Apple Watch is on pre-order today and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Most of the snark and fanboy/girl-ism is here as Apple Watch goes on pre-order and appointments can be had to try it on. As someone who has predicted that despite the snark, people will still buy it (and they have, at least in China where the Gold Edition is sold out), I have an interest in how it performs. So despite my being a Google fangirl, I made an appointment to try on the Apple Watch Sport tonight. On that same note, when my husband read my post here about the iPhone 6 still having the best camera on a smartphone, he became convinced that I should put up my Nexus 6 for sale on eBay and get myself an iPhone instead. For a few minutes, I let myself imagine being back in iOS and then I snapped back to reality and said – no, absolutely not. I share, post, take notes across several apps (photo editing, social, productivity, messaging) and Android lets me do that with no problems. In fact, I was able to upload the Android screenshot below to this post in WordPress within the photo app while I had to open the Gmail app and attach the iOS screenshot to send to myself so I can upload to this post. I mention it because I’m pretty sure that once we’re there trying the Apple Watch, I will salivate over the iPhone camera. This is sort of a reminder to myself of how painful so many other things are on iOS. Btw, you might want to hold off on that iOS 8.3 update (new emojis!) for now – the update breaks Touch ID purchasing for some users.

wpid-screenshot_2015-04-10-11-02-08.png

Sharing a photo on Android (with even more apps below screen)

 

IMG_0159

Sharing a photo on iOS

Here are the most relevant news in tech and retail this week:

In tech:

  1. Professional social network LinkedIn to buy online training platform Lynda.com for $1.5B; 52% cash payout and 48% stock
  2. Apple acquisitions that recently came to light: startup Ottocat that organizes apps on the app store and now powers the “explore” tab; and startup Dryft that develops keyboard apps
  3. Ride-hailing service Uber launches cash-only rickshaw service in Indian capital, New Delhi
  4. Facebook is facing a privacy class action lawsuit in Europe, with 25,000 claimants
  5. HBO Now launches on iOS, Apple TV and online ahead of Game of Thrones new season; no need for cable

In retail:

  1. Apple Watch news: Purchases are online-only at launch; you can make appointments here; the Gold Edition is sold out in China; in less than 6 hours of pre-orders, shipping times slip to June for all models (original shipping time was on April 24)
  2. Amazon is now officially allowed by the FAA to test delivery drones in the US; company also acquired startup Shoefitr to improve how it sells shoes online
  3. Chinese e-commerce site JD.com stock rises after announcing warehousing and delivery agreement with Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo; Uniqlo now has flagship store in JD.com
  4. India’s biggest e-commerce company Flipkart partners with Mumbai’s lunchbox delivery men, “dabbawalas”, for last mile deliveries
  5. After Chanel’s announcement of a future e-commerce launch, the company tests e-commerce in partnership with luxury e-commerce site Net-a-Porter
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Apple Watch and the continuing cult of Mac/iOS

News and commentaries, Technology

A few years ago in early 2013, I had a discussion with one of my MBA professors at Hult. We were both agreeing on the fact that Apple’s innovation pipeline is drying up – especially after the death of its visionary leader, Steve Jobs. I don’t know exactly what he meant but for my part, I was referring to Apple’s innovation pipeline in terms of its iOS and that users will eventually get tired of it. I was an Apple fangirl – having converted to Mac OS in 2005 when the cult of Mac was reaching the masses. I had a MacBook Pro (still do), an iPad and the iPhone 4S. I’ve been holding on to my iPhone 4s and was looking forward to the launch of the iPhone 5.

The launch came in September 2012 and it was such a disappointment in so many ways – both in hardware and in software. The screen, which was supposed to be bigger in the face of rising competition from Samsung’s bigger devices, was bigger but far from satisfying. The iOS was faster but there was just nothing more remarkable about it. I switched to Google’s Nexus right after that, betting on the Android platform. It was frustrating at first, the interface was not as intuitive and it did crash on me a few times. But once I got over that, I was able to do a lot more on my phone – I was no longer constrained by Apple’s walled garden.

However, I underestimated a few things: the ongoing marketing genius of Apple, the loyalty of Apple fans, and the devices’ easy, intuitive interface.

