Posts tagged could

Work It, Windows: 5 Ways Microsoft Could Court Fitness-App Makers


ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self. 

Right now, Apple, Google, and Samsung have the buzz in digital fitness. The technologies Microsoft is unveiling this week at its Build conference could make it more of a player—but it has to get moving to seize the opportunity.

The biggest problem Microsoft has right now is its paltry market share in mobile phones, the main device people like me use to direct their exercise and nutrition.

With the rise of wearable devices, Microsoft could do an end run around Apple and Google. Its Xbox could also give it strong advantages, especially for at-home workouts. Overall, though, it faces hard sledding. It’s simply not on the radar of the most creative developers. At a Hackfit hackathon I judged last month, for example, not a single entrant built anything using Microsoft’s software or services.

If it’s going to make a difference in the health and fitness of its billions of users, here are the technologies that Microsoft needs to push to makers of fitness apps and gadgets.

Cortana, A Personal Assistant—And Also A Trainer?

Can Cortana learn about your fitness?

Can Cortana learn about your fitness?

Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-response system for smartphones, is an answer to Siri and Google Now, serving up quick responses to simple spoken questions. But it’s more than that: It has the potential to connect with all the apps on a phone.

That opens up some exciting possibilities. At Build, Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore demonstrated how Cortana could retrieve nutrition data from a database to tell him how many calories were in a banana.  There are other scenarios as well. “Cortana, I’m going for a run with Nike” could launch the Nike+ Running app. “Cortana, what’s my heart rate?” could read my pulse off of a Bluetooth chest strap.

Further out, imagine Cortana acting as a personal trainer, guiding you through a workout through audio, so you don’t have to look down at your phone to see the next exercise. Today, apps like FitStar and Pear Sports offer audio coaching, but those app developers have had to create their own soundtracks. With the software-development kit for Cortana, app developers wouldn’t need to build their own sound libraries—and could also give feedback about the workout during a session, based on real-time data captured by a wearable device.

Xbox Fitness could kill off fitness DVDs.

Xbox Fitness could kill off fitness DVDs.


 

Xbox And Kinect

With its Xbox video-game console and its Kinect motion-detection device, Microsoft has all the pieces to dominate at-home exercise. That’s a huge business: People spend $265 billion a year on fitness DVDs, a market that’s begging to be taken online.

Beyond its own Xbox Fitness app, which features celebrity trainers like Jillian Michaels and Tony Horton, Microsoft could do more to encourage developers. Kinect PlayFit, which tracks calories burnt in exercise across multiple apps, is a good example of the kind of service Microsoft can offer.

Universal Windows Apps

Microsoft is making it easier to write apps that run on Windows PCs, tablets, and smartphones. Not only will that be easier for developers, but it will be easier for consumers, who will be able to buy an app once from the Windows Store and have it installed on all of their devices.

That’s appealing to app creators like FatSecret, which makes a calorie-counting app for Windows Phone. Founder and COO Lenny Moses says interest has been “definitely growing” and raves about Windows Phone’s Smart Tiles features, which can display short updates from an app on the desktop.

The notion of a universal app that can bridge desktops and phones is appealing, according to Moses: ”If it means we can support the desktop better, then all the better.”

Right now, the Windows Phone app store only has a few top fitness apps, like MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun, and Runtastic. It’s typical for users to use the mobile versions of those apps to log a meal or a workout, and then use the Web version to review their data afterwards. But because of the differences between mobile operating systems and websites, it’s often jarring to go between these versions. As a user, I find myself constantly having to relearn interfaces. Switching devices but staying in what’s essentially the same app with a similar interface sounds far easier.

And Microsoft is also including the Xbox platform in universal apps—which means we could see apps that stretch from the running trail to the living room.

Josh Shaeffer, Runtastic’s vice president of business development, says that his company’s fitness apps do well on Windows Phone in Europe, where Microsoft has higher market share, and the concept of universal apps has appeal.

“For Runtastic it could make sense for us to seriously consider getting an app like Six Pack ready for cross-device use,” he said. But he notes that the company doesn’t currently have plans for such an app. Runtastic’s sole presence in the living room is its iPhone app, which can run on a large screen via Apple TV.

Bing, HealthVault, And Azure

Built into Windows 8 is Bing Health & Fitness, which helps users log exercise, medications, and food. It in turn syncs with Microsoft HealthVault, a Web-based storehouse of medical information.

Right now, Bing Health & Fitness competes with major features of several popular fitness apps. Microsoft should aim to cooperate instead, making its Health & Fitness app a central repository for data that flows in from apps like MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, Walgreens, and a host of other that do a really good job at one specific task.

Microsoft could also market Azure, its collection of cloud services. Practically every mobile app requires some kind of storehouse for data—a heart-rate log for a workout, nutritional listings, sleep logs, and more. We generate a massive amount of data already, and the increasing wave of wearable devices will only increase our bodies’ data spew.

Azure is a place where apps can store and analyze that data—but Microsoft will have to make the case that in can do that better than Google or Amazon. One way to do that is to note how Bing and HealthVault can offer consumer-friendly interfaces to that data.

