Following on from F8 in September, Zuckerberg’s empowered speech may have left you wondering exactly what Zuckerberg meant when he claimed that he would “expand the notion of a more social web?”

The web has for some time been hailed as a global force empowering democracy and freedom of speech, with the social media being placed at the forefront of this battle. Yet the current rivalry between Facebook and Google could almost be interpreted as an archaic war for cyber control of web users. Indeed at a glance, Facebook’s challenge to Google seems like a challenge to the dominance of the worldwide web at large (after all, Google is the site that offers the most comprehensive analysis of the relationship between websites).

The decision to integrate apps into Facebook means that users may never have to venture outside the site. Zuckerberg himself recently stated that ‘Facebook is a collaborative tool’. Facebook currently has over 800 million active users who visit the site more than once a day, although this figure still isn’t as high as the 1.5 billion hits Google receives daily. Yet the ease with which Facebook membership is rising posits a potential sea change in the way in which we use the internet. With the integration of Spotify, Guardian, and even Twitter onto Facebook you may be wondering why you would ever need to open your internet explorer browser again.

Google’s attempts to encroach on Facebook’s territory in the last few years have not exactly epitomized success. Google+ is the fourth in a series of attempts by Google to enter the social networking sphere (remember Google Friend Connect, Google Buzz and Google Wave?) and membership on the site is believed to be little above 40 million members worldwide. In fact, Google has refused to comment on how many members are on the site inciting Forbes to publish an article entitled Eulogy for Google+.

However it remains to be seen whether the rise of Facebook will lead to the demise of the web at large. Facebook has, recently been in trouble for data sharing and the site is increasingly being viewed as ‘creepy’ by members.  Just like Google, Facebook stores a myriad of user’s personal information including private messages, the use of the like button and apps- but more interestingly also stores information about user’s friends, family and educational background. The site even detects subtle changes to a member’s lifestyle, enabling advertisers to target mothers-to-be for instance with baby products. This all sounds eerily similar to the decision by Google to remember your search information. So internet users might see the expansion of a more social web, but will this mean anything more than a transition of power between key magnates online?

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How social technologies breed solo shopping – at least in the real world

The days of meeting up with friends and going on a shopping spree are long gone. With so much choice brought about by the increasing number of ecommerce platforms, retailers introducing more ranges online, and the growth of social technologies,applications and contactless payment systems, serious shoppers have drifted from the pack and prefer to go it alone.

Today, if you ask – “does my bum look book in this?” – you’re more likely to be ‘BBMing’ a picture to your friends, getting ‘liked’ on Facebook, or checking out real-time personal shopping apps than asking a friend who is actually shopping with you. That’s because any opportunity can be a purchasing opportunity. Whether you’re on your smartphone, visiting a supermarket or perusing Facebook, the opportunity to buy and price-check a range of goods in real-time is at your fingertips making it even harder for traditional retailers to make that initial sell, cross-sell, and most importantly getting customers into stores.

We’ve heard more regularly over recent months about the decline of the high-street and the future need for physical stores continues to be questioned. In recent years online fashion retailers such as ASOS and Net-A-Porter have done a good job of removing what some would describe as the stressful in-store experience and have brought the changing room right into your home – all of which has been done seamlessly, particularly when returning items. This in turn has made retailers think more strategically about the in-store experience and customer service they want to provide for shoppers in order to differentiate from online.

The most valuable part of any fashion store is the window display and the right-hand side of the shop as you walk in as it is what draws people in. These areas need to be stocked with bestsellers, new lines, adverts, packaging and items promoted in the press. Generally anything visible from the front of the shop should be high profit or popular items, and presented in an exclusive fashion so if your size is out it will bring out the animal instinct in you to hunt it down until it’s yours.

Highstreet retailers such as Topshop have also done a lot in recent years to try and keep shoppers in stores for as long as possible by offering different services. In the flagship store on Oxford Street, for example, you can now visit the nail bar, blow-dry salon, have your eyebrows threaded, grab a coffee and buy sweets while also doing your shopping. 

