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All posts tagged Zula

 

The Messaging App Came of Age This Year…

No vertical seems untouched over the last year by messaging apps of different shapes, sizes and often contradictory descriptions.

Let’s take a look at some of the more memorable or notorious companies and their apps from 2014:

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Why These Apps?

January        Snapchat suffers a data breach which exposed user details in December of 2013 and finally apologized to its users in January of 2014. The company famous for disappearing messages no doubt wished the bad PR could disappear in much the same manner.

February    Rakuten buys Viber for a cool $900 million. Since then the Israeli startup has radically revamped its Windows Phone app with a gorgeous UX and in the last few weeks announced that Viber will be pivoting from Skype competitor into also becoming a social gaming platform.

Facebook, not to be out done in acquisitions closed the deal to buy Whatsapp for an unbelievable $19 billion. Most commentators responses ranged around gobsmacked.

Mark Andreesen started raving about the viral growth of Slack, a workplace collaboration tool built by former co-founder of Flickr, Stewart Butterfield.

June        Kickass Israeli startup Zula announced raising $3million in their series A round. The company has previously drawn the attention/investment of Microsoft Ventures and may just be fielding the A-Team of start-up talents with the likes of founders Jacob Ner-David and Jeff Pulver, CMO Hillel Fuld and a slew of others.

    Zula hasn’t been resting on their laurels, with the Zula Messaging Summit in New York several weeks ago and rumors of a Windows Phone version in the works for their workplace collaborative / productivity app.

July    Facebook closed the faucet for good on messaging from within Facebook itself. It was their separate Messenger app or nothing to the chagrin of many users. In addition, many questioned the need for a separate messaging app with the acquisition of Whatsapp. For now, it seems that Facebook is happy to have both apps and their user bases.

August    Secret became a household app during 2014 (perhaps in response to the revelations of NSA spying, people wanted the ability to maintain anonymity) but in August CNN and others started to report on a security hole that allowed anyone to identify users with relative ease. Secret patched this but the combination of this flaw and the ease with which anonymity seemed to encourage darker behavior led to some users abandoning the app.

November    Microsoft made big announcements about Lync becoming Skype for Business and the start of a by-invite preview of Skype on the Web. This led to a resounding cry of, “About time!”

        With Lync, Skype and Yammer all Microsoft properties in the messaging arena and Skype seeming to be part of the Office family yet neither integrated with Office, the web or One Drive this was welcome news.

December    Snapchat exercised their rights by having all 3rd party apps built on Snapchat taken down from the Microsoft Store for Windows Phone. It is unclear if this signals interest on Snapchat’s part in launching their own Windows Phone app or if they are protecting users from the alleged security compromises these apps often incur. Either way, Windows Phone users are left hanging by a messaging app that seems incapable of communicating with potential users about its intent.

The Warptest POV

These are just the highlights of the year of the messaging app. There are no shortages of use cases, solutions or controversy (in some cases): –

  • Some apps are designed to ensure the user’s anonymity.
  • Some apps are social networks in their own right.
  • Workplace productivity and collaboration.
  • Extending the conversation to include the results of 3rd party plugins e.g. Slack, Atlassian’s Hipchat and Skype all allow integration with Jenkins or other Continuous Integration / Dev Ops tools. Slack has IFTTT and Hipchat has Zapier for interacting with / triggering actions from other web apps.
  • Some apps guarantee your data will vanish after some time and others guarantee the safety and permanency of your data.
  • Some apps are platform agnostic and support all desktop and mobile OS alike.
  • Some apps seem hellbent on remaining exclusive to only Android or iOS.

One thing is for sure, the user has more choice than ever before and doesn’t have to search far to find the best app to suit their needs for personal and business use.

2014 certainly seems the year of the messaging app. What’s next for these apps and what innovations do you hope to see in 2015?

 

Microsoft Hosted Think Next 2014 This Week…

At the Tel Aviv Port and I came away with from the event impressed on several levels.

For those of you not in the know, Think Next is the annual industry event for Startups that participate with the Microsoft Accelerator or that Microsoft Ventures has invested in. In addition, the event has a theme associated with the keynotes and the Demo Fest. This year’s theme was Creativity in Technology. No Limits.

There was no shortage of technology or creativity.

Demo Fest

The most significant thing about Think Next 2014 was not just the incredible technology or innovation on display, nor the crowds of people attending the event, it was the incredible people behind the innovations and creativity at Demo Fest.

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As I wandered the stands and saw the demos I was struck by the immense number and variety of innovations on show but also that approximately half the stands were displaying innovations by Microsoft. Initially I wondered about this and then it occurred to me that Locard’s Exchange Principle was in play here:

As the Windows 8.1 Bing Search above indicates, this is a theory of forensic science that anyone or anything, entering a crime scene both takes something of the scene with them, and leaves something of themselves behind when they leave. Can you apply this outside of Crime Scene Forensics? yes, I believe you can.

