Torch Browser Passes 10 Million Monthly Active Users, Adds Download Accelerator, Updates Torch Music Service
The world of alternative browsers is littered with also-rans like Rockmelt, but there are also companies that have managed to make a name for themselves in the shadow of Microsoft, Mozilla and Google. One example of this is Maxthon, but another browser that’s quietly gaining a following is Torch, which the company tells us just passed 10 million monthly active users on Mac and Windows after about year on the market.
Torch just launched the latest version of its Chromium-based browser, which now includes a download accelerator and a large update to the Torch Music service, which uses YouTube and Vevo as the basis of its music catalog. Torch Music now offers customized recommendations based on your listening history, location and your Facebook friends’ tastes. Currently, the service has about 5 million songs in its database.
While Torch previously included a version of this service, it has now integrated this service deeper into its user interface with the help of a widget that allows you to search, pause and skip songs.
Torch now also features a built-in download accelerator. While download accelerators were very popular in the early days of (slow) broadband, today’s fast and stable connections have mostly pushed them aside, and the vast majority of Internet users probably doesn’t even remember them. There are some advantages to using a download accelerator, however, especially if you are on a slow or unreliable connection.
The browser also features a built-in BitTorrent client and a media grabber for downloading embedded video files. It also features a smart drag-and-drop-activated search and sharing tool that pops up large boxes for sharing links to services like Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest and for initiating searches on Google Search, Wikipedia and other services.
Torch Browser only launched on the Mac about a month ago, so most of its users are currently on Windows, the company tells us. If you’re currently a Chrome user and interested in the browser’s features, switching is about as easy as it gets, as Torch just imports all your bookmarks. As it’s based on Chromium, all of the usual Chrome extensions and apps should also work, though Torch seems to be about a generation behind Google’s own release cycle.
Torch is a free and unique software that offers you powerful browsing together with built-in media downloading and sharing features.
Torch Browser is based on the Chromium technology platform, giving it fast browsing capabilities. With Torch, you can share sites you like, download torrents, accelerate downloads and grab online media – all directly from the browser. Everything you need is a just click away with Torch, so you don’t have to use or download additional programs and tools.
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Amazon’s New Social Gifting Service “Amazon Birthday Gift” Leverages Facebook, Competes With Facebook’s Own Gifts
Stealing a page right out of a startup called Aggregift’s playbook, Amazon today launched a new feature called “Amazon Birthday Gift,” which allows a group of Facebook friends to go in on an Amazon.com Gift Card together. That gift isn’t posted to the recipients’ Facebook Timeline until their big day arrives.
To get started with the service, a user buys an Amazon.com gift card, then invites other mutual friends to donate using the Birthday Gift website here. When the birthday arrives, the recipient is tagged in a Facebook Timeline wall post, receiving the digital card and everyone’s birthday greetings.
The new addition is a further expansion of Amazon’s deepening integration with Facebook, as the company last December launched a “Friends and Family Gifting” feature just ahead of the holidays to generate Facebook-enabled gift suggestions, send out reminders, and enable gift list sharing via both email and social networks. Online competitor Walmart, too, had previously launched a similar Facebook-based gift recommendation service in 2011, which was added to the Walmart.com site ahead of the 2012 holiday season.
Social gifting is still very much in the experimental phase, despite the support from e-commerce giants like Walmart, Amazon and others. For instance, Facebook has also dabbled in this area with the fall 2012 debut of Facebook Gifts (built on top of former social gifting startup Karma). The service is meant to tie into one of Facebook’s most regular draws — its birthday reminders. The idea is that users could visit the site, and in addition to wishing their friend “happy birthday,” they could also add a gift to accompany that message. The social network offers gifts like iTunes digital Gift Cards and physical goods, and it even launched its own self-branded “Facebook Card” earlier this year.
However, even with Facebook’s broad reach, its Gifts service has been struggling to generate serious revenue, and certainly falling short of earlier projections and estimations regarding its potential. Meanwhile, some startups like Sincerely (with Sesame) and recently funded Wrapp, carry on in this space, while others head off in new directions. Giftly, for instance, exited to GiftCards.com this March, while Boomerang has turned its focus to the B2B market instead in recent months.
That being said, Amazon still has a shot at winning the social gifting space with its new Amazon Birthday Gift feature, since it can be argued that users don’t associate Facebook’s brand with spending or shopping the way they do with Amazon. (See also: various f-commerce struggles). Plus, Amazon’s cards are the go-to for the “generic” gift option, which people buy when they don’t know what to get, or when they need something last minute.
