Tag Archives: Mobile

Larger Phone Screens Drive Mobile Video Consumption

No, it’s not an hilarious analyst April Fools’ Day joke. Although, the elementary logic may suggest otherwise: larger screen phones — such as phablets — are a key driver in increased mobile video consumption. Read More


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Ex-Spotify Engineers Raise $2.2 Million For Lookback, A Mobile App Screen Recorder For User Testing

A team of ex-Spotify engineers have raised $ 2.2 million in seed funding for Lookback, a platform allowing developers to record onscreen activity within mobile apps – and even record the user’s face and voice, so they can explain what they’re doing when they encounter a bug or some other problem. The round was led by European investor Lakestar, and saw participation from Index… Read More


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Let’s End The Search For Mobile TV

Mobile TV has never been a thing. Since the Sony Watchman in 1982, we’ve been excited at the prospect of mobile TV, but no matter how good our devices are, there still seems to be something missing. As recently as this January, Josh Elman noted to John Borthwick that the results of the Homescreen 2014 study show that even now, no one keeps mobile video apps on their smartphone homescreens; we… Read More


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Mobile Movies Is A Novel Way Of Collecting Data In Off-The-Grid Areas

In the late 1960s, the British Ministry of Technology turned Bedford SB buses into mobile cinemas that toured the country and screened films promoting modern production techniques. Half a century later, a Singapore-based startup called Next Billion is reviving the concept to reach rural communities throughout Southeast Asia. Read More


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Acompli Raises $7.3M Series A From Redpoint & Others To Fix Mobile Email

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Acompli, a company building a mobile email application which functions as an all-in-one productivity app for iPhone, has raised $ 7.3 million in Series A funding – a sizable investment that points to the scale of the problem the startup is aiming to solve. The round was led by Redpoint Ventures, and includes participation from Harrison Metal and Felicis Ventures. The app itself is due out on the iTunes App Store in Q2 2014, though the company is accepting early sign-ups now.

Founded in April 2013, Acompli is led by Javier Soltero (CEO), previously CEO and co-founder of Hyperic; CTO, SaaS and Application Services at VMware; and most recently, Entrepreneur in Residence at Redpoint Ventures.

Soltero is joined by co-founders J.J. Zhuang (CTO) and Kevin Henrikson (VP of Engineering), also of VMware as well as Yahoo by way of its Zimbra acquisition.

Though the Acompli app is not yet available for testing, we recently were able to see a demo of the app in action, and came away fairly impressed. Acompli has been designed with the needs of the mobile professional, not the casual email user, in mind, and it’s easy to imagine that many individuals would be willing to pay (and eventually businesses, too) for the conveniences it offers.

But Acompli’s business model will be freemium-based, we understand. That is – free to end users, with a plan to sell value-added services to businesses in the future.

How Acompli Is Different Than Your Usual Mobile Email Client

There are a number of features Acompli offers which make it a richer experience than the default Mail app on iPhone, including a fast, predictive search interface and smarter contacts to make email compositions quicker and easier. This is because Acompli, like another email app I’ve been using, (CloudMagic, a pivot from a universal search app), speeds up interactions by serving data from its own servers, instead from the email providers’ own servers – like the Gmail servers, for example.

“Regarding how we do it faster, Acompli delivers messages down to the device using a secure protocol that optimizes the delivery of data based on the connectivity and state of the device,” explains Soltero. “Traditional email apps use protocols that are either not built for mobile clients (IMAP) or require expensive synchronization of state directly on the client (MS ActiveSync),” he says.

Though Acompli is handling delivering the email to the client, it encrypts all the data in transit, and doesn’t store passwords or credentials on the device, Soltero notes.

Plus, Acompli isn’t only focused on increasing the speed of writing and responding to emails, but also on all the other activities users tend to do when working with their emails.

These days, as Soltero explained to me during the demo, users tend to leave a lot of their email un-handled on mobile, preferring to deal with it when they’re back at their desktop or laptop computer. This is because managing many types of business emails on mobile is still too difficult.

