Skimlinks Rolls Out SkimWords To Turn More Links Into Affiliate Revenue Opportunity

Affiliate marketing platform Skimlinks has launched its latest product that aims to make it even easier for publishers to place revenue generating affiliate links in their content.

Dubbed SkimWords, the feature, which is currently in beta, differs slightly from the company’s main offering. Rather than simply converting existing retailer links to affiliate links on-the-fly, it looks at the page’s content and converts any references to known products into fairly non-obtrusive geo-targeted links to retailer sites where the item can be purchased.

The fact that these links are location-aware – at the country level – is perhaps noteworthy since it accommodates a site’s international traffic and therefore hopefully doesn’t leave much money on the table.


Geodelic Scores $7 Million To Boost Its Location-Aware Mobile Apps Business

Exclusive – Mobile application developer Geodelic has raised $7 million in a Series B financing round led by MK Capital, with previous backers Clearstone Venture Partners and Shasta Ventures participating.

The round brings the total amount of capital injected into the company to more than $10 million.

Initially incubated by Clearstone in 2008, Geodelic develops a free application for mobile phones that come with ‘search-less search’, meaning the app automatically browses and shows your points of interests in your immediate vicinity. The company was founded by Rahul Sonnad, who previously founded thePlatform, a Web video publishing service he sold to Comcast back in 2006.

The Geodelic app, which is available for iPhone and Android, lets you swipe through locations to quickly find a good coffee joint, closest bank, grocery store or favorite restaurant.

The application is also capable of learning what you seem to like, presenting you results based on your profile. Users get the added benefit of Geodelic’s integration with select reservation and review services (e.g. OpenTable).

The Geodelic network also contains content-specific mobile guides, which can soon be created by anyone. One example is the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which enables users to discover the attraction, locate their favorite stars of stage and screen and to access photos and biographies straight from the app.

Additionally, Geodelic technology has been licensed by carriers such as Korea Telecom to allow enterprise customers to quickly deploy mobile guides and to interact with their consumer base.

Geodelic’s makes money by partnering with brands and marketers to create a network of so-called Experiences. The startup’s authoring system allows businesses to publish location-triggered content to Geodelic users on the fly and provides detailed, real-time statistics they can use to improve their location-based offerings. A relevance engine even tracks user behavior, allowing marketers to reach consumers as efficiently as possible at the point of sale.

To date, the Geodelic application has been downloaded over half a million times on Android phones, the company says. It is also available for iPhone (iTunes link), and currently in development for Blackberry devices.


Tesla CEO Elon Musk To Sell Nearly One Million Personal Shares At IPO

One day before its scheduled IPO, Tesla Motors is increasing the allotment of shares that will be sold to the public from 11.1 million to 13.3 million, according to an amendment to its S1 filing. The additional shares are being sold by existing shareholders looking to cash out at the IPO, including Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk who is selling an additional 909,212 of his personal shares. Other selling stockholders include VantagePoint Venture Partners (238,748 shares), Bay Area Equity Fund (88,586), Westly Capital Partners (72,625), Compass Venture Partners (22,931), as well as friends and family like Elon’s brother (and OneRiot CEO) Kimball Musk (12,692). Tesla itself won’t make any additional money from the bump in shares, but more shares will be available to the public.

If Tesla shares open at the high end of its expected range of $14 to $16, the Silicon Valley electric car company will debut with a $1.5 billion market cap (based on 93.5 million total shares outstanding after the IPO and a concurrent $50 million private placement with Toyota). After the offering, Tesla’s largest shareholder will still be founder Elon Musk, who will own 28.4 percent of the company (worth $426 million at that valuation, versus a potential windfall of $14.5 million for the shares he is selling). The second largest shareholder will be Daimler (through an investment arm called Blackstar Investco) with 8 percent of the shares, and the third largest will be the government of Abu Dhabi (through Al Wahada Capital Investment) with 7.8 percent of the shares. The two biggest VC shareholders will be Vantage Capital Partners with 6.6 percent and Valor Equity Partners with 5.25 percent.

It takes a ton of money to crack into the car business. Even before the IPO proceeds, Tesla has already raised $783 million in venture capital and government loans. Tesla is expecting to raise about $210 million in the IPO, bringing the total raised to just over $1 billion.

