Tripbirds Pivots From Social Travel Omnibus To Social Hotel Booking Site

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When I interviewed Tripbirds co-founder Ted Valentin before the social travel recommendation site’s launch in March, he told me that hotel bookings formed the core of Tripbirds’ revenue-generation model. “If we can nail hotel recommendations, you don’t have to do more to have a valuable business,” he said. Now, Tripbirds is taking this idea to heart: from today, the social travel network is paring down and relaunching as a social hotel bookings site, using friend recommendations and Instagram photos, supplemented by traditional hotel listings, to help you figure out the best place to stay wherever you are going.

The reason for Tripbirds’ pivot? The company – backed by Index Ventures, Passion Capital and Creandum; and angel investors Peter Read, Wrapp’s Andreas Ehn, Soundcloud’s Eric Wahlforss and Alexander Ljung, and Path’s Dave Morin – decided that its service needed to be streamlined and “easier to understand,” according to Martina Elm, communications manager for the site. Before the relaunch, the social travel site was more open-ended — the recommendations could be for places to stay, but they could also be about sites, bars and whatever else people wanted to post.

But that also put it into competition with a number of other social travel planning sites, perhaps the biggest being Gogobot, but also Trippy, Gtrot, Wanderfly, Tripwolf and many others. Since its launch in March, Tripbirds has amassed a list of 10,000 users, although it wouldn’t say how many of them are active users. The site closed its previous business down two months ago to work on the new concept.

Hotel bookings is not exactly an uncrowded market, either. But the founders — and its investors — see an opportunity to focus on this one aspect to differentiate itself from the rest of the players out there, many of which are legacy services based around listings that have not incorporated people’s social graphs into that process.

“Online hotel bookings is a multi-billion dollar market,” said Fredrik Cassel at Creandum in the company’s announcement. “Social media is fundamentally changing how internet users are researching and booking hotels. Joining social data with existing data about hotels makes perfect sense. There are lots of travel and hotel booking sites out there but still a lot of room for innovation.”

It can be a lucrative market, too: typically affiliate sites like Tripbirds will get 10% of the total price of a booking, Elm says.

One part that really stands out in the new site is how photographs are incorporated into the content. Whereas usually hotels post static pictures of rooms, a lobby and maybe a pool, here you get a selection of snaps sourced from Instagram that have been geo-tagged with that hotel’s name. That gives you a more personal sense of how much people liked a place, what people noticed enough to record. It gives you details that you may not get otherwise. A search of Hanoi hotels, for example, let me see that some places offer amazing-looking welcome platters of fruit; others do not.

Another feature, carried over from the old Tripbirds, is the ability to create a shortlist of places, which you can then send out to your friends via Twitter and Facebook to get their feedback.

Tripbirds uses your social graph to encourage trusted input, but to supplement that, it is also working with Booking.com to provide more standard listings, which it then matches up with those Instagram photos. That will presumably seem more personalized over time, as more of your friends interact with the site and contribute to your travel plans, but for now it gives Tripbirds a well-stocked feel.

The site is starting out as a desktop web version but it is “definitely looking to offer mobile access in the near future,” says Elm, noting that mobile has become a popular route for people searching and booking sites, especially when they are travelling and on the move.

There is another leg yet to come for Tripbirds’ journey, which also fits well with its social media ethos: becoming a place to find rooms and other accommodation among the many  primary sites out there that have been disrupting the hotel industry, among them Airbnb, Love Home Swap, and the rest.

While many of these sites, still relatively young, currently fill their rooms and homes by connecting directly with users on their own sites, you can see how the aggregation model could be an effecitve way of growing their reach and filling out spaces when direct traffic is not doing the trick. Much like regular hotels. “This is definitely something that we want to do in the future,” says Elm.

Motorola’s Droid RAZR M 4G LTE Gets Detailed Ahead Of Official Unveiling

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In case you hadn’t heard yet, next week is going to be a busy one for gadget fiends — Amazon’s got something brewing on the 6th, while Nokia and Motorola will be duking it for eyeballs since both have launch events scheduled for the 5th.

