eBay Bets On Online To Offline Shopping, Adds Milo’s Local Product Availability To Search

eBay has been quick to start integrating Milo’s local product inventory technology into its products after picking up the startup for $75 million in December. eBay added Milo’s local results in its barcode scanning apps, RedLaser for iPhone and Android, and GiftsNearby, as a shopping tool for consumers to find gift options available for pick up at local retailers in their neighborhood. Today, eBay is launching its deepest integration with Milo—on it’s search platform.

Milo’s local availability results will show eBay shoppers which local stores in their neighborhood currently have a desired item in-stock and how much it costs at each location. Milo currently provides access to millions of products from approximately 50,000 stores across all 50 states.

eBay shoppers will now have the choice to opt-in to a feature that will include local shopping tab in search results to check a product’s local, or in-store, availability directly from the eBay search results page. In addition, product pages for MP3 players and GPS devices now also include a local shopping tab, which will displays in-stock results from nearby stores.

For now, the local search feature has been integrated with eBay Garden, but we’re expecting it to be extended to other search portals in the near future.

In addition, eBay is providing retailers who use QuickBooks a way to easily upload their inventory onto Milo and eBay through a new inventory management plug-in. Essentially, this makes it a whole lot more easier for retailers to integrate their offline merchandise onto Milo and eBay.

For eBay, local appears to be one of the key strategies that will drive the e-commerce company in the future. Forrester estimates that online research to offline buying is a $917 billion market that will eventually reach $1.3 trillion and account for nearly 50% of total retail sales by 2013. This is a way for eBay to get in on this revenue source.

This deepest integration also means that eBay will go head to head with Google on product search, as the search giant’s newest version of its Product search portal was updated with local inventory listings from 70 popular retail brands, many of whom also list with Milo.

Between eBay’s local strategy, and its ambitions in fulfillment with its recent $2.4 billion acquisition of GSI Commerce, the company has definitely upped its game in the battle against Amazon and others.

Information provided by CrunchBase


GameSalad Raises $6.1 Million For iPhone And iPad Game Creation Tool

GameSalad, formerly Gendai Games, has raised $6.1 million in funding, led by Steamboat Ventures, with participation from Greycroft Partners, DFJ Mercury, DFJ Frontier and ff Asset Management.

GameSalad’s game creation tool allows non-programmers to build, develop and publish 2D casual games games for the iPhone and iPad. The benefit of using the platform is that developers can design, publish and distribute original games for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Web without needing to write a line of code. To date, GameSalad has been used to create powered over 8,500 titles in the iTunes App Store including more than 30 top 100 U.S. Games in Apple’s App Store.

The new financing will be used to grow GameSalad’s technical and product teams and further develop its game creation technology. We hear the company, which is currently based in Austin, is also planning a move to San Francisco in the next few months.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Opera Mini Returns To GetJar’s Mobile App Marketplace

A few weeks ago, after the debut of the Opera App Store, app marketplace GetJar banned Opera’s mobile browsing app Opera Mini from its own mobile app marketplace. The reasoning: Opera’s App Store was available in the app and competes directly with GetJar’s marketplace. Today, it appears a truce has been made, as Opera Mini 6 is now back in the GetJar store.

GetJar remains committed to offering consumers the best possible content regardless of category, phone or platform, said Patrick Mork, CMO of GetJar. Opera Mini has been a great partner and one of our top apps for many years and our users will be happy to have a bigger and better version of Opera Mini back in our store.

It’s unclear how Opera and GetJar resolved their differences. When GetJar first banned Opera Mini from its app marketplace, Mork wrote that the company “spent many months negotiating with Opera to avoid this scenario and are disappointed that GetJar consumers will no longer have access to Opera Mini.” It appears that GetJar was blindsided by the fact that Opera opened up its own app store. A reader had suggested previously the possibility that GetJar bid for Opera’s inclusion of its app store in its mobile browser products but lost out to Appia, who is powering Opera’s app store.

The whole brouhaha does bring up an interesting point when it comes to competition and the flux of app marketplaces. At what point do competing app marketplaces and developers draw the line?

Well, all’s well that ends well.

Photo Credit/Flickr/Mel B.


