TechWeb

10 Must-See Tech Product Ideas From Startups

Apr 25, 2012 (04:04 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=232900858


This may look like just a pretty picture, but it's not. While what you see here is a still photo, in reality it's anything but. It actually represents a stunning new visual technology that allows anyone to capture and convey a 360-degree image that's part photo, part video, and part panorama.

In fact, this new imaging technology from a San Francisco-based startup named TourWrist was so captivating that its founders walked away with a $1 million check as the People's Choice award winner at last week's Demo Spring 2012 event in Santa Clara, Calif.

Virtual panoramas, a la Google Street View, aren't new. But TourWrist is pushing the state of the art. Using planar acceleration controls, TourWrist lets you use an iPhone or an iPad to physically move up, down, left, and right as you hold the device in front of you. Even more impressive: It allows you to step into or away from any point in the picture. The company also used Demo to debut new features to move you through linked 360-degree panoramas. Imagine being able to move through each and every room of that 15-bedroom Malibu mansion you're contemplating.

TourWrist was one of 81 demonstrations at Demo, a 22-year-old conference series that ranks among the granddaddies of tech launch events. While TourWrist might be obscure now, as a Demo winner it joins select company. Other Demo debut companies that went on to become major forces in the tech industry include Salesforce, Webex, and ETrade, to name a few.

In our visual tour, you'll get a taste of some of the other products that went before a Demo crowd that included, most significantly, venture capitalists prospecting for their next big scores. When they're out looking for the next hot thing, you should be paying attention, too.

Each presenting company received six precious minutes--just six--to prove its status as revolutionary, disruptive, world-changing, or any other Silicon Valley catchphrase used as a euphemism for "get rich quick."

Of course, most of these startups aren't destined to become $100 billion IPOs. Absent from all-too-many of their elevator pitches was the foggiest outline of a sustainable way to make money. That means many won't be around long enough to be acquired, let alone strike it rich as publicly-traded companies.

Nevertheless, as new and as bootstrapped as many of the Demo presenters were, you ignore them at your own peril. They represent trends, product categories, and technologies that could one day have a material impact on your business, whether they're focusing on mobile, enterprise, cloud, or the consumer.

Several companies went after the problems related to the bring your own device trend. One company promised to make conference calling a high-fidelity experience (thank goodness). Another showed off a credit card that's actually a thin computer. A third promised the capability for you, your telecom guys, and your employees to configure and manage your office phone system from anywhere, anytime.

And there were of course products that were just cool--like the Segway of skateboards.

Take a look at the companies and products fighting to be tech's next big thing.




In case the little light didn't tip you off, the credit card being held by Jeff Mullen, the founder of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Dynamics Inc., isn't just a credit card. It's a super-thin computer. The card itself can change information on the magnetic stripe to mimic other types of cards. Want to use reward points instead of credit? You can operate the card to do so. Dynamics showed off its E-Plate card at Demo two years ago and walked away with a $1 million check. Since then, however, it has raised tons of money and the backing of some of the nation's biggest card-issuing banks, such as Citi and UMB. It presented an update as a featured alumnus of the Demo event.

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Wait. A skateboard as technology? But that's not just a skateboard. It's a newly launched $1,000 special edition of the ZBoard. The ZBoard has weight sensors and a motor. Lean forward to zip ahead. Lean back to brake. But what's a ride without tunes? One ZBoard special edition also includes a Bluetooth-enabled player fueled by four speakers.

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Threats to your data continue to get bigger, badder, and bolder. That means the good guys need to get smarter, swifter, and more innovative. Toopher co-founder and CEO Josh Alexander thinks he can eliminate two-step authentication tokens as icons of safe computing. His company allows your phone and its GPS to authenticate you passively--without pulling it, or a token, out of your pocket. When you log into a Toopher-enabled website, Toopher prompts you to verify, then remembers the specified location. After that, it'll automatically verify you.

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Unless you're well-heeled enough for a state-of-the-art "telepresence" system (the term even sounds expensive), conference calls generally stink in terms of quality. But Voxeet used Demo to debut a new high-definition, 3-D "natural conferencing" software suite that had ears literally perking up during the conference. If its demo was any indication, the sound wasn't just crystal clear. You didn't have people noise-cancelling each other, and you could hear someone speaking from your right or your left, depending on where you moved their avatars, giving a lifelike in-the-same-room presence to the callers.

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As good as most product shots have become, they still can't compare to walking around something, or turning it over again and again in your hands. But a Charlottesville, Va., startup called Arqball claims to take product visualization to a new level, with a free app no less. Using an iPhone or iPad, you simply take a 360-degree image of a product as it turns, like the video camera pictured here. Arqball's app turns the image into a "spin," an image you can rotate and even annotate. Arqball's idea holds the potential to make ecommerce far more engaging and lifelike.

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Your telecom crew may love you for adopting RingCentral, especially now that setting up and managing the cloud-based business-class phone system is much easier. At Demo, the company introduced its "cloud touch" platform as the newest ease-of-use feature to its VOIP telephone service. Via an iPhone or iPad, the new feature allows anyone, even an employee, to set up, reconfigure, or otherwise manage office phones or connected devices.

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Nobody wants his or her personal trainer around all the time. But constant monitoring, as in 24-by-7, may be what it takes to be an elite athlete, or to improve your health and fitness. At Demo, a company called BodyMedia introduced a "pro" version of its monitoring system. When you're wearing an armband or patch, pictured here, BodyMedia's system tracks calories burned, activity, and sleep patterns. Once your data is loaded into BodyMedia's new ProConnect app, it's available to your trainer and coach anytime, anywhere.

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Any teacher will tell you that interactive white boards have big drawbacks. One inherent flaw harkens back to the white board's antiquated predecessor, the chalkboard: You have to be at the surface to use it. But electronics company Interphase used Demo to debut a device called Penveu, pictured here, that it says can turn any projector or large screen display into something that can be marked up--from as far as 40 feet away. Penveu accomplishes this using the same tracking technology used in smart bombs and cruise missiles.

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It's good to know Google doesn't a have a lock on search. A vertically targeted search engine was introduced at Demo that gets its fuel from deep personalization. The job search tool called ApplyApp.ly relies on semantic technology to use your LinkedIn profile information, your resume, and your Myers-Briggs personality type to rate and rank the relevance of a particular position. ApplyApp.ly stood out, too, for the growing trend toward application and service verticalization that will keep competition alive against those companies that deign to do no evil but still rule the world.

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Demo conferences are punctuated with "Sage Panels," consisting of venture capitalists providing their assessments of the demos they've seen. One word, like "underwhelming," from a VC in a public forum like Demo can melt a startup's prospects.

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