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Pebble 2.3 For Android Brings Interactive Notifications, Will Work With Android Wear-Ready Apps


Pebble’s upcoming Android software release will introduce support for directly replying to messages and performing other actions right from the watch based on inbound notifications. The 2.3 software update effectively makes Pebble compatible with apps that have built-in support for Android Wear notifications, giving them a way to benefit from the explosion of app development interest in Google’s wearable platform while continuing to chart their own course.

The new software update and notification interactivity features will be available to Android users only, since Android Wear underpins the functionality, but it won’t require an invite for anyone wishing to participate, and instead needs only that the device paired with your Pebble is running Android 4.0 or higher. Which, keen observers will note, actually covers a wider range of devices than Android Wear’s own requirements, which puts the cut off at Android 4.3 and above.

Pebble has a growing challenge on its hands – the company was an early entrant in the smartwatch space, but with every OEM and their brother working on an Android Wear device and Apple readying its own platform for launch very soon, the idea of an independent third-party being able to compete in the space seems increasingly a rather quaint notion. Capitalizing on the opportunities made available by others entering the space is a good start, but Pebble will need to do more to maintain longterm viability.

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Drivemode Raises $2 Million For An App Drivers Can Use Without Looking At Their Phone


Ideally, no one would use their smartphone while driving. Realistically, people do – often putting themselves, their passengers and others in danger. Drivemode, a new company emerging from stealth today and backed by $2 million in seed funding, has developed an Android app that lets you use your phone without actually looking at it.

The Drivemode app offers access to common phone functions like calls, messages, navigation, apps and music and utilizes a combination of voice narration to let you know where you are on the menu. In addition, it uses bright colors and big animations to let you see your phone screen using only your peripheral vision.

“We’re working with automakers to make sure our interface is good enough to even be embedded in the car,” explains Drivemode co-founder and CEO Yo Koga. He says he can’t yet confirm any deals with automakers on that front, but is in discussions with several.

“There are guidelines from the government to ensure that you don’t have to look at the screen for more than two seconds per glance,” he adds. “But we’re trying to make it zero by radically simplifying the interactions.”

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Koga, born and raised in Japan, previously spent time in Boston as a VC after attending Harvard Business School. He also led international partnerships at Zipcar. But it wasn’t until he relocated to work for a startup in California that he really began to get frustrated with the driving experience in general.

Smartphone interfaces have been designed to be used while held in your hands with small buttons you have to locate and touch, Koga says. There wasn’t a good interface for using the phone in the car, he found.

Of course, that’s not entirely true – Google has “Car Home,” for example, which offers big buttons you can tap more easily while at the wheel. And there are a number of similar apps also on the market. There’s also a subset of apps for drivers focused on auto-responding to texts or reading them aloud, as well as embedded systems for autos like MyFord Touch and Sync. However, I’d have to agree with Koga that none have entirely nailed the interface for this sort of thing, and users may not feel comfortable enough with any of these alternatives to use them blindly.

Drivemode, on the other hand, wants to make its app something you could use without looking at your phone at all, as its video (see below) humorously demonstrates.

Instead of just offering bigger buttons or suggesting that you turn the app on and then only operate it by voice, Drivemode users swipe through the menu while the various choices are announced with voice narration. In addition to the colors and animations, the app also uses smart technology to learn your behaviors in order to make better recommendations. For example, it can learn your routine in order to move frequent destinations (like “home”) up to the top of the list as navigation options, or it can suggest favorite contacts (like your spouse) when you head into the Calls section.

You can even access your phone’s apps through Drivemode, including those for playing music and others, too. And it has supporting features common to apps in this category, like incoming message readout and auto-reply to calls and messages.

$2 Million In Funding And $10K From Blog Readers

The company, now a team of  six based in both San Jose and Japan, also includes co-founders Hokuto Ueda (who’s currently full-time at Tesla), Jeff Standard as Head of Product, plus mechanical engineer/Android developer Hiro Nakagawa.

Drivemode is backed entirely by Tokyo-based Incubate Fund, which typically invests in local companies, but opted to invest in U.S.-headquartered Drivemode because of its potential to appeal to a global audience.

“Use of smartphones instead of in-vehicle navigation systems is becoming a truly global trend, and Drivemode can see wide adoption across many countries where Android is used,” says Incubate GP Tohru Akaura, in a statement.

In addition to the funding, Koga was also able to build his team, attract investment and even furnish his office thanks to his status as an influential Japanese blogger. Readers donated over $10,000 after he announced on a post that he was leaving Globespan Capital Partners to do a startup.

Limited Invites Available

Drivemode is launching today for a limited number of beta testers in the U.S. International users can provide an email address to be alerted to future expansions. After downloading the Android application from the company website (not Google Play), you can use the activation code TCMODE to immediately get started.

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Moov Fitness Tracker Lands On Android


Moov, the fitness tracker that raised $3 million in a Series A this October, now supports Android.

The idea behind Moov is pretty simple: Rather than counting your steps and giving some illusion of progress in physical fitness, Moov uses a combination of hardware and software to improve your form based on the training you’re doing.

If you cycle, swim, box or simply jog, Moov will pay attention to the way your body moves and help you execute that skill properly, so you are getting the most out of it.

With today’s launch, Moov is bringing its Run Walk app, which offers four different run/walk modes. When paired with the wrist-worn Moov fitness tracker, Moov will send instructions to your headphones as you run to improve cadence, keep your joints safe, and ensure you’re getting the most efficient work out of your body.

Moov originally launched this app for iOS back in August, and has since delivered an app a month, each tailored to a different type of exercise. This, however, is the first Android launch, opening up the product to millions of new users.

Moov debuted on Kickstarter in February and blew past its $40,000 funding goal in 90 minutes.

If you want to check out the Moov fitness tracker, hit up the website here.

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Google Live Channels For Android TV Hints At Live TV Capabilities Coming Soon


Google has a new app available on the Play Store that provides some insight into how it will bring live content to its Android TV platform. The Google Live Channels app isn’t yet even compatible with the Nexus Player, the first device out there available to consumers boasting Android TV, but it looks primed to support live content from built-in tuners, IP-based tuners and other sources.

The Live Channels app will likely be more useful when OEM partners start building Android TV directly into televisions and set-top boxes, and should allow Android TV devices to accept and interpret digital TV signals, offering up guide information about programming, including show times, show descriptions, age ratings and more.

There’s not much in the description for the app, and since it isn’t yet compatible with any hardware it can’t be tested just yet, but it does appear to offer the ability to view content with picture-in-picture functionality, and to customize channel listings with different grouping options.

A method for accommodating traditional TV signals could help Android TV gain a significant leg up when it comes to the set-top platform wars. If Google can build a way for live content to live alongside its on-demand services with an interface that makes sense, that will be more than most others have been able to accomplish thus far. So far, the offering looks more like an app that lives apart from the general Android TV experience, however, so we’ll have to see just how integrated it is into the overall shared interface when it gets a proper launch.

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Warning, This App Could Trash Your Phone


If the idea of throwing an expensive piece of consumer electronics up in the air and watching it spin around makes your palms clammy with sweat then this app is definitely not for you. You have been warned.

Indeed, Apple won’t allow the app — a game called Gyro Skate — into iOS’s walled garden, because of the apparent risk of encouraging people to trash their i-devices. Its App Store guidelines frown on such irreverent behavior. So it’s Android only for now, and probably forevermore.

So what is Gyro Skate? As its name suggests, the app uses the hardware gyroscope built into smartphones to power a skateboard game which scores the phone owner’s trick skills — performed by, yes, tossing the phone itself up in the air so it flips or spins a certain number of times or in a particular direction. And then catching it in a perfect landing. Or not…

To be fair, the app makers — a German programmer and graphic designer duo who build apps in their spare time — have included a big disclaimer before you can play the game, telling users to hold their phone over a padded surface like a bed. But where’s the adrenaline rush in that, eh?

Being as it’s reliant on sensitive gyroscope hardware, Gyro Skate only works with a subset of Android devices that contain actual physical gyro hardware, so older phones may not play nice. Those with incompatible hardware will find the app can’t register tricks properly so successful flips will go unjudged. But you can still stand there flipping your phone into the unquantified analogue void, as it were.

