Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
In this Extra Crunch series, we help you to keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
This week, we dig into App Annie’s new “State of Mobile 2019” report and other app trends. We’re also seeing big gains for TikTok in 2019 and Disney+ in Q4. Both Apple and Google announced acquisitions this week that have implications for the mobile industry, as well.
Zendesk acquired Base CRM in 2018 to give customers a CRM component to go with its core customer service software. After purchasing the company, it changed the name to Sell, and today the company announced the launch of the new Sell Marketplace.
Officially called The Zendesk Marketplace for Sell, it’s a place where companies can share components that extend the capabilities of the core Sell product. Companies like MailChimp, HubSpot and QuickBooks are available at launch.
App directory in Sell Marketplace. Screenshot: Zendesk
Matt Price, SVP and general manager at Zendesk, sees the marketplace as a way to extend Sell into a platform play, something he thinks could be a “game changer.” He likened it to the impact of app stores on mobile phones.
“It’s that platform that accelerated and really suddenly [transformed smart phones] from being just a product to [launching an] industry. And that’s what the marketplace is doing now, taking Sell from being a really great sales tool to being able to handle anything that you want to throw at it because it’s extensible through apps,” Price explained.
Price says that this ability to extend the product could manifest in several ways. For starters, customers can build private apps with a new application development framework. This enables them to customize Sell for their particular environment, such as connecting to an internal system or building functionality that’s unique to them.
In addition, ISVs can build custom apps, something Price points out they have been doing for some time on the Zendesk customer support side. “Interestingly Zendesk obviously has a very large community of independent developers, hundreds of them, who are [developing apps for] our support product, and now we have another product that they can support,” he said.
Finally, industry partners can add connections to their software. For instance, by installing Dropbox for Sell, it gives sales people a way to save documents to Dropbox and associate them with a deal in Sell.
Of course, what Zendesk is doing here with Sell Marketplace isn’t new. Salesforce introduced this kind of app store concept to the CRM world in 2006 when it launched AppExchange, but the Sell Marketplace still gives Sell users a way to extend the product to meet their unique needs, and that could prove to be a powerful addition.
After appointing a new CEO and CFO last summer, cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean is embarking on a wider reorganisation: the startup has announced a round of layoffs, with potentially between 30 and 50 people affected.
DigitalOcean has confirmed the news with the following statement:
“DigitalOcean recently announced a restructuring to better align its teams to its go-forward growth strategy. As part of this restructuring, some roles were, unfortunately, eliminated. DigitalOcean continues to be a high-growth business with $275M in [annual recurring revenues] and more than 500,000 customers globally. Under this new organizational structure, we are positioned to accelerate profitable growth by continuing to serve developers and entrepreneurs around the world.”
Before the confirmation was sent to us this morning, a number of footprints began to emerge last night, when the layoffs first hit, with people on Twitter talking about it, some announcing that they are looking for new opportunities, and some offering help to those impacted. Inbound tips that we received estimate the cuts at between 30 and 50 people. With around 500 employees (an estimate on PitchBook) that would work out to up to 10% of staff affected.
It’s not clear what is going on here — we’ll update as and when we hear more — but when Yancey Spruill and Bill Sorenson were respectively appointed CEO and CFO in July 2019 (Spruill replacing someone who was only in the role for a year), the incoming CEO put out a short statement that, in hindsight, hinted at a refocus of the business in the near future.
“My aspiration is for us to continue to provide everything you love about DO now, but to also enhance our offerings in a way that is meaningful, strategic and most helpful for you over time,” he said at the time.
The company provides a range of cloud infrastructure services to developers, including scalable compute services (“Droplets” in DigitalOcean terminology), managed Kubernetes clusters, object storage, managed database services, Cloud Firewalls, Load Balancers and more, with 12 datacenters globally. It says it works with more than 1 million developers across 195 countries. It’s also been expanding the services that it offers to developers, including more enhancements in its managed database services, and a free hosting option for continuous code testing in partnership with GitLab.
All the same, as my colleague Frederic pointed out when DigitalOcean appointed its latest CEO, while developers have generally been happy with the company, it isn’t as hyped as it once was, and is a smallish player nowadays.
And in an area of business where economies of scale are essential for making good margins on a business, it competes against some of the biggest leviathans in tech: Google (and its Google Cloud Platform), Amazon (which as AWS) and Microsoft (with Azure). That could mean that DigitalOcean is either trimming down as it talks investors for a new round; or to better conserve cash as it sizes up how best to compete against these bigger, deep-pocketed players; or perhaps to start thinking about another kind of exit.
In that context, it’s notable that the company not only appointed a new CFO last summer, but also a CEO with prior CFO experience. It’s been a while since DigitalOcean has raised capital. According to PitchBook, DigitalOcean last raised money in 2017, an undisclosed amount from Mighty Capital, Glean Capital, Viaduct Ventures, Black River Ventures, Hanaco Venture Capital, Torch Capital and EG Capital Advisors. Before that, it took out $130 million in debt, in 2016. Altogether it has raised $198 million and its last valuation was from a round in 2015, $683 million.
