Monday, August 02, 2010

Compulsively Impulsive 1.2

Seven years back I wrote something about impulse buying. The discourse hovered around apparel, fashion accessories, nick knacks, chocolates, confectionary items and frozen desserts. Those were the days when impulse buying was conditioned by shopper’s physical presence in the market. Impulse to buy used to strike when we were window-shopping, or when we were just walking down the street, saw a candy store and felt like munching something sweet - for no particular reason.

Fast-forward to 2010. After waiting for almost 2 years, I think I can now write this. Today there are enough iPhones around me (+ there are others – Google, RIM, LG etc – all is trying to ‘App-Enable’ their devices). The app economy is real. But there is something more than the cute games and smart productivity tools that the App Economy has created. I call it Impulse 1.2. The App World has single handedly personalized & digitized our purchase impulse like nothing else had before it.

If the success of eBay’s mobile application is any indicator then personalized and digitized impulse has already reached unimaginable heights. Earlier this year someone bought a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder for $139,000! If this example sounds like an extreme think about all the apps that are being bought on impulse. I know people who have bought almost $100 worth of apps in a year out of which not more than 10% are used actively. Sounds very similar to the many unused shoes in a woman’s cabinet!

Smart phones are doing to e commerce what SMS did to phone calls -Personalization, Spontaneity and Intimacy. If ecommerce helped people to shop from home, mobile commerce is helping people shop at the speed of thought (and feelings), from wherever they are. The collapsing of the time barrier between the desire to buy and the booting of a computer has lead to browsing & buying from the comforts of your couch. The time elapsed between knowing that the cushion behind your back is not comfortable or the flower vase on the table in front needs to change, and actually buying these has really shrunk. After reading about HiFi for many years ago, I finally begin to see it.

Market watchers estimate that the global mobile e commerce business which was worth about $18 billion in 2009, would grow explosively and reach $ 119 billion in 2015. The statistic does not surprise at all. Our emotions are fickle; expect mobile commerce to ride our flickering feelings like no other business has ever done in the past.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Meaning of Human Development – Notes from streets of Hong Kong

This is my fourth time in Hong Kong in the past two and a half years. I now feel that know something about this city. Something more than just a passing tourist’s photo stream or Visa hopeful’s city maps. So after a lot of back and forth, mental dribbling and a heavy downpour on my way from the nearest subway station, I decided to pen down my thoughts.

Hong Kong is like a moving theatre paused forever - everyone is moving around but nobody is going anywhere. It is tall, very busy, sometimes green, most of the times gray, proud of its glass-concrete, very cramped, always rushed, mostly hashed often rehashed, super calculative and much more of these. It is overflowing with business suited; straight haired fast walking women and carefully gelled, well clothed men, with the latest designs in apparel and accessories. They all seem to have come straight out of a style magazine.
Even the traffic police refuses to be ordinary. It is so well equipped that for a man like me who is used to seeing police with a big bamboo cane, these blokes look like astronauts who lost their way back home and ended up in the street.

Hong Kong has it all. It has the glamour, the energy, the stars and subway lines full of people who look like stars but have somehow decided to take the subway with you!

It makes you feel good about being single. It is a city that makes you want to be bachelor. It makes you want more. No, it actually makes you greedy and totally insatiated, for no matter how much money you decide to carry in your wallet – you will almost always feel poor.

Hong Kong is sorry-serious. No one has time for now. No one has time for anyone. No one has time because they have already spent all of it to make the money that can get them the time they really want. Everyone is busy fuelling his tomorrow.

Hong Kong speaks and you listen. Beeps, clicks, alarms, horns, announcements, and other such similar sounds dominate the airwaves, telling you about your mundane life. These are the sounds of the system that no one can see but everyone is blissfully intoxicated with. These are sounds that hold conversations and gentle whispers to ransom.

Stand anywhere in the city and you can’t escape the constant humming of the street. It is the echo of traffic sounds rising along the tall buildings that literally have their heads in the clouds - like a halo of some kind – of success or struggle, you decide.

So many people brush past you but nothing really touches. The touches do not move. The moves are not lasting.

In Hong Kong even the weather cannot touch you. The rain becomes a hassle - at best a topic of discussion about how it spoilt the dress or slowed the traffic or made you remember that you need to carry the umbrella. The raindrops disappear on their way down the glass panes – hoping for someone to notice them.

The bright sun is blocked and bored behind the buildings – with nowhere to go, other than home. The incandescence of the Vichy & Fancl signage never really allows people to look very far. The pursuit of a colon cleaned glowing look is what dominates many a damsel’s weekend agenda.