Another way Microsoft could court developers is to integrate their data with its apps and services. Bing Health & Fitness, for example, uses FatSecret’s nutritional database. More partnerships like that are ways Microsoft could increase its appeal to developers.

Windows For Devices

Microsoft also announced that a new version of its operating system called Windows for Devices would be free to license. Details on Windows for Devices are sparse—the company launched and then took down a website for the OS before Build started—but it appears to be an evolution of Windows Embedded, which Microsoft has already touted as perfect for the Internet of Things.

That seems like it’s perfect for the fast-growing wearables market. But here, I think Microsoft will have to do a lot of heavy lifting. We don’t know how Windows for Devices will do on battery life, for example, or what kind of processors it will require. Those are critical issues, along with stability. No one wants to reboot a smartwatch. The price is right—but free is just the price of admission in the wearables market, where every component’s cost and weight matters.

Shape Up, Microsoft!

So with all these assets, what is Microsoft doing to reach out to fitness-app developers? Basically nothing, a Microsoft executive told ReadWrite at Build.

That’s a shame, and it’s a good example of how much work Microsoft needs to do. It has all the pieces in place to be a major player in digital fitness. It just needs to start flexing the right muscles and moving in a coordinated manner. Sounds easy, right? But anyone who’s tried to get off the couch and start moving knows how hard that first step is.

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How A Smartphone Kill Switch Could Save Consumers A Ton Of Money

Lawmakers and carriers alike are pushing for a “kill switch” standard for all smartphones, which would render stolen phones useless to thieves. And if bills guarding against smartphone theft didn’t have enough support already, one statistics professor found that such a measure would save money for everyone—especially consumers.

William Duckworth, an associate professor of data science and analytics at Creighton University, found that American consumers would save millions, if not billions of dollars, from a smartphone “kill switch,” thanks in large part to reduced insurance premiums.

According to Duckworth, U.S. consumers spend roughly $580 million replacing stolen phones each year, but that’s just a small fraction compared to what those consumers pay for insurance on those handsets: $4.8 billion each year.

A kill switch, which would also destroy the business of reselling stolen smartphones, would save consumers most of the $580 million they spend each year on replacing their stolen phones. But Duckworth estimates consumers could save a further $2 billion if they could switch to cheaper insurance plans that didn’t cover theft.

Duckworth said not all customers would buy an insurance plan that doesn’t cover theft—even with a “kill switch” in place—but through a survey of 1,200 smartphone users in February, he found the vast majority of smartphone owners would indeed support this measure. According to the survey, a whopping 99% of consumers thought carriers should be able to disable a stolen phone via “kill switch,” and 83% of respondents thought a kill switch would help reduce smartphone theft.

“I thought a high percentage would say yes, but it was a little surprising and maybe a bigger number than I would have guessed,” Duckworth said in an interview with PCWorld. He continued:

I view losing a credit card as a similar frame of reference. If it is stolen or lost, I can call the credit card company and get it canceled and they can issue a new one. There is safety there. My smartphone has tons of information and accounts in there, so the idea that I could call and say “kill it” is a very reasonable thing.

Will A Smartphone Kill Switch Actually Happen?

Though Duckworth’s report should help the case for a kill switch, lawmakers will still face some pushback from the CTIA, the lobbying group that represents the telecom industry—which has two executives from companies that sell insurance to smartphone owners on its board of directors.

The CTIA has a different idea on how to handle smartphone theft. Instead of shutting down stolen phones individually, the CTIA has offered up a database that can block stolen phones from being reactivated by the phone’s new owner. Unfortunately, the database has a few weaknesses, including the fact that it only works with a handful of countries; in other words, if you steal a phone and travel to the right country, the CTIA can’t block those stolen phones from getting reactivated.

Though the CTIA said a greater international reach should help nullify the weaknesses in its system, it’s clear that smartphone and mobile device robberies are on the rise. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, citing “data from law enforcement agencies,” says that about 20% of all robberies in New York City targeted a smartphone, while in San Francisco, that percentage grew to 50%. It’s also a problem internationally, with a reported 10,000 smartphones stolen in London each month.

“Overall, it seems clear that Americans want the Kill Switch and that an industry-wide implementation of the technology could significantly improve public safety and save consumers billions of dollars a year,” Duckworth concluded in his study.

Still, if lawmakers approve the kill switch for all smartphones, people don’t want the “kill switch” to be an extra feature they pay for. Fully 93% of those surveyed by Duckworth said the kill switch shouldn’t come at an extra cost.

Supporters of the kill switch like Gascon believe it to be a necessary measure that can save money, but also lives. According to Consumer Reports, 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones in 2012, and some even lost their lives. A kill switch would be a strong deterrent to theft and violence, as well as an extra safety measure so consumers can feel safe with their smartphones.

“[Duckworth’s] survey confirms what we already knew to be the case, that wireless consumers would benefit tremendously from the implementation of theft deterrent technology on all smartphones,” Gascon said. “Beyond the financial benefits to consumers, however, the human costs of not implementing this technology on all smartphones are simply too great.”

