The companies connected through Exitround, a website that helps startups find potential acquirers in an anonymized way. Co-founder and CEO Jacob Mullins (a former colleague of mine from my time at VentureBeat) told me that Exitround has facilitated other deals, but this is the first time he’s been given permission to name the buyer and the seller.
The financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Ethan Kaplan, Live Nation’s vice president of product, said his company is only acquiring the team, not the Meexo assets. Meexo’s two co-founders will take on new roles at Live Nation Labs, the digital-focused arm of the company, with Romain David becoming head of mobile product and Dav Yaginuma leading mobile engineering.
Including Meexo, Kaplan said Live Nation Labs has made three talent acquisitions – one of them was last year’s purchase of Rexly, while the other hasn’t been announced yet. And there will probably be more: “In the next year, I have a big mandate for mobile.”
According to David, Meexo had already turned its attention away from the dating app that it launched at Disrupt, working instead a new product that he wouldn’t say much about, except that it was a mobile social app that involved “context.” However, there were unforeseen technical challenges, and after talking to investors (Meexo was backed by undisclosed angels) and hearing from potential acquirers, David and Yaginuma decided to look at their options, including Exitround.
When I asked David if he had any regrets about leaving his startup behind, and he replied via email:
I made my very first cellular call on July 3, 1994 at the Formula One Grand Prix in France on a Mitsubishi MF 450. I knew that one day mobile would change our lives, not only in a utilitarian way but also in an emotional way. This is why I made every decision in my education and career around it, since that day. I have had dreams about what mobile should do and what it should become. Some of these dreams have become reality, some have not. To me, the most important is for these dreams to happen rather than being part of a small company or large company.
This post has been updated with Kaplan’s correct title.
Mikael Cho is the co-founder of ooomf, a creative marketplace connecting mobile and Web projects with vetted, handpicked developers and designers from around the world. This post originally appeared on the ooomf blog.
A few years ago, I worked at a Web design agency as a product manager.
The part of the job I loved the most was working on product with our design team and clients. Unfortunately, this only made up about 10 percent of the work that I actually got to do.
The majority of the time, I was trying to control the constant flow of stuff – keeping track of meeting notes, searching for files, and trying to stay up-to-date with the latest technology news.
I was mentally exhausted. I’d get home feeling that I hadn’t really accomplished anything.
Once I left the agency and started ooomf, I wanted to fix how I approached consumption in my life.
Over the last few years, I’ve discovered ways to reduce the noise of stuff around me so I can focus on creation and have more time for the things that matter most.
The last year has been the most productive of my life and I owe a lot of it to understanding the importance of decreasing how much I consume and coming up with ways to cut clutter.
You collect things for a number of reasons – maybe you think you’ll need to use it later, it has sentimental value, or you spent good money on it so you feel you need to keep the item, even if you haven’t touched or used it in weeks, months, or years.
You might be holding on to that book you bought a year ago that you swear you’ll read or those killer pair of shoes that you’ll bring out for just the right occasion.
But the reality is, you probably made a mistake in buying those things and it literally hurts your brain to come to terms with that fact.
Researchers at Yale recently identified that two areas in your brain associated with pain, the anterior cingulate cortex and insula, light up in response to letting go of items you own and feel a connection towards:
This is the same area of the brain that lights up when you feel physical pain from a paper cut or drinking coffee that’s too hot. Your brain views the loss of one of your valued possessions as the same as something that causes you physical pain.
The more you’ve commited emotionally or financially to an item, the more you want to keep it around.
When it comes to physical things, merely touching an item can cause you to become more emotionally attached to it.
In this study, researchers gave participants coffee mugs to touch and examine prior to participating in an auction.
The researchers varied the amount of time the participants were able to handle the mugs to see if this would have an effect on the amount of money participants would be willing to spend on the mugs during the auction.
The results of the study showed that participants who held the mugs longer, were willing to pay over 60 percent more for the mugs than participants who hed the mugs for shorter periods.
The study concluded, the longer you touch an object, the greater the value you assign to it.
Apple is familiar with the effect of touch on your psychology and has brilliantly designed its retail stores to help you build an emotional attachment to their products.
Here’s a shot of an Apple Store:
Author Carmine Gallo is writing a book about the ins and outs of the Apple Store. Gallo explains that everything in the Apple Store is designed for you to touch and play with, to make you feel like it’s your own. Gallo states:
The main reason notebook computers screens are slightly angled is to encourage customers to adjust the screen to their ideal viewing angle…The ownership experience is more important than a sale.
When you introduce new items into your life, you immedietely associate value with these items,making it harder for you to give them up in the future.
This psychological connection to things is what leads to the accumulation of stuff.
Whether it be your closet or office desk, excess things in your surroundings can have a negative impact on your ability to focus and process information.
That’s exactly what neuroscientists at Princeton University found when they looked at people’s task performance in an organized versus disorganized environment.
