Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is Apple following in Microsoft's footsteps for once?

Yes, you read the heading right. It's not the other way round. A lot of people would consider this headline as blasphemous! I plead guilty to this sin but allow me to take you through the line of thinking that lead me to this conclusion!
I recently wrote about how Mint, a business newspaper in India, is using its iPhone/iPad app to connote associations with the luxury segment in India. The basic logic is that iPhone and iPad are almost double the price of their Android (or other OS) counterparts in India. Hence iPad is looked at as a luxury purchase. Now, I wonder how this will change after the iPad mini is introduced (expected to be priced around the current Android tabs)! Will Mint lose its premium positioning or will it try to disallow its app from working on iPad's cheaper cousin? Will Apple allow apps to do that? Does it make sense to do that?

Interesting questions! But I don't want to speculate on the answers! Let us wait and watch for there is an even more interesting turn to my line of thought!

Steve Jobs felt the original iPad was always the right size!

Staying with the iPad Mini, if the pricing is not totally out of sync with the market reality, this should really give a big challenge to all Android tablets. While we were earlier talking of whether Surface can be an iPad killer or whether Nexus7 will dominate, Apple's iPad mini is by far the most serious and most convincing attempts of all to kill other tablets. I imagine it would even cannibalize the regular iPad but I am sure that Apple, being the smart marketer that they are, will create enough differentiation between the devices in terms of the hardware specs that book lovers, casual gaming enthusiasts etc go to the iPad mini while the people looking for serious fun with raw processing power (and love for screen real estate) go to the bigger iPad. 

Now, the changes that the bigger iPad may require due to the introduction of the iPad mini is where Apple appears to be following Microsoft's two tablet strategy in some ways! This might appear as a slight exaggeration as Microsoft has two different OS on its devices and screen sizes are same etc. But I can't help but smile at that probability as the bigger iPad's hardware specs will probably tend to overlap with those of the Macbook. I had concluded in an earlier post that the Surface Pro may not work well in the market if the pricing is too close to the ultrabooks. Could this happen to the original iPad as well, post introduction of the iPad Mini? Will two iPads confuse Apple's potential customers who are used to simplicity in all aspects of Apple products including the choices available? Is this why that great visionary, Steve Jobs, never wanted to introduce a smaller iPad?

What do you say? Is Apple really following Microsoft or are my grey cells just working overtime for nothing? :)

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

An iPad app can communicate more than just your content!

So, from a place where I didn't think tablets could do anything (useful) to a place when the apps on a tablet can convey your positioning in the market! The world has certainly moved on.

ET has an app for each platform, even Nokia's Symbian!
I recently noticed that Mint, one of the leading business news papers in India, has been emphasizing the availability of its iPad and iPhone app quite a lot - so much so they tend to devote a lot of adspace every day for communicating that; even full page spreads on some days! The point to note here is that while these apps have been around for a lot of time, Mint has not come up with an app on any other OS, including Android, the fastest growing mobile OS in India. In contrast, Economic Times, the market leader, has apps on all mobile platforms. 

With this approach, Mint appears to be trying to become the preferred biz news medium of the premium income segment. Apple iPhone and iPad, in India, are priced close to double that of their counterparts in Android or any other OS. So, the iPad and iPhone app positions Mint differently from Economic Times. The only other platform where they seem to have an app is for Kindle which is again a slightly niche product in terms of the Indian context. Whether that differentiation pays up or not, only time will tell but this seems to be a good strategy in line with the content of Mint and its focus on explaining the economics behind the news. The association with Rolex (as seen in the pic above) is also in sync with the image of the premium segment who would appreciate Mint's attempts to understand the underlying reasons for what is happening with the economy worldwide rather than just a focus on the stock prices of various companies.

I am sure this is not the first time such a linkage is being used to connote premium-ness but this is the first time I have noticed this being used in the tech world. Do let me know if you have seen other associations like this.

Should you have apps for all platforms? If not, how to chose the ones to go for?

But the difference in strategies by ET and Mint leads one to the question as to whether it is justified to have an app for all platforms or focus on some (remember, app development means costs)? I guess the answer would to be go for the platforms that seem to define your target segment. ET is an entrenched player with a humongous lead over Mint, not to mention it belongs to one of the biggest media houses in India, so it probably makes sense for it to have apps on all platforms as its users are probably spread across various  income segments. Mint, on the other hand, is a relatively newer player that has done very well to break the clutter in the Indian business newspaper market, so it probably wants to spend that additional dollar on only the most lucrative customers initially who would tend to appreciate its content more.

Oh, the charms of technology today! Never cease to amaze!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hardware Manufacturers On A Slippery Surface - Or Do They Know Better?

Last month, Microsoft announced the launch of its own Windows8 tablet, the Surface. Everyone and their uncle was expecting a Windows 8 tablet to come out soon but what moved the ground from under one’s feet was that Microsoft will make it themselves! I mean, not just the software, they will make the hardware as well. It was actually a bit funny to read how Steve Ballmer felt that software and hardware together always made sense. Microsoft has become one of the largest companies in the world by licensing its software to independent hardware manufacturers and now he says this! 

Is there more beneath the Surface? 

Anyway, for once, it seems, Microsoft has aroused the curiosity of the entire tech world. A lot of questions are up in the air as Microsoft is not ready yet to give out the full details. But the biggest question of them all is that whether it is the beginning of the end of the OEM model wherein Microsoft supplied the software while manufacturers like Dell, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Sony etc created the hardware. Hardware manufacturing has been a low margin business ever since Wintel (Windows + Intel) became more important. If you had Windows and Intel, it didn’t really matter whether your laptop was a Dell, HP, or Vaio or even an "assembled" non branded one except perhaps in looks and some other non-critical features. Since the critical parts were always owned by Microsoft and Intel, they got majority of the profit.

On the other hand, Apple, with its own proprietary software and hardware solution, seemed to be creating a better product and thus some people have been attributing Apple’s success to its ownership of both aspects. However, I believe, in case of Apple also, it is the software that wins; not to say their hardware is ordinary but I guess if Apple were to license its OS today, the Dells and HPs of the world would happily be able to create Apple laptops but would they be able to charge a nice premium like Apple? Especially as Acer, Lenovo, Sony, Samsung and every other manufacturer also gets ready to sell its own Apple laptop? Probably no, because the differentiation that an Apple device has today tends to diminish. Today, Samsung, HTC, Asus seem to be set for such a future because people are not really able to differentiate between a Samsung Galaxy S III and a HTC One.

