Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Humble QR Code Is Being Disrupted… And Going Dotless


Many in the West are still dumbfounded that QR codes are a thing. Well, heads-up, the humble QR code as you know it is being disrupted. At least that’s according to Visualead, an Israel-based startup backed by Alibaba that announced a new ‘dotless’ format today.

Alibaba, which invested ‘millions’ in an undisclosed round for Visualead in January, is among the first to trial dotless QR codes. There are multiple benefits to the new format, Visualead CEO and co-founder Nevo Alva told TechCrunch, including 90 percent more space for branding and messaging from retailers and tighter security.

“This is the next step from the visual QR code. Our development is based on feedback that we got from the market,” Alva said, “And it will make codes more obvious for consumers to interact with.”

In addition to enabling a clearer call-to-action, Visualead said the new QR codes are “practically impossible to imitate” which will help Alibaba, and other retailers, battle counterfeits. Indeed, Alibaba — which received a lawsuit from U.S. luxury goods companies just last week — is launching its ‘Blue Stars’ campaign that uses dotless QR codes within its Taobao marketplace. Merchants print out and attach a label to each package, which customers can then scan to verify the authenticity of the goods they receive.

Taking a step back for a second, QR codes are big business in Asia, and particularly China, where they are a key mechanism for facilitating online-to-offline commerce — take a ride on the Beijing subway and marvel at how many codes are included in ads. Alva claimed that visual codes can be four times more effective at getting a response from customers.

Clearly, a QR code startup founder is bound to wax lyrical about QR codes, but there are some pointers to back his claim up. In addition to Alibaba’s investment — which was the company’s first in a startup in Israel — Visualead has racked up over 500,000 customers on its freemium service, though Alva would only say that “hundreds of thousands” pay for the service in some form.

Like anything, however, introducing a new standard takes time. Alva is optimistic that getting Alibaba on board will help dotless codes gain adoption with greater speed.

“In one day we can penetrate hundreds of millions of devices [via Alibaba’s Taobao app],” he said.

As for the West, Alva isn’t giving up hope. He said he believes that a little time and the right partners can help QR codes realize the potential that he believes they offer.

“People in the West say it is just a code, and it’s been ‘going to die’ every year for last five years. When we talk about O2O [online-to-offline retail] there are several guidelines that we have to have in place: education and penetration.

“These are two very important things. In China, you can see how big companies are pushing QR codes. [In the West,] it depends on several things, we have to find the right partner,” he said.

Facebook’s move to turn Messenger into a platform and the additions of payments is moving towards commerce, while rival messaging app Tango have fully embraced shopping last week. Even Amazon’s effort to simplify things with Dash, a physical button for re-ordering items, shows how things are moving — though scanning a QR code seems far easier and more flexible. As messaging apps in the West become commerce channels, as they already are in the East, so the winds of change may blow for QR codes in the West.

Visualead isn’t sitting around waiting, however. Alva hinted it is in discussions with companies in the U.S., although he declined to say which ones. Likewise, he said there’s a lot more to come.

“Yes, it’s a code, but if you use it right, the amount of things you do with it are endless,” he argued, hinting that Visualead is preparing to move into several new segments in the coming period.


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Mobile First, But What’s Next?


The ascendance of mobile devices, cloud computing and big data is having a profound impact on the lives of workers. Yet many of the business applications that run on their smartphones and tablets still fail miserably to take full advantage of this revolutionary shift. Even services that tout themselves as “mobile first” often fall short of delivering novel functionality that boosts productivity and profit.

The offerings that will come to dominate the emerging $100 billion market for enterprise applications will be those that are “authentically mobile,” a term we use to describe services that would be extremely difficult or impossible to achieve without taking full advantage of the unique properties of the mobile ecosystem.

Truly authentic mobile business applications are still pretty rare. But services from firms such as Clari and Base CRM in customer-relationship management, and from startups such as Yoi in human resources, have elements of mobile authenticity that make them harbingers of what is to come.

Mobile-first applications, which treat mobile use cases as the priority rather than the afterthought, are certainly an improvement over traditional, “pave-the-goat-paths” ones, which simply mimic desktop functionality on mobile platforms. Mobile-first services have more elegant and intuitive user interfaces, and they take greater advantage of some of the unique properties of smartphones and tablets. These include the ability to gather data via sensors and lightweight user inputs, frequent, in-the-moment, “bite size” usage, and hyper-personalization of content and operation.

