Rackspace acquires Datapipe as it looks to expand its managed services business

Rackspace today announced its intention to acquire Datapipe, one of its largest competitors in the managed public and private cloud services business. Rackspace expects the acquisition, which is its largest one yet, to close in the next quarter.

The two privately held companies did not disclose the financial details of the transaction, but Datapipe has raised more than $310 million in equity funding since its launch in 1998 and this deal surely didn’t come cheap. Datapipe’s majority owner, Abry Partners, will become an equity investor in Rackspace and the combined company will have more than 6,700 employees and do more than $2.4 billion in annual revenue.

“The reason we’re buying them is that we want to extend our leadership in multi-cloud services,” Rackspace chief strategy officer Matt Bradley told me. “It’s a sign and signal that we’re going for it.” Bradley expects that the combined company will make Rackspace the largest private cloud player and the largest managed hosting service. He also noted that the fact that Rackspace is now a private company again, with a single owner, allowed it to go for this deal. “This would have been very hard to get done under our old structure,” he noted.

While Datapipe has been extremely successful in the enterprise and with government customers, Rackspace has traditionally focused more on the mid-market segment. Indeed, Bradley argues that the two companies didn’t typically compete on every deal and he stressed that even their product portfolios are quite different, too. He added that while Rackspace could have gained similar technical capabilities by making a number of smaller acquisitions, that process would have taken much longer and wouldn’t necessarily have given Rackspace access to the kind of customers that Datapipe currently works with, and Bradley argues that would’ve taken at least two years — if not longer.

 

Those customers include a large number of large public-sector companies, but also the U.S. departments of defense, energy and justice, in addition to the U.K.’s cabinet office, ministry of justice and department of transportation.

Once the acquisition closes, Rackspace will also get new data centers and offices in markets where it currently doesn’t have much of a presence, including the West Coast (something its customers have long asked for), Brazil, China and Russia. In China, Datapipe also currently offers managed services on the fast-growing Alibaba Cloud and that’s surely a market Rackspace wants to play in, too. Rackspace will also get access to Datapipe’s colocation services — a market it hasn’t traditionally played in — and the company’s professional services businesses.

Bradley noted that Rackspace can also bring new capabilities to current Datapipe users, including its services for Azure Stack and VMware Cloud on AWS, as well as its managed services on the Google Cloud Platform.

Because the two companies still have to wait for regulatory approval, some of the details of what the combined company will look like remain unclear. The official word is that “Rackspace will develop a comprehensive integration plan and will take great care to maintain and
enhance the exceptional customer outcomes that both companies are known for.” Rackspace also notes that its executive team will stay in place and might expand after the acquisition closes.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/11/rackspace-acquires-datapipe-as-it-looks-to-expand-its-managed-cloud-business/

EEVO, a startup powering VR apps for the BBC and others, raises $1.3M

EEVO‘s goal, in the words of co-founder and CEO Alejandro Dinsmore, is “democratizing the creation and delivery of immersive experiences.”

In other words, the Brooklyn startup aims to help publishers and other content creators build virtual reality experiences for smartphones without making a big investment. In fact, to use EEVO’s “Composer,” they only need 360-degree video and other media assets — no programming required.

EEVO first raised $1 million in angel funding in 2015. Since then, it participated in Techstars NYC and recently closed another $1.3 million in funding from Eagle Advisors, FundersClub, 37 Angels and others.

It also provided the technology behind the new Taster smartphone app from the BBC, which offers virtual reality experiences tied to BBC shows like Planet Earth II.

 

“The technology EEVO supply for our BBC Taster VR app for iPhone and Android makes creating interactive 360 video a lot easier than it has been before,” said BBC Senior Product Manager David Johnston in a statement. “The Composer window is simple enough that a content producer can use it but has enough complexity that we can try exciting new formats for the medium.”

Dinsmore said that publishers like the BBC are less focused on attracting a huge audience for their VR initiatives, and more on seeing how people respond as they experiment. And when that’s the goal, it makes less sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single project — instead, publishers need to find tools that allow them to create VR content quickly and consistently.

