Apple has a couple of new patents today (via AppleInsider), including one for an audio and video media service that would switch intelligently and automatically between sources in order to provide users with a constant stream of stuff they actually want to watch and listen to, as well as helping them dodge ads. A second patent describes a new design for MacBook trackpad hardware that does away with the need for a physical button.
The first patent is potentially the most interesting, since it essentially paints a picture of a service like iTunes Radio, but with the added benefit that it can use multiple different services to source media, including online streaming services, FM radio and more. A user would create a playlist or station by expressing some preferences about what they want to see or hear (it’s designed to work with both audio and video content) and then sit back and enjoy as it switches between content sources when songs end, or when commercials interject.
To make it seamless, the service described in the patent could record content that fits a users demand on other channels if there’s a conflict in schedule, and also tap the user’s own offline library of media on their devices. Think of it like an intelligent channel surf, except extending across the range of Internet media sources.
The system takes into account various elements when determining what to play next, including metadata about the artist and track, volume, and even hue and color in terms of video programming. A user would control it via a GUI that resembles an FM tuner according to the patent, letting them tweak their preferences to alter the stream. It’s a very ambitious project, and one that seems likely to anger content partners since it can dodge ads on various services, but it’s still something that you can see replacing current methods of engaging with TV and music. Still, if this is on the horizon, expect it to require a lot more refinement and working out before it makes an appearance.
The other patent is for a touchpad design for MacBooks that gets rid of the physical button aspect entirely, but replaces it with a similar sensation. Currently, MacBook support both capacitive touch-based input and physical keypresses, but the keypress requires different amounts of force depending on where you strike thanks to a hinged design, and is subject to wear and tear since it’s a moving part.
Apple’s design replaces that with a complex force sensing system, combined with a means for providing tactile feedback that would emulate a hardware button press. This would have a number of advantages in terms of MacBook construction, from simplifying the hardware involved as mentioned, to saving space within the case of the notebook, which continues to be a key concern in building Apple devices in terms of providing more room for larger batteries and other components. Also, the force feedback used in the trackpad could be triggered by incoming email, letting it act just like vibration alerts on your iPhone.
This is a tech that would be handy, but people are very used to the feeling of Apple’s current trackpad, which is often described as among the best in the business. Still, force feedback on a notebook Mac would open up all kinds of possibilities and make sense to Mac users moving to the platform after getting an iPhone, so there’s a chance we could see it implemented in future designs.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Indix, a big data startup based in Chennai, is building a catalog for all of the world’s over 1 billion consumer products to help brands compare prices and make crucial business decisions. Indix is positioning itself as a neutral aggregator of all the world’s e-commerce inventory, and hundreds of millions of products that can be otherwise searched on Google, but without any personalized insights.
Founded by veteran Microsoft executive Sanjay Parthasarathy in 2012, Indix has already created a database of around 200 million products in the cloud. In two years, the startup plans to scale it to over 1 billion listings. Since going live with the platform in October last year, Indix has signed up some high profile customers including Microsoft, which is using the product to get real-time price and channel intelligence for its online store.
The startup raised around $6 million in Series A funding last year from Nexus Venture Partners and Avalon Ventures. Prior to that, Indix had raised angel funding from several investors including Kosmix co-founder Venky Harinarayan, S Somasegar (a corporate VP at Microsoft) and Anand Rajaraman who heads @WalmartLabs.
Indix is riding a new wave of Internet commerce where retailers such as Nordstrom are beginning to look beyond Amazon and Google for capturing insights about their own and rivals’ products. For instance, Nordstrom started tagging its “most pinned” products across its stores in a pilot that could shape the way retailers leverage platforms such as Pinterest.
According to Parthasarathy, while Amazon is limited to the products it has in its own catalog and its marketplace while Google is limited by the way it employs its search algorithms. As he wrote in this Wired post recently, brands and retailers are moving beyond the traditional e-commerce model underscoring the need to have an infinite catalog in the cloud.
