Tech

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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…

August 20, 2014

The Big Mobile Marketing Match: Email vs. SMS

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No doubt about it, email marketing has been king for many years in the new media advertising realm. The accessibility to potential clients, coupled with low-cost delivery has proven to be a boon for marketing campaigns across the board. Since spam filters have enhanced and email open rates have decreased, however, SMS text message marketing has taken a leading spot in digital advertising.

First off, there are a great deal more mobile users than email users. According to a study by Ericsson in 2014, there are reportedly 4.5 billion mobile users in the world. This number does not include users who own and use multiple devices. Each of these users has the capability of receiving a text message via SMS. The Radicati Group recently reported that there are a projected 2.5 billion email users around the globe. Essentially, that’s about 45% more people who can receive SMS versus email.

SMS, unlike email, has not yet been impacted by spam – at least not in the same fashion. Often emails that are completely legitimate are considered spam simply because inboxes are inundated with junk mail. This has driven down the possibility of connecting with readers of email, with only 22% of messages having the opportunity to be opened and read by email users. SMS, in contrast, has a 98% open rate by mobile users, with only 1% filtered by spam text messaging.

Think about how the average mobile user addresses a text message versus an email. For years, email users have complained about the content of their inboxes, scrutinizing the subject lines to determine if each email is worth opening. When mobile users receive texts, however, they choose to open virtually all of them. It is still natural for mobile users to assume a text is coming from a more trusted source, whereas email users are highly skeptical of the correspondence they receive – especially if they do not recognize the sender. Perhaps as text marketing is adopted by more companies, this trend will alter toward the high filtration rate of email filtering. On the other hand, with such strict guidelines set forth by the FCC when it comes to SMS marketing, the level of spam texting may stay significantly low for quite some time.

The real benefit of SMS marketing is the increased rate of return. It’s true that companies must still market via email, just as they must continue employing traditional advertising channels. But the open and click-through ratio for text messaging far surpasses that of email or traditional marketing methods. The numbers don’t lie – consider ramping up your marketing game by developing an effective SMS campaign today. You’ll be happy with the results.

August 14, 2014

Is Beacon Technology Going to Change the Retail World?

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Beacon technology incorporates the power of consumer-targeted advertising with location-based mobile marketing by installing small pieces of low-cost hardware within the shelves of retail stores. When customers enter a store with Bluetooth-enabled mobiles or tablets, the business can send customized advertisements directly to their devices thereby enhancing their shopping experience. While Beacons have only recently begun to appear in shops, the technology itself is already part of Apple devices since the 3rd generation of their products. And reports from the tech blogs are starting to take notice of the Beacon technology’s capabilities.

Mass Potential

Apple’s beacon system, called iBeacon, is automatically installed in all devices that use their current operating system, iOS 7. This means that, even if a mobile user knows little about how the iPad or iPhone works, they still have the infrastructure in place to benefit from Beacon technology. There could be as many as 190 million iOS devices currently capable of accessing iBeacons. Undoubtedly, this number showcases the unbridled potential of Beacon technology.

Current Barriers

There is a bit of a curve to this technology, though. An almost equal amount of the mobile and tablet markets use non-Apple products, which are less integrated with the Beacon infrastructure. Because the operating systems of non-Apple products tend to require updated versions of their OS, mobile marketers cannot rely upon these technologies for their Beacon-based advertising strategies.

Furthermore, Beacon technology requires mobile users to “opt in,” in a manner of speaking. First of all, customers will need to download the appropriate app for the business in question, and then they will have to activate it before entering the store. In addition, Beacons require ranging technology to function, which works in proximity of the devices using a mobile’s Bluetooth. The mobile will not receive any pushes or notifications, however, if a phone’s location is cloaked – the customer must allow the appropriate app to access its location for the Beacon to function properly.

