Monday, 19 January 2015

Is Mobile Ready for User Generated Content(UGC)?

I warn you now my conclusion is going to be “No” in answer to this question. Many reading this are going to protest as I know that there are 1.8B photos shared per day and many of these on mobile but I do think that UGC grew up on the fixed web and has not adpated to mobile fully yet — it’s still very immature and yet UGC on mobile is already massive with the likes of Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. My belief it needs to become more sophisticated and then its will become even more massive.
The above diagram is my own person opinion and others may disagree with the precise positions, but my point is that to be a good Mobile UGC product it must be easy to add content on a mobile phone and additionally be easily distributable to all mobile phones and also have significant sophistication to make it an interesting product.
For these reasons Snapchat and Instagram score well on Ease of Mobile use but are low on sophistication and products like Youtube and Facebook score well on sophisticated content but are not so good (yet) on integration with mobile (simply because they have transferred from the fixed internet environment).
We make our own product Appies score well on both axes because it is both easy to add content and distribute to any phone as well as having a sophisticated content.
But Appies is still a relatively “unknown” product and because of this the answer to the question is “No” — the mobile is not yet ready for UGC.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Digital Publishing in the Developing World will be very different

This week there were two competing announcements concerning bringing the Internet to the 3B (half the world’s population) using Satellite constellations in low earth orbit. The two announcements were competing but strangely similar. First Richard Branson announced his system joint with Qualcomm working with OneWeb run by Greg Wyler a veteran in Satellite Internet and comms delivery using a modified version of Virgin Galactic to launch 648 satellites at low cost(relative to costs of today’s satellite launches). On Friday Elon Musk announced almost the same thing but using his SpaceX rockets as the launcher. Oddly Elon and OneWeb’s Greg Tyler are long term friends but apparently they have fallen out over the technical details on how the satellite constellation should be constructed and parted ways. The problem for Elon is he does not own the slots for the satellites so there may be an issue to his approach. Richard Branson has commented that Elon should work with them not compete.
These announcements follow Zuckerberg’s announcements of cheap internet for the 3rd world using an app to bring free internet and Google project loon which uses solar powered drone aircraft. In factZuckerberg actually launched this free service this week in Columbia
These big names indicate there is real interest in bringing the Internet to the missing 3B.
These announcements makes you think how the Internet will be used by these 3B who are also the poorest people in the world. Zuckerberg is trying to find ways to make the Internet free to these people by limited the services offered through an app. The fact is that a satellite system costing billions of dollars cannot be entirely free even though it will be used commercially by aircraft and business throughout the world.
How do you make the Internet free to these 3B people. The answer is you provide a very different Internet to today’s Internet. This new Internet must be designed to be used intermittently online and its data needs to be available when offline. This structure is very applicable to mobile phone apps which can work entirely offline — its not really very applicable to today’s web-site structure although it is possible to design website’s to work offline too.
I also think Digital Publishing in the developing world will be very different — it must be hugely democratised and also publishing needs to be from the mobile phone and not the PC. Content also needs to work on all Phones — this is hard to do with Apps — this is the reason why we’ll see the rise of publishing platforms for mobile — this is what I am working on. It’s exciting times, the Internet is going to double in size but needs to work very differently to today’s internet to keep costs down and still be usable.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Convergence is not because of 4-Play — find out the Mobile Industry’s secret

In the UK last week there was a lot of activity amongst the mobile carriers. Vodafone is trying to acquire fixed cable operator Virgin Media (owned by Liberty Global’s John Malone) and fixed-line operator BT Group is trying to acquire Mobile carriers O2 or EE.

The business pundits on Bloomberg and the FT are saying its because of 4-Play. This is where the carrier sells 4 services to the same shared user base — the 4 services are TV, fixed broadband, fixed phone and mobile phone (voice and data). The pundits say the evidence is not clear users need to go for this sharing of services so the business case is unclear. In fact, Vodafone’s share price fell nearly 4% on trading because of this doubt and some worries of the debt burden of their prospective purchase.

However, Vodafone has been going round Europe buying up fixed line/cable operators for the past nine months. There is no doubt to their strategy — its clear and furthermore it has nothing to do with 4-Play at all. It’s to the industries advantage to keep the reasons for these transactions secret — if the investors knew the real reason they would be asking much more for these transactions.

The real reason has been kept a secret by the industry. It’s because of the way 5G will work — it will appear in 2020. In fact 5G needs this convergence to work. 5G needs to promise high bandwidths — in fact it will give between 1GBit and 10GBit as it grows over time. The way it will achieve this is by increasing the number of base stations. Today base station are miles apart and require planning permission to put up — having many more base stations could be a real pain? No it won’t. In fact the other issues with today’s mobile networks is they do not work well inside buildings — its only low fequency bands which can penetrate buildings and yet to get high bandwidth you need high frequency bands. But that will not be a problem for 5G either.

The clue is in a feature that BT Group use already — when you buy a BT Internet service, the hub they give the user has an extra function the user does not know about — it provides paid Wifi access to users in range of the Hub. In the 5G world these hubs will also contain a femto-cell and people outside the office or home will use the femto-cell for mobile calls and data. Because everyone has a hub, the number with femto-cells will blossom and provide huge potential bandwidth to the general public. Furthermore these femto-cells will be placed inside office buildings and provide perfect signals and high data bandwidth. Today femto-cells cost about £200 but in this world of mass adoption this cost will come down to a small fraction of that. It's a perfect combination everyone wins.

The home user of the new fibre internet will get these special hubs which additionally allow them perfect mobile reception inside their house and the Internet of Things a route to market where multiple items in the home have perfect high bandwidth connections to the Internet.

Of course the industry does not want to tell anyone about this yet. The statements are that we’re not quite sure what 5G is yet so when we’ve agreed what it is we’ll be able to discuss it. They do know and they have it working in the labs already.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Connecting the Unconnected.

This is a follow on article from my previous article The Missing 3.4B Internet Users. In that article I explained that there would be an extra 3.4B new users in the 3rd world who will be coming online in the next 5 years.

One of the issues on bringing on so many users is to get them access to the Internet itself when reception in these remote but highly populated areas is poor or non-existent. 

There are people working on this, Google as part of their Project X initiative have a Project called Loon which uses balloons to connect people to the Internet from 65,000 feet. The area covered by the transmission is 40Km in diameter under the balloon. It positions itself by moving between wind layers in the atmosphere and is powered by solar cells. The balloons stay in the air for 100 days. They started by using Wifi but quickly switched to using Mobile 4G (LTE) technology in partnership with local phone carriers.

Facebook using the organisation is also working on a solution. They are using solar powered planes which also fly at 65,000 feet in the stratosophere. There is currently less information about this project but they claim it’s better than balloons because the position can be controlled more accurately and it can potentially stay aloft for years.

AirBus have a project called Zephr which also uses a solar powered aircraft flying at 65,000 feet. Testing is in early stages and recently it was flown over the UAE for a day and a night before landing.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Missing 3.4B Internet Users

Over the next 5 years there will be 3.4B additional Internet users based on numbers from an Ericsson report released today. This is more than the number of users online today (Google says 2.9B users). These new users will not have used the Internet before and will have their first experience of the Internet on a Smartphone (and mostly these Smartphones will be Android) and will not have access to a PC at all. Most of these people will be from the Developing world and most of these will be from India and China. Today the Internet.
So in 5 years the Internet will be the same but just with more than double the current users…. right?

The Internet will be very different in 5 years time

The nature and use of this new Internet population is so different from today that this new Internet will be for this new population very different. These new users will be mobile first and mobile only. Most new content generation will be from phones not PCs as is the case today and there will be a new set of phone Apps to create content — and a whole new set of mobile products/services to go with these apps.
Of course Facebook will still be there and because the mobile Facebook app does content generation as well as consumption Facebook might well survive the sweeping changes other Internet services will suffer from.

New Services

The new services will have to cope with different circumstances. Multiple languages, multiple unicode fonts, sporadic e-commerce capabilities and sporadic Internet connectivity and variety of wireless speeds. The business models will also be different. The amount of money that can be made per user in the developing world is less than 1/10th of that that can be made in the west, but the saving factor is there are many more potential users. Thus only large population services will survive. Low population services will be much more difficult.
Of course I am working on some of these new services and anyone that wants to know more please contact me or see our IndieGoGo Campaign.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Apple's strategy is all about "lock-in" for users and developers

Nearly all the announcements on last Monday 2nd June WWDC were about lock-in to Apple for both the users and the developers.  In this article we'll go through all the announcements and talk about why they cause lock-in.  But what is lock-in? Lock-in tries to get users to use all the Apple devices and services from iPhone, Mac, iWatch(when it arrives), iTunes, iMessage, AppleTV to all future internet devices for the body, home and car.  And lock-in makes developers use Apple proprietary technologies which may well be better because they're highly tailored  but also make it harder to develop for competitive platforms such as Android.

So let's go through the announcements and look to see where the lock-in points are.  First they talked about the new MacOS Yosemite operating system which has enhancements to iMessage so that it interworks with iPhone and Mac (and the assumption the iWatch), so that when something is entered on one device it can be completed on another -they are calling this continuity.

Heathkit is a layer of software which sits between the health sensor and an app retrieving the information.  The idea is to get all manufacturers to conform to this specification so that there is a central repository for the user's data.  We see the logic in this but question whether Apple should be interpreting this data in the Healthkit layer - anyway time will tell whether the specification is used by the sensor manufacturers.  This also causes a danger for the manufacturers because it means that at some point in the future Apple could undermine a particular device by building it itself.  Also the manufacturers who also support Android still need to develop their own software and interfaces or perhaps use something different from Google.  So this enables lock-in to Apples eco system.

Homekit is Healthkit for the home.  However, it seems much simpler and better designed than Healthkit - it does not attempt to interpret data and just enables a well thought out structure to the data for devices found in the home (now and in the future).  If I had a crystal ball I might see Healthkit being a failure and Homekit succeeding in the future.  In many ways the lock-in for Homekit is similar for manufacturers - the advantage is they integrate with a structure and can interact with other sensors.  However, the danger is they get locked-in into that eco-system and can be swapped out at a moments notice for Apple devices.  However, if they do a good job then they will survive or get bought up.

Cloudkit has existed previously and the additions are just incremental.  However Apple has realised  they have to compete with DropBox and Box who have implemented a great service.  I am sure iCloud will now implement the feature of proper file sharing correctly unlike Microsoft whose OneDrive implementation does not actually work properly currently. This is a bit of a disadvantage but I am sure Microsoft will get their software working correctly sometime especially as they're giving away so much disk space

Spritekit has pre-existed these announcements but some improvements has also been made in particular in the integration with Playground(see later).  Spritekit enables 2D graphics development and because it's specific to Apple it's a lock-in for developers.

Scenekit and Metal - these are both new enabling 3D rendering of graphics particularly for game developers.  Because they are proprietary to Apple again they lock in developers.

Swift and Playground  Swift is a brand new programming language fixing many of the issues developers have with Objective-C.  The fact that it is proprietary is a lock-in for developers, but it also makes life a lot easier taking away the memory management issues of objective C and making it easier to code standard use cases.  Furthermore the playground options allows developers to create examples really quickly and interactively.  Playground is a revolution for developers in the same way Visual Basic was a revolution for developers in the 1990s.  However, Apple still have the signing complexity to deal with because it is still not easy for developer to submit an app to the appstore.  The complicated steps in signing an app remain the barrier for all developers even those with real knowledge and experience.  

Scaling of images.  It's clear the iPhone6 will have a larger screen and developers will need to explicitly support this device.  As a result Apple have finally built in support for scalable images in the way Android have always done.  The concept was presented in the context of  iPhone and iPad support but its clear this is needed to support the larger iPhone 6 with screen size reported to be similar to the Galaxy S5.

Putting all these new developments into context its evident that both the user and the developer is being locked in to Apple technologies.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Alibaba's IPO filing is another set of key pointers to eBay's failings

Alibaba has now provided some detail to its filing of its potential IPO in the US.   Many compare Alibaba to Amazon but we think it better to compare it to eBay.

The filing details show it to be a profitable and well designed set of services in the e-commerce area.  Most of their business is within China but don't be fooled their model is applicable for any country in the east or west.  Alibaba is a massive company with US$250B in merchandise value and growth reported in Dec 2013 of 62% year and year at US$3B just for December.  Most of their money comes from their two main sites Taoboa (C2C) and Tmall (B2C).  Toaboa is consumer to consumer and is thought to be the larger generator of money with 100M daily visits.  The fact they've split their sites up is an example of the correct approach so that focus is not taken off any one area.  eBay have a single site for both C2C and B2C, but because they get more profit from B2C they've do not provide proper C2C support.  The other area where Alibaba and eBay differ is their business models.  eBays takes commission on their sales of up to 15%, with a further 3% going to Paypal - this leads to stifling their business, whereas Alibaba take no commission but instead make money from product placement and escrow services.  Additionally Alibaba has a messaging service allowing users to talk to each other.

Carl Icahn has been silenced on his protestations of how bad the eBay management is by being given a place on the eBay board for one of his associates.  But do not forget that his words that eBay has the worst management of any company he had seen.  Carl never got into the detail of the huge number of failings in the running of eBay but suffice it to say eBay's failing is clearly an opportunity for other companies to eat away at the C2C business it is ignoring and incapable of addressing

So to conclude we think eBay needs to do the following:

1) Spin off PayPal
2) Split eBay into C2C auctions and C2B auctions so focus can be given to both businesses
3) Commissions need to be reduced and alternative models such as product placement and escrow services put in place in order to eventually remove commissions altogether.
4) eBay need to add messaging capability between users

Alternatively of course other businesses will come in and eat away at eBay's position.