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.


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.

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

The Digitisation of a nation and the birth of a cashless society

Much has been written over the years about the digital transformation of governmental and health services in the UK and US however very little disruptive change has been seen.  Whereas over the last 8 years India has made leaps and bounds with its governmental vision “To empower residents of India with a unique identity and a digital platform to authenticate anytime, anywhere” .  Did you realise that over 1.1 Billion Indian residents have now been issued with an Aadhaar number (ID Number) which contains the owners demographic information and is protected by their biometric information? (and not just a single fingerprint but Ten Fingerprints, Two Iris Scans, and Facial Photograph).

This Aadhaar number was also only the first phase of their India Stack project whose mission is to create APIs that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilise an unique digital Infrastructure to solve India’s hard problems towards presence-less, paperless, and cashless service delivery.  Since the Aadhaar introduction an aggressive delivery schedule has ensued and the following platforms also now exist.

  • In 2011 the Aadhaar Payments Bridge & Aadhar Enabled Payments System was launched which uses Aadhaar number as a central key for electronically channelising the Government benefits and subsidies.
  • In 2012 eKYC was launched to allow businesses to perform Know Your Customer verification process digitally using Biometric or Mobile OTP.
  • In 2015 eSign launched as an open API to facilitate an Aadhaar holder to digitally sign a document
  • In 2016 a Unified Payments Interface launched to revolutionise digital payments in India
  • In 2016 DigitalLocker was launched as a secure dedicated personal electronic space for storing the documents of resident Indian citizens. The storage space of 1GB is linked to the Unique Identification Authority of India (Aadhaar number) of the user, which can be utilised for storing personal documents like University certificates, Permanent account number (PAN) cards, voter id cards, the URIs of the e-documents issued by various Government departments.  Over 5 Million users already access this service.

In addition to India Stack project the government also banned (Nov 2016) the country’s largest currency bills to try to stem the flow of counterfeit money and to take aim at terrorist organisations that rely on unaccounted-for cash. It is also expected to help the government clean up a system that has relied on cash to pay bribes and to avoid taxes. This ban on large bills is very likely to hasten India’s transition away from cash as about 78 percent of all transactions in India are made by cash, compared with 20 percent to 25 percent in the United States, Britain and other countries (according to a report by Google India and the Boston Consulting Group).

The above now places India in a perfect position to embrace digisation as once you have subscribed to the above no longer does a Regulated entity, Bank, Payment or Wallet provider need you to provide your identity and Digilocker has been an accepted location of proof for even your driving license with police to negate your need to carry it.

Currently Smartphone penetration is only 28% in India and all of the current digital payment systems work on 2G to ensure that India Stack is embraced by the masses no matter what mobile handset they have.  However with the emergence of companies like PayTM (Pay Through Mobile)  Launched 2010 (2015 saw Investment from Alibaba and its Launch in Canada in 2017) you can see this quickly increasing to 100% especially as this is an enabler for all transactions to be made using biometrics through a mobile device and negate the need to carry cash.

It is predicted that Sweden could become the first cashless society by 2030 but could this crown be stolen by India? just think what advances could be possible when 100% of future generations are 100% digital?

Augmented Reality becomes a reality


Even though there has been a tremendous amount of hype around Augmented and Virtual Reality a real useable application for the masses has yet to emerge (excluding games).  This month however Visa brought us a glimmer of hope that AR could be used for purchases when it showcased its Proof of Concept with House Of Holland .  The concept of using mobiles to purchase items is not new and has been used via QR codes for years.  Back in 2011 Tesco Homeplus in South Korea launched a Virtual Shop where commuters could order groceries via a QR Code in the subway and the same year eBay opened a pop up shop in London (following similar schemes run by Amazon, House of Fraser and even Marks & Spencer) to encourage shoppers to view physical items and then order them via their handsets to prevent the need for tills or for the items to be carried home.

