Facebook Messenger: All your numbers are belong to us

Facebook started 2016 with the bold claim that it intends to eradicate phone numbers and replace web browsing, but the Social Network has a mountain to climb before Facebook Messenger becomes the centre of our online world.

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That’s the stated intention of the Zuckerberg empire – to replace all our myriad internet communication systems with one interface.

Facebook claims that its Messenger app has been installed 800 million times, but at VisionMobile our latest research shows that those installations are very much concentrated into the lower end of the market.

If Facebook is going to recruit the shops, taxi companies and airlines it needs to make Messenger a one-stop internet shop it will need to get the app installed across the demographics before Microsoft (with Skype) steps in to take the cream.

[tweetable]Facebook has long known that the days of pokes and personal walls are fast disappearing[/tweetable], and has quite a history in struggling to adapt to whatever the future might bring. Facebook Gifts/Credits/Deals/Questions/Beacon haven’t lit up the future, so now the company is betting on messaging, and value-added messaging platforms.

Such platforms are proliferating in business. The bots that proliferate across Slack and Yahoo Messenger have turned those platforms into much more than messaging, but taking that functionality into the consumer sphere is much harder.

The medium is the Messenger

With that in mind, Facebook Messenger was forked from the main Facebook mobile app back in 2011, but messaging remained possible in the main app until 2014. These days, the Facebook app will notify you that a message has been received, but if you want to read that message then you’ll have to download and install Facebook’s new Trojan Horse.

That analogy isn’t perfect: the horse of Troy was disguised while Facebook has made no secret of its plan to migrate key internet functionality into the Messaging client. If Facebook can’t own the interface to your phone (it tried that), then it will own the interface to the internet, which the company believes will be Facebook Messenger.

The inspiration behind this idea isn’t hard to see. In China, where Facebook/Google/Twitter fears to tread, the competitive market created in their absence has driven huge innovation as companies strive to differentiate themselves with new features and functionality. Every month, 600 million Chinese are using Weixen, Tencent’s WeChat client, to book taxis, check into flights, play games, buy cinema tickets, make doctors’ appointments, and even manage bank accounts, all without touching the web browser.

[tweetable]In China, messaging has become the platform of choice for accessing a wide variety of services[/tweetable], and Facebook plans to replicate that model in the rest of the world – with it owning the messaging platform, obviously.

This process has already started with Facebook integrating Uber into its messaging platform. It’s worth noting that Uber isn’t integrated into the Facebook website, or the mobile client, but into the Facebook Messenger app.

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And Uber is just the beginning. As David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, makes abundantly clear: “We can help you interact with businesses or services to buy items (and then buy more again), order rides, purchase airline tickets, and talk to customer service in truly frictionless and delightful ways” – and that’s before Facebook becomes your personal assistant, Facebook M.

“Facebook M” starts listening in to all your conversations to suggest ways it can make your life more, as they say in such circles, “delightful.”

The Facebook wall will be supplanted by the Custom Conversation, providing a personalised interface (colour, style, emojis) for every chat thread. The visual equivalent of a ring-back tone, customised for every caller, will enable you to decide how both sides of the conversation see their interface, unless the other side has other ideas.

Walled garden of Zuck

In Facebook’s brave new world, everything is done through Facebook Messenger, and Facebook takes control of the delivery channel, removing that irritating “Open in Web Browser” which takes so much control away from the Social Network.

But that brave new world is predicated on the idea that people will install Facebook Messenger, rather than relying on the website, and email notifications, to stay in touch. Our research, in partnership with Celltick, looked at the top 10 applications installed on different handsets, and shows that while many low-end handsets do have Facebook Messenger installed, the application is almost invisible in handsets costing more than $200.

In high-end phones, Skype consistently rates top – well above the main Facebook application – and Facebook Messenger isn’t even in the top 10. In handsets costing less than $200, Facebook Messenger rates around four or five – a couple of positions below the main Facebook application, and very close to Skype.

What this means is that those who can’t, or won’t, invest more than $200 in a handset are happily installing Facebook Messenger, while those with a bit more disposable income are refusing to commit.

What it makes abundantly clear is the opportunity this presents to Microsoft. If messaging really is the future of mobile interaction, as Facebook seems to think, then Skype is perfectly positioned to grab the most important demographic.

