500 Startups launches course to teach companies how to work with startups

500 Startups stickers

500 Startups wants to help corporations understand how to work with startups. In collaboration with Pilot44, the firm has created a four-day course for executives called “Corporate Startup Innovation Unlocked,” from July 11 to 14. Attendees will hear from entrepreneurs and others how to direct their innovation efforts to stay relevant in the current business climate.

“Corporate startup innovation isn’t new, but more and more corporations around the world aren’t able to realize how to tap into the startup ecosystem,” Zafer Younis, a partner at 500 Startups, told VentureBeat in an interview. “They’ve tried before for a while, but with more disruption from startups, they’re seeing this become a higher priority.”

Although 500 Startups receives visitation requests from Fortune 500 companies, as representatives want to connect with the portfolio companies, very little follow-up takes place. “Most of the discussions fail and waste a lot of time on both ends,” Younis explained. He and the rest of the firm’s team want to bridge this gap, thereby making it easier for collaboration to take place, especially to showcase to innovation people what Silicon Valley is all about.

“Corporate Startup Innovation Unlocked” is a seminar for up to 30 people and is geared towards providing direction to anyone looking to “find the right startups and engage with them in a meaningful and accelerated way.” 500 Startups doesn’t have an ideal attendee in mind as it could be a vice president of innovation, chief innovation officer, partners at consulting firms, or anybody else — no one is too junior or senior.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.10.05 PM

Every day will feature 2 to 3 hours of theory and framework provided by the folks at Pilot44. Afterwards, case studies and speakers from around the industry will be brought in to share both the good and bad experiences they’ve had working with corporations or startups. Some of the speakers include P&G, Nestle, Cox Automotive, Google, and Microsoft. Younis said there’s an optional fifth day of the program where startups and corporations will come together at a mixer or they can participate in one-on-one meetings to discuss specific pain points and challenges.

Corporations interested should plan on solving these three pieces of the puzzle: What’s the corporate business challenge that’s trying to be solved by working with a startup? Can you identify the startups that are working in your specific industry or can help overcome your challenge? How do you establish partnerships, measure them, and report back to your superiors about how the startup has helped you?

Silicon Valley is home to many companies that have set up shop here, eager to tap into the innovation revolution taking place. Samsung, Target, Orange, Wells Fargo, and others all have a presence here doing either research and development or simply looking to work with startups. But others that don’t have the resources on the ground still look to this area and 500 Startups wants to be the centralized resource for them.

An illustration that symbolically shows a company (dinosaur) with an entrepreneur (startup) working together to launch a product.

Above: An illustration that symbolically shows a company (dinosaur) with an entrepreneur (startup) working together to launch a product.

Image Credit: 500 Startups

Traditionally, corporations have reached out to venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, or Norwest Venture Partners to look for startups that may be interesting. But 500 Startups believes it has more options thanks to its portfolio of more than 1,000 startups. According to managing partner Dave McClure, while this program is all about eventually helping make acquisitions happen, it’s also about giving corporations a view of what it’s like to work with startups. “We’re trying to match up dollars and product with speed to market,” he shared with us.

In addition, he thinks that 500 Startups is able to exploit an “untapped opportunity with matching small companies with big companies and we’re in a good position to make it happen.”

Although the first session takes place in San Francisco, Younis hasn’t decided yet on whether to expand it to other parts of the world, similar to what 500 Startups has done with its Distro Dojo program. He said that it’ll depend on where the most interest and attendee applications are coming from: “If we see a large number of applications come from a specific geography, we may consider it.”

While the ulterior motive for 500 Startups is a financial one — acquire one of its portfolio companies — it still wants to impart some wisdom on attendees: develop skills that you can use to identify and engage with startups to benefit your own company.

Applications for “Corporate Startup Innovation Unlocked” are being accepted now. The cost is $8,750 for the early bird tickets and $11,750 for the regular seats.

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Adobe Marketing Cloud updates focus on predicting your future

Adobe-Marketing-Cloud-predict-business-predictive

Adobe wants to predict the future of your business.

