Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

David Weir

The Buzz Builds Around Amazon's Tablet as a Major Challenge to Apple's iPad












It's been almost a year and a half since Apple launched the iPad, and to date it's sold some 29 million units of the device.

Competitors like Samsung, HP, Motorola and RIM have tried but failed to come up with tablets that could challenge the iPad's success, but now there's apparently a new kid about to join the fray.

And that would be Amazon.

Although we won't know for sure until Wednesday, when the Seattle-based retailer has scheduled a press conference, word has leaked out that Amazon's tablet is a color version of its Kindle e-reader, that operates like the iPad by touch, and with a smaller screen (seven inches as opposed to ten).

That we know, or think we know, all of these details prior to the company's formal announcement is significant if only because, outside of Apple, Amazon is one of the most secretive technology product companies around.

Coming Soon: Rocksmith, to Cultivate Your Inner Rock Star (by Teaching You Guitar)

The French company Ubisoft, which is the world's third-largest game developer, maintains its local headquarters at 625 Third Street, and is about to launch what may prove to be a revolutionary new game next month called Rocksmith.

Now, bear with me here. I'm not one to throw the adjective "revolutionary" around loosely. First, as a former 60s activist, I'm keenly aware of how overused that term has always been, and how rarely anything (particularly a product) described as revolutionary actually turns out to be so in the real world.

But this time, the adjective may prove fitting.

First, some context. Remember Guitar Hero? Or the large number of imitator games that followed?

I'll never forget the day I walked into a startup in 2008 in downtown Redwood City, where I first watched a bunch of geeks playing fake guitars, perhaps seeking to replicate the emotional high of being an actual rock star, albeit before a virtual crowd.

How Millennials Are Changing the Worlds of Media and eCommerce


While demographers and marketing executives may argue over how to define generations, they agree about the impact that Generation Y -- no matter which set of age parameters you use -- is having on communications technology, ecommerce, and the media.

It’s huge, as several recent reports document.

For example, a recent study from Barkley reports that Millennials aged 16-34:

  • Watch much less TV than other Americans (26 percent v. 47 percent).
  • But watch many more TV shows on laptops (42 percent v. 18 percent), and other devices.
  • Are much more likely to be influenced by their friends about where to shop, etc. (70 percent v. 45 percent).
  • Like to check out brands on social media sites more than older Americans (53 percent v. 36 percent).
  • Like brands more if on social media sites (33 percent v. 17 percent).

City Hopes Graffiti Will Go Virtual Via GraffCity App

In many parts of the inner city, graffiti sprouts as naturally as weeds, or flowers, depending on your perspective. The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) has been trying to reach the (mainly) youth population that's behind tagging in a variety of ways over recent years, and last week it unveiled one of its most intriguing initiatives yet.

GraffCity is an app that turns your iPhone into virtual spray can. You can point it at any building or vehicle or sidewalk (or even the sky) and tag without breaking the law or defacing someone else's property.

"It's quite amazing, actually," says Tyra Fennell, Arts Education Program Manager for the SFAC. "The tag looks like it's right there on the building."

But it's only there virtually. Once you upload your work to Facebook or to the website associated with the app, the augmented reality mode embedded in the app uses GPS to allow you to see other people's virtual tags as well.

Student Team Builds TappMob, An App Their Parents (and Many Others) Will Appreciate

It’s common to hear the latest generation of entrepreneurs referred to as “kids,” but when it comes to TappMob, founders Eva Sasson and Justin Mardjuki may just have found a way to use that label to their competitive advantage.

Their first app, Check-in, which is expected to be approved by Apple soon, allows an iPhone user with one tap to “send your location to one person,” says Sasson, adding quickly, “like your parent.”

In fact, Mardjuki says, that’s what directly drove this pair of 2010 graduates from College Preparatory High School in Oakland to create TappMob, which won the people’s choice award at this summer’s MobileBeat conference.

“Growing up in the Bay Area you have to drive everywhere. Our parents would freak out – ‘Where are we? When are we coming home?’ Or, ‘Where should we pick you up?’ Well, we’ve created an app to communicate with our parents easier. Long conversations are unsafe when driving.”