And so far the company isn’t making any money. Last year, Tesla lost $56 million on revenues of $112 million. In the March quarter of 2010, it lost $29.5 million on revenues of $20.8 million. As of March 31, 2010, the company still had $188 million in cash. But it expects to spend up to $125 million this year, as it gears up to manufacture its Model S sedan (including $42 million to buy a factory in Fremont, California formerly operated by Toyota and GM).

While Tesla is known for its sexy roadster, it the Model S which will make or break the company. It is a more affordable electric sedan which the company hopes will start to make inroads with the general car-buying public.


mSpot Debuts Cloud-Based Music Streaming Service For Android

Mobile entertainment startup mSpot is debuting its free music cloud service today that allows you to sync your entire music collection across Android phones and PCs/Macs to the public today. The service, which was launched into private beta in May, streams music to your browser and Android phone.

Here’s how it works. The service’s application that operates in the background of your computer managing the upload and day-to-day syncing of your music library. In addition, it can upload playlists, coverart, ratings and song information you may have entered using iTunes. The application will manage your music for you, making automatic updates whenever changes occur in your library, and on across different connected devices.

And mSpot’s cloud service automatically re-syncs music when new songs and albums are added. The service also promises to handle transitions between spotty and solid coverage areas and reduces data charges on your mobile plan. Other features include the ability to see lyrics of songs and to make a ringtone out of any song.

MSpot is betting big on this service. The company has been developing this proprietary playback
technology that allows users to play songs from the cloud instantly for four years. mSpot mobile application automatically senses network conditions and adapts playback accordingly even without network coverage.

While mSpot offers free storage for the first 2 gigabytes (approximately 1600 songs), additional storage is available for purchase ranging from 10 gigabytes (8,000 songs) for $2.99, 20 gigabytes (16,000 songs) for $4.99, and 50 gigabytes for 9.99.

mSpot’s streaming service will be incredibly an useful application for Android users. But that’s until Google launches its own cloud-based music streaming service, which is expected to take place later this year. The company even acquired streaming technology Simplify Media to boost its service.

Lala did this as well, but Apple has shut that service down after acquiring it. And we expect that Apple will be launching a cloud-based version of iTunes soon, which would also pose a serious threat to mSpot’s offering.

Mspot is best known for its Mobile Movies site, which will let users stream full-length movies on their mobile phones, on the web, so you can enjoy mSpot’s online streaming movie service on your computer. mSpot has struck deals with Paramount, Universal, Image Entertainment, and Screen Media Ventures to stream full-length movie rentals to users’ PCs and cell phones, allowing you to switch between both devices as you pick up and leave off throughout a movie. The PC streaming functionality builds upon the mobile movie service mSpot launched last year. The service, which just launched an iPhone app, includes 1000 titles that can be streamed to both a computer and mobile device.

Information provided by CrunchBase


iPhone 4 Leads the Pack With Stunning Design, Interface

Product: iPhone 4

Manufacturer: Apple

Wired Rating: 8

Apple’s fourth-generation iPhone makes its predecessors look like toys. Heck, even the iPad looks sissy now.

It’s an impressive upgrade. The iPhone 4 ditches the curvy plastic case of the older models in favor of a thinner, squared-off glass body laced with a stainless-steel band. It has a higher-resolution display, a brand-new front-facing camera, an improved back camera with flash, double the RAM of the iPhone 3GS, and the same A4 processor that powers the iPad.

Grip it in your hand, and the iPhone 4 feels like the phone of the future.

The defining feature of the iPhone 4 is its 960-by-640-pixel display, which has a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch, far higher than any other consumer display. Apps, websites, photos and videos look stellar. Text is crisper, images look rich and detailed, and colors are stunning. It’s been hard to put down this phone: Staring at that screen is addictive.

The second most compelling addition is the front-facing camera, which works with a built-in video-chatting client called FaceTime. Remember when George Jetson’s boss chewed him out on a video phone in The Jetsons? It looks a lot like that. Choose a contact, then tap FaceTime, and within a few seconds you’ll see your buddy’s mug. (Better keep your finger out of your nose from now on.)

