Mobile payments platform Beamit, which focuses on international money transfers between the U.S. and developing markets, has just closed a $2.4 million seed round led by Founder’s Co-op, with participation from Bezos Expeditions (the personal investment company of Jeff Bezos), TomorrowVentures (the investment vehicle for Eric Schmidt) and a small group of angel investors.
The funds will be used to further product development as the company moves towards public availability, currently slated for Q3 2012. The company says the first market being targeted is the Philippines.
Beamit CEO Matt Oppenheimer formerly ran Barclays Bank’s mobile banking unit in Kenya, which has given him first-hand experience in both mobile banking and the challenges that come from working in developing markets.
“Before starting Beamit, I was living in Nairobi, Kenya where I was running Mobile and Internet Banking Initiatives for Barclay’s Bank Kenya,” explains Oppenheimer. “Many Kenyans received money in an old and antiquated way using a cash-based system on both ends but it was an expensive and a painful customer experience. I knew that there was the opportunity to leverage digital channels, including mobile phones, to improve the lives of our customers, so I returned to the USA in May 2011 to start Beamit.”
Oppenheimer partnered with Josh Hug, Chief Product Officer, during the TechStars Seattle 2011 program. Hug, whose past experience was CEO and co-founder of Shelfari, a social reading startup acquired by Amazon in 2008, gives Beamit its Bezos connection.
Says Oppenheimer of his partner, “he is committed to reducing inefficiencies across borders and bringing transparency to this market. His decision to partner with me was a game changer as his product and startup experience perfectly compliment my financial services and emerging markets background.”
He also notes that Hug’s passion for the space arises from his partner’s own global travels (Oppenheimer says he himself has visited 30 countries and worked in three), as well as his family connections.
The startup is all about meeting the demand for international remittances – that is, the sending and receiving of funds internationally, which today is still often done through physical branches for both the deposits and withdrawal of the cash. According to the World Bank, $374 billion in remittances are transfered home every year, with the average cost of a $300 transfer over $27 (9.3%).
As Beamit rolls into beta, the startup is now inviting a select number of customers to transfer money from the U.S. to the Philippines, a country that receives roughly $7 billion in annual transfers from the U.S.
Sign up to get on the waiting list here.
Seattle-based Beamit had previously raised $750,000 in angel financing. The new $2.4M round of equity financing includes the conversion of the $750K convertible note.
Web apps look a lot different today than they did a decade ago. Today, in the era of smart clients, web and native apps have to communicate with an array of distributed cloud services, and, while legacy infrastructure remains, these new frameworks present ever-trickier problems for app developers. Having to deal with creating software that runs across data centers, communicates with intelligent devices, and integrates with software built by scores of third-parties? Not so simple.
Launching without much fanfare today is a new startup called Meteor that is looking to significantly reduce the friction inherent to developing modern web apps with “a new application platform for this new era.” According to the startup’s mission statement, the platform is based on “smart packages,” or bundles of code that are essentially adaptable, allowing them to run on a client or a cloud service and can “manage their lifetime inside the modern distributed environment.”
And even though the team behind Meteor is small at this point, it’s packing a lot of talent, as the co-founders include Geoff Schmidt, an inventor of audio fingerprinting, one of the original authors of decentralized web TV platform, Miro, co-founder of MixApp, and early employee at Asana; Matt DeBargalis, the founder and operator of fundraising platform ActBlue; Nick Martin, who most recently was building the infrastructure behind Mochi Media and who co-founded MixApp along with Schmidt; and David Greenspan, the author of Etherpad, which he sold to Google before going to work on Google Wave and Google App Engine. Greenspan is also the founder of AppJet.
From what we can tell, the team has been working on Meteor for about eight months, before soft-launching today. Meteor remains in “early preview,” meaning that its platform is still in flux, with “major API changes” likely in each release, according to the startup’s website.
Without stumbling through a more technical description, for a little more on that, you check out the site’s FAQ, Meteor’s goal seems to be to radically simplify the process of building powerful apps, apps that will be prepared “to handle the next two decades of technological change.” As developing apps and writing software is a painful, demanding process, Meteor wants to find a new way to create software that is simple, elegant, and is accessible to as many people as possible.
According to the site, Meteor is open-source software licensed under the GPL, and v1.0 of the platform will be made available in “more than a month, less than a year,” and it’s going to “mature faster than any framework you could afford to build in-house, unless you’re Google or Facebook.”
Judging by the promotional blurbs about Meteor on its home page, this ambition seems justified, with words of support from Facebook and Asana Co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Posterous co-founder and Y Combinator partner, Garry Tan, and Founder of Graffiti Labs, Ted Suzman.
— Garry Tan (@garrytan) April 10, 2012
It remains unclear as to whether or not Meteor has raised any outside funding, or whether the team plans to bring on additional staffers. We’ve reached out to the team, and will update when we learn more.
For more, check out Meteor at home here, or check out the startup’s video walk-through below:
All good things, as they say, must come to an end. For years now, Verizon has been the only one of the Big Four wireless carriers not to charge their customers an upgrade fee when they re-signed a two year contract, but that’s all about to change. Starting on April 22, Verizon will start charging a $30 upgrade fee whenever an existing customer extends their contract in order to snag some new hardware.
According to a statement put out by Big Red, the new fee will help the company “continue to provide customers with the level of service and support they have come to expect.” That apparently includes Verizon’s online support tools, their in-person Wireless Workshops, and “consultations with experts who provide advice and guidance on devices.”
AT&T enacted a similar move earlier this year when they doubled their upgrade fee from $18 to $36, which put their fee right alongside Sprint’s in terms of cost. At the time, I half-jokingly wrote that I hoped Verizon wouldn’t take the hint considering the two carriers history of gleaning ideas from from each other — as it turns out, being right sucks. It’s worth noting that T-Mobile’s upgrade fee is still sitting pretty at $18, though I have to wonder if they too will jump on the bandwagon.
In fairness, it’s a fee that doesn’t come into play but once every two years or so (unless something tragic happens to your device before that), but it makes for an unsightly bill that can temper the joy of new phone ownership. Families in particular will have it rough — the bill for a bog-standard four-person family plan could easily double if everyone gets a new phone at the same time.
Verizon notes that budget-conscious consumers can trade in their old phones in an attempt to offset the fee, but your mileage will definitely vary on that one — if you’re rocking a beat-to-death handset, it may be worth keeping just for the sentimental value rather than fork it over for a pittance.
The U.S. Justice Department just formally charged Apple, along with book publishers, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Penguin in regards to e-book pricing. The DoJ alleges that the companies colluded in anticompetitive practices involving pricing and sales. This comes after a year-long investigation into the matter after Apple switched to an “agency” model where they retained a portion of the sale of e-books sold through its platforms. This is said to have resulted in higher prices industry-wide, since the power to set prices rested in the hands of only a few sellers.
