Thought Starters: Google’s AMP, FANG, unicorns and the decline of the car

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 look at Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), FANG, unicorns, the decline of the car and smartphones in Myanmar among other things.

App Annie’s analysis of mobile app usage points to Google Play downloads continuing to exceed iOS downloads but Apple’s App Store revenues comfortably exceeding Google’s. Just bear in mind that Google Play doesn’t currently operate in China (although it has plans to) with the majority of Android handsets running on a version of the Android Open Source Platform (AOSP):

Annual Worldwide App Revenue

Instagram has seen a substantial drop in both follower growth and engagement levels according to Locowise figures. Whilst both figures were higher than for Facebook and Twitter, the social network is looking less and less like a free lunch:

Instagram Growth & Engagement Rates

As noted in the previous edition of Thought Starters, Google and Apple have competing visions of how content should be distributed with Apple taking an app centric view with the enabling of in app ad blocking and the launch of Apple News. Google on the other hand is putting its weight behind the open web which is no surprise given its reliance on search for a large proportion of its revenues. Google’s key initiatives has been the launch of Accelerated Mobile Pages which will improve load times and provide a better experience for mobile users than the current set up.  Frédéric Filloux comments :

Privately, Google people make no mystery of their intention to clean the advertising mess. They want to get rid of the invasive formats that, by ruining the user experience, contributed to the explosion of ad blockers and threatened a large segment of the digital economy. To that end, the AMP ecosystem is their weapon of choice

Ben Thompson draws parallels in the business strategies of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (FANG) pointing out how their stranglehold on a key access point has given them near insurmountable positions in the consumer economy:

None of the FANG companies created what most considered the most valuable pieces of their respective ecosystems; they simply made those pieces easier for consumers to access, so consumers increasingly discovered said pieces via the FANG home pages. And, given that Internet made distribution free, that meant the FANG companies were well on their way to having far more power and monetization potential than anyone realized.

Whilst there’s been a recent readjustment in the valuation of a number of tech startups, Spoke Intelligence and VB Profiles research calculates there’s still 208 startups that are worth more than $1bn and 21 worth more than $10bn:

Categorisation of startups with over a $1bn valuation

Europe has had some success with GP. Bullhound’s research pointing to 40 European startups reaching the $1bn valuation mark. Where the region falls short is in building these startups to the level of Facebook, Uber or Airbnb:

Cumulative Value of European unicorns

Adam Davidson looks at the phenomenon of corporations hoarding cash rather than using it to invest in acquisitions or return to shareholders:

Which leaves one last question: Why? The answer, perhaps, is that both the executives and the investors in these industries believe that something big is coming, but — this is crucial — they’re not sure what it will be.

Licensed drivers as a percentage of their age group

The automotive sector is beginning to enter a transition phase. New technologies are emerging (notably move to electric drive trains and self driving technologies) and consumers are beginning to think more in terms of transport solutions (eg Uber) rather than simply car ownership.

An interesting indication of change in the latter was a University of Michigan study of state driver’s licensing statistics that showed in the number of under 25 year olds applying for a driver’s license in the US.

Clive Thompson takes an interesting look at what the implications for cities where car ownership declines, aided by growing indifference to car use among the young and the growth of  ride sharing services.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that auto manufacturers are dead in the water. Automotive manufacturers are experimenting with service based models such as Ford’s FordPass and GM has recently made a large investment in Lyft. That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if many of these firms increasingly get reduced to makers of commoditised hardware much like the PC manufacturers of today.

Tech in Asia figures point to the phenomenal growth in smartphone penetration in Myanmar (see below) as the country leapfrogs over the PC era. A useful complement to the Tech in Asia article is Craig Mod’s account of ethnographic research in Myanmar which looks at some of the fundamental differences in the way that smartphones and Facebook are used in developing countries:

Percentage of Myanmar population with cellular subscriptions

Consumers are spending more of their time with their smartphones, but the mobile user interface in its current form places limits (as well as advantages) in what users can do.  Scott Jenson looks at where mobile’s user experience falls short of the PC and provides some suggestions on how they could be addressed:

Most businesses still use desktops/laptops for the simple reason that people get more work done on them. If you say that “business use” no longer matters, you’re just confusing the new and old market effect. I’m not saying desktop will beat mobile. I’m also not saying we’ll have desktop computing forever. But there are nuanced differences between desktop UX and mobile UX, and they have important implications.