Video chatting is nothing new: Plenty do it with webcams on their computers already. But video conferencing on a phone makes a dramatic difference, as you have the liberty to take the camera with you wherever you go. Give a virtual tour of your new apartment to friends across the country. Hold a FaceTime chat with a retired co-worker, and pass the phone around the office for everyone to say hello. This new method of communication — digital coexistence — is fresh and exciting, even to journalists who live and breathe gadgets every day.

There are some big limitations. Currently, FaceTime is only available for iPhone 4 users, so the number of people you can video chat with is limited. However, Apple published FaceTime as an open protocol: Any software developer can integrate the service into their third-party software on Macs, Windows machines or even competing smartphones, such as the HTC Evo 4G. It’s a mystery why Apple hasn’t already provided integration with its own desktop chat client, iChat, which would greatly expand the number of people you could video chat with.

Second, FaceTime only works over Wi-Fi, until the carriers’ networks get better, says Steve Jobs. Provided you have a strong Wi-Fi connection, FaceTime works well, and it’s a blast. With a weak or overloaded Wi-Fi connection, it’s an exercise in frustration. And without Wi-Fi, you can’t use it at all. That’s stifling, but for now, most of us will probably be video chatting in more private settings, where we presumably have decent Wi-Fi anyway, so we’ll let you off the hook for this one, AT&T.

However, AT&T’s overloaded 3G network remains a major concern for old-school telephoning. Call quality sounds clearer with a noise-canceling microphone on top of the handset, but reception problems persist. We experienced plenty of dropped calls with the iPhone 4 in San Francisco. Network coverage varies from city to city, and your mileage may vary. But we can’t file this away as a non-issue until either AT&T expands its network to accommodate data-guzzling iPhones everywhere or Apple shares the iPhone with multiple carriers to mitigate overcrowding on AT&T’s network.

Adding to our cellular woes, many customers have reported a strange antenna problem, where squeezing the steel band on the bottom-left corner of the iPhone 4 results in dropped signal strength. That just happens to be the way many left-handers are naturally holding the iPhone. We were able to replicate this behavior, but only by squeezing the iPhone very hard. Jobs’ e-mail response to a concerned customer was to “just avoid holding it that way” — which doesn’t seem fair — and Apple’s recommended solution is to buy a $30 protective “bumper.” Whatever the remedy, when a number of people are complaining about the same issue and the proposed solution is a band-aid, this appears to be a design flaw.

Whether it’s AT&T’s network or Apple’s design, the iPhone 4’s semi-frequent dropped calls create the same old headaches. This is still an unreliable phone, period.

That’s a shame, because the iPhone 4 is solid with just about everything else it does. The new 5-megapixel camera (up from 3 megapixels in the iPhone 3GS) takes photos that look better than a lot of dedicated point-and-shoots we’ve used. However, white balance seems slightly off, often appearing too yellow, so you’d benefit from touching up photos with an image-editing app. Also, photos shot with the iPhone 4’s new LED flash look eerie — as you’d expect with an LED flash.

Did we mention the iPhone 4’s snazzy back camera also shoots high-definition, 720p video? It looks great, too, with smooth motion and crisp clarity, although the yellows again appear heavy.

Finally, the iPhone 4 subtly improves on speed compared to the iPhone 3GS. It’s not tremendously faster, but you’ll notice that complex tasks finish up more quickly. In the photo-editing app CameraBag, for example, photo processing took about a second per photo, whereas on an iPhone 3GS it took about three seconds.

The iPhone 4’s main competitors are the crop of high-end Android phones currently on the market. The Nexus One, Motorola Droid X and HTC Evo 4G all have impressive hardware and match the iPhone 4 nearly feature for feature — in some cases, exceeding the iPhone 4’s specs, as with the Droid X’s 8-megapixel camera.

Any day now, a manufacturer will likely deliver a better piece of hardware than the iPhone 4. However, Apple is still far ahead of the curve with its new iOS 4 software and ever-growing App Store. The entire experience of iOS is far more elegant and intuitive than Android, and for many people, that ease of use will outweigh iOS 4’s relative lack of flexibility and its subpar telephone capabilities.

Interestingly, the iPhone 4 has more RAM than Apple’s other hot product, the iPad, with 512 MB in the iPhone 4 compared to 256 MB in the iPad. It also has two cameras, a newer OS and a higher-resolution display than the iPad, which might inspire some buyers’ remorse among early iPad adopters.

