Archive for the ‘technology’ Category
June 5, 2013 by Yuval Brisker
Ever since Skype arrived on the scene in 2005, there has been a huge upgrade in Web-based (and general) communications tools worldwide. Skype made international calling between people free and easy – connecting literally billions of people to each other by voice and then video on computers – making face-to-face visual communications via computer and then smartphone easy, accessible and totally ubiquitous. Skype truly changed the world we live in for the better.
In Skype’s wake, we saw many companies try to mimic its success and take on different angles to try and capture a worldwide audience, but no one managed to capture the consumer imagination and usage the way Skype did. Skype, as we all know, was bought and sold three times, once by eBay, then by private equity and finally by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5B dollars. Under each of these buyers, Skype’s user interface and the quality of the calls deteriorated, getting increasingly more complex, less user friendly and clunkier, leading many people (me included) to feel that the application’s best days were behind it, looking for something new and better. Now, while it’s hard to completely ditch the application due to Skype’s ubiquity (everyone I know has a Skype username), the clear degeneration of Skype has opened the market for alternatives.
In parallel, on the business front, two companies – GoToMeeting and Cisco Webex – made a market for, and emerged as leaders in, Web-based business-to-business videoconference calling. Not like Skype, which is primarily free, these have been pay for use applications and thus their path to massive growth was not as smooth or their reach as wide as Skype’s. The user experience they’ve offered has been at times rudimentary and overall their development has been choppy. Nonetheless, they have become the leaders in their field and have significantly altered business-to-business meetings and communications. In time, they have refined their capabilities, have become recognized for being essential to any company with remote or scattered customers and employees and have pretty much dominated the market. They have not invested heavily in offering something a magnitude better, opting instead to publish little beyond small incremental improvements in their user interface.
Other companies like Vidyo have tried to enter the market with video conferencing technology that could eclipse Skype, Webex and GTM…but to no great success beyond being incorporated into Google’s new browser-based video conferencing capabilities within Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts is great for some – it’s intuitive, is an integrated part of Google’s app suite and the browser-based foundation means it does not demand any download – but it still has a way to go in terms of quality of video, sharing and overall accessibility over any device.
So the bottom line is that no one has truly bridged the two markets, consumer and business, with new capabilities, is effective, easy to use, high quality and offers all the needed functionality to run a virtual conversation with voice and video – until now.
Zoom is a new (and now my current favorite) app for videoconferencing. Why? For many reasons:
First and foremost because Zoom is an app that was designed primarily for the smartphone but works very effectively on every desktop. In this way it immediately differentiates itself from its predecessors. It’s first and foremost an iOS and Android app that downloads fast and works great – AND – has a replicated app on OSX and Windows.
Zoom has great pedigree – as it was founded and developed by people who were players at Webex and left – Webex’s founder is a major financier.
It’s clear to me that Zoom was designed to provide a business quality experience to both the consumer and business market. It’s a freemium in the classic sense – a free app for those not wanting to conduct long (no more than 40 minutes) multi-user calls and includes all the features that both a business and a consumer user needs – multi-user, easy desktop sharing, etc. And if you want to talk longer and consistently have multi-user communications, that’s when you pay – but not a lot. Ultimately, Zoom is geared to be easy:
1. You don’t have to find people via a username directory, like Skype – you can simply invite anyone quickly to a conference voice and video call via any email address, text, IM (it’s totally integrated with GTalk).
2. You can sign in to the app using a Facebook or Google account. No need to set up a separate user with yet another username password. So ZERO hassle.
3. There is no complication in usage; there are basically only three buttons – Schedule, Host and Join. All you need to do is tap one of those three…and away you go.
4. The quality of the audio and video is amazing – the compression is impressive and I have had more than decent voice and video calls over a 3G network on my Android in an Eastern European country where the bandwidth was a total squeak.
5. Importantly, it’s easy, really easy, to share screens, both whole desktop or window/apps on the desktop (for privacy – something that GoToMeeting STILL can’t do on the Mac) – and even on a smartphone.
I chose my three favorite apps each for reason that has to do with my appreciation of mobile technology and the wonders of technology changing our every day lives :
Favorite App 1: Represents an ‘old’ technology – radio – that has been updated and found a new and big life in the Internet age – TuneIn.
Favorite App 2: Has transformed a mundane daily experience like catching a cab into a very personal, efficient network that saves time and hassle to deliver a superior experience – Uber.
And this third Favorite App: Zoom is all about the idea that something amazing like video conferencing (and let’s face even Skype or Facetime are still a wonder) yes, doing something that is already amazing – just one big increment better – enough to stand out and make it significantly and incredibly attractive to a whole new population of users.
You can find Zoom at Zoom.us , on the App Store or Google Play search for Zoom HD Conference.
And for a bonus favorite app…stay tuned!
May 29, 2013 by Yuval Brisker
Of course, the smartphone has changed all of our lives. That’s a given. Within the coming years there are going to be very few people on this planet who won’t be touched by this revolution.
But currently, I think it’s safe to say that the most intense beneficiaries of the mobile and smartphone revolutions are people living in an urban setting in the affluent world. The quantity of information and opportunity for connecting, for making the mundane daily things much easier is almost infinite – and the apps addressing these opportunities are almost impossible to quantify. Every time I look around, there’s a new app for something that has the potential to really redefine how that something is found, completed, tracked, etc.
For anyone who has lived in a big, dense urban center like New York, San Francisco, London, Paris or Tokyo, we know that one of the great blessings, privileges AND annoyances of the urban existence is public transportation in all of its forms. Subways and buses are amazing transportation networks – but you have no control over their movement or their schedule, and so your relationship with them is defined by your showing up, catching or missing them. So other than seeing schedules and knowing more easily and accurately when the train or bus will arrive, there is not much more you can do.
Taxis on the other hand are totally different…a lovely creation of convenience that is really only “semi”-public transportation but one that simplifies the lives of many. Taxis are great. But could they get better?
Über is the ultimate manifestation of an app that takes full advantage of the revolutionary qualities of the combined mobile smartphone platform and the mobile Internet – particularly three:
- Always on communications capabilities
- Location-based services
- Constant connectivity that matches and processes transactional info (such as connecting things and procesding payments)
Über connects people who need a taxi of any kind with member drivers. By knowing where both are and giving drivers the ability to be available and accessible – anyone can find a quality car from the comfort of their sofa or their restaurant chair without having to go out and hail a cab in the driving rain, freezing snow, wind or burning sun. And you won’t ever have to fight over a cab with someone on the street.
You can choose from a variety of cars at your price level, know the name of the driver, the make and license plate of the car and the driver’s cell phone number (anyone ever lose anything in a taxi and had no way of finding the driver?) and order a pickup wherever you want by just dropping a pin on map and pressing “order.” It’s ingenious and it works.
Not only can anyone be a driver (ever need an extra little bit of cash?) and work their own hours in their own car, which creates a new twist on the old transportation workforce model, but it also builds another type of functional social network – you can rate the driver, know his rating AND he or she can rate you, so drivers are safe from abusive passengers. All of this is the ultimate transportation upgrade for the urban dweller – both for the transporter and traveler.
Have I forgotten anything? Oh yes, one of the most important things…NO monies are exchanged in the car – at all! It’s all credit card enabled and there is no tipping (that’s calculated into a slightly higher fare). So at the end of a trip, when you get to your destination, you just get out of the car and say thank you and goodbye. All the unpleasantness is gone and all that is left is pure convenience – and a very civilized experience.
A few weeks back, I was having lunch with a friend in Manhattan and he brought along his nine year old son. As the meal was ending, I ordered an Über via my iPhone app.
I saw the driver that Über chose for me on the app’s map, and as he made his way towards me, I could track his progress. Über also gives you an ETA AND sends you a text message when the driver is one minute away. (Did I say it takes FULL advantage of the mobile smartphone?!).
When I saw the Cadillac SUV pulling up, we got up from the table and walked out to the car. As the driver was opening the door for me to slip in – my friend’s son asked me with amazement – “Do you have a private car and driver?”
“Yes,” I said. “I do!”
Über. My second favorite app.
May 28, 2013 by Yuval Brisker
It’s been years since radio had any significance in my life. Years.
And every once in a while, I would be struck by a nostalgic moment: how far radio had moved away from me and how important it used to be; what an enormous role radio had played at points in my life…a source of information, learning, discovery and a sense of the bigger picture.
During the college years listening to the radio was an absolute lifesaver, a way of surviving the all-nighters that were an integral part of studying. Everyone I knew was listening…and they were all tuned into the same station, bound by an invisible link, through the airwaves, which helped us get through some of the hardest and yet most exhilarating and creative times in our college years. I can remember many 2 a.m. phone calls and a friend would say “Are you listening…?” This was truly “the soundtrack of our lives.”
Not only did radio connect us, intimately, but it also exposed us to new music from around the world, gave us access to a broader understanding, gave us perspective of what pushing the boundaries of creativity was all about.