However, the new service is still limited today to smaller gift amounts ($1, $5, $10 and $25), which can be a challenge for those attempting to raise funds for a larger present like an electronics purchase. Plus, being tied only to birthdays eliminates the big holiday, graduation or wedding presents users may want to go in on together. Often these larger presents are led by a close family member or friend who puts in a big chunk of change, to which others pile on. Not supporting these other types of gifting narrows the already potentially narrow market for digital, social gifting even further.
Amazon Birthday Gift is live now here for interested users.
Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN), is a leading global Internet company and one of the most trafficked Internet retail destinations worldwide.
Amazon is one of the first companies to sell products deep into the long tail by housing them in numerous warehouses and distributing products from many partner companies. Amazon directly sells or acts as a platform for the sale of a broad range of products. These include books, music, videos, consumer electronics, clothing and household products. The majority of Amazon’s…
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At the end of last year, Google introduced a new design for some local search results on tablets that put a carousel with the top results at the top of the page. Today, it’s bringing this design to the desktop, too. This new feature can be triggered by searches for restaurants, bars and other local places, Google says, and it’s currently rolling out in English in the U.S. and should roll out for other languages in the future.
A typical search to see this feature would be something like “Mexican restaurants in nyc.” Google will then put the carousel at the top of the page, including a photo, the standard Zagat ratings, price class and cuisine. A click on these places will bring up their Google+ Local sites with more information.
Users can click on an arrow in the right to see more places and they can use the map in the sidebar to zoom in and the carousel will automatically restrict your searches to this specific area.
Google, of course, also uses a similar design for some of its Knowledge Graph results. As a number of bloggers noticed recently, these Knowledge Graph carousel results seem to be popping up more frequently now than ever before. Given today’s addition of the local search carousel, chances are that Google’s stats show that this is a very effective way of presenting search results. I wouldn’t be surprised if the company continued to expand its use of this design element for other kinds of queries in the near future.
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Waze’s big exit to Google proved one thing: if companies can harness the power of the crowd to deliver real-time, granular data, big tech corporations will be watching them closely as potential acquisition targets. There’s another category ripe for the picking, even if the problem being solved isn’t as apparent or immediately useful as traffic and navigation data: weather. A few apps are trying to harness the crowd to provide accurate, ground-level forecasts and conditions, and they’re catching on with consumers, too.
Montreal-based startup SkyMotion is one such firm, and it recently launched its 4.0 update, which not only harnesses crowdsourced weather reports, but also allows other businesses to plug into that data using a public API, to integrate real-time reporting data from SkyMotion’s users into their own products. That provides an up-to-the-minute forecast, one that probably won’t show you weather conditions completely dissimilar from the ones you’re actually feeling outside at any given moment, as can still be the case with apps that pull weather data only from specific weather monitoring stations.
SkyMotion has had considerable success harnessing the crowd to populate its real-time forecasts, with over 200,000 people currently submitting observations according to the company. Over 50 percent of those who download the app actually keep it and use it, and 65 percent of all users are active between 15 and 200 times per month. The company is now close to reaching 500,000 total downloads, and anticipates being well over 1 million by the end of the year should the pace remain near its current rate.
SkyMotion isn’t alone in crowdsourcing weather data. There’s also Weddar, the “people-powered” weather service and mobile app that encourages location-based reporting with a very human element, since it asks people how conditions generally feel on the ground, instead of seeking out specifics. The Weddar team, which is based in Portugal, launched its app back in April 2011, and where once you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone using it outside of its home market, now you’ll probably see results just about anywhere you open it up.
Crowsourced weather data could appeal to big tech companies for the same reason that crowdsourced data does; it greatly improves the quality of consumer-facing products. But it also offers a lot more besides, by providing services that can be combined with other local data including maps and traffic, as well as shopping and advertising information, to give a much more accurate, much more complete snapshot of any given location at any given time. Weather affects everything from the average user’s day planning, to marketing, to budgeting, and companies that are improving the quality of that data will no doubt be on the radar of anyone who makes those things its concern.
- SKY MOTION
Sky Motion Research Inc. is a startup company based in Montreal, Canada, that develops highly accurate, hyperlocal and very-short-term weather forecasting technologies.
Weddar is the “people-powered” weather service and mobile app that encourages location-based reporting with a very human element.
It asks people how conditions generally feel on the ground, instead of seeking out specifics, and reports responses to its users.