Google’s Music Search Engine Quietly Vanishes From The Web

At the end of October 2009, my colleague Jason Kincaid traveled all the way to Hollywood, Los Angeles, for the official unveiling of Google’s new music search initiative by the Internet giant and its partners, Lala, Rhapsody, imeem and MySpace Music / iLike. He interviewed just about everyone involved about the news, and Mike Arrington followed up with a post basically calling out Facebook and Ticketmaster for not acquiring iLike instead of MySpace.

In a blog post, Google said that, going forward, a simple Google web search would enable users to “search and more easily discover millions of songs”. Queries for songs, artists or albums would return search results including links to an audio preview of those songs provided by its music search partners, at least in the United States – for starters.

People were invited to learn more about the exciting new feature on a special landing page.

Fast forward to today: the landing page linked above now redirects to a list of regular Google search features, Apple has acquired and killed Lala, MySpace acquired both imeem and iLike and already killed the former (and is pretty much on life support itself, too).

(On a sidenote, isn’t it sad that neither lala.com or imeem.com lead anywhere anymore?)

In addition, one of the key people behind Google Music Search, Director of Product Management R.J. Pittman, defected to Apple about a year ago.

From what I can gather, searches for popular artists, songs and albums no longer yield search results that come with audio previews even in the United States, as evidenced by a series of spot tests done by some TechCrunchers stateside. Here’s how it used to work:

A tipster pointed out the disappearance of the old Google Music Search landing page to us, which doesn’t necessarily mean it vanished recently, but I’ve searched everywhere for mentions of Google officially or unofficially retiring the service and have been unable to find any reports about it. I wonder if simply nobody noticed it was gone, or that my search skills or simply not what they used to be.

The last update I can find it when SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan spoke with Google spokesperson Jason Freidenfelds about the future of the service and was told that it was firmly tied in with Google’s search group, and that people would continue to develop it even after Apple shut down Lala. That conversation dates back to April 2010, so obviously things have changed somewhere along the way.

One more reason I think things have changed rather recently is because Google linked to its own blog post announcing Music Search back in December 2010.

Now, as I’m sure you’re well aware, Google has bigger plans when it comes to digital music than mere search, so perhaps the Google.com/music link to the former Music Search product landing page was quietly removed to make way for another, more appropriate landing page? Or did someone just quietly pull the plug hoping no one would notice?

I’ve asked Google for comment and will update when I hear back.

Meanwhile, according to Cnet’s Greg Sandoval, Google has begun testing internally its much-anticipated music locker and subscription service , which will simply be named Google Music.

Google had hoped that the service would launch to the public in 2010, but it has failed to sign licensing agreements with copyright holders fast enough to launch a digital music download store and cloud-based locker service for that to happen.

Google may, however, unveil Google Music at its I/O conference in May. As for its loudly-trumpeted-upon-launch music search engine: rest in peace, I guess.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Disrupt Winner Qwiki Raises, Like, $1 Million From Groupon Co-Founders

TechCrunch Disrupt winner Qwiki is on a roll. The visual search startup raised $8 million earlier this year from a number of well-knowninvestors including early Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. And today, the startup is announcing that it has received $1 million in new funding from Lightbank, the investment fund of Groupon co-founders Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky. This brings the company’s total amount raised to $10.5 million.

What makes Qwiki so compelling is its ability to generate media on the fly that combines text, audio, and animated photos. It presents information in a highly visual way, assembling photos and spoken text from Wikipedia and other sources to create visual guides to millions of topics.

Brad Keywell, Co-Founder of Lightbank, said in a release: Doug and the Qwiki team are solving a real problem with a technically innovative and scalable solution that applies to multiple verticals. We are looking forward to working with them as they accelerate the expansion of their business.

After launching in private alpha last October, Qwiki opened up to the public in January of this year. New features include the ability to post, tweet, email or embed Qwikis, the opportunity to contribute content such as YouTube videos and pictures to Qwikis as well as give feedback on sound quality, and a text-based “Contents” section that includes all the information in a given Qwiki.

In its next version, Qwiki plans on expanding to thousands of other content sources, building an iPad app and eventually releasing a custom publishing platform which will allow publishers to transform their own content into a Qwiki.

Startups interested in applying to launch at TechCrunch Disrupt can apply here. The deadline is April 3.

Information provided by CrunchBase


What’s The Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology.