Bloomberg reports that several publishers are seeking to settle with the DoJ. Simon & Schuster, Lagardère SCA’s Hachette Book Group and HarperCollins could settle as soon as today. (Update: They just settled) However, Apple and Macmillan reportedly refused to engage in settlement talks, so far denying the claims. This might get ugly.
With e-book sales rising rapidly, the DoJ is seeking to ensure the consumer isn’t seeing unnecessary price increases caused by this so-called agency model employed by Apple. This model lets the publisher–rather than the vendor–set prices, which is why the big five publishers jumped onboard. Apple just asks for 30% of the end sale.
“Traditional” booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have stuck to the wholesale pricing model, in which they purchase the rights to a book and set their own price. This often stiffs the publishers as the retailers turn bestsellers into loss leaders, causing them to be undervalued in the publisher’s view. But with Apple, the big five can price books how they see fit. Both sides can be effectively argued as pro-consumer.
Even if the DoJ rules against Apple, its agency business model might stay intact. Apple and the publishers would likely simply have to comply with stringent regulations.
Update: Minutes after the initial report hit, Bloomberg is reporting that Simon & Schuster, Lagardère SCA’s Hachette Book Group and HarperCollins just settled with the DoJ over unspecified terms.
Online retailer Amazon is extending its Trade-In Program today to also cover CDs – you know, those round, shiny things collecting dust in the back of your closet? Starting now, customers can send in their old CDs to Amazon in exchange for Amazon.com Gift Cards, which can then used to purchase anything on Amazon.com, including, of course, any of Amazon’s 19 million MP3′s.
The Amazon Trade-In Program, for those unfamiliar, is a service that allows customers to send in items to a third-party merchant in exchange for Amazon gift cards. The program currently supports a wide variety of merchandise including movies, textbooks, video games, electronics (including phones, iPads, iPods, Kindles, non-Kindles, laptops, etc.), and more. The items can be packed up and shipped in one box, so if you want to throw your old iPod on top of your CD collection, you can now do that too.
Trade-ins take somewhere between 6 to 10 business days to process, depending on how you shipped them in (e.g., UPS, Post Office). Once verified, you’ll be notified that your item was accepted by the merchant, which you can track in your Trade-In account.
Although the addition of CDs to the program is being announced this morning, the Trade-in website isn’t yet showing them as an option when you go to list an item, nor are they available yet for browsing through in the site’s navigation.
Also currently unavailable is pricing information – that is, how much you’ll be able to get for your CDs once sent in. Surely pricing will be variable depending on artist, we would guess. After all, your Beatles CD will probably sell fast…your Barry Manilow, not so much.
We’ve reached out to Amazon for more details on this, and will update when we hear back.
Image credit: miskan, flickr
The Pinterest-ing of the web continues at Amazon and eBay. Ryan Spoon pointed out that the massive online retailers recently added tiny Pinterest buttons to their deck of social media sharing options on product pages. And why not? With Pinterest being the fast-growing social network, these buttons give users easy ways to share while at the same time allowing the retailers to cash-in on the pinning craze.
The two site’s implementations are very similar. Both use Pinterest’s tiny social sharing button, which act as expected, triggering a popup for easy pinning. See Amazon’s here on the right column under the buying options boxes.
The move works nicely with Pinterest’s focus on products. Pinterest is arguably more relevant for retailers than blogs or new outlets. But watch out, spammers will no doubt utilize the button paired affiliate links. As paidContent notes, the only thing missing is a Pinterest Android app for even more Amazon integration.
In September, national startup accelerator and seed fund, TechStars, launched its first program focused on providing mentorship and capital to companies working in a particular space. With cloud computing and services growing like gangbusters, the company saw fit to focus on cloud-based startups, launching TechStars Cloud, a sub-accelerator that focuses exclusively on backing cloud computing and infrastructure startups.
Today, the inaugural batch of 11 cloudy TechStars startups will be demoing in front of what TechStars Co-founder and CEO David Cohen tells us is expected to be a throng of 350+ investors. Today’s demo showcase marks the culmination of a three-month-long program that kicked off in January and is based in San Antonio, Texas.
As part of the $24 million in funding that TechStars raised last September, the accelerator now offers an additional $100K of seed funding to each startup, allowing the early-stage businesses to stay focused on their products throughout the duration of the program, without having to worry about shipping on top of pitching investors. This is on top of the $18K startups are given upon acceptance into the program, bringing each founding team’s potential funding to $118K.
This was a big move for TechStars, considering the fact that Yuri Milner and SV Angel teamed up early last year to offer the companies housed in fellow startup incubator Y Combinator $150,000 in convertible debt.
Aside from funding, 2011 was a big year for the accelerator, as it also open sourced its model, announcing the Global Accelerator Network as part of the White House’s Startup America initiative to spur entrepreneurship. The incubator’s model is now being used by over 35 programs globally. What’s more, beyond its Cloud accelerator in San Antonio, the incubator now boasts programs in Boston, Boulder, New York, and Seattle.
Today, TechStars is offering readers a sneak peek at the 11 startups demoing their wares in San Antonio, which you can check out below. We’ve learned from the accelerator that each of the 11 companies already has commitments for (or has recently closed) a seed funding round, and Cohen says that he expects the entire batch to be funded by outside investors post-demo day.
But, without further ado, here’s a look at TechStars’ newest 11:
Appsembler is a “business in a box” for companies that want to sell software as a service. Like other platform hosting companies, they offer scalable and push button application hosting, but in addition to simple hosting, their service also gives a company integrated billing, support tickets, and SEO optimized web content for SaaS products.
Callisto.fm is a next generation media analytics company. Built specifically for media creators, they can tell who is actually engaged with content. The service is cloud based, realtime and can work with any type of media and on any device, platform or service. They capture rich analytics around interactions (play, pause, seek, shares, likes, and more) in order to give content producers actionable insight into their audience.
Cloudability monitors and manages spending in the Cloud. They help companies better understand where they are spending in the cloud, identify waste, and make suggestions about how to optimize spending. They also allow companies to bring all their accounts, from any of hundreds of vendors and for dozens of internal accounts, into one consolidated view. Cloudability is currently managing over 53 million in cloud spending for 2,200 companies and this week announced a partnership with Rackspace allowing all 175,000 of Rackspace’s Cloud customers to use Cloudability for free. Customers include companies from StockTwits and Slideshare to Adobe and Pega Systems.
CloudSnap is integration as a service. They allow a user to connect any of hundreds of SaaS products together without writing a single line of code. This lets you do tons of useful workflow and data synchronization such as connecting Mailchimp leads to Salesforce deals or importing Shopify invoices into Netsuite. And all of this is push button and requires no developer time or ongoing maintenance.
