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Apple’s iPad Update Plans Could Put Gold First And Offer 12.9″ Model For 2015


Apple could add gold to the menu for the next version of the 9.7-inch iPad Air, according to Bloomberg, and then introduce a 12.9-inch version of its tablet next year. This is in line with rumors we’ve heard from Bloomberg before, which pegged a large-screen iPad as being added to the lineup back in August. But the note regarding the color update for the new iPad is interesting in that it specifically refers to 9.7-inch models, and suggests that we might not see huge changes for Apple’s tablet lineup this update cycle.

So far, we’ve heard mostly that Apple plans to make only minor changes to the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display this year. We’ll likely see improvements made to the processor, with an upgrade to the A8 debuted in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, or possibly an A8+, as we’ve seen the company do in the past to help differentiate its tablet processor line.

A gold option would actually likely be enough (along with under the hood spec improvements) to keep iPad sales rolling steady for another year; what we’ve seen over the past few years of tablet sales is that users treat them much more like computers than they do smartphones, at least in terms of their purchase cycles. Users will buy a tablet and hang on to it for multiple years, instead of forking over cash for a new device every year, which many buyers still do for the iPhone.

Plus, a completely new iPad debuting in 2015 would help build sales for the line throughout the year, regardless of what kind of updates we see in the Air and mini this month. If Apple is planning a larger slate, it’ll be interesting to see how they position it – maybe they do move it more aligned with their Mac business, for instance, which could help set expectations for the category’s performance going forward.

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LinkedIn Flexes Its Search Engine Muscle, Adds College-Finding Tools For Students


Last year, LinkedIn widened the net for potential users when it started to allow high schoolers to join its social network for professionals, and today it’s launching a clutch of features that it hopes will get them to stick around a while longer: three new tools — Decision Boards, University Outcome Rankings and University Finder — focus on college-bound students who are deciding where to apply, what to study and people who might give them some useful advice on the way.

And while the company has been doing a lot of development on monetising and advertising and premium membership, these are areas that are not getting touched in the new tools, the company tells me: “This is free for all people and universities cannot pay for better placement,” a spokesperson told me in answer to a question about sponsored placements (a la Google in its search results). “These rankings are based on the career outcomes of LinkedIn members.”

The first tool, Decision Boards is akin to Belly (the advice/QA app from Twitter alums), and lets people call on their networks, and others, for advice on things like what school to attend, what subjects to study and so on. You can also use it to start meeting people at your potential school before you get there by tagging the school in your question. LinkedIn describes Decision boards as a “first-of-its-kind social decision-making tool.”

University Outcome Rankings is LinkedIn’s big data play: millions of alumni profiles get analysed to produce a ranking of how schools fare based around particular careers — and presumably how successful certain graduates have been. The catch here is that it’s confined only to those who are on LinkedIn, meaning that some professions, and some schools, and some geographies may end up woefully underrepresented in the mix.

The third of these, the University Finder, is basically a tool to look for universities that is “personalised” to  you: it takes parameters like your intended career, and even where you would one day like to work, to match you up with compatible institutions. Presumably there will be high and predictable correlations between places like Stanford and computer science and working at Google, Apple or another major Silicon Valley firm. Again, whether this will be able to surface more nuanced suggestions will have to be seen.

The new features are a clever move for the company: the tools could lead to more engagement from a coveted demographic, but they will also help LinkedIn build up its profile with universities themselves. Higher education is another target for the company. LinkedIn last year started to let colleges create dedicated pages for themselves, and as LinkedIn evolves its platform further you can see how it could position itself as a useful bridge between those who are studying and those who are transitioning into the working world — a role that colleges have often tried to fill but have often fallen short.

The idea of LinkedIn using its data to provide analytical insights for its users is something that the company has been doing for a while — witness data about who has viewed your profile and so on.

More recently the company has been trying to show off that it can be intelligent, too. That’s included riffs on the idea of “anticipatory computing” where it’s using those insights to offer users recommendations: this is where these new university tools fit in. As LinkedIn makes moves to further differentiate itself from other kinds of social networks and other online professional networks, I think we’ll see more of these kinds of services come online. 

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Eve Raises $2.3M To Rethink Programming


While everybody in the tech industry seems to be trying to make programming easier to pick up, most of the efforts that have popped up either repackage the concepts found in existing languages or boil down the logic programmers use to the point where you don’t learn skills that are directly applicable to actual software development.