At today’s Summit 2016 — Adobe’s annual digital marketing conference in the U.S.— the company announced its latest additions to its Marketing Cloud solution. And without placing tongue firmly in cheek, we saw the most recent additions coming, thanks to the research we’ve been conducting at VB Insight.

Adobe — without any doubt — has the most complete Marketing Cloud solution on the planet. Our 24,000-word study of marketing clouds shows that the completeness of Adobe’s product can’t be denied. But it was what was missing from the line-up that made us wonder the most about what would come next, and today we got those answers.

Before we take a look at Adobe’s new prediction skills, it is important to look at recent updates to the marketing cloud and, in particular, Adobe’s mobile offerings.

Last month, Adobe announced Experience Manager Mobile. It combines several of Adobe’s mobile tools into one platform that allows for simplified creation and management of apps on iOS and Android. The resulting apps are deeply connected to Adobe Marketing Cloud, which means that the same team that manages the brand’s website can handle its mobile presence too. That opens the door for cross-device marketing from a centralized solution.

Now ties those updates into today’s announcement, and you start to get a sense of where Adobe is going.

Today at Summit 2016, Adobe has announced a series of new data science capabilities that include a TV recommendation engine, automated insights for advertising, a customer lifetime value prediction system, and predictive subject lines that help optimize emails. These capabilities are focused on using algorithms in a marketing context, extracting insights from billions of data points to help marketers make better business decisions.

But all of these data science-oriented solutions aren’t where the real magic happens. For data science, predictive analytics, and machine learning to work in a business context, you have to make them easy to understand, and simple to use.

Enter “Virtual Analyst,” a predictive engine that the company claims will let you benefit from recommendations and predictions you didn’t even know existed. It is available as part of Adobe Analytics and will ship later this year.

Virtual Analyst learns from your input and the input of other users. It notes and prioritizes significant changes in the data, and surfaces relevant insights that help marketers make better business decisions.

We’ve seen solutions like this before, such as BeyondCore. Asking millions of questions in the background, the Virtual Analyst will surface any answers that show something statistically significant, and — to a high level of certainty — beneficial to the business.

For example, Virtual Analyst might recognize that revenue is an important metric for you, and then intelligently combine order, unit, and social media mentions with your revenue alert. Virtual Analyst also flags data anomalies hourly and produces simple, text-based email alerts.

That solves the biggest issue with analytics in general: Not knowing what questions to ask in the first place.

And with a stronger mobile solution that works between devices, across the website to app divide, and within a centralized management platform, Adobe’s virtual analyst can surface predictions that matter across the entire customer experience.

In addition to Virtual Analyst, Adobe Analytics is also gaining Segment IQ, another automated analyst that discovers overlaps and differences between sets of target audiences.

Adobe continues to have the most feature-complete marketing cloud but faces stiff opposition from over 18 vendors that are all vying to be the one cloud-based location the marketer spends all their time. While there are still gaps to fill (I predict that app store optimization will enter the marketing cloud fray soon), marketing clouds are helping organizations gain significant results, as we discovered recently during a recent webinar.

The one thing we didn’t predict from today’s event is why George Clooney and Donny Osmond are taking the stage at a marketing event, but then I guess that’s because we’ve never written a report on the entertainment industry.

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Ex-Halo devs set up Gunslinger Studios and show off two new games

Exiles of Embermark is a sword-fighting game.

Alex Seropian and Tim Harris used their Industrial Toys studio to launch their Midnight Star and Midnight Star: Renegade mobile shooter games. Now they’re creating a new studio, Gunslinger Studios, to create 60-second multiplayer games, such as their upcoming Exiles of Embermark fantasy mobile game.

Ex-Bungie founder Seropian and Harris are creating hardcore gamer experiences on mobile, and now they’re taking a swing at the same market under the Gunslinger Studios name, which will also try to expand the market for hardcore fans in the $30 billion mobile game industry. I met with the pair at the Game Developers Conference last week and played a hands-on demo of two new games, one from each studio. They were one of the few startups I met with who weren’t swayed by the siren song of virtual reality and were instead targeting the billion users on mobile devices.

