All posts in “Software”

Toyota and Lexus vehicles will finally start getting CarPlay this year

Toyota has been a holdout from CarPlay, Apple’s in-dash infotainment system that works with your iPhone. The automaker and its luxury brand Lexus have yet to offer it in any models, despite most other car companies giving in on at least a few vehicles (which tends to later to broader rollout thereafter).

The new 2019 Toyota Avalon will have CarPlay on board, however. The vehicle was unveiled today, and Toyota confirmed that it’ll have support for Apple’s system at launch. No mention of Android Auto, unfortunately, which could mean Google mobile OS smartphone fans are still out of luck for the foreseeable future.

Toyota announced that Alexa would be coming to some of its vehicles via the Entune 3.0 (Toyota) and Enform 2.0 (Lexus) infotainment system updates, but now we know that CarPlay will also be part of the package on these stems for some vehicles going forward. It’s not yet clear how many 2019 year models will include CarPlay support, or whether this will also be coming to older vehicles that are getting the Entune 3.0 and Enform 2.0 updates.

Automakers seem to have been reluctant to allow both Android Auto and CarPlay on their platforms initially, but most are coming around – and I’m willing to bet customer feedback is a big reason why.

Zeroqode will usher us into a codeless future

Codeless development platforms are at once a blessing and a curse. If they’re complete enough to be powerful they are too difficult for beginners and if they’re simple enough for beginners they’re useless for serious work. Zeroqode, a one-stop-shop for codeless creation, aims to make the difficult easy and the easy more powerful.

Created by Levon Terteryan and Vlad Larin, the project is based on Bubble, a new codeless development framework. To understand it think of Django-like autobuilder tools connected to an easy to use drag and drop interface. You add functionality by dropping in Trello-like cards that perform various actions.

I worked with the team to rebuild my website in Bubble and they offered both hands on assistance and showed me where thinks were going wrong. They are Bubble’s certified partners. The team is bootstrapped and exhibited at Disrupt Berlin in 2017.

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“Our business consists of 2 main components: services (no-code development) and products (templates, plugins, courses etc.),” said Larin. It’s the templates they’re talking up most as the services side is a bit harder to sell. By working with non-coders to get started with Bubble, they open a pathway to future collaboration.

“Our no-code templates and self-service products are helping to create and launch from 20 to 30 web products, with that number rapidly increasing in the last quarter,” said Larin.

The team sees itself as a dev-in-a-box solution. The teams first products are 28 simple templates for users to recreate their favorite services and to learn Bubble along the way.

“What we do costs our clients just a fraction of what they would otherwise pay to the developers,” said Larin. “Most of our no-code developers have been web designers prior to joining our team. We have trained them to work in Bubble and build complex functionality.
So now 1 person can do everything – UI/UX design + workflows + database configuration + debugging etc thus reducing the complexity of traditional development where a team of at least 5 people is usually required to build a complex web application.”

With the teams help I was able to understand Bubble nearly completely and begin working on my redesign. They team helped considerably but their templates were very usable and very affordable. The finished app is as polished as I could make it but seeing as I haven’t coded professionally since 2000 it seemed to produce a good result. Hosting the app on Bubble costs $14 a month.

“The goal is not to allow our users to create a copy of AirBNB or Uber but to empower them launch any product that is resembling the functions of one of the big names in the startup world, with person adding his unique feature on top of the great baseline, doing that faster and with way less costs involved,” said Larin.

The team has seen unfunded startups using their code to build MVPs and even final products. The team had been building complex and expensive products for clients but they could service smaller companies. When they found Bubble they knew they could be helpful.

“The business has started growing exponentially and In under 2 years the team has grown from 1 person to 17,” said Larin. “Now we have 10+ no-code developers which in traditional development capacity would compare to around four or five times more than that.”

“The goal is to make Zeroqode for complex web apps what WordPress has become for simpler web-sites,” he said.

Check out my talk with Larin at Disrupt Berlin.

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Telegram plans multi-billion dollar ICO for chat cryptocurrency

Encrypted messaging startup Telegram plans to launch its own blockchain platform and native cryptocurrency, powering payments on its chat app and beyond. According to multiple sources which have spoken to TechCrunch, the “Telegram Open Network” (TON) will be a new, ‘third generation’ blockchain with superior capabilities, after Bitcoin and, later, Ethereum paved the way.

The launch will be funded with an enormous Initial Coin Offering, with forthcoming private pre-sales ranging into the hundreds of millions, potentially making it one of the largest ICOs to date. Demand is driven by the fact that rather than the ICO coming from a fresh startup, Telegram is a well-established messaging platform used around the world.

Adopting a homegrown cryptocurrency could give Telegram’s payment system enormous independence from any government or bank — something Co-founder and CEO Pavel Durov is known to covet after investors took over his last company, Russian social network VK. Durov has not responded to TechCrunch’s several attempts to contact him regarding this story.

The potential for a cryptocurrency inside a widely adopted messaging app is enormous.

With cryptocurrency powered payments inside Telegram, users could bypass remittance fees when sending funds across international borders, move sums of money privately thanks to the app’s encryption, deliver micropayments that would incur too high of credit card fees, and more.

