Inq Mobile, one of the first companies to build a Facebook phone, announced that it has shut down with a message on its site (h/t Android Police). The U.K.-based, Hutchison Whampoa-backed company didn’t say why it decided to close. We’ve emailed them for more information.
Inq, which was founded in 2008 and pivoted a year ago to focus on mobile software, said it will no longer update Material and SO.HO, its apps. Material, a news reader, released its final editions on Jan. 28, while social media aggregator SO.HO will not be updated after today, though it will continue to function. Support pages for the Cloud Touch smartphone and Inq’s featurephones remain on its site.
The timing of Inq’s closure and Material’s shutdown is interesting because several of tech’s largest companies have recently started to offer their own news apps and tools. These include Yahoo’s News Digest; Twitter and CNN’s Dataminr; and Paper by Facebook, which will launch next month.
Inq Mobile began as a maker of low-priced Android smartphones. It was one of the first companies that collaborated with Facebook to create a social smartphone in 2011, around the same time HTC and the social network struck the partnership that yielded the Salsa and ChaCha.
Inq’s Cloud Touch, which was released exclusively in the UK three years ago, had a custom Facebook wrapper built on top of Android, and an early version of SwiftKey. Though cheaply priced (starting at $50 with a subsidized contract), the Cloud Touch couldn’t compete with Samsung’s rapid takeover of the Android market. The company pivoted and started developing mobile apps one year ago.
Material, which TechCrunch covered when it launched its iOS version in August, was a social magazine app that used Inq’s “interest extraction engine” to look at the Facebook and Twitter accounts of users and figure out what kind of articles they wanted to see. Content was delivered in two daily editions.
Inq CEO and co-founder Ken Johnstone told TechCrunch at the time that Material differentiated from other news readers by offering an easier set-up than its rivals because all users needed to do to power Material’s algorithms was connect their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
“For somebody who has invested a lot of time in Twitter and Facebook anyway, this is about getting a return on that investment,” Johnstone told TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas.
Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook’s news aggregation products all feature some human curation, but, like Material, they also rely heavily on algorithms to customize content for each user. Inq had planned to monetize Material by harvesting enough data to build an advertising business, but its failure to do may be a cautionary tale for other developers of news readers, even as they continue to rethink how content is organized.
Though algorithms are necessary if a news aggregator wants to scale up (and collect enough data to be profitable), they still can’t replace the discernment of a human editor. Like Feedly, Pulse, and Zite, Material’s customized content stream suffered from problems like miscategorized stories, irrelevant content, and “the overall feeling you get from flicking through an edition is not a cohesive, editorially unified whole, but an algorithmically generated bunch of mostly random stories with (at best) a few loose, overlapping themes,” as Natasha put it.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Apple has had a patent approved today (via AppleInsider) that could make it a leader in a new kind of display material technology: Sapphire glass. The patent describes various methods for attaching sapphire crystal to electronic devices, and includes a description of how it does this with the sapphire glass covering the iPhone camera lens introduced with the iPhone 5, as well as a means for attaching sapphire as a cover for the whole display.
In the past, the iPhone has used Gorilla Glass to protect its screen (though some believe it may have stopped recently); Apple championed this tech and basically made its maker Corning the default choice for smartphone OEMs looking for a tough, scratch-resistant material to use to protect their screens. But last year, Apple made a $578 million bet on sapphire (which is used often in good watches) with GT Advanced Technologies to have it build a manufacturing plant for the material in Arizona.
When the deal was announced, our own Matthew Panzarino took a closer look at the investment, and at what sapphire glass could provide Apple. Sapphire, including the lab grown variety, is much tougher, more resistant to scratches, and more resistant to breakage after scratches than even Gorilla Glass, which has a strong reputation in all those arenas. It’s heavier, too, but would potentially allow Apple to use thinner pieces for both space and weight savings.
