Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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Irish startup Galvanic has just launched a Kickstarter
to crowdsource funding a wireless stress biosensor
it’s calling PIP. PIP — which stands for ‘personal
input pod’ — is a Bluetooth biosensor that monitors
its user’s stress levels by measuring their galvanic
skin response (GSR) as they hold the PIP pinched between thumb and forefinger. GSR means skin
conductance — so basically how sweaty you’re
getting and therefore how nervous you’re feeling. PIP isn’t just a quantifiable self-tapping biosensor; it’s
been designed to work in conjunction with iOS and
Android phone and tablet apps to provide a
gamification element. The company has created three
games designed to be played using the PIP, which
utilises Bluetooth as its data transport tech. The user’s stress level is then incorporated into each
game as the core gameplay mechanic — with the
ultimate aim being to help the player learn what they
need to do to relax. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, since competitive
gaming can be synonymous with sweaty palms,
which is presumably why Galvanic’s project extends
to designing stress-busting games. It’s created three
games to be used in conjunction with the PIP — a
relaxing racing game, a seasonal mood game where players meditate on a wintery scene to turn it into
spring, and a more playful lie-detector multi-player
game — but it does also plan to launch an SDK in
future to get third party developers expanding the
PIP’s gaming ecosystem. With this initial handful of in-house games the PIP
can only be so interesting, but if Galvanic can
convince enough people to buy in to the gadget and
thus lure enough outside developers to join in, there’s
plenty of potential for other cool biosensing software
ideas. The price per PIP is $79 for a limited number of early bird Kickstarter backers, or $99 thereafter.
Presumably each new PIP-compatible game may
also carry a consumer price-tag. Galvanic is gunning for $100,000 in Kickstarter
funding, with the money to be used for finalising
manufacturing and readying its own apps. Assuming
it hits this rather ambitious funding goal, the company
reckons it can gear up for mass production by the end
of 2013, and expects to be shipping in Q1 2014. In future it said it plans to expand platform support
beyond Android and iOS, to add Windows Phone,
Blackberry, Windows, MacOS and also game
Consoles and set-top boxes.

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As we continue to see more details brought to light in
how the government requests and uses information
about what we do on the web and on our mobile
devices, an ex-Googler and a consumer rights
attorney who have dedicated themselves to helping
users remain private have raised some funding to do this better and in more places. Disconnect, the startup behind the Disconnect.me
extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers,
which lets users of Facebook, Google and Twitter
keep themselves from being tracked by third party
sites, and the Disconnect 2 app that covers some
has raised a $3.5 million Series A round. At the same time, as a measure of dedication to its
principle of being positioned not for profit but for
social good, Disconnect has been designated as a B
Corporation, a semi-charitable certification. With the
tax breaks and other help that this offers, it will let
Disconnect dedicate time to raising awareness and campaigning as well as to creating for-profit products. “As a B Corporation, we’re able to spend more time
than a traditional company on activities such as
consumer education, petition drives, and close
collaboration with non-profits,” Gus Warren, a former
Venture Partner at FirstMark Capital who is part of
Disconnect’s executive team, noted in a statement. “Disconnect is committed to benefiting not just
shareholders but all stakeholders, including the
public.” Warren will run the company’s New York
office. This most recent round of funding was led by
FirstMark Capital, and comes on the back of a
$600,000 seed round announced in March 2012. That
round was led by Highland Capital Partners with
participation from Charles River Ventures, and angels
including David Cancel, Mark Jacobstein, Ramesh Haridas, Vikas Taneja, Chris Hobbs, and Andy
Toebben. Founders Brian Kennish, formerly an engineer at
Google who left to work on this full-time, and Casey
Oppenheim, a consumer rights attorney, say the
startup will be using the funding first of all to help with
the launch of Disconnect 2 for Safari and Opera
browsers. Disconnect 2, launched in April 2013 as a Chrome
and Firefox extension, blocks some 2,000 third-party
websites that track you across the web. That vastly
expands the power of the service that initially focused
on a handful of portals Disconnect.me first kicked off
when Kennish was still at Google and created the Chrome extension for Facebook specifically, in
October 2010. Kennish notes that Disconnect 2 has gotten more
than 250,000 new users since launching in April and
that all the startup’s apps combined have more than
1,000,000 weekly active users. Within the current
range of software, it is charged on a pay-what-you-
want model. “Like Humble Bundle,” says Kennish, who adds, “Some of our
upcoming releases will also include freemium
features.” In addition to helping block some 2,000 third-party
sites that track users’ browsing histories, the
Disconnect 2 extension also helps filter out malware
and encrypts data that you share on sites “to prevent
wireless eavesdropping.” The company also promises
that by cutting down on a lot of the tracking noise, users are actually able to see faster-loading pages
and use 17% less bandwidth on average. “Increasingly, people want to know who’s tracking
them online and want to have a say about what
information is being collected about them,”
Oppenheim noted in a statement. “Our software is
designed to put users back in control so they can
decide how their personal data is used,” adds Kennish. Longer term, the company also hopes to focus more
on protecting users around the various features of
data mining. “We’ve always thought one of the
biggest threats to people’s online privacy is just how
big data mining is getting,” noted Kennish. “There’s so
much personal data being collected about us in so many places now and all that data is susceptible to
being used in ways we don’t want. So our goal is to
help people minimize the unwanted collection and use
of their data. We started by tackling third-party
tracking because most people don’t know their
browsing history is being tracked by thousands of invisible websites they’ve probably never even heard
of.” The company is also becoming increasingly focused
on security services? “We think there are way
too many holes in online consumer security, which
recent events have made even more obvious, and we
want to help plug some of those holes.”

