Accel Partners’ Rich Wong: Australian start-up sector now a global player

The local start-up sector is increasingly being recognised as a player in the global technology arena as competition for Australian companies heats up among international venture capital funds. Accel Partners' Rich Wong has backed more local technology companies than any other US fund and has wryly welcomed the growing interest from fellow Silicon Valley-based funds.

It’s Time To Embrace, Not Fear, Shadow IT

ideas_1 At this very moment, the IT department at a typical enterprise is staring at a mind-numbing list of IT project requests from employees and business units — ranging from building a custom mobile app for warehouse operations to integrating Salesforce.com with back-end office systems. To manage this endless to-do list, the IT department logically arranges requests by how significantly… Read More

Former Apple exec’s startup Enjoy just delivered an iPhone 6s right to our office for free

Enjoy delivers an iPhone 6S to VentureBeat

It’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus day around the world and people are eager to get their hands on the newest smartphone edition from Apple. And while there are those who have resigned themselves to waiting in line in front of an Apple retail store or any belonging to a wireless carrier, there’s a better way.

Commerce startup Enjoy has begun a campaign to not only get you an iPhone faster, but also help you get up and running easily. Earlier today, VentureBeat asked one of Enjoy’s experts visit our office so that we could experience the service that its customers receive. Chief executive Ron Johnson, Apple’s former retail chief, said earlier this week that Enjoy placed a high value on its experts to help provide that extra value with its service — and it seemed to come across during today’s visit.

The Enjoy expert, Jeff Mattern showed up to provide us with an unboxing experience where he told us about all the updates the latest iPhone. He brought over a 16GB iPhone 6s and was very knowledgeable, which isn’t surprising because he previously worked at Apple. Owning that up to being a coincidence, we proceeded to ask him about how to use the latest smartphone, such as whether 4K videos would be suitable on a device with 16GB of storage, how to use force touch and live photos, what the average customer experience would be, and more.


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Having been with the company for about a year, Mattern felt very at ease with helping us set up our new iPhone. Every product comes in a recyclable tote bag and includes a handy card that customers can take notes on as the expert explains the particulars of their purchase. At the end of the visit, the customer receives a special code that they can use to receive free consultation at any time, at least until the end of 2015.

As part of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus launch, Enjoy has an exclusive partnership with AT&T where it will deliver the mobile device to anyone in its serviceable market. Unfortunately if you’re on T-Mobile, Verizon, or Sprint, you’re not going to be able to take advantage of it. Mattern says that for new or existing AT&T customers, he’s able to help port over data from your old phone to the new one and also provides additional support to get people comfortable with the device.

On average, meetings can last up to an hour, but experts like Jeff typically will call you ahead of time to get a feel of what questions you might have. But if you’re not sure about what you want, Enjoy’s head of Marketing and Communications Ari Bloom tells us that the company has try before you by program where experts can come to your home or office and let you check out different products and if you’re interested in buying something, you can do it right then and there.

Enjoy says it doesn’t mark up or offer discounts on products so the prices you see on the website are what you’d pay in retail stores. However, the difference here is that Enjoy offers an great value-add: free delivery and expert help. And while the iPhone 6s is being promised to be delivered within four hours, Mattern says that it could be quicker than that.

All of Enjoy’s experts have some stake to ensure that customers are happy as they’re all employees. The company doesn’t utilize any 1099 contractors to help out so there’s a sense of ownership among the experts and all undergo extensive training on all the products that are available in Enjoy’s catalog. They are all full-time employees with salaries and are provided insurance in the event something goes wrong.

From our hour-long conversation with Mattern, Enjoy looks to be capturing the long-tail customer relationship knowing that if you have questions about future technology products, you’ll look to it instead of trying to rely on Best Buy, Target, and others. There’s a dedicated resource just for you to answer all your questions.

Enjoy is currently available in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York City.

