Is Microsoft about to dump Bing?

A piece out of Business Insider today, by Matt Rosoff argues that maybe Microsoft is giving up on Bing. It’s a quirky question, businesses of this size don’t usually give up on products that are growing like Bing is. But nontheless Matt has some decent points, as below.

microsoft bing

Earlier today, Google and Mozilla renewed their deal to make Google the default search engine in the Firefoxbrowser for another three years.

This seems like Microsoft passed up a great opportunity to get more traffic to Bing. Right now, Firefox has about 25% market share and is used by more than 400 million people. According to Comscore, about 75% of the searches conducted from Firefox go to Google. (Users can manually select Bing or another search engine, but most don’t.)

Last year, Google paid Mozilla about $103 million for the right to be the default search engine. (That’s 84% of the Mozilla Foundation’s total $123 million, as per its 2010 financial statement, which were released in October — PDF here.)

That’s chump change for Microsoft. Even if the deal was much more expensive this time around as both companies bid up the price, Microsoft blinked first. Why?

Microsoft had no comment, but here’s one possibility: Microsoft has already reached its market share goal with Bing and is tightening the wallet to bring expenses under control.

The evidence:

  • Microsoft decreased Bing’s marketing spend last quarter. The Online group’s operating loss decreased for the first time in ages last quarter. That’s partly because sales and marketing expenses for the Online group dropped 25% last quarter (compared with the year-ago quarter). That’s a big shift from the previous four quarters, where sales and marketing expenses for Online rose 5% from the previous year.
  • It’s letting Bing talent migrate. Back in April, a former Bing engineer wrote that Microsoft was no longer spending big bucks to retain the best talent — instead, it was paying “far below market rates.” This year, two top Bing leaders — Satya Nadella and Yusuf Mehdi — took jobs elsewhere at Microsoft, suggesting that they saw more opportunity elsewhere (or that Steve Ballmer wanted to shift top talent away from Bing).

While Matt’s points are well argued he fails to address the fundamentals about why destop oriented browser based search may not be as appealing now, for Bing’s future. Businesses don’t make decisions like the size and scale of this one based on today’s conditions, they make them based on at least a 5 to 10 year window.

I’m not entirely convinced Microsoft is giving up on Bing at all. It could be that they’re recognising that desktop based browsers aren’t going as important in the future as it’s going to be – with the rise of mobile and tablet devices and growing search volumes, and it is because of Firefox that more people are willing to check out other browsers like Chrome, Opera etc.

It’s also worth considering that Google gave up it’s Twitter access a few years ago now, but no one seriously suggested that Google wasn’t taking search seriously. I wonder if they’re regetting that decision now?

Finally, it’s worth considering which search engine picked up exclusive access to Twitter, and also has exclusive access to Facebook – yep, that’d be Bing. Social Search – the seamless integration of arguably the world’s two largest Social media platforms and search data will be invaluable for both customer experience and algorithmic learning.

Perhaps it’s not that Microsoft didn’t want Firefox, perhaps it’s that they just think they don’t need it as much – because in the next few years social media sites are going to become even more important desinations than they are today and less people will use Search to get there.

India announces $35 tablet and the iPhone 4S

$35 tablet

Manufacturers in India have announced a $35 tablet, designed to get computing power to the masses.

The developer of the world’s cheapest tablet, Datawind, is reportedly selling the tablets to the government for roughly $45 per unit, and $35 for students and teachers. Regular readers will know from my previous post, that I thought India would be the obvious growth path of the future for tablet growth. I also  mentioned that I believed that  Apple may not be successful with it’s higher price points, but cheaper rivals like Android may be more successful as they have cheaper price points.

By comparison the cheapest iPad is $499, or  14 times more expensive than Datawind’s tablet, and the cheapest Android tablet the KindleFire at $199 is nearly six times more expensive.

