I watched the Apple WWDC opening keynote so you don’t have to

I watched the introductory keynote to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) with some colleagues at work. The overall take was one of ‘is that it?’

I thought that it was worthwhile picking through the announcements to see what they mean.
Legalize myself #wwdc2015
With OS X, it was like some of Apple’s earlier releases like 10.2 ‘Jaguar’ which was a discernible step up in performance and stability in comparison to 10.1 ‘Puma’ or 10.6 Snow Leopard in comparison to 10.5 Leopard. It gives Apple an opportunity bed in the flat design of Yosemite, and makes third party application development easier and improve performance across the OS. (As an agency person, the idea of more powerful integrated development tools that would provide a better performing user experience on iOS and OS X was interesting). The name El Capitan implies a a derivative relationship to Yosemite. (Yosemite is the national park and El Capitan is a granite monolith at the north end of the park).

There has been tightening up of the interface design, which Apple’s own news releases allude to:

Mission Control®, the quickest way to view all open windows, has a cleaner design so you can find the window you need even faster.

Apple has also looked at improving internationalisation of the operating system with new Japanese and Chinese system fonts and improved keyboards.

Part of the improvements in services like Spotlight were part of the ongoing war of attrition with Google. Pinned sites and performance improvements in Safari were aimed at Google Chrome.

At each step of the announcements Apple was at pains to emphasise its efforts in providing users with privacy. Apple genuinely believes that privacy is a point of differentiation, not just amongst developers, but also amongst consumers living in a post-Snowden world.

The services put into OS X (and across iOS) try to be smarter and anticipate the needs of a user. Natural language search in Spotlight has similar aspirations to the kind of experience Facebook aimed for when it launched its Graph Search functionality in 2013.

These are baby steps to position Apple products as the front door of a programmable world, ‘a web of no web’ where device intelligence behaves as if it understands user intent like a good valet.  In the improvements of iOS 9 Apple was much more explicit in describing its aims:

Siri features an all-new design in iOS 9, contextual reminders and new ways to search photos and videos. Proactive assistance presents the most relevant information without compromising users’ privacy and suggests actions at a particular moment — even before you start typing — automatically suggesting apps to launch or people to contact based on usage patterns, and notifying you when you need to leave for appointments, taking into account traffic conditions. iOS 9 can even learn what you typically listen to in a certain location or at a particular time of day, so when you plug in headphones at the gym or hop in the car before work, it can automatically display playback controls for your preferred app.

These baby steps towards a programmable world are important, mainly because the Apple Watch is currently a solution looking for a problem and would make much more sense in the context of a programmable world. Looking at the Apple search interface on iOS 9, Foursquare’s area exploration app looks particularly vulnerable as search seeks to recommend coffee shops and the like in the immediate area surrounding the user.

If one looks at the things Apple is doing in home automation and wireless payments it is all about producing a frictionless process needed for a programmable world to happen. And iOS and OS X hint at the next stage of trying to build in intelligence (at least in small increments).

Apple Pay

Apple Pay is most interesting when one considers it as part of a wider play by Apple to reduce the processes that act as friction in a programmable world. Despite the high profile launch, it hasn’t taken off in the US as dramatically as anticipated by pundits. It’s expansion to the UK is likely to be a steady slow burn. It will be interesting to see if Samsung’s phone payment system due in the autumn (fall for our American readers), will do a better job of moving payment technology along. The feature of being able to use your iPhone as an Oystercard substitute in an emergency on Transport for London has a certain amount of appeal that would be balanced against the likelihood of being mugged for the phone depending on which tube station you are using. My home station of Mile End is likely to be a laggard for just that reason.

The News app

The News app on iOS take direct aim at Flipboard, which is hardly surprising given Flipboard’s previous overtures to the likes of Samsung in the past, offering media access as a differentiator on the Android platform. Apple’s News Format™ challenges responsive web design and provides publishers with alternative to full-scale app development. The curation engine behind News app could be as important in the future as Techmeme, Hacker News or Google News are today – which makes it important to communications professionals as a distribution channel for coverage and own brand content. It is only like to be power news junkies who are likely to stick withn RSS readers like feed.ly or Newsblur.

