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Android home gaming consoles are nearly arriving for
the consumer market, but one at least needs a little
more time in the oven to bake. It’s the GameStick,
the super portable USB-stick style device that plugs
into an open HDMI port on your TV to turn it into an
Android-powered gaming machine, and its release schedule is being pushed back another month until
August, with a retail launch to follow after that,
because of a need to gather more feedback related to
the GameStick UI so that it can be refined prior to
wide release. GameStick wanted to nail the user experience strikes
me as a familiar refrain; another company, Leap
Motion, which also achieved lots of support from the
community for a novel idea, said something very
similar when it delayed its own product recently. In
both cases, the apprehension about getting things right the first time around is understandable, since
these are products that have few if any antecedents
with demonstrated success in the wider consumer
market. The GameStick delay, though another one on top of
its first ship date slip, isn’t yet one that should really
raise any eyebrows – projects typically underestimate
how long it will take to go to market on Kickstarter.
The Ouya was also delayed from its original planned
launch by three weeks, owing to “demand” on the retail side. BlueStacks’ GamePop hasn’t been
delayed as of yet, but it’s targeting a more open-
ended end of year launch, and that gives it some
flexibility to make sure the experience is just right
before putting too fine a point on things. All of these companies are venturing into relatively
uncharted territory, so delays are fine; you can’t hold
them to the same standards as an Apple or a
Samsung, and even those giants sometimes
encounter problems shipping exactly on time. One,
two, or even three small delays isn’t surprising; but once the months start to fall away and you don’t hear
much, that’s when it’s time to worry.

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Tired of your friends texting on their phones while
they should be getting schnockered? This clever hack
is called the Offline Glass and it’s designed to ensure
that you and your friends don’t sit at the bar checking
Wikipedia for who starred in The Greatest American Hero and whether Tabitha will totally come out tonight oh my god she won’t she and Christian just broke up
oh god she’s with Raul and Paula and maybe she’ll
come in an hour! In fact, you can’t hold your phone
because of the unique shape of the glass’ bottom. The glass has a notch cut out of it so it will only
stand if it’s situated on top of a phone (an iPhone
works best) and you can only use your phone if you’re
also holding your beer. Knowing the average drunk
person I suspect a) this will destroy hundreds of
iPhones a night and b) this will result in lots of spilled beer, but by gosh if it isn’t a clever idea. The glass is being used in the Salve Jorge Bar in Sao
Paolo and was created by the Fischer & Friends ad
agency in Brazil. You can’t buy one but, with the right
tools, you could probably make a few. I’d like to see
someone 3D print a few of these for house parties. Whenever I go out with the TC team I make everyone
play the phone game which consists of piling up all
the phones in one place so no one can reach them. It
helps encourage conversation and, unless they’re
wearing Google Glass, the pained expression after
the first few minutes of the game is mesmerizing. Here’s to anything that helps recreate that
experience.

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Adobe just reported earnings for its second financial
quarter of 2013. The company reported revenue of
$1.011 billion and non-GAAP operating income of
$247.3 for an earnings per share of $0.36 (though
diluted GAAP earnings were only $0.15). That’s a
little bit better than most analysts expected, especially with respect to the company’s earnings per
share. The Wall Street consensus was that Adobe would
report revenue of about $1.01 billion and earnings per
share of $0.34. These numbers, it’s worth noting, are
very much in line with Adobe’s last quarter, when the
company announced revenue of $1.01 billion and
earnings per share of $0.35. In the year-ago quarter, however, Adobe still reported revenue of $1.12 billion. “Our Q2 results reflect our leadership position in
Digital Media and Digital Marketing,” said Shantanu
Narayen, Adobe’s president and chief executive
officer a canned statement today. “Creative Cloud is
revolutionizing the creative process, and Adobe
Marketing Cloud is quickly becoming the platform of choice for the world’s leading brands, advertising
agencies and media companies.” Adobe is clearly betting the company on its Creative
Cloud subscription service, which is set to almost
completely replace the company’s offering of shrink-
wrapped software. Just yesterday, Adobe launched
its latest offering of all of its major Creative Cloud
apps, and today, the company announced that Creative Cloud now has over 700,000 subscribers.