heyzap ads

Back in March, I wrote about how Heyzap was introducing advertising to its mobile gaming platform. Now co-founder Jude Gomila says the company has become a significant player in mobile advertising.

Specifically, Gomila sent along the chart showing the growth in publishers running Heyzap ads and the corresponding growth in ad impressions over the past six months. You can’t tell exactly where things stand now, because there’s no Y-axis to the chart. However, Gomila did note that Heyzap ads are now running in 800 games (it was 350 in March), and that number is also growing quickly. He also said that the publishers advertising with Heyzap include big names like Zynga and DeNA.

In the six months since the program launched, ad revenue has grown to the point that it already makes up the majority of its revenue. As a result, Heyzap is looking to expand its team beyond the current 25-person workforce.

“This does change our priorities,” Gomila said. “We want to offer full monetization tools for game developers. There’s also opportunity for a lot more automation.”

heyzap growth

Gomila refers to Heyzap’s ad program as its “game discovery network” — basically, when publishers pay to promote their games, Heyzap will start recommending that game through interstitial units that pop up in the games. Those recommendations are also based on the gaming data that users share on Heyzap’s social platform, so Gomila said the discovery network and the social tools “go hand-in-hand.”

He argued that this is a much better approach for the mobile gaming ecosystem, because Heyzap can recommend games that users are actually likely to enjoy.

“We think most mobile ads suck,” he said.

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Groove is a Canadian-made mobile app that’s tearing up the charts, reaching a top 1o spot in over 30 countries, and climbing to number 1 in the Canadian app store over other music apps including Rdio and Songza. The app is part of Montreal-based FounderFuel‘s latest cohort, and in move that’s becoming a trend for Founder Fuel companies, it has just gone free, and racked up 85,000 downloads in just 24 hours.

Going free is bound to generate interest, but for FounderFuel General Manager Ian Jeffrey, it’s an especially effective tool for some startups that have the potential to gain some amazing early traction but might be too focused on revenue early on. The Transit App, another FounderFuel company, recently went free and amassed an amazing 35,000 downloads over the course of just 72 hours, but Groove’s uptick in interest is even more impressive.

“Free is not necessarily always the way the go, but in both cases here it made sense,” Jeffrey told me via email. Of course, that’s bound to raise the question of whether or not going free is sustainable in the long term for these kinds of apps, and others like them hoping to make a splash in their own respective categories. Whatever the case long-term, the fact is that it seems like these apps stand little to no chance getting a good head of steam going without at least trying the free route first.

Groove is different from other playlist apps like Songza and 8tracks in that it uses your own library to populate content. That’s simpler from a licensing standpoint, and also lets a user rediscover content they already own and may have long forgotten about. Plus, it not only automatically organizes your music based on your own listening tastes and tags, but also can pair up with friends to combine tastes, which is perfect for setting the mood at parties in a way that hopefully pleases everyone.