Marketing genius
This is probably most apparent in the launch of the Apple Watch. As I watched Apple’s live event on Monday, despite knowing what I know, I was almost swayed by the blitz. The phrase – “in a way that has never been done before” – almost got to me. Every. Single. Time. In some instances, it was true (eg. being able to call and receive calls via the watch) but in a lot of cases, it was just not true. The most egregious is by implying that the Apple Watch is the first of its kind. I can imagine the Pebble Watch and the Android Wear teams groaning and hurling epithets on their screens.

Early reviews are mixedNegative reviews in general point to a lack of a compelling use case for the watch. Furthermore, there does seem something douche-baggy about the Apple Watch Gold Edition, which starts at $10,000. It also says, “mug me.” But, in the end, do these negative reviews really matter? It’s not like conspicuous consumption is so out of fashion as to render the Ferraris and Hermés of this world out of business. It’s just another in a long line of status symbols.

As for a use case*, I have argued here that people will still buy the watch. Marketers call it the “halo effect”. In this case, potential buyers who already own an iPhone and who happen to like the experience, will most likely buy the Apple Watch. Furthermore, the Apple Watch can even be a gateway product – if you want to buy one, you will need to get the iPhone 6/Plus as well. It’s actually great – if you’re interested in wearables, you get the Apple Watch + iPhone 6 and if you have the iPhone 6, you’re going to be very curious about that Apple Watch.

The loyalty of Apple fans
It is so hard to believe now, but seeing an Apple product was like seeing a unicorn. Apple’s market share in consumer electronics was so marginal that one had to search wide to find someone owning an Apple computer. In the Philippines, they were practically non-existent in the 80s, 90s and even early 2000s. My first introduction was a desktop Macintosh – the interface of which was so foreign to me but the owner’s enthusiasm stayed with me. It was this encounter that guided my decision to buy my first MacBook.

It is such Apple owners’ enthusiasm that is perhaps the most compelling. Apple may have the marketing genius but it is the company’s ability to recognize customers as marketing  evangelists that continues to fuel Apple products adoption. A 2014 survey among 2,000 iPhone users found 60% of respondents to having “blind loyalty” to Apple.  Call them iSheep if you will but that loyalty has translated to healthy profits for the company and a rise in smartphone market share.

From: Statista.com

Easy and intuitive interface
My sister is not the most technologically savvy of electronics users. More than that, she has a healthy suspicion for expensive and fancy-schmancy devices. And yet, a few years ago, she finally got herself an iPhone and an iPad. She will likely upgrade to yet another iPhone/iPad soon. I mention this because the laggards in smartphone adoption – the holdouts and the older generation – simply find Apple’s mobile devices easier to navigate than Android’s. Even my 1 year old daughter has a much better time understanding Apple’s home button than my Nexus’ side home button. To be fair, that “home button” is patented so even if its utility has been proven, no other company can copy it even if they want to.

(Side note: One of the things that confused me about the Android OS when I first used it was: “Where are my apps?” On iOS, all the installed apps are at the “home” screen, even if that turns out to be several “pages” of “home.” On Android, there’s the home screen where (other than Google’s or the manufacturer’s default apps) you manually add your apps. Then there’s “all the other apps” that you can access by clicking sort of above the “home” button on the glass interface. I find that even hard to explain. Needless to say, the Android interface is definitely not for those who don’t want to spend time learning it.)

Furthermore, Apple devices simply have a much better camera than Android phones. This is actually not always a question of hardware. Most of the time, it’s just that Apple focused on relatively quick access, understanding that users just want something that will literally point and shoot. They focused on that first, sacrificing photo quality over speed. And then, they came up to speed with the hardware part. Now, the iPhone 6/Plus are on par with other phones in terms of image quality. I want to echo this article’s point and also fervently say:

I don’t want an iPhone, but dammit, I want the effortlessness of the iPhone’s camera

And with all the sharing happening on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Meerkat, etc., the quick and effortless composition of pictures and videos could be the driving force for a smartphone purchase.

Although, it is yet to be determined whether the Apple Watch and it’s newly-patented “crown” have the same ease of use as the iPhone/iPad, brand loyalty and marketing will definitely propel Apple Watch way ahead of the competition. Despite the initial protests, people who happen to be Apple users and who pride themselves on being early adopters, will buy the Apple Watch. They will become the watch’s evangelists and the cycle begins yet again for the profit machine that is Apple.

