Author Archives: Hussain Fakhruddin

Innovate Or Die: The Cost Of Not Doing Anything

 

How failure to innovate can really hurt businesses

 

Life is full of magical times, but do you wait for that special ‘Kodak Moment‘ any more? When you turn on the television, do you expect the ‘Blackberry Boys‘ strutting their stuff in a commercial? While catching the latest movies or TV show on Netflix or Amazon Prime, do you come across a slogan that proclaims ‘Be Kind, Please Rewind‘? Have you seen the words ‘The Document Company‘ anywhere lately?

The answer to all of these questions would be a resounding ‘no‘ – for the companies behind these once-popular slogans have either given up their market-leadership positions, declared bankruptcy, shut up shop – or are still present, but in a considerably weakened position. According a report, a measly ~12% of the companies from 1955 Fortune 500 list managed to make it to the same list in 2014 (only 61 companies were present in both the lists). One of the very few constants in the domain of business is ‘creative destruction’ – with old players struggling to keep up as new technologies arrive and markets change, and new companies taking up their positions.

The ability and willingness to innovate play big roles in determining whether a company or a brand – no matter how strong it might be at a given point in time – will be able to survive in the long-run. The basic business models and way of operations in practically every industry keep evolving – and there are many instance of big companies not being able to keep up with the changes, and consequently, going out of business. ‘Innovate or die’ has become the watchword for businesses across the globe. Many famous companies from earlier decades have failed to integrate that elusive ‘innovation culture’ in their working, and have ceased to be relevant at present. Interestingly, the importance of ‘innovation‘ is not limited to IT companies only – and several governmental and social projects have also failed, simply because the brains behind them were not proactive enough. Here are some classic case studies of companies that had ‘ignored innovation’, chosen ‘not to do anything’, and suffered as a result:

  • Mistakes-on-demand from Blockbuster

    The two main factors for sustained success in any field of business are: a) identifying future trends, and b) grabbing present opportunities. Blockbuster LLC – once the undisputed leader in the video rental industry – failed spectacularly in both. The company had 9000+ stores across the world, and well over 84000 people on its payroll in 2004 – with hardly any competition in sight. What’s more, it had the chance to acquire Netflix (the company which is most often referred to as the principal cause of Blockbuster’s demise) in 2007, with CEO Reed Hastings practically imploring Blockbuster to take over his company. A mix of complacency, myopic vision and internal board squabbles led to Blockbuster doing nothing at the time. As internet became more and more mainstream, and Netflix started offering online video-streaming options (no more ‘late fees’, no burgeoning costs on physical stores/retail locations) – Blockbuster was unable to cope up, lost customers, and collapsed in a big way. The growth of Netflix ushered in disruptive innovation, and Blockbuster was caught like a deer in headlights.

Note: John Antioco was the CEO of Blockbuster at the time it passed over the opportunity to acquire Netflix.

  • Flight nosedives for Pan Am

    With not enough proactiveness and more than little nudges from unforeseen external factors – Pan American Airlines was forced to shut down operations in 1991. The company had its proverbial time under the sun for 64 years (having been started in 1927) – and at its peak, was easily the biggest player in the commercial aviation sector globally. To be fair, Pan Am was innovative enough (upto a certain point) – having overseen the flight of powerful jumbo jets and computerized reservations. However, the terrorist bombing of Flight 103 (in Scotland) resulted in considerable negative publicity for the company – which had already started to bleed as a result of the early-70s oil crisis, dwindling passenger demands, and serious overcapacity problems. The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was probably the final death knell in the flight path of Pan Am (as oil prices rose sharply). Once the biggest name in the business, Pan American Airlines simply could not adapt to the changes in its operating environment.

Note: Apart from Pan Am, two other major airline companies – Midway Airlines and Eastern Airlines – also shut up shop in 1991.

  • Picture-not-perfect for Eastman Kodak

    One of the classic cases of how years of inaction can kill off a perfectly good business. Founded in September 1888, Kodak went from strength to strength right through the previous century – as the popularity of its cameras and films spiked. Remarkably, the company had the chance to move into digital photography as well – with an employee (Steve Sasson) having created the world’s first digital camera way back in 1975. Instead of jumping on the opportunity, those up top at Kodak totally ignored it – due to their failure to understand that digital photography was the future, and a reluctance to ‘cannibalise’ the sales of their existing lineup of cameras. To further complicate matters, Fuji started to undercut Kodak with its lower-price films – while Polaroid started taking away the market with ‘instant photos’. Kodak tried its bit to stay in the game with the Advantix Preview camera system (>$500 million was spent), but the results were disastrous. Remarkably, the company simply chose to stay in denial for many years – as film cameras grew obsolete, and digital imaging became mainstream. The struggles continued, and Kodak was left with no options other than to file for bankruptcy in 2012.

Note: Photography is not just about films and cameras – and that’s the biggest thing that Kodak could not understand. If the company had managed to position itself as a player in the ‘visual storytelling’ business, it might well have been still flourishing. As it were, the digital age just passed Kodak by.

  • (Dis)Connecting People: The fall of Nokia

    Last year’s Nokia smartphones have done reasonably well – but the company is nowhere near replicating its halcyon days in the late-90s and the early-’00s. At the time, no one made better mobile phone hardware than Nokia – and the Finnish company had almost no competition to be worried about. What’s more, the company had been surprisingly agile right through its history – having moved in and out of several lines of business, identifying telecom as the focal point, and even bringing out the first smartphones in the world (the Symbian Series 60 handsets) in 2002. In fact, the Nokia Communicator was launched as early as 1996. However, the company dithered while deciding whether to join the Windows Phone platform – and more importantly, it continued to believe that hardware was the most important element in a mobile device – while software wasn’t something worth too much thinking. This short-sightedness is precisely what that led Nokia to the brink – with newer players like Apple and Android showcasing the value of mobile applications, and how a handset can do much more that only send/receive calls and text messages. In essence, Nokia was not quite in favour of doing the necessary transition – and was sadly mistaken in its belief of being able to catch up with smartphone vendors later. Microsoft acquired Nokia in September 2013 (a ‘monumental mistake’), and sold the mobile assets in 2016. The belated attempts to use the Android platform cannot mask over the heavy price that Nokia had to pay for not innovating – properly and in time.

Note: The squeeze from the high-end smartphone models and the low-end developing markets (with brands like Huawei and HTC joining the fold) well and truly stifled Nokia.

  • Yahoo! The fall of the mighty

    For a company that survived the big dot com bust in 2000 and had ~10X increase in sales in the 2001-2008 period, the fall was – let’s just say – unforeseen. The tale of Yahoo! Is one of a series of missed opportunities, and a futile determination to stick to being a web portal – at a time when its principal rivals were turning to search, or becoming social media giants (or, for that matter, better news aggregators). Unbelievable as it might seem now, Yahoo! messed up chances to acquire Google (Terry Semel, the CEO at the time refused to agree with the $3 billion price) in 2002, and Facebook (the deal would have gone through if the offer had been even $0.1 billion higher) – while a great takeover offer from Microsoft was also scorned at (the bid of $44.6 billion was deemed as too low). The inputs from a string of CEOs ill-equipped to save the sinking ship did not help matters – and Marissa Mayer’s ill-advised (and outrageously overvalued) acquisition of Tumblr was yet another gross mistake. At one point of time, Yahoo! released 24 different company descriptions in 24 years – clearly indicating a lack of focus. A failure to make it big as a search engine (a deal was struck with Bing in 2009), poor performance as a social media site, and the general drop in popularity of web portals ensured that Yahoo! had little chances of a comeback.

Note: With Flickr, Yahoo also had the opening to make a Instagram-like photo sharing portal (well before Instagram!). That opportunity was glossed over too.

Taking A Break…

Even half a decade back, a ‘family lunch’ meant just that – everyone stepping out together to a nice restaurant. With the growth of food tech in general, and food delivery apps in particular – it has become easier than ever for the average Joe to order food without leaving his comfy couch. Restaurants, irrespective of their size, have also realized that they need to be a member of these services (Swiggy, Foodpanda, Zomato, etc.) to remain profitable. By April 2016, the number of active users of the Swiggy app had crossed the 1 million mark.

And Back…

  • Unused innovations at Xerox -

    If you do not innovate, you die. If you do innovate but then take no tangible action on your innovations, you die too. Xerox – the once-immensely popular print and document processing service provider – is one of the best examples of the latter. Its ‘914 photocopier’ was a roaring success, there were no dearth of resources, and ‘scientific excellence’ was something that the company became renowned for. Established in 1970, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) threw up a series of top-notch innovations – right from graphical user interfaces and laser printing, to PC prototypes, LANs and mouse – over the next three decades. Sadly though, Xerox never grasped the fact that it could move out of the ‘office photocopier’ business, and become a name to reckon with in the overall computing industry. The company just sat on its valuable innovations, and gave them away to competitors (Microsoft, HP and Apple were some of the companies that benefited from Xerox’s technologies). In 2000, the share price of Xerox had dropped to below $4 – and many short-term debts and other problems had piled up. Another tragic tale of lost opportunities.

Note: According to recent reports, Xerox will be taken over by Fujifilm. The deal will be worth $6.1 billion.

  • Blackberry fell off a cliff

    The rise and fall of Blackberry (Research-in-Motion) has a lot in common with that of Nokia. Once considered the ‘ultimate smartphone’, Blackberry simply got too comfortable with its heady success – and failed to look out for the technological disruptions heading towards the mobile platform. Company co-founder Michael Lazaridis once famously said ‘I don’t get this’, while pointing at an all-touchscreen handset – a quote indicative of the tunnel vision that the company suffered from. Indeed, the management could never think of a smartphone as anything more than a mobile phone with a QWERTY keypad, decent network connectivity, options for push email (a USP of Blackberry phones) and robust security features. The world had, however, moved on – and by the later years of last decade, both Apple and Google had started to churn out handsets that qualified as ‘all-round smart devices’. The biggest point of difference was the third-party app support – with the Blackberry App World remaining a pathetic distant cousin of the App Store and the Play Store. Odd product choices damaged the situation further – with the weird Blackberry Passport having few takers. The first Blackberry touch-based smartphone (running on Blackberry 10) came out six years after the launch of the first-generation iPhone. Blackberry Messenger (BBM) was, on the other hand, replaced by WhatsApp by most users. Innovation and implementation have to be fast – and Blackberry missed out in a big way. From being the undisputed market leader, the brand is presently flirting with irrelevancy (0.0482% market share last year).

Note: In late-2016, Blackberry handed over its hardware-making licenses to TCL. To be fair, last year’s TCL Blackberry KeyOne did fairly well in terms of sales.

  • Enron ran out of energy

    A mixture of innovation shortcomings and unethical financial practices spelt doom for Enron (founded in 1985) – which had once been listed as one of the top 6 energy companies in the world. By 2000, Enron was in the list of top Fortune 500 companies (peaking at number 7) – and was widely viewed as the most ‘innovative’ company in the United States. Soon after though, things started to go pear-shaped for the company – firstly with the broadband telecom networks that caused big losses, and then with the rapidly falling market capitalization figures following the recession at the turn of the century. Instead of coming up with solid plans to tide over the problems and make a smooth transition, all that Enron did at the time was hide/overstate its actual earnings – all under the watch of the then-CEO Jeffrey Skilling. It later came to light that the company had been inflating its income since 1997 (by close to $600 million). From a high of $90.56 in 2000, Enron’s share price tumbled to $0.26 in December 2001. The company had the base and the resources to tackle the problems and stay innovative – but chose to go with underhand practices. The infamous ‘Enron Scandal’ was the final nail in the company’s coffin.

Note: Arthur Andersen, the firm that had famously tried to destroy Enron’s audit documents to cover up losses, made a comeback in 2014, with ‘Andersen Tax’.

  • Posts stop for USPS

    The United States Postal Service presents yet another case of business inertia. It has been in existence since 1775 – and has witnessed huge volumes of posts and document transfers in the previous century. Over the years, USPS has been innovative enough – taking the American postal system to higher efficiency and convenience. However, it has not been able to keep up with the current age of digital, paperless communications and smarter service providers – as rivals like UPS and DHL have have grown and consolidated their positions. USPS, meanwhile, have hardly done anything to retain its competitiveness – and the unfavourable government regulations have not helped either. Postal services as a whole are falling behind – USPS, with its outdated services, are, expectedly, suffering. Faxes, emails, text messages have all combined to bring down the dependence of people on snail mails drastically.

Note: In a bid to cut down on costs, many locations of the USPS have been closed down in recent years.

  • Fading of Borders

    Bookstores are good. And there was a time, when there were none better than the Borders Group – which started out from Ann Arbor (Michigan) in 1971. Throughout the US, there were superstores – and the company went for international expansion, with stores in Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Sometime in the 90s though, the popularity of the Borders bookstores started falling – and ironically, the ‘size advantage’ that it had was what that turned against them. In other words, the huge bookstores – established on prime real estate locations at hefty charges – were no longer viable, simply because there were not enough sales. The need of the hour was prompt innovation – which, in this case, meant moving on to online sales of books (just like principal rival Barnes & Noble did). Borders did not consider the fact that the ‘traditional way of buying books’ was fast going out of fashion – and curiously, invested more on expanding their physical stores. No heed was paid to the opportunity of creating an ebook reader like Nook or Kindle either. The idea of moving to CD/DVD sales just as the world was warming up to digital music did not make much sense – while outsourcing book-selling rights to Amazon did not benefit the company. The widespread economic recession in 2008-09 was a big blow, and a couple of years later, the company was liquidated (with almost 11000 employees laid off).

Note: When Borders belatedly turned its attentions to ebooks, Cruz and Kobo were some of the devices it created ebooks for. The attempt was half-baked, the readers were not popular, and the Border ebooks failed.

Time for another break…

Unwillingness to innovate – or a failure to innovate ‘correctly’ – is a problem that bugs the public sector as well. There are many instances of governmental bodies planning perfectly good projects – which flop due to inadequate or improper innovations (i.e., poor execution). There are two broad reasons behind the failure of government-initiated innovations:

  1. Fear of failure

    While the margins for error in the private sector are also decreasing, entrepreneurs still feel that they can take the occasional risks to take their companies forward. In the public sector though, a single mistake can lead to huge losses and probable firing. Staying ‘safe’, and well away from (potentially rewarding) risks is viewed as the better option.

  2. Detached from reality

    The greater the bureaucracy in a government, the more is the chance of senior-level decision-makers being detached of the actual situations at the grassroot levels. As such, they can greenlight innovative drives that might have worked well in an ‘ideal’ economy – but fall flat due to the many existing bottlenecks. Unless the person/group of people have updated, real-world knowledge, innovations – however well-intentioned – will fail.

Back again..

  • Tower Records come tumbling down -

    Another flourishing company that was brought to its knees by the typical ‘big company syndrome’. From Elton John to Colin Hanks (who made the ‘All Things Must Pass’ documentary as a tribute to Tower Records) – celebrities and general public alike were big fans of these physical music stores. The collections and variety were impressive – and music could also be ordered through the stores. Founded by Russ Solomon, Tower breezed through the 80s and the 90s with high sales and very impressive revenues. However, no one from the company realized in time that Tower Records was becoming too big for its own good – with its aggressive expansion plans. As internet grew and digital music became the go-to option for more and more people, the large retail stores grew non-viable. In addition, the competition with big players like Walmart and Best Buy (who started giving out hefty discounts on music records) hastened the end for Tower Records. A combination of digital platforms like iTunes and Napster, along with indiscriminate expansions, killed off what was – at one time – a market leader in the music industry. Tower Records filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and 2006.

Note: Illegal music downloads are causing heavy damages to the music stores. For Tower Records, an inability and an accompanying unwillingness to adapt to the changing environment, made the difference.

  • General Motors stutters

    From being top of the class to going bankrupt (in 2009) – the 101-year old journey of General Motors (‘old GM’) makes for an interesting read. By 1954, the company had a whopping 54% share in vehicle market of North America (in 2009, that figure had dropped to <20%). The need to innovate and improve was completely bypassed by GM – with the changing customer needs & preferences, and the latest automotive technologies being reduced to footnotes. Over time, the vehicles that GM turned out came to be viewed as outdated and uncompetitive (the time to make them was also inordinately high). Upstart competitors started to eat away at the market – and the financial policies taken by the company (particularly since 2006) were mostly poor. Moreover, the infrastructure involved huge amounts of fixed costs (unlike many of its rivals) – and as demands slackened, the company still had to bear heavy expenses. The acquisition of Fiat was poorly handled. However, the standout ‘failure to innovate’ factor for GM would be the killing of the EV1 electric car. There is a lot of buzz over autonomous cars at present – and GM could have had a huge headstart if it had persisted with the EV1.

Note: ‘New GM’ came into being in 2009. It bought many of the assets (and the ‘General Motors’ brand name) from the now-defunct ‘old GM’.

Food For Thought…

Innovation is something that encompasses nearly every facet of our lives. It would be a folly to consider its scope limited to businesses. For instance, the importance of social innovation is steadily increasing – with equity, fairness, social inclusion and collective well-being being some of its key elements. Just like a company suffers if it is not proactive enough, a society stagnates if ‘social innovations’ are ignored.

The Buck Does Not Stop Here

There are many other instances of well-known brands getting caught up in a time-wrap, failing to innovate as per circumstances, and facing failure. From Napster, Abercrombie & Fitch and Polaroid (which, incidentally, was one of the ‘Kodak-killers’), to Radio Shack, Toys-R-Us, MySpace and Pets.com – there is no dearth of businesses that were flourishing – only to be overtaken by competitors later. Remember the Motorola RAZR? It was a breakthrough device at its time – but its popularity was short-lived.

The Lessons Learnt

So, why do companies stay away from the required innovations, even when they have the brains and the means to move with the changing times? The reasons can be multiple – right from a reluctance to make the necessary additional investments, an over-reliance on strategies/products that were successful earlier, and not being prepared for sweeping market changes (more often than not, caused by technological advances). There are cases of companies that are doing well getting into a comfort zone…a veritable ‘innovation blind spot’ – and failing to pay heed to warning signs.

The biggest mistake that all of the companies listed here (and many others) made was to try and find the ‘one best way’ to do business – a way that will stand the test of time. However, there is no such holy grail of operating. Unless a brand transitions itself over time and adopts innovations (i.e., embraces an ‘innovation culture’) – the act of not doing anything can prove to be very costly.

It has been proven time and time again that status quo does not work in the business field. Innovate or perish – after all, that’s the name of the game!

 

(This article was originally published here)

 

 

Apple in 2018 – Top 14 Expected Announcements

A couple of months back, Apple Pay Cash was made available for the first time on the iOS platform (iOS 11.2 beta). The arrival of HDR and 4K content on Apple TV was met by fans worldwide with great enthusiasm. The reliance of Apple Watch on paired iPhones was brought down significantly – with the provision of cellular connectivity on the former (although the company admitted to some glitches with the LTE connectivity). All Apple operating systems received updates – and for third-party app developers, the release of Swift 4 was big news. The launch of iPhone X was probably the biggest talking-point of the year (the first major redesign of the iPhone since 2014’s iPhone 6). There was considerable interest about the new Mac Pro too. 2017 was well and truly one of the biggest years for Apple in recent times. Let us here look forward to what the Cupertino company probably has in store for us in 2018:

  1. The follow-up to iPhone X and two more models

    The fears of the iPhone X being ‘too expensive for its own good’ have been proved to be unfounded. According to a Canalys report, more the than 29.5 million units of the $1000 handset were shipped in 2017 Q4 (outselling both iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus). This year, Apple is set to launch the next edition of the phone – with a more powerful chip (A12 system-on-chip), and other small feature enhancements. No big changes are expected in this follow-up phone though. A larger, 6.5” variant of the iPhone X is also expected, with a larger battery (somewhat like the ‘Plus’ models). It will be mostly identical with the smaller device – and hopefully, will not have any important feature reserved for it (something like providing dual camera only on the ‘Plus’ phones won’t be a great idea). Apart from these two bezelless phones, a third new iPhone – with slim bezels and a 6.1” LCD screen – might also make its debut in 2018. It will come with Face ID, and will be priced at a comparatively lower level. Expecting a sub-$650 iPhone will probably be asking for too much though.

Note: There is already considerable speculation over what the successor of iPhone X will be named. At present, it looks like either iPhone X2 or iPhone XI will make the cut.

  1. New iPads with AI capabilities

    After years of flat performance, Apple’s iPad is finally looking up again. In the third quarter of 2017, iPad sales spiked by ~16% on a YoY basis – indicating that there is life left in the tablet yet. Rumours have been circulating about a brand-new iPad Pro with Face ID and a larger-than-ever display (that’s right, no home button). The biggest USP of the device will be the built-in artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, and support for immersive augmented reality (AR). The new iPad Pro will build upon the steady sales figures of last year’s 2017. The ProMotion and TrueTone technologies will ensure top-notch display quality. Once again, the iPhone X is likely to be the reference point for the design of the new iPad Pro. A new iPad Mini Pro might also be in the pipeline (given that the 9.7” tablet is the most successful in terms of sales) – with upgraded features and greater processor power. The iPad Mini 5 did not release last year, and iPad Mini 4 got a refresh way back in 2015. It’s time Apple took a long hard look at this line of ‘smaller’ tablets. The iPad Mini Pro will probably have a Smart Connector.

Note: Apple’s much-talked about Project Marzipan – which will allow third-party iOS developers to create a single app for macOS and iOS – should add more utility to the new iPad Pro.

  1. Redesigned AirPods

    While reviews have been mixed and user-opinions have been rather divisive, there is not much room for doubting that Apple’s AirPods (launched with iPhone 7 in 2016) have revolutionized the headphone market. There is an outside chance of AirPod 2 – with noteworthy design changes (e.g,  a smaller quartz component) will be announced in the second half of this year. KGI securities have confirmed this report – and the strong consumer demand levels also justify the release of redesigned AirPods. The AirPod 2, as and when it is announced, will also have a convenient wireless charging case. The biggest point of gripe about AirPods has been their proneness to get misplaced (and getting a replacement is not a viable option for many). AirPods with charging cases will ease this problem somewhat.

Note: Earlier this week, the Cupertino company had to look into a report filed by a Florida-based user about his AirPods suddenly emitting smoke. Apple clearly has to be very watchful about the quality and safety factors of AirPod 2.

  1. New and improved Apple Watch 4, with greater focus on healthcare

    In theory, the arrival of cellular connectivity on the third-generation Apple Watch was big news. The implementation, however, was not as good as promised – with the drastically lower battery performance and the data center restrictions being major pain points. Those up top at Apple have surely noticed the shortcomings (Apple Watch 2 did not have cellular data, but was otherwise an excellent wearable device). At the annual September ‘iPhone event’, the Apple Watch 4 should also be showcased – with all the problems in last year’s model sorted out. What’s more, the company is reportedly planning to make Apple Watch a more useful device as far as healthcare is concerned. A recent Bloomberg report suggests that a high-on-accuracy electrocardiogram sensor (EKG reader) may make its way into the upcoming version of Apple Watch – and the gadget will also have better heart monitoring features. It won’t be a surprise if doctors start using wearables for quicker and more correct diagnosis of patients, over the next couple of years.

Note: For all the complaints associated with it, Apple Watch 3 has been a strong performer in the market – with the rate of shipments being almost 2X that of its predecessor.

  1. The arrival of the (already delayed) Apple HomePod

    Originally slated to launch in December 2017, Apple HomePod finally hit the markets earlier this week (February 9). It will be interesting to note how the devices manages to fare in the already competitive smart speaker market – particularly with rivals Google Home and Amazon Echo both already having fairly high popularity levels. The most interesting point over here is how Apple has positioned the HomePod as a device with unmatched sound quality, and of course, the smart design. Less focus is placed on the artificial intelligence factor – where Siri clearly has some catching up to do with Google Assistant (or Amazon Alexa, for that matter). The 6-microphone wireless music player from Apple is priced at $349 – making it significantly more expensive than the $129 Google Home and the $179 Amazon Echo.

Note: Invoke, which works with Microsoft Cortana, is yet another AI-powered smart speaker that the HomePod has to fight it out with.

