The mobile ecosystem is extremely diverse with more and more devices being released using a variety of different software. Although the iPhone is having the most impact on the mobile industry over all else, mobile web browsing still only accounts for around 4% of webpage views(Dec 2010). And despite all the noise, the iPhone’s not the only one out there.
Of this 4%, Mobile Safari only commands 23.44% of the market (17.51% on the iPhone, 5.93% on iPod Touch) – not much of a lead on Opera Mobile, Nokia & BlackBerry’s browsers. In fact there are 5 very different mobile browsers within 4% of each other, making a very fractured ecosystem.
With the constant growth in mobile devices, client requirements / briefs for creating mobile friendly services are commonly very vague. Many things need to be considered before building for multiple devices. For example:
What devices are we building for (desktop/tablet/smart phone/WAP)?
Create functionality, restraints and support for each device grouping.
This can prove frustrating to clients as sacrificing important functionality for differing devices can be a bitter pill to swallow.
This approach can also be increasingly confusing, frustrating and discouraging for traditional ‘desktop web’ developers and consequently focus on optimising their sites for just one device… the one in their pocket. Ironically, if you suggested to a developer that they only built for one desktop browser they’d look at you like you just insulted their mother.
With the mobile ecosystem being as fragmented as it currently, it is hard to see clients spending the time and money on developing specifically for the 5 big name browsers individually. So what is the way forward? Do we just develop versions with Safari and Opera in mind and cover as much of the market share as possible? Or will we see a move towards building sites which degrade gracefully throughout the mobile browsing ecosystem?
As Russell pointed out, we spend a huge amount of time at Show & Tell talking about Facebook. The truth is though, with a user-base of 500 million and some of the most aggressively pursued ambitions in the sector, it’s impossible to ignore the moves they make.
Last week Google announced they were cutting off Facebook’s ability to import Gmail contacts, calling Facebook’s system a one-way street of data – Facebook encourage users to pull contact lists from all the major email providers to find your contacts, yet they don’t allow you to do the reverse and export a list of your Facebook contacts. And Google have a valid point about Facebook’s hypocrisy; we’ve seen the exact same move when Facebook shut down Twitter’s ability to find contacts through your Facebook profile. Not only that, they do allow certain partners to access this data – just not their users.
All of this was precursor to Facebook’s big announcement at … that they’re rolling out @facebook.com addresses to their users. However, this isn’t just email – the new Facebook messaging combines email, IM & SMS communication into one conversation. The idea is that we shouldn’t have to try to figure out what communication method to use when there are so many available. Send a message through Facebook and the recipient can set their preferred mode and your message gets automatically routed to mobile phone or inbox for you.
Sound good to you? Me neither. This really feels to me like Facebook are solving a problem that doesn’t exist – except for them. More data = better advertising revenue for Facebook and they know that any communication out of their ecosystem is lost to them.
The blogosphere has been full of the same ‘Gmail killer’ narrative that fits so conveniently with all of the recent clashes between Google & Facebook. Gmail is the most rapidly growing email services, mainly because it’s excellent. Google were the first to set virtually unlimited storage limits and threaded email conversations have spread from Gmail to other email systems the way tabs did to browsers. My problem with the notion that Facebook mail will damage Gmail is that they’re different user-bases – the average Gmail user is the more tech-savvy email user while Facebook’s demographic trends toward students, teens and “soccer moms”. Facebook does infringe on Google’s data monopoly but realistically I expect to see more of an impact on Hotmail and Yahoo!’s numbers than Gmail’s.
It remains to be seen whether Facebook can attract people to their system as their primary email provider but I’d predict the real market is the under-20s. If you haven’t left school or university yet, odds are that most of your communication will fit quite easily to the channels of your existing social graph through Facebook. But the real obstacle is the corporate perception of Facebook as a time-waster, not a productivity tool. Huge numbers of workplaces block Facebook and realistically that will make an @facebook.com email address unworkable for millions of people.
