Google Now Allowing Project Fi Customers To Check Their Invite Status

Google Now Allowing Project Fi Customers To Check Their Invite Status
Early adopters who signed up for Project Fi, Google’s recently announced initiative to provide its own cellular service, can now keep better tabs on the status of their requested invite thanks to a new online tool Google rolled out this week. Potential Project Fi customers were alerted to the availability of the tool by way of an email which informed them that they could now track the status of their invite via the Project Fi sign-up page.
Unfortunately, for many customers, the new page isn’t yet showing a timeframe.
While a number of users report seeing expected timeframes of “3-4 weeks” or “4-8 weeks,” for example, many others are instead being shown a message that reads “We’re still determining your status. Check back here for updates.” (Not so useful!)
And despite repeated requests from users on Twitter, the support account for Project Fi hasn’t offered an explanation of what having no provided timeframe means, or when those users should expect to see an update.
Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 1.25.48 PM
What’s interesting is that those whose invite status is still undetermined include people who signed up on day one. In other words, invites don’t appear to be rolling out based on who asked first – Google is clearly using some other criteria to determine which invites are being processed. It’s likely that the company is making determinations based on zip code and mobile coverage, as the network involves using a special Project Fi SIM card that allows a Nexus 6 Android smartphone to run on top of Sprint and T-Mobile’s cellular networks.
The company said earlier this spring that Project Fi invites would roll out to everyone by mid-summer, noting then that an online tool to check invite status would soon become available.
Users’ interest in the new network has a lot to do with its affordability. Project Fi is a contract-free MVNO with plans that start at $20 per month for unlimited talk and text, plus Wi-Fi tethering support. You then pay for data as you go at $10 per GB. In addition, users will receive credit for unused data at the end of the month.
The service is also integrated with Google Hangouts, allowing users to place calls from their mobile number on tablets and laptops, as well as from their phone.
Though many are still waiting on their Project Fi invites, some have already received their Nexus 6 and SIM card, and are sharing their unboxing images across social media, as seen below.
Image credits, via Google+: John Blossom, Fernando M., Robert Nelson, Ian Lake

Lyft Acqui-Hires The Team From Messaging App Leo To Improve Location And Other Features

Lyft Acqui-Hires The Team From Messaging App Leo To Improve Location And Other Features
Lyft has acqui-hired the team behind Leo, a disappearing messaging app for one-on-one or group conversations. We’re told the deal was finalized this past weekend and that co-founders Carlos Whitt, AustIn Broyles and Jisi Guo started their new jobs at Lyft on Monday.
Lyft declined to disclose the terms of the deal, but Whitt, who’s startup raised $1.5 million from investors, did tell TechCrunch, “Our investors are happy with the acquisition.”
This is the ride-hailing platform’s fourth acquisition to date after Hitch, Rover and Cherry. It’s also one Lyft hopes will improve a number of features within the Lyft app around the customer experience, particularly with helping drivers find passengers.
Competitor Uber can already pull a user’s exact location with built-in GPS-tracking technology, but that’s still a clunky process with Lyft. I still have to type in my address or drop the pin to my location in Lyft – even then I’ve experienced a lost driver on occasion.
Mobile location technology is something with which Whitt has some experience. He and Lyft’s CTO Chris Lambert worked together on Google’s mobile maps at one point. The two developed that little blue location dot you see on Google Maps.
Leo team from left to right: Jisi Guo, Carlos Whitt, Austen Broyles
Whitt and Lambert remained friends and started discussing the pain points of the Lyft app a while back – Whitt, I’m told, had an earful of ideas for how Lambert could improve things. But Whitt was not interested in more than sharing his opinion at the time as he was busy building his startup, first with Leo and then with the gif-generating Camoji app. Then Whitt got restless. His apps were doing okay, but not stellar. He knew the app market was a rough one and started to look around at opportunities within other startups. Lambert eventually brought him into Lyft HQ to talk acquisition.
Whitt has plans to touch every aspect of the passenger experience within the Lyft app, from the moment someone signs up to when they get to their destination. But his location experience will most likely play a big part in helping Lyft improve figuring out a passenger’s whereabouts.
Whitt and Lyft didn’t want to go into details on exactly which features his team will tackle first, but it is conceivable that improving rider and driver location tracking will be part of his focus.
Whitt’s team might also work on payments. Whitt and Broyles were at Square before breaking off into their messaging apps startup. The two worked on the Square Cash team and helped implement Square’s payments system with Starbucks while there. Lyft is pretty robust in the customer payments feature – it already incorporates credit cards.
But any improvements here wouldn’t be for the passenger. Lyft is pretty solid in the customer payments feature – it already incorporates credit card payments, PayPal and Apple Pay. However, they could work on improving transaction processing and payments to drivers, including features to help drivers monitor their earnings in real-time.
Lyft Line could also see some tweaks at the hand of Whitt, Broyles and Guo. Lyft’s Hitch acquisition helped create the Line service, which now accounts for more than 50 percent of the ride hailing platform’s transactions in San Francisco and more than 30 percent of them in New York City. Improving the routing points for faster rides and better matches with co-riders close by would not only improve the customer experience but would allow drivers to pick up more passengers faster and potentially make more money by increasing the number of rides. Improving the experiences within that offering will likely be a priority for the engineering team.
Lyft contracts with more than 100,000 drivers and provides more than 2 million rides per month in just the U.S. And despite several regulatory barriers, it’s also on an upward growth trajectory. According to Lyft, the startup grew by a magnitude of 5x’s in both rides and revenue in 2014. But there’s a lot of work for Whitt and team to do to turn the app into a smoother experience for both customers and drivers in the coming months.
Leo and Camoji will sunset in a few weeks and the team will now work full time improving Lyft’s mobile app.

