Hardware startup Leap Motion, which managed to sell an impressive number of pre-orders for its standalone Leap Motion Controller gesture control computer accessory, today announced that the first fruits of its OEM partnership with PC-maker HP will hit shelves this Fall. The HP ENVY17 Leap Motion SE is the first shipping computer to build the startup’s tech directly in, and features a new embedded Leap Motion sensor that dramatically reduces size vs. previous embedded designs.
“We have a new, very small embedded module, which is about 70 percent thinner than the existing components in the Leap Motion,” Leap Motion CEO and co-founder Michael Buckwald said in an interview. “But it also has the same performance as the existing motion controller. HP is the first OEM to embed this new model sensor into a device.”
The smaller embedded sensor will be placed in the base of the computer, next to the trackpad, Buckwald says, and the new sensor design not only makes that possible, but also makes it feasible to build sensors into tablets and the smallest, slimmest laptop designs, according to him. That’s in keeping with Leap Motion’s larger aim as a company.
“Our goal is for the technology to be in as many devices as possible and to sort of disappear,” he explained. “Obviously we love the [Leap Motion Controller] and it’s been very successful, but it’s also great to see consumers have other ways to use the technology and obviously this makes it easier for someone to always have it with them, and makes it much more portable.”
The standalone Leap Motion Controller may have sold in considerable numbers via pre-orders, but reviews for the device were less than enthusiastic. My own experience with the hardware definitely left a lot to be desired, but Buckwald says the company isn’t focused on replacing keyboard and mouse, but on providing another input method option that will be better suited to software specifically designed for its use.
HP will bundle the ENVY17 Leap Motion SE with Airspace, Leap Motion’s app store software, as well as select pre-installed applications exclusive to the computer maker. Leap Motion has also had interest from other OEMs, Buckwald says, as more and more computer makers look for ways to differentiate, and plans to continue to expand its retail presence with new partners, especially in the international market. 52 percent of Leap Motion pre-order sales were to customers outside the U.S., and Buckwald sees strong demand for its tech abroad.
Cinegif, an Austin-based startup that makes it easy for companies to create GIFs for use in marketing campaigns, has raised $500,000 in funding from Texas angel investors including the Baylor Angel Network, the Houston Angel Network and its related Texas Halo Fund. The angel round will be used by Cinegif to accelerate sales and marketing for its cloud-based GIF marketing platform.
Though there are a host of GIF editors ranging from apps like Cinemagram to Adobe Photoshop’s timeline panel available, Cinegif wants to attract companies by offering an all-in-one platform with easy editing tools, unlimited cloud-based hosting and a real-time analytic dashboard to gauge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. In addition to GIFs, Cinegif’s editor can also be used to make “FIGs,” or rich media files that include multiple GIFs, stills and hyperlinks, and can be inserted into Web sites and emails with an embed code.
“Cinegif’s Marketing Cloud was specifically designed to enable marketers and advertisers to create more engaging digital content while controlling the entire process, eliminating the need for outsourcing content or rich media creation, therefore saving a company time while reducing cost,” CEO Graham McFarland explained.
The company’s clients, which currently include Hewlett-Packard, the Austin Chronicle, digital marketing company Pulsepoint and T3Media, a video management and licensing company, have used GIFs and rich media files made on Cinegif in email and social media campaigns, Web sites, e-commerce displays and advertising.
“The average online attention span is only about 10 seconds and because we’re constantly being bombarded by imagery everywhere, getting noticed is becoming increasingly difficult, which is why innovative marketers and advertisers have turned to GIF marketing,” said McFarland.
The company says its patented conversion and compression process minimizes file size while producing GIFs with the same color quality as files created with a program like Photoshop. The platform also optimizes its rich media files to be compatible across different platforms without plugins, unlike Adobe Flash.
Cinegif’s analytics dashboard displays real-time data about the amount of views, clicks and mouse hovers each file is receiving, and can differentiate between individual cells in a FIG file, as well as the multiple areas it has been embedded within. McFarland says Cinegif plans to add more features to the GIF Marketing Platform, including additional analytics to help clients better optimize their content.
SnapKeys, an ‘invisible’ touchscreen keyboard maker, has updated its Si Revolution Android keyboard app, adding the ability to position the keys anywhere on the screen. The size of the keyboard can also be customised, to better fit individual typing styles. Being able to move and squeeze the four letter keyboard allows it to accommodate one-fingered typing, for instance.