So, point is that creating software is getting margins in the industry but hardware is becoming a commodity as there seems to be little scope for differentiation. Also, could it also be that tight margins on hardware would limit the R&D expense for future innovations? Did that realization drive Microsoft into creating its own hardware?

What should the hardware manufacturers do?

I guess no one knows the answer for sure. However, I would like to point to a few trends in the industry via some news items I picked up recently. Those seem to indicate that a number of hardware manufacturers are looking towards focusing on some aspect / segment of the industry and create differentiation. Here are some of them.

From "Dell recommends Windows" to "Dell recommends Dell"?

Dell, for one, seems to be sure that it needs to move away from the low margin PC business, including making tablets with other's software. It has been making strides towards enterprise and has been enhancing its own software portfolio to differentiate its enterprise servers from the commodity category. It is also ramping up on its software services business. Latest in these efforts is its bid to buy Quest software
Dell has also recently decided to sell laptops based on UbuntuThese are targeted at developers at web companies because a lot of these people have indicated Ubuntu Linux as their OS of choice. There is no other manufacturer catering to this segment but only time can tell whether it will succeed or not – but again, the point is, Dell is trying things beyond Windows now!

Samsung: Everyone's Invited! (except Motorola?)

Samsung has recently reiterated that it will focus more on software. With its strength in hardware, it seems to be on the right path. Samsung's Bada is not a huge success, yet, but it has already started putting money into another Linux based mobile OS, Tizen, by becoming a platinum member of the Linux foundation, which carries a $500,000 fee. Is it preparing for the day when Google finally uses Motorola for manufacturing devices?
We already know that Apple is pushing Google out of the iPhone, slowly but surely. I read on a website that about half of Google Maps' traffic is from Apple devices. So, this move will definitely hit Google. Google recently launched its own Nexus7 tablet, which is not really its own as it is manufactured by Asus in some sort of partnership. The big point was that Google seemed to be targeting Amazon's Kindle Fire rather than the iPad. And Amazon seems to be on top of its game as well - it has now bought a map startup company, UpNext - another exit for Google Maps? So it appears that Amazon also is looking for its own product rather than just be a hardware manufacturer using Google’s software (it does use Android still though).

Sony has been beaten by Samsung at its own game of TVs. It has even taken away the innovative positioning of Sony with its alliances with Google and focus on smart TVs and tablets. Sony has been suffering losses in TVs for some years and is now seeing growing competition in the video games market. Sony, thus, seems to be enhancing focus on its gaming to get back from red.

Past performance is no guarantee of future performance? 

It is interesting to see how companies are moving away from the strategies that made them successful. Dell’s original path to the top, direct selling, was innovative and helped it in this low margin business. That was its differentiation back then. Today, it is no longer differentiated as everyone does that. Samsung has sold so many smart phones because of Google’s OS underneath. But how does it compete with HTC and Asus then? All the companies I mentioned above seem to want to move from the low margin commodity business of hardware manufacturing to higher margin differentiated businesses. It seems to be a step in the right direction, especially in today's options-flooded market where the consumer will buy your product not because it is as good as the other’s but only if your product is better than the other’s.
What do you think? Is it just a fad or a better way to compete in the market?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Can Microsoft scratch the "Surface"?

I have been reading and hearing extreme reactions to Surface, Microsoft's new tablet(s). At one extreme, people have said that Microsoft is finally ready to kill Apple! At the other extreme, people have said that this is going to die as soon as they launch it because of lack of apps ecosystem. Has Microsoft confused people by announcing two devices in one shot? One is a pure tablet (Surface RT) and another is a tablet that can become an ultrabook (Surface Pro). Most of the reviews on the internet are not talking about these two products in isolation. Most people start talking about the tablet (Surface RT) and then add the features from Surface Pro (full desktop apps, ability to become laptop etc) and it all becomes a little fuzzy and seems to sound as if this tablet from Microsoft is ready to not only "kill" iPad but also laptops! Can it really do that? Let us find out!

There are two Surface products - you should know which one you want & why!

So, for clarity sake, first let us list down features of both products separately and then understand where each of them stand. I have taken these details from

The table here shows the features of the two products. Surface RT is the pure tablet which will compete with the iPad and Android tablets, not to mention other Win8 RT tablets as well! The parts where it really scores are the external ports to allow greater connectivity to other devices and its compatibility with Office – so you can be more productive and actually create some content (using the new keyboard cover!) rather than just consuming it as we mostly do on our touch devices. Flexible storage options also help. But it can only run Metro apps and not your regular desktop apps, so that is a big point to consider. Microsoft has not really been able to get too many apps on its Windows Phone also. However, as I have tried to prove earlier, it does have a lot of the basic apps that people need, so number one priority for Microsoft should be to bust the (half-true) myth that it does not have apps. Yes, it does not have as many apps as Apple and Android but its working towards it and it seems to have enough apps for the average user. So, Microsoft, please please please can you showcase a lot of apps in your advertisements of the Surface because you have done a miserable job with Windows Phone?

Is Surface Pro the "ultimate" device?

Moving to Surface Pro, this is the product that has the full power of a laptop and can serve as a new product that is both a tablet and a laptop. This will run the full Win8 and support both Metro apps and the desktop apps. There are lots of people who have raised doubts about Windows8 as Microsoft seems to always run into troubles with a new product (remember Vista?) – they fix it later and then come up with a better product (Windows7) but that image needs to be worked on. If they don't deliver well on the OS this time around, it is going to be an uphill ride from the word go! But it looks good and MS did a good job with the Windows Phone 7 also, so fingers crossed.

Now, a lot has been said about the Surface Pro being the ultimate device given its ability to work as a tablet and as a laptop. I agree that it does meet my idea of the ultimate device as well. However, I have some doubts in my mind. While these may or may not matter in your situation, my motivation behind listing out these points is to bring this point that mixing all in one may not be the only thing in the world for some people.

