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Automated homes are nothing new. For decades, people have toiled over connecting household object to intranets and servers in a desperate attempt to simplify lives. But the work rarely justified the results. Then came the so-called Internet of Things. Nest, Sonos, Hue, Yale Locks; all these products eliminated the need for a Ph.D in geekery. Just remove the item from the swanky packaging, follow the instructions and install the smartphone app and voila, a smart device.
Enter Revolv. This $299 device connects all these smart devices, effectively making a unified smart home. This might be the quintessential first world problem, but as smart devices grow in popularity, there will increase a need for a device to make everything run together. And the Revolv does just that. It’s the missing link in today’s Internet of Things.
In my house, I have several smart devices: A Nest Thermostat, WeMo outlets and a Kwikset deadbolt. All these items previously operated independently of each other. They didn’t know they existed within the same house. The Nest couldn’t talk to the Kwikset lock. The Kwikset couldn’t tell the Nest to fire up the furnace when the front door is unlocked.
The complication can get more troublesome in houses with Sonos systems, Philips Hue lights, and Insteon and GE smart systems. All of these items require a separate app to control their functions. The Revolv not only consolidates control to a central app, but allows for all sorts of macros and pre-programmed functions.
The smart actions allows owners to group logical functions together. Using location sensing, when the owner is, say, 100 yards away from home, the Revolv can lock your front door, turn down the heat, and turn on a Sonos system to give the dog some background music. Or, alternatively, when the owner is within 100 yards of his home, the Revolv can unlock the front door, turn up the heat and kick on the Sonos. Combined with Belkin WeMo remote outlets and Philip Hue lights, the possibilities are nearly endless. The Revolv could turn on a candle warmer and foot bath, dim the lights and tune into your Fleet Foxes station for a relaxing evening at home.
Setup was surprisingly trivial. Plug the Revolv into power, install the app, and follow the on-screen instructions. Some devices automatically connect to the Revolv. Others require manual syncing. I had to hit a couple small buttons on the backside of my Kiwkset lock.
- Play Video Crunchies Sizzle Reel 2:16
- Play Video Express Adeo Ressi of The Founder Institute
- Play Video TС Moscow Express The Last but Not FM
The device is not without flaws. The Revolv’s current logic doesn’t recognize multiple smartphones. If I happen to leave the geofenced areas, the Revolv doesn’t know that my wife happens to still be in the house and doesn’t want the temperature to drop to 62 degrees. But those are trivial annoyances in an otherwise fantastic device.
If you own multiple smart devices that you control through a smartphone, buy the Revolv. Its novelty alone makes it worth the cost of admission. Upon installation, a lightbulb will go off over your head as you realize this was the device missing from your home. It combines all your devices into universe. It’s akin to the formation of The Avengers. Separate, all your devices are like superheros that can stand their own. Together they can take on thousands of aliens dumping out of a wormhole in the sky.
Throw the mic in the air like you just don’t care.
Catchbox is a new throwable microphone designed to liven up audience participation, and in turn reduce the faffing around that seems to occur whenever a conference turns to questions from the audience.
The brightly coloured padded cube houses a wireless microphone that doesn’t mind being tossed across a room or passed from person-to-person crowd surfing-style. In fact, it’s actively encouraged. That’s because, along with being able to sustain being dropped, the device has been engineered to automatically mute the sound when flying through the air or if it falls. The tech is patent-pending, apparently.
Although various smartphone apps and cloud-based tools have attempted to lower the barriers of audience participation at live events by enabling the audience to follow along on their own devices or take part in realtime polls, Catchbox’s makers reckon the humble microphone has been neglected.
“There are a number of products that are aimed towards increasing crowd engagement,” notes Mikelis Studers, CTO of Catchbox, citing event apps, voting systems and, of course, conventional wireless microphones. But these, he argues, can be pricey and complex to set up and deploy, or often require the audience to be educated first and/or download an app.
In contrast, Catchbox’s proposition couldn’t be any simpler. “Audiences understand the product immediately: it’s a throwable microphone,” he says.
The Finland-based hardware startup isn’t just targeting events with large audiences, such as tech conferences. Other markets include education, company meetings, and consultants (here I’m envisaging those team-building experts with their endless supply of counterintuitively awkward ice-breakers, or motivational speaker types).
“There is a high expected value from every group session in those fields so we want to provide a tool that would make each session more efficient,” says Studers. “[The] internet has created new ways for sharing. We want to enhance sharing of ideas when people physically come together”.
The Catchbox is available for pre-order today, priced at $549/€395, which includes a separate receiver that can be plugged into various sound systems including stereos, computers and professional sound equipment. It’s not the only product planned by Catchbox, either. Studers tells me that in future the company will expand in the area of “crowd engagement devices” and explore other revenue models.
Promo video below.
Today, Viber is launching a new feature called Viber Out to its entire user base.
See, Viber Out lets Viber users make calls to people who don’t have the Viber app, effectively mimicking a Skype Out feature by charging a low per-minute rate to mobile or landline numbers.
According to Viber, the prices are generally lower than Skype.
About a month ago, Viber prematurely launched Viber Out to help Typhoon Haiyan victims in the Philippines connect with their loved ones.
