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Opinions Technology

Smartphone is now officially boring. Wait, that can be a good thing!!

The rumour is true. When was the last time you got really excited watching a smartphone launch? I bet it was a long time ago. Even the once highly sought after leaks are all too lacklustre these days. I love to be on Twitter during a major launch event and watch some really funny mock-tweets. It has got to a point where people don’t even know the difference. They just love Apple and buy! see one of the Jimmy Kimmel creations below!

In all seriousness though, we all know that smartphones have transformed the world. Growth in smartphone base, number of apps, and the amount time people spend on the apps is just staggering. This is true despite seeming lack of innovation. I highly recommend reading this blog post. It highlights that Apple & Google are now unassailable until the next S curve is here. AR, VR, AI, voice and chatbot may all turn out to be a thing, but that may not affect the S Curve of the Smartphone. In fact, as the unit growth in smartphone continues, Apple and Google will focus more on improving software, experience and the ecosystem.

The massively increased share of revenue via app stores, is certainly a leading indicator of this shift. The reason I say the slow innovation is a good thing is because I believe it is an opportunity for Enterprises. They can focus now more than ever to catch-up on the incredibly challenging task of gaining, keeping and transacting with customers on Mobile. In fact, I strongly believe that many enterprises need to re-think their very perspectives on this.

We need to stop thinking of Mobile as “an interface” and think of it as “the interface” and invest sufficiently, where it matters

Imagine, a fictitious sandwich company that wants to leverage mobile. Sounds like a great idea. You can build an app to enable ordering, delivery, streamline payments, click-to-buy and a host of other things. Alright, assume you have a great app and a fantastic user experience but think about it for a second. How many of us will care to download the Sandwich company app, and even if we did, how many will use it or keep it without deleting? With almost zero footprint of user’s attention, it is incredibly hard.  Even more so for a sandwich company! Business, technology and operational complexity even in a sandwich business is significant, and it would be foolish to suggest that there is one strategy.

However I believe, as enterprises strive to leverage mobile they need to consider the following 3 key dimensions. Attention, interaction and transaction. If we consider economics of an app based commerce, we can assume for most businesses it means lower costs, increased margins and potentially great 1-1 customer experience. This is very foundation of e-commerce, so nothing new here; but apart from having a great product, I believe we need to incentivise customers along these dimensions.

Attention

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Unless you are Snapchat and you can make a rainbow jump out of people’s mouth, there needs to be a compelling incentive for customers to even notice your app. Some offers are simply not good enough – for instance “a chance to win X” or “a chance to win trip to Y”. We can do better! something tangible, of real benefit to the customer.
Best fulfilled in context and instantly. For the sandwich company for example – 40% off your first purchase, or £5 credit on first usage. Nothing new here, most mobile native start-ups do this, so I wouldn’t dwell on it too much.

Interaction

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How many times a day do you expect people to open the sandwich app? In order to continue to occupy people’s mind-space, we need to incentivise the customer regularly for visiting the app. I understand that this is easier said than done. Obviously some app categories don’t need this kind of interaction incentive. For instance, great content e.g. Netflix, ultimate productivity e.g. Dropbox, Social e.g. Instagram, to name a few.  So, interaction incentive is when you give something to the user for coming back to the app. Some games do this really well – every time you stop playing but come back to the game after some time, you get free virtual coins. Depending on the nature of business you can decide the frequency of your incentive. For instance, the sandwich company could do one of their best deals exclusively for app users every 2 weeks.

Obviously all needs to make commercial sense – generally though customer retention cost is less than acquisition cost and there can always be limited number of deals. Oh and there is word-of-mouth! invite a friend and both get credit. Remember Uber? Virulence is an important feature that needs to be built in to the app. It is expensive though! You could build social invites too. We all hate random invitations on Facebook, something to keep in mind!

Transaction

FreeCharge-Mobile-App

This is the holy grail. Assume that customer downloads the app, interacts with it regularly to redeem your generous incentives. How do you ensure they transact? Well firstly, the sandwich better be good, the ordering, payment, click-to-collect all needs to “just work”. That often is not enough, we still need to incentivise. You might think we’d be out of business after giving so much away in offers. However, with added volume of transactions, you will realise that it almost always makes commercial sense. Otherwise Starbucks wouldn’t do it – collecting stars on the app whilst having the ability to cut the queue is simply fantastic. So, how about an app exclusive loyalty program for our sandwich company? There can be a mix of options – coupons, points, virtual currency, or simply cashback.

