Steve Jobs authorised biography was released this week… And if you haven't heard about it already then you probably haven't been paying much attention to the tech bloggers who have been poring over it looking for scoops, so here is a brief summary of ten themes covered in the book.)
But there are plenty of bigger stories in this week's round up of the most important digital and technology news; the biggest internet trends in the biggest internet trends report, Netflix coming to the UK, mobile innovation from Google, eBay's mobile growth, Google+Reader and Google+Blogger, and… M.C. Hammer? And more...
A story that makes a big splash in the digital media world each year is Mary Meeker's annual internet trends report. — and this year is no exception. Always worth a read (if for nothing else, because you are sure to see a few of the slides in other people's presentations over the next few months.)
The Mega-trend of the 21st Century that Meeker identifies is "Empowerment of people via connected mobile devices" — so it seems fitting that there is a mobile-heavy theme to this week's news.
Among the broad trends she talks about are;
- Globality, and The Big Four - Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook — are the biggest companies in the online pack - and all based in the USA. (I'm not sure what happened to Microsoft…) But 81% of the top 10 internet properties website users (according to comScore data) are from outside the USA. Meanwhile, in just 3 years, China's online population grew by 246 million- which is more than the entire US online population (the second biggest in the world.)
- There were more social network users in October 2011 than there were internet users in December 2006 - and 70% of them are using Facebook.
- Smartphone shipments overtook "feature phones" in Western Europe (Q2 2010), USA (Q1 2011) - but there is still massive room for mobile growth globally, with 835MM smartphone subscribers out of 5.6B mobile phone subscribers. Meanwhile, Smartphones + Tablets outshipped PCs in Q4 2010 (with the once ubiquitous Windows operating system is down to less than half of all internet-enabled devices.)
- User Interface is undergoing a revolution, with touch and sound interfaces coming to the market. "Record is the new QWERTY"...
- eCommerce growth has been accelerating for the last 4 quarters, taking a steadily growing share of total retail sales. Meanwhile, Mobile commerce is ramping, accounting for around 8% of total USA eCommerce. (Recent stats from the IAB say that mobile accounts for 10% of eCommerce over here.)
- In a mobilised/transparent world, pricing matters a lot- top 2 reasosn for in-store purchase abandonment - found online (52%) or at another store (51%) for a better price
- Advertising; the internet now accounts for 25% of consumers' time, and 19% of ad spend. Mobile accounts for 8% of time, but just 0.5% of ad spend — indicating a huge opportunity for growth. (Even ignoring the benefits that a highly personal mobile device offers.)
- Time spent on social networks overtook that spent on portal sites (US, June 2011) - and social networks are now accounting for 30% of USA display ad units, with CPMs already higher than both Portals and Gaming sites, and growing. Social Networks are starting to punch their weight...
- There is a value shift from "content creators" to "content aggregators" - with Google's revenue approaching that of the entire USA total newspaper industry - both print and online revenue combined.
Yahoo! up for sale?
Global iPlayer launch on iPhone/Apple TV
The BBC Worldwide version of the iPlayer (that is, not the one aimed at licence fee payers in the UK) is set to see a relaunch for Apple devices this Thursday, integrating the ability to play to Apple TVs. Available in 11 countries in Western Europe (with the US, Canada and Australia following later this year), the launch is a one year pilot. With a limited amount of free content (supported by pre-rolls & sponsorship), the driving commercial force behind the app is a subscription service - €6.99/month, or €49.99/year sub.
Besides the integration of mobile and television services, some other features not available in the UK's iPlayer app are streaming over 3G streaming (restricted to WiFi-only in the UK), and the ability to download content for offline viewing (possible on the desktop application in the UK, but not on iPhones or iPads.)
More mobile developments from Google
Google have announced some interesting new formats in mobile search advertising; Search ads within mobile apps, adverts with "click to download" for smartphone apps (which will detect the appropriate version for the right platform), and "app extensions"; using mobile search to direct users to pages within mobile applications, rather than to websites.
Their blog post also talks about some of their existing but interesting mobile ad formats you may not be aware of (click to call, hyperlocal search, the role of proximity in mobile search ranking and circulars.)
On the consumer side, three years after the release of the original Google Android phone, Google and Samsung have launched the latest version of Android; "Ice Cream Sandwich", launched along with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset. With new features including using the phone's camera to recognise your face to unlock the handset, beaming files with NFC, a redesigned user interface
Meanwhile, proving the value of mobile, eBay have announced their sales on mobile platforms have hit $3bn in the past quarter. Having previously predicted $4bn for the year, eBay have raised their forecasts to $5bn - so expecting to see a big rise over Christmas.
In the UK, m-commerce accounts for 10% of all UK sales.
But what is it that is so good about mobile for ebay? Well, perhaps the real question is what is so good for their shoppers; being always on and always available allows dedicated buyers and sellers alike to get on with their lives, not being stuck at (or constantly returning every 5 minutes to) their computer whenever an important auction is about to close.
Angus McCarey, eBay’s retail director for UK, spoke to the NMA, saying that mobile was blurring the line between online and offline sales.
“Retailers need to think about how to meet the demands of the connected consumer, who will soon expect a truly integrated shopping experience that flows from their phone, to the shop and to their Facebook profile,”
I've avoided talking too much about the recent Netflix news here, as there had been no signs of the service opening up to UK users, but we heard this week that a UK launch is on the cards for eary next year. The service offers both a DVD rental by post service (similar to Lovefilm), as well as online streaming films (similar to, er, Lovefilm), under a subscription that the Guardian estimates to be around £5 a month.
The service has received a lot of negative attention recently — first for a pretty significant price hike, and then for announcing plans to seperate off the DVD service into a seperate business (called "Qikster"), followed by a 360 and apology from the CEO — all of which has taken a heavy toll on their stock prices.
Breaking into a market that is dominated by Lovefilm (with the weight of Amazon behind them) will be quite a challenge. Whether they will be offering the DVD rental service or just the online streaming service might help them create a point of differentiation.
They will also have to compete with YouTube, who have recently launched a rental system for their films, which has just been brought to the Android platform
Google Plus brings Blogger and Reader integration
Google+ is seeing integration with Google Reader and Blogger. The news doesn't come as a great surprise - as we noted when Google+ was announced, integration across Google's services was always clearly going to be a part of a plan much broader than "compete with Facebook/Twitter(/LinkedIn?)"
For Blogger, the integration sounds quite loose — if you want to blog anonymously while Google+ing under your real name, then you aren't under any obligation to connect the two. (Which was only to be expected, following teh pseudonym wars For Google Reader though, the integration is coming along with a brand new design, and sounds like it will be an obligatory integration – and not one that Google expect everyone to be happy with. As they put it;
We recognize, however, that some of you may feel like the product is no longer for you. That's why we will also be extending Reader's subscription export feature to include the following items. Your data belongs to you, after all, and we want to make sure you can take it with you.
At the moment (the change hasn't yet been implemented at the time of writing), Google Reader includes the ability to "follow" other users, and individual articles can be "starred", "liked" or "shared" (with or without a note.) Presumably, these will be simplified to either "+1" or "share" (the "send to" functionality will remain.)
So what's the issue?
Many other RSS readers use Google Reader to deliver feeds, and its also used to help mobile and tablet applications like FlipBoard and Pulse deliver personalised news in new and interesting ways. However, the APIs that 3rd party developers are using to build on its platforms are unofficcial, undocumented (at least officially) and unsupported — meaning that they could easily stop working, or change without notice.
In addition, there is a problem for those who don't want to go along with the changes in that, to put it mildly, Google Reader has pretty much killed off the competition. As Dave Winer (pioneer of the RSS format) put it;
Basically I think it's great that there's an RSS tool that people like so much. But it's scary, because so much of RSS use is in that one app.
Although RSS users only make up a small share of the online population, they are a particularly active and engaged segment (from the simple fact that they are a self-selected group who benefit from pulling content from different websites into one place.) RSS readers and bloggers have a long and intertwined history (MarsEdit, my personal favourite, started off as a component of the NetNewsWire RSS reader — which in turn, changed from being a standalone RSS reader to a Google Reader client.)
Which all means that any changes Google make to their Reader are likely to have an impact on the way bloggers and heavy internet users are using the web in general. If this transition goes well, then expect to see Google+ get a lot more interesting for those "power users." If it goes badly on the other hand… well, I'm sure that those power users will find a way to let Google know…
M.C. Hammer's search engine
Meanwhile in the world of Search, and possibly of less concern to Google, I couldn't let this news go by without a mention; M.C. Hammer has announced that he is releasing his own search engine.. Called "Wiredoo", it has apparently been in development for the last two years (and still in a private beta), and will offer "deep search" functionality, delivering related information to what is being searched for.
Does this ad make you smile?
An interesting piece in The Economist looks at the potential use of Webcams for eye tracking.
Obviously, the article raises some alraming privacy issues — remember, we haven't quite cleared up whether its acceptable to drop cookies without permission — but secretly filming users is clearly a no-go area! (unless you are the FBI) And while certainly an interesting potential application of consumer technology, the chances of being able to accurately pick up eye movements on a typical 0.3 megapixel webcam (or constantly streaming high-definition video from a better quality webcam back to the servers for analysis) simply isn't available to the majority of consumers.
But the point here is that this is a technology which could bring the kind of studies that can only currently be done in laboratory conditions into research subjects' own homes, using their own equipment — meaning a better understanding of what works and what doesn't for the actual users. For an understanding of the effectiveness of online advertising beyond simply counting clicks, this looks set to bring an interesting new dimension.