The results of the study showed that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.
A team of UCLA researchers recently observed 32 Los Angeles families and found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings.
Similar to what multitasking does to your brain, physical clutter overloads your senses, making you feel stressed, and impairs your ability to think creatively.
Files on your computer, notifications from your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and anything that goes “ping” in the night competes for your attention.
This creates a digital form of clutter that erodes your ability to focus and perform creative tasks.
Bits are a new material.
When you have to-do items constantly floating around in your head or you hear a ping or vibrate every few minutes from your phone, your brain doesn’t get a chance to fully enter creative flow or process experiences.
When your brain has too much on its plate, it splits its power up. The result? You become awful at:
The overconsumption of digital stuff has the same effect on your brain as physical clutter.
I like to keep things neat but when I used to clean my room to perfection, my mom would still see that same room as a disaster.
Everyone’s tolerance for clutter is different.
Researchers have even found that certain people need a bit of a mess in their surroundings to feel inspired and get work done, stating that:
A clean desk can be seen as a dormant area, an indication that no thought or work is being undertaken.
For instance, if you look at this photo of the home office of Steve Jobs, it’s not exactly the picture you’d expect of a zen-like visionary obsessed with less:
His kitchen consists of 12 salad bowls and utensils:
In an interview with the New York Times, Hill stated:
I like material things as much as anyone. I studied product design in school. I’m into gadgets, clothing and all kinds of things. But my experiences show that after a certain point, material objects have a tendency to crowd out the emotional needs they are meant to support.
While clutter has been shown to negatively effect your performance, it is your perception of clutter that matters, not someone else’s.
If having a notebook, pen, or a photo of your significant other on your desk, doesn’t feel like clutter to you, then it’s not.
You should seek to create spaces that make you feel at ease.
There are millions of sources of information and things for you to consume so it’s important to figure out a way to control these streams so you have more time to do things that matter.
Here’s four things that have been working for me:
1. Apply constraints
One of the principals of good design is constraints. You can apply this same theory to create a system for mastering consumption.
For instance, set a limit for how many people you follow on Twitter, how many books you buy, or how many apps you own.
I set a limit of 200 people I follow on Twitter and I don’t buy any books until I’ve finished the current book I’m reading. I also don’t purchase or download any apps until I need them.
There will always be more information available than you can consume so set limits so you’re no longer simply trying to just get through it all but rather enjoying more of what you consume.
2. Use small storage spaces
Cutting down on your storage space can do wonders for limiting consumption. Try cutting your closet down to 10 hangers or force yourself to use a small bag when you travel.
Do you really need a walk-in closet or a rack for all your shoes? Try constraining your storage spaces and you’ll quickly identify what you really need.
3. Conduct a monthly review of your closet
Every month, review your closet looking for items you haven’t worn. If it’s summer and you have t-shirts, shorts, or shoes that you aren’t using, put them in a bag to sell on eBay or Craigslist or give them away.
Another option is to try and get rid of one item a week until you’ve cut your belongings down to the things you actually use.
4. Remove all files from your desktop daily
If you work on a computer, having a cluttered desktop every time you turn on your computer can give you a constant uneasy feeling.
At the end of each day, remove every file from your desktop. If you don’t have an immediate place to move the file, create one folder on your desktop and drop the stray files in there.
Here’s a screenshot of my desktop screen with one “Home” folder:
Clutter, whether physical or digital, is something you’ll always have to deal with but it can be controlled.
Finding ways to stear the streams of consumption in your favor will give you a sense of power and a freed mind, leaving room for you to create and experience life without constantly filling your cup to the top with someone else’s sugar.
See the rest here: How clutter affects your productivity (and what you can do about it)
Target has long looked to India to fuel its software applications and back-office projects. Now, the Minneapolis-based retailer is doubling down on the country’s tech potential.
Come January 2014, Target is planning to launch the Target Accelerator Program, a corporate incubator – complete with funding, and possibly equity stakes in the cohorts – that it hopes will help it tap into the country’s startup culture and engineering talent to better compete against other retail heavyweights Walmart and Amazon. The selected startups will receive up to $30,000 in funding as part of the program.
The plans for setting up the accelerator in Bangalore have been underway for a year now. Over the past few weeks, Target officials have reached out to several startups, entrepreneurs apart from IT industry executives, some of whom have shared details about the accelerator with me.
Beth Jacob, Target’s global CIO, has confirmed to TechCrunch its plans for an accelerator – although it is still fleshing out the details.
“At Target, innovation is core to our culture and strategy and we are always looking for new ideas to enhance the shopping experience of our guests,” Jacob wrote in an email. “We are in discussions with a variety of partners and start-ups for a Target India Accelerator program. We have not yet settled on which start-ups will be included and continue to seek ideas which have the potential to help transform the retail industry. We are excited about this opportunity and look forward to sharing additional details once we launch the program.”