“We now have coverage (breadth) of all of consumer retail (except for autos, and we don’t focus on books, music and videos) plus several B2B categories. We also have product 10,000 attributes (i.e. depth) across all of the products in the system, and over 100 pre-computed insights (i.e. algorithms),” he said.
Indix is only meant for brands and retailers, and has not been opened for consumers to buy products directly online. From what the founder told me, it will remain this way for the near term.
For instance, if Nike wants to know which of its products are doing well, identify the ones that are not selling, and compare sales performance across product lines with rivals, it cannot rely on its internal analytics alone. This is because these companies’ internal enterprise systems only capture what is fed into the software and their products are increasingly gaining visibility on platforms that are beyond traditional channels (see the Pinterest-Nordstrom example above).
On top of its product database, Indix offers customized app and API for retailers to tap into the platform and gain real-time insights based on their preferences. The Indix app is no way meant to replace a customer’s existing enterprise applications that offer analytics, but it presents another version (which is much bigger and deeper in scale) of the marketplace.
“Our view on all apps and websites becoming ‘product aware’ in an era of pervasive commerce has also forced us to think differently about system architecture and scale, quality and velocity of the data,” said Parthasarathy.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
E-commerce startup Beauty Army is moving beyond its subscription commerce offering and opening up a full-fledged store for health and beauty products. And it’s doing so in a big way, with more than 200 brands and 20,000 products available for sale through its online catalog.
Beauty Army launched two years ago (on January 1st!) with a Birchbox-like subscription commerce platform for beauty products. But unlike Birchbox, which generally sends many of the same samples to its users, Beauty Army was built to give its users personalized recommendations for the products that they received.
It does that thanks to a huge data set on the back end that enables users to easily find products that are suited to their skin color and their personal style. When you first sign up for Beauty Army, you take a survey and create a profile that matches you up with products enjoyed by other users like you.
When Beauty Army was mainly doing this as a subscription commerce offering, the website would offer up a choice of nine products each month, of which users would pick six. It then used the data collected to better refine results over time. Now that it has all that data, it will be applying what it knows to full-sized products that can be ordered from its site.
When logging into Beauty Army, you still need to create a profile to get started, but once that’s done, you’re no longer limited to a certain number of sample items each month. Instead you can choose from any number of products available on the site.
But to get there, it still asks you a series of questions to help you find just the right product. Customers choose which category of product they’re looking for — either makeup, skin care, hair care, nail care, or fragrance — and then follow a series of questions to narrow down the results and provide a group of products that fits their preferences.
CEO Lindsey Guest compared that level of personalization to what you might find on other e-commerce sites, where it’s more or less impossible to find what you’re looking for — at least from a health and beauty standpoint. (Try shopping for ‘red lipstick on Walmart.com, for instance.) While there’s a bit more work involved in getting to a refined search page on Beauty Army, the company thinks the results that come in will be a lot better overall.
From a business standpoint, the e-commerce platform also makes a bit of sense in that it will open up a much bigger opportunity for Beauty Army. The platform was built by partnering with major online retailers, which actually hold the inventory and handle fulfillment.
In that way, Beauty Army doesn’t have to work directly with brands, and it carries none of the inventory risk of other e-commerce providers. The startup will continue to offer subscriptions for those who like that sort of thing, but with a full-fledged story, Beauty Army customers are no longer limited to six samples a month.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Why should the ladies have all the fun? Like Le Tote and Rent The Runway, a new start-up, Eleven James, is offering something men may find alluring: the opportunity to wear a cool new watch every few months for a monthly fee.
Founded by Randy Brandoff, former CMO of NetJets and Marquis Jet, the company isn’t positioning itself as a rental service per se. The concierge service costs $249 a month to wear three “cheaper” watches worth around $10,000 per year ($449 for six) and $459 a month for a Connoisseur Collection selection of higher end brands. The “Virtuoso” tier gets you three crazy expensive pieces for $899 or six for $1,599 a month. You wear them around, flashing your bling hither and yon, and then return the watches for cleaning and they’re sent to another member. To be clear, if $10,000 for a “low-end” watch sounds ludicrous, you’re probably not the target audience.