Eve founder Chris Granger wants to change that. As a former Product Manager on Microsoft’s Visual Studio team and the brain behind the only coding environment to raise more than $300,000 on Kickstarter (okay, probably the only coding environment to crowdsource hundreds of thousands of dollars anywhere), he’s seen many attempts to make the tools we use to code simpler. But even with his prior work, he says that most improvements “simply made programmers more productive, instead of opening the door to people who haven’t spent years poring over text files full of abstract symbols.”

With Eve, Granger is shooting higher. He envisions an Excel-like web application that lets anyone build software by drawing the interface and then filling in the logic that powers it by dragging around boxes of data. To share these apps, users will only have to give others a link to a hosted web application. Behind the scenes, it’ll be able to connect to services that offer APIs, so applications built on Eve will be able to integrate with things like Facebook, Twitter, or Google Maps like an application built in a “real” coding environment. When Eve debuts in early 2015, Granger says it will enable “a normal person to be able to make a site that’s as complex as a Kickstarter.”

While it’s designed to be accessible to beginners, Eve is also ready for advanced coders to dig in. If there’s anything missing in the built-in logic, coders extend Eve by creating their own functions in JavaScript (in fact, Eve itself is written in JavaScript.) Users will eventually be able to share these functions and the grids they arrange to build their apps in a GitHub-like social platform that will also facilitate discussion.

That end of things is where Eve plans to monetize. Granger plans to make the actual development platform open source (you could run it on your own server) and charge for premium features involving collaboration, versioning, hosting, and computation.

Several big-name investors have gotten behind Eve. In its seed round, Granger and his two co-founders have raised $2.3 million from Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon, Y Combinator president Sam Altman, and Sep Kamvar (the guy who personalized Google search results).

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Estate Assist Wants To Provide Estate Planning For The Social Media Age


Contemplating the end of life freaks me out and as such, I’ve never put together a will. But then I’m young, healthy and I don’t own much so I can’t say I’ve felt the need to. Most Americans don’t actually. Over half of adults with kids don’t plan their estate, according to a 2012 Rocket Lawyer survey.

But who lets Facebook or your other social media profiles and online services know you’re dead? Only one state, Delaware, has a law that allows family members access to online profiles after someone dies. The problem with that is companies like Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter all have different policies for handling online information after someone’s passing. Add on the high expense of hiring a lawyer to deal with this and it may not seem worth it to most people.

Woody Levin watched his family, a family full of lawyers, scramble to find his grandmother’s assets and info right after she had passed. He started thinking about his own life and the kinds of digital assets Millennials will leave behind. That gave him the idea to create a digital safe deposit box for all assets, both online and off.

His company, Estate Assist, launches out of beta today. It’s aim is to help you store all your online passwords, social media accounts, digital health records, bank info and other paperwork. This is different from other companies offering online estate assistance. Much of this is actually a paid service involving a law firm and does not include online stored access to accounts.

The site works by informing whichever loved ones you choose that the account exists. It will release information about all your accounts and digital paperwork as soon as this person can verify you’ve passed. This part seemed like a potential security issue. I asked Levin if a family member could potentially access your financial or other information by tricking the system into believing you’ve passed. Levin was confident that would not happen, however. He says most security breaches on sites are actually POS attacks like the ones at Target or Home Depot. He also informed me Estate Assist uses bank level security methods and has built-in ID protection. Estate Safe Plus also includes identity theft protection and identity restoration.

The site goes beyond just information storage to act as an online bank box as well with its Estate Safe product. This makes it a bit different from just saving passwords and social media info on Dropbox or Google Docs. People store and access financial and other key info in the cloud such as financial assets or important life documents like birth certificates but are also able to find real time financial info. Estate Assist has a partnership with Intuit and hooks into the Intuit API to aggregate your financial and other data so that it is updated in real time. This, Levin informs me, should make it easier to locate bills and other things that need to be shut off in case of death.

Levin bootstrapped the business with funds from previously successful exits. He founded gaming company BringIt, which was acquired by International Gaming Technology in 2012 and NFL advertising company InStadium (those ads you see in the bathrooms at sports stadiums were his idea). He has also kicked off the launch of this new venture with some key partnerships. PerkSpot will offer Estate Assist to its 1.2 million employees as a preferred benefit option. WeWork has also provided each one of their 15,000 members with their own Estate Safe. Additional partners include over 4 million military and first responder members of, and Optima, which is offering Estate Assist as a paid benefit for employees.

IMAGE BY Flickr USER Jason Howie

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Rowl Raises $4M To Help You Find The Heart Of Saturday Night (Or Any Night)


Is your inbox cluttered with too many messages from clubs in your area notifying for all the shows coming up, but not the RIGHT shows coming up? Can you never figure out when the hell that band that plays that song that you like on Spotify will actually be in Baton Rouge, Boise, or Dubuque? Or get your friends to come out with you to just hang?

Well Rowl has raised $4 million in fresh financing for its app that aims to make your event-going life that much easier.

“With the algorithms and the clutter that exist on Facebook and Twitter, even if [artists] have millions of fans, the only way they can reach them is to geo-target and spend money,” says Rowl president Bill Glaser. “Using our platform they can reach our target in the exact area where their event is.”

And Rowl isn’t just for musicians, anyone with an audience they’d like to reach, or anyone who wants to plan an event with friends can Rowl, Glaser says.

It’s like a more organizationally minded variation services like Bandsintown, and investors like former Logitech chief executive Jerry Quindlen, serial investor, entrepreneur and all about new media maven Gary Vaynerchuk, and Martha Rivers Ingram, have signed on to back Glaser’s sound and vision (apologies David Bowie).

“We’re giving [artists] a way to reach their audience in a hyper-local way,” says Glaser. The company has already done deals with some “influencers” so that the company can offer incentives to fans.

Before launching the business Glaser made the rounds in Los Angeles and around the country meeting with record labels, with ticketing giants like LiveNation. “The problem with a lot of emails you sign up for when you follow a band that you’re interested in is that whoever is managing the email, can send you information from the band you’re interested in and all these other bands too,” Glaser says. “Then you’re getting inundated with things that you’re not interested in.”

Rowl’s already got partnerships with LiveNation, Ticketmaster, and the company is adding Wantickets to handle electronic dance music. As for musicians, Rowl’s enlisted Hunter Hayes, a younger country music phenom, who one of my musically inclined co-workers calls earnest, but not to the point of cheesiness.

“We’re targeting, initially, the rising star personalities,” says Glaser.

Photo via Flickr user Grayskullduggery

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StoreDot Charges Up With $42M For Its Fast-Charging Bio-Organic Batteries


Israeli startup StoreDot, which is developing quantum dot-utilizing fast-charging smartphone battery technology, among other things, has closed a $42 million Series B funding round. It pitches its bio-organic nano-crystal technology as an enabler for faster charging batteries and also a cheaper and non-toxic alternative to cadmium in screens.

StoreDot demoed the speedy charging battery technology back in April, flaunting its potential with a prototype device that charged from flat to full in 30 seconds — although it used a less than full capacity battery that was too large to fit inside a phone.

Commercializing this technology will require applying it to a full capacity battery and squeezing everything to fit inside a standard smartphone — and that’s what it intends to use the new funding round for, it said today.

Speaking to TechCrunch, StoreDot’s CEO and founder Dr Doron Myersdorf said: “The fully functioning prototype that fits inside the phone for commercialization will be ready the second half of 2016. In early 2017 it will be on the market.”

Also on the slate for StoreDot post-Series B: new hires, and developing other technology products that make use of its nano crystal bio-organic technology. To that end, it said it sees potential for its technology to enhance various electronics areas — including superfast Flash memory and bio-lasers (i.e. in addition to batteries, displays and bio-LEDs).

Other use-cases for the tech it’s looking at are in an area it terms “nano-medicine” — citing “drug delivery, food security, bio labeling and more” as areas of interest here.

Medical uses are not surprising, given that StoreDot’s technology was actually spun out of research being done into Alzheimer’s disease at Tel Aviv University. That research identified particular peptides (amino acids) that the startup is utilizing for electronics.

“When the self-assembly process of these molecules can be managed, we can create nano-crystals,” said Myersdorf back in April, discussing how the technology works. “We were able to take the same peptides that participate in biological processes in our body and to create nano-crystals — these are stable, robust spheres.

“And these can be used… in a semi-conductor device or in a battery or in a display. We are talking about new type of materials that can be introduced into different types of devices.”

Investors in StoreDot’s new funding round are largely undisclosed, with multiple unnamed “strategic partners” cited in a press release. (Samsung has previously been rumored to be an investor in the technology but a StoreDot spokeswoman declined to comment on this.)

The round does include a confirmed $10 million investment from Russian businessman Roman Abramovich’s private asset management company, Millhouse LLC.

StoreDot had raised a total of $6.25 million before this Series B round, with prior investors including Singulariteam, a private investment fund focused on early stage startups.

Myersdorf previously told TechCrunch StoreDot was hoping to close a $20 million Series B so it has evidently been able to boost the size of the round considerably — given today’s announcement of a $42 million closing. The size of the round will enable the startup to commercialize “both the fast charging battery for smartphones and our BioLED display”, he added in a statement today.

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