Samsung Galaxy S4 Pre-Sales Start At AT&T On April 16, Priced At $249.99 On 2-Year Agreement

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AT&T has just posted an update to its Consumer Blog revealing pre-order details of the Samsung Galaxy S4. The phone will be available for order beginning April 16, for $249.99 with a two-year commitment. Samsung had previously announced that the Galaxy S4 would be coming to the U.S. sometime in Q2 2013, and didn’t reveal launch pricing at its event earlier in March.

The ship date of the AT&T Galaxy S4 wasn’t revealed this time around, so there’s still no guarantees about when consumers will be able to actual hold the hardware, which boasts a 5-inch 1080p display, in their hot little hands. Based on Jordan’s initial impressions, the Galaxy S4 looks like a worth successor to Samsung’s flagship smartphone role. The hardware specs include either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, but AT&T hasn’t yet specified what exactly you’ll be getting for your $250.

Pricing for the Galaxy S4 at AT&T is interesting, since it puts the smartphone above the starting on-contract price of the iPhone 5 ($199.99 with contract), and also carries a lot more sticker shock than the $99 downpayment it’ll carry with T-Mobile when it launches with that carrier beginning May 1.

Samsung Reportedly Debuting Stores-Within-A-Store At Best Buy Locations For Galaxy S4 Launch

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Samsung will reportedly be launching Samsung Stores in select Best Buy locations ahead of the Galaxy S4′s U.S. launch, a new report from Geek.com claims. The new sections, which will occupy spots close to the mobile department, will feature Samsung branding throughout and highlight a number of Samsung products, not just the upcoming Galaxy S4, though that flagship device will be the core focus.

The report from Geek.com says that at first the Samsung Stores will only be appearing at certain high-traffic locations, with training to begin for employees in the mobile departments at those stores soon. The store-within-a-store concept will roll out to other Best Buys following the launch later this year, with the ultimate goal of puting one in every U.S. location. We’ve reached to both Best Buy and Samsung for comment, but have yet to hear back at publication time.

Of course, there’s a good precedent for this sort of thing at Best Buy specifically, and it was set by a company that Samsung is generally keen to emulate: Apple. Apple’s dedicated mini-stores in Best Buy locations are unique in that they replicate almost exactly the in-store displays of Apple products in the company’s own standalone retail stores. It sounds like Samsung’s new in-store locations will resemble the Apple versions in both form and function, with the main intent being to have staff and space to properly demonstrate Samsung’s devices separate from those made by other OEMs.

If these Samsung Stores become a reality, it’s likely going to have the most effect on its fellow Android smartphone manufacturers, rather than Apple, however. Samsung is already setting itself apart from the competition in terms of market reach and global sales, but distinguishing itself on the physical retail floor will institutionalize a choice between Samsung and ‘all the rest’ for in-store shoppers.

Samsung is getting bolder in its marketing efforts, as was painfully apparent from its lavish, confusing Broadway spectacle earlier this month. If it wants to stand out, physically separating itself inside of Best Buy locations is another very good way to do so.

Moniker Looks To Crowdfunding To Create A Custom Guitar Business

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Austin-based Moniker Guitars is running a Kickstarter campaign to create a line of semi-hollow-body guitars for discerning git-fiddlists. The company will offer their first guitars for a $700 pledge, not bad for a hand-made guitar from rockabilly city.

The company is looking for $50,000 to start and they’ve just passed the $6,000 mark.

The company already customizes solid-body guitars and hopes that the fund will help them build a line of semi-hollow-body models.

“Through our online guitar configurator you can choose your guitar’s shape, paint colors and parts, as well as add custom text and graphics; all at the price of an off-the-shelf guitar,” write founders Kevin Tully and Dave Barry. Moniker began in Austin in 2012.

“The money we hope to raise will go towards the tools and equipment needed to efficiently manufacture these guitars at our shop in Austin,TX. An efficient manufacturing process means we’ll be able to create high quality, yet affordably priced, semi-hollow guitars. We also need help funding the materials needed to produce these guitars on a larger scale. These materials include wood, primer, sandpaper paint, clearcoat, guitar parts, etc.”

The luthiers do most of their work in Austin and for a pledge of $350 they’ll strip and repaint your current guitar with a new color. You can also get a White Stripes-esque red and white model for $900. $2,400 gets you a lesson in guitar-smithing with the guys at Moniker.

