Archive for April 13, 2012

Can’t buy a Lumia 900? It might not be because they’re sold out

If you head to an ATT store, and can’t get your hands on a Lumia 900, they might not be sold out. In fact, they might not have sold at all. A bug in the code has caused the handsets to have data issues relating to their LTE service. Noting this, Nokia has a plan.

As selling more handsets with issues isn’t that good an idea, the company is, according to WMPowerUser, pulling stock to fix the handset’s firmware: “Apparently Nokia and ATT are pulling the Lumia 900 of stock shelves and returning it to Nokia to be flashed with the new, LTE-bug free firmware.”

According to the same sources, the process will take between three and five days. Now, you can still buy one online, as it is child’s play to wait and only send out handsets that have the correct software. But in stores, the process is a bit more tricky.

Obviously, this will curtail Lumia 900 sales, by making them unavailable right after the launch, which is hardly good, but to continue selling a borked product would have been even worse. It’s bitter medicine, but Nokia is doing it right, in this case.

Let us know in the comments: If you have picked up a Lumia 900, what was your sales experience like?

Skyscanner’s flight search app flies past 7m downloads in one year

Skyscanner, the flight and travel website, is undermining competitors with its well-designed mobile app, proving that the mobile audience should be a focus for growth.

Skyscanner has seen seven million downloads since it launched its first app for iOS last year and business is growing steadily for the Scottish company. Late last year the company hit five million downloads and users ratings average at four and a half stars across both iOS and Android.

Skyscanner CEO Gareth Williams is very pleased with the current state of growth. “It’s been really fun recently. We’ve been going for quite a while so it’s really good that as we get bigger and bigger in terms of people, there’s a great buzz about what we’re doing.”

GarethWilliamsscanner Skyscanners flight search app flies past 7m downloads in one yearGetting a travel business to grow is not easy, the frequency with which users come to a site is habitual and more normally does not happen too often, “One of the things about online travel is that it’s hard to be like Twitter,” explains Williams. “If you use Twitter you use it every day, if you use SkyScanner, typically you might only fly once or twice a year.”

So for a service that is seasonal, depending on the travel habits and more often vacation habits of users, having patience is key to steady expansion. “The biggest factor is that we concentrate on is repeat visitors and we manage to live with doubling each year rather than growing x10. It requires a commitment to a direction rather than a fragmented approach,” says Williams.

“I see a lot of travel businesses that are set up to gain traction within one year. But it’s very difficult in this sector to be profitable in that time. Myself and my co-founders are not from a dot com background, we worked on what we thought flight travel information meant for us and the people we hired share the same vision. Get big instantly can be a blessing on the Web but it can also be a demotivator.”

Focus on mobile

Skyscanner opened an office in Singapore six months ago. All of the available marketing resource there is being put to mobile. Williams feels that the most important focus for user experience is on an app, and that people will also use us a website when it is more appropriate.

skyscannerapp Skyscanners flight search app flies past 7m downloads in one year“That’s a hard lesson for us as we spent 8 years concentrating on the Web experience, but we learned that people are more inclined to use us if they have the app,” says Williams. “We have discovered that people might use us three times a year on the website but it’s more likely to be 6 times a year if they have the app installed. It’s a different pattern of user, but people are filling time browsing destinations and checking prices on the app.”

The current milestone for downloads is impressive and Williams says that providing a good app is the way to drive future business and even more app users. “We’re really proud we have had more than 7 million installs but we are also proud that the ratings both on iOS and Android. That value, customer loyalty and those ratings are what will drive repeat business.”

Future travel

There’s nearly 4 billion seats flown every year around the world. That’s a lot of opportunity for growth and change. The challenge in the market is to make travel booking as simple as possible while still providing options for customers.

“People are becoming more demanding,” says Williams. “They want to see every single flight, they need to know the best time to fly and they want to be able to search on their intentions rather than translating it into what the machine wants to know, like airport codes.

“This touches on things like Siri and semantics, but it also about connecting flight and transport data into what is happening in the real world. Whether it’s flights or geotagging to beaches around the world. The intentions behind travel will be the next big thing for where loyalty for a travel brand will come from.”

scannerapp2 Skyscanners flight search app flies past 7m downloads in one yearSurprisingly, Skyscanner also provides alternatives for people who are concerned about their carbon footprint. As an alternative to getting on a plane, people who prefer to remain grounded can compare options for train travel and Williams is interested in the idea of promoting telecommuting as a possible option depending on the reason for travel.

