Tech

159 posts categorized

June 29, 2015

Uber Goes App-less With SMS Version

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Last month, Uber and Coding Dojo hosted a 48-hour hackathon competition in San Jose—a student and alumni challenge to generate ideas that would improve Uber’s impact on the community. The winner of the contest was TextBer, an SMS version of Uber’s popular smartphone app that will allow non-smartphone users to access the service using basic text messaging.  

The idea isn’t as passé as one might think. While it’s easy to take smartphones for granted in the age of instant-access, the TextBer team focused on people who are marginalized from services like Uber due to various circumstances.  

According to an April study by Pew Research Center, only 27% of adults over 65 have smartphones; half of all adults making less than $30,000 a year are without smart devices as well. However, many of these individuals have the ability to send text messages using their mobile devices, which is precisely what TextBer aims to capitalize on in their SMS version. 

“My grandfather has Alzheimer’s,” said Arash Namvar, one of TextBer’s developers. “…TextBer allows him to easily get an Uber ride from his house to my house. It makes me feel better because he’s safe.” 

Namvar and four other creators spent several hours brainstorming the dilemma before they decided to construct TextBer for the contest, which is currently in beta and utilizing UberX car—Uber’s lower-cost product. 

 

How it Works 

Using a desktop computer, users create an Uber account with a credit card and link their TextBer account with a specific cell phone number. To receive the service, users simply text a pickup and dropoff address to TextBer. A time estimate and quote will be texted back to the user’s cell phone, at which time they can approve the message and dispatch the driver. 

 

Going Forward

The current version of TextBer is limited to UberX vehicles and SMS messaging; however, the team of creators hopes to build more features that will benefit the visually impaired and those with disabilities.  

Other features discussed may include default home settings and common location identifiers so users wouldn’t have to type repetitive information.

SMS is an affordable alternative for service-based communications, which may grow in popularity as this SMS service moves forward through production. In addition to helping users without smartphones, this service will hopefully provide a service that makes life a little easier (and safer) for those in need of a driver; regardless of age, economic status or smartphone.  

 

 

June 24, 2015

5 MMS Marketing Tactics

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MMS marketing has been around for a few years, but when it comes to launching a new product or promotion, most business still limit themselves to SMS messaging. Mobile coupons and other offers are usually plain text affairs, and the popularity of shortcodes and keywords has caused many businesses to lose sight of the bigger picture.

This is somewhat surprising given the wide availability of MMS, which allows brands to entice customers with images as well as words. If you’re interested in harnessing the power of rich media to give your mobile marketing campaign a shot in the arm, consider the following applications of MMS:

 

Show & Tell

The visual element that’s so important to advertising has taken a backseat in text message marketing. Sure, you can (and should) include a link to your website, but in the hyper-competitive world of modern marketing, the fewer steps the consumer needs to take, the better. The food industry is probably the most obvious beneficiary of image-based advertising; MMS allows you to send the 2-for-1 pizza promo deal and a tasty picture of the pie. Visual stimulus will get mouths watering far more than mere words.

 

Text to Win

Use your existing subscriber base to introduce loyal customers to new products with MMS. To generate interaction, run a competition with the product shown as the prize.

 

Text to Reserve

Again, mobile marketing tactics that use SMS messaging can be modified for MMS. If you run a restaurant, send picture messages of the latest meal specials and offer a time-limited promo deal to respondents.  

 

Text to Vote

Running a poll or survey can be more effective with MMS than with standard text messaging. Encourage subscribers to vote on which appetizer they would prefer, along with a picture of each dish. Set up keywords to represent each appetizer (WINGS/SOUP-DU-JOUR/etc) and allow respondents to vote on the nicest looking dish, or the dish they’d prefer to see on your menu. Not only will you encourage engagement by the vote, you’ll have created targeted lists of customers based on food preference.  

 

Text to Connect

Stay in touch with subscribers with the right MMS campaign and you’ll see interaction increase. As long as you offer something of value, the underlying impetus behind your campaign can simply be to remain connected with your customer base. Keep such messages to a minimum. A ‘text to connect’ picture message should only be used if you don’t have any current promos, you haven’t reached out to your contacts for a while and you can create a special offer to be included in the message.