As it gets easier to make things overseas it’s refreshing to see these guys attempting to build a local company. Customization is a hard job and it makes sense to keep the gear, supplies, and workers close to the consumer.



Apple Patents iPhone With Wraparound Display, Including Designs That Plug Together Voltron-Style

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Apple has a new patent filing just published by the USPTO today, first spotted by AppleInsider, which details a wraparound-style AMOLED display that could make it possible to create an iPhone that’s almost entirely screen, with touch gestures and virtual buttons replacing physical ones completely. The patent describes designs that could have a seamless, continuous surface resembling the fourth generation iPod nano, as well as other shapes closer to the current iPhone, but with every surface a touch-sensitive glass display.

The patent is a fairly comprehensive one, and even mentions built-in facial recognition as well as a method of layering flexible, see-through displays on top of one another in order to produce different visual effects, including the appearance of 3D. The glass used to encase the display is described as either seamless, or featuring small design elements to hide where one piece joins another. One major advantage is that glass is relatively radio transparent, which is why the current generation iPhone 5 has top and bottom glass “window” panels on the backside of its casing, and another, says Apple in the filing, is the aesthetic advantage.

Apple suggests a number of different device designs representing different geometric shapes that could be used with an all-encompassing external glass display, but even more interesting, in some it talks about removable end caps that could allow more than one device to be joined together. Like Voltron, when combined these iPhones or iOS mobile devices would become greater than the sum of their parts.

Another neat trick is the way in which the proposed device would recognize what touch to treat as important, and which to ignore, since the entire phone is essentially one big touchscreen. Apple describes a way of detecting how a user is actually handling the device to solve that problem, using on-board cameras and facial recognition to figure out where to display content, and where to register touch.

The final element of the patent is a version that contains layered, transparent displays that can each show different content, or layers of a single image to achieve 3D effects. It could also be used to place a HUD or additional information on top of another image, essentially building a second-screen or augmented reality experience into a single device.

This is one of the more exciting Apple patents that has surfaced lately, as it demonstrates essentially a completely re-imagined next-generation iOS smartphone. But the technology is probably still a ways off from being economically practical, and the battery demands of a completely wraparound display would also likely be astronomical. So while I wouldn’t expect this in iPhone 6 (or even 7), it’s a good look at how the company is thinking about innovation behind the scenes.

Questionable Entries Prompt Google To Retract Some Glass Explorer Invitations

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Google made plenty of nerds happy earlier this week when it began reaching out to the 8,000 people that would have the privilege of spending $1,500 on the company’s head-mounted Glass display, but that thrill wound up being short-lived for some.

About seven hours after announcing that the outreach to would-be Glass Explorers began, the Glass team once again took to the project’s Google Plus page to admit they needed to rescind some of those invitations.

After noting that the #ifihadglass program yielded applicants from all walks of life, a representative noted that “it’s become clear that a few applications that don’t comply with our terms have slipped through the cracks” and that those applications would have to be disqualified.

It’s not clear exactly how many people ultimately got the boot from the Explorer program, but a quick Twitter search yields two viewable tweets breaking the bad news directly from the Glass account. In both of those cases the applicants (hopefully jokingly) said they would engage in some ill-advised behavior while wearing Glass — the more extreme of the two applicants said “#ifihadglass I’d cut a bitch!” which definitely flies in the face of the Explorer program’s terms and conditions. The other was mild in comparison, but still pretty pointless:

Of course, there’s still the question of how those people got selected in the first place — it doesn’t seem like whoever was at the helm was being very selective in the first place. According to the terms of the Explorer program, entries were “evaluated and scored by a panel of independent content moderators” who aren’t employed by either Google or its promotional partner, a New York-based marketing firm called Anomaly. Either someone on that jury found those, erm, colorful entries funny and gave them a pass, or the jury just wasn’t paying attention at all. Either way, Google was left to deal with the aftermath publicly.

It’s also unclear how many more applications (if any) will wind up getting the boot as well. Entries like this were earnest and potentially very cool, while others who were chosen seemed to have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks when tweeting their original applications.

[via The Next Web]

Surprise: Europe’s King Now Has Nearly As Many Daily Users As Zynga

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Around four years ago, Riccardo Zacconi said he was close to selling King, the arcade gaming company that he had co-founded and bootstrapped six years earlier.

The company, which has a destination site at King.com, had lost about 45 percent of its traffic as one of its biggest partners Yahoo! Games cut back. Facebook, the next big platform King was eyeing, had started to curb the cheap virality that fueled the rise of Zynga.

