Street View on Google Maps is now available as its own Android app

Google / Street View

As major tech companies continue to unbundle their offerings into individual apps, Google has today followed suit with the launch of Street View on Google Maps (version 2.0) as a standalone app on the Google Play store.

Amazon also just made available its video-streaming service as its own app on Android earlier this week.

If you have a smartphone with gyroscope, you can now take and upload photospheres from directly inside the Street View app. You can also browse the wide range of existing photospheres that Google has made available.

Everywhere Google's Street View imagery is available across the world

Above: Everywhere Google’s Street View imagery is available across the world

Google has shown that it’s not afraid to explore the more uncharted parts of the globe to make the Street View experience great. In March, it took to the Amazon rainforest on a zip line for its latest real-world imagery.

Users can also float down the Colorado River, or — going as far back as 2013 — goggle over giant pandas in the zoos of Asia.

Apple is known to be working on its own Street View rival for Apple Maps since June. But while Apple was only just getting started, Google was the same month recording its first-ever vertical Street View imagery.

Google's new Street View standalone app

Above: Google’s new Street View standalone app

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Gluru launches to become Google Now for business


As a certain Isaac Asimov once penned, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I felt that way the first time I saw Google Now. When it originally launched, I just happened to have a flight booked the next day. With a simple swipe, the details of that trip were shown front and center, along with a reassurance that my plane was still on time. A few days later, Google Now started showing me the latest results of matches including my favorite sports teams. Magic.

Of course these days, thanks in part to Google, we expect this level of personalization. In fact, according to my most recent study, over 77 percent of “digital natives” expect a personalized website experience.

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But solutions like Google Now, while great for individuals and consumer-level data, don’t work so well for those trying to do business — the entrepreneurs, salespeople, and executives that need their own documents and communications at their fingertips.

Attempting to solve this problem, Gluru has today unveiled a first look at its new app on Android and web browser, designed to be the “Google Now for your business content,” surfacing exactly what you need, when you need it, in context with your business activities.

Gluru’s founder and CEO is Tim Porter. Porter was marketing director at Shazam before spending six years at Apple as part of the core team in the early days of iTunes Europe. His most recent tenure was at Google, where he was instrumental in launching Google Play in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). In January 2015, Gluru closed a $1.5M seed round with investors Playfair Capital and GECAD Group leading the round and participation from angels including former Shazam CTO Chee Wong. Porter showed me around the Gluru app on both the browser and in Android.

On launching the app, a clean interface shows you the day ahead. It draws this information from your calendar and other connected sources, such as planned meetings, calendar invites, and more. It understands and presents the contacts it thinks you’ll need to interact with that day, and shows you what meetings you have coming up.


Above: The daily digest after selecting a particular contact

Selecting one of those events makes the magic happen. Not only was I presented with a list of the people in that meeting, but Gluru also showed me all the Google Drive content it thinks is pertinent to that event. Gluru currently presents files and information from Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and Evernote. Selecting a person from the daily digest shows me the files it thinks are important for that contact.

Importantly, the more you use it, the better the system learns, understands, and anticipates your needs. At its heart is a machine-learning engine that uses predictive analytics to better understand the user and what they need, when they need it.

In addition to the daily digest, Gluru includes a button with a lightning bolt icon. It is, somewhat tongue-in-cheek I suspect, called the “Now Button.”


Above: The “Now Button” in action on Android

Pressing this tells you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing right now, and presents all the information that will help you in that current task. Gluru also offers a search capability that allows you to find anything it understands — people, documents, spreadsheets, meetings, companies, and more.

I talked with Porter about the future of Gluru. In particular, we discussed the future of the solution, and plans to link it to CRM solutions, project management systems, and other third-party data sources.

“Although Gluru can benefit individual consumer users, our focus is on busy professionals either as individuals or as a team,” Porter said. “We see Gluru as the future brain of data-heavy CRM or project managements systems, and more. Imagine the time saved if all of your information was automatically organized into Salesforce, and it recommended the files you need, before you know you need it, so you don’t have to retrieve it.”

As a long-time user and now analyst of solutions like Salesforce, the appeal of this is not lost on me.

