Layoffs at Waterloo-based smartphone industry pioneer BlackBerry cut deep last year, with around 5,000 employees being let go. Those cuts continue into 2013 as BlackBerry undergoes what CEO Thorsten Heins called a “complex transition” earlier this month, and the latest is that 250 employees of its core R&D and new product testing facility have been let go as of earlier this week, as confirmed by Canada’s CTV News and by BlackBerry itself to TechCrunch.
That number pales in comparison to some of the massive cuts that came in big batches last year, including one 3,000 person block in August 2012. Last year, however, BlackBerry reportedly told its employees that if they were working on services or projects key to BlackBerry 10, they’d mostly likely be safe. These cuts appear to be closer to the bone, however, coming as they do at the heart of BlackBerry’s innovation efforts, which is why it’s perhaps more worrying for the company’s overall outlook than the big sweeping trimming of potentially redundant or sub-optimal departments last year.
BlackBerry is saying the change to employee count is all about efficiency, in a statement provided to TechCrunch (included in full below), but it’s hard to see a big batch of layoffs so near to R&D, which should be the lifeblood of any technology company, as a good sign. Heins’ strategy of cost-cutting and efficiency has helped BlackBerry manage to stay relatively strong on revenue, however, and to keep a healthy cash reserve on hand.
BlackBerry has a number of products in the pipeline, apparently, including the leaked A10 (and the somewhat unimpressive Q5), a new touchscreen flagship that’s rumored to be launched later this year. But that device looks to be quite far along already; this fresh report of staffing changes begs the question of how much more new hardware we have left to see beyond that.
The full statement from BlackBerry’s Lisette Kwong follows:
I can confirm on the record, that BlackBerry on Tuesday informed 250 employees of their termination in Waterloo. These employees were part of the New Product Testing Facility, a department that supports BlackBerry’s manufacturing and R&D efforts.
This is part of the next stage of our turnaround plan to increase efficiencies and scale our company correctly for new opportunities in mobile computing. We will be as transparent as possible as those plans evolve.
Almost exactly a month ago, Microsoft launched Internet Explorer 11 as part of the Windows 8.1 preview and today, it is also launching a developer preview of IE11 for Windows 7.
IE11 is Microsoft’s first browser to embrace the WebGL standard for accessing the computer’s GPU for rendering advanced 2D and 3D experiences. As Microsoft’s senior program manager for IE Frank Olivier told me, his team has worked hard to ensure that WebGL in IE (both on Windows 7 and 8.1) is as safe as possible and can’t crash the system (it does, after all, allow very low-level access to your hardware). Indeed, Olivier showed me a demo that stressed IE11 s WebGL implementation to the point where it crashes. IE11 handles this situation gracefully and simply restarts its WebGL core as needed.
To show off IE11 s WebGL features, the company teamed up with GlacierWorks, a site that aims to raise awareness about the effect of climate change in the Himalayas, to add more WebGL content to its site.
Fast, But Not SPDY On Windows 7
All of these features will also be available to Windows 7 users and Singhal expects the Windows 7 version to offer virtually the same performance as on the new operating system. One feature Microsoft doesn’t bring to Windows 7, though, is support for Google’s SPDY networking protocol.
As for Windows 8, Microsoft tells me that it will ship IE11 with the free Windows 8.1 upgrade. Microsoft clearly expects most Windows 8 users to upgrade to 8.1 and it doesn’t look like it plans to make IE11 available as a standalone download for 8.
With today’s update for Windows 7, Microsoft is also updating modern.IE, its site for tools and resources for developing for IE. The site now features virtual machines for testing IE11 on Windows 8.1 and Windows 7, as well as a new screenshot tool that lets you see how your sites look across different browsers and devices. For a limited time, Microsoft is also offering developers a 25 percent discount on Parallels for Mac so they can run these virtual machines. IE11 itself, it’s worth noting, also includes a number of updated developer tools.
Skimlinks, the platform which gives publishers greater control over affiliate links and content monetization, releases some major research today which could well concentrate the minds of online “publishers”, and that includes apps, startups and bloggers.
It’s white paper reveals that while editorial or social websites can point a user towards a product they might go on to buy, publishers rarely receive the financial reward for doing so because of problems with the “Last Click” attribution model used in affiliate marketing. Now, while the study is clearly a ploy to get apps and content publishers to run their affiliate programs through Skimlinks rather than through traditional affiliate platforms, the research itself does bear examination.
The study found that content sites were the first place users read about a product 27% of the time, and were in the first quarter of the user’s path to purchase 36% of the time. And when a user started their journey to a purchase with a content site, she or he was a new customer 55% of the time. However, content sites were the Last Click only 6% of the time and 94% of the time, the content affiliate was NOT awarded the sale. Plus, 65% of the time when a content site is the first click in a purchase journey, sparking purchase intent, another channel is the last click, taking all the credit for the sale.
They also found that content sites drove nearly 30% more new customers to brand sites than the average of all other channels. In addition, when consumers started reading about a product on a content site their desire to purchase grew over time: in this case, 9% of the sales would occur within one hour, 16% within 24 hours and 31% happened within 3 days.
In other words, if online marketers shifted their affiliate strategy away from the Last Click attribution model towards online publishers, apps and social sites, they’d basically get faster and more robust sales.
This would be music to the ears of many social and content sites.
