Shambling out of the darkness, moaning in creeping horror as it steps in to the light, comes the announcement of a new mobile game based on The Walking Dead TV series from US television network AMC. Next Games, based in Helsinki, Finland, and developers of the game, are celebrating the news by publishing the first promotional trailer which you'll find after the jump.
It’s been a long time since we last covered Finnish games developer Star Arcade, March 2011 to be precise, so we caught up with the 26 person team hiding out in Jyväskylä to find out what they’re up to these days.
Let’s get one thing straight - advertising sucks. Not because it is bad on a moral level or because it is annoying. It is bad because it is just boring and outdated. The little innovation that did happen in the industry mostly revolved around better ways of tricking you into seeing ads. But then we saw this video:
Whenever you are trying to scale, it is often a good idea to provide the necessary tools for your users to help you in the task. It is also important to find ways of making them stick to your solution and not go shopping for alternatives.
In the case of iZettle vs. Square vs. Payleven vs. Sumup, there is an all-out battle for ground. Whether that is geographical, technological or commercial. First there was the issue of accepting all the major credit cards, then they were all trying to go after chip & pin cards, finally it is the battle for the mobile app market.
Namely, allowing developers to use their payment platforms natively within the apps. iZettle announced today that they have released the SDK for iOS, allowing you to take in-app purchases using iZettle. The SDK also allows to return post-payment information to the app, in order to update inventory, accounting, print receipts, enter data into CRM, etc.
Let’s talk about ads for a moment. Looking back in history, advertisement was pretty much always there. Egyptians used papyrus for sales posters and political campaign messages were found in ancient ruins of Pompeii and Arabia.
However it has been the last 70 years or so when advertisement really shaped up. Mad Men TV series shows us how commercial television changed the game in the 60's, from there cable TV opened new horizons in the 80’s. Finally in the 90’s we were introduced to the Internet, where the game changed completely once again.
Today, we are on the verge of yet another shift of epic proportions - the increasing use of mobile devices and the fight for getting advertising right on this new medium. However the whole concept of advertisement is getting increasingly out of control. According to some research we see up-to 5 000 ads per day, compared to about 2 000 just 30 years ago. There is no empty space anymore, if it is empty - chances are it will soon be filled with ads. People have become ad intolerant, banner-blind and overly suspicious. So with that in mind, how do you win the mobile ads war?
So you have accidentally enabled data roaming while travelling and your iPad started syncing. Soon enough you will end up with a roaming bill that is likely to be more expensive than your phone. At other times, you actually need the internet while abroad but there is no WIFI or any other connectivity, so you simply must use the 700 EUR per gigabyte roaming fee to go online. This happens to be the current price ceiling for roaming costs as set by the EU commission.
Ukko Mobile, a Helsinki based start-up, is aiming to solve that through the use of patent pending technology which allows for a single-sim, flat-fee coverage in the whole of Europe. Basically you will get one data sim-card that will always act as a local card, no matter where you go. There will not be a need to purchase or switch sims ever again.
The sun isn't the only thing that's hot in Singapore. A team of Finns at Nonstop Games has raised a €2.2 million round led by Creandum and Lifeline Ventures. With the funding they're continuing their development, and are opening up an office in San Francisco. On top of that, Heroes of Honor, their next game, will launch later this Spring.
Not too many details are shared about the game before it's released, but the game is based in a fantasy world with three different factions fighting for power. Alliances are a big portion of the game - players have to band together and perform real-time coordinated attacks between thousand-of-player armies.
CEO and Co-Founder Juha Paananen tells us that it's slower paced than a desktop Real Time Strategy game, but you can still see and cooperate with other players in real time.
"We played a lot of strategy and RTS games growing up, like Command and Conquer and all those other kinds of games," says Paananen. "When we started we were really excited if you can add something to the genre, because I think it's something that really hasn't evolved on tablets and mobile devices."
Nonstop games has been creating casual HTML5 games, such as Dollar Isle, a city builder and Paint Stars, sort of a Draw Something clone. In their next release they're still using HTML5 as part of their platform, but Paananen tells us that their first focus is the App Store and Google Play stores. When they release the game, they plan to do so simultaneously on both platforms, which should be interesting to watch.
