Ruminating on Android Engagement

Horace Dediu has an interesting article on Android engagement considering results from web activity on differing devices. In short, though there are a lot more Android devices, their usage on the web is a lot smaller than iOS (and we also know that Android users buy fewer apps) so what are these people doing?

My theory is that they’re using them to make calls and send texts.

On Android Activations:

Increment the Activation when the unique device ID associated with the user’s Google account was different than the previous reset.

Which works great when the market is not saturated. But as soon as an Activator hands down a device to another user (Mom, Pop, Little Brother), it counts as another activation. That means that sales of devices are probably a lot lower than reported Activations.

On devices sitting in drawers:

I know when I got my Nexus 7, there was a screen with loud banners and widgets trying to get me to buy stuff, and my primary reaction was irritation.

Apple, of course, relies on device sales to make its money, and so there is no sales pressure present anywhere in the device. You can use the iTunes store and the App Store, but they are just icons on the screen; they are not given any particular prominence, and you are free to ignore them if you want.

That seems like a strange advantage when it comes to getting people to buy stuff with the device, but my working theory is that the hard sell on many of these devices causes them to be dumped in drawers and never looked at again, while Apple’s soft sell makes people more engaged and happy with their purchase.

I don’t entirely agree with this. I think that the devices he refers to in his comment (the really low-end tablets and phones) do get dumped in drawers but I don’t think it’s due to the hard sell. Certainly the advertising on these devices is tiresome but you don’t get anything for free.

On making it up with content:

But the “give away the razors and sell the blades” model they are employing relies on selling a premium blade. For example, printer makers and game consoles virtually give away their hardware and make it up from the exclusive – and high margin – sale of ink and gaming cartridges. There is nothing premium about the content or the advertising that the Nexus or the Fire are selling. Therefore the model fails.

Apple have always maintained the iTunes Store is “break even”. It’s entirely possible that the margins they get from apps and music are very low (for Apple) and therefore they consider it to be negligible. It’s entirely possible that these margins are high enough to sustain a very successful business. For example, Apple sold 1.3 million of the Apple TV in the June quarter of this year. For most, that’s a brilliant business; for Apple, it’s a hobby. And do you think the margins on the Apple TV are close to zero?

The average tablet is capable of surfing the web and other than advertising revenue, when someone surfs the web or reads email they’re not contributing a cent to the content ecosystem. Apple can take that on the chin because they make money on the device. It’s in their interest to make that experience worthwhile

On Android and the Web:

The reason there is a disparity in that Android users are not browsing the web is because they simply cant (effectively). The majority of Android users are running 2.3 [sic] which is a horrible internet experience. So though, yes, it is true that Android Popularity surged and has gone over the iOS, the main reason for this is simply just because it was an alternative

I don’t think this is the only reason, but it’s contributing to the mix. We have two Android devices in the house and both of them are “orphaned” by the manufacturers (HTC, Samsung). And being out of date means malware.

On the marketing of devices:

Apple devices seem to be marketed as devices that do something. Commercials show the device in use, doing stuff like editing a photo or drawing a picture. People who respond to this marketing do so because they too want to do these things too.

Android devices, on the other hand, seem to be marketed around other factors – you almost never see the device being used to solve some need. Instead, they seem to be marketed around emotional factors. Droid is tough. Galaxy is for folks who think Apple fans are iSheep.

I think Samsung is changing this, especially with some of the Note marketing I’ve seen this year. Their examples may not be as clear as Apple’s but they’re certainly trying to appeal to folk trying to get stuff done. Maybe they figured out that insulting customers wasn’t a way to win.

The Note commercials, while not attracting me to buy one, are interesting me. That’s a subtle difference and reflective of my demographic.

Here Be Morons

Kevin Tofel at GigaOm reports on a curious trend.

U.S. owners of Symbian-based handsets click 2.7 times more mobile ads than those with iPhones, according to April data due to be released by mobile ad company Smaato on Monday. And this is in a country where, relatively speaking, Symbian phones have very little presence.


You can interpret these results in several ways. My own recollection of using Symbian was that every aspect of it, from specially optimised mobile sites to expensive apps was that there were ads everywhere. It was an advertisers dream – companies would let you put ads on every screen, cluttering an already ugly interface and squeezing out the actual content.

The Symbian Foundation didn’t really encourage anything better and it is really confusing that a company like Nokia would bet the farm on something so primitive and evidently so unsuited to modern markets.

But I guess the reality is much simpler. When you’ve got iPhones, Android, Palm and Blackberry out there, staying on Symbian just indicates a lack of awareness. People still on Symbian in 2010 are morons.

The Co-Viewing Experience

About a year ago I was fortunate enough to meet with Ewan McIntosh while he was Digital Commissioner for Channel 4’s 4IP project. We waxed in the workshop about how many of us commonly pay attention to three screens at once – when we’re watching TV; we have our laptops and mobile phones beside us.

4IP’s remit was daring for the time. The core message I got was “no TV”. This wasn’t about audiences, it was about interactive, it might work alongside something that was TV and it might result in TV, but it wasn’t about TV.

