Forecast, an app that aimed to make it easier for people to use Facebook and Foursquare to connect in the real world, told users in an email late Monday night that it is shutting down. The sudden end comes after rave reviews in tech circles and in mainstream publications (the app boasts a blurb on its website from The New York Times, as well as an endorsement from App Advice calling Forecast a “game-changer in the world of social networking”). Ultimately, however, Forecast offers a case study in how even good apps sometimes fail.
“The time has come for Forecast to shut its doors. Starting on July 1, our mobile apps and website will not work,” founder René Pinnell wrote. “Although we’re passionate about building great products that help people connect in the real world, we have run out of resources to keep the Forecast project afloat.”
We’ve asked Forecast for comment and to elaborate on the email it sent to users. We’ll update as soon as we hear back from them.
In the meantine, users will have to adjust. “I’m sad,” said James Gifford, who used the app in large part because of its hip factor. “I wasn’t the most avid user, but it was a useful service.”
What Went Wrong?
Developed by Hurricane Inc., which also makes Hurricane Party, an app that helps people use their mobile devices to throw “spontaneous parties,” the idea behind Forecast was to go one step beyond a Facebook or Foursquare check-in, which lets people know where you are now, and instead enable you to tell them where you plan to be.
The iOS version of the app got mostly positive reviews on Apple’s App Store, but the Android version seemed to be plagued by crashes. Other users complained that it wouldn’t let them forecast events more than two weeks in advance. That, the company said in its FAQ, was to keep Forecast spontaneous, and because “we’ve discovered that when you limit people to the near future they become much more reliable.”
The app itself was relatively basic, but several users commented that it “has loads of pontential” and that they were “hoping for more improvements and development.” The simple design and intutive nature was most likely to help people understand the key difference between a Forecast and a Facebook status update or FourSquare check-in.
The name also may not have helped; when you search “Forecast social app” in both the Apple and Android App Stores, you have to scroll through dozens of weather-related apps. And despite the strong reviews, not a lot of people seemed to be using the app. It’s a classic social startup problem in that if you build it, it only offers value to users if they can find their friends on it.
“It integrates with Foursquare and Facebook, which is – was – useful,” Gifford said. “To some extent, it brought the simple idea of FourSquare to planning your day. ‘Where am I going to be, and what am I doing there?’”
Last week, Spotify made a big splash by launching an unexpected new feature. The company made Spotify Radio, a Pandora-style Internet radio service formerly for the desktop, available to mobile devices as well. Spotify Radio is notable not just because it’s available on iOS, or because could pose a challenge to Pandora. The big deal is that it’s free – and that could generate big revenue for Spotify.
This is a smart move for Spotify, which previously offered functional mobile apps only to paying subscribers. Mobile access to the company’s all-you-can-stream music library still requires a $10-per-month subscription, but the free mobile radio offering inches millions of users closer toward paying up.
The difference between streaming music on the desktop and on mobile devices is a significant one. The ability to take music anywhere is a huge boon to consumers. That’s why it’s the chief selling point of premium subscriptions on services like Spotify, MOG and Rdio. Paying users not only skip the ads, they can take an enormous library with them in the car, on a jog, to a party or just about anywhere they go.
With Spotify Radio for mobile devices, the company liberates its non-paying customers from the desktop and gives them a taste of what the mobile service is like. Naturally, it has limitations: songs are broken up by audio ads and tracks can’t be played on demand. It costs $10 per month to free oneself from those particular shackles. To make the paid service even more alluring, Spotify offers users a 48-hour trial period of its premium subscription.
If the strategy is meant to drive more users into the service’s mobile experience, it appears to be working. Spotify has been the fifth most popular free app on iTunes for several days, beating out Instagram. And a radio-enhanced update to the Android app is expected within weeks.
Streaming Music’s Precarious Future
opted to keep their material off of Spotify and similar services over concerns about royalty payments.This comes at a critical time for Spotify, which has been available in the United States for roughly one year. The European music subscription service is seen by many as one potential way forward for a long-beleaguered music industry, but its future success is by no means guaranteed. The company pays exorbitant licensing fees to record labels, some of whom are skeptical about the viability of the business model employed by streaming music services. Some independent labels and big name artists have
Spotify makes money from advertisements directed at non-paying users, but ultimately its success hinges on its ability to convert those people to paying subscribers. Earlier this year, the company hit 3 million subscriptions, driven in part by its U.S. launch and subsequent integration with Facebook.
More recent numbers haven’t been made available, but if the company’s strategy pans out, efforts like this will help boost paid sign-ups even further.
Spotify Radio is available as part of the service’s existing iOS app. For now, the feature is available only in the United States.