India is no stranger to incubators and accelerators, but Target’s will be the first started by a corporate in Bangalore, India’s tech capital, making it a much-watched test case for other corporates looking to set up similar ventures in India.
To pick up ideas for its new in-house accelerator , and to see more startups, Jacob also intends to plant herself in the front row of demo days across several startup boot camps in India next year, according to sources.
It’s a leap of faith, but if it works, it could encourage more entrepreneurs in India to look beyond simple “me-too” e-commerce plays, and instead work on the latest technologies that could impact outcomes in the global retail war.
This could just be the endorsement India’s $108 billion IT sector is looking for after years of being seen as a low cost, back office for Fortune 500 customers. And Indian engineers are beginning to play a role in the old world retailers versus Amazon battle.
The Target Accelerator Program to be launched in January will work with Indian startups specialising in big data, content aggregation, mobility and search. The accelerator has already invited several Indian startups for a pitching session later this month.
A website is in the works to formally open the application process for startups to apply, but Target wants to keep things quiet until the Black Friday and Cyber Monday are gone past, a person involved in the process tells me.
The accelerator will be managed by Lalit Ahuja, an Indian technology industry veteran who also helped the retailer set up its technology captive centre in Bangalore few years ago. Ahuja runs an accelerator of his own called Kyron, which will run the program for Target. Ahuja did not want to comment.
As part of the program, every year, Target will pick 1-2 product startups, give them up to $30,000 (includes cash and operational expenses) and hope that their ideas are able to help it compete better. Target has not yet made up its mind whether it should ask for equity stakes in return for monies invested in these startups.
Startups selected for the Target accelerator will get to work with one of the world’s biggest retailers and thus have distribution from day one.
So far, Target has invited Dataweave, a Bangalore based startup focused on big data analytics and funded by Blume Ventures, TLabs (Times Internet) among others, and Tookitaki, which combines online behaviour and social media data to offer targeted ads. Tookitaki raised $200,000 in April this year from investors including Blume Ventures.
The Bangalore-based accelerator will also help Target identify potential M&A targets at early, cheap valuations. There are at least a dozen big data, analytics startups launched in India over past two years that could be potential targets. Some of them include Qubole, launched by former Facebook engineers Ashish Thusoo and Joydeep Sen Sarma and Formcept, founded by IBM veteran Suresh Srinivasan.
Dataweave was incubated at TLabs in 2011, and was founded by Karthik Ramesh and Vikranth Ramanolla. The company offers retail analytics solutions such as Priceweave that helps e-commerce firms sift through pricing offered by rivals and compete real time.
Target is not the only firm planning to incubate the next big ideas in India. Coca Cola too plans to set up its corporate accelerator in Bangalore apart from Berlin and San Francisco, the NYTimes reported last week.
An Indian technology industry executive chasing some of these deals tells me that some Japanese electronics companies too are scouting for startups to partner with in India, especially in the area of display technologies and multimedia.
For Target, the accelerator is a big bet and also coming of age for the retailer’s software outsourcing from India. Target set up a captive technology center in Bangalore in 2005 to support several of its retail processes in the US and also develop custom applications. That centre has come a long way since then. It led the development of Target’s most ambitious IT project Target.com and even helped the retailer with its Canada launch.
All this has led Jacob and her colleagues to believe that Bangalore now has required talent pool and startups that can help it compete with Amazon and even catch up with Walmart Labs faster.
Until a few years ago, engineers in India mostly helped retailers including Walmart, BestBuy and Target run their software applications remotely and offered low-end voice and back-office support.
Jeremy King, CTO of the Walmart Labs, which has dozens of engineering teams in Bangalore working on everything from e-commerce to big data, tells me that this is changing.
“We’ve found the talent in India to be awesome, we run several key projects from WalmartLabs India that require deep engineering and data science talent – not to mention women and men who like to have a lot of fun and love a fast paced test and learn environment.”
With homegrown e-commerce success stories such as Flipkart, which recently raised $160 million from Tiger Global and Morgan Stanley Investment among a bunch of other investors, India now has a pool of engineers who are not just back office experts or coding lines of low end, commoditised software applications but also understand the pain points of modern retailing and software solutions that can solve them.
Walmart’s acquisition of Kosmix – Mountain View-based but founded by two Indians, Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman – may have played a role in building deeper engineering capabilities beyond vanilla software services in Bangalore. Then in June this year, Walmart acquired the Silicon Valley based analytics startup Inkiru to build newer e-commerce capabilities.
Wire Labs, a company founded by ex-Amazon engineers Piragash Velummylum and Jordan Timmermann, has raised $1.8 million in seed funding for their new – what else? – mobile messaging application called “Wire.” The app, currently in a private beta release, is targeting the teen audience with photo and video messaging features and promise of real-time feedback.
