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December 20 2012

Commerce Weekly: Predicting 2013

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Predicting the 2013 commerce space

As 2012 wraps up, industry executives are looking ahead to what 2013 might bring. In a report at eCommerceBytes, executives at e-commerce and Internet service company Rakuten pulled together five trends to watch in 2013, including increased use of video on e-commerce sites; a market shift toward specialized retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online; and the advent of curated commerce, or “shopping for a lifestyle” as opposed to shopping for individual items.

Executives also highlighted mobile integrations, noting that they expect an increase in in-store integration via apps, QR codes and augmented reality. Predicted trends also included a change in the way consumers pay: “Services like PayPal and Apple’s iTunes have already begun to centralize payments on mobile, but the next step will be services such as Square that offer sellers the ability to receive card payments with their existing smartphone and a simple plug-in device,” the report says.

PayPal president David Marcus also took a look ahead. He sees cash registers going mobile, with customers able to pay from the store aisle or even the changing room, and predicts location-aware and context-relevent shopping and payments will be more disruptive than many now expect. In the payment space, he sees mobile wallets, consumer loyalty programs and coupon platforms merging into one efficient and convenient business. He also predicts NFC will die a slow death in 2013: “it’s not solving a real consumer problem,” he writes at the PayPal blog, “and it’s not providing additional value to encourage me (or anyone else, for that matter) to change my behavior.”

In related news, Square COO Keith Rabois pulled together some predictions for what consumers and retailers can expect from Square in 2013. In an interview with CNET’s Daniel Terdiman, Rabois said Starbucks’ customers haven’t seen anything yet, that they can “expect full Square Wallet functionality” in 2013 as well as new features and “major enhancements” — Rabois said Square’s partnership with Starbucks is in its “first inning.”

Rabois noted, however, that Square is just the beginning, that “anything new that’s developed in the coming months will also be rolled out for use at every single merchant that’s part of the Square Wallet program” and that additional retail partnership announcements can be expected in the coming year. Looking further ahead? “Rabois said that the company envisions Square Wallet working ‘everywhere,’” Terdiman reports, “from personal trainers to interactions between friends to contractors working people’s homes.”

Apple users dominate Android’s on the mobile shopping front

Bill Siwicki, managing editor at Mobile Commerce, tallied up the mobile shopping habits of Apple versus Android users and concluded that Apple users are more valuable “by a mile.”

Looking at data from a few retailers as examples, Siwicki reports that at e.l.f. cosmetics, “78.59% of mobile sales stemmed from an iOS device while only 20.74% came from an Android device” from Oct. 1 through Dec. 16. Of those sales, the iPhone accounted for 27.48% and the closest Android smartphone competitor chalked up a mere 0.78% of mobile sales. At web-only jeweler Ice, 22.5% of traffic is mobile and more than 70% of that is via an Apple device, and at Wine.com, more than 90% of mobile sales come from Apple devices, Siwicki reports.

Siwicki points out that when looking at these numbers, it’s important to note that Android’s market share far outpaces Apple’s in smartphones — 52.5% and 34.3% respectively, according to research firm eMarketer Inc. — and that Apple’s iPad owns 76.4% of the tablet market.

Shedding some light on the situation, Kevin Edwards, strategy director at Affiliate Window, noted to Siwicki that “Apple users are typical early adopters,” and that “[t]hey’re generally tech-savvy individuals who embrace new ways of interacting and transacting online.” HauteLook CMO Greg Bettinelli told Siwicki that of their mobile transactions, tablets trump iPhones by 50%. “If we make $2 for every person on an iPhone,” he said, “we make $2.50 for desktop users and $3 for iPad shoppers.”

You can read Siwicki’s full report here.

What mobile payment platforms can learn from the barcode

In the wake of barcode creator Norman Joseph Woodland’s death last week, Drake Bennett and Jim Aley put together a piece on the history of the barcode and how it has become “so prevalent that it is almost invisible.” Bennett and Aley note that at its inception, the barcode had its competitors, and that there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the barcode’s ultimate success — especially for mobile payments.

Bennett and Aley boil the success down to three overarching “essential ingredients”: the technology must be simple and its benefits must be obvious, there needs to be a governing body to keep everyone in line, and there must be “[a]n extravagant, surprising, and often expensive effort to ‘seed the market.’”

