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Posts from August 2018

Apple Fortunes May Be Changing

In the movie "Wall Street" the phrase, "Greed is good" has defined a culture for many years. The "Apple App Tax" where the Cupertino giant takes thirty percent of in-app purchases is a wonderful example of Gordon Gecko's now infamous line in the film. On one hand, Apple wants to make as much money as possible, and at the same time, by taking their cut off the top of every in-app purchase they are in effect holding back their potential competition from being as profitable.  Or maybe not.

What everyone forgets is that the 30 percent goes to fuel the Apple iOS platform development, pay for the tools and infrastructure that developers develop on and provides the ongoing efforts that keep the apps safe. While big brands like Amazon, Uber, AirBnb and others handle transactions outside the app, for a long time Netflix and Spotify have been handling signups and in turn monthly payments inside the iOS application, which in turn gives Apple their cut. Now they are saying, "no more."

On face this puts Spotify and Netflix in the group like Uber and Lyft. They love the iPhone as it is their route to generating the ride, but it's not in current and past terms of service, where the purchase is made. 

So what's Apple to do? The iPhone, and Andorid devices, have in reality become the shopping mall of the 21st century. They're the virtual gathering spot of many, who use the "service" the app provides them, the same way you walked into a store in the mall to buy something. Apple handles promotion via the App Store, making it easy for "shoppers" to be able to "enter" the app and gain access to the "store" where you can then pick the product off the virtual "shelf" on the screen. In the case of Uber, you can pick between Pool Express, Pool, X, Plus, Black, SUV just like you can choose between XS, S, M, L, XL or XXL.

With big brands like Netflix and Spotify "pulling out" of the Apple iOS In App Purchase model in effect they want the traffic the mall brings, without paying the rent. While this is good for them, in essence they're applying the "share of stomach" model of not wanting to feed the competition, which is Apple or perhaps, are choosing to 'bite the hand that feeds them."

Let's face it. App stores existed long before Apple's came to be in 2018. Nokia, Microsoft and RIM's Blackberry all had them. What they didn't have were thriving mobile app development programs (though RIM, under Alec Saunders did breath amazing life into the Blackberry program earlier in this decade.) Without the app store and the core technology that Apple provides developers to use the ability for so many Netflix and Spotify subscribers to view or listen to content on iOS devices wouldn't be possible. 

The flip side of course is that without the apps, the audience for using the Apple devices would be less. 

This is all heading towards a showdown of sorts, where both sides hunkerdown and play digital chess with one another, with an eventual outcome where Apple buys one or both.


Verizon Huffed and Puffed and Blew The Firefighters Off

Verizon really has a fire on their hands reputation wise after the issue surrounding a fire departments' data plan being slowed down as their crews were helping with the massive fire in Mendocino. This underscore corporate customer service ignorance and product management stupidity at the highest of levels.

Emergency services and first responders are invaluable to society, and to be lumped into the same class of service, and to be expected in a time of a natural disaster to have to be worried about data plan usage and plan management when the fire is raging is just plain silly.

It would have been much easier if Verizon had classified EMS services like Police, Fire, Paramedics, First Responders in a class of service of their own, and then allowed an account manager who will likely be more aware of things to deal with the fire department vs. an automated cut off system that then triggers a call to customer service, and an under trained agent with no authority to vary things compounds the issue.

This reminds me of a time when my bank sent out an unexpected replacement ATM card, while the card I was carrying was still valid. Not only did they replace the card, they took the card I was carrying while out of the country on a six week business trip around Europe.  What was worse was they took the card out of service on the last day of the month before a three day holiday weekend in the USA further complicating the ability to get anyone to do anything logical. To say it was a mess, full of under trained, inexperienced and almost incompetent support people was an understatement. But my being without an ATM card for four days pales in comparison to the Fire department's need to have access to LTE data when on the scene of the disaster.

This likely wasn't the first time an EMS force was caught up in this situation, and hopefully it will be the last. But given how big companies move to solve problems like these, it may take a while to put this fire out.

Outdated Content is Friday's Fish

Repurposed from LinkedIn

It invariably happens. You are about to do something with software or a SaaS based service that you've never done before and you need help. You don't need the IT department or the IT Person to help you, as you're smart enough to know how to read instructions.

You surf over to the help section of the product, service or app and search for your problem using the keyword search box. Up pops almost every article related to your needed solution so you page through them until what you need to know is presented. Then it only gets worse.

It seems the content is related to an older version, or a different plan of what you're using.

You then decide to search Google. There you find a bunch of solutions to your problem, or so you think. The articles that you think will solve your problem, though even more current than the support posts, are nothing more than content marketing created SEO fodder. Those simply echo the support post, but are written in a more elegant and conversational manner. As you read through you keep hoping the answer you need is there, but you have no joy, even though Google's search actually has found the answer.

