Telefonica is today announcing a deal with Samsung that will see it make an even bigger move into the area of carrier billing. Samsung will integrate the carrier’s billing backend directly into its own mobile services, meaning that the Telefonica customers (it has 316 million worldwide) who use the Samsung Hub and Samsung Apps portals on Samsung smartphones will be able to buy apps, music, videos, books, games and more and charge them directly to their phone bills.
The agreement, which will use Telefonica’s BlueVia payment APIs, is a significant one for Telefonica. So far it has inked deals with app portal operators, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and RIM, and with billing providers like Bango; this effectively closes the loop for it by securing a deal with the world’s largest handset maker, although a recent deal to help the carrier finance the procurement and distribution of BlackBerry devices could point to Telefonica gearing up for a similar deal with that handset maker, too.
In addition to Bango, Telefonica also works with BOKU, where it led a $35 million investment last year. It’s not clear how this deal with Samsung will play out between these two rival billing providers. In the past Telefonica has been vague on the subject, saying that it will work one or the other depending on the situation.
Telefonica has been especially bullish on trying to come up with a way to get a piece of the action on apps and other content that is getting purchased on smartphones and tablets. Apple’s early move into the area with its very popular App Store (just this week marking its 50-billionth download) set a precedent for all but cutting carriers out of the picture, with Apple handling the payment on its own platform and then dividing up resulting revenues with the app publishers.
Mobile advertising alongside often-free apps is one other area where carriers and others have tried to play, although these revenues are still small in relation to those collected from downloads and in-app purchases.
But the promise of carrier billing, as we have noted before, is that it not only offers carriers a look in to the growing pot of money being made from smartphone content, but it also provides a route for publishers to better target consumers in parts of the world where smartphone usage is growing rapidly, but payment card penetration is not so much.
The carrier framework can be used not only for consumers who take monthly plans, but also for prepaid accounts, with each purchase deducted from there, as already happens with phone minutes, data bytes and SMS messages. This is an area where Spain’s Telefonica, which has more users in emerging markets in Latin America than it does in any single market in Europe, can hope to gain a foothold with its carrier billing offering, even if it has (so far) missed the boat in more developed markets.
Nevertheless, this deal will be implemented in phases, starting first with a rollout with Telefonica’s subsidiary in Germany “in the coming months.”
“We strongly believe that carrier billing has the potential to drive the monetisation of digital content,” Wayne Thorsen, vice president of Global Partnerships at Telefónica Digital, said in a statement. “Partnerships like this allow us to harness the power of the billing relationships we have with our customers to make it easier for them to consume content on their tablets and mobile devices.”
For Samsung, meanwhile, it gives the company the ability to promote its own content portals as easy to use — one way of driving more users there instead of to Google’s services. As Samsung tries to further differentiate itself from the other OEMs using Android, and Google itself, little things like this could help it along the way.
“Samsung is committed to ensuring that our customers have choice and convenience when purchasing content on our devices,” Lee Epting, VP of Media Solutions Centre Europe for Samsung Electronics Europe, said in a statement. “Our partnership with Telefónica Digital allows us to deliver yet another easy and convenient purchasing experience to our Samsung Hub and Samsung Apps customers.”
Telefonica and Samsung are not strangers to each other in the area of new services; they have co-invested in the latest round for semantic, real-time search startup Expect Labs.
Apple had a bit of a head start when it came to mobile software sales, since it launched its App Store earlier than the Android Market — now called Google Play. The gap between the two, which was more pronounced in terms of initial downloads, has begun to close. Today both Play and the App Store announced very similar milestones.
Apple has been counting down to its 50 billionth app download for a while now. In fact, the assets were leaked via the Apple website backend code earlier today, so we all knew it was coming. Coincidence that it would land on a Google keynote day? That’s hard to tell, but Google had its own milestone to announce: 48 billion downloads announced onstage at I/O today.
The announcements give us a unique opportunity to compare download numbers from both stores on as equal footing as possible, and the result is a snapshot of two app stores that are neck and neck — at least in terms of straight downloads.
That doesn’t take into account paid vs. free apps, or how much revenue each makes from ads and other sources. But as you can see from the graph, it marks one area at least where Google used to trail considerably but is now catching up. Also the fact that Google’s Android OS now accounts for a majority percentage of global smartphone sales means it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of people downloading apps.
