So Why Did Apple Buy a Mapping Company? [GigaOM]

Apple purchased digital mapmaker Placebase in July for an undisclosed sum, according to Seth Weintraub at Computerworld. Placebase, which we wrote about last year, is a Google Maps competitor that focuses on adding layers of public and private data to existing maps with an easy-to-use API. One use for the product, called PolicyMap, layers various types of data — like home sales, crime, or employment — over maps to help visualize data geographically. It’s big business, and the company was profitable without VC funding. So, why did Apple buy Placebase?

There are many reasons. For starters, it is becoming obvious that maps and geo-location are becoming crucial components of any modern operating system. Nokia was the first one to realize this and snapped up companies such as gate5 and Navteq.

Secondly, the acquisition allows Apple to decrease its reliance on former BFF Google. Apple could use Placebase’s technology to replace the Google Maps functionality in the iPhone and iPod Touch (and the new tablet, perhaps?) with its an in-house mapping solution. The ongoing legal fight between Apple, Google and the FCC over rejected apps on the iPhone App Store is well-known, as is Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s departure from Apple’s board in August. 

Weintraub claims the Placebase purchase closed in July, which is a curious timeline. Did Schmidt know of Apple’s plans to purchase the company, or was this an instance of him “sitting out” of a board meeting, because it was a place where Apple and Google were possibly competing?

Apple and Google are competing on more and more fronts, and Apple may be looking to cut as many ties with Google as possible, in a seemingly belated attempt at keeping the fox out of the henhouse. The highest profile tie at the moment? The Google search-box currently in the top of every Safari user’s browser window — a search-box that likely sends a decently substantial amount of referral funds from Google to Apple. Given Microsoft’s need to expand its search share, it wouldn’t be inconceivable that Apple replaces Google with Bing. As long there is enough “cashback” for Apple!

Twingly Channels: A Personalized, Social, Real-Time Memetracker

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Swedish startup Twingly and its stealth memetracker Twingly Channels. Tonight, Twingly is launching in closed beta. In the past, Twingly has brought us a microblogging search tool, a search engine for blogs, and a global ranking system for blogs. Twingly Channels essentially lets users to create their own personalized real-time memetracker. To sign up for an invite, click here with the code “TechCrunch.”

As we wrote previously, Twingly is a mix between Digg and FriendFeed. Twingly Channels lets users to create their own personalized social memetracker by collecting feeds and search terms covering any topic or event into a channel they share with others. And the site has real-time functionality. Users can post links posted by users, content from RSS feeds, and real-time search results for terms from blogs and microblogs (i.e. Twitter). The resulting stream is filtered into a Friendfeed-like channel where people can comment on, like, or dislike incoming items.

Channels will be public by default, but to comment or subscribe you will need to sign up. Twingly will also employ a ranking system to filter content using a proprietary alogorithm. Every item coming into the channel is continuously ranked using links from blogs, Tweets, user comments and likes. The highest ranked items are shown in the Popular view. Twingly Channels can also be used by companies for brand tracking and social media monitoring and can be kept private for these purposes.

The site could be useful for aggregating RSS feeds, tracking specific content on blogs and microblogs and then sharing that content with others, all on one site. The blog/microblog search is powered by Twingly’s search engine which tracks close to 26 million blogs around the world. It’s similar in some ways to Streamy.

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Cry Us A River: Timberlake Bails On His Own SF Party To Go Dress Up As Sean Parker

Screen shot 2009-09-30 at 9.59.20 PMSo, Justin Timberlake was supposed to be at a party tomorrow night in San Francisco. The “special, private celebration” was in honor of the company Particle (which counts Timberlake as its lead investor), which recently launched its Robo.to service. Myself and fellow writers Jason Kincaid and Paul Carr were so excited that we’ve been gossiping about it all day in back-channel conversations. I believe Paul even bought a JT book for him to sign, earlier today.  But sadly, Justin, is bailing on us.