To use Viber Out, just visit the “More” tab, and choose Viber Out. From there, you’ll be able to purchase Viber Out credit. No update is necessary to access the new feature.
Viber Out is available across iOS, Android and Desktop, with a Windows Phone version coming soon.
Additionally, Viber is including even more stickers to the revenue-generating Sticker Market, launched about a month ago.
As it stands now, Viber stickers and Viber Out represent the entirety of Viber’s business model, but CEO Talmon Marco promises more sources of revenue in the future.
“Profitability is certainly something on our roadmap, but we currently plan to invest more in the business,” said Marco.
Marketing startup Shift is announcing that it has raised $6 million in new funding.
The round was led by European firm DN Capital, with DN managing partner Nenad Marovac joining Shift’s board of directors. Shift CEO James Borow said this funding is specifically aimed at fueling the company’s growth in Europe.
The company already has one office in London and we can expect to see more open in the future, he said, adding that Shift is also working to localize its product for various European markets.
The company started out as a social ad business called GraphEffect. However, it has expanded its vision by building an “open marketing cloud” that allows marketers to join different teams and install different apps (GraphEffect’s social ad-buying tools are available as one of those apps). The company says its customers include American Express. Sony, AT&T, and Red Bull.
Borow told me that he sees “a battle of the marketing clouds” shaping up in Europe, with the opportunity for Shift to be the “open and collaborative alternative” to a company like Salesforce.com.
“Making sure that we had an experienced team to help expand in Europe is a big priority,” he said.
“We think we’re in a really strong position, and having additional capital to deploy in this growth is the next step in the plan.”
Techstars Seattle Startup Shippable Raises $2.05M For Continuous Integration Platform Built On Docker
Shippable, a Techstars Seattle startup, has raised $2.05 million in seed funding for its continuous integration service that is built using Docker, the popular Linux container used for its lightweight portability. The syndicated round was led by Chris DeVore of Founders Co-op, along with Divergent Ventures, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Madrona Venture Group and several angel investors.
The service is designed to help developers ship code faster by automating the workflow that software undergoes from the time it is developed to the time it is deployed. Shippable was originally built using its own Linux container. But their original process became complex, especially with the heterogeneous nature in which apps are developed. Docker open sourced the management aspects of LXC containers, making the process for Shippable more unified with varied application environments.
“What I needed 15 developers and over a year to create was handed to me for free, “said Co-Founder and CEO Avinash Cavale about the Docker integration.
Docker, an open-source project led by the company of the same name, makes it easier by automating the workflow from the ground up. Traditionally, continuous integration platforms have depended on using virtual machines to manage the workloads. Cavale said in an email interview that Shippable’s speed and comparable complexity to other services is what makes it a disruptor in the space.
We are the only ones who provide persistent state. i.e. every time a build runs you do not lose the prior state (unless required). Rest of the competition is VM based they reset the environment due to cost structure. That means every build the initial setup of gems, packages and services including git clone that has to be done again. a typical builds runs for 20 minutes, over 12 minutes are just pre-req installs which happens only once on our platform.
The Docker difference is its application-centric architecture as described on StackOverflow:
Docker is optimized for the deployment of applications, as opposed to machines. This is reflected in its API, user interface, design philosophy and documentation. By contrast, the lxc helper scripts focus on containers as lightweight machines – basically servers that boot faster and need less ram. We think there’s more to containers than just that.
Speed is the differentiator in almost any market that is getting disrupted by online services. In turn, online providers need faster ways to serve their customers. For example, a physical retailer will have to increasingly find new ways to minimize the costs that come with having a brick and mortar business. That means changing to a data-driven business that uses code as the base for its innovation.
In that shift to a more code-oriented business, companies have to pay attention to the ways they manage their overall application lifecycle management (ALM) processes. These processes have to reflect the company’s focus on providing customer experiences that are better than what the competition offers.
Virtual machines were ideal for physical servers during the age of IT. They served as the foundation for ALM solutions from companies like HP and IBM. Today, there is a new generation of providers that still use virtual machines as the core of their technology.
Docker, though, changes the game, Cavale said. A VM image on AWS is on average 1.5GB. It can only be restored within the availability zone where it has been deployed. He said to move the VM requires the image to be remade. ”We believe hypervisors will get containerized and as a result the new ALM process and platforms are needed,” Cavale said. “Shippable is starting with continuous integration which is a bridge between the old world and the new world that we see. We will own the dev mind share due to sheer speed and simplicity and evolve the new paradigm of software development.”
The cloud services we know of today were built on client/server systems. These cloud services use hypervisors as the way to virtualize workloads. Most continuous integration platforms were built on VMs, making them useful but comparatively slower to load due to the sheer weight of the VM. Competitors to Shippable include providers like CircleCi, CloudBees, Perforce and Atlassian.
Docker does have different security requirements which will be a hindrance for Shippable. Security can be integrated but it does require knowledge of the Linux container environment. That’s in comparison to virtualization, which as written in InfoQ, has an “extra layer of isolation that the hypervisor brings.”
(Feature image courtesy of Mike Baird on Flickr via Creative Commons)
Apple has received a patent for curved touchscreens and displays, according to AppleInsider, which describes a system for making curved touch sensitive glass. The method patented by Apple is designed to create a curved screen surface that remains touch sensitive without deforming or distorting the image the display would produce, and would be able to be used in displays, touch-sensitive mice (like the current Magic Mouse) touch pads and other devices.
