For tech companies, tis the season for cleaning house & killing apps

Now is the winter of tech companies’ discontent. By that I mean December is fast becoming the time of the year for tech companies to shutter apps and services that haven’t quite made their mark.
Most recently, LinkedIn has decided to fully discontinue its Pulse News reader application, which it first acquired back in 2013, on December 31. The move isn’t very surprising, considering that the company launched a completely overhauled version of Pulse (officially called LinkedIn Pulse) back in September that doesn’t look much at all like the old service.
Need more evidence that December is the month of cleaning? Well, it started with Dropbox’s announcement that it’s going to pull the plug on its Mailbox and Carousel apps. That revelation is supposed to help the company focus on collaboration features, like the business-focused Paper service, and finally give it the evidence it needs to prove that it’s more than just a feature.
Then it continued with Facebook shuttering its Creative Labs, which gave the company’s workers an outlet for their creative energies. (Or at least their desire to work on something tangential to the jolly blue giant — the products were mostly rip-offs.) The company also pulled all the Labs’ output from app stores.
Mozilla joined in the action earlier this afternoon. The company plans to stop developing and selling devices featuring its Firefox OS, which was designed to offer a cheaper, more open mobile platform. It also plans to “disentangle the technical infrastructure” of its Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client.
Soon it will lead to even more abandoned products. Oyster’s planning to “sunset” its all-you-can-read book service in January 2016 after much of its team was hired to work at Google. Outerwall, makers of DVD rental kiosks Redbox, isn’t getting killed — but as of today its stock certainly is after the company confirmed that business is way down. And while AOL’s dial-up (aka “membership”) business is still around, many of the folks employed to run that portion of the company were just “gifted” pink slips. Though it technically happened last month, Rdio finally threw in the towel, too.
At this point it wouldn’t be a surprise if even more products disappear. Blogger? AOL Instant Messenger? Facebook Paper? Yahoo News Digest? Chances are that most of us won’t even be able to think of the apps most likely to be put down: The problem with most of these services is that they’ve already been forgotten by so many people.

Unsurprisingly, Dropbox to shutter Mailbox and Carousel, focus on businesses

Dropbox has abandoned its efforts to take over your smartphone. The company announced today that it will shutter two applications, Mailbox and Carousel, in 2016 as a result of its new focus on helping workers collaborate with each other. But it’s hard to see how chasing business workers instead of targeting consumers will change Dropbox’s core problem: That it remains a feature convinced it was a product, then a startup, and then a company that’s raised more than $1 billion.
This isn’t a new argument. People have been saying that Dropbox is a feature instead of a product almost since the company’s file storage service first debuted. There’s no denying the convenience afforded by that service. Being able to trust that files would appear on multiple devices, or on the Web, without having to carry around a bunch of flash drives filled with important documents was huge. But was it a strong enough lodestone for a billion-dollar company to be built on?
In December 2009, Steve Jobs warned Dropbox co-founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi that Apple would compete with their service if they declined an acquisition offer. He kept that promise. Apple released iCloud in 2011. Google followed it with Google Drive in 2012. Microsoft introduced several cloud tools. And other companies like SpiderOak, Box, and Amazon introduced tools that either competed indirectly with Dropbox or operated on a much different scale.
Dropbox’s core feature is still as amazing as it was a few years ago. It’s just that no-one can purchase a smartphone, tablet, or laptop without being prompted to use a competitive service. Using an iPhone? Set up iCloud. Created a Google account because of that new Android tablet? Use Google Drive. Replacing that Windows ME-running hunk of plastic with a newer PC? Here, try OneDrive. People can use sync services without ever having to know that Dropbox exists.
The same is true of the services being shuttered. Mailbox was ahead of its time: I remember downloading the app, swiping through my inbox, and wondering how I could ever live with another email app. But then it languished, seemed to be ridden with bugs that were never fixed, and I switched to Gmail’s official app. Other companies improved their email apps all the while, with Apple updating Mail, Gmail tinkering with Inbox, and Microsoft debuting a brand-new Outlook.
Carousel also worked fine. But that was exactly the problem — it was just fine. All the cloud services that Dropbox competes with for file synchronization also offer photo storage services. Products like Google’s new (and popular) Photos service takes it a step further by automatically sorting images and generating montages. Carousel doesn’t do anything that iCloud, Photos, and other services don’t do. So why bother setting up a service that can, and now will, disappear any moment?
Now, Dropbox will focus on its business customers. That begins with services like Paper, a collaborative writing app, and new-yet-boring features like PDF-editing. Are either of those going to be enough to convince businesses to choose Dropbox over competitive services that do the same things? (There are many, like Google Docs and the Microsoft Office suite, for starters.) The company seems to think that focusing on these apps and shuttering its consumer products might help.
No matter what happens, you have to give Dropbox credit. It survived after Jobs warned it about its prospects in 2009. Then, when Farhad Manjoo wrote in 2012 that Jobs was right, Dropbox kept moving along. Now, three years after that, the company is in the same position. Critics keep saying it’s a feature, and Dropbox keeps proving them wrong — or delaying the inevitable. The question is which.

Facebook woos retailers and shoppers alike with new features

Facebook is testing new features that will make it easier for its users to make purchases without ever having to leave the confines of its mobile applications.
The move should be very appealing to business owners, especially those already doing some marketing/advertising on Facebook, as it should make transactions easier and quicker for customers.
Some of the features include a shopping section on businesses’ Facebook pages; “Carousel” advertisements that allow retailers to display multiple products in a Facebook user’s News Feed; and the addition of a dedicated shopping channel to the sidebar navigation in Facebook’s mobile apps. These might be small changes on their own, but together, they’re bound to have an impact on Facebook users.
That impact will probably manifest itself in two ways: convincing more people to buy things found on Facebook, and consumers staying in the social network’s apps instead of heading off to other websites (or, Zuck forbid, Pinterest) to shop. Canvas, a new-ish ad unit that shows products inside Facebook’s apps instead of on an outside website, is the update most likely to bring about those changes.
12056986_1506203566340884_988839618_n
Canvas has been around since June, but Facebook said in today’s announcement that it’s testing a new version of the ad unit that will make it so “people will see a fast-loading, full-screen experience where they can browse through a variety of products, before going to the retailer’s website to purchase.” It’s basically the shopping equivalent to Facebook’s not-inaccurately-named Instant Articles.
Now, the “before going to the retailer’s website to purchase” bit contradicts my argument. But I suspect it won’t be long before Facebook expands its buy button — the feature which allows Facebook users to purchase goods through its app, and is mentioned right after Canvas in Facebook’s blog post — to include items shown in Canvas. It might just take a while for retailers to warm to that idea.
But Facebook is making a pretty compelling argument. Reuters reports that many online sales happen somewhere other than mobile devices, and for good reason: Shopping on a smartphone is a pain in the ass. It’s hard to type in credit card information on a small display, mobile websites still aren’t easy to navigate, and waiting for image-heavy pages to load is hardly worth the time and effort.
These are the same problems affecting publishers’ mobile efforts. People just don’t have the patience to wait for something to show up on their phones. So if Facebook can speed up the process, like it has with Instant Articles and will with Canvas, there’s a good chance retailers will eventually get on board with letting Facebook users buy things through the social network instead of an outside site.

Hands on with Adobe Carousel for iOS and Mac

Adobe’s cross-platform photo management service, Carousel, is now available on iOS devices and the Mac. New apps for both platforms, released on Thursday, let you manage, sync, share and even edit your photo collection on all of your Apple devices.

Adobe tries mobile photos as a service with Carousel

Mobile photos are becoming more popular as smartphone tech improves, but just how far will smartphone photographers take their hobby? Adobe is banking on the fact that Apple device users will pay more to make sure their photos are easier to share, edit and view.

Carousel Brings Instagram to the Mac Desktop in Style

Instagram has yet to officially crossover to any platform other than the iPhone, but that hasn’t stopped third-party developers from trying to fill the gaps. One app that does just that is Mobelux’s Carousel, a new Mac program that brings your Instagram stream to the desktop.