June 22, 2015

Will Apple's Taptic Engine Make it to Mobile?

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Apple’s latest innovation is the Taptic Engine, a new feature for their smartwatch as well as the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Utilizing a research lab technique engineered 20 years ago, the technology features an electromagnetic motor that “tricks your fingers into feeling things that aren’t actually there.” This is due to the motor’s oscillation, which potentially promises a future full of smartphones and desktop trackpads where fingers are used to feel rather than touch interfaces.  

Named Force Touch, Apple has touted the technology as the "most significant new sensing capability since Multi-Touch," which foreshadows the idea of using the technology for the iPhone, etc. Its use in the MacBook trackpad, for example, presents something more sophisticated than the almost base motors used to make smartphones and game controllers vibrate.  

“Today’s Apple announcement made possible by Margaret Minsky’s lateral-force haptic texture synthesis research, 20 years ago,” former Apple designer Bret Victor wrote in a tweet. Minsky’s 1995 doctoral thesis focused on simulating texture with lateral force using a “custom software environment called Sandpaper.” Minksy discovered applying specific patterns of horizontal force to a joystick made it possible for users to “feel” assorted textures. Amplitude adjustment changed the effect, with a key point of Minksy’s work that sideways spring forces frequently feel like downward spring forces when touched by fingertips. 

 “It is, in the Apple way, very well engineered,” haptics pioneer Vincent Hayward of McGill University said of Apple’s Taptic Engine. “There’s a lot of attention to detail. It’s a very simple and very clever electromagnetic motor.” 

The potential to use the engine in a number of applications is somewhat outlined in Apple’s release notes: “When dragging a video clip to its maximum length, you’ll get feedback letting you know you’ve hit the end of the clip. Add a title and you’ll get feedback as the title snaps into position at the beginning or end of a clip. Subtle feedback is also provided with the alignment guides that appear in the Viewer when cropping clips.”

Does this mean “Bumpy Pixels” are the proverbial wave of the future? Hayward imagines a variety of possibilities. 

“It could make interaction more realistic, or useful, or entertaining, or pleasant,” he noted. “That becomes the job of the user experience designer.”

Should the Taptic Engine appear in the iPhone, the result could include keyboards where you feel the grooves in between the letters, or feel texture while skimming Instagram or playing a game. Hayward believes the iPhone potential is definitely there, it simply requires creating a motor that’s powerful and battery-efficient enough for such devices. 

“More interesting paradigms really are around the corner,” he said. “They already exist in labs. If you come to Paris, I can show you some things that you will have in phones in 10 years. Or maybe five years. Or two years, if we’re lucky.”

 

June 18, 2015

Adblockers are Costing Google Billions

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According to a recent report from anti-adblock tech firm PageFair, Google lost $6.6 billion in global revenue to ad blockers in 2014. The rise of ad blocking is becoming quite problematic for digital media companies, with Google so far taking the brunt of it.  

The $6.6 billion accounts for 10 percent of Google’s total revenue for last year. PageFair used Google's own revenue numbers as well as market data from research companies eMarketer and comScore to predict Google's total potential ad revenues from YouTube, search, AdSense, and DoubleClick. AdSense and DoubleClick are Google’s display advertising properties.  

"This is a relatively small sum for a global corporation with revenues of nearly $60 billion, while being a huge cash injection for a fast-growing adblocking startup in Cologne,” PageFair wrote in a blog post. “It is not credible that these funds are simply being spent on the administration of the acceptable ads program. Instead, they are presumably being reinvested in the future development of adblocking ... Although paying Adblock Plus may recover some short-term search engine revenue, it also tightens the adblocking stranglehold on the remainder of Google’s revenue." 

Adblock Plus is one of the most popular ad blockers of the moment, and the company PageFair referred to regarding its $6.6 billion figure for Google. The adblocker provides internet companies with the chance for their ads to be whitelisted should they meet an "acceptable ads" policy. Acceptable ads include what ad blockers consider non-intrusive, such as sponsored search links. Yet according to The Financial Times, bigger digital advertising companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Taboola must pay Adblock Plus substantial fees — up to 30 percent of additional ad revenues if their ads weren’t blocked. 

