Australian developers are cautiously optimistic that Facebook’s decision to turn Facebook Messenger into an app platform will help strengthen the app industry. Facebook announced the decision during its F8 conference in San Francisco, with third party developers able to develop apps that extend the messaging platform’s functionality. Full details of Facebook’s new Messenger Platform API are available on its developers site. The announcement was made alongside the unveiling of its new Business on Messenger customer service functionality and also comes a little over a week after Facebook added a feature allowing users to transfer money directly to their friends’ debit card accounts. While BlackBerry’s rival secure mobile messaging platform BBM (which is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone as well as on BlackBerry 10 devices) has long offered similar functionality, its platform APIs are restricted to BlackBerry devices. (Ironically, Facebook is among the apps to take advantage of this API.) Klyp mobile lead Tyson Bradford told StartupSmart the Facebook Messenger Platform API is very exciting news for app developers. “From an app developer’s perspective, this is very exciting. It looks like, instead of having to roll out their own messaging system, they’ll be able to piggyback off Facebook Messenger to provide that messaging functionality,” Bradford says. “So for example, say you were developing a jobs marketplace app. Instead of needing to write your own code from scratch to facilitate that functionality, you can just plug and play Facebook’s messaging API. “It actually reminds me a bit of a similar service a few months ago the developer community was very excited about, by a company called Layer.com. The only problem is that users had to create a second account to send messages. Because 98% of app users will already have a Facebook account with a friend list already, getting people to log in once with their Facebook account won’t be an issue.” Marcus Lim, co-founder and chief executive of online marketplace Oneflare, told StartupSmart he was already looking at integrating a mobile messaging platform, such as WhatsApp, even before Facebook’s announcement. “One of the issues is communications between customers and service providers before a job is carried out, and after they use the Oneflare platform. The issue is that businesses ring customers, but customers aren’t always available to take the call. “Messaging works well because it’s less intrusive. The communications are often quite brief – such as when and where a particular job needs to be performed – and messaging avoids the issues of both parties needing to set up a call.” However, realAs chief executive Josh Rowe told StartupSmart while there are advantages to Facebook opening up its APIs, there are also risks. “My initial view is that being able to tap into the massive user database of Facebook is a good thing. After all, realAs is a community of people looking to buy houses, and being able to tap into those databases could be advantageous to the community,” Rowe says. “However, the con side is how much we can trust Facebook, and to what degree we control our data. We’ve seen in the past the way big companies have opened up their platforms to outside developers, only to cut off access to those APIs down the track. “And just look at the way Apple has copied people’s app ideas and created its own versions of them. So there needs to be assurances that Facebook will remain a neutral player and won’t end up competing with the startups that use this.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.
While all eyes and ears were trained on news of its smartwatch, Apple also used its spring Keynote to introduce changes to Apple TV, revisions to its laptop lineup, and a new service that builds on the health monitoring aspects of smartwatches to perform data collection for medical research. As one digital TV service after another launches many have been left wondering when HBO, whose television dramas are highly sought and widely watched properties, would play its hand. And here it is: a partnership with Apple that makes the entire HBO back catalogue available through the new HBO Go digital streaming service, available exclusively through Apple TV. So while the Apple TV hardware hasn’t been updated for years, the partnership with HBO (and a price drop to £59) is a nice reminder for those who may have overlooked it. Apple has extended its reach into car dashboards with CarPlay, into home automation with HomeKit, and into health monitoring with HealthKit. Apple hopes that ResearchKit, a new open-source API and service, will form the foundation for apps that can collect health data from larger numbers of volunteers, increasing sample sizes and frequency of data collection, making the data more useful for researchers. Five apps have been developed so far, to investigate Parkinson’s Disease, asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease with research groups in leading hospitals. There is an emphasis on privacy, with the user controlling the degree of information that is being shared. The new Macbook – neither Air nor Pro – comes with the latest retina display, a faster, more energy efficient processor, and a trackpad that can supply tactile feedback. In a 12" format that fills out the line between 11" and 13", it is lighter and thinner even than the Air, has a re-engineered keyboard and somewhat controversially rolls many ports into just one: the USB-C standard port, which will handle HDMI video, external hard drives and other USB peripherals. Inevitably this is going to mean buying another set of cables. Watch my watch In any other keynote this reveal would have been the main news item. But of course the main event was the watch. Seven months since Tim Cook first revealed the device, it’s been a long wait for more technical details. Opinion is still split on whether it will be a hard sell. With fewer people wearing watches anyway, the market is split between those who want a fitness tracker and those that want a beautiful luxury object. Is there a need for a device which essentially duplicates the functionality of a smartphone? Apple has to convince us that the watch offers more, in clear terms of where glancing at a watch is preferred to pulling out a phone. Usually reserved to only one or two colours, this time Apple offers 20 different combinations of ways to customise the watch in size, colour, watch and strap material – probably a necessity in order to sell a device that by nature of being frequently visible is more fashion than function. The styling of the watch itself is reminiscent of the first iPhone, with three versions in two different sizes, 38mm or 42mm high: the cheapest Apple Sport at £299 with an aluminium body and plastic straps, the middle tier Apple Watch from £479 in stainless steel and wrist bands in leather, steel or plastic, and the gold Apple Watch Edition, which starts at £8,000 – perhaps more expensive even than the Apple Lisa from 1983, which sold at US$15,000 at the time. Most of the functionality of the watch requires an iPhone within a few metres – maps, messages, Siri and other apps are relayed from the phone using WiFi or mobile data. Apple suggests that the battery will last 18 hours in a typical day. Not first to market, but best? Apple invests heavily in research and development to create new devices and interfaces that differentiate its products, at least, until competitors release their responses. Apple’s watch uses an Ion-X glass or Sapphire crystal screen which is pressure-sensitive to varying degrees. The side-mounted dial, which Apple terms a digital crown, enables scrolling and clicking, and a button below it jumps to frequent contacts. It has a “Taptic” engine which provides vibration feedback for certain apps, for example suggesting directions in Maps. The sensors on watch’s underside detect heartbeat and combine with the accelerometer to measure physical activity, something Apple is pitching as a major selling point. Developers are already creating software that will extend their iPhone apps to interact with and be accessible from the watch, as Apple has with its Apple Pay contactless payment system. Miniature messages appear on the device in what Apple calls Glances, giving the impression of dealing with such messages quickly without the hassle of pulling out a phone. Will it sell? In the past 18 months customers have bought 5m smartwatches or fitness bands, with Samsung flooding the market with many smartwatch devices, but with fitness bands accounting for the majority of sales. Current estimates suggest that Apple could sell more than 8m watches, eight times as many as its largest competitor. While many of its features will appear in competitor’s smartwatches in the subsequent years, for the moment the eponymous watch is best in class. To sound a note of caution: like the first generation iPhone, the second generation device will probably be half as deep and run twice as long. You may be unfazed about the risks of being an early adopter, but if the idea of paying another few hundred pounds for the latest model next year isn’t appealing, it may be sensible to wait. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
