Apple and the innovator’s dilemma

I’m sure many of you would like to see Apple hit the ground with a wallop. This is what happens when you’re so big: there are the ones who love you (very much) and the ones who hate you (very much). I don’t wish harm on anybody, but I must recognize that I made an evil chuckle when Apple published their latest financial results and we saw that money losses can beat up anyone .

Obviously those numbers could be seen from different points of view. Apple supporters quickly jumped to step pointing out that in fact the problem wasn’t that they sold too few (of everything) last quarter: the problem was that they had sold too much (of everything) on the previous quarter. If one looked at the overall picture, things were in fact pretty good. Maybe the quarter had not been so bright, but my evil smirk was responded by Apple with a powerful infernal laugh:

cashpile

The vignette is funny and true, but the same webcomic would have been appropriate on other companies in the past. Companies that ended up being overtaken by those who did long-term thinking. Marco Arment wrote on Saturday his thoughts on the subject, and there he compared Apple to BlackBerry. He explained how BlackBerry smartphones were good on that moment because that was the concept we had about a smartphone. But they were wrong about the future, and like many others, they weren’t ready for what would happen after the iPhone’s launch:

No new initiative, change management, or acquisition in 2007 could’ve saved the BlackBerry. It was too late, and the gulf was too wide.

Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are Placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping That These Will Become the next thing That our devices are for.

If they’re right – and that’s a big “if” – I’m worried for Apple.

The analogy is clear for Arment: Google, Amazon and Facebook -I wonder why he doesn’t mention Microsoft here- are making great investments in cloud services and technologies really promising like Artificial Intelligence. Apple has hardly done anything about this. Some people commented in HackerNews that this was not entirely true and that the company has made some recent acquisitions (Emotient, VocalIQ, Perceptio), but this is just makeup, because whhat Apple has not could be probably more important:

Data.

Apple is a company that has never placed special emphasis on collecting data, and that could be a decisive factor for its future because data allows to feed those IA platforms. Can the IA dig the grave of Apple? Well, I would say that if there is a candidate technology to transform our lives, that’s AI. In fact, it will also have a huge impact -if everything goes as it seems- in other promising fields, including self-driving cars, of course.

It may be the case that Apple doesn’t need to invest in AI, or in those cloud services that remain untapped. It may be the case that Apple is just waiting: someone gets the next big thing in a rough way, and then they come, and then they pull off an enhanced version of it and they show it to us in a way that suddenly we recognize as the one we needed and then we all want to be part of that revolution. That happened with the iPod, of course. And it happened again with the iPhone.

It hasn’t happened again.

It may also be the case (too many ‘mays’) that Apple has not the resources to innovate in this area, and in this regard the solution would be relatively simple, of course: use their  checkbook. I don’t see them moving on that direction, but if someone has deep pockets, that’s Apple. A company whose most high-profile acquisition was Beats, a company for which they paid $3B and has allowed them to become a ‘me too’ in streaming services.

The bottom line is clear. Apple is doing really fine, but if you had to bet on a company that in 10 years had not only survive, but triumph, would it be Apple? I don’t think so, especially since Apple just seems to look short term. Others try to look beyond, and I like that. And this is the reason I think that sooner or later Apple will have a really big problem. Unless they wake up, of course.

Google and Facebook are winning the invisible battle of mobile apps

Great insight from Peter Kafka based on a new study from Nielsen. On it we found a critical comparison: mobile OS market share vs most important mobile apps (by number of unique users).

The facts are there: even with Apple pretty close to Android in the US, five of the top 10 mobile apps are from Google, with Facebook owning three (remember Instagram?) and the latest two owned by Apple. It’s surprising to see Apple Music there (Spotify?) but I guess preinstalling that with iOS 9 makes the difference.

That graph would be pretty different outside the US. In Spain, for example, Android leads with a staggering 89,6% market share (iOS has a 7,3%, Windows has a 2,7% an the rest, a 0,4%, is for “Others”), so the most used mobile apps should benefit Google even more. There would be differences on the instant messaging market -WhatsApp is undisputable leader here, so Facebook would win again on that front- but the data from Nielsen makes this even more relevant: in the US, where iOS is strongest than anywhere else, Google and Facebook are kings amongst app makers.

As hardware has become a commodity in the mobile space, is software what makes the difference, and Google and Facebook dominate this space.

That’s really interesting.

Source: You May Own Apple’s Phone, but You’re Using Google’s Apps

Twitter, the social network that never was

twitter

I love Twitter. I use it constantly and it replaced RSS feeds as my main source for information long ago. I believe the product accomplishes what it promised nicely, but others are now getting more interest at what Twitter did better first.

Facebook and new contenders such as Apple News or even apps that weren’t supposed to do this -Snapchat, Instagram, what are you doing in this party?- are focusing on the same problem Twitter has tried to solve, but from a different perspective, and all are becoming a valid source of information. Of viral information.

That’s probably what is not working in Twitter. This micro blogging service has never been a social network, but lots of people compared it to Facebook or Google+ for years. And maybe Twitter should really do something to become a real social network. Maybe focus on your friends more than in valuable sources of information, but then again, Twitter was born to keep you updated with news sources you trust. Connecting with (old) friends was never the goal.