“We’ve been extremely excited about Nonstop Games since our initial investment in 2011 and we think they are building something revolutionary with their new game,” says Petteri Koponen, Lifeline Ventures.
The last couple of weeks we've seen a lot more people from Stanford and Silicon Valley in Helsinki than usual, perhaps mostly due to the Accel REE conference, which I still need to write something up about. But last week I spoke with two MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who are working on a short-term project at Kiosked, and I thought it might be interesting to get an outside-looking-in perspective of what they've experienced here.
Zach Singleton, one of the students originally from Oakland, says that he found out about Kiosked a year ago when he was reading tech blogs and was intrigued with Kiosked's potential for mobile monetization. "It's an innovative platform that changes how we shop and experience advertisements," he says.
As the signal to noise ratio decreases on larger social networks, more and more startups are beginning to take a stab at creating much more private networks. Path is one big example of a social network for just your close friends, while others like Pair and Cupple (now currently operating out of Copenhagen) are building apps that allow couples to privately share messages, pictures, and checkins with each other. Continuing this trend is HeyWe, a private sharing app for families. It seems to hit all of the key pain points that parents and children have, or at least the easiest ones solved by mobile.
HeyWe is the first product built by the Oulu, Finland based startup, Cosmic Gecko. To build the product CEO Jyrki Matero leads a team of 15 people listed on their webpage (including three trainees). On top of HeyWe, the company also lists Cosmic Gekko Arena, a free location-based game, in development.
HeyWe has just launched on App Store, Google Play and Nokia Store, making it open to families with a mix of phones.
In a huge move against net neutrality in the Nordics and abroad, the mobile operator TeliaSonera announced in their January-March interim report that they will now "start exploring new business models" to combat lost income from customers using VoIP services on their smartphones. The report does not give any specifics on the pricing of the tiers, but says it will be launched starting in Spain in one month, and in Sweden this summer.
We've finally gotten our hands on the Kauppalehti Optio, which has an extensive interview with Marko Ahtisaari, the Executive VP of Design at Nokia. The article talks in detail about Ahtisaari's past, but also discusses his work to a great extent. Earlier today Reuters came out with a story that Nokia is working on a tablet device, but that's just half the story.
The ridesharing options in the Nordic countries are few and far between, and the available options don't leave users with much access when unteathered from a computer. Ants is a mobile-based ridesharing service inspired by Foursquare and Instagram, and is free to use. The service allows users to search and offer rides, give feedback, follow favorite drivers, and instantly share details on Facebook and Twitter. Payment for the ride is independently settled between the riders.
10 billion mobile ad impressions a month is a huge number of ads served across mobile platforms. It's hard to believe, but Rovio has claimed to be the largest mobile ad publisher of the world-- which includes beating Google, which has its ads running on all mobile applications and search results. It's impressive but tough to digest.
Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds has already invaded all known platforms like Apple iOS, Android, Windows, Chrome browser and so on. It currently boasts 500 million downloads on all the available platforms, which makes the claim of 10 billon ad impressions a month believable. Peter Vesterbacka, Chief Marketing Officer of Rovio has been very vocal about this and even voicing plans on creating a new advertising method. We saw this happen with the release of Angry Birds Rio campaign that acted as a massive promotion for Rio the movie.
While you would think Microsoft would have leveraged the Windows Phone platform to get add more use of its search engine, Bing, but things are looking otherwise in Russia. The news coming from Russia’s Search Giant, is that Yandex is going to be used as the default search engine on all Windows Phone based devices in Russia. This announcement includes the company’s announcement of partnering with major mobile manufacturing giants like Nokia, HTC and Samsung.
Success often follows where service providers or vendors improve their consumers’ experience. By gamifying the process of interaction with their brands, merchants can reward customers with points that can be redeemed as bonuses. This processes already exists on smartphones, bit currently other products aren’t interactive enough. Amooz steps in by improving your experience at cafés, bars and restaurants.