Personally, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I’d have any sensitive information dependent on Facebook. How long will it be until Zuckerberg decides that email privacy is something only old people and squares worry about and exposes everyone’s inboxes to 3rd-party marketing?
Another regular topic for us is Apple’s iOS platform. This week we had a look at the Apple’s iAds system that allows full-screen, interactive, HTML5 ads right inside an app.
Launched with iOS4, the iAd platform is Apple’s first foray into the advertising market and yet another front in their ongoing war with Google (spotting a trend?). Check out this video to see what they can do…
Essentially you can build an app inside an app. iAds give huge scope to advertisers to do create interesting engaging content, capture data, play video and more, without having to kick the user out of the app to the browser.
So, where’s the catch? Well, first off there’s the 60:40 split with Apple. That’s right, 40% of all advertising revenue through their platform goes to Apple and the remaining 60% to the app developer. And as ever, Apple retain final control over the ads served on their platform and that’s ruffled a few feathers.
Last month Adidas cancelled their $10m campaign, with sources quoted as saying “Apple CEO Steve Jobs was being too much of a control freak.” Earlier in the year, Chanel also pulled a similar sized campaign from the network for similar reasons. Apple claim to have signed up over half of the top 25 of the top advertisers but it remains to be seen whether this the Adidases and Chanels they lose are worth losing to maintain that high-quality ‘Apple experience’.
“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
That was the tweet that (five days later by the way) was picked up by the authorities and led to the eventual arrest and trial of Paul Chambers in what’s become known as the ‘twitter joke trial’. The judge however, didn’t see the funny side and viewing it as “clearly menacing” has resulted in Chambers losing his job, a criminal conviction and fines and legal costs of over £3,000.
The twitterverse, predictably, has erupted in outrage over the ruling. 1,000s have retweeted and made their own similarly ridiculous threats using the hash-tag #IAmSpartacus in Kubrickian solidarity. Stephen Fry has offered to pay Chambers’ fine and numerous fund-raising efforts.
On a similar note, a Chinese woman who retweeted a satirical call to attack the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo was summarily snatched up by the Chinese authorities. She’s been sentenced to a year of ‘Re-education Through Labour’ by the Chinese authorities, which I’m sure is every bit as scary as it sounds. As if being sentenced to a year’s hard-labour without trial wasn’t bad enough, she was arrested on what was supposed to be her wedding day and no-one knew what had happened to her until this week. Let’s see how many tweets this story gets.
And finally, we watched this TED talk about Mr Splashy Pants the whale.
It’s a great story about the importance of realising you can’t control the Internet. The web is by its very nature distributed, anarchic and organic. Putting your message out online requires a certain amount of faith that your message will survive, no matter what social networks do with it. This is a scary prospect to any brand but it’s a core part of any viral success.
Show & Tell yesterday covered everything from blancmange to viruses so let’s get stuck in and re-cap some of what you missed…
Are you human? Have you been paying attention to our ad?
First off was a novel solution to “banner blindness” from the clever folks at Solve Media, called TYPE-IN. Skyscrapers, MPUs, leaderboards – standard banner formats are all so played out at this stage that we don’t even see them when browsing the web. TYPE-IN forces the user to actually process the ad before they continue.
They’ve put together a lovely animation that explains the concept nicely, check it out.
Sure, it’s much more aggressive than a standard banner and places a barrier between the user and the content but we’ve seen time and time again that users are willing to tolerate interruptions as long as they’re getting something in return. Solutions like this could be a step towards solving that pesky paywall problem.
Following on from that we had a brief discussion about the “Captcha” technology that TYPE-IN is based on. ReCAPTCHA is an initiative from Google in their quest to digitise (and index!) the world’s books – one poorly scanned word at a time.
Oh, the irony
What’s cool about it is that of the two words shown to you, one is giving their character recognition software problems and by typing them in you’re helping preserve knowledge. I guess humans still have a purpose after all.
Speaking of Google, the search giant has been making waves again this week with the introduction of their latest feature – Google Instant.
