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nexus7-refreshed

The new Google Nexus 7 is a big improvement over the original with a bunch of additions like LTE and a super high-resolution display – the best in tablets, in fact. And that’s driving a lot of first generation device owners to trade in their old Nexus 7, according to gadget buy-back site Gazelle. There was a 333 percent spike in the number of Nexus 7 tablets traded in compared to the same day last week, for example.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, that spike was even higher – a 442 percent jump in Nexus 7 tablets happened between the day before Google’s official unveiling of the new model, and the day of. The Nexus 7 trade-in activity spiked so high that it made up nearly a quarter of all trade-ins for non-iPad tablets since the site began accepting them earlier this year.

Wednesday, the day Google made its announcement, was also the biggest Nexus 7 trade-in day at Gazelle to date, beating the next biggest day by 380 percent. That previous record was set when the new Nexus 7 leaked on July 17, which clearly prompted early adopters to take advantage of a small head start ahead of the big reveal.

The news means that Google Nexus 7 owners are probably happy with their devices and eager to grab new ones, by trading in their last-gen devices to fund their purchases, but there’s another stat that tells another side of the story: Gazelle saw no appreciable increase in iPad trade-ins on the new Nexus 7 launch day. That means Google probably isn’t luring iPad owners away from the iOS fold.

It’s probably not surprising to longtime tablet space watchers that the new Nexus 7, with all its apparent merit, isn’t an iPad killer. The Apple camp seems happy where they are, but the tablet market has plenty of room to grow; we’ll see if Google can expand outward, or if it’s mostly eating its own Nexus tail with this new model.

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Want to build your own Postagram? You could with Lob, a new developer API for integrating printing and shipping services into applications that’s officially opening its doors today. The company makes it possible for a business to implement a programmatic means of printing, packaging, and shipping items on demand, including things like business cards, photos, posters, letters, postcards, checks, stickers, and more. During its brief testing period, Lob saw sign-ups from customers like CrowdTilt, ZenPayroll, LendUp, and others.

Founded just a couple of months ago by University of Michigan grads Harry Zhang and Leore Avidar, Lob is participating in Y Combinator’s summer 2013 program. Today, it already has hundreds of customers and is generating revenue, the founders say.

Prior to Lob, Zhang worked as a product manager at Microsoft, where he saw first-hand the need for such a service. “I was working on a campaign at Microsoft where we had to put together offers for all these different customers – all having to go to different destinations, all of which had to be customized,” Zhang explains. “And when it got to the part where we had to have them printed and mailed, we realized there was no good way to actually automate that process.” Instead, the company had interns sitting in a mailroom for a couple of weeks, stuffing envelopes.

Meanwhile, Avidar’s background includes time spent first at Citigroup then at Amazon Web Services, where he learned more about how cloud platforms work. He says that basically, with Lob, they’ve taken the AWS model and applied it to a different type of industry.

The service arrives at a time when many of today’s printers aren’t as technically savvy as the startups and other businesses that need to use them. Their older systems use SOAP and XML, limiting access to what’s possible. Meanwhile, the need for online printing grows – it accounted for 18 percent of all printing in 2011, and is expected to reach 30 percent next year, and 50 percent by 2017.

But unlike services provided by consumer-facing retailers like FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko’s), or Uprinting.com, for example, Lob is not meant to be a consumer-facing solution, but rather a tool for developers. Using the company’s RESTful API, developers can send one-off print jobs as needed, or can request volume pricing when buying in bulk.

The founders see a few primary use cases for its service. One is fulfillment for businesses that don’t want to hold inventory – like a company that sells posters, for instance. Because Lob supports variable data and customizations, another area being targeted is in industries like finance or real estate, where businesses may be required to send things like bills, invoices or statements through the physical mail. It could also be useful in HR, where companies are continually mailing out forms to employees, like new hire packets. And finally, Lob can be used to send out physical checks, like those handled by a payroll service.

Lob’s API offers an address verification service (free for U.S. address and $0.15 for each international address), plus Smart Packaging, where it will pick the best packaging type automatically unless a developer specifies otherwise. And it routes jobs to the nearest printer in its network to save on shipping times and cost.

Avidar says that Lob’s network of printers is one of its strong suits. The printers are not ordinary print shops, but ones which have been standardized by having custom integrations built into their systems and workflows. The are the HP Indigo’s and the Heidelberg’s of the world, he adds, not the Vistaprint’s.

