SMS News

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February 08, 2015

Former Ad Tech Exec Investing Millions in Mobile

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Longtime mobile ad exec Nihal Mehta used to focus on ensuring advertisers invested in mobile ad platforms. Now he’s interested in assisting the new generation of mobile businesses. 

Mehta retired from mobile ad tech firm LocalResponse in 2013, now known as Qualia, where he served as CEO. He wanted to focus on mobile startup investment full-time via the firm he co-founded in 2009, Eniac Ventures. The firm raised $55 million to invest in the mobile tech landscape, and is looking to put the money into early-stage mobile startups. Mehta noted his firm is especially interested in companies who have not yet “raised a funding round,” are still in product development, and probably haven’t generated revenue. 

The areas that piqued the interest of Mehta and crew in regards to mobile startups include connected devices, personal utility, app development tools, messaging and communications, enterprise, marketplaces, and commerce. Mobile ad tech that “spans several categories” will also be high on the firm’s to-do list according to Mehta, who pointed out the increase of free ad-supported mobile apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, neither of which run standard display ads.

"The next big wave of mobile ad tech companies will be bigger than we've ever seen because they're going to be forced to deal with a supply of new inventory. It doesn't live anymore in banner ads; it lives in messaging, communications, interstitials, natively," Mehta remarked recently. He sold his mobile-marketing firm ipsh! to Omnicom in 2005.

Eniac Ventures was co-founded in 2009 with three fellow University of Pennsylvania graduates. It has stakes in Airbnb, Circa and SoundCloud, and also invested in several ad tech companies, including Mehta's former company Qualia, as well as Adtrib, mParticle, and Localytics.

As of now the company has made eight investments, including in password replacement tool LaunchKey, on-demand parking service Luxe Valet, and social commerce company Strut. Mehta and the Eniac Ventures team want to invest in at least 15 more companies by the year’s end. 

Eniac Ventures plans to initially invest $500,000 in each of the 35 startups, which equals more than the $250,000 per company. Mehta noted Eniac Ventures is setting aside two-thirds of the $55 million fund as “follow-up money”, which he plans to reinvest in the companies as they grow and become successful.

The follow-up money is essential because "in today's market you can get money from anybody," said Mehta.  "Funds that can't follow can create a negative signal to the marketplace. And oftentimes entrepreneurs want to know they're getting in bed with somebody who can support them all the way.” 

Companies Eniac Ventures invested in and have subsequently been acquired include Mobile ad-targeting specialist Metaresolver, which was sold to mobile ad-tech company Millennial Media in 2013. Ad-tech firm Beanstock Media bought mobile publishing technology company Onswipe in 2014, while Twitter acquired mobile retargeting firm TapCommerce the same year. 

 

February 05, 2015

Twitter Buys Indian Mobile Marketing Startup

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If you’re a mobile marketer, your marketing message might just be the next big thing in India, all thanks to a microblogging site’s ambitious investment abroad. Last week, Twitter purchased a startup corporation in India, called Zipdial.  

Indicative of the current ubiquitous nature of mobile phones and the decrease in their manufacturing costs, India has grown to one of the largest users of mobile phones worldwide. But the country has yet to get fully connected to the internet via mobile technology. Many people still use the mobile internet on a pay-per-site basis, with fewer than 40% of the populace having any kind of mobile internet access.

Zipdial, however, has revolutionized advertising for the burgeoning economy of the developing country. The startup allows its users to call a business’ phone number, then simply hang up. The business then registers the incoming phone number and responds with free text messages, app notifications, and even voice calls with advertisements.

This method of advertising has been dubbed “missed call” marketing. It allows users of Zipdial to receive advertisements from businesses they are interested in without having an internet connection. And best of all, there is no mobile cost to the consumer for receiving these ads. It's an effective way in, providing solutions in places many mobile marketing campaigns cannot reach.

So why is Twitter so interested in India? Because it is now one of the most rapidly growing mobile markets in the world. As cited last week in a Mobile Marketing Watch article, the Internet & Mobile Association of India and IMRB International report that the mobile internet industry of India has had unprecedented growth in 2014 – and 2015 is on par to surpass even that. Mobile internet growth increased over 25% in all of 2014, and is forecasted to grow another 23% in just the first half of 2015. Also reported in the article, rural use of mobile phones in India is expected to grow another 18%.

Zipdial boasts that its campaigns have reached nearly 60 million users, and the company is run by just over 50 employees. Mobile journalists have predicted that this technology will be effective in other countries as well, like Brazil and Indonesia. And according to reporters, these markets are key for Twitter, as 77% of Twitter’s monthly active users hail from outside the United States.

