Google

Latest

'Windows 10 on everything' is Microsoft's gambit to profit from its competitors

7:46AM | Friday, 31 July

Microsoft’s aim to make Windows 10 run on anything is key to its strategy of reasserting its dominance. Seemingly unassailable in the 1990s, Microsoft’s position has in many markets been eaten away by the explosive growth of phones and tablets, devices in which the firm has made little impact.   To run Windows 10 on everything, Microsoft is opening up.   Rather than requiring Office users to run Windows, now Office365 is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. A version of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s key application for programmers writing Windows software, now runs on Mac OS or Linux operating systems.   Likewise, with tools released by Microsoft developers can tweak their Android and iOS apps so that they run on Windows. The aim is to allow developers to create, with ease, the holy grail of a universal app that runs on anything. For a firm that has been unflinching in taking every opportunity to lock users into its platform, just as with Apple and many other tech firms, this is a major change of tack.   From direct to indirect revenue So why is Microsoft trying to become a general purpose, broadly compatible platform? Windows' share of the operating system market has fallen steadily from 90% to 70% to 40%, depending on which survey you believe. This reflects customers moving to mobile, where the Windows Phone holds a mere 3% market share. In comparison Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure platform Azure, Office 365 and its Xbox games console have all experienced rising fortunes.       Lumbered with a heritage of Windows PCs in a falling market, Microsoft’s strategy is to move its services – and so its users – inexorably toward the cloud. This divides into two necessary steps.   First, for software developed for Microsoft products to run on all of them – write once, run on everything. As it is there are several different Microsoft platforms (Win32, WinRT, WinCE, Windows Phone) with various incompatibilities. This makes sense, for a uniform user experience and also to maximise revenue potential from reaching as many possible devices.   Second, to implement a universal approach so that code runs on other operating systems other than Windows. This has historically been fraught, with differences in approach to communicating, with hardware and processor architecture making it difficult. In recent years, however, improving virtualisation has made it much easier to run code across platforms.   It will be interesting to see whether competitors such as Google and Apple will follow suit, or further enshrine their products into tightly coupled, closed ecosystems. Platform exclusivity is no longer the way to attract and hold customers; instead the appeal is the applications and services that run on them. For Microsoft, it lies in subscriptions to Office365 and Xbox Gold, in-app and in-game purchases, downloadable video, books and other revenue streams – so it makes sense for Microsoft to ensure these largely cloud-based services are accessible from operating systems other than just their own.     The Windows family tree … it’s complicated. Kristiyan Bogdanov, CC BY-SA   Platform vs services Is there any longer any value in buying into a single service provider? Consider smartphones from Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft: prices may differ, but the functionality is much the same. The element of difference is the value of wearables and internet of things devices (for example, Apple Watch), the devices they connect with (for example, an iPhone), the size of their user communities, and the network effect.   From watches to fitness bands to internet fridges, the benefits lie in how devices are interconnected and work together. This is a truly radical concept that demonstrates digital technology is driving a new economic model, with value associated with “in-the-moment” services when walking about, in the car, or at work. It’s this direction that Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 10, focusing on the next big thing that will drive the digital economy.   The revolution will be multi-platform I predict that we will see tech firms try to grow ecosystems of sensors and services running on mobile devices, either tied to a specific platform or by driving traffic directly to their cloud infrastructure.   Apple has already moved into the mobile health app market and connected home market. Google is moving in alongside manufacturers such as Intel, ARM and others. An interesting illustration of this effect is the growth of digital payments – with Apple, Facebook and others seeking ways to create revenue from the traffic passing through their ecosystems.   However, the problem is that no single supplier like Google, Apple, Microsoft or internet services such as Facebook or Amazon can hope to cover all the requirements of the internet of things, which is predicted to scale to over 50 billion devices worth US$7 trillion in five years. As we become more enmeshed with our devices, wearables and sensors, demand will rise for services driven by the personal data they create. Through “Windows 10 on everything”, Microsoft hopes to leverage not just the users of its own ecosystem, but those of its competitors too.   Mark Skilton is Professor of Practice at University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Microsoft wants to win back your support with Windows 10

7:35AM | Wednesday, 29 July

The latest version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system will begin rolling out from Wednesday (July 29). And remarkably, Windows 10 will be offered as a free upgrade to those users who already have Windows 7 and 8.1 installed.   That the upgrade is free is an interesting move and comes off the back of much criticism over Windows 8. Interestingly, the software giant has also skipped over any planned version 9 of Windows.   So what does this mean for Microsoft and the 1.5 billion people it says use Windows every day? Can the company restore some of the consumer and user confidence it has lost in recent years?   Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft is transforming itself into a “productivity and platforms company”. This is a bold re-invention of the company as it seeks to secure its future in a market moving steadily towards cloud-based services and mobile devices powered by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.   Nadella sees it as necessity to broaden the company’s scope of operations beyond its current family of products and conventional modes of delivery. The market does not leave him with much choice if the company is to stay in the game, if not be a leader.   After Windows 10 it’s just Windows For decades, the latest release of Windows has been a major event in itself. But that is set to end.   Windows 10 will be the last numbered version of the operating system. After Windows 10, it will simply be known as Windows. And you will get your updates incrementally from from the cloud via a subscription service.     Many Windows users will have noticed the upgrade notification appearing on their taskbar. Microsoft   In what it is calling a “platform convergence strategy”, Microsoft is creating a unified operating environment for phones, tablets, ultrabooks, laptops, desktop computers and Xboxes. All will be integrated by Windows 10, and increasingly so with the later Windows.   The platform convergence strategy allows the creation of universal applications that can run on any platform with Windows 10.   Surprisingly, applications that have been developed to run on Android and iOS devices will also be able to run on Windows 10, albeit once they have been converted to make them compatible. Still, this will open up a vast number of potential applications to run across Windows platforms.   Focus on gaming Microsoft’s acquisition last year of the hit game Minecraft for US$2.5 billion is a measure of how seriously Nadella and his strategists take mobile gaming.   Minecraft is a hugely popular open world game that gives players the freedom to create create and manipulate an on-line world made of Lego-like blocks. The move will establish Microsoft in the booming world of mobile games as well as further popularising the Xbox gaming console.   But the question on many people’s minds is whether the personal computer itself is dead, and along with it Microsoft?   It’s not the first time we have heard such dire predictions. It is true that PCs are today part of a more complicated personal computing environment, but it is a stretch to declare the PC dead.   There is only so much you can do with a phone or a tablet. For serious work or fun, a full-spec laptop or desktop is still the machine of choice and will remain so. For example, I am writing this article using a laptop.   Microsoft’s latest upgrade of Windows will be free for many users. Flickr/Eric Li, CC BY-NC   The new digital economy The Internet of Things is expanding, with embedded sensors and data gatherers becoming pervasive.   Open platforms and operating environments that feed data into the cloud and allow people to derive value will be an important part of the new digital economy. With traditional jobs under threat from automation and artificial intelligence, imagination and creativity will be more important than ever.   Microsoft’s strategy to diversify and integrate its platform offerings and move its services to the cloud while opening itself up to using its competitor’s apps would seem to be a bold but rational response to the current challenges; one that stands a good chance of succeeding.   There will no doubt be loud complaints from those who claim to speak for all of us. But in the end if a computing environment delivers value and allows people to live their lives as they please, then that platform is likely to succeed, particularly when it has the muscle and know-how of a well-established company behind it.   How Google and Apple respond will be very interesting, but competition is a good thing.   David Tuffley is Lecturer in Applied Ethics and Socio-Technical Studies, School of ICT, at Griffith University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Using Flash is like leaving your home doors open and sending invites to criminals

