Apr
08
2019
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Fleetsmith lands $30M Series B to grow Apple device management platform

Fleetsmith launched in 2016 with a mission to manage Apple devices in the cloud. It simplified an IT activity that had previously been complex, with help from Apple’s Device Enrollment Program. Over the last year, the startup has beefed up its offering considerably, and today it announced a $30 million Series B round led by Menlo Ventures.

Tiger Global Management, Upfront Ventures and Harrison Metal also participated. Under the terms of the deal, Naomi Pilosof Ionita, a partner at Menlo, will join the company board. Her colleague Matt Murphy will become a board observer. With today’s announcement, the startup has now raised more than $40 million, according to data supplied by the company.

Company co-founder and CEO Zack Blum says the original mission was about solving a pain point he and his co-founders were feeling around finding a modern approach to managing Apple devices. “From a customer perspective, they can ship devices directly to their employees. The employee unwraps it, connects to Wi-Fi and the device is enrolled automatically in Fleetsmith,” Blum explained.

He says that this automated approach, combined with the product’s security and intelligence capabilities, means that IT doesn’t have to worry about devices being registered and up-to-date, regardless of where an employee happens to be in the world.

It has moved from solving that problem for SMBs to having a broader mission for companies of all sizes, especially those with distributed work forces, which can benefit from enrolling in this automated fashion from anywhere. Once enrolled, companies can push security updates to all of the company’s employees and force updates if desired (or at least send strong reminders to avoid updating in the middle of a client meeting).

Over the last year, the company developed a dashboard for IT to monitor all of the devices under its management, including providing an overall health score with any potential problems it has found. For example, there may be a number of MacBook Pros without disk encryption enabled.

The dashboard ties into the identity management component of Office 365 and G Suite. IT can import the employee directory into the dashboard from either tool, and employees can sign into Fleetsmith with either set of credentials, providing a quick way to manage all employees in an organization.

Screenshot: Fleetsmith

Fleetsmith has also set up a partner program with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to expand its reach further. MSPs manage IT for SMBs, and building a relationship with these types of companies can help it expand much more quickly.

The approach seems to be working, as the company has 30 employees and 1,500 customers. With the new cash in pocket, it intends to hire more people and continue building out the product’s capabilities, while expanding beyond the U.S. to markets overseas.

Mar
11
2019
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Dozens of companies leaked sensitive data thanks to misconfigured Box accounts

Security researchers have found dozens of companies inadvertently leaking sensitive corporate and customer data because staff are sharing public links to files in their Box enterprise storage accounts that can easily be discovered.

The discoveries were made by Adversis, a cybersecurity firm, which found major tech companies and corporate giants had left data inadvertently exposed. Although data stored in Box enterprise accounts is private by default, users can share files and folders with anyone, making data publicly accessible with a single link. But Adversis said these secret links can be discovered by others. Using a script to scan for and enumerate Box accounts with lists of company names and wildcard searches, Adversis found more than 90 companies with publicly accessible folders.

Not even Box’s own staff were immune from leaking data.

The company said while much of the data is legitimately public and Box advises users how to minimize risks, many employees may not know the sensitive data they share can be found by others.

Worse, some public folders were scraped and indexed by search engines, making the data found more easily.

In a blog post, Adversis said Box administrators should reconfigure the default access for shared links to “people in your company” to reduce accidental exposure of data to the public.

Adversis said it found passport photos, bank account and Social Security numbers, passwords, employee lists, financial data like invoices and receipts and customer data among the data found. The company contacted Box to warn of the larger exposures of sensitive data, but noted that there was little overall improvement six months after its initial disclosure.

“There is simply too much out there and not enough time to resolve each individually,” he said.

