Just last week, mobile photo sharing startup Picplz released a new version of its iPhone app. Today, the cross-platform service is out with an Android update that brings the iPhone’s biggest new feature — live thumbnail previews of filters — to Android users.

The Android update ultimately brings parity between the Picplz experience on both mobile OS platforms, but the live thumbnail previews are certainly an important upgrade that Android owners will appreciate. Otherwise, the new version simply fixes a handful of application bugs and issues.

Unlike its competitor Instagram, Picplz has made an ongoing effort to cater to the Android crowd and the company assures users that this philosophy isn’t changing anytime soon. A future release is promised to bring additional speed and browsing improvements.

Picplz might also make its way onto other mobile platforms and inside other applications in the very near future. The startup is working on an API that will soon be released. Founder and CEO Dalton Caldwell says he’s curious to see how developers envision using both the read and write aspects of the API. The company is fielding requests and will be handing out beta access to developers on a person-by-person basis, he says.

More About: android, mobile photo sharing, picplz, startup

Developers interested in creating cross-platform mobile apps have a new tool for their arsenals in The-M-Project. The-M-Project is an HTML5 JavaScript framework that targets iOS, Android, BlackBerry and webOS platforms.

Think of it as jQuery Mobile with the added bonus of a NodeJS based build tool. The project is new and in the very early alpha stages, but it already looks very promising.

The-M-Project has its own git repository that you can fork or download to your own system.

The project files include all the UI and Core files from jQuery Mobile. The real special sauce with The-M-Project is its build tool, Espresso. Espresso was written in JavaScript using node.js and with it you can build your code and run it on a built-in server. Espresso is available bundled with The-M-Project or you can download it from its git repository.

All right, so that all sounds good and geeky, but what exactly can this project do? Well, as we said, the project is still in its infancy but already the developers have put together some sample apps that show off some of what you can do.

This screenshot shows off the Twitter demo and the app. Accessing the app from an iPhone or Android device brings together an experience that feels very similar to that of a native iOS app. What is particularly cool — and this is the jQuery Mobile base — is that you can adjust your browser window’s size to see how the UI elements scale up or down.

If you want to explore the insides of the sample apps, you can check the source code out on Git Hub.

The team behind The-M-Project, M-Way Solutions, has a basic roadmap outlining its plans for the project. The first public release is out now but future updates will be coming soon and the production ready 1.0 version is scheduled by the end of 2011.

Developers that want to contribute by filing bug reports and submitting patches can go to Git Hub or look at this page for more information.

What do you think about JavaScript/HTML5 mobile app frameworks and tool kits? Is this where mobile app development is headed? Let us know your thoughts.

More About: HTML5, javascript, jquery, jquery mobile, mobile app development, mobile apps, node, node.js, the-m-project

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Facebook has just announced a new mobile application designed specifically for feature phones. The app will give feature phone users access to Facebook messages, events, pictures, news feeds, profiles and more.

The app gives users a better, almost smartphone-like Facebook experience that includes simple homescreen navigation, contact syncing and fast scrolling of updates and photos.

Users will be able to use the Facebook app without incurring data charges. The app is available on the following carriers in the following countries and will launch on more networks and in more areas soon:

Dialog (Sri Lanka)
Life (Ukraine)
Play (Poland)
StarhHub (Singapore)
STC (Saudi Arabia)
Three (Hong Kong)
Tunisiana (Tunisia)
Viva (Dominican Republic)
Vodafone (Romania)

Other carriers and countries slated to be available soon are Mobilicity (Canada), Reliance (India), Telcel (Mexico), TIM (Brazil) and Vivacom (Bulgaria).

On the Facebook blog, the company’s mobile program manager Mark Heynen writes, “The Facebook for Feature Phones app works on more than 2,500 devices from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG and other manufacturers, and it was built in close cooperation with Snaptu.”

Among the digerati, we tend to forget that smartphone users are not, in fact, the majority of cellphone owners. As of June 2010, feature phone owners make up a full 79% of all mobile phone owners. That number is even higher in countries like China and India.

As a global company with a strong presence in countries around the world — and a strong desire to dominate in markets outside the U.S. — Facebook has a responsibility to develop applications for all kinds of users. Other companies are still innovating in the feature phone space, and we’re glad to see that Facebook is starting to keep up.

More About: facebook, feature phone, mobile app

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Pose

Quick Pitch: Pose is an iPhone app that allows users to share photos while they shop.