An Australian IT company has built a prototype that may give voice recognition technology a much needed shot in the arm. The algorithm, developed by Sydney-based Thinking Solutions, works on any device, understands all languages, and gives voice recognition technology the ability to understand context. Chief executive officer Beth Carey says that the prototype, which has been in the works for eight years, has shifted away from a command-based model to one that mimics conversations perfectly. “Translation services usually provide a word salad rather than a coherent structure of the language being translated,” she says. “We have overcome context tracking, removed the strong ambiguity inherent in translation services such as Google Translate and added a speech layer where the computer accurately translates what you are saying.” She credited the breakthrough to the integration of company founder John Ball’s Patom Theory and Professor Robert Van Valin’s work on developing linguistic frameworks. A review conducted by the University of Sydney and Thinking Solutions newly appointed chief scientific advisor Dr Hossein Eslambolchi has given it the all clear to proceed with bringing out the final product in a year’s time. According to Carey, big technology companies are sceptical about her company’s success but she is confident that the breakthrough will allow people to talk and text in any language with any device, in a far more effective manner. “I am very optimistic about securing funding during those 12 months. We are going to industry parties to secure Series A investments and project-based investments,” she says. “We are targeting $6.9 million and have a two-year plan to develop six or more languages to produce a developer’s API for natural language understanding, language learning apps and machine translation apps. The industry will only get better as accuracy improves.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
PayPal’s John Lunn on how digital currencies will disrupt the way “inefficient 30-year-old banking services move money”1:00AM | Thursday, 29 January
The potential for digital currency to move money around the world more efficiently is huge, according to PayPal developer network global director John Lunn. Last month PayPal made a submission to the Australian Senate inquiry into digital currency arguing that digital currencies themselves shouldn’t be regulated, but the entities that use them should. PayPal, through a deal between its subsidiary Braintree and Coinbase, began enabling all US merchants using its platform to accept bitcoin payments. Lunn says the primary driver behind PayPal and Braintree’s decision to implement bitcoin payments is not so much an endorsement of digital currencies, rather a reaction to PayPal and Braintree merchants who wanted consumers to be able to purchase with bitcoin. “We thought, let’s look at it and let’s get some real data about who’s going to use this, are people going to use this to buy real products in the real world,” he says. Braintree only added bitcoin to its merchants’ payment options this month, so there’s not yet enough data to examine whether consumers are embracing bitcoin as a means to purchase. Lunn was a bitcoin miner up until recently, “for scientific purposes”, he says with a chuckle, before adding: “One of the things I always think about bitcoin is can I explain it to my grandmother? I can’t and I don’t think my grandmother will ever use it.” “Which is a barrier; until someone comes up with a smoother and easier way to use it, I think it’s a barrier to mass adoption. “I’m fascinated with the concept of digital currencies and a shared ledger. I think it’s important and there’s so many things you could do with it, which aren’t necessarily how it’s being used at the moment. “I think it’s going to disrupt the way a lot of inefficient 30-year-old banking services move money.” Lunn is in Melbourne this weekend as a judge for the Melbourne leg of PayPal and Braintree’s BattleHack. The hackathon tasks developers with building mobile applications to solve a local challenge incorporating the PayPal API or the Braintree SDK. The winner will be flown to the finals at PayPal’s headquarters to compete for the $US100,000 grand prize. “We’re thrilled to bring BattleHack back to Australia and give local developers a chance to showcase their skills and creativity. We chose Melbourne as one of the cities due to its status as a technology and innovation hub.” For more details, visit https://2015.battlehack.org. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
“Flying robots won’t be toys anymore”: The Australian startup using drones to revolutionise the surveying industry12:51AM | Friday, 5 December
An Australian startup is hoping to revolutionise the surveying and building industries by using a cloud-based platform to create 3D images from data gathered by drone aircraft. Propeller Aviation works by collecting data, from either a third-party UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) service or through one of the company’s drones and feeding it into its cloud-based platform, called Aerodata. From there the data can either be viewed through the Aeroviewer app or be exported to another app through an API. The company was cofounded in May this year by drone expert Rory San Miguel and software guru Francis Vierboom. “Rory helped the UNSW set up a drone society and imported a lot of quadrocopters from China. We worked together on a number of projects… I got involved in late 2013,” Vierboom tells Private Media. “With Propeller Aerobotics, we took on a big project working with surveyors and construction companies on 3D modelling. But the problem is not doing that with drones – the problem is making the data coherent and creating a platform for that data. “The problem we’re addressing is many of those companies do their surveys and give it to you on a USB stick instead of in the cloud…. We can get them to log in and upload the data and then make it available.” Propeller Aerobotics comes at a time when interest in UAVs is booming. “There are already around 170 licensed UAV operators in Australia, and we’ve opened them up to surveyors. There was less than 100 [operators] 12 months ago and that number is likely to double again in the next 12 months. “Using the entire industry means that you can use drones from a local operator at local cost in the surveying industry, instead of flying in specialist operators and having to pay for a hotel room for them.” According to Vierboom, there’s growing interest internationally in the startup, which is based at the National Innovation Centre in Canberra. It was one of 19 finalists in Cisco’s Internet of Things (IoT) Innovation Grand Challenge, and will be among the four Australian startups set to participate in the 1776 Challenge Festival in May next year. “In the Cisco competition, we were look at as an opportunity for an IoT technology that could change the world. Propeller Aerobotics was a great story about how flying robots won’t be toys anymore. “Just in Australia alone, surveying is worth $4 billion a year. Drones will have a huge impact as well in environmental monitoring and project management.” Image credit: Flickr/ unten44 Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Could WattCost be the next Australian startup acquired by Google? Former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble believes so. The startup has developed a device which attaches to a household’s power meter and provides homeowners with real-time power usage data, and uses that data to help them save power, money, and reduce their carbon footprint. The