And so, we find Twitter in a difficult position. Jack Dorsey has come back as CEO, and according to Re/code the new Jack Dorsey is much better prepared than the old one to take this responsability: “He seems to be a completely different man than the one who returned to Twitter in March 2011 as executive chairman and product czar“.

He’s got big problems to solve, so it will be interesting how he tries to solve them.

Good luck.

 

No, Facebook won’t have a ‘Dislike’ button. Context is everything.

There will be no “dislike” button, but the founder and CEO says the social network will soon test a way for people to express emotions with a shorthand interaction.

Marketing Land is one of the few sites that get this right. Most titles are just clickbait. Facebook won’t have a ‘Dislike’ button, far from it. The new button -whatever its name is- is just an exercise to support those who are sad, for example.

I dislike deceptive/clickbait headlines (emphasis mine).

Source: Zuckerberg: Facebook Is Close To Testing An Other-Than-Like Button

Messenger OS

Let’s talk a little bit about the magicworld of instant messaging, where things are really fun. And weird. IM platform situation is uneven, chaotic, with no clear signs of where it will be five years from now.

messaging

Up here we have June 2013 Onavo’s data by country -I didn’t find anything better and more recent-. WhatsApp triumphs in Spain clearly (more than anywhere else) but interestingly enough, their presence is testimonial in the US or Asia. Facebook Messenger wins in the US (it does a lot more in more recent times) and WeChat is the star in China. But being the star in China is far different from being the star in Spain. They’ve got over 1.31B more people there (Spain’s population is roughly 47M). Lots of users. For everything.

messaging2

In overall numbers it seems that WhatsApp was ahead with 700 million total users in 2013 (now there are 800, but active users number is another story), with Facebook Messenger not far away. It is strange to discover in that chart that QQ, probably unknown to you (and me) has a lot of users, but most of them are in the desktop, so this is not their war. The overall fourth place is for WeChat, and that’s exactly what interests me.

And I’m interested because I read the Wired article titled “Screw texting. It’s time to pick a universal messaging app “. David Pierce speaks there about the different instant messaging applications available today that exist today. The same that causes us some stress.

In Spain things are as I said simpler: we all use WhatsApp and some people have other IM apps that they hardly use. But in the US the situation is different: it’s more divided. Pierce talks about the apps he has installed on his iPhone. He wanders around Hangouts, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. In fact, he says,  he has Wire installed (beautiful and efficient but lack the most important thing, people) and uses others from time to time: DMs from Twitter, GroupMe, HipChat, Skype, iMessage and even the tradicional Messenger for SMS messages that -for someone from Spain- are curiously alive in the United States.

apps-cuota

Pierce’s situation is probably the same for many other people who dedicates much of his time with the phone to communicate with other people and share things with them. It would be great to be able to do all that communication and sharing from a single app. It would be gorgeous. That app, as I see it, could be seen almost as an OS for many users.

That is precisely what WeChat seems to be doing. This is an app I’ve never used that goes beyond the concept of app. It is a platform itself. As Pierce explained in his text:

For more than 500 million users in China, it’s essentially The Everything App. People use it to talk with their friends and their colleagues, and also to strangers both nearby and across the world. They use it to book train tickets and get their laundry done, order dinner and play the lottery, pick out clothes and play videogames. It’s the remote control for your smart home, a mobile bank, and a way to renew your visa. There are popular WeChatters, who use it like a blog or Instagram account. You can, for all intents and purposes, live your entire life within WeChat. It takes a phone full of apps to replicate its entire functionality. It’s simple enough that anyone can use it, versatile enough that everyone has some use for it.

WeChat dimension is huge and has managed to diversify and convert messaging into the cornerstone of the rest of its range of services, and that makes people, even if you have installed other applications, not using them that often.

apps-usadas

Because as I was saying people uses the phone to communicate with acquaintances and share things with them. And to play, read and pay. Again, it’s almost like a little mobile operating system itself.

That is what we might see in the future. Facebook’s growth is still brutal in many areas, and it’s indeed surprising that they compete against themselves in this field. It’s almost absurd. Facebook should get rid of Messenger, of do that with WhatsApp. Why maintaining both apps? The funny thing is that growth is specially interesting in Messenger, with WhatsApp not as promising as it was. Their web client works (and it is a blessing for those who spend many hours in front of a computer), but its implementation is highly questionable. I’ve never (ever) used Messenger, but I know for a fact it is a more versatile and agnostic platform agnostic. It’s clients -mobile, desktop, web- comply with what one would expect from a multi-platform app.

So the question is whether we will end up seeing a Messenger OS. One that suddenly brings together messaging feature, access to our timeline and updates on Facebook, videos, games, payments, multimedia content … access to things we normally do in different, separate applications -and contexts- in our smartphones.

Facebook would love that, of course. So much control. Everyone fighting in the IM arena would love that. And yet I see that future complicated: in the end it happens what it has to happen. Too many cooks spoil the soup. Of course, when one looks at WeChat that saying isn’t that revealing.

Uhm.