Month: May 2013

The Power of Platforms

Mary Meeker has just released her almost iconic annual “Internet Trend” report. In it (on slide 7), she points out that 88% of the smartphone OS share is now “made in USA”. Now, this might be good for the patriotic US soul but it signifies a much more important thing and that is the shift from carrier control to platform control. If you are an EU politician, you may lament that the current winners are from North America, but the fundamental shift does not actually depend on it (there will be Canada on the map next year again, and we may well see some Asia-led one, too).

The forced break-up by Apple

The introduction of iOS by Apple moved the access to the ultimate customer, the end user, from carrier to platform owner. With hindsight, carrier execs are probably pulling their hair out that they allowed this but they were falling all over each other when Apple came out with its shiny iPhone back, when?, in 2007.

This introduced a monstrous disruption in the telecoms industry as it marked a move from where carriers could dictate what they would or would not allow over their networks to being virtually at the mercy of the platform owners. It was, however, less about the shiny devices (though it helped their market cap to untold heights) but more about the platform approach. And therefore, Apple was, of course, quickly joined and then swiftly overtaken by Android. Today, they now rule the roost (though Apple is fast falling behind).

The Power of (Somewhat) Open Systems

Seen from today, a lot of criticism of the early leader, Apple, is centered around closed systems. People complain that iOS is too restrictive and does not allow them to do what they want to do (take any number of services, be it iCloud, iMessage, Game Center or anything else – they only function on Apple devices). Alas, back in 2007, that didn’t sound so bad. Because, you see, back then there was a) hardly any interaction and b) the one there was was restricted in “my” (haha) carriier network. But then, who cares, right? My friends are on any number of networks, and they change frequently, too. The carriers, however, thought that they could tie people in. Hell, some even thought they could become cool (anyone remember Vodafone Live!?). But that should not happen. And therefore the world changed.

Then came Android and, with it, the ability to dip into an even larger ecosystem, namely Google’s. I mean, who doesn’t use them, right? And with their “don’t be evil” motto, they took it up another notch. The Apple users were thenceforth fanboys and irrational, high-spending hipsters. Proper geeks would go with Android. Now though Google also starts showing signs of wanting to rule the world. The don’t be evil thing hasn’t been heard for some time

The Next Step?

And if you go through Ms Meeker’s deck a little further, you’ll find a lot of slides where Sina Weibo, Tencent, Amazon, eBay, etc feature. And you know what? Neither those companies nor their users give a toss whether the service is being delivered on iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10 or otherwise. They just want their service. And this is the challenge the current platform owners have (and it might sound vaguely familiar to the one carriers had): how to keep your users tied into your platform? It started of on the “it’s easier, better, simpler” lure. However, on most both iOS and Android people now start to realise that that might not be so: why does Google force me into a Gmail account (or is it Google+ now?) in order to get the most out of my shiny new phone? Why does Apple not allow me to share XYZ with my friends independent of what handset system they choose to use? This, incidentally, is why it makes insane sense for BlackBerry to release its BBM solution across other operating systems, too… (but this will be the only corporate plug today).

In short, when you look at the overall ecosystem, people want Facebook, Twitter, Sina Weibo, Line, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Skype, WhatsApp, you name it. They don’t really care where. Does this sound familiar? The first iPhone users went to AT&T because they were it was the only carrier that had it. Today, they’d scoff at a carrier that doesn’t have it (just ask Sprint, they allegedly struck a [too?] rich deal to get it).

What this means is that, in the (near) future, it will be less about operating systems (come on, who cares about them?) but more about actual applications. So what’s the winning one? Facebook? Twitter, Skype? I’d argue there’s more to come. We’ve heard of Line, Kakao. So what about Alibaba (check slide 69 on Ms Meeker’s deck), or Tencent’s We Chat (slide 65)? It is services and products users crave. These are platforms all right! The only reason they went for the platform owners was that they had better access routes than the (previous) incumbents. Now though they might have called in old Goethe’s Faust:

Do you not see the ghosts I’ve called?
Came in the night when I was asleep.
Here in the dark far too big.
The ghosts I’ve called won’t let me go. 

So then, dear friends, what next?

Mary Meeker’s 2013 Internet Trends

Mary Meeker’s wisdom is here again. The legendary slides on this year’s internet trends. Everyone in the digital space needs to have a look at them, so here you go:


London’s Tech City or the Art of Navel Gazing (?!)

