31 October, 2011



PicPlz adds editing to its photo sharing apps, powered by Aviary

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 09:21 AM PDT

Snap. Edit. Share.

Now you’ll be able to edit pictures on PicPlz’s popular photo sharing apps, thanks to mobile photo editing technology from Aviary.

“It was a logical fit” to include Aviary’s editing tools, PicPlz CTO Jeff Argast told VentureBeat in an interview earlier today. The company had previously considered implementing some editing tools of its own, but Argast says it wouldn’t have been as fully featured as Aviary’s offering. “Aviary provided the full package,” he said.

The new editing features are available on the Android version of PicPlz today, and it will be available on the iPhone app soon.

Aviary’s mobile photo editor, accessible by hitting the new “Edit” button when previewing your pictures, will allow PicPlz users to crop and rotate, adjust color saturation and contrast, and add text and draw annotations. The new tools, 15 in total, will exist alongside PicPlz’s existing photo effects. It gives PicPlz a leg up on rival photo sharing app Instagram, which doesn’t have many editing features.

Argast says it took just a few days to get the editing tools working within PicPlz, and it took under two weeks to get it fully implemented and tested. Not surprisingly, he says that he expects the partnership between the two companies to grown, which means we could see more editing tools and other Aviary-powered features in the future.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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ABS Capital Partners raises new $500M fund

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 09:04 AM PDT

absInvestment firm ABS Capital Partners has raised a new $500 million fund to invest in companies that are at a key stage of expansion, the firm announced today.

ABS specializes in four areas of investment growth: business/education services, health care, media and technology. The new fund, which is the firm’s seventh, brings ABS’ total to $2.5 billion raised. The firm's previous fund, closed in 2009, was $420 million.

The firm said limited partners of the new fund include several investors of its previous funds such as Abbott Capital, Johns Hopkins University and WP Global Partners as well as new investors Top Tier Capital Partners and The Wellcome Trust.

Founded in 1990, the Baltimore, Maryland-based firm has exited more than 70 companies including American Public Education, Inc., Liquidity Services, Inc., Neustar, Inc., Innovation Interactive, Cobalt Group, Metastorm and Restaurant Technologies, Inc.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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The new 500 Startups class is the most international yet, and they’re zombies!

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 09:04 AM PDT

 500 Startups, the accelerator founded by angel investor Dave McClure, today announced its new class of 34 companies, Batch 002, its largest, and most international cohort to date. The group includes eight female founders, and 15 of the companies are from countries other than the U.S., with teams joining from Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Estonia, Japan, the Netherlands, and Portugal.

The companies are listed below, along with a brief description of what the founders are up to. Definitely stay tuned, as it will be interesting to see how many of the companies are the same on Demo Day, as they are today. It’s not uncommon for a complete pivot to happen during the course of startup school. Just ask Console.fm.

Twilio, SlideShare, ColourLovers and Plancast are just a few of the dozens of companies that have passed through the 500 Startups accelerator, or have received funding.

Here’s a list of the latest batch, with company descriptions in their own words:

300 Milligrams: 300 Miligrams is a priority inbox for team conversations.

72 Lux: 72 Lux offers consumers a universal checkout and personalized shopping experience while also offering a white-label version for publishers.

BrandBoards: BrandBoards is bringing Google Adwords simplicity and reach to live event digital advertising.

BrightNest: BrightNest  is the Mint.com for home maintenance. We help homeowners manage their most valuable asset with customized tips and reminders.

Cadee: Cadee helps golfers understand and improve their game.

 Central.ly: Central.ly wants to connect all of the social media profiles for small business owners.

Chorus: Chorus is customer feedback without the hassle. Automatically extract meaning from thousands of customer messages as they arrive in real time.

Conta Azul: Conta Azul is a web based SaaS accounting system for Brazilian SMB’s.

Contactually: Contactually is a personal assistant for your professional email contacts that connects directly with your CRM.

