Posts from mobile

The Second Coming Of Sign In With Twitter

First a disclosure. The Gotham Gal and I personally own a lot of Twitter stock. I am not objective. With that behind me, I am going to talk a bit about Fabric today.

One of my great disappointments during the years I was closely involved at Twitter was the failure to make Sign In With Twitter a competitive offering with Facebook and then Google. In the early days of OAuth, Twitter was an innovator and leader in this area. But we did not invest enough in the technology and partnership development, we did not supply email addresses via the service, and we did not have as many users. Over time signing into an app with Twitter has declined as an option with developers in favor of Facebook and, increasingly, Google. And it bothered me a lot. Still does.

Yesterday Twitter announced Fabric, which is a set of tools for mobile developers that is an attempt to change that. The timing could not be better. We talk to a lot of mobile developers who come into our office seeking capital and mostly getting advice. I am alway interested in where they get their logins from. Most offer sign in with Facebook but many users are choosing not to use that these days. Many offer sign in with Google and that is growing in popularity but signing in with Google works way better on Android than iOS. Signing in with email remains a popular option, way more popular than you might imagine.

That tells me that there is an opening for Twitter to get back into this game in a big way and Fabric is their attempt to do just that. The enticements to use Fabric for developers are Crashlytics, a very popular crash reporting tool that Twitter purchased, MoPub, a mobile ad exchange that Twitter purchased, and Digits, the new mobile sign on offering. Crashlytics and MoPub are both really good services for analytics and monetization, but it is Digits that got my attention yesterday.

Digits lets you sign with your phone number without providing an email or a password. According to Twitter:

So we’re excited to announce Digits – part of the Twitter Kit – which is sign-in with phone number done right. It’s built on Twitter infrastructure so you don’t have to worry about managing multiple relationships with carriers and SMS interchanges. Digits is fully themeable so that it fits the user experience you’ve designed for your app. Digits won’t post anything on your user’s behalf since it isn’t tied to their social network accounts, including Twitter. And with Digits, your apps are ready for global adoption: it’s available immediately in 216 countries and in 28 languages, on iOS, Android and the web.

Here are the big things for me in this new service:

– Won’t post anything on your user’s behalf because it isn’t tied to their social network accounts, including Twitter. This is what got Facebook’s sign in product in trouble with users. This is a big deal.

– Available in 216 countries and 28 languages, on iOS, Android, and the web. Getting anything that involves the phone system (phone numbers and SMS) working all around the world is not trivial.

– No password required. It’s a pain to remember user ids, email addresses, and passwords. That’s why signing in with Facebook and Google is such an enticing thing to a user. Signing in with your phone number is an even better option in my mind.

So I’m excited to see Twitter take another swing at providing sign on tools and identity services to developers, particularly mobile developers. I’m hoping it’s a home run for them.

The Personal Cloud

Benedict Evans coined the term “personal cloud” in his writeup of WWDC in June. He said:

what you might call the personal cloud – the Bluetooth LE/Wifi mesh around you (such as HealthKit or HomeKit)

I like to think about what’s next.

Paul Graham said, “If you think of technology as something that’s spreading like a sort of fractal stain, almost every point on the edge represents an interesting problem.”

And in that context, the personal cloud is a particularly interesting “point on the edge” to me. It includes the following things:

1) NFC and other technologies that will turn the mobile phone into your next credit card

2) Phone to phone mesh networking like we saw with Fire Chat in Hong Kong a few weeks ago

3) Wearables like the watch, necklace, and earbud

4) Personal health data recording (HealthKit) in which your phone has a real time and historical chart of your heartbeat, blood chemistry, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and much more.

5) Airplay and Chromecast and other technologies that will turn the mobile phone into both the next settop box and remote

I could probably go on and list another five things that fit into the personal cloud, but I will stop there.

If the first wave of the mobile phone’s impact on the tech sector was driven by applications running on the phone, the second wave will be driven by the phone connecting to other devices, including other phones.

I am particularly fascinated about what happens when our phones connect to other phones in dense environments and form meshes that don’t need the traditional Internet connectivity to power them. Mesh networks don’t just solve the problem of lack of traditional connectivity (Hong Kong), they also produce a solution to the last mile connectivity duopoly in wireline and oligopoly in wireless. In the future we may just opt out of those non-competitive markets and opt into a local mesh to get us to the Internet backbone, both in our homes and when we are out and about.

And phone to phone meshes form local “geofenced” networks that are interesting in their own right. A nice example of this is the peek feature in Yik Yak where you can see the timeline at various universities around the US. These Yik Yak peeks are not powered by mesh networking, they are just using the geolocation feature on the phone. But they could be a collection of mesh networks operating in various universities around the country. And so that example is enlightening to me.

I wanted to end this post with an image of a person walking down the street surrounded by their personal cloud and all the devices that are connected to it. But a quick image search did not produce it for me. That in and of itself is telling. That’s our future. But right now we are still in the imagining phase of it.

