Make Invention Accessible

This mantra drives Ben Kaufman and his successful startup Quirky, an online community of designers, makers, and enthusiasts to invent new consumer products and get them to market fast. A similar commitment to opening up innovation motivates us at GE, and we’re excited to partner with Quirky—we’re sharing hundreds of GE’s patents with Quirky’s inventors and challenging them to build applications we can’t dream of. We’re also asking them to create connected products that help us live smarter at home. (www.quirky.com/ge)

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Realizing that we don’t have all the answers — that to solve big problems you need many perspectives and partners — is humbling but invigorating. Collaboration is a powerful force for progress and innovation. Even if you could have all the answers, why would you want to? People with different views and passions solve problems differently.

At GE, we’ve seen this firsthand by partnering with startups, researchers and others with great ideas who comes from less traditional paths. Working together in open challenges, for example, we’re tackling breakthroughs from smart grid technology to breast cancer detection. With Kaggle, an online community of more than 80,000 data scientists, we’ve found algorithms and predictive models that can help airlines navigate their planes more efficiently and hospitals make the patient experience more seamless. Sharing access to information, technology, expertise, scale and now patents—instead of hoarding them—can be the crucial instigator for creating something more.

Sure, there are issues to figure out—we can’t give away our best ideas for free. But the debate between open and proprietary needs to be less either or. There is a growing spectrum of ways to unlock value for more people. Openness marries speed to scale, with shared risk and reward. While inventors and their ideas also need to be protected to reward and incentivize innovation. That’s why we are so passionate about our shared vision with Quirky, of opening up patents to others and also keeping royalties intact.

At GE, we’re fortunate to have some of the world’s best inventors, who have created more than 30,000 patents. But we haven’t imagined all of the limitless ways they can bring new products and solutions to new markets quickly. We’re betting that a host of new Thomas Edisons–high school honor students, moonlighting engineers, and hobbyists — will use our breakthroughs in areas as diverse as optical systems, electronics and material coatings as launchpads. Take for example, dual cool jet technology we designed to cool electronics on jets, it will soon be cooling laptops and tablets. Opening up allows the same technology making flight more efficient to land in your pocket. Imagine what millions of people can think up next.

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AppGratis pulled from the App Store. Here’s the full story.

AppGratis pulled from the App Store. Here’s the full story.

by Simon Dawlat

I’m Simon Dawlat, CEO at AppGratis.

I founded AppGratis back in 2008, and have been running it ever since.

Today, for the first time, my company is dealing with an incredibly difficult moment.

A few hours before starting to write this, I landed in São Paulo, Brazil on a visit to our local office here. I turned on my iPhone after an exhausting 12-hour redeye from Paris, only to receive notifications for over 75 missed calls, and a seemingly infinite flow of unread text messages.

I almost fainted.

These things only happen when a relative or a friend dies, or gets caught in a terrible accident. I immediately thought that someone in my family had passed away during my flight and couldn’t touch my phone for a few minutes. Scared. Paralyzed. Trying to imagine what the terrible news could be.

But by now Apple has issued an official statement, and the Wall Street Journal has published it. And as you’ve guessed, my friends and relatives are fine. They’re just worried for me now.

Friday, April 5th was the day Apple decided to pull AppGratis out of the App Store, leaving our 12 million iOS users wondering where one of their favorite apps had gone, my 45 employees wondering if they’d still have a job next week, my partners and investors in shock, and myself with an absolutely crazy situation to deal with, thousands of miles away from our headquarters.

 

First of all I want to reassure our users, our clients, our investors, our friends:

Even if our iOS apps are momentarily unavailable, your app recommendation service, AppGratis, is very much up and running. If you’re part of the 12 million lucky people to have downloaded our app before last Friday, know that it will keep updating everyday with new free apps and cool discounts. So will our website, and so will our daily newsletter.

Our iOS apps may have been unavailable now for a few days, but at the same time, a few million free apps have been downloaded through AppGratis since last Friday.

So for now, it’s business as usual in AppGratis’s world.

Second, I want to set a few things straight:

I’ve read a lot of comments and media features saying things like “R.I.P. AppGratis”

I want to tell these people the reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.

Also, some people have been wildly speculating on whether or not we may have been using illegal tactics to secure more than 5% of the iOS marketshare in the US. As the CEO of a 45-person company, all who I’ve hired myself and deeply respect and care for, it’s pretty obvious that I would never have crossed Apple’s rules so foolishly, risking the jobs of so many people and the destiny of a company it took me four years to build.