Selling a TON of cryptocurrency

Telegram is understood to be considering raising as much as $500 million in the pre-ICO sale at a potential total token value in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion. However, those figures could change before the ICO, which could come as soon as March. Those figures would make it possibly the biggest private crypto raise to date after Tezos, which raised over $230 million in July.

A pre-sale in an ICO is a minimum cap on investments (sometimes with discounts) to attract big investors (‘whales’) before a wider token sale to retail investors. The public, retail phase of an ICO tends to raise less because there is a long tail of people investing small sums. But front-loading the ICO with institutional investment inspires confidence for retail investors.

Those pre-sale investors may be required to place a minimum buy-in of $20 million if they’re outside of Durov’s inner circle. Sources say that the ICO will require real fiat currency like US dollars for buy-in, not Bitcoin or Ether as others ICOs have to date.

Top-tier institutional investment firms have expressed interest, but Durov is said to be wary of accepting their cash. One firm rumored to have pushed for a pre-sale allocation is Mail.Ru Group (formerly DST), founded by Russian emigre Yuri Milner. A spokesperson for DST did not reply to our inquiry about this story.

Understanding Telegram Open Network

Durov’s idea is to launch an entirely new blockchain, using the Telegram’s 180 million users as rocket fuel to power forward into mainstream adoption off cryptocurrency and making Telegram, effectively, a kingmaker of other cryptocurrencies, because of its existing scale.

According to Telegram’s white paper that TechCrunch has review portions of, its cryptocurrency will be called “Gram” and could potentially gain immediate mainstream adoption by being tied to Telegram’s chat app.

Sources say Durov has decided to combine both a centralized and decentralized infrastructure, since a totally decentralized network doesn’t scale as fast as one which has some elements of centralization, hence why Telegram needs to own its own blockchain.

Moving to a decentralized blockchain platform could kill two birds with one stone for Telegram. As well as creating a full-blown cryptocurrency economy inside the app, it would also insulate it against the attacks and accusations of nation-states such as Iran, where it now accounts for 40% of Iran’s internet traffic but was temporarily blocked amongst nationwide protests against the government.

Telegram has played a delicate political balancing act to try and retain its users in the country, shutting down some channels for calling for the downfall of the government, while keeping others open.

WeChat But With Crypto

With TON, Telegram aims to develop cryptocurrency-based utility akin to WeChat, which has blossomed into much more than a chat app and acts as default payment mechanism for many in China.

While payments can be made very quickly in WeChat for a variety of services, the system remains very centralized. A decentralized platform such as TON could offer more security and resilience.

Sources say that Telegram plans to allow users to hold both Telegram’s currency and fiat currency in a forthcoming wallet.

There’s also the existing developer ecosystem Telegram has built up around it, where bots and services are offered by third-party developers. Again, here TON could, in theory, underly everything a developer brings to Telegram.

Inside TON

In a 132 page white paper, Telegram has outlined a four-stage plan:

“TON Services” will be a platform for third-party services of any kind that enables smartphone like friendly interfaces for decentralized apps and smart contracts.

“TON DNS” is a service for assigning human-readable names to accounts, smart contracts services and network nodes. With TON DNS, accessing decentralized services could be like “viewing a website on the World Wide Web.”

“TON Payments” is a platform for micropayments and a micropayment channel network. It aims to be used for “instant off-chain value transfers between users bots and other services”. Safeguards built into the system are designed to ensure that these transfers “are as secure as on-chain transactions”.

The “TON Blockchain” will consist of a master chain and 2-to-the-power-of-92 accompanying blockchains. Its most notable aspect is that it will have an “Infinite Sharing Paradigm” to achieve scalability. Thus, TON blockchains aim to be able to “automatically split and merge to accommodate changes in load”. This would mean new blocks are generated quickly and “the absence of long queues helps keep transaction costs low, even if some of the services using the platform become massively popular”.

It will also consist of “Instant Hypercube Routing” designed so the blockchain can maintain top speed even as it grows. Its proof of stake approach will reach consensus through a variant of the ‘Byzantine Fault Tolerant’ protocol, again increasing speed and efficiency. And it will also use 2-D Distributed Ledgers. This means the TON can grow new valid blocks on top of any blocks that were proven to be incorrect to avoid any unnecessary forks. In other words, TON aims to be ‘self-healing’.

TON’s third generation blockchain will be based on a dynamic ‘proof of stake’ secured by multiple parties with a high degree of fault tolerance. It will also handle storage of ID, payments and smart contracts. So, instead of relying on proof of work to create its currency, Telegram will rely on a new, less energy-hogging way of mining cryptocurrency than the original Bitcoin method.

The claim is that it will be capable of a vastly superior number of transactions, around 1 million per second. In other words, similar to the ambitions of the Polkadot project out of Berlin — but with an installed base of 180 million people. This makes it an ‘interchain’ with so-called ‘dynamic sharding’.

