While eBay tries to get more social and local, and Pinterest deepens is position in e-commerce, a new mobile app out of London is building out a platform that combines all of those experiences together natively. Depop, a mobile app for iOS and Android that is part Instagram-style social network and part eBay marketplace, has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Balderton Capital (formerly Benchmark Capital Europe) and Holtzbrinck Ventures. It will use the funding to expand into the U.S., with new hire Erik Martin, the ex-GM of Reddit, leading the charge.
Since launching in the UK in 2013, Depop has seen 1.8 million downloads of its app, and while it has yet to disclose metrics like gross merchandise value or overall revenues, CEO Runar Reistrup says that individual posters in the UK — who pay no listing fee but give Depop a 10% cut of sales — have sold “thousands of items” and made “tens of thousands of pounds” in the process.
As a virtual flea market, Depop is very easy to use: as a seller, you basically take a picture and upload it in a very few steps to your “shop.” As a buyer you can either search for items by keyword or by browsing lists from other people you follow, responding to things people have tagged for you to look at, or follow Depop’s recommendations for you make by its in-house curators.
What makes Depop interesting as a marketplace, however, is its strong second life as a social networking community. Reistrup says people are almost as likely to come just to look and comment on things and converse with each other as they are to buy. In other words, people may come for eBay-style marketplace, but they stay for the Instagram-style experience, with many people checking in up to 8 times a day.
“We look less like an e-commerce site, and much more like a social media platform,” Reistrup says. He says that many come just to hang out and chat with each other, and there have even been instances of “Depop dates” coming out of the app. Indeed, Depop is also eye-catching because of the demographics it targets. Right now it has “almost a 50-50 split” between men and women using the site, the CEO says, and its audience is primarily in the coveted 18-36 age bracket. Given Pinterest’s push to make itself more “man-friendly” and eBay’s fusty reputation as a legacy marketplace, Depop’s more youthful and gender-neutral positioning is notable.
“Depop is the perfect app for today’s mobile-focused, social-savvy consumers. We discovered the company while it was still incubating at Hfarm and immediately recognised the uniqueness of a founding DNA based on both tech and fashion,” said Roberto Bonanzinga of Balderton Capital in a statement. “Depop is all about the power of its cross-national community and the recent US growth is a superb validation of that strategy.”
If Depop is tapping into a new kind of online shopping experience, where people recommend items, you follow other like-minded shoppers, and shopping is intermingled with a very non-commercial social experience, it’s not alone.
In Europe there are competitors like Shpock and Stuffle. In the U.S. however Yardsale, a Y-Combinator alum, is no longer around, and another competitor called Rumgr was sold on to Close5, which was part of Dutch company Marktplaats, which got acquired by eBay. That points to both the difficulties of launching these platforms, but also the potential interest it can attract from a bigger player if it manages to gain market traction.
This is where Martin will come in. He was with Reddit for six years, and as general manager he was tasked with helping to grow the company, figuring out how to capitalise on what a young company is doing well to help it grow.
“Obviously Depop and Reddit are very different but what they have in common is that they are very simple on the surface but also very flexible,” he told me. “They both let users define how they use the platform, which is a very simple but powerful idea. When I started at Reddit it was just a link aggregator but people started making text posts and now that’s a majority of the site. I’ve learned how to recognise patterns and what a user community does with flexible tools.”
Martin, it should be noted, has kept busy in the short rest he has taken between leaving Reddit and joining Depop. He’s been working on a not-for-profit effort called Assholes on Demand, which aims to help people get to the bottom of problems and contact the right person online when something goes wrong with their product or service. They have a wonderful mission statement:
Assholes on Demand helps people navigate the confusing and frustrating world of customer service and get what you deserve. We’re caring and resourceful assholes* who will help you fight your battles. You’re not alone and you aren’t going crazy.
Hopefully, his AOD world and Depop worlds will avoid collision. Indeed, next up for Depop will be tackling some of the age-old problems of any e-commerce operation — problems that have foxed many a marketplace startup. They include figuring out the logistics and shipping behind the service, and how best to scale it while keep ahold of the community spirit that exists today.
Reistrup says that on the side of logistics, today the service is small enough that Depop leaves it to sellers to work how to get products to buyers, and the distances are not that long, this won’t be the case as they continue to grow.
“We are looking to partner or start building out shipping support because we recognise that if we want to make this a fun and easy way to sell, it’s not fun and easy to wait in the post office,” he says. The types of companies it might work with, he says, include the likes of Postmates or Shyp.
Microsoft today launched Outlook for Android and iOS phones and tablets, based on the application it acquired when it bought Acompli last December. These new applications will go live in their respective app stores over the course of the next few hours.
These new applications will go live in their respective app stores over the course of the next few hours.