“It’s fucked up when your mind’s playin’ tricks on ya” —The Geto Boys

By far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared to keeping my mind in check. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of CEOs all with the same experience. Nonetheless, very few people talk about it, and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: The first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown.

At risk of violating the sacred rule, I will attempt to describe the condition and prescribe some techniques that helped me. In the end, this is the most personal and important battle that any CEO will face.

If I’m Doing a Good Job, Why Do I Feel So Bad?

Generally, someone doesn’t become CEOs unless she has a high sense of purpose and cares deeply about the work she does. In addition, a CEO must be accomplished enough or smart enough that people will want to work for her. Nobody sets out to be a bad CEO, run a dysfunctional organization, or create a massive bureaucracy that grinds her company to a screeching halt. Yet no CEO ever has a smooth path to a great company. Along the way, many things go wrong and all of them could have and should have been avoided.

Things go wrong, because building a multi-faceted human organization to compete and win in a dynamic, highly competitive market turns out to be really hard. If CEOs were graded on a curve, the mean on the test would be 22 out of a 100. This kind of mean can be psychologically challenging for a straight A student. It is particularly challenging, because nobody tells you that the mean is 22.

If you manage a team of 10 people, it’s quite possible to do so with very few mistakes or bad behaviors. If you manage an organization of 1,000 people it is quite impossible. At a certain size, your company will do things that are so bad that you never imagined that you’d be associated with that kind of incompetence. Seeing people fritter away money, waste each other’s time, and do sloppy work can make you feel bad. If you are the CEO, it may well make you sick.

And to rub salt into the wound and make matters worse, it’s your fault.

Nobody to Blame

“You can’t blame Jazz Musicians or David Stern with his NBA fashion issues” —Nas

When people in my company would complain about something or other being broken such as the expense reporting process, I would joke that it was all my fault. The joke was funny, because it wasn’t really a joke. Every problem in the company was indeed my fault. As the founding CEO, every hire and every decision that the company ever made happened under my direction. Unlike a hired gun that comes in and blames all of the problems on the prior regime, there was literally nobody for me to blame.

If someone was promoted for all the wrong reasons, that was my fault. If we missed the quarterly earnings target, that was my fault. If a great engineer quit, that was my fault. If the sales team made unreasonable demands on the product organization, then that was my fault. If the product had too many bugs, that was my fault. It kind of sucked to be me.

Being responsible for everything and getting a 22 on the test starts to weigh on your consciousness.

Too Much Broken Stuff

Given this stress, CEOs often make the one of the following two mistakes:

1. They take things too personally

2. They do not take things personally enough

In the first scenario, the CEO takes every issue incredibly seriously and personally and urgently moves to fix it. Given the volume of the issues, this motion usually results in one of two scenarios. If the CEO is outwardly focused, she ends up terrorizing the team to the point where nobody wants to work at the company any more. If the CEO is inwardly focused, she ends up feeling so sick from all of the problems that she can barely make it to work in the morning.

In the second scenario, in order to dampen the pain of the rolling disaster that is the company, the CEO takes a Pollyannaish attitude: it’s not so bad. In this view, none of the problems are actually that bad and they needn’t be dealt with urgently. By rationalizing away the issues, the CEO feels better about herself. The problem is that she doesn’t actually fix any of the problems and the employees eventually become quite frustrated that the Chief Executive keeps ignoring the most basic problems and conflicts. Ultimately, the company turns to crap.

Ideally, the CEO will be urgent yet not insane. She will move aggressively and decisively without feeling emotionally culpable. If she can separate the importance of the issues from how she feels about them, she will avoid demonizing her employees or herself.

It’s a Lonely Job

“And this loneliness won’t leave me alone” —Otis Redding

In your darkest moments as CEO, discussing fundamental questions about the viability of your company with your employees can have obvious negative consequences. On the other hand, talking to your board and outside advisors can be fruitless. The knowledge gap between you and them is so vast that you cannot actually bring them fully up to speed in a manner that’s useful in making the decision. You are all alone.

At Loudcloud, when the dot com bubble burst and subsequently sent most of our customers into bankruptcy, it crippled our business and devastated our balance sheet. Or rather, that was one interpretation. Another interpretation, and necessarily the official story for the company, was that we still had plenty of money in the bank and were signing up traditional enterprise customers at an impressive rate. Which interpretation was closer to the truth? In the absence of someone to talk to, that’s a question that I asked myself about 3,000 times. As an aside, asking oneself anything 3,000 times turns out to be a bad idea. In this case, I had two specific difficult questions:

1. What if the official interpretation was wrong?  What if I was misleading everyone from investors to employees? In that case, I should be removed from my position immediately.