Rumor has it that both of them will also be unveiling a pair of new smartphones — Nokia has the Phi and the Arrow, and Motorola is expected to pull back the curtains on the RAZR HD and the newly-leaked Droid RAZR M 4G LTE.

Yeah, so the name isn’t very inspired. What else is new?

Engadget got their collective hands on some tantalizing images of the familiar-looking Ice Cream Sandwich-powered handset, and while it doesn’t quite ooze style the same way the original Droid RAZR did, I suspect more than a few potential customers won’t mind. It doesn’t hurt that Motorola managed to squeeze a 4.3-inch qHD Super AMOLED advanced display, a 1.5GHz Snapdragon MSM8960 chipset, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, and a pair of eight and three megapixel camera (on the back and front, respectively) into a 4.4 ounce package. And as always, Motorola put (device) safety first by wrapping the display in Gorilla Glass 2 and the back in its now-standard Kevlar trim.

As slick and as understated as this thing looks, its mid-range specs mean it shouldn’t steal too much limelight away from the long-awaited RAZR HD. Now that I think about it, the RAZR M’s spec sheet bears a strong resemblance to that of the Atrix HD, a device that I found myself really enjoying in spite of my misgivings. Sure, there are some trade-offs — the RAZR M’s display isn’t quite as large, and its resolution isn’t as high, but it crams a solid spec sheet into a body that doesn’t make me slump when I look at it. All Verizon needs to do is slap a reasonable price tag on this little guy and it should have a real contender on its hands when holiday buying frenzy soon makes animals of us all.

After Removal By Apple, Privacy App Clueful Returns Via The Web

clueful home page

Back in May, security company Bitdefender launched Clueful, an iPhone app that looked at the other apps on your phone and identified what they were doing with your data. However, according to Bitdefender, Apple removed the app from the App Store in late June without an explanation.

Today, Clueful has relaunched … but not on iOS. Instead, it’s now a website where users can search for different apps and get basic facts like which ones are accessing your location, tracking your in-app usage, and reading your address book. For example, one of the apps that I use the most on my iPhone is Routesy, so I can look it up on the Clueful sit and see that it can display ads and track my location, while also encrypting my data. (Basically, nothing to worry about — which is good to know.)

Bitdefender’s Head of Online Threat Labs Catalin Cosoi acknowledges that iOS 6 will come with additional privacy controls, but he says Clueful still goes further. For example: “iOS 6’s privacy controls tell you that a certain app wants to read your address book. Clueful tells you whether the app uploads your contacts to its cloud.”

Cosoi also that Clueful wasn’t directly scanning the app activity on your device, so the app analysis and information is “not dependent on being an iOS app.” Much of this data is gathered from testing the apps in the Bitdefender lab, he says, and Clueful now offers profiles of more than 100,000 apps.

That said, Clueful still sounds most convenient as an app on your phone — the website is a clever workaround, but it’s still a workaround. Cosoi says Bitdefender wants to bring Clueful back to the App Store, but can’t offer a timeline on when that might happen.

“We are confident that we will, but in the meantime we’re addressing the issues around iOS app privacy and security with the Clueful web app,” he says.

MasterCard Inks 5-Year NFC/Mobile Payments Deal With UK’s Everything Everywhere, Covers 27M Users

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MasterCard is once more extending its reach into mobile money services in Europe in partnership with a carrier — this time in the mobile-savvy UK market. The payment processing giant has cut a five-year deal with Everything Everywhere, the JV between France Telecom’s Orange and T-Mobile, to develop mobile payment solutions, with a “co-branded, prepaid solution for mobile devices” enabling contactless NFC payments one of the first planned out of the gate. Later, the two want to include money transfers, loyalty rewards and more.  Everything Everywhere is the UK’s largest carrier and the deal will cover 27 million subscribers.

