Instagram Launches Selfie Filters (May 16, 2017)
Amazon Announces Alexa Notifications for Apps Coming Soon (May 16, 2017)
Amazon has announced on its developer blog for Alexa that notifications will soon be coming to the platform for Skills (apps) developers which want to proactively serve up information to users (Amazon will also use the platform to deliver updates for Amazon.com orders). This is both an interesting new opportunity for Amazon and Alexa and a potential minefield. On the one hand, every developer wants to proactively re-connect with users rather than merely passively wait for users to re-engage on their own, especially on a voice-only device where there’s no visual prompt or reminder that the app even exists. But on the other, that could lead to fairly spammy behavior from some apps akin to what we already see from some smartphone apps – notifications are a Pandora’s box of possibilities which have many legitimate uses but are also often abused and quickly get out of control. It will have to be very clear to users how they turn these notifications on and off, how many they receive and what for, and so on, something that’s going to be a little tougher to manage on a voice-only device than on a smartphone. It’ll arguably be the best fit on the Echo Show, where users can interact with and control the notifications a little more easily. Both Amazon and its developers will want to tread very carefully in rolling this out.
Snap, owner of the Snapchat app, today reported its first earnings as a public company, and it was a somewhat unique experience. Its press release, linked below, is entirely devoid of commentary, and although its call had a little more of that in prepared remarks, it was mostly focused on its evolving ad products. The results themselves are more of the same from the S-1 filing, which I suggested at the time was lousy preparation for an IPO because it featured significantly slowing user growth and a lack of clarity about the future. This first quarter of public earnings reinforces that perception, with more slower growth than last year. Massive stock-based compensation related to the IPO dramatically distorts the margin picture, but even stripping out SBC leaves a worsening margin picture as costs in several categories rose faster than revenue. Evan Spiegel and the other executives on the call seemed keener to talk trash about competitors, notably Facebook, than in really answering investors’ pressing questions about user growth, and that’s reflected in the stock price, which has dived since the release. The bombastic tone would have been justifiable if the company’s growth hadn’t slowed significantly since the introduction of Instagram Stories with no signs of recovery, but in the current context it feels like naivety or denial instead. Snap’s management argues that measures of engagement and “creation” are more important than user growth metrics. However, it provides very few of those, and then not consistently or with enough granularity to measure them over time. The conclusion from all of this is that Snap’s future is that of a niche company dominating narrow segments of the population rather than a company with broad mass market appeal, and that has significant implications for its valuation. Two other points worth making: the company provided enough data in today’s call to suggest it sold fewer than 100k Spectacles units since launch, confirming the perception that it’s been seen as an experiment than a meaningful new part of its business. Secondly, it continues to suggest that its sub-par Android app has hurt growth, and that recent improvements have moved the needle, though the numbers in question have moved so little that this isn’t going to turn around the growth trend.
via Snap Inc.
Instagram Launches Uploads From Mobile Web (May 8, 2017)
Amazon Video App May Finally Come to Apple TV in Q3 (May 5, 2017)
Apple Provides Better Source Insights to App Developers (May 4, 2017)
Apple Watch Loses Google Maps, Amazon, eBay Apps (May 1, 2017)
This piece does a good job digging up the news that several iPhone apps from high-profile names have quietly ditched their Apple Watch companion apps. I’m seeing some spin this as a sign that the Apple Watch isn’t working for people, but the reality is that we’re seeing two rather different things at play here. Firstly, apps on the Apple Watch were one of the big misjudgments on Apple’s part: as a group, they really haven’t taken off, not least because in their first couple of iterations they were painfully slow to use. Performance of apps has improved markedly in watchOS 3 and on the Series 2 hardware, but that leaves us with problem number two: many of the apps launched for the Watch simply don’t provide enough utility either on a standalone basis or as alternatives to the iOS versions to be worthwhile. And what we’re seeing now is some of those failed experiments going by the wayside.
We’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t on the Watch, although a glance at the official App Store for the Watch gives you some idea of what Apple thinks: health and fitness apps dominate the first screen, followed by games, news, sports, and finally utilities. Apple obviously has its own play for navigation, which works particularly well for walking directions, and the Amazon and eBay apps were always a bit of a stretch. The eBay app is a great example of a use case that doesn’t actually need its own app but can work perfectly fine with interactive notifications or a widget on the iPhone. So we’re likely to continue to see apps come and go from the Watch, not least because developers now have many possible areas of investment around iOS apps, including watchOS, tvOS, iPad support, support for the unique hardware features on the iPad Pro line, and so on. As such, some are likely very wise to prioritize other features and platforms over the Apple Watch, while others will do well putting their investment on people’s wrists.
via Apple Insider
Musical.ly is one of the few big app hits in recent years that didn’t come from one of the big established players and isn’t a game, while also being that rare example of a Chinese tech company that’s done well in the West. It’s popular with teenagers, who use the app to create short music videos using original songs, and Apple will now be the supplier of those songs, replacing a small UK-based provider. It will also therefore be able to promote Apple Music within the service, and will integrate with Apple Music for paying subscribers. Recode notes that the app has declined in popularity recently as measured by App Store rankings, but the reality is that its ranking has been extremely volatile, rising as high as 11th and as low as 92nd over the past six months. That volatility is driven almost entirely by the day of the week, with the app peaking over the weekend and dropping during the week – had Recode written its piece last Saturday, for example, the app would have been ranked #41. Given Musical.ly’s popularity within its target segment, Apple is smart to strike a partnership that allows it both to drive additional revenue and market to the app’s users. I’m almost surprised Apple didn’t just acquire the company and app outright, given Apple’s recent investment in creative and content apps with News, Music, and Clips.
Facebook Expands Messenger Lite to 150 More Countries (Apr 27, 2017)
Facebook Lite has been a critical element of Facebook’s recent growth, so pushing the Lite version of Messenger to more countries is a key priority too, since it’s only been in a handful of countries so far. Some of these 150 new countries are the emerging markets where the product is particularly useful because of bandwidth constraints and costs, but also included are mature markets like Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands, though not the US as far as I can tell. This should help keep the growth in Messenger going for a good while longer, because emerging markets are going to make up an increasingly proportion of user growth at Facebook going forward.
It’s hard to avoid the sense that Facebook is trying to rain on Twitter’s parade here. It’s announced that Instagram now has 700 million monthly active users, up from 600 million in December, which means it’s added 100 million users in just a little over the time it took Twitter to add nine million. It previously announced that Instagram Stories has 200 million users, up from the 150 million it had shared earlier, and attributed the growth in the core Instagram user base in part to an improved signup flow. But Instagram has also benefited from strong adoption in emerging markets, including Brazil, which is its second largest market after the US, with 45 million users. That’s in marked contrast to Snapchat, which has emphasized primarily mature markets on the basis that emerging markets users have more constrained and expensive bandwidth and would be less likely to use a visually intensive app like Snapchat. And of course Facebook’s other apps continue to grow rapidly too: Messenger and WhatsApp are now both over 1.2 billion, while the core app will likely hit 2 billion in the next quarter or two.