Lyft-Off: Zimride’s Long Road To Overnight Success (@techcrunch)

Mostly the story of how Lyft came to be, through its predecessor, Zimride. It’s an interesting backstory. Much more interesting than the mudslinging, bottom-of-the-barrel tactics that Lyft and its sworn enemy Uber have been up to of late.

One minor quibble towards the end on the subject of ridesharing displacing car ownership. Ryan Lawler writes:

It’s also seeing adoption in a number of markets you might not consider highly dense cities — think places like Providence, R.I. That shows its model could extend to more suburban areas and help people get around even in places where car ownership is currently ubiquitous.

Providence, having been in it, is not San Francisco or New York. But it’s not suburbia either. It’s a mid-range city; a sprawling type place not unlike most cities in the U.S. where public transportation doesn’t reach large swarths of the city and hasn’t been built out mostly because it’s still relatively drivable. Ridesharing works in places like this because it gives people another option. But I’m less bullish on Uber and Lyft replacing car ownership entirely in these places unless traffic swells to the point where parking is unavailable and general road space is non-existent. The highway structure in most newer, growing cities is more robust than in cities on the coasts, which means it’s far easier to just drive yourself in most cases. This is even more pronounced in most of the rest of the country; both suburban havens that were built with cars in mind as well as rural areas. That’s why I think the narrative Uber investor Bill Gurley put forth re: ridesharing will take place asynchronously across the country. Car ownership will likely decline overall in places like New York, San Francisco and Chicago long before it happens throughout the rest of the country.

Seeing Through the Illusion: Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media (@9to5mac)

Great series from 9to5mac’s Mark Gurman on Apple’s media and PR strategy in recent years, with particular focus on the transition from longtime head honcho Katie Cotton (a Steve Jobs loyalist) to the current setup: a split of PR duties between Steve Dowling and Natalie Kerris both of whom report to current CEO Tim Cook.

Re:Code’s John Paczkowski: Apple Wearable Won’t Ship Until Next Year (@recode)

So that new wearable device Apple is introducing on September 9? It’s going to be a while before anyone is actually wearing it. Sources in position to know tell me it won’t arrive at market for a few months. “It’s not shipping anytime soon,” said one. So when does Apple plan to ship its eagerly anticipated wearable? That’s not clear, but my understanding is that we’re unlikely to see it at retail until after the holiday season — think early 2015. 

Even still, this is going to be one of the more eagerly anticipated Apple events in quite some time.

Riffing on Editorial Direction. Because it’s my blog.

When I first started Breaktap, I wanted to focus my writing on mobile startups. I had amassed an enormous collection of feeds after laying the groundwork for a mobile gaming startup I wanted to launch that I simply didn’t have the resources to pursue, both in domain expertise and in cash. I had feeds from “mobile” sections of the major tech blogs as well as those from independent developers like Marco Arment, Ray Wenderlich and others.

So the most obvious thing to write about at the time was the app ecosystem: stand-alone apps that were using the web to deliver some type of service in place of the traditional web browser. Even up until a few years ago, it was mostly uncharted waters and was at least somewhat equitable in terms of distribution.

But things have changed drastically over the last few years. Fewer and fewer apps are making it and the ones that do make it are, with very rare exception, offerings put out by the already dominant players in the field. Most of the time, these companies have at least one successful app in the marketplace. Sometimes several. The independent app developer has become, by and large, an endangered species. Both the closed ecosystem as well as the relative nonchalance on the part of Apple and Google to invest in new models of app discovery help drive this vicious circle and accompanying feedback loop. The result is a marketplace filled with a tiny number of apps making enormous sums of money and a sea of apps that are downloaded once (if even) and then largely ignored. The indie apps that do explode out of nowhere are almost always games and almost always have a short shelf life after their initial push. (see Flappy Bird)

Basically, I wonder if the stand-alone app landscape has hit a dead end. Startups have always been a zero-sum game, yes. But at this point, it’s almost gotten depressively bad. As in aspiring musicians that try out for American Idol may have a better chance to become the next Katy Perry than an app developer has of building an app that can even produce a livable salary, let alone a fortune.

What might help bring the buzz back to mobile? Context. Namely, mobile apps as an enabler for other connected devices. Chetan Sharma referred to it in one of his most recent papers as “connected intelligence.” It’s been called the “Internet of Things” or “M2M” by some. Whatever nomenclature you decide to use, smart devices are coming. The questions revolve around standards. First, what will be the underlying language linking them together and allowing them to talk to one another. Secondly, from where will all of these new, internet-connected objects be managed? While the former is still yet to be determined, the most likely place from which to control all of these things is going to be the smartphone. Will there be multiple hubs? Different apps for different groups of use cases (e.g. a smart home app that controls lighting, appliances, heating/cooling etc.) The apps are interesting but so are the objects that are going to be enabled with this technology.