Google Reader is the undisputed king of RSS Readers for the desktop, mostly because it’s the Last One Standing. However, there is much more competition among RSS Readers for smartphones and that means there are some great options out there. In this post we give you our recommendation for best mobile RSS Reader.RSS lives! Not everything is a real-time stream of status updates from Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Subscribing to an RSS feed is still the best way to closely monitor your favorite blogs and topics. So where to check your feeds?
RSS in a nutshell:
RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’ and it allows you to subscribe to the updates of a website. Look for a little orange button (see our header bar for an example), click it and then save the address into your favorite RSS Reader.
In order to make a single recommendation that will be useful to as many people as possible, we applied the following criteria:
- Must be cross-platform, which at minimum means it works on both iOS and Android.
- Should have granularity of control, meaning you can easily access all of your feeds and folders.
- Even though Twitter and Facebook haven’t usurped the RSS Reader, the modern mobile RSS Reader should integrate with the leading social services and help filter out their noise.
- Must hook into Google Reader. Since Google Reader is the dominant desktop RSS Reader, it’s therefore the most common place to subscribe to feeds. Google allows mobile apps to access Google Reader subscriptions and it’s become an essential feature for a modern mobile RSS Reader.
With those criteria to guide us, there was one mobile RSS Reader that stood out…
Our Recommendation: Feedly
Feedly is basically a better user interface for your Google Reader feeds. After you input your Google Reader username and password, Feedly lists out your Google Reader folders and offers a slick, intuitive way to browse them.
In addition, Feedly offers a nifty way to subscribe to topics – through its ‘Essentials’, a curated list of popular topics like ‘Cooking’ and ‘Design’. For the river of news fans, Feedly gives you the option to view your feeds chronologically.
Feedly integrates with Twitter and other social media, allowing you to share your finds. It also enables you to browse your Tumblr subscriptions, which is a nice touch since RSS isn’t the primary way to keep track of Tumblr blogs (Tumblr promotes its own internal “follow” subscription model).
Feedly is available on both iOS and Android, as well as being a browser plugin for Chrome, Safari and Firefox. Feedly was ranked 4th in our list of the Top 10 Feed & RSS Technologies of 2011 – behind only Twitter and Facebook.
Spoiled For Choice: Other Recommendations
If you’re looking for a mobile RSS Reader, we recommend you try Feedly first. That said, there are many different flavors of mobile RSS Readers and a lot of it will come down to your personal preferences. So if Feedly doesn’t taste quite right to you, here are some alternatives that may satisfy your RSS appetite:
Pulse was named number 6 in our list of the Top 10 Mobile Products of 2011. The main reason was that Pulse is available over a range of platforms – more than Feedly, in fact. As Dan Rowinski noted, Pulse is “the only truly cross-platform reader that brings its full user interface, fully intact, to iOS, Android smartphones and tablets including the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Kindle Fire as well as Windows Phone 7.” Pulse is a very colorful app and has similarities to Flipboard, so it may suit you if you prefer that magazine-like experience.
Reeder was very popular in the informal poll I conducted on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. It’s iOS only, so if you’re an iPhone user then it may be a great option for you. Compared to Feedly and Pulse, Reeder is fairly vanilla and not very colorful. However it makes up for that with an easy-to-read interface and excellent integration with social media. Many people love Reeder (including our own Jon Mitchell), so give it a try if Feedly doesn’t work out for you.
If you’re an Android user, then Google Reader offers a popular app that connects very well with other Google products (like Google Reader and Google+). It’s not available on iOS, however the mobile browser version of Google Reader is more than adequate – although Feedly, Reeder and other iOS apps offer a better user interface for Apple users.
Flipboard made its name as an iPad app and to this day it remains my favorite RSS Reader on that device. I also use it daily on smartphone too. It doesn’t have all of my feeds, just my favorite folders in Google Reader. So it’s more of a complement to Feedly, than a direct competitor.
Finally, if you want something a bit different, my6sense has taken a unique approach to filtering. It attempts to guess what you want to read, by automatically filtering your feeds.
We hope you find that one of these smartphone RSS Reader apps will suit your needs. Let us know in the comments what you think of our main pick, Feedly. Or if you have another personal favorite, tell us what’s special about it.
The emergence of accelerators has been vital to spurring innovation and entrepreneurship over the last several years, and their continued expansion is essential to creating companies, jobs and market competitiveness. In evaluating the “success” of accelerators, it’s important to consider a range of variables and not focus solely on the number of exits or whether their graduates raise money.
As the capital markets have evolved in the last several years, accelerators have taken on an important role in attracting, qualifying and supporting innovative startups that may otherwise have a difficult time getting noticed by potential users, partners and investors. One can readily make the argument that the rapid expansion of these programs has been appropriate, as market disruptions caused by technology are creating real opportunities to better serve businesses and consumers.
