Tag Archives: mobile

Amazon Mobile SDK adds login, data sync, analytics for iOS and Android apps

Amazon Web Services has announced an updated AWS Mobile SDK, which provides libraries for mobile apps using Amazon’s cloud services as a back end. Version 2.0 of the SDK supporting iOS, and Android including Amazon Fire, is now in preview, adding several new features:

Amazon Cognito lets users log in with Amazon, Facebook or Google and then synchronize data across devices. The data is limited to a 20MB, stored as up to 20 datasets of key/value pairs. All data is stored as strings, though binary data can be encoded as a base64 string up to 1MB. The intent seems to be geared to things like configuration or game state data, rather than documents.

Amazon Mobile Analytics collects data on how users are engaging with your app. You can get data on metrics including daily and monthly active users, session count and average daily sessions per active user, revenue per active user, retention statistics, and custom events defined in your app.

Other services in the SDK, but which were already supported in version 1.7, include push messaging for Apple, Google, Fire OS and Windows devices; Amazon S3 storage (suitable for any amount of data, unlike the Cognito sync service), SimpleDB and Dynamo DB NoSQL database service, email service, and SQS (Simple Queue Service) messaging.

Windows Phone developers or those using cross-platform tools to build mobile apps cannot use Amazon’s mobile SDK, though all the services are published as a REST API so you could use it from languages other than Objective-C or Java by writing your own wrapper.

The list of supported identity providers for Cognito is short though, with notable exclusions being Microsoft accounts and Azure Active Directory. Getting round this is harder since the federated identity services are baked into the server-side API.

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Having it both ways: can Microsoft equally back Windows Phone and “Any device”?

I attended an event in London which was a kind-of UK launch for Windows Phone 8.1. The first Lumia device running 8.1, the Lumia 630, is now on sale, though this was not the main focus. It was more about asking businesses to take another look at Windows Phone (and Windows tablets), following improvements Microsoft has made. The company is particularly pleased with a new white paper from MobileIron, a well-known company in mobile device management, praising the new security and manageability features:

Windows Phone 8 did not meet the stringent policies some enterprises required for protecting corporate data and resources. The release of Windows Phone 8.1 changes the game. Microsoft is delivering a rich new feature-set for business users, and providing IT departments with the compliance and security they require. These new security and management features, called the Enterprise Feature Pack, are included as a core component of Windows Phone 8.1. When combined with an enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform, these capabilities make it much easier for enterprises to adopt the Windows Phone platform.

Fair enough, though from what I can tell Windows Phone is still struggling to get the momentum it needs. Too many companies perceive that if they support iOS and Android then that is it, job done, as evidenced by this advertisement I saw recently. This in turn dampens sales. It is an unfortunate position to be in, particularly given the good work Microsoft (and Nokia) has done on the phone OS itself. I prefer the Windows Phone user interface to that in Android, but still need an Android device in order to try out new apps.

This could change if Microsoft can continue gradually bumping up its market share, but it is tough. The wider company is now side-stepping the problem by focusing on its strengths in Office, Active Directory and Office 365, and offering first-class support for these on iOS and Android, as evidenced by the excellent Office for iPad launched earlier this year.

There is a dilemma here though. Some Windows Phone users choose the phone because they feel it will work best with Microsoft’s business platform. Could the “any device” policy end up undermining Microsoft’s efforts to promote Windows Phone?

I put this to Chris Weber, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Mobile Device Sales, who has come to the company from Nokia (before which he was at Microsoft, so a true Windows veteran).

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From a business perspective, providing cloud services, management, security, it is a multi-platform world. It is a great business decision for Microsoft to be multi-platform. Customers demand it as well.  That doesn’t mean we don’t want to create the most compelling platform and set of devices that bring Windows to life. I think the cross-platform thing is a great story … but the benefit of us [Nokia and Microsoft] coming together is now we have hardware, software and services that can be integrated in a totally different way, and we’re one of the few players that have all those components. The level of integration is much greater on the Windows platform. For example, Office is built in, you don’t have to go to a store and download it. The Linq client is built into the calendar. The email client, being able to have rights protection. The mail client itself is the best of any of them. The ability to access a SharePoint site across the firewall without a VPN connection, unique to Windows Phone.