Adversis provided TechCrunch with a list of known exposed Box accounts. We contacted several of the big companies named, as well as those known to have highly sensitive data, including:

  • Amadeus, the flight reservation system maker, which left a folder full of documents and application files associated with Singapore Airlines. Earlier this year, researchers found flaws that made it easy to change reservations booked with Amadeus.
  • Apple had several folders exposed, containing what appeared to be non-sensitive internal data, such as logs and regional price lists.
  • Television network Discovery had more than a dozen folders listed, including database dumps of millions of customers names and email addresses. The folders also contained some demographic information and developer project files, including casting contracts and notes and tax documents.
  • Edelman, the global public relations firm, had an entire project proposal for working with the New York City mass transit division, including detailed proposal plans and more than a dozen resumes of potential staff for the project — including their names, email addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Nutrition giant Herbalife left several folders exposed containing files and spreadsheets on about 100,000 customers, including their names, email addresses and phone numbers.
  • Opportunity International, a nonprofit aimed at ending global poverty, exposed in a massive spreadsheet a list of donor names, addresses and amount given.
  • Schneider Electric left dozens of customer orders accessible to anyone, including sludge works and pump stations for several towns and cities. Each folder had an installation “sequence of operation” document, which included both default passwords and in some cases “backdoor” access passwords in case of forgotten passwords.
  • PointCare, a medical insurance coverage management software company, had thousands of patient names and insurance information exposed. Some of the data included the last four digits of Social Security numbers.
  • United Tissue Network, a whole-body donation nonprofit, exposed body donor information and personal information of donors in a vast spreadsheet, including the prices of body parts.

Box, which initially had no comment when we reached out, had several folders exposed. The company exposed signed non-disclosure agreements on their clients, including several U.S. schools, as well as performance metrics of its own staff, the researchers said.

Box spokesperson Denis Roy said in a statement: “We take our customers’ security seriously and we provide controls that allow our customers to choose the right level of security based on the sensitivity of the content they are sharing. In some cases, users may want to share files or folders broadly and will set the permissions for a custom or shared link to public or ‘open’. We are taking steps to make these settings more clear, better help users understand how their files or folders can be shared, and reduce the potential for content to be shared unintentionally, including both improving admin policies and introducing additional controls for shared links.”

The cloud giant said it plans to reduce the unintended discovery of public files and folders.

Amadeus, Apple, Box, Discovery, Herbalife, Edelman and PointCare all reconfigured their enterprise accounts to prevent access to their leaking files after TechCrunch reached out.

Amadeus spokesperson Alba Redondo said the company decommissioned Box in October and blamed the exposure on an account that was “misconfigured in public mode,” which has now been corrected and external access to it is now closed. “We continue to investigate this issue and confirm there has been no unauthorized access of our system,” said the spokesperson, without explanation. “There is no evidence that confidential information or any information containing personal data was impacted by this issue,” the spokesperson added.

When we asked Amadeus how it concluded there was no improper access, another spokesperson, Ben Hunt, said: “We have the full audit trail for Box and access of these files — none of the files have been downloaded outside of either Amadeus or authorized customers.”

The spokesperson declined to explain its statement when told files were downloaded to verify their contents.

PointCare chief executive Everett Lebherz confirmed its leaking files had been “removed and Box settings adjusted.” Edelman’s global marketing chief Michael Bush said the company was “looking into this matter.”

Herbalife spokesperson Jennifer Butler said the company was “looking into it,” but we did not hear back after several follow-ups. (Butler declared her email “off the record,” which requires both parties agree to the terms in advance, but we are printing the reply as we were given no opportunity to reject the terms.)

When reached, an Apple spokesperson did not comment by the time of publication.

Discovery, Opportunity International, Schneider Electric and United Tissue Network did not return a request for comment.

Data “dumpster diving” is not a new hobby for the skilled, but it’s a necessary sub-industry to fix an emerging category of data breaches: leaking, public and exposed data that shouldn’t be. It’s a growing space that we predicted would grow as more security researchers look to find and report data leaks.

This year alone, we’ve reported data leaks at Dow Jones, Rubrik, NASA, AIESEC, Uber, the State Bank of India, two massive batches of Indian Aadhaar numbers, a huge leak of mortgage and loan data and several Chinese government surveillance systems.

Adversis has open-sourced and published its scanning tool.

Jan
24
2019
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Apple finally brings Microsoft Office to the Mac App Store, and there is much rejoicing

That slow clap you hear spreading around the internet today could be due to the fact that Apple has finally added Microsoft Office to the Mac App Store. The package will include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote.

