Monthly Archives: January 2015

Will Softbank pick up Yahoo?

Now that the spinoff is in motion it could make a lot of sense for someone to pick up Yahoo and to me that someone is Softbank. I had planned to write this last night before going to bed and after talking to an employee and ex Yahoo colleague. The idea being that since Yahoo owns a chunk of Yahoo Japan then it could make sense for Softbank to get that back and Yahoo in the process.

Sure it would not be easy and the spinoff is not done but Yahoo has pulled back a lot in Asia. No more Korea. No more Indonesia or Thailand. Some pull back in India. I always felt this was a sly way of making it easier for someone else who is also in Asia to come in and not have a lot of competing assets or property. Softbank fits that bill – especially since they share Yahoo Japan which is probably worth more than all of Yahoo’s other Asian assets combined. The other JV is Yahoo Australia which I hear that the local team wants to dump Yahoo and then one could argue that Taiwan is a stand alone Yahoo business but I am sure Softbank would love those assets.

Anyways. Kara of course covered this by the time I got up this morning.

http://recode.net/2015/01/29/yahoo-as-target-not-so-certain-but-japans-masa-son-will-surely-be-company-kingmaker/

I personally don’t think all these shenanigans are simply just a spinoff plus a stand alone Yahoo going forth – to me this is a setup for something else. But I could be wrong.

Online Video post from A16z blog

http://a16z.com/2015/01/22/online-video/

This read is a doozy. Pretty much agree with all of it and it will be interesting to see some of the predictions play out.

— There will be new business models for video beyond traditional advertising. The reality is that without the scale of a YouTube or Facebook, platforms will have to find more creative ways to make money, whether it’s through subscriptions, micropayments, exclusive previews, community benefits, or other methods.

Full agree on this one. Tough to build a big ad business unless you are huge and in regions where monetization is very advanced. YouTube has massive scale but I know lots of other players with big scale and it still isn’t enough for the ad play. I think micro TX are very interesting and models like daily subs with telco billing.

— The age of platforms not taking care of makers may come to an end. YouTube “stars” generate tons of views for YouTube, but those views don’t translate into meaningful earnings for most of them. As the size of the entire pie grows bigger, there needs to be a piece for everyone. In most media businesses, rents typically acrue to the creators. And this is critical to the long-term success of any two-sided marketplace that connects providers and consumers.

This one also interesting and I think YouTube super stars are making bank but you have to be big again to really make it. I am keen to see how vessel does and what other production companies or talent management will do but yet many of them rely on YouTube for their stars.

None of this addresses what happens to the video landscape once new or newly popularized mediums (such as podcasts, animations, mashups) or entirely new platforms — VR, AR, and so on — become more popular and create new forms of content that live in different ways next to video.

Personally I do see the next thing for video. I have ideas but still work with the type of media that is quite traditional and still finds things like downloading a movie to be really pushing it. So a whole new format or medium? I can’t wrap my head around that but I am sure it will happen eventually.

What we do know is that online video is far from done… so it will be interesting to see what even a little competition will do here.

I guess he means things like vessel for example and I am sure others but for the moment I don’t see a lot of innovation but stuff is always evolving. Just not sure I see where the next thing is coming from.

Amazon Instant Video

Given the sale yesterday in Amazon Prime, I figured I would get it so that I had access to their movies and their music service. Of course the free delivery thing won’t help me much but figured for 70 odd bucks a year I have lots of new video and audio content. I assume that both product are not as good as Netflix or Spotify and so far that is turning out to be true. Of course Amazon cares more about the overall model than the individual products which means basically that Netflix and Spotify crush it if you just compare the products, which generally is always the case when there is a pure play company versus a conglomerate approach.

What surprises me though is how bad the video app. Given all of their resources one would assume they could make a better app.

As to the VPN issue the app won’t play anything unless I VPN. It also won’t do anything on data – I must be on wifi which I thought odd.

Once you VPN in you must stay VPN’d or it stops working. This is where I have always known that Netflix does really try to GEO block anything cause with Netflix I can disconnect the VPN once the video starts streaming. With Amazon if I disconnect the VPN I get an error immediately. Contrast this with the music app where it appears no VPN is needed at all.