For Potential Recruits, VC Is So 1999

For Potential Recruits, VC Is So 1999
There’s a lot to love about being a venture capitalist. You meet with smart people every day. You make money regardless of whether your investments work. People assume you have smart opinions about things.
Strange as it may seem, however, a growing number of illuminati are passing up the chance to work with established firms to do their own thing. Among the newest of them: Avidan Ross, a former private investment company CTO turned angel investor, who says he met with a number of firms about tie-ups before setting out to raise his own $31.4 million fund from mostly high-net-worth individuals. (He announced its closing earlier this month.)
Why would anyone pass up the chance to land a plum role with a venture firm that’s managing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars? The overarching reason, of course, is that they can.
Often, such potential recruits have already made enough money to gamble on themselves. Think of Aydin Sekut of Felicis Ventures, Manu Kumar of K9 Ventures and dozens of other individuals who’ve turned themselves into venture capitalists over the last decade.
It’s also easier than ever for those who haven’t yet made their fortune to raise a fund, particularly given growing mainstream interest in startup deals. Venture capitalist Niko Bonatsos works for General Catalyst Partners but sees many of his peers taking alternative paths. As he puts it, “If someone can [raise and] invest $30 million or $40 million themselves, why wouldn’t they do that? It’s like, ‘You’re a young guy, you know founders. Here’s $10 million. Go invest it.”
Indeed, the trend away from traditional VC – dating back to 2006, with the advent of “micro VC” – seems to be growing more pronounced, for a few reasons.
For one thing, with companies staying private longer, a lot of potential recruits who might otherwise have cashed out are still working inside highly valued companies. “In terms of vesting schedules, it doesn’t always make sense to leave a job for VC, especially for younger people who haven’t been entrepreneurs or executives and haven’t had a major liquidity event,” says Bonatsos.
Also making the equation harder: Venture firms often want to pursue young consumer experts who started at companies like Facebook and Twitter. But with capital continuing to rush into startups, never has there been a better time for them to launch another, new company themselves.
“Why work for a piece of 20 percent to 30 percent carry instead of a huge piece of your own company?” asks Bonatsos.
Yet another factor is simply the wide-sweeping cultural shift we’re seeing. It’s no secret that millennials don’t view the workplace in the same way as previous generations. In fact, Intuit has published a report predicting that fully 40 percent of U.S. workers will be self-employed by 2020.
Some won’t have a choice, but others are deliberately avoiding traditional companies. As Patricia Nakache, a general partner at Trinity Ventures who spends a lot of time thinking about on-demand opportunities, recently told us: “Millennials are much less receptive to the monolithic education or work-experience notion that, ‘I’m going to have this job with a single company for 10 or 12 years or take all my classes from one-four year institution,’” she says. “They’re really beginning to question the boundaries of those experiences.”
That’s saying nothing of the impracticality of joining a venture firm if you want to focus more narrowly on seed-stage investments, says Hunter Walk, a former product manager at Google who co-founded the seed-stage firm Homebrew in early 2013 with Satya Patel, a former Twitter VP who also spent time in both venture firms and at Google earlier in his career.
By sheer dint of joining a venture firm, Walk argues, the firm will need more capital to rationalize the newest GP’s seat at the table, which makes playing in early rounds harder and harder.
Venture firms probably aren’t losing too much sleep over this shift.
Though recruiting top candidates may be harder than in the past, VCs still have plenty of leverage when it comes to attracting talent, starting with their established brands. As Walk readily concedes, brand matters.
At Google, for example, “People cared a lot more about the ‘’ part than the ‘Hunter’ part” when emailing, he says, laughing. “Being able to draw on that sort of brand name and these big service arms that can help run events and do industry analysis – there are certainly days when aspects of that are appealing,” he says.
There are also many more potential candidates than available jobs at top venture firms.
It mirrors many other industries in Silicon Valley, notes Josh Elman, a former operator at both Facebook and Twitter who is today a partner at Greylock Partners. “Yahoo has more trouble recruiting than Google. Some companies just have more success when it comes to pulling in strong candidates,” he observes.
Perhaps the biggest reason for most firms to rest easy, though, adds Elman, is that while more people than ever are setting up shop for themselves, it will always be the case that there are more “joiners” than “founders.”
“If you’re a founder, you should start a company,” he says. “But if you’re a joiner, like me, you find great, iconic opportunities and help them be better.”