It comes on the heels of MasterCard inking a mobile payments partnership with Deutsche Telekom covering Germany and other T-Mobile operations in Europe, as well as a deal with Turkcell in Turkey. MasterCard has also worked for the past three years with Orange on QuickTap, the first commercial NFC payment service in the UK, as well as the Orange Cash prepaid card.

It looks like that Orange Cash card will be central to how Everything Everywhere and MasterCard will work together. Orange Cash, currently a prepaid MasterCard, will become an on-device option for Everything Everywhere customers who want to use their mobiles to pay for goods. In turn, that could, for example, work with the NFC chips embedded in the handsets. (I’ve heard these carrier-branded prepaid cards described as “gateway” payment options to help people associate carriers with payments, as step one of a mobile payments solution: that’s what is being played out here.) Using an Orange Cash prepaid account also means that this service is open to any user — not just those using MasterCards already.

“By moving our existing co-branded card offers onto mobile devices, we are closer to a world where our customers will be able to use their phone to pay for travel to work, pay for small purchases and take advantage of loyalty rewards from their favourite retail outlets,” Gerry McQuade, CMO at Everything Everywhere, said in a statement.

NFC is only one of the services the two say they will develop together using their combined technology and payment-processing know-how: also included will be person-to-person money transfers, loyalty and rewards services and digital payment services: in effect, the two are laying out their ambitions to be at the center of the holy grail of mobile payments: a fluid, secure and easy-to-use payment system that works with whatever it is that you are doing, whether it’s buying digital content through your device, paying a person or a bill, or picking up your groceries at the shop.

As with companies like Square, iZettle and PayPal, MasterCard and Everything Everywhere are also planning to develop services that are aimed at small businesses to accept payments using their mobile devices. “More details to be announced later this year,” the companies say in their statement.

“MasterCard’s vision is of a world beyond cash, where consumers and small businesses alike can benefit from simple payments using smart technology,” said Marion King, President of MasterCard UK & Ireland, in a statement.

MasterCard will provide the network for the financial transaction, while Everything Everywhere will provide the network delivering other kinds of non-transactional, secure information to users: records of payments and so on.  It isn’t specified in the release whether EE will be using NFC-enabled SIM cards similar to those that its part-owner, France Telecom, is rolling out in France.

Everything Everywhere has been trying to carve out a reputation for itself as a first-mover in the UK market: the company recently pulled off a big coup by getting the UK regulator Ofcom to agree to let it launch 4G/LTE services using existing spectrum — potentially many months ahead of its competitors.

This announcement could see the carrier stealing a march on the likes of Vodafone and O2 once again. (Although it should be pointed out Vodafone works with Visa, and O2 appears to also be overhauling its O2 Money card, perhaps also as an on-mobile payment service? And there is also that mobile payments JV between the three operators, although that is still working its way through regulatory hurdles and may in any case allow each to develop independent services that will interoperate together.)

MasterCard and Everything Everywhere note that this co-branded prepaid solution using NFC will be “one of the first products to launch through the partnership”. If they pull it off, and if people really do use the service, it could prove to be the first wide-scale mobile NFC solution in the UK.

MasterCard notes that there are already 100,000 retailers equipped to take contactless payments already in the UK. Last year, between the UK and France, Orange says it sold some 500,000 NFC-equipped devices: that number is likely to be significantly higher this year as the number of NFC-equipped handsets has grown, as have the number of people using smartphones.

Samsung V. Apple And The Obviousness Standard

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Editor’s Note: Leonid (“Lenny”) Kravets is a patent attorney at Panitch, Schwarze, Belisario and Nadel, LLP in Philadelphia, PA. Lenny focuses his practice on patent prosecution and intellectual property transactions in computer-related technology areas. He specializes in developing IP strategy for young technology companies and blogs on this topic at StartupsIP. Follow Lenny on Twitter: @lkravets and@startupsIP.