However the video app itself is so buggy. I only use it with Airplay so I can watch on my TV, Amazon is not on the Apple TV FYI, but it consistently would just stop working. If I got notification on my phone the Airplay would stop. Many times the TV would keep running the video without sound and the app would keep playing the video with sound but at different locations. For sure Airplay is not the bug free experience it used to be but on the Spuul app and on Netflix I never see these issues. Once the app goes awry I found I can’t get anything Airplay related working till I bounce the app. Normally if severe Airplay issue you have to bounce the Apple TV.

Content wise there is some interesting stuff. Movies on it that are not on Netflix, TV shows that are also not on Netlfix and of course all the Amazon content which I have yet to look at yet.

All in all a decent value for the money and I assume even more so if I could use the free shipping but it’s silly to me they put out such buggy apps. Silly.

From a developer POV

Clearly Ben is on a roll. I don’t agree with all his monologues and tweets but I think this one is pretty good :: http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/12/9/mobile-platforms-and-technical-debt

People tend to get too religious about their phones, OS’s and all things associated with them. The fanboy thing starts to take over, Xiaomi as an example, but this stuff boils down to pure business. There are ONLY two mobile ecosystems right now. 2. Apple and Google. The China thing is another topic in that the rules are very different. However Apple seems to be doing better with their model in China than Google is. Enter Xiaomi though to see what can happen when one combines some of the essence of both players to make a go. It’s magic and it is working. However it remains to be seen if this is only going to be big in China. For the record it is only happening in China right now. I think Xiaomi will struggle outside of China.

Let’s talk about the impact more once they make bigger waves outside of China.

Microsoft is trying their hardest. Still doesn’t seem to be working. This still applies :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/10/26/microsoft-is-only-missing-the-apps/

So Ben gets to the essence of all of this. Apple had a vision and Google had another. Take away the marketing, the religious arguments, the open versus closed jargon and what you are left with is two very similar platforms:

One way to look at this is that iOS and Android have been converging – they arrived with more or less the same capabilities despite starting from opposite ends. Apple has given up control where Google has taken it. And of course Google has had to add lots to Android just as Apple had to add lots to iOS (and they’ve generally ‘inspired’ each other on the way), and just as Apple has added cloud services Google has redesigned the user interface (twice, so far). 

I am not purporting that the environments are the same or that they arrived at the same point using the same methods. It is just that if one looks closely at the model. Google started open and is starting to lock it down now. Apple started very locked down and is slowly opening. Both stances created some benefits and negatives in the early days and now the resultant evolution has created some benefits and negatives. Google is better at the old fragmentation issues and overall quality has improved. Tool wise I think Apple has a better product for developers though. Apple is making it easier to do some things but their software quality has slipped. That cannot be disputed. http://www.nokpis.com/2015/01/06/thanks-marco/

One could also discuss that Apple makes better hardware since they actually sell their own stuff. Google is still not really in the hardware business. However let’s not get into this.

The part I still find that NO ONE writes about is the difference in the view from the folks grinding out apps everyday and shipping them. How do we ship these apps? Via the App Store and the Play Store. This is where the huge differences are but there is also some evolution there. I would safely say, much to my dismay, that Google has evolved way more than Apple. Where Apple has made great strides for opening up iOS, there is literally no progress in the App Store when it comes to search, discovery or the App Store developer view. We still wait too long for app reviews, there are too many reviewer mistakes and too many features are tied to actually releases. We cannot modify pricing without releases or even update things like images or text without releases. So 3 years in with a stable app I still wait like everyone else to change some copy or update an image. Comical.

With Google a developer can update copy, bits, images and pricing at any point. Or just ship a new app whenever we want. Granted Google has issues with not policing apps enough or letting any app release (pirate or copy app) but they actually have improved some. I still think both Apple and Google should converge stances. Google needs approvals or review for first apps and Apple needs to let people update apps without approvals.

Where I think the big divide is though is around emerging markets. Apple is somewhat behind in that everything one must do around purchases is tied to Apple payments which need credit cards. I can’t use gift cards for subscriptions since everyone always mentions gift cards. I focus on India a lot and the big reason Apple is not as big as Android is about device cost but more importantly the payment problem. Google implements telco billing or at least does not stop us from putting in our own telco billing. With Apple I am stuck with Apple. This has to change for Apple to succeed. I personally think this is the biggest headwind Apple has in some regions – it just can’t function without a credit card backing. If Apple had some sort of regional telco billing I think the flood gates would open around the iOS ecosystem.