We’ll update this post as we learn more. Best wishes to those affected by the news.
Epsagon, an Israeli startup that wants to help monitor modern development environments like serverless and containers, announced a $16 million Series A today.
U.S. Venture Partners (USVP), a new investor, led the round. Previous investors Lightspeed Venture Partners and StageOne Ventures also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $20 million, according to the company.
CEO and co-founder Nitzan Shapira says that the company has been expanding its product offerings in the last year to cover not just its serverless roots, but also giving deeper insights into a number of forms of modern development.
“So we spoke around May when we launched our platform for microservices in the cloud products, and that includes containers, serverless and really any kind of workload to build microservices apps. Since then we have had a few several significant announcements,” Shapira told TechCrunch.
For starters, the company announced support or tracing and metrics for Kubernetes workloads including native Kubernetes along with managed Kubernetes services like AWS EKS and Google GKE. “A few months ago, we announced our Kubernetes integration. So, if you’re running any Kubernetes workload, you can integrate with Epsagon in one click, and from there you get all the metrics out of the box, then you can set up a tracing in a matter of minutes. So that opens up a very big number of use cases for us,” he said.
The company also announced support for AWS AppSync, a no-code programming tool on the Amazon cloud platform. “We are the only provider today to introduce tracing for AppSync and that’s [an area] where people really struggle with the monitoring and troubleshooting of it,” he said.
The company hopes to use the money from today’s investment to expand the product offering further with support for Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform in the coming year. He also wants to expand the automation of some tasks that have to be manually configured today.
“Our intention is to make the product as automated as possible, so the user will get an amazing experience in a matter of minutes including advanced monitoring, identifying different problems and troubleshooting,” he said
Shapira says the company has around 25 employees today, and plans to double headcount in the next year.
Right on schedule, Microsoft today released the first stable version of its new Chromium-based Edge browser, just over a year after it first announced that it would stop developing its own browser engine and go with what has, for better or worse, become the industry standard.
You can now download the stable version for Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as macOS, directly. If you are on Windows 10, you can also wait for the automatic update to kick in, but that may take a while.
Since all of the development has happened in the open, with various pre-release channels, there are no surprises in this release. Some of the most interesting forward-looking features like Collections, Microsoft’s new take on bookmarking, are still only available in the more experimental pre-release channels. That will quickly change, though, since Edge is now on a six-week release cycle.
As I’ve said throughout the development cycle, Edge is a competent Chrome challenger and I have no hesitations to recommend it to anybody who is looking for a browser alternative. It’s still missing a few features, most importantly the ability to sync your browser history and extensions between devices. I’ve never found that to be much of a roadblock to using Edge as my main browser, but your mileage may vary.
Like all modern browsers, Edge features various options for protecting you from online trackers, support for extensions (both from the Chrome Web Store and Microsoft’s own extension repository), reader mode, the ability to switch profiles and pretty much everything else you would expect.
What it doesn’t have yet is a killer feature or something that really makes it stand out from the rest. While Microsoft seems quite excited about Collections, I admit that it’s not something I’ve found all that useful for my own workflow. But the team now has a stable platform in place to start innovating on, so we’ll likely see a stronger focus on new features going forward.
With Firefox going through its own renaissance, the Edge team may have trouble convincing people that they should switch back to a Microsoft browser, no matter how good it is. For most users, switching browsers isn’t a casual thing, after all.
Either way, if you were hesitant to try out the new Edge, now it the time to give it a shot. The easiest way to do so is to download the update directly. If you’re on Windows 10, the new Edge will replace the old Edge over time through the usual Windows OS update channel, but Microsoft is making this a very gradual rollout that it expects to last several months (and once it’s installed, it will update independently, outside of the Windows Update system).
Google announced today that it is buying AppSheet, an eight-year-old no-code mobile-application-building platform. The company had raised more than $17 million on a $60 million valuation, according to PitchBook data. The companies did not share the purchase price.
With AppSheet, Google gets a simple way for companies to build mobile apps without having to write a line of code. It works by pulling data from a spreadsheet, database or form, and using the field or column names as the basis for building an app.
It is integrated with Google Cloud already integrating with Google Sheets and Google Forms, but also works with other tools, including AWS DynamoDB, Salesforce, Office 365, Box and others. Google says it will continue to support these other platforms, even after the deal closes.
As Amit Zavery wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition, it’s about giving everyone a chance to build mobile applications, even companies lacking traditional developer resources to build a mobile presence. “This acquisition helps enterprises empower millions of citizen developers to more easily create and extend applications without the need for professional coding skills,” he wrote.
