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The Best iPhone and iPad Apps from Israel

by Brian Blum on October 3, 2011

in Israel,Mobile,Products

Whether you’re looking for something healthy to eat or trying to plot the best way home through rush-hour traffic, there’s an application for that on your iPhone or iPad. And if you look under the hood, you might just discover it’s made in Israel.

With its expertise in cellular technologies, a love affair with the cell phone, and a fast national adoption rate for the iPhone – despite the fact Israelis pay some of the highest prices in the world for the privilege – it’s not surprising that Israelis have plunged into development of iPhone applications.

ISRAEL21c combed through some of the best Israeli apps to come up with our top 10 blue-and-white list for the iPhone.

1. Fooducate

With a recent positive write-up in The New York Times, Fooducate is the latest darling of the Israeli iPhone app scene. And it’s healthy to boot. The concept is simple: before you buy a product at the grocery store, check out what’s really in it. If its bite is worse than its crunch, Fooducate will suggest an alternative that’s better for your body (if not for your pocketbook).

The app uses the iPhone’s built-in camera to scan a product’s bar code. Using its own proprietary algorithm, Fooducate counts up the nutrients and assigns a letter grade from A to D. The app is smart enough to spot cleverly disguised additives – did you know that “autolyzed plant protein” is just another way to say MSG?

Fooducate is primarily for products manufactured in the United States, and its database isn’t yet complete (the company encourages users to snap pictures of items they’d like to see covered and send them in).

2. FiddMe

FiddMe is also a food app, but it takes a very different approach than Fooducate. Rather than aiming to educate, FiddMe wants to turn eating into a worldwide social game – a kind of FourSquare for foodies.

FiddMe allows users to take pictures of great meals they’re eating (in real time) and post the snapshot and information about the restaurant to the cloud. Other FiddMe users can tap into the growing database of yummy recommendations. The service is integrated with other location-aware apps like FourSquare and Facebook. You can also post to Twitter or to the FiddMe website.

FiddMe is not competing directly with user-generated recommendation services like Yelp. Those focus on restaurants as a whole, while FiddMe drills down to the quality of the fettuccini. Not surprising from an app created by a bunch of self-described Israeli “foodies.”

3. Waze

Waze has tackled a problem we’ve all experienced – getting stuck in traffic and not knowing the best alternative routes – and crowd-sourced it. Users automatically add information about traffic tie-ups in real time – without having to do a thing. Waze tracks where drivers are via GPS. If there are more drivers than expected in a certain stretch of road, the Waze map will turn red.

So if Highway 101 is backed up coming into San José, Waze will instantly tell you if Interstate 280 is the better bet. That’s a whole lot faster than waiting for the radio to report the latest jams every 15 minutes. And it’s one of the reasons the service has proved incredibly popular, with more than two million drivers signed up.

The automated aspect to Waze is particularly welcome, since texting while driving is a big no-no. But users stopped at a red light can more proactively input traffic information. And to really keep things safe, Waze turns off the keyboard when the car is in motion – neat!

Waze has other features – such as allowing drivers to build maps together, create private groups to share tips, and even play interactive social games.

Waze is free, in keeping with its 2006 roots as an open-source project called FreeMaps. The service began in Israel but is available all over the world.

4. Viber

Within three days of Viber’s launch in December 2010, some one million people had downloaded it. Two months later, the number is up to an overwhelming 10 million. What’s all the fuss about? Viber, a free app, aims to be the Skype-killer, a voice-over-IP phone service that integrates seamlessly into your iPhone’s contact list and allows you to make free calls to other Viber users anywhere in the world.

The app is drop-dead simple: Install it, and any other Viber users in your contact list show a Viber icon. Since the Viber app runs in the background (and the company claims it doesn’t drain the phone’s battery like Skype does), calling that contact for free is a single tap away.

Viber also doesn’t require any registration (another step saved) and uses your phone number as your ID. Contrast that with Skype, where you have to sign up for a unique ID and use only the Skype app to make calls. Viber “officially” only supports the iPhone, but savvy callers claim it works on the iPad and iPod Touch as well. Android and BlackBerry versions are coming soon.