Conductrics is a decision optimization service that goes way beyond simple A/B testing and reporting. Conductrics uses machine learning to take a customer supplied set of choices and dynamically and adaptively learn what the best choice is. When conditions change, the service learns and automatically updates for the new optimal choice. This allows a website or application to always have the highest converting content in use. Customers like Under Armour are integrating Conductrics directly into their CMS, which lets them bring adaptive behavior directly into the content creation process.
Distil is the world’s first Content Protection Network. The cloud service sits in front of customers’ web servers and identifies and blocks attempts to scrape data. Google punishes sites heavily in search results for having non-unique content and by using Distil companies can contain the loss of SEO, visitors and revenue by blocking content theft.
EmergentONE is the first API generation platform. Using a simple web UI, a customer can connect to their existing application’s database and auto-generate a robust and well-designed API. Startups can generate a complete and customized REST API for an existing application in minutes. In addition to the API itself, EmergentONE generates developer documentation, language specific libraries and back-end analytics views. The startup allows customers to only expose the data they want, and data will not be included in the API unless they ask for it, explicitly. The solution works with all relational databases, and offers fine-grain access controls. Pretty cool.
Flomio is a platform for building NFC and RFID enabled applications. The service is hardware agnostic and cloud based. This means Flomio can work with any NFC enabled devices and masks all the complexity of NFC, exposing the service as a simple web API. They also sell tags, readers and a ‘Square-style’ audio jack plug-in that can convert any phone into an NFC reader. In addition, Flomio offers its customers an aggregated view of their data in an analytical dashboard.
Keen.io is an analytics platform for mobile and application developers. Rather than morphing data into some pre-packaged analytics service, Keen believes that app creators should be able to collect all their data in its natural form. Once a customer’s data is in the Keen.io service, they can be their own data scientists and slice and dice data and run experiments against historical data in order to gain insight into app users behavior.
Tempo is a hosted time series database. Time series data is becoming a huge component of the ‘Big Data’ landscape. Every device and sensor is creating millions or billions of data points and existing big data systems are not optimized specifically for this type and quantity of data. Tempo is purpose-built for time series data and allows companies to hold unprecedented amounts of this data letting us finally get value out of all the data our new measured world is generating.
Vidmaker makes it easy to manage and edit videos on any device, anywhere and with anyone. The service has an integrated web based video editor, Google Docs-style video collaboration, a built in community stock footage library and tons of other features that make the process of creating, editing and publishing video content a joy rather than a chore.
Springpad was founded back in 2008 with a simple mission: Help people “remember stuff today so that they can make better decisions tomorrow.” For those unfamiliar with the digital organizer, the startup is the maker of free web, Android, and iOS productivity apps that constitute a multi-platform, cloud-based digital notebook, designed to help you discover, save, and share the things you care about. Springpad lets users jot notes, save websites, images, products, at which point its semantic data-parsing tech comes into play, analyzing your content and serving you alerts on relevant news, offers, price drops, and coupons.
Today, the startup is unveiling a completely redesigned Springpad 3.0, which boasts a new social experience that makes it easy for users to collaborate and share notebooks, discover ideas and information from trusted sources, i.e. your friends. The goal of the new app is to free users from the fleeting nature of social media streams by giving them anytime, anywhere access to their notebook’s content.
With the ever-growing noise and mess of content on the Web and on social networks, people are increasingly looking for better ways to curate their digital experiences and channel that white noise into signal. While the realtime web is unparalleled in serving news and enabling serendipitous discovery, Springpad wants to funnel the fire hose by giving users control over when and how they discover and filter information, including who they get that information from.
With Springpad 3.0, users can now create and share notebook content in any form, be they recipes and books, or products and links. There’s also a new “Explore” section, which offers search functionality so that you can find and follow notebooks of interest from other community members.
The new version of Springpad adds much-needed, additional levels of sharing to let users make notebooks public, or keep them private, while offering the ability to co-curate and collaborate on notebooks with your friends. So, beyond being able to follow individual notebooks, Springpad 3.0 offers new filtering and organization options to let users tag, sort, change views, and find notebooks via category and tag pages.
The new version also adds to the apps’ alerts functionality, offering useful information like movie showtimes, as well as price comparison and reservation links, while alerts provide updates on price drops and offers on items you’ve saved in your notebook. And, of course, the startup’s apps offer online support on all devices, for all personal notebooks.
Lastly, Springpad has also added the ability to create personalized notebooks by choosing themes and accents, or take advantage of its new “Quick Add” bar, which offers bookmarklet and browser extensions to boost the apps’ search and saving experience.
In terms of social functionality, the startup’s platform upgrade today builds on the company’s announcement last year that it would begin offering users the ability to discover the likes, check-ins and recommendations from your Facebook friends so that you can view movies, TV shows, books, music, and places your friends recommend — even sorting that info based on friend and information type, by places, zip codes, and more.
Springpad has long been considered a rival of the popular productivity app, Evernote, as both fundamentally seek to act as a memory aid for busy people, allowing users to capture anything and everything within apps or on the Web, and easily search content by keyword and tags. Yet, while Evernote has blown up in the past two years, soaring past 20 million users, Springpad has quietly been plugging along — adding features and building a viable competitor.
While the startup has traditionally stuck to its guns on being a memory aid, Springpad 3.0 is most importantly aimed at making its data more actionable. Storing and filtering information is certainly important in the face of the realtime web, but it’s all about how smart a platform can be in terms of learning one’s individual preferences, and serving them content based on those interests.
A hard thing to do, but Springpad is taking the right steps by enabling people to collaborate with families and friends on upcoming parties and projects, for example, or by allowing them to follow content from their favorite bands. Again, following is one thing, but serving users updates on discounted tickets, relevant tour info, and just offering an experience that makes it more likely for users to get off the couch and out to see live music — that’s where “it’s at,” as the kids say.
Sure, in terms of competing with Evernote, at 3 million users-plus, Springpad has a long way to go. But it’s features like its apps’ built-in barcode scanner that users can take advantage of to save info about products they come across in the real world that make Springpad an interesting alternative. Side-by-side, it’s also about beating the competition in terms of ease of use and simple, good-looking design. From what I’ve seen, Springpad has both.
What do you think? Is Springpad a viable competitor to Evernote in the long run — or more importantly, does it even need to be? With its new notebook sharing features and look, Springpad almost seems to follow into more direct competition with Pinterest …
For more on Springpad 3.0, check out the apps here.
Google+ Gets A Big Refresh With New Navigation, A Redesigned Stream, A Dedicated Hangouts Page & More
Google this morning is announcing a new look for its social network, Google+, which introduces a revamped navigation, with drag-and-drop elements and actions that appear when you hover over each item, as well as the introduction of new features aimed at making it easier to discover conversations to join, new profile pages, a dedicated page for Google+ Hangouts (Google+’s multi-person video chat offering), and more.
