Monument Valley

Professionally, I'm fascinated by Candy Crush and similar F2P games. But as a consumer, this kind of thing is just as appealing (link). 

It's interesting to see how new input methods and devices shape new game types, as do business models (very obviously in the case of Candy Crush). My colleague Chris Dixon, who's used Oculus, tells me that using a first person shooter in VR could well be problematic - it's just too real. 

Facebook, identity and throwing sheep

Way back in the dark mists of time, when Facebook first launched its platform on the desktop, one of the first hit apps was something called 'Superpoke'. Superpoke did quite a few things but the one that got all the attention was throwing sheep at people. That is, they'd open their Facebook news feed and it would say 'Benedict threw a sheep at you'. 

Of course, a website that did that would never work - you'd never get a critical mass of people to open an account on a new site just for that. But Superpoke could plug into the Facebook platform so you could do this fun little social thing right away with almost no friction. 

A lot of the social apps bubbling up now remind me of this. As I've written several times, by plugging into the smartphone address book, camera, photo library, notifications etc the frictional barriers to doing a new social app fade away: the smartphone is a social platform in the same way that Facebook is. The obvious expression of this is WhatsApp and similar things that directly address the core Facebook use cases. But it seems to me that there's at least as much potential in doing things that use the platform without trying to take over a core use case - things like throwing sheep. That is, the smartphone social platform enables a lot of experimentation with new ideas and behaviors that don't need to be your core comms channel and that would never have worked on the web, and (for a bunch of reasons) might not have been possible on the desktop Facebook platform.

Snapchat is arguably one of the biggest of these, and Secret is another. Firechat is also an interesting example - it leverages the wireless autodiscovery features in iOS7 to do hyperlocal chat. Of course this isn't quite as easy as Superpoke - you still need to install an app from the app store (for now, though that may well change) but the friction is still pretty low. With apps like Line, WeChat and Kik you can see people trying to pull this experimentation back up the stack and put it inside a social app again - that might be the right model for some things, but of course you're trading friction for flexibility. Making your own smartphone app needs that initial install but has much more power. 

I also think that (as I suggested here) retailers should be thinking about how they can leverage the social platform aspects of smartphones - shouldn't the Zappos app show you which of your friends have it and let you share shoes directly? Again, doing that well on the desktop would be really hard, but on a smartphone it's just a tap or two away. 

This takes us around to Facebook again. Perhaps the problem is not that people use WhatsApp instead of Facebook Messenger - rather it might be that they use Sephora instead of Facebook Messenger. This is partly about unbundling WhatsApp, just as WhatsApp unbundled Facebook, but it's also that the fads and gimmicks and silly little things (otherwise known as 'fun') don't happen within Facebook. The time sinks don't have to happen within Facebook. And maybe the commerce apps don't need to connect to it. 

The question implicit in all of this, of course, is identity. It's the machine-readable identify that allows all of this low-friction social experimentation. But what is the irreducible common denominator for connecting to your friends? Is it your Facebook identity? How much does it matter to Facebook if it isn't, if it still happens in something Facebook owns? Is it your PSTN phone number (which Facebook will actually let you use to find friends with the smartphone app)? Or do you change that from time to time without caring? The broader phone address book? Your email address? BBM Pin (cough)? Location? Would Apple try something within iOS (with the fingerprint scanner)? Where in the stack does the identify sit - the network, OS platform or something further up? Actually, I suspect there isn't any single common point that any company can own. 

Sunday Morning Charts

Four charts to look at from Akamai's browser metrics platform. First, global desktop browsers. There're a couple of pretty obvious inferences to make from the weekly pattern here: IE is used a lot at work, and people do more mobile browsing at the weekends. Also, the two main mobile browsers are now getting on for a quarter of total use. 

The thing that needs more thought, though, is this set: mobile browsing across all networks, on cellular only and on wifi only. 