Dress Rush: DressRush is

A “Gilt for Weddings” Dress Rush is making Bridezilla’s everywhere clamor to get couture without the cost. Up to 100% off retail ain’t bad, right?

 eSpark: eSpark Learning is "Pandora for education" and creates custom playlists of super fun education apps on iPads for elementary school students.

Farmeron: Farmeron helps farmers across the world to manage their production data online and to do automatized farm performance analysis using exciting statistics.

Fileboard: Fileboard is a service accessed from the iPad that helps manage files and attachments across email, Dropbox, Evernote, and other cloud repositories.

Fitocracy: Fitocracy turns fitness into an addictive gaming experience where you level up in real life.

Forrst: Forrst is where developers and designers improve their craft and companies come to hire them.

Gizmo: Gizmo is a cloud-based multichannel marketing platform for mobile, tablet, social, and web.

GoVoluntr: GoVoluntr is a social platform that brings together volunteers, nonprofits, and businesses to solve today's social problems.

Hapyrus: Hapyrusoffers the easiest way of leveraging Hadoop to make your system highly scalable.

HighScore House: High Score House turns a child’s routine into a game, making the lives of families easier and more positive than ever before.

Intercom: Intercom lets web businesses build powerful, personal relationships with their users, turning them into loyal customers.

LookAcross: LookAcross helps you to have more conversation by improving your odds of connecting with people.

LoveWithFood: LoveWithFood is the easiest way to find culinary deals & samples, curated by a community of foodies for foodies. For every deal, we donate a meal.

Meloncard: MelonCard removed your personal information from companies selling it.

MeMeTales: MemeTales is a mobile game like reading platform for kids. Fun like Angry Birds without the guilt. Meme Tales is a DEMO ’11 startup.

MoPix: Mopix is going to define what the movie experience can be on tablet devices and make distribution accessible to anyone with film or video content.

OneSchool: OneSchool is a free mobile app that connects students to the people, places, and things around them. OneSchool was an Alpha Pitch startup at DEMO ’11.

PayByGroup: With PayByGroup, ever front money for group purchases again. We coordinate your friends’ payments to the merchant so you can plan activities hasslefree.

Redeemr:  Redeemr helps businesses and celebrities get un-ignored by their social media fans.

Rotadosconcuros: Rotadosconcursos is the best test prep to get in to the government positions.

Spinnakr: Spinnakr says, Website targeting triples your conversions, but you’re probably not using it because it’s too complicated. Spinnakr makes it possible.

Swithchcam: Switchcam recreates the concert experience by combining and syncing fan-recorded videos.

Talkdesk: Talkdesk  lets your company have a contact center in the browser. It provides information about the caller by integrating with services such as Salesforce and Zendesk.

Tiny Review: Tiny Review is Instagram for Yelp reviews. The fastest and funnest way to say what you think about a place.

WeddingLovely: WeddingLovely is building tools and directories to promote amazing small and independent wedding vendors.

In honor of the Halloween reveal, 500 Startups put together this video tribute Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Watch it, if you dare.

[Image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr]

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With Google’s TV channels on YouTube, it’s time to consider chucking cable TV

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 09:00 AM PDT

YouTube TV channelsGoogle's announcement Friday of its plan to bring a hundred channels of new Hollywood-produced content to the Web  may well be a watershed moment for television.

Here's why: It's one more big step toward weaning me from the rip-off that is cable TV.

Cable television, known mainly as Comcast in my neighborhood of San Francisco, is charging way too much — about $65 a month for the most basic package.

And now Google, through its massively popular online property YouTube, is offering me a 100 new original channels, at 25 hours of programming a week. For the first time, I can cobble together a very decent palette of content for almost free — and I can watch it all from my home TV set.

Here's what I've got: I'll get those 100 channels, many of which are launching next week. And then also for free, I get the basic set of free network TV channels that I can pick up with an antenna. And then, because I'm willing to pay at least $8 a month for a Netflix subscription, I get a lot of other content to fill it all out.