It appears that like most celebrities, Timberlake came down with a case of the “scheduling conflict,” and had to fly back to L.A. (or stay there, not sure if he left or not) to go be a movie star. But we’ll forgive him this time because of the reason for his conflict: He needed to be on the set of The Social Network, yes, the Facebook movie.

But Paul has a brilliant back-up plan. Why doesn’t Particle get Sean Parker, the Facebook founder that Timberlake is portraying in the movie, to be Justin’s stand-in? Perfect, right? Of course, Parker may be busy, seeing as he has three or so jobs at the moment, the most recent of which is being a member of Yammer’s board.

Timberlake needs to understand that the real way to get rich — and I’m talking real rich — is to be a Silicon Valley star, not a movie star portraying a Silicon Valley star. Next time, JT, next time.

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Brightkite is Set To Relaunch [GigaOM]

brightkitechanges.gif Brightkite is ready to re-launch its service. Brightkite is the company that emerged after Limbo, a Burlingame, Calif.-based start-up merged with Denver-based Brightkite. The company offers a location-based social networking service that allows folks to broadcast their location and help locate bars and restaurants. When we checked tonight, we got a message announcing some pending changes. The Limbo website also remains down for maintenance. Brightkite is competing for attention with the likes of Foursquare, a New York-based start-up that has gained a cachet among the early adopter crowd.

Sorry, Shaq: NBA Bans Twitter at Games

Joining the NFL and other sports organizations in the raining-on-our-parade camp, the NBA has declared pre-, post-, and mid-game social media verboten, according to a Sports Illustrated post this evening.

According to a memo sent out to team today, no mobile or other communication devices are to be used from 45 minutes before a game starts until after the players have finished performing their athletic duties, including postgame locker room interviews. The ban affects players, coaches, and "basketball operations personnel." We are unclear whether cheerleaders are included in this perplexingly named category.

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We're also not sure whether this ban applies to the official NBA Twitter account, which has more than 1.4 million followers, or to any of the myriad team Twitter accounts. What we do know is that the NBA will now be treating social media content the same way it would treat comments made to traditional media outlets.

The complete list of NBA players affected by this decision is staggering, but the ban also applies to other forms of social media, such as Facebook status updates. It would even prohibit the sending of text messages and emails during the prescribed time limits.

And although tweeting on the job is generally considered bad form, like all Twitter users who choose to make their professional lives part of their social stream, these NBA players are doing monumental things for engagement, brand ambassadorship, and real-time promotion. We consider the NBA's decision to make basketball less fun short-sighted and generally uncool.

However, the memo may be welcomed by many coaches and other team executives, who often prohibit the use of electronic communication devices at various times during team activities. Teams such as the L.A. Clippers and the Miami Heat already have guidelines in place that are much stricter than what was outlined in the NBA memo.

Many thanks to Mathew Ingram for the pointer and for inspiring our headline.

Does the NBA's call make sense to you? Or did the out-of-touch leadership go over the line? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Discuss


Zuckerberg Moves Up The Forbes 400 List. Net Worth Now $2 Billion

10688v38-max-250x250Forbes today released their annual 400 richest Americans list — no surprise, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is on it at number 158. His net worth is $2 billion, one-fifth of Facebook’s $10 billion valuation.

At 25, Zuckerberg is by far the youngest member of the Forbes 400 list. The next youngest person on the list is hedge fund operator John Arnold, who is 35. Last year, Zuckerberg debuted on the list at #321. His net worth at the time was $1.5 billion.

Zuckerberg started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004, and now Facebook is the third largest site on the internet. In May, Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies invested $200 million into Facebook, setting its $10 billion valuation.

Earlier this month, Facebook announced that they now have 300 million users and cash flow positive for the first time last quarter.

