Withings Activité Aims for Differentiation

After being previewed at an event back in June, Withings began taking pre-orders today for Activité – an analogue watch with built-in fitness tracker.

Withings describes the pre-order as a chance to reserve one of a limited number available for shipping by the first week of December, prior to the device’s official launch. The Activité is being sold for $450 with your choice of two colors. The black model features a black face on silver bezel with black leather strap, and the white model has a white face on silver bezel with tan leather strap. Both models have a Swiss construction, stainless steel body, sapphire glass cover, are water resistant to 165ft and have an estimated eight-month battery life. Complete details and pre-orders are available on the official website here.

Withings is attempting to differentiate itself from the suddenly crowded fitness tracker / smart watch market by positioning the Activité as a premium device with classic looks and unbeatable battery life. The face of the watch has a traditional analog dial for telling time and a smaller secondary dial for displaying progress towards your daily activity goal. All other interactions such as sleep tracking and the silent vibration alarm are handled via Bluetooth LE and the Withings Health Mate App for iOS. Market mainstay Fitbit has recently taken the opposite approach; it moved down market with the new, lower-cost Charge around the same time Microsoft quietly launched its own product, the Band. Like most of the competing products, these devices are rubberized for protection and have a digital screen, requiring daily recharging. Dedicated fitness trackers are also attempting to define their need in the face of more feature-rich smart watches such as the Moto 360, LG G Watch R and the (pending release) Apple Watch, all of which promise to do fitness tracking along with a host of more advanced features like media playback and interactive notifications from your smartphone.

It’s too early to see if the Activité will be a success, but after one day of pre-ordering, the Withings website shows less than 20% of the first batch still available.

BlackBerry Updates BBM Across Ecosystems

Over the past two days, BlackBerry has rolled out an update to its BBM app across all four major smartphone platforms (Android, BlackBerry OS, iOS and Windows Phone). This update is meant to debut many new features to users, while also signaling a coming shift in the cost of using the app.

BBM may stand for BlackBerry Messenger, but the platform has grown far beyond its instant messaging/SMS roots. Not afraid to incorporate features that may have been popularized on other apps or platforms, BBM is fast growing in capability. Skype, Snapchat, Spotify, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter – you name a popular social messaging app, and BlackBerry has crafted a facimile of its core differentiator and bolted it onto BBM.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what BlackBerry has added in the latest update for BBM.

– Timed Messages – Allows you to set a time limit after which a message or picture will disappear from the recipient’s chat window.
– Message Retraction – Lets you remove (retract) a message or picture from a chat after it’s been sent.
– Sticker Picker – Provides a new, faster way of inserting a sticker into a message.
– HD Picture Transfer – Does what it says
– Music Discovery – Shares the track you are listening to and gives you a feed of what music your contacts are hearing. Links to each platform’s respective music store.

These new features join other recent BBM additions, like voice calling, voice notes, channels, paid sticker packs and location sharing. But what BBM is not boasting about may be less attractive to users: its subscription model. Noted in passing on the official BBM blog, author Jeff Gadway writes:

“Timed Messages and Message Retraction features are premium features that will be available free and without restriction over the next three months. After this time, unrestricted access to these features will become part of a broader bundle of features that will be offered as part of a BBM subscription.”


BlackBerry has not released any other information about what form subscriptions for BBM could take, though it already has paid sticker packs and advertising in-app. Users have already shown a willingness to pay in-app, but it remains to be seen if BlackBerry can turn BBM into a freemium revenue model.

BlackBerry BBM is available now for BBOS 10, iOS 7+, Android 4.0+ and Windows Phone 8+. Download it here.

Marketing With Emotion: VW

To imbue human emotion to an inanimate object is among the most difficult tasks in marketing. Volkswagen accomplishes this perfectly in their spot “Kombi Last Wishes” – which says goodbye to the iconic VW Microbus.

A great marketing effort made all the more impressive considering it is for a discontinued product. The only similar spot that comes to mind is the Ikea “Lamp” commercial (History).