Apple’s tech differs from some existing curved glass techniques because often the substrate that adds touch sensitivity to a device is flat, regardless of whether the glass panel that covers it is curved. As a result, touch sensitivity suffers, since sometimes a person’s finger is actually further away from the touch panel than it might appear, or than in a traditional, non-curved device.
The patent includes a method for a screen with variations in the curvature of the surface, too. Specifically, it lays out what looks like a series of bubbles, which you could see used as a means for creating a raised pattern over a software keyboard, for instance. This could be handy in creating touch-sensitive button interfaces on things like displays for controlling things like brightness and volume, or for adding more obvious input methods to something like a touch mouse without swaying from the all-touch design.
Apple hasn’t made any overt moves to create curved glass mobile devices like some of its competitors including LG and Samsung, but it is building up some buzz around screens that don’t conform to normal designs. A Bloomberg report from November even went so far as to suggest the company was working on a curved glass iPhone for release in late 2014, and that it was also building better touch input for future devices. A patent for better touchscreen designs for curved glass devices definitely lines up with those reports.
Curved glass may be a fad, but it’s not yet clear what the merits of such a tech will be in terms of scratching a consumer itch. Still, it’s obviously an area worth watching, given that everyone and their brother seems to be putting at least R&D spend into making those next-gen displays more than just flat.
Curved iPhone render courtesy Ciccarese Design.
Mobile rewards and advertising startup PaeDae is announcing that it has raised $11.6 million in new funding.
The round is a mix of debt and equity, said founder and CEO Rob Emrich, though he declined to specify how much was debt and how much equity. The company says there are more than 20 investors, including Ed Ojdana, 3G Capital, Grind Games, and Silicon Valley Bank.
“One of the reasons that we decided to go with this approach is that our sales are very strong, our revenue is very strong, we’ve fielded multiple acquisition offers,” Emrich said. “We wanted to preserve our opportunities and whatever options were available to us. Debt allowed us to do that in a way that equity couldn’t.”
(In other words, Emrich wanted to be able to raise a large round but still have the option of getting acquired early on.)
PaeDae launched its rewards network last year, allowing publishers to give game players physical and virtual rewards for reaching certain milestones, and for brands to present their ads as part of the rewards. (Competitors in this market include Kiip.)
Emrich told me that PaeDae is differentiated, in part, because it offers a white label solution, allowing publishers and advertisers to customize the branding, and also because of its targeting: “We might forego 99 percent or more of our network in favor of the 1 percent that we predict are a perfect fit.”
The company says it has already run campaigns from advertisers including 7-Eleven, Hershey’s, State Farm, and Time Warner Cable.
According to Emrich, PaeDae is currently expanding to an area he calls “user-centric advertising,” which brings the attributes that make mobile rewards effective to other kinds of mobile advertising. Those attributes, he said, are targeting, omnipresence (“When a user decides to interact with our ads we want to make sure we can continue that relationship beyond that one momentary offering.”), and contextuality.
Dailymotion Buys SublimeVideo Developer Jilion To Build Out Video Producing And Customizing Capabilities
With a Yahoo purchase very much off the cards, France’s Dailymotion is making an acquisition of its own: it is buying Jilion, the developer behind the SublimeVideo platform for distributing web videos with customized features. It looks like this is the acquisition that Dailymotion, known as the YouTube of Europe, has been teasing for a few months now.
Dailymotion today has around 120 million unique monthly visitors and 2.5 billion video views each month; comScore places it as the 35th most visited website in the world — quite a ways from its leviathan competitor YouTube. So it’s no surprise that France Telecom-owned Dailymotion — which earlier got a $40 million injection of cash after its failed sale to Yahoo — is looking to other routes to building its business.
It’s not revealing the financial terms of the acquisition, but it is disclosing some of the strategy behind how it will use it. Dailymotion says it will offer SublimeVideo customisation technology to the brands, media companies and ordinary consumers who create web-based video content.
The acquisition is interesting for a couple of reasons.
For starters, it gives Dailymotion a way of adding more paid, B2B style services into its platform. That will help it grow its revenues serving professional video makers — that is, those who are either paid to make videos, or monetise them otherwise.
SublimeVideo has built out its business based on a freemium model, with prices ranging from no charge for unlimited page views, HD switching, responsive layouts and so on; through to removing the Sublime video and logo ($9.90/month); social sharing options ($6.90/month); adding your own logo ($19.90/month); and VIP e-mail support ($99.90/month). We’ve reached out to Dailymotion to see if they can confirm whether this pricing will change.
The other area where this spells opportunity is potentially in the fact that Dailymotion is buying into a service that can be used on platforms besides its own. SublimeVideo got its beginnings as a service that could work with videos hosted in sites like YouTube — its customization service, in fact, was partly created out of the idea that many people hosting vidoes there may want a more unique look to the content when it appeared on their own site. It’s unclear whether this is how Dailymotion will ultimately use SublimeVideo itself, although this certainly is how existing customers, which include Sony Europe, Ralph Lauren, Ford, Qualcomm, Activision, NPR, Twit.tv, SchoolTube, Jingit, use it today.
“The player is at the heart of our video distribution platform – it is key for us to offer the best experience on the market, and Jilion with its SublimeVideo engine is by far the best solution out there.” said Cedric Tournay, CEO of Dailymotion in a statement. “The Jilion team will further help us connect users, content producers and advertisers on an unprecedented viewing experience on desktop, mobile, tablets and TV.”
This will be a talent and tech acquisition, Dailymotion says. “Joining forces with Dailymotion is a tremendous opportunity for our team, and we could not be more excited about sharing our technology with such a high-profile company,” said Zeno Crivelli and Mehdi Jacques Aminian, co-founders of Jilion. “Over 200 million unique users will soon be able to enjoy SublimeVideo!”
Evernote‘s CEO Phil Libin today disclosed some of the company’s latest revenue numbers at LeWeb in Paris. While it took Evernote about 16 months to get to the first $1 million in sales through its freemium model, he said, Evernote Business took five months and Evernote Market, which launched this September, took just a single month.
Right after the launch of the Market, which offers users everything from post-it notes to Evernote-branded socks and backpacks, the company started having a hard time keeping many items in stock, Libin said. To him, the market isn’t just a merchandising business, however, it’s a mainline product. The bestsellers in the store are backpacks, the Scansnap Evernote Scanner and the Jot Script Stylus. Together, they make up about 30% of Evernote Market sales and the marketplace itself is now responsible for 30% of Evernote’s monthly sales.
Before it launched, premium accounted for 89% and Evernote Business for 11% of its sales. Now they account for 61% and 9% of sales.
The idea here, he said, is that these different businesses are mutually reenforcing. Indeed, 11% of Market users are not actually Evernote users yet. Users simply refer their friends to the market so they, too, can buy an Evernote backpack. It’s also worth noting that 51% of Market sales for Evernote come from its free users (which make up the vast majority of its users). While the company’s investors often told Libin that having lots of users who used the free service for users without upgrading to the paid version, he believes that the Market now validates this model because these free users are now becoming some the company’s most valuable customers.
As for the regular talk about Evernote going public, Libin noted that he isn’t rushing towards this. He thinks it will be a few years before the company will IPO, but he believes that if people trust it to store all this information, they should also be able to own a piece of it, too.
Wilson stressed that he doesn’t so much look at technologies but at the trends that are influencing society in general. This way, he can build a framework that helps him to “think about what are the big opportunities that will present themselves.”
The first macro trend, Wilson said, is the transition from slow bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks. In his view, the old top-down hierarchies worked, but in today’s post-industrial world, they are just not efficient enough.
The first place we saw this trend was media, but we are now also seeing it in other places, too, with Airbnb and hotels, for example, and in creative industries thanks to Kickstarter or learning through Codecademy and Duolingo.
The second trend, according to Wilson, is unbundling. Until now, it was more efficient to package a bunch of services or product up in bundles and deliver them together. Now, however, buying a la carte and getting the best possible service is how we expect to do business. Instead of getting our business news and world news from a single newspaper, for example, we can now go online and just get the best news in a specific category.
Other industries that are now ripe for disruption because of this, he said, are banking, including in lending and asset management, education, where online classes are disrupting the traditional models, and research, where technology makes collaboration much more efficient. Entertainment, too, he believes is already going through this stage of disruption thanks to Hulu, Netflix and similar services.
The last trend – and the most obvious, he believes – is that we are all now nodes on the network thanks to the smartphones we all carry around with us. Now that we are nodes on the network, we can all reach each other all the time with very little effort. This enables tools like Uber, but also payment and dating apps (Wilson used the example of Tinder here).
Every investment Wilson makes, gets evaluated based on these criteria right now. Wilson himself, of course, is known for making very few investments per year (one or two) and his firm, Union Square Ventures, makes about ten. To make these pay off, he has to be smart about finding these mega trends and the companies that fit into them.
Wilson was also very bullish on Bitcoin. To him, it is a layer of the Internet infrastructure – and a protocol – that entrepreneurs will use to build tremendous amounts of new technologies and services on top of in the coming years. To him, the fact that Bitcoin isn’t controlled by banks or governments makes it a very “investible” trend.
Health care, too, is something he is clearly interested in investing in. All the three megatrends he is focusing on, he believes, are coming together in health care right now. One of Union Square’s latest investments, Human DX, for example, is tackling collaboration in health care by applying many of these trends.
Wilson also thinks fixing data leakage is something worth investing in. When the industrial revolution came along, he said, we started polluting, but we didn’t do anything about it for a century. In the information revolution, this pollution is data. It’s the data that eventually leaks out that lets governments and companies like Google spy on us.
While we allowed Google and others to become our identity providers, “what essentially we are doing is giving them access to everything we are doing.” Wilson believes that there will soon be a Bitcoin-like protocol that will emerge that allows us to do the same thing, but which will give us full control over identity, privacy and data.
Hey kids, rock ‘n’ roll. Soundwave, the Mark Cuban-backed music discovery app that tracks the listening habits of you, your friends and other users you follow, has added support for YouTube. The iOS and Android app already let you track what you’re listening to on your phone’s native music player, as well as a plethora of streaming services, such as Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, 8tracks, and Google Music. However, with today’s update, Soundwave users can now link the app to their YouTube account so that they can begin tracking what they’ve listened to on the music service of choice for freetards.