With the iPhone 4, Apple has blown Android rivals, previous iPhones and even the iPad out of the water. It’s that big of an upgrade. And for now, it’s the uncontested leader in the smartphone market.

WIRED Incredible display. FaceTime video chat is futuristic fun. Thinner profile feels great in your pocket. 5-megapixel camera could replace your point-and-shoot.

TIRED The phone — one of the most important features — is still frustratingly unreliable. Antenna flaw for some lefties is lame. White balance in photos and videos is slightly off.

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Nokia’s E73 Is a Wholly Capable, Slightly Dated Smartphone

Product: E73 Mode

Manufacturer: Nokia

Wired Rating: 6

It’s been nearly two years since Wired called the Nokia E71 a “legit iPhone killer,” and now Nokia has updated the much-lauded device — almost bringing it into the ’10s — with the E73 Mode.

Though it’s now clad in a gunmetal gray instead of shiny silver, only a little of the E71’s DNA has been altered with this release. Renowned for its ultra-slim profile, the E73 Mode is still extremely thin (about 10mm thick) and light (4.6 ounces), despite offering the full panoply of smartphone features, courtesy of the Symbian S60 3.2 operating system. That OS is now looking laughably dated, but if you’re a Nokia veteran or are still comfortable navigating with a five-way pad and a QWERTY keyboard instead of a touchscreen, you’ll find it reasonably easy to get around.

The refinements in the E73 Mode over its predecessor are easy to enumerate: Wi-Fi (802.11b/g only), GPS and compass included, along with turn-by-turn navigation, an upgraded 5-MP camera with flash, Ovi services for adding apps, and support for both HSDPA and HSUPA cellphone networks. And battery life is positively inhuman on the E73: We managed more than 13.5 hours of talk time in our tests. Call quality and photo quality are fine, if short of killer. Finally, the E73 retains the ability to create custom home screens along with S60’s famous support for Adobe Flash (take that, Apple fanboys!).

On the other hand, some issues that should have been addressed remain. The phone feels sluggish, and the screen, at 320 x 240 pixels, is decidedly chunky-looking and in need of an upgrade. The dated navigation and interface make even simple tasks slow and non-obvious, and the touchpad, which is recessed deep within the five-way button, is also difficult to use.

Despite some nagging concerns, the Nokia E73 remains a great bargain for a perfectly capable smartphone. As competitors pass it by, Symbian may represent a less savvy alternative to iOS 4, Android and even WebOS, but, for now anyway, it’s at least still in the running.

WIRED Exceptionally portable, with outstanding build quality. Unparalleled battery life. Quite the bargain. Easily one of the best Symbian handsets on the market.

TIRED Symbian OS is getting increasingly dated compared to its rivals, especially in ease of navigation. Touchpad design is poor. Crummy screen resolution.

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HTC’s Aria: Android Phone That Can Be Had for a Song

Product: Aria

Manufacturer: HTC

Wired Rating: 7

Let’s get down to brass tacks: The much-hyped HTC Aria is worth singing about. Maybe not loudly (or in the shower), but it manages to nail most of the basics that some of AT&T’s other Android phones have fumbled.

The Aria’s biggest asset is the fact that it’s small. While other smartphones are chasing the ”big is beautiful” trope, the compact Aria is constructed to fit comfortably in your pocket. The 480 x 320 touchscreen is a tight 3.2 inches and the phone’s overall velvety black chassis is gussied up with sleek chrome accents. The super-glossy front is subtly outfitted with touch-sensitive softkeys below the screen, and the tiniest optical trackpad. To be fair, this diminutive design might frustrate the sausage-fingered but it’s a minor quibble considering how intuitive the rest of the Aria feels.

Under the hood lies an effective (though hardly blazing) set of specs. The 600-MHz processor falls well below mainstays like the Nexus One’s 1-GHz Snapdragon, but in regular use the Aria rarely stuttered. We were a little bothered that the handset ships with Android 2.1, especially since version 2.2 has already been unleashed, and wireless providers are notoriously slow on updates.

But in terms of how it performs today, we can’t really hold that against the Aria. Even while running HTC’s somewhat bloated Sense UI skin, the device performs exactly like it’s supposed to — be it snapping photos with the passable 5-MP camera, or running apps from the Android Market — with hardly a pause. Paired with its reasonable performance as a phone (with a little over five hours of talk time), there isn’t much to dislike.

