Daily App: Pedometer++ is a step logger for people who prefer things simple

Pedometer++ from Cross Forward is a solid fitness tracker that pulls its data from the M7. The app started off as a basic pedometer app that tracked your daily steps, but a recent update has transformed it into a simple step-tracking fitness log.

Pedometer++ has one of the easiest to use interfaces I have seen in a fitness app. The weekly step data is clearly presented in a bar chart with a line for your daily step target. You can quickly see which days you met your goal and which days you didn't. It also keeps track of your cumulative steps for the past seven days and tells you how close in percentage you are to meeting that weekly goal of X number of steps each.

Daily steps are displayed on the main screen in big letters at the top. They also can be appended to the badge in an optional setting. You can share a screenshot of your steps via email, messaging, Facebook and Twitter. A useful export setting will send your data to you via email in plain text and a CSV file.

Pedometer++ displays all the helpful step counting data without the extra fluff. It's perfect for folks who like to track their activity level, but don't need a weight log, food log or any other log for their. Pedometer++ answers the question did I move or didn't I today? Pedometer++ also stores the data locally on your phone and does not send the data to a backend server. Consequently, there are no accounts or logins with which to fuss.

Pedometer++ is available for free from the iOS App Store. There are no ads, and a few in-app purchases to allow you to tip the developer. It Requires iOS 7.0 and an iPhone 5s with the M7 motion co-processor. Though the iPad Air has an M7 chip, it does not report step counts and it not compatible with Pedometer++ and other M7-enabled apps.


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Poke: The Facebook app that never really had a chance

Yesterday was Facebook's 10th anniversary and the social network's presence on Apple's mobile devices is huge. The official Facebook app and Facebook Messenger are the two must-have apps from the company, with the newly released Paper showing promise as well. Then you have the Facebook Pages Manager and Facebook Camera, which target a more narrow segment of the overall user base and have been met with a lukewarm response overall. And then there's Poke.

Regardless of whether or not anyone at Facebook had an idea for a timed, expiring messaging app previous to Snapchat's release in 2011, Poke's debut in late 2012 will forever be seen as the company's most transparent attempt to simply grab an existing idea and slap a coat of blue paint on it.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with that strategy, and many extremely successful ideas (including some from Apple) started with other companies. It's the reality of many industries, and tech is no different. However, the company doing the adopting still needs to convince the end user that its version is worth using in place of the original, and Facebook never did that with Poke. In fact, it never really even tried.

Everything from the app's description in the App Store -- which consists of five brief bullet points and nothing more -- to Facebook's complete abandonment of the app after its release has given it a very cheap vibe. It's the dollar store version of a proper social app.

There are plenty of reasons that Poke didn't overtake Snapchat as the go-to disposable messaging service (and never will), but there are two that I think played the biggest roles:

First, the initial reaction among Snapchat users was extremely negative. By the time Poke launched, Snapchat was already a massive force, and regardless of whether the majority of Snapchat users also had Facebook accounts, it felt very much like Poke was a ripoff. This is evident in Poke's user reviews, where the single most popular rating is one star. The reviews include things like "They made Snapchat" and "Is this a joke?" and even calls for all-out Facebook boycotts that obviously never materialized.

The second reason -- and what I think may actually be the biggest factor in Poke's long-term demise -- is that sending a message as you would on Snapchat isn't necessarily something you want to do with Facebook friends. Facebook has built itself around identity and real-life friends and family. Snapchat is the exact opposite.

It's often simply referred to as "the sexting app," but that pejorative label hints at the bigger picture; Snapchat is about mystery. You get a message knowing it will only last a matter of seconds. What could it be? Will it be funny? Will it be mean? Will it be naughty?

Personally speaking, I've never used Snapchat with someone I am good friends with in the real world, and I don't think I'd ever want to. I don't need a 10-second glimpse into the life of a good friend. I have no reason to send a family member a photo or video that disappears after a blink. But peaking into a world I'm not familiar with -- which could make me smile, laugh, cringe, or gasp -- is the kind of small treat that ensures I'll never delete Snapchat from my phone.

Facebook seemed to realize pretty quickly that there was little reason to devote any additional resources to Poke. The app was released in December of 2012, and it's been updated exactly zero times so far. That's 14 months without a single new feature, tweak, or adjustment.

In a way, it's somewhat surprising that Poke still exists at all. What's not surprising is that it's the least popular Facebook app in terms of ratings, and it will likely remain that way until its death. So as we remember a decade of social networking, spare a thought for Poke, because nobody else will be.


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Tinie Tempah’s new iPhone app helps you lip-sync along to his latest album

Following the launch of Demonstration back in November, UK rapper Tinie Tempah is now taking his talents to the App Store to offer a new way to experience the album.

Available in the UK App Store only for now, Tinie Tempah: Rap Demonstration features a close-up of Tinie’s mouth moving in sync to each song on the album, thus allowing you to place your phone over your mouth and pretend it’s you that’s actually rapping. Why wouldn’t you?

How it works

Now, if you don’t already own the album, the app taps Shazam-like audio-recognition to display the video anyway, say, if the song is playing from Spotify, or in the background in a pub. And if you do already own the album, well, you can still have the videos.

Photo 05 02 2014 09 37 56 730x486 Tinie Tempahs new iPhone app helps you lip sync along to his latest album

It takes around 10 seconds to recognize each tune, and then the video loads automatically. In my tests, it worked most of the time, though on one occasion (out of ten) it started playing the lip-sync video for the wrong song on the album.

Photo 05 02 2014 09 49 46 730x486 Tinie Tempahs new iPhone app helps you lip sync along to his latest album

The video will always start playing from the exact point of the song that’s playing in the background too, so Tinie’s mouth is always in-sync with the music.

Photo 05 02 2014 09 50 00 730x486 Tinie Tempahs new iPhone app helps you lip sync along to his latest album

Next, you can hold your iPhone in front of your face and pretend it’s really you. You can also GIF-inate (?) your jape by visiting this site.

Photo 05 02 2014 09 40 39 730x486 Tinie Tempahs new iPhone app helps you lip sync along to his latest album

If you’re an iPhone-owning Tinie Tempah fan, this app could be good for a laugh on an otherwise quiet night in the pub. Otherwise, you could just stick a coin in the jukebox, right?

Tinie Tempah: Rap Demonstration is the handiwork of the good folks at We Make Awesome Sh, the same developers behind the Calvin Harris app that made you dance to hear his latest album.

Tinie Tempah: Rap Demonstration

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Mileways, The Social App For Frequent Flyers, Adds Flight Compensation Through Partnership With AirHelp

Mileways, the Munich-based social app for frequent flyers, just got a little more useful. The iOS app has added integration with AirHelp, the flight compensation startup co-founded by Morten Lund, to make it easy for travellers to claim compensation should they face delay, cancelation or overbooking when flying to and from the EU.

The AirHelp partnership builds nicely on the Mileways proposition. The startup’s iOS app wants to be a one-stop-shop for flyers to help them keep track of and share flight information with their social network, and collect air miles that can be redeemed at a number of partners services, including Airbnb, Sixt, and Uber — with more partners coming soon.

Features include the ability to share travel details with friends (or switch to private mode), follow other travellers, get alerts when your flight is delayed, view weather forecasts, and find and book accommodation. In addition, there are a bunch of more generic social features, such as photo sharing and commenting on your friends’ trips.

Like the AirHelp app itself, the process of filing a compensation claim is somewhat automated. Data entry is minimal since the Mileways app already has most your flight details; you simply enter your name and booking code, and AirHelp’s “automatic flight compensation technology” kicks in.

First it will alert you when you may be entitled to compensation, and then assist you with filing the claim using its own airport, weather and airline data in order to consolidate the legal work required to make it stick. If the claim is successful, AirHelp keeps 25% of the compensation amount.

When I met Mileways co-founder Alexander Lueck at last year’s Disrupt Europe London meetup, he showed me an earlier version of the app and asked what I thought. My slight criticism was that I thought Mileways needed to provide more utility — it felt more vitamin pill, less pain killer — to incentivise users to go to the trouble of entering their travel details or syncing flight bookings. One way it’s doing that is obviously the redeemable air miles. And with today’s AirHelp integration, it’s added another reason for frequent flyers to use the app.