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This is especially true for things like trying to figure out a time for a meeting, which requires you to switch back and forth between your calendar app on mobile and your email client. Also, it can be difficult to surface other email conversations or files stored in various cloud services like Google Drive or Dropbox, for example.

Acompli builds in access to these sorts of common task within its own “email” application. At a high level, that means you can basically tap a button to send someone your calendar availability, or tap another button to access files that have been shared via email or stored in the cloud, then quickly attach those to a new message or a reply.

The thing that impressed me about Acompli – at least when it was shown to me, which of course isn’t quite the same thing as getting to test drive an app for yourself – was not just what the app is capable of doing, but the way those interfaces were designed. I didn’t feel like I would have needed a walkthrough or tutorial to get started with it – the functions seemed intuitively placed and kind of obvious. And that’s harder than it looks.

That being said, email is a complicated beast, which is why a number of companies try to just tackle one angle – like Mailbox did with triage. Everyone uses email differently and has their own unique list of requirements for an email app. So Acompli could build something that’s both fast and intelligent, and still not win over the masses at scale  - that’s the risk building of trying to build a new email platform for mobile. That’s also why it’s exciting to watch these things get built, too.


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Kik Founder On Facebook Buying WhatsApp: Mobile Messaging Now “Table Stakes”

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Mobile messaging consolidation is coming fast and heavy recently, with the Viber/Rakuten deal and today’s WhatsApp acquisition by Facebook. Another contender in the space, Waterloo-based Kik, has also seen good traction and growth (though admittedly not on the level of WhatsApp). Kik founder and CEO Ted Livingston tells TechCrunch that this is a clear message that, well, messaging is the new black, in case it wasn’t clear before

“It’s $ 16 billion clearer that we’re now in the age of the mobile messenger,” he explained to me in a conversation on his company’s platform. “Now for the fun part: What comes after chat? What does identity mean for mobile? How do you build the best platform? These are questions Kik has been thinking about for four years.”

I asked Livingston what he thinks this means for WhatsApp, which has been a constant rival for Kik since 2009, when both companies were originally founded. Under Facebook’s stewardship, it can probably one of two ways, he said.

“Is this YouTube or MySpace?” he asked, referring to two acquisition stories which went in very different directions. YouTube, acquired by Google in 2006, continued its growth and exists as a very successful, mostly standalone property that has monetized fairly successfully. MySpace was acquired by News Corp in 2005 for $ 580 million, only to be sold in 2011 for just $ 35 million after users fled the platform in droves.

It’s a good question, but one that Livingston doesn’t see any answer to yet. WhatsApp and Facebook both claim that the messaging app will continue on as usual, acting as a distinct company with its existing revenue model and ad-free design intact. That could help it follow YouTube’s example to continued growth, rather than Myspace’s downward trajectory. As for what it means for the industry in general, Livingston says it’s simple.

“Having a popular mobile messenger is simply going to become table stakes for competing in the mobile era [among big tech companies],” he said. While some, like Apple, have already achieved this with products including iMessage (and to some extent, Google with Hangouts, too), there are plenty of companies out there who still need to figure out their mobile messaging play if they want to remain relevant as purveyors of social products, including Yahoo.

Livingston says this doesn’t change how Kik will approach its own product, however. If anything, it only serves to reinforce that they had the right idea to begin with.

“We’ve been working on how to turn a messenger into a platform for the last four years,” he said. “If anything, this just validates our roadmap.” As to what that roadmap entails, Kik recently opened up an in-app browser to web developer partners in an effort to bring content inside the network.

Kik is an obvious target for acquisition at this point in the mobile messaging space, despite its smaller user pool. I asked Livingston whether they’re looking around for suitors, and whether they actually received any offers today. He had “no comment” on that second question, but was more willing to share on the first.

“We saw this before, when Facebook bought Beluga and Skype bought Groupme,” he answered, before getting a bit philosophical, and thus managing to avoid delivering a straight answer. “This is going to be one of the most valuable races of the mobile era. What a privilege [for us] to have the opportunity to take part in it.”