Can you use the Surface Pro on your bed or on your lap?
Can you put this on TOP of your LAP?
If I have to use the Surface as a laptop, I need to get the kickstand out and open up the magnetically attached cover/keyboard. While all those gorgeous pics in shining colours do impress, my doubt pertains to the actual target segment of such devices. A lot of these people will be the high flying category who will need to use their devices to work productively while in transit, at the airport, in the car, on the bed in the hotel room etc. However, the Surface seems to be useful as a laptop only when it is placed on a flat surface (forgive the pun). I can't imagine it being useful when I want to use it on "top" of my "lap" because of the wafer thin keyboard which may not be able to respond properly in the absence of a flat surface beneath it. The screen also needs a flat surface to allow the kickstand to do its magic. Having said that, not all buyers would probably face this issue 'cos some may be more than willing to use it as a computer on the table but I wanted to put that point out for consideration. If you look at the Surface from the side, you can see how much flat surface it needs to work as a pure laptop with keyboard.

Laptop and tablet in one is fine but some times two is better than one!
Next doubt is with respect to the fact that the ultimate device is a tablet and a laptop and makes me happy that I own two items when I paid for only one. But someone like my daughter may not be that happy! My daughter likes to play kids games and lots of other stuff on touch devices. So, in today's world, I could give the tablet to her so that she can play on it while I want to do some productive work on the laptop. When she is fed up of the touch games and wants to play some real games with her Barbie, I can use the tablet for my own use. But if the tablet and the computer are one and the same - how do we do that? Point is that most families will need to buy two devices anyway because of such dynamics. It is not a point against the Surface but a point to consider. Now, you could go ahead and buy two Surfaces - RT  as a real tablet and Pro as a "laptop" but then you may really go and buy a laptop as well. Food for thought!

Do you use your tablet sitting on a table or lying on your bed?
The last point is something again related to how people generally use their iPads (and other tablets). It is clearly more of a consuming device rather than a productive device. A lot of people use it for going through Facebook updates of their friends, "liking" pics etc and occasionally commenting on those pics etc or reading books or news or watching videos etc - all while lying in their bed or sofa, basically, in a relaxing position and not sitting in their table and chair!
Is the keyboard radical enough to "kill" iPad?

The points above just want to highlight that just by having a keyboard as a standard accessory, the Surface may not become the ultimate device. In any case, if this experiment with the keyboard does work out well, there is nothing stopping the iPad users from buying one and using the iPad as a laptop too - even though it may never sit on the top of their laps!

Microsoft Surface Pro can run both the Metro apps as well as the regular desktop version. So, it has best of both worlds but the Surface Pro is fighting with the ultrabooks and laptops. Based on my thoughts outlined above, I believe Surface Pro is more than a tablet but lesser than a laptop. So, pricing the Pro somewhere between the tablet and ultrabooks may help otherwise it is going to be a real tough ride for Surface Pro. 

It seems to me that Microsoft has addressed some pain points of iPad users by providing external ports and compatibility with Office in the Surface RT tablet. It will probably not get the Apple lovers to move to Microsoft. But there are so many others who want more from their devices - especially the business people where looks and brand appeal matter but practicality matters too. This is classical marketing - you find the gaps in your rivals' products and serve those. However, when it comes to Surface Pro, if its price is anywhere near the price tag of ultrabooks, it may not really work as most would not want to compromise  about usability at that price.

In my opinion, Microsoft should not confuse itself as the new Apple. Apple's products have been game changers for a variety of reasons. It delivers discontinuous innovations. Microsoft has tried to deliver what could be called continuous innovation - improving upon an existing product. Microsoft should play to its strengths of providing a practical, more productive solution that is compatible with the world's most popular OS. It should work on its weaknesses in marketing so that consumers actually realize the worth of its product. If that happens, Surface will be a winner even though the iPad will not be killed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

You have changed your LinkedIn password but did your phone app also ask for a new password?

After the recent LinkedIn security drama, I got an email about my password being one of "those" leaked ones. So, I promptly changed my password on the website.

I went back to normal life.

Next morning, I was just browsing through LinkedIn app and the top news stories in their app when I suddenly realized that I should have been asked for my new password on the phone app but I wasn't!

Go to "YOU" in the top menu and tap the settings logo 

Tap on "Sign Out" and login again with new password

I have manually signed out of my LinkedIn app this morning and logged in again with the new password but shouldn't that have been an automatic process? I was getting updated content on the app even after I had changed my password on the website. It did not prompt me to enter the new password! Did you face this issue as well? Worst, have you realized that you might not have changed your password for LinkedIn on all the devices that you use to access it?

Or is it just me?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Do Tech companies from the enterprise market struggle in the consumer market?

As part of the Business to Business marketing course in MBA, students are taught how branding and marketing is equally important in enterprise (B2B) markets as much as in consumer markets. There are scores of case studies and research papers that emphasize why and how companies need to communicate the value that they offer to their client companies. Given that this has been done for a few decades now, I believe companies are doing the B2B marketing pretty fine. However, surprisingly, what I have observed recently is that some companies that do well in the enterprise segment do not seem to be doing that well in the consumer segment. B2B and B2C are different ball games for sure. Some companies that I have highlighted in the post below have / had good consumer products but still are not able to get the mix right to succeed. Marketing directly to the end consumer needs a thorough understanding of consumer behavior – something which seems to be missing in the three cases I present below.

Dell Streak – too early to be introduced or was Dell too early to exit that segment?

Samsung recently launched its latest model - the Galaxy S3 that comes loaded with a massive 4.8 inches screen and firmly places Samsung at the top end of the most desirable Androids. Its 5 inch Galaxy Note has also been flying off the shelves. That lead me to think about Dell Streak, which was probably the first 5 inch Android that came up (but didn’t succeed). The large screen made my Galaxy S feel smaller but the bulkier hardware of Streak kept me away from it.