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Europe’s Antitrust Chief Almunia Clears Google On Search Probe; Competitors Up In Arms

Joachin Alumnia, the European Commission’s antitrust chief, has today finally given his final verdict on a decade-long antitrust investigation over its search practices against Google: the U.S.-based giant has been given all-clear and will now move forward on implementing remedies, after submitting proposals a third time around. But as soon as decision was made public, Google’s competitors weighed in with a response.

“This thing is a disgrace,” one tech company complainant told TechCrunch, pointing out that it will be hard for competitors to respond because the settlement won’t be made public before the deal is sealed. “So much for transparency.”

“A settlement without third party review is a massive failure. Complaints and others must see Google’s proposed commitments, not just the Commission’s analysis of why they will work. Hard data from market tests proved that the previous settlement would not work – we need time and opportunity to ensure full technical assessment of how effective the proposed remedies would be,” noted David Wood, ICOMP General Counsel. ICOMP is a lobbying group representing thousands of independent online businesses that has been especially vocal during the investigation process. Although it represents independent online companies, it is funded by Microsoft.

Almunia has a different opinion. “I believe Google’s proposals are capable of addressing the concerns. so we are moving forward on commitments,” he told an audience in Brussels today.

At issue were four types of business practices that raised concerns. The first two related to specialised search services around particular verticals like travel or hotels. In essence Google was displaying its own results in a more prominent manner than competitors. The other two complaints relate to online advertising and pressures that Google may have been placing on them to use Google ads.

Almunia said that while he could have taken either the negotiation or adversarial routes, he chose the former. “The purpose of enforcement should be allowed to let consumers benefit as soon as possible,” he said, and this would not have been possible with the protracted timeframe of an adversarial approach.

The solution is based on the third proposal from Google, after the previous two were rejected for not being strong enough. “This is why the latest round of negotiations was very intense. We have focused on how other search services can compete with Google,” Almunia said today.

Almunia stressed that this is not the end of the Google story. There is first the case of implementing this decision, but then there are also now ongoing investigations into other areas. The biggest one is a look at antitrust practices around the Android operating system, which is the largest smartphone platform in the world and controlled by Google.

Included in the solutions, now, when users in Europe search for, say, a hotel in a basic Google search, there will be three services displayed as alternatives alongside Google’s own. There are also provisions for how Google will handle mobile ads: one rival link will be displayed alongside Google’s own results. “This is a significant improvement over the previous proposal where rivals were only accessible after going through another screen,” Almunia said.

Competitors are still unhappy about the solutions, however. For starters, they claim that they will still be at a disadvantage because their results will always appear on the right of Google’s and studies have always shown that people opt first for results on the left side.

There is also the issue of “pay to play.” Those who want to advertise on Google’s page should pay, but in the commitments there are two different areas. If Google is offerings its own services and needs to display competitors alongside, they will not need to pay. But in cases where Google is displaying advertising results competitors will also need to pay to appear alongside those of other results.

Pointedly, there will be no more market tests from now on as there have been in previous iterations when Google and the EC were still negotiating. “This is a bad deal for consumers and for companies,” said a competitor. “If he thought he had a good deal, he would put it to a market test. Now the only hope is that other European Commissioners, who need to approve the deal, will stop Almunia.”

“Without a third party review, Almunia risks having the wool pulled over his eyes by Google. Having initially welcomed earlier proposals, effective market tests demonstrated their fatal flaws and the commission rightly rejected them. Why has Almunia chosen to ignore the expert advice of the market on this occasion?” asked Wood at ICOMP. “We do not believe Google has any intention of holding themselves to account on these proposals, and given the catastrophic effects on the online ecosystem that a proposal that doesn’t hit the mark will have, we would implore Commissioner Almunia to allow a full third party review of their submission as the very least the Commission can do in this landmark case.”

The representative from the tech company also is calling for more review.

“If Commissioner Almunia thought he got a good deal, he would get it vetted by experts and not only take Eric Schmidt’s word for it. But this deal will only be published after the deal is done. So the European Competition Commissioner should take some words of wisdom to heart that Eric Schmidt himself gave once to the world: ‘If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.’” There are some 12 companies involved in the case against Google and include large companies like Microsoft, Expedia and others.

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Email Management App Boxer Acquires Enhanced Email Team To Boost Android Development

Email management app Boxer wants to help users tame the inboxes on their mobile phones. But since launch last summer, it has only been available on iOS. To help speed the development of its app for Android devices, Boxer has acquired the team and IP behind Android app Enhanced Email.

Like Mailbox, Boxer is designed to help users triage their email quickly, with different swiping motions that unlock the ability to archive, delete, or respond to emails later. But the app is also designed to allow users to do a lot more: they can circle in other team members, assign tasks, and add items to a to-do list, directly from their email app. The team has also worked to make the app more powerful by hooking into third-party applications like Evernote, Sanebox, Salesforce, and others.

But despite all that, it’s been slow to make its way onto Android devices, which is why it’s bringing on the two-person team from Enhanced Email. That app, while priced at $9.99, is still a pretty popular email client for the Android, with more than 300,000 downloads, according to Boxer CEO and founder Andrew Eye.

The acquisition — which Eye admits was a small one, though terms were not disclosed — provides Boxer with some Android expertise, and will double its Android development team. With that in mind, the company hopes to get its own Android app out a lot sooner, and is asking potential users to signup for early access at getboxer.com/android.

While giving Boxer a much-needed Android boost, the downside is that Enhanced Email will cease to be “actively developed as a standalone product,” Enhanced Email founder Daniel Ochoa has written in an email being sent out to users. Instead, it will offer a free version of Boxer Pro — when it comes out on Android — to all Enhanced Email users.

Boxer has raised $3 million in funding led by Sutter Hill Ventures, with managing director Sam Pullara on its board. The company now has 15 full-time employees, and is based in Austin, Texas.

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Lumo Lift Wearable Seeing Upwards Of 400 Pre-Orders Per Day As Campaign Nears $1M

The Lumo Lift is the second product from startup Lumo BodyTech, and the second to help users with their posture. The Lumo Back was the first, and it raised around $200,000 in 40 days on Kickstarter. This time, Lumo opted to do the crowdfunding themselves, and the trajectory of the latest device has been quite different: Lumo Lift is at over $900,000 raised as of this writing, just under a month into the pre-order period.

That adds up to nearly 13,000 pre-orders, and totals about $32,000 per day raised thus far. The original Lumo Back campaign managed around $5,000 per day, or roughly one-sixth as much. Interest isn’t really waning the way it has a tendency to do with these kinds of campaigns, either – between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, there were 3,149 pre-orders in total, which was close to on par with the very first week after a couple of weeks of slower, but still strong interest, as you can see from the chart below.

“It’s going well for a couple reasons,” explained Lumo founder and CEO Monisha Perkash in an interview. “Lumo Lift really differs from other wearable tech because it’s customizable to different fashion tastes. It’s really wearable tech that’s more than just tech: It’s fashionable tech. Also [...] it focuses on bringing out the more confident, more attractive, the healthier you and that requires both staying active as well as good posture and we’re the only solution in the market that can do both.”

Interest in the campaign has produced some interesting demographic insight, too. Lumo has found that the majority of pre-order interest is from male customers, who are responsible for just over 67 percent of all orders. The U.S. is the big market for the Lift, unsurprisingly, with 86.7 percent of all orders, while 92.5 percent of sales come from the combined English-speaking countries of the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada. White is the most popular color choice with 54 percent of purchases, while 26 percent preferred black and silver trailed both with just 20 percent.

The difference between the initial campaign and this one is staggering – Lumo Lift will almost certainly exceed $1 million in pre-orders, likely before the week is out, which is five times what the startup accomplished on Kickstarter for the Lumo Back. I asked Perkash about how the two experiences compare.

“There are pros and cons of going in either direction [Kickstarter vs. self funding],” she explained. “What we’ve found is that because your customers interact with you on your website, you end up having a closer relationship with your customers. You can engage them more without having a third party between you, and you can also develop your own brand and messaging, [...] and make it consistent with what you want to communicate.”