Meerkat Outs An Embeddable Player, Hooks Discovery Channel’s Shark Week

Meerkat Outs An Embeddable Player, Hooks Discovery Channel’s Shark Week
Livestreaming app Meerkat has launched an embeddable player so that content being broadcast to the app can be embedded into and viewed on other digital services. The first implementation of the player is with the Discovery Channel, for its annual Shark Week multi-platform event — which begins July 5.
The Meerkat player will be used to add behind-the-scenes content on the channel’s DLive web portal, as part of a round-up of streaming content. Shark Week content will also be pushed out to Meerkat users, via a @SharkWeek account, giving Discovery’s programming another digital outlet.
Streaming content Discovery is lining up to produce for — and Meerkat into (if I can put it that way) — Shark Week includes interviews with shark experts, a live shark feeding from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, shark-related vox pops, and a series of “Watch With” viewing parties with a Shark Week comedian. Meerkat Discovery Shark Week
Quick recap on the livestreaming app wars: Meerkat got an early headstart when it launched this year by piggybacking on Twitter’s network. Before Twitter waded in, and started throwing its weight around with its own app, Periscope. Cue Meerkat falling back to earth with a bit of a bump.
Meerkat hasn’t thrown in the towel. It’s fighting smarter, as well it must against heavy hitter Twitter. Meerkat’s weapon in this David vs Goliath fight is openness, via a public API. Developers can integrate Meerkat into their services — which is why there’s already a Meerkat drone in the works, rather than a Periscope drone, for instance.
The startup launched its official public API back in May, but had already been letting developers dip in in private. The Meerkat API lets developers pull arrays of all current or scheduled streams, plus details such as comments and watchers. The new embed feature removes even more friction to encourage developers to get involved.
Co-founder Ben Rubin said Meerkat wanted “one great example” to get things going with the embed feature, hence launching with Discovery. He added there’s “huge interest from other partners”. No word on who else it’s hooked yet.
Meerkat is also not disclosing active users yet but Rubin reiterated that May was its highest month for traffic yet — more than 3x traffic levels in March.

Snips Grabs $6.3 Million To Add An Artificial Intelligence Layer To Your Phone

Snips Grabs $6.3 Million To Add An Artificial Intelligence Layer To Your Phone
French startup Snips just raised $6.3 million (€5.6 million) in a seed round led by The Hive, with participation from Eniac Ventures, 500 startups, Brent Hoberman, Xavier Niel and Bpifrance. The company wants to add some sort of artificial intelligence layer on top of your smartphone so that you can use your phone more efficiently.
In pragmatical terms, Snips will release in the near future a new Android home screen as well as an iPhone app so that it can show you relevant information and apps when and where you need them. In many ways, this pitch is very reminiscent of smart Android home screen startups, such as EverythingMe. The iOS app might just be an intelligent app launcher.
Snips has been around for a while, focusing on smart data analysis with a lot of data scientists and PhDs working for the company. The team didn’t have a product or business model in mind. It experimented for a while, launching projects around smart cities, such as Tranquilien, a service that predicts how busy your train is going to be, or a smart empty parking spot prediction service.
Now, the company is focused on this idea that you can add an artificial intelligence layer to all of your devices, starting with your phones. By gathering as much data as possible, such as location data and calendar data, the company can show you what you need. For example, if you’re at the end of a meeting and look at your phone, Snips could suggest you to launch Citymapper with your next meeting’s location already predefined thanks to deep-linking.
Snips will face tough competition from both Apple and Google as iOS 9 will suggest apps depending on what you are doing and provide a universal search feature with deep-linked results. Google and the Android team have also been working on Google Now for a while, and it’s pretty clear that Google is serious about making your smartphone smarter. It’s a tough industry.

Disney Now Has Its Own GIF App And iOS 8 Keyboard

Disney Now Has Its Own GIF App And iOS 8 Keyboard
Disney has now somewhat belatedly joined the ranks of the numerous app publishers offering their own custom keyboards for iOS 8 users with the launch of an iOS application called Disney Gif. The new app is a mobile keyboard extension that lets you share Disney and Pixar-themed GIFs via text messaging as well as email and social networks. At launch, the app includes over 200 GIFs, the company says, but more will be added in time.
When iOS 8 first debuted, there was a lot of interest from users and app developers alike in custom, third-party keyboards for the iPhone. With the ability to extend the keyboard’s functionality, users could finally take advantage of popular predictive text apps like SwiftKey, or apps that let you “type” via finger swipes, like SwiftKey Flow or Swype. But another favorite category of keyboard apps included those that let you copy and paste GIFs into Apple’s Messaging app, such as Riffsy, Blippy, PopKey, or Kanvas, for example.
These apps offer a wider variety of GIFs than Disney’s own GIF app does, but Disney enthusiasts may appreciate having a standalone database of only Disney GIFs to search across. Plus, parents may feel more comfortable letting their kids or tweens install the Disney Gif app on their devices, as the bigger GIF apps sometimes feature more mature content. (While not necessarily NSFW, you can still find results that aren’t entirely wholesome on those.)
Disney Gif won’t really have that problem. Instead, the app features content from Disney titles like “Frozen” and “Star Wars,” as well as ABC shows like “Once Upon A Time” and “Scandal.” (The “Scandal” GIFs aren’t at all inappropriate, despite the more adult nature of that show, we should note.)
Unfortunately, a collection of some 200 GIFs still feels pretty limited – the “Star Wars” section is one of the largest, but has just a couple dozen GIFs at launch. Disney needs to quickly expand its selection in order to be more competitive with the free GIF apps already on the market. Plus, the GIFs themselves aren’t always as clever as those users create themselves from Disney cartoons and movies – you can often find much better ones on sites like Tumblr or Giphy today.
The app lets you browse by emotion or by Disney films and shows, see what’s trending, and offers a pair of $0.99 in-app purchases for premium “Frozen” packs. (Please don’t tell my kid.) It’s likely Disney will expand its selection of paid downloads in the future.
Disney says the decision to do a GIFs app follows the popularity it has seen with Disney emoji. For instance, the Star Wars emoji generated over 1 billion impressions on Twitter in the first two weeks they became available. Plus, the company adds that GIFs and other content help to grow Disney’s social presence – for instance, its Facebook pages for characters and films today have over 1.5 billion “likes.”
Disney Gif  is a free download on iTunes. 

Apple Watch Lands In Seven New Countries, Coming To Three More July 17

Apple Watch Lands In Seven New Countries, Coming To Three More July 17
The Apple Watch is expanding beyond the launch group of countries today, shortly after the device first became available for in-store purchase at Apple Retail with a reservation. The international sales expansion includes Italy, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Taiwan as of today, and the next group includes the Netherlands, Sweden and Thailand starting July 17.
Here’s what today’s international sales debut looked like on the ground at Apple Stores around the world, via photos supplied by the company. My personal favorite is the one with the dog shopping companion:
Apple’s retail rollout of Watch has been slow, with initial sales restricted only to online orders. The device seems to have been severely supply constrained at launch, but Apple is catching up to demand, enabling both in-store sales and the addition of new countries to the list of places where it’s available.

Kindle’s Sharing Features Now Support Messaging Apps, Plus Web-Based Book Previews

Kindle’s Sharing Features Now Support Messaging Apps, Plus Web-Based Book Previews
Kindle e-book reader owners will now have a new way to socialize with their friends about their favorite books or book quotes by way of mobile messaging apps, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, texting, and more. The change is indicative of the trend toward private sharing as the preferred means of connecting with friends, versus larger, more public social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The ability to share quotes or recommendations previously supported sharing to Facebook and Twitter, for example, but as Amazon Kindle SVP Russ Grandinetti explained in the company announcement, “the perfect quote in a book isn’t always the perfect quote for your whole social network.”
The addition makes sense for a number of Kindle readers. Book club groups, for instance, could take advantage of the private sharing option to get into more in-depth conversations around the current title they’re reading via messaging apps or email. Plus, users can now share their book recommendations in a more personal fashion by messaging just those friends who they think would really enjoy the title, as opposed to posting a status update to Facebook.
The upgraded feature allows for sharing of quotes, highlights as well as recommendations with specific friends, and is immediately available on Kindle for Android. Support for Kindle e-readers and other devices is expected for later this year, the company says.
Besides expanding the sharing options, those who receive a book recommendation or shared quote will be able to start reading immediately, Amazon notes. This is similar to how links to articles or videos work on the web today. When a user receives the share, they can access a free book preview in the browser, right on their phone, tablet or PC. They won’t need to sign up, sign into their account, or install an app to begin reading.
This latter item may seem like a minor upgrade, but by removing the friction around translating a social share into something that can be accessed and read immediately, Amazon could potentially convert more recipients to Kindle customers in the long run.
If you’re curious how this will work, you can try out the feature now, using examples Amazon has provided from Divergent, The Book Thief, and The Hobbit.

With $3 Million From Castlight, Lyra Health Is Bringing Big Data To Mental Health Care

With $3 Million From Castlight, Lyra Health Is Bringing Big Data To Mental Health Care
One in five Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental health or substance disorder, but 70 percent are undiagnosed.
This fact prompted David Ebersman, former CFO of Facebook and Genentech, to launch Lyra Health earlier this year. Still in the very early stages of development, Lyra has secured $3.1 million in strategic funding from Castlight Health, the Venrock-backed enterprise health company that went public last year.
Lyra is building a data-driven platform to identify people at risk of behavioral and mental health conditions, and make sure they’re being appropriately treated.
If a patient undergoes open heart surgery, for instance, that patient has a much higher risk of depression, so Lyra will alert the physician and suggest a diagnostic test.
There’s also a human component. Lyra is hiring care managers to help people navigate their healthcare plans and understand treatment options, and check up on patients once they’ve chosen a treatment plan to make sure that it’s actually working.
“Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are an enormous problem, and as a healthcare system we’re really underinvested in bringing the right tools to these people,” Ebersman says.
“The vast majority are either undiagnosed, untreated (because navigating the system can be really difficult), or treated with something that’s just not working or hasn’t been proven to work,” he says.
The more data that Lyra is able to accumulate, the better its predictive analytics and treatment suggestion engine will be. Through the partnership with Castlight Health, Lyra will have access to Castlight’s medical claims and search data to accelerate development.
“Mental health is one of the biggest problems of American enterprise; it’s a social problem, and an epidemic that deserves to be treated,” says Castlight founder Giovanni Colella, a psychiatrist by training.
According to the CDC, depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year. Add this loss of productivity to the billions of dollars spent in healthcare costs related to major depressive disorders, and it’s clear that employers have a huge incentive to keep their employees healthy mentally as well as physically.
Ebersman says that Lyra will primarily be selling to large health plans, and hopes to partner with additional healthcare organizations over the coming months.

