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Thought Starters

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.

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Thought Starters

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.