A little later than usual this week due to some pre-Christmas commitments, in this weeks round up of the big news in technology and digital media, we take a look at the new Windows Store for Windows 8, some new mobile aggregation applications, Twitter's redesign, Amazon's attack on retailers, Gmail and Google+, iPlayer for iPhone, and a direct-to-customer online video experiment.
An extensive blog post from the Vice President of Windows Web Services, launching the Windows Store blog has given a lot of detail about how Windows 8's Store is going to function when it launches
with Windows 8 in beta in February next year.
[Edit - A release date for Windows 8 has not yet been announced, but it is expected towards the end of 2012.]
A key feature of Windows 8 is that it won't be limited to "traditional" PCs, but will also operate on touchscreen-based tablets. As well as the standard Windows interface, Windows 8 will also have "Metro"-style applications (using the same touchscreen-oriented user interface as Windows Phone 7) — the Windows Store will be the only way that these touch-based applications will be able to be installed.
Free apps will be available, with paid apps ranging from $1.49 to a limit of $999.99. Microsoft will take a 30% cut of application sales (the same as Apple), but will drop this to 20% once an application reaches $25,000 in revenues.
In January this year, Apple launched their own App Store for Mac — operating in a similar way to the iPhone App Store. This week, they announced that over 100 million apps for the Mac have been downloaded — not including the latest operating system update, app updates, or second copies of applications. (To put that figure into context, NPD estimates that 50 million copies of boxed software were sold in the US last year.)
Mobile Aggregation Applications
iPad owners may well be familiar with Flipboard; an app that collects stories and links from around the web (social networks like Facebook and Twitter, as well as either selections of categories or specific RSS feeds) and presents them in a magazine-like layout. This week, Flipboard for iPhone was launched.
Also, Zite (a similar kind of aggregator app on the iPad) has also seen an iPhone release.
But perhaps more interestingly, also this week, Google have released Google Currents – a similar concept. Working with publisher partners, Google have also launched a self-service platform that allows publishers to customise their web content for Google Currents.
Google's application is available on Android, iPhone and iPad — but at the moment, only in the US.
The interesting point here is why Google have created this application. Publishers don't have to do anything to make their content available on Flipboard or Zite (or Pulse, or any of the other aggregator applications.) It all content that is already freely available on the web. The point is that the user experience is different within an application that is native to the platform and a website (which can be optimised for different platforms, but often provides an inconsistent experience across different platforms.)
My view is that the impact that smartphones have had will be eclipsed by the impact that tablets are going to have in the very near future. We are seeing Microsoft create the most fundamental change in the Windows platform since its inception to optimise for the consumer interest in tablets. The BBC's recent homepage design has been heavily influenced by tablet design. Google — a company heavily invested in the "open web" — have built an application that will effectively compete with the web browser for tablet and smartphone users' attention. While there is an interesting debate about the future of native applications versus the open web, I think the point isn't that its going to be one or the other — the point is that things are changing.
(And this is just the beginning...)
Twitter have released a "new version" of Twitter, comprising of a redesigned web page, redesigned mobile applications, the introduction of brand pages, and the ability to easily embed tweets into blog posts or other web pages.
Let's Fly! blog.twitter.com/2011/12/lets-f…— Twitter (@twitter) December8, 2011
In addition, there is a new 'tweet hashtag' button, making it simpler for brands to encourage user to join a public conversation (as opposed to a private dialogue with the brand, which happens to be in a public place.)
Brand profile pages now allow for more space for header images/logos, brand taglines, and a brand's own selected tweets (self-promoted tweets?), which bring Twitter somewhat closer to the model that Facebook has pioneered.
(While it should be remembered that the vast majority of Twitter content is consumed in the users' own News Feed, brands pages shouldn't be written off as irrelevant, as its likely that users will visit them if undecided about whether or not to follow a brand.)
The website and mobile applications have a new "discover" view (marked by the "#" hash symbol — becoming increasingly well-known as the hashtag), which apparently aims to give an increased prominence to the world of Twitter from outside a users' chosen followers' activity. While this doesn't seem to be a particularly welcome change, if it does take off then it seems that it will be an interesting space for paid marketing (as opposed to users' timelines, where they don't necessarily expect to see "uninvited" messaging.)
I've talked about developments with mobile internet use and price comparisons over the last couple of weeks, but Amazon have made an aggressive move to promote the "Price Check" functionality on their mobile applications. In a one-day promotion (on the 10th December) Amazon offered US consumers up to $5 in discounts on purchases (a 5% on up to three items, to a maximum of $5) if they compare prices in store with Amazon's prices, and then purchase the item from Amazon.
In other words, they have effectively paid customers a small fee to enter a competitor's shop, report their prices, then buy something from Amazon. So as well as providing an incentive for sales, this will also mean that Amazon will have collected a lot of information about in store prices — valuable intelligence for Amazon in setting their own prices.
Meanwhile, Google's integration of Google+ with other services continues; this week with Gmail. Now, when you open an email from someone you know on Google+, you get a pop-up window showing that contact's latest Google+ activity.
As well as Gmail, the service is also integrating more closely with Contacts, allowing users to more effectively fiter emails using the Google+ 'circles' feature.
I think this integration shows the kind of advantage that Google have in the social space; although it would be technically possible for, say, Microsoft to add similar Facebook information to Hotmail, they would face a number of challenges to implement it (ie. linking Windows Live! identities to Facebook profiles, and dealing with the privacy issues of passing restricted, personal information between companies.)
After 1.5m iPad and 1.2m Android installs of the previous version of the application, the BBC have released an iPlayer application for iPhone.
Crucially, this update also allows users to stream video across any mobile network – previously limited to WiFi connections only. 3G streaming will also be coming "shortly" to the web-based version of the iPlayer
The update also brings AirPlay compatibility, allowing users to wirelessly send video from their iOS device to their TV screens via Apple TV.
Last week, comedian Louis C.K. released his latest show through a non-traditional route; rather than the traditional pre-Christmas DVD, he produced and sold it independently over the web, at a price of $5 (about £3.25.) Customers can download the full video or stream it twice.
He has just released a statement, going over the response;
The show went on sale at noon on Saturday, December 10th. 12 hours later, we had over 50,000 purchases and had earned $250,000, breaking even on the cost of production and website. As of Today, we've sold over 110,000 copies for a total of over $500,000. Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video. They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely. […] I'm really glad I put this out here this way and I'll certainly do it again. If the trend continues with sales on this video, my goal is that i can reach the point where when I sell anything, be it videos, CDs or tickets to my tours, I'll do it here and I'll continue to follow the model of keeping my price as far down as possible, not overmarketing to you, keeping as few people between you and me as possible in the transaction.
There are a few interesting points that this raises about the disintermediation of the media industry, and the ability of artists to sell directly to customers (not just cutting out the manufacturers of physical products and retailers, but even promoters, and distributors like iTunes or Amazon.)
- We have seen a number of similar experiments around alternative forms of music distribution – Radiohead's 'name your own price' album release being probably the best known. Jonathan Coulton has made a successful career around giving away his music online (also making it available to buy), raising his profile enough to be able to sell more tickets to more shows (and sell merchandise.)
- There is a blurring of the line between product and marketing, when a low price and novel distribution method generates word of mouth. An interesting point here is the explicit recognition that some of the value being generated by traditional distributors doesn't benefit the artist or the consumer. Eliminating some of these (eg. collecting personal information for marketing) can generate a different kind of value in terms of goodwill and support. Obviously this is harder to measure, and is more of a long-term investment.
- No doubt some of these sales were from people wanting to support the idea, rather than the comedian– if the model becomes more popular, its hard to say whether this element will scale.