To be clear, I’ll absolutely continue writing about new startups that leverage mobile as their primary business model. I’ll continue covering new apps, particularly from those startups who are able to find their way past the traffic jam of the App Store market.

But I’m also thinking I may spend more time on IoT-specific topics: not just potential hub solutions in the forms of apps but the connected objects that are really mobile computing devices in their own right. After all, it remains true to our underlying thesis of a “post-PC” vision. So how about it?

Why Android desperately needs a billion dollar success story (@andrewchen)

But a critical component, of having more apps, isn’t there. Remember how there was always some key games that’d run on Windows that wouldn’t exist on Mac? Or how there were a bunch of business applications that would only run on Windows? That meant that the Windows platform had the virtuous cycle between developers and users to drive total domination.

But Android is not Windows. When you look at the current mobile ecosystem, iPhone has more apps. It has better apps. It gets the designery, well-funded startups to build iPhone-first. Consumers and developers, together, will continue to choose the iPhone until that network effect is broken.

The cost of acquiring mobile app users ebbs in July, but it’s still outrageously high (@Venturebeat)

The cost of getting a loyal mobile user fell 9 percent in July compared to the previous month, but that’s only a little bit of a breather for mobile app developers and publishers, according to a report by mobile marketing firm Fiksu.

The cost per loyal user, or one that opens an app three times, was $1.97 in July, down 9 percent from $2.23 in June. However, there’s not a lot to celebrate, as the costs were still at the second-highest monthly level in the four-year history of the Fiksu indices. And the July costs were up 9 percent from a year earlier.

Hyperlapse: A New App from Instagram That Allows For Time Lapse Videos Without The Pricey Equipment

Cliff Kuang at Wired has the scoop and some insight into how the app was developed, along with some sample videos that are just stunning:

Eventually the duo uploaded video of the app in action to Instagram’s internal message board, where it received the ultimate blessing: a single comment from Instagram co-founder and CEO, Kevin Systrom. It simply declared, “This is cool.” This, in turn, egged them on to present their project to the wider group, at the company’s first “pitch-a-thon” for new creative tools, held last January.

Of course the fact that it’s even a separate app at all begs some questions to those who debate the merits of the single-purpose app/app constellation phenomenon:

The honchos at Instagram figured some users would grok the possibilities immediately and become obsessed with it. But most would ignore it. To built it into Instagram, you’d have to hide it, to keep the core app simple for its millions of users. This would be a double bind for Hyperlapse: Power users would find it annoying to use, if they found it at all, and everyday users would simply never look for it. So they split it off into its own product. “We didn’t want to create a special use that would just be hidden,” says Mike Krieger, Instagram’s co-founder and CTO.

Marc Andreessen (among others) has spoken of services that were at one point the exclusive province of the rich and well-connected that are now accessible to the masses. Even over the last ten years this philosophy bears itself out. Blogging platforms made everyone a writer. Social media made everyone a broadcaster. Smartphone cameras (and by extension, software like Instagram) made everyone a photographer. Will this make everyone a film producer? We’ll see.

Chetan Sharma: The Connected Intelligence Era & The Golden Age of Mobile

Some fantastic stuff in here. About 35 pages in total. Covers (mostly) future mobile enablement of the Internet of Things/Connected Intelligence/Contextual Internet/whatever you want to call it. Are we at the tail end of the Golden Age of Mobile? Or will this era of connected intelligence be its own cycle?

Also, some really good insights into the mobile stack and the relationship between the last mile of connectivity, the API/enabling layer and the software at the top of the stack. The paper ends with a look at this revolution from a policy standpoint: how jobs will be affected, in what sectors and what policymakers will ultimately be able to do to maximize the benefits and mitigate the potential damage.

AM Roundup: Twitch, Facebook’s Clickbait Crackdown & Siracusa’s Reviews

Good morning. Some headlines in tech over the last 12 or so hours that aren’t mobile-specific but are making an impact on the larger tech ecosystem:

Amazon bought Twitch for a little over a billion dollars, $970 million of that in cash, according to Eric Johnson at Re:Code. The video game livestreaming service, which came out of Y-Combinator 2007 class’s Justin.tv, has 55 monthly active users, the brunt of which are free and being monetized off of advertising. However, there’s a growing subscription business that makes up 600,000 users, giving the service a more diversified revenue stream which I’m sure appealed to the folks at Amazon. What was especially interesting about this story is that Twitch was already marked as an acquisition target just days earlier by Google; however, sources at the WSJ say the search giant got cold feet over the last few weeks and pulled the plug on the deal. (edit: Business Insider, citing Forbes, claims it broke down due to antitrust issues)  That gave Amazon the opportunity to sneak in and complete the transaction. So was this a strategic move for Amazon or merely a defensive acquisition to make Google weaker by proxy?