Listening to the most adventurous musicians from anywhere in the world was not just a way of pleasantly passing the time. It was a way of stimulating the mind and the heart. Radio not only connected us to each other, but also connected us to the rest of the world.
Then it was over. University ceded to work that became a day-to-day reality of 9-to-5. And with it, a whole new era of radio listening emerged in. But as a junior employee, there was plenty of focused work that needed not interaction – so it was radio again. All day. And it was all “talk” – morning outrage, afternoon ideas and news and information, from Howard Stern to Terry Gross to All Things Considered –the day had its rhythm that was reflected in the daily routine of listening choices, giving a reference point to the day in a way that befitted that particular part of it.
Radio left room for the imagination, left space for thinking, didn’t take things literally. Radio was a mind-to-mind connection with little interference (except commercials…).
Then something happened…work changed, life changed and the Internet emerged. And the Internet took over everything. The way we learned about things, the way we connected, the way we conveyed ideas, the way we listened to music…Everything.
And though it was a natural progression – I still missed radio. Until now – radio has come full circle and literally has taken a huge step into this millenium via one app. TuneIn.
TuneIn does something quite miraculous: it aggregates all of the world’s radio streaming stations into one easy to use app that makes them all accessible. It doesn’t matter if the station is in Cambodia, Africa, Israel, Brazil or across the United States – TuneIn makes it accessible via a fantastic application for iPhone and Android with easy access on the desktop. For me, TuneIn heralds the rebirth of radio in a major way – not only does it afford the ability to listen to local radio but also to listen to my favorite stations from around the world anywhere I go – from BBC Radio 3, to KCRW Santa Monica, to France Musique in Paris to WNYC, to KQED in San Francisco to Galgalei Zahal in Israel to Brazilian Samba stations. It is taking the early incarnation of radio and blowing it wide open so you can access any locale in the world and experience, and perhaps even fall in love, with its radio, with radio itself.
At home, on the road, in hotels, in my car, the dial just got bigger and what a joy it is. TuneIn is now my favorite app.
November 12, 2012 by Yuval Brisker
Two articles caught my eye over the weekend.
One speculates on Apple’s peak , and the other contemplates Microsoft’s potential resurgence with Windows 8 and Surface.
Apple ‘peaking’ is now a subject of grand speculation which almost borders on anticipation. This article lays out the rationale. It’s a pretty clear analysis that can be summed up with this quote:
“It’s baffling. Apple has a winning formula – perhaps the most successful business formula ever – yet it seems intent on changing it. The company has shifted away from Jobs’s laser-like focus on building the best and most complete user experience, and started putting its interests way ahead of those of its users.”
Of course, the Apple Maps debacle is at the center of the speculation that the company’s greatest days are behind it. The writer cites interesting clues: the quick release of the 4th Gen iPad on the heels of iPad 3 (the ‘new’ iPad) with no clear justification, the lack of innovation in the iPhone 5, the iPad mini (which Steve Jobs said he would never release), etc.
All of facts point to Apple’s desire to exploit the hype around its products to the absolute maximum – with no real regard for the customer. The assumption here is that that Apple want to grab as much revenue as they can before the world discovers that they have nothing left to offer.
The loss of Steve Jobs was clearly a momentous event. He was a founder and leader of such mythic status who had such immense creative talents and management abilities, a man who not only founded the company but engineered its rebirth, resurgence and dominance, and leaving the company at such an important time cannot be underestimated (and it wasn’t, of course). But it’s interesting that after all the endless stories about Jobs’ dominant presence in the creation and management of new Apple products, people are still surprised that the company could potentially be going through an innovation crisis now that he has permanently and forever exited the scene.
We need to look no further than Microsoft where Bill Gates stepped down as CEO over 12 years ago to see how long it has taken the company to find its footing. By many accounts, Microsoft seems to be moving in the right direction with Windows 8, reflected by excellent reviews and growing developer interest. With the kind of cash that Microsoft has and the continued ambition, you really can’t count them out. And, it doesn’t hurt that Steve Ballmer has a very strong link to and with the founder.
Yes, Apple is going through a profound re-alignment, digesting the magnitude of a founder’s death, adjusting to its relatively new status as the most valuable company on the planet (despite the unbelievable $200B loss in value over the past few months) and looking for its next line of innovation. But with the kind of hordes of cash they have on hand and continued ambition they harbor, I would say that the speculation of their death is premature.
But between these two debates, what is clear is that Microsoft may be on the verge of a rebirth itself, and the “timely” reduction in Apple’s cache may mean a major re-shifting of tech desire.