Lets say you’ve come up with a brilliant idea for some shiny new piece of hardware. You brush up your coding chops, scratch out a design, and set out to build a prototype.
First, you’ll need a programmable chip to act as the brain. Because of the relatively gentle learning curve and friendly community, you go with the Arduino. The problem: your hardware idea requires WiFi.
Until now, that’s actually been a pretty complicated issue.
It’s not that Arduinos couldn’t do WiFi before — it’s just always been a bit of a pain. You had two main options, neither of them perfect:
- You could buy a WiFi shield. “Shields” are optional attachments built for the Arduino to give them more functionality, like sound playback/recording, ethernet, or WiFi. The downside here: WiFi shields are expensive (2-3x the cost of the Arduino itself), bulky, and often tough to find in a pinch.
- You could buy a “clone” board with WiFi built-in. Clones are unofficial Arduinos built by third parties. The problem there: if something went wrong, you’d have to hope someone in the community was familiar with whatever clone board you opted to use.
At this weekend’s Maker Faire, the company announced the Arduino Yún (with Yún being Chinese for “cloud” and English for “Yeah, most people are probably just going to type Yun without the fancy ú.”), the first official Arduino to come with WiFi functionality built-in out of the box.
At its core, the Yún is actually part traditional Arduino and part Linux system. The Arduino handles all of the functionality it traditionally would — running your code, reading from sensors, etc — while an itty-bitty Linux-powered chip acts as both a WiFi receiver and transmitter, handling all of the HTTP gruntwork needed to get your hardware project online. Plus: you can reprogram the Arduino Yún over WiFi, no USB cable required.
Lost in geek-speak here? Wondering what all of this means to you? Basically, one of the most popular platforms for DIY hardware projects has just made it a whole lot easier to get said projects connected to the Internet. Want a coffee maker that starts brewing 30 minutes before Google Calendar says you’ve got guests coming over? Sure, why not. Want an alarm that automatically donates money from your PayPal when you hit the snooze button? Totally doable.
Just this week, a project focused on building a high-quality, WiFi-enabled, Arduino-compatible board raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter. That’s over 30x their initial goal of $10,000, and they’ve still got nearly 2 weeks left. There’s definitely a lot of interest in such a thing.
The Yún should start shipping at the end of June, and will cost about $69. That’s about twice the cost of the WiFi-less Arduinos available today, but still significantly cheaper (and more compact) than buying both an Arduino and an add-on WiFi-shield.
Apple has recently taken action against apps that violate clause 2.25 of its App Review Guidelines according to PocketGamer, a rule that says no app should replicate functionality of the App Store in order to promote or offer for purchase apps other than your own.
The rules recently saw two high-profile app removals, including AppGratis and AppShopper (which subsequently returned after changes were made) but more could follow as Apple is not also reportedly rejecting apps that replication App Store search features, as well as social network sharing of app recommendations.
A rejection supplied to PocketGamer by a developer shows Apple citing apps that “include filtering, bookmarking, searching or sharing recommendations” as not being distinct enough from the App Store itself to pass muster with Apple. Apple doesn’t include provisions around filtering, bookmarking, searching or sharing in the actual wording of clause 2.25 itself, but it was apparently spelled out pretty clearly in the email.
The app developer which spoke to PocketGamer wished to remain anonymous, which is probably because it hopes to work to get its app back in the store. AppShopper managed to secure a return after repurposing its app as more of a social network around mobile software than a pure app recommendation and discovery tool.
The extension of the guidelines to include a much more broad category of apps, including ones that do little but let users share recommendations with friends might seem a little unusual coming from Apple, since these fuel its own app economy. But there are multiple problems with giving developers free rein to build their own App Store clones and complimentary tools: Apple potentially loses control of the shopping experience and confuses customers; charts and ranking systems become subject to outside forces with different motivations other than surfacing the best content; social recommendations run the risk of looking like spam to users instead of something worthwhile.
Running a store of any kind well depends upon customers trusting you, and feeling that you won’t abuse that trust. It’s true that maintaining an affiliate network helps Apple drive app sales, but it has to be very careful that that network stays fair of consumer expectations, and guideline 2.25 is a way to help Apple keep companies toeing that line.
In other words, it’s a finesse tool, not a bludgeoning instrument, and while we’ll probably see more apps fall, this is probably about getting developers to focus where Apple needs them to be rather than about implementing a blanket ban.
If email is first in line for disruption, messaging has to be second. A new company launching out of TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 has a fresh take on our most favoritest form of communication.
Talkz asks you to stop typing and start talking. Or type. Or doodle. Or share music. Really, anything you want. “We’re combining the benefits of SMS and Voice Messaging/Push-to-Talk in one”, says founder Heath Ahrens.
It’s a messaging app that offers every type of sharing under the sun, but the really exciting part is voice messaging. Ahrens says, “by combining voice and text in every message, we are providing a faster, more convenient messaging experience”.
In every message sent on Talkz, both text and voice is displayed. Of course, you can choose to use your own voice recording, or you can choose to use a celebrity voice clone to get your message across. You can send this to one friend, multiple friends, or share your Talkz on your social networks.
At launch, the only available celebrity voice clones are Obama, George W. Bush, and Romney, but the team is working to build that out.
Obviously, it’s easy to put both voice and text into a message when you speak your message — all it takes is some solid voice-to-text transcription. But how does Talkz replicate your voice when you type out a message instead of voice recording it?
Talkz actually starts to learn your voice over time. After a while, you’ll be able to type out a message and Talkz will not only send the text but send a clone of your own voice speaking that message to the recipient. It’s wild.
But voice and text aren’t the only things we share in messages. We send links, pictures, song suggestions, videos, and everything else under the sun. Talkz is ready for that, offering options to send music previews through iTunes (which link direct to the iTunes store), doodles, and even share your location.
You can also send pictures, with options to search the web, send the last photo taken, take the picture on the spot, or choose one from your library. Oh, and if that weren’t enough, users have the option to group chat as well.
Overall, it seems to be one of the most complete messaging apps available, but it also marks an important shift in the way we communicate. With the explosion of text messaging, many believe voice communication is on the way out. But when you think about efficiency in communication, voice is the fastest way to transfer information.
But voice isn’t always convenient. With Talkz, you always have the option of a reliable voice-powered conversation, with the fall-back alternative of text available at any time.
So how will Talkz make money?
“We believe Voice Cloning will do for celebrities what ringtones did for music labels,” said Ahrens. “We are already in conversations with numerous celebrities and brands to create Voice Clones, in addition to Personal and Presidential Voice Clones already available in the app. We are selling these Voice Clones as in-app purchases within Talkz or as branded advertising.”
The app is available now in the App Store, with an Android version in the works.
Q: The thing that separates apps in this space isn’t features. It’s about being viral. What do you have to differentiate and pick up user?
A: We had one of the best applications on BlackBerry years ago. Our core technology background is in speech and text-to-sppech, so messaging is much easier for us than speech.
Q: What’s to stop Voxer from doing this?
A: If it was easy to do Voxer would already have speech. We team with a company called iSpeech, and Voxer would have to partner with a Nuance or someone to do it. And our voice clone technology is done by no one but iSpeech, with whom we have an exclusive partnership.
Q: I can’t predict the success of the messaging space. You just have to launch it and see what happens. For every one that’s successful there are fifty at the bottom of the App Store.
A: We’re working on celebrity voices model to kickstart usage. These celebrities get 30 percent of any in-app purchase so they have an incentive as well.
Q: Do you have interest with celebrities yet.
A: We’re in talks with them and they’re very interested.
Q: How much traction do you have so far.
A: It’s day one. We saw 2,000 downloads after seeding 50 people with the app.
A: We have relationships with RIM and Microsoft and other app stores will be featuring this application.
Q: Do you have a strategy of pulling away users of other messaging apps?
A: One of the best things about Talkz is that you don’t need the app to receive messages. So it’s instantly viral, even if you’re a user of another messaging app.
The daily deals hype around Groupon, LivingSocial and all of their clones has markedly cooled down over the last few months, but that isn’t stopping Microsoft from launching Bing Offers, a new local deals aggregator for the U.S. market, today. The odd thing about this launch is that Bing previously offered a very similar feature called Bing Deals since 2011 – a service that now seems to be gone.
As a Microsoft spokesperson told me, Bing Deals went through “a number of iterations” over the years, and Bing Offers is essentially the next version of Bing Deals. As far as I can see, Bing Deals’ emphasis was on aggregating the best deals from across the web. Bing Offers puts its focus more on local deals, but it also features a number of national offers, as well.
Bing Offers, the company says, will aggregate deals from “a broad set of partners, including many of the leading local deal providers.” Microsoft hasn’t made a full list of partners available, but I’m seeing offers from LivingSocial, Groupon (via Yipit), Spotted Fox, DoubleTakeDeals and a number of other smaller providers.
The service features the same kind of flat design that’s now the hallmark of most of Microsoft’s products and as a daily deals aggregator, it’s actually quite nice. You can browse offers by categories (food, activities, health and fitness, etc.) and, as Microsoft stresses, “the Bing Offers experience works seamlessly across tablets, mobile devices, and PCs, so you can access great deals regardless of where you are.”
Sorted, the UK startup that originally soft-launched as a reverse marketplace for local jobs akin to TaskRabbit in the U.S. (or a number of local “clones”, such as Sooqini, and TaskPandas), has relaunched today after rejigging its model.
Instead of users having to post what is essentially a classified ad for each job they want done, and then wait for a response, the new site turns the user-path on its head by having the task-doers (or “Sorters”, of which there are already 12,000 signed up) do the upfront work by creating a detailed and structured profile which forms the basis for matching the task-doers with those searching for a specific task to be carried out.
There are 9 categories of task: “Admin”, “Cleaning”, “Cooking”, “Delivery”, “DIY”, “Dog Walking”, “Driving”, “Gardening”, “Manual Labour”, and “Other”. The latter will work like the original model, enabling users to post bespoke tasks that they want carrying out, which are then seen by Sorters who have specified that they are willing to go off the beaten track, such as “dress up as a gorilla and terrify my friends”. Or presumably anything legal and safe.
The end result is a service that solves the original problem — finding local, casual labour — but with a very different user experience, and one that doesn’t have the customer re-invent the wheel every time they want to commission a task to be carried out.
“We basically realised that a reverse marketplace model won’t work in the UK,” says James Pursey. “The British public have so many trust issues and putting them in a scenario of having to be pitched by Sorters is counter intuitive. When somebody is looking for a supplier they typically ask their networks, and failing that they turn to Google, call up a supplier and see if they’re available. They don’t say ‘hey, why should I trust you’, and they definitely don’t send a message through a contact form, like creating a task, and wait for someone to get back to them.”
Instead, Pursey thinks a user interface more akin to Airbnb, which emphasises search and large profiles, will work better. “You land on a beautifully designed page with a search box in the middle asking you to detail your task. Sorted then applies your task needs as filters to its Sorter database and returns the best people for your needs.”
What you end up seeing is a detailed profile page for each result, which includes links to a Sorter’s presence on social networks, and a list of their rates and tasks. You then book and/or correspond with your chosen Sorter. And, as before, Sorted holds the payment until you confirm that the job is completed.