In the last three years, the only times Apple has ever frozen its App Store rankings has been over the holidays. So it’s interesting to note that the company actually froze rankings for a total of eight hours on Friday, and things still aren’t quite back to normal in terms of the store’s usual behavior and ranking results. The change to the App Store could possibly indicate either an intentional freeze on Apple’s part or even bandwidth concerns or other bugs and glitches.
The iOS App Store didn’t change between 10 a.m. and around 6 p.m. EST on Friday, essentially missing the expected update intervals at 12 and 3 p.m. EST. Meanwhile, the 5:50 p.m. ET change was minor, making it difficult to determine at the time whether it was the resumption of normal activity or just a temporary blip.
Though the store has now seen activity resume over the weekend and into Monday, the changes in app rankings now being observed are still unexpected, with historically highly ranked apps dropping 10 spots instead of one, while other previously ranked top 20 apps are unable to achieve ranks higher than 40, in other cases.
The changes, of course, come at a time when Apple has just released new devices with the iPhone 5s and 5c, whose launches also coincided with an update to Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 7. With smartphone sales topping analyst expectations at 9 million devices sold through the launch weekend, it has not been smooth sailing for Apple with the debut of its new hardware and software. For example, Apple’s servers crumbled under launch-day strains last week, as users rushed to set up their new iPhones and download iOS 7. We’ve also heard reports of Apple engineers being called in over the weekend, forced to work non-stop for over 24 hours as issues arose.
But in addition to bandwidth concerns, there’s the possibility that Apple chose to freeze the App Store rankings out of caution to keep rankings from fluctuating during the big rush. Mobile app marketing startup Fiksu, which sent out an advisory message to clients after spotting the freeze and provided us with more details on these changes, speculates that Apple could have also been heading off an anticipated app marketing rush, similar to what happens around the holiday season. The speculation is that the company could have frozen rankings in order to prevent manipulation – or even the appearance of manipulation – of the App Store charts.
Alternately, it could have also been related to a push of new App Store algorithm testing or the finalization of other changes to its algorithms, which we reported on last month. The company then began to update app positions every three hours on the consumer-facing App Store, in efforts to prevent publishers from using automated means to game the charts, as the slowdown would give Apple time to identify and correct for short download bursts.
Still, Fiksu notes that even though overloaded servers have been common in previous Apple launch events, the high demand has not before affected app rankings in such a way. But the firm says that it’s just too early to tell if the changes are a temporary, volume-based incident or are the first steps involving a more systematic change on Apple’s part.
We’re keeping an eye on the situation with the App Store, and will update if we hear more, or if things ever go back to normal – or whatever the “new” normal of the iOS 7 App Store may be.
It’s day one of the new general solicitation rules allowing companies to openly advertise that they’re fundraising, and betaworks is wasting no time. It’s just emailed asking its thousands of Openbeta testers to invest in it through AngelList Syndicates. It’s not the only one diving head-first into general solicitation, indicating the new rules will have a profound effect on startups.
For example, best-selling “4-Hour Work Week” author Tim Ferriss just published a blog post titled “You’d Like to Be an Angel Investor? Here’s How You Can Invest In My Deals” to his 1.4 million monthly readers. He’s raising $250,000 via AngelList Syndicates for a startup called Shyp that will pick up, package, any loose item you want sent somewhere.
Some people I’ve talked to a bit suspicious of Ferriss’ chops as a startup picker, but he has advised Uber and Evernote, plus invested somewhat early in Facebook and Twitter.
In an effort to avoid duping people and properly disclose risk, Ferriss tells readers that startup investing is a gamble, they should be comfortable losing what they invest, and do to investing right they should slowly build a portfolio. He also explain that investors will have to prove they’re accredited (net work of over $1 million) when they register with AngelList.
Then he does something I expect we’re going to see a lot of beside general solicitation: proving value-add.
Ferriss includes a section to help Shyp gain users, recruit employees, get press, and strategize expansion:
Can’t invest right now? No worries. If relevant, I’d love for your to consider any of the below actions. Shyp and I would really appreciate it!