Skyscanner is working on some very exciting developments for search and discovery in this field. Soon it hopes to provide a more human way of providing the information we would like to have at our fingertips. As the company’s mobile stats are so healthy, it will not be a surprise to hear from them again soon with even more innovation.

SnapTerms: Terms Of Service As A Service

Snapterms

You might not think that something like a website’s Terms of Service would be all that interesting, but you’d be wrong. After that post about how awesome 500px’s Terms of Service are (tl;dr: they translate them into human speak), the inbox kind of blew up with questions. Is anyone else doing this?, emailers wanted to know, can I talk to them? (Also: hey, stupid, Aviary has done this forever. Thank you, thank you, and yes, the post is updated.)

Regardless, one email stood out from the crowd. It described a newly launched legal service called SnapTerms, which provides startups with simple, reasonably priced, and personalized Terms of Service and Privacy Policies.

The Sarasota-based company, only a few months old, was founded as a side project by legal entrepreneurs Mike Kolb and Aaron Kelly, the latter who’s an attorney specializing in Internet law. With the SnapTerms service, startup founders on limited budgets have an alternative to the naughty little practice of copy-and-pasting from another website’s Terms of Service or having to dive deep into their own pockets to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars via billable hours.

Explains Kolb, SnapTerms is sort of the sweet spot right in between the copy-and-pasting and paying big bucks.

At SnapTerms, users can choose from one of the three different packages: a Pro plan ($149) offering Terms of Service and a Privacy Policy; a Pro Plus plan ($299) that adds a few things like a complete site review, support for sites that take credit cards, and a 30 minute consultation; and finally, a Custom Plan (starting at $299), which adds COPPA compliance support, and support for SaaS companies.

The plans offer different levels of support for revisions, too. For example, on the basic plan, you get one revision within the first 48 hours. On the mid-level plan, it’s one within the first three month. (Custom plans vary).

Oh, and they can also make your Terms funny, so your customers will actually read them. For an example of how funny legalese can get, you can check out SnapTerms’ own Terms here.

Kelly has experience writing terms for sites other than startups, including celebrity fan sites, affiliate, e-commerce, diet sites, and more, so the company isn’t limited to supporting early stage startups, although it does have a couple of startups that have been featured here on TechCrunch as paying customers.

Attorney-client privilege means I can’t blog about which ones unless they give word, so we’ll update if any agree to come out of hiding. In the meantime, you can check out Photodropper, Sevacall, or Murderdate for some current, legally-approved examples. SnapTerms has about 100 clients to date, despite not having done press or having advertised (save for once on Startups.com). Almost all the sign-ups have been word of mouth, Kolb tells me.

Assuming this takes off, Kolb says they may expand to offer a network of lawyers, many of whom would likely do the work on the side.

Address a need. Fulfill it for an affordable price.

Not a bad idea, SnapTerms. Not bad at all.

App developers, frustrated with bug reporting tools, call on Apple to ‘Fix Radar or GTFO’

If you’re an iOS or Mac developer, then you’ve probably had an encounter with Apple’s bug reporting tool called Radar. Although complaints have been voiced about Radar for years, there is now an online petition being passed around that asks the company to fix the major issues that keep many developers from wanting to use it more frequently.

The petition, entitled ‘Fix Radar or GTFO‘ urges developers to file a Radar to fix Radar, effectively using Apple’s own tool to protest just how irritating it is to use. It was created, and the first Radar filed, on March 6th by Martin Pilkington of M Cubed Software.

And the list of petitioners is nothing to joke at. Many on the list are developers and evangelists that I know and respect and they make apps that you use. Craig Hockenberry from The Iconfactory, Steve Streza of Read it Later, Justin Watt of Objectivesee, Chris Parrish, Sam Soffes formerly of Synthetic, Nik Burns of Burnsoft and Andy Mroczkowski of MindSnacks are some recognizable names, but there are hundreds more.

The name of the petition originates with a popular meme among the Apple development community that goes: ‘file a Radar or GTFO’, which was immortalized in the photo below by George Dick being captioned by developer Steve Streza. This refers to the fact that Apple developer evangelist Michael Jurewitz often replies to inquiries about issues with Xcode or other tools with an immediate ‘have you filed a Radar?’

Jury, as he’s known on Twitter, has a point. If you’re complaining about random bugs in software suites as complex as Apple’s SDK is, having a way to track and prioritize them is a must.

