Category Archives: mobile

Book Review: the Impulse Economy

Korean subway mixed reality

Nevermind the hype, the ongoing explosion of mobile could either be the best or worst thing to hit ordinary retail business since the internet.

Imagine you are in the business of selling things at retail. What does it mean when you see your customers predaciously roaming the aisles armed with smartphones and suddenly better informed about the competitive quality and pricing of your goods than even the store manager. What does it mean when you see a competitor like Tesco do away with goods altogether and light-up mixed-reality virtual aisles the length of a subway station? According to Paypal, this year’s black Friday saw a 516% jump in mobile commerce. Meanwhile, savvy ecommerce vendors are using mobile apps and offers to cherry pick customers out of busy store lines. Or how to respond when you hear that apple has a new almost-magic in-store mobile experience that does away with checkout queues entirely?

Ever since the first ecommerce boom more than a decade ago, many brands out there still wrestle with tensions between direct/online and retail channels. That’s going to get a lot more complicated.

With mobile there is no separation anymore. Mobile means you can’t keep the internets in the tube. With the separation of channels eroding, physical retails are at last feeling the full brunt of online competition. As they say, bestbuy is now Amazon’s showroom. Depending which side you want to be on, there’s enormous promise and disruptive risk from mobile and the convergence of commerce.

So it’s very timely that my friend Gary Schwartz is out with a new book on m-commerce: the Impulse Economy. This is the most useful and thorough book I’ve seen yet on the current state of the nation of m-commerce, how we got here and what may lie ahead.

If you are new at mobile commerce you’ll find a good overview of all the current technologies and players from tags and texting to mobile wallets and telcos. Most useful for me were Gary’s insights into the behavioral aspects of mobile. Done right, mobile isn’t just about imposing new payment interactions or hurling coupons at consumers for the same transactions they might have consummated anyway. Impulse Economy argues that mobile done right is about dropping consumer frictions and resistances to buying.

Another takeaway, targeting and relationship value. “The physical store is limited aisle, online is limitless aisle, mobile is targeted aisle”

For consumers, mobile promises not just more convenient checkouts but also the opportunity make better informed, more confident purchase decisions.

For merchants, mobile offers new ways to reach, increase engagement and deepen relationships with customers. Mobile is a chance to provide more information, more services attached to products or tell stories and deliver digital experience that enrich the value of a brand. All of which could drive consumers to pay a premium. Especially if the payment method is easy and impulsive. Rather than just being a vector for discounting, mobile could give merchants more power to grow ticket size or better price discriminate by tailoring pricing and product offers individually to customers.

Of course there’s more to mcommerce than physical retail. There’s commerce through content, there’s turning marketing channels into actionable sales channels, there’s tablet and couch-based commerce. But I won’t give away too many spoilers.

Now, there is some irony in packaging a very emergent field onto static sheets of flattened would pulp. You best pick it up now, as any book like this will only be up to date for so long. Although the book offers a good number of relevant examples, much of the promise of this future impulse economy is still yet to be invented. I guess to help with that, the book comes bristling with all manner clever tags linking you to an official blog, which I hope he’ll be keeping up to date.

But for now, anyone grappling with the potential disruption or opportunities of the new digital commerce, the Impulse Economy is a great place to start.

LINK: The Impulse Economy Blog

Impulse Economy on Amazon

Is this the future look of augmented reality?

I have this vision of nerds everywhere staggering around the city with big slates in front of their faces only seeing the world through shared web tablet camera experiences. I’m guilty of looking something like this in public myself, even hoisting a tablet onto my shoulder boombox-style to make skype calls. And that’s a part of why this picture (taken at GoogleIO) made me laugh.

Like everything old is new again.

photo credit

Pizza Libretto as transformative mobile business model

Pizza Libretto doesn’t take reservations. What they do do is make some of the most delicious Neopolitan style pizza in the city. Libretto finds themselves smack in the middle of the (for the moment) uber-trendy Ossington strip of hipster bars, restaurants and galleries in the west end of downtown Toronto. As a result, demand for a table on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night vastly exceeds supply. Surely a “problem” that most restaurateurs would love to have. But, when you are hot you are hot, so how do you make the best of it when fortune favours you.

