Apple’s Passbook: Early evidence is that it’s a hit with users

Whilst many commentators were discussing the features of the iPhone 5, one announcement that received less notice was the introduction of Passbook in iOS6. Many industry figures had been holding out for NFC to be introduced in Apple’s new handset, so Passbook barely counted as a consolation prize. However, this feature may turn out to be a significant channel for brands and consumers.

The system has had a soft launch from Apple – not a bad idea after the maps fiasco. Some of the first for Passbook apps for McDonalds (France), Eventbrite and Airbnb were recently released in iTunes and early signs appear to show high adoption levels. Online ticketing business, Eventbrite, said that over 20,000 tickets had been sold through Passbook in the first week. The French supermarket, Auchan, has just announced that 10,000 people registered for a Passbook loyalty card within a few days of its release.

Apple’s reasoning behind Passbook is that it creates a frictionless experience by delivering barcodes within apps and negates the need to install millions of readers for NFC chips. It would seem that the advantage for consumers is familiarity combined with additional features such as location services (useful for Airbnb) or event reminders (useful for Eventbrite).

Global Mobile Smartphone Sales: Samsung Lead the Stats

The latest data on smartphone sales, reported by Tomi Ahonen, shows that Samsung sold nearly twice the number of phones as Apple, in Q2 2012. In part, this is due to the fact that Samsung have a range of handsets across almost all budgets, whereas Apple is only in the high-end smartphone market (at that point, the S3 was not yet launched). Whilst  Samsung have taken sales from the likes of Nokia and RIM in the past (and that trend continues), it seems that the lion’s share in the first part of 2012 came from Apple. Their share dropped from 24% to 17%, whereas Samsung increased from just over 30% to nearly 40%. Apple’s drop is not through lack of sales, but rather, from the increase in the global smartphone market. However, the impending iPhone 5 may also have caused some Apple users to wait and see what they company would do.

The most interesting aspect of all this is that Samsung is also involved in making TVs, tablets and PCs (and for that matter washing machines). The company is working on the integration across all devices and by next year they expect to be responsible for 3 billion screens in the world.

With 6 billion phones globally, it is equivalent to 86% of the population owning one (of course some people have two or more phones, so it’s not that big). 30% of those phones are now in China and India, and smartphones are by far the biggest selling category (we now have 1 billion globally).

Data Source: Tomi Ahonen, http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/

In terms of operating systems, Android was nearly 67% of the smartphone sales in Q2 2012, and taking into account the installed user base, that it is currently 41% of all smartphones. As someone pointed out, Android phones are selling faster then babies are born.  iOS at 17% of sales and 19% of the installed base. Samsung’s share of OS was: Android  91%, Bada 8% and Windows Phone 1%.

iTab: it’s an iPhone, only bigger. Much, much bigger.

Presenting iPhone apps to a large audience always presents a problem. Whilst Steve Jobs has a natty cable that projects his iPhone onto a big screen, they don’t make one available to us ordinary folk. The solution? I borrowed an idea from a friend, and made a bracket to mount the iPhone in front of a video camera (held together with gaffer tape). It kind of works, but it’s very shakey and very clunky. And if the projector is ceiling mounted, it’s too high to plug the cable in at all.

I think I’ve found a proper solution though. I was at an exhibiting show a couple of weeks ago and saw the iTab, which looks and works like a giant iPhone. With screen sizes up to 86″ it looks good in front of an audience. Not only that, but having a true touch-screen means the system is also good for exhibition booths. Everyone wants to walk up to it and play with the thing. The Times has just bought one to show off their new app.

Although it’s a fairly large investment to buy it (£5k + depending on the size), the distributor, Touch2View will rent it by the day (and they’ll come and install it to boot). For more information and prices see their site: www.touch2view.com

The Problem with BlackBerry: still loosing sales to Android

The indications have been there for some time, but the rise and rise of Google’s Android seems to be at the expense of RIM’s BlackBerry. Whilst iPhone sales are slowly increasing, RIM is seeing its market share eroded. In an attempt to bring back their market share the Canadian company announced a number of new handsets (and launched their poorly received Play Book) at BlackBerry World this week. One interesting development was the announcement of an NFC enable BlackBerry Bold for contactless payments and ticketing. At the moment the handset has only been announced for the US users. The potential of NFC is significant and the fact that RIM are early to market in this technology could give them an advantage.

But are these handsets enough to increase BlackBerry’s position in the handset wars? Not according to Wall Street, with analysts predicting that the developments were little more than incremental and did nothing to deal with the underlying problem: good handsets but a poor operating system. The bottom line is that RIM are attempting to play catch-up by adding iPhone-like features. In a time when OS choices are driving smartphone adoption, Wall Street analysts claim that they are not addressing the ‘ineptness’ (as one analyst described it) of their operating system.

Although Blackberry was positioned primarily to the business market, their key success in the last few years has been BBM, their free, built-in messaging product. It has been widely adopted by teenagers in a similar way to the adoption of SMS ten years ago. Unfortunately young people are not the key demographic for success in the market. It’s the 25+ professionals (so, people with money) that are defining the iPhone and Android sales. Getting sales are not just about operating systems and great handsets, these days it’s also about app stores. Apple defined the market, but Android are rapidly catching up with iTunes. They already have more free apps, and the latest predictions show Android Market overtaking Apple’s offering the autumn. Does anyone buy a BlackBerry for the app store? Not very likely.

Three reasons why Apple won’t release an iPhone Nano

A number of stories appeared this week suggesting that Apple will be releasing a small ‘nano’ version of the iPhone. It’s not the first time these rumours have been around, but the story this week was started by a report by Bloomberg. They indicated that Apple are looking at a cheaper, smaller phone to beat off competition from Android. The report was based on an anonymous source (Apple rumours are always anonymous), who had seen the smaller, nano-style phone which apparently had no ‘home’ button (very unApple).

In some ways it seems logical that Apple will release a Nano iPhone. They have a 5% share of the global mobile phone market, so there is plenty of room for improvement. There is increasing competition from manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC who are matching Apple for quality, but fulfilling the lower-end smartphone handset market. The iPhone 4 is a premium product, and the price means that there are many people who can’t afford it. Whilst Apple has success in certain markets such as the US and Western Europe, they face stiff competition in regions such as Asia. Even in Japan, where Apple had 75% of the smartphone market, Samsung made some significant gains at the end of 2010.

The problem with this report it is still essentially rumour. Rumours that have been kicking around since the release of the first iPhone. To make an Apple rumour more believable there needs to be something to make the report credible. Last year the lost iPhone 4 handset was taken apart and it was clearly Apple. There is nothing to back this particular rumour. Here are three reasons why Apple is unlikely to release a Nano Phone:

1. Apple don’t need a lower end iPhone. Given that Apple are making more profit than all the other handset manufacturers put together, dominating the market by volume isn’t really that important. True, Steve Jobs once said that one day all phones would be iPhones, but I think we can put that down to bravado. It is not consistant with Apple’s market strategy to date.

2. A smaller iPhone isn’t cheaper to build. Building a smaller iPhone is technically problematic, and wouldn’t be any cheaper. Reducing some features such as such as a camera or memory may help keep costs down, but not significantly so.

3. A different size screen would create compatibility and usability issues. Apps would have to be redesigned (there’s 250,000 of them in the app store) and the virtual keyboard would be much harder to use.

It is unlikely therefore that Apple will produce a smaller model of iPhone. If Apple are to go the route of an cheaper model of iPhone then the solution may lie in a stripped-down version of the existing phone. Keeping the screen size the same will remove two of the three issues outlined above. They could reduce some of the functions such as the memory, cameras (no forward facing cameras) and a lower resolution screen. Apple will still need to take care to ensure that they don’t take out the ‘iPhone-ness’ of a cheaper device. In the end, the decision will come down to how much of a threat (or perceived threat) there is to their profitability with their existing mobile offering.

Mobile Predictions for 2011

How accurate were the 2011 predictions? As a review of the year in mobile, I have added comments in italics. 2012’s mobile predictions are here.

1.       The rise of Contactless (or NFC).

2011 will be the year that contactless technology comes to mobile in the UK (and Europe).

In the UK Orange and Barclaycard launched a (not very good) NFC phone. More significantly both the Google Nexus, higher end BlackBerry and a number of other devices included contactless. The real potential for growth will be in 2012. In the UK it will be spurred on by the need for fast payment etc at the Olympics and growth will be also be significant elsewhere, especially if the iPhone 5 includes an NFC chip.

2.       mCommerce – where the retailers lead, others will follow

Whilst 2010 saw retailers establish themselves in the mobile web space, 2011 was where they consolidated it. From eBay to Amazon, from M&S to Halfords, mobile represented 10% or more of their digital sales. Whilst there hasn’t been exactly a charge towards mobile web from other brands outside retail, during the year most of them created some kind of offering. Interestingly retailers are seeing the potential of mobile and moving beyond just a mobile site with initiatives such as augmented reality pop-up shops.

3.       Mobile Search – the next big thing in mobile marketing?

From the user perspective, 2011 saw mobile search continue to grow. More smartphones means more search from mobile, especially in stores. Research from Google showed that over 70% of smartphone owners were searching and comparing product information whilst in store. Not only that, but most mobile search is about immediate intent – people are looking for something because they want (or need) it now. Sadly brands have not really caught on to mobile search marketing in any significant way as yet. 

4.       Mobile Advertising gets Exciting

2011 saw HTML5 take off in mobile, and particularly mobile advertising. Besides iAd, Google also started to offer HTML5 banners through their ad channel. There were some creative campaigns – Nissan Duke for iAd, Tuborg and Magnum Ice Cream and Auto Trader in the UK – there is still a lot of untapped potential. Mobile is now 8% of our ‘media time’, more than in print, yet the spend on advertising is less than 1%. Print? More than 20% of the total spend.

5.       Location, Location, Location

Whilst location is the backbone of most mobile media, social location didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2011. Although Facebook incorporated location into status updates, they ended their Places and Deals, failing to become a leader in social location. However, Foursquare continued to see their numbers rise to 15m + users. Along with the likes of SCVNGR and Instagram, they engaged both users and brands. In the meantime, Facebook hired the Gowalla crew to rethink their offering. Social location remains important.

6.       The End of Unlimited Data Plans

It happened in the UK, US and elsewhere thanks to too many iPhone users. The biggest problem has been video. More and more mobile users are accessing it but it uses tremendous amounts of bandwidth. The only long term solution is 4G, which is beginning to roll out in some countries. In the UK, the government put the licence bids back into 2012, which means 2013 will be the earliest. Developing countries may well get into 4G sooner and leap-fog the UK. The mid-term solution is in rolling out more WiFi. O2 are working on that right now … hopefully there’ll be enough data bandwidth by the time every0ne arrives for the Olympics.

7.       New Interfaces

There were announcements of 3D screens, gesture control, and electrovibration to create the feeling of textures in mobile and tablet screens. The biggest impact on the consumer came in the form of voice interfaces, notably iOS5’s Siri. After Apple upped the ante, Google are looking to implement something better than Siri into Android in 2012.

8.       Fad Gadget?

Not everyone is convinced by the iPad. It made the top 10 list of worst gadgets of 2010 in one magazine, whilst also making the top 10 best gadgets in the same publication.

This prediction was entirely wrong. The tablet device, or the iPad (others sold very few), sold at a faster rate than the iPod or iPhone.   In many territories they were outselling PCs. 

9. Moblogging

This hasn’t taken off as such, but other forms of social media activity on smartphones increased. When Twitter was incorporated into iOS5, their sign up rate went up three-fold. Now nearly half of all Tweets come from mobile devices. It’s not just writing though. Mobile users say it through photos, as demonstrated by Instagram and Flickr (the iPhone 4 was the most used camera on the site).

10. Bada

I predicted that from a very fast start, Bada would become an important OS in 2011. It didn’t happen. Samsung have not released any figures about the operating system, but they would appear to be low, and the company is likely to drop the OS. In a way, it’s not surprising when you consider that Bada was for lower end handsets but consumers have moved towards smartphones. Not only that, but Android is open source and can be put on most handsets.

Some suprising stats about mobile web usage worldwide

Mobile analysts, Royal Pingdom, have produced some surprising research regarding worldwide mobile web usage. Proportionately it is highest in Asia and Africa. Not only that, the most used handsets by far are Nokia’s running Symbian OS. Or is it really that surprising? Given that these are proportional figures comparing fixed vs mobile web, rather than volumes. In the UK for example, 20m+ people access the mobile web every month. That represents over 20% of mobile users, however proportionately the web usage only accounts for just a few percent. That’s because mobile access is shorter demonstrating a more ‘snacking’ behaviour. In large parts of Africa and Asia, fixed web is difficult to obtain, and mobile offers the only practical way to get online. Similarly with the handsets, the iPhones and BlackBerrys of this world are just not available in many of those countries. They are the places where Nokia dominate.

Some countries particularly stand out for their relatively high mobile web usage: in Nigeria it’s 25% and in India and Bangladesh it’s 15%. What the figures don’t tell us is what kind of web usage it is. Are they browsing mobile optimised sites? Social media? Or email? Certainly the predictions that mobile web will overtake the fixed web in the next few years look very realistic.