The Latvian startup partners with restaurants, bars and cafés to help users receive credits on their smartphone. The procedure is pretty simple and focuses on making the user experience interactive and can be explained in a few steps:
Guess it was the launch in the US that was holding back Spotify’s expansion in the rest of Europe. This is just a speculation but things have sped up recently, especially after the music streaming service shook hands with the world’s largest social network; Facebook. After launching in Austria today, as per the latest reports, Spotify is planning its launch in Belgium and Switzerland this week.
We haven’t had confirmed news regarding this expansion but things have been pretty favorable for us to believe it. There have been hints about the expansion of Spotify in other regions as well, which include; Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Germany and New Zealand. We think this expansion is bound to happen and that Spotify will be available in many regions within and outside Europe in a few months time.
We have witnessed the evolution of how we purchase items around us. From the days of cash as coins, then paper and plastic money to the latest NFC enabled payment methods, all seem to have eased things out one or the other. The evolution has come about as per the needs of the time, and lately the need for change has increased dramatically. One startup from Norway, mCASH, plans to bundle all payments into your mobile device.
NFC, non-NFC, credit or debit, why carry extra luggage or purchase a dedicated devices when it's dubious whether the point of sale would even accept it or not? While NFC might become a common method of mobile payments, I am not buying the idea, primarily for the fact not every region worldwide can implement the system. What mCASH does is liberate you of the task of getting yourself a new hardware or implement a new technology. Keeping it simple is what mCASH focuses on, why burden merchants and clients with excessive burden?
Apple with the release of Siri for the iPhone 4S has had everyone praising the feature. It is no doubt a great addition to the iPhone, perhaps the only notable one in the new generation of the iPhone. While that goes for the iOS devices, there is one for the Android, Speaktoit. The application comes from Russia and is in for a challenge from Siri and Vlingo.
There is a need for virtual assistants and to be honest, with Siri in the playground we will definitely be seeing a rapid increase in improved versions. I tried my hands with Speaktoit and it does the job fairly well. You can ask questions or commands directly to the Speaktoit assistant on your Android device and the client processes the same, executing what is being requested. Of course this requires that your commands be specific enough for it to recognize and execute.
We talked about Jongla a couple of years back. The Finnish startup promised to leverage the personal capabilities of the mobile devices and become personal marketing tool. The startup offers smartphone users the ability to send unlimited text messages, videos, images etc across the globe for free. Sounds quite a useful tool for bulk marketing.
The core issues or problem addressed is with the limitations that we have when it comes to the size of the multimedia files we share via SMS or MMS and the quality that we do share is awful by all mean (could be my personal opinion). With Jongla, users are freed of this size and quality limitations with the traditional methods. With Jongla you can share all these files directly to their friends. So this means another application, another setup file, a whole new registration or account association. Well not exactly.
Today, Spotify is trying to rapidly expand to every platform. The music streaming service has had things moving in the right direction, and the deal with Facebook seems to have supercharged its expansion. Last week Spotify announced the release of the Spotify app for the Windows Phone 7 devices. Big news and another platform to grow with, and there seems to be no stopping for the service.
The application is branded in the stylish WP7 Metro style, and is available for almost all the Windows Phone 7 devices. It has all the major features that every Spotify user would love, including:
Who doesn’t have a secret crush once in a lifetime? Unfortunately, many have trouble expressing the emotions to their crush. The reason being nobody wants the crush to crash their reputation by becoming public. True that, I would rather keep affection for someone to myself than to say it out loud putting my reputation at stake. If there is a secret way to express this, who wouldn’t want to make use of it? Hiddenhint does exactly that.
Now there are a lot of other traditional methods, such as tossing a random note on a girl's desk, putting a nice card in her bag, etc but in the age of social media and apps, gadgets, etc it sounds too old school. Hiddenhint makes a note of this and adds a bit more modern and anonymous touch to it. But how exactly does it work?
In this day and age, what could be worse than making a phone call to arrange a taxi? It sounds too much of a hassle, and while it might be effective for many, the concept sounds too medieval. This is just my personal opinion, but gladly some firms are keen at bringing Cab facilitation online. The idea is to help ease the task for arranging taxis via one single destination. Yandex has started doing exactly that.
