Posts from mobile

Feature Friday: Swiping Through Music

One of my favorite user experiences is the SoundCloud mobile music player.  I’ve been driving a lot this winter in LA and when I get into my car, I bluetooth my phone to it and put my phone next to my seat. I can go forward and back from song to song with the buttons on the steering wheel but I find myself swiping the phone instead because the experience is so delightful.

Here’s a video I took just now of the experience of swiping through music;

 It’s also super easy to move through the song by pressing and swiping:

 Thanks go out to The Isley Brothers and The Beastie Boys for the audio portion of this blog post. If you want to hear the whole thing, it’s my song of the day.

Same Day/Same Hour Delivery

At the Morgan Stanley Internet Conference a few weeks ago in SF, I was asked to sit on stage with Bill Gurley and Alfred Lin and take questions from the moderator and audience. It was fun. Bill and Alfred are two of the best VCs in the business and it was a treat to be on stage with them.

One question we got from the audience was what company was going to get most disrupted by the Internet. Bill answered Hertz and Avis, for obvious reasons. I think he’s got a great point. I answered Walmart. Here’s why.

Until now, if you want something right away, you have to go a store. If you are willing to wait, you can order it online. But it sure feels like same day/same hour delivery is coming and coming fast now. And when you can order something from Amazon, or Instacart, or Starbucks and get it right away, there are going to be a lot less reasons to go to a store.

We’ve got a horse in this race with Sidecar and I am seeing it happening right in front of my face. These real time driver networks that Sidecar, Postmates, Lyft, Uber and a handful of other companies have built can do a lot more than move people around. They can and are moving packages around. And more and more ecommerce companies (including bricks and mortar retailers!) are doing deals with these driver networks to get their stuff to their customers on the same day and even in the same hour.

This is going to put even more pressure on companies with lots of stores, lots of in store inventory and labor, and processes, systems, and procedures optimized for the in-store experience. That’s why I answered Walmart.

All that said, I am not advising you short Walmart. Please don’t take public stock market investing advice from me. I don’t know anything about that. I’m a VC.

Battery Sharing

We were at a family event last night and all three of my kids had the battery die on their phone before the event ended. I had over 80% battery on my phone. What I wished I could do was easily give them some of my battery to get them through the night.

I had this image in my mind of holding the backs of two iPhones together and hitting a button and having the one with lots of battery give some of it to the one that was running out.

Even if such a thing required connecting the two phones with a cord, it would be pretty great.

I’m wondering why this isn’t possible, particularly the connecting two phones with a cord and having one give some of its battery power to the other. I’m sure there is someone out there much smarter than I am about battery technology who can answer this question.

Of all the great things that Apple and the Android phone companies have brought to the market over the years, the one thing that still sucks about smartphones is battery life. And with billions of people walking around with these devices in their pockets, it seems that tapping into all of that excess battery power to give a dying phone some extra life would be an incredible feature. It can’t be that they haven’t considered it. It has to be that its not easy to do. But I’m not sure why.

Back To Android

When we got back from our sabbatical in Europe last fall, I got an iPhone. I’ve been using it for roughly six months. I have enjoyed wrapping my head around the iPhone and the iPhone ecosystem. I’ve learned a bunch. And now I’m heading back to Android.

I bought a Nexus6 from the Google Play Store yesterday and plan to start using it when I get back to NYC at the end of the month. I plan to go back to iOS when the next iPhone ships, and then back to Android six months after that. In this way, I can stay current on both operating systems and ecosystems which I think is useful in my business.

There are some apps that are available on the iPhone and not on Android. I enjoyed being able to use them. I like TouchID for unlocking my phone and certain high security apps on my phone. And that’s about it in terms of things I am going to miss when I go back to Android.

I am jazzed about getting notifications back in my life the way I want them, I am jazzed about getting google apps like gmail and calendar and drive that work the way they are supposed to work, I am jazzed about having only one map application and the best one on my phone, and I am jazzed about getting back to an operating system that works the way I want to work.

The iPhone is a great phone. But its not any better than a top of the line Android phone. They are more or less the same. And I prefer Android. Which makes me a minority in the US, particularly in the mid and high end of the market.

Speaking of Android, here’s a great post from Benedict Evans on why Xiaomi matters when you are thinking about Android.

Some Thoughts On Watches

One of my most controversial predictions at year end was:

The Apple Watch will not be the homerun product that iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been. Not everyone will want to wear a computer on their wrist.

With the Pebble Time making records on Kickstarter this month, with the iWatch coming soon, and with a host of Android powered watches coming to market, it sure feels like the “watch moment” in tech.

However, I continue to think that these computers on your wrist are not going to be a mainstream thing.

Monday night we went out to dinner with a bunch of tech investors in LA. Not one of the women at the table was interested in wearing an iWatch or any other “smartwatch”. Not one of them. They all said that watches are jewelry for them and they are interested in beauty and fashion on their wrists, not features and functions. Only one of the men was interested in an iWatch and he said he wouldn’t wear it but he wanted to “play with it.”

