What’s So Great About the Pebble Smartphone Watch?

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We would wear our smartphones on our bodies if we could — now Pebble makes that possible. Pebble is a watch that syncs to your iPhone or Android and makes your smartphone more accessible by being on your wrist.

The promo video on the group’s Kickstarter page shows a man wearing the watch while doing dishes; he just looks at his wrist to see the number of the incoming call. In another video example of Pebble’s usefulness, a woman is running and simply switches songs on her iPhone by clicking the watch rather than taking a bulky-by-comparison phone out of her pocket or purse.

The device doesn’t create new apps, but uses existing ones on your smartphone. It grabs your music, apps and even alerts you to incoming calls with the number appearing on the screen, and shows text messages.

With a battery lasting seven days, a glare-proof e-paper screen and Bluetooth capabilities, the demand for this watch quickly surged after its Kickstarter campaign launched in April. Eric Migicovsky and his team of six developed Pebble and launched an amazingly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $10.6 million — its goal was $100,000. Ironically, the group couldn’t find funding for their watch at first.

Sure, not everyone wants to be connected to their phone 24/7, which is perhaps why Pebble has myriad useful functions. The watch doubles as a pedometer, with GPS and an accelerometer that works for bicyclists. How often do you go for a run, bike ride or workout at the gym and check your phone for messages or missed calls? The watch makes it easier to see who’s trying to get in touch with you, all while providing a useful function (pedometer) during your workout.

Since launching an open SDK, anyone can create an app for Pebble.

Inspiration Behind the Pebble Watch

Other smartphone-enabled watches were for Android devices only. In fact, Migicovsky was the maker of an Android-only watch called InPulse, developed in 2010. A number of features on the Pebble were improvements to the InPulse, says Rahul Bhagat, head of operations for Pebble.

“The idea was rooted in finding efficient ways of better supporting people’s lifestyles with the information they have available to them,” Bhagat says. “These days, a large segment of the population carries around smartphones, which have access to all sorts of data. Unfortunately, the smartphone form factor is not conducive to making the best of this information — every time you want to know who’s calling or check your pace while on a run for example, you need to grab your phone out of your pocket, bag or purse. Many times, that just detracts from the task you were doing in the first place.”

Changing the Game

The makers of Pebble categorize it as a “wrist-worn smart device.” Customers have the ability to choose from a variety of faces and eventually, apps, to use on the watch. The open SDK, week-long battery life and price of the watch sets it apart from other similar designs on the market, Bhagat says.

“Pebble is a take on wearable technology that aims to better disseminate information through a wrist worn form factor. In many cases, it’s less distracting and provides a more efficient method of getting the information you need rather than having to grasp a phone,” he says.

From the Kickstarter campaign, the team now has 68,000 orders for about 85,000 watches. Pebble ships to Kickstarter backers this fall and to the general public in the first quarter of 2013.

Bhagat said he imagines people will initially be drawn to purchasing the watch due to its customizable interfaces. “But as they customize Pebble and download apps that are more directly applicable to them, I think people will really appreciate the utility that a wrist worn smart device can have,” he added.

“I would like to think that Pebble is part of a larger movement towards consumer electronics that better integrate with user’s daily lives while minimizing disruptions that occur while using them,” says Bhagat.

What do you think about the Pebble watch? Would you buy one? Tell us in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/07/pebble-watch-smartphone/

3D Printing and the Rise of the Makers

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The edge of technology is when it enables you to do something that you couldn’t do before. It’s one thing to put your imagination down onto a piece of paper, or into a computer program, but what if you could hold it in your hands? This is the vision of 3D printing. Digital designs can be turned into real objects using various kinds of plastic. This technology is not new, but bringing the machine home with you is — the people behind MakerBot started the company with a goal of making 3D printing more accessible.

Along with an affordable 3D printing solution has come a community of makers. They’re able to share designs, so if you see a picture of something you like, there’s a chance you can just make it yourself — by printing it out. For industrial designers, this can speed up prototyping, but for everyone, it’s a tangible expression of the imagination — which should, in turn, bring about more innovation.

MakerBot considers itself to be part of the next industrial revolution. It enables everyone from hobbyists to doctors to professional industrial designers to turn virtual designs into tangible products with MakerBot’s line of 3D printers. Founder Bre Pettis tells us more about the capabilities of his products and the MakerBot community.

