Current Affairs

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September 12, 2014

Facebook is Converting 100m Africans Per Month

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The African continent is signing up to Facebook in droves, with 100 million users joining the social network every month. Most exciting for mobile marketing campaign managers is the fact that 80% of those users are joining via smartphones. This is indicative of a rapidly expanding mobile marketplace in emerging economies, as smartphone adoption in many African nations outstrips desktop adoption.

In part, this explosion has been driven by a deal inked between Facebook and cellular networks which ‘zero rates’ the service. This means data used by accessing Facebook does not count towards bills or data limits. Despite drawing some criticism from net neutrality advocates, the move has undoubtedly helped emerging economies in countries like Nigeria and Kenya compete; companies across Africa are reaching new, global audiences that were hitherto tough to crack.

This is just the beginning of what looks set to be a connectivity revolution in a continent historically beset with infrastructural problems. Some researchers are predicting mobile web use will increase 20-fold over the next five years. That’s double the predicted rate of growth in the rest of the world.

The relative affordability of, say, an iPhone compared to an Apple desktop computer is allowing citizens of developing countries to engage with the online world, and businesses to grow more quickly as their local audience builds. The declining cost of data, alongside faster transmission speeds, is improving communication in some of the remotest parts of the world, with sub-Saharan Africa undergoing a mobile digital revolution. 

It’s not just the low cost of recent generations of smartphone that suits these markets. Smartphones don’t need to be physically connected - either to network or electricity cables – to the same degree as desktop computers. This convenience and portability is allowing a whole new kind of mobile consumer to take advantage of internet access. 

Recent research from mobile tech firm Ericsson predicts voice call traffic in the region will double over the next five years. By the end of this year, there are expected to be more than 635 million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa. The report also says that 70% of users in the countries studies browse the web on mobile devices, compared with just 6% who use desktop computers.

Analysts say the Ericsson research confirms mobile’s dominance. In a recent TED talk on technology in Africa, the editor of South Africa’s Stuff magazine said:

"Africa is a mobile-only continent. There never was a landline infrastructure to begin with, apart from urban areas. Mobile has allowed anyone to have a phone in places that were previously impassable and uncontactable. It has also been enabled, from a business perspective, by prepaid payments that handily remove the equally widespread legacy problem in that very few people have banks accounts. It really is that technology leapfrog the industry likes to talk about."

 

August 22, 2014

Germany Harnessing 'Silent Texts' to Locate Cell Phones

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In Germany, police and intelligence agencies have been using ‘silent’ SMS messages to locate cell phones without their owners’ knowledge. Details of the covert practice emerged after a parliamentarian expressed alarm at the escalation of secret text dispatches; the government responded with an admission that 125,000 such messages were sent during the first six months of 2013 alone. That number has increased this year, with 150,000 silent SMS messages sent between January and June. 

The text messages are not displayed on cell phones, but when sent en masse to a single device, can be used to precisely locate the user and observe their movements within a network. Parliamentary approval is required before each individual can be tracked.

But Andrej Hunko of the Left party raised alarm at what he termed ‘spy-SMS’ messages, prompting the government to reveal the number of German residents who had been targeted by the dispatches. According to the figures, domestic intelligence agency VfS had sent nearly 53,000 secret texts during the first half of 2014. Federal police had sent almost 69,000, and the Federal Criminal Office – Germany’s investigative police – had sent more than 34,000. The figures did not include silent text messages sent by foreign intelligence agents, customs officials or the army’s intelligence service.

However, the government did disclose details about surveillance, admitting that the Federal Criminal Office – or BKA – had eavesdropped on 704 separate calls, emails or text messages during 2014 so far.

The international community has expressed some surprise about the revelations, especially in light of the recent scandal regarding U.S. surveillance of world leaders. Surveillance is understandably a very sensitive issue in Germany, and many feel government has acted hypocritically with the use of clandestine SMS tracking technology. We await the full figures for 2014 with interest…

July 31, 2014

Beyond Marketing: 4 Unexpected Uses for SMS

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SMS messaging has become a key component of any mobile marketing strategy. It’s use as an advertising tool has been well documented – not least on this very organ – but there are all sorts of weird, wonderful ways to leverage the power of text. Schools, community groups, churches and even emergency services have begun incorporating SMS into their processes. We’ve cherry picked our favorite unusual uses of SMS messaging outside of the mobile marketing realm…

Finding Lost Pets

Companies like MobiPet are helping pet owners locate lost furry friends. When notified of a lost animal, they send photo alerts by text message to registered vets, animal shelters and pet owners within a 30 mile radius. Animal lovers have rallied round the idea which, unlike microchip implants, is non-invasive and requires no equipment apart from a camera-enabled mobile phone with text message capability.