Part 1. What happened with our Apps.

In the Fall of 2011, we made quite a big product mistake. As we were starting to roll out AppGratis into new countries, we decided to use one specific app for each territory we wanted to address, basically running several instances of our flagship app on a country-by-country basis. It seemed a light and easy solution that enabled us to go global very quickly. But very soon, not only did we end up with more than 20+ different apps to maintain in the App Store (a nightmare for our engineering team), we also quickly hit Apple’s iOS guideline 2.20, stating that:

Developers “spamming” the App Store with many versions of similar Apps will be removed from the iOS Developer Program.

We hit a first wall in the form of an update being rejected in October 2012 for 2.20.

But more surprisingly, also for a new guideline 2.25, stating that:

Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.

And – gasp! – also for guideline 2.12, stating that:

Apps that are not very useful, unique, are simply web sites bundled as Apps, or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected.

Given the crazy amount of work and passion we’ve put into AppGratis, and given how highly-requested and praised by our users the app has been, let alone the fact that AppGratis is filling a major gap in a fairly broken App Discovery world, this was the hardest one to understand.

And to be very honest with you, all of this was very confusing from the beginning, especially since these new guidelines seemed scarily open to any kind of subjective interpretation.

Luckily at this point, we were contacted by our usual Apple App Review team member, C. [allow me not to mention full names here for personal privacy reasons]. I can honestly say that C. has been a great person to work with, investing crazy amounts of time in the conversation, making herself very available at all times, always listening to our arguments, and guiding us through the necessary changes we needed to bring AppGratis into the App Store. C. was later joined by K. a similarly helpful manager at App Review.

An actually quite long conversation resulted in:

Regarding 2.25: we were able to make a strong point on the fact that AppGratis had nothing in common with the App Store. The App Store is a 1M+ hosted app catalog. AppGratis is like a media reviewing one Apple product a day like thousands of other sites, blogs, and apps on this planet – dramatically different mechanics. We got OK-ed on this one, since our app was later approved (and has been live for months).

Regarding 2.12: as we stated in another blog post, AppGratis has a very simple user-facing interface. But its back-end is a wild beast. We were able to show to C. and K. the depth, complexity, and usefulness of our product on the technical side of things, and also how important our editorial-based recommendations were to our users. We also got OK-ed on this one.

Regarding 2.20: we eventually agreed to come up with a major update of our app that would consolidate all our existing apps into one. We actually had seen this one coming and already had a beta of such a product in development. We shifted our 10 engineers’ efforts onto finishing it, and got it to Apple’s servers in record time. Everyone pulled together. 45 people, working to make finding apps simple again.

Apple approved the v3 version of AppGratis for iPhone in November 2012, and a little while after that, we closed our $13,5M Series A with new investors: Iris Capital, sponsored by Orange and Publicis, and other financial players. And we got back to work, thinking that 2013 was going to be an exciting year. Since then, not only has Apple approved the v3 version for iPhone, but it actually approved our iPad version less than a week ago, as well.

Yes, you read well.

A. week. ago.

 

This came to us as a very strong validation of the amazing value created by our product for the whole App Store ecosystem, something we were intimately convinced of since the very beginning, and eventually had the opportunity to discuss with Apple, with a positive outcome.

We were about to launch and announce our iPad version. The launch was in place. Newsletters ready to go. Unique editorial content created for 30+ markets ready to go. The app had been approved. I was on a plane to Brazil…and…

And then last Friday, a few days after Apple had approved our latest iPad version, a new App Review team member named R., who no one on my team had ever had contact with before, came pretty much out of the blue and after trying to call me three times without being able to get hold of me (I was on a plane), decided to pull out our apps because of guideline 2.25 and also – re-gasp! – because of guideline 5.6, stating that:

Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.

Yet another surprise for us since we only send one “system notification” a day to our users, coming in the form of a generic, opt-in only “Today’s deal is here!” message, which is precisely how Apple recommends developers to use its push notification service.

Part 2. What happened on Apple’s side.

Initially, I thought we’d been caught in an internal communication accident and not the victim of a supposed “ban on third-party apps.” We checked the apps of our competitors, all of them were available for download. All the lights had been green for the past few months with Apple, so it seemed very unlikely that such a company would change its mind pretty much overnight, in what looks today like an extremely volatile action.

Early Monday, R. gave me a follow-up call. He basically couldn’t go beyond repeating multiple times that our app had been pulled out due to guideline 2.25 and 5.6.

I asked how he and his team could have possibly changed their minds overnight, pretty much pulling the plug on a 45-person company. He seemed very detached regarding the gravity of the situation, and was unable to let me know on what specifics these decisions had been made.

A few minutes after we hung up, the Wall Street Journal published a very concise statement issued by Apple, confirming that AppGratis had been pulled out for violating guidelines 2.25 and 5.6.

For us, obviously, it’s a hard hit.

And as I’m about to push the ‘publish’ button on this story, I’m still in absolute shock as to what is happening to us.

But our mission is far from finished.

Part 3. Far from finished.

First and foremost, we’re still responsible for the daily app digest of more than 12 million iOS users in the world. While we stand in total disbelief that Apple actually made the decision to cut a service used by so many of their users, those people still have AppGratis on their iPhone and iPad. And we owe them new app deals every day.

And that is pretty much where we stand, still stunned that Apple took the decision to destroy so much value within their own ecosystem, but more than ever convinced that what we’re doing is good, and accomplishing a much needed mission in a broken App Discovery world.

Now for the courageous ones that have read it all, a few action items :

1. If someone in charge at Apple reads this and wants to discuss the matter more in-depth, I’m happy to jump over to Cupertino anytime to prove to you that we’re on a mission for good. My email is simon@appgratis.com, so feel free to email me anytime.

2. If you are a user of AppGratis, a friend, a client, an app developer, or just a person that thinks AppGratis is good for the world, please share this post.

3. Finally, to my team, as always: keep pushing. You guys are doing an absolutely amazing job. And I know that right now, some of you are sad and scared. I am too.

But even in dark times, every problem has a solution.

And we are going to find one.

More announcements will come very soon.

 


12 Ways to Go Green at Work

Below are 12 helpful tips to go green at work.

1) Spend Smart on Green

The purchase and use of environmentally-friendly products can have a big impact, and not just on the environment. Buying green affects everything from worker safety to the bottom line.

– Products that are reusable, refillable, more durable or repairable create less waste and are more cost-effective in the long run than disposable or single-use products.
– Manufacturing recycled products uses less energy than goods made from virgin materials. Buying recycled products keeps recycling programs going and saves natural resources.
– Using energy-efficient and water-conserving products saves money and resources. When making purchasing decisions, it pays to do a little homework. Consider the following:
– Is the product less hazardous?
– Is it reusable or more durable?
– Is it made from recycled materials? Do we really need to buy a virgin product when the recycled version is just as good?
– What happens to the product at the end of its life? Can it be recycled? Will the manufacturer take the product back? Will it need special disposal?
– Does it conserve energy or water?
– Is it made from renewable plant-based raw materials?

2) Leave a Big Mark-Not a Big Footprint

Living and working green means knowing your carbon footprint and taking steps to balance its impact. Offsetting your company’s carbon footprint is the fastest and most economical way to help protect critical forests worldwide, which is one of the most effective solutions to climate change. One way to offset your carbon footprint is to support renewable energy (energy generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal) by buying renewable energy credits (RECs). Additionally, utility companies may work with industrial and commercial consumers to implement on-site energy-efficiency measures which can decrease usage or shift a portion of it to off-peak hours and rates.

3) Be a Star-Buy Energy Star

The next time your office is in the market for computer equipment, printers, fax machines, kitchen appliances or even light bulbs, look for the Energy Star certification. Energy Star products are among the top energy performers on the market. One example of why is that some Energy Star products power down automatically when not in use-conserving up to 75% of electricity compared to standard models. They reduce pollution, lower energy bills, generate less heat and have a longer life span than other equipment. See http://www.energystar.gov for more information.

4) Get Energized

Of the $250 billion spent per year on powering computers worldwide, only about 15% of that power is spent computing-the rest is wasted idling. 40% of the energy used for electronics is used while these devices are turned off. Obviously, just because a device is turned off or not in use, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t eating up electricity. In fact, even when a computer is switched off, the surge protector can still draw energy-up to 75%!

– Programming your computer to sleep after 30 minutes of non-use can cut power demand by up to 90%.
– Stepping away for longer than 30 minutes? Turn the computer off and unplug the surge protector. (Booting up again uses the equivalent of only two seconds of run time and won’t hurt the hard drive).
– Monitors are especially big energy drains. Be sure to turn them off after 20 minutes of non-use.
– Printers, scanners and peripherals that are only used occasionally should be unplugged until needed.

5) Get the Green Light

Making green choices when it comes to lighting not only provides energy efficiency and savings, it also adds to the comfort, productivity and ambience of your workplace.

– Replace regular incandescent bulbs and fixtures with Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). CFLs cast a warmer, soft white glow. Although initially more expensive than regular bulbs, they use between 60% and 80% less energy and last much longer (between 6,000 and 15,000 hours compared with about 1,000 hours with incandescents).
– Use task lighting.
– Install dimmers and timers to extend bulb life.
– Don’t underestimate the power of natural daylight, it’s free, it’s pleasant and has been proven to improve worker productivity and customer satisfaction. Also, be sure that walls are painted in a light color to enhance the advantage of that natural light.
– Lighting accounts for up to 50% of a building’s energy consumption. By simply turning off unnecessary lights, you can reduce the amount of energy used for lighting by up to 45%.

6) Use and Re-use

Reusing products delays or avoids altogether their entry into the waste stream, so think refillable, rechargeable, not disposable, whenever possible.

– Challenge your associates to think of ways to give new life to used items, for instance, shredded waste paper makes great packing material.
– Set up an area to store and exchange reusable office supplies such as binders.

If you can’t reuse a product, there are usually others who can. Go to http://www.kab.org (Keep America Beautiful) for suggestions on exchange programs and other reuse strategies.

7) Clean Conscience Cleaning

Five billion pounds of chemicals are used annually for institutional cleaning. The good news is that the risk of injury from chemicals and environmental damage can be dramatically reduced by replacing the most dangerous cleaning products with safer ones.

– Opt for solutions that are non-toxic, non-VOC (volatile organic compound), water-based, biodegradable, phosphate-, chlorine- and ammonia-free and those with ingredients derived from renewable resources, not petroleum.
– Buy in concentrate and bulk so that shipping and packaging waste is reduced.

8) Breathe Easy

Here’s what the air in any office setting can potentially contain: ozone generated by photocopiers, dust, allergens, outdoor fumes brought in by the central air conditioning; gaseous chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from furniture, paint and carpeting. And then there’s the stuff dragged in on our shoes: oil, antifreeze, particulate pollution, pollen, etc. All combine to create unsafe air quality and contribute to Sick Building Syndrome. What can you do to clean up the air in your workplace?

– Look for low VOC alternatives in carpets, adhesives, paints, even furniture.
– Help keep what’s on the sidewalk out with quality doormats or entryway track-off systems.

Remember, less dirt also means less sweeping, mopping and vacuuming, which means less work, water, energy and fewer chemicals.

9) Sitting Pretty

Making environmentally savvy choices in office furniture is getting easier and easier. Whether a piece of furniture is made from wood, cloth, metal or plastic, there are earth-friendly options.

– Opt for modular office suites. These component-based systems let you reconfigure workspaces and mix and match as your needs change, helping to eliminate the need to buy new.
– Use flexible interior features, such as movable walls to help reduce waste associated with renovations.

Don’t overlook the fact that, even if it’s initially more expensive, buying quality furniture that’s durable and can be readily repaired could easily save money in the long run, plus, lessen the chance that it’ll end up in the landfill.

10) Paper 101

How do you choose paper that is good for the environment and meets your needs? Some things to keep in mind: First things first, when looking to make an environmentally responsible paper purchase, you’re looking for more than the recycled symbol. Post-Consumer Waste Content (PCW): The single most important factor to consider is the percentage of post-consumer waste content. Paper with post-consumer content contains recycled fiber from paper which has already been used by the consumer and then collected for recycling. The higher the level of post-consumer content the better. Today, more and more products are available with post-consumer recycled content including: file pocket portfolios, hanging file folders, report covers, various storage boxes, file holders, file covers and three-ring binders. By using recycled post-consumer content paper, we save trees, water and prevent the air and water pollution, soil erosion and destruction of wildlife habitats associated with harvesting.

11) Digitize to Maximize

Did you know that one 2GB flash drive can store up to 20 yards of books? Storing data digitally frees up space, time and money. It minimizes clutter and helps eliminate unnecessary paper waste. Plus, transferring data digitally or transporting digital storage devices is infinitely easier and less costly than transporting files, cabinets and furniture, should your office be moving to a new locale.

12) Recycle. Recycle. Recycle.

You already know this, so it’s just a reminder that everything from empty ink and toner cartridges (a single cartridge thrown into landfill can take up to 450 years to decompose) to office paper (115 billion sheets of paper are used annually for personal computers) to plastic bottles (Americans use 3.3 million plastic bottles every hour, but recycle only one in five) is RECYCLABLE. 79 million tons: that’s the amount of waste material diverted away from disposal through recycling and composting in one year.