day shipping on the $79 Kindle, $99 Kindle Touch, $149 Kindle Touch 3G and $199 Kindle Fire. Amazon is already selling the product family at a rate of more than 1 million units per week and this offer will likely up that count. To take advantage of the offer, shoppers simply need to add the desired Kindle to their shopping cart.

But if the Kindle isn’t on your shopping list, Amazon has an even more tempting offer involving free one-day shipping. The offer only applies to a limited selection of items, but if the order is placed by 11:59 pm PT on December 21, Amazon will throw in free one-day shipping. The expedited shipping will mostly likely get the item to its location with plenty of time for wrapping before Christmas morning.

I say you put off buying your significant other’s gift just a little bit longer. You’ve already waited this long so why not wait a bit longer? Thankfully both of these offers expire tomorrow evening. That leaves plenty of time for more procrastination, right? I mean, you have plenty of time to take advantage of these offers. 36 hours is, like, forever.

Healthbox: Chicago’s New Health-Focused Startup Accelerator Debuts Its Inaugural Batch

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:42 AM PST


Is healthcare the industry that represents the next big opportunity for startups? Many are starting to believe it is, especially considering the fact that U.S. healthcare is currently a $2 trillion business. With technology beginning to play an increasingly vital role in healthcare and the health industry, disruption of legacy systems and an in-with-the-new approach has come to the fore for entrepreneurs looking for big opportunities in areas where they can add some serious real-world value. And what better way to help jumpstart these new health businesses than with business accelerators focused solely on healthcare? Bring them on, we say.

Rock Health is off to a good start with its health-focused accelerator, announcing its second batch of killer startups last week. And now Chicago-based Sandbox Industries is launching its own health-y startup accelerator, called

Healthbox is set to launch its three-month accelerator program on January 9, 2012 and will be seeding the 10 companies it has chosen from over 200 applications with $50,000 equity investments (for a 7 percent stake). The 10 teams will share space and collaborate at the accelerator’s headquarters in Chicago, where they will be given access to an expert network of entrepreneurs, investors, and experts, a collaborative workspace, as well as forums led by these experts and investors, geared towards educating startups on partnerships, product development, and so on.

Like Y Combinator, TechStars, and others before it, Healthbox’s program will culminate with an “Investor Day”, where startups will have the opportunity to pitch their businesses to a targeted group of health-focused investors.

Healthbox has already forged industry-specific partnerships with providers like BlueCross Blue Shield, as well as with foundations and venture firms like California HealthCare Foundation, HLM Venture Partners, and corporations like Walgreens.

So, without further ado, here is a brief introduction to the first 10 startups that will be taking part in Healthbox’s inaugural batch:

PUSH Wellness (Chicago) is an outcomes-based wellness incentive provider that drives behavior change in health factors that are meaningful, measurable and modifiable, producing tangible benefits for participants and employers.

PaJR-Patient Journey Record (Dublin) uses a cloud-based system with machine learning capabilities to identify patients at high risk of re-admission using patient and caregiver self-reported health status.

SwipeSense (Evanston) is hand-washing 2.0, arming healthcare providers with a portable hand-sanitation device in combination with realtime data analytics in order to increase compliance and reduce hospital-acquired infections.

CareWire (Minneapolis) is a patient engagement solution that utilizes automated patient text messaging to increase billable appointment yield, visualize patient satisfaction in near-real-time, and improve provider performance.

The Coupon Doc (Atlanta) provides an easy-to-use, centralized platform that allows consumers to access manufacturer discounts on their prescription and OTC medications.

Corengi (Seattle) connects qualified patients with ongoing clinical research studies through a comprehensive online platform. Patients are able to quickly distill relevant studies, trial sponsors are able to reduce costly delays and medical innovation is accelerated.

Iconic Data (Georgia) delivers a cloud-based patient list manager solution that provides physicians access to near-real-time snapshots of clinical care episodes across disparate, non-integrated facilities, resulting in increased charge capture and reduced inefficiencies.

UnitedPreference (Princeton) offers employers a Tailored Spend™ payments network that allows health plans to improve participation in preventative health initiatives via branded prepaid cards that can be used to purchase items determined by the health plans.

