User Experience

Survey: A Majority Use Smartphone 'Personal Assistants' Daily

Nuance Communications, which provides speech recognition services for enterprises (and increasingly consumers, including the Swype keyboard) released a “mobile assistant” survey in connection with CES. The survey of roughly 1,000 US adults found that 75% of respondents had their mobile devices (presumably smartphones) “always on them” or “at hand.”

Among the 90% of survey respondents that reported they had some sort of assistant capability on their phones (not defined in the survey results), a majority (60%) said they used that assistant daily. The following were the most common use cases:

  • Driving directions: 84%
  • Weather: 72%
  • Restaurant lookups/recommendations: 61%

This survey implies satisfaction is relatively high with these assistants. More than 80% of respondents indicated if they could they’d want the “same mobile personal assistant” with them at all times, across all devices and use cases: phones, tablets, PCs, cars, TVs, apps and so on. Accordingly the survey was partly intended to support Nuances "cross-device persona project" called Wintermute, which the company is showcasing at CES.

Using your unique voice print, the system remembers who you are and "follows you from one device to the next, remembering what you like, what you’ve been doing, and where you’ve been." This is in a way a voice-version of what Google is trying to do in asking people to sign in to the Chrome browser so that it can monitor them across devices. In Google's case it's for the purpose of personalizing search results, serving better ads and collecting data on user behavior. Nuance seems to be focused more directly on improving the user experience. 

Interestingly the survey also found that respondents had emotional connections (to varying degrees) to their assistants:

More than half of all respondents cited a personal connection with their mobile personal assistant. Women actually name their mobile personal assistant more than men, with 71% compared to a close 66% of men . . . 73% of men feel comfortable asking their mobile personal assistant for directions but 79% of women ask for help more often.

The materials I received don’t provide detail on whether the assistants in question are Nuance products (i.e., DragonGo) or Apple’s Siri or Google Voice Search/Now. It's not clear how specifically the "personal assistant" idea was defined in the survey instrument. 

The concept of the personal virtual assistant has been around for quite a long time, using a range of technologies and approaches. Yet crystallized in the public mind with the advent of Siri. Nuance, which provides speech recognition for Siri, recently introduced Nina -- a white label Siri-like assistant for enterprise customer service applications. 

My colleague Dan Miller recently issued an expansive new report on personal virtual assistants and their adoption in the enterprise and on consumer devices.

Update: Nuance has reportedly acquired VirtuOZ, which is a provider of virtual-assistant enterprise customer care solutions with a PC focus. The VirtuOZ online assistant will be enhanced and improved by Nuance's speech recognition capabilities and Nuance's Nina offering will help expand its reach into online customer care. 

Consumers Change Screens Depending on the Task at Hand

One of the challenging things for marketers these days is to figure out how to efficiently reach consumers on the growing array of screens they interact with. The growing complexity of consumer behavior and the interplay among devices is dizzying.

Last year Google did some terrific research about the parallel and sequential usage of smartphones, tablets and conventional PCs along the path to purchase. The company found that 90% of US adults surveyed used multiple screens during the day. It's really challenging to track this behavior in real time let alone create coherent, integrated campaigns to address it. 

One of the central behaviors identified in the Google research was the multi-screen path to purchase. Consumers often start on one screen but complete transactions on another. The behavior wasn't random, however. Smartphones were found to be the most commonly used screen but people chose different screens depending on the context and nature of the task at hand. 

Harris Interactive has released similar research that reflects different user preferences and behaviors depending on the particular screen and use case. Harris found overlapping usage scenarios but also consumer preferences for one screen vs. another in several instances.

The survey sample consisted of 2,383 adults, about 42% of which owned a smartphone. However that's lower than the US mobile average of 50%+. The data were collected in November 2012. 

The question fielded was: "Thinking generally about your media and communication behavior on a smartphone versus on a computer, please indicate which of these actions you regularly perform on each." Multiple responses were permitted.