Molson And Google Built A Beer Fridge That Unlocks Via Voice Translation

Molson And Google Built A Beer Fridge That Unlocks Via Voice Translation
Some of you may know that I hail from Canada, the country to the north of most of you that only occasionally enters your consciousness when someone mentions Drake or Bieber. Our nation’s symbolic birthday is July 1, next week, and so some #brands are looking to capitalize. Molson, maker of ‘Canadian’ beer, is one such #brand, but its project involved some real technical chops powered by Google’s software.
The key ingredient here is Google’s Speech Recognition API (though others like its translation services are also at work). The API lets the fridge recognize voice input in up to 40 different languages, with the ultimate goal of recognizing the single phrase “I am Canadian” (Molson’s longtime marketing slogan).
Once the fridge recognizes that signature phrase in six different languages, the door unlocks and it gives up its precious cargo of Molson Canadian cans. The working fridge was built by digital studio ThinkingBox (you can see the making of featurette below), and will actually appear in functional form in Toronto during the upcoming PanAm games coming up next month.
Of course, this is an unabashed marketing ploy from tip to toe – but it’s a well-executed one, and I find myself swelling with patriotic feels despite myself watching the first video above. Molson Canadian is still terrible beer, however.

Teach Kids Tech And Life With A Pi-Powered DIY Camera Trap

Teach Kids Tech And Life With A Pi-Powered DIY Camera Trap
There’s no shortage of products purporting to help teach kids coding these days, whether it’s Kano’s DIY computer kit, or the Robot Turtles board game, or any one of the many programmable robots. Toys with a STEM twist that aim to keep kids tinkering and learning indoors are all the rage.
U.K. startup Naturebytes is bringing a different emphasis to this tech-plus-education space. It’s aiming to combine hackable technology with a mission to spark kids’ curiosity in the great outdoors. And given kids’ dictionaries have this year been jettisoning nature-related words such as acorn and buttercup, and adding in tech terms like broadband and ‘cut and paste’, there are perhaps signs technology risks becoming a little all consuming for ‘digital natives’.
Naturebytes has just kicked off a Kickstarter for a Raspberry Pi-powered camera trap kit for capturing wildlife photos. The idea is to inspire kids about what electronics and coding can do while also giving them an appetite for learning about and experiencing nature. Putting technology outdoors might also be a way to get kids interested who might otherwise prefer running around outdoors. Add to that, embedding technology in the natural environment is something we’re going to see more of, with the rise of the Internet of Things.
The weatherproof camera trap kit is designed to survive the elements. It houses a Raspberry Pi Model A microprocessor (other more powerful Pis can also be used), battery pack, Pi cam and an infrared sensor — a set up that enables motion-sensitive photo (and video) capture of any passing wildlife. The camera comes in kit form so kids get to put it all together and learn along the way. There’s also scope for expanding functionality — for instance the kit can be upgraded with a Wi-Fi link to automatically upload wildlife snaps.
As well as crowdfunding these hardware kits, Naturebytes is intending to build a web platform where users can share images they’ve captured with the camera, and get involved with citizen science projects. Kits start at £45 for more advanced makers who already have a Pi and Pi cam and want to 3D print the camera casing themselves. Stepping up to £85 for a kit that has everything except the Pi included, or £95 for all the bits and bobs.
At the time of writing the team has raised more than 10 per cent of their crowdfunding target, with a month left on their campaign clock. So not bad going. They’re targeting around $45,000 in total pledges in order to produce and ship their first batch of kits — with an estimated shipping schedule of December.

New Process Can Print Stretchy Electronics Onto Your Clothes

New Process Can Print Stretchy Electronics Onto Your Clothes
Researchers at the University of Tokyo have created a single-step process to print conductive material on cloth, allowing manufacturers to build stretchable wearables that can test vital signs like heart rate and muscle contraction.
From the release:
Now, Professor Takao Someya’s research group at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering has developed an elastic conducting ink that is easily printed on textiles and patterned in a single printing step. This ink is comprised of silver flakes, organic solvent, fluorine rubber and fluorine surfactant. The ink exhibited high conductivity even when it was stretched to more than three times its original length, which marks the highest value reported for stretchable conductors that can be extended to more than two and a half times their original length.
Why is this important? Because it allows for the traces to and from electronic components to be amazingly stretchy. While components like chips and transistors are still hard to pull and bend, by allowing the connectors to bend and stretch in certain places you can create a tighter fit for measurement technologies and even bring connectors up close to your skin. The technology isn’t quite ready for prime time but it should be an interesting addition to the wearables world when it’s commercialized.