In the wake of Apple’s billion-plus dollar win in their patent suit against Samsung last week, much of the focus appears to be on the flaws in the patent system. Many argue that the suit involved patents that are “obvious,” and that Apple is a bully in enforcing them. These arguments show blatant disregard for the job of Patent Examiners in reviewing patent applications and prior art, and the jury in hearing and deciding the case, which listened to both sides of the arguments and decided that the patents are valid.

The obviousness argument highlights a misconception held by many about the patent system. Patent law requires that obviousness of a patent claim be considered at the time the invention was made. This means that the Patent Examiner considering a patent application must determine whether the invention would have been obvious as of the filing date (or possibly even earlier) of the patent application. It is irrelevant whether the invention is obvious when the patent is being examined, and is even more irrelevant whether the invention seems obvious many years after the invention has been brought to market. After-the-fact obviousness arguments being presented by many of the Internet commentators are therefore improper under the current patent law system.

The patents involved in Apple v. Samsung provide a perfect example of why this obviousness standard is proper. Perceptions of the state of the art (and therefore what is obvious) change quickly. For example, in 2007, when the BlackBerry was still king of the mobile market, many ridiculed Apple for the iPhone’s lack of a keyboard. Today, a phone with a physical keyboard is becoming rare. Therefore, I don’t think it is any stretch to say that Apple’s release of the iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone industry. This chart from AllThingsD’s John Paczkowski compares Samsung’s pre-iPhone selections to those that came after the iPhone’s release.

One of the jurors, Manuel Ilagan, pointed to this piece of evidence in support of the jury’s decision, saying that, “the e-mails that went back and forth from Samsung execs about the Apple features that they should incorporate into their devices was pretty damning to me. And also, on the last day, they showed the pictures of the phones that Samsung made before the iPhone came out and ones that they made after the iPhone came out….”

So why wasn’t Samsung able to prove obviousness? Granted patents are afforded a presumption of validity, making invaliding them more challenging. In such a high stakes case, it is likely that Samsung spent a great deal of time and energy trying to find prior art which would invalidate Apple’s patents. Despite their best efforts, the results of the case demonstrate that Samsung was ultimately unsuccessful in their search. It should be noted that this does not mean that relevant art does not exist, rather Samsung was simply unable to produce any such art that convinced the jury that Apple’s patents were invalid. Many believe that the jury was wrong on this point. However, given that the jury received extensive instructions on how to determine patent validity and had a chance to review all the evidence offered by both sides, their opinion on the validity of the patents was much more informed that most of us watching the case from the outside.

So what can startups take away from this decision involving two tech giants?  For one, patents in the U.S. are incredibly valuable, and will continue to be valuable for the foreseeable future. Two, if you believe your technology holds any value, it is probably valuable enough to protect it through intellectual property rights. This is especially true where a startup is operating in a crowded space and producing innovations that may only be improvements over a competitor’s existing products or designs. As Apple demonstrated, these improvements – even if subtle – may be adopted and indeed even become commonplace in the startup’s market. As Benedict Evans so eloquently put on Twitter, “[t]he measure of Apple’s achievement: what was unimaginable in 2006 now seems so obvious that people claim Apple should have no patents.”

Finally, if you are a startup worrying about competitors suing you out of existence, consider Robert Scoble’s take on the Samsung decision, “I think this is actually a sizable win for Samsung. Why? It only cost $1 billion to become the #2 most profitable mobile company….I bet that RIM wishes it had copied the iPhone a lot sooner than it did. So does Nokia, and HTC and a raft of other manufacturers I bet. Samsung is a much healthier company than any of those BECAUSE it copied the iPhone.” So while as a patent attorney I never advocate knowingly infringing the patent rights of others, and patent licensing and purchase deals can avoid many of the troubles faced by Samsung (if Samsung had simply taken Apple’s license offer, their total cost would have been half the jury verdict), Samsung may still be in a better position having copied Apple and been found to infringe than if it had never copied at all.

Special thanks to patent attorney Joseph Holovachuk (@twitchuk) for his comments in drafting this article.

