Posts from mobile

The Mobile Phone Generation

When those words are spoken, we think about the millennials or gen-z, both of whom have grown up with phones in their pockets or purses and are native users of smart phones.

However, I think my parents’ generation, those who were born in the 20s and 30s and are now in their 80s and 90s, are the generation who may get the most utility out of smartphones.

The last time I visited my parents, my mom asked me to put Uber on her phone. Since then, she has used Uber to go to doctor’s appointments and other places that she did not want to drive to. At some point she and my dad will stop driving entirely and then Uber and Lyft and other ridesharing services will be even more valuable to her.

I was visiting my parents the last couple days and while I was there my mom asked me to put Lyft on her phone, so she had an alternative to Uber, and also Instagram so she could see what her extended family is up to.

But maybe the most amazing thing, to me anyway, is that my mom has pretty much stopped using her land line phone. She tells everyone to call her on her mobile phone. For a generation that arrived on planet earth around the same time as the rotary telephone to be abandoning the landline phone in favor of a mobile phone is really something to see.

If you think about it, though, it makes all the sense in the world. As you find it harder to do things that you used to take for granted, having your own personal computer on you or near you, that allows you to talk to your friends and family, via audio or text, see what everyone is up to, and get someone to come pick you up and take you to Church, the doctor, the store, or anywhere else, is really incredibly useful.

Maybe my dad will read this and decide he wants one too.

Get Your Message On Mobile

I finally got around to reading the Political Advertising Report from Tech For Campaigns. My conclusion is we are going to see our phones light up with political messages over the next year and a half. Here is why:

Only Trump spent a percentage of total spend on digital that is close to what companies do
When you buy Facebook ads, you are buying mobile ads
The older you are the more likely that you click on ads on your phone

So let’s brace ourselves for the messages that are going to start coming into our phones from politicians over the next 18 months. Mobile advertising works.

I am closing comments to this post because I don’t want to turn this blog’s comments into a soapbox for certain people and we all know who they are.

Portable TV and Music

We just packed up an Airbnb that we have been living in for three months in Los Angeles and are heading back east.

This is a photo of my carry on luggage as I was packing it this morning.

That is an AppleTV and a Sonos Connect in between my “shaving kit” and my sneakers.

I brought these two devices out west and connected the AppleTV to the one TV in the Airbnb and I connected the Sonos to the receiver that powered the in ceiling speakers in the main living space in the house.

Even if the Airbnb had come with an AppleTV and a Sonos device, I would have swapped out theirs for ours for the length of our stay because these two devices have all of our services pre-confgured on them and we are logged into all of the services.

That is where the big difference is for me and the reason it is worth schlepping these devices cross country and back. The devices aren’t crazy expensive. The AppleTV is around $150 and the Sonos Connect is around $300. But setting these devices up, connecting them to all of the various services we subscribe to, and logging into each and every one can be an hour or more of work each time you do it.

All I had to do was power them up, connect to wifi, and connect to the TV and/or the receiver, and we were good to go.

It’s kind of magic to have all of your services right there on the device, organized how you like them, and ready to go.

I have friends who do the AppleTV move in hotels when they travel for business. I haven’t gone that far but I might leave the AppleTV in my carry on luggage along with my shaving kit and try that on my next business trip. Plugging in an HDMI cable into a TV is pretty straightforward in most cases.

What this means is TV and music is now highly portable. You can bring your TV and music with you when you travel and connect into the existing infrastructure in your hotel or Airbnb.

If these devices get small enough or cheap enough (or both), or if our smartphones can replicate all of the functionality of these devices, then the hospitality industry can focus on the “dumb” infrastructure and the guests can bring the smart devices.

Scam Likely

The most common caller on my Android phone is Scam Likely. I am sure that most of you are in a similar situation.

Last week we were driving and two calls came into The Gotham Gal’s phone which was bluetoothed into our car and she declined both. I asked her why she did that. She said they were likely robo calls. I told her that they looked to be legit numbers to me. Later on she found out that both calls were from people she knew, but for some reason those names were not showing up on the car dash and so she declined the calls.

That led to a discussion of why spam filtering for email has gotten so good and robocall filtering for phone calls is still not great. I brought up the great work the email industry has done over the last twenty years with email signing protocols like DKIM and SPF, and the email industry’s adoption of DMARC protocol which operationalizes DKIM and SPF. We decided that the telephony industry needs similar solutions.

Well, it turns out that the telephony industry is working on them.

Jeff Lawson, founder and CEO of Twilio, a company that was a USV portfolio company and which The Gotham Gal and I are still large shareholders in, is writing a series of blog posts about how the telephony industry can fix the robo call problem.

