The Levels move to The Cowshed

ImageAfter the last 3 years enjoying the Georgian splendour of Bath, the bars, the restaurants and the vibrant digital community we thought it was time to have an office all of our own. So, we’ve ditched beautiful Bath and taken up residence in The Cowshed at Castle Farm.  We’ve now got the best of both worlds with the rolling Somerset countryside on our doorstep, the M5 only 10 minutes away and London just 90 minutes on the train.

We’ve also set ourselves up with a new training and seminar room with space to hold courses for up to 20 people – more of that to come in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime we thought we’d make all you city dwellers very jealous with the view from our office window. If you fancy a visit then remember to pack to your wellies!

Our new contact details are:

Postal Address: The Levels, The Cowshed, Castle Farm, Enmore, Somerset, TA5 2DU.

Telephone: 01278 671 082

Barclays Pingit. A baby step in the right direction.

Within 2 days of launch over 20,000 Brits have signed up to use Pingit, the mobile money transfer service at the heart of the Barclays’ emerging channel strategy.

We are The Levels have long been waiting for a Google Wallet type service to be launched here in the UK and we were horribly over excited when rumours started to emerge about what Barclays were up to late last year.  Pingit is a small but significant step in the right direction allowing you to transfer money to others in the UK via your mobile phone.

If you decide to use the Pingit service, your recipient will receive a text message when you send the cash.  All they need to do is to register with Pingit, either by downloading the app or register online at  www.barclays.co.uk/pingit.  All rather slick hey?

There are some downsides -Barclays accept no responsibility if you Ping the wrong person (so make sure you’ve got the right mobile number!) and they also retain the right to hold your mobile number and that of your recipient for marketing purposes. If you want to opt out of the marketing messages you have to, quite literally, send them a letter.

We’re pretty sure that the novelty of the service will wear off and within a few months it’ll be seen as just another way to pay your friends for the half of the bar bill you “forgot” on Friday night.  But, we at The Levels see this as an important step by a British bank to get us, the great unwashed in the UK, used to mobile money transactions and the concept of micro-payments via mobile.

Banks, retailers and financial institutions have a vested interest here, a cashless payment is far cheaper for them to handle so of course Barclays et al want us to Ping for our coffee in the morning and for our taxi on the way home. Horribly convenient for us and more profitable for them.  We all win.

The MD of PayPal UK, Carl Scheible agrees.

“We’ll see a huge change over the next few years in the way we shop and pay for things. By 2016, you’ll be able to leave your wallet at home and use your mobile as the 21st century digital wallet.”

If you fancy debating the pros and cons of a cash-less society with us, we’re very much up for the debate.  However at this point we’d like to emphasise the better access to financial services that mobile micropayments present to all and above all the simple convenience of the whole process of mobile micro payments.  Well done Barclays for taking this baby step we look forward to see what happens next.

What’s the point of Yahoo?

As Carol Bartz is sacked we ask if the problems at Yahoo are simply caused by bad management.

The CEO of Yahoo, Carol Bartz, has been ousted from her job after just over 2 years at the helm of the rather troubled internet giant.  Apparently, she was informed by telephone that she no longer had a job and true to form sent a rather inappropriately worded email to all Yahoo staff announcing her sacking.

It could be argued that she’s been responsible for a lack lustre financial performance along with some questionable deals that included signing over their search operations to Microsoft.  Additionally, advertising revenues have remained flat during her time at the helm even though the market has been growing significantly.

So, Ms Bartz, you’re out of a job and the blame game is successfully in play.  But we at The Levels think that the problems at Yahoo are far more deep-rooted than simply some bad management.  What is the point of Yahoo?  Are you a media company, a technology giant, a communication provider?  When you look in the mirror what is it that you see?  Until you can answer this question we don’t think it matters who’s at the helm the problems you’re facing will only get worse.

As Microsoft, Apple & Google continue to carve up the digital world in a land grab that reminds us all to clearly of the Age of Empires (& no we don’t mean the computer game), what is the future for Yahoo without a clearly defined identity and raison d’etre?

So, if the board of Yahoo are listening we’d like to make the following suggestions:

1. Sell off your Asian assets

2. Don’t try to take on Facebook – do we really need ANOTHER social network?

3. Concentrate on what you do well and define yourselves through that.  See yourself as a communications provider and deliver the very best services out there.

4. Hire some good ad sales execs.

As we go to press we hear that an All Hands meeting of the Yahoo board and senior management is under-way.  Hopefully we’ll get some of those answers!

Read the original report of the sacking at AllThings D

Microsoft and Apple find common purpose as they gang up on Google

Apple versus Google in mobile warsHead on over to the official Google blog and you’ll find a very interesting article posted yesterday (August 4th 2011) entitled “When Patents Attack Android” that went on to spark a very pubic and very bitter argument  between the technology giants.

Chief Legal Officer at Google, David Drummond, used the original post to launch a highly critically attack on Microsoft, Apple & others for buying up mobile technology patents with the direct intention of limiting innovation and forcing up prices for handsets using the Android operating system.  In Drummond’s own words

“Android’s success has yielded…a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents”

This is what seems to have happened.   A group of companies (Rockstar) led by Apple and Microsoft have acquired a number of old patents previously held by Novell & Nortel that cover mobile operating software.  They were purchased for the princely sum of $4.5 billion, 5 times more than the pre-auction estimate.  A hefty investment and one seemingly made to inflict maximum pain on Google’s ambitions for the mobile space.