As for current mobile payment platforms that are measuring up, Bennett and Aley say Square is “one of the more interesting” and break down its performance against the “essential ingredients”:

“Simplicity? Check: It’s a small plastic square that plugs into an iPhone or iPad. A splashy move to dominate the market? Last month Square announced a deal to be in 7,000 Starbucks (SBUX) across the U.S. Strong consortium or governing body? A tangle of competing alliances is more like it. Two out of three, so far, for Square.”

Commerce Weekly will return January 3, 2013 — have a safe and happy holiday!

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July 24 2012

Apps Rush: The Unilever Series, Bing Get MeThere, SoFit, Goldstar Savings Bank, Jurassic Park Builder and more

What's new on the app stores on Tuesday 24 July 2012

A selection of 13 new and notable apps for you today:

The Unilever Series at Tate Modern

London's Tate Modern has launched an official app for its 13-year "Unilever Series' of installations, "from Olafur Eliasson's sun to Ai Weiwei's carpet of sunflower seeds". That means more than 250 photos and 12 videos, as well as articles by curators and artists, and some of the early sketches for each exhibit.
iPad

Bing Get MeThere

Microsoft has launched a London travel app for iPhone using its Bing brand, promising "true door-to-door directions using Bing maps and live tube updates". Favourite journeys can also be set up for quick access.
iPhone

SoFit

SoFit is the latest social fitness app (hence the name, presumably), which awards points every time you exercise. It promises real-life rewards for this: "exclusive products from your favorite brands; downloads like music, videos and games; as well as fundraise for the causes you care about".
Android

Goldstar Savings Bank

This iPad app wants to teach children about financial basics, without making it dry and boring. A tall order, but Goldstar Savings Bank may just have nailed it: the idea being it's an app for children to record their savings and earn money for household chores, in order to buy rewards.
iPad

Jurassic Park Builder

The latest family-friendly brand to spawn its own freemium game is Jurassic Park, with this new iOS game from Ludia. It follows the Smurfs' Village / FarmVille template with players building their own parks, buying virtual bucks through in-app purchases to fund it. $99.99 IAP in a game that's likely to appeal to children? Hmm. The game is US-only for now.
iPhone / iPad

Assistant

Assistant is the latest Siri-like voice recognition app for a non-iOS platform. In this case: Windows Phone. It's a "virtual buddy for your smartphone that uses natural language technology" to answer questions, search for information and launch apps, hooking into Google, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Evernote and other services.
Windows Phone

The Icky Mr Fox

UK studio Ickypen has launched a children's book app that sees Icky Mr Fox trying to ruin the afternoon tea of Mr Rabbit and Mr Mole, with "tippy-tappy objects" that speak their name when touched. Unusually, it's available on Android and BlackBerry PlayBook as well as iPad.
Android / iPad / BlackBerry PlayBook

Around The Clock

Swedish developer Wombi Apps has a characterful new iOS app for children all about clocks. It includes a mini-game for each hour of the day, from teeth-brushing and biking home from pre-school to hammering nails and slicing butter. The idea being to familiarise children with the clock, rather than overtly teach them how to read it.
iPhone / iPad

X-Ray for Android

Android owners concerned about nasty malward have a number of apps to choose from, as security companies pile onto the platform to capitalise on reports of Android viruses. X-Ray for Android is the latest, promising to scan for vulnerabilities and "keep your carrier honest".
Android

5K To Marathon Runmeter GPS

Completed the programme set by a "couch to 5k" app? Time to step up, perhaps: this app focuses on going beyond 5k races to "give you feedback and motivation to go farther, be healthier, and live longer".
iPhone

Party Wave

Cartoon-surfing game Party Wave looks fun on iOS, getting you to position a bunch of surfers to ride a big wave in top-down view, before switching to a side-on perspective to guide them through it. The game is also notable, though, for being the first from Japanese developer Mistwalker – founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.
iPhone / iPad

Cardagram Postcard

French digital-to-physical postcards app Cardagram has launched in the UK. Like established rival Touchnote, it turns iPhone photos into real postcards to be sent worldwide – usually charging £1.99, although it's £0.99 in a launch offer. One nice touch: it can pull in photos from Instagram and Facebook.
iPhone

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette

Yes, Marie Antoinette re-imagined as a cartoon "ant queen" in a story-app for children. No, I have no idea how they handle the guillotine part. But yes, the app sees Marie baking and decorating a cake, setting up a castle room and wander through underground ant tunnels. More Historables apps are following from developer Base Camp Films: stand by for Teddy Bear Roosevelt and Lionardo Da Vinci...
iPad


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June 11 2012

Smartphones: US-Richter haben genug vom Patentkrieg

Die US-Justiz reagiert zunehmend genervt auf die Patentkriege rund um Smartphones und Tablets. Der US-Bundesrichter Richard Posner hat den Prozess im Fall Apple vs.

