Air Freshener: What They’re Saying About Apple’s Latest iPad

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With Apple’s new iPad Air headed to market on Friday, the first reviews of the device began publishing last night, and they are positive to a one, with more than a few extolling the device as not just the best iPad ever, but the best tablet on the market. Here’s a quick rundown of reviews:

Walt Mossberg, AllThingsD:
This new iPad isn’t a radical rethinking of what a tablet can be, but it’s a major improvement on a successful product. It is the best tablet I’ve ever reviewed. … The battery performance of the iPad Air simply blew me away.

Damon Darlin, the New York Times:
The iPad Air is noticeably lighter than its predecessors. If you are the least bit interested in the new tablet computer from Apple, you probably already know that. The company’s engineers shaved just short of a third off the weight of the earlier version; the 9.7-inch Air weighs only a pound. What you may not know is this: Those 6.4 ounces make all the difference when, as you recline while reading or watching a movie, you conk out and the iPad falls forward to bonk you on the nose. The Air won’t hurt you the way the old iPad did.

Rich Jaroslovsky, Bloomberg:
I’ve been using the iPad Air, which goes on sale Nov. 1, for a week now, and it’s hands-down the best tablet on the market. Apple has recrafted the hardware and packed in new software and services that make it more useful for creating content, not just consuming it. … Not that long ago, the iPad so dominated the tablet market that it would have been unthinkable to buy something else. With the rise of quality tablets from Google, Amazon and others, it’s no longer the only choice. But it’s still the best choice.

Anand Lal Shimpi, AnandTech:
This is the iPad that Apple likely wanted to launch on day 1, it just took a bit over three years to get here. … The iPad Air is the most significant upgrade to the 9.7-inch iPad in its history. It’s lighter, more portable, more usable and faster than any previous iPad. It doesn’t fundamentally change what you can do with a tablet, but if you’re in the market for one the iPad Air really is the best iPad to date. Competition is definitely more stiff among the smaller tablets thanks to the Nexus 7, but in the nearly 10-inch tablet space it seems like Apple is going to continue to enjoy a great position there.

Charles Arthur, The Guardian:
It’s only when you get hold of an iPad Air that you realise how well Apple has crafted this device. It’s lighter and the internals are faster. Add in the free software, and it has raised the bar on what you can do out of the box with a tablet. The iPad now isn’t just something to do a few functions around and about. It’s a device to replace your computer for almost everything.

Ed Baig, USA Today:
… This latest full-size Apple tablet is the most tempting iPad yet, better than its already best of breed predecessors, superior still to each and every rival big screen slate that I’ve tested. Apple dominates the tablet apps ecosystem. Its tablet remains the easiest to use.

Tim Stevens, CNET:
Functionally, the iPad Air is nearly identical to last year’s model, offering only faster performance and better video chatting. But factor in design and aesthetics, and the iPad Air is on another planet. It’s the best full-size consumer tablet on the market.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:
To me, the comparison that is most interesting is to that of my MacBook Air. In exactly three years, Apple has produced an iPad that outperforms a then-brand-new MacBook. Three years is a decent chunk of time in this industry, and the MacBook Air has made great strides since then, but this (a brand-new iPad Air versus a late 2010 MacBook Air) is a credible comparison. In many ways the iPad Air is not just the superior device, but clearly so – it has a retina display, the MacBook Air does not; it gets 10 hours of battery life, the MacBook Air was advertised at just 5 hours back then (and as an old and much-used device, my personal MacBook Air gets significantly less than 5 hours of battery life today).

Brad Molen, Engadget:
Surprise: The iPad Air is the best iPad we’ve reviewed. In addition, though, it’s also the most comfortable 10-inch tablet we’ve ever tested. Not every manufacturer can produce a thin and light device without also making it feel cheap or flimsy, but Apple nailed it. Factor in a sizable boost in performance and battery life, and the Air is even more compelling. The last two iPads served up relatively few improvements, but the Air provides people with more of a reason to upgrade or even buy a tablet for the first time.

Vincent Nguyen, SlashGear:
The iPad Air is the no-compromise tablet. Beautiful display, crisp design, premium build quality: It’s the gold-standard by which tablets are judged, and rightly so. If Apple’s full-sized slates had fallen into the shadow of their mini brethren over the past twelve months, the iPad Air brings the larger tablet right back into the spotlight.

Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch:
The iPad Air is a huge improvement over the iPad 4th-gen, or the iPad 2. … Its form factor is the best currently available for a 10-inch tablet, and it provides a great blend of portability and usability that leans towards the media device end of the spectrum.

Ben Bajarin, Techpinions:
With the iPad Air, Apple has created the world’s thinest and lightest full size tablet. And by adding their 64-bit A7 processor they have made it extremely powerful as well. After using the iPad Air for the past week I’m convinced that the iPad Air is the perfect personal computer for the masses.