In Jeff’s first post in the series, he explains that the telephony industry is developing their own versions of DKIM and SPF and DMARC:

Some very smart people have been working on new ways of cryptographically signing calls – a digital signature – proving ownership of a phone number before the call is initiated. One example of this is a new protocol called STIR/SHAKEN, which the communications ecosystem is working on now. Before any authentication method can be impactful at scale, it needs to be adopted by a broad swath of the ecosystem. Twilio is fully committed to efforts to authenticate calls so the identity of callers can be proven, and it looks like STIR/SHAKEN is a good candidate to do just that.

In Jeff’s next post, he will address the role that identity (of the caller and the recipient) and reputation will play in solving the robo call epidemic. I look forward to reading it.

If you want to make sure to get Jeff’s posts, you can follow him on Twitter, like I do.

The Spotify Apple Issue

Many people who follow tech know that Spotify has filed a complaint with the European Commission regarding the challenges that Spotify has doing business in the iOS app store.

I am very sympathetic to Spotify’s complaint. In my post last week on The Warren Breakup Plan, I wrote:

The mobile app stores, in particular, have always seemed to me to be a constraint on innovation vs a contributor to it.

Spotify has a huge user base and brings in billions of dollars of revenues every year but it has a challenging business model. Let’s say that 70cents of every dollar they bring in goes to labels and artists. That seems fair given that the artists are the ones producing the content we listen to on Spotify. But if they also have to share 30cents of every dollar with Apple, that really does not leave them much money to build and maintain their software, market to new users, pay for servers and bandwidth, and more.

You might say “well that’s what they signed up for” and you would be right except that their number one competitor is Apple. So their number one competitor does not pay the 30% app store fee, meaning that they have a competitive advantage.

But this is about more than money. If you look at the web page Spotify put up to explain how challenging it has been to do business with Apple, you will see numerous instances of Apple not approving app upgrades.

We see this with our portfolio companies a fair bit too. Apple has complete control over what gets into their app stores and what does not. And the process can be arbitrary and frustrating. But that is how it works and our portfolio companies are reluctant to make any noises publicly for fear of making their situation with Apple even worse.

I am not a fan of Warren’s idea of breaking up companies like Apple.

I like my partner Albert’s ideas better which he expressed in a tweet last week:

If it was the law of the land that any company could side load any application onto the iPhone or any iOS device, including third party app stores, we would have a much more competitive market with a lot more innovation, and Spotify would not have to go to the European Commission to deal with this nonsense.

The Convergence Of The Phone And Laptop

The Gotham Gal wanted to get a new laptop. Her late 2015 Macbook has started to fade on her.

So yesterday we made a visit to the local Apple Store and checked out the options. We looked at the Macbooks, the Macbook Airs, and we also looked at the iPad Pros. We debated the choice and she ended up deciding to go for the iPad Pro. We work with a few people who have iPad Pros and love them. And she noticed how much I am using and enjoying my Pixel Slate.

One of the most interesting things about these hybrid tablet/laptop devices is that they run operating systems that are designed for the tablet or phone. They are touch devices like our phones vs mouse devices like our laptops.

A good example of this is how I do email on my Pixel Slate. I could run Gmail in the browser on my Pixel Slate. But I have found it much more pleasing to do email in the Gmail Android App on my Pixel Slate. I swipe emails away like I do on my phone. But I also have the keyboard when I want to write a long response. It is literally the best of both worlds.

I am writing this post on my Pixel Slate (in the WordPress web app in Chrome). When I want to go back up to the start of the post and re-read/edit it, I just swipe up. No messing around with the touchpad, up button, or down button. It is so much more natural, although it took me a while to get used to it.

I am helping the Gotham Gal set up her iPad Pro this morning and we are downloading all of the mobile apps she likes to use on her iPhone. I think that is how she will want to use her new “laptop”.

So if this is the future we are heading into, where the user interfaces and applications our computing devices and our phones use start to converge, it suggests that there is a bit of an opening for new applications that are designed from the ground up to work in this way.

Screen Time Tracking/Management

In my “What Happened in 2018” post I wrote this:

And the usage of screen time management apps, like Screentime on iOS, is surging. We know we are addicted to tech, we don’t want to be, and we are working on getting sober.

I wrote that based mostly on anecdotal data but we have been looking for better data and have not found it.

So Dani and I worked on a survey that she ran last week and we got these results from a survey of 1,000 adults in the US using Google Surveys:

  • 24% use an app to track their screen time.
  • 34% of iOS users use an app to track screen time vs 19% of Android users.
  • iOS users are twice as likely to use the default screen tracker app than Android users.
  • People across age groups are equally likely to use an app to track their screen time.