Then we also have to win the end user. We have to win IT and those requirements, but you also have to get end users excited. Things that you see in 8.1, like Cortana, there’s a huge benefit there. And we’re bringing that across every price point.

Fair points; yet currently the iPad has a better touch-friendly Office than Windows tablets or Windows Phone; and Windows phone users have frustrations where the integration falls short. One remarkable thing, for example, is that there is no way to use a shared Exchange or SharePoint calendar on Windows Phone other than in the browser, so no integration with the built-in calendar or offline support.

What Weber describes, near-perfect integration between Windows mobile devices and Microsoft’s server applications, should be the case though; making this even better should be a high priority for CEO Satya Nadella’s new Microsoft.

Weber makes the bold claim that he can convert any user to Windows Phone, but says the challenge is to make this happen at retail level, when the customer wanders in looking for a smartphone:

If you give me fifteen minutes, I think I can convince any iPhone or Android user to move to Windows Phone. We have to do this not in fifteen minutes but in probably a minute and a half, at retail, with people who are selling multiple devices and are used to selling the competitor platform more than us.

Focusing on enterprise integration is in my view long overdue, and a few large enterprise adoptions would give Windows Phone a significant boost. At retail though, my guess is that Microsoft’s main hope is what Nokia did so well: delivering a good smartphone experience in budget devices – the “every price point” to which Weber refers.

Xamarin 3.0 brings iOS visual design to Visual Studio, cross-platform XAML, F#, NuGet and more

Xamarin has announced the third version of its cross-platform tools, which use C# and .NET to target multiple platforms, including iOS, Android and Mac OS X.

Xamarin 3.0 is a big release. In summary:

Xamarin Designer for iOS

Using a visual designer for iOS Storyboard projects, you can create and modify a GUI in both Visual Studio and Xamarin Studio (Xamarin’s own IDE). The designer uses the native Storyboard format, so you can open and modify existing files created in Xcode on the Mac. The technology here is amazing, since you iOS controls are rendered remotely on a Mac, and transmitted to the designer on Windows. See here for a quick hands-on.

Xamarin Forms

Xamarin has created the cross-platform GUI framework that it said it did not believe in. It is based on XAML though not compatible with Microsoft’s existing XAML implementations. There is no visual designer yet.

Why has Xamarin changed its mind? It was pressure from enterprise customers, from what I heard from CEO Nat Friedman. They want to make internal mobile apps with many forms, and do not want to rewrite the GUI code for every mobile platform they support.

Friedman made the point that Xamarin Forms still render as native controls. There is no drawing code in Xamarin Forms.

“The challenge for us in  building Xamarin forms was to give people enhanced productivity without compromising the native approach. The mix and match approach, where you can mix in native code at any point, you can get a handle for the native control, we’re think we’ve got the right compromise. And we’re not forcing Xamarin forms on you, this is just an option,”

he told me.

Again, there is a quick hands-on here.

F# support

F# is now officially supported in Xamarin projects. This brings functional programming to Xamarin, and will be warmly welcomed by the small but enthusiastic F# community (including, as I understand it, key .NET users in the financial world).

Portable Class Libraries

Xamarin now supports Microsoft’s Portable Class Libraries, which let you state what targets you want to support, and have Visual Studio ensure that you write compatible code. This also means that library vendors can easily support Xamarin if they choose to do so.

NuGet Packages

The NuGet package manager has transformed the business of getting hold of new libraries for use in Visual Studio. Now you can use it with Xamarin in both Visual Studio and Xamarin Studio.

Microsoft partnership

Perhaps the most interesting part of my interview with Nat Friedman was what he said about the company’s partnership with Microsoft. Apparently this is now close both from a technical perspective, and for business, with Microsoft inviting Xamarin for briefings with key customers.