And yes, I can watch all of this on my home TV set. Two months ago, I bought a set-top box from Logitech, called Logitech Revue, for $100, which lets me access Google TV, the Web and other offerings such as Netflix, over my TV set. (Google TV is also offered with Sony GTV televisions and with a Internet TV Blu-ray player. Better yet, Google TV will soon receive an update next week which  brings Android apps, and a revamped interface and more.) Add in other offerings like Hulu, which I can also access on my TV through other set-top boxes (it’s not supported on GTV yet), and that's quite an offering that I can get, for a pittance compared to the relative robbery that is cable.

So why fork out $65-$99 a month to the cable companies?

Unless the cable companies reform their price offerings, they're going to lose a lot of customers.

YouTube TVTo be sure, not all TV fanatics will be impressed by the free — or almost free, if you've got Netflx — offerings at their disposal today. None of the major studios appear to have partnered with Google's content venture, mainly because they fear the loss of control in giving up their content, or haven't got paid enough to do so. Networks such as News Corp.’s Fox and The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC have shunned Google's TV effort. These guys have lucrative relationships with folks like Comcast, so why sabotage the golden goose?

But really, how long will these networks maintain control over the majority of quality content? That's what makes Google's latest announcements so interesting. It's dividing Hollywood, because its going directly to content producers and commissioning content with competitive deal-making. And for the first time, it feels like the cable monolith is cracking. In case you missed it, the YouTube channels include programs by Amy Poehler, Ashton Kutcher, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Madonna, Shaquille O’Neal, Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, Jay-Z, and Modern Family star Sofia Vergara. See the full list here.

And Google is doing so with a very disruptive model. Google is relying on advertising. And its caught the advertising industry's attention: It's "the most audacious original programming initiative for the Internet," according to David Cohen, an executive vice president at advertising agency Universal McCann told the WSJ.

Not that advertising is perfect. It isn't. It interferes with viewing, and some people hate it. It still feels like we're in an experimental phase, as Google and others innovate with online ad targeting. At the same time, the expensive, bundled pricing of the cables is more ripe for disruption than ever (see full argument here), and that's why Google's offering looks like a trojan horse. Google is reportedly investing about $100 million for its new YouTube channels, with advances reaching as high as $5 million for some channels. According to the Wall Street Journal, content creators will get a 55 percent split of revenue after the upfront costs have been earned out.

Meantime, cable companies don't appear to be innovating. Right now, at least according to its web site, Comcast doesn't even consider Google TV a competitor. It lists AT&T Universe, CenturyLink, DirecTV and Verizon FiOS on its site as competitors, but only in order to show how Comcast offerings are better. Even Google, in it's announcement Friday about its offering, said its offerings aren’t intended to compete with cable (thought we've heard this game before from Google, when it claimed it wasn't making a mobile phone, before it launched Android — a semantic game that clearly was meant to hide its stealth attack on Apple and others).

But the numbers already tell the story. Cable providers are already losing subscribers, apparently because people are canceling cable in favor of cheap internet TV. The U.S. subscription-TV industry first showed a small net loss of subscribers a year ago.  But this year, that trickle turned into a stream.

Sure, there will be retrenchment. Traditional providers will continue to have doubts about giving their content cheaply to the Web. Netflix lost a major provider, Starz, for which suddenly saw Netflix as a threat when that company moved to provide an Internet streaming service fora low $8 a month. And Hulu, too, is being forced by its content partners to put more of its content behind a subscription wall. But even here, it's not one way. Netflix has scrambled to sign other content providers to compensate.

The setbacks will keep me watching how providers like Netflix and Google actually execute. But for now, I'm still staring at a price of $65 a month for the most basic package at Comcast — which offers about 80 channels — and that's just too much money, considering I'm already paying (in a sharply discounted six-month deal) $29.00 a month for internet — and I've now gota all these free options from Google.

We may look back and see 2011 as a watershed moment for TV. But it feels like there's a lot more to come too. Google is moving quickly, but watch for Apple too.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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AT&T’s first two 4G LTE phones arrive Nov. 6

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 08:05 AM PDT

AT&T’s first two phones equipped with 4G LTE — the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and HTC Vivid — will be available Nov. 6, the company announced. The move will help AT&T better compete with Verizon when it comes to 4G.