“One of the interesting shifts that we see in the ecosystem is the alignment between expectations and reality is much closer,” Dinsmore said.  “People are looking to build an internal capability around creating compelling experiences in VR and AR, rather than trying to get 1 million downloads of a VR app.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/11/eevo-a-startup-powering-vr-apps-for-the-bbc-and-others-raises-1-3m/

WhatsApps first ads appear on Facebook and start convos with businesses

WhatsApp is preparing to finally monetize, and its first move follows the same strategy as Facebook Messenger. TechCrunch has discovered code in Facebook’s ad manager that lets businesses buy ads with the call to action “Send WhatsApp Message.”

We reached out for comment and a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch “We’re testing a new way for people to start a chat with a business in WhatsApp from a Facebook ad. This makes it easier for people to connect with businesses that they care about on WhatsApp.” They clarified that for now, WhatsApp isn’t selling ads on its own app, but testing a WhatsApp chat button on Facebook ads that directly opens a conversation with a business in WhatsApp.

The Next Web’s Matt Navarra initially spotted the WhatsApp name in Facebook’s ad manager code, in a way that didn’t describe how the ads work. Upon further investigation, TechCrunch found this “Send WhatsApp Message” code.

 

This week WhatsApp announced its plan to eventually charge businesses, stirring worries that businesses might be able to cold-message users with sponsored message ads. But WhatsApp tells TechCrunch that businesses will only be able to contact WhatsApp users that have agreed to be messaged by initiating the conversation. That’s the same way Facebook Messenger-sponsored messages work, where businesses can pay to reconnect with people they’re already chatting with.

So, a business could use the tested Facebook ads feature to get users to spark conversations with their company, and then have the ability to contact them in the future, potentially through sponsored messages. For example, an e-commerce business could buy Facebook ads that start a conversation with its style consulting service on WhatsApp, then later message that user with promotions for new clothing lines.

Facebook Messenger first monetized with “Click-To-Message” ads that appear on Facebook, and now WhatsApp is doing the same to help businesses get people to start conversations with them

This was the first way Facebook Messenger began monetizing in 2015 though “Click-To-Message” ads that lived on Facebook proper. Messenger eventually began injecting display ads into the inbox, which WhatsApp could one day allow, too. Alternatively, it could charge large enterprises like banks or airlines for special management of high volumes of messages or e-commerce and customer service transactions.

WhatsApp initially promised not to show ads when it was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014. Whether it will stick to that is unclear, considering display ads ended up in Messenger. But with this new test, WhatsApp can start earning its keep and keeping its promise by outsourcing its ad hosting to the Facebook News Feed.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/08/whatsapp-ads/

Equifax security and information executives are stepping down

Top executives at Equifax are retiring effective immediately, according to the WSJ. Susan Mauldin was the company’s chief security officer and David Webb was the chief information officer. The report says the executives are retiring, though, in the wake of the company’s major security breach, “retire” feels like an euphemism for “fired.”

We reached out to Equifax for additional information.

The company says the personnel changes will happen immediately, with Mark Rohrwasser taking over Webb’s spot as CIO and Russ Ayres becoming the interim CSO. Rohrwasser previously led Equifax’s International IT operations and Ayres was the VP of IT at Equifax.

Equifax reported last week a leak on July 29 that compromised the data of 143 million Americans. This breach included Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver license numbers. As though that weren’t bad enough, 209,000 people had their credit card info leaked, and the breach also included dispute documents with personally identifying information from 182,000 consumers.

Following the report, the company came under fire for its response, which was both lackadaisical and callous. The website that the company set up to assist consumers was at best broken and at worst, a scam. Phone calls to the company followed the same trend, and, since then, Congress is reportedly looking into the issue.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/15/equifax-security-and-information-executives-are-stepping-down/

Facebook is testing a feature for mentorships between users

Earlier this year, Facebook signalled a plan to move into LinkedIn’s territory with the launch of job advertising. Now it appears to be taking another step to help develop the professional you. TechCrunch has learned that Facebook is testing a way to use its social network to link up users who are looking for mentorships, either as mentors or mentees.