The same app fits many other use cases, as well, of course, which is not lost on these 19-year-old co-founders.

Pssst! Online Shopping is Exploding and -- Men and Women Shop Differently

Back in the early days of the web, there were some who predicted that online shopping would never take off, because, in addition to other hesitations, most people would never entrust their credit card information to a website.

Amazon started proving the critics wrong soon after it launched in 1995, and when eBay joined the party the following year, it quickly became apparent that ecommerce represented a massive new business opportunity where a lot of players were going to make (and/or lose) a lot of money.

Cut to the present tense, and ecommerce generated some $165.4 billion in sales last year, or roughly eight percent of the retail product sales in the U.S. According to Forrester Research, that figure will reach the neighborhood of $279 billion by 2015.

Meanwhile, with Groupon and Living Social, daily deals and flash sales, the sheer volume of marketing and shopping information coursing over the Internet has become deafening. Email, Facebook, Twitter are all bursting at the seams with the stuff.

Diffbot, the "Visual Learning Robot," Helps Web Content Go Mobile

Diffbot is one of those applications (and companies) you probably are not even aware of when you use it, but that's not necessarily a problem for the company's co-founder and CEO Michael Tung.

That's because his product is a "visual learning robot," that hundreds of developers are using to translate web content into better mobile apps, and as such it stays pretty much under the hood.

"We've invented this visual ID algorithm," says Tung. One of our core insights is that the entire web can be classified down to 30 page types. There are product pages, event pages, news pages -- we can identify them visually with 99.999 accuracy."

Diffbot technology identifies each page's components, such as nav bars, footers, etc., as part of its identification process. Design standards are such that there is a high degree of similarity between the various page types grouped by category.

One customer using Diffbot at present is AOL's recently launched Editions, which is a personalized daily magazine for the tablet.

San Francisco is "a Very zozi City," Says Founder of Adventure Startup zozi

S.F.-based zozi might be worth checking out the next time you want to challenge yourself by pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone.

The startup offers experiences like hang-gliding, mountain biking, or abalone diving.  There are also more prosaic options, like tennis, golf or cooking lessons.

“We are the go-to place for high-quality experiences,” says founder and CEO T.J. Sassani, whose inspiration for the company came when he encountered bull sharks while diving in Australia a few years back.

“At that moment, I suddenly realized there was nothing to fear – the sharks couldn’t care less about me – and I decided to try and make these kinds of experiences easier for other people to have.”

Inkling 2.0 Brings Collaborative Learning Model to Textbooks on the iPad

It’s Get Back to School time, and Inkling, the leading company reinventing textbooks on the iPad, has just won Apple’s approval for its 2.0 app. CEO Matt MacInnis calls it “the single most complex iPad app out there," and he may well be right.

It combines a 3-D rendering engine, a complex reading engine, and a full social search engine all wrapped into one, which also syncs across the devices you use to access it.

From a developer’s perspective, that’s complex.

Fortunately, from a user’s perspective, Inkling is simple to use. You tap on this, pull out that, scroll down here, and dig deeper over there.

The most striking aspect of Inkling 2.0 is the interactive social layer it has integrated across its current inventory of 50 academic titles, which will grow to 100 titles by year’s end.

Housing Search Engine HotPads Joins the Party in San Francisco

As entrepreneurs from all over pour into San Francisco to participate in the latest tech boom, rents are rising across the city. And one of the best ways to gauge that rise is to check out HotPads, the map-based housing search engine and listings service.

As it turns out, HotPads, the company, is part of this trend itself. The 20-person startup, which started as a tiny venture in Washington, D.C. in 2005, has just moved its headquarters to the Mission District.

“I’ve been trying to get back here for six years,” says co-founder Douglas Pope, whose first job after college (Notre Dame) was in this area.

HotPads uses its own mapping technology – back when the company started, Google Maps had not yet fully emerged from the laboratory, plus the search giant was not focused on mapping rental housing listings.

HotPads also offers additional layers of data, including neighborhood information, price comparison tools, school district and public transportation overlays, and so on.

In other words, the service tries to provide the kind of information you most need when you’re seeking a new place to live.

Daily Newsletters

Essential SF knowledge in your inbox