But mobile-first services still focus on optimizing existing workflows for the new platform in town rather than creating new-to-the-world functionality. They are an intermediate evolutionary stage on the road toward authentically mobile applications, which are true game-changers. The following table summarizes what makes these so powerful.


Authentically mobile applications address workflows that have been frustratingly elusive in the absence of mobile devices. Unlike mobile-first ones, they also place much greater emphasis on the collection and analysis of data, which fuel the innovative experiences they deliver. Conceiving them requires far more than just a “mobile for X” startup incubator whiteboard exercise because the business process and data being tapped were simply out of bounds in the pre-mobile world.

Many workers already have consumer applications on their phones that are authentically mobile. Uber, for instance, takes advantage of the “in-the-moment” property of mobile and leverages GPS to track people’s location. It would be ridiculous to think of developing an app such as Uber for the desktop — an acid test that we can usefully pose when assessing whether a business application is authentically mobile.

Some consumer applications with at least a partial claim to mobile authenticity have already crossed over into business markets. An example is Dropbox, whose appeal is grounded in the mobile must-have property of synchronization. It’s pretty useful on the desktop, so it fails the strict acid test for mobile authenticity. Nevertheless, its value soars when it touches other devices — something that is obvious to its millions of users.

Other authentically mobile consumer apps will empower workforces in novel ways. But there is an exciting opportunity for startups to create products specifically for the corporate market with mobile authenticity at their core. The ones most likely to become multi-billion-dollar businesses will be those designed for knowledge workers. Such “carpeted floor” applications can charge higher prices and target larger markets than “linoleum floor” ones aimed at folk in warehouses, factories and hospitals.

It is still early days here, but the popularity of Slack, a workforce-collaboration tool that bills itself as “mobile native,” hints at the opportunity waiting to be tapped. Like Dropbox, Slack is a powerful tool on desktops as well as mobile, so it doesn’t pass our strict acid test. But some of its core properties, such as its “all-in-one place” hyper-integration with varied data sources and systems of record, are particularly valuable in a mobile environment. It can best be characterized as a multi-platform crossover application with an increasingly strong claim to mobile authenticity.

Business communications in general is a place where more crossover applications will emerge. Blue Jeans Network (a Wing portfolio company) already offers a service that makes it possible for employees to conduct multi-point, cross-platform videoconferences and collaborative screen shares from their mobile devices. Looking ahead, vendors may develop authentically mobile applications that make it simple for workers to, say, transfer a video session easily from a phone screen to a conference room or a desktop.

CRM is also ripe for greater mobile authenticity. Clari can send alerts to sales executives via mobile phones to ensure they have the most recent information related to a customer or a prospect before meetings. It can also prompt them to update the status of their deals on the go so that the data is captured and shared promptly. Base CRM includes geolocation functionality that maps users’ leads and contacts, and offers one-touch driving directions to get to them.

Beyond these very early examples that have at least a partial claim to mobile authenticity, the entire universe of Customer Experience Management, spanning both pre- and post-sales interactions, will be fertile ground for products that create vibrant, real-time tethers between a company’s employees and its clients.

Another cluster of authentically mobile solutions will appear in HR, which is being transformed from the disconnected, anecdotal adjunct of various Dilbert cartoons into a data-driven discipline that is tightly integrated with critical business processes. The fledgling field of “people analytics,” which measures things such as employee engagement, looks especially promising.

Yoi sets out to improve success rates in employee onboarding by providing new hires with information they need while on the move, as well as when they are at their desks. Importantly, the application also captures and quantifies data from employees in real time, feeding it back to managers who can step in swiftly to address any pain points or to speed up a learning process.

Yoi is an interesting example of how a mobile application combined with the power of data and the cloud can be used to shed more light on a rather opaque process and to improve employee-retention rates.

Other domains ripe for authentically mobile business applications range from payments to travel management and cybersecurity. As we noted earlier, some authentically mobile consumer apps will migrate into the business arena to address companies’ needs. But there is an exciting opportunity here for entrepreneurs to create new offerings designed from the ground up for companies, their customers and their workers. Plenty of shelf space is waiting to be filled in the emerging, authentically mobile application store.