If Microsoft were half as willing as Facebook to launch into value-added messaging, then it could make Skype into the messaging platform of the future, if indeed users really want such a platform at all.

You can read more in our free report, here (email address required.) ®

Article first published on the Register

Six key trends in the IoT developer economy for 2016

Every company should master developer ecosystem skills. Our new IoT Megatrends 2016 report sheds light on the state of the art in the IoT developer economy, distilling the major data points and insights from our research into six important trends in IoT.

Software is eating the world. [tweetable]Access to developers has become a competitive advantage in every industry[/tweetable]. Today a business in media, games, finance, or transportation, can only compete by using software to improve productivity and efficiency through every part of the business. Businesses in healthcare, construction and agriculture now find they need to use software developers to remain competitive.

As the Internet of Things takes hold and more and more traditional products get a software component, this trend only accelerates. Already, [tweetable]over 5 million developers are active in the Internet of Things in early 2016[/tweetable]. This year, we estimate that their number will grow by 800 thousand developers. That’s about the population of South Dakota, Macau, or Cyprus. [tweetable]By 2020, there will be close to 10 million Internet of Things developers[/tweetable].

6 key trends for 2016

In our 60+ page IoT Megatrends 2016 report, we highlight 6 key IoT developer trends for 2016.

Developers are more and more the center of commercial strategy. If you’re not into developers, you’re not doing it right. If you believe that the Internet of Things is only about making new, stand-alone devices and solutions, then think again. More and more key players in every IoT market build their strategy around developers who can extend the product beyond what it was when it left the factory. From Amazon and SmartThings in the home, Apple and Pebble on your watch, and Ford and Automatic in your car, all the way to ThingWorx and IBM in industrial settings, 3D Robotics and DJI in drones, and Oculus and Microsoft on your virtual reality headset – developers are key to success in the marketplace. And it’s clear to see why. Our report offers four ways that developers can extend a business: as innovators, customers, extenders, and distributors.The trend towards placing developers in the center of commercial strategy is in full swing. For example, Industrial IoT counts almost as high a percentage of professional developers as the mobile ecosystem does, while the smart home sector trails behind.

Battle of the Smart Home Hubs. Every major consumer technology is vying to become the hub of your home nowadays, from Amazon (Echo) and AT&T (Digital Life) to Xiaomi and Xfinity (by Comcast). It shouldn’t surprise then that with 1.4 million developers, the smart home is the most popular IoT sector. Smart home hubs compete on three axes – new touchpoints, new interaction models and developers – each of which raises important questions for the future. Touchpoints like voice control, next-generation remote controls, apps, and messaging are the core of the user experience, but most solutions don’t come from the maker of the smart home hub itself. Who will control the customer relationship in the future, harvesting user loyalty? Conversational platforms (voice, chat) in particular are coming up strong. Meanwhile, the rise of artificial intelligence fundamentally challenges the central role of developers as creators of use cases. Will developers go extinct? For now, key players still count on developers to drive value creation, also in AI-driven conversation platforms.

The 4 frontiers of wearable platforms. Innovation in wearables is in full swing. Wearables move from consumer electronics devices to being unobtrusively embedded in clothing, which make the technology more and more relevant for traditional fashion companies. Soon, brands will compete on digital identity – an opportunity to create a powerful connection with users. Smartwatches and AR/VR platforms will compete on who has most apps. In smartwatches, Android Wear is under pressure from new platform challengers. On the one hands, Chinese internet companies build their own Android derivatives for wearables. On the other, victims of the Android smartphone strategy build direct challenger platforms based on Tizen or webOS. Finally, our research shows that [tweetable]data-centric apps are more lucrative than simple smartwatch apps or new wearable devices[/tweetable], but that few developers go that way today.

From Connected Car to software-defined transportation. The innovation focus in Connected Cars is shifting from the dashboard to vehicle data, and in the future to data-driven transportation platforms. Car makers struggle to keep control over and to gain access to the necessary supply chain, expertise, and data to be leaders in this evolution. Will car makers miss automotive computing just like Microsoft missed mobile? We’ve explored this trend in depth here.

