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Instagram Stories seem to have worked out really well for Instagram, increasing engagement and gaining rapid adoption, while Snapchat’s growth seems to have leveled off a little lately. It now appears Facebook plans to bring stories into the core Facebook experience too, which makes lots of sense: for all Instagram’s popularity, Facebook’s user base is several times as large, and so Facebook can easily extend the feature to many more people in this way. The attraction of the Stories format (and Snapchat’s ephemeral approach in general) has always been that users didn’t have to work so hard to post the perfect picture to live forever on the site. Snapchat users gravitate towards the throwaway nature of sharing on the platform, and Instagram’s Stories feature has been a nice antidote to the false perfection that’s characterized a lot of sharing among teens in particular there. Facebook should benefit in the same way from this feature, especially since organic sharing is said to have fallen recently. Live Video was supposed to be part of the solution here, per Mark Zuckerberg, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
via Business Insider
Google’s 2016 Bad Ads Report: 1.7 billion ads removed, including fake news ads – Search Engine Land (Jan 25, 2017)
The quality of online advertising continues to be one of the big challenges for any company making a business out of selling ads. Between scams, predatory practices, and more recently fake news (and fake news sites), there are lots of ways online advertising can be abused, and Google reports each year on how it’s clamped down on some of this behavior (the report itself is here). Fake news doesn’t actually get a mention in the report directly – the closest link is sites pretending to be news sites for clicks, and then attempting to sell something such as weight loss products. But we do know that Google also shut down advertising on some fake news sites that were using its ad products in 2017. Draining scammers and predators of funds from Google goes a long way to breaking their business model, so we need to see more of this kind of thing.
Snapchat Is in Talks for Big Ad Deals Ahead of IPO – WSJ (Jan 25, 2017)
Another day, another story about Snap trying to grow its ad revenue, this time focusing on getting up front commitments from major ad agencies’ ad buying arms. Given how nascent Snap’s ad business is, convincing potential investors that it has a predictable run rate for ad spend is critical to a successful IPO, so getting some promises from major buyers to increase spending in 2017 would be a useful first step. But of course that increased spend will only come if the ROI is there, which has been the other piece of this puzzle for Snap over recent months, trying to demonstrate that advertising on Snapchat can be more than just speculative.
LG posts $224 million loss as ‘weak’ selling G5 smartphone drags it down once again – TechCrunch (Jan 25, 2017)
LG’s smartphone business has been struggling for at least 18 months now – it briefly went into the black in late 2014 and early 2015, but with that exception has been struggling for even longer, posting losses for the last six straight quarters and eleven of the last twenty. Shipments are falling on an annualized basis – they were 55 million in 2016, compared with 59.7 million in 2015 – but the company is also spending more on marketing and its flagship phone isn’t making the waves past versions did. The modular G5 wasn’t well received and LG will abandon that approach in favor of the smaller-bezeled strategy others are pursuing too ahead of an anticipated launch of a similar phone from Apple in the fall. LG’s troubles just reinforce both the overall challenges of doing business in a maturing smartphone market and trying to compete using Android against many others using the same operating system.
Elon Musk: Surprise winner under Trump – CNBC (Jan 24, 2017)
Although the tech sector has generally recoiled in horror at the prospect of Donald Trump’s presidency, and cooperated only under duress with the incoming administration, Elon Musk of Tesla seems to be something of an exception. His history with Peter Thiel, Trump’s right hand man on tech issues, is a major enabler, but it seems to go beyond that. It would be fascinating if Musk rather than Thiel himself ended up becoming the bridge between the administration and the tech industry. Cooperating closely with the administration is still likely to be a double-edged sword – on the one hand, it may curry favor, but on the other it may anger Tesla customers who view Trump with distaste. It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out.
While Samsung was rightly hammered over its early handling of the Note7 battery issues, since it decided to kick into full gear and issue a full recall, its performance has been far better. This official statement from the chairman of the CPSC, the US body responsible for recalls, praises Samsung and the US wireless carriers for their response and their success rate in getting devices recalled – 97% of devices have now been returned. Taken together with Sunday’s announcement of the conclusion of the investigation, which was thorough even if it didn’t go far enough on the culture side, this seems like a decent conclusion to the saga. It’s worth noting that most of the statement is devoted to complaining about the CPSC’s small budget and lack of resources to do its own in-depth investigations.
Apple opened up Siri access to certain categories of developers last year as part of iOS 10, but Siri on the Apple Watch has remained a first-party-only affair. That will change with iOS 10.3, which is rolling out to developers today and offers developers in a subset of four domains the ability to integrate their Apple Watch apps into Siri on the Watch. Apple’s focus in the last year or so has been about putting Siri on essentially every device it sells – a counter to Amazon Echo and Google Home’s single device approach – and making Siri smarter by allowing it to control more third party functionality, albeit in a much more tightly controlled way than Alexa’s Skills approach or even Google’s recent opening up of the Assistant with Actions on Google. These two fronts – third party integrations and the range of devices supported – will be critical as these various companies compete in the voice assistant space, and this small step is part of that much bigger picture.