  1. Face ID made more mainstream

    FaceTime for Mac launched back in 2010 (in the ‘Back to the Mac’ event). While minor improvements have arrived with each new OS update – Apple should really consider giving things a serious overhaul. The success of iPhone X has shown that the company’s ambitious TrueDepth camera system has the room to grow further – and this year, Apple can take a hint from Microsoft Hello, and bring facial recognition for the first time in desktops and laptop computers. Face ID on Mac systems will make it easy for end-users to securely lock/unlock their machines in a handsfree manner. This year’s iPhones will, of course, come with Face ID too – as will the proposed new iPad Pro device (maybe even the iPad Mini Pro?). If the reports are anything to go by, 2018 will be the year when facial recognition becomes the ‘common thing’ on most flagship Apple devices.

Note: Arrival of Face ID on Mac computers would also bolster the webcams of the latter.

  1. Apple Music to become a media subscription service

    Not much can be confirmed regarding this, but there are indications that Apple Music will evolve in a big way in 2018. The value of the global video-on-demand industry has been estimated to swell to more than $60 million by the end of 2019 (growing at a CAGR of >19%) – and Apple will probably look to capture a share of the pie over here. The company already has plans to bring back a much-loved Spielberg series (‘Amazing Stories’), in collaboration with NBCUniversal. Similar deals with other leading television networks – like CBS or Viacom – cannot be ruled out either. What’s more, the Cupertino tech giant has set aside a whopping annual budget of $1 billion for original video content this year. With well over 29 million Apple Music subscribers, there is no shortage of audience – and Apple surely has the financial strength to deliver high-quality media subscriptions.

Note: In the United states, Apple Music subscriptions are growing at a rate of 5% – considerably higher than the 2% growth rate of Spotify (its main rival, and the market leader). Globally though, the gap is much wider.

  1. The first glimpse of AirPower

    Apple was already late to the wireless charging game, when it announced the AirPower charging mat (alongside iPhone 8 and iPhone X) last September. The Cupertino company is now looking at a March release of AirPower. While wireless charging of smart devices is not a new feature per se – Apple’s AirPower will be the first-ever device with the capability of charging 3 gadgets – the AirPods, the Watch, and of course, the iPhone – simultaneously. According to early reports, the nature of the surface on which the AirPower is placed will not make much of a difference. As is the case with practically every other Apple device, the AirPower will be a more pricey charging pad than similar third-party products.

Note: The AirPower will be powered by the Qi standard, and can have a price tag as high as $199.

  1. More investments on augmented reality

    iOS 12 is coming this year, and augmented reality will be one of the biggest USPs of the platform. From iMessages (as stickers), to Photos, iMovies and even Apple Maps – AR can be integrated in a wide range of key elements of iOS 12 – heightening its utility, efficiency and immersiveness. At the other end of the spectrum, ARKit (which was released as an integral part of iOS 11) will be made more advanced. That, in turn, will allow iPhone app developers to come up with the finest AR-powered applications till date. Apple is also ‘secretly’ working on a new AR headset/AR smartglasses – but that is not expected to see the light of day before 2019. Over the last few quarters, the company has made several interesting AR-related acquisitions (Flyby Media, Vrvana, and others) – that clearly indicate its seriousness about making a mark in this field.

Note: From an estimated $18 billion in 2018, the global VR/AR market will spiral to more than $143 billion by 2020. Not surprisingly, Apple CEO has referred to augmented reality as ‘profound’.

    10. Growth in services division and the ‘super cycle’ of iPhones

The iPhone is still by far the biggest money-churner for Apple Inc., but it has other sources which generate high revenues as well. A case in point will be the Apple services section – comprising of Apple Music, App Store, iCloud and iTunes – which showed an impressive 18% YoY growth in earnings (2017 Q4). To put things in perspective, the services division of Apple has now grown to be at par (or even slightly bigger) than an average Fortune 100 company. There is, however, quite a bit of doubt over whether the much-discussed ‘iPhone supercycle’ – a scenario where users keep their older handsets for longer than earlier, before purchasing the latest flagship – will start in 2018. If the latest quarterly sales of iPhones are anything to go by (77.3 million vs 78.3 million in the holiday quarter of 2016) – the ‘supercycle’ is not going to happen – at least not this year. However, that would not affect Apple’s revenues in any way, and the company will continue to earn big from its ‘other products’ and ‘iPhone accessories’. There has been a 36% YoY rise in the sale of such products, in 2017.

Note: Revenues from the Apple services section in the final quarter of 2017 was more than the combined earnings from Apple Watch, AirPods and the iPad.

    11. An upgraded Mac Pro

Just like the revived iPad sales, Mac systems are doing very well of late. Sales were up by nearly 25% in 2017 Q4 – and ~10% more units were sold in the quarter, than the corresponding figure in the previous quarter (5.39 million vs 4.88 million). The new iMac Pro – released in December – also garnered mostly favourable reviews. All eyes are now on the Cupertino company (Jony Ive, are you listening?) for the launch of the third-generation Mac Pro sometime in 2018 – with a completely refurbished design, and significantly enhanced functionalities (it might come with user-upgradable options). Last April, Apple owned up to the problems in the last Mac model – with the thermal heating problems being right at the fore. The ‘pro users’ have been waiting for long – and Apple is likely to provide them a glitch-free, new Mac Pro this year.

Note: The 2nd generation Mac Pro hit the markets in December 2013.

    12. Updates on the autonomous Apple Car

Both Google (with Waymo) and Tesla (with Autopilot) have been very active in the domain of self-driving cars. The same, however, cannot be said about Apple – which has been very secretive about the Apple Car project. In June 2017, Tim Cook offered a confirmation that the company is indeed working on such a project – and touted it as the ‘most important project in AI’. There are many confusions though – with a 2016 report stating that Apple has scrapped plans for full-blown autonomous electric cars. There are two alternatives open for Apple in this context – it can either launch its own self-driving car and try to move ahead of Waymo (not an easy task), or it can develop a proprietary car operating system for getting into agreements with leading vehicle manufacturers. In 2018, we can reasonably expect to get some more news about the autonomous car project of Apple.

Note: By the end of this decade, more than 9 million autonomous vehicles should be on the roads.

        13. A smarter, more feature-rich Siri

There was a time in the early 2010s, when Siri was the shining beacon in the market for virtual assistants. Things have changed pretty radically since then though – and a combination of Apple’s relative neglect, and internal culture and development-related issues have seen Siri fall behind both Amazon Alexa, and in particular, Google Assistant. Many sources have reported that Siri is set to become smarter than ever before – with more intuitive conversations, and better, direct on-the-go virtual assistance. A common complaint has been that Siri cannot ‘understand’ or ‘answer’ questions as properly as Google Assistant. Apple enthusiasts are looking out for a series of enhancements in Siri on iOS 12. Let us see how, or whether, Siri becomes competitive once again.

Note: The development of Siri was handled by Eddy Cue and his team till last August. It is now managed by Craig Federighi and team (who also handle iOS and macOS).

         14. Software updates

As it happens every year, new versions of all the major Apple software platforms will also be announced in 2018. We will get a first look at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2018) – before the final rollout happens after September. watchOS 5 has every chance of being the first Apple Watch platform to not have a public beta version. Given that the performance of watchOS 4 was not great on first-generation Watches – the new version might also have limited backward compatibility (Watch 1 may not get the update). On the smartphone front, the stage is set for the first look of iOS 12 – with all the new iPhones and iPad(s) running on the platform. Next up is macOS 10.14 (name not confirmed yet) – the follow-up to last year’s ‘High Sierra’. It will have the usual round of betas before the final release. With the growing availability of 4K content in iTunes for Apple TV, the arrival of tvOS 12 will also be worth looking out for.

At the end of November 2017, the market capitalization figure of Apple stood at $903 billion (almost 31% greater than the market cap of Alphabet) – underlining its position as the most valuable company in the world. Tim Cook and his team will be looking to consolidate that position this year – and make big strides in the domains of AI, AR and other fields. A couple of high-profile acquisitions – maybe from the digital entertainment/original content sector – might also happen this year. 2018 will be a mighty exciting year for Apple fans in particular, and tech lovers in general, that’s for sure!

 

Blockchain Wallet – All That You Need To Know

With its market projected to surpass the $2.3 billion mark by 2021, blockchain technology is well and truly emerging as one of the faces of global digital transformation. Apart from finding widespread adoption across several industries (the financial sector, understandably, is the biggest user), Satoshi Nakamoto’s distributed ledger platform is increasingly being used as a secure, user-friendly tool to store popular cryptocurrencies, like ether and bitcoin. From a relatively lowly ~3 million users in early-2015, the total number of blockchain wallet users has surged close to the 23 million mark at the time of writing this. In today’s discussion, we will take you through some of the key features and use methods of blockchain wallet:

  1. What exactly is the Wallet?

    Secure storage of cryptocurrencies can be a challenge – and this is precisely where the Blockchain Wallet proves its worth. It has been designed by the Luxembourg-based company Blockchain, in the form of a seamless digital platform that offers optimized storage services for bitcoin and ether. The Wallet UI is accessible on both mobile and web platforms – and it comes with top-of-the-grade security and reliability features. The intuitive interface of Blockchain Wallet also makes it easy for users to perform cryptocurrency transactions quickly, and without any hassles.

Note: The mobile version of Blockchain Wallet is available on both iOS and Android.

  1. Getting onboard

    Starting to use a free Blockchain Wallet account is literally a matter of minutes. All that a person has to do is visit the official website (blockchain.info), select the option for a free wallet, and provide his/her unique username and password. A session starts with a user entering his/her Wallet ID (which is the username, containing a random string of letters and numbers) and password. Once (s)he has logged in, the ‘Request’ tab has to be clicked/tapped for selecting ether or bitcoin as the preferred cryptocurrency. Once that is done, the user is all set to store his/her balances, or start transacting with fellow-users.

Note: On Blockchain Wallet, cryptocurrencies are sent/received using ‘addresses’ – which are NOT the same as Wallet IDs. No transaction can take place using the latter.

  1. Security levels in Blockchain Wallet

    Last July, ether coins worth nearly $33 million were stolen by professional hackers. Cut to November, and a glitch in a digital multi-signature wallet resulted in the loss of ~$300 million in cryptocurrencies (once again, ether). The Blockchain Wallet endeavours to keep such risks at an arm’s length at all times – with the help of its built-in levels of security. These levels are in addition to the basic overall safety standards of the platform. The first security level (level one) comprises of the creation of a secure ‘passphrase’ (to be used in case a user loses his/her password, and the account has to be restored), along with the email verification (mandatory) and the password hint creation. The second level of security (level two) includes mobile number linking and two-step verification (which ensures that every login attempt is followed by a passcode sent to the user’s phone). Finally, the third level of Blockchain Wallet security (level three) is focused on blocking out requests from the notorious Tor network – which is frequently used by malicious hackers.

Note: BND, a spy agency from Germany, built tools to constantly monitor the Tor network (and also for unmasking users) in late-2017.

  1. Cost and fees

    While there are fees associated with cryptocurrency transactions on the platform, Blockchain Wallet itself is a completely free tool. That, in fact, is a big factor in its exponentially growing adoption rates over the last few quarters. As far as the transaction fees are concerned, the amount associated with each bitcoin transaction can actually be set by the user (from the ‘Customize Fee’ section). More generally though, the transaction fees are determined by the platform based on 2 key points – i) the volume of network activity, and ii) the amount of funds being transacted (i.e., transaction size), and are automatically deducted. The fee amounts are generally small.

Note: According to a December BitInfoCharts report, the average fee for each bitcoin transactions was around $28. Such high digital currency transaction fees pose a big problem for miners.

  1. The concept of addresses

    Blockchain Wallet rules out the possibilities of unauthorized access and thefts during online cryptocurrency transfer. A unique ‘address’ is used to send/receive ether or bitcoin through the Wallet – and this ‘address’ consists of letters and numbers. Each user has a particular ‘address’ – and for each bitcoin transaction, a new ‘bitcoin address’ is generated. On the other hand, the ‘ether address’ remains constant for all transactions. A person can, alternatively, scan QR codes to send funds to recipients. To receive bitcoin or ether, a user has to place a ‘request’ by sharing his/her QR code or ‘receive address’. Special care has to be taken while sending funds to specific addresses. If a ‘wrong address’ (e.g., an ‘ether address’ for a bitcoin transaction) is selected, the amount might get irrevocably lost.

Note: In case a transaction is not approved and does not go through, the funds continue to be in the account of the sender.

