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Walkie Talkie App Voxer Is Going Viral On iPhones And Androids, Trending On Twitter

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 05:39 PM PST


Most of the communications apps that have gotten big on smartphones have been built by well-established companies that have existing user bases they can promote to, with Facebook, Twitter and Skype being the top examples. The other successes have most often had venture money to help them cover advertising costs.

But a smaller startup has been climbing up the iTunes App Store and Android Market charges over the last few days. Called Voxer, it provides a walkie talkie push-to-talk voice service reminiscent of Nextel. Or, in modern parlance, it’s sort of like text messages but with voice instead of text. It’s basically a direct competitor to another startup, HeyTell, that we’ve covered, as well as TalkBox… and getting to be more of a competitor every day, judging by its recent trajectory.

The app has gone from #40 to #6 within the past week in the social networking category of the United States App Store, following its rise earlier this year in random other countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia. It’s now a trend among many Twitter users, too. (Yeah, the social networking category isn’t especially big once you get past the leading web services, but this much growth for this type of app is unusual.)

To use Voxer, you simply download it from either store (iTunes here, Android here), create a new identity or log in with Facebook, sync it with your phone’s address book and/or Facebook, then start chatting with other individual friends, or groups that you join or create. The interface shows a text message style interface. You hold a talk button to record a quick message for the other party, although there’s also an option to listen live to an incoming message that a friend is recording. You can also send text messages within the flow of correspondence.

We talked to Voxer’s vice president of growth, Gustaf Alstromer, for more details. He’s a veteran mobile entrepreneur, from his days growing up in Sweden to his past startup Heysan to his current job. Distribution, as he explains with an acute understanding, has always been the biggest problem. “It’s a really good time now versus any other time in history” to be building a mobile app, he says, because “distribution has been solved by the App Store and Android Market, and now it’s about the tactics you use within that.”

Alstromer says the city of Cleveland started getting big first in the US, which has been followed by growth in a number of other cities around the country. While it’s not entirely clear what set the app off, the company has a variety of best practices going for tracking clickthroughs, conversions, and overall usage, using third parties like Mixpanel as well as its in-house systems.

Services like this rely on network effects, and its launch on Android earlier this month could have played a big part — iPhone users are no longer stuck just using the app with other iPhone users. Alstromer says that its Android downloads have exploded (although he’s not providing any specific numbers), adding that total usage on Android could pass iPhone within the next few months. The phonebooks are far more essential than Facebook overall, although the latter is crucial for some demographics.

The company also has an unusual backstory. It’s founded by veteran entrepreneur Tom Katis, a decorated soldier who previously cofounded a major security contractor, Triple Canopy (here’s a good New York Times profile on the company from 2005). The idea for Voxer originated during an ambush in Afghanistan, he tells me, when he was trying to coordinate reinforcements and the medical team in the middle of a firefight — he needed a way to talk to everyone all at once, and the government-issue walkie talkies weren’t doing the trick. I’ll have more on his story later.

Carrier IQ Retracts Their C&D, Apologizes To The Android Researcher They Hassled

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 04:34 PM PST

Carrier IQ

Yesterday afternoon, we wrote about an Android developer who’d received a cease-and-desist letter from Carrier IQ, a company whose Android software he’d been investigating.

This morning, under the light of a dozen spotlights, Carrier IQ has retracted their C&D and publicly apologized to the developer.

In the months prior to receiving the C&D, developer Trevor Eckhart had published his findings that a number of Android phones (primarily Sprint’s) came out of the box with a nearly unnoticeable bit of software (built by Carrier IQ). This software, claimed Eckhart, could monitor everything from which apps were installed to which keys were pressed.

While Carrier IQ uses the press release to ensure that their software does nothing nefarious of the sort, they’ve apologized for taking the course of actions that they took.

From the release:

As, of today, we are withdrawing our cease and desist letter to Mr. Trevor Eckhart. We have reached out to Mr. Eckhart and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to apologize. Our action was misguided and we are deeply sorry for any concern or trouble that our letter may have caused Mr. Eckhart. We sincerely appreciate and respect EFF's work on his behalf, and share their commitment to protecting free speech in a rapidly changing technological world.

