If The Ubuntu Edge Crowdfunding Experiment Works, Backers May Get To Vote On The Next Model’s Specs

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Smartphone companies have it pretty rough – they’ve got to sink millions into research and development every year, all in the hope of making their next shiny touchscreen gewgaw the fastest, slimmest, smartest, prettiest one ever. And every year we eat it all up, and take what we’re given.

But Canonical, the folks behind the incredibly popular Ubuntu Linux distro, isn’t your average phone smartphone company. It doesn’t have a huge production budget like Samsung or Apple, so it decided to crowdfund the creation of its first phone. Turns out that’s not the only thing they’re doing differently – Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth is currently fielding questions on Reddit, and he’s expressed interest in having backers of this current project getting some sort of say over what goes in future models.

And thus, Mark may have just come up with the coolest backer perk ever. Quoth Shuttleworth:

“This first version of the Edge is to prove the concept of crowdsourcing ideas for innovation, backed by crowdfunding. If it gets greenlighted, then I think we’ll have an annual process by which the previous generation backers get to vote on the spec for the next generation of Edge.”

In case you haven’t been following the story, the Edge is an awfully handsome concept for a phone that will run Ubuntu and Android and sport a sapphire glass-covered 4.5-inch 1280 720 display, along with the “fastest available” multi-core mobile processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The internet being what it is, Redditors couldn’t help but throw out bits of hardware for Shuttleworth and the Edge team to consider for the current model anyway. IR blaster? A “cool idea,” he says. Wireless charging? Probably not going to happen.

Shuttleworth was pretty forthcoming when it came to lingering questions about the Edge’s design and proposed rollout. As it happens, the team is still having trouble figuring out what sort of speaker system to throw into the thing (my two cents: the closer to HTC’s Boomsound setup the better), but it Canonical has asked potential carrier partners to agree to take note of a set of conditions that should minimize bloatware if the Edge is ever picked up and sold with long-term contracts.

Now this all hinges on the notion that Canonical was right in thinking that enough people would believe in a company that has never made a smartphone before to basically pre-order one for (at least) $675. In a way, this is a perfect move – if the project hits critical mass, everyone gets a phone. If it doesn’t, well, no harm no foul. The crowdfunding movement has given a software company a shot at really making a mark in an industry dominated by giants, some of which are already feeling the pinch because their pricey flagship devices perhaps aren’t selling in the astronomical numbers they were hoping for.

And so far, things appear to be going rather well. Canonical’s Indiegogo campaign only went live three days ago and Ubuntu fans have already chipped in just a hair under $6 million. Of course, there’s no guarantee that sort of traction will continue for any serious length of time – the company has already had to add some less expensive device pricing tiers to keep the campaign from flaming out too soon, and it’s still got a ways to go before it hits the $32 million goal.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, Shuttleworth seems to be tackling nearly every question being thrown at him – no Rampart shenanigans here.)

With New CEO Mattrick At Helm, Zynga Reports Loss of $16M And Revenue Decline Of 31%

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Zynga’s revenues for the second quarter of 2013 declined 31% year-over-year to $231 million in the midst of a challenging transition that saw former CEO Mark Pincus hand over the reins to Don Mattrick.

The company had a net loss of $16 million compared to last year’s net loss of $22.8 million during the same quarter (which also had $95.5 million of stock-based compensation expenses). If you account for that then, the company’s net loss was $6.1 million compared to last year’s net loss of $4.6 million based on non-generally accepted accounting principles. Zynga said when it laid off nearly 20 percent of its staff last month that it expected to see a net loss of between $39 million to $28.5 million so this is actually a slight earnings beat.

“We need to get back to basics and take a longer term view on our products and business, develop more efficient processes and tighten up execution all across the company,” wrote Mattrick in the release. “We have a lot of hard work in front of us and as we reset, we expect to see more volatility in our business than we would like over the next two to four quarters.”

Last quarter, COO David Ko said the company was in the midst of a “pause” to re-evaluate its entire game slate and that this decision would be financially apparent in this quarter.

This quarter’s revenue is projected to be even lower in the range of $175 million to $200 million, with a net loss of $43 million to $14 million.

Through the company’s pivot onto iOS and Android, Zynga has had to compete against older and historically smaller rivals from the Facebook platform like King and Kabam. Both of those companies have fared well with King’s Candy Crush Saga bringing it the top grossing spot and numerous Kabam titles in the top 25.

