Thought Starters

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

We’re seeing a rapid growth in some of the developing world’s major cities as rural populations migrate in search of better economic opportunities. Joel Kotkin takes a critical look at this phenomenon, pointing out that there in many cases isn’t the necessary demand needed for unskilled labour that will lift these populations out of poverty:

Here’s the difficult truth: Most emerging megacities, particularly outside of China, face bleak prospects. Emerging megacities like Kinshasa or Lima do not command important global niches. Their problems are often ignored or minimized by those who inhabit what commentator Rajiv Desai has described as “the VIP zone of cities,” where there is “reliable electric power, adequate water supply, and any sanitation at all.” Outside the zone, Desai notes, even much of the middle class have to “endure inhuman conditions” of congested, cratered roads, unreliable energy, and undrinkable water.

Research from  Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers points to money being able to help buy happiness, with this correlation appearing not to even tail off for more wealthy consumers:

Life satisfaction and income

There has been a lot of talk about disruption, particularly from Silicon Valley with commentators pointing to the threat this process poses to market incumbents. Research from Ian Hathaway and Robert Litan looks to pour some cold water on this view. Among the research’s finding are  that the US is seeing a declining number of start ups which are faced with growing failure rates whilst older enterprises are taking up a growing share of the overall number of businesses:

Companies by Age

Jamil Anderlini reports on growing property prices in China with warnings of a property bubble.  This could have serious negative effects on the country’s economy. A frightening prospect given the size of the country’s population and economy and the role on effect for the rest of the world:

Property Price Comparison

Benedict Evans looks at the impact that mobile is likely to have on the World’s population, with its impact reaching well beyond the developed world consumers associated with the PC driven internet:

Global Adult Population

There’s been a fair bit of noise recently about the declining role of the tablet with lacklustre sales and phablets arguably providing a good enough solution for many consumers. In response, Walt Mossberg jumps to the tablets defence, arguing that there are enough use cases to ensure that the format will see continuing success in the coming years:

I believed then, and now, that the success of the iPad depended not on whether it would wholly replace the laptop, but on whether it could be the best, or most convenient, computer in enough common scenarios for which the laptop (and, to a lesser extent, the smartphone) had been the go-to choice.

Android continues to be the dominant mobile operating system among global consumers market share. Despite this, Semil Shah argues that the development of an Android mobile app should run a distant second for the majority of startup businesses:

The common wisdom used to be iOS first, Android second — but I think it needs to be amended right now to the following: “With the caveat there may be a small handful of apps which need to be on Android early, mobile startups should be iOS first (of course) and resist the urge to make Android second too soon.” For a product early in its life cycle, the return on investment often can’t be justified.

Pew Research’s work points to consumers as being less willing to discuss serious issues via social media when compared to other social channels leading to what they’ve dubbed the ‘Spiral of Silence.’

Social Debates

Competition is hotting up in the ride sharing business with Uber recruiting drivers from its competitor Lyft – a not unusual practice in a competitive market. What Farhad Manjoo points out is that despite the best effortsof Uber and Lyft, there’s little in the way of differentiation between the two which face serious risk of commodification.

 The Atlantic profiles Google’s experiments with drone delivery suggesting that Amazon’s well publicised forays into this area weren’t simply a publicity stunt. Whilst the technology is interesting, what I found most interesting was the argument that this would enable a move towards a more access based society

Those ideas, in turn, became key planks in the original conception of the “sharing economy,” imagined as one in which the world could make much less stuff because efficient, digital logistics would let each asset be used by more people.

“It would help move us from an ownership society to an access society. We would have more of a community feel to the things in our lives,” Teller preached.

In the ‘something to look forward to’ basket is Juno director Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children which looks like taking a less than flattering look at the role of technology on the way we live our lives.

The featured image at the top of the page is a piece by by Paulo Arraiano in Djerba, Tunisia and found on StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 17

A lot of noise is being made about the rapid growth of ecommerce and the  effect this is having on bricks and mortar retail. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru provides an alternative view,  pointing to the continuing growth in the traditional retail sector and the need to distinguish between retailers making the right (and wrong) decisions.

Geoffrey Moore gives a rather sobering view on the effect that technology is having on America’s middle class and suggests some potential avenues to address this.

Marc Andreessen is interviewed in the Washington Post providing commentary on the impact of revelations on NSA surveillance, net neutrality and bitcoin. His commentary on the latter is particularly interesting and marks out why Andreessen Horowitz are investing heavily in the sector.

E-commerce would’ve gotten built on top of this, instead of getting built on top of the credit card network. We knew we were missing this; we just didn’t know what it was. There is no reason on earth for anybody to be on the Internet today to be typing in a credit card number to buy something. It’s insane, because — which is why you have all these security problems, the Target hack and all this crazy…. And these high fees, this high fraud rate. It doesn’t make sense online to have a payment mechanism that requires you to hand over your credentials to make a payment. That’s just an invitation to fraud and identity theft. It’s just stupid.

But we didn’t have the better way of doing it. So we didn’t know what else to do, and now we have the better way of doing it. Now, it’s going to take time. We’re quite confident that when we’re sitting here in 20 years, we’ll be talking about Bitcoin the way we talk about the Internet today. We just need time for it to play out.

Moving customers over to a subscription model of payments may provide companies with a valuable regular income stream but Brian S Hall points out that this is   not necessarily in the consumer’s best interests.

Timothy B Lee looks at the New York Times’s Innovation report which identifies new disruptive players, but also suggests that the organisation like many incumbents is poorly placed to meet the challenge of new entrants.