Donating to Good Causes

Text-to-donate has proven highly effective at engaging people who don’t donate to charity by other methods. In 2007, a Super Bowl commercial raised $10,000 within seconds for the victims of the recent tsunami in Asia. The Haiti earthquake relief effort also benefitted from a text campaign, with the Red Cross eventually pulling in $32 million for victims. The success of text-to-donate is owed to the simplicity of the process. People too busy to go through the hassle of visiting a website and uploading credit card information can simply reply to a text message and have their donation applied to their phone bill.

Emergency Alerts

Closer to home, Hurricane Sandy – the second costliest hurricane in the US since records began – had a devastating impact on local businesses, but SMS proved to be a true survivor in the face of infrastructural collapse. Businesses and emergency services used SMS to keep residents up to date on the weather and how the damage it caused would affect them. 

Talking to Home Appliances

‘Smart appliances’ allow their owners to control them remotely via text message. Appliances are programmed to respond to a series of commands, so if you have an unexpected guest coming to your house, and you don’t have time to go home and clean, you can send a text to your robotic vacuum cleaner or mop. Intelligent SMS systems are also being used in fridges to tell owners what they need to pick up from the store, and even suggest recipe ideas!

July 30, 2014

Microsoft Finally Takes It's Head From the Sand... and Into the Cloud

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After years of threatening to become a computing anachronism, Microsoft is transmogrifying into a cloud services provider with a strong focus on mobile marketing. 

Earlier this year, the tech giant put the finishing touches to its Windows Phone 8.1 OS, and promised delivery to consumers by ‘Summer 2014’. They’ve already begun integrating Nokia’s smartphone business, and shares have gone up by 25% since the appointment of new CEO Satya Nadella five months ago.

On the face of it, Microsoft is finally joining the cloud/mobile party that’s been in full swing since the turn of the decade. It’s been a long time coming, and competing with the likes of Google and Apple will be a tough road aho.

Critics have lambasted Microsoft for its reticence regarding the obvious consumer appeal of cloud computing, but their strategy has become more focused on Nadella’s watch, with the professed ‘cloud first, mobile first’ philosophy at last gaining credibility.

In particular, the firm has begun to recognize the need to give partners more control over the cloud services they resell. They recently announced the implementation of the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider program, which grants affiliates who resell products like Office 365 and Windows Intune greater control of billing and customer service tools. Says Phil Sorgen, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Partnerships:

“It fundamentally enables our partners to own the customer relationship.”

The program will expand gradually until it covers all MS cloud services. It certainly appears that Microsoft is offering the right incentives to partners. They are waiving the first year fee for new registrants wanting to sell Azure and Office 365, and increasing the number of internal use rights licenses by anything from 25 to 200 percent. Even their traditional on-premise software products are getting a 10 percent price slash for partner programs.

The jury is still out on whether this cloud and mobile marketing strategy will pay off for Microsoft. With hundreds of thousands of partners out their, the challenge is to meet the needs of a vast, heterogeneous group with extremely diverse priorities. Not all of them are thrilled at the way the wind is blowing.

Many long-time resellers and integrators will find themselves struggling to adjust their models to cloud-based services after years spent building business around on-premises Microsoft software. For one thing, on-premises deals are usually made with a one-time payment, whilst cloud services are sold by subscription. The latter generates recurring revenue streams – but the size of the deal tends to be smaller.

But Microsoft have realized that focusing on the future is the only way to ensure long term prosperity. Their attentions are pointed at the ‘born in the cloud’ generation of entrepreneurs who have never used on-premises software. For them, Microsoft’s evolution can’t happen quickly enough.