Will Datawind’s tablet have all of the features of the iPad? No, not by a long shot, but the question has to be asked “Will the majority of the (impoverished) Indian public really care?” Will they lament the fact they can’t play Angry Birds, or Fruit Ninja? Almost definitely not, although that doesn’t mean that developers like Rovio (the makers of Angry Birds) may develop for the tablet anyway.

From the Washington Post:

Datawind says it can make about 100,000 units a month at the moment, not nearly enough to meet India’s hope of getting its 220 million children online.

Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal called the announcement a message to all children of the world.

“This is not just for us. This is for all of you who are disempowered,” he said. “This is for all those who live on the fringes of society.”

Despite a burgeoning tech industry and decades of robust economic growth, there are still hundreds of thousands of Indians with no electricity, let alone access to computers and information that could help farmers improve yields, business startups reach clients, or students qualify for university.

The launch — attended by hundreds of students, some selected to help train others across the country in the tablet’s use — followed five years of efforts to design a $10 computer that could bridge the country’s vast digital divide.

“People laughed, people called us lunatics,” ministry official N.K. Sinha said. “They said we are taking the nation for a ride.”

Although the $10 goal wasn’t achieved, the Aakash has a color screen and provides word processing, Web browsing and video conferencing. The Android 2.2-based device has two USB ports and 256 megabytes of RAM. Despite hopes for a solar-powered version — important for India’s energy-starved hinterlands — no such option is currently available.

iPhone 4S

Most of what needs to be said about the iPhone 4S has been said by technology bloggers and writers around the world already. The only thing I’d like to add is that Apple no longer looks like it’s leading the innovation it kick started. With more agile competitors, and more competitors in general, Apple’s once a year, or longer, release cycle doesn’t seem like innovation and leadership so much as it looks like it’s playing catch-up.  Of course, this isn’t writing Apple off – not by a long shot – but it’s interesting to note that there wasn’t nearly as much fan-fare and media attention in general about Apple’s latest release once the details had actually been released. There was more hype and build up, than reality. Interesting times for Apple.

Tablets in 2016.


Juniper Research has released an interesting report predicting the sales and shipments of tablets – including iPad and newcomers like XOOM, KindleFire, and the seemingly stalled Samsung tablet offering – by 2016.

Western Europe and North America are the biggest predicted ‘one stop markets’ – but the really interesting take away is the size of predicted demand coming out of India. Small, as an overall market participant by 2016, it’ll be interesting to see how it grows by, say, 2020, or 2025 as demand grows and, presumably, for non-Apple products, prices fall.


The future of marketing is platform agnostic

More than ever, with the constant development of new digital products, marketing and consumerism is increasingly divsersified and companies face a platform agnostic future.

It doesn’t matter how someone gets to your business, what is important is facilitating the opportunity for them to do so. Businesses can’t afford to not be where their current and future customers are. Businesses that aren’t able to convince themselves to open up to as many platforms and access points as is reasonable are doing themselves more harm than good.

Oils ain’t oils

Think about the petroleum industry, particularly petrol stations. Petrol Stations are one of the oldest living examples of a platform agnostic business model. Petrol station owners don’t care what vehicle you turn up in. They don’t care if you have a 30 year old 100cc scooter, a family sedan, a brand new Ferrari or a 10 tonne truck. It simply doesn’t matter to them, as long as you buy fuel (and some snacks) you’re the right customer. To them, the ‘vessel’ in which you’re going to consume the petrol isn’t their concern – they accept you’ve bought the vehicle you’ve chosen for your own reasons.

Carrying this example over, think about the ‘vehicles’ that consumers might use to research, evaluate and consume your company’s products. Consumers might use everything from various mobile phone platforms, the emerging tablet market, social networks and social media, websites, online forms, and all of the other various push and pull channels, such as EDM’s, PPC, outdoor advertising, newspapers, magazines, and retail stores etc. There are more channels than any one business can possibly be constantly across – but that’s OK.

Thankfully, fewer businesses each day are seeing digital, mobile and tablet marketing, as a way to dictate how people engage with them. Sticking exclusively with one or two technologies and expecting consumers to follow suit has all the classic trappings of losing market share and alienating whole market segments. Businesses that see the opportunity to engage with customers no matter what platform choice that customer independently made, will reap more benefits in the short and long term. Few, if any, consumers would purchase their smartphone with all of the companies they use at the moment in mind, while also making sure they’re all compatible, for example.

If your website, or app, is great on an iPhone, but not on Android, or Windows mobile, or iPad, or the Samsung tablet, or the RIM technologies tablet, that needs to be fixed, and quickly. Why? Because if your current, or potential consumers are having a poor experience trying to access you they’re less likely to try again in the future. Worse, they may just switch to a competitor offering a similar product with a more user friendly interface.  Even worse, if they can’t access your business on any of the platforms they’re using, few will bother to tell you – especially if they’re not a loyal customer – and if they are they may well be more critical in their feedback, and may well do it in a public arena, like twitter.

Being across every platform is impossible

Coming back to the example above – petrol stations don’t open up everywhere, they open up in strategically useful places. And the same sort of thinking can be applied to other businesses too.

Businesses don’t have to be across every social network, or every new technology that comes along. But they do need to have individuals that are given the time, and the explicit remit, to explore beyond ‘what’s cool’ and progress to what’s useful and what can be tangibly beneficial to both the company and the consumer. If a large percentage of your current core customer segment are Nokia’s, one might argue that there’s no need to optimise for Smartphones like iPhone or Android. But that ignores the growth potential laying behind your next generation of consumer.

This can be scary, no doubt about it. The leap of faith required to get new social, digital, mobile and tablet initiatives off the ground, where no solid figures exist, can be a hurdle which may be difficult for some to jump over.

After all, if no one else in the industry is doing it, and no one is making money from the social/app/other access product being suggested, how does anyone know it’s going to work? Well sometimes you just have to try these things – toe in the water approach if necessary – to see what happens next.

It’s hip to be Square

In 2011, it is once again hip to be square. Not in the 1980’s hit song Huey Lewis and The News sense, more’s the pity, but in the mobile banking payments sense, where a 2009 startup, Square, is leading the charge into the mobile payments space. But they don’t have the market to themselves and both proprietary credit card systems and other platform agnostic competitors are ramping up their efforts and their dislike for the company they see as the market leader.

A bit of background about Square. Square is a fantastic little company making waves in mobile banking and the US financials space as the builders of, what effectively amounts to a mobile credit-card payment dongle. The dongle, pictured below, plugs right into any audio socket on any iPhone, iPad and Android device, allowing the user to take payments quickly and easily, anywhere any time.

Square’s website says “Square enables people from all walks of life to accept credit and debit cards. Taxi drivers can get paid quickly without dealing with the headache of printers, pens and paper; a pastry chef that only sells at seasonal farmer’s markets now can accept payments without getting charged a monthly fee; food trucks now have a simple and mobile way to migrate from being limited to cash. You can even have your friend that owes you $20 pay you with their card since their wallet always seems to be empty when you remind them about it.”

Open to the major smartphone operating systems, Square is poised for growth unlike most other companies in its space. And its the ease-of-adoption factor which makes Square in particular so appealing. Anyone carrying an Apple or Android smartphone or tablet product can use Square.

And, importantly for both the money taker and the money payee, Square’s platform is credit-card agnostic. Square is as open as it can be, accepting payments from anyone, anytime, anywhere (in the US).

With any successful rise in an industry, particularly one as hot as mobile payments, there will be detractors. Overnight, Verifone’s CEO, Doug Bergeron wrote an “open letter” to the US finance industry claiming that Square’s services have serious security holes.

“Bergeron claims that anyone can “skim” or steal personal information off of a credit card’s magnetic strip using the Square card reader with a hacked app and to illustrate the vulnerability, VeriFone wrote a test app that can “skim” to prove their assertions.