There’s more evidence of the shift in the global economy from emerging to developed world markets. Emerging markets experienced an estimated $735bn in net capital outflows last year with all but $59bn of that coming from China according to recently released figures from the Institute of International Finance:

Net capital flows to China

Timothy Taylor has pulled together data visualisations which allow readers to compare the relative strengths of different economies including this one from the How Much team:

The World's Economy Divided by Area

Oxfam released research during the recent World Economic Forum claiming that the world’s 62 richest individuals have same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity. There’s been some interesting critiques of Oxfam’s calculation, notably from Felix Salmon,  but I would argue the figures provide a valuable catalyst for conversations about the concentrations of wealth:

Share of global wealth

One illustration of the impact of growing concentration of wealth can be found in Jane Mayer’s profile of the Koch brother’s political campaigning in the US:

A new, data-filled study by the Harvard scholars Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez reports that the Kochs have established centralized command of a “nationally-federated, full-service, ideologically focused” machine that “operates on the scale of a national U.S. political party.” The Koch network, they conclude, acts like a “force field,” pulling Republican candidates and office-holders further to the right. Last week, the Times reported that funds from the Koch network are fuelling both ongoing rebellions against government control of Western land and the legal challenge to labor unions that is before the Supreme Court.

Laurence Dodds profiles the Hatton Garden raid in London and suggests it may well be the end of an era as criminals look for new ways for parting people from their worldly possessions:

It doesn’t quite have the romance of Hatton Garden. But while the age of John Dillinger and the Great Train Robbery is over, a new, digital lawlessness has come into being which is every bit as lucrative. It has its own romantic myths, its own folk heroes, because as long as someone is getting away with what the rest of us can only dream of, the cult of the outlaw will stay alive — in whatever form it can.

PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman’s Reply All podcast is a regular appointment in my listening schedule providing an irreverent look at the internet. A recent episode looks at the lack of diversity in the tech world (coverage from 11:50) and how this ultimately handicaps their performance. Informative and entertaining.

The featured image is the mural Mr Rooster by Etam Cru, located on the corner of 8th and Wall in the downtown Flower District in Los Angeles and published in Sour Harvest.

Thought Starters: the outlook for the global and the Chinese economy, India’s middle class, the growing importance of migration and publishing in the digital age

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through articles, research and opinion pieces, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. This edition looks at forecasts for the year ahead, China’s economy and India’s middle class, migration’s growing role in contemporary societies, publishing in the digital age and lots more.

The Economist has published its forecast for the global economy which sees a further shift in momentum from emerging to developed markets, although India, China and Indonesia are seen as top performers:

Emerging markets losing their grips

Malcolm Scott takes a closer look at the slowdown in China’s economy, suggesting that it’s not nearly as significant as some of the more vociferous critics are suggesting:

China's slowdown in context

India as The Economist’s figures above suggest, is one of the powerhouses of the global economy and the country’s growing middle class is seen as providing enormous opportunities for local and international brands. The problem is there are wide variations in estimates of India’s middle class depending on the spending power you apportion to the Indian rupee as the Research Unit for Political Economy shows:

Some estimates of India's middle class

The Wall Street Journal in its profile of demographic trends has taken a closer look at the globe’s growing migrant population. Kim Mackrael and Charles Forelle in their broader analysis of immigration contrast Canada’s more assimilationist and economically driven policies with those of Europe. Whilst I’d argue that Europe is currently in a very different position to Canada due to its proximity to Syria, it does provide some valuable pointers as the continent faces an ageing population:

A growing migrant pool

Angus Hervey provides an important reminder that for many important human development indicators things are on the up (although this is certainly no argument for complacency). Among the indicators he points to are reductions in poverty, malnutrition, polio, infant mortality and AIDS deaths and improvements in universal education, internet access and financial inclusion:

Global poverty has reached a record low

Felix Salmon looks at the maturing of the fintech sector as it  focuses on providing tangible improvements on services offered rather than rhetoric about turning the financial sector upside down:

The problems such fintech companies are trying to solve aren’t the type that can be tackled by a few hyperactive coders in a garage. Rather, they require dozens of different skillsets, not to mention the ability to manage them all. In that sense, the startups are becoming much more like the banks they’re seeking to disrupt. That’s Lunn’s Great Convergence. No one believes the banks are going to solve these problems. The trillion-dollar question is, can the fintech companies do something important and socially useful before they, like the banks, become bogged down in regulation and bureaucracy.