Was Dell Streak slightly ahead of its time? Probably yes. Android, and smart touch phones, were a fairly new concept at that time and people probably did not really appreciate what all they could do with the screen real estate. Samsung, on the other hand, has worked on the Android platform consistently and delivered one good phone after another and then raised the bar by showcasing their innovation with the Note and S3. Dell seems to have got the product fundamentals right that people would want a bigger phone because of the awesome things that they can do. But this was not an enterprise selling situation where their sales staff could convince clients over a PPT presentation that Dell Streak is the product they would like. Consumer markets operate differently – you can’t possibly call all potential consumers to a detailed power point presentation! Consumers learning happens over time – their attitudes towards touch screens (not reliable, don’t work properly) needed to change. One other thing where the Streak probably failed was category membership – consumers could not understand which category Dell Streak fits in – is it a smart phone or is it a tablet? Today, when the market has learned about various devices, Galaxy Note uses the same question as its tag line!

Dell is really good at execution. Its direct delivery system allowed it to cut costs and sell customized PCs at lower costs. But once that model’s novelty faded, others have gained market share. It might also have struggled because it never had the distribution channels, so it would have had to create those channels afresh. Given that a large part of the earnings come from enterprise, Dell seems to have made its decision in favor of the enterprise market now. I am sure it will be a while before Dell tries to come back to the ultra-competitive consumer market; but it should get some consumer marketing champions in its team to capture and interpret trends.

Windows Phone – probably the first time a “Windows” device has to fight for entry in to consumers’ homes!

Another such marketing disaster seems to be happening currently with Windows Phone. While there are rave reviews about the OS and there are reports that predict Windows Phone to be taking over a huge market share shortly, I have my doubts because of the lack of proper marketing for this phone. Microsoft has never really needed to advertise its products aggressively, primarily because Windows PCs are so omnipresent. A good part of that is because of Microsoft's marketing at the enterprise level. But given that there aren't many operating systems anyway, Microsoft really hasn't had to try and understand the end consumer. MS has recently taken to advertising on televisions for its Windows 7 operating system. But even that campaign seems to be a reinforcement campaign, meant to just keep MS in the public awareness; to let people know that Windows 7 is there and they should choose that instead of sticking to the old war horse, Windows XP. I would have loved to see an advertisement for Windows Phone that would attack Android as just an “inspired” (and cheaper) version of iPhone and then show how much Windows Phone is innovative and focus on its key product features like the metro styling. It should have been positioned as an iPhone rival with proper focus on promotion of the app market ecosystem that has been created. That would have helped it move from the salience and performance levels to resonance and relationships. But, we see none of that. And God only knows what has happened to Nokia – from the way things are going, it seems it may never regain that top slot it once had. There are no top end aspirational phones like HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S3 in the Windows Phone area. Not so encouraging reviews about Windows 8 and other bad press about Microsoft in general does not help either. The imagery of Windows Phone in the consumer mind does not seem to be correct, yet but still, as I have written previously, Microsoft does not seem to be serious!

Blackberry - Good for enterprises but does the consumer care?

Blackberry is another example. Blackberry was always successful based on the value that it was bringing to the enterprises by providing push email and BBM to its executives who could become more productive but when it came to enticing the end consumer directly, they faltered. However, one must give some credit to BB for being more aggressive in the consumer market. But they seem to have missed the basic trick about understanding what differentiates them from others, as I have highlighted previously. Blackberry tried to become a consumer brand by doing the famous "Blackberry boys" campaign but my feeling is that they probably got their positioning confused with that campaign. It certainly diluted the executive phone positioning and so, if an executive has to go for a "fun" phone, why wouldn't he go for an iPhone or Android. This is a BIG why - if BB answers it correctly, it could keep laughing its way to the bank!

Conclusion: Mother's advice holds good even today: Whatever you do, do it well!

Consumer and business markets are obviously different but does it imply that brands like Dell and Blackberry which excel in enterprise markets have a native disadvantage when it comes to consumer products? It might be too harsh to term it as disadvantage but it definitely is a major challenge. But given the trends of cloud at the enterprise level and mobile devices at the consumer level (often to access the data from that cloud), these companies might do well to keep a dedicated team for both markets to leverage the advantage of convergence. And irrespective of the market they follow, they should understand that both are different and require pretty different strategies and tactics to succeed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Flipkart closes And therein lies the first lesson of e-commerce!

Shutter down...
The suspense is over. Months of speculation over what Flipkart will do with Letsbuy has finally come to a close with, well, the closure of (the website).

From around the 1st of June 2012, gives you details on its home page that it has integrated operations with the largest player in the category. The decision is logical since Flipkart is the bigger brand and, without a doubt, much better at operations than Letsbuy. Two different websites doing pretty much the same thing were always going to be a liability to maintain apart from confusing their operations folks as well! Having given some time for to probably finish pending orders and to integrate backend operations, it was time to close the website.

So, while this happened, I am sure a lot of LB people working on the website would be out searching for new jobs. A friend of mine was working as a tech lead there and has recently moved on to greener (or should I say "safer") pastures. Well, this is part of the integration in the e-commerce space that is far from over with a good number of websites still offering the same kind of products at similar prices. I will leave the integration discussion to a separate post, later.

The Greatest e-Business Lesson

Even if it might appear obvious to a lot of people, I want to explicitly emphasize that this closure of the website is a stark reminder to all of those happy-go-lucky web enthusiasts who think creating a website is the solution to all of world's problems! Believe me, I have been part of many business plan presentation sessions and one is surprised to see the amount of details that are provided over how the website will use the latest Web 2.0 stuff and cloud offerings (and what not) while the "operational" part is left for one slide tucked away between the cloud computing and the number crunching slide! A website is just the front end of the offering. The real deal is the backend, which is what eventually Flipkart integrated and closed down the website. Now, for the folks who believe in the theory that Flipkart bought Letsbuy for other "covert" reasons, I just want to say that this point still holds. The website is not needed after sometime while the backend operations / warehouses of Letsbuy do make sense for Flipkart. As for the covert theory, I touch upon it again towards the end.

Look at what Amazon has done in India!

This appeared in ET in Feb 2012
As if to teach us all about the rules of e-commerce, look at what the big daddy of all online retailers has done for its entry in to India. Amazon has applied for a license for a logistics subsidiary first. It wants to establish the operational backbone in the country first, while testing the Indian consumer  preferences through And when it is ready with its backend, it won't take more than a few days for it to launch its India website. Flipkart is already anticipating Amazon's entry and Letsbuy acquisition was probably part of that readiness. Theory of Rational Expectations suggests that Amazon would also expect a big retaliation from Flipkart when it actually commences operations and would thus plan its own launch with that in mind.That would be an interesting time for e-commerce websites. The smaller ones can probably only hope that Flipkart agrees to buy them to lap up marketshare because Amazon seems ready to go the organic way.