7:02AM | Thursday, 16 July

It is a year since I last wrote about Adobe Flash and why everyone should stop using it. Since then, the leaks from the hack of the mass surveillance company HackingTeam have revealed three serious bugs (called zero-day) bugs) in Flash that they were exploiting to take over victims’ machines. It is likely that more Flash vulnerabilities will be revealed as security researchers work through the documents the hackers removed from the HackingTeam. The leaked exploits have already appeared in hacking toolkits and are presumably already being used on the general public.   Since these bugs have come to light, both Mozilla and Google have blocked various versions of Flash from running on their browsers. Other companies are removing Flash from installs on new computers.   The momentum behind the movement to rid the web entirely of Flash has picked up with the Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos saying: It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day.   The reality is, there really is no reason for Flash to still exist or be supported by modern browsers. Steve Jobs made this point in 2010. Unfortunately, the reason that it still persists is because Adobe still makes money from it, a large number of people can’t be bothered changing how they produce their ads and websites and an even larger number of people are still running versions of software that is too old to run the modern replacement for Flash, HTML 5. The latter group probably also can be split into those who can’t be bothered to upgrade and those who can’t afford to.   One has to believe that Flash has become a huge liability for Adobe. Being known as a company enabling a large part of the Internet’s security problems is not good reputationally. However, Flash is still a part of its Creative Cloud product suite and so it seems that any moves to abandon it won’t come from Adobe voluntarily.   Usage is decreasing, albeit not fast enough. Flash is still used on around 11% of websites. This is down 2 - 3% from a year ago.   The environment has changed however, even from a year ago. Mobile is rapidly becoming the dominant platform for accessing the Internet and these devices don’t run Flash. More importantly, the pervasiveness of government surveillance and cyber-crime in general has become all too apparent, even to the general public.   Whilst, surveillance by our own governments may not impact everyone, cyber-crime has become so prevalent that the public is becoming more security conscious. This is being helped in part by companies making security and privacy a bigger part of what they do and simplifying access protection with mechanisms like fingerprint recognition on mobile devices.   Another factor is that Flash use is tightly coupled with how annoying and intrusive ads are displayed on websites. Removing Flash may be an inconvenience for accessing a small amount of functionality, but users actively removing and blocking ads has become much more common. As more ads get blocked, the incentives for advertisers to use Flash to create web ads diminishes significantly.   If you do want to remove Flash, and as a security measure, it is really advisable to at least limit its use, there are a number of different ways to disable it temporarily or permanently. An added benefit from removing Flash is that you won’t have constant messages asking to update it as daily security flaws are discovered and fixed by Adobe.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Technolog: Apple Watch sales stall, Microsoft ditches phones, Reddit's unhappy users

7:52AM | Friday, 10 July

This week brought news of the challenge that Apple faces with dwindling sales of the Apple Watch. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also pulled the plug on its smartphone business purchased from Nokia with the announcement of 7,800 job layoffs and writing off US$7.6 billion in assets. Another beleaguered CEO was Reddit’s Ellen Pao. After Reddit’s shutdown earlier this week, a petition calling for her resignation passed the 212,000 signature mark.   Apple Watch sales reportedly fall sharply in the US   This week Slice Intelligence reported that Apple Watch sales in the US had dropped to 15% of their levels in April, with only 5,000 watches selling per day. Selling large numbers of the Apple Watch was always going to be a big ask. Even for something that actually does function better than its competitors in this space, the price of the Apple Watch and its accessories, is going to be a disincentive for many.   The generalised adoption of the smartwatch as a technological category will rely on changing behaviours that have become ingrained over the past 20 years as we have adapted to using mobile phones. The last 10 years has seen smartphones become a real general computing device on which we are prepared to spend a great deal of time.   Apple has done a good job with the interface on its watch, but the small screen is always going to limit its capabilities. It will take take time before people decide what can be done on the watch and what they need to get the phone out for and ultimately that will determine the value they are likely to place on having that type of functionality on their wrist.   It is early days, however, and this is only version 1 of the watch. Until Apple release worldwide sales figures, it isn’t going to be possible to decide whether this has been a financial success from Apple’s perspective.   (Ed's note: AppleInsider has a good piece on the questionable nature of the Slice Intelligence research. In short: the stats also show that the Apple Watch is the most succesful smart watch by a considerbale margin.)   Microsoft repeats history and writes off its smartphone business In what is the final act of the tragedy that has been Nokia’s decimation, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Microsoft would be laying off a further 7,800 staff and writing down US$7.6 billion in assets associated with its smartphone business.   It could be argued that Nokia, like BlackBerry, would have struggled to survive in the smartphone business in any event. It had already chosen the wrong side by deciding to focus on using Microsoft’s operating system for its phones instead of embracing Android. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made an equally bad decision to buy the company in order to stop Nokia from changing its mind and abandoning Windows and adopting rival Google’s platform.   Microsoft has a history of making poor acquisitions. In 2012 it booked a US$6.2 billion charge for its acquisition of digital marketing company aQuantive. Driven again by wanting to compete against Google in the online advertising space, Microsoft was unable to make its online business profitable.   A year later, Microsoft took a US$900 million charge on poor sales of the Surface RT a line of devices that lost Microsoft US$2 billion in the first two years of sales.   If nothing else, the experience with Nokia should have finally convinced Microsoft that it is not ever really going to succeed as a devices company. For the moment, this is what CEO Satya Nadella seems also to have accepted. It is a pity that so many people should have had to lose their jobs for Microsoft to learn that lesson.   Reddit CEO Ellen (Chairman) Pao clings on to the role The shutdown of parts of Reddit earlier this week eventually came to an end. But a belated apology from CEO Ellen Pao hasn’t satisfied the moderators who took this action. Two moderators involved in the earlier action wrote in the NY Times that the company leaders still hadn’t fully explained their actions in removing staffer Victoria Taylor, a move that triggered the users’ protest.   It seems a very large number of the Reddit community are also still unhappy with the CEO’s response to this crisis, and a petition asking for her to stand down has passed the 212,000 signatures mark.   Ironically, the skills a CEO would need to possess to be able to recognise when they should go are similar to those that would have made them a good CEO in the first place. Bad leaders, by definition, aren’t able to take the the best decision for the sake of a company and leave when they should. So far, nobody in a position to tell Pao that it is time to move on has surfaced.   In Reddit’s case, and also an indicator of poor governance, there seem to be only two board members. Alexis Ohanian, a founder of the company and arguably not any better at handling the company than Pao, and Samuel Altman, who is involved with startup incubator Y Combinator. In the absence of a board to manage the CEO, it will be left to Reddit’s users to decide if it is worth sticking around to find out what she will eventually do.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

YouTube could change the way we broadcast sport in Australia

6:16AM | Monday, 22 June

  Australian rugby league games could be heading online following reports the National Rugby League (NRL) has been in discussions with Google as part of the sporting organisation’s latest media rights. The discussions are said to be associated with having NRL games broadcast via Google’s YouTube video website.   These are not the first discussions rumoured to have taken place between YouTube and an Australian sporting organisation. Last year it was said that the Australian Football League (AFL) was in discussions with YouTube, as part of its new media rights deal to start in 2017.   It should also be noted that YouTube has made a shift toward professional sports media over the past few years. In 2010 it secured the live-streaming rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket. Three years later, YouTube began to experiment with major American sports, including Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA).   How would a deal between an Australian sports organisations and YouTube impact Australian sport media rights?   International sport media rights   Sports media rights are much sort after. The investment banking group Jefferies Group LLC sees sports as vital for TV channels because 97% of all sports programming is watched live.   This is evident by the high stakes of the sports media rights globally. In the UK recently Sky and BT paid a record £5.136 billion (A$10.48 billion) for live Premier League soccer television rights, almost doubling the previous £3 billion (A$6.12 billion) deal.   The annual amounts paid for sports media rights in the US range from US$1.5 billion (A$1.93 billion) annually for Major League Baseball to US$3 billion (A$3.85 billion) per year for the National Football League (NFL). The NBA’s recent media rights deal of US$2.66 billion (A$3.42 billion) annually more than doubled its previous deal.   How does this compare to Australian sport media rights?   The AFL’s current media rights, which includes Seven West Media, Foxtel, Fox Sports and Telstra, are valued at A$1.25 billion. The new media rights are expected to reach more than A$2 billion for a five year deal. The current NRL media rights deal with Nine and Fox Sports are valued at A$1.025 billion over five years, just under the AFL.   There is a clear gap between the value of Australian sporting media rights and those in the UK and US, which is arguably one factor in YouTube’s interest in the Australian sports market.   Could YouTube become a sport broadcaster?   Today the online video market is estimated to be worth US$200 billion to US$400 billion (A$275 billion to A$514 billion), with YouTube having the largest share. YouTube currently has more than 1 billion users, has more than 300 hours of video uploaded to its site every minute, is localised in 75 countries and available in 61 languages.   It was recently reported that in the US YouTube reached more Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 than any cable channel, including ESPN. There has also been a 50% growth in the amount of time users spend watching videos on YouTube year over year, of which 50% of viewing is via a mobile.   The live streams on YouTube have the potential to far outweigh the highest audience ratings of Australian television broadcasters. Felix Baumgartner’s world record free fall skydive, for example, had 8 million simultaneous viewers. VIDEO 1   Who will pay? Advertisers or the users   If YouTube was to commence broadcasts of Australian sports, the question is, who will pay?   YouTube has a subscription based services already available that would allow Australian sports to charge per game, per month or per year. But how would this impact the current alternative platforms that both the AFL and NRL have?   Both have services for mobile and online viewing, part of digital rights deals with Telstra. The AFL’s deal worth A$153 million and the NRL deal worth A$100 million. Any digital rights deal with YouTube would have an impact upon the current approach toward digital rights.   A similar deal could be struck as with the IPL, where YouTube “involves every country outside the US”. YouTube could become a digital partner to broadcast AFL and NRL for countries other than Australia, assisting in the internationalisation of the codes.   YouTube and new ways to watch sport   In addition to the shear reach of YouTube globally, the other area to consider is broadcast technologies and the way in which YouTube has begun to experiment in this area.   In recent months Virtual Reality (VR) and 360 degree video, has been a big talking point. Particularly with the release Microsoft’s Hololens and more recently the new Oculus Rift VR headset, now owned by Facebook.   Google has also released Google Cardboard which gives anyone with a smartphone a cheap entry to the VR headset. Google also recently announced its Jump camera rig for 360 degree videos, which holds 16 GoPro cameras, costing well over US$8,000 (A$10,280) with cameras.   But there are cheaper alternatives to Jump coming into the market. The Giroptic camera is under US$500 (A$643) and the Bubl camera is US$799 (A$1,027), both are smaller than Jump and extremely affordable in comparison.   YouTube allows for 360 degree video to be upload to its site, something that has been taken up by artists such as Björk and the Red Bull Formula 1 racing team.   The 360 degree effect only works when viewed in Google’s Chrome web browser.   Sporting organisations are willing to experiment with new technologies. This is evident by the recent virtual reality content filmed for Samsung’s Gear VR at the NBA’s all-star weekend. The National Hockey League (NHL) also experimented with using GoPro cameras for its all-star weekend to give viewers a point-of-view perspective.   Example of NBA All-Star Virtual Reality via a Samsung Gear VR Headset These new ways of viewing video content could have a major impact on the future of sports broadcasts and what the viewer sees on a screen, but does not need to entirely replace the current methods.   Future of sports broadcasting   In the current media environment it seems that YouTube will not replace the current broadcast of sport.   For Australia, the anti-siphoning laws prevent subscription or pay-for view only broadcasting many Australian major sporting events. This would prevent YouTube from having a major impact in the near future of sports broadcasts, but it could shake up the digital rights component.   The other factor is Australian viewing habits of television. The current reports still show a strong difference between television viewing and online video viewing habits.   What YouTube could do for Australian sports is allow for both the AFL and NRL to be internationalised by making it available to people outside Australia, something that the AFL in particular has been strongly working on.   In addition to providing a liner stream, YouTube could be a potential platform for sporting organisation to experiment further with new broadcast and viewing technologies, such as the 360 degree video.   Imagine being able to experience being in the crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A 360 degree video could allow the viewer – both in Australia and overseas – access onto the ground, a fly on the wall perspective, via cameras installed on goal posts or positioned above the ground.   YouTube thus does have the potential to lead the way in new forms of sports broadcasting. Marc C-Scott is Lecturer in Digital Media at Victoria University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