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3 Ways The Facebook-Oculus Deal Could Work Out, From Awesome To Terrifying

Facebook just placed a $2 billion bet on the Next Big Thing by snapping up startup Oculus VR and its unreleased but much-gushed-over virtual-reality headset, the Oculus Rift. And not in the next-hit-app sense or the everyday-bullshit-press-release sense—like most actual Big Things, Oculus isn’t a one-trick-app or a gimmick.

In reality, it’s a platform so vast we literally cannot see its edges. The Oculus Rift lays the foundation for a future that we can hardly even imagine until we try it on. Mark Zuckerberg tried it on. Then he bought it.

So now what happens?

Scenario #1: With More Resources, Oculus Thrives 

Facebook is no hardware company—we’ve known that for years. But as Zuck and co. have reminded us endlessly, Facebookis a mobile company. On a conference call Tuesday to discuss the Oculus acquisition, Zuckerberg asserted his belief in virtual reality as the next major platform with fanboyish conviction. And that’s a good sign.

“Now we have this strong position on mobile and we’re feeling increasingly good about that … we think vision is going to be the next really big platform,” Zuckerberg said. “There are not that many things that are candidates to be the next computing platform.”

Unlike WhatsApp, Instagram and a string of small earlier Facebook acquisitions, Oculus isn’t a defensive play—it’s an offensive leap toward the next generation of computing. And like Instagram, Oculus has a vocal body of fierce loyalists who’ve loved the company from day one. Those true believers didn’t keep ads off of Instagram, but they kept Facebook—which still lets Instagram operate pretty much independently—in check.

To imagine the best case scenario for Oculus, let’s suspend our skepticism for a moment and listen to Palmer Luckey, the visionary founder of Oculus, who appears to have stayed up all night making that case on Reddit:

  • We now have the freedom to make the right decisions without worrying about short financial profit or investor returns.
  • We are going to have a lot of people working on other things as well (film, education, communication, etc), but we are gamers at heart. None of our gaming resources will be diverted.
  • This deal specifically lets us greatly lower the price of the Rift.
  • Oculus continues to operate independently! We are going to remain as indie/developer/enthusiast friendly as we have always been, if not more so.
  • I guarantee that you won’t need to log into your Facebook account every time you wanna use the Oculus Rift.
  • We can make custom hardware, not rely on the scraps of the mobile phone industry. That is insanely expensive, think hundreds of millions of dollars. 
  • If anything, our hardware and software will get even more open, and Facebook is onboard with that.

Key takeaways? The Rift will get cheaper. Oculus was feeling the heat from its investors and wants to be left alone for a while. You won’t need to log into a Facebook account “every time” you fire up the Rift (every time? Maybe just the first time? Whew). Facebook will let Oculus continue to serve its core indie developer community, assuming that community sticks around.

Essentially, the Oculus team remains independent, gets an infusion of talent and resources and keeps its head down working on the best virtual reality experience it can make. (Caveat: Now it’s making it for Facebook.)

The bit about the Oculus hardware and software staying open feels a little hard to believe, but then again Facebook created the Open Compute Project, an initiative to pry the lid off of proprietary server hardware in the style of open source software projects.

Scenario #2: Oculus Loses Its Innovators—Welcome To RiftVille

For anyone who’s followed the short evolution of the Oculus Rift, pairing with Facebook feels like a nightmare scenario. Oculus, with its early model held together by what looked like duct tape, was a rare scrappy upstart that punched way above its weight.

Facebook, once scrappy in its own right (if one can be scrappy at Harvard), is now a global social media force the likes of which the world has never seen. And in spite of its supposed enduring hacker ethos, it’s difficult to trust a company that snaked into our lives ten years ago and has somehow held us, often unhappily, in its thrall ever since. This fundamental distrust is keeping Oculus believers awake at night. (OK, last night, at least.)

So Oculus, which was an open platform for virtual imagination, now answers to a corporate overlord—one that makes billions from hacking our brains and serving us ads for things we never even intended for it to know we cared about. There is no precedent for how Facebook will handle Oculus. Instagram, WhatsApp, Parse—all useful tools in their own rights—don’t come close to the disruptive potential many see in the Oculus Rift.

Facebook may leave its new toy alone for a while, but former Oculus enthusiasts with big ideas are wary of the long game—the one that Facebook admits it’s playing. In this scenario, indie game developers band together and jump ship. (Notch, the legendary creator of Minecraft, is already leading the charge on this bit.)

In this scenario, the notion of a collaborative, open virtual reality platform dies on the vine. And it’s not just about game makers. Science labs around the country, even NASA, turn away from Oculus, fearing its ties to a company that thrives on owning and selling data about its users. Potential education and medical applications are rendered null by privacy concerns.

We languish in a dumb virtual purgatory of Candy Crush and FarmVille forever, wandering around listlessly issuing Likes in three dimensions instead of two.

Scenario #3: Oculus Thrives … Until Facebook Turns The Ads Spigot

In 2012, Facebook struggled to conquer mobile. Already extremely slow to bring an iPad app to market, Zuckerberg eventually admitted that investing heavily in clunky HTML5 apps rather than building native was his “biggest mistake.” Then Zuck turned the ship around, and now 53% of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from mobile. Two years ago that number was 0%. Facebook is an advertising company, and while Oculus may no longer have investors to answer to, Facebook does.