Facebook’s news feed algorithm, EdgeRank, will attempt to crack down on linkbait-y headlines. So the media organizations that make a living off of hyperbolic headlining (BuzzFeed, Upworthy & a host of others) will now be subject to what amounts to informal penalties: their stories will be given less weight by the algorithm and will not show up nearly as frequently in most users’ news feeds. The algorithm will also be giving credence to publishers who post links using Facebook’s now-standard paste-a-link format (which automatically produces the URL/caption) rather than pasting that link within the context of the article itself. You can see examples of both scenarios on Facebook’s press page announcing the changes, which explains it in better detail.

Finally, this was an interesting interview with John Siracusa, he of the exponentially long Mac OSX review. (You can see examples of this at his Ars Technica author page) Some would say he’s swimming against the tide by writing such long-form content but his argument is that people are actually starving for this kind of in-depth analysis, which is hard to argue against considering his reviews actually sell as E-Books on Amazon….and more importantly, sell well.

Reviews for iOS & TestNest: A Pair of New Apps to Help Developers With App Releases

It’s not getting any easier for app developers. We’ve cited some of the more sobering statistics previously: app store revenue disparities, consumers’ unwillingness to give new apps a shot etc. Some folks, however, are trying to help their fellow app developers gain more insight into their apps in order to try and break through the discovery bottleneck. Two such apps debuted on Product Hunt today: Reviews for iOS and TestNest.

Reviews for iOS allows developers, marketers or anyone curious to compile all of an app’s reviews, filter them by various metrics (e.g. number of stars) and translate reviews in a single language. This can provide insight into how a particular app is performing, whether you’re a developer looking for actionable information on how your app is doing or whether you’re simply looking at competitors across a particular category or segment. While iOS provides this information already in iTunes Connect, one of the co-founders, Patrick Balestra, argued in the ensuing discussion that the information provided isn’t as valuable as it could be:

We used iTC for a lot of time and we thought that it wasn’t good enough. Reviews are one of the most important place to get user feedback. There is no way to see all the territories reviews all in once. You can filter by number of stars too. Translating reviews is a tap away and you don’t need to copy and paste multiple times. And one of the most important thing, you’re not notified at all when a new review is published.

The founders are currently selling the app directly for $2.99 rather than going the freemium route….at least for now. We’ll see if they change their mind in the near future.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 4.53.49 PM

The other app, TestNest, allows app developers to split-test landing pages with different images, copy & pricing to see which combinations might appeal to the widest audience. The biggest hurdle is that these are landing pages only, as opposed to actual App Store listings. This is because neither Google or Apple allow developers the ability to do formal split testing in their respective app stores. So testing a landing page with traffic garnered from a paid acquisition program like Google Adwords or Facebook Ads may yield a different set of results than if you were able to test that same copy on the app store itself. Still, if you’re targeting folks who regularly download apps, it’s a way to get at least some idea on what kind of headlines and/or copy might be enticing to people and what may ultimately induce a download. Founder Neek Kurat posted a screenshot in the discussion below of what a potential landing page would look like using Angry Birds as an example:

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 4.55.20 PM

 

TestNest is currently in beta and you can sign up for an invite on their landing page.

h/t Product Hunt

Huawei boss says Tizen has ‘no chance’ of success (@engadget)

According to the executive, unnamed mobile networks had asked Huawei to make Tizen smartphones, but Yu feels that the platform has “no chance to be successful.”

That leaves the company with Android as the only thing its handsets can run, and when asked about this potential over-reliance on Google, Yu admitted that he’s concerned, but has “no choice.”

Can you really argue against that? Every Android OEM from Samsung on down is in this situation.

iOS First. Android Much, Much Later (@semil)

Product-market fit is elusive in general, and acutely so on mobile, where distribution pipes are either constrained or flooded. I’m seeing too many teams building for Android too early. Unless there is a huge foundation under the iOS apps, building for Android is likely only to result in a few spikes in user growth and then a lifetime of hair pulling — too much for a small startup to handle. 