In some cases smartphones tended to be used more and in others PCs dominated. Unfortunately Harris didn't ask about tablets.

General activities (penetration/usage): 

  • Texting/messaging: 87% smartphone, 20% PC
  • Email: 90% PC, 72% smartphone (more people on smartphones read emails than compose them)
  • Researching product/services: 81% PC, 45% smartphone
  • Purchasing products: 78% PC, 23% smartphone
  • Maps/navigation: 73% smartphones, 56% PC

Social media usage (penetration/usage):  

  • Reading posts: 62% P, 56% smartphone
  • Sharing content: 51% PC, 44% smartphone
  • Composing posts/messages: 50% PC, 43% smartphone
  • Checking in: 43% smartphone, 28% PC

The presence of children in the home was correlated with increased smartphone activity across almost all categories of activity.

In looking at these data one can see that certain kinds of activities, better suited to smartphones (texting, map usage, checking in), are more often performed on mobile devices. However activities that require larger screens or where the mobile user experience is sub-optimal, favor the PC (e.g., product research, purchasing). 

Daughter Shows Challenges (and Opportunity) for Windows Phones

I had an interesting experience this past week with my 13-year old daughter, which illustrates the challenges but also the opportunity for Windows Phones. One of several smartphones I have is a blue/purple HTC 8X (Windows Phone). The phone offers Beats Audio integration. It's a very attractive handset and looks very much like a Nokia Lumia device, only not as heavy. (Nokia is not too happy about the close similarity.)

My daughter is currently a feature phone user and really wanted an iPhone 5, which my wife and I cruelly denied her. But she spied the 8X on my desk and really liked how it looked. She also had seen (on Hulu) the relentless Microsoft Windows Phone ads -- "as unique as you are" -- and was parroting some of the ad copy/dialogue to me almost verbatim. (The campaign must be working.) 

She asked for the phone and I agreed that she could have it. I gave it to her to try at home on WiFi to make sure that she was really interested before I went through the trouble of changing carriers and so on. I suspected the OS might throw her; she's had an iPod Touch for several years and we've also had several Android phones. She's familiar with both operating systems but hasn't ever used Windows. 

Another factor: she was intrigued by the Microsoft Surface tablet, which she saw at a friend's house. The colorful and different look of the UI appealed to her. The Windows "metro" design -- I can still use that term even if Microsoft cannot -- on both devices got her attention. 

Then she started playing with the phone and found out that some of the key apps that she and her friends routinely use weren't there. She wasn't thrown by the metro UI and "live tiles," as I expected. Rather it was the fact that Instagram, Oovoo, Snapchat and other apps she uses were missing. She was particularly annoyed by the pseudo Instagram apps that appeared (e.g., Instagram blog). After discovering that these beloved apps were missing she rejected the phone. 

Had those and a few other critical (in her mind) apps been present, she would have kept and used the phone. I told her that Instagram would eventually come to Windows Phones as would other missing apps. That didn't satisfy her. 

Windows Phone now has 150,000 apps; however as indicated by the above it's still missing many key apps. For example, as part of its antitrust argument against Google Redmond says it's being unfairly denied access to YouTube metadata. It's makeshift YouTube app is deficient in fundamental respects:

Google has refused to allow Microsoft’s new Windows Phones to access this YouTube metadata in the same way that Android phones and iPhones do. As a result, Microsoft’s YouTube “app” on Windows Phones is basically just a browser displaying YouTube’s mobile Web site, without the rich functionality offered on competing phones. Microsoft is ready to release a high quality YouTube app for Windows Phone. We just need permission to access YouTube in the way that other phones already do, permission Google has refused to provide.

If Microsoft can manage to get the key/top apps onto Windows Phone it will be able to attract buyers who like the different look of the UI and/or who may be attracted by the aggressive subsidies offered by carriers. The 8X is available for $49 with a two-year contract at Verizon, for example. 

However until these apps (enough apps, key apps) are there would-be users, such as my daughter, won't bite. Microsoft can break the "catch-22" of Windows Phone app development through developer payments and incentives, which it's trying to do. The company needs to identify all the "necessary apps" and make sure those are built for Windows Phones. 

Beyond this the current messaging isn't really successful in attracting buyers, notwithstanding my daughter's ability to parrot the commercials. Microsoft needs build messaging around three ideas:

  • All the apps you want are here (once they in fact are) 
  • Windows Phones are cheap(er) and offer comparable functionality vs. Android flagships and the iPhone
  • The designs and UI are different, making you more of an individual in owning one (this is a slightly different statement than the current customization messaging) and a version of Apple's past Think Different argument.

Finally, ideally, there should be something about the hardware and software (beyond the UI) that is different. Microsoft argues there are already such things (e.g. Kids Corner). And the colorful phone cases offer an approach taken by Nokia and HTC. A better camera (i.e., Lumia) is another.

Yet these things aren't quite enough. There needs to be a highly visible feature or dimension of Windows Phones that truly isn't present on iPhone or Android handsets. Right now, nothwithstading the nicely designed metro UI, Windows Phones continue to seem like "wannabe" devices that are still playing catch up to other smartphones. 

Nearly 40% of Smartphone Owners See Mobile Payments in Less Than Five Years

Last week eBay reported that it will realize "more than $10 billion in mobile volume for the year from its mobile apps and PayPal expects to transact more than $10 billion in mobile payment volume." Those are big numbers. If we visit some of the mobile payments forecasts the numbers get much bigger. 

Yet consumer surveys in the US and elsewhere reveal consumer ambivalence and even indifference to mobile payments. It does vary by age however, with younger users indicating greater interest than older people.

A survey we fielded in August (n=926 US adults) found that roughly 29% of respondents had varying degrees of interest, whereas 71% were "not at all interested" in mobile payments.

"How interested are you in using your mobile phone to pay for things as a replacement for cash or your credit cards?" 

  • I'm not at all interested: 71.3%
  • I have limited interest: 14.8%
  • I'm fairly interested: 7.2%
  • I'm extremely interested: 6.8%

In our survey people under 45 years of age were considerably more interested than people who were older. A new survey from Harris Interactive is more bullish on the outlook for mobile payments however, with smartphone owners reflecting much greater interest in mobile payments: 

“How interested are you in being able to use your smartphone to process in-person payments via tapping a special receiver, rather than using cash or payment cards? 

  • Very interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 8%
  • Somewhat interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 19%
  • Not very interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 12%
  • Not at all interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 43% 

In other words 27% were "Very" or "Somewhat Interested" while 57% were "Not Very" or "Not at All Interested." This was the full sample population. The following were the smartphone-only responses: 

  • Very interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 16%
  • Somewhat interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 28%
  • Not very interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 16%
  • Not at all interested in using my smartphone instead of cash or cards: 30% 

Thus "Very" or "Somewhat Interested" came out to be 44%, while "Not Very" or "Not at All Interested" was 47%. Quite a bit more interest accordingly. 

Smartphone owners in the 18-47 age range were most interested in mobile payments according to the Harris survey. In addition, 38% of smartphone owners saw mobile payments replacing card-based transactions "for a majority of purchases" within five years.  

Despite Better Performance, Mobile Ads Considered Just a Notch Above Spam

Mobile advertising is typically quite a bit more effective than comparable ads on the PC. Indeed, the data show that mobile search and display consistently outperform their PC counterparts. Yet mobile ads (especially display and SMS) are viewed with skepticism and distrust and rank near the bottom of all ad categories in consumer surveys.

This is something of a paradox to say the least. For example, Marin Software's Q3 aggregated client data report indicates the following about the relative performance (CTRs) of paid search ads on the PC, smartphones and tablets:

  • PCs: 2.35%
  • Tablets: 3.22%
  • Smartphones: 5.07% 

You might be quick to respond that smartphone click-through rates could be attributable to the so-called "fat finger" problem thus distorting their true performance. This problem -- and we can debate the extent of its reality -- doesn't really exist in a paid-search context.

These clicks are from intent-based queries and thus more inclined be "real" and reflective of a buying intent. In a display context an unintended click may be somewhat more likely. However mobile display outperforms PC display advertising across the board and consistently across studies. 

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According to 2011 Nielsen US consumer advertising-trust survey data (above), personal recommendations and traditional media ads are near the top and mobile ads are the least trusted of all the major ad categories. 

A more recent Millward Brown consumer survey (Q3 2012) found much the same thing. Mobile ads were at the bottom of favorability rankings among all ad types. The list below just shows digital categories: 

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There's no easy way to explain the apparent contradiction between negative consumer attitudes toward mobile ads and their otherwise superior performance to categories more trusted or ranked more highly.  

Examination of Apps Shows Small Minority Share Location

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today released a study of privacy and mobile apps for kids. The report was a follow up to an earlier study issued in January. Both reports were highly critical of app developers and app stores. Both found that parents weren't given enough information to assess privacy policies and whether or how their kids' information was being used. 

The FTC looked at 400 apps (randomly selected) that were directed toward kids. The agency compared privacy policies and actual practices. It found: 

[The] industry appears to have made little or no progress in improving its disclosures since the first kids’ app survey was conducted . . . most apps failed to provide basic information about what data would be collected from kids, how it would be used, and with whom it would be shared.

In a few cases privacy policies were directy contradicted by actual practices and the FTC called these apps deceptive and potentially illegal.  

The report's findings are interesting and potentially important for the debate over mobile privacy. However the specific finding I want to focus on here has to do with the number of apps that transmitted location information to ad networks. 

Mobile apps (for kids) that share information with developers and ad networks 

 

Source: FTC 

Only 3% of apps that transmitted information back to developers and ad networks shared location data. The iPhone makes that process more explicit than does Android. But when location isn't shared there can't be any location-based ads.

Apps for kids aren't ncessarily representative of the entire universe of apps. Indeed, location may be much less of a factor in apps for kids. But the data may be directionally consistent with the market as a whole, inducating how relatively few apps today offer opportunities to display location-based ad inventory. 

The Most Interesting Mary Meeker Slides about Mobile

Former Morgan Stanley financial analyst, now KPCB partner, Mary Meeker did one of her patented blizzard of stats/data dump presentations at Stanford University the other evening. The slides (available here) are essentially an updated version of a presentation given earlier this year. 

You know most of the material by now. However, below are the most interesting slides I culled from a much longer set. They go to device adoption and mobile ad revenue projections. 

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 11.57.33 AM

The noteworthy thing about the above chart is that it argues there are 172 million smartphone subscribers in the US. If that's true it would mean a smartphone share of something like 68% or 73% depending on the base used. This is undoubtedly high. But it's not unreasonable to argue that there may be 60% smartphone penetration by the end of Q4 in the US (or early Q1). 

From the chart below: there may not in fact be 5 billion individual mobile phone users around the world. There are "only" 7 billion people on the planet. It's probably more accurate to assert there are something like 5 billion subscriptions/SIM cards (there are some dual subscriptions). Still the global smartphone growth opportunity is massive. 

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 11.58.14 AM

The following chart is based on Pew survey data, showing that 29% (as of earlier this year) of US adults owned a tablet or eReader. Tablets are going to be the number one electronics gift item this year. We could be looking at 80 million total tablets in the US in Q1 2013. 

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 11.58.37 AM

What's most interesting about the slide below is that it projects tablet ownership to pass PC ownership by the end of next year; in other words: more tablets than PCs. This may be a aggressive forecast but it's not out of the question. 

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 12.00.05 PM

The final slide is about mobile advertising and app revenue. There are many sources behind this projection. It envisions a $20 billion global market by the end of the year, with mobile advertising around $6 or so billion. 

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 11.59.17 AM

US mobile advertising was worth roughly $1.2 in the first half and is on track to be somewhere between $2.6 and $2.8 billion for the full year 2012. Globally mobile ad revenues will probably reach between $5.5 and $6 billion by the end of Q4 this year.

Where Do Mobile Users Get Their Deals and Coupons?

There's a relatively common perception that "daily deals are dead." What's more accurate to say is that the daily deals "bubble" has burst and consumers are burned out on push email marketing, where many of the deals are irrelevant to their interests or needs. But it would be inaccurate to say that "deals are dead." 

Coupons and deals remain popular among consumers and mobile users in particular. According to data from Nielsen, xAd and Telmetrics, the three top reasons that a mobile user would engage with an ad are the following:

  1. The ad is locally relevant
  2. There's a coupon or promotion
  3. It features a familiar brand

Consistent with the findings above, "search for/receive mobile offers" (especially locally relevant ones) is one of the top three "mobile commerce" activities that users engage in according to 2012 data from the US Federal Reserve and JiWire. They also search for coupons on smartphones while in stores according to multiple surveys and behavioral studies. 

A new set of data from Nielsen tries to identify where mobile users get those deals and coupons. A majority get mobile vouchers from retailers directly (sites/apps), followed by deal of the day sites/apps.

Screen Shot 2012-11-22 at 6.27.33 AM

 

Among the daily deal apps Nielsen found that the "usual suspects" were the most often used: Groupon, LivingSocial, Google Offers and AmazonLocal (LivingSocial). Amazingly, of those who have sought out daily deals on their smartphones, 91% have done so through the Groupon app. 

Screen Shot 2012-11-22 at 6.27.46 AM    

This shows that relatively few daily deal vendors have any brand awareness and usage beyond these major sites. But among them Groupon is far and away the leader. 

Major Retailers, Etailers Unprepared for Mobile and Tablet Shoppers

Almost daily my inbox is hit with a new study or report that expresses a similar theme: businesses large and small aren't ready for mobile shoppers. However one would expect retailers to have invested and be prepared for the coming multi-screen holiday season. Not so, says an informal usability study from Keynote systems.

Keynote examined major retail and e-commerce sites on iPhones, Android devices and BlackBerry handsets. It found numerous problems and inconsistencies from device to device. The inference is that retailers aren't actually testing their own sites on the various platforms and operating systems.

Some of the problems Keynote identified are minor (copy not optimally presented) but some are major (broken search functionality). Furthermore many of the retailers didn't seem to be addressing the tablet audience. Keynote explained, "We also looked at Target on the iPad 3 and see that they probably haven’t been testing on a tablet and are content to delivering their desktop site to a tablet on good faith." 

Tablets drive actual online conversions, whereas smartphones are mostly used to check reviews, price information and locate and contact stores. Tablet conversions are as high or higher than on PCs and average order value from tablets is higher than on the PC. It's critical for retailers and etailers to address the tablet audience specifically. 

Most retailers appear to believe that their sites will "work" for tablet users. That's true in many cases but a tablet-optimized retail experience would almost certainly drive more online sales and increased user satisfaction.

According to Skava only 7% of retailers currently have tablet-friendly sites. Accordingly this year may turn out to be a missed opportunity for most retailers when it comes to mobile and tablet users. Here's Keynote's conclusion, which is simply common sense: 

Early testing of both mobile websites in preparation for the holiday season would have prepared these top retailers for the judgmental mobile shopper this season. With holiday shopping looming and ready to begin in just days, it seems that these top retailers are already running into hurdles that may affect their holiday sales goals.

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. 

Screen Shot 2012-11-12 at 3.14.02 PM

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. 

Screen Shot 2012-11-08 at 3.41.42 PM

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. 

Screen Shot 2012-11-08 at 3.42.37 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2012-10-01 at 10.54.26 AM

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.