Until you consider the cost. In terms of AT&T’s offerings, the Aria’s $130 sticker price wedges it between the (cheaper) iPhone 3GS, and the much more expensive (and capable) Nexus One. This awkward middle space isn’t the worst place to occupy, but when one considers how quickly the Aria will age it becomes a problematic choice. Bestsellers like the iPhone 3GS and the Nexus One are already being eclipsed by newer hardware like the iPhone 4, and this leaves even more to desire from the spec-challenged Aria.

So, here’s the rub: If the Aria is exactly what you’re looking for (at least for the next two years), then it’s entirely worth the buck-thirty asking price. However, if you’re spec-obsessed (or especially thrifty), you’ll probably want to sit this song out.

WIRED Surprisingly handsome, well-balanced design despite wee size. Deftly handles a number of tasks (email, multimedia, web browsing) in speedy stride. 5-MP Camera supports both VGA video recording and autofocus.

TIRED Included 2-GB memory card puts it woefully behind its competitors. AT&T left its controlling stamp: Downloading non-Marketplace apps and loading them onto the memory card is verboten. Speakerphone is on the back of the phone, rendering audio fuzzy. Optical trackpad is no replacement for a proper trackball.

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Fundraising Tool Piryx Projects $4B In Online Political Donations For 2010 Election Cycle

Piryx, a white-label fundraising platform that helps automate online political contributions is reporting record amounts of money raised in this quarter for political candidates. Piryx says that money raised will exceed $4 billion this political cycle

Piryx attributes the surge in online contributions to the strength of Barack Obama’s online campaign that first showed the power of online fundraising in 2008. Many of the current fundraising efforts are being driven by anti-establishment, insurgent candidacy led by tea party candidates.

The startup deduced the $4 billion data point be evaluating how many political organizations have an online fundraising presence (600K organizations, candidates, political groups), the average donation size ($130) and the average number of donors that contribute to a campaign online (50 donors per campaign). Piryx declined to give us the exact amount its technology has helped raise for political candidates but did say that it was in the “double digit millions” for the 2010 elections.

Piryx also estimates that the $4 billion raised in the 2010 election cycle will be twice the amount given in the previous election cycle in 2008. According to a Pew report, 8% of Americans gave to political organizations from August 2007 to August 2008. Of those donations, 15% were online. With an average online donation of $130, the amount given to political campaigns online during that time was $1.05 billion. Piryx estimates that another $1 billion was raised from August to November.

It may be a stretch to assert that online fundraising to double at this point but it will certainly match what was raised in the 2008 cycle. Piryx has accumulated these estimates and data from its own market and other fundraising campaigns. The startup declined to give us an exact number but said “thousands of candidates in the US” are using the platform to raise money online.

According to the report, some candidates are receiving nearly 30 donations a minute. Piryx is also also predicting that more than 30 million donors will make online contributions to political
campaigns this election cycle. The top states for political giving in order are Texas, California, South Carolina, Florida and New York.

It’s not surprising that fundraising is surpassing the last cycle, considering the primaries that took place a few weeks ago and the upcoming fall elections that will take place this year. And the 2008 elections showed us the power of building an online presence when raising money. Plus with a residential election, I’m sure that the 2012 election cycle will prove to set higher online fundraising records.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Palm Loses Their Ex-Apple PR Head, Lynn Fox

HP’s buyout of Palm may have won them webOS, but it doesn’t seem to have won them many friends within the company. There are only so many names within Palm that are so oft-mentioned that I could name them off hand — and of those, the talent seems to be disappearing left and right. First to go was interface mastermind Matias Duarte, followed shortly thereafter by Rich Dellinger, best known for coming up with webOS’ incredible notifications system.

And now, they’ve lost another; I’m hearing from an unshakably solid source that Lynn Fox, Vice President of Public Relations, left the company earlier this week.

Read the rest at MobileCrunch >>


Hitler. iPhone 4 Antenna. You Know The Drill

It seems like everyone is up in arms about the iPhone 4 antenna issue. You know, the one Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggested you fix by avoiding “holding it that way.” That “way” being the way just about everyone holds their phone. As such, it should be no surprise that Hitler is upset about this issue as well.

