Elevation Dock for iPhone Breaks Kickstarter Record, Raises $1 Million through Crowd-funding

Today is a rather momentous day for the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. Elevation Dock – a stunningly well designed iPhone dock, broke LunaTik and TikTok’s record for the highest amount of funding for a single project, and also became the first project to raise more than a million bucks from Kickstarter.

Elevation-Dock

Elevation Dock is a high-end iPhone dock that is designed with the kind of precision and care that would make even Apple proud. It is precision engineered from solid billets of aircraft grade aluminum, and then hand buffed, glass bead blasted, electro-chemically micropolished, hard anodized and sealed. Elevation Dock features a unique low friction connection that allows hassle-free single handed undocking; all you need to do is pull the phone up. Even more impressively, Elevation Dock works equally well on iPhones with or without a case. Elevation Dock adheres to Apples design principles to the T, and in doing so makes Apple’s own iPhone dock look cheap and shabby. It is simple, elegant, drop dead gorgeous, and intuitive to use.

It is worth noting that the previous record holder on Kickstarter was also an Apple related project. Scott Wilson managed to raise $942,578 for his iPod Nano watch. The TikTok project also paid meticulous attention to design and construction. The iPod watches were engineered from premium material, and were both beautiful and convenient.

Elevation Dock is the first to reach the $1 million mark; however, its reign at the top will be fairly short lived. Indie video game Double Fine Adventure, which was announced earlier today, has already shattered the record for the most funds raised in 24 hours with more than $800,000, and it still has 33 days to go.

Google’s Cloud Storage Solution Believed to Be Coming Soon

It appears that Google has had a change of heart, and has finally decided in favor of launching its own cloud storage solution to compete with the likes of Dropbox, Box.net, SkyDrive, and iCloud. The Wall Street Journal believes that Google is very close to launching Google Drive, something that users have been anticipating and demanding ever since Gmail launched with a gigabyte of storage. In fact, Google was almost ready to launch a similar product called GDrive, way back in 2008. However, Sundar Pichai, the current SVP of Chrome and Apps, managed to get the product dumped with a bizarre argument that files are outdated. According to Steven Levy’s “In the Plex”, Pinchai believed that “Files are so 1990”.

“You just want to get information into the cloud. When people use our Google Docs, there are no more files. You just start editing in the cloud, and there’s never a file.”
– Sundar Pinchai

Google’s entry into the cloud-storage arena is long overdue. Both Microsoft and Apple have compelling products in this segment, which are already (or soon will be) tightly integrated with their own ecosystem. Google, on the other hand, has allowed third-parties like Dropbox to take control of the Android ecosystem. What makes the prolonged lack of an online backup solution from Google surprising is the fact that Google is well known for having access to ginormous quantities of cheap storage. In fact, Google already offers plenty of storage to users in the form of Gmail, Google Docs, and Picasa. What it has been lacking so far is an integrated solution to unite its assorted services.

Google-Drive

Like its competitors, Google will be opting for a freemium model. The basic storage plan for Google Drive will be free, with additional storage available for purchase. It will be interesting to observe how Google prices its new product. If it retains the current model of charging $5 per year for additional 20 gigabytes, and $20 per year for 80 gigabytes, it could very well demolish its competitors. It is also likely that at some point, Google will bundle Drive with Google Apps for Android, which should give an instant boost to its user base.

Dropbox famously turned down a nine-figure acquisition offer from Apple. Now, with Google, Microsoft, and Apple setting their sights on the cloud storage market, it will have its work cut out. However, if Dropbox manages to retain its focus on innovation and superior customer service, it will prove to be a tough competitor to beat.

Report: Flipkart Acquires LetsBuy

FlipkartAmazon is yet to enter India with its full force, but the ramifications of the impending launch are already being felt. Flipkart, which refused to let itself be acquired by Amazon, has made the aggressive move of acquiring LetsBuy.com – its biggest competitor.

Medianama is reporting that Flipkart paid anywhere between $20 million and $25 million for LetsBuy, which is the second largest online retailer in India. Flipkart, which reportedly raised $150 million at a valuation of around $850 million, is the undisputed leader. It sells almost twenty products every minute, and is expected to cross the $100 million revenue mark during the financial year 2011-12.

Flipkart is no stranger to acquisitions, having earlier acquired WeRead, Mime360, and Chakpak.com. However, none of its previous acquisitions were competitors. Instead, they were platforms and technologies that Flipkart believed would help in improving its core product.

