Thursday, September 19, 2013

Google Makes Quickoffice For iOS And Android Free For Everyone

It’s been more than a year since Google acquired Quickoffice, a mobile app for editing Microsoft Office files on tablets. Over the last few months, it has slowly expanded the tool’s availability by making free for Google Apps for Business customers. Everybody else still had to pay for the apps. Today, however, it is changing this policy and is making Quickoffice for iOS and Android available for free to anybody with a Google account. As Google bemoans in its announcement, while converting documents to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides is easy, “sometimes the people you work with haven’t gone Google yet.” Using Quickoffice to work on Office files is a reasonable compromise, the company seems to imply, especially given that the documents are saved on Google Drive. Current Quickoffice for Google Apps for Business users can update their app to the new version and get a number of new features in the process. The app can now, for example, create .ZIP folders and allows you to view charts in Excel and PowerPoint. It also, Google stressed, works across devices, “so you don’t have to worry about installing separate versions anymore when you go from using your phone to editing on your tablet.” To sweeten the deal, Google is giving anybody who signs in to the new Quickoffice app for Android or iOS before September 26 10GB of extra Google Drive storage for the next two years. Earlier this year, Google also said it was bringing Quickoffice to the browser, using its Native Client technology. So far, however, we haven’t heard much about the web version. With the mobile app freely available to all now, however, chances are the launch of the web app isn’t that far off either.

Kamcord Brings In-Game Screen Recording Tools To Android

Just about every time I’ve spoken to Kamcord founder Matt Zitzmann in the year since the company launched, I’ve asked one question toward the end of our conversations to gauge the team’s progress: “Have you guys figured out Android support yet?” Every time the answer has been “no.” The ability to record gameplay videos on a mobile device without causing performance to nosedive has been a tricky proposition for Kamcord, and getting it to work as well as it does on iOS took months of polish. However, when I spoke to Zitzmann this time, the answer was “yes”; the team just opened up its beta SDK for Android developers to start tinkering around with. The path to Android has been a long and bumpy one (Zitzmann says it was about six months of non-stop work) due mostly to the lack of resources. Kamcord’s founding team consisted only of three people, though the ranks were eventually fleshed out with (among others) an ex-Googler who helped the team “get on the map” as it worked to bring Android support to fruition. As it happens, the task Kamcord needed to complete even required a bit of cooperation from Google itself. ”We’ve had conversations with Google,” Zitzmann said, adding that the team shared what they were able to do on iOS and received access to APIs that helped them capture the on-screen action without affecting performance. Kamcord is riding a wave of early interest from Android developers, but Zitzmann is even more bullish on the company’s future now that they’ve finally broached the Android frontier. As far as he’s concerned, Android support will be a crucial cornerstone of the company’s push into Asia considering the prevalence of Android hardware and the explosion of profitable mobile games in China, Japan and Korea. What’s more, support for Android means that Kamcord has access to devices that could theoretically help it achieve its goal of becoming a destination for gaming video content rather than just a facilitator for it. The OUYA and Android-powered TV gadgets like it provide an in to living rooms where gamers could save, share and view replays of their exploits while lounging on the couch. It’s far too early to see if Kamcord manages to become the content heavyweight it aims to be, but support for a breadth of devices is precisely what it needs to help push it along.

Google Makes Its New Flat Logo And “App Launcher” Style Nav Menu Official, Will Roll Out Over The Next Few Weeks

Google just got a refreshed flat logo and the black navigation bar is gone. Earlier this morning, we reported that Google’s new “App Launcher” style navigational menu was just weeks away from launch. Turns out, it is much closer to launching, as the company just made the change official. Gone is the black bar that runs atop all of Google’s properties. It’s now been replaced with a new menu that sits next to the Share and account info. The launcher, which looks just like the app launcher on Chrome OS, brings up an App grid with your favorite Google services. Google previously attempted to revamp the navigation bar back in 2011 by canning it in favor of a drop-down menu inside the Google logo. While the company officially announced this change, it later gave up on this idea. It’ll be interesting to see how Google’s users will react to today’s change. With this announcement, Google is also making its new flat logo official. The new logo had already been spotted across the web for the last few weeks, but given Google’s fondness for bucket testing small changes, it wasn’t clear if this was ever going to become the official logo. We’ll have to wait and see if Google will post a Yahoo-like explanation of the design process behind the flatter logo, but here is what the company had to say about it so far: “As part of this design, we’ve also refined the color palette and letter shapes of the Google logo.” That’s it.