WattCost team is currently in the United States meeting with Scoble, who is Rackspace’s startup liaison officer, after winning the company’s 2014 Small Teams Big Impact Pitching competition. WattCost co-founder David Soutar says the trip to Silicon Valley has been fantastic so far, and praised the job Scoble and Austrade have done in introducing the WattCost team to investors, advisers and other successful Australian founders. “Silicon Valley investors seem to value what we’re doing at a much higher level than back home, but we would really like to work with Australian investors if possible,” he says. “We believe we’ve developed a world-class product, that will change the way consumers interact with their homes to control their electricity costs, and people over here are opening their doors on short notice to listen to us.” Scoble described WattCost as the most interesting new startup he’s seen all year. He says Google is leading the race to become the dominant home IoT platform. “We don’t know who’s going to win, but Google’s in the early lead because they bought Revolv, they bought Dropcam and they bought Nest,” he says. “And I think this is going to be another one that they’re going to buy, because knowing how much electricity is going through the house, knowing when the rates are changing, that’s really important.” WattCost works by monitoring fluctuations in power usage and uses machine learning to iron out any ambiguities. “Every appliance has its own unique digital signature, so we’ve learnt what those signatures are,” Soutar says. “Some things you can talk about instantaneously because of the load, but when I talk about digital fingerprints, that’s how it is used over time. If you imagine a microwave, say you put it on for a minute, it runs through a certain power signature cycle.” When something is plugged into the home network that WattCost isn’t familiar with, it prompts the user through its smartphone app to let the system know what it is. That smartphone app is where users can find real-time power consumption information on their home. It can make suggestions like delaying using the dishwasher until off-peak times, or updating a fridge that is consuming more energy than it should be. “We want to help people save money and lower their carbon footprint,” Soutar says. “There’s never been a way to do that from a personal point of view, so we’re really passionate about helping people do that.” That passion, Soutar says, will eventually lead to WattCost releasing its own API. “The consumers should own the data and they should be able to use it in whichever way they want,” he says. The WattCost energy monitor is available for pre-order for $149 (the first 1000 can be pre-ordered for $99) and it’s expected to ship in the middle of 2015. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Stimulating startups, innovation and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is critical for Australia’s economy. But we need to challenge some of our beliefs about who can and can't do these things if we want to lay the groundwork for substantive change. I'm confident there is a growing sense of urgency around the critical link between startups, STEM and technology and Australia’s future prosperity, with tangible initiatives, focus and metrics in how these are stimulated appearing in many corporate, education and community initiatives. If Australia is truly going to increase innovation and leverage digital tech on a global scale, then we must make some key changes. "Start ups" and "STEM" are stereotypically synonymous with a younger generation. These stereotypes are unnecessarily narrow. At some stage our ideas of who can and can’t innovate with technology (which currently exclude corporate, small business and those outside their 20s or 30s) will become self-fulfilling and self-defeating. We need to invest in building a nation that leads in STEM and critical thinking. Australia invested just $4.5 per capita in venture capital for startups last year, compared with $120 in Israel, $85 in the US, $20 in South Korea and $15 in the UK. We must also take steps to stimulate innovation beyond the stereotype of the young, tech-enabled crowd. Here are three stereotypes we’d do well to reverse. Stereotype #1 – Young entrepreneurs belong only in startups Young entrepreneurial types start from the beginning with building a customer base or idea, and without the constraints of towing caravans of what they should adhere to. We know that a lack of business skills, networks and scale are the main reasons startups often fail, and venture funds look for these very things – previous attempts in the form of second-time-around founders, or those with prior business exposure. What if we took entrepreneurs starting out and gave them a position in large corporates? Switch the assumption that young entrepreneurs only belong in startups and create an employment construct where, say for two years, they have a direct reporting line into leadership to work on new services or products. It’s possible to find the right balance of new thinking, to create options from alternate perspectives, and in delivery, to combine the skills and diversity of that approach with leveraging the commercial, scale, marketing and regulatory expertise of a large corporate. Stereotype #2 – People who work in corporates can’t innovate and don’t have a startup persona It’s evident that after a few years’ experience and building expertise, there are corporate or medium-sized business employees who have a good balance of business experience and feel an urgency to fill a gap in the market. If they don’t, it’s often because they have financial commitments or dependents and fear if they leave the paid workforce, they’ll be locked out. According to a Kauffman Org report, the average age of successful founders is 40, with twice as many successful entrepreneurs over 50 as there are under 25 years of age. Experienced entrepreneurs will probably have had experience in people management, scale and financial management to assist the odds in expanding. We'd do well to reverse the cliché that those of middle age are too late to the game. Such people are experienced in business, scale and leadership and have strong relationship networks to leverage, as well as second nature digital literacy. The suggestion is to offer more middle management the opportunity to take a leave of absence to focus on a new startup idea. Benefits to the sponsor organisation are many. An employee who has been with you for eight years would be revived and focused when they returned after 12 months establishing their own business idea. The sponsor organisation may offer a program, part salary, grant or leave without pay for the employee to have that opportunity. It could then take first right to buy, bring the idea into the organisation under terms, partner or procure. It could be the organisation's data or API is leveraged. We know corporates aren’t short of ideas or highly intelligent people, and we know Australia needs more successful startups. As a quick litmus test, in the PwC innovation team 80% have had their own successful startups or been working in the startup scene, with each returning to corporate life passionate about re-inventing Australia’s corporates and governments. Stereotype #3 – More experienced people are neither innovative nor technology literate, and the business of solving problems is best left to younger generations There’s nearly everything wrong with this perception. Reversing it, and providing the missing link, could have a profound network effect. By the time many in this older generation retire they will have been using smartphones, downloading apps – with higher mobile adoption rates than most countries in the world – and using Google, Amazon, eBay, for example, for 15-20 years. The size of the generation ranging 50-60+ years is increasing as a percentage of population. This generation consists of people who are mostly still fit and active, will live 20 more years after retiring, have good business networks and employment experience, have paid off their assets and have access to their super funds. As Bernard Salt pointed out in The Australian recently, the way we think about 55+ year olds is now different in an age when we live to beyond 85. Most aren't retiring, but adopting "portfolio lifestyles". How great would it be to see this generation of entrepreneurs celebrating a new phase of their lives, and instead of being positioned as a social services consumer, becoming the innovator or mentor or partner with young Australians in business: An architect in her 60s combining with a manufacturing tech-savvy person in a 3D printing venture; or a semi-retired doctor using augmented reality for remote patient diagnosis. Reversing these three myths and providing the missing support will stimulate innovation across the nation, leverage established human capital and accelerate Australia to fire on all innovation cylinders. Reversing each stereotype embodies diversity of thought. It would help accelerate a nation of innovators and create momentum in the economy for technology-literate people and jobs. Kate Eriksson is the head of innovation at PwC Australia’s Digital Change services. A stalwart of the digital industry, Kate’s experience and network spans across some of the most iconic digital businesses in the world such as Google, Facebook, Skype and Twitter.
Perth and Melbourne-based payments startup Pin Payments has announced it is introducing a new API that will allow small businesses to automatically schedule their payments. Co-founder Grant Bissett told Private Media he noticed the Australian e-commerce services market was failing to progress as fast as it should technologically while working in web design a few years ago. “Pin Payments has been in the market for a year and a half. We built Australia’s first credit card payment system that doesn’t need a merchant account,” Bissett says. “The first version was a multi-currency payment API. Now, while there’s a whole category of companies doing that, but we were the first to do it in Australia.” Pin Payments is now adding to the service, announcing a beta trial of a programmable JSON API allowing business owners to transfer payments into any Australian bank account. Bissett says the API will be flexible enough to be implemented by a range of businesses. “So the payouts are like the payments you do with online banking, except we add a developer API to them. We feel it’s a basic capability the banks should be offering by now,” Bissett says. “We’re running a private beta where we’re allowing people to register their interest in a trial that will allow us to scale-up the service. We’ll be announcing general availability in the coming weeks.” According to Bissett, the service is designed with online marketplaces in mind. He says it will allow them to automate the process of transferring payments to third parties and subtracting their percentage cut. “The most common use case is with marketplace environment, where someone’s operating a website with many vendors. With the API, you can replace bookkeepers and manual processing of those payments with automation,” he says. “We’ll reveal exact pricing when we announce general availability. However, it will be a small fixed fee per transaction, rather than a variable or percentage fee.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Apple is expected to launch the latest version of the iPhone at an event it is hosting at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino, California, next week. Apple has already sent invitations to an event taking place on September 9th at 10am, local time. In a curious move, there are reports the notoriously secretive tech giant has gone so far as to construct its own multi-storey structure alongside the venue. The choice of location is particularly significant because it is the venue where Apple launched its first Macintosh computer in 1984. It is also significantly larger than the Yerba Buena Center or the theatre at Apple’s corporate headquarters, where the tech giant normally makes its major new product announcements. Speculation about the new device hasn’t escaped its key rivals, with a list of consumer electronics giants including LG, Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola – and possibly others – all gearing up for major product launches of their own over the next month. So what can we expect to find from the iPhone 6? Here are some of the more credible rumours about what we can expect from the device: 1. A larger screen and, perhaps, a phablet As far back as November last year, there have been persistent and credible reports Apple has been working on two different models of the iPhone 6. According to most reports, the first model is set to feature a 4.7-inch display, while the second will include a 5.5-inch screen. This would make them close in size to the 5-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the 5.7-inch display used on the Galaxy Note 3. Along with the move to two screen sizes, Apple is reportedly moving away from the plastic casing used on its current low-end device, the iPhone 5s. Aside from the usual Apple rumours sites, reports about the two screen sizes have appeared in a number of credible business publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Unfortunately, it is not clear if both versions of the iPhone will be available at launch, with some speculation the larger 5.5-inch phablet version could be on hold until next year. 2. Mobile payments According to a second credible rumour, Apple has been working on its own mobile payments platform centred on the iPhone 6. During the past week, a number of respected publications including The Information, Re/Code and Bloomberg have independently confirmed with sources that Apple has struck a number of deals with major payment providers, retailers, and banks. Those signing up to the payment platform include credit card and payments giants American Express, Visa and MasterCard. The reports suggest the iPhone 6 will include an NFC (near-field communications) chip, a technology used to power tap-and-pay credit cards and public transport systems. It will allow iPhone 6 users to make purchases with their smartphones, rather than by using a credit card or by paying with cash. While NFC-chip technology has long been a standard feature of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smartphones, Apple has long held out on using it in its devices. 3. Does Apple have anything up its sleeve? For years, it has been rumoured Apple has had a smartwatch, or iWatch, up its sleeve. In recent years, the hype surrounding wearable devices, including smart bracelets and smartwatches has grown, with many expecting Apple to eventually join the market. Following the release of the Pebble in January 2013, a number of consumer electronics and device manufacturers have dipped their toes in the market, including Sony, LG, Motorola and Samsung, among many others. Other companies, such as Microsoft, are believed to be working on wearables of their own. At the Google I/O developer conference, the search and mobile giant unveiled its Android Wear device platform. Meanwhile, rival consumer electronics makers are working on smartwatches with their own SIM cards, as well as round clockfaces. The growing speculation is that the time is right for Apple to release its smartwatch – before it’s too late. 4. iOS8 Whether or not the iPhone 6 comes in a larger form, accepts mobile payments or is partnered to a smartwatch, one thing is for certain: it is set to run iOS8. First unveiled during the company’s WorldWide Developer Conference during June, iOS8 will bring along a number of new features for users. The new version of the mobile operating system is designed to be interoperable with the new version of Mac OS X, known as Yosemite. The improved interoperability means users will be able to use their Mac as a speakerphone for their iPhone, read and send their iPhone messages from their Mac, or use a feature called Handoff to pass activities from one device to another. It will also come with a new health tracking app called Health, which uses a new underlying API called Healthkit to gather health tracking data from a range of third-party health tracking apps and devices. iOS8 also includes the foundations of Apple’s Internet of Things home automation platform, known as Homekit. 5. A sapphire display In August, some photos of the new device leaked showing a thinner, lighter version of the iPhone. But one feature in particular was notable: the use of sapphire, rather than glass, for the screen. While the choice of material is likely to make the device significantly more expensive, a less shatter-prone iPhone will certainly be music to the ears of anyone who has ever accidentally busted a mobile phone screen. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.
There are numerous software companies operating in the project management space, and Brisbane-based startup Grapple is hoping to offer a service that complements all of them. Grapple uses industry-standard best practice to guide users through the planning and ongoing management of their projects. It removes the need to manually update planning documents and spreadsheets, and allows users to upload those documents to project management software users of their choice. It’s one of eight Australian startups that have been invited to showcase their products at The Summit Dublin later this year, including: Pack and Jill: an e-commerce startup which designs, manufactures and sells premium travel goods direct to consumers. Mobilyser: describes itself as an easy to use app that segments your work and personal calls to claim expenses or prepare your tax return. Tactify: uses near field communication, beacon, QR and geo-fencing technology to create a dashboard allowing users to connect, design and build their own interactive mobile or print campaigns to communicate with consumers. School of Music Online: a web platform that teaches people how to play piano and violin. Trendii: an e-commerce interface that allows users to keep on top of trends and manipulate them to create and publish viral content. TalkLife: a peer-to-peer social network that aims to be a safe space for people with mental health issues where they can ask advice, make friends, and find understanding people with experience in promoting mental health. Blrt: a free app which helps improve the way people communicate with friends or colleagues when they can’t meet face to face by allowing them to express themselves verbally and visually. Co-founders Aaron Hudson and Chris O’Halloran, who have over 35 years combined experience in project management, say they were driven to create Grapple out of frustration. “There are a lot of project management tools, but we still have to use MS Word and Excel to do our project plans,” he says. “When a project goes into live mode, or delivery mode, you have to frantically keep these Word documents or Excel sheets updated, on top of what you’re doing with your project management tool of choice.” O’Halloran spoke to colleagues and found they had similar frustrations and decided to set out to build something that would take project planning to the crowd. While researching, O’Halloran found that the majority of people running projects weren’t qualified project managers. “What grapple does is take a non-professional project manager through the planning process, without them even knowing, and we create and automate it on the backend,” he says. “We create standard-compliant documents, then through our API we can send that data to any project management document tool you want to use.” According to the Project Management Institute’s 2014 Pulse of the Profession report, poor performance in project management results in organisations losing $109 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs. “Everyone is focusing on the project management side of it, and most of the big players have missed where the real problem is. The problem isn’t project management, it’s poor project planning and documentation,” O’Halloran says. “If you don’t have a plan, you don’t know what you’re doing.” Hudson and O’Halloran have funded the development of Grapple themselves, but are now currently speaking to investors they linked up with following River City Labs River Pitch event earlier this year. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Novelty nanosocial app Yo! has allegedly accused Australian-based push notification API Oi! of copyright infringement. Yo! is a social media app that allows friends to send each other messages that are restricted to the use of a single word: “Yo!” Launched on April 1, the app quickly raised $1 million in funding from high profile investors and inspired a number of clones. Since then, Adelaide-based entrepreneurs Steve Barrett and Chhai Thach have developed an API, called Oi!, which is aimed at the B2B market, allowing two devices to send a content-free push notification to each other. However, in an (app)arent twist to the novelty nanosocial app history, Thach told Private Media Yo! is accusing Oi! of infringing on its intellectual property. “The exact quote is ‘it’s a direct clone of the app’, but they didn’t invent push notification. We took a different approach to nanosocial, and added functionality,” Thach says. “We’ve built Oi! with a specific purpose – as a notification tool. So they probably see what we’re doing with Oi! and want to shut us down.” Thach stresses that no formal legal action has been taken at this point, and that at this stage Apple is handling the copyright infringement complaint. “We’re going through Apple at the moment, so we’ll see how it goes over the next day or so,” he says. @YoAppStatus accuses @oiapp of copyright infringement for direct cloning. The two couldn't be any more different! #startupAus #startup — Chhai Thach (@chhai) August 1, 2014 Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Travel search engine Rome2rio is one of the final batch of companies to receive a grant from the now defunct Commercialisation Australia. Rome2rio’s search engine offers air, train, ferry, mass transit and driving options door-to-door from any location. The startup received a grant for $385,000 from Commercialisation Australia at the beginning of 2013, and has now received an additional $788,000. The application was examined and approved by the Commercialisation Australia board in February and Rome2Rio was notified of its successful application late last month. A spokesperson for the Department of Industry says it is not yet able to provide details of the last round of Commercialisation Australian grant recipients because it is still finalising offers and contracts. Rome2rio CEO Rod Cuthbert says the funds from this latest grant will go towards technology development and hiring more engineers. He says its eight person team will grow to 10. “It will go towards continued development of our partnership platform, both API and white label programs available for partners to integrate into their own sites and inevitably most of that work also impacts the consumer cycle we operate as well,” he says. Cuthbert praised the Commercialisation Australia program, saying while it was quite a bureaucratic program, “if you took the time to understand it, it was a valuable