  1. Adding cryptocurrency in Blockchain Wallet

    The Blockchain Wallet supports storage and transactions of only digital currencies. To convert fiat money to cryptocurrency, users have to first avail the services of popular ‘cryptocurrency exchange’ channels like Coinbase and Kraken. On these exchanges, fiat can be used to buy digital currency – and the latter can then be processed and added to the Blockchain Wallet. The platform has an embedded ‘automatic conversion’ to feature – to display the total transaction size in terms of the chosen cryptocurrency as well as the local fiat currency of the user. The web wallet can also be paired with a smartphone by scanning the designated QR code.

Note: Broadly speaking, the ‘fiat-to-cryptocurrency’ platforms can be of three types – the crypto brokers, the trading platforms, and the P2P exchange platforms.

  1. Balance checking & transaction feed

    The Wallet makes sure that cryptocurrency users/traders/miners have all the information they need right at their fingertips. On the Blockchain Wallet dashboard (in the top), the respective ether and bitcoin balances in the account of a particular user can be seen. On clicking on these figures, the corresponding balance in terms of fiat money are displayed. What’s more, all recent crypto-transactions are available on the home screen of the platform. A click on the asset in the menu reveals the full transaction feed - ensuring that people can easily and quickly refer to their previous bitcoin/ether transactions, as and when required. In August 2016, the total number of Blockchain Wallet transactions passed the 100 million mark.

Note: The ‘Security Center’ of Blockchain Wallet provides account safety assurance and provides backup services.

  1. Collaboration with reliable cryptocurrency exchanges

    In September 2017, the announcement of a tie-up between Blockchain and Unocoin (an India-based bitcoin exchange) made much news. The Wallet, in general, collaborates with many leading exchange partners – with a view to boost the process of purchasing/selling bitcoin and ether, while making the overall trading process user-oriented and problem-free. There are multiple customization features available, to suit the precise requirements to users. The Blockchain Wallet became operational in August 2011 – and over the years, the number of exchange partners working with the platform has increased steadily.

Note: A factor that has to be kept in mind is that, a cryptocurrency transaction cannot be canceled (or reversed) on the platform, after being initiated. Any mistake at the time of entering the details can be problematic.

  1. The relation between transaction fees and approvals

    On the digital Blockchain Wallet, users have the option of marking transactions as ‘Priority’. This is typically done for getting confirmations/approvals more quickly – and ‘priority transactions’ typically involve high transaction fees. As a rule of thumb, the chance of transactions getting promptly completed/approved is directly proportional to the transaction fee specified for it. In case a very low fee is selected, there can be big delays in the completion of the concerned cryptocurrency transaction. The platform infrastructure costs as well as the mining network charges are covered by the transaction fees calculated by the platform.

Note: Since Blockchain Wallet is compatible with only bitcoin and ether, that somewhat limits its usability.

   10. Using old addresses on Blockchain Wallet

Each time a new transaction is initiated, a new public address is generated by the platform. This enhances the security-factor, and minimizes chances of successful hack attacks. The old addresses are, however, not rendered completely useless. If a user so wants, (s)he can find his/her old addresses (‘receive addresses’) from ‘Settings’. These old addresses can then be shared to receive funds. To ensure confidentiality, users should always refrain from sharing their respective Wallet IDs and other related details with others.

Note: Apart from a few basic and compulsory requirements (for instance, email verification), most other security standards in Blockchain Wallet have opt-in features.

   11. Multi-language support

The Blockchain Wallet is available in as many as 25 different languages. Understandably, this makes it easy for users from across the globe to sign up on the platform and start storing/trading digital currencies. The Wallet supports 22 currencies as well – enhancing the usability of the tool. Changing the language (or the preferred currency, for that matter) is simple enough. From Settings → Preferences, users can do the necessary tweaks to personalize the platform as per their requirements. The currency and language options are present in a convenient drop-down menu. In essence, users can use the Wallet as they want.

Note: In 2017, Blockchain Wallet started working with ShapeShift (a digital asset exchange tool) for quick conversion of ether to bitcoin, and the other way round.

   12. The future of blockchain and crypto wallets

Blockchain technology is all set to move on to the next level in 2018. The immutable distributed ledger is finding rapidly increasing adoption in many different business sectors (apart from fintech). The returns from bitcoin last year stood at a stunning 1278% – and although there have been significant drops in January – and together with ether, these two will be the dominant cryptocurrencies over the foreseeable future. The average number of per-day transactions for ethereum has surged to record-breaking levels. In such a scenario, it can reasonably be expected that the volume of Blockchain Wallet users would also expand rapidly over the coming years.

Note: Interestingly, the debate over whether the cryptocurrency surge is a ‘bubble’ or not, rages on. In a recent survey, 39% of respondents said that bitcoin was not a ‘bubble’, while 48% opined otherwise.

Both bitcoin (30-day volatility index → 7.35%) and ether (30-day volatility index → 5.26%) in particular, and cryptocurrencies in general, are highly volatile. Even so, it has been found that 1 out of every 3 millenials prefer to invest in digital currencies (instead of govt bonds, for example). This, in turn, is pulling up the demand for reliable cryptocurrency platforms – and with its many powerful features, strong security assurance, and ease of bitcoin/ether transactions, the Blockchain Wallet has every chance of becoming even more mainstream over the next few years.

 

Phones & More: What To Expect At MWC 2018?

MWC 2018

 

 

The season of new smartphone announcements is here once again. 2018’s second big consumer technology event (after January’s CES 2018) – the Mobile World Congress (MWC) – will take place at the Fira Gran Via and Fira Montjuïc  (Barcelona, Spain) from February 26 to March 1. Touted as the largest mobile industry event in the calendar, last year’s edition of MWC had witnessed the presence of more than 108000 attendees (6% more than the 2016 visitor stats). MWC 2018 is expected to be even bigger, and there is an exciting lineup of new devices awaiting us at the event. We will here round up the most important expectations from MWC 2018:

  1. The successor of LG V30

    The response to the much-hyped LG G6 – launched at MWC 2016 – has been lukewarm at best. Contrary to previous speculations, the company will not be announcing the latest version of its flagship smartphone (LG G7) at this year’s event. Instead, the spotlight will be on the LG V30+α, powered by strong artificial intelligence (AI) features (according to reports from The Korea Herald). Many feel that the arrival of the LG V30 somewhat affected the sales of the G6 – and it makes complete sense to space out the arrival of the V30+α and the G7. The first look of the former will be displayed at MWC 2018, while the latter will probably be announced in April.

Note: In a bid to extend the device retention rates, LG is also planning to ditch its annual device release plans.

  1. More on AI from Google

    On a high after the excellent performance of the Pixel 2 handset (its number of activations worldwide was more than that of iPhone X during the Christmas holiday period), Google will be on hand to showcase more capabilities of the Google Assistant in particular, and AI technologies in general. At CES 2018 too, the tech giant had done the same – with headphones and smart displays (both working with Google Assistant) being displayed. The Android pin badges given out by Google at last year’s MWC had generated quite a bit of buzz, and the company is geared to give a thrust to Google Assistant this time around.

  2. Comeback of Samsung at MWC

    After a year’s break, Samsung is back at the MWC – and at a special ‘Unpacked’ event, the much anticipated Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus will be debuted. Powered by the Snapdragon 845 processor (by Qualcomm), the phones will feature subtle changes from the S8 design – with the repositioning of the fingerprint sensor being the high point. The biggest takeaway from the new bezelless phones, will be, however, the improved camera features. The S9 Plus is more than likely to have dual lens camera (at par with the Note 8), while the S9 will probably keep a single-lens camera. Samsung had announced a series of camera improvements in January, and it remains to be seen how these are implemented in the company’s new flagship handsets. There is an outside chance of a new Galaxy X being launched as well. Wearables, however, will probably not be launched at the MWC.

Note: Galaxy S8, launched at Samsung’s very own event in New York, registered impressive sales last year. The company will be looking to replicate its success and going a step forward with S9.

  1. A Surface Phone from Microsoft? –

    Microsoft’s first attempt at entering the smartphone market – with the Windows 10 Mobile – was nothing to write home about. The sales were well and truly disappointing, and many had termed its performance to be even worse than the shocking Windows Phone 8.1. The company is not giving up though – and at the MWC 2018, there is some chance (albeit lowly) of a new ‘Surface Phone’ being announced. Given the slew of new smartphones set to launch alongside it, and the already fierce mobile OS ecosystem – the Surface Phone (if it arrives) will face plenty of challenges. Let’s just put it this way – if a new Microsoft Surface Phone comes and flops, that might just be the end of the road for the line of Windows Phones. Surface Phone will be foldable, and if it can be nearly as successful as the Surface Notebook series – that will be a big #win for Microsoft.

  2. The Mi 7 will be a no-show

    In the midst of all the buzz about the latest flagship devices from Apple and Google and Samsung, Xiaomi has been very consistent with the quality and performance of its recent handsets. The Mi 6, launched in April 2017, has done well – and many had expected that the company will use the MWC platform this year to launch its successor, the Mi 7. That is, however, not going to happen – and according to early reports, it will be arriving not before April (along with a Mi 7 Plus phablet model). Xiaomi will, however, have something new to showcase at the MWC 2018 – in the form of Mi Mix 2S (an upgraded version of the Mi Mix 2, launched last September). It will also be using the powerful Snapdragon 845 processor – and should become at least as popular as the previous version.

Note: Xiaomi Mi 6 was sold out from online portals in a matter of seconds. The company can rest easy with the knowledge that there is strong demand for its phones.

  1. Multiple new phone models from Alcatel

    The OneTouch Android handsets from Alcatel (particularly targeted to the budget buyers) have been a reasonable success. The company has as many as 3 new smartphones – Alcatel 3v, Alcatel 5 and Alcatel 1x – in the pipeline (all showcased at CES 2018), and these will be making their formal debuts at this year’s MWC. While not much is known about the specifications of the 5 and the 1x, Alcatel 3v will have 2GB RAM and an impressive full-HD+ display (6”). All the three handsets will, of course, have 18:9 displays – and will be priced at competitive levels. Alcatel might also spring a surprise by naming a couple more new devices at the MWC platform as well.  

  2. Two new Blackberry phones

    The comeback trail of the fallen market-leader Blackberry is set to continue this year. Since giving up its smartphone rights to TCL at the end of 2016, the company has enjoyed some rather surprising success – none bigger than the the KeyOne. Looking to build on it, the company has confirmed the announcement of two new handsets at MWC 2018, with at least one of them being the BB KeyTwo (or will it be named KeyOne 2?). The Black edition of KeyOne enjoyed relatively high sales too – although clouds have remained over how much TCL has benefited from the strong performances of these devices. If the new Blackberry phones are even moderately successful, the company might very well move ahead of Microsoft in this domain.

  3. No smartphones from Huawei, but wearables, maybe?

    Huawei is not having a great year till now. After a falling out with AT&T, the company had to put off its original plans to launch the feature-rich Mate 10 Pro at the CES 2018. Huawei has also announced that the new P20 handsets will be released in a separate event in Paris (on March 27). In such a scenario, it seems that the company will probably focus on the Watch 3 (although it might not be announced until Android Wear 3 arrives). Chances of Huawei coming up with upgraded Matebook models – which are already excellent – cannot be ruled out, while there might also be a new tablet. The fact that Huawei is breaking its tradition of refreshing its ‘P’ lineup of phones at this year’s MWC is probably due to more efforts required to expand the US markets.

Note: Till now, Huawei has been conspicuous by its absence in the smart speaker segment. There is a remote chance of the company using the MWC platform to spring up a surprise.

  1. Nokia to launch more phones

    For all the nostalgia over the revived Nokia 3310, its features were not particularly great, compared with its price tag. However, the other recent launches have been more than decent – and if the announcement by Juho Sarvikas (the head of HMD Global) is anything to go by, Nokia has ‘awesome’ news stacked up for the upcoming MWC event. Rumours are rife about several new Nokia phones being launched soon – with at least a couple being announced at MWC 2018. The best thing about the releases will be that Nokia will be having a device for every range of customer. The Nokia 1 will be a basic smartphone running on Android Go, the Nokia 9 will have OLED QHD display, the Nokia 4 will be a mid-range handset, while the Nokia 7 Plus will be a simple upgrade over the well-received Nokia 7.