First CEO of StartupAUS wants to put startups and entrepreneurs on the national agenda

6:45AM | Friday, 19 June

Promoting the value of entrepreneurship to the Australian economy will be the focus of new StartupAUS chief executive officer Peter Bradd.   On Friday, StartupAUS announced Bradd, a foundation member of its board, would become the organisation's first ever CEO. Prior to joining StartupAUS, Bradd was a founding director of Sydney co-working space Fishburners and the founder of personalise postcard startup ScribblePics.   Bradd says he wants to work to change the perception of entrepreneurship in Australia.   “People say things like those entrepreneurs are good at selling the dream and putting their hands out, but what do they really contribute to economic growth?” he says.   “People in government ask things like why support technology entrepreneurs when nine out of 10 fail and those that don’t go overseas. I really want to change that conversation. It’s the wrong conversation to be having. PwC estimated tech could create 500,000 jobs by 2034.”   Bradd argues that narrative makes it sound like startup founders are segmented from the broader Australia community.   “Entrepreneurs are a group of people with similar needs. Innovators across every industry, be it financial services, mining, agriculture, aged care, health services, transport,” he says.   “You’ve got people creating apps and websites to aggregate or provide services through tech enablers. People creating high technology, like Wi-Fi, which was created in Australia. Then you’ve got a whole heap of different things.   “They need venture capital. A higher percentage of their staff need to have technology skills. They’re entrepreneurial, they need entrepreneurship skills and education. There’s a whole heap of things they all need, but they do work in industry.”   Bradd says Australia’s startup ecosystem is growing organically but could do with a push.   “Australia is quite far behind and the way that ecosystem’s grow is they need to grow the ball and push it down the hill and it will then pick up speed and size,” he says.   “That’s the PayPal effect, and before that the GE effect. The IPOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google created 4000 millionaires. And those 4000 went and created new businesses, they had money, they had knowledge. They knew how to work in a high growth startup and they knew each other. They knew how technology worked and they spawned some amazing companies.   “Australia’s ecosystem is growing organically, we just need a bit of support.”   StartupAUS also announced that Steve Baxter would retire his position on the board to become the organisation’s chief advocate. Andrew Larsen, investor, and founder of co-working space SyncLabs, joins the board.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

A new space race is on to bring the internet to the whole world

6:22AM | Friday, 19 June

The race is on to get billions of people connected to the internet via a global network of satellites. Europe’s Airbus announced this week that it is to design and build up to 900 satellites for the privately owned OneWeb Ltd, which includes Richard Branson as a board member.   A statement from OneWeb said the plan was to begin launches in 2018 to bring “affordable internet access for everyone” by providing approximately 10 terabits per second of low-latency, high-speed broadband.   That estimate of 10 terabits per second may be misleading, though. The broadband access rates experienced by customers are more likely to be in the range of 2 to 50 megabits per second (Mb/s).   It is an ambitious move and follows reports that the entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is seeking US government approval of a network of 4,000 satellites to provide similar internet access.   Accessing the internet via satellite is nothing new. Our own NBN Co plans to launch a satellite this September to help bring people in regional areas to its high-speed network.   But what makes OneWeb and SpaceX’s ventures interesting is their plan to connect people anywhere on the planet, similar to Google’s plan revealed last year.   Facebook’s internet.org is another project that aims to make it easier for more people anywhere to connect to the internet. A truly world wide web   Only about 40% of the world’s population currently has access to the internet and annual growth has been slowing from from 10.5% in 2013 to 8% in 2013 and 7.9% last year.   Any further growth requires cost-effective access such as a global satellite network. With the mass production of micro-satellites, building such a pervasive broadband internet powered by a constellation of satellites opens up many possibilities.   It makes business sense for large internet companies such as Facebook and Google to increase access in the developing world. Having benefited from the huge uptake of internet connectivity among developed countries, these companies see an as-yet-untapped market opportunity among those who do not currently have internet access.   If other large technology companies hungry for users want to increase affordable internet access, then governments should take advantage of these opportunities. Connecting the unconnected to the internet has many positive advantages for the community.   The internet supports development by transforming a younger generation’s ability to acquire knowledge and skills and contribute productively to national growth. It can also help an ageing population to remain active and access cost-effective health care.   Connectivity is transforming transport, manufacturing, logistics and environment management. All forms of government can achieve greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness through their citizens being online and connected.   Access to digital connectivity is essential in the networked society and it is imperative that there is equitable and universal access throughout the world. Access needs to be affordable   The Alliance for Affordable Internet has long highlighted the need to increase access by making the internet affordable to a greater percentage of the global population.   Its latest Affordability Report says only 5% of the population of the world’s 49 most underdeveloped countries are online. But for the two billion people living on less than US$2 per day, basic broadband access can exceed 40% of their monthly income.   The low income of many regions does not create the necessary demand to drive investment in affordable internet access options. This leaves these communities in a vicious cycle, which is widening the gap between the connected and non-connected.   A global satellite network may be one solution to providing such access. But how will it work?   Delivering broadband over such a network faces significant challenges in design, deployment and operation of such a global infrastructure. It must also make sure it’s affordable for those from economically disadvantaged or remotely located regions.   A large constellation of satellites requires agile and cost-effective backhaul technology to provide interconnections between the satellites to form an extension to the internet. Backhaul refers to the links or network required between satellites and the internet to provide customers with internet access.   This can be achieved with laser beams or microwave beams operating at millimetre-wave frequencies. They will also require self-aligning systems to pin-point other satellites and maintain links despite fluctuations in their relative positions.   Alternatively, the satellites could form the necessary backhaul by connecting to ground stations suitably connected close to major internet gateways. Either way, satellite networks also need ground stations and internet gateways, which adds to the cost and the complexity of deploying and managing the network.   With a large constellation of satellites, we can expect a portion of satellites to be dysfunctional at times. The operators need to factor that into the operation and also account for potential impacts and risks of losing satellites. That is why the OneWeb/Airbus deal is for 900 satellites but a plan to launch only 700.   The current cost of satellite-based broadband access may only be within the reach of those living in rural communities of developed countries and for emergency communications. The key question remains whether operators can reduce the cost further by leveraging these early markets to deliver affordable access to the remaining two billion people earning US$2 a day.   The world needs connectivity and it is now needed in places where it has been nearly impossible. Micro-satellites could offer real potential that needs to be explored and may fuel a space race once more among the internet companies.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Why I love team off-sites

