Google Makes Smartphones Smarter, Continues Acquisition Binge, & More Bay Area BizTech News

Xconomy San Francisco embarked on 2011 last week with a series of stories going behind the scenes with three key researchers at Google. To wit:

—In recent speeches, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has called the modern smartphone a “supercomputer in your pocket” and shared his vision of an “age of augmented humanity” when mobile devices will make it impossible to get lost, lonely, or bored. In a three-part article, I took a look at the actual technologies behind Schmidt’s vision—areas of cutting-edge computer science where Google is exploiting its massive distributed-computing infrastructure, its Web-scale data trove, and statistical, data-driven machine learning models to make mobile devices far more powerful. Part 1 on speech recognition looked at the science behind the Voice Search feature of Google’s mobile apps. Part 2 on machine translation examined how Google is eliminating the language barrier on the Web and building tools that emulate Star Trek’s Universal Translator. And Part 3 on computer vision told the story behind Google Goggles, the company’s visual search tool for Android phones and iPhones, which can identify landmarks, paintings, book covers, and many other categories of objects.

—In other news,, the San Francisco-based provider of cloud-based customer relationship management software, bought Lowell, MA-based Web conferencing startup Dimdim for $31 million.

—My Friday column included a list of six features Apple should include in the iPad 2 beyond the ones everybody talks about, such as front- and rear-facing cameras.

—The pace of “liquidity events” such as IPOs and acquisitions quickened somewhat for venture-backed companies in the fourth quarter of 2010, as Bruce reported. But Chinese companies going public on U.S. exchanges represented many of the quarter’s IPOs.

—Wireless chipmaker Atheros Communications of San Jose, CA, was acquired by San Diego’s Qualcomm for $3.1 billion, as Bruce also reported.

—In other acquisitions news, Skype bought Qik and Zynga bought Flock. (Both startups are based in Redwood City, CA.)

—In funding news, TapJoy raised $21 million, SoloPower raised $52 million, Assistly raised $3 million, and Facebook set out to raise an additional $500 million with help from Goldman Sachs.

—Finally, we had an unusually large number of guest essays to publish last week. Bill Aulet, for example, related his top 10 observations from the MIT Sloan School’s annual “Tech Trek” to Silicon Valley. Jonathan Michaeli took a look at companies using rich media technology to build interactive childrens’ books for the iPad, including San Francisco-based Callaway Digital Arts. And Startup guru Steve Blank wrote about Chile’s efforts to become the Silicon Valley of South America.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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