Samsung Ventures-Backed Maluuba Launches Its ‘Siri For Android’ In The U.K., Australia, And Ireland

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Lots of third-party alternatives to Apple’s Siri exist, and the promise of an AI-assisted ‘personal assistant’ has been the talk of futurists for what seems like an eternity (the tardy time keeping is in the job description). But one such offering — Maluuba — caught our eye when it launched at TechCrunch Disrupt last month. And today the Android app, which was initially only available in the U.S. and Canadian Google Play Store, sees its debut in the U.K, Ireland, and Australia.

Pitched as a “do engine”, like Siri, Maluuba uses Natural Language Processing to accept voice commands and queries to interrogate and search numerous third-party services — and take various actions, such as scheduling meetings, alarms and location-based reminders, or doing something as frivolous as sending a tweet. So, for example, ask it something like “What movies are playing in London this week?”, and you’re presented with movie show listings and viewing times in London, which you can then take action on, such as adding a reminder. As you’d expect, the app also tightly integrates with Google Calendar.

It cover around 18 discrete domains. These span restaurants, movies, and general knowledge questions (which, just like Siri) are powered by Wolfram Alpha. Yelp, Eventful, West World Media (movies), Rotten Tomatoes, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Weather Underground and Wikipedia are among the other APIs used by the service.

So far, so Siri (at least the Siri of old, before it was acquired by Apple). However, where Maluuba deviates from Cupertino’s voice-driven assistant is that the app doesn’t talk back at you, which may or may not be a good thing. Instead it relies solely on its Windows ‘Metro’-esque UI for returning subsequent information and issuing follow-up prompts.

To bring the app to today’s additional markets, Maluuba had to expand its data set to provide the needed local information, though interestingly, I’m told that no further third-party APIs needed to be plugged in. For example, when Maluuba first launched, movie data was available only for the U.S. and Canadian markets. In addition, it was biased towards the U.S. (i.e., it defaulted to imperial units of measure).

As for where Muluuba is heading next, the company is staying mum. “We cannot share those details right now, as product development in other countries is still being worked out”, says Maluuba’s People Experience Designer, James Simpson.

Considering that the startup has $2 million in funding from Samsung Ventures, as we’ve noted before, one distinct possibly is that the app may find itself ‘on-deck’, pre-installed on Samsung handsets — though this is purely speculation on our part. In light of Google’s own preemptive virtual assistant, Google Now, it would be another way to put some clear water between Android’s stock offer and Samsung’s wares.

Smart TVs would seem to a further possibility, something that Maluuba has hinted at in the past.

More broadly speaking, Maluuba says that it is working “aggressively” to expand its product on several fronts. “We believe that the future of mobile computing will be defined by personal assistants which can help you quickly complete your day-to-day tasks on the go. You should be able to pick up your mobile device and ask it just about anything and it will come back with an intelligible and most importantly a useful response”, says Simpson.

And although we’re back into futurist territory again, to make that future happen sooner, Maluuba is planning to release an API/SDK to allow third party developers to leverage its Natural Language Processing engine which drives its current offering.

Apple Could Face Scrutiny Over Standard Warranty Duration On Products In The EU

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Apple has faced heat in Italy over its standard consumer product warranty, which offers consumers protection against manufacturer-caused defects and failures for one year, and now it looks like that might lead to even more trouble across the European Union, according to a new letter from EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. In the letter, Reding asks member countries to find out whether Apple might be failing to notify customers of their “automatic and free-of-cost entitlement to a minimum two-year guarantee under EU law.”

In the letter obtained by Bloomberg, Reding calls Apple’s practices “unacceptable,” a sentiment in keeping with an earlier decision by Italy’s Antitrust Authority to begin proceedings in July in order to get Apple to change its marketing tactics around warranties or else face fines and a potential product ban. That followed a $1.2 million fine last December from an Italian judicial body over how warranties were presented, which also changed practices on the Italian Apple website (Apple now alerts users about the two-year warranty).