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OpenTable Buys Ness For $17.3M To Beef Up Mobile And Restaurant Recommendations

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Restaurant reservation platform OpenTable today reported quarterly earnings of $ 52.3 million and used the day to put out some other news: the company has acquired Ness Computing, makers of the personalized restaurant recommendations app Ness. It’s an all-cash transaction that OpenTable says is worth $ 17.3 million, although it comes with cash in Ness’s coffers that brings the net value to $ 11.3 million.

OpenTable says that the Ness team will work in its San Francisco headquarters. The Ness app and site, meanwhile, will be discontinued with the technology getting integrated into OpenTable’s product “and other development efforts.”

Ness had already been integrating with OpenTable but this will give it potentially a much bigger audience using its recommendation platform. OpenTable says it seats more than 14 million diners each month and covers some 31,000 restaurants and clocking up some 575 million diners seated since being founded in 1998. It might also mean Ness finally coming to the UK (yay).

But it’s not a great return for Ness’s investors: in its lifetime the startup had raised $ 20 million with investors including Khosla Ventures, Alsop Louie Partners, Bullpen Capital, TomorrowVentures, SingTel Innov8 and American Express. Before today, we’d been hearing other names as possible buyers of the company.

Ness started out its life in 2011 as personalised search engine technology for mobile that quickly adapted to a specific vertical — restaurant recommendations — but always had its sights set on eventually developing to cover other areas. That ambition fuelled its 2012, $ 15 million Series B investment.

It’s not clear if that wider idea ever found traction, or whether Ness simply decided that it was a stronger company by focusing its algorithms and platform on one subject in particular. Or whether Ness found it too much of a challenge to compete in the wider world against the likes of Google. It looks like Ness’s technology, and talent, will be tasked most immediately with enhancing OpenTable’s mainstay of restaurant recommendations.

“The Ness team and I are incredibly excited to take the technology and insights we’ve developed over the last four years and incorporate them into the OpenTable product offering. As the world’s leading provider of real-time restaurant reservations, OpenTable will provide us the opportunity to introduce people to new and memorable dining experiences on a much broader scale,” said Corey Reese, CEO and co-founder of Ness Computing.

OpenTable, which started out as a platform for the web, has been making a lot of moves to add more mobile cogs to its machine — a logical strategy, given that going to restaurants, by definition, implies being out and on the move. Just earlier today, the company announced a pilot of a mobile payments service in San Francisco. Diners in that city can now not only book a table, but pay for their meal through the app, too.

Adding Ness to that is a way for OpenTable to extend a user’s time with OpenTable even more. “In the future, we believe that mobile will represent the vast majority of our reservations,” said Matt Roberts, OpenTable CEO. “Mobile is the cornerstone of powering great dining experiences.”

And, given that Ness does have the technology to search and personalise recommendations for much more besides where to eat, you might see OpenTable tap into that, too.

In all, the Ness technology should help OpenTable add more features to attract more restaurants to its platform and potentially take home more returns on the commission it charges them. In guidance for the next quarter, OpenTable says it expects sales of between $ 53.3 million and $ 54.9 million with non-GAAP EPS in the range of $ 0.39 to $ 0.43. OpenTable says that the Ness acquisition will be recorded in those Q1 2014 earnings.

Ness is the latest in a string of acquisitions that have included Quickcue in December 2013 for $ 11.5 million; JustChalo in June 2013 for $ 11 million; Foodspotting in January 2013 for $ 10 million; Treatful in August 2012 for an undisclosed amount; toptable in 2010 for $ 55 million and GuestBridge in 2009 for $ 3 million.


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Unpacking Facebook’s Mobile Strategy: Paper, All The Mobile News That’s Fit To Print

Newspaper

Editor’s Note: Semil Shah works on product for Swell, is a TechCrunch columnist, and an investor. He blogs at Haywire, and you can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

In the world of mobile apps, the biggest news from this week was the announcement, by Facebook, of a new app, built by the social network, to read news and stories: Paper. Make sure to watch the video, which is very Apple-esque in its elegance and emotion. When Facebook announces these kind of apps, it evokes memories of their previous attempts to build and distribute standalone apps that unbundle one of its features, such as Camera, Poke, or Messenger. The initial reaction within the technology startup community has been a mix of skepticism and excitement, with some drooling over the new design (it does look good) while others lament its a copy (some interactions do look like Flipboard).

This all begs a question: Will Paper go the way of Poke, or the way of Messenger? The answer will have big consequences for Facebook.

On mobile devices, Messenger has been successfully unbundled from Facebook. Messenger is one of the top messaging apps out there, it works great, and even today, Facebook is so focused on making sure everyone has it on their phones that they actually route users who are inside Facebook’s main app entirely out to Messenger (and then back in) to coax the behavior of using Messenger itself. With Poke, as we all can recall, even Facebook wasn’t able to use its enormous, engaged mobile user base to turn it into a real experience to rival Snapchat. This episode was a highly visible example of how Facebook’s high mobile engagement could shoot any app right to the top of the charts, but also exposed the limits of its power to affect mobile engagement as users quickly abandoned the product experience.

When it comes to Facebook and mobile, we are witnessing the early stages of the company’s attempt to unbundle and distribute its core features in new mobile products. Back in September 2011, I wrote a column right here on TechCrunch which argued Facebook’s strategy for blanketing our devices with their software was to break it up. You can read that post here, and make sure to check out the picture. Two and a half years later, Facebook is in a much stronger mobile position. Earlier this week for earnings, Facebook shared mobile stats, reporting nearly 950m MAUs and 550m DAU’s. This type of scale and engagement for mobile apps affords Facebook incredible amounts of actionable data, which translates to market power, which they use to line their pockets through mobile app install ads — just wait until they roll out mobile re-engagement ads and deep-linking options, as well.

Can Facebook, moving forward, effectively leverage the power and scale of its own network to drive its daily active users to new mobile experiences (as they’re doing with Messenger), or will users only temporarily flock to only to abandon them (as they did with Poke)? And, in the case of Paper specifically, will users convert to getting real-time mobile push notifications about news and stories about their friends, or will they find this spammy and revert back to their original sources of news (which includes regular Facebook)?

It will be interesting to see the world’s reaction tomorrow (February 3) when Paper is released. Two great pieces on this are by TechCrunch’s own Josh Constine, who takes a deep dive on Facebook’s Plot To Conquer Mobile: Shatter Itself Into Pieces, and Wanelo’s Adam Besvinick, who looks beyond the motive to unbundle when it comes to Paper. Facebook is a very different mobile company today than it was a year ago, or two years ago. The scale is just massive, and the engagement is off the charts. Assuming the product experience itself is relevant, which is why news and personal stories are interesting, even a low conversion rate to Paper would be a very sizeable audience. The reason we see more and more news apps on our phones or in the App Store is because checking the news isn’t just a daily active use case, it’s a multiple-times-a-day hyperactive use case, and one that Facebook, with their mobile user data, their algorithms, and their scale and engagement, could exploit with this move and be the first thing people read in the morning — just like the newspaper used to be. Only time will tell, so pick up the Paper tomorrow morning and read all about it.

Photo Credit: Je suis Samuel / Creative Commons Flickr


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Lenovo’s Motorola Mobility Buy Is Partly About The Chance To Own The Enterprise Mobile Market

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Lenovo’s ThinkPad is the brand of choice when it comes to enterprise notebooks – Dell has a strong footing still, to be sure, but Lenovo dominated the PC market in 2013, followed by HP and then Dell. The acquisition of Motorola Mobility today gives them a chance to parlay that success in the traditional computing world into the booming enterprise hotspot of mobile tech.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lenovo Chief Executive Yang Yuanqing and CFO Wong Wai Ming explained that the purpose behind the purchase was to help Lenovo enter the U.S. smartphone market and make the company a worldwide player in the smartphone market. But we’ve also learned that Lenovo has been conducting research about what customers might be looking for in a ThinkPad-style smartphone, particularly at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Lenovo asking prospective buyers what they might expect in a ThinkPad phone doesn’t necessarily equate to a major mobile enterprise push, but there are more pieces to the puzzle to consider, too. One important one is that Lenovo made a bid for at least portions of BlackBerry, but the deal was ultimately nixed by the Canadian government since BlackBerry was so important a part of the Canadian telecommunications infrastructure.