You can find the full text of the release below. & Consumer Reports Partner On New Deals Site

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 03:00 PM PST


The consumer electronics search service is teaming up with Consumer Reports on a new deals site which aims to help shoppers know what and when to buy new electronics. Although the companies are referring to the project as a “daily deals” outlet, they don’t mean “deals” in the sense of Groupon, Living Social or flash sale sites like Gilt or One Kings Lane.

Instead, the service is more like a blog/reviews site which features Consumer Reports’ product recommendations alongside Decide’s own data telling you when to buy the item in question.

Although Consumer Reports is not everyone’s favorite resource these days, the integration of Decide’s technology with a products reviews service of any kind is intriguing.

Today’s gadget reviews sites simply give you the straight news and/or product reviews, but don’t always answer one of consumers’ most burning questions: “should I buy this now?” That’s where Decide comes in.

For those of you who missed the news of its launch this summer, is the creation of several former Farecast engineers, including Decide CEO Mike Fridgen, formerly the Vice President of Marketing & Product Development at Farecast, and Farecast Co-founder, now Decide CTO, Oren Etzioni.

Farecast, later acquired by Microsoft for $115 million, used proprietary technology to determine the best time to purchase a plane ticket. and its newly launched mobile app use similar techniques, but the focus now is on consumer electronics, not airfare.

To perform its analysis, Decide doesn’t just compare current prices and availability for gadgets – it can also recommend the right time to buy based on product release cycles, historical trends, company announcements, news and rumors published by the media, and more.

Using news reports may seem like a questionable way to determine the “when,” as some blogs tend to publish poorly sourced rumors and hearsay, but Decide is smart enough to weed out those weaker signals. Not only can it eliminate the echoes created by blogs that simply republish a rumor started elsewhere, over time, it will also begin to build up a track record and a history of an individual site’s accuracy. These news analysis algorithms (which, frankly, would be awesome to see as a standalone product) will then be used in conjunction with all the other signals to make the recommendations as to when it’s the best time to buy a new device.

The Consumer Reports integration is the first editorial partnership for the company, but Decide says it’s working on APIs and blog widgets which will bring its recommendation technology to other outlets. These things are “very high” on the company’s priority list, we’re told, but aren’t available today. That’s too bad because it would be great to see Decide’s algorithms paired up with the gadget reviews I actually read. Oh well.

AppBoy Raises A Cool Million To Let App Developers Better Engage And Understand Their User Base

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 01:11 PM PST

Screen shot 2011-11-23 at 10.07.49 AM

The primary focus for app developers, aside from making kick ass apps, is finding truly effective ways to monetize those apps, whether it be through targeted, location-enabled ad solutions, in-game purchases, or incentivized downloads. As freemium models proliferate, this stuff becomes increasingly important. The other piece of the puzzle is helping app creators manage and understand their user base, because with a more granular picture of who is using the app, where they are, how they’re using the app, and so on, developers can design better user experiences, and in turn, open up new monetization opportunities.

Appboy, a startup offering a free mobile software development toolkit (SDK) for developers, is trying to do just that. AppBoy, simply put, wants to enable app developers to expand, engage, and better understand their user base. And to help with that mission, the startup is today announcing that it has raised $1 million in seed funding. The investment was led by Blumberg Capital, with participation from Metamorphic Ventures, Accelerator Ventures, Bullpen Capital and T5 Capital.

Up until recently, the AppBoy team consisted of founder and CEO Mark Ghermezian, but with this new round of funding in tow, the team has expanded to seven, including two new technical co-founders, Bill Magnuson and Jon Hyman, who joined AppBoy shortly after winning the top prize at the 2011 NYC Disrupt Hackathon for Gilt-ii, a browser bookmarklet that lets users create auctions around Gilt sales. With funding secured, the startup is now taking its solution into beta. Right now, it’s purely iOS, but Ghermezian said that Android integration is on its way.

Of course, that’s all well and good, but how exactly is AppBoy looking to improve the discovery of apps, up intelligence on users, and encourage engagement? In practice, AppBoy is overlaid on developers’ apps so that they don’t have to leave their app to access its features. From there, the solution lets developers create profiles for their individual apps, cross-promote their apps, and update users through news and alerts, and enable game mechanics to enable status levels and badges that boost engagement and reward usage.