Yes, I said music service. That’s because, by some estimates, the Google-owned video site is the number one music destination, particularly for younger, credit card-less, internet users. So, in that sense, Soundwave’s support for YouTube was conspicuous by its absence. And whilst it was probably on the roadmap from the get-go, the Dublin-based startup first needed to figure out how to distinguish non-music YouTube plays from music consumed on the video service. You wouldn’t want cat videos turning up in your Soundwave listening history, would you?
“We’ve been working really hard on a filtering system to ensure that only the correct content syncs over to Soundwave,” CEO and co-founder Brendan O’Driscoll tells TechCrunch. “So, if you watch a YouTube video of a cat falling out of a tree, that wont sync across, but if you watch a music video, that will. We’ve been really happy that this system is pretty water-tight as we’ve been beta testing the new feature, and it will only get smarter as time goes on.”
O’Driscoll thinks YouTube support will help Soundwave target a younger demographic who use YouTube like a music streaming service (even for us oldies, there is a ton of amazing music that’s only available on the video service, such as live concert or television performances). “A lot of these guys aren’t old enough to have extensive MP3 collections stored on their hard drives and they don’t have credit cards to purchase streaming subscriptions,” he notes. “So YouTube becomes the one-stop-shop for music consumption”.
Of course, by adding YouTube support, Soundwave is closer to fulfulling its own mission to become the one-stop-shop for tracking your own listening habits and in turn helping you discover new music through the listening habits of your friends and influencers you follow. It doesn’t harm the company’s Big Data play, either, in which it plans to sell aggregate listening data back to the music industry.
Downloads currently sit at 750,000, though the startup isn’t breaking out active monthly users. The app is most popular in the U.S., followed by Russia, UK, and France. It says 40m songs have been tracked in total.
Along with Cuban, Soundwave’s backers include ACT Venture Capital, Enterprise Ireland, Matthew Le Merle, and Trevor Bowen, one of the people behind U2′s management company Principle Management. Funding totals $1.5 million.
As the company explains, this new site reflects where web design is headed, and where Square customers are headed as well, which is ubiquity across devices and countries. Square’s new site has more attention to design, especially with attention to being device agnostic, including on desktop, tablet, or phone. Square says it has developed SVG animations and motion graphics, and is using a request animation frame to ensure that performance on the site is up to the maximum refresh rate of 60fps for smooth scrolling.
The website noticeably reflects the company’s new marketplace efforts, in-store technologies and hardware efforts. It seems to be an accurate reflection of what Square is today (as opposed to the mobile payments-focus of the company a few years back).
Fashion-focused startup StyleCaster Media is unveiling a redesign of the flagship site that gives the company its name.
Vice President of Product Peter Tanapat gave me a quick tour of the new site (the first full redesign since March 2012) last week, and many of the changes are well-executed variants of what you’d expect — the design is now responsive, meaning that it works on tablets and smartphones by adjusting to the size of the screen, and the top articles are highlighted with big pictures at the top of the page, in an area that Tanapat referred to as the “Jubmotron.”
From a business perspective, the biggest change is probably the addition of e-commerce features. Users will now be able to buy products after trying them on virtually using StyleCaster’s Try On! Studio (based on technology from StyleCaster’s acquisition of Daily makeover last year), browse and purchase editors’ picks, and purchase the other fashion that’s written about on the site.
While incorporating e-commerce into fashion sites is hardly a new idea, founder and CEO Ari Goldberg argued in the redesign press release that StyleCaster is “the first publisher to provide advertisers and brands with both the technology and premium editorial content that will effectively help readers find their products through the buying decision process.” The company says this is the launch of its third big revenue source, in addition to advertising and Try On partnerships.
One otherthing that Tanapat emphasized is the fact that the redesign was also built with existing StyleCaster content in mind — many redesigns leave older articles looking weirdly formatted or downright unreadable, but he said, “A lot of the content is evergreen. We have a lot of traffic to pages … that were published six months ago.”
Founded in 2009, StyleCaster Media says that across StyleCaster and other sites like Beauty High, The Vivant, and Daily Makeover, it reaches 7 million unique visitors every month. The company also says that 35 percent of its traffic comes from mobile devices.
Although I write a lot about apps and Internet stuff, I never really learned to code.
I threw the “really” in there to soften the blow, but the fact is, I straight up don’t know how to do it. I started learning at one point in middle school, but my high school didn’t push CS, and by college I spent all of my waking hours writing for the student newspaper or reading books written by dead white guys. So it just never happened.
But it’s on my to-do list. I swear.
Today Codecademy made its first foray into the app space and released an intro to coding course designed to take less than an hour to complete. I had a lot of laundry to do, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
The launch was timed to coincide with Computer Science Education Week, one of the goals of which is to get 10 million students in the U.S. to take an hour of coding. But the broader aim with the app was to create a version of the coursework that could be done in bite-sized portions on the go, well-suited for working professionals and busy types who want to learn a new skill.
Codecademy for iPhone will eventually be its own independent learning platform, CEO and founder Zach Sims said. Version one is very basic — it essentially shows you what coding looks like and what the most rudimentary functions are — and the team is hoping to push more content out this week.
