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API Performance Monitoring

We're launching a new service in beta to compliment our Viafo API service.  Viatests will track and monitor the performance of the different services you have in your applications and provide you with alerts and updates when things change or go down.

We also track the performance in terms of latency so you'll know when a slow responding API could be causing you problems. 

Go to www.viatests.com to sign up for the Beta program. 

Get SOCIAL!

More evidence this week of the link between a strong social engagement strategy and device use.  In the Business Insider they've some interesting data points on the impact of social on mobile use patterns. 

  • Users of social media mobile apps spend an average of 9 hours a month (about 18 minutes daily) on the services, according to recent Nielsen data from March 2013.  That monthly time-spend climbed by about 13% in eight months. 
  • By comparison, desktop and laptop PC users of social media spend about 6 to 7 hours a month on social networks. That time-spend hasn’t budged for about two years. 
  • Finally, users spend a little over 1 hour a month visiting social media sites on the mobile Web (HTML5 pages in their mobile browser, rather than stand-alone “native apps” written specifically for Android and iOS phones).  

Making sure you have a clear and focused mobile strategy is paramount and the Viafo Services Gateway ensures that you maximize this way to engage with your clients.

Don't give up control - Native Integration Woes

One of the regular questions we are asked is: don't we get similar integration thought the platform?  If so, why should we use you?

It's a good question.  But it's missing one of the fundamental issues.  Are the users of your apps your customers or Apple or Google customers?  If the answer is that they're yours, and that you need to know what they're doing and with which social networks and where then you need to be more careful with how you interact with them.  Viafo's gateway gives you several advantages over the native SDK integration.

  1. No more SDKs - using our approach allows code re-use across different platforms, 
  2. Manage social networks remotely - through our Service Discovery API you don't have to worry about a change to a social network, or a regional variation every meaning you have to re-write your main application again
  3. Full Analytics - detailed use stats for everything social inside your app, giving you breakdowns by platform, geography, social network and more
  4. Branded Sharing - using the gateway means that you can trace back shares to your company or app - rather than to a phone OS

Remember that social networking between your customers using your apps is one of th most important things you can have.

API Monitor goes alpha

We've been working on making a piece of our technology available to everybody and today we're ready to go live with the early Alpha of our API Monitoring product.

 Current oAuth status for major web services

Current oAuth status for major web services

One of the challenges we've faced is knowing when the 3rd party services we support breaks or changes in such a way that it would break our product, or a client's application.  We also wanted to know what latency levels the different social networks operate at.  As we didn't find what we were looking for, we went off and built it.  

Currently, we're showing you the averages for the last week.  But if you're interested in having more access and the ability to look at the performance of other APIs, then drop us a line at info@viafo.com to register your interest.

The current version is monitoring a number of common web APIs, Social Networks and some carrier APIs.  Over the next few weeks we'll be adding more, and will be shortly launching a premium version.

Take a look at http://viatests.appspot.com.

Mobile World Congress 2013

So, this is going to be an interesting one.  While it's back in it's home of the last decade, Barcelona, they've moved to a new location, so the first day is going to be even more confusing than usual.

But what to expect?

Well, in some respects, from a purely mobile perspective, CES this year was, to put it bluntly, a bit poor.  Very few interesting devices on display and no real phone announcements.  The consensus was that the phone companies with the exception of Apple were keeping their powder dry.  Apple being a special case who don't bother to do things with the rest of the industry.

The definite feeling I'm getting from the preparation work we've been doing is that the industry has really evolved in the decade I've been attending.  For my early Mobile World Congress events (back when it had just become 3GSM) the focus was very much on the handsets - form factor, color screens, cameras and the like and data speed.  This year, I think I can comfortably say is all about the apps.

From our perspective we'll be showing 3 new things to the public and over the course of the next few days, we'll be posting more details.

Just contact me if you want to meet up next week and see you all in Barcelona!

SoMoLo - The Retail Perspective

Forbes has an excellent piece on SoMoLo and the importance of this to retailers.  Naturally we're in full agreement, but would extend that to all types of information and content that people want to get out to their customers.

Viafo's Service Gateway's core functionality is to make it easy and cost effective to integrate Social Mobile and Location services into your existing mobile apps, but we're starting to look at wider use cases than that, as the solution we just delivered for Classic Accessories up here in the Pacific Northwest shows. 