The Visa POC however has taken this concept one step further and for this demo partnered with Blippar to allow attendees of a fashion show to use advanced image recognition to identify garments they liked via  their mobile camera when seen on the runway and then purchase via the app.  The Blippar app can now “recognise” and provide more information on more than half a billion everyday objects ranging from a type of flower to an airport.  This type of identification and payment technology could offer numerous possibilities and not just in the consumer shopping space but across the whole supply chain.  How long could it be before we stop filling in forms and can just identify an item we want to buy or insure?

Rise of the Machines

Even though technology changes at exponential rates there are numerous innovations which have catapulted technology forward and new ways of working have emerged, just think where we would be if we hadn’t embraced Broadband, the iPhone, the iPad or an app store culture?  We are now however just about to enter a new era and everything could change again.  Over the last few years we have all started to get used to intelligent personal assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now, however these are very reactive to the user i.e. unless you mobile is near you and you press the button you cannot use them.  One product which is currently only available in the US is the Amazon Echo which is starting to change this concept to one of an always on device.  The Echo is a wireless speaker and voice command device which responds to the name “Alexa”; the device constantly listens for the “Wake word”  and the device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic and other real time information. It can also control several smart devices and home automation.  On a recent Gartner webinar it was shared that By 2018, 30% of Our Interactions with Technology Will Be through “Conversations” with Smart Machines and by 2020, 10% of households in mature markets will have at least five connected home devices; all will use biometric interfaces (10.5 Billion Internet of Things Will Be Used at Home and Spending Will Reach $348B by 2020) so these devices will be key to the success for all IOT devices and especially home automation.  When these devices become mainstream in the home and cars no longer will we need any devices and everything could be done through voice commands.  In addition to the Echo numerous companies from Facebook to CNN are looking at BOT technology to use voice commands.  CNN are using Bots to tailor topics that are sent to you, scroll through carousels of different news stories and to ask for a specific summaries of a story, e-commerce sites like Spring have shopping concierges and Facebook is testing its artificially intelligent secretary, called M, within its Messenger app in the US which uses a combination of human labour and machine learning to complete tasks for you. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered, book restaurants, and make travel arrangements. At Microsoft’s annual build conference Nadella said “Human language is the new user interface, Bots are like apps and digital assistants are like meta apps, or the new browsers.  It was also announced that there were plans to integrate Bots into Skype.

In China, 600m people already use messaging app WeChat every month to hail taxis, book doctor’s appointments, and pay utility bills. Western consumers are different to the Chinese, partly because we are far more used to the app ecosystem – but texting is a deeply-embedded mobile habit in the West as well, so chatting with a bot should feel natural.

A new paradigm shift is just around the corner, so hold on and enjoy the ride




Mobile Innovation drives Innovation


For Innovations to be successful in addition to them being desirable they also need to be affordable and interact with existing ecosystems.  Just look at the original iPad; tablets and touch screens were not new but when you added the App Store and the interoperability with the iPhone it became a resounding success.  Since the introduction of the Smartphone and constant refresh cycle battles between manufacturers the number of Innovations being seen is immense with major changes emerging every other year. The difference with the Smartphone market to others is its massive global penetration and hence any new Innovations suddenly get scale and can drive down the price point for any new technology which suddenly makes it reusable in other form factors.  Just look at the recent announcements at CES and in the press this year.  We have seen flexible displays, thermal cameras, earthquake tracking and the removal of headphone jacks to name but a few.  In isolation these seem interesting however to be successful in Innovation you need to look past the obvious and look at the second generation use of any new invention.  Most Mobile Innovations end up commercially viable due to their scale and in the enterprise, so just looking at the above you can see numerous uses outside of the mobile arena.

When you are looking at innovation in addition to deciding if you “play to win” or have a strategy of being a “fast follower” you also need to look past the obvious and suddenly a multitude of possibilities will arise and rather than just following the crowd suddenly you could become a disrupter.