Shaan Pruden, senior director of worldwide developer relations at Apple, says that when the company overhauled the App Store last year, it added the ability to roll several apps into a subscription package with the idea of bringing Microsoft Office into the fold. That lack of bundling had been a stumbling block to an earlier partnership.

“One of the features that we brought specifically in working with Microsoft was the ability to subscribe to bundles, which is obviously something that they would need in order to bring Office 365 to the Mac App Store.”

That’s because Microsoft sells Office 365 subscriptions as a package of applications, and it didn’t want to alter the experience by forcing customers to download each one individually, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365 explained.

PowerPoint on the Mac. Photo: Apple

Spataro said that until now, customers could of course go directly to Microsoft or another retail outlet to subscribe to the same bundle, but what today’s announcement does is wrap the subscription process into an integrated Mac experience where installation and updates all happen in a way you expect with macOS.

“The apps themselves are updated through the App Store, and we’ve done a lot of great work between the two companies to make sure that the experience really feels good and feels like it’s fully integrated,” he said. That includes support for dark mode, photo continuity to easily insert photos into Office apps from Apple devices and app-specific toolbars for the Touch Bar.

A subscription will run you $69 for an individual or $99 for a household. The latter allows up to six household members to piggyback on the subscription, and each person gets one terabyte of storage, to boot. What’s more, you can access your subscription across all of your Apple, Android and Windows devices and your files, settings and preferences will follow wherever you go.

Businesses can order Microsoft Office bundles through the App Store and then distribute them using the Apple Business Manager, a tool Apple developed last year to help IT manage the application distribution process. Once installed, users have the same ability to access their subscriptions, complete with settings across devices.

Microsoft OneNote on the Mac. Photo: Apple

While Apple and Microsoft have always had a complicated relationship, the two companies have been working together in one capacity or another for nearly three decades now. Neither company was willing to discuss the timeline it took to get to this point, or the financial arrangements between the two companies, but in the standard split for subscriptions, the company gets 70 percent of the price the first year with Apple getting 30 percent for hosting fees. That changes to an 85/15 split in subsequent years.

Apple noted that worldwide availability could take up to 24 hours depending on your location, but you’ve waited this long, you can wait one more day, right?

Jan
17
2019
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IBM and Vodafone form cloud, 5G and AI business venture and ink $550M service deal

IBM is one of the world’s biggest system integrators, but to get closer to where enterprises are actually doing their work, it’s been inking partnerships with companies that build devices and run the networks enterprises are using for their IT, and today comes the latest development on that front.

IBM is announcing a new venture with mobile carrier Vodafone, in a deal that will comes in two parts. First, IBM will supply Vodafone’s B2B unit Vodafone Business with managed services in the areas of cloud and hosting. And second, the two will together work on building and delivering solutions in areas like AI, cloud, 5G, IoT and software defined networking to enterprise customers.

The latter part of the deal appears to be a classic JV that will see both sides bringing something to the table — employees from both companies will be moving into a separate office together very soon that will essentially be “neutral” territory. The former part, meanwhile, will see Vodafone paying IBM some $550 million in an eight-year agreement.

That price tag alone is a strong indicator that this deal is a big one for both companies.

The agreement follows along the lines of what IBM inked with Apple several years ago, where the two would work together to develop enterprise solutions that would have been more challenging to do on their own.

Indeed, while IBM does provide systems integration services, it hasn’t moved as deeply into mobile-specific solutions for businesses, even as its other operational units — doing research and other work in AI, cloud, quantum computing and other areas — are making strong headway on specific projects, some of which involve mobile technology. Now that it’s nearly in full possession of RedHat — which it is in the process of buying for $34 billion, a deal that’s now received the approval of RedHat’s shareholders — it will also have open source cloud computing to add to that.

What the Vodafone deal will tap is taking more of those cutting-edge developments that IBM has built and worked on in specific projects, and productise them for a wider audience of businesses and other organisations, which might already be Vodafone customers.