In that project, we've used our gateway and technology not just to deliver SoMoLo content direct to people when they go shopping, but we also integrated into their BazaarVoice CRM system and also provided a complete, hosted solution for delivering HTML5 micro-apps for any smartphone.

The future is going to be about giving customers and consumers all the information they need, in an interactive and viral way straight to their phone or mobile device!

Drop us a line if you're interested in learning more or having a demo of our technology for retailers.

South African Perspective on Social Networking Growth

An interesting article here on the growth of Social Networking in South Africa.  While this article is focused on Facebook and Instagram,  the section that interested me was this:

Blackberry and Nokia are still the most popular brands in South Africa, accounting for around 87 percent of the smartphones in the country. Blackberry holds the majority of that with around 46 percent of South African using a Blackberry. Nokia's share of the local market is around 41 percent.

iPhone is way in last place with 3%.  It's often forgotten that the entire global market isn't just the iPhone, and nor is it Facebook and Twitter.  Viafo's strength is to free developers, brands, carriers and agencies from having to focus on 2 platforms and only 2 social networks.

AT&T Developer API Support

Viafo is delighted to annouce that we've added support for several of AT&T's API Services.  By using the Viafo Gateway, you can now work with SMS, Location and Payment APIs with a fraction of the time and effort that working directly with the API will be.

Additionally, with the Viafo Gateway, developers don't have to hard code payment scenarios to their applications and can easily change and manage.

Keep your eyes out for more annoucements about supported carrier APIs on AT&T and other networks.

Check out the service at the Viafo Developer Site.

Updated Tumblr - No Need to Write More Code!

 

One of the great features of the Viafo platform is you don't have to change your apps when APIs change or alter, you can either add the new API or we'll upgrade the old one.  Tumblr is in the process of a major upgrade to their APIs, moving from basic authentication to a more secure and 'modern' oAuth based authentication.

Because this is a significant change and will require users to authenticate in a different way, we've decided to run both Tumblr APIs in parallel for a few months.  So we'd recommend going into your apps and adding the V2 API and then later removing the V1 API - remember that's all you need to do, the UI in your app will handle the changes automatically!

We've also taken the opportunity with the V2 API to enable commenting on Tumblr threads through our REPLY API and added FOLLOW to allow you to follow specific Tumblr accounts, all in the same way you'd do it with Twitter.

Other Updates:

Facebook Like:  We've just finished implementing the new Facebook Graph LIKE function, to map to our existing FOLLOW API - this doesn't work quite the way that you might expect and we'll be issuing a tutorial for this shortly.

Check-In: We're now supporting Unified Facebook and Foursquare Check-In through the same gateway API and we've provided reference code on Github for how you can make use of this in your applications.

Viafo Services Gateway at AT&T Mobile App Hackathon

Come and join us this weekend at the AT&T Hackathon!  Viafo are going to be showing how our gateway can be used to simplify the integration to AT&T's carrier APIs.

We're providing some simple reference code and access to some of AT&T's APIs like Location, SMS and the mHealth service.

New App Using Viafo: TVPyx

Another new app just went live in the Windows Phone Marketplace, TVPyx is a TV Guide application for the United Kingdom which integrates a full range of social networking functionality through our gateway.  If you want to interact with the Twitter stream for a show that you're watching or want to watch, it's there at your fingertips.

TVPyx uses our new Native Windows Phone integration code which is available on Github.

Viafo Comes Second at Nokia Hackathon

Viafo came second in the Nokia World Hackathon for the launch of the Lumia range of Windows Phones.  Our entry, Blood Sprint (www.bloodsprint.com) is aimed at helping Blood Donation Services and Blood Donors connect via a simple to use mobile app and web service.

True to our company mission, to make apps better, we integrated a wide range of social and location functions into the app to make it a fun and viral solution.

For more information, check out this interview we gave Nokia.

http://www.ideasproject.com/docs/DOC-8818

You can also download the app for your Windows Phone device here: http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/apps/74e223d3-d94e-484b-abdc-fbc9f29daf65

API Market is getting big

You don't have to take our word for it, how about this article:

http://siliconangle.com/blog/2010/12/02/the-api-market-is-taking-a-big-shape/

Basically, there's a lot of movement in the space that we're focusing on.  Hopefully we'll be able to give you more insight into that next week, with the launch of Viafo Labs, our services arm, and videos showing how effective our Gateway is at enabling social networking services in your apps.

Welcome Google Plus AND yet more reasons why you should be using Viafo...