Tim Harris and Alex Seropian of Industrial Toys.

Above: Tim Harris and Alex Seropian of Industrial Toys.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Seropian said that they have created Gunslinger Studios as a separate company to specifically fund a new series of minute-long multiplayer games. They will raise money for Gunslinger separately even as they continue to develop titles with their Industrial Toys game studio. Industrial Toys had one announced funding round in March 2014, when it raised $5 million. Seropian said the company raised a new round at the end of 2015, but it hasn’t revealed the amount. Industrial Toys has 25 employees.

Pasadena, Calif.-based Industrial Toys launched its first game, Midnight Star, in February 2015. It has now followed that game up with Midnight Star: Renegade, which is in soft launch now and will be formally launched in the summer on iOS and Android. Meanwhile, Gunslinger Studios is at work on a new title dubbed Exiles of Embermark. We’ll describe both of these games shortly.

Industrial Toys’ Midnight Star: Renegade

Midnight Star: Renegade

Above: Midnight Star: Renegade

Image Credit: Industrial Toys

The original Midnight Star did well, but it didn’t reach the ambitious goals of breaking into the top rankings on mobile or creating a lasting game that people came back to over and over. In an interview with GamesBeat, Seropian and Harris said they took what they learned from the first game and applied that knowledge to making Renegade. It took them about 10 months to create the new game.

Jump grenade in Midnight Star: Renegade.

Above: Jump grenade in Midnight Star: Renegade.

Image Credit: Industrial Toys

With Midnight Star: Renegade, Industrial Toys accommodated some player requests. Players wanted to do free movement in the game, so the company added that. They also wanted an Android version early on. The team shortened the time it takes to load a level, and it also shortened the length of missions.

The last game addressed the touch-screen control challenge by automating the motion in a scene. That left the player free to aim and shoot the enemies on the screen with simple taps. The player could change the viewpoint for the scene by pressing a couple of buttons at the top of the screen.

Renegade is a sci-fi story set 120 years after the events of the first game. It puts players at the center of a mystery left behind by a space-faring civilization that went missing 22,000 years ago.

Renegade uses the Unreal Engine and introduces new features, such as jump boots and guided rockets. The biggest change is how it fits into the mobile gamer’s lifestyle. Levels are short and plentiful. There are 150 levels in the first installment of the campaign, and most are under a minute in length. A multiplayer mode offers quick head-to-head battles for rank. And doing feats such as an airborne circle strafes are much easier, Industrial Toys said.

Players can craft their own characters, weapons, and armor. They can fire at long range with sniper rifles or jump into the fray with dual-wielded rocket pistols. The free-to-play game isn’t pay to win, but you can buy equipment drops that help you make progress, and you can do the customization through purchased equipment drops. The game has a high score ladder that resets every week. It will also have daily multiplayer challenges where you try to get the most headshots in a day, and there’s a head-to-head mode where you can play against someone else’s character.

Hands-on with Midnight Star: Renegade

Midnight Star: Renegade

Above: Midnight Star: Renegade

Image Credit: Industrial Toys

Seropian showed me how to go through and craft better weapons or armor. All of the parts can be combined into new, more powerful weapons. And the parts can be skinned with a custom look as well. Seropian took two parts and assembled an “ice weapon.” By adding one more part, he could create an “ice rifle,” which can do double damage against fire enemies. If you use the ice rifle on electric enemies, then it only does half damage. You can tell from the collective number for the rifle how powerful it is.

I tried out a level where some moving enemies were bounding into a room to take up positions against me. They hid behind obstacles. I pressed my finger on the enemies to target them. Then I held my finger on the target to shoot at them. The enemies kept coming at a rapid clip, so I had to be quick in dispatching each one and then moving on to the next target.

For movement, I swiped the screen from the right or the left. That enabled me to shift from one position to another. It also let me dodge bullets coming in at me. With that mechanic, I had to pay attention to enemies who were outflanking me. I could tell if I was being shot at by enemies because a red indicator lit up on the side of the screen. I could also select a grenade and toss it to get enemies that were hiding behind obstacles.