The Weddar team, which is based in Portugal, launched its app back in April 2011.
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Hardware is so hot right now. So hot, in fact, that another European hardware startup is formulating an attack on the smartphone hardware space — joining the likes of Finland’s Jolla and Spain’s Geeksphone to have a go at handset making. The newest comer stepping in with a plan to shake up the “status quo” is called Kazam: a startup co-founded by a pair of former U.K. HTC execs, Michael Coombes and James Atkins.
Coombes, who spent just over a year and a half as a U.K. head of sales for HTC, according to his LinkedIn, is Kazam’s CEO. Prior to HTC he apparently worked for mobile and telecoms companies including Nokia and Vodafone. While Atkins, Kazam’s CMO, spent just over a year as HTC’s head of marketing for U.K./Ireland, and has previously worked in U.K. marketing roles for freesat, LG and Panasonic. The pair’s professional network is clearly tied tightly to the local market, hence, presumably, Kazam’s focus on Europe first.
“Kazam will focus on Europe at the outset,” Atkins tells TechCrunch via email, adding with some typical marketingspeak embellishment: “We are currently establishing a network of regional sales and marketing offices to ensure we deliver outstanding products and customer service.” The startup has a U.K. base in Mayfair, London.
Details of how exactly Kazam plans to assault the Samsung and Apple smartphone duopoly were not forthcoming when I asked. Atkins declined to answer the bulk of my questions — including such specifics as whether Kazam’s planned smartphones will run Android and be skinned with a custom UI or keep the experience familiarly stock. Instead, he trotted out a repeated PR mantra: “Today we are just announcing that the Kazam brand is here, for the rest you will have to wait and see.”
It’s notable that this startup has already engaged a PR company (Noire) — and talks about creating a mobile brand — even before having a great deal to talk about. Which does serve to underline how smartphones have become a game of who can shout the loudest. A game of brash tones (as I have previously described it).
What did Atkins say? Not a whole lot. He declined to reveal how much funding Kazam is backed by at this point, or whether it is currently looking to raise a round. He did at least confirm it has backers, and that those backers have links into Asian mobile manufacturing companies — which suggests it’s following Jolla’s manufacturing playbook.
“Kazam Mobile has been set up by a group of private equity investors, who have previously launched and operated successful mobile telecommunications companies and technology businesses. Some of their current investments include NF Technology Limited, an RD company specialising in developing and customising mobile phone devices and tablets and Nichefinder (S’pore) PTE Limited, a proven technology procurement and supply company,” he told TechCrunch.
He also confirmed Kazam’s plan is to launch “a range of smartphones at different prices point/specs” later this year. Asked whether it will look at other types of mobile devices, such as tablets, he said only that its initial focus is on smartphones. He added that he and Coombes left their roles at HTC earlier this year “with the desire to build a new brand that really stands out in the mobile space”.
He also declined to be drawn on the differentiation question but in Kazam’s inaugural press release today Coombes said: “We believe your smartphone is a digital reflection of who you are, and since we are all different, it’s important that we don’t adopt a one size fits all approach. Kazam’s dynamic structure and focus on local markets means we can react quickly to the ever evolving and diverging needs of today’s consumer. We aim to provide quality smartphones that are accessible to everyone.”
The release also includes a statement from Atkins hinting that aftersales service might be how Kazam attempts to stand out in a crowded market: “There is a real opportunity for a new mobile brand to disrupt the status quo. We are passionate about delivering a truly positive mobile experience that doesn’t just stop once you’ve bought the phone. Kazam is about stunning design, robust hardware and intuitive technology, underpinned by outstanding customer service.”
Further details about exactly what kind of customer service opportunity Kazam reckons it has identified were not forthcoming.
The size of Kazam’s team at this point is just Atkins and Coombes — a few more if you count the hired help from their external PR company. But Atkins also said the startup has already “established an RD centre”. Hopefully with some staff in it, but presumably no permanent headcount yet.
Should Kazam get off the ground with its grand status quo shaking plan it will need to significantly boost its body count — if only to staff the network of regional sales and marketing offices it is currently establishing. It will also need to make decent smartphone hardware — hardware that’s worth shouting about. Whether it will be able to deliver that is clearly something to file under “wait and see”.
Asked how a startup with inevitably bounded resources can succeed in such a fiercely competitive space — when veteran players such as HTC are having such a tough time standing out despite making cracking handsets like the HTC One — Atkins’ said only: “The mobile market whilst competitive, seems to have stagnated.”