*By the way, there was not much use case for the first iPhone either. There weren’t that many apps, Internet browsing was so slow and for that price, who really needed it? Yet, look where we are now.

Smartphone apps to organize your life

Lifestyle, Technology

My first smartphone was the 1st generation iPhone in 2007. Back then, it was just a really cool and beautiful machine that you can use sometimes to browse the web or look up an address via Google maps. Everything was so slow probably because mobile network providers couldn’t really handle the load yet. Apps were still a new concept and app makers came and went so that an app that you liked one day could lose support the next.

Fast forward to today and this is what you get:

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 12.43.02 PM

With all that noise, we sometimes end up downloading apps that we use once or never. Over time, here are the apps that continually occupy my home screen and that I have found the most useful. I use an Android phone these days, the Nexus 6, so functionalities for Google’s suite of apps might be a little ornery on iOS and other mobile OS. But the rest of the apps I’ve outlined here should work just as beautifully and maybe even better on iOS since most of them were developed first for iOS. I hope these apps help you as much as they have helped me over the years. Remember, your smartphone is more than just for calling, it’s your mini-computer. Now, put that awesome and expensive device to work.

  1. Google apps
    • Gmail.This is a no-brainer. Even if you have an iPhone with a Mail app and use GMail extensively, nothing parses through Gmail better than the Gmail app itself. I don’t even have the Mail apps activated in my Macbook Pro and iPad. The last time I used the Mail app on my Macbook was in 2009.
    • Maps. Again, there’s not much to say except that Maps is a game-changer. I don’t mind driving but I really don’t like knowing where to go or how long it will take for me to get there. The longevity of Maps means that you have the best data available (for traffic, new routes, public transit/walking/biking directions). Plus, Maps now has data on major shopping centers and airports as well. Back when I used to have the iPhone, I refused to update my iOS (when Apple replaced Google Maps with its own Maps app) until I was sure that Google Maps was available for the iPhone.
    • Calendar. If you have an Android with the latest OS (Lollipop in this case), Calendar’s integration with other Google apps is amazing. If you received some sort of invitation via Gmail, Calendar automatically adds it as an event with all the details: location, time, date, phone number of organizer. On the day of the appointment (if the event has a location in it), it will appear as a Google Now card which tells you what time to leave for the appointment based on your current location. From what I can understand, a similar feature exists on the iPhone but you have to manually turn the settings on. Here’s a guide on how to do that.
    • Drive. This is probably not well understood by most people because of Google’s iterations over the years. Used to be simply called Docs, it became Drive. Within Drive, files can be opened/edited in 2 apps: Sheets (for spreadsheets) and Docs (similar to Word documents). But you don’t even have to think about that. Opening a file within Drive automatically opens it in those respective apps. If Sheets/Docs are not installed, Drive will simply ask you to install them. I used Drive for any document that I want to share and co-edit. If push comes to shove and I want some fancy formatting, then I simply do the final edits on Word or Excel but I hardly do that. I’ve submitted plenty of my MBA assignments formatted in Docs or Sheets.
    • Translate. If you’re planning to travel to a country where you don’t know the language, this is a must-have. For more on my thoughts about Translate, I talked about it and some of its new features here.
    • Wallet. I know, I know, Apple Pay is the bomb. But for Android users, Google Wallet has been around much longer and it does get handy (at least for online retailers where it’s accepted). I hope that Google’s latest moves of partnering with wireless carriers and acquiring of mobile payments systems Softcard will lead to Wallet’s widespread adoption. For now though, I use Wallet to keep track of my loyalty cards. You know those loyalty cards that you either clutter your wallet with or your key ring? Input or scan the barcode into the app and you can just use your phone to scan it at the store. Wallet can also keep track of gift cards via barcodes as well. For an alternative (before this Wallet feature), I’ve used the Cardstar app over the years as well.
    • Hangouts. There’s a lot of complaints about the replacement of the Voice app with Hangouts but I really can’t complain. I’ve moved 5 times in the past 5 years to different cities/countries. I’ve used numerous SIM cards/phone numbers but my friends/family only has one number to contact me by, which is my Google Voice number. No matter where I am in the world, I can forward phone calls to Hangouts and receive them. For US or Canada-based callers, the call stays free. The road has not been completely smooth on my phone because some network providers block Google from bypassing the default Phone dialer. For example, I want to use my Google voice number to call internationally which bills my Google account (at competitive rates) but my T-Mobile won’t allow it. With the release of Hangouts dialer though, I can now make those international phone calls using my Google Voice account. I would also mainly use the app for messaging but internationally, WhatsApp is still the leader.
