With all the new mobile devices come the potential new methods for advertisers to keep track of you across all your devices. They are given access through deals done by the large platforms and gatekeepers of your information. Here are a few of the ways the big social media and tech companies are accessing your data and using it for profit. Facebook: It has access to enormous amounts of very personal metadata collected from all of its users, including everything from employment, family, hair colour, friends, travel, home location and many other details. Mined from its users, this information is considered very valuable for advertisers and marketers. Another way Facebook tracks your movements is when you use your Facebook sign-in for other websites. This is also tracked by Facebook. And Facebook owns a number of apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram, that collect your information through your usage of the app. Facebook is large and looking to expand both its platform and ability to track your movements. It will keep purchasing and creating new ways to find and sell your information as this is its greatest income source. Apple: Its main tracking is through your email address and iTunes account, which tracks your credit card data and usage. When you purchase anything through an Apple device or using any Apple system, this information is used so the ads you see are normally reflecting your past activities. Google: When you log in to any Google account, you are then tied into the massive Google network. It also uses an Android mobile operating system which assigns each user a Google Ad ID. Google has many ad products and services such as AdSense, which access your ad identifier and compile the information with all the other YouTube, Gmail, Search and other personal digital history information, irrespective of what device you may be using. So why don’t they have to notify you of the use of your personal information? Because when you sign up to their services, you agree to their terms which include using your personal data as they please for advertising purposes. However, Google is still involved in class-action suits in various states in the US regarding its right to analyse message content and sell byproducts to advertisers. It is argued as beyond the scope of what is intended by the use of personal information. Google maintains it has the right to collect even your most sensitive data as long as it flows across an open Wi-Fi network. Google has been doing a lot more than its lobbyists and executives are disclosing when they are defending their initiatives. They could easily make collection of information for advertising more privacy-friendly if they wanted or were forced to, but at the moment we are at the mercy of the dominant operating system vendors who are not required to do so. Be aware: deals are being struck selling your information As you may have seen in the news recently, Facebook has struck a deal to sell access to your data to MasterCard. It claims it is not your ‘personal data’ but it includes your location, spending, connections and much more. This may not be personal data to some but it still seems very ‘personal’. This is likely the first of many deals to help monetise the ‘free’ Facebook model and seems to be the model for many large platform service providers on the internet. It is likely not to be the last. One thing that is important to remember about all this: it does not matter whether you are using an Android or an iOS device; you can still turn off many of the tracking mechanisms in the menu settings. Yet it still makes one wonder what is left under the ‘personal data’ legal definition anymore.
How safe is Microsoft Windows? After all, the list of malware that has caused major headaches worldwide over the last 15 years is long – viruses, worms and Trojans have forced computers to shut down, knocked South Korea offline and even overloaded Google’s servers. Now, how safe do you feel knowing that cash machines across the world run Microsoft Windows? An exploit has been discovered, apparently spread across Russia, India, and China, whereby cash machines can be turned into a free money vending machine. The hack requires re-starting the cash machine – essentially a Windows terminal – from a prepared CD that injects malware into the system to circumvent the security. At set times of the week, a unique code is generated and given to a “mule” who would approach the machine, enter the code, and withdraw up to 40 notes, anonymously and without trace. From skimming to hacking Attacks on ATMs (those more sophisticated than removing the cash machine and cutting into its safe) started around 10 years ago with card reader devices containing a tiny integrated camera and card reader. As a user withdraws cash, the device reads the account details from the card’s magnetic stripe and videos the pin number entered into the keypad. Earlier generations of ATM machines were often built around computer terminals running IBM’s OS/2 operating system (which started life as a joint IBM-Microsoft venture, and which somewhat ironically spawned Microsoft’s Windows NT, the grandparent of modern Windows, and IBM’s OS/2 when that project collapsed). Due to its more esoteric and rare nature there are far fewer attacks for OS/2, but now it is standard builds of Windows, potentially vulnerable to all the usual malware and exploits, that run modern ATMs. So it is not surprising that intruders have started to find ways inside the ATM’s card processing and cash dispensing systems. Malware that can offer external control to an ATM have been reported for some years, allowing attackers to dispense cash, record and print out card details and PIN numbers. Under the hood This latest malware is Backdoor.MSIL.Tyupkin, which while running continuously will only listen for commands on a Sunday and Monday night. The criminal gangs operating the malware generate a random, unique, six-digit keycode that activates the program, which is given to the “mule” who is withdrawing the money. Like previous efforts to crack into ATMs, the malware requires physical access to the ATM, typically by booting the ATM from a CD prepared to install the malware. At present the malware has been active on at least 50 ATMs in Russia and Eastern Europe, but also in the US, China and India. The malware is the file ulssm.exe, which is copied into the c:\windows\system32 directory and which is protected and maintained on the system between reboots by modifying the Windows registry (a database of configuration settings) so that Windows automatically runs the program at startup. The program then interacts with the ATM through the Extension for Financial Services (XFS) library, MSXFS.dll. To avoid detection it will only allow access controller commands on Sunday and Monday evenings. This shows an example of malware installing itself onto a system, updating the Windows registry to autorun when started (at 25:20), and then going into hiding. Playing catch up The threat of re-booting machines from CDs or bootable USB sticks in order to install malware and abusing Windows autorun feature to sustain the program in memory, is an exploit that has been common for over a decade. It seems few lessons have been learned in terms of securing physical access to the device, and also in the privileged rights that malware can gain. Even as companies focus on improving and securing the user interface, often the debugging and diagnostic side can provide further routes into a system. Versions of Windows used in embedded control systems are now sufficiently secure, but as ATM manufacturers use standard installations of Windows they are opening themselves up to further problems – not least because it allows hackers the opportunity to simulate and craft their malware on well-known versions of the operating system. However, at the core of this attack – as with those before it – is the need for physical access to the device, which implies an insider working in the bank. That means with monitoring of who has access to the cash machine, this can be prevented. The key lesson is that the ATM operating system is a weak link in the chain which needs to be closed. *This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
This week Tech giant Microsoft unveiled the next major release of its Windows operating system, known as Windows 10. At this stage, Microsoft has only released an early technical preview for PCs, so it would be premature to praise the latest version too highly. Nonetheless, especially for small businesses and Windows app developers, there’s a lot of promising news about the new operating system. The big change The big overarching change is a shift in how Microsoft applies the Windows platform over a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers. With Windows 8, the idea was to create a single user interface (UI) that works the same way on everything from smartphones and tablets to desktops and servers. This led some to complain the tablet-optimised smart screen interface didn’t work well with a keyboard and mouse on a desktop PC. As Microsoft executive vice president of operating systems Terry Myerson explains in a statement, there’s been a subtle but very significant shift that takes place with Windows 10. “We’re not talking about one UI to rule them all – we’re talking about one product family, with a tailored experience for each device,” Myerson said. A key example of this is the return of the start menu in the desktop PC version of Windows 10. The start menu has been a fixture of Microsoft’s desktop user interface since the days of Windows 95 and NT, and its removal in Windows 8 in favour of the tile-based start screen was the cause of many complaints among loyal long-time users. The revitalised start menu has an area to the right where users can arrange their tiles, in a manner