At this point it will be prudent to take this news with a pinch of salt, since neither of the involved parties have confirmed it. However, if Medianama is spot on, then by acquiring LetsBuy, Flipkart is formally flagging off the consolidation phase that analysts have been predicting for a long time. Although, online shopping is rapidly gaining traction in India, the entry of a behemoth like Amazon will undoubtedly send shockwaves throughout the industry as smaller players will be hard-pressed to compete with Amazon’s inventory and pricing. LetsBuy, which is well known for its extremely aggressive pricing, will undoubtedly help Flipkart scale better. Although, it is possible that the acquisition will hurt consumers in the immediate future by reducing competition, it will probably turn out to be a good thing in the long run. The consolidation of the two biggest online retailers will enable the resultant entity to offer a more spirited challenge to the big names that will almost surely make an entry in the Indian ecommerce segment within the next couple of years.

Update: Sachin Bansal, the CEO and Co-Founder of Flipkart, has confirmed that “the rumors are true”.

Anonymous Retaliates Against Crackdown on Occupy Oakland Protests

In the past couple of weeks, more than 300 people have been arrested in connection with the Occupy Oakland protests. Multiple incidents of violence were reported across Oakland with the police often resorting to the use of excessive force. As you might have guessed, the police clampdown didn’t sit well with Anonymous, which has retaliated in the only way it knows how. Anonymous has leaked private information of several top city officials, who may or may not have had a role to play in the reported police brutality.

Date of birth, address, private phone number, salary, social media accounts and other information of several prominent Oakland officials including the Mayor Jean Quan and her husband, City Administrator Deanna Santana, police Chief Howard Jordan, City Attorney Barbara Parker, and all City Council members, have been leaked. The only council member to be spared is Rebecca Kaplan. Anonymous thanked her for “being a true leader in the community” and revealed only her public phone number.

The hacked information is available on Pastebin, but Anonymous being Anonymous also released a dramatic video to announce their latest move. The video and its transcript are embedded below.

Anonymous has been watching. Since the inception of Occupy Oakland, We have been actively monitoring your behavior, and exposing the identities and sensitive information of Officers of the Oakland Police Department; as they have continued to act in an unprofessional and violent manner. You tear gassed Us. You shot Us with your weapons. You arrested Us. You beat Us. You also did this to Our Friends, and to Our Families. We watched as you cut budgets, cut Our jobs, closed Our schools, Our parks, and Our libraries, while leaving your own salaries alone. We laughed in disgust as Deanna Santana said she would need to speak to her attorney before discussing her pay cut. The people on this list are supposed to represent the best of what the City of Oakland has to offer. If they are the best, why is there so much trouble within the Police Department, and in the City of Oakland?

We are shocked and disgusted by your behavior. Before you commit atrocities against innocent people again, think twice.

You should have expected Us.

Amazon Limps into India with Junglee

It’s an open secret that Amazon wants to grab a share of the rapidly growing e-commerce segment in India. Today, Amazon made its first public move by launching Junglee.com, which describes itself as “an online shopping service by Amazon”. Somewhat disappointingly though, Junglee is nothing like the Amazon that we are familiar with.

The bar on 100% foreign direct investment, coupled with the steep prices demanded by local players like Flipkart, has made it difficult for Amazon to come in all guns blazing. As a result, it has opted to kick off with a soft launch in the form of the revival of a brand that it had acquired almost fifteen years ago.

Junglee isn’t an online store. You can’t buy products directly from Junglee. It’s a price comparison service that pits several online retailers against each other. Junglee features 1.2 crore products and 14,000 brands from hundreds of retailers including Homeshop18, UniverCell, Hidesign, Gitanjali, The Bombay Store, Fabindia, Bata India Limited, Dabur Uveda, Microsoft India Store, Reebok, and Amazon.com. Conspicuous by their absence are some of the biggest players like Flipkart, Infibeam, and LetsBuy, which are likely to offer the stiffest competition to Amazon India.

Junglee

Junglee isn’t the e-commerce destination that consumers had been anticipating and online retailers dreading. It’s just another price comparison service that is handy, but hardly disruptive. I am certain that the full-fledged launch of Amazon India is in the pipeline. However, until then, Amazon is testing the waters with this new India oriented service. It’s a smart move as Junglee will allow Amazon to get the logistics in place, while thwarting bigger players like Flipkart by offering smaller retailers increased visibility.

New YouTube Design Spotted in the Wild

Google is well known for testing the hell out of even the smallest of changes. When it couldn’t decide between two shades of blue, it tested 41 different shades of blue on users to statistically determine which one yields best results. In fact, most of the new features that were revealed in the recent YouTube redesign were spotted by users months in advance. At any point of time, there are dozens (hundreds?) of different variations of Google services being tested in the wild. Earlier this week, two hawk-eyed Neowin users spotted a couple of YouTube features that we haven’t seen before.