The developers have made a free demo version of the app so Android users can test out whether the game works before they shell out £1.51 for the full version. The latter supports right or left-handed throwers, has four stages and 32 tricks in all — each with a video demo showing how to perform the perfect kickflip or varial heelflip or fs shuvit or whatever.

Developer Edi Held says they’re not sure exactly which Android devices are compatible yet — although, ironically enough, he notes the game would work fine with all iOS devices since the iPhone 4. But you’d have to jailbreak your iPhone to run it. Natch.

It’s confirmed to work properly on the Google Nexus 5 but not on the HTC One. An LG G3 also did not play nice. Plus its shiny back made catching the phone about as easy as trying to hold an eel still. Or it could just be that my skateboarding skills suck.

The duo have made a demo video showing the app running on an iPhone — being as iOS was the original platform they developed on — embedded into a wheel-less skateboard ridden on a trampoline. Because, well, the Internets.

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Blackphone Confirms Privacy-Focused App Store And Device Sandboxes Incoming


BlackPhone, the post-Snowden, pro-privacy Android smartphone joint venture between secure comms company Silent Circle and phone maker Geeksphone, has confirmed it will be adding an app store to its PrivatOS in an update early next year.

The major update will also roll out another new feature called ‘Spaces’. This will enable users to segment activity on their device by creating multiple secure spaces for particular apps, accounts or data. The feature will be powered by Canadian company Graphite Software‘s OS-level virtualization software.

Speaking to TechCrunch back in October Blackphone co-founder Jon Callas indicated an app store was incoming, detailing a plan to expand its hardened Android OS to include a curated app store experience — offering third party apps it has selected and vetted/reviewed for potential security concerns.

The Blackphone device and startup business is an attempt to consumerize the hard problem of security and privacy within a familiar-looking Android wrapper, and by bolting on multiple third party services to put secure alternatives for essentials such as cloud storage within easy reach (as well as bundling up the cost of their initial subscription in with the phone).

But one major usability trade-off with Blackphone thus far has been the lack of a pre-loaded app store. Users can download and add stores to their device after purchase but that requires at least a degree of legwork. Adding its own privacy-focused store to the OS is therefore a natural next step — given it will expand the utility of the device while apparently maintaining high standards of user privacy.

However it’s also a trade-off, given that running third party software introduces more security risks. That’s presumably why Blackphone is combining the launch of an app store with the addition of virtualized secure Spaces — to offer another sandboxed layer to help safeguard data on the device.

The latter feature is likely to appeal to corporate buyers especially, since it enables companies to remotely configure and manage corporate Spaces on a Blackphone device, and the user to have just the one device for work and person use, securely separating out their personal apps and content from work apps and content. Much like BlackBerry’s Balance feature, in fact.

Blackphone said today that its app store will arrive in January and will feature a selection of apps that it has chosen as “the most secure privacy-optimized apps on the market”.

The update will also roll out a default “Silent Space”, which will include its Silent Suite of apps for encrypted communication, along with the app store, plus “a bundle of pre-loaded privacy apps”. Users will then also be able to spec out additional Spaces on the device, as they desire — such as, for instance, a child-friendly bucket with access to a sub-set of apps.

It will certainly be interesting to see how tightly Blackphone curates the apps in its own store. The number of apps on the store will doubtless intentionally remain far fewer than on major app stores, such as Google Play. And may avoid including certain categories altogether, such as games.

Callas previously told TechCrunch the store could include different security review tiers for apps as a way for users to navigate the risks of running third party content. And that it may also include apps that some might consider insecure by design (such as social media apps which focus on sharing), or make it easier for users to download other app stores.

“We’re going to do things like security reviews of apps. We’re going to review their privacy policies. We’re going to put a security and privacy seal of approval on them. But we also want to be able to have people go download their favorite game. Everyone’s addicted to something — Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga… And we don’t want to be having to security review games. So you go to one of these other stores to get the fun things and we cover the unfun things like email clients, things like that, which we have gone and done a review on,” he said at the time.

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