There was one rascal that kept running sideways across the screen. I had to shoot ahead of him to take him out. I also tried a grenade just to make sure I got him as you lose the level if he gets away. I got him on the second time around. So the learning curve on the game isn’t steep at all. There’s other missions such as escaping from a prison, rescuing a prison, and more. Each mission has a completion rating. If you pass with three stars, then you get the highest rewards for completing the level.

Each battle lasted about a minute. It was short and sweet. I played about five missions in five minutes.

“If it takes 10 minutes to do something fun with an app, that’s too much time,” Seropian said.

Gunslinger Studios’ Exiles of Embermark

Exiles of Embarmark

Above: Exiles of Embarmark

Image Credit: Gunslinger Studios

Exiles of Embarmark is a fantasy game where you meet warriors in the forest and fight duels with them. It was a completely different setting compared to the Midnight Star series, but it had the same minute-long battle design.

“We took the lessons we learned about mobile and [are] applying them to 60-second multiplayer rounds,” Harris said.”We’re starting with a fantasy role-playing game.”

In this title, you play a character such as a medieval knight and face off against a human enemy. You can select an action to perform from a series of bubbles on the lower right side of the screen. You can block, swing a sword, launch a major blow, or do some other kind of maneuver. The enemy selects their own move, and then the action plays out in front of your eyes. The view is over-the-shoulder.

You can attack an enemy’s armor or engage in a rage that can do buffs over time. You can negate someone else’s attack. You get a loot drop every time that a match ends. You also get some experience. You can use your winnings to arm yourself or trade for better things, like stronger shoulder pads or better swords.

“You can deck your guy out with a bunch of different loadouts,” Harris said.

The environment of the game is a living world, Harris said. There are different zones in the map where you can go on your quests. You can fight either multiplayer battles or take on the computer in a player-versus-environment battle.

 

 

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Where are they now? How these 9 social networks have fared since Twitter was born

Social Networks

A lot has happened in the ten years since Twitter was founded — Apple’s App Store and Google Play have come to fruition, the app economy is a billion-dollar industry, and mobile phones have become the new computers. This shift in the way people communicate and interact with each other opens many opportunities not only for fledgling startups, but companies born before the smartphone revolution was in full swing.

But it’s often easier for companies born during a technological shift to embrace it — Snapchat, for example, is killing it. Facebook was almost left shaking its fist at the smartphone dust cloud, but it turned things around in time and now more than half of its 1.5 billion users only ever access the service on mobile.

Twitter may be struggling by some metrics, but more than 300 million monthly active users (MAUs) is nothing to be sniffed at, with 80 percent of those active on mobile. For all the nay-saying, Twitter has done a great job of moving with the times and ensuring it isn’t left behind. So to give a little context to Twitter’s current position and place in the tech realm, it may help to take a look at other social networks that have floundered since Twitter’s inception.

Friendster

Founded by Canadian coder Jonathan Abrams in 2002, Friendster predated Twitter by some four years, and Facebook by two years. At one point it claimed north of 115 million registered users.

The company had reportedly spurned the advances of Google for a proposed $30 million acquisition in 2003, but was eventually snapped up in 2009 by MOL, a Kuala Lumpur-based payment systems vendor. MOL then sold a slew of Friendster’s patents to Facebook for a reported $40 million.

After a pivot to become a social gaming and entertainment platform in 2011 which saw it continue with some success in many parts of Asia, Friendster’s demise at the hands of the more powerful and omnipresent Facebook and, to a lesser extent Twitter, was complete by 2015. Friendster is officially “taking a break” but there’s no real hope for its revival.

Friendster Announcement

Above: Friendster Announcement

 

Status: Deceased

Myspace

Founded in 2003, Myspace also pre-dates Twitter and Facebook, and it was once the largest social network in the world, even a few years into Facebook’s arrival on the scene. Its focus on music, in particular, endeared it to millions.

Having acquired it for more than $500 million in 2005, News Corp. offloaded the site in 2011 amid falling user numbers. Even through a change of ownership and focus, and with big-name stars such as Justin Timberlake taking a piece of the Myspace pie, it has never really recovered.