Of course, there are also existing needs at Apple for sapphire glass, including the iPhone camera lens and the new Touch ID-compatible home button, which many expect to make its way to other Apple devices including the iPad eventually. But the patent uses an iPhone-type device as its illustrative example, and specifically states that while the gadget depicted is a “smart phone,” the techniques described could be used on any number of devices. A smartwatch might be a good target case, for example, given that Apple has been rumored to have been working on one for some time, and that sapphire is a very common case material used in the manufacture of watches from most leading brands.
The patent itself details ways in which the sapphire material could be attached to the shell or casing of an electronic device, with examples in illustrations detailing jigsaw-type and tounge-and-groove mechanics for keeping the glass firmly in place.
At this stage, it’s more likely that Apple is simply laying the groundwork for a potential shift to sapphire in its phones and other devices a considerable way down the road, rather than tipping its hand for any immediately upcoming change in how its devices are made, but this patent demonstrates that it is indeed thinking in terms of smartphone displays and other applications that go beyond its current uses of the material.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
While attaching one thing to another is a fairly basic process – epoxy is still a thing, after all – what do you use if you want to occasionally remove that thing from the other thing? The answer? Magnets. And Sugru.
Sugru, the rubbery, self-hardening material that allows you to fix nearly anything, is planning on offering a very simple connection kit for hardware hackers. It comes with four magnets and a bunch of Sugru. To use it you simply create a little mountain of Sugru, stick a magnet inside, and attach it to one surface. Then you do the same for the other surface. Once the material hardens, the magnets will hold your stuff together without slipping.
The kits will cost $16 when the company begins making them this year and they are offering pre-orders now. While this definitely isn’t rocket science – any yutz can buy some magnets – it looks like the folks at Sugru have thought this through and are offering just the right magnets and just the right material for an ideal experience. In short, it looks pretty Sugreat.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Material is a social magazine app powered by Twitter and/or Facebook usage. It’s the latest project from INQ, the U.K.-based, Hutchison Whampoa backed company that used to build social phones — way before everyone started embedding Facebook. And before Samsung became big enough to gobble up most of the Android OEM lunch.
INQ announced its pivot away from hardware to software at the start of this year, launching Material in beta on Android in February. The Android version of Material has had more than 50,000 downloads since then, according INQ CEO and co-founder, Ken Johnstone. Today, INQ has extended Material to iOS, and updated the Android app to add an offline view feature and the ability to edit topics. The iOS version of the app has a slightly different design — cleaner and less dense, according to Johnstone. But is otherwise the same.
INQ’s “interest extraction engine”, which powers content creation for the social magazine by parsing the user’s Twitter and/or Facebook account, has also been tweaked since the Android beta launch to improve its ability to identify interests from social activity. As with most of these interest identifying algorithms, it apparently improves the more you use it, based on what you look at, and (in the case of Twitter) who you follow.
Material’s content is currently delivered as two daily editions: one in the morning, and a second edition that can be downloaded when it’s ready around 12 hours later. The idea being to offer up a best selection of topical, personalised content from around the web throughout the day. Sections within your magazine are generated based on your social activity, so will differ for each Material user (but can include categories like Books, Films, Technology etc). The app does let you add/remove sections if you don’t like what it’s saying about what you like.
How does Material differ to the social magazine competition of Flipboard, Zite, Pulse et al? Not hugely, really, although Johnstone claims it offers a lower barrier to entry/set-up than rivals, being as it can be powered just by signing in with your Twitter (or Facebook) account. There are also no human curated sections in Material. Content is pulled in solely by looking at activity on your social networks and matching that to stories from across the web — therefore his argument is that the content it finds will be entirely unique to you.
“For somebody who has invested a lot of time in Twitter or Facebook anyway, this is about getting a return on that investment,” says Johnstone. ”This product is a very easy product to use based on the work you’ve already put into your social networks. It’s heavily customised, it’s not some guy curating content for a design section, for you, which is the same as everyone else’s design section. It’s completely unique. So in that respect it offers a much more personal experience.”
Twitter on its own is likely to give better results than Facebook on its own, according to Johnstone, assuming you use Twitter enough to generate enough of an interest graph (or don’t, in my case, use it too much for work purposes — skewing results). But using both accounts will apparently offer the best results. “Some people will get better results than others, that’s something we’re very conscious of,” he adds. “But it should be pretty good for everybody — and hopefully awesome for some.”