2. What if the official interpretation was right? What if I was grinding my brain into sawdust for no reason at all? What if I was taking the company off track by questioning my own direction? In that case, I should be removed from my position immediately.

As is usually the case, there was no way to know which interpretation was right until much later. It turned out that neither was actually right. The new customers didn’t save us, but we figured out another way to survive and ultimately succeed. The key to getting to the right outcome was to keep from getting married to either the positive or the dark narrative.

My friend Jason Rosenthal took over as CEO of Ning about a year ago. As soon as he became CEO, he faced a cash crisis and had to choose amongst three difficult choices: 1. Radically reduce the size of the company or 2. Sell the company or 3. Raise money in a highly dilutive way.

Think about those choices:

1. Lay off a large set of talented employees whom he worked very hard to recruit and, as a result, likely severely damage the morale of the remaining people.

2. Sell out all of the employees who he had been working side-by-side with for the past several years (Jason was promoted into the position), by selling the company without giving them a chance to perform or fulfill their mission.

3. Drastically reduce the ownership position of the employees and make their hard work economically meaningless.

Choices like these separate the women from the girls. Tip to aspiring entrepreneurs: if you don’t like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don’t become CEO. Jason sought advice from some of the best minds in the industry, but ultimately he was completely alone in the final decision. Nobody had the answer and whatever the answer, Jason was the one who had to live with the consequences. So far his decision to reduce staff by letting go of primarily the most recent hires has paid off. Revenue at Ning is soaring and team morale is high. If it had gone worse (or ultimately goes bad), it will be all Jason’s fault and it will be up to Jason to find a new answer. Whenever I see Jason, I like to say: “Welcome to the show.”

Techniques to Calm Your Nerves

The problem with psychology is that everybody’s is slightly different. With that as a caveat, over the years I developed a few techniques for dealing with myself. Hopefully, you find them useful too.

Make some friends—Although it’s nearly impossible to get high quality advice on the tough decisions that you make, it is extremely useful from a psychological perspective to talk to people who have been through similarly challenging decisions. My friend Bill Campbell was a huge help to me as CEO, but interestingly it wasn’t his great success running Intuit that I found most useful; it was his disastrous experience running Go. Through that experience and his most traumatic days at Intuit (like laying off 1/3 of the company), Bill learned a tremendous amount about how to think about excruciatingly difficult decisions from a psychological perspective.

Get it out of your head and onto paper—When I had to explain to Bill and the rest of my board that, as a public company, I thought that it would be best if we sold all of our customers and all of our revenue and changed business, it was messing with my mind. In order to finalize that decision, I wrote down a detailed explanation of my logic. The process of writing that document separated me from my own psychology and enabled me to make the decision swiftly.

Focus on the road not the wall—When they train racecar drivers, one of the first lessons is when you are going around a curve at 200 MPH, do not focus on the wall; focus on the road. If you focus on the wall, you will drive right into it. If you focus on the road, you will follow the road. Running a company is like that. There are always a thousand things that can go wrong and sink the ship. If you focus too much on them, you will drive yourself nuts and likely capsize your company. Focus on where you are going rather than on what you hope to avoid.

Don’t Be a Punk.

A Final Word of Advice – Don’t Punk Out and Don’t Quit As CEO, there will be many times when you feel like quitting. I have seen CEOs try to cope with the stress by drinking heavily, checking out, and even quitting. In each case, the CEO has a marvelous rationalization why it was OK for him to punk out or quit, but none them will every be great CEOs. Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweat, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary founder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say: “I didn’t quit.”

Ben Horowitz is a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. To read more from his blog, go here.


The GoPano: A Panoramic Lens System For The iPhone

There are quite a few panoramic apps for the iPhone but they all require a steady hand, lots of patience and, most important, you can only take still photos. The GoPano aims to solve that by adding a panoramic mirror to the iPhone’s video camera, thereby allowing you to take panoramic video in real time.

The GoPano simply snaps onto your iPhone and the included app does the rest. As you record, you can turn the panorama by swiping the screen to shoot what you want as it happens.

