Small Ideas

Finding the next big idea by exploring small ones – by Rishi Khaitan

Archive for the ‘mobile’ tag

Quick Thoughts on Apple’s Crazy Week

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Wow, what a week for Apple in the news.

  • First, the iPad launches.  The media embargo lifts.  Favorable reviews (would you really expect anything less from Walt Mossberg?) pour in, but some negative reviews surface as well.  Turns out, Apple sells 450,000 units in the first week.  Success?  Too early to tell, but those sales numbers a bit north of where I thought they would be.
  • iPhone OS 4.0 is unveiled on Thursday.  Lots and lots of good stuff in here.  Apple seems to have done a great job thinking thru the multitasking issue.  Background GPS + local (local as in local to the phone..not notification system) notifications is going to be huge.  And it’s just plain hard not to be giddy about  background voip and music.  As many of my Android friends have reminded me, yes Android has supported this since ’09, but that’s not going to kill the glee that thousands of iPhone devs and tens of millions of iPhone (err make that iPhone 3GS +) users will feel come the official launch.
  • The launch event also confirmed iAds, that is Apple’s very own ad network for iPhone apps.  We all knew this was going to happen once Apple bought Quattro.  Some of my friends in the mobile ad world are calling anti-trust on this.  One of Steve’s key points about iAds is that the in-app ads will actually expand into an HTML5 window that floats above the app and allows the user to interact with the ad without leaving the app.  Now, if this functionality is not made available via the SDK, then yes I do believe this is anti-competitive.  If they don’t then there’s really nothing that stops any other ad network (Google/AdMob, etc..) from implementing the same.  However, Steve claims that iAds will strive to make mobile ads more engaging than current mobile ads.  I think this goal + the official Apple association + the non-disruptive-to-the-app user experience will be very appealing to big brands.  Steve estimates that Apple could be pushing 1B ads daily given current iPhone app usage.  Obviously that number is sort of like a TAM measurement at this point.  But with this announcement Apple is arguably the new #1 player in mobile advertising…for now.
  • Finally, the terms for iPhone 4.0 SDK imply that developing an app using a non-Apple approved languages is prohibited.  What this means is that Adobe’s Flash-based iPhone developer tools are banned.  In his (personal) rant today, Lee Brimelow, evangelist for Adobe, makes it clear that this has nothing to do with Flash player support for the iPhone (which I think it’s pretty fair to assert now is not going to happen anytime soon if ever because this effectively would allow apps to be delivered to the iPhone without going through the iTunes App Store).  But, banning developer tools?  Just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Why is Steve so anti-Adobe?  I guess he forgot the 1990s when Adobe was arguably a key reason for the survival of the Macintosh (and hence Apple itself).

Finally though, one can’t help but wonder if this closed-off approach to the iPhone is going to eventually do Apple in once again.  I tell a lot of friends that Steve Jobs is a visionary and innovator for the ages..one of the greatest ever.  However, he also has a huge ego.  I argue that Steve represents both Apple’s ability to create new paradigms and Apple’s inability to capture, in the long-term, dominant share of the market that paradigm shift creates.  Of course, the clearest example of that is the Mac and the PC market.  Will this be repeated again in mobile?  Well, Apple once again is alienating hardware vendors (by not opening the iPhone OS), alienating developers (limiting funtion and distribution of apps), alienating many users (for some of the above reasons as well as pricing and carrier limitations), and is now potentially alienating the ad/monetization world.  We’re already seeing numbers that suggest Android’s smartphone market share is catching up real fast on the iPhone.  My guess is by the end of 2011, we’ll start to know the answer to this question.

To end this post on a positive and inspiring note, if you haven’t watched this video of a 2 year old girl’s first experience with the iPad, you must watch this video.  The iPad may not change the world but man you can’t help but watch this and believe Steve when he said the iPad is “the most important thing I’ve ever done”.

Written by Rishi Khaitan

April 9th, 2010 at 9:22 pm

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Google Latitude: LBS hits the mainstream

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Google surprised everyone this week with the unveiling of Google Latitude:

What’s most interesting about Latitude is thinking about why Google prioritized this feature over others for Google Maps. To kill off Loopt? I just don’t see that. After all, how much of a threat is Loopt to Google? Not much. Google Maps is the dominant mapping application on every mobile platform. Ultimately, tracking the location of your friends is a feature not an application. The idea that users were going to launch Loopt on their phone for the sole purpose of checking their friend’s location is just not realistic. It’s natural that this feature was eventually going to come to GMaps. But in the meantime, I doubt Google was losing sleep over Loopt.

So why now then? My guess is amassing more user tracking data. Note that when you enable Latitude on GMaps, Google now ties your Google login to your GMaps installation. This was a link that did not exist before. As a result of all this Google can now record data points such as:

1) Where you go, spend time at, etc.
2) Where your friends go, spend time at, etc.
3) What types of POI’s you search for
4) What routes you take

All very interesting (and very scary) primary data points. It’s not clear if Google can do anything meaningful with this data yet. However, it’s reasonable to expect that that in a year or two, once a lot of this data has been collected, either Google’s search or ad targeting technology will incorporate this info. However, if I am correct that Google is recording this data, they really should make the user aware of this. Of course you can argue that none of the ad networks, including Google, makes online users aware that their every click is being recorded. However, I think there’s likely to be many users who are concerned about their physical location being tracked!

Finally, Latitude is a fantastic way for Google to get users to formally “friend” their contacts. In order to use Latitude, you must have friends on Google’s social network. I, like the vast majority of Google users, have plenty of contacts (via GMail and GTalk) but never formally friended them. Latitude forces users to do this in order to use the service and should help Google build up its social network. This will pay dividends for Google as they continue to expand their social product offerings.

I must say, Google getting serious about mobile is exciting. It’s forcing all the players to step up their game. In fact, my hunch is that Android’s ability to run background tasks had something to do with Apple killing off the push notification system in favor of a more robust background task function for the iPhone. In the end, the consumer wins. I love it!

Written by Rishi

February 8th, 2009 at 9:52 pm

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Is Q&A/Polling the basis for the future of advertising?

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Have you ever received an ad that was so relevant to your needs and interests, that you were happy to see it? A Google AdWords ad maybe? Or maybe you saw a discount code for your favorite clothing store? My guess is at some point you have. In fact, a recent study in the UK revealed that 71% of young people surveyed would like to receive advertising messages targeted to their particular interests.

Advertising is everywhere we see. Our brains are trained to automatically ignore much of it. While some ads are so extremely unrelated to our interest that it catches our attention. That’s spam. Yet some minority of ads catch our attention because they’re so interesting as to be highly informative. In this case, the ad is a service to the consumer. Think of it like a continuum where the variable is relevancy.

|min—–RELEVANCY—–max|
|spam———————service|

So what if a publisher served only those ads that were very relevant to each consumer. The consumer is happy. The advertiser is happy because their message is reaching exactly those consumers who are likely to act on that message. Publishers are thrilled because they’re making money by very efficiently connecting advertisers with consumers. Win-Win-Win.

Of course, this “perfect” targeting is the holy grail. It doesn’t really exist in any sort of mass scale. But, what if I told you that a company in the UK is so good at doing this that they claim to generate enough ad-based revenue to pay for your cell phone & service? In fact, that company is Blyk. Blyk offers teenagers and young adults in the UK a phone, and service for free. The recipient agrees to receive occasional ads. About a year ago (the service was quite new back then), they claimed 29% average response rate to ads. How do they get such high response rates?


Well, in a sense, Blyk lets its customers control the ads they receive. Customers might receive texts along the lines of:

Are you a UFC fan? [*Y/*N]

XBox360 or PS3? [*X/*P]

Want to hear a sneak peak of the new Radiohead album? [*Y/*N]?

Essentially, Blyk polls the customer to learn about their preferences. They

1) Send a text with content that encourages a simple call to action (“Watch UFC?”)
2) Based on this primary data, they send an ad in the future (“Check out UFC 49 this weekend. $20 on PPV… Call now to order!”).

Blyk’s advertisers and customers are happy. Everybody wins, especially Blyk.

Let’s think about how this might work for a site like Facebook. On Facebook, users are already expressing their interests in a variety of areas. They do this not just statically on their profiles, but constantly via the other social interactions like fan pages, groups, status updates, wall posts, etc, etc.. Fan pages and groups are useful data points but mining user-created content is extremely challenging.

I think a Blyk-inspired system could work on Facebook. I’m curious to know the response rate of the existing Facebook Polls feature. If it’s even somewhat high, and since it’s in the feed I have a hunch it is, Facebook could very easily start to poll users for the purpose of collecting high quality data that makes sense to advertisers. Or, as is suggested in this Telegraph article today (the story is now being denied by Facebook PR), advertisers themselves could poll users via Facebook. Facebook wins two ways. First they earn revenue from the advertiser to run the poll. Secondly, Facebook can charge a very nice premium for enabling advertisers to then deliver ads to specific sets of users (based on their answers to prior polling).

If Facebook executes this well, this may actually improve the user experience. Instead of Facebook being increasingly cluttered with spammy ads, Facebook could serve fewer ads that are, referring back to our earlier continuum, so relevant to the user that the user is happy to see them. Moreover, from a revenue perspective, the rate they could charge for serving a single highly-targeted ad earns orders of magnitude more money than serving hundreds of garbage remnant inventory ads.

Sounds like a plan to me?? Opinions?

Written by Rishi

February 2nd, 2009 at 1:15 am

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SMS rate-increases spell trouble for SMS-based mobile services

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Back in December, I found a not-so-nice surprise in my Sprint cellular bill. Sprint had quietly raised the cost of an SMS text message from 10 cents to 15 cents per message. I complained to customer service that this was a breach of my original contract. However, after a couple of e-mail exchanges, it was clear that I would be stuck with the rate increase. I later found out that Cingular had also raised their SMS rate to 15 cents. It is also expected that both Verizon and T-Mobile will follow with increases of their own in order to keep their ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) competitive.

So how does this rate increase affect the typical cellular customer? Well, the typical American customer is not affected because he/she does not text much, if at all. Of course, this rate increase will only serve to discourage these users from embracing SMS. For the millions of customers who do use SMS to communicate with friends and colleagues, my hunch is that the 5 cent increase will not result in a significant change in their usage. Let’s face it, most cellular customers will hardly take notice at the extra couple of dollars on their monthly statement. The carriers know this and that’s why they don’t seem to be afraid of customer backlash. The unsympathetic reply I got from Sprint’s customer service supports this.

The real losers of SMS rate increases are companies who provide SMS-based services. One such company is 4INFO. 4INFO provides consumers with easy access to information like stock quotes, sports scores, flight status, and the weather. They utilize a simple, “natural language” query interface (e.g. “weather 94304″ or “49ers nfl”). Very useful. One of the primary challenges 4INFO faces is the lack of SMS adoption here in the US. In foreign markets, SMS is cheap (or even free) compared to voice airtime so it is very popular, even amongst older-age cellular customers. 4INFO is quick to emphasize in their marketing that the service is free. While it is true that 4INFO itself does not charge for their service, the cellular carrier is charging for SMS access. With SMS costing 15 cents per message, a simple roundtrip to 4INFO costs 30 cents. Out to dinner with the girlfriend but want to check the football score every half hour? 4INFO works perfectly for this. The problem is that by the time the game is over, you’ll have paid a couple bucks in SMS fees. That’s pretty expensive. There’s a good chance I would utilize this service if I was in a pinch, but I couldn’t afford this luxury on a daily basis.

What’s the alternative to SMS? Internet access on your mobile device. Carriers have successfully been upselling 2.5G and 3G data plans for the past couple of years. Now we’re seeing devices which support Wi-Fi and Wi-Max isn’t that far away. Combined with the trend in mobile devices of offering ever-more rich display screens and sophisticated Internet software applications, we’re slowly going to see a convergence between the way we access information on our PC’s and the way we access the same information on our mobile devices. As Internet access becomes ubiquitous on mobile devices, services like SMS will quickly becomes extinct. Need to send a quick message to another person? Use IM or e-mail. Need to get alerts? RSS. Etc, etc.

For now, even in light of Sprint’s rate increase, I doubt my SMS behavior will be altered. I will, however, take solace in the expectation that SMS will soon be a distant memory.

Note: I do think there is a future for companies like 4INFO. To be able to understand and satisfy short-hand queries like “UAL SFO JFK” (results in a timetable for United flights from SFO to JFK) is very valuable in the mobile context where keypads and displays are tiny. My expectation, however, is that they will find ultimate success in the future piggybacking off of Internet technologies rather than SMS. Hopefully these companies will manage to stay afloat until then.

Written by Rishi

January 8th, 2007 at 11:48 pm

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Fantasy sports meets new tech

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I’m not a big fantasy sports enthusiast but I usually participate in fantasy baseball and football every season. Anyone that plays, or has played, fantasy sports is that one thing you crave is real-time player news and stats. If your players are currently involved in a game you want to know exactly how they’re performing in that game, and if they’re not in a game, you want to know if there’s any injury updates or other news that might affect their future performance.

Most people use the Web to satisfy this hunger for player information. That often means watching the game on TV with a laptop in your hands or if your out at the mall shopping, it means running into the Apple store and checking the latest fantasy stats. Well, the good news is that technology is soon going to be making the life of a fantasy player easier.

Sprint NFL Mobile

A few weeks ago, Sprint launched a free application for their Vision and Power Vision (that’s what they call their data plan add-on for phones and it costs $15/mo for unlimited data) called NFL Mobile. Here are some screenshots of NFL Mobile running on a Samsung A900:



I tried it out yesterday and I can happily say it rocks. You fire up the application and you instantly get the latest NFL scores and news. The coolest feature is that you can personalize the application by adding any number of players to a “My Players” list. Whenever you view “My Players”, it shows you the latest fantasy stats for those players. Now, whenever I’m on the go, in just a few seconds, I can fire up NFL Mobile on my phone and see how my players are doing. This is an application that I honestly would have expected a mobile carrier to charge a couple dollars a month for. For Sprint to offer it free is very cool.

Yahoo! Sports for TV

Now for a real glimpse into the future. As I said earlier, a common sight for the typical fantasy player is to be on the sofa, laptop in hand, watching the game. What’s the natural evolution of this? Fantasy stats on your TV screen while you’re watching the game. How badass is that?! Well check out this screenshot of Yahoo! Sports for TV that Yahoo’s Digital Home team is launching this morning:

The features of this are the ones you would expect and is very similar to the Sprint app: league scores, fantasy stats of your own personalized list of players, and a live gametracker. Now that I have you all excited, here’s the cooler: you need a new “entertainment PC” that is Intel Viiv enabled. From this Wikipedia article

Viiv is a particular combination of CPU, mainboard chipset, software, Digital Rights Management and network card. It is intended for primary use as an in-home media and desktop platform with the ability to operate as a normal PC or as a hardware media player/centre – running applications, playing DVDs, CDs, MP3, photographs and games as well as subscription based (partially DRM protected) content such as ILoveFilm, Napster and SKY

. I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what’s up with Viiv, but because of some DRM issues, it seems like you probably won’t be able to take any Windows MCE system and make it work. An example of a Viiv-based PC is the new Dell XPS 410.

Since the marriage of TV and Web content is inevitable, I’m going to bet that many more solutions like the new Yahoo! Sports for TV are on their way. Kudos to Yahoo! for making the first leap even if most people, including me, won’t be able to enjoy it just yet.

Written by Rishi

September 13th, 2006 at 12:03 am

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Get your head out of the sand Verizon (and other carriers)…

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In response to supporting Slingbox, Verizon says “What runs on our network are our services.”

OK, fine then I’ll just stream my own media with Orb. Oh wait, I can’t do that either with Verizon. According to Verizon’s Acceptable Use Policy (scroll to bottom) their service “cannot be used (1) for uploading, downloading or streaming of movies, music or games, (2) with server devices or with host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, Voice over IP (VoIP), automated machine-to-machine connections, or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing”

Uh, so what can I do? Oh, that’s right, what I can do is pay big bucks for Verizon’s mediocre, expensive vCAST premium services.

When will Verizon (and other carriers) realize that while they do own their respective networks, they cannot force their customers to use only their own content services. Sure they can try. Verizon has crippled it’s phone’s browsers by limiting 3GPP support, blocking ports, and even crippling the phones itself e.g. crippling Bluetooth so as to further limit customers to their own services.

Carriers spend gobs of money building and operating their cellular infrastructure and I have no problem paying them handsomely every month for the privilege of using it. However, force me to be limited to that carrier’s content and services? Hell no. Verizon, and other carriers with similar strategies, will realize the same fate as access-providers throughout history that had the same isolationist approach, e.g. Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL, etc.

Before the widespread availability of the Internet, you were stuck with whatever your access-provider offered. This is essentially the state that we’re in right now with mobile. We’re really just at that tipping point. As mobile phones are just now really becoming true multimedia devices and with the recent arrival of real cellular broadband in all the major metropolitan areas, the mobile web is ready to explode. And you can bet that the breadth and depth of both free and paid services from third-party providers will blow away anything that any carrier will be able to offer.

Note: I would like to say that from the research that I’ve done on this subject over the past several weeks, Sprint is MUCH more liberal than Verizon. They only officially disallow illegal uses of their network (basically like all ISP’s do) and they don’t block ports or cripple devices in any significant way. They still do not allow (unlimited) laptop tethering however. Needless to say, I can’t wait to switch from Verizon to Sprint.

Written by Rishi

February 28th, 2006 at 4:08 am

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