Will Messaging Apps be all you need?

Since the Edward Snowden revelations back in 2013 the popularity of messaging apps has gone from strength to strength especially since most now include end to end encryption.  Recently however some of the larger players have started to make changes which could alter the way we interact with our mobiles forever.  In the western cultures the messaging app is predominately used for messaging, sharing photos, audio/video communication and more recently sending friend’s money.  Some have also started to add Artificial Intelligence/chatbots like Facebook Messenger and Google Allo to make them stickier.

However in places like China and Japan (WeChat /Line)  messaging apps additionally allow you to play video games, shop (eCommerce sites) and use digital wallets which negates your need to leave the app ecosystem at all.  These apps are so popular that WeChat boasts 963 million monthly active users and 600 million active WeChat mobile payment users.  This may be only half of the active users stated by facebook globally however WeChat is little known outside of China until now.

In March 2017  WeChat announced It was looking to launch an office in the U.K. and another European country, alongside its existing presence in Italy.

In April 2017 a London-based FinTech firm (Tramonex) based out of Smithfield, said it had entered into an agreement to integrate its payments infrastructure with WeChat Pay to take advantage of the soaring numbers of Chinese tourists visiting the UK.

This month BNP Paribas announced it was introducing WeChat Pay to retailers in France and subsequently across Europe, providing an opportunity for merchants to streamline the shopping experience for the 7.4 million Chinese tourists who visit the continent each year.

On 9th November 2017 Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings (the owner of WeChat) announced it was acquiring a 12 percent stake in the US social media network Snapchat whose investment would enable Tencent to explore cooperation opportunities with the company on mobile games publishing and newsfeed.

Over the last few years very little change has been seen across the social media / eCommerce landscape however this may just be about to all change and I cannot imagine players like Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook etc will take it lying down.

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A Glimpse of tomorrows tech

Even though technology appears to be getting more complicated, more expensive and refreshed more often this generally ensures that it is enjoyed by everyone much sooner.  The big problem is that unless the new  component parts are mass produced in sufficient numbers to reduce the price point it stays out of reach for the masses.  However when the  marquee players like Apple, Google, Samsung etc. introduce new innovations they tend to enter product ecosystems much sooner.  2017 has been a very interesting year for technology and in this update I thought I would share a few of the innovations which I predict that when they enter the mass market will disrupt the technology we use at home and in work.

Facial Recognition – The iPhone X will introduce Facial Identification via their True depth camera which uses 30k light sensors projected on the face to create an encrypted  facial map to aid authentication instantly on the device

Real Time Translation – Google’s Pixel Bud headphones will  bring real-time translation with Google Translate. Just touch and hold the right earbud to activate the Google Assistant on your Pixel 2 mobile and the in built speaker will translate what you say.  There are 40 languages available today.

Cameras – The new high end smartphones now have near SLR quality dual cameras that can record in 4k and have x10 zoom for photos and x6 zoom for video

Virtual Reality – Both Google and Facebook via Oculus are making great strides in Augmented and Virtual reality.  Oculus is offering a standalone headset in early 2018 for just $199 which will bring the price point to a consumable level.

Charging – The new high end smartphones are all offering wireless charging

Stylus – Samsung and Apple are both offering more options with regards to stylus/pens/Spens where they are starting to be more pen like rather than the size of a piece of chalk

Voice Controlled Smart Speakers – This year Amazon, Google and Apple very soon are all bringing out various sizes of “always on” smart speakers for the home.

If you just consider the above elements these could easy be incorporated into anything that requires authentication, video conferences, home security plus removing the wires on every device we use, so sit back as everything we use today is about to change for the better and good riddance to all those cables.

AI will be a great leveler

Over the last few years as technology has become increasingly cheaper, faster and accessible by all through the cloud, Artificial Intelligence has never been far from the headlines.  When you think of AI you probably think of Robots and the Terminator films or maybe autonomous vehicles however it is much wider than this.  Today AI is incorporated in no end of devices and already it is showing up in game development, autonomous vehicles, chatbots, robo-advisors, digital assistants (Alexa, Siri, Cortana etc) to name but a few.  The overall research goal of artificial intelligence is to create technology that allows computers and machines to function in an intelligent manner. The general problem of simulating (or creating) intelligence has been broken down into sub-problems and these include topics like Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.  ML (Machine Learning) is also fast becoming the litmus test of forward thinking companies although adoption is currently low outside of the technology sector and there are few large scale deployments.

Today most data science is completed by actuaries and in house data analysis teams where the past is studied to predict the future.  However in this changing world this is no longer just the answer as AI can make predictions in Real time and looking into the past will not predict the behaviour expected from events like Brexit, Global Warning, tensions with North Korea, immigration increases etc as they have never happened before.  Also as wider data sets available to all are leveraged non-traditional players will start to enter the market.  Also just think if somebody created an app store to sell algorithms to solve problems across all industries which did just this.  The only differentiator would be the incumbents own data sets.