Genius Idea: If the recent surge of photo-sharing and object-tagging applications, such as Instagram, picplz and Foodspotting, are anything to go by, iPhone owners love to take photos with their phones, and they love sharing them with friends and strangers alike.

Enter Pose, a Santa Monica-based startup that’s attempting to cut out a niche in the photo-sharing crowd with an iPhone app [iTunes link] (coming soon to Android) targeted directly at fashion and shopping enthusiasts. Pose launched in beta last week, having just raised $1.6 million from True Ventures, GRP Partners and Founder Collective, with participation from angel investors (and Path founders) Dave Morin and Shawn Fanning.

Currently, the features are very limited: Users can snap photos of apparel and accessories while they shop, tag them with their prices and the location of the store in which they were found, and then share them with other Pose users, as well as their personal Facebook and Twitter networks. Users can also explore and bookmark the most recent and most popular finds of other users, and peruse those of Pose’s roster of curators, a.k.a “posers” (including, notably, designer Norma Kamali). And that’s about it.

What it’s missing, primarily, is all of the features that make other truly social apps addictive: mainly, the ability to follow others and be followed, to view the activity of one’s personal network in a newsfeed and to add comments in-line. Following would appeal to both tastemakers and the countless number of Internet users who already follow style blogs, whilst commenting would allow users to solicit feedback on their finds from both their personal networks and the Pose community, thus rendering apps like Fashism and Go Try It On obsolete.

Pose could also use a few bonus features to persuade consumers to use it over other photo-sharing apps when shopping, such as photo filters that reflect current trends in fashion photography, or, say, the ability to purchase and/or put on hold items found within the app, a la Lucky at Your Service.

Although it has a long way to go, Pose has an inviting, user-friendly (and thus promising) interface and set of advisors, including Jon Callaghan of True Ventures and Mark Suster of GRP, which is why it’s on our to-watch list.

What do you think of the app? What other features could be added to to make the app more compelling?

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: fashion, iphone app, pose, spark-of-genius

Nearly 6,800 company-operated Starbucks stores in the U.S. will begin accepting mobile payments Wednesday. Customers using the Starbucks Card Mobile app on their iPhone, iPod touch or BlackBerry will now be able to use those devices as tender.

The nationwide rollout marks the official launch of the Starbucks Card Mobile payment program, which has been piloted at Target stores and select San Francisco, Seattle and New York Starbucks locations.

Starbucks Card Mobile [iTunes link] lets users add their Starbucks Cards, track rewards and reload cards as needed via PayPal or credit card. To pay with their phone, app users simply select “touch to pay” and hold up the barcode on their mobile device screen to the 2-D scanner at the register.

An Android application is also said to be in the works, but the company has yet to disclose a release date.

Starbucks is using its own custom-built technology to enable the 2-D mobile barcode scans. The coffee retailer opted for barcode scanning over near field communication technology — which Google is exploring — because of its limited availability. The coffee retailer was reluctant to wait for a NFC ecosystem to develop when its customers have expressed interest in mobile payments now, according to Chuck Davidson, the category manager of innovation on the Starbucks Card team. “Once there are more users, we will adapt,” he says.

In testing, Starbucks assessed the mobile payment option by measuring application speed, transaction speed and total customer wait time, says Brady Brewer, vice president of Starbucks Card and brand loyalty. In all instances, Starbucks Card Mobile was the fastest way for customers to pay.

Starbucks is investing in mobile payments, an investment Davidson describes as modest in relation to expectations, because customers have requested the option and have shown a propensity to not only pay with Starbucks Cards — one in five transactions are made using a Starbucks Card — but frequently use their smartphones while waiting in line.

The company also believes that its customers carry their mobile phones more often than a wallet or purse, and sees Starbucks Card Mobile and the mobile payment program as an opportunity to reach these consumers and build stronger relationships.

Starbucks seems confident that its customers will appreciate the new, faster way to pay. Both Davidson and Brewer believe that adoption will spread as customers tell their friends about the new mobile payment option.

Image courtesy of gumption, Flickr

More About: MARKETING, mobile payments, starbucks, starbucks card mobile, trending

Path, the startup that seeks to create a “personal network,” is out with an update to its iPhone app that finally lets users react in-app to photos and 10-second videos shared by friends.

The startup has again opted for something a bit unconventional, however. Instead of introducing traditional comments, something Path has yet to do, it has opted to added the ability to attach emoticons — or “Emotions” as the startup calls them — to photos and videos.

App [iTunes link] users can now select from one of five emotions to visually emote to the photos or videos shared by friend. Emotions are happy, mischievous (ie. the wink), sad, shock, sad and love. And, as is this case with everything Path has done stylistically, emotions are an aesthetically pleasing addition the app. Not only are they cute, but they are carried throughout the app experience.

Emotions, from a functional standpoint, are an interesting, dare I say clever, deviation for the startup. Most social networks allow for “likes” and free-form comments, but most don’t support a range of positive and negative emotions. We anticipate users will respond positively to new addition, as the ability to quickly react to moments shared by friends and visually assess how others are reacting are nice conveniences. Still, app users may be dismayed that, at least for now, comments are not a part of the app experience.

Should Path accumulate a large enough user base and aggregate emotions across its private social network, it could use emotions data to develop a mood algorithm that understands human emotion over time. Of course, that’s a stretch, but perchance there’s more method than madness happening behind the scenes at Path.

The updated app, version 1.3, should be available for download later this afternoon.

Image courtesy of Flickr, paloetic

More About: Path, social media, startup

It’s the first birthday of Foodspotting, an iPhone photo app and website that concentrates on pictures of the foods available at restaurants, rather than the restaurants themselves.

The app’s official launch was a year ago today (January 15), and since then, it’s collected 250,000 images of dish recommendations. This week, Foodspotting received $3 million in funding from BlueRun Ventures, and over the past year has enjoyed 550,000 downloads of its app and 300,000 visitors to its website each month. It’s released a beta version of its Android app, and boasts partnerships with household names such as the Travel Channel, Whole Foods and Zagat.

In addition, Foodspotting offered us a fun fact: Half its 7-person team has a food-related last name, such as Grub, Cao (pronounced “Chow”) and Tang.

The location-based app finds pics of foods available nearby, beckoning users with their steamy goodness, or repelling them with their grossness — either way, users get a good look at what they’ll eat, rather than reading a menu and taking their chances. And, the app can snap iPhone pics, encouraging users to leave evidence for those who are wondering what dishes are served in a restaurant.

Foodspotting calls January 15 “World Foodspotting Day,” with more than 100 meetups all over the planet. Find one near you, and if you contribute a pic of a cake, you’ll get a birthday badge.

In the meantime, let’s feast our eyes on Foodspotting’s Top 10 greatest hits, the 10 most popular foods photographed by users of the Foodspotting iPhone app, here in all their mouth-watering goodness:

10. Assorted Cheeses

From the Cowgirl Creamery Artisan Cheese Shop in San Francisco

9. Deep Dish Pizza

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza, Oakland, CA

8. Ice Cream Sandwich

Diddy Riese, Westwood, CA.

7. Double Animal Burger

In N Out Burger, Hollywood, CA

6. Morning Buns

Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

5. Pommes Frites (French Fries)

Pommes Frites, New York, NY

4. Secret Breakfast Ice Cream

Humphry Slocombe, San Francisco

3. Pastrami Sandwich

Katz’s Delicatessen, New York, NY

2. Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Bi Rite Creamery, San Francisco

1. Shack Burger

Shake Shack, New York, NY

Images courtesy of Foodspotting

More About: Android apps, birthday, Food, foodies, foodspotting, gallery, iphone apps, pics, trending

This week, I had a chance to review the Nomad Brush, a beautiful, handcrafted stylus designed for painting and sketching on the iPad.

The stylus feels and looks like an actual paintbrush, complete with a 5.5-inch wooden handle and a mix of natural and synthetic fibers selected for their conductive properties. When I first came across this demo video of the stylus last week, I was skeptical that the iPad‘s touchscreen surface would be able to pick up the stylus’s soft bristles, but I’m happy to report that the iPad easily responds to the touch. It allows for free-flowing brush strokes much like a real paintbrush, and an elegance of line I was previously unable to achieve using my fingers or a regular stylus.

Since we’ve only used the brush for a day, we can neither guarantee that it will work a year or even a month from now with heavy use, nor whether the bristles will hold their shape. (As a side note, we’re still looking for a way to keep those bristles intact while traveling; I plan to use my standard canvas brush holder in the meantime.) Given how much we plan to use the thing, we should have a pretty good idea of how it holds up by the time the brush goes on sale in early February.

The Nomad Brush was conceived by Don Lee, a 39-year-old architect based in New York. After 14 years as an architect, Lee decided to take a year-long break from his profession “to rejuvenate [his] creative side,” he explains.

