Tech Roundup / Israeli Smartphone for Blind Sees American Debut

TV chef introduces online guide to leftovers; Israelis found to have saved NIS 3.2 billion in mobile fees; cellphone vendor says cut-rate grocer putting him out of business; smartphones now coming with Xboxes and investment fund secures $160 million to invest in start-ups.

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This was a week marked not by pride in startup exits and the like, but by Gay Pride week, which was not derailed by sordid details belatedly coming to light of a four year old slaying at the LGBT center in Tel Aviv. Back in the technology scene, as usual, the communications industry provided news, featuring much grousing over "unfair" competition. Also, venture capital is always, but always in fashion.

Made in Yokneam, marketed in America – the Ray phone for the blind: The American company Odin Mobile will be marketing Ray, a special phone for the blind developed by an Israeli collaboration together with Qualcomm. The Ray Project aims to make smartphones as useful for the visually impaired as they have been for sighted folk. In essence, the project has produced an interface for Android phones, featuring a touch screen, text to speech functionality and easy navigation. When the user touches anywhere on the screen, that point becomes the center of navigation, whether it be to make a call, send a text or hear an audio book.

Got eggs, chocolate and kale, need recipe: Pauline Shoval, grad of the Israeli reality show Master Chef – something along the lines of the American show Top Chef – had a new concept. There are any number of sites offering recipes, many of which are crowd-sourced. Her innovation is for the user to search for recipes based on the ingredients at hand. Her startup was presented at the Tel Aviv University "International Innovation Day" this week, at which 50 startups strutted their stuff.

Mobile-manic Israelis saved by competition: So, how much did consumers save in 2012 as competition arrived in the mobile industry, courtesy of the combative Communications Ministry? NIS 3.2 billion compared with the year 2011, says the ministry itself, in a comforting message to Israelis who do love their cellphones (so much so that many have more than one). The mobile industry's total revenues fell 10% year over year to NIS 26.2 billion, from NIS 29.4 billion. Most of the economy was on mobile communications, but prices also fell for Internet service and long-distance calls, the ministry said.

Rami Levy, scourge of fowl and mobile phone marketers? A wee smartphone vendor with two outlets in the Afula area (look at a map) is complaining that chicken-for-a-shekel supermarket mogul Rami Levy is ruining his business. Since Levy started selling phones, his sales have plunged 70%, complains Israel Telecom's Avi Turjman. If Levy's special deals kill off small vendors like himself, argues Turjman, ultimately competition will vanish and phone prices will rise.

In good company: Meanwhile, Rami Levy isn't alone in reeling in customers with cute prices. Pelephone, a subsidiary of the former national phone company Bezeq, is offering a special deal: Buy a smartphone with the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 operating system and get a free Xbox360 games console, also made by Microsoft. Participating phone models include the Nokia Lumia 820, the Samsung S Ativ and more. The cost: NIS 3,070 in six installments. The console, by the bye, costs NIS 1,000. If you scorn the participating phones and prefer a different one, you can still get the Xbox at a discount, for NIS 547, says Pelephone.

Vintage raises fresh money: Vintage Investment Partners this week announced closing for $161 million in pledges for its Vintage VI fund. Originally, the company planned to raise $150 million for its secondary fund, which will buy shares in startups from other venture capital funds in Israel and Europe. Last year, Vintage raised $80 million for Vintage Provide, which has made four investments.

Ray Charles.Credit: AP

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