Twitter did not disclose how much they paid for the firm. But this purchase certainly exemplifies the notion that mobile technology and text marketing are proliferating immensely throughout the developing world. 

 

February 04, 2015

New App Puts Contacts in Context

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Last week saw the launch of an app that aims to to bring contextual information to existing messaging platforms. 

Rather than offering yet another variation on the seemingly endless array of messaging apps available, Blinq augments the apps people already have. Appearing as nothing more than a small white dot, Blinq subtly makes its presence felt within the interface of messaging apps like Facebook, Whatsapp and SMS. From there, it alerts you to incoming information on the person with whom you’re communicating by pulling data from a variety of social and business networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. The app prioritizes this information, only alerting you to the more important updates (favoring, say, the beginning of a new job over the latest Instagram snap of breakfast).

It’s a brilliant solution to the problems caused by the multi-platform, multi-site web presence that’s now standard for many individuals. It gives you quick access to information on a person, when you need it. If, for example, a potential business partner calls you and you can’t quite recall every detail needed to avoid embarrassment, Blinq throws you a few bones to help you construct a full skeleton of their online identity. 

The app has been launched primarily as a consumer product - but the potential as a CRM tool for businesses are obvious. Other aggregator software already performs similar tasks for email exchanges - Blinq simply brings mobile in line. As a mobile marketing tool for small businesses, Blink could provide an affordable, effective solution for keeping track of customers and providing the best, most personalized service possible. 

Only available on Android right now, the developers plan to bring Blinq to iOS in the future. To do that, they have to create a more standalone experience than the one available on Android. But with half a million already raised by investors, and the product now available for perusal, Blinq hopes to expand its operation and bring the security and reassurance of contextual communication to more people.

 

January 26, 2015

What's With the Round Smartwatch Craze?

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Round smartwatches are increasingly popular, and new offerings are providing consumers with an array of fun and practical features, including those designed to keep users healthy and fit. Let’s check out some of the smartwatches on the market today, as well as those in the soon-to-be-released file: 

 

Alcatel Onetouch Watch

Available in March on Amazon, the Alcatel Onetouch Watch comes in four style options, two metal and two micro-textured resin. It supports both iOS and Android devices, which sets it apart from just about every other smartwatch currently manufactured. Controlled through a companion iOS or Android app, the watch makes it easy to a) view all the health information it’s collected about you, b) pick which apps you want to notify you, and c) manage the various ways the watch communicates with your phone.  

While watch reviews indicate the device does not provide as appealing an interface as other Android Wear options, it makes up for it in battery life. The Alcatel watch is designed to last for two to five days, under the right circumstances. Plus, health features include a built-in heart rate monitor, gyroscope, accelerometer, altimeter and e-compass to measure metrics such as sleep cycles, steps, distance and calories burned. It’s also possible to make the watch ring if you misplace your phone, while tapping the screen brings up multimedia controls. The USB charging port is conveniently hidden...and small. 

The Alcatel Ontouch Watch will feature an entry price of $149, making it less expensive than some of the other options currently available. 

 

LG G Watch R 

Arguably one of the most popular round smartwatches on the market today, the LG G Watch R is a stylish option featuring “Ok Google” voice commands with Android wear, the “world’s first” full-circle P-OLED display, and fitness integration that includes a built-in heart rate monitor. The watch is compatible with most devices housing an Android 4.3 or later operating system. 

 

Samsung Smartwatch

Samsung is set to unveil a smartwatch around the time it launches its latest Android offering, the Samsung Galaxy S6. A round watch believed to be similar to the Moto 360, the Samsung S6 is currently known as  “SM-R720,” and is referred to by the codename “Orbis.” It will run the technology giant’s own Tizen OS system, and the device is expected to make a huge splash at the Mobile World Congress this March. 

Any of these round smartwatches appeal to your sensibilities? 

 

January 22, 2015

The SMS Modification Craze

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Remember flying in the 80s? Long haul flights seemed to take days. There was only one movie and three screens in the entire cabin, so if you were wheezing a bit too much at Shanghai Surprise for the fifth time, everyone knew about it. To hear the audio you had to shell out $4 for those stethoscopic ‘headsets’ that were barely-glorified tin-cans-on-strings (no really, kids – they were nothing more than hollow tubes that plugged into two tiny speakers in the armrest). You could smoke.  

The funny thing was, nobody complained. It was as if flying through the air incredibly and winding up thousands of miles away in a few hours was enough for people. They didn’t need anything else. 

Like aviation in the 80s, SMS in the 90s was a primitive affair by today’s standards – if by ‘primitive’ you mean ‘the sudden ability to instantly transmit the written word to people around the world.’ 

For much of the 90s and 00s, text messaging was impressive enough to flourish without extra bells and whistles. Rapid advances in technology allied with free market forces soon put paid to that. These days, the new normal is modified, souped up, pimped out text messages adorned with fancy new skins and non-QWERTY keyboards capable of sending anything from emojis to rap lyrics.  

It should be noted at this point that SMS is SMS; the protocol hasn’t changed a jot in twenty years, only the window dressing. In many cases, ‘SMS modification’ really means ‘SMS replacement’ in the form of messaging apps. The appeal of these apps lies largely in their ability to provide users with a bespoke messaging experience.

Among the most popular of these is Chomp SMS, an easy-to-use, customizable app that lets users create their own themes and download custom font packs as they tire of their current look. 

GoSMS Pro is a similar idea but with a much bigger palette from which to work. It allows users to completely overhaul their visuals with new icons, fonts, animations, backgrounds and text bubbles. It also comes with a raft of non-visual features, including a private storage space for storing locked conversations and a text message backup service. 

Not all messaging apps are designed for purely aesthetic reasons. Some, like TextSecure, prevent screenshots of messages being taken and uses end-to-end encryption, thwarting prying eyes (whether criminal or federal!). 

The trouble with these apps is that both parties have to be using them in order to reap the full benefits. Unlike standard SMS messaging, which everyone in the world with a phone has access to, the playing field is not level. For instance, Strings - the app that lets you recall text messages you regret sending - is of no use unless both parties are running the app; two people agreeing to send messages with the app is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a lack of trust in the relationship. This will be the major stumbling block for Strings (and others) as they try to grow.

Our favorite SMS messaging apps are those with objectives no loftier than bringing a smile to the face. There are a plethora of text messaging apps designed to add some levity to your conversations with friends and family. Here are some of the very best:

Crumbles. Sends messages in the form of cut-ups from famous movies, one word at a time. You type the message, hit send and the recipient sees an array of great characters - from Doc Brown to Darth Vader - deliver each word. Hard to describe, but loads of fun once you try it.

PopKey. Leverages the power of Apple’s GIF-supporting Messages app to send any number of GIFS from a huge library of possibilities. Also enormous fun!

RapKey. Far and away our favorite messaging app right now, RapKey sends hip hop lyrics instead of boring prose. With a cool, 8-bit influenced retro interface, it works by giving you a series of categories to choose from - talking to your spouse, griping about money etc - and a list of couplets to scroll through. Find the most appropriate rhymes for your situation and make text messaging more fun!

 

 

 

January 09, 2015

The World’s Most Valuable Startup

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As of Monday, December 29th, 2014, the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has become the world’s most valuable startup. Late in 2014, the company closed its last round of funding, topping off its latest run at $1.1 billion dollars. With that, Xiaomi’s valuation has skyrocketed to $45 billion – past even the controversial pseudo-taxi startup Uber (valued at $40 billion).

If you haven’t heard of Xiaomi before, you are not alone. The company is a giant in China, however, with brick and mortar locations throughout the country. After taking advantage of a void in the Chinese smartphone market, Xiaomi has managed to increase their manufacturing output, and they are now the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. In their third quarter report of 2014, Xiaomi sold over 16 million units, an increase above last years’ report by over 3.5 million.

Many people throughout China prefer to purchase Xiaomi phones due to their low-cost. Samsung and Apple are still the power players throughout the world, and they have retained a good deal of the Chinese smartphone market. In the past year, though, sales by these juggernauts have been chipped away by Xiaomi – Samsung’s sales in particular, which has declined by 29 percent in the region. Surprisingly, Xiaomi’s gross sales in China has not come as close to defeating iPhone sales. Apple still retained $25.4 billion in sales in China alone, while Xiaomi only garnered $56 million in sales. 

Some of the controversy surrounding the startup includes a breach of international patents, but these claims have yet to be proven. Though Xiaomi publicly claims to operate under thousands of patents, most cell phone manufacturers own patents in the tens of thousands. And with their tight margins, it is unlikely that they are manufacturing under a series of licensing deals. In any case, the success of their business model is evident: build it cheap, run it with Android-based software, and sell it everywhere (in China). 