The first screenshot, shared by FMH, shows a revamped video suggestions sidebar. The new sidebar looks a lot more attractive, thanks to the increased prominence of images. Compared to the current sidebar, it’s also a lot more compact, but it loses several pieces of metadata about the video, including duration, uploader, and view count.

YouTube-Sidebar

The second variant, which was spotted by bogas04, features an improved seek bar. When hovering over the video timeline, a thumbnail preview of the frame you are about to seek to pops up. Unlike the first change, which I have mixed opinions about, this seems to be a nice usability improvement that should make rewinding and jumping ahead to a particular moment more convenient.

YouTube-Seek-Bar-Thumbnail

Apple Attempts to Reinvent Textbooks with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author

After disrupting the entertainment industry, Apple has now set its sights on the education sector. In an event held at the Guggenheim museum in New York City, Apple announced its plans to reinvent the textbook industry.

At the heart of Apple’s textbook strategy is the iPad. The iPad’s potential as an educational device was apparent from the very beginning. More than 1.5 million iPads are currently being used in educational programs. However, the lack of structured content has prevented students and teachers around the globe from realizing its full potential. All this is set to change with today’s announcement of iBooks 2.

Textbooks are informative and comprehensive. Unfortunately, they are also dull and boring. “There is no reason to assume today that kids need to use the same tools they used in 1950”, explained Apple. iBooks are essentially full-fledged iPad applications that are designed to make learning fun by tapping the intuitiveness of learning on a multimedia capable touchscreen tablet.

iBooks will feature interactive graphics, 3 dimensional models, videos, search, interactive quiz, glossary, and more. Apple’s iBooks makes highlighting content, taking notes, and creating study cards as simple as a few taps and swipes on the screen. Additionally, books purchased will be perpetually available in the library, and will continue to be updated as the publisher releases new editions.

iBooks-1

iBooks-2

The advantages of Apple’s new digital textbook platform are several. However, none of that would have mattered if they were not priced right. Thankfully, Apple is again adopting its already proven model of undercutting the established distribution model with smart pricing. All textbooks will be available for $14.99 or less, which is an astronomical price reduction when compared to their dead tree counterparts. Currently, college students often end up spending upwards of thousand bucks on textbooks alone.

iBooks-Search

Apple is not only making it easier to consume information, but also to create information. It is releasing a new application for Mac called the iBooks Creator. As the name suggests, the iBooks Creator is aimed at publishers looking to create iBooks (which may or may not be textbooks). It is a WYSIWYG editor that makes creating gorgeous and interactive textbooks drop dead simple. Most of the stuff can be accomplished by simple drag and drop, and more advanced features can be added through HTML and JavaScript widgets. The iBook Author is available as a free download.

iBooks-Author

Apple is launching its new initiative with all the big guns on-board. Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which account for 90 percent of textbooks sold in the US, are among its launch partners.

[images via Engadget]

Indian Government and Courts Ignore Common Sense and Laws of the Land in a Drive to Leash the Internet

Even as the anti-SOPA protests continue to gain momentum in the US, time may have come for a similar campaign in India. A Delhi High Court judge, while hearing a criminal complaint against Google, Facebook and other online services, threatened to block all such websites “like China”. This comes just weeks after Kapil Sibal, India’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, courted controversy by asking Facebook and Google to pre-screen content.

Backstory

CensorshipThe latest controversy began when, Vinay Rai, the editor of an Urdu-language newspaper, moved the lower court to prosecute 21 websites on which he discovered objectionable content. Speaking to the WSJ, Rai stated that the content he found “offends several religions including Hinduism, Islam and Christianity” and “involves pages and groups where users have mocked Hindu gods and goddesses, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ”. In response, the trial court issued summons to the concerned organizations, which were approved by the Ministry of External Affairs.

“The sanctioning authority has personally gone through the entire records and materials produced before him and after considering and examining the same, he is satisfied that there is sufficient material to proceed against the accused persons under section 153-A, 153-B and 295-A of the IPC,” the Government said in its report.

Google, Facebook, and several others named in the complaint moved the High Court to seek exemption from the trial court as a similar case was already pending with the High Court. However, the HC judge – Justice Suresh Kait, not only refused to stay the trial court proceedings, but also threatened to go the China way if web-services didn’t clean up their act. He asked websites to develop a mechanism to keep a check and remove offensive and objectionable material from their web pages.

