Urbanspoon Wants To Challenge OpenTable With Its RezBook IPad App

Urbanspoon plans to continue its assault on OpenTable, and its weapon of choice is going to be the iPad. I am not talking about Urbanspoon’s slick iPad app which is already out and is aimed at consumers. I am talking about the RezBook, which is part of Urbanspoon Rez and is aimed at restaurant owners.

When it comes out in June, RezBook will be a full reservation system. Instead of writing down reservations in a paper book, restaurant owners will be able to enter them directly into the iPad, see bookings by time and by table. With a $500 iPad and RezBook, any restaurant will be able to afford a computerized reservation system. It won’t be free. RezBook will charge $1 per reservation, plus a low monthly fee. It will be much cheaper than a dedicated reservation system, and slightly cheaper than OpenTable, which is the company Urbanspoon is really going after.

RezBook works hand-in-hand with UrbanSpoon Rez, an iPhone application that launched last Fall. Urbanspoon Rez helps restaurants promote open tables and add a Rez button to their Websites, their page on Citysearch, mobile apps like Urbanspoon, or to other sites and apps through CityGrid. RezBook takes those incoming reservations and manages them on the backend, and creates a customer database in the process.

The combination of Rez button promotions and the iPad’s off-the-shelf affordability should allow Urbanspoon to target a wider swath of restaurants than the kind you currently find on OpenTable. At least that is the plan. I place RezBook in the same category as Square’s iPad app, which turns the tablet into a mobile cash register. Both of these apps leverage the iPad to bring sophisticated business software to small merchants with the promise of bringing them into the digital age.

When is OpenTable going to come out with its iPad app?


Apple Gives In To Local ABC Affiliate: Cash For iPads Program Is A Go

A recent report by the local ABC affiliate in the Bay Area uncovered some startling information: Apple Stores weren’t accepting cash for iPads. That’s right, you had to pay with credit or no iPad for you.

Following the 7 On Your Side report, there was “outcry all across the country,” ABC 7 reports. Not anymore. Apple has responded. Thank God.

Apple has changed its store policy to now accept cash and credit cards when customers want to pay for an iPad. “We want to make sure it’s as fair as possible for people to get iPads,” said Apple Sr. Vice President Ron Johnson tells ABC 7.

Effective immediately across the country, if you want to use cash to buy your iPads, you can now do so (provided you register for an Apple account, which you’ll need for the iPad anyway).

And that’s not all. Apple was so moved by the story of one woman feature in the investigation, that they decided to drive to her home and deliver her an iPad for free. Her key quote for the investigation? “Mr. Jobs, give a sister a break.”

A break, she got.

What I would like to say to Steve is thank you,” the woman now tells ABC.

In all (okay, somewhat) seriousness, this part is somewhat interesting:

Johnson tells 7 On Your Side that grey market sales were never the issue, as many assumed. He says the policy was instituted to make sure the tablets were fairly distributed during a time of high demand. Now, he says, he hopes it will be even more fair by reaching customers who want to buy with cash.

So the policy was in place for a stated reason, that reason hasn’t gone away, and yet Apple just decided to change its policy? It sounds like some of Apple’s critics need to take a lesson from ABC 7 and this woman.

This is great news for anyone with with $500 to $1,000 in cash burning a hole in their pocket. Well, unless they actually want to buy an iPad. Those are still sold out across most of the country.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Booyah Partners With Google, First To Access Places Web Service

Booyah unveiled a new partnership with Google at the I/O conference today, the creator of MyTown will be the “first and leading” partner of Google’s recently announced Places Web Service feature.

“Our collaboration with Google bridges the gap between the consumer and businesses by enabling MyTown as a vehicle for real-world benefits,” CEO Keith Lee said in a statement. “The new API affords lightning fast search for local directory content both in the US and abroad, further growing MyTown’s presence and Booyah’s leadership in real-world interactive entertainment.”

Booyah is going through a heavy news cycle. Earlier this month the company hit 2 million users, then on Monday, the company announced $20 million in new funding from an investor group led by Accel.

The API will give Booyah’s MyTown access to Google’s massive data set of over 50 million locations around the world. Currently, Booyah has roughly 2.1 million users, but all of these users are based in the United States. Through the Google API, Booyah will be able to rapidly expand to other countries (without having to form custom partnerships with local directories).

