User Experience

Google Wallet 2.0: One Plastic Card to Rule Them All

Last week the Android Police blog received a tip and some screenshots that showed what Google will soon be unveiling in its ongoing quest to penetrate the payments segment: a plastic card. Google is moving forward by going back.

While it initially seems self-defeating -- Google Wallet is supposed to get rid of plastic -- it is both an innovation to broaden Google Wallet's apppeal and an interim step that now appears necessary in the transition from plastic to true next-generation payments systems.

Google Wallet (the NFC mobile payments tool) remains obscure to most US consumers, although it has been out and operative for well over a year. A plastic card would allow Google to dramatically extend the reach of Wallet without mobile carrier involvement, approvals or the need to do much consumer education. These are the considerable benefits of a plastic card for Google. 

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Image Credit: Android Police

Below are some of the highlights of what was revealed in the screenshots (only a few of which are above): 

  • The Google Wallet Card is designed to be used when/where Google's NFC Wallet won't work or isn't available
  • It promises to work "where major credit cards are accepted"
  • It features the ability to link any card or set of payment cards to Google Wallet and choose on a per-transaction basis which one to pay with
  • Ability to send or withdraw money from a "Wallet Balance" (into a personal bank account or to a peer)

The benefits of the Wallet card being promoted in the third panel above are:

  • The Google Wallet card can act as a substitute for all other plastic cards in your wallet (remains to be seen)
  • Users will have access to unique offers and see them instantly redeemed at the POS
  • If the Wallet Card is lost you just cancel Google Wallet and not all your credit cards

PayPal also has a plastic card, introduced earlier this year. The Google Wallet card is probably modeled pretty directly on PayPal's card and copies many of its key features. It appears, however, there may be some additional features unique to Google Wallet. I'm not sure from the information I've seen and Google is not ready to speak about the product. 

The logic behind Google's new plastic card is clear. Google was caught off guard by carrier resistance or hostility to Google Wallet. Among the major US carriers only Sprint has truly embraced Wallet. While AT&T isn't officially blocking it (Verizon is) the carrier doesn't promote Wallet either.

Most US and European consumers are well versed in plastic payment card culture but they typically have no idea whether their phones carry an NFC chip.

PayPal announced a few months ago that the reach of its plastic card is being dramatically expanded through a deal with Discover and use of the latter's financial network. The Google Wallet information revealed above suggests that Google has or is negotiating a comparable (and perhaps broader) deal with credit card processors. 

As mentioned US consumers have not indicated a burning desire for NFC-powered mobile wallets or the ability to pay with their phones. A Google Wallet card could serve to introduce them to the Google Wallet service, while enabling them to pay in a familiar way: with a plastic card. Over time consumers' willingness to experiment and pay with mobile devices would presumably grow as their comfort with and trust in Google Wallet increased.

A plastic card would also enable Google to completely go around the gatekeeper-carriers and appeal directly to consumers, where its strength lies. 

From a merchant point of view there would be no new infrastructure investment required, as there is with NFC point-of-sale terminals. There are currently about 300,000 NFC enabled terminals in the US.

When I first heard about this Google Wallet card I thought that consumers would be confused and not see a reason to adopt it. But the promise of carrying fewer plastic cards, the security features, potential offers and the ability to manage multiple payment cards in the cloud will be intriguing or appealing to many people.

It's analogous to Google Voice. Google Wallet is essentially being used to "forward" a debit for payment to any account or credit card in the same way Google Voice forwards and routes calls to designated phone numbers. 

Thus for both PayPal and Google it would appear plastic cards are a "necessary evil" on the incremental path to "payments 2.0."

Report: People More Comfortable Doing Commerce Research on Smartphones in the Home

JiWire released its Q3 audience insights report earlier today. There are a number of interesting survey findings. However, it's important to note that JiWire's audience isn't necessarily representative of mobile users in the US and UK, or consumers more generally. The JiWire audience is large but generally more "mobile savvy" than average mobile subscribers. 

One of the headlines is that the number of people using smartphones in stores for product research has grown significantly since last year. 

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The things that people are doing or researching on their smartphones in stores has remained pretty consistent: price comparisons, product reviews, deals. 

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JiWire also found that 65% of its smartphone-owning respondents also own a tablet. This is higher than tablet penetration in the population at large. The company also asked about behaviors on both categories of devices.

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JiWire found that smartphone and tablet owners generally engaged in the same activities at the same relative levels. However a higher percentage of tablet owners was active in each category, chiefly because of the larger screen I would imagine. 

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Perhaps the most interesting data, however, has to do with so-called "m-commerce." For most people a semi-arbitrary $99 or $250 were the top amounts they were willing to spend in a mobile commerce transaction. There's nothing safer or more secure about a $99 transaction vs. a $500 transaction however. 