SnapKeys’ software works on Android devices, and is designed to do away with the age-old QWERTY layout by grouping letters into four islands to free up the screen to show off more content. Its Si Revolution keyboard lets users tap anywhere on each of the four keys to form words — rather than having to tap on specific letters. Its word-prediction tech does then does the rest.
Since so few precise taps are required, the keyboard can also disappear entirely — with the user needing only to tap a basic general position on the screen to spell words. Hence SnapKeys’ ‘invisible keyboard’ claim (you can still use the keyboard with the four islands visible, if you prefer). While it’s attempting to reorder the QWERTY world, SnapKeys has opted for an alphabetic letter layout to offer up enough familiarity to encourage users to get over the inevitable learning hump.
QWERTY may not be the best way to type but it has stuck around for a long time for a reason, thanks to habit, muscle memory and people’s unwillingless to have to slow down while they relearn a skill they have mastered already. Which explains why many alternative keyboard makers choose to keep QWERTY and tweak the input mechanism instead, such as finger-dragging method Swype — or recent tablet-targeting entrant Dryft, which moves the keys to fit your natural QWERTY typing position.
SnapKeys has previously said it’s had between 50,000 and 100,000 downloads of its keyboard app, during an earlier beta phase but it’s unclear how many active users it has. And the traditional QWERTY keyboard layout has remained remarkably tenacious. Still, it’s relatively early days for SnapKeys which only launched the Si Revolution keyboard in July (although it started beta-testing another version of the keyboard, called Si Evolution, in December 2012).
Other new features in SnapKeys update include the ability to personalise your SnapKeys dictionary by incorporating content from Facebook, Gmail and other contacts books, plus various new gesture shortcuts for managing predicted words including the ability to slide to the right/left on the word list to get more/previous words; slide up on the word list to erase a word; slide down on a word to get more similar words.
It’s no secret: With Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms now woven into the very fabric of the Web, the Share-pocalypse is well underway. Of course, while it’s easy to recognize that “Social” is here to stay, many businesses still struggle with how to best navigate the rising social and mobile tides. Gigya launched in 2006 to help guide businesses through that process, and now provides like Pepsi and Verizon with ready-made social infrastructure to streamline the process of “going social.”
By making it easy for businesses to connect their own social profiles (and their users’ social graphs) into their websites and leverage plug-ins for social commenting, ratings, reviews, live chats and so on, Gigya has turned social infrastructure not only into a growing business, but one that appears to be on a collision course with the public markets.
The company’s technology is now being used by 700 businesses, including names like Wal-Mart, DirectTV, RedBox, ABC and Adidas, and reaches 1.5 billion unique mobile and desktop users per month. Gigya CEO Patrick Salyer told TechCrunch earlier this year that his company is now “bringing in tens of millions in annual sales,” with sales growth having tripled since 2011. In May, Gigya hired its first CFO in Paul Farmer, a veteran executive with 30 years of experience — and four public offerings — under his belt.
In another potential sign of things to come, Gigya today announced that it has closed a $25 million funding round, led by Greenspring Associates with contributions from the company’s existing investors, including Benchmark Capital, Mayfield Fund, DAG Ventures and Advance Publications. The new round brings Gigya’s total funding to $70 million and although Salyer declined to elaborate, he tells us that the company’s valuation has doubled since its last funding round — its $15 million financing which closed last June.
Greenspring, in particular, has a successful track record when it comes to backing SaaS companies, having been ExactTarget’s chief investor before its acquisition by Salesforce. Greenspring Partner John Avirett said of his firm’s investment in Gigya: “Given our investment in ExactTarget, we know the SaaS marketing space well and Gigya’s trajectory and market opportunity are sizable … The key value add as we see it is the company’s ability to unlock modern consumer identity for its clients, helping businesses form relationships with their users that are actually transparent and valuable.”
The company says that it will use its new capital to expand domestic and international sales and marketing teams at the company’s Mountain View headquarters, as well as open new offices in Phoenix. As my colleague Anthony Ha wrote in May, Gigya is also beginning a significant reorganization of its products into what it calls a “Connected Consumer Management Suite.”
