Ray Ozzie’s startup, Talko, wants to reinvent the phone call, starting with an iPhone app (@GeekWire)

What has Ray Ozzie been focusing on since leaving his position as Microsoft’s chief software architect? Here’s the answer. A new app and online service called Talko, from a company co-founded by the Lotus Notes creator and collaboration software pioneer, is aiming to bring the phone call into the modern era of cloud computing and connected devices.

Features include the ability to tag and bookmark specific moments of a call for easy reference and sharing afterward. For example, it’s possible to search all calls to find moments where a conversation was tagged #budget or #followup, or any other tag a user chooses. Users can also take and share photos with each other using the app during a call, and send text messages through the app.

This is interesting, although the recording calls part obviously requires consent on behalf of both parties. This has the potential to be super useful though. At some point in the future, the capability will be there to likely make manual tagging irrelevant and voice recognition will reach a point where an entire call will become searchable for content. But even if you have to tag instances in a call manually, that’s still a valuable thing to be able to have at your disposal, be it a work project, a to-do list for specific stores etc.

The Demons Of On-Demand (@techcrunch)

Covers a lot of the same ground as Liz Gannes’ “I Want It Now” Series for Re:Code. Because the “Uber for X” model is so pervasive across so many different categories, it’s hard to speak in generalities to say they’re either all derivatives of “first world problems,” for lazy and/or rich people or B. that they’re the future of jobs, commerce etc. I think the model works well in some instances and not in others.

The bigger thing to me is whether or not all of these, particularly ones that rely on physical transportation, can scale to suburbia. From Sarah’s piece:

Not only that, but I live outside the Valley – and outside the city – so the things that are built and hyped as the “future of local services” don’t really touch me at this time. At least, not unless I move. Or until they scale to suburbia and beyond – aka 50% of the world today. Still, despite this sort of separateness from a large part of the on-demand, sharing-economy movement, I understand that much of what first gets offered to the better-off city dweller may eventually trickle down to the everyman or everywoman. (Or at least, this is the argument.) While some things will only scale to the urban centers, others could come to small town/middle America.

If you think about it, even big companies like Seamless that were able to scale on-demand food delivery in cities 7-8 years ago were never able to scale out in suburbia. Can a service like Sprig move beyond the SFs/NYs/LAs and cater to the rest of the country? Not so sure. I think making services like that work will require developers and an accompanying thought process that exists outside of the typical Silicon Valley bubble.

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.

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.

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.

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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:

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

h/t Product Hunt

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.

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.

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.


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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.

Podcast: Lyft’s Ryan Fujiu on Growth Strategies for Mobile and Elsewhere (@500Startups)

They talk about key mobile-specific challenges starting from about 16:00 to 19:00, along with pricing strategies and some strategies that worked for Lyft and Ryan’s last company, About.me. Good stuff.

Square Acquires Food Delivery Service Caviar (@techcrunch)

Square has acquired curated food delivery service Caviar today, confirming earlier reports that the companies had been in serious talks. We reported last month that the companies were in talks on a deal worth about $100 million. Both Re/Code and The New York Times reported the deal would take place this week, but the reported price now is for $90 million in stock.

Apple to Buy Radio App Swell for $30 Million (@recode)

Apple is close to buying the Pandora-for-talk-radio app Swell, according to multiple sources. The deal is worth about $30 million, these sources say.

It seems like a pretty clear-cut story: Despite Swell’s simple UI that lended itself to in-car listening, as well as high engagement among fans, the app had trouble finding a lot of users. As part of the deal, the Swell app is to be shut down this week.

I find a lot of music/radio apps have this same problem. Scale seems to be elusive for anything that isn’t IHeartRadio.

Next: A Social Music Discovery App From One Of The Co-Founders of Tinder (@yaynext)

While there’s been plenty of innovation in digital music over the last several years, it could be argued that nobody has really “gotten” music discovery in a social context since MySpace. There was something to MySpace’s ability to allow for quickly hopping back and forth between tracks and finding out about a ton of new bands and artists in the process.