Consumer and Enterprise technology converge. Consumer and enterprise technology are increasingly converging in most industries. The smart home of today will become the smart office of tomorrow, as smart locks turn into access control and smart TVs into meeting room equipment. The equivalent of wearable-sensor-driven health apps in the enterprise are people analytics, such as the Humanyze platform. And Jeff Immelt, head of GE, famously said this about data technologies developed at Amazon, Google, or Facebook making their way into the industrial world: “If you went to bed last night as an industrial company, you’re going to wake up this morning as a software and analytics company.” Consumer, and not enterprise technology will be the foundation for the converged future. Why? Consumer markets offer much faster product evolution and validation with customers. Consumer-grade ease of installation coupled with enterprise-grade security will be the future. [tweetable]Developers from their side will be increasingly mobile between consumer and enterprise markets[/tweetable].

The hottest business models in IoT. The prevalent business models in the Internet of Things are moving from product sales to recurring revenue, and from products to services. Industrial IoT technology creates opportunities for vendors to sell access to assets like jet engines or locomotives as a service, rather than selling the machines themselves. In the home, smart appliances (e.g. washing machines) are becoming an e-commerce point of sale for consumables (e.g. washing powder). Companies like Nest, Oscar Health Insurance, or Automatic have paved the way for moving from a ‘consumer pays’ model to a ‘consumer gets paid’ model, subsidizing devices with other revenue streams like insurance or energy company rebates.

The full IoT Megatrends 2016 report can be downloaded here for free.

[Free Report] Global trends in Android use

We just recently partnered with mobile-markter Celltick to produce our latest free report – Global Trends in Android Use. Our collaboration with Celltick taps into Android handset usage data from around the world. The report’s data shows how handsets from different manufacturers are used differently, and how regional variations in Android deployments are impacting the success of both software and services. This report examines how often users glance at their Android screens, which applications they have installed, and what networks they’re using to keep them connected. Click here to download Global Trends in Android Use.

Developing for wearables: from shrunken smartphone to wearable-first and beyond

[The hype around wearables is giving way to new opportunities for developers. Wearables move from “smartphone copycats” to wearables-first applications, to data-driven powerhouses. In this post we present the recording of our webinar on developer trends in wearables, and we answer the most pressing questions from participants.]

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Wearables are moving from a period of hype to a period of deeper exploration.

In a previous post, we called the Internet of Things the peace dividend of the smartphone wars, and IoT developers the baby boomers of that period. In other words, smartphone innovation made hardware technology abundant. It’s no longer the bottleneck. IoT breakthroughs will happen not by making more powerful processors or larger memories, but by identifying new applications for the sensors, devices and connectivity. This certainly seems to be the case for wearables, which arguably started with the first Fitbit in 2008 and boomed after the launch of the Pebble and Android Wear in 2013 and 2014. Those were the days of the wearables hype.

That hype has now died down. Developers in particular are getting more cautious about wearables. Between Q4 2014 and Q2 2015, the percentage of IoT developers targeting wearables dropped from 28% to 21%. Developers have not turned their back on wearables entirely – many still plan to develop for wearables in the future – but the initial enthusiasm is making way for realism, and a search for truly valuable uses for these new devices.

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Towards deep exploration and mature platforms

We investigated the burgeoning space of wearable developers and platform in detail in our October 2015 report: The Wearables Landscape 2015. The report draws data from the 670+ wearable developers that participated in our 9th edition Developer Economics survey (Q2 2015). We also took a good look at the platform space for wearables, and presented a leaderboard of the 15 smartwatch platforms vying for developers’ hearts and minds.

Some of the key insights from the report include:

  • Wearables move from “smartphone copycats” to wearables-first applications, to data-driven powerhouses. Companies experiment with fashion, authentication, entertainment, and workplace applications.
  • Digital identity will be the new axis of competition for fashion brands.
  • The future winning developer platforms for wearables are emerging right now. These winners will be as dominant as Android and iOS are in mobile.
  • In smartwatch platforms, Apple Watch OS leads, while Android Wear is under pressure from new challengers.
  • Data apps are the next big untapped opportunity for wearable developers. Platforms are emerging for health and wellness apps, and for productivity-oriented people analytics. Data platforms will be at least as important in defining the wearables market as smartwatch platforms. Developers have yet to discover these lucrative data app opportunities.
  • Power shifts from West to East. Strong Chinese wearable platforms are emerging that no longer need the West for innovation, or to reach a critical mass of users. The wearable developer population of Asia is almost as big as those of North America and Europe combined.