Again, a reminder: Facebook is an advertising company. In its last reported quarter, $2.34 billion of its $2.59 billion total revenue came from advertising. Facebook hit its mark, serving targeted ads over smartphones and tablets, platforms on which the company commands unprecedented levels of engagement.

You know what else is engaging? The 360-degree immersive virtual environment that the Oculus Rift brings to the table.

Facebook doesn’t want or need to make money off of the hardware (again, it’s an ad company, not a hardware company). It will subsidize the hardware to get the platform into as many hands as possible. Zuckerberg stated outright that the acquisition is a “software and services thing,” going on to mutter something vague about people buying virtual goods … and well, yes, there will be ads—but don’t worry about them yet.

Sure, as Zuckerberg said, the real strategy might be five years out—Oculus will likely be left to its own devices in the meantime—but once the most engaging platform ever created reaches perfection, Facebook’s green-eyeshade types will come calling. And they won’t need to go far.

Oculus Rift images by Sergey Galyonkin via Flickr, Facebook image by Taylor Hatmaker

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Another iOS 7 Bug: This One Could Let Somebody Secretly Track You

Researchers have discovered a new security flaw in iOS 7 that could allow a malicious app to monitor and track a user’s touch and button inputs while quietly running in the background. The flaw, according to research firm FireEye, buries itself in the multitasking functionality of iOS and automatically transmits all user inputs to a remote server.

To demonstrate the new security exploit, FireEye’s researchers created a proof-of-concept monitoring app and installed it on a device running iOS 7, effectively bypassing Apple’s App Store review process. Once installed, the app was able to track all kinds of user inputs, from the keyboard to the volume and power buttons to Touch ID verification events—even screen touches were tracked with precise coordinates.

News of the security bug arrives less than a week after Apple was forced to respond to another major vulnerability involving the way iPhones, iPads and Macs securely connect to websites via Wi-Fi or cellular. The flaw would have allowed malicious hackers to capture and modify supposedly safe data from Apple’s Safari browser. The issue has been fixed for iPhones and iPads running iOS 6 or 7, but Apple is still planning to release a fix for Mac computers running OS X “very soon.”

Exterminating The Bugs

Apple issued an urgent fix for last week’s security flaw—iOS 7.0.6—but this week’s exploit affects all current non-jailbroken versions of iOS, including iOS 7 and iOS 6.1.x.

The only way for users to fix this issue before Apple does, according to the researchers, is to manually remove open apps from the multitasking bar, which appears with two consecutive presses of the home button. Once you open the multitasking manager, simply swipe the preview screens of the open apps to the top of the screen to close them. Apple also has a setting called “Background App Refresh,” which disallows applications from updating themselves while not in use, but FireEye said this setting could not disable the malicious code from logging data.

FireEye said it’s working with Apple to fix the issue, but Cupertino has yet to publicly confirm the new security bug. I’ve reached out to Apple and I’ll update this story as soon as I learn more.

In the meantime, we’re still waiting on iOS 7.1, which will reportedly release in March with a number of visual improvements and fixes for exploits, battery issues and sudden shutdowns.

Lead image by Reuters; right image courtesy of FireEye

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How The Visual Web Could Achieve Its Potential


This post is presented by CIBC

From today’s vantage point, it looks like nothing will slow the momentum of the Visual Web.

Selfies, pins, memes, and other picture formats are now dominating our once text-based Web. Sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram don’t just rule mobile; they also boast the youngest, hippest audiences coveted by marketers and startups alike. It’s no wonder that in 2013, the Visual Web became a billion-dollar trend, sparking skyrocketing valuations for the leading players. 

But there’s only been one truth on the Web that’s sure to last, and that’s “innovate or die.” Like every other disruptive technology, the Visual Web will come head to head with challenges that could jeopardize its widespread adoption. 

If the Visual Web wants to last, image-centered networks and apps will need to keep improving. Here are the biggest issues facing the Visual Web today—and the ways it might overcome them.

True Visual Search 

Since the adolescence of the Web, search engines have identified textual cues and linked them to the objects that users are most likely looking for. Web users and Web publishers have grown accustomed to looking for and providing answers based on text. 

Needless to say, that’s not going to work on the Visual Web. Image-heavy algorithms that rely on adjacent textual cues are a recipe for disaster. Case in point: in the early days of Pinterest, the network’s algorithm gave more weight to image titles than anything else. That meant anybody could make their image “most” relevant by typing the title three times.

According to Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate, the provider of a suite of Visual Web analytics tools, the biggest challenge the Visual Web faces right now is restoring context to its content—with no text required. 

“Every single social media analytics tool that has ever been created has assumed text would be a constant,” he said. “As consumers increasingly communicate using pictures, they decreasingly use words. In a world where the text based cues become smaller and smaller, determining what an image represents becomes harder and harder.”

Right now, players in the Visual Web are working on solving this issue in several different ways. The most obvious solution would be for companies and vendors to develop technology that literally reads the images themselves. Facebook has long had this with its less-than-reliable facial recognition software. GazeMetrix takes this a step further, by identifying brands and logos out of the pixels of an online image. Curalate itself uses a technique called “pixel recognition” to literally identify images on the Visual Web by their pixel makeup.  

