Paper by FiftyThree is one of the most beautiful digital products on the market today.
The immersive drawing app for tablets has won Apple’s Design Award, a Crunchie, and was most recently honored at Time Inc.’s 10 NYC Startups To Watch party. So how do you build on that kind of success?
Well, according to the founders, Paper is but the first product in a series of creative tools. The team is thinking pretty seriously about what comes next, and it seems as though a stylus is where things are headed.
“The human hand has evolved to use tools,” said co-founder Georg Petchnigg. “You have wrists to do fine-detailed work, so the idea of a stylus is really interesting to us. It’s something that we’re thinking about because we want to deliver the best creation experience on tablets, so a stylus is right at the forefront of that.”
Currently, FiftyThree recommends customers on its website buy a stylus, linking to an Amazon stylus page as well as promoting the Pogo Connect.
But new products aren’t the only concern at FiftyThree. The team is also constantly thinking about how to reach a broader audience. As co-founder Julian Walker put it, “everyone out there is creative.”
That said, the company recently launched a new stream of content called Made With Paper, to help users get inspiration from other works created in the app. This is just a first step in building out more social, community-based features that will not only attract new users but keep loyal ones engaged.
Although the majority of Shazam‘s over 93 million U.S. users still use the app on their smartphones to identify, tag and share the songs they’re “hearing,” a growing chunk of that user base – around 10 million in the U.S. last year – has used Shazam to identify TV programs and ads. Today, the company aims to better serve this audience with the release of a new, universal iOS application which introduces a number of new features, including the ability to have the “shazaming” process run automatically in the background.
This feature, called “Auto-Tagging,” is the standout in today’s release. Before, users had to kick off the tagging option by tapping on the screen, then waiting while Shazam listened and then identified the sounds they were hearing, whether that was music, a TV show or a TV ad. While that’s still how things will work on the smartphone version, the updated iPad app now offers a more passive experience, designed for those using the app as a second screen while watching TV.
Notably, the feature will not be switched on by default.
Instead, after downloading the updated version, users will be walked through a brief tutorial that explains what Auto-Tagging is all about, then allowing users to switch it on, if desired. If they do so, the app will run in the background, listening for anything it can identify, and loading those items into a carousel at the top of its homescreen.
From here, users can interact with the content much as before – sharing it on social media, buying the song, show or movie from iTunes or Amazon, or in the case of TV shows, learning more about the cast and episode, viewing a playlist of songs in the broadcast, or heading off to sites like Wikipedia, IMDb, the official website and/or store, and more.
Some TV shows will work continue to work with the company to offer enhanced experiences, like “American Idol” had done in the past, and “The Voice” is doing now. These experiences are generally offered to TV show producers for free, with the stipulation that they have to promote Shazam on air.
However, the Fiat Brand and Fox Broadcasting Company are sponsoring the new app for the first three months after today’s debut, which is a paid relationship.
“Auto-tagging sets us apart from the industry,” explains Shazam’s EVP of Marketing, David Jones of the app’s big new feature. “The whole idea is that Shazam was already lightning fast and couldn’t be easier – it was press one button and, in a couple of seconds, you got the answers. We just one-upped ourselves. We got rid of that step,” he adds.
The company started working with television content as far back as 2010, and slowly began to build up its database with several dozen TV shows. It enabled “Shazaming” of many major events, including the Grammys, Super Bowl, and MLB games. Then, in September 2012, Shazam announced the app could now tag any show on any channel.
Today, the app supports 160 channels of live or DVR’d TV, including all nationwide programming and most nationwide TV ads as well – even the ones which have not been Shazam-optimized by those paying to run ad campaigns. To date, over 150 brands have run over 250 TV ad campaigns, leading to a “double-digit millions” revenue stream run rate, that is “doubling every quarter,” says Jones. “It’s a ‘green field’ situation. We can grow this as fast as we can move,” he says.
Meanwhile, he notes his company’s second screen competitors are struggling to get a couple of million downloads. (To be clear, he means apps used to ID content on TV. SoundHound is a Shazam competitor with over 100 million users, but its focus is on music.)