Perhaps there's an irrational belief that smaller transaction amounts bring less exposure. Overall, however, the numbers of people willing to engage in m-commerce have grown over last year. 

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Interestingly (and perhaps again irrationally) JiWire survey respondents appear to be more comfortable researching a $100 product (on their smartphones) in their own homes vs. other locations. This is really interesting and may indicate something about the psychology of many smartphone users.

However, once again, there's not necessarily anything more secure in being at home compared to being on cell or WiFi networks outside the home. 

An alternative explanation might be: more users simply have time to do research in the home and that's the most common location for smartphone usage. But I don't think that entirely explains the data in the chart below. 

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Seven-Inch Tablets May Become Dominant

This morning Apple announced that it sold "3 million iPads in 3 days." However it didn't specifically break out the number of iPad Minis it sold, as opposed to iPad 4s. My guess would be that more than 50% of those three million tablets were iPad Minis. 

Also today device tracker IDC released new Q3 figures for tablets. The company measures "shipments," not sales to end users, so its numbers may not be an accurate reflection of actual market share. However the IDC data show Android tablets finally gaining against the iPad. 

Most of this Android tablet growth has come in the 7-inch category, where the Kindle Fire (a quasi-Android device) and the ASUS-made Nexus 7 have done very well. In other parts of the world, though not in the US, Samsung has done relatively well with its Galaxy Tab devices. 

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According to ASUS its Nexus 7 is selling nearly a million units a month. The success of Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 has everything to do with their $199 entry level price. While the first Kindle Fire is a mediocre device at best the Nexus 7 is a terrific smaller tablet for the price. The iPad Mini is indisputably the best 7-inch tablet on the market now, but its $329 price makes the Nexus 7 a very attractive "second best" choice for many people. 

This holiday season, tablets will be the consumer electronic gift of choice, much more than smartphones and PCs.

Microsoft's new Surface RT will be going up against Android-powered tablets and the iPad. The recently released Samsung-made Android Nexus 10 has, according to Google, the highest resolution screen on the market. However it's  surprisingly a big disappointment in several ways (I have one). Indeed, it's unlikely Apple will face much competition in the 10-inch tablet category, even from Surface. 

However the 7-inch tablet category is a different story. It will be intensely competitive with price vs. quality being the main calculation in most buyers' minds. Amazon/Kindle Fire will vie with Nexus 7 for those users who are more budget conscious. The iPad Mini will be the clear choice for those who are not concerned about spending more. For those in the middle, however, the Nexus 7 does the best job of reconciling price and quality.

In many respects, because of its portability, the 7-inch tablet is more desirable than the 10-inch version. It may in fact become the most common type of tablet in the market from a unit-sales perspective. Regardless, the "establishment" of the 7-inch tablet as a new category of device (4 inch smartphone, 7 inch tablet, 10 inch tablet) creates new opportunities and challenges for marketers.

Only Apple has a meaningful number of tablet apps -- though that will likely change over time. Accordingly most mobile websites and apps treat the 7-inch device as though it were a big smartphone, which leads to awkwardness in several respects, especially when it comes to ads.

And just when you thought people couldn't own more mobile devices . . .  We're moving into a period when affluent consumers have a smartphone, a small tablet, a larger tablet and a PC in their homes. That makes everything more complicated for publishers and marketers, though not the consumer. It also means the PC will continue to be the loser of this diversifying consumer-device marketplace.

Google Brings More Speech to Voice Search for iOS

Earlier today Google released an update for its iOS search app, which had been in iTunes approval limbo for seemingly several months. The new app works on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. At first it doesn't appear to be much different from the previous version. However there are two major changes and improvements: voice search with spoken answers and knowledge "cards."

While earlier versions of the Google search app for iOS had speech-to-text input, the new app includes the Siri-like spoken results that Google introduced for Android devices months ago. If Google has a structured result from its "Knowledge Graph" database, the female assistant voice will read it back. If not, Google will simply provide a more traditional list of web links.

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Typically these structured results are presented as "cards." They can include images and other rich information and constitute "answers," where Google is confident of the result. Google introduced this "assistant-powered" voice search capability and knowledge cards in Android 4.1 in early Q2 (we're now up to 4.2). Accordingly the differences between the Google experience on iOS and Android are now less pronounced -- so to speak. 

The one missing piece from the new iOS app (which Google probably cannot execute on iOS) is Google Now. Google Now is the company's predictive search capability that combines users' search histories, time of day, location, calendar information and other signals to provide personalized and other contextually relevant information (e.g., traffic, flight times, nearby restaurants) -- without requiring the user to affirmatively conduct a search.