Read more…


TidalTV Raises $30M For Online Video Ad Optimization Technology

Baltimore-based video ad technology company TidalTV has raised more than $30 million in financing led by New Enterprise Associates with participation from Comcast Interactive Capital and Valhalla Partners. This brings TidalTV’s total funding to $61 million.

Launched in 2007, TidalTV develops a video ad optimization product for advertisers that helps deliver ads to a target demographic. For example, advertisers can use TidalTV to serve campaigns to specific age/gender segments or to select audiences that have shown an affinity towards a particular brand. This technology is currently being deployed for online video, mobile video and television.

The new funding will be used to expand TidalTV’s technology into global markets in the coming year and to deploy its ad targeting technology into new multi-screen applications for advertisers, media agencies and publishers.

Information provided by CrunchBase


HeyWire Debuts App To Allow Users To Send Texts And Tweets Via SMS From Facebook

HeyWire, a service developed by MediaFriends that offers a free SMS service is debuting its Facebook App that will allow Facebook users to send both texts and Tweets via SMS (from a real phone number) from within Facebook.

Via the new HeyWire Facebook App, Facebook users can text worldwide without any per messaging fees and Tweet via SMS from within Facebook. Here’s how it works. Similar to other free texting apps, HeyWire users are given a real phone number to send and receive unlimited texts with friends and family worldwide.

Users can send messages via the HeyWire Facebook App or the HeyWire apps for iOS and Android devices. Texting conversations actually follow users from the HeyWire Facebook App to their smartphone apps, which is useful. Of course, this comes with a price. HeyWire is charging users 20 Facebook Credits (around $2.00) per month, for a U.S. phone number with unlimited texting from within Facebook to any mobile phone in the USA, Canada and Mexico, and to most mobile phones in China, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Honestly, if I’m on Facebook, I’m probably just going to message my friends as opposed to using a text message, so I’m dubious as to the large-scale value of the new app. And if I do use Facebook’s messaging system, I can continue those messages on an iPhone or Android phone via Facebook’s app or the mobile web.

HeyWire recently partnered with Twitter to launch a worldwide service, called HeyTweet, that allows users to send free tweets via mobile SMS.


GeeknRolla – Gowalla To Hire UK Team, Duedil Wins Startup Competition

This year’s European startup conference GeeknRolla has become a platform for news, as startups launched and speakers broke news direct from the stage.

Duedil, the business reputation startup, secured first prize in the startup competition, and an on-the-day announcement from DFJ Esprit that it would award the winner a £50,000 no strings investment in the form of a convertible note. This would convert into its next funding round at the price of the next round. That kind of announcement is more common in Silicon Valley, so to have the deal announced literally within a couple of hours of Duedil’s pitch on stage was real news for a European event. Let’s hope we see more of that kind of fast action in the rest of the year. They also won a crack at a year’s worth of Windows Azure hosting, £5,000 in free legal advice form Orrick and free premium job advertisements for a year on CoderStack (normally £120 per ad per month). Not a bad result for a 3 minute pitch.


Google Joins NFC Forum To Advance Near Field Communication Technology

Google is one of 32 companies to recently join the NFC Forum, a non-profit industry association that has been advancing the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology since its founding in 2004.

Google is joining the organization as a Principal member, while CSR and Intel have also raised their membership status to that level (they were formerly Associate Members). The full NFC Forum member list is available here.

To explain what it means to be a Principal member of the NFC Forum, allow me to quote straight from the press release:

Principal membership is the second-highest level of membership in the NFC Forum, with each Principal member entitled to appoint a voting representative to each of the Technical, Marketing, and Compliance Committees and Working Groups.

Principal members may designate individuals to run for positions leading Committees or Working Groups, and they may propose initiatives and contribute to the development of Forum deliverables. As Principal members, organizations may also participate in the NFC Forum testing and certification program using their own in-house test labs.

As Near Field Communications World points out, that last part is crucial because it allows principal members to effectively use their own in-house facilities to conduct NFC Forum certification testing rather than having to send devices out to third-party testing facilities.

NFC, a standards-based connectivity technology, enables people to make transactions, exchange digital content and connect electronic devices with a simple touch. NFC is said to be compatible with hundreds of millions of contactless cards and readers already deployed worldwide.

