Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Apple opened 437 new retail stores, made 20 acquisitions in 2014 and teases ‘wonderful plans’ for Beats

Fifth Avenue Apple Store

Apple’s flow of information doesn’t end with the announcement of their Q4 2014 earnings, as the Cupertino-based company continues to outline other impressive areas of growth.

During the conference call that took place immediately following the public release of their Q4 2014 earnings, it was revealed that Apple managed to open more than 400 new Apple Stores around the globe. 437, to be specific. More than that, though, the company also outlined how their growth is strengthened with acquisitions from varying niche markets. It was revealed during the company’s Q3 2014 earnings call that the company had acquired 29 different companies since fiscal 2013, and now Apple has opened up on their most recent numbers:

20 acquisitions in 2014, with 7 of them taking place within the September quarter alone.

Many of the companies that Apple officially acquired are well known by now, including the largest of the bunch: Beats Electronics. Others, though, include LuxVue, Swell, Spotsetter and BookLamp. What the impact these acquisitions will make on Apple and its products remains to be seen, but with each new company brought into the fold, the technology they bring in is obviously meant to improve several areas.

Finally, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook also teased “wonderful things” for Beats, but wouldn’t go into any details at the time. It has been rumored heavily as of late that Beats will go through a major rebranding effort in 2015, which could include a drop in monthly subscription pricing to $5 per month.

On Monday, October 20, Apple revealed that the company had a Q4 2014 revenue of $42.1 billion, with 39 million iPhones sold by the end of it. Additionally, Apple also revealed that iTunes posted $4.6 billion in revenue for the same time period, with a cumulative app download total of over 85 billion.

Apple sold a record-breaking 5.5 million Macs in Q4 2014

image iMac

Apple has already revealed the total number of iPhones, iPods, iPads and Macs that the company sold by the end of the fourth quarter in 2014, but during the conference call revealed more specifics about the record-breaking quarter.

Apple revealed during their conference call immediately following the official results for their Q4 2014 that the Mac lineup has sold a total of 5.5 million within the fourth quarter of 2014. The results prompted Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, to call them “stunning,” and that the “Back to school season voted, and Mac won.” The 5.5 million Macs in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2014 marks the highest number of Macs sold in a quarter by Apple to date.

It is also up more than 1 million year-over-year, and the total means a 21% growth from the same quarter in 2013. The total sales equals $6.6 billion. As a final note, Apple revealed that the company had sold 19 million Macs throughout the total quarter of 2014, and that sales were particularly strong for the MacBook Pro lineup, as well as the MacBook Air.

Earlier on Monday, October 20, Apple revealed that the company had earned a revenue of $42.1 billion for the fiscal fourth quarter of 2014, and that iTunes had netted $4.6 billion in sales within the same time frame. Apple also revealed that they had opened more than 400 new Apple Stores around the globe, had made 20 new acquisitions throughout their year, and that there are big plans in the works for Beats.

On October 16, Apple launched their 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display, with a starting price tag of $2,499.99.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kevin Rose Is AngelList's Million-Dollar Man

Next time Kevin Rose makes an angel investment, he has more than $1.1 million at his beck and call to do it.

Rose is the current leading man on AngelList, where 245 people have committed to put their own money into any of the deals he does. He told them he expects five seed investments per year.

Digg founder Kevin Rose

Digg founder Kevin Rose

Rose has collected those commitments in just one week, since AngelList launched a feature that allows backers to put their money behind small investors as part of its investing syndicate product.

Rose does have a day job - as an investor, no less - at Google Ventures. Does all this support make him want to go solo? Apparently not.

"I'll be syndicating my Google Ventures seed deals through AngelList whenever possible," he said this morning. "I won't be returning to the independent angel world - still full-time and focused on Google Ventures."

Rose's quick ascent to the top of the AngelList leaderboard reflects the fact that he is a tech celeb, having kicked off his career as a tech television show host, and has since become Internet-famous for founding the community site Digg (he also founded a company called Milk, which didn't really go anywhere, and was bought by Google, leading to his employment there). Not to say that Rose isn't a savvy investor; his personal deals include Twitter, Square and Ngmoco.

Rose said his backers are not just his fans; many of them are accomplished tech investors on their own. "If you look at the backers, these are insanely talented folks, founders, designers, really connected folks I'd like to have involved in my business," Rose wrote via email today. He named as examples AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant, author Tim Ferriss, Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann, key Facebook advertising engineer Yun-Fang Juan, and Facebook designer Bobby Goodlatte.