While it will continue offering its existing services, like its social login and gamification tools, Gigya also plans to spend a good chunk of its new capital on developing new products — particularly on tools that give marketers better access to Gigya’s social identity data. Really, it’s a turn towards the enterprise, or the consumer-facing enterprise, as Gigya will look to help businesses manage consumer data and get more out of permission-based identity and behavior data through its so-called “connected consumer management suite.”
DotCloud is a great example of a startup with a pivot that worked. The proof of that is in a new partnership that marries its Docker open-source app portability project with Red Hat and its OpenShift platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
Docker is a lightweight Linux app container that DotCloud originally developed for its multiple-language PaaS.In March, DotCloud launched Docker as an open-source project. With Docker, apps are essentially transported in virtual containers by developers who often use them to sync between their laptops and the cloud.
Until now, Docker and Red Hat have had incompatible versions of the Linux kernel. Today’s partnership fixes that, making it possible for developers to use Docker containers in OpenShift to easily move code between different infrastructures without the heavyweight requirements that come with moving around virtual machines and operating systems.
It comes down to this: virtual machines are not designed to move between clouds. So instead, Docker moves the code between the virtual machines. Docker does not port the virtual machine nor the operating system. It does not need to — the compute, storage and networking is already in place on a cloud service — the application just gets delivered there to run.
Docker will initially be available on Red Hat Fedora for the community to use. By the end of the year or beginning of 2014, Docker will get fully integrated into OpenShift and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
How It Works
Joe Fernandes heads OpenShift product management at Red Hat.In an email he said developers access OpenShift through its web console, command line interface or through their own Eclipse Independent Developer Environment (IDE). The customer either authenticates against the Red Hat OpenShift Online service or via their enterprise authentication system. Alternatively they may deploy using OpenShift Enterprise, using their own infrastructure.
Developers then get access to the services provided in OpenShift including various programming languages and frameworks such as Java, Ruby, PHP, Python and Node.js. They also get access to databases such as Postgresql, MySQL and MongoDB and other services such as Jenkins, a continuous integration environment.
Fernandes said this all gets packaged with what Red Hat refers to as OpenShift “Cartridges,” which are then deployed on one or more “Gears” which are RHEL containers running across one or more RHEL OS instances. This is what forms the foundation of OpenShift. The RHEL OS instances can either be virtual instances running on virtual machines, private or public cloud instances such as Amazon Web Services or can run directly on bare metal physical servers.
Fernandes said by integrating with Docker, Red Hat is bringing new capabilities to its RHEL Gears, which will benefit OpenShift developers by providing greater portability and usability. Developers can also deploy applications to those containers directly using Docker (outside of OpenShift). Customers may also run Docker natively on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora and other Red Hat based Linux platforms such as CentOS.
With Docker, the future looks far more optimistic for the startup and its prominent list of investors. Ron Conway and Chris Sacca were part of the seed round investment in DotCloud. In its Series A funding, the company received investment from Benchmark Capital and Trinity Ventures. Along with the financing, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, Apple engineering manager Marc Varstaen, Benchmark’s Peter Fenton and Trinity’s Dan Scholnick joined the DotCloud board of directors.
With Red Hat, Docker could soon be packaged for use in some of the world’s largest Linux-based enterprise deployments. It’s not just excellent distribution but also puts DotCloud in an entirely new position as a company. It can now become one of the standard methods for lightweight app portability in the entire cloud ecosystem.
The challenge for Docker is with IT, who are still so accustomed to using virtual machines. Moving virtual machines may be cumbersome but it’s a process IT managers know. But Red Hat has enterprise credibility which will give Docker a opportunity to appeal to both developer and operations teams which means deeper reach with enterprise customers.
In a new interview published by Businessweek this morning, wherein Sam Grobart sits down with Apple CEO Tim Cook, and SVPs Craig Federighi and Jony Ive, Cook comments on a number of things, including the comparison that’s often made between the trajectory of Windows and Mac early on, and the current heading for Android and iOS.
“Microsoft kept things the same, and the level of fragmentation wasn’t as much,” Cook told Grobart in the BW interview. “There weren’t so many derivative works out there with Windows.”
The quote is addressing the commonly-made comparison between Apple’s early progress in desktop computing and its current situation with mobile; Microsoft made Windows available to any OEM partners, leaving PC hardware to other companies while focusing on software, whereas Apple wouldn’t license its Mac OS (except for a brief, and failed experiment), and built devices in-house married to the software they themselves engineered.
Naturally, people argue based on that comparison that Apple is headed for trouble with the current Android/iOS picture. Windows eventually rose to dominate the computer market near-completely with its OEM partner model, while Apple’s share dwindled, though it eventually carved out a lucrative, if relatively small slice of the market (and is arguably now winning, thanks to iPad sales). But Cook says that the iOS situation is different, and doesn’t Apple’s mobile devices slipping to anywhere near those low market share percentages.
Part of that is due to Android’s fragmentation issue, which Cook also goes into in the BW piece. He points out that people on Android are often using three or four-year old OS software on their devices by the time they upgrade, which he says “would be like me right now having in my pocket iOS 3,” per Grobart. The fragmentation makes it so that Cook doesn’t “think of Android as one thing,” he tells BusinessWeek, which is why the situation is different from Windows: With Microsoft’s desktop OS, it issues updates without having to worry about carrier approval, and Windows doesn’t get forked and re-skinned the way that Android does.
Cook addresses many other topics in the full interview, including how Apple didn’t set out to build a low-cost iPhone with the iPhone 5c (just a great device that costs less than the flagship version), and how Ive and Federighi manage their intensely collaborative working relationship and rolls, so it’s definitely worth heading over to read in full.
The point of view Apple’s current CEO holds regarding Apple’s mobile market battle and how it does or doesn’t reflect past experience is particularly interesting, however, given how quickly the comparison seems to leap to the minds of analysts and observers. Of course, it’s also possible that Android’s flexibility could help it avoid getting replaced by next-generation device types the way the PC was buffeted by the iPad, but it’s far too soon to tell in any case.
Investors have recently piled millions into same-day delivery startups such as New York’s Zipments and San Francisco’s PostMates, and now Palo Alto firm Deliv has become the latest beneficiary, with plans to use a $6.85 million series A investment to hire new staff and roll out services to hundreds of retailers located in shopping malls across America.
Upfront Ventures and RPM Ventures, who have previously funded retailers including Costco, Office Depot, and Starbucks, led the investment round in Deliv, whose technology integrates directly into the retailer’s e-commerce properties allowing customers to select the same-day delivery option at the time of checkout. Prices are similar to that of standard delivery.
Deliv founder and CEO Daphne Carmelli told TechCrunch the funding would be used to execute on the recent partnership with shopping mall manager General Growth Properties, where the firm also manually coordinates deliveries for in-store customers. For example, aggregating and delivering mall-wide purchases for a patron that commutes via public transport. The service is currently available in four GGP malls and is expected to be available nationwide by the holidays.
Carmelli said retailers are the key to demand and scale.
“Once we sign a retailer all we need to do is add zipcodes to our database and we have same day delivery demand in a city,” she said.
Investment in the space is heating up. Earlier this week, New York based retailer-courier marketplace Zipments raised $2.25 million to expand its same-day services beyond its three core cities of New York, Chicago, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, where smaller and individual operators, such as bicycle couriers, are using the technology to more efficiently service retailers’ delivery needs. In March, San Francisco’s Postmates raised $5 million from the Founders Fund to expand its services to Seattle and New York, and now boasts nearly 300 couriers, who buy goods on behalf of customers and reimbursed upon delivery. Deliv has raised $7.85 million in total, following a $1 million seed investment from Redpoint Ventures, Trinity Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, PivotNorth Capital and The Operator’s Fund.
Companies like Deliv and Zipments are using marketplace and logistics systems to provide a faster, cheaper way for retailers to deliver goods; while on-demand services such as Postmates and TaskRabbit combine technology with feet-on-the-ground to create a new channel for customers to buy products from local high-volume retailers, such as restaurants.
Deliv is aiming to seamlessly connect the customer, retailer, and courier and Carmel said the crowdsourced courier model provides a more efficient way for customers to transact with retailers — rather than introducing a new delivery mechanism like Postmates and Taskrabbit, which directly manage hundreds of couriers.
“Those two business are terrific but they are marketplaces so they need to generate demand in every city they go. The reps or agents do the buying, whereas with Deliv we retain the integrity of the retailer-consumer relationship. We are just the cost efficient last mile.”