In the race to build out 4G LTE, AT&T has been painfully slow compared to Verizon, which is why the company is just now releasing LTE-capable phones. By Nov. 6, AT&T’s 4G LTE will be officially live in nine markets — Atlanta, Athens, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. AT&T said it expects LTE will be live in 15 markets by the end of the year. By contrast, Verizon’s 4G LTE network is live in more than 150 cities. Sprint runs WiMAX 4G now but said it will begin rolling out LTE 4G in 2012.

AT&T and T-Mobile have been peddling HSPA+ as 4G in their marketing campaigns, but HSPA+ networks are just boosted versions of 3G rather than completely new networks. But with the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and HTC Vivid, AT&T customers in its scarce LTE markets will be able to see what the hubbub is about.

The Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket is a slightly bigger and more powerful version of the already released Galaxy S II. The Galaxy S II Skyrocket runs Android 2.3.5 and features a 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen with an 800 x 480 resolution, a 1.5-GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera that can record 1080p HD video, 16GB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot for up to 32GB cards.

The HTC Vivid has similarly powerful specs to the Galaxy S II Skyrocket. The Vivid features a 4.5-inch qHD display with 540 x 960 resolution, a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera that can record 1080p HD video at 60 fps, 16GB of internal memory and a microSD card slot that can add up to 32GB of memory.

Both phones will likely sell less units than the Apple iPhone 4S, which has been a monstrous seller so far on AT&T and doesn’t offer 4G LTE. But even so, this is an important step for AT&T to take if it wants to look like a strong network competitor to Verizon.

Now we’ll have to see during 2012 if Verizon can keep its exceptional pace in expanding its 4G LTE network or if AT&T can catch up with cities and compatible LTE devices.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Ubuntu Linux looks beyond the desktop to phones, tablets, TVs

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 07:54 AM PDT

Soon Ubuntu Linux won’t just be a desktop OS for Linux nerds.

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, is now aiming to mimic iOS and Android by bringing the OS to smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs, reports ZDNet. Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth will be announcing the news today at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Orlando, Florida.

"This is a natural expansion of our idea [of] Ubuntu as Linux for human beings,” Shuttleworth said in an interview with ZDNet. “As people have moved from desktop to new form factors for computing, it's important for us to reach out to [the] community on these platforms. So, we'll embrace the challenge of how to use Ubuntu on smartphones, tablets and smart-screens."

The move makes sense for Ubuntu, which is one of the few Linux distributions to focus on design and wide consumer appeal. For those not familiar with Ubuntu, it has spent years positioning itself as the friendly Linux distribution that’s as easy to use as Mac OSX and Windows. But with Android and iOS having a major head start in all of the above device categories, it’s going to be difficult for Canonical to compete.

The company will finish work on the latest version of Ubuntu, 12.04, as well as its new Unity interface, before it starts work on expanding the software to more devices, ZDNet reports.

And while it seems like Canonical is taking inspiration from Android and iOS, moving Ubuntu to mobile platforms also seems reminiscent of what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8, which is aiming to be both a killer desktop and tablet experience.

When asked how Ubuntu can be competitive when facing more entrenched rivals, Shuttleworth said, “The device world is highly competitive and highly dynamic, while Android and iOS dominate handheld devices, disruptive elements could still establish themselves … Ubuntu and Windows can still be a real force."

ZDNet figures we likely won’t see any Ubuntu tablets until the middle of 2012, and it will likely take even longer than that before it finds its way to phones. But while I don’t doubt Canonical’s ability to expand Ubuntu to other platforms, I wonder if it’s something that consumers and device manufacturers will actually want. Next year will certainly be interesting for mobile device competition.

Screenshot via ZDNet

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Netflix renews ABC deal, gets a dose of something new

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 07:30 AM PDT

AliasNetflix has renewed its contract with Disney to keep episodes of ABC shows available through its streaming video service, the company announced today.

