This week’s takeover of Nokia’s handset division by Microsoft is easy to see as a marriage of desperation, or as Robert Peston put it, “two drunks supporting each other at the end of the party.”
Wind the clock back 10 years and the picture was very different. Nokia was dominant in the phone market and Microsoft held a similar position in the desktop/laptop market. The first Windows-powered smartphones were being released, but they were incredibly complex (I know, I had an Orange SPV), essentially transferring the desktop Windows experience to the mobile world. There were a whole raft of other mobile handset providers that have since disappeared or lost their independence – Motorola (now owned by Google), Ericsson, and Siemens.
Two things changed all this – Apple came along and made smartphones easy to use without losing their power and in a linked move, the world embraced mobile with the growth of 3G and wifi. As the existing market titans, with enormous user bases, Microsoft and Nokia couldn’t evolve fast enough to change their business models. The same process happened in previous waves of computing as the world moved from mainframes to mini computers and then PCs; few CEOs have the guts to bin their existing cash cow and launch a radically different business.
So could either of them have done things differently? I’ve talked before about Microsoft’s disastrous attempt to innovate with Windows 8 but you can argue that it didn’t invest enough in mobile early on. If it had combined ease of use and access to compelling content with the power of the SPV (which was heavily subsidised) and made it less ugly it could have had a chance of pre-empting Apple’s rise. But it never seemed to be a priority. And Nokia again seemed to view smartphones as a niche market until very late in the day, focusing on the Communicator which was a high end business tool rather than a consumer-friendly device.
All this means the combined unit has a tough job on its hands and is going to have to focus heavily on innovation and marketing to succeed. Ironically given Apple’s perceived lack of innovation and BlackBerry’s woes there is chance to seize the challenger position and become the quirky, cool alternative to Samsung and the iPhone. This does mean being brave and creating something radical that shakes up the market. Microsoft couldn’t do it with Windows 8 – so can an injection of Finnish thinking make the difference?
Many people spend more time on the internet than they do in face to face or even telephone conversations. But despite the rise of video, we’re not really using all our senses on the internet, missing out on touch and smell. Replicating touch is a difficult one, though I’m sure the porn industry is working on technologies like electronic skin suits that help there.
Smell is (in practice) a bit easier. Everyone understands the power of scents to change our moods – from the multibillion pound perfume industry to supermarkets pumping round the smell of hot bread to get our taste buds salivating. I’m probably not alone in being disappointed that the Bank of Canada has categorically denied that its new plastic bank notes smell of maple syrup. Hundreds of Canadians wrote to the bank, claiming they could smell maple syrup on the maple leaf note – with many asking for the scent to be strengthened.
But experiments in delivering smell via the internet have all, so far, failed to catch on – in fact Google made it the basis of its last April Fool’s joke, with the Google Nose. In the same way that Smell-O-Vision flopped at the cinema, pioneers have vanished into obscurity. All shared a similar approach – a plug in device to your computer that mixed different components to deliver the right smell to match the page you were on or the situation you were in. The key issue is that while you can create any colour from the basic Red, Green, Blue combination, the palette for smell is much wider, meaning the device would have to have an enormous number of odour components inside it.
Latest internet smell technologies are trying to make things simpler. The Mint Digital Foundry launched Olly, essentially a plug in atomiser that you fill with a scent source. You can then set it to spray when a particular internet event occurs (such as receiving an email or a tweet). In Japan, the Chaku Perfume Company has created Chat Perf, an add on scent tank for your iPhone. You can then use the app to ‘send’ the scent to a friend with a tank of their own.
Smell on the internet may be in its infancy, but get it right and the benefits for marketers and internet companies are potentially huge. The scent of lavender on a page encouraging us to buy flowers, the background smell of the sea on a holiday site, the aromas of food on a cookery or restaurant page. The possibilities are endless – as they are for online gaming (smell the fear!), incorporating into mainstream TV or films or identifying your friends on social networks. So, rather than trying to build the next Facebook, entrepreneurs should be looking closer to home for the next big thing. After all, it is as plain as the nose on your face…………
Very few of us like paying tax, but there’s a fine line between legitimately reducing your tax bill and actively avoiding paying the tax that is due. And at a time of austerity where everyone is tightening their belts, there’s obviously a push by governments to close loopholes and maximise the revenues they receive.
Given their high profile and obvious success Starbucks and Amazon have both been the subject of widespread condemnation of their tax avoidance methods, and I’ve covered Starbucks inept PR response in a previous blog. Google was up before a House of Commons Select Committee last week (for the second time), backing up its claims that, despite revenue of £3 billion in the UK, all its advertising sales actually take place in the lower tax environment of Ireland. Google boss Eric Schmidt has countered that the company invests heavily in the UK with its profits, including spending £1 billion on a new HQ that he estimates will raise £80m per year in employment taxes and £50m in stamp duty.
Apple is the next company caught in the public spotlight, with CEO Tim Cook appearing before a US Senate committee that had accused it of ‘being among America’s largest tax avoiders’. Meanwhile, the loophole that sees Amazon and other big US ecommerce companies avoid paying local sales taxes is being challenged by a new law passing through Congress, with estimates of between $12 and $23 billion extra being collected.
Given the close links between Google and UK politicians (Ed Miliband is appearing at a Google event this week and Schmidt is expected to meet David Cameron on his current UK trip), the cynical view is that this is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But it does create an image problem for the companies involved, particularly at a time when we’re all meant to be in it together.
Obviously the most popular thing for companies to do would be to re-organise their tax affairs so that they meet the spirit as well as the letter of the law. But that’s not likely to happen given the enormous sums at stake. Instead expect increased calls for global tax reform (so that the organisations involved don’t have to operate the way they are currently ‘forced’ to) and a slew of feel good announcements that demonstrate the level of investment and support for the UK economy by the companies concerned. Being ultra cynical perhaps the whole tax situation explains the huge support by big tech companies for Tech City – it is simply an elaborate way of diverting attention from their financial affairs…………..
Like a lot of people I’ve given up on wearing a watch during the working day, replacing it with glancing at my phone, tablet or computer. So all the current noise about mooted smart watches from Apple (immediately dubbed the iWatch), Google, Samsung and now Microsoft puzzled me. Why would anyone try and replicate the features of a smart phone on a tiny screen on their wrist – particularly when they were probably carrying their phone in their pocket?
Take the Pebble watch. It essentially syncs with your smartphone and reminds you about your latest tweets, emails and phone calls – a cute accessory but hardly game changing for most people.
But a bit more thinking unlocks why the tech titans think there’s a market out there. The only time I actually wear a watch (except on the few occasions I want to appear smart) is when I go for a run and I use GPS to measure where I’ve gone and exactly how slowly. Essentially I’ve got a wearable sensor around my wrist, rather than a time keeping device.
That’s where the interest will be, not as a smaller second screen for your iPhone, but providing a way of measuring where you are, what you are doing and your vital signs. After all a watch has the benefit of being intimately connected to your person – few people are going to hold their phone to their wrist to measure their pulse. With an aging population, and increasing desire to manage our health, this is where the mass market will be. Add in the Internet of Things and you can see a connected web of wearable sensors managing our lives.
Thinking of the smart watch I’ve come up with five applications where it could be used – from the basic to the far fetched.
- Patient monitoring – both in hospitals and more importantly at home, the watch can send back vital statistics to doctors and monitoring services, raising the alarm if issues occur
- A smart wallet – why get your wallet or Oyster card out when you need to buy something? The watch automatically debits your account as you pass through ticket barriers or pick up that latte.
- Obesity control – measuring calories burned is standard on sports watches, so combine this with a camera and an electric shock buzzer. Not burnt enough calories and reaching for a doughnut? Cue a mild electric shock to remind the wearer of their diet
- Getting your dinner on the table. The watch senses when you’re half an hour from home and sends a signal to your oven to switch it on. Get stuck in traffic and it changes the heat so your dinner isn’t burnt to a crisp
- Surveillance. Very 1984 but just imagine if every smart watch could be tracked by governments – not only allowing them to see where you are but your state of health and everyday activities. Obviously the most far fetched application of all (we all hope)…..
Since time immemorial accurate maps have been crucial to attaining and keeping power. Navigational maps helped first the Portuguese and Spanish, then the English to reach (and annex) new territories across the globe. Later colonialism literally redrew the map of Africa, creating countries where there were none before. Maps are critical in battle and to take stock of your resources and population.
So control of maps brings control over your subjects. As we move into a mobile device dominated future this explains the enormous battle to command mapping in your pocket, using the power of GPS and network connections to find out where you are. Nokia spent $7.7 billion on NAVTEQ, while Google StreetView has seen the search giant survey the world at a granular level. It explains why Apple ditched Google and launched its own ill-fated Maps app on the latest iPhone – the company simply didn’t want to give up control of such vital data to a third party.
Essentially knowing where you are enables companies to better understand your behaviour and target offers that fit your location and background. And that’s the positive news – it now only takes four location data points to identify a mobile user according to new research. Something that law enforcement agencies (and criminals) are no doubt very interested in.
But for all its benefits GPS isn’t as accurate as mapping companies (and advertisers) would like. Particularly in large buildings, such as shopping centres, it doesn’t give pinpoint positioning. Which is why Apple has just paid a reputed $20m for indoor mapping specialist Wifislam, which uses ambient wifi signals to offer maps accurate to 2.5m. With this level of data clever marketers could target you with an offer for Costa as you walk into Starbucks while the police could place you (or at least your phone) at the scene of a crime in a crowded city.
Apple isn’t alone in looking at indoor mapping – Google now features 10,000 floor plans submitted by businesses while Nokia’s Destination Maps product has more than 4,000 locations in 38 countries.
I often bang on about privacy and how marketers need to tread a fine line between providing targeted offers and respecting personal space. And the move to indoor mapping, combined with ways of interacting such as QR codes, augmented reality apps such as Aurasma and Near Field Communications (NFC) mean that the possibilities of tracking, understanding user behaviour and tailoring marketing could become ubiquitous. Except in the countryside, where poor mobile coverage means that if you are lucky it tells you what village you’re actually in.
The future is hyperlocal and mobile – marketers need to embrace this, but make sure that they’re getting buy-in from customers or they risk a privacy backlash from both individuals and regulators.
The current Oracle vs Google patent case could turn out to have far-reaching implications – not for whether Google’s Android operating system breaches Oracle’s Java patents but on the independence (or otherwise) of bloggers and other commentators.
Essentially the judge in the case has ordered both sides to reveal the names of reporters, bloggers and other industry experts they may have paid as he was concerned that supposedly impartial commentary was biased by links to the two industry giants. Oracle has named a blogger and a professor it has financial ties to but so far Google hasn’t provided details of any paid relationships.
First off, a quick public service announcement – I’m not paid by either Google or Oracle (nor the judge in the case for that matter), so my opinions in this blog are very much my own.
When blogs began they promised to give a voice to a much wider group of people, outside traditional media, enabling them to share their thoughts and opinions with the world. Generally they didn’t have any formal journalistic training and were unpaid/doing it as part of a wider role. It wasn’t their main livelihood. But almost immediately lines began to blur – leading journalists launched their own blogs (either officially or unofficially) to talk about stories that didn’t make it into their mainstream output and the influence of successful bloggers/blog sites (think Huffington Post, Guido Fawkes) spread to rival existing news sources.
The combination of this with a 24 hour news media desperate for interesting comment means that more and more bloggers are quoted as experts without any real check on their credentials. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the more advanced amongst the PR industry who realised that it opens up a whole new channel to influence – whether through providing early sight of news or, as is alleged in this case, financial inducements to write positive stories.
So it isn’t surprising that the possibility is there for bloggers to be biased in what they cover – particularly as they need to earn a crust through consultancy and other activities. While it is clunky, the only way to get round this is to publish a list of any links (financial or otherwise) to companies they talk about – and equally journalists, analysts and other influencers should declare their relationships to anyone they are writing about. As an ex-history student I know that everything we write or think is biased in some way, whether due to our background, education or the fact that Google Docs went offline at a crucial moment. At least by displaying relationships and potential bias readers can make an informed decision on how much credibility they give a blog, article or statement.