facebook-compra-wahttappThe WhatsApp acquisition price sounds high, sky high, crazy high.  But it’s not if you put yourself in Zuckerberg’s shoes and think about it in these terms: Facebook bought a network that was a real threat to its existence,  that is growing much faster than itself (growth drives valuations) and has almost half as many members already, for only 10% of its value. And it prevented it from going to Google.  So from this perspective $19bn in Facebook minted currency makes sense.   If you call WhatsApp a better SMS system, hence an attack on the telco industry, on size alone, it is as big as half of all the texting that goes on in the world. SMS, as Facebook said in its investor conference after the acquisition, is a $100bn industry. Where are Facebook/WhatsApp headed? In my view towards doing with telephone minutes what WhatsApp already did with SMS. WhatsApp killed the I-bill-you-by-text-message telco model.  I would not be surprised if WhatsApp next move is to kill the I-bill-you-by-the-minute model.  It is not reasonable that Facebook, which wants to connect everyone on the planet, still does not have a platform for people to have actual conversations a la Viber or Skype.  I can’t imagine that things will stay this way. And owning the world’s texting and the world’s conversations may very well be worth $19bn.

What we have learned about Facebook is that Zuckerberg will pay whatever he has to pay to stop a rising competitor from eating his lunch.  First Instagram, now WhatsApp. Moreover that he can live and let live, acquire and keep the acquired company in shape. Instagram is still pretty much the same product it was when it was acquired.  WhatsApp is likely to evolve but on its own.

(Photo credit: MusicZine)

ipad airI am loving it. Nothing revolutionary but a much better iPad for the same money (we can thank Google for that, don’t want to think what Apple would be charging if Android was not also great). As promised the iPad Air is thinner, lighter, faster, sharper and with a better front camera. Where Android still beats iOS is in the freedom to put whatever keyboard you want (I love SwiftKey especially because it recognizes which language I am typing in), to put any WiFi manager (I use Fon’s), and in the ease to share anything from any app. I still don’t know why Apple makes sharing so hard.  But the new iPad is not like when Apple went from the iPhone 4 to the 4S. It’s more like when the iPhone 4 came out. After the iPad Mini came out I found the iPad 2 too clunky.  The iPad Air gives you a bigger screen, perfect to use while flying for example but a much lighter and thinner frame. Worth the upgrade!

And if you want to learn about what is inside an iPad Air

(Photo: NBC news)

SherpaI am currently testing Sherpa Assistant for Android vs Siri on Apple.  I am doing this with my HTC One and my iPhone 5.  So far everything I ask they respond equally, they are very similar products.  Now these are some differences I found.

Sherpa allows you to post on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, Siri only on Facebook. Neither on Tumblr.

Sherpa allows you to change languages on the fly by saying change to Spanish, o cambia a inglés, Siri does not. This is especially useful for me.

Neither Siri nor Sherpa are integrated in any way with Amazon or eBay to shop but Sherpa allows you to input your PayPal account and pay for things, Siri does not.

In general I think both assistants should evolve into two different modes of operating, “blind” and “visual”.  Blind would be when you are driving and it is dangerous to look at a screen; in that case, all results and interaction must be spoken only, as if you were truly blind.  Indeed this method could be tested by blind people and be extremely helpful to them.  Also this would allow for a computer whose only interface is a microphone and a speaker which in itself can be a fantastic tool.

365941-siri-iconThen they should both operate in a visual mode meaning you speak and the mobile device shows you results on the screen and speaks back.

Also there should be some ways of communicating clearly that you want to operate inside an app as opposed to inside the app of Siri or Sherpa.  For example I should be able to say, I would like to post this on Tumblr.  Or say something like, take dictation, and then Siri or Sherpa take dictation and when you are done it reads it back to see that it got it right and then it asks you what you want to do with that text.  You can then post it on email, Facebook, a blog, Tumblr, a note, etc.  Mobile devices come in silos called apps.  Sherpa or Siri have to be good for interacting inside their own app or for accessing these silos, and this is not well solved in either platform.

Now what is impressive about Sherpa is that it is being done by a 12 person team out of Bilbao, Spain and overall is a better product than Siri.

table_music_services

It has been quite a while since I stopped downloading music. It’s not that I was afraid of getting caught for illegal downloads– in Spain, internet piracy is not a criminal offense. Instead, I gave up on downloading music, even in a country with few penalties for doing so, because cloud services are just better.