All that being said I think Ben ends on an interesting note that is also where emerging and non-emerging markets differ. Messaging:

But the underlying philosophies remain very different – for Apple the device is smart and the cloud is dumb storage, while for Google the cloud is smart and the device is dumb glass. Those assumptions and trade-offs remain very strongly entrenched.  Meanwhile, the next phases of smartphones (messaging apps as platforms and watches as a dominant interface?) will test all the assumptions again.

The canary in the coal mine

Following up from my post yesterday :: http://www.nokpis.com/2015/01/06/thanks-marco/

Some people are acting like none of us can complain about Apple or that there is nothing wrong. So rather than harp on the sensationalist side of things I thought I would highlight where there is real commentary about the state of Apple from a real developer.

Gruber’s take on the Panic post :: http://daringfireball.net/linked/2015/01/07/panic-report

Look no further than Panic. I have been using their software for years and they are very open about the state of things.

Read their latest blog post first :: http://www.panic.com/blog/the-2014-panic-report/

If we could offer traditional discounted upgrades via the App Store, this paragraph wouldn’t exist. This is one area where the App Store feels like one of those novelty peanut cans with the snake inside.

This is so spot on. Hard to have the marketing and sales flexibility one desires when things like upgrades are not easily doable.

Coda was removed from the Mac App Store in mid-October, at the same time version 2.5 was released. Since new releases always generate a short-term sales spike and we wanted the numbers to be fairly representative of “typical sales”, we looked at one month on either side  — September and November.

The results were interesting. We sold a couple hundred fewer units of Coda post-App Store removal, but revenue from it went up by about 44%.

I am guessing they are only leaving the Mac App Store due to technical and pricing flexibility but of course not having to share 30% must be nice. All in all there are still too many issues with the Mac App Store – it is definitely not working out the way Apple intended.

The last couple of months of 2014 got classically “exciting” as Transmit iOS was suddenly flagged by the App Review team for a violation — a well-documented situation, both on our blog, and sites like Daring Fireball and MacStories. Thanks almost exclusively to these articles, we very quickly got a very nice call from a contact at Apple, and the situation reversed almost immediately. Everything ended up just fine.

But I can’t comfortably say “the system worked”. It’s still an awful and nerve-wracking feeling to know that, at any minute, we could get thrown into a quagmire of e-mails, phone calls, code removal, and sadness, just by trying to ship something cool.

I have written about the issue with the review process more than a few times. It really is horribly broken. Reviewers don’t read review notes, they make a lot of mistakes and there is too much time in getting through the issue for each cycle. I really don’t understand why Apple can’t apply some code and thinking to the way the process works. Panic is huge and well known so they have it easy. Folks like us, the mere mortals, have to sit and endure shitty reviewing for each appeal and subsequent follow up reviews. This is why I actually like the Play Store better.

Low iOS Revenue

This is the biggest problem we’ve been grappling with all year: we simply don’t make enough money from our iOS apps. We’re building apps that are, if I may say so, world-class and desktop-quality. They are packed with features, they look stunning, we offer excellent support for them, and development is constant. I’m deeply proud of our iOS apps. But… they’re hard to justify working on.

This one is tough, I don’t blame Apple but it is sad that apps can’t make enough money. People just don’t want to pay. What Panic doesn’t talk about is that the situation on Android is far, far worse. Unfortunately it means one has to come up with other models to make money. I am always stunned when I get customer emails from people who use Spuul complaining about using our free product and having to endure ads. They think there should be no ads but they don’t make any connection to the fact that the ads are how we support a free service. Then you tell them they can upgrade to remove all the ads and they reply that they simply don’t want to pay anything. Okay. Not much I can even say to that. This mentality is all over the app ecosystem.

Panic is just a reminder though that Apple cannot succeed with out developers and their fans but increasingly with the draconian and outdated App Store and the slippage in software quality – Apple risks losing some momentum. It won’t be instant or even easily spotted but these are the canaries – like it or not.