It is needless to say that apart from offering direct incentives, your app can just create magic through experience that cuts the time and effort it takes for customers to transact or reduces anxiety associated with the transaction. Invisible payments (Uber), cutting the queue (Starbucks), live waiting times (Citymapper), real time tracking (Dominos) are all fantastic examples.

To sum up, I believe that whilst its not necessary to pester the users with deals & offers enterprises must make explicit effort to address the attention, interaction and transaction barriers when they think about their adoption and engagement strategy. While we hit the maturity curve of smartphone product lifecycle, it is now more important than ever for enterprises to catch-up.

A small disclaimer – I realise any generalising is dangerous & this may or may not apply for everyone. Thanks a lot for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section.

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Space exploration – We simply don’t have time on our side

May 25th 1961 or precisely 55 years, 3 months and 7 days ago;  in a historic address to the US Congress, President John F Kennedy set an unprecedented space exploration goal for a nation.

A goal that would challenge, push to the limit and test the very spirit and ambition of mankind.

An ambition that not only made the manned lunar missions possible but also unleashed a number of tech advances taken for granted today.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project…will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important…and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish..”

– US President John F Kennedy

Laptops, virtual reality, 3D graphics, modern solar cells, global positioning system – all were a result of this space race. Many decades later, humanity has made great progress in space. However as a space faring civilisation our accomplishments are relatively modest. Modern day visionaries like Elon Musk are working on grand ambitions to get colonies on Mars. Even though the path to get there is laced with failure.  Only today I learnt of Space X’s Falcon vehicle being destroyed, incinerating a new Facebook built satellite with it.

I think funding space exploration is a fundamental issue. 

No country is spending a huge amount of money on Space exploration and with the exception of SpaceX the private space exploration is still very nascent.

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National Space Budgets

I wonder why. See the chart here from Wiki. It is astounding – even NASA, the largest in the pack spends less than 1% of US GDP on space. In comparison, venture capital backed companies received a total of $68 Billion in funding in 2015 in the US alone and… wait for it… the US military defence budget was a whopping $600 Billion in 2015!! That is inconceivable to me. I guess in today’s capitalist world, space exploration does not yield a sufficient ROI. What about second and third order ROI of a much aggressive space exploration policy? JFK had the vision to see these, why don’t we?

space exploration isnt optional
To boldly go where no one has gone before isn’t optional anymore

I believe as a civilisation we need to set ourselves much bolder goals, and a much stronger vision. We should colonise planets, send out manned deep space missions and invest heavily in space propulsion technology. I know there are many problems on earth, almost too many. It is hard to divert precious time and resources to something that may not have immediate value or applications.

Time is witness that inward looking civilisations, however advanced for their time have perished in history books.

We have got to be different, we have got to work together and inspire the new generation of scientists, engineers and young citizens. I do believe though that in order for this status-quo to change, we probably need a turning point – it may not be a far fetched imagination that our civilisation will not set our differences aside unless we face a more fundamental reality of our existence in the Universe.

 Lets hope that reality unites us sooner than later. Thanks for reading, and in words of Spock – 

“Live Long… and Prosper”
🙂

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Opinions Technology

Pokemon Go and Google’s inception-ism

Folks, it is the Pokemon Go season 🙂 are you excited?

Battle-Multiplayer
Can someone tell me where does the Pokèmon Go?

Perhaps not?! Ok, tell me one thing honestly. Do you get strange looks from your millennial friends when they find out you haven’t played Pokemon Go or that you don’t know how to use Snapchat? 

Don’t play Pokemon Go? good news, you are not alone.

I will give you in on one more secret. I have never watched the “Game of Thrones”. For whatever its worth, I don’t feel like watching it either.

In the hyperconnected ADHD world, virulence is an everyday thing. New fads catch the masses and they spread like wildfire. Profound technology waves however, rarely do so. They start relatively unannounced. Grow like strong forces of nature, and are very hard to stop. The growth is rarely abrupt. Think – iPhone, social, e-commerce etc. the tweet below is a nice reminder.

Artificial intelligence, I believe is one such profound technology wave.

It is growing like a strong force of nature devouring information, getting smarter and better everyday. We are still in its early days but are beginning to see some really really cool applications. 