Perkash says Lumo is still happy with having used Kickstarter in the beginning, since it helped them reach a wider audience with a brand that people didn’t really know to begin with. Also, she says that going alone a year and a half ago when they first started out, crowdfunding was still a relatively new concept, so there wouldn’t really be an opportunity to build a big following using your own platform vs. partnering with someone like Kickstarter.

Despite massively exceeding their initial expectations, Perkash says that she doesn’t anticipate any hiccups with initial production, since they’re confident in the manufacturing system and relationships they built with the original Lumo Back. There are only three more days left to get the Lumo Lift at its discounted price of $69 before it goes back to $99, so we’ll likely have a better idea of what kind of initial shipment volumes they’ll be facing once that price change starts to affect pre-order demand.

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Avast takes fresh private equity investment at $1B valuation

The Czech security firm Avast, which provides popular consumer antivirus software, has taken an investment from European private equity outfit CVC. The amount has not been disclosed, but Avast says it puts a billion-dollar valuation on the company (perhaps it’s preparing to shop itself around). The company says it will use the cash to beef up its mobile security products and push further into the U.S. and Asian markets in particular. Globally speaking, Avast’s 200 million users give it an antivirus market share just above 15 percent, putting it in second place behind Microsoft.

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Why Google’s results page may soon look a lot different in Europe

The European Commission said on Wednesday that it is satisfied with Google’s latest antitrust settlement offer. Finally – and I say this with trepidation, given previous events and the intransigence of the complainants — the end to this four-year adventure may be in sight.

The Commission is investigating Google over a raft of allegedly anticompetitive practices that it uses to push its own services over those of rivals in its results, and to lock advertising customers into its network. Google had managed to allay most of the regulator’s concerns with its repeated settlement proposals, but the issue of how to display rivals’ services remained a major sticking point.

A new principle

Google has more than 90 percent of the European search market, which is why regulators have to keep such a close eye on the U.S. firm. On Wednesday, competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said Google had agreed to adhere to a principle – for both existing specialized search services and Google’s future efforts – by which the search company will always display the services of 3 rivals in a way that’s comparable to how it displays its own.

According to Almunia:

“My mission is to protect competition to the benefit of consumers, not competitors. I believe that the new proposal obtained from Google after long and difficult talks can now address the Commission’s concerns. Without preventing Google from improving its own services, it provides users with real choice between competing services presented in a comparable way; it is then up to them to choose the best alternative. This way, both Google and its rivals will be able and encouraged to innovate and improve their offerings. Turning this proposal into a legally binding obligation for Google would ensure that competitive conditions are both restored quickly and maintained over the next years.”

The Commission specifically referred to specialized search services including products, flights and restaurants, so we may be talking about a radical shakeup of Google’s results pages, at least in Europe. This would involve, for example, rivals being given equivalent prominence to integrated Google services such as Product Search and perhaps even Google Maps.

As the Commission put it in a Q&A:

  • Users will be informed by a label of the fact that Google’s own specialised search services are promoted.

  • These services will be graphically separated from other search results, so the distinction with normal web search results will be clear.

  • For relevant specialised search services, Google will display prominent links to three rival specialised search services in a format which is visually comparable to that of links to its own services. For instance, if the Google links have images, the rival links will have images as well, including on mobile devices.

Rivals will have control of how they want to present their offerings and hence their business model.

As I have previously pointed out, though, it’s hard to see how this will work as Google moves into a streamlined, one-answer search future – think Google Now, with its natural language interface.

What about market testing?

If all goes well, an independent monitor would keep an eye on Google for a 5-year period to ensure compliance. The next step, however, is for the Commission to tell the complainants (who are backed by Microsoft) why it thinks the latest proposals pass muster. The complainants will then get a chance to complain some more before the Commission makes a final decision.

When reports emerged in late January that Almunia might finally be satisfied, the FairSearch group (comprising the complainants and again funded by Microsoft) said any solution would have to be market-tested first. On Wednesday another industry body called ICOMP (funded by… you get the idea) issued the following statement:

“A settlement without third party review is a massive failure. Complaints and others must see Google’s proposed commitments, not just the Commission’s analysis of why they will work. Hard data from market tests proved that the previous settlement would not work – we need time and opportunity to ensure full technical assessment of how effective the proposed remedies would be.

“Without a third party review, Almunia risks having the wool pulled over his eyes by Google. Having initially welcomed earlier proposals, effective market tests demonstrated their fatal flaws and the commission rightly rejected them. Why has Almunia chosen to ignore the expert advice of the market on this occasion?

“We do not believe Google has any intention of holding themselves to account on these proposals, and given the catastrophic effects on the online ecosystem that a proposal that doesn’t hit the mark will have, we would implore Commissioner Almunia to allow a full third party review of their submission as the very least the Commission can do in this landmark case.”

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Cisco: The U.S. officially enters the gigabyte era of mobile data consumption

Mobile users the world over came close to doubling their mobile data consumption between 2012 and 2013 as average monthly usage peaked well over 1 GB in the U.S, and several other countries, according to Cisco Systems’ new Visual Networking Index report on global mobile data trends.

North America led the pack with the average mobile subscriber consuming 1.38 GBs a month, up from 752 MBs in 2012 and a full gigabyte more than the average global usage of 356 MBs. When looking at individual countries, Japanese users led the world with 1.87 GBs, followed by the U.S. at 1.41 GBs and South Korea with 1.25 GBs.

Cisco VNI 2014 data use

Those three countries happen to be the first to launch LTE networks on a large scale, and according to Cisco director of service provider marketing Thomas Barnett, 4G adoption has become the strongest indicator of skyrocketing mobile broadband use worldwide, a conclusion other studies have also reached. In Western Europe, where LTE only got off the ground recently, average mobile data usage is half that in North America, coming in at 717 MBs per month.

Cisco VNI 2014 connection type

As you might expect, smartphones are a big driver of that increased data appetite, but tablets are contributing as well. Cisco, however, is seeing a surprising surge in PC connections to mobile networks. Barnett attributes that to the fact that laptops are starting to resemble tablets, coming with touchscreen capabilities and retractable keyboards. As people start to use their laptops like tablets, they’re increasing treating them as mobile — not merely portable — devices.

Cisco VNI 2014 devices

Last year the world saw 1.5 exabytes — an exabyte being 1 billion gigabytes — of data traverse its mobile networks each month. Cisco expects that number to grow to 15.9 exabytes in 2018.

Cisco VNI 2014 Traffic

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MariaDB outfit SkySQL takes on former HP public cloud manager as product chief

SkySQL, the Finnish database firm that wants to steal Oracle’s lunch with the MySQL fork MariaDB, has hired the former general manager of HP’s public cloud services as its new product chief.

Roger Levy told me on Wednesday that his team had been “somewhat isolated” from HP’s ongoing layoff extravaganza, as cloud is where HP is trying to refocus its efforts, but he couldn’t resist SkySQL’s offer. “For me it was a couple of things,” he said. “One, the interesting opportunity that SkySQL has in the industry, and the other was from a personal point of view, wanting to get back to the startup environment.”

As Levy noted, SkySQL brings together some of “the top database people around” – it takes in many members of the original MySQL team. Now, with $20 million in the bank from an Intel-led Series B round last October, SkySQL is trying to push MariaDB particularly into the enterprise.

“Our path is to be the best database selection for essentially people who want to do high scale, high performance transaction processing within the enterprise, within webscale, and better orient towards those who want to consume it in a cloud model, whether it’s public or private,” he told me.

According to Levy, SkySQL is moving beyond its original strategy providing a bridge for those who don’t like how Oracle manages the supposedly open-source MySQL. He claimed the next version of MariaDB, in a couple months’ time, will have “interesting new capabilities and properties” that will act as a starting point for future evolution.

“We’re making sure the relational database market continues to innovate and keep up with the evolving needs of the customer,” Levy said. “The fact is that many people who are launching large webscale properties or others don’t really have the [database administrator] skills – we need to make it more automated and easier to use for them.”

He added that SkySQL would also focus on building APIs in order to create an ecosystem that will allow the firm to “build full end-to-end solutions.”

Levy wasn’t the only hire announced by SkySQL on Wednesday. The company has also taken on Dion Corbett, formerly a Red Hat sales strategy VP, as VP Global Sales, and former OpenLogic CEO Steven Grandchamp as VP North American Sales.

