Month: September 2014

What to expect from the U2-inspired iTunes/Beats mashup

OK I admit it, I have a bit of a soft spot for U2. It’s become somewhat of a guilty pleasure over the last few years with the band firmly moving into the ‘dad rock’ category but there you go. Despite this however, I wasn’t overly interested in all the fuss surrounding the recent U2 / Apple album launch. While I think it was great exposure for U2 (unprecedented reach and guaranteed headlines), I think it could have been handled better by Apple (apparently, music lovers are touchy about having their privately curated music collections violated). Nevertheless, all that talk of the band selling out and people moaning about being spammed on social media bored me.

What I’m more interested about though are the statements made by Bono after the launch that revealed that the band was working with Apple on developing a new music platform that aims to give listeners a richer experience and ultimately get them back paying for music and not solely using buffet-style monthly subscriptions. As people’s music consumption behaviour has slowly moved away from downloading towards steaming, Apple’s approach of selling music downloads has become marginalised. I’m sure the irony of Apple being on the wrong side of being disrupted this time is not lost on them.

Despite owning the Beats Music streaming service since their acquisition of Beats Electronics in May (along with the services of music mogul Jimmy Iovine), there is still quite a gap between the download and streaming offerings available to consumers, not just within iTunes, but across the board. It looks like this is the next target on Apple’s hit-list and it seems like they are intent on taking artist feedback seriously by collaborating with one of the most experienced acts in the world in bringing this project to light.

What form this will take remains to be seen, although it will likely involve an assimilation of the Beats Music service into iTunes and a general revamp of the overall offering, possibly with a basic streaming package as well as a richer, premium experience that could be charged extra for. Here are a few more ideas.

The value of music in today’s connected world

Many in the music industry blasted U2 for giving their new album away for free. Critics of the move claimed that, while an act of U2’s size can afford to make little or nothing from music sales due to their lucrative live tours, this step towards devaluing music was damaging to less established acts. U2 stress the fact that they were paid by Apple, who then gave the album away for free to their users, and maintain that they are firm believers that artists should be paid for their work. So much so, that they feel compelled to do something about it.

“Songwriters aren’t touring people. Cole Porter wouldn’t have sold T-shirts. Cole Porter wasn’t coming to a stadium near you” – Bono

Bono told Time Magazine that the band hopes that this new collaboration with Apple will prove “so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music – whole albums as well as individual tracks”. Details on the platform were sketchy but he gave a bit of an insight into it on Dave Fanning’s 2fm radio show on Sunday morning.

Click here for the link to the iTunes podcast of the show (21st Sept). Talk of the new music platform runs from 25:20 – 31:50.

What next for ‘iTunes’?

Straight from the horses mouth, it seems like this approach will be based around giving listeners a more visual and interactive experience, adding value on top of the music itself. Bono gave examples of giving more prominence to album artwork, lyrics and behind the scenes content that would complement the music and give listeners a richer experience. It seems that it’s all about adding value to the overall package and making it something that users would be willing to pay extra for. It’s clear that Bono is not a fan of the way digital music is currently presented to users, either via streaming or downloads.

“I said to Steve Jobs, how is it, for a person who cares about the way things look and feel more than anyone else in the world, that iTunes looks like a spreadsheet?” – Bono.

As well as this, the platform aims to offer more value to the artists themselves, giving them better analytics on how and where users listen to their music (this could impact touring arrangements for example), and making their earnings more transparent so they know how much money their record company is creaming off the top (a major cause for complaint in the early Spotify days).

While all this is commendable, making the experience more interactive is fine for home listening, but with more and more people consuming music solely on their smartphones, is there enough of a user base there who want these types of extra features, or will it end up being a niche product, appealing only to die-hard audiophiles and superfans? Once again, they have a job on their hands trying to change consumer habits, but like with the new Apple Pay mobile payment platform, if anyone is big enough and bold enough to do it, it’s probably Apple.

Streaming is certainly not going to go away, but as music becomes more and more of a commodity, anything that differentiates the offering and adds value to the experience is to be welcomed. Using Bono’s projections, if they can convert even 10% of an expected 1 Billion iTunes accounts over the next couple of years to a $10 a month subscription, that’s a $12 Billion a year business — more than the entire current music industry combined. It’s worth a bash I suppose.

Posted by Rob in Apple

11 Middle Eastern startups travelling to the Web Summit

Featured Middle East

I am delighted to be part of the Web Summit‘s global blog team, covering the Middle East region for Europe’s largest tech conference. Click here for the full article.

With the technology revolution continuing to spread across the world, one of the regions with the largest growth potential is the Middle East. As the tech ecosystem gains momentum, an increasing amount of accelerators, angel investors and venture capital funds have been drawn to the region, and many investors here who had historically looked at tangible assets, are now investing in ideas. When you consider that the region has some of the highest smartphone penetration in the world (UAE #1, Saudi Arabia #3) and eCommerce spending is continuing to grow at speed, it’s clear that there is certainly plenty of opportunity in this part of the world.

A host of exciting Middle Eastern start-ups from Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will be making their way to Dublin for the Web Summit this November. Here are a few to look out for.

Click here to continue reading

Posted by Rob in e-Commerce, Ireland, Tech

15 things you should know about Apple Pay

So the internet came to a standstill on Tuesday night (literally for some) as Apple’s yearly Autumn product launch predictably took over everyone’s newsfeeds for a few hours. But, despite the hype over a bigger phone and the launch of a smart-watch, the most far reaching element of the announcements might turn out to be something a bit more practical.

The concept of smartphone payments has been on the precipice for the last few years in most of the developed world, looking for a catalyst to kick it into the mainstream, and with Apple’s weight behind it, we could be about to see some serious movement in this space. So forget about the new phone and smart-watch for a minute, and get up to speed on the ins and outs of Apple Pay. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Apple Pay will let users pay for items at retailers that accept contactless payments by authenticating the transaction with just their fingerprint.
  2. This is facilitated through an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip which Apple has finally gotten around to adding to the iPhone.
  3. Apple Pay will only work with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus as only those models include both the fingerprint scanner and the NFC chip. However, users will be able to use the service via the iPhone 5, 5S and 5C when paired with the NFC-ready Apple Watch.
  4. Credit cards are stored in the Passbook app. Card information is stored on the device, not in the cloud. This might allay some of the fears that users have after last week’s celebrity nude photo leaks.
  5. If you lose your iPhone, you won’t have to cancel your cards. You can use Find My iPhone to suspend payments just for that device.
  6. Individual transaction numbers are created for each purchase so no actual credit card numbers are used for enhanced security.
  7. Also, Apple won’t know what you bought, where you bought it and the retailer won’t get to see your name or card number at the point of sale like with a credit card.
  8. It will work with the three major payment networks: MasterCard, Visa and American Express. The end users’ bank will need to support Apple Pay as we’ll as the payment processor.
  9. It will be accepted in 220,000 retail locations on launch. These are retailers that already accept contactless payments.
  10. Merchants in the US will have to upgrade their POS hardware this year anyway with the launch of Chip & PIN cards in the States. These new POS terminals also accept NFC payments too which should further facilitate adoption.
  11. Retailers that will accept Apple Pay on launch include McDonalds, Starbucks and Disney World. Plus, users will be able to pay for things like Uber rides without creating an account.
  12. The credit cards that you already have on iTunes will automatically be added to Passbook. You can also add cards by taking a picture of them with your camera.
  13. Apple won’t charge users, merchants or developers to use Apple Pay for payments. They will collect fees from banks for any payments they facilitate.
  14. Irish-founded online-payment company stripe are integrated into Apple Pay to facilitate one-touch payments in iOS apps (their second big partnership announcement this month after the launch of the Twitter ‘Buy Now’ button).
  15. It will only be available in the US initially from October. No word yet on the international roll-out

If anyone is able to finally drag mobile payments into the mainstream it’s Apple. It’s both about persuading physical retail stores to facilitate mobile payments and encouraging consumers to start using it. Apple have serious form in bringing industries and end users together in new spaces so if anyone can do it, it’s them. Although, if you run out of battery, you better have some cash or a card handy!

Posted by Rob in Apple, Mobile Payments

The Smartphone vs. PC war around the world

OK, this is a bit much to take in all in one go so maybe it’s best to play it once first and then play it again while tracking one or two particular countries afterwards. Either that or click on the ‘Explore Data‘ link and delve a bit deeper into it yourself.

Note: Make sure to actually click the ‘Play‘ button in the bottom left-hand corner to watch the action unfold.

So smartphones are basically taking over the world, that’s not really up for debate. But what has happened to the humble PC and how has it been affected by the explosion in smartphone usage over the last few years?

Luckily, this animated graph from the good folks at TNS Infratest, based on the Global Connected Consumer Survey, is here to shed some light on this dynamic. The graph plots PC usage versus smartphone usage in particular countries over the three year period from March 2011 to March 2014 to get a better idea of the  recent shift from desktop to mobile.

The most obvious trend to notice is of course the explosion in smartphone usage in most countries (i.e. the trails of colour moving upwards on the Y-axis over time). Even though there is a clear contrast between (1) developing countries with both high smartphone and PC usage (those in the top-right of the graph) and (2) emerging countries with relatively low smartphone and PC usage (those in the bottom-left of the graph), smartphone usage has generally increased significantly across the board.

In developed countries; smartphone usage grows but PC usage remains stable

While it’s obvious to see that smartphone usage has increased significantly in most developed countries, perhaps surprisingly, PC usage hasn’t really been affected here (i.e. the lack of trails of colour moving significantly from right-to-left over time).

The key takeaway from this is that, while people in developed countries are using smartphones far more than they were three years ago, they are using desktop PCs almost the same amount as before. The explosion in ‘usage’ has been in internet usage in general, with mobile responsible for this.

In emerging countries; smartphones are replacing PCs

In contrast, in emerging countries  like India, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, PC usage has fallen off a cliff in the last three years. This would suggest that, as smartphones get cheaper and more powerful, they are becoming a viable alternative to a PC for these people, opening up the internet and email to them, which they could have only accessed via a PC just a few years ago.

While the PC is not exactly dead in the water just yet, there’s no doubt that mobile is eating the web, especially in emerging countries. In the not-too-distant future we will likely see see desktop and laptop computers virtually disappear in the home at least, being replaced by smartphones and tablets. This has already happened across many developed countries and for the remaining laggards, the next time the desktop / laptop purchase cycle comes around, you can be damn sure that most will opt for a tablet instead, further compounding this trend.

In the workplace things might be a little different with many complaining that you can’t get any real work done on a mobile or tablet so expect to see the PC become almost exclusively a commercial tool in the next few years, much like it was in the 1980’s.

Posted by Rob in Mobile