Friday, September 6, 2013

CRM Platform Omnistream Comes Out Of Private Beta To Help Luxury Brands Woo Shoppers In China

Omnistream, a Web-based customer relationship management software developed to help luxury brands boost retail sales in China, is exiting private beta today after finishing the Alchemist Accelerator program for enterprise startups. Headquartered in Hong Kong, Omnistream’s software helps sales associates in upscale stores market to Chinese customers, who demand more personalized service. According to McKinsey, China is expected to account for more than 20% of global luxury sales by 2015. But that doesn’t mean affluent customers are willing to drop thousands of dollars on a whim. In order to convince shoppers that their products are worth the higher price, upscale brands have to woo them first, showering potential customers and VIPs with special perks and attention that might seem over-the-top to Western consumers. “It’s not just confined to luxury retail, it’s an overall Chinese business paradigm,” says Chen. “Personalized relationships are important in everything. Customers want to hear ‘I’m recommending this watch to you because it looks good on you and I have the exact color you are looking for and your size.’” Many brands already use CRM platforms like Sage, but few have services that are localized for luxury retail sales staff in Hong Kong or mainland China. Chen says sales associates often skip their company’s CRM. Instead, they prefer to write down detailed notes about shoppers and use their mobile phones to send potential buyers emails, SMS texts or WeChat messages about promotions, special events and products. Omnistream enables sales associates to do all those things through a single Web-based platform. “The biggest difference between our product and other software is our focus on frontline sales. Especially if you are not a well-known luxury brand, the main connection consumers have is with your frontline staff. Invitations to sales, product launches, all come from frontline staff,” says Chen. “Right now there isn’t a systematic way to do that.” Without a platform to centralize marketing efforts by different sales associates, a lot of valuable data and insight is lost. Omnistream is currently integrated with WeChat and Chen says the startup plans to add other messaging apps that are popular in Asia. Omnistream’s platform lets sales associates tailor messages for specific customers or groups. The software’s analytics then enables retail managers to see which marketing campaigns are getting the most results. One of Omnistream’s beta clients is a luxury watch maker that found shoppers will make three to five visits to its stores to view timepieces before finally making a purchase. In order to convince customers to buy a watch, sales staff have to stay in touch with them between visits without being annoying. According to the startup, before the watch company started using Omnistream, only 7% of first-time customers returned to make a purchase within three months, but its software helped increase that percentage to a figure in the low twenties. Chen says Omnistream wanted to participate in an accelerator program in the U.S. instead of Asia so it could get access to founders with experience scaling up enterprise software companies. Omnistream’s mentors have included Adam Pisoni, co-founder of Yammer, Timothy Chou, former CEO of Oracle On Demand and Meebo co-founder Elaine Wherry. Now that it is out of private beta and seeking new clients, Omnistream will market itself by getting in touch with regional retail managers instead of brand headquarters, since they are the people responsible for overseeing sales teams at individual stores. The startup is targeting companies with retail locations in Hong Kong, the largest luxury shopping destination for mainland Chinese tourists, and southern Chinese cities.

Simple.TV Is Looking To Invade Europe, With A New Box That Features A Dual Tuner And Cloud-Based DVR

