404 Ben Bajarin

Trojan Horse Messaging

Many in the west do not appreciate the mobile messaging phenomenon that is sweeping through other countries. WeChat, WhatsApp, Line combined have over a billion users. Viber was a fast growing messaging app Japanese retailer Rakuten announced last night that they acquired Viber for $900 million dollars. Their CEO called it a “no brainer.”

I use this chart, to show the user scale of select messaging apps / platforms.

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Messaging apps started to gain momentum as consumers in emerging regions elected to pay for data services rather than text messaging services. Many in emerging markets were driven to buy their first smartphones so that they could use Facebook and a messaging app of choice. I like to use the analogy that in emerging markets, Facebook is acting like AOL, and the messaging apps are acting like AOL IM. Both were key drivers in many western consumers getting online for the first time.

However, once messaging apps like WeChat in China begin to take advantage of their captive messaging audience, they started implementing things that turn the service into much more than a messaging app. Messaging, as it turns out, was the trojan horse for a much bigger ecosystem play within these messaging apps.

Last year WeChat launched a new payment service which supported Tencent’s popular commerce store Yixun. Think of it as a store similar to Amazon but in China. Now from WeChat consumers can do all their shopping as well directly from within the app. What is becoming clear in China is that messaging apps are becoming a walled garden for services more than just a messaging platform. Increasingly mobile messaging apps are contributing to a growing mobile commerce environment in China. Note this chart from iResearch out of China.

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While a comprehensive study can also be done to showcase what LINE and WhatsApp are doing to evolve beyond messaging, I’m interested, for the time being, in thinking about how or if western markets may adopt a similar environment where a single app becomes a dominant form of not just communication but also commerce.

Could Facebook evolve into this? Twitter? What about Amazon? Someone new? Right now mobile shopping in western markets is largely dominated by Amazon and its app as well as local retailer apps like Target. While it is possible to have a comprehensive mobile commerce experience in western markets it requires multiple apps to do so. Where this becomes interesting where an app has commerce but also a contact list of friends is the friend recommendations or what my friends are buying types of features. This is entirely missing in western markets. Which would mean that logically a company like Facebook or Twitter could conceivably add more commerce features or integrate with online retailers in more meaningful ways. Perhaps Apple, or even Google could also take their solutions more in this direction. Apple already has over 600m credit card numbers so perhaps they are in a position to integrate many many of the key features of messaging apps around iOS. In this case iOS is acting as the total platform like messaging apps are today. Food for thought.

Life Changing Tech

Where were you when you when the iPhone launched? More importantly, if you ever owned an iPhone do you remember the first experience you had? I do. I remember my first experience when I bought and used the original iPhone and it was profound. Life changing actually. Which is saying something since I had been using smartphones since the early days of the Handspring Treo.

When the iPhone launched I was actually at CES. My father, and the president of our industry analysis firm, left CES to go to Macworld where the iPhone launched. I’ve been at every Apple event but this one. Yet even though I wasn’t there the iPhone launch impacted my life–temporarily–even before I got my hands on one.

In the moments after the iPhone launched my father was walking around the MacWorld show room when he saw an Apple exec whom he knew. He was able to get a quick demo of the iPhone and even a demonstration that it could make a call. The exec offered to let my dad call someone. He called me on my cell phone. Ironically, I was in a meeting with the Windows Mobile team at CES when he called so I did not answer. When I got out of the meeting I listened to the message and it was my dad saying he called to tell me the iPhone was awesome and he was calling me from one.

Not long after my dad called me this same Apple exec demonstrated the iPhone to a number of national and international TV networks. Guess whose cell phone number was on the screen while he did the demo? If you guessed mine you are correct. Not only did my cell phone number make the news, still pictures of that iPhone with my cell phone number on it hit the pages of most major newspapers the next day. Guess what happened in the days following? I got a minimum of 1500 calls a day for about a week. Here is what was really terrible about this situation. Because I get many calls from the local, national, and international press looking for quotes and perspective on the latest news, I had to answer or at least listen to the voicemails of very single one of these calls. Since the iPhone had just launched I did do well over two dozen press interviews. I only have the numbers of several journalists in my contact list so most who call me I don’t know their number. Expecting and getting press calls during a period where several thousand people want to call your number because they saw in on their TV or newspapers was a surreal experience.

You might be wondering what some of these calls were like. I kid you not the vast majority were people calling me asking to talk to Steve Jobs. They assumed this number was a way to reach Steve Jobs and most wanted to pitch him on an idea or set up a meeting. How do I know this? Well after the first day I decided to start talking to people. At first I simply asked them why they felt compelled to call a complete stranger. A few were lonely and we had some interesting conversations. Some just wanted to see if it was a real number. But most would call and right up front ask “may I talk to Steve please.” Once I realized they were looking for Steve Jobs I decided for a few, if I was in the mood to mess with someone, I would pretend I was. I hope Steve forgives me but the prankster in me had to mess with a few folks.