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ThoughtSpot Raises $10.7M From Lightspeed To Offer Intelligent Search And Data Visualization To The Enterprise

ThoughtSpot, a company that aims to provide businesses with intelligent search and data visualization, has raised $10.7 million in Series A funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.

The startup is the brainchild of Nutanix co-founder Ajeet Singh and Amit Prakash, who was a founding engineer of Microsoft’s Bing team and then spent five years leading technical teams in Google’s AdSense Analytics group.

The company has developed a relational search engine and in-memory database designed for mid-to-large enterprises with natural language query so that enterprises have a way to search across all numerical data (i.e. expense reports, sales records and more). The goal for Singh and Prakash when founding the company was giving businesses the ability to access and analyze terabytes of business data with a Google-like ease-of-use. As Singh explains, Google, Facebook and others have changed the way we search for public data, yet enterprise data is the same. The whole consumerization of the enterprise has not caught up to enterprise search, says Singh.

ThoughtSpot’s search and computation platform pulls in business data, and allows companies to visualize this data in search and visual formats. As Singh explains, the startup’s technology is optimized for relational structural data.

Right now, IBM and others are attempting to tackle this space but Singh believes that many of these incumbents haven’t approached solving the problem in the right way.

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Security Software Firm Avast Gets CVC Capital Investment, Now Valued At $1B

The rise in malware and online security threats continues to give a big boost to companies that are looking for ways to make the connected world a bit safer. Avast, one of the bigger PC and mobile security software firms that competes against the likes of Microsoft, Symantec and McAfee (Intel) for consumer and enterprise business, today announced a major investment: CVC Capital Partners, the private equity firm, is putting in an investment of an unspecified amount that values Avast at $1 billion. It will be using the investment to continue growing its product base and also to further more U.S. expansion for the company originally founded in Prague.

“AVAST is the undisputed global leader in consumer PC antivirus and a pacesetter in mobile security – but we’re not yet number one in every market,” said Vince Steckler, CEO of AVAST, in a statement. “CVC gives us the resources to become the number one PC security provider in the US and Asia, and the clear market leader in mobile security.”

According to the latest figures from Opswat, which scans and tests networks, Avast is currently the number-two antivirus provider in the market, with a 15.9% share. Microsoft is in first place with a 23% share.

We are trying to find out the full amount of the investment and will update this post as we learn more. Reports of the investment have been circulating for about a week before today. (Update: Avast is not disclosing the exact amount invested.)

The investment comes on the heels of a $100 million round led by Summit Partners in 2010, and a spate of consolidation and investment in the security industry. Most recently, AirWatch was acquired by VMWare for $1.54 billion.

Avast is not exactly a startup: it has been around for 25 years already, originally starting in Prague and now co-headquartered in Redwood City, CA.

Avast says that its antivirus software — which is available both in free and paid versions — is installed by over 200 million users covering 40 languages. The PC security product alone covers 170 million devices, while its newer mobile business covers some 40 million Android devices. Other Avast products include SafeZone (for online transactions); avast! EasyPass (for password storage) and avast! BackUp (a cloud backup). avast! Secureline VPN secures any public WiFi and makes your browsing anonymous, and its Browser Cleanup deletes unwanted toolbars and plugins. The latest in this suite is GrimeFighter, a PC optimisation and clean-up utility to rid a device of the small bots that might slow it down.

Photo: Flickr

More to come.

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British intelligence used DDoS tactics against Anonymous, Snowden documents show

The British spy agency GCHQ secretly waged war against the hacker collective Anonymous a few years ago, according to documents taken from the NSA by Edward Snowden and revealed late Tuesday by NBC. At the time, certain members of Anonymous were themselves waging war against British government institutions and various companies.

Judging by a presentation (PDF) put together by GCHQ itself for a 2012 conference, a previously undisclosed unit called the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) launched distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against Anonymous chat rooms and used messaging services such as Facebook and Skype to individually address and scare off the chatrooms’ users. JTRIG agents also infiltrated the chatrooms in order to gather evidence against certain hacktivists who were subsequently imprisoned.

Although it was a turbulent time for online attacks, many if not most of those affected by JTRIG’s “Rolling Thunder” program would have been guilty of little more than online activism. Perhaps as importantly, this is the first time we have seen DDoS tactics used by a western state actor – this is the sort of tactic one expects to see coming out of China or Russia.

Back to the wars

Anonymous and its sometimes-partner LulzSec were, in the summer of 2011, angry about several things. The first big issue was the prosecution of U.S. soldier Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning for leaking reams of documents to Wikileaks. In an operation called Payback, PayPal and various credit card companies were targeted by Anonymous for refusing to process Wikileaks donations. The other major strand of the hackers’ anger stemmed from copyright issues.

LulzSec hacked major entertainment firms, the U.K. National Health Service, the CIA and the U.S. Senate, and in a joint “AntiSec” operation with Anonymous the group also hacked the British FBI, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). GCHQ itself also became a target.

LulzSec was a relatively small outfit — fewer than a dozen core members — and Anonymous a larger but very loose collective, with many “members” who were more interested in activism than attacks. A hard core of members, however, were into DDoS and other malicious methods, and JTRIG appears to have been behind the jailing of a few of them.

One, Edward Pearson of York in northern England, went by the name of GZero. He was sentenced to 26 months for stealing millions of identities and information from 200,000 PayPal accounts (and using stolen credit card identities to buy hotel stays and pay his phone bills, though only to the tune of £2,351).

A teenager called Jake Davis was arrested in Shetland Islands to the north of Scotland. Using the name Topiary, Davis was LulzSec’s spokesman – he was sentenced to 24 months in a youth detention center, though he only served 5.

Crossing the line?

The irony of JTRIG’s activities is that they probably contravene the same legislation used to nail Davis and others, the Computer Misuse Act of 1990. DDoS attacks are illegal, for good reason.

A DDoS attack often involves flooding the target’s systems with connection requests until it simply can’t cope and effectively shuts down. In the case of the Anonymous chatrooms, this would also take out the servers hosting the chatrooms, which were probably hosting other websites too.

Then there’s the targets’ overall nature to consider. While a few were certainly engaged in illegal activity, with one or two crossing into fraudulent territory, many weren’t. Most were probably just kids with a cause.

The NBC piece quotes academic Gabrielle Coleman, an expert on Anonymous, as saying most people in those IRC chatrooms were there “primarily for ordinary political expression.” It also quotes former White House cyber security official Jason Healey as saying DDoS tactics should only be used against other countries, and that for a major intelligence agency to spend this much time chasing teenagers “justifies them and is demeaning to our side.”

Even one of the former LulzSec hackers, Mustafa “T-Flow” Al-Bassam, who was just 16 at the time and only received a suspended sentence and a 2-year internet ban, was taken aback by the new revelations:

As I stated, I strongly suspected that these tactics were used by GCHQ since half a year ago, but GCHQ DDoSing IRC is just something else.—

Mustafa Al-Bassam (@musalbas) February 05, 2014

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Apple donates $100 million in products toward Obama's education initiative and other news from Feb. 4, 2014

Obama Education

As a follow-up to last week's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that U.S. companies, including Apple, are contributing about $750 million toward making broadband Internet more accessible to U.S. students. Apple's part of the pledge is $100 million in iPads, computers and more.

Other news from Tuesday afternoon includes:

Kick back and relax with these features:


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TrackMaven Lands $6.5M From NEA And Others To Bring Better Competitive Intelligence To Digital Marketers

As content marketing becomes an increasingly significant part of the digital marketing arsenal, it it brings with it new opportunities, both allowing marketers to expand beyond traditional approaches to advertising and tap into new revenue channels. However, it also comes with a downside, as digital marketers are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the number of channels they have to create engaging content for and manage. While the number of significant digital marketing channels has increased to upwards of 20 in the last three to five years, digital marketing budgets and headcounts among marketing teams haven’t quite increased at the same rate.