The European Commission can’t go after Apple directly in order to investigate allegations of misleading advertising, but it can apparently pursue legal action against member countries that fail to hold up its rules. That means this strongly worded letter to member countries is essentially a message that others should follow Italy’s example.

Apple does have a page on its EU sites describing the statutory warranty, and also comparing it to Apple’s one-year warranty and the AppleCare extended warranty coverage, which incurs an added cost. The main difference between the three is that the EU regulated guarantee only applies to defects present when a consumer buys a device, and claims are handled through the seller, not necessarily through Apple directly.

Apple is right to point out that its plan and coverage differ from the EU warranty, but the Commissioner appears to take issue not with the fact that Apple sells its own warranty, but that consumers aren’t made aware of the one included by EU law on every product in a more upfront manner. This letter, combined with the Italian decision, could cause more headaches for Apple down the road, depending on how EU member states react to the suggestions it contains.

I’ve contacted Apple for more info or comment and will update when I hear more.

Online Gaming Group bwin.party Sells Poker Network Ongame To Amaya For Up To $32.2M

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Canada’s Amaya Gaming is to buy bwin.party’s B2B poker network Ongame in a deal worth up to €25 million ($32.2 million). An initial payment of €15 million ($19.3 million) is payable in cash on completion — expected during the fourth quarter of 2012 but subject to standard conditions including regulatory approval. Additional payments of up to €10 million ($12.9 million) become payable if regulated online gaming arrives in the U.S. in the next five years.

“The acquisition of Ongame bolsters Amaya Gaming’s product portfolio, transforming Amaya into a leading provider of gaming platforms,” said David Baazov, Chief Executive Officer of Amaya Gaming, in a statement.

“Amaya looks forward to unleashing Ongame’s technology to its full potential through the leveraging of our many B2B relationships and delivering new partners and players to the network.  The Ongame platform is scalable, proven and secure and is well suited for quick deployment in new regulated markets.  We’re excited about the wide range of opportunities this acquisition makes possible for us as we execute on our vision,” he added.

The Ongame poker network hosts online poker rooms for brands including Betsson, Betfair and Coral.

Release follows below

Sale of Ongame to Amaya Gaming Group Inc. (‘Amaya Gaming’)

bwin.party today announces that it has agreed to sell Ongame, its business-to-business (‘B2B’) online poker network, to Amaya Gaming Group Inc. (‘Amaya Gaming’) for a total cash consideration of up to €25.0 million.

Contingent consideration will become payable by Amaya Gaming if there is regulated online gaming in the United States within five years of completion.  The exact amount of the contingent consideration will depend upon the extent of the regulation based upon the number of states that regulate and the total population covered.

The transaction is subject to the normal terms and conditions for a transaction of this type as well as certain regulatory approvals and is expected to complete during the fourth quarter of 2012.  The management of Ongame will transfer with the business and the net sale proceeds will be used by bwin.party for general corporate purposes.

Information on Ongame

Ongame Network Ltd (‘Ongame’) is one of the world’s largest B2B poker providers. The global network includes 25 of the e-gaming industry’s strongest brands that are owned by a total of 19 operators. Ongame also operates regional networks in France and Italy.  The company offers both operators and their players a wide variety of cash games and tournaments to choose from. Further information about Ongame can be found at www.ongame.com.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Jim Ryan and Norbert Teufelberger, the Co-CEOs of bwin.party, said:

“The sale of Ongame conforms to our strategy, especially as we move closer to launching our single, proprietary technology platform in the next few months. We believe Ongame will fit well into Amaya Gaming and has an excellent future ahead.”

