User Experience

Google Becomes More Like Siri, As Siri Becomes More Like Google

It's fascinating to watch Google evolve from a "search engine" into something much more interesting and complex. The rise of mobile, the launch of Google Now, the improvements in voice search and the more recent, conceptual introduction of what Google is calling "conversational search" all point to where search at Google is headed.

The search metaphor is giving way to the personal assistant metaphor. The entry of Siri in the market roughly two years ago was the trigger of the transition.

Google search boss Amit Singhal was deeply enamored of Star Trek as a boy and, like others at Google, has openly fantasized about building the "Star Trek computer." In other words, a computer one could simply speak to naturally and get correct and complete information. 

Google Now, also sometimes called "predictive search," tries to go beyond that purely "conversational" scenario by anticipating user needs and interests based on big data and personal search history (and movements). Google Now is highly imperfect but when it works it's impressive. 

While Google has only recently sought to move in the direction of "personal assistant," Siri has always been an "assistant" but only recently aspired to be a search utility. Siri was explicitly conceived as a tool that would enable the accomplishment of specific tasks and not simply the retrieval and display of information.

As Apple has added more structured data feeds to what Siri can access it has improved -- much of Siri's value for users still comes from controlling the device and initiating calls, texts and emails rather than "searching" -- however the great "Achilles heel" for Siri has been its limited dataset and lack of flexibility. 

Although it wasn't true when Siri was first introduced, Google has now exceeded Siri by bringing its web-search capabilities and into the virtual assistant equation. Google has a much deeper (albeit mostly unstructured) knowledge base to call upon vs. Apple. Thus for numerous questions where Siri didn't have a structured response it would have to default to web search (i.e., Google): "I didn't understand XYZ [query], shall I search the web for XYZ."

Google would then ride to the rescue. In the Google universe it can bring increasingly structured answers to the same user queries but also its full index as a backup. 

With the coming integration of Twitter, Wikipedia and especially Bing into Siri's roster of data sources with iOS7, Apple adds a full web index and much more breadth to what Siri can do without having to hand off to a third party search engine (i.e., Google). And unlike current scenarios where users typically have to explicitly ask Siri to "search the web" to obtain XYZ information, soon they'll just ask for "XYZ" -- and Bing will supply the necessary or desired information.

The deal has potential to dramatically broaden Siri's utility and usage frequency. Equally it could, if successful, significantly increase search query volume coming to Bing from iPhone users. The integration will need to be very "elegant" to win over users, who are accustomed to either using apps or Google in the Safari toolbar to "search the web" on the iPhone. Users will need to be educated about Siri's new capabilities.

The integration of Bing's search capabilities is a "crossing the Rubicon" of sorts for Apple as it declares that comprehensive data and search capabilities are necessary to fully deliver on the promise of the personal-virtual assistant. 

Growing Consumer Interest for In-Store Delivery of Mobile Coupons, Says Study

A new report by comScore shows how mobile and social channels are changing online buying habits and how retailers can benefit in delivering a blend of choices for consumers including mobile coupons.

The study, Pulse of the Online Shopper , notes a variety of flexible options for consumers – 46 percent said they are less likely to comparison shop when using a retailer's mobile app and 44% want the ability to buy online and pick up their purchases in a stores.

Of particular note, consumers are open to communications from retailers on their mobile devices with 47% of shoppers willing to have a retailer to send a coupon to their smartphone when they are in-store or nearby. This trend underscores the potential role of indoor marketing technologies.

comscore_infographic

Regarding mobile channels, the report states:

Mobile is quickly becoming the preferred e-commerce channel as 7 out of 10 online consumers access multi-channel retailers through a digital channel. Of those mobile shoppers, 30% prefer to use a smartphone or tablet. Also, 50% of online shoppers who own a smartphone and nearly 60% who own a tablet make purchases on these devices.

More than 3,000 U.S. consumers were surveyed on their online shopping habits and the report was commissioned by UPS. A copy of the executive summary and white paper can be downloaded here.

Is Windows Already Past "Point of No Return"?

