ShopLocket Launches Pre-Order Platform To Help Bridge The Gap Between Crowdfunding And Shipping

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There’s an increasing opportunity in helping hardware startups bring their products to market, and Toronto ecommerce startup ShopLocket has identified a key area in that process where they might be able to help out, and pick up some new business in the process. The company is introducing its new pre-order platform at the Glazed Wearable conference in San Francisco today, giving hardware startups and product-based companies a way to book sales of devices before they ever hit the production lines.

Often companies like Pebble will launch on Kickstarter, bringing in considerable interest from an early adopter crowd during a campaign that could span a month or two. But then there’s a big gap between the end of those campaigns and the actual ship date of their product, and in that gap you run the risk of losing a lot of the publicity steam built up during the crowdfunding phase.

Pebble launched its own pre-order portal, and others like the Thalmic Labs MYO armband just started right out the gate with an open-ended pre-order period, but often that can take a lot of work and building your own platform, as Lockitron did. ShopLocket wants to make all of those things easier, adding support for pre-order campaigns to its lightweight storefront platform.

“ShopLocket can either be used as an alternative to Kickstarter or Indiegogo for an initial launch, [or] it can be used after a crowdfunding campaign to allow companies to continue collecting pre-orders,” ShopLocket founder and CEO Katherine Hague explained in an interview. “When used as a replacement to traditional crowdfunding platforms, ShopLocket could be considered an elegant plug-and-play alternative to something like Selfstarter [Lockitron’s in-house tool, which it released for others to use].”

Already, ShopLocket’s platform has been quietly helping companies debut and build continued interest in their products. ECG identification tech wearable Nymi used it to fund their device Kickstarter-style, and others including Nomiku and GlassUp are now running their pre-order campaigns with it, after having successfully raised funds on other platforms. Selfstarter campaigns require ample setup and knowledge of code, while ShopLocket’s system is fully customizable with a graphic interface that even total coding amateurs can manage.

To power the payments part of its new service, ShopLocket has turned to Stripe, which it chose over competing options like PayPal and Amazon Payments for a number of reasons.

“For our sellers, the process of creating a Stripe account is incredibly easy [and] we are in the process of further optimizing the seller flow, so that sellers don’t even have to sign up with Stripe until they actually want to start charging on pre-orders — something not possible with PayPal or Amazon,” Hague said. “For buyers, Stripe is actually a more accessible platform than PayPal or Amazon, which generally require accounts to make a purchase. Stripe will allow buyers to checkout with a simple credit card form, no account required.”

Stripe also offers native design integration, so buyers aren’t shuttled away to a separate site and then shuttled back in to complete the transaction, which is a big advantage in terms of decreasing cart abandonment rates and generally providing an experience that businesses can control in every respect.

I wondered whether this emerging market segment might not be a little too niche for ShopLocket to focus much attention on, but Hague says there’s plenty of interest already, and that’s also growing at a rapid clip. So far, they’ve found over 500 projects launched launched in products and hardware every month, which represent tens of millions of dollars raised.

“This represents only a small segment of the overall market,” Hague adds. “For these companies, ShopLocket is a better solution than a traditional hosted storefront for the next phase of their business. We let them use any website, including their existing one, to grow from pre-orders to a full shopping cart over time. We believe that the next billion dollar storefront platform will be born from serving this rapidly growing market of new product creators.”

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Amazon Adds iOS Support To GameCircle And Whispersync For Games For Cross-Platform Saves And Leaderboards

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Amazon has announced an update for its GameCircle and Whispersync for Games services for mobile gaming apps today, which introduces iOS support. That means that Amazon’s GameCircle, which offers achievement tracking for mobile apps, and WhisperSync for Games, which makes it so that a mobile gamer’s progress goes with them as they move from device to device, will all now be able to work on both Android and iOS hardware, including the iPhone and iPad.

This is actually a pretty big deal, since the new GameCircle version two service will now work across Kindle Fire, any other Android devices, iOS (and it works with, rather than conflicting with, Game Center integration) for all features, including brand new auto-conflict resolutions which means that even when data about progress comes in from multiple versions of the game out of order (due perhaps to connection delays and other problems), the Whispersync service makes sure that the gamer can pick up at the right place when they come back to play.

