The Fight for Screen Time & The API Economy

In today’s screen driven world it seems everyone is competing for those precious minutes, even seconds we devote to our smartphones, tablets, laptops and TV’s each day.

Downloads don’t mean a pinch anymore with Apps, it’s all about engagement, measured as MAU (Monthly Active Users). Network TV fight the same fight with content that compels the viewer onto their channel, while web sites and platforms like Facebook, Netflix and YouTube take up the slack.


The latest figures show that Mobile is eating everyone’s slice of pie, mainly because the device is powerful, able to process almost anything and is with us anywhere. So far in early 2014 in the US, people spend 24% of time on Mobile and it’s growing fast, compared to 18% online, 36% TV and Radio at 11% and Print at 3.5%. Amazingly marketing budgets are in reverse to those figures.

It doesn’t matter what TV show, web property or app you are pushing out, there is only so much “screen time” allocated to so many people at any given time. Screen time equates to “eyeballs” and eyeballs attract advertising revenue. As most Digital eyeballs are on Mobile screens today the competition is fierce with Facebook and Google fighting for the lions share having 7 of the top 10 apps on mobile, in fact if another app comes close they are acquired like Instagram, WhatsApp and the attempted Snapchat acquisition. Both Google and Facebook are protecting business models based on advertising so the fight is fierce.
What about the other 1 million apps in App stores? If they are lucky they may attract a very thin sliver of screen time pie while they compete in the ever growing “long tail”. Apps are becoming very much like music with sudden hits and a Billboard like top 40, the 80/20 rule is alive and well in this ecosystem as far as engagement and generating revenue is concerned.

You may have noticed lately that there seems to be App updates for all your mainstream Apps even though there is no new features, simply saying “minor bug fixes”, this is a ploy to drive MUA’s as an App download counts as an active user engagement.

So how can you drive a successful venture these days? It’s all about data and aggregating different streams of data for other Apps to consume. The way this is achieved is by developing an API (Application Programming Interface), which allows any developer to take your data and do something else with it.

Google Maps is a great example of one service offering its data to other Apps. Uber has just last week released an API for their service and in fact they also released their own Deeplinking service, allowing other Apps interoperability with Uber, like an Airline for example. The App Economy is quickly giving way to the API Economy which is as vast as the sum of all data.

As we exit 2014 and charge into 2015 expect to see an explosion of API activity and data aggregation and services spring up everywhere and Apps start communicating with each other.

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The Rebirthing of the Mobile App

Mobile now commands 45% of consumer attention in the US, yet currently accounts for only about 5% of marketing budgets. Similarly TV commanded a share of around 35% of media consumption yet around 42% of budgets are allocated to it. What is going on here and why the divide?

To explain this we first need to look at the progression of the digital media channel. Traditionally, software was developed individually for specific platforms, such as Windows, Linux, or Mac OS. Today, developers build Web-based applications that are completely independent of the user’s actual computer operating system. We have got used to creating things once instead of per platform.

With the proliferation of Mobile devices across individual platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry etc.), a trade-off has opened up whereby if one wants to create a more specialised experience that utilise the native functions of the device (i.e. an App), they have to do so individually for each device platform. An expensive and high-effort endeavour that feels like the antithesis of how the industry has been progressing.

In just about all enterprises their technology stack – and skillsets – are based on web-based architectures. This has led to a default strategy of ticking the “Mobile box” where possible. A consequence of this has been a “Responsive” approach where the same Web based developers could enable a single build to work across all mobile device screens. The result, while easy to implement, is a watered down experience for the end user.

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To remedy this an “Adaptive” approach, which offers a better user experience that is more tailored to the device type, has become more popular. However, this still results in a sub-optimal experience and is a far cry from the native experience that users have enjoyed within an App.

Overall, the fact is that most enterprises – and indeed digital agencies – are still Web first or even Web only. This is simply not good enough. Each platform has thousands of very slick API’s which are built to offer the user the best experience but can only be utilised within a native App. It’s no wonder that over 85% of Mobile use is via Apps. Customers deserve a better experience.

The good news is that things are changing. Last year in 2013, three out of the four behemoths, Google, Facebook & Amazon all invested heavily in Mobile (Apple was already there). Facebook now has 60% of revenue coming from Mobile tripling their profit at the same time. A large part of their future growth will be focussed around “Deeplinking” – often called mobile deep linking – which effectively allows anyone to create hyperlinks direct into content within an App. Quite a simple thing on the internet but something that has been hard to replicate within the closed environment of an App. Suddenly Facebook advertising will be open to a whole new landscape of app-based content.

Google are utilising this functionality a slightly different way, calling it “App Indexing”. They are utilising it to be able to rank App content within their SERPs. Effectively it will create a whole new SEO focus for Apps.

The implication of this for everyone is quite huge. Now, users will be able to link from App to App or Web direct to App, which is a game changing experience on Mobile and massive new revenue stream for the platform. It paves the way for any kind of contextual based messaging to be passed from App to App for example having a flight cancelled and being able to single tap from airline App to hotel App and having all relevant data transfer e.g. name, length of stay, room type, loyalty program etc.

The value of each App increases substantially when we are able to drive traffic to it via advertising, EDMs, Web pages, Social media or even other apps. Suddenly we are able to monetise it better and demonstrate ROI.

With these new use cases, functionality and – most importantly – revenue streams available the business case to be creating greater mobile experiences via native Apps will become easier to justify. This is great news for the industry and the first step to a movement towards a “mobile-first” approach that has substance (rather than be used as a buzzword).

Cross platform App-frameworks are getting better also. Development platforms such as Xamarin are a hybrid approach where Web technologies can coexist with native attributes on the device. This is not a silver bullet and isn’t appropriate for all apps but it does further demonstrate that App development is becoming more accessible again.

All in all, the future of mobile is going to be within App development. It offers the richest, quickest and most seamless experience and is what the majority of people are using their device for now. As the App development landscape becomes smarter, richer and more jam-packed with features it will become the default approach again. The sooner the better.

“Image courtesy of”

How Restricted Media is changing everything.

clockAs the Digital Revolution charges ahead and seemingly transforms everything in its path, it forces people to ingest content at an ever increasing pace. Early on the fixed Web was a relaxed environment where you could mull around on facebook, your favourite Portal and Tweetdeck maybe fire off an email here and there, but now we are all Mobile and the engagement window is massively reduced. This has spawned a barrage of platforms that’s take up is simply phenomenal and it’s all about Restricted Media.
Restricted Media is a term given to platform based products and services that encourage user generated content however with pre-set constraints such as Twitter’s 140 characters as a popular example. Others that have also arrived are Instagram’s single shot post and 15sec video, Vine’s 6sec video post, Snapchat’s 3sec photo view or GIFbomb’s short animated GIF clips.

Why are restricted media platforms and their services starting to rule the digital world? There are many reasons however the main reason is Mobile. As the Internet spreads into Asia and the developed world along with a much younger demographic in the western world, all those screens are Mobile. An enormous amount of users in the Asia are enjoying digital interaction via a Mobile screen, and that is the first screen many have ever had.

Most young people are interacting on Mobile screens also. Summarizing its recent BI Intelligence report on teen’s mobile-first usage, the publication wrote, ” we may be witnessing is the unravelling of a unitary, centralized social media landscape, dominated by Facebook, into a set of multipolar nodes. Facebook warded off the Instagram threat by buying the company, but it won’t always be possible for the company to neutralize threats with acquisitions.”

Restricted media apps make it easy to create frictionless content. Anyone can type in 140 characters, take a photo, or hit a button to compose 6 second of looping video. In contrast Blog’s, formatted Web sites and delivery networks require careful time consuming preparation and publishing.

More interesting is how these restrictions impact the simplicity of the product interface. These media restrictions mean that the product can support a smaller number of use cases, making it more personable, and easy to use. Often, you can power the entire interaction with one button, like Snapchat or Vine. Just tap a button to create content, and once you hit the limit, it’s a done deal and in the cloud, there are no issues with editing and rearranging the content.
Both the simplicity of the content, as well as the device UI, makes the whole experience much more directed and higher conversion.

In addition to simple content creation, there is the transition to context to communication, rather than publishing, which encourages a higher level of participation. The “90/9/1 Rule” is being smashed apart, (which refers to out of 100 people, 1% will create the content, 9% will curate the content and the other 90% will consume it). The content creation participation by restricted media is much higher, SMS is over 90% and so is IM, email, Skype etc. The point of communication is that all parties involved create content that’s directed at other people, and everyone participates.

Twitter has @mentions, Dribbble has rebounds, and Snapchat is all about communication. This invites people to participate, because the media can be directed at other people, and there’s a built-in context to communicate to one another. This leads to email notifications based on healthy user-to-user engagement. This drives frequency, virility, and all sorts of other interaction.

Creating content from scratch is hard. Similarly, being the first to communicate can be difficult also, anyone who’s introduced themselves to a stranger knows the feeling. However, replying is easy. If someone takes a picture of themselves making a funny face on Snapchat, then a natural response is to make a funny face back. Even more if you know that the picture was sent specifically to you, and then you feel like you owe a response. In fact most people try and respond within this virtual window of opportunity where the “hang time” in between responses can diminish the quality of the response and of course the moment.

Traditional media platforms tend to bring out the flamboyance in everybody and create show-offs, this in turn leaves people who tend not to participate because they don’t want to compete with those who are more skilled or who have more time.
Instead, restricted content creation reduces the variance in output between the low-skilled and high-skilled users, which makes it so that everyone can interact and have fun. Take Instagram and its very user friendly image filters which can propel anyone into the spotlight with a great time piece of photo brilliance, with instant feedback from many-to-one. In contrast updating a blog or a personal site would not reap the same connections.

All of the above translates to more frequent, more inclusive content creation. This fuels traction. More frequency of use means there’s more opportunities to take users through viral loops, as well as firing organic user-to-user notifications that power retention. It becomes easy, for instance (in Snapchat’s case), to ask the user to include a couple extra recipients of a photo after you’ve replied. Or after you’ve created a 6 second video, it’s easy to ask the user to share it onto a couple different social networks.

Restricted content creation needs to be seamless and with very limited user interface interaction and must be bound to a communication protocol. All these factors are inherent on the Mobile platform and the next billion users will interact for their first time on the Internet on a Mobile device.

What’s Next? “Zou Chuqu”

Quite simply What’s Next is Asia and Mobile media. For many people in the Asian region the Mobile screen is the first screen that they ever had that can deliver content.

The population in Asia is now 4.2Billion people with China sitting at 1.3Billion. Why is this important? Well, the Chinese consumer Web is like a parallel and totally closed version of the web in the rest of the world. They’ve got vibrant and powerful local substitutes for every popular web service that the West has. What’s more many Chinese companies have been ex­plicitly mandated to “zou chuqu” (go out), in the words of the declared government policy seeking customers and alliances across Asia.

An example of the potential on offer in China is the huge market that a company like Apple just can’t ignore. Apple’s iPhone 4 launch there in the first quarter of this year brought the company’s phone sales there up by fivefold from a year ago. Revenue in China reached a record $7.9 billion last quarter (yes that was $7.9billion), which is up threefold year-over-year. That brings Apple’s revenues in the country to $12.4 billion for the first half of the fiscal year. That’s nearly what Apple made in all of the last fiscal year when it made $13.3 billion in China. “It is mind-boggling that we can do this well,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook on the last earnings call.

As the recession eases, the shift of global economic activity to Asia is accelerating. This transition had begun well before the collapse, but as recently as 2008 many Western businesses were essentially ignoring it. That is no longer a viable strategy.

Take in to account the fact that retail sales growth has rebounded sharply in Asia. One force driving this turnaround is consumer credit; younger populations in Asia are more amenable to buying on credit than their parents are, (60% of Vietnam’s 86million population are under 30) , and as aspirations and incomes grow, people recognise the value of credit in allowing them to make purchases they would have otherwise put off for years. Levi Strauss & Company has just an­nounced the first consumer credit program for low-ticket items in India, offering jeans on an interest-free, “buy now, pay later” installment plan. In an experiment con­ducted over two months in com­pany stores in Bangalore, consumers spent 50 percent more than usual when offered an installment op­tion. The number of credit cards issued annually in China, meanwhile, was about 140 million in 2008, and it’s growing more than 50 percent per year.

Australia is also a member of the Asian region and plans are already well underway to transition from print to digital on mobile devices for news content. As the Asian region advances and blooms it will attract foreign investment for infrastructure projects worth billions from the West. This will not only offer high speed transport and cutting edge communication networks yet also education and health services. Most of Asia including China and India will enjoy brand new LTE wireless networks that will be available to almost all the populations simply due to scale (cost spread over many people).

For Asian companies, the conventional strategy of moving abroad by acquiring assets will not work. For Western companies, moving established operations into Asia will be equally fruitless. There’s only one way for both types of companies to succeed: By determining the capabilities they need to drive operations and investing in those exclusively. If companies’ capabilities match their strategic plans, Asia’s growth can provide a powerful counterweight to the worldwide recession — and a platform for global expansion afterward.

A combination of new media the ubiquity of the Mobile phone that is engaging, personal and easy to use and acquire will pave the way for an avalanche of opportunities for any communication company.

It’s time for western digital agencies to “zou chuqu” and engage with strategic partners in the region that we are a member of and offer compelling experiences through innovation in portable media. It’s no longer a case of “build it and they will come” in Asia it is now “build it as they are here”.

The Mobile Effect

For me, ever since I switched my focus from the fixed Web to Mobile in 2000 it has been the year of Mobile that never really permeated in to mainstream media. I think the reason for this is simple yet not seen as obvious to most, as Mobile as a communication device has played in two main streams since the first voice call in 1946. Firstly the mobile phone was used as a person to person voice communication device and the secondly as a personal information device much later on.

The mobile phone was also a device that was provisioned and controlled by Telco’s which meant that each device was configured and setup just the way the Telco wanted and was considered a walled-garden approach. Around 2007 they even went as far as making people think that mobile data was extremely expensive so they could continue to saturate the voice/SMS market while formulating a mobile data strategy.

In media circles most people saw Mobile as a “fad”, arriving with mass hysteria causing extreme excitement and leaving their lives not long after. How could such a small media device disrupt the behemoths that were TV, radio, print and of course the PC based Web? Well mobile is far from a fad and has been building a momentum for over 50 years and that is why there has never been “the year of mobile” and never will be.

The mobile medium is now in the hands of most of the world population, for many it is their first screen ever and it was thought that it would pass the fixed internet in 2014 and in fact did so in 2011. The business models of companies like Google, Apple, facebook, RIM, Yahoo etc. have started a massive shift over the past few years because of it, in fact Yahoo’s future may rest in how they place their mobile strategy into the market. Facebook more recently purchased Instagram for $1Billion to attempt to add more weight to mobile against its fledging S-1 SEC filing and immanent IPO. Facebook has one business model and that is advertising, and what worked on the 3rd screen (desk/laptop), does not carry over to the 4th screen (mobile), the real estate and time on screen is completely different. The mobile device is used as whole bunch of tools that allow you to quickly find out things or be informed of things you need to know, browsing on mobile is rarely done unless you are on the mobile Web e.g. facebook or news site.

The term “there’s an App for that” came about because Apps were about tools that made your life, job, relationship, anything better, they are small in size, huge in functionality have a touch user interface and reside on your phone for you only. Mobile App and cloud innovation will drive real value in the years ahead for the Internet giants, characterised by consumers using devices to capture and share their lives with each other, and having no need for desktops or laptops to do so.

Web 2.0 is done. Over the past ten years people have arrived on the Net and setup accounts on Webmail, banking, travel and more recently Social sites like facebook. These Web services happened mainly because anyone could do it…setup a LAMP based Server in the corner of your bedroom, hack some code together and you could serve up anything. Facebook itself has enjoyed that ride however once they go public it’s a very different ball-game, one in which Mark Zuckerburg will not enjoy. When the exits start happing, shareholders to satisfy and board level voting, innovation dries up and users leave in droves. Google struggled with this however managed to keep progressing with new product development while the search opportunity hung on to survival.

facebooks new product development has waned as they struggle to maintain a framework which many are building on like Zynga. I personally see facebook as an “apprenticeship” for Social media allowing people, ad agencies and new developers alike once they have the hang of it they will transition to other platforms that fit the bill even their own in Zynga’s case. If Lady Gaga’s social network can attract 40 million people then where do you think the brands are going to go to attract that demographic?

Google co-founder Sergey Brin is worried about the future of the Internet, and not just because of censor-happy regimes like China and in the Middle East. He sees walled gardens like Apple’s iTunes, iCloud and facebook as deterrents from the Open Web and in fact believes that they would not have built Google today. It is impossible to robot crawl native mobile Apps and proprietary framework data today. Other factors like CISPA making it very easy for a company like facebook to hand over users private information to the government without any due process.

The most interesting markets to watch these days are the Asian markets, they are absolutely mind blowing. The Chinese market increased threefold over last year’s second quarter to $12.4 billion. In fact that falls just short of Apple’s previous complete year revenue from the prior year. And this is without the country’s largest carrier, China Mobile, offering the iPhone to its 600 million subscribers.

We now live in a world that is truly mobile where teenagers gaze at desktop PC’s in wonderment the same way I did at typewriters, where developer conferences are sold out no sooner than they are announced months before they open and Apple can sell 67 million iPad’s in less than two years where it took them 24 years to sell the same amount of Mac computers. With the imminent cover of LTE upon us the children of today will enjoy seamless communication with speeds around 100m/sec  and wonder how we all managed in the wired world.

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