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January 10 2012

Would Cartier-Bresson have used a cameraphone?

The demise of the cheap compact camera was inevitable, and we're all street photographers now. But given the chance, would Cartier-Bresson have swapped his Leica for a smartphone?

The cheap compact camera is on its way out. Affordable, small and increasingly stylish, they've come a long way since George Eastman made photography more accessible by bringing rolls of film and the Kodak box camera to the mass market.

But if accessibility is the issue, then smartphones have made the demise of the compact inevitable. Why lug an extra gadget around when the phone in your pocket can do just as good a job? The 8MP camera featured on the iPhone 4S may not match the pixel count on a budget Nikon Coolpix, say, but its improved lens means the phone can do a mean job of producing pictures fit for online posting.

Compact cameras have not traditionally been designed to capture the highest quality images. I had a Kodak disc camera when I was a kid, and a blurry pile of holiday snaps prove it was arguably one of the worst examples of a compact ever. The quality has increased hugely since then, but the point-and-shoot, autofocus functionality of basic compact cameras is available on every smartphone. While auto-programmes for every occasion have become standard issue on compact dials over the years (eg night-time, sport, landscape, portrait), manual control isn't something you'd expect from a budget model, nor is lens quality. For that, most serious amateurs would likely upgrade to a bridge camera, digital SLR or a compact system camera anyway. Some might even start using film.

With a camera constantly to hand to capture that decisive moment, we're all Cartier-Bressons now – but would HCB have used a cameraphone himself? He famously employed a Leica because it was small and, importantly, quiet – he liked to be as unobtrusive as possible when photographing street scenes. Would the artificial mechanical sound of a cameraphone annoy him? Or perhaps we're so accustomed to people taking photographs all around us today that it just wouldn't be an issue.

He used a fast, 50mm lens, allowing him to shoot quickly in a range of lighting conditions, and he hated post-production: "Our job consists of observing reality with the help of our camera … of fixing reality in a moment, but not manipulating it, neither during the shoot nor in the darkroom later on," he said. "These types of manipulation are always noticed by anyone with a good eye." So no Hipstamatic for him, then.

But if convenience trumps quality, and "fixing reality in a moment" is the most important thing, maybe Cartier-Bresson would have taken to the smartphone (and other tools of our digital age). As it is, he hung up his camera in 1975 and lost interest in photography, preferring to draw. "I never think about photography," he said in 2003. That would be hard to do today, in a world where if it isn't photographed, it didn't happen.


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January 09 2012

Decisive moment? Smartphones steal focus from compact cameras

Camera sales fell 30% in 2011 as experts predict snapshot device may go way of satnav and landline

Not long ago, life's precious moments were captured by someone who had the foresight to bring their camera. Now, everyone can reach for their phone. And having also dented demand for landlines, the PC and the satnav, smartphones are now officially replacing the compact camera as the most popular device for taking photos.

Sales of point and shoot cameras fell 30% by value in 2011 compared with the year before. Camera manufacturers have been on red alert since last summer, when the iPhone 4 became the most popular device from which snaps were uploaded to the picture sharing website Flickr.

Even some professional photographers admit they turn to their phones for snaps, with the celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz describing her iPhone as the "snapshot camera of today". "I'm still learning how to use mine," Liebovitz told NBC. "I can't tell you how many times I see people show me their children. It's the wallet with the family pictures in it."

Basic fixed-lens cameras accounted for more than 48% of manufacturers' takings in Britain in 2010, according to research firm GfK. By November 2011, the most recent data shows these cameras represented just 37% of takings.

"2011 was when sales of basic cameras seriously started to decline," said GfK analyst Zhelya Dancheva. "It's about how consumers are using cameras, and on what occasions. The smartphone is popular because it's always in your pocket, and you are connected so you can directly upload to the internet whenever you want."

Manufacturers will attempt to breathe new life into the budget camera market at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an annual showcase for gadget makers. Samsung, Canon and Sony Electronics have added a range of bells and whistles, including Wi-Fi connections and technology to recognise and zoom in on children's faces, with which they hope to lure back their lost customers.

"All manufacturers need to focus on the value of a camera and what differentiates it versus a smartphone," said Reid Sullivan of Samsung, unveiling the firm's latest model, the DV300F, which can upload images to sharing sites. It will also do away with the need for cables by sending images wirelessly to a computer.

The camera also claims to eliminate blurry backgrounds when capturing fast moving subjects, and has a small screen on the front to let users see self portraits.

Canon's flagship new point and shoot, the PowerShot G1X, can apparently prioritize face detection of children so that even the most fidgety subject's expression will appear in focus.

Sony's newer cameras can take photographs in 3D and will work in extreme conditions, including under water. The budget models will also come with more powerful zoom lenses that capture events at a greater distance and with a higher resolution than phones.

The iPhone 4 is now used by more than 5,000 people to upload more than 73,000 photos each day on Flickr. The second most popular camera, with slightly more than 4,000 daily Flickr users, is the Nikon D90. It costs more than £550 without a lens and has a picture resolution of 12.3 megapixels, compared with the iPhone 4's five megapixels.

Unveiling the latest iPhone last autumn, Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook, spent as much time emphasising its camera features as its processing power. The 4S has a resolution of eight megapixels, almost as high as the minimum of 10 now sported by most basic cameras.

The trend towards cameraphones is just as advanced in the United States, where they were used to take 27% of photos last year, up from 17% in 2010, according to market research firm NPD. The proportion of photos taken with a point and shoot camera fell from 52% to 44%.

Trevor Moore, chief executive of photography retailer Jessops, said customers now believe the quality of photographs taken from their smartphones is high enough to spend money turning them into prints. "We have a huge number of smartphone users coming into our stores to use our printing kiosks," said Moore. "We take the opportunity to talk to them about how they can make better pictures with a high quality camera."

In fact, sales of higher quality camera models are booming, giving hope to manufacturers such as Canon. Having become dissatisfied with the limitations of basic digital cameras, customers are flocking to those which offer better zooms and higher resolution. Sales of fixed lens devices, which offer a zoom of more than 10 times, were up 42% by volume in the year to November, having risen 55% in 2010. Compact system cameras, which have interchangeable lenses, have seen sales by volume rise 51% in the past year, according to GfK.

Expert view

Having spent a few years schlepping around a heavy bag of cameras and lenses and with at least one dodgy shoulder to prove it, I'm always interested in developments that take some of the weight out of shooting decent pictures. And it looks like I'm not the only one who has discovered the joys of using the ultimate lightweight camera as millions of people seem to have proved by ditching them and using a smartphone instead.

Sales of cheap cameras are down; it's not surprising – if you carry one thing these days it's a phone, and if it shoots pictures of similar quality to a camera, why carry a camera too? Having shot those great pictures of junior's first steps, a couple more keystrokes on the phone have them winging their way to a proud granny. If you really want them, Hipstamatic and other apps are available to "improve" your snaps, while Twitter or Flickr will distribute or store them for you.

Photographically, a really interesting and encouraging thing about using a smartphone is the way the focal length of the lens feels "right" for many shots. This is because the lens is slightly wider than the "standard" lens sold with a camera and gives a usefully wider view. In practice these images feel comfortable or real to the viewer, something early users of compact 35mm cameras in the last century discovered.

They were trying to capture reality and a widish lens gave them that result. They were also trying to be inconspicuous, hence the use of small Leica cameras just as these days someone using a phone in the street arouses no interest. Even if you are not a Cartier-Bresson, convenience and a reasonably faithful representation of their world is all that most people want from their photography. A smartphone gives you all that.

Roger Tooth, the Guardian's head of photography


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October 06 2011

Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, dies at 56

The mastermind behind an empire that has revolutionised personal computing, telephony and music, dies in California

Steve Jobs, billionaire co-founder of Apple and the mastermind behind an empire of products that revolutionised computing, telephony and the music industry, has died in California at the age of 56.

Jobs stepped down in August as chief executive of the company he helped set up in 1976, citing illness. He had been battling an unusual form of pancreatic cancer, and had received a liver transplant in 2009.

Jobs wrote in his letter of resignation: "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."

Apple released a statement paying tribute: "Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives … The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

Bill Gates, the former chief executive of Microsoft, said in a statement that he was "truly saddened to learn of Steve Jobs's death". He added: "The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.

"For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honour. I will miss Steve immensely."

He is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children. In a statement his family said Jobs "died peacefully today surrounded by his family … We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief".

Jobs was one of the pioneers of Silicon Valley and helped establish the region's claim as the global centre of technology. He founded Apple with his childhood friend Steve Wozniak, and the two marketed what was considered the world's first personal computer, the Apple II.

He was ousted in a bitter boardroom battle in 1985, a move that he later claimed was the best thing that could have happened to him. Jobs went on to buy Pixar, the company behind some of the biggest animated hits in cinema history including Toy Story, Cars and Finding Nemo.

He returned to Apple 11 years later when it was being written off by rivals. What followed was one of the most remarkable comebacks in business history.

Apple was briefly the most valuable company in the world earlier this year, knocking oil giant Exxon Mobil off the top spot. The company produces $65.2bn a year in revenue compared with $7.1bn in its business year ending September 1997.

Starting with his brightly coloured iMacs, Jobs went on to launch hit after hit transformed personal computing.

Then came the success of the iPod, which revolutionised the music industry, leading to a collapse in CD sales and making Jobs one of the most powerful voices in an industry he loved.

His firm was named in homage to the Beatles' record label, Apple. But the borrowing was permitted on the basis that the computing firm would stay out of music. After the success of the iPod the two Apples became engaged in a lengthy legal battle which finally ended last year when the Beatles allowed iTunes to start selling their back catalogue.

Jobs's remarkable capacity to spot what people wanted next came without the aid of market research or focus groups.

"For something this complicated, it's really hard to design products by focus groups," he once said. "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Jobs initially hid his illness but his startling weight loss started to unnerve his investors. He took a six-month medical leave of absence in 2009, during which he received a liver transplant, and another medical leave of absence in mid-January before stepping down as chief executive in August.

Jobs leaves an estimated $8.3bn, but he often dismissed others' interest in his wealth. "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful … that's what matters to me."


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September 15 2011

ePayments Week: Three startups bet on commerce

Here's what popped onto my radar in the commerce space this week.

Commerce startups at TechCrunch Disrupt

Openbucks, Rewardli, LemonThree startups in the commerce space caught my eye at TechCrunch Disrupt:

Openbucks lets users pay for credits in online games with gift cards purchased from some major retailers (Subway, Circle K, Sports Authority, etc.). CEO and cofounder Marc Rochman told me that the service was designed primarily for the "unbanked" — teenagers or others who don't have credit cards or bank accounts. But feedback from customers during the service's beta period this year showed him it also has legs with people who want a little privacy in their gaming. Rochman said they intend to branch out to other digital goods, including music and other media, as long as it's appropriate for the brands. That rules out one fairly large online industry where users would want to pay for online content while remaining anonymous — and Rochman confirmed, they intend to stay far away from adult content in order to protect their own brand.

Rewardli creates buying groups for small businesses to get volume discounts from retailers, tech vendors, and travel companies — the places that small businesses already buy from. George Favvas, cofounder and CEO, said this isn't another daily deal program. First, it's aimed at helping businesses save on the things they're already buying, like plane tickets, PCs, and paper. Second, it's not focused on limited-time offers or daily deals. Once you've signed as part of a group, you can buy from any of the 60 retail partners, including Staples, Lenovo, Virgin Atlantic, Expedia and GoDaddy. The size of your group and its activity with that retailer determines the size of your discount. You don't see your discount immediately, but you do get a bulk refund deposited in your PayPal account after a few weeks. It's a good idea and easy to join, but it will be interesting to see if businesses save enough to make it worth the wait.

Lemon is a service for organizing your receipts online. Retailers are beginning to follow the Apple Store's lead in offering to email receipts, and you can have yours sent to an @lemon.com address to keep them all organized. Co-founder Meyer Malik said they are developing smartphone apps (Android is ready; iOS, Rim and Windows are on the way) to digitize snapshots of your physical receipts and add them to the records. While I can't think of anyone (with the possible exception of myself) who would spend time photographing grocery and gas receipts, I think there's potential here in managing receipts for returns and warranties. Maybe that's where Lemon got its name: one of its best uses could be to help recover the value of products that don't outlast their warranties.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Daily deals still rising

A couple of weeks ago I wondered whether daily-deal fatigue was setting in, given Facebook's abandoning of its program and an anecdotal sense that the offers were too niche and too expensive to fit into consumers' monthly budgets. But perhaps the wave hasn't crested yet: research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey projects strong growth for daily deals. Back in March, the firm had predicted that deals would grow from $873 million in 2010 to $3.9 billion in 2015. This week, they goosed up the 2015 figure to $4.2 billion, based on a few new developments: more people signing up than expected, more active users, more targeted deals, and (to my surprise) a rise in the average price per transaction. Even so, BIA/Kelsey's chief economist Mark Fratirik sees "a ceiling on how many deals consumers will buy." At some point, presumably, people will decide it's cheaper to buy their own kayaks.

Feature phones

A few weeks ago, telecom research firm Ovum reminded us that there is still life in the feature-phone (or, non-smartphone) app market, predicting that the market would double to $1 billion by 2016. The report noted that the combination of large numbers of feature-phone owners and an uncrowded playing field offer lucrative potential for developers. Widgets from Nokia and Opera, along with the advent of HTML5, could also make feature phones more capable competitors to smartphones.

A report this week from comScore MobiLens, paired with analysis by Asymco, however, suggests the feature-phone market is quickly yielding ground to smartphones. ComScore's report focused on the growth in smartphone usage in Europe's five largest markets, particularly among Android users. Asymco looked at the flip side of that gain and found that Android hadn't taken its share from other smartphone operating systems as much as it had taken it from feature phones. Still, Asymco notes, there are billions of people on the planet without phones, and the first one they're likely to afford will probably be a feature phone.

Got news?

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If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.

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August 18 2011

ePayments Week: The economics of in-app purchases

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

Flurry: Gamers buying more consumables

Mighty Eagle from Angry BirdsA few weeks ago we reported on research from Flurry Analytics that found the freemium model for games was quickly becoming the dominant source of income from mobile apps on the iOS and Android platforms. This week, Flurry has followed up that report with some details on the types of goods gamers buy. Economists in the physical world divide goods into durables (washing machines) and consumables (detergent). So does Flurry, which found that only 30% of purchases were for things users could keep (like a new suit of armor or a building), while 68% was spent on things we use up getting to the next level (like Smurfberries or fertilizer). Personalization items, like decorations, accounted for 2%.

Flurry's Jeferson Valadares speculated that the relative value of a purchase depends on the game's goals. For example, purchasing a structure in a city-building game may help you reach a higher level, whereas in a farming game consumables like fertilizer may be more valuable. And it just may be that in more games out there, consumables help players reach their goals more often than durables do.

Over on The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Mike Schramm reported on the finding and added another perspective: that in some cases, gamers will balk at too much help. "[S]ome consumers will backlash against a consumable item that affects gameplay too much, like a double-damage token in a multiplayer game, or anything else that could be seen as cheating." Gamers, like anyone else, don't mind a little help, but not so much help that they feel they're not winning on their own.


Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD


Cheap Androids invade Kenya

While One Laptop Per Child continues its mission of distributing inexpensive, network-enabled laptops to school children around the world, it seems that smartphones may make an end run around that effort. Chinese technology firm Huawei is manufacturing an $80 Android-based phone called IDEOS, and it has sold 350,000 through Safaricom in Kenya.

Writing on Singularity Hub, Jeremy Ford dissects some of the technology used in the IDEOs to show that by delivering a slightly less powerful phone, Huawei is able to deliver a significantly less expensive product that still offers users access to hundreds of thousands of Android apps. Ford describes some of the apps available, including one that uses crowdsourcing to track crop diseases.

Safaricom has already made an international name for itself through its M-PESA program, which has brought mobile banking services to millions of Kenyans in urban and rural environments. Having innovated in the financial arena on phones that were only capable of sending text messages, it will be interesting to see what sorts of payment applications take shape once millions of Kenyans are carrying smartphones — and it sounds like that won't be far off.


What makes a successful mobile app?

What should mobile developers be thinking about as they approach development on their next project? Which platform offers the most potential for growth? How about revenue? Over at Fierce Developer, Sandhya Raman has a round-up of six questions that developers should ask themselves before starting that next project. Raman links to a similar article that ran last month on GigaOM, Rachel Youens' "7 Habits of Highly Effective Apps." Both make good, quick reading for anyone involved in mobile development.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.



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July 20 2011

Smartphones and spheres of influence

This is part of an ongoing series suggesting ways to spark mobile disruption. We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead.


Though the mobile space is rapidly expanding, some may argue that the space just isn't disruptive enough. In the spirit of disruption, I've reached out to several people across the tech and publishing industries to answer one question:

If you were going to build an app that fully harnessed mobile's capabilities, what would it do and how would it work?

I recently posed this question to Tyler Bell (@twbell), director of product at Factual. His answer follows.

TylerBell.jpg Tyler Bell: I'm keenly interested in the idea of the phone as a universal telefactor-cum-sensor platform. To effect something you must know its status, so I would note that this would entail it's being a universal monitor also. I'm not certain I could choose a single app to develop, but I would be most interested in accelerating the phone's development in several ways:

  • As a universal interface — Moving us away from proprietary devices and a multiplicity of interfaces. I would first include obvious next-steps like house and car security and automation. Generally these devices will go hand-in-hand with monitoring tasks — energy consumption, charge levels, and security status are all base-level statuses that can be monitored and effected from a single device.
  • As a sensor suite — Phones now are packed with devices that can create data from the world around us. It gets most interesting when their use deviates from their original intention. For example, the camera has migrated from a novelty to become an input device, the microphone and accelerometer — my favorite sensor; everyone has one, surely — are used to determine proximity, and the Wi-Fi chip is used to aid in location determination. I'd like to see the phone continue on a similar trajectory, especially with regard to personal health monitoring.
  • As a swarm — Phones are still built around one-to-one thinking. Sensors and collective inputs are more valuable when part of a massive collective. I would expect that this hypothetical app would ensure that my phone worked together with millions of others, reporting data on civic infrastructure, the weather, traffic, and other aspects of our shared existence.
  • As an agent — The phone remains a synchronous device, though push-based mechanisms have begun to move us away from this as the norm. I would expect my preferred app to become more autonomous, "spinning up" agents to satisfy my requests and reporting back when complete.

Phones allow us to expand our influence to other things, people, and places. Any app that facilitates and enriches such interaction can only be a good thing.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

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  • More from the Mobile Disruption Series

  • July 12 2011

    Tech Weekly podcast: New government data, smartphone explosion

    On this week's programme, we're reporting on the smartphone market, a handset ecosystem that's set to reach critical mass in the next 23 months. Once more than half the UK population has access to all the features, what will this mean for how we consume online content, and for trends in the UK software development market?

    Also, David Cameron launched the UK's latest open data initiative, releasing a new tranche of public data for use by developers. What new insights can be gained, and has this data been specifically chosen to advance the Tory agenda?

    We spend a lot of time talking about privacy issues on this podcast, but most of it related to the corporations behind social networks, search engines and other publishing systems. So what about punters who hijack computers for the sake of art? A New York-based artist has been detained by the US secret service for "fraud and related activities" for uploading software on public computers at Apple stores around the city and then capturing images of shoppers looking at the screens.

    Plus Jemima steps into the Elevator with Mark McLaughlin of Ticket ABC.

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    April 20 2011

    Why the cloud may finally end the reign of the work computer

    Work Place by cell105, on FlickrIt's been a debate within organizations as long as I can remember: whether it's possible to support a workforce that has the choice to use their own computers to perform their work. Recently the discussion has reached new levels of excitement as some big name organizations have initiated pilot programs. For IT leaders it's a prospect that's both compelling and daunting.

    Technology developments over the years have made software more hardware agnostic, such as the introduction of the web browser and Java. Personal computers have largely become commodity items and their reliability has significantly improved. Yet, despite these events, bringing your own computer (BYOC) to work has remained an elusive goal.

    Why bring your own computer to work?

    From an IT leader's perspective, the reasons for supporting BYOC are pretty clear. In an environment where CEOs want more of the organization's dollars assigned to value-creating investments and innovation, the ongoing cost of asset management continues to be an unfortunate overhead. From procurement and assignment to repairs and disposal, managing large numbers of personal computers represents a significant dollar amount on a CIO's budget.

    The second driver is the desire of employees to use the equipment they are most comfortable with to do their jobs. We know that for most, a personal computer is not simply a black box. From wallpaper to icon positions, a computer often represents an extension of the individual. If anyone needs more convincing, just try and pry an Apple computer away from its user and replace it with a Windows machine (and vice versa). People have preferences. Enterprise-provided computers are a reluctantly accepted reality.

    Why can't we bring our own computers to work?

    With these compelling reasons and more supporting BYOC, why has it not happened? The first reason that comes to mind for most IT leaders is the nightmare of trying to support hardware from a myriad of vendors. It flies in the face of standardization, which largely helps to keep costs and complexity down. In addition, organizations have continued to build solutions that rely on specific software and hardware requirements and configurations. Finally, there is both a real and perceived loss of control that makes most security and risk professionals shudder.

    With all that said, there are now some substantive reasons to believe BYOC may soon become a reality for many organizations.

    Times they are a changing

    [Many of you can skip this brief history recap] When the web browser emerged in the 1990s, there was some optimism that it would herald the beginning of a world where software would largely become hardware agnostic. Many believed it would make the operating system (OS) largely irrelevant. Of course we know this didn't happen, and software vendors continued to build OS-dependent solutions and organizations recommitted to large-scale, in-house ERP implementations that created vendor lock-ins. At the time, browser technology was inadequate, hosted enterprise applications were weak and often absent for many business functions, and broadband was expensive, inconsistent, and often unreliable across the U.S.

    Skip forward and the situation is markedly different. Today we have robust browsers and supporting languages, reliable broadband, and enterprise-class applications that are delivered from hosted providers. It's also not uncommon anymore for staff to use non-business provided, cloud-based consumer applications to perform their work.

    Oh to be a start-up! If we could all redo our businesses today, we'd likely avoid building our own data centers and most of our applications. This is one of the promises of cloud computing. And while there will be considerable switching costs for existing organizations, the trend suggests a future where major business functions that are provided by technology will largely be non-competitive, on-demand utilities. In this future state it's entirely possible that hardware independence will become a viable reality. With the application, data, business logic, and security all provisioned in the cloud, the computer really does simply become a portal to information and utility.

    Smartphones are already a "bring your own computer" to work device

    The smartphone demonstrates all the characteristics of the cloud-provisioned services I've discussed. In many organizations bringing your own smartphone to work is standard practice. Often the employee purchases the device, gets vendor support, and pays for the service themselves (a large number of organizations reimburse the service cost). It's a model that may be emulated with personal computers. (That is, if smartphones don't evolve to become the personal computer. That's another possible outcome.)

    I believe fully-embraced cloud computing makes BYOC entirely possible. There will continue to be resistance and indeed, there will be industries where security and control is so inflexible, that BYOC will be difficult to attain. There will also be cultural issues. We'll need to overcome the notion that providing a computer is an organizational responsibility. There was a time when most organizations provided sales-people with cars (some still do). Today we expect employees to provide and maintain their own cars, but we do provide mileage reimbursement when it's used for business purposes. Could there be a similar model for employees who use their own computers? Today, for BYOC, some enterprises simply provide a stipend. What works and what doesn't will need to be figured out.

    So what now?

    So what are the takeaways from all of this? First, BYOC is a real likelihood for many organizations and it's time for IT leadership to grapple with the implications. Second, the emergence of cloud computing will have unanticipated downstream impacts in organizations and strategies to address those issues will need to be created. Lastly, we've already entered into a slow and painful convergence between smartphones, personal computers, consumer applications and devices, and cloud computing. This needs to be reconciled appropriate to each industry and organization. And it has to happen sooner than later.

    When the dust settles, the provision of computing services in the enterprise will be entirely different. IT leadership had better be prepared.

    Photo: Work Place by cell105, on Flickr



    Related:




    October 06 2010

    Four short links: 6 October 2010

    1. “Poetic” Statistical Machine Translation: Rhyme and Meter (PDF) -- Google Research paper on how to machine translate text into poetry. This is the best paper I've read in a long time: clever premise, straightforward implementation, and magnificent results. There's a very workable translation of Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol" into a different meter, which you'll know isn't easy if you've ever tried your hand at poetry more complex than "there once was a young man called Enis". (via Poetic Machine Translation on the Google Research blog)
    2. Android Most Popular Operating System in US Among Recent Smartphone Buyers (Nielsen blog) -- the graphs say it all. Note how the growth in Android handset numbers doesn't come at the expense of Blackberry or iPhone users? Android users aren't switchers, they're new smartphone owners. (via Hacker News)
    3. Government Data to be Machine Readable (Guardian) -- UK government to require all responses to Freedom of Information Act requests to be machine readable.
    4. jQuery Fundamentals -- CC-SA-licensed book on jQuery programming. (via darren on Twitter)

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