In doing so they are now able to levy a $15 licensing fee against every handset that uses the Android system.  They’re taking violations of these patents very seriously and have already launched suits against Samsung, HTC and Motorola.

Google have hit back and called upon the US Department of Justice to look into this purchase citing it as anti-competitive.   Google claim that the Rockstar group are both stifling innovation and limiting consumer choice and that rather than competing “by building new features or devices, they are fighting through litigation“.

At this point  Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith disputed Drummond’s version on the Novell patent issue on Twitter.

“Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no,” Smith tweeted in response to the blog.

And so it seems to go on with executives from both sides taking shots at each other over the issue.  But with the mobile market continuing to expand and the prize of dominating the (non-Apple) mobile OS space being granted to the winner of this fight we think it’s going to get much worse for both sides.

To read the original Google blog post go to

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-patents-attack-android.html

 

 

 

 

Has Android killed the video games star?

As sales of Android powered smartphones soar across the globe, Nintendo announces drastic cuts to it’s profit outlook and slash the cost of the new 3DS by up to 40%.   Has the Google effect finally hit the video gaming mark?Image of Nintendo 3DS

In a striking reversal of fortune for the world’s largest video game maker, Nintendo drastically cut its annual profit outlook on Thursday and said it would deeply discount its new 3DS hand-held device as it struggles to stem a flow of users to casual gaming across other platforms such as smartphones and tablets.

On August the 12th , Nintendo will cut the price of the 3DS, introduced in March, by 40 percent in yen and 32 percent in dollars, a remarkable drop so soon after a game system’s debut.

Nintendo said it lost 25.5 billion yen  in the three months that ended June 30, the first quarter of its fiscal year, as sales plunged 50 percent from a year earlier. The loss prompted Nintendo to lower its annual profit forecast 82 percent, to 20 billion yen ($257 million) for the year ending in March, down from a previous estimate of 110 billion yen. The company also slashed its annual sales forecast by 18 percent, to 900 billion yen.

The gaming giant had been looking to the 3DS, its first major innovation since the launch of the revolutionary Wii home console, to propel them back to the heady days of the success they achieved with the console so memorably advertised by Jamie Redknapp!  This hand-held machine lets users play games that appear in 3-D, without the need for the weird geek-boy glasses that accompany most current 3-D technology.

But sales of the 3DS — which went on sale in February in Japan and in March in other parts of the world — have fallen short of expectations, hurt partly by the device’s worldwide release date, just after the devastating earthquake that struck Japan in March.  However, this isn’t the root of the problems.

Nintendo have been badly hit by the huge up turn in sales of the Android powered smartphones that are being purchased in such large numbers that Samsung overtook Apple in terms of sales in Q2 of this year.

Smartphones that run Google’s Android operating system are the perfect platform for causal gamers to play instantly downloadable games and critically don’t require gamers to carry multiple devises as they travel.     Smartphones also allow users access to games played within social networks like the now ubiquitous Farmville.

Yes, the 3D technology is amazing and Nintendo have produced another revolutionary product but unlike the Wii this handheld is facing massive competition on multiple fronts.  Will casual gamers invest in this technology when smartphones are delivering a good (if not great) experience but critically a massive choice of available games, many of them free?    So with cost, portability and gaming choice already stacking up against the 3DS, do Nintendo have any choice but to slash prices?

Nintendo has dominated the last generation of consoles with the Wii  but for now, players complain of a lack of games for the 3DS, a problem that plagues most new systems. Nintendo said Thursday that two flagship titles for the 3DS — Super Mario 3DLand and Mario Kart 7 — would go on sale in November and December. The releases are expected to improve sales of the device.

But unless more consumers start buying the 3DS soon, third-party developers could be discouraged from making games for it, leading to a vicious cycle of fewer games released and fewer 3DS units sold.

Nintendo is hoping that the steep price cut will help drive sales. From August the 3DS will cost 15,000 yen in Japan, down 40 % from the original price of 25,000 yen.

In a letter posted online, Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president and chief executive, offered a profuse apology to Nintendo users, saying that lowering prices so soon after a game machine’s release was a painful move.

“Never in Nintendo’s history have we lowered prices to such an extent, less than half a year since the product launch,” Mr. Iwata said. “But we have judged that unless we move decisively now, there is a high possibility that we will not see many of our customers enjoying a Nintendo 3DS.”

Say hello to the new Leveller!

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve just appointed a new Leveller, Matthew Winwood who joins us as Managing Partner.  Matthew has launched some of the biggest and best websites in Europe including Techradar.com and joins us as we move into helping businesses across the UK and Europe improve their digital content offering.

Matthew has extensive experience in the web analytics and digital publishing industries  and will be working with clients to ensure that the content they are deploying works across multiple digital channels to drive maximum engagement, conversation and most importantly conversion.

You can get in touch with Matthew at matthew@the-levels.com.

Welcome to The Levels Matthew!