No one should ever bet against Microsoft. But amid a flurry of new Android based "convertables" and tablets (some of which were announced today), Windows is facing a tougher fight than ever. Only the enterprise and Office stand between the company and a dire-looking market.

PC sales are off and it doesn't appear they'll turn around soon. Yet, Microsoft is hoping that its 8.1 Windows update fixes many of the problems and complaints with Windows 8, which have contributed to disappointing sales. Microsoft, with its many billions in quarterly revenues, is clearly the ironic underdog in the new world of mobile computing. 

Redmond got a bit of good news from WPP research subsidiary Kantar Worldpanel ComTech earlier today. The firm found that Windows Phones had gained nearly 2 points since a year ago (however comScore data show much smaller gains). It's not clear, however, whether the needle is really moving for Microsoft given that Windows Phones generate less than 2% of all mobile OS based web traffic in the US. 

Kantar mobile market share data

Source: Kantar Worldpanel

The company's Surface tablets have also been a disappointment thus far. RT starts at $499 and Pro starts at $899. Both are going to need to come down by at least $200 before most consumers will consider them.

ASUS today said it was releasing a 7-inch tablet for $149 (outside the US there will be a 8GB version for the equivalent of $129). ASUS is the maker of the popular Nexus 7. Over time a large percentage of tablet sales will be concentrated in the 7-inch to 8-inch range and those tablets will almost without exception -- the exception being the iPad -- be priced below $200. 

Regardless of how full featured Surface tablets are price is a major driver of purchase behavior.

Accordingly, in response to declining tablet prices and sluggish sales, Microsoft is going to lower its software licensing fees to enable hardware OEMs to bring down prices of their Windows devices. But it may not be enough to boost sales. In addition the absence of a native version Office on the iPad or Android hasn't boosted Surface either. 

One interesting question to ask is whether Microsoft's past success has mostly relied on its ubiquity and near-monopoly status as an operating system (together with Office). If there's even a shred of truth in that question it's a serious problem because once people are no longer "compelled" to buy Windows machines a substantial number of them won't.

The following slide, presented as part of venture capitalist Mary Meeker's semi-annual internet trends report, is very surprising and revealing:

When mobile operating systems are included in the universe of computing platforms, Microsoft now has a minority share (35%). If mobile devices are removed from the equation Microsoft still dominates on the PC. 

In order for Microsoft to gain share in mobile, as well as deliver Windows OS growth, there will need to be some significant quality improvements in the overall UX but equally some meaningful price reductions. Even so, it's probably already too late for Microsoft to regain its former position in the market.  

Lack of Tablet Optimization a Greater Barrier to Retail T-Commerce than Security Fears

In March Harris Interactive conducted a survey on behalf of shopping site TheFind. There were slightly more than 2,000 US adult respondents. Among them 572 respondents owned tablets.

The survey revealed what one might expect: retail shopping and e-commerce are increasingly happening on tablets. However users are often frustrated by websites and checkout experiences that aren't tablet friendly. This trumps payment security as a reason for not conducting t-commerce according to the survey.

Here are the main findings (reflected in the "infographic" on the right): 

  • 87% of tablet shoppers use the devices to browse/search for products online and do price comparison shopping   
  • 71% purchase products on their tablets
  • 41% buy an item on their tablets at least once a month and 12% more often than once a week
  • 37% of tablet shoppers say "they are using them more to shop now than they were 12 months ago"
  • 49% of tablet shoppers report "their biggest pet peeve is that retailers’ websites and apps aren't optimized for tablets"
  • The main reason that people say the tablet isn't their preferred shopping device is because "retailers’ tablet apps/sites don’t offer the same experience as their standard websites" (40% cite this)
  • 35% are frustrated by the checkout process on tablet sites/apps
  • 28% cite security as a reason for not shopping on tablets
  • 68% of tablet owners "would be interested in using a shopping app on their tablets;" however, in a seemingly contradictory finding, consumers tend to visit retailer websites (48%) more than retailer shopping apps (12%)

There were no findings about responsive web design and whether users consider that to be "tablet friendly." In many cases responsive design is not as mobile friendly as a dedicated site.  