AppBoy then allows app users to create profiles themselves, along with the ability to get badges and checkin to the app, all of which developers can easily track from the app or from AppBoy’s developer dashboard. From there, developers can control news and recommended apps, and at some point in the near future, will be able to use the web-based backend to view analytics and communicate with their users, receiving feedback and more through CRM tools.

For app discovery, there are plenty of ways for consumers to finds new apps, from Chomp to newcomers like Stamped, but most current solution focused on providing users with recommendations based on their download history. AppBoy is looking to provide developers with a solution that bases recommendations on actual usage — by making it easy for users to build rich profiles within apps. And AppBoy wants to partner with developers first, create a strong ecosystem among the app makers first, before targeting the end user and simply becoming another app search engine.

The idea is to be able to segment users down to specific niches, to see that a 21-year-old male from Alberta is using the app and is spending 20 minutes a day on the app and has 5 badges. With AppBoy those badges become URLs and can then be tracked, so through a simple overlay and checkin system, the startup is trying to build a solution that makes tracking usage a breeze. If users are sharing apps over social networks, AppBoy has a unique URL for those shares, too, again aimed at making tracking easier.

For readers looking to get early access to AppBoy to test it out and provide feedback, the startup is providing 50 free invites. To take advantage, simply head over to AppBoy’s homepage here and use “techcrunch” in the “invite code” box. Then chime in here and let us know what you think.

China Beats U.S. In Q3, Becomes Largest Smartphone Market By Volume

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 09:25 AM PST


While smartphone adoption continues to pick up steam here in the U.S., new research from Strategy Analytics shows that China is hungrier for smartphones than we are. For the first time ever, China has pulled ahead of the United States in terms of the number of smartphones shipped.

Those expecting a huge blowout may be a bit disappointed by the results: while 23 million smartphones were shipped in the United States during Q3 2011, China squeeked by with nearly 24 million units sold. With that, China has become the world's largest smartphone market by volume. Given that China has the most cell phone users in the world, it may not come as a huge shock, but companies looking to break into the mobile space have yet another reason to consider China carefully.

Strategy Analytics also took a look at the manufacturer break down, and for the most part the winners are who you would expect. The two top vendors in the United States are HTC and Apple, who together account for almost half of all smartphones sold in the country during Q3. Meanwhile in China, Nokia and Samsung take the top two spots, with each company accounting for 28.5% and 17.6% of the market respectively.

Nokia in particular had a good quarter in China, as they shipped more units (6.8 million) than anyone else. The big question for Nokia is whether or not that momentum will continue once they complete their transition to Windows Phone. Microsoft has been eyeing the Chinese market for a while now, and their forthcoming Tango version of Windows Phone is reportedly meant to break into China and other emerging markets.

China's smartphone boom also helps explain why their app downloads have gone through the roof; recent data from Flurry indicates that China is also experiencing a huge uptick in the number of apps downloaded, although the existence of multiple independent app stores certainly doesn't hurt.

Manufacturer market share is great, but what I'd really like to see is a breakdown of mobile OS usage. Strategy Analytics Director Tom Kang notes that the Chinese smartphone surge is thanks in large part to "the aggressive subsidizing by operators of high-end models like the Apple iPhone, and an emerging wave of low-cost Android models from local Chinese brands such as ZTE." I would imagine that those low-end Android devices are beginning to supplant the feature phone as the device of choice for first-time users, but Apple’s smartphones enjoys considerable popularity (even if many of them are being used unofficially).

Bring On The Creepy! Is Building A New Facial Recognition Mobile App

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 09:22 AM PST

Hello, what do we have here? A new facial recognition mobile app? Sure looks like it. The company is called, and its upcoming app aims to recognize faces and then connect those faces to users’ social networking profiles, allowing you to friend and follow the people you see. The company emerged from November’s Startup Weekend in Brazil, but hasn’t yet launched publicly.

The project reminds me a lot of Recognizr, the facial recognition mobile app from The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), created prior to TAT’s acquisition by RIM. Sadly, Recognizr remained a conceptual demo app only – it never arrived in any mobile app store. Hopefully won’t meet the same fate.