Keeping Control

The white paper also makes clear that four percent of the supply of Grams (200 million Grams) will be reserved for Telegram’s development team with a four-year vesting period. Telegram also plans to retain “at least 52 percent” of the entire supply of the Grams cryptocurrency to protect it from speculative trading and maintain flexibility. The remaining 44 percent will be sold in both the public and private sale.

The currency will be listed on external exchanges and used inside the Telegram app.

Timing-wise, the first quarter of this year will see the launch of the Telegram External Secure ID, followed by an MVP of TON. The launch of the Telegram Wallet is slated for Q4 2018, and the creation of the TON-based economy could launch in Q1 2019. The rest of the TON Services would follow in Q2 2019.

Some in the crypto community remain skeptical of TON. “I just think this is the CEO’s way of monetizing Telegram, basically,” says Jackson Palmer, the founder of early cryptocurrency Dogecoin.

The Brothers Durov

Durov and his brother Nikolai Durov, a mathematical genius, were behind the creation of VK, “Russia’s Facebook”, worth an estimated $3 billion, but were effectively forced to sell their stake in the company by oligarch shareholders deeply connected to the Putin-led government. Although Pavel managed to negotiate an exit with a large payoff, he’s known to have harbored a resentment against outside investors ever since.

Pavel reportedly left Russia with $300 million and 2,000 Bitcoins and, after buying a citizenship in St. Kitts and Nevis, splits his time between London, Dubai and, where possible, Russia. Telegram’s move into crypto could give him another shot at a massive fortune, while potentially turning the chat app into a vast payment network protected from government interference.

Mapbox makes another acquisition to bolster its navigation toolkits

Mapbox, the SoftBank-backed developer of mapping applications that competes with Google Maps, TomTom and Here, has acquired the developers behind Mapzen’s Valhalla project in a bid to strengthen its navigation toolkits.

The acquisition, made as Mapzen was winding down, brings the Valhalla development team in-house for a bargain price that Mapbox chief executive Eric Gunderson declined to disclose.

“It’s one of those classic things where having a long-term relationship you become close to people and when shit starts going a little sideways, there’s an opportunity,” Gunderson told me of the acquisition.

Through the work both companies had been doing on the Valhalla open-source project, Mapbox’s developers had been collaborating with the team behind the project for more than a year.

Mapping is a critical component of any autonomous technology for self-driving cars, and powers a wide array of advertising services and features on mobile devices.

Late last year, Mapbox raised around $164 million from SoftBank to become a credible competitor to Google Maps and Here in autonomous driving and in new arenas like augmented reality. Already companies like Snap, MasterCard, Instacart and Airbnb use the Mapbox SDK for their applications.

The access to those users gives Mapbox anonymized telemetry data from an aggregated 200 million users.

Echoing a statement Gunderson made last year when the company bought another emerging mapping technology company, Mapdata, he said that the company has 900,000 developers using its SDK in various products, and all of that location data is being fed back to Mapbox to strengthen its mapping tools.

Unlike other routing services that pre-compute directions based on information acquired from every road in a given area, the Valhalla toolkit means that routing decisions can be made in real time — improving efficiency for companies that desperately need it.

Delivery services, logistics companies and ride-hailing services see better mapping and routing as a revenue generator. The faster a driver can reach a destination, the faster they’re able to pick up a new fare or make another delivery, which reduces the need for more drivers on the road and increases profits for companies.

“The world is live updating and that means you need to have a constant sensor network out there,” says Gunderson. And unlike Waze and Google Maps, which own the underlying data associated with any use of their tools, Mapbox lets the app developers who use its service keep the data about their customers. All Mapbox wants is the anonymized location.

“We get anonymous latitude and longitude data back and then stitch that back into the network… using the sensor network, but the sensor network is your phone,” says Gunderson. He said that through the SDK, Mapbox actually has more sensors on the road than almost any other company (Google Maps is till the monster here, through the data they collect with Android).

Mapzen’s Valhalla development team

“This is going to immediately have benefits for some of our OEM auto customers,” Gunderson said. “Turn by tun directions with real-time traffic data and a more lightweight footprint (for the application),” are all benefits that OEM’s will enjoy, he said. “The data transfer is very light to devices and it’s also super customizable. It will allow the routing network to build more customizable data experiences.”

HQ Trivia arrives on Android in Canada in beta

App-based trivia sensation HQ Trivia is on its way to Android, as the company previously revealed, but a special group of users can access it right now — Canadians. The app is now live in the Canadian Google Play Store, though it’s an “Unreleased” beta version of the live trivia game (via MobileSyrup).

HQ Trivia debuted on iOS earlier this year, featuring a twice daily broadcast of a live, interactive trivia show hosted by a real human being. Players can win up to $2,000 U.S. in prizes by playing and answering questions correctly.

The app entered limited beta testing on Android in general starting on Christmas, and is continuing to roll out to new testers as HQ Trivia works its way towards its goal of having it available to all on Google’s mobile platform starting on January 1.

People are totally obsessed with this app, based on info gleaned from my Twitter feed. I’ve never played it, but I might now that it’s crossing the platform gap, just for curiosity’s sake.