The Russian online giant is leveraging its popularity online in Russia to launch a Yandex Taxi Search Service. Yandex.Taxi sends request for booking a cab to all taxi services and accelerates the process of finding a cab for travellers. To start off, Yandex.Taxi has succeeded in partnering with 11 Taxi Service providers. Currently this service is just in beta and the operations are limited to Moscow alone.
Google announced last Friday that they will be shutting down Jaiku and Buzz, which comes with little surprise as the web giant focuses its attention on its new social network, Google+.
Jaiku, the Helsinki based mobile social service that allowed you to send short updates to your friends, was acquired by Google in 2007. But after gaining over 40 million users on Google+, Google has shifted away from Jaiku, which never gained much traction after its initial core of users.
Location-based applications have already become a huge part of smartphone users' lives, but are currently only about as accurate as the distance you can throw your iPhone. Thanks to a Finnish startup, location-based services are soon going to see a big update in accuracy.
Today, Walkbase announced the public beta of their indoor positioning platform for mobile applications. The service's cloud based room-level positioning API will now be available for developers to use, ushering in a new era of location based applications and advertising for the Android platform.
In our series with Nokia we continue to discuss possibilities of developing for Symbian. This time we interview Kalle Koutajoki of Foodie.fm about their application and why they decided to go ahead with development on Symbian. Foodie provides an online service around recipes and shopping. Their application is able to give you a shopping list based on the recipe and also helps you see where the products are in the actual store and order the goods to your home door. Let's go ahead with the interview!
It comes as no surprise that Rovio is eager to build a strong retail presence. The company is, after all, already selling a million T-shirts and plush toys each month. Bloomberg reports that the makers of Angry Birds are now eager to setup a partnership with Starbucks Corp. The idea is simple: grow beyond the digital space and add more variety to its portfolio of products.
The Angry Birds smartphone game has seen over 350 million downloads and Rovio wants to capitalize on this phenomenal growth further. Leader boards in stores is just one option for promoting Angry Birds in a bid to transform the digital reach into a real-world behemoth. What are we looking at? The fad of Angry Birds shoes, socks, pillows, rugs and what not syncs perfectly to help Rovio diversify its line of products and reach more customers.
Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, has launched a new financing program to support growth companies developing mobile services and applications - Tempo. Having followed Tekes for quite some time and knowing how they operate, one could easily argue that Tempo is a sign of the organisation changing tracks fundamentally and putting most of its feedback into practice. I'll go through a few examples below.
First and foremost, "as agility and customer development are essential in mobile service development, companies must be able to launch a minimum viable product to find out whether there is a customer need for it". This comes in fact from the Tempo pitch itself. They're promoting MVPs as a way to find out if there is demand for services the companies are offering.
There’s a lot of noise lately about whether or not mobile apps are sustainable, or have any future. But so far, and despite some real challenges and issues, mobile apps have been nothing short of success.
The challenges for developers working on mobile apps range from visibility and pick up rates to loyalty and monetization. The majority of revenue generated by app stores today still comes from the top 100 apps and the “long tail” is often ignored. As the demand for smartphone real estate increases, the cost of acquiring new mobile customers is rising rapidly as well. Seamless payment and customer acquisition methods are other big challenges that apps are struggling to solve. Not to mention how inhomogeneous the two leading platforms - iOS and Android- are.
While none of the Nordic or Baltic countries have made it to the very top, despite our wishes, we are proud to see Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland in the top 10 of the latest ICT Development Index (IDI). These global rankings come from the Measuring the Information Society 2011 report, published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). ITU is the UN agency for information and telecommunications technologies.
The top spot belongs to South Korea. The country has been termed as the most advanced Internet economy in the world and this is the second consecutive year that it has been ranked number one. This is by no means surprising given the fact that South Korea has:
September's recruiting partner here at ArcticStartup is Blaast. Blaast is a very talented company innovating in the space of mobile and looking for exceptional people to work with them. Their offering is very interesting, so if you fit their open job descriptions I strongly suggest you contact the company for more information and apply. Check our coverage on the company earlier this year, when they raised financing.