- Apply to be a Shyp Hero (Heroes are Shyp’s drivers).
- Apply for a job on Shyp’s core team.
- Interview the co-founders of Shyp: Kevin, Josh, and Jack. They’re clever gents. Just email: founders at shyp dot com.
-Tell Shyp which city you live inso they can launch there before others!
To get space in funding rounds, syndicate operators may need to demonstrate they can provide more than just money and advice. If Ferriss can help Shyp with the projects listed above, he may be able to convince other startups to let him run syndicates for them.
But back to betaworks, “a company that builds companies”.
Previously it took venture capital from big firms and invested it in a slew of companies that it helped build and operate as well, including Digg, Chartbeat, bit.ly, and Dots. Now it’s going to take capital from people in its Openbeta community of beta testers.
I’ve copied the email asking for investment below as I think it’s a fascinating early example of something that might become quite common. You can also read more about their strategy on their blog.
One of the questions it’s hoping to answer with the test is “Could users be more helpful to early-stage companies than venture investors are?” Really, that’s the question General Solicitation as a whole poises. What I’ve gathered, a sentiment mirrored by AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant, is that the best VCs aren’t in danger of being displaced. Nothing beats the deep experience, mentorship, connections, and clout a top-tier firm or angel can bring.
But the bottom-of-the-barrel venture capitalists could find it much harder to find deals. If one person or a firm can’t provide value beyond their money, why not take that money from an army of crowdsourced investors? It will take a few years for the impact of general solicitation to play out for startups, but with the popularity of general solicitation and AngelList Syndicates fresh out the gate, it’s clear that fundraising is entering a whole new era.
From betaworks to its Openbeta testers:
Hey Openbeta -
Earlier this year we kicked off Openbeta to create a more open line of communication between betaworks and our community. In a very short period of time, it has become a place where thousands of people can try the early products we build and invest in, join us for events at the betaworks studio — and today, for the first time, invest alongside us in the companies we fall in love with.
We believe we’re better at what we do — building and operating companies — because of our open ecosystem, so we’ve decided to take it a step further. Starting today, we’re proud to announce that we’ll start syndicating seed investments for our Openbeta users and community.
While this announcement comes on an important day for crowdfunding (with the lifting of the ban on general solicitation), it’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time. We think that in the next few months, as the crowdfunding regulations are fully implemented, this new funding environment will be hugely positive for startups and how they approach raising capital. Unfortunately, because the laws are still unclear, we can’t yet discuss the specific investment we’re syndicating, but we’re excited to be doing this and to partner with AngelList to do it.
To invest in our syndicates, you must:
Be an Openbeta Member (you’re already done!)
Be an accredited AngelList investor. Ultimately, we’d like to include a broader group, but existing regulations limit startup investing to accredited investors. We hope that as crowdfunding regulations progress, we will be able to include the entire Openbeta community, both accredited and non-accredited investors alike. Stay tuned
These new regulations combined with our announcement today marks a significant change for the technology industry, particularly for startups and venture capital. We’re happy being smack in the middle of it and we’re thrilled that you’ve chosen to join us in this journey.
Facebook wants to put an end to typing billing details on the small screen, help developers and payment processors earn more money, and prove that its app install ads make money for e-commerce companies. So today it’s rolling out last month’s test of “Autofill With Facebook” in partnership with PayPal, Stripe, and Braintree to two e-commerce apps, JackThreads and Mosaic, with more to come.
It’s important to understand this feature is a partnership with payment providers and is additive, not necessarily competitive, at least for now. One day Facebook could try to conquer more of the payments flow by processing payments itself. But currently, if a developer uses Braintree, Autofill With Facebook layers on top of it, and Braintree still earns its processing fee. These three partners could become two shortly, as we’ve reported that PayPal may be close to buying Braintree.
The “early test” feature as Facebook calls it will appear in the Mosaic (photo book-buying) and JackThreads (hip clothing) iOS apps for some users starting today, and for those who have payment info stored on Facebook by the end the week. You can add your payment info to Facebook by hand here.
