RIM’s charm outreach to developers

      By Shaun Zelber,  November 12th, 2012 :: Apps & Sites, News & Events, OS & Handsets

RIM is gearing up to make yet another attempt to woo would-be BlackBerry 10 developers to its platform. They know very well that this is key to making the  OS a success.

This time RIM will offer up hard cash to game developers who create a game for (or port an existing game to) BlackBerry 10. Each approved game will net the developer $100. Developers  can  submit 20 apps for consideration.

Also you get between two and five gaming apps approved, you get a free BlackBerry PlayBook on top of the money. Should five to ten or your apps get approved, you get all that plus a Dev Alpha device. On the off chance that you’ve been sitting on a boatload of apps that eventually get approved, you get all that plus a free ticket to attend GDC 2013.

The intelligence of this approach though remains to be seen. Is it going to produce lots of shoddy apps or maybe some good ones ? My guess is lots of shoddy ones.

They have promised top developers to pay the difference if their app doesn’t earn $10,000 in their first year in the BlackBerry App World. That may bring in some of the bigger and more exciting developers.

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 Who’s Vulnerable Among the Internet’s ‘Fantastic Four’? Techonomy Panelists Say It’s Apple And Facebook

      By Shaun Zelber,  November 12th, 2012 :: News & Events, OS & Handsets

I came across this excellent article on Techcrunch and wanted to share it :

Most of the discussion about “the Internet’s Fantastic Four” at the Techonomy conference this afternoon focused on the ways Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have come to dominate the online landscape. But the panelists were also asked to identify which of the companies seemed particularly vulnerable.

Alec Ellison, chairman of technology investment banking at Jefferies & Company, offered what was perhaps the most surprising answer (at least if you’re looking at market capitalization) — Apple. Ellison said that Jeffries is “bullish” on all four companies, but even before the vulnerability question came up, he criticized Apple, saying that of the group, Apple has the least “stickiness” with consumers. In other words, Apple has to continue rolling out cool new products if it wants to keep its lead. Meanwhile, it would be much harder for a competitor to unseat Amazon, Facebook, or Google, even if they don’t offer any new innovations.

Apple’s stores could become a big weakness, too, Ellison said. Sure, they’re a “tremendous advantage” now, but Ellison said IBM had a similar network of stores, which “became an albatross in the ’90s.” To reinforce his point, he asked the audience if anyone had set foot in a Disney store recently, and no one raised their hands, but he said that that question would have gotten a very different answer a decade ago. Apple could follow a similar pattern, Ellison argued. If its product momentum slows, the stores could become a big drain rather than an asset.

Mark Mahaney, formerly an analyst at Citi, argued that Facebook has a big question mark, too — namely, CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Mahaney suggested that Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick has spent more time with Zuckerberg than almost anyone. And that’s a bad thing, because it shows how “not to many people really know this person.” Some of those questions are inevitable, Mahaney added, because you “don’t really know how good these executives are for five or 10 years.”

He also argued that Facebook’s margins are too high, signaling that the company should go more into “investment mode.” Mobile is one area where the company didn’t invest enough, Mahaney said — Facebook took a long time to release an iPad app, and its mobile apps have had significant performance issues, supposedly because of the company’s bet on HTML5. Bad bets can happen to anyone, but Mahaney said, “They didn’t make enough bets on mobile.”

The panel also covered the opportunities that these companies create and eliminate for startups. Mahaney spoke about the “deep competitive moats” that each of the big four has around its business, making it very hard for anyone to take them on directly. He suggested that new companies will have a hard time building a broad social network, or a broad search engine, or a broad e-commerce site — instead, the opportunities lie in focusing on specific niches or verticals.

Still, Mahaney predicted that another big online player will emerge in the next few years, and Ellison said it will probably be a company using “a new technology that isn’t yet economic.” For example, Ellison noted that before early social network SixDegrees.com went bankrupt, the team was debating whether it can afford to let every member upload a profile picture. Obviously, that hasn’t been a problem at Facebook, whose growth has been enabled by rapidly falling storage costs.



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 Verizon to Close Its App Store in January

      By Shaun Zelber,  November 6th, 2012 :: Apps & Sites, General

Verizon Wireless said Monday that it plans to shut down its own-branded app store as of January.

Verizon set up the marketplace as Vcast Apps in March 2010, aiming to serve as an alternative spot for customers to get BlackBerry and Android apps.