The Realities of Retail

Joseph Williams writes in The Atlantic: (via Next Draft)

Of course, I had no idea what a modern retail job demanded. I didn’t realize the stamina that would be necessary, the extra, unpaid duties that would be tacked on, or the required disregard for one’s own self-esteem. I had landed in an alien environment obsessed with theft, where sitting down is all but forbidden, and loyalty is a one-sided proposition. For a paycheck that barely covered my expenses, I’d relinquish my privacy, making myself subject to constant searches.


Where’s My Truck, Apple?

Yet after testing the Mac Pro alongside one of the best iMacs you can buy, both on loan from Apple, I learned a valuable lesson: You don’t need a Lamborghini when you can buy a Lexus for half the price.

As Geoffrey Fowler correctly interprets, this Mac Pro is an elite supercar compared to most Macs or PCs. Since it was revealed in June, I’ve been forming a similar opinion on the Mac Pro (Late 2013). The comparison draws from Steve Jobs’ appearance at the D8 conference, where he discussed the PC’s place in the newly coined “Post-PC” era (Text/Video).

The only problem with the new Mac Pro, as I see it, is that Apple delivered a fantastic supercar – to replace their truck. Imagine the reactions if Ford positioned the GT as a replacement for the F-650. The big box allowed anyone to customize the Mac Pro to their needs while providing a reliable chassis for sustained loads. The new model has fewer options while moving reliability and longevity into an unknowable category.

Looking under the hood shell of the Mac Pro reveals a beautiful, forward-looking machine at the limits of today’s technology, much like the original 2008 MacBook Air. That machine was compromised from the start, between performance, heat and size, while suffering from reliability issues and ultimately a short lifespan. Other cutting-edge Macs have encountered these types of compromises as well, such as the MacBook or PowerMac G4 Cube. They were also known for a lack of performance and/or questionable reliability. Ideally, this next generation Mac Pro will avoid the pitfalls of previous first-generation Macs.

The Anandtech review, however, shows that the Mac Pro has a craving for PCIe lanes – like a supercar craves more air for combustion. More than anything, the available number of PCIe lanes seemed to have dictated the direction of the Mac Pro. One SSD, shared USB3 throughput, paired Thunderbolt channels and lack of internal expansion are all driven by the limited number of communication channels the Intel platform provides.

Setting aside the possibility of retaining the old form factor, it would’ve been nice to see more diverse configuration options for the Mac Pro to better suit the needs of its users. What about swapping one of the GPUs with a another CPU? Or sacrificing a GPU for more storage (SSD) slots? How about extra RAM slots? Mismatched GPUs with a high-end consumer (gaming) option? Heck, why not a new card slot standard to drop whatever you want into the second GPU space? These are the kind of options I would like to see in future revisions of the Mac Pro.

Walking back slightly from a one-size-fits-all attitude and providing a highly configurable chassis would be the ideal direction in which to take the Mac Pro for future revisions. As impressive a supercar as it may be, there’s still room for a true truck-style Mac Pro in the line up.

Steven Levy on the NSA

Steven Levy wrote two articles for Wired about the Edward Snowden leaks and the NSA. On interviewing top officials at the NSA, after initially being turned down:

NSA officials are infuriated that all this havoc was caused by some random contractor … Still, they are stunned that someone “inside the fence” would do what Snowden did.

Does the NSA collectively understand that whatever good intentions they may have, their actions have been dangerous and deeply offending? The feelings of betrayal they have for Snowden are exactly the same as our feelings towards them.

Silicon Valley was reeling, collateral damage in the war on terror. And it was only going to get worse.

Privacy and censorship are reduced to shades of grey as the west gives up the high moral ground it used to oppose unfriendly governments. What will the cost be to the global economy and international cooperation? And for the Internet’s future growth?

An Open Sourced Post-Mortem

With the Everpix shutdown behind us, we had the chance to put together a significant dataset covering our business from fundraising to metrics. We hope this rare and uncensored inside look at the internals of a startup will benefit the startup community.

While their business ultimately failed, the impact of Everpix on future startups could be profound. Not often does a business – any business – willingly disclose raw information in this way.