In contrast, Zynga just has its longstanding Poker franchise in the U.S. top grossing 25. Even today, nearly 70 percent of the company’s monthly active users remain on the web.

The losses in Zynga’s user base from not being able to hold onto its core Facebook customers are staggering. The company’s level of daily active users is not much higher than half of where it was a year ago at 39 million this quarter compared to 72 million in 2012. It also saw 187 million monthly active users, down from 306 million users in the same time period a year before.

The company’s launches like Draw Something 2 have also underperformed without any slots in any of the top 100 charts and Zynga’s other big mobile launch, Running With Friends, remains in 45th place in the U.S. top grossing chart. Zynga had six major releases this quarter including War of the Fallen, Draw Something 2, Battlestone, Solstice Arena and Running With Friends.

But older franchises like FarmVille and FarmVille 2 continue to do well as both games have grown combined bookings by 29 percent year-over-year.

Zynga’s struggles in diversifying away from Facebook and missing the pivot to mobile ultimately convinced Pincus to give up the CEO role, although he remains chairman of the board and serves as chief product officer. It’s now Mattrick’s 15th day on the job.

Zynga Won’t Pursue Real-Money Gaming License In The U.S.; Shares Drop 13% In After-Hours

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Zynga is giving up what many investors had hoped might be its trump card: a real-money gaming business in the U.S. The company, which has been testing out real-money casino games in the U.K., said it won’t be pursuing a U.S. license after all in its second quarter earnings report today.

Sources tell us this is a decision to focus and not spread the company too thinly between real-money gaming, diversifying onto mobile and maintaining a core on Facebook. If it weren’t for the political and legal complexities of opening up real-money gaming in state after state, the business could have been interesting for Zynga, especially considering how long Zynga Poker has dominated both on the Facebook platform and on iOS and Android. None of Zynga’s social casino games, which use virtual currency, are affected by this. Shares declined 13 percent in after-hours to $3.02.

In the release today, Zynga said:

Zynga believes its biggest opportunity is to focus on free to play social games. While the Company continues to evaluate its real money gaming products in the United Kingdom test, Zynga is making the focused choice not to pursue a license for real money gaming in the United States. Zynga will continue to evaluate all of its priorities against the growing market opportunity in free, social gaming, including social casino offerings.

Zynga has long been exploring real-money gaming. It partnered with operator Bwin.Party to offer titles in the U.K. Then last November, the company took its first steps toward real-money gaming in the U.S. by applying for a “preliminary finding of suitability” from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

It’s not that this option is forever off the table. It’s just that the company is in the middle of a significant platform transition now, and real-money games – which would probably only be available to players in Nevada at first anyways – could be distracting.

Cross-Device Ad Startup Drawbridge Adds Mobile App-To-Web Retargeting (And Vice Versa)

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Drawbridge, an ad targeting startup backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, is expanding its offerings today with a new feature allowing mobile advertisers to reach consumers with retargeted ads, regardless of whether they’re using an app or on the mobile web.

Founder and CEO Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan said that while ad retargeting (i.e., ads targeted based on your past visits and activity) is possible within apps, things get trickier when you try to cross the boundary between apps and websites: “It’s literally two devices on the same device, separated by an iron wire.” (I question her question use of “literally”, but I think you get the point.) App developers can also try to reengage their users through alerts and notifications, but users can always turn those off.

In order to solve that problem, Drawbridge is “piggybacking” on its core technology. That technology examines user activity to help advertisers identify when multiple devices are likely being used by the same person. That allows advertisers to use data collected on the desktop to target ads on mobile. The company’s two products launched last fall include PC-to-mobile retargeting and mobile app marketing. The mobile-to-mobile retargeting is intended to fill out the mobile marketing product, Sivaramakrishnan said.

Drawbridge has already run test campaigns with e-commerce companies, who were either trying to bring old customers back to the site or to convince current customers to buy more. Sivaramakrishnan said that in a campaign targeting lapsed users, the client reached 100 percent return on ad spend within three weeks. Another campaign targeted active users and reached 100 percent ROAS within a single day.

Advertisers will have a chance to test this out for themselves, Sivaramakrishnan said, because the new capabilities include an A/B testing framework. So advertisers can run part of their campaign with Drawbridge’s retargeting and part of their campaign without it and see which ads perform better.

Earlier this year, Drawbridge announced that it was partnering with TRUSTe to allow mobile consumers to opt out of its targeting. Since then, Sivaramakrishnan said that some users have indeed opt out, but that the rates haven’t been “heavy”.

A Week With The Shine, A Beautifully Designed Smart Activity Tracker Made From Japanese Metal

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Fitbits. FuelBands. UPs. The market for smart, connected activity trackers continues to get ever-more crowded. And yet, there’s not an obvious winner yet.

Misfit Wearables’ Shine is a new entrant in the space and they may have the most beautifully-designed piece of hardware yet. The company behind the Shine is itself a homage to Apple founder Steve Jobs’ famous “Think Different” campaign and the famous 1997 commercial that began with the line, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits.

Backed by Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures, the company was co-founded by Sonny Vu, who built up a glucose-monitoring business called Agamatrix that had the first official medical device add-on to the iPhone, and former Apple CEO John Sculley. For a small startup, they have an impressively multi-national team with industrial designers in San Francisco, data scientists in Vietnam and manufacturing in South Korea and Japan.

The Shine is a tiny circle not much larger than a quarter that’s made from Japanese metal or aircraft-grade aluminum. It has LED lights beneath the surface that glow through minuscule holes on the metal itself. Those lights form a ring, indicating how far a person is toward completing their activity goals for the day. You tap the Shine twice to see how much progress you’ve made. If half the lights shine, you’re halfway done. If they complete a circle, then you’ve hit your goal.


I had a chance to test it out for a week or so, tracking everything from regular walks to dancing and downhill mountain biking.

Overall, I love the product. It looks like a piece of jewelry in many ways, and while I’m not an industrial designer myself, several other friends who work in hardware were impressed by the make and form of the Shine.

It is not plastic like a Fitbit. Then because it doesn’t have to be worn as a bracelet like the FuelBand or Jawbone UP, it looks a lot more elegant, especially if you’re a woman and want something more discreet. The Shine is comparable in price to its competitors at $99.95. The Fitbit is about $99.95, the Jawbone UP is $129.99 and the Nike FuelBand is about $150.

The Shine has four different accessories: a wristband, a necklace, a watch and a magnetic clip that makes it easy to attach anywhere, from your shoe to your sleeve to your shirt. My preferred accessory was the magnetic clip, but I didn’t have a chance to try out the necklace or watch.

Throughout the day, the Shine tracks how much you walk or run. It also handles sleep, swimming and cycling, but you have to program it. To do that, you tap the Shine three times, and it will recognize whichever activity you set up in the paired app. Unfortunately, like the other activity trackers, it doesn’t handle yoga (and as someone who practices pretty much every day, the Shine and other competing products are missing out on an hour of physical activity).

The tapping is a bit hard to learn. Sometimes I would tap with two fingers and sometimes with three. Sometimes the Shine would misinterpret a few taps as a signal to record a different type of activity instead of showing me my results so far. You can also use it to tell time with different lights glowing to represent the hour and minute hands of a watch.

“The data science to get the double tap is hard,” Vu told me. “There is no on and off button for the Shine and everything is powered by sensors.”

Indeed, the only way to turn the Shine off is for the battery to run out or for you to remove it.

That underscores the huge benefit of the Shine, which is that it doesn’t need to be charged every few days or weeks. It has a simple coin cell battery that needs to be replaced once every four to six months. It’s also waterproof to a depth of 50 meters. I dunked it in a river in the Sierra Nevadas this weekend and it came out fine, but you could theoretically scuba dive with it, too.

The data transfer to the iPhone is also beautiful. You can see how it works below. The Shine uses a simple Bluetooth connection, and the app directs you to place the Shine on a circle on the iPhone app’s screen. Circles radiate outward before the iPhone picks up the activity data in the Shine.


The paired app tells you how many points you’ve achieved in a day. The Shine doesn’t do “steps” because it would be hard to swim in steps. The middle-range goal of 1,000 points per day requires walking for 1.5 hours, running for 35 minutes or swimming for 25. You can move points higher as you please.

Overall, I was really happy with the product. It is just that much more beautiful looking than the standard Fitbit or FuelBand. For women who are turned off by the look of the bracelet trackers, it’s probably the ideal choice.

The Misfit Shine is only compatible with the iPhone for now, which was surely disappointing for Android-using supporters of the Shine who backed it on Indiegogo.

