Fall Preview: New York tech scene girds up

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The home team: Boxee enters the set-top battlefield. ()
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New York's tech scene is distinct. Perhaps not always first in innovation—a few zip codes in California and Massachusetts get that distinction most of the time—but the city has grown a reputation for breeding some of the most exciting, creative consumer developments online.

This fall, here are three New York tech trends to watch out for.

WEB-TO-TV WARS Google, Apple and New York’s own (very, very) dark horse Boxee are about to go to battle in your living room. As the New York Times, and just about every tech blog have noted, a relatively small group of early adopters are championing a revolt against the cable industry. Screw Time Warner, they say. Cut the cord, burn the bill, and watch TV shows and movies in a tangle of wires, plugs and laptops connected to screens. Even if you’re not ready to take the plunge, and watch your favorite stories solely on an amalgam of Netflix Instant, Hulu and iTunes, you’ll want to pay close attention to this war to control your TV.

Boxee has been brewing their free, downloadable software that gathers TV shows, movies and music from across the Web into a simple, elegant interface since 2008. In November, Boxee will be reaching beyond their hardcore consumer base by releasing their set-top box, a kind of TiVO console on steroids. It will cost $199 and the software will already by downloaded. An iPhone app with a remote control interface is also available.

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Meanwhile, last week, Apple unveiled a $99 Apple TV set-top box. The new model is about one fourth the size of the original and features iTunes integration, so users can buy or rent TV shows and movies, and easy access to Netflix, YouTube and Flickr applications. The slick box, that fits in your palm, is perfect gadget bait for Apple disciples. But another, more familiar brand to Middle America might beat Steve Job's bet in web-to-tv sales among the average couch surfers.

Yesterday, at a conference in Berlin, Google lobbed his web-to-TV counterpunch—a live demonstration of Google TV, a new platform that integrates Web content and traditional cable content in one interface. Google TV users will approach their television experience the same way most people begin their Web experience: with the Google search bar. They can search for a specific show or movie and the software will queue up what they are looking for, and they can play with Google Android applications (Netflix, Pandora, Last.fm) to find what they need. Sony will launch Web TV with Google this fall, and the manufacturer plans to include Google TV in their new television models by 2011. Samsung, another big-time TV manufacturer, is also considering also adding the software into its new models.

Google has the secret weapon here: those top TV manufacturing brands are key to this Web-to-TV trend into the mainstream. Right now, most Americans are too lazy to deal with a mass of cords and jacks and extra set-top boxes to hook up their computer to their TV. But if it's already built into the sets, we'll see the number of people watching YouTube videos on their TV screen explode during the next decade. This fall, it begins.

BIG TECH NAMES HUNKER DOWN IN THE CITY Major tech companies’ New York satellite offices, the East Coast outposts to the motherships in Silicon Valley, dwell under the radar. Facebook and Google’s New York offices serve as homes for less sexy initiatives—stuffed mostly with employees charged with wooing advertisers on Madison Avenue, rather than engineering the future of the Internet or TV or music. But new hires at Facebook and Google offices indicate that the big guys are taking advantage of the city on another level.

Facebook recently posted a call for applicants for non-sales positions in New York, specifically for media managers. They are looking for two people who will “be called upon to help both large, incumbent media companies as well as venture-backed media start-ups develop innovative social experiences building on Facebook Platform.” Facebook is perhaps paying attention to Tumblr after a crush of mainstream media companies jumped on the platform to “engage” users (and drive traffic back to their sites). We’ll have to see if these media-focused Facebook campaigns bring more interesting projects besides fan pages with links to articles.

As for Google, the search engine powerhouse is welcoming a White House star to start a new think tank at their New York office in Chelsea. Jared Cohen, the 29-year-old State Department policy planning staffer who advises on how to use social media to support diplomatic initiatives, garnered attention and controversy during his four years in the office, including derailing a Twitter maintenance shutdown during the Iran election protests last summer, and sending tech evangelists and C.E.O.s to Iraq and help provide feedback on rebuilding the country.

In mid-October, Cohen will a new job as director of Google Ideas, a new division based in New York. Cohen told Foreign Policy magazine that the organization may focus on "everything from the sort of hard challenges like counterterrorism, counterradicalization, and nonproliferation, to some of the ones people might expect it to focus on, like development and citizen empowerment."

We're sure he has his eye on a few city brains to help him with this new think tank. 

Now that New York’s big tech companies are opening their doors to new hires, we expect to see plenty more of those “New York tech scene has arrived!” stories in the media, even though the community has been humming along for years now.

MOBILE PAYMENT PLATFORMS: SO HOT RIGHT NOW We've had our eye on mobile payment platforms for a couple of years now. These downloadable apps allow users to make payments for pretty much anything—a taco from a taco truck, a sandwich at a deli, a couch from a yard sale, a magazine from a newsstand (cough)—on the go. It's like PayPal on your phone. Now that Foursquare is getting some traction (although they will have to worry about Facebook Places taking their shine, as Leon Neyfakh points out in this week's Observer), and perhaps people are slightly more willing to share their location, why not download something that lets them buy things while they're hanging out in their favorite spots—without dealing with those pesky ATM fees. 

With Square, the start-up from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, users can download an application onto their phone, and attach a small device to their microphone jack, pay for things on the go. Electronic receipts keep track of what they are spending and where they are spending it. Convenient.

Venmo, another mobile payment application, was co-founded by Andrew Kortina, a programmer at URL shortener and statistics service Bit.ly, and Iqram Magdon-Ismail, one of the original engineers at TicketLeap, an online ticketing service. Venmo, which allows users to "square up" bills, payments and IOU's with each other on the platform, has been experimenting with a small pool of users since its launch earlier this year. Soon they will be revealing new updates and a beta version of their iPhone app and we're looking forward to what they are working on. Here's to going Dutch in 2011!