Stagnation is one word for it. Saturation is another. Smartphone hardware and software has achieved a very high quality bar, with Android OEMs like Samsung pushing high-end features lower and lower down the price-point range to pull up the capabilities of mid- and even budget handsets. This has resulted in a surfeit of great phones, across a very broad spectrum of price-points. Which means precious little room for anyone new to elbow in. Or stand out.
So there are huge question marks over any startup entering such a fiercely competitive space, especially with so many better resourced former mobile giants continuing to struggle. Disruption often starts small but in a market so beholden to carriers, where the bulk of phones sales occur, it’s especially hard for an upstart to get traction. Carriers tend to be risk averse and have established distribution partnerships and (incentivised) relationships with the smartphone giants so have disincentives to push anything too new. Going it alone with online retail distribution is the alternative, but that route requires a sizeable marketing budget to even get noticed.
Creating handsets for an underserved niche may be one way to carve out a business, as Geeksphone has been. Securing carrier distribution agreements to carry your hardware is another strategy, as Jolla has with Finland’s DNA. For now, it’s unclear whether Kazam has any similar moves up its sleeve, but it will certainly be hoping it has enough local telco connections — and financial backing — to give it a regional chance of inching in. To say it has its work cut out to make any kind of impact is an understatement.
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It’s that time of the year again for us nerds to infiltrate Sand Hill Road, let loose, and enjoy some good food and libations. We’ve been hosting the TechCrunch summer party with VC firm August Capital since 2006. This year, as in years past, we’ll be partying on August Capital’s beautiful, sunny Sand Hill balcony on Friday, July 26. The party starts at 5:30 p.m. and goes til 9:00 p.m.
Tickets, which you can buy here, are $80 each and include drinks and food. We also have a number of sponsorship opportunities available and inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
TechCrunch parties have a history of being the place you want to meet your future investor, acquirer or co-founder. Case in point, back when TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington used to hold these ragers in his Atherton back yard; Box founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith met one of their first investors, DFJ. In 2010, we spotted 500 Startups’ Dave McClure writing a check to then stealthy startup Tello (which was recently bought by Urban Airship in December) at the August Capital party.
Hope to see you all there this year!!
About the 8th Annual Summer Party at August Capital
- July 26, 5:30 – 9:00 pm
- 2480 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park CA 94025
- Get Tickets here, $80 based on availability. Tickets will be released in batches. Stay tuned to TechCrunch for releases as they sell out quickly.
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Adobe’s Q2 Earnings Beat Street With $1.011B In Revenue, $0.36 EPS, 700K Paying Creative Cloud Subscribers
Adobe just reported earnings for its second financial quarter of 2013. The company reported revenue of $1.011 billion and non-GAAP operating income of $247.3 for an earnings per share of $0.36 (though diluted GAAP earnings were only $0.15). That’s a little bit better than most analysts expected, especially with respect to the company’s earnings per share.
The Wall Street consensus was that Adobe would report revenue of about $1.01 billion and earnings per share of $0.34. These numbers, it’s worth noting, are very much in line with Adobe’s last quarter, when the company announced revenue of $1.01 billion and earnings per share of $0.35. In the year-ago quarter, however, Adobe still reported revenue of $1.12 billion.
“Our Q2 results reflect our leadership position in Digital Media and Digital Marketing,” said Shantanu Narayen, Adobe’s president and chief executive officer a canned statement today. “Creative Cloud is revolutionizing the creative process, and Adobe Marketing Cloud is quickly becoming the platform of choice for the world’s leading brands, advertising agencies and media companies.”
Adobe is clearly betting the company on its Creative Cloud subscription service, which is set to almost completely replace the company’s offering of shrink-wrapped software. Just yesterday, Adobe launched its latest offering of all of its major Creative Cloud apps, and today, the company announced that Creative Cloud now has over 700,000 subscribers. That’s up from 479,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2013. The vast majority (92 percent) of its subscribers, Adobe says, are on its annual plan (vs. paying a slightly higher fee for a month-to-month subscription).
Adobe itself expects to hit over 1.25 million Creative Cloud subscribers by the end of the year and a number of analysts believe this is actually a very conservative number.
Besides Creative Cloud, Adobe’s second main group of services is its Marketing Cloud, which includes services for social marketing, media optimization, analytics, testing and targeting. Last quarter, Marketing Cloud achieved quarterly revenue of $215.4 million, a 20 percent year-over-year increase. This time around, Adobe reported Marketing Cloud revenue of $229.9 million.
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