Sofa Surfers: a new media channel?

This blog is to stake my claim as the originator of the Sofa Surfer. What is a Sofa Surfer? It started with the advent of the smartphone and the iphone in particular. With fast, easy access to the internet, users could quickly check their emails, update their Facebook status, send a Twitter message or just check IMDb to see who that actor was in the movie you’re watching. Studies, such as Orange’s Exposure 2 found that most mobile browsing was done at home, typically on the sofa watching the TV. Whilst there is evidence to support a number of people in front of the TV with their laptops on, that is not the same as the ‘quick dip’ of mobile browsing.
The appearance of tablet PCs and particularly the ipad will serve to develop this growing form of browsing. A survey by comScore found that most ipad users are interested in browsing and email, not necessarily the reading of ebooks that Apple et al are hoping for.
With these new browsing patterns comes the potential for a new media channel: Sofa Surfers are not out and about looking in shops, but by the same token they are not at the computer doing hardcore web browsing. They are relaxed and looking for entertainment. Will this be a route by which content providers and advertisers are looking to engage with customers? We’ll have to wait and see.

Keep taking the tablets: users go all out for the ipad

OK, a rather poor pun with which to talk about Apple’s Tablet PC, the ipad. However, ahead of Saturdays US launch, predictions by research firms, comScore and NPD Group suggest that 15-18% of consumers are considering an ipad, and around 9-10% will buy. The preferred uses include internet and email with some interest in e-books and music. It looks like the ipad will create a new demographic in the form of the ‘sofa surfer’.

Preditions of sales volumes are hard to come by but a guess would suggest 2-3 million units in the first year with 3.5 to 6 million units in year two. Given that the iphone sold close to 50m units in the first two years, that is way below it’s smaller mobile cousin. Will it be enough to create a new genre of computer and a significant group representing the sofa surfer.

Underpants that can text. Have we reached the pinnacle in technology?

We were hoping for flying cars, hover boots and robots that do the housework. However the future has brought us the texting underpants. OK, it’s more serious than that because they have a genuine use. An Australian company called SIMSystem have come up with a sensor which can be worn by the elderly which can alert carers by SMS should they have an incontinence problem. It’s not a particularly pleasant thing for either carer or the elderly themselves, but it is good to see technology doing something that can help improve the quality of life in that area.

nude iphone apps: it’s OK because it’s art!

Apple’s prudishness towards nudity or even bikini’s in their apps doesn’t extent to nudity in art. A Polish developer has launched a series of puzzles based on nude art: Modigliani Nudes Puzzle, Bathing Nudes Paintings Puzzle, Fabulous Nude Paintings Puzzle and Classic Nude Paintings Puzzle. And Apple seem quite happy about that.
To some extant I can understand where Apple are coming from. The app bans, though rather prudish, seem to be an attempt to maintain a certain standard within the appstore. There are plenty of lads mags and Snoop Dogg videos with enough titillation to keep the average teenage boy happy. Apple are implying that that type of content is denigrating to the brand. Fair enough. But the problem is as soon as you start to act as censor, lines can become difficult to draw and you stand in danger of looking draconian or ridiculous. I’m sure these are issues that Google and other internet portals have had to consider. The underlying point is that Apple are (arguably) a distributor and not a publisher of the content. And as such, censorship is a difficult game to play.

Is Facebook slowing down mobile operator connection speeds?

Recent research released by analytics company Ericsson, shows that data traffic has now overtaken voice calls on mobile networks. In fact, data traffic is now double the bandwidth used by making phone calls. This surge is in part due to more PCs connecting through mobile data sticks, but it would seem that the largest surge is thanks to Facebook. Yup, with 100 million people regularly updating their FB status from their mobile, it would seem the networks are creeking under the strain.

API for Google Latitude

When Google Latitude was first launched, there were wide spread scare stories about how it would breach people’s privacy. Google put in plenty of safeguards to ensure that it didn’t, but perception of these things is important. However, I said at that the time that the significance of Latitude was not that peer to peer location, but the potential offered by an API to integrate it into other apps. Well, Google have now announced an API to do exactly that. Suddently the potential of Latitude has increased by some magnitude. See here for a report.

Adobe vs Apple, Microsoft and pretty much everyone else

When it comes to the web, Flash is pretty much a defacto standard. True, we are beyond the days of Flash only sites and spinning logos, but Adobe’s software powers everything from YouTube to interactive banner advertising. It powers everything, except when it comes to mobile: Apple and Microsoft’s decision NOT to support Flash on mobile is a major challenge to Adobe. On the face of it, their decision doesn’t make much sense. Lack of Flash on the mobile web, especially with video content, is a major problem to its development, causing many brands to develop mobile only sites.
So why are Apple and Microsoft so anti Flash on mobile? From Apple’s perspective they see Flash as essentially old technology: it’s a memory hog, insecure and ultimately HTML5 offers a much brighter future. As Steve Job’s put it: “We don’t spend a lot of energy on old technology”. Another factor, however, is Adobe’s position near monopoly position on the web – Apple and Microsoft would be happy to see us less reliant on it.
Love it or hate it (and there are quite a few people who really hate it), the success of Flash is for a good reason. Like all killer apps, it works. It works so well it’s used in 85% of the top 100 websites, 90% of gambling sites, 75% of video is delivered through Flash and there are two million Flash developers. With an estimated 1.2billion mobiles running Flash, it certainly won’t be disappearing in a hurry.
It’s impossible to say who will win the day. It’s likely that the Flash/HTML5 issue will follow on the same course as many other mobile technologies – multiple versions to meet the various different handset requirements. In the end it will be the developers and clients who will have to bear the brunt of the cost.

The $200k Blackberry. Proof that money does not buy you taste

Someone had to do it. Following on from gold $1.92m iphone, it’s the 18 carat gold Blackberry. If that wasn’t enough they glued 1400 diamonds to it (hope they used some strong glue). The whole, tasteful package is yours for a mere $200,000.

$200,000 Blackberry

If you’ve got more money than sense, you can read more about it here.

ISP Mobile Marketing Conference

I was flattered to be asked to chair the Institute of Sales Promotion‘s Mobile Marketing Conference last week. There was some excellent input from brands including Coca Cola, Orange, Barclaycard and Westfield, along with an agency panel including Ogilvy, Saatchi X (no relation to Malcolm X) and BD Group.

I haven’t seen a report from the conference, so here are a few thoughts from where I was sitting (which was right next to the speakers).

The audience consisted of brands and agencies of various sizes. Although brands many had looked at mobile marketing, few were actively involved with it. Coca Cola are one brand that has been ahead of the game in mobile marketing and sales promotions. What I thought was good about the brand was their focus on engagement rather than technology. Their Sprite/Fanta campaign from last year was the most interesting. They offered UK customers 50p mobile top ups by simply texting a code on the ringtab to a shortcode number. The result was 1/2 a million redemptions.

Barclaycard were interesting, if a little bit corporate in their approach. The focus was on contactless payment systems. The company believe that within 10 years we will all be using contactless payment systems (or NFC) and most of that will be through our phones. With a bit of help from MIG, they also showed an AR app (technically though, it is a location app) which pointed to the nearest contactless payment retailers and cash points. There was something of a vague answer to a question of whether they would include vouchering as part of the contactless system. After all if you can take a payment one way, surely it would make sense to go the other way and put vouchers on to RFID phones? It seemed that Barclaycard had no plans to offer it.

Orange speaker, Steve Ricketts was the most relevant of all the presentations, using the Exposure and Exposure 2 studies to show that the greatest area of interest for mobile marketing from consumers was vouchering and discounts. Orange Wednesday is a great example of how mobile vouchering is successful, and has changed consumer perceptions by making Wednesday one of the most popular days to attend the cinema. Steve also announced that Orange will be bringing out contacless payment phone, in conjunction with Barclaycard this year. However, he wouldn’t be pressed on which handset that would be (and I did ask him).

A panel session from creative agencies including Ogilvy, Saatchi X and BD Network, looked at the creative challenges for the mobile marketing sector. The discussion moved to the operators role and away from the purely creative challenges. It was notable that the agencies all saw apps, especially iphone apps as the most creative application for mobile. This was somewhat at odds with the rest of the speakers at the event, who felt they had a place, but probably a nice one.

The stars of the day were David Glennie and Tim Dunn from service provider Mobile Interactive Group who were also event sponsors. David is mobile’s answer to Eddi Izzard, providing a hilarious but informative look at apps, and to some extent their ultimate pointlessness. Tim bravely (and successfully) did some live app demos, including an AR app where he shot at helicopeters hovering above the audience.

In summing up, I picked out a few key themes from the day. Outside of the creative agencies, the theme of simplicity and user engagement came over time and again. As always with mobile, the speakers stressed the need to develop campaigns that were relevant to users in a highly personal marketing channel.