The Wall Street Journal earlier this week reported that Google has teamed up with MasterCard and Citigroup to embed NFC technology in Android handsets, thus enabling consumers to easily make payments with their smartphones.

Retailers could use the data gathered by using NFC as one’s electronic wallet in order to send better targeted ads to users and even offer discounts to nearby mobile users.

Google is already supporting NFC chips in Android phones such as the Nexus S and is expected to roll out tests of wave-and-pay systems at stores in New York City and San Francisco in partnership with VeriFone Systems and ViVOtech.

Google tellingly also killed support for QR codes in its Places product some time last week.

Other companies that have recently joined the NFC Forum as Associate members include Daimler, Hitachi and Kovio. The NFC Forum’s Sponsor members, which hold seats on the board of directors, include companies like Microsoft, MasterCard, NEC, Nokia, NTT DOCOMO, Visa, Samsung and Sony.

For your further reading pleasure:

So Why Should You Care About NFC? (CrunchGear)

The Ever-Elusive Mobile Wallet: Why NFC Chips Are Overhyped And Will Underdeliver

Apple Aims To Take NFC Mainstream; Perhaps The Greatest Trick They’ve Ever Pulled?

With The NFC Wave About To Hit Shore, RFinity Raises Money To Make It Fast, Secure

Information provided by CrunchBase


Exclusive: IAC Hatches Hatch Labs, A Technology Sandbox To Incubate Mobile Startups

IAC has made a business out of developing or acquiring mobile applications based on its popular properties. In fact, IAC’s mobile apps, which include apps for Match.com, CityGrid, UrbanSpoon, and Dictionary.com, have seen over 40 million downloads as of end of the year 2010. Today, we’ve learned exclusively that IAC is furthering its mobile strategy by launching Hatch Labs, a technology sandbox devoted to incubating mobile startups and innovations.

Hatch Labs is the brainchild of Dinesh Moorjani, who was formerly the SVP of IAC Mobile. At IAC, Moorjani started the mobile group in 2007 and helped lead all product strategy for mobile. During his time, Moorjani helped doubled mobile revenue annually for IAC. He tells us that for the past five years IAC has been acquiring mobile technologies and apps, but this can be an expensive endeavor. Moorjani and the company wanted to help incubate more innovation within IAC, particularly in the mobile sector and thus Hatch Labs was born.

The incubator, which is located in IAC’s New York office, is financially a joint venture between Xtreme Labs and IAC (financial terms have not been disclosed). Hatch Labs is bringing in talent to prototype and develop new applications, tools and platforms that tackle emerging problems in mobility. Moorjani, who serves as CEO of Hatch Labs, manages multiple teams of handpicked engineers and entrepreneurs, who work on developing mobile applications.

Moorjani says that three ideas/products are being incubated a any given time, and expects five businesses to be spawned from Hatch by the end of 2011. The most promising ventures, which will ranged from consumer facing to B2B apps, will seek additional capital from IAC and outside investors, to further grow the businesses, and could even be fully acquired by IAC.

In terms of equity and initial seed funding, Moorjani declined to give us specifics but says it is competitive and similar to the equity arrangements with other startup incubators, such as TechStars and Y Combinator.

Of course, recruiting talent is key to the success of Hatch Labs and its businesses and Moorjani is using equity incentives to attract talent that not only has experience in the mobile industry, but also has developed and sold busineeses previously. For example, Hatch’s first general manager to run one of its initial businesses is BumpTop’s former COO, Nina Sodhi. BumpTop was acquired by Google last year.

Details on Hatch’s first product Blu Trumpet, which is expected to launch in Q2 this year, are limited but Moorjani says that it is a monetization and distribution platform in mobile, that aims to help publishers make money off apps and provides a distribution portal for advertisers. Another business being developed within Hatch involves group texting, but Moorjani declined to reveal any further details.

Housing an incubator within a large company has its advantages and drawbacks. First, the incubator will need to be free of any corporate regulations, mentalities and rules for innovations to flow freely. While this sounds simple, it can be tough. Of course, IAC has tons of cash to put into these ideas, which is an added bonus. It should be interesting to see the quality of products that hatch from Hatch Labs.