5. Fring

Fring is another made-in-Israel app that allows free phone calls. Unlike Viber, Fring piggybacks on existing phone networks like Google Talk, ICQ, Twitter, Facebook and more, acting as a universal communications center for voice, chat and even video calls. You open the Fring app and get a separate contact list; you can then call any friends on the list at no cost.

For friends not on the list, “Fring Out” calls start at one cent per minute (although that can jump to as high as 44 cents per minute for far-flung locations like Samoa and Zimbabwe).

Fring got a big boost when the iPhone 4 with its front-facing camera came out last year, making video calls a major attraction (the upcoming iPad 2 is rumored to have the same feature).

The app also has a “Fring Stream” that consolidates all your Twitter tweets and Facebook updates (plus, of course, any Fring chats and calls) in one place.

There’s one service that’s noticeably missing from the Fring roster: Skype. Fring used Skype’s network to enable video calls for several years until December 2010, when they parted ways. Fring claims Skype blocked its service; Skype says Fring had been misusing its software and decided to pull out on its own. Either way, Fring is slightly less useful than it was six months ago.

6. Babller

Babller is a simple iPhone app that was an obvious product to be developed in multilingual, multicultural Israel. The app allows you to post status updates to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in your preferred language and have it automatically translated into a variety of other lingos. The app works the other way around, too, translating posts you receive.

Babller is essentially Google Translate with built-in social networking integration. It’s not likely to be around for long – as soon as Google does its own Facebook translation mash-up, Babller will be out of here.

7. My6Sense

Owning an iPhone can quickly result in serious information overload. With your email, social network updates, tweets and RSS feeds all coming at you a mile a minute, you may find yourself sifting through hundreds (if not thousands) of messages and articles every day.

My6Sense aims to reduce the clutter by learning what you’re interested in and filtering the stream so that’s what you see. Focusing primarily on updates via RSS, My6Sense “learns” what you like by monitoring which articles you choose and which links you forward. You may view your subscriptions by most recent posts or by My6Sense recommendations.

What’s particularly cool is you don’t have to do anything – no tapping buttons to give a thumbs up or down to a particular piece of content, for example. The company calls its service “digital intuition” and it seems to be on to something. My6Sense has received media accolades including a “Best of 2010″ award from ReadWriteWeb.

8. Libox

Consuming media on an iPhone or iPad is perhaps as popular as actually making a call. Despite its tiny screen, users love to watch video, show off pictures and, of course, listen to music. But how do you get your media content from your desktop computer or laptop onto your phone?

Apple’s answer is to synch via iTunes. But that requires plugging your mobile device into your computer. And you have to physically move files onto your phone, which means you can quickly bump up against your iPhone’s memory limit.

Israeli startup Libox lets you stream your media from home. There are two parts to the app – one that goes on your computer and scans your hard drives to find media, and a second that you download to your phone, which then streams the media from your computer via your regular cell service or WiFi. Libox also allows sharing media with friends, although that might put the company in hot water with copyright holders.

One downside: the app requires that your home computer be turned on with Libox running. That may not work for people whose laptops are their primary machine.

The company’s pedigree suggests that Libox will continue to innovate in future versions: The company’s founder is Erez Pilosof, who also founded Walla!, the Israeli equivalent to Yahoo and still an uber-popular Hebrew language site.

9. Touchoo

Buying your toddler an iPhone or iPod Touch is not as wacky an idea as it seems with Israeli startup Touchoo’s vision of creating interactive “touch” books for tykes. The company, which calls itself a publisher rather than a development house, has assembled a team of writers, illustrators, animators and programmers (all from Israel, for now) to create their touch books, and the company emphasizes that all book apps are made under the supervision of a developmental psychologist.

Featured first books include Benny the Cat and the touch-screen appropriate Thumbelina (based on the original classic from Hans Christian Andersen). Some of the books are available in multiple languages. Touching not only changes pages but triggers interactive fun (an animated character may jump out and sing).

Touchoo’s concept has already been proven … 20 years ago. When the first round of interactive multimedia products was being released on CD-ROM, one of the most popular genres was animated storybooks that both entertained and taught. Touchoo has simply updated a proven concept to the 21st century, where a click of the mouse has been replaced by a tap of a finger.