Pinterest has another solution, an internal system called Rich Pins, which aims to surface relevant data about pinned images. These pins appear to users as especially text-heavy, but actually attach metadata to the image that makes it easier for the Pinterest algorithm to recognize and categorize. Unfortunately, they require the cooperation and labor of businesses and developers to work correctly so far.  

Analysis Through Open Data

The second challenge the Visual Web faces today is making itself work for marketers. The support of brands will make it far easier for Visual Web networks to become self sustaining.

You’d think the Visual Web would be a marketer’s dream, and it is—if you’re a big business. On Instagram, Sony worked with a popular photographer to indirectly advertise its cameras. On Tumblr, Sephora outright uses one of the platform’s blogs as its sole fashion magazine. For big brands, there are plenty of options. But what about small businesses?

If you’re an up-and-coming business using the Visual Web to gain publicity for the first time, your best bet is to create an image that goes viral. And according to Danny Maloney, cofounder and CEO of Pinterest analytics company Tailwind, that’s when you can run into a host of issues. 

“If you post an image that is going around the Web and has been shared a bunch of times and you want to edit it, that’s almost impossible to do,” he said. “The Visual Web is missing the ability to update content that has already been published. For that to work, you’d need the ability to identify everywhere the image has been shared.” 

Even worse, users sharing your image might cut out your watermark, making it impossible to trace the image back to you. Right now, you can’t replace those instances with the right picture, because you can’t tell yet everywhere your image is shared. Even if you can tell for only one network, you can’t tell for all of them. 

Fortunately, Maloney said, the technology to match images does exist. A former strategy associate at YouTube, he recalled the work that company went into building advanced technology to perform video matching and identify when somebody uploaded a pirated video. It’s a problem with solutions, but for it to work, Visual Web sites would have to work together.

“I think the bigger question is, ‘How do you get multiple data providers to open access to their visual content?’ The more open access to data is by web platforms, the more solvable this problem becomes. No one of the platforms can solve it itself; Tumblr will never have all the data. But if they collaborate with a third party, it can be solved.” 

It’s fortunate that the biggest challenges the Visual Web is facing are both technological ones, because if anything’s constant, it’s that human innovation is always improving. The question is whether big players will be able to solve these problems before the next big thing comes along.

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Amazon’s TV-Streaming Box Could Launch By March

Amazon may launch a TV-streaming device in March that would compete with Apple TV, Roku and, to some extent, Google’s Chromecast, the tech site Re/code reports. The gadget—which Amazon reportedly considered, then decided against, releasing for the just-passed holiday season—would presumably help the sprawling e-commerce giant build the audience for its online video offerings and its nascent slate of original programs.

See also: How Apple TV Can Win; Getting Started With Chromecast; How To Choose Between Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast

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How Twitter Could Challenge Amazon And eBay In E-Commerce

The reported but still-unconfirmed news that Twitter is moving into e-commerce—first broken by Re/code—is baffling to most people.

There were unconfirmed reports of Twitter partnering with a New York-based startup called Fancy—where Jack Dorsey is an investor—and there was something about Twitter using Stripe for payments. These reports are also still unconfirmed, but they have been picked up by mainstream media.

Twitter has been in the spotlight after their first quarterly report as a public company (as we reported here), so one can take the company’s lack of denial as a reasonable indication there might be some truth to these reports.

Something was going on here, but what? This seems like an incredible stretch for a firm that’s currently known as the leader in real-time news; tracking celebrities, politics and stocks all make sense on Twitter, but buying shoes? Really?

Real-time IT has become the consumer real-time Web after going through two big niche markets business markets:

The Emergence Of Real-Time IT

When I first started working with event-driven programming and in-memory data in the 1980s, we used to poach developers from the military systems world since they were so familiar with real-time IT. Decades later, in 2008, an entrepreneur running a financial trading systems business confided in me that his biggest talent issue was Google poaching his real-time systems developers.

Though the real-time Web has existed for more than a decade, Twitter has been its main attraction since 2009, when a plane’s emergency landing in the Hudson River was first reported on the social network. I witnessed this event in-person at the time.

Now that Twitter is public, the company is motivated to grow its user base and bottom line, but advertisers are used to results-based adverting, and Twitter cannot beat Google or Facebook in offering advertisers a wealth of data. What Twitter can do, however, is leverage its dominance of the real-time Web.

This is what should get Amazon and eBay worried. Even more so, it should worry Groupon. This is not about daily deals, it’s about real-time deals.

Twitter will reportedly use Stripe for its payments platform, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since Stripe is widely considered to be the best ways to integrate payments into most large mobile sites. Twitter will also use Fancy, which is billed as ”the place where you discover, collect, and buy from a crowd-curated catalog of amazing goods, wonderful places and innovative stores.” Prior to being purchased, Fancy acquired Samplrs, which is focused on selling artisanal foods a la carte or via subscription service.