Investors in the round include Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, former Expedia CEO Erik Blachford, former Facebook COO Owen Van Natta, former Facebook general counsel Rudy Gadre, Mike Slade from Second Avenue Partners, Microsoft M&A veterans Bruce Jaffe, Hank Vigil & Fritz Lanman, Decide.com founder Brian Ma, Origin Venture’s Brent Hill, Senator LP executives, and 16 current and former Amazon executives, including former CIO Rick Dalzell.
The company had reported $150,000 in funding back in June.
Wire Labs participated in TechStars Seattle this year, and first showed off Wire last month at the TechStars Demo Day event. There, the company compared Wire side-by-side with Snapchat. Wire’s advantage? Its messages don’t expire for 24 hours, giving users more time to actually view and respond to the content before the message disappears. The messages can also be optionally saved, making the app less about fully “ephemeral” communication and more about just providing private chat.
In addition to the disappearing messages, at the time of the demo, Wire’s feature set also included comments, a feed and support for stickers, the latter which could hint at Wire’s potential business model if things go well.
However, the company isn’t yet offering the public a look at the Wire app, and given that it’s only a beta release, its features could change between now and its official launch.
The app is only described vaguely in the company’s funding announcement, out today, as being “designed from the ground-up for the next-generation of mobile users” and offering a “great user experience.” That could refer to any of a dozen or so contenders to the Snapchat throne, of course.
What’s more impressive, perhaps, than this fairly generic-sounding app are the backgrounds of those building it. Combined, the team at Wire Labs worked on Kindle Fire HD, Amazon Instant Video, Amazon Cloud Player and Cloud Drive, Amazon fulfillment, Windows 8 and MSN Messenger.
Velummylum, Wire Labs CEO, was at Amazon for nearly six years, and had prototyped and pitched Cloud Drive and Cloud Player to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos before founding the Cloud Drive team. Meanwhile co-founder and CTO Jordan Timmermann was the lead engineer for Amazon Instant Video on the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, and helped designed the X-Ray for Movies feature.
There aren’t as many ex-Amazon engineers who leave to create their own startups when compared with other large companies like Apple, Google or Microsoft. That alone should make the progress of Wire interesting to watch.
Go here to read the rest: Wire, A Would-Be Snapchat Competitor From Ex-Amazon Engineers, Raises $1.8 Million
Bubbly, a mobile social network for voice which has over 30 million users, is in discussions with more than one suitor over a possible acquisition, according to CEO Thomas Clayton.
Clayton tells TNW that the company — which has raised $50 million in funding from the likes of Sequoia Capital and SingTel — is in talks with multiple interested partners, including one gaming company, though he declined to provide specific details of the suitors or potential prices.
“There’s quite a bit of interest right now,” Clayton says, “much of which centers around our high-quality engineering team and the strong mobile presence that we have across Asia.”
Clayton, who built Bubbly’s development team by luring talent from Silicon Valley to take up senior positions at its Singapore-based headquarters, says that Bubbly’s connections and deals with carriers in markets like Japan, India and others have attracted the attention of “larger players” who appreciate the value of buying a quality engineering team that comes with ready-to-go partnerships with influential operators, which could save years of business development.
Bubbly monetizes its service using revenue share deals with operators and selling premium features, part of which is access to more than 1,000 celebrity accounts. Most of which are located in Asia, but they do include English football star Rio Ferdinand, who has over 250,000 Bubbly followers.
Clayton says roughly 30 percent of registered users are active each month and, of those, 80 percent pay for the premium version of the service.
There’s no immediate indication that Bubbly will be sold, but speaking to TNW in August of last year, Clayton admitted that Jafco Asia‘s $5 million investment into the company would be its final fundraising activity before an exit — either via an IPO or acquisition. Earlier this year, the company made a push in the US and UK but, so far, it is yet to see any tangible progress in either market — which may also be motivation behind a potential sale.
News of a possible acquisition comes as Bubbly further strengthens its position in Japan after agreeing to a tie-in with Yahoo Japan, the country’s top Internet content player.
Yahoo Japan is integrating Bubbly as its default recording player across a number of its media properties, including Quora-like Yahoo Answers Japan — which boasts 110 million active users per month, of which 65 million are from mobile devices.
The Yahoo Japan partnership sees Bubbly take a cut of advertising revenue, but it will also create a major user acquisition channel in one of the world’s most smartphone-centric Internet markets.
“The deal means we’re in bed with a major provider in Japan, and there are a bunch of other partnerships that will be announced soon in Japan,” Clayton says.
Clayton hints that the Bubbly service could pivot towards gaming and messaging features if it is acquired, but that eventuality is still playing out.
Note: Bubbly CEO Tom Clayton is a regular contributor to TNW’s Enterpreneur content channel.