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BumpTop adds multitouch interface for Windows 7 computers (get free codes)

bumptopWindows 7 will come with a cool multitouch user interface, allowing you to touch the screen of your computer and perform actions with simple gestures.

gesturesBut it looks like BumpTop is going to make that multitouch functionality really useful. We’ve noted before how BumpTop brings a 3-D view to your Windows desktop, making it easier to manage a big pile of files and other tasks in your inbox. Now you can use BumpTop as a multitouch user interface. This video shows how you can crop pictures, simply by tapping on them, stretching them out, and cutting off the parts you don’t want with simple hand gestures. You can do thinks like pan and zoom, using two fingers, much like you can do with the iPhone. You can spread something out or pinch to make it shrink. If you double tap on something such as a picture, it will zoom in on the object. You can shift your focus to one of the side walls in the BumpTop 3-D interface. You can pull down with two fingers on the back wall to focus on it. You can also rotate to go to the other side walls. The complete suite of multitouch gestures is included in the paid version, BumpTop Pro.

The 1.2 version of BumpTop is going to make Windows 7 machines stand out from their boring Windows Vista predecessors, and that could be good for the expected revival of PC demand coming this fall. BumpTop says that the new gestures for Windows 7 have patents pending. Some of the gestures are illustrated in the drawing. It looks like we’re not all that far away from the user interface that Tom Cruise used in the film Minority Report. Windows 7 goes on sale on Oct. 22. The company has shared 200 free codes for access to its premium BumpTop Pro version. Click here.


Let Them Make Web Comics: Bitstrips Comes to Schools

Bitstrips for Schools makes us want to go back to the third grade.

Bitstrips is an online tool for quickly and simply creating web comics, and the company has just launched a new product custom-tailored for the classroom. Kids get to be creative; teachers get a new, interactive tool to reinforce learning; and everyone goes home smarter and happier.

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A year and a half ago, Bitstrips launched at SxSW. At the time, we wrote that it was the "YouTube of web comics" and speculated on whether the app could become the breakout app of the show.

While the service has remained relatively under-the-radar, Bitstrips has managed to suss out their revenue streams and remains 100 percent bootstrapped, according to an email we received from co-founder Jesse Brown today. With Bitstrips for Schools, the company is offering a subscription-based service, adding even more revenue to their budget.

"We sold a license to the Ontario Ministry of Education," he wrote. "It just launched six days ago, and over 15,000 students have already signed up. They've been making over 1,000 comic strips a day."

Basic accounts give users (a.k.a. teachers) one private and secure virtual classroom; space for up to 40 students in each class; unlimited saved activities, comic strips, and characters; and unlimited use of the Shared Activities Library. They're also remarkably affordable at a $.9.95 monthly subscription rate. For $29.95 a month, users (a.k.a. schools) can purchase a package that includes up to six classrooms with space for 40 students each.

Now for the fun part: the comics! Check out this promo/demo video showing the software hard at work in a real classroom environment:

Students, individually or as collaborators, create characters and choose from a variety of scenes and props to create comic strips, which they can then share, print, and comment on. Teachers can review comics as they are created.

We can see kids having a ton of fun with this tool and learning a lot about design, content creation, and media while they're at it. The site also points out that comics could be an especially good tool for students of foreign languages.

Finally, we had to take the app for a test drive. We had a lot of fun - the interface is extremely intuitive and works well for kids of all ages. We'll be showing it to the kids in our lives, and we recommend that teachers give the 14-day free trial a shot, as well!

For those of you who are not teachers, we suggest taking a look at classic Bitstrips, where you can create your very own tech scene-themed versions of Family Circus. Or something less nerdy/ironic, if you prefer.

Discuss


New Google Search Feature Highlights Forums & Discussions

A new feature introduced today by Google lets users quickly preview forum discussions within search results.

The new feature will apply to sites that have a large number of relevant posts for a user's search query. Users will see the topic of the thread, the number of posts, and the date the thread was posted.

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According to Google's post from director of product management Johanna Wright, "We hope this feature gives you a deeper view into the relevant content available on sites throughout the web - even when that content spans multiple pages or discussions. At the same time, the main search results are diverse as always - so if you can't pinpoint a useful comment there's a list of relevant sites there to help."

The feature seems simple enough, but it's a relevant and welcome addition to Google's search offering and an interesting commentary on the SEO value of forum discussions. In a recent video interview with Vanilla forum software creator Mark O'Sullivan, we chatted in depth on the evergreen nature and value of forum discussions, especially in terms of search.

