This week's round up of the big news in technology and digital media takes a look at Google's new Music Store, some Tesco trials of Augmented Reality, research into new online video ad formats, mobile social networking stats, and more…
As we expected, this week Google unveiled the next stage of Google Music. Currently only available to US users (or those who can jump through the technical hurdles to pretend to be US users), Google Music users can now buy music from a library of over 13 million songs from record labels including EMI, Universal and Sony Music Entertainment.
The service is integrated with Google+, allowing users to share "a free full play" with their friends without them having to purchase the tracks themselves. It also ties in with the Android and Google TV platorms, allowing users to sync devices through the cloud.
Users will also have access to some exclusive live tracks from artists including the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Pearl Jam and Shakira. Alongside the Google Music store is an "Artist hub", which essentially lets musicians (or more accurately, rightsholders) set up their own store within Google Music.
A trial by Tesco of new technology promises to bring Augmented Reality to the shopping experience. Holding up items in the Tesco Direct catalogue or product keys to a web camera will allow shoppers to view 3D images of selected goods.
Rather than being a simple gimmick, this apparently has benefits for both the consumer and the store. Tesco say that since the trial began, it has helped to reduce the number of returns of items where shoppers have been unable to see the item they were buying before purchasing. The technology also saves floor space for the retailer, as bulky boxes no longer need to be on the shop floor. A demo on YouTube gives a better idea of the service.
Also at Tesco, following on from some of last week's WiFi stories, Tesco have plans to trial in-store WiFi to enable customers to compare prices and look up product reviews from the shop floor. With a Ted Baker spokesperson quoted last week as saying that with an uncommoditised product line, the danger of price comparison isn't a concern for them — it will be interesting to see how the big supermarkets price claims stack up alongside their attitudes to helping customers access online price comparison services.
"The Pool", a project to investigate new online video formats, has launched in the UK. Heineken and Samsung (Starcom MediaVest Group clients) and O2 (ZenithOptimedia client) will be running ads on Channel 4, YouTube and Microsoft, using the ASq "ad selector" format, which allows users to select one of three adverts to watch instead of a standard pre-roll spot.
The project is being carried out in partnership with ComScore to examine consumer response to the advertising. This follows a similar partnership project in the US which identified the ASq format as a standard, which is now being used by 30 online publishers, reporting significant increases across a range of metrics including view-through rates, purchase intent and brand recall.
Also from ComScore are some stats from their regular Mobilens survey, which has found that in September this year, 1 in 4 people across Europe visited a social networking site on their mobile phone - with 26m visiting each day. This represents a growth of 44% in just 12 months.
Of those visitors, 31.3m visited via browsers, with another 24.2m via apps (implying a very small overlap of users who did both.) 44.3% of them read posts from organisations, brands or events. Public figures or celebrities were marginally less popular with 41.6% reading their updates, and 26.7% receiving coupons, offers or deals on their phones.
Statistics from Experian Hitwise reported by the LA Times indicate that more than half of new Google+ users did not return to the site during the week following its launch, and numbers have declined by another half since then.
Although it should be noted that this is US focussed data, and does not account for any mobile usage, it seems likely that the pattern is similar for the UK.
Meanwhile, a study by ICM research in the UK has revealed consumer confusion about what Google+ actually is. While 61% say that they have heard of it and 17% claimed to use it, subsequent questionning revealed that only a third were actually using it, with the rest confusing it with Google search, Gmail, and iGoogle.
But on the other hand, given that Google themselves are saying that it is "not a social network", should we be surprised? For advertisers and marketers (not to mention agencies and publishers), the most important thing to bear in mind is probably that Google+ simply isn't a "product" like Buzz or Gmail — it is Google, sitting across their entire portfolio and connecting all their consumer products.
Google aren't going to make money by luring people away from Facebook to spend more time on Google+ — they are going to make money from a richer database of information about their users, their behaviours, and their preferences. (And remember, Google Wallet promises to connect all that to offline shopping behaviours too.) So long as they are using Google services, then they are contributing to that database with every click.
Reid Hoffman, a LinkedIn co-founder and technology investor, has told the Sunday Telegraph that Facebook is planning to go public in the first half of next year. Analysts are predicting a valuation of around $100bn - which will make it the biggest consumer technology public offering ever.
The IPO will strengthen Facebook's ability to acquire other companies, but will also mean that Facebook will have an obligation to publish more details of their business finances. Obligations in the US around reporting once a company has more than 500 shareholders mean that Facebook will have a deadline of the end of April next year to either make necessary filings, or IPO.
Apologies - due to a technical error, this was posted a day late.