10. Appsfire

Appsfire is an app that lets you find other apps. Sure, you can always go searching in the Apple App Store or visit an app review site. But Appsfire uses the power of the crowd to recommend the best apps. As an Israeli company, its roster of “VIP” experts making recommendations is mostly culled from the Israeli tech scene; that will change as the app gains traction around the world. And there are plenty of “regular” users adding their favorite apps.

There’s also a separate iPad version called Appstream that, as its name suggests, has a moving stream of apps. You can tap on an app to preview it, and tap again to share a recommendation with friends or to buy the app. You can filter by just iPad apps or by free apps.

Appsfire and Appstream, by the way, are both free. Appsfire takes a cut of sales from app developers via an affiliate model.

This post originally appeared in March 2011 on the Israel21c website.

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Amnon Dekel

I always enjoy Jeff Pulver’s networking “breakfasts” which he holds around the world. Pulver, a VoiP superstar and lately startup angel with a passion for Israel, usually hosts his breakfast shindigs in Tel Aviv, but last week he came to Jerusalem.

I approach a networking event like a Kiddush at shul. You want to flit around as much as possible (while not being too rude with quick getaways) but if you find yourself talking to someone particularly interesting, you stay put.

That was the case when I met up with Amnon Dekel. Dekel is an old friend (he used to run the Digital Media Studies program at the IDC in Herzeliya and hired me to teach a course) and he’s about to turn in his doctoral dissertation to Hebrew University. The topic: “indoor navigation.”

Dekel has identified a problem you probably never thought about, but that’s a potential “next big thing.” Mobile phones are great at using GPS to find their position outside. But they don’t work so well under a roof of, say, a library.

Dekel’s research specifies a methodology for locating objects such as books, and it doesn’t require transmitters to be installed all over the ceiling of the space. The idea is that you’d type in the title or author into your phone, and you’d receive a map telling you exactly which floor, section and even shelf you should head to.

Dekel has built a working prototype in the Harman Library on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University. His tests show that, using the system, it takes only half the time to find a book and people make less navigation mistakes and need less help from others to find the book.

The same technology could be used in warehouses, bookstores and manufacturing plants, Dekel says.

That’s not to say that it’s easy – staff at the physical site need to input data, items may need to be scanned – but it’s a fascinating start.

The system has yet to be commercialized (venture capitalists – take note). But, who knows (and Dekel will scold me for writing this), you could eventually crown yourself mayor of the Dewey decimal system!

This article appeared last year on the Israelity blog.

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Does radiation from cell phones cause cancer? The jury is still out, with a recently released 10-year study organized by the World Health Organization saying no, and advocacy groups arguing that the research methodology was flawed.

Cell La Vie - peel on protection for your iPhone

Regardless of the controversy, a small Israeli startup isn’t taking any chances. In July, Wise Environment began selling a do-it-yourself kit to protect iPhone owners from radiation. The company claims that its product, dubbed Cell La Vie, reduces electromagnetic exposure from the phone by 98 percent.

The Wise Environment founders are on a mission. “Parents are driving their young kids to use cell phones, to keep in contact,” explains Ronny Gorlicki, Wise Environment’s vice president of business development. “But at the same time, they want to protect them from future problems,” even if it’s not certain that those problems really exist.

At only NIS 179 ($47), Gorlicki feels his product is a worthwhile investment “to defuse the question of what will happen 30 years down the road.”

Cell La Vie can be a bit daunting to install – it’s not a one-click software app, but a physical product – a thin film you apply to the front, back and sides of your iPhone with adhesive. The Cell La Vie kit also includes a spray and pump to make sure your phone is totally clean before you get started. “People are reticent in the beginning, fearful that they’ll screw things up,” Gorlicki says. “But it’s no problem to take it off and do it again. We’ll even send a replacement if necessary.”

Once affixed, the film acts to redirect radiation away from the body. “Inside the phone is an antenna,” Gorlicki explains. “The signal goes in all directions. We had to figure out how we can cover up the points where the radiation would penetrate the phone in the direction of the body while maintaining the quality of the transmission.”