It’s interesting that Google+ has now changed its design, after its first efforts received such praise. But, after using the service for some time, it became clear that Google+’s navigational elements became a little cluttered. That “share a YouTube video” feature, for example, which popped out a box on the right side of the screen, felt tacked on.
The new interface drops the static icons at the top and moves all the navigation off to the side, allowing users to reorder the icons as they wish. The list includes access to all of Google+’s features, including Hangouts, Photos, Circles, Games, your Profile page, an Explore option for browsing the site, and an icon called “More” which will hold all the icons you don’t care to see.
As you hover over each icon, related actions will appear. For example, hover over Photos for access to a big red button to “Add Photos” from either your phone or your albums.
The Explore icon is also a new addition, and takes you to a page showing the trending and popular content across the network.
Meanwhile, Google+’s version of the News Feed has been redesigned, too, and now features full bleed photos and “conversation cards,” which better separate each post and the discussion from the next by wrapping it in a box. Activity surrounding the content – like how many people “plussed” it or re-shared your post – is also now available directly beneath your shared item in a drop-down box (the “activity drawer”).
Hangouts, which have always been one of the network’s main selling points, are now being better highlighted in the refreshed site, and now have their own dedicated page, featuring a list of Hangout invitations from people in your Circles, easy access to live and public Hangouts, and a rotating billboard showing popular Hangouts, and other information.
There are other improvements, too, including a new profile page with bigger photos, and a new chat list that’s now in off in the sidebar.
In highlighting the new features, Google also mentions that Google+ now has over 170 million users. However, it’s still counting those who share via Search, Gmail, YouTube and other places across Google’s network – so, again, it’s not a real count of how many users are visiting Google+ as a destination of its own.
The folks at RIM are no doubt devoting plenty of time and effort to their long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system, but they’ve found the time to whip up a few app updates to please the nearly 55 million BBM users out there.
First up on the list are a pair of newly-updated Facebook and Twitter apps — users will be able to share their sparkling wit with their BBM buddies from within each of the apps, ensuring none of their friends will be able to escape their ironic jabs and repartee. While RIM is smart to tie engagement with these two major social platforms into their own, they haven’t stopped there.
Take BBM Music, for instance — I’ve been pretty critical of RIM’s BBM Music service in the past, but RIM just keeps plugging away at it. If you’re not familiar with the service, the key concept behind it is that users can access to the music stored in their BBM buddies’ playlists, which incentivizes the social experience that RIM has been so keen on building with BBM. With the new update in place, new BBM friend recommendations will appear right in the app, which should help bolster some of those fledgling music collections.
Apps like BlackBerry’s Travel and App World are joining in the BBM-connected fun as well, and will allow users to share their travel plans and recently downloaded apps respectively. Oh, and last but not least, the BBM app has itself has been updated to version 6.2. What does that mean for users? Animated avatars and the ability to send voice notes! What would we have ever done without those?
Alec Saunders, RIM’s VP of Developer Relations, noted that over 800 BBM-connected apps have been released since the company officially opened up their messaging platform to outside devs last July. Sadly, most of the apps listed above won’t officially join the BBM-connected roster just yet — the updated Twitter app is available now, but the rest will hit the company’s app store within the next 10 days.
A startup launched this week is vying to be the next great leap forward for the world of videoconferencing, the promising-but-still-relatively-niche service that lets groups of people in different locations hold Internet-based conversations with each other: Meetings.io, a Y-Combinator alum, has hit the market with just under $1 million in seed funding from (among others) Yuri Milner and SV Angel, and the promise of making a free group video call as easy as clicking on a link, with nothing else required.
Meetings.io is the latest step in the evolution of videoconferencing services, a classic example of enterprise-focused social networking, which have always held much potential but also frustrations. Starting out as services only for the biggest enterprises that could afford expensive equipment and software, eventually videoconferencing offerings trickled down to Internet-based, mass-market products for anyone (business or consumer) to use with a connected PC or mobile device equipped with a microphone and camera.
But even so, they came with a catch: with Skype, GoTo Meetings and WebEx, you need to download software, and pay fees (as you do with Skype to enable more than a one-to-one conversation); with Google, you need to join its social network to use Hangouts. “But you may not want to do that for someone who may be only a short-term contact,” says co-founder Arend Naylor (via a Meetings.io link).
And that’s before any and all technical glitches.
These are all barriers that Meetings.io is attacking with a very simple, peer-to-peer service aimed not at early adopters and those more technically-minded, but those who need to make a group call for work and without the painful process of setting that up. The aim: “Something lightweight that works without software,” says Naylor. The result: to initiate a call, a registered user simply sends out a link, or invites people to visit a meeting room.
With Meetings.io going after a clear hole in the market to make videoconferencing easier, it has attracted some good interest early on.
Within the first eight hours of launch, the service signed up 13,000-15,000 users, and hosted 3,000-4,000 meetings — good numbers for a service that didn’t launch with any fanfare and is essentially aiming at enterprise users, not consumers. Among investors, Milner and SV Angel, TechCrunch understands, both doubled down in the seed round.
Currently the free service maxes out at five people, but there are plans to raise that number for those who want to pay for a premium offering. Registered users also get their own “meeting rooms” where people can visit to talk, as well as other free services, such as document transfer, notes, live chats and screen shares.
Services that the team hopes to add (and potentially charge for) might include extras like SMS, says Naylor. The company is also considering APIs, as well as versions in development that work on iOS and Android devices.
Another issue Naylor and co-founder Denis Mars wanted to address was that, in their view, Skype also doesn’t scale well enough to account for short-term and long-term contacts. “It just gets too bloated,” says Naylor.
One example of that problem was at Y-Combinator itself. The group now uses Meetings.io to interview candidates and prepare successful teams before their arrival in Mountain View. But before that, YC backers were using Skype.
“The problem was that they had 400-500 alums, people in the network, plus the same again in candidates who didn’t make the cut. All of them were on Skype.” That meant that every time a YC partner signed on, there would be hundreds of people trying to get in touch. “To have people meet in an intermediary place is a lot more useful.”
This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur Nathalie Gaveau.
As we get closer to the first round of Presidential elections in France on April 22nd and everyone is focusing on the French economy, it seems like a perfect time to talk about supporting and promoting entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in France. Yes, we invented the word. But sometimes in the past it’s felt a little like we didn’t have it in our vocabulary, as President Bush, in a rare moment of clarity, once pointed out.