Facebook demonstrates technology can be used for good.

geolocation picDuring the recent atrocities Facebook activated its “Safety check” notification app again which allowed them to pinpoint users based upon their technologies location and ask them to “check in” to say that they were safe which could then be seen by all their contacts. Even though they were criticised as to their policy as to when they would activate this, it did show that technology can be used for positive reasons. Could this type of usage start to change the way some mobile apps are developed? Geo-location technology is still not being used to it full potential and you could see numerous ways companies could use this to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Insurance company apps could notify you of known or impending issues based on your location (plus check you were actually there when claims are submitted), Travel apps could notify in numerous ways, both of warnings plus also things to see (based on you notification selection). Geo fencing could also be used in the way products are purchased, hire cars could know where you are and charge based on your location risk rather than miles travelled etc.

As mobile handsets become more and more powerful the ability for it to become an extension of yourself which could notify and validate based on your location offers numerous permutations for the future.

The introduction of the Smart Watch and disruption to follow



To date marketing has been a great lever to ensure technology is at a price point which everyone can afford i.e. either products are packaged with “bloatware” (sponsored software you did not ask for that subsidises the unit price) or freemium models where pop up marketing subsidises a “lite” product with reduced functionality e.g. Spotify. These levers however generally require screen real estate to exist. With the introduction of the smartwatch form factor interesting disruptions will occur; either Smartwatch Apps will need to be a loss leader for the developer as the screen is too small to incorporate banner ads (unless of course they take evolve to take over the whole screen) or the apps will need to be functionally rich enough for them to be charged for.   This change will unfortunately be a limiter of Innovation as only the developers or enterprises large enough to offer quality products or subsidised free ones will exist, albeit this should drive a welcomed increase in quality. The smartwatch however will offer interesting disruptions based on its underlying technology. If we think, today most marketing is based on profile or behavioural interactions however with the smartwatch its GPS and health functions will allow marketing to be based on your actual location or health i.e. if it knows you run, running products could be offered, health products could be devised based on your actual activity and heart beat, travel insurance could be offered based on your actual location, security products could be developed based on your heartbeat and perspiration. Its still early days for smartwatch technology however personalisation and disruption will certainly emerge over next few years.

Personalisation or smokescreen


Since the inception of broadband and the mainstream dissemination of technology one of the main comments IT departments hear is that personalisation is king so there is a need to ensure consumers have the best personalised experience possible to make them sticky. At a basic level this is certainly true as all individuals want to feel connected when interacting with any system however at a deeper level do consumers really want to provide masses of personal information to ensure a feature rich experience especially with the rise of cybercrime and identity theft or is this assumption hiding a deeper issue?

On a recent holiday with my family the hotel I was staying in offered a concierge service where you were given a mobile phone to ensure that all of your needs were satisfied during the stay i.e. they would arrange your dinner reservations, offer advice and customise your experience to your liking from a number of available options. However during the stay it made me question whether this was really a useful offering or actually acting as a smoke screen to poor technology investment. As an example most hotels/resorts around the world have become so large that they have multiple restaurants and you are required to forward book your choice 24 hours prior to your attendance. This generally involves turning up to a desk (or using a concierge) and adding your name to a list to confirm your reservation.   In this day and age this is ridiculous, if I wasn’t on holiday I would make any reservation required online however as soon as I go abroad and my time is even more valuable somehow I go back in time and act like a sheep to arrange the services I need during my stay… Wouldn’t it be far better if you turned up to a resort, were given a logon to a booking system and then could proceed to book your restaurants of choice for your total stay and any other services you need including the desired times and were then printed an itinerary?.   During 90% of our year we are able to interact with technology however when on holiday it seems that it is assumed that we would be incapable of using an app or calendar program and are happy to queue multiple times for multiple reasons during your stay. I am not against personalisation however upon reflection it seems sometimes this can actually be a smokescreen for poor technological investments.

Therefore to ensure that any product offering/design satisfies the customer needs, rather than immediately assuming personalisation is the answer its imperative that the actual customer requirements are addressed first rather than assuming personalisation will make all previous bad decisions right. Everyone has heard the adage “Putting Lipstick on a Pig” so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that adding personalisation to a bad system will suddenly make it better.

A great UI and experience for all will always trump any personalisation that needs additionally submitted variables to create that feature rich experience.