Yesterday at the Morgan Stanley Internet Conference, I was on stage with Bill Gurley and Alfred Lin and we were asked about the iWatch. There were several hundred public market tech investors in the room. I asked the room how many wore watches. About half raised their hands. I then asked how many were going to get the iWatch. About 20% raised their hands.

If 40% of watch wearers get an iWatch, then its going to be a massive hit. But that was a room full of tech investors.

I guess to some extent this is a question of expectations. And I have no idea what the expectations are for iWatch sales this year. I don’t really care about iWatch. But I am interested how many people who carry a smartphone in our pockets and purses will wear a companion device on our wrists. I just don’t think it will be that large of a percentage.

And every time I ask the question of real people who have the means to buy anything they want, I get answers that more or less reinforce my views.

So take that for what it’s worth. Soon enough we will know the real answer. And it is important because developers will build for this new platform. New applications will emerge for this platform. And it really matters if its the next big mobile device category or if its more of a niche business.

LTE in the WiFi Spectrum

Apparently T-Mobile is getting ready to launch an LTE service in the unlicensed WiFi spectrum.

I’ve written a fair bit here at AVC over the years about the fact that unlicensed spectrum provides a path for way more innovation than licensed spectrum. I am a big fan of unlicensed spectrum and I believe that the secret to more mobile bandwidth in the coming years is more unlicensed spectrum and less licensed spectrum. I believe that auctioning off the most valuable and useful spectrum to the highest bidders, who often warehouse and under utilize it, is bad policy.

This move by T-Mobile is very interesting to me in a number of dimensions:

1) Can LTE and WiFi (and everything else in the 5Ghz band) play nice with each other?

2) If this works, is this a model for going forward? Why not have the mobile carriers provide services in unlicensed bands versus licensing them valuable spectrum?

3) Does this provide T-Mobile a cost advantaged model for competing in mobile broadband (not having to spend billions to buy licensed spectrum)?

I suppose there are many more interesting questions that will be surfaced and maybe answered as a result of this move by T-Mobile. I’d be very curious to hear them in the comments.

I love that T-Mobile is playing the scrappy underdog role so well in the mobile carrier market and continuing to innovate and disrupt the established norms and business models. I’m a happy and proud T-Mobile customer and plan to remain so.

The Mobile Phone Addiction

A year or two ago, the Gotham Gal and I were at dinner and were seated next to a young couple. It wasn’t clear if the young couple were on a date, or they were in a relationship, or they were married. We didn’t ask. But they were on their phones for the entire dinner. They did not talk to each other much, if at all. That scene bothers me. I see it all the time in one way or another.

My mobile phone addiction has waned over the years. The worst was the early Blackberry years of the late 90s. I couldn’t keep my Blackberry in my pocket. It was not good. I learned over time how to manage the addiction and by the time the smartphone arrived, I had largely conquered that urge to pull the phone out to distract, disengage, and go somewhere else. I still do it, but I am aware of the urge, and resist it constantly.

Last weekend, we arrived at a restaurant early for a dinner with a friend. The place was packed and the area around the bar was jammed. They asked us to wait at the bar until our table was free and our friend arrived. We were getting pushed and bumped into. Waiters and waitresses were constantly asking to get through. It was not pleasant. We couldn’t even get to the bar to order a drink. I felt this powerful urge to pull out my phone and distract myself from all of that craziness. But I decided to keep my phone in my pocket and just stand there and be present in the chaos. So that’s what I did. But that urge to pull out the phone was powerful. It’s a drug like any other drug.

I see my kids and their generation struggle with this addiction. When a text comes in, they can’t ignore it. They have to grab the phone and see who it is. And as the conversation goes on, they can’t put the phone down even if there are people in the room they can easily converse with. And it is not just the generation that grew up with a phone in their pocket. It is all of us.

The worst of it is in the car. Texting and driving is a scourge. We must find a solution to that. Maybe its a societal movement, like the way we have approached drunk driving. Or maybe its a technological solution. I’ve written about that before.

Having a powerful computer in our pocket that is connected to billions of computers in other pockets in real time is the reality of our time. And it is a drug. And we are all addicted to it in some ways. Being aware of the addiction and working on controlling it has helped me a lot over the years and I encourage everyone to work on it. You can either control it or it will control you.

People Plus Packages

The ability for anyone to get in their car and open up an app and get business has turned into an enormous market in the past five years. The two biggest categories are “ridesharing” (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) and “delivery” (Postmates, Deliv, etc).

But there isn’t any reason why these two categories need to be separate. The most efficient utilization of the car and the driver’s time is to put people plus packages into the car at the same time.

And that is what our portfolio company Sidecar is announcing today. Sidecar has leveraged their shared rides technology (where two riders can share a trip and save a lot of money) to make it possible for a driver to pick up a passenger and then a package (or the other way around) and do the trip at the same time.

