Google’s Cloud IoT Core is now generally available


Cloud IoT Core, Google’s fully managed service for connecting, managing and ingesting data from IoT devices, is now out of beta and generally available. Google envisions the service, which launched in public beta last September, as the first entry point for IoT data into its cloud. Once the data has been ingested, users can use Cloud IoT Core to push data to Google’s cloud databases, analytics tools, serverless platform and machine learning services.

One feature the company stresses is that Cloud IoT Core is able to support data “from millions of globally dispersed devices.” Like similar services, Cloud IoT Core supports the standard MQTT and HTTP protocols for talking to devices.

Unsurprisingly, the service supports Google’s own Android Things platform out of the box, but Google has also partnered with the likes of ARM, Cisco, Intel, NXP, Sierra Wireless and other hardware partners to make their products work with its service.

Current users include the likes of Schlumberger, which uses it as part of its IoT integration strategy, Smart Parking in New Zealand, bike-sharing service Blaze and Mexican bus operator Grupo ADO.

To use Cloud IoT Core, users pay per megabyte of ingested data. The first 250 megabyte per month are free and after that, Google charges $0.0045 per megabyte for the first 250 GB of data (with significant discounts for users with higher data volumes).

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With $10M in funding, Mabl brings machine learning to software testing


Mabl, a startup that’s coming out of stealth today, uses machine learning to make functional testing for developers as easy as possible. Mabl users don’t have to write extensive (and often brittle) tests by hand. Instead, they show the application the workflow they want to test and the service performs those tests — and even automatically adapts to small user interface changes.

The Boston-based company also today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A funding round from CRV and Amplify Partners.

It’s worth noting that the team behind Mabl has a bit of a pedigree. Co-founders Izzy Azeri and Dan Belcher previously founded Stackdriver, the cloud monitoring solution Google acquired in 2014. After a few years at Google, during which time the company deeply integrated Stackdriver into its Cloud Platform, the founders decided to try something new, though, and left Google last January. “As we met with hundreds of software teams, we latched on to this idea that developing — the process of writing new code and integrating it with your code bases — is very fast now, but there’s a bottleneck in QA,” Azeri said. “Every time you make a change to your product, you have to test this change or build test automation.”

So with Mabl, the team is trying to bring this process into the 21st century by combining functional testing (that is, actually trying out the front end of the application and looking at the results) with machine learning. Right after signing up for Mabl, the service starts scanning your site and starts looking for potential errors. You then create your own tests by walking Mabl through a scenario (with the help of a Chrome plugin) and the service automatically understands that a given button or link leads to a certain action. As long as the service can somehow identify that button, for example, it’ll perform the same test, even if you are experimenting with a new user interface and move it to a new position on your page. “If there’s something unique, we’ll find it, even if it’s in a different spot,” explained Belcher.

Mabl will alert developers of any visual changes, JavaScript errors, broken links and increased load times.

Given that the founding team came from Google, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Mabl is running on the Google Cloud Platform. But as Azeri and Belcher told me, they actually gave their engineers free rein to pick AWS or another platform, too. Google won that vote and the team now makes heavy use of tools like the Google Kubernetes Engine for spinning up containers for tests, Google Cloud Functions, BigQuery, Cloud ML Engine and App Engine.

During the preview period, the service will be free to all developers. After that, the team — which currently consists of about 20 people — will start monetizing the service, likely with a focus on charging users for the amount of testing they do. What exactly this will look like, though, still remains to be seen.

Current Mabl users, who started testing the service during its closed beta, include the likes of RunKeeper, creative agency 24G and Codeship. “Mabl frees up Codeship’s team to build product, and that’s great for our customers. Nobody on the team has to worry about testing; everyone knows if there’s an issue, Mabl will tell us, then we’ll fix it and move on,” said Moritz Plassnig, the co-founder and CEO of Codeship.

As Azeri and Belcher noted, funding this new company was a bit easier than raising funding for Stackdriver. CRV, they told me, had wanted to invest in Stackdriver but missed out on that opportunity (and the company’s exit to Google), so it’s maybe no surprise that CRV partner Murat Bicer really wanted to invest in the founders this time around. Indeed, Bicer is joining Mabl’s board of directors.

Developers who want to give the service a try can now sign up here.

Qualcomm launches its premium 820E embedded platform for IoT developers


When you think of Qualcomm these days, chances are you are either thinking about Broadcom’s hostile attempts to buy the company or its mobile chips, which power most Android-based smartphones. Chances are we’ll hear quite a bit more about the former in the near future, but beside mobile chips, Qualcomm has also spent the last few years on bringing its chips to a wider range of platforms. Indeed, it’s now selling more than a million chips per day for IoT solutions.