via Business Insider
This was one of those rare cases where many of the big tech companies banded together to support one of their number on an issue of concern to all of them. The case concerns data held by Microsoft in a data center in Ireland but requested by US authorities investigating a crime (there’s a good summary of the case here). Microsoft and its pals have argued that this data should not be subject to US law enforcement requests because it resides outside the US, even though Microsoft is a US-headquartered company. Were the government’s argument to be upheld, data held anywhere by a US-based company could be obtained by the authorities in the US, regardless of whether the user has any ties to the US, which could dramatically impact tech companies’ ability to operate in overseas jurisdictions. That’s precisely why Microsoft has had the support of Apple, Amazon, and others, because the effects of upholding the government’s arguments here would be significant. This is a victory not just for Microsoft but the sector as a whole, and I would hope that the Supreme Court either refuses to hear the case or upholds the current verdict.
The Qualcomm ‘Tax’ Rebellion – Bloomberg Gadfly (Jan 24, 2017)
This is a great explanation of exactly what’s going on in the lawsuit between Apple and Qualcomm and the various investigations of Qualcomm by competition authorities in several jurisdictions. At root is the fact that Qualcomm charges a licensing fee based on the total cost of devices, not just on the parts Qualcomm makes, a model that’s increasingly out of whack with where the value is in smartphones. It really is starting to feel like the industry has reached a tipping point at which it will no longer put up with this licensing model, and if things don’t go Qualcomm’s way, that will be extremely damaging to its business. Meanwhile, it keeps selling chips to Apple to use in phones, because to stop would be incredibly damaging too.
via Bloomberg Gadfly
Google Privacy-Policy Change Faces New Scrutiny in EU – WSJ (Jan 24, 2017)
Europe continues to be the locus of a lot of regulatory effort aimed at paring back perceived privacy invasions by big US online advertising companies, notably Facebook and Google. In this case, Oracle is part of a coalition that seeks controls on Google’s tracking of user data, and the focus of the current complaint is the change Google made to its terms and conditions last June, pursuant to which it now combines data on its users across its various services and DoubleClick. No action has been taken yet by European regulators, so this is only a complaint by one of Google’s biggest foes at this point, but this area has proven a thorny one for Facebook already, and could yet become one for Google too.
Target plans to introduce its own smartphone payment service in stores later this year – Recode (Jan 24, 2017)
The fragmentation of mobile payments continues – following in the footsteps of other big retailers, Target is going to roll out yet another proprietary mobile payment system in its stores, rather than merely supporting the two or three store-agnostic mobile payments systems that already have decent traction. The motivations are obvious – control the user experience, capture the data, and drive loyalty – but the user benefits are always minimal, and uptake has generally been minimal too. We’re still at an early stage in mobile payments with no obvious winners yet, but it’s already fairly clear that this kind of store-specific approach isn’t going to be part of the eventual solution.
DCN report shows publisher revenue from Google, Facebook, Snapchat – Business Insider (Jan 24, 2017)
This article (and the report it’s based on) frustratingly focuses on average numbers across a range of very different publishers, rather than providing something more detailed, which limits the usefulness of the data, but there’s some interesting stuff in here regardless. For one, this reinforces the sense that publishers are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to supporting the major new content platforms – on the one hand, they feel they can’t afford to be absent, and on the other systems like Facebook Instant Articles and Google’s AMP don’t seem to allow them to monetize as they do on their own sites. One surprising finding is how strongly Snapchat shows here relative to its overall share of ad revenue. The picture is muddied by the fact that the report covers both video and news content, and so YouTube makes a very strong showing overall too. The key takeaway for me is that these companies continue to tread a difficult and dangerous path as they work with these platforms, ceding a lot of control to them and potentially seeing less revenue as a result.
Update: the actual report is now available here in full.
via Business Insider
Amazon has become the first streaming service to have a movie it owns nominated for best picture at the Oscars. This follows years of Netflix and Amazon content receiving nominations for TV awards, and Netflix has previously earned nominations in other categories. The catch here is that Amazon released Manchester by the Sea in theaters, so it feels much more like a traditional release than most of Netflix’s movies (The Little Prince, a Netflix-owned movie that didn’t debut in theaters, was not nominated in the best animated feature category despite being well received). So although there’s some symbolism here, it’s mitigated a little by the fact that the movie still received a traditional theatrical distribution (and did well there). It is ever clearer, however, that Amazon and Netflix (and potentially others) will continue to grow as a force in movie acquisition – the Sundance Film Festival is underway at the moment and we’re likely to see several more big buys there as the streaming companies beef up their libraries with exclusive content.
Counterpoint Research has good data on the global smartphone market, and especially in emerging markets like India, so the numbers here are broadly reliable. India is a fascinating market – Apple and others have often compared it to China, but though the size is similar the demographics and wealth are very different, even if you compare India today to China a few years back. I’m not yet convinced that India is going to look like China does today anytime soon from a smartphone perspective, and that makes life very tough for a brand like Apple, which was tenth in the overall market share rankings. It did capture 62% of the premium market in Q4, but the premium segment is only a tiny fraction of the overall Indian market, which continues to be dominated by cheaper handsets, increasingly coming from Chinese vendors. You might be interested in this piece I wrote a few months ago about Apple’s prospects in India.
