Chetan Sharma: The Connected Intelligence Era & The Golden Age of Mobile

Some fantastic stuff in here. About 35 pages in total. Covers (mostly) future mobile enablement of the Internet of Things/Connected Intelligence/Contextual Internet/whatever you want to call it. Are we at the tail end of the Golden Age of Mobile? Or will this era of connected intelligence be its own cycle?

Also, some really good insights into the mobile stack and the relationship between the last mile of connectivity, the API/enabling layer and the software at the top of the stack. The paper ends with a look at this revolution from a policy standpoint: how jobs will be affected, in what sectors and what policymakers will ultimately be able to do to maximize the benefits and mitigate the potential damage.

AM Roundup: Twitch, Facebook’s Clickbait Crackdown & Siracusa’s Reviews

Good morning. Some headlines in tech over the last 12 or so hours that aren’t mobile-specific but are making an impact on the larger tech ecosystem:

Amazon bought Twitch for a little over a billion dollars, $970 million of that in cash, according to Eric Johnson at Re:Code. The video game livestreaming service, which came out of Y-Combinator 2007 class’s Justin.tv, has 55 monthly active users, the brunt of which are free and being monetized off of advertising. However, there’s a growing subscription business that makes up 600,000 users, giving the service a more diversified revenue stream which I’m sure appealed to the folks at Amazon. What was especially interesting about this story is that Twitch was already marked as an acquisition target just days earlier by Google; however, sources at the WSJ say the search giant got cold feet over the last few weeks and pulled the plug on the deal. (edit: Business Insider, citing Forbes, claims it broke down due to antitrust issues)  That gave Amazon the opportunity to sneak in and complete the transaction. So was this a strategic move for Amazon or merely a defensive acquisition to make Google weaker by proxy?

Facebook’s news feed algorithm, EdgeRank, will attempt to crack down on linkbait-y headlines. So the media organizations that make a living off of hyperbolic headlining (BuzzFeed, Upworthy & a host of others) will now be subject to what amounts to informal penalties: their stories will be given less weight by the algorithm and will not show up nearly as frequently in most users’ news feeds. The algorithm will also be giving credence to publishers who post links using Facebook’s now-standard paste-a-link format (which automatically produces the URL/caption) rather than pasting that link within the context of the article itself. You can see examples of both scenarios on Facebook’s press page announcing the changes, which explains it in better detail.

Finally, this was an interesting interview with John Siracusa, he of the exponentially long Mac OSX review. (You can see examples of this at his Ars Technica author page) Some would say he’s swimming against the tide by writing such long-form content but his argument is that people are actually starving for this kind of in-depth analysis, which is hard to argue against considering his reviews actually sell as E-Books on Amazon….and more importantly, sell well.

How to minimize device lock-in and make it easier to migrate to a new smartphone (@gigaom)

While the apps are going to be specific to the platform, my main goal is to select apps where the data resides outside the app in a cloud service I can access from any app. Byword, for example, uses Dropbox to store its files. If the app doesn’t allow the data outside of its comfy little silo, my second guideline is the app should be cross-platform. The Kindle app is available for most devices, as is Comixology. I have a lot of magazines in Zinio, and, again it’s cross-platform.

I try and do this as well. Even though I’ve become more or less an Apple loyalist, I do still use a Windows PC on occasion so it’s important for me to be able to access my data anywhere. The only area where I’ve really screwed myself is with the productivity software I’m using. I use Things, which, while a fantastic program, is Apple only. So while it has syncing capability across all Apple devices, it’s difficult to export anything to a Google Calendar or something cloud-based.

Majority Of Digital Media Consumption Now Takes Place In Mobile Apps (@techcrunch)

U.S. users are now spending the majority of their time consuming digital media within mobile applications, according to a new study released by comScore this morning. That means mobile apps, including the number 1 most popular app Facebook, eat up more of our time than desktop usage or mobile web surfing, accounting for 52% of the time spent using digital media. Combined with mobile web, mobile usage as a whole accounts for 60% of time spent, while desktop-based digital media consumption makes up the remaining 40%.

Apps today are driving the majority of media consumption activity, the report claims, now accounting for 7 our of every 8 minutes of media consumption on mobile devices. On smartphones, app activity is even higher, at 88% usage versus 82% on tablets.