The Sunnyvale-based startup is only a couple of months old, and has been growing by 300 percent every week during its brief alpha and beta trials. Today, the founders are the only two full-time employees and they want to keep things small for now, and hold off on fundraising as they have paying customers. Interested users can sign up for Lob here or read through the developer documentation.

zynga poker

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.

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While the world has become fixated on the NSA’s domestic and foreign surveillance activities in the past months, the trial of Private First Class Bradley Manning is coming to a close. Concluding arguments were heard today. The government, as BoingBoing notes, is trying to convict Manning using the Espionage Act, and slap him with the charge of ‘aiding the enemy.’ Manning has plead guilty to “lesser” charges.

We in technology must pay attention to those willing to leak from the government, given that such information has played a key role in the shaping of public opinion regarding piracy and privacy among other issues. The Snowden effect is material, and critical.

Firedoglake has done a masterful job of not only reporting on the case, but also live-blogging as much as possible.

The government alleges that Manning leaked not out of a desire to spread knowledge of government and military misdeed, but instead out of a lust for fame. His pride, it was asserted, was proven because the government produced a picture of a smiling Manning. Hard evidence, certainly.

At the same time, as Nathan Fuller pointed out, “Govt repeating over & over #Manning was obsessed about his own fame, craved notoriety. At same time arguing further he kept identity hidden.” If you can untangle the logic behind that argument, you are a better person than I.

Regarding the Collateral Murder video that showed needless civilian deaths, the government, according to Firedoglake merely stated that the clip contained “actions and experiences of service members conducting a wartime mission.” The government put a price on the “worth” of the Afghanistan and Iraq Logs that Wikileaks released to the public at $1.3 million and $1.9 million, respectively.

The idea of prosecuting Manning for “aiding the enemy” is worrisome, as it is an around-the-side charge: Manning provided information to the enemy because he gave it to a journalistic organization that published it, allowing the “enemy” to read it; this would make all leakers and whistle blowers potentially legally damnable on the same charge. If we set that precedent, investigative journalism will take a body blow.

From a pure journalism perspective, current treatment of reporters inside the courtroom would be laughable if it weren’t so blatantly intimidatory. I quote, to preserve the original voice, Alexa O’Brien:

Journalists sending me emails telling me soldier stationed right behind me with a gun. I tell you, OVER THE TOP JUDGE LIND #Manning

And, for taste, Kevin Gosztola:

Armed military police officer leans over my shoulder & informs me not to have browser windows open during court proceedings #Manning

So, we aren’t being fed what could be called a full dish of the proceedings, because armed folks are telling people to knock it the hell off. We can disagree all evening about the guilt of Mannning, and the efficacy of leaks to the national discourse, and their potential denigration of our national security, but at least we can agree that threatening the press with soldiers isn’t in the best of taste.

When the verdict is given, we’ll update this post and bring you the news. That is, if the government allows the press to report it.

Top Image Credit: Cristian Ram rez

mark-and-don

Don Mattrick, the new Zynga CEO announced at the beginning of the month, offered his initial on-the-job observations today during the conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter earnings.

Mattrick (on the right of the photo with Zynga founder and former CEO Mark Pincus) started out by offering some positive commentary, saying that the company “caught lightning in a bottle” and “achieved in only a few years what most companies took a decade or more to do.” However, he acknowledged, “We’re missing out on platform growth that Apple, Google, and Facebook are seeing. In short, we can do better.”

So how is he going to try to turn things around? He said he’s going to be working with the company’s leadership to “challenge previous assumptions” and to focus on “business fundamentals – which, candidly, we’ve struggled with over the past year.” Mattrick predicted that there will be two to four more quarters of volatility as the company tries to find a new direction.

“Getting a business back on track isn’t easy and isn’t quick,” he said.

Pincus, now Zynga’s chief product officer, was also on the call, and among other things, he said he was impressed that Mattrick set up his desk in the middle of the Farmville studios. Both Pincus and Mattrick described their relationship as one between “partners”.

Mattrick said he’s also going to discuss his priorities on this call – I’ll update this post when he does.

Update: Later in the call, Mattrick said his priorities for his first 90 days on the job include “getting under the hood” to evaluate the business, identifying the real market opportunities, improving product quality, looking at how people are deployed across the company, and reassessing the product pipeline. He also suggested Zynga is a young company that has “the ability to break some bad habits” but that while he’ll be in listen-and-learn mode initially, “When it becomes clear what change is necessary, I’ll move quickly and decisively to do what’s in the best long-term interests of our players, our employees, and our shareholders.”