Downloading an mp3, whether legally or illegally, is slow, boring and expensive. Slow because it takes time to find a specific song, download it and then sync the songs with whatever device you want to use. Boring because the process (of downloading and paying) is tedious. And expensive because even though you don’t pay for the download, paying for CDs, hard drives or any other file-storage devices ends up being more expensive than any of the options in the table included above.

Listening to music from the cloud is the most recent trend in the world of online audio. That’s because it is fast, fun and cheap. You don’t have to wait to listen to what you want, be it online or downloaded onto your device via offline mode. It’s fun because cloud music has a social aspect in that you can see what your friends are listening to, get recommendations, read lyrics at the same time you are listening to the music and much more. And cheap because the prices, due to the high level of competition, is far lower than any external hard drive to store mp3s.

Pandora is the service with the most users – currently at 70 million. Behind them are iHeartRadio (48 million), TuneIn (40 million) and Deezer (30 million). It’s also worth noting the strength of premium memberships in Spotify: their 6 million premium subscribers make up roughly 30% of their total number of subscribers, making Spotify stand out among the rest.

All of the services I included in the table have a free version, and their restrictions are often the same: ads, a limited amount of song “skips”, lower audio quality, or limited amount of free listening time.

It’s in the paid versions where you notice important differences. The new iTunes Radio seems to be the best deal: for $25 per year it offers music without limits or ads. Pandora offers the same for $36 a year. For monthly subscriptions, the prices are quite similar. The cheapest is Pandora, which for $4 gives the best quality music without ads. Behind them is Spotify, which for $5 provides music without ads but without a mobile option. Monthly unlimited plans, for all devices and with no ads, do not drop below $10 in any of the platforms.

The size of the iTunes Radio music catalogue is still unknown, making the 30 million tracks available in Xbox Music the most attractive in terms of music variety. Pandora’s library is quite poor in comparison, with only 1 million songs.

Sound quality is surprisingly variable among the services, and many of the platforms don’t make this information public. Among those that do, Google, Spotify and Deezer claim the highest bit rate at up to 320kbps.

Another aspect worthy of noting is that of availability. The majority of the platforms analyzed are accessible to anyone, anywhere. Only Pandora, Slacker and iHeartRadio limit access – they are only available in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Lastly, I took a look at the apps that each service provides. With our world becoming increasingly more mobile, most people only listen to music from their mobile device. Therefore my opinion is that any good music service should be available for all operating systems. Among the services I analyzed, Pandora, Spotify, Slacker and iHeartRadio can be found on all operating systems whereas iTunes Radio will only be available for iPhone users, Xbox Music can only be obtained through Windows Phone, and Google Play is only available for Android.

I personally prefer Spotify: it’s got great sound quality, an ample music library and apps that improve the user’s listening experience. For copyright-free music and DJ remixes I tune into SoundCloud.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

Facebook is not at war with Google as both companies would like to think. It is really suffering more from guerrilla attacks from a set of small players that hit Facebook one functionality at a time. WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, Quora, Path, Tango, Tumblr, Pinterest, Viber, Voxer, LinkedIn and even its own Instagram all chip away from Facebook. It’s the club of companies that are better than Facebook “at something” . And Facebook’s attempt to bury them all with a Facebook phone didn’t work out. Facebook has a billion users but these are many of the same users who more and more prefer the specialty formats of other platforms. While in Smartphones themselves the battle may be only between iPhone 5 vs Samsung IV, when it comes to apps people are much more picky. Facebook is losing dominance by the week to focused niche players.

For most people Facebook Swiss Knife approach is good, but given a choice, a tool set is better. What is Facebook to do? They are lucky enough to be sitting on a cash pile and it is a public company worth over $50bn. They have to do what Google has been doing for years. Buy, buy and buy. Instagram was a good start. Buy first and figure out how to monetize later, learn from Google’s acquisition of Youtube which for years was as struggle and now is a star.

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What you see here is the user growth of Facebook.  I wanted to share this graph because this is how the biggest internet property of our times grew.  It is interesting that it looks more like a linear graph than an exponential graph.  It is steep, but it is steady.  We know that that growth will not continue as there are around 2 billion people on the Internet, and Facebook is not allowed in some huge countries like China.  So in not too long, that curve will start flattening.  Therefore, when you make your projections make sure they are but a fraction of this growth curve!

 Facebook User Growth (4)

TT logo pic 13This year Nina and I are thrilled to announce that we have teamed up with Founders Forum to bring you the first ever Founders Forum Menorca TechTalk 2013, which will be held at our farm on the island. We invite outstanding entrepreneurs from around the world to enjoy a relaxed weekend together in a beautiful setting. The 2013 edition will run from Friday, June 28th to Sunday, June 30th.