DermLink (Atherton) is a cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant application that enables remote diagnosis of dermatology cases, dramatically reducing wait times for patients while driving increased revenue and flexibility for providers.

CareHubs (Oregon) is a healthcare enterprise social platform that offers dynamic, innovative tools to help patients and healthcare providers better connect, coordinate and engage.

Apple Reportedly Finalizes Deal With Flash Memory Company Anobit

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:41 AM PST


It seemed last week like Apple was eyeing up flash memory technology company Anobit for a potential purchase, and now word from Israeli news outlet Calcalist is that the multi-million dollar deal has been finalized.

While Anobit has already broken the news to their employees, many of the deal’s salient details are still unknown to outsiders. There’s still no word on exactly how much Apple paid in the acquisition aside from the vague “400 to 500 million” price tag mentioned last week, and 9to5mac’s sources mention that Anobit’s executive team haven’t yet been formally introduced to Apple employees.

As my colleague Robin pointed out when news of the deal first broke, Anobit’s flash memory solutions center around the company’s memory signal processing technology, which are designed to “improve the speed, endurance and performance of flash storage systems while driving down the cost.” Considering that a sizable portion of Apple’s product lines rely on solid-state flash memory, it’s a smart move from the folks at Cupertino.

Anobit’s memory solutions already appear in a handful of Apple’s product lines, with the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air being prime among them. With consumers expecting more and more from their iDevices every year, the onus is on Apple to keep up with never-ending expectations for increased memory and reliability. If the reports pan out (and I imagine we’ll get official confirmation one way or the other before long), bringing Anobit in-house means they’re taking the issue pretty seriously, especially with rumors of an all-SSD line of Macs making the rounds.

Though neither Apple nor Anobit have officially commented on the purchase, word of the deal has already worked its way to the top of the Israeli government: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (or at least his social media rep) welcomed Apple to Israel from his official Twitter account.

A thoughtful gesture, sure, but it’s still unknown whether or not the prime minister actually knows that the deal is solid, or if he’s working off the same reports as everyone else is.

After Years Of Patent Litigation, Nuance Acquires Vlingo

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:19 AM PST


In what Vlingo CEO Dave Grannan calls a ‘good outcome’ on Twitter, the voice-to-text technology company has just been acquired by speech recognition king Nuance.

Notably, Nuance has repeatedly sued Vlingo over patent infringement – and tried to acquire them – in the past, and Grannan once referred to competing with Nuance as “having a venereal disease that’s in remission”.

Vlingo even bought patents and eventually countersued Nuance to fend them off.

Anyway, the deal is done: Nuance is buying the company for an undisclosed sum, and says it allows them to combine their innovation and R&D expertise in the field of natural language interfaces.

Vlingo has been likened by some as a ‘Siri for Android’, offering voice-enabled Virtual Assistant apps for a wide range of mobile devices (not just Android phones but also Nokia, iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Phone handsets) that turn spoken words into a variety of actions.

For what it’s worth, Vlingo says it’s way better than Siri. And the elephant in the room is of course that Siri is almost certainly powered by Nuance technology. And that Nuance offers Dragon Go.

Founded in 2006, Vlingo was backed by Charles River Ventures, Sigma Partners, Yahoo and AT&T.

Hands-On With The Swivl Motion-Tracking Camera Dock

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:00 AM PST

We saw an early version of Swivl a month or so ago and the $159 device is now ready to ship. It’s basically a camera dock with a twist. Instead of holding your camera still, the Swivl will follow you around the room, tracking you as you move around on stage or in front of an audience. Why is it good? Well, it keeps the camera on you at all times and, more important, you can control the swivel speed and tilt using a small hand-held remote, thereby turning you into a one-man (or one-woman) film crew.

Swivl’s utility, while limited to a few specific use cases, is quite impressive. It can, for example, record on-stage presentations with ease, following you from one side of the stage to the other with aplomb. It can also grab tracking shots at multiple speeds, from slow to lightning fast.

The kit is shipping soon and is available for pre-order now. They are working on a number of improvements including a computer controlled system that will allow you to program motions into the Swivl, allowing for clever pans and tilts.

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