So far, the app has amassed over 1 million downloads in the App Store over the past two years, but now it’s growing at a much faster rate. Free is the draw, and seems to be the difference between limping along and really spiking, but long-term we’ll have to see how these companies adapt to the changing economics of the App Store to build a lasting business.

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Nokia has added another device to its burgeoning
Lumia portfolio of smartphones today, with the
introduction of the Lumia 925: a sleek, PureView-
branded handset that will be its first flagship on T-
Mobile U.S. At today’s London launch, Nokia
executive VP of smart devices, Jo Harlow, sat down with TechCrunch to field a few questions. TC: Despite all the focus on your camera
technologies with the flagship Lumia devices,
Windows Phone still lacks Instagram. How much
of a blocker is that, what are you doing to get
round it and why is it proving so difficult to get
this app? Harlow: Obviously our goal is to brings great apps to the Windows Phone platform. We have a huge
amount of respect for Instagram and we continue to
work in that direction and in particular with Microsoft,
and with apps like Hipstamatic and the ability to share
your pictures on Instagram. But the importance of
Hipstamatic isn’t Instagram really — it is the great capabilities that Hipstamatic brings and the
community that Oggl represents because they’re a
community of people who love photography. And so I
think in inspiring that world of consumers then that
brings attration from others as well. I would characterise the competition in
Android as more of a spec race than
anything else… it’s open but that doesn’t
make you first. We worked very closely with Hipstamatic and shared
our portfolio with them, we’ve shared our imaging
APIs with them, and that’s where we’d like to work
with the developers who can bring even more greate
experience to our imaging story. TC: Are you going to be helping to usher in more
new camera apps like Oggl or make more of your
own new imaging apps? Harlow: The first thing we’ve done is make our imaging APIs accessible to developers — whether
they’re developing imaging specific apps or in other
ways could use the camera in their app — that they
could get all the way to the performance of the
camera itself. If you look at what’s happened with
photography with mobile devices and just how we use pictures you see that what is today is unlikely to be
just what is in the future. It’s constantly evolving —
now hundreds of millions of pictures are uploaded
every day just to social networks. Yes there are
imaging specific apps, and there will be more imaging
specific apps and communities in the future, but all communities have a deep relationship with pictures
because that’s part of the social fabric of our lives
these days. And I dont think that changes, that only
gets bigger and bigger. TC: Is the original 808 PureView 41MP
technology a bit of a unicorn now with the
Lumias? Or are you working toward it with each
iteration of the devices? Or is this something that
you think you might never have because you’re
going for thinner devices? Harlow: I can’t comment about our portfolio coming in the future, but what I will say about the PureView
technology that we developed that uses a 41MP
sensor is that it delivers a consumer experience in
terms of zooming after you’ve taken the photo. That
is a phenomenal experience. That’s something that
we think is very interesting to continue to pursue. TC: So you’re not ruling it out? Harlow: I’m not ruling it out. TC: You talk about how you have been able to
differentiate on Windows Phone — with hardware
design, camera technology and so on — but why
couldn’t you have done that on the Android
platform? The reality is that Android is dominant,
and Windows Phone is very far behind. Harlow: The dominance of Android is led by Samsung. I think you can see the difficulty that
others have in standing out from Samsung even when
they have really good devices. I think first of all it
comes down to partnership and the partnership that
we’ve had with Microsoft in terms of bringing new
experiences to the platform as well as our own differentiating experiences. We did not believe we
could have that level of partnership with Android —
and that’s a key difference. TC: But Android is open. You can do what you
want… Harlow: To a certain degree yes. But I think I would characterise the competition in Android as more of a
spec race than anything else and so there is one
partner who is the development partner for any new
release of Android and everyone else come some
time later, so it’s open but that doesn’t make you first
and that doesn’t make you necessarily the most competitive. TC: I know you can’t comment on future roadmap,
but what could Nokia bring to a phablet device,
i.e. a larger form factor smartphone, if it decided
to play in that space? Harlow: I think the word is ‘experiences’ because as we are investing in great experiences on our
smartphone range it’s logical to think that those
experiences we would look to take into other types of
form factors and make them compatible with each
other. Obviously what we would want in any portfolio
is that there’s some consistency in the experience that consumers have of a Nokia product.