similar to the start screen, without having to leave the desktop. Another is that Windows Store apps will work in a window on a desktop, unlike in Windows 8, where they ran in full-screen like they do on a smartphone or tablet. Likewise, on a desktop PC, users will be able to have multiple desktops. This has long been a favourite feature among desktop Linux users, and will be a very welcome addition to Windows desktops. Good news for app developers For developers, the really big news with Windows 10 is that while the user interface is tailored for all Windows 10 devices, universal Windows apps will work on all of them. One set of code will be able to target everything from a full-screen app on a smartphone or tablet through to a windowing app on a PC. Because of this, there will be just one Windows app store developers will need to deal with for all devices. This is a huge step up from Windows 8, which required different versions of an app to be developed for Windows Phone smartphones, the desktop environment for PCs, and the start screen interface on Windows RT tablets. Benefits for businesses Meanwhile, for businesses, the major change is that mobile device management style separation for work and personal apps will be a feature of all devices running Windows 10, from smartphones through to tablets and PCs. With a growing number of businesses opting for bring-your-own-device policies, the ability to securely wipe work files and data from an employee’s device while leaving their personal apps and files intact will be welcome. Windows 10 will also make it much more difficult for sensitive data to accidentally or maliciously fall into the wrong hands. This is because the ability to open files will be linked to user accounts at a file level, meaning the protection follows a file wherever it goes. And now we play the waiting game (or Hungry Hungry Hippos) Now, as I mentioned at the start of the article – and this is very important to note – Microsoft has only released a technical preview at this stage. It is aimed at developers and IT experts who are comfortable with using and evaluating unfinished software. Microsoft itself recommends people only install this software on a secondary computer, because there is a risk that there might be serious bugs on any given day. Sensible PC users should wait for the full version to be released before using it on their production machines. Nonetheless, on a number of important fronts, the direction Windows 10 is taking should be exciting news for those who rely on Microsoft products for their business. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
A lawyer representing over a dozen celebrities whose iCloud accounts were hacked and nude photos were stolen has written a letter threatening Google with a $100 million lawsuit, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The letter, written by lawyer Marty Singer, accuses Google of “despicable, reprehensible conduct in not only failing to act expeditiously and responsibly to remove the images, but in knowingly accommodating, facilitating and perpetuating the unlawful conduct”. “Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ motto is a sham,” he writes. A Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal the company had removed tens of thousands of pictures within hours of requests being made and has closed hundreds of accounts. “The internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them,” the spokesperson says. Cyanogen Inc turned down Google buyout Cyanogen Inc, a startup that distributes software based on Google’s Android mobile operating system, is discussing a Series C round and seeking a valuation close to $1 billion. The news comes after the company reportedly rejected a buyout offer from Google. Glow raises $17 million San Francisco-based startup Glow, which develops apps designed to help women manage their reproductive health, has raised $17 million in a Series B round, as it looks to expand staff and develop more products, Re/code reports. The round was led by Formation 8, who was joined by previous investors Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 3.66 to 16,801.05. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US88 cents.
Microsoft will skip the version 9 of Windows and will release instead Windows 10 in 2015. This upgrade will be the last major release of Windows. The decision to stop releasing Windows as a series of major releases is long overdue and follows the approach (including the choice of the number 10) taken by Apple in releasing minor versions of its Mac OSX system. After the disastrous release of Windows 8, subsequent releases have been largely about rolling back the more radical changes in the user interface. As attention shifts to mobile, the marketing and commercial advantages of releasing major upgrades to operating systems have all but disappeared. Microsoft will now release changes to Windows via smaller point upgrades, following Apple’s lead with Mac OSX which will shortly be at version 10.10. This is actually good news for both consumers and businesses who have to deal with the inevitable bugs that come with upgrades along with updates of software changed only to support the new operating system. At the same time, the new features in the upgrade are bringing diminishing direct benefits to consumers as changes become increasingly gratuitous. Insult is added to injury of course when consumers are actually asked to pay for the new versions, a practice that Apple at least has largely stopped. Businesses who use Windows will also find the end of large upgrades easier to manage as it becomes simpler to deal with more frequent and smaller changes than to deal with a major version change. For Microsoft as well, this will have the added benefit of eventually persuading more of its users to all be on the same operating system. Currently only around 14% of Windows users are actually using Windows 8.x. Nearly twice that are still using Windows XP, a system they offcially stopped supporting this year. Operating systems should never really have to change as much as they have. The fundamental core of the operating system, called the “kernel)” does now what it has always done. New hardware can be accommodated by adding “device drivers”, something that doesn’t need a change in the kernel to achieve. Likewise, Microsoft learned the hard way that major changes to the user interface are not necessarily welcomed by its customers and even in this case, it would be possible to change this without a major release in the operating system as a whole. The fact the we may not see radically different versions of Windows, Mac OS or even Linux does not mean that this signals the death of the PC. Like the software that runs on it, hardware on PCs is unlikely to change radically in the future because it has turned out that people are prepared to use multiple devices. Functionality that might have been built into a PC is unnecessary because that functionality becomes available in distinct device types like tablets, phablets, mobile phones and wearables. It has also turned out that adding features like a touch screen to a laptop didn’t make much sense as this was largely made redundant through the use of the keyboard and mouse. Likewise, it is unlikely that devices like the “leap” motion tracking device will become standard on the laptop or PC because again it doesn’t radically improve on what you can already do. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that products can reach a point where they fundamentally do not evolve any further and reach a steady state. Technologies that we interact with every day are fundamentally the same as they have been for years, if not decades. A trivial example being the electric toaster which utilises the same technology that it has done for the past 100 years. With computing technology however, we have constantly held an expectation that each year will bring revolutionary change. This is because the mobile phone and tablet have really driven highly public declarations of change in annual launch events. Even here though, we will see mobile phones reach the so-called “climax state”, it might just take the public some time to accept and come to terms with it. David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Has Google finally decided to take total control of its Android destiny with the release of its Android One operating system? Aimed at “emerging markets”, such as India, Google will operate the smartphone device rather than handing over to hardware partners such as Samsung and HTC. Historically, Google has taken a hands-off approach to Android, providing it “free” to manufacturers as an open source product. These manufacturers have a reputation for adding on their own extra features such as the Samsung TouchWiz user interface. The assumed goal was that a better mobile experience for consumers would funnel them towards Google’s other products such as its popular search. In contrast, Android One will not allow that customisation, giving Google full control of the operating system users get. So perhaps the latest move represents a paradigm shift for the company? The life and times of Android The approach taken with the Android operating system has always been more open than that taken by rival Apple with its iOS operating system. In fact, in general Android has always been considered more open than iOS, starting from the very beginning before the company was acquired by Google and the original Android operating system was released open source to the community. That version of the operating system still exists today and is used by companies such as Amazon on its Kindle Fire tablet. This creates what software developers call a “fork”, with the base Android operating system sitting underneath the customisations that Amazon makes. But in recent times Google has begun