    • Google Plus. G+ might be a joke for some people but it is my main photo storage provider. All my photos are automatically backed up in Google+. Only photos over 2048×2048 pixels and videos longer than 15 minutes count toward my free storage limit of 15GB. Any pictures/videos than these have unlimited storage in G+. When I’m ready, I can easily share them with families and friends via G+ or by sending a private link. As with any photo sharing feature, you can tweak the settings of each photo/album if you wan to make sure that photos/albums can or can’t be re-shared. Furthermore, G+ AutoAwesome automatically enhances some pictures or even transform series of photos into GIFs. Another great feature is “Stories” which automatically sifts through a series of photos, picks the best ones and give you travelogues that you can share or just keep.
  2. Flipboard. I’ve tried to look for alternative reading apps that curate the news for me but so far, this is the one that I keep going back to. It’s simply well-built and beautiful to boot. If you like to follow current events in any field (world news, tech, fashion, etc.), this app delivers in a beautiful format.
  3. Mint by Intuit. Other companies have tried and are trying to topple Mint’s dominance in personal finance but you can’t beat Mint’s integration with other products – most importantly Intuit’s TurboTax. Over the years, Mint has proven its worth – easy to navigate, easily integrated with banks/credit cards, great support.
  4. CamScanner. If you’re like me and don’t own a scanner but find yourself needing to scan something every once in a while all the time, then this app is for you. Via the app, you take a picture of the document, and the app transforms the picture into a PDF or JPG file that you can easily share via mail, upload to any cloud storage app on your phone or even over Bluetooth. On the iPhone, sharing options might be limited to Mail, iCloud and Bluetooth but on the Android, you can send it via messaging apps (doc link only), email, and any storage app you’ve installed on the phone.
  5. Trello. I’ve used other to-do-list apps such as Asana, but have since switched to Trello for its simplicity. You can organize to-dos based on timeline such as: To do this month, this week or Doing today. You can also organize it based on the person responsible if you’re sharing the lists with other people.
  6. Baby Connect. As a new mom, I needed a way to track my daughter’s sleep and feeding times. Even for parents, this may not be something that you will find useful. In fact, my doctor once told me to stop tracking the times and instead pay attention to visual cues from my daughter. Still, I find it fun to have all these data because I’ve learned to predict whether my daughter will be more or less resistant to naps based on the number of her sleep hours from previous days. You can also track milestones (first steps, first smile, etc.) which can also be exciting to do.
  7. SeatGuru. When I first traveled with my daughter, especially on airlines where we didn’t have any status, I wanted to avoid the most uncomfortable seats. I also needed to know where the bassinets can be attached or if they’re available at all. SeatGuru helped me figure this out because airline websites are not always reliable/transparent on seat information. Browsing seating maps also show specific notes for certain seats. Example: “Seat 17F (Economy, Standard, AC Power, Seatback, TV). Seat 17F is a standard Economy seat, however, this seat has extra space around it due to the blocking out of the middle seat… the armrests are still immovable which some may find uncomfortable.”
  8. Uber. You can use the same payment information in different countries, be able to track your driver, know the wait times and pay less compared to taxis. Enough said.
  9. Life360. I used to have Google Latitude to track my husband’s location or allow my husband to track mine. And no, it wasn’t that we wanted to control each other’s movements but every once in a while when I had to pick him up or vice versa, then we knew exactly where to go instead of getting frustrated with trying to describe a place (especially when traveling). Unfortunately, the app was retired in 2013 and I had to find a replacement. Life360 is a great alternative and can be shared with the whole family – especially useful for a growing family like mine.
  10. If this, then that (IFTT). To be honest, I have yet to set this up on my phone because it will require some planning on exactly how I want my activities to be organized. Furthermore, I find Google’s default actions (see Google apps above) to be more than sufficient for my needs. IFFT sets up of corresponding responses to certain actions. An example: if I post a photo on Instagram, upload that photo on a specific file on my Dropbox. If you’re very prolific and a power-power user, then IFFT can be very useful. IFFT users come up with different recipes all the time so you also don’t need to come up with your own recipes if you don’t feel like it.