Could This 1970s Patek Philippe Be The Inspiration For The Apple Watch?

Could This 1970s Patek Philippe Be The Inspiration For The Apple Watch?
Could This 1970s Patek Philippe Be The Inspiration For The Apple Watch?In what could be the most interesting conspiracy theory of the morning, the folks at ABlogToWatch have found a watch that could have been the inspiration for Apple Watch. It’s a Patek Philippe Ellipse Ref. 3582 (3582G) made in the 1970s and usually sold through high end watch stores. The piece, which is amazingly rare in white gold, almost perfectly matches the case shape of the Apple Watch and the thoughtfully attached grains-of-rice band (the real name for the “Milano” strap) makes this square watch a dead ringer for a AW Steel.
Jony Ive has said that he has a predilection towards fancy watches and Patek makes the fanciest. This watch in particular is pretty hard to find and I’ve never seen it mentioned in the literature I’ve read. While it’s not unique – there are plenty like it out there these days – the detail, case shape, and even the crystal definitely exhibit a family resemblance.
Square watches are nothing new. The so-called barrel or Tonneau case is a fairly popular style but it has bulging sides. The “tank” style watch, made famous by Cartier, is squared off but is a but more rectangular and thinner. A watch like this one is a strange hybrid of the two and would have looked quite fetching on the wrist of a Madison Avenue executive circa 1972 – or on the wrist of an early adopter circa 2015.
. Partners With ZestFinance To Offer Credit Service To Chinese Consumers Partners With ZestFinance To Offer Credit Service To Chinese Consumers has become the latest internet company in China to venture into the consumer credit space, after the NASDAQ-listed online retailer — a rival to Alibaba — launched a joint venture alongside LA-based financial services company ZestFinance.
The aim is to offer new microloan options to Chinese consumers, particularly those who not have credit history and other credentials traditionally required to land a credit card or other finance options. JD-ZestFinance Gaia, as the JV is called, will use ZestFinance’s machine learning underwriting technology to make credit decisions based on’s consumer data, which the company claimed spans 100 million monthly customers.
Shengqiang Chen, JD Finance’s CEO, said the partnership will help make credit fairer for many in China:
Chinese shoppers are hungry for convenient, reliable and fair credit channels. This requires both a systematic method for making decisions and a robust infrastructure that enables lenders to share data — neither of which is sufficiently developed yet in China.
Today’s announcement with ZestFinance is a foundational step toward building a reliable system for assessing credit risk that will help meet the huge market need.
The coming-together also sees made an undisclosed investment in ZestFinance, which was founded by ex-Google CIO and VP of engineering Douglas Merrill and has raised nearly $100 million from investors — including its most recent $20 million Series C round which closed in July 2013. is not the first company in China to jump into this space by any means. Alibaba’s Ant Financial affiliate — which this week launched an online bank — has run investment fund Yu’e Bao for two years (accumulating $92 billion in its first year) while it has offered loans for even longer. Indeed, it launched an $80 million micro-loans program for female entrepreneurs in January of this year.
Tencent is also active in the financial space. It began trialling its WeBank online bank service earlier this year. WeBank’s first financial product — a microloans service — went live earlier this month, offering loans of $3,225-$32,250 using the company’s own big data solution. Unlike its two bigger rivals, has opted to pull in a third-party to provide the underwriting and big data tech.

Security Firm Sophos Raises $125M In UK IPO, Valuing It At $1.6B

Security Firm Sophos Raises $125M In UK IPO, Valuing It At $1.6B
As malicious hacks, data breaches and other forms of cyber crime continue to persist in our networked, Internet-connected world, Sophos, a maker of antivirus software, firewall hardware and other security products for networks, individual users and servers, is going public on the London Stock Exchange.
Trading now as Sophos Group plc and using the “SOPH” ticker, the company sold 34.8% of its shares at 225 pence each (or 156,521,740 shares), raising $125 million on a valuation of £1.013 billion ($1.6 billion) — making it the latest tech “unicorn” to come out of the UK.
“Today marks a significant milestone for all of us at Sophos,” said Kris Hagerman, CEO of Sophos, in a statement. “We are proud to be part of Britain’s growing tech economy as a listed business and a leading global provider in the cyber security sector.  Working with our 15,000 channel partners worldwide, we look forward to the next stage of our development as a public company – and to continuing to deliver ‘complete IT security made simple’ for enterprises of any size.
Sophos today makes $447 million in revenues on billings of $476 million (up from billings of $388.1 million a year ago). It has 200,000 business customers and 100,000 individual users, and the company uses an extensive channel network of 15,000 partners (including the likes of Facebook) to sell its products, with the company itself employing only 2,500 people.
Tech people who like to read about tech news online (like you) might also know Sophos for its well-regarded blog, Naked Security, which picks apart some of the bigger threats, issues and news in the industry, for an interested but not necessarily specialist audience. On the product front, its products variously compete against the likes of AVG, McAfee, Kaspersky, Symantec and more.
There is a trend among some startups today to hold back on going public quickly — especially if a company’s financials look like they may not stand up to the scrutiny.
But Sophos is not a spring chicken startup: the company has been around since 1985 — nearly since the beginning of our modern love affair with technology. In 2010, Apax Partners acquired a majority stake in the company for $830 million.
It’s also a very timely moment to try to ramp up operations at the firm: cyber attacks are on the rise and getting ever more sophisticated, so individuals and businesses all continue to invest in ways to combat that. The company says it is raising the money on the public market “to reduce overall indebtedness and provide the Company with greater financial flexibility to drive the future growth of the business.” According to a filing from earlier this month, at the end of April 2015, the company had net debt of $318.8 million, 3x its cash Ebitda of $101.4 million. The offering will aim to reduce that to 2x cash Ebitda.
After the IPO, Apax will own 40.1% of shares, founders Jan Hruska and Peter Lammer (who continues to advise the board) will hold 18.9% of shares, Investcorp will have 2.5% and company directors will have 1.7% of shares. Morgan Stanley is managing the IPO.
Update: The stock opened at a small pop, at 235.75 pence. Going as high as 241.75 during the day, it’s currently at just under 238 pence.