What they do is take your mobile phone number. Then they pack you and your party off to any of great many little bars/pubs next door and they tell you, “don’t worry we’ll call you when your table is ready”.

The key insight is that in this day and age, the odds of at least one person of any dinner party will have a working cell phone on them is effectively 100%. As heard on some public radio program recently that similarly one of the big restaurant trends in New York city is to go reservation-less. The one restaurant operator quoted that without reservations turnover can increase by up to 30%. That’s a huge change in the business model!

And you can see the effect at work at Pizza Libretto. On any weekend night, no available serving space goes unused for more than seconds. The restaurant keeps their queue full by filling up the bars next door (an arrangement that works well both ways).

I love this example because it shows what’s possible when a technology becomes so ubiquitous that you just switch off an old way of doing business. Using only the “phone” feature is the dumb-simplest way imaginable of leveraging the wonders of mobile technology. But in this case it’s genius.

Oftentimes the biggest impacts of a new technology occur only once we can take it for granted. This is on e reason why issues like universal access to connectivity and the accessibility of mobile is important. If simple mobile phone calls can be so transformative for an ordinary business, imagine what business model innovation may be possible in a few years if we can safely assume that just about everyone is equipped with a much more richly interactive smartphone.

ps. If you have other examples of mobile tech already changing old business models, let me know. I’d love to hear ’em.

pps. Pizza Libretto’s owners Rocco Agostino, Max Rimaldi and Daniel Clarke just opened up a new place around the corner called Enoteca featuring slow-food style Italian cooking. Enoteca does not take reservations.

photo credit: Qin

The dawn of mobile in retail

One big idea I’ve been focused on a fair bit lately is what I call “Augmented Retail”. Augmented retail is about the potentially disruptive outcome of the inevitable convergence of mobile technology, ubiquitous connectivity and retail.

Mobile technology is not necessarily good news for your average retailer.

I’m sure by now almost all of you have googled something in aisles just to get some more info on product or to see if you were really getting a good deal. When amazon first launched their barcode scanning application, pundits described it as “amazon declaring war on retailers”. By Q2 of 2010, amazon announced they had already fulfilled a billion dollars worth of commerce from their mobile app. How many of those purchases might have been white-glove Amazon delivery of fine new TV screens ordered straight from the aisles of Bestbuy?

For traditional retailers, the trouble with mobile is that it puts tremendous power in the fingertips of consumers. If they so choose, average consumers could well be better informed on the true value and best pricing of products than even the store manager. By default, smarter and better informed consumers will pressure retail margins.

But dear brands and store owners there is hope. If you are clever, Mobile also gives you chance to build deeper relationships and engagement with your customers. Tomi T Ahonen, who was recently in town for Mobile Innovation Week, has a great post recently (with many real examples!) on what retailers can do with mobile.

So this blog [post] is not about mobile banking or mobile credit cards. It is not about ‘all’ mobile commerce, ie any digital goods sold directly to a phone do not really involve (or need to involve) bricks-and-mortar type of retail. So our music, movies, videogames, airline tickets, insurance etc do not require a separate visit to a retail establishment, because the service (or proof of purchase of service) intended (music, movie, game, air ticket, insurance etc) can be delivered completely to our phone.

That is only a minority of our retail. What of the locksmith, the hairdresser, the dentist office, the florist, the clothing retailer, supermarket and drug store – the typical ‘high street’ or ‘mainstreet’ shopping experience in any small town on the planet. What of them? If you need your locks changed, that cannot be done ‘remotely’ via a mobile phone or the PC. Or your haircut? Can’t be done directly via mobile. Mobile can show you what your new haircut might look like, virtually, but the actual hair still needs to be cut with actual scissors by an actual hairdresser or barber. That can’t be fulfilled via mobile. So lets look at the real bricks-and-mortar retail establishments. What is the role of mobile to them?