Image via Patrick Foto / Shutterstock
On-demand transportation service Uber is trying to get new drivers on the road, while also improving the experience for those who are already on its platform. To do that, it’s partnered with a couple of auto manufacturers and a few financing providers to reduce the cost of new car ownership for Uber drivers in six of its fastest-growing markets.
Over the past year, Uber has been aggressively expanding into new cities, enabling users to request rides via their mobile phone in more than 50 markets around the world. But the problem Uber faces today isn’t how to raise awareness of the service in new markets — it’s how to keep up with demand in cities that it already serves.
According to Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, the number of rides requested by Uber users continues to accelerate, even in markets that it’s served for years. As a result, bookings and revenues have grown faster in 2013 than a year ago, increasing by more than 20 percent month-over-month in each of the last two months.
The majority of growth in revenues isn’t necessarily coming from cities that Uber is just entering, as they’re still small compared to more mature markets like San Francisco. Instead, it’s markets which have already hit scale that are driving the largest overall increase in revenues and bookings.
In some more established markets, Uber is struggling to keep enough cars on the road to meet the demand — and that’s a problem. It means cars either aren’t available, or if they are, there are longer wait times, and lower overall satisfaction with the service. Uber has tried to deal with this in the past by instituting surge pricing — which both curbs demand and ensures that drivers are more likely to continue driving at peak times.
But ultimately, the company knows that the only way to deal with that demand is to sign up more drivers. And one way to do that is by ensuring that they’ll have a car to drive if they’ve been approved for the Uber platform.
Ultimately, the only way to deal with demand is to sign up more drivers.
“We need to get hundreds of thousands of cars on the road,” Kalanick said. That would mean investing more than $2.5 billion into buying cars if it tried to pay for that growth itself. Instead, the company has partnered with a couple of auto manufacturers — like GM and Toyota — and struck a deal with auto financing companies to ensure that qualified drivers will be approved for financing rates that are better than they could get on their own.
Basically, it’s lowering the cost of entry for anyone who wants to be an Uber driver. Because the company can predict driver income, it’s been able to lock down better rates for those who have been approved to drive on its platform. According to Kalanick, a fully utilized vehicle on Uber grosses more than $100,000 a year.
“That robust, consistent cash flow means significantly less risk for a financing company,” he said. “It means reduced rates for a lot of people, and rates that they couldn’t get before.”
Uber drivers who couldn’t get financing before will now be able to buy their own cars. And those who could get financed will receive much better rates than if they tried to buy a car on their own. While terms of the financing will depend on the creditworthiness of each driver, Kalanick said drivers could expect to save anywhere from $100 to $200 on monthly payments, depending on the make and model of the car they’re buying.
Who will qualify? At launch, Uber is trialing the program in six cities where it sees particularly high demand. Those markets are New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. It’ll be available to those who already drive for the company, as well as drivers who might have been approved but don’t currently own their own cars.
Historically, Uber has partnered with the operators of black car services to use their cars and drivers. For those partners, the new financing offer will enable them to potentially upgrade their cars or expand their fleets of vehicles.
At the same time, the deal will empower more drivers to strike out and start businesses of their own as independent contractors for Uber. It could recruit drivers who might work for a cab company today, but would like to own their own vehicles. It could possibly steal away drivers who work for competing ride-sharing services like Lyft or SideCar.
But Kalanick sees the biggest opportunity for bringing on new drivers coming from those who are not already affiliated with other black car, cab, or transportation services.
By offering financing on just a select group of cars, Uber believes it will be able to add new drivers while still maintaining a standard level of vehicle quality across its system. Available models could include Cadillac Escalades and XTS Sedans for its more traditional UberSUV or UberBLACK service, and Toyota Prius Hybrids for its low-cost UBERx service.
It means reduced rates for a lot of people, and rates that they couldn’t get before. — Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
For this trial, Uber hopes to sign up thousands of drivers for the program over the next few months. And if things go well, it plans to open the financing offering up more broadly to drivers in other markets.
How big could it get? Kalanick sees the program expanding rapidly over the next 12 to 24 months, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of drivers in that time.
And if Uber continues to grow the way that it has, it’s going to need them.
Go here to see the original: Uber Strikes Deal To Lower The Cost Of Car Ownership For Drivers
Space Qube is a fun new addition for fans of voxel games with cool twist–you can bring the characters you build out of virtual reality and into real-life by ordering 3D prints of them. The retro-style space shooter for iOS gained traction after scoring the Best In Play award at this year’s GDC, as well as placing as a Sense of Wonder Night’s finalist at the Tokyo Game Show. Space Qube was was created by Qubic Games, a Taiwan-based studio founded by Louis Lu and Owen Wu.
The two first met in Taipei before moving to North America to pursue job opportunities. Lu went to California to work at Sony Santa Monica, where he was lead character artist for the God of War series, and Wu served as a senior graphics engineer at AMD in Ontario.