Beyond the international picture, the treasure trove of data will also allow Booyah to enhance the features of MyTown. For example, the API will let Booyah users access the top 20 most popular spots near any given location (MyTown can tailor this feature to expand beyond 20 or by category). That creates an interesting layer over the company’s virtual gaming world that enhances its function as a social utility. And according to Lee, Google’s data will help check-ins become more accurate than MyTown’s current system (an improvement that will help Booyah’s deals with corporate partners, like H&M).

This is of course the first time Google has exposed its Places API to third party developers.

“This data that we’re getting will allow us to build the core experience, this will bring a lot of social utility.” Lee told us this afternoon. “This is more of a strategic direction for us… It’s huge because we don’t have to build our own geo database ”

Although Booyah’s MyTown has focused on gaming mechanics since day one, the partnership with Google and its increased social utility, makes MyTown a closer competitor to other location based services. According to Lee, it may also mean more money for Booyah: MyTown could eventually funnel real world offers and coupons from Google through the API (developers would likely get a nice cut of revenues from this model).

It will be interesting to see how other developers leverage Google’s Places, and what that means for the LBS game. Dennis Crowley’s Foursquare may be a “well oiled machine” compared to its competitors, but what happens when you throw a Google engine into the mix?

Full press release:

Palo Alto, Calif. – May 19, 2010 – Booyah, creator of the popular location-based mobile app MyTown, takes the stage at Google’s I/O conference today as the first and leading partner of the newly announced Places Web Service feature of the Google Maps application programming interface (API). David Wang, VP of Marketing, demonstrated Booyah’s cutting-edge technology utilizing the new tool. Blending location-based services and social gaming features, Booyah’s MyTown is the first and largest consumer channel to currently utilize the Places Web Service.

“Our collaboration with Google bridges the gap between the consumer and businesses by enabling MyTown as a vehicle for real-world benefits,” said Keith Lee, CEO, Booyah. “The new API affords lightning fast search for local directory content both in the US and abroad, further growing MyTown’s presence and Booyah’s leadership in real-world interactive entertainment.”

The Places Web Service is a new feature of the Google Maps API, which returns the 20 most popular places near a given location. It helps to generate suggestions of businesses or points of interest that represents a user’s current location and provides relevant details about those places.

“We’re excited to be partnering with Booyah on our latest addition to the Google Maps API, the Places Web Service. MyTown’s unique way of engaging users with their real-world location and Google’s rich coverage of place search combine to make a compelling offering for the rapidly growing MyTown community,” said Thor Mitchell, Product Manager for the Google Maps API.

Currently taking place in San Francisco, the annual Google I/O showcase brings together thousands of developers for two days of deep technical content, focused on building the next generation of web, mobile and enterprise applications with Google and open web technologies.

Booyah, dedicated to social, mobile forms of entertainment that combine elements of the real and digital worlds, successfully launched MyTown in December of last year exclusively for the iPhone and iPod touch. The company confirmed that more than two million users are actively buying properties, collecting rent and checking-in to real places in MyTown. Booyah recently executed successful branded campaigns with prominent youth-oriented apparel retailer H&M and national cable network Travel Channel to bring players real-world rewards and virtual in-game items. The population of the app grows by more than 100,000 players each week and users spend more than an hour per day in MyTown, on average.
“Booyah is thrilled to incorporate Google’s innovative Places Web Service in MyTown,” said David Wang. “Through the new user interface, Google enables mobile users to grow, expand and develop their MyTown communities, in the virtual space and real-world.”

A Sneak Peek At TweetDeck’s HTML5 Browser App (Screenshots And Video)

Today, during Google I/O, for about a minute on the stage screen there was a sneak peek at an HTML5 browser version of TweetDeck, the popular stream reader. In the video below shot by TweetDeck CEO Iain Dodsworth, some of the features of this internal research project are shown starting at about the 27-second mark.

This version of TweetDeck has not been released yet, and won’t be for another few months, says Dodsworth, and only if “we can get a feature complete HTML5 TweetDeck—looking good so far.” The features highlighted in the video include pop-up notifications when new Tweets come in, which is a signature feature of TweetDeck’s AIR desktop client, and geo-Tweets shown on a map.