It’s true that the company already sells Android phones abroad, and that these aren’t necessarily enterprise-focused. But the ongoing demise of BlackBerry leaves a gaping hole in the industry in terms of secure devices, and so far the only company really making a concerted effort to capture the attention of that market is Samsung, which has been touting its Knox security software for Android a lot in the past few months. But Knox isn’t without its detractors, and Samsung hardly has the brand cachet that does Lenovo when it comes to building enterprise hardware.

Lenovo says it will keep its Motorola brand separate in the same way it has done with ThinkPad, but that doesn’t mean it’ll keep the focus solely on consumer devices. Lenovo is clearly interested in that side of things too, as proven by its existing line of mobile hardware, but the growth opportunity in the U.S. is ironically replacing BlackBerry at the moment, so I think we’ll see an attempt by Lenovo to use Motorola to build on its strengths and give business users the phones they’ve been looking for.


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Apple Preparing For Push Into Mobile Payments For Physical Goods, WSJ Reports

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A long-rumored move by Apple is reportedly one step closer to becoming a reality today. The Wall Street Journal says that Apple is looking into a way to expand its mobile payments efforts into a means by which its users can pay for physical goods using iOS mobile devices via their existing iTunes accounts.

It’s not such a stretch: Apple already allows shoppers who frequent their physical retail stores to do this with accessories and other relatively inexpensive items. Using the Apple Store app, users can scan barcodes of products and then authenticate and finalize the purchase using their iTunes Store credentials, the same way they can pay for digital goods including movies and music.

The new WSJ report claims that Apple is looking into a way to expand that kind of shopping behavior beyond just goods in Apple’s own stores, to third-party retailers and service providers including black car hiring service Uber. Apple’s head of iTunes, the App Store and general Internet software and service Eddy Cue is said to be meeting with industry execs in the retail and commerce space to prepare the way for a wide-reaching payments system, according to the WSJ’s sources, and Apple has also reportedly shifted Jennifer Bailey, longtime VP of Apple’s online stores, into a role focusing on building a payments business.

Apple’s existing stockpile of consumer cards on file makes this move seemingly inevitable: it had 600 million users with credit cards on file as of late last year, according to analyst estimates. To put that in perspective, PayPal has around 137 million active accounts, according to the company’s own current figures. The dormant potential for Apple is huge, in other words.

Building a system for payments into the fabric of iOS also makes sense in terms of Apple’s recent moves with regards to R&D and actual shipping technology. It introduced Touch ID with the iPhone 5s, for instance, which provides a secondary authentication tech to help verify the identity of a user (Touch ID is already used for virtual good purchases made through the iTunes store), and with iOS 7 it debuted iBeacons, which can be used as an NFC-style vehicle for conducting device-based mobile transactions in-store. Finally, Apple just recently filed for a new patent that would allow its devices to securely store payment information, and then authorize purchases in a way that doesn’t convey any sensitive user data.

I’ve been writing about the potential Apple has in the field of mobile payments since back in 2010, and nothing much has changed except for the fact that the opportunity is much more mature, increasing the chances of wide consumer adoption. Time and time again, Cupertino has proven itself willing to wait for the right time to strike with new technologies, and while the iTunes card account piece of the puzzle has always seemed a compelling argument in support of Apple entering this market, you could argue that paying for things via your device was still an alien enough concept to keep consumer interest low.

Last year, Forrester estimated mobile payments would become a $ 90 billion market by 2017, and it’s already growing a rapid pace. If the WSJ’s report today is accurate Apple might finally be ready to claim its spot at the table in preparation for the upcoming feast. And if it does happen, it could drastically alter the positioning of some of the top players currently operating, including Square, PayPal and many more.


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