Why The LG G6 Won’t Have Snapdragon 835 – Forbes (Jan 24, 2017)
This is sourced reporting from a Forbes contributor who (as far as I am aware) doesn’t have a long track record in scooping news like this, so take it with a pinch of salt. But on the face of it, this makes sense – Qualcomm’s 835 chip is brand new, and Samsung would logically need bucketloads of them for its next Galaxy S phones, potentially gobbling up all the supply available and squeezing other OEMs out in the short term. Apple is famous for securing long-term access to the components it needs and squeezing others out in this way, and given the timing and Samsung’s scale in smartphones, it makes sense that it would be able to secure all the available supply of 835 chips on a short-term basis too. That’s going to be tough for other OEMs launching handsets in the first half of 2016 – even though the article downplays the jump from the 821 to the 835, there are some significant additions in the new chip which will create better performance in areas like battery life, VR/AR, and so on.
Verizon puts a brave spin on its results in its headline, but there’s a lot of detail beneath the headline which isn’t quite so positive. Having started the transition to device installment plans in wireless later than its peers, it’s still seeing declining service revenues and now expects to see that trend continue into 2018 rather than 2017 as previously forecast. Its postpaid phone net adds continue to be well down over last year’s Q4 results, and adds over 2016 as a whole were pretty anemic. Tablets are another drag on the company’s overall results as it continues to see customers who bought cheap tablets two years ago turn off their service as they exit their contractual lockups. On the wireline side, penetration of Fios TV continues to fall each quarter, while Fios broadband penetration holds up a little better. Verizon continues to be the largest carrier in the US, and a very profitable one, but as smaller competitors become more aggressive on price, there are questions about whether Verizon can maintain its margins and grow at the same time – recent evidence suggests that’ll be tough.
Virulent Android malware returns, gets >2 million downloads on Google Play | Ars Technica (Jan 23, 2017)
Malware continues to be one of those things that essentially only affects Android in the smartphone world – iOS is for all intents and purposes immune to it because of the strong review process that all apps go through and because apps are sandboxed within the OS. The biggest single downside of Android’s relative openness is this vulnerability to malware, and that’s especially worrisome when the malware is distributed through the official Google Play Store. The numbers here are small in the grand scheme of the Android installed base of well over a billion users, but if you’re one of those two million, that doesn’t matter.
Google announced Instant Apps at I/O last year, and I wrote about them in the context of the overall evolution of apps in June here. This is one of many interesting experiments around how apps might evolve, and one that’s uniquely well-suited to Google’s natural bias towards the web and search. It previously tested app streaming back in 2015, and that is also live for some apps today – the two concepts are similar but slightly different. They’re both ways to use apps without downloading, but app streaming streams an image of the app running elsewhere, while Instant Apps downloads the app in the browser for temporary usage and then clears the content again once an interaction is complete. That’s a subtle difference, but both alternatives get at the same objective – making apps available without all the effort of a typical app install from within a search, ideal for a one-off use of an app, but obviously not a replacement for those apps used regularly.
Verizon’s Go90 has never seemed like the right answer to the question of what a mobile carrier should do to make money from video (the right answer might either be launching a fully fledged video service a la DirecTV Now, or simply enabling all other video services a la BingeOn). These layoffs seem like validation of that sentiment, as it looks like Verizon is doing a bit of a reset on its Go90 efforts, putting former Vessel people in charge instead of the 155-strong team it’s had in San Jose for some time now, most of whom came from the Intel OnCue acquisition. Go90 has always been an odd mishmash of stuff, mostly freely available elsewhere with a few freemium elements focused on millennial-oriented content, but has never felt like a serious video play, and I still don’t expect it to turn into any kind of meaningful business for Verizon unless there’s a big pivot to a new strategy for the service.
Samsung released preliminary numbers a few days ago, and rather shocked everyone by previewing some of its best results in a long time (and its best operating margin ever). Until today, though, we didn’t know the precise breakdown by segment behind those numbers – now we do: the mobile business rebounded decently from last quarter, but is still a shadow of its former self in terms of both revenues and profits, while the semiconductor business is going gangbusters. The latter provided a quarter of revenues but a little over half of operation profits for Samsung Electronics last quarter, and was the major driver of that fantastic overall operating margin. An increasing focus on premium products and rising prices driven by tight supply versus demand both helped that division, while on the mobile side Samsung seems to have done a good job selling Galaxy S7 phones to those who might otherwise have bought a Note7. It looks like Q1 might be a little tough on the mobile side – we won’t get a Galaxy S8 at Mobile World Congress in February, meaning Q1 will be the lull quarter before a likely launch in Q2. But overall this is a pretty decent set of results for a company dealing with the fallout of the Note7 recall.
via Samsung Electronics Announces Fourth Quarter and FY 2016 Results – Samsung (Samsung’s earnings deck with lots more detail here and there’s more coverage on Techmeme. You might also be interested in the Samsung Q4 2016 deck which is part of the Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service)