to demonstrate a desire to take more control of its operating system. Starting with the Nexus phones and devices, which involved Google providing a reference design for both phone and operating system free of the extras added by the hardware manufacturers and the carriers. This has continued with the announcement of Android One, with Google starting to become more involved in the entire process and trying to own the user experience. Products such as Google Glass represent other forays into this vertical integration, an area traditionally embraced by their main competitor, Apple. But Apple is starting to change its approach as well. A more open Apple? Apple has always been a product focused company. Starting with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 and continuing with the iPhone and other iOS devices, Apple has always strived to control the whole experience of hardware, software and services. Earlier this month in a television interview with Charlie Rose, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple values vertical integration and wants to control their primary product. But looking at Apple, industry insiders can begin to see a shift in the way that the company operates. The most recent hardware and software announced by Apple (announced one week before the first Android One smartphones) provides a lot more control for developers and users than they’ve ever had before. Features such as extensions allow apps to communicate with each other and users to share data among apps through the share pane. Developers can add features to place small apps called widgets in the notification centre or to enable actionable notifications, allowing you to (for instance) respond directly to a Facebook message from within the notification. And, in an unprecedented move, users can replace the Apple provided keyboard with a third party alternative. While all of these sound like small changes, they represent Apple relinquishing control of some parts of their iOS experience back to developers, a major departure from when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007. In his interview with Charlie Rose, Tim Cook was also asked what companies Apple competed with and, without hesitation he nominated Google as the main competitor, even going so far as to downplay Samsung as a competitor as the Android operating system was created by Google. This is especially interesting given that Apple has slowly moved Google out of its phones, (in)famously replacing Google Maps with Apple Maps a couple of years ago as well as slowly enhancing the voice recognising personal assistant, Siri, to perform many of the functions that Google performs with search. Even though the Apple Maps launch was riddled with problems (with users claiming the experience was sub par compared to the Google offering and prompting Tim Cook to issue an apology), Apple is clearly looking to shed itself of Google and own more of this part of the experience too. A new battle for market (and mind) share So, over the course of September, both Google and Apple have shown a new side to themselves. Both are pushing into new markets, with Android One specifically targeted at the China/India market. Many analysts suggest that the iPhone 6 Plus is an Apple foray into the desire for “bigger phones” in the same market. To conquer this market and maintain a foothold on the market in existing developed countries, it would appear both companies are making some changes - with Google taking control of its destiny while Apple becomes more open. Both are baby steps for now, but perhaps this is the beginning of a new battle, for the market (and mind) of more and more consumers.
The internet exploded this week with a cache of private photos taken from the devices or online accounts of several high-profile celebrities. Beyond the ethical and social questions raised by this incident are the technology questions and risks that have been exposed through this leak. There are lessons here on what businesses can do to better secure their information and that of their customers. From what we know so far, the photos were claimed to have been taken from the iCloud accounts of the celebrities involved. It’s recently been revealed that Apple’s Find My iPhone service was vulnerable to password brute-forcing. Brute-forcing is a password analysing technique which works by testing a large number of passwords until one is shown to be the correct one. Because Apple didn’t block repeated incorrect login attempts, it was vulnerable to this technique. This recent iCloud vulnerability, whether or not it’s how the photos were gained, is terrifyingly easy to exploit. It’s not a stretch to believe this vulnerability could have also been behind the iPhone ransom incident from a few months ago. As data continues to move to the cloud, it’s important to implement good security practices to reduce the risk of exposure. If you operate a business that involves handling sensitive or personal information, you are responsible for the security measures that keep that information out of the wrong hands. Here are five things businesses can do to prevent unauthorised access to their online information: 1. Perform regular security audits on any online applications that store personal data. Even a fairly rudimentary security audit would have revealed the brute-force vulnerability that Apple was exposed to. You can perform your own security audits using software such as WebSecurify, or hire a “penetration testing” consultant. 2. Ensure all software developers that work on your online applications have adequate knowledge and training in computer security. This one can be tricky to measure, but most software developers are quick to learn when made aware of hacking techniques and how to protect against them. Resources such as the “Security Now” podcast help increase awareness. Depending on the technologies your company relies on, following related technical blogs is a great way for your developers to stay abreast of any security developments they need to react to. 3. Do not reuse passwords across multiple applications and do not use easily guessable passwords. The Find My iPhone vulnerability still required a fairly rudimentary password to successfully gain access to an account. Remembering passwords (and creating strong ones!) is a tough process, look to software tools that make it easier and also remember the passwords for you. My personal recommendation would be AgileBits' 1Password, but many software applications exist that do this well. 4. Keep software up-to-date by installing updates as promptly as possible. This applies to everything from your operating system, to your browser, to the plugins it may rely on (Java and Flash updates in particular are crucial). Modern operating systems (Windows, OSX, iOS, Android) all display prompts for security updates. Mobile operating systems in particular prompt for updates often, don’t ignore them! If you’ve had a particular software package that doesn’t have auto-update or update prompts, be sure to periodically check online for updated versions of that particular software. Never run unsupported software, or software with known security issues. 5. Finally, if you ever have a security breach, make diagnosing and patching it your number one priority. Depending on the breach, this is a task that can be performed by your developers, although in some cases you may wish to consult an expert with background in computer forensics or computer security to help diagnose and rectify the problem. Notify your customers if you have a vulnerability that concerns the integrity of their data, and give them the information they need to secure it again. Remember, your customers might not be happy about the breach, but they’ll be furious if they find out you covered it up or failed to try your best to prevent it. Farid Wardan is a lead software engineer at Terem Technologies, an Australian company that specialises in developing custom software and technology solutions for corporate innovations and high-tech ventures.
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.
China could have a new homegrown operating system by October, to take on imports Microsoft, Google and Apple. The US and China have had a number of disputes regarding cyber security in recent months. The operating system would first appear on desktop devices, before being extended to smartphone and other mobile devices, the head of an official OS development alliance, Ni Guangnan, says. Ni says he hopes the Chinese-made software would be able to replace desktop operating systems within one to two years and mobile operating systems within three to five years. Coin apologises to customers Connected credit card startup Coin issued an apology to customers on the weekend after mishandling the announcement of a product delay. The San-Francisco based startup was criticised last week after revealing, after months of ambiguity, it would be delaying the launch of its connected credit card and replacing it with a beta program in which its 10,000 pre-order customers could opt in to receive a prototype. They would be required to pay $30 to upgrade to the finished product when it launched. Coin reversed its stance and the beta program will now be free. It apologised to its users for a “lack of transparency and clarity” in its communications. Facebook most popular app in US In comScore’s latest mobile app report, which tracks the 25 most popular smartphone apps in the US, Facebook leads the way by a considerable margin. The Facebook app had 115.4 million US unique visitors over the age of eighteen in June 2014, with YouTube finishing in second with 83.4 million. The top subscription app is Netflix with 28 million unique visitors. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 38.27 to 17,001.22. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.
