Author Archives: Erica Ogg

Apple CEO attends Obama-led meeting about government surveillance

The leader of one of tech’s most secretive companies joined a high-level meeting with President Barack Obama this week and other tech and privacy leaders to talk about secrecy.

According to Politico:

“President Barack Obama hosted Apple CEO Tim Cook, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Google computer scientist Vint Cerf and other tech executives and civil liberties leaders on Thursday for a closed-door meeting about government surveillance, sources tell POLITICO.”

There aren’t many details on what was discussed, but it’s apparently just one of a series of meetings the Obama administration has held recently with tech industry representatives on the ongoing government surveillance programs — that it would much rather not discuss publicly. On Tuesday, administration officials (though not Obama) met to talk privacy and surveillance with “tech-industry lobbyists and leading privacy hawks,” according to the report.

Apple was one of the major tech firms named as having cooperated with federal investigations of customers through “back door” channels into its servers. Apple has denied allowing the government access. It did publish in June a list of how many government requests for user data it received between December 2012 and June (more than 4,000). But it hasn’t offered any further explanation or detail as to how it handled those.

Cook may not have much to say publicly about what he talked about with the president. But his presence does show that Apple is increasingly receptive to playing a role in policy.

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Why wearable computers will need advances in notification technology to thrive

As we quickly move into an era where even our jewelry, vehicles and household appliances are connected to the web, one of the chief elements of the mobile computing experience as we know it now will undergo a stark change: the push notification. That alert, which pops up with a pleasant ding or annoying buzz to alert us to the latest Instagram like, message, email, reminder or voicemail, will have to adapt when every kind of display is suddenly a computer.

The most interesting advances in notification strategies being made today are with mobile productivity and personal assistant apps. Today you can download apps that tell you when it’s your mom’s or co-worker’s birthday; that will dial you into a conference call automatically; that tell you when to leave for the airport; whether to bring an umbrella to your afternoon meeting; and even alert you when a package has been delivered to your doorstep.

Push notifications tell you when your friends are active on Path.App makers, like Mikael Berner of productivity app EasilyDo, is one of the developers salivating at the idea of putting his app on wearable computers specifically. The entire premise of his app is saving time and getting things done. The creators of smart mobile calendar app Sunrise also think of wearables as quicker avenues of getting the information that users need now. An incoming email or a reminder of the next meeting comes in even faster with a quick glance at a wrist or popping up in your field of vision.

But the standard, square pop-up won’t cut it as devices with different purposes and sizes become more prevalent. And even though any iWatch is still likely at least a year away, other wrist-worn computers remain niche health-tracking devices, and Google Glass is still not consumer-ready, the people building these apps are very much thinking about what comes next.

Wearable computers: just another screen

It’s tempting to think of Google Glass or a smartwatch as the “new” smartphone, but that’s wrong, according to Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote. “It’s totally different than the transition from PCs to mobile, which is the paradigm most app makers and users are working from. “Mobile to wearables is a much bigger deal in how you think about making products,” he told me in a recent interview.

For one thing, people don’t use a mobile app and a PC application at the same time; one is a replacement for the other. With wearable devices, a product or an app has to know and interact with multiple devices at the same time — your computer, smartphone, car, etc.

When that happens, the mission changes: you have to design for the person, not a particular screen — as we’ll be discussing at our RoadMap conference in San Francisco in November.

Tempo on a smartphone

Tempo on a smartphone

Raj Singh, CEO of Tempo, the AI-based personal assistant app from Siri-creator SRI, thinks a lot about this idea: getting notifications for a person to show up on multiple devices, yet making them smart enough not to repeat themselves when the user starts working with another connected device. And an even bigger issue is knowing which particular types of notifications should show up on which devices.

“Certain signals are very high value and some are very noisy,” Singh said, depending on how you’re using a device. “‘More data is better’ is not very true.”

You might, for example, get 100 notifications per day on your phone right now — new emails, meeting start time notifications, alerts for Twitter direct messages — but you’d go a little batty if all 100 of those showed up on every connected display you had. Even if you don’t think about it, you have a personal hierarchy of what kind of stuff is important to you to know and in what context.

If you’re sitting at your computer during the day, you probably don’t mind, or even notice, getting a lot of notifications there. But on your phone screen you might; you probably only want notifications for things you need at that exact moment and that you can take action on from your phone and while you’re away from a computer.

And on a tiny wrist display? Probably very few alerts would make the cut. And for another twist, you and I likely differ in what we want.

“That is one thing I don’t think will be universal; it’s personal to each user,” Singh said. “I like to think of it on a slider — ‘Raj likes this much noise on X screen’ and ‘this much on Y screen.’”

So EasilyDo and Tempo and plenty of other apps are working on the ranking algorithms to be as informative but least annoying as possible.

Time, not screen size

But what does the notification of the future actually, physically look like? Is it a sentence that pops up in a box, like we have on computers and mobiles now? Just an icon? A series of flashing lights like the original mobile productivity powerhouse, the Blackberry? Or something else entirely? No one seems to have an answer just yet.

It’ll likely take years of designers dabbling with a real product, playing with the interface here and there to come up with something simple and useful. Even the iPhone took two years —  a pretty long time in mobile — to get push notifications. (And even then, it basically borrowed Android’s approach.)

Notifications for mobile screens in many ways are shrunk down from the kind that appeared on larger desktop displays. But for wearables, screen size isn’t what will dictate what notification goes on what screen. It’s time.

“It’s a half second or a second or a second and a half,” says Libin. “With productivity software it seems ridiculous: you can’t do anything in a second and a half, but you can: you have to imagine it.”