Not content with suggesting what you’re trying to type, Google has taken it a step further and is now performing searches for you as you type. The technology behind indexing all that information and serving it up faster than you can type is impressive, to say the least.
“It’s the internet on fast-forward, and it’s aggressive – like trying to order from a waiter who keeps finishing your sentences while ramming spoonfuls of what he thinks you want directly into your mouth, so you can’t even enjoy your blancmange without chewing a gobful of black pudding first.”
Whether you find it a time-saver (really? that busy?) or irritating, there are bigger considerations here too. Google’s drive to predict what we’re looking for can have only one outcome. The most popular search results appear more frequently and higher up meaning search results will get ever more homogeneous and dominated by the larger players (read: payers). Even “God” comes second to “Godaddy” now in Google Instant search results.
Praise be to GoDaddy
In other search news – Yahoo! search is now powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine – putting Bing up to 28% of US market share. Not too shabby.
Once a giant among search engines, Yahoo! have said this move will allow them to focus their efforts more on the direction they want be developing the company in a last-ditch struggle for relevance. If only they could get a bit more crap on their homepage, it might all turn round for them.
Another one that slipped quietly into the ether this week is Cuil. Once heralded as the “Google-killer”, Cuil’s search results were so bizarrely unrelated that the Cuil has now become the Internet’s unit for measuring abstraction from reality. Do yourself a favour and read what I’m talking about here. Hilarious.
So as one star fades, another is rising. As more and more of our information is stored in the cloud, there’s no central point for us to find what we’re looking for. How often have you thought to yourself: “Now, where did I see that? In my email? Or was it on Facebook? Twitter?”
Enter Greplin. Greplin fills a gap in the search space that amazingly no-one has previously addressed: personal search. Create an account on Greplin and you can add all your favourite services for it to index. Gmail, Google Docs and Calendar, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, EverNote, BaseCamp and more are supported already and I’m sure more services will be added.
One handy search bar will let you find what you’re looking for, quickly and easily.
Your passwords stay secure, as the site uses OAuth, the open authentication protocol, to allow access to your data but not your log-in details. OAuth is going from strength to strength (all Twitter applications, for example, now have to use OAuth and Google are looking at adopting the protocol across their services) but to index your data, Greplin still has access to your data. Not sure how the security and privacy issues here will pan out yet but they seem to be approaching it the right way.
Developed by an 18 year-old, Greplin is already looking good to make a huge impact on the web – having already secured $700,000 in venture capital. It’s in private beta at the moment but create an account and they’ll notify you when they let you in.
Thankfully, Twitter’s tech team closed the hole within a few hours but even the White House’s Twitter feed fell prey to it. Most abuses of the vulnerability were pretty harmless but it was an embarrassing lesson for Twitter to learn.
Adobe built apps on iPhone
And finally, Apple announced a dramatic relaxation of their app approval terms, allowing apps developed on non-Apple software to be approved.
“We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 to relax some restrictions we put in place earlier this year.”(Full statement here)
Apple famously pulled the rug out from under Adobe, 3 days before their launch of CS5, including the Packager for iPhone feature of Flash CS5. We wrote about it here back in April and I’m glad to see this unexpected reversal from Apple. It’s still not Flash on the iPhone but giving developers the freedom to use their tools of choice and utilise their existing expertise can only be a good thing.
Russell and I are off to Flash on the Beach next week and I’m sure we’ll see lots of happy faces there after this announcement! We’ll definitely have lots of cool stuff to report from there too, so watch this space.
Some interesting features in there… local microphone support, GPU acceleration and hardware decoding of H.264. I also like the sound of the new global error handler to deal with runtime errors. About time Adobe.
Most interesting though, is multi-touch support. Yes, you need a touch-screen device but it just goes to show Adobe are gunning for Apple. The Apple tablet’s not far off and it won’t be long until the other hardware manufacturers are catching up but my money says it’s the Flash-on-iPhone dream that they won’t let die and that’s really driven this.