We can speculate that the Google team might be working on a similar solution for Q&A sites; it would only make sense.

Discuss


Apple Gets A Mapmaker. Where Does That Leave Google?

2179435712_3d2a50fb64In case you haven’t had enough location-based news tonight, here’s another very interesting bit. It looks like Apple has very quietly bought an online mapping company, Seth Weintraub of Computerworld reports tonight.

Apple’s purchase of Placebase actually took place this past July, and a founder of a partner company that was using Placebase maps tweeted about it. But it slid under most people’s radars as that was the only news out there about it. But Weintraub dug up Placebase CEO Jaron Waldman’s LinkedIn profile tonight, and sure enough, he is now part of the “Geo Team” at Apple.

Here’s why this is very interesting: It could well signal yet another rift in the relationship between Google and Apple. At the very least, the fact that Apple bought a Google Maps competitor, was probably yet another reason why Eric Schmidt had to step down from Apple’s board of directors (which he did in August). But the bigger picture is that such a purchase could potentially allow Apple to move away from its dependency on Google Maps, which it uses on the iPhone and also its iPhoto computer software.

Obviously, much has been made about Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice app, but remember too that they also rejected (or did not approve, whatever) Google’s Latitude app, forcing Google to make a browser-based version. The reason Apple gave for not approving it was that it would confuse users with the built-in Maps application on the iPhone — the one that runs, yes Google Maps.

And Google actually helped Apple build the entire Maps application, aside from just letting them use their mapping data. So this whole episode has been bizarre, to say the least. But it may be over soon with the Placebase purchase.

Or maybe not. It is certainly possible that Apple simply realized the importance of geolocation, especially in the mobile space, and wanted to acquire talent in that field. While Placebase was a competitor to Google Maps, it also was slightly different, focusing on different layers and customizations.

[photo: flickr/Manitoba Historical Maps]

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GetJar Now Helps Users Get the Right Mobile App [GigaOM]

getjarGetJar, a independent mobile application store, has launched a service dubbed the App Download Page, which points people to the versions of apps that are compatible with their mobile phones. By taking the guesswork out of which version to download, the thinking goes, the overall number of app downloads will rise.

If Facebook’s experience was any indication, it’s smart thinking. The social networking site was the first company to try out GetJar’s new offering, which saw a link posted on the Facebook mobile page that prompted people to download its app. The number of Facebook app downloads on GetJar have topped 10 million since it began its trial of the new service in August, according to the San Mateo, Calif.-based startup, from just 2.5 million.

In addition to Facebook, photo- and video-sharing web site Photobucket will start implementing the App Download Page service this quarter and GetJar said news- and entertainment-focused companies are also lined up to use the service soon, though it declined to name any of them. Nor would the startup comment as to whether or not it had a financial arrangement with Photobucket tied to that site’s use of GetJar’s service.

GetJar received $6 million in funding from Accel Partners in 2007.

get jar screenshot

GetJar launches easy-branding mobile app installer

getjar1For a brand manager, fussing over the features of a bunch of mobile apps is a distraction from the much larger mission of getting consumers to install the brand on their phones.

Building a custom app to stand out in Apple’s 85,000-app store, or the growing app collections for every other phone, is too hard. GetJar, the cross-platform mobile app library that’s been around since 2005, has a solution. They’ve developed an App Download Page that the company describes as “a new service for mobile developers and content owners seeking to provide a simple experience for their users to download the right mobile app for their phone, independent of device platform, model or carrier.”

fb-screenLet me simplify that: GetJar can park a logo on the home screen of just about any phone made.

The trick is that GetJar’s apps, like Yahoo’s OneSearch tool for my BlackBerry, pops open the customer’s browser. Installing a working web link with a logo is easy. As a brand manager, you throw it back on the tech guys to figure out how to make the Web destination for your brand logo something interesting that leads the user to bond with the brand.

Facebook has a GetJar-powered App Download Page that puts Facebook on phones that aren’t the high-powered smartphones Americans love. It works on the Nokia 5300, as shown at right.