At the Google I/O conference, the tech giant unveiled its new operating system designed for wearable devices, known as Android Wear. The operating system powers two devices so far: The Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch. A third device, Motorola’s Moto 360, is due out in the coming months. So is this the operating system that is going to catapult Google into a leadership position in the wearables market, as it has done with smartphones? Will it succeed where other devices have failed? Key features: A key feature of the Android Wear platform is that it automatically retrieves notifications from any existing Google app and displays them on your wrist. It also integrated Google Now, the search giant’s Siri-style voice search and personal assistant feature. Google also claims a range of apps specifically designed for Android Wear will begin appearing in the Google Play store. The consensus: In a very comprehensive review, Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica notes that genuine cross-platform support is something that’s difficult to implement. This means that, at least for the time being, you’ll need an Android smartphone or tablet to use an Android Wear smartwatch: Like nearly all smartwatches, Wear devices rely on a Bluetooth-tethered phone, which needs to be running Android 4.3 and up. Running iOS or Windows Phone? You're out of luck: no Wear for you. Smartwatches seem to be the ultimate ecosystem lock-in device. Samsung's requires a Samsung phone, Google's requires an Android phone, and we're sure Apple’s will require iOS. There is so much cross-communication that needs to happen between a watch and phone that supporting multiple OSes becomes really hard. On the upside, Amadeo also explains how Android Wear works with Android’s notification system, meaning it automatically works with most apps out of the box: Android Wear data mines your phone notification panel and then creates its own interface on the watch. The thumbnail gets used as the background, the text is reflowed for the tiny screen, the app icon is pulled from the phone app, and each of the three actions (two buttons and the notification tap) get broken out into a separate action screens. The system's swipe-to-dismiss gesture gets ported over, too. … This is what makes Android Wear so special. Because Google laid the groundwork for Android Wear one year ago with Android 4.3, the OS has out-of-the-box compatibility with most apps. Where most smartwatches need custom-built notification compatibility, what you see above is the baseline functionality for everything in Android Wear. Joanna Stern from The Wall Street Journal likes the predictive notifications the watch gives you. However, at this point, there’s no way to customise which notifications appear on your device: But what sets Android Wear devices apart from previous smartwatches is that they tell you what you need even before you realize you need it. Google Now, which mines Gmail, calendar, Web searches and other Google interactions, is a perfect fit for the wrist. … There's simply not enough customization yet. Either I get buzzed every time someone emails me, or I don't get any email alerts at all. Sure, the watch helps me look at my phone less, but I'd prefer a middle ground, where my wrist vibrates only when my editor or fiancée emails me. Mr. Singleton says Google is working on contact-specific notifications and the next version of Android, due out this fall, will have deeper notification controls. Aside from notifications off an Android tablet, Android Wear integrates the Google Now voice recognition system. This means you can launch a range of commands by saying “OK Google” to your smartwatch. This is a feature that impressed Fortune’s Jason Cipriani: In addition to touch input, Android Wear supports Google’s speech recognition software. I’m happy to report that it takes very little time to fire off instructions like “OK Google, remind me to flip the steaks in 7 minutes.” The same can be done to search, compose an email or text message, set a timer, or even call a Lyft car with a Batman-eqsue, “OK Google, call a car.” Over at Engadget, Brad Molen describes Android Wear as the most advanced smartphone platform so far. However, there are still some issues to overcome: Android Wear is the strongest smartwatch platform we've seen so far, and it has enough support from manufacturers and developers to thrive. But it's a first-generation product, and limited battery life, notification anxiety and other issues make it tough to recommend Wear quite just yet. Meanwhile at Time, Jared Newman sums it up by describing the experience as still being a work in progress: What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Should I get one: With Apple heavily rumoured to be working on a smartwatch of its own, it might be worth taking a wait-and-see approach to devices powered by Android Wear at this point. There are also a few rough spots that need to be ironed out, such as battery life, or the ability to prioritise notifications. That being said, Android Wear appears to be a solid first effort by the tech giant, and it will be interesting to see where they take the technology in the future. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.
Spark Labs has raised almost $5 million in funding to help with plans to develop an Internet of Things operating system. Last year the company built a development board that lets people make connected devices that could connect to a cloud service. It has raised $4.9 million in Series A funding from Lion Wells Capital, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, SOSventures and Collaborative Fund as well as a consortium of angel investors. Spark Labs chief executive officer and founder Zach Supalla wants to build Spark OS, which will consist of a messaging framework, data storage options, an application layer and then finally a management layer for connected devices. Uber price cap during emergencies Uber has announced it will place a cap on price surges during emergencies across the United States. The company was criticised recently when there was a surge in pricing during extreme weather in New York City. It’s unclear whether Uber will take similar steps in Australia. Cloudian raises $24 million Cloudian, a startup that operates on the premise that sensitive data needs to remain grounded, has raised $24 million in capital from a number of investors, including the Innovation Corporate Network of Japan. The company plans to use the money to expand its sales and marketing and capitalise on its position in the Japanese market. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 117.59 to 16,906.62. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.