Viddy co-founder Chris Ovitz has landed at another buzzed-about Los Angeles startup, the mobile gaming platform Scopely. He used to head up business development at the mobile video startup Viddy, which shot up like a star on the Facebook platform and iOS charts only to later to come back down just as dramatically.
At Scopely, he’ll be a vice president of business development, where he’ll work on external opportunities (presumably deals with third-party game makers) to grow the network and the business. Scopely is pursuing a playbook that many other mobile game developers are following. They’re trying to grow the biggest network of gamers possible using apps built both in-house and by outside studios.
With an eight-figure number of monthly actives, Scopely is still smaller than other larger competitors that have publishing programs like Zynga and Sequoia-backed Pocket Gems and the Japanese giants like DeNA and GREE. But they say they’ve been able to get all of their games into the top five free apps on the iOS charts.
After Ovitz left Viddy a few months ago, he and Driver started talking about what was next.
“I’ve had the privilege of watching his entrepreneurial career,” said Scopely CEO Walter Driver. “Honestly, I never thought we’d have a chance to join forces, but we recently started having casual conversations about his future and thought there might be a potential fit.”
Ovitz declined to go into a lot of detail about what happened at Viddy, except to say that the company has to be inward-focused right now.
“I obviously got to see the entire spectrum of a startup’s life. It was an incredible learning experience,” he said. “They really need to focus internally on product and technology, so there’s not a lot of business development for me to do there.”
Viddy skyrocketed up the charts as a short video-sharing app last year in the wake of Instagram’s massive $1 billion buy from Facebook. On that momentum and Instagram’s buzz, the startup raised $30 million at a $370 million valuation.
But it and its direct competitor Socialcam started hemorrhaging users after Facebook cut off the viral fuel that was helping both apps up the charts. Socialcam, in contrast to Viddy, took a more conservative route with venture capital, instead leaning on friends and family from Y Combinator for a giant party round. They parlayed that and their momentum into a $60 million sale to Autodesk.
Meanwhile, Viddy’s level of funding has complicated its options. The company recently had layoffs and saw another co-founder and CEO Brett O’Brien leave.
“I’ve been a gamer my whole life,” Ovitz said. “I grew up interning at Activision and tried to started my own gaming company in business school. I’ve always admired Walter as an entrepreneur and I wanted to hop on this rocket ship.”
Scopely has $8.5 million in seed funding from firms like NEA, Anthem Venture Partners, The Chernin Group, Greycroft Partners, Lerer Ventures, The Collaborative Fund, Yahoo’s former CEO Terry Semel, Felicis Ventures’ Aydin Senkut, ShoeDazzle co-founder Brian Lee, Auren Hoffman, Buddy Media CEO Michael Lazerow, TechStars’ David Cohen and David Tisch.
We’re now just a few days away from the Disrupt NY Hackathon this weekend, and we’ve got some exciting news to share. As well as scoring a free ticket to the main TechCrunch Disrupt NY conference, this weekend’s hackers will share in almost $50,000 worth of prizes.
A few tickets are still available. Coders should register here and designers should register here.
Below you’ll find all the information on the prizes as well as the schedule for our hands on API workshops. The API sponsors are providing some of their top talent to give coders a crash course in their product.
API Workshop Schedule
One of the best things about the Disrupt Hackathons is that we attract the best developers at the best tech companies to share their insights, answer questions and help short circuit the process of building killer apps with powerful APIs.
Here’s the line-up for our API workshops:
- 2:00pm – Facebook
- 2:30pm – Box
- 3:00pm – Evernote
- 3:30pm – Foursquare
- 4:00pm – Amazon Web Services
- 4:30pm – New York Times
- 5:00pm – Microsoft BizSpark
New API Workshop
Microsoft BizSpark will be presenting an in-depth review of developing for the Windows 8 operating system as well as Windows Phone app development basics.
With the limited time available during hackathons, speed is even more important than ever. That’s why the team from Appery.io is going to be at Disrupt with $5,000 in cash plus promotion and free product for the best apps built using their browser-based development environment for iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and the mobile web. With pre-built API plugins – including those of some of our other prize sponsors – you could end up being a winner multiple times over – and get your app from concept to demo in 24 hours – with Appery.io. To find out more ahead of time, check out appery.io/tc13.
