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proxy

Yesterday, Yahoo turned in what its fans kindly described as a well-at-least-we’re-not-falling-off-the cliff earnings report.

True, true, but it was nothing to be proud of either, with earnings and revenue down in the third quarter, along with a slew of other business deficits. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gamely tried to smooth it all over – a unique talent of hers – in a kind of retro-chic method, by pointing out that Yahoo’s user traffic is back to 2011 levels and that mobile was growing.

Of course, it’s booming everywhere across the Internet, with rivals managing to monetize the explosive growth that Yahoo simply still cannot.

As the New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth aptly wrote in the lede of her piece about the Q3 debacle: “The honeymoon is over … 15 months after she took over, Ms. Mayer has failed to translate Yahoo’s user increase into meaningful revenue growth.”

This is not to say that she will not eventually, especially if she can keep attracting top talent to help her.

But it’s lucky Mayer has the magnificent performance of China’s Alibaba Group as a lifesaver. Yahoo, which owns a big stake in the e-commerce juggernaut, has seen its stock boom in tandem with investor frenzy to get any piece of the Alibaba rocket ship before its expected IPO next year.

Essentially: Buy Yahoo, get Alibaba; or perhaps more simply put, buy Yahoo as a proxy for it.

But why take my word for it? Here’s the Yahoo slides, press release and also a filing on a new agreement with Alibaba to be able to hold onto more of its shares upon the IPO (Yahoo knows a good investment when they see it) to peruse to get a handle on what’s actually going on.

And that is: A still-damaged core business that is struggling mightily to turn around, with a lot of help from Asia and also the mojo provided by Mayer’s own personal halo.

Here’s Yahoo’s own data to look over:

Q313_YHOOEarningsSlides

Yahoo – Yahoo Reports Third Quarter 2013 Results

Form 8-K

(Photo from Mayer’s Tumblr blog, showing new sign at Yahoo’s Sunnyvale HQ with new logo she helped design.)

WorldMap-War

While iOS games started out as either simple physics or casual simulation titles when the platform launched about five years ago, the bar has gotten steadily higher and more hard-core. Midcore studios like Kabam started to rise in prominence.

Now the iOS platform might be seeing is most hardcore title to date – a very, very massive multi-player title from YC- and Menlo Ventures-backed Machine Zone.

The company, which started out doing text-based RPGs a couple years ago like iMob, is launching Game of War: Fire Age. It’s a title where players build and grow empires, train massive armies, forge alliances with other players to win kingdoms.

The game can handle hundreds of thousands of players concurrently in the same universe, which is not an easy technical feat. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, in contrast, typically handles a few thousand players simultaneously in a single realm. All movement on the game’s map is visible to everyone else.

“We wanted to take the company to the next level and be really ambitious,” said Machine Zone CEO Gabriel Leydon. “We decided to build some things that had never been done before. We had the capital to do it and the willpower.”

Leydon didn’t hire just typical game designers to build the title. He also found people who had experience in scaling massive systems. The game’s user interface is in HTML5 and is rendered natively, allowing the company to handle different screen sizes.

The other really cool thing about the game’s social capabilities is that there is a mechanical turk-like translation system where the players themselves translate chat in exchange for virtual currency rewards. That helps Game of War have really interactive play with a proper critical mass of users who can talk to each other, even if they don’t speak the same language. The in-game chat system helps Game of War get manage slang and gamer speak, which a third-party translation system probably wouldn’t handle correctly. If say, 50 players translate the same words in the same way, then the game will start using that translation automatically.

“It’s like a highly structured Facebook,” Leydon said. “My goal as a game designer was to create a feeling of what it would be to be a king, where you’d have a lot of people under you. You’d have to subjects, wealth and land.”

Assuming say, the game grows to 1 million players, there might only be 20 kings in the game. To reach that level, players have to woo others to form alliances with them. Within those alliances, there are ranks for different officers.

“This is a very hardcore game. This is not Candy Crush,” he said. “This is a complex system with a lot of potential trees of outcomes. If you’re the type of person that’s fascinated by systems like this, then this is for you.”

Machine Zone used to be known as Addmired, and rebranded last year when it took $8 million in funding from Menlo Ventures. Leydon said this is what the company took the round for, even though its older titles like Original Gangstaz and iMob 2 were pretty lucrative early on.


fitBarkVisual

Bored of quantifying your self already? Why not quantify your pet instead? FitBark is a Fitbit style health tracker for your under-walked canine companion. We’ve covered this (frankly) barking mad gizmo before, back in May, when its creators were exhibiting at Hardware Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt NY but they’ve now taken to Kickstarter to raise funds to get the device out in the wild. Again.

It’s actually FitBark’s second attempt at Kickstarting the gizmo. As Gigaom points out, its creators pulled an earlier attempt at crowdfunding the device in order to rethink the business model, scrapping the monthly subscription fee and opting for a fixed price-tag of $69 via Kickstarter or $99 for general retail.

FitBark are after $35,000 to cover manufacturing costs this time around, and are more than half-way to achieving the target with 32 days left to run on the campaign – so crazy or otherwise, this is one hardware startup that’s pretty much a dead cert for its first manufacturing run-around-the-park at least.

Now I say barking mad but that’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, being as FitBark is not the only health tracker angling for pet owners’ cash. Whistle, a startup backed by $6 million in Series A funding, launched a $99 wearable activity tracker for dogs only last month. There’s also Tagg, which combines activity and location tracking by including GPS in its device. So underestimate the pet-owning dollar at your peril.

So what does FitBark actually do? Attach it to your dog’s collar and it tracks daily’s activity levels, sending the data back to FitBack’s servers when your smartphone is in range, or throughout the day if you purchase a dedicated FitBark base station (and keep you pet penned up at home while you’re out). The latter scenario would allow owners to keep remote tabs on their pet’s activity levels when they’re not at home, but unless you own a mansion (or employ a dog walker) your dog isn’t going to be able to do a whole lot of running around without you. FitBark then crunches all the activity data, offering customisable daily activity goals, and delivering the results back to you via an app. So far, so kinda sane.

At its more barking mad fringe, the FitBark also lets pet owners compare – well, they say “unify” – their own fitness with their dog’s fitness/activity. So yeah, boasting that you are fitter than Fido is apparently a thing now…

FitBark is also the first platform that leverages existing APIs of human fitness trackers to bring you a unified view of your fitness level and that of your dog. From the outset, FitBark will seamlessly receive input from your Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Withings Pulse, or Bodymedia Fit. We’ll look to expand the list as we learn about new open APIs or partnership opportunities. If you’re not only a devoted dog parent but are also serious about tracking your own fitness, you’ll love this.

edge-1-large

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.)

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