“What if when a file is shared in Slack, all the files you need to work with automatically appear,” Porter said. “In a sense, this is a smart layer between your files, wherever they are. Solving the issue of knowledge management, and associated wasted time in a smart, elegant contextual way, is what truly excites us.”

But what happens if Google expand its Now solution to include document look-up functionality that surfaces the right content based on calendar entries?

Gluru-daily-digest-Android“Google Now is outwardly focused on bringing you useful information and context from the Internet and is a generalist assistant for consumer users,” Porter said. “Gluru is purely focused on saving time for professionals and is dedicated to organizing information from your workflow and connecting that information to you or your teams’ important moments.”

But Porter believes the separation between Google Now and Gluru isn’t just about target markets.

“The AI and deep learning technology behind the recommendations that Gluru makes for calendar entries is something that is beyond any features available right now,” Porter said. “Gluru is not only about calendar recommendations — it predicts the most important people you will work with and the most important files you will need to work with them. Gluru then learns from you the more you use it. Gluru also automatically organizes your files based on your workflow, so you no longer have to spend time filing.”

The company is planning additional integrations with internal network systems for instant access to company files, workflow and CRM software, as well as with additional applications including iCloud, Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, and more. Gluru is also planning an API for developers and enterprises to build its capabilities into new or existing applications, like Slack, Hipchat or Salesforce.

Following a closed beta that included over 300 professional users, Gluru is available to the public today from Google Play and its website. An iOS version is planned. Gluru is free for individuals, and there are no limits on usage. The company does charge for teams, but pricing is on a per request basis and is dependent on the size of the team.

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China’s mobile gaming industry will surpass the U.S. as it grows to $5.5B this year

The top games and apps in China.

China’s enormous population is giving it spending power that will outstrip even consumers in the United States this year in certain sectors — such as mobile gaming.

Smartphone and tablet games should generate more than $5.5 billion through the end of 2015, according to a new report from Asia market-intelligence firm Niko Partners. That is a huge chunk of the $30 billion that people spend on mobile gaming worldwide, and it is also a 66 percent year-over-year increase from $3.3 billion in Chinese spending last year. And this makes China a bigger spender on mobile gaming than the United States. Obviously, that kind of money has to look enticing to game developers around the world, and that’s where Niko comes in with its full 2015 Chinese Mobile Gaming Report.

“We believe that games become popular because they fill a void for gamers,” Niko founder and managing partner Lisa Cosmas Hanson said in a statement provided to GamesBeat. “It is important to evaluate what voids there are in Chinese culture, and then match game development to those as well as to the gamer behavior and characteristics of a good mobile game in a popular genre.”

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Hanson notes that social-casino apps are extraordinarily popular in China. Gambling is illegal in that country, but people still want the thrill of making bets and winning cash — even if it’s virtual.

“With [a focus on filling voids] mobile game developers may find their way to the next big Chinese hit game,” said Hanson. “Because hoping to make it big with an international title lobbed to a Chinese publisher for localization is not an effective path to success.”

Put differently, China is a convoluted market with several barriers to entry even for some of the biggest developers in the world. That’s why, despite China’s spending, most developers will still have an easier time finding success in the United States and other Western territories.

The problem with China is that success is nearly impossible without a local publishing partner. Android is far more popular than iOS, but Google’s Play Store does not have a significant presence. Instead, dozens of companies run their own app-distribution channels. And developers need publishing partners to help it forge the deals to get onto those stores.

When developers do find a publisher, they have to give up a far bigger split of the revenues than is customary in the West. In the U.S., a mobile developer often gives a 30 percent cut to Apple or Google. In China, studios have to give 30 percent to the publisher and another 30 percent to the distributors.

And then there is average revenue per player (ARPU). Yes, China’s $5.5 billion is a far larger number than the $4.5 billion that U.S. mobile gamers will spend this year, but that is largely due to the 420 million people who play mobile games in China. That’s nearly 100 million more than there are human beings in the United States. Estimates put the number of mobile gamers in the U.S. at around 165 million in 2015.

The difference in gaming populations means that developers will have an easier time squeezing cash from players in the U.S. That’s because the average revenue for each Chinese player is only worth $13.10 compared to the $27.27 value of an average U.S. player.