That said, as of last year, Myspace was still reporting 50 million visitors each month, and staggeringly it still had access to over 465 million email addresses in the U.S. alone, and more than a billion registered users globally. It was this vast pool of data that led the mighty Time Inc. to acquire Viant, Myspace’s owner, earlier this year. Myspace may still be alive, but it’s not really kicking and it’s being stripped for its parts.

Status: Alive (but not really kicking)

Hi5

Founded out of San Francisco in 2003, Hi5 launched around the same time as Myspace and Friendster, and was once a popular social network with some reports suggesting it was second only to Myspace as late as 2007.

But with the snowballing popularity of others in the realm, Hi5 shifted away from being a strict social network into more of a social online gaming platform, though it was later acquired by fellow social network Tagged in 2011. In 2014, Tagged rebranded as an app incubator called If(we), under which Hi5 and Tagged continue to operate.

Status: Alive

Orkut

Google never quite managed to nail the whole social networking thing, but it hasn’t been for the lack of trying. Besides Google+, the Internet giant also operated Orkut — named after its creator at Google Orkut Büyükkökten — from 2004 until 2014.

Orkut never attained mainstream global success, but it was hugely popular in Brazil where it was bigger than Facebook until 2012, while India also had a penchant for the service, with a smattering of users across other markets including the U.S., China, and Japan. But Google shuttered the service completely in 2014.

Status: Deceased

Bebo

Founded out of San Francisco in 2005 by husband-and-wife team Michael and Xochi Birch, Bebo was once bigger than Myspace in the U.K. and Ireland. It was purchased by AOL for a hefty $850 million in 2008, but as was typical of social network acquisitions at that time, things did not work out well.

Two years later, AOL offloaded Bebo for a measly $10 million to digital media investors Criterion Capital Partners. Bebo never recovered, and it later filed for bankruptcy before the Birches bought it back for $1 million in 2013 with a view towards reviving it.

Bebo kinda sorta returned in 2014 as a messaging app, but not much has happened with it since then. The Android app is still live, the iOS one isn’t, and Bebo.com is no more.

Status: Deceased

Tumblr

Founded out of New York in 2007, Tumblr was born at about the right time to capitalize on the new wave of social networking ushered in by the likes of Twitter and Facebook. And it came just as the smartphone revolution kicked into gear too.

Tumblr promised great things — it was a microblogging tool in essence similar to Twitter, but for longer-form content, though Tumblr also leaned heavily on visuals such as photos and GIFs. Yahoo snapped it up in 2013 for a little more than $1 billion, and the writing has been on the wall for Tumblr ever since — Yahoo has something of a track record of running its acquisitions into the ground. With Yahoo’s days numbered, and reports of it writing down the goodwill value of Tumblr, it’s not yet clear what the future holds for the social network. While it is still popular, the original buzz and excitement around Tumblr has diminished.

Status: Alive

Foursquare

Location-based social network Foursquare is one of the most-hyped startups to emerge out of New York in recent years, with founder Dennis Crowley gracing the covers of magazines, and $600 million valuations being thrown around at the height of its buzz back in 2010/2011.

Fast forward to 2014, and a relaunch saw Foursquare scythed down the middle into two separate apps — Foursquare was to be the Yelp-killing business discovery app, and Swarm the social check-in app to tell all your friends where you are and where you’ve been.

Back in January this year, Crowley stepped down as CEO, and the company announced a fresh $45 million funding round — with a reported valuation of $250 million. Foursquare is far from dead, but it is no longer the sexy upstart it was back in the day — it holds a significant amount of location data though, and it could prove a valuable acquisition for one of the big tech titans.

Status: Alive

Google+

Google launched Google+, its long-awaited all-conquering social network, in 2011 — the company’s fourth attempt after Orkut, Google Buzz, and Google Friend Connect. Though it garnered millions of “users,” Google+ never really took off in any meaningful way — unlike Facebook or Twitter which gained traction organically through incremental uptake and word-of-mouth, Google used its clout and existing traction to try to shoehorn its new social network into people’s lives. Google+ has often been praised for its design, features, and aesthetics, but ultimately people already had their social networks of choice and the market probably didn’t need another one.