Wise has so far focused only on the iPhone because of the extensive media buzz surrounding the device. “Even people who haven’t bought it are talking about it,” Gorlicki says, noting the “huge awareness in the market of ‘green’ in general and phone radiation in particular. We hear from people ‘I’d held back from buying an iPhone from concern about radiation. Now I just made the order because of your product.’ ”

Since every phone has its antenna in a different place, Wise will have to develop separate films for every type of phone – and for every version. For example, Cell La Vie doesn’t yet work with the iPhone 4, which has an entirely different type of antenna (one that has caused users no end of frustration due to inadvertently dropped calls).

Cell La Vie's Ronny Gorlicki

Wise is also focusing initially on smart phones. “They’re the ones with the higher price tag,” Gorlicki explains, “So people are more ready to invest in safeguarding themselves from radiation.” Smart phones, ironically, can increase their radiation levels as they detect signal strength. The lower the strength, the more the phone has to work to maintain a minimum quality of service, and as a result the radiation increases.

Wise Environment has other radiation-protection products in the pipeline (including one that may actually reduce radiation, not just guard against it) but is progressing slowly. That’s in no small part because the company is entirely bootstrapped; it’s relying now on sales from its iPhone product, which is available in Israel at iDigital’s Apple Stores and the stationary chain Kravitz, to finance future production. Gorlicki is optimistic and says sales are going well, pointing out that “There have already been reorders.”

However, given the company’s scarce cash situation, sales beyond Israel will have to rely on distributors. Gorlicki doesn’t anticipate opening a US or European office in the near future. And even if the patent pending Cell La Vie is as successful as anticipated, Gorlicki says that raising venture capital money will be tough.

He likens the Cell La Vie product to a mezuzah: “You don’t know if it has prevented some hardships or brought good things to you,” he quips. “There’s no immediate gratification in that sense.” He says that the problem is with the VCs, who want to see immediate results.

This is not Gorlicki’s first outing with a product that doesn’t deliver satisfaction on first use. In a previous position at Wizcom, he was in charge of marketing the ‘Quicktionary’ – a digital pen that you run over printed text to translate it into multiple languages. “There was a real learning curve,” Gorlicki recounts, “You had to hold the pen correctly, to start and end it in the right place.”

Cell La Vie is not alone in the market; one of its better-funded competitors is Pong Research, which has been reviewed widely, including in Wired Magazine and The New York Times. But Pong, by its own estimates, only reduces radiation by 60 percent and only from the front of the phone, Gorlicki points out. Both Pong and Wise have had their results verified, in Cell La Vie’s case at MET Labs, a California testing and certification company.

Gorlicki is proud that his product is entirely made in Israel and hopes that even as production ramps up in the future, the company will be able to resist the pressure to export manufacturing to China or another less-expensive location.

He says he would be delighted to cooperate with Tawkon, a company whose product indicates to smart phone users when their radiation levels are too high. They would be a good match because Tawkon detects the radiation and prompts users to take simple actions like “put the phone on speaker,” while Cell La Vie actually does something about the radiation emanating from the unit itself.

Regarding the WHO study, Gorlicki draws attention to the fact that the research was in part funded by the phone companies themselves. The study followed thousands of phone users in 13 countries to see whether people who had brain tumors reported spending more time on cell phones during the previous decade than other people did. The researchers reported that they couldn’t find any cancer correlation with cell phone use.

The study’s main purpose, Gorlicki claims, was to give federal agencies a benchmark of when radiation levels are too high. If the companies stay within those levels, they’re considered ‘kosher.’ But, he says, “we really don’t know how much and how long it would take for someone to reach proportions so high that he or she will get cancer.” Researchers are now considering a new, even longer study of up to 20 years.

Not to mention that cell phone usage has increased dramatically and phones have advanced technologically in the 10 years since the study was started. What might have been considered ‘average’ use in 2000 would pale in comparison with teenage cell phone use in 2010.

Perhaps the ideal scenario for Cell La Vie would be cooperation with, or acquisition by a cell phone manufacturer or operator. But Gorlicki isn’t optimistic: “They don’t want to have anything to do with it,’ he says, explaining that involvement could be construed as an admission that cell phone use might not be 100% safe.