Filing a Radar should be the very first thing that a developer does when he or she finds an issue. This was stated eloquently in a recent article from Black Pixel’s Daniel Pasco, in which he stresses the importance of duplicates of the same bug being photo 220x330 App developers, frustrated with bug reporting tools, call on Apple to Fix Radar or GTFOregistered. “File your radar, then go to Open Radar and post the same bug there as well (don’t do this for beta products under NDA!). Then tweet the open radar link so that other people are aware of the issue as well,” Pasco writes. “Hopefully that will spur on other people experiencing the same problem to file a report of their own.”

The problem with this approach is that Radar doesn’t work as well for duplicates as one would hope. You’ll note that Pasco suggests going to Open Radar, a public repository of filed Radar entries, to let other developers know you’ve filed the issue. Why isn’t this kind of easily searchable database a part of Radar itself? Those questions and more are asked in the text of the Radar petition.

The petition is worth reading in full if you’re a developer, but the core of it is this:

By making radars so hard and painful to file, most developers end up not filing them. For every radar that is filed, there are many more that developers would file but don’t consider it a big enough issue to be worth the time. It may be a small bug or feature request, or it may be a common issue that we figure someone else has already filed so there’s no point wasting our time telling you about it.

I spoke to developers that had signed the petition, asking why they felt so strongly about it and came up with a few major points, most of them touched on by the actual text of the Radar itself. Some of the choice points broached by developers and by the document itself:

A lack of transparency — “Radar is a roach motel; bugs go in, and don’t come back out. Developers have no idea if the bug they’re filing is new or has been filed a hundred times.”

Duplication of existing bugs feels fruitless — “Most bugs that get filed just get marked as a duplicate of some other bug, and the progress on that bug can’t be seen by anyone besides the original filer.”

A lack of a feeling of community and communication  — “Developers end up wasting a lot of time building test cases and samples, and have no idea if this data will be useful at all. It would be extremely useful if developers could mark their bugs as “public” or “public to NDA’d people”, so other people could find them and contribute to those bugs directly, or not waste time filing them at all if the bugs have been already fixed.”

Filing radars directly from Xcode — “We spend most of our time in Xcode, so it makes sense to reduce the context switch needed to file a bug. Add a Radar tab to the organiser and let us quickly search and view existing radars.”

“If Apple opened up Radar more to developers and made the common cases less hostile,” one code jockey told me, “those developers would be more willing to write more bugs and better bugs.”

The developers who have signed the petition by filing their own radars are not out to complain about a pet feature that doesn’t exist in Apple’s current SDK. They’re not working to make Apple more publicly transparent about future features, which we all know the company does not do. They’re just asking for the tools that they use to improve Apple’s software development products be made as painless and transparent as possible.

The petition sums it up well, ending with the following appeal “So please fix Radar. You’ve worked hard to give us great APIs, a great language, great documentation and great developer tools. Please now focus your attention on giving us a great tool to help us help you.”

We’ve reached out to Apple to see if the company has a comment on the petition and we will update this if we receive one.

CTIA offers the most confusing wireless stat du jour

The CTIA wants you to know that Americans used 123 percent more wireless data in 2011 than 2010, but the wireless industry’s lobby apparently doesn’t want you to know exactly how that translates in any way a normal person understands. Instead the folks decided to use an overly complicated real world example to make the 866.7 billion megabytes used in 2011 meaningful. They turned it into songs. Check it out.

From the release:

To put the wireless data traffic of 2010 compared with 2011 into perspective, if you were walking and listening to five songs per mile and each song lasted for four minutes:

  • In 2010, you would walk 77,601,961,033 miles, or the equivalent of 3,116,419 times around the world for 2,952,890 years and listen to 97 billion songs.
  • In 2011, you would walk 173,364,056,929 miles, or the equivalent of 6,962,132 times around the world for 6,596,806 years and listen to 216.7 billion songs.

Wait, what? If you were confused about your data usage when it was measured in megabytes (how many emails can I send?) wait till CTIA puts it into song. All mocking of the CTIA’s efforts here aside, it does include valuable stats about the industry, including the fact that average monthly wireless bills dropped to $47 in 2011 from $47.21 in 2010. Other stats include the fact that the industry has achieved a penetration rate of 104.6 percent when it comes to wireless connections, suggesting that tablets, cellular hotspots and other devices are still picking up users. CTIA notes there are now 20.2 million wireless-enabled tablets, laptops and modems, a 49 percent increase from 2010.