Our first look at the mentoring service came from a source, who had found a couple of references to mentoring in Facebook’s code. They appear to be fragments from a set of guidelines for mentors, introducing them to the program:

Later, we found that another person spotted an internal run of how the feature would look on the mobile app. It appears that the app matches a mentee’s interests up with those of the mentor’s, and by way of introduction, gives them a list of points they have in common, including friends, education, geographic location and — most importantly — profession:

Working on a mentorship service would be a logical step for Facebook for a few reasons.

The first has to do with its leader’s ambitions.

In May, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post about his plan this year to visit every state in the U.S. where had yet to spend much time, in particular meeting with different groups that highlighted persistent social issues in the US (and no, Zuckerberg insists he’s not interested in running for political office). In that post, he noted ways that he thought Facebook could help people improve their lot in life.

One area he honed in on in particular: By leveraging the size of the social network, Facebook could facilitate mentoring relationships to help people raise their job prospects. Zuckerberg also noted that he was starting to build this with teams at Facebook.

“Facebook has been focused on helping you connect with people you already know,” he wrote. “We’ve built AI systems to recommend ‘People You May Know’. But it might be just as important to also connect you with people you should know — mentors and people outside your circle who care about you and can provide a new source of support and inspiration.

There are a number of models for how this might work. The Peace Corps creates service opportunities where people exchange culture and build new relationships. Perhaps we could build a new digital peace corps. Another model is Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, where people who have struggled with these challenges and overcome them go on to become mentors for others, with the hope of training them to one day become mentors themselves. This is something I’ve only recently started studying and working with our teams at Facebook to build.

The second reason this makes sense has to do with Facebook’s development of career services.

 

As we noted, earlier this year, the company finally took the (long anticipated) plunge into recruitment, letting businesses that have Pages on Facebook now augment them with ads for jobs.

The move was seen by many as a direct competitive hit to Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, which is far smaller in size (around 500 million users compared to Facebook’s 2 billion) but has a reputation as the go-to social network for the working world — a place where people go to create a public, professional profile for themselves, to network with others in their field, for career development and to look for jobs.

Interestingly, just earlier this summer, LinkedIn unveiled its own free mentoring program, as a way of complementing its existing business and to drive more career-related traffic to the site. Offering a mentoring service could be a way for Facebook, too, to drive more traffic to its job-listings and to build its reputation as a place to develop your career.

The third reason this makes sense relates to a more general trend at Facebook itself. As the company matures and we reach our fill of reconnecting with people we knew in college and high school, jobs and current social lives, Facebook has been on the hunt for more ways of leveraging its social network, and building even more connections across it (beyond actual friends) to boost engagement.

These have included various twists on the basic idea of discovering yet more people on the network, people who may not be in your immediate circle but match your interests and location, or are friends of friends who you have yet to connect with, or might be someone you might like to actually meet, Tinder-style, based on compatible interests.

It’s also included Facebook developing a completely new kind of social graph: Workplace, an enterprise communications service for teams and larger organizations.

What we’ve seen of the mentorship service feels like it has been developed in the same vein as the people discovery feature, with the listing of common friends and other compatibility markers.

But mentoring has a key difference: some of the new discover people features raise questions of just how much we want to connect with those on Facebook who we don’t actually know or consider friends already. To some the service can even feel a little stalkerish.

Mentoring relationships, on the other hand, are more mutually complicit and separate to any expectation of friendship — despite the direct connections and private chats you will have with each other. It signals a new phase for Facebook, but one that is not out of step with its move into services like Workplace, job ads, and commercial activities like Marketplace.

We have contacted Facebook for comment and will update this post as and if we learn more.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/11/facebook-is-testing-a-feature-for-mentorships-between-users/

I dont want the new iPhone X and I cant be alone

Apple announced the latest iPhone yesterday. It’s thinner, faster and has a better screen than the previous model. But of course it does. That’s how these things go. But the phone also lacks things I consider part of my daily life. I’m lost. This iPhone is not for me.

Without these two features, I’ll stick with the boring and passé iPhone 8. The iPhone X follows a troubling trend. Apple is seemingly in a habit of reducing core features rather than advancing them. Maybe I’m an old man yelling at clouds for moving too fast.