The app is meant to be a super-easy onboarding ramp to future coding. The text feedback you get after each question is encouraging and makes you feel like you’re nailing it, which is nice motivation if you, like me, have a fragile but easily swollen ego. I finished the course just before the wash cycle on my lights ended and immediately wanted more.
The program is currently broken up into five different sections that flow from one into the next: an intro (“Getting Started”), Data Types, Variables, Comparisons, and If… Else. Each comprises a few examples and questions, making for, as Sims put it, a series of “snackable” lessons.
The learning experience has to operate under the usual constraints of mobile, specifically a smaller screen size and user intolerance for typing a lot. Whereas Codecademy’s desktop service supports learning by doing, the app holds your hand a bit more. Rather than writing their own code, users fill in brief segments of pre-written lines of code, most of which are presented as multiple-choice questions. For some sections, you just have to hit “Run” without answering a question
Some of the questions seem ridiculously easy. In the introductory section, for instance, you are asked, “Can you write a program that calculates ’6-2′?” and all you have to do is fill in “print(6 ? 2);” with a minus sign. (The “?” there is a box that you tap for your multiple-choice options.)
“Ha-ha!” You may laugh to yourself. “Coding is for dummies! I’ll make a fortune on my app idea!”
That’s the trouble with passive learning, rather than working all the way through a problem on your own. You have to remember to pay attention.
My only issue with the half hour I spent on the app today (humblebrag) is that there weren’t any definitions provided, so you might have to Google things like “what is a string?” Just for instance. Presumably that will get ironed out as Codecademy continues to build out the mobile wing of its business.
The goal is to create a product that is platform-agnostic, Sims said, citing Duolingo as an ed-tech company that has succeeded in that regard. The restrictions on producing one’s own code are tough, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing how Codecademy negotiates that. For now, I think I’m going to sign up online.
If you paid a visit to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ Sand Hill Road headquarters on any given day, you’d likely bump into Chi-Hua Chien. Chien, who has emerged as one of the firm’s most accessible public figures since joining Kleiner some six years ago, is known for being a particularly engaged and responsive VC — always ready to pop into the office, provide advice to an entrepreneur, or talk shop with his fellow investment partners.
But aside from continuing his workaday routine, things are changing for Chien and other partners at the storied Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Sources say that Chien is in the process of transitioning out of his role at Kleiner, amid recent changes in the firm’s partner structure.
Both Chien and Kleiner Perkins declined to comment on this story.
Last month, Fortune’s Dan Primack reported that Chien was “thinking about launching his own venture capital fund” that would focus on early-stage consumer technology companies. Two other seed investing sources we spoke to backed up this story and said Chien has continued to look into building his own fund, as part of his plan to transition out of Kleiner. Another person familiar with the situation says that early interest from potential limited partners in a new Chien-led fund has been solid.
Chien, who joined Kleiner in 2007, has led the firm’s investments in a number of consumer web startups including Path, Klout, Zaarly, and Chill (as well as Spotify, the now-public Chegg and Twitter, and the Facebook-owned Karma.) Some people have speculated that it is partly the lackluster performances of some of these kinds of consumer web investments that led to Kleiner’s restructuring in October, which left Chien and several other partners off of the investment committee in charge of Kleiner’s latest fund. At that time, however, it was reported that no partners were leaving Kleiner as part of the changes.
Chien’s ongoing departure is said to be amicable on a personal level — he was in attendance at the firm’s holiday party, and continues to be active at other Kleiner events. People with knowledge of the situation say a more full exit will likely happen over the course of 2014.
We’ll be sure to keep tabs on Chien’s next moves, since he’ll no doubt continue to be someone to watch in the startup investing space. It’s just the latest example that as much as industries like venture capital can seem to take on an air of staid permanence, technology is at its heart about constant change — and the world of those who invest in the sector is no different.
Opscode has raised $32 million and changed its name to Chef, after the configuration management and IT automation “cookbook” that has become very popular in the enterprise market. Scale Venture Partners led the round. Citibank and Amplify Partners also participated, as well as existing investors Battery Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), and Ignition Partners. The Series D funding brings the company’s total amount raised to $65 million.
As part of the news, Chef also announced that Scale Venture Partners’ Rory O’Driscoll has joined the company’s board of directors. In addition, the company has hired Curt Anderson as its CFO. Anderson comes from Microsoft where he worked as CFO for Microsoft’s Manufacturing and Supply Chain Division.
Companies like Nordstrom are using Chef to build a code-centric platform for automating the practices between different groups in the IT organization so the company can adapt and move faster in the overall market. The retailer has used Chef’s cookbook of automation scripts to give it the predictability it needs at a speed and scale that it can’t do manually. With Chef, Nordstrom can integrate its heterogeneous infrastructure, allowing the company to make the most of its engineers. For example, the retailer has a number of Unix engineers who can now work on Windows systems. Chef automates the underlying infrastructure so engineers can work on code to make changes that are automatically propagated to the Windows-based systems.
Chef, founded by engineers from Amazon and Microsoft, plays in a booming market. For instance, retail is learning that it has to treat its stores like showrooms connected to mobile apps that provide a clear way to compare different products. That’s not just something these traditional companies can do without thinking of their IT investment, which is often more than 20 years old.
