BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins Says Tablets “Not A Good Business Model,” Evidently Forgetting About iPad

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BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins seems to be among the most transparent executives in tech in terms of showing his hand regarding future product plans, which may be partly because he doesn’t have much to lose at this point. In an interview yesterday, he downplayed tablet computing in what looks to be an indicator that BlackBerry will drop the PlayBook, its own lame duck tablet and the first of its devices to sport a QNX-based operating system.

Heins should’ve stuck to specifics, however, as he went way overboard and came off as though he was losing touch with reality in the interview as quoted by Bloomberg, with broad sweeping statements like “In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” and “[t]ablets themselves are not a good business model.”

Tablets may not be a good business model for BlackBerry, which took huge writedowns on BlackBerry PlayBook inventory, were forced to run massive fire sales with price cuts of up to $ 400 to clear out inventory, and even finally discontinued the entry-level 16GB version entirely. By any real measure, the PlayBook was and is a failed product. But to say tablets won’t last five years, or that they aren’t a good business model requires that you completely ignore Apple’s tremendous success with the iPad, including the 19.5 million iPads it sold last quarter, an all-time record that came in well above analyst estimates.

Heins has recently made remarks that indicate BlackBerry may be experimenting with alternate device form factors, possibly taking a cue from hybrid gadgets like the Asus PadFone which combine a smartphone and tablet or mini-notebook style device in one. Once again, Heins said that he would need a BlackBerry tablet to be a unique device in an increasingly crowded market.

BlackBerry may have blown it on the PlayBook, but trash-talking tablets in general is worse than sticking your head in the sand: it makes the company look hopelessly out of touch. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned in the fact that Apple is the only company that’s really been able to succeed with a tablet device, but that lesson isn’t that the tablet market is a write-off entirely.

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Keen Home Launches Crowdfunding Campaign For Its Connected Central Heating And Cooling Vents

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Disrupt NY 2013′s Startup Battlefield competition is underway, and now New York native Keen Home is taking the stage to present its first-round pitch. Keen Home is a home automation startup, which aims to follow in Nest’s footsteps by building remote vents for your central air conditioning and heating systems that can be controlled from your smartphone to optimally direct air where you actually need it — and away from places you don’t. Keen just launched its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

Keen Home is the brainchild of Ryan Fant and Nayeem Hussain, both of whom have experience founding companies in the home real estate and property-management space. The two believe their startup can appeal to consumers who want both more convenience in managing their home’s HVAC systems, and who want to save money and conserve energy. Keen Home’s debut product, the Keen Vent, accomplishes both.

The idea came from Fant noticing that when vents were closed in other rooms, heating and cooling the one he was currently in became much easier. The problem is that those vents generally operate separately, and manually, in most homes. Even with some systems that provide a remote, like Activent, they aren’t centrally controlled in a way that makes them individually manageable from an existing device like a smartphone.

“We found that just by closing four vents in an average-sized home, we’ve reduced the run time of the furnace by about 30 percent,” Fant explained in an interview. “So not only were we redirecting air to rooms that were actually in use by intelligently closing vents, we were increasing efficiency, as well.”

Keen believes that the focus is always on the thermostat when it comes to home heating and cooling efficiency solutions, which is good but it ignores other parts of the problem. The Keen Vent solves that, by providing both a user-guided and automated way of opening and closing vents to change how air flows through a home. A homeowner can set a schedule for individual vents, too, and it can plug into weather data to respond intelligently to changing conditions.

Fant says the Keen Vent can provide up to 32 percent reduction in run time for HVAC systems, which means lower monthly bills and less toll on the environment. Most heating and cooling vents in households are around 60 years old, Keen Home said on stage during their Disrupt Battlefield presentation on Monday.



Individual vent covers will cost around $ 40 per vent, Keen predicts, with a $ 150 charge for the system in total. There’s also a recurring fee of around $ 4 per month for access to the cloud-based management platform, which also provides monthly reports. But Fant and Hussain plan to partner with utility companies and homebuilders to try to offer the tech initially at a discount price, perhaps with, say, six months of service rolled into a new construction. It’s the same model that satellite radio provider Sirius/XM uses to sell subscriptions with new cars.

Keen Home is launching its Keen Vent product on Indiegogo today, and believes that seeking crowdfunding, as well as traditional investment, will help it get the word out and prove product viability. Its biggest challenges will be proving to users that a recurring subscription around centralized vent control is worth the cost, and in making sure that legacy players like Honeywell don’t swoop in and simply build their own similar systems. The team says that being aggressive with partnerships with big utility companies, the way others like Nest and thinkeco have done in the past, will be the key to making sure it can overcome both.

Keen said on stage that the majority of its audience would be people who don’t know what a smart home is, so they tried to make sure it was as easy to install as possible. That’s why they’ve made the install process as simple as possible, and setting up the online dashboard involves only entering a code and then doing a roughly 15 question survey. In addition, they’re planning to partner with HVAC contractors to take care of more complicated installs. Battery life is expected to be around a year for the vents, so it’d be roughly equivalent to changing the power source on devices like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.



TechCrunch » Gadgets

Samsung Announces The Underwhelming Galaxy Tab 3

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Samsung introduced its latest tablet today, the Galaxy Tab 3, and it’s clear that the Tab line is destined to play a distinct second fiddle to the Galaxy Note brand. The Tab 3 sounds like it could’ve been released a year or two ago, with a 7-inch 1024×600 display at just 169 PPI, a 1.2GHz dual core processor and a 3 megapixel rear-facing camera.