In a story we hear repeatedly from startup founders, Praveen Seshadri, co-founder and CEO at AppSheet, sees an opportunity to expand his platform and market reach under Google in ways he couldn’t as an independent company.
“There is great potential to leverage and integrate more deeply with many of Google’s amazing assets like G Suite and Android to improve the functionality, scale, and performance of AppSheet. Moving forward, we expect to combine AppSheet’s core strengths with Google Cloud’s deep industry expertise in verticals like financial services, retail, and media and entertainment,” he wrote.
Google sees this acquisition as extending its development philosophy with no-code working alongside workflow automation, application integration and API management.
No code tools like AppSheet are not going to replace sophisticated development environments, but they will give companies that might not otherwise have a mobile app the ability to put something decent out there.
Atlassian has a portfolio of developer tools like Bitbucket, Jira and Confluence. It also has a marketplace with hundreds of add-ons, but what it lacked was a development platform to call its own. Today, that changed when the company announced the Forge platform.
“Forge will empower developers to more easily build and run enterprise-ready cloud apps that integrate with Atlassian products,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new tools.
The platform consists of three main components. For starters, it’s providing a serverless Function as a Service (FaaS) for developers to build hosted applications on Forge without worrying about the underlying infrastructure resources required to run the applications. The tool is actually built on AWS Lambda, AWS’s FaaS.
This should allow more developers to get involved because it strips away a layer of complexity around managing infrastructure. “A FaaS platform also lets us eliminate common pain points such as authentication, identity, scaling and tenancy,” the company wrote in the blog post.
The tool kit also includes a UI component called Forge UI for building user interfaces on the web or devices. Forge UI uses a declarative language that should make it easier to build user interfaces, and as with the function layer, the idea here is to simplify the process for users. Atlassian will deal with all of the security involved in building a user interface, something that many developers struggle with.
“By abstracting away the process of rendering the UI layer, Forge makes stronger guarantees about how apps present or transmit sensitive data, such as user-generated content and personally identifying information,” the company wrote.
The final piece is a command line interface (CLI) called Forge CLI. The idea here is to build continuous delivery pipelines with Bitbucket and run them from the command line. If you put all three of these components together, you have a pretty comprehensive development environment with tools for building functionality and designing user interfaces, while managing operations from a command line.
There are lots of platform service offerings out there, so Atlassian faces some competition here, but for developers who planned on building apps for the Atlassian marketplace, this set of tools could prove useful and help push more developers to join in.
Google Cloud today announced the launch of its new E2 family of compute instances. These new instances, which are meant for general purpose workloads, offer a significant cost benefit, with saving of around 31 percent compared to the current N1 general purpose instances.
The E2 family runs on standard Intel and AMD chips, but as Google notes, they also use a custom CPU scheduler “that dynamically maps virtual CPU and memory to physical CPU and memory to maximize utilization.” In addition, the new system is also smarter about where it places VMs, with the added flexibility to move them to other hosts as necessary. To achieve all of this, Google built a custom CPU scheduler “ with significantly better latency guarantees and co-scheduling behavior than Linux’s default scheduler.” The new scheduler promises sub-microsecond wake-up latencies and faster context switching.
That gives Google efficiency gains that it then passes on to users in the form of these savings. Chances are, we will see similar updates to Google’s other instances families over time.
Its interesting to note that Google is clearly willing to put this offering against that of its competitors. “Unlike comparable options from other cloud providers, E2 VMs can sustain high CPU load without artificial throttling or complicated pricing,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “This performance is the result of years of investment in the Compute Engine virtualization stack and dynamic resource management capabilities.” It’ll be interesting to see some benchmarks that pit the E2 family against similar offerings from AWS and Azure.
As usual, Google offers a set of predefined instance configurations, ranging from 2 vCPUs with 8 GB of memory to 16 vCPUs and 128 GB of memory. For very small workloads, Google Cloud is also launching a set of E2-based instances that are similar to the existing f1-micro and g1-small machine types. These feature 2 vCPUs, 1 to 4 GB of RAM and a baseline CPU performance that ranges from the equivalent of 0.125 vCPUs to 0.5 vCPUs.
Nodle, which is competing in the TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Startup Battlefield this week, is based on a simple premise: What if you could crowdsource the connectivity of smart sensors by offloading it to smartphones? For most sensors, built-in cell connectivity is simply not a realistic option, given how much power it would take. A few years of battery life is quite realistic for a sensor that uses Bluetooth Low Energy.
Overall, that’s a pretty straightforward idea, but the trick is to convince smartphone users to install Nodle’s app. To solve this, the company, which was co-founded by Micha Benoliel (CEO) and Garrett Kinsman, is looking to cryptocurrency. With Nodle Cash, users automatically earn currency whenever their phones transmit a package to the network. That connection, it’s worth noting, is always encrypted, using Nodle’s Rendevouz protocol.