The answer is buried in a long string of comments that one "content" marketer posted, and one other frustrated, but take no for an answer reader contributed. The answer was simple.

Contact tech support and they'll provide a fix by ___________. The blank can be adding a feature to your account. Telling you to remove some software that's causing a conflict or simply advising you to upgrade, even though that minor detail was left off the site.

Why? The content is from a year ago. The product mix has changed. The UI has changed. The service has changed. Any number of reasons.

So here's the net net. Stale content is like Friday's fish on Monday. It's stale. Outdated. It's like beer that has lived past its' shelf life. It's spoiled meat. It's the prescription that's expired.

We live in a world where search and discovery is everything. But having outdated content on your web site, with solutions that no longer work, or writing new content that refers to old versions is a recipe for disaster. Content marketers, SEO experts and PR folks all need to be aligned, otherwise all you're really doing is letting the stale and outdated shape the perception of your business.

AI, Voice and Transcription

Longtime media maven Jeremy Wagstaff, who has done stints with the WSJ and other legit media, has penned a very insightful piece about Voice AI and Transcription. In the post, Jeremy highlights services that are doing decent work in the AI-assisted transcription industry.

I read this with a keen interest, as my agency's very first technology client was a startup, MobileWord, way back in the mid-90s.  A lot of what is now more than possible, and actually working, was envisioned back then by founder Bob Cox, but he was way too early, and the computing power to do what is now possible today just wasn't there. Back then, the files were shuttled to human transcribers, and then returned to the person who had done the dictation via email. It was a cutting-edge idea back then, but today seems so expected.

The big issue remains transcription of accents and regionalized dialects. This is one of the learning hurdles that the services are all just starting to address. One person's English from say Seattle is far different in accent to a Bostonian. Add in EASL (English as a Second Language) speakers from South America, Asia, Europe or Africa and the learning that the voice engines need to undertake is a massive computing job.

Today, with the kind of cloud computing power that's available, Bob's vision is now a reality. Give Jeremy's post a read and check out some of the services he highlights. 

Cloud Telecom Edges Into Legacy Carriers

While no one would accuse Telenor of possessing a legacy carrier mentality, as they did birth Appear.In and other VoIP based properties, they like so many of their fellow telephone companies have done for years, they're outsourcing VoIP and packaging it up, as a white label play. They've gone with San Diego VoIP innovator, VoxOx.

Much like Vonage buying Nexmo a few years back, and now TokBox, these types of moves are done usually with the decision to buy vs. build. The buying can be an acquisition or it can be reselling under either the original brand, or in this case, rebranding VoxOx's service offering.

This is also interesting as the Asian market is very wired, but it has been largely a mobile play. One of the biggest challenges I hear is the lack of conference calling solutions that are "localized." I expect that with VoxOx making this move, that other players where they offer CaaS solutions will be looking east...way east to bring more cloud to the cloudless communications market.

Facebook Takes Aim at Yodlee

A series of stories about Facebook and their interest in banking all basically say the same thing. That banks may be willing to share information with the social media giant.

One angle I didn't see come through was the impact on Yodlee. For years, Yodlee has been a key data interchange player in the banking world. With Facebook getting in the mix, Yodlee could end up the loser. Third parties have for years been beholden to Yodlee as the company has had almost an unbreakable stranglehold on the transport of data between entities. Now with Facebook entering the picture that lock appears to be coming lose.


Boingo Buys Into the Apartment Market

In what may be overlooked by some as "just another acquisition" former Comunicano client (right up to the IPO) Boingo made a very shrewd buy today that gets them into the growing apartment and condominium market quickly. Long the provider of choice in airports, shopping malls and office buildings, this expands their reach into apartment houses and condominiums which either rely on an IT company to wire up their building, or the cable or telcos to install Wi-Fi that worked in the common areas like hallways, gyms and lounges.

With more new properties going mixed use, and the eventual arrival of 5G Boingo's bet is more than just about installing Wi-Fi and some fiber to connect to it. Long the connector that overcomes dead cell zones at airports, Boingo is really one of the largest DAS players on the planet, and their leadership likely sees how having more apartments and condo properties under their control can give them even more leverage with the mobile operators. But it also gives them the ability to be an ISP of sorts. 

If you look at FON which has struck deals with the telcos to make it easy for subscribers to roam from place to place and stay connected,  Boingo is poised to be that and more, serving as the connective tissue between work, residence and play as the customer who is a resident of a Boingo powered apartment can then be connected once they get to work or while they're traveling too.