Customer service as always continues to be high priority for both stores that sell on commission and those that don’t. If sales assistants don’t say “hello” to customers who walk into stores like Reiss, Whistles and Hobbs, they’re likely to be pulled up for it. A recent and indeed very irregular visit to River Island, ahem, saw six different sales assistants approach me to ask how my day was going in literally under two minutes of entering. The need to appear helpful and make intelligent cross-sell recommendations is indeed a valuable differentiator compared to online, particularly when the customer feels they are getting that little bit extra when it comes to service.

Personally, from a serious shopper’s perspective, cool mobile apps are great for quick viewing, but online doesn’t have the same buzz for me that walking into a store does. Nothing beats seeing a sea of colours, fabrics, textures, coordinating items and ‘store models’ in real life. Obviously there are exceptions. However, as much as I enjoy the experience of walking into a store, shopping alone is definitely more suited to my patience levels. I’m also quite happy to BBM a picture to my friends and get their opinion that way rather than having them waiting around for me on the other side of a dressing room curtain.

@LucyDesaDavies

Nokia has begun its campaign to re-imagine itself at Mobile World Congress and is looking to become the most operator-friendly smartphone vendor

The news of Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft seems to be sinking in at Mobile World Congress. Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop continues to appear throughout the event to again tell people why this move makes sense. He’s confident in his messaging and delivering it clearly but his enthusiastic explanations don’t do the scope of the announcement justice.

Elop declared at Monday’s keynote presentation: "A battle of devices is shifting to a war of ecosystems.”

This signals a move in the market that has been coming into focus in 2010 with the emergence of Android as a true force in the smartphone market. Throughout Mobile World Congress, Elop has been banging the “three-horse race” messaging hard and Windows Phone 7 with Nokia’s reach will create a third combatant in the smartphone market. This will be a definite but distant third player and one that will have to make a pretty drastic statement when they finally bring a device to market.

Jo Harlow, senior vice president marketing at Nokia Mobile Phones, has hinted that this will be within 2011 but her statement was definitely not a guarantee.

Operator Friendly

What has been interesting since the initial announcement Friday night, where Elop said he’d been on the phone with European operators reassuring them, is the operator-friendly message that Elop has been emphasizing. Elop seems to be carving the smartphone market up and putting Nokia on the side of the operator and its business model.

Operators are in a unique position and need all of the help they can get to retain revenue and take some control back in the market they brought to life. If you are an operator you see Apple taking market share in areas you’d like to excel in while Google has seen Android explode in 2010 and at the same time a revenue hog on the web. In the smartphone market these two players are in a luxurious position as operators grasp at different ways to answer the “dumb pipe” question.

Nokia and Microsoft have the opportunity to be the shoulder to cry for operators that have seen opportunities squander elsewhere. iPhone is established and Android is a force in the market as we have seen throughout Mobile World Congress with this additional platform creating, what Nokia says, will be more competition and choice for operators.

Elop explicitly addressed the operator community during the Microsoft keynote on Monday and let them know that Nokia’s new partnership will create the most operator-friendly smartphone platform in the market. He added that Nokia and Microsoft would help operators to retain and drive revenue, which aren’t likely goals for Apple.

Elop said: “We understand what it means to be friendly to operators."

This kind of messaging plays into Nokia’s history of strong partnerships with its operator partners and broadly makes sense but looking at another aspectof Nokia’s business you wonder if Nokia needs to focus on the smartphone market. The company has shown its strength around the world with feature phones and is still a force in the market even though it may not appear to be an innovator any longer.

Peters Suh, CEO of Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) noted in an application-focused keynote panel that Nokia has between 30%-40% global market share in handsets, which he then followed up by saying, “but I’m not sure that the smartphone market is a global phenomenon”. This is a fair statement as emerging markets with limited mobile coverage may struggle to take advantage of advanced features.