Playbasis Lands $1.8M To Fuel Its Gamification For Enterprise Push

Playbasis Lands $1.8M To Fuel Its Gamification For Enterprise Push
Playbasis, a company that offers gamification solutions for business and enterprises, has closed a $1.85 million Series A round as it bids to broaden its services and develop new technology such as virtual reality for companies.
The Bangkok-based startup previously raised $770,000 in February 2014, and this time around its fresh capital comes from lead investor InTouch with participation from existing backers Cherubic Ventures and 500 Startups — the latter via its 500 Durians fund for Southeast Asia rather than the newer, Thailand-focused 500 Tuktuks vehicle. The round values the three-year-old company at just shy of $10 million.

Beyond Gamification

Playbasis started out with a full focus on gamification — which is best epitomized by Waze, Foursquare and other consumer apps that use leaderboards, badges and competitions to drive engagement — in the enterprise space. However, customer feedback and the nascent nature of the space, saw it expand its reach into other areas.
“Gamification was where we started, but we added other pillars,” Playbasis founder and CEO Rob Zepeda told TechCrunch in an interview. The other focus is a series of APIs and modules developed to give app developers, game publishers and anyone creating apps the opportunity to incentivize users via rewards, and more.
In the case of enterprises, Zepeda said that Playbasis is developing dedicated software and services to help motivate and engage staff and end customers — which is often still outsourced to advertising and marketing agencies in Asia — while he is keen to push the envelope on new technology like virtual reality.
For example, rather than holding annual or bi-annual fire drills, companies could use virtual reality to create a more realistic scenario that doesn’t disrupt an entire building in the process, he explained.
“The gamification trend that stormed the scene in 2010/11 was from Gen-X’ers,” he said. “If you want to reach Gen-Y or others, you’ve got to start mobile and 3D — these guys never played Pong or Pac-Man.”
For now though, Zepeda said that Playbasis’s development is led in a large part by feedback from existing and prospective customers. That ensures not only that solutions have a market fit, but it essentially allows their development to be funded by a third-party.

Scorecard For Working Life

One such development is a new service called Dash, which Zepeda said takes in a range of data — from Dropbox, to Google, Trello, Asana, and even corporate-issued fitness devices — to enable employees track their best moments at work and overall progress.
“If the pitch is your life, then Dash is the scorecard,” he explained. “We think it could be really cool when people have really epic days. Dash lets them capture that day, and help them to understand what happened so they can recreate it in the future.”
Screenshot 2015-06-26 12.35.22
Right now, more than half of Playbasis’ clients are based in Asia, although Zepeda said that Europe was second highest. That’s something that he chalked up to the prevalence of gamification academics and thought-leaders in the region. The U.S. is the startup’s largest single market for business, though, accounting for around 10 percent.

IPO Plans And ‘Siri For Business’

As for the future, Playbasis is looking to exit via an IPO in the coming five to six years, according to Zepeda. He isn’t sure whether that might be Thailand, Singapore or Hong Kong at this point, however.
That said, the Playbasis CEO isn’t rule out possible acquisitions entirely, but he said that he and his investors would look for “a company who has stock with significant value.”
“But [our investors] would love for us to go public, and we would too,” he added.
On the product side of things, Zepeda — who is American and previously worked in the gaming industry — said he believes that there will be an opportunity to be built a Siri or Google Now type service for the workplace. A service that, beyond managing your schedule, could use big data to motivate staff, track their progress and generally keep them productive.
“It would a playmate to motivate and push you within your company or enterprise,” he summarized.