Podcast: Lyft’s Ryan Fujiu on Growth Strategies for Mobile and Elsewhere (@500Startups)

They talk about key mobile-specific challenges starting from about 16:00 to 19:00, along with pricing strategies and some strategies that worked for Lyft and Ryan’s last company, About.me. Good stuff.

Smartphone owners’ appetite for new apps wanes (@FinancialTimes)

Almost a third of smartphone users do not download any apps for their devices in a typical month, according to a report by Deloitte that predicts the volume of app store sales is hitting a ceiling.

The average number of apps downloaded on a monthly basis has decreased considerably in 2014, the firm found in a survey of people in the UK. As smartphones saturate mobile markets in the US and Europe, developers must rely on customers continuing to download new apps for their businesses to grow.

Tune gets into acquisition business, buys MobileDevHQ (@venturebeat)

Mobile analytics player Tune is getting into the acquisition business. Tune bought SaaS mobile-marketing player MobileDevHQ Monday for a price that hasn’t been publicly disclosed. MobileDevHQ’s software gives mobile marketing teams insight into so-called app store visibility, mobile intelligence, and search rankings. This is the first acquisition for Tune, which changed its name from HasOffers in July.

You Are Not Late (@medium)

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute. This is the time that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh to have been alive and well back then!”

Just a public service reminder to those who feel the mobile revolution has already passed them by.

Anil Dash: What Is Public? (@medium)

Many smartphone users don’t realize that the photos they take often include the user’s geographic location hidden in the image. A regular user of a smartphone photo-sharing app who thinks she’s merely revealing her fondness for latte art may not realize that she’s providing a clear map of her exact location, stamped with the date and time accurate down to the second. By the standards of contemporary tech and media companies, displaying this information to the world in the form of “Here is a map showing where this person is every Tuesday at 9am ” is a perfectly acceptable thing to publish about hundreds of millions of people, without their consent, because these companies consider this information public.

When people, especially those in marginalized communities, have conversations with one another online, the fact that it’s possible to view those conversations might make them “public” by some definition. But certainly we can’t concede that every utterance we make in the presence of others is automatically fodder for aggregation and monetization by media and tech companies, without our consent or even the opportunity for remuneration. 

Congress passes cellphone unlocking bill, Obama likely to sign it into law (@gigaom)

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday allowing consumers to unlock mobile devices to work on a different carrier’s network. The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was passed earlier this month by the Senate, leaving President Barack Obama’s signature as the last hurdle to be cleared before the bill becomes law.

Obama is almost certain to sign the bill. “The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice,” he said in a statement released on Friday. “I…look forward to signing this bill into law.”

Mobile Leverage (@benedictevans)

When you pull these strands together, smartphones don’t just increase the size of the internet by 2x or 3x, but more like 5x or 10x. It’s not just how many devices, but how different those devices are, that has the multiplier effect.

To put this another way, if you were to go from 50m text-based mainframe terminals to 100m PCs, you could say you’ve doubled the market, but that would miss the point – you’ve improved things by 10x, not 2x. The same applies to smartphones.

Why I’m so excited about our investment in Yo! (@matthartman)

In a world where everyone implicitly assumes “there’s an app for that,” Yo has the potential to be a layer for all the products and services that don’t actually need — and where users don’t want — a dedicated app. Yo does this along three axes: notifications, buttons, and friction.

On the notification layer:

As notifications become more prominent in iOS 8, more companies will want access to that layer and they don’t all have compelling enough reasons for users to download their apps. In the restaurant buzzer example from earlier, it’s pretty unlikely I’d want to download the restaurant’s app just to be notified when my table is ready — even if it were an app that worked with multiple restaurants. I just wouldn’t use it enough for it to warrant downloading an app.

He goes on to cite Yo as a potential enabler of IoT connectivity as well.

I suppose the question that first comes to mind is: how easy does Yo make this for average users and how many of these would one have to set up on the platform to make the app worthwhile? Probably a lot of different answers to that depending on who you are.

Making Sense of Microsoft (@stratechery)

Microsoft already has software and services like Skype, Bing, and OneDrive that work right now on 100% of that pie; it’s only a matter of time until the same can be said for Office. That is the opportunity; to even think about the share of devices, particularly at the executive level, is to handicap Microsoft’s greatest chance for growth before it even truly gets started. It’s not just that Windows is no longer Office’s only market that matters; it’s that Windows and Microsoft’s devices focus is actively damaging Office’s prospects.