Despite the criticisms, the government has clearly been more entrepreneur-friendly in recent years. The set-up of the Agence pour la création d’entreprises (APCE) in the late 1990s and the special fiscal treatment of independent or “auto-entrepreneurs” has led to a dramatic increase in the number of startups. Moreover, France offers generous tax incentives to young SMEs, companies pursuing R&D even wealthy individuals investing in a startup (known as ISF).
From my own experience as an entrepreneur previously in France and now in the UK, I can say that there are clear advantages of working in both countries. France, for example, offers incredible technical talent – often for a more affordable price than in the UK – and phenomenal infrastructure (broadband). And regardless of what people say, productivity in France (at least in my experience) has been high.
But there are still areas in which France can definitely improve. Naturally the UK has an advantage because of its linguistic and cultural proximity to both Europe and the US. This would be tremendously difficult for France to replicate. However, France can strive to match the UK’s flexible employment laws, low corporate tax and easy access to funding.
Now, as we head into the final weeks before the Presidential elections and the candidates will begin to clearly define their economic reforms, it would be particularly smart for them to focus on entrepreneurs and SMEs. Why? Because entrepreneurs and SMEs have been at the heart of job creation in France, producing 2.3 million of the 2.8 million of the jobs created in France over the last 20 years. In order to win over the entrepreneurs, here are 3 core areas the candidates should focus on:
1. Education: mandatory technology training and the development of entrepreneurship programs
Hiring and retaining skilled people is an on-going challenge and we need to build a strong pipeline of talent to remain competitive. Young people – and their teachers – need a greater awareness of the job prospects in entrepreneurship and new technology. Our education system urgently needs to tackle 2 domains:
- Computer science and programming. These should now become mandatory as part of the national curriculum at schools and universities. I’m not talking about office skills but technology, video games, visual effect, mobile programming.
- Entrepreneurship programmes. These are a great accelerator and resource for young entrepreneurs. The HEC Entrepreneurship programme is a fantastic example, and it inspires many young entrepreneurs to get started every year. Especially when combined with a new Google@HEC chair, Startup Weekend events and other incubators, it creates the ideal environment to launch a startup in.
2. Administrative red tape: let’s make it light and simple.
Administrative red tape and complex filing rules pose a huge obstacle to setting-up and operating a business. Entrepreneurs need time to focus on developing their business, yet many often spend far more time dealing with administrative complexities. When time is of the essence, making forms simple and accessible online is very important.
In the UK – where my current company, Shopcade, is based – people can start a company online within a matter of hours. The amount of paperwork involved later while running the business is fairly straightforward, and most importantly key tasks can be entirely performed online. In addition, user friendly e-learning guides are available online to teach new starters how to deal with corporate tax.
3. Easier access to capital
If there is one area that the UK often seems well ahead of France, it is probably in terms of access to capital. Young companies in France need to have easier access to business angels and venture capitalists.
Private investors in France get some wealth tax or “ISF” reductions for investing in small and medium companies, yet it is quite limited and was even reduced in 2011 to 50% of the investment and/or € 45,000. In comparison, the equivalent UK scheme is more appealing, as it goes up to £1 million per investor, and allows investors to potentially offset losses against capital gains in the year of disposal. With incentives like these, it’s no coincidence that the UK has 2.5 times more business angels than France (18K vs 7K), investing nearly 10 times more capital.
Despite the difference in incentives, France has recently seen a lot of growth in the amount of early stage capital. Funds like Kima Ventures, ISAI, Jaina, 360 Capital Partners, Alven, Ventech and more have been particularly active in supporting early stage companies – and have clearly made a difference. Finding ways to encourage the growth of these types of funds as well as business angels is crucial to developing and maintaining a strong startup ecosystem.
France does offer some attractive fiscal incentives, like the “Jeune Entreprise Innovante” status started in 2004, which offers a tax credit to startups investing a minimum of 15% in R&D. More than 2,300 companies were part of this scheme in 2009. The scheme was partially revoked in 2010 with a new proposal to be presented in June 2012, which will hopefully resume support to innovative entrepreneurs.
It may seem like a lot of work still needs to be done to make France a leading hub for entrepreneurs – but it can be done. France can be a leader in new technologies and entrepreneurship, just like it is in other industries. But the administration has to recognize that the global economy is becoming increasingly focused on digital innovation. Hopefully the candidates will realize this and be quick to act upon it as the election date approaches.
Not great news for Nokia this morning in its ongoing attempt to reverse declines in its sales and market share in the world of mobile phones that it once easily dominated.
The company has announced that it is lowering its outlook for the first quarter and second quarters of this year, citing lower-than-expected sales in its devices and services segment. In a market statement today, Nokia did not specifically give any numbers on overall revenues but it said that operating margins in the first quarter are expected to be at negative three percent — down from earlier estimates of being either breakeven or within two percentage points of that; it also said that Q2 margins will be similar or below Q1 levels.
As for the the silver lining, Nokia also noted that it has sold more than 2 million Windows Phone Lumia smartphones, with the average selling price at €220 ($262). There are now over 80,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace app storefront, it added.
Q1. Nokia will be presenting full quarterly results on April 19. Today it noted that it estimates that net sales in the devices & services segment in Q1 were €4.2 billion. Within that feature phones brought in €2.3 billion (on 71 million units), smartphones €1.7 billion (on 12 million units), and all other services bringing in €0.2 billion. Nokia said that’s actually within the 4-6 week range it had provided earlier but also represent a decline on the previous quarter.
In the statement, Nokia does not give any guidance on Q2 revenues but highlights that it is seeing a lot of pressure in two specific areas: emerging markets — particularly India, the Middle East, Africa and China — as well as margin declines in the smart devices unit.
In a conference call, CEO Stephen Elop spelled out a bit more here, which hints at continuing margin pressures ahead as the company looks to continue to compete against lower cost Android devices and other cheap handsets from what Elop referred to as white-box Chinese manufacturers.
The pressures, Elop said, are at the low end of smartphones, and the high end of the feature phone markets — precisely where Android handset makers are being so aggressive in emerging markets. “We are taking the first step of pushing down the prices of Lumia devices with the 610,” he said. “And we are accelerating the rate at which we do that to compete better.”
He also noted that the continuing investments that are being made to develop its new business around Windows Phone comes at a price: “With this third ecosystem effort we have to really break through, with the U.S. and China just starting… you see a lot of things that [need to] build,” said Elop. “We need the right levels of investment to break through.”
Nokia and Microsoft’s efforts to break the stronghold that Apple and Google’s Android have put on the smartphone market have yet to bear fruit. Figures from Gartner estimate the Windows Phone platform accounted for less than two percent of smartphone sales at the end of 2011.
The other question to ponder going into next week is where its legacy smartphone OS, Symbian, will be sitting in all of this and whether its Lumia strategy will be able to offset ongoing sales declines in that line of devices.
Full release below.