Om Malik reports on how the movement towards a software enabled world has moved a lot of business categories into a winner takes all market (eg Amazon, Uber, Google). It’s also worth adding that innovations in technology and business strategy can see even these advantages quickly fall over time if management aren’t vigilant:

This loop of algorithms, infrastructure, and data is potent. Add what are called network effects to the mix, and you start to see virtual monopolies emerge almost overnight. A network effect occurs when the value of a product or service goes up with the number of people using it. The Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe called it Metcalfe’s Law. Telephone services, eBay, and Skype are good examples of the network effects at work. The more people who are on Skype, the more people you can call, and thus the more likely it is that someone will join.

While physical book sales in the US are on the up according to Nielsen BookScan figures, ebooks are heading in the opposite direction with a consolidation around the Kindle and Kobo platforms according to Michael Kozlowski’s report:

In a few short years most digital bookstores will be out of business and Amazon and Kobo will likely be the only players left standing.  The only digital bookstores that will survive will be companies offering both hardware/software solutions to encapsulate people into their walled gardens.  The destruction of the digital book market has already been set in motion and nothing will stop from the industry from collapsing.

In 2013 Amazon created a media storm by announcing they were working on drone delivery with commentators debating whether this was a real story or a public relations stunt. Two years on and the pathway to drone delivery looks clearer. Dan Wang looks at where drone logistics have proven successful and where we’re likely to see it make real inroads in the near future:

Amazon Drones vs Current Delivery Options

As we start a new year we’re seeing various commentators giving their prognosis for the year ahead. Fred Wilson and Bob O’Donnell make good starting points.

Finally, it’s worth watching Extra Credit’s review of China’s Sesame Credit which has seen the Chinese Government collaborate with Tencent and Alibaba on gamifying good behaviour by Chinese citizens. A case of Nudge theory heading in a distinctly dystopian direction:

The featured image is an INTI mural from the Artesano Project in Nagua, Dominican Republic.

Thought Starters

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends and changes in the world you and I live in.

The on-demand economy has been getting a lot of attention lately as Uber, Lyft and Postmates among others expand their market share. There could be a fly in the ointment if drivers and other providers of services are redefined as employees.  Kashmir Hill explores lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan’s efforts move to change the balance of power.

We’re moving increasingly towards a software driven world where it’s less about the physical and more about the digital guts. John Deere have used these changes to claim that purchases of their tractors amounts to implied license rather than ownership. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone down well among John Deere customers.

John Deere 8760 farm tractor with a folded farm tractor disc attached driving down a country road in Indiana.

Moore’s Law recently reached its 50th anniversary. Arnold Thackray, David Brock and Rachel Jones look at the history of the theory whilst The Economist looks at whether it’s forecast of constantly increasing power and decreasing costs still stands in the present day.

MooresLaw Whilst the rapidly evolving world of cryptocurrencies receive growing attention in the media, it’s interesting to have a look at the history of earlier digital currencies. Jake Halpern’s takes a look at the ups and downs of Liberty Reserve.

Felix Salmon uses Nathaniel Popper’s book Digital Gold as a starting point to highlight the huge gender imbalance in the Bitcoin world and looks at how this is likely to hold back the cryptocurrency’s development.

Benedict Evans looks at Google’s strategy in a world where the growth of mobile is making the world it operates in, increasingly complex:

The key change in all of this, I think, is that Google has gone from a world of almost perfect clarity – a text search box, a web-link index, a middle-class family’s home – to one of perfect complexity – every possible kind of user, device, access and data type. It’s gone from a firehose to a rain storm. But on the other hand, no-one knows water like Google. No-one else has the same lead in building understanding of how to deal with this.

Mobile phones’ reach is constantly expanding. Pew Research Center reports on the growing impact of mobile in Africa, illustrating why services like M-Pesa have such huge potential as business categories are reimagined with new technology.

