Microsoft Bought Nokia to Block Android Lumia Phones

Nokia's Lumia handsets represent about 80% of Windows Phone's sales. However Nokia was continuing to lose share to Android and iPhone in key markets across the globe. By the same token Windows Phones had failed to enable Nokia to re-enter the US smartphone market in any convincing way. 

Since the inception of the Microsoft-Nokia deal in early 2011, we had been arguing it was a serious mistake for Nokia to not offer an Android phone. However the terms of the agreement between the companies precluded that. In 2014 the deal was set to expire. But before that deal was renegotiated, Microsoft acquired Nokia's phone hardware business for roughly $7.2 billion.  

In the middle of last year we speculated that Microsoft might be compelled to acquire Nokia for defensive reasons. When the acquisition was announced a little over a week ago, I argued had Nokia embraced Android it would not have been so weakened and forced to sell itself. I also speculated this summer that Nokia would be compelled to come out with Android handsets if it wanted to survive:

My view is that Nokia will be compelled -- notwithstanding contractual exclusivity with Microsoft -- to adopt Android at some point in the not-too-distant future or remain stuck in what amounts to neutral.

Now the NY Times is reporting that Android Lumia phones were in development: 

A team within Nokia had Android up and running on the company’s Lumia handsets well before Microsoft and Nokia began negotiating Microsoft’s $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone and services business, according to two people briefed on the effort who declined to be identified because the project was confidential. Microsoft executives were aware of the existence of the project, these people said.

There are two overlapping potential scenarios: Nokia was developing Android handsets in part to add leverage in negotiations with Microsoft (for renewal or acquisition); and/or Nokia was developing Android handsets in earnest and would have rolled them out -- forcing Microsoft to avoid that outcome through an acquisition.

Regardless it appears that the idea of Nokia marketing both Android and Windows Phones was a potential disaster that Microsoft sought to avoid at great cost -- literally. As I've written elsehwere, however, it remains unclear that Microsoft's $7.2 billion have been well spent.

Microsoft Readies Its Answer to Siri: 'Cortana'

Microsoft is reportedly readying its answer to Siri and Google Now: Cortana. Named after a central character in the game Halo, Cortana aims to go beyond both Siri and Google Now by being a more comprehensive way to interact with Microsoft devices.

According to Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley:

Cortana, Microsoft's assistant technology, likewise will be able to learn and adapt, relying on machine-learning technology and the "Satori" knowledge repository powering Bing.

Cortana will be more than just an app that lets users interact with their phones more naturally using voice commands. Cortana is core to the makeover of the entire "shell" -- the core services and experience -- of the future versions of Windows Phone, Windows and the Xbox One operating systems, from what I've heard from my contacts.

A comprehensive personal assistant powered by AI across all Microsoft systems and devices is a very ambitious plan. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft can do it. 

Yet in order to not be perceived as more than a me-too product Microsoft will have to roll out something truly impressive and more utilitarian than Siri or Google's mix of voice-enabled search and personalized data features.  

Update: TheVerge offers a series of relatively bland Cortana screenshots.  

Apple Shunned NFC, Has Anointed BLE for Indoor Location

I wrote several days ago on my Screenwerk blog about PayPal's new Beacon payments and indoor location initiative. I explained that Apple's decision not to include an NFC chip in the new iPhone means essentially that NFC is marginalized if not dead in the US market. In its place Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) may become the mainstream alternative to what NFC would have enabled (e.g., mobile payments).

PayPal Beacon relies on BLE. At those businesses where a Beacon device is plugged in PayPal users simply check-in. Beacon identifies them and payment is automatically transferred from the default account. Payment happens “hands free” without a tap, swipe or other app interaction. 

Beacon is also PayPal’s entry into indoor location. PayPal will obviously know you’re in a venue and then can do any number of things, including delivering highly specific, indoor marketing messages or ads. PayPal is also making Beacon available to third party developers, who will be able to do similar things accordingly.

Apple's iOS 7, which will be available on September 18 (to older iPhones as well), will permit all eqipped devices to interact with BLE iBeacons in malls, airports, stores and other venues. 

Apple acquired indoor mapping company WiFiSlam earlier this year. That was the "wake up call" for many people to take indoor location seriously. One of the first and obvious applications of iBeacon is indoor mapping. But it doesn't stop there. 

Just as with PayPal's BLE initiative, iBeacon will enable Apple to move into payments and indoor marketing and allow third party developers to leverage those capabilities. With its more than 600 million credit cards on file I've got to believe that Apple will enter mobile payments eventually and BLE will be the way in all likelihood.

More broadly I suspect that iBeacon will popularize and jumpstart indoor location for a host of third party developers. 

For a comprehensive introduction to the indoor location and marketing opportunity, and its broader implications, come to Place 2013.

iPhone 'Touch ID' Is the New Siri

The Apple iPhone event just concluded. Everything that was announced at the event had been leaked or written about beforehand, including:

  • The cheaper iPhone 5C in 5 colors
  • The gold iPhone 5S
  • The faster 5S processor
  • iTunes Radio
  • The biometric fingerprint sensor that unlocks the phone ("Touch ID")

However that last item, the "Touch ID" fingerprint sensor, was the stand-out announcement in my view. It will enable users to both unlock their phones and confirm iTunes purchases instead of entering a password: 

Put your finger on the Home button, and just like that your iPhone unlocks. Your fingerprint can also approve purchases from iTunes or the App Store.

What I mean by the headline is that Touch ID is to the 5S what Siri was to the 4S: a kind of "wow" feature that helps it stand out from other smartphones. It partly compensates for the fact that Apple didn't introduce a larger screen, which everyone now wants. That's coming with the iPhone 6. 

Webcast - "Beyond CTR: Tracking Mobile Ad Impact on Store Visits"

Free Webcast: Tuesday, September 10th, 1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT

The offline impact of digital ads has always been elusive. Marketers track “online conversions” mostly because they can’t follow consumers into stores (where 94% of buying happens). But online conversions are just a fraction of “online-to-offline” sales.

Increasingly it’s becoming possible to track how online/mobile ads directly impact offline consumer behavior. The implications are dramatic for all of digital media and marketing.

Placed CEO David Shim and xAd VP Monica Ho will discuss how new measurement tools let agencies, brands and marketers go beyond CTR to understand mobile advertising’s impact on store visits.

Placed has developed a “Nielsen panel for the real world” and xAd is starting to use it on client campaigns. Join them, together with Greg Sterling, senior analyst with Opus Research, for a free webinar that will examine:

  • The market trend toward closed-loop measurement
  • How offline panel measurement works
  • What new insights are now available to marketers, publishers and networks
  • Why offline ROI measurement is a key to shifting more ad budgets to digital
  • A just-completed case study on mobile-to-store measurement

Register for this free webcast today.

Twitter Buys Mobile Exchange MoPub for Ad Tech, Network

MoPub presents itself as the "world's largest RTB exchange for mobile apps." Arguably, MoPub emerged over the past couple years as the leading mobile-publisher/developer exchange.

In May the site announced it had reached a $100 million "run rate." That of course is tiny compared to the major mobile networks and publishers such as Google and Facebook.

Today one of the other major mobile ad platforms, Twitter, announced that it had acquired MoPub. TechCrunch estimated that the purchase price was $350 million. MoPub said nothing would change for the publishers in its network: 

It’s important to underscore that our commitment to you, the publisher, will not change. In fact, it will be strengthened. Twitter will invest in our core business and we will continue to build the tools and technology you need to better run your mobile advertising business.

In addition to investing in new capabilities for our publisher platform, we believe there are opportunities to bring better native advertising to the mobile ecosystem. With the support of the team and resources of Twitter, we’ll be able to move even more quickly towards the realization of our original vision.

MoPub CEO Jim Payne likened Twitter's acquisition of MoPub to Google's acquisition of DoubleClick. He argued that Twitter's resources would enable MoPub's to get even stronger and serve its publishers better. Indeed Twitter's brand strength and clout may attract more mobile advertisers to the platform.

For its part Twitter was pretty transparent about what it was after in buying MoPub: 

The MoPub team has built a leading mobile ad exchange, and their focus on providing transparency to advertisers and publishers aligns with our values. We’ll continue to invest in and improve their core business. In particular, we think there is a key opportunity to extend many types of native advertising across the mobile ecosystem through the MoPub exchange.

We also plan to use MoPub’s technology to build real-time bidding into the Twitter ads platform so our advertisers can more easily automate and scale their buys. We’ll maintain the same high quality standards that define our platform today. Our approach is to show an ad when we think it will be useful or interesting to a user, and that isn’t changing.

This acquisition gives Twitter a significant new mobile asset and ad network. This follows Millennial's acquisition of Jumptap for technology and more scale. It may also indicate that a new wave of mobile network consolidation has begun. 

Splashy New Apps from Yahoo, Opera Make a Play for iPad Usage

Both Opera and Yahoo introduced splashy new apps for the iPad today. Opera introduced a new browser called Coast. On first glance, the browser has some nice features. In particular users can pin icons to the home screen, much like they can on the iPhone and close pages by swiping them away (like the old PalmOS and Android today). Most of the nagivation is based on swiping or the touch of a single button. 

Opera calls Coast a totally new tablet experience: 

The result is a completely designed-for-iPad browser, subtly elegant, made to fit tablet users in every respect. Crafting Coast meant redesigning the complete experience. We focused on how iPad users actually interact with their tablets. Coast is the perfect companion for your iPad, allowing a more relaxing and lean-back browsing experience when you are on the go or just hanging out on the couch.

The iPad is nearly buttonless; why shouldn’t the apps for it be? Elements such as back and forward buttons are gone from Coast. All navigation is done by swiping the way you naturally would on an iPad – just like in a good iPad app. A single button takes you to the home screen, and another shows the sites you have recently visited – that’s about it for buttons in Coast.

When using touch-based navigation, small buttons that work on a regular computer don’t work well on a tablet. It’s not about just enlarging already existing elements; it’s about making the design interesting and uncluttered . . .

Designing for iPad means rethinking everything. Tablets have a lot of screen real estate, and we thought it was about time to put it to good use. Coast does way more than merely migrating the lessons learned from desktop computers to a tablet.

Yahoo has a new tablet-centric video app (though it also works on the iPhone). Called "Yahoo Screen," the app features video from multiple sources, including Comedy Central and SNL, among numerous others. It's not YouTube but an attempt to created a video destination, with lots of clips that can support video pre-roll ads. There's quite a diverse array of content from food and instructional video to sports and movie clips. 

Yahoo has done a nice job with the user experience. Content is the key to success however. The company will continue to need to feed content to the app if it wants to build and sustain an audience. The company had sought to buy Hulu at one point. And now it's moving ahead with its own video product and increasingly original web-only programming. 

While Opera's iPad app is part of a bid to remain relevant in a mobile-centric world -- its mobile browser has largely been sidelined by Android and the iPhone -- Yahoo is hoping to create a way to generate more mobile revenue from lucrative video ads.

Aisle411 $6.3M Round Shows Growing Investor Focus on Indoor Opportunity

A few years ago companies like aisle411 or PointInside were mobile apps in search of an audience and a business model. In the past couple of years, however, everything has changed.

The proliferation of public WiFi, the adoption of smartphones (now 62% in the US) and the recognition among hospitals, malls, airports, stadiums, grocery and retail stores that indoor location could bring better customer experiences (and compelling data) has radically altered the landscape. The principal business model also went from being an ad/coupon-supported one to a technology licensing model, with indoor analytics leading the way.

Today aisle411 announced a $6.3 million Series A round (Cultivation Capital, Google’s Don Dodge, St. Louis Arch Angels, the Billiken Angels, and the Springfield Angel Network). The total the company has raised since being founded in 2008 is roughly $10 million. 

Most major US retailers (e.g., HomeDepot, Macy's, Wal-Mart, Target, Nordstrom, etc.) and malls across the US are now adopting indoor location, to reap the "big data" and offer more personalized, locally relevant and engaing customer experiences. We're only just at the beginning of a huge wave of indoor innovation.

One of the featured sessions at the Place Conference will showcase aisle411. I'll also be "in conversation" with Google's Don Dodge on why he believes indoor location and marketing will be bigger than outdoor maps and GPS. 

The conference will also present other in-venue and retail case studies from PointInside, ByteLight and Meridian (Aruba). If you haven't yet registered for the October 8, 2013 event do so today

Samsung Smartwatch ($299) Appears Right on Time

As expected today at the IFA conference in Berlin, Samsung announced its anticipated Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The device, which can make calls when connected to a phone via bluetooth, is currently only compatible with the new Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy 10.1. Both were introduced today and both run Android 4.3, which is required.

More Galaxy phones will be updated to 4.3 in the near future, thus making them compatible with the Gear watch. Below are some of the relevant details and specs for the device:

  • Availability: September 25 outside US; October for US market
  • Price: $299 
  • Battery life: day of "regular use"  
  • Voice control: Gear runs S Voice, powered by Nuance
  • Screen: 1.63-inch Super AMOLED
  • Camera: 1.9-megapixel (can also take video) 
  • Apps: 70 partner apps to start with more promised
  • Processor: 800MHZ
  • Storage/RAM: 4GB of storage; 512MB of RAM

The $299 price tag may be costly to some consumers, especially given the fact that you've got to have a Samsung smartphone to fully utilize it.

My first (entirely vicarious) impression of the watch, which comes in multiple colors, is that the UI and overall design are not as elegant as they might be. That's especially true of the UI. The camera is awkwardly positioned on the band as well. 

It will be interesting to see how all this lines up with Apple's iWatch (especially pricing), which is expected to be announced on September 10. Google is also working on a smartwatch reportedly.

Making the iPhone 5C Good but Not Too Good

Apple's iPhone launch event is confirmed for September 10. It will take place at Apple's HQ in Cupertino, California. The company is expected to announce multiple devices at the event, including a new iPhone 5S, potentially an iPhone 5C and possibly an iWatch wearable device. There may also be new iPads.

The iPhone 5C is real and may come in a variety of colors (5 is the rumor) -- hence the colorful bubbles in the invitation. The forthcoming 5S is supposed to come in a champagne or gold in addition to traditional black and white. Pricing of these devices is uncertain, though the 5S will likely follow past pricing ($199 with 2-year contract, etc.). 

Some reports have suggested the 5C will cost between $400 and $500 unlocked. Carrier subsidy pricing is TBD. The real question surrounding the 5C is how appealing will it be? How "good" wil it be?

Apple is walking a tightrope.

The 5C is intended to make Apple more competitive in developing markets and at the "lower end" of the market where there's more price sensitivity. If the phone is "good enough" and cheap enough -- does the "C" stand for "cheap" or "China" or "color"? -- it could potentially cannibalize sales of the 5S. But if the phone is not of sufficiently high quality it will fail and Apple's brand will suffer.

I suspect that Apple will include a previous-generation chip in the 5C (perhaps the current 5 chip), whereas the 5S will get a new more powerful processor. There may also be memory limitations with the 5C. However the apps and app ecosystem should be the same.

The primary differentiators will thus likely be price, color, materials (plastic) and processing power/speed. But how does Apple build an attractive product that is competitive but doesn't overshadow its more profitable flagship product? That's the dilemma.