Branding Brand Rides M-Commerce Wave To $9.5 Million Series B

You may not be familiar with the m-commerce vendor known as Branding Brand, but you’ve likely encountered its work. The company, which is today announcing a $9.5 million Series B, powers the mobile e-commerce sites and apps for over 200 of the top retailers worldwide, including names like American Eagle Outfitters, Costco, Ralph Lauren, Sephora, Calvin Klein, Crate & Barrel, Nasty Gal, Kate Spade, Bath & BodyWorks, Brookstone, The Children’s Place, Steve Madden, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and dozens of others. The new funding round was led by existing investor Insight Venture Partners, and includes repeat investment from CrunchFund (disclosure: TechCrunch was founded by Michael Arrington, who also founded CrunchFund) and Lead Edge Capital. It also includes participation from new investor eBay Enterprise. This brings Branding Brand’s total funding to date to $17 million. The Pittsburgh-based company was founded in 2008 by three friends from Carnegie Mellon University, Joey Rahimi, Christopher Mason, and Christina Koshzow. In 2009, they launched their first product with the debut of a mobile platform that allowed brands to reach consumers on mobile devices and in-store. Since then, Branding Brand has seen 100 percent year-over-year growth, has been named to the Inc. 500 for its 3-year growth of 1,302 percent, and is now the top mobile platform provider to the Internet Retailer top 500, with four times as many clients as the #2 vendor. Today, the company sees nearly $1 billion in transactions running through its platform, up from $60 million in 2011. To bring retailers into the mobile age, Branding Brand uses proprietary technology to transform a business’s existing desktop site into a mobile-optimized experience designed for smartphones, tablets or other in-store platforms, like kiosks. Some transcoding takes place within 80 percent of the sites Branding Brand creates, though it also uses retailer APIs, when available. But, says CEO Chris Mason, the process isn’t just about turning a desktop site into a mobile one. “We’re often also including things that have nothing to do with their existing desktop site,” he says. For instance, one app they created lets users invite Facebook friends to a registry list. Mobile apps also have different shopping flows to be taken into consideration, or take advantage of technology desktop sites don’t use, like smartphone sensors, NFC or low energy Bluetooth, he says. The company touts that its mobile websites are faster than others, and they have patented the process that translates the site’s data into Branding Brand’s own APIs, which in turn lets them output the site into native experiences that can be managed in one dashboard. “If you’re a large retailer and you want to run a promotion, you want it to be seamlessly on your desktop, in your apps, and on your [mobile] site,” explains Mason. “Believe it or not, there’s no provider out there that makes that simple. So we make that simple for the retailer.” Branding Brand has benefitted greatly from the rapid rise of mobile, which has so quickly been adopted by consumers that retailers are still failing to keep pace. By mid-2011, only 48 of online retailers had launched a mobile-optimized website, Forrester had found. There was a decided lack of iPad shopping apps out there, and even well over a year after the iPad’s release, the majority of retailers had yet to deliver an iPad-optimized website. And Mason notes that even today, 40 percent of the top 500 retailers don’t have a mobile website. Things are changing, though. Over half of retailers now say that mobile and online shopping are one of the biggest trends affecting their businesses, and according to a study this month released by SAP, 68 percent are looking to mobile, online and social interactions to drive sales, 58 percent are building mobile-ready sites, and 49 percent are developing apps. This leaves room for Branding Brand to grow. Branding Brand helps on the conversion side of things too, using in-house analytics which monitor deployments across its platform. It’s able to determine what works to increase conversions that come with having such a wide footprint across online retail. The company is also working with ten of the leading mobile shopping aggregators on the market, as consumers turn to new ways to shop on mobile. It also licenses its APIs for retailers who want to build apps themselves in-house. Since the time of its $7.5 million Series A last fall, Branding Brand has again seen 100 percent year-over-year growth, co-founder Koshzow also tells us, as well as an over 100 percent increase in valuation. Now she says that Branding Brand is working to expand beyond online retail, having recently entered into the transportation and hospitality spaces with new clients like Hilton Honors and San Francisco BART. Mason adds that developments with San Diego, Chicago, and D.C. area transit operations also in the works. The additional funding will help with these expansions, as well as allow Branding Brand to better work with existing clients on mobile and in-store products, too. With eBay on board in the new round, the two companies are partnering for knowledge-sharing purposes and to further cement their already close ties. “This round represents a way to tap into their resources, and their knowledge of innovation in this space better. And on their side, they have all these major retailers…for the last few years, they’ve been focusing on servicing enterprise [via eBay Enterprise] and working with major retailers. And all we know is major retailers,” says Mason. So does the eBay deal hint at a possible acquisition further down the road? Mason says not yet. Today, it’s about proving Branding Brand can grow to the next level, and that will remain the focus for the next year or two.