The company has already raised $3.5 million in seed funding, mostly from investors in the blockchain space: Blockchange, Work Play Ventures (Marc Pincus), Blockchain Ventures (Blockchain.com), Olymp Capital, Bootstraplabs and Blockhead.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t Benoliel’s first rodeo in this space. He also co-founded the mesh networking startup Open Garden, which used a somewhat similar approach a few years ago to crowdsource connectivity (and which made a bit of a splash with its FireChat offline chat app back in 2014). Open Garden, too, competed in our Startup Battlefield in 2012 and won our award for most innovative startup. Benoliel left his CEO position there in early 2016, but Nodle definitely feels like an iteration on the original idea of Open Garden.
“We define the category as crowd connectivity,” Benoliel told me. “We leverage crowdsourced connectivity for connecting things to the internet. We believe there are a lot of benefits to doing that.” He argues that there are a number of innovations converging right now that will allow the company to succeed: Chipsets are getting smaller, and an increasing number of sensors now uses Bluetooth Low Energy, all while batteries are getting smaller and more efficient and blockchain technology is maturing.
Given the fact that these sensors depend on somebody with a phone coming by, this is obviously not a solution for companies that need to get real-time data. There’s simply no way for Nodle to guarantee that, after all. But the company argues it is a great solution for smart cities that want to get regular readouts of road usage or companies that want to do asset tracking.
“We do not address real-time connectivity, which is what you can do with more traditional solutions,” Benoliel said. “But we believe IoT is so broad and there is so much utility in being able to collect data from time to time, that with out solution, we can connect almost anything to the internet.”
While some users may want to simply install the Nodle Cash app to, well, make some Nodle cash, the team is also betting on working with app developers who may want to use the platform to make some extra money from their apps by adding it to the Nodle network. For users, that obviously means they’ll burn some extra data, so developers have to clearly state that they are opting their users into this service.
The team expects a normal user to see an extra 20 to 30 MB of traffic with Nodle installed, which isn’t really all that much (users of the standalone Nodle app also have the option to cache the data and postpone the transfer when they connect to Wi-Fi). Some app developers may use Nodle as an alternative to in-app payments, the team hopes.
The company is also already working with HTC and Cisco Meraki, and has a number of pilot projects in the works.
If you want to give it a try, you can install the Nodle Cash app for Android now.
Open source is a great source of free tools for developers, but as these projects proliferate, and some gain in popularity, the creators sometimes look for ways to monetize successful ones. The problem is that it’s hard to run a subscription-based, dual-license approach, and most developers don’t even know where to start. Enter Israeli startup xs:code, which has created a platform to help developers solve this problem.
“Xs:code is a monetization platform for open-source projects. Unlike donation platforms which are pretty popular today, xs:code allows open-source developers to provide added value in exchange for payments. That comes on top of what they offer for free. This added value can be a different license, more features, support services or anything they can think of,” Netanel Mohoni, co-founder and CEO of xs:code told TechCrunch.
This does not mean the open-source part of this goes away, only that the company is providing a platform for those developers who want to monetize their work, Mohoni said. “Companies pay for accessing the code, and they enjoy better software created by motivated developers who are now compensated for their work. Because our solution makes sure that the code remains open source, developers can continue accepting contributions so the community enjoys better code than ever before,” he explained.
What’s more, project owners can even distribute to community contributors funds earned from subscriptions, if they wish to do so, giving them a way to pay contributors, who help make the project better.
The way it generally works is that the open-source developers create a dual license model. One has the raw open-source code, and one is the commercial version, which could have additional functionality or support that customers would be willing to pay for via a subscription.
The developers create a private repository on GitHub, and connect to xs:code, where they can share a link to the paid version. Users hit the paywall and can subscribe. Xs:code collects the money and distributes it in whichever way the developers have indicated. The company takes 25% as a commission for maintaining the platform and collecting the revenue.
The platform is available for the first time starting today in beta. You can sign up for free. Xs:code has raised $500,000 in pre-seed money to date.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?
This week, we’re looking at several major stories, including the whopping $4 billion PayPal just spent on browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey, as well as the release of the Apple Developer app, a new plan for iOS 14, Google Stadia’s launch, AR gaming’s next big hit (or flop?), e-commerce app trends, Microsoft’s exit from voice assistant mobile apps, and so much more.
Plus, did you hear the one about the developer who got kicked out from his developer account by Apple, leaving his apps abandoned?
Apple to overhaul iOS development strategy after buggy iOS 13 launch
Apple’s iOS 13 release was one of its worst, in terms of bugs and glitches. Now Apple is making an internal change to how it approaches software development in an effort to address the problem. According to Bloomberg, Apple’s Software chief Craig Federighi and other execs announced its plans at an internal meeting. The new process will involve having unfinished and buggy features disabled by default in daily builds. Testers will then have to optionally enable the features in order to try them. While this change focuses on making internal builds of the OS more usable (or “livable”), Apple hopes that over time it will improve the overall quality of its software as it will give testers the ability to really understand what’s supposed to now be working, but isn’t. The testing changes will also apply to iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS, the report said.