In the "retail vertical" more consumers use or turn to to mobile websites than apps. That may be because of a lack of awareness of retailer apps. However the behavior flies in the face of general consumer trends, where 80% of mobile media time is spent in apps vs 20% on the mobile web.  

Survey: 63% of Smartphone Shoppers Would Rather Buy in Physical Stores

Content management software company Kentico recently conducted a mobile-shopping survey (n=300 US adults). The sample size is small and so the results must be viewed cautiously. However there were a few interesting findings. 

Among them, the survey found that 85% of smartphone owners do comparison shopping (products, prices). However "only" 45% do so in stores. A recent report from Nielsen, xAd and Telmetrics argued that only 6% of mobile users "showroomed." Interestingly, most of the Kentico survey respondents (63%) said they would rather buy locally, in a physical store vs. online.

In terms of the mobile user/mobile commerce experience, as might be expected, the usability of websites was a major variable:

Whether or not an online shopper clicks ‘buy’ isn’t solely dependent on products or pricing: 78% of smartphone owners, 75% of tablet owners and 69% of laptop owners say it also comes down to the look and feel of a company’s mobile website . . . Word of mouth (28%), company websites (25%) and in-store experience (18%) weighed most heavily on strengthening or eroding brand affinity.

These respondents felt that PCs and laptops provided a better online shopping experience overall than tablets or smartphones.

Which device provide the best shopping experiences?:

  • 48% (desktop) computers
  • 40% laptops
  • 9% tablets
  • 3% smartphones

A significant minority (44%) of users said that they would never return to websites that featured bad user experiences (not optimized for mobile). This is not a surprise and echoed by other findings already in the market.

Study: Second Screening of TV Now Done by Majority

TV is arguably the lone traditional medium that been able to retain its premium ad rates and audience reach (mostly), while other media have suffered fragmenting audiences and declining ad revenues. But the fact that millions still watch TV doesn't necessarily mean TV advertising has the power and impact it once did.

A recent study from ad network InMobi, involving 15,000 users from 14 global markets including China, Europe, the US and several African countries, argues that consumers now spend more time with mobile media than TV (there are competing data that show TV is still on top). 

The survey found TV to still be the most influential single medium, followed by PC/online and then mobile. Other traditional media lagged behind in their influence over purchase decisions. The following reflects the percentage of survey respondents who reported that the medium "significantly influenced" their purchase behavior: 

  • TV -- 48%
  • Online/laptop -- 43%
  • Mobile -- 40% 
  • Magazines/newspapers -- 31%
  • In-store ads -- 18%
  • Outdoor/billboard -- 11%
  • Radio -- 10%  

The data above are not broken out by country. Undoubtedly there would be variation, potentially significant variation, accordingly.

With respect to TV, however, users are now widely "second screening" -- that is, diverting their attention from the programming and advertising to focus on some activity happening on their smartphones or tablets. Two-thirds of the TV audience is now doing this on a global basis, with younger users (<35) being the most likely to multiscreen (graphic above).

What are they doing on those second screens? The survey says they're on social networks or otherwise messaging friends (see graphic below). Note that a substantial number are "searching for information about products" they saw on TV. This represents both a new opportunity for brands and TV advertisers generally. 

Marketers now must be conscious that a significant portion, indeed the majority, of the TV audience is going to "look away" at their smartphones or tablets. Marketers must have a mobile optimized presence on search and social media. But beyond simple presence, TV advertisers need to make it easy for mobile users at home to find their products or services easily (the many hashtags used in Super Bowl TV ads is one example). 

TV advertisers can drive email sign-ups/opt-ins, app downloads as well direct purchases with the right offers and TV-ad messaging. In addition, with coordination and planning mobile can be used to measure TV ad effectiveness as well.

The larger point is that fewer and fewer TV viewers (especially those under 35) are watching TV or online video without a mobile device nearby. That allows them to either take action on ads they see -- or totally ignore them. 