Hong Kong is the dwarf king of opportunity who gives each of his dwellers a personal shield. A shield of indifference, that makes it easy not to look people in their eye. A shield, that makes it easy to carry an expression that will discourage people from approaching you or smiling at you. And a shield that makes it easy to turn every interaction into a transaction, a transaction that must be completed in the notional quota of time allotted for it, for time is to be earned here not spent. Hong Kong is overflowing with human heat with no traces of warmth.

Not surprisingly - I see the marketing world understanding and profiting from this state of the society. On one side are adverts that talk about making women more attractive in various ways – from cosmetics, to mineral water and push up bras – and help them put their best foot forward (and get ahead in the corporate or guy game). And on the other hand there is the personalization and warmth industry that is trying to draw people’s attention. You see a cell phone exclaiming ‘let the life come to you’ (read enjoy yourself /get a life! With the social media features etc) and we have an airline exclaiming that each of her staff really enjoy what they do - so you can be sure of getting personalized services on board! (Read we are not cold and mechanical!)

Why has Hong Kong come to be like this?

Is it the dogged pursuit of money that makes people pragmatic and cold?

Is it the development or lack of it?

Is it their embrace of the ‘western ways’ of life that makes the city so full of itself with no room for anything else?

Is it the cultural change sponsored by the English?

Is it the ethnic background of the Han majority that originated mainly from Guangzhou & Taishan in Guangdong province in Southern China?

It sure is not the English – they were in India long enough, but India did not become like this. Not even the really big cities like Mumbai.

Then what is it?

It is Darwin?

When you put 70,55,071 people in about 1104 square kilometers, you get a density of over 6000 people for every kilometer. You also get an urban jungle, thin on all kinds of personal resources.

Hong Kong is just this – an urban jungle where everyone is fighting for survival and minding the gap between what they need today and what they can get. The daily struggle for survival takes out the humane from the humans. From there comes the dog eat dog race, the survival of the fittest - the constant challenge to outlast the one next to you. And Hong Kong does outlast almost everyone - with an average life expectancy of 80 years for men and 86 years for women – Hong Kong is ahead of almost the whole world when it comes to survival! But ‘survival’ and ‘living’ were never really the same. I also find the ‘survival of the fittest’ a little awkward because if you look at the development indices – Hong Kong is a developed city, in fact it is among the top Alpha Cities of the world. Developed and yet struggling for survival?! I have not been to another place like this before.

I often used to tell my parents, that Hong Kong is like a bonsai New York. This time I added one more thing to this description. Hong Kong is the Mumbai without the innocence but with the flyovers and other trappings of a developed world. I say this because Mumbai is not very different from Hong Kong in some basic ways. In about 600 square kilometers we have about 13830884 people, which gives us a density of 22,920 people per square kilometer – far higher than Hong Kong’s. But still – Mumbai does not feel the same dog-eat-dog, survival of the ‘coldest’ place or at least not as much. It still has some innocence left in it.


I believe it is the stage of development. The more economically developed a place, the more people believe in the Theory of Evolution. Look the survey chart here - it shows belief in Darwinism across the most developed societies in the world. I am sure if this survey were carried out in Hong Kong, it would also figure in the upper quartile.

Truth always seems to come with a dose of irony. The idea of development is usually linked with notions of peaceful coexistence and equilibrium etc. However it also seems that as societies develop, they tend to become more of where we as a species started from – believers in survival of the fittest.

As the rest of China urbanizes – I would not be surprised to see more Hong Kong’s mushrooming all over the country. Shanghai is leading the charge on this front, as it strives to become ‘a very big & influential Hong Kong’.

Personally I hope more cities continue to be like Beijing or Bombay - as big and warm at heart as they are in size and scale.

May the innocence live longer..

Monday, February 01, 2010

Top 3 things iPad will do & Top 2 it won’t

We are yet to see an iPad here in Asia, but it is certain that going by Apple’s legacy – this new device will bring about a change in the way people interact with these kind of devices. Its physical design, social connotations, ease of use, price, and many other facts that we will perhaps discover only when we start using it, can potentially spawn a new economy like the iPhone did with its Applications and iPod did with iTunes. Here is my list of what it would and won’t do in this part of the world.

iPad Will
1. Usage of ‘Apple Services’ will expand exponentially: We have all seen how iPod and iPhone spawned an entire industry of accessories around them – especially products like speakers etc that act as docking stations etc. Now visualize iTunes, App Store and iBooks as three services that are spawning a range of products that help users utilize these three services. Do not view iPad just as a product; instead look at it as a bridge to bring in more users to the world of Apple services.
By bringing a superior experience to a portable entertainment device, Apple will be able to expand the franchise for its online stores like iTunes, App store and iBooks - exponentially. This fits in with the industry wide trend of increasing revenues from content and data services and sluggish growth of revenues from mobile devices. (See chart 1)

Suddenly Nokia, Sony, Samsung, LG among others look under prepared to compete with this evolving model. (Ironically enough, even Sony - the inventor of Walkman – the first personal stereo - is also one among the long list of names making accessories for iPods and iPhones).