Photobucket has announced in that they’re going to use GetJar this fall, too. Two down,

This is boring stuff for techies — oooh, a link to HTML, zzzz — but I’m pretty stoked about the idea that VentureBeat fans can just put a VentureBeat logo on their non-Apple phone screen and not need to know how it works, not need to install complicated software with bugs, and would probably be delighted that, duh, it’s just a link to our website. We haven’t built this yet, but it seems like the business development meetings would be longer than the testing cycle.


Study: Venture liquidity still a trickle

trickling-faucetIt has been a rough three months for startups hoping to get acquired. Well, it’s been more like a rough year, but there’s new data from Dow Jones VentureSource focusing on the third quarter of 2009.

Overall, venture-backed liquidity (the combination of mergers, acquisitions, and initial public offerings) added up to $2.7 billion, down 49 percent from the same period last year, VentureSource says. It’s even a drop from the $3 billion of venture liquidity earned in Q2.

Things were even worse for M&As, which fell 56 percent to $2.25 billion paid in 71 deals — though the number would have been higher if VentureSource had counted Amazon’s $807 million purchase of Zappos, which hasn’t closed yet. Instead, that should add a big boost to next quarter’s numbers.

Acquired companies also made less money (median acquisition price fell 52 percent to $22 million) and had been waiting for longer to sell (median age increased 23 percent to 6.13 years).

On the other hand, IPOs were actually up from last year, with a combined total $451.25 million, the highest since 2007. That’s less exciting than it sounds, since the vast majority of that money came from battery company’s A123’s spectacular IPO, and there were only two IPOs in all. So it’s hard to see the increase as indicative of any big trend, except the fact that big IPOs are still possible. But hey, after the yearlong period (which ended in Q2) of no IPOs , that’s something.

liquidity-chart

[photo:flickr/andrewk100]


Twitter’s Geolocation API Appears To Be Live. But Most Of You Are Lost.

IMG_0561I noticed something interesting tonight. In the new build of Tweetie 2 (not out yet), a bunch of little red location markers started appearing next to tweets in my stream. Knowing that this new version was built using Twitter’s new Geolocation APIs, I inquired if this mean they had been turned on. Sure enough, they have, developer Loren Brichter just confirmed after talking to Twitter.

But there’s a slight problem. Apparently, the reason these geotags are showing up for all tweets (even those not actually geotagged) is that the documentation was a little unclear of how to handle non-geotagged tweets, Brichter says. The result is that every single tweet is tagged with a location somewhere just off the coast of Africa, south of Ghana. Either this is Atlantis, the Island from Lost, or we have a problem. [Update on the location below]

Brichter is aware of the issue and has already resolved it, and has resubmitted Tweetie 2 to the App Store for approval. Since no one officially has Tweetie 2 yet, this probably doesn’t affect you at all. But you have to wonder if other Twitter app developers were confused by this as well. If so, we could see a lot of apps with some wonky geolocation data.

Twitter hasn’t yet responded to my request for more information. It’s not clear if they meant to turn this on tonight. We do know that they had originally planned to launch it last week at the Twitter Conference in LA, but it wasn’t quite ready yet.

Earlier today, Twitter announced the new Lists feature, which will also feature an API. And of course, everyone is waiting for the Retweet API as well.

Update: As our apparently geography major readers have informed me, the area just off the coast of Ghana is lat/long 0,0. This makes sense — there is no location data attached to these tweets, so apparently they default to 0,0.

IMG_0562 IMG_0563

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Facecard: Forget the JPEGS, Give Cash in Facebook

facecard_facebook_sept09.jpgWhen Facebook first welcomed 3rd party applications, Lending Club caused a stir with its peer-to-peer money exchange. While others like Prosper had paved the way for small online loans, only Lending Club dared to integrate its services into a social network. Today, Facecard aims to improve upon the model by expanding its pre-paid MasterCard service. As of tomorrow, the company will officially emerge from beta with a slew of new features including parental controls, alerts and most importantly, this Facebook application.

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In the past, parents have loaded Facecards with cash via their computers or mobile phones and used them to monitor their teen's spending with a web-based dashboard. Because the Facecard is pre-paid, it has an advantage over regular cards. There is no risk of overdraft or lapsed payments. For those who'd like to give gifts or lend money to friends, the service also allows you to send money directly to other Facecard members.

As of today, after linking your Facecard to the new Facebook application, you can give money in three additional ways:

1. Messages: In the same way that users email money to their friends via PayPal, Facecard allows users to send money to friends and family within the Facebook network using the message service.

2. Wish List: Users can add items to their wish list and notify friends of the items they are saving towards. From here, your friends and family donate portions of cash towards that goal. While this has great potential for birthdays and Christmas, this is also a fantastic tool for nonprofit fundraisers.

3. Thinking of You: This service allows users to send small gifts to each other via Facebook. Rather than simply purchasing an image of a coffee for someone's birthday, you can actually give them both the image and a cash donation towards a real coffee. As with virtual gifts, friends can then choose to display these gifts on their wall.

In addition to each of these lending and gifting options, users are also able to monitor their spending via an in-site application dashboard. The service monitors the client's current balance as well as their transaction history. To test out the application, visit this link and sign up for a Facecard account.

facecard_facebook_sept09b.jpg

Discuss


OpenCandy Suggests Apps You Might Actually Want During Installs, Lands NitroPDF

Ah, the Windows install process. Long associated with repeated clicking of the “Next” button, it’s also home to one of the more shady practices to exist in modern software: the bundled application. Hapless users looking to get through the process as quickly as possible inevitably wind up installing some junk software that they don’t really want or need, only to scratch their heads when their browser is suddenly slowed down by a clunky new toolbar. Users may not like the, but many developers don’t want to scrap these bundled software packages entirely because they’re a steady source of income. OpenCandy, a startup that launched last year, may offer the solution by pairing up users with software they might actually want. And today it’s announcing that it’s been integrated with the latest version of NitroPDF, the most popular freeware PDF creator.

We’ve written about OpenCandy before, when it made the revolutionary decision to ban germ-spreading handshakes from company board meetings, but until now we haven’t explored the company’s product. From the user’s perspective it’s quite simple: when you go to install an application that uses OpenCandy, you’ll be presented at some point during the install flow with an option to install a sponsored application. It may sound just like those unwanted app installs that we’ve seen for years, but it has a few key differences.

First, everything in OpenCandy is opt-in. While many apps default to the “install” option for these tag-along apps (which is why people accidentally install them), OpenCandy makes you click a checkbox make sure you really want the app. The company is also doing its best to only work with high quality applications — co-founder Chester Ng says that OpenCandy will only work with high quality publishers, and only suggest applications that it thinks people might want to actually use. Some apps that are currently being advertised through OpenCandy include doubleTwist, TuneUp, and Xobni — all apps we’ve covered before and don’t come with any nasty spyware.

OpenCandy also brings some intelligence to the install process. Rather than bundling the same applications every time, OpenCandy rotates the applications it advertises, effectively serving as an ad network. It also tries to apply some intelligence to the process, suggesting apps that are complimentary to what the user is installing instead of choosing one at random. And unlike some of the bundles that include these tag-along apps as part of the initial download even if you don’t want them, OpenCandy only downloads one of these apps after you’ve stated that you want it.

Finally, OpenCandy doesn’t collect any personally identifiable information. It does, however, collect some basic info (like whether or not the user decided to install the suggested application or if it wasn’t compatible with their computer). This helps them suggest better applications in the future, and Ng says that if an app is clearly underperforming (i.e. people don’t want it), OpenCandy will remove it from their list.

This is obviously a tricky area — some people object to the idea of upselling applications during the install process at all. But provided it is consistent about advertising high quality apps, I think OpenCandy may be a good compromise: developers will still get paid for including these ads in their apps, and users may just stumble across a new application they actually want.



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BumpTop Goes Multi-Touch. Um, Awesome.