That’s up from 479,000 subscribers in the first quarter
of 2013. The vast majority (92 percent) of its
subscribers, Adobe says, are on its annual plan (vs.
paying a slightly higher fee for a month-to-month
subscription). Adobe itself expects to hit over 1.25 million Creative
Cloud subscribers by the end of the year and a
number of analysts believe this is actually a very
conservative number. Besides Creative Cloud, Adobe’s second main group
of services is its Marketing Cloud, which includes
services for social marketing, media optimization,
analytics, testing and targeting. Last quarter,
Marketing Cloud achieved quarterly revenue of $215.4
million, a 20 percent year-over-year increase. This time around, Adobe reported Marketing Cloud revenue
of $229.9 million.

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Hardware is so hot right now. So hot, in fact, that
another European hardware startup is formulating an
attack on the smartphone hardware space — joining
the likes of Finland’s Jolla and Spain’s Geeksphone
to have a go at handset making. The newest comer
stepping in with a plan to shake up the “status quo” is called Kazam: a startup co-founded by a pair of
former U.K. HTC execs, Michael Coombes and
James Atkins. Coombes, who spent just over a year and a half as a
U.K. head of sales for HTC, according to his
LinkedIn, is Kazam’s CEO. Prior to HTC he
apparently worked for mobile and telecoms
companies including Nokia and Vodafone. While
Atkins, Kazam’s CMO, spent just over a year as HTC’s head of marketing for U.K./Ireland, and has
previously worked in U.K. marketing roles for freesat,
LG and Panasonic. The pair’s professional network is
clearly tied tightly to the local market, hence,
presumably, Kazam’s focus on Europe first. “Kazam will focus on Europe at the outset,”
“We are currently
establishing a network of regional sales and
marketing offices to ensure we deliver outstanding
products and customer service.” The startup has a U.K. base in Mayfair, London. Details of how exactly Kazam plans to assault the
Samsung and Apple smartphone duopoly were not
forthcoming when I asked. Atkins declined to answer
the bulk of my questions — including such specifics
as whether Kazam’s planned smartphones will run
Android and be skinned with a custom UI or keep the experience familiarly stock. Instead, he trotted out a
repeated PR mantra: “Today we are just announcing
that the Kazam brand is here, for the rest you will
have to wait and see.” It’s notable that this startup has already engaged a
PR company (Noire) — and talks about creating a
mobile brand — even before having a great deal to talk about. Which does serve to underline how
smartphones have become a game of who can shout
the loudest. A game of brash tones (as I have
previously described it). What did Atkins say? Not a whole lot. He declined to
reveal how much funding Kazam is backed by at this
point, or whether it is currently looking to raise a
round. He did at least confirm it has backers, and that
those backers have links into Asian mobile
manufacturing companies — which suggests it’s following Jolla’s manufacturing playbook. “Kazam Mobile has been set up by a group of private
equity investors, who have previously launched and
operated successful mobile telecommunications
companies and technology businesses. Some of their
current investments include NF Technology Limited,
an R&D company specialising in developing and customising mobile phone devices and tablets and
Nichefinder (S’pore) PTE Limited, a proven
technology procurement and supply company,”
He also confirmed Kazam’s plan is to launch “a range
of smartphones at different prices point/specs” later
this year. Asked whether it will look at other types of
mobile devices, such as tablets, he said only that its
initial focus is on smartphones. He added that he and
Coombes left their roles at HTC earlier this year “with the desire to build a new brand that really stands out
in the mobile space”. He also declined to be drawn on the differentiation
question but in Kazam’s inaugural press release
today Coombes said: “We believe your smartphone is
a digital reflection of who you are, and since we are
all different, it’s important that we don’t adopt a one
size fits all approach. Kazam’s dynamic structure and focus on local markets means we can react quickly to
the ever evolving and diverging needs of today’s
consumer. We aim to provide quality smartphones
that are accessible to everyone.” The release also includes a statement from Atkins
hinting that aftersales service might be how Kazam
attempts to stand out in a crowded market: “There is
a real opportunity for a new mobile brand to disrupt
the status quo. We are passionate about delivering a
truly positive mobile experience that doesn’t just stop once you’ve bought the phone. Kazam is about
stunning design, robust hardware and intuitive
technology, underpinned by outstanding customer
service.” Further details about exactly what kind of customer
service opportunity Kazam reckons it has identified
were not forthcoming. The size of Kazam’s team at this point is just Atkins
and Coombes — a few more if you count the hired
help from their external PR company. But Atkins also
said the startup has already “established an R&D
centre”. Hopefully with some staff in it, but
presumably no permanent headcount yet. Should Kazam get off the ground with its grand status
quo shaking plan it will need to significantly boost its
body count — if only to staff the network of regional
sales and marketing offices it is currently
establishing. It will also need to make decent
smartphone hardware — hardware that’s worth shouting about. Whether it will be able to deliver that
is clearly something to file under “wait and see”. Asked how a startup with inevitably bounded
resources can succeed in such a fiercely competitive
space — when veteran players such as HTC are
having such a tough time standing out despite making
cracking handsets like the HTC One — Atkins’ said
only: “The mobile market whilst competitive, seems to have stagnated.” Stagnation is one word for it. Saturation is another.