July 28, 2014

Court Rules in Favor of Carriers in Text Price Fixing Case

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Recently a federal judge out of Illinois ruled in favor of wireless carriers in a controversial text messaging price-fixing case. Though the evidence appeared to weigh heavily against the wireless carriers in the form of suspect emails, opportunities for collusion, price increases in tandem, and expert testimony, it was not enough to convince the judge of actual collusion between the companies. The summary judgment of the court cited that the plaintiffs’ myriad arguments were insufficient to prove conspiracy – a tactic employed in the past by lawyers in antitrust cases – so the court’s rejection of the case is worth mentioning.

As you may have noticed, the price of a text message doubled between 2005 and 2008. The plaintiffs claimed that these increases were the result of collusion between wireless carriers. In one example, they mentioned an email from one company’s officer to another. This email appeared to have collusive and opportunistic overtones. There were instances of circumstantial evidence as well: well-timed trade group meetings between the companies in addition to the price increases at these companies occurring at the same time were cited as possibilities, with expert witnesses backing up their evidence.

The court official wouldn’t budge, even after the plaintiff’s supposedly significant evidence. The email was disregarded: though the official was an informed employee, there was no direct evidence of collusion present in his correspondence. In addition, there was no evidence that the trade group meetings contained any dialogue about collusion whatsoever. Furthermore, the price increases enacted by the wireless companies were spread out over the course of at least a year, showing that the increases didn’t actually happen at precisely the same time. The plaintiffs merely presented evidence that hinted at the conclusion of conspiracy, but this was not enough to prove that these companies colluded with one another.

There are consequences for the Illinois judge’s summary statement. Since the plaintiffs couldn’t prove their case in the end, this judgment creates a precedent for any other antitrust conspiracy cases. Several instances of circumstantial evidence coupled with expert witnesses proved to be insufficient to prove the defendants’ guilt in the matter – on the contrary, the arguments read as trite inculpation to the judge. In the future, these types of evidence will likely be thrown out of court or ignored by judges, requiring plaintiffs to have hard evidence to prove the existence of collusion in these cases.

July 24, 2014

Apple’s ‘Reuse and Recycle’ Prices Falling

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Earlier this month, Apple quietly made a few key changes to its ‘Reuse and Recycle’ program. The lack of ceremony surrounding the changes are easily explained: it’s not particularly good news for customers.

Customers in Canada and the United States will now get less money for trading in their iPhone. The new top value is $225, versus the former rate of $270. Go back two years and Apple were offering up to $345 for a pristine iPhone 4S (then the latest model). The new pricing plan is the lowest since the program was launched.

Even with the higher prices on offer, Apple’s recycling scheme was one of the least-trumpeted aspects of their business. Many iPhone users remain completely ignorant of its existence. It works like this:

  • An Apple customer goes to the Apple Store and asks to trade in their older phone for a new, on-contract model.
  • The Apple Store rep keys in the customer’s existing iPhone details using their EasyPay device (those neat mobile touch screen gizmos you see reps clutching).
  • Based on the information entered, a value for the old iPhone is given to the customer. Metrics include display quality, button quality, overall hardware damage, liquid damage and functionality.
  • The Apple Store rep lets the customer know they cannot get their original phone back, and they should back up any info they need.
  • The customer gets a new iPhone and a gift card with the agreed-upon value pre-loaded to go towards the new device.
  • The old phone is placed in a plastic bag, and the old SIM card is given to the customer while the employee sets up the new iPhone.

According to Apple, recycled iPhones are only re-sold in the United States, although they’ve not ruled out expanding the program to international markets. Despite launching the scheme to little fanfare, the tech giant did assert its commitment at the time, stating:

July 17, 2014

Mobile to Surpass Print Advertising in the UK

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According to a forecast by eMarketer, mobile advertising spending will soon overtake traditional print ads. The report predicts mobile spending to grow by a staggering 96% this year, hitting £2.02bn. That’s still a shade behind the forecast print spend of £2.06bn, but the report anticipates mobile ad spend will be worth £4.5bn in 2016. The UK’s total digital advertising market is forecast to be worth £7.25bn by the end of this year, growing to £8.64bn by 2016.

This rapid growth reflects the widespread adoption of secondary mobile devices used in conjunction with smartphones. By 2018, 50% of Brits are expected to own an iPad, Kindle or other tablet.

