Mobile commerce, at least on smartphones, is partly held back by the UX challenges of forms and inputting credit card digits. Amazon does well in so-called "m-commerce" in part because it has millions of user credit cards on file making the mobile check-out process nearly painless (it also has a trusted brand).
Mobile check-out is part of the larger problem of being compelled to repeatedly sign in to accounts on a mobile device. Though some sign-in credentials are remembered by mobile browsers users are constantly being asked to input usernames and passwords. It's incredibly frustrating.
Nuance (and others) have tried to address this problem with voice authentication in lieu of manual password entry (one of the topics on the agenda at the upcoming Voice Biometrics conference in San Francisco next week). To date, however, voice authentication has seen limited adoption in mobile applications.
Separately Facebook has sought to become the universal log-in, to address the challenges of pain of creating multiple accounts and passwords -- particularly in mobile. Google is now starting to challenge Facebook in that arena, according to a recent study from Janrain.
Many people are disinclined to use Facebook to log-in to third party websites or accounts because of privacy concerns (uncertainty over what might be communicated to their networks). Enter PayPal log-in (and its mobile express checkout solution).
This solves a couple problems for publishers/developers and consumers. First it offers an alternative, single set of log-in credentials offering consumers more privacy than Facebook. It also offers a commerce solution that, like Amazon, avoids the "16 digit problem" of manually entering information on mobile sites.
Amazon and Google both offer comparable and competing solutions for third party merchants. But PayPal is in a strong position to become both a single sign-on and mobile checkout leader. The eBay division needs to aggressively promote mobile express checkout to merchants and the security and privacy benefits and ease-of-use of PayPal log-in to consumers, which will be a significant marketing challenge.
As part of that effort PayPal also needs to do something of a reintroduction of itself generally to consumers at large. Its brand needs to be "beefed up." However among "digital wallets" PayPal by far has the greatest consumer awareness, which the company can use in its argument to merchants.
The T-Mobile-MetroPCS merger is now complete. The newly combined company, which is majority (74%) owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom, debuted on the New York Stock Exchange today under the ticker symbol TMUS. The stock was up about 6% in early trading.
Post-merger, here are the most recent subscriber counts for the four major US wireless carriers:
That makes a total of 301 million accounts, not including smaller regional carriers.
There are approximately 312 million people in the US. Some percentage of the 301 million are obviously second accounts. Measurement firm comScore counts the total US wireless population at 235 million, whereas CTIA says that, as of Q2 2012, there are 321.7 million "wireless subscriber connections."
The "right" number is probably about 250 million. Smartphone penetration is 57% according to comScore and roughly 60% according to Nielsen. Accordingly the US market is closing in on 150 million smartphones. Total US internet penetration stands at 221 million according to comScore.
Within three years (perhaps 24 months) there will be more "mobile devices" and wireless internet penetration than PC internet users. Just under 40% of total media time is now spent on mobile devices (including tablets). However current mobile ad spending is only 9% of the US digital total according to the IAB.
Facebook's "launcher" Home isn't available for any of the smartphones I own: HTC 8X, Nexus 4 and iPhone. Thus I haven't been able to "live with it."
But when I saw it unveiled several weeks ago at the Facebook Home press event I was impressed by the design. I found it very imaginative and creative. I thought also that it might represent a new way forward for some developers and publishers with smartphone software. I even suggested that Yahoo might want to emulate it.
Apparently most people who've actually used Facebook Home for any length of time don't share my enthusiasm. The app is overwhelmingly negatively reviewed on Google Play. Out of more than 14,000 ratings and reviews it gets an average score of 2.2 -- with the single largest group (7,576 users) giving it 1 star.
This isn't merely the work of "haters" as some of the favorable reviews and comments suggest. There are significant flaws in the user experience.
While many people praised Home as a good initial release, others complained about poor performance and a negative impact on battery life. Still others complained that it made other Android apps and widgets difficult to access. And some wanted more capabilities and functionality than what Facebook is currently delivering.
There's lots of highly specific feedback for Facebook in the comments offered. If Home is to avoid a quick death and survive the company should look closely and adopt some of the suggestions.
Whether we call Google Now "predictive search," "anticipatory search" or a "virtual assistant," the capability is highly useful and improving regularly. Previously exclusive to Android devices with OS 4.1 or higher ("Jelly Bean") Google Now is now available for the iPhone and iPad.
You'll need to download the latest version of the Google Search app to get it.
Google Now is partly Google's answer to Siri (and Passbook) and partly a wholly independent development that takes your search history, your Gmail entries, your calendar, your location and other "context" to deliver a range of personalized information without having to actively search for it.
Google Now for iOS operates in essentially the same way as it does on Android devices: users swipe up from the bottom of the screen to receive customized information cards. The cards feature weather, traffic, stock quotes, recent sports scores, local places of interest, movie showtimes and so on. Below is a complete list of the content/data available through Google Now.
The cards on the chart above "missing" from iOS are newer cards that will soon come to iOS. Google confirmed this.
Those who download and use the service will likely find themselves using it regularly (as I do). While it can sometimes be flawed or inaccurate -- if you travel a lot it will often give you information about the city you just left rather than where you are -- it offers a growing corpus of useful information. As mentioned, it continues to expand and improve.
Google requires users to sign in to get access to Google Now, so the company will gain mobile usage data it wouldn't otherwise have in the process. It's a very effective way for Google to get iOS users re-engaged with search on their iPhones and iPads.
A survey we conducted in June of last year (n=503 US iPhone 4S owners 18 and older) found that most people who searched Google on their iPhones didn't use the Google Search app:
Which of the following do you use MOST OFTEN to search the web on your phone?
If this survey were done today we might see slighly different percentages but directionally the results would be similar. It will be interesting to see whether and how the numbers change several months from now -- and whether the introduction of Google Now for iOS has had a meaningful impact on user behavior.
The iPhone 5 introduced a 4-inch (diagonal) screen that in my view distorted the proportions of the handset. (I wanted it to be slightly wider as well.) That was an upgrade from what was essentially a 3.5-inch screen on the 4S. Yet at the time of launch the 5's new larger screen already appeared small next to some competitive devices.
Samsung's Galaxy S3 and others were at 4.8-inches or beyond. The newly released Galaxy S4 has a 5-inch screen and the Galaxy Note 2 offers a 5.5-inch screen. Samsung has also made an 8-inch tablet that works as a phone.
Earlier this week during Apple's earnings call CEO Tim Cook was asked about a potentially larger iPhone screen, which several surveys indicate iPhone buyers want. Here's the exchange:
Analyst: [D]o you think there is a long-term case for a larger screen size or at least the larger variety of screen sizes for iPhones and for the smartphone category in general?
Tim Cook: The iPhone 5 offers as you know a new 4-inch Retina display, which is the most advanced display in the industry and no one comes close to matching the level of quality as the Retina display. It also provides a larger screen size for iPhone customers without sacrificing the one handed ease-of-use that our customers love. So, we put a lot of thinking into screen size and believe we’ve picked the right one.
Tim Cook acknowledged that “some customers” value screen size. He explained that larger displays require trade-offs (technically speaking). He added that the company won’t ship a larger iPhone display “while these trade-offs exist.” That implies the company has larger screen iPhones on its roadmap somewhere in the future.
However Apple is indeed putting itself at a disadvantage by not offering a larger-screen iPhone. Perhaps not everyone wants it but lots of people (including me) do. An ideal device would marry the LG Nexus 4 (4.7-inch screen) form factor with iOS as its operating system.
Apple and Tim Cook seem to be nearly alone in their belief that the iPhone's screen is vastly superior to competitor-device screens. Third party analysis shows that this is not the case. However it does come out on top in some areas. Yet the public may not be noticing these relatively subtle differences. And Samsung's display has been found to have superior resolution and better blacks.
What consumers probably notice more is that the iPhone's screen looks small and by some measures inadequate vs. other devices. One-handed operation of the iPhone is great in a few instances but not entirely necessary. Indeed, it may not be an important feature for most people (though that's an "empirical question").
It does seem to me that screen size is one case of Apple (if it's to be taken at face value so to speak) "making the perfect the enemy of the good." And I think a "5S" without a larger screen option will be a significant disappointment to many.
The challenge of "showrooming" has been met by traditional retailers with either indifference and inaction or its opposite: aggressive price matching. Best Buy and Target are examples of the latter approach. They decided in February to match any price on Amazon year round.
However this strategy lacks "depth."
Price matching alone will not successfully address showrooming; it will in fact encourage it as more smartphone shoppers check Amazon and other sources to see if in-store prices are the best they can do -- and to demand a lower price in store if they find one online.
Signs like the one below invite someone to go to Amazon (if they weren't thinking about it already) and compare prices.
It may be necessary to price match in selected categories such as electronics. But price matching is not a panacea. Instead the retail industry can take a lesson from the hotel industry, which is doing some very creative things with technology.
The New York Times ran a story today about how hotels are using technology to improve the customer experience (including personalization) and lower costs in many instances:
Hotels around the world are using technology in new ways, with the goal of speeding up or personalizing more services for guests.
David-Michel Davies, president of the Webby Media Group, said he visited Internet companies around the world each year for the Webby Awards, which honor excellence on the Internet. He said he had found that hotels were using technology as a substitute for human hospitality.
Instead of the staff at the front desk offering advice on where to go for dinner, guests may be lent an iPad loaded with maps and suggestions for local restaurants and sightseeing. A hand-held device in the room might control the television, blinds and temperature, replacing the role of the bellman who would describe how the features in the room work when he dropped off a guest’s luggage. “Hotels are transforming service into a digital concept,” Mr. Davies said.
There are an enormous number of ways that technology, and mobile technology (apps) in particular, could improve the in-store retail experience. Personalization, notifications, offers, product information and reviews, loyalty, payments and other use cases, if creatively implemented, could make the in-store experience richer, more fun and more rewarding for shoppers.
This creative, "diversified" approach to mobile and the in-store experience holds great promise against showrooming. Retailer size and resources would affect the scope of what might be pursued -- but every brick and mortar retailer could do something more interesting and creative than simple price matching. And the hospitality industry points the way.
Apple has just released earnings. The company reported quarterly revenues of $43.6 billion. Second quarter revenues in 2012 were $39.2 billion. Total 1H 2013 revenues were $98 billion.
There were better-than-expected iPhone and iPad sales in the quarter. Gross margins came in at 37.5%. This compared to 47.4% last year.
Now the device numbers:
On cheaper devices: There were lots of questions during the earnings call about Apple's competitive position and ability to compete in markets around the world. CEO Tim Cook repeated several times that an aggressively priced iPhone 4 is the crux of Apple's strategy to attract first time smartphone buyers in developing markets.
This is a product, however, that's two generations old. While Apple says it won't make "cheap products" it's very likely that Apple will develop a less expensive iPhone to compete in those markets where "first time buyers" can't afford the state-of-the-art iPhone.
On mobile payments: Tim Cook was asked about getting into mobile payments. Cook responded that the market was in its infancy, implying that Apple would be waiting to enter it in earnest (if at all).
On the prospect of a larger iPhone screen: One of the financial analysts asked about a larger iPhone display. Cook respondend, " The iPhone 5 has the absolute best display in the industry." However he acknowledges that "some customers" value screen size. He explained that larger displays require trade-offs in quality. He then said that the company won't ship a larger iPhone display "while these trade-offs exist." That in turn implies that a larger display may be on the iPhone 6 or a later model.
Samsung is the undisputed ruler of the Android roost. On a global basis it's the dominant handset OEM and there's no real challenge in sight -- other than the iPhone. Samsung continues to eclipse fellow Android manufacturers LG, HTC and Google's own Motorola in terms of sales and market share.
In that context one might expect Samsung to dominate Android-based advertising. Indeed it does. Mobile ad platform Velti has released data that show that Samsung mobile devices see nearly 70% of all Android ad impressions in the US market. This refers to display advertising but it probably extends to search impressions as well.
However on the tablet side, Samsung is second behind Amazon in the US market. There Samsung has had much less success and has yet to product a breakthrough device -- although its Note "phablet" has done well.
The following chart shows Android market share by ad impressions.
Yet when it comes to ad impressions on tablets the iPad and iPad Mini control more than 95% of the market according to Velti's network data. Chitika, another mobile ad network, puts the iPad's traffic share at about 82%, significantly lower though still dominant.
There has been some "cannibalization" of the iPad by its younger and smaller sibling. The Mini is less expensive and has lower margins than the iPad. Indications that the larger iPad's sales have declined in favor of the Mini have, to some degree, contributed to investor anxiety about today's Apple earnings (coming up shortly) .
Mobile payments -- as in buying things in a retail store with a mobile device -- still appear to be years away. Two weeks ago the IAB and InMobi released survey data that showed a range of payment and financial-related activities in mobile.
The survey, conducted in Q1 this year with roughly 1,200 US adult respondents, showed that there were pockets of mobile-financial activity: people capturing coupons, buying digital content and paying selected bills via smartphones. But the road to in-store mobile payments adoption is much longer (say 3 years or more).
In contrast to other types of "mobile payments" and financial services, mobile banking has taken off more rapidly than financial institutions anticipated. However mobile banking is really a case of people accessing information via tablets and smartphones that they already get from a PC. There's essentially no new behavior here, with the exception of mobile deposits (not yet widely performed).
Are you aware of any mobile financial services features from your bank?
Source: IAB, InMobi (n=1,242 US adults)
Capturing and redeeming mobile coupons was the most popular financial-related activity among this pool of respondents (57%). There's no surprise in that finding; mobile coupons are hugely popular.
There's also a significant amount of mobile bill paying (probably credit-card bill paying) according to the survey (46%). Mobile phone bill payment is also popular (42%).
In terms of in-store/offline mobile payments, 34% of these respondents said they had conducted such a transaction. This number is probably higher than the "real" number if we were able to look at a nationally representative sample of mobile users. I suspect the number is much closer to 10% or 15% perhaps (unless everyone is talking about a loyalty app such as Starbucks).
Have you ever used your mobile phone to make a payment?
Source: IAB, InMobi (n=1,242 US adults)
It would also be useful to get some additional insight into what "Paid a business for real-world goods/services by mobile" actually means. Unfortunately the survey doesn't further unpack the finding. For example, is it PayPal usage; is it use of a credit being accepted or read by a Square dongle? Is it a loyalty app, as I suggest above?
Among financial-related apps, PayPal is easily the leader. (The company is now rolling out its in-store payments system through the Discover network.) In the chart below 37% of survey respondents said they had PayPal on their phones. The survey asks about "downloads" rather than active usage. Thus we don't know how often or whether people actually use these apps.
Downloads without more insight into active usage is an almost meaningless statistic.
Have you downloaded any of the following apps to help you make payments or keep track of your finances?
Source: IAB, InMobi (n=1,242 US adults)
Square, which is probably the only other mobile payments brand known by consumers, stands at 8% penetration. This of course is not Square the credit-car-reading smartphone dongle, but the "Pay with Square" app that permits a "contactless" payment where both sides have a Square account. (The "Paid a business for real-world goods/services by mobile" answer probably includes use of the Square dongle.)
Google Wallet seems completely stalled at 7%. The widespread availability of NFC in Android and Windows Phones is unlikely by itself to jump-start NFC payments in North America. However that could change if the iPhone 5S were to include the capability.
The data above present a picture of increasing, incremental usage of mobile financial services and "payments" by the US smartphone population. That will continue as more services adapt to mobile and consumers become increasingly comfortable with using their mobile phones for a range of transaction types.
However the much-anticipated day when everyone is carrying a digital wallet and using it to buy goods and services in the real-world is still much more hype than reality.
Late last month Yahoo acquired news app Summly for the underlying technology, developed by SRI. It was just the latest in a series of mobile startup acquisitions (mostly for talent) Yahoo has been making.
Today the company rolled out the fruits of the Summly acquisition: a new iOS (iPod Touch, iPhone) flagship app. This follows last week's release of Yahoo Mail for the iPad and a new Yahoo weather app.
The Yahoo blog, in a post by CEO Marissa Mayer, announced the new app this morning:
The new Yahoo! mobile app is also smarter, using Summly’s natural-language algorithms and machine learning to deliver quick story summaries. We acquired Summly less than a month ago, and we’re thrilled to introduce this game-changing technology in our first mobile application. And, with the immersive imagery of our virtually endless newsfeed, the new Yahoo! app has both great technology and beautiful design front and center. Because searching for great content is also core to the Yahoo! experience, we’ve also improved the search experience with better video and image search.
The app offers essentially two views of stories, a kind of list view with thumbnail images (top left) and a more immersive (Summly like) visual view of stories (top row right and below left):
Yahoo enables personalization of news content in the app. If you're signed in each story allows users to select "more" or "less" news about the topic (lower right images). That personalization will also be reflected in the stories presented on the Yahoo PC site. However personalization is far from obvious in the new app and its not clear how many people will notice let alone use it.
The "visual" dimension of the experience is not as engaging or successful as Yahoo's new weather app (images below). However it's quite a bit more challenging to duplicate the experience of the weather app with news content, whose stories and images are constantly changing. In addition the list view of news is kind of flat and uninteresting.
Yahoo is making good progress in updating and mobilizing its user experience under Marissa Mayer. Things are definitely on the right track. However with the new Yahoo flagship/news app it will probably take a few more "iterations" to get things right.