One of the biggest issues among users was being forced into signing up to Google+ to perform certain tasks, such as comment on YouTube videos. Google wanted to make Google+ the social “glue” that connected its products — your single online identity. But people didn’t want that, and Google slowly started to stop forcing users to use a Google+ profile.

Google+ is still alive, and it may still find its place following a recent redesign, but Facebook and Twitter can rest easy for now.

Status: Alive

Path

Born in the heart of the smartphone revolution, Path could’ve been a contender — it took a different approach to conventional social networks with a mobile-first approach that limited the number of friends to 50. This was later raised to 150, before the limit was removed altogether. Indeed, Path was struggling for growth and clearly wasn’t fulfilling its early potential — potential that led the company to spurn a $100 million acquisition by Google.

Path now exists as two separate apps, and the company was acquired by Daum Kakao last year to focus on its existing community of users in Asia.

Status: Alive

The future of Twitter?

Twitter is often judged against the mighty Facebook, which claims around 1.5 billion MAUs. But that may be the wrong way of looking at things. Twitter is still ridiculously popular, even though it’s finding it hard to attain the same meteoric growth managed by Mark Zuckerberg. And that is the problem of having so many shareholders to appease — the expectations of a publicly trading company mean that the pressure is on to grow, and grow big.

But “infinite growth” isn’t the only metric to judge success. Twitter is still loved by millions — when you consider the many social networks that have risen and fallen over the past 10-15 years, Twitter is still standing tall. When people trying to circumvent a giant puddle becomes worldwide news, you know you have something special.

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European airports increase security after Brussels attacks

Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system ... In a stunning disclosure, federal authorities said Monday that they may have found a way to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack, a development that could make Apple's... A much-anticipated court hearing on the federal government's effort to force Apple Inc. to unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack was abruptly vacated Monday after the FBI... It sounds like a pitch for a far-fetched movie: "Cast Away," but with a dog instead of Tom Hanks. Only this sea tale is true.

Yahoo wants greater game transparency with new daily fantasy sports updates

Outside the Yahoo office in San Francisco.

Yahoo is making some changes to its daily fantasy sports offering in an effort to make contests “more transparent and fun for all users.” Starting today, individual players will be limited to up to 10 entries per contest, the use of scripting tools to manipulate entries will be prohibited, and veteran players will be clearly labeled.

For nearly nine months, Yahoo has allowed people to play daily fantasy sports online, putting it into competition with the likes of FanDuel and DraftKings. “It was an exciting addition to our Fantasy Sports product suite and because our users were clamoring for it,” was the rationale according to Michael Le Guardia, Yahoo’s head of product for its sports and finance divisions.

“Yahoo Fantasy sports has tens of millions of registered fans, and we are making these changes today as the result of months of user experience and customer requests,” he continued. “Yahoo values an environment that is transparent and trustworthy. We also want to provide the best Fantasy games for true sports fans.”

Players can enter contests every day, for up to $600 per day. There are a variety of contests available, including 50/50 and guaranteed contests (which determine how much someone receives if they win). But in order to maintain fairness and transparency, Yahoo has opted to release several updates that it believes will maintain the entertainment value of the system.

For each contest, Yahoo limits individuals to 10 entries and further states that “in no event can a single user’s entries make up more than 1 percent of total entries in a contest.” The idea is likely to maximize the chance of more people winning and prevent monopoly by more experienced or serious players.

Other modifications include clearly distinguishing novice and recreational players from veterans, providing the latter with a badge so that you’ll know how “fair” a contest really will be. Players who have entered more than 1,000 contests in a single year, or those who have entered more than 250 contests and won in more than 65 percent of them in a year, or those who have won a single prize of $1,000 or greater more than three times in a year will receive this designation. And just like in Las Vegas casinos with its high-roller treatment, Yahoo will be creating special, free, invite-only contests for veterans.

Lastly, Yahoo has outlawed the use of automated scripts that players use to upload or edit their entries in order to maximize their chances of winning. In doing so, the company wants to level the playing field for everyone.

When asked whether these changes were made in response to recent investigations into FanDuel and DraftKings by regulators, Le Guardia responded: “The changes we’re making are based on what we think is best for Yahoo and our users. We’re focused on evolving our daily fantasy product. We have built a great platform that has been a complement to our full season fantasy games.”

With 57 million fantasy sports players estimated this year, Yahoo certainly doesn’t want to lose any advantage it may have. And with the two market leaders currently embroiled in an investigation, Yahoo wants to shore up its dominance in the arena and show that it’s a perfectly legitimate operation.

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Apple iPhone SE event showed that…(yawn)…the future is…zzzzzzzzz

Tim Cook gives update on Apple TV

You know you’re at an Apple Event when the audience applauds raucously after the person on stage announces…woven nylon watch bands.

Indeed, such is our tech culture’s current obsession with all things Apple, that this announcement even prompts a long-winded article from Wired examining the military history that lies behind WOVEN NYLON WATCH BANDS. And you know, many, many, many people wrote many, many, many stories about the WOVEN NYLON WATCH BAND news. (Yes, including us, though our piece focused on the price cut.)

I mean, people, it’s a watch band. And it’s definitely not even the first WOVEN NYLON WATCH BAND.

This highlights the awkward place where Apple and its legions of fans and journalists now find themselves. Apple has done such a masterful job over the years of making each event feel like it’s the second coming, that expectations each time an invitation goes out are stratospherically high.

It is then perennially a challenge for Apple to deliver against those expectations. Amazingly, it has done so for about a decade pretty consistently. But it’s quite likely that streak is ending, if it hasn’t already with yesterday’s event.

John Gruber, the Apple observer who writes at the Daring Fireball blog, argues that the company did its best to manage expectations around the event by holding it at the smallish town hall on its campus.

“I detect an undercurrent of ‘That’s it?’ in the collective response to today’s event, but I’m not sure what Apple could have done differently,” he wrote. “A new iPhone and a new iPad demand a proper on-stage unveiling. That the event was held in Town Hall and not a larger venue was a signal that Apple wasn’t going to unveil anything spectacular. It’s not reasonable to expect the spectacular from every single event.”

True. Though I’m not sure that any product demands a “proper on-stage unveiling” unless you’re announcing that you’ve cured Cancer. Only in the Apple universe does this logic apply. But it is a way of thinking that has been encouraged by Apple as it tries to turn each event into something grander than it really is (and mostly succeeding). It’s hard to believe that a press release or two wouldn’t have been enough.

But I understand the temptation. Getting an hour of undivided attention from the media and fans around the world who tune in via the livestream has almost unequal marketing value. Why pass on that, even if the new products are only incrementally different?

Still, as the announcements unfolded yesterday, it was hard to mask the fact that the new stuff was pretty modest. The event seemed more branding-oriented than product oriented. Apple got to talk about its stance against the FBI, its environmental work, and the progress with the research applications of its Research Kit.

Many other parts felt like executives were straining, trying too hard. Like Phil Schiller’s pitch to get iPad users to upgrade-upgrade-upgrade and his shock that 600 million people still use PCs more than 5 years old. LOL. If your sales pitch is, “Gee, people are dumb!” then perhaps its time to rethink your sales pitch. (As an aside: One could equally look at that stat think: “Wow, Windows PCs sure are durable.”)

But the “new” iPhone SE is just an update to the iPhone 5s. And the new iPad Pro is just an iPad with a different size. Solid, no doubt. Better than just about anything else out there. Probably. Yet, tweaks rather than breakthroughs.

Of course, at the same time, journalists love to ask with the same regularity, and in a somewhat demanding tone, “Can Apple excite us again?” Part of that is the simple, human desire to be, “Wowed.” And no company has done more over the past decade to wow us than Apple. But part of it is also a simple reality: Nothing consistently drives Internet traffic like an Apple Event.