The Future

In truth, Beacon technology is only beginning to get a foothold in the physical advertising space, and once it gains some traction, it will be here to stay. The unrealized potential of mobile location-based marketing is burgeoning, just waiting to be deployed. In the near future, we will witness customers taking advantage of flash sales and contactless payment options, as well as living in automated homes where temperature and lighting may be adjusted directly from mobile devices. The rule books have yet to be written. We do know that the key to capitalizing on Beacon technology will rely on corporations’ creativity and connectedness: sharing real-time information with customers to a mutual end and appealing to the changing temperaments of these individuals, all the while motivating these loyal customers in a direction – according to when and where – they want them to be. 

August 06, 2014

The Future of mHealth Technology

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Every day the technology of our mobile devices continues to improve, and every day there are new applications for it. The healthcare industry is poised to take advantage of this technology by providing access and mobility to its customers around the world.

This particular market called the mobile health market, or mHealth, has yet to reach its full potential. Currently, doctors and patients can interact through texts, email, and apps, as well as through sharing pictures and video. But this is just the beginning. Mobile devices have given us opportunities for real-time communication and collaboration, which is a boon for the medical industry. Also, there are increasing opportunities for improving access to quality care through mobile access (as soon as the powers that be approve these mobile accessibility apps). In the meantime, healthcare organizers are looking for short term solutions.

With over 140 million smartphone users in the U.S. – and another 60 million projected users in the next five years – mobile marketers are looking to take advantage of the need for mHealth technology improvement and engagement.

So far, customer desire for mHealth technology has had a slow takeoff. Only about 10% of the U.S. population has ever used these technologies. In addition, there are many obstacles for mHealth to grow: the traditional channels of medicine include solutions for banking, insurance, and travel, whereas mHealth must find new solutions to these hurdles.

On the other hand, several new technologies have managed to appeal to the public. Digital hospital rooms, virtual medicine kiosks, and mobile e-health devices are providing physicians with crucial information on their patients, aiding them in the process of diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment. Remote monitoring of clients has proven to be very useful to both the medical industry and patients, as well. Also, mobile devices have access to Electronic Health Records and patient information from remote locations, offering call scheduling, training and education, as well as communication for appointments and reminders. Finally, as wearable technologies are beginning to catch on, new mHealth technologies may be incorporated into them, allowing the user and their doctor(s) to track their progress and recovery.

The lack of engagement in mHealth comes from the lack of standardization in these new technologies. There are currently too many types of mobile platforms to have a standard mobile app, and several of these competing apps provide many of the same functions for the consumer. Also, the legal ramifications of using the technology are dictated by HIPPA, so there must be new laws in place to ensure compliance. By developing real-time apps where patients and physicians can share information concurrently, consumers will more-than-likely see the value in adopting these new technologies.

In years to come, we will begin to see healthcare consumers embracing mHealth for the future of their own healthcare. They will likely expect more of their healthcare provider (since consumers are experiencing higher out-of-pocket payments for medical services). The key will be to provide high-quality, low-cost health care by eliminating as many middlemen as possible, thereby restoring the doctor-patient relationship. With mHealth, a consumer will have more access to medical professionals and, in turn, medical professionals will be more responsive to their patient’s needs. There will be a welcome competition in the medical industry in the future according to these factors, and the incorporation of mHealth technologies can give individual businesses an edge over their fellow medical practices.

August 01, 2014

Hospitality Industry Divided Over Mobile Marketing

 

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New research from Omnico indicates that UK consumers are less likely to use mobile devices to engage with hospitality service providers when compared with other industries. Just 13% of consumers said they would use mobile to interact with hoteliers and travel agents.

This reticence is understandable when examined from the consumer point of view. People ultimately want a better user experience, but with so many metrics to consider when booking a holiday, it’s possible that small screen devices are given short shrift. Filling in multiple fields – car rental, flights, hotels etc – is a hassle even on a desktop. Even on a mobile-optimized site or app, there’s simply too much information to divest for a quality user experience. 

Thankfully for the industry, the point of purchase is just one step in the process. There is still plenty of scope to create a compelling mobile marketing campaign that simply hands off to desktop at the point of sale. 