Living the Stream Dream With Denon’s AirPlay-Capable Stereo

Early this year, the press pap about Denon’s new multiformat network receiver flew across my digital beam and my sonic spidey sense immediately began tingling.

It’s sleek, white and miniature. It’s also one of the first systems to arrive with built-in capability for AirPlay, Apple’s technology that lets you stream your music with CD-quality from any iTunes installation on your network. Additionally, it’s locked and loaded for streaming from several internet sources, plus Wi-Fi network streaming from PCs, Apple iOS devices and Android mobiles.

Could the Denon RCD-N7 be the holy grail of mini systems? Could one device blend CDs, traditional radio, internet radio, online subscription services and digital audio libraries streamed at lossless fidelity, yet be simple to use?

I was buzzing about it, but still feeling incredulous as I pinged my editor, got the green light, and waited patiently for the UPS truck to arrive.

Right out of the box, I noticed how simply the front of the Denon is appointed. The three-line OLED display is crisp and clear and can be easily read from across the room. There’s a headphone jack, USB for memory stick music playback, a CD tray and aux input and volume control buttons.

The speaker connections are in back, along with FM/AM/Wi-Fi antennas, Aux in/out, optical in, subwoofer in/out and an ethernet port for hardwiring it to your network if you choose. On top is a 30-pin iPod/iPhone dock.

Setting up the N7 was pretty simple — until I got to the networking instructions. They look like a two-page document left over from the Tower of Babel that had been hit by a tsunami — just completely incomprehensible.

My best advice is once you’ve hooked up the speakers, plugged it in and turned it on, just press the Menu button on the supplied remote and the N7’s screen will guide you through accessing your wireless network and saving the password. Bottom line, it’s actually pretty intuitive unless you rely on the instructions.

Denon has created a pair of matched speakers for the unit. The head and the speakers are separate pieces, as Denon figures you may already have your own sound boosters. If not, the matched set goes for $200. I tested the 65-watt system with both the Denon speakers and, just for grins, a pair of similarly sized Totem Mites that go for about $700 a pair. While the system will easily overpower them, the Denon speakers still sounded good and had a pleasing mid and upper range, but were a little weak on the low end.

The Totems are audiophile speakers, so they were predictably richer and silkier on all levels, especially in the bass range, and had far superior off-axis reproduction. But if you haven’t already sunk a bunch of money into speakers and your budget is limited, the Denons won’t disappoint you.

Beyond the tried and true Denon sound quality, the really big draw of the N7 system is its platform-agnostic wireless networking capability.

Skullcandy Aviators Offer Audiophiles Food for Thought

Skullcandy is known for making headphones that put fashion first and sound quality second.

You’ve probably seen its krazy-kool neon and graffiti-splattered cans stacked up for sale in mall kiosks, or clamped to the dome of some young’n on a skateboard as he whisks by and spills your latte all over your Haggar slacks.

The company’s demo skews young, and we all know the kids don’t necessarily care if their music sounds good, as long as it’s loud. Needless to say, Skullcandy’s headphones haven’t ever scored high marks among audiophiles. Being one of these snobbish elites, my expectations were not inflated when I received a shipment of Roc Nation Aviators, a set of headphones cross-branded with Jay-Z and LiveNation’s Roc Nation promotions outfit.

Skullcandy is angling the $150 set as its first foray into audiophile territory. It’s a shrewd move. All those tweens who grew up on Skullcandy cans are now graduating to adulthood, collecting their first real paychecks and looking to upgrade all the little things in their lives. And maybe they’ve outgrown the desire to wear bright pink skulls on their ears.

The Aviators’ styling is unique and fashionable, but not garish. True to the name, they’re reminiscent of the iconic aviator sunglasses. They have see-through plastic over-the-ear cups, leather pads, suede headband, nylon cord and chrome accents along the edges. Three colors are available: white, black and brown/gold.

So, they’re not ugly. That’s a plus, I thought. But then I put them on and — wait a minute, these actually sound pretty good. Not amazing, but much better than anything else I’ve heard from Skullcandy thus far.

The Aviators can get a little abrasive at times, especially when you’re listening to modern rock or techno. And the bass isn’t as present as I’d like it to be. Hip-hop sounds oddly tinny. But put on some mellower stuff that hasn’t been amped up to appeal to today’s ADHD standards — Nina Simone, Cat Power, James Blake, singer-songwriter stuff, classic rock — and the Aviators impress. My headphone nerd friends were all curious, so we passed them around and everyone agreed: solid.