In my experience of testing it out for a few days ahead of launch, it has the same issues as all these social magazines: a small portion of content is interesting; the majority is relatively unexciting, being only mildly relevant to some general interests; and another portion of the stuff makes you go WTF?! (In my case, I am apparently following someone on Twitter who really likes Miley Cyrus). Bottom line: the interests of the people you follow are not always informative of your interests.
Unsurprisingly, the overall feeling you get from flicking through an edition is not a cohesive, editorially unified whole, but an algorithmically generated bunch of mostly random stories with (at best) a few loose, overlapping themes. And a lot of redundant duplication. It’s computer-generated content wearing a magazine’s clothes. But that’s a charge you can level at any solely algorithmically powered social magazine.
I’d be hard pressed to rank Material against its social magazines rivals. It’s clearly not entirely optimised for my relatively specialist use of Twitter (and large number of followees) so it seems unfair to judge it based on what it delivers to me. It was also still pretty buggy — although Johnstone stressed the iOS app was in the final development test phase, and there were a number of known issues they were aiming to fix for launch.
However one rather key problem I noticed (and which wasn’t on a list of known issues he flagged up ahead of launch) was stories being mis-categorised — especially in the ‘Comedy’ section it generated. But then computers being confused by humour is not exactly a new story.
What about business model? Ultimately, INQ’s end-game here is to acquire enough users — and learn enough about them — to have the data to build an advertising business out of Material, likely based on injecting relevant adverts into each user’s magazine, much like Facebook has done with ads in the Newsfeed on its mobile apps. However Material monetisation is a long way off at this point. For now, INQ’s social magazine experiment is being funded by their long time partner Hutchison so the focus is squarely on pulling in the users — and pulling in stuff the users are interested in.
Some screenshots of the Material iOS app follow below.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Kai Parthy is a German engineer who creates odd printing filaments for 3D printers. His previous projects, LayWoo-d3 and Laybrick, are two non-warping plastics that offer wood and brick-like consistencies when extruded. Oddly, LayWoo-d3 actually smells like wood when printed.
Now he’s created a bendable printing filament called BENDLAY that is 91% transparent and remains “bendable” after printing.
One of the problems with ABS plastic is that it can split and warp as it is formed and it isn’t quite food safe. It is also very brittle and will “whiten” when bent, resulting in a messy final object. This filament is made of stretchy Butadiene, a form of synthetic rubber. It is foodsafe and can be used for clear bottles and containers and works well for flexible straps.
While ABS can be used to create flexible items like bracelets, this material will truly bend without breaking, allowing for hinges and other mechanical parts to be built into other, stiffer parts.
It costs $42 a roll, which is about right for a pound or so of 3mm filament, and comes on 750 gram rolls. It should work with almost any extruder-based device but, sadly, doesn’t smell like fresh rubber.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
While the name “Elasto Plastic” sounds like an 80s punk band, it is, in fact, a new material from 3D printing company Shapeways. The plastic is elastic to a certain degree yet maintains its shape after stretching or squeezing. It will break when pulled too hard and is still in the experimental stage on the Shapeways website.
The material is off-white and has a “grainy finish.” It’s laser sintered and a bit jagged because of the layer-by-layer requirement to build the model. Shapeways writes that it is “not ready for broader use” but can be used for personal models and experimental projects.
We recently featured Shapeways in our TC Makers series and they’ve begin printing this material on their nylon sintering machines in their US factory. It takes about eight days to print and ship and could be an interesting hinge material for 3D-printed projects. Considering it already looks like cartilage, I’d be curious to see how makers take the material to the next level.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Move over cat videos, YouTube has a new series that’ll satisfy our need for midday adorableness and make us smarter. “Explain Like I’m Five” is a new web series from the wildly popular content aggregator, Reddit, that explains topics, such as existentialism and the Syrian war, through giggly conversations with five year olds. Watch the first episode on Nietzsche’s existentialism, below
The hybrid of animation and live-action narration is part of a broader experiment in creating original YouTube videos out of Reddit’s most popular content. That YouTube is sponsoring (i.e. paying for) the videos is likely related to its previous $100 million foray into original premium content. In the past, YouTube selected top-notch creative talent, such as The Office‘s Rainn Wilson. YouTube appears to be taking the opposite approach with Reddit, creating multimedia content out of what’s already popular.