The eMarketer report states: 

“Continued robust growth in the mobile channel is driving the bulk of [overall] digital ad growth in the UK. The dramatic growth of mobile and video ad expenditures will boost digital ad spending throughout the forecast period.”

This “mobile mushroom” is showing no signs of letting up. The numbers are truly dramatic: compare the £7.25bn valuation put on the market today with the £83m from four years ago and you get an idea of just how seismic this shift is. Mobile advertising will account for nearly 30% of all digital ad spending in 2014, according to the report.

So what’s prompted such an explosion in mobile marketing campaign spending? Most analysts agree that, in the UK at least, a strong economy, with the pound ringfenced from the worst effects of the Eurozone crisis, has instilled confidence in consumers. Plus, the efficacy of mobile marketing tactics are easy to track compared with traditional channels, causing advertisers to turn away from print (the report also predicts that the newspaper and magazine market will lose £276m in ad spend between 2014 and 2018).

A similar story is playing out on this side of the pond, with mobile spending accounting for 22.5% of all digital ad investments in 2013. A study conducted last year – also by eMarketer – indicated worldwide growth of mobile web ad spending had exceeded 100% by the year’s end, with mobile accounting for 15.2% of digital ad dollars spent globally.

The implications for your mobile marketing strategy are clear. Firstly, track the results of your print and mobile marketing campaign. Secondly, compare and contrast the success rates of your digital campaign and your traditional print campaign. If recent analysis is correct, you’ll find more and more consumers are turning to mobile to browse commercial prospects. Once that happens, you can adjust your budget accordingly, and start reaping the benefits of mobile.

July 08, 2014

Six of the Best: World Cup Apps

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Another World Cup, another rush from mobile marketing strategists and app developers to come up with ways of capitalizing on an event that has the attention of millions around the globe.

With multiple matches each day (at least during the group stages) and live screenings beholden to every different time zone, it’s not always convenient – even for the most ardent fan – to keep track of all the action. On the Pacific Coast, for instance, games kick off between 9am and 3pm, when most people are at work.

Thankfully, there are loads of clever apps on the market to help you stay abreast of all the action. And unlike 2010, this year’s tournament has arrived at a time when smartphones are most definitely the default mobile device for Americans, so almost everyone can benefit. Let’s take a look at the very best World Cup apps out there…

1) ESPN FC Soccer & World Cup

This free app takes an exhaustive, comprehensive approach to football stats from around the world, but what we’re really interested in is the World Cup tab where users can find out all the latest match news and scores. It includes video content so you can key moments and catch up on goals. Customizable, well designed, and easy to use, the ESPN offering is a stellar one.

2) World Cup 2014 Brazil

Available for free with Google Play, this app is as utilitarian as its title. Stats-focused, with full competition details and data customization, this neat green and yellow app is a beautiful, Brazilian-themed tool that will ensure you won’t miss a thing.

3) 2014 Table

Another Android offering with a straightforward name, this takes a pared down approach, giving subscribers only the essential information they need. Great for bloggers and journalists who want to cut to the chase and find the latest scores and tables, 2014 table auto updates as each new development occurs.

4) LiveSoccer World Football Cup

Track live matches from soccer leagues around the world, or just use it for the duration of the biggest sporting event on earth. Customizable push notifications will keep you informed of all the latest goings on, and a rich user interface doesn’t interfere with a high degree of user friendly slickness. 

5) Squawka

Mobile marketing campaign managers have aimed this little number squarely at the stats-obsessed football fan who wants easy access to the cold hard facts. Player information is cross-compared, allowing subscribers to play the ultimate living room manager by supplying detailed information on everything from goals and substitutions, to fouls and assists. Every tackle and pass is logged. This one’s for the completist.

6) BBC Sport

Available free for both Android and iPhone, the BBC app is an essential download for any World Cup devotees. It combines live text commentary for each game with push alerts every time a goal is scored. There’s also a way to stream regular Radio 5 World Cup bulletins. Along with the iPlayer, British football fans get everything they could need to see them through to the final.

June 30, 2014

How SMS is Revolutionizing Emerging Economies

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Since 2007, individual farmers in developing countries are estimated to have made up to $4000 in additional profits and saved twice as much – and it’s all thanks to SMS messaging.