Simple.TV is ready for its second act. After launching its streaming DVR box in the U.S. last year, the startup is ready to take on what it sees as an even bigger opportunity — Europe. The company will head there with a new manufacturer, new hardware, and some new features that should get more users on board. Last year, Simple.TV launched a Kickstarter campaign for the first generation of its streaming DVR box, which it targeted at cord cutters watching television through a digital antenna. Since then, the company has raised $5.7 million in funding and is preparing to launch a new version that’s a lot more powerful and has new features to appeal to cable-free households. New Hardware The new box is being manufactured and distributed by consumer electronics maker Silicondust, with plans for distribution in the U.S. later this fall. The hardware is smaller and sleeker than the previous box, and features a dual tuner and new chipset from Zenverge. It’ll also feature a new version of the Simple.TV software for browsing and searching for programming that users want to record and stream to other devices later. Users will be able to stream to apps for the iPad, Roku, and other connected devices. The new version of Simple.TV will also be able to connect with Google’s ChromeCast, the Xbox 360, and other DLNA-compatible devices. In addition to being able to stream live and recorded TV from a digital antenna, the new Simple.TV box will also feature over-the-top content from services like Netflix, according to Simple.TV CEO Mark Ely. The combination of over-the-top video along with the ability to take TV content anywhere, should appeal to even more cord cutters. One other feature that the company is working on is cloud-based DVR. Currently, users have to connect their own USB hard drive or network-attached storage to the Simple.TV box to get the DVR part to work. But in the future, the company plans to enable users to save and stream their shows from the cloud instead. That feature isn’t slated to launch until early next year, however. The Opportunity In Europe In addition to launching its cloud-based DVR, Simple.TV also has big plans to go after the European market in a big way. The Silicondust partnership will help with that, as the companies expect to make the Simple.TV hardware available there in the Spring of next year. Due to the wide variety of freely available broadcast stations and the number of users who tune into them, Simple.TV thinks there are a lot of users who would want the ability to stream those signals to other devices or save programs for later. All of which is why the company is demoing its product at IFA Technology Show in Berlin. The new hardware supports international broadcast standards such as DVB-T2, DVB-C, DVB-S2, and ISDB-T, meaning that users overseas will be able to record and stream their broadcast channels to Simple.TV’s mobile and connected TV apps as well. With that in mind, Ely sees Europe as a potentially bigger opportunity than the U.S. We’ll see how that goes. Before that, Simple.TV gotta ship the new hardware and software, but with cash in the bank and a new manufacturing partnership, it seems poised to do so.

Nitrous.IO's Packaged Chrome App Turns Chromebooks Into Full-Blown Developer Machines

With the right tools, Google’s Chromebooks make for cheap Linux development machines, but it takes a bit of work to get there. Nitrous.IO, which offers a fully cloud-based development environment for writing Ruby, Ruby on Rails, Node.js, Go, and Python/Django apps, launched its packaged app for Chrome today. This app turns any Chromebook into a full-blown development environment with an IDE, full terminal access and collaboration tools for pair programming. This packaged app, the Nitrous.IO team tells us, is the “first Packaged App available in the Google Chrome Web Store that offers a full web-based IDE and linux terminal.” It’s worth noting that you can always install the packaged app on Windows or OS X, too (and on those systems, you now get Chrome’s new app launcher to start these apps, too). Using Google’s packaged apps gives developers API access to native hardware features that are not usually available to regular web apps, including the networking stack, Bluetooth and USB. This means, developers can use it to add things like shells (which Nitrious.IO uses) to their tools. Packaged apps can also run outside of the browser, which makes them also feel quite a bit more like native apps, even though they are built using HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. The Nitrous.IO team notes that using a packaged app allows it to offer a “faster and more seamless experience vs. a traditional web browser.” Nitrous.IO provides developers with a fully cloud-hosted development environment with the ability to provision new “boxes” — that is, virtual machines for development — at will. The service offers a free tier with 384MB of RAM and 750MB of storage for basic apps or developers who just want to dip their toes into the environment (or a new language). Additional memory and storage, of course, costs extra.

HTML5 Gaming Startup Artillery Lures Starcraft Personality Sean “Day[9]” Plott Into Design Role

Artillery, the startup that’s looking to bring Starcraft-quality strategy games to web browsers, just poached one of competitive gaming’s better-known personalities. Sean “Day[9]” Plott, who has built a following of several hundred thousand rabid gamers and Starcraft fans through shows and gaming commentary, is joining the startup in a game design role. He’ll be guiding the design of the Artillery’s flagship title, a real-time strategy browser-based game that should be out next year. “We were using our technology to build a real-time strategy game and knew that Sean, one of the world’s authorities on competitive, multiplayer gaming, would ensure that that we were tuned in to the needs of our players,” said Artillery’s CEO Ankur Pansari. “After we worked with Sean for a few weeks, it became obvious that he was the right person to drive game design.” Artillery’s team is made up of Google, Facebook and Zynga alums and has $2.5 million in venture backing from First Round Capital, Signia Venture Partners, Lowercase Capital, General Catalyst Partners and Andreessen Horowitz. Pansari got connected to Plott through some of his Starcraft tournaments and began courting him at the beginning of this year. Plott said, “He was telling me about this great idea — about bringing console-quality experiences to the browser — and I explained to him that it probably wouldn’t work because of issues with latency and other things. But he actually pulled out a working demo and I was like holy shit. So from there, I was excited.” Indeed, HTML5 gaming has had more than its share of flameouts. Even Facebook shifted toward supporting native development for third-party apps after an initial run at an HTMl5-based platform fell short of expectations. Several other startups like Moblyng have shut down given the technical challenges of creating experiences that are on par with apps natively built for tablets or for other downloadable PC games. Initially, Artillery was building out technology and a platform that it would have licensed out or offered in partnership with other game developers. But they shifted toward building first-party games after studying the history of many other companies in the field. “We studied hundreds of gaming companies through history, and we focused our time on understanding modern examples that we really admire, like Valve and Riot,” Pansari said. “These companies, which created billions of dollars in value, all bootstrapped their platforms with really great first-party titles that are centered around communities.”