6:40AM | Wednesday, 3 June

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker   Three weeks ago, I took our combined team to an off-site in the Blue Mountains. We passed two-and-a-half days discussing our strategy and brainstorming big ideas for the future. We also cooked together, played pool, socialised, went on a bush walk, played laser-tag – and began to lay the foundation of a thriving company culture.   Late last year we brought together Posse, Beat the Q, and E-Coffee Card – three products, two teams, and two very different company cultures. We moved into a makeshift office for six months as we planned ahead. We’ve focused on product, recruitment, fundraising, and growth. With so much going on, it’s hard to prioritise culture.   But as the founder of modern management, Peter Drucker, once exclaimed, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Our new company has a great strategy. We must nail culture too.   I’ve run my own businesses since I left uni, except for one year when I worked as someone’s assistant. Early on, I wasn’t great at culture. I thought that if I hired good people then they would naturally succeed. I was wrong, and spent several years fretting about office politics and why no one worked as hard as me.   It wasn’t until the rise of Google that I started to think about company culture. At first, the concept seemed like a big intangible challenge. The Harvard Business Review describes culture as “the glue that binds companies together, and the hardest thing for competitors to copy”.   How does a leader create glue that unites team members? Glue that promotes a set of productive, winning behaviours? How can we create a welcoming environment that people can’t wait to enter every morning? How do we keep a growing team aligned, motivated to deliver on our strategy as if they owned the company? And however can we do it on a startup budget?   I read every book I could on the topic and asked friends and mentors for their advice. Everyone had different suggestions. I thought I'd have to revolutionise the way I led the company, but found that most ideas for culture transformation were simple and easy to implement. Of course there’s the fundamental stuff – hire the right people, be transparent, be performance focused, celebrate wins – and all the tricks that help to achieve these things.   The benefits of an off-site   One of the best ideas has been regular company off-sites. We hire mini-vans, a house to sleep fifteen people for two nights – and away from distractions, we focus on the big picture. We run our strategy and goals on three-monthly loops with review and planning workshops at the end of each quarter. Every second quarter, at the beginning of April and September, we go away together and think.   Since I haven’t seen anyone else run an off-site, I’ve developed my own style. This time we arrived on Wednesday night and finished on Friday afternoon. I broke the time into sessions, combining business reflection, brainstorming, team activities and fun. The objectives are to reinforce company culture and values, encourage cross-pollination of ideas and understanding and to align on goals and strategy for the next quarter.   Here’s some of what I think makes a great off-site:   1. Radical transparency We start with an honest reflection of the last quarter. Over this time, what worked and what didn’t. I find it hard but important to ensure that each team reports on reality – no vanity metrics! This sets a foundation to build on.   2. Include everyone at beginning   We always start with an exercise that gets each team member to speak in front of the group. It tends to help get the quieter folks more comfortable speaking up.   3. Guest speakers   I usually invite two guests to join by video conference and talk about a particular topic. This year Sizhao Yang (founder of Farmville) joined to talk about hyper-local marketing and Lars Rasmussen (Google Maps) spoke about the need to be aggressive. Inviting guests enables the whole group to hear firsthand knowledge and ask questions of advisors who usually only speak with the CEO.   4. Team brainstorming   We break into groups of four or five made up of people from different parts of the business. This time, each group created ideas for product, sales, marketing and company culture and had to present back to the rest of the team. We made sure everyone presented on a topic that wasn’t their regular role (so, sales people presented on product, engineers on company culture). It’s crucial for the team to accept that there are no bad ideas, so people are free to dream.   5. Personal goal setting   The final task is to set a personal and a professional goal for the quarter and share with the group. We take these down and measure at the end of the quarter.   6. Have fun   Location is important, and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Our place was less than $800 per night. There needs to be a big kitchen to cook together and a place to hang out and project presentations.   7. Follow-up   Off-sites can be a lot of fun, but they create negative impact if you don’t follow-up. The week after, I pooled everyone’s ideas into a strategy document for the quarter and explained why some made it and others didn’t. We then set week-to-week goals and tracked our progress accordingly.   If culture is the glue that binds a team together then, as team leaders, it’s important that we’re always thinking about how to strengthen it. Like all aspects of a startup, culture should be developed iteratively over time.   As an entrepreneur, I can feel intimidated to compete with the company culture of companies like Google with their free buffets and fancy slides. However, there are many little things we can do to create our own special glue, and that can’t be copied. I’ve found that regular off-sites are an awesome way to harness the team’s creativity and create a unique and strong company culture.   We’re hiring!   If you like the sound of our company then we’d like to hear from you. We’re hiring superstar engineers, a senior graphic designer, senior product manager, sales teams in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and a finance and operations manager. For more info or to make a recommendation, please email me directly at  Rebekah@posse.com.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Magic Leap is launching an augmented reality developer platform

6:33PM | Tuesday, 2 June

Augmented reality startup Magic Leap has announced it is launching an augmented reality developer platform, according to TechCrunch.   Last year Google invested more than $600 million in the company, which says it can project light and graphics into the human eye alongside what it sees naturally.   Speaking at the MIT EmTech Digital conference, Magic Leap chief executive Rony Abovitz said the company was ready to start training developers.   “We’re out of the R&D phase and into the transition to real product introduction,” he said.   “There is no off-the-shelf stuff that does what we’re describing.”   Native Americans and domestic violence survivors protest Facebook’s naming policy   Native Americans, domestic violence survivors, drag queens and others have come together to protest at Facebook’s headquarters in response to the company’s policy of only allowing people to use their “real” names.   Fairfax reports more than 50 protesters held up picket signs and chanted outside Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.   Facebook says people need to use their real names in order to prevent instances of bullying or inappropriate behaviour on the social network, but has softened that position after complaints from the LGBTIQ community.   However, the protesters said they wanted Facebook to do more by not putting the onus on vulnerable groups to prove their identity.   Apple chief lashes out against companies that compromise customer privacy   Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook has lashed out at companies that make a trade-off between customer privacy and security, according to TechCrunch.   Speaking at the EPIC Champions of Freedom event in Washington, Cook said people have the fundamental right to privacy.   “I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” he said.   “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 28.43 points, falling 0.16% to 18,011.94. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.72 US cents.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Australian Android app developer wins Google design prize

6:38AM | Tuesday, 2 June

Australian app developer Shifty Jelly was one of six companies honoured in Google’s Material Design Awards last week for its Pocket Casts podcasting app.   The award was announced last week at the Material Now session of the Google I/O developer conference, with Pocket Casts taking out the ‘Seamless Browsing’ category. Other award winners included Tumblr and the New York Times.   The six award winners also beat out a number of big-name apps including Tumblr, Evernote, Indiegogo, Lyft and Buzzfeed.   The awards honour well-designed Android apps that apply Google’s Material Design guidelines, with the nominees honoured in a best-in-class Android design section of the Google Play app store.   The Material Design guidelines were introduced by the tech giant at the Google I/O conference in 2014, as part of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Aside from Android, the guidelines are also used to inform Google’s design for apps, the Chrome web browser and online services.   Other key announcements from Google I/O included a new IoT platform called Brillo, a virtual reality platform called Jump, a photo sharing service called Google Photos, its Android Pay mobile payments service, and the latest version of the Android operating system, known as Android M.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Adblock Pro is destroying the online ad market

6:53AM | Monday, 1 June

Advertising represents 90% of Google’s $USD 66 billion in annual revenue. What makes this figure especially astounding is the suggestion that the vast majority of web advertising may never actually be seen by end users, and if it is, is largely ineffective.   Google, Facebook, and other online advertising companies, are less worried about the effectiveness of ads and are more concerned that they show the ads to users in order to bill their customers. This business is being made harder however as a result of the rise in the use of ad blocking software in the past 10 years. Ad blocking Ad blocking software basically applies a list of filters to every web page that is loaded and either hides the ad from showing, or blocks the request to the site that hosts the ad. Not all ads are blocked however. Depending on the software, some sites and their ads can be “whitelisted” and allowed to show. Adblock Plus for example, applies a principle that it is only “bad” advertising that should be blocked. Bad ads are those that do not fit a set of criteria that advocates that ads should not be annoying, intrusive, should not distort the page that they are embedded in, and are appropriate for the context. Companies that produce “good” ads can then pay Adblock Plus to have their ads whitelisted.   uBlock, another popular ad blocking software plugin for browsers, simply blocks anything that looks like advertising.   Ad blocking software is now used by 25% of users in the US, increasing to 40% of users in countries like Germany. Native advertising Partly in response to the decline in effectiveness of traditional online ads, advertisers have turned increasingly to native advertising. Native ads have been around for some times. They can span from the placement of products in a TV show or film, through to sponsored articles or posts on social media that are written to look like they are part of the normal content of the site. Sponsored tweets on Twitter and posts on Facebook have become more prevalent and have been shown to be far more effective than banner or search-based ads. However, even though these types of ads are more effective, those on social media at least, are still considered not terribly so.   Here again, users are turning to software to remove native ads. On Facebook, products like Facebook Purity give the user a high degree of flexibility in removing advertising from Facebook on the web.   Advertisers in Germany decided to tackle the problem of ad blocking head on by taking Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, to court. This avenue was shut down, at least in Germany, when the Munich court ruled that ad blocking was indeed legal. The threat to mobile If matters on the web were not bad enough, advertisers face an even bigger problem on mobile. Several telecommunications companies are in the process of deploying ad blocking software to their mobile networks. One technology that they are using is from an Israeli startup called Shine that works at the level of the mobile network to block ads.   From the mobile carrier’s perspective, advertising has been estimated to use anything between 10% and 50% of a mobile phone users bandwidth which ultimately the end user is paying for. Ironically however, the telecommunications companies are possibly seeking part of that income by forcing companies like Google to pay them a share for ads transmitted on their networks. Even if this doesn’t succeed, the carriers can switch on ad blocking to enhance the service for their users or charge them for an ad-free environment. An ad-free world? If ads are successfully blocked in the mobile world, which is seen as becoming the dominant platform for advertising in the future, Google, and others, contend that they will need to start charging for software that has been provided for free but funded through advertising.   From an end user perspective, moving from a free service to a paid one would actually be a good thing because it would make the relationship between the user and companies like Google more explicit. It is hard to argue that it is acceptable to secretly track users and capture their personal details when the user is paying for a service. Whether this model is going to be as financially lucrative for Google as selling ads is yet to be seen.   Advertising, even invasive and disruptive ads ones is not going to disappear overnight. In-app advertising provided on Android and Apple devices is going to be harder to block, even at the mobile carrier level. Advertisers will move increasingly to native formats which are harder to block. In the online landscape where competition is global and there are only a few gatekeepers who control the platform for advertising, it is hard to see how to arrive at a solution that will keep all parties in the equation happy.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Google Jump, GoPro, and YouTube 360 have virtual reality pushing towards the mainstream

5:38PM | Sunday, 31 May

Above: GoPro's Jump-ready 360 camera array uses HERO4 camera modules and allows all 16 cameras to act as one.   Key announcements by Google at its annual Google I/O developer conference have put virtual reality on the cusp of going mainstream, according to two key figures in the Australian virtual reality community.   During the conference, Google unveiled a new virtual reality ecosystem known as Jump, as well as new camera arrays that can capture 360-degree vision, and streaming stereoscopic virtual reality videos on YouTube.   Virtual Reality Ventures managing director Stefan Pernar told StartupSmart the commodification of virtual reality is likely to happen over the next 12 to 18 months.   “The big news from Google I/O is a virtual reality targeted Go Pro rig, one in a six-camera version and one in a 16-camera version, along with the Jump initiative. There’s also a set of assembly tools that allows you to stitch the thing together and extract 3D info from a range of perspectives,” Pernar says.   Pernar says that creating and sharing a virtual reality experience will soon be as easy as buying a GoPro rig and uploading the video clip on to YouTube 360.   He also points out that a string of consumer virtual reality headsets are set to hit the market in late 2015 and the first half of 2016, including Sony Morpheus, the HTC/Valve device and the consumer version of Facebook’s Oculus Rift. Samsung is also likely to heavily push its Gear VR headset in the lead-up to Christmas.   “That’s what Facebook buying Oculus was all about – sharing your user-created virtual reality experience with your family and friends on Facebook,” Pernar says.   “The landscape is changing. Virtual reality company’s focus will not so much be on stitching video together. That problem has been solved.   “Instead, they will need to add value, in the form of interactive and value added content.”   According to Pernar, creating more professional virtual reality shoots is a potential growth opportunity for virtual reality producers.   “The smartphone camera in your pocket is now better than the cameras used to shoot Star Wars. So why doesn’t everyone just whip out their phone and shoot Star Wars? It’s not just a matter of hardware – there’s also cinematography.   “A year ago, virtual reality was just a tech process. Even simple, stationary shots were state-of-the-art. Now you need to manage movement.”   The announcements mark a very exciting time for the VR industry, according to Anton Andreacchio – whose virtual reality production company Jumpgate Virtual Reality recently released a 90-second trailer for the upcoming Cyan Films horror film Scare Campaign. “It’s what happened with film – it’s democratisation. On the tech side, equipment isn’t cost-prohibitive anymore. From a hardware perspective, this solves the post-production issue of stitching video clips together,” Andreacchio say.   “This is another big step, the process of making [VR] a systematic production method, and getting big companies a clearer path.   As for Pernar’s sentiments about VR going mainstream, Andreacchio is cautiously optimistic.   “I know I should say yes 100%, but we don’t know. But certainly a lot of time, money and energy is being thrown at this at the moment. So I suspect we are, but ultimately that’s up to the consumers,” he says.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Brillo and Weave among major announcements out of Google I/O

5:44AM | Friday, 29 May

Brillo, a cut-down version of Android aimed at embedded devices, and Weave, a framework designed to compete against Apple’s HomeKit API, were among the key announcements from the Google I/O developer conference this year.   Other key announcements from the tech giant include a photo sharing service and app designed to compete against Flickr called Google Photos, a series of major virtual reality announcements, and the latest version of the Android operating system, which is known as Android M.   Clinicloud founder Hon Weng Chong told StartupSmart that while Brillo and Weave are aimed more at the home automation end of IoT rather than medtech devices, a key issue for any embedded device is the trade-off between ease of programming and memory use.   “Right now, we’re not even using Embedded Linux. We’re working on bare metal in Assembler,” Chong says.   “There’s always a trade-off. When you use Windows 10 or Embedded Android, you need to have extra memory and more processing power, and that comes at a cost. So the trade-off is between the cost versus how easy it is to program.   “Certainly, it will be good for new startups that are just prototyping their ideas. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of getting a product ready, you need to do a bit more work. I’m not sure the trade-offs and chip costs are something Microsoft and Google have really taken into consideration.” Assembler still the only way to go The sentiment is shared by Procept products and marketing manager Rob Crowder, who also serves as the managing director of Smash Wearables. He told StartupSmart Assembler is the only way to go right now, assuming you can write apps that basic.   Crowder also says multi-purpose wearable devices such as Android Wear smartwatches and the Apple Watch still lack the precision needed to do something like accurately measure a player’s tennis swing, as single-use wearables such as Smash Wearables’ device does.   “Right now, if we asked a wearable to do everything the Apple Watch does, and at the same time have the precision we need it to, you’d probably need a battery the size of a backpack, and no one would buy it.   “Our own wearables, that are useful for some very specific purpose, have a shelf life of somewhere around three to five years. At some time, someone will come up with a general device that’s precise enough with a battery good enough for tennis. But right now, there’s still a trade-off. How hard you ask it to work led us to develop our own wearable.” Concerns around Brillo’s memory use David Soutar, co-founder and chief executive at Wattcost, says a lot of embedded devices couldn’t support the memory use Brillo requires.   However, not all startups are as pessimistic. Oomi vice president Chris Hall says he intends to take a close look at Google’s IoT ecosystem – as long as it doesn’t compromise the user experience for Apple and Windows users.   “At our end, we’ve encouraged an open ecosystem. What’s been happening in the IoT space is a lot of fragmentation. So we’ve tried to be as platform-agnostic as possible,” Hall says.   “Oomi Touch integrates with Apple HomeKit to give full value to iOS users. We’re also a partner in Samsung’s Tizen Alliance.   “On the Google side, the big talk last year Nest Thread. However with Weave, there seems to be a distancing away from Nest and on the hardware side, we’ll take a close look at what the hardware offers.” Great to have an Apple HomeKit rival LEAPIN Digital Keys cofounder Steve Dunn says he thinks it’s great that Google have finally stepped in and set a new IOT platform with Brillo and Weave to rival Apple's HomeKit.   “It means that we can now more easily interface our smart lock products with other IOT products without having to go through a lengthy negotiation exercise with all the different companies with all their different IOT products one at a time.   “We’ve been talking with some overseas telcos, other startups, security product manufacturers, and even insurance companies about building interfaces, and pulling together smart home products and kits with our smart locks. But up until now it feels like we've been going on dates with all these other companies, talking and looking at each other’s products, discussing taking action, but not actually doing anything. This Project Brillo announcement by Google levels the playing field now, so it means that the best products can more easily come together and offer more choices for the consumer.   “Up until now, it’s only been the loudest voices and best negotiators (mostly in the US) and not necessarily the best products, which are coming together because there hasn't been one primary platform for IoT products… Hopefully, Brillo will enable the smaller startups like us with great IoT products to get all the interfaces done, and get their products out there in front of consumers easier than they do now.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The best onboarding is an intuitive product