When the iPad came out, the friends were excited about the new possibilities it gave independent game developers. They began collaborating on the prototype for Space Qube before moving back to Taiwan last year.
Space Qube has two main parts. The shooter game, controlled by tilting the iPad or using its touchscreen, lets you fight monsters and collect “qubes,” or voxel blocks, through 13 levels. You can use your qubes in Space Qube’s Ship Builder, its in-game 3D editor which makes it easy to build characters and vessels layer by layer. The amount of qubes you use affects their attributes (for example, more qubes increases a vessel’s armor but makes it less nimble). Creations can be shared through social media or on Space Qube’s Web site and you order 3D prints through the app’s in-game store.
After working for years on the increasingly gruesome scenes in God of War, Lu tells me he now wants to focus on creating non-violent games (he’s also a member of LND Games, the maker of kids’ music app Color Band).
“We were using all our creativity to make games as bloody as possible,” he says. “It didn’t feel right.” Qubic Games’ mission is to create games that will appeal to a wide range of ages. You can create very complex characters in Space Qube’s Ship Builder, but it was designed to be easy enough for a child to use (Wu’s five-year-old son tested the prototype and is described by his dad as Qubic Games’ “co-producer”).
Lu and Wu say that about 30% to 40% of Space Qube’s players have built their own characters or vessels and they plan to continue adding more features to the editor. In the pipeline is a marketplace that will allow people to make their creations available for other players to order as 3D prints, as well as embedding chips in the figures so they can be used as interactive game pieces on iPad screens. Qubic Games also plans to create educational apps that will use voxel editors to teach kids spatial awareness.
Space Qube is currently available for $2.99 on the App Store and will eventually be ported to Android, Windows 8, WIndows Phone 8 and console platforms.
The rest is here: Shooter Game Space Qube Lets You Order 3D Prints Of Your Voxel Creations
The clock could be ticking for businesses like Airbnb, Wimdu, 9Flats and HouseTrip as new regulations gradually being introduced in some cities around the world begin to threaten their core business – but the problem is bigger than that.
While stories like Airbnb’s future in New York being questioned as a result of short-stay regulations have made headline news in the past, there’s a growing backlash against the sharing economy that could spread to other industries.
In New York, Airbnb’s major problem is a rule that clearly defines hotels and apartments (stays of 30 days or longer) as different things. Hotels have to comply with fire regulations and other safety rules while apartments do not. It’s not restricted to the US either, Airbnb has attracted its fair amount of attention in Amsterdam for renters letting out their properties without the appropriate permit.
The problems and scrutiny is not new and not entirely unexpected – new models of bringing a service to market have disrupted entire industries, and the incumbents in those markets, so a certain amount of resistance is unsurprising. But what started in New York two years ago is quickly becoming a domino effect.
With it, the pressure on companies like Airbnb, Wimdu, 9Flats and HouseTrip is intensifying; new laws that effectively cut off large swathes of their business, or worse, render them completely banned.
On Thursday, one of these new laws passed the first rung of approval in Berlin. It will specifically limit the number of apartments that will be available for holiday rental within the city. Why? Because it said it wants to secure apartments for Berlin residents; the fear is that an influx in the number of people renting out their apartments in the short-term will drive up rental and housing prices in the long-term. Another clause in the law would mean that apartments could not be left empty at all, too.
The proposal is next expected to go to the senate for approval, before being passed into law officially.
Following the expected introduction, the city’s roughly 9,000 holiday rental properties will be reduced to around 3,300. Clearly the impact on these businesses is significant. Bear those figures in mind, 3,300 apartments in a city that has 1.9 million of them, that’s only a fraction of a percent of the total apartments available, quite how that could affect long-term rents in the city is a curious question.
The decision to crack down in this way is even more curious when you consider how Berlin has grown into a booming and recognisable tech hub, but Ryan Levitt, a spokesperson for HouseTrip told TNW that locals’ patience for outsiders was wearing thin:
They believe that there are too may people for too few apartments. The reality is the success of the tech industry in Berlin is bringing in 40,000 new people to move to the city each year, combined with the success of the German economy and the repositioning of Berlin as the capital of Europe. You cannot put investment into a city, establish a new capital of Europe, drive a new tech industry that brings in lots of people and then turn around and say ‘we don’t want you foreigners’… The tech hub is now a bit of a bubble.
It’s a more complex and delicate situation though. The truth is that house prices are rocketing in Berlin, and local residents that don’t have a foothold in any of the thriving industries are paying the price. And as is the case in other cities, politics can play a big part in the level of tolerance a city has. If it’s election year and your local residents don’t like the influx of new people, there’s a good chance that concern will be addressed, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense or really address the problem.
Berlin’s drivers have been the government, tourism and now tech. So yes, it is getting more expensive for the everyday Berliner who doesn’t have a tech education, who doesn’t work in the government, who is just trying to get by – yes, they see on the surface that the rents are going soaringly up but they’re not reaping the benefits of this tech investment, of this government investment.