I have an iPhone 6. I upgrade only when I must and I’m approaching a point where I need to upgrade. My current phone’s storage is full and the battery doesn’t last half the day. I’ve had this one since September 2014.

The $1,000 price tag of the iPhone X doesn’t bother me. I tend to keep these things longer than Apple’s upgrade cycle. My first smartphone was a Droid X, which I traded in for an iPhone 5. I only got rid of the iPhone 5 because I cracked the screen but held on to it for 5 months so I could get the iPhone 6. I’m the same way with cars but that’s a rambling post for another day.

By my standards, two things are missing from the new iPhone: A headphone jack and TouchID. I knew the former was going to be missing. I was prepared to begrudgingly purchase wireless earbuds and join the wireless revolution even though I have several sets of lovely headphones with 3.5mm jacks.

Second, TouchID is gone. This is killer. I use it constantly. Perhaps it’s ignorant of me to dismiss FaceID before trying it, so call me ignorant. It’s not a replacement for TouchID which requires the most minimal of user interaction and works perfectly in the dark and on the sly.

FaceID sounds great in theory and perhaps I’ll change my tune after the bugs are worked out. After watching the system fail during the first public demo, I knew this wasn’t something I wanted to beta test for Apple.

Thankfully Apple is releasing an upgraded version of the iPhone 7. The iPhone 8 lacks the headphone jack but retains TouchID. It just doesn’t have that swanky, no-bezel screen found on the iPhone X.

Supposedly that screen killed TouchID.

 

As the story goes Apple tried to build TouchID into the screen of the iPhone X but couldn’t pull off the trick. Instead of following the trend found on many Android phones, Apple did not, for whatever reason, put the TouchID sensor on the back of the iPhone X. It’s just gone.

Listen, I understand how this editorial makes me look. I’m that guy. I’m the guy at the dealership yelling at a green salesmen because the new Buick does not have an ashtray. But I’m not surprised. The iPhone X is following a quintessential Apple trend of eliminating items Apple feels are no longer necessary. But this trend is accelerating and that’s troubling.

Apple has long removed components ahead of the rest of the industry. It killed off the floppy disc when Windows was still available for purchase on floppy. It removed Firewire when Firewire was the de facto standard for video professionals. It removed CD drives from notebooks while consumers will still making mix tapes. And in all those cases, history proved Apple’s foresight correct.

The last couple of moves have not gone as smoothly. Apple killed the headphone jack with the iPhone 7 in 2016. At the same time Apple announced its wireless earbuds AirPods, which seem to be universally loved and hated. But good luck walking into a store and buying a set. They’ve been on backorder since their release (Apple released a new version today). Studies have shown that even with their limited availability, the AirPods bought Apple a commanding lead in the wireless earbud market. And competitors have followed suit, too, with most companies from Sony to Samsung to B&O releasing sets of their own. Yet few other phones have ditched the headphone jack altogether, and if the rest of the industry does not follow Apple’s lead, there’s going to be little reason for accessory makers to keep making the wireless earbuds too. After all, Apple AirPods have accounted for 85% of money spent on wireless headphones in the US since their launch.

The latest MacBooks and MacBook Pros also demonstrate Apple is outpacing the consumer electronics industry. In its latest notebooks, now nearly a year old, Apple got rid of standard USB ports in favor of USB-C, a new standard that supposedly was going to lead us into universal happiness. Instead, users are living the dongle life now to charge USB devices, use SD cards and flash drives. Worse yet, USB-C cables that are supposedly universal are anything but, with some cables only capable of charging while others can do data transfer and still others do not work at all — and they all have the same connector at the end of the cable.

Apple is notorious for its margins. It’s how the company amassed its $261 billion cash hoard. It can afford to release products on a systematic schedule to maximize margins. Components found in the latest iPhone will eventually make their way into other products like the Apple TV, iPad and iPod touch. This happens when the prices of such components drop to levels where Apple can integrate them into a broader product line while maintaining predetermined margins.

Why did Apple kill the floppy drive and standard USB? Because in both cases, Apple felt the component was going to be used less in the near future and wanted to build a platform that it could still use after the component was eliminated.