Apple Music

I won’t comment on the cringeworthy Dad dancing that happened on stage, or the cliched advertisement Apple showcased. Apple Music service was a clever mastery of marketing over technology. Whilst the keynote was going on my colleague James had been persuading his mobile carrier to raise his monthly data package up to 15GB in order to cover his streaming of music. It was with this in mind that I thought about Apple’s new mobile application. It was interesting that streaming was positioned as a mobile app only thing, in stark contrast to to the likes of Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud which provide desktop streaming (which is important for the millennials that I work with).

The interface reminded me initially of the Chinese app: Doumi which goes to show that this isn’t just about Apple versus Spotify and Pandora, but Apple against a range of services throughout the world. What the K-pop and Mando-pop playlists are like will be as important as whichever ‘hottest band in the world’ Zane Lowe latches on to this week. WWDC presented a very white liberal middle class view of what good music is with the launch of Beats 1 – a clone of BBC Radio 1 FM which is available around the world for free thanks to the British TV licence fee.

The curation feature felt a bit like back to the future for iTunes which used to have artists curate their favourite songs in a playlists of tracks that you could purchase, and users like you could share lists of tracks curated around genres or ‘special moments’ as Jimmy Iovine called it, like commuting, exercising or setting a mood in your home. In the office, this curated list will have to compete with Spotify, random play on my iPod and YouTube playlists depending on how the mood catches us.

The social aspects of Apple Connect were interesting as an assault on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and a plethora of services which allow musicians to build up social and email contact databases. I am not convinced Apple will give musicians the same ability to build a listener relationship programme in the same way.

A second part of Apple Connect is if it will allow labels or brands to build profiles? In certain genres of music where the artists may have several or shifting identities, have profiles build around labels that have a certain sound or producers and remixers would be more important. Brands such as Starbucks and Battersea Dogs Home have used music curation effectively in the past as part of their marketing campaigns, will Apple Music provide a similar opportunity?

More information
Apple Announces OS X El Capitan with Refined Experience & Improved Performance | Apple Press Info
Facebook Announces Its Third Pillar “Graph Search” That Gives You Answers, Not Links Like Google | TechCrunch
In the Programmable World, All Our Objects Will Act as One | Wired
Apple Previews iOS 9 | Apple Press Info
Apple Announces News App for iPhone & iPad | Apple Press Info
Introducing Apple Music — All The Ways You Love Music. All in One Place. | Apple Press Info

How Google Could Help Attract Paywall Subscribers (it’s a bit of a leap)

Micropayments and digital media haven’t exactly enjoyed a happy relationship so far, and this is a bit of a travesty according to Greg Golebiewski.

Who is Golebiewski? You might not be surprised to learn he is the CEO of a micropayment provider, Znak It. So his argument is a little self-serving, but still valuable. In the age of newspaper paywalls, Golebiewski  tells Paid Content newspaper publishers are missing a trick with not using micropayments to, say, offer a single article for a few pence to entice new readers. One of the schools of thought around paywalls is they’re not half bad for monetising online readers, but sub-par when it comes to growing a reader/subscriber base.

Says Golebiewski, “it’s extremely difficult to break that notion, the theory that micropayments don’t sell. [Critics] don’t have any data… it’s very difficult to go to them and say we have a flexible system for payments and then when they figure out it’s micropayments, they stop listening.”

Speaking of data, Znak It has some to back-up the CEO’s enthusiasm for micropayments. The company ran five pilot projects to see how many participants would buy a range of digital content; videos, music and written. Some 1,281 “buyers” emerged from a total of 43,000 unique users. According to Paid Content, “as many as 5 percent of the unique users wound up becoming buyers (paywalls usually get about one percent conversion).”

Znak It whitepaper

So what’s going to get micropayments into the mainstream? Google/YouTube might be the answer. Stick with me.

Google’s online video behemoth has been linked to the idea of a subscription model service, supplementing the traditional ad-revenues, for quite some time. Fresh rumours emerged in this weekend’s FT, with a report declaring “Google is on the verge of unveiling an à la carte subscription service for some of YouTube’s specialist video channels” (alternative info here for those sans an FT sub).