Q&A with Bre Pettis, Founder of MakerBot

What first inspired MakerBot?

At Makerbot we’re out to change the world, to fuel the next industrial revolution. The company started because we wanted a 3D printer, but they were too expensive and we couldn’t afford one, so we played around with one as a hobby for a few years. When it almost worked, we quit our jobs and started MakerBot. Our first printer was a hobbyist printer, and we just launched the Replicator 2, which is a desktop 3D printer that is targeted at professionals who want a 3D printer on their desk or at home. It’s also great for amateurs and entrepreneurs, and we’ve got a third layer, which is parents and educators.

How is MakerBot making 3D printing approachable?

With professionals, we’ve got industrial designers, engineers and architects, and they use it to make prototyping go a lot faster. Before MakerBot, when you wanted to have something prototyped you either had to be at an elitist institution, or it took a lot of time — maybe up to a month. When you have a MakerBot on your desk, it can take just minutes or hours, and instead of doing one iteration in a month, you can do multiple iterations in a day. It totally changes the acceleration of innovation, in a good way.

Then we’ve got entrepreneurs — so many times on Kickstarter, there’s between five and 10 things using MakerBot to show the prototype. They’ll do low number runs, less than 1,000, or just be using it to show the what the final product looks like.

“We’re out to change the world, to fuel the next industrial revolution.”

Then there’s folks in the medical world — doctors who are using it to take a CAT scan can literally print out what a tumor looks like before they do surgery, so they can hold it in their hands — it’s exciting, and there’s a lot of interesting work being done in the prosthetics world. People are using 3D printing and MakerBot to create prosthetics to replace things that used to cost $1,000, they can now cost just a few dollars. It might not last as long because it’s plastic instead of metal, but you can make a new one on demand whenever you want. If you grow and want to adjust it, it’s that much easier. We’re at the beginning of this really special time where people have access to the technology, so for us, it’s our mission to empower creative people everywhere and we’re giving them this superpower to make the things that they need.

What was the landscape like before you launched, and how did you know when it the right time for you?

Before we launched, 3D printers were the size of refrigerators or bigger. It was kind of like the mainframe era of 3D printing. They were really expensive. On the low end there was a $60,000 option, and these printers are all still available, and they go up to $2.5 million when you’re talking about the metal printers and the ultra large, high-end ones. What’s exciting is that a MakerBot is in many cases as good as the 3D printer that’s a lot more expensive. It’s just opening up the whole landscape to people who haven’t had access to it.

In the mainframe computer days, you had to sneak in on the weekend, to get access to PDP-11. It’s the same thing — that’s the way it used to be until we brought 3D printing to the desktop.

We also have a site called Thingiverse. You can put your finger on the pulse of 3D printing, and there’s new things every day. I look at Thingiverse every day, and I see everything on there — it’s my favorite thing to do every day. Right now we have featured some dollhouse wicker furniture, a hammer that you can 3D print, a small castle and some holiday trees that you can print out to make holiday decorations. It’s such a wonderful frontier right now for anyone who’s looking to get involved. The woman who does the miniature dollhouse furniture is actually a set designer for Broadway plays. The things that she’s sharing are literally models that you can go and see on Broadway. As a bonus, everybody with a MakerBot can make them, too, because they’re downloadable. She’s become the go-to person for dollhouse furniture in digital design. Whatever passion you have, the landscape is so wide open that you can be the pioneer in that world. I’m looking forward to seeing when the RC car folks arrive on Thingiverse because there’s room for somebody to be a superstar at that. Nobody’s thrown that gantlet down yet, but it’s just waiting and it’s going to happen this year. They dont necessarily need to have been an expert — they can become an expert and our community will support them. It’s so cool.

What will the next five years in tech be like?

The next industrial revolution is coming, and it’s here for people who are ready to ride the tiger of the future. I’m looking forward to seeing what MakerBot users make, they’re already the smartest people in the world, and now with this tool they’re going to become amazing designers and engineers.

Even on a small scale, you have parents who are getting these — you’re going to have kids growing up with a MakerBot. I’m 40 years old now, and when I was growing up, my family got our first computer in 1981. I’m that kid who grew up with a computer who was a total nerd. And we’re going to see the next generation grow up and the kids who have MakerBots are going to be the ones learning how to design a better future and solve problems.