The shift for many is from old, middleware software to a new services environment that abstracts old systems. A number of companies are seeking a piece of this market by offering continuous integration services. Chef will use its funding to build out its own version of a continuous integration platform that leverages its IT automation platform.
The challenge for the company will be less about its name and more about the competitive market it faces. Puppet Labs, another IT automation provider, is Chef’s biggest foe but there are also a number of new challengers rising in the market, including SaltStack and AnsibleWorks.
This week on TechCrunch TV’s Ask A VC show, Accel Partners’ Ping Li and Foundation Capital’s Charles Moldow will be joining us, separately, in the studio. As you may remember, you can submit questions for our guests either in the comments or here and we’ll ask them during the show.
Li focuses on early-stage growth software and data-center investments for Accel and is also responsible for the firm’s Big Data Fund. He’s a board member of Blue Jeans Network, Cloudera, Code42, Lookout, Nimble Storage, Origami Logic, RelateIQ, Tenable Network Security and Trifacta. Prior to Accel, Li worked at Juniper Networks as a Senior Product Line Manager for their flagship M-series router products, as well as Director of Corporate Development.
Moldow has made 14 investments since joining Foundation in 2005, of which five have been acquired: PowerSet to Microsoft; Xoopit to Yahoo; Adwhirl to Google; Weblistic to Spot Runner; and Therative to Phillips.
His current portfolio includes: BancBox, CloudOn, Copious, Everyday Health, Fanhood, HomeRun, LendingClub, Luminate, Motif Investing, Revel Touch, and SunRun. Previously Moldow spent five years with Tellme Networks and was a member of the founding executive team.
Please send us your questions for Li and Moldow here or put them in the comments below!
Foursquare no longer allows users to check in privately with the iOS version of its app. The change was made with the recent 7.0 release and ‘iOS 7 refresh’ last week and appears to be a play to demonstrate the value of its network by ensuring check-in data is accessible to users of the product, its API partners and any possible suitors for acquisition.
“As Foursquare continues to grow, we have decided to remove the ability to privately check in,” the entry states. “If you don’t wish to share your location, we’d encourage you to still use Foursquare to get out and explore awesome places nearby!”
Foursquare clarifies that all past check-ins that were made privately will continue to be private. The entry notes that private check-ins will still be available on its desktop and other platforms like Android (and older versions of the iOS app?) for now, but we’d expect this option to start disappearing across all offerings sooner or later.
We discussed Foursquare’s recent 7.0 update last week and found it to be a nice step forward. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to use it for my normal ‘Foursquaring’ and it holds up really well.
The private check-in was a feature that allowed you to tag a location as having been visited without exposing it to your network of friends. If you’re not a Foursquare user, it’s important to note that detailed check-in info was and is only visible to your friends on the network. A private check-in was an additional layer of privacy that allowed you to create a personal list of ‘been theres’ without broadcasting those locations.
Foursquare notes that you’re more than welcome to continue getting value out of the network without checking in if you don’t want to share your location.
This decision speaks to Foursquare’s current direction on several levels. First of all, it coincides with the overall shift of the service away from a ‘check-in game’ to a recommendation engine. Removing the private option means that you can no longer use Foursquare as a ‘personal diary’ of visits, either. It is firmly a public network of curated locations in the vein of Yelp now.
It’s also interesting in the light of the questions about profitability that seem to surround Foursquare with a low hum of acquisition talk these days.
Foursquare is a great, well-built product in and of itself. But its database of locations, verified by personal check-in and user activity like reviews, photos and likes, is unmatched by almost any other competitor in that space. There are databases with more locations, but I have a hard time thinking that any of them are so rich in signals. The Foursquare API is one of the go-to location feeds for independent developers that I speak to, and many big-name apps that don’t have skin in the Google v. Apple game (and they’re getting fewer by the day) use it because it’s just really dang good.
Increasing the addressable surface area of public check-in data only makes sense if Foursquare wants to increase its attractiveness for acquisition. Of course, it probably won’t hurt the amount of public signal when it comes to powering its own product, too.
Update: One interesting question about this is what will happen eventually with Foursquare check-ins via API. One of the larger private check-in partners, Path, has an experience built off of checking in either solo or with small trusted groups that may or may not align with your Foursquare friends. If Foursquare applies this ‘no private check-in’ model to the API as well, will these partners be out of luck or will there continue to be a solution offered there. If there’s a significant amount of data coming in from outside networks like Path, the answer might be the former, rather than the latter.
Qualcomm has just announced the Snapdragon 410 chipset series, which is Qualcomm’s first announced processor with 64-bit support, but it’s actually more interesting because it aims to make integrated 4G LTE support a lot more affordable for device manufacturers. They plan to launch the 410 as a manufacturing sample by the first half of next year, which means it could be in shipping phones by this time in 2014.
The 64-bit component is a key part of these new chipsets and should make it possible for devs to take advantage of improved processing capabilities in future Android software. But the LTE support being made available to devices like the Moto G, which currently uses a Snapdragon 400 as its powerhouse, and even more affordable devices sold in emerging markets like India and other places is bound to be far more exciting to device makers, app developers and service operators. Access to broadband is often cited as a key factor in helping determine not only income but quality of life, so making LTE affordable, even if only on the consumer hardware end, could have a tremendous impact on the global economy.
It’s not just Android that stands to benefit here, either – Qualcomm calls out specifically Windows Phone and Firefox OS as supported by the Snapdragon 410, too. But for a North American audience, I’d be watching this very closely as used by the newly rejuvenated powers at Google-owned Motorola: As of right now, the Nexus 5 is probably the best deal in a 4G-capable off-contract phone, but Motorola could convert the remaining non-smartphone users domestically into both smartphone and LTE users in one fell swoop.
Over the past couple of months, there have been a few Bitcoin app rejections by Apple that have made some waves. First, the venture-backed startup Coinbase had its app removed entirely from the App Store. Today, a blog post from peer-to-peer messaging and payments app Gliph highlights its own rejection and the subsequent removal of its ability to transact in Bitcoin.
Gliph’s Rob Banagale talks about a few aspects of the rejection, including the technical details of how Gliph handles Bitcoin, Apple’s motivations for rejecting the app and the possibility that it could change its mind.
The rejection, Banagale notes, was based largely off of section 22.1 of Apple’s App Store review guidelines. The rule states that “apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users. It is the developer’s obligation to understand and conform to all local laws.”
Bitcoin is not illegal, but it is also not legally recognized by governments as a currency. This gray area is what is leading Apple to reject Bitcoin-transaction apps.
We reached out to Banagale to talk about the way that Gliph functions, and how it differs from apps like Coinbase. He notes that the app works with wallets like those from Coinbase and BIPS, but doesn’t function as a wallet itself. Instead, it passes along requests for wallet addresses (just strings of numbers) to the wallets themselves, and back to the recipient. The setup also means that Gliph does not deal with exchanges.
“We didn’t want to specify which wallet you had to use,” Banagale says. “By doing it that way we aren’t really manipulating Bitcoin directly.”
This method means that Gliph isn’t actually processing Bitcoin transactions, just facilitating them. It’s a distinction that may either be lost on Apple, or that isn’t evident enough to differentiate Gliph from other Bitcoin wallet apps.
Banagale notes that Apple itself may be planning on entering the payments game outside of its own stores, and that this may have influenced their decision to reject Bitcoin apps. But that’s probably pretty unlikely. It is clear, though, that Apple isn’t acting as any real advocate of Bitcoin at this point, something that Banagale says it’s in a good position to do.
In the end, the answer is likely fairly simple. From our understanding, Apple rejected both Coinbase and Gliph based on rule 22.1 specifically. Yes, the interpretation of the rule is fairly narrow, as Bitcoin has not been declared legal or illegal in most of the areas that the apps have been available. But this is not a matter of speculation about whether Bitcoin will become legal, it’s a simple matter of whether or not it is currently legal. Since there is no clear-cut government acknowledgement of Bitcoin’s legality, Apple is simply taking the safest, most protective path by disallowing transaction functionality in App Store apps — for now.
Google has similar rules related to illegal activity on its Google Play store, but has chosen not to enforce them on Bitcoin apps at this point. The stance there appears to be one of lenience or, as Banagale puts it, ‘optimism’ about the future legal status of Bitcoin.
Still, Banagale feels that Apple got this one wrong. He points out that Gliph does not actually handle transactions, but only facilitates the triggering of them via online wallets. Yes, it’s a technicality, but there are plenty of apps that function as a basis of a small technical twist. Literally billions have been spent and earned by companies based on technicalities. So, in the case of Gliph, perhaps the functionality merits another look by Apple, but we wouldn’t hold our breath.
This is a case where the rules that Apple uses to govern its store have to take into account the probable byproducts of litigation or legal ramifications, not just current complaints. And for a company with as big a target painted on it as Apple, caution is likely the better part of valor here.
We’ve heard, but don’t know exactly why, Apple has been issuing stern comments to developers about legal notices in apps. They’ve been instructing app makers to ensure that any links to legal info about using Apple assets or other items with terms and conditions of use attached are visible and links are accessible when appropriate.
It could be that the stance on Bitcoin is tied into that, but Apple has had a fairly standard approach to transaction functionality in the App Store for years when it comes to the crypto currency. The recent rejection of Coinbase and Gliph doesn’t represent an about-face so much as perhaps ‘enhanced awareness and activity’ when it comes to rejecting apps based on rule 22.1.
With the recent loss by Apple in the courts related to the e-book case and the installation of a government-appointed monitor, the company is under more scrutiny than ever. Whether that’s coloring their handling of Bitcoin apps is a matter of conjecture, as we’ve gotten no information that indicates one way or another.
As to how Apple might handle Bitcoin transactions in apps in the future, look to how it handles gambling apps, also covered in the App Store rules. For states or countries that allow gambling — like Nevada or the UK — Apple allows apps to use geo-fencing to restrict activities to those regions. A similar system could be put in place to allow Bitcoin transactions in places where it has been deemed ‘legal’ by a government entity.
Is there a personal vendetta towards Bitcoin because Apple could expand its Apple ID-based payment system? That’s not our understanding. But will its attitude towards Bitcoin be one of caution for the foreseeable future? Yes. And any developers looking to include core transaction elements would do well to note that stance for now.
Disclosure: Author owns a very, very small amount of Bitcoin.
Article updated to clarify the legal status of Bitcoin.
Image credit: Zach Copley