In September 2013, Acceleprise General Manager Allen Gannett founded TrackMaven to act as a solution — and to help simplify competitive intelligence for digital marketers. Rather than having to cobble together data from a variety of sources, TrackMaven automatically aggregates competitive intelligence data from paid, earned and owned media channels into one interface. The idea, Gannett says, is to show digital marketers what their competitors are doing across these channels, and particularly, what’s actually working for them.

While most competitive intelligence marketing tools either focus on first-party analytics or social listening (i.e. what consumers are saying about a brand, not what brands are actually doing themselves), the founder says, TrackMaven enables marketers to see what their audiences are interested in and then benchmark against their peers in each of those categories.

Offering data and insight from 15 different channels across paid, owned and earned media, TrackMaven has built a customer list that includes brands like Eddie Bauer, Aol, Computer Sciences Corporation, Martha Stewart Living, and the NBA, to name a few. With demand increasing as marketers continue to struggle with creating engaging content across a growing set of channels, TrackMaven announced today that it has raised $6.5 million in a round led by New Enterprise Associates to help it expand.

Bowery Capital and Acceleprise Ventures also participated in TrackMaven’s latest round, bringing its total raised to date to just under $8 million. The Series B financing follows on the heels of the $1.25 million the startup raised last March from Aol Ventures and a group of angel investors that includes Sean Glass (former CMO of HigherOne), Hemang Gadhia (former CEO of Condaptive, acquired by Millenial Media), Adam Riggs (former President of Shutterstock) and Roger Krakoff (Cloud Capital Partners), among others.

As a result of the round, NEA General Partner Harry Weller, whose has previously invested in companies like Groupon, Cvent, Eloqua and SourceFire, will join former CEO of Eloqua Joe Payne and co-founder of HigherOne, Sean Glass, on the startup’s board of directors.

The key to TrackMaven’s value proposition thus far, Gannett explains, is that the company is attempting to establish itself as the first true enterprise competitive intelligence platform for marketers, enabling big brands and corporations to both benchmark and track their digital marketing efforts.

With the startup’s platform and dashboard, marketers can dig down into the topics, tactics and channels that are working for their competitors’ audience, the TrackMaven founder says. Using TrackMaven’s dashboard, marketers are able to get a more three-dimensional view into their traditional marketing channels like news and PR, email, site traffic, organic search, display and text advertising, as well as “newer” digital channels like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Ultimately, the TrackMaven founder believes that the platform is off to a good start by allowing digital marketing teams at big brands to discover key tactics and more easily build benchmarks, graphs, and reports on the data therein. But, with its new funding, the company wants to take its platform to the next level, incorporating new data sources, better exporting, expanded custom visualizations and a wider range of integrations, like with backend BI systems, for example.

TrackMaven at home here.


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Moto G launches in India, available exclusively at online retailer Flipkart

Motorola today launched its Moto G smartphone in India. While the device doesn’t yet have a price at the time of writing, it will soon show up and be available for purchase directly from Flipkart.com.

moto g flipkart Moto G launches in India, available exclusively at online retailer Flipkart

The Indian online retailer Flipart has exclusivity for the Moto G in the country, though it’s not clear for how long. If you order it today (again, we assume Flipkart is just slow at flipping the switch), you’ll also receive “free e-books, clothing, and an exclusive 70% discount on shells.”

See also – Moto G unveiled with a 4.5″ 720p display, 5MP camera and Android 4.3, available from $179 and Moto G review: The best budget Android smartphone, despite the poor camera and lack of LTE

Image Credit: David Becker/Getty Images

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CVS And Walgreens By Mail: PillPack Launches A Full-Service, Subscription-Based Online Pharmacy In 31 States

According to studies from the Mayo Clinic, more than 20 percent of Americans take more than five prescription medications each day. This fact goes a long way to showing how big of a role the pharmacy has come to play in millions of lives. While managing prescriptions, medications, and one’s healthcare is critical, it also happens to be far from easy. No one likes these.

While earning his diploma at pharmacy school, TJ Parker met Elliot Cohen through MIT’s Hacking Medicine program, and the two decided to run an experiment, through which they hoped to prove that managing medications could actually be far more simple than the process most Americans wrestle with on a daily basis. However, the two quickly learned that in order to tackle the friction within the pharmacy system in the U.S. and truly provide a better alternative, they would have to go beyond apps and smart pillboxes and actually build a better pharmacy from the ground up.

After graduating from TechStars Boston early last year, Parker and Cohen finally unveiled the result of their experiments in PillPack — a full-service, fully-licensed online pharmacy. After a year of development, the startup opened up early access this fall to pilot the program with a group of early customers, and a few months and tweaks later, PillPack is today ready for its full-scale launch to the masses. Well, the masses of Americans taking more than five prescription meds each day.

To put a fine point on it: As of today, PillPack is now available (read: Licensed) in 31 states, with additional states expected to roll out over the course of 2014.

That’s all well and good, but, how exactly does it work you ask? Essentially, the program allows customers to have their medications shipped two them every two weeks in a (yes, two-week) roll of individual packets that are organized by time and date — rather than using those standard, ubiquitous bright orange pill bottles. Beyond their prescriptions, customers can also sign up to receive any over-the-counter medications or vitamins that they happen to be taking on a regularly basis as part of each shipment.

Once they’ve established which prescriptions, over-the-counter meds and vitamins they want to receive every two weeks, shipments are sent to their doorsteps, with cocktails arriving in a chain of “dose packs,” each pack assigned to a different of the week — all of which comes pre-packaged and linked together in a recyclable roll.

Each package comes with a clear label and an image of the medication inside. While PillPack is limited to shipping prescription medications in the 31 states in which it’s currently licensed, the startup can ship over-the-counter meds and vitamins in all 50.

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 7.01.22 PM

However, while shipping medications directly to customers’ doorsteps is a good first step, as anyone regularly taking doctor-ordered medications will tell you, the real key is ensuring that they get their prescription on time, and actually take those medications on time. To assuage any potential concern among American pill-poppers, PillPack guarantees that those shipments will arrive on time.

Leveraging the resurgence of the subscription model among digital startups and consumer product companies, PillPack offers its program for a monthly fee of $20/month (plus co-pays), which includes unlimited shipping so that additional meds can be sent anytime. Generally speaking, the founders say, the co-pay charge included in the fee stay the same, and the startup now accepts “most major prescription insurance plans, as well as most forms of Medicare Part D.”

Furthermore, because refills and subscription renewal planning tend to be the most time-consuming aspect of the pharmacy routine, PillPack offers a feature called “Proactive Refill Management,” which essentially assigns one of the startup’s on-staff pharmacists to monitor and coordinate each of your refills and renewals ahead of time. The startups also rotates its bullpen of pharmacists such that someone is “always on-call for 24/7 support” and available to answer questions or handle emergencies, the company said.

As it looks to continue scaling its online, over-the-mail hybrid pharmacy and follow-through with licensing in the remaining 19 states not yet signed on, PillPack has taken on $4 million in venture financing to help it get there. The startup’s latest round of funding — a $3.5 million in Series A round, which closed last summer — was led by Atlas Venture, with participation from Founder Collective. The round followed close on the heels of a $550K seed round of angel funding raised shortly after it graduated from TechStars in May of 2013.

While early test runs have been promising, the founders say, the key to PillPack’s future success will be in how well it’s able to maintain a simple (and quality) customer experience, while ensuring on-time shipments and 24/7 support as it scales and usage increases. The founders believe that by spending time building a sophisticated back-end system to help it manage and process orders, and by combining technology with pharmacists that review each prescription and over-the-counter cocktail before it ships, it will at the very least have a leg-up on the complicated, confusing, and time-consuming world of the brick-and-mortar, American pharmacy.

For more, find PillPack here.

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 8.13.23 PM

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Fair Competition Or Foul Play? Rival Car Service Fires Back At Uber Over Alleged Attack

If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again: Competition can get pretty fierce in the world of on-demand transportation. Consumer demand for better, faster and more convenient car services has exploded and top startups are racing to meet the opportunity. As an early mover in the space, Uber is used to pushing back against unwelcoming opposition, and fighting unions, legislators and more as it’s grown.

However, as we reported last week, an Uber competitor made it clear that the company’s “aggressive tactics” may have finally gone too far.

