Get ready for a whole lot more Pebble. The smartwatch company just announced several software enhancements for the Pebble and a $15M Series A led by Charles River Ventures. Pebble is not going to sit around, scared of iWatch rumors. They’re plowing forward on their own accord and committed to providing the best platform possible for developers and consumers.
“We are pledging to support the developers hacking on Pebble,” stated Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky told me in an interview. “We want to make the Pebble the go-to place for developers.” And with that the company released its first SDK last month and is following it up today with several big improvements.
The cash injection will be used to increase the company’s software engineering team’s headcount and allow the company to scale to meet still-growing customer demand. CVS’ Partner George Zachery is joining Pebble’s board of directors, a move that excites Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky.
“George is the one that shared our vision of wearable computing,” Eric told me in a chat this morning. Several angels also participated in the round, but Eric indicated that Charles River Ventures funded the majority of the Series A. This round of funding joins the $375k the company previously received from four angel investors, including Paul Buchheit, a partner at Y Combinator, and Tim Draper of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. And don’t forget about the $10.3M Pebble raised on Kickstarter.
“The tremendous response we received from Kickstarter backers validated our belief in the value of a smartwatch as a wearable computer, but also in the value an open platform brings to truly personalizing the watch to their daily activities”, said Migicovsky, Pebble’s founder in a released statement today. “This new investment will help us build out the Pebble development ecosystem and deliver on Pebble’s extraordinary potential.”
Pebble is still working on fulfilling the 85,000 orders placed on Kickstater. To date 70,000 have reached early supporters. “It’s pretty crazy thinking there are 70,000 Pebbles out there,” Eric told me proudly. “Tens of thousands” of additional orders have been placed, Eric said.
The company is aiming for retail availability in four to six months.
Pebble also announced several software enhancements for its smartwatch today. The SDK, which the company appropriately calls the PebbleKit, enables third party apps to send and receive data from the smartwatch.
This two-way communication is a huge step forward for the smartwatch, allowing the watch to display a large variety of information including weather and sports scores or even act as a remote control for the phone itself. Until now, apps were limited to basic functions like just display a watch face or displaying a simple game of snake.
Pebble also released the Pebble Sports API, enabling developers to build GPS-enabled smartwatch apps similar to the RunKeeper app announced a couple of weeks back.
Since releasing its initial SDK back in April, Pebble states the kit was downloaded over 8,000 times, resulting in over 5,000 unique watchapps with 300,000 installs during the last month. Owners are clearly hungry for more Pebble features.
The Pebble was supposed to usher in a new era of productivity by strapping a communication device to our wrist, but the initial feature set was limited even with the first SDK release. However, Pebble is keeping at it and today’s funding announcement and software development release should result in a big harvest of fresh apps.
“Everyone is talking about wearable devices,” Eric explained. “We’re very happy that Pebble is a platform people can build on today.”
Wearables is the next big thing. There’s no denying that. Even if Apple skips the iWatch device, Google Glass and others are pushing forward the thought of wearable computing. But the Pebble is here today and developers have latched onto the platform, outing custom watch faces, games, and apps. With the Pebble, the future is here now.
Mobile app developers using Google’s AdMob ad network will start seeing a new version that has been rebuilt “in a ground-up sort of way,” according to Jonathan Alferness, director of product management for mobile ads.
The update, which starts rolling out today, also brings AdMob more in line with Google’s other ad platforms. That’s something the company has been working on since it acquired AdMob in 2010, for example by integrating AdMob with AdWords, but Alferness said today is the “culmination” of all that work, and that the new AdMob can be more easily extended with new features, setting the stage for future improvements.
More concretely, Google says there are a number of new features in the current update, including a version of the AdWords Conversion Optimizer, which allows developers to identify the cost-per-acquisition that they’re aiming for. It then automatically runs the ad types that are best-suited to drive the most app installations on that budget. There are also new filters allowing developers to block specific topics or specific ads for showing up in their apps. There’s a new setup for AdMob Mediation for showing ads from multiple networks. And AdMob now supports payment in local currencies.
There’s a new interface, too — Google didn’t show it to me, but Alferness said it fits much better with Google’s other ad platforms. At the same time it will have “a lot of the same tools, a lot of the same functionality,” so developers used to the old system won’t feel like “a fish out of water.”
“We’re continuing to see changes in the actual app monetization industry,” Alferness added. “The platform enables us to grow and pivot and change. You can look at the platform and start to imagine missing pieces — one of the areas where we know that we have more work to do is tracking and analytics.”
However, as AdMob changes, Alferness says the central vision remains the same: “We’d love to be a one-stop place for app developers to come to deal with various Google technologies.” And if mobile apps move to new business models, he wants AdMob to move with them.
You can read more about the update here.
Rovio Entertainment, maker of the popular line of “Angry Birds” games, announced today that its expanding its business to include third-party titles, which it will publish, distribute and market to consumers. The new program is being called “Rovio Stars,” and makes available the company’s expertise as well as its marketing teams to other publishers. The first title to be released under the new effort is “Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage,” by Nitrome Ltd.
The Icebreaker game, which follows the adventures of a lone Viking, will be followed by medieval adventure and puzzle game “Tiny Thief,” made by 5 Ants.
This is the first time Rovio has included third-party titles in its lineup, the company announced this morning via a blog post and press release.
“We want to help the developers to give these games that last coat of polish, publish the games and find their audience,” said Rovio’s Director of Development Kalle Kaivola. “We’re focusing on a small, select number of games, and each Rovio Stars launch will be an event of its own.”
That “last coat of polish” means Rovio will actually assist its partners in finalizing game production and with post-production, the company explains. Rovio notes that it’s looking for titles in “an advanced stage of production” – that is, in either alpha or playable format.
Rovio’s experts will specifically help to mentor developers in order to “turn their games into blockbusters,” as well as market them, provide PR, and help publishers distribute titles to all the relevant app stores.
Developers can now apply for consideration as one of Rovio’s next picks on the Rovio Stars dedicated website, where the company provides a submission form. Interested parties can attach screenshots and/or video alongside a description of their game. For now, only mobile titles are being considered. Expecting a high volume of submission, the company says it can’t promise that everyone will receive a response.
Rovio has long since moved beyond being only a games publisher, and is now more of media company offering cartoons, toys, and other merchandise like t-shirts, books, and even soda. It has debuted an “Angry Birds Space Encounter” at the Kennedy Space Center, and Angry Birds-themed parks. It also recently partnered with Dreamworks to release “The Croods,” a game based on the animated film.
These expansions have been working well for the company so far. In April, Rovio announced its 2012 sales were up 101 percent to $195 million, and net profit was up to $71 million. 45 percent of Rovio’s revenue now comes from “consumer products,” versus 30 percent the year prior. The company also has 1.7 billion downloads across its properties, and sees hundreds of millions of active users per month.
Details regarding how Rovio Stars will generate revenue – through a revenue share, perhaps, or other fees, were not immediately provided. We’ve reached out to the company for more information and are waiting on a response. (Update to follow).
Read the original: Angry Birds Maker Rovio Will Now Publish And Market Select Third-Party Games
Popular app beta testing service TestFlight has announced that developers can now upload Android apps to its platform, and an Android SDK will launch next week for a small number of developers in private beta.
Previously, Android app support was only available to a select few. Over the last 45 days, Testflight shared that 5,000 developers were granted access to the new feature and 4,500 apps were uploaded. Those apps have since been “downloaded more than 50,000 times.”
As shown in the image below, Android support has been merged directly into the TestFlight service; there’s now one place to upload and manage Android and iOS apps.
Now open to all developers, TestFlight is looking to expand its dominance beyond the iOS development industry. Right now, Android developers can take advantage of “beta app management, distribution, tracking, and centralized feedback,” but features like crash reporting won’t be available until the Android SDK launches.
➤ TestFlight for iOS & Android
Image credit: Thinkstock / Jupiterimages
Nokia has given its Series 40-based range of touchscreen Asha smartphones another push to try to keep up with the low end reach of Google’s Android platform today. The mobile maker has announced a new addition to the range — the Asha 501 (pictured left & below) — which also ushers in a new version of the Asha touch UI that’s designed to be quicker and slicker, and has a focus on swiping gestures to make it feel more fluid.
The three-inch capacitive screen Asha 501, which has Wi-Fi but no 3G and costs $99 before taxes & subsidies, is expected to start shipping in June, via some 60 carriers in more than 90 countries worldwide. Nokia’s Asha range typically targets emerging markets in Africa, Asia and South America but Asha devices have also been ranged in Europe.
Although Nokia has retired its other in-house platform Symbian, to concentrate its smartphone efforts on Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, it has continued to expand its portfolio of low end Android alternative S40-based devices — adding in a variety of new hardware and software features to devices in the range, including full Qwerty keyboards; dedicated keys for Facebook/WhatsApp; refreshed industrial design; its Bluetooth sharing technology Slam; its Xpress browser to lighten the data consumption load; preloaded social networking apps; free games downloads; and a focus on long battery life.
But keeping up with low end Androids also means improving Asha’s usability — and that’s what its latest platform refresh is all about. The Asha 501 is in fact the first fruit of Nokia’s 2012 acquisition of Smarterphone, a Norwegian company that made mobile OSes for feature phones designed to give them smartphone looks and capabilities.
Nokia said the new Asha platform is faster and more responsive. It also introduces a touchscreen UI refresh — with a dual homescreen view: the Home screen is a “traditional icon-based view for launching individual apps or accessing a specific feature”, while the new Fastlane view changes based on device usage, showing things like “recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps”.
Fastlane “provides a record of how the phone is used, giving people a glimpse of their past, present and future activity, and helping them multi-task by providing easy access to their favorite features”, according to Nokia’s press release. The feature sounds a lot like certain portions of Motorola’s Android skinning software — such as the widgets deployed on 2012 devices like the Motorola Motosmart.
The overall idea of the design refresh is to make it easier for Asha users to get to the apps and features they’re after, according to Nokia – with the two main screens accessible by a “simple swipe”. ”Fastlane is integral to the whole Nokia Asha 501 experience, but so is the ‘swipe’ motion,” a spokeswoman told TechCrunch. “With swipe as you experience it on the device, we were able to make optimal use of screen space, so you see just what you need. You swipe to everything else, including pull-down menus and of course, Fastlane. The whole user experience is faster and more responsive.”
So what about apps? The new Asha platform does require developers to rework apps for it — either by writing them afresh or porting them over. Which does mean Nokia is pushing the reset button yet again, but the company would probably argue that at this price point with these price-conscious consumers, users aren’t expecting hoards of apps — just select key apps. It’s also added in-app purchases to the new Asha platform, offering developers a new way to monetise Asha apps, along with its Nokia Advertising Exchange and carrier billing network.
“A good percentage of existing apps can be ported to the new platform,” said Nokia’s spokeswoman. “We already have many developers working on this. Going forward and with the new Nokia Asha Software Development Kit, developers can write an app once, and it will be compatible with future devices also built on the new Asha platform, with no need to re-write code.”
Apps that are already available for the new Nokia Asha platform include CNN, eBuddy, ESPN, Facebook, Foursquare, Line, LinkedIn, Nimbuzz, Pictelligent, The Weather Channel, Twitter, WeChat, World of Red Bull and games from Electronic Arts, Gameloft, Indiagames, Namco Bandai and Reliance Games. Nokia said its HERE location software will also be available as a download, starting in Q3 this year — and will “initially include basic mapping services”.
Messaging giant WhatsApp is noticeably absent from the list but Nokia’s spokeswoman suggested that may change in future, noting: “WhatsApp and other key partners continue to explore new Asha.”
In select markets, certain carriers are also offering data-free access to apps including the Facebook app and mobile website on the 501 for a limited time, offering another hook for the target cost-conscious consumers.
The 501 comes preloaded with Nokia’s cloud-based data compressing Xpress browser. Nokia has also created a new web app, called Nokia Xpress Now, which ”recommends content based on location, preferences and trending topics”. It said this will be available via the Browser homepage or as a download from the Nokia Store.
“Nokia has surpassed expectations of what’s achievable in the sub-100 USD phone category with a new Asha handset that is unlike any other, with design cues from Lumia and a mix of features, services and affordability that is valued by price-conscious buyers,” said Neil Mawston, executive director, Global Wireless Practice, Strategy Analytics, in a supporting statement.
Commenting on the launch via Twitter, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi added: “Asha 501 shows what you can achieve when you design bottom up rather than strip down features to hit the right price point.
“Asha 501 Dual SIM with hot swap very important to users but what is most striking on this device is the user interface.”
The full device specifications for the Asha 501 are as follows:
Dimensions: 99.2 x 58 x 12.1 mm; 98 grams
Camera: 3.2 MP
Single SIM standby time: up to 48 days
Dual SIM standby time: up to 26 days
Talk time: up to 17 hours
Additional memory of 4GB (card included in box), expandable up to 32GB
Forty free EA Games worth €75 downloadable from Nokia Store
Available colours: Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan, Yellow, White and Black
Suggested pricing is 99 USD before taxes and subsidies.