Previously this test was only available in early beta to a small percentage of JackThreads users. Developers can sign up for access later, but won’t be able to use the feature until they get approval.
Update: Facebook tells me that while PayPal has committed to joining the test and supporting Autofill With Facebook, it hasn’t actually built out its integration yet. JackThreads and Mosaic both run on Braintree, and Stripe has built its integration for some apps that will launch the feature soon.
Using “Autofill With Facebook”
Here’s how the feature works for users. E-commerce app shoppers browse items and add them to their carts like they normally do. Then something different happens if they’ve previously stored billing info with Facebook when they bought a Facebook Gift, Credits or in-game purchase on desktop.
When these people go to checkout and are asked to fill in their billing info, such as credit-card number, billing address, and shipping address, a “Check Out Faster With Facebook” message and blue “Autofill Your Info” button slides down from the top of the screen. When tapped, users are shuttled into their Facebook for iOS app where they can look over their payment details and select a shipping address.
They click “OK” and on the backend, Facebook and the app developer’s payment processor do a “handshake” so the credit card and other info is securely transferred. On the front end, the user only sees the last four digits of their credit card number for security. The user is then whisked back to the commerce app where they see their payment info pre-populated in the fields. They can then confirm their purchase without ever having had to type anything.
Some people are sure to think Facebook passing your credit card info around is creepy, but in fact the social network has a relatively solid track record for data security. It’s had a few hiccups and bugs, but no wide-scale hacks of user passwords like Twitter and LinkedIn have. If you’re concerned with Facebook taking over the world, though, this test could certainly be a pre-cursor to it knowing more about what you buy. Then again, if you own Facebook stock, maybe that’s a good thing.
Facebook’s Big Dreams For Commerce
For users, this makes converting on mobile much quicker and simpler. That means they’re more likely to go through with a purchase before they get distracted or second-guess themselves. E-commerce app developers earn more money thanks to more conversions.
As for payment processors, they get to handle more payment volume and earn more fees.
For Facebook, this is part of “Build – Grow – Monetize” platform strategy. When you make an auto-filled purchase, Facebook knows who you are, how much you spent, and in what app. That’s critical to it proving the return on investment of its app install ads. If JackThreads hits you with a $1 Facebook ad to download its app, and Facebook sees that you clicked and five minutes later spent $25 at JackThreads, it can convince the e-commerce app developer it’s a good use of spend and they should buy more campaigns.
When I asked Facebook payments product manager Deb Liu about working together with PayPal and other payment processors, she explained “We’re all trying to solve the same problem: helping devs monetize and convert. The more conversions, the more payment volume that goes through Braintree, Stripe, or PayPal [and they make their fee that way].”
And Liu said Facebook is now looking to identify and fix other issues with e-commerce: “Mobile is where the conversion gap is, where our customers are going in the future. It’s really important to make this an amazing mobile product. That said, we don’t rule out ever doing this on desktop some day.”
Perhaps Facebook is looking to work as an identity and data layer on top of other payment processors forever. Alternatively…
Once FB has everyone's billing info it will crush these "partners":Facebook Partners To Autofill Billing Info In Apps techcrunch.com/2013/09/23/fac…—
Nalin Mittal (@nalin) September 24, 2013
As Appbistro co-founder Nalin Mittal notes, working with payment processors could be a stopgap solution for Facebook. Right now, it doesn’t have that large of a catalogue of credit card numbers, especially compared to Amazon, Apple, or PayPal. It’s working on that, though, by pushing its Gifts ecommerce store and in-game payments. Eventually if Facebook was able to collect enough credit card numbers that it could support Autofill With Facebook for decent chunk of users, it might replace payment processors like PayPal, Stripe, and Braintree with its own payment processing system.
Facebook is already equipping developers with tools to host the backend of their apps with its acquisition Parse, and add social login and sharing features via its SDKs. Handling payment processing for them on the backend the way Stripe does could be a convenient service to offer. That might mean buying its way into payment processing rather than building out the technology, sales team, and fraud protection itself.