Gett, formerly GetTaxi, brought a rival black car service to New York City for the first time this fall. Soon thereafter, it crossed a $100 million annual run rate thanks to its growing international presence. The startup’s entrance into an already hyper-competitive New York market did not go unnoticed.

As we reported, over the course of three days during the week of January 13th, Gett alleged that Uber employees launched the “real world” equivalent of a DDoS, or denial-of-service, attack, ordering and canceling more than 100 of its cars. Evidence provided to TechCrunch at the time showed that more than one dozen Uber employees had worked simultaneously to request rides from its competitor, waiting until the cars had almost arrived before canceling their orders.

Having obtained drivers’ numbers as a result of ordering the rides through the app, Uber employees then texted as many of the Gett drivers they could in an attempt to recruit them, offering cash incentives to those who would switch into its camp.

From Gett’s perspective, this was “uncool” for a number of reasons, chief of which was the disruption of its new business. To Uber’s credit, it responded with a public apology, admitting that it had attempted to recruit Gett drivers, saying that its “local teams can be pretty determined when spreading the word about Uber and how our platform opens up new economic opportunities for drivers.”

While that could have been the end of it (and perhaps should have been), Gett isn’t satisfied. The startup heard Uber’s apology acknowledging that it screwed up — but saw that apology as more of an appeasement measure aimed at customers and vocal opponents on Twitter.

Uber said in its statement that members of its New York team had made these requests to “generate leads of independent contractors” but had in fact “cancelled those requests seconds later,” and did pay “cancellation fees for these requests.”

The company also defined its requests as “sales tactics” — even if qualified by the admission that they were “too aggressive.”

Gett, simply put, seems to think that, when it comes to apologizing for anti-competitive behavior, this is the bare minimum as far as apologies are concerned. That it is the equivalent of apologizing, but saying, “hey, we’re an aggressive company with go-get-’em sales tactics and we shouldn’t have done that, but ‘no harm, no foul’ because we cancelled seconds later and paid any necessary fees.”

In a follow-up statement today, Gett is firing back, saying that Uber’s attempt to shift focus away from their transgression is unfair and that their presentation of the situation as a well-intentioned but “too aggressive” marketing tactic doesn’t quite do it justice. According to evidence provided to TechCrunch, this was not simply a random, rogue employee going off the reservation.

In fact, further evidence shows that, not only do the dozen or so Uber employees whose names appear on the order include a social media manager, operations manager, community manager and general manager, but Gett alleges that more than one Uber employee created multiple accounts using different names.

The idea being that it wasn’t just a dozen employees using their real first and last name, but multiple employees using, say, their first name and middle name, or variations thereof. Uber General Manager Josh Mohrer, for example, allegedly created two accounts, one being “Josh Martin” and the other being “Jim Martins.”

For one of those names, Mohrer allegedly provided an invalid credit card and requested rides not just from the Uber offices or one individual location, but multiple rides originating from all over Manhattan and the outer boroughs — from Times Square to La Guardia.

The majority of these rides took place over the course of one hour, at the very least making it difficult to contend that Mohrer was in all of those places at once. To further back up its claims, Gett also alleges that Mohrer was far from alone in this behavior, as multiple Uber employees used invalid credit cards and removed that information after canceling their rides.

When asked what purpose Gett had in coming forward with this kind of information, Gett CEO Jing Herman said that “driver information is not for sale and indulgences don’t go for $10.” She also said that Uber had managed to recruit one of Gett’s drivers since then, and the company wants to make sure that this kind of behavior does not continue.

As to whether Gett planned to pursue legal action against Uber? The CEO said that the company had not made a final decision yet on this front and is “evaluating its options.”

TechCrunch asked former Federal Prosecutor Fred Tocce whether or not he thought Uber’s actions potentially warranted more serious, er, legal action from Gett. Tocce, whose firm Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel, specializes in intellectual property law, including unfair competition, and who himself has worked on over 200 cases in this area, said, in short, “yes.”

Elaborating, the former federal prosecutor said that Gett would potentially “have a number of viable causes of action against Uber under New York law” — as well as the laws of many states in the U.S., he added. Tocce cited potential causes of action as including but not limited to, unfair competition, tortious interference with contractual relations and tortious interference with prospective contractual relations.

If the false credit card part of the scheme were true, Tocce continued, then there could also be cause for action for fraud and conversion, but in all cases, it would be a matter of showing that Uber’s conduct caused harm and just how much harm to business it actually caused. In the end, however, Gett has thus far been content to let this play itself out in the press, rather than enter into a lengthy and potentially expensive legal battle against one of the largest companies in the space.

Of course, if one were to view this situation from the other side of the table, one might say that Gett is also taking advantage of the incident and is, overall, on a mission to use Uber as a focal point around which to base some of its own marketing; particularly around the fact that it does not use surge pricing as Uber does during peak hours.

When TechCrunch reached out to Uber for a response, the company again apologized and reiterated its previous response:

We apologize for the tactics used to recruit drivers in NYC a couple of weeks ago and took steps to ensure that it does not occur again … We believe that the Uber platform is the best option for drivers to maximize their incomes and become their own entrepreneurs. As we were working to bring more drivers on the Uber platform quickly to meet consumer demand, the NYC team got overzealous in getting the word out to drivers.

Uber also contended that what is likely the case is that, while some employees might have used their first name and maiden names, they weren’t looking to actively conceal their identity or produce fake accounts. Furthermore, to their knowledge, all of the credit card information provided was authentic, although there was one instance in which an employee had a card authenticated by had removed the information once it triggered fraud protection at their bank.

In response, Gett said that it used Braintree, and processed payment information likely in much the same way as Uber. COO Adi Vaxman said that the company “authenticates cards at the time the account is opened and also runs a small pre-authorization amount when a ride is requested, similar to all mobile app vendors.” In the event that a pre-authorization fails, the user is then “prompted to update their payment method in order to pay for their ride.”

But, according to Gett, the Uber users in question did not in fact update their payment information. When the cancellation fees were later processed, the company learned that some of the cards were invalid while others were removed from the accounts entirely, and that Gett “could not charge all users due to invalid credit cards and cards being removed,” the CEO said.

For now, it is up to readers to decide what to make of this unfolding story, but from the facts presented by both sides, it doesn’t exactly look like there are too many ways to spin this in Uber’s favor. Yes, stories like this make Uber seem like the incumbent, like the dominant name in the space, but that’s not going to be much of a surprise to people. However, what could potentially be more interesting, and worth more of a conversation, is what happens when a space doesn’t exactly have 10,000-foot barriers to competition and what the leaders in the space do when that competition inevitably arrives.

Is this a case of all’s fair in love and on-demand transportation, or is this something that Uber needs to be held accountable for? You be the judge.


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Sherpa Ventures Closes On $87 Million Of $150 Million Fund

Sherpa Ventures, the “vague by design” investment group founded by Shervin Pishevar and Scott Stanford, has made its first close on a planned $150 million fund. As reported by Fortune, the first $87 million of its raise has come in, with investors including TPG Capital. Pishevar declined to comment on the raise, citing SEC restrictions, but we’re likely to see more from the team soon. The entire round is expected to close sometime over the coming months.

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Visualize this: Tableau nearly doubled its revenue in 2013

Data visualization specialist Tableau has been killing it since its initial public offering in May, and the company’s most recent earnings statement proves it. Tableau earned $81.5 million in revenue during the fourth quarter — a 95 percent year-over-year increase — and $232.4 million for the entire year, an 82 percent increase over 2012.

To anybody who follows the business of data closely, these numbers probably don’t come as much of a surprise. Tableau users that I’ve met seem to love the product (as much anybody can love enterprise software), evidenced by the fact that Tableau added 1,800 new customer accounts and 179 deals worth more than $100,000 in the fourth quarter alone. It seems like every company in the big data space, from Cloudera to Trifacta, has a partnership with Tableau and mentions the company as the de facto choice for visualizing the data stored in systems such as Hadoop.

Tableau is often compared with QlikTech, another business intelligence vendor that went public in 2010, but although QlikTech is still bigger Tableau has all the momentum. QlikTech earned $104.1 million in its third quarter last year, which was only a 21 percent increase over 2012. Even MicroStrategy, an much-older and much-larger competitor, which brought in $165.9 million during the fourth quarter, only saw a 6 percent year over year increase. If the trend continues, Tableau could be the biggest pure-play BI software vendor in just a few years.