“To deliver multi-cloud strategies in the real world, enterprises need to invest at many levels, ranging from cloud connectivity to cloud governance and management. This new venture between Vodafone and IBM addresses the ‘full stack’ of real-world multi-cloud concerns with a powerful combination of capabilities that should enable customers to deliver multi-cloud strategies in all layers of their organizations,” noted Carla Arend, senior program director for European software at IDC.

The Apple / IBM deal is more than instructive in this case; it will help fuel this new venture. From what I understand, several fruits of that labor will be making their way into the IBM / Vodafone deal, too, which makes sense, considering Vodafone’s position as a mobile carrier and the iPhone making some strong headway into the business market.

“IBM has built industry-leading hybrid cloud, AI and security capabilities underpinned by deep industry expertise,” said IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty in a statement. “Together, IBM and Vodafone will use the power of the hybrid cloud to securely integrate critical business applications, driving business innovation – from agriculture to next- generation retail.”

“Vodafone has successfully established its cloud business to help our customers succeed in a digital world,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read, in the statement. “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM’s expertise in multicloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we’ll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

I’ve been told that the first joint “customer engagements” are already happening with an unnamed energy company. Thinking about what kinds of services Vodafone may be providing to end users today — they will cover mobile data and voice connectivity, mobile broadband, IoT and 5G services — this first deal will involve tapping all four, with an emphasis on 5G and IoT.

Oct
15
2018
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Truphone, an eSIM mobile carrier that works with Apple, raises another $71M, now valued at $507M

Truphone — a UK startup that provides global mobile voice and data services by way of an eSIM model for phones, tablets and IoT devices — said that it has raised another £18 million ($23.7 million) in funding; plus it said it has secured £36 million ($47 million) more “on a conditional basis” to expand its business after signing “a number of high-value deals.”

It doesn’t specify which deals these are, but Truphone was an early partner of Apple’s to provide eSIM-based connectivity to the iPad — that is, a way to access a mobile carrier without having to swap in a physical SIM card, which has up to now been the standard for GMSA-based networks. Truphone is expanding on this by offering a service for new iPhone XS and XR models, taking advantage of the dual SIM capability in these devicews. Truphone says that strategic partners of the company include Apple (“which chose Truphone as the only carrier to offer global data, voice and text plans on the iPad and iPhone digital eSIM”); Synopsys, which has integrated Truphone’s eSIM technology into its chipset designs; and Workz Group, a SIM manufacturer, which has a license from Truphone for its GSMA-accredited remote SIM provisioning platform and SIM operating system.

The company said that this funding, which was made by way of a rights issue, values Truphone at £386 million ($507 million at today’s rates) post-money. Truphone told TechCrunch that the funding came from Vollin Holdings and Minden Worldwide — two investment firms with ties to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who also owns the Chelsea football club, among other things — along with unspecified minority shareholders. Collectively, Abramovich-connected entities control more than 80 percent of the company.

We have asked the company for more detail on what the conditions are for the additional £36 million in funding to be released and all it is willing to say is that “it’s KPI-driven and related to the speed of growth in the business.” It’s unclear what the state of the business is at the moment because Truphone has not updated its accounts at Companies House (they are overdue). We have asked about that, too.

For some context, Truphone most recently raised money almost exactly a year ago, when it picked up £255 million also by way of a rights issue, and also from the same two big investors. The large amount that time was partly being raised to retire debt. That deal was done at a valuation of £370 million ($491 million at the time of the deal). Going just on sterling values, this is a slight down-round.

Truphone, however, says that business is strong right now:

“The appetite for our technology has been enormous and we are thrilled that our investors have given us the opportunity to accelerate and scale these groundbreaking products to market,” said Ralph Steffens, CEO, Truphone, in a statement. “We recognised early on that the more integrated the supply chain, the smoother the customer experience. That recognition paid off—not just for our customers, but for our business. Because we have this capability, we can move at a speed and proficiency that has never before seen in our industry. This investment is particularly important because it is testament not just to our investors’ confidence in our ambitions, but pride in our accomplishments and enthusiasm to see more of what we can do.”

Truphone is one of a handful of providers that is working with Apple to provide plans for the digital eSIM by way of the MyTruphone app. Essentially this will give users an option for international data plans while travelling — Truphone’s network covers 80 countries — without having to swap out the SIMs for their home networks.