Apple launches the Apple Developer App
Apple rebranded and expanded its existing WWDC app to become a new Apple Developer app that can stay with its 23 million registered developers year-round. Instead of only including information about the developer event itself, the app will expand to include other relevant resources — like technical and design articles, developer news and updates, videos and more. It also will offer a way for developers to enroll in the Apple Developer program and maintain their membership. Apple says it found many developers were more inclined to open an app than an email, and by centralizing this information in one place, it could more efficiently and seamlessly deliver new information and other resources to its community.
PayPal buys Honey for $4 billion
PayPal has made its biggest-ever acquisition for browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey. TechCrunch exclusively broke the news of the nearly all-cash deal, noting that Honey currently has 17 million monthly actives. But PayPal was interested in more than the user base — it wanted the tech. The company plans to insert itself ahead of the checkout screen by getting involved with the online shopping and research process, where customers visit sites and look for deals. Honey’s offer-finding features from its mobile app will also become part of PayPal and Venmo’s apps in the future.
Cloud gaming expands with Google Stadia launch
Cloud-based gaming could benefit from the growing investment in 5G. Google Stadia, which launched this week, is a big bet on 5G in that regard. Though the early reviews were middling, Google believes the next generation of gaming will involve continuous, cross-device play, including on mobile devices. This trend was already apparent with the successes of cross-platform games like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, and PUBG, for example. Meanwhile, console makers like Microsoft are working to build out their own cloud infrastructure to compete. (Microsoft’s xCloud launches in May 2020.) Google could have a head start, even if Stadia today feels more like a beta than a finished product. But one question that still arises is whether Google is serious about gaming, or only sees Stadia as a content engine for YouTube?
Microsoft kills Cortana mobile apps
Microsoft this week belatedly realized it can’t compete with the built-in advantages that Siri and Google Assistant offer users, like dedicated buttons, hands-free voice commands, workflow building and more. The company decided to shut down its Cortana mobile applications on iOS and Android in a number of markets, including Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India. Any bets on when the U.S. makes that list?
SF Symbols expands
Cloud Foundry, the open-source platform-as-a-service that, with the help of lots of commercial backers, is currently in use by the majority of Fortune 500 companies, launched well before containers, and especially the Kubernetes orchestrator, were a thing. Instead, the project built its own container service, but the rise of Kubernetes obviously created a lot of interest in using it for managing Cloud Foundry’s container implementation. To do so, the organization launched Project Eirini last year; today, it’s officially launching version 1.0, which means it’s ready for production usage.
Eirini/Kubernetes doesn’t replace the old architecture. Instead, for the foreseeable future, they will operate side-by-side, with the operators deciding on which one to use.
The team working on this project shipped a first technical preview earlier this year and a number of commercial vendors, too, started to build their own commercial products around it and shipped it as a beta product.
“It’s one of the things where I think Cloud Foundry sometimes comes at things from a different angle,” IBM’s Julz Friedman told me. “Because it’s not about having a piece of technology that other people can build on in order to build a platform. We’re shipping the end thing that people use. So 1.0 for us — we have to have a thing that ticks all those boxes.”
He also noted that Diego, Cloud Foundry’s existing container management system, had been battle-tested over the years and had always been designed to be scalable to run massive multi-tenant clusters.
“If you look at people doing similar things with Kubernetes at the moment,” said Friedman, “they tend to run lots of Kubernetes clusters to scale to that kind of level. And Kubernetes, although it’s going to get there, right now, there are challenges around multi-tenancy, and super big multi-tenant scale”
But even without being able to get to this massive scale, Friedman argues that you can already get a lot of value even out of a small Kubernetes cluster. Most companies don’t need to run enormous clusters, after all, and they still get the value of Cloud Foundry with the power of Kubernetes underneath it (all without having to write YAML files for their applications).
As Cloud Foundry CTO Chip Childers also noted, once the transition to Eirini gets to the point where the Cloud Foundry community can start applying less effort to its old container engine, those resources can go back to fulfilling the project’s overall mission, which is about providing the best possible developer experience for enterprise developers.
“We’re in this phase in the industry where Kubernetes is the new infrastructure and [Cloud Foundry] has a very battle-tested developer experience around it,” said Childers. “But there’s also really interesting ideas that are out there that are coming from our community, so one of the things that I’ve suggested to the community writ large is, let’s use this time as an opportunity to not just evolve what we have, but also make sure that we’re paying attention to new workflows, new models, and figure out what’s going to provide benefit to that enterprise developer that we’re so focused on — and bring those types of capabilities in.”
Those new capabilities may be around technologies like functions and serverless, for example, though Friedman at least is more focused on Eirini 1.1 for the time being, which will include closing the gaps with what’s currently available in Cloud Foundry’s old scheduler, like Docker image support and support for the Cloud Foundry v3 API.
Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.
Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.
Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.
“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”
Linear cofounders (from left): KarriSaarinen, Jori Lallo, and Tuomas Artma
All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.
A ⌘K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.
The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.
“We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”
Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.
“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”
The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.
“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”
Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.
Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.
“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,'” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”
Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year
Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.
“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.
In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.
Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.
Google is launching a number of updates to its G Suite tools today that, among other things, brings to Google Docs an AI grammar checker, smarter spellchecking and, soon, spelling autocorrect. The company is also launching the ability for G Suite users to use the Google Assistant to read out a calendar schedule and, maybe even more importantly, create, cancel and reschedule events. Google is also adding new accessibility features to the Assistant for use during meetings.
In addition, Google yesterday announced that Smart Compose would soon come to G Suite, too.
It’s maybe no surprise that Google is adding its new grammar suggestions to Docs. This feature, after all, is something Google has talked about quite a bit in recent months, after it first introduced it back in 2018. Unlike other grammar tools, Google’s version utilizes a neural network approach to detect potential grammar issues in your text, which is quite similar to the techniques used for building effective machine translation models.
Google is also bringing to Docs the same autocorrect feature it already uses in Gmail. This tool uses Google Search to learn new words over time, but in addition, Google today announced it’s also introducing a new system for offering users more customized spelling suggestions based on your documents. That includes commonly used acronyms that may be part of a company’s internal lingo.
The new Assistant calendaring features are now in beta and pretty self-explanatory. Indeed, it’s somewhat surprising that it took Google so long to offer these abilities. In addition to managing their calendar by voice, the company is now also making it possible to use the Assistant to send messages to meeting attendees and even join calls (“Hey Google, join my next meeting”). Surely that’s a handy feature when you’re once again running late to work and need to join an 8am call from your car while driving down the highway.
Google Cloud today announced the launch of a new bare metal service, dubbed the Bare Metal Solution. We aren’t talking about bare metal servers offered directly by Google Cloud here, though. Instead, we’re talking about a solution that enterprises can use to run their specialized workloads on certified hardware that’s co-located in the Google Cloud data centers and directly connect them to Google Cloud’s suite of other services. The main workload that makes sense for this kind of setup is databases, Google notes, and specifically Oracle Database.
Bare Metal Solution is, as the name implies, a fully integrated and fully managed solution for setting up this kind of infrastructure. It involves a completely managed hardware infrastructure that includes servers and the rest of the data center facilities like power and cooling, support contracts with Google Cloud and billing are handled through Google’s systems, as well as an SLA. The software that’s deployed on those machines is managed by the customer — not Google.
The overall idea, though, is clearly to make it easier for enterprises with specialized workloads that can’t easily be migrated to the cloud to still benefit from the cloud-based services that need access to the data from these systems. Machine learning is an obvious example, but Google also notes that this provides these companies with a bridge to slowly modernize their tech infrastructure in general (where ‘modernize’ tends to mean ‘move to the cloud’).
“These specialized workloads often require certified hardware and complicated licensing and support agreements,” Google writes. “This solution provides a path to modernize your application infrastructure landscape, while maintaining your existing investments and architecture. With Bare Metal Solution, you can bring your specialized workloads to Google Cloud, allowing you access and integration with GCP services with minimal latency.”
Since this service is co-located with Google Cloud, there are no separate ingress and egress charges for data that moves between Bare Metal Solution and Google Cloud in the same region.
The servers for this solution, which are certified to run a wide range of applications (including Oracle Database) range from dual-socket 16-core systems with 384 GB of RAM to quad-socket servers with 112 cores and 3072 GB of RAM. Pricing is on a monthly basis, with a preferred term length of 36 months.
Obviously, this isn’t the kind of solution that you self-provision, so the only way to get started — and get pricing information — is to talk to Google’s sales team. But this is clearly the kind of service that we should expect from Google Cloud, which is heavily focused on providing as many enterprise-ready services as possible.
As we move into an increasingly multi-cloud world, there is a portability problem moving applications between clouds. Gravitational wants to fix that, and today it announced a $25 million Series A.
The round was led by Kleiner Perkins with help from S28 Capital and Y Combinator. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $31 million, according to the company.
Ev Kontsevoy, Gravitational co-founder and CEO, says his company is solving a couple of big problems around cloud portability. “There are just differences between all these different cloud providers because applications have dependencies. The application might depend on the cloud provider’s capabilities, and they use all this different middleware software that the cloud providers are bundling today with the infrastructure,” Kontsevoy explained. Those dependencies make it difficult to move an application to another cloud without additional coding.
He says that the other problem is related to on-going management of an application after you deploy it in the cloud, and that requires a large operations team. The problem with that is that there is a shortage of talent to fill these positions.