Google’s lost revenue would have been much higher if not for the digital juggernaut’s whitelisting deal with Adblock Plus, which excluded search ads from the ad blocker’s filter. Google reportedly paid Adblock Plus $25 million to exclude search ads, but subsequently “saved” $3.5 billion in 2014.

Doubleclick and AdSense got “the worst of it,” and together lost Google $2.1 billion globally in 2014. YouTube, in comparison, lost $675 million in 2014 due to pre-roll ad blocking.

“The actual global adblocking rate is probably about five per cent, while the percentage of adblocked dollars is much higher,” Pagefair CEO and co-founder Sean Blanchfield told Mobile Marketing. “There is very low adblocking among many non-western countries, where access is primarily mobile, but where the ad spend is lower.”

Neither Google nor Adblock Plus have commented on the PageFair report at this time.

June 13, 2015

6 Mobile Marketing Myths

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Has your business still not taken a ride on the mobile marketing train? Considering Americans spend about two hours per day on their mobile devices, and one in seven people worldwide own such devices as of 2013, you may want to buy your proverbial train ticket. One out of every four mobile searches is conducted using a mobile device, and some 57 percent of users refuse to recommend companies without mobile-friendly site.  

If still not convinced, check out six mobile marketing myths to sway your vote: 

 

Myth #1: Mobile Marketing is Currently Enjoying Its 15 Minutes of Fame

Think the mobile marketing craze will be over soon? Think again. To quote Internet marketing expert Matt Bacak, “You’re simply an idiot if you think mobile marketing is not here to stay.” A bit harsh, but very true. 

 

Myth #2: Mobile Marketing is Crazy Expensive 

Many, many tools are now available to start a mobile marketing campaign without breaking the piggy bank. 

 

Myth #3: Optimizing Websites For Mobile Marketing Isn’t Necessary

Another popular myth surrounding mobile marketing is any normal business site is easy to read on a mobile device. This is rarely the case, and most users who find your site isn’t optimized for mobile devices are unlikely to visit the site again. 

 

Myth #4: Mobile Users Are the Same

A good number of businesses believe mobile users are limited to Millennials and Generation Y. Again, not true. According to media company Digiday, many mobile users--more than half--are 35 or older. Older generations are increasingly just as likely to use their mobile devices and bring them everywhere, so don’t dismiss them as old fogies who can barely operate a flip phone, let alone a smartphone. 

 

Myth #5: All That’s Required For Mobile Marketing is an App

While having a mobile app for your business is definitely a good thing, it’s merely one component of a larger mobile marketing strategy. A mobile-optimized website, QR codes, and texting messaging play sizable roles as well, and put together offer many opportunities for customer interaction and loyalty building. 

 

Myth #6: Mobile Marketing Doesn’t Apply to Small Businesses

Hardly. Mobile marketing offers a more personalized, more one-on-one experience, something the small business specializes in. It therefore makes perfect sense to capitalize on mobile marketing as a new way of talking to customers and ensuring their loyalty. 

Mobile marketing isn’t going anywhere, and businesses who take advantages of its many benefits are the ones sure to thrive. 

 

June 02, 2015

How Do Kids Use Mobile?

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As web-enabled mobile devices proliferate among the adult population, it’s not surprising that kids are getting their hands on their parents smartphones and tablets. The use of mobile technology among children of all ages has exploded over the past few years - even as overall screen media exposure had declined.

A 2013 study from Common Sense Media showed that 89% of American children had used a mobile device that year - up from 38% just two years prior. On average, children under the age of eight were using smartphones and tablets almost as much as tweens and teens, with 75% having access to a mobile device during 2013. Even babies are getting in on the mobile revolution, with 38% of under-twos having used a mobile device. 

Since the research two years ago, there have been no significant studies on children’s usage of mobile technology, but given the soaring rates of smartphone adoption in the United States, the number of kids using them is unlikely to have dropped. According to an Ericsson report from last year, the number of mobile devices per family is increasing, with 90% of U.S. households having three or more web-connected devices; almost half have five or more devices, and nearly 25% of households have seven or more.  

But there’s a twist. The Common Sense Media research indicates a drop-off in average screen time among youngsters. Television still accounts for about half of the two hours of average daily screen time for kids, with the rest being spent on DVDs, video games, computers and mobile devices. But that overall average screen time (1h55 minutes) is 21 minutes less than it was in 2011. 