The eSIM technology is bigger than the iPhone itself, of course: some believe it could be the future of how we connect on mobile networks. On phones and tablets, it does away with users ordering, and inserting or swapping small, fiddly chips into their devices (that ironically is also one reason that carriers have been resistant to eSIMs traditionally: it makes it much easier for their customers to churn away). And in IoT networks where you might have thousands of connected, unmanned devices, this becomes one way of scaling those networks.

“eSIM technology is the next big thing in telecommunications and the impact will be felt by everyone involved, from consumers to chipset manufacturers and all those in-between,” said Steve Alder, chief business development officer at Truphone. “We’re one of only a handful of network operators that work with the iPhone digital eSIM. Choosing Truphone means that your new iPhone works across the world—just as it was intended.” Of note, Alder was the person who brokered the first iPhone carrier deal in the UK, when he was with O2.

However, one thing to consider when sizing up the eSIM market is that rollout has been slow so far: there are around 10 countries where there are carriers that support eSIM for handsets. Combining that with machine-to-machine deployments, the market is projected to be worth $254 million this year. However, forecasts put that the market size at $978 million by 2023, possibly pushed along by hardware companies like Apple making it an increasingly central part of the proposition, initially as a complement to a “home carrier.”

Truphone has not released numbers detailing how many devices are using its eSIM services at the moment — either among enterprises or consumers — but it has said that customers include more than 3,500 multinational enterprises in 196 countries. We have asked for more detail and will update this post as we learn more.

Oct
02
2018
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Apple expands Business Chat with new businesses and additional countries

Apple Business Chat launched earlier this year as a way for consumers to communicate directly with businesses on Apple’s messaging platform. Today the company announced it was expanding the program to add new businesses and support for additional countries.

When it launched in January, business partners included Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo. Today’s announcement includes the likes of Burberry, West Elm, Kimpton Hotels, and Vodafone Germany.

The program, which remains in Beta, added 15 new companies today in the US and 15 internationally including in the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Italy, Australia and France.

Since the launch, companies have been coming up with creative ways to interact directly with customers in a chat setting that many users prefer over telephone trees and staticy wait music (I know I do).

For instance, Four Seasons, which launched Business Chat in July, is expanding usage to 88 properties across the globe with the ability to chat in more than 100 languages with reported average response times of around 90 seconds.

Apple previously added features like Apple Pay to iMessage to make it easy for consumers to transact directly with business in a fully digital way. If for instance, your customer service rep helps you find the perfect item, you can purchase it right then and there with Apple Pay in a fully digital payment system without having to supply a credit card in the chat interface.

Photo: Apple

What’s more, the CSR could share a link, photo or video to let you see more information on the item you’re interested in or to help you fix a problem with an item you already own. All of this can take place in iMessage, a tool millions of iPhone and iPad owners are comfortable using with friends and family.

To interact with Business Chat, customers are given messaging as a choice in contact information. If they touch this option, the interaction opens in iMessage and customers can conduct a conversation with the brand’s CSR, just as they would with friends.

Touch Message to move to iMessage conversation. Photo: Apple

This link to customer service and sales through a chat interface also fits well with the partnership with Salesforce announced last week and with the company’s overall push to the enterprise. Salesforce president and chief product officer, Bret Taylor described how Apple Business Chat could integrate with Salesforce’s Service Bot platform, which was introduced in 2017 to allow companies to build integrated automated and human response systems.

The bots could provide a first level of service and if the customer required more personal support, there could be an option to switch to Apple Business Chat.

Apple Business Chat requires iOS 11.3 or higher.

Sep
24
2018
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Salesforce partners with Apple to roll deeper into mobile enterprise markets

Apple and Salesforce are both highly successful, iconic brands, who like to put on a big show when they make product announcements. Today, the two companies announced they were forming a strategic partnership with an emphasis on mobile strategy ahead of Salesforce’s enormous customer conference, Dreamforce, which starts tomorrow in San Francisco.

For Apple, which is has been establishing partnerships with key enterprise brands for the last several years, today’s news is a another big step toward solidifying its enterprise strategy by involving the largest enterprise SaaS vendor in the world.

