Last night, I was lucky enough to organize and moderate a discussion around mobile with two of the leading experts in mobile right now — Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies (San Jose) and Benedict Evans (London). The notes below were taken by me during the presentation and largely the intellectual contribution of Bajarin and Evans — I’m just synthesizing them and sharing them here. Finally, thanks to Kleiner Perkins for hosting and to the group who was able to attend. (For this interested in more of these discussions, Bajarin and I have discussed perhaps doing something like this again with small groups on Sand Hill — if you have ideas for guests or topics, please let me know. Finally, we recorded the discussion which will appear as a “Cubed” podcast and be featured inside Swell Radio last this week)
Last night’s discussion with Bajarin and Evans touched on the intersection of three topics: corporate strategy, mobile computing, and consumer technology. Below are very brief notes I took from the discussion, not attributable to any one person but mainly what I heard from Evans and Bajarin as well as the group.
- Newer markets for Apple to poke around in, such as watches ($30-40Bn), televisions (1% margins), and home automation (niche) do not present exciting opportunities for the company to expand on its selling of smart, connected glass screens.
- M7 motion chips could likely “eat” many fitness hardware plays.
- Apple’s play with television may be OTT to cut deals with content providers and networks to put content onto iOS devices (smart devices) that users can control a television made from another manufacturer (dumb devices).
- Apple shows close to zero ability to execute on and integrate its own cloud services, so as a result, has focused on moving innovation closer to the chip-level (e.g. iBeacons, Airdrop, etc.) while Google (see below) moves innovation up to cloud services.
- The mentality at Apple is troubling, even when one looks at the company’s inability to properly prepare its own suite of native apps for the newest iOS7 redesign.
- A7 and 64-bit brought into the iPad changes the game for the convergence of mobile devices and personal mobile computing; no sense on how long it will take for input interfaces to change alongside this.
- Apple may have trouble recruiting or retaining top-class graphic designers because changes are implemented so slowly.
- Apple’s segmentation of mobile users has generated a few cohorts at the top of income levels who want apps and are happy to pay for them as well as services inside the apps; in a way, Apple doesn’t care about people who don’t want such experiences.
- Google cares most about collecting more and more data from users, so on a mobile devices, searches into browsers, maps, and other utilities help Google’s machines learn even more about us, with the ultimate goal being a service like Google Now which can mine data to anticipate our needs and push information to us (via Glass?).
- This is why Android is kept open and unchecked (despite the ArsTechnica piece), as Google is likely to be indifferent what other carriers, OEMs, or forks do so long as they don’t layer in their own or third-party services, though even then (as in the case of Amazon), Google will just likely not help.
Mobile Messaging Apps
- Mobile is an inherently social platform, while the web is not; Facebook unified identity on the web and was able to profit handsomely from this unification.
- On mobile, the main components of a social network — address book, photos, etc — live right on the device, where third-party applications can request permission to that data and provide an easier way to upload and access the data.
- Behaviors on social networks (especially among the youth) is that they are disposable, meaning folks move into one and then out of one network without much care. This is encapsulated by the rise of SnapChat, where “history” inside the app is a second-class citizen behind the immediacy of what is being shared in this very moment.
- Messaging apps are in a period of a land grab where we will quickly approach a world with 2 billion smartphones. As a result, a company like LINE may be spending lots of money for user acquisition (hence the high quarterly revenues). There’s no incentive for the apps to unify or cross-promote, and because the regions themselves are so big, apps will likely stay federated and regionalized into fiefdoms.
- WhatsApp is growing with a very small team (under 50) and not much product innovation, as the founders are keeping things at bay during this current land grab without going for all the crazy pursuits around stickers, promoting games, and other apps.
- The big question is — will digital natives who touch the web through mobile apps first end up going back to a platform like Facebook as they mature?
- The rise of Facebook has coincided with a fall in television viewership and encouraged more people to come online; it created more hours in the day for online activity. That said, monetizing time on the web is a different ballgame on mobile, as users are using mobile products in shorter bursts, therefore being less about “time on site” and more about the type of engagement occurring inside the app.
- Twitter was built with mobile in mind, and Wall Street is aware of this. That said, Twitter’s greatest strength — that it is still undefined and can mean many things to many people — can also present a weakness.
- Twitter is a utility and a protocol that was eventually reigned in after many third-parties helped the service grow in different directions. This uncertainty may hamper Twitter in the short-term but provide it with resilience in the long-run.
- One can envision a mobile future where Twitter cards provide more action functionality such as “save,” “pin,” “buy,” or more, including driving app installs.
- Feels like 15 years ago, Bluetooth came out but never lived up to its promise; now with LE, the convergence of low power requirements and always-on apps remove many barriers.
- Coincides with a drop in hardware manufacturing and general interest in building new hardware by engineers; mainstream consumers also more likely to
- Benedict Evans described Samsung’s persistence in attempting everything as “tart.” 🙂
- John Lilly of Greylock relayed an analogy that every big company is walking around holding a glass of water, which represents its business model, while trying to knock the glass of its competitors; this is one reason we see so much competitiveness between Amazon, Google, and Facebook in the market today.
- Bubba Murarka of DFJ, who worked on the Facebook Home team for Android, defended his alma mater’s defensibility around unification of identification, which could theoretically then move up the stack to payments and other activities.
- Rohit Sharma of True Ventures, regarding Twitter’s impending IPO, commented that he had already connected with most people who were present last night via one app: Twitter, his own personal human-filtered network of information.