Mobile Ecosystem Research

February 23rd 2016:  Radio Free Mobile launches a new product category looking at shorter topics relevant to the ecosystem. Issue No.1 deals with the issue of voice usage in digital ecosystems.

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Voice is where much excitement and hype is to be found. Every ecosystem is developing a voice controlled digital assistant with which it hopes to enrich Digital Life and control the homes of its users. However, RFM finds that voice suffers from significant limitations meaning that the user experience and functionality that it can offer is way behind that that can be achieved using a visual device. This combined with the fact that the intelligence of voice based systems remains rudimentary at best means that voice is unlikely to replace screens any time soon.

  • Three stages of understanding. RFM defines three stages in a machine’s development to be able to understand voice commands. These are: 1) High word accuracy, 2) understanding of the request in multiple word orders and formats and 3) understanding of context and circumstance. RFM thinks that it is not until machine understanding reaches stage 3 that voice can have any hope of challenging the established man machine interfaces of screen, touch, keyboard, haptics and mouse.
  • Defining voice. Despite these limitations, voice usage in ecosystems is growing very rapidly. RFM research indicates that voice usage is really growing only as an alternative to typing a request rather than as a rich two-way voice interaction with the ecosystem. Hence it is important to separate the two types of voice usage to understand voice’s place in the Digital Lives of users. RFM has termed these as one-way voice and two-way voice.
  • One-way voice is where voice is used as an alternative to using a keyboard. Most ecosystems have reached stage 1 making this use case viable. While, input is voice based, the response is delivered through the usual visual method. RFM thinks that the vast majority of voice requests in digital ecosystems use this method which will have no effect on the monetisation methods currently used by Google, Facebook etc.
  • Two-way voice is where voice is used as both input and output. It remains almost exclusively the realm of home speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. RFM finds that the rudimentary AI of digital assistants combined with the limited amount of information that voice can convey, often has these systems falling back on displaying results on a screen.
  • Voice in ecosystems. Digital assistants and voice based interfaces are driven entirely by the artificial intelligence that powers them. Although the search engines are leading the development of AI, all systems are far too rudimentary to replace visual based devices for the foreseeable future. Facebook is still the laggard when it comes to advances being made in AI.

 

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December 16th 2016:  Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – Artificial Intelligence – Men and boys.

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The difference between men and boys will be the brains of their toys. Artificial Intelligence promises to substantially improve the Digital Life services offered by the ecosystems which has underpinned a period of feverish investment. Despite this activity, developments are at a very early stage with none of the big challenges of AI being close to being solved. It is the search engines that are ahead in AI followed by Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. AI remains the Achilles heel of Facebook.

  • Artificial Intelligence appears at last to be coming of age. The prospect of making real returns on investment has driven all of the ecosystems to invest heavily.
  • Three goals for AI. AI is still in its infancy with three big issues to be solved. These are: 1) the ability to train AIs using much less data than today, 2) the creation of an AI that can take what it has learned from one task and apply it to another and 3) the creation of AI that can build its own models rather than relying on humans to do it. Performance in solving these three problems is likely to separate the men from the boys in the long-term.
  • Early days. RFM finds that most claims to AI are simply advanced statistics and that true AI is at a very early stage. Even the best have made little headway with the three goals of AI.
  • Law of Robotics. There is no doubt that good quality AI has the potential to significantly improve the quality of Digital Life services offered by the different ecosystems. Consequently, RFM sees AI being a major differentiator and now includes an assessment of AI as Law of Robotics No. 8: An ecosystem must have good artificial intelligence.
  • Digital Assistants are the first real deployment of AI in ecosystems and are being offered free in order to generate the data that is needed to continually make them better. Consequently, digital assistants are a good first yardstick of each ecosystem’s competence in AI.
  • Search engines. AI still requires vast amounts of human labour, great skill and copious data to develop which hands a substantial advantage to those that have been doing it the longest. Understanding data has been the livelihood of the search engines for many years. This is the main reason why it is Google, Baidu and Yandex that are the global leaders in AI and all of them are aggressively investing to maintain their advantage.
  • Fast followers are made up by Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. Both Microsoft and Amazon have scope to earn a return on AI in their businesses that are not part of the ecosystem. Apple appears to have voluntarily hobbled its AI development with differential privacy.
  • Facebook is the laggard with one of the weakest positions in AI globally. RFM research indicates that Facebook has real problems with automation. These have to be fixed otherwise providing customised services to 1.8bn users manually will be cripplingly expensive

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June 13th 2016:  Radio Free Mobile widens its coverage of global ecosystems with the publication of China Ecosystems – BATmen.