“We’re forming a strategic partnership with Salesforce to change the way people work and to empower developers of all abilities to build world-class mobile apps,” Susan Prescott, vice president of markets, apps and services at Apple told TechCrunch.

Tim Cook at Apple event on September 12, 2018 Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bret Taylor, president and chief product officer at Salesforce, who came over in the Quip deal a couple of years ago, says working together, the two companies can streamline mobile development for customers. “Every single one of our customers is on mobile. They all want world-class mobile experiences, and this enables us when we’re talking to a customer about their mobile strategy, that we can be in that conversation together,” he explained.

For starters, the partnership is going to involve three main components: The two companies are going to work together to bring in some key iOS features such Siri Shortcuts and integration with Apple’s Business Chat into the Salesforce mobile app. Much like the partnership between Apple and IBM, Apple and Salesforce will also work together to build industry-specific iOS apps on the Salesforce platform.

The companies are also working together on a new mobile SDK built specifically for Swift, Apple’s popular programming language. The plan is to provide a way to build Swift apps for iOS and deploy them natively on Salesforce’s Lightning platform.

The final component involves deeper integration with Trailhead, Salesforce’s education platform. That will involve a new Trailhead Mobile app on IOS as well as adding Swift education courses to the Trailhead catalogue to help drive adoption of the mobile SDK.

While Apple has largely been perceived as a consumer-focused organization, as we saw a shift to  companies encouraging employees to bring their own devices to work over the last six or seven years, Apple has benefited. As that has happened, it has been able to take advantage to sell more products and services and has partnered with a number of other well-known enterprise brands including IBMCiscoSAP and GE along with systems integrators Accenture and Deloitte.

The move gives Salesforce a formidable partner to continue their incredible growth trajectory. Just last year the company passed the $10 billion run rate putting it in rarefied company with some of the most successful software companies in the world. In their most recent earnings call at the end of August, they reported $3.28 billion for the quarter, placing them on a run rate of over $13 billion. Connecting with Apple could help keep that momentum growing.

The two companies will show off the partnership at Dreamforce this week. It’s a deal that has the potential to work out well for both companies, giving Salesforce a more integrated iOS experience and helping Apple increase its reach into the enterprise.

Sep
11
2018
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Anaxi brings more visibility to the development process

Anaxi‘s mission is to bring more transparency to the software development process. The tool, which is now live for iOS, with web and Android versions planned for the near future, connects to GitHub to give you actionable insights about the state of your projects and manage your projects and issues. Support for Atlassian’s Jira is also in the works.

The new company was founded by former Apple engineering manager and Docker EVP of product development Marc Verstaen and former CodinGame CEO John Lafleur. Unsurprisingly, this new tool is all about fixing the issues these two have seen in their daily lives as developers.

“I’ve been doing software for 40 years,” Verstaen told me.” And every time is the same. You start with a small team and it’s fine. Then you grow and you don’t know what’s going on. It’s a black box.” While the rest of the business world now focuses on data and analytics, software development never quite reached that point. Verstaen argues that this was acceptable until 10 or 15 years ago because only software companies were doing software. But now that every company is becoming a software company, that’s not acceptable anymore.

Using Anaxi, you can easily see all issue reports and pull requests from your GitHub repositories, both public and private. But you also get visual status indicators that tell you when a project has too many blockers, for example, as well as the ability to define your own labels. You also can define due dates for issues.

One interesting aspect of Anaxi is that it doesn’t store all of this information on your phone or on a proprietary server. Instead, it only caches as little information as necessary (including your handles) and then pulls the rest of the information from GitHub as needed. That cache is encrypted on the phone, but for the most part, Anaxi simply relies on the GitHub API to pull in data when needed. There’s a bit of a trade-off here in terms of speed, but Verstaen noted that this also means you always get the most recent data and that GitHub’s API is quite fast and easy to work with.

The service is currently available for free. The company plans to introduce pricing plans in the future, with prices based on the number of developers that use the product inside a company.

