Tag Archives: mobile strategy

The Future of WeChat

It is not secret that I am fascinated with WeChat. It showcases the promise of conversational commerce in action. Yesterday I was talking about the opportunities in WeChat in Lead Conference. The different features we all know, but I find the small portion in the end of my presentation about the future of WeChat truly intriguing. We all know that WeChat has made huge leap from communication platform to payment platform.

wechat

WeChat: Messaging platform evolved to payment platform

It is currently the digital lifeline of the whole China, but what they are planning in the future. Below are couple of key points about WeChat future:

What about the global expansion?

WeChat tried to become a global messenger app. They hired Messi in 2013 with big money to be the face of WeChat. And apparently they got downloads but not engagement. Messaging apps lives and dies based on do you have anyone to message with. Techinasia dubbed WeChat´s global expansion “a disaster”. What makes WeChat unique in China is hard to replicate in other markets because of different digital ecosystem, legislation and other monopolies ruling the roost.

Now WeChat has pretty much abandoned these global aspirations as consumer product, but don´t be fooled they are still eyeing for global expansion but less as B2C product but more as B2B offering. There are two main ways how WeChat is creating its global footprint:

1.Being the gateway to China for western brands

WeChat wants to work with International brands to enable them to sell their products through its Chinese online retail platform. The benefit is that companies can then avoid some of the bureaucracy in China when setting up their own retail operations in the country.

“Almost 95 per cent of global [luxury] brands are on WeChat now — in the UK, there is Burberry and Mulberry, in Italy, Valentino, Zegna, Prada, all the big brands. Two years ago, the number was 50 per cent and last year 75 per cent, so the growth has picked up recently.”

-Andrea Ghizzoni (Europe Director, Tencent)

2. Conquering Europe and other markets through payment

Majority of Chinese tourists prefer to pay with Alipay or WeChat Pay, and only 10% would opt for cash or credit cards. This consumer sentiment has not left unnoticed by the western retailers. Chinese tourists are extremely lucrative target audience and if offering familiar paying option can ease the buying process I would be really surprised of not seeing WePay more present especially in western luxury retailers:

“Chinese customers tend to close the sale more quickly when they know that they can pay with mobile. Those transaction times are extremely quick, at under a minute.”

– Candice Koo, the Managing Director of CANCAN

All roads lead to AI

Like other big Internet monopolies, Tencent is making big strides with AI. This year they opened research facility in Seattle solely focusing on artificial intelligence and last year they established AI lab in Shenzen. AI is build around robust data so WeChat has clear advantage as they have vast amount of conversation and connections data. More importantly they also have payment data through its WePay platform. So essentially WeChat is sitting on the most valuable data sources: how people are spending their money? Where people are? And what they are talking about?

“Shopping and search engine data show one type of data, which is purchasing or shopping intent, which is valuable, but different. For example, if you were to build out an Natural Language Understanding engine, you would not use search engine data, because no one searches based on complete conversational phrases.”

-Tak Lo, Zeroth AI

There are already couple of prominent accounts utilizing AI within WeChat. Chumen WenWen is voice assistant that connects to third party APIs and answers questions around what you should do (e.g. restaurants, movies, services and more). Alibaba got headstart with facial recognition with its widely covered “Smile to pay” collaboration with KFC but it will be sure that WeChat will be launching tools based on facial recognition technologies. WeChat has also been improving its search function going head-to-head against Baidu by incorporating more social and connection information to its search results.

On a lighter note, what has become tradition with Microsoft AI Chatbots, their WeChat Chatbot Xiaobing and other chatbot BabyQ also went rogue and started slandering communist party.

“My China dream is to go to America.”

Xiaobing (WeChat Chatbot)

Do you think that such a corrupt and incompetent political regime can live forever?”

BabyQ (to the question about Chinese Communist Party)

If you want to know where Western conversational commerce is tomorrow, you only need to analyze what WeChat is already today.

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Why Xiaomi is The Future of Smartphone Industry?

What is the world´s fourth and China´s biggest smartphone company?
Hint: It is not Nokia.