Even with Cell La Vie’s protective film in place, cell phones still pose a danger – to your neighbor. Gorlicki compares phone radiation to secondhand smoke. “You could be getting secondhand radiation from the guy sitting next to you in a restaurant talking on his cell phone,” he warns. Will there eventually be cell phone-free environments, he wonders.

Beyond being potentially dangerous to bystanders, Gorlicki reminds us that cell phone use requires “good hygiene.” Even if you’re using a corded headset, you don’t want to stuff your phone in your pocket while you talk. The phone still emits the same amount of radiation. Holding it away from your body or placing it on a table is the safest bet.

Gorlicki is doing his best to live in his own ‘wise’ environment – the company’s headquarters are in his home just off of the HaBonim beach south of Haifa, in northern Israel. “I wake up and take the dogs on a walk near the shore,” he says. “What a way to start the day when you’re working for an environmentally conscious company.”

This article appeared last week on Israel21c, a great site for exploring Israel “beyond the conflict.” Check it out!

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Yaron Carni 2

Yaron Carni, lead investor

Google’s announcement last month that it was acquiring Tel Aviv-based LabPixies for a rumored $25 million caught some Israeli analysts by surprise. That’s a tidy sum for a small startup with just 12 employees that has raised less than $2 million over its four years of operation.

Yaron Carni, LabPixies’ lead investor wasn’t caught out, however. “I immediately loved the company’s products, their vitality and, of course, the team,” he said. Speaking on behalf of a handpicked group of angels including Auren Hoffman and Fabrice Grinda, Carni added “we were all deeply impressed with the character, commitment, talent and forthrightness of the founders.”

LabPixies was particularly attractive to Google due to the company’s role in developing some of the first and subsequently leading ‘gadgets’ for the iGoogle platform, Google’s alternative interactive home page. LabPixies products have garnered as many as one billion impressions a month while signing up 40 million users. One of its most popular products is ‘Flood-It,’ a game that involves dragging colored balls around the screen. “It’s very addictive,” admitted Carni.

LabPixies also builds translating programs, news and weather reports, calculators and calendars that run on other social network services including Facebook, Hi5, Yahoo and MySpace, as well as Google’s own Android mobile operating system.

However, LabPixies doesn’t make its money from the Web, but by selling mobile apps, primarily for the iPhone. Company CEO Ran Ben-Yair won’t divulge financial information, but he did tell the Israeli business journal The Marker several months back that the company has “millions of dollars in revenues.” Carni added that the company has kept costs down by staying “lean.”

Despite Google’s increasing competition with Apple in the mobile space, there’s no indication that the search engine giant will drop its support for LabPixies’ iPhone products.

Google plans to merge LabPixies into its Tel Aviv office, which according to a press release “will anchor our iGoogle efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” leveraging LabPixies’ “knowledge and expertise to help developers and improve the ecosystem overall.”

The big winners, of course, are the investors and LabPixies founders – CEO Ben-Yair, VP R&D Oded Poncz, VP business development Nir Tzemah, and creative director Udi Graff.

Investor Fabrice Grinda wrote on his blog that he was “seduced by the company. They had crazy amounts of traffic in the right countries (Western Europe and the US). Their users loved them. Moreover, their products fell squarely in a rapidly growing ecosystem: Social networks and mobile applications.”

If anything, Grinda was sorry to “sell so early. The company and team are great and the category is only becoming bigger.”

Google Israel’s managing director, Prof. Yossi Matias, is understandably bullish on high-tech in the country. “Google believes in Israeli innovation and creativity and we’ll continue to strive for collaborations with local companies and startups in the future,” hesaid .

Carni, in turn, is a big believer in Google. The deal to buy LabPixies spanned a number of months, Carni said, during which time Google was “a pleasure to work with… from the product people to the human resources professionals. They were always direct, honest and comprehensive.”

LabPixies is Google’s first acquisition in Israel. The company joins other international Internet heavyweights such as AOL, Microsoft and eBay who have invested in the local Silicon Wadi high-tech scene. Google has been active in Israel since 2005 but has never bought a company until now.