Though auto-tagging is the biggest of today’s new features, the updated app will also offer a revamped user experience on iPad which includes a way to view songs and TV shows trending around the U.S., as well as popular songs around the world. The social features which previously let users see what their friends are tagging so they could comment on that, are also now available on iPad, as are the full screen “LyricPlay” lyrics for music.
And Shazam has extended its relationship with Rdio, now allowing subscribers to hear a song in its entirety, instead of just a preview. Users can also sign up for trials, and Shazam will earn affiliate income for those who convert to paying customers. Jones declined to go into the details of the two companies’ specific deal, here, though.
With now over 300 million users worldwide, 93 million in the U.S, plus $300 million in music sales last year, and double-digits millions more in TV ad sales, the company is leading the pack of listening companions and second screen apps today. The updated iOS app will help it progress even further, and an Android tablet app is now in the works, as well.
Jawfish Games, a Seattle-based startup run by a former professional poker player and the engineering team that built the Fult Tilt Poker site, launched a gaming platform that can host more than 100,000 simultaneous players in real-time tournaments across iOS, Android and the web.
While asynchronous, turn-based games have done well on mobile platforms and Facebook over the last five years, pure, real-time multiplayer games haven’t caught on as quickly partially because data connections haven’t been fast enough and because a game developer would need a critical mass of players to match them synchronously.
But Jawfish, which has raised $3.65 million in funding from firms like Founders Fund’s angel fund, Right Side Capital and other angels, says it has built a platform to do just that. Their platform can support more than 100,000 simultaneous players and host 1 million tournaments for less than $10 in bandwidth.
They initially came out with a few games in partnership with Seattle’s Big Fish Games, but now they’re bringing out more of their own titles.
Because Jawfish’s CEO Phil Gordon is a championship professional poker career who has hosted The World Series of Poker and published five books on the game, the company is doing a poker game (of course). The poker game is designed to have the look and feel of a broadcasted game with Gordon’s running commentary throughout play.
They’ve also launched a basic word search game, called Jawfish Words, that lets players compete on the getting the highest scores, finding the longest words or the most diagonals. There more obscure goals too, like finding the most words with a single vowel. They launched that game last month through a partnership with Amazon. The company has pointed out some promising stats: the average player spends 21 minutes and plays 10.7 tournaments a day. Each tournament is about 60 to 90 seconds long.
They plan to building out a suite of classic games, from casual to casino titles that make use of the platform. “Basically what we’re looking to do is to take games that people know and love and reinvent them for multiplayer real-time tournaments,” Gordon said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do across a wide spectrum of games.”
While Jawfish hasn’t opened its platform up to third-party developers, there are other gaming networks that add multi-player mode to indie titles that are blowing up. Nextpeer, an Israeli startup, went from having just a few games in its network to well over 1,000 developers in the last several months.
“Barring a top 10-kind of franchise wanting to use our platform for multiplayer mode, it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re going to work with other studios,” Gordon said. “Certainly not for anything but the top tier. We know that our platform is the only one of its kind in the world and we think that it’s in our interest to keep the platform close to the vest and develop our own games.”
No, we still don’t have any word from Amazon on where it stands with a smartphone, but it’s definitely making its mobile ambitions clear anyway. Today, the e-commerce giant took two more steps in its strategy to scale up its Kindle Fire tablet business. It announced that it will now sell the two higher-end versions of the device, the Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, in 170 countries. And it also said that its Amazon Appstore will now be available in 200 countries.
Pre-orders in 170 countries begins today with the first models shipping out June 13, priced at the local equivalents of $284 for the 8.9″ model and $214 for the 7″ model.
Up to now, the Android-based Appstore, which works both on Amazon’s Fire tablet range but also other Android devices, has only been live in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, China and Japan, with Brazil next in line. It makes sense that Amazon will have opened it up at the same time as it’s ramping up its Fire tablet distribution.
“We are thrilled to be expanding the reach of our global app distribution to nearly 200 countries,” said Mike George, VP of Apps and Games at Amazon, in a statement. “By further expanding the distribution of apps to millions of customers around the world, we are continuing to make it easy for customers to enjoy their Amazon apps on Kindle Fire and any Android device.”