Just like its previous agreement with Disney, the deal will give Netflix subscribers access to all the non-current episodes of shows like Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters and others. The only place to find episodes of the most current season of ABC programs is through rival streaming service Hulu or ABC’s website.

The content deal also gives Netflix subscribers access to other gems in the ABC library of content, such as Alias and many others.

Locking premium TV content for its streaming service is a smart move for Netflix — especially after the last few weeks of punishment the company has experienced from both investors and subscribers. Netflix is still feeling the pain of its subscription price increases and ill attempted plan to split its DVD and streaming businesses into two companies.

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Uncharted 3 is one of the best (and most annoying) games of the year (review)

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 07:24 AM PDT

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Editor’s note: This review contains some story spoilers.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is one of the best video games of the year. In fact, it is one of the best I’ve ever played. But it will also go down as one of the most annoying.

On the good side, developer Naughty Dog has perfected the art of building a video game experience that mimics the thrills of a blockbuster summer action movie. But that description doesn’t do the game justice, as its story, dialogue, voice-acting, humor and character development are just so much better than anything you’ll ever see in an Indiana Jones movie. (Editor’s note: We don’t support Dean’s casual dismissal of Raiders of the Lost Ark as one of the greatest films ever made.)

Within Sony’s arsenal of exclusives for its PlayStation 3 business, Uncharted is the crown jewel, the game that could keep Sony fans loyal no matter how many Halo or Mario games come out from the other guys. I just wish that Naughty Dog would polish this jewel a little bit more.

The dreamers of the day

No flaws are evident in the beginning. From a starting quote by T. E. Lawrence (“the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible”), author of Lawrence of Arabia, to the beginning of the real action nearly four chapters later, the introductory sequence is impeccably done. The dramatic pace yields maximum tension and mystery. Humor offsets epic events. You don’t even pick up a gun and start shooting until a long introductory sequence has played out. This beginning, told with skillful flashbacks and flash forwards to the present day, shows that the developers would be in good company among master filmmakers like the Coen brothers.

The subtitle about deception is a theme that is woven into many threads in this story. As the game begins, a cinematic — or a pre-scripted film-like sequence — volleys us into that theme. Drake stages a ruse to figure out who is pursuing his family ring, which belonged to explorer Sir Francis Drake. Nathan thus stumbles upon his old nemesis Katherine Marlowe, and some kind of secret society that has been pursuing Drake’s secrets for 400 years, and we meet a new character, Charlie Cutter (pictured right), a likable con artist and thief with a thick English accent and a proclivity to switch sides. That sets the game in motion.

As the deceptions multiply, you as Drake have to consider whether you can really trust those close to you, and if you can trust your own mind from deceiving you. I also had the added experience of being sick with the flu for most of the time that I played the game, and I had to deal with my mind playing tricks on me. As Drake struggled through his own journey of delirium in the game, so did I, in a heavily medicated state.

I imagined, for instance, that I played the game for more than 20 hours, when it was more like 15. As I played the game over multiple days and nights, images from Uncharted 3 invaded my dreams and nightmares. Like Drake, I couldn’t get those damn spiders out of my head. Still, I didn’t mind that, as I could do worse than to ingrain my brain with imagery from Uncharted 3.

Visual arrest

As with Uncharted 2, the art style is artificially vibrant. All of the images are fairly realistic. But the colors of the environment are sharper and brighter than you would ordinarily see in real life, as if you were looking at life through the lenses of the best nature photographers. This effect is so well done that you'll spend time just marveling at the detailed objects that are part of every colorful scene. Like when you jump to a wire and a pigeon flutters off of it.

Drake has an uncanny, parkour-like ability to climb walls as if he were a monkey, a skill that we learn in this game goes back to his childhood. The colors, pipes, and bars always give away the parts of the environment that offer a path for Drake to climb his way out of a tough spot. It also allows you to study the environment and pick out clues that stick out like a sore thumb, like yellow bricks or pipes for climbing. In this way, the colors affect the game play.