As Samsung Tries To Get Galaxy Tab Injunction Lifted, Apple Names Eight Samsung Products It Wants Banned

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

After Friday’s $1.05 billion verdict in favor of Apple, Samsung is now trying everything to reverse the trend while Apple is charging foward at full speed. Even though the injunction hearing will take place on September 20, some Samsung devices, such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1, were subject to preliminary injunctions. The jury decided that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 did not infringe the iPad D’889 design patent — Apple’s trade dress — and therefore invalidated the prior injunction.

Samsung requests a dissolution of the sales ban, the $2.6 million bond from Apple that protected Samsung if it was determined that the injunction was unnecessary, and probably damages for lost sales.

Apple, fresh off of its court victory last week, just informed the court the products it is going after for a U.S. sales ban on the basis of patent infringement. Thankfully, at least for Samsung, most of these products are no longer available. But Samsung will no doubt fight Apple on this as well.

  • Droid Charge
  • Galaxy S Showcase
  • Galaxy Prevail
  • Galaxy S 4G
  • Galaxy S2 (AT&T)
  • Galaxy S2 (Skyrocket)
  • Galaxy S2 (T-Mobile)
  • Galaxy S2 Epic 4G

Samsung is trying not to lose ground in the legal battle against Apple. , U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ordered a preliminary sales ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 based on the fact that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was hurting Apple’s sales due to trade dress and design patent infringement. At that time, Koh seemed convinced because she did not even wait for an Apple hearing to issue the injunction.

That’s why it is important to note that Koh can overrule the jury’s decision and state that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does infringe Apple’s D’889 design patent.

In addition to the importance of Koh’s next move, the device was part of the list of Samsung devices that infringed several Apple software patents — at least ’381, ’915 and ’163 patents, respectively for “bounce back” scrolling, pinching to zoom and tapping to zoom. Apple might be asking for another review of that verdict on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the appeals court.

As long as the final injunction process is not over, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is still not out of danger. Yet, Samsung’s argument seems valid. It is worth trying to obtain damages from Apple. As the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is already out, reparations and brand reputation could certainly be the main motivation behind Samsung’s court filing.

Well’s Social List-Making App Thinks Outside The “To-Do”

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Well, a new social and collaborative to-do list application from former Digg, Blip.fm and Rackspace engineers, is officially launching today on iPhone, web and mobile web. But according to ex-Digg engineer and Well CEO Arin Sarkissian, the focus for the application isn’t only on typical “to-dos” which is why the app’s name doesn’t include “to-do” in its title. Instead, the idea for Well is to serve as a repository for any type of list, whether that’s books to read, movies to see, things you like or don’t like, or even a collection of things you may be comparing in advance of a future purchase.

This loose idea surrounding list-making is one of the things that makes Well intriguing, because its structure is that which doesn’t necessarily require the usual checklist of things that have to be accomplished within a given timeframe. However, for today’s launch, the nomenclature of “to dos” is present in the app, but the team is going to see where the community takes things going forward.

Already, we’ve spotted some very non-traditional lists, including lists of bowling balls someone likes, apps someone hates, and even an uh…let’s just call it a list of attractive people. (I’m not going to repeat that list’s title in polite company here. Arin admits that there may be some need for having the service itself automatically set some lists to private in the future!)

Making lists within Well is simple. Currently, the app doesn’t pull data in using APIs and third-party sources, but rather offers the ability to create basic text-based entries for each item entered. However, that’s not to say the app doesn’t have a visually inspiring layout. The lead image for each list is either selected from a database of attractive stock photos, or can be added via the phone’s camera roll or Instagram. When browsing through the app, the photos give what’s normally a boring thing – a to-do list – a more visual, and therefore more inspirational, look-and-feel.

There’s a social element to Well, too. Using a Twitter-like model, friends can find and follow each other and make suggestions which can be added to each other’s lists. For example, a list about a “trip to NYC” might see incoming suggestions about restaurants to try or places to sh0p. Users can control which of these items are accepted (that is, added) to their own list. They can also proactively reach out to others to collaborate on lists, like a list of things to buy for their home, which may be shared with their partner.