But after two big pivots onto the Facebook platform and then iOS, King has staged a revival. Today, the company has the #1 grossing game in the U.S. on iOS, and possibly in the world.

The company said this week that it has 50 million daily active players, which is just shy of the 54 million daily actives Zynga reported last quarter. About 49 million of their monthly actives are playing King games on mobile phones and tablets.

“Zynga’s competitive advantage in the past was the size of their network and I think we’ve closed the gap,” Zacconi said.

Because of that big shift, they’re dropping the “.com” from their company’s name. So it’s King, not King.com.

Unlike many competitors that jump on new platforms right away, King has been cautious. The company only started launching mobile titles last fall with Bubble Witch Saga and Candy Crush Saga. They only came to Facebook in early 2011 — when many other companies started putting the platform on the backburner.

Zacconi said that the success of their hit mobile game Candy Crush Saga took him by surprise.

“You read the stats in reports from companies like IDC. But when you experience it, it’s mind-blowing,” he said.

A little more than 24 million people play the company’s mobile games every day. He says that Candy Crush is played by 1.3 million people a day in Hong Kong. That’s almost 20 percent of the city’s entire population.

The reason the King has been able to be late to market and still do well has to do with the building blocks it has laid out over the last 10 years. King has a portfolio of about 150 games on its destination site, which operates like a lab for titles it can later bring to Facebook and mobile phones.

They test out titles with their “hardcore casual” group of gamers on King.com, who play about five to six hours a day. The games that do well get brought over to other platforms. To date, King has brought seven titles to Facebook and two to mobile. It’s how they help hit-proof their business in a hits-driven industry.

“If some games fail, we needed them to learn and understand what works. It’s really about probability,” he said.

They’re bringing over two more games to Facebook and/or iOS soon: one is called Papa Pear Saga, which is a Pachinko-style game, and another called Farm Heroes Saga that’s a classic Match-3 style game.

King was rumored to be exploring an IPO back in 2011. But the performance of big consumer IPOs like Zynga have made growth-stage gaming companies more reluctant to test the public markets.

“There’s a bright future for us. We’re not planning to be acquired. I don’t know whether we will do an IPO or not,” he said. King raised $45 million back in 2005 from Apax Partners and Index Ventures. Zacconi acknowledge it was largely a secondary round, which he believes was ultimately good for the longer-term health of the company.

“We don’t need to sell, and we can build for the long-term,” he said. He added that he didn’t think that Zynga’s post-IPO performance should have too much a shadow over the industry.

“Savvy investors understand the difference,” he said. “A company is not a sector. Mobile content this year should be a $12 billion market and games is the #1 category by reach and time spent. We are at the heart of this huge tectonic shift.”

AlumniFunder Launches A Crowdfunding Platform Where Alumni Can Back Student Entrepreneurs

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AlumniFunder launched in beta this week with a simple mission: Help create a deeper relationship between current students and alumni, while supporting collegiate entrepreneurship and creativity. To do that, AlumniFunder wants to give alumni a platform by which they can invest in innovative projects created by students at their alma mater. Whether it be for a new science lab, natural language processing research or a documentary film, the startup also wants to help give students access to the capital they need to get their ideas off the ground.

Riding the crowdfunding wave, the startup is essentially putting a spin on (or splitting the difference between) Kickstarter and education-focused, P2P funding platforms like SoFi and CommonBond. Not unlike these platforms, AlumniFunder has no affiliation with a specific college, instead providing a marketplace for those with ideas that need funding to connect with those looking to open their wallets to a worthy cause.

In other words, the platform works like this: Those registering for AlumniFunder are split into “Doers” (those looking to create a project) and “Alumni” (those looking to browse and fund projects). Doers are required to register with a “.edu” email address to set them up as part of a particular collegiate and alumni network, and then, like Kickstarter, their projects are posted to that network for a specified duration — usually between 30 and 60 days.

If the team or student hits their funding target, the money is then transferred via Stripe to the team; if not, no credit cards are charged. AlumniFunder provides a layer of oversight during the process to make sure the projects meet a minimum level of decency and appropriateness, while providing students with tools from Prezi and Vimeo, for example, to help them build and share their presentations with alumni.

The core value behind AlumniFunder, co-founder S. Ryan Meyer tells us, is to create a more direct and transparent channel for alumni to connect with students, in turn supporting alumni engagement in on-campus programs and entrepreneurial initiatives. Rather than crowdfunding being the focus of the platform, Meyer sees it as a technological tool for pooling resources — not a panacea for every capital-raising scenario and every hobby project out there.