The company will begin in January the process of removing its store, now known as Verizon Apps, from customer devices. This is a huge backward step and along with what Tmobile has done in the same direction and Sprint saying that they have no intention to have their own app store it looks like for now Google Play reigns supreme on the Android front.

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 2nd Birthday Windows Phone 7

      By Shaun Zelber,  October 22nd, 2012 :: Geek & Tech, General, OS & Handsets


Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s big return to the smartphone stage after Windows Mobile’s gradual decline and demise, turns two today, according to a tweet by Joel Belfiore, Microsoft’s head of Windows Phone product definition and design. So I thought it would be fitting to take a look back at Windows Phone 7′s life up until now, and what the mobile OS has or hasn’t done for Microsoft so far.

On October 21, 2010, the first Windows Phone 7 handsets officially went on sale in New Zealand, Australia and parts of Europe and Asia. 10 launch devices brought the mobile OS to users, made by HTC, Dell, Samsung and LG (early highlights of the lineup included the LG Optimus 7, Samsung Omnia 7 and HTC HD7), spanning 60 carriers in 30 countries, and expanding to more in 2011. Early sales were promising in some markets, and even generated lines according to an AT&T spokesman, but overall failed to impress, with only 40,000 total units reportedly sold in the first day of U.S. availability.

In December, Microsoft Corporate VP of the Mobile Communications Business and Marketing Group Achim Berg revealed in an interview posted to Microsoft’s official blog that Microsoft had sold over 1.5 million devices – but that was to carrier partners, not sales through to customers, which meant there was no telling how much of that was sitting on store shelves or in stock storerooms. Berg hedged against potential criticism in that interview, saying that Windows Phone 7′s “numbers [were] similar to the performance of other first generation mobile platforms.”

The news didn’t improve terribly in January the following year, when Microsoft announced passing the 2 million mark about 10 weeks after its Windows Phone 7 launch, but again, those numbers were to retailers, not overall sales to customers. By most accounts, users seemed pleased with the OS, but growth rates still looked to be a considerable challenge.

A month later, in February 2011, Nokia and Microsoft announced a broad partnership, with the aim of using Nokia’s hardware expertise to boost Microsoft’s struggling mobile OS. The idea seemed sound: Nokia was enjoying flagging fortunes in the worldwide handset market, having trouble competing with Android and iOS device gains, and Microsoft needed a focused hardware partner it could work closely with to both guide the future Windows Phone’s software design, and also make sure device/OS integration was as tight as possible. Here are three crucial bullet points from the press release announcing the arrangement:

  • Nokia would adopt Windows Phone as its principal smartphone strategy, innovating on top of the platform in areas such as imaging, where Nokia is a market leader.
  • Nokia would help drive the future of Windows Phone. Nokia would contribute its expertise on hardware design, language support, and help bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points, market segments and geographies.
  • Nokia and Microsoft would closely collaborate on joint marketing initiatives and a shared development roadmap to align on the future evolution of mobile products.

It was a bold move on both sides, and one that seemed on the surface to have at least some potential to help both companies rally in the increasingly competitive mobile ecosystem. But it would take until October before consumers got any inkling of what kind of hardware we’d see from the partnership, with the official unveiling of the Nokia Lumia 800, and another month after that before it would ship to consumers. The Lumia 800 was fairly well-received by reviewers, and includedWindows Phone 7.5 “Mango,” a significant update that brought a number of features to the OS users thought were missing in the original release. Mango also made it to a lineup of other devices from manufacturers besides Nokia, though by this time, it already seemed like some of Microsoft’s other hardware partners might be losing interest, owing to its special relationship with Nokia.

Nokia Windows Phone 7 sales failed to impress, and Microsoft remained mum on the subjectduring the first conference call it had following the Mango device launches, which wasn’t reassuring anyone. Then, in June, Microsoft essentially dealt Windows Phone 7 a killing blow, saying that it wouldn’t be possible to upgrade devices running Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8. They announced Windows Phone 7.8 at the same time, which would bring some functionality from the newer OS to older devices, but the damage it did to existing hardware sales was evident in Nokia’s most recent earnings, as it only sold 2.9 million Lumia devices, with its smartphone sales overall taking a sizeable blow.