Like Pinterest, users on the app can check out their friends’ lists and those that are public and “relist” (the equivalent of the Pinterest re-pin) items they like back to lists of their own. And I have to add that I’m personally thrilled with the detailed level of customization the app offers in terms of email and push notifications. It’s really granular. (App developers, this is how it should be done).

For now, the app is only available on the web and iPhone, but Android users can participate through the mobile web experience. Unfortunately, that will remain the case for the near future – the app is more focused on general improvements, including ways to better highlight trending list items, than it is on going cross-platform right now.  Eventually, the goal is to connect the items being listed – the purchase intent – with services that can help users complete those tasks.

The San Mateo-based startup is currently a team of five with three ex-Digg engineers as co-founders. (The full team includes Arin Sarkissian, Mike Mayo, Jamie Lottering, Ryan Downing, and Addison Kowalski). Arin says he was inspired to create Well following his time with Digg, as his position there had previously allowed him a high level of visibility into what his engineering team was up to. Later, he pondered, “why don’t I know all the stuff my friends want to do?” Hence, Well.

The startup raised just over $1 million in funding in a round that closed in late March with participation from Venrock, Pivot North Ventures, Accelerator Ventures, Chris Kelly (ex Chief Privacy officer at Facebook), Ben T. Smith IV (former CEO of Merchant Circle & Spoke Software, currently ShopCo), Chris Tolles (CEO Topix), Tim Stevens (VP of Business Development, Cloudera), and Ben Ling (COO of Badoo).

Flurry: China Is Fastest Growing Market For iOS & Android Devices, Chile Comes In 2nd

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It’s no secret that mobile analytics firm Flurry gets a kick out of tracking apps and mobile device adoption trends, and today it released some new data on iOS and Android device adoption around the globe.

The United States still leads in the number of active iOS and Android devices with 165 million, with China coming in just behind it with 128 million net active smart devices. From there, the numbers just sort of drop off — the UK finishes in third with 31 million active devices, while South Korea and Japan round out the top five with 28 and 22 million respectively.

It probably doesn’t come as much surprise to see that China is right up there with the United States — that number is partially dependent on population, after all — but what’s really interesting is the crazy amount of momentum in the Chinese smartphone market.

China became the largest smartphone market with regard to devices shipped late last year, and now Flurry pegs China as (what a surprise!) the fastest growing market for iOS and Android devices. China’s smart device market grew just over 400% year-over-year, easily pulling ahead of BRIC compatriots Russia and Brazil, whose smartphone markets grew (a completely respectable) 189% and 220% respectively between July 2011 and July 2012.

Interestingly enough, the second place title goes to Chile with 279% year-over-year growth. The South American country has proven itself to be quite a startup hub (thanks in part to innovation-friendly government programs like Startup Chile), and it’s shaping up to be quite a mobile hotspot to boot. You developers paying attention?

One thing Flurry sadly doesn’t delve into is how exactly iOS and Android usage breaks down in these countries, but there’s been considerable buzz about how those platforms are performing internationally lately.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that iOS’s market share in China has taken a pretty substantial dip as potential consumers wait for a new iPhone to be announced. Meanwhile, savvy Chinese ‘droid builders grow increasingly committed to bridging the quality gap that more than few foreigners see in their products — keep your eyes peeled on devices from Huawei, Meizu, and Xiaomi (which DST founder Yuri Milner seems awfully fond of) if you haven’t already. Numbers for Chile are a bit harder to find, but tablets and smartphone sales are expected to grow dramatically this year — according to IDC Latin America’s Marco Soto, Android powered most of the tablets sold in Chile in 2011. What’s more, Google may end up spending more time focusing on that region, if remarks from Google’s Hugo Barra are any indication; he told a gaggle of journalists in Santiago that 2012 would be the year of the smartphone in Latin America.