The number of active smartphones also rose significantly (43 percent) to 111.5 million up from 78.2 million. And despite worries about a loss of texting revenue, folks still increased their texting by 12 percent, sending 2.304 trillion texts and 52.8 billion MMS messages. In fact, the number of MMS (picture) messages actually dropped by 3.8 billion suggesting that online photo-sharing services such as Instagram are also cutting into carriers’ revenue.

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Will The Need For Tech Talent Become Obsolete?

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shvmoz via Flickr

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The way things are trending, you may not need to be a technical person to build an amazing website.

Take for example, Scroll Kit. Co-founder Cody Brown stumbled into our office last week and showed us a website creation tool that operates like Adobe InDesign.

With Scroll Kit, text boxes can be dragged and dropped anywhere on a page. Background colors can be changed with a paint bucket-like tool. Square images can be uploaded and placed anywhere. Essentially, a live website becomes a canvas and you become the tech novice artist.

Scroll Kit is still in a very early stage and only the most basic HTML5 websites can be made on it. But the startup wants to expand to web tools of every kind, like drag and drop shopping carts.

Scroll Kit isn’t the first of its kind. Wix just released an HTML5 website creation tool that operates similarly. CEO Avishai Abrahami tells TechCrunch, “We have a special tool you can use to either change, modify or build new elements on your site. You have to know how to move the mouse and click. You need zero knowledge of HTML coding or any other technical understanding. It’s like PowerPoint, or other drag-and-drop software.”

We just met with a venture capitalist who says a similar startup crossed his desk today. In the very distant future, if applications like Wix and Scroll Kit become all-encompassing, he wonders if developers could become things of the past. Then the web would become a place where the best product people and visionaries win instead of the best coders.

The VC is seeing a broader trend too: entrepreneurs are making everything easier to manufacture, not just websites.

Little Bits, for example, makes circuits as easy to create as snapping together lego-like blocks. OnSwipe is helping publishers side-step mobile developers and apps altogether. 3D printers will make it easy to turn drawings into physical objects. And there are startups working with CAD software that are making it easy to cut materials into perfect shapes.

Here’s an example of what you can make with a tool like Scroll Kit. This looks like Cody’s Facebook profile, but it’s a live site he made with his startup.

cody brown scroll kit

If You Can’t Make It To Coachella, Tune Into YouTube For Live Sets (GOOG)

Coachella YouTube

YouTube

See Also

Larry Page serious

chart of the day, google cost-per-click change, april 2012

nicholas carlson, social media analytics conference 2011, november 2011, bi, dng


YouTube is trying to become the next generation equivalent of TV, and live events are key to that goal.

The company has so far focused on live music, with concerts from acts like The Arcade Fire. This weekend it’s upping the ante with three dedicated channels broadcasting sets from Coachella.

For the uninitiated, Coachella is a three-day festival in the desert near Palm Springs, and it’s become the premier rock festival of the year, at least on the west coast of the U.S. It’s been so popular that this year they added a second weekend with the same lineup — and tickets still sold out in hours.

If you didn’t get lucky, or don’t relish the idea of standing in 90 degree heat for three days, check out the YouTube Coachella channel here.

The broadcasts start at 3:50PT today — Friday April 13th.

It’s not going to broadcast every act — Headliners Radiohead and Snoop Dogg with Dr. Dre are missing — but there are plenty of big names, and half the fun is discovering the obscure stuff anyway.

Facebook buys Tagtile, continues to focus on mobile

Facebook is ending the week the way it started it: by buying a mobile start-up. This time, it’s customer loyalty service Tagtile, and while it didn’t disclose a price, I’m guessing it’s far less than $1 billion. Facebook confirmed that it has acquired substantially all of the assets of San Francisco-based Tagtile, which will continue to serve its existing customers but is not taking on any new clients.

Tagtile offers a customer loyalty system for merchants built around a small, free box equipped with a sensor that allows consumers who have downloaded the Tagtile app to tap it with their phones. Users are able to receive loyalty points, offers and rewards from the merchant and easily share about the business on Facebook or Twitter from their phone. It’s a simple way to establish a user’s location at a business without asking them to do an actual check-in. And it can be easy way to get a consumer to share about a store through social channels in exchange for a deal or reward. TechCrunch wrote about the service when it launched a pilot in October and what was interesting at the time was that the service utilizes unspecified sensors in the phone to register a tap instead of using near field communications or NFC.