Burned in my memory was a message one guy left for me via voicemail. He yelled at the top of lungs into his phone “dude your phone number is on the news!.”

The Merger of iOS and OS X

A financial analyst at J.P Morgan has floated a hypothesis about Apple and an iAnywhwere trend. It seems as though the theory is somewhat based on the same kind of logic that Microsoft used to create Windows 8. And we all know how that experiment turned out. So it is with a raised eyebrow that I read any theories relating to the merging a desktop OS and a mobile OS.

What Microsoft missed in this merger, and ultimately what is costing them dearly, is that they tried to unify an environment that catered to both a mouse and a finger. They could not create a new desktop class OS that did not include support for a mouse since all their legacy software, which is the foundation of Windows, is entirely based on a mouse based model. So to believe that OS X and iOS would merge is to discount the context for which both devices exist. It is also a gross misunderstanding of both the consumer and the commercial computing sector.

The commercial sector needs a device like a desktop and more specifically a notebook. These form factors are specialized now to use cases which require the user be stationary for long periods of time and do things like text entry, pro audio, video, and graphics, basically “deep work.” This is why a dedicated OS for “deep work” environments is necessary. There will always be these environments of hundreds of millions of people who rely on these form factors and need an OS specifically designed to help them be efficient and as productive as possible. It is hard to argue against a spec driven piece of hardware, big screen, and mouse and keyboard, as the best suited solutions for these environments.

The consumer space is an entirely different market. This market is where we see tablets, and the promise of tablets as a general purpose computer, poised to take off. This market does not do “deep work” all day long. What gets forgotten about the commercial environment is that there are a great many number of folks who sit at a desk all day and use a desktop or notebook but who don’t need to take their work home with them. With this context it is not surprising that, in the US at least, we have a saying. PC by day, tablet by night. PCs get the bulk of the usage—by those who own them or use them during the day–but at night the tablet is the favored device.

So a question of a pro tablet, or a device in which something like iOS and OS X would merge, would need to answer the question of what job is it designed to do and for whom? I would contend that the largest parts of the market will be well served by either a PC or a tablet, each with a dedicated experience taken into account the context of how it is used. This is why the separation of a desktop (mouse and mouse based software) environment and the mobile OS (touch and touch based software) environment makes the most sense.

This is not to say that consumers do not want to do more with their tablets. We believe they do and this is why our estimates for larger screen tablets is a growth segment. But these increase in capabilities and the software which drives them will come with a touch computing paradigm first and will almost certainly be rid of the mouse input methodology.


How do I find something I don’t know exists? When it comes to advancing a platform this question may be at its core. If a platform can answer this question it may very well become the most sticky platform on the market.

I’ve long said that discoverability is the one of, if not the most, sticky experiences a platform can offer. iTunes at its best is not just a place where you go to find the music you know you want to buy but a place to go discover new music and artists as well. I have fond memories of a startup called LaLa.com which was started by Bill Nguyen and later got purchased by Apple.

In case you aren’t familiar with how LaLa.com worked it was basically a social network for music lovers. When you signed up for the service you indicated which artists and type of music you owned and liked. The service would instantly put you in a network with folks who have similar musical interests to you own. Once in the network you could browse the music collections of those in your network. I got to spend quite a bit of time with Bill and the team early on and some data points stood out to me. The first was related to engagement.

When I first tried the service I recall spending at least two hours discovering new music. As I perused the artists liked or owned by people with similar musical interests to me I noticed many artists I wasn’t familiar with in genres I liked. LaLa.com was a deep rabbit hole of discovery. But what the LaLa.com team found was that people devoured the service when they signed up. The average time spent by a person who just signed up was 3.5 hours and the average daily time spend was 1.5 hours. These were the early days of the service but it proved that the rabbit hole of discovery drove deep engagement. What Lala.com taught us is that like minded humans are often the best sources to assist in discovery.

Several days ago I put out a very informal and certainly not scientific poll on my Facebook page asking my friends how they discover apps. 88% said they discovered apps mostly through word of mouth. The rest just perused the top charts and that was it. This again makes the case for human curation. In fact we have little to no evidence that a computer comes even close to human curation. We assume they will yet have no solid anthropologic evidence to suggest they will.

I recall reading a book called The Influentials a few years back during my initial behavioral science kick. This book articulated how, in American culture, one in ten people influence the behavior of the other 10. As I articulated this in projects I was involved in I called these people the party planners. From a marketing perspective, the goal is to get to the party planners.