It’s these margins, I fear, that are killing Apple’s common sense. Instead of retaining beloved features, Apple is killing them prematurely to hit an internal accounting goal. Products need to evolve and change but the trick is to do it along with consumer expectations. Too slow, and the company dies. Too fast, and, well, you make this old blogger upset and no one wants that.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/13/i-dont-want-the-new-iphone-x-and-i-cant-be-alone/

Alphabet is reportedly mulling a $1B investment in Lyft

It’s about as good a timing as any for Lyft to capitalize on the tidal wave of negative publicity that Uber is facing right now, and it looks like it might end up with a significant investment from Alphabet in the middle of that train wreck, according to a report by Axios.

That’s not to say that this is directly related to Uber, which has a new CEO and is trying to move on from the disaster of the past few months. Still, Alphabet appears to be discussing a $1 billion investment in Lyft in an effort led by CEO Larry Page, according to the report. Lyft last raised $600 million at a $7.5 billion valuation in April.

This would be an interesting move for Google, which invested in Uber early in its life through its investment arm GV. We’d heard some murmurs of something brewing between Alphabet and Lyft for a few weeks, but it was unclear what the outcome would be. Bloomberg also reported the news this afternoon. In the end, it appears that Lyft may get a big infusion of cash to fuel its efforts to pick away at Uber — especially as it appears primed to begin its move internationally, according to a report from The Information.

A big financing round like this would go a long way for Lyft, which can use the capital to provide aggressive driver and rider benefits through promotions. Lyft may have an opportunity to snag momentum away from Uber in key cities by ramping up in marketing and discounts. That is an expensive proposition, to be sure, but Lyft also has the benefit of the wave of troubles Uber has had recently. Such a large investment would also help Lyft remain independent.

 

Alphabet’s self-driving division, Waymo, has been fighting with Uber in court over allegations of theft of files. Earlier this week, a judge ruled that Uber had to turn over to Waymo the due diligence report for its acquisition of Otto.

Lyft announced that it had begun self-driving car development in earnest in July, saying it would ramp up hiring and had signed a lease for a big Palo Alto facility.

Representatives from Google and Lyft have not yet responded to requests for comment.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/14/google-is-reportedly-looking-at-a-1b-investment-in-lyft/

The promise of managing identity on the blockchain

Blockchain, the secure distributed ledger technology first created to track bitcoin ownership, has taken on a number of new roles in recent years tracking anything of value from diamonds to real estate deeds to contracts. The blockchain offers the promise of a trusted record that can reduce fraud. Some industry experts say that over the coming years, it could be used to control identity information in a more secure fashion.

As we have seen, just last week with the massive Equifax hack, our personal information is highly vulnerable in online databases in their current form. The fact is that whenever we have to identify ourselves, we are forced to present a variety of information to prove we are who we say we are, whether that’s to register for an online service, to cross a border or even prove you are old enough to drink at a bar.

The argument goes that if our identity were on the blockchain, it would give us more control over this information, and with proper applications allow us to present just the minimum amount of information a given party needs to identify us. That could be your date of birth at a bar, your credit score at a bank or a unique identifier to access an online service.

It’s unclear if the blockchain can be that identity panacea that some have suggested, but there are a range of opinions on the matter.

Yes, it’s happening

Of the experts we contacted, only one was fully enthusiastic about blockchain as an identity tool. Jerry Cuomo, IBM Fellow and VP of blockchain technologies, sees blockchain already having a big impact as people demand more control of their identities. He says that we are constantly being asked to share personal information to access places or information or to do business with companies — and that each of these actions puts us at risk for identity theft. He believes the solution to this problem could lie on the blockchain.

“Imagine a world where you are in direct control of your personal information; a world where you can limit and control how much information you share while retaining the ability to transact in the world. This is self-sovereign identity, and it is already here. Blockchain is the underlying technology paving the path to self-sovereign identity through decentralized networks. It ensures privacy and trust, where transactions are secure, authenticated and verifiable and endorsed by relevant, permissioned participants,” Cuomo explained. In fact , he says that he’s already seeing businesses and governments beginning to establish and use these networks to meet citizen demand and deliver the promise of self-sovereign identity.