Amazon’s update today makes it possible for devs to offer cloud-based experiences that aren’t locked in to a specific platform. Apple offer iCloud save syncing for iOS titles, but that functionality doesn’t extend to Android. A huge number of the top mobile games are now cross-platform, so it makes sense that Amazon would extend its platform’s capabilities, especially given that Google Play Game Services works for iOS, offering cloud-based game saves, achievements and multiplayer gaming.

Game developers have more and more options, in other words, for making sure mobile users are well-served no matter where they choose to play. As mobile OS breakdown continues to diversity, that’s going to be a very important factor in helping players decide what to buy in terms of mobile apps.


TechCrunch » android

After Near-$1B Inventory Write-Down, BlackBerry Starts Selling Unlocked Smartphones Direct To U.S. Buyers

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Well that was quick: Not long after T-Mobile announced it would stop carrying BlackBerry hardware in its retail stores (but continue selling them online), the Canadian smartphone maker has revealed a new direct selling model that it likely hopes will shore up that retail channel loss. BlackBerry now offers unlocked Q10 and Z10 smartphones via its own site, for $ 549.00 and $ 449.00 respectively.

Those may not be quite bargain basement prices, but they’re cheap enough compared to other unlocked flagship phones from manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, Sony and HTC, and the move is almost certainly tied to BlackBerry’s near-$ 1 billion write-down on hardware inventory reported last quarter.

The massive write-down was blamed almost entirely on poor performance of the Z10, the BlackBerry 10 flagship device launched last January by the beleaguered BlackBerry, and the first smartphone to be powered by its brand new operating system. The Z10 was clearly not the rousing success its creators hoped it would be, and the write-down plus the $ 449 outright price now on offer via its site reflect the fact that there are probably tons of these things just sitting around burning precious and expensive warehouse space.

BlackBerry’s decision to price the Q10 slightly higher might be due to a marginally better reception for the keyboard-sporting design. Having reviewed both devices, the Q10 was definitely the better of the two by a wide margin, if only for basic advantages like longer battery life.

While the pricing and U.S.-only availability of these unlocked devices doesn’t scream “fire sale” just yet, it is worth noting that this is a similar strategy to the one BlackBerry took (back when it was still RIM) with the PlayBook tablet, another big hardware miss for the company. Based on that example, if you’re looking for an unlocked GSM BlackBerry smartphone (unclear why you would be), it’s probably better to wait a little while and watch the company deeply discount both the Z10 and the Q10 in time for the holiday shopping season.

No sign of the Q5 in the direct sales channel just yet. And BlackBerry’s Z30, a new smartphone similar to the Z10 with a built-in bigger battery and larger, lower pixel density display went on sale in many markets recently, so it also isn’t listed as one of the phones you can buy unlocked from BlackBerry. The company likely won’t have made the same mistake of producing lots of inventory for that device, given the Z10′s track record and the low-key launch it enjoyed, but it’s totally possible those could end up on BlackBerry’s virtual store shelves too, if that’s something you’re into.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Retail Giant Tesco Follows In Amazon’s Footsteps With Hudl, A Cut-Price, Own-Brand Android Tablet

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Tesco, the UK-based retail giant with 20 million customers in 12 countries across Europe and Asia, today took its biggest step yet into digital commerce and content: the company launched Hudl, an own-brand, seven-inch-screened Android (Jellybean) tablet priced at £119 ($ 190).

The idea will be for Tesco to use the hardware to promote use of its own range of digital content and e-commerce services, and in keeping with that it will be even cheaper to buy the device for those who use the company’s Clubcard loyalty card. Those who buy Hudl on the Clubcard can buy it for less than £100 ($ 160) when the device goes on sale September 30, first in the UK market.

Tesco is playing on a magic combination of factors: it already has a pretty large range of digital services (from entertainment through to shopping and banking); we still have relatively low tablet penetration in markets like the UK; and it’s being very Tesco-like (that is, competitive) on price. It’s also just chapter one for Tesco in this game, says its CEO (emphasis mine):

“Hudl is a colourful, accessible tablet for the whole family to enjoy. The first stage in our tablet offering, it’s convenient, integrated and easy to use with no compromise on spec,” Tesco Chief Executive, Philip Clarke, said in a statement. “Customers are quite rightly very discerning about the technology they buy so we knew we had to be competitive on all fronts.”