It is actually company called Xiaomi, four-year old Chinese company, who does really affordable smartphones and has been dubbed as the Apple of China. it has taken China by storm and is now eying for world dominance. So forget the usual players for a moment and take couple of lessons from the new rising star of mobile:

1.Smartphone market will be commoditized, be cheap
Smartphone is not a status symbol anymore or anywhere in the world. The latest innovations in smartphones have majorly been in terms of size. Xiaomi´s operating margin was only 1.8 percent compared to 28.7% Apple and 18.7 Samsung. Part of it is due to their aggressive growth strategy, but other part is the commoditization. Profits will definitely shrink in smartphone category. Especially when the main source of growth will come from developing markets.

2. Copy with pride & style
One of my colleague ordered new Xiaomi phone. When I tested it out, it was quite a revelation for a devoted Apple user. Actually it was probably the first Android phone I thought of actually, so striking was the similarity with iPhone. Whereas many other copycat products I have seen, it did not feel cheap or shady at all. The package was nice and the phone felt way more premium than its price. So it would be unfair to categorize Xiaomi phones only as copycats, but it would be unfair not to mention that aspect either. It is not coincidence that Lei Jun, the founder of Xiaomi, rocks black turtlenecks and jeans in their product unveilings. Technologic innovation is expensive, so Xiaomi bypasses that one and innovates in other areas of their business.

3. Innovate the business model
Xiaomi is not technologically innovative, that is true. From business perspective, they have been really disruptive. Xiaomi keeps their phones longer in the market than other competitors (even to 18 months compared to 6 months of Samsung). Apple has to come up with new products constantly to keep up their margins. Xiaomi is more betting on component cost drop-off during those two years and prices their product initially close to the component cost. Selling phones (they also have tablets and tvs) is just one side of the coin; their main goal is to actually sell services and apps through the phone.

Next year will be important litmus test for their approach as they are rapidly expanding beyond China. They concentrate on markets with large populations, e-Commerce infrastructure and weak telecom carriers. The initial response from India was great, although now the sales have been blocked because of potential patent infringement. The focus on India, Indonesia, Brazil & Russia is wise strategy, but there might be actually some opportunities in more developed markets as well. My colleague was not the only Singaporean who has bought their new phone. During this Christmas season Xiaomi phones have been more popular lucky draw prizes than iPhones. At least for a while, the slick design and renegade attitude has certain aspirational cool factor, not normally attributed to budget versions.

4. Innovate the distribution
Xiaomi has a digital-first approach to the sales of their phones. They partner with big e-Commerce retailers (like Tmall in China and Flipkart in India), and sell their phones through them. They never sell through brick & mortar stores. By selling directly to consumers, the company can collect and administer all the feedback and built it into the next generation of their phones.
They are also well known for their flash sales, which resemble more of buying rock concert tickets than traditional mobile phone sales. In China, during Single´s day, they sold over 200k smartphones in less than 3 minutes. In India they sold out in their flash sales in 4 seconds. Flash sales work both from branding and business perspective. They create demand and buzz around the phone. Flash sales are not just solitary transactions; they are actual events. One of the main reasons why they sell limited quantity of phones each week is to keep costs down by having smaller inventory.

5. Being cheap does not mean that you do not have brand
Xiaomi phones are entry-level phones, but creating brand affinity with teens is not necessarily a bad strategy. Xiaomi is not just a cheap phone for their devoted fans. It resembles more like religious cult. Part of it is that Xiaomi is probably the first technology brand, that Chinese can really be proud of. It does help to have charismatic leader to go with it as well. Xiaomi launch events are real festivals and people even buy tickets to attend them. Over 60 million watched the livestream and some even took 15h ride to attend those launch events. The events, flash sales and the product serves as marketing. Xiaomi does not really do conventional advertising and uses only 1% to marketing. Their devoted fans and devoted leaders are the best marketers. When Lin Bin (Xiaomi co-foudner) had a “planking” competition with their management team this December, the photo was shared over 3000 times. Not necessarily something that would happen with more traditional companies.

Although you would not necessarily switch to Xiaomi phone, their disruptive business model is something to follow and watch out for in 2015.

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Wearable Tech: The End of The Mobile as We Know It?

When observing people playing with their smartphones, tablets and phablets*, it is quite hard to believe that handheld mobile phone is only 40 year old invention and has been in mainstream use only for the last twenty years depending on the country. The influence of mobile phone to human behavior has been profound. When comparing current smartphones to the first bulky ones, they are quite far away from its original purpose of speaking to each other. New devices are definitely mobile, not necessarily that much of phones anymore.

So enter the wearable tech. It will be the next step for the mobile revolution.

Phone has been just a transition period with mobile. Mobile consists of three important elements: freedom, access & connection. You can achieve those with multiple devices. When assessing the future of mobile, there are two major shifts happening. Firstly, we are moving to the age of different screens. Secondly, we are totally defining mobile in a new way. It easy to dismiss wearable tech as a fad, but Sergey Brin raises really important point in this comment from Ted Conference few weeks back:

“Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people? Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass? It’s kind of emasculating. Is this what you’re meant to do with your body? You want something that will free your eyes.”

Using of smartphone has created new behavior patterns for us (aptly documented in the excellent Curious Rituals). Wearable tech is ideologically step backwards from smartphones. It is technology adapting to existing human behavior instead of actively changing it. In a way, wearable tech is more natural than using smartphone.

When thinking about possibilities of wearable tech, I would closely benchmark sports companies. Quantified self –movement naturally started from sporting and has evolved lately to other areas. Nike FuelBand is one of the first crossover wearable tech products, which has its roots in sports but expands to other areas as well. The really big potential is with the normal people. Being a sports fanatic myself it is often hard to forget that the target audience of us is lucrative but still quite small. The wearable tech company who is able to tap the mainstream audience will win. And win big: the wearable tech industry is estimated to be worth of $6 billion by the end of the year 2016.

When creating wearable technology, we have to think quite deeply about the issue of what people would wear and what they are wearing now? Looking from that angle, the wearable tech products most likely to hit mainstream should be quite familiar product types. My hunch is that they will be either watches, glasses or clothing (or combination of all of these):

The Revenge of the Watch
Watch has been relevant for hundred of years. You do not necessarily use it to its original purpose of timekeeping, but it has still maintained its role as a status symbol for many people. If you check time from your mobile phones, why would you not send your WeChat-messages from your watch? It will be interesting to see will certain existing watch manufacturers with strong brand equity challenge the technology companies in this field?
Watch out for: Kickstarter all-star Pebble, The rumoured iWatch, traditional existing watch manufacturers, sports watch brands (such as Polar or Suunto)

Using Glasses to Look Be Smarter
What can I say about Google glasses that is not said in this video (NSFW)?

Nevertheless, I want to acquire one pair, despite all the privacy concerns.Google Glass has already competitors as well, but all the eyes will be on the Google on this one.
Important players: Google Glass, Luxottica (world´s largest eyewear company)

Maxwell Smart was Right
With clothing technology this rubber boot phone is definitely the most interesting one:
Rubber Boot Phone
(Designer Sean Miles project for O2)

Jokes aside, the smart clothing has more supporting function with wearable technology accessories (maybe excluding bracelets). Different sensors can track things in clothing, but it is unlikely that we use our underwear as the main starting point for our mobile communication or access. That being said, combination of smartphone and smart clothing will probably be quite crucial in the transition period when moving to the new era of mobile. Especially if quantified self- phenomenon continues expanding to even more mainstream audiences.

Will wearable tech be the future of mobile?
I truly think so. The question is when that future is evenly distributed to the whole world?

* Contender for the most annoying word invented in last couple of years.

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Why Google is Struggling with Mobile?

The future of the business is mobile.

Or so they say. Currently it seems more that future business of companies is ruined by mobile. Zynga has lost 85% of its value, because the mobile adoption has been faster than expected. Facebook has been stumbling with mobile advertising, although its recent mobile ad revenues beat the industry estimates.

Even the traditionally steady high-performer Google has been showing signs of slowing down. The problems have their root cause in mobile: Motorola acquisition has not yet paid off and mobile advertising has driven average click prices down.

