Posts from mobile

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.

#mobile#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

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.

#mobile

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.

#mobile

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.

#mobile#policy

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.

#mobile

Feature Friday: Android Smart Notifications

With the new version of Android comes intelligence around mobile notifications.

If you tend to swipe away notifications from a particular app, Android eventually asks you this:

I told Android to keep showing these project updates to me even though I tend to swipe them. I like to see these but don’t often click on them.

I would say that most of the time, I select “Keep Showing” but some of the time I do choose “Stop Notifications.”

I love the idea of a smart operating system that learns how you want to use it and adapts to that versus forcing you to do the configuration manually and that is where Google is clearly going with Android.

You can really see it in the latest version of the OS.

#mobile

The 30% Tax

Apple and Google’s duopoly on mobile operating systems give those two companies incredible power in the market and one of the most obvious places to see that power is the 30% tax they take on transactions that happen in their app stores. For subscriptions the tax is 30% in year one and 15% on the renewal.

Typically transaction fees on payments are 5% or lower with the credit card networks being the obvious comparison at roughly 3%.

But Apple and Google are able to charge 5-10x what a typical payment system charges because of their dominant market position and because the economics of acquiring a customer and renewing that customer in their ecosystem is so strong.

While it is hard to stomach the 30% number, it is the case that many companies have done the work to look at their acquisition and retention numbers in and out of these environments and often it is the case that paying the 30% tax is rational behavior.

So I was interested to see that Netflix is currently testing a bypass strategy. Certainly the biggest brands like Netflix and Spotify have the market power to at least consider this approach.

If the biggest brands can condition users to bypass the app stores maybe we are seeing the beginning of a crack in the armor. It may also be possible for these big brands to bundle subscription offerings and take a piece of the action themselves.

Imagine if Netflix let you subscribe to a bunch of other services via your Netflix account which you pay for directly on the web outside of the app stores. Or imagine if Amazon offered something similar.

The economics of that relationship for a smaller company could be more attractive than the economics of the current Apple and Google channels. And most companies would likely participate in multiple channels, including the app stores, as well as sell direct.

It seems inevitable that subscription bundling is going to happen. It already does via the Apple and Google app stores but that’s a crude version of what I’m thinking is on the horizon.

Consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay for the apps and the content they value most. The subscription business model is a terrific one that aligns the interests of a company and it’s customers. But managing dozens of subscriptions via multiple payment systems is annoying. And there should be attractive economics for both bundlers and bundled apps.

So while I’m not predicting the end of the 30% tax anytime soon, I do think we will see Apple and Google’s largest competitors build significant bypass user bases and potentially start competing with Apple and Google in the subscription bundling business. There is a lot of money up for grabs and I think at least some of it is available for companies other than Apple and Google.

#mobile

Feature Friday: Now Playing

I’ve written about this Android feature before. I am a bit obsessed about it.

When you are in a place where music is playing, the Android operating system notifies you what is “now playing.”

I have two things I would love to know how to do with this information.

1/ Access it via an API so I can favorite it in my preferred streaming service (which is SoundCloud but Spotify and Apple Music would be great too).

2/ See the history someplace on the web so I can search it by time, place, artist, song, etc.

This is an example of where taking an app like Shazam or Soundhound and turning it into a feature in the operating system can open up a lot of potential additional functionality.

#mobile#Music

Hyper Social Not Anti Social

This seems right to me:
“In post-industrial environments where foods are abundant and readily available, our cravings for fat and sugar sculpted by distant evolutionary pressures can easily go into insatiable overdrive and lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (…) the pro-social needs and rewards [of smartphone use as a means to connect] can similarly be hijacked to produce a manic theatre of hyper-social monitoring,”

#mobile