Surprise, the Tech News Didn’t Stop While I Was Away

7/22/13Follow @wroush

I was away on vacation in a north-woodsy part of Michigan last week. Maybe you were out too, given that half of all Americans go on out-of-state vacations in July. But now I’m back, I’ve powered through the 1,000 e-mails in my inbox, and I’m catching up on a few of the Bay Area technology news items that I missed. Here’s a quick rundown:

—The week’s top headline-grabber was probably Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), but for a lot of little stories, rather than one big one. On the Web front, the company began rolling out a browser-based version of its iWork productivity suite, and reportedly discovered security vulnerabilities in its Developer Center site, which has been down for maintenance for the last five days. On the mobile gadget front, there are new rumors that Apple is beefing up efforts to build a wristwatch device that would include fitness-related functions, and that it’s working on a smaller version of the iPhone. On the TV front, Quartz listed all the signs that that the company is working on an Apple-branded television, including a report from former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin that the company is making progress in negotiations with content providers (i.e. cable companies and TV networks) for the right to let “iTV” users skip commercials. If it’s true that Apple is in negotiations to buy PrimeSense, the Israel-based maker of the depth-sensing chips behind the Kinect videogame controller, then it’s possible that an Apple TV could be controlled through gesture recognition (though Apple might also want PrimeSense so that it can put 3D cameras into its mobile devices).

—Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) was also on a tear last week, with shares hitting a five-year high on the NASDAQ exchange after CEO Marissa Mayer released, newscast-style, a second-quarter financial report that the company had earned 35 cents per share, up from 30 cents in the same quarter last year. But then hedge fund Third Point began to cash in its Yahoo shares through a $1.2 billion buyback plan, resulting in a 4 percent drop in the company’s share price today.

—Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) joined the NASDAQ 100, replacing Oracle, which has moved to the New York Stock Exchange.

—It was a tough week for Intuitive Surgical, the Sunnyvale, CA-based maker of the Da Vinci surgical robot and other robotic surgery systems. The company reported sharply lower earnings in the second quarter ($159 million, compared to $189 million for the year-ago quarter). That, plus a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration over product safety issues, led to a big drop in share prices and new speculation that activist investors like Carl Icahn will try to take over the company.

—Yelp bought SeatMe, a San Francisco startup that was already powering the company’s online restaurant reservations system. That puts the consumer-review site in direct competition with Web 1.0-era stalwart OpenTable. Yelp is also venturing into food delivery through partnerships with Eat24 and Delivery.com.

—San Francisco-based Leap Motion released its gesture-recognition software, which is designed to let users control computers and other devices through hand motions. After repeated delays, the company says the Leap Motion Controller device needed drive the software will be available at Best Buy stores starting July 28. Developers have already built thousands of applications that can be controlled through Leap Motion’s technology.

—It was a busy week in the startup financing realm. A few of the local funding announcements that crossed my desk: Ayasdi, a Palo Alto, CA-based big data analytics firm, raised $30.6 million in a Series B round that included Institutional Venture Partners, Citi Ventures, GE Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Floodgate; Swell, a “Pandora for talk radio” startup, collected $5.4 million in a round led by DFJ; Xamarin, which is working on tools to help Windows developers write for iOS devices, raised $16 million in a Series B round headed by Lead Edge Capital; Meldium, which provides password-sharing technology for enterprises, raised $1 million in a round led by Draper Associates and Founders Fund; and job search automation startup Venturocket raised $700,000 in a round led by Runa Capital.

—My colleague Bruce Bigelow reported on a rise in IPO activity in the second quarter, even as venture funding leveled off compared to 2012 levels.

—Austin Ventures in Austin, TX, Battery Ventures in Boston, and The Valley Fund in Menlo Park, CA, said that they’re working together on a project called OpenIncubate that will provide seed funding and mentoring for startups building new software on open-source platforms.

— On top of all that, freelance contributor Elise Craig profiled a cool Emeryville startup called the New York Rock Exchange that—just as the name implies—lets people buy shares in new songs.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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