Started by one of the co-founders of Tinder (there are a lot of them!), Chris Gulczynski, Next appears poised to provide that same level of discovery at the app level. You can use the app to view sound clips of up-and-coming artists, rate and follow their profiles and swipe right for new clips, a la Tinder, Jelly or many other popular apps. It also gives you the ability to mic yourself and record your own material on the fly, if you’re so inclined.

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I’d like to see categories and genres (perhaps through a user-generated tagging system) show up here so that the app can get a sense of what my tastes are. That way, the music I get post-swipe are at least somewhat directional with the kind of stuff I like to listen to. But that’s probably a product of there just not being a huge amount of folks on the platform yet. It’s a music service but it’s still inherently a social listening platform so it’s growth will be predicated on network effects. Still, it looks like a good start towards something that’s scalable.

You can download the app here.

h/t Product Hunt

Messaging, Notifications, and Mobile (@avc)

So how is it possible that we can all have and use four, five, six or more messenger apps on our phones? It’s because the notifications channel is the primary UI on mobile, replacing the home screen, and its easy to communicate with people using a variety of applications on your phone.

As for whether or not you’ll see further fragmentation or some sort of push to consolidate, I agree with the top comment from Brandon Burns:

I’d vote for consolidation in the future. Not just because of annoyances like these, but because we’ve seen these trends go back and forth in almost every sector. Social media (currently coming out of the Facebook consolidation), photo-specific (getting comfortable in the Instagram consolidation), music (in a heavily fragmented post-iTunes world), etc. Even in messaging, the early and mid 2000s were all about everything from AIM to MSN messenger and all the rest, and then SMS ruled, and now we’re back to multiple apps.

Indeed. The fragmentation -> consolidation thing is largely cyclical.

‘Yo’ Raises $1.5 Million From Pete Cashmore, Betaworks & Tencent (@businessinsider)

Don’t listen to all of the apocalyptic, over-the-top “bubble” talk. It’s an app that for whatever reason, has gotten traction. When you think of the statistics on how few new apps actually get traction these days, that’s not an insignificant achievement. So it isn’t surprising that they’ve gone out and raised money from interested investors. The use cases are superficial of course. But so are the use cases for most social apps. It’ll be interesting to see if they can take this initial round of buzz and build on it over time.

What’s more interesting to me is in Betaworks’ founder John Borthwick’s explanation as to why they invested:

“Over the past year we have seen a handful of apps that function exclusively in the notifications layer — i.e., the content lives in the the notification, the content is the notification,” Borthwick wrote on Betaworks’ blog. “We are fascinated by these uses of simple yes/no on/off communications tools…As the notification layer becomes the primary interface of alert-based information on your phone — as the OS’s allow navigation and controls in those alerts — there will emerge a new class of applications that mediate this layer for web sites, other apps and connected hardware.”

In fact, Mike Isaac just wrote about another of those apps, Wut, in the NYT the other day:

Most of the interaction lives on the lock screen. New messages pop up in their entirety as push notifications, meaning you do not have to unlock your phone to see what your friends are saying.

Of course people still have to download the app, so it’s not a way to do a complete end around on the app discovery problem. But it does make the idea of having to be on a user’s front page of apps in order to be “top of mind,” much less of a concern.

Is there really beauty in “annoying” apps?

StrictlyVC posted an interview today with VC Niko Bonatsos that was kind of interesting:

Controversy is great when it comes to building a brand and acquiring users for zero marketing spend. Obviously, you have to graduate from one controversy to another, or three to six months later there’s fatigue, but it can be controversy because of behavior, content, or because your product annoys people.

Obviously he doesn’t mean all of this completely literally. But this kind of thinking kind of worries me. Controversy for controversy’s sake doesn’t help anyone. Ask Chatroulette, Clinkle, Color, Diaspora or any multitude of other startups that got reams of press for being mired in controversy.