Game Oven recently wrote a piece looking at the difficulties in writing software for Android given the fragmented hardware and software environment. Benedict Evans built on this post , pointing to the problems of Android fragmentation but also suggesting that the movement to a more cloud based environment may alleviate many of the current problems associated with developing for Android.

Deloitte has released its latest Media Consumer report looking at changes in media consumption patterns in the UK. Among the areas covered are device ownership, television consumption, trust in journalism, use of social media, cinema viewing, gaming and streaming of music.

Percentage of households that have at least one of these devices

 Julie Ask looks at the role of disintermediaries in an increasingly mobile centred environment, with social media, mapping, entertainment, commerce and payments growing in strategic importance.

Today, a third crop of platforms are laying the groundwork to step into the powerful position of “owning the customer,” by serving them in mobile moments. Consumers expect to be able to get what they want in their immediate context and moment of need. They will reach for their phone for information and services. The issue is, most brands aren’’t yet there for their customers in this moment, challenged to even get customers to visit their mobile website or download the brand’s mobile app.

That’s where the platforms that dominate minutes of use, such as popular messaging and social media apps, come into play. It’s not hard to imagine a future where a small set of highly contextual and curated disintermediaries offer consumers a portal to the universe of services on mobile devices. Companies should consider the possibility of a future where their access to consumers is through this small set of disintermediaries

JWT Intelligence has a look at the mobile payments sector which is encumbered by the chicken and egg scenario. Consumers won’t use a service if they’re not familiar with it but retailers won’t invest in a platform if it’s not widely adopted. Efforts are being made to increase adoption and Apple is a potentially disruptive player waiting in the wings.

A growing amount of attention has been given to the mobile messaging sector lately, particularly in light of Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp. Line and WeChat are similar (provide text and photo messaging but different from the more traditional mobile messaging players  with Mark Bivens and Jerry Yang comparing the two Asian powerhouses on Bivens’ blog.

I am a strong believer that we will see some version of enhanced eyewear make inroads in the future  but Matt Lake’s review points to  Google Glass being some way from the medium’s end goal.

There’s been a lot of talk lately of a cooling in tablet sales with commentators suggesting that the smartphone can more than adequately fulfill many of the use cases. Providing a counterpoint to these suggestions is research from Flurry which point to growing usage by tablet owners.

Tablet usage

Matthew Yglesias looks critically at the content that Facebook looks to share among its users following Director of Product at Facebook’s recent rant about the state of the media.

Relationship status is one of those sensitive areas that users aren’t always willing to make public on Facebook. In an attempt to overcome consumers’ reluctance (and provide another data source), Facebook is providing consumers with the opportunity to directly ask fellow users what their current relationship status is.

Relationship Status

Facebook has added song and television show identification (à la Shazam) to its iOS and Android app, providing the opportunity to further enrich its collection of consumer data.

Facebook Music and TV Id

Whilst digital technologies such as HTML5 and WebGL are enabling a richer array of experiences online, the majority of online spend is still very much on direct response advertising in the US according to eMarketer figures.

Digital Ad Spending ShareThe featured image is Reliefs by Evgeniy Dikson

 

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 8

The following provides a roundup of some of the articles, thought pieces and content which have got me thinking recently.

The startup sector continues to get a lot of attention in the news media, positioning itself as an engine of innovation. A contrary view is given by Mariana Mazzucato in The Economist who points to mid and larger sized enterprises as being stronger drivers. Am not sure this gives a full reading of the situation, but its an important reminder that innovation isn’t monopolised by any one part of society.

Jana Mobile  point to various developing markets as evidence that Windows Phone has a potentially viable opportunity  as a third smartphone operating system. Beyond Devices takes a much more bearish view, pointing to the growing stranglehold that Android and iOS have over the smartphone market.

The challenge for new mobile operating systems

Zal Bilimoria suggests in re/code that we may be moving towards a post tablet world as consumers look to consolidate around PCs and phablets.  Too early to tell, but an interesting hypothesis.

It has been interesting watching the changing tone of conversation around Chromebooks as better hardware and improved web services make the platform ‘good enough’ for an increasingly large population of users. Cases in point are David Gewirtz’s recommendation for civilians and Andrew Cunningham’s more luke warm review for users with greater  technical requirements. TechWorld points out that Chromebook remains an outlier in the enterprise sector, but it is beginning to emerge as a realistic alternative for some.

WeAreSocial have released a valuable presentation looking at some of the key social and mobile metrics from Europe that goes well beyond  the EU5.

The appointment of Satya Nadella as Microsoft’s CEO and the emergence of Bill Gates from behind the curtains has prompted a lot of commentary on the company’s current fate. Tech.pinions is among the more positive commentators but a gloomier view is head by John Gruber (never a Microsoft fan at the best of times). It’s also worth reading Ben Thompson’s commentary on the reemergence of Bill Gates at Microsoft.

The media sector has taken a bit of beating lately with many organisations hit by declining print advertising and sales with online revenues failing to fill the gap. Marc Andreessen sees a rosier picture with plenty of opportunities with new business models emerging.

McDonald’s has taken a lot of flak over the years over the quality of its food. Given potential consumer misgivings, so it’s interesting to see McDonald’s adopt a more  transparent attitude towards the products it sells…definitely not something to file under food porn. More information over at AdWeek.

If you are in London this weekend and prepared to brave the gale force winds, Phlegm’s show at the Howard Griffin Gallery is well worth a look. The featured image at the top of the page comes from Marcus Peel’s photography of the show which can be found on Phlegm’s blog.