Artificial eggs and smart shopping beacons: Ten Silicon Valley startups that could change your life

Book An Appointment Anywhere

Recently winning the prestigious Launch contest for start-ups in San Francisco, MyTime is a really simple idea: a mobile app that lets you search for any kind of local business, from garage to beauty salon, and book an appointment online, without having to speak to anyone.

The product is already available in 70 US cities, and there are currently over 70 service types that can be booked through MyTime, ranging from auto detailing to haircuts to yoga classes.

Unsurprisingly, it's got some really neat hi-tech features to take avdantage of online reviews.

Every business on MyTime has been vetted and has received high ratings from independent services such as Yelp and CitySearch. Ratings and reviews are prominently displayed on each business profile, and MyTime offers a full refund if a consumer is unhappy with any aspect of a service.

Interestingly, the app is also experimenting with dynamic pricing that may increase or decrease the price of an appointment depending on demand for that particular slot - which, if it can sign up enough retailers, could be a major selling point for for consumers and participating firms.  [MyTime]

Knock Knock: Even your door is getting smart

In a small room at the back of one of San Francisco's many incubators, where start-ups band together to work on their ideas, Stuff was given an exclusive demo of the first production unit of the August lock, which promises to give your front door a mind of its own.

The August smart Lock

The $199 lock is internet controlled, meaning you can open it remotely, letting in the plumber or dog walker wherever you are. You can even give friends access to your home easily by inviting them to your lock via the August app - no more geting extra keys cut when the family descends.

Jason Johnson, the founder of the firm, showed us the lock in action. It's very impressive, and also, surprisingly, a lovely piece of design, with a solid feel you'll believe really will protect you.

However, Jonhnson believes the lock is just the tip of the iceberg for the smart home.

"The exciting thing is when all of the electronics in your home start talking to each other. August is the door entry system, but there are a lot of other systems in your home, and when they start talking to each other you can do some really interesting things," he told us.

So prepare for your home to start spending its days messing about on Facebook and Twitter before too long. [August]

More after the break...

Keep Calm And Click On An App

While many Silicon Valley Startups are about getting things done more effectively, is very different. It aims to calm you down.

The site is the brainchild of Alex Tew, the British entrepreneur who shot to fame with the Million Dollar Homepage. And it is simple enough: it offers guided meditation sessions, giving you the option to choose what you want to achieve, and how long you've got to do it.

It's very simple to use, and there's a web-based version and an app.

It's surprisingly good, as we've been using it regularly - and it's perfect for a spot of lunchtime chilling out after a long morning at the office. []

Stir 'Breathing' Desk

Many firms claim to be able to change how we work, but Stir's wacky Kinetic desk really could change the way you work (or sit, at least).

It builds on Silicon Valley's obsession with odd desks. Walk into Google's office for instance, and you'll see everything from standing desks to treadmills, and even desks adorned exercise bikes (we kid you not - and it looks every bit as stupid as it sounds).

No desk, it appears, is too weird or wonderful. However, these people also being very smart engineers, a lot of thought has gone into the designs, leading us to believe they may have a point (if not any dignity as they pedal away) with the idea that working in different positions can make you more productive.

The Stir desk takes things one step further by converting to a standing or sitting desk at the tap of a touchscreen. 

Recent research has found that switching between sitting and standing can generate an extra fifty minutes of productivity each day. At least that's what Stir CEO and founder JP Labrosse told Stuff when we tried out the desk. Labrosse, by the way, was in the team that created the original iPod at Apple. 

The Kinetic desk is not cheap at £2,500, but has a built-in touchscreen to control and track movement, and can tell users exactly how many calories they burn by standing for part of their working day.

It also has compartments containing power points and USB ports for charging phones, to keep cables hidden.

To move between sitting and standing positions, owners simply double-tap on the screen.

The desk can learn user’s preferences over time and suggest the best seating position, and can be set to 'breathe' - moving up and down gently to alert users that it's time to take a break or change position. It's a weird sensation, but does manage to get you moving about and taking more regular breaks, even if it slightly terrifying the first time your entire desk moves.

"Harvard Business Review called sitting ‘the smoking of our generation'," said Labrosse, and many here agree with him.

However, there are also other advantages to the Stir desk - for instance, we rather liked the idea of a desk that raises itself to become a bar at the end of the day, and Labrosse promised to investigate this as a product for European offices (although we probably won't hold our collective breath). [Stirworks]

If This Then That

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a brilliant indicator of just how technology can change pretty much anything.

It's a simple programming language that lets users create 'recipes', based on cloud services, with over 80 in the IFTTT library today.

For instance, you can set it to automatically email you every time a friend checks into FourSquare.

The possibilities are almost limitless, and in San Franciscans are even using it to automate their homes.

We met Tom Coates, Brit turned SF native who has used IFFFT to create a tweeting house.

Everything from his plants to his fridge can tweet using IFTTT recipes. For instance, Coates is tweeted by his house if the temperature reaches a certain level, advising him he might not need a coat, or even when someone turns on a light at an odd time of the day. 

IFTTT is the nerd app of choice at the moment, and it's well worth a play. While it can do wacky tricks like flashing your lightbulbs when you get an email, it's also great for helping you run your online life - for instance, making sure your photos are synced with the right services. [IFTTT]


@rbiddick Sorry about that - put it down to jet lag. You should find that it's much tidier now.

I enjoyed reading this article, but it's Friday night and clearly you had already started on the beers before you put it online. I've never seen so many spelling and grammatical mistakes in one article in the years I've been reading the magazine and Stuff online!

There's a low-key but amazing piece of technology that you may or may not have heard of, it's not very new and cutting edge, but worth researching. It's called a spellchecker.

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