Smartphone hardware and software has achieved a
very high quality bar, with Android OEMs like
Samsung pushing high-end features lower and lower
down the price-point range to pull up the capabilities
of mid- and even budget handsets. This has resulted in a surfeit of great phones, across a very broad
spectrum of price-points. Which means precious little
room for anyone new to elbow in. Or stand out. So there are huge question marks over any startup
entering such a fiercely competitive space, especially
with so many better resourced former mobile giants
continuing to struggle. Disruption often starts small
but in a market so beholden to carriers, where the
bulk of phones sales occur, it’s especially hard for an upstart to get traction. Carriers tend to be risk averse
and have established distribution partnerships and
(incentivised) relationships with the smartphone
giants so have disincentives to push anything too
new. Going it alone with online retail distribution is the
alternative, but that route requires a sizeable marketing budget to even get noticed. Creating handsets for an underserved niche may be
one way to carve out a business, as Geeksphone has
been. Securing carrier distribution agreements to
carry your hardware is another strategy, as Jolla has
with Finland’s DNA. For now, it’s unclear whether
Kazam has any similar moves up its sleeve, but it will certainly be hoping it has enough local telco
connections — and financial backing — to give it a
regional chance of inching in. To say it has its work
cut out to make any kind of impact is an
understatement.

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Waze’s big exit to Google proved one thing: if
companies can harness the power of the crowd to
deliver real-time, granular data, big tech corporations
will be watching them closely as potential acquisition
targets. There’s another category ripe for the picking,
even if the problem being solved isn’t as apparent or immediately useful as traffic and navigation data:
weather. A few apps are trying to harness the crowd
to provide accurate, ground-level forecasts and
conditions, and they’re catching on with consumers,
too. Montreal-based startup SkyMotion is one such firm,
and it recently launched its 4.0 update, which not only
harnesses crowdsourced weather reports, but also
allows other businesses to plug into that data using a
public API, to integrate real-time reporting data from
SkyMotion’s users into their own products. That provides an up-to-the-minute forecast, one that
probably won’t show you weather conditions
completely dissimilar from the ones you’re actually
feeling outside at any given moment, as can still be
the case with apps that pull weather data only from
specific weather monitoring stations. SkyMotion has had considerable success harnessing
the crowd to populate its real-time forecasts, with
over 200,000 people currently submitting observations
according to the company. Over 50 percent of those
who download the app actually keep it and use it, and
65 percent of all users are active between 15 and 200 times per month. The company is now close to
reaching 500,000 total downloads, and anticipates
being well over 1 million by the end of the year should
the pace remain near its current rate. SkyMotion isn’t alone in crowdsourcing weather data.
There’s also Weddar, the “people-powered” weather
service and mobile app that encourages location-
based reporting with a very human element, since it
asks people how conditions generally feel on the
ground, instead of seeking out specifics. The Weddar team, which is based in Portugal, launched its app
back in April 2011, and where once you’d be hard-
pressed to find anyone using it outside of its home
market, now you’ll probably see results just about
anywhere you open it up. Crowsourced weather data could appeal to big tech
companies for the same reason that crowdsourced
data does; it greatly improves the quality of
consumer-facing products. But it also offers a lot
more besides, by providing services that can be
combined with other local data including maps and traffic, as well as shopping and advertising
information, to give a much more accurate, much
more complete snapshot of any given location at any
given time. Weather affects everything from the
average user’s day planning, to marketing, to
budgeting, and companies that are improving the quality of that data will no doubt be on the radar of
anyone who makes those things its concern.