Michael Ingram Jr. made the excellent video below.

The choice lines in this one:

  • “Even with the MicroCell we lost signal”
  • “Jobs email said to hold the phone differently. Or get a case.”
  • “I don’t feel like paying more money to make my $300 phone work like it should!”
  • “Bumpers are multi colored and cost only $29.”
  • “Multi colored? Are you serious?”
  • “Damnit, how am I supposed to have an online flamewar with all those Android fanboys?”
  • “MG Siegler laughed it off in his latest post talking about ‘that’s what she said’”
  • “Maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. I heard those Google boys make a mean mobile OS.”

Information provided by CrunchBase


Foursquare Expands Offices — Wonder How They’re Paying For It?

Foursquare is “growing like a weed,” co-founder Dennis Crowley tells us. So fast, in fact, that they’ve had to expand their office space. Foursquare will soon take over the upstairs floor of the office they’re currently reside at in New York City. That’s great — Foursquare undoubtedly needs more room as they’re now over 20 employees. The question I have is, how on Earth are they paying for it?

The answer, of course, is likely that they’ve either gotten or are about to get more funding. A couple weeks ago we heard that Andreessen Horowitz was the big winner in the race to put more money into the location-based service. With all these new employees coming on board, and the new office space, Foursquare simply has to have more money coming in, as they only raised a $1.35 million small round (back in September of last year) so far.

Foursquare does have a number of deals with big brands, some of which bring in some revenue. But Foursquare is not yet profitable, from what we’ve heard.

In recent months, both Yahoo and Facebook have looked closely at the company for a possible acquisition, based on what we’ve heard. Microsoft had been sniffing around as well. But ultimately, it looks like it will be more funding for the company as they charge forward. The company is growing quickly now, gaining almost 100,000 new users a week.

I’ve asked Crowley if they’re paying for this new space with some free badges. No response yet.

Update from Crowley: “ha. yes. we also send our engineers out at lunch to sell M&Ms on the subway.

Aha!

Here are some pictures Crowley shared of the new space (which isn’t done yet):

[photos: flickr/dpstyles]

Information provided by CrunchBase


Aviary For Education Gives Students A Safer Way To Get Creative

Aviary, the startup that makes a suite of impressive web-based creative applications, including editors for images, vector graphics, and audio recordings, is targeting a new class of customers: school teachers and their students. Today the company is launching Aviary Education, a product that allows educators to encourage creativity on Aviary in a safer (and easier to manage) environment.

Cofounder Michael Galpert says that Aviary has been popular at schools for quite a while. The appeal of Aviary’s apps are obvious — they’re free, and they offer more than enough functionality for most common media creation tasks. But Aviary.com has a few features that aren’t ideal for students. For example, it offers a section for popular creations made with its products, and some of these user-submitted contributions aren’t exactly ‘G’ rated. Likewise, students will occasionally craft an image that contains their photo, which wouldn’t really be appropriate to share publically (the default option is ‘private’, but students could activate public sharing when they shouldn’t). That’s where Aviary for Education comes in.

The new product allows teachers to create walled off Aviary ecosystems, where students can upload their projects and collaborate without worrying about having their work shared with the web at large (and they won’t be able to see Aviary projects that were done by users outside of the classroom). Teachers are given control over these virtual classrooms, and can use the system to assign projects, messages all students at once, and to introduce students to Aviary’s tutorials.

Aviary for education gives students access to Aviary’s image, vector, audio, and music editors. The product is free for now and Aviary will be rolling out its pricing plans this fall (premium options will include the ability to manage multiple classes, and more advanced tutorials and lesson plans).

Information provided by CrunchBase


Does Your iPhone 4 Have Issues?

Screen yellowing. Wonky cameras. An antenna that hates left-handers. If you take even the most cursory of glances around the Internet, it makes it seem like every iPhone 4 to come off the production line has one issue or another — but are the problems really that widespread?

Now that everyone has had at least 24 hours with the device (with an apologetic exception to all of the Best Buy/Walmart pre-orderers that left empty handed), I’m interested to know: are you having issues with your phone?