Its three-fold. There is ‘marketing communication’ (ie advertising) we can deliver to our customers before they come to our store – and use mobile also to ‘drive foot-fall’ ie drive actual human visitors to our stores…. [In store]
The clever part comes to allow customers to engage with you when they are in-store. … [and After-Store] The part least understood so far, is the after-store experience.

Anyway read the whole thing, good stuff: Lets Talk About Mobile in Retail – Tomi T Ahonen.

While I love Tomi’s examples in this post, they mostly relate to using mobile to drive more business through existing retail business models. There’s even more to think about in terms of how could you change retail models entirely. Can you close sales before the customer even gets to the store? Can you use mobile speed or eliminate checkout lines? Are there premium or follow-on services that you could be delivering or billing for through mobile? Could you use mobile to deliver unique price-discriminated offers to every single customer (e.g. could you sell packaged goods the same way airlines sell airplane seats?)

What is clear is that mobile in retail will be a spectacularly large opportunity over this coming decade. So get busy.

Canadian Wireless Spectrum Announcement

The rumours are buzzing that a major announcement is due after 4pm this afternoon regarding Canada’s wireless spectrum allocation.

Watch this post for ongoing coverage. And look for full coverage at later today -and- another highly-related announcement I can’t wait to tell you about.

more to come…

The news is out! And the media is already calling it a blockbuster announcement.

  • 40 of the 105 available megahertz will be set aside for new entrants
  • Incumbents will be required to allow roaming on their networks at reasonable rates (this is crutial as any new entrant could start regionally or take up to a few years to establish full national coverage)
  • Incumbents will be required to share towers with new entrants (significantly reducing potential costs and redundant infrastructure for new entrants)

In so doing, the government has given the would-be entrants (and pretty much everyone except for the existing telcos and their bankers) everything that they were asking for.

The game is now on for startups and new entrants in the Canadian wireless space.

link: Official Announcement

UPDATE: Read the full post on Startup north Finally, Wireless Competition Explodes in Canada And don’t forget to digg it.

Why do wireless devices need to be phones?

Wow, Verizon has just made a very important announcement today:

“Verizon Wireless today announced that it will provide customers the option to use, on its nationwide wireless network, wireless devices, software and applications not offered by the company. Verizon Wireless plans to have this new choice available to customers throughout the country by the end of 2008 …

In early 2008, the company will publish the technical standards the development community will need to design products to interface with the Verizon Wireless network. Any device that meets the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network.”

Here is the takeaway wireless != voice (!!!). It’s much much bigger. Voice is just one little application of a great many that can run on top of a wireless connection.

Here’s the trouble. We, culturally are so biased by the fact that the telephone was accidentally invented a century and a half before today. And this tends to warp our perceptions of debates around whether cell “phone” networks should be available on airplanes or subways, on issues of wireless regulation and spectrum auctions.

The real future is in everything besides voice (you crackberry addicts know this already) and in what are being called “non-traditional network devices”.

Non-traditional network devices include: Amazon’s Kindle reader, (similarly almost any future digital paper or signage device), a dell ultraportable with a 3G network card, a pocket computer and media device like an iPhone, a car that downloads the latest maps and traffic info, a rain coat that knows the weather reports, digital/social jewelry that Michele has a mind for.

We’re prejudiced against so many potential open network things, devices and applications just because many of them haven’t been invented or even envisioned yet.

With apologies for spoonerizing William Gibson: “The distribution has already arrived. The future just isn’t evenly invented yet.”

Thanks to Verizon for starting to make the future inventable.

Lastly, to quote one other author who knows all this stuff already “In the future, I won’t have to look for my shoes in the morning. I’ll just google them.” – Bruce Sterling

Link: Verizon Wireless to Introduce ‘Any Apps, Any Device’ Option for Customers in 2008 – CNN Money

Do androids dream of electric pants?

Thanks to Open Gardens for pointing this out. Two good vids on youtube demoing googles new mobile phone operating system/software platform called android.

The first video features Sergey Brin himself introducing some of the things android can do. (which are pretty cool)

As for the second video, I don’t even know what’s more interesting, the fact you can build somewhat-nifty geolocative games on the platform in a jiffy, or, that software CEOs in California don’t even bother to wear pants anymore.

judge for yourself: Cool Android SDK videos .. – OpenGardens

previously on The G-Phone Stirreth

“Go, and never darken my towels again.” -Groucho Marx

That being said,

Nokia is being handed a sharp lesson in business basics: don’t compete with your biggest customers.

In August, the Finnish phone giant announced it was going “beyond the phone” and creating an online portal called Ovi in a bid to become a major service company. This would offer music, maps and games – bringing it into competition with its biggest channel: the network operators.

Revenge has been swift… – Operators show Nokia who wears the housut* TheRegister

Sure, cracks are beginning to appear in the dominance of the carriers in the mobile value chain. But just yet, not very big cracks.

Who’s deck will win out in the end? the carrier’s? the handsetmaker’s? third players (appl’s, goog’s, yhoo’s, msft’s?) or the open internet?

Place your bets.

The G-phone stirreth

Google said to be shipping 50,000 Gphones by year’s end. A UBS analyst is rumored to have information that HTC, a Taiwanese handset manufacturer, will ship about 50,000 cell phones made for Google by the end of
the year. “These initial phones are not going to be for sale, says Benjamin Schachter, at UBS. “These are going to be available for developers only to understand how the software works.” LG (LPL) is also said to be a possible manufacturier.

more on

I bet the Gphone would work really well on some Google Spectrum.

Pierre Karl Peladeau on Wireless Competition

To set the scene for you yesterday at the Empire Club luncheon: Perre Karl Peladeau, CEO of Quebecor and would-be new entrant in the Canadian mobile industry, 200 investment bankers in serious suits, former prime minister Brian Mulroney of Canada sharing the rubber chicken, and one blogger/web2.0 troublemaker.


: I am here to talk about the future of wireless
Holds up an iphone, could cost $900/month to use all the features of an iPhone, you might have to take out a mortgage

RIM is jewel of Canadian genius, but a lot of Canadians don’t have access, because it is priced out of the market.

The very symbol of Canadian wireless success is being denied to Canadians
Why we need more competition

Status quo: restricting the growth of new media. Wireless is the future. We are impairing our capacity to compete in the world. We have fallen behind

We are asking the federal govnt to set rules to ensure competition
– Enough spectrum- existing owners have enough spectrum already, but would buy to shut out completion
– Spectrum is more valuable for any operator who wants to block access than to a company that wants to gain access because the latter needs to build infrastructure
– Monopolies carry great weight and spend millions in Ottawa
– As a Canadian, wants to see more services and lower prices 3g is essential to news gathering and is essential to all businesses in Canada.

Pierre is asking for the following rules

  1. Segment of spectrum should be set aside for new entrants
  2. Pole sharing: Incumbents should be required to share pre-existing towers and poles with new entrants.
  3. Roaming within Canada while rollout – Rollout of any new service will take time, existing carries should be required to allow

Canada deserves better let the new low cost competitive market begin. [end]


Pierre is yet cagey as weather Quebecor would expand nation-wide.

Of course, before we get too excited, remember that despite these fine words, Pierre won’t be giving away new wireless services for free. It will cost billions in spectrum + infrastructure to rollout. Pierre will have a plan to earn this back.

Still more completion is the best thing that could happen for Canadian consumers, Canadian culture and Canadian businesses (well all but a certain three Canadian Businesses). The facts on the ground are unambiguous. Canada is not competitive globally in wireless, and something needs to change.

Much more coverage of the event in the mainstream press.

And if that doesn’t do it, WiMax is coming

From Intel’s developer forum today:

Intel is developing a Wimax enabled CPU [chipset?] called Echo Creek in the middle of next year, with a number of vendors committing to producing notebooks that use the chip. By 2012, over a billion people will be covered by Wimax and 150 million by 2008.

.. in mid 2008, will launch the Montevino platform with a new chipset with integrated wi-fi and Wimax that will support both HD formats. There will be a 25 watt version available. Montevina is out of the lab and products will ship next May.

In Canada all the WiMax spectrum is owned by, er, Bell and Rogers.

Updates on data rates.

# the iPhone launches in London today. The kicker: *cough* Unlimited data on all plans. Starting at 35£. There were two iphones and democamp last night, you can unlock them and work them in Canada, though Jevon had smartly turned off EDGE at the border.

# Bell has a new data plan for PC cards, modems and something called Voyageur. That something obviously has something to do with beaver pelts and the market for fur hats. One think is clear, if you are looking for flat rate data on an actual mobile device (RIM/Palm etc.) you are still out of luck. Don’t for get that voice minutes and $9 system access fee is additional.

#Telus now has a $100 plan that gets you a gigabyte/month which is an improvement of sorts though short of a bargain. They’re also offering an odd ball connect day plan with unlimited wireless or hotspot access … any 10 days of the month. What happens on the other days? Maybe we are busy turning into pumpkins.

# Rogers/Fido, still sitting pretty on their GSM monopoly, hasn’t budged an inch. Still at some point I shall have to update my famous bar chart on mobile data rates.

# On Thursday, Pierre Karl Peladeau of Quebecor will be speaking in Toronto [] on ” Why Pay More & Get Less? Taking on Canada’s Protected Wireless Market”. I’ll be bringing coverage.

The definition of mobile devices just got more interesting

“the much-anticipated iPod touch with WiFi, Safari, and a touch-screen interface—an iPhone without the phone and e-mail capabilities—for $299 and $399. The iPod touch will be able to purchase music directly from the iTunes Store via WiFi. Apple also had a major bit of news with regards to the iPhone, dropping the price for the 8GB model by $200 to $399 and eliminating the 4GB model altogether. ”

The new ipod comes with a big touch screen and wifi and full safari web browser.
The iphone with a big kick in the nuts to anyone who shelled out $600 for it weeks ago, just dropped in price by a huge $200.*

Those two products are going to move a lot of units (and also spur further competition). Expect also European, and Asia Pacific (and finally?) Canadian operators to come online with iPhone sometime starting early in 2008, probably just as soon as apple can shoehorn in proper mobile broadband (HSDPA, EVDO etc.) into the device.

facebook mobile thomas purvesJobs also demoed the facebook on the iphone, so the desktop web is definitely going mobile fast. (and it’s not using -shudder- WAP, very much sms or downloaded client apps).
So I’m leaning towards thinking that the killer mobile platform may well be… the web browser not to mention bog-standard Web2.0 social webapps. You can run iphone facebook in a regular browser too.

You just know the google phone will be browser centric.

Imagine that the horrible fractured state of mobile software development could be solved by something as simple as: a half decent web browser.

Feeding this trend: Watch for the convergence of Telcos offering roaming wifi hotspot + cell network plans.

*somewhat mollified by Jobsing fobbing off of $100 store credits to past purchasers hastily announced earlier today.

RIM Slams Canadian Carriers for Data Rates

BunnyHero (wayne a. lee) says:

Rim blasts Telcos for high cost of wireless:
“Research In Motion Ltd., riding high after finally gaining entry into China’s lucrative wireless market, blasted Canadian cellphone companies yesterday for their high data rates and for not competing against each other strongly enough.” michael geist writes about the article: -From BunnyHero [11:47:25 AM TorCamp ChatSwarm]

You may have seen this in the papers this morning. And my own famous post [canada-worse-than-3rd-world-countries-when-it-comes-to-mobile-data-access] has been garnering another flood of traffic and inbound links again this week. This is a major issue in Canada and it’s about time the story has broken in the mainstream media. That story of mine is now up to 130 comments and trackbacks if you want a sense of how much this issue is really starting to bug Canadians. That is an awful lot for a little blog like this one.