Pinterest Will Start Showing Promoted Pin Ads To Make Good On $338M In Funding

After four years and massive growth, Pinterest is taking its first serious steps towards monetization. CEO Ben Silbermann today told users “we’re going to start experimenting with promoting certain pins from a select group of businesses” because “it’s so important that Pinterest is a service that will be here to stay.” Pinterest had previously only made a tiny amount from referral fees through SkimLinks. The initial tests of ads will be in search results and categories feeds. For example, when you search for Halloween, you might see a costume on sale at a local shop that had pinned the outfit. The format follows in the footsteps of other social advertising successes like Facebook and Twitter. Both similarly let businesses amplify the reach of their organic content by paying for “promotion”. Pinterest has taken $338 million in funding with its latest $200 million Series D led by Valiant Capital Partners, and joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, and FirstMark Capital. In 2011 and 2012 Pinterest worked with analytics company SkimLinks to track traffic it was driving to ecommerce sites and earn small referral fees. Despite rumors it was earning significant revenue from the partnership, we heard the income was relatively small. Pinterest stopped working SkimLinks awhile back, lending credence to the idea that referral fees weren’t enough to support the company long-term. Until now its true focus had been growing its user base, which comScore pegs at 46.9 million monthly uniques worldwide as of July. Now it’s time for it to become a real business. The Pinterest Ads Game Plan Advertisers won’t pay for the ads at first. Pinterest wants to make sure the ads work well first and deliver value to advertisers without disturbing users. To that end Silbermann defused fears, writing “I know some of you may be thinking, ‘Oh great…here come the banner ads.’ But we’re determined to not let that happen.” Specifically, he lays out that the ads will be: Tasteful—No flashy banners or pop-up ads. Transparent—We’ll always let you know if someone paid for what you see, or where you see it. Relevant—These pins should be about stuff you’re actually interested in, like a delicious recipe, or a jacket that’s your style. Improved based on your feedback—Keep letting us know what you think, and we’ll keep working to make things better. Along with building out a sales team, Pinterest will need to do exhaustive measurement to find the right balance of ads and organic content that earns revenue but doesn’t scare users away. Expect it to err on the conservative side at first. If it follows the Facebook and Twitter playbook, Pinterst will first hold the hands of big advertisers as the run experimental campaigns. It would then enlarge the private beta of managed sales advertising to encompass more brands. Next it would look to create a self-serve tool open to all businesses wishing to advertise. Meanwhile it would set up an ads API that would let big brands and developers build tools for running huge, efficient ad campaigns efficiently. Nesting As A Business Pinterest is one of many Silicon Valley startups hoping to gain traction first and figure out monetization later. Most never achieve the former and fold before they get to the latter. But Pinterest found a place in the hearts, bookmarks, and home screens of many by translating our collecting and nesting instincts to the digital world. You might never be able to afford that dress, that car, or that vacation home, but there’s satisfaction in simply saying “this defines me”. Now it just needs to convince advertisers of the value of a spot in our homes of 1s and 0s.

15Five, The Employee-Manager Feedback Network, Launches 2.0 With Like Buttons, Private Messaging And More