The app’s strategy and development team includes Alexandre Resende, Thalis Antunes, Fernando Pauer, Pedro Saad, and Marco Vanossi, who previously created ClickPic, a photo-sharing app that also uses image recognition. Thiago Teodoro, a manager in the Corporate Strategy division at HP, is also helping advise the startup.

According to the company’s investor pitch, the app uses proprietary technology to recognize a person’s face in less than 1 second by identifying different facial points. It then matches those faces to the social networking accounts for that user, allowing you to friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Patents on the tech have been filed both locally and internationally through the PCT.

For now, the company can only identify the faces of other registered users, who are required to provide a photo or video upon signup. But Vanossi says the technology itself is already scalable enough to crawl the photos tagged on Facebook, it just needs additional investment to afford doing so.

The startup was chosen as the best by the Startup Weekend judges. However, the judges, who included Dave McClure of 500 Startups, Haroldo Korte of Atomico Ventures and other top Brazilian VC’s, gave second place because it was clear the team had been working on the technology ahead of the weekend hackathon.

Unfortunately for those of us who don’t mind a little creepiness, most companies involved in the facial recognition space limit the use of the tech to tagging photos, not recognizing strangers. Google is rumored to have its own facial recognition technology developed, for example, but has held off on launching due to the ever-problematic “creepy” factor.

Whatever. Creepy can be cool, you know – just ask Facebook. In any event, the lack of other players in this space (TAT was scooped up by RIM, Polar Rose by Apple, PittPatt by Google) has left a great big hole startups can fill if they have the guts to cross the creepy line.

Now, let’s just hope the darned thing from actually works if and when it arrives.

Below, a demo video of the app in action this past weekend:

4sqwifi Uses Foursquare To Show You Nearby WiFi Locations And Their Passwords

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 08:47 AM PST


Foursquare, and most of the apps built on top of the location service’s developer platform, are great for exploring the physical world for entertainment. But a new iPhone app called 4sqwifi (download here) offers something that could help those of us who need to be productive remotely — a way to see nearby wifi locations, and the passwords to go with them.

Those of you who have been stuck needing to send an urgent work email while experiencing poor smartphone data reception will understand why this app is useful.

Yes, there are a bunch of other web sites and apps that try to help people find nearby wifi locations. All the ones I’ve seen have had various shortcomings, like outdated or incomplete databases, and no passwords. 4sqwifi solves this problem by finding Foursquare venues near to the user, then searching user tips related to getting WiFi connections (“free wifi,” “wifi password is…” etc.).

After downloading the app from the App Store, you log in with your Foursquare ID and see a list of all of the nearby venues. Click on any of the listings and you’ll see the name of the WiFi connection and its password. (Note that the app had some page-loading problems initially, although I got it to work.)

The team behind the app is a pair of young Greek entrepreneurs, Apostolos Papadopoulos and Giannis Poulakas. Apostolos tells me he got the idea while a senior in high school last winter, but had to finish his university exams before getting started over the summer. He’s going to school in Vienna now, and is continuing to develop the service. The app is currently free, but the team is exploring business models like an in-app payment for an offline map of all of the wifi locations and passwords within a city.

He also just posted a few thoughts on launching the app, which you can check out here.

How To Enable Panorama Mode On Your iPhone – No Jailbreak Required

Posted: 23 Nov 2011 06:57 AM PST


By now you probably know there’s a hidden camera feature that people can enable on iOS 5 devices, allowing users to snap photos in panorama mode (see video).

However, to enable the hidden feature your device needed to be jailbroken. But as it turns out, you can actually get panorama mode working on your iOS 5 device without jailbreaking it.

As the folks over at 360cities found out, there’s a way to do this by fiddling with your iPhone's backup file and then restoring it. As the video below shows, you will need to install the iBackupBot application (needless to say, you need to proceed with caution).

The 360cities guys also show the feature in action, in case you hadn’t seen it yet. They’re using the camera app with panorama mode on an iPhone 4S, but it should work on an iPhone 4 and iPad 2 as well (feel free to let us know if it does or doesn’t in the comments).

Also note that the panorama feature is apparently quite clunky in its current form, which is probably why it hasn’t been publicly released or touted by Apple yet.