Brands Look Far and Wide for a Niche in Virtual Reality


From my story in The New York Times:

Even in virtual reality, it seems, there will be no escape from advertising.

The Oculus Rift, which is owned by Facebook, won’t be available until early next year, but many of the two billion consumers worldwide who own smartphones can already try out virtual reality on the cheap with Cardboard, a device from Google that folds into a viewer with a slot for a smartphone. As more devices come to market with the aim of making virtual reality more commonplace, advertisers and agencies hope virtual reality will be the next great medium for persuading consumers to buy stuff.

For now, marketers are producing mostly eye candy in their own apps and on YouTube’s #360Video channel. But with virtual reality movies, shows and stories coming soon, the question is what kind of ads, if any, will work on the platform.

Companies including Coca-Cola, Volvo and HBO are struggling to figure that out. So are publishers like Facebook, which introduced 360-degree ads on Thursday, including video ads from AT&T, Nestlé and other brands. …

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SF App Startup Cola Creates ‘Slack For The Rest Of Us’


message thread 1

From my Forbes blog:

There’s no end of messaging apps that let you exchange texts, photos and videos with friends–Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and so on. There are also a lot of business-oriented apps such as Slack, HipChat, and Yammer.

But what about a messaging app that lets you address the space in between entertainment and work, which is to say coordinating and planning activities with a few friends or coworkers? That’s what Cola aims to do.

Today the San Francisco-based startup is launching a limited, private beta test of an app that uses messaging as the basis for a wide variety of common things people want to get done, from figuring out where and when to meet with friends and creating joint to-do lists to tracking expenses at work and even engaging in multi-player games. The idea, says cofounder and CEO David Temkin, is that messaging has emerged as the most important function of a smartphone and even the foundation of many apps on the smartphone, from Uber to DoorDash to Venmo. “We are entering an era when messaging is the central app, like the browser was for the Web,” says Temkin.

Indeed, Temkin hopes to make Cola the first “messaging OS,” a platform on which activities that need to be coordinated among a small number of people can get done using messaging as the essential delivery mechanism. …

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Pandora Eyes Offline Mode For Its Music Service


From my Forbes blog:

Despite the widespread and growing popularity of the streaming music service Pandora, it faces one big obstacle: If you’re offline, you’re out of luck.

But it’s clear that Pandora wants to fix that situation, especially since rivals such as Spotify and Apple Music have ways you can listen offline. Today at the M1 Summit mobile conference in San Francisco, a Pandora executive’s comments suggested that Pandora is seriously considering an offline mode.

The comments came in response to a question posed to several mobile companies on a panel, including Pandora and the mobile sports ticket service Gametime. “It’s something we’re looking at,” said Lisa Sullivan-Cross, vice president of growth marketing at Pandora. “It’s on our minds.”

Asked after the panel for more details, Sullivan-Cross declined to add much. “We know our customers want it,” she told Forbes. “I don’t know if or when.” …

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Pingpad: A New Social Network For Getting Things Done

Pingpad CEO and cofounder Ross Mayfield

Pingpad CEO and cofounder Ross Mayfield

From my Forbes blog:

There’s no lack of apps to communicate and collaborate with friends, family and colleagues. You use messaging apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to ping friends, and maybe team collaboration darling Slack at work. You’ve got document sharing apps and services such as Google Docs, Quip or Microsoft Office Mobile, Dropbox for storing files, maybe Evernote for quick notes, and oh-so-many calendars for your job, your family, and your kids’ soccer teams. And of course there’s still email.

Whew. And therein lies the problem, says Ross Mayfield. The 44-year-old serial entrepreneur knows collaborative software, having co-founded Socialtext in 2002 to commercialize the seminal group-edited Web pages called wikis. Now, he believes that precisely because of the explosion of communications, collaboration, and productivity apps since then, there’s a need for a much more simple way to bring them all together. When Mayfield and his future wife were planning their wedding, for instance, he needed to use a wide array of apps and Web services to keep track of catering and location options, as well as arrange activities such as a wishing tree that required help from friends. The scattered nature of all those tools made it difficult for multiple people to use, especially on the go.