They perform particularly well in quieter settings. Walking around on the street or riding on a city bus, I found the thin plastic shell didn’t do the best job of blocking out exterior noise. But indoors, in the park or at my desk, they were comfortable to listen to — and to wear — for long stretches.

There’s a remote with a built-in mic on the cord, so you can talk on the phone, change the volume, pause the song and skip tracks. The connector fits the iPhone (with a bumper, even) and all the Android phones I tried.

There’s also a companion app for the iPhone, iPad and Android. Version 2 of the Skullcandy App was just released earlier this month, so I tried it out. It has a library of streaming music that fits the “brand lifestyle” — lots of great West Coast hip-hop and some atrocious Sublime-wanna-be ska-punk — as well as streaming videos of skaters, surfers and snowboarders getting rad. The design is tidy. One cool feature: a map that shows the locations of local skateparks, ski resorts and surf spots, complete with current conditions.

But back to the Aviators. They’re not bad at all, even if they are a little steep. At $150, you can certainly buy a better set of over-the-ear cans. I won’t be trading these for my ATH-M50s or my Shure SRH750 DJ headphones, both of which are in the same price range and out-perform the Skullcandies. But while those are giant Cadillacs, these Aviators are more like a spry Miata. They fold up for travel, they’re comfortable and extremely light, and they come with a handsome leather case. So if you need a set of over-the-ear headphones that can squeeze into a fanny pack, the Aviators are a good choice.

They might actually turn some heads, too.

WIRED Surprisingly good sound. Light and comfortable. They fold up and slip into a svelte travel case. Charming retro styling already matches your sunglasses.

TIRED Priced at $150, but they perform more like $90. Chrome and plastic assembly is light, but feels a little flimsy. Companion mobile app is a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

Price Is Right for Toshiba’s Bare-Bones Netbook

How do you create what might be the world’s cheapest computer? Easy: You strip it to the absolute bare minimum.

Toshiba’s NB505 netbook isn’t quite as skeletal as that, but it’s awfully close. And at all of $288, asking for much more would probably be a bit greedy.

The specs don’t merit a whole lot of notice: A 1.66-GHz Atom CPU and a paltry 1 GB of RAM ensure performance scrapes rock bottom. Though it couldn’t actually run most of our benchmarks, those that the NB505 did complete were near-record-breaking … on the bottom end, that is. A 250-GB hard drive is more than plenty, and the three USB ports plus SD card slot cover the connectivity basics. The 10.1-inch LCD is about average in both brightness and resolution (1024 x 600 pixels), and at just 2.7 pounds, the laptop’s heft is in line with other machines in its class.

While price is the clear — and appropriate — focus with this portable, Toshiba makes some oddball choices that don’t really make a lot of sense.

Why saddle this underpowered netbook with special, always-on software that basically makes funny frames for your webcam video when you’re talking on Skype? Why would anyone want their machine hijacked by the “Toshiba Bulletin Board,” with its special notes and enigmatic “deals and offers?” Is this an attempt to drive the price of the computer down to zero? (If so, sign me up.)

The machine’s design is a bit of a mess, from the difficult, super-flat keyboard to the distracting glossy frame around the screen. Also, I’m mostly on the fence about the material used to create the back of the lid. It’s sort of rubbery plastic studded with pock marks. It comes in several different colors, but the one I tested was brownish-gold, making it look a bit like high-tech snakeskin, only much less cool than that sounds.

All of this may come off like there are a lot of negatives about the NB505, and there are, but remember: It’s less than 300 bucks. If you don’t like it, park it in the kitchen and use it for recipes. Keep it in your sock drawer in case of emergency. Or, give it to an orphan and write it off on your taxes. If the bottom line really is the bottom line, the NB505 is ultimately a surprisingly good netbook choice.

WIRED Touchpad is more spacious than pads on many much larger laptops. Dirt cheap. Battery life approaches 5 1/2 hours.

TIRED Incredibly slow; would happily have paid the extra $12 for another gig of RAM. Ultra-flat keyboard makes touch-typing massively error-ridden. We had forgotten that Windows 7 Starter Edition actually existed. Pretty darn ugly.

Photo by Jim Merithew/Wired.com