YouTube

“A la carte subscription service” is a little vague, as rumours tend to be, but the article goes on to say users could subscribe to channels “as little as $1.99 a month”. I guess that’s a la carte in the sense you pick a channel to subscribe to, rather than ‘subscribing to YouTube’. Whatever the specifics, this isn’t a million miles away from a micropayments system. True you’ll be subscribing to an entire channel rather than a single video, but chances are it’s a single video that will be the trigger to purchase in the first place – so not so far from buying one newspaper article through micropayment. The relatively low cost is another similarity.

The new system, combined with the prevalence of YouTube, could bring the concept of micropayments to a mass user base. It’s simplistic thinking, but it’s a start – and not the first time a big technology company has kick-started a digital content payment trend. How many people would have spent a few quid on a small software program for their mobile in 2006?

It could happen. Bit ironic potentially too – if Google ends up helping newspaper publishers develop a revenue stream from micropayments, after the ‘evil’ Internet got them into this fine mess in the first place.

FT Digital Media Conference discussions on the sounds of innovation

***Note:this post was originally written by a Racepoint client 7digital, and first appeared on the 7digital blog.***

Last month our own head honcho Ben Drury was at the Financial Times’ annual Digital Media Conference, speaking on the Sound of Innovation panel. It was an interesting debate, and the panel discussed everything from the growth in mobile and digital music to the revenue streams that were kicking around some 2,000 years ago.

7digital FT conference

Geoff Taylor, CEO of the BPI, started the discussion on a positive note. While it’s been a tough decade for the music industry, the BPI is seeing positive growth in digital music globally – as shown in their latest report. And the good news for British artists is digital is growing faster in the UK than the majority of global markets.

Ian Hogarth, Co-founder and CEO of Songkick, made some interesting observations of the trends in music over the last 10 years compared to the last 2,000 years (which raised a few eyebrows and smiles). His point was, until relatively recently, the music industry had made the majority of its revenue from live music. This changed for a, relatively, short period as the ability to record and distribute music on records, tapes, and ultimately CDs became possible. The decline in physical, he noted, led to live music revenues overtaking recorded revenue 3-4 years ago in the UK.

Also on the history side, Ben thought back to 2004 when he founded 7digital. Back then, everyone thought he “was crazy” to get into the music business, and no one would pay for music again. Today, the digital business is worth $6bn globally, and the average music fan can access the world’s music catalogue through their smartphone. Our own technology platform is helping partners like Samsung and HTC tap into this world of opportunity.

Responding to a comment that a lot of younger music fans access music for free and this is a ‘hard habit to kick’, Ben noted 7digital is actually seeing a lot fans using free services, like YouTube and SoundCloud, to discover music which they go on to purchase  – either through downloads or subscription services. He also noted people are becoming more and more happy to pay for subscription services, but the “sweet spot” for a monthly fee is still elusive. £10 a month, or £120 a year, is more than the average music fan spent at the height of the CD market.

The entire panel agreed the digital and Internet revolution has changed the way the music industry operates, making it easier for artists and acts to develop a fan base and sell music internationally. In particular some British artists, such as One Direction, have managed to break the US by initially developing a fan base on social media – instead of focusing on the US radio scene, as many have tried and failed to do in years past.

Talking on mobile, Ben observed how music has gone from being one item on a long tick list of smartphone specs to being a top priority and necessity for the likes of Samsung, HTC, BlackBerry and more. So much so, over 70% of 7digital’s revenue is now coming through mobile.

Finally, an audience member asked a question on the important interoperability for music services – that is, the ability to move your music, playlists and collection from one device to another. This particular conference attendee noted he has a large amount of music on his iTunes account and it was making him think twice about buying a new Samsung Galaxy S4. This was the most important point raised in the discussion. Music must be accessible wherever and whenever a fan wants it, and on any device they’re using. In today’s innovative, multi platform digital music world, having your collection locked to platform makes no sense whatsoever.

You can watch the panel discussion in full on the FT’s website.

7digital FT conference video

FT vs Guardian: The Ongoing Paywall Debate

The Financial Times has been held up as something of a pioneering newspaper, but its latest digital expansion comes at cost to the print.

The paper has done a good job of adapting to the digital world, attracting large numbers of paying subscribers to both print and online. It’s usually the default pro-paywall example; although with the note its content has the advantage of being unique enough to attract paying readers.