Nokia lowers Devices & Services first quarter 2012 outlook and provides second quarter 2012 outlook
Difficult financial performance reflects company in transition
Positive early momentum in Lumia smartphone strategy
Stock exchange release
April 11, 2012 at 15.00 (CET+1)
Espoo, Finland – Nokia today provided preliminary information on certain aspects of its first quarter 2012 financial performance, including a lowered first quarter 2012 outlook for Devices & Services. During the first quarter 2012, multiple factors negatively affected Nokia’s Devices & Services business to a greater extent than previously expected. These factors included:
- Competitive industry dynamics, which negatively affected net sales in the Mobile Phones and Smart Devices business units, particularly in India, the Middle East and Africa and China; and
- Gross margin declines, particularly in the Smart Devices business unit.
The impact of these factors on the non-IFRS Devices & Services operating margin in the first quarter 2012 was partially offset by a significant benefit from lower warranty costs.
Updated outlook for Devices & Services for the first quarter 2012:
Nokia currently estimates that its non-IFRS Devices & Services operating margin in the first quarter 2012 was approximately negative 3 percent, compared to the previously expected range of “around breakeven, ranging either above or below by approximately 2 percentage points” primarily due to the factors noted above.
Outlook for Devices & Services for the second quarter 2012:
Nokia expects its non-IFRS Devices & Services operating margin in the second quarter 2012 to be similar to or below the first quarter 2012 level. This outlook reflects that the first quarter 2012 benefit related to lower warranty costs is expected to be non-recurring, as well as expectations regarding a number of factors including:
- competitive industry dynamics continuing to negatively affect the Smart Devices and Mobile Phones business units;
- timing, ramp-up, and consumer demand related to new products; and
- the macroeconomic environment.
“Our disappointing Devices & Services first quarter 2012 financial results and outlook for the second quarter 2012 illustrates that our Devices & Services business continues to be in the midst of transition,” said Stephen Elop, President and CEO of Nokia. “Within our Smart Devices business unit, we have established early momentum with Lumia, and we are increasing our investments in Lumia to achieve market success. Our operator and distributor partners are providing solid support for Windows Phone as a third ecosystem, as evidenced most recently by the launch of the Lumia 900 by AT&T in the United States.”
Additional commentary on the first quarter 2012 for Devices & Services and Nokia:
Nokia currently estimates that Devices & Services net sales in the first quarter 2012 were EUR 4.2 billion, comprised of Mobile Phones net sales of EUR 2.3 billion (71 million units), Smart Devices net sales of EUR 1.7 billion (12 million units), and Devices & Services Other net sales of EUR 0.2 billion. Based on the preliminary view, Nokia ended the first quarter 2012 around the high end of our normal 4 to 6 week channel inventory range, but on an absolute unit basis, channel inventories declined sequentially.
Nokia currently estimates that Devices & Services gross margin (including Devices & Services Other) for the first quarter 2012 was approximately 25%, with Mobile Phones gross margin of approximately 26% and Smart Devices gross margin of approximately 16%.
In the first quarter 2012, Nokia sold more than 2 million Lumia devices at an average selling price of approximately EUR 220 (reported within the Smart Devices business unit). Furthermore, Nokia has seen sequential growth in Lumia device activations every month since starting sales of Lumia devices in November 2011. Lumia has gained market share with both distribution partners and consumers. The Windows Phone ecosystem is also attracting developers and has expanded rapidly with more than 80,000 applications available.
Nokia currently estimates that at the end of the first quarter 2012, the company’s gross cash and other liquid assets were approximately EUR 9.8 billion, and Nokia’s net cash and other liquid assets were approximately EUR 4.9 billion. The sequential decline in net cash and other liquid assets was driven by Devices & Services, which experienced unfavorable and mostly non-recurring net working capital changes as well as operating losses. Nokia Siemens Networks contributed positively to Nokia’s cash flow in the first quarter 2012 due to net working capital improvements. This was despite Nokia Siemens Networks having a preliminarily estimated non-IFRS operating margin of approximately negative 5 percent in the first quarter 2012, in line with the previously provided outlook.
Actions to Address Competitive Industry Dynamics Affecting Devices & Services
Nokia is quickly taking action. Nokia will continue to increase its focus on accelerating Lumia sales, as well as on lowering the company’s cost structure, improving cash flow and maintaining a strong financial position.
- In the Smart Devices business unit, Nokia is increasing investments in Lumia to bring more products to more consumers in more markets.
- In the Mobile Phones business unit, Nokia is taking tactical pricing actions in the near term and plans to bring new products to market in the second quarter 2012.
- Nokia will accelerate planned cost reductions and will pursue additional significant structural actions if and when necessary.
“We are continuing to increase the clock speed of the company,” said Stephen Elop, President and CEO of Nokia. “The change is tangible, and we are proud of the way Nokia employees are quickly responding to the needs of consumers and partners.”
Nokia will provide full first quarter results and more details when it reports its first quarter 2012 results on April 19, 2012.
Nokia will be hosting a conference call today at 13:30 UK time (8:30 EST). The dial-in number for media (listen only – the question and answer session will be limited to financial analysts and investors only) is +1 706 634 5012. Conference ID: 67681834.
The dial-in number for financial analysts and investors is US: +1 888 636 1561. Conference ID: 67681834. UK: +44 1452 560 299. Conference ID: 67997871.
A replay of the call will be available soon after the call completion. The replay number is US: +1 800 585 8367. Conference ID: 67681834. UK: +44 1452 55 0000. Conference ID: 67997871.
Bubble or not, the tech world is operating at a level of craziness right now. Google announced they’re working on connected augmented reality glasses that just might change everything. Then, just a few days later, Mark Zuckerberg actually did change everything for the employees of a tiny but very important photo sharing app. Of course Jon Stewart had to weigh in including making what might be the best Google Glasses parody video yet.
Podio is a social network for businesses that lets those who use it create apps to enhance the functionality of the service. We’ve compared it to a “Yammer with apps.” Founded by Anders Pollas, Jon Froda and Kasper Hultin, the Danish startup has raised $4.5 million in funding.
With Podio you can manage everything from expense reports to hiring, and instead of following fellow users, you follow “Spaces” where these things happen. You can see Frequently Used Spaces, Contacts and Calendar on the right, with an activity stream of all actions on the left. From here you can get to anything, even adding or creating your own task-specific app.
As mentioned above, Podio offers an App store, where users can add App bundles for specific workflow purposes like a CRM Management tool, Project Management tool or individual Apps like Candidates, an app to manage job candidates, Twitter, an app to monitor tweets and Bugs, an app for internal bug reporting.
“This acquisition represents an exciting new chapter in our collaboration business. Podio extends our ability to provide a simple, secure and ‘works for everyone’ collaborative work platform in this post-PC era,” said Brett Caine, SVP and GM for Citrix Online Services Division in a release.