Yahoo! Looks Ahead With A New Logo, But Users Still Prefer The Older One More!

Yahoo! earlier today revealed the fruits of its month-long logo labor: a new, still-purple Yahoo! with an animated exclamation mark (H/T Tumblr), no more serifs (H/T Optima), jaunty curves (H/T humans), and some nice Y-fronted 3-D relief worked in for good measure (H/T skeuomorphism). Big work, and they are all proud of it. Problem is, those pesky consumers. They’re not happy. Up to announcement day, Polar, the image-polling app founded by Luke Wroblewski — formerly the chief design architect at Yahoo who worked on the last logo — had been running votes comparing Yahoo’s old logo with the new ones that Yahoo released daily throughout the month of August to get people excited for the big reveal. Today, Polar added a new poll, comparing the actual new logo with the old. Guess which one is winning out. As of right now, the old logo is beating the new one, 193 votes to 105. It’s still early days, and you could say that this is because consumers are creatures of habit and resist change. But actually, in one of the previous polls, the old logo lost out to one of the other candidates in Yahoo’s month-long campaign. The squat, sans-serif Day 10 picked up 2,797 votes versus 1,248 for the old incumbent. To be fair, many of the candidates offered up in Yahoo’s daily logo campaign — with their uneven baselines, crazy kerning, baby-shower-invite cursive and super-stylized serifs — were almost certainly there for fun, not serious consideration. But judging on votes alone, some had potential. In addition to day 10, other days that came close (but no dice) were day two (3,062 vs 3,759 to old logo): And day five (2,594 vs 3,376): Maybe it’s because people were feeling more free with their votes, knowing that this was just a game and not serious, that they let Day 10 win out like that. But when the chips were down, new stuff is just too new. On the votes, Wroblewski had this to say (exclamation points his; purple blood runs deep): “People hate change, it’s natural for them to vote for the old logo. So if any new logo comes even close to the original, that’s a really good outcome! Day two and day five logos came really close, day 10 beat the original logo! That’s phenomenal. So people do seem to accept change, two proposed ones came close, one beating the original. “People would take to the new logo, but the new logo has to be modernized. People are looking for a modern look for Yahoo. They do not want retro, off the wall logos, and all those did really bad in the polls. People want an aesthetically sound and up to date take on Yahoo brand. Slick and put together.”

