SiliconFilter

In a World of Check-Ins and Social Discovery Apps, EchoEcho Keeps it Simple (and Useful)

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Just like last year, this year's edition of SXSW is once again heavily focused on location-based application. While the genre is slowly moving away from check-ins and virtual badges and more towards "social discovery," though, it's still rather debatable how useful apps like Highlight or Glancee are outside of the conference and Silicon Valley bubble. One location app that has long been going against these trends is the Google Venture-funded EchoEcho. The app does one thing – and it does it well: letting you find out where your friends are and making it easy to meet up with them without compromising anybody's privacy.

Just in time for SXSW, the company just rolled out the fourth version of its app (iTunes link), which features a redesigned interface, a mobile web app and the ability to share your location live with a friend for a set period of time (up to 2 hours).

Using the app is as simple as it gets. You just pick a contact from your phone's address book and simply use the app to ask them where they are. Once your contact receives your request and accepts it, you can both see where both of you are (by requesting somebody's location, you also always share your own location). From there, you can use the app to chat and/or suggest a meeting place.

Two major new features in this version make all of this easier (besides the new design, which is much more streamlined that before): live updates that allow you to share your location in the background, so you know how far away your friends are from the meeting place and a new web app that allows your friends to share their location with you without having to install the app themselves (instead of a push notification from the app, your friends will simply get an SMS with a link to the web app).

Just like previous version of the app, the EchoEcho team continuous to ensure that it's available on all the major mobile platforms, including iOS, Android (these have been updated to 4.0 already), as well as Blackberry, Windows Phone and Symbian (I'm not sure the Symbian app will get an update, though).



3:52 pm


Nokia at MWC: Lumia 900 Going Global, a 41MP Camera Phone & Smarter Asha Feature Phones

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Nokia today announced that its Lumia 900 Windows Phone flagship device is going beyond the U.S. and will soon be available as an HSPA+ phone worldwide. The company also introduced its new Lumia 610 phone, as well as its new 808 PureView camera phone with a 41MP resolution (though it's worth noting that this is achieved through interpolation).

The company also announced three new Asha feature phones at the Mobile World Congress today. In addition to the HSPA+ version, Nokia also announced that the Lumia 900 is coming to Canada as an LTE phone. During the press conference, Microsoft also announced that it has now made Windows Phone compatible for the Chinese market and Nokia will soon introduce these phones in China. The new Lumia 900 phones will cost about 480 Euros that's without carrier subsidies).

The Lumia will also now feature Nokia Reading, a new hub for finding and reading news, eBooks, feeds and other content. Microsoft also today announced its first beta of Skype for Windows.

In addition to its new hardware, Nokia also announced a new partnership with Groupon, that will bring daily deals to the company's phones.

Lumia 610

Nokia also today announced the Lumia 610. Nokia called it the "prefect introduction to Windows Phone for younger users" and highlighted its "generous curves" and "confident feel." The phone will come with the usual Windows Phone features, including support for social networking and gaming though Xbox Live. It will come preloaded with the standard Nokia feature (Nokia Maps, Drive, etc.), but it will also feature Nokia's new Transport tool for finding public transport options in about 500 cities.

The phone will retail for around 189 Euros and come in four colors.

808 PureView

Also announced today was the S40-based 808 PureView – a camera phone with a 41MP Carl Zeiss sensor and high performance optics. To deal with the massive size of these pictures, Nokia will make it easy for users to zoom in and share just parts of a picture.

The phone will also feature 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.

Smarter Feature Phones

As Nokia noted, there are still billions of users out there that don't have feature phones and/or don't have data plans. In addition to these new feature phones, Nokia also announced its Nokia Life suite of products for these feature phones, though it's worth noting that the company is also making three free games from EA (Bejeweled, Need for Speed, and Tetris) available for these phones. Two of these phones, the Asha 202 and 203, will retail for around 60 Euros. Another, more high-end and social media-focused device, the Asah 302 (with a 1GHz processor) will also be available soon and retail for just under $100.

The Asha phones will also support Microsoft Exchange for the Asha 302 and the previously announced 303, making it "well equipped for business use."

Nokia Life

Nokia Life is focused on education, financial information and other services that can be delivered over SMS or through phone calls. Nokia Life also includes a sharing feature With this service, the company is clearly aiming at the developing world.

During the press conference, Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop noted that there is a major growth opportunity of the company in developing countries. Looking back to Nokia's last year, Elop noted how the company radically shifted its strategy just one year ago. In his view, Nokia has "radically changed [its] clock speed." He also cited the fact that Lumia sales have "exceeded Nokia's expectations," especially in Asia and the U.S., as signs of Nokia's turn-around.

Elop also stressed Nokia's move towards location-based services. In the Windows store, developer submissions are up 3x from last year, he said, and downloads from S40 devices, too, are growing.

Note: this post was cross-posted from live.orange.com.

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11:46 pm


Microsoft’s Last CES Keynote: Old Demos and Very Little News

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Microsoft's keynote at CES this evening felt like a cruel joke. Hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the keynote was anticipated widely, especially because it was Microsoft's last appearance on the keynote stage for the next few years. Judging by today's performance, they won't be missed. Microsoft demoed Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Xbox on stage. Virtually nothing shown on stage was new. For close to one hour and fifteen minutes, Microsoft basically only showed us things that it had already announced in 2011.

In some way, the keynote felt like a huge middle finger to CES. It's almost as if Microsoft, which had already said that CES didn't quite fit into its rhythm of announcement anymore, wanted to drive this point home by announcing close to nothing. It's hard to imagine that anybody in the audience wasn't already familiar with Windows Phone and the Windows 8 interface, after all.

The Only Real Piece of News: Kinect for PC is Coming Feb. 1st

Only after the first hour was over did Microsoft give us something new: a launch date for Kinect for PC: February 1st. Of course, we already knew it was coming to the PC – we just didn't know the date.

All of the PCs and phones shown in the demos were already announced, the Windows Phone and Windows 8 demos were slick – but probably because the presenters had a chance to hone their skills over the last few months of giving virtually the same presentation over and over again.

And Here's Xbox – And a Tiny Little Bit of News

At one point during the Xbox demo, which included two other minor snippets of news – a partnership with News Corp. and a Sesame Street app – Microsoft decided that it was about time to show that you can play music videos on the Xbox… and to make it clear that this was really a music video, we got to see all of it (or at least the audience in the keynote hall did – the livestream cut out at that point because of copyright concerns). 

Maybe the oddest moment of the show, though, was an appearance of the "Tweet Choir." Writing this a good hour after their appearance, I'm still not sure what they were singing about…

Even Ryan Seacrest seemed to be getting impatient towards the end of the show: "Steve, you know something we don't know yet. What's coming next?" Ballmer's answer: "Windows 8." You can't make this stuff up…



7:49 pm