David Pogue, A note from Pogue:
At $500, an iPad probably doesn’t need replacing every year or even every other year; if you have a 2012 or 2013 model, stick with what you’ve got. On the other hand, you’ll find the Air a fantastic leap into the future if you’re upgrading from an original iPad, or if you’ve never owned a tablet before.

Lockerz, Though Not Quite Dead, Raises $9 Million to Shift Focus to New Shopping Site Ador

Ador Lockerz

In the spring, reports surfaced that social commerce and photo-sharing service Lockerz was behind a new shoppable digital magazine called Ador.

Now, a new filing with the SEC published online today sheds more light.

Lockerz has rebranded its corporate name to Ador, and has raised $9 million of a possible $25 million round, the filing said.

Despite the document’s wording, Lockerz.com is still operational. In an interview, Q Shay, who identified himself as Ador’s chief operating officer, said that the company had considered shutting Lockerz.com completely, but that it currently has enough repeat visitors to justify keeping it up and running.

At the same time, the vast majority of spending will be invested into Ador.com going forward, not Lockerz, he said. Shay described the funding as a rights offering to its existing shareholders, which have included Kleiner Perkins and DAG Ventures.

The Ador site pulls in images of celebrities and models from fashion blogs and then surfaces either the exact clothes and accessories worn in the photos or ones similar to them. Ador users can then click through to the site where the product is sold to purchase the item, with Ador getting a cut through affiliate networks.

The service joins a crowded field of startups focused on creating a browsable shopping experience for the digital age.

“In our case, we are taking a far different approach and really focusing on a specific audience … those primarily interested in fashion,” said product chief Max Ciccotosto.

Shay acknowledged that there were layoffs earlier this year, but said the company has been hiring recently as it readied for Ador’s public launch earlier this month. He declined to disclose the current size of the staff.

At one time, Lockerz was one of Seattle’s biggest startup names, having raised more than $40 million for a service that gave users rewards points for taking actions such as uploading photos or watching videos. They could then use those points for discounts on clothing.

The startup also operated a photo-sharing service that drove significant traffic to Lockerz.com, but it shut down its API earlier this year, citing Twitter policy changes.

Lockerz’s founder and former CEO Kathy Savitt left the Seattle-based startup last year to become Yahoo’s chief marketing officer.

About Those Google+ User Numbers …

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Since its inception, it has been tough to tell just how well Google’s social network, Google+, is doing. Every time Google+ releases a new set of user number statistics, their accuracy and methods are almost immediately called into question.

According to information released on Thursday, it seems that skepticism was well warranted.

Take Amir Efrati’s Thursday morning story on Google+, which called into question the 300 million active, “in the stream” user visits Google+ recently claimed it received each month.

As Efrati wrote, citing anonymous sources, and Google confirmed to AllThingsD, the “stream” is more broadly defined than one would think. It also means clicking on the little red bell or share icons you see across all of Google’s properties.

Quoth Google, in a statement to AllThingsD:

“Yes, clicking on the notifications bell does count in our monthly actives metric for the Stream. If you click anywhere which leads to the Stream being loaded and displayed, we count you as viewing the Stream. The Stream is rendered on mobile (Android and iOS), on the Web at plus.google.com, and when you click and open a notification view of the Stream on desktop properties.”

To be fair to Google+, yes, you can still reach and use Google+ from all other Google sites. Click the bell when you’re in your Gmail account screen and you’ll indeed be presented with a small, stream-like view of Google+ content. It’s possible that people are sharing from there.

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And what’s more, competitors like Facebook also define monthly active users fairly broadly. The numbers include people who use third-party website widgets to share – the “Like” or “tweet” buttons you’ll see on sites like ours, for instance.

The problem is, as Google presents it, we can’t tell if users actually intend to use and share on Google+, or if they’re just clicking on the notifications bell to get rid of it – glaring red and bright against the plain white and gray background of Google’s properties.

So this leaves us, the critics and skeptics, back at a bit of a loss. Perhaps there are a significant number of people actively using and sharing on Google+ from other Google-owned sites.

Or perhaps it’s as dead as lots of people like to joke it is.

We just don’t know. And until Google decides to break down specifically how and from where people are visiting “the stream,” I doubt we’ll ever really have a notion of the network’s health.

Could Google or Tencent Beat Facebook to Buying Snapchat?

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Right now, Snapchat is having its “belle of the ball” moment.

The mobile messaging service – which lets users exchange photos and video that disappear after a few seconds – is being courted by Facebook. It has long been an app that CEO Mark Zuckerberg lusted after.