FT guardian paywall

Long standing editor Lionel Barber announced on Monday a renewed focus on digital, and is hiring 10 new employees specifically under a digital remit. The knock-on effect is 35 current FT staffers face the chop – or more accurately being offered a ‘buyout’ according to Paid Content. 35 of these buyouts will save the paper £1.6m this year, according to an internal email sent yesterday.

Barber says “The intention is to reduce the cost of producing the newspaper and give us the flexibility to invest more online”. There’s also a mandate to focus more on “priority stories”, an streamlined international presence and new products in the coming year.

Interestingly, Barber sees less competition with rival papers and more with social media channels, “Our common cause is to secure the FT’s future in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants such as Google and LinkedIn and Twitter.”

On the surface it may look like hard number crunching (+10 -35 isn’t tough maths), but these are the hard calls publishers and editors are being forced to make in the digital world. Ultimately is does mean we’re looking at smaller editorial teams, but it also means more focused teams delivering the content readers want to consume and pay for. What Mr Spock might have called ‘the needs of the many’. Although there’s no way around the fact it’s tough times for the 35 potential buyouters.

At the sometime Barber was tapping out his email, Andrew Miller, CEO of Guardian Media, has reaffirmed the group’s commitment to “open journalism” and shunning of the paywall model. Miller is one who has argued the FT’s paywall works because subscribers were always willing to pay for the premium business and financial content – something his paper can’t match. In an article with The Economist last week, he wrote:

“The overriding business task is to monetize the online audience…when we talk of ‘audience’ we still mean our readers…newspapers have always used a blend of different funding mechanisms to extract revenues for their ‘product’. That’s why I am unconvinced by those who say that the only model that works is to build paywalls. This is not an area where one size fits all.

“In some news organisations where growth in readership may not be so important and in particular where there is a strong existing print subscriber base to build on, a pure paywall may make excellent business sense. The Economist and perhaps the Times spring to mind here. It also makes sense in other publications which feature business-critical information – for example, the Financial Times and, in the Australian context, the AFR.”

In short, the FT et al can afford to monetise content and focus on digital because they don’t have to worry about growing their readership – but The Guardian does.

So where The Guardian is competing with paid-for titles and grabbing readers wherever it can, even in Australia now, the FT is more concerned about monitising content and developing a profitable digital business. The idea of “open journalism” is a noble one, and one I hope works out in the long term. But for now, it seems making the tough calls is the better option for newspapers looking for a firm foothold in digital.

Top Gear iPad app launches

Top Gear magazine released an iPad version of popular monthly print issue this week, which launches to coincide with the ‘Cars of 2012’ issue.

From the brief demo shown at the launch event, the app looks to be a good one. The ‘pages’ of each issue look similar to the print addition, but certain aspects of each come alive in various ways.

TopGear iPad app

For example, this month’s cover features images of the Cars of 2012 under spotlights. By tapping each, you get playback of the engines firing up and revving, a la Clarkson. Nice for the Ferraris and Maseratis of the world, but you wonder what will happen when they feature a family saloon on the cover.

Or actually, you don’t. The guy presenting (who didn’t introduce himself, sadly) told the audience each cover would be interactive in one way or another, with the production team “finding ways” to bring them alive.

Deeper inside the iPad addition there’s more treats, such as videos from presenters Clarkson, Hammond and May as part of their monthly columns, images in slideshow format and an interactive feature that allows the reader to open the boot, bonnet and doors of a featured auto. Quite nice when you’re looking at one of the more extravagant supercars with gull-wing doors (or Back to the Future Delorean doors for non-car enthusiasts).

TopGear iPad app

In fact, the iPad addition easily overcomes a few inherent issues with print. The buyers guide that lists the specs and prices of all makes and models on sale in the UK is much, much easier to flip through on the iPad’s endless scroll-column compared to print. And there’s almost limitless space for hi-res images of each car, excellent news for a magazine that’s all about showing off big shiny things.

The launch event also featured everyone’s favourite white-overall-clad mute, The Stig. Stiggies’ actually become quite a good PR and marketing tool in his own right. He was a bit of a pull for the event, and while he was on stage for a bit he soon ‘got bored’ and wondered off – and thus left the audience to focus on the app demo.

The app is in iTunes now, £2.99.

Also, here’s me with The Stig.

TopGear iPad app