Today, it’s extending this ecosystem with the launch of a new embedded platform for IoT edge applications that rounds out the company’s IoT offerings with low- and mid-tier chips.

The new Snapdragon 820E platform provides the kind of computing power that you would expect from modern smartphones. Like with its mobile chips, the 800 designation highlights that this is a premium product. Until now, Qualcomm’s embedded systems centered around the 410E and 600E embedded platforms. Those are not going away, but for solutions where computing power at the edge matters, chances are that most developers will now opt for the more powerful and fully featured 820E platform.

As Qualcomm Director of Product Management Leon Farasati told me ahead of today’s announcement, the company tends to take its mobile chips and then bring those advances to its embedded systems. That means a system like the 820E will feature a 64-bit ARMv8 quad-core Kyro CPU, for example, with build-in 3D graphics support thanks to an Adreno 530 GPU. It’ll also feature a Qualcomm Hexagon 680 signal processor for media playback and image processing in drones and robots, for example. In addition, the platform offers the usual Bluetooth/WiFi connectivity and optional GPS support, as well as multi-channel audio.

What’s maybe even more interesting, though, is that Qualcomm has also partnered with Arrow Electronics to launch a new development board for developers (the DragonBoard 820c). The board is compatible with the open 96Boards specs, so the board will be able to work with plenty of accessories right from the start.

As Farasati noted, most IoT developers don’t need the latest and greatest chips (though they surely appreciate them), but they do want to know that the platform they are building on will be supported in the long run.High-end smartphone chips have a lifespan of maybe a year or two, but in that time, a manufacturer has maybe gone from prototyping to being ready to manufacturing an IoT product. Arrow, however, says that it will support the 820c board for ten years.

In addition to the new DragonBoard, Qualcomm also today announced the launch of two new IoT dev kits based on the memorably named QCA4020 and QCA4024 SoCs. The company designed these kits for smart city applications, toys, home control and automation systems, appliances and home entertainment solutions. 

While the 820E platform is mostly meant for startups and OEMs who want to fast-track the development of their embedded devices, the DragonBoard will also likely appeal to hobbyists and students. With the DragonBoard 410c, Qualcomm already offers a similar solution, though without the same amount of processing power as the flagship 820c board. Students have used that platform to build machine learning-enabled canes and voice-controlled virtual assistants that live in small 3D-printed houses, for example.

Stride, Atlassian’s Slack competitor, opens its API to all developers


The arrival of Stride, Atlassian’s Slack competitor, was probably the company’s biggest launch of 2017. While the company generally allows developers to easily integrate with its products, Stride’s API remained in closed beta for significantly longer than the product itself, which exited beta last September. Today, however, Atlassian is opening the Stride API to all developers.

As the company notes, this is the first API that sits on top of the new Atlassian API platform. Thanks to this, Stride developers will get access to a new app management console that makes it easier for them to manage their app’s credentials, for example. In addition, Atlassian is also making a new documentation interface available for Stride developers.

The Stride team stresses that third-party apps in Stride are “first class citizens.” Unsurprisingly, developers can create new Bots and other experiences that center around sending and receiving messages. Apps, however, can also display their own user interface for showing contextual information in the Stride sidebar with the help of a JavaScript API.

Developers can also include app cards inside conversations and create action buttons (or even build a pop up dialog for when they need to show multiple button actions, for example). These buttons can both act on Stride itself (to open the app sidebar or a dialog, for example) or call on a backend service (which could be any REST endpoint). The team also notes that Stride apps can upload files (think presentations, videos and pictures) into conversations.

Atlassian says about 1,000 developer signed up for early access to the API.

What’s maybe more important, though, is that the company also says that “tens of thousands of teams” now use Stride. That’s not exactly at the same level of Slack, which has more than 6 million active users, or Microsoft Teams, which is now in use by more than 125,000 teams, but it shows that there’s some momentum behind the platform. The modern workplace, after all, seems to have a need for an ever increasing number of tools that provide constant interruptions.

Say goodbye to Android Pay and hello to Google Pay


As we reported last month, Google is uniting all of its different payment tools under the Google Pay brand. On Android, however, the Android Pay app stuck with its existing brand. That’s changing today, though, with the launch of Google Pay for Android. With this, Google is rolling out an update to Android Pay and introducing some new functionality that the company hopes will make its payment service ubiquitous — both in stores and on the internet.

In addition, Google is also launching a redesign of the Google Wallet app for sending and requesting money — and it’s now called Google Pay Send. Users in the U.S. and U.K., though, will also soon be able to use the Google Pay app for sending and requesting money. New users can download the Google Pay app today and existing Android Pay users will get updated over the course of the next few days.