First trialed in India, and now being rolled out in other emerging economies, Reuters Market Light (RML) has had a truly revolutionary impact on the lives of rural workers since being introduced. This noble scheme was designed to level the playing field for remote farmers operating in a globalized marketplace. The service acts as a watchdog-cum-information-hub for agricultural commerce, issuing crucial information to people who may not have internet access.

It’s a far cry from the sophisticated mobile marketing tactics employed in the western world, but RML has demonstrated just how powerful SMS messaging can be in the absence of smartphones and web connectivity. Thus far, millions of farmers all over the world have received vital updates throughout the season, with information tailored to the specific needs of an individual’s profile. Information like regional and global market rates for crops; local weather data and disaster alerts; advice on increasing productivity and reducing risk, and other information that could have an impact on operational costs.

The scheme is intended to safeguard vulnerable workers against exploitative middlemen who seek to undercut them. There’s no shortage of compelling testimony to the efficacy of the work being done by RML. One story tells of a grape farmer who began exporting produce to Russia after learning of the country’s higher prices. It’s estimated that a staggering 1.2 million farmers in India are using the program to improve their chances.

RML offers a moving demonstration of how the humble mobile phone can help some of the world’s poorest people without the bells and whistles of the smartphones which proliferate among the world’s richest. SMS messaging, it seems, is powerful enough to raise living standards and brings some semblance of equality to a globalized economy. Kenya has used SMS messaging payment programs to reduce robbery statistics, with an amazing 25% of the country’s GDP now flowing through the M-Pesa system.

Studies indicate that introducing ten cell phones per one hundred people in the developing world can boost economic growth by 1%. RML, M-Pesa, and others are truly improving the lot of some of the hardest-hit regions on earth, giving citizens cheaper services, better access to crucial economic data, and ultimately creating greater expectations about acceptable living standards.

 

June 20, 2014

iPhone Users Will Soon be Able to Leave Group Text Message Chats

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When Apple unveiled its new iOS 8 mobile operating system earlier this month, iPhone users everywhere expressed unprecedented delight with the upgrades. Some of the changes soon coming to the iPhone and iPad alike include features like longer-lasting batteries as well as an improved system for sharing photos. Users will also be able to access home automation apps and services allowing the iPhone to be used as a remote control for connected home devices such as certain types of lighting systems. 

However, it's not the Jetsons-era technology that appears to have gotten iOS 8 users the most excited. The new iPhone feature that has everyone cheering is the one that will now allow iPhone users to exit group text message chats for the very first time ever. The big news was announced at the Worldwide Developers Conference that took place June 2 through 6 in San Francisco.

iPhone Group Message Chats: Past v. Future

Until now, iPhone users who felt tortured by non-consensual group text messages had very few coping strategies available to them. They could simply throw their hands up and cooperate, or they could try to ignore their inboxes and those annoying message alerts. Alternatively, users could lie and say they had switched to an Android device that would not read the group text message chats.

Now, however, thanks to the system updates, users will soon be able to choose to either mute the group text message notifications (and read the text message chats later) or simply exit the group text message chat altogether with just the click of a button.

Ability to Exit iPhone Group Message Chats Dubbed 'Miracle'

Twitter absolutely exploded with the sound of rejoicing when news of the updated group text function went public. “We're free! WE'RE ALL FINALLY FREE!” one Liverpool man Tweeted. “Looks like the big man has been answering my prayers,” a Georgia man wrote.

By “big man,” of course, Darnell Augustin meant neither Steve Jobs nor those individual humans responsible for developing the updated technology – nor even Apple as a whole nor any other mortal being. 

The Twitter user was not alone in responding to the news by thanking a higher power, either. In response to the big news, one woman Tweeted: “GOD IS REAL.” Other religious invocations in response to the new feature included, “praise the lord,” “our prayers have been answered,” and “praise his holy name!”

Unfortunately, users will have to ride this newly-discovered wave of happiness all throughout the summer months, as the update is not scheduled to be released until the fall. It seems that we mortals must endure our earthly tribulations just a little bit longer before the heavenly rewards of iOS 8 will all be ours.