It doesn't always work. But when it does it's very impressive.

Google is the dominant mobile search provider across platforms, with a nearly 95% share in the US market. In a Q2 consumer survey about mobile search, conducted by Opus (n=503 US iPhone 4S owners), 19.3% of respondents indicated they used the Google search app. The remaining majority (roughly 70%) of users either entered queries in the search box in the Safari toolbar (where Google is the default) or they went to Google.com to search the mobile web. 

Related: Google now says that there are in excess of 700,000 Android mobile apps. That number is now at or near parity with Apple. 

ISIS Finally Launches, New Google Wallet Coming Soon

Carrier backed US mobile payments initiative ISIS is finally live in two cities (Austin and Salt Lake City) this week after several delays. ISIS relies on near-field communications (NFC) and is very similar to rival Google Wallet, which also uses NFC technology. Like Google Wallet, ISIS will work at merchant locations with NFC-enabled POS terminals. There are approximately 300,000 such terminals in the US. 

Currently there are nine phones across T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon that are compatible with ISIS. As many as 20 are expected by year end.

Google Wallet, which has been in the market for a little over a year, has seen very low levels of consumer adoption and usage. That's partly because there are relatively few available compatible handsets. Carriers have also not been entirely cooperative. Verizon in particular has blocked Google Wallet on its handsets, theoretically because of security concerns. However, ISIS is a direct competitor and were Google Wallet to succeed ISIS might not. As it is ISIS is a very long shot for the carriers.

Beyond this there is limited consumer awareness and interest in the US in NFC-enabled smartphone payments. 

Recognizing that it must do something to broaden the appeal and potential adoption of Google Wallet, the company is preparing to relaunch it soon. The Google Wallet site says, "The next version of Google Wallet, coming soon. Request an invite."

As part of the invite request process the Google Wallet site asks whether users have an iPhone, Android or "other." As widely known, the iPhone is not currently NFC compatible. All this suggests that Google is partly moving away from NFC or, perhaps more accurately, broadening Wallet's capabilities so that many more people can use it without NFC handsets.

Currently there is no leader in mobile payments in the US market. However, there are early indications that Apple's Passbook is seeing some traction among iPhone users. While Passbook supports stored value cards it right now doesn't fully support mobile payments.

Geofencing Gets New Push With Urban Airship 'Location Messaging'

In-app messaging provider Urban Airship has just introduced a very interesting new product: Location Messaging. This is the fruit of the company's acquisition of SimpleGeo last year.

Geofencing (Placecast) and ad geotargeting (xAd, YP) have existed for some time. However Urban Airship's new product offers very precise location targeted messaging -- with the ability to mix in other audience segmentation data as well:  

  • Preferences: tags based on user-stated characteristics
  • In-app behavior: tags you’ve defined based on explicit and implicit actions users have taken
  • Location history: where they are now and where they’ve been

As a result publishers/developers are able target specific types of users by location. There's a wide array of possibilities in terms of the way this can be deployed, for loyalty or yield management purposes or to stimulate new sales. There are two qualifications: users must have the publisher's app installed and s/he must have opted in to receive push notifications.

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Urban Airship has created 2.5 million "pre-defined geofences" for publishers. However they can also define (or exclude) their own custom geofences. These can be as wide as a metro area (or larger I suppose) or as precise as a park or city block. 

There's lots of hand-wringing going on about publishers being unable to sufficiently monetize mobile. However, mobile push notifications offer a terrific opportunity for brands and offline businesses to drive increased sales -- if used judiciously. Accordingly the company shared some performance data with me. It was impressive. 

Urban Airship said it beta-tested Location Messaging this summer during the Olympics. The company reported on its blog that "The Official London 2012 app . . . utilized Urban Airship Location Messaging to send more than 10 million location-based push messages to people in . . . Olympic venues." In addition, "Nearly 60% of app users had location-sharing enabled and location-based pushes achieved clickthrough rates of around 60 percent."

Urban Airship CMO Brent Heiggelke pointed out that despite the potential effectiveness of Location Messaging brands and marketers must be extremely careful about the content of messages they send and their frequency or risk having their notifications shut off or apps uninstalled by end users.

Amazon's Deeper Move into 'Mobile Payments' Inevitable

Apple and Amazon are the two major companies that could really shake up the "mobile payments" landscape. To some degree Apple is on deck to do that with its mobile wallet Passbook. However consumers remain to be educated about Passbook and its capabilities.

In addition, we're eventually likely to see iTunes stored credit cards become available to Passbook -- though the current iPhone is incompatible with NFC. Execution at the POS thus would be an issue unless Apple uses different materials in its future handsets. 