Feature Friday: SoundCloud Cards On Twitter Mobile

Yesterday afternoon I was in a meeting at our portfolio company SoundCloud and I got a Kik from Kirk who said “did you see the new SoundCloud cards running inside Twitter?”

When we had a break in our meeting, I replied and said “No, but I saw the buzz on the feature on Twitter” and then asked him to Kik me a Tweet I could look at on my phone.

He kik’d me this one and I played it on my phone from inside Twitter (open that link on your phone in Twitter if you want to see it in action).

The really cool thing about this new card is you can minimize the SoundCloud card (like you can minimize a video on YouTube) and then keep listening to the music while you move away from the tweet.

That’s a big deal because most SoundCloud tracks are 2-5mins long and you wouldn’t want to keep that tweet open on your phone for 2-5mins if you could avoid doing that just to hear the entire track.

Apparently this feature (called Twitter Audio) will be available to other audio partners. This is a great move for Twitter and a great thing for SoundCloud and other audio companies too.

Some Initial Thoughts On iPhone6 and iOS8

I got my new iPhone6 from T-Mobile on Thursday. I spent Thursday evening setting it up and putting all the Android apps I regularly use on it. I’ve been using it as my primary phone since Thursday night and after three full days on it, I have some early observations.

1) The TouchID service is pretty great. I secure my phone with a password and although its a little thing to simply be able to hold your thumb down instead, little things sometimes are the biggest things and TouchID is like that. I really like it.

2) I miss the three buttons at the bottom of an Android phone. I’m never sure how to get back to a previous screen on iOS. I’ve come to realize that by tapping at the top of the screen, I can often get back to the previous screen. But it is super nice to have a back button that works identically on every app and I miss that.

3) I don’t like having two maps services on the phone. Some apps default to Apple Maps and I prefer Google Maps. Maybe its possible to change the defaults so that all the apps go to Google Maps but I’m not sure how to do that.

4) I don’t understand why Google doesn’t make GCal for iPhone. I really dislike the native mail and calendar programs for iOS and wish I could use the native google apps for both mail and calendar. This is probably the number one reason I will most likely go back to Android. Mail and Calendar and Maps are three huge things for me and I’m not comfortable with the Apple versions of those products.

5) Notifications on iOS works a lot like Android now. But I miss getting the notifications across the top of my home screen. Having to swipe down to see them is one step more than I’d like to have to do. I realize you get a notifications count on the app icon, but if that app is not on the home screen, I don’t see it.

6) I like the “today” tab in the notifications service. Its a lot like what Google has done with Google Now. I think Google should copy Apple and put Google Now into the notifications service.

As I am writing this it occurs to me that I am trying to use iOS like I use Android. I’ve set up my iPhone home screen to be as identical to my Android home screen as I can. I’m trying to make iOS work the way I am used to working. I realize it would be better to fully embrace iOS and go with the flow. But I’m not sure I can do that. I am a creature of habit even though my move to iOS was all about getting out of my comfort zone.

It is interesting to me that the two dominant operating systems are becoming more similar as Apple copies the best parts of Android (notifications being a prime example) and Google copies the best parts of iOS. It was not that hard to move from Android to iOS (other than downloading all of those apps and configuring them). When I go back to Android in three to six months, I don’t think that change will be particularly hard either.

We have a duopoly in mobile operating systems and that seems how the mobile market will operate, at least in the near future. Both Apple and Google are spending huge sums of money to stay competitive with each other. Both make fantastic mobile operating systems that work really well. As I’ve said before, mobile has matured. Maybe if I’m looking to get outside of my comfort zone, I need to be looking somewhere else for a new and different experience.

Feature Friday: The One Tap Checkin

In commemoration of my first full day with an iPhone6 (today), we are going to talk about a pretty cool feature that just arrived on the iPhone – the one tap checkin.

If you have the swarm app on your iPhone (get it here), you swipe down to get your notifications, and in the Today tab, you go to the bottom and hit edit.

You will see various widgets that you can add to your today notifications. Select Swarm and hold it down to position it (I put it on top). Then save.

Then when you want to check in, you just swipe down to get your notifications and you will see something that looks like this:

Then you can tap the checkin icon and you are checked in.

I just did this and checked into the Kava Cafe. It works like a charm.

As you can see Swarm will also tell you where your nearby friends are in the notifications timeline.

All in all, a super cool feature. I will be using it a lot.

Switching Things Up

The thing I most want to avoid is to come back from a long break and get right back into my habits and routines. There are exceptions, of course. I can’t wait to get back to my bike rides and my yoga practice. But in other areas, I want to switch things up.

I’m still working through what these new things will be. I have some ideas about the flow of my work week that I want to change.

But the first change I am going to make is to swap my Nexus5 for an iPhone6. I’ll use the iPhone6 until at least the new Nexus6 comes out sometime this fall.