Thursday afternoon brought another turn of the screw. Valleywag reported that Google could also possibly be considering taking a run at Snapchat, matching Facebook’s $3 billion to $3.5 billion offer. Google and Facebook aren’t commenting, but sources said that Google has indeed expressed some interest in a deal. Tencent, the Chinese consumer Internet company, has also been eyeballing the company, according to sources.

I don’t know Snapchat’s fate, and from what I’ve been told, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel himself is unsure of it. But it got me thinking – whether they’re in the running or not, which companies are most likely to go after the fast-growing Snapchat?

Let’s go down the list.

Facebook:
Zuckerberg wants Snapchat bad. So bad, in fact, that he tried – and failed – to clone the app outright. Sources familiar with the matter have described the Facebook CEO as “obsessed” with Snapchat and the idea of ephemeral messaging. They told AllThingsD that he has made multiple offers to acquire the company, some for more than the $1 billion he paid for Instagram last year.

Likelihood: Very High

Google:
Google may have Google+, but it knows it can’t hold a candle to Facebook or even Twitter when it comes to social mobile apps. Buying Snapchat could give Google immediate overnight relevance in social, while simultaneously dealing a blow to Facebook. Not to mention that $3 billion is a pittance for the highly profitable company to spend on an acquisition.

Likelihood: High

Tencent:
This is a good fit. Spiegel has described Tencent as a “role model” for Snapchat in terms of revenue models – potentially alluding to in-app purchasing possibilities for the startup.

And Tencent is indeed interested – if not in a full acquisition, then at the very least in a large strategic investment.

Likelihood: Very High

Yahoo:
A dark horse, and at this point not an entrant as far as I’ve heard. Still, CEO Marissa Mayer has the cash to make the deal, and is no stranger to acquisitions. Plus, an acquisition of Snapchat could help to both bolster Yahoo’s mobile efforts – which are lacking – and burnish its less-than-cool image – sort of like buying Tumblr did.

Still, there’s no evidence to my knowledge that Yahoo has approached Spiegel or Snapchat about a potential acquisition.

Likelihood: Unlikely

Twitter:
After long considering killing off its direct-messaging feature entirely, Twitter woke up last year and figured out that people actually love sending private messages. Another satellite app acquisition – similar to the one it did with Vine – could make sense.

Problem is, the figures being thrown around for Snapchat now are way out of Twitter’s price range. They’re nearly double the amount the company just raised in its initial public offering. At this point, Snapchat is far too rich for Twitter’s blood.

Likelihood: Not at all likely

A caveat to many of the past week’s stories on this topic: It’s possible – if not likely – that the escalating prices and number of companies involved is largely due to jockeying from Snapchat insiders who stand to make hundreds of millions on the deal. Read each new report with that in mind.

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Another thing to remember: Spiegel intends to raise yet another round of funding for his company at a hefty valuation. If another round goes through, there will likely be a secondary component to it, in which Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy could sell some of their own shares and cash out. That means the two could still continue to go for broke and build out their own company rather than sell to the highest bidder, while having the insurance of already having taken some money off the table. And according to multiple people close to Snapchat, Spiegel and Murphy very much want to build out the startup into a full-fledged company.

Bottom line: If Snapchat keeps growing – and sources said that is indeed the case – Spiegel isn’t under the gun to make a decision today. If all goes well, his acquisition offers – and the high prices they command – likely won’t disappear.

Dell Loses Its First Senior Executive Since the Buyout

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Now that computing company Dell has completed its $25 billion leveraged buyout, the first member of the company’s senior executive team is headed for the door.

Sources familiar with the matter have confirmed to AllThingsD that Steve Felice, a Dell president and its chief commercial officer, will be leaving the company. His final day at Dell’s Round Rock, Texas, headquarters will be in early December.

Felice has taken a job as Chairman and CEO of Filtration Group, a Chicago-based privately held company that makes industrial air and water filtration equipment. The announcement was made in an internal memo to Dell employees, but hasn’t been made public yet. He’ll start at his new job on Jan. 6.

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I’m told Felice has a professional bucket list and one of the things on it is to be CEO of a big company. So he’s leaving under his own steam. I haven’t seen the internal memo yet, but I’m told it contains some quotes from CEO Michael Dell about how Felice was an important member of the executive team.

Felice is a serious Dell veteran. He joined the company back in 1999 when the PC business was humming and Dell was the company giving the entire industry competitive fits. I interviewed him last year, a few months before the whole buyout saga began.

Felice had been vice president and then later president of Dell’s consumer, small and medium business group, and at one time also led its operations in Asia. He joined Dell from DecisionOne, a computer support services vendor, where he had been CEO. He was a VP at Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) and also worked at Shell Oil.