This is going to upset Android loyalists but but I think Semil’s right here. For most SV startups and those targeting primarily a Western audience, this is all true. You can always start with a baseline of iOS users and then scale from there, even if it’s a social/communications app which, at scale, you anticipate having say about 75% of your users running Android. The only exceptions to this might be localized apps that are targeting a developing market in particular, in which case the amount of iOS users will be so small as to be meaningless for testing purposes.

How to minimize device lock-in and make it easier to migrate to a new smartphone (@gigaom)

While the apps are going to be specific to the platform, my main goal is to select apps where the data resides outside the app in a cloud service I can access from any app. Byword, for example, uses Dropbox to store its files. If the app doesn’t allow the data outside of its comfy little silo, my second guideline is the app should be cross-platform. The Kindle app is available for most devices, as is Comixology. I have a lot of magazines in Zinio, and, again it’s cross-platform.

I try and do this as well. Even though I’ve become more or less an Apple loyalist, I do still use a Windows PC on occasion so it’s important for me to be able to access my data anywhere. The only area where I’ve really screwed myself is with the productivity software I’m using. I use Things, which, while a fantastic program, is Apple only. So while it has syncing capability across all Apple devices, it’s difficult to export anything to a Google Calendar or something cloud-based.

A16Z’s Chris Dixon and Ringly’s Christina Mercando on Wearables (@a16z)

This was actually recorded in late July but I happened to stumble on it while reading Benedict Evans’ (great) weekly newsletter. Have a listen if you have an interest in wearables: the state of the present market as well as what’s to come.

Coin delays product launch until spring 2015 as questions remain (@cnet)

On Friday, the startup said it’s delaying its full product release until spring of 2015 while it refines the device and works out kinks in manufacturing. Instead, the company says it will ship what it’s calling Coin beta, the latest iteration of the all-in-one card, to the first 10,000 pre-order customers who opt-in to the program.

This part isn’t surprising if you’ve been paying attention to similarly crowdfunded hardware campaigns. But what card manufacturers are working on may present a serious problem for the functionality of Coin itself:

The US credit card industry is preparing for one of its biggest technological leaps in decades. New cards arriving in customer’s mailboxes are being affixed with security chips, called “EMV.” These chips promise to reduce fraud by making it hard to quickly copy a card’s information, and by requiring that customers sometimes punch in a passcode. By October 2015, the industry has said it will change its business practices, shifting liability for any fraud to merchants and card makers who don’t upgrade to the new technology. Coin may be one of them.

Basically, the magnetic strips that have become the basis for what amounted to over $11 billion in fraud in 2012, are being phased out.

The goal of the EMV standard is to phase out reliance on magnetic stripes, which have been around for decades and are subject to all manners of fraud. The microchip generates a unique code for every transaction, and inside the chip is what MasterCard spokesperson Oliver Manihan calls a black box: a private section in which a cardholder’s PIN and the cryptographic keys used to generate code are located.

As for Coin, even if it does find a way to include security chips on its device, Manihan said it may not be able to store information from the ones his company sends to customers. “You could only get a portion of the data,” he said, adding that some of the information stored on the chips is designed to never be copied.

And because Coin’s entire raison d’etre is to store that data from multiple cards, well…yeah. That would require a complete overhaul of not just the device but maybe the underlying business model itself.

Luckily for them, these magnetic strips are not going to go away overnight. Even without doing the hard math, you can think of the hundreds of millions of credit cards that are floating around out there and reasonably assume that this will take some time.

We’ll see how this impacts Coin moving forward.

Full disclosure: I supported Coin’s initial crowdfunding campaign and am eagerly awaiting one of the beta units.

Majority Of Digital Media Consumption Now Takes Place In Mobile Apps (@techcrunch)

U.S. users are now spending the majority of their time consuming digital media within mobile applications, according to a new study released by comScore this morning. That means mobile apps, including the number 1 most popular app Facebook, eat up more of our time than desktop usage or mobile web surfing, accounting for 52% of the time spent using digital media. Combined with mobile web, mobile usage as a whole accounts for 60% of time spent, while desktop-based digital media consumption makes up the remaining 40%.

Apps today are driving the majority of media consumption activity, the report claims, now accounting for 7 our of every 8 minutes of media consumption on mobile devices. On smartphones, app activity is even higher, at 88% usage versus 82% on tablets.

Roost to expand push notifications to Chrome & Firefox (@venturebeat)

Push notifications from apps on mobile devices are something we’re all used to. But push notifications work well on larger screens too, like the browser on a desktop computer. It’s something publishers and brands are getting excited about, as a way of engaging site visitors. That’s where the Toledo, Ohio-born company Roost comes in. Roost is a push notification engine for websites. It’s used by about 2000 websites right now, Notice Software co-founder Tim Varner tells VentureBeat.