process”. “Our case manager was experienced and added value to the process,” he says. “We’re sad to see it go, but we’re open to see what they replace it with.” Cuthbert says Rome2rio’s website had 2.7 million visitors in June and has been growing by 30% each month for the past six months. He attributes that growth to demand for Rome2rio’s product. “We’re the first people that have done a global transportation data base,” he says. “People have always been out there asking questions like ‘How can you get from A to B?’ but there hasn’t been a site that’s stood up to answering those questions, but we can. “We know how to get from A to B, anywhere in the world.” The latest round of funding, gives Rome2rio plenty of breathing room funding wise. “We’ve got probably a couple of years of runway at our current run-rate given we have revenues and we anticipate our revenues will grow on a monthly basis,” Cuthbert says. “The only thing that would drive us to do more funding is if we wanted to dramatically increase the amount of development we want to do.” That said, Cuthbert points out the online travel industry is a very inquisitive space, where anything can happen. “There’s a couple of deals every week in online travel,” he says. “Small companies that do interesting things get snapped up quickly. “As we pass through 5 million unique visitors a month on the way to 10 million, the industry notices that type of thing and opportunities surface.” He says rather than focus on what those opportunities might bring, the team is concentrating on continuing to grow the site’s traffic.
Catapult Sports, a Melbourne-based provider of tracking devices for elite athletes, has announced it has purchased Canberra-based counterpart GPSport. Both companies manufacture wearable devices that monitor the performance of elite athletes, where any movement data is fed into its analytics software on a computer in real time. Combined, the two companies count 450 elite teams worldwide as customers, with international clients including European football clubs AC Milan and Aston Villa, the New York Knicks NBA team, and almost half of the 32 teams in the NFL. Catapult Sports media and marketing manager Boden Westover told StartupSmart the combined company’s customers will include every AFL, NRL and Australian Super Rugby club. “In terms of AFL, Catapult had 17 clubs out of 18, while GPSport had one. We were split down the middle for both Super Rugby and NRL,” Westover says. “We were the number one player in this field and were the first to come up with the technology. GPSport was our biggest competitor. We had an exclusive deal with the Australian Institute of Sport for a while, while they were the first to market. Our companies are the two pioneers in this space.” Catapult Sports managed to raise $3.5 million in series A funding during the last quarter of 2013, taking total investment in the company to $6 million. Its backers include a number of high-profile investors, including as Dallas Mavericks owner and high-profile entrepreneur Mark Cuban. However, despite reports to the contrary, Westover told StartupSmart Catapult Sports has no plans for an IPO this year. “It’s one of those things where there was some uninformed speculation about an IPO in an article, and it quickly became accepted as fact. But we certainly don’t have any plans for an IPO in the next 12 months,” he says. In its official statement, Catapult Sports chief executive Shaun Holthouse says the two businesses will continue to operate as separate entities for at least the next 12 months. “Day one after the acquisition, we expect the only thing GPSports users will notice is an increased focus on customer service as we invest in this side of the operation,” Holthouse says. “We know a lot of GPSports clients are very loyal to the brand and technology. The last thing we want to do is disrupt a good thing. Over the longer term we will be looking for synergies that bring added value to our combined customer base.” Holthouse also says the deal was a response to consolidation in the athlete analytics industry, with his company’s focus shifting towards building global scale and distribution. Wearable devices have recently come into focus following high profile announcements in the consumer end of the market, with Google recently unveiling its Google Fit API and Apple announcing HealthKit. Despite the hype, Catapult Sports chairman Adir Shiffman told StartupSmart in May he remains a sceptic about the consumer end of the market, but sees little shortage in growth at the professional end of the market.
PayPal and Braintree will be hosting a 24-hour hackathon in Sydney on July 26 and 27, where developers compete for the chance to win a trip to Silicon Valley and $US100,000 ($A105,000). The hackathon is part of the global BattleHacks competition that visits 14 cities around the world before culminating at the World Finals event in November. During the Sydney Battle Hack, developers will be tasked with building a mobile application that solves a local problem of their choice and incorporates the PayPal API or Braintree SDK. Developers can compete as individuals, as a team or find people to collaborate with on the day, with a maximum of four people to a team. The winner of the Sydney Battle Hack will be flown to the finals at PayPal’s headquarters in Silicon Valley to battle it out for the $US100,000 prize and “battle axe” trophy. The Sydney judging panel for the Sydney Battle Hack will include John Lunn, global director of the PayPal Developer Network, and influencers within the Sydney tech scene to be announced in the coming weeks. John Lunn, global director, PayPal and Braintree Developer Network says they are excited to be able to bring Battle Hack to Australia. “Battle Hack is designed by developers for developers. We see it as a way to reward the best and brightest developers,” Lunn says. “Additionally, we hope to change the lives of the winning team through the prize money we offer, whether it’s helping a sick relative like one of our Moscow winners did or building their own business. “Unlike many other hackathons, we aren’t looking to take equity in their companies or influence their work in any way.” The first prize up for grabs at the 2014 Sydney Battle Hack includes flights and accommodation to the World Finals in Silicon Valley, and a chance to win the grand team prize of $100,000 USD. For more information and to register, visit https://2014.battlehack.org/.
LIFX, the innovations company behind the award-winning Wi-Fi enabled, multi-color LED light bulbs, today announced that it has partnered with Sequoia and raised $12M in Series A funding. The partnership will help LIFX, which is on the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT), make homes smarter and improve the way we live. Angel investors Guy King and Bevan Clark also participated in the round. Sequoia partner Omar Hamoui has joined the company’s board of directors. “LIFX is one of the fastest growing and most promising smart home companies,” said Omar Hamoui, Sequoia Capital. “Phil and team have truly revolutionized the first consumer electronics device: The light bulb. As consumers adopt connected home technologies, the LIFX bulb will be a starting point because it’s easy to install and immediately useful on a daily basis. We couldn’t be happier to support them as they work to deliver the best home innovation experience.” This Series A funding round follows one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date, garnering over $1.3m in pledges in just six days. The company shipped its Kickstarter pledge pre-orders in Q1 this year. LIFX will use the capital to fund the next phase of its business. The company is also now hiring world-class engineering, sales and marketing teams to create best in class IoT products. LIFX has offices in Los Altos, CA and Melbourne, Australia and will continue to grow both operations. Interested candidates can apply to email@example.com. “We’re amazed at the level of response we’ve received since our initial launch on Kickstarter in 2012. In the short time since the launch, we’ve worked to perfect our hardware, build a beautiful app and increase manufacturing to meet demand.” said Phil Bosua, CEO and founder of LIFX. “This partnership will allow us to accelerate the growth of LIFX and produce some of the world’s best IoT products.” The investment brings LIFX’s total funding to $16.6m. The Light Bulb Reinvented - now available to everyone The LIFX smart bulbs can now be purchased online and shipped worldwide for free. To date, the bulbs were only available to Kickstarter backers and select customers as the company scaled to meet the overwhelming demand. The LIFX smart bulb works just like a normal light bulb. Simply screw in the LIFX bulb and download the free app and you’re good to go; set up takes less than two minutes. LIFX offers three bulb models that retail for $99.00 USD each: Edison Screw, Bayonet Cap and Downlight (pre-order). Experience a virtual LIFX bulb at: virtualbulb.lifx.co. LIFX has an open API platform so developers can freely develop apps and use cases to support the growing need for smart lighting throughout the world.
Revuudle wants to turn often mundane social media updates into meaningful reviews. Founder of the Adelaide-based startup Luke Larsen says Revuudle’s core premise centres around turning people’s opinions expressed on social media, into quantifiable data by letting them share reviews with a five-star rating system. “What would normally be meaningless sharing of experience becomes a data topic for review,” Larsen says. “Using the power of social networks you can scale that to people in your area, people with similar tastes to you. “It will allow you to review things that have never been possible before. You could review not just the movie, but the cinema, the restaurant you went to before the movie, literally the specific dish you ate at the restaurant.” Last week the startup won the Gold eNVIe at the Flinders University New Venture Institute’s Venture Dorm awards and Innovation Showcase. Larsen is developing an application programming interface (API) and apps for Revuudle across all platforms. “I call it the social reviewing network,” he says. “In the current ecosystem of user reviews there are many, many places for people to leave their reviews, but there’s not much incentive to do so.” Larsen says there’s the potential to integrate the review platform with commercial websites, and it will be linked with the Facebook and Twitter accounts of users. The silver eNVIe went to Kick it, an app to help smokers track their habit and quit smoking when they’re ready, while Floragram a service which delivers the best flowers from local markets, was the people’s choice winner. The judging panel included Vinomofo co-founder and chief executive officer Andre Eikmeier, Adelaide Football Club general manager commercial and community projects Darrin Johnson and Commonwealth Bank private banker Sarah Sullivan. “I was actually impressed with the quality of the pitches, given how early stage this program is,” Eikmeier says. “Four or five real standouts for me, and I shall be following their progress keenly. “The pitches themselves were polished, and most punched through even for the people or ideas I wasn’t as keen on. “They have honed in on the problem/solution succinctly, which sets a business off on the right path. “I’m also very impressed with Matt Salier, who is taking a very inclusive feeder approach with NVI, and I’ve got some confidence it will be a valuable contributor to this growing Adelaide startup ecosystem.”
According to SEEK co-founder and Square Peg chief executive Paul Bassat, payments are the “holy grail of innovation”. He made the comment at The Australian Financial Review and Macquarie Future Forum on Tuesday, where some of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs declared the industry ripe for disruption. Despite banks in Australia being protected by complicated regulations, entrepreneurs are placing the industry under increasing pressure. Adding to banking woes are the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook eyeing entry to the payments market. Here are the top four Australian disruptive financial services startups to watch: 1. Society One Society One is Australia's leading peer-to-peer lending platform, with a $5 million investment from Westpac’s Reinventure Group, a $50 million fund set up to back early stage startups. It’s rumored to be on the investment radar of both James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch. Borrowers list loan requirements and investors decide which loans they choose, how much to invest in each loan, and the rate at which you want to earn their interest. Its personal loan rate for a prime borrower is 9.80% pa, 5% lower than the average rate from the major banks. 2. Tyro Payments Tyro provides credit, debit and EFTPOS card acquiring services and does not take money on deposit. It was founded in 2003 by ex-Cisco employees Peter Haig, Andrew Rothwell and Paul Wood as MoneySwitch Ltd. Eleven-year-old Tyro is in its second year of profitable business operations. Disrupting the Australian banking industry was never going to be easy, and it took the team over $30 million in capital and a founder break-up to get there. At launch it was the first new entrant into the eftpos space in 15 years. 3. Pin Payments Pin Payments is an Australian-based startup operating from Melbourne and Perth that offers onsite payments and a developer API without the need for a merchant account. It received a grant from Commercialisation Australia and partnered with some of the Australian banks to make its offering possible. Both overseas-based Braintree and Stripe operate in the same space, but Pin has a solid local focus. Getting access to a payment system has previously been a juggle for companies, especially early stage ones. Pin Payments is aimed at developers who can easily integrate its service through their API. 4. CoinJar CoinJar, a Melbourne-based bitcoin exchange and payment system, which has raised $500,000 in seed funding from a range of individual investors and the Blackbird Ventures seed fund. Launched in February by Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, CoinJar has over 10,000 active users in Australia. The company charges a low single-digit percentage fee for each transaction. CoinJar was the first company to get its Bitcoin app re-listed in the iPhone App Store, after Apple revised its app guidelines to include virtual currency apps that it previously excluded.
Time-lapse photography app Project Tripod has announced it has cracked the 30,000 download mark since going live on April 23, with founder Catherine Eibner looking to the construction industry to build the user base further. The Windows Phone app allows users to create time-lapse animations and other effects by taking a photo of a landmark (for example a bridge or a building), returning to the same location later, then taking a second shot that is perfectly digitally aligned to the first. The photos are stored through a cloud-based API which allows a number of users to contribute digitally aligned photos of the same landmark. The app has won a number of prizes, including €50,000 ($69,500) in seed funding from Nokia and Microsoft’s joint investment program, AppCampus, in June of last year, and the NSW Innovation MVP Grant. Eibner told StartupSmart the app takes time-lapse effects out of the hands of “high end videographers, documentary makers and scientific organisations” and places it in the hands of ordinary smartphone owners. “The Project Tripod team have spent a large portion of the last year building a Windows Phone exclusive app and enterprise scale cloud powered API that allows people to use their mobile device to make and contribute to long-term time lapses,” Eibner says. “Photos are taken on a smart phone with the app installed. What’s cool is that these can be taken one person, or 100 people, who may or may not know each other over a period of minutes or over 10 or more years. The images then get aligned by the cloud API. This is where the magic happens and where they become a perfectly aligned sequence of images. “Once you have the sequential images, the generation of outputs is now possible, such as traditional time lapse animations, multiple image blends that are only possible when images are perfectly aligned.” Developing a consumer app has allowed Project Tripod to also develop a scaleable, enterprise-ready back-end system that has already attracted the interest of an international infrastructure construction giant. “Construction firms require a quick and cost effective way to professionally and accurately record the historical progress of the projects they have underway globally,” Eibner says. “Project Tripod is garnering interest from global companies in this space because they are able to utilise their existing work force to gather the required imagery rather than go to the expense of locating and negotiating access for major camera infrastructure. “It is also of interest because we are able to make available the time lapse imagery of the constructions progress to stakeholders such as clients and senior management located around the world.” Image credit: Flickr/twicepix.
Sydney-based startup invitco has been purchased by online small business and accounting solution company Intuit Inc. Invitco was launched in 2011 and offers cloud-based data extraction technology with its product invitbox, a tool for bookkeepers and accountants which streamlines accounts payable processes. CEO and founder of invitco Roger Gregg says terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed. He says once the deal is finalised invitco will eventually start using the Intuit brand, but invitbox will continue to be sold as a standalone product. “The open API and the partner integration will not change – we’ll be able to talk more about the product roadmap once the transaction closes and as invitbox is integrated with Intuit,’’ he says. “Given both Intuit’s and invitco’s belief in open platforms, customers can continue to choose a solution that integrates into their existing environment. “invitco’s invitbox product will continue to be sold through the invitbox web site, with support from the existing invitco team, so that any small business, accountant, and bookkeeper can purchase and use the product. It will also be sold as an add-on to QuickBooks Online. “Initially, invitbox will only be available for customers in Australia and New Zealand. However, this acquisition allows Intuit and invitco to build a longer term integrated roadmap that will focus on making it easier for businesses to operate in the cloud using QuickBooks Online.” Gregg says he takes great pride in how far his business has come after beginning as a “little boot-strapped startup from Surry Hills” and believes the business can move forward with the support of Intuit. “We have great admiration for Intuit. From the moment we presented our vision to them, it was clear that we shared a visionary approach for the future of accounting software,” he says. “We’ve been on a charter to give our bookkeepers and accountant customers advanced technology that frees them from having to perform repetitive tasks so they can focus on more strategic value and services for their clients. “Sounds very much like Intuit’s focus of enabling accountants to save time and grow their practice. “So who better than Intuit to join us on our quest to make the future of accountants paper free and data entry free?”
GoStandby, an app for last-minute travel and tour opportunities, launched last week, roughly nine months after it won Startup Weekend Gold Coast. During that event the goStandby team estimated they would be able to go commercial within two weeks, but co-founder Nathan Challen said they quickly realised that wouldn’t be the case. “The first few weeks were chaotic,’’ he says. “Off the back of Startup Weekend, we kept the pace of the weekend going. “We had versions of goStandby that needed to be developed into a more sophisticated platform, whilst getting operators on board and listing offers and building up a user following.” Challen says it became increasingly obvious that goStandby was in for a significant move away from the original vision, a move which would take time, and required withdrawing from the market for a period of time. “Our core value proposition of listing an offer in the 24-hour window and that being consumed by travellers in the immediate area was not really clear in a website context, where a geo location enabled service in the hand of travellers is our offering,’’ he says. “There was a great risk of that proposition being lost on both tour operators and consumers alike. “A pivotal moment came after attending a two-day travel technology conference. “The content of the conference re-affirmed that the opportunity in the tours and activities space (was) ripe for a shakeup and the opportunity was as large or larger than we first thought. “We realised that much of the future success of our platform was dependent on the quality execution of our product. “This was the moment that persuaded us to focus on commercially building the WebService API and iOS app which took us from September to now to complete.’’ It was this period Challen says was the most difficult part of the journey. “The worst thing has been withdrawing from the market whilst building the product and the anxiety of viewing travel tech news daily, seeing if the first mover advantage has been lost,’’ he says. “But we are here and have survived.” Challen estimates the market goStandby seeks to win over includes over 10,000 tourism operators. “We are in the process of directly marketing to a large percentage of those operators,’’ he says. Moving forward Challen says goStandby is focusing on consumer adoption and awareness, while working on developments for the iOS app, and support for Android and other devices.