Could that be an anomaly? Or are parents becoming more responsive to concerns about the perils of continuous exposure to screens? More research is needed to demonstrate that, but with investment in mobile marketing at an all time high, studies like this are never far away.

June 01, 2015

Should I Use an SMS Aggregator for Mobile Marketing?

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The whole idea behind sending SMS (short message service) messages is in the name--you’re sending a short message that you expect sent in a short amount of time. The right bulk SMS provider is therefore essential to ensure messages are sent in a timely fashion. However not all providers, or aggregators, are of the same quality. 

Understanding the difference between good and bad aggregators means understanding the history of SMS, grey routes included. Check it out: 

 

A Brief History Lesson

SMS technology came about in the 1980s as a method of sending messages to offline or otherwise unavailable mobile phones. Messages were (and still are) up to 160 characters in length, and use a ‘store and forward’ approach, meaning messages are stored and sent once a mobile link is established. SMS also uses a signaling channel in that it does not interfere with phone calls--sending and receiving messages is possible while on a call. 

Few realized how popular SMS would become when the first text message was sent in 1992. Mainly viewed as a way for professionals to page each other, it quickly became a easy way to communicate anywhere, anytime. SMS use “exploded” in 1999 when it became possible to text regardless of whether the receiver was in your network or not. Especially popular among teens and adults, texting also served as a less expensive communication option. 

Telecommunication companies set up international roaming networks as well so those traveling internationally could still send texts to loved ones at home. The subsequent adoption of SS7 (Signaling System #7) was a way to facilitate global P2P SMS.

Telco companies have never charged each other interconnect fees for sending P2P SMS across networks. When a person sends a message, the receiver usually replies, thus cancelling fees out. 

 

Aggregator Origins

Eventually assorted entrepreneurs found a way to send SMS messages to vast numbers of mobile phones through a computer. All that was required was a Global Title, which provided a network identity and allowed them to send traffic on SS7 roaming networks. 

This resulted in aggregators, or non-telco companies that allowed businesses to send bulk SMS. Such companies did not have individual customers, and created issues for telcos by sending huge numbers of SPAM messages. Other aggregators went for illegal grey routes. 

Grey routes were used to send messages to recipients in other countries without paying networks for message delivery. And while some aggregators don’t use grey routes, they do utilize least cost routing (LCR), which usually involves passing messages through several aggregators. It is not considered a reliable means of communication. 

 

Wrap-Up 

Grey routes not only interfere with legitimate SMS traffic, they also cost telecommunication companies millions of dollars in lost revenue every year. A grey route crackdown by telecos has resulted, with companies working with trusted aggregators only. 

So when debating whether an aggregator is right for your mobile marketing campaign, remember that old piece of advice: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Go for aggregators who have direct relationships with telcos--you may pay more, but the investment is very much worth it. 

May 30, 2015

TextStyle: Nordstrom's Entry into Text Message Shopping

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Shopping addicts beware: one of your favorite luxury retailers has just made it that much easier to shop through your mobile device. The higher-ups at Nordstrom are determined to solidify their foothold in the e-commerce world, and with their new tech tool that allows shopping via text, they’re well on their way. 

Certainly a method of encouraging overspending, TextStyle is a new text shopping service that allows consumers to make purchases based on recommendations sent over the phone by a personal shopper or by a favorite salesperson. The tool allows Nordstrom to remain competitive, as the store and fellow luxury retailers are engaged in a race to provide customers with new shopping options and related technology.  

Nordstrom currently gets 21 percent of its revenue from e-commerce. The company’s multi-year, $1.5 billion plan is all about “pushing its tech firepower forward,” especially as rivals such as Barneys New York, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus are also spending a lot on retail tech. 

TextStyle is a proprietary NEXT opt-in, a secure one-on-one service that allows Nordstrom customers to get in touch with sales associates through text message if that’s their prefered communication method. A shopper or the salesperson sends private messages with an image or description of the product, and if interested, the shopper sends a “buy” reply and enters a unique code. The transaction is complete using the shopper’s account at nordstrom.com. 