There were hints that TweetDeck was working on an HTML5 version when the company released its mobile browser version last week. By the time TweetDeck does come out with a full Web app, it will probably include not just Twitter and Facebook streams, but Google Buzz as well.

Video and screenshots below:

Information provided by CrunchBase


Google Buzz Gets An API; Will Be Integrated Into Seesmic, TweetDeck, And More

Since Google Buzz was first released, there’s been one major feature that’s been noticeably missing: an API. Soon after the service was launched we hacked together our own ‘Share with Buzz’ button, and Google launched a set of ‘real’ share buttons two months later. Unfortunately if a developer wanted to do a more robust integration, they were still out of luck — that’s why you haven’t really seen Buzz integrated into any major Twitter/Facebook clients, and it’s really held Buzz back. Today that’s changing, as Google is launching a set of Buzz APIs, which will eventually allow developers to do everything main Buzz client integrated into Gmail can do, including read comments, add rich media, liking and more.

I’m at Google I/O, where Buzz team member Chris Chabot is detailing the new API (this post will be updated throughout the course of the session).

Numerous popular services, including Tweetdeck and Seesmic, are among the APIs launch partners (you can see a full list of them here). Other apps with Buzz integration Boxee, the Meebo Bar, Plancast, and Socialwok.

Authentication is done using OAuth (though Chabot notes that this requires two interstitial screens, which the team realizes is not ideal).

Chabot says more is on the way. In the future, Buzz will get full-push support.

Seesmic has integrated Buzz into their Android, Desktop, and Web apps. You can find out more info on the Seesmic integration here.

Socialwok also showed off their integration. In the future they plan to use Buzz attachments to integrate rich media, use Salmon for comment federation, and offer ‘keyword monitoring’ into its search engine.

From the Google Code blog:

End-users opt into using applications built with the Google Buzz API via an interstitial confirmation screen outlining the application’s requested access scope (read-only, read/write, etc.). They can see which apps have access to their data and can disable access at any time from the Google Accounts page, the Google Dashboard, the “Buzz” tab in Gmail Settings, or from the app itself.

This initial iteration of the API includes support for fetching public per-user activity feeds, fetching authorized and authenticated per-user activity feeds (both what the user creates, and what they see), searching over public updates (by keyword, by author, and by location), posting new updates (including text, html, images, and more), posting comments, liking updates, retrieving and updating profiles and social graphs, and more. The best way to get started is to dive right in and begin reading the Google Buzz API developer documentation.


Sergey Brin: Native Apps And Web Apps Will Converge In The Not-Too-Distant Future

Today at Google I/O during the Chrome press session, one question seemed to come up over and over again: why build a new Chrome Web Store when there is already an Android Marketplace? This is the latest extension of the thought that two different areas within Google (Android and Chrome) are increasingly competing with one another as platforms. But Google has a different take. For them, it’s about natural selection for now. And eventually, it will be about a natural convergence.

Google VP of Product Sundar Pichai says that by investing in both platforms, the company will be well-positioned no matter what happens in the future. “We’re trying not to pre-judge,” he notes indicating they’re keeping an open mind about things. While the two teams largely operate as separate units, there is some code share, such as in Android web browser, Pichai notes. And he expects that sharing to keep growing going forward.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin went further. “These models are likely to converge in the future. And not the too distant future,” Brin says.

He notes that during the keynote today, we got a glimpse at how the HTML model is coming along. Web apps are now able to go offline, and they can have richer graphics thanks to HTML5. “It’s getting similar to app frameworks,” he says. He also notes that there are benefits to using web apps versus native apps, such as the lack of installation, and certain aspects of security. ”It’s headed in a positive direction, but these are fairly recent developments,” Brin says.

Brin acknowledges that for now, the market is proving the need for native apps. The current generation of cellphones aren’t quite powerful enough, and HTML5 isn’t quite developed enough, he notes. Pichai also notes that screen sizes on mobile devices makes native apps more enticing as well.

But despite some of this cautious talk, the general vibe from Google’s top brass seems clear: the web will win in the end. Eventually, Android will morph into Chrome OS to create a unified web platform, if Google has its way.

Someone might want to tell Apple.


The Evolution Of Android In One Giant Showcase

It’s day one at Google I/O 2010, their annual developers conference in San Francisco. While the focus today has largely been Google Chrome, WebM (the new video codec), and the web in general (Wave, etc), there hasn’t been a whole lot said about Android, Google’s mobile platform. That is likely going to be the focus of tomorrow’s agenda, but the platform is still getting plenty of love today in another way: a gigantic showcase on the main floor of the event.