Startup Exits Are Great, but There Are Other Positive Outcomes
Many ventures that work their way through accelerator programs create value in other ways. They can serve as a stepping stone to the next venture, they can lead to finding jobs at other organizations that can exploit the same product knowledge or expertise, or they can remain bootstrapped until they get the value proposition or business model right (what, no funding?). Furthermore, most accelerators have cropped up in the last couple of years, which makes exits a questionable metric, given that it takes four to six years for the average M&A exit, and eight to 10 years for the average IPO.
Is the “Quality Gap” of Accelerators Reality or Perception?
Top-tier accelerator programs such as YCombinator, TechStars and DreamIt (disclaimer: I’m a venture partner) have done an incredible job of building an impressive group of portfolio companies. They have been great role models for the industry at large, but a bit more perspective is required to fully appreciate how broadly value creation is, and will be, playing out. Older programs have the benefit of having more companies in their portfolio as well as greater maturation for these companies. Since the majority of programs have surfaced in the last 24 months, it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges. In addition, as accelerators build their brands and market themselves more effectively, they will be able to attract their share of the talent pool. How awesome is it that we’ve seen programs like the Ark Challenge pop up, where the focus is to retain the local talent and leverage competence in areas such as logistics and retail?
Given the Objectives of Accelerators, How Do We Measure ROI?
While achieving ROI is certainly an objective for accelerators and is important in assuring sustainability, there are other objectives that drive their formation as well. Typically, local entrepreneurs are catalysts in funding and operating a program, in large part because of their community ties, as well as their interest in “giving back.” So the ROI is not purely economic. That said, there’s increased interest on the part of institutions – including corporations, venture firms and hedge funds – to explore how they can get more involved with these startups on the ground floor.
The next several years will be very exciting for accelerator programs, and they are likely to be standard fare across many more geographies and industries. Like the gold rush of the 1800s, the early settlers have seen early returns. But make no mistake about it, there’s lots more gold in them hills.
Ahead of the Google I/O developer conference next week, Google announced Friday it is lowering the fees for apps accessing its API from $4 per 1,000 map loads to $0.50 per 1,000 map loads. After years of offering free access, Google imposed fees and restrictions on third-party apps using Google Maps in October 2011. But with big news looming for app developers next week, Google has begun to loosen up around maps and hint at imminent updates.
Google is also eliminating a distinction between styled maps and maps that use Google’s default style. Previously, apps using maps with a customized appearance were subject to fees after 2,500 daily map loads, while un-styled maps could have 25,000 loads for free. Now all apps accessing the Google Maps API will get 25,000 loads.
Apps must exceed the limits every day for 90 consecutive days to be subject to fees.
Google has also decided to begin monitoring usage of the Maps API as of Friday. According to product manager Thor Mitchell, only 0.35% of sites accessing the Maps API will exceed the limits based on current usage. Google is not automating the application of the limits. Rather, it’s manually contacting developers of apps when they cross the threshold.
“Please rest assured that your map will not stop working due to a sudden surge in popularity,” Mitchell says.
Chilling Effects for Big Developers
Apps that use fewer than 25,000 app loads per day aren’t subject to fees. Neither are apps developed by nonprofit organizations or “deemed by Google to be in the public interest.” Nonprofits with high traffic that want additional, enterprise-level capabilities can also apply for grants to pay for a license through the Google Earth Outreach program.
But the fees and limitations on the API for commercial, high-traffic sites – at least at the previous rate of $4 per 1,000 map loads – had a chilling effect on the developer ecosystem.
Since Google imposed the fees last October, major map-driven applications, including Foursquare and the mobile apps from Wikipedia, decided to abandon Google for open-source solutions built on OpenStreetMap.
Google’s Wariness of Apple’s Maps
Lately, an even bigger developer has ditched Google Maps, although the dynamics are quite different. The terms aren’t disclosed, but Google pays Apple to use its services as the defaults in its operating system. Google has provided maps to Apple’s iOS since the beginning. But due to the increasing friction from Google’s ad-driven business models, Apple has decided to push Google out of core iOS services, starting with maps.
At its Worldwide Developers Conference on June 11, Apple unveiled all-new, in-house maps with 3D views, turn-by-turn directions and automated flyovers of some of the world’s great cities. And it was all presented with developers in mind; while Google provides transit and biking directions within the Google Maps service, Apple provides APIs for them and positions them as business opportunities for app developers.
In anticipation of Apple’s maps move, Google held a press event on June 6 to demonstrate upcoming capabilities of Google Maps. They were the same kinds of 3D features and interface improvements that Apple would show the following week. It was a defensive move. Google has dominated mobile mapping thus far, but Apple has threatened its dominance by using new maps to entice developers to its already more lucrative platform.
Friday’s changes to the Google Maps API fees and restrictions are just a prelude to more maps news for developers at the upcoming Google I/O. A Google spokesperson tells ReadWriteWeb to “keep an eye out for more Maps API updates at Google I/O next week.”