Screen shot 2009-09-30 at 6.47.36 PMWhat if the desktop on your computer was just like your actual desktop? That’s the core idea behind BumpTop, a really nice looking graphical overlay for Windows-based operating systems. But as cool as BumpTop looked, you still had to use your mouse and keyboard to manipulate it. As I made clear yesterday, I want those to die. So good news for me today: BumpTop is adding multi-touch support. And the result is awesome.

When we think of multi-touch right now, most of us think of the iPhone. But really, with such a small screen, there are only so many gestures you can do. Multi-touch BumpTop greatly expands that roster, and includes several gestures that it claims to have patents for. Basically, they have gestures that use all of you fingers, and both hands, and even the side of hands. You can “lasso” things, “shove” them, “scrunch” them, and “crop” them.

This graphic below shows a list of the gestures BumpTop offers that competitors don’t, including the ones that they apparently have patents on (labeled as “BT”).

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Naturally, for these multi-touch capacities to work, you’ll need a computer with a touch screen surface that supports multi-touch. Right now, those aren’t widely available. But all indications are that soon enough, there could be a range of devices on the market with such capabilities (sadly, this is Windows 7-only — so no, it won’t work on an Apple Tablet). If you don’t have one of those however, BumpTop will continue to work on a majority of Windows-based PCs just fine with more traditional input devices.

The most obvious use of Mutli-touch BumpTop is with media, as you can easily manipulate images (watch the video below). But the service also works with documents (dragging them around, bunching them together, Google Gadgets, and even webpages as widgets. Also, there is social networking support, so if you edit an image in BumpTop, you can easily upload it immediately to Facebook or send it to Twitter.

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that as soon as I have a computer that can run this, I want this. If not, you’re crazy, just watch it in action below. And below that find more examples of its multi-touch gesture support.

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Nvidia’s iRay shows lifelike graphics, streamed from the cloud

mentalNvidia showed off a way for graphics aficionados to tap the resources of cloud computing to render highly realistic graphics images.

The Berlin, Germany-based Mental Images division of Nvidia showed off its iRay technology, which can tap a cluster of graphics-focused computer servers in a data center to render a lifelike 3-D image on a display that is far away. The technology can speed the creative process for product designers, engineers, and artists by accurately simulating their 3-D creations. It’s a cloud-rendering service that is not unlike the rival AMD Fusion Render Cloud announced by Advanced Micro Devices in January.

mental-2With it, graphics professionals can get access to computing resources that can render 3-D images in minutes instead of hours without compromising the quality and amount of detail in an image, said Jon Peddie, graphics analyst at Jon Peddie Research.

Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive of graphics chip maker Nvidia, showed off the technology at the company’s GPU Technology conference in San Jose, Calif., today. Michael Caplan, a graphics researcher, showed a precisely modeled 3-D image of a room (above) that looked like an office room in the real world. He showed how he could change the sunlight level and, using the iRay technology, immediately make the changes in the scene. Huang said that consumers will ultimately have access to this kind of technology. The iRay technology can thus lower the cost of making photo-like 3-D imagery.

Mental Images was founded in 1986 and was acquired by Nvidia.


Google Local Search for Mobile — now with less typing

local-searchGoogle announced an improved interface for its Local Search site for mobile phones today that should help reduce time spent futzing around with your phone’s keyboard. Both of the changes are basically tweaks, but they’re cool examples of connecting your normal web and mobile experiences, and of how to design an easy-to-use mobile experience.

The first change integrates Local Search for Mobile with the desktop web interface of Google Maps — starred items from Maps now show up as a category in Local Search. So if you’re planning a trip, either a set of errands around home or a vacation, you can find and star all the places you want to visit in Maps. Then as you’re out-and-about, you can click on the “starred” area of Local Search and bring up a list of all the locations.

More broadly, Google has made it possible to search for, say, nearby Chinese restaurants without typing anything. You can browse through different Local Search categories, then select “restaurants” and “Chinese.” It’s hardly a revelatory experience, but it’s nice to see another way Google has learned that typing text into a search bar (though that’s still an option in Lcoal Search) isn’t the necessarily the best search interface when you’re on your phone. (That’s why it added voice search to its iPhone application.)