The ARPU alone probably wouldn’t scare most developers away from China, and indeed it doesn’t. But when combined with the smaller cut of revenues, the corporate maze to release a game in China, and the rough competition (studios release thousands of games every month and most fail), it’s easy for developers to find reasons to put off entering the world’s biggest market for mobile gaming.

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Japan’s Line rolls out a cute Android launcher because it’s not cute enough already

Line Launcher

All I can hear in my mind is Japanese teenagers (mostly girls) giggling and pointing at how cute Line’s new icons and skins are in the Android launcher that the company just announced today — called Line Launcher.

For example, there’s a battery app featuring a very adorable white bunny rabbit looking pretty pleased with himself, and a phone boost app with a cute brown bear and yellow duckling sitting side by side, looking very cute indeed.

“Line Launcher is a smartphone skinning application which allows users to customize their home screens with ease,” the company said. “Users select and download themes comprised of wallpaper, icons, widgets and more, and then utilize simple steps to transform their entire phone all at once.”

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It added: “Themes include popular Line characters such as Brown, Cony, and Sally, as well as other motifs such as scenery, nature, and animals. With over 3,000 free options to choose from, users can easily switch between themes to find the one that suits them best.”

To give you an idea of just how seriously Line’s users in Japan (and elsewhere, especially countries it’s popular in like Taiwan and Thailand) take new rollouts like this, one user review on the Google Play store already complained about the lack of a “KPop category”.

The launcher seems to be doing pretty strongly, with 4.5 stars in the Play store immediately following its roll out.

The company wanted to make clear that this wasn’t the same thing as its other app, Line Deco, which allows users to add customised wallpapers, icons and widgets to their phones.

By comparison, it said, the launcher “offers a plethora of standard widgets, including a battery power monitor, a one-tap boost that frees up memory on the device, a comprehensive search engine that lets the user sift through web pages, apps, and contacts all at once, settings switchers for Flash, Wi-Fi, and location services, and more.”

On a more serious note, Line has been trying to diversify its offerings and grow its user based outside Japan after disappointing Q2 earnings that saw revenues down quarter-on-quarter for the first time.

Last week the company updated its Android app with a new focus on low-cost calling (possibly in an attempt to pull in more revenue from that channel), and earlier this month launched a lite version of its mobile messaging app to attract users in emerging markets.

We’ve included some more press images from the announcement below:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 13.08.08

release_image_LINE-Launcher_en release_image_LINE-Launcher_en02


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Mirrativ is DeNA’s mobile livestreaming app — and it has potential beyond gaming

Mirrativ Guy

Whenever someone mentions that I should set up a livestream, the first hurdle that comes to mind is all the external hardware components I’ll have to set up in order to just capture game footage. If it’s for a mobile phone game, the logistics get even more complicated.

DeNA, one of Japan’s larger mobile game publishers and e-commerce providers, thinks it has a solution for this problem. Today, the company announces Mirrativ, a mobile phone livestreaming platform, whose beta test is going live today from 4 p.m. Pacific to 8 p.m. Pacific (Android 5.0 and iOS 7.0. Apple’s OS does not support the broadcasting side of the app yet, but it can view streams).

In a ridiculously quick hands-on demo of Mirrativ last week, I was able to set up an account and start a live broadcast of a game running on an Android device within about three minutes. I didn’t need to hook up any external converters or fumble around with another camera. My gaming session was live, with my face and voice being captured wirelessly, with a delay from 3 seconds to 5 seconds.

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The user interface on the broadcaster’s end allows for tweaking the stream settings on the fly and seeing viewer comments in real time. Adjusting the camera feed window is as easy as dragging it around with my finger and adjusting its scale (or turning it off altogether). It also provides options to make the mobile phone’s screen private during certain activities, such as receiving a text message, checking email, and answering the phone.

Viewers watching the stream through Mirrativ’s app can also show approval for things going on during the broadcast, by tapping an approval generator that will display an explosion of cartoon stars on the broadcaster’s device.

Mirrativ livestreaming

Above: All you need to stream is your mobile, your face, and a thumb

Image Credit: DeNA

The entire experience seems incredibly simple and intuitive, so much so that I thought someone else must’ve figured this out already. It’s essentially using the phone’s camera and microphone to capture my face and voice while also capturing the device’s display.