While the videos don’t move beyond the basic facts about each topic, the material is memorable enough that I’ll probably actually remember it. Indeed, it was Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
A graphene research initiative has been selected by the European Commission as one of two winners of its Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) multi-billion euro research excellence award competition. Each project will receive €1 billion to fund 10 years of research “at the crossroads of science and technology” — the biggest research grant ever awarded by the Commission. The second winner of the FET award is a project that aims to develop a model of the human brain.
The Graphene project will “investigate and exploit the unique properties of a revolutionary carbon-based material” — exploring the physical and chemical properties of a material that is just one-atom thick; conducts electricity much better than copper; is 100 to 300 times stronger than steel; and has “unique optical properties”.
Researchers have already been looking at how graphene could improve battery capacity and exploring its water-repelling properties. But the EC is betting on graphene becoming “the wonder material of the 21st century” — replacing silicon in ICT products and becoming as important as plastics were to the 20th century:
Graphene: this material looks to become as important as steel or plastics in the long-term. Research on graphene is an example of an emerging translational nanotechnology where discoveries in academic laboratories are rapidly transferred to applications and commercial products. Graphene and related materials have the potential to make a profound impact in ICT in the short and long term: integrating graphene components with silicon-based electronics, and gradually replacing silicon or enabling completely new applications. Beyond ICT, graphene research will significantly impact energy and transport, and also health.
The Graphene FET flagship project will be led by Professor Jari Kinaret, from Sweden’s Chalmers University, and will involve more than 100 research groups, with 136 principal investigators, including four Nobel laureates.
The consortium of research partners also includes industry members from a variety of sectors. One industry partner in the graphene consortium, mobile maker Nokia, said it is “flying the flag for the electronics corner, as well as the mobile one, with realistic dreams of improving the industry”. Writing on the Nokia Conversations blog, Henry Tirri, EVP, CTO of Nokia, said the company started researching graphene in 2006, adding: “Since then, we have come to identify multiple areas where this material can be applied in modern computing environments. We’ve done some very promising work so far, but I believe the greatest innovations have yet to be discovered.”
Nokia’s Tapani Ryhänen, Head of the Sensor and Material Technologies Laboratory at Nokia, added that graphene’s impact will not just be in the future, through the development of new materials, but that graphene will be able to improve existing materials and products in the near term. “We have kept our eyes open, and believe that this will bring immediate impact to our products over the coming years in some way or another,” he wrote.
The second FET competition winner, called the Human Brain Project, will create the word’s largest experimental facility for developing the most detailed model of the brain. The model will be used to study how the human brain works — with the ultimate aim of developing personalised treatment of neurological and related diseases. The project involves scientists from 87 institutions and is led by Professor Henry Markram of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
The EC said sustained funding for the full duration of the projects will come from the EU’s research framework programmes — principally the Horizon 2020 programme, which kicks off next year and is currently having its budget negotiated in the European Parliament and Council. The ambitious scope and scale of FET — both in the level of funding but also the length of the research period — was designed to increase the level of science in the research projects, to aim for “greater benefits to Europe over the long-term, including new technologies and faster innovation”, according to the EC.
Commenting on the two winners, EC Vice President Neelie Kroes said in a statement: “Europe’s position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas. This multi-billion competition rewards home-grown scientific breakthroughs and shows that when we are ambitious we can develop the best research in Europe.”
Speaking at the press conference announcing the winners, Kroes added that she wanted the project to result in “graphene valley” being situated in Europe — “the home to the successor to Silicon Valley”. “The story of graphene shows there is still wonder in science,” she added.
Last week, Cambridge University announced it would be opening a new £25 million Graphene Research Centre, backed by government funding grants and industry support, including from Nokia, Plastic Logic, Philips, Dyson and BaE systems.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch