physical

Elliptic Secures $2M From Octopus For Its Insured Bitcoin Storage Service

In the first UK institutional investment into Bitcoin storage, Octopus Investments has invested $2m into Elliptic. It’s first product, Elliptic Vault, claims to be the world’s first ever insured Bitcoin storage service, which launched six months ago.

Elliptic aims to offer suite of enterprise services that try to bridge the gap between traditional finance and digital assets. Their first such product, Elliptic Vault, was the world’s first insured Bitcoin storage service. Targeted at businesses and financial institutions, physical and cryptographic security are combined to provide the highest level of protection for clients’ digital assets.

The company originally came through the Seedcamp programme in which Octopus is an investor.

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Amazon’s Master Of Commerce Move Into The Phone Game

Editor’s note: Alistair Goodman is the CEO of Placecast, where he leads a team of mobile, technology and marketing experts who have created the most scalable, proven, location-based marketing system currently available. 

Mobile is so 2010. So why would Amazon throw its hat into the game of phones?

That’s the thing — it didn’t. The company is headed into battle in two other markets full of potential: real-world commerce and digital advertising.

Amazon has focused its business almost solely on e-commerce since its launch in 1994. Twenty years later, the vast majority of commerce still takes place in the physical world; a 2014 Q1 US Census report shows that digital sales account for just 6 percent of total sales.

So, if 94 percent of sales still happens in the real world, how does Amazon conquer this territory? It introduces a phone.

The Fire Phone can recognize a physical object, scan a bar code, and quickly provide you with Amazon’s prices, taking showrooming to a whole new level. And then, the company is able to unlock that other 94 percent of commerce spend that it previously couldn’t touch.

Should retailers be shaking in their proverbial boots? Probably.

With an active user base of 244 million, Amazon has become a trusted provider of goods. Now, those who trust the company already can buy an Amazon phone that makes it even easier to find what they want and order it with a couple of clicks. Even if just 10 percent of active users buy a Fire, that’s still 24 million people who will have access to Amazon’s low prices, vast inventory, and shipping.

But real-world commerce isn’t the only new frontier for Amazon; the Fire Phone unlocks mobile advertising opportunities for the company, making it the third viable player in the thriving space, along with Google and Facebook.

In 2014, mobile advertising in the U.S. will total $17.73 billion and reach over $35 billion by 2017, eclipsing online advertising spend, according to analysis from eMarketer. Google and Facebook combined took home over two-thirds of mobile ad spending last year. Now, Amazon could give these two companies stiff competition due to its customer relationships and new features on its phone that aren’t available on Apple or Android devices. Amazon becomes the third major player with a mobile device tied to an immense database of browsing and past purchase data.

With this phone, Amazon is able to do exactly the same thing as Google and Facebook: utilize customer identities and interest to bring targeted mobile ads to them on their phones. But Amazon has a distinct advantage: Its users have already bought something from them! As a result, the company is even better-equipped than other companies to use past purchase data to send highly tailored mobile ads to consumers. Amazon will be able to guarantee brands a pre-qualified, “in-market” audience. Who else can do that?

In his demo of the Fire, Bezos made the real-world connections for the phone absolutely apparent, talking about how easy it is to walk down the street and use Firefly to recognize signs, goods, etc. This feature opens up so many doors: the ability to recognize places in the real world, to search for things you want based on what Amazon knows you are interested in, and the ability for Amazon to harness that data for more relevant recommendations.

In effect, the Fire could provide an understanding of the physical world and merchant locations and, when combined with everything else Amazon knows about a user, actually deliver on the promise of “Marketing that consumers find really valuable, not intrusive.” Now imagine that they start pushing you the occasional recommendation when you’re near a physical store. Imagine you can get a reminder for something you have scanned when you’re near a place to buy it, with Amazon taking its cut for driving that real-world transaction. That massively changes the game of mobile marketing.

Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with the Altimeter Group, discussed the real impact of the Fire Phone with the New York Times: “Scan a product or listen to music, and you’re delivered straight to the page on Amazon on which you can purchase it. Impulse shopping just went to a new level.”

Amazon is not in the mobile business, the phone business or the Internet of things business. And while analysts appear divided on the short- and long-term impact of the Fire for Amazon’s overall business model, they should agree on one point: Bezos and Co. are the masters of the commerce business, and the Fire Phone is just one tool that can be used to help it gain its slice of the immense cash flow happening not online, but on Main Street.

I would even go so far as to say that the Fire Phone will be key to the Amazon growth strategy for the next 50 years. Congratulations, Mr. Bezos. Well played. The only thing I am wondering is, Why isn’t the phone free?

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Will The Last BlackBerry User Turn Off The Flashing LED Light

Today I switched from a BlackBerry Q10 to an iPhone 5s. After almost singlehandedly trying to save the physical QWERTY, I feel compelled to explain why.

It isn’t because of the ribbing I get from my TC colleagues every time BlackBerry issues more bad news. It isn’t because the only people I know who still use a BlackBerry are either VCs or angel investors. And I’ve yet to make the blogger-to-VC career move (here’s hoping).

It isn’t even because the keyboard on my Q10 has developed a hardware fault whereby occasionally it mistakes one key press for two, which makes keying in my lock-screen password a whole lot of fun. That’s right, folks. Even BlackBerry can’t seem to make a reliable hardware keyboard.

And it definitely isn’t because I’ve suddenly mastered typing on glass, despite having a physical disability that makes certain touchscreen interfaces and on-screen keyboards more challenging (see my email to Steve Jobs on the subject).

No, the reason I’ve finally given up on the BlackBerry — and with it my trusted physical QWERTY – is likely the reason every other BlackBerry user abandoned ship. Apps. Glorious apps.

In the end, I’ve decided to make a tradeoff. I’m willing to sacrifice typing speed and a little dexterity, in return for having access to a much wider range and higher quality of apps. Blame it on the day job.

What’s interesting is BlackBerry 10 does support Android apps — kind of.

The trouble is the Q10′s screen size makes many of those apps run poorly or not at all, with UI elements being squashed or cropped. It was enough to get by for a little while (and a technically impressive feat), but it only got me so far. The tipping point came this week while trying out a Wi-Fi-enabled lightbulb for a smarthome post I’m researching. I was able to dim the lights using the startup’s Android app running on my BlackBerry but couldn’t turn them back up again, leaving me stuck in the dark for a few hours.

Then I saw the light.

I ordered my iPhone 5s just a few hours ago, and it wasn’t without a heavy heart.

I’ll definitely miss BlackBerry 10′s gestures and the majority of its UI (I once had the privilege of chewing the fat with one of the ex-founders of TAT, the team behind much of that work — sorry guys).

I’ll also undoubtedly miss BlackBerry 10′s ‘openess’ in terms of side loading apps and full access over Wi-Fi to the phone’s storage. I definitely don’t relish being back in Apple’s closed ecosystem.

At the same time I’m grateful the iPhone in its current form factor exists. At one point in time, as the physical QWERTY was getting sidelined, the market was flooded with iPhone copycats. In some ways it still is. But, actually, as phones have gotten bigger, it’s Apple’s device that feels, well, traditional. Steadfast was Jobs’ assertion that the iPhone needed to remain narrow for one-handed operation.

It’s the size factor — and that iOS still tends to get first preference from newly launched startups — that largely ruled out Android for me. The closest to getting my hard-earned cash was something like the HTC One Mini, but even that is too wide. In a sea of “phablets,” a “mini” Android smartphone invariably comes in larger than the iPhone 5s, or with lower specs and build quality.

The iPhone 5s also feels remarkably light.

What I’ve come to realise is, although I get on better with a physical QWERTY and the non-touch screen area it affords when gripping the phone, equal to this is the right width, height and weight. In that sense, like BlackBerry before, it’s now Apple who looks like the holdout.

Unless, of course, the rumours of a much larger iPhone are true.

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MakeSpace, The Dropbox For Physical Storage, Packs Up $8 Million Led By Upfront Ventures

NY-based MakeSpace, the Dropbox for physical objects, has today closed an $8 million Series A funding round led by Upfront Ventures, with participation from Founders Fund, OATV, and follow-ons from existing investors Lowercase Capital, High Peaks Venture Partners and Collaborative Fund.

This round brings the company’s total funding to $10.1 million.

MakeSpace started out last year with the goal to bring the same organization and convenience of cloud storage services, like Dropbox and Google Drive, to the physical objects in your home. In big cities like San Francisco and New York, dealing with storage issues is a fact of life, and usually a painful one.

Not only can the prices be painful, but the customer experience is difficult, at best. In most cases you’re responsible for taking your stuff to and from the facility, and if you’re not compulsively organized, finding something in your storage unit can be a nightmare. MakeSpace aims to change all that.

Users pay $25/month to get four bins worth of storage. But the key here is that users have on-demand delivery and drop-off of all those items, not unlike a download or upload to a cloud storage service. You can keep track of your stuff on a bin-by-bin basis, through pictures and lists within the app, and request a single bin delivered or your entire stash.

Mark Suster, an investor in the service, describes it as the reverse of Amazon.

While Amazon blew away existing physical distribution channels to deliver products to you, we are blowing away existing physical infrastructure to help you store the things you want to keep – just not at your home. We have been offering van pick-ups in our storage vans at your apartment in NYC for just under a year and already have an enormous client base – demand has exceeded our supply as we’ve had to onboard more pickup vans & drivers to add pick-up capacity.

To check out MakeSpace for yourself, head over here.

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Watch Thalmic Integrate The Myo Armband And Oculus Rift To Get Your Hands In The Game

Waterloo’s Thalmic Labs has a new demo video out for their upcoming Myo armband, a controller that uses the electrical impulses generated when you use your arms and hands to generate input for computing devices. This time, they’ve shown how they built in-house support for the Oculus Rift virtual reality gaming headset, and it’s a very impressive look at how well the two technologies are paired.

As you can see, the Myo allows you to control virtual arms in-game as if they were your own, mirroring your limbs’ movements in the physical world. That’s a huge benefit to the sense of immersion that Oculus offers, since it incorporates not only your head and neck movements, but more of your whole body. The implementation that Myo shows here is pretty basic, but they plan to make this available to developers to play with, and you can imagine where it might go from there.

Gripping a physical sword or gun controller to vanquish in-game enemies? Now a definite possibility. Just make sure the space around you is clear before you go performing any sweeping arcs of your trusty blade.

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Congressman Calls To Ban U.S. Dollar In Response To Plea For Bitcoin Ban

Congressman Jared Polis is calling on the Treasury to ban physical dollars in response to Senator Manchin’s plea to ban Bitcoin. “The exchange of dollar bills, including high denomination bills, is currently unregulated and has allowed users to participate in illicit activity, while also being highly subject to forgery, theft, and loss,” wrote Polis in a statement.

To be sure, the Congressman is being cheeky. “This is just a satirical version of Senator Manchin’s letter, meant to draw attention to the fact that BitCoins are not any more susceptible to the problems that the Senator points out than dollars,” said Spokesperson Scott Overland. “Congressman Polis is not actually calling for a ban on physical currency, but hopes this helps move the debate forward so we can come up with ways to improve BitCoins, not ban them.”

The rather bold request comes on the heels of renewed calls to ban Bitcoin, a controversial, completely digital “crypto-currency” that allows for anonymous transactions–a currency that has been associated with black market activity. Bitcoin has strong champions from the libertarian wing of the tech community, who prefer an untraceable alternative to an official government-backed currency (the dollar).

Unfortunately, in addition to facilitating the black market, Bitcoin is also susceptible to wild swings in value and mass theft. Congressmen who worry Bitcoin will hurt uninformed investors want it regulated or banned entirely.

“The clear use of dollar bills for transacting in illegal goods, anonymous transactions, tax fraud, and services or speculative gambling make me wary of their use. Before the United States gets too far behind the curve on this important topic, I urge the regulators to work together, act quickly, and prohibit this dangerous currency from harming hard-working Americans,” said Polis.

All told it is a rather clever way to reveal some of the hypocrisy surrounding the ban on Bitcoin. At the very least, it’ll continue an important debate.

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