They can also bring game play to a momentary standstill. When you’re on a city rooftop, you can pause for a moment and see a gorgeous skyline for miles and miles. Uncharted 3 is simply one of the prettiest games you’ll ever see. There are so many beautiful moments in this game, like sand billowing through the desert, light breaking through a green forest in France, gun battles in the middle of a sandstorm, light coming through the stained glass of a French château, and that château going down in flames as Drake and his body Sully try to escape a conflagration. You haven’t seen bright orange until it fills your entire screen as you look down while Drake is dangling by one arm from a staircase, looking down on the maelstrom below.

Some of the most strikingly memorable images are the sparkling eyes of the characters as they stare directly into the camera. That’s where you begin to wonder if these video game characters have their own souls, as they can deliver so much emotion through their eyes. Some of these moments are cinematic, and some occur in live game play. The cool thing is that they blur into one, so you can’t tell if you are playing a game or watching a movie. Naughty Dog creates lots of tiny little animations that lend realism to Drake’s motions, and it usually finds a way to view any scene in the most cinematic way, like when you’re trailing Sully from above and can still see his movements on the street and your own moves on a balcony high above him.

The uncanny graphics were one of the attractions that got my eldest daughter to play the game with me. She would never otherwise play a shooter game, but Uncharted is so much more than that and its many temptations drew her in. Her presence helped me get through it. When I conked out from the flu, she took over. On our first run through, she handled the puzzles that my addled brain couldn’t, while I handled the twitch-based shooting battles that were too much for her. But on the second run, she made me into the passenger.

A sense of humor

Besides the visual senses, the other sense that Uncharted 3 tickles is humor. The game retains that wonderful deadpan sense of humor that Uncharted 2 had. The enemies never joke around. They exist only to be mean and to be shot. But humor is what sets apart our band of thieves, and it distinguishes the game from most other overly serious games in the industry.

Early on, Sully says, “Then we track them back to their hole.” And Drake responds, “You do realize you make everything seem so dirty?” At one point in an abandoned French château, Drake sees an ornate red cabinet and asks, “Is that a popcorn machine?”

The game’s self-referential humor is always there. Drake always has to ask Sully for a light, as they pass through tunnels and caverns. Sully says, “You know, one of these days you’re going to have to start carrying your own matches.”

Drake banters with the other characters like Charlie and Chloe. The previous game dwelled upon some rivalry between Chloe, who looks more like a typical buxom video game heroine from the industry’s traditionally sexist view of women, and Elena (pictured above), who is uniquely normal (non-busty) female character but pretty in a Jennifer Aniston sort of way.

But the banter with Sully (pictured above, left) is always the best. And the story makes it clear early on that Drake’s relationship with Sully is one of the main story paths in the game. The story takes you back in time to a point where they both developed a mutual respect for each other, which continues to be the foundation for their father-son-like relationship. Together, they’re always seeking treasure.

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Steve Jobs’ last words: “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”

Posted: 30 Oct 2011 01:51 PM PDT

steve jobsEven at the very end, Steve Jobs was capable of being amazed.

In a moving eulogy, published in the New York Times today, Jobs’ sister Mona Simpson waxed about her relationship with the former Apple CEO — from the fairy tale call announcing she had a millionaire long-lost brother, to his death-bed.

And his final words were oh so fitting, as Simpson writes:

Before embarking, he'd looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life's partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.

Steve's final words were:


Jobs was never very close to his biological mother, but later in life he formed a strong relationship with Simpson, now also known as a renowned author.

“Even as a feminist, my whole life I'd been waiting for a man to love, who could love me,” she wrote. “For decades, I'd thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.”

Simpson’s eulogy is a moving read — not just because it’s from a sister mourning the loss of her brother, but because she eloquently paints  Jobs’ approach to work, life, and love as something we should all aspire to. “He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere,” Simpson wrote. “In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.”

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