Microsoft began the Accelerator and Microsoft Ventures to invest in, mentor, nurture and assist Startups with great ideas but as Locard’s Principle states you don’t just leave something behind, you also take something with you. In this case, it appears that the Startup mentality has become a greater part of Microsoft itself.

Microsoft was always innovative but speaking to their employees who were demonstrating and explaining the technology and ideas behind it I was impressed, inspired and a little awed by the passion and creativity I was seeing. This was on par with what I saw with the Startup demos.

The Warptest POV

Think Next 2014 gave me a lot to think about and if I had to pick a few of the incredible ideas on display to mention then they would probably be these: –

  • Microsoft Cortana AI/ Electronic Personal Assistant for Windows Phone. (see my description here)
  • StoreDot‘s incredible prototype 30 second chargeable smartphone battery
  • Zula: a winning mobile solution for team collaboration.
  • ZUtA Labs: A pocket-sized robot printer that travels across your paper, printing as it goes. Join their Kickstarter here)
  • Intendu: leveraging Kinect technology to provide neurocognitive rehabilitation.
  • Stratasys: 3D Printing. Their demo was run using a desktop 3D Printer connected to a Windows 8 laptop.
  • Microsoft Photosynth: the new and improved 3D App for stitching panoramas from your photos

I strongly recommend checking out the other incredible innovations that were on display via this link.

Think Next 2014 was more confirmation that Microsoft of today is a company with a clear vision of where they are going, how they are getting there and who they want to make that journey with.

If this doesn’t sound like the Microsoft you thought you knew then maybe it’s time to revisit what Microsoft can solve for you today.

 

Microsoft Ventures Invests In Zula…

Zula, the mobile productivity app. Zula is the combined brainchild of Jeff Pulver and Jacob Ner-David; a solution to the challenge of mobile team communication.

Zula - snapshot of landing page

Zula recently announced the launch of their Android App adding to their existing iOS App.

Can’t We Just Use Email Like Everyone Else?

Email as a team communication solution for productive work is as effective as using one of the existing IM Apps out there.

Even with filters, flags or rules (depending on which email system you are using) emails get lost in the herd. Following threads can be a challenge at the best of times and the ability to find a specific piece of information after the fact can reduce a grown man to tears.

Not using Zula - cartoon

Add to that the tendency of workers to often send attachments and not take full advantage of linking to shared documents / media in the cloud and email is just so pre-Y2K.

Throw Mobile into the Mix

Microsoft Ventures makes a strong point in their press release that Zula are meeting the challenges of mobile productivity with their App. In the past, in fact back in February 2012 I’d made some pointed suggestions about Skype here on Warptest in the hope that Microsoft was on my wavelength.

Things are still happening on that front (albeit slowly), meanwhile Microsoft announced in June 2012 the acquisition of Yammer tagged as the Enterprise Social Network.

Microsoft Yammer Infographic - not Zula

Image cropped from infographic courtesy of Microsoft News

One of the speculations for the $1.2 billion purchase of Yammer by Microsoft was as a foil to Google+. The expectation was that Google+ with Google Apps / Drive and hangouts would become the primary collaborative environment for companies using Google Apps.

Meanwhile Yammer is moving towards full integration with Office365, Sharepoint and Microsoft Dynamics but more importantly has mobile applications for Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone.

The Big Question

So why would Microsoft Ventures invest in Zula, which seems to be a clear competitor for Yammer?

Yammer - Not Zula

The Warptest POV

Putting aside the fact that Google seems asleep at the wheel with selling Google+ as the central hub for collaborative, real-time productivity, it’s important to keep in mind that: –

  1. Whilst Yammer has mobile apps for the platform is it really a mobile-centric or scalable solution? Developing a mobile App for a desktop solution is not the same as creating a mobile-centric solution and if you are going to invest in that then it pays to find the right people to invest in too.
  2. Yammer touts itself as Enterprise that’s all well and good but a solution for smaller companies, offshore and ad hoc projects make sense too. Zula is filling a niche that Yammer didn’t focus on.
  3. The backend: I’ve mentioned before that it’s my belief that Microsoft sees the value in making backend sales as an entry point into company purchasing. As Zula scales with greater numbers of users what will the backend be for its Android and iOS Apps?

IMHO well played Microsoft Ventures for not missing a product or team with huge potential and congratulations to Zula for getting that investment.

So the only question I have right now is,

When do we see the Windows Phone version of Zula? I know I would love to take it for a spin.

If you haven’t tried Zula yet and want to, the links to the two app stores are here.