I tried to mess around with Letsbuy redirection but they did a good job!

Let us come back to the home page. Links to various categories on the home page now take you to the corresponding category page on Flipkart. I even tried to play extra smart and checked the old letsbuy link for a TV I recently bought from Letsbuy.To my surprise, it took me to the exact same product on Flipkart. The only disappointing thing was that the price was around INR 2,000 more than what I had bought for on Letsbuy! Something tells me those 2000 bucks were part of the reason why Letsbuy got bought over!

Shouldn't Flipkart also move my order history from Letsbuy to Flipkart?

Now, when they have been so smart about the website redirection, I was wondering if Flipkart can please move the order history also to Flipkart? The message on the home page says that I have to call them to know my order history (between 8AM and 9PM). Now, I have been a customer of both LB and FK, using the same email id. If they can use that to merge my order history now, the combined data would be much more useful for FK to analyse and provide me better "suggested items" than it currently does. That would probably showcase its true intentions also for buying up Letsbuy - was it truly for more market share or was it one of the conspiracy theories that Flipkart took over Letsbuy to prevent a drop in the perceived value of ecom start ups (like itself). Right now, without porting my previous Letsbuy orders over to Flipkart, FK seems to be disregarding the relationship that customers had with Letsbuy, not to mention the loss of cross selling opportunities based on previous purchases.

That is not how a company in the B2C space should treat its customers. With its reputation of outperforming on customer service, I am sure Flipkart can do better than this - right?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

GM pulls out of Facebook: What next for FB?

This is part-2 of my post about GM pulling out of Facebook and the implications from that. As I mentioned in Part-1, it is probably an indication that all businesses are not suited for Facebook advertising. Facebook will do well to understand this fact as well and work with the categories that are suitable for Facebook advertising to enhance its revenue streams. In the short run, there might be more exits like GM but in the long run, Facebook should have a more solid advertising business with tangible returns for its partners, and in turn, itself. So, here are a few suggestions on how Facebook could display advertisements.

Brands use FB pages to reach out to their customers - currently for free

Ads in Newsfeed but how many?

I have a slightly different take than FB's current strategy on how it should use advertisements. Rather than the small spaces on the already busy (if not cluttered) page, the best place where all users definitely focus is on their wall posts. An item in my news feed is probably the best place for placing an advertisement if you want maximum attention from me. Putting an ad in my newsfeed does have challenges about the number of ads you can put in the news feed but if FB can keep it to a small percentage of my daily news feeds or base it on the amount of time I am active on FB, I may not really mind it. For instance, if I stay online for 15 minutes going through 20 news feeds, I may be fine with a couple of ads spaced out evenly. If I stay on for another half hour chatting with friends on the FB messenger, I may be ok with another ad every 15 minutes. That kind of analysis should take care of the number of ads you can send me. As for what ads to send me, FB already knows so much about me. They know when I was born, when is my wedding anniversary, which schools did I go and when, where I work, what I did last month, what I read yesterday etc etc - the list is long. So, without getting into the wrong side of privacy laws, if FB can share information at an aggregate level with advertisers, they may be able to provide targeted advertisements in the news feed. They can also use the feed for running some small surveys with a few questions which can be used for market research by companies.

Brand Pages: The free ride must come to an end!

Another big change it should do is on the brand pages. Currently brand pages are free. Anyone can create their brand page and promote their products, reach out to potential and current customers for free. Since FB works as a medium for companies to reach out to their customers, it should charge for this access, especially given the kind of recent changes it has announced to enhance the exchange between company and customers. Brand pages can probably continue to be free for really small companies or entrepreneurs, at least for a limited period. After the limited period or after a company becomes big (may be bigger than some amount of revenue etc), brand pages should be charged. Such companies who pay for brand pages should get some data from FB at an aggregate level to help them take decisions and send targeted communications to those identified. Apart from the standard brand page fees, FB can charge companies for pushing out advertisements into users' news feed. May be they can put out plans such as "send email to top 100 customers" based on some attribute or random 1000 people etc. FB knows so much about people - so it should allow brands to send emails to consumers without sharing their email ids etc. Only when you "like" or share their post or reply to them should they be able to see limited customer details. Till that point, customer should only be an aggregate data. I must mention at this point that I am not particularly conversant with privacy laws and therefore some of what I am suggesting here may not exactly be on the right side of the law. But the point of this post is to suggest the general idea which can (hopefully) be expanded on within the limitations of the privacy laws.

Collect more ad-relevant data (within the privacy laws!)

Apart from the umpteen ways in which FB gets information about us, they can also ask people to tag photographs that they upload with categories like personal, birthdays, general party, anniversary, vacation etc to allow FB to target ads towards such people based on the category that the photograph is put under. I remember Picassa does ask for such optional information when I upload photographs there. Once they have this information, for instance, a person who likes photographs of a friend under the vacation category may like it if he sees an ad for some nice vacation plan. The ads will, of course, need to be from a company in the "suitable" category as discussed in Part-1 of this post.

For all we know, GM's pullout might be the best thing that's ever happened to Facebook if it can be turned into an opportunity to better understand the capabilities of the FB platform!

Should Facebook worry about GM pulling out?

There are so many mediums today that bring news and updates to us on so many different devices. Sometimes, these updates are about our personal contacts; some times it is news in general. But when one of the mediums itself starts to make news, it is, more often than not, not so good news. So, when Facebook was in the news for its IPO, it wasn't all that hunky dory. Also, a quick announcement from GM that they are pulling out FB advertisements ensured FB's own status wasn't all that cheerful.

Well, good and bad are personal perspectives. The fact that the IPO did not do as good as "expected" is actually not such a bad thing as people are realizing it  may be the eye opener we all needed.

Similarly, I see GM pulling out of FB as probably an indication of the maturity of advertising on FB - which should help companies understand the true benefits they can expect from Facebook while at the same time helping Facebook to revamp some of its advertising strategy for the better.