He concluded, “There are some good winds at our back, and my job is to get our sails up and Zynga pointed in the right direction.”

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Yesterday, an amendment proposed by Rep. Amash that would have dramatically undermined the NSA’s authority to collect records on the phone calls of American citizens failed to pass. Proponents of the amendment claimed that it protected the Fourth Amendment rights of the public. Those opposed argued that it would erode national security.

The debate back and forth was perhaps the best encapsulation of the current conversation in Congress concerning the pervasive surveillance of the NSA that has recently become better known, mostly through the prism of leaks from the now fugitive Edward Snowden. That information has divided Congressional representatives and senators, demanding that they choose a side, at least rhetorically, on the issue.

Yesterday was a further step in the direction of accountability, albeit only in the lower chamber of Congress. The members had to vote yes or no on whether to defund a known – and previously lied about – program that collects private data on Americans sans their status as party to an investigation.

You’ve read coverage on the NSA for months, with commentary of all sorts taking positions on both the digital and telephonic collection practices of the agency. The following debate isn’t a cable news segment stacked with paid pundits, half-neck analysts, or think-tank hacks. Instead, this is our Congress, arguing with itself, about how to handle our privacy.

The amendment failed 205-217. That’s a defeat, but those in favor of its passage were greater in number than many, myself included, anticipated.

Enjoy [Debate begins at 16:40]:

Top Image Credit: Zoe Rudisill

Here it is, official as official gets: Samsung just announced the Galaxy Tab 7.7. As the name suggests, it has a 7.7-inch (1280 x 800) display – specifically, a Super AMOLED Plus panel. Like so many other 7-inchers hitting the market, it runs Android 3.2 and yes, that’s a skinned flavor of Honeycomb, with Samsung’s tablet-optimized TouchWiz UX layered on top. Inside, it runs the same Samsung-made dual-core 1.4GHz processor found in the new Galaxy Note, along with an HSPA+ radio promising theoretical download speeds as high as 21Mbps. Other specs for the 0.74-pound (335-gram) tablet include 16GB to 64GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot, a 5,100mAh battery rated for 10 hours, 802.11n WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0 and dual 3MP and 2MP cameras. In a nutshell, it’s the in-between-sized do-over a lot of folks have been awaiting since the original Galaxy Tab grew stale – a slate that promises faster speeds and some seriously improved viewing angles. We’ll be the judge of that in our review, but in the meantime stay tuned for some early hands-on impressions.

Until a few days ago we’d heard surprisingly little about the Galaxy Note, a handset rumored to be launching alongside the Galaxy Tab 7.7 and Wave 3 at IFA. It’s ironic, really, because of all the phones to have kept a low profile, this is a memorable one. Behold, a 5.3-inch handset with a stowaway pen for note-taking, drawing and grabbing screen captures. In other words, a Dell Streak-esque hunk of a device that blurs the lines between phone and tablet. You’re looking at a Gingerbread-running LTE and HSPA+ handset with a 1280 x 800 Super AMOLED display, dual 8MP and 2MP cameras, a removable 2,500mAh battery and the same Samsung-made dual-core 1.4GHz processor you’ll find in the just-announced Galaxy Tab 7.7. For a phone this gargantuan, it’s actually quite thin at light, at 9.65mm (0.38 inches) thick and a reasonable 178 grams (6.3 ounces). We had a few minutes to handle the phone in advance of today’s press conference, and found it surprisingly easy to grip, even in our small hands. As with the Infuse 4G -whose own 4.5-inch screen once seemed impossibly sprawling – the thin shape makes it tenable, as does the lightweight, textured plastic lining the back.

As you’d expect, Android 2.3 comes layered with TouchWiz on top and, in this case, seven home screens and a touch-optimized interface dubbed “S Pen” designed to take advantage of that pen. These include S Planner, a native calendar and to-do list app, from which you can drag and drop appointments, changing time slots without having to open an entry. S Memo for note-taking, meanwhile, accepts voice, photo, text and handwritten input. We also got a quick glimpse of Virtual Whiteboard, a more collaborative form of note-taking. On top of that, Samsung says it’s releasing the S Pen SDK to third-party developers, and the company’s banking on more apps for organizing photos and drawing, among other things. For now, this is merely a global launch: Samsung says it’s still in discussions with carriers worldwide, so depending on your neck of the woods it might be awhile before you hear anything definitive about pricing or availability. Find the some fancy press shots (and a promo vid) after the break, and stay tuned for our hands-on.

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