Amazon is another "sleeping giant" in the realm of mobile payments. Indeed, from an "m-commerce" standpoint, Amazon is already in mobile payments with its existing "Checkout by Amazon" platform. However TechCrunch reported a rumor that Amazon was developing a Square competitor (SMB dongle). I wouldn't be surprised if it happened -- and relatively soon. 

Amazon already has a developed payments infrastructure that supports e-commerce (online and in mobile) as well as a peer-to-peer PayPal rival. In addition Amazon may be second only to Apple in terms of the number of consumer credit cards it has on file. 

While Apple claims 400 million consumer credit cards on file, Amazon has something above 200 million. The company could almost flip a switch (notwithstanding the POS issues) and become a major player in "mobile payments." It could also quickly enter the segment with the introduction of a Square-like dongle and/or the acquisition of another mobile payments provider (e.g., Braintree, Boku).   

We should expect news along these lines from Amazon in the next six months. I would be very surprised if the company sat on the sidelines very much longer. 

Bango's Payments Deal with Facebook Goes Live

Bango's previously announced mobile payments deal with Facebook has formally launched in the US, UK and Germany. It allows users to purchase (digital) goods with carrier billing in these countries. 

Bango says this will allow users to buy game credits, apps and other virtual goods through "frictionless operator billing, paying on their phone, without the need to register personal details."

Bango also has deals with Google (Play), Amazon, BlackBerry App World and Opera's Mobile Store. The company added that its conversion rates are higher than the industry average for carrier billing: 

Conventional operator billing is expected to achieve a 40% conversion rate. Put simply, most mobile commerce customers who click ‘buy’, do not successfully buy. Billing with the Bango payment platform delivers an average conversion rate of 77%. Most users who click ‘buy’, do buy.

While carrier billing is useful in countries where there are many "unbanked" or where the specific transaction is likely to be conducted by a younger user, in the US and much of Europe credit cards are a preferred method of payment by most adults. 

Carrier billing is much more widely available than other forms of mobile payments for obvious reasons. However carrier fees are much higher typically than credit card fees and settlement can take months depending on the country. 

Even though Facebook eliminated Facebook Credits, which was a surprise to me, it's possible that Facebook will eventually acquire a mobile payments provider. Bango's market cap, for example, is only $118 million. Facebook could buy the company and associated revenue stream, as well as a set of global carrier relationships -- instantly.

Mobile Payments Picking Up Steam with Groupon, Square and Apple's Passbook

Today iOS 6 became available for download by the public. Among the many features of the OS upgrade, Apple Maps is getting the most attention. But perhaps more interesting is Passbook, Apple's mobile wallet. Passbook isn't a full-blown mobile payments vehicle like Google Wallet or even PayPal but it could have an immediate and profound impact on "mobile payments" and mobile loyalty programs.

As I discuss in my post on Screenwerk, Passbook could soon become the most important mobile loyalty channel for enterprises and SMBs alike. Passbook will allow users to store and retrieve tickets, boarding passes, loyalty cards, gift cards and stored payment cards. It won’t allow users to upload a general credit card (like Google Wallet) or tap into their iTunes account credit cards for mobile payments. But that’s probably coming.

Also launching today is a third party platform and API from Tello called PassTools. That's going to make it much easier for brands, enterprises and small businesses to quickly start creating "passes" and coupons and otherwise utilizing Passbook, which will have an installed base of millions very soon. I discuss the features and implications of PassTools over at Screenwerk

Passbook may help train millions of people to use mobile wallets, something no one else has so far been able to do. 

Also this week Square announced a $200 million "series D" funding round at a more than $3 billion valuation. The company is on track to do more than $8 billion in transactions (gross) this year. 

Finally, this morning Groupon opened up its new Square-like SMB-focused payments tools, Groupon Payments, to the entire US market. Groupon will first go after its own daily deals merchants and then try to expand its merchant customers by undercutting Square and others with lower fees. Here's what Groupon is charging to process transactions (with a Square-like card reader or keyed in): 

Activity surrounding the various flavors of mobile payments in the US is intensifying. These three developments in the space of essentially two days reflects that. 

While consumers remain skeptical or ignorant or indifferent -- 71 percent in our recent survey said they're not interested in mobile payments -- the growing visibility of mobile wallets and mobile payment options (especially Passbook) will likely change all that. 

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Facebook Testing Third Party 'Mobile Ad Network'

Facebook is testing mobile ads on third party sites, according to two published reports. Right now this is a "small" beta test and an extension with what Facebook has been doing with Zynga for several months. According to a statement provided to AdExchanger:

“We are going to begin showing some ads on mobile outside of Facebook,” the rep said. “We’ve been showing ads off of Facebook on Zynga for a few months, and we think showing ads on other sites outside of Facebook is another way to show people relevant ads and let them discover new apps.”