I have divided this post into two parts. Part-1 (this one) will talk about whether GM pulling out of FB is really bad. Part-2 will continue to talk about some suggestions that FB could take from this episode.

Is Facebook the right marketing strategy for GM?

Let us start by thinking about the online marketing strategy for a company like GM. It would normally pay Google for displaying its ads when someone searches something related to buying a car on Google. The ad at that point makes sense because if I am putting in that search, I am, in all probability, interested in seeing ads from car companies so that I can see the various options available in the market. But how does it work on FB? If I "like" a friend's new car pic, does it mean that I should be shown an ad for a GM car? I don't think that is a very logical advertising strategy because all FB knows here is that I liked my friend's car pic or maybe I just liked the fact that he finally got a car, even though I don't really like that car. So, I would say, for a company like GM, it may not make sense to advertise on FB anyway. I remember recently I was comparing some new cars on and I think I selected, Maruti Swift Dzire, Hyundai Verna and Volkswagen Vento; CarWale brought out Skoda Rapid as a "sponsored" result and displayed all details of that car also in addition to the other cars that I was comparing. THAT is the kind of place I would like to see a GM car ad, not when I am just leisurely browsing on the internet, going through friend updates on FB or some random videos shared by friends.

A car is a product where instances of repeat purchases are spread apart by a lot. I don't buy a car every few weeks or months (I want to, but just can't!). Even when I want to search for a car, I go to Google. If I want friends' recommendations on cars, that is when I would probably go to FB, but by that time, I would have probably done some research and cut down my list to two or three options. If I take my example of cars above, I might now ask people whether I should go for a Verna or a Vento. I am now looking for only some recommendations based on experience of my friends to make that final call. An ad on FB by another company at this stage may not make a lot of difference to me as I have already done a lot of research and have more or less made my mind. Therefore, I would say, a car company like GM may not need to advertise on FB. Instead, there are other options which are more suitable for influencing the decision of today's savvy buyer who does a lot of online research before buying a car.

So, is GM alone? Is it just the car companies who should pull out of FB?

Just like cars, there should be other categories that may not benefit from placing ads on FB, apart from generating some brand recall, maybe. Maybe products that require more extensive research based on attributes are not best advertised on FB in the traditional ad space that we are talking about. Such products are more likely to have their dedicated comparison websites and hence, advertising on those platforms may make more sense. I can think of categories like smart phones, laptops, tablets, TVs etc.  This list is obviously not exhaustive but I believe this ought to have items which can be compared objectively. Items that have more of a subjective comparison would do well to advertise on FB. If I read a number of articles on music, FB would do well to suggest books based on music or guitar lessons or even music players. If I tend to subscribe to lot of running groups or health conscious groups, I would probably not mind advertisements about healthy snacks like digestive cookies etc. With this limited analysis here, one could probably say that if a company's product has a high price, low frequency of repeat purchase and high objectivity in factors affecting buying decision, then it may not be a very good decision to advertise on Facebook. This is not a comprehensive analysis on either the attributes involved or the categories but hopefully gives some food for thought. I will try to come back with a more detailed analysis of the factors and categories.

But does it mean that a company like GM does not need to be on FB at all?

In today's times, as mentioned by GM as well, it does need to be on FB at least as a brand page. Such a page provides opportunities for interested folks to explore its offerings on the FB page (with obviously links to its main website for further details). Also, it allows companies to keep in touch with their existing customers and build the brand connect. This brand page and the connect it builds with existing customers will definitely be a big factor in positive recommendations when a person like me asks friends on FB about which car to go for.

In summary, Facebook should take GM's pull out as an indication of the increasing maturity that its advertising partners are gaining. Facebook should also understand that given that it is a leisure website where people come to connect with friends and chill out, all business are not equally suitable for advertising here. When you are hanging out with friends in the evening after a hard day at work, you don't want calls from people trying to sell you insurance plans. A deal on a pizza combo or a new pub might be more like what you want. Hence, Facebook should concentrate on the categories that are more suitable for the experience it  provides.

So, if Facebook lets companies like GM to pull out, what should it do to get advertisements, especially given the focus on its revenues now more than ever. Part-2 of this post provides some suggestions on that.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How Blackberry is doing today what Benares did a decade ago!

BENARES: Oh so Beautiful!

I spent four of the best years of my life in the wonderful town of Benares about a decade ago. This was the time when the internet was a very new thing and you could find people who did not have email ids. Tweety meant that yellow bird and nothing else. 20 overs cricket meant that rain had played spoil sport or something like that. You get the idea. This was a time when cyber cafes was a pretty booming business in India. You could see small shops opening up at the nook and corners of small towns and cities across India. One could access internet at one of these shops for about 20 odd bucks an hour. Benares was no exception to this trend. If anything, it had more of these shops because a whole lot of international tourists come there to explore this rich heritage town which is arguably one of the oldest cities in the world. There were a lot of these shops next to the banks of the river Ganges (the famous ghats). One evening, while roaming around on one of the ghats with friends, I saw a cyber cafe which proclaimed, like all other cyber cafes, it had internet along with phone, photostat, STD, ISD etc. What was interesting was that the board in front of the shop also mentioned it had,,! My friends and I had a good laugh about it - obviously if you have internet, you have all of it but this guy mentioned those separately as if he had special connections to those websites!

Do I need to buy a Blackberry for IM, email and (Android) apps?

Laughing about a thing like this was fine, especially in a small town like Benares. However, of late, when I see Blackberry advertising its BBM as its USP, I am reminded of that cyber cafe again! BBM and enterprise email were USPs for Blackberry about 5 years ago but today with smart phones proliferating like political scams in the Manmohan Singh government, these USPs seem a bit dated. I don't need BBM today to message my friends without eating up my minutes - I can use anything like gTalk or dozens of other IM clients. They did try to popularise the BBM thing by allowing people to connect to other BBM users using just their QR code. But who really would carry their QR code literally on their sleeve to connect to any one on the street? Having said that, I recently had to eat my words when I read about Sid Mallya tweeting that the girl who claimed that Luke Pomersbach assaulted her was all over Sid in a party for his BBM! 

So, point of points is that Blackberry was (and is) a great product but its differentiation based on the email and messenger has outlived itself. It is time for the apps to rule along with full touch screen models. While it did something to allow Android apps to be available on Blackberry (but still there are problems there), it took quite some time to move away from the physical qwerty phones. They seemed to have taken too much time in understanding the market direction and how it was sweeping the ground from underneath them.

What should Blackberry do?

OK - easy to rip apart a company based on what it did not do. Now, what would you do if you were Blackberry? How would you get back in the game? Its differentiation in the features space is gone. Apps is the new battle ground - BB is lagging behind Android and iPhone by miles. It has got into an arrangement with Android to let Android apps work on BB also but that only underscores the point that there are not enough developers making apps for BB. So, it ends up being there as another Samsung or HTC where it can fight the battle on the basis of its old relationships or some sort of really cool UI on top of the native Android. But as some others have found out, this does not sound much of an exciting story as it would fall into the commodity area. One good exit strategy here would have been to get sold to Google who could then use them for creating a hardware cum software integrated phone manufacturer. But Motorola beat them to this game as well!

How should BB differentiate in today's world?

So, the only way out for BB then seems to be to move up on the differentiation scale. Provide features and services that are really niche. For instance, they could provide extraordinary email features to make the mobile email experience closer to that of the desktop email access. While I kinda kicked BBM and Blackberry email earlier, they do provide encryption which is crucial for security and enterprises must like that. Given the security concerns raised on and off regarding Android and even iOS, security could be the big differentiator. Alternately, BB could  create multiple devices like the Playbook and create an eco system that would help a BB user become more mobile and still more user friendly. What I am referring to is the creation of additional docks which can be used to connect the small phone to a larger screen with keyboard to enhance the overall experience of the consumer. But all these can also be copied by the competition sooner than later but if BB is confident about its technology, it can try this or some other niche features which will help it retain its differentiation.

Should Blackberry reinvent itself as a software security provider to other mobile phone manufacturers?

An offshoot of the first option could be that BB should  totally move out of the hardware business and just provide security layers for other phone manufacturers. Maybe BB could come up as an app on the Android, iOS and Windows Marketplace for users who want to ensure their emails and IMs are secure. A lot of enterprises would probably like to enforce that. I guess this is the most drastic option that completely changes everything but one that Blackberry should consider based on their own analysis of the strengths of the company. 

Blackberry did a Benares in still using BBM as USP; can it again do a Benares in terms of retaining its rich heritage and prestige, and reinvent itself, so many years later as well?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Are Nokia or Windows Phone even serious about smart phones?

Yes, I am asking this question because I really doubt it. At least in India. On one hand, there are reports of people none other than Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder) praising Windows Phone's features but on the other hand, I still don't see enough Windows Phones on the market or in the hands of my friends. I had to buy one for my wife last month and I got another Samsung Android (in the 15K range) even though a good part of me wanted to go for a Windows Phone. But the lack of applications (along with the lack of the phone itself in one of the leading chains) kept me out of it. I may not even use a lot of the apps but there are a number of apps that I use and if Windows Market Place cannot provide abundant apps, I won't fork out my 15K plus money just like that - right? If I were getting it as a free phone with a 2-year connection like they get in the US, I might have thought about it but even then, I may still have rejected it 'cos of the apps.

So, some of the earliest smart phone experts had predicted that it would be an apps game after all in the smart phone arena. And I guess, with that purchase decision going the Android way for me, even I have finally realized that apps will be the deciding factor. So, let us quickly see where our smart phone players stand in terms of apps. iOS, the pioneer of them all, has more than 500,000 apps; Android has quickly ramped up over the last couple of years on the apps game and now stands around 450,000. Windows Phone is about 10% of these at around 70,000 apps as of 13-May-2012. Now, some of the more detail oriented folks may point out issues like removal of apps and quality of apps etc but even after you do the math to take care of those issues, Windows Phone apps are a small fraction of what is available on the Android Market or Apple's App Store. It is more like 5,000 Windows against 300,000 Android apps (high quality apps). Since I am talking about India, I am not talking about the all mighty iPhone as most people  may not want to dish out more dough for a 3.5 inch phone than you do for a 40 inch (plasma) TV.

Now, let us say, maybe the numbers don't really matter for the average dude - you know, just like people put across that argument about processors - the average dude does not need the high end super computer processing capability. Fine, but there are some things I know I MUST be able to do with a processor, for instance, multiple browser windows, multiple tasks and videos and of course FB and Twitter etc. So, let me see what I normally do on my Android phone and see if I can do the same on a Windows Phone if I were to buy one today. Here is a list of the apps that I use on Android and whether or not they are available on Windows (in cases where I am more concerned with the functionality rather than brand, I have indicated yes as long as there is another app that meets that functionality).

Ok, so it does seem it has more apps than I was expecting. The red ones are the only ones where I seriously think there is a problem but others are not a problem for me. Even though there are no official apps for LinkedIn and Dropbox, I must say that the focus on apps is not as bad as I thought initially.
Update: LinkedIn has launched an official WP app and they say in some cases "Windows Phone app offers even more functionality than its iOS and Android siblings."

So, to be fair, I would say if I had done all this research slightly earlier, I might have gone for WP because it does look like meeting my needs more or less. I am not a fussy guy after all (or so I think!). I am not sure what the other hundred thousand apps are on Android, but I apparently am not using them. So, what I need is pretty much out there in Windows Phone as well. But the big P.O.I .N.T is that no one knows this fact. So, Nokia and Windows should let people know that. Do they expect all their customers to do this research before buying a phone?

So, when I started writing this article (more like a rant), I knew what Nokia and Microsoft have been openly telling me and other consumers and did not know what they have not been telling us. So, I thought Windows Phones are good but I think they lack the apps. If only someone had told me that most of what I use is there in WindowsPhone (courtesy some good application development work driven by someone in one of these companies), I might have been sporting a cool Windows Phone as well!

I mentioned previously that Nokia seem to be goofing up in India by pushing their overseas ads for Lumia in India as they don't seem to connect. I did see some Indian ads finally for Nokia Lumia - a guy saying something about the usefulness of the Nokia Lumia while babysitting kids. Thanks for the Indian ad Nokia but I am sure the youth of India would like to see themselves in much more exciting situations than babysitting! Samsung had used the setting of impressing a girl with the Samsung phone - so cliched, I know, but at least it works!