Digital Chocolate, the long-troubled gaming company from original EA founder Trip Hawkins, has sold its 46-person Barcelona studio to France’s Ubisoft. The sale comes just months after the company closed down its Helsinki office. Ubisoft confirmed the acquisition to us and Digital Chocolate has yet to respond to immediate requests for comment. Ubisoft is picking up all of Digital Chocolate Spain’s technologies and brands, but they’re not acquiring any of the company’s other studios.
The company has been downsizing for more than a year, with layoffs and Hawkins stepping down in 2012 to form a new educational gaming company. It’s another tough chapter for the 10-year-old company, which has raised at least $55 million to date in four separate venture rounds.
Somewhat Ironically, even though Digital Chocolate had trouble finding its footing on emerging gaming platforms like Facebook and iOS, the company has nurtured some of the industry’s best talent. Former Digital Chocolate Helsinki head Ilkka Paananen, for example, went on to co-found and run one of the world’s most lucrative iOS gaming companies, Supercell. He’s called his time at Digital Chocolate his “MBA” of gaming. Other Digital Chocolate alums have scattered across the industry to senior positions at companies like Flurry or Angry Birds-maker Rovio.
From what I understand, the company had a difficult time grappling with and balancing between emerging gaming platforms. Digital Chocolate lacks any titles on the iPhone’s top 500 grossing charts in the U.S., according to App Annie. Then it only has two titles that are among the top 500 games on the Facebook platform by monthly active users, according to AppData.
Not only that, because of the company’s geographically distributed nature, it had a hard time coordinating title development between studios that were scattered across the world in places like Mexicali, Helsinki, Barcelona and St. Petersburg. (Some of those offices were shuttered last year too.) Many gaming companies in the industry are distributed too, but it seems like individual offices weren’t given enough creative license to design and build titles on their own.
Now that the dust from Microsoft’s Surface event has settled, we’re left with two new tablets and one grand vision for the holidays — with three Surfaces now on the market, Microsoft has carved out a seemingly strong position for itself as people began to plan for some big purchases.
But really, how solid are Microsoft’s hardware plans? Alex went over most of the details during his own hands-on impressions, but here’s another take on the company’s new Surface tabletsjust for the sake of completeness. Oh, and if you’ve got about an hour to kill, you can watch the full event unfold here.
I have a habit of backing the wrong horses — the only phone I ever waited in line for was the Palm Pre, and the only tablet I ever waited in line for was the original Surface RT. The big issue seems to be that I’m a sucker for interesting hardware, and the Surface series is nothing if not interesting. The Surface 2 easily clears the bar set by its predecessor, though that may not be saying a whole lot.
Let’s consider the innards. My old RT seemed to groan under the weight of certain apps and services, but the Surface 2 seems better equipped to deal with the ol’ daily routine thanks to the inclusion of an NVIDIA Tegra 4 chipset (and 2GB of RAM) — it seemed plenty snapped as I fired up apps and swiped through websites. Battery life has gotten a boost as well, though the original was generally pretty trusty when it came to longevity, too.
And let’s not forget the screen. The increased color accuracy and bump in screen resolution (1080p vs 768p) means that the Surface 2′s display is a far cry over the panel Microsoft went with the last time. Sound quality has apparently been improved as well thanks to the inclusion of Dolby Digital sound, though it was nigh impossible to really get a feel for those aural nuances in a room full of loud, clamoring journalists.
There are little things, too. Though the weight difference between the original Surface and the Surface 2 is basically negligible (4 grams, if you’re splitting hairs), this new model feels remarkably more svelte and portable. The new color scheme is also pretty fetching; the Surface Pros retain their dark magnesium chassis, but the RT model is clad in a matte, smudge-resistant gray that serves as a neat little visual differentiator. It looks and feels great.