2. Light users will finally get a real option: Other than gadget enthusiasts and die hard Apple fans who will lap up iPads, like they have done with other new devices from Apple– iPad will give a real option to many light & mobile users. I can see frequent travelers and elders as two immediate potential user groups. The latter group would especially like the iPad for its ease of use, portability and most importantly – picture –cum-photo frame capability.

3. Will take Apple towards masses (Netbooks have a definite reason to worry!): At $499, iPad is still more expensive than most of the Netbooks and even some Notebooks. However, if the announced price comes to Asia, it will reach many more users than what iPhones & MacBooks have managed to in the past. Let us look at the approximate price gap between Apple and other products in three key categories. Observe how the price gap is shrinking continuously.

Although the price difference between Apple’s latest product and the competitors continues to be significant but the lower unit price of iPad will make it much easier for a prospect to own it.

This is a dramatic shift in Apple’s marketing stance. No more can Apple said to be a designer’s ‘designer’ choice and average Joe’s fantasy. It is now becoming a smart and efficient choice. In this way, I see Apple becoming more like Google than continuing to be the Apple from the past. The only big difference still being, Open Vs. Closed source outlook.

This need to address a wider consumer group is perhaps also aimed at building a broader ecosystem of OS based devises as a countermeasure to Android’s increasing presence in devices beyond mobile phones. (See chart 2)

iPad Won’t
1. Notebooks need not worry (yet): iPad has not been designed to be a mainstream personal computing device. Lack of USB port, no CD/DVD Drive, limited memory, no LAN Port etc means that Apple does not want this thing to mess around with its own Notebook Sales.

2. Replace Kindle: Serious readers will stick to Kindle. It is not just about the battery life (10 days vs iPad’s 10 hrs) the iPad screen is better suited for watching movies and pictures than reading books. A serious reader will not hazard the strain on eyes because he wants a more beautiful thing in his hands. (But expect Kindle to respond with a better Kindle sooner than before.)

Personally, I foresee, eBooks gaining traction, movie watching coming to the lap not just in airport lounges but at home as well; Casual gaming becoming more engaging; Laptop bags making way for iPad folders; Photographs coming to life more spontaneously and in entirely new ways; Speakers and other home theatre system accessories spawning a whole new iPad ecosystem, among others.
In his presentation Steve Jobs stated “Apple is now the largest mobile devices company”, I would add by saying that Apple is a consumer electronics company that is increasingly making other consumer electronics brands look like manufacturers of ‘peripherals’. I sincerely hope that the rise of Apple also leads to the birth of a worthy competitor.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How can you turn that into an application?

While going through a recent edition of Businessweek, I came across a story on how publishing houses are trying to put up a front to counter the rising dominance of Amazon (Trying to avert a Digital Horror Story – Businessweek, January 11)

There is a mention of how people are interested in paying for a variation on the standard book viz. a single chapter or a searchable database. As a result some of the publishers are now considering bringing out iPhone applications for some of their books.

This is very fascinating. First books transitioned into their paper-free avatar –the eBooks and now they are going one step further – into applications.

There is a mention of a book called “What to drink with what you eat” which the publishers are now trying to turn into an app that is like a ‘virtual sommelier cum food critique’, featuring food and wine pairings and tutorials and flavour balancing.

This signifies a shift in the way publishing houses think and has impact on the way information would be packaged in the future. The example of a book turning into an application shows how knowledge is being turned into applied knowledge. It seems that just the way there has always been a market for knowledge from books, the market for the application of knowledge from that book will become bigger and bigger in the future. Being able to use the things that we read in a book - when we are in a meeting, or having lunch or when we are traveling, offers a big opportunity for books to expand their relevance and impact.

The application mind set’, as I call it, can potentially turn almost every idea, every bit of information into a byte-sized tool that is always on tap. Thanks to effective miniaturization of technology - the future of knowledge and information will go more and more down the application path.

‘The application mind set’, as I call it, can potentially turn almost every idea, every bit of information into a byte-sized tool that is always on tap. Thanks to effective miniaturization of technology - the future of knowledge and information will go more and more down the application path.

“What can be the iPhone application for this idea?” is a question, that can help us unlock the potential of any good idea that crosses our mind in the future.