Survey: 52% of Recent Travel Booked in Mobile vs. 48% on PC

Location-based and WiFi ad network JiWire is out with its Q1 insights report. The document contains a range of information drawn from surveys of mobile users who access the internet at mostly JiWire-powered WiFi hotspots. This quarter the company zeroes in on behavior in the travel vertical and examines multi-screen activity and cross-platform conversions accordingly.  

We know that travel is a very mobile-centric vertical with lots of apps for smartphones and tablets. And JiWire confirms extensive multi-device usage for travel research and purchases:  

  • Almost 50% of active mobile consumers are using smartphones & tablets for travel research
  • While laptops remain the preferred device for travel ... 27% [are] already saying they use their smartphone to make travel-related purchases. 
  • Nearly 50% of consumers will spend $500 or more in a mobile-travel booking context
  • 52% of travel booked within the past three months was on a smartphone or tablet vs. 48% on laptops

Next comes a fascinating chart showing the multi-screen purchase process in travel (a microcosm of consumer behavior more generally). Google documented this phenomenon previously in research showing that 90% of consumers move “sequentially” between different screens throughout the same day.

Below is the JiWire chart showing how consumers start on one device and often convert on another:

Below is the comparable Google chart:

Google found, generically, that more people started research on a smartphone than any other device category. This is generally consistent with the Nielsen-xAd-Telmetrics data released today. However, in travel laptops still command the majority of activity according to JiWire -- but not by much. As mentioned above, more travel booked in the past 90 days has come from mobile than the PC (52% to 48%). 

JiWire also investigated what variables influenced travel-purchase decisions and how those purchases were researched and completed on mobile devices. Leisure travelers were more impacted by discounts; business travelers were influenced by loyalty programs and company policies. (This finding has obvious mobile marketing implications.)

As reflected in the chart above, travel aggregator apps (e.g., Kayak) and branded airline apps (e.g., United) were more often used than mobile websites for travel bookings. This makes sense because the user experience is likely to be better and credit card and other personal information may be stored, expediting the checkout process. People who are required to fill out lots of fields, including credit card information are less likely to complete those transactions in mobile. 

Another factor impacting the findings regarding app vs. mobile usage is the probability that many of the people surveyed are frequent travelers and are more likely to have apps on their mobile devices than occasional leisure travelers who may be less aware of their app options. 

Study: As Many As 54 Million May Be Mainly Mobile Retail Shoppers

The latest installment of "Mobile Path to Purchase" research from Nielsen, xAd and Telmetrics drills down into retail-shopping attitudes and behaviors. As with the broader study, previously released, the findings show a significant percentage of users are doing shopping research exclusively on mobile devices. 

The Mobile Path to Purchase study is in its second year. The findings are based on an online survey of 2,000 US smartphone and tablet owners and “observed consumer behaviors from Nielsen’s Smartphone Analytics Panel of 6,000 Apple and Android users.”

According to the report, 42% of smartphone and tablet owners did not consult PCs at all as part of their retail shopping research. The broader study found the overall number to be 46%, who didn't use PCs. This is a staggering data point in my opinion.

Nielsen mobile retail shopping

Source: Nielsen, xAd, Telmetrics Mobile Path to Purchase study 2013

If we extrapolate these "mobile only" numbers, assuming they're representative, we're talking about a potential audience of perhaps 54 million in the US who may be relying primarily or exclusively on smartphones and tablets to shop.  

Other noteworthy findings from the study include: 

  • High conversions: More than 55% of mobile retail shoppers ultimately make a purchase
  • Immediacy:30% of smartphone owners and 25% of tablet users sought to make purchases within one hour. However a larger percentage of tablet owners (41%) "take a month or longer to make a purchase."
  • Where conversions happen: 77% of smartphone-based purchase activity happen locally, in stores. Tablet conversions are more evenly distributed: 39% in stores, 32% on PCs and 24% on tablets themselves.