VeriFone says the flaw is in Square’s hardware, which the company says lacks the ability to encrypt credit card data. It’s unclear if VeriFone’s claims have grounds, but it is a serious move on VeriFone’s part to call out a competitor publicly.” writes, Leena Rao for Techcrunch.

The letter, posted in full at the bottom of this post, says in part : In less than an hour, any reasonably skilled programmer can write an application that will “skim” – or steal – a consumer’s financial and personal information right off the card utilizing an easily obtained Square card reader. How do we know? We did it. Tested on sample Square card readers with our own personal credit cards, we wrote an application in less than an hour that did exactly this.

That may well be true but what the letter doesn’t say is that Verifone just happens to have its own competing product to Square’s and virtually the same thing can be said about its product offering. There’s nothing to suggest that an app couldn’t be written to mimic Verifone’s too. Verifone’s open letter also completely ignores the fact that a consumers money is protected by the credit card companies where fraud is reported.

Square hasn’t yet made a formal response, they seem, at least for the moment, to be waiting to see what the industry’s and media’s response is. And if that really is their tactic they might do well to wait it out as many social, tech, gadget and mobile media organisations are all highlighting that the ‘Square flaws’ are equally applicable to the company bringing them to light.

There isn’t a scheduled release plan for Square or Verifone to make their appearance in international markets – at least none that have been made public, but one can only assume and hope its a matter of time. With a smartphone market is set to double in size in the next two to three years in the US alone, not to mention global expansion possibilities to high-smartphone adopting nations such as the UK, Japan, China and Australia the mobile payments space is set to only get more fierce and competitive. If the big US players don’t arrive on Aussie shores soon, we may well see a local startup version in the mobile payment space.

Domestically, Australian banks and other financial institutions would do well to be early adopters of this technology. The appeal of doing business with upwardly mobile businesses, being seen as a progressive organisation while appealing to the broadest possible market through platform agnostic mobile delivery is a potential gold mine for growth.

Doing so would dovetail nicely into operational, product and marketing strategies that involve adoption of tangible value-add mobile products and mobile+social marketing integration – as well as creating a new market place with tens of thousands of small and micro-SME’s. And who knows where today’s SME’s will be in ten or fifteen years time. With the right growth strategies and wholesale funding products, the sky’s the limit.


The open letter to the industry from Verifone is below:

An Open Letter to the Industry and Consumers

Today is a wake-up call to consumers and the payments industry. Last year, a start-up named Square introduced a credit card reader for smartphones with the goal of making it very easy for anyone to accept credit cards through a mobile device. Seems like a great idea, but there is a serious security flaw that Square has overlooked that places consumers in dire risk.

In less than an hour, any reasonably skilled programmer can write an application that will “skim” – or steal – a consumer’s financial and personal information right off the card utilizing an easily obtained Square card reader. How do we know? We did it. Tested on sample Square card readers with our own personal credit cards, we wrote an application in less than an hour that did exactly this.

Let me explain how easy it is to exploit the vulnerability.

A criminal signs up with Square, obtains the dongle for free and creates a fake Square app on his smartphone. Insert the dongle into the audio jack of a smartphone or iPad, and you’ve got a mobile skimming device that fits in your pocket and that can be used to illegally collect personal and financial data from the magnetic stripe of a payment card. It’s shockingly simple.

The issue is that Square’s hardware is poorly constructed and lacks all ability to encrypt consumers’ data, creating a window for criminals to turn the device into a skimming machine in a matter of minutes.

There are hundreds of thousands of these unsecure devices already floating out there and more are given away for free every day. And because anyone can get their hands on these Square readers, anyone can masquerade as a legitimate business or vendor and swipe your payment card. Your card data is then instantly and illegally captured in the smartphone, un-encrypted – and voila, you’re a fraud victim.

Consumers who hand over their plastic to merchants using Square devices are unwittingly putting themselves in danger.

Don’t take our word for it. See for yourself at http://www.sq-skim.com where you can download the sample skimming application and view a video of this type of fraud in action.

Today we are handing a copy of the application over to Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and JP Morgan Chase (Square’s credit card processor), and we invite their comments.

Consumer trust is what’s really at stake. If the industry allows Square and other similar attempts to short-circuit security best practices, it will seriously jeopardize the integrity and security of the payment infrastructure and financial systems developed over the last three decades.

Secure payment systems, like those provided by VeriFone and other credible providers which adhere to the highest level of security practices, are critical in protecting consumers, merchants and banks. Without this protection, all commerce – conducted with plastic or mobile devices – is a catalyst for massive personal and institutional financial loss.

There is great promise in the future of mobile payments and our innovations will help drive the industry forward. It is our hope that both consumers and merchants will take it upon themselves to become educated on the security risks involved with some of these experimental payment acceptance methods, like Square, and make informed decisions to protect themselves and their customers.

We take security very seriously. Securing payment transactions is what we do, and yes – calling attention to and protecting against these types of security threats to consumers, merchants and banks is our responsibility.

We call on Square to do the responsible thing and recall these card skimming devices from the market.

Doug Bergeron
CEO, VeriFone

Mobile gaming chart of the now

It may be a flooded market place, and yes there are other markets out there, but Apple’s iphone, iPod and iPad markets are alive and well, and by far and away offer the most potential for great profit and distribution opportunity for gaming app producers.

Distimo’s September report provides insights into the seemingly ever growing gaming side of its ‘i’ gadgets.

A measure of the desire for an iPad.

It’s been hard to escape the fanfare that the iPad has generated over the past few weeks. And with good reason. The iPad is devastatingly pretty. It is, as you would expect very easy to use and well it has been a hotly anticipated product for over 12 months.

In celebration of the release of the iPad Mashable created a whole new section, media worldwide gave it broad and favourable coverage and all over the world pictures and video were streamed across the web and our televisions of individuals who lined up and waited for hours just to be the first to get one so they could have their images streamed across the web and our televisions.

Rupert Murdoch has claimed that the iPad may well save newspapers, well, save the media company that produces them anyway and there was outrage from some quarters about the ‘rich kids’ that bought them just to destroy them, (didn’t want to promote that stuff though so here a link to ‘will it blend’ blending an ipad.

But beyond all of the hype and the media’s reporting of the iPad launch the burning question is: what’s the demand from the consumers? How much do they want them? Are people as excited as they are about, say, an iPhone, or an android, or even just searching for Facebook, or Oprah or Coca Cola, or a really mundane product like .

The answers are below.

iPad vs nothing (a benchmark):

iPad vs iPhone

iPad vs Facebook

iPad vs Oprah – the really interesting thing here is that Oprah as a search term looked like it did better in the United States and (was massive in) Canada but then got outpaced in the rest of the world.

iPad vs Coca Cola

iPad vs Ebay

Amazing eh? Good to see the buzz build up, but perhaps a little disappointing to the Apple crew to not see the second ‘hump’ of iPad buzz be bigger than the first. Of course, this doesn’t take into account tweets and Facebook postings, but neither nor does it do that for any of the comparison companies.

What the Apple team would be particularly pleased to see though, and perhaps one obvious reason for Google searches not being higher, is the mass of media coverage. If it’s everywhere in the media then maybe there just wasn’t a need to search that much. Read three articles about it and you don’t really need to find out more about a flat, touch, tablet device that does less than an iPhone.

Will it be a huge seller like the iPhone? Perhaps, but it’s less about the products themselves and more about how you use them. An iPhone is a communication tool as much as a diary, social and consuming content device. The iPhone by Steve Jobs own words is a ‘great device for consuming’. He didn’t mention anything about connecting, communicating, talking etc.