iOS vs. Android and why I shop less on Android

News and commentaries, Technology

IBM and Adobe recently released some numbers for Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales in the US. Here are some highlights from the IBM report and Adobe report:

  • Overall Thanksgiving online sales were up 14.3% compared to 2013 (IBM)
  • Total online spend on Thanksgiving day reached $1.33B (Adobe)
  • Thanksgiving day mobile traffic accounted for more than half of all online traffic (IBM)
  • Black Friday online sales were up 9.5% YoY (IBM)
  • Black Friday mobile traffic increased by 25% over 2013, accounting for 49.6% of all online traffic while mobile sales accounted for 27.9% of total online sales (IBM)
  • Total online spend on Black Friday reached $2.4B (Adobe)
  • Cyber Monday sales were up by 8.5% compared to 2013 (IBM)
  • Cyber Monday mobile traffic accounted for 41.2% of all online traffic while mobile sales accounted for 22% of online sales (IBM)

With the historic numbers related to the use of mobile devices, there is a lot of focus on iOS vs. Android shoppers. Simply put, iOS users use their mobile devices more for online shopping and more importantly, buy more than Android users – in this case, four times more. This comparison is not new. Historically, iOS users spend more on apps than Android users. With these recent numbers, there’s again a lot of talk on how these affects future app development. Developers will almost always develop for iOS first and may even forego developing for Android.

As an Android user, it irks me to have to hold on to my iPad because some apps are simply not available on Android but I understand why. It further irked me when I saw this quote from Jay Henderson, director of IBM Smarter Commerce:

iPhone and iPad buyers tend to be slightly more affluent and more comfortable with technology.

Affluent, I can agree but more comfortable? The iOS’ value proposition is its simplicity – don’t offer too many choices on how something is done and the user will just get it. This is why, even your most un-tech savvy friend or family member has an iPhone/iPad. Go to an Android and the learning curve is a little steeper (but once you’re there, you can do so much more productive things on an Android). But I digress, this post is not about pitting iOS and Android users’ tech-savviness. This post is to poke some holes on those mobile spend numbers because as an Android and iOS user who happens to *love* shopping, I have experienced firsthand as to why I browse/buy less on my Android.

Why I browse and buy less on my Android vs. iOS

  • There are fewer shopping apps for Android. Thankfully, most sites are now mobile-friendly but they are far from perfect. Case in point is Net-a-Porter: I was filtering for dresses in size S. But after sorting for low-high prices, it resets the size. This only happens in the sale section which is what Black Friday and Cyber Monday are all about.

net_a_porter

Incidentally, browsing the sale section at Barney’s mobile site is limited to filtering between “Men”, “Women”, “Home”, “Kids”, etc. There are no filters for size and sub-categories so results number to 12,000 items which can test the patience of even the most avid shopper.

Based on sites that I use, here’s a sample of shopping apps for iOS and Android:

iOS_Android_apps

*Recently launched on November 24, 2014

  • Even when shopping apps exist, they can be buggy. During Black Friday when Zara, site-wide was 30%, the bugginess of the app was very pronounced in my Android. While the iOS experience remained smooth, I saw blank spaces where images of items should be when I scrolled down. This happens all the time but during big sale periods, the blank space stays longer (minimum 5 seconds) and the app crashes constantly.

zara_blank

Google’s ambitions for Android are not focused on the users’ immediate dollar value
As more and more metrics pit the dollar value of Android users vs. iOS users, it will only perpetrate the cycle: developers will focus less on making the Android experience more robust; Android users spend less money; iOS users are more valuable – and so on. In this case, I sometimes get frustrated with Google for not marketing the Android platform better to developers. I understand that they have ambitions beyond users spending money within their devices but at some point, will Apple’s easy/seamless ecosystem trump Android adoption globally? But then again, Google’s currency, to put simply, is information and large amounts of it. Even if Android dominance falters in North America, there’s billions in the rest of the world who will not be able to afford iOS devices (especially if Apple continues to act like a Veblen good*) and will most certainly adopt the Android platform. And that’s several billions of users using a platform that Google controls. Scared yet?