Here is a graphical representation of that data that Dani put together:

What we don’t know is what these numbers looked like a year ago, but I am fairly confident that we are seeing a surge in the usage of these tools to manage screen time.

We will run this survey again mid-year and again at the end of the year to see if this trend continues.

This is a good trend in my view but it does mean that there is a governor on the amount of usage time that consumers have on their mobile apps and that will make it a bit harder for new mobile apps to gain traction and market share.

It will be interesting to see if usage of mobile apps, including the most popular ones like Instagram, show any signs of slowing down.

Pixel Slate

My Chromebook journey has led me to the Pixel Slate.

As I wrote here a few months ago, I have wanted to move to a Chromebook for a while and I finally decided to do it.

I started with the Pixelbook, and I have been using it for about three months as my only machine at work. I wrote a bit about what I like about it and what I don’t like about it.

The lack of a biometric login (face or finger recognition) is a real limitation for me with the PixelBook because you have to use your Google login to unlock the device and I’ve got a very strong password on my Google account.

So when the Pixel Slate came out and offered fingerprint login, I bought one. I got it this week and have set it up and started to use it at work.

It’s a really interesting device. I bought it as a Pixelbook replacement as it has a keyboard that turns it into a laptop (sort of). It works a lot like the Microsoft Surface in that regard, although I have never used a Surface so I can’t really compare them.

But the thing that really kind of turned me upside down on the Slate is when I started installing Android apps on it. Once I had the native Gmail, Calendar, and other Android apps on it, the Slate started to feel like a massive phone to me.

So now I am really trying to understand this device and how best to use it.

I am intrigued by the hybrid nature of it, part laptop, part tablet, part phone.

I may very well start taking it with me when I travel, instead of my MacBook Air. 

In any case, I am now in full discovery mode with this device. And very excited to see all that it can do for me.

The one thing that took me some time to figure out is the biometric login. If you login to the device with your work Google login, the fingerprint login may not be available to you (that’s what happened to me).

With the help of my colleague Nick, I figured out that I could install the device with my personal Google login, then add my work Google account to it, and then I was able to use the fingerprint login.

I don’t really understand why Google deprecates the fingerprint login for work accounts as they allow that on the Pixel phone. 

But in any case, I got all of this working and I am now going to see how far this Pixel Slate can go with me. I am pretty optimistic that I am really going to like it.

My Amicus Brief

The Supreme Court is going to start hearing arguments today in a case where consumers are challenging Apple’s distribution monopoly on iPhone apps. These consumers are represented by the attorney generals of 30 states including California, Texas, Florida and New York.

I just heard about this case today and it is too late to file an amicus brief, so I am simply going to share my thoughts on this case here.

1/ Apple argues that consumers cannot bring suit against them as it is the app developers who are the harmed party if there is one at all. I don’t agree with that for two reasons. First, developers pass the increased costs on to the consumer. Second, the developers are not going to attack Apple because they are their only way to get to market.

2/ Apple argues that a decision against them will harm the broader e-commerce market. I don’t agree with that either. If anything, opening up the distribution system for mobile applications would massively increase the e-commerce market which is artificially constrained by Apple and Google’s mobile app store monopolies. I wrote a bit about that earlier this year.

3/ The US Chamber of Commerce did write a brief in support of Apple in which they argued that “The increased risk and cost of litigation will chill innovation, discourage commerce, and hurt developers, retailers and consumers alike.” I cannot disagree with that statement more. Innovation flourishes when there is an open market where no one party can control what can be sold. Apple routinely prevents innovative new apps from being sold in their app stores. A good example of that right now are crypto-based games and other applications that threaten Apple’s 30% take rate on digital goods business model.

Apple and Google have constrained the distribution system for mobile apps in many parts of the world and the result is higher costs for consumers, less choice, and ultimately less innovation. None of this is good for the economy. It is high time for the courts to weigh in here and open up the opportunity for third party app stores to exist on Apple and Google phones. I encourage the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the consumers in this case in hopes that it will lead to that.

Feature Friday: Wireless Charging

One feature of the Pixel 3 that I really like is the return of wireless charging, something earlier Google phones had but went away.

I bought a Pixel Stand and set it up where I charge my phone when I come home.

I just place my phone on the stand and it charges. No cords involved.

You can set up all sorts of cool things like a screensaver of your recent photos and photo albums, Google Assistant so you can ask your phone questions when it is charging, and a display of your upcoming appointments.

I am still playing around with the right choices for me but I think there is a lot of interesting things one can do with this charging stand

I quite like it and just got one for my office too.