What they see is [foreign] people coming in and buying apartments, and then selling them a year later because the price of residences has gone up [so much] … It’s like London was six years ago.
As was seen in New York though, where there is demand, there will still always be supply. So prohibitive regulation will simply drive the economy underground and into murkier areas; not a helpful situation for either party, as Roman Bach, a spokesperson for 9flats noted in a statement:
Considering how important tourism is for Berlin, we consider this new law incredibly short-sighted as it is trying to regulate a booming market that is driving a lot of Berlin’s new wealth. Driving this economy underground and into the shadowy areas of the legal system is not productive and takes a potentially great source of tax revenue away from city coffers.
The focus on regulation of holiday apartment rentals in Europe may have grown out of scrutiny in New York, but it landed first in Europe in Paris. One of the most visited cities in the world.
On the surface of things, the freshly amended proposals to the short-term rental law in Paris look more open than in say, New York, but it is in fact equally unworkable for anyone wanting to just rent out there apartment now and again. Like Berlin, the clarifications of the existing law have passed the first layer of government – with the next step set to be the debate of any amendments in December.
Key to the tweaked regulations is the necessity for a permit, if you get one, holiday rentals are legal. Simple! Not so much. If you get your permit, your property is declared a commercial property instead of a residential one but in order to be allowed to do this, you have to find a commercial property within the same area of the city that can be turned from a commercial property into a residential one. So, while you’re free to rent out an apartment if you get a permit, actually getting one could be a bit trickier.
The concern driving the clarification of existing regulations is the same as stated in Berlin: there are too many rental properties on the market, meaning higher rents and too few apartments for locals. While this position is arguably more relevant in Paris – it has far fewer overall apartments than Berlin, so percentage-wise the number of holiday apartments is higher – it’s also arguable whether the proposed measures will do anything to appease the disgruntled locals and manage to return rental rates to a lower level. Housing is always a hot topic in an election year.
To sprinkle a little irony on the situation, the city of Paris also has aspirations of catching up on the tech game with the 1000 Startups @ La Halle Freyssinet project providing the largest digital incubator in the world.
It’s not just Paris, or Berlin either, Spain too is now taking a long, hard look at how it deals with holiday rentals.
Until May this year, there was no national law covering short-term holiday rentals. Instead, each region decided what was appropriate. By May 2014, a working group from four regions of Spain will have to come up with the new national law, but currently, HouseTrip’s Levitt tells TNW, the four regions are not talking to each other due to a difference in opinion on how it should be approached. On one side you have advocates for a simple registration and taxation system, and on the other you have representatives from areas that traditionally draw a lot of their income from hotels, like the Canary Islands – which already has complex holiday home rules. Make of that what you will.
Levitt told us that there are also now rumblings coming from places like Vancouver, Quebec and Malta about whether they need to look into regulation of services such as these.
All is perhaps not lost though, Amsterdam, as we mentioned right at the start, currently operates a permit-based system. However, it seems that the city has recognised that it’s an outdated system that’s not appropriate if it wants to make the most of the new opportunities, Levitt explained:
Amsterdam realised that the power of social travel is unstoppable and past the point of no return. They know people want this travel experience. So they decided to appoint a social travel specialist [who is] now sitting down with all of the platforms to find ways to make social travel work effectively for their city, that’s from nuisance complaints to taxation and finance to safety and security. Their view is ‘we can’t ban this’ and that it’s stupid to.
If you create laws that make it workable for the city and platform and the tourists and the locals, everyonecan benefit. The city can benefit from taxation. You can benefit because you’ll have a standardized [system] … If there is a problem with an apartment, or a noise complaint, it can be dealt with easily, as opposed to hiding it underground.
Currently though, right now you still need a permit in Amsterdam while they work through this process of adjustment to the new market models.
Most of the attention to this point has focused on housing and short-term holiday rentals, but the threat to the wider sharing economy is writ large. You only have to look at the amount of resistance other services like the taxi-cum-ride-sharing service Uber has faced in some of the cities in which it operates to see that we’re likely to see the growth of new and more specific regulations to govern all sorts of different services. Levitt agrees:
This is just the first step. Housing is first, the next will be cars and car rentals and it’s just going to go on and on. It all plays into the hands of companies that want you to keep buying more and more and more stuff. What it always boils down to is money, what these governments want is cash. We’ve always said we’re willing to sit down to find answers and solutions, but because those solutions would probably require some time and some sort of investment from the city they just don’t want to deal with it.
With big business, local politics and all sorts of other pressures bearing down, companies operating within the sharing economy right now face an uphill challenge, but as has already been demonstrated by Amsterdam’s approach to holiday rentals, by consulting with all parties involved these services can bring benefits for government, travellers, and locals alike.
