IPad 2 Unveiled, Altius Rethinks Junior College, Hipmunk Adds Hotel Search, Thrutu Reimagines the Phone Call, & More Bay Area BizTech News

While Apple’s iPad 2 announcement was the marquee event in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley tech scene last week, there was plenty of other news, including the debut of some interesting new Web and mobile applications.

—My biggest project of the week was preparing an in-depth analysis of Altius Education, the venture-backed, San Francisco-based company working to reinvent the community college experience through an online program called Ivy Bridge College. Founder and CEO Paul Freedman told me how the company has managed to raise graduation and transfer rates at Ivy Bridge to about 60 percent, far above the national average of 20 percent for two-year colleges.

—In a bid to make phone calls more fun, a new Silicon Valley startup called Thrutu introduced an app for Android phones that lets users exchange photos, maps, and location data without interrupting a call and without switching apps. Owned by UK-based wireless equipment maker Metaswitch, the startup has plans to introduce iPhone and BlackBerry versions of the app as well.

—Google Ventures and Khosla Ventures announced that they helped put together a $42 million Series B round for WeatherBill, a San Francisco weather insurance company that sends checks to farmers automatically after extreme weather episodes. Allen & Company, Atomico, Code Advisors, First Round Capital, Index Ventures, and NEA also contributed to the round.

—Speaking of Google Ventures, it turns out one of the companies the search giant’s investment wing is incubating at the Googleplex in Mountain View isn’t even a tech startup. It’s a clearinghouse called LawPivot that brings together startups in need of legal advice and Silicon Valley attorneys aiming to build their client lists. Freelancer Elise Craig profiled the company for us.

—San Francisco-based SocialEyes launched at the Demo conference in Palm Desert, CA, last week. Chaired by RealNetworks founder and former CEO Rob Glaser, the company aims to provide social video chat services to Facebook users. Curt Woodward, Xconomy’s new editor in Seattle, had the story.

—Hipmunk, a Y Combinator-backed startup known heretofore for its innovative flight search interface, unveiled a hotel search service aimed at helping prospective hotel guests find hotels that best suit their price, quality, and geographical preferences.

—Curt reported on two Bay Area companies expanding operations in the Seattle area. San Francisco’s Salesforce.com opened an 11,000-square-foot office in Seattle in order to draw on the big pool of software talent in the Puget Sound area, and said it plans to hire aggressively. And Palo Alto, CA-based Facebook, which opened an outpost in Seattle in May 2010, said it has already hired at least 30 people for the space and intends to keep growing.

—Cupertino, CA-based Apple put on a big show to ring in the iPad 2, which hits stores March 11 and is thinner and faster than the original iPad, with front- and rear-facing cameras that allow users to make video calls. I compared the actual specs for the iPad 2 to my January list of features I’d like to see in the new device, and found that Apple had delivered on at least a couple of them.

—In my March 4 column, I shared the specs for an as-yet-unbuilt iPad 2 application that I’d like to see someone create. It’s a consumer-oriented app called “Leonardo’s Notebook” that would allow users to emulate the Renaissance master by collecting and curating multimedia materials in digital journals. If you’re a mobile developer in search of a project, have at it!

—In acquisitions news, parallel computing leader Aster Data Systems of San Carlos, CA, was acquired by Teradata (NYSE: TDC) for a whopping $263 million, as Bruce reported. Also, Santa Clara, CA-based Rovi bought online TV directory Sidereel, and San Francisco rental property management service Rentjuice bought Kahoots. Terms of those deals weren’t disclosed.

—In other deals news, Clickatell raised $12 million, Guardian Analystics raised $11 million, Funium raised $1.2 million, Tibion raised $10.2 million, and MyBuys raised $20 million.

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

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