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Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BATmen) dominate the scene in China. Almost every smartphone is user in China has an active relationship with all three of these companies. This means that none of them have yet developed fully-fledged ecosystems but remain focused on one or two services only. This is where the big battle will be fought and while Tencent has best armoury, Baidu demonstrates the best understanding of how to use it.

  • China has grown up as a mobile first market. In many ways it is more advanced than its counterparts in the West and the usual rules do not apply. Internet control has meant that China is a huge market offering Chinese services for Chinese users almost exclusively by Chinese companies.
  • Services are highly developed but the ecosystem is not. Between them the BATmen dominate the Digital Life pie but unlike Google and Apple, none of them outright control the Digital Lives of Chinese users.
  • Ecosystem. Consequently, all of the BATmen need to expand beyond their areas of strength. This will lead them to start competing fiercely with each other as long term growth depends on them developing a thriving ecosystem where users spend almost all their time with one player rather than bits and pieces with all three.
  • Baidu is the smallest of the BATmen but RFM thinks it has the most potential to surprise. It is not a leader in Digital Life but critically it demonstrates understanding of exactly what it needs to do to evolve into a thriving ecosystem. Even with serious shortcomings in corporate governance, the ADR is very attractive.
  • Alibaba is the weakest of all the BATmen when it comes to the ecosystem. It is an e-commerce powerhouse but beyond that its understanding of the ecosystem appears limited. There is no sign of this changing which, combined with poor corporate governance and an expensive ADR, leads to potential downside.
  • Tencent is in pole position with a dominant position in Digital Life and the greatest resources to invest. Unfortunately, Tencent does not demonstrate deep understanding of the ecosystem and RFM fears that much of its potential may go unrealised. There is a lot of upside should things change, but of this there is no sign.
  • Xiaomi and China Mobile are the also rans as Xiaomi’s ecosystem has not seen real development for 18 months while China Mobile appears to be more interested in providing capacity. The BATmen are fortunate, as China Mobile is a heavy weight that could cause them real problems if it decided to get serious on the ecosystem.

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 February 21st 2016:  Radio Free Mobile updates its ecosystem monetisation model with a new slide deck.

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16 03 Mobile Ecosystems

 

Thanks to price erosion, the value of the smartphone and tablet markets are likely to decline this year. This will place even more emphasis on monetising ecosystems through advertising and subscription as revenue growth using these methods is based on subscriber numbers which are still growing nicely. This means that the fundamentals of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, Amazon and increasingly Microsoft, will perform better than those of Apple, HTC, Samsung, LG and so on. However to access that growth, execution in growing the scope of the ecosystem has to be first class and here there are huge differences between the different players.

  • Money Talks. Rapid growth in the past has been driven by ecosystems monetising their assets more and more efficiently. Once the existing assets are fully monetised, growth returns to baseline unless either coverage of the Digital Life Pie is expanded or more users are added. This is difficult to achieve and many ecosystems are likely to see growth fall before their new strategies are in place drive the next leg up. Twitter is a great example of this problem.
  • Google’s long-term ability to control Android looks increasingly doubtful. This is because Google Play is no longer heads and shoulders better than anything else at emulating what the Apple App Store has to offer. To counter this, and to fix the chronic fragmentation within its ecosystem, RFM thinks that Google will take complete control of Android and turn it into a vertically integrated proprietary OS like iOS or Windows 10.
  • Facebook has almost completely monetised the opportunity open to it with its current assets. This is why RFM sees Facebook engaged on expanding its coverage to include gaming, media consumption and search. With these in place Facebook has a chance to become by far the largest ecosystem with a revenue line to match. This will take some time to come to fruition and there is scope for a slowdown before this kicks in. Facebook is now Google’s biggest threat.
  • Twitter has no respite in sight. It is attempting to develop a live video offering in order to expand into the media consumption segment. Unfortunately, Facebook and Google are already there with their own offerings. Twitter continues to lack a bold strategy to return the company to growth which RFM thinks is exacerbated by having a part time CEO.
  • Yahoo has given a knee jerk response to its problems by cutting staff and assets. Yahoo Games and (RFM assumes) Maps are to be closed bringing Yahoo’s coverage down to 41%. Even with 41% coverage of Digital Life, Yahoo’s underperformance of its potential is startling with 88% of the opportunity being missed every quarter.
  • Apple and Microsoft serve as the do and do not of monetisation via hardware. Apple generates 5-10x the amount of “ecosystem revenue” via hardware than it could if it used advertising. By contrast Microsoft generates no “ecosystem revenue” raising questions about the viability of its consumer ecosystem.

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January 6th 2016:  Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – Money Talks.

Money Talks

 Low to zero device growth means that revenue is becoming increasingly critical to the ecosystem. RFM’s new monetisation model benchmarks ecosystems that monetise via advertising and allows assessment of those that monetise through hardware. Although Google has benefitted from iOS’s recent strength, there are real cracks appearing in its ecosystem which need to be urgently addressed. Elsewhere, Twitter remains gridlocked while Yahoo fails to execute. Facebook is the one with the most potential.

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September 21st 2015:  Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – Gated communities

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The days of walled gardens have passed and users can now come and go as they please. This results in users being able to pick and choose the services they want from different ecosystems. RFM’s analysis clearly indicates the number of services that a user takes from any one ecosystem will have a non-linear impact on the amount of value that the ecosystem owner can extract in the long-term. The iPhone 6 has allowed the iOS ecosystem to extend its lead over principal competitors Google and Microsoft. Facebook and Xiaomi are the two emerging players that warrant close observation.

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 June 15th 2015:  Radio Free Mobile updates its in depth research of Android with the publication of: Android – Bits and bytes – An update to the in depth analysis of the ecosystems based on Android.

1506 Android Bits and bytes - COVER

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May 11th 2015:  Radio Free Mobile deepens its flagship research product with the publication of: Microsoft – Mission Impossible – An in depth analysis of the Microsoft ecosystem

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Microsoft’s position is difficult but not impossible. Nadella’s mission, which he has decided to accept, is three fold. 1) Control legacy, 2) Bring the ecosystem to life and 3) Merge Digital Work and Digital Life. Microsoft must reverse its share declines in mobile, make its ecosystems delightful and fix its marketing in order to succeed. Fortunately, the shares of Microsoft are attractive even it blows Missions 2 and 3.

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February 24th 2015:  Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – Devil in the details


Devil

 


Ecosystems are becoming more sophisticated as users do more and with their devices. Consequently, how one ecosystem differs from another is becoming less obvious. RFM has introduced 4 new Laws of Robotics to better evaluate the different players. iOS continues to gain in strength while Google is still struggling with software problems. The lead challengers are Microsoft, Xiaomi and Yahoo! all of whom have a lot to do. 
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October 6th 2014:  Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – Tick of the clock

Cover - Tick of the Clock

 

The heady days are over. Growth is slowing and competition is growing. There has always been opportunity for change in the mobile industry but both Apple and Google seem to have found the holes in the armour and are moving to address their weaknesses. This puts a time limit on any challenger as the risk is that these two become so big and so ubiquitous that users cannot be bothered to look elsewhere. 

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June 16th 2014:  Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – Command and control.

 

Cover

Ecosystem importance continues to rise. Handsets and tablets are commoditising fast and only those that have an ecosystem or can supply value-added-technology have a chance at sustainable profitability. RFM sees good user growth for the next few years but already the ecosystem players are moving to cement control of their ecosystems. The end result is likely to be a series of proprietary ecosystems meaning greater fragmentation to cope with for both application developers and technology suppliers. 

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MAY 27th 2014: Radio Free Mobile deepens its flagship research product with the publication of: Samsung & Google – Gorilla War – An in depth analysis of the Google/Android ecosystem.

Google vs Smasung Cover

There is no money in Android. The value is in the ecosystems that sit on top of it. Samsung has mistakenly assumed that it can maintain its 18% handset margins by focusing on hardware. Consequently, it has been willing to cede complete control of the ecosystem to Google. This has ensured that Google will grow nicely driven by mobile advertising revenues while Samsung experiences declining earnings. RFM believes that holdings in Google should be increased, financed by holdings in Samsung.

Click here for a full summary

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FEBRUARY 20th 2014: Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – The second derivative

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It is time to look for the second derivative. Smartphones have been the belle of the ball so far but the place to now look is the ecosystem. This is because ecosystem users are likely to continue growing long after revenue growth in the smartphone market has fallen to zero. Here RFM would look to Yahoo!, Baidu, Google and Microsoft and forget about trying to eke out a painful commodity existence in Android.

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JUNE 4TH 2013: Radio Free Mobile launches its research product with the publication of: Mobile Software – iRobot

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The days of earning a return on hardware are numbered. To earn a decent return over the next 5-10 years, companies will need to make a difference to the way users live their Digital Lives on mobile devices. Fortunes change fast in mobile, and while iOS and Android are on top now, that could rapidly change as they are not without significant weaknesses. Of the challengers, Microsoft and Yahoo! are, by far, the most exciting.

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  •  Further distribution of this document is prohibited.
  • This license is upgradeable to a corporate license for $1,000.



2. Corporate license: US$1,399

  •  This license is for corporate use
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  •  Your copy will be watermarked with your company’s name
  •  You may use the document on any device that is owned by you or your company*
  •  You may distribute the document within your company* only.
  •  Any other distribution is prohibited.
  •  *company refers to the legal entity by whom you are employed. Queries regarding distribution under this license should be addressed to richard@radiofreemobile.com



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