I was also happy to see Nokia introducing phones at various price points and probably varied features to give some choice to the consumer. The website mentions 3 now, which is some good news! Nokia Lumia 800, 710 and 610 are mentioned on the Nokia India website but the online shopping websites seem to have only the 800 and 710 at approx 24K and 15K respectively.

I had come up with the title for this article before starting to write it. Hence, before I started it, I thought Windows was goofing up big time on apps also, but it seems they are on the right track there; they are not up there yet, but are on the right track. So, after this realization about apps, should I change the title of this article? I decided against changing it because the average customer on the streets is still not gung-ho about this apparently capable phone. Are they letting a capable phone go down because of poor marketing or is it something else?

OR Am I missing something here? If so, please share your thoughts - I will be happy to learn!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Windows Phones are here! (er, but where exactly is here?)

Windows Mobile 7.5, i.e. Windows Mobile Mango was launched officially in India recently but the only Windows phone that I can talk about it probably the Nokia Lumia. That is not really a phone that builds up an aspiration to buy such phones. Even the ads are a bit firang, for desi tastes at least. The amazing everyday campaign does not seem to connect with consumers either.

What Windows phones need is multiple phones at various price points for the consumers to be able  to choose. But before that, what is really needed is an iconic phone that will help drive an aspiration for Windows phones. From what I have seen of the Windows phones and from what I hear from some of my distinguished colleagues (distinguished in the field of technology), this OS is an awesome piece of software. The Metro style text and social life integration into the OS is really good. One of my friends mentioned this is a zero depth OS which means that it doesn't have separate perceived depths between say buttons and other text - this is supposed to do a whole lot of good for the performance of the system, even better than Android.

So, Windows finally seems to have got something right but why is it then that there isn't a lot of marketing muscle that is being flexed either from Microsoft or from Nokia? To their credit, Samsung and HTC did come out with some neat WM phones but again, someone needs to take up the responsibility of driving the marketing buzz. I am not quite sure how things panned out in the case of Android. Back then, (which was not a very long time ago) Samsung, HTC, Motorola and even the Micromax of the world went all out on Android and promoted their own Android devices - probably because green and mean Andro was perhaps the first competitor to the iOS. One could really get that iPhone like effects for far lesser dough - so the manufacturers marketed and the consumers lapped it all up. Now, with that sort of history, it would make sense probably for a Samsung, HTC and of course, good old Nokia, to drive the marketing for WM. But is Samsung worried that too much of Windows marketing could eventually help competitors like Nokia take gains out of their efforts? After all, as I see from my interaction with umpteen number of people, a lot of people still regard Nokia as a better quality phone than the Korean Samsung! Yes, I have to live with this kind of people also, even today! But Nokia does have a way with build quality and of course the famed Nokia reliability of the basic phone that one could throw from the balcony and yet all one had to do to start making calls was to just put the battery in the slot and voila!

We would like to see ads with more consumer engagement

So, maybe Samsung and its kin have reason to limit the advertising for Windows Mobile, especially given the fact that Nokia is now more or less a division of Microsoft (that's a prediction that should come true sooner than you know!). Samsung was the chosen one by Google for the Android and it has emerged as the biggest Android smartphone maker in the world. While Google's support lent a lot of credibility to Samsung, Microsoft being the sole OS on Nokia now means that Nokia should get some special treatment from the OS maker - this should lead to Nokia being the biggest Windows Mobile smartphone maker as well.

It all seems to add up fine on paper. But why is no one at Nokia or Microsoft doing something on the ground? I can't see much action in India at least. Let me know if you see some...

Tablets and Smartphones - the loveliest things life has to offer today!

OK, the title is slightly exaggerated! But I am not far away from the truth either. :-)

Now that the tablet market has grown by leaps and bounds, my previous post on whether tablets will really work or not seems archaic. Yes, I have to admit that. But then, at the time, it did not make sense to me, so I said that. Anyhoo, the market has evolved such that the difference between tablets and smart phones is blurring with every new product. The five inch Dell seemed too big when I first saw it. So did the Samsung Galaxy Note but as long as you can get it in your pocket (gotta have deep pockets, even on those formal trousers!), you can have it. It seems an easier fit for the gals as it fits in just right with their lady purse! Who would have thought, Galaxy Note is just the device you can gift to your girlfriend this V-day! I just hope mine doesnt get any such idea 'cos I am not doing too well with the finances right now.

My not so good finances also mean that I havent bought a tablet for myself either. I did get a Galaxy S phone, yes, just the S, not S II aka S2. That was more cost effective for me, by a whole 10,000 INR - that's a good deal of money. But the good part about not getting S2 is that i would have been so so so jealous of Galaxy Note right now. You can buy one for the same load of money that you dished out for the Samsung Galaxy S II a few months ago! Phew, I really had not thought it over so much - good thing I am writing this thing - almost makes me feel happy!

So, why do I like the Galaxy Note? Real estate baby - that's the name of the game. Yes, wonderful real estate on that touchscreen! The only problem with love for real estate is that it doesn't stop anywhere. So, tomorrow, you get me a bigger screen, I may want to get on to that again. But then, will it fit in my pocket as well? Probably no - so I guess it has to be the NOTE!

One thing that amazes me about the rise of Samsung is that when it rises, all other players seem to be committing what tennis-wallas would call "unforced errors" - errors of judgement, it seems. While it was Nokia earlier which chose to simply look in the opposite direction while Samsung dished out double SIM phones to the masses, followed by the big bang plunge into Android phones, this time around it seems HTC is going down while Samsung continues to be the sole challenger to Apple. While HTC does not seem to be in as bad a situation as Nokia, it does not seem to be in a mood to introduce more models at the entry level. Even at the top end, Samsung is innovating faster to create something new every few months for its customers. Is Samsung the King Bali (Sugreev's elder brother, remember your Ramayana?) of this epic drama of smartphones, i.e. sucking away the powers of its competitors? Only time will tell, as they say.

Enough masala for this post I guess. A number of things that I have spilled out above probably need a post of their own, so I hope I will get to them shortly!