The company had a successful campaign on the crowdfunding site late last fall where they racked up 8,000 supporters in 64 countries, hit their goal in nine hours and went on to raise $850,000. That was nearly nine times as much as they targeted. Like many other hardware startups, Misfit Wearables used crowdfunding more as a marketing strategy than as a capital source. Misfit had no problem raising from some of the Valley’s better-known VC firms, and this product shows why.

Asian Mobile Makers Squeeze Apple’s Global Smartphone Share To Its Lowest For 3-Years In Record 230M Unit Q2

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More proof, if proof were needed, that Apple needs a low cost iPhone to get its smartphone momentum mojo back: Cupertino’s share of the global smartphone market fell to its lowest for three years in Q2, according to Strategy Analytics, with just 31.2 million iPhones shipped in the quarter and Apple’s second place ranking declining to a 14% market share – this despite the overall smartphone market growing 47% annually to reach a record 230 million units shipped.

“The current iPhone portfolio is under-performing and Apple is at risk of being trapped in a pincer movement between rival 3-inch Android models at the low-end and 5-inch Android models at the high-end,” said Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, in a statement.

Mawston told TechCrunch it’s not just a low cost iPhone that Apple needs to return to growth, although he agrees that is a requirement for Apple to drive extra volume. Cupertino’s top priority should be a new type of flagship to compete with Samsung’s phablets, he said.

“Apple’s first priority should be a premium-tier phablet with a 5-inch screen because that is where the largest new revenue pool is located,” he said via email. “Apple is losing profit share to Samsung partly because of a lack of presence in the phablet segment. Apple’s second priority should be a lower-cost iPhone to win back some of the customers it is losing to cheaper Android models in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”

“A 5-inch iPhone would generate extra value for Apple, while a cheaper iPhone would deliver extra volume,” he added.

Overall, the analyst said smartphone market growth is being driven by demand for 4G handsets in developed markets such as the U.S. and 3G devices in emerging markets such as India. Asian mobile makers, who predominately use Google’s Android OS, are now clearly dominating the surging smartphone market, with Samsung still in kingpin position – shipping 76 million devices in Q2 to capture one-third of all smartphone volumes worldwide in the quarter – and LG, ZTE and Huawei in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.

The analyst described LG as a “star performer”, with its global shipments doubling year-over-year to hit 12.1 million units in Q2 to take a 5% share. “The popular Optimus and Nexus models have been the main drivers of LG’s success. If LG can expand its retail presence and marketing in major countries such as the US or China, LG could quietly start to challenge Apple for second position,” Analyst Linda Sui added in a statement.

Chinese mobile maker ZTE also took a 5% share in the quarter, shipping a record 11.5 million smartphones to take fourth place for the first time, while Huawei shipped 11.1 million handsets to also grab 5% and take fifth.

Android 4.3 Includes Hidden App Permissions Manager That Could Bolster Privacy & Security

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As expected, Google officially confirmed Android 4.3 at its event on Wednesday with Android chief Sundar Pichai. Among the new features/improvements in the update are a redesigned camera interface, Bluetooth Low Energy support, performance improvements such as smoother animations, and multi-user restricted profiles. But there’s apparently something else that Google didn’t talk about. Android Police has unearthed a hidden app permissions manager that allows users to selectively disable certain permissions for apps.

The feature is apparently called App Ops, and lets users toggle app permissions – such as location and the ability to post notifications – on and off for individual apps. Android Police notes that a developer has already created an app (available here on Google Play if you have Android 4.3 installed) that foregrounds App Ops, and has been having a play around with it.

The basic idea of the feature is apparently to give Android users more flexibility over what apps can and can’t do, allowing them to choke off battery draining features, say, or rein in irritating notification behaviour. If Google does decide to fully implement App Ops as a user-facing feature, there are potential big benefits here, from a security and privacy point of view, being as it could give users fine-grained control over what each app can do.

Apps they might otherwise have been tentative about installing could presumably be fine-tuned to fit their tastes now – which may also have some developer benefits, if it helps drive overall installs.

However Android Police notes that while App Ops does work, the feature is clearly not ready for the prime time yet – while testing it with the Facebook app they found certain app permissions only appeared in the permissions list once the app had made use of them, for example. Such messiness likely explains why Google has hidden App Ops and wasn’t ready to talk about it on Wednesday. We’ve reached out to Mountain View to ask for its plans for the feature and will update this story with any response.

Another possible complication attached to the feature is user confusion if a user doesn’t realise that the reason a particular in-app feature isn’t working is because it has been toggled off at source. A similar problem can occur on some Android devices with the quick settings in the notification tray overriding the main setting for things like silencing sounds/ringtones. Add in per app permissions and the potential user confusion is enormous. Android Police notes that one way for Google to get round could be to include some kind of system notifications warning users when App Ops is limiting app permissions. Although that would get old pretty quick if users get nagged every time they open an app with restricted permissions.

It is also possible that the App Ops feature has been created by Google to power the multi-user restricted profiles feature it did announced on Wednesday, which allows for parental controls to be implemented on Android devices.

The Android platform also has the most malware activity associated with it of all the mobile platforms, so the App Ops feature could be something Google is lining up to help bolster security concerns attached to Android. For instance, the feature could allow users to block apps from making calls – to kill off premium rate phone call/SMS malware – or trace which apps have been making calls to identify rogue software.

Comcast and Verizon Decide They Don’t Need to Compete With Apple, Google and Everyone Else, After All

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Last year, when Verizon Wireless and Comcast were trying to get lawmakers to sign off on a giant wireless spectrum sale/noncompete pact, the two companies also said they were going to create a technology/R&D joint venture. It was supposed to come up with really cool tech products that consumers would love.

That JV is now dead. Verizon announced its demise today during the company’s earnings call, but said the partnership actually ended in late August.

The news here is that the most important part of the Comcast/Verizon deal hasn’t changed. Verizon still owns valuable spectrum it purchased from Comcast, and the two companies are still agreeing not to compete – or at least not to compete very vigorously.

It’s not surprising that Comcast and Verizon have concluded that their JV didn’t make sense. Most JVs don’t. And if there is an example of two companies at the scale of Comcast and Verizon successfully working together to create cool consumer tech, I’d love to hear about it.

For the record, though, the two companies didn’t seem to have those doubts back in March 2012. Back then, when the companies were still trying to get federal approval for the deal, they were pointing to the JV as a big win for consumers.

Here’s what Comcast executive vice president David Cohen told a Senate subcommittee back then:

“By enhancing the Cable Companies’ and Verizon Wireless’s own products and services, the Joint Venture will compete with similar solutions that AT&T, Dish Network, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others already have introduced into the marketplace. This, in turn, will spur other companies to respond, perpetuating a cycle of competitive investment and innovation.”

And here’s what Verizon is saying, via a spokesperson, today:

“The joint venture was formed to bring innovation to the marketplace and enhance the customer experience through technology that integrated wireline and wireless products and services. Evolving technology and market changes since the joint venture was formed have led all parties to conclude that a joint venture, per se, is no longer needed to deliver innovative services to customers. Verizon Wireless and the cable companies will continue to explore ways to collaborate on technology in the future. Each company remains committed to bringing innovation to its customers and will continue to find ways to optimize the user experience for each company’s products.”

If you’re a skeptical person, you might think that Comcast and Verizon were overselling the benefits of the JV from the start. You might think that they never really thought they could successfully compete with the likes of Apple and Google, but were holding out the idea because consumer groups were unhappy with the other parts of their pact, which seemed likely to reduce competition between the two companies.

On the other hand, both Comcast and Verizon did assign people to work on this stuff together, and they did do some work. Comcast, for instance, points to the Xfinity TV Player app, which lets you download movies and TV shows to your iPad and iPhone and take them with you, as an example of the joint venture’s output. [Update: Strike that. A Comcast rep tells us we had bad information: The app was made in-house, not via the JV.]

So, if you were a different kind of skeptical person, you might think that Comcast and Verizon really did think they could successfully compete with the likes of Apple and Google. And the fact that it only took them 17 months to realize they were wrong – and pull the plug – is a good thing.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Carlos Caetano)

Darth Vader and the “Clockwork Orange” Guy Do Facebook Updates (Video)

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While you kind of feel badly for them, James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell manage to still look classy in the new Sprint commercials, in which they emote on a phone call and, in another, on Facebook updates for someone named Jenna.

“I think I see you. Nope, wasn’t you,” booms Jones, who has most memorably been the voice of Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” films, among other big roles.

“Now, I’m by the tools … now, I’m by the linens,” responds McDowell, who once starred as Alex in the movie classic, “A Clockwork Orange.”

Ah, well: