Posts Tagged ‘apps’

Austin ridesharing reminds me of Chinese protectionism

Its no secret that a lot of the Internet economy in China is fuelled by protectionism. A reddit user managed to post some service equivalents.

In May 2016, I landed in Austin to see that there were no more pickups in Austin. I took exactly two cabs during my stay (to/from the airport), and walked everywhere I needed to go. It wasn’t a great experience as the weather was pretty bad as well, and Paul Graham also chimed in. Apparently there are hacks to get around to using Uber in Austin, but I’ve never bothered to use them (that article also talks about the requirements beyond just background checks BTW).

People get creative naturally – they started a Facebook group, so much so the police have started to crackdown.

But I’m starting to see all these other services crop up that presumably abide by whatever Austin asks for:

  • at the airport, ads at the baggage carousel for FARE (some news about their launch)
  • at the hotel I saw a brochure for Wingz which promises pre-booking, flat rates, surge-free and around town you pay a minimum of $20, and to get to/from the airport its a $25 minimum.
  • at the hotel again, I saw a brochure for Fasten with a $20 off my first ride promo code as well (their font initially made me look for “faston” instead of “fasten”).
  • Get me via an email from the hotel informing me that I wouldn’t be able to use Uber/Lyft in Austin.
  • zTrip was also in said similar email as above.

So its not that Austin doesn’t like ridesharing. And with time, presumably enough people will complain so we will see Lyft and Uber make their way back. This week I’m walking around Austin as well (its 38C, but thats better than rain I guess). But it sure feels very protectionist.

Here, and defending your trademarks

I read: Nokia threatens London start-up over ‘HERE”.

It’s all about Lowdownapp (I’ve not heard about it before this), made by David J Senior & crew. I think the crux of the problem is that they have also released an app called HERE and Nokia is obviously pissed because of HERE Maps.

Apparently Nokia has spent USD$12m on creating the HERE brand and are now defending it.

I’m not surprised this startup hadn’t heard of it. I’m also not surprised that unless you’ve used a Windows phone, you’ve probably not heard about HERE Maps either. There was a release of HERE Maps on iOS, but I’m sure it never got the attention that Apple Maps or Google Maps got (I’m including Apple here because laugh as much as you want, being a default, really helps).

A few months back, I spoke to an entrepreneur doing indoor mapping, and mentioned to him that Google Maps is starting to encroach on that space as possible competition (he knew that). I then said that the best indoor maps I’d seen so far had come from HERE Maps. He had never heard about it, and he’s deep into mobile and mapping. 

It’s a sad fact of life that $12m is money not well spent, because no one at the moment really cares about the Windows phone platform; so if that is your app showcase, you’ve screwed the pooch. To make matters worse, you can’t even find HERE Maps on the Apple App Store today (it was pulled down in 2013, but apparently will make a comeback in early 2015). It is still available as a beta in the Android Play Store. I liked this thread between Benedict Evans and David Senior, because while its clear that Nokia does have a trademark, and its clear to Benedict Evans since he watches this market, its definitely unclear to the masses that Nokia has anything to do with Here.

Should all startups perform a trademark search before naming their companies? I’m not sure — its already hard to get a good name with domain/social media presence these days. Plus its time consuming (not to mention costly) to do a trademark search in multiple jurisdictions that you care about (or maybe you can use a service like this?). Not something the average startup wants to spend costs on.

Heck, even established companies like Microsoft end up doing a rename of SkyDrive to OneDrive to please BSkyB. So it’s not a startup rookie mistake either.

What happens next is likely that the folks at Lowdownapp will rename their Here app; the functionality I’m guessing will remain the same, it will just be called something different. Do I like it? Absolutely not. However as a bonus, it looks like the app only launched in Dec 2014 so maybe it will be easier giving in to this battle.

Switching costs

When I was a desktop Linux user, I’d just sync /etc and /home to a freshly installed Linux box. When I became a desktop Mac user, I would just rely on Migration Assistant.

With iOS, the trick is to have iTunes make an encrypted backup of your device so that passwords are saved upon backup & restored perfectly with your new device.

However, it’s always rosier than it looks. During my switch I noticed passwords missing from Rdio, audiobooks lost their last played time, and Kindle was completely wiped, thus requiring re-entering a password. These weren’t the only offenders – SoundCloud needed a re-login, Facebook too (and Spotify that depended on it).

You’d think that Apple itself would have figured this out for their apps. On some devices iMessage and FaceTime would get disabled for the phone numbers (so disabling & re-enabling would make things better again).

As I have to update a “fleet” of iOS devices, I wish there was more predictable central management of such devices.

This is another reason I’m very cautious about updating to the latest releases of software, especially iOS or OSX. I depend on these devices and can’t afford downtime. Lately Apple software has been quite bug ridden.

The ecosystem & devices are a charm. But upgrades are expensive as there are switching costs. Imagine switching to a completely new ecosystem?

What eventually happens with apps

There has been a lot of talk about apps generally not doing well. There may be truth in the matter.

Let’s take my mother, a classic example of someone who plays Candy Crush (made by King, whom are now public listed in London). She plays this mainly on her iPad, but also on her iPhone.

Life began quite simply by just playing the game. She got up to nearly level 500, and she only made 3 in-app purchases. Countless hours of entertainment, for what amounts to 3×0.99 cents. You don’t get much for $3 these days.

Then suddenly with the help of automatic app updates (and the fact that the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) needs to increase for earnings), she was required to login with Facebook finally.

She did, and started from scratch!!! Nearly 500 up there, and starting from scratch. You can’t imagine she’s pleased but she enjoys playing the game.

Fast forward to today, and the Facebook app logged her out. Candy Crush became aware & asked for a re-login. Lo and behold, the 70-odd levels she completed were gone and she had to start from scratch.

Her total investment in time? 8 months. Her total unrecoverable investment in in-app purchases? Less than $3. Her frustration levels? Like she wanted to throw the iPad at the wall!

What can we learn from this? Apps provide countless hours of entertainment for very little revenue to the app creator. App updates that break the database, eventually annoy the user. Is the user likely to continue with other games or apps? Possibly. But after a while there is app fatigue.

So it’s not about discovery. Sure the lists help. But being social (ie in-person) aids discovery too.

Being consistent, is key. Who downloads an offline travel guide, that gets updated and needs a resync, when you happen to be offline? I know a few offenders.

Splitting up apps that should be one – Facebook/Messenger, Foursquare/Swarm, etc. Then not providing a consistent interface, removing features or worse crashing when you’ve got to switch to the next app.

App fatigue is caused by putting the company or investor first, and the user last.

And as more contribute to the subpar user experience, the more smartphones will be whittled down to providing their basic functions provided for by Android & iOS with a sparse few extras. Overall, that makes the barrier to success much higher than before.

Apps should be conduits for web services

Beautiful designed apps should be conduits for web services. Or provide some form of “desktop” capability. Sync is important.

Brent Simmons recently wrote of Marco Arment

You know him from Tumblr, Instapaper, The Magazine, and (coming soon) Overcast.

You may think of Marco as an iOS developer — but every single one of those apps is a web service.

This thought process works very well with a presentation John Gruber gave at Web 2.0 Expo NY – watch the 10 minute video on Apple and the Open Web. He describes Apple as a “ht” company: they’ve embraced HTML and HTTP.

I look at my iPhone and think to myself what apps I use (i.e. have an icon on my screen) that are web apps:

  1. Google Calendar (direct web app, opens a browser window)
  2. RunKeeper
  3. Fitbit
  4. Withings
  5. Cardiio
  6. MyFitnessPal
  7. Chrome
  8. Mail
  9. TripIt
  10. Evernote
  11. Instapaper
  12. Kindle
  13. NewsBlur
  14. Hello (by Evernote)
  15. Skype
  16. Instagram
  17. Vine
  18. Rdio
  19. Spotify
  20. Google
  21. Reminders (stock Apple app, wonderful sync at work)
  22. Safari
  23. Facebook
  24. Foursquare
  25. Twitter
  26. KakaoTalk
  27. Line
  28. Messenger
  29. Hangouts
  30. Telegram
  31. Tweetbot
  32. Google+
  33. Dropbox
  34. 1Password
  35. Expensify
  36. MyTeksi
  37. Uber
  38. YouTube
  39. Paper
  40. Bloomberg

What isn’t a web app? Photos (though there is an iCloud Sync that I don’t use – I prefer it going to Dropbox), Camera, most of Apple’s standard apps (of course, FaceTime, Notes, Calendar – they all sync), DocScanner (syncs to Dropbox, but has no web app behind it), Snapseed, Camera+, 360 (has a web component though I never use it). Music/Podcasts theoretically sync with the web, but again, not my use case. I don’t consider Google Authenticator a web app either though I use it in conjunction with the web. Messages has iMessage but there isn’t a web interface (yet?).

We can argue that the messaging apps aren’t really web services. KakaoTalk/Line have desktop clients. Whatsapp is notoriously mobile-only. Viber/WeChat seem to be mobile only for me. Telegram leads the way by having a nice Chrome browser plugin. Skype is a desktop app.

That makes the majority of my apps that I use, really, web apps. My phone is a conduit to the Internet. This is why I consume data and WiFi.

My iPad is not much different – I use it a lot more for reading, and that includes the FT (fully HTML5 web + mobile app), WSJ, NYTimes, New Yorker, The Economist. OK, there’s GoodReader, iBooks, Zinio for offline reading too, a lot more magazines, and some office software – the iWork suite (which syncs to iCloud). A cool app like Penultimate (now free after Evernote purchased them – again syncs online).

This is the success metric for an app. No point building an application to have a F1 racing timetable (I get that from F1.com or a simple Google search). No point building an application that collects Malay proverbs (I can search for that if I was interested; or if it was the English context, I’d just look up wikiquote).

Games seem to be an exception to this, but as I have never played games and don’t intend to start (I don’t grok the mind of a gamer, sorry), I’ll pass on overall commentary. 

Apps are the new channels

<tl;dr>Video is going to be big. Apps that have video in them are going to be awesome. Multimedia on your iPad/tablet device is where it’s at for learning. Read on for 3 trends that I’ve noticed.</tl;dr>

John Gruber today said on the Bloomberg TV+ for the iPad:

This is the future of TV. The full Bloomberg news channel, free of charge, on your iPad. Apps are the new channels.

I remembered reading a couple of days back, Mark Suster talking about how he invested in TreeHouse (formerly known as Think Vitamin). Think Vitamin gives you high quality video training to keep you on the cutting edge of web development. It is a curated Udemy. They both have their space – I’d like to see it like TV programming versus YouTube programming.

Some takeaway from Mark Suster’s post: American’s watch 5.3 hours of television per day! Americans read less than an hour a day!!!

Learning by video is useful. Smarter universities are opensourcing their classes — not only the slides and notes, but they’re also putting audio & video online too. Some more progressive ones are even allowing you to take part in the class via an online enrollment, completely free (see Stanford’s Introduction to Databases).

It seems that Jason Calacanis has pivoted Mahalo yet again. After some layoffs, the company is pivoting from videos to apps. The blame seems to lie on Google’s Panda updates in where highly optimized SEO sites get hit. YouTube’s affiliate fees are probably not paying the bills.

So the pivot is to make instructional apps for the iPad that not only incorporate video, but some text of the techniques behind it. See apps like Learn Guitar, Learn Pilates, How to Draw!, and Walkthrough for Angry Birds. All the apps cost USD$9.99 with the exception of the Angry Birds walkthrough.

Why will this pivot work? Because instead of the web browser and search being the medium, you’re letting the App Store be the search engine. The web browser is now the app. The videos are already made, existing in Mahalo’s bank. You can download the videos if need be (I bet they are huge). And you’re bound to find it more useful to consume on your iPad rather than on your computer screen or TV.

There are many how-to books like The Complete Idiots Guide, et al. They sell for about USD$20-30 a pop. Why not get access to videos? Read text. Learn by doing with multimedia. This was the promise of Microsoft Encarta for example.

Instructional videos are very popular. I know friends in their 20s learning how to cook or even apply make-up techniques via YouTube videos. I also know people realizing that the iPad is very handy to be reading/watching videos while on the lounge, lying in bed, etc. Its also a lot easier to prop an iPad up to learn how to play the guitar than it is to bring your laptop there. Touch will allow easier pausing/skipping/etc. compared to a remote control.

The trend seems to be that of videos. We learn by seeing.

I was in Berlin recently, and visited the Topography of Terror. I read about this and the events that are explained there for O Level History. I felt connected by seeing pictures, reading additional texts, and more. Imagine the future of education: I deep-dive into a subject like this, and I can skim things a lot easier with multimedia available to me. I’ll understand a lot better & quicker than just reading pages and pages of fairly boring text.

So, are apps the new channels? I think Gruber is on to something. As are Suster and Calacanis.


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