Whatever that notification is, it can only capture your attention for a very short amount of time if it’s on a glanceable device like a smartwatch. The notification is only serving the purpose of telling you there is new info or something that requires action on your part. You’re not going to type out a text or answer an email to your boss on your watch. “The notification is to make me mentally ready to consume this information,” Libin explained. You’ll pick up the device you actually want to respond with once you get that notification.

Building the future

So, how do we build these new notifications, for the kind of apps that live on a half a dozen different screens and need to talk to each other through the cloud but also differentiate between screens of varying importance? That picture is still coming into focus — like the hardware they’ll eventually run on.

The current tools for building apps, using storyboards and wireframes, “don’t work if you’re not focused on one screen,” said Libin. If you’re focused on the person as the central connecting factor of all these screens, everything changes: “The single interaction flow is not across one device one screen, it’s across multiple.” So Evernote is investing in those tools for developers as its apps teams work on Google Glass and on Pebble, which is one of the few commercially available smartwatches.

They have time; but they don’t want to wait. “None of this is going to be super mainstream in six or 12 months, but I think it’s going to be in the next two or three years,” said Libin. “It’s going to go faster than people expect.”

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Vevo developing Apple TV app for 24-7 music video channel

After recently adding on-demand sports (WatchESPN) and premium cable (HBOGo), Apple is reportedly going to get a 24-hour-a-day music video channel from Vevo. The music site already has ad-supported video programming available for its Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry apps, and channels on Apple TV competitors Xbox and Roku.

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Apple’s move away from Samsung for chips should boost foundry fortunes

Apple hasn’t officially dumped rival and partner Samsung as the manufacturer of chips for its mobile devices just yet. But the widespread anticipation of its new contract with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is expected to be a boon for chip foundries as soon as this year.

The revenue for the semiconductor foundry market is expected rise 21 percent over the course of this year, according to IHS iSuppli’s report, Low-Cost Tablet Processor Market Computes New Growth, published Thursday. That’s compared to the five percent growth expected for the overall semiconductor market. Foundries alone should pull in $8.2 billion for the year, up from the $7.9 billion of 2012.

Last month it was reported that Apple will begin filling its mobile chip orders through TSMC, the world’s biggest foundry by sales, for its products beginning in 2014. Next year, Apple orders are expected to account for nearly 8 percent TMSC’s overall revenues.

Foundries are distinguished from integrated device manufacturers — like Samsung and Intel — because they only build the chips to order; the chips are designed by their customers. Apple already designs its own chips, so all it does need is a company that will build them. And since it’s always among the world’s biggest purchases of chips, any move Apple makes will have a significant impact.

Apple and Samsung have been going head to head competing for smartphone and tablet sales to consumers — and then there was that minor billion-dollar lawsuit matter. Since then, Apple has been looking to extricate itself from its deep ties to Samsung in many parts of its supply chain.

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iTunes Movies in the Cloud to go live in 8 new countries

More than a year after iTunes Movies in the Cloud rolled out in the U.S., Apple is continuing to expand the service’s availability. It will go live next in Austria, Estonia, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Switzerland.

The feature lets users access past movie downloads to any of their other iOS or Apple TV devices. It is now available in more than 40 countries.

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Even as Apple sells more iPhones, its share of smartphone market falls

Despite selling more iPhones than it did a year ago, Apple dropped some share of the worldwide market for smartphone operating systems. It shipped more iPhones than a year ago — 31.2 million between April and June, versus 26 million the same quarter a year earlier — but went from a 16.6 percent share of the smartphone OS pie to a 13.2 percent share in the last year, according to IDC.

Still, Apple easily remained No. 2 behind the ever-growing market for Android smartphones, according to IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker:

IDC smartphone OS marketshare Q2 2013

It’s been nine months since there was a new iPhone. While Apple continues to find new ways to sell iPhones, the entire market is growing at a faster pace. So it’s not unexpected that Apple’s share would dip while Android and Windows phones would grow as new devices are continually released for those platforms.

The picture may look a little different this fall after iOS 7 and presumably new iPhones are released.

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500px photo-sharing service scoops up $8.8M to expand into commercial licensing

Fast-growing photo-sharing platform 500px plans to announce on Wednesday that it’s accepted its first large infusion of venture capital. The Toronto-based company has closed an $8.8 million Series A round co-led by Andreessen-Horowitz and Harrison Metal. Other participants in the round include Creative Artists Agency, Rugged Ventures, ff Venture Capital and Dustin Plett, 500px’s VP of business development.

The company had taken very little money over the years (it took $525,000 in 2011) even as it found growing popularity with photography pros and skilled amateurs as a place to store and share their images. 500px has 2.5 million registered users of its website and mobile apps, but sees more than 10 million active users each month. Now the company says it needs the investment to hire more people and build an entirely new 500px product: a commercial licensing platform.

“We’re seriously understaffed,” co-founder and CEO Oleg Gutsol told me. “We have 25 [employees], we need to probably triple that in the next year or so.”

The company will be opening an office in the San Francisco Bay Area for these new hires. The beefed-up team will begin working on what Gutsol thinks will be at least a five-year project: building a commercial marketplace for 500px’s creative users to license their snaps.

“We can make our users a lot of money doing that, especially because of the great content on the site we have,” he said.

But, he said, “we don’t want to become Getty [Images].” Gutsol wants 500px to help out individual photographers. “Platforms doing commercial licensing aren’t focusing on photographers. We care about creative people and want to help them make money with their work.”

500px was involved in a brief App Store controversy earlier this year when the site’s reputation for artistic photography veered into questionable content. Apple removed the company’s iOS app from the App Store after it said it received complaints that pornography was appearing in the app. 500px made some changes and slapped a 17+ age rating on the app and was back in the App Store after a week. That age-rating has not slowed the platform’s growth at all, Gutsol said. In fact, he said usage spiked on the website and the Android app in the brief time the iOS app was unavailable for download.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tracy Olson

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