Besides Rose, the AngelList syndicates leaderboard is full of many familiar names, several of whom also happen to have invested in each other's syndicates.

(And apparently, there is some flexibility in what will qualify as an angel, considering that Rose plans to channel his Google Ventures deals, and institutions like Betaworks are on the list.)

Path co-founder Dave Morin has more than $900,000 per deal, Launch conference creator and rabble rouser Jason Calacanis has more than $750,000, and Ferriss, Betaworks, Ravikant, Lee Jacobs, Brad Feld and Dan Bragiel all have more than $100,000. The leading woman on the list is Juan, now an EIR at the Social+Capital Partnership, with almost $50,000.

AngelList CEO Naval Ravikant

AngelList CEO Naval Ravikant

Ferriss and Betaworks have already completed syndicated funding rounds for startups: $2 million each for shipping service Shyp and sensor startup Estimote, respectively.

The syndicate program, which promises to give small investors more clout, has been met with glee by some and skepticism by others.

Various early criticisms include the expectations that angels may not be as good as VCs at helping companies through critical times, that startup founders will be turned off by angels bringing too much money and that the syndicate program is a popularity contest.

"All valid concerns," Rose said today. "It's really on a case-by-case basis; every company has different needs, depending on the stage."

Ravikant of AngelList brushed off the criticism, too. "I haven't seen a single problem or issue mentioned that isn't solvable," he said. "We are just going to execute on product. This is a 10-year mission, and our recent financing allows us to be very patient and focused."

AngelList just raised $24 million, a round that was coincidentally co-led by Google Ventures. (Those looking to find conflicts and overlaps won't have to try hard!)

However, AngelList this week turned off its email-invitation functionality, which helped angels ask people to join their syndicate, because it seemed too spammy, Ravikant said. He said the emails would come back as digests that made the terms of investing clearer.

IBM Acquires Wireless-Analysis Company Now Factory


Computing services giant IBM said today that it will acquire the Now Factory, a privately held company based in Dublin, Ireland, that creates software used to analyze wireless network usage. Financial terms were not disclosed.

IBM said Now Factory's capabilities will be added to its MobileFirst Analytics portfolio of services that analyze business data and seek to optimize the experience customers have online.

Service providers are straining under the load of data demands as consumers try to use more video, gaming and other online data on their phones and tablets. The Now Factory adds capabilities to analyze how consumers interact with various services on their phones, and to yield faster insights on their behavior, Big Blue said.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Make Lots of Web Video, Really Fast: Get Rid of (Most of) the Humans

robot shutterstock:Rainer Plendl

Image copyright Rainer Plendl

Heads up, professional video makers: Robots may be coming for your jobs.

We've already seen that software can replace human beings who used to write and edit news stories. Now, Wochit, an Israeli-born startup, is trying to do the same thing with video news.

And it's quite possible that you've seen some of its work already: Wochit's stuff is running on big portals like Yahoo, and on many smaller sites, via distributors like Grab Media.

Wochit can take prewritten stories from outlets like Reuters and turn them into videos by assembling an appropriate mix of images, clips and narration. Human beings touch the video twice during production - once when a "moderator" quickly scans the clip to make sure the basic elements are in the right place, and once when someone reads the voice-over copy.

Wochit said the entire process takes an average of 10 minutes, and that lets the company make hundreds of clips a day.

The results have been getting better throughout the year. Now they're quite passable. Here's how Wochit handled a story this morning about President Obama and the Too Big to Fail banks:

No one's going to mistake this stuff for a "60 Minutes" report. But, depending on the use case, it may certainly be good enough. Wochit is aimed at Web video, where lots of people are looking for ad-friendly clips that users might also click on. But in the not-so-distant future, I can see this stuff working on conventional TV, too.

Eventually, Wochit CEO Keith McAllister said, the company wants to set up a self-service system where anyone could feed it text and get a usable video. If a brand like, um, AllThingsD wanted to add our own narration (or whatever), we could do that, too.

This is likely worrisome for some human beings who currently get paid to edit and produce news videos. But humans have been grappling with the pros and cons of automation for a long time.

And if you want to put a sunnier face on it, feel free to paraphrase my take on it when I wrote about the possibility that Narrative Science's story-writing robots might take my job: "The trick for content makers like myself is to find work that only content makers like myself can do - work where human qualities like experience, judgment and creativity get rewarded. And if we can't do that, we ought to be doing something else, anyway."

Here's a quick interview I conducted (but didn't edit) with McAllister last week: