Get Yer Glass On

Today I’m in New York again, and I was this time organized enough to have scheduled some time with the superlative Mike DiGiovanni, whose exploits in bleeding edge Glass development have led to him being, no hyperbole required, Google Glass’s first celebrity.

His creation of Winky, the app that takes pictures just from a wink (among other things) has rightly caused a sensation, reported here, here, here, here, here and here. But apart from the imagination that led to this brilliantly simple piece of HID creation, what I love is his immediate instinct to dive deep into the heart of Android and do things – combining hardware, software and a new array of sensors – that it was never meant for.

I spent part of last week designing user journeys and even getting hands on with the design templates for Glass, so it’s fair to say I am already a convert, but today’s experience at getting hands-on (eyes on? head-on?) with the device itself was simply the best day I’ve had in digital since I grasped the iPhone 1 the day after it was released in 2007.

As I previously wrote here, since the smartphone model has matured, I’ve suffered bouts of a terrible ennui with all things digital – saying to brands the same old message around mobile optimization, integrated mobile strategy, mobile engagement models blablabla, and without realizing it, I suppose the lack of anything exciting or new in mobile tech has contributed to my move towards more holistic brand work.

Glass is here to change everything. It’s as big as the smartphone and probably bigger. I haven’t yet seen any extravagant analyst forecasts for wearables, but I simply don’t care what they say either way.

As soon as you put on Glass you get a shiver of newness that you can’t stop smiling at. The only comparable experience is when I got hold of that first iPhone and compared the screen to my then devices – the XDA2 and the Samsung Z140.


What’s it Like?

The first thing I found, after adjusting the fit (it’s quite nose-size sensitive) is that it’s pretty much completely intuitive. In less than an hour I learned a complete set of new interface commands. The touch forwards and back, the swipe down, the basic voice commands, the nod – they all make sense straight away.

The overall screen-on-face thing is pretty easy too – Mike reckons to wear his Glass pretty much all the time now, and after just an hour, I can see completely how you get used to it. The screen is transparent when off, making it no impediment to regular activity, and when in use it’s simple to flip attention up to it.

It is of course distracting, though by no means as bad as a mobile, so it will be interesting to see how legislators respond to it for driving. First impressions are that it should be banned behind the wheel as texting is, but it’s by no means as clear cut. It’s still hands-free, and takes your attention off the road less than a traditional sat-nav…

The hardware is pretty fantastic for what is really a beta.

  • The bone conduction audio is very good for conversation and video playback
  • The screen is super-clear both in use and switched off
  • The touch pad is responsive and interprets commands consistently

There are of course issues – battery life is very poor, and Glass heats up quite quickly when playing or recording video, but these were both common issues in the early days of smartphones, so we’ll see them resolved pretty quickly.

Probably the best aspect overall is how Google have loaded up the software with features – there are so many Android modules crammed into a tiny device, and operable through both a tiny screen and limited user interface: emails, text, basic apps, search, calendar, navigation – it’s all in there and more.

The strategy here is clearly to make a massive impact with the user experience and show Glass as a meaningful new personal communication device that replaces or augments phone functionality in new and better ways. While they could have spent this effort on styling or battery life, I think they have scored the home run by giving users and developers as much of a vision as possible of how Glass will be used.


The Consumer hurdle…

While some such as my esteemed colleague @joelblackmore have some doubts as to the physical appearance of Glass, I can’t see this being too much of an issue. Once you understand the device and why someone might have one, you see straight past it – we’ve certainly got used to Mike wearing his 24/7. And even if you don’t like the current design, people are already 3d printing devices for mounting Glass over your own shades etc

The voice response may prove a bit more troubling – imagine sitting on a bus and saying “OK Glass – Google Athlete’s Foot remedies” out loud. Or worse… So it won’t be good for everything, or in many cases replace the phone – yet.

The cost of course is hardly worth talking about. While the develop unit is $1500 now, I would forecast this coming down to under $500 in a couple of years at the outside.

So will Glass change everything? I believe so. Even if you can’t see it now, Glass should usher in a new age of the Intensely Personal Computer, melding us ever closer to our digital alter-egos.

It’s a fantastic Beta, and we should know by now not to underestimate the scale and growth of new device ecosystems.

I, for one, am rather happy about the whole thing.

Treading the Boards in New York



Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at a couple of mobile focused conferences in New York. As a recent transfer from the Isobar business in London, it was a great way to meet many new faces from the US mobile scene.

I had a ‘Fireside Chat’ at the Mobile Media Upfront event followed by OMMA Mobile at Internet Week where I shared a panel with a number of other agency mobile heads.

There was a lot to learn so I thought I’d sum it up in 3 key points:

Please read the rest of this post at the Roundarch Isobar Blog

5 Reasons why Glass really is the next frontier



I should be laying my hands on Google Glass in New York later in the week, so I’m probably a bit more excited about it than I ought to be, but I don’t think necessarily that this is unfounded.

I’ve been pretty frustrated with the lack of big technology developments since smartphones changed everything back in 2007-8. Since then, we’ve been tuning the model, and of course finding more great things to do in mobile, and that’s great. It helps our clients get used to deploying their brands across a space that makes sense to a new generation of consumers, and shows that new digital avenues open up new potential for revenue.

For example, Starbucks have recently announced 10% of all revenues are now delivered through mobile. And even outside the commerce space you find brands like Toyota who are hugely increasing lead generation by being on the right device in the right way.

But every new release, especially from Apple has been pretty much ‘so what’, and this has even contributed to deflating their astronomical stock price.

So Glass, for all its Matrix-esque backstory, has the potential to lead out the next phase of interactive. Wearable technology has always had its doubters, but I think that this product is the first of its kind that will break through. Here’s why:

  1. The beta is very strong
    The last revolution of this type was the first version of the iPhone. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one the day after its US release thanks to the brilliant Marc Lewis. While it clearly had huge drawbacks (no 3G, terrible battery etc) it had so many new and compelling interface and UX features that you could barely put it down.
    While Engadget’s excellent assessment calls out a number of very similar issues, the core product set seems strong enough to play the foundation for a new way to interact with digital information.
  2. New interactions – here we come
    While pranksters have been quick to look at some of the downsides of Glass, it definitely creates a new range of ways for us to improve and add value to human interactions. Take the first Glass-enabled bike ride or the ability to take POV videos like never before. Until we get the device into the hands of more users we won’t be able to predict these, but the possibilities seem endless
  3. It’s open and easy to work with
    Based on Android, we’re going to see brands and services quickly deploy to the ecosystem – the NY Times is already there. Roundarch Isobar developer Mike DiGiovanni was able to get software up and running pretty much straight away, meaning we can get truly meaningful services live without having to reinvent the wheel
  4. It can really ‘make things better’
    While it’s hard to argue that we ‘need’ more digital touchpoints in our data-rich world, I think there’s a natural pathway from Always On to Internet Everywhere to where Glass takes us which is Internet in Everything. While there is much development of internet enabled devices such as cars, TVs  and the infamous internet fridge, the big prize is surely in connecting the person, and until we know much more about neural circuitry to develop the SciFi visions of the future we see in the movies, Glass is as good as it’s going to get.
  5. Privacy Schmivacy
    The darker vision of always-on in-person internet was best recorded in Charlie Brooker’s extraordinary Black Mirror. (Outside the UK there’s a short clip here)
    I’ve long believed that sharing is the new privacy, and that as the internet spreads everywhere, two things happen:
    1) we lower our barriers as to what we view as private, and become more used to more of our lives being out in the open
    2) we adapt and develop new techniques to manage data systems and how we live within them
    Facebook has grown very adept at building privacy controls into its product developments, so new potentially difficult features such as Partner Categories now cause little commotion. While Glass’s features provide a new set of data privacy conundrums, Google’s Don’t Be Evil mantra should be able to resolve them without too much difficulty

So I for one am looking forward to working on Glass as soon as possible.

The future’s bright, the future’s see-through.

Mobile advertising is rubbish

OK, so I’m quite well known as a fan of mobile advertising – it’s paid part of my wages for a few years now.

But just when you think you think the industry is hitting the mainstream, and everyone kind of knows what they’re doing, you get this… (click the image to see it large)


Firstly, what’s up with the Guardian’s mobile website having this terrible sideways scroll? Not only does the interface resize into 84pt when you hit back from a story, but it means that a good chunk of this banner is off the screen.

That hardly matters of course as it’s a static banner which makes no attempt to explain what it is. Launch a brand new complex product? In a 320 x 50? Sure, why not! I’m a huge advocate of the power of storytelling possible from the tiniest formats, and a couple of frames bringing out the key attributes of this product, whatever it is, would have made all the difference.

And then the click-through… I’m not entirely sure I would understand this product, even if I saw it on desktop, so this is still a bit of a mystery.

It’s remarkable that this campaign is likely being run on a premium network at a high CPM, so the owners of Rerun might as well be taking a match and some kerosene to a nice pile of crisp $50 bills for every hour this is being served.

Trebles all round for everyone involved!

Lies, Damned Lies, and Mobile Statistics


When I started in mobile in 1999, we were starved of any kind of numeric validation for our work. How many people had a mobile phone? How many used SMS? How many had ever texted into shortcodes?

These questions had to be ignored or ridden over roughshod in order to sell in any work, or we simply relied on a good idea that kind of made sense.

Nowadays though there are more stats than you could possibly know what to do with. While it’s hard (sometimes) to argue with the accepted authorities such as Comscore, Nielsen et al, the industry has now become polluted by the interests of various parties trying to sell their own micro-discipline of mobile with what can only be described as slanted, if not entirely misleading, statistics. Conducted in-house or with the connivance of a research company who are clearly being paid to deliver something that makes good PR, we are now under an avalanche of questionable, and often contradictory factoids about our industry.

This has been raised again today by a PR release masquerading as fact on no less a site than AdvertisingAge with some extraordinary claims. Let’s have a look shall we? Please note this research is entirely about CPG/FMCG goods – that means bread, vodka, toothpaste, tinned cabbage etc…

  1. 47% of men check product availability of CPG goods while in store. There are two things inherently wrong with this. Firstly, if you are in store and you are looking for a product, you go to the aisle, you don’t check on your mobile for it. Secondly – let’s be serious – has anyone ever checked the availability of individual items before going to a supermarket? No – if they don’t have your brand, you buy another. If they don’t have any, you shrug your shoulders or maybe tut a little bit
  2. 51% of men compare prices on CPG goods while in-store. Oh I can see it now. “This cabbage is $1.29 but if I go to I can probably get it from WalMart for $1.19, and I’m totally prepared to drive across town for that!”. Men do not compare prices on CPG goods – we chuck it in the cart and move on, often deciding based on which has our favorite color packaging. Do I have data to support this assertion – of course not, but you know I’m right.
  3. 47% of men find coupons or deals on CPG goods while in store. OK, so your vanilla Stoli costs $18.99. What do you do? Think about the price, feel it’s a bit much, search online for Vanilla Stoli vouchers, download it, and present at checkout in the store you’re already in. Is that likely? If you’ve ever done this please let me know. Clues: there are no vanilla stoli vouchers on the mobile web; most retailers simply don’t accept mobile vouchers full stop; the chances of you finding one that works in the store you’re standing are virtually 0%. And men would never do this – again no stats, call it male intuition or something.

This is just one example of a ‘generous’ reading of stats to come up with a load of lies. This may of course have begun as a serious exercise, but something has gone seriously wrong. These stats could well apply to the hi-tech or auto space, where men are waaay ahead of women in their mobile participation and where these activities make some kind of sense. To me it looks like they tried to get some data to support CPG, the stats didn’t look good, so they rolled in a few categories as well to beef it up.

So this is not a one off. Here are my top 3 unlikely but regularly cited mobile stats that are almost entirely complete bollocks. I welcome your favorites in the Comments:

  1. Average teenage girl sends 4,005 text messages monthly. Let’s think about that: 133 texts per 15-hour waking day, 9 texts per hour, one text every 6 and a half minutes. Let’s assume that she’s in class for 6 hours per day, that means a text every 4 minutes. Oh, and that’s the AVERAGE teen girl. Let’s assume that a high-texting teen is x3 the average, which seems reasonable, nay conservative, in any behavioral law-of-averages, she’s sending one every 8.1 seconds. Relentless.
  2. 19% of US consumers have used a QR code. Really. I am more pro-QR than most, but let’s be clear about terms. What is a consumer? I take it we are including everyone from new-borns up to pensioners, right, because that they all consume. The USA has 314m total population. The Census Bureau cites 72% of these as being adult. If 45% of adults are smartphone owners, that gives us a total potential market for QR use of 102m people. Now if 19% of consumers really have used a QR code, that means there should be 59.6m QR-loving freaks out there, or, 3 out of every 5 smartphone owner. Go out and ask 10 of your non-industry friends if they scan. If more than 5 say yes, I’ll build you your very own QR code campaign…
  3. Mobile is the most consumed media channelOK, so I personally think this one is true. But would you trust InMobi, who make their living from selling mobile media space, to tell it to you? Especially when you have the likes of eMarketer telling you that TV and online are still waaay ahead? Would you? And then there’s Mary Meeker (apparently asleep on the job and still showing stats from 2011 on slide 19) who has mobile at 10%, behind even radio

So, there are as many stats out there as there are arguments you may want to win. What are your favorite mobile stats? Which have you used most shamelessly to sell work even though you know it was dreamed up for nefarious ends? And are you one of the necromancers whose job it is to come up with this? Dish the dirt below the line…

Mobile media – cart still before horse?


(Please note, I wrote this piece a couple of months ago but it fell through the gap as I moved to the USA. No less true now of course, particularly for London…)

Two recent pieces of research into the state of our mobile nation emerged this week that combined – or rather, collided – to give some insights into the current state of play in mobile marketing and media.

Firstly, the IAB research into staff perspectives on mobile at media agencies was rife with contradictions:

  • While the majority of media workers claim to have good access to industry research, and around half thinking they have great case studies to hand, 70% still blame their “clients’ lack of understanding” for lack of spend on the channel. It seems a non-sequitur that with a growing body of information and case studies to hand, that any lack of understanding would remain insuperable.
  • And when asked which mobile developments ‘most excited them’ it is surprising to see 4G, NFC and Augmented Reality listed as priorities. The levels of excitement around technologies appear to be inversely proportional to their consumer uptake and consequent levels of effectiveness. One might expect to see greater excitement from more workaday aspects of mobile achieving traditional media values of reach and mass adoption.

While the IAB is certainly equivocal about the progress of the industry and states clearly that there are further areas to address through 2013, what is evident is that we must as an industry take a firm grasp of the basics, rooting our mobile expansion as firmly in the principles of awareness, reach and ROI as we expect in every other discipline. We must above all resist the distraction of the Shiny New Thing.

If we are to accelerate our progress from digital afterthought to our deserved place as preferred communication channel for a huge variety of brands, I propose a call-to-arms – in 2013, everyone in the mobile media value chain must make some concrete steps to get the basics right:

  1. Develop concrete strategies and operational processes for mobile display
  2. Do the same for mobile search, and ensure your share of spend on mobile tracks the proportion of search that consumers are currently doing on mobile devices – currently somewhere north of 25%
  3. Back these up with analytics, and ROI models to prove the value of the channel
  4. If there aren’t landing pages or mobile optimised sites, see to it that they’re built – or use rich media alternatives
  5. Ensure that mobile is optimised to receive incoming traffic triggered by outdoor, print and TV. Get your search upweighted during broadcast, tag posters with mobile search terms and so on
  6. Ensure that every business has a robust roadmap for mobile based on a holistic approach to its commercial challenges

This last point brings me to the second piece of research, showing that only 16% of marketers have a formalised mobile strategy. The most immediate clash with the IAB research is that the CMO study finds that 77% of client-side marketers don’t have best practice or case studies available, implying that we on the agency side (who, according to the IAB, have plenty of them) are simply not sharing or educating our clients. If we agree that the benefits and potential of mobile are clear, we need to demonstrate better the commercial upside that our clients can realise.

While the argument for integration of digital and brand strategy due to the converged nature of our media landscape and consumers’ instinctive cross-channel behaviour is strong, mobile is a channel so pervasive and transformative that it truly does require a strategy of its own – living within and powered by the brand’s overall commercial and marketing objectives.

That the large majority of brands are still flying unguided into this huge digital unknown is probably the most scary thing about digital marketing today. But for brands who take the opportunity seriously, there are huge gains to be made.

Even just among my recent clients, I have found:

  • one media client who has over a very short period come to generate 1/3 of their revenues from mobile and tablets through strategic product development and cross-channel marketing
  • an FMCG about to release a permanent brand touchpoint on mobile devices that will sustain and develop the brand’s relationships with individual consumers while stimulating new consumption occasions
  • a manufacturer who through well-planned mobile advertising and content experiments now consistently deliver treble-digit percentage improvements in lead generation

In 2013, we must all avoid the glittering lure of the Shiny New Thing and concentrate on executing the basics of our marketing strategy using the unique properties of mobile.

We must avoid putting the cart before the horse and concentrate on real revenue driving uses for mobile. Only then will we see the true potential of the channel fully realised at last.

Facebook don’t deny critics, they defeat them…

Image credit: ShutterstockWith Facebook representing between 9% and 25% of US web traffic (depending on which metric you go for) and ranking on Alexa as the #2 site in the world with 42% of global users visiting, it’s almost impossible for the platform not to have a significant resonance with advertising professionals as it is positioned to take on Google and other choice media properties in the US and globally.

But while Facebook’s scale and reach into the market has grown exponentially, its value as an ad channel has been less convincing than what one would assume from their numbers around user engagement and traffic.  This has led to a couple of defining moments that Facebook’s leadership had to address in order to advance as a blue chip media property. Two large struggles they’ve encountered are last year’s decision by GM to withdraw from Facebook advertising, and the second was the extremely difficult IPO, which had investors and the markets openly calling out Facebook’s uncertain routes towards Google-sized revenue generation, both on the Web and in Mobile.

Since then, Facebook has shown a great deal of focus around addressing the effectiveness of their platform for advertisers. At Roundarch Isobar, we see several areas of concentration that have allowed Facebook to rapidly and effectively align their offerings to address these issues:


Please join me for the rest of this article on the Roundarch Isobar blog…

Chalkbot Revisited

In the aftermath of the Facebook Home announcement

While it’s likely never wise to try to summarize an event immediately after it’s finished, a couple of thoughts on Facebook Home:

  • Disappointment – Home is for me a prime example of how mobile innovation is slowing down and becoming entrenched in the increasingly stifling smartphone norm. Android and iOS have taken such a firm grasp on user access and behavior that even Facebook don’t fancy their chances of going it alone. However, from a shareholder value perspective, it’s incumbent upon them to increase their perceived reach into mobile with the fewest barriers to entry.
  • Apps Rule – perhaps this could have been the defining moment for the app-hating crew of HTML5 extremists, but that moment is still to come. Facebook have neatly settled the argument by bedding their solution in the 3 primary benefits of apps: distribution through the well-understood and now-habitual use of app stores, enhanced UI capabilities, and hardware/software interoperability. Try delivering THAT over mobile web.
  • Android openness – The openness of Android is hugely underexploited in any number of verticals. Even carriers rarely try to produce a really custom experience that could be baking in loyalty, content and more at various levels, so it makes sense for Facebook to do this best. It does rather tie them to Android for the long term, but I don’t consider that a disadvantage given Android’s rosy future and market share.
  • Facebook’s Android App – Any Android user will tell you about how bad the app is so to have that refreshed is a telling side benefit which wasn’t called out for obvious reasons. But Facebook must have been aware that their users on the OS have felt like poor relations for a long time now

Roll on April 12th!

The Mobile Future – now, and then

In Feb  2010, I was commissioned by the UK Government to write an extensive paper on the ‘Future of Mobile’. The piece was targeted at three areas of e-Government – NHS Choices, Directgov and Business Link, each of whom had at that point made some excellent early strides into providing service to mobile users.

Having won the job, I then set about wondering how to deliver it. I started by interviewing a huge number of people from across the mobile landscape – OEMs, carriers, media owners etc, to uncover as many different perspectives as possible. Then I created a draft, and over the course of two weeks (my kids were abroad at the time or it would have been quite impossible!) wrote up the detail in over 30,000 words.Click to read me!

Although I was pretty pleased with my first strides into quasi-academia (most of my relatives are lecturers or professors in the US, so there were wry smiles and ribbing about the family ‘business guy’ finally poring over sources and footnotes like the rest of us), I sometimes think back to what could have been. There’s the inevitable cringe or smirk at some of the gauche assumptions, and occasionally I feel a bit like I do watching visions of the future from early Star Trek or Lost In Space.

Of course, whenever you look back over old work, particularly future-gazing work, you find it riddled with holes. I find the piece now quite lacking in my normal vituperative dismissal, and equivocal of fading mobile players, it’s very light on media and social, doesn’t mention Twitter or second-screen (much), doesn’t deliver all that much on consumer insights, and so on.

On the positive side though, it gave me a frame of reference and set of core thinking that would go to feed my day job client work, and teaching practice, for some time to come. And of course, around 1/3 of my predictions came to pass within the first 9 months from writing…

But what would happen if I had to write this piece again today?

The ‘future of mobile’, if there is one, is much less clear now than it was then. I feel right now that mobile is struggling to find new innovations, and this is nowhere more clear than at Apple, as I wrote (or occasionally ranted) at the launch of the iPhone 5.

So is mobile now at a point of maturity where there’s nothing much more to come? Right now I think we are all pretty much aware that you can shop, view ads, book flights, play games, receive messages, make payments, watch TV etc with your mobile.

But are we really just polishing the smartphone model, to make it slightly bigger, and slightly faster? 4G and 5” screens are all very well, but they don’t make your head spin with excitement, and it’s partially this that is driving my work these days towards broader digital strategy and marketing theory.


If pushed, though, what might be some of the key trends for the Future of Mobile 2013 be, beyond merely bigger, faster, more?

I welcome your ideas below the line, but as a starter for 10, perhaps we would be looking at:

  • Natural interfaces – the growth of new intuitive ways to control the device, such as eye-scrolling and gesture recognition
  • Socio-economic dimorphism of mobile adoption and behavior based on geography and class. Will we see 4G simply extend and deepen the rural ‘not-spots’ we already see in broadband coverage? And will open OS smartphones truly enable digital participation regardless of earnings?
  • ID – I really don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of this. Smartphones should be able to carry secure and inviolable credentials such as passports and driving licences, but I don’t see much work in the field. Also, we should surely be able to scan or verify ID without the need for peripherals such as Square? Surely mobile will be able to deliver the vision of people like Dick Hardt as shown in this bravura performance from 2006
  • Enterprise – at Roundarch Isobar we do huge amounts of work in the Enterprise space that would be mind-boggling to my European colleagues. But I still think there’s a long way to go in B2B and B2E, specifically with BYOD in mind. Microsoft guys such as Matt Ballantine are providing leading thinking in this space
  • Location – this might seem like an old chestnut now, but the fact that mobile is, well, mobile, has not been mined to anything like its full potential. The capabilities have been very much held back by lack of physical infrastructure and lack of standardization, but payment and vouchering should now be on the up as business gears up to match consumer behavior in the converged world.
  • Connected Devices – with the smartphone packing the same processing power that a mainframe could deliver not so long ago, your phone is likely to be the center of your own local cloud services before long with anything from your watch to your soccer team to (whisper it) your fridge hanging off it for processing power and network functions

Let me know what you think and I hope you enjoy The Future of Mobile Technology (from the past).

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