In the long run, these new apps will replace all of Microsoft’s current (and somewhat confusing) range of Outlook-branded apps, including the Outlook.com app for Android and the rather limited OWA apps for Android and iOS that only work for paying Office 365 subscribers. Those older apps will still be available for the time being, but Microsoft tells me it plans to converge those experiences over time. The company definitely recommends that Outlook.com users on Android switch to the new Outlook app.
The new applications, Microsoft’s general manager of its Office division Julia White told me earlier this week, are based on the technology Microsoft acquired when it bought the email app Acompli for $200 million last year. “We brought that team in and it’s now a core part of the our Outlook team,” she told me.
It’s no surprise then that the Outlook apps will look and feel quite a bit like the original Acompli apps, too. Microsoft has already added a few minor Office-app like touches, including a colored ribbon-like UI, but if you’ve ever used Acompli’s apps, the new Outlook apps will mostly feel like a rebrand of that service.
What is a surprise, though, is that Microsoft went ahead and decided to relaunch the apps under the Outlook moniker this quickly. More than anything, though, it probably speaks to how good the Acompli apps were already.
In our interview, White stressed that the Outlook apps aren’t just meant for email triage. “They live up to the Outlook promise,” she told me. “The Outlook userbase will certainly be excited about this.” White also argued that most of the email clients that now ship with mobile devices are pretty basic, but “people want to do more than just basic email triage” on them.
Just like Acompli before it, Outlook will support Office 365, Exchange, Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail and Gmail, as well as most other email providers. The Outlook app also allows you to send attachments through many cloud services, including Microsoft’s own OneDrive, as well as Dropbox and others. Similar to most modern email apps, the new Outlook apps now also support various swipe gestures, which you can customize to your need.
Microsoft considers today’s launch a full release of the iOS version, while the Android version is still officially in preview and not officially supported yet. The reason for that is Android’s broad hardware ecosystem. Once Microsoft gathers a bit more data about how the apps run on more real-world devices, it will make launch a fresh version of the app and announce its general availability on Android, too. If the Office for Android tablets apps are any indication, that will be about two months from now.
Last November, Microsoft launched a beta of its free Office apps for Android tablets and announced that it would make them generally available for Android tablets in early 2015. It’s now early 2015 and today Microsoft is living up to its promise by launching Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Android tablets. The updated apps should arrive in the Google Play store over the course of the next few hours. With today’s release, Microsoft has now brought fully supported versions of Office to all major mobile platforms.
Microsoft first introduced the preview version of Office for Android tablets last November. For the most part, Office for Android looks exactly like the iPad version Microsoft introduced almost a year ago. As Julia White, Microsoft’s general manager for its Office division, told me earlier this week, the iOS and Android versions draw from the same codebase, so there is virtually no difference in functionality, either.
Microsoft has now unified the look of its Office apps across platforms and, as it turns out, Office for Android and iPad pretty much foreshadowed the look and feel of Office 2016. You can take a look at our review of Office for iPad to get a better idea of the apps’ capabilities.
Just like on the iPad, the Android tablet apps are available for free, and you can use them to create files and edit them (and print them, if that’s something you still do).
Microsoft tells me that it saw about 250,000 downloads during the Android apps’ beta period. Thanks to this large tester group, Microsoft was able to gather performance and crash data from about 500 different device models.
Here are the system requirements for the apps: the device needs to have a screen size of 7 inches or more and needs to run KitKat 4.4. That’s pretty straightforward. What’s odd, though, is that the apps will run on Android 5.0 Lollipop, too, but are not officially supported there. One of the next updates will change that. Chances are, this is because Microsoft simply hasn’t been able to get enough feedback from Lollipop users yet — because there aren’t all that many devices out there yet that run the latest version of Google’s mobile OS.
Office for iOS has been a huge hit for Microsoft. As the company also announced today, those apps have now been downloaded over 80 million times.
Excel Hero Landscape
Excel Hero Portrait 2
Excel Hero Portrait
PowerPoint Hero Landscape 2
Word Hero Landscape
Word Hero Portrait 2
Excel Hero Landscape 2
Google Wallet — the search giant’s payments business that competes against PayPal and Apple Pay, among others — is today taking its first step outside of the U.S., in the form of money transfers. Users in the UK will now be able to send money to each other by way of an “attachment” in Gmail. Google tells us that the feature should be live today for 10-20% of Gmail users in the UK, rolling out over the next several days and available to everyone by Monday.
Google confirms to us that this is the only Google Wallet service that is rolling out today in the UK, or anywhere else, for that matter.
In other words, no sign of when Google might launch point-of-sale services, where users can use a Google Wallet app on iOS or an Android device to pay for items sold by participating merchants.