No, probably not

It sounds pretty good to hear Cuomo describe it, yet not everyone is enthusiastic as he is, seeing many obstacles to using the blockchain for identity purposes. Steve Wilson, an analyst at Constellation Research, who has studied the blockchain extensively has serious reservations about it as an identity management system.

“Identity is not going to move to the blockchain in any big way (not as we know it). Blockchains were designed to solve problems quite different from identity management (IDM). We need to remember that the classic blockchain is an elaborate system that allows total strangers to nevertheless exchange real value reliably. It works without identity and without trust. So it’s simply illogical to think such a mechanism could have anything to offer identity,” Wilson explained.

He adds, “The public blockchains deliberately and proudly shirk third parties, but in most cases, your identity is nothing without a third party who vouches for you in some way. Blockchain is great for some things, but it’s not magic, and it just wasn’t designed for the IDM problem space.”

Eve Maler, who works at identity management firm ForgeRock, which landed an $88 million investment last week, also finds the possibility highly unlikely for a variety of practical reasons. “Identity will not move to the blockchain if this means personal data will be put on a public permissionless blockchain (distributed ledger technology in its purest form), as this is now widely considered bad practice,” she said.

 

She added, “The “distributed nodes” element of the technology is valuable for architectures where trust in a central authority is difficult or undesirable to establish, but can be challenging where it is desirable to record sensitive information because of the increased attack surface (every node has a copy of everything) and resulting increased privacy considerations.”

It depends

Then there are those who fall somewhere in the middle. They aren’t ready to write it off, but they see a lot of obstacles along the way to implementing it, or see it as a part of a broader ecosystem of identity tools, rather than a full replacement to what we have now.

Charles Race, president of worldwide field operations at cloud identity firm Okta, which went public this year, thinks it’s possible blockchain will emerge. He envisions a similar set of use cases as Cuomo, but sees a lot of obstacles that stand in the way of using the blockchain to implement identity management broadly moving forward.

“A trusted entity will need to establish some legal and enforceable rules and policies for how it all works, they’ll need to make it easy for the average person to use securely, and they’ll need to convince a critical mass of people and service providers to adopt and trust the ID — all while finding an economically viable business model. Some institutions are uniquely positioned to solve all of these chicken-and-egg issues at once and bring this big idea to life — first among them are our citizen-facing government agencies,” Race explained. But he adds, “The trouble with this idea is that a universal ID poses risks to privacy and hence [could] encounter significant political opposition.”

Andre Durand, CEO at Ping Identity, an identity management firm that was sold for a reported $600 million to Vista Equity Partners last year, says it’s not likely to happen as a full replacement over the next five years, but it could begin to play a role in identity. “What is much more likely is that the things Distributed Ledger Technology is uniquely designed for, keeping accurate records in a distributed system, will become part of the identity management ecosystem and help improve aspects of it,” he says.

Ian Glazer, an identity industry expert says it really about choosing the right tool for the job, but he doesn’t necessarily see there ever being one answer that fits every identity scenario including blockchain.

“To ask if identity will move to blockchain is not the right question. Better to ask will use cases emerge that blockchain-related technologies are uniquely qualified to solve. Likely there will be some. But just like relational databases, LDAP and object databases, no one storage/retrieval mechanism has proven to be the single “right” tool for the job,” Glazer told TechCrunch.

Like any emerging technology, there are going to be a range of opinions on its viability. Using the blockchain as an identity management system is no different. It will probably begin to take on some role over the next five years because the promise is just so great, but how extensive that will be depends on how the industry solves some of the outstanding issues.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/10/the-promise-of-managing-identity-on-the-blockchain/

Zello tops US app store as the walkie-talkie for hurricane volunteers

With Hurricane Irma hitting Florida’s southern islands as a category four storm, and more than 6.3 million being told to evacuate Florida, being able to stay in contact with the outside world is a high priority. As a result, smartphone apps which can help coordinate rescues and responses have become crucial to efforts.

The main one that’s being talked about — and downloaded at a prodigious rate — is Zello, a walkie-talkie app which was originally launched in Russia in 2007 under the name LoudTalks (but since moved to Austin, Texas in 2011) and now boasts 100 million users around the world. After being featured in a Houston Chronicle story about the “Cajun Navy” of volunteers who have been using the app to coordinate their efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the app hit the top of the US app store.

Zello appears to have added six million new registered users since Monday, the company’s CEO, Bill Moore, told BuzzFeed News, and is now the top free app on the iOS App Store. “With the crush of new users and emergency situations, most of the Zello team is working long days either maintaining capacity or helping with customer support,” he said.

However, the huge interest in Zello saw the company admitting it has had to add servers to keep it up.

Now, with Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, interest in Zello is being boosted yet again.

There’s absolutely no doubt that using a walkie-talkie app works extremely well in tough situations, and especially amongst volunteers who are quite simply too busy helping people to try typing on a smart phone. Especially when, let’s face it, their hands are wet and the weather is so bad.

However, for some reason social media is rife with incorrect assertions that the app will still work even without a cell signal, perhaps because it is being used in this disaster context.

To his credit, Founder and CEO/CTO Alexey Gavrilov has made it expressly clear on their blog that Zello “is not intended as a replacement for instructions from government emergency agencies or sanctioned rescue organizations. It is not a hurricane rescue tool and is only as useful as the people who use it, and as reliable as the data network available. If there is no WiFi and no cellular data service, communication apps (including Zello) won’t work.”

 

Aside from that, Zello is clearly benefiting from the attention because of the sudden interest in apps which may help rescuers and volunteers.

“We have seen a large number of people signing up for Zello in preparation for Hurricane Irma. Over 1 million people have joined in the last day, with most coming from Puerto Rico and Florida,” wrote Gavrilov.

Zello’s success may not just be down to what’s happening right now. The app is available for a wide number of platforms, including iOS, Android and BlackBerry, but crucially also Windows Phone 8, Windows PCs, and LMRs (Land Mobile Radio).

It allows anywhere from two to 1,000 users to have instant, live conversations. Users can talk one-on-one, start a channel (like a group) or join one of thousands of existing public channels. This too is probably why it has taken off: like Slack, it has public channels which anyone can join.

The app is available in more than 20 languages. Zello also has Zello@Work for companies needing a secure private network and looking to replace two-way radio. It has a web-based console and works with Windows rugged devices. The service is free for up to five users.

But another startup may also benefit from this interest in Walkie-talkie apps. Voxer in SF was built by Tom Katis, Matt Ranney in 2007 and the company has raised $30M so far. More aimed at the enterprise, the original idea for Voxer came to Katis when he was deployed int he special forces in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, interesting apps which work without cellular or Wifi access may well be set to surge as well.

US startup Bridgefy has a user-friendly app for messaging using only Bluetooth and Wifi, while Jott has long been a staple of teenagers in High Schools when phone signals or wifi are often blocked.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/10/zello-tops-us-app-store-as-the-walkie-talkie-for-hurricane-volunteers/

The next Apple Watch will have LTE cell service

Last night an iOS 11 GM download link made its way onto Reddit, which 9to5Mac discovered and has been digging through.

You can check out the full list of discoveries here, but one big thing that stood out is that the next Apple Watch (or at least one version of it) will finally have LTE cell service, meaning it doesn’t need to be tethered to your phone at all times. The leaked screenshot above shows a LTE signal strength indicator in the top left corner of the watch.

The benefits of a cell connection are clear – you could stream music or take a phone call on a run without needing to keep your phone in your pocket.

Interestingly, 9to5Mac says that your LTE Apple Watch will share the same phone number as your existing iPhone. This means that you’ll be able to take calls on either device, and that plans may be less expensive than traditional data-only devices like an iPad.Traditionally carriers assign new phone numbers to devices even if they are only being used for data, like an iPad – so this is a new arrangement for carriers.

 

Lastly, a leaked setup screen from 9to5Mac suggests that the new LTE watch will have a red crown, to differentiate it from the older versions.

Two years ago, when the original Apple Watch launched, Tim Cook was spotted in an Apple Store sporting a version with a red crown. It’s not clear if this means Cook was testing a version of the LTE watch in the wild, or the red dot meant something different at the time.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/09/the-next-apple-watch-will-have-lte-cell-service/