At first glance, the new Google Pay app is basically a redesign of Android Pay, with a look and feel that adheres closer to Google’s own Material Design guidelines than the original. In terms of functionality, there isn’t all that much here that’s new. One notable change, though, is that the Google Pay home screen now shows you relevant stores around you where you can pay with Google Pay. That list is personalized, based on previous stores where you used the service, and based on your location, too. In addition, the home screen also shows you all of your recent purchases and you can also still add all of your loyalty cards to the app, too.

As Google’s VP of Product Management for Payments, Pali Bhat told me, the team really wanted to make it extremely easy to get started with Google Pay and use the service to pay for goods online and in the real world — and to do so with as little friction as possible. That means that users who bank with Bank of America in the U.S. or a Google partner like Mbank in Poland,  you can set up Google Pay right from your bank’s app without having to even install Google Pay. Once that’s set up, you can simply pay with Google Pay online and out in the real world.

Similarly, if an online app or website wants to support this, developers can simply call a Google API to see if a given user has Google Pay enabled and then can then accept payments through Google Pay (which still get routed through the developers’ regular payment processors like Stripe or Braintree). “We give developers a very simple API to implement Google Pay,” Bhat noted, “The API is simple because we are not processing that payment. We just securely pass the credentials to whoever is doing it.” Apps like DoorDash, Airbnb, Hotel Tonight and others already support this feature today.

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Chef InSpec 2.0 helps automate security compliance in cloud apps


How many times do you hear about a company exposing sensitive data because they forgot to lock down a data repository on Amazon? It happens surprisingly often. Chef wants to help developers and operations teams prevent that kind of incident. Today, the company released InSpec 2.0, which is designed to help automate applications security and compliance in the cloud.

InSpec is a free open source tool that enables development teams to express security and compliance rules as code. Version 1.0 was about ensuring that applications were set up properly. The new version extends this capability to the cloud where companies are running the applications, allowing teams to test and write rules for compliance with cloud security policy. It supports AWS and Azure and comes with 30 common configurations out of the box including Docker, IIS, NGINX and PostgreSQL.

Companies running multiple applications across multiple clouds face challenges in today’s continuous development environment. It’s actually fairly easy to leave that database exposed when it’s up to humans to continuously monitor if it’s in compliance or not.

Chef wants to help with that problem by offering a tool to automate compliance. It takes some work in getting the security, development and operations teams together to discuss what needs to be locked down, but once they come to an agreement, they can to use InSpec to write rules to validate proper cloud configurations using the InSpec scripting language.

Chef’s director of product marketing Julian Dunn says that anyone used to using scripting languages should be able to pick it up. “A language like InSpec allows customers to customize and write the rules specific to the cloud they are in and specific to their cloud deployment and check things they care about it,” he said.

Scripting language example. Code sample: Chef

“The language is designed to be easy to read and write. It’s intended for security engineering folks who don’t have programming background, but have scripting experience,” Dunn added. Once you write these scripts, you can run tests against your code, see which areas out of compliance and take steps to fix them.

InSpec was created via the acquisition of VulcanoSec, a German compliance and security firm that Chef purchased in 2015. InSpec 2.0 is open source and available for download on Github.

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Twilio will soon launch Flex, a dedicated contact center solution


Twilio’s Engagement Cloud, its suite of products for building new customer experiences, is about to get a new feature, TechCrunch has learned. The company plans on launching the beta of a full contact center solution for businesses at the Enterprise Connect conference in March, according to a tip we received this afternoon. When reached for confirmation, Twilio had no comment.

With the launch of this product, Twilio could potentially be going up against some of its current customers who are selling contact center solutions to enterprises. In a copy of the internal email we saw about the upcoming launch of this new product, the company clearly aims to avoid this impression, but that’s likely because it’s worried about how this move will be perceived by current players in this market who are likely using some of Twilio’s services themselves.

Until now, Twilio positioned its various APIs as the building blocks for developing new contact center solutions. With Flex, it’ll now essentially bundle these together to make it far easier for developers to build these services.

Our understanding is that Twilio Flex, as the service is currently called (though that could change in the time leading up to the launch date), will follow in the footsteps of most of the company’s products in that it will put an emphasis on the developer experience. For example, it will allow systems integrators to build a customized contact center solution on top of Flex.

Twilio Flex will offer them the basic building blocks to power the communications experience, single sign-on and integration points for these organizations workforce management and workforce optimization suites (i.e. all of the usual contact center goodies like call recording, agent coaching, speech analytics, etc.), as well as integrations with their back-office employee scheduling systems.

As the name implies, Twilio is positioning this service as a very customizable solution, though that also means that it’ll take some extra integration work on the side of the customer to make it work. Twilio, however, argues that it’s exactly this kind of customization that will enable businesses to optimize their contact centers.

According to our source, the announcement is currently scheduled for March 12th, the first day of the Enterprise Connect conference In Orlando, which focuses on the contact and calling center market.

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