Hands on with Cordova in Visual Studio

At TechEd this week, Microsoft announced Apache Cordova support in Visual Studio 2013. A Cordova app is HTML and JavaScript wrapped as a native app, with support for multiple platforms including iOS and Android. It is the open source part of Adobe’s PhoneGap product. I downloaded the preview from here and took a quick look.

There is a long list of dependencies which the preview offers to install on your behalf:

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and

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The list includes the Java SDK, Google Chrome and Apple iTunes. The documentation explains that Java is required for the Android build process, Chrome is required to run the Ripple emulator (so you could choose not to install if you do not require Ripple), and iTunes is required for deploying an app to an iOS device, though a Mac is also required.

The license terms for both Chrome and iTunes are long and onerous, plus iTunes is on my list of applications not to install on Windows if you want it to run fast. Chrome is already installed on my PC, and I unchecked iTunes.

Next, I ran Visual Studio and selected a Multi-Device Hybrid App project (I guess “Cordova app” was rejected as being too short and simple).

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An annoyance is that if you use the default project location, it is incompatible because of spaces in the path:

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The project opened, and being impatient I immediately hit Run.

When you build, and debug using the default Ripple emulator (which runs in Chrome, hence the dependency), Visual Studio grabs a ton of dependencies.

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and eventually the app runs:

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or you can debug in the Android emulator:

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A good start.

Microsoft has some sample projects for AngularJS, BackboneJS and WinJS. This last is intriguing since you could emulate the Windows Phone look and feel (or something like it) on Android on iOS, though it would look far from native.

The preview is not feature-complete. The only supported device targets are Android 4.x, IOS 6 and 7, Windows 8.x Store apps, and Windows Phone 8.x. Windows Phone debugging does not work in this preview.

Office, Azure Active Directory, and mobile: the three pillars of Microsoft’s cloud

When Microsoft first announced Azure, at its PDC Conference in October 2008, I was not impressed. Here is the press release, if you fancy a look back. It was not so much the technology – though with hindsight Microsoft’s failure to offer plain old Windows VMs from the beginning was a mistake – but rather, the body language that was all wrong. After all, here is a company whose fortunes are built on supplying server and client operating systems and applications to businesses, and on a partner ecosystem that has grown up around reselling, installing and servicing those systems. How can it transition to a cloud model without cannibalising its own business and disrupting its own partners? In 2008 the message I heard was, “we’re doing this cloud thing because it is expected of us, but really we’d like you to keep buying Windows Server, SQL Server, Office and all the rest.”

Take-up was small, as far as anyone could tell, and the scene was set for Microsoft to be outflanked by Amazon for IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and Google for cloud-based email and documents.

Those companies are formidable competitors; but Microsoft’s cloud story is working out better than I had expected. Although Azure sputtered in its early years, the company had some success with BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which launched in the UK in 2009: hosted Exchange and SharePoint, mainly aimed at education and small businesses. In 2011 BPOS was reshaped into Office 365 and marketed strongly. Anyone who has managed Exchange, SharePoint and Active Directory knows that it can be arduous, thanks to complex installation, occasional tricky problems, and the challenge of backup and recovery in the event of disaster. Office 365 makes huge sense for many organisations, and is growing fast – “the fastest growing business in the history of the company,” according to Corporate VP of Windows Server and System Center Brad Anderson, speaking to the press last week.

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Brad Anderson, Corporate VP for Windows Server and System Center

The attraction of Office 365 is that you can move users from on-premise Exchange almost seamlessly.

Then Azure changed. I date this from May 2011, when Scott Guthrie and others moved to work on Azure, which a year later offered a new user-friendly portal written in HTML5, and Windows Azure VMs and web sites. From that moment in 2012, Azure because a real competitor in cloud computing.

That is only two years ago, but Microsoft’s progress has been remarkable. Azure has been adding features almost as fast as Amazon Web Services (AWS – and I have not attempted to count), and although it is still behind AWS in some areas, it compensates with its excellent portal and integration with Visual Studio.

Now at TechEd Microsoft has made another wave of Azure announcements. A quick summary of the main ones:

  • Azure Files: SMB shared storage for Azure VMs, also accessible over the internet via a REST API. Think of it as a shared folder for VMs, simplifying things like having multiple web servers serve the same web site. Based on Azure storage.
  • Azure Site Recovery: based on Hyper-V Recovery Manager, which orchestrates replication and recovery across two datacenters, the new service adds the rather important feature of letting you use Azure itself as your space datacenter. This means anyone could use it, from small businesses to the big guys, provided all your servers are virtualised.
  • Azure RemoteApp: Remote Desktop Services in Azure, though currently only for individual apps, not full desktops
  • Antimalware for Azure: System Center Endpoint Protection for Azure VMs. There is also a partnership with Trend Micro for protecting Azure services.
  • Public IPs for individual VMs. If you are happy to handle the firewall aspect, you can now give a VM a public IP and access it without setting up an Azure endpoint.
  • IP Reservations: you get up to five IP addresses per subscription to assign to Azure services, ensuring that they stay the same even if you delete a service and add a new one back.
  • MSDN subscribers can use Windows 7 or 8.1 on Azure VMs, for development and test, the first time Microsoft has allows client Windows on Azure
  • General availability of ExpressRoute: fast network link to Azure without going over the internet
  • General availability of multiple site-to-site virtual network links, and inter-region virtual networks.
  • General availability of compute-intensive VMs, up to 16 cores and 112GB RAM
  • General availability of import/export service (ship data on physical storage to and from Azure)

There is more though. Those above are just a bunch of features, not a strategy. The strategy is based around Azure Active Directory (which everyone gets if they use Office 365, or you can set up separately), Office, and mobile.

Here is how this works. Azure Active Directory (AD), typically synchronised with on-premise active directory, is Microsoft’s cloud identity system which you can use for single sign-on and single point of control for Office 365, applications running on Azure, and cloud apps run by third-parties. Over 1200 software as a service apps support Azure AD, including Dropbox, Salesforce, Box, and even Google apps.

Azure AD is one of three components in what Microsoft calls its Enterprise Mobility Suite. The other two are InTune, cloud-based PC and device management, and Azure Rights Management.

InTune first. This is stepping up a gear in mobile device management, by getting the ability to deploy managed apps. A managed app is an app that is wrapped so it supports policy, such as the requirement that data can only be saved to a specified secure location. Think of it as a mobile container. iOS and Android will be supported first, with Office managed apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Mobile OWA (kind-of Outlook for iOS and Android, based on Outlook Web Access but delivered as a native app with offline support).

Businesses will be able to wrap their own applications as managed apps.

Microsoft is also adding Cordova support to Visual Studio. Cordova is the open source part of PhoneGap, for wrapping HTML and JavaScript apps as native. In other words, Visual Studio is now a cross-platform development tool, even without Xamarin. I have not seen details yet, but I imagine the WinJS library, also used for Windows 8 apps, will be part of the support; yes it works on other platforms.

Next, Azure Rights Management (RMS). This is a service which lets you encrypt and control usage of documents based on Azure AD users. It is not foolproof, but since the protection travels in the document itself, it offers some protection against data leaking out of the company when it finds its way onto mobile devices or pen drives and the like. Only a few applications are fully “enlightened”, which means they have native support form Azure RMS, but apparently 70% of more of business documents are Office or PDF, which means if you cover them, then you have good coverage already. Office for iOS is not yet “enlightened”, but apparently will be soon.

This gives Microsoft a three-point plan for mobile device management, covering the device, the applications, and the files themselves.

Which devices? iOS, Android and Windows; and my sense is that Microsoft is now serious about full support for iOS and Android (it has little choice).

Another announcement at TechEd today concerns SharePoint in Office 365 and OneDrive for Business (the client), which is getting file encryption.

What does this add up to? For businesses happy to continue in the Microsoft world, it seems to me a compelling offering for cloud and mobile.

Embarcadero pre-announces AppMethod cross-platform development tool: Delphi repackaged?

Embarcadero is spilling the beans on a new development tool called AppMethod, which has its own site here and a little more information on TechCrunch. A fuller reveal is promised at SXSW, which kicks off on March 7 in Austin, Texas.