Alibaba’s Digital Bank Comes Online To Serve ‘The Little Guys’ In China

Alibaba’s Digital Bank Comes Online To Serve ‘The Little Guys’ In China
You may know Alibaba for its huge e-commerce business in China and the record-breaking U.S. IPO that it held last year. But there’s a lot more to the Hangzhou-based company than that, and as of this week, that includes an online bank.
Alibaba-backed MYbank opened Thursday with a promise to provide services “for the little guys.” The service is an all-digital bank, it has no physical branches but is open 24/7. It is aimed at those who tend to end up a little short changed by the existing banking system — SMEs who struggle to fit into a financial bracket for loans and services, and those in rural areas who have issues accessing branches and banks in person.
“Answering to the needs of those who have limited access to financial services in China is our mission,” said Eric Jing, president of Ant Financial — the Alibaba affiliate backing the bank.
“MYbank is here to give affordable loans for small and micro enterprises, and we are here to provide banking services, not for the rich, but for the little guys,” Jing, who is also executive chairman of MYbank, added.
Initially, it is aiming to pay out loans of up to 5 million RMB ($800,000) to SMEs, enterprises, entrepreneurs and consumers — although it still requires final green lights from authorities before it can break the seal on its purse of 4 billion RMB ($640 million) in registered capital.
The bank believes it can pass on savings to customers by cutting out the expensive processes and systems that traditional banks deal with. For example, MYBank uses cloud computing rather than internal IT systems, while it has kept its staff to 300 employees thanks to being digital.
MYbank has the potential to be disruptive, particularly piggybacking the Alibaba name and brand in China, but Jing said he intends to work with the bank’s traditional peers too.
“Small and micro enterprises may not be our clients in the future when their businesses grow beyond our capabilities. And we will recommend our clients to seek financial solutions at traditional banks,” he added.
Alibaba isn’t the only Chinese internet firm moving into banking. Tencent, the creator of smash-hit chat app WeChat, began piloting WeBank, which was China’s first digital bank, in January of this year.
Ant Financial’s other services include Alipay, the payment service that processes three times more payments than PayPal, a loan program, and online investment platform Yu’e Bao. Ant Financial, which was formerly known as Alipay, was spun out of Alibaba prior to the firm’s blockbuster U.S. listing and it is tipped to go public in China within the next two years.

Whittl Picks Up A Chicago-Style $3.3M Series A

Whittl Picks Up A Chicago-Style $3.3M Series A
It turns out geography is still a thing.
Recently, Whittl, a Chicago-based company raised a $3.3 million Series A round of capital. The new monetary event follows a $1.3 million seed round that took place around two years ago.
If you can’t see the irony, you haven’t lived outside of the Valley in some time. Given the generic chop of both Clinkle and Secret, it’s hard to keep in mind that not every company is desperate to raise ahead of its product, execution and plans. Whittl, as its co-founder Mike Zivin told TechCrunch on a phone call, has focused on its unit economics, and, to repeat myself, proving its model. So the cost to build the firm so far is less than you might have anticipated.
Whittl connects consumers to local businesses. Its mobile app wants to help you find services like haircuts, and so forth. According to Zivin, the company was initially focused on providing price lists for a variety of local services, but its customers wanted the firm to complete the wheel and allow them to book appointments from the app. The company subsequently built out the functionality.
Unlike a host of other firms that are currently active inside of technology, Whittl has been conservative in its expansion. The firm’s minor seed raise floated it for two years — the Chicago focus on frugality and revenue still lives, in case you forgot — implying a lower cost structure than we might expect here in the Valley.
Zivin told TechCrunch that his firm takes an average 17.5 percent cut of services booked through the platform, but that percentage declines over time — the longer a client uses the app, the less Whittl will deduct for its own coffers. Consider this a material example of deprecated future cash flows, but in reverse.
I asked the co-founder if the firm was expecting to take up its — admittedly modest — burn, and he agreed, noting a year as a reasonable time-frame for his next capital raise. But Zivin repeated his former point that the company aims to be capital efficient. With its new monies, it plans to expand to four new markets this year.
In short, the firm thinks that its model that has worked so far in Chicago will convert to other markets. The answer will rest on its execution.

Reserve Strap Promises To Extend Your Apple Watch Battery By 30 Hours

Reserve Strap Promises To Extend Your Apple Watch Battery By 30 Hours
Reserve Strap just announced the final details for its Apple Watch battery band, which it claims will add an additional 30 hours of battery life to the device. The Reserve Strap will ship at the beginning of November and will cost a pretty staggering $249.99.
Reserve Strap
The “Specialized Thermoset Elastometer Silicon band” (lol) will boast the same water resistance as the Apple Watch, and will be available in white, grey and black models. Both sizes of straps for the 38mm and 42mm Watch will increase the device’s total battery life to “48 hours of functionality.”
The Reserve Strap is the first battery band to be made available for the Apple Watch and addresses key concerns with battery life that a number of users have raised regarding the device, namely its inability to make it through more than a day on a single charge.
The Reserve Strap is in full compliance with Apple’s Band Design Guidelines and won’t violate your AppleCare warranty. The Reserve Strap makes use of the Apple Watch’s hidden diagnostic port to enable seamless charging of both watch and band, though unfortunately in order to charge both at the same time you have to do so through the Micro USB port on the band rather than using the Watch’s magnetic charger.
Though Apple surprised users by announcing their open support for third-party bands, they have yet to respond to device makers like Reserve Strap who are utilizing the Apple Watch’s hidden diagnostic port, and it has not been specifically condoned in their design guidelines.
For what it does, the Reserve Strap definitely seems like a huge chunk of change, but for significantly extending the battery life of a device that can cost upwards of $10,000, it may be worth the premium for some users.