David Baazov, Chief Executive Officer of Amaya Gaming, said:

“The acquisition of Ongame bolsters Amaya Gaming’s product portfolio, transforming Amaya into a leading provider of gaming platforms.  Amaya looks forward to unleashing Ongame’s technology to its full potential through the leveraging of our many B2B relationships and delivering new partners and players to the network.  The Ongame platform is scalable, proven and secure and is well suited for quick deployment in new regulated markets.  We’re excited about the wide range of opportunities this acquisition makes possible for us as we execute on our vision.”

bwin.party was advised by McQueen Limited.

Resignation Media Hires CEO John Ellis To Run Tapiture, Its Fast-Growing Pinterest For Men

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The idea of a “Pinterest for men” is something that gets thrown around a lot — a few months ago, it seemed like I’d get a pitch for a new one every day. Tapiture is one of the newer contenders, but its traffic numbers suggest that it has a chance at claiming the title.

It helps that the site is associated with an established property, namely humor site theCHIVE. Leo Resig, co-founder of Resignation Media (which owns both properties) tells me Tapiture has its roots as a photo-tagging system on theCHIVE, before growing into a site of its own, where users can share (or, in Tapiture’s terminology, tap) photos of attractive women, cool products, funny jokes, and anything else.

Resig sounds almost gleeful when he describes the chaotic mix of content on Tapiture’s home page as “a shit show.” It turns out that mix is a product of human curation, without which the site would probably be nothing but scantily clad women. (One of the curation team’s other big tasks is eliminating content that’s outright pornographic.) Ultimately, Resig wants to turn Tapiture into “the most interesting homepage in the world” (at least for the site’s target audience): “It’ll rival Reddit.”

That approach is already attracting an audience. Tapiture launched about three months ago, and it’s currently bringing in 26 million monthly pageviews from 1.5 million unique visitors. The average visit time is seven minutes. And the company points to Alexa data suggesting (and it’s always risky to take these kinds of third-party numbers as fact) that it’s well ahead of competitors like Dudepins, Manteresting, and Gentlemint.

To turn Tapiture into a real business, Resig just hired John Ellis to serve as the site’s CEO. (Previously, Resig was running Tapiture himself.) Ellis previously led operations at marketing network Webxu and served as both COO and CMO at ad exchange NextMedium (which was acquired by Brand Affinity Technologies).

Right now, Resig says Tapiture is very much still in the beta stage, but eventually, he wants to build up a business around e-commerce. Resig says he has already seen “male buying power first hand” through Resignation Media’s e-commerce site theCHIVERY, and he thinks the model should be a good fit for Tapiture, too. As the company hires more curators, some of them will turn their attention away from zapping porn and instead “plow through the Internet to find the coolest shit online” — not the aspirational, expensive stuff featured in glossy magazines like GQ, but items in the $20 to $40 range.

Adobe’s Acrobat XI Boasts New PDF Editor And Touch-Friendly Interface — Upgrades Start At $139

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Adobe is ready to share the details behind Acrobat XI, the latest version of its product suite for creating, editing, and viewing PDFs.

The company demonstrated the product at a press event earlier this month, where the big emphasis was collaboration and productivity – more specifically, the “productivity gap” created by the challenges of working with documents. The company is releasing an IDC study that it commissioned showing (for example) that a company of 1,000 spends an average of 3.5 hours a week compiling different files and formats into one format, 3.7 hours gathering and consolidating feedback, and 3.4 hours consolidating data from forms. That adds up to an annual productivity cost of $15.9 million per year, the study says.

Adobe’s underlying message: By adding features (even relatively small ones) to Acrobat that address these inefficiencies, it can make a big difference on a company’s bottom line.

One of the big additions is a new tool for editing text and images. PDFs have already become less static thanks to Acrobat’s existing PDF editor, but the company says that with Acrobat XI, PDFs have become “completely editable.” For one thing, all the editing capabilities are unified in the Edit Text and Images tool (pictured above). Adobe has also added a “find and replace” text editing feature, and edited text automatically reflows, so you don’t have to worry about things like line breaks. In other words, it’s a lot more like editing any other document.