Sidecar is not doing the delivery piece direct to the consumer (like Postmates or UberFresh) but instead is a third party logistics provider to ecommerce companies that want to offer same day (or same hour) delivery to their customers at a price that is affordable.

Sidecar has been offering “people plus packages” in San Francisco for a while now and it has reached 10% of total ride volume. Their ecommerce partners are getting prices that are up to 80% below traditional same day delivery fees and they have cut delivery times in half. Today they are announcing that they are expanding their same day delivery service to all of their markets in the US.

Combining people plus packages is a win/win/win. Riders get even lower prices for their rides. Drivers make more money (up to 75% more in the San Francisco trial). And ecommerce companies get a less costly and faster way to get their products delivered same day (or even same hour).

Sidecar has a delivery API that allows you to integrate their driver network directly into your app so that your users can see the progress of their delivery in real time. If you are an ecommerce company that wants to leverage Sidecar’s network of drivers around the US, you can visit their Delivery page and learn more.

The innovation cycle in the “ridesharing” market is breathtaking. If you want to stay in the game you have to keep innovating and do that quickly. The result is new services, new markets, and new possibilities. And people plus packages is exactly that.

Hiring Mobile Engineers vs Training Engineers On Mobile

We have watched many of our large “web first” portfolio companies struggle to make the change from web first to mobile first. By now, most of them (but not all of them) have made the transition. And it is not an easy transition.

Most of them built up “mobile teams” that are made up of mobile product managers, mobile engineers, and mobile designers. These teams are tasked with designing and building mobile apps to compliment the web apps that made these companies successful. This can and does work, but it is suboptimal for a whole host of reasons.

Some of those reasons are:

1) mobile engineers, designers, and product managers are in short supply and are very expensive. on the engineering side, an iOS or Android specialist could cost as much as 1.5x to 2x what a web specialist costs.

2) the web and mobile apps are not two separate things. they are a continuum of user experience from web to mobile or mobile to web, and back. having two entirely different teams building these two applications can cause all sorts of problems.

3) many things need to be rolled out on web and mobile at the same time. localization is a good example of this. so is a new payments system.

The other approach is to train your product, engineering, and design teams in mobile so that your web specialists can become mobile specialists too. This fits nicely into the notion of a “full stack engineer” who can do it all when necessary.

Several of our “web first” portfolio companies have invested in this model with great results. This is not something that you can do overnight. It takes time. So its not a great solution for a raw startup, but there are examples of very young USV portfolio companies where one or two of the leading engineers on the team picked up iOS and Android development skills quickly and led the mobile development efforts.

The thing of it is that a great engineer can learn any new environment or any new language if you give him or her the time and place to do it. The same is true of a great designer and a great product manager.

Mobile requires new skills and new ways of thinking. Mobile is different. But it also can be learned if you make the right investment in your people and partner with the right training partners.

In a board meeting of one of our most successful “web first” companies last week, we learned that they no longer have a mobile engineering team or a mobile product team. All the engineering and product teams do mobile and web at the same time in the same team. They still have some small teams that work on mobile growth and other specific issues that are unique to mobile. But most of the product, design, and engineering work on mobile happens in the same teams that do the web work. They have fully absorbed mobile into the way they plan, design, and make things. That was a watershed moment for me and led to this post.

This all comes back to the question of hire from outside vs invest in your people. Of course you have to do both if you are growing quickly. But as Jerry Colonna told me many years ago now, the companies that invest in their people are the best companies to work for and to invest in. So when you are thinking about how to do something new, don’t always look outside for new blood. Think about getting your best people to learn some new tricks. It can work and it does work.

Another Tweetstorm Rant

I got fed up yesterday with seeing this on my phone all the time

facebook notification

That red notification next to the Facebook app is basically permanent because it is about messages that I need to download FB messenger to receive and clear the notification. I love notifications, they are the primary way I navigate my phone, and I am just a little bit OCD about clearing them. But I don’t use FB messenger. I use iMessage with my family, Kik with USV folks and a few others, and SMS via iMessage for the rest. So I’ve avoided downloading FB Messenger because I don’t need yet another messenger on my phone.

Yesterday afternoon I ran out of patience after seeing a new notification, clicking on it, only to find it was yet again a prompt to download FB Messenger. I decided to rant a little bit on Twitter and fired off the following tweetstorm:

ts #1TS #2TS #3

I am a big fan of the “constellation” approach to mobile apps. Google does it well. Dropbox does it well. Facebook does it well. I think its a trend that will continue because less is more in the mobile app user experience and app developers and the mobile operating systems are making it easier to seamlessly move from app to app, like what happens on the web already.

But there is a bridge too far and I think using mobile notifications to force someone to download an app they really don’t want, just to clear the damn notification, is exactly that.

I’m hoping users and developers reject this approach. I’m afraid they won’t because it has worked so well for Facebook.