The chart above shows annual revenues since 2008. QlikTech’s 2013 total revenue is based on the high-end guidance it issued during its third-quarter earnings, although hitting that number would require the company do $162 million in fourth quarter revenue. Another 21 percent annual increase would do the trick, although QlikTech did lose revenue between its second and third quarters in 2013. It announces fourth-quarter and annual earnings on Feb. 20.

The companies’ stock prices since Tableau went public suggest investors are bullish on Tableau, too. MicroStrategy is still trading at more than $120 a share while Tableau shot up to nearly $91 in after-hours trading following Tuesday’s earnings report, but Tableau is definitely delivering the bigger return on investment since its IPO.


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Rural carriers start connecting customers to doctors via mobile video chat

If you’re a Cellular One customer in Louisiana or Texas and need to talk to a doctor, you now have a very high-tech option. You can conduct a video chat using Skype or Facetime, or just have a phone conversation with a board-certified physician on your mobile phone. It costs $30 per consult and is billed to your mobile account.

The service is powered by iSelectMD, a telemedicine outfit founded in 2010 that is trying to create a health network via mobile phones. iSelectMD is working with companies as a supplemental healthcare service for non-emergency medical services, but it’s also trying to work directly with mobile carriers to make mobile health an element of their service plans.

That’s where the Competitive Carriers Association comes in. The CCA represents the myriad of regional and rural carriers in the U.S. (along with Sprint and T-Mobile scratching out a market under the imposing shadows of AT&T and Verizon Wireless. In an effort to level the playing field the CCA is partnering with different companies, from cloud services outfits to crowdsourced Wi-Fi providers, to offer its collective membership a means of differentiating themselves from the big operators.

CCA’s work with iSelectMD is one of those partnerships. It’s starting with Cellular One but will expand to other regional carriers. These operators serve the most furthest-flung consumers in the U.S., many of whom live in areas where immediate access to healthcare isn’t a given.

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Apple's corporate peers in the $10B quarter club all have something in common

After Apple posted its earnings from the quarter gone by last week, the company's stock price went into an absolute freefall, dropping by US$50 in the span of just three days. Today, Apple shares are trading in the low $500 range, representing about a 12 percent drop from a three-month high of $570 reached on December 22, 2013.

Now we could talk for days about how the stock market is illogical and how Wall Street tends to cherry pick, without rhyme or reason, which financial metrics it values most from quarter to quarter. But at the end of the day, trying to extract any trace of logic out of the wild fluctuations that accompany Apple's share price can only lead to madness.

With much of the discussion centering on how Apple's recent quarter failed to impress investors, it's easy to lose track of just how monstrous and impressive Apple's holiday quarter actually was.

To that end, Philip Elmer-DeWitt of Fortune put together this chart which shows that of the top 10 quarterly earnings ever posted by any company, five slots belong to Apple. The other five slots belong to an assortment of oil and gas companies.

Now if you take a closer look at the chart, you'll note that with the exception of Gazprom in 2011, Apple is the only company in the last five years that delivered a quarterly profit above $12 billion. Taking Gazprom -- a Natural Gas company -- out of the equation, we have to go all the way back to ExxonMobil's Q3 in 2008 to see quarterly profits as high as what Apple is raking in today.

What's more, of the top 20 quarterly earnings reports in history, Apple is the only non-oil / gas company to even make the list.

So for all the talk about Apple's share price and pessimism surrounding the company's ability to innovate and enter new product categories, it may be a good idea to take a step back and remember that Apple as a company is healthier and more profitable than it's ever been at any point during the company's nearly 38-year history.


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Talking to Siri: Who's your daddy?

Everyone keeps asking Siri this. To be fair, Alan Turing is the honorary father of all virtual agents like Siri.

Steven Sande and Erica Sadun have been working on the third edition of Talking to Siri, the book that covers all the ins and outs of everyone's favorite digital assistant.


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HAL 9000 wants to be your Mac screensaver

Remember the iconic HAL 9000 computer from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey ? We all wanted our own HAL, even though he pretty thoroughly crashed in the movie: "Open the pod bay doors, HAL."

The folks at the HAL Project have been involved with simulating the look of HAL for years. Their first project was an animated desktop back in 1999. The screensaver version of the HAL GUI has been around for years, but it's recently had a major update to provide smooth animation and really authentic simulations of the HAL screens.

The screensaver is free, but there is a US$5 version that eliminates the splash screen and has eight HAL screens with the HAL unit in the middle. To be honest, I prefer the free version because it fills the full screen of my Mac, but I donated the five bucks for the paid version because I appreciate what the HAL Project is doing.

It's a striking screensaver, and really looks just like the HAL screens from the movie. Kudos. 2001: A Space Odyssey director Stanley Kubrick would be proud.

The HAL screensaver has just been updated to work on Mavericks, and you can get it at the HAL Project website. Look around a little bit to see what they are doing, and enjoy this tribute to one of the great movies of all time.


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Daily Update for February 4, 2014

It's the TUAW Daily Update, your source for Apple news in a convenient audio format. You'll get some of the top Apple stories of the day in three to five minutes for a quick review of what's happening in the Apple world.

You can listen to today's Apple stories by clicking the player at the top of the page. The Daily Update has been moved to a new podcast host in the past few days. Current listeners should delete the old podcast subscription and subscribe to the new feed in the iTunes Store here.


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Path for Android now lets you record videos up to 30 seconds long, and add filters

tumblr inline n0hmboRGeM1ra3jk5 Path for Android now lets you record videos up to 30 seconds long, and add filters Path has released an update for its Android app that now lets users capture video within the application. Users can record up to 30 seconds of video and even add filters to it.

The launch of this feature brings the Android version up to par with its iOS counterpart, which has long had the ability to record videos within the app. To use it, open up the app, access the camera, and hold down on the camera button. This method is different than the iOS version where you can tap a separate button to enable recording.

As you might expect, the features available with Path video are similar to what you receive on Instagram, except that Path offers 30 seconds compared to Instagram’s 15 seconds. Both allow filters to be added to “make your video moments even better.”

➤ Path for Android

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Video authoring platform TouchCast releases WordPress plugin so users can embed videos into any post

TouchCast has released a WordPress plugin that now lets you embed your video directly into a blog post. Once installed, content creators need only press a button in WordPress’ WYSIWYG editor and insert the TouchCast video URL that they wish to insert. It will be displayed in the [touchcast url] code format as shown in the screenshot below.

wordpress1 730x373 Video authoring platform TouchCast releases WordPress plugin so users can embed videos into any post

In addition to being able to embed videos, users can also manage whether it plays automatically on load, toggle whether a video will skip to the next after being watched, and adjust the height and width of the video player. The company says that with version 1.0 of the plugin, video files will play on mobile browsers without interactivity. However, in a desktop browser, it will work as originally intended.

TouchCast was founded by Edo Segal, Charley Miller, and Erick Schonfeld. It’s a platform that allows anyone to create engaging and interactive videos without having to pay a studio thousands of dollars to create.

wordpress3 730x347 Video authoring platform TouchCast releases WordPress plugin so users can embed videos into any post

See related: TouchCast brings its ‘TV studio in a box’ service to Windows desktop devices and TouchCast for iPad brings the ‘future of the Web’ to video-authoring with interactive browsable layers

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Unified Adds Business Intelligence To Its Social Marketing Tools

Social advertising company Unified just launched the new version of its “social operating platform” today, and it sounds like the biggest change is the addition of business intelligence — basically, more customizable, big-picture data to help advertisers see how they’re doing.

The company already offers ad-buying tools, as well as a system of record for monitoring different ad-buying systems. (It also bought social ad startup PageLever last year.) With the new version, Vice President of Marketing Dave Donohue said Unified is the “only social marketing platform with fully integrated BI.”

To be honest, I wasn’t totally clear at first about how this is different from the data that Unified was already providing its customers, but co-founder and Chief Product Officer Jason Beckerman told me this is much more about tracking general trends and benchmarks, not just a few social metrics around an individual campaign. He added that a lot of this data is currently trapped in Excel, while Unified can bring it together and make it accessible in real-time.

