Like a lot of other people — about 4 million, to be precise — I’ve recently upgraded my mobile phone to an iPhone 4S and started enjoying Siri, the personal assistant that is perhaps the smartphone’s most talked-about new feature. Siri has garnered attention for several reasons, including:
- Siri’s ability to understand and translate natural language into useful responses. Limited commands, such as “Get Weather Report” aren’t required. Instead, Siri does an admirable job of interpreting regular speech, such as, “Is it going to cool off next week?”
- The potential for integrating Siri with a wide array of apps once developers are given greater access to Siri’s API. Imagine being able to use Siri to compose tweets, check in to venues, and buy movie tickets — all through natural language as opposed to a limited set of commands. This will happen, and it will be incredibly powerful.
- The application’s human-like sense of humor, which has spawned websites such as Shit That Siri Says. Apple’s engineers have apparently had a lot of fun enhancing Siri after Apple’s 2010 acquisition of Siri Inc.
Clearly, consumers are captivated not only by Siri’s current capabilities, but also by its potential to tie apps together through voice. And after several days of using Siri, I am too.
But do you know what data point jumps out to me as a far more important fact? The number of times I’ve used Google search since my first use of Siri = Zero.
That’s right. The idea of launching my mobile web browser, typing words into a text box (on a small screen, no less), and clicking a button to initiate a search suddenly feels about as antiquated as file/folder structures do in Microsoft Windows in comparison with touch-based app experiences. Just as Apple took on Microsoft by re-inventing (or at least perfecting) the process for storing and retrieving data, they’re taking on Google by attacking the search giant’s bread and butter. Why type the words “Best Mexican food Phoenix” into a text box when I can simply say, “Siri, I want a burrito?”
A few caveats that favor Android
If a humble end user like me can recognize this potential disruption to Google’s crown jewel, then Larry Page and company almost certainly do. They’ll counterpunch, and in fact, may have an upper hand for a few reasons:
- From a growth perspective, Android is far outpacing the iPhone (which you can learn more about in Mary Meeker’s amazing Presentation on Internet Trends, which I’ve embedded below). This may blunt the impact of Apple’s attack on Google Search.
- Android phones have had solid, if unspectacular, voice-based functionality for years now.
- Competitors (which can be acquired) will undoubtedly emerge to offer a competing level of Artificial Intelligence. For example, Iris (yes, that’s “Siri” spelled backwards) has already sprung up — with similar functionality — as the result of a mere eight-hour hackathon project.
Undoubtedly, however, Apple has changed the future of search with Siri. And if one company has proved that it can re-imagine an existing process, provide a user experience that promotes its rapid adoption, and turn the process into “the new normal,” it’s Apple. Siri is an outright assault on Google’s position as the dominant player in search, and this assault will become even more effective when Siri’s API permits interactivity with popular apps such as Yelp and foursquare.
So sorry Andy Rubin, but you’re wrong.
Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the the popular BlackBerry line of phones, is battling through tough times. The company’s stock price is down approximately 80 percent over 3 years in the face of intense competition from Apple’s iPhone and other smartphones running Google’s Android operating system. And just last week, the company released disappointing first quarter financial results, which included decreases in both net income and earnings per share compared with the first quarter of 2010.
And I haven’t even gotten to the bad news yet.
“But RIM Owns the Enterprise Market”
That’s the refrain that you’ll hear from most people in corporate IT during a discussion of RIM’s woes. And to some extent, it’s true (though the overall market share trend line is disturbing). However, BlackBerry’s position as the standard phone for major corporate customers is in jeopardy for a handful of reasons.
First, developers are bailing out on the platform
Apps are perhaps the most significant driver of growth for the smartphones and tablets. Unfortunately for BlackBerry, many of the top application developers don’t even bother developing for the platform. Sure, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter are there, but many of the more interesting new apps are available only on iPhone and Android devices (such as group messaging and photo-sharing apps).
Worse yet, there are signs that an exodus from the platform began long ago. One of the most high-profile cases occurred earlier this week when Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur announced that his company would discontinue its support for BlackBerry. As an added kick in the shorts to RIM, he then touted the potential of Windows Phone 7 as the best third option for a smartphone (behind the iPhone and Android devices, of course) in this video interview.
Second, commercial trends are driving enterprise policies
It’s no secret that the “consumerization of IT” is underway, with executive leaders demanding IT support for popular smartphones and tablets. Many organizations are responding by implementing “bring your own device” policies that permit employees to access corporate data from personal devices.
Guess which company stands to lose the most as this trend gains steam? It’s not Apple. Or Google. Or Microsoft.
Third, short product release cycles pose an unrelenting challenge
Since the release of the original iPhone in 2007, Apple has released a new version of the smartphone every year. And like clockwork, the iPhone 5 (or potentially, the iPhone 4S) is likely to be released in September of this year. Apple’s release cycle prevents the type of product stagnation that could slow the iPhone’s growth.