And despite the apparently-negative data collated in the UK, mobile usage has been steadily increasing in the world of hospitality. A Forrester survey from last year identified a 450% increase in mobile bookings since 2009. Some analysts predict mobile sales will be worth $26 billion by the year’s end. That’s one in five online travel dollars! 

The biggest mobile marketing strides have been made post-purchase, with 75% of travelers using a mobile device to shop and book activities while on holiday, according to Forrester. Clearly, this is where the hospitality industry is benefitting most: reaching consumers who are already on vacation and for whom smartphones and tablets are the only readily-available web-connected device.

If you’re trying to create a mobile marketing campaign that works, focus on enriching the entire experience, not just selling vacations. Offer portals for booking restaurants. Provide information on local tourist sites. Gather user reviews that could help future customers. Break your mobile marketing strategy down into three key practices:

  • Promotion. Offer last minute deals, hotel discounts or coupons. Mobile – and especially SMS messaging - is perfect for issuing time-sensitive information.
  • Loyalty Rewards. Offer loyalty points with personalized incentives attached. Track data to give reward customers with the things they like. If they’re clocking up thousands of miles, offer air miles. If they use the same hotel chain around the world, try to partner with that hotel to offer discounts.
  • User Experience. Keep customers up to date on new destinations. Send weather forecasts, or travel directions. Stay engaged throughout their trip and solicit feedback in the form of reviews.

A balanced mobile marketing strategy is of vital importance in an aggressively competitive industry. The beauty of mobile is the ease with which you can subdivide customers according to personal preference, so even if your primary booking platform is your desktop website, stay plugged in to mobile and you’ll reap the long term benefits.

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 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 19, 2014

From Zero to Hero: How Mobile Revolutionized Planet Marketing

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Mobile marketing has gone stratospheric since the advent of the smartphone, but it’s been around in some form or another for more than 20 years. SMS messaging gave marketers a whole new channel to pursue during the 90s, when cell phone ownership first became widespread. Now, with text messages the most commonly read form of communication, advertisers are cautiously rediscovering the possibilities of SMS marketing.

But mobile marketing is about much more than SMS. The smartphone age has seen to that by putting the power and connectivity of a desktop computer into the palms, pockets and handbags of almost everyone in the western world. Some inroads were made into serious, non-SMS mobile marketing tactics during BlackBerry’s first flush of success in the early noughties, but when the first iPhone hit stores in 2007, marketing execs really sat up and began to take notice. 

As developers clamored to create apps to go along with Apple’s devices, the first wave of modern mobile marketing tactics began to take shape. The focus was very much on volume, and publishers relied largely on getting high app store chart rankings in order to gain visibility. Marketing efforts were all about short-term gains, with the main objective to generate as many downloads as early as possible in order to climb the charts. Quantity reigned supreme over quality.

These early years of app/mobile marketing were dominated by incentivized downloads – something Apple continued to allow until April 2011, despite the obvious credibility problems. Tracking performance was problematic. Platform regulations were loose, and developers took full advantage; it was essentially a land grab, the Old West of app and mobile marketing. 

By 2012, developers began thinking about the possibilities of quality and performance tracking. CPI-based campaigns gathered steam and, and better quality tracking was sought. For their part, Apple tightened its rules, clamping down on people accused of gaming the chart system by using bot farms to generate inauthentic downloads.

Around the same time, publishers became more data-focused, integrating in-app analytics software to collect metrics like usage, engagement, retention and monetization potential. There was a growing focus on high-quality user experience – but mostly with the objective of retaining customers for the medium-term.

That all began to change over the last 18 months, as a new climate took hold in the tech world. The shift is now overwhelmingly moving in the direction of stellar quality, as mobile marketing campaign managers realize that acquiring new users, even for a pittance, is not sensible unless they are retained, engaged, and monetized. Against that backdrop, some unlikely transactions have taken place – such as the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook – but there is no doubt that the app world has raised it’s game. With GPS technology and other location-based tools fast improving, the future of mobile marketing is unpredictable, but undeniably exciting.

 

 

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.