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But what is AppMethod? The IDE looks very like Delphi, the languages are Object Pascal (like Dephi) or C++ (like C++ Builder), and target platforms include Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It would be extraordinary if the GUI framework were not some variant of FireMonkey, the cross-platform and mobile framework in Delphi.

Just Delphi (and C++ Builder, which is Delphi for C++) repackaged then? In a comment Embarcadero developer evangelist David Intersimone says that is “way off base” though the only firm fact he offers is that AppMethod is less capable than Delphi for Windows, which presumably means that Delphi’s VCL (Visual Component Library) framework for Windows applications is not included.

Lack of a feature is not a compelling reason to buy AppMethod rather than Delphi so Object Pascal enthusiasts must hope there is more good stuff to be revealed.

I looked out for the Embarcadero stand at Mobile World Congress (MWC), which was a small affair tucked away in the corner of one of the vast halls.

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The stand was hardly bustling and was overshadowed by a larger stand next to it for another app building tool, AppMachine. While I would not read much into the size of a stand at MWC, that accords with my general sense that while the recently added cross-platform and mobile capabilities in Delphi have won some take-up, it is a small player overall. Embarcadero may feel that a new name and a bit of distance between FireMonkey/Delphi and the original Windows-only tool will help to attract new developers.

Samsung evolving KNOX into complete mobile device management solution

Samsung introduced KNOX at the 2013 Mobile World Congress (MWC). It is a secure app and data container for Samsung mobiles, backed by hardware, enabling businesses to run apps that are isolated from a user’s personal apps (which might include badly behaved or even malicious apps). Data is encrypted so that business secrets are safe if the device goes astray.

The core of Knox is a hardware process called TIMA (Trustzone Integrity Measurement). This checks for tampering in the core operating system (trusted boot) and sets a tamper bit if it detects a problem. The tamper bit cannot be set in software alone.

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A device with KNOX activated can be flipped between personal and business (KNOX) personalities. It is like having two smartphones in one. Whether this is a desirable approach is up for debate, but it does secure business apps and data.

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We did not hear much about KNOX after last year’s MWC. It was released a few months later, but snags included limited device support (only the latest Samsung devices), the need to prepare apps with a special KNOX wrapper before they could be used, and the need to hire a Samsung partner like Centrify to provide administration tools.

All that has changed following last night’s announcement of the next generation of KNOX. Highlights:

Most apps can now be installed in KNOX without any special wrapper

You can use a third-party container such as Good, Fixmo Safezone, or MobileIron AppConnect in place of the KNOX container, but still using KNOX hardware protection.

Two factor authentication (for example requiring a fingerprint swipe as well as a password to access a KNOX container)

KNOX supports Microsoft’s workplace join (a kind of lightweight domain join) for secure access to Microsoft network resources.

Samsung has introduced a cloud-based Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool called KNOX EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management). This runs on Microsoft’s Azure platform and integrates with Azure Active Directory (which can itself link to on-premise Active Directory) so that small businesses on Office 365, or large businesses which prefer a cloud tool, can manage both Knox and other devices. EMM is primarily aimed at SMEs but apparently can scale up without limit.

EMM will also support non-Samsung devices.

EMM includes an app marketplace allowing businesses to purchase and deploy apps. The example we were shown was the Box cloud storage service.

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Availability is promised for the second quarter of 2014.

Samsung Galaxy S5 with Gear 2, Gear Fit: quick hands-on, screenshots

Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 Android smartphone at an event last night in Barcelona, during Mobile World Congress. I attended the launch and spent some time trying the new Galaxy after the event.

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The first thing that struck me is how light it feels. It is 145g according to the spec.

Here is the home screen:

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The UI in general is clean and easy to use:

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I was interested in the camera, having looked at the camera on the new Sony Xperia Z2 yesterday, in comparison to the Nokia Lumia 1020. The S5 has a 16MP camera and Samsung showed off its fast automatic focus in the press launch. Here are the camera options:

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I took a couple of snaps with both the S5 and the Lumia 1020 for a quick comparison. The Lumia easily bested it. I’d judge that the Xperia Z2 would easily best it too. That said, the camera is fine and I doubt users will be disappointed; it’s just not the best choice if you are particularly keen on photography.

Health is big theme, especially in conjunction with the Gear Fit band. Samsung’s JK Shin said that keeping fit is a third key feature in a smartphone alongside camera and connectivity. Here is the fitness app:

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Samsung has included a heart rate sensor, so I took my pulse:

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There is a Kids Zone, reminiscent of what Microsoft has done for Windows Phone:

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Other notable features are water and dust resistance, fingerprint sensor with PayPal integration, and apparently new Enterprise security features of which I hope to learn more later today.

It looks like an excellent phone. A game changer? Enough to draw users from Apple? It feels more like just another smartphone, albeit a good one, but that may be just what the market wants. No silliness like the S4’s air gestures, just a solid new smartphone.

On sale date is April 11 2014.

Key specs:

  • LTE Cat.4 (150/50Mbps)
  • 5.1” FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display
  • 2.5GHz Quad core application processor
  • Android 4.4.2 (Kitkat)
  • Camera: 16MP (rear), 2.0MP (front)
  • Video: UHD@30fps, HDR, video stabilization
  • IP67 Dust and water Resistant
  • WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac HT80, MIMO(2×2)
  • Bluetooth®: 4.0 BLE / ANT+
  • USB: USB 3.0
  • NFC
  • IR Remote
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, Hall, RGB ambient light, Gesture(IR), Finger Scanner, Heart rate sensor
    2GB RAM
  • Storage:Internal Memory: 16/32GB, microSD slot upto 64GB
    Size and weight:  142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g
  • Battery: 2800mAh Standby time: 390 hrs / Talk time: 21 hrs
     

What’s up with Facebook acquiring “we don’t sell ads” WhatsApp

Facebook has acquired WhatsApp for a breathtaking $16 billion. Too much money by any normal valuation; but that might not matter if it makes sense strategically.

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What is the value of WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is on a path to connect 1 billion people. The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable.

says Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook is purchasing an extension to its “social graph”, a billion people’s interconnections. The obvious goal is to accomplish two things:

  • Defend Facebook from disruption and keep users on its network – particularly the younger demographic that may be drifting away.
  • Gather more data which will be used for targeted advertising and potentially rich future services.

There are two companies which dominate the Internet today, and they are Facebook and Google. Their business model is mainly advertising, but they may be better perceived as data companies than as advertising companies. The big bet is that future technology will revolve around smart, deeply personalised services that will improve our lives, based on what they know about us, our friends and connections, our location, our preferences and and our schedule. The clearest expression of this is Google Now which can notify you when to leave for your meeting based on current traffic – without you having to spend time configuring settings or entering data. Google looks at your schedule (which it knows through your calendar), your location (which it knows through your smartphone), mashes that data with its mapping and traffic services, and surfaces the result as a notification.

The trade-off is that you hand over your data to Google (enabling it to provide ever-richer services) while receiving in return an easier life.

Does the deal have a dark side? Undoubtedly. Might future services be paid for, might Google or others take advantage of that data in ways we dislike? Quite possibly. This is the bet though; and it is everywhere.

Take the automotive industry for example. I wrote up the latest buzz in automotive marketing for the Guardian, and heard this from one of the experts I consulted:

“The actual car; the engine, the wheels, the drive shaft, the bodies, those have become commodities. The differentiator for cars is the in-dash system, the computer," says Patrick Salyer, CEO of Gigya. “If car companies can connect with their customers’ social login, they can build a permanent lasting relationship. If the car company tracks things about me like my driving habits and where I go, it is actually a value add insight. That is a reason to stay with that car company”

Salyer thinks that Facebook, Google and automobile companies are in a war to own that data. It is all about the data.

This therefore is what Facebook is buying: future data, in a messaging service that because of its mobile orientation may prove to be a kind of successor to email and SMS messaging.

