Thought Starters: Apple vs Google, fintech, Bitcoin’s failing health, emerging markets and income inequality

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through the articles, research and opinion pieces I’ve read, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. In this week’s edition we’ll look at virtual reality, the looming battle between Apple and Google, the fintech opportunity, Bitcoin’s (poor) health, emerging markets, income inequality and lots more.

Goran Peuc has called on designers to focus more on getting users to their destination as smoothly as possible, avoiding unwarranted complexity and features. Among the services he highlights as doing it right are Google Search, Nest, Dropbox and Gov.uk:

People are not really into using products. Any time spent by a user operating an interface, twisting knobs, pulling levers or tapping buttons is time wasted. Rather, people are more interested in the end result and in obtaining that result in the quickest, least intrusive and most efficient manner possible. And these are two fundamentally different concepts — usage versus results — which, at the very least, differentiate good product design from poor product design or, on a smaller scale, a good feature from a bad one.

2016 is likely to be a big year for virtual reality as it moves from vapourware to tangible experiences in consumers hands. Peter Rojas looks at some of the key issues affecting what the VR landscape will be come the end of 2016:

It feels like we’re on the cusp of an entirely new world of immersive computing, but VR as an industry is still completely wide open in a way which more established markets like mobile and desktop computing are not.

Facebook has begun releasing an SDK for Facebook Messenger enabling developers to build interactive experiences within the messaging platform with actions such as shop, book, travel and more. This brings Facebook closer to the WeChat model whereby users feel less need to leave the messaging platform to complete tasks. Uber is among the first partners to trial the service (see below):

 


 

GlobalWebIndex has released its figures for the global penetration of adblockers which gives you an indication of why their growth was highlighted as a trend to watch in a number of media commentators’ end of year roundup:

Ad-blocking is here to stay

Mehdi Daoudi contrasts Google’s web centric strategy with Apple’s app centric approach   are taking to online media with Mountain’s app centric approach, with both arguing that they have the user’s interests at heart. Media publishers are increasingly feeling like the meat in the sandwich, as these technology titans try and wrest control of consumers’ attention and eyeballs:

What’s really going on here? No one is saying that Google and Apple aren’t genuinely interested in creating the best possible online experiences. But the recent announcements are skirmishes in a bigger war for Internet dominance, with these behemoths and others trying to stifle each others’ business models, sway advertising trends in their own favor, and gain a bigger piece of the online advertising pie. The end-user experience argument is their Trojan Horse, and other companies, large or small, are unwilling pawns in their master plans.

Startup L. Jackson has been one of the most amusing and at times insightful commentators on the world of startups and Silicon Valley. Chris Dixon has pulled together some of his best tweets:

Concerns about the overvaluation of tech startups appear to be having a real impact on angel and venture capital funding, with CB Insights‘ figures pointing to a decline in the number of deals and funding in the last quarter in the US. Probably more a case of a market correcting for a bulge rather than the popping of a bubble:

US Tech Seed Deal Activity

The fintech sector has been one of the hotspots in London’s startup sector. TransferWise’s The Future of Finance profiles why there’s so much interest in the sector with its talk of disrupting traditional financial institutions and also looks at which categories consumers are most receptive to new entrants:

Consumers’ predictions of their own uptake of fintech over the next 10 years

Capgemini’s survey of the financial services sector provides a contrasting perspective, pointing to financial institutions in many cases being more concerned about larger technology players rather than the new range of fintech startups:
A view of the competitive threat by banking vertical

Bitcoin is one of the technologies that many commentators were forecasting would turn the financial services on its head. Whilst banks and other financial institutions are increasingly experimenting with blockchain solutions, bitcoin pioneer Mike Hearn’s prognosis for Bitcoin is less than healthy:

Why has Bitcoin failed? It has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system.

Academic publishing is one sector that has proven surprisingly resistant to change with commercial publishers continuing to act as tollkeeper. Jason Schmitt looks at Elsevier and asks whether we’re on the cusp of change towards a much more open model of information sharing:

Time will tell if open access will be the needed disruption to allow the academic environment to right itself or if a new market emerges from startup incubators like the Center for Open Science. Regardless of how the future vision is realized, most in the academic community hope that the new iteration of scholarly articles and publishing will do more good toward humankind than that of a hefty profit margin.

You can gauge the shift in the global economy from Oxford Economics‘ forecast of the major economic centres in 2030 in this visualisation by CityMetric, which points to an increasingly China orientated world:

Cities that will contribute the most to growth in global GDP by 2030

Whilst the global economy has definitely been moving east, the short to medium term outlook for many emerging markets isn’t nearly as rosy. Ian Talley profiles some of the barriers that are likely to hold back many countries’ economic growth:

Not so emerging markets

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Nattavudh Powdthavee’s research points to a negative correlation between income inequality and life satisfaction:Overall well-being drops as national income inequality rises

Another area where the Nordics have excelled is press freedom with Finland, Norway and Denmark leading Reporters without Borders global league table:

2015 World Press Freedom Index

Whilst London sometimes feels like it’s bursting at the seams, the city reward its residents with one of the most diverse collections of ethnicities in the world (great if you’re a culinary explorer). The Economist has used Office of National Statistics data to highlight the leading ethnicities for each of London’s electoral wards in an interactive map (click on the map below for the interactive version):

London's ethnic map

Dive like Hector is the featured image by  Telmo Miel, painted in Christchurch, New Zealand on top of the YMCA building and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters

A mixed collection of materials looking at societal trends and the impact of technology on the way we live.

Slate looks at separatist movements in Europe in light of the recent decision by Scotland to maintain its ties with the United Kingdom:

Separatist

McKinsey’s forecast for the luxury market points to the growing role of emerging economies. Luxury brands shouldn’t count on a free ride though with Chinese consumers proving less receptive to Western luxury brands than in the past according to a report in The Guardian:

Luxury

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, venture capitalist Bill Gurley has raised concerns about the ‘burn rate’ of startups and the potential risks of a tech bubble  bursting. We may not see this happen in the immediate future but a correction does look increasingly inevitable.

The Financial Times profiles the emerging FinTech sector and the challenges it poses to the incumbents in the banking and financial services sector.

Bitcoin is one of the technologies that is providing a disruptive force in the financial services sector, with Fred Ehrsam from  Bitcoin wallet provider Coinbase giving an introduction to the cryptocurrency:

GlobalWebIndex figures confirm the commonly held view  that tablets are frequently shared whilst mobile phones are more closely associated with the individual:

Devices

Comscore research points to mobile apps taking a dominant role in the time  American’s spend with their smartphones with pointers on the when where and why of app usage:

Mobile App Usage

Results from Shopify points to  50.3% of traffic coming from mobile and just 49.7% from computers among customers using their eCommerce solution. Whilst this doesn’t purport to represent a  statistically sound sample of all eCommerce transactions, it does provide another data point supporting the need for companies to adopt a mobile first strategy:

Mobile Commerce

Code and Theory’s Dan Gardener and Mike Treff call for an approach to responsive design that goes beyond the screen size of device use, encompassing factors such as location, time of day and duration:

Responsive

The social network Ello launched in March of this year but is now beginning to reach critical mass, with consumers attracted by the promise of a system that isn’t based on pervasive tracking and surveillance. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its critics with Andy Baio pointing out the funding provided by venture capital which may see its more ethical policies watered down with time.

Ello

eMarketer figures point to social media taking a growing overall figure and share of UK’s advertising spend, with Facebook dominating brand’s spend on social networks:

UK Social Ad Spending

 GlobalWebIndex figures on Instagram users doesn’t provide any great surprises with steady growth, younger audience and strong indexing among middle and higher income earners:

Instagram

GlobalWebIndex also provide figures for the often overlooked Viber with 12% of the mobile audience use Viber each month,  providing a valuable reminder of  the diversity in the mobile messaging space.

ReadWrite looks at which countries have the fastest internet with South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong taking the top three places:

Fastest Broadband

Ezekiel J. Emanuel provides a fascinating opinion piece arguing that we should be placing more emphasis on quality rather than quantity of  life. Putting this into a more personal context, he stresses that we would like only palliative rather than curative care after the age of 75:

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

Mark Buchanan, drawing on Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future, warns of societal problems associated with the internet with the concentrations of power and the disenfranchising of large sectors of society. Another book to add to the reading list.

We’re seeing telecommuting increasingly promoted as providing flexibility to employees with the potential to better combine the demands of work and home, but it’s not a one sided coin. Lenika Cruz provides a personal account of how working from home aggravated her agoraphobia:

To be clear: Working from home didn’t cause my agoraphobia, it just enabled it. As someone who already had latent anxiety issues, I lacked incentive to prove myself wrong about all the imagined catastrophes that could occur if I were “trapped” somewhere. Telecommuting offered me the retreat I craved, but it helped to reinforce my avoidance patterns. And so the agoraphobia blossomed.

The featured image is a DALeast piece that was created as part of the Dunedin Mural Project and found on Arrested Motion.