Here are five other reasons why Google (like many other companies at the moment) is struggling with the mobile:

1. Status Quo Bias
For years the AdWords has been the hen that lays the golden eggs for Google. As humans, we are more likely to believe that things remain the same and are more likely to select to stay in status quo whenever possible. Every company encounters status quo bias at some point. AdWords are still selling like pancakes, the main difference is that the average click price has dropped for four consecutive quarters in row.
Although no one accuses that Google is not doing mobile innovations and investments, there has apparently not been pressing need for them to roll them out faster.
2. Android Ecosystem does not pay off (expect for Samsung)
According to certain estimates, Google makes about $6.50 through ads on Apple devices, compared with under $2 in Android. Google makes roughly the same amount of profit selling Android ads & apps in year that Apple makes selling iPhones a week. Google has regarded Android ecosystem more of an extension of the advertising. Currently it seems that it only benefits Samsung (and maybe to some extend users).
3. Mobile advertising ecosystem is currently broken.
People are not yet ready to make purchases with mobile. That is likely due to change in the future. Meanwhile, the mobile ads generate less revenue than traditional ads on average. Mobile has been thus far more about duplicating the web experience for Google, than regarding it as a center of the advertising innovations.
4. Consumers are even more unpredictable with mobile
Who would have predicted that texting will become popular? Or that tablets will become hits? Consumers are always fickle and surprising, but especially in mobile. Consumers do not really know (or at least articulate) what they want, but they still act quite fast to get it.
5. Google is not (yet) producing phones
Although Google bought Motorola, there has been a strict separation of church and state between Android and Motorola. Apple and Samsung have proven that the money in mobile lies in hardware. Microsoft has returned to hardware game as well. Facebook will probably enter the competition soon. Can Google stay away from the phone game?

I am sure that Google has certain tricks up on their sleeves regarding the mobile. Until those tricks are revealed, there will be more growing mobile pains ahead.

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iPad Mini and The Future of Mobile

Despite the surprise launch of the next generation iPad and the brouhaha that followed it, the most important launch of the yesterday´s Apple event was still the iPad Mini. According to late Steve Jobs that tablet should never been launched:

“This size isn’t sufficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion”

The point is not that Apple is ruining the grand vision of iPad or dancing on the grave of Steve Jobs. The launch of iPad Mini is just a reflection of the current market situation. People do not necessarily want to have great tablet apps, they just want to read e-books with the tablet. Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 have shown that there is a great demand for smaller tablets which are designed mainly for content consumption (such as text, videos, audio and basic casual games). Judging by the strength of Apple´s content ecosystem (iTunes, iBooks), it is likely that iPad Mini will be successful. The biggest concern is the higher price, but that does not really have stopped Apple buyers before either.

The launch of iPad Mini is a good indicator of where we are moving in the mobile sphere. Here are four predictions what will happen in the near future:

1. Apple will release bigger iPhone.
If (when) iPad mini will be a hit, we are quite likely to see bigger iPhone. The success of Samsung Galaxy S III has proven that the traditional heuristic of “it has to fit the pocket” do not really apply. We have the need to communicate and consume content. For those whose urge for the latter is bigger, would want to use bigger smartphones. And they just put it in bag instead of trouser pockets. Or get bigger trousers.

2. The Tablet+Dock hybrid will be the laptop of the future
There has been flood of new device announcements with Windows 8 OS that are not traditional laptops. Instead they are hybrids, merging tablets and laptops. These devices might not be the future yet, but the thinking behind them will be. It is odd and inconvenient to carry around smartphone, laptop and tablet with you. I would presume that the separate bigger tablet would be the one to go. Smartphone would be the urgent communication vehicle; the separated tablet for mobile content consumption and that powered with the dock would be for work.

3. Mobile is the driving force in technology usage of the consumers
Also with the launch of Windows 8 OS, there has been quite a big surge of touchscreen laptops. The way we use mobile is shaping how we use other devices. Mobile is all the times with us, so we expect the same user experience with other devices. That is also reason why companies are struggling with mobile. They view it as an add-on, when it should be the core of what they are doing.

4. Forget the different devices, it is about integration of screens.
In the near future, we will not talk about mobile, tablets or laptops. We will just have different screens, which are integrated together and serve different purpose. The company who will master this integration most fluently will be the winner of the technology race. We will have screens for home, work and mobile (enabling both work&entertainment) and certain devices that enable us to use these screens. What devices those will be, remains to be seen. One certain consequence will be that there will be renewed interest to TV screens, which have and still are the default home screens for the majority of households.

iPad Mini will not be the last interesting technology launch in the near future. There is still plenty of white space to discover while consumer technology usage is changing. The one who understands the consumer experience and “the integration of screens” most thoroughly will be able to find and conquer that white space.

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