Meyer started AlumniFunder last July as an “elaborate work-around,” he says after experiencing problems raising money for “the technology spinoff” of his brick-and-mortar, children’s brain-training company, Minds-in-Motion. Looking into crowdfunding as an alternative and, after considering using Crowdtilt’s white-label product, Meyer and team decided to create their own solution.

Meyer has raised $125,000 thus far, mostly from friends in his alumni network, he says, “crowdfunding it the old-fashioned way” through phone calls and in-person meetings. Crazy, I know. The team has since grown to five, including CTO and co-founder Brandon Goldman, who was the 13th employee at Box and is building the site in Node.js.

As for pricing, at launch, the site is free to all users, save for the requisite credit card processing fees. Going forward, AlumniFunder plans to launch an equity investing platform (set to launch at some point this summer), which will also be free-to-use. The team is currently raising a fund (at an undisclosed amount) that it will likely use to co-invest one-third with the accredited investor crowd in equity-based campaigns, “using crowd-vetting as a way to deploy capital to early-stage investments,” Meyer says.

Although much of the crowdfunding regulation is still in limbo, Meyer says that the team has been working to build its equity model in such a way as to both be efficient while operating within the present regulatory environment. “Hence the summer launch,” he concludes.

For its beta launch, AlumniFunder started by holding contests at Georgetown and Princeton for the most disruptive crowdfunding campaign, with Tom and Elevation Partners MD Adam Hopkins judging for Princeton and Ellie Wheeler from Greycroft judging from Georgetown. So far, the co-founder says, 22 campaigns are live, which are collectively seeking over $400,000 in capital. The first two contests ran for three weeks and offered $1,000 cash prizes to the best campaign submitted by March 20th.

Rather than working directly with either university, AlumniFunder approached a variety of both undergraduate and graduate “entrepreneurship clubs” to get the word out. Today, the startup announced the winners, and you can find Georgetown’s winner, HoyaChallenge, here and Princeton’s winner, Orchive, here.

Next up, AlumniFunder will look to continue pushing its contests onto more campuses to help spread the word, beginning on April 9th at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford on April 18th and USC at the end of April, with more schools to be added in the near future.

“We aim to be a marketplace for ideas, using crowdfunding as a tool to change the dynamics of university education and alumni relationships, creating untold opportunities for experiential learning,” Meyer tells us. “And we want to fund some kick-ass startups, too.”

Alchemist Accelerator’s Second Class Highlights 9 Enterprise Startups In Flight Data Tech, Learning Management And More

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I’m at Citrix corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., for the presentations by the nine members of the second class of the Alchemist Accelerator group. It’s quite an eclectic class for the B2B accelerator.

The Alchemist Group is a new, venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage enterprise startups. Backers include Cisco Systems, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Khosla Ventures, SAP  Ventures and US Venture Partners. The group has its roots out of the Harvard Club in San Francisco and targets technical co-founders and students from Ivy League and other high-caliber universities.

Here are the nine presenting today:

  • Tylr Mobile: Enterprise-ready mobile work platform connecting familiar tools like email with relevant data and processes in your business. 
  • Sourcery: Simplifying sourcing and ordering for food businesses. The company is replacing legacy enterprise software systems with user-friendly, cloud-based and mobile applications, bringing the food industry into the 21st century.
  • Eduora: Learning management system focused first on the end-user: unifying disparate campus applications in one interface, building enterprise-class university products that users love.
  • Zipongo: Payors subscribe members for personalized meal plans, savings on healthy groceries and rewards for buying ‘GO’ foods.
  • Chronon: Flight data recorder technology that captures the entire execution of JVM and replaces the need for traditional log files.
  • MightyHive: Consumer Marketing Automation — automates, optimizes, and measures advertising cross-channel using data that is only available to an enterprise class application.
  • Purple: Mobile customer engagement platform that enables businesses to acquire and engage customers by leveraging Apple’s passbook and other upcoming mobile wallets.
  • Stratio: First portable infrared sensors at >1000x lower cost, greater than six orders of magnitude lower power, and more than 4x higher resolution than current technology, enabling personal health monitoring in smartphones.
  • MonkeyBook: Instant, effortless, and fun digital and print memories. They replace human memory-making with crowdsourced stories from social data.

I’ll have more from the event later.