It’s not uncommon for executives to leave a company after a buyout transition like the one Dell just went through. Several members of the executive team, though, such as enterprise head Marius Haas and software chief John Swainson, are pretty new and are unlikely to be going anywhere soon.

Update: I just got this statement from Dell.

As Dell begins a new chapter as a private company, Steve made a personal decision to take on the new challenge of leading a company as CEO.

Michael Dell said that Steve’s “counsel, vision and insight will definitely be missed by me and the entire leadership team, and I will always be grateful for his contributions.”

Netflix Hits Its Numbers, Investors Go Nuts, Reed Hastings Tells Them to Chill Out

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Netflix’s Q3 numbers are what Wall Street was looking for: The company now has 31 million subscribers in the U.S., and another 9 million in the rest of the world. Investors, who either hate Netflix or love Netflix but never feel neutral about it, are pushing the stock up 10 percent to $390 – an all-time high.

Given that Netflix was trading in the $50s just a year ago and is basically the same company plus a few new original shows, it might be useful to have some perspective on the disconnect between the company and its stock.

So CEO Reed Hastings provides it, right at the end of his investor letter:

In calendar year 2003 we were the highest performing stock on Nasdaq. We had solid results compounded by momentum-investor-fueled euphoria. Some of the euphoria today feels like 2003.

Despite the huge swings in our stock price since our 2002 IPO ($8 to $3 to $39 to $8 to $300 to $55 to $330), we’ve continued to grow our membership every year fairly steadily. We do our best to ignore the volatility in our stock. The progress we’ve made over the last 10 years is stunning. We want to make the next 10 years even more remarkable.

(Hear that? That’s the sound of investors ignoring Hastings’ counsel.)

Okay: On to the company itself. As many of my colleagues have noted, Netflix now has more paying subscribers in the U.S. than Time Warner’s HBO – or at least the last numbers that HBO reported.

Unlike previous comparisons some of my colleagues have made between Netflix and, say, Comcast, this one is relevant, since Netflix and HBO are actual competitors who make roughly the same amount of money per paying subscriber. But as both Netflix and HBO have noted in the past, there is a high degree of overlap between HBO and Netflix subscribers: If you have one, you’re likely to have the other.

Meanwhile Netflix, which sort of suggested last quarter that its “Orange Is the New Black” show was doing really well, is much more explicit about it this time around.

The company specifically calls out the show as a great marketing device: “[G]reat press coverage and social buzz generated by” OITNB, as well as the company’s Emmy nominations, helped push up the company’s numbers in the U.S.

But at the same time, Netflix also argues that people spend most of their time on the service watching stuff that isn’t made just for Netflix.

Specifically, Netflix calls out shows like “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” where it offers exclusive access to reruns; it says those kind of shows generate “a bigger percentage of overall Netflix viewing.” Which makes sense, because my hunch is Netflix spends more on those kind of shows (for now) than it does on its originals.

But that’s a pretty good summary of the Netflix strategy right now: Use its original shows, and the attention they generate, to help sell the service to new users, and use TV’s reruns to help keep them. Looks like it’s working pretty well, regardless of stock price.

Google’s Local Business Is “Really Struggling,” in “Constant Chaos,” Yelp CEO Tells Charlie Rose (Video)

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman

Based on their relationship today, it’s hard to believe that Google almost owned Yelp.

The acquisition never went through, and today the two companies seem firmly entrenched on the enemy side of the frenemy divide, with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman teeing off on Google whenever he has the chance, and Google continuing to launch search innovations that seem to be aimed directly at Yelp.

The latest shot fired came during Stoppelman’s recent appearance on Charlie Rose’s interview show.

At one point, Rose asked Stoppelman whether Google’s purchase of Zagat could pose a threat to Yelp. In short, Stoppelman’s answer was no. But the longer answer is much more interesting, and a sign that Stoppelman, at the very least, still thinks about Google quite often.

Here’s how he answered the question – you can also watch it in the video embedded below. His response begins around the 17:40 mark:

Every six months to a year there’s a reinvention of what Google has been doing in the local space. You know, there’s just been change after change. And I think what that says, or I think what that should communicate is that they’re really struggling in the space. And they’re having trouble finding something that really works and something that they can stick with.

Originally, it was Google Local, then they made it Google Maps and then they changed it to Google Places. And then they had Hotpot, then they bought Zagat, then they tried Frommer’s and then they sold Frommer’s and then they’ve revamped Zagat. And so it’s constant chaos over there. And if you’re winning, usually it’s calmer waters. And the thing about Yelp is we’ve been doing the same thing for about nine years, so we feel pretty comfortable with our position.

A Google spokesperson didn’t respond to an email seeking comment, sent Sunday evening.

(Image courtesy of Flickr/Brian Giesen)