I will admit to being slightly taken aback by how quickly I've seen Google+ go from something that arrived in my inbox, to something that I'm using more than Facebook and where I already have a non-trivial part of my social graph on already.

And this highlights I think, the need for our gateway.  Here's a new social network, it's rapidly growing, but it's by no means a sure thing that it's going to be a success.  So, what a sane mobile or similar developer would do would be to wait.  Of course, by waiting you might miss out on a new service or a new feature or a new way of interacting with your users.  So should you really wait?

Then again, if you're on iPhone there's a built in wait for you anyway.  You're not going to have Google Plus integrated instantly.

Whereas, with our gateway, the moment that we get access to the Google Plus API then you'd have access through the same set of APIs you're using to talk to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn - now, doesn't that make sense?

We're looking forward to welcoming Google Plus into the fold.

What is ROI for a Mobile App?

I was on a panel on monetizing mobile  at CTIA last week and somebody asked the following question:

"How do I justify the ROI on my mobile spend?"

This is actually something we've come across quite a few times now.  Mobile application spends are currently much lower than they need to be.  At the same panel Christian Lindholm of Fjord complained that companies were routinely trying to get apps built on a shoestring when a comparable design project should have a budget of at least $250,000.  The reason for the difference was put starkly by the CEO of Newser last year when he remarked that they hadn't see the return that justified building a mobile app in the first place.

My response at the panel, and my response now, is that this is exactly the wrong way to be looking at mobile, and this is exactly the wrong time to be trying to work out these numbers.

My first point is simple: mobile apps are here, but they're new.  Asking what your ROI on your mobile app is going to be is rather like asking what the ROI would be on your website in 1998/99 - the fact it you don't know.  But if you don't have something, you've a hole in your marketing strategy.

My second point is more complex and really at the heart of this issue.  People aren't sure what mobile can be yet, but we are getting a really good idea about what it shouldn't be.

Mobile apps are not mobile web sites, and they're certainly not web sites circa 1999 when it was, even then, barely, acceptable to stick some brochure-ware up and call it a site.  In our brand app survey which we're working on at the moment, we're seeing some of the largest brands in the world, ones who have stunning TV, Print and Web campaigns building the most embarrassing apps possible.

The mobile device is unique in how personal it is as a means of accessing data and information.  The web browser, described the other day by Sencha's Developer Guru, James Pearce, as our generation's "Box Radio", is an impersonal "window" onto information.  For most people their phone, especially their Smartphone is an extension of their personality - they have the things they want right where they want them.  They also have access to their friends, their social networks, location information and a host of other things too. 

Consider watching TV.  While the rise of the DVR is impacting how we watch TV, the nature of Twitter is going to save scheduled TV for years to come.  Twitter is the water cooler of the modern age, except you don't have to wait until the next day to discuss what Flynn did on Glee, when you're already following the stream, interacting with  new friends and following new people on the #glee twitter feed. 

The marketing possibilities for the TV companies then become enormous.  That feed and that conversation should be part of your app experience; eyeballs on that feed, should be a part of your app, and the traffic from that app should be fed directly back to you either to come up with new ways to watch - i.e. delivering the best and most interesting of the feeds onto the show in real time, or by creating a social feed later for fans to watch again and follow the conversation they may have missed.

The ROI isn't about the app itself, it's about the opportunity cost of having those eyeballs and fans interacting with your show, brand, organization OUTSIDE of the app experience itself.

Anything else is a wasted opportunity.

Twitter Needs Viafo...

We were pleased to see Dick Costello trumpeting the need for our solution at his speech last week.

Surfice to say, we're 100% behind Dick in this.  The point of social networking, location and other web services is that they should be an integral part of the app you're using and not something you have to go somewhere else to do.

I hope we're going to be able to meet with Twitter soon to pitch our vision.

The Challenge of Retail

As I mentioned a few months ago, the problem of building interesting Retail Solutions isn't going away, in fact, if this article from Advertising Age is to be believed, it's becoming a serious issue for all marketing departments.

This is great news from our perspective as more and more potential clients realize that mobile isn't just about getting content out on the device, but figuring out what you do with it when it gets there.  We've been putting a lot of thought into this over the last few months and we're close to releasing a Case Study on our findings, where we'll consider how any modern retail strategy needs to have a Tripod of supporting online services.