Feature Phones Not Its Future?

Suh was highlighting that perhaps this doesn’t play to Nokia’s overall position or strengths in the mobile market. It may not want to play the role of emerging market or feature phone vendor but that may be what it is good at. Nokia has been looking for an identity for some time and this move has not brought anymore clarity into play.

What is clear is Elop may be playing to operators now but eventually Nokia will need to attract consumers and prove to them that its Windows Phone 7 devices are not just operator friendly but customer friendly as well.

Matthew_Whalley

Edel_Telecom

On the second day of Mobile World Congress 2011, the event hosted an operator keynote panel. This keynote panel session included insights on a broad range of topics across the mobile market. Here are some short highlights from the panel:

  • Audioboo: Hans Vestberg, CEO of Ericsson, gives predictions for mobile penetration http://boo.fm/b278532

  • Audioboo: Daniel Hajj, American Movil, gives an overview of the Latam mobile Market. http://boo.fm/b278441

  • Audioboo: Wang Jianzhou, Chairman & CEO, China Mobile talks about the explosion in mobile data. http://boo.fm/b278425

@Matthew_Whalley

@Edel_Telecom

Last year’s Mobile World Congress was greeted with cautious optimism that has since been replaced by real enthusiasm within an industry that continues to explore its potential

In preparing for this year’s Mobile World Congress I’ve been taking a look at the trends and insights that emerged from last year’s congress and seeing how far the mobile industry has come since then.

Edelman’s Kevin Bossi noted that last year’s event was approached with a kind of cautious optimism that was understandable after a year in 2009 that showed growth in mobile data services but financial instability around the world.

In 2011, this cautious optimism has given way to real excitement around a mobile market that is continually pushing its boundaries and seen as a driver for social and economic development. As ever the scope of the industry continues to grow and this offers up opportunities at the same time raising questions about how businesses define themselves.

The trends and themes from last year’s Mobile World Congress point to an industry that is reaching deeper into the lives of consumers while still exploring how far existing and new technologies can be pushed.

New Enthusiasm, Old Challenges

There has been excitement around new developments in devices with tablet computing taking hold in the market and new networking technologies like LTE hopefully solving mobile data challenges. Apps and gaming have also shown that the opportunities within the mobile market are still vast and not always easy to predict.

From looking at these innovations and the trends from MWC10, the question of the operators’ role in the mobile ecosystem is still one that has yet to be answered. It isn’t an easy question and one that is becoming even more difficult to answer. Pricing, bundled services and increased penetration won’t be generating buzz in the exhibition hall but they are all very real for operators as they try to convert network traffic into revenue gains. Operators have an uncertain future as they watch a vibrant market and seek to carve out a leadership role in it.

What is certain is that the mobile industry as a whole is being seen as a force for good. Mobile Money services are expanding as operators partner across verticals, mHealth is bringing efficiency to healthcare while the increased depth of wireless networking and affordable handsets bring more people online. While the buzz amongst technology journalists has been about the role of mobile phone and social networking in uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, they are already being used in the democratic process in Africa particularly in Uganda as well as regions across the continent.

Lessons to Learn

Emerging markets aren’t just taking advantage of new services as we saw at MWC10. Some of the largest brand presence at the event were from vendors and operators from outside of Europe and North America. Expect to see Huawei , ZTE, HTC on the hardware side and China Telecom, Bharti Airtel and Turkcell to be well represented again this year. Revelations about the Chinese government’s aid to its equipment vendor was not surprising and will not slow these companies down as they continue to take market share from Western mainstays in the equipment market.

What will be exciting is to see what lesson both operators and manufactures from emerging markets have to teach the industry about new services and what they see sustaining growth in the future. Players in emerging market will have some distinct lessons to share and it plays into an overall theme of this year’s congress. While technology is certainly at the core of the mobile industry, meeting the unique needs of different markets, communities and ultimately consumers is its goal.

A User-Centric Congress

Since last year’s congress there has been an increasing shift toward the user with a stronger emphasis on how people are using new technologies not just the technologies themselves. Consumers are more frequently asking themselves, “What can this technology do for me? What need does it meet and how does it improve the way I’m living my life?”

The tablet computing market has shown just how important it is to explain the usage scenarios of a device, not just the device capabilities. That is at least for competitors to the iPad that need a strong rational for why their device is superior and best meets the needs of the consumer.

Nowhere is the user more important than in the app market. MWC10 was awash with talk about apps ranging from mHealth to social media and what will be the next Angry Birds. The proliferation of apps and smartphones have allowed for greater levels of customization and allowed devices to offer suites services that can define a user’s experience.

More than ever it feels like the consumer is able to shape the future of the market and we’ll see this theme play out along side announcements around tablet computing, near field communications, LTE and gaming. All facets of the mobile industry from devices, the network and apps are all showing us something new and hopefully we’ll see a few surprises at this year’s event.

@Matthew_Whalley

@Edel_Telecom

Seems like any company with a strong brand and customer base can be a hardware vendor. Hot on the heels of Amazon apparently launching its own tablet, clothing retailer Next is quietly offering a cut-price iPad wannabe.

Amazon has form with the brilliant Kindle eBook but Next has come a little out of left field. It’s all thanks to Android of course, the iPad-baiting open source OS that’s garnering millions of fans and users around the world.

Android’s modus operandi is the opposite to Apple. Android thrives on anyone and everyone playing with it whereas Apple thrives on being a closed shop,  locking users into its hardware, software, content and payment platforms.

Personally I think it’s a stroke of genius. The price point (£180) is massively undercutting the iPad as well as the sprinkling of Android tablets already announced by the bigger technology companies. Next customers get access to a global community of content as well as a (hopefully) decent device for enjoying media. Next gets the kudos of playing in the tablet market and, if it’s smart, a channel through which to pump content and hopefully generate sales. On this point, Next launched its own iPhone app back in February, and you can bet that feedback from that experience led to the development of its own tablet.

It makes you think who else could enter the tablet market. Banks, motoring organisations, football clubs, in fact any brand, company or organisation that has a decent brand, customer loyalty and a sales channel to get the product to market.

So, outside of the big tech hardware vendors, any guesses as to who will be next?

@paulwooding1973

It looks like the smartphone sector is going through a bumpy patch. Google has closed down its Nexus One on-line store, while there’s disquiet amongst developers over the application store model of distributing and monetising content.

Feels to me like growing pains for a sector of the mobile market that has witnessed massive growth in a relatively short space of time.

Google’s travails in flogging actual handsets simply proves that sometimes you can have a bad idea – namely believing consumers will ditch a rational desire to physically see and touch something before purchase.

The developers bellyaching is a sign of a maturing market in which manufacturers are starting to realise that the distribution models that allowed them to build a business in the first place are not as flexible nor favourable as they once appeared.

However, while we can put these spats down to the mobile phone market’s equivalent of puberty, everyone should guard against a turn back towards closed platforms. Virtually every major handset manufacturer has either developed – or bought – some form of mobile OS and while all the talk is of open standards and interoperability, the temptation to “do an Apple” and try and build a closed platform that locks customers in must be tempting.

That would be massively against the spirit of the age and potentially damaging to the industry.

Consumers are putting a premium on choice while developers thrive on the develop-once/publish-many model. In a market where software is becoming the main selling point, manufacturers and mobile operators are fighting to remain relevant and this makes for a delicate balancing act between, on the one side, innovating on design, functionality, tariffs and service while on the other, ensuring both developers and customers have access to a broad ecosystem of applications and content.

It’s a tough task and there are bound to be more bumps along the way. For the smartphone sector to continue to innovate and thrive however, everyone needs to be kept ‘appy.

@paulwooding1973