Posts from mobile

Values and Culture

If the Uber mess over the past few days tells us anything, it is that values and culture matter more than anything. They seep into the product, the user experience, the brand, and ultimately define the company in the market. And all of this comes from the top.

It is absolutely true that when you hit the bigtime, which Uber most certainly has, the media will take it to you with a vengeance. I still cringe when I think about Jessi Hempel’s Fortune cover story about Twitter in 2011. They build you up and then they bring you down. That’s the media game. You have to expect it. And right now is Uber’s turn to get the takedown.

But Uber makes it so damn easy. The win at all cost approach is so deeply ingrained in the culture that they take that attitude with the media as well. And that’s not a winning strategy with journalists. I prefer the “turn the other cheek” approach when it’s my turn to get savaged. You just have to take the heat and move on. Fighting back will get you nowhere but a world of hurt.

USV has investments in not one, but two Uber competitors. So I’m not the least bit objective here. But I’ve watched this company closely for a long time now and what I see is ruthless execution combined with total arrogance. I am in awe of what they have done. It is about the best execution I’ve witnessed in a long long time. But I am not in awe of how they conduct themselves. And I wonder if the two are connected at the hip. Can they lose the swagger without losing the execution? I guess we will see. That is the $100bn question.

Feature Friday: Phone Number Parsing

So it’s been about four weeks since I switched from a Nexus5 to an iPhone6. It’s going ok. I feel like someone who has spoken english their entire life and finds themselves living in a city where everyone speaks spanish. I can function but everything seems a bit off for me.

But there is one thing that is driving me crazy. On an Android, whenever I come across a phone number, in an email, a calendar event, a website, whatever, it’s clickable and I don’t need to cut and paste it into my phone app. On iOS it is almost always the case that when I come across a phone number, it is not clickable and I need to cut and paste it and I also find cutting and pasting much harder on an iPhone. The latter might well be “spanish vs english” but I am pretty sure the former is not.

I’m hoping that all of you iOS users out there can help me. I’m open to suggestions except that I can’t move from gmail to the native iOS mail app. I am totally reliant on gmail’s priority inbox feature and can’t operate without that. I would be happy to move my calendar from the native iOS calendar app to something that supports phone number parsing better.

Podcasting

NY Magazine has a piece up on podcasting. I think this is the money line in the post:

Connected cars are a boon for the entire streaming audio industry, but they’re especially exciting for podcast makers, whose shows are perfectly suited to in-car listening. Just as TV watchers can now choose Netflix or Amazon streams over surfing channels, radio listeners will soon have a bevy of on-demand options at their disposal.

As is often the case, a simple little thing turns out to be the big thing. That little thing is that almost every car that has been sold in the past five years has had bluetooth connectivity to the car audio system. These days your phone is connected wirelessly to your car the minute you open the door and get in it. That’s a powerful thing. The phone has become the portal to the car audio system. And so if you can get podcasts on your phone, which is trivial these days, you can listen to them on the way to work or your way home.

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It is also true that the quality of podcasting content has massively improved in the past five years. Back in 2005 and 2006, our family used to do a podcast called Positively 10th Street. It was a fun experiment but we were pretty terrible at the podcasting thing and dropped it after a year or so. All of the episodes seem to have vanished from the Internet which is shocking to me but probably a happy fact for my kids.

As the NY Mag piece explains, many public radio veterans have started podcasts and they are, as you would expect, very good. And you have things like the A16Z podcast and Spark’s Hallway Chats to listen to if you are tech or startup person and want to listen to tech/startup stuff on the way to work. The trending audio page on SoundCloud shows the most popular talk content on SoundCloud. The diversity of subject matter and styles is really extraordinary.

And there are also a host of podcasting clients for mobile phones that have come to market recently. Stitcher, Overcast, and Instacast are three popular ones. I mostly just listen on SoundCloud but if you want to have a single client that can aggregate RSS feeds as well as SoundCloud and other audio hosts, the mobile phone client is the way to go.

The only thing we need now is for Howard Stern to leave the airwaves and move to podcasting. Then podcasting would take over the world of talk radio. It seems inevitable.

Fun Friday: How Do You Message On Your Phone?

It’s time for a fun friday.

I want to know how people message on their phones.

Here’s how I do it:

Kik – I use Kik to message most of my family, my co-workers, and a few friends

iMessage – I have to say that iMessage is great. I use it to message with my daughter Emily and many people I work with. I think of iMessage as SMS+ and it’s pretty great.

Hangouts – My older daughter Jessica often will send me a Hangouts message. I think she does that when she’s at her computer and she isn’t sure if I’m on my phone or on my computer. Some of the people I work with will sometimes do that too.

I would say I use Kik about 60-70% of the time, iMessage 30% of the time, and Hangouts the rest.

How about you?

I’ve created a poll to make collecting this info easy, but I’m also interested in the color around this topic which should make good fodder for the comments.


The Cost Of Loyalty

In the local transportation market, we now have lots of options in addition to mass transit. Here in NYC, we have taxis, Lyft, and Uber. In SF and LA, we have taxis, Sidecar (our portfolio company), Lyft, and Uber. Around the country and world, there are various options including our portfolio company Hailo.

I’ve always wished there was an aggregation app that pulled all the prices and availability in real-time across all the available services and got you the best fare at the time. Or allowed you to make the choice between price and ETA (the way sidecar’s app does). It turns out there is a lot of price variability in the market and there is not one choice you can make all the time that will work out well for you. Being loyal to one app costs you.

Then this morning, a blog post popped up in my inbox courtesy of my friend Boris. In this post, they calculated the “cost of loyalty” to one just one app.

cost of loyalty

I mostly use taxis in manhattan when Citibike and subway won’t do and that’s because they are the cheapest and most available option. Uber and Lyft are for times you can’t get a cab and you’ll pay through the nose when you take that option as they are almost always surging at those times.

Another interesting thing about these charts is how taxis are the most expensive service to be loyal to in SF and LA. That is crazy. They are going to go out of business in those markets with that pricing.

But mostly I am proud that our portfolio company Sidecar is the least costly service to be loyal to. That is because they don’t use surge pricing and instead allow drivers adjust pricing in their marketplace model as they desire. Sidecar is committed to using a true marketplace and things like shared rides to deliver the lowest cost rides in the market. It is also true that Sidecar ETAs are a bit longer as this chart of SF shows:

ETAs

Going back to the opening thought, which is that someone should build an aggregation app on top of all of these services so we can replace the app on our home screen that we are most loyal to with an app that works across all services. The authors of this blog post did just that and you can use What’s The Fare to tell you who has the best price in the market. It looks like right now its just a web/mobile web app and all it does it give you the fares. If they or someone else went further, made it into a mobile app, and used the services APIs to actually book rides (if the APIs were available to do that), then we’d really have something.

That’s the way this market should work long term. I hope we can get there soon. Google Maps and Apple Maps are the ideal interfaces to make it happen. Let’s go!

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.