  2. First dual camera phone from Sony

    Last year’s MWC was lit up by Sony with the cutting-edge XZs and XZ Premium – both of which received decent responses. Since then, the company has decidedly turned its attentions towards more mid-level phones – with the Xperia XA2 and L2 having been announced last month. At the MWC, Sony has chances to showcase its very first flagship device with dual camera – the Snapdragon 845-powered Xperia XZ Pro. The handset will come with IP68 dust and water-resistance, along with 18 MP and 12 MP cameras, and 6GB RAM (storage 128GB). Over the last few quarters, Sony has steadily fallen behind in the smartphone race – and the XZ series is its chance to make up some lost ground.

Note: The new Sony smartphone might also be named the Xperia XZ1 Premium.

    11. Updates do the Moto G line

While the chances of the Moto Z3 making an appearance at MWC 18 are practically nil, Motorola is going to have a strong presence at the event. For the budget users, the company is set to launch three new handsets (at least a couple will be announced) – the Moto G6, the G6 Play and the G6 Plus. The G6 Play is the standout over here, with an impressive 4000 mAh battery – and all the devices will have dual cameras (12 MP/5 MP) and 5.7” display (G6 Plus will have 5.93” screen). Lenovo garnered great reviews for Moto G5/G5 Plus last year – and it will be looking for similar reactions to the upcoming trio of devices.

Note: Another new phone model – the Moto X5 – will also be launched this year (but probably not at the MWC).

     12. A new Zenfone is in the offing

The Zenfone 4 was easily one of the best Android phones last year. Its successor, the Asus Zenfone 5, will be showcased at MWC 2018. In an official tweet, the company hinted that it might be starting a brand-new ‘5’ line of smartphones (#BackTo5) – with the latest Zenfone being the first in that series. Asus has plans to break into the list of top seven smartphone manufacturers globally by 2018 Q3 – and a solid performance from Zenfone 5 (which will have bumped up operating efficiency levels) will go a long way towards ensuring that.

While nothing is confirmed till now, we will probably not get to see the HTC U12 at this year’s MWC (the U11+ was released recently). Honor will also be present at the event, but it is unlikely that the company will showcase any new smartphones (in December, it released 2 phones – the 7X and the View 10). All eyes are now on February 25 – the day when we will find out how many of these new handsets are actually announced.

Which of these are you most excited for?

Push Notifications vs In-App Messaging: Which Strategy Is Better For App Marketing?

Increasing the user-engagement levels is the biggest mantra, as far as the success of mobile applications are concerned. On a YoY basis, 2017 witnessed ~55% increase in the average number of messages sent through apps to end users. Facilitating seamless two-way communication on the mobile platform is the key – and both ‘push notifications‘ as well as ‘in-app messaging‘ are extremely useful tools in this context.

In strategies to bolster app retention rates, both in-app messaging and push notifications play important parts. The former can pull up the retention rate by more than 50% (along with a ~30% higher ‘open rate’). Push notifications, on the other hand, can provide 4X boosts to average engagement levels. The onus lies on app developers to follow the best practices while using either of these strategies – with the focus squarely on providing the best possible user-end experience (UX). Over here, we will closely compare push notifications and in-app messaging, and examine their relative merits and disadvantages:

  1. Focusing on native app content vs driving latent users

    In-app messaging, as the name suggests, is managed in the form of pop-ups and other short, contextual messages – sent to users when the latter are actually using the concerned application. In other words, this strategy is focused on taking user-interactions forward AFTER an app session has already been initiated. In contrast, push notifications (sent as text messages/to the notifications section) are all about creating awareness and providing reminders (a ‘call-to-action’) to people who are not using the app at that particular point in time (i.e., ‘latent users’). These notifications can help an app to reconnect with users. It is not uncommon for a person to ‘forget’ about an app that (s)he had downloaded weeks back – and push notifications can serve as useful reminders of its existence.

  2. In-app messaging has higher response rates

    But that comes with the corollary. While studies have shown that the average responses to regular, conversational and contextual in-app messages can be ~8 times more than that to push notifications – users have to be active on the app to see these messages. That, in turn, implies that if the live user-base of an application is small – in-app messaging might not be a very effective tool. Push notifications cater to a wider audience – but the catch over here is that, a lowly 10% of all users who opt-in for such notifications actually open the messages. However, the response to all ‘seen’ push notifications is generally very prompt.

Note: Around 43% of mobile app users worldwide opt in for push notifications.

  1. Types of messages and notifications

    While most push notifications are text-based, developers and marketers are gradually warming up to the idea of using pictures and other media forms in such notifications. The prime objective is to ‘re-engage’ the recipient with the mobile application. In-app messaging, on the other hand, are sent to a ‘captive audience’ (i.e., those already using the app), and can be pushed out through images, video playback, and other media formats – apart from plain text messaging. More often than not, these visual messages come with a call-to-action tab/button/area. Using this strategy, developers can provide handy little ‘nudges’ to push the behaviour of the users in the desired direction (e.g., completing a purchase on a mobile shopping app).

  2. The downsides

    Frequency and timing of extremely crucial aspects of push-notifications. According to a 2017 report, nearly 47% users are likely to opt out of such notifications, when 3-5 such random push messages are sent to them in a week. What’s more, 1 out of every 3 users can uninstall a mobile app due to ‘too frequent push messages’ (6 or more in a week). This highlights the potentially disruptive nature of push notifications – when they are not managed properly. There are risks associated with indiscriminate use of in-app messaging too. The messages have to be sent ONLY to active users, and the content needs to: a) follow from the natural user-interactions, and b) be highly contextual. The focus of in-app messaging should always be on optimizing the UX of an app, and making things more structured, tailored and improved for the end-users. Also, the same messages should not ideally repeated to a particular user – and each message should be tailored from the triggers (obtained from app analytics). An overkill of push-notifications or a poorly managed in-app messaging system can be hugely counterproductive.

  3. Nature of information sent through push-notifications

    The average app engagement levels can driven up by close to 90% with the help of push notifications. Broadly speaking, push notifications can be classified under 4 categories. For starters, there are the push messages for  generating awareness for new, time-limited sales and promotional offers – which the user might like to know. Then, there are the general informational notifications (think of the text messages the rail company sends you when your train is delayed) – to update the users about the status of anything. Push-notifications can also be solely focused on eliciting certain ‘actions’ from users. A classic example for this would be a fitness app which reminds users who have not recorded their activity details for a couple of days. Finally, there are the social network-based messages – which notifies people whenever someone in their network (and fellow-users of the app) does something. In-app messaging can also be divided in 3 classes – the ones which look to initiate a conversation with the user, the ones that help individuals solve a problem (say, confusions while onboarding/learning about the app), and the ones that typically address the potential pitfalls or ‘trickier’ sections of the overall app-navigation scheme.

Note: It is important to create segmented lists of users who will receive in-app messages. The challenge lies in updating this list constantly…so that the messages are always sent to the ‘correct’ audience.

  1. Key elements of push notifications and in-app messaging

    There is a lot in common in the main elements of the two forms of mobile app communication under discussion here. Both notifications and in-app messaging should look to deliver actual value to end-users – and the major factors underlying either are ‘Goal’, ‘Timing’, ‘Segmentation’, and ‘Content’. Prompt sharing of information is the main motive of sending push-notifications – while the goals of in-app messaging should also be easily measurable/quantifiable (once again, referring to the analytics is important here). The segmentation of push-notifications depends on, firstly, the type of the app, and secondly, the degree of active engagement of any particular user. On the other hand, the recipients of in-app messages can be segmented on the basis of their behaviour while using the application. The timing matters in a big way, particularly for push-notifications (there is no point in sending the news of the best of offers to anyone at the dead of the night). For in-app messages, the timing should ideally coincide with the launch of new features or levels, or even a short-period offer (‘free coins for the next 7 hours’). Finally, due attention has to be placed by app marketers on the content of notifications and in-app messages. The messages should be suitably personalized, transactional, and be able to pique the interest of final users. With the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, message personalizations are also becoming ‘smarter’.

Note: For in-app messaging as well as push notifications, performing A/B split tests of message copies is advisable. That would help developers zero in on the message(s) that would be the most effective.

  1. Different use cases

    While both push notifications and in-app messaging are, when implemented well, mighty useful in boosting user-engagements – they have clearly demarcated use cases for best practices. For instance, push messages work best when there a mobile shopper leaves a purchase process midway, or if a person does not use an app for a certain number of days, or to send payment confirmations, or, if a new and lucrative sale come along, a new product is launched, or a quick announcement is to be made. In-app messages are ideal for asking for ratings and feedback, information/prompts about in-app purchases, revealing the new features of an app (the same can be done with push messages too), and time-bound special offers. The key is to avoid a repetitive, overly marketing tone in the messages, which can irritate and turn off viewers.

Note: It has been found that in-app messages to help with onboarding can take up user-retention levels by up to 50%.

  1. Barriers to effectiveness

    In theory, all users would opt-in for push notifications – and then, everyone would be able to see these messages. However, as already mentioned above, the average opt-in rate is a far way off that 100% mark. Hence, it is impossible for notifications to reach out to all users in a particular user segment (some of them will keep notifications turned off). The character limit of push notifications is also an important factor – and messages that are not crisp and to-the-point often are of no use. At the other end, the potential effectiveness of in-app messaging can be limited by a low active user base (which means the audience of the message will be too small), as well as unfiltered, non-customized and irrelevant messages. As a rule of thumb, if any push notification or in-app message seems to threaten the ‘personal nature’ of a mobile phone – it can cause damage to the app’s overall trust-factor.

Note: On average, 30% of all push-notifications are converted to full-blown email marketing campaigns.

  1. Providing information about app downtimes –

    There can be software outages, or an emergency shutdown, or a regular maintenance downtime for an app. With push-notifications, developers can provide prior information about the time and the reasons of the unavailability of the app, as and when required. This saves the users the frustrations of trying to launch unresponsive applications on their devices. In-app messaging, obviously, would not work here – since an app has to be working and users have to be on it, for these messages to be visible.

Note: Push notifications can be either transactional or engagement-oriented.

    10. The need for app analytics

It makes absolutely no sense, if app marketing and communication strategies are not backed up by accurate, real-time analytics data. Right from segmenting the recipients of in-app messages and push notifications, to tracking the number of active users, engagement/retention levels and A/B tests of message copies – app analytics is important in every stage. The onus is on third-party mobile app developers to integrate a reliable analytics system in the app – to track all the important metrics of user-behaviour and actions. Messages sent from an app to the user have to be time-relevant and user-action-relevant – and using data from analytics is the best way for ensuring that.

It has to be kept in mind that push notifications or in-app messaging are not substitutes of each other. For best app marketing results, the two strategies have to be combined in a seamless manner. Push notifications are ideal for ‘bringing people back to the app’ – and when they are there, in-app messaging works like a charm for directing their behaviour/actions.

By the end of 2017, the total number of smartphone users in the world had moved to a shade under 4.8 billion. The burgeoning volume of audience on the mobile platform has made the task of adopting effective mobile/app marketing strategies more critical than ever before. In-app messaging and push-notifications are both useful strategies – and if well-planned and used together, the strategies can seriously lift overall engagement levels of any application.

 

15 Mobile And App Trends For 2018 To Watch Out For

 

app trends in 2018

 

 

Last year, nearly 198 billion mobile applications were downloaded by smartphone-owners – ~18% more than the corresponding figure in 2016. To keep up with the high demand levels, the availability of apps is also spiralling rapidly. By December 2017, the total count of apps in the Google Play Store was in excess of 3.5 million. The Apple App Store, on the other hand, had 3.1 million+ applications (including games) in 2017 Q3. Given the high revenue potential of the global app ecosystem – more and more coders are taking up app development as a profession. At last count, the App Store had close to 500000 app-makers, while nearly 970000 developers were working on the Android platform. In today’s discourse, we will do a roundup of some interesting facts and trends related to mobile apps for 2018:

  1. Money matters

    For all the speculation about the worldwide app economy slowing down as it enters early maturity, the revenue potentials of this sector are set to remain high in the foreseeable future. By the end of 2021, total revenues from mobile apps will edge close to the $190 billion mark – more than 2X the revenue figure in 2016. Not surprisingly, games will continue to grow in terms of adoption and profitability – with the share of gaming applications in the total app revenues rising from 23% (in 2016) to 32% (in 2021). In the United States alone, the ‘net-to-publisher’ app revenue will jump to $74 billion by the end of this decade – nearly a three-fold increase over $27 billion figure in 2015. Well-made, well-marketed, user-focused applications can be financially rewarding in a big way.

  2. Smartphone adoptions

    A recent Forrester report has revealed that less than 47% of the global population had access to smartphones in 2016. In 2017 Q2, the total smartphone shipments added up to ~366 million (Android 321 million; iOS 44 million) – and the market is expected to steadily grow over the next few years. By mid-2019, over 2.7 billion people will become regular-users of smartphones – with each person having 32-35 apps installed on their devices. Interestingly though, the share of the world population to own a smartphone will remain relatively flat – with minimal rise in percentage points on a YoY basis – till 2020. Revenues from smartphone sales have continued to soar – with $478 billion coming in from shipments in 2017 (in 2014, smartphone sales brought in ~$380 billion).

Note: In terms of profitability of the smartphone market, China takes top spot, with around 25% share of the total annual revenues. The United States comes in second.

  1. Enterprise apps on the rise

    By the latter half of 2017, more than half of all small businesses in the US had created their very own enterprise applications on the mobile platform. This trend is set to continue in 2018 and beyond, as more and more startup-owners/entrepreneurs realize the importance of having a strong presence in the mobile space – and the opportunities (engagement, leads, etc.) available here. Significant increases in sales and high-quality customer service have been the two biggest drivers behind the growing popularity of business applications. Among companies which do not have apps yet, many have plans to invest on them this year. Interestingly, nearly 48% of all companies prefer building their apps in-house.

Note: There is a direct correlation between the size of a business and the likelihood of it having an app. Companies with relatively young owners (18-34 age group) are also the most likely to invest resources on app development.

  1. iOS and Android to remain (by far) the biggest platforms

    Taken together, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android make up nearly 99.6% of all smartphones in active use at present in the world. Android has a yawning lead over iOS as far as market share is concerned – although the gap has slightly shortened over the last couple of years. In the US, almost 66% of all new activations in 2017 were for Android – with iOS accounting for a relatively low 31% of activations. In general, iOS has the edge in the more developed nations in the world (by virtue of it being positioned as a ‘premium’ product) – and iPhone users are more likely to: a) have more disposable income, and b) spend more on apps, than their Android counterparts. Traditionally, iOS was always a fair way ahead in terms of revenues – but that advantage is also gradually disappearing. In 2017, the revenue from the App Store was $40 billion – which is roughly equal to the revenue from Android applications downloaded from Play Store and other third-party Android stores (Mobogenie, Aptoide, Amazon Appstore, etc.). It has been estimated that this combined Android app revenues will rise to $78 billion in 2020 - comfortably more than the projected $60 billion earnings from iOS apps.

  2. Facebook continues to be the most popular app

    Among the young crowd (age 18+), Facebook is easily the most popular mobile application with a whopping 81% penetration rate. Facebook Messenger, with 68%, is also at the third spot – with the YouTube app (70% penetration) sandwiched between the two. Instagram is in sixth, while Google Play and Gmail occupying the eighth and ninth spots respectively in popularity charts for 2017. However, in terms of usage, it is Amazon that users in 18-34 age group (millennials) deem to be the most important, followed by Gmail and Facebook. Whatsapp, somewhat surprisingly, is in the ninth slot – and Snapchat is not in the top-10 on either list. Clearly, while the demand for social networking apps is high – millennials ‘cannot live without’ the more functional, utility-based applications.

  3. Games attract the most downloads, but what’s next?

    In January 2018, mobile games have accounted for 1 out of every 4 downloads from the App Store. Business apps, with nearly 10% share of the downloads, is the second-most popular category on the platform – with the next three positions taken up by education/learning apps, lifestyle apps and entertainment apps (travel apps, with a measly 3.9% share in downloads, is at the seventh spot). In the Play Store, however, productivity tools have the biggest reach to end-users, while travel and local applications also have an impressive ~95% reach (placing the category in the fourth position). The other most popular app categories on the Android platform are communication and video players/video editors. The demand for business apps is much lower on Android in comparison with iOS – while shopping applications, for all the hype around them, also have lots of scopes to expand their popularity and adoption.

  4. Digital media rules, and mobile apps score over tablet apps

    The average adult in the United States spends nearly half of the day (12 hours+) interacting with different forms of the media. Digital media is the clear winner here – with people spending approximately 5.8 hours per day on computers, smartphones (excluding call operations) and other connected ‘smart’ devices. At a more micro-level, mobile devices – with a 3 hours+ daily engagement plan, is easily ahead of desktops/laptops (with sub-2 hours engagement rates). Once again, it is the group of millennials who are the heaviest users of mobile digital media – and users in this age group have a clear preference for smartphones over tablets (in a month, 93 hours are spent by an individual user with a mobile app. In comparison, the interaction time with a tablet app is only 27 hours). While this preference is much less pronounced for older users (those above the age of 65 spend 42 hours with mobile (non-voice) and 23 hours with tablet, on average) – the mobile platform is still the chosen one.

Note: As the average user starts getting on in age, (s)he is likely to prefer using slightly larger, two-handed devices.

  1. Ad-spending and ad-blocking

    By 2021, the total ad spending on the mobile-platform will breach the $200 billion mark – marking a three-fold increase from the current figure. Already, more than half of the total expenses for digital media advertisements is contributed by the mobile platform – and this share will continue to grow rapidly. Nearly 500 million smartphone users regularly use different types of ad-blocking software on their devices. Researches have shown that there has been a ~90% increase in the adoption of mobile ad blockers over the last couple of years. The challenge for app developers lies in creating and displaying such ad content that will capture the viewers’ attention, without disturbing them in any way.

  2. Driven by Android Instant Apps, app streaming to become more mainstream

    App streaming, when done well, can deliver a great deal of convenience for app users. The latter can quickly check out/use a set of features in the app they need – without having to go through the whole hog of actually downloading/installing the software. Android Instant Apps, announced at the Google I/O 2017, have shown the way in this domain – and at present, the technology is supported by well over 500 million handsets. Many third-party Android app developers are also coming up with ‘Instant’ versions of their applications (in the Play Store app listings, Google has added a ‘Try it now’ button). By 2020, there will probably be more than 100000 Android applications available for such ‘instant previews’. One thing is for sure: more and better app streaming options will help in bringing down the much-talked-about ‘app abandonment’ problems.

  3. Core group of apps

    It is fairly common for a smartphone to have 25-27 third-party apps installed on it. A recent US-based study found that, 62% users in the country had at least 20 applications installed on their phones - and they used ~30 apps in a month. However, as far as actual usage is concerned – the average user spends nearly 49% of his/her ‘mobile time’ with only one app, and 77% with his/her core group of top three applications. Broadening the results further, ten apps take up around 96% of the time of the device-owners. On the other hand, there are many apps that are never used after being downloaded, while 25% of all newly installed apps are abandoned after single use.

  4. Growth in IoT to be a major factor

    Back in 2015, the total number of connected devices was just a shade over 15 million. Cut to 2020 – and that number will have doubled, with the count of smart IoT gadgets expected to reach ~75 million by 2025. Right from smart homes and autonomous cars, to security, education and healthcare – IoT-based applications are finding rapid adoption in various domains, and developers are making a definite attempt to seamlessly integrate the technology in their newest apps. Before the decade draws to the close, IoT will become a $456 billion industry, with the CAGR for the 2016-2020 period hovering around the 29% mark. This year, it can be reasonably expected that IoT will play an important role in many instances of mobile app development. Smart agriculture is yet another field where the opportunities are huge.

Note: Semtech’s LoRaWAN has emerged as a key driver of IoT technologies worldwide.

     12. Location services will be on the rise

Any decent smartphone offers fairly accurate location-based services (LBS), or GPS. Apart from helping the users with general navigation, the technology is also being used by third-party developers to come up with diverse types of applications that deliver real-time locational information. Although the adoption rate of Beacon technology (iBeacon) had been flat (at best), apps with built-in GPS support are fast gaining in popularity. Location services are, in fact, core elements in many travel apps, mobile security tools, retail shopping apps, payment channels, mobile indoor mapping tools, and the like. The overall GPS tracking market will grow exponentially between 2017 and 2023 – and more and more apps will depend upon it for full functionality.

Note: The only point of concern over here is the greater battery drain caused by constantly using GPS. It will be interesting to see if the OEMs are able to offer a viable solution for that.

     13. How much are the app developers making?

While the potential revenues from top-ranking apps can be amazingly high – both the iOS and the Android marketplaces are remarkably ‘top-heavy’ when it comes to earnings. Around 33% of developers do not manage to generate even 10000 downloads of their applications, and nearly 57% of them have sub-$1000 monthly earnings. The top-heavy nature of revenues in the app marketplaces is best accentuated by the fact that only 25% iPhone developers, and 16% Android developers, manage to earn northwards of $5000 every month. It is also worth noting that 3 out of every 4 developers prefer working on the Android platform over iOS.

      14. VR/AR/MR in app-making

In their bid to come up with unique products and stay a step ahead of the competition, developers are constantly trying to come up with apps that deliver more immersive, engaging experiences. While virtual reality has been in the picture for some time – augmented reality and mixed reality are the technologies that are likely to take the standards of mobile app development a couple of notches higher in 2018 and beyond. The recent IDC report showed that this year, the total spending on VR/AR will be just a tick under $18 billion by 2020. The so-called ‘reality apps’ will be changing the way in which we interact with software systems as well as our smart devices. Pokemon Go showed the way – and 2018 might well be the year when AR finally comes of age in the field of app-making.

      15. Why do people uninstall apps?

Given the alarmingly high rates of app-abandonment, it is extremely important for developers to know what exactly causes people to turn away from any software application. As mobile technology is becoming increasingly advanced, the concerns over app security is growing – and according to Gartner estimates, a whopping 75% of applications do not satisfy even the most elementary security parameters. Apart from this, other common causes for app removals include technical glitches, unavailability of updates, and an ad overkill (disrupting the overall UX). Given the sheer variety of apps available in the stores, it is also not really difficult to find similar applications (competitors) with better features and functionality. If an app takes up too much of memory space and/or is a battery hog – it is bound to fail as well.

Note: If the ‘need’ for an app is not strong enough, a person can even forget that (s)he had downloaded it. Too many notifications is yet another no-no, while problems in in-app navigation also cause many people to get rid of certain apps.

With the arrival and growing popularity of Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Home (Apple HomePod is also in the offing), personal home assistants in particular, and voice technology in general, are fast coming into focus. 2018 should witness a meaningful rise in the number of voice-enabled mobile apps, making things more convenient for final users. The importance of delivering optimized user-end experience is also becoming more important at present than ever before. The jury is still out on whether the global app market is past its peak or not – but it can be safely said that this market is not going to become completely mature and static anytime soon.

 

Innovations and new technologies?

Yes please!

 

The $30M Apple-VRvana Acquisition Deal – What You Need To Know

Apple Inc. recently acquired Vrvana

 

 

 

The reports from Bloomberg, Catcher Technology and Quanta are all pointing in the same direction: Apple Inc is ‘secretly’ preparing a powerful new ‘headset-like gadget’, powered by augmented reality. Going by updates from the Nikkei Asian Review, the Apple AR glasses will have a 100% transparent system, and will be running on the breakthrough ‘reality operating system’ (rOS). Incidentally, the Cupertino company ventured into the AR space for the first time in 2017, with the ARKit platform for developers (launched with iOS 11).

The foray of Apple Inc into the field of AR is not much of a surprise though. For starters, the company has been looking for a worthy flagship product to follow up the iPhone (iPad’s fortunes are not looking up) – and CEO Tim Cook is also a big fan of the technology. In November, Apple splurged $30 million for the acquisition of VRvana (the maker of the unreleased Totem mixed-reality headset) – another thinly-veiled hint of the company’s planned investments on AR (the actual deal probably happened a couple of months earlier). Over here, we will take a look at some interesting points from the Apple-VRvana acquisition deal:  

  1. Size of the market

    In 2016, the value of the global augmented reality market was a little over $2 billion. By the end of 2021, this value is expected to swell to $83 billion – with the market growing at a CAGR of >55%. Combined together, the value of the AR/VR industry will be more than $108 billion – with mobile AR being the fastest-growing segment over here. The total earnings from the VR/AR are expected to double in each of the next 3-4 years, soaring to $214 billion by 2021. The immense growth and revenue potential of the AR technology is certainly not lost on Apple. The company wishes to have a strong presence in the market – and the takeover of VRvana is the latest endeavour in that context.

  2. Relative lack of competition

    Apple is not going to be first-mover in the AR space – but the absence of excessive direct competition is going to be a big advantage. The much-maligned Google Glass flopped hard in 2015 – and the current Glass EE (enterprise edition) is primarily targeted towards workers in factories. Microsoft Hololens has managed to get good reviews – but it is not a consumer product per se, and a dedicated ‘consumer edition’ is not expected to arrive till 2019. In such a scenario, if Apple moves (and moves fast) to launch cutting-edge AR glasses, that would make a lot of sense.

Note: Apple CEO Tim Cook has reiterated that the company was not unduly concerned about releasing AR tools before others (‘don’t give a rat’s about being first’). The focus, instead, is on making the best AR gadget in the market.

      3. More about VRvana

Will all the buzz on Apple’s ‘secret AR project’, curiosity is building about the VRvana company. The latter is a Montreal-based mixed reality startup – helmed by CEO Bertrand Nepveu (Marc-Olivier Lepage is the COO and co-founder). The company was founded way back in 2005, and was initially known as True Player Gear, Inc. Interestingly, the only product showcased on the official website of VRvana is the Totem headset. It remains to be seen how the technical expertise of VRvana is utilized by those up top at Apple.

     4. The unreleased Totem headset

VRvana’s Totem mixed reality headset has received a lot of praise from those who managed to check it out first-hand (the headset was never shipped). The product delivers immersive and highly engaging ‘extended reality’ experience to wearers – combining the best elements from both VR and AR technologies. At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2017), Totem received the ‘best in mixed-reality category’ award – with professionals referring to it as the ‘most impressive product’ showcased at the event. The headset, however, never got beyond the crowdfunding stage – and was never released.

      5. The USPs of Totem

Totem has several interesting features, which make it a more powerful headset than similar products launched by Microsoft and Windows. For starters, the OLED screen (1440p) of the Totem headset has the ability to display truly opaque images – creating a distinctive environment for viewers. The graphics are rendered by pass-through cameras, and true-colour animations can be seamlessly displayed. Users can easily swing back and forth between virtual reality and augmented reality experiences with Totem. Unlike HoloLens, there are minimal lags in the VRvana product, and the latter’s camera-based operations are a cut-above the former’s projection-based functionality. Apple is reportedly keen on making its own AR headset – and Totem can easily serve as a handy point of reference for Jony Ive and his team.

Note: Inside-out positional tracking and hand tracking also feature among the most important features of Totem.

      6. Apple’s acquisition of VRvana is a first (and also, it isn’t)

Metaio, a German AR startup, was snapped up by Apple in the first half of 2015. The New York-based Flyby Media – a ‘spatial perception’ company – was acquired in early-2016. Other notable AR-related acquisitions by the Cupertino tech giant include Faceshift (November 2015), Emotient (January 2016) and SMI (June 2017). It is pretty apparent that Apple has been interested in AR tech for a fairly long time. Even so, the $30 million acquisition of VRvana is unique in the history of Apple – since this marks the first time the company has purchased a startup that is into making head-mounted displays (HMDs). ARKit on iOS 11 is a success – and Apple has plans to build further in this sector.

       7. Important for maintaining Apple’s position as a tech leader

The launch of the much-hyped Apple HomePod has been delayed, and it is not expected to arrive before another six weeks or so. That, in turn, is going to make it more difficult for the HomePod to fight it out with Google Home and Amazon Alexa – both of which are fairly popular. In essence, Apple is already late to the game in the personal voice assistant domain. The series of AR-related acquisitions indicate that Apple does not want to be a late-entrant in the augmented reality/mixed reality space as well. Over the years, the company has emerged as an undisputed consumer technology leader (iPhone revolutionized communications; iPad changed the face of music-listening). Staying a step ahead of competitors (qualitatively) is going to be crucial for Apple.

      8. Moving towards a stiff deadline

According to experts from the tech field, Apple is set to launch a new AR-powered headset/HMD in 2019, with a public rollout expected to happen the following year. Given that the HMD will have its own customized display, a new chip will have to be created (and tested), and it will run on the new ‘reality operating system’ (rOS). There is a lot of work to be done – and completing it all and coming out with top-notch AR glasses with high-end features by 2020 is not going to be easy. With acquisitions like VRvana, Apple is getting the talent and expertise ready on hand for the ‘big AR challenge’.

Note: One thing looks fairly certain: Apple is not going to simply rebrand Totem and release it this year.

       9. Focus on improving the quality of AR

There is considerable speculation on a future where we might find augmented reality being used as a product itself – instead of the technology being used as a feature in other devices. Tim Cook himself is a big fan of AR – but he has also expressed concern over the quality of the currently existing AR headsets (the way in which the HMDs have to be put on also has to be looked into). Totem resolves the lag-related problems in most other headsets – with its latency being as low as ~3 milliseconds. It has been pointed out, correctly, that the currently available AR products fall short of delivering optimal experience to users – and Apple is making an attempt to plug that gap.

Note: While the Totem headset handles latency very well, its considerable bulk remains a minus point. It is certainly not something an average user would like to keep on for hours at a stretch.

      10. Will there be a new headset?

Topsy Labs, a promising analytics company, was acquired by Apple in December 2013. About two years later, it was officially announced that Topsy is going to shut up shop. There are several other instances of the Cupertino company taking over small startups to gain access to the talent and expertise – and shelve the acquired company’s product(s), or shut it down altogether. Although Apple does seem seriously invested in AR, there remains the outside chance of VRvana being acquired for similar motives. If that is indeed the case, new Apple AR glasses might not be in the offing anytime soon.

Note: More than $200 million was forked out by Apple, for acquiring Siri Technologies in 2010. There was a waiting period of around a year, before Siri finally debuted on the iOS 5 platform.

      11. Official confirmations

There have been none forthcoming (about this acquisition) from either Apple or VRvana. However, reliable sources (like Techcrunch) has reported the deal – and also, Apple generally mentions ‘series of acquisitions’ instead of coming out with dedicated news on a single acquisition. Another tell-tale sign of the acquisition deal going through is the fact that there have been no updates posted on the social pages of VRvana after August 2017 (the VRvana website is still active though). Most of the employees of VRvana have also shifted to California, to work for Apple.

      12. Diversification is the name of the game

With AR, Apple is probably looking for a new gadget that would have as big an impact as the launch of the first-generation iPhone back in 2007. In general too, the company has been constantly striving to diversify its field of operations – with recent acquisitions covering various advanced tech fields, like machine learning, security, processor power, cloud services, GPS/location services, and more. The takeover of VRvana is yet another proof that Apple wants to make AR one of its key business focus areas in future.

Note: In November 2013, Apple acquired PrimeSense, a 3D sensor company from Israel. The breakthrough Face ID feature of iPhone X has been created from that company’s technology.

The Apple AR glasses, as and when they are launched, are going to be pricey devices. Their prices can vary anywhere between $130 and $1300, depending on the precise configurations of the headsets. CEO Tim Cook has referred to AR as ‘profound’, Craig Federighi had touted ARKit as the ‘largest AR platform in the world’ – and the Cupertino company is clearly keen to make a mark in this field.

 

 

Dreamfactory Case Study – Eventify

the dreamfactory tool was used to make eventify app building platform

Business Objective

To create a highly customized, fully scalable digital event app building platform. The platform would have its own business logic built-in – and coders as well as non-coders will be able to use it with equal, consummate ease.

Technical Challenge

Development and seamless integration of API services (backend-as-a-service), to enhance the performance of the product. From managing user roles and access, to ensuring high security standards and usability for the creation of custom mobile apps for all kinds of events – Eventify has to deliver cutting-edge functionalities. Generating efficient API services from database was also a challenge.

The Solution

In DreamFactory phpMyAdmin, a mySQL database was created. After connecting with the database and importing it, new API services were generated. Additional logic in pre-script and post-script were also added.

 

Priority 1:

  1. Create Eventify as a user-friendly digital tool for promoting and managing ‘paperless events’.
  2. Ensure that external API services (BaaS) can be generated from database and integrated to the platform.
  3. Manage user-login, access and permissions according to their roles – while maintaining proper security standards.

Priority 2:

  1. Add extra business logic in pre-script and post-script of APIs, for optimal functionality.
  2. Offer users (event planners) smooth drag-and-drop features, so that those with no prior coding expertise can use the platform with ease.
  3. Use Swagger for secure, continuous API documentation.


A Digital Platform For Building Mobile Event Apps

Eventify puts a fresh new spin to the task of promoting and managing events. The digital platform is highly scalable and comes with a wide array of personalized features – enabling users/planners to create custom mobile apps for their events, and maximize the exposure/awareness levels about the same. It has been created by Teksmobile – a leading mobile app and API development company, with 1000+ applications in its portfolio.

The Eventify platform can be used to create apps for practically all types of public and private events – right from conferences and trade shows, to business seminars, panel discussions, workshops and other personal occasions. For each event, a single app can be created. All pertinent information, like scheduling details, speaker bios and sessions, exhibitor information and sponsor details, can be added to apps created with Eventify. The platform also has ‘local’ and ‘global’ search capabilities.

The global event management industry is witnessing rapid growth. The total number of business conferences organized every year is going up – and we identified that organizers need to have a digital tool in their hands, to manage and promote their events effectively. Eventify is a platform that they would find very handy in this regard”, opines the senior manager of the project.

With the market for event management software set to grow by 8.4% in 2016-2020, and over 85% event planners already having apps for their events (in 2016), coming up with an all-features-included app building platform made a lot of sense. The platform also enables users to add real-time chat feature, include location maps and floor plans, and delivers excellent networking opportunities.

Integrating API services via DreamFactory

“According to early estimates, we had guessed that it would take around 8-10 weeks to create and launch the Eventify platform. Development and deployment of API services, in particular, looked likely to eat up a lot of time. We then came across DreamFactory…and things became a lot more organized, streamlined.”

– Programming Head, Eventify Project

DreamFactory was instrumental in smoothing the roadmap for optimized backend automation in Eventify. The developers created a mySQL database in the phpMyAdmin of DreamFactory (just like application tables), and then, imported that database to generate full API services (i.e., the required REST API endpoints). Objective-C was the programming language used to code Eventify, and APIs were essential for integrating the full business logic in the app. In essence, DreamFactory served as an efficient mediator to manage the database and the delivery of APIs.

With the help of DreamFactory, the Teks Team managed to significantly shorten the duration of the development cycle. Instead of having to manually code each API, the platform now had automated API solutions from the database. From the security standpoint too, using DreamFactory proved beneficial.

Managing the user login session tokens and API key validations became extremely straightforward with DreamFactory. While accessing all the features of Eventify (like bookmarking, chatting) requires the user to login – there are certain ‘view-only’ elements which people can check out, without logging in with their credentials. With customized API solutions, providing this selective permission access was also rendered easier.

Building The Business Logic

One of the main reasons for integrating DreamFactory in the Eventify project was the creation and implementation of robust business/operational logic in the latter. All types of data entry, as well as all the validations, were automated, for superior performance. The API helper tools offered additional advantages (e.g., the Swagger API documentation tool).

The in-house team at Teksmobile also utilized the server-side scripting feature of DreamFactory to good effect. Provisions were made for adding extra logic in the API pre-script (e.g., checking the validity of a user or an event ID) and the post-script (e.g., checking the returned data after the user has logged in). Emails, notifications, and all the other third-party services on Eventify were also automated with DreamFactory.

“Eventify is a platform that looks to deliver complete event management control in the hands of the planners,” says the CEO of Teksmobile. “The automated backend solutions available in DreamFactory made our task considerably easier.

The Future Of Event Management

Thanks to DreamFactory, the team in charge of creating Eventify managed to register big gains in terms of time-savings, business logic development, security, and data access management (according to user roles). The efficient automated architecture of DreamFactory made the task of expanding the functionality of Eventify easier than ever.

There is very little margin for error, when it comes to creating a dynamic app building platform like Eventify. Mobile apps are well and truly changing how events across the globe are being organized, promoted and managed – and this platform has the potential to emerge right at the forefront of this evolution.

Eventify

Eventify is a fully customized event app building platform, with a plethora of features and strong BaaS support – for smooth usability. Different types of public/private events can be created and promoted via the digital platform.

 

How To Make Your Mobile App User Acquisition Strategy More Powerful?

mobile app user acquisition strategies

 

 

The global app economy may have entered early maturity – but it is still a big-money sector. According to a recent App Annie report, total revenues from mobile applications will soar to $110 billion by the end of 2018 – with the annual growth rate hovering around the 18% mark for the next three years (till 2020). 1 out of every 4 iOS app developers make more than $5K every month – and around 16% of Android developers also have similarly high earnings. At first glance, the potential opportunities to make profits in the mobile app business seem immense.

Like most other things in life though, there is a flipside. For all the hefty revenues from a small number of apps – the fact remains that an overwhelming majority of applications turn out to be failures (the app market is remarkably ‘top heavy’ in terms of revenue). It has been estimated that a measly 0.5% of all mobile apps will actually manage to yield reasonable profits in 2018. Not having a large enough market is a common cause for the failure of apps – and if app companies do not have customized, well-defined strategies for acquiring users, that contributes to this problem. In today’s discussion, we will highlight a few effective mobile app user acquisition tips for 2018 and beyond:

  1. First, built a high-quality product

    In the United States, a whopping 73% of smartphone users do not download more than 2 mobile apps in a month (~50% download none). In essence, your app will be vying to be one of these two apps for capturing the attention of the end-user – so that (s)he can be motivated enough to download it and give it a try. There is no way on earth to be successful in this if your software is not of optimal quality to start with. Create a great app, identify and highlight its USP(s), and make sure it delivers top-class user-end experience (UX). Only when if you are confident about your product, can you market it well.

  2. Create a website; Optimize it well

    It’s been more than three years since the popularity of mobile apps went past that of mobile web (currently, the former is growing nearly 3X faster than the latter). That said, it is of paramount importance for every new application to have its very own, customized website. Make sure that the site is user-friendly, lists out all the key features/controls/benefits of the application, and has the store download link(s). Implement strong SEO practices to enhance the reach of your app website. It should also be linked as the ‘support portal’ of the app at the store. Presence of a dedicated app website is instrumental in building up a trust-factor with your audience – and that is vital for higher user acquisitions.

  3. Pay attention to App Store Optimization (ASO)

    On average, 6 out of every 10 downloads happen through search behaviour in the app stores. This, in turn, brings to light the importance of efficient app store optimization (strategies). Identify relevant keywords (avoid the ones with too much competition), and incorporate them smoothly (no stuffing) in the (max) 30-character app name, the (max) 170 character promotional text, and the product description section in Apple App Store. If you are working on the Android platform, optimize the 50-character app title, the 80-character short description and the 4000-character long description. Use HQ screenshots to showcase the most important screens/sections of your application. Create engaging and informative app preview videos. You have precious few seconds to get a person interested in your app – and the importance lies in ensuring a good first interaction with the app.

Note: Over 74% of all featured apps at stores have keyword(s) in their titles.

      4. Share your app’s objective

What does your app set out to do? Or better still, why is it in existence in the first place? If a professional app developer is not proactive about resolving such (very natural) queries in the minds of prospective users – the latter are simply not likely to feel any NEED to download a new application. Make apps that have a core functionality and solves an actual problem/requirement of end-users (fitness tracking, personal finance, social networking, and even gaming). Let people know why your application does a better job than other, similar apps already in existence. ‘Appeal optimization’ of an app is important – and it can be attained only when there is complete clarity over its purpose. A lazy, ‘me-too’ is bound to fail.

      5. Segment your users. Not too many segments though

A generic, ‘one-size-meets-all’ promotional strategy does not work well for most products, and mobile apps are not an exception. Identify the overall target audience for your new application – and divide this total user-base in different segments (on the basis of age, gender, geographical location, language preferences, etc.). Avoid making more than 3 such segments though – since too many user-groups can pose a problem for promotional strategy-making. Launch customized marketing campaigns for each of the target customer segments, to increase chances of positive responses.

       6. Use the reviews/opinions of existing users as pointers

An app development company should ideally make use of information on user-behaviour on their previous applications, while designing a new software. Find out what features people liked and what they didn’t – and chalk out the operations of the new product accordingly. Be particularly careful about people’s reactions to in-app messages, push notifications, advertisements, and the like. If there are unfavourable reviews on a particular app, find out the main reason(s) for its unpopularity – and avoid making the same mistakes again.

      7. The importance of strong content marketing

When it comes to maximizing the reach of a new application (basically, making as many people as possible AWARE about the app) – content marketing on the digital platform is a developer’s best friend. Start publishing short and informative blog posts and articles on popular online portals about your app, mentioning its objectives and features and the competitive advantages it delivers to final users. You can publish press releases (free or paid) as well, with the latest app-related news. Publishing classified ads is also an effective option. Keep in mind though, that the content you push out should not have an aggressively marketing tone (except, of course, the classified ads). The focus should be on seamlessly sharing information among likely users.

     8. Referral marketing can bolster app engagement

Uber is one of the many apps that does this brilliantly. For every new user signed up, the person who had ‘referred’ him/her to the app (i.e., shared the referral code) gets a nice reward. Motivate your existing users to invite more people to the app – and offer something in return (hints, coins, level up, etc.) for doing so. Having a referral program right within a mobile application (and ideally, on the app website too) gives a lift to its engagement levels, and obviously, can build up the total user-count as well.

      9. Promote apps on social media

58% of the entire adult population in the US have active profiles on Facebook. The corresponding usage figure for Twitter is ~34%. What’s more, the global adoption figures of these two social networking channels are rising exponentially. In such a scenario, there is no way your app can survive without having a strong social media optimization (app SMO) plan. Publish posts on FB about your application, share images and screenshots, and tweet about it on a regular basis. Join relevant Facebook groups and post over there (avoid spamming though; a healthy, constant interaction is important), use hashtags on Twitter, and use channels like LinkedIn and Google Plus to get in touch with potential new users as well. Come up with ideas to make your posts more interesting and engaging (for instance, polls).

Note: A mobile app should, of course, have its very own FB page and Twitter account handle.

     10. Early ratings and reviews are vital

Yes, registering high download figures are important – but you can make it your only objective at your own peril. It might well happen that people like what your app has on offer, go ahead and download it, discover a serious snag in it, and discard it soon enough. That’s precisely why you need to carefully track the early set of user reviews and ratings coming in. If someone gives a lowly rating, try to understand what factor(s) have caused this behaviour – and how you can fix the problem. Respond to every review (even the 5-star ones). Remember, the opinions of the early adopters give you a fair idea of whether your app will be successful in the long-run or not. 

    11. Factor in app localization

You create a mobile app that can be used by everyone – but then go ahead and release it in English only. Bit of a waste – since there are plenty of non-English speaking smartphone-users, and you are willingly passing up on the chance of reaching out to them with your app. Researches have shown that the download figures of an iPhone app can go up by as much as 760% by using proper, ‘localized’ keywords in different languages. Depending on the type of your app and its target audience – consider creating custom versions of it in other languages (e,g., French, Swedish, German, Russian, Korean, etc.). An app that has multi-language support automatically has higher user acquisition prospects.

Note: The ‘Download On The App Store’ badge is available in 40 different languages.

     12. Use video ads

To promote a new mobile application, short video ads are mighty effective. On average, 30-second app advertisements have an impressive 88% completion rate – indicating that people do check out videos that pique their interests. App developers have to determine the best possible section to place such video-ads – in a manner that they deliver the relevant information without hampering the mobile-using experience of individuals in any way. Keep changing the video ads to keep things fresh – and avoid making videos that are over a minute long. Apart from these in-app ads (helping in cross-promotions), you can also create, upload and share longer videos – explaining the features of your app – on Youtube.

      13. Invest on paid ads and campaign boosters

Once your organic app marketing strategies are in place (and your budget allows for it), consider turning your attention to paid channels. You can start app ad campaigns on portals like Google and Facebook – to gain greater visibility and (hopefully) higher downloads. Design and link a proper landing page with the ads, so that people do not feel confused after clicking on the advertisements (i.e., there should be no barriers to conversion). There are several great mobile ad networks/paid acquisition channels in place (Flurry, AdMob and StartApp, to name a few) – and you can easily start to use a couple of these platforms to spread the word about your ad. Be careful about the expenses and the ROI on your ads at all times. It has been noted that 39% of users who see banner ads on mobile can actually recall them.

Note: Interstitial ads are the way to go, if you wish to cut down on unwanted ad clicks.

      14. Showcase the designs

By the end of 2017, Behance had 10 million active users. In order to be successful, a mobile app needs to have the right mix of functional efficiency and visual appeal – and for the latter, showcasing designs on Behance is a preferred strategy among many app developers worldwide. Highlight the creativity that has gone into designing your software, display the most important screens, include animations, and add short, informative texts. Use tags wisely to gain greater visibility on the platform. Also, try getting your app featured in the curated galleries of Behance, for that extra leverage. Instagram and Pinterest are two other channels which you can use to visually market your product.

Note: In all your messages to the prospective app users – blogs and PRs and videos and design/creativity platforms – convey a definite ‘message’ to the viewers or readers. Do not adopt an overtly sales tone everywhere.

       15. Have retargeting ads with cookies

What if a person visits your app website, but does not download anything? In such cases, retargeting can be a useful method to ‘get back’ that prospective customer. The app website should have cookies (small internet files to ‘remember’ visitors) – which can be used to display retargeting ads to people. Find out at what time-intervals these ads should be shown, and make sure that people who have already downloaded your app are not shown the ads (that would be an irritation). Deep-linking in mobile apps is crucial for the success of mobile retargeting.

       16. Track the key metrics

Most mobile app developers make the mistake of tracking only the ‘installs’ and the ‘install rates’ of applications – and leave it at that. These metrics are obviously important – but more often than not – they provide an incomplete picture. To get a thorough idea about whether your acquisition/promotional strategies are performing as desired (or not!), you also need to monitor other key performance indicators (KPIs), like cost-per-installs (CPI) or customer acquisition cost (CAC), app retention rates, and the lifetime value of applications (LTV). Keep in mind that tracking only the CPI is not a good idea either – since there is a trade-off involved between CPI and LTV (10% of users acquired by CPI have a <$10 LTV). If possible, use screen heatmaps to monitor the real-time behaviour of people while using your app. Make changes, if required, accordingly.

        17. Email marketing is not dead

Marketing emails often have a sub-10% ‘open rates’. However, if composed well and shared with the right people, that ‘open rate’ can jump to 35%+ – clearly indicating that email marketing can still be a handy app user acquisition strategy. Create an email template with a brief but informative introduction about your mobile application – and request for an online or telephonic follow-up, at the recipient’s convenience. It would be even better if you attach a powerpoint presentation with the email – presenting the USPs and features of your app. It would be too naive to hope for very high response rates – but you can definitely gain some customers through this channel.

Note: If you can manage to connect with a key industry influencer and get your app promoted by him/her – that can be very helpful.

         18. Word-of-mouth is the make-or-break factor

Bad press can be the biggest app-killer out there. Actively seek opinions and feedback from your users – and find out the type of word-of-mouth (WOM) publicity that your app is garnering. If there are any perceived pain point(s) reported by these users, fix them as quickly as possible. Prior to launch, have a focus group (members should all be first-time users of the app) try a hand-on experience with your application. If a person is happy with your app, (s)he will recommend it to others as well – and your user-pool can start swelling quickly. On the other hand, if the WOM is poor…the consequences can be dire.

          19. Provide ‘Play Before Pay’ options

A smartphone-user is just like any other regular shopper. He/she would love to get a feel of what your app does – before actually taking the trouble of installing it (if yours is a paid app, there is the question of justifying the expense too). Mobile app developers should ideally have a ‘play before pay’ strategy in place – providing users with live demos and previews of the app (Android Instant Apps have made this really easy). In general, consider providing limited access for free to first-time users, so that they can get an idea of the quality and benefits of your application. Once they are convinced that your app is a good ‘un, they will proceed to download it (free or not).

          20. Aim for virality

The purpose of having a definite, well-rounded mobile app user acquisition strategy is to make your promotional campaigns ‘viral’. In an ideal scenario (where your app has indeed achieved the much-desired virality), every person should bring along more than one additional user for the app. Provide easily accessible options for registered users to send out invites to their contacts, and have strong social media integration (sharing) features. An app that goes viral can continue to move along on autopilot – constantly registering high download figures.

A new app has to acquire close to 40000 new users in a day (i.e., have that many new daily installs) – for getting featured in the App Store. The challenge is big and the app marketplace is definitely overcrowded – but with the above tips, you can indeed take your user acquisition/marketing campaigns to the next level.