5:18AM | Thursday, 28 May

New user onboarding turns signups into successful users as quickly and easily as possible. Done well, it generates excitement about future use, provides learning by using the product, and takes care of basic configuration in a fun and engaging way.   As a designer on the Atlassian Growth team, one of my responsibilities is coming up with these onboarding flows for us to test in our products. We run A/B experiments to determine what ideas will increase various success metrics like conversion, monthly active users (MAU), and usage minutes.   Popularised by consumer products like Facebook & Twitter and the work that Samuel Hulick has been doing, user onboarding is taking the product design world by storm. It seems every startup in the valley is focused on delivering an incredible onboarding and setup flow to beat all others, all in the name of increasing MAU.   However, I believe if a product is intuitive by default it should require no onboarding flow at all. The days of RTFM are gone; the best products don’t require hand-holding to understand core functionality from the get-go.   Which begs the question, what makes a product intuitive? 1. A clear value proposition A whisk is a steel instrument. A bowl is a concave surface. A chicken egg is the unfertilised gamete laid by a female bird.   This is listing and describing features. Instead what you need to do is show your customer how she can make an omelette. (Thanks to Jay for the great metaphor.)   If you haven’t heard of the Jobs-to-be-Done framework from Clayton Christensen, I suggest you check it out. In short, customers ‘hire’ your product for a job they want done, and you need to succinctly communicate how your product will do this job for them.   In the example above, our customer is after an omelette, so you need to provide not just the tools and ingredients, but also the recipe so she gets what she’s after. 2. Unambiguous terminology Do you introduce a lot of bespoke terminology? Are you using words which most people associate with a different definition? Unless you’re Apple, you probably can’t invent a new word or change the definition of existing words.   We have a product called Confluence which is a collaborative wiki and knowledge base. It’s kind of a hybrid between Google Docs, Wikipedia, and StackExchange for your company.   Everything in Confluence lives within multiple ‘spaces,’ kind of like folders on a computer. The problem with the word ‘space’ is that it’s incredibly abstract and has many different definitions. Customers trialling Confluence are confused when they encounter it, so our onboarding flows spend a lot of time explaining what we mean by the term.   Terminology like Share, Menu, Project, and Avatar all have distinct definitions within the context of software (and associated well-known symbols). When people interact with these words or icons in your interface, they expect one thing and are confused when you show them something else.   Ensure your definition and usage is the same as what people expect, and try to use as little bespoke terminology as possible. 3. Well-designed affordances “An affordance is often taken as a relation between an object or an environment and an organism, that affords the opportunity for that organism to perform an action. For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling.” — Wikipedia Put simply, affordances are the things your users interact with. Buttons, gestures, drop-downs, inputs.   We have a Breville toaster and a Breville microwave at home. One thing I love about the toaster is this ‘A bit more’ button: This button is neat because it explains what it will do in a simple and human way, it is physically a button that can be pressed, it looks like a button differentiated against its surroundings, and it has a ring light that shows you when it’s on. It’s quite straightforward and simple.   Contrast that with our Breville microwave: What’s the difference?   The affordances on the toaster are clear and intuitive. I know what they’ll do; I don’t need a manual to tell me. The microwave on the other hand is interface voodoo: a myriad of bespoke icons on the display, inconsistent long presses and short presses, a multi-function contextual knob, and complex button labels. What does Time Weight Defrost do? Or the button simply labeled Microwave? It even has an oddly-specific, dedicated Potato button! Why? Does anyone cook potatoes in their microwave?   It sounds obvious but it’s often overlooked: make sure your product has intuitive affordances like the toaster, and not the microwave. 4. Sane defaults There’s an old computer science saying that a computer should never ask you a question that it can answer for itself. In most cases your product should be able to determine a lot of configuration on its own; for example the user’s timezone and location.   In the case of new users, you absolutely know that people don’t start with their own data in your product. When you create a new email account, it usually doesn’t come with a bunch of emails in your inbox. Your users will be looking at a lot of blank screens. Make sure you have well-designed empty states or sample data to catch them and highlight their next steps.   For times when the product can’t easily know how to set itself up, rely on qualitative research and analytics to inform your default configuration.   If you know most people have four steps in their workflow, the default column count on your task management app should be four.   If you know most of your audience are signing up to design a newsletter, surface that above other options, like designing a birthday card.   If you know most people are using two of your products together, perhaps connect and integrate them both by default. 5. Meeting expectations You have the ability to affect a potential customer’s expectations before they log in for the first time: you control the advertisements you run, the content on your marketing website, the emails you send, and what you post on your Facebook page.   So if you’re saying one thing on your marketing website (“our product is great for thing x!”) and then don’t follow through in-product, you’re going to lose that customer because you’ve built up their expectations and then demolished them.   How do you begin to address this?   Conduct an audit of your whole customer journey from initial impression right through to success (whatever that is) and make sure you’re sending the same consistent message about what your product does the whole way through.   This exercise is also a great way to surface differences of opinion in your organisation. Your marketing department might think your product does one thing well, whereas the product managers might disagree!   You now have a good base for making your product intuitive. Once you feel that you’re satisfying most of the points I’ve outlined here, start iterating on the new-user onboarding experience through experimentation to further optimise each of these points.   But if you’ve been nodding your head the whole way and saying, “yep, our product isn’t here yet”, then perhaps go back to the drawing board and aim to make your product more intuitive by default before throwing everything you have into new-user onboarding experiments.   A/B experiments are useful for turning a good product into a great one through iteration, but not that useful when your product has a long way to go before it’s somewhat intuitive. Make sure you’re starting off at a certain level before iterating through experimentation, and remember, the best onboarding is an intuitive product by default.   Benjamin Humphrey is a designer at Atlassian. If you enjoyed this post and want more of the same, you might consider following Designing Atlassian! This article first appeared on Medium.

THE NEWS WRAP: Apple working on Google Now competitor

5:16PM | Wednesday, 27 May

Apple is developing a new iOS imitative code named “proactive” that will leverage Siri, Contacts, Calendar, Passbook and third-party apps to compete with Google Now.   Proactive will automatically provide timely information based on user data and device usage patterns, but respect its users privacy preferences, a source told 9to5Mac.   The feature will likely replace Apple’s Spotlight menu. Speculation suggests some form of Proactive will be introduced with iOS9 at the Worldwide Developers Conference on June 8. Comcast restarts Vox Media acquisition talks Before Vox Media acquired Re/code, it had been engaged in acquisition talks with Comcast.   Comcast has invested in both Vox Media and Re/code, and now following Vox Media’s purchase of Re/code, Comcast is ready to reopen acquisition talks with Vox Media, Quartz reports.   Vox Media has raised about $US110 million over the last six years and has been seeking a Valuation close to $1 billion. Desktop internet is not in decline The amount of time spent online on desktop has remained steady for the past two years, according to data from comScore.   Online mobile usage has grown steadily over that period and is adding to, not subtracting from the amount of time people spent online on desktop computers. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 121.45 to 18,162.99. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US77 cents.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Fintech might be hot right now, but banks are still winning