As you can see in the images and video below, Google has built a giant display to show off each device out there that runs Android. This spans from the HTC G1 to the new EVO 4G. And there are even a few devices in the showcase that aren’t phones. With the platform growing quickly, this is probably the last time Google will be able to do something like this, but it’s pretty neat to see the evolution.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Watch Out Rivals, With Latitude API Google Starts Taking Location Very Seriously

Google Latitude has 3 million active users, but you wouldn’t know it by the amount of buzz they get in the location space these days. (Which is to say, just about none.) The problem is that Latitude has been pretty restricted, and not exactly geared towards how most people are using location-based services these days. (Which is to say, checking-in.) But starting today, that is all changing in a big way, with the Latitude API.

This API will allow third-party developers to come up with their own apps that can take advantage of Google’s location services. This may spell some trouble for the location platforms out there that are just starting to hit their stride, such as Foursquare and SimpleGeo. And while you may think that Latitude’s fundamental problem still remains (that it is continuously updating, rather than based around check-ins), with this API, that will very likely be changing as well.

In its post on the matter, Google is a bit vague:

We’ve also learned that making your phone’s continuous location available in the background is tricky to do accurately and efficiently — just imagine your phone’s battery life if several apps were continuously getting your location in different ways? With this in mind, we built a free and open Latitude API that lets the third-party developers you choose start using your updated location in new ways without reinventing the wheel.

Looking over the documentation for this API, it’s clear that it should be relatively easy for developers to build a check-in service on top of Latitude. Much of the API is built around location lists. You can get a list of locations (as well as insert locations) in both users’ current location stream, as well as their historical stream (assuming they give your app permission to do so, of course).

Perhaps more significantly, Google is using the new Google Places API that assigns IDs to individual places — you know, the kind you check-in to. Could this help build the unified place database we’ve all been waiting for?

This all seems to be in line with what Google’s Steve Lee said earlier this month. At Web 2.0 Expo, he hinted that Latitude would start allowing for check-ins in the future. But he also said that the future was a combination of check-ins and always-on location (along with robust location history, which Latitude has). That future is coming very soon with this API.

If I were Facebook, I’d want to get my location entry out there pronto.

Update: SimpleGeo has posted a good response on their blog, noting that the Latitude API is more like Fire Eagle 2.0. Fire Eagle, while being an early entry in the location space, of course, never went anywhere. Here’s the key nugget in their take:

Fundamentally, this is what the new Google Latitude API is. It’s not a distributed geospatial platform that allows app developers to build robust location-aware apps. It’s not a location-aware game that you can check in to local businesses, find friends, and get coupons. It’s only concerned with presence.

Moreover, their take is that SimpleGeo will work nicely with Latitude:

While we see Apple’s Core Location service and Google Latitude API as a great way of acquiring a user’s location, the SimpleGeo API is what you do with that location.

That said, SimpleGeo is quick to note some of the privacy implications of this new API, which seems to mean that they might be at least in some ways worried about it (or how developers will perceive it).


Proof That Google TV Will Make Its Debut Tomorrow

For the last couple months (and even before that), rumors have been swirling about a web-enabled Google TV project. Numerous reports have stated that the project will be launching this week at I/O, with the LA Times reporting that it will be called ‘Smart TV’, and that Google will be joined by Sony, Intel, and Logitech as it announces the new platform. Now, we’ve come across evidence that all but seals the deal.

Google has set up an I/O press site for reporters like myself, giving us a concise overview of what has been announced so far along with screenshots and other supplementary material. One page, which contains all of the announcements from Day 1 of I/O, has a URL fittingly ending with “day-1-announcements”. Being the mastermind that I am, I took it upon myself to switch the 1 to a 2, which led me to a nearly identical site that was devoid of content, save for a few key words:

“Insert Android press release / TV press release”.

So there you have it. There will be news around Android and a TV project tomorrow. And take this as a warning, Google — no incredibly obvious URL is safe from my sleuthing.

In case it isn’t clear, the headline “2poiu1234zxcvhjkl” is almost certainly just placeholder text (note that the keys are all pretty close together).

Information provided by CrunchBase