“The kids who have MakerBots are going to be the ones learning how to design a better future and solve problems.”

I think we’re going to see more innovation happen at the granular, grassroots level that used to only happen at the industrial level. It happened to computers first, then it happened to bookstores with the rise of Amazon, and now it’s happening to things. You’re going to see author tools and integration in all kinds of different industries. The physical layer to the Internet.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in a lot of places. Good product design, I love cars, I love looking at how the evolution of the car has come around. I get inspired by furniture, I love collecting things on Pinterest — I collect my inspirations on Pinterest so people can see it there. The other place I get inspired is really on Thingiverse, where people are sharing amazing things every day. Every day I go to Thingiverse and get that hit of, “What is innovative in the world today” and I can literally see all the new things that have been shared that you can make — that you couldn’t make yesterday.

Images courtesy of Makerbot

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/20/makerbot-3d-printing/

How Microsoft Re-Invented Office for Touch, Social and the Cloud

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In tech, apps come and go. Anyone working in publishing in the 1990s and early 2000s saw Aldus PageMaker give way to QuarkXPress, which eventually ceded to Adobe InDesign. No matter how good any app may be at a given time, technology doesn’t stop advancing, which in turn changes people’s needs. That opens up opportunities for more nimble competitors to win over customers with apps that better serve those needs.

Until recently, Microsoft Office has been fairly immune to this cycle. It’s been a mainstay of productivity software for more than 20 years — if you’ve worked with electronic documents at all, chances are you’re more than familiar with it.

However, the rise of mobile devices and cloud computing allows competitors to chip away at the office empire. Many people now turn to free and mobile-friendly alternatives, like Google Drive or QuickOffice for building documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

But there’s a reason Office was the go-to productivity software for more than two decades: Microsoft can adapt. And it’s doing so in a big way for the next version of Office, called Office 2013, which works hand in hand with Windows 8, set for a big debut this fall. Windows 8 re-invents the computing experience for touch screens, social networks and the cloud — and the new Office takes full advantage of that modern tech trinity.

“It’s going to start with how people get Office,” says P.J. Hough, Microsoft’s vice president of Office program management. “We’re going to stream Office to every user. We’ve done a lot of work to make the streaming incredibly fast. It’s single-digit minutes to get Office installed and up and running on your computer.”

Office 2013 doesn’t just download once and rest on your computer, either. Hough says the new Office will be as much as service as an app, with continual updates via the network. Microsoft’s also changing the how it sells the software — instead of buying it once, users will now subscribe, with different plans for personal and business use.

“It actually changes the relationship with the customer,” Hough says. “Your computer stops owning Office and you personally own Office. If you get a new computer and you’re a subscriber, office goes on the new computer. I go to office.com, I sign in, I say I want Office on this computer and we stream it down.”

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The cloud also plays a big role in Office 2013. The default location for all saved documents will now be Microsoft’s cloud-storage service, SkyDrive, so you’ll be able to pick up documents right where you left off when you switch machines. In addition, content-based features that used to be delivered locally, such as document templates for Word and PowerPoint, will now be powered by the cloud.

“We’ve already done a lot of this work with Office 365, our enterprise offering, but this is taking that same cloud-driven view of Office to the consumer” says Hough. “[Office 2013] is backed by relevant services — SkyDrive, Skype — so we think there’s an equivalent experience that I want as a consumer, that’s online and connected.”

However, Hough stresses that Office 2013 works just as you’d expect when you’re offline. The apps are installed locally, and work will get saved even if you’re off the network and set up to save to SkyDrive.

The re-invented Office also integrates social networks much more closely. While in previous years, social networking may have been looked at as a distraction from productivity, it’s become clear that Microsoft sees the value in being able to easily connect with contacts, colleagues and collaborators.

“Sometimes, the way that I get work done is not by starting work on an artefact, but by finding a person first,” Hough says. “Our acquisition of Yammer is yet more evidence of the merging together of social with productivity. They’re not two separate things. It’s not a waste of time to have a feed that shows you what people are working on or lets you get in touch with people easily.”

It’s Outlook that exhibits Office’s new social abilities the most, calling up a contact’s schedule and recent projects when you address them in an email. But Word and PowerPoint are more social, too, with improved ways to collaborate on documents with better organized footnotes and a streamlined Track Changes feature.

Finally, there was the hardware to consider. The new Office is made to work on both traditional PCs as well as tablets. That includes both full-functioning Windows tablets — which will run old Windows 7 apps — and the new Windows RT devices, which will come with a free version of Office. However, to unlock many abilities, such as seamless saving to the cloud, you’ll need to subscribe.

The big change in a tablet environment is the inclusion of touch interfaces. PowerPoint, for example, now supports pinch to zoom and typical gestures. The backbone of Office 2013 also benefits from improvements in Windows 8 to make sure apps respond quickly and properly to every tap and swipe.

“We’ve made a bet this time around in Office on graphics hardware acceleration — work that the Windows team did in Windows 7 that they’ve really doubled down on in Windows 8,” Hough says. “It’s allowed us to build a set of apps in Office that are responsive and fluid.”

Are all these improvements enough to keep competitors at bay and ensure Microsoft Office dominates for another decade? That’s the plan, and Microsoft has included many new features in Office 2013 — such as Excel predicting exactly what table you want and apps that can integrate real-time data — that competitors will find tough to match.

Has Office 2013 impressed you? Why? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/25/office-2013-reinvent/

New Motorola Smartphone to Be Revealed in May

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Image: Flickr, Titanas

Despite recent major changes at Motorola, it seems the company still has a few surprises in store — namely a new class of smartphone.

Following in the smartphone footsteps of the Moto X and Moto G, the new, as yet unnamed smartphone is set to make its debut next month, according to an emailed invitation that Motorola sent to Mashable.

Motorola will officially give some members of the public a peek at the new phone on May 13.

The handset will reportedly focus on improving the mobile-Internet experience. However, if the company lives up to its history, it will likely also offer an interesting new design take on the smartphone.

Further details are scarce at this point, but just knowing that Motorola has a potentially exciting new smartphone up its sleeve is reason enough to keep paying attention to the company, despite concerns that it could soon whither under its new Asia-based parent company.

Update: An earlier version of this story stated that the new smartphone would be the first to be released by Motorola under Lenovo’s ownership, however, the Lenovo acquisition has not yet been approved.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/30/motorola-lenovo-smartphone/

Turntable.fm Co-Founder Billy Chasen Explains the Art of Pivoting

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“Pivot” is sometimes viewed as a dirty word in the tech world, but for Billy Chasen, the willingness to switch from one project to the next has proven to be key to his success.

Chasen, the co-founder and CEO of Turntable.fm, learned to shift gears and abandon projects when necessary. In 2008, he unveiled an app called Firefly that let users live chat with one another and see the cursors of those looking at the same webpage. The app got some buzz, but didn’t gain the kind of traction Chasen wanted, so he decided to take the web data he gathered with the tool and turn it into an analytics company called Chartbeat, which is still used by many organizations today.

Then, in 2010, Chasen launched Stickybits, an app that let users scan the barcodes of physical objects and attach digital messages to them. It was a novel idea at the time, and one that also received a seven-figure funding deal and a good amount of attention in the media, but according to Chasen, the technology just wasn’t there to support it. So, he and his co-founder Seth Goldstein made the decision to pivot to a new company, Turntable.fm, a music discovery service where users can stream songs and hang out in virtual chat rooms.

He even pivoted back in college, originally planning to major in astronomy at the University of Michigan before choosing computer science instead.

Finding new ideas to work on has never been Chasen’s problem. He has a broad range of interests — just consider that he paints and does glass blowing on the side while running his music startup — and keeps a list of hundreds of ideas for things he wants to build. Still, he admits that “it’s incredibly stressful” to pivot from one project or company to another. The trick, he says, is being scientific about the decision.

“What I’ve always tried to do at every point along the way is be as objective as possible and look at the pros and cons and see where I am,” Chasen said in an interview with Mashable. “I try not to make decisions based on the amount of work I’ve put into something or the amount of love I’ve put into something, and instead pull myself back and look at the usage and make the best decision going forward on how to evolve.”

We chatted with Chasen about his thoughts on pivoting, some of his earliest business ideas, whether we’ll ever see Stickybits 2.0 and what he’d like to work on after Turntable.fm.

Q&A With Billy Chasen, Co-Founder of Turntable.fm

Did you always dream of starting your own company one day, or had you not planned on doing it?

It’s never been that I’ve been interested in startups as much as I’ve always been interested in building and creating things, and it just so happened that that’s one of the main aspects of startups. I’ve always just enjoyed building things, whether it be artistic things or websites. It’s always been this need or desire. I’ve been building things ever since I was a kid.

You first made a splash in the tech world in 2006 with Swarmthe.com, a site that let users see which websites others were browsing in real time. Were there any projects you tried to get off the ground before this?

After graduating college [in 2003], I was working with a group of friends trying to create a photo hosting service before there were any mature hosting services, but it didn’t really go anywhere. During college, there were all types of ideas for websites. It was just as social networks were starting. I had a few ideas with some friends about how we could potentially leverage the people you know to do some utility-based things. One of the things we were talking about at one point in college was trying to have a network of people connected to each other who could really post anything, like a work of art or writing, and have people critique it.

One of the more cutting edge projects you’ve been involved with is Stickybits, which gave users a way to overlay digital information on the physical world. Why did you decide to abandon Stickybits for Turntable, and will we ever see a Stickybits 2.0?

It just felt like [Stickybits] got to a place where usage wasn’t there, but people loved the idea, and that wasn’t enough. The decision was, do we bunker down, do we love it so much that we will hold until the technology is there to support the idea, or do we work on something else because we are talented and there are other ideas?

I don’t know if I’ll necessarily be in the position to start it up again, but it will be in some form or fashion started. If Apple decides to put Near Field Communication on all of their phones, and all of the sudden all these brands decide to become NFC-aware, and you are just able to get information from them, there will be startups built entirely in that space. Or maybe there is some successor to NFC that is even more interesting and better to differentiate objects. It’s my belief that it is going to come. I don’t know if I will be leading the charge on that — probably not, because I tried it a little earlier and I have another company to run.

You’ve clearly pivoted multiple times in your career. What is your thought process when weighing whether to pivot from one project to another?

It’s incredibly stressful. It’s easy to look in hindsight and see they were the right decisions at the time. If we did the pivot from Firefly to Chartbeat and Chartbeat failed in six months, it would be a different hindsight. You make the best decision you can. What I’ve always tried to do at every point along the way is be as objective as possible and look at the pros and cons and see where I am. I try not to make decisions based on the amount of work I’ve put into something or the amount of love I’ve put into something and instead pull myself back and look at the usage and make the best decision going forward on how to evolve.

No startup that I’ve ever started or been a part of has ever been a perfectly direct path. It’s always pulled in certain directions, and the better you are at reading those directions, the more successful you will be.

So when you originally brainstormed the idea for Turntable.fm, what was the problem you were hoping to solve?

The problem was that music used to be social. Music is social in an offline context: when you go to concerts, when you hang out with people. Music is a very social thing. We have drum circles. We hang out together. We trade music with each other. That’s been music history for a long time. And nothing online feels like a digital representation of what we do in the real world. I wanted to create this digital space where you can listen to music real-time with people.

Your company recently launched a new app called Piki, which essentially transforms the Turntable experience into more of a traditional radio app. What is the goal with this app compared to Turntable?

Piki is continuing to fill the void of how I discover new music. There is a big void right now. [Music] services — whether it’s Spotify playlists or Rdio — are not designed to pick up the tastemakers that I enjoy and let the music come to me. Piki is trying to angle towards that.

What project do you see yourself working on next?

Even though it’s such a dense space, I still feel there’s lots of issues with the way photo-sharing is done, and I think it could be done better. I have some thoughts on that and also, social interactions between people and what’s the best way to do that. I like the idea of App.net, where they basically say, “You pay us a subscription, our commitment is to you and not our advertisers.” It’s another area that can be worked on quite a bit.

Clearly, you have plenty of ideas that you’d still like to work on. Any chance you’ll go the route of Jack Dorsey or Elon Musk and try running multiple companies at once?

I would love to be the type that could juggle multiple companies at the same time, but it’s hard for me to do because I dive so deeply into the product that I am on at the time. If I was more a laid-back CEO who made sure I had all the right people at the company and then basically delegate most of the daily operations, I could do something like that, but it hasn’t been the way that I’ve generally been operating. The only thing that takes me from a full-time project to another full-time project is something happens, for better or worse.

Images courtesy of Billy Chasen and Turntable.fm

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/12/20/turntable-billy-chasen/