Xiaomi has announced that their next step will be to branch out into similar foreign markets, like Brazil and India. While Brazil fits all of the criteria of their business model, India is a bit less likely to embrace it. Historically, India has been wary of Chinese technology, and many consumers fear that the Chinese government will use the devices to spy on Indian citizens. Xiamoi has these and other roadblocks to get past as they expand into the rest of the Asian and potentially the South American market…but ambitions are obviously high.

The upshot for mobile marketing campaign managers is an increased need to cater their strategy to a variety of devices. Mobile marketing tactics that are effective at reaching iPhone users may not have the same impact on Android-based devices. Flexibility and adaptability are the watchwords for 2015, and if Xiamoi's explosive success is anything to go by, the world of mobile marketing and the wider world of tech should expect the unexpected.

 

December 30, 2014

What Will Happen to Mobile Marketing in 2015?

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Change is inevitable (with the possible exception of vending machines), so what will become of mobile marketing in the coming year? Let’s take a look at what continues to dominate, what will change, and perhaps make a prediction or two: 

The Visual is Essential

One thing’s for darn certain: visuals aren’t going anywhere. The competition for consumer attention continues to gain momentum, and as such photos, videos and infographics are necessary to every piece of content created. A recent survey by the Nonprofit Times found nonprofits rank higher than for-profit organizations in content marketing strategies, with some 63 percent reporting current work on visual content as a big part of strategy. 

Personalization Increases

In-the-know marketers utilize analytics to create successful marketing campaigns, and in 2015 businesses will no doubt study customer behavior and interests in depth to craft customized content marketing strategies to stay ahead of the competition. Businesses are learning how to make adjustments with each new social media update, blog, etc. Measuring efforts will be easier than ever before in 2015 thanks to a number of new analytics tools. 

Consumers served content tailored to personal tastes will prevail in 2015 over marketing efforts that barely rings any bells. This includes blogs, guest blogs, articles and tweets, as brands have realized the value of personalizing content so as to reach different demographics rather than posting the same blog or tweet across all social media platforms. 

Mobile Friendliness: A Must

The mobile device surpassed the PC in usage for the first time in 2014, and brands are making adjustments to ensure content marketing efforts work for smaller screens…and shorter attention spans. Content designed for mobile devices, including location-based search terms, will be incredibly important in 2015. 

“Marketers have been advised to create and tailor different formats of content with customized copy for highly-fragmented marketing channels from TV to print to various social media platforms in order to reach their target audience,” says Pam Didner, a global integrated marketing strategist for the Intel Corporation. “It’s the right thing to do.” 

Interactive Applications for Product Storytelling Becomes Integral

Interactive storytelling will become an “integral part” of product demonstration in 2015, particularly at events such as conferences and expos. Brands are finding ways to use interactive 3D product models among other meticulously-crafted content to attract customers and give them a proverbial taste of the product without having said product on premise. 

These are just some of the ways mobile marketing will grow and change in the new year….

 

 

December 22, 2014

Skype Translator Launched This Week

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Skype’s latest app offering is one designed to translate speech in real time. Called Skype Translator, the app makes it possible for English and Spanish speakers to communicate in their native language, thus eliminating the language barrier. The result of years of work by the Microsoft research team, the app may very well change the way people communicate going forward. 

Skype Translator works by translating voice input from a Spanish or English speaker “into text and translated audio.” The English speaker would subsequently hear the translated words of the Spanish speaker, and vice versa. It also displays a transcript of the call. While Microsoft originally created a demonstration with English and German, the preview featured English and Spanish only.

Microsoft is marketing the translator as a tool for schools, and has so far tested it with Mexican and American students. Skype is a popular classroom option already, as teachers use it to participate in video conferences around the globe to connect their students with those in foreign lands.

As of the app’s launch, users are limited to Windows 8.1 software, either desktop or mobile. However, the preview program also features 40 languages for real-time chat, as well as translations for instant message conversations. Because the app’s technology includes advanced machine learning, the app will only get “smarter” with time and use. Essentially, the more the app hears a word, the more adept it will become at translating. Microsoft notes that “even the smallest conversations” helps Skype Translator “learn and grow.” 

Microsoft is looking to test the app with a much wider audience “in the real world,” and it will no doubt be interesting to see how the translator holds up in real situations featuring complex languages and interactions. Should it live up to its hype, Skype Translator could easily become one of the most powerful and dynamic technologies the world has ever seen.

If interested in testing Skype Translator, head over to Microsoft’s Skype site and request an invite. Use the STVER4230 registration code to hasten how fast your request goes through.