Today, Mayfield’s year-old startup, Pingpad, is launching a free app on Apple’s and Google’s app stores and a connected service on the Web that aims to elevate messaging into a way for people to get things done–and not just at work. Unlike at Socialtext and largely unlike most collaboration services all the way from Lotus Notes to Yammer to Slack, the nine-person company isn’t chiefly aimed at businesses. “We had a lot of innovation around collaboration in the 2000s,” he said in an interview in the makeshift upstairs office at his newly rented house near downtown Palo Alto. “But very little of it reached consumers.” …

Already, messaging has started to become something of an atomic unit of many kinds of apps. Even non-messaging apps such as Uber, Instagram, Meerkat, Facebook, and Twitter are appealing in part because they have short messages at their core to make their services quick and easy to use. That has some experts comparing the impact of messaging to that of operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows that serve as platforms for many applications. “We see messaging as the new OS–all sorts of activity will happen inside of it,” says Marc Canter, co-founder of Cola, a messaging startup not quite ready to announce its service. …

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3-D Imaging Firm Matterport Raises $30 Million For Mobile Push

From my blog The New Persuaders:

As virtual reality headsets such as Samsung Gear, Google’s Cardboard, and hotly anticipated devices from Magic Leap and Facebook’s Oculus Rift have gotten big press lately, one question is what we’ll actually do on these things besides play even cooler games.

Matterport, which last year started selling a $4,500 3-D scanning camera currently aimed mainly at real estate firms that want to provide a more immersive experience for potential buyers, hopes to enable a lot more applications to be created more easily. Today, the Mountain View-based company announced it has raised a $30 million Series C funding round led by Qualcomm Ventures to build out that vision.

The company plans to use the money in part to develop software to make it possible for almost anyone to capture 3-D content using future tablets and smartphones that incorporate 3-D sensors. In particular, CEO Bill Brown said in an interview, “We want to make it very easy for third-party apps to create and use this type of content.” Today, Matterport began accepting applications to its developer program.

As much buzz as Magic Leap, Oculus, and other VR devices have gotten, compelling content and apps will be key to making them the mass-market product that their makers keep insisting they will be. As Ben Miller, director of content development at WEVR, a VR studio in Venice, Calif., put it recently, there is no killer app for VR yet.

Matterport has found one that, if it isn’t a killer, is at least promising: real estate. …

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Why Are TV Makers Pushing Cadillacs When We Really Want Ferraris?


Samsung shows off huge new TV (Photo: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

Are TV makers going the way of Detroit in the 1960s? In what many, including those who didn’t bother to attend, are calling a boring Consumer Electronics Show, the star attractions seem to be leviathans such as Samsung’s and Sony’s new 84-inch TV sets. Even they apparently is not amazing enough, because Samsung is promising a 110-inch model later this year.

Size isn’t the only way they’re big, either. Those 84-inchers, which one Sony executive had the audacity to call “Ferraris,” costs $25,000, more than I will ever pay for a car, let alone a TV. And they have more pixels than my never-acute eyesight can ever process–even if there were content created for them, which there isn’t.

Seriously, guys, I’m not buying another TV for a very long time. The screen I’ve got is as big as I can fit in my living room, and that’s not going to change. Even if I did have a bigger living room, a big-ass 84-inch TV would feel faintly embarrassing, like tractor tires on a little pickup.

What’s more, not a single Smart TV feature, no matter how cool, is going to sway me to pony upwards of a thousand dollars for a new set to replace a perfectly fine screen. I’ve got TiVo, I’ve got Apple TV, I’ve got Roku, I’ve got Google TV, and probably there’s some other add-on device I can’t even remember. All of them offer more features and apps than I will ever use.

All of this makes me think of those road hogs of the late 1950s and early 1960s that Detroit insisted on manufacturing shortly before those cheap little imports ate their lunch. The fact is that more and more TV watching is occurring on much smaller screens, especially tablets. The sofa spuds of today don’t drive Cadillacs. We want Ferraris, or even Priuses. …

Read the rest of the post at The New Persuaders.