User Experience

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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?

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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.

Will It or Won't It? Microsoft's iOS-Office Dilemma

Microsoft is in a tough spot: Windows Phones aren't selling well outside of a couple of EU markets and data indicate that neither is Windows 8. Windows RT and Surface tablets have so far been a major disappointment as well. While it's way to early to "count Microsoft out," clearly the company is in trouble as mobile internet access and mobile computing accelerate at the expense of the PC. 

There have been persistent rumors that Microsoft was bringing a version of Office to iOS and specifically the iPad. You can use Microsoft's Office 365 cloud-based product on the iPhone or iPad. (I have not.) But the experience will not be as rich as with a native app. 

There are two theories about why Office has not come to iOS as a native app: Microsoft won't pay the 30% "tax" to be in the iTunes App Store and, perhaps more significantly, if Office came to the iPad (or Android tablets) it would undermine the sales outlook for Microsoft's own Surface tablets -- currently the only tablet that offers Office. 

Microsoft's compromise may be to offer Office 365 through the browser to iPad users. However by not offering a native app it risks ceding the centrality of  Office to a range of apps. Offering a native-app Office would potentially cloud the future of its own tablet devices, which may not be so bright anyway.  

Low-Cost Tablets to Accelerate Decline of PC Market

Last week there was a Reuters report asserting the next Google-ASUS Nexus 7 will have an improved screen and may cost as little as $149. The current entry level Nexus 7 is $199. Reuters also said that if it's not the new Nexus 7 than the existing tablet's price may be reduced. The current entry level Kindle Fire from Amazon (with ads) costs $159.

As this all indicates there's a kind of "race to the bottom" going on that may radically depress margins on Android tablets. Furthermore we're likely to see a decent $99 7-inch Android tablet in the next year.

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 7.19.32 AM

The growth of smartphones and the emergence of these reasonable-quality low-cost tablets such as the Nexus 7 are accelerating a trend toward mobile device adoption at the expense of PCs and further extending PC replacement cycles. In developing countries PCs will likely never reach penetration levels seen in North America or Europe.

In its latest device forecast Gartner joins the party, affirming what we already know about PC erosion in favor of smartphones and tablets on a global basis. In its projection Gartner sees Android as the big winner, effectively replacing Microsoft as the dominant OS on tablets and smartphones.  

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 7.02.46 AM

The particulars and timing of this forecast will undoubtedly turn out to be wrong. However the direction of the forecast is probably accurate. With its resistance to matching price competition (probably wisely) Apple iPads will not reach tablet penetration levels of low-cost Android based tablets (though the company is considering a lower-cost iPhone).

So far, Microsoft's "2.0" efforts in mobile, Windows Phone and Surface tablets, have only made modest gains in selected markets. However Microsoft still makes money from Android OEMs via patent licensing fees. If it has to rely on licensing the company's future will be pretty grim.

If these figures are anywhere near accurate tablets are poised to become the primary computing (and advertising) platform. Yet we're likely to see quasi-converged devices (i.e., tablets with keyboards like the Surface Pro) become laptop replacements in the near term.  

The Outlook for 'Home' Screen Advertising

Yesterday Facebook introduced its homescreen Android makeover-takeover strategy: Facebook Home. It comes both fully integrated into a phone (HTC First) and as an app download. As you know it replaces the standard Android home and lock screen experiences with a proprietary Facebook environment. 

Mark Zuckerberg and others at the press event yesterday confirmed that there would eventually be ads in its "Cover Feed." Cover Feed is the new photo-centric dynamic feed that constitutes much of the experience of Home. It includes Facebook content and select "Open Graph" partner content (e.g., Foursquare, Instagram). 

Facebook stressed that it was working to make sure that any ads that eventually do appear (probably within a year, depending on adoption) would be consistent with the aesthetic experience and of sufficiently high quality. We're starting to see more ads in the mobile news feed that are of, shall we say, uneven quality. 

However Cover Feed ads have the potential to be quite effective. If they're scarce and if Facebook uses strict standards they could become the equivalent of "Super Bowl ads for mobile." That of course will largely depend on how widely Facebook Home is adopted. There's early survey data that suggests limited demand -- but surveys don't always tell the whole story and can be contradicted by actual behavior. 

In the past there have been several startups that sought to offer home or idle screen ads on mobile devices. All failed for various reasons (not enough scale, insufficient ad quality, limited advertiser demand/adoption). Today, to my knowledge, Amazon's Kindle (multiple devices) is the only place where such ads exist at any kind of scale. The picture above, at right is an example of a "Special Offer" on Kindle Fire. 