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Uber Has A New Pre-Paid Ride Service Called UberEVENTS

newsroom-header Uber just announced UberEVENTS, a new service for event organizers to pre-pay rides for their guests. Uber is launching the service first in New York for “select riders” and Uber for Business users. In the coming weeks, Uber will roll out this feature to everyone in New York so that all event hosts can purchase rides, in the form of guest passes, ahead of time for… Read More

iPhone 6s hands on: 3D Touch, 12 megapixel camera, and video image stabilization

IMG_8815

After having used the new iPhone 6s for a few hours, I have mixed feelings about some of the phone’s most important features. l

You’ve probably seen the initial reviews of the new device, all of which reach the same basic conclusion: The iPhone 6s is a wonderful phone that’s worth buying if you have an older iPhone, but not a slam dunk if you already have an iPhone 6.

And there’s the rub. The new iPhone 6s looks almost identical to the iPhone 6, but Apple insists that the new features and component upgrades in the new phone make it unique. Apple’s slogan for the iPhone 6s is “the only thing that’s changed is everything.”


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So let’s cut to the chase. I bought the 64GB version of the phone outright — out the door price $814, without a service contract. Ouch. These are my first impressions of the things that Apple says makes the iPhone 6s a better phone than my iPhone 6.

3D Touch is useful, if a little awkward

The 3D Touch functionality seemed less important to me, until I tried it. The technology allows you a totally new input method. Instead of tapping or swiping on the screen, you press and hold. The phone gives you a little haptic feedback buzz to let you know it understands your input.

More importantly, Apple found some compelling uses for 3D Touch in the OS. Chief among them is the ability to preview  an email without actually opening it. When looking at your inbox you press and hold on an email, and an overlay pops up providing a look (or “peek”, as Apple terms it) at the content of the email. You no longer have to open the email to see if it’s important, and then click back to the inbox view.

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To me, this is a material improvement to the experience of mobile email. And email is probably the service I use most on my mobile device.

It’s not perfect. When I press down to “peek” at an email my finger or thumb is usually covering up the content in the email I want to see. And you can’t lift your finger or the peek view will disappear. You can deftly slide your finger out of the way while still maintaining pressure on the screen, but that’s awkward.

Slide the "peek" view up and you get some email options.

Above: Slide the “peek” view up and you get some email options.

The other killer use of 3D touch is identifying specific words you want to edit while writing a text message. Many times I will dictate a text and there will be one word in the middle of the sentence that’s incorrect. But selecting that word for editing is a challenge on my iPhone 6. 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s allows you to press down on the sentence you’re typing then slide your finger to the right word. This will save me time and embarrassment. It also gives me an effective weapon to counter the work of autocorrect, which was designed by Satan and hates me.

IMG_0001

IMG_0024But this too, takes some getting used to. The trick is you have to press and hold to enable the word selection feature, but then lighten up your pressure to be able to be able to move from word to word smoothly.

3D Touch can be used in several other scenarios. Many of the Apple apps on the phone have 3D Touch options built under the icons. So, for example you can press and hold on the Mail icon and see a menu of common actions like search emails, and compose.

Bigger camera, but better?

The larger 12-megapixel camera sensor creates images that are clear and sharp, but the quality difference between the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6 cameras is less than I expected. Images shot with the 6s are bigger — that is, they’re 4032 × 3024 pixels and 3MB in size, while photos shot on the iPhone 6 (with its 8-megapixel camera) are just 3264 × 2448 and 2MB in size, using default settings.

I shot the same image at the same time with both phones using the default camera settings. I then opened both images in Preview on a large monitor and zoomed way in. The image on the right is the one shot with the iPhone 6s; the one on the left is the iPhone 6 image. The 6s image looks slightly brighter, but when two images, which started out at different sizes, are zoomed to the same size the resolution looks about the same.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 2.03.46 PM

Bottom line: Photos shot with the iPhone 6s’s larger sensor contain more pixels (and take up more memory), and that’s why they look good.

Video image stabilization

The iPhone 6s also offers optical image stabilization for video, and it works surprisingly well. I intentionally shook the phone while shooting a video, but upon playback I could detect almost no shaky-cam effect. (This is is a standard definition video, shot while zoomed in, to demonstrate image stability.

We will be digging deeper into the new phone over the next week, and reporting on the killer features. We’ll be publishing a full review only after we’ve had a chance to live with phone for awhile. We’ll provide a fuller account of the phone’s features, and describe how useful those features really are in everyday life.