We covered all of these insights in our webinar on the topic.

Your questions

After the webinar, we received lots of questions from participants. While we didn’t have time to cover all of them during the webinar, we don’t want to withhold you our answers.

Q: Do you foresee any technology discontinuities which will drive either customer or enterprise adoption of wearables & hence market size to the next level?

A: While there are certainly interesting technologies on the horizon (I mentioned printable electronics and energy harvesting in the webinar), we look for the key market driver elsewhere. What wearables need are killer apps – use cases that are so powerful that they become almost universally desirable. The way to find a killer app is not by doing better market research, but by exploring thousands of use cases and letting the most powerful ones emerge. That’s why app platforms (both on the device and the data level) are so important, and also why it’s so important for app platforms to have the most apps.

Q: Does having an app store, like the Pebble app store or the Myo market, impact the size of the developer and app ecosystem?

A: Absolutely! App stores are the glue that connects developers and users. App stores reduce the effort it takes for users to find a suitable solution for their needs, and makes it easier for developers to get discovered. But it’s more than just convenience. Having this discovery, promotion, and sales mechanism, is a key element of starting network effects, where developers and their apps attract users to the platform, and users provide an attractive addressable market for developers. Network effects are the dominant economic driver of app platform success.

Q: Do you see data being stored on the device, centralized on the mobile, or rather sent to the cloud?

A: Engineers will presumably pick the solution that makes more sense, given the ever-evolving capabilities in bandwidth, on-device storage, battery life, connectivity, and requirement to connect the watch to a phone. Different companies will have different philosophies in this regard, e.g. Apple is more device-oriented, Google more cloud-oriented.

The more interesting question is what developers will do with that data. In a device-centric model, you’re not just limited in processing power, storage, and battery life, but also to the data coming from that device itself. The more “up” you go, the more opportunities there are to connect device data with other sources (like other devices, smartphone sensors, or internet services) and with historical user data.

Q: Do you believe there is an opportunity for testing the software for wearables? Or do wearable leaders appeal more to the Shiny Object Syndrome phenomenon and focus more on initial market appeal rather than quality?

A: To answer this question, we can look back at the history of smartphone apps. Quality was indeed not the first consideration in the early stages of the app ecosystem. Still, the user rating feature of app stores ensured that reasonably successful apps had to take care of quality. Over time, as competition increased and technology matured, testing and quality became more important. Today, we track as many as 180 app testing tools on developereconomics.com, depending on which ones you count. I would expect a similar evolution in wearables.

Q: How would you calculate the value of the longer lasting customer relationship for traditional fashion brands?

A: When fashion embeds digital technology into its products, its economics change to that of a digital company, to some extent. To calculate the value of a long-lasting customer relationship, digital metrics like customer lifetime value, churn, customer acquisition cost, etc become more and more relevant for fashion businesses. These are fundamentally different metrics than the ones fashion companies use today, and it will take time to adjust the corporate culture to valuing them properly.

Q: When it comes to those health data platforms, do you by chance have any data regarding adoption of those by health players (clinics, hospitals, etc)? There are a lot of strict regulations regarding medical data…

A: We are currently collecting data about developer adoption of health data platforms in our 10th wave Developer Economics survey, so stay tuned. It’s very early to see a lot of systematic data on these emerging platforms. There is some anecdotal evidence out there, e.g. see this article on the progress of Apple ResearchKit.

Regulation might not be as big a hurdle as it seems. Some types of data and applications are not explicitly regulated (yet). There’s a spectrum between, say, simple step tracking and data generated by the CAT scanner in your hospital. Even for the more serious medical research, the work of Apple (ResearchKit), Google (which also has research partnerships) and others prove that it can be done, with a reasonable amount of time and investment.

5 ways developers can extend your business model

Developer programs and third party software developers used to be important only for companies making computer operating systems like Microsoft, IBM or Apple.