Facebook is using various mobile ad exchanges to serve ads (IAB standard units) in apps or on mobile websites. TechCrunch offers a nice explanation of how the Facebook-user data gets to the ad exchange and ultimately to the third party sites and apps:

On the back end, advertisers set a bid they’re willing to pay Facebook to reach a certain demographic of users. Meanwhile, Facebook syncs its anonymous user IDs with several mobile ad exchanges. When a Facebook user visits one the apps or sites where these exchanges have placements, the exchange instantly sends Facebook that user’s ID and asks if there’s a bid set to target them. If so, Facebook pays the ad exchange some portion of the bid, and the ad is shown to the user.

It appears that most of the targeting will be demographic. It doesn't appear that location will be an element of the targeting at this point. 

For now it appears that Facebook won't have direct relationships with mobile publishers and developers. However it will own the advertiser relationships. If all goes well it this would offer Facebook a way to generate additional mobile ad revenue without compromising its Facebook mobile user experience with irrelevant ads.

iPhone 5 Aftermath: the Biggest Loser Is NFC

Even though Nokia's Windows Phone 8 handsets and all the new Android devices feature NFC capability, its absence from the iPhone 5 deprives the technology "a mainstreaming opportunity" in the immediate future. Unlike any other company in the mobile industry Apple has the ability to popularize and educate consumers about new technologies.

A case-in-point is Siri. Speech recognition and "voice search" long-predated the iPhone 4S; however Siri was able to popularize them in ways that even Google and Microsoft could not. That would also have been true of near-field communications had the iPhone 5 incorporated it. 

Apple's Passbook software/app is a mobile wallet, which will enable transactions (i.e., Starbucks stored value card). However it won't be a full-blown mobile wallet that stores a credit card an enables contactless payments. That could come with the iPhone 5S or "5N" (for NFC). 

Obviously "the industry" will be moving forward with NFC rollout plans: Project Oscar in Europe, ISIS and Google Wallet in the US and so on. However consumers still need to be educated about the use cases and benefits of the technology. In some isolated situations they are or have been but for the most part -- certainly this is true in the US -- they remain ignorant of the technology itself let alone what it can do for them. 

On the broader subject of mobile wallets and mobile payments (NFC is only one flavor) most US consumers have little or no interest today: 

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Source: Opus Research (August, 2012), n=1,501

In the US market at least there's a double challenge: sell consumers on the benefits of mobile payments, which Apple can and will help do with Passbook and other third party apps, and sell them specifically on contactless, NFC-enabled payments. 

First Reactions to iPhone 5: 'Gets the Job Done'

Much like President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention, the iPhone 5 announcement today "did what it had to do." It had to deliver a 4G capability as well as a larger screen. It did both, with a 4-inch display as opposed to the current 3.5-inch display.

In addition it offers a slightly longer battery life, a better camera and it's thinner. It also uses a new chip for better performance overall. It has enhanced audio and a smaller dock connector. It doesn't include NFC. While NFC wasn't widely expected it's still a major disappointment to the industry given Apple's ability to elevate new technologies and educate consumers about them. 

The handset is the same width but taller than the iPhone 4S, which might make it aesthetically awkward. I haven't seen one in person yet. On a personal note, I would have liked to see hardware that was more of a departure from the 4S but I suppose that will have to wait. 

The 3GS has been discontinued. The iPhone 4 now becomes free with a two-year carrier contract. The 4S drops to $99 and the 5 costs $199 for the entry level model (which is what most people buy). In the US it's available from Sprint, AT&T and Verizon. 

This phone will probably sell well -- just how well remains to be seen. Pre-orders start on Friday with delivery on September 21.

As many of the pundits remarked after Obama's speech last week, it wasn't entirely inspiring but it "gets the job done." The same can be said for the iPhone 5. 

If you're interested in more detailed coverage there's much much more, about every aspect of today's announcement, on Techmeme

Amazon's Policy Reversal on Kindle Fire Ads a Smart Move

Last week I wrote Ads to Pollute Lockscreens of Kindle Tablets:

Yesterday it was discovered that all the new Kindle tablet Fire/HD models will feature these Special-Offer ads on the lockscreen. And, according to a statement provided by Amazon to CNET, there's no way to get rid of them. This controversy undermines what was otherwise a very successful launch.

The fact that Amazon won't allow consumers to "buy out" of the ad clutter is terrible and will turn off many people (though not all). It's a horrible policy. It's also one of the factors, it now appears, that allowed Amazon to so aggressively price these devices -- and undercut iPad's pricing so significantly. 