So, there is a symbiotic relationship around these moments. There is an ecosystem of sorts between Apple, fans and journalists that has come to rely on this announcements.

This low-adrenaline show also has the misfortune to follow a year in which Apple really did release a wide range of new products: Apple Watch, revamped Apple TV, new Apple Music streaming service, iPad Pro. But even in the ever-busy Apple rumor mill that includes talk of driverless cars or speculation about whether Apple might be interested in virtual reality, there likely is nothing on the near-term horizon that promises to plunge the company into a new category of technology.

Toward the end of Apple’s hour-long informercial yesterday, Cook noted that this would likely be the last such event at the Town Hall on the company’s current campus. By 2017, Cook said the company hopes to be holding such events on its new spaceship campus a couple of miles away.

The rendering he showed promises a spectacular, glass-enveloped structure that will no-doubt dazzle all first-time visitors who are fortunate enough to be invited to attend. The question in the coming years is whether anything that will presented on stage inside can generate the same thrills as the building.

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Dear employers: Live video has changed the workplace forever, and you’re not adapting

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Live video, live streaming, and video messaging solutions — from Snapchat to Periscope, Facebook Messenger to Kik — are changing how the “digital native” generation views the workplace.

And frankly, they’re sick of your inability to adapt.

That’s the key finding in a report released today by Blue Jeans Network, and while the company has an obvious interest in the survey it conducted, the study gathered responses from a significant 4,000 employees across the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and France.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said that video is part of their everyday lives, but it appears there is a significant discrepancy between the employees’ usage of video and that of the companies they work for. Only 28 percent say their employers are proactively encouraging them to use video at work to communicate.

I asked Lori Wright, who has been announced today as the new chief marketing officer at Blue Jeans Network, about the shift in expectations in the workplace that live video is causing and why the conversation is moving from “cost savings” to “revenue generation.” Wright joins Blue Jeans Network after her tenure as CMO of TIBCO, where she led a 100-member strong marketing team.

“Video has been a lesser part of company collaboration for some period of time, primarily because it’s been really hard to use and expensive to set up and maintain,” Wright said. “What’s changing is that companies who make video a part of their first-line communications strategy are overcoming this setup ‘tax’ and now there are solutions that are cost-effective and easy to adopt.”

The workforce of the future agrees.


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The majority of respondents — 72 percent — said that live video has the power to transform the way they communicate at work. What’s more, 69 percent believe that increased use of video conversations would help employee retention at all levels within the organization.

According to Wright, some organizations are ahead of the curve.

“Companies are building video into every room, making it available via kiosks, ensuring their employees can access it on any device, consistently, anywhere they are in the world,” Wright said. “This is the video communication that people love, and they are seeing the direct benefit in workplace productivity.”

Unfortunately, companies that “get it” appear to be in the minority. Only 14 percent of employers are considered good — according to the survey — at providing the kind of communication tools at work that reflect those the employees use at home.

When you focus the results on younger workers — the millennials, who value community, creativity, and family values at their place of work — almost two‐thirds said that their employers could make better use of live video. Their reasons? Culture, collaboration, and training all rank high for today’s workforce, along with reducing email and transforming meetings.

“Live streaming apps are changing the way people work,” Wright said. “The future is really beautiful experiences that are consistent across devices and surprise and delight at every turn. Employees want to collaborate live, but it has to be easy. The cycle time on any interaction accelerates when work is done live. Ninety percent of communication is body language. If you can’t read body language in real time, all the time, then you aren’t seeing the whole picture.”

The study found some cultural differences that are important to note.

Almost 80 percent of U.S. employees said that collaboration and sharing are essential ingredients in a successful company and that the best use for live video is training. In France, troubleshooting customer issues came out on top, and in the U.K. and Germany, the biggest benefit is not having to travel as often.

A total of 4,000 employees, aged 18 – 65+, took part in the Blue Jeans Network survey, which is available on the company’s website. Participants were selected from a range of job roles and levels, representing several industry sectors. The companies they work for have anywhere from 100 to 1000+ employees and are located across the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France.

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