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Many people still remember how Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, rallied his troops chanting the word “developers” 16 times.

Ballmer was right – Microsoft won the battle for dominance of personal computing by winning developers. 20 years later, however, Microsoft lost the battle for dominance of mobile to Google and Apple; by losing the support of developers.

Today access to developers has become a competitive advantage in almost every industry, from games and media to banking and agriculture. Forward-looking companies invest millions of dollars, and their best minds, to create APIs and developer programs. No matter how a company runs its business, developers can extend the company’s business model in five major ways. How? Let me explain.

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A successful developer program can boost all 3 aspects of a company’s business model: value creation, value delivery and value capture.

1. Developers as customers

The most obvious way of thinking about how 3rd party developers can make you money is to see developers as paying customers, i.e. capture value by selling to developers. For example, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine or Salesforce App Cloud.

There are also many companies for which selling services and tools to developers is the only business. For example Twilio, a startup company that has created an API on top of standard telecom services, has built a $100million-a-year recurring business (2014 figures) by providing tools for developers to integrate SMS and telephony into their apps.

2. Developers as product extenders

Developers can also boost your business by adding new features you never designed or even thought of – thus making your product more valuable to your paying customers.

The most obvious example is the Apple iPhone. Apple’s developer program led to the creation of over one million apps for the Apple App Store. These apps are 1+ million features that make the iPhone more valuable for the users. Often the value is added through new functionality provided by the app, but sometimes it’s just about constant supply of cool new things. Essentially the iPhone is not a phone, but a computing platform allowing 3rd party developers to extend it beyond anyone’s imagination.

There is an ever-growing list of companies which work with developers to extend their products making them more useful: From SmartThings (recently acquired by Samsung) in smart home, to Automatic and Ford in connected cars, and DJI in drones.

[tweetable]Developers can extend products through informal partnerships[/tweetable]; consider how someone using IFTTT can get a Nest thermostat to talk to a Philips light bulb or Amazon’s Echo smart home hub. All without the need for closed-room partnerships, consortia meeting in exotic locations, or even NDAs.

3. Developers as data harvesters

Google and Facebook, both data-driven advertising companies, turn to developers to make their their ads more effective for advertisers. Android, Google’s mobile operating system, helps the company to harvest data about mobile users. Developers make Android more valuable to users through 1.6 million apps available on the platform. More Android users means more data for Google making Google ads on the desktop more effective, and therefore more valuable for advertisers.

Facebook works with developers to integrate their identity services into as many apps as possible. The reason is simple: the more apps use Facebook’s login system to identify the user, the more Facebook will know about their users. Similar to Google; developers help Facebook to harvest user data to make their ads more effective and make more money.

4. Developers as distributors

[tweetable]Developers can help deliver your product to new markets and new users by being a distribution channel[/tweetable] for your business.

For example, Uber works with developers to integrate the company’s on-demand transportation services into new apps and services. The company works with large partners (United Airlines, Hyatt), successful Internet companies (OpenTable, TripAdvisor) as well as young startups (Momento, Tempo) to make Uber’s “take me from A to B” services accessible in wide array of use cases.

Developers also help Uber to sign up new users. The company’s affiliate program rewards developers for each valid first trip in the U.S. by a new user whose trip request originated through their app.

5. Developers as resellers

[tweetable]Developers can also help resell your product by being a sales channel[/tweetable] for your business.

Amazon works with developers to boost sales of physical and digital products. Amazon Mobile Associates program allows developers to earn up to 6% as revenue share on purchases made through their apps and games. Amazon Replenishment Service enables connected devices to order physical goods from Amazon when supplies are running low.

Seeing developers as a sales channel is not limited to the realm of Internet companies. Wallgreens, the largest drug retailing chain in the United States, also works with developers to boost sales of its digital print services. The Walgreens Photo Prints API allows users of mobile apps to print photos to any of the 8,000+ Walgreens locations in the US. The mobile app developers earn a revenue-share commission with every photo order that’s placed through their app.

Building a developer program and an ecosystem quickly becomes the norm and the baseline for competition in almost any industry. In fact, checking whether a company has a developer portal (typically at developer.company.com) is a leading indicator of how well the company is prepared for the future.

— Michael