Over the weekend, based on the outcry it appears, Amazon did the right thing and reversed itself. The company will now allow users to pay a one-time fee of $15 to opt-out of lockscreen ads and Special Offers. Amazon provided the following statement to media outlets in announcing the reversal: 

With Kindle Fire HD there will be a special offers opt-out option for $15. We know from our Kindle reader line that customers love our special offers and very few people choose to opt out. We're happy to offer customers the choice.

It's not clear at all that Amazon customers actually "love" Special Offers or whether they simply tolerate or ignore them. However the irony here is that the availability of the opt-out option will likely mean that more people will feel comfortable with the ads, knowing that they can turn them off.

Otherwise the other "option" would have been to not buy one of these devices. Amazon has taken that objection away. 

Ads to Pollute Lockscreens of Kindle Tablets

According to multiple surveys (including one recently run by Opus Research) majorities of people are happy to endure advertising in exchange for free services. Ad-supported smartphone apps, for example, are much more popular than their ad-free paid counterparts.

Yesterday Amazon introduced an aggressive new array of new Kindle tablets. The specs -- and especially the pricing -- are impressive. It turns out, however, that there's a catch: ads ("Special Offers"). 

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Previously Amazon had subsidized the cost of its lowest-priced Kindle eReader with Special Offers on the lockscreen. If it turned out that you didn't like the ads, you could "buy out" of them.

Yesterday it was discovered that all the new Kindle tablet Fire/HD models will feature these Special-Offer ads on the lockscreen. And, according to a statement provided by Amazon to CNET, there's no way to get rid of them. This controversy undermines what was otherwise a very successful launch.

The fact that Amazon won't allow consumers to "buy out" of the ad clutter is terrible and will turn off many people (though not all). It's a horrible policy. It's also one of the factors, it now appears, that allowed Amazon to so aggressively price these devices -- and undercut iPad's pricing so significantly. 

Let's hope that Amazon is shamed by negative PR into allowing consumers to opt-out or buy out of receiving these ads. Alternatively let's hope that the marketplace speaks and that consumers stay away. 

Will Amazon Lower Prices (Again) With Kindle Fire 2?

Amazon is holding an event next Thursday to introduce a second-generation Kindle Fire as well as a new 10-inch version in all likelihood. The company is also expected to "refresh" and upgrade its lower-end Kindles as well. There's considerable speculation about all this going on right now.

I'm less interested in talking about device "specs" (the subject of most of the current discussion) than pricing. 

The current Kindle Fire succeeded -- caught fire if you will -- because of the price ($199) and the association with Amazon. Since that time the device has "sold out." In reality sales have slowed dramatically in recent months. Objectively Kindle Fire is quite a mediocre tablet for use cases other than consuming Amazon content. 

Indeed, Google's Nexus 7 emerged a couple of months ago to dramatically improve upon Kindle Fire. Nexus 7 is a much better 7-inch tablet at the same $199 price point as Kindle Fire. In a head-to-head match up there's no question of which tablet to buy: Google Nexus 7.

Apple is also expected to introduce a 7-inch iPad Mini next month, along with a new iPhone. The two launches will be separate in all likelihood. The iPad Mini should also be quite appealing to those interested in a smaller tablet. And it will probably be priced competitively (around $200ish). The 7-inch tablet category will thus become a battle between Apple, Google/ASUS and Amazon. Samsung may work its way in with new devices, however.

In terms of features and usability, it's extremely unlikely that the Kindle Fire 2.0 will trump either the Nexus 7 or the iPad Mini. Beyond Amazon's content ecosystem it's chief weapon is pricing -- perhaps its only real weapon now. And in an effort to gain some advantage vs. Google and Apple might we see Amazon lower the price of the new 7-inch Kindle Fire and introduce a cheaper 10-inch tablet (vs. iPad)? 

It's quite possible -- even probable. I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon priced the Kindle Fire 2 at $179 and offered a more expensive model with more memory. A 10-inch model might start at just under $400 (to beat the iPad 2 price). Again, price was the main driver of Kindle Fire sales. 

Amazon either breaks even or loses money on each Kindle Fire sold but then makes money on content sales and e-commerce thereafter. Accordingly it can afford to be aggressive on pricing. But it can't go much lower than it already has with Kindle Fire. 

In any case Kindle Fire 2 is going to be a much tougher sell in a more crowded and competitive market. 

Update: CNET is reporting that there won't be a 10-inch Kindle Fire to directly challenge the iPad but two 7-inch versions instead. 

Survey: Mobile Payments Face Uphill Battle

My view about mobile payments is the following: once people have a positive concrete experience of using mobile payments they'll be sold, so to speak. Most people haven't had those experiences yet. Accordingly there's skepticism or indifference about mobile payments in the US. This, despite more than 20 companies scrambling in a kind of land grab that anticipates a glorious future right around the corner.

Several consumer surveys in the past 12 months indicate Americans are concerned about security and privacy or don't see the need for mobile payments: "see no benefit," "easier to pay with cash or credit cards" are some of the obstacles facing mobile payments adoption. Roughly 70%-75% of survey respondents say they aren't interested.

I'm the first to point out that attitudes and behavior are often two different things. The survey data are surprisingly consistent. Also consistent are findings that consumers in the 25-55 age range are typically the most interested in mobile payments. More educated, urban and usually more affluent consumers are also typically more interested.

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We just completed a survey (n=1,501 US adults), which asked whether people were interested in using their phones as mobile wallets, instead of cash or credit cards. The results are very consistent with other surveys from UC Berkeley Law School, the US Federal Reserve and others.

About 29% of respondents (a decent number) say they have varying degrees of interest. Those who are most enthusiastic, however, are a tiny minority (6.8%).

Again, as people start to have real experiences of mobile payments, I believe these numbers will start to rise. But these findings reinforce the notion that there's a mountain to climb. Providers must educate consumers, reassure them on security/privacy and offer them tangible benefits for trying and using mobile payments systems.

An exception to all this is Square and its various imitators (PayPal Here, Intuit's GoPayment, PayAnywhere, etc.). In most of these scenarios the consumer isn't doing anything new; there's a familiar card swipe. The change is all on the merchant side. However as consumers develop familiarity with and start to trust these providers that becomes the basis for trying some of their "more exotic" payment services, where there is a behavior change (e.g., Pay with Square, PayPal Mobile apps).

While we believe that the mainstreaming of mobile payments is "inevitable," the timing and the specific services/platforms that will mainstream them have very much yet to be determined.

Study: 19% Said Retailers Without Mobile App 'Old Fashioned'

Apigee released new survey findings about mobile attitudes and usage in anticipation of Holiday 2012 shopping. The survey polled 2,200 US adults this month and was conducted by Harris.

It found that 57% of respondents "would consider" buying holiday gifts on their mobile devices. Currently the number of Americans who've made an "m-commerce" purchase stands at about 35%, according to 2012 survey data from IPSOS.

In order, Apigee survey found the following to be the most likely m-commerce categories:

  • Books – 32%
  • Electronics – 31%
  • Gift cards – 27%
  • DVDs/Blu-ray discs – 26%
  • Clothing – 24%
  • Toys – 20% 

The survey didn't ask about specific retailers but all of the above categories (maybe clothing excepted) are popular on Amazon, which continues to be the single biggest beneficiary of mobile commerce (perhaps after Apple iTunes).  

Apigee also asked consumers about the perceived benefits of using mobile (apps):

  • Browsing for deals wherever you are – 50%
  • Performing price comparisons inside a store – 48%
  • Using a mobile device to find a retail store – 40%
  • Redeeming electronic coupons – 38%
  • Secretly shopping without a spouse/significant other knowing – 25%
  • Buying embarrassing or personal items without using a work computer – 14%
  • Sneaking shopping time in at work – 12%

Just over half of the survey respondents had a negative reaction to the idea that a retailer wouldn't have a mobile presence or offer a mobile app. Most damning, 19% said "it makes me think the retailer is old-fashioned" and 7% said it might hurt their loyalty to the store. Younger users were mostly likely to have a negative attitude toward retailers without mobile apps.

Clearly e-commerce isn't the only reason to offer a mobile site or mobile app. There are many other reasons, including getting shoppers into stores, CRM and providing better customer service in the store (or overall). 

I wrote earlier this week about a GroupM survey that offers some very interesting insights about mobile showrooming and in-store shopping. That study suggested ways that retailers can integrate mobile into a larger strategy to lure and keep shoppers in stores and combat the showrooming challenge. 

Nokia and Others Form 'In-Location Alliance' to Promote Indoor Positioning

Nokia is spearheading what's being called "The In-Location Alliance." The purpose of the new quasi-trade group is to "drive innovation and market adoption of high accuracy indoor positioning and related services." The assumption is that more accurate indoor positioning will create new markets and new revenue opportunities.

According to the press release out this morning: "The Alliance will focus on creating solutions offering high accuracy, low power consumption, mobility, implementability and usability. It will create an ecosystem that stimulates innovation, enhances service delivery, and accelerates the adoption of solutions and technologies that optimize the mobile experience."

There are 22 companies listed as founding members: Broadcom, CSR, Dialog Semiconductor, Eptisa, Geomobile, Genasys, Indra, Insiteo, Nokia, Nomadic Solutions, Nordic Semiconductor, Nordic Technology Group, NowOn, Primax Electronics, Qualcomm, RapidBlue Solutions, Samsung Electronics, Seolane Innovation, Sony Mobile Communications, TamperSeal AB, Team Action Zone and Visioglobe.

The release also indicates the alliance will promote open standards and systems to allow for broad participation by non-member vendors and third parties.

There are a number of companies already operating in the indoor positioning segment, including Google, Microsoft, Wifarer, Point Inside, Aisle411 and others. Interestingly none of them are on the list above. No carrier is part of this inagural group either. However, the alliance is inviting any and all interested parties to join. 

Notwithstanding the promise of new business models, that's one of the central questions: how will some of these companies make money? The superficial response is "deals and advertising." Privacy is also another major issue. However I suspect that can be addressed with an opt-in approach, much in the way that Apple does with iPhone apps requesting to use location. 

Google Introduces Ad Skipping for Mobile YouTube Video

On the YouTube PC site users are permitted to skip pre-roll ads after 5 seconds. This is a brilliant compromise between the need to better monetize YouTube video streams and Google's general commitment to the user experience and performance-based ads. 

If users don't like the ads they skip; if they're interested they watch. The advertiser only pays for those who watch the ad after the initial 5 seconds.

It's a great system and Google has now extended it to mobile YouTube video. Google argues the approach is better for everyone and advertisers get much more value by allowing consumers to self-select the ads they watch: 

With TrueView, we’ve developed a model where user engagement matters -- people can skip ads they aren’t interested in after five seconds. Giving viewers choice over ads they watch has led to a better, more engaged viewing experience, benefiting the entire YouTube community of users, advertisers, and content creators.

The argument is persuasive to me. It also forces creative types in agencies to really work to make ads more interesting and entertaining. The epitome of that is the previous Old Spice campaign ("The man your man could smell like"), which was a huge "viral" success. 

In mobile, ads are either relevant, entertaining or their opposites. Forcing a broadcast, "interruption" model on mobile users doesn't make much sense. You'll just annoy or alienate your audience. Hopefully other mobile video ad providers will follow Google's lead; however I doubt it.  

Study: Most Showroomers Will Abandon Stores if Price Difference Is 5% Less Online

Electronics retailer Best Buy just reported this week that Q2 profits dropped by 90%. That's partly attributed to the weak economy and partly to the phenomenon of "showrooming," where shoppers look at products in stores and buy them later online. That phenomenon has always existed but it has been "exacerbated" by the rise of smartphones and in-store price comparisons. 

As more people buy and carry smartphones they're more inclined to use them in traditional retail environments.  

Consumer surveys have indicated anywhere from 50% to 80% (or more) of US mobile consumers now use their phones in stores for product and price information, as well as comparison shopping. Amazon and eBay have been big beneficiaries of this trend, but especially Amazon. Traditional retailers have in some cases suffered and in a few instances (i.e., Best Buy) showrooming has become something of a crisis.

Agency GroupM recently released some survey findings and analysis addressing the phenomenon of showrooming. Roughly 1,000 US adults were surveyed and asked about shopping scenarios and attitudes. 

As one might expect, the larger the price difference between in-store items and online prices the more likely buyers said they would be to abandon the store. But somewhat surprisingly GroupM found that even a 2.5% discount could have a significant impact on store abandonment: 45% of survey respondents reported they would leave the store. If prices were 5% lower online, 60% of respondents said they would leave. 

There is a difference between self-reported survey data and actual behavior. But the GroupM findings reflect the new consumer mindset.

GroupM identified the profile of a likely "showroomer": younger, female, heavy online shopper and lower income. It also found at the other end that 10% of respondents (loyal to the retailer) wouldn't leave the store regardless of online price discounts. However there's a "marginal showrooming" group that is somewhat price sensitive but can be influenced to "stay in the store."

Factors that GroupM identified to help retailers combat showrooming included the following: 

  • Good service and in-store sales help
  • Channel agnosticism, so if an item isn't in the store it can be ordered online and shipped via the same retailer
  • Retailer apps that offer useful information, including inventory 
  • In-store loyalty programs
  • Better online marketing to create additional incentives to come into stores (e.g., deals)
  • Price awareness that helps ensures prices remain within striking distance of online retailers which may have lower costs  

Providing good in-store service, which extends to retailer apps, is a key variable here and one that might cause retail executives to balk. They have generally been de-skilling their workforces for years. However they'll suffer the consequences of poor service and indifferent consumers if they don't do something.

Beyond this, a multi-faceted approach is called for, one that implies a great deal more sophistication than what's on display for most traditional retailers today.