Feeling indecisive? Want to delegate making a decision based on what your friends on social media think? Is your choice in style determined by what everyone else is wearing? Did your mother ever ask you if you’d jump off a cliff if all your friends did it too? If so, there’s a new Android app set to launch that’s set to answer all your questions. Known as Vich One, the app will allow users to create snap polls about everyday questions and situations for their friends to answer. Founder Manish Jain, who recently left Google, says that crowdsourcing everyday decisions can help people to make better choices. “The concept is that many people have questions in their life that need to be answered. Which movie to watch? Which dress to wear? Which food or cuisine to eat?” Jain says. “And right now, there’s no platform to ask your friends those everyday questions.” Upon posing a question, all of that user’s friends will get a notification showing their friend needs help and they have just 10 seconds to answer. The time limit is designed to add a sense of excitement and urgency to each vote. Jain says that while he is looking at releasing Vich One for iOS and the “emerging platform” of Windows Phone in the future, the initial release will be for Android. “In Australia, Android is the most widely used operating system for smartphones, so it makes sense to develop a version for it first… It won’t be on the web because the capabilities [to do an app like this] aren’t on the web,” Jain says. Jain, who recently moved to Australia, proudly shares his experience as a former Googler who worked for the tech giant in Mountain View, California. “I went to Singapore for my higher education. While at NTU [Nanyang Technological University] doing computer science, I got hired by Google as an intern,” Jain says. “After eight months as an intern, I was hired by Google in Zurich where I worked for two years, then moved to the US for four years… overall, I worked for Google for around six-and-a-half years.” With the app set to launch, there is no shortage of people willing to vote their approval for the app. “We have a lot of followers already on Twitter, including big names at tech companies… and there’s been quite a few signups for people wanting to know more,” Jain says.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the latest version of an open source computer operating system called Kubuntu. For the uninitiated, like Windows, Mac OS-X or Android, Kubuntu manages a computer’s hardware, provides a user interface and allows users to run apps. It includes a desktop environment called KDE along with a set of apps covering everything from graphics and multimedia to internet, office and games. While I was critical of the installation process (and deservedly so), I had many complimentary things about Kubuntu to say in the review, including the following: “The good news is, assuming you get through the installation process, is that Kubuntu and KDE 4.13 does have a lot going for it.” “Firstly, there are preinstalled apps covering most of what you’d need to do, from word processing, to playing CDs, to watching videos and surfing the web.” “There are big improvements in how multiple screens are handled. It’s now literally a matter of dragging and dropping to have two connected screens mirroring each other, or having one to the side of the other.” “With a little tinkering, you can set it up to look like a Mac (including each app’s menu bar across the top of the screen), or like Windows (with the menu bar across the top of each window). You can also set up multiple ‘activities’ each with their own desktop layout.” Yet, literally for months after the review was published, there were (at times incredibly detailed) comments from open source advocates arguing against the conclusion that this was not a product for everyone. The open source basics Kubuntu is an example of what is known as “open source software”. The basic idea behind the open source model is that the developer gives away a computer program for free, including the source code used to create that program. Users are free to make any changes they require in the future and share their modifications with others. In terms of copyright, open source software is often made available under a licensing agreement such as the GPL, or under a Creative Commons licence. Can you really have a free lunch? Of course, this raises a question: How do software developers survive if they give their product away from free? In many cases, open source projects are the work of hobbyists or not-for-profit groups, with Wikipedia probably the best example. Some companies (such as Red Hat and IBM) give away software on an open source basis, but charge businesses for services such as setup and support. An example I’ve discussed in this column previously is Firefox. Mozilla supports giving its popular web browser away for free based on the commission it receives from Google each time someone searches from the search bar. As incredible as it might sound, that little search field is worth around $US280 million per year in revenue. One of the best known examples of open source software is the Android smartphone and tablet operating system. Here, Google makes its money by selling downloads, as well as the mobile services (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) it bundles with the platform. Another well-known example is WordPress, which is offered by its developers (Automattic) on an open source basis, with a commercial cloud-hosted version at WordPress.com supported by ads and premium upgrades. Open source software stands in opposition to proprietary or closed-source software, where the developer retains all intellectual property rights to the software, along with the source code. Windows, Microsoft Office, Photoshop and most other commercial apps are examples. The best tool for the job Advocates for open source software are certainly a passionate lot when it comes to their software licensing model of choice. In many areas of the tech industry, there are open source products that are either market leaders, or are at least competitive in terms with features with their proprietary counterparts. And certainly for many cash-strapped businesses, if finances are tight, choosing an open source option can be quite appealing. However, there are many hidden costs in business that stem from using the wrong tech tool for the job, including lost productivity, the cost of IT staff for the initial setup and installation, maintenance costs, IT support costs and lost business opportunities. When these additional costs are factored into account, the product with the lowest upfront costs might not have the lowest total cost of operation. And the harsh truth for advocates is the open source option is not always the best option in the market, or the best choice for every business. As the example of Kubuntu shows, an open source product that works well in one situation might not be the best choice for everybody. So, when it comes to choosing a tech solution for your business, it pays to evaluate a range of options, both proprietary and open source – because being an ideologue with technology can be costly in the long run. This article first appeared on Smart Company.
Amazon, the e-commerce internet giant, is launching its first smartphone. Media attention is focusing on whether the phone’s features, such as its rumoured 3D interface, are really as cool as portrayed in its trailer video which aims to wow early users. But by entering into the fray of an already hyper-competitive mobile phone industry, Amazon is doing a lot more than adding another gee-whizz feature to a smartphone. This launch tells us a great deal about CEO Jeff Bezos' strategy for his company – and what it might mean for the future of competition and innovation in our increasingly digital world. First, let’s ask the obvious questions. Why is Amazon, known for internet retailing and related software development, entering a hardware market where leading incumbents like Nokia have already failed? After all, what does Amazon know about the telecoms business? Can it succeed where Google has failed? We have seen Google, which has virtually limitless financial resources, enter the mobile phone handset industry by purchasing Motorola Mobile in 2012, only to take a heavy loss after selling it on less than two years later. Even incumbent firms who had a very strong set of phone-making capabilities have taken tough hits in this turbulent market – witness Nokia’s dramatic plunge, which led to a sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft. Platform Number 1 You cannot understand Amazon’s move without situating it in the broader context of platform competition. Platforms, these fundamental technologies such as Google search, Facebook and the Apple iPhone, are the building blocks of our digital economy. They act as a foundation on top of which thousands of innovators worldwide develop complementary products and services and facilitate transactions between increasingly larger networks of users, buyers and sellers. Platform competition is the name of the game in hi-tech industries today. The top-valued digital companies in the world (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook) are all aggressively pursuing platform strategies. App developers and other producers of complementary services or products provide the armies that sustain the vibrancy and competitiveness of these platforms by adding their products to them. The more users a platform has, the more these innovators will be attracted to developing for them. The more complements available, the more valuable the platform becomes to users. It is these virtuous cycles – positive feedback loops, or “network effects” – that fuel the growth of platforms and transform them into formidable engines of growth for the companies and developers associated with them. The smartphone is a crucial digital platform. Achieving platform leader status in this space is a competitive position all the hi-tech giants are fighting for. Google has its ubiquitous Android operating system, Apple has shaped the whole market with the iPhone, Microsoft has purchased Nokia’s phone business, and Facebook has invested $19 billion in WhatsApp among other acquisitions for its growing platform. In fact, I suppose