Some skeptics think Google will never launch point-of-sale payments in the UK, although I suspect that there are several reasons why that may not be true. Apple’s commitment to build Apple Pay, along with PayPal’s existing presence here, and the general fact that the UK has always been known as a “nation of shopkeepers” — ie. a receptive and commerce-friendly market, with a very high penetration of smartphone users too boot — could make the UK a more enticing market than some might think.
For Gmail users in the U.S., the money transfer feature has been around since May 2013, the first part of a much bigger strategy that Google unveiled that year to improve the ubiquitousness of Google Wallet-based services beyond POS payments. Users need to be at least 18 and have bank accounts or credit/debit cards linked to their Google Wallet accounts.
In light of the advances that Apple Pay has made since its launch last year — Apple earlier this week touted that $2 out of every $3 that was being purchased with mobile devices was already being bought via Apple Pay, and merchants and others are scrambling to integrate it — Google appears to now be turning up the dial once again, striking while the iron is hot, or perhaps just making sure that it doesn’t drown out too much in all the Apple Pay noise.
Other recent developments have including partnering with other payment providers to help integrate its Instant Buy API into more merchants’ online and mobile purchasing flows, and also reportedly talking to acquire Softcard, a carrier joint venture to build out mobile payments services in physical stores.
A little video of how the service works:
When Dropbox introduced Carousel, it made a bid to be the home for all your photos. Microsoft wants to make a similar pitch. Today, the company outlined new ways to import, manage and share your photos on OneDrive, its cloud storage platform. Again, it is far from the first company to do so, so we can view its efforts from a historical perspective.
On the import side, you can now save files directly from the company’s Outlook.com cloud mail service, and Windows users on either editions 7 and 8 (but not 9, natch) will now be able to back up photos that are received from non OneDrive devices, along with screenshots, which can now be automatically backed up.
Also out in the day’s updates is the ability to create albums — groups of your photos that are shareable, unsurprisingly — and the ability to better manage photos that you have tagged. Albums is rolling out first to iOS, and later to Android and Windows Phone. Yes, you can expect the usual griping from Windows Phone users.
More importantly, however, is the new search features that OneDrive introduced. In partnership with Bing — which Microsoft is still not selling — the the company has built in the ability to, and I quote, “search for Office documents and PDFs by text inside of them and photos based on time, location, or text that is extracted from images themselves.” Whatever you took a picture of, you can search for it.
Finally the company has created a weekend recap product to email you the best of your weekend photography on Monday. Because nothing appeals like the reminders of hangovers past while at the office at 8 on a Monday morning.
OneDrive has an important home inside of Windows 10 — Microsoft’s cloud play is not a product aimed at the few. The above puts it into feature competition with other cloud providers when it comes to offering a decent photo environment. Whether that work boosts engagement is the next question.
Microsoft, how about some new usage and storage metrics?
Yota Devices is a Russian company that entered the mental space of tech enthusiasts everywhere with the debut of the original YotaPhone a couple of years ago. In 2014, it launched the YotaPhone 2, a second-generation smartphone that greatly improved on the original concept. The YotaPhone 2 is a surprisingly capable, well-equipped Android smartphone – which happens to also have the clever addition of a second, fully touch-sensitive e-ink display, all wrapped up in a very smartly-designed package.
- 5-inch, 1920×1080 OLED primary display
- 4.7-inch, 960×540 E-ink secondary display
- 2.3GHz quad-core process
- 2GB RAM, 32GB storage
- 8MP rear, 2MP front camera
- MSRP: Roughly $850 USD unlocked
- Product info page
- Secondary screen is incredibly useful
- Physical design is great
- E-ink screen contrast/refresh could be better
- Still no official U.S. launch date
The YotaPhone 2 is an amazing example of massive improvement through just one generation of iteration: The original device was a mess of compromises, generally unfit for use beyond an RD lab. The YotaPhone 2, however, is not just a good execution of a dual-screen smartphone – it’s also a well-designed smartphone no matter how you look at it, which understated, but pleasing looks and a curved case with a nice weight that just always feels awesome to hold.
Yota’s latest is reminiscent of the Palm Pre, in a very good way. It’s thicker than a lot of current top-tier smartphones, which is no doubt due to the fact that it carries an entire, 4.7-inch secondary display on its reverse side, but that doesn’t take away from its ergonomically positive qualities. The added heft and weight make it feel like a much more comfortable handful than many current-day devices, which can tend to feel cheap or less than substantial, especially when they use plastic as their primary case material.
The matte finish of the back of the YotaPhone 2, which is designed to give you a glare-free, easy-to-read surface through which to present the E-ink screen, is also nice to look at even when the screen is showing nothing but black. If there’s a downside to the finish, it might be that the smartphone ends up having a certain slipperiness, but overall the effect is one of polish and attention to detail that again, is shocking considering the first-generation YotaPhone, and that helps the YotaPhone 2 stand apart (in a good way) from other Android devices, even leaving aside that secondary display.