5:57AM | Wednesday, 27 May

The term “fintech” – the marriage of financial services with technology companies – has only recently come into vogue in Australia, with venture capital starting to flow into the sector.   It was only around October 2014 that the term fintech started to appear in Australia’s mainstream media – rather late given it was just two months later peer-to-peer lending platform LendingClub listed on the New York Stock Exchange.   LendingClub reached a valuation of US$8.5 billion in the closing days of 2014, making it the 15th largest US lending institution by market capitalisation at the time, the company’s estimated.   Taken at face value, it would seem Australia has simply been late to the fintech party. But that is not really the case.   There are four roles that financial services companies perform in any economy: they facilitate payments; create credit; manage wealth through investment platforms; and assist with risk mitigation through either insurance or facilitating price discovery in the traded financial markets.   Outside of Australia – in the US particularly – startup fintech companies have launched a relentless assault on all of these functions. In every case, they have succeeded by offering customers a cheaper, simpler product, more suited to exactly the type of transaction customers were looking to undertake. This is the classic model of business disruption.   To be clear, fintech companies are not just online banking platforms. Their products are unique. First, many platforms directly match buyer and seller, taking out the finance middleman and large balance sheets. Second, most innovate new ways to use personal information for product creation and sales – such as mining social media sites to support customer identification and credit scores.   Finally, fintech platforms often cross-sell other, non-financial products to their customers, accruing value to the platform rather than to the product itself. This is an inversion of the traditional financial services model that asks customers to pay for products, and uses product revenue to subsidise its “free” distribution platform of branches, offices, salespeople and online transaction platforms. Australian banks have held back the tide   Fintech companies have sprouted like mushrooms across the payments, credit, investment and markets space outside of Australia. Why are the first green shoots in Australia only starting to appear now? Three reasons spring to mind. One is that Australian financial services firms have been innovating from within, reducing the incentive for their customers to go in search of cheaper, more convenient options. Second is that traditional financial institutions have used their market power to maintain market share. Finally, Australia’s regulatory settings have been too restrictive, making it difficult for young startups to enter the market. This last point was particularly noted in the Murray Financial Services Inquiry, which recommended a more finely attuned regulatory structure to promote greater competition in the financial services sector.   Perhaps the most noteworthy absence of fintech startups in Australia is within the payments system space. This stands in contrast with countries like the US, where PayPal’s dominance in online payments is unquestioned. Customers choose PayPal in the US because its banks never created a unified national online payments system and were too late to realise customers would rather transact online than write out and mail cheques. But PayPal is not alone. Google has launched Google Wallet, Facebook and WeChat in China have announced debit cards for online “sharing money", and AliPay in 2014 announced it had facilitated nearly US$150 billion in mobile transactions.   Not all of these startups have entered Australia, and the reason may be that Australia already has one of the most advanced online and cashless payments systems in the world. The system – which most Australians will know as Eftpos (electronic funds transfer at point of sale), PayAnyone (online account-to-account transfers) and its compatriot BPay (online bill payments system) – are innovations created by a consortium of Australia’s major banks around the same time as PayPal’s founding in the US. Australian banks have remained competitive in this part of financial services.   Where the gaps are   The gap in the payments space is in international money transfers, where anti-money laundering regulations and compliance reporting are so onerous that the major Australian banks have closed their doors to remittance businesses. In their absence, we see firms such as CoinJar utilising digital currencies like bitcoin to transmit across borders. CurrencySpot offers a more traditional foreign exchange service, but also anti-money laundering compliance reporting on foreign exchange transactions.   Competition is even hotter in credit markets. On what seems like an almost daily basis, another peer-to-peer (P2P) lender announces it is entering the Australian market. Local player SocietyOne has in the last 12 months been joined by RateSetter (UK), OnDeck (US) and Kiva (US), among others.   But the P2P lending industry in Australia is still niche, emerging only in the spaces where the large Australian banks have voluntarily withdrawn: consumer lending and small business lending. The chart below highlights the extent to which banks have preferred to grow their loan books through mortgage lending – almost certainly driven, at least in part, by the preferential risk weighting on capital assigned to mortgage lending under the Basel III framework. Lending and credit aggregates in Australia In contrast, this chart below highlights the rather slow growth of business lending. Moreover, since the global financial crisis, new business credit has increasingly gone into loans of a size in excess of A$500,000 - a loan amount much more suggestive of a large corporate than a small or medium-sized business. In aggregate, the data suggests that credit from the banking system has not been flowing to either consumers (outside of housing) or the smaller end of the business market.   Australia’s business credit flow by loan size The space left by banks is where P2P lenders are entering the market. SocietyOne (Australia) and RateSetter (UK) are operating in the consumer lending space, while OnDeck (US) and ThinDeck (UK) specialise in small business loans. MoneyPlace (Australia) handles both consumer and small business lending.   A key advantage of P2P lenders – aside from their generally lower cost of capital and ability to use unstructured sources of data – is that they are able to vary the interest rate offered to individual borrowers in a way that is unrealistic for a large bank. While now a relatively small share of overall credit growth in the Australian economy, there is no question that the ability of the financial system to meet the credit needs of smaller borrowers – especially SMEs – is critical for economic growth. The experience in the US has suggested that, over time, established banks can work with the P2P community, using P2P platforms to identify new customers and benefit from a superior online customer experience.   Similar trends are being seen in the financial investment market with “robo-advice” - investment advice that is online and automated by the use of algorithms to produce an individual’s optimal portfolio allocation. Other investment start-ups include names like Macrovue, which helps unsophisticated retail investors to diversify their portfolios and easily track returns.   The number of robo-advice providers in the Australian market is still relatively small, but suits the estimated 80% of Australian superannuation fund holders who do not seek professional financial advice. The future here may also be one of accommodation, where financial advisers look to take advantage of tools made available by robo-advice to find a less expensive way to service their customers.   Either way, it’s a competitive gain for consumers, and a productivity boost for the Australian economy.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Qwilr’s quest to create smarter document software gets a $500,000 boost

5:02AM | Thursday, 21 May

Sydney startup Qwilr has raised $500,000 from the Sydney Seed Fund and Macdoch Ventures to reinvent document software.   Co-founder Mark Tanner says documents haven’t changed in a very long time, whether it be Microsoft Office or Google Docs, or PDFs.   “They’re still just A4 pieces of paper that are very static and quite deliberately unintelligent,” he says.   “Qwilr wants to be halfway between word documents and PDFs, and tools like Squarespace and Weebly.”   Tanner says Qwilr will unlock the “full power of the web” for documents. That includes everything from embeddable video and audio, and importantly, analytics.   “Everyone just expects basic analytics (online), but documents today, you have no idea what’s happening to them,” Tanner says.   “You could send out three quotes this week, or an invite to a party, and see it has been viewed this many times, this particular client didn’t even open the document. It would change the way you write to them, how you view the client and your interactions with them.”   Tanner returned to Australia after working in New York for Google to start work on Qwilr with co-founder Dylan Baskind.   Baskind came up with the idea while working as a freelance artist, designer and engineer. When freelancing he was competing against larger firms, and built Qwilr as a means to help his proposals stand out from the pack.   “Often a freelancer or agency will spend hours and hours on a proposal, only to dump it into a text-heavy, long, ugly document,” Tanner says.   “With Qwilr, that same proposal can look stunning, be done dramatically faster and include all kinds of images including pictures, photos, gifs and videos. In addition Qwilr pages have analytics running in the background so you can track how many times your proposal was opened (if at all!) and which sections your clients cared about the most.”   Users can sign up and create Qwilr documents for free, and can upgrade to a $29, or $89 monthly subscriptions for access to features like advanced analytics and password or time limited security.   Tanner wouldn’t say exactly how many users have signed up, or how many are paying for the premium products, but says it has “thousands of users” in over 30 countries.   “The big thing for us is it has been global from day one. We’ve had to deal with right to left writing styles, things you don’t think about initially. And the real metric is there are tens of thousands od documents that have been made on Qwilr,” he says.   “At the moment, a reasonable amount of people, freelancers and digital agencies, they’re converting really quickly, because they’re seeing the value. At the moment we’re very happy rate, and while it’s a starting number, we are very happy.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