Shuffle’s New iPhone App Lets You Create Disposable Phone Numbers…And Emails, Too


A new mobile app called Shuffle has launched a simple utility that lets you create additional, disposable phone numbers you can use to call or text as well as receive voicemail through, right from your iPhone. The app is a competitor to longtime favorite Burner, which has, for some time, offered similar functionality. But Shuffle takes things a step further, by also allowing you to create email aliases that forward mail to your main inbox.

It’s not unusual for people today to only have one phone: a mobile phone that often functions as their work, home phone and mobile number. But sharing that personal phone number with everyone ranging from work colleagues to some random guy looking to buy the sofa you’re selling on Craigslist doesn’t always make sense. That’s where apps like Burner have historically been able to help.

Instead of posting your private cell number to the web, or sharing it with others you’ve only just met, for example, Burner lets you set up virtual phone numbers that work with your mobile device so you can still call and text without giving up your privacy.

With Shuffle, however, founder Craig Collett wanted to introduce a tool to further protect users’ privacy by adding in support for email.

“Individuals have the need to protect their personal privacy and keep different business and social aspects of their life separated,” he explains.

For example, a user could set up different “shuffle” numbers and emails for their personal and social connections, work colleagues, other secondary businesses, dating services, classified ad postings, job searches, social networking sites, short-term projects, and more.


If a phone number became compromised by spammers or telemarketers, you can just delete it and no one can reach you on that number again.

In addition to protecting your privacy, services like this also make sense for travelers who want to be able to establish a local phone number when they’re visiting family, friends or others out-of-state.


The app itself is easy enough to use, though it does feel a little rougher around the edges than competitor Burner in terms of its sign-up flow and overall design aesthetic. However, the user interface is in other ways an improvement, as it allows you to color-code your disposable numbers which can help you quickly find them in a longer list with just a glance.

But one of the bigger advantages to Shuffle over Burner is its support for email aliases, which are also often required when posting to sites like Craigslist, for example. With Shuffle, you now have the ability to create a more complete separate identity with its own number, voicemail greeting, and email address. (You can even use text-to-speech to create your voicemail greeting which is a handy feature.)

The app also introduces a different pricing model that’s a bit more transparent. In Burner, you buy extra phone numbers using credits, which you have to purchase in packs of three and up. Not everyone likes this model because you’re often stuck with leftover credits. Shuffle instead charges fixed fees.

A single number is $1.99 per month and you can configure it to auto-renew. It then charges per transactions: calls in from regular numbers are 1.5 cents per minute; calls out are 5 cents per minute; texts are 1.5 cents; shuffle-to-shuffle calls are 1 cent per minute; and shuffle-to-shuffle texts are free. Each email alias also charges .75 cents per forwarded message. (Picture messaging is coming in a future update, pricing TBD).

Assuming you use Shuffle heavily, these small fees could add up over time into several extra dollars, but if you’re only planning to use it for temporary things like an online ad, it wouldn’t break the bank.

Like others in this same space, Shuffle is also built on top of cloud communications providerTwilio’s platform.

Collett, previously a business analyst in Alberta, first began building Shuffle (then called Privici) back in 2013 in his free time. But as of December, he quit his job to work on bootstrapped Shuffle full-time.

The app itself is now a free download on iTunes. An Android version is in the works.

1 in 3 Americans say they will never consider a self-driving car, according to a new poll

1 in 3 Americans say they will never consider a self-driving car, according to a new poll

Self-driving cars may have a long road ahead before winning over mainstream American consumers.

According to a Harris Poll survey, charted for us by BI Intelligence, 33% of all US adults indicated they will never consider buying or leasing a self-driving vehicle. The distaste for self-driving cars was even higher among older groups, with 36% of both Generation X (ages 38-49) and Baby Boomers (ages 50-68), and 50% of Matures (69+) indicating they would never buy/lease a self-driving vehicle.

We’re still years away from a time when self-driving cars are available to the general public. The fact that two-thirds of Americans are not completely averse to the technology is promising.

Still, there are clearly concerns about the safety and reliability of self-driving vehicles — 22% of respondents said they would consider buying a self-driving car when the “bugs” have been worked out. All age groups except the Millennials cited concerns about technical bugs as the main reason for not buying a self-driving car.

Google will have to allay those concerns if it wants its autonomous cars to catch on with the public. On Monday, Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving car program, announced that the company’s prototype vehicles have been involved in only 11 minor accidents, with no injuries, during 1.7 million miles of driving. “And not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” Urmson noted, though he did not provide any details about the accidents.

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