Apr
02
2018
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Apple, in a very Apple move, is reportedly working on its own Mac chips

Apple is planning to use its own chips for its Mac devices, which could replace the Intel chips currently running on its desktop and laptop hardware, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Apple already designs a lot of custom silicon, including its chipsets like the W-series for its Bluetooth headphones, the S-series in its watches, its A-series iPhone chips, as well as customized GPU for the new iPhones. In that sense, Apple has in a lot of ways built its own internal fabless chip firm, which makes sense as it looks for its devices to tackle more and more specific use cases and remove some of its reliance on third parties for their equipment. Apple is already in the middle of in a very public spat with Qualcomm over royalties, and while the Mac is sort of a tertiary product in its lineup, it still contributes a significant portion of revenue to the company.

Creating an entire suite of custom silicon could do a lot of things for Apple, the least of which bringing in the Mac into a system where the devices can talk to each other more efficiently. Apple already has a lot of tools to shift user activities between all its devices, but making that more seamless means it’s easier to lock users into the Apple ecosystem. If you’ve ever compared connecting headphones with a W1 chip to the iPhone and just typical Bluetooth headphones, you’ve probably seen the difference, and that could be even more robust with its own chipset. Bloomberg reports that Apple may implement the chips as soon as 2020.

Intel may be the clear loser here, and the market is reflecting that. Intel’s stock is down nearly 8% after the report came out, as it would be a clear shift away from the company’s typical architecture where it has long held its ground as Apple moves on from traditional silicon to its own custom designs. Apple, too, is not the only company looking to design its own silicon, with Amazon looking into building its own AI chips for Alexa in another move to create a lock-in for the Amazon ecosystem. And while the biggest players are looking at their own architecture, there’s an entire suite of startups getting a lot of funding building custom silicon geared toward AI.

Apple declined to comment.

Mar
19
2018
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Apple, IBM add machine learning to partnership with Watson-Core ML coupling

Apple and IBM may seem like an odd couple, but the two companies have been working closely together for several years now. That has involved IBM sharing its enterprise expertise with Apple and Apple sharing its design sense with IBM. The companies have actually built hundreds of enterprise apps running on iOS devices. Today, they took that friendship a step further when they announced they were providing a way to combine IBM Watson machine learning with Apple Core ML to make the business apps running on Apple devices all the more intelligent.

The way it works is that a customer builds a machine learning model using Watson, taking advantage of data in an enterprise repository to train the model. For instance, a company may want to help field service techs point their iPhone camera at a machine and identify the make and model to order the correct parts. You could potentially train a model to recognize all the different machines using Watson’s image recognition capability.

The next step is to convert that model into Core ML and include it in your custom app. Apple introduced Core ML at the Worldwide Developers Conference last June as a way to make it easy for developers to move machine learning models from popular model building tools like TensorFlow, Caffe or IBM Watson to apps running on iOS devices.

After creating the model, you run it through the Core ML converter tools and insert it in your Apple app. The agreement with IBM makes it easier to do this using IBM Watson as the model building part of the equation. This allows the two partners to make the apps created under the partnership even smarter with machine learning.

“Apple developers need a way to quickly and easily build these apps and leverage the cloud where it’s delivered. [The partnership] lets developers take advantage of the Core ML integration,” Mahmoud Naghshineh, general manager for IBM Partnerships and Alliances explained.

To make it even easier, IBM also announced a cloud console to simplify the connection between the Watson model building process and inserting that model in the application running on the Apple device.

Over time, the app can share data back with Watson and improve the machine learning algorithm running on the edge device in a classic device-cloud partnership. “That’s the beauty of this combination. As you run the application, it’s real time and you don’t need to be connected to Watson, but as you classify different parts [on the device], that data gets collected and when you’re connected to Watson on a lower [bandwidth] interaction basis, you can feed it back to train your machine learning model and make it even better,” Naghshineh said.

The point of the partnership has always been to use data and analytics to build new business processes, by taking existing approaches and reengineering them for a touch screen.

“This adds a level of machine learning to that original goal moving it forward to take advantage of the latest tech. “We are taking this to the next level through machine learning. We are very much on that path and bringing improved accelerated capabilities and providing better insight to [give users] a much greater experience,” Naghshineh said.

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