To solve these problems, Gravitational looked to Kubernetes . The company believes customers should build software using Kubernetes, open-source software and standards, and instead of building in the cloud dependencies up front, make their programs completely vanilla.
“Start with your application and don’t worry about clouds at all, don’t even have a cloud account in the beginning. Make sure your application runs on top of Kubernetes, package all of your software dependencies into Kubernetes, use open-source software and open standards as much as you possibly can,” he explained.
He says that Kubernetes gives you the ability to build software with very little administration, and then you can use Gravitational’s Gravity tool to package that solution into a single file, which you can then deploy on any cloud, private data center or even make available as download like you could with software back in the 1990s.
He sees organizations moving to container-driven software using Kubernetes, and as they do this, he believes they can break this dependency on the individual cloud providers using his company’s tools.
It’s certainly compelling if it works as described. Gravitational has 20 employees and around 100 paying customers. The company offers a couple of tools, Gravity and Gravitational Teleport as open source. It was a member of the Y Combinator 2015 cohort.
At its Cloud Next event in London, Google today announced a number of product updates around its managed Anthos platform, as well as Apigee and its Cloud Code tools for building modern applications that can then be deployed to Google Cloud or any Kubernetes cluster.
Anthos is one of the most important recent launches for Google, as it expands the company’s reach outside of Google Cloud and into its customers’ data centers and, increasingly, edge deployments. At today’s event, the company announced that it is taking Anthos Migrate out of beta and into general availability. The overall idea behind Migrate is that it allows enterprises to take their existing, VM-based workloads and convert them into containers. Those machines could come from on-prem environments, AWS, Azure or Google’s Compute Engine, and — once converted — can then run in Anthos GKE, the Kubernetes service that’s part of the platform.
“That really helps customers think about a leapfrog strategy, where they can maintain the existing VMs but benefit from the operational model of Kubernetes,” Google VP of product management Jennifer Lin told me. “So even though you may not get all of the benefits of a cloud-native container day one, what you do get is consistency in the operational paradigm.”
As for Anthos itself, Lin tells me that Google is seeing some good momentum. The company is highlighting a number of customers at today’s event, including Germany’s Kaeser Kompressoren and Turkey’s Denizbank.
Lin noted that a lot of financial institutions are interested in Anthos. “A lot of the need to do data-driven applications, that’s where Kubernetes has really hit that sweet spot because now you have a number of distributed datasets and you need to put a web or mobile front end on [them],” she explained. “You can’t do it as a monolithic app, you really do need to tap into a number of datasets — you need to do real-time analytics and then present it through a web or mobile front end. This really is a sweet spot for us.”
Also new today is the general availability of Cloud Code, Google’s set of extensions for IDEs like Visual Studio Code and IntelliJ that helps developers build, deploy and debug their cloud-native applications more quickly. The idea, here, of course, is to remove friction from building containers and deploying them to Kubernetes.
In addition, Apigee hybrid is now also generally available. This tool makes it easier for developers and operators to manage their APIs across hybrid and multi-cloud environments, a challenge that is becoming increasingly common for enterprises. This makes it easier to deploy Apigee’s API runtimes in hybrid environments and still get the benefits of Apigees monitoring and analytics tools in the cloud. Apigee hybrid, of course, can also be deployed to Anthos.
Before the hyperclouds, there were Linode, Mediatemple, HostGator and seemingly a million other hosting services that let you rent affordable virtual private servers for your development needs. And while we don’t talk about them all that much these days, with maybe the exception of Digital Ocean, which disrupted that market a few years ago thanks to its low prices, these services are still doing quite well and are working to adapt their offerings to today’s developers. Unsurprisingly, that often means adding support for containers, which is exactly what Linode is doing with the beta launch of its Linode Kubernetes Engine (LKE) this week.
Like similar services, 16-year old Linode argues that its offering will help enable more developers to adopt containers, even if they are not experts in managing this kind of infrastructure.
“With the launch of Linode Kubernetes Engine, we’ve democratized Kubernetes for developers, regardless of their resources or expertise,” said Linode CEO and Founder Christopher Aker. “By automating the configuration, node provisioning and management of Kubernetes clusters, we’ve made it faster and easier to ship modern applications. And with realtime autoscaling, free master services, and our intuitive cloud manager interface and open API, developers can bypass the complexities of traditional container management and focus on innovating.”
The service is, of course, integrated with the rest of Linode’s tools, which these days include block and object storage, for example, as well as load balancing, in addition to the usual server options. There’s also support for autoscaling and while advanced users can use tools like Helm charts, Terraform and Rancher, there’s also one-click app support for deploying often-used applications.
Linode’s service is entering a market that already features plenty of other players. But it’s also a growing market with room for lots of different tools that cater to a variety of needs. Tools like Kubernetes now allow companies like Linode to reach beyond their current customer base and offer businesses a platform that allows them to easily develop and test new services on one platform and then put them into production somewhere else — or, of course, put them into production on Lindode, too.