I have an iPhone that I use to try out iOS only apps. But I have not used an iPhone as my every day phone since 2008. I’ve been carrying an Android as my primary phone for at six years.

I figure it’s time to change that, at least for a bit. So I’m going to walk into the T-Mobile store near my office today and buy an iPhone6. I am not really looking forward to learning a new OS and setting the phone up. But no pain, no gain.

I will let you all know how it goes.

My Current Home Screen

Screenshot_2014-09-21-18-03-25

here’s the current state of my phone’s home screen.

adds:

– snapchat – which along with Kik is how i stay in touch with my son Josh at college

– audible – which we are using to listen to audiobooks on our trip. i think we will continue to use audible on our drives back and forth to our house in long island so it’s now on the home screen

– wordpress – because i’ve been blogging on my phone a lot on this trip. i think i will continue to do that when we get back. it’s awesome.

to make room for all of these adds I took off the search bar. i find myself just going to Chrome to search anyway and i wasn’t using it

Audio Books – Late To The Party

We were driving up the coast of Italy from Rome to Genoa listening to music being bluetoothed from my phone to the car’s audio system and the Gotham Gal said, “let’s listen to some audio books on this trip.” I was dubious but she was adamant. “I tried it on a drive from NYC to Long Island this summer and it is really great”, she said. So I replied “sure.” Later that night in our hotel, using their wifi, I downloaded the Audible app and a few books onto my phone.

We started with Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence. That was awesome. Listening to a book about a place like Provence while driving around Provence is a fantastic experience. That sold me hook line and sinker on this audio book in the car thing.

Then we went for Daniel James Brown’s The Boys In The Boat. We failed to check how long the audio book was before selecting it. This particular audio book is 14 hours 25 minutes. Good thing we were taken with the story. We stuck it out and finished it yesterday. We cheered as the author ended the story. That was a marathon. All that said, it is a great story about the boys from the University of Washington who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 in the eight category.

The strange thing about audio books is the play time of the book and the page length of the book are not directly correlated. Boys In The Boat took 14 hours 25 minutes to listen to and it is 416 pages. A Year In Provence took 2 hours and 52 minutes to listen to and the book is 224 pages. I think it may have to do with the fact that the audio book version of A Year In Provence we listened to is abridged.

In any case, we found that three hours is a great length for an audio book. Fourteen and a half hours felt a bit long, maybe even more than a bit long.

We are now listening to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Given that we are now in Paris having recently been in Barcelona, Pamplona, and San Sebastian, it seemed like the right time to revisit that novel.

The Gotham Gal’s pitch on audio books is that it makes long drives fly by. I am not sure they “fly by”, but I would agree that listening to a great narrator read an interesting story does make long drives a lot more enjoyable.

It looks like we’ve got a new pastime. And I’m happy about that.

Hyperlocal Mesh Networks

The NY Times has a post up this morning about a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Red Hook where they have built a hyperlocal mesh network to service the entire neighborhood, from housing projects to townhouses.

Red Hook is a cool place. We were there last night to sample Hometown Bar-B-Que‘s massive beef ribs and a bunch of other great stuff. Red Hook is isolated from the rest of Brooklyn by the BQE Expressway and sits right on NY Harbor. It has a collection of different housing situations, from single family homes, to factory lofts, to housing projects. The only public transportation in Red Hook are bus lines into downtown Brooklyn and the occasional Ikea Ferry. It’s a neighborhood all to itself in many ways.

Red Hook was badly flooded in Hurricane Sandy and living there in the weeks after the storm was dicey. The neighborhood has bounced back strongly however and there are construction jobs seemingly on every block. In the wake of Sandy, a local group called the Red Hook Initiative led an effort to build a hyperlocal mesh network throughout Red Hook.

For those that don’t know the difference between a mesh network and a traditional network, the big thing to focus on is that the nodes (think of them like public wireless access points) talk to each other and form a network that operates even if its is not connected to the public Internet. Most mesh networks are connected to the public Internet, but if that connection goes down, the local mesh continues to work. In Red Hook that means that you could make voice calls (over IP) from your housing project to the local hardware store to see if its open. Or you could email a friend who lives in the neighborhood.

If every neighborhood in Brooklyn had a public mesh like Red Hook has, and if they were all meshed with each other, then Brooklyn would have its own local Internet of sorts.

At USV, we think this is an important part of how we (meaning the entire world) get a mobile Internet that is not controlled by the large mobile telcos. We have made one investment in this area (which I don’t think we have announced yet) and we are looking to find other smart ways to invest in this trend.

But the biggest investments that will be made in mesh networking will be made by local groups like Red Hook Initiative. It is not terribly expensive to construct one of these mesh networks and every neighborhood ought to be thinking of doing something like this. If everyone did this, the mobile Internet would look a lot different than it does today.