An education for the 21st century means teaching coding in schools

5:05AM | Thursday, 21 May

Bill Shorten’s recent announcement that, if elected, a Labor Government would “ensure that computer coding is taught in every primary and secondary school in Australia” has brought attention to an increasing world trend.   Estonia introduced coding in primary schools in 2012 and the UK followed suit last year. US-led initiatives such as Code.org and the “Hour of Code”, supported by organisations such as Google and Microsoft, advocate that every school student should have the opportunity to learn computer coding.   There is merit in school students learning coding. We live in a digital world where computer programs underlie everything from business, marketing, aviation, science and medicine, to name several disciplines. During a recent presentation at a radio station, one of our hosts said that IT would have been better background for his career in radio than journalism.   There is also a strong case to be made that Australia’s future prosperity will depend on delivering advanced services and digital technology, and that programming will be essential to this end. Computer programs and software are known to be a strong driver of productivity improvements in many fields.   Being introduced to coding gives students an appreciation of what can be built with technology. We are surrounded by devices controlled by computers. Understanding how they work, and imagining new devices and services, are enhanced by understanding coding.   Of course, not everyone taught coding will become a coder or have a career in information technology. Art is taught in schools with no expectation that the students should become artists. Drag and drop A computer program is effectively a means of automating processes. Programs systematically and reliably follow processes and can be used to exhaustively try all the possibilities.   The languages used to program computers have evolved in the 70 years we have been building computers. Interfaces and programming environments have become more natural and intuitive. Language features reflect the applications they’re used for.   What is needed to easily express a business process, scientific equation, or data analysis technique is not necessarily the same as what is needed to rapidly develop a video game.   However, throughout the evolution of programming languages, the fundamental principles have remained the same. Computer programming languages express three essential things:   The order in which a sequence of instructions is performed A means of repeating a sequence of instructions a prescribed number of times And tests as to whether or not a sequence of instructions is performed.   While personal preference influences which computer language a programmer uses, there is a greater understanding of which languages work well for teaching introductory programming. For example, Scratch is popular for primary school students and is quick to learn. Alice has been used to help students quickly build computer animations. Python is increasingly used for scientific applications. Visual programming languages – where students can drag-and-drop icons rather than type code – allow for rapid development of simple programs.   At Swinburne University of Technology we run workshops to introduce school students to program NAO robots. Students use the Choregraphe environment to link robot actions from a library.   Students previously unused to programming can develop interesting robot projects in a couple of days. More sophisticated development of the robot requires students to use a more detail-oriented language, such as Python or C++. The simpler options lead to positive student experience. Computational thinking Writing and then executing a program gives immediate feedback as to whether you have correctly expressed instructions for the computer. Ultimately, the understanding of how to express concepts so that a computer can perform tasks accurately and efficiently is far more important than the details of the programming language.   Underlying all computer programs are algorithms, which specify in a more abstract way how a task is to be done. Algorithmic thinking – also called computational thinking – underlies computer science, and there has been a growing movement on algorithmic thinking in schools.   The new national curriculum reflects algorithmic processes, and materials are being developed to help teachers with the new curriculum. Victoria has recently developed a new subject for the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) entitled Algorithmics. There are even materials for teaching algorithmic thinking without computers. The Computer Science Unplugged movement, led by Tim Bell and colleagues at the University of Canterbury, has developed resources that teach students concepts through movement and fun activities. Teaching for the this century Teaching computer coding in schools is very different from initiatives that advocate for computers in the classroom. I was not, and am still not, supportive of compulsory laptop programs in schools.   The idea is not necessarily to expose students to the technology itself, which is almost inevitable these days with the wide penetration of mobile phones. Rather, students are exposed to the skills needed to develop computer applications.   While IT skill shortages is a contentious topic, there is no doubt that not enough of the best and brightest are studying computer science at university. A significant factor is insufficient exposure to the topic at schools. Teaching coding at schools is aimed at addressing the lack.   It might be said that whatever programming language is taught will be obsolete by the time the students enter the workforce. My experience is that, if taught properly, students can rapidly transfer the principles of one language to another.   In the 19th and 20th centuries, the challenge was to understand the physical world, and harness force and energy. This understanding percolated into the school curriculum. In the 21st century, the challenge is to understand and harness data, information and knowledge. Computer programming is a necessary way of introducing students to these concepts.   Leon Sterling is Pro Vice Chancellor Digital Frontiers at Swinburne University of Technology.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why half a billion people downloaded Candy Crush

5:48AM | Tuesday, 19 May

On trains. In parks. At traffic lights.   So many of us are buried deep in our phones, gulping down pixels of information and entertainment like a thirsty desert pilgrim gulps down water.   And it seems many of us can’t get enough of one particular aspect of smartphones; mobile gaming. In fact over half a billion people have downloaded one game alone*.   In order to convince us to spend so much of our time playing, game design relies heavily on behavioural psychology and it seems the industry is doing a lot right.   In the UK 46% of internet users now play games on a mobile phone, up from 39% in 2012. In the US the number of smartphone gamers is expected to reach 70% of smartphone users in 2015 (that’s a whopping 116.0 million people), with players on average spending $4.58 a month on games. The industry is projected to reach revenues of $30.3 billion (US) in 2015, surpassing traditional console gaming, is huge, growing and a very interesting case study on influencing behaviour.   So what are a few of the techniques they’re using to acquire and retain users? Effort vs. Reward equation Before we dive in, remember that behaviour boils down to what I call the “Effort vs. Reward equation”.   When Effort exceeds Reward, behaviour doesn’t happen.   When Reward exceeds Effort, it does.   In other words, is all the stuff I have to outlay in this decision (time, money, status, effort) less than the payoff I expect?   So what are a few of the techniques game designers are using in make R > E? Free and freely available Getting people to download your game is make or break for game designers, so to reduce “Effort” most are free or have free versions – no money on the line means no risk.   Having the games freely available in the iTunes and Google Play stores is also vitally important because it means users don’t have to go out of their way to find them.  Nirvana for a game designer is of course having it pre-loaded on the phone so there’s not even a download step required. This reminds me of the old Coca-Cola vision of being “in arm’s reach of desire”. Be where people are already. Positive and negative tension I often talk with my clients about the use of positive and negative tension when creating pitches, presentations, websites and campaigns.   Negative tension is the anxiety people feel about doing business with you.   Positive tension is the anxiety people feel if they don’t do business with you.   Let’s look at a couple of examples from the world of mobile gaming. Image A on the left uses negative tension (Loss Aversion) in a couple of ways. Most obviously, telling you that you didn’t get to meet Cinderella. In other words, you’ve failed on what you set out to accomplish. Accompanying this statement, a sad mouse face that looks you right in the eye to dial up the feeling of disappointment. Not only are you sad, but this character is too. You’ve let others down. Ouch.   The good news? The positive tension? The dream doesn’t have to be over! You can still meet Cinderella and it’s as simple as clicking “Continue”.   Image B on the right trades on similar techniques, albeit in a slightly different sequence.   This time instead of starting with negative tension - playing on what you missed out on (Cinderella), it uses positive tension as the lead statement, focusing on the small step to success (‘You only need 3 ingredients”).   The negative tension whammy comes a little later in this example, waiting to hit us with the super combo of “Give Up” button with broken heart icon. Path of least resistance We are inherently lazy creatures, following the path of least resistance most of the time. When in doubt our tendency is to opt for the default setting, the easiest button to press.   Look again at the screens shots. In image A note how the “Continue” button is large and in the very place your eye and finger would naturally travel. The option not to continue? Well, that’s the “X” icon you have to click in the top right of the screen, a long way from where your attention was. (Lots of pop-up and pop-over ads do this too.)   Image B does things a little differently. First it makes the option not to proceed a little easier to find, instead relying on language to make it psychologically harder to click (after all, no one likes to ‘give up’), and second, it makes sure the button to proceed is bigger than the alternative. Key take-aways to apply to your business I could go on for hours about game design, but some central messages for you in your business;   If you are developing an App you need to spend as much time on your behavioral strategy to get the App on people’s phones as you do on the App’s functionality. Just because Apps are something the cool kids are doing doesn’t mean your business needs one. They can be expensive to develop, need constant attention and have a short lifespan (wow, sounds like dating). What will convince your target market to download your App? Is R > E? Think about how you are using positive and negative tension. Too much negative tension without any positive will just bum your customer out. Insufficient negative tension will mean they are too comfortable with leaving things as they are.   P.S. You can read more about the Effort vs Reward equation here and here. *And that game is Candy Crush. Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.

Nabo snaps up AroundYou as part of its push to expand user offerings

5:35AM | Thursday, 14 May

An Australian social network for neighbours has snapped up events listing platform AroundYou six months after launching.   Nabo, based in Surry Hills, Sydney, acquired the community guide for an undisclosed amount in order to expand its offering to users and help local communities connect with one another.   Neighbourhood social networks such as Nextdoor are kicking off in the US and now Australia, with Nabo scoring $2.25 million in funding from Seven West Media and Reinventure Group late last year.   Nabo co-founder and chief executive Adam Rigby told StartupSmart he jumped at the chance to make the company’s first acquisition because AroundYou’s purposed aligned with his own.   “It really has a fantastic coverage of local events in Australia and that’s something we know our Nabo members really enjoy seeing,” he says.   “These aren’t just ticketed events, they’re grassroots things happening in your local area such as local classes. It’s a perfect fit.”   Since rolling out pilot schemes in 19 Suburbs in 2014, Nabo now has users in more than 4000 suburbs across Australia.   Rigby says the key to the startup’s growth has been forming partnerships with trustworthy organisations such as local councils and community groups.   “We’ve been embraced by a number of local councils in Queensland as well as the City of Perth and the lord mayor over there has been very supportive,” he says.   “And the same goes for NSW and Victoria and so on. By working with these local councils they have access to local residents. And we are also introducing Nabo to those markets whether it be through our partners at Chanel 7, Seven West Media, or through traditional means.”   The startup will soon rollout its platform on the App and Google Play stores as part of its push to scoop up more users.   “That’s a very important step even though our website is fully responsive,” he says.   “We want to give our users and members a better experience, so releasing the apps on Android and iOS is a high priority for us. As well as that it’s just about ongoing improvements to the platform – we want to make the user experience better and more appropriate.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

prev
loading...
loading...
loading...