Absolutely.

I would create two companies: the devices side, which includes Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox, and let them do the best they can to grow that 14%. Heck, make Kevin Turner the CEO. Windows profits will keep the company going for quite a while, and who knows, maybe they’ll nail what is next.

Interesting way of thinking about it. And I absolutely agree with the thrust of what Ben is saying here. However, I don’t think it requires splitting Microsoft into two companies. I would still push to keep Windows as a cash cow, make it clear to my employees (and constituents) that we’re no longer pushing Windows on all devices, that it will remain a PC-centric OS and just extricate myself from the device business entirely; except for Xbox, simply because it’s an area in which I still think they can win the lion’s share of the market.

It Looks Like 30 Is the Ceiling for How Many Apps People Use (@WSJ)

Nielsen looked at app usage of about 5,000 U.S. adults in the fourth quarter of 2013. Including all age groups, people spent 65% more time each month using apps than they did two years ago, Nielsen said. But the average number of apps they used each month increased slightly to 26.8 from 26.5 a year earlier and 23.2 two years earlier.

No single age group used more than 30 apps each month. The youngest group used 28 apps, while the next-highest age group — 25-34 — used 29.5.

For some perspective, a study conducted in 2010 showed that the average user looked at 89 websites per month, although that number has almost certainly changed since then as more content has migrated into the app layer.

Tech Scene in Myanmar Hinges on Cellphone Grid (@nytimes)

Great piece from the NYT on Myanmar’s nascent tech scene:

Limited telephone and Internet infrastructure, and decreasing smartphone costs, mean most of Myanmar’s 60 million people will experience the Internet for the first time through cellphones. The biggest growth potential, Mr. Kyaw says, is for mobile and web services relating to tourism, transportation and e-commerce.

While we all talk about the next billion smartphone users, there are infrastructure challenges in the developing world as well that have to be taken into consideration:

But the lack of affordable and reliable Internet connections that is driving demand for mobile apps is also a major hurdle for Myanmar’s technology community. Thiha Aye Kyaw, 20, an Android app developer who works from home here, said of the first time he used a tablet: “I feel like I’m into the future, from what I’ve been using. That large screen, everything you can do with it.”

Like many other developers, he is self-taught and relies on online resources to keep up with technological developments. However, watching a YouTube video, for instance, can be painful with a slow Internet connection that crashes regularly.

“I have to download them with download managers overnight,” he said.

Wandoujia: Higher End Smartphone Users in China more likely to use Twitter or Facebook

From Wandoujia’s always-informative monthly Mobile Search Index for May:

Delving a bit deeper into the rankings, however, we find interesting differences among the two groups. High-tier phone users were more likely to use white-collar stalwart Sina Weibo than their low-tier counterparts. The same can be said for foreign social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which did not even rank in the top 500 apps for the low-tier phone group.

Mobile Innovation in The Second Machine Age is Far From Over

There’s a lot of talk about how mobile is dead and no longer interesting for startups. Investors are already looking towards the blockchain as the next revolutionary technology. The platform wars have been declared over. Turn out the lights, the party’s over, mobile has no more room to run.

I’m not convinced.

If you read one technology book this quarter, it should be The Second Machine Age by MIT’s Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. It covers the exponential growth of the last 20 years worth of technology benchmarked against previous eras of innovation going back to the Industrial Age.

One of the more interesting chapters covers two competing theories of innovation. The first theory states that innovation is essentially low-hanging fruit that’s discovered in the metaphorical forest of ideas, that’s “picked” once and benefits everyone right away but becomes less useful as it gets depleted. In other words, a rapidly depreciating asset.

The second theory is that of recombination or recombinant growth. In this context, the value of innovation is in re-combining old ideas with new technological solutions. In other words, progress isn’t a resource with a finite supply capable of running out: as each development becomes a building block for further innovation, progress continues to accumulate exponentially.

Of course this isn’t a brand new concept. Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” video series that went viral a few years ago chronicles the remixes and adaptations inherent in popular culture, be it music, movies and even technology, using (surprise surprise) the iPhone as its canonical example. Now think of the recombinant innovation that’s taken place in mobile: Waze. Instagram. Maps and photos weren’t new concepts. What was different was the hardware that made it possible to leverage network effects to facilitate the kind of rapid growth that resulted in billion dollar businesses and subsequently, billion dollar acquisitions.

So what does all of this have to do with mobile’s perceived maturation? Simple. Just because the mobile ecosystem may be maturing doesn’t mean there isn’t a long cycle still to play out in mobile innovation. While the hardware question seems to have been settled, there are plenty of immediate questions that have yet to be solved:

How will work get done on the small screen? I’m using an external keyboard to type this out on an iPad but am going to need to move this first to IA Writer on desktop, and then into WordPress’s desktop version. Why? The formatting I can’t do on the iPad version of IA Writer (e.g. incorporating external links), the posting options that don’t appear on the iPad WordPress app, the copying and pasting that requires infinitely more effort on a tablet than it does on a desktop or laptop etc. How will this shake out in a few years? Will work change? Ben Evans and Steven Sinofsky of A16Z recently did a great podcast on the subject, advancing the (somewhat paradoxical) theory that work habits will ultimately change to fit the device rather than the other way around.

Will the relationship between apps and the mobile web become more seamless? Apps aren’t going away. I think that much is clear. What isn’t clear is how the closed ecosystem of the app world and the open web will communicate. Can we bridge the two in a more meaningful way? Can we find ways of sharing content between the digital divide? Facebook’s attempting to do this with the AppLinks open standards project but there’s still a long way to go before the idea takes traction amid Apple and Android’s collective landscapes.

Where do tablets fit in the overall mobile landscape? Are they an extension of the smartphone? A different beast entirely? Will there be a glut of tablet-specific apps at some point? And what are people using tablets for anyway? So many of these things still have yet to play out.

How will the smartphone revolution ultimately impact developing nations? Particularly those whose first computers and first experiences with the Internet are smartphones? These are people who have skipped past the PC age completely and are already utilizing things like mobile payments in ways that people in the Western world have yet to embrace. What new use cases will come outside of Silicon Valley (and indeed Western culture) once smartphone penetration reaches a sizable figure in those countries?

We’re in the beginning stages of a very long cycle that has a lot of time left to play out. While there’s no denying there are better, greater technologies ahead, it would probably behoove us all to take a step back and let that take place before abandoning it in the wake of the next shiny new thing.

Survey: In-Store Shoppers Prefer Their Smartphone to Sales Assistants (@WSJ)

More than half the people surveyed said they would prefer to look up prices, get product info and check on available from their own devices. Nearly half said they would prefer using their own gadgets to make a payment or find it on the shelves. Kiosks were the second choice in all categories, above speaking to sales associates.

Apple Retail And The Innovator’s Dilemma (@stratechery)

So I agree with Ben to the extent that the stores clearly help Apple as a company, particularly when it comes to less sophisticated consumers who may need help with some of the basics. Ben also argues that they’re probably under-appreciated in that regard. I agree. However, I’m less inclined to agree with this:

The lack of something similar to the Genius Bar makes low-end products a much less attractive alternative

Perhaps, but stated another way, has the proliferation of Microsoft stores made people more likely to buy a Surface, knowing their concerns about the product can be addressed by someone in-store? It doesn’t seem that way. Microsoft apparently doesn’t publish their retail data and I haven’t see anything elsewhere that would support the theory that the Microsoft stores have, since their introduction in 2009, done anything to push more product.

To me, low-end products are much less attractive precisely because they’re inferior products, in the way most consumers come to that conclusion:

-My friends don’t use them

-They don’t have the software (apps) that I use on a regular basis

-They have a learning curve that I don’t have the time to invest in, after having used device X for Y years

So while the Apple Stores continue to be of importance to Apple in helping them push more product, I don’t think that same theory holds as a general rule for the industry. Having a rep or MSFT’s own equivalent to a “genius bar” hasn’t seemed to mitigate the product gap in any substantial way for Microsoft, as an example. Although it will be interesting to see how Google fares with this, as they gear up for their own retail experience in the US after having opened a few Android-specific stores in Europe and Australia.

The death of the featurephone in the UK – and what’s next (@guardian)

It’s true: that’s what has happened. In the UK (and US, and other countries), smartphones are approaching “saturation” – the point where there are no new users to be converted to using them. But when is saturation going to occur? And how many people will it involve? Thanks to data shared exclusively with the Guardian by Kantar ComTech, we can look at how the proportion of people with smartphones has grown over time – and make some predictions about when, and at what level, “saturation” will be reached.