I should have rephrased my question a little earlier – why hasn’t Amazon already staked its claim to lead this digital space after having launched its Kindle Fire tablet and Fire TV set-top box? Opening the door Simply put, the smartphone is the main gateway to the internet today, and, in the hand of billions of users throughout the world, is the physical embodiment of a conduit that links those users to each other and to the whole content of the internet. There are almost 7 billion mobile phones in the world (and only 1 billion bank accounts). And the trend is staggering. Mobile payment transaction value surpassed $235 billion worldwide in 2013, and is growing at 40% a year, with the share of mobile transactions already reaching 20% of all worldwide transactions. So, while risky, Amazon’s entry into the smartphone business is a classic play: a platform leader entering an adjacent platform market that is also complementary to its primary business. All platform leaders aim to stimulate complementary innovation (think how video game console makers aim to stimulate the provision of videogames), and they often attempt not to compete too much with their complementors in order to preserve innovation incentives. But at some point all platform leaders start to enter these complementary markets themselves. Google has done it through Android, Apple has done it with iTunes, Facebook has done it with Facebook Home. It happens when platform leaders feel threatened by competition in their core market, or when they want to steer demand, competition and innovation in a particular direction. The idea is to use their own user base as well as their own content and technologies to create an unassailable bundle, one that is difficult for external competitors to break into. Think of it as creating barriers to entry, while expanding the core market. The reasoning behind entering a complementary market is well known, and related to the benefits of bundling. In the case of hi-tech platforms, the benefits are even stronger. By optimising and controlling the interface between a platform and complements, a company can have a structuring impact on the evolution of the platform ecosystem – and that means on all the innovators around the world that invest and make efforts to develop complementary products and services. In your hands So, these are the reasons why Amazon is entering the mobile phone market, despite the difficulties inherent in taking on an über-competitive market. This strategic choice makes a lot of sense. As to whether Amazon has a fighting chance of succeeding, there are reasons to be optimistic. Beyond its deep financial resources, Amazon has learned something of what it takes in the development and successful commercialisation of various versions of the Kindle. That has given it expertise in hardware, on top of its software background, and should prove a useful training ground to allow it to launch other consumer products such as the smartphone. But the ultimate judge will be you, gentle readers. Will you be willing to swap your favourite mobile phone for a yet another new kid on the block, even if it does let you browse Amazon’s ever-growing catalogue in splendid 3D? Annabelle Gawer is Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation at Imperial College Business School. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the
Controversial tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom has announced the formation of a new political party, known as the Internet Party, ahead of New Zealand’s next general elections in September. German-born Dotcom is best known as the founder of the controversial file sharing website Megaupload, for which he was indicted in the US on charges relating to piracy. Since then, he’s gone on to launch a new venture, a highly encrypted cloud storage service called Mega. His new party’s positions include delivering cheaper high-speed internet, better oversight of spy agencies, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, copyright reform, the introduction of a digital currency and the introduction of a digital bill of rights. However, Dotcom is far from the first tech figure to turn to politics – with some having more success than others. StartupSmart looks at five other high-profile tech figures from the tech world who have gone on to their hand at politics – often with mixed results. 1. Julian Assange, Wikileaks Party Should Dotcom’s party get off the ground, his political career will inevitably be compared with that of Julian Assange. Assange is best known as the founder of whistleblower website Wikileaks, along with a long-running series of court cases relating to rape allegations in Sweden. Since August 2012, facing the threat of arrest, Assange has been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. After being granted asylum, Assange announced plans to form a Wikileaks political party. The Wikileaks Party contested the 2013 federal election, but only received 0.66% of the vote. Along the way, several high-profile candidates, including prominent academic and former Wikileaks lead Senate candidate Leslie Cannold, abandoned the party. 2. Ross Perot, Reform Party A far more successful minor party campaign was run in the US by Texan tech entrepreneur Ross Perot. Perot got his start in the tech industry all the way back in 1962, when he launched an information technology equipment company called Electronic Data Systems. Perot eventually sold the company to General Motors in 1984, which in turn sold the company to HP in 2008. It was around the time of the sale to General Motors that Perot met another young tech executive named Steve Jobs. After being ousted from Apple, Jobs had launched a new tech startup called NeXT, and Perot decided to make an investment. The products Jobs’ company developed included an operating system called NeXTStep, which would eventually form the basis of Mac OS-X and iOS after Jobs returned to Apple. Perot also sold another venture – Perot Systems – to Dell in 2009 for $US3.9 billion. Of course, these days, Perot is best known for standing as an independent third candidate in the 1992 US presidential election against incumbent George Bush Snr. and Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton. The Texan stood on a platform combining a mix of policies mixing positions traditionally advocated with the left and the right of US politics. For example, Perot advocated a balanced budget, a tough stance on drug policy and opposition to gun control. However, he also advocated in favour of abortion rights, protectionism, an end to outsourcing and a strong Environmental Protection Agency. Perot ended up winning 18.91% of the vote, an incredible result for an independent presidential candidate in the US. He stood a second time in 1996, picking up 8% of the vote against President Bill Clinton and Republican candidate Bob Dole. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 3. Rickard Falkvinge, Pirate Party Of course, when it comes to Kim Dotcom, perhaps the best political role model to follow might be Rickard Falkvinge. Falkvinge grew up in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, next door to the home ground of football club Västra Frölunda. Falkvinge’s biography reads like a list of tech entrepreneur clichés. He got his first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, when he was just eight-years-old. By the age of 16, he had launched his first tech startup, a company called Infoteknik. At the age of 18, Falkvinge hired his first employee. More than making profits, Falkvinge was motivated by the free exchange of ideas that came with the early home computer market. He grew increasingly concerned that harsher copyright laws being lobbied for by the motion picture and record industries could stifle online innovation. His concerns about patents, copyright law and file sharing restrictions led Falkvinge to form a new political party. On January 1, 2006, he launched the website of his newest venture – dubbed the Pirate Party. While the new party managed just 0.63% of the vote in its first Swedish elections, it grew to 7.13% for the 2009 European elections. The pirate party model was mirrored internationally, including in Australia. On January 1, 2011 – five years after its launch – Falkvinge stood down as party leader, handing control to his deputy, Anna Troberg. 4. Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal Party In Australia, the most prominent example of a (far less controversial) tech executive turned entrepreneur is communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Before entering into federal politics, Turnbull has served in many roles, including as the general counsel to Kerry Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings, the cofounder of law firm Turnbull McWilliam, the chair of the Australian Republican Movement, a journalist and a partner at Goldman Sachs. Turnbull became the chair of pioneering Australian internet service provider OzEmail in 1994, also becoming an investor in the company. In 1999, at the peak of the ‘90s tech boom, Turnbull sold the company to US telco MCI WorldCom. In 2004, Turnbull won the by-election for the federal seat of Wentworth, being elected as the local Liberal Party MP at the general election later that year. Since then, he has served as the environment minister in the Howard government, as well as the leader of the opposition. 5. Paul Fletcher, Liberal Party These days, Paul Fletcher is best known as the Liberal MP for the federal seat of Bradfield, as well as a parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications. It’s a position he’s held since December 2009, when he won the seat at a by-election after former opposition leader Brendan Nelson retired from politics. However, before entering into politics, Fletcher served as a senior executive in one of Australia’s largest telecommunications companies Optus, between 2000 and 2008. After stepping down from the role, Fletcher authored a book titled Wired Brown Land? Telstra's Battle for Broadband, which dissected the case for Telstra being allowed to build the national broadband network. He has also run a strategic consulting business focusing on the communications industry, and also served as the chief of staff to former communications minister Richard Alston.
Point-of-sale software provider Vend today announced an additional $22 million in capital funding led by PayPal co-founder and the first outside investor in Facebook, Peter Thiel of Valar Ventures, and Square Peg Capital. Vaughan Rowsell, founder and chief executive of Vend, told SmartCompany the software provider will use the new funds to expand its presence in the North American market through new partnerships, resellers, staff and customers across the continent. “We are in high growth mode and now is the time to really put the foot on the accelerator and continue our growth,” Rowsell says. “It really enables us to grow our channel, working with point-of-sale retailers in Australia and through channels like Apple, Zero and PayPal.” Launched in late 2010 in New Zealand, Vend now has offices in Australia and the United States and turned over $5 million last year. The operating system is used in over 10,000 stores in more than 100 countries but Rowsell has his sights set for further growth using the investment. “It also allows us to grow our headcount to 20 or so people on the ground in Australia, which allows us to work with much larger accounts,” he says. Rowsell says Vend was able to secure the funding from Valar Ventures and Square Peg Capital after establishing a relationship with Thiel. “We’ve been a part of the San Francisco scene for the last three years, we’ve had an office there and I’ve spent a lot of time in the Valley and it is one of the amazing things about that place that everyone is so connected,” he says. “We’ve been looking for the opportunity to work closely with [Valar Ventures] as they bring a whole lot of expertise in terms of understanding the payments space and helping us unlock the US market.” Rowsell says the size of Vend’s private capital raising “really validates the big shift in businesses moving to the cloud”. He claims there is a “resurgence” of independent retailers who have become more competitive against big chain stores by adopting cloud-based point-of-sale software. “Cloud-based retail in Australia is now going much more mainstream,” Rowsell says. Vend raised $NZ8 million ($A7.5m) in May 2013, and $NZ3 million between its first two capital rounds in 2011 and 2012. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
PushstartAU founder John Haining was at Australia’s first Bitcoin Barcamp held in Sydney over the weekend. Here’s what he thought. "Bitcoin is not money under Australian tax law," said tax lawyer Matthew Cridland of DLA Piper. A crowd of 130 developers, entrepreneurs, financial tech innovators and information security experts bristled at Cridland’s words at the recent Bitcoin Barcamp at the ATP Innovations* National Innovation Centre in Sydney. Cridland was a presenter at the first Australian ‘unconference’ on the cryptocurrency that addressed topics from bitcoin 101, how to keep your bitcoin safe (with concerns about exchanges like MtGox as well as operating system and USB security dominating the discussion), through to the future of digital currencies and the bitcoin improvement proposal, as well as what regulatory and consumer changes would be needed for broad adoption of digital cryptocurrencies. There was optimism about bitcoins as a future for exchange evident throughout the discussions. Attendees pointed out the failings of traditional currency, the limited guarantees for Australian bank deposits, and expressed surprise at how the uninitiated reacted to the novelty of cryptocurrencies. Advantages such as near real-time transactions, the security of the bitchain and the intellectual elegance of the approach were listed as success factors. Hanging in the Bitcoin Lounge In the Bitcoin Lounge, attendees were able to get more hands on. The lounge played host to leading Australian innovators and startups who are helping to make bitcoin a reality. The lounge featured over five bitcoin-based businesses. Coinjar, a Blackbird Ventures-backed digital wallet and exchange startup from Melbourne with over 20,000 users, let attendees create a new wallet with $20. (I received 0.0272 bitcoins from CoinJar, which have gone down in value at the time of writing!) Attendees also had the chance to wave goodbye to Australian currency and buy bitcoins in as little as 15 seconds using one of the first Lamassu bitcoin converters in Australia. BitPOS, which allows vendors to easily accept bitcoins, provided payment services for the day, including the end-of-day networking session, Bitcoin Beers. For those wanting to speculate in bitcoins, both CoinArch and BitTrade Australia were on hand to explain their approach to the opportunity. Where were the banks? With all of the financial innovation in the space, there was limited participation from existing financial players. Only a handful of attendees came from Australian banks, with one Macquarie Bank employee admitting to being there in a personal capacity, and not knowing if Macquarie Bank was doing anything in relation to cryptocurrencies. The day culminated in a pitchfest from the various startup companies, assessed by finance tech experts Opher Yom-Tov (formerly of Westpac) and Kim Heras, general partner in fund 25Fifteen. That more than 100 people turned out on a sunny Sydney Saturday to talk and learn about a niche topic is probably the most remarkable outcome of the day. Other innovations, such as education technology, wearables, and the internet of things also have strong interest, but nowhere near this level of committed participation. As the day drew to a close, the words of the tax lawyer hung over the room. Bitcoin may not yet be legal tender in Australian – at best they are a tradable bundle of rights** – but if the enthusiastic entrepreneurs at the Bitcoin Barcamp have their way, that day may not be too far away. Disclosures: * I am a director of ATP Innovations. ** Australian tax law is a funny thing: You (or your business) may be liable to GST, income tax or capital gains tax on bitcoin transactions. They may not be money, but they may cost you money. Get professional advice! John Haining is a co-founder of PushStart, a startup community company, a director of ATP Innovations, Australia's leading business incubator.
Mark White’s Tasty Tadpoles game took two years to build as he crammed in the coding around a full-time job in advertising. But the long hours were worth it: he’s just picked up $150,000 at Samsung’s Tizen App Challenge this week in the United States. The family-friendly puzzle game was originally built for the iOS platform and was released in May 2013 as a 99 cent app. White told StartupSmart it’s been downloaded over 800,000 times, 40,000 of which were paid downloads. “When I heard about the Tizen challenge, I realised it wouldn’t be too hard to port it across to a new system. I entered it and forgot about it until this week,” he says. Samsung contributed over $4.4 million worth of prizes to the competition to incentivise developers to create apps for a new operating system. “It’s basically Samsung trying to distance from Android. But if you install it on all the Samsung phones, there would be very few apps so they launched this challenge to overcome that,” White says. White’s app was awarded $100,000 as runner-up in the action and adventure game category. He was also named in the top 10 HTML5 games and received a further $50,000. “Game development combines everything I really enjoy: animation, illustration and music,” White says. The prize will enable him to only work three days a week so he can focus on his next game.
This week in Barcelona, the GSMA – the peak global standards body for the mobile phone industry – is hosting its annual industry trade event, the Mobile World Congress. The MWC is arguably the largest annual event in the telecommunications industry. It brings together carriers with mobile phone makers, equipment makers and app developers. It’s where handset manufacturers make the big pitch to mobile carriers for the year ahead. A strong presentation can bring your products to the attention of mobile carriers the world over. Perhaps more than the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the MWC is the big event where mobile phone makers unveil their new smartphones and other products for the year ahead. This year’s event certainly hasn’t underwhelmed, with major announcements from some of the industry’s biggest players. It’s time to take a look at eight of the biggest announcements from this year’s show: 1. Samsung Galaxy S5 Samsung is now easily the biggest handset maker in the industry. According to IDC, for the full year of 2013, it shipped a massive 313.9 million smartphones worldwide – that’s three out of every 10 smartphones shipped anywhere in the world. Forget about Apple versus Samsung, it’s not even a race anymore at this point. Apple shipped 153.4 million units in 2013, meaning that for every handset Apple shipped, Samsung shipped more than two. In fact, with the exception of the US and Japan, Apple is not even really competitive with Samsung anymore. That race was lost two years ago. In addition to manufacturing smartphones, it also supplies itself with almost every component, from batteries and processors to cameras, memory chips and displays. It is both the world’s second biggest chip builder, and the world’s second biggest ship builder. So when Samsung unveils its main, flagship smartphone for the year, you better believe that everyone in the industry – from carriers to competitors – is watching very closely. This year’s flagship, the Galaxy S5, was largely an incremental improvement on its predecessor, with the South Korean tech giant confirming speculation the new device is both dust-proof and waterproof. Needless to say, both Telstra and Optus have already announced they’re carrying the new smartphone. Aside from the Galaxy S5, Samsung shocked the industry when it snubbed Google for the latest version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatches. Instead of Android, the new devices will be powered by its own operating system, known as Tizen. 2. Microsoft’s Nokia X smartphones – powered by Android For nearly two decades, Microsoft’s Windows operating system had battled an open source rival, known as Linux. While Linux has struggled to make inroads in the desktop PC market, it has emerged as the dominant operating system for servers. Linux also forms the basis of Google Android, which competes head-to-head with Microsoft Windows Phone. Meanwhile, in September last year, Microsoft bought the mobile assets of Nokia, along with a licence to use its patents, for $US7.2 billion. In light of this, there was some scepticism when rumours first surfaced that Nokia was gearing up to release a series of smartphones powered by Android. At MWC, Nokia confirmed the rumours by unveiling a new smartphone product line powered by Android called the Nokia X series. The new devices will come with Microsoft’s cloud-based apps and services pre-installed and won’t come with the Google Play app store. Nonetheless, when Microsoft takes control of Nokia in April, it will be selling a consumer product based on Linux. Who would have thought it? 3. Facebook buys WhatsApp for $US16 billion A week before the MWC, Facebook announced it is taking over mobile messaging service WhatsApp for an incredible sum – $US16 billion. With both WhatsApp co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum and Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivering keynote speeches at MWC, the tech world was certainly going to pay attention. During the keynote, Koum did not disappoint, announcing WhatsApp was launching free voice calls through its app during the second quarter, once the takeover by Facebook has been completed. No doubt some of the mobile carriers were a little edgy about the prospect of Facebook launching an all-out assault on their lucrative voice call and text message businesses. 4. Mozilla unveils a $25 smartphone This year’s Mobile World Congress marked the one year anniversary of the debut of Mozilla’s smartphone platform, Firefox OS. For those unfamiliar with the platform, Mozilla is best known for its Firefox web browser. Last year, it announced it was creating a mobile operating system based on Firefox that would compete head-to-head with Google Android, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10. In Firefox OS, all apps basically work like interactive websites and are coded in web standards, including HTML5 and CSS. Since this is less demanding than running a “full” operating system with apps, the theory went that Firefox OS would perform well on low-end devices aimed for emerging markets. In practice, some of the first Firefox OS smartphones, including the ZTE Open, have left a lot to be desired. As I explained in Control Shift last week, Mozilla’s expansion drive has left it in a precarious position in the marketplace: As if the situation weren’t already urgent enough already, Mozilla’s lucrative deal with Google expires in November of this year. In a sense, it’s fitting that [Mozilla founder Mitchell] Baker has taken up trapeze as a hobby, because Mozilla’s in the middle of a high-wire act. It might be that, over the coming months, one of Mozilla’s growing number of Firefox OS-driven side-projects gains traction in the market place. However, it could also backfire spectacularly, endangering its main source of revenue in the process. Aside from the seven new smartphones on display, Mozilla also announced that a smartphone costing just $25 would hit the market this year. Given that, up until the fourth quarter of last year, more than half of all mobile phones sold worldwide were still featurephones, mostly in emerging markets, the $25 phone might just be the big hit Mozilla’s looking for. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Major updates for BlackBerry enterprise customers BlackBerry chief executive John Chen’s bid to turn around the fortunes of the smartphone pioneer were filled out in a series of major product announcements at MWC. Up until now, enterprises using BlackBerry Secure Work Spaces on BYOD (bring your own device) smartphones needed to use different versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) depending on whether staff used newer BlackBerry 10/Android/iOS devices, or older BlackBerrys. That has been cleared away with the release of BES 12, in the process clearing away many headaches for IT administrators. As an added bonus, it supports Windows Phone devices too. The company also unveiled a new flagship phone with a full keyboard called the Q20 and an enterprise version of its BlackBerry Messenger service called eBBM Suite. 6. At least Sony’s new products are water-tight Earlier this month, Sony announced it is selling its VAIO PC business to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners, spinning off its Bravia TV business into a separate subsidiary and slashing its global headcount by 5000 as part of a major restructure. At the time, the Japanese tech giant announced it’s setting its sights on the smartphone, tablet and wearables markets for its future growth. Suffice to say, the company is hoping it delivered a hit with the products it unveiled at MWC. The company unveiled a new flagship smartphone called the Xperia Z2, a 4G Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone powered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor. The company is proclaiming its 20.7-megapixel camera capable is the most ever used in a waterproof smartphone. Which I’m sure is fantastic news for scuba-diving photographers. The company also unveiled a 10.1-inch tablet called, imaginatively enough, the Z2 Tablet. The tablet is being marketed as the lightest ever used in a waterproof tablet. Finally, the company unveiled a smart wristband called the SmartBand. 7. Opportunity knocks for LG? The highlight for LG was an update of the KnockON security system called “Knock Code”, which uses a series of knocks rather than a password to secure a device. The new feature will appear on the LG G Pro 2 phablet, a new six-inch phablet set to go head-to-head with Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note devices. The company also unveiled its “L Series 3” range of low- to mid-range smartphones at the show. That said, most of LG’s big announcements came at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, including its LG Lifeband Touch activity tracking bracelet, LG Heart Rate headphones, and webOS-powered smart TVs. 8. Tickets please! With the rapid growth of mobile ticketing, it’s no surprise the world’s largest telecommunications show would embrace NFC tickets. Telstra was one of a range of carriers to trial NFC badge technology for tickets to this year’s event. The badges use information stored by a mobile carrier, including name and telephone number, to help verify an attendee’s identity. The validation process also includes a photo ID check. This year’s show also features an NFC Experience demonstrating NFC-based mobile commerce systems for payment, retail, transport, mobile identity and ticketing/access. In addition, there are 61 NFC-enabled Tap-n-Go Points providing event news, schedules, documents, presentations, videos and other information. According to figures published by ABI research, in the next five years, 34 billion tickets to be sent to mobile devices,. In terms of technology used to authenticate tickets, the figures show 48% will rely on QR codes, near-field communications (NFC) will be used on 30%, while SMS or other technologies will be used on 22%. If the forecast is accurate, it suggests using our smartphones to touch on for events, public transport or entry into secure areas could soon be a part of everyday life.