There are hundreds of applications for AI which will improve service, create efficiencies, reduce cost and provide competitive advantage and at the moment incumbents are best placed to leverage the widely available data sets merged with their own. However numerous non-traditional players are using technology to create or crowdsource big data sets of their own and IDC (International Data Corporation) forecasts worldwide revenues for Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will reach $12.5 billion in 2017 and raise to $46 billion by 2021. So it may only be a decade before AI becomes fully mainstream so everyone will need to embed Machine Learning at the core of their business to ensure they are best placed to take advantage of in future.

FinTech as an Ideation Source

The Financial Services industry continues to be fueled by the FinTech’s influence and these newcomers are providing a renewed experience which is being embraced by their tech savvy customers.  However, in this fast-changing environment of regulation and technology, these disrupters can provide a valuable source of Ideation and insight into the potential changes which will eventually become mainstream.  Most Fintechs try to disrupt a niche area within a market to get a foothold. However, the incumbents already have the existing relationships so even though people may dabble it takes a brave person to fully commit to the unknown. So having a “Disruption Radar” will provide an enterprise with a valuable pipeline for consideration to turn the incumbent into a disrupter.  If for example you were asked about Challenger Banks you would probably mention Metro, Monzo, ATOM, Starling or maybe even Revolut, however after this you may start to struggle.  After searching the internet I managed to come across 54 challengers that were either in existence or will be soon

Abacus; Amicus; APS Financial; Atom Bank; Axis Bank UK; Babb; Bank of Lambeth; BFC; British Business Bank; Cambridge & Counties Bank; Charter Savings Bank; CivilisedBank; ClearBank; Coconut (formerly Monizo); Community Savings Bank Association (CSBA); Coombs Bank; Copernicus Bank; DiPocket; Contis Group; FairFX; FCMB UK; Ffrees; Fidor Bank: Hampden & Co; Hampshire Community Bank; Hampshire Trust Bank; Iam Bank; ICBC UK; Lintel Bank; Loot; Masthaven; Metro Bank; Monese; Monzo (formerly Mondo); OakNorth; OneSavings Bank; Paragon Bank; Pockit; Private and Commercial Finance Group (PCFG); Redwood Bank; Revolut; Secco Aura; Shawbrook Bank; Soldo; Starling Bank; Tandem; Templewood Bank; Thinkmoney; Tide; The Services Family; Together Money; Ummah Finance; Union Bank of India (UK) Limited; Wyelands Bank

From this list I then chose a random selection to try and define what their unique USP was from their websites and came up with the following.

Login using face and voice recognition, 24×7 support, interest prediction, instant loans for DDs falling following day, Blockchain, community savings, SME business Banking, Bankers Oath, Account Opened in 3 minutes, Account opened in 2 minutes, No frills, Multicurrency Payments, Safe and Friendly Mobile Banking, Bank for people who live on their phones, Apple Store for Banking,  Banking for generation Snapchat, Physical Stores open 7 days a week, Instant credit card and cheque book, Intelligent notifications, P2P Payments.

Its all about Data and Mobile Devices

Do you remember when you wanted a fixed telephone line in your house or mobile just to make telephone calls rather than access the Internet? The world has certainly changed in the last 17 years since the rollout of Broadband in the UK and so has the enterprise’s position on their offerings. Now most companies are moving to become a Data Provider or Creator with the net result that calls/texts are now becoming free and consumers only paying for the data.    This new data focus is certainly consumer driven however consumption patterns are changing too as technology preferences stabilise.

In a recent report entitled “future in focus 2017” by Comscore (although focused on the US market) it highlighted a range of interesting statistics.  The US Smartphone market is reaching saturation at 81%; desktop usage is declining and the tablet market flattening (this is in direct correlation to the increase in 4.5inch + mobile sales).

Since 2013 Smartphones have seen a +99% increase in usage, Tablets +26% and Desktops -8%.  The average person is now spending 2hrs 51 minutes a day on their mobile which equates to 71% of their digital experience (61% in the UK) and the biggest increase in apps are ones which improve real time behaviours i.e. hailing cabs, traffic navigation, making shopping/selling fun, mobile wallets etc. (Waze, Uber, Wish, Venmo, Lyft etc).

However even though everyone is favouring mobile the sales conversation rate is still lower than traditional or tablet channels (although Mobile is the only medium seeing constant growth) so it may be a few years before smartphones take the lion share or possibly not.