Podio has also integrated with other workflow and storage tools in the enterprise including, Box, Campaign Monitor, Dropbox, Evernote, FreshBooks, Google Apps, Google Docs, Google Alerts, Instapaper and Zendesk.
Citrix says that Podio will be part of the GoTo cloud services portfolio, which includes GoToMeeting. The acquisition isn’t too surprising since we know Citrix has been trying to boost its collaboration and file sharing offerings. The company tried to acquire Box last year, and also bought a DropBox-like service, ShareFile, last Fall.
Fragmentation isn’t just a problem reserved for mobile operating systems, it’s inherent to our online identities as well. Our digital identities exist in a loose and fragmented consortium of usernames, email addresses, scree names, social media accounts, passwords, and sitekeys. Many have tried to capture the single sign-on holy grail, and most have failed, because as much as we are inconvenienced by fragmentation, no one wants to hand over their personal information to one entity.
Last month, we covered the beta launch of OneID, a San Jose-based startup founded by Steve Kirsch, a serial entrepreneur, Silicon Valley veteran, and one of the co-inventors of the optical mouse. With OneID, Kirsch is looking to topple the current username/password digital identity paradigm and replace it with a system that uses public key cryptography to assert users’ identities across PCs, smartphones, tablets, and more.
There are already a number of services which attempt to handle the single sign-on problem, and while OneID wants to eliminate passwords from memory, oftentimes these identity plays just end up in offering one more competing standard, rather than achieving the opposite. (See Randall Munroe’s humorous take.) If the service can offer real value to the end user, and reach the kind of scale required to make a difference, there’s hope — but that’s a tall order.
Kirsch says that OneID’s value prop is that it operates like a secure Facebook Connect, keeping payment and address info secure by encrypting it in its distributed architecture, which is only then readable by your particular mobile device. As with single sign-on plays, the goal is to reduce friction and fraud inherent to authentication (and security) that is part of every digital financial transaction. That, and on the consumer side, it comes with the benefit of speeding up the sign in and check out process by way of single-click purchases — like Amazon one-click without the login.
While it’s a big infrastructure play and a tall order, OneID has some help. Kirsch developed OneID’s technology with veteran engineers Jim Fenton, Adam Back, and Bobby Beckmann, and today the startup is bringing on veteran security executive Alex Doll as CEO. Before coming to OneID, Doll was most recently an executive-in-residence at Khosla Ventures, where he was working on new approaches to the digital identity problem. Before Koshla, Doll was a founding executive at PGP Corp, the makers of public-key cryptography tech, which he led from zero to its integration with Symantec’s anti-virus technology. As a result of Doll’s appointment, founder Steve Kirsch will become acting CTO.
On top of its new CEO, OneID is also announcing that it has raised $7 million in series A financing. The round was led by Khosla Ventures and North Bridge Venture Partners. As a result of its new funding, Khosla Ventures General Partner Shirish Sathaye and North Bridge Partner Jonathan Heiliger will be joining the startup’s board of directors.
OneID’s new leadership, coupled with this significant infusion of capital, should be a serious leg-up as the company expands. As mentioned, for OneID to work, it’s going to need a significant user base, because there isn’t a whole lot of value for other sites in adding this tech, even if it’s something consumers are dying for. According to Kirsch, OneID is currently live on over 1,000 sites (that reach over 100 million users), and we can expect that the new leadership to focus on adding zeroes to that number.
Stay tuned. For more on OneID, check out the company at home here.
The consumerization of enterprise is taking place at a breakneck pace, and it’s changing the face of enterprise software and business computing. While on the whole a positive, the effects of consumerization can put a lot of stress on IT departments, as they struggle to balance BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) mentality and the growing demand and requirements of applications with information security.
Consumerization means ease of use and the ability to quickly adopt always-there tools and technologies. Yet, meanwhile, some businesses have chosen to restrict their employees to enterprise-owned or developed devices, but this isn’t sustainable in the long run. AppCentral, a startup best known for its enterprise app storefront and management console, and as the new face of Ondeego (one of the first enterprise app stores), is looking to bring a real, honest-to-goodness productized offering to enterprise app distribution.
To help push its solution forward, the company is today announcing a bunch of key hires, the first is the addition of Richard Greene as President and CEO. Greene was previously the VP of Global Partners at anti-virus and security giant, McAfee, where he oversaw the adoption of SaaS-based mobile security solutions. Prior to McAfee, Greene held leadership positions at Securify (acquired by Secure Computing/McAfee), Orbital Data (acquired by Citrix) and Sanctum (acquired by Watchfire/IBM).
The second hire is Pete Buhl, who will be taking over as COO. Prior to joining AppCentral, Buhl spent over 13 years at BlueRun Ventures, where he was a co-founding partner. At BlueRun, the partner helped raise $1 billion across four funds, while focusing on enterprise and mobile investments. Buhl has served on the boards of Netli, Like.com, PayPal, and Location Labs, to name a few.
In today’s world of fragmentation in mobile OSes, businesses are hard pressed to manage and support the diverse array of mobile apps their employees use on a daily basis, so AppCentral has designed a solution that provides a cross-platform app store to let businesses continue to support the many mobile devices used by their employees, while maintaining security and control. To do this, AppCentral focuses on offering easy enterprise app distribution, in addition to secure wrapping, post-completion, and server-based administration.
In addition to Greene and Buhl, AppCentral is boosting its leadership team with a couple of former McAfee executives who have followed Greene, including John Dasher, formerly senior director of marketing, and Michael Barnes, who joins as VP of engineering, having previously led the development of enterprise firewall products at McAfee.
The new leadership team will be focused on removing the friction that is often associated with IT departments, while giving them the ability to define boundaries for apps that they need to maintain security. As new VP of Products John Dasher wrote in a recent blog post, a new generation of apps are starting to emerge that go beyond simply being desktop ports, solving problems “that are uniquely mobile.” It’s this kind of new mobile app that AppCentral is looking to accomodate, making it easy for big business to distribute and leverage those apps to push enterprise mobility forward.
For more on AppCentral, check the company out at home here.
CloudPassage, the developer of cloud server security software, has raised $14 million in Series B financing led by Tenaya Capital with Benchmark Capital and Musea Ventures participating in the round. This brings CloudPassage’s total funding to $20.5 million.
CloudPassage offers a server security and compliance product specifically built for elastic, dynamic cloud environments. While companies are able to deploy security firewalls around content stored in data centers, as companies move to the cloud for servers, they face a security challenge of securing a dynamic, scalable environment.
What makes CloudPassage’s offering unique is that it provides security in cloud hosting environments where consistent physical location, network control and perimeter security are not guaranteed. And the company says it can be deployed in minutes.