As part of the rejuvenation process, Lee took up sketching on the iPad. “The finger is by far the most efficient way to navigate the iPad, but when it came to sketching, I just couldn’t get used to it,” Lee says. “As a problem solver by nature, I started to tinker and found a solution, and that’s how the Nomad Brush came about.”

At launch, only a black version with a 5.5-inch handle will be available for purchase, followed by a version with a white handle. In the future, Lee plans to create additional versions with varying brush head sizes and handle lengths. Pricing has not yet been disclosed, though given that each stylus is hand made, we expect it will be a bit pricier than the typical stylus.

In the meantime, check out our hands-on video below.


More Gadget Demos from Mashable:

HANDS ON: 10 New Tablets Ready to Challenge the iPad [VIDEOS]
Hands On With Vizio’s Android-Powered Devices [VIDEO]
DEMO: BlackBerry Playbook Tablet [VIDEO]
Hands On With Vizio’s Android-Powered Devices [VIDEO]
Nintendo 3DS: Hands-On and First Impressions [PICS]

More About: apple, demo, Gadget, hands-on, ipad, ipad stylus, nomad brush

Who’s up for a friendly game of Nike+ Tag? Let the games begin, Nike+ GPS users — there’s an update now available for your iPhone app, letting you compete against your friends.

It’s available for download from the iTunes App Store as a free update to existing Nike+ GPS app users, or it’ll cost you $1.99 for a new purchase.

While there’s no physical tagging going on, the object of the game is like you might expect: Don’t be “it.” Runners compete against each other, and whoever runs the slowest, the shortest distance, or starts running latest in the day is designated as “it.”

How does it work? Nike explains it:

  • • After a run, a Nike+ GPS App user is prompted to Play Tag
  • • The user can invite – or “Tag” – as many Nike+ friends and email contacts as they choose
  • • The user can customize the message that goes to friends
  • • The user sets a game of Tag based upon either distance (person who runs shortest distance is IT), time (person who runs for the shortest amount of time is IT), or order (person to run last is IT).
  • • Tag begins once the user invites his/her friends
  • • Once Tag begins, the game will continue until each runner has taken part, or up to three days, whichever comes first
  • • The Nike+ GPS App tracks each time a runner is IT and NOT IT
  • • If no one other than the initiator takes part, he/she is not IT, the game just dissolves after three days

Unfortunately, if you’re a Nike+ iPod user using a watch or shoe sensor, you won’t be able to play this new game of Tag. According to Nike, the two apps were developed by completely different teams, and they use different technology. Unlike the Nike+ iPod system, the Nike+ GPS software doesn’t use that sensor that fits into a shoe or is built into watch, but uses the iPhone’s GPS to gauge location, speed and distances.

Take a look at the cute video Nike produced in association with this app:

More About: app store, apps, Fitness Apps, free downloads, iphone, Nike+ GPS, Nike+ Tag, Tag, trending, Update

Rumors of an Android-fused Google music service have been building for more than six months; if a new leaked screenshot is to be believed, that rumor just might become reality with the next Android OS release.

The website GizmoFusion has posted the data and synchronization panel from what is purported to be a build of Gingerbread. This is the standard Android settings panel, except alongside the options for syncing contacts, Gmail and Picasa Web Albums is a new designation: Sync Music. Could this be a sign that Google is planning on rolling out its own music service, a la iTunes?

Google has reportedly been working on a cloud-based music service — subscription or a la carte — for quite some time. In a marketplace that is already crowded with options, having solid integration at a device level with Android could give Google an edge.

Of course, even without a specific music store, over the air synchronization could still be a compelling feature. At Google I/O back in May, Google showed off some technology that would allow Android users to stream music from their desktop computers directly to their phone. Presumably, this sort of feature could also double as a way to sync music and playlists.

That could mean, for instance, that rather than relying on third-party apps like DoubleTwist or manually managing a device’s memory card for adding/updating music, transfers could take place over the air. (Add a new song to a playlist on the desktop, get that new song instantly on your smartphone.)

GizmoFusion surmises that this is a feature that other versions of Android (including Froyo) could get as well. If this is something that is tied directly to a Google-hosted offering, we’re inclined to agree. Of course, it could also end up being one of the features planned for Android 2.4, codenamed Ice Cream.

Assuming the screenshot is real, are you interested in either a Google-based music store or the ability to sync music wirelessly? Let us know in the comments.

Image credit: GizmoFusion

[via Engadget]

More About: android, gingerbread, Google, google music, music