Mobile Africa

Things do Jobs brings together a strong collection of images that illustrate how our smartphones are much more than phones:

Things to Do

Changes within the music industry have raised the spectre of the disintermediation of record labels as musicians gain a more direct channels for communicating with their fans. Zack O’Malley reports on how the major labels have looked to future proof their position by gaining a growing share of music startups which could well see them survive long into the future.

Music has often been associated  rightly or wrongly with youthful rebellion and politics. David Stubbs argues that politics was more of a sideline and suggests today’s musicians are in many cases as active as those of their forebearers

Eben Weiss (aka Bike Snob NYC) gives an impassioned call for a transport system in the Washington Post that better respects the interests of cyclists – an interest close to my heart.

If you find yourself at a loose end in London, you could do worse than checking out Carol Bove’s exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery.

Carol Bove

The featured image is a MOMO piece at Ace Hotel Palm Springs, California

 

Thought Starters

Content that has caught my eye recently, which includes coverage of Amazon, Apple Pay, Facebook’s financial results, the music industry, income inequality among other things.

Vanity Fair has a feature article focusing on the increasingly fraught relationship between Amazon and the publishing industry. The piece charts how Amazon was originally seen as a counterbalance to to the growing power of Borders and Barnes & Noble, but over time it was Amazon that upset the relatively cosy relationships within the publishing industry (albeit at the expense of the consumer).

Whilst Amazon’s hold on the publishing industry appears relatively secure, the company has received a bit of stick recently for its performance in other market segments (most notably the Fire Phone) .

Bezos’ sterling reputation kept few questioning these initiatives, but in recent months that has started to change. A number of recent initiatives seem to be costing more money while not necessarily showing signs of sure success.

Benedict Evans made a strong case a couple of months ago for Amazon’s approach of  putting off profits as it invested in new market segments, but  Amazon needs to have more winners if this strategy is to work over the long term.

Ben Thompson takes a valuable look at how Apple has carved out a strong strategic position in the payments space by creating a situation of mutual advantage for its customers, credit card networks, banks, and to a lesser degree, merchants:

Apple Pay

Technalysis has forecasted healthy growth in the wearable computing category. Whether its enough to provide a lifeline to Samsung and other besieged smartphone manufacturers remains to be seen:

Wearables

Facebook’s revenue results reported by Benedict Evans point to the company doing a good job of adapting to consumers’ increasing time on their smartphone:

Facebook Mobile

What Facebook is doing a less good of is reducing its reliance on the North American market as reported in Inside Facebook, despite the continued growth of internet and mobile internet penetration in the rest of the World:

Facebook Revenue by Region

Whilst Western consumers are relishing increasing mobile internet speeds, it’s a rather different story for many consumers in the developing world where the cost of data makes internet access a relative luxury. Ben Bajarin talks about the ‘light web’ in which mobile experiences are carefully optimised to reduce the data usage for consumers wary of:

Mobile Internet Developing World

Much has been made  of the move by brands from an era of disruption to engagement, enabled by broadening array of interactive digital channels. Given these changes, its valuable to read Tom Doctoroff’s spirited defence of more traditional marketing agencies.

An interesting counterpoint to Doctoroff’s  view is Faris who points to the lack of interactivity in the majority of digital advertising, pointing to Honda’s The Other Side campaign as where things should be heading:

You get the idea. I guess I just miss ideas that work on the web, where the user is in control of the interaction. Where everyone gets an interactive experience.

Bradley Leimar takes a look at how banks will look to improve their offering using enhanced digital channels that go beyond simply putting a customer interface online:

We are moving away from a banking relationship defined by the goal of being a customer’s primary financial institution to one where we focus on becoming their primary financial application. It’s no longer about wallet share. It’s about app-driven mindshare – as our customers reach into their pockets for their mobile device or use their glasses or other form of wearable technology and think about their financial relationship choices – before, during, and after a financial moment of truth.

The music industry is adjusting from an ownership to a streaming model. Mark Mulligan argues that the music industry needs to drop the pricing of streaming music if it wants to maximise overall revenues:

Music Revenue

Felix Salmon on the other hand focuses his attention on the value of having three dominant record labels in facilitating streaming music services, arguing that an oligopoly in this case serves the interests of consumers.

We take globalisation for granted in the increasingly interconnected world we live in. Given this, it’s interesting to see analysis from Pankaj Ghemawat and Steven Altman which compares how globalised information, trade, people and capital is over the last 10 years:

Globalisation

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has sparked renewed interest in the issue of income inequality. Oxfam has looked into correlations between income and inequality and health outcomes pointing to some of the more tangible negative outcomes associated with income disparities within countries:

Inequality

 

Sorapop Kiatpongsan and Michael Norton’s research points to the vast gap between the income of CEOs and their unskilled workers across different countries, with the wage gap being much larger than most people saw as being appropriate:

Wage Gap

The featured image is 25% Black by Elian in Cordoba, Argentina and found on eksoystem.

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 12

Ben Thompson continues his series looking at the weakening position of the newspaper sector. He points to the fact that newspapers doesn’t necessarily have the best content or a wealth of customer weakening its ability to personalise its media and advertising offering . Thompson instead see a more atomised media sector with specialist providers and a smaller number of dedicated news organisations delivering the news we traditionally associate with newspapers.

Bloomberg looks at the Internet of Money as cryptocurrencies develop a growing range of use cases beyond simply acting as an alternative to fiat currency. For more of a background look at the pros and cons of  Bitcoin, try Freakonomics’ recent podcast

Andreessen Horowitz’s podcast series is proving a great source of insights into the technology and startup sector with recent episodes looking at full stack startups, mobile discovery and Bitcoin among others. Definitely worth following.

Twitter has an issue with onboarding, with users typically requiring a considerable investment in time before they get that ‘aha’ moment. Quartz looks at some of the obstacles Twitter faces in making the social network a more comfortable place for consumers.

Why people quit Twitter

Filmed in 2011 and still sounding fresh is Rory Sutherland’s TED talk looking at the importance of framing an issue or problem in engaging consumers.

Simon Kemp posts some thought starters for We Are Social looking at the evolving nature of marketing in an increasingly social and data driven age.

Felix Salmon looks at Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift as the former’s move to become a tech conglomerate rather than an attempt to bring the world of virtual reality into social media.

GigaOm looks at the less friendly reception received by Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter supporters to the news that its being acquired by Facebook. As with many crowdfunding initiatives, supporters have no equity but strong identification with the funded projects.

Courtney Myers gives an overview of the London startup sector for General Assembly.

It’s men rather than women that are more likely to be living with their parents as young adults in the Western world according to figures from FiveThirtyEight.

datablog-chalabi-living-with-parents

Giving a rather amusing and scary view of the male species is Dissent’s reporting on the pick up artist community’s response to Ukraine’s attempts to align itself with Europe.

Going rather against my own preconceptions about the Australian male is this campaign from Snickers in Australia

The featured image is ELLIPSE by GoddoG in Arles, France.

 

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking

Smartphones are taking an increasing role in consumers’ lives. The following infographic looks at how American smartphone consumers (Android and iOS) use their mobile through the course of the day.

Always Connected: How Smartphones And Social Keep Us Engaged
Always Connected: How Smartphones And Social Keep Us Engaged, Facebook

Further evidence of the growing importance of smartphones can be seen in the movement of Apple’s iTunes revenues from music to to one App payments with a seemingly unstoppable growth trend.

Horace Dediu’s Twitter stream is a great for those of you interested in technology and its impact on consumer’s media usage. One of his more recent postings points out the rapid growth of mobile consumption among consumers in the USA which is happening at the expense of television, radio, print and even online.

Apps overtook music in less than five years—all of big media is next
Apps overtook music in less than five years—all of big media is next

Google has launched Google Helpouts allowing individuals or organisations to offer free or paid one on one tutorials. You may well find brands using this channel as a means of reaching consumers such as Home Depot are trying in the US.

I recently profiled new formats in web journalism. One of the concerns that critics have raised is the failure of media owners to integrate advertising. Polygon’s recent profile of the launch of Sony’s PS4 provides an interesting example of integrating relevant advertisers into a richer web media format.

On the subject of online media, Felix Salmon looks at the issue of consolidation in the online media sector, particularly where the new acquisitions can be aligned with the parent company’s content management systems.

We are still waiting for the mobile payments juggernaut to arrive, but in the meantime the soon to be launched Coin provides a nice solution to managing your different cards (and accidentally leaving them behind).

The Open Data Index provides a ranking of countries by how open they are in their treatment of public information. UK comes first, comfortably ahead of the USA.

Feel free to chip in with your thoughts on any of the above.