Tech + Gadgets
For all those who loathe chain stores (and wearing what everyone else is wearing), rejoice! A feisty and stylish startup called Boutiika launched its discovery directory this week. The savvy site highlights independent boutiques in neighborhoods around San Francisco.
At launch, there are about 30 stores featured, like The Residents Apparel Gallery in Hayes Valley, Heartfelt in Bernal Heights, and Loft 1513 in the Castro, and the site will be adding many more in the coming months.
After perfecting its search and directory service for boutiques in New York City, Boutiika relocated its headquarters to San Francisco earlier this year.
Recently, I caught up with the company’s charming and energetic founder, Ruchika Kumar, to find out a bit about the inspiration for her startup. Kumar grew up in Manchester, England, a city known more for soccer than for shopping.
"Where I grew up, it was mostly chain and high street stores, and I disliked those options. There was always someone else who had what I had, and wore what I wore. I had to go to great lengths to feel like an individual and find one-of-a-kind pieces."
Within the first ten days of launching one year ago, the mobile video phone service Tango had one million users. As it celebrated its first anniversary last Friday, the Palo Alto-based startup counted 23 million registered subscribers to its free service, all of them using the company’s mobile apps.
Now Tango has added a PC product as well, and Microsoft is promoting Tango on its W-7 Mango platform. People can call each other from PCs, iPhones, the iPod touch, the iPad, and hundreds of Android phones and tablets.
The move to embrace the PC market would seem to be a direct swipe at Skype, the giant Internet phone service. Recently purchased by Microsoft, Skype has had trouble adapting to the mobile market, an opportunity that has been the central focus of Tango’s efforts.
“We are a communication services company and we are mobile first,” says co-founder and CTO Eric Setton. “But we initially underestimated the demand for video calls over the PC.”
Potrero Hill-based Zynga is announcing today a partnership with international popstar Enrique Iglesias that will kick off next week in its most popular game, CityVille.
Under the deal, which starts next Tuesday and runs for seven days, players will be able to build “Euphoria Arenas" for their virtual cities, collect some free branded virtual items, preview a video of his single, “I Like How It Feels,” and interact with the singer’s avatar.
The partnership comes just as Iglesias has kicked off an international concert tour, which is branded “Euphoria.” This is the third celebrity event for the large social game company, following one with Lady Gaga in May and Dr. Dre last December.
Step into the Method offices during a busy day, and you’ll see the household cleaner company’s founders, ad man Eric Ryan and climate scientist Adam Lowry, jamming on the guitar with 70 employees. Or they might be in raccoon outfits shaking hands with Target execs or playing broomball with retailers. “We compete on creativity,” says Ryan. “So if you create an environment where people aren’t afraid to dance in costumes, it’s an open, collaborative workplace where you can share ideas without embarrassment.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
For many city-dwellers, there's a huge disconnect between the number of friends we have on Facebook, and the number of friends we have in our neighborhood.
Yet when you really need a friend, it is at least helpful and sometimes critical that that person lives nearby.
Blockboard is a hyperlocal startup on a mission to do something about that problem, first in San Francisco, and then in other cities across the country.
When you download this free iPhone app, it recognizes your location via GPS and suggests which of 38 separate neighborhoods that make up this 49- square-mile city where over 800,000 of us call home might be yours.
“Neighborhoods are more emotional than physical, in many ways,” notes co-founder Stephen Hood. “So although Blockboard will suggest which neighborhood we think is yours, it’s up to you to choose.”