Rare visit by Indian prime minister enthralls Silicon Valley

For a change, Silicon Valley is buzzing about something besides a sleek new device, mind-bending breakthrough or precocious billionaire. A rare visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this weekend has captivated his extensive fan club in the area and commanded the attention of major U.S. technology companies eager to extend their reach into a promising overseas market.

India meets Silicon Valley: What Prime Minister Modi’s visit can do for Indian and US tech

NEW DELHI-MAY 20: Prime Minister Narendra Modi getting out of his car at Rashtrapati Bhavan during a press conference on May 20, 2014 in New Delhi , India.

Silicon Valley often hosts world leaders, but rarely gives them the rock-star reception that it is planning for India prime minister Narendra Modi this weekend. Seats for an 18,500-person event where he will be speaking, at the SAP Center in San Jose, disappeared within days, and tens of thousands more could have sold. The Silicon Valley Indian community is especially abuzz. Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Tesla are rolling out the red carpet.

The euphoria arises partly because Indians here are still optimistic that Modi will transform India — after decades of economic stagnation under socialist governments. But his greater appeal to the tech community is that he is one of the world’s few truly tech-savvy leaders. He has mastered social media and has more than 15 million followers on Twitter — second only to President Obama among world leaders. And Modi has declared his intent to build a Digital India: a knowledge economy that delivers key government services electronically, connects all parts of the country with high-speed Internet networks, and ensures its populace is digitally literate.

Considering that India has already become the largest growth market for smartphones and will, by the end of this decade, add more than 500 million Internet users, it is not surprising that the CEOs of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Adobe are lining up to meet with Modi. They need to ensure that there will be no regulatory roadblocks in India, which will have a market twice as large as the U.S. market. But my hope is that Modi’s visit goes beyond the star power and that he gets to see the can-do attitude of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs. They are using exponentially advancing technologies such as sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, medicine, and 3D printing to change the world, and these technologies can also help transform India and uplift its population.


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Here are some examples of what is possible for India — and what Modi needs to support:

Smart cities: Modi has talked a lot about smart cities, but what he refers to are cleaner and more efficient cities — not what we talk about in Silicon Valley. Using the advances in sensors, for example, it is possible to build technologically connected cities that monitor things such as traffic patterns, air quality, noise, radiation levels, and water quality. These sensors can manage pollution, waste, parking, traffic congestion, security, and almost every other aspect of a city’s functioning. The cities won’t cost billions of dollars, as the original smart cities did that Middle East countries tried to build, but millions of dollars. Indian entrepreneurs can start building smart neighborhoods and then scale these up to the city level.

Sharing economy: Uber showed Indian entrepreneurs that app-based ride-sharing was practical even in India’s chaotic cities. But Uber targeted elite, high-end customers and got many things wrong. The bigger opportunities are to share rides in three-wheelers, bicycle rickshaws, and buses. Technology can also facilitate hiring of workers in the informal economy — laborers, technicians, maids, and painters — and tractor-sharing on farms; jhuggi rentals; bike-sharing; and seed swaps. Indian entrepreneurs are trying to build their own versions of these technologies, but they will need the government to streamline cumbersome regulations.

Health apps, devices, and genomics: Medical devices as accurate as those that western hospitals use are now possible by connecting inexpensive sensors to smartphones and tablets. A few Indian startups have already created better and more practical technology than I have seen in Silicon Valley. Forus Health, for example, has developed a portable eye-screening device called 3nethra that can detect eye pathologies such as cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and cornea-related problems.

Health Cubed has built inexpensive powerful medical devices that are in use on 2.5 million people in north India to measure blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, blood hemoglobin, and urine protein and to diagnose diseases such as HIV AIDS, syphilis, dengue, and malaria. MapMyGenome analyzes genome data to provide insights into the genetic bases of various aspects of individuals’ health, including traits, lifestyle, drug responses, inherited conditions, and diseases. Combining these technologies with telemedicine will enable hundreds of millions of villagers in India to receive timely and affordable health care.