The retail report also seeks to debunk a couple of "myths" about mobile usage. The first is that smartphones are used predominantly "on the go" and/or near the point-of-sale. The study found that smartphones were used throughout the pre-purchase research process and that the largest percentage of use was in fact "at the start" of shopping rather than near the end. 

Nielsen mobile shopping behavior

Source: Nielsen, xAd, Telmetrics Mobile Path to Purchase study 2013

The second "myth" debunked (though not quite as easily) is the notion that most smartphone owners are "showrooming" whenever they shop. The report says that showrooming (in-store price-comparison shopping) is relatively rare and practiced by a very small minority of users:

Only 6 percent of smartphone users conducted their most recent mobile retail search in-store . . . Mobile shoppers are in fact using their devices for comparison-shopping before and after an in-store visit. 

However previous survey findings from the Pew Internet Project and Google argue that significant numbers of smartphone owners do compare prices while in stores. For example, Pew's research found that 72% of smartphone owners used their devices while in retail stores. And the more recent Google-sponsored study reported the top in-store smartphone activities were the following:

  1. Price comparisons
  2. Finding offers and promotions
  3. Finding locations of other stores
  4. Finding hours

What the Nielsen-xAd-Telmetrics data argue is that most of this type of activity occurs before or after someone goes into a store. It may be that the wording of the questions influenced these results, though it may not be possible to entirely reconcile the conflicting findings. Regardless, the more important point is that smartphones and tablets are heavily used by consumers as part of their shopping research.

Accordingly, retailers that are not aggressively addressing the mobile audience are completely missing huge numbers of people and potential sales. 

Google Makes Downpayment on the 'Star Trek Computer'

At the Google developer conference in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, Google demonstrated "conversational search" on the PC. It was one of the clear highlights of the nearly three-hour keynote. What the demo showed was Google's voice search (and audio read back) capability together with "context awareness" of previous query results.

For years Google has very self consciously been trying to replicate the "Star Trek computer." Now Google is making some meaningful strides toward that objective. 

In the demonstration at the Google event, we saw the capacity to search for a person, place or thing and then do follow-up searches using pronouns or otherwise building on the previous query. The Google representative spoke to the computer and planned a trip to the Northern California beach community of Santa Cruz. She spoke queries to her PC and got voice-response answers from the Google "assistant."

This kind of "context awareness" or "conversational" capability is present to varying degrees in Siri today (and other "assistants") as well as other "AI" driven call center and customer service solutions. 

Following the lead of Siri and then going beyond it, Google is transforming conventional search into a personal assistant experience. This is the clear future direction of the market. Google's voice search and Google Now information or answer "cards" illustrate this trajectory. As of late yesterday some of those same capabilities have been brought over to the Chrome browser on the PC.   

If users update their Chrome browsers to the latest version they'll find a prominent new voice-search experience on Google.com (it isn't yet available from the URL bar search). Many of the answers or results are "read back" to you (where there's an answer card or Knowledge Graph entry). However this doesn't happen all the time. And in my quick testing, the ability to follow up with secondary searches using pronouns and queries referencing previous results was very limited. 

Still, the spoken read-back (as in mobile search) is fun and as Google develops this contextual and conversational capability further you may be inclined to start having more verbal interactions with your computer. 

Apple Bests Others but Loses Satisfaction Points, Samsung Gains

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has released new data on mobile phone satisfaction. Apple (iPhone) comes out on top, as it does in the JD Power surveys. However the iPhone has lost two satisfaction points, while Samung jumped seven points, since last year.

The iPhone may be losing ground because Android devices are being released more frequently with a range of feature improvements and form factors. For example, the iPhone 5's screen, which was enlarged vs. the 4S, looks puny by comparison to some of the Samsung devices.  

Most other competitors on the ACSI list gained vs. last year except LG, HTC and BlackBerry. Immediately below are the ACSI rankings. 

 

For comparison purposes, here are the JD Power rankings. After Apple, Nokia came in second beating Samsung. Motorola, second in ACSI's list above, was fourth overall in the JD Power rankings. 

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 6.33.48 AM 

The ACSI people will tell you that satisfaction ratings matter because they're broadly predictive of future sales performance. I accept that as sound. However the data from year one have not always correctly predicted market share or sales performance in year two. One case in point is online search, where ratings declines for Google have not translated into market share loses and vice versa for other competitors.

It's also worth noting that the satisfaction rankings differences between JD Power and ACSI are probably the result of a focus on different criteria and different questions to consumers. Thus both lists may not be entirely complete measures of consumer satisfaction. However the iPhone did top both lists, which is significant. 

Google Checkout Is Dead, Long Live Google Wallet

The relationship between Google Wallet and Google Checkout has always been a bit confusing. Essentially Checkout was Google's PayPal competitor for merchant payment processing. It has been around for roughly seven years. It never really got traction, in part because Google didn't aggressively promote it.

Google Wallet is Google's mobile payments platform, the major component of which has been in-store NFC payments. It also hasn't seen much adoption, though that may change. It also can be used to store coupons and offers. 

Some time ago Google merged Checkout into Wallet. This was a bid to unify the two products. The pitch to consumers was "one wallet for online and in-store shopping." And that's still the pitch. It's the merchant side of things that has changed.  

Yesterday Google announced that it was shuttering Checkout (I thought the product name had gone away). The company said it will continue processing payments online until November of this year. Thereafter merchants will need a new payment processor. Google is sending people to Braintree, Shopify and Freshbooks. 

If merchants do have current payment processing Google is encouraging them to apply for what it calls "Google Wallet Instant Buy." The idea is to remove friction from mobile buying by eliminating the need to enter credit card data and other related information (e.g., billing/shipping address). The solution is directed at Android app developers. (I suspect Apple will eventually do something similar with iTunes.) 

Entering credit card data and related shipping/billing information on a smartphone is a major barrier to so-called "m-commerce." More than 90% of mobile users abandon shopping carts, partly for this reason. Security is another concern for many. However if Google Wallet Instant Buy is widely adopted by Android developers (there are no additional fees or changes from Google) it could have a major positive effect on mobile buying. Stored credit card data in one of the factors that has enabled Amazon to become the mobile commerce leader.

Google has also introduced a Google Wallet Objects API, which allows merchants to integrate their loyalty programs into Wallet and more broadly promote them to Google users. And, as we previously indicated, Google has also introduced the easiest possible P2P send money solution through Google Wallet (via email attachment).  

Google has thrown in the towel around merchant payment processing (Checkout). But it has introduced pretty compelling new features for consumers and merchants that should make Wallet a much stronger and more broadly useful product.  

Can "Send Money" By Email Reinvigorate Google Wallet?

Yesterday at the Google developer conference, Google I/O, in San Francisco Google relatively quietly launched a new feature of Google Wallet -- send money by email. It represents, hands down, the simplest way to transfer money between people. And it could become wildly successful provided that Google promotes the service and explains how it works. 

It requires a Google Wallet account and an associated payment method (credit card, bank account). It doesn't require a Gmail account to send or receive. However it's easiest if there is a Gmail account. Gmail is the most popular webmail service now on a global basis. 

Google was reportedly going to announce a plastic payment card at I/O but that was scuttled at the last minute (apparently because of a poorly functioning demo for CEO Larry Page). Competitor PayPal offers a physical payment card for in-store usage, linked to PayPal payment methods (credit card, bank account). It's not clear how widely it's used. My suspicion is not at all.

Google's payment card was a renewed bid for relevance and adoption for Google Wallet. It may still launch after the "bugs are worked out." Its NFC-based mobile wallet has seen limited adoption and usage. And awareness of Google Wallet is well behind PayPal. 

Instead of the plastic card Google announced "send money." Essentially users just send money as they would an email attachment.  Users select the "attach money" icon in Gmail (not yet available but rolling out soon in the US to adults 18 and over), indicate the amount desired and the "from account" via a pull-down menu (credit card, bank account, Google Play balance). Then hit send. 

Sending money via email is currently only available on the PC. However users can send money from Google Wallet directly on their phones.

It's free for users to receive money. And it's free to send from your bank account. Sending a payment from a credit or debit card will trigger a 2.9% charge, just as if you had used your card in the "real world" at a point of sale. Google says it also offers "Purchase Protection ... against eligible unauthorized payments."

This is a pretty compelling way to send money, although there are a few adoption and potential trust issues that must be overcome. If Google can do that and educate people about the benefits it could become a huge success and make Google Wallet a hub for mobile payments vs. its current status as an "also-ran."

The Sexy-Shocking Number from Nielsen's Mobile Path to Purchase Study

Earlier today xAd put out its quarterly insights report. There were a number of interesting findings and datapoints. The "headline" was that the number of national-advertiser campaigns using more precise geotargeting (more specific than DMA, city or ZIP) had more than doubled over the course of the past 12 months. 

In a very general way this mirrors the movement of the market and the growing sophistication and use of location targeting by marketers. 

xAd Q1 data

There was also a nice case study involving Pinkberry's introduction of a new line of greek yogurt. Pinkberry's objective was to build awareness and drive visits to local stores. It used xAd enhanced geofencing to target users and show ads within 1 mile of store locations. The were a couple of discounts and incentives (coupons) associated with the product launch. 

The display ad clicked-through to a "dynamic landing page specific to the nearest location which features these offers as well as an option to save the coupon, obtain the address, phone number, map, directions and/or more information." According to the case study materials, in two weeks the campaign goals were exceeded by 2X. 

As you can see below, the ad creative was very polished. But the success of the campaign also illustrates how effective the combination of local relevance and offers can be. Indeed, xAd's reported average campaign metrics (for both search and display) outperform the industry averages. 

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 8.52.01 AM

More interesting than the findings in the insights report were the findings released last week in the 2013 US Mobile Path-to-Purchase study, undertaken in cooperation with Telmetrics and Nielsen, which conducted the research.

The Mobile Path to Purchase study is in its second year. The findings are based on an online survey of 2,000 US smartphone and tablet owners and “observed consumer behaviors from Nielsen’s Smartphone Analytics Panel of 6,000 Apple and Android users.”

There were a ton of data that came out of this report, and will continue to be released over time. However the single "blockbuster" finding is that across a range of purchase categories (i.e., Finance, Retail, Insurance, Convenience/Gas) 46% of survey respondents said they relied exclusively on their mobile devices (smartphones and/or tablets) in conducting pre-purchase research online. 

Accordingly, nearly half of the respondents did not use or consult PCs -- at all. I was initially shocked by this. I don't have detailed demographic information about who these people were beyond the fact that they skew younger (18 - 34). But this is a huge finding and one that should scare the stuffing out of any brand or advertiser that isn't actively pursuing a mobile marketing strategy. 

PayPal Log-in Takes Aim at Social Log-ins, Could Be Huge for "M-Commerce"

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.

Q1-2013-Social-Login-Trend

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. 

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 7.53.36 AM

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.

Not Just 'Haters': Facebook Home Getting Mostly Negative Reviews

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. 

 Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 10.13.25 AM

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. 

Google Brings Virtual Assistant to iOS 'Now'

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. 

Google Now comparison iOS vs. Android

Source: Google

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?

  • I visit Google.­com to search: 44.9 percent
  • I use search in the Safari toobar: 26.4 percent
  • I use the Google mobile app: 19.3 percent
  • I use Siri to search the web: 11.1 percent
  • I use Bing and/or Yahoo: 6.6 percent

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. 

Is Apple's Resistance to Larger Screens 'Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good'?

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.  

What Retail Can Learn from the Hotel Industry about Using Technology

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. 

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 2.31.12 PM

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. 

Mobile Payments Growing but Still More Hype than Reality

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?

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 1.53.18 PM

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? Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.02.33 PM

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?
Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.02.44 PM

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. 

Yahoo Quickly Puts Summly Buy to Use with Updated iOS App

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):

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 9.23.31 AM

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. 

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 9.29.22 AM

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.