Remember mobiles have only been finding their footing over the last few years and have now come of age. It is claimed that certain markets have now reached saturation and the processing power (the new 2017 handsets will be able to handle AR/VR) being offered is similar to PCs.  Also with the increased form factor (4.5 inch +) we will suddenly see smartphones displacing tablets upon replacement.  Don’t also forget that the increased security (Biometrics), waterproofing and high end cameras are making these devices a one stop shop.  Therefore the time is right to start developing for mobile, in the past responsive sites were top priority, however this probably explains why purchases are still being made on traditional channels.  We constantly talk about the digital native and then design applications which are responsive and as we know “one size does not fit all”.  In the future advances will be seen by those whose customer journey is built from the bottom up with small form factors in mind and not the desktop.  There are very few sites that really get it right today so the opportunity if out there for the taking

Reality 2.0

The thought of changing ones perception and entering a Virtual or Augmented Reality is not new.  However over the last few years the technology has advanced to where the price point is now within everyone’s grasp.  Back in June 2016 I wrote about AR so this time I will provide some insights into VR.

Virtual Reality as we know it today originated from Science fiction and its first reference is believed to have come from the 1935 short story “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” by Stanley G Weinbaum  where he described a goggle-based virtual reality system with holographic recording of fictional experiences, including smell and touch.  Since then there have been numerous products which have lead us to today and I imagine everyone has used something that tried to enhance reality  (Back in 1939 View-Master  stereoscopes were introduced) or seen a Program that glorified the Technology (In 1974 the Holodeck made its debut on Star Trek. ).   In its infancy VR mainly resided in the gaming community however recently it has fragmented into multi price point options accessible by all.

At the low end we are seeing headsets which range from Cardboard to Googles Latest Daydream View  where Apps can be downloaded onto your phone and the phone used as the viewing platform.  Just search VR on the Apple or Google App stores and see the options; they are not just games.

At the high end however even more Innovation is being seen.  With the likes of the HTC Vive  and the Oculus Gear or Rift suddenly enterprise grade headsets are appearing that can solve enterprise problems.  Applications are now being created where the headsets can be used for immersive, education, engineering and medical procedures.  In the Business environment you just need to forget the gaming angle and suddenly the possibilities are endless.  Any Digital process which can be changed in real time could be viewed via a headset and changed in seconds to enable Agile development.  Think of the Marketing opportunities and how the sales process could start before the final product is finished.  As the technology matures over the next few years and its price point moves to a consumable item everyone will be embracing Reality 2.0.

The Rise of the Machines

Over recent times great advances seem to have been made with the technology behind Intelligent Personal Assistants like the Amazon Alexa however this has been brewing for at least 15 years since search improved from knowledge based and semantic to Artificial Intelligence using natural language.  Only now however are we entering a period where this technology can be leveraged across numerous product lines offering a seamless experience.

One of the starting points on this journey dates back to 2002 when Google launched “Google Voice Search” which enabled users to access the internet via voice commands and later in 2007 True Knowledge launched its Knowledge Answer engine.  In 2011 we saw the launch of Siri by Apple and in 2012 True Knowledge launched a major new product called Evi which was an artificial intelligence program which could be communicated with using natural language (The company was acquired in 2012 by Amazon and the technology became a key part of the Amazon Alexa assistant which debuted in the Amazon Echo).  Over the next few years the full set emerged which we know today (Google Now 2012, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa in 2014 and Samsung Bixby in 2017) until the technology found a new home outside of the mobile handset.

The issue with the Intelligent Personal Assistant technology however was that it was handset dependant so you were reliant on carrying your mobile device when you needed that injection of inspiration.   One solution was the creation of an always on device which could be placed in open spaces like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.  These however are also reliant on placement but if situated in a prominent place in the house with them constantly listening for command words they certainly can start to bridge the gap although instead of being a mobile device with software loaded they are now a speaker.  So where will this technology go next?  Alexa is already being placed in alternative objects like a lamp (GE Sol is launching the C which is a lamp with Alexa built in – although Dyson may be interested in the similarities to the Cool Desk Fan) and numerous other devices which are Alexa compatible like the Ecobees thermostat are entering the market.  Amazon is also launching a new device called the Amazon Look which also has a camera although initially I am sure there will be concerns on its placement and if this could be hacked like a PC camera to spy on you.  The premise however is that you can take selfies or videos and one use could be to show you how you look in an outfit or for security.

The Innovation is also not coming just from the usual suspects either and the Israel-based Intuition Robotics is developing the virtual assistant specifically for the elderly called ElliQ to deal with users who may experience social isolation and physical inactivity where it will suggest a walk when the weather is nice or say when it’s time to take medication.

Even though the technology is now moving at a tremendous pace there is still one hurdle to overcome before it migrates to the mainstream; verification.  Because the devices are located in open spaces, constantly on and linked to a user’s account with no bio-metric verification unless you live alone you would not want to link the devices to sensitive information like financial or health as anyone could request information.  However once voice verification is cracked the uses will be endless and in addition to the previous what if you could connect to wearables, specific IOT devices and pay for things from nominated accounts, everyone would want one.  This day will not be far away though so dust off those Business Cases and think of the possibilities.