Will this app \break the language barrier one conversation at a time? The potential impact sure is fascinating, as it would help both children and adults to break out of their current cultural limits and experience the words and ideas of people from all over the planet. 

December 17, 2014

How SMS is Helping Small Businesses in Latin America

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The second annual Latin American Bitcoin Conference took place in Rio earlier this month. More than 200 attendees saw seminars and panels featuring 37 guest speakers from around the world. 

Among the keynote speakers were a number of bitcoin representatives. The crypto currency is making a big impact across the region. A new partnership between Coinapult and 37 Coins seeks to expand bitcoin access to segments of the population without smartphones or traditional banking methods at their disposal. Their weapon? SMS messaging.

The service allows bitcoin users the world over to send and receive payments using only a feature phone with SMS capability. For entrepreneurs in South America, it holds the promise of allowing them to operate from remote areas, lessening the burden on over-populated urban centers.

This is a crucial development, not just for SMB owners, but for the public purse as well. Millions of small businesses across Latin America are currently restricted to cash-only transactions. This raises the question: how sure can local governments be that rural entrepreneurs are doing due diligence when it comes to paying taxes? It hardly takes a cynic to assume millions of pesos, bolivianos, reals and dollars are slipping through the net.

Of course, there will always be a black market. For some, operating outside the system is a point of principal. But for most small businesses, removing the temptation is all that’s needed to reduce corruption. Give them the tools to accept trackable, taxable payments and they’ll play ball, safe in the knowledge that the added security will help their business in the long run. Legitimacy is so much more attractive when it’s easily achieved.

A similar scheme – albeit with no SMS element – has been implemented in East African countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. M-Pesain allows its 16 million users to send and receive money, pay bills and withdraw cash from local ATMs. 

SMS-based money transfer systems are providing the way forward in Latin America. Paraguay has Giros Tigo, which incurs a 5% commission fee. Brazil and Argentina have similar systems in place.

Bitcoin and text messaging seem to be a winning doubles team. The key beneficiaries are often people who face discrimination from financial institutions, which view them as risky prospect for credit. Entrepreneurs trying to make headway in these conditions find it difficult to send money, pay with credit cards or open a bank account – no matter how promising their ideas are. Nothing can match text message in terms of potential: four billion people worldwide are living without smartphones (perish the thought!) and the remittances market has found it’s most promising tool yet in SMS-enabled bitcoin transfers.

December 03, 2014

SMS Do-Over: The App That Lets You Delete Sent Messages

 

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You know the feeling. You’ve just hit ‘send’ on an incendiary/embarrassing/meaningless/meaningful (delete as appropriate) SMS and really wish you hadn’t. You’d give anything to delete it from the recipient’s phone.

Well now you can do just that – and you don’t have to give anything at all. Free text messaging app Wiper is generating ripples of excitement amongst online privacy advocates – but does it really work?

In short, yes. It may not be the smoothest messaging interface out there, but it does what it promises by allowing users to make calls, send texts and – most importantly – wipe messages that have already been sent. A pleasingly retro eraser animation scrubs the erroneous message and sends a notification to the recipient letting them know what’s happened.

The Wiper team are still working on solving the problem of screenshots; thus far, a recipient can still grab an image of the conversation, effectively nullifying the app’s primary function. However, Wiper will send you a notification to let you know a screenshot has been taken. At least you can prepare yourself for whatever shades of hellfire you imagine will rain down on you for your SMS slip-up. 

Wiper’s kill-switch takes the idea of text messaging as an ephemeral form of communication one stage further. The ex you ill-advisedly texted after a few beers may not be able to ‘unsee’ what you wrote, but at least they can’t show their friends or humiliate you by uploading it to social media. One tap, all gone.

But Wiper’s raison d’etre is about much more than destroying embarrassing tittle-tattle. CEO Manlio Carrelli sees privacy as one of the ‘big issues of our time’ and wants to bring the ideals of data protection to the general public.

Which is all well and good, providing we can trust yet another promising tech start up with our personal data. The app is not open source. We can only take the developers’ word that they will decisively destroy information from their servers once the erase command is given. With data protection such a high-profile, sensitive issue, a little cynicism has to be expected.

That said, the app makes a decent fist of allowing users to have freewheeling conversations just as if they were talking one-on-one, in person, with no fear of their words coming back to haunt them. You can also share YouTube videos instantly, simply by clicking on them from within the app. For the data deletion skeptics, this feature is probably more attractive than Wiper’s headline function.