And yet I still can’t help but think the Surface 2 suffers from the same issue its older brother did: The hardware itself is respectable, impressive even, but Windows RT still doesn’t feel like it’s up to snuff from a consumer standpoint. There’s no denying that Windows 8.1 RT has patched some considerable holes and added some much-needed functionality to the mix, and the number of apps available in the Windows Store continues to swell — there are now more than 100,000 of them waiting to be downloaded. Still, running a version of Windows that can’t run the same apps or perform the way full-blown Windows devices do can be a hard proposition to grok for your average holiday buyer.
Regardless, this new version is a clear improvement over the model that came before, and with a price tag starting at $449, the Surface 2 just may give the iPad a run for its money (unless you wanted one of those fancy keyboard covers). I’m not convinced that RT is going to be around for the long haul, but I hope Microsoft manages to surprise me.
Surface Pro 2
Your mileage may vary, but I can’t help but think of the Surface Pro 2 as the real eyecatcher of the day. Yes, it looks functionally identical (by which I mean dark and chunky) to the model that came before it. Yes, the improvements may seem incremental. That said, all these changes add up in such a way that the Pro 2 seems like an awfully compelling piece of kit.
Inside the Pro 2 is a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 chip, and you’ve got your choice of RAM and storage configurations (the priciest model tops out with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD). It’s always tricky to get a feel for performance out in the field — and on apparently non-final hardware no less — but the Pro 2 easily kept up with me as I fired up apps with reckless abandon and indulged in a little midday Portal 2. Surface GM Panay said that the Pro 2 is more powerful than 95 percent of laptops on the market, and I’m looking forward to really putting this thing through its paces once the final models hit store shelves.
And then there’s the battery. Let’s face it: the Surface Pro was downright wimpy when it came to battery life, a major strike against the more robust tablet. This time around, we’re told that the Surface Pro 2 lasts between 60 and 75 percent longer than the model that preceded it — going off the results we saw in our review, that should net users somewhere between six and eight hours. Maybe not up to par with some of the more competitive ultrabooks out there, but it’s a damn sight better than what we’re used to with the older model. Throw in a 10.6-inch 1080p screen that’s tuned for color accuracy like the Surface 2 and you’ve got quite a mobile companion.
Well, sort of. With all that said, the form factor still presents some issues. No matter how clever Microsoft has been with its new two-stage kickstand design (and it’s really rather useful), propping a tablet on your lap and pecking away on a touchscreen is a tricky proposition for mobile workhorses. I don’t know that I’d necessarily choose the Surface Pro 2 over a more traditional notebook, but it’s definitely worth a second look if you’re shopping for your next portable PC.
Until this summer, a significant subset of U.S.-based healthcare entrepreneurs were unable to legally use one of the most fundamental, integral, and efficiency-boosting development tools out there: Amazon Web Services (AWS). Cue the sweaty palms and standing arm hairs of any developer reading this.
That’s because any healthcare startup that electronically transmits an individuals’ health information needs to comply with a set of laws from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). These laws, enacted in 1996, require that certain health information be protected by a set of privacy procedures and security safeguards for electronic transfer. Fair enough.
The trouble was that Amazon Web Services was unwilling to abide by the set of procedures needed to engage with companies that a required to be HIPAA compliant. There is a common contract called a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) that goes along with HIPAA compliance, and Amazon wouldn’t touch it.
The issue wasn’t that AWS (or any other big-name vendors) had privacy or security issues. Just the opposite: a gorilla like Amazon is quite secure, above and beyond others. They’ve got no other choice. But in order to be able to sign a BAA, there are some procedures you’ve got to implement, and Amazon didn’t want to. Things like agreeing to report a data breach, and promising that you wouldn’t further disclose protected health information were tough to stomach.
But it’s not just Amazon. The same reluctance was true of so many other vendors and services that health care entrepreneurs are so eager to use (like HubScout, Survey Monkey, and BugSnag, to name a few). The easy solution for them was simply to opt out altogether, leaving thousands of healthcare startups out to dry. Again, fair enough, and completely understandable. But over the last few years, as the technical and operational bits and pieces of a startup have been increasingly outsourced to efficiency-creating vendors, the digital health sector has been disadvantaged.
But today, September 23rd, 2013, a refresh on HIPAA officially goes live by way of a new piece of legislation called the HITECH Act. Among other things, like encouraging electronic medical record adoption, the new HITECH rules radically expand the definition of who needs to comply with a subset of the HIPAA rules. This changes the game, and because of it, many of the tools that have been off limits for certain health care entrepreneurs will now be fully accessible.
You see, there is a nuance in the HITECH rule: Let’s say you’re a vendor and the last thing on earth you want is to have protected health information anywhere near your service. You’d think that excuses you from becoming compliant, but it doesn’t. After the HITECH rule, if any customer sends this information through a vendor (whether they endorse it or not), and the vendor’s servers store this information, they’re subject to the HIPAA Security Rule. There is no mitigation of liability for an entity that refuses to enter into the requisite agreements that govern this relationship (again, called a BAA). In fact, a failure to enter these agreements becomes a violation on its own.
Amazon sufficiently prepared for this moment, and as of June 18th, 2013, AWS started signing BAAs.
Just last week, Survey Monkey announced by email that they’re now supporting HIPAA and will sign BAAs for customers on a Platinum plan. And here is a vendor trying to capitalize on the fact that other vendors might not be privy to these new changes.
The dominos are falling, and more will follow suit. After today, thousands of vendors might determine that they’re not currently compliant with HIPAA but need to be.
If you’re a vendor, this probably sounds horrible: the U.S. government jamming regulations down your throat. And yes, it is annoying. But healthcare entrepreneurs sit on the other side of the table, and after you dig into the details, needing to sign a BAA and comply with the associated regulations is more like a bee sting than a broken leg. It hurts a bit at first, might swell up and itch, but then you rub on the hydrocortisone cream and a week later you’re feeling just fine.
So if you think you might be in a position of having to comply, here is the letter of the law, straight from the horse’s mouth. A Business Associate needs to comply with 45 CFR 164.308, 164.310, 164.312 and 164.316.
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations
164.308 – Administrative Safeguards
164.310 – Physical Safegaurds
164.312 – Technical Safegaurds
164.316 – Policies and procedures and documentation requirements
As you browse through these, you might find that you do a lot of this already, and if you don’t, a number of them are smart practices for any company, not just those who need to comply with HIPAA. And if you have any questions, reach out to a health care legal firm like Hooper Lundy & Bookman, P.C. Many of them are happy to have introductory conversations for no cost.
If you do need to comply, and have to start signing BAAs, keep in mind that by putting up with a bit of red tape, you’ll be helping to accelerate innovation in the digital health ecosystem. And as hundreds of entrepreneurs plug away at solving the countless problems in health care, this will ultimately benefit numerous people (and patients) across the country.
Cella Irvine has stepped down as CEO of ad tech company Vibrant Media, according to a source with knowledge of the company.
I emailed and called Vibrant earlier this evening, but I haven’t heard back yet. (I did manage to speak to someone at Vibrant for a few seconds, but they immediately transferred me to a spokesperson who didn’t pick up.)
Irvine joined the company in October 2011. She previously served as the CEO at the New York Times’ About Group (The Times later sold About.com to IAC) and as Chief Administrative Officer at ad agency Digitas.
When Irvine took on the role, she was replacing co-founder Doug Stevenson, who had stepped down. According to a report in AdAge last fall, Vibrant has been profitable for several years with revenue of more than $100 million.
My source told that revenue has actually fallen below $100 million, though it has held relatively steady after the initial dip. The board has apparently been frustrated by the lack of growth and perhaps the fact that Vibrant hasn’t gone public (which Stevenson was hinting at back in 2010).
Is that actually Irvine’s fault? Maybe not. These could be the inherent difficulties facing an ad company that isn’t exactly young anymore (Vibrant, which remains best-known for those online in-text ads that appear when you mouse over certain words, was founded in 2000). And the company seemed to be pretty active while Irvine was in charge, acquiring startup Image Space Media and it also launching a number of new ad units, including its first aimed specifically at smartphones and tablets.