In July 2012, a Nielsen report put Windows Phone 7′s market share relative to other smartphone operating systems at just 1.3 percent, and predictions from analysts at the time only saw it rising to around 4 percent by end of year. Windows Phone 8 will prove important for Microsoft in terms of its ability to gain ground on the other mobile operating systems out there, and at least one analyst firm believes Windows Phone will still become the second most popular smartphone OS by 2016. As for Windows Phone 7, it will live on in 7.8 updates pushed out to existing owners of Lumia and other devices, but for all intents and purposes, it’s on the path to oblivion. But despite not taking the world by storm, Windows Phone 7 may have paved the way for a return to mobile prominence for Microsoft, even if it’s hard to see that happening based on the current state of affairs.

Came across this article on Techcrunch by


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 The Search Era May Be Over

      By Shaun Zelber,  October 14th, 2012 :: Apps & Sites, Geek & Tech, News & Events

Something crucial happened last month that no one seems to be paying attention to.

People searched less and that’s never happened before.

Ben Schachter of Macquarie Securities noted this in a research note:

Notably, total core organic searches declined 4 percent y/y, representing the first decline in total search volume since we began tracking the data in 2006. While this month marks the first y/y decline in total search volume, growth rates have been decelerating since February’s recent peak at 14 percent y/y growth (for the prior two years, growth rates were largely stable in the high single-digit to low double-digit range).

Tech insiders have been predicting this would happen for some time, as people shifted from using websites, where search is a natural activity, to using mobile apps. No less a luminary than Steve Jobs made this prediction in 2010 at the D8 conference:

We discovered something—people are going into apps. They’re not just going onto to websites. And people love apps. This is an entirely new thing—they aren’t using search, they’re using apps like Yelp.

That’s terrible for Yahoo, which depends on search for most of its profits and, having handed most of its back-end search technology over to Microsoft, has precious little leverage to restore its momentum.

It’s also horrible news for Microsoft, which continues to spend and lose billions of dollars to catch up with Google in a market that, it turns out, just peaked.

It’s fantastic for Apple, of course, which doesn’t have a stake in the search business but has a lock on most of the profits in the app economy.

It’s also good for players like Amazon, Yelp, and eBay, which handle specialized kinds of commercial searches that work well when packaged into a mobile app.

Google is not as bad off as it might seem. Yes, most of its business is built around search. But it has its own mobile ecosystem in Android, so it’s positioned to capture consumers as they shift from searching on the Web to using specialized apps to express and fulfill their desires. And with YouTube and Google+, it has strong social properties that don’t depend on search.

Twitter will continue to benefit from its unique ability to deliver timely content that doesn’t show up in conventional searches.

And Facebook, which admits it hasn’t really bothered to pursue the search opportunity, might still do something interesting. Or it might look at search and realize that it’s ultimately a declining business.

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 Sprint and the Japan connection

      By Shaun Zelber,  October 12th, 2012 :: News & Events

Sprint has been dragged down for years with deep losses and huge debt. There may finally be a way out. Japanese phone and Internet company Softbank Corp. is in talks to buy a significant stake. A deal would offer a multibillion-dollar lifeline that could help Sprint finance future mergers of its own and better compete with its much bigger and richer rivals.
This could be a very interesting development and shake up significantly the landscape in the US. Maybe Docomo too will want to get in on the bandwagon ?



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 Samsung profits from patent wars

      By Shaun Zelber,  October 12th, 2012 :: Apps & Sites, Geek & Tech, OS & Handsets

Data from Localytics seems to indicate that Samsung has a spike in sales everytime there is a significant court battle. The publicity seems to profit Samsung. This is quite funny because Apple wished to disrupt Samsung’s and Android’s business prospects but it seems to be quite the opposite.

The research isn’t based on actual sales, but the number of new Samsung Galaxy SIII handsets seen by apps using Localytics app-tracking analytics package from July 31 to October 1, 2012. Nevertheless, it’s interesting, not just for the unexpected stats, but also the Localytics’ conclusion that this might signal the “beginning of mobile OS ambivalence”.

Week over week Galaxy S3 growth with iPhone 5 launch noted

Localytics stats suggest that Apple’s legal battle with the world’s largest phone vendor had cemented the perception that the companies’ smartphones were similar.

Does the OS matter ?

Localytics states: “A possible implication of this analysis is that a portion of smartphone users appear less tied to a particular operating system, instead comparing the full package of device, mobile network and available apps before choosing what to buy. This not only creates new opportunities for Android device manufacturers but also new Windows 8 devices. For app developers, this underscores the importance of having a presence on the top two or three platforms for your market.”

This may just signal to developers that having a truly Multi OS approach for the top 3 or 4 OS is key for success.

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 A game app developer’s guide to monetization

      By Shaun Zelber,  October 10th, 2012 :: Advertising, Apps & Sites

Came across this excellent article on Fierce Wireless

The most popular gaming apps challenge players to chase after pigs and aliens, destroy fruit and even play god. For the developers who make them, there’s an even bigger challenge: finding a path to profitability.

Much of the research around smartphone use shows the majority of consumers are highly reluctant to pay for an app, let alone something that’s primarily for fun as opposed to a business or productivity tool. There’s enormous competition to attract players to gaming apps, and the debate over in-app purchasing and in-app advertising becomes even more heated when players probably want to spend more of their time scoring points than receiving a marketing message. These were among the issues discussed at last week’s Apps World Europe, which took place in London and featured a session on monetization strategies for mobile game developers.

Tag Games makes social-mobile games including Funpark Friends.

“The key learning is it’s actually really hard to make money,” said Paul Farley, founder and managing director of Tag Games Ltd., in a phone interview with FierceDeveloper from the conference. Farley was among the participants in the panel discussion. “No longer are you a developer, but a developer, publisher and now also a retailer. Customer acquisition is an issue, among other things, but the rewards are there if you can do it.”

Which pricing model works for you?
One of the key decisions for developers is whether to simply offer games for free, treat the game as a “premium” app and charge for it, or a “freemium” model whereby the game is free but players would be required to pay for various enhancements. Will Luton, a gaming industry consultant based in the U.K., said that while some developers may start out by giving a gaming app away and later trying to charge, it’s very hard to switch between models.

“There’s some examples of titles that have done it, mostly those with existing virtual currency, but there’s lots of complexity around how it’s done and how you manage player backlash,” he said. “I’d suggest all devs put consumable in-app purchases (IAPs) in their apps, regardless of if they intend to charge upfront or not. It gives the greatest flexibility.”

More specifically, Luton suggested developers consider what he calls the “Four Cs” of IAPs: content, competitive advantage, customization and convenience. Each of these have their pros and cons, however, For example, some users may be willing to pay for special content that enhances the gaming experience, but these could be more one-off purchases rather than the kind of recurring revenue developers would probably prefer. Allowing users to pay for a competitive advantage, meanwhile, could unbalance the game, Luton warned.

“Customization, which usually means (offering) avatar dressing or something similar, works best when users can share with and view customization of friends, due to a phenomenon known as social proof,” he said. “Convenience falls in the realm of letting a player do something quicker or easier–commonly this is energy mechanics.”

Farley said Tag Games has tried similar things. “Most people will pay to speed up the experience of open up content that’s only available for purchasing,” he said. “With customization, it might be about letting them choose the color of their car. What we’ve learned is that what would be perceived as having value from the developer is not always what the audience would see as having value.” Even something simple, like buying specialty stickers for one of Tag’s racing car games, has gained traction, he said.

Matt Gillis
Matt Gillis

Matt Gillis, senior vice president of global monetization solutions at Millennial Media, said it’s better to start early and ensure that monetization tactics like IAPs are tightly integrated into the fabric of the game, rather than looking like users were seemingly forced into it after the fact.

“Developers do not necessarily have to ‘make a move’ to freemium,” he said. “It can be part of an overall monetization strategy from the beginning.”

Making the IAP process smooth and giving a real show of the outcome is very important, added Luton. This is all about good game design–making the title fun and enjoyable and the player feeling satisfied in making a payment. “It’s still very early for IAPs right now and we’ll see bags of creativity–it’s rapidly moving,” he said.

Luton had high praise for IAP experience on iPhones. “Generally iOS is still killing it,” Luton said, noting Facebook and Android still have some improvements to make. Gillis said Windows Phone from Microsoft should not be ignored, either.

“It’s worth thinking about your approach to monetization based on the platform,” said Luton. “For example, up-front paid is almost commercial suicide on Android–some games can do it, but very few– [a] better [option] is ad-supported with IAP.