Alicia Navarro, CEO and co-founder of Skimlinks says: “The general view is that better attribution is required – that distributes the cost-per-acquisition across multiple parties responsible for creating and driving purchase intent. By only remunerating the last-click publisher, you create the wrong incentives, and end up with a ton of low-value deal/coupon sites, rather than rich apps and content, who have less incentive to link out to merchants because they don’t get paid for top-of-funnel activity via affiliate marketing.”
Ryan Jones of Shop Direct, where the study was based, points out that it’s a two-way street: “Retailers are probably missing out on exposure as commercially savvy content sites tend to promote the brands they earn more from.”
For the research Skimlinks analyzed data provided by Shop Direct’s ecommerce site, Very.co.uk, which spanned all orders between July and November 2012 that included a click from a Skimlinks content site.
Skimlinks clients include Conde Nast, Gawker, AOL Europe, WordPress, Hearst Digital, Haymarket Consumer Media, Telegraph Media Group, among others.
Skimlinks’ main competitors are the Google-backed VigLink and the seed-backed startup Yieldkit. This year it completed an undisclosed growth financing round led by Greycroft Partners and others.
A startup called Skillbridge is trying to create a new kind of marketplace for freelance work – not for the programming and writing jobs that you’d find on a site like Elance, but for strategy, finance, marketing and other professional services.
The company is announcing today that it has been backed by First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, the firm’s student-run investment arm that offers mentorship and $20,000 in funding to each company. (Skillbridge is also part of Highland Capital’s summer incubator and the MassChallenge accelerator..)
Co-founders Brett Lewis and Raj Jeyakumar have worked as consultants themselves – Lewis, for example, spent nearly three years at Bain & Company. They’re both recent graduates of Wharton Business School, and they said that when they were students, they wanted to use their experience for freelance work. However, they discovered that it was incredibly difficult to actually find interested companies, so they created Skillbridge to match qualified workers with businesses looking for professional services.
Lewis outlined the vision in a post for the Wharton Entrepreneurship Blog, where he said that the United States’ freelancers have grown from 6 percent of the total workforce in 1990 to 20 to 30 percent now: “Elance, an early talent marketplace, has focused on low-end providers of technology and creative talent. Yet the biggest growth trends are in areas of financial planning and analysis, accounting and legal strategy, where only behemoth white-shoe firms have dominated until now.”
Lewis and Jeyakumar said their core talent base consists of stay-at-home parents and graduate students who have either an MBA or at least three years of experience at a finance or consulting firm. These are people who either aren’t in a position to work full-time or aren’t interested, but they are willing to take on smaller projects or part-time work with flexible hours. And by hiring these workers, companies don’t have to pay for the overhead of a traditional consulting firm.
Not that Skillbridge is trying to replace the big firms. Jeyakumar compared them to Ferraris: “There will always be a need for Ferraris, but there are people for whom a BMW is just fine.” If the BMW doesn’t seem like much of a compromise, that’s Jeyakumar’s point. With Skillbridge, companies that probably couldn’t afford to hire a traditional consulting firm can still pay for high-quality work. He added that there’s already been interest in companies ranging from “pre-revenue startups that need help with market sizing for their pitch decks” to large e-commerce organizations.
The company supposedly delivers a “highly curated” experience, where it provides customers with templates for work requests, identifies two or three of the best matches that they can choose from, and helps to create milestones for the project to ensure that things stay on track. It’s currently in beta testing, with plans for a full launch later this year.
Amazon Cloud Drive Photos, the photo-uploading utility that helps move photos from a mobile device into Amazon’s online storage, may have to change its name. Now, the tool doesn’t just support photo uploads, it supports videos, as well. Videos can be manually uploaded one by one, or users can opt to have videos auto-save from their devices directly into Amazon’s cloud.
This automatic upload option was already available for photos through an update out at the beginning of the year, but videos within Cloud Drive Photos had not yet been supported, whether manually or through the auto-upload feature within the application.
Amazon says that videos are restricted to 2 GB in size or 20 minutes in length, whether they’re being uploaded or downloaded from the Cloud Drive service – that’s slightly longer than YouTube’s default setting ahead of account verification. This is fine for the majority of users’ personal videos, of activities, pets, kids or events, for example, recorded on their mobile devices.
After the files are in Amazon’s cloud, the video can be played back to any device, including, of course, the Kindle Fire and other Android tablets. According to a post on Amazon’s Web Services blog about the technical underpinnings to the new feature, Amazon’s Elastic Transcoder service was used, which supports over 20 file formats and 40 video codecs. The team says its goal was to have videos transcoded within 15 minutes after uploading, but ended up achieving videos that are often ready within a minute or two. They also went ahead and processed all the videos stored in Amazon users’ Cloud Drive libraries ahead of launch.
Though the company offers a version of its Amazon Cloud Drive Photos app on iOS devices, too, only the Android version has received the video support at this time. That makes sense because not only is the Kindle and Android-based tablet, and therefore Amazon’s priority, the Android app was also the first to launch, back in November 2012.
The iOS version didn’t arrive until this May, and it serves as a viable alternative to Apple’s own iCloud sync and storage service, with reasonable pricing of 5 GB for free, then $10/year for 20 GB, $25/year for 50 GB and so on, all the way up to 1,000 GB for $500/year. Keep in mind that the storage goes up so high not because users need so much space for photos (and now videos, too), but because Amazon Cloud Drive is meant to serve as a competitor to Google Drive or Dropbox, with support for a variety of file types, including office documents and music, which can also be streamed back through Amazon Cloud Player.
In other words, this isn’t the first time users could upload videos to Amazon’s cloud. This is just making it possible to do so within the Cloud Drive Photos application.
The updated Cloud Drive app is available now on Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore.