New Entrants in Indoor Location: Sensorberg and Datzing

The buzz around iBeacons continues this week with a couple new hardware and software technology vendors entering the market for indoor location.

Hardware startup Sensorberg, based in Berlin, Germany, has secured $1 million in funding from Technologie Holding GmbH and undisclosed angel investors. Sensorberg offers various packages to retailers that combine setting up Beacon sensors in stores to deliver mobile marketing campaigns and location features via software developer kits and management dashboards. The prices range from as low as $120 (€89) that includes 3 mini-beacons and an SDK to connect apps to an unlimited package that offers developer resources and enterprise support.

Founded in 2013, Sensorberg began as a startup in the Microsft Ventures Accelerator in Berlin and plans to use the new funding to further develop its platform and build an extensive iBeacon network.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, CA, Datzing is positioning itself as a new competitor to Apple's iBeacon with an Android platform for indoor location technology. Profiled this week at The Verge, Datzing is a software-based startup with patent-pending technology to turn a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi device into a beacon. Datzing doesn’t require purchasing any special hardware to set up an access point. The company plans to launch an Android beta app in March and doesn't rule out the possibility of an iOS option down the line.

While iBeacon is getting more than its fair share of press -- notably, a partnership between ShopKick and American Eagle (AE) Outfitters to outfit 100 U.S. stores with iBeacons and Apple's chain-wide deployment of iBeacons last year -- the push for in-store marketing and indoor location is still in its infancy. This year should present a good opportunity to see how the market plays out.

Pay with iTunes: Apple (Finally) Declares Intention to Enter Mobile Payments

For the past several years there's been speculation about whether and when Apple might throw its hat into the mobile payments ring. A new patent application (filed in Q3 2012 and discovered by Patently Apple) indicates that Apple is ready to move and introduce an iWallet. 

Here's the abstract, which indicates use of two or more technologies to enable the transaction:

A commercial transaction method is disclosed. The method first establishes a secure link over a first air interface by a purchasing device. This secure link is between the purchasing device and a point of sale device. The method further identifies a second air interface, which is different from the first air interface, and the second air interface is used to conduct a secure commercial transaction.

Multiple technologies are discussed, including Bluetooth Low Energy (behind iBeacons), near-field communications (NFC) and RFID The failure to incorporate NFC into the iPhone was regarded generally as a rejection of the technology by Apple in favor of others (e.g., BLE). However the patent application suggests that future iPhones (and iPads) would potentially be compatible with it.  

Apple's failure to build NFC into the iPhone is one reason it has stalled in the US. However, as the patent application suggests, NFC in the US may not be dead after all. We'll see.

The precise technologies and methodology described in the application are less important than the existence of the application itself. Mobile payments for offline services or goods are starting to happen but generally not in a "horizontal" context. They're happening today in very specific scenarios (e.g., Uber, Starbucks, parking apps, dining). Google Wallet and carrier-backed Isis, which are broad "horizontal" payments platforms, have largely failed. 

Given its installed base of users and credit cards on file Apple could potentially spark widespread adoption of payments by consumers. Apple has more than 600 million consumer credit cards registered. That's quite a bit more than even Amazon and more than PayPal as well.

The payments segment will consolidate in the next 12 to 24 months and there will be a number of additional acquisitions by the major players for technology or to remove competitors from the market. 

Ultimately mobile payments -- paying with smartphones for goods or services in the physical world -- will shake out as follows: mass-market/horizontal mobile wallets dominated by a few major players: potentially Apple, Amazon, PayPal, potentially Square and maybe Google. Banks are a wild card. 

Otherwise individual apps (including retailers) will offer to store consumer credit card information for faster checkout or frictionless offline payments. But the payments giants will also likely be options within these app/vertical contexts as well (e.g, PayPal, pay with Amazon, pay with iTunes). 

iBeacon Surging but a Hybrid Approach to Indoor Location Will Prevail

In partnership with ShopKick, American Eagle (AE) Outfitters is outfitting 100 US stores with iBeacons to power deal notifications when shoppers enter stores. ShopKick also has a similar but much more limited partnership with Macys.

Right at-the-door notifications are the full extent of the ShopKick-AE indoor marketing functionality. But later it will become more precise by area or zone within the store. 

Outside of Apple's own chain-wide deployment of iBeacons this is the largerst and most visible iBeacon launch to date. Clearly Apple's credibility and support of BLE and iBeacons is propelling the technology. However it's important to point out that iBeacons don't work with older iPhones and it only work with a few Android phones currently.

Over time that will change. But iBeacon is not a stand-alone or complete solution. 

The rise of iBeacon argues that it will potentially be one of several "winning" indoor location technologies. But there won't be a single technology standard that emerges. Retailers and others will need to employ a layared or hybrid approach to provide store coverage and accuracy. 

WiFi and closed circuit TV are the foundational in-store analytics and location technologies -- but WiFi in particular. Acousitc, LED lighting and magnetic may also make gains as retailers and venue owners come to see they need multiple approaches for success. For example, Rouse Properties has adopted acoustic technology from Sonic Notify to power indoor location awareness and marketing within its network of 34 malls in the US. 

While indoor analytics are driving the market, companies are quickly stepping up with consumer-facing solutions -- such as ShopKick-AE. And while consumers widely use their smartphones in stores and are generally interested in things such as deals and personalization, retailers will need to be careful about annoying or spamming consumers with too many messages. 

For example, research from ISACA suggests that an education process and gradual roll out of indoor marketing are in order. Too much, too soon may have the opposite of the desired effect:

targeted marketing 1

Half of Americans Own Tablets or E-Readers

We've reached a potent new mobile milestone: half of Americans own tablets or e-readers. That's according to new data from the Pew Research Center. 

Specifically Pew says that 42% of American adults now own tablets and 32% own e-readers. Some own both. Pew says its survey was based on a representative sample of 1,005 adults (18 and over). It was conducted in early January -- so after the holiday.  

Pew tablet numbers

The iPad is still the dominant tablet, driving roughly 76% of all North American tablet traffic according to ad network Chitika. The following traffic-share figures were captured just after the holiday:  

  • iPad: 76.1%
  • Kindle: 9.4%
  • Samsung: 5.9% 
  • Microsoft Surface: 2.3%
  • Google Nexus:  2.0%
  • Other: 4.4% 

There are roughly 242 million US adults according to census data. If we can extrapolate the Pew survey data to the entire US population of adults it would mean that there are roughly 102 million tablets and 77 million e-readers in the market, owned by 121 million adults.

Notwithstanding some anomalous comScore data, the overwhelming body of evidence is that tablets are much more commonly used for e-commerce purchases than smartphones. Consumers shop on smartphones but much more commony buy on tablets. 

Tablets will out-ship PCs this year. Pew says its survey revealed that 75% of US adults own PCs (desktops or laptops). That number is flat.

We may reach a point in late 2015 when there are an eqivalent number of tablets and PCs in the US market. The web design and marketing implications of this are obvious. But when one combines the number of smartphones and tablets in the market, they exceed the total number of PCs already. 

Grocery Stores on Vanguard of Indoor Location Adoption

We anticipate that grocery stores will be on the forefront of indoor location and especially indoor or place-based marketing. They have enormous amounts of data about their customers (via loyalty programs), they've got mobile apps, increasingly sophisticated email marketing and brand client-advertisers that want to influence in-store shoppers. 

Shopping lists are the most common in-store smartphone use case in grocery stores. The second most common is seeking coupons (often from grocery store apps). Accordingly the indoor consumer smartphone usage in grocery stores is already well established. 

All of the above variables represent a potent combination and one that probably means we'll see much faster and more aggressive adoption of indoor location and marketing than even in other retail segments.

Accordingly we were struck by the announcement earlier this week that inMarket was rolling out iBeacon-powered indoor location in Giant Eagle and Safeway grocery stores in three markets: San Francisco, Seattle and Cleveland Ohio. The company says that its iBeacons will be in many hundreds of stores by the end of the year. 

Most media outlets covered the "iBeacon's continuing momentum" angle. Indeed, iBeacons are small, cheap to install and are backed by Apple. However we're at least as interested in the grocery store adoption angle. 

The video (below) introducing inMarket's "mobile to mortar program" showcases a range of use cases for its iBeacon offering: 

  • In-store use of shopping lists
  • Nearby coupon notification
  • Loyalty points based on in-store product visits/browsing (ShopKick like)  

Point Inside is also very active in the grocery space and has a number of advanced implementations in market. We'll be presenting some of these types of case studies at Place 2014 in New York in June. 

inMarket Mobile to Mortar iBeacon Platform Capabilities Spot from Sohrab Pirayesh on Vimeo.

Location Analytics Provider Euclid Throws Down Gauntlet, Makes Product Free

Euclid is one of the better known indoor-analytics providers in a new but increasingly competitive and crowded segment. There are well over 150 companies involved directly or indirectly in "indoor location," most of which have some sort of analytics component.

While some companies are closely identified with a particular technology (e.g., Estimote with BLE), most companies can use or do use multiple technologies to gain access to indoor smartphone positioning. It's not unusual to find companies using at least two or three technologies such as WiFi + BLE. Euclid still relies on WiFi exclusively but will likely be expanding in the future to include BLE (assuming it continues to gain momentum). 

This is comparable to how outdoor positioning and mapping relies on GPS, cell tower and WiFi triangulation as a hybrid approach to compensate for the limitations of each technology.  

Today Euclid took a bold step by introducing a free indoor analytics product aimed at the mid-market (e.g., specialty retailers). It's called Euclid Express and it's mostly a self-service offering. Euclid co-founder Will Smith told me that during the beta period his company has enrolled more than 400 new customers. Competitors will undoubtedly see it as a "land grab." 

The product assumes an existing WiFi "infrastructure" in the store locations. If not Euclid will provide a low-cost WiFi set up.

The objective of Euclid Express is to remove friction and barriers to adoption -- including price. It offers a range of indoor analytics data, including:  

  • Average duration of shopper visits
  • Number of unique visitors
  • Daypart concentration of visits
  • Shopper recency and frequency

All this data is provided in real-time. 

Euclid's advanced product has more features and costs $100 per month per store location. The Euclid Express dashboard offers users the option to upgrade to the advanced product. Euclid's Smith also touts his company's privacy practices (anonymous, aggregate data) and argues that privacy is now a product differentiator for the company. 

Below is video from the Place Conference in October: Digital Analytics for the Real World. 

Study: Push Notifications Significantly Boost App Engagement, Retention

Push notifications and mobile marketing platform Urban Airship released data last week that shows how push messaging can boost engagement and app-user retention. The company, which provides notifications functionality for publishers and app developers, compared how opted-in push messaging users behaved vs. those who had not elected to receive notifications in six verticals.

Those verticals were: retail, media, entertainment, gambling, sports and games. The study covered 2,400 apps and more than 500 million push messages during a six month period. At a high level Urban Airship found:

  • Users who receive push notifications open apps more frequently and are much better retained
  • Push messaging drives higher average monthly app opens per user

The company also reported that on average just under half of app users opted-in to receive push notifications. Though this is logical and may be intuitive, this is the first time the impact of push notifications has been documented empirically to my knowledge. 

The engagement and retention differences among those who received notifications vs. app users who did not varied by industry. But in all cases engagement and retention were boosted, sometimes dramatically. 

It may be that those opting-in were more favorably inclined toward the publisher or app and thus were predisposed to be more engaged with the content. However I think it's beyond dispute that push notifications, if used judiciously and correctly, can boost app engagement.  

The problem is that most requests to allow notifications come immediately upon download and often before someone has had an opportunity to see the value of an app or of notifications. I routinely opt out because I fear they'll be abused by publishers and I don't want to be constantly interrupted. 

Publishers, retailers and marketers should do a better job of explaining the benefits of turning on push messages for the end and perhaps not request an opt-in immediately upon download. It would also be interesting to know, for the 50%+ who did not opt-in, what were their thoughts and rationales.

Facebook's Remarkable Mobile Growth Curve

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting overview piece on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's evolution and maturation as a CEO. One of the most amazing aspects of Facebook's post-IPO growth and "turn around" has been mobile. In a little over a year the company has gone from less than $100 million to more than $800 million in mobile ad revenues.

"Taking Facebook public and reshaping it around mobile phones forced him [Zuckerberg] to grow up," assert unnamed sources in the article. The WSJ credits Zuckerberg individually with driving the transformation of Facebook's mobile business though an increasing focus on the bottom line. 

In Q2 2012 Facebook reported mobile ad revenue of roughly $69 million against overall ad revenue of more than $990 million. In Q3 2013 (the most recent quarter available), Facebook advertising revenue was $1.8 billion. Mobile delivered 49% of that amount or approximately $882 million.

Facebook said in Q3 it had 728 million daily active users and 1.19 billion monthly active users, up 18 percent. Monthly active mobile users totaled 874 million on a global basis and mobile daily active users came in at 507 million.

When Facebook reports Q4 2013 revenue it's certain that mobile will account for more than 50% of total ad revenue. Overall, in 2013, it's likely that Facebook will have made about $2 billion in mobile ad revenue globally. 

The 'Battle for the Connected Car' Begins in Earnest

For at least a decade analysts and car makers have been discussing, debating and forecasting telematics. Until this point, however, telematics has mostly been about in-dash navigation. More recently, with Microsoft Sync and similar inititives, we've seen a move to integrate speech and smartphone-like app experiences into in-dash "infotainment" systems.

Apple, Microsoft and now Google are trying to expand their reach into the "connected car." This year's CES has featured a number of auto-related announcements. Among them -- and arguably the most significant -- is the Google-led "Open Automotive Alliance" (OAA). With the OAA Google seeks to bring Android into the car in a deep way: 

The OAA is aimed at accelerating auto innovation with an approach that offers openness, customization and scale, key tenets that have already made Android a familiar part of millions of people's lives. This open development model and common platform will allow automakers to more easily bring cutting-edge technology to their drivers, and create new opportunities for developers to deliver powerful experiences for drivers and passengers in a safe and scalable way.

One can imagine that if the initiative expands and succeeds it will boost Android generally and become a new channel for Google services (i.e., Gmail, Google Maps, Music, Google Play) and advertising.

Early members of the OAA, which mirrors the earlier Google-led Open Handset Alliance, include Audi, GM, Hyundai and NVIDIA. Microsoft currently works with Ford and Toyota via its Sync system. And in 2012 Apple announced partnerships to bring Siri into the car with a number of car makers, including BMW, GM, Mercedes, Audi, Toyota and Honda, among a few others.

It's not clear to me from a technical standpoint whether auto OEMs can built multiple operating system compatibility into their vehicles or whether they'll have to bet on one. However there's much at stake in this "battle for the dash." 

The operating systems that "win the car" will see a boost all around. For example, if Android beats Apple and Microsoft in the car it will help Android more broadly in the market, or vice-versa. As in-dash systems become richer and more complete, people will want their devices and apps to be compatible and accessible in the car.

The "battle for the car" also mirrors the so-called "battle for the living room" among these tech titans. It's really a battle of operating systems and ecosystems across multiple platforms. 

Pizza Hut: Half of 'Online' Orders Now Come from Mobile

It's amazing to think that Pizza Hut has been doing online ordering for 20 years. That would mean Pizza Hut took its first online order in 1994 -- way ahead of the curve. And when it comes to mobile Pizza Hut again appears to be ahead of the market.

Today, according to Pizza-industry publication Pizza Marketplace, roughly 30% of all Pizza Hut orders come from the internet. But half of those are now coming from mobile devices, with momentum favoring mobile (smartphones + tablets) over the PC. 

The Pizza Marketplace interview is with Pizza Hut's Kevin Fish, senior e-commerce manager. He sums up the company's attitude toward mobile as follows: 

It's important that we're where our customers are and that our experience meets and exceeds their needs. The app offers us the opportunity for a highly engaging and personalized experience. Meeting our consumers at their point of need is become more and more important as technology continues to advance. Our opportunity now was to provide the best experience in the industry with enhancements that meet those consumer demands.

Pizza Hut is using its app to not only deliver services but to engage and cement the loyalty of its users. The company also uses location to deliver specific local promotions and offers that aren't necessarily available in all markets nationally.

I'm not a fan of Pizza Hut pizza but the company really has the right attitude toward multi-channel marketing and engagement -- with its mobile app (and all the personalization it allows) now at the center of its "online ordering" strategy.