Education: No matter how hard it tries, India’s government will not be able to fix its public schools in time to educate the more than 100 million children in towns and villages that are currently without adequate educational facilities. The only solution lies in technology. The inexpensive smartphones that Indians are now buying can also be used for education. Thousands of applications available today can teach subjects such as history, geography, music, mathematics, and science. Indian entrepreneurs need to build versions of them in local languages and create adaptive educational technologies that tailor the learning path to the needs of the student. Government needs to revise its curriculum and work hand in hand with entrepreneurs to offer digital education as a backup to the failing schools.

Agriculture: Technology is opening up possibilities for dramatically transforming India’s highly inefficient farms. Sensors can be used to monitor soil humidity and optimize watering; aquaculture can be optimized with on-farm diagnostic technologies; dairy and farm production can be automated through CRM-like systems. These can be connected to the smartphones that the farmers already have and can also provide them with education and support.

Turning children into innovators: Schoolchildren in Silicon Valley have the opportunity to play with 3D printers, robot-building kits, and sensor components. These printers and kits are not expensive. Providing every village with these will enable children to build robots that automate manufacturing, to design innovative new consumer products, and to customize 3D designs for global consumers. Children can develop sensor-based systems for diverse industries, smart-city technologies, and new home-monitoring and -automation systems. Yes, children in villages can now build these technologies — and they will learn them faster than adults do.

My hope is that Modi will take back with him a grand vision of the future — an understanding of what has become possible. Indian technologists in Silicon Valley have risen to the top ranks of tech companies and now start 16 percent of the Valley’s new businesses. Modi’s challenge is to inspire Indian entrepreneurs in India to innovate to the same degree.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University.










HipChat and JIRA maker Atlassian has reportedly filed to go public

At Atlassian headquarters in Sydney.

Atlassian, the company behind service desk software JIRA and team communication app HipChat, has submitted a confidential filing for an initial public offering (IPO), according to a new report.

Atlassian, which has long been profitable, now carries a valuation above $3 billion, according to today’s report from the Wall Street Journal. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among the underwriters for the IPO, the report says.

A spokeswoman for Atlassian declined to comment.

Atlassian took a $150 million investment from T. Rowe Price and Dragoneer Investment Group last year. The company started in 2002 and is based in Sydney.










King plans Candy Crush Saga weekend event to reward dedicated players

Candy Crush Saga in action.

Candy Crush Saga is still one of the top-grossing mobile apps in the world, and publisher King is planning a weekend event to keep its player base engaged.

Starting today and running through Sunday, King will host the CakeClimb live event in Candy Crush Saga. This is a challenge that requires players to figure out how to clear a series of levels brimming with explosive cakes. This should get players to reopen Candy Crush Saga to try to best this temporary mode and to gather the loot they will get for beating it. Live events like these are crucial to keeping mobile and free-to-play games feeling fresh to players, and that makes a primary driver of retention in the $30 billion smartphone and tablet gaming space.

Here’s what King is promising players who best the CakeClimb:

  • Striped Candy
  • Wrapped Candy
  • Color Bomb
  • Free Switch
  • Lollipop
  • Coconut Wheel
  • Jelly Fish
  • Lucky Candy

Candy Crush Saga debuted on mobile in November 2012. That means we are nearing a point where it has dominated the charts (along with Clash of Clans) for three entire years. These days, Candy Crush Saga hovers at around No. 3 or No. 4 on the highest-grossing list on both iOS and Android behind Clash of Clans and Game of War. And the game that’s right behind Candy Crush Saga is its sequel, Candy Crush Soda Saga.

King has managed to maintain this level of success by continually updating Candy Crush Saga to keep it fresh. This includes base updates to the functionality of the game, but it also means regularly giving players opportunities to participate in live events like the CakeClimb.

The other major aspect of keeping Candy Crush Saga on top is using its revenue to advertise and acquire players. This manifests as television ads as well as promos that appear online and in other games. King, along with Clash of Clans developer SuperCell and Game of War studio MachineZone, are the top spenders on marketing in the mobile space.

Those commercials and events like CakeClimb are working as it doesn’t seem like Candy Crush Saga is going anywhere anytime soon.

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