Amazingly, so far, I’ve found a ton of applications that can capture either my phone’s desktop or allow me to toss a feed up from my camera, but nothing that combines both like Mirrativ. Even Twitch, the go-to company for all things livestreaming, only provides a solution for mobile developers to add support for easier access to its platform within it games. This makes it a game-by-game solution.

Yet I can’t find anything that is as robust and uncomplicated on the mobile platform.

Although DeNA is pushing Mirrativ as a game livestreaming app, and that’s absolutely what it is designed to do, I also see it as a potential one-up of the Vine and Periscope concepts. As more people find themselves thrust into the role of amateur journalists in hot spots such as Ferguson, I think there is great potential with how this app handles capturing content.

The person holding the device and capturing footage can set up a broadcast right then and there in seconds, complete with a miniature view of their face discussing the scene around them. The capability to give the camera operator a human face is a small one on the technical side, but it could be incredibly powerful from the narrative standpoint of our viral video world.

One snag holds this idea back: DeNA doesn’t seem to offer any sort of storage solution. So streams out of the gate will become nothing more than fleeting digital noise. If they can at least allow content to be uploaded to another source for archival purposes, or directly uploaded to a video repository such as YouTube, I think this app could be incredibly useful beyond gaming.

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Apple’s former CEO John Sculley unveils two sleek and cheap Android smartphones

Obi Worldphone SF1

Former Apple chief executive (1983-93) John Sculley caught the tech industry off-guard today when he revealed a pair of low-cost but sleek Android (uniquely-skinned, running Lollipop) smartphones.

The two phones, which bring to mind elements from Nokia’s Lumia devices and HTC’s polycarbonate unibody mid-range phones, are the result of a collaboration between Sculley and Robert Brunner’s Ammunition Group.

The Obi Worldphone SJ1.5 ($129) and SF1 ($199) are designed in San Fransisco, but expected to be initially launched outside the U.S. in emerging markets. This is likely in an attempt to steal some market share from players like Xiaomi and Huawei who have had so much success to date.

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Xiaomi and Huawei have already pushed past Apple to become the first and second largest phone makers in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market as of Q2. It’s unclear if Sculley will initially include China in his plans for emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East — but it would probably be a good idea.

If Obi Worldphone can take even a very marginal slice of market share in an emerging market like China, with its 250 million connected 4G mobile users as of July (on a total mobile user base of 1.29 billion), it would make for a strong start to the Obi line. Large but lesser explored markets like Indonesia will also be of interest. And then of course there’s India.

On the slightly more expensive SF1, the product description reads:

A floating high-resolution screen sets the tone for the power of surround sound and performance of professional camera equipment. With leading-edge processor and battery life, Obi Worldphone SF1 is built for living.

And on the cheaper SJ1.5:

You can recognise Obi Worldphone SJ1.5 from across the room. Quality materials, carefully applied splashes of color and extra sharp finishes show off your smart choice. An instantly recognisable shape breaks the mold. With a crisp, squared-off top and a curved bottom that gives it a distinctive look and feel, SJ1.5 is modern fun that never grows old.

Check out the official video below, or head on over to the Obi Worldphone and Ammunition Group websites to check out the full gallery of images (specs included at bottom):

SJ1.5 product specifications:

  • 3G
  • Polycarbonate unibody with curved touch display
  • Magnesium-Titantium Alloy chassis for added strength, 131g5” IPS with curved glass touch panel
  • HD (1280 x 720 pixels), 294 pip
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • MediaTek MT6580, 1.3 GHz Quad-core processor
  • 16GB Internal Storage + 1GB RAM
  • MicroSD up to 32 GB
  • Primary camera 8MP AF OV8865 with LED Flash (f/2.2 Aperture)
  • Rear-facing camera 5 MP
  • Dual Micro SIM
  • Micro USB v2.0
  • Embedded 3000 mAh Li-Po battery

SF1 product specifications:

  • 4G LTE
  • Unibody with metallic accents and floating glass display, 147g, 7.8mm thick
  • 5” JDI In-Cell IPS
  • Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels), 443 ppi
  • ProtectionCorning Gorilla Glass 4
  • Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, 1.5 GHz 64-bit Octa-core processor (Adreno 405 GPU)
  • 32GB Internal Storage + 3GB RAM or 16GB Internal Storage + 2GB RAM
  • MicroSD up to 64 GB
  • Rear camera 13MP AF with LED Flash (Sony Exmor IMX214 Sensor; f/2.0 Aperture)
  • Front-facing camera 5 MP with LED Flash
  • Dual SIM (Micro+Nano)
  • USBMicroUSB v2.0
  • Embedded 3000 mAh Li-Po battery with Quick Charge 1.0
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This new app lets you control your Android phone from your computer

Vysor's Chrome app allows me to use my Moto X on my Toshiba Chromebook 2.