In some ways, offering a tablet is a logical progression for Tesco, which has in the past year acquired Mobcast, an online bookseller, for $ 7.2 million; and beefed up its Blinkbox film and TV service. Alongside this, the company has its web portal for online shopping and grocery delivery, as well as various consumer-focused financial services like online banking and insurance, and brodband, telephone and cellular services.

As with Amazon and its e-commerce operation and content holdings and subsequent foray into hardware with the Kindle e-readers and subsequent Kindle Fire tablets, Tesco pulling all of these together and putting them front and center will help the company promote these products more effectively, in a way that only Tesco would be able to do on its own device.

Right now, the intention appears to be to offer these devices in the UK market only, which is Tesco’s biggest, with nearly half of its 6,784 stores; over 310,000 of its 530,000 employees; and most of its profit. Indeed, Tesco points out that in the UK right now some 75% of households do not own a tablet; and the market for these is still in its early days, even in developed markets, and it is there for the grabbing.

But I suspect the sights are bigger. Just as Tesco has plans to take its various online services out to other markets (those include China, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Slovakia and Turkey), it would make sense to bring Hudl along for that ride.

“Currently there is nothing specifically planned outside the UK, but that’s not always going to be the case,” a person close to the company told TechCrunch on the occasion of its Blinkbox digital content launch earlier this year, when the company also made a big point of hinting hard about a tablet launch.

Today, a spokesperson echoed that sentiment. “We wouldn’t rule out other markets in the future,” he said, in response to questions about what will come after the UK.

Going global is also what the company did with other digital pushes, claiming that it “built the world’s first virtual store where commuters buy groceries via their mobile phones in South Korea.” (Those services first came online in its home market, the UK.)

In fact, you could argue that, with the economies of scale that you need to make hardware break-even or profitable business, pushing the tablet into international markets will be an important part of the equation for Tesco, which says that it is producing the tablet with a “manufacturing partner based in China…which also manufactures well-known products for Microsoft, HP, Blackberry and Sony.”

And while it makes sense for Tesco to push hardware to “close the loop” on the digital proposition, it is also an imperative for the company in a wider sense. Philip Clarke, Tesco’s chief executive, remarked recently on how conditions outside the UK remain “challenging” with the UK currently “subdued.” Pushing into new areas like hardware and tablets in that regard is an important offensive move to defend against erosion and competitive pressure elsewhere in the business.

Specification detail:
· 7” 1440 x 900 HD screen
· Android Jellybean 4.2.2
· 16GB storage which can be expanded to 48GB with microSD cards.
· Quad-core 1.5GHZ processor
· 9 hours video battery life (Conditions may vary dependent on video format and content, audio volume, screen brightness and processor load)
· Micro-HDMI port
· Bluetooth 4.0, GPS
· Dual band Wi-Fi for a more stable connection
· Access to over a million apps via Google Play™
· Comes in 4 colours: black, blue, red, purple
· Wi-Fi only
· Sleek, high-quality design, with a durable, matte, soft-touch back for better grip
· Scratch resistant touch screen


TechCrunch » android

This Week On The TC Gadgets Podcast: Steam News Breaks While We Record, Surface Sequels And Adobe Gets Mighty

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A rare treat this week as you can hear the TechCrunch team react to breaking gadget news (the Steam Controller, to be specific) live as it unfolds. It’s like being inside our brains without the echoes and cobwebs. We also cover the big Surface 2 reveal, Steam OS, the Steam Box announcementsAdobe’s Mighty hardware and BlackBerry’s very bad quarter.

This week, we have a very special episode of the Gadgets Podcast with a ragtag team of lovable characters, including myself – Darrell Etherington – Chris Velazco and special guests Frederic Lardinois and TCTV Producer Steve Long, so you just know it’s going to be the heartwarming comeback story of a lifetime.

We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern and noon Pacific. And feel free to check out the TechCrunch Gadgets Flipboard magazine right here, as well as the TechCrunch Droidcast.

Click here to download an MP3 of this show.
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Intro Music by Rick Barr.

TechCrunch » Gadgets