All networks

All networks

Cellular networks

Cellular networks

Wifi networks

Wifi networks

There are a bunch of moving parts here. First (to get it out of the way) Akamai data is not perfect and mostly excludes China. But even so, there are probably 3x more Android than iOS devices on earth. So what's going on? 

On cellular, Android is perhaps 25-50% bigger than iOS (depending on whether you include Opera Mini and 'Others' in Android, which is an argument in itself). But on Wifi iOS is much bigger. There are a bunch of possible reasons for that  - it's easier to connect to wifi, iOS users are more likely to have wifi, or both. But the interesting thing is that the wifi traffic is big enough to make iOS take the lead in the first chart as well. Akamai doesn't break this out, but it's a pretty obvious piece of algebra to do the calculation. 

Finally, why would Chrome be such a small share of Android browsing? A flaw in the data, or is no-one using it?

Social messaging consolidation

In the last couple of years there's been an explosion of social messaging apps, of which WhatsApp was obviously the breakout hit. But one could easily suggest that in buying WhatsApp Facebook is just playing 'Whack a mole', with dozens of other bubbling up: last summer I went through Google Play and found 50 such apps with over 1m downloads.

The data all of these give is highly variable, though - downloads and user aren't the same thing and though many apps give user figures occasionally, 'users' often means 'anyone who ever downloaded our app' (which WhatsApp has complained about, making a point of giving MAUs) and many don't even tell you that. So it's interesting to look at Google Trends for some of the biggest names that have been floating around. (And yes, Google trends is indicative but far from authoritative). 

First, compare WhatsApp, where we know the numbers, with a few of the bigger names. 

(Comparing WhatsApp with Blackberry and BBM is also instructive.)

Now, keep Viber for scale (it reported 100m MAUs when Rakuten bought it in February) and add a couple of the names that have floated around as regional winners. 

Now compare Nimbuzz, an Indian player, with WhatsApp in India. 

Now, a couple of the US hits. 

Small globally, but big in the USA. 

The big gap in this, of course, is that we really can't use it to look at the really big contenders - Wechat is still mostly in China where Google Trends is useless, Kakao in Korea has the same problem, and Line is too generic a search term to tell us anything much. 

I've argued elsewhere that the lock-ins Facebook enjoyed on the desktop are much weaker on mobile - that it's much easier to switch between services and to use several at once. But at the same time, it does appear that WhatsApp has much greater scale than the alternatives globally (unless there's a huge new app I've just not heard of yet, which, frankly, is entirely possible). Still, there's a lot of regional variation: WhatsApp is certainly not dominant in the USA, China, South Korea or Japan. And (having said you can't use Google Trends to look at Line), Indonesia shows a fascinating mix. 

As I suggested here, perhaps part of the future is messaging within other apps, rather than lots of dedicated messaging apps. 

700m smartphones & tablets in China

Umeng's 2013 report has just come out, and it's full of fascinating data. (Umeng is an app analytics firm, much like Flurry, and has its code in a very large share of apps in use in China.)

Striking data points: 

  • There were 700m active smartphones and tablets in China at the end of 2013, and this almost doubled from 380m in Q1
  • High-end phones are a big market: 27% of the total active base, and 80% of those are iPhones
  • 55% of the top 1000 apps include links to the major Chinese social platforms
  • 20% of the top games use licensed third-party IP
  • App use and game use varies by how expense the phone is (unsurprising, but some good data on the details)
  • The Android market remains fragmented: Samsung has 24% (much lower than globally), Xiaomi is in 4th place and 'other' is a third of the market
  • And finally, pretty much every app category has at least doubled its active users in the year. 

Note: A few people have suggested that the implied number of iPhones seems high as a percentage of total iPhone sales. (Umeng hasn't given a smartphone number to apply 80% of 27% to, but other estimates are about 500m = 108m). However, if you take imports of second-hand iPhones into account the percentage looks much more reasonable.