If you’ve ever gotten tired of picking up your Android phone while you’re sitting in front of your computer, well, you’re not the only one. A new Chrome app allows you to use your Android phone right from any computer that can run Chrome. It works on Windows, Mac OS X, and Chromebooks.

The new Vysor app comes from ClockworkMod, a company that has previously built several Android apps. It’s available in beta in the Chrome Web Store. In order to run the app, you’ll need to have Chrome 42 or a more recent version running on your computer. Then, once you’ve installed the app and chosen the right Android device that’s connected to your computer via USB, you’ll have to permit USB debugging using the pop-up dialog box that pops up on the Android device.

I was able to get my 2014 Motorola Moto X phone running remotely on my Chromebook and then on my Macbook Air.

Running my Moto X on my MacBook Air, thanks to Vysor.

Above: Running my Moto X on my MacBook Air, thanks to Vysor.

Image Credit: Screnshot

The launch of the app follows the rise of apps like Pushbullet, which last month started letting users send SMS messages on desktop. That’s useful in some instances. But with Vysor, you can do so much more — you can use any of your phone’s apps from the desktop and see it mirrored on the phone.

The app could be helpful for Android app developers. In fact, that’s what Koushik “Koush” Dutta, the founder of ClockworkMod, had been thinking when he developed Vysor, as he wrote in a Google+ post on the app today. But non-developers can use it for a wide variety of purposes, too.

Here’s a video of the app in action, courtesy of Dutta:

Google Brings Interactive Watch Faces And Built-In Google Translate Support To Android Wear

interactive-watch-faces Android Wear’s watch faces are getting a bit more interesting today. Developers were always able to display a lot of information on their watch faces, but users couldn’t interact with them. Starting today, however, you’ll be able to install interactive watch faces that allow you to pull up more information and launch apps with a tap right from the watch face (and… Read More

Monster Strike makes a frightening $4.2M every day — while spending only a fraction on marketing

Japan is worth an incredible amount to the top one or two games on iOS and Android.

Japan’s mobile gaming market is huge, but just a few games take home a bulk of that spending. And one is making an extraordinary amount of cash on a daily basis.

Developer Mixi, which produces the Japanese megahit Monster Strike for iOS and Android, reported that the game made $378 million from April 1 through June 30 (via gaming analyst Serkan Toto who specializes in the Japanese market). That comes out to $4.2 million for each day of last quarter. That’s actually up from the $3.8 million that Monster Strike was making every day of the previous quarter from January 1 through March 30. It seems like Mixi’s game is well on its way to racking up more than $1.5 billion over the course of 2015 and through the developer’s fiscal year, which ends March 30, 2016. That puts it right new to other mobile megahits like Puzzle & Dragons, Clash of Clans, and Candy Crush Saga in terms of revenues.

“The game isn’t showing any signs of weakness,” analyst Serkan Toto wrote in his blog. “What is especially astonishing about the Q1 figures is that close to 100 percent of sales come from Japan alone.”

Toto points out that Mixi is shutting down the game in China, where it has flopped.

In addition to the Japanese monopoly on Monster Strike spending, the game is also notable for arriving at its success while Mixi only spent $21 million on advertising through the quarter. That’s only $230,000 for each day that it was making $4.2 million. Developers were spending half of that amount just for the air time to market games like Clash of Clans during the Super Bowl. And that doesn’t include however much Clash of Clans developer Supercell had to pay actor Liam Neeson to appear in those commercials.

“On an annualized basis, global companies like Supercell generated only slightly more sales lasts year while spending 4-to-5 times more per day on advertising,” said Toto. “[So] it pays to be the leader in a high-value, largely closed market [like Japan].”

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