Apple today is introducing a new resource for the over 23 million registered members of its developer community, with the launch of a dedicated Apple Developer mobile app. The new app is an expansion on the existing WWDC app for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, which it will now replace. Instead of only including information about the developer event itself, the app will expand to include other relevant resources — like technical and design articles, developer news and updates, videos and more. It also will offer a way for developers to enroll in the Apple Developer program and maintain their membership.
Today, developer information is spread out across Apple’s website, and elsewhere. It even arrives in developers’ inbox in the form of email updates from various product teams. Now it will be available in a single, streamlined mobile app experience.
At launch, the Apple Developer app may not have everything you could otherwise find on Apple’s Developer website, but its offerings will grow over time. For example, today you’ll find technical information and more than 600 videos, but you won’t find things like the Apple Developer Forums or a way to connect a local Apple Developer program — like Apple’s App Accelerators, Design Labs or Developer Academies.
Instead, the app’s content is organized across four main sections: Discover, for finding developer information, news and updates; Videos, where you’ll find the videos the WWDC app once hosted; WWDC, for event attendees; and Account, where developers can manage their account and program membership.
Apple’s goal is to use the app to get relevant content in front of developers in a timely fashion and to point them to things they may not even realize exist on the Apple Developer website, or even at Apple, overall. And in some cases, the app will include more mobile-friendly content — like articles that attempt to educate in a more digestible, short-form manner.
In other words, it may be the same content as found online in technical papers, but packaged in a slightly different way. Later, the app will also expand to address some of the things that Apple hasn’t yet documented — a topic of increasing concern among developers as of late. (One developer even built a website called “No Overview Available” that helps you find out if an Apple API is missing documentation.)
Elsewhere in the app, developers will continue to be able to watch WWDC session videos and review the WWDC schedule, when available. They’ll also be able to sign up for or renew an Apple Developer program membership, then pay for it using Apple Pay or other payment methods.
The app’s launch comes at a time when Apple has been focused on growing its international community of developers through investments in local developer academies and accelerators — efforts that have been paying off.
For example, over the past year, the developer community in Indonesia grew its membership by 60% after the opening of two Developer Academy facilities in 2019. In Brazil, the original location for an Apple Developer Academy, the community grew by 50% this year. In India, the location of Apple’s first accelerator lab, the community grew by 45%. Other areas that grew their developer base this year included the U.K. (up 40%), France (30%), Italy (28%) and China (17%).
In serving these regions, Apple found that some developers are more inclined to open an app than they are an email — which is another reason it wanted to offer a mobile-optimized, mobile-friendly developer resource. Plus, the company discovered it had developer resources that some people didn’t even know about, like its App Store mini site. By centralizing all this content into an app, it’s more accessible.
The Apple Developer app is being soft-launched today in all worldwide markets, but Apple Developer program membership management tools are U.S.-only for now. Apple considers this a version 1, and aims to get developer feedback as it expands.
The Apple Developer app is available on iOS, including Apple Watch and iMessage.
The practice of Chaos Engineering developed at Amazon and Netflix a decade ago to help these web scale test their systems for worst case scenarios before they happened. Gremlin was started by a former employee of both these companies to make it easier to perform this type of testing without a team of Site Reliability Engineers (SREs). Today, the company announced that it now supports chaos engineering-style testing on Kubernetes clusters.
The company made the announcement at the beginning of KubeCon, the Kubernetes conference taking place in San Diego this week.
Gremlin co-founder and CEO Kolton Andrus says that the idea is to be able to test and configure Kubernetes clusters so they will not fail, or at least reduce the likelihood. He says to do this it’s critical to run chaos testing in live environments, whether you’re testing Kubernetes clusters or anything else, but it’s also a bit dangerous to do be doing this. He says to mitigate the risk, best practices suggest that you limit the experiment to the smallest test possible that gives you the most information.
“We can come in and say I’m going to deal with just these clusters. I want to cause failure here to understand what happens in Kubernetes when these pieces fail. For instance, being able to see what happens when you pause the scheduler. The goal is being able to help people understand this concept of the blast radius, and safely guide them to running an experiment,” Andrus explained.
In addition, Gremlin is helping customers harden their Kubernetes clusters to help prevent failures with a set of best practices. “We clearly have the tooling that people need [to conduct this type of testing], but we’ve also learned through many, many customer interactions and experiments to help them really tune and configure their clusters to be fault tolerant and resilient,” he said.
The Gremlin interface is designed to facilitate this kind of targeted experimentation. You can check the areas you want to apply a test, and you can see graphically what parts of the system are being tested. If things get out of control, there is a kill switch to stop the tests.
Gremlin Kubernetes testing screen. Screenshot: Gremlin
Gremlin launched in 2016. Its headquarters are in San Jose. It offers both a freemium and pay product. The company has raised almost $27 million, according to Crunchbase data.