By adaptive - November 11th, 2015

When Will Mobile Apps Be Smarter than Us?

The true potential of mobile apps may yet to be unleashed, according to thought leaders at Open Mobile Summit SF. Susan Kuchinskas reports on the second day of the conference.

Kevin Weil, senior vice president of product for Twitter, launched the second day of the conference with a frank discussion of how Twitter makes decisions about whether and how to change the service. He noted that the somewhat-controversial switch from the favorite star to the liking heart actually increased engagement with that button 6 percent overall and 9 percent among new users.

The company is about to launch an ad campaign for Moments. He said this feature was designed to help close the gap between Twitters brand awareness and actual usage. "It makes the product simpler, and I immediately get value. It's also a new way to understand what's happening across Twitter and the world," he said.

Mark Rolston, founder and chief creative of Argodesign, asked conference attendees to expand their thinking beyond apps that run on phones or tablets. Instead, his company increasingly is helping clients develop services that are mobile, but out in the world, not on a phone.

He called these "invisible computing experiences" created by machines that may be smarter than humans in some ways. They can parse data to identify patterns and give humans recommendations.
"We're about to be hit by a rising tide of decision support for every aspect of our lives – every decision that can be supported by computing will be," he said. However, while these intelligent machines may be smarter than humans in some ways, their intelligence will
be very different from humans.'"

Don't be creepy

While Rolston painted the ability for apps to offer information without being asked, a panel discussed whether advanced personalization powered by machine learning might cross a line with consumers.
Giorgos Zacharia, CTO of Kayak, offered a simple rule: "If it would make us uncomfortable, we won't do it to our users."

The panel raised the spectre of four powerful global companies having access to immense amounts of personal data. Google wants to proliferate its machine-learning algorithms so they're available to more companies, according to Danny Bernstein, ‎director of product partnerships and integrations at Google. He said, "A global, all-knowing brand like Uber is a scary proposition."

Context is king

Mobile devices can provide a wealth of useful data about an individual's context, but much more could be done to exploit this.
Location is one important element necessary for mobile apps and services to better support human decisions, according to David Bairstow, vice president of product for Skyhook, a provider of location services. He said developers should "design for place" and let the app change depending on where the user is.

A dynamic app could layer other data sources over location to offer information or functionality specific to that place. For example, when someone enters a store, the retailer's app could change into store mode, providing a map of products in that particular store and a quick payment method.

Leanplum is another company plugging the idea of contextual information, called by CEO Momchil Kyurkchiev "mobile moments." He described a travel company use case in which the company booked a flight to Seattle for a customer, but not a car. The company could push the customer a travel guide ten days before the trip, and the day before, a weather update.

When he enters the geofence of the airport, if the customer has not yet booked a car the company could send him an offer. "A consumer wouldn't find this intrusive," he said. "He would find it useful.

Exhibitor Flybits told attendees about its context-as-a-service offering, allowing app developers to select from a menu of attributes, including location, social profile, purchase history, outdoor temperature and even heart rate. These can be used to power various offers or services, with A/B testing and analytics part of the package.

Localytics, also exhibiting on the conference floor, is a mobile marketing automation platform that enables the kind of rich targeting and personalization that improves retention, along with analytics and remarketing.

Ubiquitous content

Video accounts for an increasingly large proportion of mobile usage. A panel discussed the best ways to provide and distribute video, as well as aid consumers in discovering video content.

Ben Weinberger, senior vice president and chief product officer of Sling T, said that content needs to be:
• On-demand and immediate
• Simple and seamless
• Bite-sized moments
• Personalized and contextual

To do this, marketers and content providers alike need to understand what consumers have done in the past and what they are doing in the moment.

During the show, Sling TV also announced that it's part of T-Mobile's new Binge On service that provides unlimited data to subscribers who want to watch video from partners. T-Mobile also is subsidizing 30 percent of Sling TV's subscription cost for one year.

Keep it simple

Several of the speakers demonstrated how constant streamlining of the app experience led to better retention and more revenue.
Kelly Graziadei, director of global marketing solutions at Facebook, spoke of how Facebook has optimized its advertising and commerce offerings for merchants. "We want to improve the process from discovery to consideration to transaction through a set of products, some of which we've rolled out, some of which we're still testing," she said.

Graziadei said Facebook's goal was not to keep users on Facebook – they already spend the majority of their mobile time there. Instead, "Marketers are struggling to have a fast mobile web experience. So how do we help create a fast native experience with Facebook that drives increased browsing, consideration or storytelling?"

Part of the answer is Canvas, a new type of mobile ad where the content is hosted by Facebook. It's also improved tools to provide clickthroughs from ads to advertisers' websites, as well as enabling clickable video. Customers are getting results like 80 percent increases in CTRs or 400 percent increases in orders thanks to these enhancements, she said.

Optimizing the checkout experience is especially important. Will Flaherty, director of growth for SeatGeek, a service that lets fans search for and buy tickets, said the app's check out went through three iterations. At first, SeatGeek sent users to the third-party sites that were actually selling tickets to complete the transaction. But many of those partners had not optimized their own transactions for mobile.

Next, the company provided a native checkout function with just two taps for the user to purchase. Behind the scenes, SeatGeek handled the transaction with third-party sites using its own customers' stored payment information.
Most recently, it implemented Apple Pay. Although Apple Pay is designed for in-store POS, Flaherty said that it works extremely well for mobile. He advised other app developers to consider adding it to payment options.

Jeffrey Cruttenden, cofounder of Acorns Grow, a mobile-only investment platform, said his company reinvented investing in the stock market from the ground up and as a mobile-only experience. Traditionally, he said, investing is positioned as difficult, requiring the advice of expensive professionals. Acorns, on the other hand, was designed to seem easy and unintimidating for small investors, who invest as little as a few cents at a time by rounding up purchases. Designing the entire investor experience, along with tying into payment platforms and working with regulators, took two and a half years.

In a panel discussion, executives from mobile-native companies Shyp, Sprig and Partnerd emphasized the importance of clean design and apps that work well for different classes of users. Alon Salant, founder and CTO of Good Eggs, said that the company started from scratch to build the mobile service. "We thought a lot of customers might never even see the web experience, so we dropped the requirement that there be any parity between mobile and web," he said.

An app that simply performs well is another success factor. On the exhibition floor, Crittercise demonstrated its Mobile App Intelligence, which tracks the performance of apps rather than user behavior. The service can proactively identify issues before they affect end users, a company rep said.

Marketing and advertising

Greg Stuart, CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association, delivered the results of a $2 million study of major brands showing that mobile advertising delivers results whether the goal is awareness, intention or sales.
For example, Walmart increased offline sales by 6 percent with mobile advertising. Gold Peak Tea saw a 4 percent increase in offline sales, while AT&T saw a 12 percent increase in awareness.

He said the study proved that mobile advertising is highly effective. "Brands are missing a huge opportunity – one that won't last. It's based on first-mover advantage," he said.
The results were not broken out by demographic, and Stuart said that might produce more interesting results.

A panel focused on marketing to millennials agreed that this cohort is resistant to traditional advertising – including on mobile. Instead, millennials prefer content that feels authentic. Steve DeAngelis, vice president of Americas at M&C Saatchi Mobile, voiced the consensus: "We find the social platforms are the best forum to engage with them. Marketing to millennials is not about life stage but lifestyle."

As the conference concluded, it was clear that mobile has truly become the dominant consumer channel. And, while a robust ecosystem of tools and analytics enables companies to create, test and track mobile services, we are likely at the beginning of the reinvention of mobile itself.


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