That is the rationale, but will it work? The problem with WhatsApp is that it is fashionable; and what comes into fashion can go out, too, especially for the young. You can bet too that Google (Facebook’s biggest problem) will counter by using its OS platform, Android, to point users towards its own messaging services. If you have an Android phone you are already logging into Google, no need to sign up for another service.

Who knows, two to three years from now we may be joking about how much Facebook paid for WhatsApp. But Facebook can afford a few big gambles, and does not need for all of them to come off.

Postscript: you should read WhatsApp founder Jan Koum’s blog post on Why we don’t see ads while it is still online.

Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought. At every company that sells ads, a significant portion of their engineering team spends their day tuning data mining, writing better code to collect all your personal data, upgrading the servers that hold all the data and making sure it’s all being logged and collated and sliced and packaged and shipped out… And at the end of the day the result of it all is a slightly different advertising banner in your browser or on your mobile screen.

Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.

Money, as songwriter prophet Bob Dylan observed, does not talk. It swears.

CES analyst predicts flat global consumer tech sales, massive dominance of smartphones and tablets, drift towards low-end

At CES in Las Vegas yesterday, CEA Director of Industry Analysis Steve Koenig presented data and predictions on global tech spending trends. The figures come out of CEA Research and are based on sales tracking at retail outlets around the world supplemented by other data.

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This being CES, I was expecting a certain amount of hype around how consumer technology is changing the world, but in fact Koenig’s presentation was matter-of-fact and somewhat downbeat. He said that the overall consumer tech spending trend is flat, with rising spend in emerging markets (especially China) more or less making up for declining spend in mature markets, which he says is due to market saturation. His figures show 2% growth in spending in 2013 but a 1% decline in 2014. Given the uncertainty of this kind of forecast, let’s call it flat.

The “market saturation” factor is a point to ponder. It suggests that technical devices are “good enough” for longer. It also suggests that overall the new gadgetry on show at CES is not sufficiently exciting to persuade us to spend a higher proportion of our income on consumer electronics.

Looking at his figures though, it is not just a matter of saturation. Another factor is device convergence. We are spending less on cameras and camcorders because a smartphone is good enough. We are spending less on printers because there is less need to print stuff; we can view it on a tablet. We don’t need a SatNav any more; we use a smartphone (or it is built into the car’s dashboard). In fact, we are loving our smartphones and tablets so much that spending on almost any other kind of tech is in decline. Here’s the slide showing how these mobile devices are forecast to account for 43% of consumer tech spending in 2014:

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Spending on smartphones is forecast to increase by 9% in 2014, and on tablets 6%. Almost the only other broad category for which significant revenue growth is forecast in 2014 is video games consoles, thanks to the launch of new generation Xbox and PlayStation boxes (maybe Steam boxes too). That is a product cycle, not a long-term trend. Personally (my thoughts, not Koenig’s) I reckon games consoles will decline thanks to competition from smartphones, tablets and smart TVs. Global TV sales are expected to increase by 2% in units.

The other big picture trend identified by Koenig is the reduction in the average selling price (ASP) of smartphones and tablets. Smartphone ASP is down from $444 in 2010 to $297 in 2014.

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This trend is partly because the quality of cheaper devices has improved, but also because the emerging markets which are spending more are also markets that want lower prices. Taken together, this translates to a significant shift towards the low end. Overall, CEA forecasts that tech spending in developing markets, primarily on low end devices, will equal tech spending in mature markets for the first time in 2014.

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Of course this is largely an Android story. I will add though some reflections on what has happened with Windows in the light of these trends. Microsoft was right to adapt Windows for tablets, but if you look at how Windows 8 was launched there was too much focus on the high-end, trying to copy Apple rather than compete with Android. That was a mistake, and it is only recently that OEMs like Asus, with its T100 Windows 8.1 tablet, have started to come out with decent low-end devices. Nokia on the other hand has done exactly the right thing with its Lumia Windows Phones, building market share with excellent low-end smartphones. Whether that momentum will be sustained following Microsoft’s acquisition will determine the fate of the phone platform. 

Finally, note that forecasting the future is never easy and this time next year the picture may look quite different.

Update: Koenig’s slide deck is here.