Acrobat XI also offers a drag-and-drop interface for merging multiple files into a single PDF. You can rearrange the documents within the PDF to your liking, as well as the pages within those documents.

Acrobat XI boasts improved integration with a number of other services, too. On the Adobe side, there’s integration with EchoSign, making it easier to provide electronic signatures from directly within the product. Beyond Adobe, users can also export their PDFs as PowerPoint presentations (expanding on the existing ability to export into Word or Excel).

Given the growing use of tablets and smartphones in a business context, it’s not surprising that Adobe Reader also comes in a touch-friendly interface now (pictured above), allowing users to not just read PDFs, but also annotate, fill in, and sign them.

Acrobat XI will be available within 30 days, Adobe says. Acrobat XI Standard has a list price of $299 ($139 for an upgrade from a previous version of Acrobat), while Acrobat XI Pro has a list price of $449 ($199 for an upgrade).

Testing Out Bodymetrics, The Startup That Wants To Be A Denim Shopper’s Best Friend [TCTV]

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Few industries with mainstream visibility and appeal have remained as unplugged from serious tech disruption as apparel and fashion. Of course, the realm of shopping has had major shifts, as has the marketing of clothing from the runway to the mall clothing rack. But the way that clothes are actually made has remained surprisingly unchanged in many ways.

When it comes to the incredibly popular category of blue jeans, for example, clothing samples are typically designed to the proportions of a single human “fit model.” Then, versions of that design are replicated in smaller and larger sizes to be sold to the masses. Different brands are known for having different shapes, but with the ever-increasing variety available in the premium denim category alone, it can be pretty daunting to know where to start. Basically, if you want more customization for fit, you better have a good tailor.

A Bodymetrics scanner

A company called Bodymetrics is keen to bring a bit more personalization to this whole process. The company, which is jointly headquartered in London and San Francisco, makes walk-in pods that use the same technology found in the Microsoft Kinect to get a full rendering of the shape and size of each shopper’s body. The program, which has software and hardware components, then recommends to you the best brands, fits, and sizes for your body type.

Bodymetrics has made quite a splash in the UK for several years, but just landed stateside this past summer when it installed a scanner at the Silicon Valley outpost of Bloomingdale’s. Like a lot of people I know, I’ve been eager to check it out, but also a bit skeptical — about both the technology and the platform’s actual usefulness.

So I solicited TechCrunch’s head of events and partnerships (and resident fashion bug) Leslie Hitchcock and TechCrunch TV producer Ashley Pagán to make the trek down to the Palo Alto Bloomingdale’s to try out the Bodymetrics scanner in person. You can watch her experience with the technology along with Bodymetrics’ creative director Tania Fauvel in the video embedded above.

It was also a big pleasure to meet with Bodymetrics’ co-founder and CEO Suran Goonatilake, who was on-hand to dive a bit deeper into the company’s technology and business strategy. You can watch our interview with him in the video embedded below.



Up Close With The Next Big Home Commodity: LED Lighting

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Editor’s note: Sal Cangeloso is the editor of Geek.com and wrote a new book on an odd topic. It’s called LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future and it focuses on the upcoming explosion in LED manufacturing, offering a basic understanding of the technology and an interesting look at the history of LED lights.

You can buy LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future here and the first three commenters below get a copy of the book. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book discussing the growth of lighting from old-timey incandescents to modern LED technology.

The incandescent bulb is a good place to start with any talk about lighting. This design has had tremendous longevity (over 130 years) and it makes for a cheap, versatile bulb. Unfortunately, this design is also power-hungry, inefficient, short-lived (with some exceptions), and fragile. They produce a minimum amount of lumens-per-watt, though they’ve made appreciable gains over the years, and are highly sensitive to power conditions. For example, a 5% reduction in voltage could double the life of a bulb while only decreasing light output by 20%.