YotaPhone 2’s signature feature is the one that stares you right in the face: The E-ink display on the phone’s backside, occupying a place normally reserved for something as banal as a manufacturer name, or even worse, carrier branding. The 4.7-inch screen covers a big chunk of the back of the phone, with bezels around each edge filling out the remaining space, and offers up dynamic content based on your phone’s settings.
You can set the YotaPhone 2 to display an image or series of images, from either your local library, social sources like Instagram or Facebook, or other galleries. It can also show you notifications, including missed phone calls, messages, mail and “other.” Out of the box, third-party apps can’t push full notifications to the e-ink screen, but they can at least let it know something came in, so you can know when you have to activate the primary screen to check them out. Yota also offers an API that lets developers display notifications from their app natively, and it’s great when they take advantage of that.
The E-ink screen can also fully mirror your Android OS, giving you access to apps like Kindle that make perfect sense on the black and white, non-backlit display. Maps is another good use, giving you enough information to guide your walk around an unfamiliar city while conserving precious battery life. The Selfie app also lets you use the 8 megapixel, higher quality rear camera to snap self-indulgent pics, and gives you a minimal but ultimately very effective view of what you’ll get in low-res black and white while doing so.
You can also set the screen to provide access to a selection of apps, news headlines, weather information, a real-time clock and more – Yota offers a lot of customization options for its so-caled YotaPanel, so you can really get creative. Ultimately the E-ink display has surprisingly few limitations in terms of what it can and can’t show, and that’s a key selling point; the original phone was pretty limited in this regard, and it really detracted from that phone’s overall value. The YotaPhone 2’s screen is, by contrast, a Swiss Army knife that you might eventually have trouble living without.
The YotaPhone 2 benefits from offering a version of Android that’s essentially stock – albeit a little behind the pace of pure Nexus releases. It’s currently running 4.4.2, but Yota has promised an update to Lollipop eventually. Even without 5.0, you’ll get a version of Google’s mobile OS that’s solid, and that works well on the top-notch processor and hardware Yota has provided with this smart device.
When running my standard complement of apps, games and utilities, I encountered no performance surprises or issues with the YotaPhone 2. The device matched my battery usage on an average device when used in the normal way, i.e. without really employing the E-ink screen for much. That means it managed about a day of use. But gradually I learned to lean more heavily on the E-ink screen, and my average usage stretched out to about three days, which includes ample active reading time via the Kindle app.
In some regards, like the camera, the YotaPhone 2 comes across as more of a mid-level device, but the fact that you can essentially use the rear-facing shooter as a dedicated selfie-cam makes up for that camera itself offering only adequate overall performance compared to the general Android smartphone population. It suffers especially in low-light, so if you’re a huge mobile photography buff, you probably want to move right along.
The screens on the YotaPhone 2 are both pretty excellent. The new 5-inch display has excellent pixel density, and the AMOLED’s show great blacks and excellent colors. It’s a little finicky when it comes to auto-brightness and ambient light detection, but that’s not a huge deal, and it’s something that still afflicts smartphone from even the most respected Android OEMs.
The E-ink display is a big improvement form the one on the original YotaPhone, but the 960×540 resolution certainly isn’t going to wow anyone in terms of crispness of text or image. Even so, it’s about on par with Kindles beyond the top-tier Voyage launched this year. Contrast and refresh rates also aren’t pushing any boundaries, but these are not what users need in an e-ink display. The key ingredients, which include basic legibility, size and full touch capabilities are all here, and the result is an extremely functional display that offers a good reading experience even across multi-hour sessions.
The YotaPhone 2 is a huge improvement on the original YotaPhone, so much so that this device transcends the niche appeal of its predecessor. That said, it’s still a smartphone that’s unique enough to really strike a chord with a smaller audience – those that enjoy reading a lot, and don’t want to carry a Kindle, for instance, or anyone who has to do a lot of document review on the go. But the execution here gets much closer to proving the benefits of a secondary low-power display for just about anyone, and does a much better job of doing so than hacky tricks used by other OEMs, including cases with cutout windows that are meant to offer low-power access to notifications without waking the whole screen.
YotaPhone 2’s biggest weakness right now is honestly just consumer access – ordering one unlocked will currently cost someone based in the U.S. around $850 new, which is a big ask for any device, let alone one from a relatively unknown company. Still, it’s one of the first smartphones in a long time to genuinely surprise me, and if it can secure a U.S. launch date and reasonable pricing soon, as YotaPhone has said it should, it will be a great contender for Android fans looking for something both functional and unique.
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