I could find no data about the general consumer attitude toward these ads -- though there is plenty of online discussion about opting out. I also was unable to find any discussion or data about the efficacy of these ads and whether they perform for advertisers. 

For many of the reasons already cited it's way too early to project how much Facebook could earn from Home ads. But if there are millions of users who adopt Home in the US and around the world, the ads could generate broad exposure (like TV advertising) and significant potential revenue for Facebook. 

An interesting secondary question arises: if the most active mobile users migrate to Home (and use the app less often), do ads on Home then effectively cannibalize ads on the Facebook app in the conventional news feed? 

Image credit: lovemyfire.com

PlaceIQ Introduces 'Place Visit Rate' Mobile-to-Store Metric

In what might be considered something of a breakthrough, AdAge is reporting that agency Starcom MediaVest will be working with location-data specialist PlaceIQ to document what "percentage of customers served a mobile banner ad for a retailer subsequently visited one of that retailer's stores."

This is part of a new real-world ROI metric PlaceIQ is introducing. The company's new measurement is called "Place Visit Rate." 

I spoke to PlaceIQ founder Duncan McCall about this several weeks ago but it was pre-case study release and so non-public at the time. PlaceIQ uses an unique but anonymous ID to connect users in the aggregate who've seen mobile display campaigngs with in-store visitors. Here's how the company explains its methodology:

PVR is measured by aggregating all of the devices that were messaged during a campaign and analyzing the number of those same devices that were later seen within a specific location or place footprint. Additionally, PlaceIQ can also set up A/B testing to measure PVR lift by identifying control groups or messaging additional PlaceIQ audiences. 

PlaceIQ emphasizes that it doesn't track individuals:

Place Visit Rate does not track individuals, but rather measures if a set of anonymous devices moved to a certain location. All location data, device data and histories are disposed of by PlaceIQ after the campaign completes.

The methodology is imperfect and can only identify a portion of users who seen an ad and then shown up in a store. An article in AdAge claims PlaceIQ is only able to track "15% to 25% of all mobile ad traffic it monitors."  Beyond this, as we all know, "correlation doesn't equal causation." However this is a big step forward in terms of being able to measure the efficacy of mobile display advertising.   

Historically, coupons have been the most reliable way to measure online-to-offline impact. And mobile payments may one-day make "closing the loop" on online or mobile ads fairly routine. However most ad networks and marketers have had to use proxy data (calls, map lookups) to determine the offline impact of mobile ads. 

Telenav/Scout can track users who see an ad and then navigate to a store location. It's not clear however how often someone sees a mobile display ad and then invokes navigation to a store. 

There are others such as ShopKick and Placed, which measure in-store visits. And there are a "2.0" group of startups working on various flavors of in-store vists and activity measurement. Among them are Euclid Elements and WirelessWERX. The latter uses indoor location to provide business intelligence and analytics services for retailers. 

Accordingly there are a range of methodologies now to try and track or capture online-to-offline ad impact. PlaceIQ's approach is a significant new entry into this arena and others may quickly try to match or approximate it. 

Nuance Brings Voice Interactivity to Mobile Display Advertising

Bringing new meaning to the term "conversational marketing," voice services provider Nuance has introduced mobile "Voice Ads." The new units use the Nuance voice platform to enable smartphone (and presumably tablet) owners to interact with these ads. It's not clear right now whether these interactions would occur exclusively on display landing pages or in the initial mobile display ad creative. 

In a Siri-like way users talk to the ads and potentially receive one of several pre-programmed responses. In one sense these new Voice Ads are not unlike more traditional audio/radio ads (think Pandora).

However the interactivity --  if done well -- could create much more engagement and "lift" for the campaign. Coupled with a campaign such as Old Spice something like this might have worked extremely well. Indeed, the campaign creative and concepts are key. Poorly executed ideas could quickly backfire and become fodder for brand parodies. 

Nuance is promoting a range of benefits from using Voice Ads including engagement, brand lift and better recall. 

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The company says that it has already partnered with leading agencies and mobile ad networks to ensure the units are widely available:

Nuance Voice Ads gives mobile advertisers and creative agencies an opportunity to go beyond the limitations of the four-inch mobile device screen and create a conversation with consumers through the power of voice recognition. Voice Ads finally creates an opportunity for brands to deepen the relationship with their consumers, with targeted interactive ads that deeply engage their core audience – much in the way that the world’s most popular mobile personal assistants have deepened consumers’ relationship with their mobile phones.

Nuance has partnered with many of the leading companies in the mobile advertising ecosystem to ensure broad reach and distribution for Voice Ads – a completely new format for mobile advertising. Creative advertising agencies include Digitas, OMD and Leo Burnett, while mobile advertising companies such as Millennial Media, Jumptap and Opera Mediaworks (AdMarvel, Mobile Theory, and 4th Screen), will provide distribution to more than 100,000 app publishers and hundreds of millions of consumers globally. In addition, mobile rich media ad servers such as Celtra are providing tools for rich media production and analytics on mobile devices.  

One could also imagine clever integrations that tie into call centers at the end of the interaction to close a sale. Again, everything is going to depend on strong concepts, execution and user experiences. Nuance offers a relatively tame mock campaign example using Voice Ads in this video.

Device Forecast Sees Longer PC Replacement Cycles

Earlier this week IDC issued its new projections regarding hardware "shipments" through 2017. The bottom line is: continued growth for smartphones and especially tablets ("connected devices") but negative growth for PCs.

IDC said that in 2012 tablet shipments "surpassed 128 million" and sees increasing demand across markets. While "shipments" is often an inaccurate and misleading metric for market-share purposes, it does indicate the "directional" trend in the market. 

Even in emerging, immature markets PCs will only see "moderate single-digit growth" according to the forecast.

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The company said that replacement cycles are getting much longer for PCs as tablets and smartphones make more frequent replacement unnecessary. However IDC does continue to forecast laptop growth. I suspect that projection may turn out to be optimistic at least in non-emerging markets. 

Device penetration drives internet usage patterns. And while online publishers and marketers "intellectually" understand what's happening they have been generally slow to adapt their strategies and tactics to match the radical changes taking place in the market. 

BlackBerry Z10 Is Merely a 'Stop the Bleeding' Phone -- if That

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins recently got a lot of coverage, in anticipation of the BlackBerry Z10 launch, for the remark that the iPhone was now outdated.

The much-hyped Z10 is now available in the US from AT&T (soon from Verizon) and a range of carriers in international markets. I went into an AT&T store this weekend to take a look at and get a "hands on" sense of the device. Unimpressive. 

It was immediately clear that this handset may keep some number of BlackBerry customers from "defecting" to the iPhone or Android. However it's not sufficiently exciting to lure existing iPhone and Android users to the BlackBerry platform. The UI and software are not entirely intuitive for iPhone and Android users. In addition, the collection of apps is limited.

The phone resembles an HTC device and is generally unremarkable otherwise. Indeed it has a "generic smartphone" quality.

Much has been made that AT&T employees haven't been trained to promote the phone. That seemed evident in my visit. In the store I entered there was not only a lack of promotional signage but the phone was placed in a far corner almost as an afterthought. It was simply there among a row of competing smartphones -- not highlighted in any way. I had to ask store salespeople multiple times where it was to locate the phone.

It's almost 100% certain this device will not be the engine of new growth for BlackBerry and that the device maker will continue to fall out of favor in the US market. 

iPhone Tops in Satisfaction Again, Nokia Beats Samsung

As Apple reportedly prepares to release a less expensive, plastic version of the iPhone to boost sales in the developing world, it's trying to strike a balance between cost and quality. It will simultaneously have to make the phone appealing (perhaps with a slightly different design and color) while not cannibalizing its flagship.

The perception of higher quality is one of the few remaining advantages that the device has over Android rivals, who over the past three years have dramatically closed the quality and features gap. Despite these gains, the iPhone has consistently beaten its smartphone competitors in customer service ratings from JD Power. The latest survey is no exception. 

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JD Power surveyed nearly 10,000 US smartphone owners. The satisfaction criteria, in order of importance, were the following:

  1. Performance
  2. Physical design
  3. Features
  4. Ease of operation

This is the ninth consecutive time that the iPhone has ranked #1. JD Power said the Apple device did particularly well in the areas of design and ease of operation.

In a bit of a surprise, Nokia edged Samsung in the survey. However Nokia has many fewer users (by an order of magnitude) than Samsung, whose Galaxy smartphone line is the best-selling Android handset in many markets around the world.

It's interesting that LG performed so poorly given the success of the LG-made Nexus 4, which repeatedly sold out and to date remains overall best Android handset on the market. In contrast, among feature phone OEMs, LG performed best, which is somewhat curious. 

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