In case you haven't read the book, Start-Up Nation, Israel — a tiny sliver of a country with just 7.5 million people — is only second in the world, behind the U.S., in both the number of start-up companies (more than 3,000) and in venture capital funding.
On a recent cross-country trip across the country — where I visited more than 20 high-tech companies in five days — I got chance to play with a number of innovative products and services currently in development.
Here's a brief look at five of them.
While walking back to their parked car, the driver of the vehicle taps the Share button in the app to say they're leaving the spot, and when — such as in 2, 5 or 10 minutes — and drivers in the vicinity who've tapped the Find button will see there's a space about to be available, and where. The first one to accept the offer closes it off for everyone else. They'll see the spot on a map and at that time can chat with the person leaving inside the app — via text or voice (VoIP) — if both parties are up for it.
When you first set up the app, you're asked to choose what your car looks like, such as a blue Mercedes, and the size of the car (very small to very large, etc.) so an extended Escalade won't be notified if a Mini is leaving a tight spot.
There's an incentive for sharing your parking spot when you're done with it: Parko credits. That is, the app is free to download and has a few Parko credits to start, but you need to have Parko coins to use the service.
Just like other crowdsourcing apps like Waze (also developed in Israel), Parko automatically sends location and speed information. But the company wasn't forthright with what wireless technology is used to provide this information — not GPS, they said, as it could drain the battery, therefore it's probably through cellular data.
Likely U.S. cities Parko will like debut in early 2013: New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.
More on Parko:
Developed in Jerusalem by a company of the same name, uMoove is a technology that tracks the movement of your eyes and head — via the front-facing camera of a smartphone or tablet — in order to interact with content on the device's screen.
For example, a uMoove-powered iPad could let you scroll up and down a Yahoo! article, perhaps while holding a subway pole with one hand and the tablet in the other. Or control a game on an Android phone instead of using your fingers, such as aiming by looking at targets and blinking a couple of times to fire. If you look away from the smartphone or tablet, the app or game is automatically paused.
Similar to Kinect for Xbox 360 — which was also developed in Israel, by a company called PrimeSense — the front-facing camera lets you interact naturally and intuitively with content, which can enrich the experience, says uMoove, and aid those with physical challenges. In fact, one of the founders had a relative with ALS and while there were machines that could help someone interact with digital content — such as sending an email or browsing the web — they cost $50,000 and up and take a long time to train, says uMoove.
uMoove says the technology can be paired with voice commands, as well, just like Kinect. But the eye and head tracking is meant to compliment a touch interface and not replace it for most users.
The camera uses very little CPU power, between 2 to 5 percent, and is also fairly good on the battery, at 7 to 12 percent, says uMoove. But because this app runs in the background, it's recommended to be turned off if not needed.
While promising, there's no word yet on when uMoove will be available.
More on uMoove:
Instead of reading this article, imagine you could watch a video clip that summarizes it.
This is the premise behind Wibbitz, a free text-to-video platform that makes a 90-second video with material from a website.
Simply visit Wibbitz.com, paste a URL into the address window and within a couple of seconds you'll begin to see photos, videos and text, and hear audio — as if the article was a story on your favorite news network. It's amazing how fast it can create a multimedia experience out of the text from the website.
If you paste a blog or website's main page, you'll get a summary of the top stories — that is, headlines read like news bulletins. While I was shown what a specific article or blog post looks like, there is no demo for this yet on Wibbitz.com to try out.
Currently in beta, the developers of this platform explain they wanted to create a "lean back" experience instead of a "lean forward" one — especially for those who don't have a lot of time on their hands. When you hear a summary of an article or blog post that sounds interesting, you can click to review the full thing.
When the video is created, you can share the video made via link or embed code, Facebook, Twitter or Google +.
Wibbitz didn't talk much about its business model but said it was in talks with broadcasters, smartphone device makers and various companies to create exclusive tools and/or content for them.
More on Wibbitz:
Consider it a social network, of sorts, created to simplify get-togethers for the young 'uns — including a calendar, contact names and numbers for other parents and caregivers, lists of child allergies and a map that shows you who's around you.
The first step is to sign up for the free service with an email address, or you can log in with your Facebook ID. Then, add each of your children to your account, including their name, gender, birthdate, allergies, and other optional info, such as nanny name and number, grade, school, teacher and more. You can also add a photo of yourself and one for each of your children.
Once this completed, invite other parents to use Apparent, which is critical to get the most out of the app. You're prompted to invite people by importing names from your Contacts, but oddly you cannot type in an email address of someone not already in your Contacts.
Using Apparent to book a play-date is as easy as creating one by giving it a name (e.g. "Movies with Maya" or "Play-date with Jacob"), where the play-date will take place (address), the start and end time, if it's a drop-off or not and any other details you might want to add.
Once it's created, tap the Invite Kids tab and select the kids' names invited to the play-date. Those who use Apparent will get the notification, which they can accept or decline, plus they can ask questions, too. The event is automatically populated in the integrated calendar for all parties and synched between all parents whose kids are invited. That's the gist of it.
This Jerusalem-based app also lets you capture and share photos of kids while on play-dates so parents (of the kids there) can see them. Parents must consent to this feature.
If you're not sure what to do with your kids, tap the Around Me tab to bring up a Google Maps screen that shows your location — via your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch's location via GPS, cellular or Wi-Fi technology — and you can see if any of your kids' friends are nearby.
With everyone's consent, the app also lets you create and manage class contact lists to avoid the endless search for parents in your kid's class.
Apparent is an interesting idea to simplifying play-dates.
Finally, the last start-up is called Interlude, co-founded by an Israeli pop star, Yoni Bloch.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, the Tel Aviv-based company fuses entertainment with technology to create interactive videos.
Imagine you're watching a music video on YouTube but instead of watching one linear story, you get to choose what happens next via small pop-up options — and the song doesn't stop for you to make the decision. As long as you select an option within a few seconds, the video smoothly continues on as if it were supposed to be that way. This is the idea behind Interlude's videos — and yes, music videos like the ones Yoni Bloch stars in have these interactive elements.
In one example of a video shown at Interlude's offices, the music video with branching storylines shows a camera following people at a house party — and you get to choose who to follow. You can choose a girl or a boy, a workaholic or alcoholic, black or white outfit and what to do in the middle in the video during the guitar solo: air guitar, robot, jump around or weird dance moves. If you don't choose anything at all, the Interlude plug-in will select an option for you.
Once the video is completed you can share your particular experience with friends via email or social media. And maybe you'll watch it again and make different choices.
Interlude says there's 90 percent engagement — that is, 9 out of 10 people will watch the video until the end to see what happens — which is much higher than linear, non-interactive music videos, says Interlude. Some of their studios found 250 percent retention because people watch it 2 to 3 times. This is obvious great for musicians and advertisers, and will also tell you what people want to see more (e.g. an acoustic or electric solo).
Interlude has used its technology for interactive advertisements -- Madewell fashion, Intel processors, Old Navy and Big Brother Israel — as well as movie trailers and even an interactive discussion with Israeli President Simon Peres, where you choose what he should discuss views on; there are more than 100 different conversation trees you can select.
Interlude's "choose-your-own-adventure"-like approach was very cool, and you can expect many more music videos and other online content to feature this technology in the coming months and years.