On June 29th, our guests will give a series of short improvised debates on technology and innovation. As in previous years, we invite the public to attend the TechTalk Open Doors event and join us for an afternoon of dialogue and interaction with some of the greatest minds in the tech world. The event will take place on Saturday afternoon from 4:30-7:30pm. If you are interested in joining us, please contact us at menorcatechtalk@ff.co to secure a spot (capacity limited to 80). 

We look forward to welcoming you to our farm to share an inspiring afternoon together!

When people use a laptop, they expect everything to be free, and when they use a smartphone they expect to pay. That is the main reason why the laptop eco-system is dying and smartphones are thriving.

Laptops have traditionally been expensive.  For a couple of decades now we have gotten used to paying over $1,000 for one– the average selling price of a Mac is $1,400.  Smartphones however are almost free.  While Google is beginning to have some success selling the Nexus 4, most people are reluctant to pay for a smartphone. They expect it subsidized or free. But what is remarkable is how the user behavior changes after the acquisition of the gadget.  A phone consumer expects a phone for free, but what happens afterwards they are willing to pay for in excess (e.g. texting, voice minutes, data roaming), even when free alternatives exist. It is a different frame of mind, almost like a deal, an agreement between corporations and consumers:  get something for free and pay later, vs get something that is expensive upfront and then stop paying. A laptop is a big investment upfront to enter a mostly free world.  A smartphone is a tiny investment upfront to enter an expensive, yet very much accepted world. A laptop is an all-you-can-eat experience, including an all-you-can-eat fixed internet connection.  In the laptop world piracy is rampant because people expect everything to be free, but much less so in the smartphone world.  And this is almost psychological: the same people who pirate on laptops don’t as commonly pirate on smartphones, even though for example there are many bit torrent clients for Android.  A smartphone is an “a la carte” experience in which every component is paid for and dearly, including data packages.  As a result the smartphone eco-system is well funded and thriving but the PC or laptop eco-system is dying, making the laptop experience less and less “fun”.  Since 2011 more smartphones are sold than PCs.  This is mostly because developers and content producers need to get paid, and they are seeing much more money developing or producing for iOS and Android than for Windows and Mac.

Moreover “smartphone only” experiences are on the rise.  Path, Foursquare, Uber, Instagram and Whatsapp are but some examples of these. When smartphones started, people used to say that they fell short of what was available on the Web.  Now the opposite is true.  People using laptops have to have smartphones handy as well.  And this is even more extreme with games.  As developers realized that few wanted to pay for games on laptops but many more were willing to pay for games on smartphones/tablets, they switched to develop for iOS and Android.  And games became huge on mobile.

This perception translates to the investment world.  For example Instagram is a free app and yet Facebook paid almost a billion for it.  They didn’t pay concretely because of the money they thought they would make out of Instagram itself, but because as young as it is Facebook was until recently a PC company and in Instagram it found a short cut to the mobile world. In general VCs now are much more likely to invest in a mobile platform than in a PC platform even if the mobile platform like Instagram had no way to monetize itself.  Mobile growth has the same premium Web growth had a decade ago. And this is regardless of the fact that so far, for example in advertising, it is easier to monetize on the web than on mobile. This is because everyone sees the future as mostly mobile.

For many years, when phones were phones and PCs were PCs, there was a tough debate on how content and software producers were going to get paid.  And the answer, provided by Steve Jobs, turned out to be get people hooked on a device that was a computer but one in which everyone had to pay, and call it a phone.  There was always another possible alternative, which was open source software and user generated content. That still exists, mostly promoted by Google, but even Google had to adopt the content/software world of Apple to make Android thrive.

Now before I end, here is a list of secondary reasons to explain why smartphones and tablets are killing PCs (or why iOS and Android are killing Windows and OSX):

-Smartphones expanded into tablets and they started competing in screen size with one of the few advantages left for PCs.

-People are finally getting used to glass keyboards (some apps like Swiftkey make them more friendly), and can therefore bid farewell to their keyboards.

-Laptops are more for content producers and most people are content consumers. That’s why the work environment is still dominated by PCs and probably will be for a long time.

-Smartphones are much easier to carry around and therefore open to a whole set of apps, like for example sports apps.

-Smartphones offer connectivity via WiFi and mobile and most laptops only WiFi; WiFi is common but not as pervasive as mobile and therefore a smartphone/tablet has the best of both worlds.