Wonderful Wireless UK

# The UK is one of the world’s most competitive wireless markets

# Read it and weep. Orange here offers the blackberry 8800 for only 79 pounds with plan. The Pearl is free. Compare with Rogers here. ahem, not free.

# There’s wifi networks everywhere, mostly these are not free but they do explicitly offer and advertise skype and voip services for, example, nokia n-series phones.

# Carriers here and in europe actually offer the the wonderful nokia n-series phones. sigh.

# Wifi carriers partner widely. I’m posting this thanks to a 2 month boingo trial subscription (a great investment) I bought back in Miami Intnl’ 4 weeks ago and it’s given me unlimited access everywhere here.

# I don’t need to tell you about the data rates.

Open Data more than Open Source Debates is What Matters Now

There’s a battle for openess going on these days, but it’s not the same as the old open source debate. The ability/openess to modify software is just not that important to most people. Statistically speaking, almost nobody modifies their software (though the few that do can sometimes create enormous value for everyone else – that much is still true).

What I worry about is the battle for open connectivity. The media and telecoms landscape is shifting and the connection providers are the new gatekeepers.

to quote Warren Buffet recently:

“Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed. “

And just considering the internet, you could say the same for the telephone, radio, tv and the cell phone.

*All* of these media are just abstractions of bits traveling on a line.

Given a good enough general-purpose internet data connection, there’s really *no* reason your local cable co should be offering you TV channels or your local telco phone services — rather than the cableco or telco of timbuktu. — or any startup that pops up next week that does just a slightly/hugely better job of it. *cough* skype *cough* joost or Asterix the (heh) open-software telephone switch.

No reason, except an accidental happenstance of history. Oh and the fact that they gave you some hardware like a handset or cablebox with a few simple buttons and a remote control to make your life easier. Oh, well, and the fact that the local cable/tel-co invested -at great fixed expense- built out and maintain a last-mile connection right to your door. They even reinvest upgrade this network (from time to time). And these things matter*.

The debate of the future is how do we encourage investment in connections and bandwidth to the last mile — without selling out to those same providers, the permission to lock us in to the proprietary media services for which we needed the connection in the first place.

It’s the lack of competition and the co-ownership of the physical connection and the services upon it are a problem (not to mention ownership of legacy/cash-cow voice and cable businesses). There needs to be balance between encouraging both investment and access to data in canada.

But the marketplace in this country hasn’t found it yet.

Case in point: Rogers Inc. a major carrier in Canada just started rolling out a highspeed HSDPA wireless network (cool!). With their new “Vision Plan” you get a fancy subsidized phone (nice) can do amazing things like access any number of Rogers Video Services (or one of 50 Rogers-selected YouTube clips), or Rogers Music Services or Rogers Email Services, in fact they’ve built out a whole new little internet. And there’s no charge when browsing the Rogers Internet to purchase any Rogers games, media or service. As for the rest of the Internet, posted rates still as high as 414/min**, but they do generously offer 10MB of completely free Open Data access in the basic plan.

At (the advertised) HSDPA speeds, that’s in the range of 1 min/month. (very bad)

have fun with that.

*(Other metaservices Account servicing, support and billing are neither here nor there – it’s probably been done out of India already — thanks of course to cheap wholesale VOIP data rates.)

**Theoretical HSDPA speeds up to 1.8 Mbs
1.8Mbs = 230.4 KB/s
at $0.03/ KB This is $30 / Megabyte = $6.91 / second or $414/minute (how can this be possible?). On the open internet, better just use that data connection for *very* small WAP pages. For rich media, there’s no way you can use this connection for anything but Rogers Rich Media content.

Warning the product and rate descriptions on the Rogers site are a mess, and specially for the new products. And the pages don’t display properly in Firefox. sigh.