This post originally appeared on the Israel21c website.

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Gil Friedlander, Tawkon CEO

Gil Friedlander, Tawkon

What do you do when you suspect something’s bad for you but you just can’t stop doing it? That’s a question many cellular phone users have been asking themselves, with reports of radiation emissions from their mobile devices raising serious questions about the safety of our increasingly un-tethered society. A new Israeli startup may have the solution.

Tawkon has entered the fray with an inexpensive application for the iPhone that warns users when radiation levels have inched up too high and provides advice on how to counter the potentially negative effects.

The company says that its solution gives users the information and tools to avoid mobile phone radiation as much as possible by “mapping” their homes or offices so they’ll know where they’re exposed to significant levels of mobile phone radiation. It also supplies simple precautionary measures to minimize radiation, based on a user’s location and phone usage.

However, you won’t find this app on your iPhone any time soon, because Apple has banned it. Apple says that Tawkon is a diagnostic tool that would create confusion for iPhone owners from a usability perspective. Tawkon believes that Apple doesn’t want its customers to install an app that appears to advise them to talk less – even though its stated aim is to make it safe for them to “talk on.”

Tawkon founder and CEO Gil Friedlander is taking it in his stride. He says that his company is in discussions with Apple and that he is “optimistic and hopeful that the issue will be solved soon.” He insists that he’s not an anti-cell phone zealot. “We love our phones, too,” he says of the Tawkon team. “We won’t give them up. But we can help people use them more responsibly.”

In the meantime, the company is pressing forward with porting the application to other devices, starting with the Blackberry then expanding in the coming year to cover Google’s Android operating system and the Symbian OS used by Nokia phones.

Friedlander describes the Tawkon app as “like infrared goggles – suddenly you can see at night. We view ourselves the same way. We give users the ability to see and feel non-ionizing radiation. Once you know whether you’re in a red, orange or green zone, you have the information you need to take action.”

That action might be to move to a different location until the radiation levels drop, or to plug in a headset or use a speakerphone in your car.

Tawkon can’t actually measure a phone’s radiation – it’s just software after all – so the app relies on processing a dizzying array of factors, including your location, environmental factors such as the weather, Bluetooth functionality, how close your phone is to your body (utilizing the iPhone’s proximity sensors), antenna orientation (are you holding the phone vertically or horizontally), GPS and even the phone’s built-in compass. The app then prompts users with a vibration or tone when the radiation levels reach a dangerous threshold.

Some of the worst places to talk in terms of radiation are a room with thick concrete walls (a basement, elevator or, in Israel, the sealed room mandated from the time of the first Gulf War), and a moving vehicle (such as a train, car or bus) when the phone is switching off between cellular broadcast towers. In all these cases, the phone has to work harder to connect to a signal, hence the radiation goes up.

In some cases, the locations where radiation is highest can be surprising. “In my apartment, radiation in the washroom is high,” Friedlander says, “while the rest of the house is decent.” In 80 to 85 percent of cases, there’s “good coverage and radiation is pretty low, especially in an urban area,” reassures Friedlander.

No one knows exactly how – or even whether or not – radiation will cause serious medical problems in another 10 years, but the government isn’t taking any chances. Israel’s health ministry has recommended that children under the age of 18 shouldn’t use mobile phones at all – young people’s brain tissue is still developing. In the US and Europe, however, similar precautionary warnings have not been issued.

Friedlander and his staff of six in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya have been working on the Tawkon technology for 18 months now, going live with the still unclear iPhone version earlier this month. The app will be marketed direct to consumers via the various hardware manufacturers’ app stores for just under $10 a download.

Down the road, Friedlander says, he would be “delighted to partner with cellular phone operators,” where he believes that a tool to bring real value and safety to customers would be an absolute win/win. “We are aware that it’s challenging for them,” Friedlander admits. “For many years, they’ve just not addressed the issue.”

Friedlander is originally from Canada and studied at McGill University in Montreal. Tawkon has raised money from private investors in Canada, the US and Israel. Is he looking for larger investors? Probably not. “I don’t see the company as a big venture capital play,” he says. “It’s not a very capital intensive business. We don’t require tens of millions of dollars.”