The three legs of the tripod are:

  • Conventional Web
  • Social Networking Tracking
  • Mobile Delivery

The issue isn't having all 3 of these, I think that most retailers now have that, or are aiming to.  But how you connect them.  Users with web access want what they look at to seamless sync with their phones, you want users to interact with Social Networks from your web and mobile properties and be able to easily track what they're doing and you want your apps to maximize your penetration into geographies and markets, and, ideally have a location component.

At the moment, only Viafo have a simple solution for this, in my next post I'll aim to talk about that more too.

Does it have the GBs and the Wifis?

There's an amusing video doing the rounds on YouTube.  It has a fictional user going into a fictional phone store to buy an iPhone 4, the store, having none, suggests a HTC EVO, there ensues much hilarity with the iPhone user wanting to have nothing but an iPhone, even if, as the store person suggests, the HTC can grant you every wish you'll ever have including an iPhone 4?

We come across this a lot and part of that is a dirty secret of ours, which is, at the moment, we still haven't finished our iPhone port.  There's a reason for that, we're doing better business on other, non-iPhone platforms, and there are elements of the iPhone App Store process that concern me.  For a start, I'm not convinced that I could get the pentagram and goat's blood out of the office floor while we get our test certificates for development devices.

iPhone is a fantastically successful consumer device, but just as Oranges are not the only fruit, Apples are not the only smartphone and as I've said before, consumer electronic trends can be very fickle.

We're just delivering our first work on the new Samsung Bada platform.  It's not been terribly widely publicized, especially in the US, but Bada is the core operating system that Samsung have developed to replace their Real Time Operating System Smartphones.  The Wave, the first Bada device, is a slick handset, nice form factor, 8MB camera, SD card slot music, a nice OLED display which also runs applications which you can buy on the phone.

They went on sale in June in the UK on Vodafone, and Italy on TIM - since then they've sold over 1 Million units.

Yes, that's right, in their first month they sold a million units in two markets.  Ultimately Samsung state they want half their phone shipments to be Bada phones - that's something in the region of 80M units a year, or twice the number of iPhones and iPod Touch units sold SO FAR.

They're also cheap.  In the UK, the Wave is free on a contract.

So who is going to get these phones?  Well, teenagers, less phone savvy people who don't want to spring $200 for a new phone and so on.  But they're almost certainly going to be buying and using apps, especially Brand Related ones.  So my question always becomes, after I've been asked about the iPhone, who are you actually targeting with your application?  Because if you're building one because you think you need one, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

At the TechCafe2.0 lunch yesterday, the Ben Huh made a great point about not really caring about their market size, because it was so enormous it really didn't make a lot of sense to measure it in a dollars or users way.  I'd make the same argument about the Mobile Market - how big is it?

Well, there's now 5 billion mobile phone users in the world, and thanks to stuff like Bada, in a few years, it'll be the main way that most of them access the internet, especially outside of the US and Western Europe.  So, if you want to think about what the market for your mobile service should be - look at the web, think about web enabled TVs, add in those 5 billion mobile users and think to yourself - why am I so focused on a few million users of the iPhone?

Phones are consumer electronics...

Many people didn’t think the iPhone would be a success.  Myself included.  Or rather, I thought it would be a cool device, I was concerned from the get go that it would be a dreadful phone.  Having had one for a year or so now I can confidently say the following.  It's a cool device AND it's a dreadful phone.  So, two out of three ain't bad.

Part of the problem with the iPhone  is the architecture they have to use to keep the cost down and to avoid doing a deal with Qualcomm.  So you've the radio modem sitting separately to the application processor.  This isn't just a plumbing nightmare  but leads to huge bottlenecks in internal communication around the phone itself.  Add in the "extra" fun of AT&Ts network and you've a perfect storm for a bad experience.

But, regardless of the short comings, the dropped calls, the hung data stack, the weird battery issues, it's a lovely piece of kit and I like mine.  But the thing is, it's a piece of consumer electronics and a short shelf life one at that.   Even with 2 year contracts phones get swapped out and what's hot now, hasn't proven to be a guide for what's hot in a year, let alone two.  Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola have all had their spots as top selling "shiny" providers - Apple is having their run at the moment but drawing any conclusions from that, or, for that matter, drawing a linear upward curve of sales is a huge mistake in the phone business.

Which, via a roundabout route, brings me to my point.