-One of the biggest advantages of laptops is storage, but cloud computing is taking care of that.

-The hardware that is needed to provide a great mobile experience uses energy in a smarter way than the hardware that is needed to provide a great laptop experience.

-While there are very affordable laptops now, they are not as inexpensive as great smartphones that are given out for free or almost nothing in contracts, and laptops are in a head-on race between processor speed and RAM and programs that makes inexpensive laptops appear as just bad products.

But overall I stand by my initial thought; that is, the main reason smartphones are killing PCs is because there is more money in smartphones and while information wants to be free it costs money to produce it.  At the risk of gaining many enemies with my statement, I would like to change the famous “information wants to be free” to “information wants to be affordable”. I can agree with Aaron Swartz that science that can only be afforded at expensive universities is wrong, but still the key is not to make things free, it’s to make them affordable. To make information affordable, content affordable, and software affordable.  And mobile platforms seem to have achieved a better balance at this than laptops ever did. That is why they are thriving. Better format, better business model.  That simple.

To read many more  comments on this post please see it in LinkedIn.

(Photo: fishbrain.randy@sbcglobal.net, Flickr)

Everyone says that Facebook fights privacy because they grow by making you and everyone else, very public.  And that part is obvious, if they don’t encourage you to be less private they have no network.  But there is a countertrend to that and that is post IPO monetization.  Now that Facebook got 1 billion people to share their intimate and mostly irrelevant moments they hope to make money by you being so desperate for the attention that you got used to having that you start paying NOT to be private.  In order to achieve this Facebook is now making you less popular, or more private against your will.

So the new Facebook, the post IPO “have to meet the next quarter numbers” Facebook, is paradoxically more private, unless you pay of course. But if you don’t pay, less is disclosed about you to others because those who pay increasingly crowd you out.  And paradoxically a new privacy will be achieved.

Recently there has been an increased focus on our barriers to multitasking. For example, imagine yourself driving as you receive a twitter update or an SMS on your cell phone. Without a driverless car, your eyes must be focused on the road with your hands on the steering wheel, not on your phone. And that’s just one case; the desire for visual and tactile independence is true for any situation where your attention is required elsewhere. In this sense, I am starting to see more and more options for programs to read information aloud.

The improvement in speech recognition and text-to-speech programs has transformed our interactions with smartphones. For example, the Samsung Galaxy SIII comes equipped with ”Driving mode”: a service that announces incoming calls, reads inbound text messages and emails, and allows you to reply back orally. Furthermore, look at personal assistant services like Siri and Sherpa. These apps provide a way to essentially maintain an oral conversation with your mobile device, accessing data from the phone’s systems, apps and internet sites. I find these programs valuable; I rely on my mobile phone primarily as a source of news and updates from my social networks.

For this reason, some months ago I created an Android app called RadioMe. In September it was improved and renamed SpotRadio. It’s a radio that reads your social media feeds, so that you can receive your Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn updates by spoken word. I personally find it most useful on my bike trips, which are often long and well accompanied by a mix of music and personal news.

What’s more, in the market for social DJ apps I have a great competitor: The Social Radio. Its creator Roberto Gluck and I recently discussed the similarities and differences between our apps with the hope of improvement on both ends.

The Social Radio has many advantages – its default TTS program provides a more realistic, less robotic voice that changes between male and female. It recognizes two more languages than SpotRadio, one of which is Russian. The app has Android, iOS and web versions, while SpotRadio currently only supports Android. Its interface is simple like SpotRadio’s, and although it has less options for configuring frequency and duration of music and social news, it offers more choices for receiving Twitter news: you can listen to customized lists or trending topics as opposed to the full stream.

However, The Social Radio doesn’t read other social media networks- it’s only available for Twitter, whereas SpotRadio can integrate Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and SMS. At the same time, the app consumes much more bandwidth than SpotRadio because the voices are synthesized on an external server, rather than on the device itself. Additionally, while SpotRadio keeps social media account information within the app, The Social Radio requires authorizing access to Twitter account every time the app is opened. SpotRadio provides your social news in written form, recognizes duplicate updates and won’t read the provider of the update if you prefer not to hear it- options unavailable in The Social Radio.

The Social Radio and SpotRadio are two new tools of many that offer the ability to receive spoken notifications from your handheld device. Whether accessing your Facebook updates or reading you an email, this auditory trend is convenient and increasingly relevant to multitaskers. In any case, it should take off even further as improvement in TTS and voice recognition technology continues.

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