A London based company, and fully owned by Google is called DeepMind. We recently learnt that it improved the power usage efficiency / PUE of Google’s data centres by 15%. Can you imagine how much money that saves for the company that runs one of the largest data centre ops on the planet? Not too long ago, DeepMind AI became the first to beat a world champion at the infamously difficult game Alpha Go. These are not small developments. On a much larger scale they signify a tectonic shift in the maturity of machine learning. DeepMind algorithms use convoluted learning, more specifically reinforcement learning. In simple words, they learn without specific programming given a goal, they “try to figure the best way” to solve a problem.

These relatively specific developments when multiplied by the opportunity scale promises nothing short of a revolution. 

Abhi Shah

This one I believe is going to be an “Inside-out” one.

Take an industry e.g. aircraft manufacturing, apply deep learning and you have a 15% or even better efficiency in outcomes of a process for instance predictability in ordering of wing parts. Algorithms will let us learn causality like never before by letting these neural networks figure out hidden patterns. There is a good blog post by Google about machine vision visualisation; click the link in the caption below. 

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How a machine sees a painting (credit Google Research)

We are not too far away from an applications of computer vision that once seemed far fetched, for instance looking at your CCTV, your computer might tell you who is on the door before you find out! (Edit: Already solved). Ultimately more exciting and probably scary applications will come too. I believe that will take some time, and to my earlier point, highly potent AI has just made an unassuming entrance, now just wait and watch as it turns into an unstoppable force. I will leave you with an image created by convolutional neural networks – this sort of gives us a flavour of how computers “see” or some would say “dream” things. Credit Google Research.

Only if Google’s AI could teach me how to use Pokemon Go or Snapchat. Nope, I like being stubborn, I don’t think so.

Abhi Shah

So the difference between Pokemon Go and Google’s inception-ism is that one seems like a fad, and the other seems like a unstoppable tech wave, let’s see where they both lead us. 

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Soft power – why product leaders should instil and harness

From “dawn to desk”,  we go from task to a user story. Pressing  deadlines, endless kanban boards, life in the post-it lane is not easy. It can be quite stressful. Especially when your friends are known as Grunt, Bower, and Git. How can soft power help you? read on to find out more.

Product organisations are unique and team dynamic makes or breaks success for everyone.

Most product organisations need to operate at the intersection of creative, customer, data, and technology. In other words, variation of talent is crucial. It is worth pausing for a second and thinking about what contributes positively and negatively to this coveted “team dynamic”. I have observed that big words such as empowerment, collaboration, and alignment can be hard to translate on the ground. It ultimately comes down to how everyone on the team really feels. This in my opinion, is highly influenced by the type of power dynamic within the team.

This tweet really sums it up for me. Most of you may be familiar with leadership constructs that rely on hard power.  Even situational leadership talks about “directive” behaviour. In other words, you know, where you order, and people follow; there is little room for opinions or discussion.  While that might work in some places, it is definitely a disaster in product teams.

Leaders need to remember that using hard power vis-a-vis soft power is a one way street.

Interdisciplinary talent, differing skills & personalities is a norm when it comes to building products. Designers, engineers, data scientists, and marketers are all highly qualified & accomplished within their respective areas. As a product leader, you are rarely qualified to tell them how to do their job.  You use directive behaviour, and the first thing the leader loses is respect. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you don’t hold people accountable or you don’t coach and give feedback it just means that product teams are somewhat different. If a person on the team doesn’t respect you, you get no dedication, commitment and loyalty. In summary, the “power trip” you have just had does not help anyone.

There is a secret weapon though…. soft-power! It means influence, or your ability to persuade others without formal authority. This is one of the fundamental tenets of product leadership but very often forgotten.

Imagine working on a really complex app, and you need to get your UX designers to create magic. In addition, let us say you want to work an icon into the app to indicate camera functionality. Do you choose an image icon, you choose a camera, or you choose a circle with a red recording button? while it seems like a trivial decision, some product leaders will go on a power trip. They will say this is what I want, it is my way or the highway 🙂 this not only creates a potential sub-optimal outcome, it damages relationships in the team. Above all, the UX designer may not want to work with you, may stop caring about product that he may have felt passionately about.

Product leaders need to recognise that everybody is on the same side!

A product leader could instead suggest how they perceive customer goals, listen to ideas, persuade the designer, even give him or her a free leash to go out of the box and seek direct customer input. In my experience the latter option creates amazing outcomes. When given responsibility and freedom to choose, people put their hearts and minds into the task, they will feel a sense of ownership. This style of collaborative working, where a product leader instils and harnesses soft-power in the decision making, fosters a great team dynamic.

Teams are made up of people and not “resources”, success depends on how everyone on the team feels. Product leadership is not only about the “what”, but it is also massively about “how”