Gillis pointed to SongPop, a gaming app from Fresh Planet which offers users the ability to play for free since it is monetized with advertising. Additionally, there are in-app purchase opportunities in the game so users can unlock new song packs, send messages to friends and even buy the songs they hear. “It is clear to me that Fresh Planet took a very holistic approach to monetization when they were developing their game.”

Developers also need to think about how they can leverage popular platforms, and their own apps, to gather and analyze data, Farley said. He noted that Zynga has been particularly successful in tailoring its marketing activities based on what it knows about its customers. That’s one of the reasons Tag Games recently hired a data scientist to get greater insights into buyer behaviors.

“It’s giving you as a developer inside knowledge into how people are playing the games–what they are doing, what they aren’t doing,” he said. “There might be things you thought would be popular but aren’t. Prior to that, most games were designed by some creative visionary, but the more you can find out what people are actually doing, you can give them what they want.” This can make paid services much more viable, he added.

Can in-app advertisements work for your app?
As for the dreaded in-app advertisements? Farley sounded reluctant. “If I’ve downloaded it, I don’t’ want to be sold to every five minutes,” he said. Tag Games is far more interested in cross-marketing its own products or possibly looking at product placements within gaming experiences. A player might see a McDonald’s restaurant in the game’s virtual world, for example, and by clicking on it receive discounts or coupons.

Luton agreed and called these “offer walls,” acknowledging that this is still a risky area for most developers. “You need to consider hard the options and how they’re integrated,” he said. “Adverts can have a hugely negative impact on player perception.”

Most of the developers that are monetizing with in-app purchases experience the same challenge– 5 percent of their users account for 95 percent of their revenue, said Gillis. For example, Beeline Interactive made a dramatic pivot with a game like Smurfs’ Village from charging a one-time download fee to a freemium model. Since then, they have followed on with many other titles leveraging in-app purchases.

“I think the key learning is that freemium and ad-supported models can be complementary so that developers can monetize 100 percent of their users, rather than just five percent,” he said.

Even though few can match the marketing budgets of the largest game app makers, Farley said developers shouldn’t completely give up on the idea of premium games. There are still a few that can charge as much as $20, which can actually help them stand out within app stores and increase their discoverability.

“It’s like vinyl LPs–there’s still a market for it,” he said. “I think it’s all about experimentation, trying different things. We have options. You don’t have to go through a publisher; you don’t have to go premium. You can do what’s right for your product which is, after all, unique.”

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 C Spire’s recommendation engine app Scout passes 100 K downloads

      By Shaun Zelber,  October 8th, 2012 :: Apps & Sites

C Spire Wireless, a regional wireless carrier, reported that its personalized recommendations app, SCOUT, has surpassed 110,000 users across Android and iOS devices.

SCOUT asks users a series of questions and thus creating a profile then based on the profile suggests apps that the user may enjoy. Soon after launch,  the app expanded to include music, movie and eBook suggestions across Apple’s App Store and Amazon.com.

The carrier also expanded SCOUT to include App Critics–users who review and spotlight select apps–and App Packs–bundled, curated apps by interest.

“SCOUT gets to know each consumer in a more intimate way and offers app and entertainment recommendations that match their interests and needs–providing content that is relevant, meaningful and more personalized to each customer,” said Suzy Hays, senior vice president of personalization and brand management for C Spire Wireless.

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 Sony halts new Xperia tablet sales

      By Shaun Zelber,  October 8th, 2012 :: Geek & Tech

Sony has halted sales of Xperia, its new tablet computer, after discovering that the device may not be water resistant as advertised.

The Xperia tablet was unveiled in August 2012 in Berlin and has been marketed as a “splash-proof” tablet.

It has been on sale for just under a month and about 100,000 have been shipped, Sony said.

The company says it will repair any damaged devices and a spokesperson said a manufacturing flaw was to blame.

There is no date at the moment for sales to recommence, Sony spokeswoman Noriko Shoji told Reuters news agency.

“You have to give them credit for saying, ‘We realise some aren’t as water resistant as we want them to be so we’ll happily fix or replace them’,” said Stuart Miles, editor of gadget review site Pocket-Lint.

“But at the same time it is embarrassing that you create a tablet that’s supposed to be usable in tough environments, and it’s not.”

The splash-proof quality is particularly important in the Japanese market, he added.

“Most people don’t worry about waterproofing. But far more Japanese companies create water resistant devices – more so than in the UK or the US. It’s obviously a big selling point for them – not many tablets promote waterproofing.”

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