This is not specifically about mobile. It is more about the blinkered view of people living, working, reflecting on certain constrained areas in this world (and, no, for once I am not looking at you, Silicon Valley). And it is a cry for my adopted country (and county) to start getting things right…

London, oh London…

A writer way superior to me, i.e. the inimitable Monty Munford (that is a compliment, by the way), wrote a note about a report by the good folks from GfK about the challenges of the centre of horn-rimmed glasses and checkered shirts that is otherwise known as Shoreditch, the London former no-go zone come tech-hipster-central and biggest adversary to Berlin (in Europe, that is), in other words, the British equiavalent to the Valley.

According to the GfK survey, who queried a full 141 people, the biggest challenge is finding talent. Well, doh, given that London has one of the highest costs of living in the universe and beyond. The second biggest challenge was access to capital (generally true but, well, tough luck if you’re trying to flog hotel-room-finder #47).

Things May not Be What They Seem…

Now, you see, I am living and working in the North-West of England (which feels, when you live in Shoreditch, something like North Dakota when you live in the Valley). The difference is this: the rather affluent area South of Manchester is a mere 1:40 hours by train away from London, which is roughly the equivalent of going from Sunnyvale into SF – if you’re lucky). Now, them Londoners still things it’s North friggin’ Dakota… So whenever I tweet a picture of the view from my home office (our “proper” office is even cooler) people regularly go ooh and aah about how great I have it. And you get proper big city grid, too. So the question is: what’s stopping you?

The thing is this: the NW of England boasts a few goodies (and the McLaren F1 dealership down the road in a town of 15,000 is not even one of those – maybe it becomes one after your big exit): the University of Manchester has the Kingdom’s largest Physics faculty, there’s also a UI lab and the neighbouring universities in Salford, Lancaster, etc. all have run digitally-focussed courses for quite some time with great success. Manchester now also has MediaCityUK (yeah, someone with an English degree should have had a look at that name) with the BBC and tons of media production being there. The region also is home to some of the revolutions in video games (Psygnosis, Rockstar Leeds, Infogrames, EA’s studio in Warrington [now closed] and Travellers Tales [of LEGO Star Wars fame]) all being here. Chillingo is here. I-Play and Mforma were (but then, they “were” anyway). With Astra Zeneca et al, there is also “real” business up here. Tons of agencies etc. All this produced a surprisingly large sector or digital citizens “oop North”. When you sit in the train to London, there are plenty of fancy Macs being hammered on to get the latest RFP, pitch, proposal sent out via the train’s dodgy WiFi en route down South.

Then, of course, there’s the history. It was Manchester where capitalism proper was born, forgot? And there’s plenty of that to be had. Old Abe thanked the workers of Manchester for it – as there might not have been an independent US otherwise… (I stop here as this would be a huge post on its own). But you have more than cotton and silk (yes, I live in Macclesfield, the official Western end of the Silk Road) and, more recently, footballers (soccer players for you Americans). Because, you see, there’s them coders here. And designers, programmers, and some such thing. They’re rare anywhere, mind you. But they cannot only be found in and around Shoreditch. And it is because of that I would plead to stop this navel-gazing. It doesn’t suit you, London (or anyone else – it’s slightly embarrassing, you see).

Spread Out!

So, my dear fixie-riding, horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing, checkered-shirt-flogging Hoxton friends: give it some thought… There’s even fancy coffee now, by the way. Try ManCoCo or Has Bean (a little further South, admittedly) for your artisan fix. Oh, and did I mention you can do kerbside to gate in 15 minutes at MAN (try that at LHR)?

And to Mr Cameron and friends (and to Mike Butcher, Russell Buckley et al): your country goes beyond Marlow or (for Mike) Berlin (that’s San Jose and NYC, respectively, for you Valley folks).

Quick Note on Blog Design

You may have seen that I changed the blog template (still all cheapo i.e. free WP stuff) as I thought the old one was somewhat dated (yes, Microsoft, you are leading the new design revolution, it seems!).

I am toying with a couple of ideas but want it to be super-simple and clean. Also, I do not use this (nor plan to use this) as a place to generate, induce, solicitate or drum up any business (which is perhaps silly, but hey). So, no, I do not need templates that come with shiny “here’s why we serve you best” stuff and such things. The only thing I feel partial to is my own little domain. So anything works really. If you have better ideas or just ideas, let me know…

PS: oh, and, no, I don’t like that mugshot that this particular template adds, either…

giffgaff: Doing Good! More to Do?

All the way back near when it was founded, I wrote a post about giffgaff, an MVNO with a twist running on (and actually owned by) the UK operator O2 (which is of course now owned by Telefonica). The twist with giffgaff is that it termed itself as being “people-powered”. Nice buzzword, huh? When I wrote that post, it was pretty much on the basis of early news, PR and not much more. Now, though, I know better what it is because, you see, I just swapped the phone deals for my two children over to giffgaff (away from Vodafone where they were on a 30-day-rolling contract).

No Frills

So, here’s what it does (and, more significantly, doesn’t): giffgaff doesn’t have shops, it doesn’t have sales reps, call centres, etc. In other words: it doesn’t have much overhead. It does have a network (not its own, it piggy-backs on the mothership, i.e. O2), simple tarifs, very low prices and the quickest way I have ever ordered any phone product online.

Beating the Power Law of Distribution (?)

But how, do you ask, can they run a network with all its customer queries, moans and whining, small and big problems? And that is exactly where I originally voiced concerns: You see, they use fora instead. If you have a question, just post it to their forum and the users will answer. According to the power law of distribution, this is a tricky one as only very few users contribute a lot and most contribute nothing. However, by the looks of it, they answer a) more quickly and b) more competently than a poorly paid, poorly trained, probably somewhat frustrated (whatever happened to the glistening career) call centre worker. The MVNO has a programme for users encouraging to participate in the community. They will earn points (convertible in additional phone credits) for spreading the word (marketing) and helping out other users on the fora (customer service).

So (and here’s a theme for me): giffgaff effectively used some basic tools from the social and commercial toolbox to drive customer acquisition and customer service: incentivise people and, in doing so, make sure you align their commercial interests with your own.

And whilst there seem to have been growing pains, it seems to work more or less really rather well. And all this for £12 per month for a “bucket” of 250 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited (!) data. Can’t beat that!

Is There More?

This then got me thinking: what if they would expand on this bucket (and, perhaps, forum) ideas and start customizing them for the more “discerning” user. Something for SME for instance, travelers, professionals, etc. Higher bucket prices but better tailored for business needs. Premium buckets for, say, dedicated concierge services (the crux is that the customer service required for that is quantifiable and directly accountable). With the basics still covered (cf. supra under “No Frills”), it should still be possible to run the basic service at similar margins (and note that I assume that they have positive margins) but start building in the fatter bits of the market in return for the higher reliability, security and no hassle that business users require. The thing is, you see, they do not require tedious and generally hopeless customer service over phone lines you have trouble even finding or reaching (20 minute waiting time is not rare as we probably all know).

Such a service would probably not for everyone but. You would have to be comfortable to transact your business online (but more and more people – and, yes, probably 100% of readers of this blog – do so anyway), you would arguably have to have at least a basic understanding of some tech issues (again, cf. supra) but, hey, you would be targeting the growing part of the economy, i.e. the one that either is purely digital or successfully leverages (terrible word, I know) digital outlets for its business. Bingo!

There Are Blueprints Galore!

Come to think of it: it is exactly how so many of the online stalwarts disrupted traditional businesses. And it seems almost ironic that this has not yet happened in an industry such as mobile telecoms! Amazon (first books, now almost everything), Zappos (first only shoes, now part of Amazon and, well almost everything), eBay, PayPal, First Direct and any other number of online banking services), Charles Schwab, eTrade and those folks (stock trading), Okado (groceries), Money Supermarket,, etc. (insurance brokerage), etc., etc., etc., etc. Virtually all e-commerce business models rely on realizing higher efficiencies through digital scale combined with lower overheads.

And virtually all of them originally were told that this was a niche for a few, that only geeky people with no money would use it. And in virtually all those cases, the doubters were wrong. So, then, O2, let your “gaffer” (that’s the title the giffgaff CEO goes by) lose and go for it. There’s money to be made (and I might just be persuaded to leave Vodafone, too).

To the others (Vodafone, are you listening?): it’s not too late. Get in whilst you can!

Game Monetisation Europe

Will you be in London next week? If so, make sure to head over to Tower Hill to join me and tons others for the Game Monetisation Europe conference. I will be participating in a panel on how to approach multiple platforms. There are a lot of very worthwhile speakers for you to listen to (in case you’re bored by my rants, that is… ;-). Here’s a few of them:

  • Ian Livingstone (Eidos/Square Enix, Games Workshop, etc).
  • Teemo Huuthanen (Rovio)
  • Tommy Palm (King)
  • Ed Rumley (Chillingo/EA)
  • Peter Edward (PlayStation)
  • Alex Bubb (Nokia)
  • Oscar Clark
  • Patrick O’Luanaigh (nDreams)
  • David Engelberg (Halfbrick)
  • and lots more…

It should be interesting and fun and, besides, London in spring is rather cool anyway! 🙂


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