Read the rest at MobileCrunch >>


TeleNav Dreams Of GPS Navigation On Every Phone, But Must Contend With Google [Video]

Sal Dhanani, one of the co-founders of mobile GPS navigation company TeleNav, wants to “bring GPS navigation to the masses through mobile phones.” His company has been pursuing that dream since 1999 when TeleNav was founded. Today, TeleNav is bundled into millions of Sprint phones, and is also available through AT&T (including as an iPhone app) and other carriers. The company just went public in May, it has 900 employees, and its revenues last quarter were $45 million (with healthy net profits of $12.5 million).

TeleNav is riding a trend of personal navigation devices becoming cheaper and cheaper, and, in fact, doing away with the standalone devices altogether by bundling the software into more than 500 different types of cell phones. It charges for its apps, and even after splitting revenues with the carriers, its revenues have grown at a 107 percent compound annual growth rate over the last three years. Everything finally seems to be clicking for TeleNav, especially as touchscreen smartphones take over.

There is only one problem. As cheap as TeleNav’s GPS navigation service is compared to more expensive devices, it still has to increasingly compete with free. Google, Microsoft, and Nokia all offer free navigation systems on their smartphones. Google Maps Navigation on Android phones is particularly awesome, and disruptive. The day that Google announced the app, shares plunged of traditional GPS navigation device companies like Garmin and TomTom. Later on when TeleNav went public, it had to reduce its IPO price range from $11-$13 down to $8. Today, the stock is trading around $8.50.

When Dhanani came to my office recently, I asked him how does he compete with free (watch the video above). His answer was twofold. He combats free with free and with better features. For many consumers, the app is free since TeleNav comes bundled with their phone plans, such as Sprint’s “Simply Everything” plan which includes other services. TeleNav makes about $1 a month per subscriber on the bundled apps. Deutsche Bank analyst Jonathan Goldberg estimates that Sprint alone accounts for 12 or 13 million of TeleNav’s 14.5 million total subscribers.

On the iPhone, however, consumers pay $10 a month, which TeleNav splits with AT&T 50/50. The TeleNav iPhone app, which initially is a free download, is one of the only subscription apps that bills directly through AT&T. In other words, Apple doesn’t see any of the subscription revenue. “Carriers don’t like third-party brands, especially powerful brands, coming in between them and their customer relationships,” says Dhanani. TeleNav gets an estimated 55 percent of its revenues from Sprint and 34 percent from AT&T. You know who they are batting for.

TeleNav tries to stay one step ahead of the free apps with better map data (licensed from Navteq and TeleAtlas), better routes, a driver-centric UI with big buttons and speech recognition, as well as special features like turning red when you go over the speed limit or showing traffic camera feeds.

TeleNav is going through a growth spurt right now. Deutsche’s Goldberg estimates that revenues will go from $168 million this fiscal year (ending in June) to $215 million next year. It is insulated a bit by its carrier relationships (T-Mobile, China Mobile, Bell Canada, and Rogers are other partners—Verizon is partnered with competitor Networks in Motion). As long as the carriers think that bundling navigation into its phones gives them an edge, they will happily keep paying TeleNav. They also don’t like to change things around once something is working.

But over time the free navigation apps from Google, Microsoft, and Nokia will become just as good or at least good enough that consumers will see no value in paying extra. Even where the apps are bundled for free, they might choose to go with the Google or another free apps instead if it offers a killer feature that TeleNav doesn’t. For instance, if one of the free apps included crowdsourced traffic data, a feature which TeleNav currently lacks, that could be enough to make people want to switch. Of course, Dhanani says TeleNav is also considering that feature. But it’s a downhill battle all the way to $0.


Automattic Buys Up Thing Labs’ Plinky To Help Bloggers Overcome Writer’s Block

WordPress developer Automattic has acquired Plinky from Thing Labs, the creators of social media application Brizzly. Plinky essentially aims to inspire content creators. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Plinky’s technology prompts you with an intriguing question or challenge and (like a question, or a challenge) and you have to answer. Depending on the prompt, your answer could contain photos, maps, playlists and more. You can then share your Plinky answers on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and others. For example, a sample question prompted from Plinky is “What’s your favorite summer memory?”

WordPress has already added Plinky as a feature of its blogging platform to help writers get their creative juices flowing.

Thing Labs, which was founded by a former Googler who worked on WordPress rival Blogger, actually started as “Plinky” and then changed its name last summer after shifting focus to developing Brizzly.