Twitter users already curate the news like crazy, so it makes sense to have them curate what they buy. But Twitter, like artisanal food or fashion, values itself on freshness. Those shoes you saw Carrie wear on Sex in The City are fresher (and more valuable) than identical shoes from the same designer listed in a warehouse clearance sale. The same goes for electronics, cars, movies, skis… most whatever you can think of. And therein lies the value of Twitter’s service: It’s freshness and relevance tailored specifically for you.

Here are the winners and losers from Twitter’s alleged deal:

Winners

  • Mom & Pop shops (quicker to adapt to high-margin, low-volume fresh products)
  • Artisanal producers, makers, artists
  • Twitter (obviously)
  • Startups that fill in the bigger picture of real-time ecommerce
  • Home-based traders spotting price anomalies (“Holy cow, why are those hot shoes so cheap?”)
  • Startups using Twitter API to go after niche ecommerce markets where freshness matters

Losers

  • Amazon (still, don’t count out Jeff Bezos)
  • Big box retailers
  • eBay and Paypal
  • Groupon
  • Products that don’t innovate fast enough to stay on the cutting edge

Image courtesy of Shutterstock 

View full post on ReadWrite

How Twitter Could Challenge Amazon, eBay In eCommerce

The reported but still-unconfirmed news that Twitter is moving into e-commerce—first broken by Re/code—is baffling to most people.

There were unconfirmed reports of Twitter partnering with a New York-based startup called Fancy—where Jack Dorsey is an investor—and there was something about Twitter using Stripe for payments. These reports are also still unconfirmed, but they have been picked up by mainstream media.

Twitter has been in the spotlight after their first quarterly report as a public company (as we reported here), so one can take the company’s lack of denial as a reasonable indication there might be some truth to these reports.

Something was going on here, but what? This seems like an incredible stretch for a firm that’s currently known as the leader in real-time news; tracking celebrities, politics and stocks all make sense on Twitter, but buying shoes? Really?

RealTime IT has become the consumer RealTimeWeb after going through two big niche markets business markets:

The Emergence Of Real-Time IT

When I first started working with event-driven programming and in-memory data in the 1980s, we used to poach developers from the military systems world since they were so familiar with real-time IT. Decades later, in 2008, an entrepreneur running a financial trading systems business confided in me that his biggest talent issue was Google poaching his real-time systems developers.

Though the real-time web has existed for more than a decade, Twitter has been its main attraction since 2009, when a plane’s emergency landing in the Hudson River was first reported on the social network. I witnessed this event in-person at the time.

Now that Twitter is public, the company is motivated to grow its user base and bottom line, but advertisers are used to results-based adverting, and Twitter cannot beat Google or Facebook in offering advertisers a wealth of data. What Twitter can do, however, is leverage its dominance of the real-time web.

This is what should get Amazon and eBay worried. Even more so, it should worry Groupon. This is not about daily deals, it’s about real-time deals.

Twitter will reportedly use Stripe for its payments platform, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since Stripe is widely considered to be the best ways to integrate payments into most large mobile sites. Twitter will also use Fancy, which is billed as ”the place where you discover, collect, and buy from a crowd-curated catalog of amazing goods, wonderful places and innovative stores.” Prior to being purchased, Fancy acquired Samplrs, which is focused on selling artisanal foods a la carte or via subscription service.

Twitter users already curate the news like crazy, so it makes sense to have them curate what they buy. But Twitter, like artisanal food or fashion, values itself on freshness. Those shoes you saw Carrie wear on Sex in The City are fresher (and more valuable) than identical shoes from the same designer listed in a warehouse clearance sale. The same goes for electronics, cars, movies, skis… most whatever you can think of. And therein lies the value of Twitter’s service: It’s freshness and relevance tailored specifically for you.

Here are the winners and losers from Twitter’s alleged deal:

Winners

  • Mom & Pop shops (quicker to adapt to high-margin, low-volume fresh products)
  • Artisanal producers, makers, artists
  • Twitter (obviously)
  • Startups that fill in the bigger picture of real-time ecommerce
  • Home-based traders spotting price anomalies (“Holy cow, why are those hot shoes so cheap?”)
  • Startups using Twitter API to go after niche ecommerce markets where freshness matters

Losers

  • Amazon (still, don’t count out Jeff Bezos)
  • Big box retailers
  • eBay and Paypal
  • Groupon
  • Products that don’t innovate fast enough to stay on the cutting edge

Image courtesy of Shutterstock 

View full post on ReadWrite

Sure, Microsoft Could ‘Fork’ Android—But It Would Be A Complete Waste Of Time

Windows Phone may not be the blockbuster mobile operating system that its designers in Redmond (or Espoo, Finland) hoped it would be. But that doesn’t mean Microsoft and its new CEO Satya Nadella would be better off doing something drastic like scrapping the project and building a new mobile OS based on Google’s open-source Android.

Some have suggested the move as a “can’t-beat-em-then-join-em” way for Microsoft to reassert its relevance in mobile. And the Wall Street Journal just reported that Nokia—whose mobile-phone division is about to become part of Microsoft—is about to release a new smartphone based on Android, one whose design predates the Microsoft acquisition.

But there’s no reason to think it’s a good idea.

Microsoft To Build On Android?