One of the most notable strengths of the incandescent is the quality of the light it provides. This isn’t as easy to define as some of the other characteristics that will be covered, but it’s an important one when it comes to consumer adoption. After all, it’s nice to try to sell people on longevity and power savings, but if they think that the new bulbs are ugly or are too different from what they know, you’ll find them hoarding 75W and 100W incandescents before such bulbs are removed from the shelves.

Quality of light means that in order for people to be comfortable with the light these bulbs provide, the bulbs will need a color temperature that they find to be in an acceptable range, a high degree of color accuracy (usually measured by CRI), and a usable light pattern, to name a few qualities. The bigger point, as any early CFL or LED bulb buyer could tell you, is that if the bulbs don’t produce attractive light that people are comfortable being around, it won’t matter how long they last or how little power they consume.

Incandescents have good qualities, but ultimately their inefficiency means they are not a viable solution moving forward. Even modern incandescents can turn about 90% of the energy they take in into heat, which is obviously wasteful and inefficient in the extreme. Physicists might argue that this isn’t wasteful at all, and you might enjoy the heat they provide, but most of us want to leave the lighting to the lights and the heating to our furnaces. Before we demonize the long-standing bulb design, it’s worth noting that there is such a thing as efficient incandescence. While these are in fact more efficient versions of the incandescent bulb, they are still not at the level of top CFLs and LEDs. In fact, GE was working on a high-efficiency incandescent (HEI) for about 18 months, but gave up on it in order to focus its efforts on LED and organic LED (OLED) bulbs. HEIs were said to produce about 30 lm/W with the ultimate goal of doubling that amount.The halogen lamp is a type of incandescent that operates hotter and lasts longer, but its efficiency gains are minimal.

The much-maligned CFL solves some of the efficiency problems of incandescent bulbs, usually producing around 50 lm/W. Unfortunately, each bulb contains a small amount of mercury (about 4 milligrams per bulb), so disposal can be a problem, especially if the thin, usually helical, glass breaks. The bulbs have reasonably long lives, usually rated for 5,000 to 15,000 hours—but they don’t last nearly that long if they are used in short time spans as rapid cycling is bad for the bulbs. That means a CFL in a bathroom or closet might not last much longer than an incandescent bulb, despite what it says on the package. In fact, a CFL that runs for an average of 15 minutes at a time might last just 40% of its rated lifespan. Alternatively, a CFL that is used continuously from the first time it was turned on might last close to twice its expected lifespan.

CFLs saw a big jump in marketshare in 2007, capturing around23% of the market, but have been in decline over the last year or so, despite the bulbs being widely available, affordable to purchase, and much cheaper to operate than incandescents. Part of this is due to an increasing number of consumers learning about the CFL’s use of mercury, but current economic conditions also indicate that people have simply been looking for a more affordable option. In that respect, incandescents still cannot be beat.

One of the most important characteristics of LED lighting is that they are solid-state. “Solid-state” might be a term we normally associate with computer parts (as in the solid-state drive) but it’s not something the casual LED buyer will ever consider. The concept is quite simple: rather than generating light through burning or gas-discharge, LEDs use semiconductors. The is the most fundamental and important distinction that determines why LED lights have their unique characteristics and will be able to have such an impact on the lighting market. As seen in other industries, semiconductors improve at an exponential rate and have a way of taking over wherever they are used. Lighting should prove to be no different.

Of course, LEDs are just one type of solid-state lighting; there are also organic LEDs (OLEDs) and polymer LEDs (PLEDs). Right now, the LED is the main focus of SSL adoption and its future looks quite promising, thanks to the efficiency gains it brings to the market. OLEDs and their carbon-based semiconductors have potential, but high costs mean they won’t be a viable option as soon as standard LEDs.

The advent of solid-state lighting doesn’t just mean more efficiency. Just as with the introduction of high technology to other parts of our lives—from our phones, to our mail, to our televisions—light is now high-tech. In this case, it’s not the tech that makes the difference, it’s that this latest step means our lights could soon be gadgets. Today’s technology brings with it intelligence and connectivity, which makes way for lights that can be tracked, controlled remotely, and designed to work with other devices. While the humble incandescent was just a conduit for electricity and output both light and heat, a modern-day bulb can be and do much more.

What does this all mean for the LED lamp? Basically, the time is ripe for growth. LED adoption is low at the moment, but not because purchasing one won’t pay off. An LED bulb will pay for itself many times over thanks to its energy savings, but the high initial cost is just too much of a hurdle for many businesses and is unpalatable for even more consumers. As prices drop we’ll see a dramatic growth, just as CFLs grew when it was clear that they could lead to long-term savings and could, in fact, provide acceptable light for our kitchens and living rooms, not just offices.

The Kindle Paperwhite Is A Reader’s Dream

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The e-reader arms race moves at a glacial pace. Barnes & Noble does one thing, Amazon follows. Amazon adds a feature and, slowly but surely, B&N adds the same thing. While the Kindle itself has been updated five times since 2008, it seems like it’s been around for decades and has only just now gotten much, much better.

The latest e-ink Kindle, the Paperwhite, is a beautiful device, plays catch-up, and arguably surpasses the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. The device is as small and compact as the previous Kindle and yet is more completely featureless. Like the Nook Simple Touch, Amazon has eschewed all front buttons for a very usable touch interface. To start the device, you tap a small button on the bottom and then swipe to unlock. This two-step process ensures the device doesn’t wake up in your bag.

The real magic comes in the new “paperwhite” backlit display. Like the Nook Simple Touch With Glowlight, this device glows ethereally through the front of the screen offering a uniform brightness with the barest bit of dark mottling at the edges. You can change the screen brightness and even turn the light off entirely. Amazon has also improved the battery life, claiming eight weeks of use even with the light on (compared to the Nook’s month). While I wasn’t able to test the battery life this time, it’s clear that this thing holds a charge for a good long while, as the needle hasn’t moved in the battery meter in the week I’ve used it.

The best thing about the display is that it essentially turns completely white – hence the paperwhite – when the backlight is on. The page, then, is white rather than grey. Because the light is adjustable, you can read at night without waving to wake your neighbor with a bright tablet screen and, more importantly, you can read in the dark without a booklight.

The Paperwhite costs $179 for Wi-Fi/3G and $119 for Wi-Fi only. It costs $20 extra to remove special offers from the lock screens, though I doubt you’ll notice.

This Kindle maxes out at 2GB of storage (the Nook has 2GB of internal storage and a microSD slot) and mounts on your PC or Mac as an external drive, allowing you to sideload docs and mobi files. You can also connect wirelessly to Wi-Fi or cellular WLAN.

Improvements to the interface include a higher resolution screen with clear greyscale images as well as a “time left in chapter” readout that tells you how many more pages you should turn before turning in.

Should you buy this e-reader? If you’re in the market for an Amazon-branded e-ink reader, this is definitely the one to get. Whether you chose this or the equally excellent Nook comes down to the number of books you own on each platform. At this point, B&N and Amazon are playing a numbers game. The devices are approximately the same – hence the glacial pace of evolution, all things considered – and I can find little that an average user would miss in the Nook that can be found here. To be fair, the Paperwhite does have an absolutely beautiful screen when backlit and it looks almost perfectly white while the Nook still has a tinge of grey.

My recommendation, as well, is to pick up the 3G version, as it makes it easier to grab books on the go than the Wi-Fi-only model.

I’m a fairly loyal Kindle user (my wife is a Nook-head) so I would lean toward the Paperwhite in recommending a device. However, I’m wildly impressed with the simplicity and beauty of this device. If ever there was anything similar to the fabled Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is it. Except for the notable lack of the Don’t Panic logo, we are well on our way to existing in a paperless future for better or worse.

Click to view slideshow.

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