Want to hack your way to a better world? AT&T is here to help. In NYC the AT&T Developer Program, AT&T Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund are issuing a challenge to developers participating in TechCrunch Disrupt to build app that helps drive water consumption awareness for buildings. For the most creative as well as comprehensive app, AT&T will be offering a $5k grand prize, followed by a $2k ‘most creative’ prize. The challenge is straight forward: build an app that estimates building water consumption. On a high level, the app has three sections: Building Survey, leaderboard, and building / building manager profile. Find out more about the challenge and its specs here.
What’s better than Disrupt NY? How about Disrupt Berlin! Build something amazing, cool, and insightful with the CrunchBase API and you could be the winner of a trip for two to Berlin for the next TechCrunch conference! Disrupt Berlin is October 26 – 29 and the winner will receive two conference passes, two airline tickets, and of course a place to stay near the conference. Danke!
General Motors is offering the opportunity to explore what’s possible with in-vehicle apps by inviting developers to utilize its SDK and new set of in-vehicle APIs to develop an application for vehicles. GM will award a cash prize of $2,000 to the top 2 uses of its in-vehicle SDK – a pretty cool bonus for building something that integrates with the worlds largest manufacturer of cars.
The team from Microsoft Bizspark is actually running two competitions and prizes at the Disrupt NY Hackathon this year. To capitalize on the new Windows 8 platform, Microsoft will be giving away a new Windows Surface RT as well as $800 in cash. The best app best app developed on Windows Phone 8 Platform will also receive an RT and $800 to put over your favorite NY bar. To make sure there’s an even greater chance to bring home the greenbacks, Microsoft will also be handing out $100 runner-up prizes to the 10 best apps developed on any Microsoft platform (including Yammer).
The team from Skydrive will also be joining us, helping developers make the most of their API and handing out hundreds of GBs of free storage (and perhaps a few bonus toys they’ve got tucked up their sleeves).
Want to win prizes and save your users’ battery life? If you’re building a mobile geo app, you should check out NewAer, who are giving out $2k in Apple gift certificates as prizes. Walk away with the fruit loot, you need to be the best at using the NewAer machine to machine discovery platform instead of power-hungry GPS in their Android or iOS applications on smartphones or tablets. SDK is available at http://www.proximityplatform.com
Pearson, the worlds leading learning company is offering $500 worth of Amazon gift cards for the best use of the Pearson APIs – giving you access to a world of structured, quality travel, cooking, language and reference content.
The Samsung Developer crew will be at Disrupt and offering the brand new Samsung Galaxy S4 or $250 in cash (just in case you don’t need the world’s most awesome new smartphone) for the team that develops the most compelling hack using the S Pen SDK or Allshare Framework. Find out more about both at http://developer.samsung.com along. The Samsung Developers team will be on site for the duration of the event with loaner devices and hands on support.
Want to phone a friend? Follow in the footsteps of the team from GroupMe who built an awesome phone enabled app using Twilio. The winner will receive one of three Das Keyboards for the best implementation of the Twilio API.
Visa will be joining us in New York, and as you’d expect from a company that handles more of our money than anyone else, they’ll be coming with a great cash prize. As part of their initiatives to help the regular person be more smart and secure with technology, Visa will be awarding $5,000 to the grand prize winner who develops the best web or mobile based security eLearning application, or security eLearning game application that makes security fun and engaging. The first runner-up will receive $3,500 – so you can help people keep their money safe from scammers and bank some prize money at the same time.
OK, so everyone else is looking for best. But what about first? The team from Alerta will be awarding a mystery prize for the winners of the Alert A-Game Award – which will be won by the team that uploads their hack to the server first, verified by timestamp.
The team at Yammer wants to make sure you’re not all work and no play. The best hack utilizing Yammer’s extensive enterprise social API will walk away with a Surface Pro with touch keyboard, an Xbox 360 and a Jambox – that should irritate the neighbors enough to get a visit from the thin blue line.
With the ink still drying on last week’s acquisition of news aggregation app Pulse, LinkedIn continues to double down on mobile, the fastest-growing consumer service among its 200 million members. Today it’s announcing a major update to its iPhone and Android apps — the first big upgrade in nearly two years. And, to take advantage of the traffic it’s seeing on mobile, it is also introducing ads, in the form of sponsored content in the LinkedIn stream.
With the sponsored content introduced as a “small test” on LinkedIn’s desktop and iPad versions in January, “We’re now expanding this test into the mobile phone experience,” says Joff Redfern, head of mobile products for LinkedIn.
Redfern says that the two new, free apps being launched today were created out of the feeling that the originals “were just not as shiny as they were one year and eight months ago,” when they were first launched. After LinkedIn created the new apps, it used its own staff as guinea pigs. “We’ve had the whole company using it,” Redfern says. “And they have given us 10,000 individual pieces of feedback.” The products of that trial are the two apps being launched today.
The new look is focused primarily around an upgraded, and more interactive, activity stream. As with the desktop app, the stream continues to bring in content posted by people in your network; but it also includes posts from “influencers” as well as news from within your network (the montage of job changes at the top of the main illustration here on the left is one example). It also has bigger, less statically-placed pictures and a generally slicker look. Like the desktop app, LinkedIn uses algorithms to help personalize this experience to each user. The new apps also give users the ability to comment on items in their stream, as well as endorse items, by way of a new thumbs-up icon that glows and grows when you tap on it (you can see it in the video below).
Here’s a look at how the old and new apps compare:
The new apps also let users more easily toggle between this new stream and several other features. A swipe from the left side of the screen to the right brings up a menu of options that include accessing your private messages, connection invitations, calendars, jobs from your job searches, groups you belong to, and more. And the “in” icon at the top of the screen, near the search, also serves as a way to notify you when you have a message pending.
As for the sponsored story test: there have been a lot of signs pointing to LinkedIn introducing more of this in its mobile apps. Not only are the apps free to use, but LinkedIn has been increasing how and where it uses paid promotions on its desktop version. Competitors like Facebook are also seeing a lot of interest, and good user response, to its mobile ads. And, of course, there are the mobile traffic numbers: LinkedIn says that 27% of its 155 million monthly users visit LinkedIn via mobile apps (up from just 8% two years ago); and weekly mobile page views have jumped 250% year-over-year. So while users typically only stay in the mobile app for 2 or three minutes at a time, there are a lot of them doing that, day in and day out.
The trade-off for possibly seeing more ads are more features in the apps. Kiran Prasad, head of mobile engineering for LinkedIn, says that both versions will be upgrading and expanding their features a lot more frequently going forward. The company continues to tinker and work with what he calls the “personalization aspect.”
“It’s hard to get everything that LinkedIn does on to a single application on a small screen,” he says. All the same, he says that this is the “first time that we are leveraging in the app the data that we have about our users. This is not just to make the stream more relevant but also the application as a whole.” He says LinkedIn has built the app using Hadoop and Hive “to find the best areas recommentded for you to navigate.”
To get a sense of where its mobile apps are going in terms of new features, it’s worth looking at what LinkedIn has been doing on the desktop.
Since last summer, LinkedIn has been making a number of upgrades to its desktop version — releasing a whole new homepage redesign; adding more interactive, social features like Klout-style endorsements, easier content sharing and the ability to tag users in status updates; and building a completely new search engine. The mobile apps that are launching today are laying the groundwork for more of those changes to make their way to the smaller screen. These are only coming over time, however. The search feature, for example, is still focused only on giving people results, leaving out jobs and companies.
“Right now search on the apps is very much focussed on people search,” said Redfern, pointing out that at the moment LinkedIn sees 26 people searches, and 90 profile views, per second on mobile devices.
Part of the reason for sticking to people results is because of how LinkedIn sees its mobile app getting used. “We think of people doing pre-meeting intelligence on a person, seeing their education, connections and work experience so that it’s easier to start a conversation,” he says, adding that additional search capabilities for companies and jobs — as exists on the desktop search — will be “in one of the later versions of the mobile apps.”
But one area where LinkedIn will not be investing too much more, it seems, is in HTML5, for now at least. Prasad and Redfern both said the HTML5 app took up too much memory to run and ended up crashing.
“We were seeing that people are engaging a lot more on mobile, and so we wanted to make the experience more efficient,” says Prasad. “That meant moving away from an HTML5-based app and to more of a native app experience.” Redfern points out that even small things, like that new “like” icon, would not have been possible. “Plus, we need to go where our users are,” he says, and that is on native apps for Android and iPhone handsets.
LinkedIn is following its users in another sense, too. The company says some 64% of its overall member base now comes from outside the U.S., and so to make sure users in its biggest international markets are not being left out of the mobile game, the company is also adding support for several different languages, taking the total to 15, including Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, English, German, Spanish, French, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Swedish, Chinese (Traditional, Simplified), Dutch, Norwegian and Turkish.
With today’s news focused on iPhone and Android, the next step will be to see how and if Pulse makes its way into an update of the LinkedIn iPad app, and when the company may next revisit Windows Phone and BlackBerry.