On top of that, roughly eighty-three (yes, 83) Android-based phones have been released since early 2010. Let me say that again: eighty-three Android phones in less than two years. While Apple differentiates its products for the high-end segment of the market by featuring simplicity, an “it just works” experience and an abundance of apps, Google is content to fortify its castle by partnering with an array of hardware manufacturers and service providers to gobble up market share among value-conscious consumers.
The relentless innovation from both Apple and Google hurt RIM by offering little time for the manufacturer to change consumer perceptions of its brand. Even an inspiring, radically innovative new product from RIM will have precious little time to resonate with consumers (and more importantly, business leaders) before another shiny new offering from Apple or Google pulls away the spotlight.
Fourth, the the iPad’s penetration into the enterprise has changed the game
While the iPad is commonly perceived as a consumer-focused device, between 65-80% of Fortune 100 companies have adopted the iPad for business use, according to reports. This phenomenon brings with it enhanced affinity for all iOS devices.
By contrast, BlackBerry’s release of the Playbook has been a disaster. RIM recently reduced its sales forecast to a range of 800,000 to 900,000 units in 2011, down from a projection of 2.4 million. Really — who wants a tablet that has to be tethered to a phone?
Living on the Edge
The truth is, all technology companies are just one misread of the market’s direction away from their demise. Blockbuster, for example, didn’t pivot quickly enough in response to challenges from Netflix and Redbox. Google, in former CEO Eric Schmidt’s own words, “screwed up” by failing to react to the rise of social networking (hence Facebook’s ascension as a rival advertising powerhouse). And Nokia reacted slowly as consumer preferences shifted away from feature phones to smartphones (at least in developed markets).
Like Nokia, which has turned to Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform in a fight for survival, RIM may soon be forced to embrace a rival in order to stop its free fall. Already, speculation has resurfaced regarding a potential acquisition by Microsoft.
So will RIM will choose to resurrect its BlackBerry brand through new products, a sale, or a partnership? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: RIM is in serious trouble, and it’s worse than you think. With developers fleeing the BlackBerry platform, consumer preferences driving corporate buying patterns, and product release cycles offering little hope for a sustained impact from new products, the story of RIM’s continued decline will be told through its sinking stock price.
Lately, I’ve become deeply troubled when I pay for items at most stores. And no, it’s not because I’ve run out of money due to poor budgeting. Nor am I suffering from kleptomania. Instead, I’ve simply grown tired of the ridiculous process that accompanies most in-store payments.
I mean seriously, what’s the deal with having to play a game of 20 Questions when making credit/debit transactions at most stores, gas stations and other venues? Are all of those questions necessary in return for the privilege of spending my hard-earned money? For example:
- Debit or credit?
- Would I like cash back?
- Do I want the entire transaction on one card, or do I want to split it among multiple cards (ahem, Target)?
- Will I confirm the total amount?
- Would I like a receipt for my transaction?
All I want to do is swipe my card. That’s it. No additional steps required. At worst, I’d like to make a quick card swipe and then answer one prompt to confirm the payment, similar to the process that Starbucks has put in place for its payment solution for mobile devices, Starbucks Card Mobile. Of course, the payment scenarios covered in the questions above need to be accounted for, but they should be subordinate to a quick-pay process.
Hopefully, the hour of a less-maddening, wide-scale payment process is at hand. Major players — from credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard, to mobile operating system manufacturers like Apple, Google and Microsoft — are all building solutions using Near Field Communication technology that will position mobile smartphones to someday replace wallets for many consumers. If you’re not familiar with NFC, then you can check out quick primers on how it can change our daily lives and why you should care about it.
But while I’m excited about NFC (which I’ve written about before), I’m left to wonder about whether it will truly ease my pain. Porting the standard payment process from wallets to mobile phones won’t cut it. Instead, for NFC to gain quick traction as a mainstream payment option, it needs to improve the payment experience for consumers through:
- Simplicity. See above. Hint: No more games of 20 Questions.
- Password flexibility. Entering a password for every payment is untenable. Consumers should be able to choose from a range of timeout intervals to prevent frequent password re-entry (though Apple recently tightened controls in this area).
- E-receipts. If you’ve bought anything at an Apple Store lately, you’re familiar with the standard — and wonderfully convenient — option of receiving a purchase receipt by email instead of in paper form. Manufacturers of NFC hardware and software should relegate paper receipts to a secondary, optional function, requiring an extra 1-2 screen taps.
- Security. Consumer confidence will be a key driver of NFC adoption. Scare tactics — such as Verifone’s alarmist letter demanding a recall of Square credit card readers — are are almost inevitable as companies battle for share in the emerging mobile payments market. But these tactics won’t slow NFC adoption if the payment options from the top providers prove stable and secure early on.
- Multi-Account Support. I’m not backtracking from my assertion that a quick-pay process is a matter of paramount importance, but NFC payment services need to support multiple bank, credit and online (i.e. PayPal) accounts.
Are these things really too much too ask? If anyone from Visa, Apple, Google, etc. needs help understanding the key requirements for NFC payments, then I’ll be happy to answer their questions. By now I’m used to answering a lot of them. I have tolerance for about 20.
What do you think it will take for NFC to gain acceptance as a mainstream payment option? Let me know with a comment below!