15Five, a startup backed by the likes of 500 Startups and Yammer’s David Sacks that provides a platform to help the working world communicate better with its managers, has had a dose of its own medicine. Taking feedback collected from its users since its exit from beta in August 2012, the company is today rolling out a rebuilt version 2.0, with a smoother interface, an easier way to get new employees involved, and more features geared at larger groups and teams with matrix reporting structures — that is, teams reporting to more than one manager. The app, founded and run by David Hassell, is also adding two new investors to the company. CTO and co-founder Dharmesh Shah, whose company is one of 15Five’s customers; and another founder who wants to remain anonymous, but whose startup is also using 15Five. Their investment brings the total raised by 15Five to $1.4 million. 15Five has been picking up steam in the last year, now serving 600 businesses and increasing revenues five-fold. Hassell declines to say how many people exactly are using 15Five now within those businesses except to note that they range from small startups through to groups at larger organizations like Citrix. Indeed, as with the companies of 15Five’s two newest investors, early adopters of the service have been startups and other tech companies, but that is slowly changing to include bigger organizations and those in other verticals, because everyone can benefit from better communication at work that isn’t specifically related to actual projects but about how well things are going in general. This was part of the reason for the new version. One of the new features in version 2.0 creates a new separation between users and groups, with users now able to report into different groups led by different managers — a way of better representing structures at organizations that follow the matrix-management model. Managers who do not necessarily always work with a particular person can now request to follow them on the platform anyway for periods of time — say, when they are on a project together. Another new feature — which really should be a part of any collaboration software, and yet so often is not (hello, Convo) — is a “follow-up” section, where users can flag conversations they would like to track. Once something in the follow-up section is finished, it can be moved to another new section for resolved conversations and threads. 15Five has taken a lot of clues from social media in its very conception — after all, the infinite loop of feedback that you can have on sites like Facebook and Twitter has made the idea of providing feedback online in the workplace more natural — and in this new version, it has added another feature for people to acknowledge other people’s comments: a “like” button. And you can also comment on it publicly or privately on any post. There is also an improved inbox-style dashboard to be able to see all your ongoing conversations — whether you are a manager or employee. Hassell says that this new version has been nine months in the making — he calls it his second baby, since right now his partner happens to be around nine months pregnant. But while babies are perfect things, the products of a startup sometimes are not. Hassell has described 15Five more than once to me as a “lean startup” — when the $1 million round was being announced, he even said he intentionally wanted to keep funding low in the early days to make sure that what they were making was matching what users actually wanted and needed. “We didn’t invest in underlying infrastructure because we did it on a shoestring,” he recalled. But what that also meant was that in creating version 2.0, the team realised they needed to start from scratch to rebuild the whole platform more flexibly, using Python. This is not an easy thing to do, but it was worth it. Hassell says that the new platform gives 15Five a “phenomenal testing framework” that now lets the company make rapid changes when they are needed. The lean model 15Five adopted from the start has also helped it learn other things about its users. Hassell likens the tendency for services like 15Five’s to gym memberships, if not done right: “I looked at the gym membership model, and you can see that the reason they do annual plans is because they know all members are unlikely to come in all the time. I was conscious of that, and I wanted to know in real time if people were using and leaving the service.” This is partly why the company decided to offer shorter contracts of usage to businesses. Initially, he says, churn on the site was 4% per month, and “that was too high.” The beta tests of the new platform indicate that now it is well below 2%. Similarly, there is the issue of getting people in the workplace to use it. “Compliance doesn’t have to be 100% to work, but just has to be enough so that people are using it and getting something out of it,” he says. Hassell is aware that the use of gamification has become quite trendy in the world of HR, but he has so far resisted incorporating that into the site. “With gamification, you are playing into someone’s psychology to be competitive. But we are focused on how to make this platform so valuable that people feel compelled to use it,” he says. That said, he says the company is working on something that sounds more like something from the quantified self movement, by providing more information to employees about their usage statistics on 15Five, and those of the rest of the company. “We’ll build it ourselves and won’t make it quite so bubbly or gamey,” he says. 15Five is priced at $49 per month per business for the first 10 months, and then $5 per employee per month, with different bulk pricing options for larger teams. Today there are lots of small companies in the 10-15-user range, he says, and then some bigger customers in the 500-800-employee range, with 20% at 50 or more users. The new version out today is geared to serving bigger businesses, to better serve the Fortune 500 companies that Hassell says 15Five is starting to acquire as customers. But Hassell says 15Five is not yet at the point of being prepared to expand its existing self-service model to the “full enterprise” structure that would require larger salesforces and other kinds of infrastructure. That could, however, be the next step after 15Five raises its next round.

iOS 7 Lock Screen Vulnerability Discovered, Gives Access To Photos And Social Sharing

Vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS lock screens have become a fixture of new iOS releases over the past few years. And iOS 7 is not exempt, as a new method for bypassing the passcode on a lock screen has been discovered by idle hands and reported by Forbes’ Andy Greenberg. The lock screen bypass method involves sliding up Control Center, tapping on the timer button, holding down your power button until the cancel option comes up. You then tap on the cancel button then double-tap the home button. This gives you access to the multitasking UI. While most apps are locked out, the Camera option is accessible.
This allows you to access the camera interface, but with the ability to scroll through all of the user’s photos, not just the ones shot in the time since the phone was last locked — in the manner that the camera has worked for some time now. Not only can you scroll through the photos, but you can also tap on the share button to send photos out via email or social channels like Twitter or Facebook. So once you’re in you can post photos to flickr or send them via email. Though Greenberg characterizes this as ‘hijacking’ those accounts, that seems a bit dramatic. Still, there is potential for embarrassment or harm if sensitive (ahem) photos get stolen or shared out through your social accounts. The bypass method has been verified by us to work properly, and to not be overly difficult to execute. It took me about 3 tries to get it right on an iPhone 5 running iOS 7. As Greenberg notes, it’s hard to tell whether this works on an iPhone 5C or iPhone 5S as of yet. Note that this vulnerability is incredibly easy to prevent for now. Just visit Settings>Control Center and toggle off ‘Access on Lock Screen’ to patch it up. The discovery was made by Jose Rodriguez, a soldier in Spain’s Canary Islands, who has a history of discovering these tricky bypass methods. His secret? Plenty of time waiting in cars in his former job as a driver for government officials. We’ve reached out to Apple for more information on this and when a fix might be available. We will update this story if we receive a reply. With past vulnerabilities, a software fix has come in a ‘point’ release of iOS 7. iOS 7.0.1 is already floating out there and contains a fix for Apple’s TouchID fingerprint scanner. So any fix for this would likely come in iOS 7.0.2 or later. Apple has added a variety of security features to iOS 7 including Activation Lock, which renders stolen phones unusable, even if they’re wiped. But it looks like it needs another lock screen audit, just to be sure.