Can a computer, or an artificial agent act as a party planner and influence my decisions or behavior? This is the key question. It is a question that any solution from Apple, Google, Microsoft, or others will have to answer. If they do then loyalty and engagement will only increase. If a platform can help me discover something core to my passions I didn’t know exist? How can a platform help me discover entertainment, food, travel, etc? If a platform figures this out, it will become a valuable part of its owners life.

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A few years ago I went an entire year without paying for TV. This was during the early days of Hulu. During this time period the only way I could get all the shows my wife and I wanted to watch was to hook my PC up to the TV. Things have changed quite a bit and today we can get very close to getting every type of content from the Internet including live sports.

Over the past few weeks I tried to get as much content as I could only from the Internet. With more live sporting events offering streaming options, like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, it seems that broadcasters are acknowledging that not only are there a lot of chord-cutters but that increasing numbers of people around the world have a device like a tablet or smartphone and want to stream this content online. Live content like news, and sports, was the hardest content to get during my year long experiment but is very close to reality now. However, during this more recent experiment I realized something about streaming I hadn’t before. It is not worth it to me to have to sit through a mess of entirely irrelevant commercials just to watch it for free.

Of course, it isn’t actually free. I pay a lot for broadband. The only “free” TV is to get a terrestrial antennae. One would imagine that in any future where chord cutting is viable that ISP’s could hike their rates. Many US providers do this today charging significantly more for broadband if you don’t bundle other services like TV as a part of your service.

Given that I will already be paying quite a bit to stream for “free”, I wonder if having to sit through an absurd amount of irrelevant commercials will be worth whatever amount I am saving. Not knowing what these pricing plans will be I’m assuming there will be a price where it is worth it and one where it is not. Once you can skip commercials it really is hard to go back to having to watch them again.

Some broadcasters (not all, yet) are already maximizing these streaming eyeballs the same way they do with pay TV broadcasters. If you haven’t noticed before, pay attention to how many times you have to hit the 30 second skip button to skip commercials with your DVR. At first it is 4 times or so but as the show goes on it could 7-8 or more times you have to hit the 30 sec skip button. During one hour long prime time show I noticed a commercial break lasting longer than 5 minutes. Suffice it to say, broadcasters pack as many commercials into these shows. Skipping commercials is an essential time saver for me. If they pack commercials into streaming shows the way they do broadcast shows, it could be a painful experience. For some, the savings is important, but for others I wonder where the cutoff of saving money to commercial skipping convenience will kick in.

Ultimately, the huge positive is that all we are seeing happening, with alternate ways to watch TV will force mercantilist service providers to actually compete for our loyalty. While I have nearly zero hope for wireless carriers, I’m hoping those who own my cable box will get their heads on straight.

Web Browsing as an Engagement Metric for Mobile

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Platform and browser share of web browsing statistics get used quite a bit. Yet, I’m not entirely sure this is the best metric, let alone the only metric, that is useful to indicate what has happening on mobile devices. We hear this word engagement thrown around frequently. But what does that really mean in a world where experienced smartphone and tablet owners spread their attention across a multitude of screens and platforms.

During the desktop web era, engagement was easy to gauge. The desktop web was really the only web in town. Even today it is interesting to see the global statistics for time spent engaging on the web favoring the larger screen PC form factor.

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The install base of smartphones has either just passed or is about to pass the install base of PCs (desktops and notebooks) yet the above chart shows that web usage is still dominated by larger screen PC like devices.

In the chart at the top from NetMarketShare it includes both tablet and smartphone operating systems. At a WW level, for mobile devices, iOS easily dominates web usage. Yet, this statistic alone, “engagement” is not limited just to browsing the web. What can not be tracked so easily (publicly) is engagement of a device or platform as a whole. It is likely Apple or Google know something about how iOS and Android are used every day by their customers but that data will never see the light of day.

Consumers browse the web, play games, download apps, watch videos, shop, talk on the phone, text/use messaging apps, use certain apps more than others, etc. I call this share of compute time. What I am interested in is what the share of compute time of a mobile device or tablet actually is with a consumer. Does Android or iOS have the larger share of compute time as a mobile platform? That is the ultimate question. We can circle around this data with app store statistics, engagement data from certain apps like Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, and mobile shopping data, etc., but a firm data point will be harder to come by.

That being said, the metric of web browsing will be an interesting one to watch. On my podcast with Benedict Evans he has said multiple times that we don’t even know it will be like going to a website in five years time. How we engage and browse the Interwebs could be entirely different in 5 years. We simply don’t know.

What we do know is that people will have a small computer in their pocket. It will be with them at all times. They will want to discover, pay, learn, play, be assisted, communicate, and any number of things with this device. The platforms that help consumers get the most out of these products will be the ones that win.


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This above chart is a look back as well as a look ahead. While forecasting is an imperfect science, and updates to forecasts are required annually, there is more market intelligence behind these numbers than meets the eye. Yet as you look at the above chart many questions need to be asked. Here are a few:

  1. What is the breakdown of screen sizes as a part of the smartphone forecast?
  2. What are the ASP brands as a percentage of smartphone sales over the time period?
  3. What are the sales breakdowns of PCs from consumer versus commercial?
  4. What is the mix of PC forecasts for both desktops and notebooks over this period?
  5. What is the break down of tablet screen sizes as a percent of the tablet forecast?

Those are just a few to start. When looking at forecasts, I like to think of each category as an onion. Unless the onion is peeled back and each layer further examined then the data is somewhat limited in its usefulness.

Looking at the above forecasts do not highlight the underlying trends in the market place. This is why, as an example, I broke out 9″ tablets as its own forecast line. Of course this form factor is included in the overall tablet forecasts but looking at it broken out brings with it more important observations.

This form factor, for example, begins to impede on the area where the consumer PC was once the only player in town. People are not replacing their PCs with small tablets, although small tablets are certainly many people’s first bigger screen computing device in emerging markets. The 9″ and greater screen size tablet will impact the future of the traditional PC more than the smaller tablets will. This is why I broke it out separately in that chart. There is still more to the story but looking at tablet forecasts within their respective screen size volumes and price bands are all key indicators of what is happening in the market.

Peeling back the onion in my forecasts it is likely 9″ tablets will outsell the notebook(clamshell) form factor by end of 2017 but highly likely it will happen by 2018.

This peeling back of the onion can’t stop there. I still have work to do on the tablet onion, which is my current focus. What are the price bands of tablets as a percentage of current and future market sales? What percent will be iOS, Android, Windows, and AOSP (Android open source), or something else? What are the major segments of tablets? Will it splinter beyond tablet PCs, kids tablets, media tablets, etc? Should we count the tablets that mount on walls at retail, or are used as menus at restaurants, or as interactive displays in museums and other public spaces as internet of things devices or as tablets? These are all things that require further research. I find as I go deeper on each of these things new questions arise that require even more research.

I know folks in the media like to bash forecasts. As I stated, it is an imperfect science. Yet many companies in the industry need and want to hear some sound logic and market research to help them shape their strategy going forward and justify investments currently being made for future products in certain markets. Although it is imperfect it is worth it to try and sort out.


I consider this an experiment. Experiments evolve over time but have to start somewhere. I’ve never blogged, even though folks say I write for blogs. Publically I write columns. Privately I write reports. Both have varying degrees of analysis woven in. While I write quite a bit, it is not my favorite thing in the world to do. Public speaking I enjoy quite a bit. Whether that is giving a keynote at a trade show or summit, or presenting my industry research and analysis internally to clients or company off-sites and executive summits, I enjoy talking more than writing. In Jr. High and in High School I was voted most talkative. I’m told I am a good communitcator but I want to get better. Much better actually. Both at communicating through the written word and the spoken word.

Which is why, for at least the next month, I am going to embark on the 500 word a day challenge. Some of the things I write will be more thought out while others will be me thinking out loud. I have very little expectations for this experiment other than to get one blog post out a day. Some of the content that shows up here may likely make its way to a more formal column, report, or presentation. Most of my content here will be about technology but on the rare occasion it may not. I think about things that fascinate me about technology to the point where people have told me I obsess about it. This is simply how my brain works.

Being an independant analyst I don’t convene with teams of people to pour over data and debate data points or argue over forecasts. I do most of this in isolation with a very few number of people whom I respect and understand the nuances of the anlayst business. A lot of things I write never find a home. Mostly because they are not fully fleshed out ideas, observations, or insights that are ready to be a column, report, or detailed analysis. I write down quite a bit of material that will find the light of day here on my blog. As I mentioned before, some of it will be more formalized but likely quite a bit of it will not. Sometimes I need to think out loud and rather than just debate with myself in my head (which I do much to frequently) I will think out loud here.

Hopefully, many of the smart commentors who follow and read many of my columns will chime in and and particiapte to the thought process. Writing 500 words or more a day may be a challenge. Or maybe it won’t. Ultimatley I hope the challenge will help my writing, my thinking, and overall my communicating. We will see if I keep up the 500 word challenge after the next month but I am committed to thinking out loud continually on this site. One last point. I am deeply passionate about my extra-curricular activities so, at least for now, I won’t post on the weekend.

I’ll share these posts on Twitter with the note *500 words so everyone knows what it is vs a column of mine I am tweeting.

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