Zeus, An All-In-One 3D Copy Machine, Grabs $100K+ On Kickstarter In A Day

Meet AIO Robotics‘ Zeus “3D copy device”: a 3D printer, 3D scanner and 3D object faxing machine that’s blasted past its $100,000 Kickstarter funding goal after about a day on the crowdfunding trail. This hybrid box is on a mission to consumerise 3D printing by converging multiple functions and taking away some of the rough, manual edges. Building a hybrid box that incorporates both 3D printing and 3D scanning functions makes plenty of sense. The rise of 3D printers begets obvious demand for 3D scanners. Having an object digitiser on hand means you can clone and remix the real-world objects cluttering up your life, not just pull 3D designs off Thingiverse et al. for printing purposes. Add to that, making a 3D copy box that’s super easy to use is also a worthy goal — and a required one to accelerate 3D printing towards a more mainstream audience than the hacker/maker community that’s largely been fuelling demand thus far. Which is exactly what AIO wants Zeus to do. The 3D copier simplifies the print/scan process down to four basic functions: scan, print, copy, fax. Scanning means generating an accurate replica of a real-world object (the machines uses a swiping laser scanning process for increased accuracy) in a 3D digital file form that it can then print out, while the “copy” function means printing a simplified plastic copy of an object (so it’s quicker but less accurate). The fax function allows Zeus’ owner to send a copy of an object to another Zeus printer where it can then be printed out. Zeus will have a seven-inch colour touchscreen interface where users can select which of its four functions they fancy, and navigate through any stored 3D objects they want to print — there’s a built-in micro SD card slot and also on-board Wi-Fi for faxing and grabbing files from the Internet. Having a familiar touchscreen window for its owners to poke and prod, and a clean-looking UI, is clearly a key part of what gives Zeus a consumery, mainstream feel — as its creators note (albeit, it remains to be seen if the shipping product lives up to their easy-peasy UX claims): Our 7 inch Touch-Screen Display and User Interface is bar-none the most beautifully designed touch experience on the planet for 3D printers. We strongly believe this feature will change 3D printing forever as it not only makes everything easier and faster, but really provides that shelf-ready quality product that everyone desires. The incredibly simple UI makes the ZEUS extremely intuitive and user-friendly to transform all the complex technology into a simple experience. On the print side, the Zeus has a layer resolution of up to 100 microns, a build/scan volume of 26cm x 18cm x 15cm, and uses machined aluminium parts to improve stability/print quality. Also on board: a 2.1 megapixel camera (used for scanning and to help the machine’s AI correct scanning flaws and produce a smoother print), and a 1.7GHz quad-core chip — powering the on-board AI. Zeus is not the only hybrid 3D printer contending for your crafty custom. For instance, there’s the FABtotum 3D hybrid, currently seeking funding on Indiegogo, which also incorporates subtractive manufacturing abilities, such as milling and engraving into its print/scan mix. Plus there’s Mebotics‘ Microfactory “machine shop in a box.” However both of these devices are aimed at more specialist maker users/use-cases, rather than the more mainstream consumer Zeus is going after. Meanwhile if you want to go the Makerbot route, you’ll have to shell out for a separate Digitizer scanner to go with your Replicator 2 printer. And with the Digitizer costing $1,400 and the Replicator circa $2,199 that’s not a cheap option. (Albeit, there are plenty of alternative 3D scanners to pair up with a Replicator.) Zeus is offering its Kickstarter backers the chance to shave the cost of Zeus ownership down to size a little. At the time of writing, all the lowest price pledges — $1,999 — for its machine are bagged bar one but the next cheapest pledge offer of $2,499 is still a ways cheaper than the Makerbot combo. Backers are going to need to be patient, though. Zeus is not due to ship till July 2014, which is an awful lot of time in tech, so expect the 3D printing market to have changed considerably by then. If Zeus is able to live up to its promise of converging and simplifying 3D print tech — in an easy to use, consumer-friendly, all-in-one package — it could well carve out a sizeable niche for itself in a rapidly expanding space. There’s no doubt that converged, simplified devices are the future of mainstream 3D printing. It just remains to be seen who will end up making the breakthrough consumer device.

Google Brings Its Card-Style Layout To Drive For iOS

Google uses its card-style layout across the majority of its mobile apps, but until now, the Google Drive app for iOS had lagged behind. Today, however, Google is launching a new version of Drive for iPhone and iPad that brings this new design to the app, as well as a number of smaller upgrades that make using the service on mobile a bit easier. The updated app allows you to switch back and forth between the new card-style thumbnail view (which was already available in the Android app) and the usual list view. If you have a lot of files in your Drive account, you’ll appreciate that the list view now groups files a bit more intuitively and doesn’t just mix them all together. Among the smaller updates in this release are the ability to get links for any Drive file you want to share over email or in a text message (or store in a note). To get these, just open up the details pane for any given file, select “Get link” and the app automatically copies it into your clipboard. The app, Google notes, now also puts a stronger emphasis on search, which makes sense, given that most people now store enough files in their cloud storage accounts that just browsing them becomes a hassle. Google, of course, also uses OCR and image recognition techniques to make searching through non-text files in Drive easier (something Microsoft also recently introduced for SkyDrive).