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.

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.”

Foursquare gets a make over but will it make a difference?

Foursquare imageIt’s been 2 years since Foursquare was launched and after obsessively checking in where ever we went & “making life a game” we Levellers pretty much lost interest in this social media service that asked for a lot yet seemed to give little in return, especially here in the UK.

Now, according to a company blog post of late last night, Foursquare is finally getting a make over and a whole lot more functionality. The aim of the game is to drive engagement and loyalty and stop the churn that’s been a big problem for the service in the past.

So, what are the new features?

1. Discovery – The new “Explore” tab aims to deliver recommendations to you based on your past behaviour, the behaviour of your friends and your loyalty to certain places.  The recommendations also include a bit of sophistication around time of day & day of week targeting. This information is driven by check ins, so arguably the more the check in the better the recommendations will become.

2. Encouragement – The concept of “Life as a game” has always been central to the Foursquare concept and this makeover sees a dramatic change in the leaderboard functionality to encourage us all to play a little harder.

The old leaderboard (and its simple points system and Sunday night reset) is replaced with a sliding 7-day barometer of you and your friends. Check-ins now trigger points for dozens of different types of actions – everything from discovering new places, trying new types of restaurants, visiting new cities, getting groups together, hanging out with old friends, and a few things you might not expect.

In their own words “From the early days, we’ve heard stories of foursquare’s game mechanics being a subtle motivator for trying a new restaurant or venturing a little further away from your local haunts. We’re excited to see how some of the new elements we’ve added will encourage people to actively explore the world around them.”

3. Loyalty – To self centred and materialistic folks like us, what we get back from a service that asks for as much input as Foursquare does is pretty important in getting us to use it.   So, Foursquare have introduced a whole lot more functionality aimed at merchants and businesses that are looking to reward our loyalty.  They’ll now be able to offer Specials to groups of friends, regulars, new customers, Mayors or simply anyone and everyone.  As users we’ll also be able to see Specials nearby, so it’s easier to find places that reward foursquare users.

So, in short a whole load of new stuff that aims to get us playing more but importantly rewarding us for doing so.  Will it get us back in the game?  Well, in our case, if the rewards are good enough, then the short answer is yes.  But will this be enough to drive global expansion of the service and compete with the likes of Facebook Places?  We’re not so sure it is.  To our minds Foursquare remains the domain of the hipster urbanites who can actually get value from the service but it’s difficult to see this rolling out to a more general population.  But good luck Foursquare, any social media service that tries to take a little bit back from Facebook is a good thing.

The new functionality rolled out on Android and iPhone last night, so get updating!

To read the blog post in full http://blog.foursquare.com/2011/03/08/foursquare-3/

The future looks bright for Google as US kids opt for Android

iphone v. android imageGoogle the guys we love to hate have delivered another set of bad news for the mighty Apple.

New research from Nielsen suggests that the future is looking very good for them as they make even further strides in the battle of the Smartphones.  In the US 18-24 year olds were significantly more likely to purchase a phone with an Android operating system than iOS or Blackberry.  27% of all active phones in the US are still iPhones but it’s the change in taste of the youth market that’s very telling.

This is great news for the publishers who’re  still facing the imposition of the 30% Apple tax and also for the techno-liberals (like us Levellers) who object to the closed wall garden approach taken by Apple and Blackberry.

We think that this is only Round 1 of an epic battle and we’re looking forward to the benefits delivered to the consumer as these mighty Krakens of the technology world go head to head in the mobile wars.

An app to please the music moguls. Welcome to FanTrail.

Fantrail logoSome may argue that the music industry only has itself to blame for it’s current ill health and lack of sustainable revenues. Clinging on to a past of the Sunday night Top 40 and the promise of wealth from the sale of singles to adoring teenage fans did nothing to future proof this industry that is now almost extinct on the high street at least.

Social networking sites have played a huge part in the discovery of new talent and the promotion of signed artists but the majority of labels still feel very uncomfortable about an environment that they can’t control and can’t directly commoditize.  So, when news of the launch of FanTrail (www.fantrail.com) hit our screens we knew that this would make a lot of moguls very happy indeed.

FanTrail is an iPhone app that allows artists / bands and their fans to connect but crucially provides a space their management to track and understand fans behaviour, purchase patterns and demographic profiles.  It’s free for both the artist / band and their fans.

FanTrail’s being launched at US music & entertainment gathering SXSW in Austin Texas next week and is a lovely piece of work.  It allows bands and artists to control and better still, start making money from their social networking space.  There are loads of cute innovations inside the app, but in short bands and their management can start of segment their fans by location, dedication and activism.

So what does this mean?  If an artist is up and running on FanTrail and they have some new material to test out they can send out an invite for a private gig to only their most active fans (the ones that buy the most music say) in a specific location, rewarding these guys with a money can’t buy opportunity.

The app also has the ability to release short sound bites, interview, samples of tracks etc to fans and once again this can be targeted by activism or location.   Fans score points by buying music through the app (& iTunes) and by checking in at gigs and concerts.

We think that there’s a rosy future for FanTrail.  The labels will love it as it has the ability to make them money, the management will love it because it makes their life just a little bit easier and the artists themselves will love it as it’s a lovely little app that allows them creativity.

So all you wannabe rock stars get yourself over to FanTrail and tell us what you think. (www.fantrail.com)