Blackstorm Labs, a startup that’s working to build technology that brings developers tools to get out games and apps more quickly through HTML5, today said it is working with Rakuten to build a new entity called R Games that will serve as a hub for games in Japan and Asia. Blackstorm Labs has been working with Rakuten for some time on the project, which was rumored last November, but it… Read More
Singapore-based Bubble Motion, the company behind sound-based social network Bubbly, unveiled a new version of its app today. The version 2.0 of Bubbly introduces filters users can apply to their voice, much like those Instagram offers for photos. Bubbly has a lot of traction already, including 19 million members mostly from Asian countries like Japan and India where it’s found favor with a lot of different celebrities (premium access to some of those celebs via a $2.99 in-app purchase is one of the startup’s revenue plays), and the new features seem designed to help the service keep its existing users engaged while it seeks out new audiences in other markets.
The new filters are tied to that expansion strategy, since they’re only available to iOS users, who represent a relatively new market for Bubble Motion. Bubbly managed to gain ground quickly by being not tied to any mobile smartphone platform, and instead existing as a voice service that could work with ordinary feature phones. The new app offers more flexibility, of course, and these voice filters are a good indication of where Bubbly can start to get creative and build on its earlier model, which most closely resembled a Twitter for voice complete with profiles and the ability to follow other users.
“As we put audio into your Twitter feed and your Facebook wall, we thought there needs to be some hooks that make you really want to keep coming back to Bubbly to record your audio,” Bubbly CEO Tom Clayton explained in an interview, describing how Bubbly took cues from Twitter and Instagram about what drove major growth around photo sharing on those services.” One of those [hooks], besides the user experience and the quality and everything else, is the filters.”
Bubbly 2.0 also brings Twitter or Facebook single-sign on to the app, which should lower the barrier for entry as well as speed up social sharing; introduces Facebook Timeline integration, which includes recording and liking in addition to listening; post deletion from within the app; and localization in Korean, Thai and Russian to help the smartphone app reach a wider audience in some of the markets closer to Bubbly’s original success. The company recently raised $5 million from Japan’s largest VC, in part to focus on U.S. growth, however, so it makes sense that in general the updates are ones that cater to popular social networks among that audience.
Still, Clayton says that the app’s biggest growth, both in terms of engagement and user base (both of which he says continue to trend upwards) comes from different Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. The difference is that where before celebrities where driving a lot of new user sign-ups, now Bubbly is seeing much more peer-to-peer usage, with prominent bloggers especially driving use and new registration.
Other apps have found an audience with a voice changing gimmick, including Voices 2 by tap tap tap, the sequel to an app that had 600,000 users when the sequel hit the App Store. but Bubbly’s main play is still its social network elements which set it apart from those kinds of apps. We’ll see if users are encouraged to share more thanks to the addition of filters, or if this is a model that applies well to social photo sharing but falls flat with the spoken word.
Waiting for the public markets to show a little more promise for tech IPOs, Openet has today announced that it’s completed a Series D round of funding totaling $21 million: $16 million in equity funds and $5 million in long term debt. Openet is a Dublin, Ireland-based developer of transaction management software used by 80 network operators in 28 countries — including AT&T, BT, Orange, Verizon and Vodafone — to do things like work out new ways to charge users for the amount of data they use.
The round was led by NS Solutions, a Japan-based IT solutions provider that is a subsidiary of the industrial powerhouse Nippon Steel. As a result, NS Solutions becomes a distribution partner of Openet’s, specifically to resell its services in Japan — and the first customer win for the two is a biggie: the mobile operator Softbank. Others participating in the round included Balderton Capital, Cross Atlantic and Kreos Capital.
Openet has also added a new person to its management board: Margaret Rice-Jones, the ex-CEO of Irish carrier Aircom, is now a non-exec director.
Openet says it will be using the funding to build out its distribution channels — that may include more distribution deals in addition to the reselling agreement with NS Solutions — as well as for product development, product management and deployent engineering.
Openet specializes in the kind of network management software — real time network engagement, insight, monetization, and control – that is behind the scenes for consumers, but is extremely relevant to how they interact with their carriers — and, crucially, end up paying for services.
The company got some attention a while back for a slide it was distributing detailing how it could nuance network charging in such a way that certain kinds of content could be charged at different levels than other kinds: for example, video from YouTube, which might put more strain on a network, costing more to use than access to a text-based news site.
That raises all sorts of questions about net neutrality and privacy and may not have legs on those grounds, but you could also see something like this potentially getting implemented by operators looking to, for example, develop incentives to use certain services over others, based on their own commercial relationships with certain content companies.
“It’s a very disruptive model in how it focuses on the use of data,” says Barry Maloney, a partner at Balderton who sits on Openet’s board. He declined to comment on when Openet might go public in the current climate, but he did add that this new injection of investment and business opportunity with NS Solutions gives the company “a good insurance policy and momentum going forward” as an ongoing private concern.
The company has been profitable for the last two years, and in 2011 had a turnover of about €90 million ($120 million).
The other area where Openet has had some attention of late is in an IP infringement case brought against it last year by its competitor Amdocs. But with the company continuing to expand — it grew revenues by 23 percent last year, Maloney notes — “Clearly the case hasn’t stopped corporate development and confidence in the company.”
TOKYO (AP) — Worries over radiation are so rampant in Japan after last year’s nuclear meltdowns that the world’s first cell phones with built in radiation monitors are going on sale. Softbank Corp., the carrier for the hit iPhone and
PayPal and mobile operator Softbank are getting together to launch a joint venture in Japan that should extend the payment subsidiary’s reach in Asia.
It’s a 50-50 effort for PayPal, which is owned by eBay, and Softbank. Each company is investing 1 billion Japanese yen or $12.5 million into the venture and they’ll each pick three directors. Softbank Mobile’s director and senior vice president Hiroaki Kitano will be CEO of the newly formed company.
On top of that, the two companies are bringing ‘PayPal Here,’ that triangular dongle that naturally invites comparisons to Square, to Japan as well. That makes it the fifth country after the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong and Australia to get the service. While Square had a head start in the U.S. on processing payments from small businesses that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford point-of-sale terminals, it doesn’t yet have international reach. The company only processes payments in the U.S.
PayPal says the Japanese retail commerce market alone is worth 134 trillion yen or $1.7 billion. On top of that, about 31 million smartphones will ship in the country this year. (Just for reference, there have been between 500 and 600 million Android and iOS shipments to date.) Softbank has more than 25 million mobile subscribers and is one of the biggest carriers in the country.