Windows Phone has made incremental gains in market share over the last couple of years, but its growth remains stagnant when compared to the volumes at which consumers and business are adopting Android and Apple’s iOS. The natural inclination of the technology punditocracy is to say, “Well, Microsoft could always just adopt Android. It’s open source, has a million apps in its app store and a billion users across the world.”

To call that outcome unlikely is almost to do a disservice to the term. We are, after all, talking about Microsoft and Google, two companies that have fought bitterly over something as minor as getting a decent YouTube app on Windows Phone. Before taking anything else into consideration, let’s just say that a Microsoft turn to Android isn’t bloody likely.

That being said, from a technical perspective, Microsoft doesn’t need to involve Google at all if it wants to build a smartphone on Android’s skeletal framework.

Nokia Lumia 1520

Nokia Lumia 1520

The logistics of such as effort are intriguing. At its core, Android is a fully functional mobile OS that will make a smartphone do everything that a smartphone is supposed to do. It ties into all the relevant hardware a smartphone needs—cellular antennas, CPU/GPU, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, various sensors and so on. It also provides basics apps such as messaging, contacts and telephony.

All that’s included in the Android Open Source Project, or AOSP. That’s the platform any Android smartphone maker starts with before customizing it to their liking.

AOSP is, almost by definition, commodity software. It’s open source and generic and that’s the way it was always intended to be. The AOSP is kind of like an artist’s starter kit: you get the canvas, paints and brushes. What you do with it is up to you.

So in that sense, the idea of “forking” Android—say, by making a Microsoft-specific version—is sort of a joke. How can you fork a free canvas and toolset into multiple versions? It’s a starting point or a foundation, not a finished product.

In reality, though, when the punditocracy talks about forking Android, what it really means is, “using Android without Google.” And that’s a much trickier proposition. Microsoft can’t really fork the AOSP—at least, there wouldn’t be much point to doing so. And it can use Android—i.e., the AOSP—just like any other manufacturer.

But to actually make a smartphone that capitalizes on the Android ecosystem, Microsoft needs a lot more than just the AOSP.

How Google Builds Android

Many people suffer from the common misperception that Android is Google and Google is Android. This is not exactly accurate.

Yes, Google does most of the heavy lifting in Android development, but it’s not the only contributor to the AOSP. Head over to the AOSP project repository and you’ll notice that companies like Sony, Samsung, Intel, ARM, Nvida and even researchers from the U.S. National Security Agency contribute to Android.

Each new version of Android is the result of discussions that Google’s engineers hold with manufacturers and app makers to see what features and attributes they want and need. Google then sets it engineers on those problems. When enough new functions and features are ready, it releases a new version of Android.

Google Android engineer Dave Burke explained this process in an interview with ReadWrite late last year:

I think one of the things you remember that we have a pretty large developer relations team so we have a pretty close relationship with all the developers in the ecosystem so we are constantly evolving and taking feedback from those guys and using that to drive requirements to the APIs. Another example is like Netflix.

Netflix has a lot of requirements around DRM because they are basically streaming content with very strong digital rights associated with that. So we work very closely with them to make the APIs more flexible. We also had a media summit recently where we sat down with all of these media streaming companies and asked them what they wanted from Android and one of the things that they came up with was closed captioning so we added that to Android 4.4 KitKat for example. 

That is sort of the cycle that we go in. We talk to developers, work very closely with developers and get their input and then feed it into the platform and then hatch the platform.

Android development also touches on a variety of open source projects that aren’t technically part of Android itself. For instance, Google contributes the WebKit engine for browser rendering (which both the Chrome browser from Google and Apple’s Safari browser use), the Dalvik app rendering engine and so forth. Google has taken steps to build new versions of these engines (Blink for WebKit, ART for Dalvik) that are often controversial among developers but are still open source.

“We are fine with writing version two of something,” Burke said when discussing the decision to begin the project to replace Dalvik with ART in Android.

While it may seem like Google is in 100% control of all things Android, that’s just not the case. Google’s game is to be the tool builder and hub of Android development. What manufacturers, partners and app developers build on top of it is their own prerogative, at least within reason.

Google’s Android Canvas

To think about how Microsoft might fork Android by creating its own set of non-Google functions and services, it’s important to understand what Google has built on top of Android to make it the ecosystem that it is.

Consider, for instance, Google Mobile Services. This is a collection of system software and core apps that Google has built on top of the Android canvas. It includes core Google apps such as Gmail, Maps, Calendar, Hangouts, Drive, People (Contacts), Google+ and the variety of Google Play media (apps, music, videos, books, newsstand).

Essentially, Google Mobile Services provides both critical user apps for Android devices and the backend cloud services and application programming interfaces (APIs) that make them run. If Android software touches Google’s servers in one form or another, it is part of Google Mobile Services.

Ars Technica writer Peter Bright argues that Google’s recent emphasis on adding functionality to GMS has effectively rendered Android “unforkable.” He drew this reply in comments from Dianne Hackborn, an Android engineer at Google:

The thing you don’t have is stuff related to cloud services, and this is not an evil secret plan of Google, but a simple fact we have been clear about from the initial design of the platform: Android as an open-source platform simply can’t provide any cloud services, because those don’t run on the device where the platform code runs. This is a key point that seems to be completely missed. If you want to understand what Android is, how it is designed, and how the pieces fit together, you must understand this point.