For a more concrete example, Donohue said a large auto manufacturer could use Unified’s BI tools to bring up different visualizations about how their awareness campaigns are performing, broken down by car model and region.

Other features in the new version include one-click sign-in to all of Unified’s applications and global currency support.

unified screenshot

The company, by the way, says it works with more than 500 customers, including Lenovo, Edelman, and PBS. One of the keys to its approach, Donohue said, is the way that it can bring together different agencies and teams, as well as organic content and paid advertising.

“If you have organic content that performs well, you basically have a 24-hour window in order to amplify that content [with advertising],” he said. “Absent [Unified's] social system of record there’s no way to do it within a day.”

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Sources: Munchery Raising An Additional $20M For Its Gourmet Meal Delivery Service

San Francisco-based Munchery, the startup that offers prepared gourmet meals on demand, is in the process of raising a new $20 million funding round, multiple sources familiar with the deal have revealed to TechCrunch. The new round adds to its existing $4 million Series A, and $700,000 in seed funding.

The startup currently counts Sherpa Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Anthos Capital, e.ventures and individual investors including Matt Mullenweg, Randi Zuckerberg and Eric Ries as backers. Founded in 2010 by Tri Tran and Conrad Chu, the point of Munchery was to make it possible for busy professionals to have a convenient meal option that wasn’t just your garden-variety fast food or greasy takeout.

Munchery plays on current trends in diet and nutrition, providing meal selection based on categories including “dairy-free,” “vegan,” “low carb” and more. All meals are made from scratch and will be delivered same-day within the SF Bay area upon ordering. You just choose the dish and the delivery window (in one hour increments), enter delivery and payment info, and your food will be prepared and ready by the end of the day.

The value proposition isn’t just fresh food that’s relatively healthy: Munchery has a buy-one, give-one system through which it provides another meal for those in need for each one ordered, plus it uses eco-friendly packaging and uses professional local chefs for meal preparation. That kind of attention to detail can’t come cheap, which probably partly explains the need for more cash coming off its A round, which was announced in November 2012 but only officially closed in September of last year. Last fall when that round closed, Munchery was claiming a 20 percent month-over-month growth rate in its business.

Then in October, Munchery redesigned its web-based menus, rebuilt its mobile apps and introduced wine, beer and cider ordering. It also hired Bridget Batson, a three-star chef, as a step in building out its roster of in-house culinary talent. Those kind of product and organizational moves don’t come cheap, so it isn’t surprising to hear that the company is looking around for fresh funding.

As with any offline service business, expansion for Munchery is going to be expensive. Given what it managed to accomplish with its existing $5 million or so, however, we could see growth accelerate rapidly once it nails down this funding, complete with Munchery making its way out of its Bay Area crib.

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A Facebook Life

Apple And Others Fund $750 Million In Education Gadgets And Internet Broadband

Major tech companies are giving away $750 million worth of products to help bridge the digital divide. During a speech earlier today, Obama gave details about the pledges from the tech companies, along with a commitment to connect more schools with broadband Internet.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Apple’s pledging $100 million in iPads, Macbooks, products and teacher training.

  • AT&T is giving $100 million in mobile broadband for 3 years to middle schools and for teacher development.

  • The Verizon Foundation is giving $100 million to educate teachers, with the Verizon Innovative Leading Schools program, among other initiatives.

  • Autodesk will offer free design software to every secondary school.

During the State of the Union, Obama announced that Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon would help connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students to speedy Internet.

“Now, this is an extraordinary commitment by these business leaders, but they’re business leaders, so they’re not just doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They want the country to do well, but they also understand that they want educated customers,” said Obama. “They want customers who are able to get good jobs, who are going to be using these tools in the future. They want that next young architect coming out of here to be familiar with using that iPad so that they’re designing buildings and using their products.”

Research on the effectiveness of broadband in schools is more scant, however. The Urban Institute found that broadband in the home slightly decreased math and reading proficiency [PDF], while an experimental study in Portugal found the same for broadband in schools [PDF]. The authors cite heightened distraction as a potential explanation.

Though, technology could allow schools to also radically change their curriculum, which would teach a different set of skills that may not be captured by test scores. So it seems like the government is funding a project that we don’t entirely understand the outcome of.

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Why Jason Kilar’s rumored “Hulu for magazines” startup probably isn’t going to work

According to a recent report at Re/code, former Hulu founder and CEO Jason Kilar — who left the streaming online-video company a year ago — has been pitching publishers on a service he is trying to build that would offer magazine and even newspaper content via a Hulu-style model. The venture, currently known as The Fremont Project, would come complete with a TV-style “windowing” approach, in which some content would be exclusive to users of the service for a period of time before being released through the usual channels.

The idea of a Hulu or Netflix for magazines and newspaper content is a pretty popular one — so popular that Next Issue Media, which offers bundled access to a stable of mainstream magazines, has been called both of those things. But the idea actually pre-dates either of those companies: before they came along, the same concept was described as “iTunes for news” or “iTunes for magazines,” and plenty of people have tried and failed to build one.

Jason Kilar is obviously a smart guy, and Hulu is a fairly sizeable success story, even if you include the disputes among the partners about the future of the entity that ultimately led to Kilar’s departure. But I don’t think the vision of a similar service for magazines and/or newspapers is going to work (in the interests of full disclosure, I didn’t think Hulu or Netflix would work either).

Yigit tweet

Different content, different market

Here are a few reasons why I don’t think Hulu for magazines is going to work, and why I think Next Issue Media (which is backed by major publishers like Hearst and Conde Nast) is likely not going to be a barn-burner of an idea either — some of which I covered in a post about the launch of Next Issue’s iPad app in 2012:

The type of content: Hulu and Netflix work well for specific types of content, namely movies and episodes of TV shows, in the same way that iTunes works fairly well for individual songs. These are the kinds of content that people a) are willing to wait for — in some cases at least, b) are willing to pay for and c) are willing to watch or listen to multiple times. No one reads a magazine story over and over or returns to newspaper stories that they remember reading as a child. It’s just not that kind of content experience, and never will be.

The number of players: One of the reasons that iTunes and Hulu both worked at a certain scale is that Apple and Hulu were able to strike sweeping content deals with the major players in their respective markets — six major record labels and less than a dozen major studios and TV networks. I’m sceptical that Kilar’s new project can build a big enough stable of content producers to make it worthwhile economically, especially with Next Issue already out there.

The market itself: Trailers for movies and clips from TV shows are often leaked online, in many cases by the studios and networks themselves in order to boost publicity for the finished product — but nothing in those markets even begins to approach the scale with which news leaks out about interviews or news stories in magazines and newspapers. Virtually anything worth knowing appears long before the actual printed or digital publication, and that problem (if it is one) is getting worse rather than better.

Chronotope tweet

A newsstand isn’t the right model

As I tried to argue in my post about Next Issue Media and in subsequent discussions of that model, I also don’t think “newsstand”-style magazine or newspaper portals or apps will work for enough users to make them viable, because I don’t think they fit the way that people find or consume content now. So much of it is socially-driven that Facebook and Twitter and blogs are the main engine for content discovery for growing numbers of people, not a single app from a specific company. And windowing the way Re/code describes it is highly problematic:

“The difference in Kilar’s pitch, say people who have heard it, is that he wants to create a new “window” for publishers’ stuff. The idea is that after publishers distribute a print and/or digital version of their content for their subscribers, Kilar’s company would get exclusive digital rights for a period. Eventually publishers could distribute their stuff on the open Web if they wanted.”

I’ve heard from a number of friends who like Next Issue because they can get access to multiple titles, but I’ve heard from just as many or more who said they signed up but never go there. Part of the problem, I think, is that Next Issue sees people consuming content at the magazine title level, when most people just want to be exposed to the one or two interesting articles that their friends think they should read or that a variety of algorithms suggest to them, a la Flipboard.

If Kilar was to unbundle the main title dynamic and provide that kind of discovery on an individual article level, it might work somewhat better, but I’d be willing to bet that publishers wouldn’t like that idea at all. And unlike Apple and iTunes, I don’t think Kilar has enough weight to force a deal like that down their throats the way Steve Jobs did with the record companies.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Thinkstock / Kuligssen

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