The Tab 3 also has cellular connectivity in one version, but caps out at 3G and doesn’t offer an LTE option, and it’s running Android 4.1. There are two memory options, at 8 and 16GB respectively, though that’s expandable via Micro SD. The Tab 3 improves on the Tab 2 7.0 with a thinner bezel, borrowing design styling from the Galaxy Note series. The Wi-Fi version will be available in May, and the cellular-capable model goes on sale in June.






Samsung is clearly streamlining its tablet line here, since the Tab 3 naming indicates we probably won’t see a follow-up to the Tab 2 10.1. The Android OEM has moved a lot of the focus on its higher-end Galaxy Note line when it comes to tablets, like the recently introduced Galaxy Note 8.0. The Note 8.0 has a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and a 5 megapixel rear camera, plus an 8-inch 1280×800 display.

There’s no retail price for the Galaxy Tab 3 as of yet, but the Galaxy Note 8.0 is $ 399 so expect it to come in under that, as it’s less impressive under the hood and also lacks S-Pen integration. The Tab line is likely Samsung’s way of staying competitive with cheap, small tables like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, but I wouldn’t expect this to light a fire under that many consumers.

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Chris Dixon: 3D Printing Will Transform Manufacturing, Social Media Startups Are Facing “General Fatigue”

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Chris Dixon, the entrepreneur-turned angel investor-turned general partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, today said that he believes the 3D printing movement has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and that it is an area where he would like to make multiple investments in the future. In contrast, he described startups in areas like social networking facing “general fatigue”. Earlier this month, Chris Dixon and Andreessen Horowitz led a $ 30 million Series C round in Shapeways, a 3D printing company, where he has now joined the board.

Shapeways is indicative of an untapped opportunity in hardware, he said. “3D has been talked up a lot, but it’s received very little investment from traditional VC firms,” Dixon said today on stage in an interview TC Disrupt.

“For us, we think it’s a major, incredibly significant innovation. It will transform manufacturing and I can see us making multiple investments.” Indeed, a lot of the smaller hardware players have turned to platforms like Kickstarter instead not just to raise money but also to drum up consumer interest and profile for their projects. This has almost become like a testing ground, with the most successful then eventually converting that growth into more traditional investment routes for startups.

New York, he said, has become a kind of “hub” for hardware, and it has opened up the opportunity for new startups and new investing in the city. New York, he said, is at the center of what he calls a “hardware renaissance”, with the clever engineers who had in the past put all their efforts into working on social networks “now working on hardware devices.”

He said this is because social networks are in the middle of a “general fatigue” and so people have turned to wanting to do “something tangible.”

The huge rush of smartphone devices hitting the market has also had an impact on the larger market for hardware and wearable computing products, he said. “The smartphone explosion has lowered the cost for a lot of components and that has dramatically lowered the costs of producing devices,” he noted.

He points out that the kind of disruption that a company like Shapeways provides is “innovation at the high end.”

He also compared hardware developments to “the same forces that when you think about what the internet did for written work.”

“Before the Internet you had to go to a publisher and get an investment. Now you can publish you ebook or blog and it dramatically lowered the cost and enabled the long tail, democratized writing. We can see 3D printing doing that to manufacturing. You can cut a deal with manufacturing now and have a Shapeways printer and the batch size is one.”

Dixon also compared the general climate for startups in New York in general to life in San Francisco.

“There are plenty of great investors here and that attracts a lot of entrepreneurs. The one thing that is missing is a whole mid-level layer. If a company has a hit product and want to scale and hire employees 50 to 100. If you want to go international, or scale a sales force. If I want to figure out a monetization thing in San Francisco I can go to Google to get that.” That acceleration is still developing here in New York, he says.

San Francisco is similar to New York with a lot of consumer stuff. Down the peninsula you have infrastructure and hardware but San Francisco is pretty similar to the New York scene, taking technology and applying it to the real world.

Watch the full video of Chris Dixon’s interview here:



TechCrunch » Gadgets

Leap Motion Hack Brings A Facebook Home Experience To The Desktop

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One of the hacks at Disrupt NY’s Hackathon this year employed hardware startup Leap Motion’s new 3D gesture controller, which unfortunately just ran into a delay. Leap Motion’s issues aside, this project, the combined effort of Chao Huang, Cedrich Pinson and Jorge Martinez, brings a Facebook Home-style experience to the desktop.

With “Leap in Time,” Leap Motion is used to navigate through a Facebook timeline via hand gestures that are intended to be as natural and intuitive as possible. You swipe left and right to go through photos and posts, and there’s inertia built-in to make it feel even more immersive. Then there’s a motion to pause and focus on a particular piece of content, with a palm outward gesture, and you can simply make a thumbs up to like a post.

Working with the Leap Motion was fairly simple, the team said, but does seem to experience difficulty with some environment issues like changing lighting conditions. It’s also crucial to maker sure that the Leap Motion app you’re building is cued to pay attention to certain things at certain times and to ignore specific motions in different settings. You have to cue the app to not pay attention to sideways hand waving when you want it to be able to recognize the thumbs up, for instance.

The hack was surprisingly smooth given that it was built in fewer than 24 hours, and Huang said there’s plenty more they could do given more time, but they wanted to focus on what they considered the core Facebook experience. The project is also reminiscent of a recent concept design making the rounds of a Facebook Home app for Windows 8.

Leap in Time is a simple enough implementation of Leap Motion, but it does act as a pretty solid example of how gesture control might actually work well for navigating apps and software that we use every day. I know that Leap Motion is eager to get as much software as possible into Airspace, the app store for the controller, but this team said they weren’t sure whether they’d actually pursue this any further.

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