Whereas Android is an open source project, Google Mobile Services is not. The development, updating and functionality of GMS is controlled by Google. Google licenses the GMS with its Android partners to make Android phones Google-y. If a smartphone manufacturer (like Samsung or HTC) wants access to the Google Play app store, Google insists that it take the entire GMS suite with it. The Google Play app store—with over a million apps—is Google’s big stick to get its manufacturing partners to adopt Google Mobile Services.

One big part of GMS is Google Play Services, which allows developers to build and deploy apps to the Google Play app store. This includes the ability for developers to accept payments from paid apps or in-app purchases. Payments are not part of the AOSP because it requires a transactional element where Google acts as the middleman and storefront between the developers and the payment processors around the globe.

Building On The Android Canvas

To use Android without Google, manufacturers have three choices. They can just use the open-source platform, which would give them a basic smartphone without access to Google Play or Google apps; they can build specific components on top, such as their own maps service; or they can try to replicate the complete stack of Google Mobile Services on their own.

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire

It is this last bit that the industry often refers to as “forking” Android. So far, only Amazon has effectively created an entire ecosystem of its own—with proprietary apps, its own app store and developer services—without Google. The Amazon Appstore services Kindle Fire users, and Amazon has its own developer services included payments, game servers (authentication, login etc.), location services and so on. 

There’s a reason that Amazon can build its own engine on top of Android that doesn’t touch Google at all … it is Amazon. The ecommerce giant has all the capabilities to duplicate all the functions Google provides in GMS—its own cloud infrastructure, plenty of money to spend on engineers that build resources for the platform, its own media store (books, movies and music) and an app store.

Not many companies have the infrastructure or clout to use Android go head-to-head with Google Mobile Services and hold their own, but Amazon is certainly one of them. Microsoft certainly looks like it could be another. It has its own infrastructure and cloud, developers to build a platform and resources to make it a reality.

Whether it’s a good idea to do so is an entirely different question.

Microsoft Building On Android: Completely Impractical

Nothing is stopping Microsoft from taking the AOSP and building its own services on top of it. Nothing, that is, but logic and reason. 

Windows Phone may not be a blockbuster, but at least it has a semblance of an app store, a unique user interface and millions of users. What would be the purpose of tossing Windows Phone in favor of Android? The biggest reason is attracting developers and their apps. But that’s not exactly a winning proposition, as both Amazon and BlackBerry demonstrate.

The Amazon Appstore has about 131,000 apps as of February 2014. It has reached this number after almost three years in operation (it launched in March 2011; the Kindle Fire followed that autumn). It’s nowhere near the million apps on Google Play and is missing some big titles that prominent developers haven’t ported to the Appstore. Amazon doesn’t say how many Kindle Fire tablets it has sold, so it’s impossible for developers to know how large its user base is.

BlackBerry didn’t build on top of Android, but it did give developers the ability to use the Dalvik runtime engine and to port Android apps to BlackBerry 10. This has turned out to be a major disaster for BlackBerry. One developer abused the system and flooded the BlackBerry app store with thousands upon thousands of awful apps.

Lumia 1020

Lumia 1020

In the end, the Amazon Appstore and BlackBerry World are niche markets that have presented as much opportunity as frustration and headache for developers. Microsoft has no desire to be a niche market within the realm of Android app developers. 

Why Start From Zero?

For Microsoft, to build on Android is to start from zero. Zero marketshare, zero apps. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Microsoft has already been on this road when, earlier this decade, it ditched the prepubescent Windows Mobile CE for Windows Phone.

A transition to Android would be similarly wrenching. It’s not as if Microsoft is going to come out with a device using the AOSP and all of a sudden have access to a million Android apps. Developers would need to port their apps to any Microsoft store that houses Android apps, tie into Microsoft’s APIs and cloud and maybe redesign their apps to meet Microsoft’s aesthetic and user interface standards. As BlackBerry and Amazon have shown, there’s a limited market for developers willing to do that.

The bottom line is that developers chase eyeballs. Developers don’t build for Windows Phone—despite the earnest actions of Nokia and Microsoft’s outreach efforts—because Windows Phone doesn’t have a user base in any way comparable to those of its larger competitors. Why would developers then port to a Microsoft app store running Android apps when that device has no users?

It’s too late for Microsoft to start over, using Android or anything else.

View full post on ReadWrite

5 Types of Sites That Could Benefit from Broken Link Building by @AlesiaKrush

Like a prodigal family member, broken link building got re-embraced by SEOs after the series of Google algorithm updates known as Penguin. Google Penguin and a slew of manual actions Google took against “unnatural” link builders cut the number of backlink methods SEOs had at their disposal at least by half, which lead to broken […]

Author information

Alesia Krush

Alesia Krush

Alesia is an SEO and a digital marketer at Link-Assistant.Com, a major SEO software provider and the maker of SEO PowerSuite tools. Link-Assistant.Com is a group of SEO professionals with almost a decade of SEO experience.

The post 5 Types of Sites That Could Benefit from Broken Link Building by @AlesiaKrush appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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