The deals makes sense as Facebook, like many others, are looking to tap the huge opportunity in local commerce. Facebook on Friday coincidentally started rolling out its Offers service in beta to handful of clients in the U.S. Brands and businesses can run offers on their pages for free and can push out out offers on other parts of Facebook for a fee. Users who claim an offer can get it forwarded to them for redeption online or in-store use.

Having a company like Tagtile will give Facebook more expertise about how to approach businesses and convince them to use a valuable service for engaging with their customers. If it can tie its online offers to Tagtile’s service, it will give businesses a way to redeem those offers in-store and show them how effective their offers were. But I’m not sure how much of the acquisition is really about the TagTile box long term. NFC phones are coming, and you can already establish a user’s location inside a store and reward them with QR codes. Foursquare is doing this through check-ins and Shopkick is as well through its dedicated audio hardware.

This highlights just how busy this market–delivering offers and enhancing loyalty via mobile devices–is going to be. Most of the mobile payment services will also be offering some form of deals, coupons and rewards. That’s going to be a key way to entice people to use a mobile payment system. This might be a stretch, but if Facebook ever decides to pursue its own mobile payment offering, the experience and intellectual property of Tagtile might be helpful. Facebook is doing more with its credits and there’s the potential that at some point, it will want to get into the mobile payments game.

But overall, it shows that Facebook is thinking more about mobile, one of its blind spots. While the acquisition of Tagtile is nothing like Instagram, it again highlights the importance of mobile devices to Facebook. And the purchases show that Facebook is ready to open its pocketbook to gain ground in this critical area.

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Facebook clarifies its CISPA stance. Will the web care?

The latest tech policy debate, over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA has put Facebook, a supporter of the law, in the web’s crosshairs. For a company that waited until the last-minute possible to take a stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act, and has in general stayed quiet on the legislative front, the backlash from the Web can’t be comfortable.

Demand Progress has been circling an online petition asking Facebook to withdraw its support from the bill, citing concerns from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology about how the bill would allow online services to share a user’s private information with the government. However, in a blog post Friday Facebook’s Joel Kaplan, Vice President-U.S. Public Policy argues that the legislation and Facebook’s support is far more nuanced:

That said, we recognize that a number of privacy and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the bill – in particular about provisions that enable private companies to voluntarily share cyber threat data with the government. The concern is that companies will share sensitive personal information with the government in the name of protecting cybersecurity. Facebook has no intention of doing this and it is unrelated to the things we liked about HR 3523 in the first place — the additional information it would provide us about specific cyber threats to our systems and users.

Essentially Facebook is asking users to trust it and its intentions with regard to its support of the bill as it goes to the table to negotiate in D.C. There are a lot of issues this entire debate over CISPA brings up, including the one my colleague Derrick Harris covered when he asked if the Web was prepared to fight with nuance. But Facebook’s response also asks citizens to trust that a corporation and lawmakers can together find common ground that will protect users’ privacy and still let Facebook retain the advantage knowing about security threats via CISPA.

It’s a PR campaign of course –aimed at those reading about the petition and outcry — and one that blatantly assumes that the power in government doesn’t rest with individuals and their power to sway Congress, but individuals and their power to sway corporate interests. That’s a cynical view, but things like the Occupy movement and these online petitions suggest that cynics have decided activism done hand-in-hand with corporate backing is better than activism alone.

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CHART OF THE DAY: The Scariest Thing About Google’s Earnings (GOOG)

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On Google’s earnings call yesterday, some analysts honed in on a particular trend: declining cost-per-click rates, or CPCs.

Google’s ad revenue is determined largely by two factors: the number of clicks on ads (“paid clicks”) and how much advertisers pay for each click (“CPC”). The first number has been rising fast — it was up 39% in Q1 of 2012, compared with the previous year.

But the second number has started to decline, and was down for the second consecutive quarter (as compared with a year ago).

Google said that the factors driving CPC are very complicated, and include foreign exchange rates, rising mobile usage of Google (where advertisers pay lower prices per click), faster growth in developing countries (where prices are lower), and changes in ad quality all have an effect.

Most analysts seem to agree that CPCs, taken in isolation, are not the best measure of Google’s business. But if you’re looking for a reason why the stock went down today, other than the new class of stock the company announced, this might be it.

chart of the day, google cost-per-click change, april 2012

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