Today I see this (emphasis mine):

Magazines and newspapers aren’t the only media eying big benefits upon the iPad’s arrival: TV is poised to use the device in new ways, including creating interactive, social apps designed to be used while watching live programming.

MTV Networks, for example, is developing a “co-browsing app meant to be used while watching live TV,” said one executive familiar with MTV’s iPad plans. “This means the iPad could be the appendage that makes interactive TV a reality.”

“Fifty-nine percent of people are multitasking when watching TV — that’s something we’ve always known,” said Ms. Frank, referring to recent Nielsen data quantifying a longstanding observation. “This is the next evolution.”

Of course it is.

When I watch TV, I have my laptop open. I’m looking up things, referencing actors, events, checking for the locations mentioned. (Frankly, it’s a little bit tiring.) But most importantly this is content that could be sold or advertised upon – it could be monetised by the television station, provided by the content producer on a platform that offers the content alongside the regular programming.

For example, while I’m watching Wonders of the Solar System with the very smart and cheerful Professor Brian Cox. I’m chatting to friends about the content, I’m following the good Professor on Twitter and I’m thinking about stuff such as:

Screen shot 2010-03-30 at 17.14.34

which ended up being answered by the Professor himself. Insanely cool.

TV shows are set to a timetable, we know ahead of time when they stop or start.And there’s more possibility for peripheral web sites to offer content which is synchronised with broadcast. This idea isn’t terribly new – Nico (who now works at UTV) wrote about it on his blog:

Whatever the future of TV, it is clear that online and social media are going to play an increasing part in how and where we consume broadcast media. Being part of a shared media experience, even if you are on your own, will be the shape of things to come.

There’s an opportunity for local television companies to build a much bigger proposition, to actually deliver on the “360” that is buzzword in television commissioning. It should be about the ‘web site’, it’s about the co-viewing experience.

Local Brand, Global Vision

I would describe myself as probably more curmudgeonly than most especially when it comes to things on the Internets. Arlene is often able to discern if “someone is wrong on the Internet” due to the posture I assume, the faces I pull and the fury of my key tapping. It’s one of those things, there’s an immediacy to making sure there are wrongs righted. Sometimes it is better to withdraw and do something else. And I promise I’ll try to do that next time.

Credit: XKCD
Credit: XKCD

So, How do you brand something locally without it appearing provincial?

I hate URLs from local companies and organisations that have ‘ni’ in the title (it’s not restricted to the Internet either, I hate it when they put (NI) in the name of the limited company too. And no, hate is not a strong word.

But sadly while we seem to be surviving without the need for IPv6 so far (years after my mentor predicted the end of the IPv4 internet), we are fumbling towards a more final end – the end of the dictionary. Internet companies have been using nonsense names for a decade or more now but I loathe the ‘ni’ thing more than I dislike the ‘r’ thing in Flickr, Tumblr and others or the ‘n+1’ thing, like in Rummble or Dribble. It points to a cataclysm of Babelian (should that be Babylonian?) proportions. And don’t get me started on the style names. Entire domains for ‘apps’ seems wrong and it can be abused. For example: was registered last year as a domain for all Irish iPhone developers and designers to represent their work. Sadly one company has gone ahead and branded themselves as ‘appsie’ after the fact and registered a whole slew of … URLs. When I brought this up, I was pretty much told to sling my hook. Suffice to say that’s one company off my Christmas card list.

So how do you brand something that’s new? And doesn’t actively step on the toes of wider initiatives to improve things for everyone?

In many cases is means choosing a URL that is almost entirely unlike your company name. In other cases it means adding a prefix such as “visit” or “weare” or “designby” to your company name or being extremely creative with your domain name extensions – witness the growth in popularity of ‘.io’, ‘.us’ and ‘.tv’. And there’s hundreds more options.

But right now I’m left with attempting to brand a local collaboration network which has local remit but global vision. And hoping to reduce the chance that someone will waltz in and hijack the name for their own purposes and undermine the network.


Things like this, though they’re adverts, are beautiful because they leave me sitting fascinated. Who would have thought exactly how prophetic “Demolition Man” would have been – we sing jingles, we view advertising video as art. The science and technology that goes into these short sequences is easily as great as the thought and art that went into their conception and execution. Ads have also become much more abstract, whether you’re watching the wriggling forehead of two pre-teens or a gorilla playing the drums (Thanks Cadburys) – you’re still left watching them rather than going to make the tea, They become talking points – and therefore a form of social media – and as long as you either love them or hate them, they’re art.

Artvertising. I like it.

Plus ça change

Apogee Press Release:

Santa Monica, CA, February 23, 2009 – As of 2009, Apogee Electronics will no longer develop products for the Microsoft Windows platform. Apogee has made this decision in order to focus all research, development, and support resources on the Apple platform with its unparalleled power and stability. Apple offers a wide range of affordable, powerful desktop and laptop solutions ideally suited for music creation and audio production.

A couple of years ago, Wil Shipley wrote about why he develops for the Mac and how it allowed him to score a big fat Lotus sports car.

Frankly, I see this happening more and more in the near future as people change their needs and there are realisations that beyond the FUD, there’s not much difference between Vista and Mac OS X in terms of casual surfer utility and once you break this hold on people, it changes them forever.

I’d like to think that ten years of running NIMUG and five years of running Mac-Sys would mean something in the current tsunami of people coming to the Mac platform in Northern Ireland but in truth we’d have to point at the Apple Store in Belfast as having a huge effect on general acceptance. Actually having a store on the high street was something that I’d considered (but frankly the margins available to me as an Apple Reseller did not permit that – and that’s fine. The Apple Store excels at bringing people to the platform and giving them the basic training skills and Mac-Sys excels at fixing their computers (according to Apple, MacSys has a 93.3% approval rating which put’s comfortably in the top 10% of Euro Apple Service Providers.)

Having a complementary relationship with Apple was always something we strived for. We didn’t have cash flow to sell Apple hardware but there was always room for us to help customers find the best and cheapest place to buy. And we spend hours on the phone every month fighting for value for Mac owners in terms of dealing with insurance companies, Apple Customer Service and other repair companies (who don’t specialise in Mac repair). We’re responsive to the market which is why Mac-Sys now has a “Free on Friday” health check, waiving diagnosis fees for hardware we receive on Fridays, the Enterprise Park is open late on Tuesdays and so is Mac-Sys and lastly, the guys have dropped the charges for picking up hardware – we have guys out in the field already doing installations in homes and offices and it’s going to be a minor detour to have your Mac picked up and dropped off after repair.

Like Apogee, we’ve responded to the market as a result of making the decision to specialise on the Mac platform six years ago as no-one else was doing it in Northern Ireland.

Find your niche, own your niche and when folk in your market tell lies about you, try to resist the temptation to punch them in the mouth 🙂

Northern Ireland Tech Blog launches…

James Scott launched the Northern Ireland Technology Blog in December 2008 and is providing another useful resource for technology companies and startups.

The site includes news items, profiles on companies, information for startups, details about the vibrant local “grassroots” tech community and information for students as well as a calendar of upcoming events.

The news provided is tech- and province-focussed with information about the whole technology sector in the six counties.


I’m a little early with this but that’s no bad thing. It’s time to think – to reminisce – and maybe even to plan. Next Monday night, NiMUG will be holding another meeting but this Saturday is much more auspicious.

On January 24th
Apple Computer will introduce
And you’ll see why 1984
won’t be like “1984”

This Saturday is the 25th Anniversary of the Apple Macintosh, heralded by this advert shown during the Superbowl, which has since attained cult status and still wins awards even now. For this advert, Apple hired award-winning director Ridley Scott (best known perhaps for Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) and the result was a a masterpiece.

Like them or love them, you can’t ignore the Macintosh. While I was exposed to the Mac in university, my first own Mac was a second hand LCII. With the under-clocked anaemic processor and a 10MB RAM ceiling, it wasn’t fast (though as I was used to a Mac Classic, it was no slouch). As soon as I could afford it, I upgraded to a Performa 5400, a 180MHz Black monstrosity that provided me with TV as well as the ability to mess with video clips. It also provided me with my first taste of internet at home with it’s 33600 baud softmodem. I remember buying a 64 MB RAM chip for it and it costing over £100 – bringing me to a whopping 80MB. My next machine was the original Bondi iMac – the machine that arguably saved Apple. This was joined a short while later by Pismo, a 400 MHz svelte black PowerBook with a fantastic batter life and it was on this machine that I took my first tentative steps into Mac OS X – Apple twinning a much improved version of their famous GUI with UNIX was a master step – even if some didn’t believe it was ready for prime time – and those guys probably still aren’t happy. I picked up the Public Beta at Apple Expo and never looked back. I migrated later to a 1 GHz Titanium and then to a 1.25 GHz Aluminium PowerBook. Then to a 1.67 GHz Aluminium model before making the jump to a MacBook Pro. The rest is just recent history. I’ve played around with other “Apple” products such as a Quicktake 150, a Newton MessagePad 120 and 2000, umpteen Stylewriters over the years and there was never any doubt that the next machine would be a Mac. And it’s not for lack of choice – I’ve always, since starting my first professional job, had access to the latest Windows, Solaris and Linux – but none of them held the same shine.

While we might be all ga-ga about the iPhone or concerned about our stocks and shares if Apple’s CEO trips and stubs his toe, it’s about time that we considered how the world would be like without the iPhone, the iPod and the Mac.

Apple finishes their press releases with:

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone.

Look at your screen with your windows and buttons, with the rounded corners and overlapping windows. Consider how far we’ve come based on the hard graft of that little company in Cupertino. There’s barely a computer in the world which doesn’t bear the mark of those pioneers in Apple. Others have done admirable work – but they were standing on the shoulders of giants.

It seems fitting that this quarter end, Apple celebrated their best quarter ever.

“Even in these economically challenging times, we are incredibly pleased to report our best quarterly revenue and earnings in Apple history—surpassing $10 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time ever,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO.

Thanks, Apple. I’ve enjoyed the last few years – here’s to many more.