Buzz can be useful, be it positive or negative. But true network effects only come about if a service or product is compelling enough for people to use, irrespective of chatter from the outside. That’s what the Snapchat team built. In fact, the loyalty of the product’s users has kept it from falling off the map after phone numbers were exposed in various hack attemps, after unseemly information came out about Evan Spiegel etc. These were all things that came out after Snapchat had crossed the chasm and built up a huge following well into the so-called “late majority.”

Salesforce’s Marc Benioff: I Run My Business Entirely Through My Phone (@recode)

Expect more of these stories as the months go by and productivity software in mobile becomes further refined.

Mobile Innovation in The Second Machine Age is Far From Over

There’s a lot of talk about how mobile is dead and no longer interesting for startups. Investors are already looking towards the blockchain as the next revolutionary technology. The platform wars have been declared over. Turn out the lights, the party’s over, mobile has no more room to run.

I’m not convinced.

If you read one technology book this quarter, it should be The Second Machine Age by MIT’s Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. It covers the exponential growth of the last 20 years worth of technology benchmarked against previous eras of innovation going back to the Industrial Age.

One of the more interesting chapters covers two competing theories of innovation. The first theory states that innovation is essentially low-hanging fruit that’s discovered in the metaphorical forest of ideas, that’s “picked” once and benefits everyone right away but becomes less useful as it gets depleted. In other words, a rapidly depreciating asset.

The second theory is that of recombination or recombinant growth. In this context, the value of innovation is in re-combining old ideas with new technological solutions. In other words, progress isn’t a resource with a finite supply capable of running out: as each development becomes a building block for further innovation, progress continues to accumulate exponentially.

Of course this isn’t a brand new concept. Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” video series that went viral a few years ago chronicles the remixes and adaptations inherent in popular culture, be it music, movies and even technology, using (surprise surprise) the iPhone as its canonical example. Now think of the recombinant innovation that’s taken place in mobile: Waze. Instagram. Maps and photos weren’t new concepts. What was different was the hardware that made it possible to leverage network effects to facilitate the kind of rapid growth that resulted in billion dollar businesses and subsequently, billion dollar acquisitions.

So what does all of this have to do with mobile’s perceived maturation? Simple. Just because the mobile ecosystem may be maturing doesn’t mean there isn’t a long cycle still to play out in mobile innovation. While the hardware question seems to have been settled, there are plenty of immediate questions that have yet to be solved:

How will work get done on the small screen? I’m using an external keyboard to type this out on an iPad but am going to need to move this first to IA Writer on desktop, and then into WordPress’s desktop version. Why? The formatting I can’t do on the iPad version of IA Writer (e.g. incorporating external links), the posting options that don’t appear on the iPad WordPress app, the copying and pasting that requires infinitely more effort on a tablet than it does on a desktop or laptop etc. How will this shake out in a few years? Will work change? Ben Evans and Steven Sinofsky of A16Z recently did a great podcast on the subject, advancing the (somewhat paradoxical) theory that work habits will ultimately change to fit the device rather than the other way around.

Will the relationship between apps and the mobile web become more seamless? Apps aren’t going away. I think that much is clear. What isn’t clear is how the closed ecosystem of the app world and the open web will communicate. Can we bridge the two in a more meaningful way? Can we find ways of sharing content between the digital divide? Facebook’s attempting to do this with the AppLinks open standards project but there’s still a long way to go before the idea takes traction amid Apple and Android’s collective landscapes.

Where do tablets fit in the overall mobile landscape? Are they an extension of the smartphone? A different beast entirely? Will there be a glut of tablet-specific apps at some point? And what are people using tablets for anyway? So many of these things still have yet to play out.

How will the smartphone revolution ultimately impact developing nations? Particularly those whose first computers and first experiences with the Internet are smartphones? These are people who have skipped past the PC age completely and are already utilizing things like mobile payments in ways that people in the Western world have yet to embrace. What new use cases will come outside of Silicon Valley (and indeed Western culture) once smartphone penetration reaches a sizable figure in those countries?

We’re in the beginning stages of a very long cycle that has a lot of time left to play out. While there’s no denying there are better, greater technologies ahead, it would probably behoove us all to take a step back and let that take place before abandoning it in the wake of the next shiny new thing.