The startup’s Halo architecture automates multiple server security functions and allows companies to deploy security in public cloud environments. Halo combines an ultra-lightweight guest VM software component with an elastic compute grid optimized for security operations.
As CEO and co-founder Carson Sweet explains to us, the company is steadily growing, with the launch of its commercial product and a 70 percent growth in client uptake for the first two months of 2012, compared with last year (clients include companies like Foursquare). In particular, Sweet says CloudPassage as seen an uptake in clients using Windows looking to adopt the cloud.
Benchmark partner Kevin Harvey said of the investment: “We invested in CloudPassage because we believe Security is one the biggest issues in cloud adoption and CloudPassage has the leading solution to the problem.”
The new funding will be used to expand market penetration of Halo.
Spotify wants to make it easier for anyone to legally soundtrack their websites, oh, and get links to its own download page plastered all over the Internet. So today it launches the embeddable Spotify Play Button for news sites that when clicked starts playing a designated song, album, or playlist in your Spotify desktop app. Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and the Guardian are amongst the marquee launch partners that will start featuring the button today, and Tumblr bloggers can instantly add Spotify music to their posts straight from the audio dashboard.
While Spotify tells me this is all about improving music discovery and the listening experience, the real benefit for it comes when someone without its desktop app clicks the button — they’re prompted to download Spotify (shown below). The company’s user acquisition costs are supposedly sky high, so free promotion through the Play Button could be key to making its business model hum.
The Spotify Play Button solves a big problem for publishers looking to stream music from their websites. Normally they’d have to embed a YouTube video with often crappy audio quality, host a questionably legal MP3, hotlink to another blog’s file that could get taken down, or dig around on sites like SoundCloud for a legal streaming version. Spotify’s Play Button gives them a quick, stable, reliable, high-quality, and legal way to soundtrack their site and make sure artists get paid for their work.
To configure the Play Button, publishers can right-click any song, album, or playlist in Spotify, copy its special Spotify URI, and paste it into https://embed.spotify.com/. Then they copy the embed code for a compact button or one that shows album artwork, and paste that into their website’s code. Music can even go viral as other publishers can grab a widget’s embed code by hovering over a Play Button.
Other sites you can check it out on include ShareMyPlaylists.com, FanRx, Popdust, The Independent, Time Out Group (New York City, Paris, London), NME, Mashable, FanBridge, Wonderwall, The Fader, Chegg, ELLE , Noisey.com, Entertainment Weekly, People.com, and SPIN.com. The color and size of the button can be customized by messing with the code, and Spotify says more options will eventually be added to the configurator.
Tumblr users have it even easier. The post composer’s audio dashboard now lets you search for Spotify content, and with a click an optimized player is inserted into your post — no embed code necessary. The Play Button makes it easier for heavy Spotify users too. Instead of having to pause your current Spotify jam before clicking some other music stream on a website to avoid having two songs playing, Spotify will automatically override what’s already playing on your app.
Spotify has clearly taken a lesson from the march of Facebook’s Like Button across the web. Not only will the Play Button increase engagement and retention of existing users, and drive signups from new users, it will help make Spotify a household name. AppData shows Spotify as having 17.7 million monthly users, and 7.1 million daily users, and some peg its U.S. subscriber count around 3 million, though Spotify denies this as a lowball. In any case, it needs more subscribers and ad listeners to pay for the high initial and licensing fees the record labels demand for their content.
The question now will be whether serious music bloggers will be willing to show Spotify Play Buttons instead of their old streaming sources even though they might exclude some readers who don’t want to download the app. Otherwise the unfamiliar Play Button could end up playing second fiddle to YouTube and SoundCloud streams.
Nokia has been weathering a series of glitches around the launch of its Lumia range of Windows Phone devices — the most recent of which saw the company issue credits to users affected by data connection issues on the new Lumia 900. It is pressing on with new devices, though, and we have confirmed with sources close to the company that it will be launching its first NFC-enabled Windows Phone in Europe, a version of the Lumia 610, at 1pm UK time today — along with a partnership with a European operator, France Telecom’s Orange, to launch the device “across Europe.”
Update: Orange and Nokia have now officially announced the 610. The details are noted as below. The pair say that the device has been certified for contactless payments both with MasterCard PayPass technology, and with Visa’s mobile application for payments at the point of sale, Visa payWave, which means it will work when activated and used with merchants that have linked up with this technology.
Nokia first unveiled the phone accidentally via a video on YouTube, which it then made private. Before it did that, a copy of it was made by TheGadgetBuff and picked up by The Next Web, which also published a photo of a display noting a 2pm launch. We have confirmed with sources that the launch is taking place at 1pm UK time.
The source told us the device will be launching with an operator, and in the video (embedded below) Nokia’s lead program manager for NFC, Andrea Bociaccola, says that the operator is Orange. We have confirmed that the launch will be “across Europe” according to our well-placed source. It is not clear whether this launch is going to be in one of Orange’s market or several Orange has mobile operations throughout Europe, including the UK, as well as Africa and the Middle East.
Orange has made a big push into rolling out NFC in its home market of France, and more recently has also committed to services in the UK. In March the company said it had sold 500,000 NFC-enabled handsets in France — a mix of Samsung, Acer and BlackBerry devices. Rollouts of actual commercial services to use them more widely, however, have been slower in coming.
Today’s launch, it appears, was scheduled to take place in Monaco at the Global NFC Products, Applications & Services Congress, where Nokia’s VP of product marketing and smart devices, Ilari Nurmi; and Orange’s mobile contactless services director, Didier Durand, are scheduled to speak together at 2pm Monaco time. TechCrunch understands that may now be moved forward in light of the video leak.
Bociaccola demonstrates how the NFC can be used with (Nokia) speakers to manage music, and he notes that in future it can also be used for monetary transactions — although this doesn’t seem to be something that will be available at launch.
It will also be usable with Foursquare check-ins, judging by the video, as well as to interact with other social networks (eg ‘tap to follow us on Twitter’).
Nokia was one of the first handset makers to incorporate NFC into mobile phones. However, up to now NFC has not gained much critical mass among other handset makers, merchants and others that might utilize the technology (like other consumer electronics companies) — so Nokia hasn’t had much of an early mover advantage as a result.
On top of that, there have been a multitude of solutions rolled out that bypass NFC altogether (Square and PayPal’s Here being two notable examples). That raises the question of whether NFC really will be as central to mobile commerce and other kinds of mobile transactions as people once thought it would be.
However there are plenty of companies out there putting big stakes into NFC, including the big payment processors as well as Nokia competitors, and so it’s an important area to keep pursuing.
Nokia’s putting NFC into the 610 means also that Nokia is continuing to forge ahead and make sure that it’s bringing along some of its legacy innovation into the next stage of its strategy to remain relevant in the mobile world.