Instead the company is aiming at folks who may not want want to dump a few months’ salary on a watch and instead want something fancy to wear to work and about town. Because, for some watch snobs, being strapped to one watch can be as terrible as being strapped to none at all, Eleven James offers a bit of choice and a personal concierge will walk you through potential selections and styles. Their collection includes items from IWC, Panerai, Patek Phillipe, and the like. They have just completed a beta group of testers and now have 100 or so members who will receive a new watch every few months, depending on demand, and get invites to parties and other watch-centric events in their home cities.
Eleven James also hopes to become a watch trade-in service, allowing its customers to drop their old watches off on consignment or even to enter them into rotation. There is some talk internally with brands who are interested in using this as a marketing exercise and the company has created a special algorithm to match members with watches depending on their preferences.
Brandoff didn’t want to make this just another rental service. “The luxury market has evolved to a world prioritizing access and experiences,” he said. “Private jets, vacation homes, classic cars, and many other historically prized possessions have all become accessible via various club and shared ownership models that have multiplied in offerings and popularity.” He’s simply following that trend, he said.
The company received $1.4 million in seed funding backed by numerous strategic investors, including Box Group, WGI Group, Kenny Dichter, Ken Austin, Brian Distelberger, Ed Moran, and Jason Saltzman. While it may not make sense for many non-watch nerds, it seems like a great way to get new brands into the hands of fans and, more important, bring back the age-old, timeless habit of strapping on a bit of Swiss frippery and strolling down the boulevard, a jaunty tune on your lips and a merry “Good day” offered to all and sundry. A guy can dream.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
A new travel platform called OLSET is launching its public beta to streamline the hotel booking process, with an algorithm for matching user preferences to reviews from TripAdvisor. Instead of providing a long list of potential hotels in the area, OLSET finds your three best matches based on how you prioritize location, price, ratings and other amenities.
OLSET was created specifically for the busy business traveler, who doesn’t have time to scour the web for the right hotel. Co-founder Gadi Bashvitz tells me about 78 percent of travelers drop off after starting a hotel search online. OLSET speeds up the process by making recommendations based on your specific profile. Unlike other hotel booking sites, OLSET really digs into what users are looking for, and provides a percentage match with a couple different options.
To use OLSET, users first create a profile and outline what they are looking for in a hotel: minimum star rating, minimum user rating, price and max distance from their meeting location. Users can also list a preferred hotel chain. And that’s just getting started.
Then come the amenities, such as a fitness center, wifi, continental breakfast and more. Each of these can be ranked from unimportant to mandatory. Throw in travel options, bed and room size, a couple more options and you’ve got a complete OLSET profile. You can also import your travel profile from sites like Expedia or Orbitz, to take past hotels you’ve stayed in into consideration.
You can then either book from the site by giving a location and date, or through meeting invites on a calendar. OLSET works with Outlook, Google Calendar, iPhone, iPad and Android. The service is also partnering with companies GetGoing and Any.do, so you can book a hotel straight from other apps. After that, the platform gives three of the best vetted options, and takes you through exactly why they match your preferences.
According to Bashvitz, OLSET has processed about one million TripAdvisor reviews across 120,000 hotels, with has turned out about four million sentiments. The platform then takes these sentiments into account when matching users with potential hotels. For example, if a traveler marks “pool” as a mandatory feature, OLSET will include not only if the hotel has a pool, but if the sentiments were overall good or bad (which will result in a thumbs-up or thumbs-down).
The service sends a review to fill out once its user arrives at the hotel, and another after the trip ends. Bashvitz says he wants to use this to build up OLSET’s own data, instead of relying only on outside reviews.
Because OLSET is going after the business traveler market, that pits it against two categories of competition: companies like Concur that manage business trip bookings, and popular travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline. Bashvitz says the challenge is to change the habits of people who traditionally look for their own hotels, and don’t trust an application to do it for them. To mitigate this problem, OLSET lays out exactly what its algorithm looks for when matching travelers with hotels (shown below).
