On Wednesday night, the Lab attended a Product Hunt NYC Meetup on service apps that do not have a user interface (Invisible Apps). The session was led by Harry Raymond, the organizer of Product Hunt and co-founder of Swig, a SMS-based service to discover beers and spirits. Four startups were featured in the session, including: Larry, SMS-based law advice; Alfred, text-based concierge service to help cross off items from your to-do list; Stefan’s Head, the first SMS-based retail brand; and xdotai, an AI personal assistant to help you schedule meetings via email. The founders did not give demos of their products but instead gave a brief background on launching their startups and then shared some lessons they had learned thus far.
Christian, the business development manager from Alfred, illustrated the difficulty of a truly on-demand service where a user can get anything at any time. Some companies that attempt to take this on have failed due to the inability to fulfill numerous and outlandish requests. In order to differentiate from those predecessors, Alfred offers an automatic recurring service as opposed to always-on on demand. This way, a user has their personal “Alfred” show up at an assigned time and date each week and handles all the requests that had come in throughout the week. This allows the company to vet and keep a stable of trained employees who have set schedules as opposed to a fleet of contractors that are not necessarily equipped for the jobs at hand.
As more people attempt to streamline their app usage, invisible apps that can be accessed via SMS, email, or voice commands have the potential to become more and more prevalent. From a marketing perspective, as users change their behaviors around how they request services and order products, brands will have to identify unique ways to collaborate with these existing platforms and quite literally, find their voice.
Header image courtesy of Product Hunt NYC’s Meetup page
Twitter may not have a wider reach than Facebook, more U.S mobile users than Instagram, or more social TV activity than Tumblr. But the blue bird reportedly excels in driving app downloads through its ad platform, especially lifestyle apps. Its ability to engage with users in real-time is evidently a contributing factor in this advantage over other social media platforms. In addition, Twitter is also really good at mobile retargeting, which enables marketers to retarget users who have already downloaded an app and may not have opened it in a while. With the vast capital pouring into social media marketing today, these two specialties will sure lend Twitter some advantage in this fierce competition.
Cameo, the video-creation app recently acquired by Vimeo, just got its biggest update yet, with a deep Vimeo integration and a shifted focus onto music discovery. This update brought a complete overhaul of its interface, including a whole new soundtrack browser, genre sorting and an interactive preview feature. As the short-form video apps continues to be dominated by Twitter-backed Vine and Facebook-owned Instagram, this update of Cameo comes as a smart pivoting effort to differentiate itself from the rest. In order to compete with the market leaders, smaller companies could certainly use such branding strategy to help establish their products in this increasingly fractured market.
Snapchat is more brand-friendly than many assume. While content is made available for 24 hours at best through Snapchat Stories and there are no paid reach opportunities, the limited nature of the platform fosters exclusive. The 1:1 messaging creates an unparalleled intimacy as users feel like they are receiving a private message, unlike a Facebook status which could be seen by the world.
The main issue will be discovery given the rudimentary search functionality. Some brands have become very savvy about leveraging Snapchat exclusives to grow a user base and doing so through other media platforms. Take Acura, for example, which introduced its NSX prototype in a 6 second video to the first 100 people who added them or 16 Handles which uses the service to deliver exclusive coupon offers.
Yahoo’s ongoing revamp continued with its recent announcement of Yahoo Screen, an iOS app that compiles all of its entertainment content for streaming. The library includes an extensive Saturday Night Live archive and select Comedy Central programming including the Colbert Report and the Daily Show. More than 1,000 hours of comedy programming is currently available to stream on the service. Other content comes from ABC News, GQ, Wired, Major League Baseball, UFC, among others. The app is designed to be highly gesture based, with swipes playing a key role. With more and more companies entering the streaming space, are we about to see a leap of innovation in web based multimedia programming?
The coveted millennial demographic is elusive to advertisers due to its prevailing savvy that comes from being a digitally native generation. Much of the effort to reach these tough customers has been focused on social media, and another player is about to enter the game. Image sharing giant Instagram is on the path to monetization following its acquisition by Facebook last year, and director of business operations Emily White is ready to begin selling ad packages on the service. Brands are already using Instagram to run viral campaigns for free, but many have expressed an interest in more formal advertising options. There is fear that excessive advertising could drive users, especially millennials, away from the service, so there is explicit focus being placed on the development of Instagram’s ad program’s seamlessness. Only time will tell what shape this final presentation will take, but it could quite possibly shift how we think about ads in the app space, given Instagram’s oversimplified user interface which currently shows few obvious options for ad placement.
We all know the value of in-car navigation systems, but a true door-to-door system doesn’t quite exist yet. Mercedes-benz are working with Google on developing Google Glass to continue your turn-by-turn navigation after you park your car. Google already offers walking directions via Google Maps, but the Mercedes app would seamlessly switch between Glass and your vehicle, meaning that directions wouldn’t stop or need to be reset upon exiting the car. The end goal is to have this app available to the public for Glass’s 2014 launch.
We’ve seen very little competition for iOS and Android, but open-source mobile platform, Tinzen may be one to watch out for. The Samsung and Intel backed operating system is launching an app competition with $4 million at stake to encourage developers to create compelling apps on the platform. Apps have proven to be a big selling point for consumers and device manufacturers so this could kickstart innovation for Tinzen, particularly with Samsung’s blessing. Also interesting is their decision to target the massive Chinese and South Korean markets, but with such a strong foothold from iOS and Android, Tinzen certainly has the deck stacked against them.
Motain, the company behind The Football App, is looking to get out ahead of the World Cup and seize the global – and growing American – football (or soccer) app and advertising market. Today, they announced that they received $13 million in venture capital to promote it’s flagship product, The Football App, in advance of the World Cup in 2014. For followers of the beautiful game, the app has standings, results, and videos from over 100 leagues across the world, and has racked up over 6.5 million downloads across all mobile platforms, with a sizable portion of that download data coming from the U.S. The service generates more than one billion page impressions per month, and is growing at over 100,000 downloads per day. The free version comes with ads, so any expansion with this new capital injection means that advertisers looking to target a global audience may have themselves a new, sports-based, mobile solution.
One of the most buzzed-about fashion apps to come along in a while has officially launched today. Created by London startup Chapeau Labs, Bokenhat recommends the type of hat you should wear on a given day. It determines this from a variety of sources including the weather, your location, current fashion trends and current traffic conditions via a partnership with Waze.
As you might recall from earlier this year, Accuweather and The Weather Channel engaged in a fierce bidding war to provide the weather data for Bokenhat. “I usually never regret losing a bidding war,” the CEO of TWC was quoted as saying after Accuweather was chosen, “but this one stung. No one is really capturing the hat-wearing audience and this was a good a shot as any.”
Similarly, the selection of Waze to provide traffic data was quite a coup for the social driving startup. Heretofore Waze had been used for a wide variety of campaigns, including the famous Tylenol “Traffic Headache Simulator” and the Carnival Cruises “Imagine Your Car Was a Big Cruise Ship” efforts. By breaking into the hat space, Waze has opened up a whole new market for them to monetize.
“This app is going to be a big deal” said industry analyst Reginald Goodwin Esq. this morning. “This pulls the entire hat-choosing experience together in one place and makes a tough choice easy. Chapeau Labs can do no wrong.”