As you might expect, the court’s remark sent alarm bells ringing and have elicited sharp criticism both within and outside the country. Google’s advocate N K Kaul, remarked, “The issue relates to a constitutional issue of freedom of speech and expression and suppressing it was not possible as the right to freedom of speech in democratic India separates us from a totalitarian regime like China”. Manoj Nigam, VP-IT, Vodafone India, termed the demand to monitor and remove content “slightly absurd”, while Tamal Chakravarthy, CIO of Ericsson India believes that “Its (sic) highly improbable that such an act would come into existence”.

Google Search Gets its Most Significant Update Ever, Becomes More Personal

When Google launched Plus, it made it pretty clear that Plus itself was just one facet of Google’s social plans. Now, it is ready to unveil the other major component. Google Plus will soon become an integral part of Google Search – the core product on which Google built its empire.

Amit Singhal, the person who has shaped Google Search for more than a decade, wrote, “We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships”. Google has been experimenting with Social Search for over two years. However, empowered by its own social network, Google is now going to go where it couldn’t or wouldn’t go earlier. It is dubbing the new experience as “Search, plus Your World”. It centers around three crucial features.

Personal Results: Just as the name suggests, Google will tap into your Google Plus circles to fetch content created and shared by your friends. Looking for a place to party on a Friday night? Google can pull up places your friends have visited along with their comments. The objective is to add more context to information so that the search results do a better job at answering your queries.

Google-Personalized-Search-Results

Profiles Search: Google is adding profile autocomplete that will scan your circles to suggest friends, in addition to celebrities and other public personalities. “So when I search for [ben smith], I now find my dear friend Ben every time, instead of the hundreds of other Ben Smiths out there”, explained Singhal. The results themselves will also have tight integration with Google Plus. The results will be hyperlinked to Google Plus profiles, and you will be able to add people to your circles directly from the search results page.

People and Pages: The new Google search results page will have a little sidebar called “People and Pages on Google+” that will highlight personalities and communities related to your search term. For example, if you search for music you will see profiles of popular singers and musicians like Britney Spears and Alicia Keys.

Google-People-and-Pages-on-Plus

“Search, plus Your World” is possibly the most radical update to Google Search ever. Make no mistake about it, as it begins rolling out to the millions of Google users across the world, ramifications are going to be felt. Most people resist change, and even the smallest of them often triggers vociferous protests. Google’s new personalized search dramatically alters search results, and often pushes Google Plus in your face. While there are plenty of cases where a personalized result will be more relevant, there are plenty of occasions where they will in fact be detrimental. Personalized search often creates a myopic world where new and useful information is buried beneath the familiar and old. So it’s no wonder that some people are going to hate “Search, plus World”. In fact, lots of people are going to hate the new Google Search. Fortunately, Google also realizes this. For the first time ever, it will be really easy to opt out of personalized and social search. With the click of a button you will be able to toggle between global results and your personal results, on a query to query basis. You will be able to see and judge the pros and cons of personalized search for yourself.

Yahoo Finally Gets a New CEO. It’s PayPal President Scott Thompson

Yahoo Four months after unceremoniously firing Carol Bartz, the Yahoo board has finally picked a new CEO. Scott Thompson, who is the president of PayPal – a division of eBay, will be leading the struggling internet giant from next Monday. He will also be appointed to Yahoo’s Board of Directors.

“Scott brings to Yahoo! a proven record of building on a solid foundation of existing assets and resources to reignite innovation and drive growth, precisely the formula we need at Yahoo!,” said Roy Bostock, Chairman of the Yahoo! Board. Under Thompson, PayPal grew from 50 million to more than 104 million active users in 190 countries worldwide, increasing the number of merchant partners to more than 8 million globally, and growing revenues from $1.8 billion to $4+ billion in 2011. Before his stint at PayPal, Thompson also worked as chief information officer at Barclays Global Investors.

Thompson’s name was suggested yesterday by Kara Swisher, but is otherwise somewhat of a surprise. He is the black horse that almost all industry analysts missed, and he certainly has his task cut out. Thanks to the lack of vision and clarity of Yahoo’s previous leaders, the internet giant is now a mere shadow of its former self. Yahoo arrogantly resisted Microsoft’s takeover attempt, and then later failed to find a buyer as its stock price continued to plummet. Yahoo failed to encourage and cultivate innovation, and instead drove away many of its talented engineers and leaders. In his statement, Thompson said, “Speed is important but we will attack both the opportunity ahead and the competitive challenges with an appropriate balance of urgency and thoughtfulness”. Let’s hope that he succeeds.