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
While startups are trying to replace your mobile calendar by making it smarter, there’s a new-ish iOS app called Event Book that seems to be built around the belief that what calendars really need is to become simpler and easier to use.
Created by Abhinay Ashutosh, Event Book launched earlier this year. Since then, Ashutosh said the app has been downloaded more than 60,000 times, and he said that he has incorporated “user feedback from tens of thousands of folks” to release version 2.0 today.
The Event Book interface is divided into different “books”: The Day Book shows you your agenda for the current day; and the Week Book, the Month Book, and the List Book display all of your calendar items in a single list. In most sections, you can swipe across to see the next day, week, or month, and you can adjust between “long” and “short” views to determine how much information is displayed. In the Month Book, the number of dots under each day to indicate how many events you have scheduled.
None of this is exactly revelatory, but I think it looks pretty slick — if you don’t like the design of the native iOS app, but you’re not necessarily looking for lots of “smart” bells and whistles (something I’ve complained about in the past), this could be the app for you.
When I asked how he sees Event Book fitting into the larger calendar market, Ashutosh said it offers “a unique blend of features and design”: “The app does this by combining thousands of points from users about what features they want most along with a killer, light, and themed design to create an app that really keeps you on top of your schedule while keeping up with your preferences and styles.”
As for what’s new, Ashutosh said that version 2.0 has a new design, as well as the ability to customize that design with new themes. There’s also a new “book,” the Location Book, which integrates with Apple Maps and Google Maps to allow users to save their favorite locations, add them to events, and bring up directions. For example, many of my meetings take place at the TechCrunch office, so the Location Book allows me to save the address and easily add it to any future events. (Not that I need directions in that case, but hey, it saves me some time.)
You can download the free Event Book here.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Today, the company is starting a gradual roll out of a new version of the Foursquare app for Android that marks its biggest move into a “post-check-in” experience yet: A feature that will ping phones with personalized recommendations based on a user’s targeted physical location, without needing them to check in at all.
With the new Foursquare, when you walk into a cafe you’ve never visited before, it may buzz your phone to let you know that people who visit there rave about the breakfast burritos. In a bar, you might be pinged with a tip that you don’t need to put quarters in the pinball machine to use it, because it’s broken (very sneaky.) And, in line with Foursquare’s recent focus on generating revenue, you might also get a buzz on your phone about merchant promotions — though Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley vows that “you won’t see a lot of that.”
It’s a new try at the same type of function provided by the the opt-in “Radar” feature that Foursquare started rolling out on iOS to less than stellar results back in 2011. In an interview this week, Dennis Crowley said that while this type of experience has always been Foursquare’s ultimate goal, Radar suffered by being a bit ahead of its time:
“Radar was supposed to represent the vision of the company: A service that, as you walk around the city and the world, lets you know things you wouldn’t have known otherwise. But the [mobile phone] battery life wasn’t there, geo-fencing technology wasn’t sophisticated enough, and on our end we didn’t always have enough data. Over the last 10 months or so, we’ve been working on making this happen again, with devices we have now.”
The new and improved push recommendation feature purportedly only increases battery drain by about 0.7 percent per hour — or, “the equivalent of about a 20-minute game of Angry Birds” over the course of a day.
The new version of Foursquare with passive notifications is starting to roll out very slowly, and on Android first — around 2,000 Foursquare users on Android will be given access today. This is apparently taking advantage of new developer tools released by Google this past May that allow apps to gradually deploy new apps to alpha and beta users on the Android platform. An iOS rollout will follow in the months ahead — it seems that Foursquare may be waiting to launch it with the upcoming iOS 7 operating system.
Crowley says that if all goes well, the new Foursquare will be launched to all users on all platforms by the year’s end. He says that the messages will be a mix of user-generated recommendations and promotions from locations, and that users will be able to dial up for dial down the number of push notifications they receive, depending on their preferences.
But what’s clear is that this kind of experience is the future of what Foursquare will be. “There’s no product name for it this time. It’s not ‘Radar.’ We had an internal codename, but now, this is just Foursquare.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
After withering in the dry heat for the last four months, Google Reader will quietly disappear into the horizon later today. It’s a sad day, but the sun will rise tomorrow, and the Internet will keep on spinning. Thankfully there are a lot of fine Google Reader alternatives to keep feeding your RSS addiction.