Don't define your strategy around the current shiny consumer must have - because consumers are fickle and will change their minds.  Sure, Apple will have a die hard fan core of users, but that isn't necessarily the market you are going to be needing next year, or even now.

We've been working with Samsung on the BADA platform.  BADA is a real gamble.  It's YAMOS (Yet Another Mobile Operating System) running on Linux with a C++ application layer.  But that's not the thing which interests me.  The Samsung Wave, the first BADA phone is shiny.  It's actually a lovely piece of kit.  Great screen, amazing camera, simple and clean  UI, and, more importantly, it's cheap.  On Vodafone in the UK they're offering them free with a 25GBP a month contract.  Oh, and it runs apps…

Samsung want to sell 20M units this year.  And, with the quality of the device, the scale of Samsung and price point - they probably will.  Or, to put it another way - they're planning to ship in 6 months more than Apple shipped in 2008.

The App market is changing as smarter phones work themselves into the market place previously only served by fairly crappy Java based games.  That's a potential game changing and are you ready for it?

Building that 1st iPhone app might have been easy.  The 2nd generation one, after you realized what you wanted, probably was too.  The 3rd one might be becoming an irritation.  What's the plan for all the other platforms that will be out there in millions of teenage hands, or their parents - the people who wouldn't spring for an iPhone but will for a Wave?

It's worth thinking about.

For my next trick I'll also show why Web Apps really aren't the way to go either :)

Mobile, Retail and Brand Presence

We had a meeting with a potential customer today where the topic was a retail application.

We certainly see that there are great retail uses for Viafo's technology in that sector but a lot of interesting questions came up as part of the discussion.

The core of the discussion was what are the uses for mobile apps for retail brands?

It was particularly interesting to have the discussion with somebody who has been given responsibility for mobile, but fully admitted to never having downloaded an application, not used Twitter, never heard of Foursquare and only occasionally had a look at Facebook.

When you're in the heart of the mobile and web business you tend to get an extremely blinkered view of the technologies in play.  We see this more often in discussions with customers about the iPhone - I'll blog on that another time.

So the interesting thing to come out of this discussion is what do you offer to somebody who at a fundamental level is having to design a service for people unlike themselves?

Now, I don't see this as too much of a challenge, even accepting that the concept of brand mobilization is quite new, there are several pretty universal marketing issues you should be addressing without even dealing with the thorny issue of whether or not you want your mobile app to be used for purchase.

Tackling that for a moment: do you want people to be able to buy with your mobile app?  I'd suggest it depends on your business - the data is sparse at the moment but I'm guessing we'll see a split around impulse and small purchases (movie tickets, drinks, vouchers) versus large items (clothing, cars, electronics) - that might be my age showing but I can't see myself spending any real time on the phone buying some shoes - to be fair, I don't do all that much on the PC either.

Anyway, that's also another entire post.

Where I really see mobile and retail coming into their own is in driving traffic and mind-share - not just to your bricks and mortar store but to the web side too.

So, what does that mean in practice?

Firstly, integrated Social Networking - and this isn’t just about having Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare hooks into your mobile app, but also having those cross-linked into your web and general social networking strategy.  If you're a retailer this means having a global AND local strategy - who Tweets for your brand?  Do you stores have individual or managed online identities?  How do you control your brand in there?  It's a powerful thing to have "From the XXX App" on Twitter, less so if it's somebody mouthing off.

Secondly, manage your Social Networking - true story - I recently had an issue with Qwest over our Internet Connection.  The helpdesk had been a time wasting joke.  I tweeted about my experience and had an @message from a Qwest Rep who fixed the problem - THAT is brand management.  If you want help with that, we can hook you up.

Thirdly, location, location, location - manage and make use of search - build location services into apps.  Drive physical traffic.  Make use of Foursquare - I don't myself but millions do and if you're offering freebies to the Mayor of somewhere, it's worthwhile being ready for that.

Fourth: Brochureware - see how far this is down the list?  It's actually not the thing that makes things sticky - it's a by product of doing the rest of the app right.  Make sure that these are cross-linked back to your website and to your prospects web accounts.  Let them share information.  They find a Widget they like online at work - make sure they can have that image on their phone when they use the app to find the store.

That way they can use their Foursquare "Mayor" discount and Tweet about how you rock.

Obviously, I'm blowing our horn, because this is the area that we designed Viafo to operate in.  However, regardless of who or how you do it, an integrated mobile, web, store strategy is a must for retail and brands - regardless of who you get to do the work.