If the app sells well – and Friedlander reports that the company has received thousands of inquiries since the TechCrunch blog about technology startups broke the story of the Apple ban – a small company like Tawkon could do quite well for its owners, partners and employees. The press is certainly interested. Tawkon has been inundated with press requests, from the Washington Post in the US to Channel 2 and The Marker business and technology print and online newspaper in Israel.

With the total number of cell phones in use said to be some four billion, and of these half a billion smart phones, Friedlander is optimistic that “it’s almost like an endless market.”

Ultimately, Tawkon is not all about the money. “Most of the time, you develop and sell a technology that reduces costs for a phone operator,” Friedlander says. “We were looking for something that can make an impact on the well-being of our friends, family and community. Being able to help the user is very important. We saw a real opportunity.”

This story on Tawkon first appeared on Israel21c and has since been written about by a number of top international newspapers and magazines.

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Why the New iPod Nano is a Game Changer

by Brian Blum on September 10, 2009

in Products

Video capabilities are a game changer

Video capabilities are a game changer

There was lots to like in yesterday’s iPod announcements from Apple. But the most important was the addition of a camera and video functionality to the venerable iPod Nano. Apple practically invented the MP3 market and continues to dominate player sales. The iPhone changed consumer’s perceptions about what a fully-featured smart phone must include.

Now Apple is expanding its reach into video, directly taking on the popular Flip as an in-your-pocket always there live motion recording device. What’s significant is that it’s a completely new market for Apple and if the company applies its usual business savvy, it could grab significant market share.

Yes, it’s true that the iPhone already allows you to take video, but that device is much larger – too big, for me at least, to comfortably fit in a pocket. And with the required phone contract, it’s nowhere near as cheap as a Nano – $150 for an 8 GB unit that records in 640×480 quality (that’s twice the memory as the Flip, by the way).

It’s also true that nearly every cell phone sold today can take video, but if you’ve ever seen the quality of the resulting clips, you’ll be underwhelmed.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to snap some video but didn’t want to lug around my Canon camcorder, which itself was much smaller than my previous Hi8 machine. On our recent vacation, I brought the Canon but never took it out of my backpack. Not once.

The video quality of the new Nano should be about that of the original Flip and the pricing is identical. That’s not quite what I’d want – the $199 Flip HD takes much better video, and I’m sure Apple will release a Nano HD, though we may have to wait awhile. Apple has given the Nano a few special effects, but not the fancy video editing that the iPhone has.

One downside (and it’s a biggie): the Nano ONLY takes video. You can’t use it as a still camera. That means I’ll have to lug around a regular digital camera. And there’s no wireless (not that I expected that) like the iPhone where you can post those candid videos online immediately.

Why no stills? Steve Jobs told The New York Times that adding high pixel resolution including autofocus would have bulked up the device too much.

All told, if Apple executes well on this one, it could definitely be a game changer in the pocket video space, meaning even more YouTube videos of cats flushing toilets and fat kids waving light sabers. But for businesses it will also mean faster product demos, shots from conferences, interviews, home video tours (great for Realtors), and even documentation of in-house meetings.

Two other new features of note in the improved Nano:

FM radio tuner

A number of years ago, I bemoaned the fact that no iPod could pick up radio stations. When I visit a country outside of Israel, I enjoy listening to the local radio stations. It gives me a feel for a city’s vibe. But now I rarely listen to terrestrial radio, preferring Internet-only stations like Radio Paradise and WOXY.

The iPod Nano’s radio tuner has some cool features – like the ability to pause your broadcast up to 15 minutes and to see which song is playing, then click to buy it later from iTunes – but for the most part this feature seems too little too late.

Pedometer

The Nano has long been Apple’s iPod of choice for joggers like me who primarily want a small device that you can strap on your arm. So the addition of a pedometer is a welcome feature. How many kilometers is that one-hour jog? Now I’ll know without having to carry a second device.

There are other goodies in the new Nano too that bring it closer to the app-centric Touch and iPhone without sacrificing its sleek form factor. Now, what I’d really like? A tiny iPhone, the size of a Nano. No rumors yet, but knowing Apple, anything is possible.

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