Since personalized service is a huge component of luxury shopping, it makes perfect sense to incorporate such service into e-commerce. Neiman Marcus gave its 5,000 salespeople Apple iPhones some four years ago so they could text customers about the latest designer handbag or shoe arrival. 

“TextStyle is an important step forward in our efforts to connect with customers on their terms,” Scott Jones, Nordstrom’s VP of Personalization, told Fortune, remarking that the tool is a way the retailer is hoping to be “relevant for customers.”

Both Norstrom’s TextStyle and Neiman Marcus’s iPhone-armed sales associates are hailed as the “little black book associates” of the 21st century. Luxury retailers have always kept tabs on their best customers and what they liked to purchase, and are simply reformatting their “books” in regards to e-commerce. 

Which other luxury retailers will follow Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus and create their own shopping apps and text message services? Most likely all of them, especially since e-commerce isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

 

May 21, 2015

Global Smartphone Sales of $96bn in 2015 Q1

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Recently released figures suggest 2015 will be a record-breaking year for the smartphone. According to market research company GfK, global sales hit $96 billion in Q1 - an 8% year-on-year increase.  

The market has never witnessed such a successful quarter. The number of units sold went up by 7%, to 309.7 million (from 290.1 million in the first quarter of 2014). The lion’s share of that growth comes from Middle Eastern and African markets, but strong growth in North America continues to drive revenues. 

Outside the USA, there has been a slowing of growth in other mature markets such as China and Japan - though analysts predict this is a temporary hiccup rather than a new trend. As more consumers make the transition from 3G to 4G, developed Asian markets are expected to fuel a resurgence in regional sales. 

Much of the ground made can be attributed to a combination of 4G and large-screen adoption, but low-end smartphones have also experienced an upsurge, increasing their market share from 52% in the previous quarter, to 56% in Q1 of 2015. Mid-range devices remained stable and price erosion in emerging markets has seen high-end models (retailing at $500+) take a tumble.

What are we to make of these figures? According to GfK, global smartphone demand is predicted to grow by at least 10% year-on-year for the remainder of 2015. Asia - and in particular India and Indonesia - is forecast to be the primary growth area, as the economies are strong but smartphone penetration is still relatively low.

May 20, 2015

Millennials Pose Biggest Mobile Security Risk

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Internet technology security has become of increased concern for companies with sensitive internal data. The risk from outsider infiltration has been of topic for years, yet a recent report conducted by endpoint security specialists Absolute Software, says otherwise.

According to the survey, almost fifty percent of the workforce will be millennials by 2020. As this group replaces the baby boomers, there are new concerns posed by use and behavior with employer-owned mobile devices and personal computers. 

The survey took a look at 750 Americans over the age of 18 who work for companies with at least fifty employees. Although seventy-nine percent of those questioned reported they prefer separate mobile devices for personal and work use, fifty-two percent will use the company-owned property for personal reasons. What’s more, of that total, fourteen percent admit their personal behavior could compromise company data and lead to a potential security risk. 

What’s more interesting still, the age demographic and position level have strong influences on this behavior. Only five percent of baby boomers reported compromising activities on company property, while twenty-five percent of millennials report similar activity. Sixty-four percent of millennials reported using desktop computers for personal use, while only thirty-seven percent of baby boomer reported the personal use of company desktops. 

Aside from breaking company policies that protect sensitive data, among those surveyed, twenty-seven percent reported the content they view is not safe on company property. Five percent concluded their personal content was of no threat to the company’s security. 

Moreover, as position level increases, so too does the likeliness of an employee using employee-owned property for personal use. Of those at senior level positions, seventy-six percent admitted to personal use, and twenty-six percent have actually lost company devices in the last five years. Lower level positions were significantly less, with fifty-one percent admitting to similar personal use.

Vice President of Global Marketing Absolute, Stephen Midgley, says the report was conducted to help companies become more aware of this unique threat to IT security.

“Armed with this information, our customers can consider user behavior as an additional data point in their endpoint security and data risk management strategies,” said Midgley. 

The recommendation is simple: implement a security solution on all employee-owned devices. Additional measures might also include a combination of employee training, updates to guidelines and procedures, as well as personal responsibility placed on the employees.