Roost notifications appear to the user at the top of the browser window, and only after the user has opted in. A notification might ask a site visitor to log in or register at the site; Roost believes that users are about thirty times more likely to do so than if the request came from an email. On the back end, Roost provides the site owner with all sorts of messaging and analytics options.

Noke is a Bluetooth padlock you unlock with your phone (@venturebeat)

Oh, the ‘ol padlock. At this time of year it is on the back to school shopping lists of millions of students. It’s also the inspiration behind the Noke by Fuz Designs, the latest runaway success project on Kickstarter.

If this sounds similar to another Bluetooth lock Kickstarter project, that’s because it is. A Canadian company called Total North started a Kickstarter project last year for its Teo lock. Unfortunately, the campaign fell short of its funding goal.

What are the differences between Teo and Noke? Several, according to the article: mostly related to design and price:

Total North’s Teo has a decidedly unorthodox design, looking more like the unholy offspring of a door handle and a large Ikea hex key than a traditional padlock. Not ugly by anyone’s standards, just a little odd. Gibbs thought so too, saying, “Their design missed in a few areas. They show a clip in their video with it on a locker and it just doesn’t look quite right.”

Fuz Designs’ Noke on the other hand, is a kindred spirit to the Nest Thermostat in the sense that it distills the classic combination lock down to its simplest elements: A round body and u-shaped shackle that latches vertically and swivels side-to-side.

On price:

“I think price point is huge difference. Ours is much more in the range that is acceptable for product like this. Also [the Teo] was based out of Canada so anyone in the U.S. who wanted one would have to pay the $15 in shipping,” Gibbs points out. No question about it — $59 with shipping included is easier to swallow than $79+ $15 for shipping. Unless you’re Canadian.

The Kickstarter can be found here, if you’d like to donate. The campaign has already reached it’s funding goal and is at just over $145k as of this writing.

Blur: A Launcher Replacement That Turns Apps Into Google Now-Style Homescreen Pages (@androidpolice)

Developer Klinker Apps, the folks behind the Talon Twitter client and the EvolveSMS messaging app, have just released Blur, a free launcher replacement that takes the approach introduced by the Google Now Launcher and opens it up to other apps. With Blur, any app that adds on support for the launcher can have its own dedicated page that rests right on a person’s homescreen. In practice, this means users can swipe to the left to access their Twitter feed, text messages, a basic calculator, or a dedicated Google Now page that the Klinker brothers MacGyvered to imitate the GNL. More pages are hopefully on the way.

This is something that, as an iOS user, I can genuinely point to as a moment of jealousy with respect to Android. Having the ability to replace the home screen with some kind of swipe-able selection menu, without jailbreaking, sounds fantastic. The whole process of endlessly having to press the home button, find the app etc. gets old after a while and some kind of one-swipe solution to alleviate that would be amazing. The fact that Android gives you the ability to customize these launchers to your satisfaction is at least one advantage it has over iOS, IMO.

ProducTind: A Tinder-Like App for Product Hunt Products

Like a lot of you, I’ve become a big fan of Product Hunt over the last few months as a place to find out about new startups, apps and other web-centric products. While I still frequent HN, beta.list, Springwise as well as the traditional tech news outlets, I’m finding that the listings on Product Hunt manage to maintain an air of high quality while the listing process appears to be a little more democratic and not just confined to those with connections in the Valley. And while I’m not a huge fan of such heavy curation of comments (and more specifically, commenters) I get the rationale behind it; the level of dialogue between those invited to comment and the founders behind the listings creates a lot of positive engagement and has clearly contributed to a healthy amount of buzz around the community itself.

The one part of the PH experience, however, that may be served a little bit better is on mobile. Sometimes, the list format gets to be a little too much to take in on the small screen.

That’s why a Product Hunt super fan has built ProducTind: an app that leverages the Product Hunt API to show cards of PH products with the familiar Tinder-like swipe functionality that’s become a seminal UI feature among the top mobile apps. Simply swipe right to register that product as a “like” and you can use the list view to see all of your likes in one place. You can also click on the card itself to view the same information you’d see on PH.com: how many people up voted that product and who they were, as well as the threaded comments section. For this, the app simply opens the traditional PH mobile web experience in a pop-up window, which could probably be customized to a more elegant, in-app solution. But it’s a great start and as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time looking at information on new startups (and citing them in posts like this!), it’s incredibly helpful.


IMG_1151IMG_1150
Additionally, the Product Hunt API is being rolled out to other interested parties. So if you’d like to sign up and build something on the back of the PH API, founder Ryan Hoover has set up a Typeform form here.