Featured Image Credit – Shutterstock
The rest is here: Is the clock ticking for the sharing economy?
Amazon is now preparing a new Kindle Paperwhite for release in early Q2 of next year, TechCrunch has learned. The marquee feature of the new device is a high-resolution 300 ppi screen that will bring the company’s e-reader displays back into technical parity with devices from competitors like Kobo.
In addition to a higher resolution screen, the new Paperwhite will be getting a few more hardware improvements. We’ve seen a prototype of the device which has a front screen that is flush with the edges of the device, rather than recessed, and is made out of very matte glass of some sort, not plastic. Despite moving to glass, the new units are said to be lighter than this year’s models.
The current Amazon Kindle Paperwhite features a 212 ppi screen that compares poorly to the Kobo Aura HD. E Ink, the company which manufactures the Pearl E Ink screens for both Amazon and Kobo devices, delivered a high resolution 265 ppi screen to Kobo first. Amazon, we hear, was a bit irritated when Kobo shipped the Aura HD earlier this year with a much higher resolution screen than its upcoming Paperwhite would feature.
The new 300 ppi Paperwhite, code-named Ice Wine, will leapfrog Kobo’s limited edition device and place a high-resolution screen on Amazon’s marquee e-reader. We hear that there are no major software improvements planned for this edition, but that it will be upscaled to take advantage of the new resolution.
However, those of you who are heavy Kindle users will be very pleased to know that Amazon is working on new typography for the device with a custom-built font that’s great for reading. Typography has long been one of the Kindle’s big failing points. Though several fonts were added in its last release, they were not received overly well for the most part. A new custom font specially designed for reading on the device will be a major improvement. We also hear Amazon is working on allowing books to be presented with hyphenation, eliminating the awkward right hand margins, but it’s not clear if that will be in the new software or not.
The edges of the device will also now be ‘buttons’ of a sort. According to what we’ve heard, instead of old-fashioned ’split’ buttons found on previous Kindles, these will be ’squeezable’ buttons that give off haptic feedback when activated. Theoretically, this should allow you to change pages without having to awkwardly reach over with your thumb to tap the ‘next page’ zone on the Paperwhite’s screen. And making the buttons squeezable keeps the sleek lines of the Paperwhite’s margins.
The rear casing of the new Paperwhite will follow on with the industrial design of the current Kindle Fire HDX tablets, with a more angular shape and chamfer to the edges. Similar in look to the images of the HDX above. It will also feature a rear power button that looks similar to the new Kindle Fire tablets.
Rounding out the features of the next Kindle Paperwhite is an ambient light sensor that will take readings of the light in the room and adjust the screen brightness to compensate. On the prototype that we saw the light sensor was faintly visible behind the black bezel in the upper corner of the unit. The system gradually adjusts light in timing with the way an average person’s retina expands or contracts in order to prevent jarring transitions.
We’re still several months away from when this new Kindle would debut, so there may be alterations to its design or functionality between now and then, but these are the items currently on the agenda. Amazon is also working on a couple of smartphone offerings we’ve detailed previously. Both a budget model and a crazy-sounding high-end device with six cameras in total are being developed. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.
“The launch date is not final yet. But 2014 will be an American year for us,” co-founder and CTO Daniel Marhely told the news agency AFP.
Yet, the company has voluntarily avoided entering the U.S. market, stating that there is too much competition — other countries, such as Brazil or Germany, present bigger opportunities for Deezer. But it’s all about to change.
The U.S. remains by far the largest music market in the world, and it’s an unavoidable step for most music startups. For example, one year after its American launch, Spotify reported one million paid subscribers in the country alone. Recently, Spotify and Deezer respectively announced 6 and 5 million paid subscribers.
As the Rdio layoffs have told us, the music industry is a tough industry with razor-thin margins. It’s hard to make people pay — revenue opportunities are limited.
That’s why Deezer is looking for a partner for its U.S. expansion. In order to become widely available and to make a dent in this new competitive market, the company could reproduce its existing strategy.
For example, as Orange is a shareholder, the telecom company provides a premium subscription with many smartphone plans in France. It’s a great way to boost Deezer’s revenue. At the same time, Orange communicates on this competitive advantage to attract new subscribers. If AT&T, Verizon and others are not interested, Deezer is willing to partner with other companies outside of the telecom industry as well.
Last year, the company raised a $130 million Series D round to fuel its international growth.
It took Spotify multiple years to sign the content deals before launching in the U.S. in 2011. Initially, the company expected to have the deals in place in a much shorter time, often saying that the deals and the launch were just a few weeks away. Labels were particularly reluctant to allow free ad-supported accounts.
Things have changed since then, and many companies now offer all-you-can-eat streaming services, including Google and Microsoft. Let’s hope that Deezer wasn’t too optimistic with its launch and will have a smoother ride with the music labels.
(Image credit: pasukaru76)