Amazon will be kicking off with a couple of free games — a tradition of Amazon’s when it opens up a new store front to focus on some bestsellers. In this case, it will be “Fruit Ninja” and “Cut the Rope: Experiments,” which will be free respectively on May 23 and May 24.
On a more long-tail note, it’s important for Amazon to make its Appstore as globally available as possible as a way of enticing more developers to the platform. In addition to giving them the promise of wide audiences, Amazon has also turned on features like in-app payments, subscriptions and even its own virtual currency, Amazon Coins, to give developers more flexibility in how they make money on its plaform (and, taking a page from Apple’s book, tie them and users further into the Amazon ecosystem in the process). It comes also on the heels of the company previewing the global Appstore availability in April, when it began to invite developers to start submitting their apps.
The company, as usual with Amazon, has remained tight-lipped on how many tablets it has sold since launching the Kindle Fire range in 2011. Today, however, Dave Limp, VP, Amazon Kindle, noted that the Kindle Fire HD (the 7″ model) has been the company’s “#1 best-selling item in the world” since being launched.
Although the HD is available with an optional LTE component in the U.S. it looks like this rollout is WiFi-only: to improve range and service, it comes with dual-band Wi-Fi capability for both 2.4 GHz network and 5 GHz network services. As with other Kindle Fire products, the two models going on sale today will work with Amazon’s existing and wide range of content, including apps, films, TV, games and 300+ books “exclusive to the Kindle Store.”
The move comes two months after Amazon dropped the price on the bigger two tablets, with an 8.9″ screen, to $269. At that time, it started selling it in Europe and Japan.
To date, Amazon has been selling the two HD tablets in the U.S., UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. For a company like Amazon, which operates on a basis of competition-beating prices and low margins, it’s important for it to add as much scale as it can to its operation, so expanding Fire HD sales globally is an essential part of that strategy.
A brain drain at a big tech company is never a good thing, and when a lot of that departing talent consists of high-level execs moving on in rapid succession it’s bound to look like curtains to outside observers. That appears to be the case at HTC, which is losing a lot of senior execs according to multiple reports today from The Verge, CNET and Engadget, and a source has pointed us to yet another recent high profile departure.
We’ve learned at TechCrunch that HTC Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Greg Fisher departed the company just a few short months ago to Amazon. Fisher is among a growing list of known execs leaving HTC, including people on both the product and marketing sides of the equation. What we’re hearing suggests that the company is facing a lot of internal turmoil and politics, which is frustrating employees across the board.
The Verge reported earlier today that HTC’s Chief Product Office Kouji Kodera has departed as of last week, which is a considerable staff shift given that Kodera probably spearheaded HTC’s recent line of critically well-received devices, including the HTC One X and this year’s HTC One. The company has also seen the departure of Global Communications VP Jason Gordon, Global Retail Marketing Manager Rebecca Rowland, digital marketing chief John Starkweather and Eric Lin, manager of product strategy with the past three months.
And when it rains it pours, as HTC Asia CEO Lennard Hoornik confirmed to have left today, and Elizabeth Griffin, the Head of Global Digital Service for the Taiwan-based smartphone maker also reportedly hopping into the lifeboat in favor of a position at Nintendo (out of the frying pan and into the fire?).
This sizeable outpouring of talent comes at a crucial juncture for HTC, as it has just launched the HTC One, a flagship that CEO Peter Chou has literally staked his job upon. Chou so far seems to be secure in his position at the company, but if this trend of executive departures, he could soon wind up on his own at the top. Chou is apparently not the man people would like to have in charge, however, as The Verge reports that he and his tendency to make snap decisions are what’s behind this outbound tide of senior staff.
The HTC One is reportedly selling at a decent pace after a slow start, but HTC’s other sizeable bet, the First which comes pre-loaded with Facebook Home, looks to be on life support at best, if not entirely discontinued already.
If HTC is bleeding from the head, it’s possible it’s bleeding from the body, too. We’ve seen evidence to suggest that could be the case in the past, and we’ve also heard that it’s not just senior people who are looking towards greener pastures. It’s unlikely that we’ve seen the end of these leavings, either, so in the meantime we’ll be watching to see who’s next into the lifeboats.