The reason this is so important is wireless in an apartment house, like in a hotel, requires far less cost to install vs. going room to room, or apartment to apartment. With everything going more and more wireless, Boingo can install their wireless gear, connect it to fiber, 5G or both and be easily upgrading wavelengths or connective devices to Wi-Fi access points. This eliminates the running of cables or the very expensive truck roll, as all you need to do is connect to a WiFi SSID and you're online.

So, how does Boingo take this to market? Via property management companies for established and already built properties and by working with developers, architects and builders for new properties. Given we're seeing a high rise housing continue to happen in the major cities, the timing for Boingo couldn't be better.

Uber's Most Important Asset-People

Uber, the ridesharing service has been making a ton of mistakes, but the biggest one is ignoring the most important asset they have. People.

Recently they announced a deal with Cargo, to put snacks and other products on sale inside their drivers cars. There's only one problem with that. They never told the drivers. In three cities I've had Uber rides in since the announcement, not one driver has been told about the new way for them to make money, nor do they even know what a Greenlight Hub is. This tells me either the program is a test program (and being overhyped) or that communication to the field is worse than ever. For years drivers have complained how they're not spoken with, and that everything they ask is handled by email. One driver lamented that when he bought a new car to drive it took months to update his profile, causing riders to not be able to find his car.

Down under in Australia, the drivers took to what is effectively a walkout, protesting upfront pricing and other working conditions. From a consumer's perspective upfront pricing is great, but from a driver's perspective, traffic jams and other unforeseen trip extenders eat into their revenue, so they have a point. Given taxis charge time and distance, the Uber rider trapped in a traffic jam is only charged distance based fares. This issue is compounded by the variations of offerings that Uber has by market, based on what's permitted. 

Over in Spain Uber (and Cabify) is going to feel the pressure of the government, which has sided with the taxi drivers to limit the number of ridesharing drivers there are out on the road to a 30:1 ratio of taxi's to Ubers. This effectively limits the growth of ride-sharing and creates more demand than there is supply to fill. By not effectively working with the Spanish government, Uber has negatively impacted both driver and rider near term and possibly longer.

Uber needs to think long and hard about their customers and their drivers as the their technology can only take them so far, before it takes the entire business for a ride.



Tsahi on The TokBox Acquisition

I read Tsahi's well thought out post about the recent TokBox acquisition. Overall I found very little to disagree with, and appreciated the candor about the global carriers in ability to execute. Let's face it. The legacy folks have been making money off of services like landline and dial tone for years. The mobile folks make money from subscriptions and add on services. But neither have innovated.

One key point that Tsahi brought up was how Vonage was dependent on Amazon Chime. My view is Amazon eventually enters the "phone" space and  Vonage doesn't want to rely on a looming competitor. By the "phone" space, I'm referring to calls and texts, which basically means just like every other industry Amazon enters, there's a flattening of the competition. Amazon's entry won't be hard, as integration of voice and text into their apps is rather easy, and they already have Amazon Echo's in almost 25% of the USA houses. The Echo's become the end point, or "desk phone."

Given you can already integrate services like Dialpad and OnSip (though Telzio did it first) to make calls using your existing contact directory. Google's Home integrates with GoogleVoice so it makes calls also, the Echo becomes your phone. Integrating the Echo into a conference service is likely the next frontier and with the Echo Show and Fire tablets and TV's the video end point is already there too. All this adds up to Amazon being a "phone" company one day in the future and are proof points for Vonage to need to move away from the big A.

Tsahi also points out the failure of Telefonica to do anything at all with TokBox. I figured it would be a 5-10 year slog when they acquired TokBox, and at just about year five, they booted the company, likely recovering their investment and not much more if any profit was there to be made.

This is nothing new.

Back in the VoIP hayday, AT&T (pre-SBC) had CallVantage, a service developed inside AT&T's Labs that back then offered the best voice quality and was well poised to change the game. Unfortunately, once SBC acquired AT&T everything stopped and CallVantage died off.  Verizon also dabbled with Wing, that had not a prayer of a chance of going anywhere. Both were Vonage competitors and due to the Triple T effect (TYPICAL TELECOM THINKING) the powers at be treated them both like lab experiments. 

Give it a read..


On ClueCon Weekly This Past Week

With everything going on surrounding my new Pixelbook, the Vonage/Nexmo acquisition of Nexmo I almost forgot to mention being on FreeSwitch's  ClueCon Weekly this past week.

It's been a while since I did video, let alone remote video, but the overall conversation with Michael Mavroudis, aka Jersey Mike. We spent almost an hour talking all about AI, the Vonage buy of TalkBox and telecom.

Check it out.

P.S. As part of transparency in journalism, FreeSwitch is part of SignalWire, a startup I'm a consultant to.