For the past month, a daily popup has reminded Google Reader users to back up their data. Google is essentially zero’n the drive tomorrow, ridding itself of millions of OMPL files. Stop procrastinating and take 5 minutes to export your data.
There are several options.
Google Takeout is by far the easiest way to export your Google Reader data. The Google service is designed to export not only Google Reader data, but also data from Buzz, Hangouts, Contacts, Drive, Goggles, and YouTube. If you just choose Reader, the export file should be less than a megabyte and only take a minute or so to process and download. Once downloaded, this OMPL file can be used in most RSS readers.
If you choose all of the services, the process will take a lot longer, but Google Takeout will email you when the exported data is ready to be downloaded.
However, Google Takeout doesn’t export all of your Reader information. As Mihai Parparita explains through his persistent.info site, it leaves behind tagged items, comments, and read items. He created this tool to export everything through Reader’s API.
The tool takes a bit of command line work, but if your Reader data is precious, it’s worth the time and effort. The step-by-step instructions are here.
Alternatively you could just move on from RSS and embrace Twitter.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Fancy, the one-time Pinterest competitor which has long since set its sights on social e-commerce, is expanding its reach today with the launch of its internationalization efforts. The company is now making its service available in 30 languages and is shipping its products worldwide.
Going forward, Fancy will automatically detect which language to use based on browser settings or device settings. However, web users will also be able to go into the Preferences menu at the top of the screen on the desktop site and change that selection if they choose.
According to Fancy COO Michael Silverman, the company is also handling logistics and customer service locally, as well. He explains that Fancy had been seeing a lot of demand from non U.S. audiences, which is what prompted these changes.
“Just over 50 percent of our users are domestic and the other half is international – including Europe, the Middle East, and Asia,” says Silverman. “Outside of the U.S., there are a bunch of young shoppers on mobile devices who want to shop this way…and we are the only ones doing this.”
That statement could be misinterpreted to mean that young, international shoppers want to buy products using their mobile phone and Fancy is the only social shopping site available to them. That’s not true, of course. What is true is that many of the top competitors in this social shopping market – product discovery sites like Polyvore, Wanelo, or eBay-owned Svpply, for example – link out to other e-commerce sites on the internet, which is not always an ideal experience.
The resulting link may be dead, the product may be sold out, or you find that the company doesn’t ship to your country (or charges so much for international shipping, that you wouldn’t want to bother). On Fancy, users are buying directly from its own website and checkout directly there, too.
That being said, Fancy still has some tough competition.
In the U.S., its iPhone app is ranked #237 in the “Lifestyle” section, behind eBay Fashion (#130), Polyvore (#47) and Wanelo (#18), as well as hot, young adult e-commerce stores like ModCloth (#108), and brick-and-mortars gone mobile like American Eagle (#95) or Nordstrom (#94). However, it is a bit ahead of Pose (#305) and Svpply (#389).
And a quick (non-scientific) look at its web traffic shows similar trends in terms of stateside competition, at least. It’s closely tied with Wanelo, for example, which now has over 8 million registered users according to its website.
Officially, Silverman says Fancy has over 7 million registered users worldwide and 12 million uniques across all platforms (web and mobile) as of last month.
(Note that Fancy had until recently been thefancy.com. It now redirects to Fancy.com, but there’s no data on that URL.)
It makes sense that Fancy would try to shift its battle to the world’s stage instead, by focusing on growing its footprint in other areas where competition may not be as fierce.
The company has been experimenting in other directions as well. Earlier this year, it acquired Samplrs.com, an artisanal foods seller, which Fancy used to beef up its Fancy box subscription service. As for all those acquisition rumors we keep hearing (with unsubstantiated reports ranging from Apple to Yahoo), Silverman says only “I don’t know why you are hearing that, it’s not something that is coming up in discussion over here.” Hmm.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch