Tag Archives: Android.

Android SDK For Wearables Coming In 2 Weeks, Says Google

Google is readying a version of its Android OS tailored for wearable devices. Google’s Sundar Pichai told the SXSW conference Sunday that it would be releasing an SDK for makers of wearable devices such as smartwatches in two weeks’ time. The SDK will be aimed at other makers of smartwatches and wearables, even though Google itself is thought to be working on building wearable… Read More


Phablets, Colorful iPhone 5c Drive Smartphone Sales While Android Remains The Outsized Giant: Kantar

giant android

When it comes to sales of smartphones, Android is the green giant that continues to tower over the competition. In the last three months that ended in January 2014, the Google-developed operating system accounted for around 70% of sales across 12 key markets, according to the latest figures from WPP market research division Kantar Worldpanel ComTech

In comparison, its most credible rivals either fell further behind, or simply stood still: Apple took 22.1% of sales (down nearly two percentage points over last month); and Windows Phone was flat at 4.4%. A mixed bag of “others,” which includes BlackBerry but also legacy, discontinued platforms such as Symbian, accounted for the rest.

With Google’s mobile platform installed on 7 out of every 10 smartphones that consumers buy, Android seems almost impossible to beat. But with reports of even arch competitors like Nokia toying with Android devices, the question may no longer be which platform is dominant, but what the state of play is with OEMs building on top of that outsized leader.

Samsung continues to sit on the top of that pile. Kantar director Dominic Sunnebo tells me that in the last three months Samsung took 32.6% of sales across 12 key markets — up slightly from last month’s 32.2%.

But when you drill down into regional sales, you start to see specific manufacturers giving the Korean giant a run for its money.

In the case of Europe’s big five markets of UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, for example, Kantar notes that “Samsung’s dominance of this market is being eroded” — much as it observed last month.

“In Europe Android continues to move towards 70% share, and the real battle now is among the Android manufacturers,” writes Sunnebo. Samsung has over half of all sales at 39.5%, “but this is lower compared with last year.” In contrast, LG (6.9%), Sony (9.4%), Motorola (1.7%) and even new brand Wiko (2%) all are seeing growing market shares of sales — a trend that Kantar contends will continue with the launch of new devices at MWC this week.

Meanwhile, some notable things about Apple. iOS-based devices saw sales declines in a few markets, but surprisingly, the biggest of all was in the U.S., a country where Apple has traditionally been strongest. In the last three months in the U.S., sales of Apple handsets were down 7.7 percentage points to 38.9% of sales compared to a year ago.

But interestingly, Apple is also seeing something of a shift in terms of what consumers are buying. Whereas sales of its new 5s devices have been dominating globally, now the less expensive 5c is seeing a mini surge.

In one example — the very saturated market of the UK, where smartphone penetration is 70% and 86% of all handsets sold in the past three months were smartphones – Kantar says the 5s model outsold the 5c 3:1.

But with 5c sales picking up to become the number-three smartphone in the UK, now the ratio is 2:1. So: still outselling, but less so. The U.S. is seeing the same ratio, Sunnebo tells me, while Japan and Australia are still seeing 5s outsell the 5c at 3:1 and in China there are nine 5s devices sold for every 5c.

The China proportion, when you think about it, is not that surprising: there, Android completely dominates the middle and lower end of the smartphone sales spectrum, so if you are going to put the cash out for a premium iPhone, you are likely to go for gold. Or: in for a penny, in for a pound, as the British like to say.

Why the bigger shift to 5c? My theory is that now that the rush of early adopting iPhone 5s users have somewhat abated, the later wave is slightly more price sensitive, and that’s leading some to opt for the (ever so slightly) more economical model.

Something else that Kantar points out with the iPhone is that demographics and usage vary depending on whether you are a 5s or 5c user: in the UK, 74% of 5c buyers are female, versus 36% for the 5s. It notes that 5s users are also more inclined to use their handsets for “data heavy” uses like video and music.

In other platforms, Windows Phone continues to struggle in certain markets like the U.S. — where Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore today admitted that the company continues to see a “tough market” with consumers, and Kantar notes it took just 5% of smartphone sales in the last three months.

But in others regions like Europe its performance is more positive. Windows Phone’s share of sales in the last period was just over 10%, and it is the fastest growing platform in Europe, putting it ever closer to Apple — which is currently at 19% of all smartphone sales in the region.

What gets the credit for Nokia’s success? Budget phones like the Lumia 520, says Kantar, which have become something of a gateway device for new smartphone owners.

“Nokia has continued its successful tactic of sucking up remaining featurephone owners across Europe,” writes Sunnebo. “Even in Britain, where smartphone penetration is at 70%, there are over 14 million featurephone consumers for it to target. At some point Nokia will have to start making serious inroads into the smartphone competition, but for the time being its strategy in Europe is working. Crucial for Nokia will be its ability to keep low-end owners loyal and upgrade them to mid to high-end models.”

But just as low-end is one entry point, so are certain form factors. In China, where handsets and tablets are rapidly taking the place of PCs as a consumer’ main internet device, Kantar says that “phablets” with screens larger than five inches accounted for 31% of all sales in the last three months. Screens bigger than 5.5% took 9% of sales.

Sunnebo says that China is a standout in this regard. “Phablet sales across Europe and US have been gradually rising, but it’s China which is driving demand,” he writes. “Phablet owners are less likely than the average consumer to own a tablet, indicating that phablets are increasingly being used as the primary device to browse online in China.”

Just as colorful 5c handsets have apparently caught the eye of female consumers, phablets are also skewing “heavily to women” in China.

But it remains to be seen whether the phablet is here to stay. “It’s too early to forecast the long-term trends for China, but in Europe where the first wave of phablet owners are now coming to upgrade, over 40% are down-sizing to a smaller device,” writes Sunnebo.

kantar worldpanel numbers

Photo: Flickr


We Heart Nokia, But “We’re Less Excited About” A Nokia Android Handset, Says Microsoft


Microsoft is in the advanced stages of closing its acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, but in the meantime Nokia is reportedly working on Android devices. How does Microsoft feel about that? “They’ll do some things we’re excited about, and some things we’re less excited about,” said senior executive Joe Belfiore, to a room of chuckling journalists and analysts.

“We have a terrific engineering relationship with Nokia,” he noted. “We’ve done a bunch of excellent collaboration [on] products…We’re proud of the work we do together.”

Nevertheless, as many have rumored, bolstered by some apparently leaked images (such as the ones here), Nokia has also been spinning other plates, with the WSJ reporting that the so-called Normandy device coming as soon as later this month.

Why? As Natasha pointed out the other day, this wouldn’t be an official Android device but a forked version, along the lines of what Amazon and many Asian handset makers have created. The idea here would be that it could use the device to target specifically lower-end users who are not reachable at the lowest price points of Nokia’s Lumia devices, but are looking for a “smarter” device than the Asha line from Nokia. The handset, the WSJ reports, has been in the works from before the deal with Microsoft was set, and points to how, with with many engineers and others leaving Nokia through layoffs, there are still some wildcards in the pack.

Image: Evleaks


SwiftKey Takes Its Predictive Android Keyboard Software Into Cars With Clarion Car Stereo Tie-Up

SwiftKey Clarion 1

As smartphone growth saturates — at least in mature markets — tech companies are turning their attention to cars as the next consumer frontier for their wares.

In the latest example, U.K. phone software maker SwiftKey has partnered with in-car entertainment manufacturer Clarion for their AX1 Android-powered touchscreen car stereo system — currently available in South-East Asia but due to be rolled out to the US and Europe later this year — expanding its predictive keyboard software from phones and tablets to the automobile dash.

SwiftKey said it will be providing the default keyboard across the whole AX1 device — meaning its keyboard software will be powering multiple interactions, from passengers typing directions to choosing which songs to play. The AX1 includes a web browser for surfing, email and apps access, and also supports 1080p Full HD video playback on its 6.5-inch touchscreen display. 

Moving vehicles are an obvious setting for a smarter text entry system, a la SwiftKey, that can auto correct typos on the fly — so the application here makes plenty of sense, even beyond SwiftKey seeking new growth opportunities.

In an update last October, the startup also unified its software across phones and tablets with a single version (SwiftKey 4.3) that can support multiple form factor scenarios and typing styles. That update can also be viewed as SwiftKey making its system as flexible as possible so that it can be applied to as many device types as possible.

Commenting on the Clarion partnership in a statement, SwiftKey co-founder and CTO, Dr Ben Medlock, said: “We believe ‘connected car’ technology will be a growing trend throughout 2014 and is set to reach the mainstream. Partnering with a cutting-edge company such as Clarion demonstrates our real interest in this exciting sector and signals our ambition to become known as a leading platform for innovative, personalized technology.”

2013 saw SwiftKey’s software being used on more than 100 million devices globally.

In related news this week, Google announced the Open Automotive Alliance to help drive its Android platform deeper into connected cars.


Google Announces Open Automotive Alliance To Drive Android Into Connected Cars


Google is hoping to do it again with Android — and cars. The 2007 Open Handset Alliance helped drive Google’s mobile OS from new-kid-on-the-block to dominant force in smartphones. Today, the company has announced the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) to attempt the same trick but for cars — persuading a small coterie of car makers and others to join it as founder members of the OAA.

As well as Mountain View itself, Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA have put their names to the OAA, which is described as “a global alliance of technology and auto industry leaders committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014″. The OAA will be focused on establishing a common platform for Android integration with connected cars.

Google notes:

We’re working with our partners to enable better integration between cars and Android devices in order to create a safer, car optimized experience. We’re also developing new Android platform features that will enable the car itself to become a connected Android device. Stay tuned for more details coming soon.

As with Android, Google is a little late to the party here: back in June Apple confirmed it is working with car makers on an initiative called ‘iOS in The Car’ to enable iDevice owners to use their gadgets to do stuff like play music, display maps, dictate messages in their cars, starting in 2014.

Car makers signed up to Apple’s earlier automotive initiative are a little more plentiful and include Honda, Mercedes Benz, Nissan, Ferrari, Chevy, Infiniti, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Jaguar, and Acura. (So Honda and Hyundai are playing in both camps.)

The first cars with “Android integration” are expected by the end of this year, according to the OAA’s inaugural release (it does not say which car maker is expected to be first).


The Best iOS And Android Apps Of 2013


Congratulations, Planet Earth! We made it another 365 days without crashing into the sun. Go team!

It’s the end of the year, and that means three things: booze, ridiculous sunglasses with numbers on them, and lists. Lots and lots of lists. You’ve seen our list of best/worst gadgets of the year. Up next? The Best Mobile Apps Of 2013.

Now, to be clear: there’s not a lot of science here. If we were going by the raw numbers, some Angry Birds spin-off would be the top app every year for the rest of eternity. Instead, these are the favorites picked by a bunch of geeks who write about this stuff all day, every day. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the terrible — and after some heated debate, these apps emerged as the year’s champs.

We tried to stick with apps that launched in 2013, or, in some cases, the tail end of 2012. While many of the apps are cross-platform and we considered that a massively positive bulletpoint, we didn’t eliminate any of our top picks just because they were only on one platform or the other. Some are iOS only. Some are Android only. That’s just the way it goes.

Think we missed something? Got a favorite? Let us know down in the comments.

In no particular order:

coverCover (Android only):

Cover is the lockscreen we always wanted without even knowing it. It figures out what apps you use most and when, and automatically pushes shortcuts for those apps straight to your phone’s lockscreen at the right time. Use Gmail and LinkedIn a lot at work? It’ll catch on and have those apps at-the-ready as soon as you walk in the office. Driving? It’ll queue up Waze, or Pandora, or whatever it thinks you’ll need most.

Seene (iOS only):

Poor Lytro! The oddly-shaped camera got its fair share of buzz when it launched back in 2011, with its special sensor that allowed for all sorts of neat tricks (like being able to “shift” the perspective of a photo a bit after you’ve already snapped it.)

Alas, like the landfill’s worth of standalone pocket cameras that fell before it, the Lytro’s functionality has largely been replicated by mobile apps. One of our favorite apps in that group is Seene. Seene lets you take super trippy “3D” photos with just your iPhone. It actually takes a bunch of photos as you move your phone around an object, then intelligently stitches them together using all sorts of computer vision voodoo.

Newsblur (iOS, Android)

When Google Reader died on July 1st of 2013, a million hopeful replacements sprung up around its grave. While there’s no one-size-fits-all alternative, NewsBlur is a very, very solid option. It’s fast, cross-platform, and super pretty.


QuizUp (iOS only):
Right around the middle of the year, Icelandic games studio Plain Vanilla shifted their focus from one-off, licensed quiz titles to an all-in-one quiz game with topics for everyone — and man, did it pay off. With an ever-growing library of 200,000+ questions, a super-clever multiplayer mode that makes games feel realtime when they’re not, and a gorgeous interface, QuizUp is one of the all-around best mobile games of the year.

Cycloramic (iOS only):


Sit your phone down. Push a button. A few seconds later, you’ve got a full 360° panoramic of the room.

How? Magic. And by magic, I mean an insanely clever hack that uses the iPhone 5S’ vibration motor to propel the phone around on a smooth surface. Does it work every time? Nope. But when it does, everyone’s head explodes.

BillGuard (iOS only for now, Android “coming soon”):

BillGuard’s CEO says they’re building “what Mint should have been“, and they’re already doing a damned good job of it (aided, of course, by Mint having gone pretty stale in the years since its 2009 Intuit acquisition). BillGuard tracks your spending, provides a beautiful analytics interface, and quickly highlights any charges that seem fraudulent or that might be hidden fees in disguise. Oh, and it learns where you shop most and automatically finds coupons for you to use next time you go.

Oyster (iOS only):
My New Years Resolution for 2014 is to remember what the hell my New Years Resolution for 2013 was. But if your resolution is to read more, Oyster is for you. Think Netflix, but for reading. $ 10 a month gets you all-you-can-read access to about 100,000 titles.



HeyDay (iOS only):
Everyone has that one thing that they’ve always wanted to build, only to find out that someone has already made it really, really well. HeyDay is that thing for me. HeyDay is what the company calls an “effortless journal”, automatically pulling your photos, videos, and GPS locations into individual, timestamped journal entries. At the end of the day, you just go back through and add little notes to fill in the gaps.

TimeHop (iOS only):
TimeHop scans your myriad social networking accounts to remind you of all the awesome things you were doing on this same day a year (or two) ago. It’s like a personal time capsule, or a “This Day In History” list for your life. Get ready to drown in endless waves of nostalgia.



Clumsy Ninja (iOS only):
Clumsy Ninja is kind of like a Tamagotchi, if the Tamagotchi was a lil’ drunk dude in a ninja costume. You play games with your ninja to teach him new skills; where at first he can hardly walk without tripping over his own feet, you’ll quickly have him doing backflips and karate chopping dodgeballs out of the air. Sure, it’s a bit silly — and sure, it’s a classic time-killer/grinding game. But it’s also truly remarkable to see something like this running on a phone. The animation blending/ragdoll system alone is mindblowing.

Agent (Android only):
Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 5.47.10 PM
Agent is one of those Android apps that could pretty much never exist on iOS, unless Apple either makes some big ol’ policy changes or builds it themselves. Agent makes your smartphone smarter in lots of little ways. Battery dying? It’ll dim the screen and turn off Bluetooth. Sleeping? It’ll silence your phone, but offer up callers/texters a way to ring through in case of an emergency. Driving? It’ll reply to texts to let people know you can’t respond right now, AND remember where you parked.

Tinder (iOS, Android):
Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 5.42.32 PM

Tinder is dating boiled down to an almost absurd level of simplicity: a single swipe. Like someone? Swipe right. If they’re not quite for you? Swipe left. If they’ve seen your photo and liked what they saw enough to swipe you to the right, Tinder matches you up.

It ain’t my kind of thing (read: my girlfriend would punch me right in the schnoz), but the single folks at TC all swear by it.

Digg (iOS, Android):
Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 5.44.00 PM
Surprise! After a rebirth under a new owner in 2012, Digg actually started a decent amount of traffic around the web again in 2013. Bigger surprise: they built a mobile app and it’s actually pretty damned good. The editor-curated content provides a quick glance as to what’s popular on the Internet at any given time, while the built-in news reader is another super solid alternative to the late great Google Reader.

Duolingo (iOS, Android):

You’d be hardpressed to find anyone saying anything bad about Duolingo – it’s this year’s Internet golden child, and rightly so. It’s one of the best tools I’ve ever seen for learning/brushing up on a language… and it’s completely free. As part of your training, you translate bits of real world text from sites like CNN and BuzzFeed (which is how Duolingo makes any money.)

Sunrise (iOS):
Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 5.43.46 PM
Hate what Apple did with the calendar in iOS 7? Me too! Fortunately, a couple of folks from Foursquare broke away to remind us that calendars can be pretty and easy to use. Looking for another calendar, but not feelin’ Sunrise? Honorable mentions to Fantastical (iOS), Tempo (iOS), and Any.do Cal (Android)

Vine (iOS, Android):
Acquired months before it even launched, Vine is one of the stranger tales of 2013. Focused entirely around sharing 6 second looping video clips, many a pundit predicted Vine’s death upon the launch of Instagram Video — and yet, Vine continues to be where most of the Internet’s funniest short videos end up.


Firefox For Android Gets New Homescreen, Adds Bing And Yahoo As Search Options


Mozilla launched the latest version of its Firefox browser for Android and desktop today. While the desktop version gets its fair share of minor updates and now sets all plug-ins with the exception of recent Flash versions as “click to play,” the Android version is getting some time in the spotlight.

Firefox for Android now features a brand-new homescreen that aims to provide users with easier access to the sites they visit most often, browsing history and bookmarks, as well as Firefox’s Reading List feature for distraction-free reading.

This new homescreen, Mozilla says, is meant to “give you a streamlined and speedier browsing experience on-the-go, when you need it most.” It made its first appearance in the beta channel in late October and the feedback must have been god, because Mozilla graduated it to the stable channel pretty quickly. It’s available in both the phone and tablet interface.

With this update, Firefox also now gives its mobile users the option to choose Bing and Yahoo for search. Until now, mobile Firefox users had to use Google (which still provides the Mozilla Foundation with the vast majority of its income). It’s unclear if Mozilla has struck any deals with Yahoo or Microsoft for a similar profit-sharing agreement.

On the desktop side, things aren’t quite as interesting. Plug-ins are now all ‘click to play,’ with the exception of Flash, and users who are still on Windows XP get support for MP3 decoding (which means Firefox now supports this on every version of Windows).

The new versions for mobile and desktop also sport the usual tweaks to Firefox’s developer tools and a slew of bug fixes. You can find a detailed rundown of those here.


Half Of All PCs Shipped in 2014 Will Be Tablets; Android 65%, Apple 30% And More Profitable: Canalys


The growth of tablet sales has been outstripping that of more traditional desktop and laptop personal computers for a while, and now it looks like we are finally approaching the tablet/PC tipping point, where the cheaper, more portable tablet is becoming the de facto PC: 2014 will be the year that tablets account for 50% of all “PCs” shipped globally, according to researchers at Canalys. Leading the charge will be tablets built on Android – which collectively will account for 65% of all tablets shipped (185 million units) with Samsung at the helm. Apple, with its growing line of iPad devices, will remain the single-biggest tablet brand, taking 30% of the market – and, significantly, the most profitable.

Profit, in fact, takes priority for Apple over market share, Canalys argues. “Apple is one of the few companies making money from the tablet boom,” writes Tim Coulling, a senior analyst with Canalys. “Premium products attract high value consumers; for Apple, remaining highly profitable and driving revenue from its entire ecosystem is of greater importance than market share statistics.”

All well and good, but longer term, the company that keeps market share is the one that keeps mindshare. Consider Microsoft, which Canalys predicts will only have about 5% of the tablet market. “To improve its position it must drive app development,” writes Canalys research analyst Pin Chen Tang. Developers tend to go to where the most avid users are.

Canalys notes that 50% tablet share in PCs works out to 285 million tablets shipping in 2014. By 2017 that number will rise to 396 million units.

To chart how quickly the market is shifting to tablets, consider that in February 2013, Canalys noted that tablets accounted for only one-third of all personal computers shipped. For all of 2013, Canalys had predicting originally predicted that tablets will account for 37% of all PCs shipped, with some 182.5 million tablets out of a total 493.1 million units, although today it is revising that up to 40%. (I’m sticking to Canalys numbers, by the way, to keep it like-for-like, as other researchers will probably use different data sources and come up with different numbers.)

Given that Apple was an early mover and arguably established the very concept of a tablet market, what has happened to put Android in the lead? For the answer, look to trends in smartphones: Android tablet OEMs will control the market by sheer force of numbers (there are dozens of OEMs building devices on Google’s free Android OS), but also because they are being sold at a number of different price points, thereby tackling many different market segments in the process.

That is having a mixed effect in the PC market. Canalys notes that new tablets like the iPad Air and new iPad mini have helped Apple keep its market share up, and “will strengthen that position in Q4″, in contrast to other vendors who have seen their PC numbers tumble. However, longer term, its market share will decline because of the company’s focus on higher margins with premium-priced products. “Apple’s prioritization of protecting gross margins will see its PC market share continue to decline,” Coulling writes. “Apple’s decline in PC market share is unavoidable when considering its business model.”

This is already happening in some markets. Canalys notes that Samsung overtook Apple in PCs in the EMEA region in Q4 of this year, “and Apple will lose its position to competitors in more markets in the future.” Canalys notes that in Q3 2013 Samsung took a 27% share of all tablet sales. (And note, too, that a recent study released earlier this month from JD Power, the consumer sentiment researchers, put Samsung ahead of Apple in tablets for the first time, with a key focus on price.)

So where is Windows and historic PC king Microsoft in all of this? Canalys believes that Microsoft will account for 5% of the tablet market next year, with its acquisition of Nokia helping to push it closer to turning that market share around by turning the company into “a fully-fledged smart mobile device vendor.” Part of that will be about Microsoft removing some of the fragmentation in its own walled garden. “A critical first step is to address the coexistence of Windows Phone and Windows RT. Having three different operating systems to address the smart device landscape is confusing to both developers and consumers alike,” writes Tang.

If 5% sounds small, consider that in 2012, it took only 2% of shipments. Still, that’s very slow growth – with the question being whether we should consider this strong, oak-like slow growth, or just a general lack of interest in the product.

Longer term, we may be consolidating on a few platforms, but Canalys believes that price competition will cause further fragmentation when it comes to vendors and device makers.

“With the cost and time-to-market advantages afforded by their Chinese supply chain… small-to-micro brand vendors are eating up tablet market share. Vendors such as Nextbook in the United States, and Onda and Teclast in the People’s Republic of China ship more units than some of the major international top tier vendors in their home countries. The rise of small-to-micro brand vendors has proved that there is a demand in for entry-level Android tablets in every country and in every region,” writes Shanghai-based Analyst James Wang.

He believes that brands like Acer, Asus, HP, and Lenovo, with entry-level products at sub-U$ 150 price points, “have all entered the price war” but will find it hard to compete against smaller, local vendors.

That fragmentation will also spur consolidation. With companies like BlackBerry and Barnes & Noble already rethinking their place in the tablet market, “expect 2014 to bring a flurry of acquisitions, mergers, and failures as PC hardware vendors of all sizes struggle to maintain their desktop and notebook business while attempting to capitalize on a tablet market that will see great volumes driving limited value.”


Tyra Banks Invests In Locket, The App That Brings Ads And Other Content To Android Lockscreens

Locket screen 2

Locket, the Android application that puts ads and other content on your lockscreen, letting users earn small amounts of money every time they unlock their smartphone, has received an additional investment from Fierce Capital, LLC, the investment arm of The Tyra Banks Company. Smize, you guys, Tyra’s into Ad Tech now!

The size of the investment is not being disclosed, but the company is in the process of raising a round of funding in the millions, due to close next year. When that takes place, Banks won’t be the lead in that forthcoming round, for what it’s worth.

For those unfamiliar, Locket is a mobile application for Android smartphones launched this summer that places ads on the lockscreen, which users can choose to engage with by swiping. If you swipe one way, you can interact with the ad – for example, visiting a website, a Facebook page, getting a coupon, watching a movie trailer, and more – whatever the advertiser has in mind. If you’re not interested, just swipe the other way to unlock your phone as usual.

The company has already worked with dozens of well-known brands, including Hershey’s, HotelTonight, Sunny D, Sears, ZipCar, eBay, Spotify, and others, and advertisers report CTR’s on their campaigns ranging from 3 to 5 percent.

Users earn only pennies per hour for their swipes, so don’t expect to make a lot of money here. However, to encourage further user adoption, the company has been recently adding other content to the Locket experience, too, including things like weather, quotes, news, photos from 500px, and more. They’ve also just scored a content deal with another top app maker, which is also undisclosed for now.

According to Locket co-founder and CEO Yunha Kim, she was introduced to Tyra after StartupAgency co-founder Kevin Gould, whose firm helps startups with strategic investments, spotted Kim running across Times Square holding a laptop with the Locket sticker on its front. He introduced himself, said he was interested in Locket, and soon made the introduction that found Kim pitching directly to Banks herself.

“[Banks] loved the story around how we’re a Ramen noodle startup, and how I’m the only female on the team,” says Kim. “She liked that she was able to back a female entrepreneur.” She adds that Banks was well-prepared for the meeting, with several pages of questions that were in line with what other investors had her asked, too. (Oh, and after investing, Banks sent Kim a t-shirt reading “I’m a entrepreneur, b*tch”, pictured at right.) 

This, of course, is not Banks’ first startup investment – she has also gone in on others like shopping site The Hunt, and photography app Flixel, which Banks has promoted heavily on her “Top Models” TV show.

With Locket, there may be room for more cross-promotion too – Banks has a cosmetics line which could become a Locket advertiser in the future, Kim says.


Cluster Brings Simple, Social Photo-Sharing To Android


Photo-sharing app Cluster, which this summer announced $ 1.6 million in funding in a round led by early Instagram investor Steve Anderson of Baseline Ventures, is today making its mobile photo albums app more practical for real-world use with a launch on Android. The new app is similar to the 1.0 iOS app released earlier this year, with its smart, easy-to-build photo collections you can others to view or contribute to, and share privately.

The Cluster app first debuted this February on iOS-first (as most do), and has been adding new features over the course of the year including things like commenting, sharing, an updated design, and more.

On Android, the experience is much like that on iPhone: you tap “new” to start an album, then choose “event” or “topic” depending on whether you’re collecting photos around a certain activity, like a birthday, wedding, party, vacation, etc., or whether you want to build a theme-based albums of some sort (e.g., photos of your dog).

When you go to add photos, Cluster’s interface makes it quick to pick all the photos from a given date and location, which reduces the number of steps in building the initial album. Far too often, other apps make you tap on photos one-by-one ahead of sharing or album creation – so this is a minor, but time-saving detail.

After setting up the album, you tap to add contributors, who are invited by email or text. One of Cluster’s nicer features, in an age when too many social apps take it upon themselves to spam your friends, is that you can opt whether you want Cluster to handle the inviting for you, or whether you’d like to compose your own invitations instead. You can also choose to do so in the app itself, or just save an invite code which you can later share however you choose – such as, on Facebook, in a personal email, posted to a website, in a messaging app, or elsewhere.

Although Cluster isn’t 100% feature-complete with iOS yet, all the core features are present, making it possible for Android users to fully participate as both album creators and invitees. Previously, I had used Flock (by Bump, now acquired by Google) for a large part of my personal photo-sharing among close friends and family, but I was consistently disappointed by the lack of care that went into the Android version. That’s not the case with Cluster, though, I’m glad to see.

In addition, the company is updating its web experience, bringing photo uploading, commenting and favoriting to those who want to use the service online as well as, or instead of, on a smartphone. That’s another important element too many mobile photo-sharing apps overlook – that to reach a broader audience, you have to build a service that serves the needs of everyone in the larger group – from those not carrying the latest devices to the most tech-savvy early adopters clamoring for new features.

As we become more overwhelmed by the sheer volume of photos we’re creating, consumers today are moving away from building Facebook albums, once painstakingly curated but now worrisomely trafficked by others we don’t really consider “friends.” Many are now opting for more private sharing experiences via mobile messaging apps, or are picking only a handful of their best photos to share more publicly, like on Instagram. Cluster fits well into this broader paradigm, by allowing you to share with those closest to you, while also opting for a more public album at time, which can then be posted to Facebook for others to view.

But as a mobile-focused company it will also struggle with an App Store filled with competitors too many to name, as well as the photo-sharing services from the “big” guys like Apple’s iCloud, Google+, Facebook and Yahoo’s Flickr. User acquisition on mobile can often cost more than what early stage startups can afford, too, and matters are only going to get worse as top investors say they’re shifting away from consumer A rounds. Meanwhile, Cluster’s business model, which will involve photo books and gifts, and maybe more, has yet to kick in. Cluster’s cross-platform nature, good design and ease-of-use seem like the kind of features that could draw a crowd over time, however.

The new Android app is available here on Google Play.